Lawmakers seek to spark dialogue in N. Korea visit

Thursday, May 29, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Six U.S. lawmakers hope to ease tensions with North Korea in the first visit by American officials since a crisis began last fall over the country's secret nuclear program.

They will tell North Korean officials that economic aid and trade lie ahead if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear program and improves relations with the United States, said the delegation leader, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa.

Weldon stressed that the lawmakers weren't traveling as Bush administration envoys and wouldn't negotiate. He said the administration did not encourage the trip, but didn't try to prevent it.

The lawmakers were departing Wednesday and expected to arrive in Pyongyang on Friday.

Other members of the delegation are Reps. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, Eliot Engel, D-New York, Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Jeff Miller, R-Fla. and Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas.

Demonstration shuttle flight considered

HOUSTON -- The Columbia accident investigators said Wednesday they may recommend that NASA stage a demonstration space shuttle flight before resuming full-scale missions.

Retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman Jr., chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, said the possibility of such a test flight appears unlikely, at least for now. But he said the idea is being considered by the panel and might be among its return-to-flight recommendations "if we think that's what it takes" to safely resume missions.

Gehman did not elaborate on what a demonstration flight might entail. But Columbia's first four flights, back in 1981 and 1982, were considered test flights by NASA. Each time, only two pilots were aboard -- instead of the full crew of five to seven -- and they had ejection seats.

NASA spokesman James Hartsfield said the board has not yet asked the space agency to look into the possibility of a demonstration flight.

Cocaine boss convicted of rejoining drug trade

MIAMI -- One of the biggest Colombian drug lords of the 1980s was convicted Wednesday of getting back into the cocaine business after he was released from prison in his homeland and given amnesty.

Fabio Ochoa, 46, could get life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 19 on federal drug conspiracy charges.

Ochoa is the most prominent Colombian drug figure to be brought to justice in the United States since the two countries resumed extraditions in 1997.

Prosecutors said that from 1997 to 1999, Ochoa was part of a network suspected of smuggling up to 30 tons of cocaine a month into the United States. Prosecutors called it "the Wal-Mart of drug trafficking."

Ochoa made the sign of the cross, closed his eyes and dropped to his knees in the courtroom after the verdict was read following five hours of deliberations. The defense said it will appeal.

Caller says she's mother of toddler found on street

FRESNO, Calif. -- A woman called police over the holiday weekend and left a message saying she was the mother of a 2-year-old "mystery boy" and wanted officers to find him a good home.

Speaking in Spanish, the woman identified herself as "Xochitl" and the boy as "Jesus Perez Florez," authorities said Tuesday.

The toddler was found about 10:30 p.m. May 18 on a sidewalk in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Bakersfield. Speaking only Spanish, the boy told police his name was "Mateo" and that he has two brothers and a dog.

Officers had been searching for the parents nationwide and in Mexico, where they hoped someone might recognize the boy.

The caller "had some specific information about the boy that we think only the mother would know," said Bakersfield police Sgt. Mitchell Willoughby. "She said she hoped we would find a good home for him ... and she talked a little bit about her life."

-- From wire reports

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