- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

IRAQ

Police claim arrest of al Qaeda leader

BAGHDAD — Police arrested a man yesterday suspected of being a top figure of al Qaeda in Iraq in the northern city of Mosul, where security forces have been carrying out a crackdown to root out the terrorist organization.

The U.S. military said it was looking into the police report. Reports of high-level al Qaeda arrests in the past have sometimes proved incorrect.

Maj. Gen. Ahmed Taha of the Interior Ministry identified the detainee as al Qaeda’s “wali,” — or “governor” — in Mosul, which would make him the organization’s top figure in the city and surrounding region.

But a security official involved in the detention said officials were still interrogating the detainee, Abdul-Khaliq al-Sabawi, to confirm his link to al Qaeda. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest.

Mr. al-Sabawi was captured in a morning raid in Salahuddin province, which neighbors Mosul’s Ninevah province to the south, Gen. Taha said.

FRANCE

Paris admits talks with militant Hamas

BRUSSELS — France has broken an EU taboo by admitting contacts with Hamas amid concern that the ban on talks with the Palestinian militants could hinder Middle East peace efforts, officials said yesterday.

The decision to acknowledge the meetings was also based on a new reality on the ground, as Egypt struggles to mediate between Hamas and Israel to secure a truce in the strife-torn Gaza Strip, they said.

“These are not relations; they are contacts,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Europe 1 radio. “We are not the only ones to have them. We are not charged with any kind of negotiation.”

Officially, contacts with Hamas — which is considered a terrorist group by the European Union, United States and Israel — are banned.

Mr. Kouchner defended the talks as essential to ensuring that French envoys can enter Gaza, which is laboring under an Israeli blockade imposed almost a year ago.

“All that Bernard Kouchner has done is admit in public what everybody is thinking in private,” said Graham Watson, leader of the liberal bloc in the European Parliament. “There can be no solution to the Middle East conflict without dialogue with Hamas.”

ISRAEL

Olmert faces corruption charges

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accepted envelopes full of cash from a U.S. businessman, the chief prosecutor said yesterday in his most graphic public account of a corruption case against Mr. Olmert.

Mr. Olmert has denied any wrongdoing in the case, which threatens to force him from office and disrupt his U.S.-brokered peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, speaking at a Supreme Court hearing, said investigators suspected New York businessman Morris Talansky had given Mr. Olmert “dollars, in cash and in envelopes, during brief meetings from time to time.”

The prime minister acknowledged this month that Mr. Talansky had raised funds for his two successful campaigns for mayor of Jerusalem in 1993 and 1998, a failed bid to lead the right-wing Likud bloc in 1999 and a further internal Likud election in 2002.

Mr. Olmert said his former law partner had handled the details, and voiced confidence that the lawyer had made sure proper procedures were followed.

Israeli law broadly prohibits political donations of more than a few hundred dollars, but a judicial source said the sums involved totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars.

UGANDA

Kidnapped youths forced into sex, labor

KAMPALA — Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have abducted at least 100 children from neighboring countries to use as sex slaves and laborers, an international human rights group said yesterday.

Peace talks between the government and the rebels appeared to stall last month when LRA leader Joseph Kony, wanted for war crimes, failed to appear at a signing ceremony on the Sudan-Congo border.

“Kony and the LRA took advantage of the breathing room given to them and appear to be terrorizing civilians yet again,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch.

Kony’s 21-year insurgency has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced 2 million people. Kony and two of his deputies are wanted for abducting children, massacres and mutilations.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch accused the rebels of kidnapping children in mineral-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and oil-producing south Sudan, as well as in the Central African Republic.

ZIMBABWE

Tsvangirai claims assassination plot

NAIROBI, Kenya — Zimbabwe’s opposition party yesterday accused the country's military of plotting to assassinate presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.

The Movement for Democratic Change said Mr. Tsvangirai planned to return to Zimbabwe to run in the June 27 runoff election once security measures are in place to protect him.

On Saturday, the opposition said it had received details of an assassination plot as Mr. Tsvangirai was on his way to the airport in Johannesburg to return home.

“The assassination plot involves snipers,” party Secretary-General Tendai Biti told the Associated Press after a news conference in the Kenyan capital yesterday. He said 18 snipers were involved in the plot.

“It is the military [plotting], the [Joint Operational Command] that has been running the country” since the March 29 election, Mr. Biti said. “I cannot speak [more] of that because it would put a lot of lives at risk.”

Zimbabwean officials could not immediately be reached for comment yesterday on the accusations.

INDIA

Poisoned alcohol leaves 73 dead

NEW DELHI — Locally brewed liquor apparently tainted with lethal chemicals killed 73 people in southern India, police said.

Bootleggers began selling the deadly brew on Saturday after police closed authorized liquor shops in parts of the Karnataka state because of voting for the state government, said Sri Kumar, the state police chief. In India, liquor stores and bars are routinely closed during elections.

Since Saturday, 73 people, most of them poor laborers, have died and several others were in hospital, Chief Kumar said.

Eight people have been arrested for selling the concoction, and police were analyzing the drink to determine what made it so deadly.

Deaths from illicitly brewed liquor are frequent in Indian villages and towns, where locally made brew is often spiked with pesticides or chemicals to make it stronger.

VENEZUELA

Explanation sought in airspace violation

CARACAS — Venezuela wants the U.S. ambassador to explain a violation of its airspace by a U.S. Navy plane.

The plane was detected in Venezuelan airspace Saturday night near the Caribbean island of La Orchila and questioned by the Caracas airport control tower, Defense Minister Gen. Gustavo Rangel Briceno said.

The Navy S-3 Viking, used for counternarcotics missions, might have crossed accidentally into Venezuela’s airspace while experiencing “intermittent navigational problems” on a training mission in international airspace, a U.S. defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

The Navy crew is based in Curacao and had some language problems during the three-minute radio conversation, the official said.

“They promptly responded and identified themselves as U.S. Navy, on a training mission in international airspace, and that a navigational error had possibly occurred,” the official said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports