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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Caliphate is Coming

By Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld

To Mousa Abu Marzuk, Deputy Chief of Hamas’ Political Bureau in Damascus, HAMAS’ triumph is an important springboard towards the establishment of the Caliphate – a global Islamic state, where life would be dictated by the Shari’a.

In a statement Abu Marzuk made on January 26, following HAMAS’ sweeping victory of the Palestinian legislative elections, he said that HAMAS, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), is reaping the fruits of its efforts over the last six decades. It was established in Palestine in 1936 - not in 1987, as most mistakenly think. Since then, the movement, according to Abu Marzuk, has carried out its political, social agenda, including Dawa (Prosetylization) and Jihad.

The international community’s calls to prevent HAMAS’ participation in the election, led HAMAS to run under the name of the "Change and Reform List." Yet, this blatant fraud was accepted by all. No one raised his voice to point out the obvious fact that HAMAS simply changed its name for the election. Now, that HAMAS won 74 seats of the 132 seat Palestinian parliament, the world is “shocked.” Yet, it is the West’s willful blindness that facilitated HAMAS participation and victory.

Unless the international community takes action to nullify the results of the Palestinian election, HAMAS will spread the MB’s malignant agenda, which is identical to their own, far beyond the Middle East.

Both the MB and Hamas are exploiting the U.S. call for democratization in the Middle East, using free elections to gain legitimate political power. Indeed, in December 2005, the MB won 88 seats in the 454-member Egyptian Parliament. This is while neither organization has changed its charter, or is likely to do so.

Among the many permanent, deleterious features of Shari’a is a system that subjugates and oppresses non-Muslims. It requires non-Muslims to convert to Islam or pay the jizya tax, a form of extortion, creating a “contract” (dhimma) that “guarantees” the infidels' lives and possessions. In a recent essay Dr. Andrew Bostom quotes the Arabic lexicographer, E.W. Lane, who bluntly calls the tax on “free non-Muslim subjects …compensation for not being slain.”

The system's “obligations” institutionalize discrimination (dhimmitude) that targets Jews and Christians only. Others, such Hindus, and Buddhists have a choice to convert or to be slaughtered. These regulations prohibit them from possessing arms, ringing church bells, testifying in courts, building and restoring houses of worship while restricting many other civil rights as well. Like Nazi regulations, the Shari’a also require non-Muslims to wear special, identifying clothes. These key features of the Shari’a and Islamic ideology as called for by the MB and HAMAS, are political, not merely religious.

The spiritual leader of Hamas, the late Ahmad Yassin said: "The 21st century is the century of Islam," and his successor Mahmoud Zahar says, "Israel will disappear and after it the US." With its recent victory, HAMAS seems to be closer to reaching this goal.

Compare Hamas statements and its charter to those of al-Qaeda, Hizbullah and other Islamist organizations. All strive to establish a caliphate encircling the globe. Al-Qaeda says: "We will turn the White House and the British parliament into mosques," as documented by Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, director of Orient Research Group in Toronto.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Iran, a major HAMAS benefactor, is celebrating the terrorist movement’s victory. Its Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi, said that Iran "congratulates the great Palestinian people, the Hamas movement, all Palestinians combatants, and the great Islamic Ummah.” And to ensure the HAMAS agenda, Iran is now considering financial aid to the Palestinians, “if Europe and the US cease funding the Palestinian Authority.” Saudi Arabia, who funded HAMAS all along, also promised $100 million to the Palestinian Authority. Clearly, both totalitarian Islamist regimes are stepping up to support the first democratically elected Jihadist government.

HAMAS’ victory, therefore, should be seen as an important realization of the MB agenda, not merely as a localized development. In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood “is demanding "true democracy" from the Jordanian king in order to win in elections there,“ while the efforts to impose the Islamist agenda are making strides in Europe.

Denmark, for example, has in the last few years become a host country for various Muslim radical groups, mostly offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood. The most prominent of these is Hizb ut-Tahrir. Like HAMAS, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have been connected with the recruitment of fighters for the Taliban, as well as membership in the al-Qaeda terrorist networks. Like HAMAS, they too, under the banner of democracy, are allowed to pursue their Islamofacist agenda

According to Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, director of Orient research Group in Toronto, who follows Islamist organizations, they view Denmark as an easy target for the spreading of Islam, a springboard from which to renew the Muslim occupation of Europe. As Sheikh Issam Amayra warned in a recent sermon: "Three percent of the Muslims in Denmark constitute a threat to the future of the kingdom of Denmark. …our Danish brothers will manage to bring Islam to all the homes of the Danish citizens. Allah will grant them the victory in their country in order to raise the Caliphate in Denmark. Afterwards the citizens of the Caliphate (which will be raised in Denmark) will wage war on Oslo, [and] they will fight their neighboring Scandinavian countries in order to join their lands to the territory of the Caliphate. Then they will wage a holy war and spread the teachings of Islam to the rest of Europe, until they reach the original city of Medina.”

Given the global aspirations of these MB splinter groups and the Islamist nature of their agenda, it seems that the West’s unwillingness to recognize their threat to our democracy will enable them to exploit it until those who survive, will have to do so under the MB’s inspired Caliphate.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed—and How to Stop It, Director of American Center for Democracy and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger. She is the world’s leading expert on Narco-Terrorism and a noteworthy authority on international terrorism, political corruption, money laundering, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Most recently, she was a consult for the Department of Defense’s Threat Reduction Strategy.

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Egypt's concerns over Hamas win

CAIRO, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The political earthquake resulting from Hamas' landslide victory over the longtime dominant Fatah movement reverberated throughout the Middle East, especially in Egypt.

Egypt, which plays a key role in internal Palestinian politics and is also a main mediator between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, found itself facing a new faction that commands a Palestinian majority, which is different from Fatah, the party Cairo helped create in the mid 1960s and with whom it dealt for decades.

Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has several concerns and fears over the stunning victory of the "Palestinian branch" of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni extremist organization that was originally founded in Egypt in the first half of the last century and then spread to most other Arab countries.

Cairo's concerns are related to inter-Palestinian conflicts. Some have regional and international dimensions, but the most important concern is over the impact of Hamas' victory on the mother organization in Egypt. THE Muslim Brotherhood scored very well at last year's general elections, grabbing an unprecedented 88 seats in the 454-member parliament.

Egyptian officials have so far not commented on the outcome of the Palestinian poll in which Hamas won 76 seats in the 132-member parliament, dealing a painful blow to Fatah which got 43 seats.

But Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa, a former foreign minister of Egypt and a main architect of both Egypt's peace treaty and Palestinian peace accords with Israel, stressed in advance of the Palestinian election the need for commitment to the Arab peace initiative endorsed at the Beirut Arab summit in 2002. The Saudi-inspired initiative reflected the Arabs' definite choice for strategic dealing with Israel through peace negotiations.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Ghait also underlined this point prior to the Palestinian poll. In a commentary on projections that Hamas will be part of the new parliament, he told Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat last week he was convinced the "Hamas which will be working within the political framework through its representation in parliament will be totally different from the Hamas which adopts armed struggle.

"Politics is much more comprehensive and important ... and the involvement of a militant group in political work leads to fundamental changes within that group as proved by the history of similar movements," he said.

The Egyptian government is aware the balance of power in the region is strongly tilted in favor of Israel, a fact that prompted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to stress last year that if the Palestinians failed to reach a peace deal with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, they will have a long wait.

Egyptian political observers argue that despite legitimate Egyptian concerns, there is a strong feeling by the Egyptian leadership that Hamas will not resort to a new escalation of violence against Israel in the next phase.

"There is a tangible change in Hamas, which was made clear through its commitment to the unofficial truce with Israel and its participation in the municipal and legislative elections," said Jamal Abdel Jawad, an expert at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"During its whole electoral campaign, Hamas has refrained from reviving its traditional speech of liberating Palestine from the sea to the river," Abdel Jawad told United Press International in reference to Hamas' declared objective of destroying Israel.

"The process of change in Hamas might be slow but it is steady and continuous in view of prevailing international conditions and U.S. and European pressures and threats to cease assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

"The threats to withhold assistance to the PA might stir conflicts within Hamas itself, leading towards its metamorphosis," Abdel Jawad said.

Hamas leaders have reaffirmed after victory in the elections their attachment to armed resistance against Israel, but at the same time, Hamas largely observed the truce with Israel, reached during meetings of Palestinian groups in Cairo in March last year.

Egypt also has security concerns, notably the possibility of disorder in the Gaza Strip, which is located on its northeastern border.

Earlier this month, two Egyptian border guards were killed by gunmen from Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades who were trying to make an opening in the wall along the border between Rafah and the Egyptian territory.

Egyptian security reports hinted at to the possible involvement of Palestinians in suicide attacks that hit tourist centers in Taba in October 2004, killing 34 people, including 11 Israeli tourists. But Amro Abdel Rahman, political writer in al-Boussola, played down Egyptian fears of Hamas' rise to power.

"Hamas is a strong and well-organized movement which can control its members, unlike Fatah which is torn by divisions, reflected in the behavior of its armed groups," Abdel Rahman told UPI.

He indicated the Egyptian border guards were killed by Fatah, not Hamas gunmen, but hinted to the dangers of possible armed conflicts between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In fact, three Palestinians were injured in a clash between Hamas and Fatah gunmen in south Gaza a day after the official announcement of the Islamic movement's victory, dealing a humiliating defeat to Fatah.

Hamas' victory, in the meantime, had strong resonance in the Egyptian public, especially among Islamic groups.

