Reporters on the job

HAIL TO THE KING: Martin Hodgson was as surprised as anybody by the sudden restart of peace talks in Colombia (page 7). "I'd spent the day interviewing Colombian soldiers massing just outside San Vicente (a rebel haven). I was just finishing a story for a client in the UK when I heard the news on my hotel television," he says. Martin ran out to talk to the UN negotiator. "Everyone was celebrating in the streets. Drivers were beeping their horns. My taxi driver was ebullient. 'James LeMoyne [the UN envoy] is king!' "

COMFORTABLE IN KHOST: Reporting today's story about US efforts to hunt down Al Qaeda fugitives in Khost, Afghanistan (page 1), Philip Smucker felt he had arrived in the "real Afghanistan" of heavily armed tribesmen and outstanding hospitality. Back in November, "I raced into Afghanistan with a warlord who hailed from Dijon, France, and got stuck in Jalalabad for five weeks covering the battle for Tora Bora. Mobs of reporters dodged bullets, paid for frontline access, and followed a fight that seemed like something from central casting - with 'Rambo-esque' special forces racing into the fray and mushroom dust clouds from US bombs rising up from the snow-capped mountains.

"Here in Khost, the mood is much more like a Pakistani tribal area, with thousands of tribesmen strutting by on the dirt roads and giving one another the occasional Pashtun bear hug. Nearby, US forces are still hunting for remaining Al Qaeda members, but this time I'm the only hack in town." And it's not exactly a hardship assignment, in one respect. Phil's staying at the governor's guest house, where he's being feted by "a clan of local rulers and invisible female chefs."

WHO LET THE DOG OUT? The Monitor's Robert Marquand was reporting on the first visit to India in a decade by a Chinese premier (page 8), when a Yugoslav diplomat recounted a quirky tale that underscored the delicate moments in China and India's tense history. The incident took place in the mid-1900s, when Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong was invited for dinner to an Indian ambassador's residence in Beijing. "Mao liked to sit at the table, feet up, in a Caligula-like posture," says Bob. "The ambassador had a large dog, and Mao hated dogs. The dog became fascinated by Mao's feet. At one point, the dog grabbed one of Mao's slippers and took it away."

Mao, who didn't want to be there to begin with, now couldn't leave because the dog had his slipper. "That bizarrely captured the state of relations between the two nations," says Bob.

David Clark Scott

World editor

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