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News Briefs II

Khatemi Calls for Negotiations on Afghanistan

The Washington Post
UNITED NATIONS

Iranian President Mohammad Khatemi, whose country stands on the brink of war with Afghanistan's dominant Taliban movement, appealed to the United Nations Monday to bring all the feuding Afghan factions into negotiations to permit "the tyrannized and destitute Afghan people to freely determine their own destiny."

With 200,000 Iranian troops massed on the Afghan frontier, Khatemi spoke to the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly as foreign ministers or their deputies from eight countries, including the United States, met on the sidelines here to seek ways of preventing the Afghan civil war from escalating into cross-border conflict with Iran.

The meeting ended in agreement to ask Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy, to go back to Afghanistan to seek ways of stimulating a dialogue and to call on the Taliban to permit an international investigation of the killing of Iranian diplomats and punish those responsible.

The desire for Afghan stability and animosity toward the Taliban, which seeks to impose an extremist Muslim theology on Afghanistan, has posed something of a uniting issue for the U.S. and Iranian governments after 19 years of mutual hostility. Monday's meeting provided the setting for one of the highest-level contacts between officials of both countries since relations were severed after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The United States has opposed the Taliban's alleged involvement in drug trafficking, human rights violations and, most importantly, support of terrorism including the harboring of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi multimillionaire whom the United States blames for masterminding the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In retaliation, Washington launched cruise missile attacks last month against a Bin Laden base in Afghanistan.

Scientists Fear Modified Plants Could Pass Traits to Enemy Weeds

\ The Washington Post

American farmers tilted the balance of power this year with large-scale plantings of new, genetically engineered crops armed with secret weapons. Some of these plants have been endowed with a gene that suffuses them with a potent insecticide called Bt. Others have special genes that make them resistant to commercial herbicides, allowing farmers to spray withering doses of weedkillers that previously would have wiped out the crops as well.

But recent research suggests that the war is far from won. In one new experiment, engineered plants spread their new herbicide-tolerance genes much more quickly than expected to surrounding weeds - the molecular equivalent of passing secrets to the enemy. Other work suggests that Bt-producing plants may be killing not only targeted insects but also beneficial insects that kill plant pests.

Findings such as these have escalated a long-standing war of words between opponents and advocates of agricultural biotechnology.

Feud May Have Triggered Drug Trafficker Slayings in Mexico

The Washington Post
Mexico City

The execution of 18 people in the Pacific coastal town of Ensenada last week may have been the result of a feud between mid-level traffickers over a drug deal gone bad, according to Mexican law enforcement officials.

Police are investigating allegations that Fermin Castro - who survived the attack in which 18 family members and neighbors were dragged out of bed and shot dead in a predawn massacre last Thursday - was ordered killed by a Mafia money-collector angered when Castro absconded with a drug haul without paying for it, officials said.

The assassinations, whose victims included two infants, six other children and a pregnant woman, stunned Mexican authorities, who said they fear the trend among Mexican drug cartels toward the kind of indiscriminate violence associated with Colombian drug Mafias.

Until the past year, Mexican drug organizations generally were known for targeting individuals for revenge or retribution and usually - though not always - avoiding attacks on uninvolved family members or shoot-outs in public places that could harm innocent bystanders.

Last week's attack on three families that resided in a ranch compound near the coastal town of Ensenada in Baja California about 60 miles south of the U.S. border was the largest Mexican drug-related slaying on record and the first in which entire families were murdered as part of an alleged revenge killing.

River Pollution Linked To Widespread Sexual Defects in Fish

Los Angeles Times

In a surprising scientific discovery that suggests pollution is feminizing animals throughout the wild, everyday concentrations of sewage effluent in rivers appear to contain estrogenlike chemicals potent enough to cause fish to be born half-male, half-female.

The finding by British scientists provides strong new evidence that hormone-altering pollution - one of the most troubling and controversial environmental issues of modern times - could be a global ecological threat.

The British researchers said they uncovered "very compelling evidence" that sewage treatment plants routinely release hormonelike compounds into rivers that are feminizing "a surprisingly large proportion" of wild fish. The fish were found in eight rivers throughout Great Britain that are considered typical in terms of pollution, so scientists suspect damage to sex hormones is so pervasive that it could be happening in many rivers around the world.