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Soldier's brutal hazing sparks inquiry in Russia

By wire services
Published January 27, 2006


MOSCOW - Military prosecutors and top officers on Thursday pledged a thorough inquiry into one of the most brutal hazing incidents in the Russian military in years - an 18-year-old soldier whose legs and genitals had to be amputated because of beatings and torture by fellow servicemen.

Human rights groups assailed military officials for condoning rampant bullying and warned such crimes would persist until the nation abolishes the draft in favor of an all-volunteer army.

Doctors said Pvt. Andrei Sychev's legs and genitals were amputated after the New Year's Eve incident at the Chelyabinsk Tank Academy, in which older soldiers forced him to spend hours in an unnatural crouched position and brutally beat him.

At least seven other conscripts also were beaten, but they sustained less serious injuries, prosecutors said. Russian news agencies said eight servicemen - including several officers - were detained in the Ural Mountains city of Chelyabinsk, about 1,180 miles east of Moscow.

Sychev was hospitalized several days after the beating, when he was already in critical condition and unable to stand, and investigators were seeking to determine why he was not treated immediately, a prosecutors' statement said.

According to official statistics, 16 soldiers died of hazing last year, but experts say the actual number of deaths is much higher, with many conscripts driven to suicide by abuse and other bullying deaths passed off as resulting from illnesses.

Report: Israel tried to kill bin Laden in 1996

JERUSALEM - Israeli intelligence was close to assassinating Osama bin Laden in 1996 with the help of one of his confidantes, but the attack was derailed by a crisis with the Palestinians, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Yediot Ahronot daily said Israeli intelligence was helping investigate an attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia and came across a group of radicals based in Sudan and led by bin Laden.

The paper said Israeli intelligence, cooperating with another country, persuaded a confidante of bin Laden to kill him, but the operation was canceled by a crisis between Israel and the Palestinians that disrupted the link between Israeli intelligence and the foreign service.

Israeli officials refused to comment on the brief report. The paper said the full story would be published today in its weekend magazine section.

Darfur violence triggers calls for Sudan sanctions

KHARTOUM, Sudan - Troops and rebels battled Thursday in a resurgence of violence in Sudan's war-shattered Darfur province that has forced the evacuation of more than 100 aid workers, the U.N. said, as pressure built for stronger U.N. sanctions against the government.

African peacekeepers came under fire and a U.N. helicopter crash killed a Sudanese humanitarian worker during the evacuations Wednesday, prompted by heavy fighting that erupted two days earlier when rebels attacked the government garrison town of Golo.

In a report titled "Darfur: The Killing Continues," British legislators on Thursday accused Sudan's government of blocking delivery of essential military equipment to undermanned and ill-equipped African peacekeepers who, they said, are unable to defend Darfurians properly.

The legislators urged the United Nations to impose "credible sanctions" on Sudan and give a U.N. mandate to the 7,000 African Union troops in Darfur. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said "the international community is failing people in Darfur."

Iran proposes resumption of direct flights to the U.S.

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's Civil Aviation Organization said Thursday it has proposed resuming direct flights between Iran and the United States after more than 25 years, despite political hostilities between the two countries.

Raza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the aviation organization, said Iranians living in the United States had asked for the flights when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited New York to attend a U.N. meeting in September, and the Iranian leader directed the organization to consider the request.

"On Wednesday, we sent a letter to the head of the civil aviation in the United States declaring our readiness" to resume direct flights, Jafarzadeh said.

There was no immediate response from the United States.

Iran and the United States severed air links when Washington broke relations in 1979 after Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held the occupants hostage.

The proposal comes amid an international impasse over a U.S.-backed push to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program.

The United States suspects Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons, a claim Tehran denies.