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News Briefs, part 1

U.S., Russia, EU Launch Coordinated Bosnia Peace Effort

Los Angeles Times
LONDON

After high-level talks among U.S. and European officials, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd announced Monday that the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union will launch a joint diplomatic initiative to move the Bosnia-Herzegovina crisis toward a permanent cease-fire and a political settlement.

They hope to coordinate the oft-confused array of international peace efforts and potentially give their coalition greater clout in dealing with the warring Bosnian parties.

Their new "contact group" is scheduled to meet for the first time here Tuesday. It is intended to follow up on the ultimatum that took effect last weekend to Bosnian Serbs to withdraw from the besieged Bosnian city of Gorazde -- and to prevent the confrontations that have followed other Balkan cease-fires.

In the next two weeks, group members are expected to engage in talks with the largely Muslim government in Bosnia and Serb and Croat forces about outlines of a Bosnian peace plan. The result is likely to be a loose confederation or union of two or more Muslim, Serb and Croat areas.

Afghanistan: No End to War

The Washington Post
HERAT, Afghanistan

Mortars and 8-foot rockets mounted on camels. Commandos eating raw snakes. Afghan mujaheddin fighters toting Stinger missiles.

There's nothing like a parade, and as if to prove it, the local warlord here pulled out all the stops last week for a massive procession marking the second anniversary of Liberation Day and the founding of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

There was "Stalin's Organ" -- a compact, lethal-looking rocket-launcher with four rows of 10 rockets stacked on top of one another. There were 122mm howitzers, Luna surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 18 miles, SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles and thousands of soldiers shouldering AK-47 assault rifles and marching Soviet-style with locked knees.

And the convener of the parade, Ismail Khan, who controls most of western Afghanistan, is not even considered one of the top military heavyweights of this faction-torn country, which is entering the third year of a civil war that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

The extent of Khan's arsenal, most of it aging hardware left over from Afghanistan's 14-year war against the old Soviet Union and its Afghan protege regime, seemed to surprise a group of Westerners here on a U.N. peace mission. They saw a rare glimpse of western Afghanistan, and the stocks of arms in the hands of local militias that have given the country a reputation as the world's biggest weapons bazaar.

Toyota to Pay $250,000 Fine To Settle Charges It Hid Defect

Newsday

Toyota has agreed to pay a $250,000 fine to settle charges by a federal agency that the car maker tried to hide a defect that could create a fire hazard in its earlier generation of Land Cruiser utility vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Toyota had discovered gasoline leaks in 1981 through 1989 Land Cruisers and changed the fuel tank design in 1990 models. But the Japanese car maker did not notify the safety agency, its dealers or owners of earlier vehicles that it had found a safety-related defect, the agency said.

Further, the agency charged, Toyota tried to keep investigators from finding out about the change in tank design by furnishing "inaccurate or incomplete information" on eight occasions.

Toyota said Monday it was all a misunderstanding and that it agreed to the fine to avoid a court battle. It said it made the unannounced change in the tanks of the newer models only to reduce the shifting of gasoline from side to side in the tank, not to reduce the possibility of leaks. "We don't believe that it was a safety-related change at all," said a Toyota spokesman, Tim Andree.