A car bomb exploded at the Jalozai displaced persons camp outside Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan on March 21, killing at least 15 and leaving some 50 injured. The dead included two women and two children. The camp, Pakistan's largest, is home to tens of thousands fleeing violence and persecution in the Taliban-dominated Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan. The blast took place at the gate of a FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) distribution point where camp residents had lined up to for rations. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. The outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) disassociated itself from the attack. (Dawn, BBC News, March 21)
Burma's persecuted Muslim Rohingya people were in the news again over the weekend with the Thai navy's denial that its forces opened fire on a group of refugees off the country's southwestern coast last month, killing at least two. Survivors said that Thai naval troops fired a boat of around 20 refugees off Thailand's Phang Nga province on Feb. 22, as they jumped into the water to escape custody. "Navy personnel fired into the air three times and told us not to move," a refugee told Human Rights Watch (HRW). "But we were panicking and jumped off the boat, and then they opened fire at us in the water." More than 100,000 Rohingyas have been displaced since ethnic violence broke out in western Burma last year. Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens and labels the minority of about 800,000 as "illegal" immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh—which in turn disavows them as nationals. (BBC News, March 15; Press TV, March 13)
Authorities in Mexico's coal-producing northern state of Coahuila say that the notorious Zetas, bloodiest of the country's warring cartels, have taken over much of mining industry. Suspicions were first raised in October when top Zeta commander Heriberto Lazcano was found in a Coahuila coal mining town and killed in a shoot-out with Mexican marines. Coahuila produces some 95% of Mexico's coal at approximately 15 million tons a year, and current estimates place the Zetas' annual profits from their share of the industry at around $25 million. Former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira said the Zetas are expanding their control over the state's mines, both legal and illegal. "They discover a mine, extract the coal, sell it at $30, pay the miners a miserable salary," he told Al Jazeera. "It's more lucrative than selling drugs."
Two women are among the dead in a fierce gun battle that claimed five lives March 16 in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, just across the Mexican border from Hidalgo, Tex. Tamualipas state authorities said the women were among the combatants. The fire-fight came one day after Mexican federal police found more than five tons of marijuana, 370 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and a large weapons cache in underground bunkers in Reynosa—including 20 rifles, 10 bulletproof vests, a gas grenade, 20 uniforms, radios and tire spikes. March 11 also saw a three-hour gun battle in the streets of Reynosa, with rival narco-factions using automatic weapons and grenades. Authorities were absent for most of the shoot-out that left some three dozen gunmen and two bystanders dead—one just a teen. An exact death toll was elusive, as cartel gunmen collected their own dead during the battle.
The Andean Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI) and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) on March 15 jointly presented a report to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) warning that 65 the 102 indigenous ethnicities in Colombia are now at risk of cultural or physical "extinction." The report noted that Colombia's Constitutional Court has ordered special protection for these 65 peoples, but asserted that risks posed by the armed conflict and lawless resource extraction on their lands have not abated. The report charged that violations of indigenous rights are not merely "collateral damage" in the ongoing civil conflict, but often an actual aim of armed actors.
In the early hours of March 15, a clash broke out as troops from the elite Special Operations Directorate (DINOES) of Peru's National Police force evicted a group of informal miners from their encampment at La Bonita, in northern La Libertad region, leaving two miners dead. As the encampmen of some 500, in Retamas district, Pataz province, was set upon by a force of some 200 police agents, hundreds of other miners from the area converged on the scene to defend their comrades. In addition to the two dead, several were hurt on both sides, and two miners detained. The eviction of the camp had apparently been ordered by a local judge.
A court in Argentina on March 12 sentenced the country's last military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during his rule in 1982 and '83. The 85-year-old former general, already serving three other terms for similar crimes, was found guilty of killings related to Operation Condor—a coordinated campaign by the Southern Cone dictatorships to eliminate dissidents from one country who sought refuge in another. Federal Oral Tribunal Federal No. 1 in San Martín found Bignone culpable in the deaths of 23 victims, including seven pregnant women, who were abducted to the now-notorious Campo de Mayo clandestine prison. Also receiving a life term was Bignone's armed forces chief and second-in-command as dictator, Santiago Omar Riveros. Three other military men received terms of between 12 and 15 years. (Argentina Independent, Rebelión, Digital Journal, March 13; BBC News, La Nación, Clarín, Gente BA, Prensa Latina, March 12)
The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces on March 1 accused government troops of executing 72 people and burning their bodies in a village near the northern city of Aleppo. The Aleppo Media Centre, run by a network of anti-regime activists, said children, women and elderly people were among the victims, who it said were targeted on suspicion of collaborating with opposition fighters. (Al-Shofra, US CentCom, March 1) Controversy still surrounds a Jan. 15 massacre at the village of Haswiya, on the edge of the central city of Homs, where some 100 were killed, a BBC reporter seeing charred bodies still lying inside one of the houses. Syrian security forces who escorted the BBC team to the site of the killings insisted they were the work of the Nusra Front rebels. Opposition activists say the pro-regime Shabiha militiawas to blame. (BBC News, March 11)