World Watch

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The stalled Northern Ireland peace process took a sudden hopeful turn. The British and Irish governments said they would restart the suspended Ulster executive on May 22, if the parties agreed to a series of normalization measures culminating in June 2001. The most important was getting the Irish Republican Army to "urgently state clearly that they will put their arms completely and verifiably beyond use" — which the i.r.a. promptly did, also agreeing to international monitoring of some arms dumps. Though the i.r.a. is not promising to give up its guns, this puts pressure on the Ulster Unionists to re-enter the executive.

The beleaguered President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, announced a major reshuffling of his administration in an effort to assert his authority over the E.U. bureaucracy. Prodi dismissed his spokesman and longtime adviser, Ricardo Levi, who had failed to squelch a number of recent embarrassments, including a German report last month which alleged that members of the Commission were plotting against the President. Prodi also reassigned the Commission's Dutch secretary-general, Carlo Trojan, to an ambassador's job in Geneva. Trojan was a holdover from the previous scandal-plagued administration.

Eleven years after Pan American flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, the trial of the two Libyans charged with the crime opened in the Netherlands. As families of some of the 270 people who perished in the explosion looked on from behind a bullet-proof glass barrier, prosecutors said that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, working as members of the Libyan Intelligence Services, had smuggled a suitcase containing a Semtex plastic explosive bomb into the plane's luggage compartment. Lawyers for the defendants countered that two Syria-backed Palestinian terror units might be culpable. The trial is expected to feature more than 1,000 witnesses and to last at least a year.

The war between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hizballah took its harshest turn in a year as fighting accelerated through the week. The escalation began when an Israeli pilot accidentally dropped a 300-kg iron bomb on a house in south Lebanon, wounding 14 people. Then, a gunner with Israel's proxy militia in Lebanon opened fire on another house in error, killing two women. Hizballah, which is fighting Israel's occupation of south Lebanon, responded by firing 25 Katyusha missiles into northern Israel, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding five civilians. The Israeli air force bombed the Beirut-Damascus highway and struck two power stations. Hizballah answered with another barrage of Katyushas on northern Israel. The skirmishes took place as U.N. special envoy Terje Larsen met officials in Beirut to discuss U.N. efforts to facilitate Israel's planned pullout of its forces from south Lebanon by July.

Three Jewish men accused of spying for Israel confessed to espionage charges last week, amid claims by defense lawyers that the confessions were not proof that the men had passed along any classified information. Ten more Iranian Jews are set to stand trial. The first defendant said his confession was not coerced and that he had received espionage training in Israel. Another defendant told reporters he gave Israeli officials military information gleaned from his army service. The swiftness of the confessions added to international concern about the fairness of the trial, which has been held behind closed doors. The espionage charge carries with it a possible death sentence, but the confessions — and the youth of the accused men — may win them clemency.

In a sobering reminder of the persistence of terror in Sierra Leone, rebels belonging to the Revolutionary United Front abducted 300 U.N. workers in three cities. At least four members of the 8,500-person U.N. peacekeeping force were killed in skirmishes. The offensive took place just as the last troops from the West African force which preceded the U.N. — and which had sided with the government against the rebels in their eight-year civil war — pulled out. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the attacks would weaken support for other peacekeeping efforts in Africa, including the looming deployment of 5,500 troops to the Congo.

Whipping his supporters into another violent frenzy, President Robert Mugabe launched his party's re-election campaign by declaring that the uncompensated seizures of white-owned land which began in February will continue, and that "we will take [our land] in whatever way is feasible." Mugabe branded the U.K. a national enemy; in response Britain halted arms sales to its former colony. In an effort to deflect attention from years of government mismanagement and a deepening economic crisis, Mugabe's zanu-pf party has brutalized many of the country's 4,000 white landholders and members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Chances of an untainted election are thought to be remote.

Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga announced a range of new war measures and civic restrictions as the government reeled from a series of defeats at the hands of advancing Tamil Tiger rebels. The new policies ban Sri Lankans from holding rallies, extend censorship of the local press to foreign correspondents, and redirect all "nonessential" development spending into the military's coffers. In recent weeks, the rebels forced government troops to abandon the Elephant Pass on the northern peninsula. The Tigers last week closed in on their former capital of Jaffna, where 25,000 government soldiers remain trapped. To deal with the mounting threat, Sri Lanka asked neighbor India to renew military aid, but New Delhi refused.

Two separate hostage crises convulsed the Philippines. Muslim rebels from the Islamic separatist group Abu Sayyaf held 20 foreign tourists, kidnaped from a Malaysian resort late last month, captive on the island of Jolo. A skirmish between the rebels and government troops left at least one soldier dead; the separatists claimed that two hostages were killed in the firefight. Meanwhile, on the nearby island of Basilan troops seeking to free 27 Filipino hostages held by another Abu Sayyaf faction mounted their own rescue attempt, after which four hostages were dead, 15 were rescued — some of them badly injured — and eight were still missing. The twin crises have undermined Philippine President Joseph Estrada's pledge to crack down on the separatists, who have warred with the government since the '70s.

After a lengthy shoot-out, Mexican lawmen arrested Ismael Higuera Guerrero, 39, a key lieutenant of the Tijuana Cartel, which anti-drug officials say is responsible for smuggling 15% of all cocaine that reaches the U.S. After an anonymous tip, police and army surrounded a seaside mansion on the Tijuana-Ensenada highway, not far from the California border. Higuera was the last of the suspected eight gang members to surrender. Mexican Special Prosecutor Mariana Herran Salvatti alleged that Higuera had ordered many killings and handled the cartel's daily trafficking operations.

Canada placed all diplomatic relations with Vietnam under review in response to the April 24 firing-squad execution of a Canadian resident convicted of drug smuggling. Canadian police found significant evidence that Nguyen Thi Hiep, a 43-year-old mother who insisted on her innocence, had been duped into transporting lacquer paintings in which 5.5 kg of heroin were hidden. Canadian officials were planning to go to Vietnam to assist in examining the evidence when Nguyen was executed. Despite ongoing diplomatic efforts to save her, the Canadian embassy was not warned of the execution. Canada has also asked for the release from a Hanoi prison of Nguyen's 74-year old mother, Tran Thi Cam, who was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the same case in 1997.

A standoff between U.S. officials and 216 demonstrators ended peacefully on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. A group of 100 U.S. marshals cleared the protesters from their encampments on a U.S. Navy training range, and detained them at a separate naval base in Puerto Rico, before releasing them. The campaign against the Navy's presence was prompted by the accidental killing of a local man by a U.S. bomber last spring. The Navy halted bombing exercises, but the Pentagon has pressed the Justice Department to remove the protesters, citing the range's importance as a live-fire training site.