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News Briefs, part 2

Russia, Latvia Avoid Armed Crisis

Los Angeles Times


It was a scenario many of Russia's neighbors dread, the kind of incident that, in the worst of imagined cases, might bring Russian troops marching in to occupy a tiny country.

According to officials on both sides, that is what nearly happened in Latvia this week when a zealous local official sent the militia to surround a Russian military compound, arrest two Russian generals and pack them off in handcuffs to be summarily deported.

Before Latvia apologized Tuesday, Russia's Defense Ministry had put an airborne division on combat alert and warned Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis that troops were ready to cross into his country in 15 minutes if the militia stood its ground.

Retreat came swiftly, nobody got hurt and the official who started it all was fired.

But the scuffle highlighted the insecurities that have prompted some newly independent nations on Russia's western flank to seek protection in NATO -- an appeal that prompted the 16-nation Western alliance Monday to offer them a "Partnership for Peace'' that stops short of full membership.

The strong showing of ultra-nationalist in Russia's parliamentary elections last month has especially alarmed the three Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- seized by the Soviet Union in 1940.

The incident in Latvia could also lend weight to Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin's appeal that the West allow his country a special role in policing former Soviet areas.

New York Police Superintendent Likely Pick to Head DEA

Los Angeles Times


New York State Police Superintendent Thomas Constantine is expected to be tapped this week by President Clinton to head the Drug Enforcement Administration, administration sources said Tuesday.

Constantine, whose appointment requires Senate confirmation, would succeed former U.S. District Judge Robert C. Bonner, a Bush administration appointee who resigned in October to return to practicing law in Los Angeles. The DEA chief oversees a 3,500-agent organization whose mission is to enforce the nation's drug laws. The agency operates in 53 countries and all 50 states.

Assuming Constantine is confirmed for the post, he will inherit a job that will have been altered slightly as a result of Vice President Al Gore's "reinventing government'' effort. Initially, Gore's task force had proposed merging the DEA into the FBI to enhance its effectiveness and efficiency. But that idea met with resistance from the organization and some law enforcement experts. Instead, Attorney General Janet Reno gave FBI Director Louis Freeh authority to ensure that the two agencies work more closely together in their drug-fighting efforts.

Constantine, who acknowledged in November that he was under consideration for the post, speculated then that the administration's interest in him stemmed from his experience with anti-drug campaigns in New York. The 54-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native has been a member of the state police force for 31 years.

Constantine could not be reached for comment Tuesday.