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News Briefs

Pentagon to Review Management of Army Corps


The Pentagon Thursday announced that it is reviewing the management of the Army Corps of Engineers, promising quick changes “to ensure that we provide appropriate leadership and oversight” of the embattled public works agency.

Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, the top military commander of the Corps, fiercely defended the agency Thursday before a Senate subcommittee, dismissing recent allegations that senior Corps officials have manipulated studies in order to green-light big construction projects. Ballard also insisted that a new “Program Growth Initiative” designed to boost the Corps budget by more than 50 percent reflected his agency’s desire to “increase its service and value to the nation” by building needed water projects, not an exercise in empire-building.

But several senators questioned the ability of the Corps to conduct honest analyses. Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized “the chaos at the Corps,” while Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the agency has lost its credibility. Meanwhile, after the White House expressed “concern” about the Corps for the first time Thursday, the Pentagon moved to widen its probe of alleged misconduct at the agency.

U.N. Security Council Approves Force for Congo


The U.N. Security Council Thursday unanimously approved a U.S.-sponsored proposal to send as many as 5,537 U.N. observers and peacekeeping troops to monitor a shaky cease-fire in Congo.The U.N. force, which could cost as much as $500 million in its first year, will consist mainly of soldiers from Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Senegal.

It will not include any American troops, although the Pentagon might help with transportation and logistics, U.S. officials said.

The peacekeepers will begin arriving in Congo within weeks, but diplomats predicted that it would take at least four months to deploy them all. “This will be a slow, costly and difficult exercise,” said one senior U.N. official.

U.S. officials also sought to dampen any expectation that the mission would quickly halt the fighting in Congo, which has entangled five neighboring countries and numerous Congolese factions. The “blue helmets” will be authorized to use force only for self-defense and to protect civilians if they come into harm’s way in the immediate vicinity of U.N. bases.

“This is not a peacekeeping mission that is going to patrol the country, maintain security and protect civilians,” said a senior U.N. official. He added that it would take an estimated 20,000 troops to pacify just a strip of eastern Congo where fighting has erupted in recent weeks.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, called the mission “a critical step to establish the architecture of peace.”

Turkey Imposes Harsh Sentence on Kurdish Hunger Strikers


In a shift away from the government’s recent softer line toward Turkey’s Kurdish minority, 13 members of the country’s largest pro-Kurdish party were sentenced Thursday to four years in prison for staging a hunger strike in support of jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Hours earlier, three prominent mayors from the same group, the People’s Democracy Party, or Hadep, formally were charged with aiding and abetting Ocalan’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The mayor of the country’s largest Kurdish city, Diyarbakir, was among those arrested.

“The hawks within the power establishment appear to be gaining the upper hand,” said Mustafa Ozer, a lawyer for the Hadep officials. “These are people who stand to lose power, influence and privilege if peace is achieved in the southeast,” he said in a telephone interview.

Some analysts here believe that the crackdown is supported by hard-liners in Turkey’s influential armed forces who feel that granting the Kurds further rights inevitably would lead to the breakup of the Turkish state.

Lawyers for the trio, who were detained after weekend raids, say they weren’t allowed to sleep during four days of questioning at police headquarters in Diyarbakir.

China Warns U.S. on Taiwan, WTO


China labeled U.S. criticism of its recent threat to attack Taiwan as “crude interference” in internal Chinese affairs Thursday and said American congressmen should not link the Taiwan threat to China’s 13-year-old effort to join the World Trade Organization.

“Taiwan is purely an internal matter of China,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao, told a regular news conference. “Taiwan is an indivisible part of Chinese territory.”

Zhu also rejected talk in the U.S. Congress that China’s latest round of saber-rattling -- a statement Monday that it would attack if Taiwan indefinitely delays unification talks -- could influence an upcoming vote that could grant China permanent normal trading relations as part of a deal to bring it into the World Trade Organization.

China “firmly opposes any attempt to link these issues,” he said. “We view the white paper and the issue of normal trade relations as two entirely separate issues.”

The charges across the Pacific were a toned-down version of accusations that flew back and forth in 1996, during Taiwan’s first campaign for a directly-elected president.

Then, instead of announcing a new policy, China fired missiles near Taiwan’s biggest ports and the United States responded by dispatching two aircraft carrier battlegroups to the region.