Britain Uses Cutbacks

To Revamp Military

LONDON -- Britain announced one of its biggest peacetime military overhauls on Wednesday, cutting tanks, ships and thousands of personnel in an effort to adapt its forces to tackle modern threats, including terrorism.

The shake-up -- at a time when Britain's army is overstretched by operations from Kosovo to Iraq -- reflects a post-Cold War shift in emphasis toward rapid-reaction forces capable of swift deployment to world hot spots.

"The transformation that I am setting out today will help to ensure that our armed forces can continue to respond effectively to the global challenges they are likely to face," Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon told Parliament.

Critics, however, say the cuts will leave Britain's armed forces ill-equipped to face future challenges.

"Please explain who the idiot was who thinks you can cut the infantry at a time when the pressure on them is enormous," said Bruce George, Labor chairman of a parliamentary committee on defense.

In the past five years, Prime Minister Tony Blair has launched operations in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan in addition to Iraq, which with 45,000 personnel was the biggest deployment since Korea 50 years ago.

Wednesday's announcements will have no immediate impact on those operations and Britain will still invest $54.7 billion this year on the military, maintaining its status as Europe's top defense spender.

Africa

* UNITED NATIONS -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged Sudan to take immediate action to disarm Arab militias and warned that the international community may step in if it doesn't move quickly.

"The urgency is there, and the Sudanese government doesn't have forever," Annan said at a news conference after Jan Pronk, Annan's special representative in Khartoum, briefed the U.N. Security Council on Darfur. The government promised Annan in a July 3 agreement that it would crack down on the Janjaweed militia and other outlawed rebel groups, but Pronk said it has made "no progress whatsoever" in honoring its pledge.

* JOHANNESBURG -- A long-standing dispute over arms trading between South Africa and the United States has ended and defense trade relations have been normalized, U.S. officials said.

The State Department decided to normalize arms trading after reviewing a 1996 settlement between the countries over alleged violations of U.S. export laws by three South African defense firms, U.S. Ambassador Cameron R. Hume said in a statement.

The Middle East

* JERUSALEM -- Israel's construction of its West Bank barrier went ahead hours after the U.N. General Assembly called for the structure to be torn down in compliance with a World Court ruling.

Bulldozers and backhoes worked in Abu Dis, a Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem. Workers raised 26-foot-high concrete walls that are rapidly separating the Palestinian area from Jerusalem, a city that Abu Dis residents depend on for employment and many services.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said it was unfortunate Israel was ignoring this month's nonbinding ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague and Tuesday's U.N. resolution. "I hope that the international community will continue to exert every effort to make Israel comply with the U.N. resolutions," Erekat said.

Asia

* KABUL, Afghanistan -- Three Americans went on trial on charges that they tortured eight prisoners in a private jail, with the group's leader saying he had tacit support from senior Pentagon officials who once offered to put his team under contract. The U.S. military says the men were freelancers operating outside the law and without their knowledge.

Jonathan K. Idema, Brett Bennett and Edward Caraballo were arrested when Afghan security forces raided their makeshift jail in Kabul on July 5.

Standing before a three-judge panel in a heavily guarded Afghan national security court, the men listened quietly to the charges, which included hostage-taking and "mental and physical torture."

The Americans did not testify, but Idema said afterward that the abuse allegations were invented. He said his men had arrested "world-class terrorists" and said he was in daily telephone and e-mail contact with officials "at the highest level" of the U.S. Defense Department, including Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office.

* ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan held talks at a regional conference, hoping to speed the pace of peace talks that have raised hope that the nuclear-armed neighbors might permanently end decades of hostility.

Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri met his Indian counterpart, Natwar Singh, over breakfast at an Islamabad hotel. "Our talks today were frank, they were honest, they were candid, they were friendly and they were warm," Kasuri said afterward. "Every issue of concern was raised by me and every issue of concern was raised by Mr. Natwar Singh."

Europe

* MINSK, Belarus -- Police scuffled with protesters in Belarus as several thousand people gathered to demonstrate against President Alexander Lukashenko. A rights group said about 50 opponents of the authoritarian leader were detained. After the scuffles, about 3,000 demonstrators gathered in a park for the largest anti-Lukashenko protest this year in the tightly controlled country.

* SORRENTO, Italy -- Opponents of whaling won a victory in their battle against the use of grenade-tipped harpoons when the International Whaling Commission approved measures aimed at saving the giant mammals from what animal rights activists say are slow, painful deaths. Pro-whaling nations at this year's commission meeting insisted that this method of slaughter is quick and usually painless. But the animal rights view won out with the 29 to 22 approval of a resolution proposed by New Zealand.

-- From News Services

A woman prepares food in her flooded home in Choudhary, India. The death toll in South Asia has risen to 546 as monsoon floods, tornadoes and rains roared through already inundated villages.