A leading member of the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood Organization, Issam Aryan, commented "Hamas' victory is a historic achievement in all the sense of the word.

"Hamas will be facing a great challenge, namely that of continuing as a resistance and national liberation movement against Israeli occupation, and at the same time securing Arab support and winning international recognition and backing," Aryan said.

Abdel Rahman noted Hamas' win will constitute a driving force and incentive for Islamic movements in Egypt, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Political life in Egypt at present is controlled by two poles: the regime and its security and military agencies on one side and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. Maybe Hamas' win will help Muslim brothers to have a bigger influence on Egypt's foreign policy," Abdel Rahman contended.

In the past, security reports have hinted that mediation efforts were deployed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to convince Hamas to accept the truce with Israel.

Abdel Jawad underlined the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt might mediate between Hamas and the Egyptian government in the future if the need arises.

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Upgraded B-2 bunker buster test successful

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Jan. 31 (UPI) -- A massive smart bomb designed for the B-2 stealth bomber underwent successful field testing in Utah recently.

The 5,000-pound "bunker-buster" ordinance dropped from an Air Force B-2 was part of $5.4 million contract awarded to Northrop Grumman last winter for the integration of the device into the B-2 arsenal.

"The demonstration represents another example of our commitment to maintain the B-2's flexibility to employ a variety of advanced weapons," said Mike Galaway, director of B-2 product development and delivery at Northrop Grumman. "We also want to ensure that the (B-2) remains the most versatile and lethal bomber in the inventory."

The bombing run took place at the range at Hill Air Force Base and destroyed a ground target using a GBU-28C/B bomb armed with a BLU-122 warhead-guidance system developed by Raytheon.

The GBU-28C/B is an upgrade to the 28B/B model that was deployed with the B-2 in 2002. The new version penetrates deeper into the ground.

The GBU-28 line is designed to take out underground bunkers and reinforced command posts during the initial phase of air operations that are generally led by the radar-evading B-2. The BLU-122 guidance system integrates laser and global-positioning system technology to deliver the weapon on target.

Raytheon is under contract to build 140 guidance systems and tail kits at a cost of $18.5 million. Delivery is to be completed in May 2007.

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Iran hands over nuclear warhead designs

Jan 31, 2006
AP - Iran has given the International Atomic Energy Agency sensitive documents that seem linked to nuclear warhead designs, diplomats said Tuesday.

The diplomats told The Associated Press that 1 1/2 pages describing how to cast fissile uranium into the shape of warheads were given IAEA inspectors last week.

At the same time, the agency passed to Iran intelligence provided by the United States that suggests Iran has been working on nuclear weapons and asked for a response, said the diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for revealing the confidential information.

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EU extends aid to Palestinians in bid to prevent 'mini Iran'

31.01.2006 - 09:56 CET | By Mark Beunderman

EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday (30 January) agreed to continue aid to the Palestinian Authority under strict conditions put to election winner Hamas, fearing a complete cut-off of funding will create room for Iran to step in.

The ministers refrained from quick moves to slash its aid to the Palestinians, amounting to €500m a year, following last week’s shock election victory of the islamist Hamas movement which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations.

The EU is first awaiting coalition-building efforts, which officials said could last as much as three months, while making it clear that any future funding to the Palestinian administration would be made dependent on Hamas backing down on its radicalism.

A statement read "The [EU] Council expects the newly elected PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] to support the formation of a government committed to a peaceful and negotiated solution of the conflict with Israel based on existing agreements and the Roadmap as well as to the rule of law, reform and sound fiscal management."

"On this basis the European Union stands ready to continue to support Palestinian economic development and democratic state building," ministers added.

Fear of radicalisation and Iran influence

Diplomats indicated that an immediate stop of EU funding was not an option, as this would mean a break-down of the Palestinian administration, followed by chaos and fresh violence.

This would undermine EU hopes for a broad coalition government, also involving the moderate Fatah faction led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

"We should avoid a situation of chaos, which could lead to an Islamic regime at the heart of the Middle East, or, as someone termed it, a mini-Iran", Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot told reporters, referring to existing ties between Iran and Hamas.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested according to FT Deutschland that a cut-off of EU funding would create a void for Iran and Saudi Arabia to step in.

"I definitely see a danger that [other] financers will be found, that will fill the gap," Mr Steinmeier indicated.

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner stressed that last year, only €70m of the total of €500 EU aid was targeted as direct administrative support to the Palestinian Authority, while the rest did not touch the hands of Palestinian officials and was spent through, for example, United Nations programmes.

Only half of the allotted €70m was actually handed out, the commissioner added, due to insufficient financial safeguards on the Palestinian side.

But Mr Bot indicated the budgetary support for the Palestinian Auithority is crucial, as it involves Palestinian officials' salaries.

Hamas rejects demands

Ursula Plassnik, the foreign minister of Austria which holds the EU presidency, said there is "no timeframe" for assessing whether Hamas complies with EU demands.

But Mr Bot and officials indicated that an assessment was planned in around three months, which is the period Mr Abbas estimates coalition talks could last.

Meanwhile, Hamas on Monday rejected demands by the middle east diplomatic quartet consisting of the EU, the US, Russia and the UN, that it renounce violence and recognise Israel.

"The quartet should have demanded an end to (Israeli) occupation and aggression ... not demanded that the victim should recognise the occupation and stand handcuffed in the face of the aggression," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said according to Reuters.

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India Vows to Upgrade Air Force, Calls for Joint Deals

AFP - Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee urged global arms makers on Jan. 31 to enter joint military production ventures in India, as top companies showed off their latest hardware at an arms fair in New Delhi.

This event showcases our capabilities to deliver military product at competitive prices and we wish to strike mutually beneficial arrangements with friendly countries,� Mukherjee said, opening a four-day Defense Exposition.

Britain, France, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia and the United States are among 38 countries which have sent 420 of their leading arms manufacturers to the exposition.

India, which in 2004 emerged as Asia�s largest arms importer, is known to be shopping for 126 fighter jets and missile protection systems.

Experts say the deals are worth more than $8 billion and countries such as the U.S., Britain, Russia and Switzerland are leading contenders.

�Our defense production units have taken a market-friendly approach and offer an opportunity to bring in global technologies for joint production and export to third countries,� said Mukherjee, whose Congress party is credited with opening India�s market to competition.

�And today, 100 percent participation in Indian defense projects is possible,� the defense minister said.

India generally allows only 26 percent private equity in state-controlled sectors. But a 50-50 partnership between India and its largest military supplier Russia for the successful co-production of the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos marked a change in direction in the arms sector.

K.P. Singh, secretary of India�s defense procurement sector, told delegates from companies such as U.S.-based Raytheon, British Aerospace and French Thales that India offered the perfect environment for military partnerships.

�India has a well-established manufacturing base to make items ranging from aircraft to software products and a number of changes have been made in our policy to give greater freedom to the private sector to ensure they become global players,� Singh said.

Arun Bhgatram of Confederation of Indian Industries trade lobby also extolled the virtues of India�s defense sector.

�A conductive atmosphere backed by skilled workforce and technology now exists in India for fruitful joint ventures,� the industrialist said.

Mukherjee later told a news conference that New Delhi was actively working to replace its ageing fleet of military jets.

�... We have to phase out our ageing aircraft and also upgrade our inventory just like we are doing with the (Russian-built) Sukhoi-30s,� he said.

India�s mainstay MiG-21 aircraft are more than three decades old.

The country has in the past few years bought the Phalcon radar system from Israel for $1.1 billion, a used aircraft carrier from Russia for $1.5 billion and 66 Hawk jet trainer planes from Britain for $1.45 billion.

The domestic defense sector faces a severe technological shortfall, mainly due to international sanctions imposed because of India�s nuclear weapons program. These ban the transfer of technology with possible military applications from the West.

In the fiscal year ending March 31, the government raised its defense budget by 7.8 percent to 830 billion rupees ($19 billion).

The military budget accounts for 14 percent of the total budget and 2.96 percent of gross domestic product and Mukherjee said Tuesday it would remain below three percent.

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Army kills Algeria militant, group says

ALGIERS, Jan 31 (Reuters) - One of the founders of Algeria's largest outlawed Islamic militant group has been killed in a clash with security forces, the al Qaeda-aligned organisation said in a statement published on the Internet on Tuesday.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) said Ahmed Zerabib was killed near Bejaia town, 300 km (190 miles) east of Algiers, on a recent Tuesday evening. It did not specify which week.

"This is a statement to announce the death of sheikh Ahmed Abi Al Bara in a big clash with the Algerian army in the region of Bejaia. Our sheikh was a founder of our organisation and its mufti (religious leader)," the statement carried on an Islamist Web site said, using Zerabib's nickname.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The statement, dated Jan. 28, appeared on the Internet on Tuesday. The GSPC is on a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organisations.

Late last year, Algerians approved a government offer of partial amnesty for rebels still fighting for a purist Islamic state, in a move to end more than a decade of civil war in which more than 150,000 have died, mostly civilians.

The GSPC rejected the offer, according to an Internet statement.

The Islamic uprising began when the army in 1992 cancelled legislative elections, which the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win. The authorities feared an Iranian-style revolution.

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Turkey: Cold snap boosts request for more Russian gas

Moscow, 31 Jan. (AKI) - Hit by unsually harsh cold weather, Turkey has asked Russia to boost its natural gas supplies. Turkish energy minister Hilmi Guler made the request to his Russian counterpart Viktor Khristenko in a telephone conversation, the Russian Ria Novosti newsagency reported on Tuesday quoting a ministry statement. "Additional daily gas supplies to Europe have been increased to 80 million cubic metres, although Russia is dealing with cold weather itself," Khristenko said. Supplies via the Blue Stream pipeline to Turkey were also in excess of normal levels, he said.

