- Mexican oil producer Pemex says bomb threat a 'false alarm'
- United States to meet Taliban to seek Afghan peace
- Charges pending against Afghans accused of prison abuse: Australia
Posted: 18 Jun 2013 08:37 PM PDT
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's state oil producer, Pemex, on Tuesday evacuated its Mexico City headquarters, the site of a deadly blast in January, but later said it was a false alarm.
"We've finished inspecting the Pemex tower," the company said in a message sent on Twitter at 10:25 p.m. local time/0325 GMT. "It was a false alarm."
In January, a blast at the same facility killed at least 37 people. The government said a gas leak caused the explosion, although many Mexicans questioned the explanation, speculating it may have been caused by a bomb.
Mexico's new government, which took office in December, is preparing to open up the state oil firm to private investment, which is a sensitive issue in Mexico.
Pemex has been a symbol of Mexican self-sufficiency since the oil industry was nationalized in 1938.
The government's plans, details of which have yet to be unveiled, have prompted accusations that President Enrique Pena Nieto plans to privatize the company, which he has repeatedly denied.
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Adriana Barrera; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Peter Cooney and Stacey Joyce)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 18 Jun 2013 08:13 PM PDT
WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban raised hopes for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan with commitments to meet this week after 12 years of bloody and costly war between American-led forces and the insurgents.
The Taliban opened an office in Doha, the Qatari capital, on Tuesday to help restart talks and said it wanted a political solution that would bring about a just government and end foreign occupation of Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said the talks would start in Doha on Thursday but cautioned that the on-again, off-again peace process would likely be messy and has no guarantee of success.
"It's going to be a long, hard process if indeed it advances significantly at all," a senior U.S. official said.
The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai also said it was sending a team to Doha and a senior official said the Taliban was willing to consider talks. But the insurgents made no immediate comment on the claim.
The ultimate goal of the diplomatic manoeuvring is to get representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban into direct negotiations on the country's future. The Taliban have thus far refused such talks, calling Karzai and his government puppets of the West.
Nonetheless, the diplomatic announcements represented the first signs of optimism in Afghan peace efforts for many months, and come as the U.S.-led war effort reaches a critical juncture. The NATO command in Kabul on Tuesday completed handing over lead security responsibility to Afghan government forces across the country.
NATO plans to end all combat operations in Afghanistan by December 2014.
President Barack Obama said U.S. combat operations would not cease and, in a reminder that the insurgents continue to fight, four U.S. troops were killed in an attack on Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, a U.S. official said later on Tuesday.
Obama, travelling in Europe, cautioned against expectations of quick progress, saying the peace process would not be easy or quick.
"This is an important first step towards reconciliation; although it's a very early step," Obama said after a G8 meeting in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. "We anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road."
Karzai said his government would send a team to Qatar but added the talks should quickly be moved to Afghanistan.
"We hope that our brothers the Taliban also understand that the process will move to our country soon," he said.
It was not immediately clear why the Taliban had agreed to resume talks with the United States, which they broke off in March 2012. The question of entering negotiations has caused rifts between Pakistan-based Taliban senior leaders and younger battlefield commanders, who oppose the move, U.S. officials have said.
In opening the Qatar office, the Taliban said it was seeking a political solution, but added that no dates had been agreed for talks. Taliban representative Mohammed Naeem told a news briefing in Doha that the group wanted good relations with "all of the world countries."
"But the Islamic emirate (Taliban) sees the independence of the nation from the current occupation as a national and religious obligation," he said.
U.S. officials said that in the talks in Doha, the United States would stick to its insistence that the Taliban break ties with al Qaeda, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution, including protection for women and minorities.
The Taliban is expected to demand the return of former senior commanders now detained at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - a move many in the U.S. Congress oppose - as well as the departure of all foreign troops.
But the United States hopes to keep a force, of as yet undetermined size, in the country after the end of the NATO combat mission.
The peace negotiations also face sceptics in the U.S. Congress.
