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News briefs, part 1

Israeli Parliament Votes To Legitimize PLO Contacts

The Washington Post

JERUSALEM

Israel's parliament voted Tuesday night to legitimize contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had long been labeled a "terrorist organization" under Israeli law.

The Knesset voted 39-20 to revise a 1986 law that had been used to prosecute Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan, among others, for meetings with senior PLO officials.

Reflecting the politically sensitive nature of the vote, however, slightly less than half of the 120-member Knesset was present for the roll call.

The vote does not mean that Israel will open talks with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat immediately. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has cautioned other nations that by changing the law, Israel does not want to signal a willingness to begin such negotiations.

But some Israeli politicians have said the need to revise the law has grown more urgent since Rabin ordered the deportation of more than 400 suspected activists in Islamic fundamentalist groups, which reject the peace talks with Israel.

Arafat has supported the peace talks with Israel on self-rule for Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories. From the PLO's headquarters in Tunis, he has provided direction for the Palestinian delegation in the initial sessions.

Israeli leftists have said in recent weeks that opening direct talks with the PLO is the logical next step. They suggested that an agreement on Palestinian autonomy with the secular nationalists in the PLO would be better than a long standoff with the fundamentalists, who reject the very existence of Israel and seek to create an Islamic state in its place. A recent survey showed that a majority of Knesset members in Rabin's Labor Party favored opening talks with the PLO.

Another sign of the changing times in Israel was the recent nomination of the dovish Ezer Weizman as Labor's candidate for president. When Weizman's contacts with the PLO were disclosed several years ago, he was pushed out of then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir's inner cabinet and accused of collaborating with Israel's enemies.

Nonetheless, the issue of talking with Arafat remains politically explosive in Israel, where the PLO has long been identified with terrorism. Israeli security sources contend that the mainstream Fatah faction of the PLO, and small cells or gangs associated with it, are responsible for the majority of violent attacks on Israeli targets.

The Rabin government, following a campaign promise, stopped enforcing the old law against contacts with the PLO after taking office in July. Palestinian negotiators now meet routinely with PLO officials in Tunis without fear of prosecution, which had been threatened earlier. Four members of the Knesset have also met recently with PLO figures including Arafat, and the Knesset decided not to revoke their parliamentary immunity for doing so.

Rights Abuse by Serbs Is Worst `Since Nazi Times,' U.S. Says

Newsday

The State Department Tuesday accused Serbian forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina of abusing human rights "on a scale that dwarfs anything seen in Europe since Nazi times."

The assessment was contained in the department's annual human rights report to Congress. Though the report is critical of countries and ethnic groups around the world, including others involved in the Balkan conflict, it contains some of the harshest language ever employed in the 17-year history of the report in describing the cruelty practiced by Serbs upon Bosnian Muslims.

Though the department's comments were forceful, the report did not accuse the Serbs of practicing genocide, a legal term that invokes an international genocide treaty.

It did say that Bosnia has fallen victim to some of the worst human rights abuses the world has seen in 50 years. While Croats and, to a much lesser extent, Muslims bear some vesponsibility, the department said, their actions "pale in comparison to the sheer scale and calculated cruelty of the killings and other abuses" committed by Serbs.

"In Serb-run camps, many prisoners were subjected to the most brutal forms of torture and murder their captors could devise," the report said, including deliberate disfigurement, removal of body parts, beatings, torture, rape and forced labor.

The policy the Serbs call "ethnic cleansing," which involves the forced removal of Muslims and Croats from Bosnian territory desired by the Serbs, came in for particular condemnation in the report. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected, the State Department said, either through forced transfers, imprisonment or outright murder.

Rebel Serb Leaders Debate Whether to Accept Settlement

Los Angeles Times

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Under threat of Western intervention if they continue to wage war, leaders of Bosnia's rebel Serbs debated Tuesday whether to accept a negotiated settlement of the conflict or to fight on for their dream of a Greater Serbia.

During an all-night debate, a collection of rebel gunmen and former Communist Party functionaries who comprise the self-styled "Parliament" spoke derisively of a Western-mediated peace plan aiming to restore the territorial integrity of this ravaged republic.

Many interpreted the loose plan crafted in Geneva as offering de facto recognition to the Serbian Republic, which they have proclaimed in the two-thirds of Bosnia they have conquered and occupied.

