- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

Colombian rebels kidnap 9 lawmakers

BOGOTA, Colombia Suspected rebels dressed in military uniforms burst into a provincial parliamentary building in the city of Cali yesterday and kidnapped nine lawmakers, police said. Five later were rescued by police.

Witnesses said the gunmen posed as a bomb squad and even brought a dog to gain entry to the building. Cali is Colombia's third-largest city and the capital of Valle de Cauca state.

The kidnappers told the assemblymen there was a bomb in the building and then fled with them, a police official said. Security forces chased the kidnappers in vehicles and by helicopter to the outskirts of Cali and rescued five of the lawmakers.

Interior minister Armando Estrada blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for the mass kidnapping.

Referendum push a U.S. plot, Cuba says

HAVANA In the first official reaction to an unprecedented push by local dissidents for a referendum to reform Cuba's one-party communist system, Havana said yesterday the proposal was a pro-U.S. plot that would go nowhere.

Activists behind the Varela Project which has become the small Cuban dissident movement's main rallying cause this year say they have collected 10,000 signatures in favor of the referendum as required by the constitution.

The project, named for a 19th-century pro-independence Roman Catholic priest, Felix Varela, proposes a popular vote on rights of free expression and association, an amnesty for political prisoners, more opportunities for private business, a new electoral law and a general election.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque avoided mentioning the project by name when asked about it at a news conference, but condemned its backers as being "on the U.S. government payroll."

"I don't think any of their initiatives or slanders in favor of a superpower's policy against a small country will have any success or any echo or support among the Cuban people," Mr. Perez said.

"The Cuban people is a politicized people, with growing levels of culture and understanding … and will not be deceived by the lies of a few opportunists and tricksters."

Although its backers insist the Varela Project is wholly local, Mr. Castro's traditional enemy, the U.S. government, is backing it publicly. Washington's most senior diplomat in Cuba, Vicki Huddleston, has called it the most important development of recent times among the Caribbean island's small and traditionally fragmented opposition movement.

China says Taiwan to dominate Hu visit

BEIJING China yesterday announced that Vice President Hu Jintao expected to be the next leader of the world's most populous nation would visit Washington later this month for talks likely to be dominated by the Taiwan dispute.

The announcement that the trip by Mr. Hu would go ahead ended weeks of speculation that Beijing was on the verge of canceling it in anger at recent U.S. overtures to Taiwan.

A U.S. official in Washington confirmed the visit and said Mr. Hu was scheduled to meet with top U.S. officials, including Vice President Richard B. Cheney on May 1.

The official Xinhua news agency said Mr. Hu would be visiting Malaysia, Singapore and the United States from April 23 to May 5, but did not give the specific dates of each visit.

Sudan says many rebels killed in clashes

CAIRO Sudan's military yesterday said it had clashed with rebels in the oil-producing Unity state in southern Sudan, killing many and taking full control of the area, Sudanese radio reported.

"The armed forces … have managed to expel the outlaws in Marmar region of Unity State, inflicting on them great losses in lives and ammunition," said the radio, monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp.

Spokesman Samson Kwaje of the main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, said he had no information about the government claim.

Sudanese rebels have been fighting for greater autonomy for the mostly Christian or animist south from the Muslim, Arab north since 1983. Diplomats and sources in Sudan said fighting had increased in recent weeks and months in some oil areas.

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