News In Brief

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was to address the nation on Israel's response to the Mitchell commission report on recommendations to end Middle East violence as the Monitor went to press. The document already has been praised by at least one senior Palestinian Authority official as "a model of courage and wisdom." Sharon's address was to follow a lengthy meeting with US Ambassador Martin Indyk aimed at developing a framework and timetable for implementation of the report, which, among other features, calls for a freeze on Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israeli leadership has said it would allow for "natural growth" in existing settlements. Indyk also planned to discuss the report with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat.

In another decree aimed at non-Islamic religions, Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban rulers said they'll require Hindus to wear special identity labels on their clothing. The purpose was not immediately clear, although a senior Taliban official said Islam required it. The order does not apply to Sikhs, who are considered easily recognizable by their forms of dress. Analysts said the new labels evoke images of the Nazi policy of a half-century ago that required Jews to wear the Star of David in public. The Taliban order sparked angry protests in mainly Hindu neighboring India. In March, the Taliban toppled Afghanistan's Buddhist statues, some of them famous cultural landmarks.

The publication by two magazines of a leaked diplomatic cable in which German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and President Bush reportedly agreed to withhold new economic aid to Russia was blasted as a "provocation" by that country's leader. President Vladimir Putin said the act was aimed at wrecking the "positive trend in relations" between the Kremlin and the European Union. Putin especially has sought to establish warm ties with Germany since he assumed office. He and Bush are scheduled for their first meeting next month. The cable, allegedly written by Germany's ambassador to the US, appeared in the newsmagazines Der Spiegel and Focus.

Rebels returning from the civil war in neighboring Congo clashed with Rwandan troops for the first time since late 1999, reports said. The army claimed it killed 35 Hutu insurgents and captured 22 others in fighting just 40 miles from the capital, Kigali. Regional observers have warned of such a likelihood as peace efforts in Congo gained momentum and allies of the antigovernment rebels there returned home.

Without even the formality of a vote, 127 nations agreed to sign a UN treaty that will minimize -if not ban - use of a dozen toxic chemicals blamed for the deaths of people and animals worldwide. The pact on so-called persistent organic pollutants was hammered out in December at a convention in South Africa.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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