World briefs 03/22/03

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Suspected rebels sink boat carrying fishermen

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A suspected Tamil Tiger rebel boat attacked and sank a vessel carrying Chinese fishermen off eastern Sri Lanka, killing 17 people on board, the navy said Friday.

The Chinese government said it was "extremely concerned" by the sinking, which appeared to be a case of mistaken identity. The rebels lost 11 fighters and one of their vessels in a clash earlier this month with the Sri Lankan navy and may have been trying to retaliate.

The attack came as government and Tamil Tiger negotiators wrapped up a sixth round of peace talks in Japan aimed at resolving the 19-year civil war.

Both sides agreed to convene naval and political representatives within three weeks to try to prevent future clashes at sea, a Norwegian statement said.

The two sides have been under a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire since February 2002, but the truce is vague in relation to sea movement.

The sunken vessel was carrying 23 Chinese and three Sri Lankans. Nine people were rescued by another Chinese vessel nearby, navy spokesman Jayantha Perera said.

Muslim rebels seize civilians, kill three

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines -- Suspected Muslim rebels shot and killed three civilians and wounded two others, including a baby, in a raid on an army post, the military said Friday.

The suspected rebels seized the five civilians during the attack Thursday on the southern island of Mindanao, army spokesman Maj. Julieto Ando said.

The attackers, who numbered about 30, shot the civilians as they fled. The wounded included a 1-year-old girl. Her condition was not immediately available.

Ando blamed the attack on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has been fighting troops in the region as part of a separatist campaign, but a spokesman for the group denied the allegation.

"All our efforts are directed at the military, not civilians," spokesman Eid Kabalu said.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with an estimated 12,000 troops, has been fighting for almost three decades to create an Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The government and rebels have said they will hold talks later this month.

U.S. citizen linked to Falun Gong sentenced

BEIJING -- A U.S. citizen linked to the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement was sentenced to three years in prison by a Chinese court Friday after being convicted of sabotaging broadcast facilities, the government said.

Charles Li of Menlo Park, Calif., was also ordered deported, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It wasn't immediately clear whether Li would have to serve his sentence before deportation. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing had no immediate comment.

The charges against Li -- identified by Xinhua and on his U.S. passport as Chuck Lee -- are related to the hijacking of Chinese cable and satellite television broadcasts by Falun Gong followers to show videos protesting the Chinese government ban on their group.

Chinese citizens convicted in earlier television break-ins have received prison terms of up to 20 years.

-- From wire reports

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