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News Briefs

House Panel Approves `3 Strikes' Anti-Crime Rule

The Washington Post

The House Judiciary Committee, moving to send an anti-crime package to a House vote next week, Thursday approved a bill that would impose life imprisonment for repeat offenders convicted of three violent crimes.

The committee endorsed its version of the politically popular "three strikes and you're out" measure, 27 to 8, with opposition coming only from liberal Democrats who argued against mandatory sentencing. The committee's version, which largely followed the administration's recommendations, would affect fewer violent criminals than language the Senate passed last November as part of an omnibus crime bill.

Judiciary Committee members further eased the bill's possible impact by authorizing geriatric exemptions on a bipartisan vote of 20 to 14. Three-time losers who have served 30 years and reached age 70 could be released if the federal Bureau of Prisons certifies that they are no longer dangerous, under an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

The administration had opposed any automatic releases for three-time losers who reached any specific advanced age, but a Justice Department official said the administration had not taken a position on the Nadler amendment. Under current law, federal judges can reduce inmates' sentences for "extraordinary and compelling reasons" at the request of the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The House bill would imprison for life anyone convicted in federal court of a violent offense if he or she had two prior convictions for violent acts in state or federal courts.

Muslims, Serbs Sign Access Pact

The Washington Post

The Muslim-led Bosnian government and Bosnian Serb authorities signed an agreement Thursday to open a limited exit route for the 275,000 people still trapped in Serb-besieged Sarajevo for the first time since war began almost two years ago.

Officials from both sides asserted that the accord, which is to go into effect at 9 a.m. local time next Wednesday, did not mark the complete lifting of the siege or the city's reunification. But most observers here nevertheless regarded the accord as an important breakthrough that could accelerate efforts by both the United States and Russia to broker a peace settlement ending the war in the former Yugoslav republic.

The agreement means that for the first time since April 1992, residents of Sarajevo will have a way to reach central Bosnia, from which they can travel onward to the outside world.

In addition, the Brotherhood and Unity Bridge connecting central Sarajevo and the Serb-held suburb of Grbavica across the Miljacka River will be reopened and placed under U.N. protection, along with two routes near the city's airport that will link two pairs of currently isolated Muslim and Serb suburbs. "This is a first, very small step to opening Sarajevo inside and outside," said Hasan Muratovic, the minister in charge of relations with the United Nations who signed the accord for the Bosnian government.

Six Airlines to Change Fare Practices to Settle Price-Fixing Suit

Los Angeles Times

Six major airlines agreed Thursday to permanently change their pricing practices to settle a federal lawsuit charging them with illegally raising airfares, in a scheme that investigators say inflated ticket prices by as much as $1.9 billion between 1988 and 1992.

The suit, which the Justice Department filed in December 1992, charged the airlines with conspiring to fix airfares through the misuse of a computerized ticket reservation system operated by the Airline Tarriff Publishing Co., which is jointly owned by the airlines.

Consumer advocates hailed the settlement Thursday as one that will let airlines know their pricing practices are under close scrutiny. However, the agreement is not likely to result in immediate changes for the traveling public because the six airlines have been abiding by the provisions of the settlement more than a year while vowing to fight the Justice Department lawsuit.

Under the permanent guidelines agreed to Thursday, new fares must be available for sale when filed with the ATP, denying airlines the chance of signaling plans to competitors, the Justice Department said. In addition, airlines cannot say when a fare -- including discounts -- will expire unless the information has already been advertised in newspapers or other general interest media.

Without admitting guilt, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and Trans World Airlines agreed to modify their use of ATP as part of the Justice Department settlement.

North Korea Designing Two New Ballistic Missiles, CIA Says

Los Angeles Times

The CIA said Thursday that North Korea has begun designing two new ballistic missiles with sufficient range to "put at risk" all of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, but it said the weapons still are in early stages of development.

CIA Director R. James Woolsey told a symposium here that the new missiles are intended to travel well beyond the 620-mile radius of the No-Dong missile that the Pyongyang regime shot into the Sea of Japan last year. He said the United States would "monitor their development" closely.

The weapons' existence was reported by Jane's Defence Weekly, which said North Korea is designing one missile with a 1,200-mile range and another that it hopes will fly up to 2,180 miles -- the distance from North Korea to the U.S. territory of Guam.

U.S. officials have cautioned that no construction of any prototypes, let alone actual test-flights, is imminent. Intelligence officials are divided over whether North Korea is building the missiles by itself or is getting help from China.

The disclosure came as the Clinton administration indicated it was considering pressing for economic sanctions against North Korea in the wake of reports that seals on the international monitoring equipment at one of the country's nuclear plants have been broken.

Mexican Rebels Ready To Reject Peace Offer

Los Angeles Times

From their jungle stronghold here, Mexican Indian rebels are preparing to reject the government's peace offer and to return to the negotiating table -- or to fighting.

Parts of the government proposal, at least, are almost certain to be turned down, rebel spokesman Subcommander Marcos said in an interview with four foreign reporters who were allowed to attend some of the insurgents' discussions of the offer.

"We are speaking of a process of dialogue and negotiation that can take six to eight months," Marcos said, noting that extended period threatens to draw out the peacemaking process until after the Aug. 21 presidential election.

If that happens, it would keep the uprising atop the national agenda, which would continue to damage international perceptions of Mexico and embarrass the government.

The only alternative, Marcos said, would be if the government sends a clear signal that it is committed to democratic change.

Marcos made his comments shortly before dawn Thursday, after guerrillas distributed three communiques that accuse the government of lying by saying that a peace agreement had been reached earlier this month. The documents also take a hard line on the rebels' 34 demands.