In brief: Syrian troops take rebel strongholds
Maaloula, Syria – Syrian troops triumphantly swept through some of the last remaining opposition strongholds north of Damascus, including a much coveted ancient Christian hamlet, sending rebel fighters fleeing to nearby hills amid an ever tightening noose.
The near total collapse of rebels along a key supply route that has long funneled weapons to opposition-held districts around Damascus helps strengthen President Bashar Assad’s hand in and around the capital ahead of presidential elections during which he intends to run for a third term.
The dramatic capture of Sarkha, Maaloula and Jibbeh was the fastest series of army successes against rebels in the Qalamoun region since the government launched an offensive in November in the strategic area.
11,000 left homeless by Chile wildfires
Valparaiso, Chile – Helicopters and airplanes dumped water on wildfires and the smoldering wreckage of hilltop neighborhoods around Valparaiso for a third straight day Monday as sailors in riot gear stood ready to evacuate 700 more families whose homes could be lost if the winds shifted.
Already 11,000 people were homeless as wildfires sent burning embers flying from hilltop to hilltop. A 15th body was found, and the toll of destroyed homes rose to more than 2,500.
Chile’s forestry agency predicted it would take three weeks to completely stamp out the fires, which began Saturday in a forested ravine and quickly spread into ramshackle housing on one of Valparaiso’s 42 hills.
Mexico listing money launderers
Mexico City – Mexico has announced plans to fight money laundering by using “kingpin” lists like those issued by the United States, although unlike the public U.S. list, Mexico will make its registry confidential, a Mexican official said Monday.
Alberto Elias Beltran, the official in charge of implementing a new money laundering law at the Finance Department, said the list will be made available only to authorities, anyone accused of money laundering and financial institutions.
The criteria that will be used to put a person or a business on the list haven’t yet been determined but the government hopes the first list will be ready by the end of April, Elias Beltran said.
The law mainly bans those on the list from using Mexico’s financial system, including using current bank accounts or opening new ones, but it doesn’t currently provide for criminal charges against anyone, he said.
Mexico has long been criticized because businesses designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as laundering conduits for drug cartels often continue to operate in Mexico.