Accounts confirm ship was involved in trafficking...


Accounts confirm ship was involved in trafficking children

COTONOU, Benin - The accounts of children removed from a ship that had been the subject of a frantic search off the coast of Africa confirmed suspicions the vessel was involved in child trafficking, officials said yesterday.

But the government, UNICEF and an aid group stopped short of alleging that any of the 43 children and young adults aboard the Nigerian-registered MV Etireno, which pulled into a Benin port April 17, were destined for slavery.

Those old enough to understand what was happening to them said they had been headed to Gabon to work in commerce, agriculture or domestic service, said the Terre des Hommes aid group.

Five children told authorities that a "financial transaction" had taken place before their departure, the groups said in a joint statement. Eight said they were traveling with a person they did not know.

Former defense minister given suspended sentence

JERUSALEM - Former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, once a rising star in Israeli politics, was given a suspended 18-month prison sentence yesterday for sexually assaulting two female subordinates.

Two judges wrote that they weighed Mordechai's public achievements in determining the sentence. The dissenting judge said the defendant should have served jail time because of the seriousness of the offense.

Mordechai had faced up to seven years in prison. Legislator Yael Dayan said the light sentence "bordered on being scandalous."

Health organization opens talks to curb smoking

GENEVA - The World Health Organization started five days of negotiations yesterday aimed at reaching the first-ever international treaty to curb smoking.

Accused by cigarette companies of unnecessary meddling and by some nongovernmental organizations of lack of ambition, delegates from about 190 countries sought common ground on how to wean the world off tobacco.

The WHO says 4 million people die every year from tobacco-related diseases.

Official gives account of 'Bloody Sunday'

BELFAST, Northern Ireland - A Northern Ireland government minister gave written testimony to an official inquiry yesterday in which he is believed to have revealed his shadowy guerrilla past as a senior figure in the Irish Republican Army.

Education Minister Martin McGuinness submitted his version of what happened on "Bloody Sunday" in 1972 when British troops shot and killed 13 Roman Catholic protesters.

Government, rebels agree on Philippine rights pact

OSLO, Norway - Philippine government and leftist rebel negotiators made unexpected progress yesterday before completing their four-day summit, agreeing on how to implement a human rights pact and discussing social and economic reforms to end their 32-year conflict.

Negotiators said they had not expected to get so far in the meetings that began Friday. The meetings were the first stage of a three-step negotiation process designed to end the conflict in 18 months.

China bars reporters from visiting Hainan island

BEIJING - China banned foreign journalists yesterday from traveling to the southern island of Hainan to report on the U.S. inspection of a Navy spy plane stranded there after colliding with a Chinese jet.

The Foreign Ministry took the unusual step of telephoning foreign news organizations to tell them their reporters should not go to the island. One official, Wei Xing, said neither Chinese officials nor the U.S. inspectors would talk to reporters in Hainan.

There was no immediate word on when U.S. inspectors would arrive on the island.

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