- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

17 die in gunbattles across Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India Violence flared in the disputed Kashmir region, at the core of a dispute between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, with 17 persons, including 15 rebels, killed in separate gunbattles, officials said yesterday.

The number of deaths was the highest in a 24-hour period since Sunday, when 21 persons were killed in Indian Kashmir, where a separatist revolt has raged for nearly 13 years.

The latest killings came as Defense Minister George Fernandes told reporters in Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, that "there are 3,000 militants still active in the state and efforts would be taken effectively to neutralize them."

Main suspect denies charges in Pearl case

HYDERABAD, Pakistan A British-born man accused of masterminding the kidnap and killing of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl rejected the charges in a Pakistani court yesterday and blocked his cross-examination by prosecutors, lawyers said.

Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed, questioned for the first time, described the charges against him as "baseless allegations," but did not take an oath.

Chief prosecutor Raja Qureshi told reporters that under Pakistani law, prosecutors cannot cross-examine a defendant unless his statement is under oath, but he would expect a non-oath statement to carry less weight with the court than one made while under oath.

Tamil Tigers agree to stop drafting youths

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka The Tamil Tiger rebels have agreed to stop recruiting child soldiers, removing a thorny issue before peace talks with the government, UNICEF announced.

The government and Tigers plan to meet for peace talks this summer in Thailand to end a war that has killed about 64,000 people, although at midweek the rebels said the peace effort was in the doldrums.

Human rights groups have accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fighting since 1983 for an ethnic-minority state in the island's north and east, of feeding their guerrilla army by drafting children as young as 10.

"They have made a serious commitment to stop recruiting children," Ismalebbe Zanofer, UNICEF's program officer, told Reuters. "They have agreed not to use children under 17 in combat." The rebels repeatedly have denied forcing children to join their struggle.

Weekly notes

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi marked her 57th birthday on Wednesday with a call for women to be empowered to help bring democracy to her military-ruled country. In her statement, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner said, "For Burma to progress and take its rightful place in today's world, the women must be empowered." Indian air force chief S. Krishnaswamy heads for the United States today on a visit expected to focus on the use of air power to curb terrorist activities, a defense official in New Delhi said. "India and the United States will hold an intense dialogue on their experiences in the use of air power in counterinsurgency operations," the official told Agence France-Presse.

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