World Watch

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With a strike by French armored car guards set to enter its second week, fears that bank notes might become difficult to obtain prompted a precautionary run on automatic teller machines (ATMs). Dozens of atms across the nation had been depleted by week's end, and long lines formed for functioning machines, despite assurances from bank officials that reserves had been set aside to cover shortages. The striking guards — whose demands include increased pay and better protection from armed attacks — were supported by workers responsible for maintenance of atms.

Camp Zeist
One week into the trial of two Libyan men accused of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, lawyers for both sides reached a compromise that could shorten the length of the trial by months. Defense lawyers accepted a prosecution motion to enter uncontested evidence into the trial record without a witness being called upon to testify to the origin of each piece of evidence, as is customarily required under the Scottish legal rules governing the trial. The proceedings have now been adjourned until May 23 to allow the prosecution time to prepare the next phase of its case, which will focus on technical and forensic evidence.

Five of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies have offered to slash the price they charge for AIDS drugs in the developing world, where the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS has had an especially devastating impact. The United Nations estimates that more than 11 million people have died of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa and 23 million people there are infected with the hiv virus. The drug companies' initiative follows an announcement by the United States, which recently declared aids in Africa a national security threat, that it will no longer try to prevent African countries from licensing or developing generic versions of aids drugs patented by U.S. firms.

Prime Minister Salim Hoss rejected a request by Antoine Lahad, head of the South Lebanon Army, an Israeli proxy militia, for a general amnesty for his 2,500 fighters. The request reflected increasing desperation within the S.L.A. as Israel prepares to implement its plan to withdraw from south Lebanon, after an 18-year occupation, by July 7. Lahad said he was willing to exclude himself personally from immunity. Hoss said forgiving Israeli collaborators was "inconceivable." Meanwhile, the Israeli government grappled with a demand by U.N. officials, who are working to facilitate an Israeli departure, that Israel disarm its puppet army. Even if Israel were willing to try it, the s.l.a. is unlikely to comply. Lahad has said that in the absence of an amnesty, the s.l.a. would continue fighting rival Lebanese groups.

Ababa In the wake of failed international attempts to bring an end to the two-year-old war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, fighting resumed on the two countries' disputed 1,000-km border. Along with a delegation of six other U.N. Security Council members, U.S. United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who brokered the 1995 Dayton accord that ended the Bosnian war, tried last week to negotiate a breakthrough in the bitter conflict between two of the world's poorest countries. When fighting resumed on Friday, Holbrooke accused the combatants of "stupidity" for making too much of what he said were relatively minor matters.

Sierra Leone was convulsed by continued violence as rebel fighters from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) advanced on the capital of Freetown. Early in the week at least 19 people were killed in a shoot-out outside the home of rebel leader Foday Sankoh when his bodyguards fired indiscriminately into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. The arrival of 800 British paratroopers in the former colonial territory, ostensibly to evacuate British citizens, helped assuage fears in the tiny West African nation. The mere presence of the heavily armed Britons, who will have no combat role but may remain in the country for up to a month to assist U.N. forces, helped hold the rebels at bay from the capital.

Ferocious fighting raged on the perimeter of the northern Sri Lankan city of Jaffna, as Tamil Tiger rebels appeared poised at week's end to retake their former stronghold. In a radio broadcast Tamil Tigers told civilians to leave the city, warning that "our cadres are advancing and ... there will be heavy firing and cross-firing." Even before the final assault on the city began, government figures put last week's casualties at over 200. In order to finance the intensified war effort, the Sri Lankan government increased a special defense levy. The funds will contribute in part to the $24 million price tag of eight Kfir fighter planes Sri Lanka has just arranged to purchase from Israel, only a week after the two countries restored diplomatic relations that had been severed for 30 years.

Banda Aceh
Representatives of the Indonesian government and leaders of the guerrilla movement in the breakaway province of Aceh agreed to a "joint understanding on a humanitarian pause" that will lead to the region's first official peace initiative in more than two decades. Two supervisory panels based in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh will oversee a three-month truce slated to take effect on June 2. Despite the historic agreement, rebel leaders issued a statement reiterating their commitment to the ultimate goal of gaining independence. At the same time, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid emphasized the humanitarian nature of the agreement, saying "There is no business about giving recognition to anyone by anyone."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard angered Aboriginal leaders when he refused to apologize for the mistreatment of the country's indigenous people by European settlers. He rejected key portions of a declaration drafted by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and released an alternative document in which he expressed Australians' profound regret for "the injustices of the past." Howard has said he is unwilling "to apologize for things my government and my generation didn't do." The document is due to be presented at a two-day reconciliation ceremony later this month in Sydney. Australia's almost half a million Aborigines are the most disadvantaged segment of the population, and Aboriginal leaders have threatened to stage mass protests during September's Olympic Games to draw world attention to their plight.

Los Alamos
A fierce blaze raged out of control last week close to the U.S. nuclear laboratory at Los Alamos. The fire began when, despite warnings from the National Weather Service that high winds and dry conditions in the area could complicate the operation, the National Park Service ignited a "controlled burn" to clear brush. Although the inferno devastated the town and forced the evacuation of its 11,000 residents, federal officials said the flames posed no danger to the famous nuclear laboratory, where the atomic bomb was developed. "The facility is so robust that it would withstand a 747 crash," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson assured Time. The blaze is expected to lead to scores of lawsuits under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which permits individuals to hold the government accountable for negligent acts by its agents.

The prospect of an inter-American trade war loomed after Canada applied to the World Trade Organization for the right to impose $3.35 billion worth of trade sanctions on Brazil over seven years. The Canadian move came when negotiations with Brazil over an ongoing aerospace trade dispute broke down. The W.T.O. has told Brazil it must comply with a previous ruling calling for a halt to a special cut-rate financing program for aerospace giant Embraer SA. Brazil has appealed the ruling and threatened to retaliate if Canada imposes sanctions, warning that Canadian companies in other sectors could be affected. Brazil has already used the W.T.O. to change the way in which Canada subsidizes Montreal-based Bombardier Inc., an Embraer rival. Both sides say they are still hoping for a negotiated settlement.