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War Briefs

Raining pencil bombs

Baghdad, April 2 (Reuters): Iraq’s information minister accused US-led invasion forces today of dropping booby-trapped pens and pencils on Iraqi villages.

his latest allegations that the US and British air forces were deliberately targeting Iraqi civilians, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told a news conference: “This will be very astonishing to you. They have started sending down bombs on Iraqi villages.”

“Do you know what these booby traps are' They are pens and pencils,” he said, holding aloft what looked like a black ball-point pen. “We told our people to avoid them and we confiscated them.”

Sat phones

Dubai (Reuters): A Gulf telecom firm, Thuraya, criticised a US ban on some journalists from using its satellite phones in Iraq, saying it was very unlikely the signal could reveal the location of US troops. Some reporters with the US forces in Iraq have been banned from using Thuraya satellite phones, apparently because of fears that the signal could be intercepted. At least one journalist’s handset has been confiscated. Chairman Mohammed Omran said Thuraya’s complex encryption system would make it very difficult to locate journalists using the phone while travelling with US troops. “The journalists should not be prevented (from using Thurayas). It is highly unlikely that our phones are endangering anyone’s lives,” Omran said.

Seoul aid

Seoul (Reuters): South Korea’s Parliament voted to send non-combat troops to Iraq, handing a political victory to new President Roh Moo-Hyun in the face of widespread opposition to the US-led war to oust President Saddam Hussein. The National Assembly voted to send about 700 medical and engineering personnel to Iraq after Roh told lawmakers that cementing ties with Washington was key to securing peace on the divided Korean peninsula.

Scribes return

Ruweished (Reuters): A group of journalists who disappeared from a Baghdad hotel have turned up safe in Jordan after a week in prison, but an Australian newspaper said two of its staff had been detained in Iraq. “It wasn’t much fun but we were not physically hurt and we are very happy to be out,” said Matthew McAllester, 33, shortly after the group arrived in Jordan’s desert town of Ruweished, near the frontier with Iraq, in a four-wheel drive on Tuesday. He said the group had been held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq for seven or eight days.

Bandanna ban

San Francisco (Reuters): Police in San Francisco, long known for its politics of dissent, have been barred from wearing US flag bandannas or patriotic clothing on duty, the department said. The city’s police force, which has arrested more anti-war protesters in recent days than anywhere else in the US, has detained more than 2,000 demonstrators in the past two weeks. Some police members patrolling the demonstrations had worn flag bandannas or other objects displaying the stars and stripes, but acting police chief Alex Fagan said he would bar such action in the future.

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