Insider notes from United Press International for March 22

United Press International
March 22, 2004 Monday 13:11 PM Eastern Time

UPI Hears …


Insider notes from United Press International for March 22,


An increasing issue for the Pentagon as it extends its global
military presence is its “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) with the
host country. SOFA agreements are frequently seen as shielding U.S.
servicemen committing criminal acts from local justice, as the
agreements provide for trial by the U.S. military rather than local
jurisdictions. Japan, host to U.S. forces since 1945, is particularly
concerned about modifying its SOFA agreement with Washington. SOFA
currently does not require the United States to hand over military
suspects alleged to have committed crimes until Japanese prosecutors
indict them. The two countries are expected shortly to agree to a
compromise allowing U.S. officials to attend interrogations of U.S.
military personnel suspected of such serious crimes as murder or
rape. Washington and Tokyo are expected to resume official
negotiations later this month and formally agree on changes in
implementing SOFA.

As Turkey holds its breath over its possible accession to European
Union membership, the EU is casting its eyes even further afield. The
EU’s special envoy on South Caucasus, Heike Talvitie, told a meeting
of Azerbaijan’s permanent parliamentary commission on human rights in
Baku that a special project was being developed to admit Georgia,
Azerbaijan and Armenia to the EU and that the dates and condition for
admission of the three countries will be made public after the
project is developed. In broadening the EU’s contacts with the
country’s political opposition, Talvitie met with MP Ali Karimli,
chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, Musavat Party
leader Isa Gambar and Etibar Mammadov, chairman of the Party for
National Independence of Azerbaijan. Before flying to Yerevan,
Talvitie stressed that he would make every effort to settle the Upper
Karabakh conflict and take advantage of all opportunities to reach
peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

One of the few certainties in the wake of Israel’s “targeted
assassination” of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is that
in the short-term the Middle East is likely to become an even more
dangerous place as Hamas militants seek to avenge their fallen
leader. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s counter-terrorism adviser Avi
Arditi has underlined that the Israeli government’s recent travel
advisory warning citizens against visiting Sinai is based on hard
intelligence and not just general information. Among other areas
Israeli travel advisories warn Israelis to avoid visiting are
Istanbul, Bangkok, northern India, and Philippine islands that have
been the site of Muslim insurgent activity. Insurance companies use
travel advisory lists to determine whether to issue life insurance
policies to travelers putting themselves in harm’s way. All the
countries covered by the Israeli advisory — Egypt, Turkey, Thailand,
India and the Philippines — are heavily dependent on tourism
revenues, and inclusion in advisories frequently has a devastating
economic impact.

Qatar’s feisty satellite television channel al-Jazeera has annoyed
governments from Washington to Baghdad, with Riyadh recently claiming
that their broadcasts incite terrorism. Now Saudi Arabian Imam
Al-Hushan has taken the Western route, suing the channel in the
courts over a documentary that a film crew shot in his mosque in
Asir. The Western reporters in the broadcast version of the film
described the mosque as a base for terrorism, adding that four of the
9/11 suspects regularly attended prayer services there. Al-Hushan
claims that the broadcast ruined the mosque’s reputation, and is
seeking unspecified damages. Perhaps the filmmakers were onto
something; Asir province abuts Yemen, ancestral homeland of Osama bin
Laden, while nearly one-third of the Guantanamo detainees are Saudi
or Yemeni.

It might just be coincidence, but as U.S. troops prepare for
Operation Mountain Storm in Afghanistan, Russian and Tajik troops
across the border today began three days of joint command and staff
exercises in southern Tajikistan. The exercises are designed to
improve the country’s ability to interdict the flow of terrorists the
border. Motor-rifle regiments of the Russian 201st division and the
Tajik Armed Forces will be practicing joint maneuvers with armored
vehicles and attack aircraft. Chief of the army staff of the Volga
region-Urals Military District Col. Gen. Nikolai Tkachev and Maj.
Gen. Abdulnazar Abulasanov, commander of Tajikistan’s land forces are
overseeing the exercises. In case any Taliban or al-Qaida fighters
still in Afghanistan miss the point, joint artillery exercises will
be held at the Mumirak range along the southern Tajik-Afghan border
on March 24.