ISIS forces put the Mosul library to the torch Feb. 22—over vociferous pleas and protests from the city's notables. "ISIS militants bombed the Mosul Public Library," said Ghanim al-Ta'an, director of the library. "They used improvised explosive devices." Among the many thousands of books it housed, more than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts were burned. The library was established in 1921, the same year that saw the birth of the modern Iraq. Among its lost collections were manuscripts from the 18th century, Syriac (Aramaic) language books printed in Iraq's first printing house in the 19th century, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and some rare antiques such as an astrolabe used by early Arab mariners. The library had hosted the personal libraries of more than 100 notable Mosul families over the past century. Bloggers and activists in Mosul got out the word of the building's destruction over the Internet. (Fiscal Times via Yahoo News, Feb. 23)
Victim representatives at peace talks with the FARC rebels held a press conference in Bogotá Feb. 20 to demand action from the Colombian government over mounting death threats against them. At least 14 of the 60 representatives have received death threats because of their participation—and the son of one representative was killed. Nilson Liz, a regional leader of the National Association of Campesino Land Users (ANUC) from Cauca department, said that following his trip to Cuba for the talks, unknown assailants murdered his son Dayan on Jan. 1. ANUC, which is seeking return of lands stolen by armed groups, has had 90 leaders assassinated since its founding in 1970. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 21; Semana, Feb. 20)
Small-scale gold and emerald miners in Colombia launched a strike Feb. 18, blocking roads at several points across the central department of Antioquia. The strike was called off Feb. 21 when the government agreed to open dialogue on implementation of the new Decree 0276, which mandates that all informal mining operations apply for license with the National Mining Agency's Unified Marketers Registry (RUCOM). Luz Stella Ramírez, leader of the National Miners Confederation of Colombia (Conalminercol), called for the "formalization" of small-scale operations with "repect for the people" engaged in the activity. She also called for the overturn of the "terrorist decree" 2235, promulgated in 2012, which empowered the National Police to destroy mining camps and equipment without an individual judicial order. (El Universal, Cartagena, Vanguardia, Bucaramanga, Feb. 21; La Patria, Manizales, Feb. 19; Cronica del Quindio, Feb. 18; Desde Abajo, Feb. 18; Colombiano, Medellín, Feb. 17)
Syrian Kurdish forces, backed by US air-strikes, advanced Feb. 19 into Raqqa governorate, where ISIS has its de facto capital at the provincial seat. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurdish YPG forces and allied FSA units captured 19 villages in Raqqa. "The US-led international coalition played a key role in the advance, bombing the IS positions and forcing its fighters to withdraw," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. Since driving ISIS fom Kobani (Aleppo governorate) last month, Kurdish and allied forces have captured some 242 villages from ISIS, including the 19 in Raqqa. Among the contested areas is the border town of Tal Abyad. The YPG charges that ISIS forces at Tal Abyad cross into Turkey, where they have established a staging territory. (AFP-JIJI, Feb. 20)
Hundreds of Golan Heights residents and environmentalists from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel protested on Feb. 17 outside the Afek Oil & Gas facility north of Nahal El Al, where exploratory oil drilling began the previous night. Afek, a subsidiary of US-based Genie Energy, won Israeli government approval for a three-year lease to drill 10 wells on 400 square kilometers of the Golan Heights in September. Drilling was planned for mid-January but was delayed due to a court order won by environmental opponents. The Golan Heights is home to Lake Tiberias, Israel's main water source. Genie Energy is run by Effi Eitam, a former right-wing Israeli cabinet minister who currently resides in Golan Heights.
Authorities in Peru Feb. 4 announced the declaration of a no-fly zone over the conflicted coca-producing region known as the VRAEM, for the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, in the country's southeast jungles. The head of Peru's anti-drug agency DEVIDA, Alberto Otarola (a former defense minister), spoke in blunt terms at a Lima press conference: "Any flight that is not reported to the aviation authority will be considered hostile and illegal. Peru must exercise the full sovereignty and jurisdiction of its airspace."
Colombia's humanitarian situation remains severe in spite of ongoing peace talks with the FARC, the United Nations said in a report released Feb. 12. Raising concern over illegal armed groups not incuded in the dialogue, it found that the grim situation is likely to persist even if a peace deal is struck in the talks. The report, entitled "The Humanitarian Dimension in the Aftermath of a Peace Agreement: proposals for the international community in Colombia," was commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and supported by the Norwegian Centre for Peace-building (NOREF). At least 347,286 people were displaced in Colombia between November 2012, when the talks began, and September 2014, the report found. Nearly half of these displacements (48%) resulted from FARC or ELN actions, with 19% blamed on neo-paramilitary groups. The report also found that 62 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2014.
Hundreds of indigenous and Afro-Colombian protesters from La Toma, Suárez municipality, in Colombia's southwest Cauca region, marched over the weekend against illegal gold mining taking place in their territories. The communities, angry about environmental damage caused by the activity, said they had received threats from the Rastrojos paramilitary group for their opposition to the mining. The three-day cross-country march along the Pan-American Highway culminated Feb. 16 at Buenos Aires, in northern Cauca.