- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No connection’

The State Department yesterday denounced reports that attempted to link the former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan to a sex ring and to the slaying of his former interpreter. A spokesman noted that the U.S. Embassy has helped in the investigation of the sex ring and that two Azerbaijani citizens are scheduled to go on trial today.

“There is no connection between either of these cases” and the reassignment of Ambassador Reno L. Harnish III, said Terry Davidson of the department’s European Bureau.

Mr. Harnish returned to Washington to take up his promotion to principal deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science, Mr. Davidson said.

Embassy Row noted yesterday that the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, has been denying for months stories in the Azerbaijani and Russian press that linked Mr. Harnish’s departure to an investigation into a sex ring that involved the smuggling of young Azerbaijani women into the United States and to the recent killing of Zarifa Jabiyeva, the ambassador’s former interpreter. The liberal Web site www.huffingtonpost.com this week posted a United Press International story about this.

Mr. Davidson said the reports “look more like disinformation than news reporting.”

He said the embassy helped Azerbaijani authorities and the FBI in the investigation of two Azerbaijani citizens convicted in New York two years ago for their part in the trafficking of the women.

“The FBI has been working closely with Azerbaijani law-enforcement authorities since then to help bring others who may have been involved in the case to justice,” he said. “As a direct result of this cooperation, two more Azerbaijani citizens have since been arrested in Baku and are scheduled to go on trial [today].”

Mr. Davidson also said the killing of the ambassador’s interpreter is not related to the investigation into the sex ring.

Aiding Bangladesh

The U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh is pledging to help train security forces to fight terrorists who have been targeting the South Asian nation in the past year and to try to calm political tensions between the government and opposition parties.

“Fighting terrorism is a priority, not just for Bangladesh, but for the entire world,” Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis told reporters in the capital, Dhaka. “It is about freedom, tolerance and respect for others.”

She also congratulated authorities for the arrests of Shayek Abdur Rahman, leader of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, and Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai, head of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh. They are accused of planning attacks that have killed 30 and wounded 150 since August, the Reuters news agency reported.

The ambassador also called on the 14-party opposition alliance led by the Awami League to call off street protests that have turned violent and agree to participate in peaceful and fair elections as scheduled in January. The opposition has been trying to force the resignation of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who has insisted she will complete her term.

“Election is my second priority,” the ambassador said. “We will help Bangladesh in holding a free and fair election.”

Driving mishap

An American diplomat in Kazakhstan accidentally drove into a heavily guarded motorcade in which President Nursultan Nazarbayevwas riding, the U.S. Embassy said yesterday.

The embassy, in a statement released to reporters in Almaty, the country’s largest city, said the diplomat pulled into the motorcade after he left the parking lot of his apartment building. Security guards stopped the diplomat, whose name was not disclosed, and checked his diplomatic status before releasing him. The embassy hinted at another problem but did not elaborate.

“There was a misunderstanding when [he] tried to pull away before police had finished questioning,” the statement said, according to news reports.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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