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News Briefs II

U.N.Experts Find No Evidence Of Starvation in N. Korea

Los Angeles Times

After a week-long inspection tour of North Korea, a team of U.N. food relief experts said Monday they found the country in a state of "near famine" but saw no evidence of starvation deaths, cannibalism or military food rampages reported by refugees and other travelers in Asia's most secretive state.

Tun Myat, leader of the U.N. World Food Program team that left North Korea on Sunday after traveling across the country by train and inspecting ports and hospitals, described the situation as "famine in slow motion."

"This is not a case like you see in Somalia or Sudan," Myat said in a press conference here. "This is not a desert. There are trees and water. There is no war, no large displacements of people."

The U.N. team's observations do not match some portrayals of hardship and starvation related by ethnic Korean Chinese and North Korean refugees who have flooded into Chinese border cities in recent months. Some refugees said they witnessed hundreds of starvation deaths. Others reported rogue North Korean army units roaming the countryside and stealing food at gunpoint.

The stories are fueled by the secretive nature of North Korea's isolationist regime, which allows foreign visitors, including the U.N. team, only under strict supervision. No reporters have been allowed access to the areas said to be most affected by food shortages.

"We saw no case of the military taking food away from civilians," Myat said, "And frankly I would find that difficult to believe."

Hubble Space Telescope Identifies New Black Hole and Exploding Star

The Baltimore Sun

Less than three months after astronauts installed a battery of new hardware and scientific instruments, the Hubble Space Telescope has already discovered a new black hole. It has also revealed the violence of star birth and detailed the death throes of an exploding star.

NASA officials and project astronomers gathered Monday at the Goddard Space Flight Center to deliver a progress report on the refurbished orbiting observatory.

Most everything is working just fine, Weiler said.

Hubble's $125 million Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, or STIS - not yet midway through its post-installation checkout - has gathered conclusive evidence that an enormous black hole lurks at the center of a galaxy called M84, 50 million light years away in the constellation Virgo.

Black holes are objects so massive that nothing nearby can escape their gravity, not even light. That makes them impossible to see directly, and black holes eluded astronomers for decades. Hubble, by measuring the enormous speeds of stars spiraling into the narrow core of a galaxy called M87, detected the first supermassive black hole in 1994.

STIS scientist Richard F. Green said the smaller one in M84 has a mass 300 million to a billion times that of the sun. Nearby stars are falling into its grip at speeds up to 1 million miles an hour, something only the presence of a supermassive black hole could explain.