- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

KYRGYZSTAN

Putin seeks closer ties where U.S. deploys jets

BISHKEK Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged this week to strengthen ties with Kyrgyzstan, days after Russian fighter jets landed here, in an apparent bid to counter the growing U.S. influence in Central Asia.

Mr. Putin, who arrived from India on Thursday after an Asian tour that included China, said he had held talks with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev on boosting economic and military cooperation. The two leaders signed an agreement to cooperate in the sphere of security.

Mr. Putin said the talks underlined "the resolution of the two countries to strengthen their alliance." His visit followed the temporary deployment of three Su-27 fighter jets, two Su-25 ground-attack planes and two Il-76 cargo planes to the Kant air base a dozen miles outside the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan has allowed about 2,000 U.S.-led troops together with fighter jets to deploy at its Manas airport outside Bishkek for operations to root out al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.


AFGHANISTAN

Iran alerts its diplomats to al Qaeda threat

TEHRAN Iran has put its diplomats in Afghanistan on high alert after receiving information that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network plans to attack its embassy in Kabul, a newspaper reported Thursday.

"Two al Qaeda members of Arab origin have entered Kabul to blow up the embassy or to attempt suicide attacks and kill our diplomats," the Entekhab daily quoted Iran's charge d'affaires in Afghanistan as saying.


SRI LANKA

India bars any talks with Tamil Tigers

COLOMBO An opposition delegation that just returned from New Delhi said India would not sit down for any kind of talks with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Anura Bandaranaike, President Chandrika Kumaratunga's brother and adviser, led a three-member opposition team that returned Thursday from a three-day visit to India. The visit came after India did not send a political representative to a meeting in Oslo last week where international donors pledged support for Sri Lanka's peace process with the Tigers.

India had reservations about joining the meeting organized by peace facilitator Norway, since it would have had to share a platform with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE was banned by India in 1992 after the group's leader,Velupillai Prabhakaran, was held responsible for the May 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. His widow, Sonia, now leads his Congress party, which is the main opposition in India.


Weekly notes

Nepali leaders offered a guarded welcome this week to an offer of peace talks by Maoist rebels fighting the Himalayan nation's monarchy. Interim Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand, whose appointment is considered unconstitutional by mainstream political parties, has said he is ready for talks with the rebels but insists they issue a formal proposal in a letter to the government. Rice and vegetables grown in groundwater contaminated by Bangladesh's arsenic problem also take up the poison and accumulate it, say scientists in a report today in New Scientist published in full in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The water contamination occurs in shallow wells dug by international aid agencies in the 1970s and '80s into underground sediments later found to contain high levels of arsenic.

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