- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 1999

'Terrorist cleric'

The Indian Embassy is frustrated by what it sees as the news media's uninformed portrayal of a jailed terrorist whose release is demanded by the hijackers of an Indian airliner.
One diplomat complained to Embassy Row yesterday after watching a report on an American news channel that referred to Maulana Masood Azhar only as a "jailed cleric."
"This cleric is not a real cleric, but a terrorist," said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified.
"He is no more a cleric than the 'blind cleric,' " he added, referring to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
The hijackers, who commandeered the airliner on Christmas Eve, are demanding Azhar's release along with other jailed Kashmiri militants.
The Washington Times and other newspapers have reported on Azhar's background as a leading member of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, headquartered in Pakistan and classified as a terrorist group by India and the United States.
Azhar was arrested in India in 1994 after entering the country on a false passport two years earlier. He has been convicted of terrorist charges of agitating for the secession of the disputed Kashmir region from India.
The group is also responsible for kidnapping and killing Westerners and is linked to Osama bin Laden, the diplomat said, referring to the Saudi terrorist believed to be planning attacks on Americans.

'Doors are open'

Philippine Ambassador Ernesto Maceda yesterday said his country expects to begin receiving surplus U.S. military equipment next week with the scheduled arrival of a Coast Guard patrol boat.
The cutter Evans was turned over to the Philippines consul in Honolulu last week.
Mr. Maceda, on a home visit to Manila, told reporters that the U.S. Defense Department has also given the Philippines 15 Humvee vehicles. Five or six of them are to be sent to Philippine peacekeepers in East Timor, he said.
The United States agreed to supply the equipment after the Philippine Senate earlier this year ratified a military training agreement that will grant American troops the equivalent of diplomatic immunity while they are on official missions to the Philippines.
"All of this is a result of the training agreement. The doors are open. The atmosphere is very positive and affirmative," Mr. Maceda said.
The United States and the Philippines are bound by a 1951 defense treaty, but the Philippines in 1991 refused to ratify a treaty to allow American troops to continue using the Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base.
Mr. Maceda also said the United States has pledged to release $46 million worth of foreign military sales credits to allow the Philippines to purchase U.S. military equipment.

Cultural understanding

The U.S. Embassy in Greece has signed an agreement with the Athens government to try to control the smuggling of antiquities.
"Each year countless priceless artifacts representing all periods of Greek history disappear from excavations and other sites in Greece, and many eventually make their way to the U.S., where they are found in private collections or even in museums," the State Department said earlier this month in announcing the agreement.
A memorandum of intent was signed by the embassy and the Greek Ministry of Culture. It is the first step in formalizing a bilateral accord that will allow the United States to impose import controls on Greek antiquities.
Greece next must identify the categories of artifacts considered to be most at risk from smugglers.

Female ambassador

Bahrain has appointed its first female ambassador.
Sheika Hayya bin Rashid Khalifa, a lawyer, prominent feminist and a member of Bahrain's ruling family, is expected to take up her position as ambassador to France on Jan. 3.
The government earlier this month announced plans to end the male domination of the diplomatic corps. Other women are expected to received diplomatic posts.
Kuwait is the only other Gulf nation with female diplomats.

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