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World in brief

Police seek arrests of subway officials in fire

©Associated Press
February 23, 2003

DAEGU, South Korea -- Police said Saturday they will seek the arrest of several subway officials for negligence in a devastating subway train fire that killed at least 133 people in South Korea's third-largest city.

The widening investigation comes as victims' relatives visited the burned-out station in Daegu and fingered through the wreckage for personal items of loved ones.

It was the first time victims' relatives were allowed onto the charred platforms since Tuesday's disaster, which sparked nationwide concern about lax safety standards.

Police said Saturday they will seek a homicide warrant for the mentally disturbed man who allegedly ignited the fire in attempt to commit suicide. If convicted, he faces a minimum of seven years behind bars. The maximum sentence is death.

A Daegu police investigator who identified himself only as Sgt. Yoon said police will also pursue the arrests of six subway officials, including the drivers of the two trains that caught fire. Police intend to file warrants on charges of homicide by negligence, Yoon said.

Those charges carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.

The driver of the train that first caught fire is being investigated for failure to report the fire to subway authorities quickly enough, Yoon said.

Police will also investigate suspicions that the Daegu Subway Corp., which runs the system, tried to cover up or destroy evidence suggesting it bungled the response to the disaster.

Police said Friday that the driver of the second burning train apparently fled without opening the doors for his passengers, leaving dozens to die.

Most of the dead were killed in that train, which pulled into the station after a first train had already caught fire.

Police said that of the six cars in the train, the doors were open on only two of them.

In South Korea, police must apply to the courts for permission to issue arrest warrants. The process can take several days.

Extremist group calls truce in N. Ireland

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The Ulster Defense Association, an outlawed paramilitary group known for slaying Catholics and selling drugs on its own Protestant turf, pledged to halt both activities Saturday in a surprise cease-fire declaration.

Britain, Ireland and moderate Catholics cautiously welcomed the move, which follows a murderous internal feud that left one UDA commander dead and supporters of its most notorious leader, Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, on the run.

In a statement read by political representative Tommy Kirkham, the six-person UDA command said the group's approximately 3,000 members "have begun to observe a 12-month period of military inactivity."

In practice, this means a commitment by the organization to stop throwing pipe bombs at Catholic-occupied homes and businesses and to stop shooting people presumed to be Catholic. Such attacks have claimed at least half a dozen lives since 2001, when Britain ruled that the UDA's 1994 cease-fire had been violated so often that it was no longer valid.

The UDA also pledged to resume negotiations with John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general who since 1997 has been trying, with little success, to persuade the Irish Republican Army and outlawed Protestant gangs to abandon their hidden weapons stockpiles.

The IRA-linked party Sinn Fein dismissed the UDA statement as implausible and noted that in the past the group had attacked Catholics using cover names, like the Red Hand Defenders and the Orange Volunteers.

Israeli tanks enter town

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- About 20 Israeli tanks entered the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip early Sunday, residents said. The town is across from an Israeli village hit by rockets a few days earlier.

The tanks, accompanied by attack helicopters, headed for the center of town, firing on a house and blocking all access roads as soldiers imposed a curfew, witnesses said.

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