Reporters on the Job

AFGHAN ADVENTURE: Just getting to Mazar-I-Sharif for today's story (page 7) was a major production for Scott Baldauf and the photographer. At the office of Ariana Airlines, the rickety state-owned carrier, they discovered there was a flight leaving at 10:30 a.m. But they had to persuade the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to give them permission to travel. "One Taliban bureaucrat told us that such permission was impossible on such short notice," Scott says. "We argued our case - we were here to cover the very humanitarian crisis the Taliban claimed the West was ignoring," Scott says.

The bureaucrat relented. Then they had to rush back to Ariana Airlines to purchase their tickets. There, they were told the flight had already left. "Nope, sorry, it was still on the ground," Scott says. Ariana agreed to hold the departure for them. So they rushed back to the state-owned hotel to pack their bags, check out (in US dollars, please), and drive to the airport - escorted by their Taliban-assigned translator. When they finally boarded the plane, they were told they were lucky to be on this flight.

"This was the same plane that was hijacked to Moscow a year ago," one passenger told them. "That means this plane was actually given a good servicing by trained mechanics." He winked.

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CULTURAL SNAPSHOT

ROYAL ROW: Sophie Rhys-Jones, wife of Queen Elizabeth II's youngest son, Prince Edward, said yesterday that she was quitting her job as chairman of a public relations firm after being caught by what she called newspaper "entrapment."

Formally known as the Countess of Wessex, Ms. Rhys-Jones made the announcement after a British newspaper published transcripts of disparaging comments it said she made about British politicians and the royal family to a reporter who posed as an Arab sheikh.

"I am deeply distressed by the carrying out of an entrapment operation on me and my business, but I also much regret my own misjudgment in succumbing to that subterfuge," Rhys-Jones said in a statement.

Separately, the palace said the queen "deplores the entrapment, subterfuge, innuendo and untruths" to which Sophie and Edward had been subjected. It said the queen fully supported them in their efforts to mix their royal duties with working careers.

- Wire services

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