World Watch

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Northern Ireland peered over the precipice again last week as the Secretary of State for the province, Peter Mandelson, introduced legislation allowing him to suspend its two-month-old power-sharing government which followed from the 1998 Good Friday agreement. This was designed to prevent First Minister David Trimble from resigning after General John de Chastelain concluded that the Irish Republican Army and Ulster paramilitary groups had not surrendered any of their stores of explosives and weapons. The armed groups have until Feb. 12 to begin disarming and prevent a return to direct rule.

Complaints were filed on Friday at the United Nations war crimes court in the Hague against U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other U.N. officials, alleging partial responsibility for the deaths of up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995. Professor Francis Boyle, the lawyer representing the Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinja, alleged that Bosnian Serb separatists had been allowed to overrun the town to produce the carve-up of Bosnia.

With demonstrators chanting outside, President Thomas Klestil swore in Wolfgang Schüssel as Austria's new Chancellor in the baroque splendor of Vienna's Hofburg palace on Friday. The inclusion in the cabinet of six ministers and two state secretaries from the right-wing Freedom Party led Austria's European Union partners to move to isolate the new government. Led by populist politician Jörg Haider, who in the past has praised Nazi policies, the Freedom Party won 27% of votes in last October's election. Israel responded to the appointments by recalling its ambassador.

In the latest spate of ethnic violence, Albanians and Serbs faced off across the dividing bridge of Kosovska Mitrovica after unknown assailants gunned down three Albanians and grenades exploded in two Serb cafés, injuring about two dozen customers. The violent stand-off came hours after a Russian peacekeeper was shot while escorting Serbian schoolchildren, and a day after a U.N. bus was blasted by an anti-tank rocket, killing two of the 49 Serbs who were being shuttled between Serbian enclaves.

After months of fighting and heavy losses, the Russian military finally seized control of the Chechen capital Grozny when its estimated 2-3000 defenders broke out of the city. To the Russians' chagrin, most defenders apparently escaped. Russian officials now describe the city, which once had a population of 500,000, as a complete disaster zone. Estimates of the number of civilians who died during three months of bombardment run to the thousands. Chechen commanders warn that, sooner or later, they will take Grozny back.

The Feb. 13 deadline for a framework deal on a final peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians looked to be slipping away last week as talks between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat broke down. Palestinian negotiators were annoyed by what they view as Israel's obstruction of the hand-over of land and villages near Jerusalem as part of the next stage of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Israeli proposals that the timetable for a final settlement should be open-ended, rather than limited to the agreed 12 months from last September, further provoked Arafat. As he left the talks in anger a Palestinian spokesman said, "Today's meeting reached a crisis."

Despite a claim by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that 6,000 rebels had surrendered under amnesty, Algeria's killing continues. An estimated 170 have died since the expiry of the amnesty on Jan.13, including 102 Armed Islamic Group fighters. Last week guerrillas from the hard-line Da'wa wal Djihad group stormed a government militia station, killing 11 militiamen.

A Kenya Airways Airbus 310 flying from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast to Lagos, Nigeria, crashed into the ocean soon after takeoff, killing 169 people. Just 10 passengers survived the crash, including a 34-year-old French veterinarian, who swam more than two kilometers to shore. Most of those killed were Nigerians. Survivors criticized the Ivorian rescue effort as too slow. Wreckage was scattered along the coast, with part of the undercarriage found 30 km from Abidjan. Survivor Emmanuel Madu said, "The whole plane crumbled."

Tribal fighting in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo has killed up to 5,000 people. The fighting, centered on the town of Bunia in rebel-held territory, began last August when members of the Lendu tribe attacked Hema people with machetes. The attacks appear to be well planned and have become more frequent and ferocious. Last month, some 500 people were killed in three attacks over 18 hours. The Christian Blind Mission, a German aid agency with offices in the region, released a grisly video showing butchered victims and burned villages. The international aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières said the fighting had displaced 150,000 people.

After a year-long manhunt, police arrested the main suspect in the gruesome murder of Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, in dense forest in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. The fugitive, Rabindra Kumar Pal, alias Dara Singh, was apprehended trying to buy a gun from a police decoy. Staines and his sons were burnt alive while sleeping in a station wagon outside a village church by a group of Hindu fanatics in January last year. Dara Singh, who has been mobilizing tribals against religious minorities, is also implicated in the killings of an Indian Christian priest and a Muslim trader.

The newly-elected president of an ethnic Karen resistance movement said his group will reduce its military role and keep the door open for talks with Burma's ruling junta. Ba Thein Sein replaced 73-year-old General Bo Mya, who had led the Karen National Union since 1976, and whom the junta had called an obstacle to peace. One of the world's oldest insurgent groups, the KNU has been fighting for autonomy since 1949, but during the last decade has suffered several defeats. Ba Thein Sein said he hopes that God's Army, a splinter group led by 12-year-old twins, will come under KNU control. Members of God's Army were among 10 rebels killed last month by Thai commandos after holding 500 hostages for 24 hours at a provincial hospital in Thailand.

As the U.N. formally began its peacekeeping operation in East Timor last week a standoff developed between the Indonesian government and army over human rights abuses, following the territory's vote last September to secede from Indonesia. The Indonesian commission investigating human rights violations in East Timor called on Coordinating Minister for Security and Politics General Wiranto to take responsibility for last year's violence. President Abdurrahman Wahid demanded that Wiranto, a former Suharto aide, resign. Wiranto refused to leave his position and is preparing a legal defense against the preliminary findings, which he labeled as "assumptions."

For 11 minutes last Monday the pilots of Alaska Airlines flight 261 from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Seattle battled to control their aircraft. Soon after asking permission to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport the MD 83 turned over before corkscrewing into the sea. All 88 on board perished. Transcripts of air traffic communications showed that the pilots deliberately kept the aircraft over water, either to attempt a landing on water or to avoid going down in a populated area, as they struggled with a jammed stabilizer.

Canada's Liberal government is fending off scandal charges after an internal audit showed that the Human Resources Department had not properly accounted for up to $695 million in spending. Critics allege that some of the missing millions went into slush funds to Liberal supporters and ask why it took Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart over three months to make the audit public. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien acknowledges a "serious problem" but asserts that only $21 million is in question, stressing the problem is an administrative one and does not mean that money for job creation, training projects and literacy programs was misspent.

The voters of tiny, banana-producing Windward Island elected the Labour Party of Dominica to power for the first time in 20 years last week. The electorate, worried about the threat to the island's main industry from the World Trade Organization ruling against the European Union's preferred import of Caribbean bananas, gave the LPD, led by Rosie Douglas, 10 seats in the island's Parliament with two for allies the Dominica Freedom Party against nine for the ruling United Workers' Party.