- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2010

COLOMBIA

FARC releases captive soldier

VILLAVICENCIO | Colombian rebels handed over a 23-year-old soldier to the International Red Cross on Sunday in their first release of a captive in more than a year.

Pvt. Josue Calvo had been held since last April. He walked out of a loaned Brazilian helicopter emblazoned with the Red Cross logo and into the long embrace of his father and sister after being picked up in the jungle and flown to this provincial capital at the eastern foot of the Andes.

Although the rebels had reported him suffering from an undisclosed illness and not ambulatory, Pvt. Calvo did not use the wheelchair that awaited him. He walked on his own, with the aid of a staff, and did not speak - only giving a thumbs up - at a later news conference.

Pvt. Calvo is the first of two soldiers the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, says it is freeing this week in what the insurgents call their last good-will unilateral release. The other is Sgt. Pablo Emilio Moncayo, who has been held for more than 12 of his 32 years and whose father gained fame for walking halfway across Colombia to press for his release.

THAILAND

Prime minister refuses demands

BANGKOK | Thailand’s prime minister met his political opponents on live television Sunday to try to defuse a crisis that has produced huge demonstrations and sent him fleeing to live at an army base, but the protest leaders said new elections are the only answer.

Viewers across the nation watched three men in red and three in blue - the “Red Shirt” protest leaders, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajva and two advisers - shake hands with strained smiles across a conference table before reiterating their sharply different stances. More talks were set for Monday, but Sunday’s three-hour meeting offered little reason to think any agreement could be reached.

“Our request is simple and direct. We would like parliament dissolved to return power to the people, so they can make their decision,” said Veera Muksikapong, one of the protest leaders.

Mr. Abhisit has repeatedly rejected the protesters’ demands that he dissolve parliament, arguing that “the wound in this country cannot be healed” that way.

“I have to make a decision based on a consensus from the entire country, including the Red Shirts,” he said. “If I dissolve parliament, what color shirts will spring up next?”

MONGOLIA

Harsh winter decimates livestock

BEIJING | A severe winter has left an estimated 4.5 million dead animals in stockyards across the Mongolian steppes, and many poor herders face the loss of all their property just before the important breeding season.

About one-tenth of Mongolia’s livestock may have perished, as deep snows cut off access to grazing and fodder. The damage to the rural economy could increase demands on Mongolia’s already stretched national budget, which relies on mining revenues to meet spending commitments.

The Red Cross launched an emergency appeal for 1 million Swiss francs to assist Mongolian herders, after it estimated that 4.5 million livestock have died in the country since December.

CANADA

Seal hunt off to slow start

MONTREAL | Canada’s annual seal hunt was off to a slow start Sunday, with most fishing boats still moored in their harbors, as missing ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence kept their prey hundreds of miles to the north.

“I know one boat set sail tonight, at around 4:00 a.m.,” Magdalen Island seal hunters’ association president Denis Longuepee told AFP. “In past years, there were 10 to 40 boats weighing anchor” to go seal hunting.

About a dozen hunters are aboard a ship trying to find a small harem of 1,000 seals spotted Saturday from a plane by Fisheries and Oceans Canada near Blanc-Sablon, in the northeastern corner of Quebec province, according to Radio Canada.

The mild winter this year has hampered the hunt for the Greenland seal. A lack of ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has kept some 300,000 seals far to the north, off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, where there is coastal ice.

Seal hunting is controversial for its perceived inhumane killing methods. The 27 European Union states in July 2009 adopted a ban on seal products, ruling the goods could not be marketed starting in 2010.

MOROCCO

Sheik still missing in plane crash

RABAT | Rescuers on Sunday were searching a Moroccan hillside lake for the boss of the world’s largest sovereign fund, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), two days after his plane crashed into it.

The aircraft of Sheik Ahmed bin Zayed al-Nahayan - the younger brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi, who is also president of the United Arab Emirates - crashed into a reservoir six miles south of the Moroccan capital Rabat on Friday.

“The search is still going on. That is all that I can tell you,” Moroccan Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said.

The missing sheik is in his early 40s and was ranked No. 27 on Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people last year.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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