- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

IRAQ

$5 million demanded for French reporters

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An Iraqi group purportedly holding two French journalists hostage demanded a $5 million ransom yesterday and set a 48-hour deadline for its demands to be met.

The statement, posted on a Web site in the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq, punctured the mood of cautious optimism in France that reporters Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot would be free soon.

The kidnappers’ statement, which could not be authenticated, said the group had planned to release the men earlier but that attacks had prevented them from doing so. They did not elaborate.

SUDAN

Sanctions described as a last resort

OSLO — The U.N. special envoy to Sudan said yesterday the time was not right for sanctions on Khartoum over fighting in the Darfur region, where up to 50,000 people have died.

On a visit to Norway, Jan Pronk instead urged the international community to increase pressure on Sudan. The United Nations wants Khartoum to accept an international force to help stop the bloodshed.

“Sanctions [are] the last instrument. But it is not yet time to use the last instrument,” Mr. Pronk told reporters after talks with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and Development Minister Hilde Frafjord Johnson.

PAKISTAN

U.S. claim dismissed in bin Laden hunt

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan yesterday played down comments by a top U.S. counterterrorism official that progress has been made in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Information Minister Sheik Rashid Ahmed described the remarks by J. Cofer Black — the U.S. State Department coordinator for counterterrorism who visited Pakistan last week — as a “political statement.”

In an interview with Pakistan’s Geo television network aired Saturday, Mr. Black said if bin Laden “has a watch, he should be looking at it because the clock is ticking. He will be caught.”

IRAQ

Prisoners respond to lighter touch

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military is reaping more high-quality intelligence tips from Iraqi prisoners since it jettisoned several coercive interrogation techniques after the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal in May, an American general said yesterday.

The number of tips on insurgent operations or on the structure and financing of anti-U.S. guerrilla bands has increased 50 percent since January, Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller said in a briefing with reporters.

Soldiers no longer are allowed to “soften up” prisoners by forcing them into so-called stress positions, standing or squatting in uncomfortable poses for long periods. Also banned is the practice of withholding food or denying sleep.

ISRAEL

New spy satellite crashes into sea

JERUSALEM — A rocket carrying an Israeli spy satellite intended to boost the Jewish state’s surveillance over archenemy Iran crashed into the sea shortly after liftoff yesterday, officials and defense sources said.

The Defense Ministry blamed a malfunction in the third stage of the Shavit rocket, which took off from an air base south of Tel Aviv. No casualties were reported.

The loss of the satellite was seen as a major setback to Israel’s attempts to upgrade its surveillance system to spy on enemies such as Iran, which it accuses of developing nuclear weapons.

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