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News Briefs

Mitchell Offers Solution to Revive Ulster Peace Process in One Day

THE WASHINGTON POST -- MADRID

Former Senate majority leader George Mitchell, a man who has worked near-miracles in Northern Ireland, pulled another surprise out of his hat Thursday as he called on the contending forces there to take the steps required to revive the peace process -- in a single day.

As he ended his 11-week “review” of the stalemate in the embattled British province, Mitchell said the only way to resolve the endless chicken-and-egg arguments about which side should act first would be for everybody to agree to act on the same day.

“I believe that a basis now exists for devolution to occur, for the (government) to be established, and for decommissioning to take place as soon as possible,” he said.

The response to Mitchell’s simple but daring proposal was surprisingly conciliatory.

Spending Bill Easily Passed by House

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The compromise year-end spending bill worked out by Republican leaders and the White House sailed through the House on Thursday, paving the way for a Senate vote Friday or Saturday that would enable Congress to adjourn for the year.

The $385 billion measure was approved on a vote of 296-135, winning clear majorities in both parties.

The House also approved separate legislation that would extend several tax breaks and also would permit disabled persons to take jobs without losing their federal health benefits.

President Clinton and congressional leaders of both parties praised the budget measure as historic, claiming major victories on their key political goals -- ranging from education and medical research to defense and foreign aid.

Clinton, in Turkey to attend a conference on European security, called the budget compromise a “hard-won victory for the American people,” adding: “This is what we have achieved, and we have done so by working together.”

Nicaraguan Drug Trafficker Is Linked to Colombian Death Squads

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES -- GUATEMALA CITY

Signaling a link between drug trafficking and the arms deals of Colombian death squads, a Nicaraguan ex-cop-turned-arms-dealer was convicted Thursday in Managua for possession of narcotics and illegal weapons.

Colombian authorities have long accused the right-wing “self-defense forces” that fight the country’s Marxist guerrillas of ties to narcotics barons who supply three-fourths of the cocaine and a growing share of the heroin consumed in the United States.

The conviction of Roger Ramirez -- a former Nicaraguan police official drummed out of the force six years ago under a cloud of suspicion involving drug trafficking -- illustrated those ties in a court of law.

The self-defense forces were formed a decade ago by ranchers and rural merchants besieged by rebel kidnappings and extortion. Heavily subsidized by drug traffickers in recent years, the private armies have become a major factor in Colombia’s prolonged civil war as they regain territory from the insurgents, mainly by terrorizing civilians that they suspect of being rebel sympathizers.

Increasingly, Colombian intelligence officials believe that disputes between the self-defense forces and the insurgents are centered on areas that produce cocaine and heroin. Both sides are believed to “tax” production of illegal crops.