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World in brief

Liberian sides enter cease-fire talks

By Times Wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 14, 2003

AKOSOMBO, Ghana - Liberia's warring parties tried to agree on details of a cease-fire Friday, while medics struggled to treat growing numbers of casualties in Liberia's rebel-besieged capital. Government officials said days of fighting have left at least 300 dead.

"We are making very good progress. We are hopeful of signing a cease-fire document tomorrow," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of the regional bloc arranging the peace conference.

Liberia's main insurgency group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, has surrounded Monrovia, the last stronghold of Charles Taylor, in its strongest drive yet to drive the warlord turned president from power.

In an unexplained reversal, Taylor reinstated his former vice president, Moses Blah, Taylor's spokesman said. Taylor fired and arrested Blah last week to thwart what Taylor called a coup attempt.

Thai man arrested with "dirty bomb' material

BANGKOK, Thailand - Working closely with U.S. agents, police in Thailand arrested a man Friday who was trying to sell them radioactive material that could be used to make "dirty bombs."

Police did not say if the man was suspected of having terrorist connections, and U.S. officials said the material was not destined for weapons against Americans, as originally suspected.

Thai police met Narong Penanam, 44, in the parking lot of a Bangkok hotel, where he gave them a metal container that he said contained uranium, police Col. Pisit Pisutisak said.

Narong - who said that he got the material from neighboring Laos and that his contacts there had more - was expecting to sell it for $240,000.

An analysis of the material revealed it was not uranium but the industrial material cesium-137, suitable for making dirty bombs, which spread radioactive chemicals over a wide area.

Narong was charged with illegal possession of nuclear materials, punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of $240.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a statement that the sting operation represented "an outstanding example of international cooperation in disrupting the proliferation of radiological material."

Yemeni police defuse time bomb in exclusive suburb

SANA, Yemen - Yemeni police defused a time bomb outside a hotel in an upscale neighborhood of the capital Sana minutes before it was to explode, a police official said Friday.

Security guards found the bomb placed against the outside wall of the four-star Hadda hotel shortly before midnight Thursday, the official said.

Police had made no arrests in the incident, which came a day after a bomb exploded about a mile from the hotel. The explosion caused no injuries or damages.

French troops move to protect Congo town

BUNIA, Congo - French troops moved Friday to the outskirts of Bunia as fresh tribal fighting broke out in the troubled northeast Congo city where members of an international peacekeeping force began arriving two weeks ago.

The clashes began near Hoho, 3 miles south of Bunia, after as many as 100 gunmen from the Lendu tribe tried to advance on Bunia, which is controlled by a faction of the Hema tribe known as the Congolese Union of Patriots, or UPC.

"Fighting lasted about an hour before the Lendu began to run from the battle scene," UPC security chief Saba Rafiki said.

About 50 French troops moved to the edge of the city to prevent armed fighters from entering Bunia, said Madnodje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Congo.

Venezuelan troops battle Chavez supporters

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela troops fought pitched street battles Friday with supporters of President Hugo Chavez who tried to disrupt an opposition rally in an impoverished area of Caracas considered a government stronghold. At least 14 people were injured.

Troops in armored vehicles arrived at the scene while "Chavistas," as the president's supporters are known, fought back, throwing bottles, rocks and firecrackers at security forces. They also looted a nearby police station after tearing down the walls with sledge hammers and metal rods.

Hundreds of national guard troops and police in riot gear launched tear gas grenades to disperse more than 100 rowdy government backers. Columns of black smoke rose from tires burning in the street and mingled with thick clouds of white tear gas.

S. Korea threatens to cut economic ties with North

SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea warned Friday that a further escalation of nuclear tensions by North Korea would disrupt joint economic projects that could bring badly needed investment to communist North.

The warning by South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun indicates a toughening of Seoul's stance toward North Korea in tandem with the United States, Japan and Australia, which have been increasing pressure on the North to abandon its suspected development of nuclear weapons.

"If the North worsens the nuclear situation, it will inevitably affect exchanges and cooperation between South and North Korea," Jeong said in a speech Friday.

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