Bin Laden, Taliban Chief

Said to Be Alive and Well

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Osama bin Laden and the fugitive Taliban chief Mohammad Omar are alive and well, a purported Taliban commander said in a television interview broadcast Wednesday, adding that he still receives orders from Omar.

Pakistan's Geo television network broadcast the interview with the man it identified as Akhtar Usmani, the Taliban's former military commander and a former Afghan aviation minister. A black turban shielded the man's face, making it impossible to verify his identity.

In response to a question, the man said he would not specify where bin Laden was hiding. "Thanks be to God, he is absolutely fine," he said.

The man said that the Taliban was still organized and that senior Taliban leaders held regular consultations. He said Omar did not attend the meetings but "decisions come from his side." He did not say where those meetings were taking place.

Geo said the interview was recorded last week.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* VIENNA -- Iran has acknowledged working with small amounts of plutonium, a possible nuclear arms component, for years longer than it had originally admitted to the U.N. atomic watchdog agency, according to a confidential report.

The report, to be delivered as early as Thursday to a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said that Iran received technology that could be used as part of a weapons program earlier than it had originally acknowledged.

The document said that Iran had said its plutonium experiments were conducted in 1993 "and that no plutonium had been separated since then." Iranian officials revealed two months ago that there had been experiments in 1995 and 1998.

* JERUSALEM -- Israel plans to transfer the volatile West Bank town of Jenin to Palestinian control to try to ensure calm when it withdraws from nearby settlements this summer, officials said, reflecting concern that Palestinian militants might launch attacks during the pullout.

Israeli officials said no timetable was set for the transfer.

Meanwhile, Israeli security officials said they had arrested an unspecified number of Palestinians from the West Bank city of Nablus, including eight who were ages 15 to 17, suspected of planning suicide attacks in Israel.

THE AMERICAS

* MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's Supreme Court ruled that former president Luis Echeverria, 83, can face trial in connection with a 1971 massacre of student protesters, deciding it was not too late to prosecute him.

In a 3-to-2 decision, a panel of judges said Echeverria and former interior minister Mario Moya could be charged because the 30-year statute of limitations began in 1976, when they left office.

The case will return to a lower court to decide whether enough evidence exists to order arrest warrants on charges of genocide.

ASIA

* KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- U.S. and Afghan forces killed nine Taliban rebels and detained 21 during operations in southern Afghanistan aimed at containing rising guerrilla violence, a senior army officer said.

Seven rebels were killed Tuesday in a joint operation in Mian Nishin district of Kandahar province, while two were killed in the same district Wednesday, Gen. Muslim Amid said.

Also on Tuesday, suspected Taliban rebels broke into a medical clinic in Khost province, southeast of the capital near the Pakistan border, and killed a physician and six assistants.

* COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A government plan to share tsunami relief aid with Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger separatist rebels drove a Marxist party from the government Thursday, a move that could threaten the ruling party's hold on power.

-- From News Services

Twenty-one Vietnam-born orphans, now U.S. citizens, return to a now-peaceful Ho Chi Minh City 30 years after they were evacuated from the city, then called Saigon, in the waning days of the Vietnam War. The group is commemorating the first of the Operation Babylift flights that eventually moved nearly 3,000 war orphans out of the country.