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Monday, May 20, 2013

Hezbollah and Syrian Army Seize Important City near Homs

With the aid of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, the Syrian military has pushed deep into the long time rebel stronghold of Qusayr. The small city, roughly 100 miles north of the Syrian capital, is a crucial point in supply routes for the Syrian rebels. It’s also a major way point from Damascus to Bashar al-Assad’s Alewite homeland on the Mediterranean coast. While rebels have issued requests for help, delivery of ammunition to the rebels by Persian Gulf states has been hampered by the Syrian army’s recent seizure of supply routes all over Syria. Qusayr has been encircled by al-Assad’s forces, and nearly 25,00 civilians and 7,000 rebels have been shelled relentlessly for some weeks now. At least 52 rebels and 28 Hezbollah fighters died in heavy fighting this weekend. Ammar, a trapped resident described yesterday’s shelling, “I never saw the sky in Qusayr that black.”

Salvadoran Gang Truce Imperiled by Minister Sacking

The high court in El Salvador has ruled that David Munguía Payes was illegally appointed as Security and Justice Minister. The retired army general was appointed in 2011 by President Mauricio Funes to combat a surge in violent crime. Appointing military personnel to civil office is rare in El Salvador; many say such appointments are contrary to the spirit of peace accords that ended the nation’s civil war 21 years ago. Munguía’s appointment was immediately condemned by rights groups, saying it represented a “gradual, dangerous return” to the military repression of the past. But six months after his appointment Munguía brokered a truce between the major street gangs in El Salvador, and homicides decreased by nearly 66 percent. Leaders for Mara Salvatruchas (MS-13) and 18 Street gangs held a press conference from jail today criticizing the court’s decision, worrying that it placed the truce in danger. Still the leaders affirmed that they would strive to maintain the ceasefire.

Congolese Rebels Clash with Government Forces

Earlier today, fighting broke out in eastern Congo for the first time since M23 rebels retreated from the city of Goma six months ago. Mamadou Ndala of the Congolese army said, the rebels “attacked our positions near Muja this morning. We pushed them back and we are now taking measures to avoid an infiltration into Goma.” Bertrand Bisimwa, leader of the M23 rebel group said his troops went to fetch water at a well in Mukawa, off the road to Goma, when they encountered hostilities from Congolese-allied fighters of a different rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. “We pushed them back around 6 a.m., but shortly after, the Congolese army started bombarding us from their position near Munigi. So far we have not responded to their attack,” said Bisimwa “It’s a provocation. If they carry on, we will have to silence their weapons.” M23 spokesperson Amani Kabasha urged the Congolese President Josep Kaila to steady his military. “What we’re hearing is not good, that Kabila is sending reinforcements. He needs to calm down,” Kabasha said. Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, is expected to arrive in Goma in a few days in an effort to highlight the growing conflict.

North Korean Pirates Seize Fishing Vessel

According to statements made by Chinese officials yesterday, earlier this month armed North Korean pirates seized a private Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for ransom. The owner, Yu Xuejun, who was not on board when the pirates captured his ship, received the first of eight calls from the pirates on May 7th. The pirates initially demanded $200,000, but when it became evident that Yu could not afford that, halved their demand. Yu has taken to his blog to detail his ordeal; this morning he described a call he received from North Koreans, who demanded ransom and then handed the phone to his boat’s captain. “His voice was trembling. I could feel he was very afraid,” Yu wrote about his captain. “I suspected that my crew has been mistreated. I can’t imagine what the North Korean side could do.” According to a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s blog, officials at their embassy in Pyongyang have asked North Korea to release the vessel and crew. North Korean piracy is uncommon, but not unheard of; three other Chinese vessel have been captured for ransom this year. Last Spring, North Korean pirates hijacked several Chinese boats and held 29 crew members hostage for two weeks. The kidnapped crew members described being stripped, beaten, and starved.

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