"Russia is doing its utmost to ensure [state controlled gas company] Gazprom honours its natural gas supply commitments," Khristenko had said last Friday following talks with Italy's minister of productive activities, Claudio Scajola. Italy was among the European countries worst hit by this month's shortfalls in deliveries of Russian gas.

Russia has blamed Ukraine which was locked in a price dispute with Gazprom of stealing gas transiting through it borders on the way to Western Europe.

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Lebanon: Al qaeda sought fighters for Iraq, report says

Beirut, 31 Jan. (AKI) - A well-organised militia linked to al-Qaeda's pointman in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has operated in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley recruiting local fighters to join the insurgency in Iraq, a Lebanese newspaper said Tuesday, citing state security sources. Authorities learnt of the militia's existence through the interrogation of 13 alleged members of an al-Qaeda cell based in Lebanon, the as-Safir daily reported. The men were arrested in a December 2005 sweep in which rockets, explosives, handgrenades and assault rifles were also seized.

"Those captured have confessed that they recruited a number of young Lebanese in the northern part of the Bekaa Valley and many Palestinians from refugee camps based in Lebanon with the aim of forming 'suicide groups' to send to Iraq," the report said, citing unidentified security sources.

"Once recruited the men were trained in training camps situated in neighbouring countries," it said without naming the countries.

The alleged head of the Lebanese al-Qaeda cell, a Syrian national named Khaled Taha, was not caputred in the December raid and is still at large, the sources told as-Safir.

Taha apparently recruited Abu Adas, an Islamic extremist who appeared in a video after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, claiming that he was responsible for the attack. However Lebanese investigators, as well as a United Nations commission of inquiry into the bomb blast that killed Hariri and 20 others, have ruled out any al-Qaeda involvement.

Still, Lebanese authorities believe that besides dispatching fighters to Iraq, the al-Qaeda cell also planned terrorist attacks in Lebanon, the as-Safir report said.

On Monday Lebanon's security forces announced that they plan to create a "Special Agency to Combat Terrorism, with branches located throughout the country. Agency staff will receive special training from international anti-terrorism experts, they said.

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Security incidents in Iraq, Jan. 31

Jan 31 (Reuters) - The following are security incidents in Iraq reported on Tuesday, Jan. 31, as of 1330 GMT.

U.S. and Iraqi forces are battling a Sunni Arab insurgency against the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government in Baghdad.

* denotes new or updated items.

BAGHDAD - Police found the bodies of 11 young men in the back of a parked truck in western Baghdad. Police said the bodies were found blindfolded and each had a gunshot wound to the head.

*TARFIYA - Four Iraqi soldiers were killed and another wounded after they clashed with insurgents in Tarfiya, a small town 30km (20 miles) north of Baghdad, an army official said. It was not immediately clear if there were any insurgent casualties.

BAGHDAD - Three Iraqis were shot and their bodies dumped near a road in Rustamiya on the outskirts of the capital. Police said they had yet to identify the bodies.

UMM QASR - A British soldier was killed by an explosion in the southern Iraqi port town of Umm Qasr. Britain's Ministry of Defence said three other soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in the blast.

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GUINEA-BISSAU: UN alarmed at rise in drug trafficking

BISSAU, 31 January (IRIN) - Drug trafficking gangs shipping South American narcotics to Europe are using the tiny West African nation of Guinea Bissau as a transit centre, drawn by the cash-strapped government's lack of capacity to tackle the problem, warned UN officials.

A five-day mission led by the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in West Africa, Antonio Mazzitelli, found that the government's weak border security had attracted international criminal networks to Guinea Bissau.

"Guinea Bissau does not have the capacity to monitor its borders," leading to a dramatic rise in criminal activity, Mazzitelli said at a press conference on Friday.

Last October, Guinea Bissau's top drug enforcement official told IRIN that the country was the main West African transit point for drugs passing illegally to Europe.

The former Portuguese colony is ranked 172 of 177 countries in the UN's Human Development Index. The cash-strapped government has no coast guard, police have no cars and the navy no boats for patrolling national waters where scattered tiny islands make a haven for smugglers.

Even if criminals are caught, there are no high security prisons to house them, police chiefs complain.

Mazzitelli said that the prisons that he had visited were "practically inhuman," with prisoners bundled in cramped cells without electricity or water.

Guinea Bissau police chief, Quintino dos Santos, said that detainees are often released days after being arrested, as even the police consider cells too harsh to inhabit.

Prisoners in Guinea Bissau have to rely on food deliveries from family members because the prison service does not have money or facilities to feed prisoners, dos Santos explained.

Guinea Bissau's justice minister, Namuano Dias, who accompanied the UN mission in their investigations, said the government would like to do more to tackle criminal gangs and drug traffickers.

"The country has the will to tackle this problem, but we lack the means," he said, appealing to the international community for assistance.

Funds don't seem to be a problem for the drug cartels.

As Mazzitelli spoke in the seafront capital Bissau, police arrested four West Africans at the nearby international airport who had arrived from Brazil carrying among them 199 capsules of cocaine in their stomachs.

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Israeli army kills militants in post-election clash

JENIN, West Bank, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Israeli troops killed two Islamic Jihad militants on Tuesday in the first deadly clash since a shock victory by Hamas in a Palestinian election that has thrown Middle East peacemaking into turmoil.

Islamic Jihad said its West Bank military commander Nidal Abu Sadi was one of those killed.

The fighting near the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank raised tensions just a week after the parliamentary vote, in which Hamas trounced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's long-dominant Fatah movement.

Islamic Jihad, a group that like Hamas is committed to Israel's destruction and has carried out suicide bombings, urged Hamas and other armed factions to step up attacks on the Jewish state in response.

Israel has called for a boycott of any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, and said on Tuesday it expected to suspend monthly tax payments to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, a severe financial blow.

Israel collects customs revenue on behalf of the Palestinians and hands it over to the governing Palestinian Authority each month.

The next payment is due on Wednesday, Feb. 1, and was expected to total about $55 million. The salaries of about 140,000 Palestinian employees depend to a large extent on the customs revenue, though Hamas may be able to find alternative sources of funding in the Arab world.

In a bid to keep aid flowing, Hamas leaders have suggested they might not have representatives in the government but rather put unaffiliated technocrats in the cabinet.


The two Islamic Jihad militants were killed in a raid in the West Bank village of Arrabe, near Jenin, the army said. There was at least one Israeli casualty, Palestinian witnesses said.

After the incident, Nafez Azzam, an Islamic Jihad leader, called for other factions "to resume resistance against the occupation", a reference to attacks scaled back under a truce last year.

The Quartet of major powers trying to broker Middle East peace -- Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations -- said earlier this week that Hamas must reject violence and recognise Israel or risk losing international aid.

ButRussian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the world should not cut off funding to the Palestinians after Hamas's victory.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri called on other Quartet members to follow Russia's lead and "not to punish the Palestinian people for practising their democratic choice".

Jordan's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority also said on Tuesday that Amman "will continue to support the Palestinian people regardless of who is in government."

The Palestinian Authority faces a financial crunch if Israel withholds the tax money.

Unemployment in the Palestinian territories runs high, at 22 percent, and half the Palestinian population lives in poverty. In Gaza, many Palestinians live on an average of $2 a day.

Israel's foreign ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said the automatic tax payments to the authority would probably stop until the completion of a policy review ordered by interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Palestinian Economy Minister Mazen Sonnoqrot decried what he called "an irresponsible and grave decision" and said it would have "negative economic and social consequences for the Palestinians".

Masri accused Israel of "trying to steal Palestinian money".

Fatah leaders have so far rejected joining any coalition with Hamas, whose anti-corruption platform, charity network and strong resistance to Israel since the Palestinian uprising began in 2000 propelled it to victory.

Saeed Seyam, a senior Hamas leader, said the group still hoped Fatah would agree to join a government with Hamas.

"But if they do not, then that is their own business," he said. "The Palestinian area is crowded with experts and qualified people."

Abbas plans to meet Hamas leaders in Gaza within the next two weeks, his chief of staff said, denying an Israeli television report the president would hold talks with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo in the next two days. (Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)

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Sweden's SAAB eyes parts of S.Africa's Denel - report

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedish defence and aerospace group Saab is eyeing the acquisition of parts of loss-making South African defence group Denel, the head of Saab was quoted on Tuesday as saying.

The South African government said in December it was discussing partnership projects with Saab, but that privatisation was out of the question.

"We discussing the acquisition of various parts of Denel, but we could also find cooperation projects," Saab CEO Ake Svensson was quoted by newspaper Dagens Industri as saying.

The newspaper also quoted the head of information at Denel as saying confidential negotiations were going on.

Saab has been expanding its international activities as Swedish arms orders fall due to defence budget cuts.

Saab has already been active in acquisitions in South Africa, buying Aerospace Monitoring and Systems for 30 millon rand in December. In early 2005, it bought Grintek.

Denel in November posted a loss of 1.6 billion rand for fiscal 2004/2005.

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Egypt mediates between Lebanon and Syria over Palestinian arms

Tuesday, 31 January, 2006 Ya Libnan: Beirut & Cairo- Egypt's Intelligence Chief is expected to be in Syria Tuesday to hold talks with top Syrian and Damascus-based Palestinian officials to help solve the issue of Palestinian weapons in Lebanon, both inside and outside the refugee camps.

