World briefs 7/16/07

Monday, July 16, 2007

Afghanistan frees boy trained as suicide bomber

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Fourteen-year-old Rafiqullah said the men at the Pakistani madrassa showed him and two classmates videos of suicide attackers. Then the militants gave Rafiqullah his mission: kill an Afghan governor. The teenager walked eight hours over the porous border from Pakistan to the eastern Afghan city of Khost, where a man named Abdul Aziz tried to pump up his courage, Rafiqullah said. Aziz gave him an explosives-laden vest, and the teenager confessed his fears. "I said I was afraid to carry out the suicide attack, and Abdul Aziz pointed a gun at me and said 'I'll kill you if you don't,"' Rafiqullah said while he was in the custody of Afghan authorities over the weekend. Declaring the teen an innocent pawn manipulated by militants, President Hamid Karzai on Sunday freed Rafiqullah, who appears to be at least the third child co-opted by Taliban fighters to carry out attacks since April.

North Korea calls for end to U.S. 'hostile policies'

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea is ready to start dismantling its nuclear programs following the shutdown of its sole operating reactor, a North Korean diplomat said Sunday, as long as the United States lifts all sanctions against the communist nation. Kim Myong Gil, minister at the North's mission to the United Nations in New York, confirmed the reactor was shut down Saturday after receipt of a South Korean oil shipment, and said U.N. inspectors would verify the closure Sunday. North Korea's Foreign Ministry said any future progress in disarmament would depend "on what practical measures the United States and Japan, in particular, will take to roll back their hostile policies toward" North Korea.

New Israeli president promises to pursue peace

JERUSALEM -- Elder statesman Shimon Peres took office as Israel's ninth president Sunday, pledging to devote his seven-year term in the ceremonial post to his lifelong dream of Middle East peace. Taking his oath of office before parliament, Peres, 83, said Israel must make peace with the Palestinians and Arab countries through measures small and large, including cooperatively digging a canal and lakes in the desert between Israel and Jordan. "We must encourage peace here at home, with our neighbors, in the region," he said. The swearing-in capped a six-decade political career that has included international acclaim and a Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to create peace in the region.

La. cockfighting law turns attention to Puerto Rico

ISLA VERDE, Puerto Rico -- With cockfighting about to lose its last bastion in the United States, animal rights activists are training their sights on Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory where the blood sport is both beloved tradition and big business. Cockfighting is illegal in 49 states, and the governor of Louisiana -- the pastime's last U.S. refuge -- signed a law Thursday that will make it a crime to fight birds beginning in August 2008. New Mexico banned the sport on June 15. But Puerto Rico shows no signs of following suit: Cockfighting is so entrenched that the territory's legislature recently approved a bill establishing it as a "cultural right" of islanders.

To save Sri Lankan turtles, scientists turn to poachers

REKAWA, Sri Lanka -- On a moonlit night, a group of young men huddled around a green turtle as it dug deep into a beach to lay its eggs. As a teenager, Phushara Weerawarna would have pounced on the nest as soon as the turtle left, eating some eggs raw and keeping the rest to sell illegally. Now, he protects the turtle eggs and patrols the beach to keep would-be poachers at bay. Weerawarna and more than a dozen other former nest-raiders work for the Turtle Conservation Project, a local group dedicated to safeguarding the turtle nests of Rekawa beach in southern Sri Lanka, where about 100,000 turtle eggs are buried each year. Instead of running the poachers out of town, the turtle experts hired them. That idea has paid off for the turtles, whose hatchlings now make it to the sea, and it's paid off for the former poachers as well.

-- From wire reports

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