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News Briefs

U.S. Releases First Official Tally Of Internet Retail Sales


In the government’s first official measure of a key sector in the new economy, the Commerce Department said Thursday that consumers spent $5.3 billion buying computers, apparel and other retail goods over the Internet in the fourth quarter of 1999.

For an industry that began to blossom only six years ago, the new government benchmark represents a watershed.

“The old pigeonholes we use for retail sales don’t work for cyber-shopping,” Commerce Secretary Bill Daley said in unveiling the number at a Washington news conference. “E-tailing has come of age.”

However, some private studies from firms such as Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass., have placed Internet retail sales as high as $10 billion in the fourth quarter, or nearly double the government’s estimate.

The government e-commerce figures represent 0.6 percent of the $812.2 billion in total retail sales and is more conservative than private estimates, said Daley, in part because it excludes big Internet sales categories which the Commerce Department measures separately.

Land Mine Danger Compounds Risk to Mozambique Rescue Effort


Hundreds of U.S. soldiers expected to join rescue efforts here as early as this weekend will have deadly obstacles other than the weather to overcome, according to land mine experts in this devastated southern African country.

Mozambique is one of the most heavily mined places on Earth, the legacy of a lengthy civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s. The rain and floods of the past month have submerged thousands of the deadly devices in the worst-hit Gaza province, where the Limpopo and Save rivers have spilled across vast stretches of land.

Although there have been no reported explosions, mine clearance officials say it is highly likely that mines have been inadvertently detonated by the hundreds of thousands of fleeing refugees and by the sheer force of the driving flood waters.

Moreover, hundreds of the buried weapons are believed to have been swept from positions that humanitarian groups had painstakingly plotted on maps over the last few years. Portions of the flood plain considered safe only a month ago are now potential death traps.

“It is really dangerous right now because our maps are not accurate anymore,” said Nicolas Blais, mine coordinator for Handicap International, one of half a dozen organizations that clear mines in Mozambique.