Omar Suleiman will discuss with President Bashar Assad and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal the deployment of Palestinian armed groups outside Lebanon's refugee camps, which has become a cause of increasing concern to the Lebanese people and authorities.

The talks come amid a deepening crisis between Syria and Lebanon over the U.N. investigation of former PM Rafik Hariri's assassination. The Feb. 14 murder along with a series of bomb blasts targeting anti-Syrian politicians and journalists were largely blamed on Damascus, which has denied the accusations.

Assad may try and make the issue of Palestinian armed groups in Lebanon a Palestinian-Lebanese affair, as has been reported by some papers, but the Lebanese will not buy this. Lebanon blames Syria for actions done by pro-Syrian Palestinian armed groups that have undermined Lebanon's security.

According to reports, Mashaal who is the head of Hamas, the organization that swept the elections in Palestine, may show more cooperation. He may in fact be willing to bargain the arms issue if Lebanon will provide better living conditions and more security for the Palestinians. People in the camps live under the worst conditions...there is a lack of basic civil rights ...they do not have the right to work in dozens of professions ...are not entitled to social security benefits...and do not have the right to own or inherit property.

Earlier this month, a Palestinian gunman from the pro-Syrian ( PFLP-GC) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command opened fire at two municipal policemen in Naameh, south of Beirut. The men were seriously wounded, causing uproar among residents who demanded that Palestinian weapons be banned outside refugee camps.

The Palestinian presence in Naameh, where the PFLP-GC maintains a network of tunnels and arms caches, has often been a source of anxiety for residents of Beirut and the Chouf region. Israeli warplanes have often struck Naameh.

Suleiman will arrive in Beirut on Wednesday to meet top Lebanese officials. His visit comes after a meeting held between Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week in Cairo. The two officials agreed to engage Egypt in mediation efforts between Syria and Lebanon to resolve the issue of Palestinian weapons.

"Palestinian weapons in the camps should be brought under control and there is no reason why they should leave these camps," Siniora said following his talks with Mubarak.

"Lebanon looks forward to the role that Omar Suleiman will play between Damascus and Beirut to solve this issue," he added.

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3 Japan defense officials charged

TOKYO, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Three officials at Japan's Defense Facilities Administration Agency have been charged with orchestrating a bid-rigging plot.

Investigators say that Takayoshi Kawano and two colleagues conspired with air-conditioning manufacturers to rig the bids for the installation of systems at a military hospital and another facility, Kyodo News Service reported.

Kawano was the chief of the construction department at the time of the alleged bid-rigging.

A number of officials from the agency have gone to work for air-conditioning makers.

Prosecutors said that several employees of the companies involved in the alleged conspiracy have admitted the bid-rigging.

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Georgia Closes Airspace to Russian Military Planes

Reuters: Georgia has closed its airspace to Russian military aircraft, officials said Jan. 30, adding a new irritant to relations still raw from a dispute over gas supplies.

Georgian air traffic controllers said Russia owed $1 million in unpaid fees for their services.

Tbilisi and Moscow have been at odds since a 2003 "Rose Revolution" brought to power President Mikhail Saakashvili who wants to align his ex-Soviet country more closely with the West.

A week ago Saakashvili said Russia deliberately blew up a pipeline supplying natural gas to Georgia to apply political pressure on Tbilisi. Moscow said the claim was "hysterical".

"Georgia�s airspace is closed to Russian military planes for the third day because of debt accumulated by the Russian side for (our) services," said a spokeswoman for the Georgian air traffic control department.

"It�s not a political, but a purely economic decision. We�ll open the airspace when the debt is repaid."

Georgia was thrown into an energy crisis last week after unexplained explosions on the gas pipeline and a major electricity line in Russia cut gas and electricity supplies to Georgia during the coldest winter in a decade.

Russian gas started to flow to Georgia again on Sunday following repairs.

Russia�s military mainly uses Georgian airspace to reach an airbase it rents in neighboring Armenia.

Russia has two military bases in Georgia and one in Armenia. Moscow is to close its bases in Georgia by the end of 2008 under a deal brokered last year by the two countries.

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Ex-commissioner questions survival of euro

EUObserver: Frits Bolkestein, the former EU internal market commissioner, has questioned the chances of survival for the euro in the long term.

Mr Bolkestein, who served in the previous Prodi commission from 1999 to 2004, predicted in a speech delivered on Wednesday (25 January) that the common currency will face a huge test in around 10 years, when a pensions boom is likely to hit Europe.

The ageing of Europe's population will hit the continent "ruthlessly," the outspoken Dutch politician stated, with eurozone states like Italy being unprepared for the expected jump in pension claims.

These states "will be forced by political pressure to borrow more and increase their budget deficit, with consequences for interest rates and inflation," he indicated, adding "the real test for the euro is not now, but in ten years time".

The ex-commissioner concluded "therefore, in my view the long-term chances of survival of the euro should be questioned."

In his speech, delivered before Dutch business leaders in London, Mr Bolkestein highlighted Italy as an example of member states' unpreparedness for demographic change.

The country finances pensions through contributions of the current working population, not through savings of pensioners themselves, managed by pension funds, the former commissioner pointed out.

This system will be put under pressure when the number of retired people increases compared to people with jobs.

Mr Bolkestein indicated that rising budget deficits as a consequence of the pension boom will be difficult to control, as the EU's stability and growth pact - the set of rules underpinning the euro - is not working.

Despite the pact, which stipulates that eurozone states' budget deficits may not exceed 3 percent, "member states, particularly the big ones, do what they want," according to Mr Bolkestein.

Mr Bolkestein, a free-market oriented liberal, is currently writing a book on the influence of intellectuals on politics in the 20th century.

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Dirty bomb attack only matter of time: German Minister

Expatica: BERLIN - Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German minister heading anti-terror forces, said in an interview published Sunday that terrorist use of a "dirty bomb" spreading radioactive fallout was no longer a matter of if, but when.

A dirty bomb has a conventional explosive in it, but spreads a toxic cloud of radioactive material packed in the bomb casing.

Interior Minister Schaeuble told the weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag that German intelligence services believed this was now a realistic option for terrorists.

"The problem is probably no longer whether there are going to be such attacks, but when and where they'll take place," he said. However he said the intelligence services did not know of any actual purchases of radioactive material by terrorists.

A German professor of terrorism studies, Rolf Tophoven, rejected the warning Sunday, accusing the minister of "panic-mongering".

Terrorists did not yet have such know-how, the head of the Essen institute on terrorism studies told the newspaper Berliner Morgenpost.


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Bomb blast in Balochistan, Pakistan

HUB: A bomb exploded with heavy blast here outside the Balochistan Session Court (BSC) early Monday morning at 5:00 am, However no loss of life was reported.

According to police official, a bomb detonated with heavy blast causing damaged of windowpane of the Additional Magistrate and chamber court.

No loss of life was reported and police after the incident reached the scene and has started investigation.

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China to produce gas from disputed field soon

(UPI) - China National Offshore Oil Corp., the country's largest offshore oil producer, completed infrastructure work at a disputed oil and gas field in the East China Sea.

CNOOC expects production to start by July, Executive Vice President Yang Hua told a news conference last week.

He said the five offshore projects, including the Chunxiao field, are ready to commence production in the first half of 2006.

"Regarding the Chunxiao project, I should say that technology, construction and infrastructure works had finished at the end of 2005, conditions were ripe for production," Yang said.

"But when production will start is not up to the producer," he said.

Japan says the Chunxiao field, which is located some 2 kilometers inside China's claimed side, is the median line separating the two countries' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea.

China does not recognize that median line.

The two sides failed to reach an agreement on the demarcation of their respective exclusive economic zones, an area that allows under international law coastal countries to control maritime resources up to 200 nautical miles offshore.

But the area between Japan and China is not enough to give the two countries such zones: The width of much of the East China Sea is less than 400 nautical miles.

Japan says it fears China might siphon off resources that could be buried under the seabed on the Japanese side of the median line.

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US-Pakistan rift opens door for Russia

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The Bush administration's recent rift with the regime of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is providing an opening for Russia.

While the U.S.-Pakistani relationship on the war on terror remains strong, the country's burgeoning energy needs have forced Islamabad to look to regional neighbors for support.

On Fri. Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told Russian journalists in Islamabad that the two counties need to upgrade cooperation in the areas of education, science and technology, energy, defense, trade and investment for mutual benefit.

Aziz stressed that Pakistan was interested in upgrading its contacts with Russia as the nation was trying to increase its capacity in energy sector by importing natural gas, and that the two countries could expand their cooperation in this field, particularly in the fields of natural gas and oil, electricity and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

In a move certain to unsettle both Delhi and Washington, the Russian journal Vremiia Novostii reported that Aziz has asked Russia to supply nuclear reactors, commenting, "Why not sell Russian nuclear reactors for our nuclear power plants? In the military area we have a successful record of purchasing Mi-17 helicopters."

Reiterating themes from Washington, Aziz said that his country stalwartly opposes terrorism in all its forms, adding that Pakistan regards its role in the war against terrorism as in the best national interest.

In a further signal that Islamabad might be moving further away from Washington on the issue of terrorism towards a Eurasian solution, Aziz said that Pakistan and Russia could cooperate in security matters as well as for fighting terrorism.

