Columbia/FARC – The Colombian government and the leftist FARC rebel group have reached a historic peace deal to end five decades of fighting that cost hundreds of thousands of lives it was announced on the 25 Aug 16. After nearly four years of arduous negotiations in Cuba, the two sides announced on the 24 Aug 16 a final agreement under which the rebels will lay down weapons and reintegrate into civilian life. "The Colombian government and the FARC announce that we have reached a final, full and definitive accord ... on ending the conflict and building a stable and enduring peace," the two sides said in a joint statement read out in Havana by Cuban diplomat Rodolfo Benitez. "We don't want one more victim in Colombia." The deal will now be put to a decisive referendum on the 2 Oct 16. "Colombians: the decision is in your hands. Never before have our citizens had within their reach the key to their future," Santos, who was re-elected in 2014 on the promise of a peace deal, said in a televised address. "Today I can say - from the bottom of my heart - that I have fulfilled the mandate that you gave me." The final text of the deal was sent to Colombia's Congress on the 26 Aug 16 and will be available on the internet and social media, he said. "We have won the most beautiful of all battles," lead FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez said after the announcement in Havana on the 24 Aug 16. "The war with arms is over. Now begins the debate of ideas." The two sides had signed a ceasefire in late Jun 16. The peace deal comprises six agreements reached at each step of the arduous negotiations. They cover justice for victims of the conflict, land reform, political participation for ex-rebels, fighting drug trafficking, disarmament and the implementation and monitoring of the accord. Under the peace deal, the FARC will begin moving its estimated 7,000 fighters from their jungle and mountain hideouts into disarmament camps set up by the United Nations, which is helping monitor the ceasefire. The FARC will then become a political party. Its weapons will be melted down to build three peace monuments. Special courts will be created to judge crimes committed during the conflict. An amnesty will be granted for less serious offences. But it will not cover the worst atrocities, such as massacres, torture and rape. Those responsible for such crimes will face up to 20 years in prison, with lighter sentences if they confess. Santos insisted there would be no impunity for such crimes. "I'm so happy. It was time to end the war," Margarita Nieto, a 28-year-old accountant said. "I know what is coming will be hard, but together we can cope." Others are more sceptical about the terms of the agreement, especially the participation of FARC rebels in politics and the fact that they will not serve jail time for crimes committed during the war. US President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Santos on the 24 Aug 16 to congratulate him on the deal, the White House said. 361 COMMENT: This is indeed good news which hopefully the citizens of Columbia will embrace. The follow on result would be a peace negotiation with the National Liberation Army (ELN). The road will be rocky to start with but will reap rewards later. The ELN will see itself isolated and want to come in, it’s just a matter of time now. COMMENT ENDS
Paraguay – Eight Paraguayan soldiers have been killed by a roadside bombing, according to the government, in an attack blamed on a Marxist armed group. Francisco de Vargas, the interior minister, said on the 27 Aug 16 that a routine patrol was first attacked with a bomb, then with gunfire on a country road in the Arroyito district about 500km north of the capital Asuncion. "They placed explosives in the road where a patrol routinely passes. Because of the manner in which it was done, we believe it was an attack by the known criminal group EPP," Vargas was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying, using the Spanish acronym for the Paraguayan People's Army. President Horacio Cartes condemned the attack and said the perpetrators would be held accountable for their actions. The EPP, a small group of Marxist fighters, has been blamed by authorities for several kidnappings, murders and attacks in the remote north of the country, an area of cattle ranches, poor rural labourers, and illegal marijuana plantations. In 2013 it carried out an attack in which five people died, its bloodiest to date. The group is believed to hold three people captive at present: a police agent who has been held for over two years, and two Mennonites, members of a religious sect of European background who have significant dairy farming communities in Paraguay.
