- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Governors slam U.S. drug offensive

BOGOTA, Colombia Governors from cocaine-producing regions in Colombia yesterday condemned a U.S.-backed plan for aerial spraying of drug crops, saying the operation would imperil the livelihoods of thousands of poor peasants.

The almost $1 billion in mostly military aid for President Andres Pastrana's "Plan Colombia," approved by the U.S. Congress in July, is aimed at eradicating illicit fields of coca and cutting the funding of leftist guerrillas who protect and profit from the trade.

But a group of governors on the front line in the war against drugs said they would present in an upcoming meeting an alternative plan urging Mr. Pastrana's government to stop aerial spraying of herbicides and instead fund crop-substitution programs to wean peasants from their dependence on drug crops.

China punishes Falun Gong members

BEIJING In a rare disclosure, China said yesterday it has punished 242 organizers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and sent an undisclosed number of followers to labor camps during an 18-month-old crackdown.

The government information appeared aimed at countering claims that thousands of sect followers are in prisons or labor camps and came in the wake of a major weekend gathering of Falun Gong members in Hong Kong.

A Hong Kong-based rights group says at least 10,000 Falun Gong members are being held in more than 300 labor camps, with one camp for women in northeastern Changchun city holding 560.

The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy has reported 98 deaths of sect members, mostly at police hands, while in custody. Many sect leaders are known to have been imprisoned, with one organizer serving an 18-year prison sentence.

Russian envoy confers with pope

VATICAN CITY The Vatican yesterday said it holds similar views with Russia on the Middle East and other international issues after a meeting between Pope John Paul II and Russia's foreign minister.

The Vatican statement, issued after the talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, made no mention, however, of a possible papal trip to Moscow, one of the unfulfilled goals of John Paul's 22-year papacy.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II has been the chief stumbling block to a Vatican visit. Long-standing theological divisions between Roman Catholics and the Russian Orthodox Church have worsened because of Catholic missionary activity since the fall of communism in traditionally Orthodox Russia.

Iraq to donate millions to poor Americans

BAGHDAD The Iraqi government, at a meeting chaired by President Saddam Hussein, yesterday agreed to donate $94 million to poor Americans, the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) said.

INA said an Iraqi commission would be formed to supervise distribution of the money and that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan would be notified of the donation.

Iraq is under a U.N. humanitarian program to relieve its population from the effects of economic sanctions imposed over the country's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Baghdad's proceeds from oil sales are used to buy food, medicine and other essential goods under U.N. monitoring.

Presidents revive African community

ARUSHA, Tanzania The presidents of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya established a new East African Community yesterday, reviving a regional partnership that collapsed 23 years ago amid bitter disagreements over how modern African states should develop.

The three presidents agreed to strengthen political, economic and cultural relations and to adopt a common East African passport.

The new partnership also envisions a customs union, a common market for about 81 million people and free regional movement of people and residences without immigration controls.

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