"The plan does not close the door on a union of Serb states in the future," Deputy Foreign Minister Todor Dutina said, in defiance of the principles outlined by mediators Cyrus Vance of the United Nations and Lord Owen of the 12-nation European Community.

The agreement, already endorsed by Muslim and Croatian leaders, calls for the former Yugoslav republic to be divided into 10 semi-autonomous provinces under a multi-ethnic leadership in Sarajevo. But it makes clear that Bosnia's three ethnic communities -- Slavic Muslims, Serbs and Croats -- must continue to live in a unified state. "The plan is a little like the Koran, it can be interpreted in many ways," Dutina argued. But the mediators have said that they would accept no equivocation from the Serbs.

Vance and Owen have said that, if the four-month-old Geneva talks break down as a result of obstinacy by any one party, they would name that side before the U.N. Security Council.

The Security Council could then be expected to consider stronger measures, including complete isolation of Serbia and Montenegro -- the only two republics still bound within Yugoslavia -- or military intervention to break the Serbian siege of Sarajevo and other cities.

Tajiks Flee Civil War, Find Misery

The Washington Post

MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan

Guldasta Khodydad's nightmare began, she said, with the late-night pounding on her door and the shouts of neighbors warning her family to escape before rampaging communist troops reached their village in southern Tajikistan.

Khodydad, her husband and six children joined a flood of Tajiks fleeing the soldiers. Weeks later, they reached the banks of the Amu Darya River, which separates the former Soviet republic from northeastern Afghanistan. Under fire from border troops, the exhausted families leapt into the swift currents in a desperate attempt to reach safety on the opposite shore in Afghanistan.

Khodydad struggled to help her children across the river. But a bullet struck her 22-year-old son, she said, and he disappeared in the roily water and was quickly swept away. As she watched in horror, the current also snatched babies from the arms of other mothers.

Camped here on the bitterly cold, windswept plain of north-central Afghanistan, Khodydad is one of more than 60,000 Tajiks who have fled a nine-month civil war in Tajikistan. The Tajik civil war, on what once was the southern edge of the Soviet Union, reportedly has killed thousands of Tajiks and turned more than a half-million into refugees. It also has gone virtually unnoticed by the outside world.

But in fleeing to Afghanistan, a nation devastated by its own 14-year civil war, the Tajik refugees appear to have traded one nightmare for another. Tens of thousands are camping under lightweight tents or burrowed into dugouts on the plains here, where icy winds plunge temperatures to 15 degrees below zero.

The Tajik civil war has intensified dramatically since hard-line communist forces ousted a coalition government of moderate communists and opposition groups in September. In October, according to refugees and Western officials monitoring the conflict, the communist military began attacks against supporters of the various opposition groups, including villagers seen as sympathetic to the relatively broad-based, anti-communist Islamic Renaissance Party.

Supreme Court Rules in Assault Case

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

One case began after two high school girls in suburban Philadelphia said male classmates forced them to engage in sex acts during a graphic arts class. The assaults occurred nearby, and the teacher apparently did little to stop the incidents.

The girls, one of whom is deaf, sued the Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical School, the teacher and other school officials, saying they had a constitutional duty to protect students from being sexually abused by fellow students.

But Tuesday the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that said the students had no grounds for a federal complaint.

In a separate order, however, the court also left alone a ruling that said a Texas student had a constitutional right to be free from sexual molestation by a teacher. The second case, Caplinger v. Doe, arose from a biology teacher's seduction of a 14-year-old student.

The difference in the disputes turned largely on who actually was responsible for the molestation. The apparent conclusion is that only when a school official himself engages in wrongdoing may students sue administrators in federal court.

Students in both cases sued under a federal law that allows redress for constitutional violations by government officials.

In the Texas lawsuit, teacher-coach Lynn Stroud initiated an affair with a female student. Court documents say Stroud kissed and touched the girl during class and engaged in sexual intercourse with her in the school fieldhouse.

Stroud pleaded guilty to criminal charges connected to the incidents, which began in late 1986, and the student sued the school district and administrators for money damages.

Affirming a district court's refusal to dismiss the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said public school students have a constitutional right under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to be free from sexual molestation by a teacher.