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Iraq: Tribal militias claim to capture 270 al qaeda fighters

Baghdad, 31 Jan. (AKI) - Some 270 Arab and foreign fighters have been detained in Iraq's restive al-Anbar province in a 'defensive campaign' launched by the local population towards the al-Qaeda network, tribal leaders say. A source close to tribal chiefs told Adnkronos International (AKI) that "the Iraqi security forces, with the help of the local population, have managed to arrest terrorists and Iraqis who provided them refuge."

"Most of them were Syrian, Saudi and Jordanian nationals. They have been transferred to Baghdad to be interrogated to discover how they reached the region and who is financing their terrorist activites" the source told AKI.

"The group of (Jordanian militant and al-Qaeda pointman) Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not expect a similar campaign which has dealt them a serious blow," he continued, adding that "it won't be the last given that the population is determined to expel those who kill civilians in the name of resistance".

Regarding the nature of the tribal militias, the source explained that "all the operations are carried out under the auspices of the defence minister Saadun al-Dulaimi and coordinated with volunteers in the area."

The governor of Nineveh (450 km northwest of Baghdad) had appealed to the tribal leaders in the province "not to help terrorists who could come here to seek refuge" after being forced out of neighbouring al-Anbar province.

For his part, the military advisor of the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Wafiq al-Samarrai, said that there are more contacts underway with armed resistance groups to define the security, stressing to AKI that "at the moment there are six groups, but there will be others" and that "high level government officials are overseeing these talks."

Samarrai added that "these talks do not involve the security question in al-Anbar province alone, but aim to create foundations throughout Iraq. In the coming days, there will bve meeting between the US troops and Iraqi resistance tgroups attended by Sunni tribal chiefs from Western Iraq to discuss the departure of American troops and their substitution with Iraqi forces, as well as the release of Sunni prisoners in return for a halt to armed attacks.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Sub-Saharan Africa economy: Digging deep


Mining houses are engaged in a new scramble for Africa. Buoyed by forecasts that higher metal and energy prices are set to persist, for the next five years at least, not to mention the fact that gold and platinum prices have reached 26-year highs, and copper is reaching new peaks, prospectors, developers and investors are looking at greenfield and expansion projects, as well as higher-risk locations and schemes. Last year, John Borshoff, the chief executive of Australia’s Paladin Resources, told an investment conference that the current resource boom will “redefine Africa”.

Of course, such comments have been made before, notably in the lead-up to the commodity price peaks of 1973-74 and the subsequent gold boom of 1979-82. On both those occasions, however, the commodity price boom soon faltered, and it is important to remember that the current boom is largely being driven by just two countries--the US and China. Equally, while metal prices rose 29% in 2005 to reach a new record high they are still some 27% off their 1974 peak after adjustment for inflation.

Perhaps for this reasons most African mining expansion is currently being carried out by more adventurous juniors and middleweights, with the major players tending to hang back, although this situation may not persist for very much longer. Gold is a hot favourite, given that its price has doubled to more than US$500 an ounce since 1999 and seems set to break through US$600/oz during 2006.

For example, in a joint venture with the Tanzanian government, a mid-sized South African mining house, Randgold Resources, is exploring for gold deposits in the Kiabakari Maji-Moto area, having recently opened its second mine, Loulo, in Mali, where it already operates the Morila mine. Pan-African Resources, listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market, has sold its Tanzanian mineral rights to Canadian major Barrick Gold and is prospecting in the Central African Republic, while in Eritrea Canada’s Nevsun Resources is developing a gold and copper property at Bisha. Australia’s Gallery Gold, which was taken over by Iamgold of Canada last year, has opened up the Mupane gold mine in Botswana and is also prospecting in Tanzania.

However, the biggest potential gold projects look to be in Ghana, where US gold major Newmont is developing two new properties, and has plans to invest elsewhere in West Africa. Australian junior Azumah Resources, which raised US$6m through an Initial Public Offering when it listed on the Australian Stock Exchange last month, has earmarked the cash for exploration and possible development of the Wa-Lawra gold project in Ghana, which has an estimated deposit of some 225,000 ounces of gold.

In Burkina Faso another junior, AIM Resources of Australia, is opening up the Perkoa zinc mine, which it bought from South Africa’s Metorex. According to AIM Resources’ managing director, Marc Flory, finance is the “sole remaining hurdle” to developing the mine. The company has appointed Barclays Capital as its financial adviser to raise the US$73m needed. Perkoa has an estimated mine life of 14 years and, if all goes to plan, should become fully operational during 2007.

AIM is also assessing the Mumbwa iron oxide, copper and gold property in Zambia, but this project is simply too big for a small company. Accordingly, AIM has entered into a joint-venture agreement with BHP Billiton, which is entitled to take up an 80% stake in Mumbwa should the feasibility study prove positive. In South Africa, however, AIM's Mokopane platinum project is on hold. According to Mr Flory, Mokopane is the company’s “least preferred asset” because--surprisingly at a time when optimism in the country is rising--he believes that the investment environment in South Africa is deteriorating. In sharp contrast, he sees Perkoa in Burkina Faso as a “potential company maker”.

It is not just Africa that is being re-defined by the commodity market boom: there are also implications for the very nature of investment. In a recent commentary on the copper market, Bloomsbury Minerals Economics (BME) notes that until very recently the actual copper price, at a record high of US$4,615 a tonne in mid-January, was not being driven by strong Chinese demand so much as by investment buying. BME estimates that fund investment in so-called Commodity Indices will rise from some US$80bn at the end of 2005 to around US$110bn by the end of this year and US$145bn by end-2007.

It says this is equivalent to an increase in copper demand of between 180,000 and 270,000 tones. No longer is the price of copper being driven by industrial demand and supply but by commodity fund buying. Some analysts argue that the supply situation is very tight and becoming more so, partly because of labour unrest in a number of countries, including major producers like Zambia and Chile, but also because of investment fund buying and downright speculation. One bank has even forecast a copper price of US$8,000/tonne before the year is out.

One way and another, therefore, there is a great deal riding on forecasts that metal and energy prices will remain high. Much of this optimism is pegged to the, seemingly reasonable, belief that rapid Chinese growth--which has brought with it strong demand for all commodities, but especially metals and energy--will continue for the foreseeable future. If this proves accurate the current scramble for Africa could turn into a sustained rush by mining and energy companies.

SOURCE: ViewsWire Africa

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Hamas rejects Quartet call to disarm, recognise Israel

GAZA, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Hamas rejected a call from the Middle East peacemaking Quartet on Monday to renounce violence and recognise Israel if it participates in a Palestinian government, a spokesman for the group said.

"The Quartet should have demanded an end to (Israeli) occupation and aggression ... not demanded that the victim should recognise the occupation and stand handcuffed in the face of the aggression," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Quartet representatives met in London on Monday and issued a statement saying Hamas must reject violence and recognise Israel.

Abu Zuhri said the Palestinian people were being punished for exercising their democratic right.

"The Quartet has punished the Palestinian people for having cast their vote," he said.

He added that Hamas was keen to have good relations with Western countries.

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New Honduras govt starts talks with violent gang

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Honduras' new government has started talks with one of the country's street gangs in a bid to persuade it to end its reign of terror, Security Minister Alvaro Romero said on Monday.

President Manuel Zelaya took office on Friday and has promised a crackdown on the gangs, which challenged the previous government with a series of beheadings and an attack on a bus in December 2004 that killed 28 people.

Zelaya took over from Ricardo Maduro, whose government tried to negotiate through mediators with one of the two main "maras" or youth gangs. The talks failed in 2004 after two of the gang's leaders were killed.

"One of these gangs has been in touch with me," Romero, a former army general, told Reuters in an interview. "We have been talking for one or two weeks and we are going to continue in this vein."

There are two main gangs in Honduras, the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18, with an estimated 30,000 members. Romero did not say which gang had been contacted.

A Catholic bishop and an evangelical minister will take part in the formal negotiations alongside government officials, Romero said.

But Zelaya's government would take a hard line against gang members, often heavily tattooed, who did not want to return to a normal life, Romero said.

"We cannot be naive in this respect," Romero said. "Those that have gone beyond the boundary of being able to reform will have to be tracked down and sent to jail."

The street gangs grew out of Hispanic youth gangs in Los Angeles and have terrorized the Central American nations of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in recent years with a wave of murders and mutilations.

Logging magnate Zelaya won elections last November against Porfirio Lobo, who wanted to bring back capital punishment for brutal murders and rapes.

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Fatmir Sejdiu to become new Kosovo President

ECIKS Prishtinë, Jan 30, 2006 - The largest party in Kosovo, LDK, has decided that Fatmir Sejdiu who is the current General Secretary of the party and the head of its parliamentary caucus, will replace Ibrahim Rugova as the President of Kosovo. Kosovo news agency QIK, who was close to the late president, reports that there was a complete consensus in the meeting held today by the LDK.

Fatmir Sejdiu is considered to be a moderate within the party and an acceptable figure from the opposition. He is a realist and a lot less idealistic than the late President, which signifies a change in direction the largest party in Kosovo, will take. Major reforms within the party will be expected if Sejdiu gets the position. Mr. Sejdiu is a doctor of History and a professor at the Law Faculty in the University of Prishtina. He comes the the Northeastern city of Podujeva(Besjana).

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Pentagon to bolster drone bomber spending

ISN SECURITY WATCH (31/01/06) - The US Defense Department is increasing spending on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) such as the Predator used on bombing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and for targeting high-profile terror suspects.

That's the word according to the Quadrennial Defense Review, a Pentagon report on the state of US defenses and recommendations for their improvement issued every four years.

Although the report is not scheduled for release to the public until 6 February, ISN Security Watch received an advanced copy of the document, which calls for an acceleration of the acquisition of Predator UAVs and Global Hawks, another unmanned bombing plane.

