- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009


Tanker fire takes huge death toll

MOLO | The explosion of an overturned tanker could be felt for miles, and the moments that followed haunted survivors - people ablaze, their clothes burned off, running to the bush in a futile effort to escape the pain and begging for help.

More than 100 people were killed, and 200 were injured in the inferno overwhelmed hospitals Sunday, where victims lined the floors, hooked to drips and moaning in pain. Authorities were searching the scorched woods for corpses.

Hundreds of impoverished people had flocked to the overturned tanker Saturday to siphon fuel when it exploded, likely sparked by a cigarette.

The Kenya Red Cross said the death toll was 113 but was expected to rise.


Air strikes hit hospital 3 times

COLOMBO | Three artillery barrages struck a hospital in Sri Lanka’s chaotic war zone, slamming into its pediatrics ward and its women’s wing and killing many patients, the region’s top health official and international aid groups said.

Dr. Thurairajah Varatharajah said the shells in one of the attacks Sunday appeared to have been fired by the Sri Lankan army and killed five. They caused extensive damage to the overcrowded Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital, one of the last functioning health institutions inside rebel-held territory, he said.

The Red Cross said an earlier artillery attack killed two people. It did not say which side fired those shells. Dr. Varatharajah said one person was killed in that attack.

A third attack hit the hospital about midnight Sunday, said U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the army was not responsible for the attack and blamed the rebels, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.


War threats get louder

SEOUL | North Korea warned Sunday that South Korea’s confrontational policies may trigger a war on the divided peninsula, a message coming two days after the communist country vowed to abandon all peace agreements with its southern neighbor.

Relations between the two Koreas have been strained since conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office nearly a year ago in Seoul, pledging to take a harder line on the North. Tension heightened Friday when the North said it was ditching a nonaggression pact and all other peace accords with South Korea.

The tension may lead to “an unavoidable military conflict and a war,” North Korea’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried Sunday by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

A South Korean Defense Ministry official said Sunday that the country’s navy remains on alert along the western sea border. The official - speaking on the condition of anonymity citing department policy - said the ministry has not detected any unusual movements of the North Korean military.


Damages accepted for killed journalist

JERUSALEM | Israel has agreed to pay about $2 million to the family of a British cameraman killed by Israeli troops in 2003, an official confirmed Sunday.

The Israeli Ha’aretz daily reported that Israel paid James Miller’s family $2.2 million, a figure that Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said was “more or less” correct.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Miller’s family said the settlement “is the nearest they are likely to get to an admission of guilt by the Israeli government.”

In May 2003, Mr. Miller, 34, was in the Gaza-Egypt border town of Rafah shooting footage for a documentary when he was killed.


Activist jailed for rights campaign

TEHRAN | A lawyer for an Iranian activist said police detained the woman while she was campaigning for equal marriage rights for women.

The lawyer said Nafiseh Azad was detained Friday while collecting signatures for a 2-year-old campaign for equal rights for women in marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh said Sunday that collecting signatures is not illegal. Over the past three years Iranian authorities have detained many women seeking equal rights.

Calls to authorities for comment on the detention were not returned late Sunday.


Opium-growing to stay, U.N. warns

KABUL | Afghanistan’s production of opium poppies will likely decrease in 2009, but cultivation of the illegal crop remains entrenched in the country’s most unstable southern provinces, the United Nations said in a report released Sunday.

The low price of opium and high price of wheat - along with drought and pressure from the government - brought production down in most of the country in 2008, the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime said in its annual winter survey.

The survey anticipates a further decrease in opium cultivation. However, the country will remain the world’s largest producer of opium, the main ingredient in heroin, the report said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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