Remarks by U.N. Envoy

Have Palestinians Angry

JERUSALEM -- Furious Palestinian officials said Wednesday that they had banned the U.N. envoy to the Middle East from the West Bank and Gaza Strip after he lashed out at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but the Palestinian observer to the United Nations said later that Terje Roed-Larsen was not barred from visiting.

Arafat's top adviser, Nabil Abu Irdineh, described the U.N. envoy as "useless" and said he was no longer welcome in the Palestinian areas.

Nasser Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, echoed the anger at Roed-Larsen but said the U.N. envoy's legal status had not been decided and would be discussed with Secretary General Kofi Annan next week. Kidwa would not say whether the Palestinians would ask for the U.N. envoy's removal.

"We are not kicking out anybody," Kidwa said. "No decision was taken whatsoever on this matter."

In a briefing to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, Roed-Larsen expressed frustration with Arafat for lack of progress toward crucial reforms and U.N.-backed peace moves.

Asia

* KABUL, Afghanistan -- Three American vigilantes tricked NATO peacekeepers into helping with illegal raids and got troops to send explosives experts and bomb-sniffing dogs to check buildings and vehicles in Kabul, the security force said.

A spokesman said the men, led by former U.S. soldier Jonathan K. Idema, seemed authentic -- fluent in military jargon, decked out in faux U.S. Army fatigues and claiming to belong to a task force.

Afghan officials said the three men, who were arrested July 5, could spend 20 years in prison on charges of hostage-taking and assaulting Afghans in their private jail.

* NEW DELHI -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage apologized to a senior Indian politician who was twice searched vigorously by airport security on visits to the United States. "I called my friend George Fernandes not to express my regrets but my sincere apologies," Armitage said.

Fernandes was defense minister in the Hindu nationalist government voted out of power in May. Indian news media and politicians were outraged by reports quoting a former U.S. official that said Fernandes was "body-searched" by U.S. airport security, once during an official visit to Washington in 2002 and again while traveling to Brazil in 2003.

* TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan criticized China for interfering in its friendship with the United States but appeared confident that Beijing would fail to dissuade Washington from selling the island defensive weapons. A day earlier, the Chinese Embassy in Washington expressed grave concern over U.S. support for Taiwan and urged the United States to halt arm sales and official exchanges with Taipei.

Europe

* VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- Rebels took 12 members of Chechnya's presidential security service captive the same day an assassination was attempted against the acting Chechen president, an official said.

Initial reports about Tuesday's battle near the village of Avtury cited the head of the security service as saying 18 of its members were killed. But Chechnya's chief prosecutor, Vladimir Kravchenko, said on Russian television Wednesday that 12 force members were captured and eight Chechen policemen were killed. Five rebels were killed in the fighting, which started when scores of insurgents ambushed the forces, Kravchenko said, according to the Interfax news agency.

* MOSCOW -- Authorities reportedly froze shares in key Yukos production units in Siberia as proceedings resumed in the trial of former chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky and a key partner, Platon Lebedev. Bailiffs were searching for collateral to satisfy the oil giant's $3.4 billion back tax bill after seizing lists of shares in two subsidiaries, Yuganskneftegaz and Samaraneftegaz, the Tass news agency reported.

Yukos spokesman Hugo Erikssen said the company had proposed in a July 8 letter to pay the state $8 billion in a two-year period -- $2.5 billion this month, $3.5 billion by July 2005 and a final payment of $2 billion before July 2006.

-- From News Services