The review also says the Special Operations Command of the Air Force will include a new squadron solely for the operation of UAVs.

Although Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cautioned reporters last week not to place too much stock in a review since it is still subject to revisions, the Pentagon has already shown recent signs that it has committed to adding more UAVs to its arsenal.

Last week, the Pentagon reportedly ordered another five MQ-9 Predators fitted with Hellfire missiles commonly used in attacks on terror suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Predator's manufacturer General Atomics calls the MQ-9 a "hunter-killer" with a 14-missile capacity.

And earlier this month, news sources said the military was considering a phased decommissioning of the U-2 spy plane in 2007. The U-2, built by Lockheed Martin, will likely be replaced by the Global Hawk UAV recently developed by Northrop Grumman.

Military expert and Globalsecurity.org Director John E. Pike said the retirement of the U-2 was still not a certainty, though likely "for several reasons as the plane - in use for more than four decades - was "getting up in years".

Some experts have questioned the Pentagon's decision to rely more and more on UAVs, which have limited targeting and maneuvering capabilities compared to manned bombing aircraft.

"These things have limitations - they're not wonder-weapons," Winslow Wheeler, Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, told ISN Security Watch.

Resolution of Predator imagery taken from any higher than 10,000 feet is far inferior to images taken by manned aircraft, noted Wheeler.

"At that altitude, it can barely tell a car from a truck," he said. "The image gets fuzzy real quick … and that's an issue."

Supporters of manned aircraft also note that piloted planes can fly at much higher altitudes - 90,000 feet compared to 50,000 feet for the Predator - and can alter its mission in mid-flight, while the unmanned vehicle maintains a strict flight plan.

Despite calls from detractors advising the Pentagon to not depend so heavily on UAVs just yet, "the Defense Department is clearly on that course", said Wheeler.

“The danger is [with UAVs] you expect that it can do certain things for you, then when it can't, you've already become dependent on it," he warned.

The Pentagon's decision to acquire more UAVs comes in the wake of protests in Pakistan that followed a failed attempted to kill top al-Qaida operative Ayman al-Zawahiri on 13 January.

Some 18 people, including women and children, were killed in the attack. Al-Zawahiri was not harmed.

Al-Qaida's No. 2 man released a video on Monday shown on al-Jazeera referencing the attack mentioning the Pakistani village targeted by the Predator.

"Their claim was to target this poor man and four of my brothers. The whole world discovered the lies as the Americans fight Islam and the Muslims," says al-Zawahiri.

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Permanent five say IAEA must report Iran to U.N.

LONDON (Reuters) - The permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council agreed on Tuesday that this week's meeting of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog should report Iran to the Council over its nuclear programs, said a statement from the five.

"(Ministers) agreed that this week's extraordinary IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Board meeting should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran," said a joint statement after the meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain as well as Germany and the European Union's foreign policy chief.

A senior U.S. official said the statement meant Russia and China were on board with the United States and the European powers that there must be strong action taken by the IAEA on Thursday or Friday against Iran to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear bomb.

"This is the most powerful message we could have hoped for," said a senior U.S. official, who read out the statement after the four-hour dinner at which the ministers agreed to report Iran to the Council.

The statement said the ministers agreed that the U.N. Security Council should await the IAEA director general's report to a March IAEA meeting before deciding what further action to take.

The Council could ultimately impose sanctions against Iran but there are many steps before this could happen.

"(The ministers) call on Iran to restore in full the suspension of (uranium) enrichment-related activity, including research and development under the supervision of the IAEA," said the statement.

The statement added that they should all continue their resolve to work for a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Earlier on Monday, Iran put forward its ideas to European officials in Brussels who said the talks had yielded nothing new but that negotiations with the Europeans could be reopened if Tehran complied with IAEA requests.

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Raytheon Delivers Submarine Combat System to Royal Australian Navy

TEWKSBURY, Mass., Jan. 30, 2006 /PRNewswire/ -- Raytheon Company has
successfully delivered the Collins-class submarine tactical command and
control system to Australia, providing enhanced combat management, tactical
and weapons control capabilities to the Royal Australian Navy.

Raytheon will lead the installation and integration onboard the HMAS
Waller, the first Collins-class diesel submarine to be equipped with the
advanced tactical command and control system. Raytheon's AN/BYG-1 is the first
international version of the company's proven submarine combat management
system, designated the baseline combat system for the U.S. Navy's submarine
Raytheon's AN/BYG-1, developed to replace Australia's existing combat
management system, not only enables interoperability with the U.S. Navy but
also brings enhanced capabilities to the Collins-class submarine fleet,
including target motion analysis improvements and the ability to support MK48
Advanced Capability (ADCAP) torpedoes.

Integration will bring together the combat system with components and
sensors already onboard the Collins-class submarine, ensuring full end-to-end
capability. Delivery to Australia follows the completion of a simulated
exercise during which U.S. and Royal Australian Navy operators successfully
detected, classified and located targets and launched several hundred MK48
ADCAP torpedoes, Harpoon missiles, and various countermeasures.

"Our success as the mission systems integrator for the Collins-class
submarine can be attributed to the synergy of the international industry-
government team, the strength of our relationships, and our ability to work
seamlessly across the globe with a common goal -- mission success for the
customer," said Dan Smith, president of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.

"Raytheon was able to deliver a robust solution to the Royal Australian
Navy, one that will enhance the capabilities of its submarine fleet, leverage
the advancements of U.S. Navy technologies, and strengthen its role in the
protection of Australia's strategic interests."

Development efforts were performed as a cooperative partnership between
Raytheon, Raytheon Australia, the U.S. Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and
various industry partners, both in Australia and the United States. Under the
Foreign Military Sales contract awarded in July 2003, the Raytheon-led team
will develop and deliver five BYG-1 combat control systems for Collins-class
submarines and land based test facilities.

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Jazeera says to air new tape by Qaeda's Zawahri

DUBAI, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Qatar-based Al Jazeera television said it will air a new tape from al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri at 2100 Qatar time (1800 GMT).

The station did not give further details but said the recording was new. It broadcast a video showing Zawahri earlier this month.

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Hamas military leader wounded in drive-by shooting

GAZA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - A military leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas was wounded in a drive-by shooting in the Gaza Strip on Monday, local witnesses and medics said.

Khaled Abu Anza, a local leader of Hamas's armed wing was seriously wounded in the attack, according to medics. Another man travelling with him was also hurt, they said.

No claim was made for the shooting, but local Hamas leaders blamed rival group Fatah as responsible for the attack.

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Denmark right in taking stand on free speech

An escalation in tensions over a Danish newspapers printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which depicted him with a bomb for a turbin is gaining speed. However, where are the critic's over Arab countries anti-semitic, anti-west cartoons?

Image's of Jew's depicted as satanic cults is nothing new in the Arab media. Repeated over the years, anti-semitic cartoons have been printed and re-printed and yet barely a whisper is raised over their content. Now comes Denmark's conflict with Arab's states displeasure over the content and protectings Danish free speech laws which has been seen as instrumental in keeping the country's model social model afloat.

Further outcry over the cartoons in Denmark is likely. With Libya's embassy closing and others surely following, the next step would be economic sanctions that could prove damaging to the EU economy. However, Denmark must not relent and give into pressure over hypocritical attitudes which would be seen as rewarding muslim nations for their lack of action in their own state media outlets over content that has been consistenly anti-west.

Here are a few examples of cartoons in Arab media that depict Jews and the West in a bad light:

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Trouble in Pakistan’s energy-rich Balochistan

As Islamabad moves to exploit its geo-strategic capital in the mineral-rich southwestern Balochistan province, tribal leaders and regional nationalists make it clear they are ready to shed blood to gain more control over the region’s natural resources.

By Naveed Ahmad in Islamabad for ISN Security Watch (30/01/06)

Since 2002, a total of 843 attacks and incidents of violence have been reported in different parts of Pakistan’s Southwestern Balochistan province, including 54 attacks on law-enforcement agencies, 31 attacks on gas pipelines, 417 rocket attacks on various targets, 291 mine blasts, and 50 abductions. In the same period, a total of 166 incidents of violence were reported in the Kohlu district, including 45 bomb blasts and 110 rocket attacks, according to a senior official of Frontier Corps (FC) paramilitary force.

Normally, a region experiencing violence of this magnitude would feature prominently in major international media publications. But for the most part, what is going on in Balochistan - this far-flung, underdeveloped, but resource-rich Pakistani province bordering Afghanistan and Iran - has been largely ignored by the foreign press.

The most eventful year for the defiant nationalist forces in the province has been 2005, which started and ended with major military operations.

The Pakistani military launched its first operation in Balochistan in mid-January last year, after reports that a female doctor had been raped inside a residential compound belonging to a petroleum company led to retaliation by local tribesmen. The Bugti tribesmen launched a rocket attack on the facility and found themselves engaged in a showdown with the Pakistani military. After heated negotiations in April last year, the military-led government and the tribesmen agreed to a ceasefire.

However, on the night of 13 December last year, the ceasefire came to an explosive end when rebels from the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) fired two rockets at the Quetta garrison where Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf was staying on the first leg of a two-day visit to the province. Though the military successfully managed to stop the media from reporting the incident, the worst was yet to come.