The Paraguayan People’s Army insurgency, also named the EPP rebellion (from the group's name in Spanish: Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo), is an ongoing small-scale guerrilla campaign in Northern Paraguay. From 2005 until the summer of 2014, the EPP campaign had resulted in at least 50 deaths in total, the majority of them being local ranchers and police officers, along with several insurgents. During that same period the group perpetrated 28 kidnappings for ransom and a total of 85 "violent acts". The insurgency began in 2005, after several members of the Partido Patria Libre formed the Paraguayan People’s Army. The Government of Paraguay suspects the EPP has ties to the Colombian rebel group FARC. In 2014, a subgroup of EPP splintered to create the Armed Farmers Group (ACA), which has also already engaged in fighting the Paraguayan government. EPP's ideology was first outlined in a book called "Francist 21st Century Revolution", written by Britez in prison. The book is named after Jose Rodriguez de Francia, a dictator who ruled over Paraguay between 1814 - 1841, and incorporates elements of Bolivarianism and Marxism–Leninism. The majority of EPP's members reportedly belong to eight families. Despite its limited size, EPP enjoys the support of the local population in the areas that it controls. Apart from the use of abductions EPP also engaged in cattle raiding, extortion, robberies and drug trade operations. The later was facilitated with the aid of FARC, although EPP initially only extorted drug producers, reports indicate the presence of EPP's own marijuana plantations. An EPP communique denied any involvement in the drug trade, accusing the government of propaganda.
United States/Gaza Strip/Palestine – The United States on the 23 Aug 16 reiterated its recommendation that Americans in Gaza leave the territory controlled by Hamas, which Washington calls a terrorist group, “as soon as possible.” The warning came after the Israeli army said it bombed dozens of targets in Gaza from the 21 Aug 16 to the 22 Aug 16 in response to rocket fire from the strip. Palestinian medical officials said four people were injured. Washington regularly updates warning notices to Americans travelling to and living in countries around the world. In the case of Gaza, the State Department warned against “all travel” to the territory and “urges those present to depart as soon as possible when border crossings are open.” It had issued a similar warning in Dec 15. Since Jan 16, 14 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israeli territory, the military said. The border area has remained tense since the July-August 2014 war between Israel and Gaza militants that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 people on the Israeli side. “Gaza is under the control of Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization. The security environment within Gaza and on its borders is dangerous and volatile,” the State Department said in its warning on the 23 Aug 16. As for Israel and the West Bank, a wave of violence there since Oct 15 has left Americans dead and wounded, the department said. However, “there is no indication that US citizens were specifically targeted based on nationality.” The violence has eased in recent weeks, but an AFP count shows 220 Palestinians and 34 Israelis killed since October 1, 2015 in the Palestinian territories, Jerusalem and Israel. Most of the Palestinians killed were attackers or suspected attackers. A number were killed in clashes with the Israeli army. To read more follow the link for more advice.(https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings/israel-travel-warning.html)
United States/23 Aug 16 – The U.S. Southern Command stated in an internal report that Sunni extremists might be crossing American borders with help from smugglers in South America. A SouthCom spokeswoman did not address the report directly but told the Washington Free Beacon, "In 2015, we saw a total of 331,000 migrants enter the south-western border between the U.S. and Mexico. Of that, we estimate more than 30,000 of those were from countries of terrorist concern."
According to a report from the Free Beacon:
[T]he Southcom intelligence report revealed that the threat of Islamist terror infiltration is no longer theoretical. "This makes the case for Trump's wall," said one American security official of the Southcom report. "These guys are doing whatever they want to get in the country."
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Those countries include 34 nations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the Washington Free Beacon reported. Part of what makes dealing with migrants from these areas so difficult is the lack of information present in the countries they choose to travel through — in this case, countries in South America. In June, the Washington Times reported that roughly a dozen Middle Eastern men, including an Afghan linked to the Taliban, were smuggled across the U.S. border through a network in Brazil.
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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified in front of a Senate hearing in February that members of ISIS could be entering the United States as immigrants. But Joel Vargas, head of Contingent Security Services and a consultant to law enforcement agencies, told the Washington Free Beacon the information simply is not true. He said evidence regarding relationships between Sunni extremists and smugglers does not exist, but that "existing smuggling networks from Central America are increasing their access."
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