Report: Land Mine Pact

Cuts Global Casualties

TRAPEANG VENG, Cambodia -- More than 8,000 people were killed or maimed last year by land mines, although a 1997 international treaty that banned the weapons has reduced the carnage, an activist group said Wednesday.

As many as 20,000 more people may have fallen victim to land mines during the period because so many cases go unreported, but even that would be an improvement on annual estimates before the Mine Ban Treaty, which was implemented in 1999, officials from the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines said.

Countries increasingly are shunning land mines, but the United States, China and Russia are among those that haven't joined and stockpile millions of the devices, according to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group.

Since the treaty, more than 100 countries that signed it have destroyed more than 62 million stockpiled mines and cleared more than 425 square miles of land of the weapons, the group said in its global report. Only Burma and Russia have continuously used mines since 1999, it said.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* GAZA -- Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas vowed a crackdown on armed groups operating in Palestinian areas in order to smooth the way to a Jan. 9 presidential election for a successor to Yasser Arafat.

Abbas, who became head of the Palestine Liberation Organization after Arafat's death last week, also urged Israel to halt "aggressive" military action in the West Bank and Gaza to help him restore order.

"Steps will be taken to end the public display or show of arms," Abbas told the Reuters news agency in an interview. "We have to move on to a new era. We will act firmly against anyone who violates the law."

Abbas left unclear whether security forces would curb militants preparing attacks on Israelis -- a key demand of a U.S.-backed peace plan envisaging a Palestinian state.

ASIA

* KARACHI, Pakistan -- An Islamic militant wanted in the murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl was killed in a shootout with police, according to Pakistani authorities, who also announced the arrest of a suspect in a deadly bombing near the U.S. Consulate in Karachi two years ago.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said authorities arrested Naveed Hassan, an alleged member of the outlawed militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen al-Almi, near Pakistan's main border checkpoint with India at Wagah, near the eastern city of Lahore. Hassan was wanted in the Karachi bombing, which killed 14 Pakistanis, and a smaller blast during New Year's celebrations that year that that wounded at least nine people in the city.

Earlier, Karachi police announced the death of Asim Ghafoor, wanted in the January 2002 kidnapping and killing of Pearl, a Wall Street Journal correspondent. Ghafoor was killed as agents tried to arrest him at a hideout in the west of the city, police said.

* KABUL, Afghanistan -- Criminals rather than Islamic militants are holding three kidnapped U.N. workers, a government official said, dismissing claims of a Taliban-linked group threatening to kill the trio unless the United States frees 26 of their jailed comrades.

Meanwhile, a little-known rebel group called Jaish-e-Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, said through a spokesman that its leaders were holding a critical meeting on the hostages' fate. The spokesman insisted that the captives were in the group's hands.

Latfullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, which is leading the search for the hostages, said authorities believed the militants paid the kidnappers for a video of the hostages, who were seized at gunpoint on Oct. 28 in Kabul.

EUROPE

* LONDON -- The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq mobilized Islamic extremists and made the world more dangerous, French President Jacques Chirac said, keeping up his vocal opposition to the war on the eve of a visit to London.

"There's no doubt that there has been an increase in terrorism, and one of the origins of that has been the situation in Iraq," Chirac told the BBC.

"To a certain extent Saddam Hussein's departure was a positive thing. But it also provoked reactions, such as the mobilization in a number of countries, of men and women of Islam, which has made the world more dangerous."

Despite Chirac's criticism of the war, officials in Paris say he wants stronger relations with the United States. The issue will figure prominently in talks Thursday between Chirac and Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has called for reconciliation between European leaders and President Bush.

* BRUSSELS -- NATO allies approved detailed plans to send as many as 300 military instructors backed by hundreds of guards and support staff to Iraq in an expansion of the alliance's military training program. Officers from the 26 allies will meet next week at NATO's military headquarters in southern Belgium to muster troops for the mission.

* AMSTERDAM -- A translator at the Dutch secret service arrested in October for allegedly leaking classified information may have had links to suspected terrorists arrested in the slaying of Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker, a spokesman for the national prosecutor's office said.

Dutch news media identified the 34-year-old translator as Outmar Ben A. or Othman Ben A. But Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said he could not confirm the name.

In a letter to parliament last week, Interior Minister Johan Remkes said a suspect in the leak case who allegedly received secret information stayed at the same address as Mohammed Bouyeri, Van Gogh's alleged killer.

-- From News Services