The following day, the tribesmen struck again, this time firing eight rockets at a camp in mineral-rich Kohlu, where General Musharraf was visiting the newly built garrison and inspecting paramilitary troops. Three of the rockets landed close to the venue, but there were no casualties. The BLA quickly claimed responsibility for the attack. Then, on 15 December, a helicopter carrying the top brass of the Frontier Corps for an aerial view of the volatile region was hit by machine gun fire, injuring the top commanding officers. The BLA again claimed responsibility.
The emergence of the BLA

The BLA, which first emerged in the 1970s, originally consisted mainly of Marri tribesmen, but its composition later changed to include Bugti and Mengal tribesmen. Today, the BLA boasts many members from an educated, middle-class background. And Baloch nationalist leaders say the present conflict has succeeded in uniting, for the first time, the educated Baloch and the tribesmen.

It is the first time the two largest Baloch tribes have set aside their differences to join hands in the struggle. In the 1970s, the Bugtis sat on the fence while the Marris led the Soviet-inspired armed insurrection. More than 6,000 Balochis and around 3,000 soldiers were killed in the bloody conflict, which ended with military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq declaring amnesty. Thousands of Marri tribesmen received weapons training in Afghanistan in the 1970s, and today they rank as strategic planners in the BLA fold. The group has an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 men in its ranks.

Though the identity of its leadership remains secret, the BLA is reportedly led by a man known as “Ballach”, a Moscow University graduate and the younger son of tribal elder Khair Baksh Marri.

In addition to having its own flag and national anthem, the BLA also operates a website, which carries reports of its actions. Due to the porous Afghan and Iranian borders, the BLA men face little trouble in getting sanctuary and weapons, ranging from sophisticated pistols to anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

During a visit to Balochistan earlier last year, ISN Security Watch found the BLA members to be well-trained and well-armed, with machine guns, rocket-launchers, Motorola wireless sets, and Thuraya satellite phones receiving information about the movement of government troops.

Nawab Akbar Bugti, a former senior minister in Balochistan and purportedly one of the most defiant of the tribal elders, told ISN Security Watch: “Why do you ask me whether what the BLA is doing is right or wrong? The question to ponder is why so many people in Balochistan support the BLA?”

The BLA is fighting against domination by the larger Punjab province by denying them natural resources, he told ISN Security Watch by telephone from his hometown of Dera Bugti. Home to half of the country’s population and having the highest literacy rate and most fertile land, Punjab is by far the most prosperous province. Since no political party can form a government in Islamabad without securing a win in the populous Punjab, some of the other regional politicians blame the Punjab for their low standard of living.

Balochistan's deprivation is further aggravated when it comes to federal funding, as funding is allocated based on population - a formula that granted Balochistan 85 per cent less funds than Punjab in the last fiscal year.

Furthermore, because the majority of influential federal politicians, bureaucrats, and generals hail from Punjab, most major development projects and industrial estates have been directed there.

Though natural gas was first discovered in 1952 in Sui in Balochistan, the Baloch capital, Quetta, did not have any natural gas until the 1980s, and only then because an army garrison needed it. But by that time, natural gas had already been supplied to even the most remote villages in Punjab. Today, Sui gas from Balochistan provides 38 per cent of the country’s supply, yet only six per cent of the province’s 6.5 million people have access to it.

“People feel that they won’t get their rights through democratic and legal means,” Dr. Abdul Hayee Baloch, a leader of the Balochistan National Party, told ISN Security Watch.
The military mindset

General Musharraf has shown zero tolerance of this tribal defiance. Largely backed by the US because of his collaboration in the “war on terror”, the general has ordered his troops to eliminate the miscreants. And while the military operation launched to punish the defiant tribesmen was initially a limited one, it soon broadened to include other tribes sympathetic to the Baloch nationalist leaders.

Facing stiff resistance from the BLA’s guerrilla tactics, the military resorted to using gunship helicopters and fighter jets to bomb the remote mountain areas. According to the tribal Marri Ittehad Group, 80 people have been killed in those remote operations. The government has kept silent over the number of fatalities.

In the meantime, as military operations in Balochistan intensify, militant attacks on government installations, petroleum pipelines, rail tracks, and power grids are on the rise. The Baloch nationalist forces claim that innocent women and children have been killed by the military. The BLA website has published photos of the blood-soaked dead bodies of children and women they said had been killed in the military operations. The military refutes the charges and claims to have only launched “surgical strikes”.

Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Naeem, the commander of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, told reporters in Quetta that nine out of 15 militant camps had been dismantled in the Kohlu district alone. During a targeted action against tribesmen, nine FC personnel were killed and 14 others injured, while some 50-55 tribal militants were killed in operations in Kohlu and Dera Bugti, Naeem said. The government claims that 12 militant camps are still operating in the gas-rich Dera Bugti district, with two having been dismantled so far.

Though information from the remote mountainous regions is sketchy, and the media has only very limited access owing to the government’s expressed “security concerns”, the anti-Musharraf opposition and human rights activists largely subscribe to the nationalists’ claims. Opposition parties claim that the government is planning to build three expensive military outposts at Kohlu, Gawadar, and Sui. The country’s strategic planners say these military outposts, called cantonments, are needed for greater security in the province in light of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US and increasing Indian influence in neighboring Afghanistan and Iran.

“With India continuing to increase its presence in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, we have no choice but to secure Balochistan against external threats by building additional cantonments,” Lieutenant General Senator Javed Ashraf Qazi, Retd, told ISN Security Watch.

In addition, the elusive al-Qaida leadership provides the Pakistani military with an excuse for larger bases in the once-abandoned province.
Renewed geo-political significance

Covering nearly 350,000 square kilometers, Balochistan is by far the largest of four provinces in the country, though it is home to less than 7 per cent of Pakistan’s population. More than 80 per cent of Balochistan, designated as a tribal area, is governed through special laws that locals complain are highly discriminatory. The police are ill-equipped and poorly staffed, and smuggling and banditry are a major means of subsistence.

In addition to the long, treacherous, and porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran, Balochistan also has a 770km Arabian Sea coastline. This least developed Pakistani province also provides the country with some of its most vital ores, such as uranium and gold, as well as an abundance of natural gas and oil. The recent unrest has roots Musharraf decision to award some lucrative oil and gas exploration in the Kohlu region to companies outside the region. Soon after that, the events of 9/11 revived the geo-political significance of the country’s abandoned province.

When the Soviet troops marched through the streets of the Afghan capital, Kabul, in the late 1970s, Islamabad used Balochistan to house large numbers of ethnic Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan and set up religious seminaries for their education. Those same students later made up the main body of the Taliban that overran Kabul in 1996. After 9/11, the US again appropriated various naval, air, and other facilities in the Pasni, Panjgur, Shamsi, and Quetta areas in Balochistan to attack the Taliban regime. At the same time, Islamabad announced a number of mega development projects in Balochistan and also voiced its intention to establish new military garrisons there. In addition, the government initiated an ambitious deep seaport project in the tiny city of Gawadar, which would be linked to Karachi by a coastal highway. The Chinese engineers are now in the final stages of work on the seaport.

Iran has also been dragged into the quagmire, with Pakistani officials claiming that the Iranian town of Mand is a prominent sanctuary for rebel activity. In addition, Iran had raised serious concerns in 2001 with the handing over to US forces three Pakistani bases in Balochistan at the start of the war in Afghanistan.

India is also not oblivious to the situation in the Pakistani backyard. Pakistani officials claim that two Indian consulates close to the border in Iran and Afghanistan are providing weapons and financial support to the BLA in revenge for the Kashmir insurgency. Tehran and New Delhi both deny the allegations. India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman has twice “advised” Islamabad to exercise restraint in the military operation against Baloch tribesmen.

“The government of India has been watching with concern the spiraling violence in Balochistan and the heavy military action, including use of helicopter gunships and jet fighters by the government of Pakistan to quell it,” Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna was quoted as saying. “We hope the government of Pakistan will exercise restraint and take recourse to peaceful discussions to address the grievances of the people of Balochistan."

Pakistan shrugged off the warning, saying India would do best not to interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs.
Exploits of a medieval tribal system

Initial allocations for the government’s development projects amounted to Rs 140 billion (about US$2.33 billion), the largest sum of federal funds pledged to Balochistan since its independence from British rule in 1947. The other projects included a naval base, a water reservoir, and a network of roads and tunnels.

These massive, back-to-back development projects, in what was until only recently an extremely neglected region, sparked suspicion among nationalist circles that the mineral rich areas would either be separated from the province or a heavy influx of outsiders would reduce their influence in the region.

The nationalists want Islamabad to recognize Baloch rights over their coastline, oil, gas, and other resources. Despite its vast resources, the province lags miserably behind in all human development indicators.

However, the nationalist Baloch leaders have always capitalized on the tribal people’s lack of awareness of their rights, patronage from tyrant tribal chiefs, and Islamabad’s negligence to create a sense of Pakistani identity among them. The nationalist leaders have a vested interested in ensuring the federal government has little control over the province, and the tribesman, suffering from deprivation, support them.

Historically, the military-led governments have used the tribal elders for domestic and regional exploits, such as the insurgency against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In return, the government gives the tribesmen a free hand to operate drug and other smuggling rings, police their own people, and dispense justice as they please. The Afghan-Baloch-Iranian border has now become a major human trafficking hub and a notorious drug smuggling route to the western world. An estimated 80,000 people find their way to the Middle East via Balochistan’s Makran coastline and the neighboring Iranian port each year, according to a senior Interior Ministry official.
Fearing ethnic marginalization

Most Baloch people suspect that once the mega projects are completed, they could become victims of demographic marginalization. The Baloch population is already losing in numbers to the Pashtun ethnic group in districts bordering Northwestern Frontier Province and Afghanistan. Baloch politicians generally use the example of Karachi as a city that followed a markedly non-Baloch pattern of development when a seaport was built by the British in the 19th century.

