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Wednesday, April 13, 2005; Page A14

Dominican Ex-President Is Focus of Drug Probe

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The government said Tuesday it was investigating possible links between former president Hipolito Mejia and a businessman facing cocaine trafficking charges in the United States.

Prosecutor Jose Manuel Hernandez Peguero said Mejia ignored warnings about Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo's suspected drug ties when he promoted him to army captain over the objections of senior military commanders.

"The ex-president ignored this information and permitted his appointment in the army," the prosecutor said. "We are investigating the alleged links between Hipolito Mejia and former captain Paulino Castillo."

A powerful supporter of Mejia in his failed bid for reelection last year, Paulino Castillo was extradited to the United States in February to face five counts of drug smuggling and money laundering in a New York court.


TANJUNG AUA, Indonesia -- More than 25,000 panicked residents have been evacuated from the slopes of a rumbling volcano on Indonesia's Sumatra island and officials raised the alert level Wednesday as the mountain's activity intensified.

"The status of Mount Talang is now at top alert," said Surono, a vulcanologist from the Directorate of Vulcanology and Geophysics.

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The country's powerful military will dismantle its lucrative business empire within the next two years, the armed forces commander said Tuesday. Gen. Endriartono Sutarto made the announcement after a meeting of the heads of the navy, army and air force in Jakarta.

"I decided today that we should put this to an end two years from now, at the latest," he told reporters.

The military built up its business interests under former strongman Suharto. Its multibillion-dollar empire includes office buildings, five-star hotels and restaurants.

Democracy advocates and critics say the businesses have become a source of corruption and graft.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. troops and warplanes scrambled to the aid of Afghan forces ambushed by suspected Taliban fighters on a high mountain pass, officials said. About 12 militants were reported killed and two American soldiers were hurt. The Afghan convoy came under fire Monday from 30 to 35 militants near Khost, southeast of Kabul, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

In the south, farmers fought a gun battle with counter-narcotics police, and authorities said they arrested three men suspected of trying to abduct an American in the capital.

SAVAR, Bangladesh -- Rescuers digging through the concrete debris of a collapsed sweater factory heard survivors pleading for help, but the cries were fading a day after the nine-story building toppled, killing at least 30 people and trapping 200.

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