Colombia: top neo-para commander escapes

A former commander of Colombian neo-paramilitary group Los Paisas and four other alleged members of illegal armed groups escaped July 5 after armed men ambushed the van the suspects were transported in. At the time of his arrest in 2011, "La Pantera" was said to be the second in command of the Paisas, which later joined forces with the Rastrojos to combat the expanding rival Urabeños gang. According to prison authorities, the van taking the suspects from the city of Montería to Medellín for a court hearing was ambushed while traveling through the municipality of Taraza, the heartland of the Paisas. Two of the five prison guards transporting the suspected criminals were injured in the attack.

Colombia: ranchers fear 'communist' redistribution

Colombia's federation of cattle ranchers, representing the country's large land owners, on June 28 rejected the government's recent agrarian deal with the FARC, charging that it could lead to Venezuela-style expropriations of private property. José Felix Lafaurie, president of FEDEGAN, said the joint report from the negotiating table in Havana "generates more questions than answers," and opens the door to legally acquired land being expropriated. His letter to chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle Lombana also warns that FARC and other illegal armed groups are concentrating land ownership, saying that ranchers will not accept losses of land while illegal groups benefit.

Mexico: Israel training Chiapas police?

Israel's embassy in Mexico City denied reports in the Mexican media that Israeli military advisors are training police in the southern state of Chiapas. Early last month, Chiapas' Secretary of Security and Civil Protection, Jorge Luís Abarca, announced that he had met with Yaron Yugman of the Israeli Defense Ministry to discuss the program. This supposed meeting was widely reported in respected newspapers such as El Universal and Excelsior, but Israeli officials in Mexico City contacted by Fox News Latino denied knowledge of the meeting, calling the news reports "nonsense" and "completely wrong." Said Yael Hashaviet, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy: "I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. This never happened and this will never happen." 

Guatemala militarized after armed attack

Guatemala's President Otto Pérez Molina said he is considering imposing a state of emergency in Salcajá, Quetzaltenango department, after an armed attack on a substation of the National Civil Police (PNC)  left eight officers dead and their commander abducted June 14. Authorities said the slain officers were disarmed, made to face down on the ground, and then shot in the head, execution-style. Pérez Molina attributed the attack to drug gangs operating in the area, with possible links to Mexican criminal networks such as the Sinaloa Cartel or Los Zetas. Jorge Santos of the International Center for Human Rights Research (CIDH), set up to secure political rights after Guatemala's civil war, said he hoped "this terror will not lead to greater levels of social control by the executive."

Libya: paramilitaries behind Benghazi battles?

At least three soldiers were killed as Libyan Special Forces clashed with armed men in Benghazi June 15—a week after fighting killed more than 30 in the eastern port city. The Special Forces' Facebook page said an "outlaw" band attacked their headquarters. The attackers were apparently hundreds strong, in civilian clothes but some wearing veils over their faces. Two days earlier, a bomb exploded outside the building of Libya al-Hurra TV in the city, causing some damage but no casualties. Suspicion in the attacks has fallen on members of the Libyan Shields, a militia that serves as an auxiliary to the "official" armed forces. Spokesman for the army chief of staff Ali al-Sheikhi described the Libyas Shields as "a reserve force under the Libyan army," speaking to Libya's Lana news agency.

Nepalese Maoists betray Indian Maoists

For those who are following the twin Maoist movements in India and Nepal, there was a delicious irony May 30 when Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), sent a condolence letter to Indian political boss Sonia Gandhi over the recent attack by Maoist Naxalite guerillas in which 27 were killed, including senior leaders of Gandhi's Congress Party. "Our party UCPN-Maoist is deeply shocked and saddened by the demise of leaders and workers of the Indian National Congress in the recent attack in Chattisgarh...unleashed by Indian Maoists," Prachanda wrote. Zee News notes that among the dead was Mahendra Karma, a notorious paramilitary leader who was accused of atrocities against perceived guerilla sympathists. A like letter from Nepali Congress party leader Sushil Koirala said: "I am extremely shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the death of senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma, other leaders and cadres of your party along with other innocent people in the ambush by the Maoists in Chattisgarh." 

'Sunni cleansing' in Syria?

Syrian elite troops are backing up an offensive apparently led by Hezbollah against rebels in the strategic town of Qusayr, as the UN Human Rights Council debates a resolution condemning the assault. Russia meanwhile protests a European Union decision to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian rebels, and says it will respond by supplying Damascus with S-300 air-defense missiles. This, in turn, is decried as a "threat" by Israel, which warns it could launch air-strikes to destroy any deployed missiles. "The situation is beginning to show worrying signs of destabilizing the region as a whole," said UN rights chief Navi Pillay. 

Bogotá, FARC reach deal on land reform

Negotiators from Colombia's government and the FARC rebels on May 26 signed an agreement on agrarian reform, the first and reportedly the hardest of three issues that must be tackled before a final deal to end nearly 50 years of civil war. In a joint press conference, the two negotiating teams said they had reached full agreement on points including "access and use of land," "non-productive lands," "formalization of property," and the "agricultural frontier and protection of reserve zones." Accords were also announced on technical assistance and credit for poor farmers. The pact calls for creation of a "Lands for Peace Fund" into which millions of illegally held or underused hectares will be placed for eventual redistribution to landless peasants and displaced populations. The negotiators said the deal will lead to "radical transformations of Colombia's rural and agrarian reality with equality and democracy." The remaining two issues are political participation and drug trafficking. (Colombia Reports, LAT, El Colombiano, Colprensa, May 26)

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