“Fifty years ago, Karachi had half a million people, all of them locals,” said Sardar Ataullah Mengal, one of the three major tribal chiefs in Balochistan, who recently ended his 18-year exile in London and is now living in Karachi. “Today, Karachi has 14 million people, 80 per cent of them outsiders.”

The nationalist leaders believe the government is trying to turn Gawadar into another Karachi. They believe that one day, five million ethnic Balochis may become a minority in their own province.

Though the Baloch nationalists and the supporters of militancy represent a very small portion of the population, their actions make them a significant factor. The Baloch tragedy is a two-fold one. Firstly, the Baloch people have yet to find a leadership that could free them from the clutches of an unfair tribal system and unite them on a single political platform. The so-called nationalist movement acts on behalf of exploitative and vested tribal leaders who have worked in their own way to deliberately keep the people illiterate and the province under-developed. The second problem lies with the successive authoritarian regimes of Pakistan, which do not believe in the diversity and federal system of the country. Such regimes prefer to do business with tribal leaders instead of democratic forces that could bring the Baloch youth into the national mainstream and encourage them to develop a stake in the country’s political system.

Leading human rights activist IA Rahman told ISN Security Watch: “As for Balochistan, the only significant development over the past 40 years is a national consensus on the denial of its rights for a longer period than has been the fate of any federating unit in Pakistan.”

Even moderate tribal elder Sardar Shahbaz Khan Mazari blames General Musharraf for provoking the Baloch nationalists to violence. “You know the way he talks […] He’s so arrogant […] that’s not acceptable,” he said. In a public speech earlier this year, Musharraf said: “If they [the Baloch nationalists] do anything, I will hit them so hard they won’t know what hit them.” To that Mazari responded: “Musharraf […] has not just antagonized the people but even the senior army hierarchy, the retired ones, who consider him an upstart.”

The general’s decision to stay on as army chief while at the same time serving as the country’s president has created an authoritarian regime that has led to the disillusionment of nearly all sectors of society. And the military he leads chooses to impose administrative solutions to the most sensitive political issues, thus resulting in bloody militancy. Many analysts say that while Musharraf is busy earning kudos from the US for his efforts in the global “war on terror”, the conflict in his own backyard is turning bloodier by the day.

Naveed Ahmad is ISN Security Watch’s senior correspondent in Pakistan. He is an investigative correspondent for newspaper The News and monthly Newsline. He often contributes to reputed foreign publications. He was awarded the Hawaii-based East-West Center’s Jefferson Fellowship in fall 2000 and the Washington Press Center’s “Conflict Resolution and Nuclear Non-proliferation” fellowship in 2004. He serves on the panel of the Global Journalists Program, which is associated with the International Press Institute and U.S. National Public Radio.

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Chávez's No. 2: We can prove U.S. spied

Miami Herald: Venezuela's vice president pointed a finger squarely at U.S. Embassy officials in an escalating espionage scandal.

CARACAS - Venezuela has ''confidential information'' proving that U.S. Embassy officials took part in a spy ring involving active and retired Venezuelan naval officers, Vice President José Vicente Rangel said Friday.

Rangel's comments are likely to increase tensions between Washington and Caracas over a case that has captivated public attention here since last weekend, when five officers and one civilian were accused of espionage following a raid on a house in Caracas by officers from naval intelligence. They removed computers, CDs and diskettes.

The house belongs to dentist Jacinto Nouel, 66, the father-in-law of Lt. Cmdr. (ret.) José Ignacio Plaza. Nouel was arrested, and has since been accused of spying, along with five naval officers who have not been officially named.

Plaza, who is not among the five, lives in the United States. He resigned from the navy a year ago, after accusing two rear-admirals of corruption.

''His accusations were dismissed, and the navy began an investigation of him,'' his lawyer, Alonso Medina Roa, told The Miami Herald. ``There was even an attempt on his life.''

The government-funded TV channel Telesur claimed Thursday, citing intelligence sources, that U.S. naval attaché John Correa was the recipient of classified information supplied by the alleged spies.

Although there has been no official confirmation of the nature of the documents allegedly passed on, Medina said the material confiscated from Nouel was publicly available information about military aircraft that Spain was to supply to the Venezuelan navy.

The $600 million deal was placed in doubt this month after Washington placed a ban on the supply to Venezuela of components in the aircraft that originated in the United States.

Plaza took a military course in the United States several years ago, and, ''has relationships with a number of U.S. naval officers, as one would expect,'' Medina said. He said he was aware of no relationship with the naval attaché.

U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield said Thursday that he had ''absolute confidence'' in the embassy staff.

An embassy spokesman told The Miami Herald that there had been no official communication from the Venezuelan authorities about the alleged spying case.

Venezuelan authorities, however, have publicly linked the allegations to what they see as an ongoing campaign by Washington to destabilize the leftist populist government of President Hugo Chávez.

Gen. Melvin López Hidalgo, inspector general of the armed forces, said Thursday that the case was ''yet another instance of interference in the internal affairs'' of Venezuela.

Rangel, the Venezuelan vice president, said he was not surprised by the case.

''The U.S. [diplomatic] mission was totally involved in the 11 April coup,'' he told journalists, referring to an abortive attempt in 2002 to overthrow Chávez, who was restored to power after 48 hours. Rangel was defense minister at the time.

The United States, which has denied involvement in the coup attempt, initially welcomed the change of government. Chávez has since accused the Bush administration of involvement in plans to assassinate him and invade Venezuela.

U.S. officials have ridiculed the accusations, and Chávez has never produced substantive evidence.

However, the Venezuelan government has taken steps in the past 18 months to reduce to a minimum the military contacts between the two nations.

Chávez has supervised a top-to-bottom revision of Venezuelan military doctrine, placing the emphasis on a ''war of all the people'' against a potential ''imperialist'' invader.

He also has ordered the purchase of large amounts of new military equipment, including 100,000 Russian Kalashnikov rifles, Russian helicopters, and ships and aircraft from Spain and Brazil. The U.S. government has expressed concern about what it considers an unwarranted military buildup.

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Pakistan says signs of sabotage in train derailment

ISLAMABAD, Jan 30 - The derailment of a packed express train in Pakistan that killed at least two people and injured more than 70 appears to have been caused by sabotage, a railways official said on Monday.

"There is certain evidence collected at the site which shows an element of sabotage," Ishaq Khakwani, the minister of state for railways, told Reuters.

He said nuts and bolts and fishplates had been found removed from a portion of the track from where one of the six carriages of the train, which was carrying more than 600 people, plunged into a ravine on Sunday night.

Spanners were also found lying nearby, he said.

Khakwani said an inquiry was under way, but sabotage seemed the most likely cause.

He declined to speculate on who was responsible, but said: "They selected a place where maximum damage could be caused."

The Lahore-bound train was travelling from Rawalpindi, a city adjoining the capital Islamabad, when it jumped the track on a curving gradient.

One carriage plunged 50 feet (15 metres) into a ravine, while the others came to rest on a slope, Khakwani said.

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India, Pakistan, Iran begin workshop on gas pipeline

NEW DELHI, Jan. 30 (Xinhuanet) -- Senior officials from India, Iran and Pakistan are attending a two-day workshop that began deliberations here Monday to work out technical details of the multi-billion dollar tri-nation gas pipeline project, Indo-Asian News Service reported.

Iranian Deputy Oil Minister for International Affairs Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian is leading the team from his country, while Interstate Gas Company Limited (IGCL) Managing Director Saed Hassan Nawab is heading the Pakistani delegation.

The Pakistan government has assigned IGCL the task of handling the pipeline gas import.

Representatives from GAIL India Ltd. and Indian Oil Corporation are attending the workshop on behalf of India.

The decision to hold the workshop was taken during the Joint Working Group meetings between India and Pakistan and between India and Iran to set up technical level panels to discuss specifications about the pipeline.

Technical aspects of the pipeline are being discussed. The objective of the workshop is to find out international best practices and whether Indian steel plate manufacturers would be able to make the pipelines required for the project.

The technical workshop would also help the three countries to better assess the project cost, which is currently being estimated to be over 7 billion US dollars.

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Tribal militants blow up gas pipeline in Pakistan

QUETTA, Pakistan, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Suspected tribal rebels blew up a gas pipeline in Pakistan's troubled southwest on Sunday, shutting supplies to a U.S.- and British-owned power plant for the third time this month, police said.

The blast damaged a 24-inch (60 cm) diameter pipeline in Naseerabad district in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, cutting off the gas supply to the nearby Uch private power plant.

"It is the third time in this month that terrorists have blown up this pipeline," a local police official told Reuters, referring to Baluch militants.

He said 586-megwatt Uch power plant would remain closed until the pipeline, which is not owned by the power plant, was repaired, but did not say how long this would take. Officials of the Uch power plant were not immediately available for comment.

The main shareholders of the Uch plant are Britain's International Power Plc, and U.S. firms Tenaska Inc and GE Capital.

It sells electricity to Pakistan's state-run Water and Power Development Authority.

Tribal militants have frequently targeted gas facilities in the province, which is home to the Sui fields, Pakistan's main natural gas source.

The Pakistani military launched a major crackdown against militants in Baluchistan after a rocket attack on Dec. 14 during a visit by President Pervez Musharraf to the town of Kohlu.

Baluch nationalists say almost 200 people have been killed in the crackdown. The government has not commented on casualties but analysts say the figure could be exaggerated.

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