"Until the Taliban confirm, not just in words but in action, that they have renounced all terrorist activity and support, we should not reward them by participating in any reconciliation efforts," Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said in a statement.
'PEACE IS NOT AT HAND'
U.S. officials said the initial meeting with the Taliban was expected to involve an exchange of agendas, followed by another meeting a week or two later to discuss next steps.
A U.S. official said he expected the initial meeting would be followed within days by another between the Taliban and the High Peace Council, a structure set up by Karzai to represent Afghanistan in such talks.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the level of trust between the Afghan government and the Taliban remained low, and played down expectations that the talks would quickly lead to peace.
"We need to be realistic," said one official. "This is a new development, a potentially significant development. But peace is not at hand."
A senior U.S. official said Pakistan, which has provided sanctuary to the Taliban despite its professed support for the battle against Islamist militancy, had recently been supportive of the peace process.
"There has in the past been scepticism about their support, but in recent months I think we've seen evidence that there is genuine support and that they've employed their influence such as it is to encourage the Taliban to engage," he said.
A U.S. official said the talks would be conducted on the Taliban side by its political commission, with the authorisation of its leader, Mullah Omar. The main U.S. interlocutor has been Tayeb Agha, whom Washington considers close to Omar.
James Dobbins, the new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will lead the U.S. side.
Also represented will be the Haqqani network, considered the United States' deadliest foe in Afghanistan. The top U.S. and NATO commander in the country cast doubt on Tuesday over whether it could make peace.
"All I've seen of the Haqqani would make it hard for me to believe they were reconcilable," U.S. General Joseph Dunford told reporters by phone from Kabul.
(Additional reporting by Dylan Welch and Mirwais Harooni in Kabul, Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan, William Maclean, Amena Bakr and Yara Bayoumy in Dubai, Jeff Mason in Enniskillen and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by David Brunnstrom and Warren Strobel; Editing by David Storey and Jim Loney and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 18 Jun 2013 07:58 PM PDT
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Afghan authorities will lay charges against officials at a prison run by the country's internal security service, Australia said on Wednesday, just weeks after Canberra blocked prisoner transfers over fears of detainee mistreatment.
Afghan authorities were taking action after Australia stopped handing over insurgent suspects to an NDS-run detention facility at the coalition base in Tirin Kot, in southern Uruzgan province, Australia's Defence Minister Stephen Smith said.
"Australia has been informally advised by Afghan authorities that they are in the process of laying charges against a number of Afghan officials as a result of the allegations of detainee mistreatment at the National Directorate of Security facility," Smith said in a statement to parliament.
Prisoner transfers have been a major irritant in the relationship between Afghanistan's government and its Western backers, becoming more pronounced as the NATO-led coalition prepares to pull out most combat troops by the end of next year.
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, battling wide unpopularity among his own countrymen, has made detention a national sovereignty issue as his government tries to strike a deal on a long-term U.S. troop presence.
Karzai this month demanded Britain hand over more than 80 prisoners of war being held in Camp Bastion in southern Helmand province, saying their detention was against Afghan law.
But international rights groups and major Western countries, including Britain and Australia, have raised concern about human rights abuses and torture inside Afghan detention centres.
Afghanistan counters that Western nations rely on questionable international legal principles to detain Afghans without access to the country's courts.
Smith said any allegations of abuse or mistreatment had to be investigated "in a robust and transparent manner". Between August 2010 and this June there had been 62 allegations of detainee mistreatment by Afghan forces in Uruzgan, he said.
"It is appropriate for Australia to await the outcome of the Afghan investigation into this matter, and advice on any action to be taken, before Australia will consider a resumption of the transfer of ADF-apprehended detainees to Afghan authorities in Tarin Kot," he said.
After controversies about resettlement barriers for Afghan interpreters and other locals working for coalition forces in the country, Smith said Australia recognised it had a "moral responsibility to support those who have assisted us".
Afghan employees at risk of harm as a consequence of their jobs supporting Australia's 1,550 troops would be offered resettlement through a special visa process, he said, provided they passed a risk assessment.
(Editing by Ron Popeski)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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