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Rebels say Americans are prisoners of war

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2003


BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombian rebels declared Monday that three captured Americans were "prisoners of war" and will be freed only as part of a broad prisoner exchange with Colombian government.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, demanded a demilitarized zone from the Colombian government in order to exchange the three Americans and dozens of Colombian soldiers and police -- who are also held by the rebels -- for insurgents who are in Colombian prisons. The rebels posted their statement on their Internet site.

The three Americans were captured on Feb. 13 after their U.S. government plane went down in FARC territory. A fourth American and a Colombian were shot and killed near the scene of the crash. Colombian authorities announced Monday they had captured a suspect in the killings.

Sharon forms majority coalition without Labor

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday secured enough seats in Parliament to form a government, teaming up with a nationalist religious party that champions Jewish settlers in Palestinian territories and a secular party that's battling ultra-Orthodox religious perks.

If Sharon presents it on Thursday, as planned, Israel's 30th government would leave the once-dominant Labor Party in opposition. Labor's latest leader, retired Army Gen. Amram Mitzna, quit talks with Sharon over the weekend after the two couldn't find common ground on how to make peace with the Palestinians.

The deal also would leave Sharon's Likud in near absolute control of security and defense decisions ranging from whether to exile Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to how to crush the 29-month-old Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Historically, Sharon has taken a hard line against Palestinians.

PALESTINIAN KILLED AT HOUSE: Palestinians pulled the body of a Palestinian militant from the rubble of a house in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, on Monday after Israeli soldiers blew it up during a raid aimed at stopping militants from firing rockets at a neighboring Israeli town.

Abdullah al-Saba, 52, led resistance to destruction of his family home during the 30-hour Israeli incursion, when five buildings were knocked down and six other Palestinians were killed. Up to now, Palestinians had battled Israelis in the streets, but had not made a stand inside houses targeted for demolition.

Ex-Zambia leader charged with theft, out on bail

LUSAKA, Zambia -- Former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba was arrested Monday and charged with stealing from the government during his decade in office.

Chiluba, the nation's first democratically elected president, has been charged with 59 counts of theft by a public servant. He was released on bail of $300,000 and ordered to appear again in court next Monday.

Chiluba, 59, a onetime bus conductor and trade organizer, has denied all wrongdoing.

30 jailed as gangs rampage in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Police and military units arrested 30 people Monday after a police station, supermarkets and apartment buildings were attacked with bombs and machine guns, and cars and buses were set afire.

The attacks were believed to have been carried out by powerful drug-trafficking gangs based in the city's squatter slums, who brought normal activity in Rio to a halt five months ago as a protest against conditions in the prisons in which several of their top leaders are held.

Carnival, the annual pre-Lenten festival, will start Friday.

Abortion performed on 9-year-old under study

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Nicaragua is investigating whether a crime was committed when doctors performed an abortion on a 9-year-old rape victim, the attorney general announced Monday.

The case has set off a major debate in this Roman Catholic country where abortion is illegal with few exceptions, one of which is when the mother's life is in danger.

The girl, identified as Rosa, had an abortion Thursday at a clinic in Managua, some 16 weeks after she was raped in Costa Rica, a women's health group announced. A suspect is in custody in the neighboring country.

Serbian leader surrenders to war crimes tribunal

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- A Serbian ultranationalist leader who once visited Saddam Hussein surrendered to the U.N. war crimes tribunal Monday and pledged a vigorous defense against allegations that his troops committed atrocities during the Balkan wars.

Vojislav Seselj, a close ally of former President Slobodan Milosevic who has been on trial in The Hague for more than a year, took a commercial Yugoslav Airlines flight to Amsterdam, where he was detained by plainclothes policemen and driven off in an unmarked van.

Seselj, known for a fierce temper and scathing anti-Western remarks, said he would defend himself against the charges "with a greater vigor than Milosevic."

Seselj faces charges that his paramilitary troops committed atrocities during wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

Also . . .

WARNING IN INDIA: The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi warned Americans on Monday to stay away from major government buildings in the center of the capital because of newspaper reports suggesting a terrorist attack.

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