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These stories were published Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 33
Jo Stuart
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Three arrests made in illegal logging near Upala
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law enforcement officers broke up a logging expedition near Santo Domingo de Bijagua de Upala, in the biological reserve El Pilón. Officers detained three men and confiscated chain saws and other tools.

The men were surprised at the mouth of a hollow cutting up a tamarindo tree that they were planning to take out of the reserve with oxen, police said.

The arrests were made jointly by the Fuerza Pública of Upala and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Illegal logging is a major problem in the far north of the country, and the environmental ministry estimates that some 25,000 cubic inches of wood have been taken from the 

reserve just by the trio arrested over the weekend. In addition to the loss of wood, there is environmental damage remaining, the ministry said.

Arrested were two men with the last name of Anchía and one with the name of Chavarría.

Police officials said that the men were caught because neighbors of the reserve turned them in. That prompted Rogelio Ramos, minister of Seguridad to shoulder the responsibility of reporting illegal logging wherever it takes place in the country.

Illegal logging is a priority with the Abel Pacheco administration. Immediately after taking office in May 2002, the president issued orders to prohibit night shipment of wood. That was an effort to cut down on the illicit lumber market. All trees cut for lumber in Costa Rica should carry identification labels.

Gun in school discharges wounding two girls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two girls suffered bullet wounds Monday while inside their school in La Florida de Tibás. The gun, believed carried by another student, is believed to have discharged by accident.

Officials locked down the school and searched, but they were unable to locate the weapon.

The girls, 10 and 11, suffered wounds that were not considered life-threatening. They were hospitalized. The weapon involved is believed to be a .22-caliber handgun.

The girls are believed to have been shot with the same bullet.

The girls were outside class about 2 p.m. when the incident happened. Police brought in dogs trained to detected explosives, and the animals seemed to find some clues in the backpack of an older male student. 

School officials and police then searched each of the estimated 500 students in the school with metal detectors and by hand in an attempt to find the weapon. Police also used metal detectors to search the school grounds.

RACSA experiencing difficulties with Internet
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Difficulties in making internet connections for the last week are due to technicians making changes in server equipment at Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., a spokesman said Monday.

However, the spokesman for the company known as RACSA said that the work was done and that Internet connections would return to their earlier conditions. Informal contacts with service personnel for the same company provided less optimistic predictions. 

Internet connections, particularly with dial-up service, began to degrade last week. A number 

of readers said that the RACSA servers would drop their connection without warning.

Some sections of the Central Valley, including Desamparados and Ciudad Colón have been without service or nearly so for a number of days.

RACSA, a subsidiary of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, runs nearly all of the non-governmental internet traffic in the country. The company has never been forthcoming about its problems, although one reader said she was able to find a notice about the current situation on the RACSA Web site.

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Bush kin fails in bid
to get Tico backing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jeb Bush was in Costa Rica Monday being treated more like a head of state than the governor of Florida. His visit included a state dinner with President Abel Pacheco after a day of dashing around San José in a motorcade guided by transit officers on motorcycles.

Bush was bucking for support by the current government to make Miami the site of the headquarters for the proposed free trade area of the Americas. But Costa Rica already has promised support to Trinidad and Tobago.

The treatment of Bush reflected more on his relationship to his brother, the president of the United States than on his own status as one of 50 U.S. governors.

The governor is traveling with a commercial delegation from his state and part of his afternoon Monday was a meeting with businessmen here.

Video shows work
of home for elderly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fundación Angel de Amor that supports the Tom and Norman Home in Guápiles has a video documentary that it will use as a fundraiser.

In addition, supporters of the home are planning another visit there next month, according to foundation member Donlon Havener of Santa Ana.

The video was produced by Half Penny Productions in Costa Rica and runs 22 minutes. Havener said that the video, in VHS or DVD format, is available for anyone who would like to show it to clubs and gatherings in order to raise funds for the home.

Occupants of the home are what Havener calls unwanted adults. These are older individuals who either do not have family or have been rejected by their family. Many have been found living on the streets. Typically they are without funds and resources.

Those interested in obtaining the video can contact Havener at 282-7794.

Murder victim ID’d
as Russian dancer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators say they have identified the body of a woman found last month near Playa Bandera de Parrita as a Russian dancer named Olesia Fedko.

The body was found without identification and police made an extensive investigation using jewelry found on the body as evidence. The woman, 24, who has been in the country about 16 months, danced under the name of Natacha, agents said. She was a murder victim, and a shell casing was found near the body.

The Judicial Investigating Organization in Quepos seeks information at 777-1511 or 777-0511.

36 Nicaraguans sent
back to their country

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials have deported some 36 Nicaraguans who were detained in San José and in Guanacaste over the weekend.

The Policía Especial de Migración detained a total of 54 persons, including eight Vietnamese sailors and a Russian picked up in Puntarenas.

In addition, the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería deported three Ecuadorians and six Peruvians who were found traveling in the southern part of the country, they said.

The Nicaraguans were deported Sunday and the South Americans left by air Monday, officials said.

The detentions and deportations, particularly of the Nicaraguans, shows that the immigration department is not slowing down its investigations. Officials in Nicaragua have objected to a police and immigration sweep in La Carpio, a lower-class suburb west of San José two weeks ago.

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South Korea approves free-trade pact with Chile
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea approved a trade pact with Chile Monday, marking Seoul's first-ever bilateral trade agreement. South Korea's parliament endorsed the free trade pact with Chile one year after it was signed. It was the lawmakers' fourth attempt to vote on the trade bill. 

Controversy and street protests had derailed the previous attempts. 

Thousands of farmers demonstrated in Seoul, with hundreds of them hurling rocks at police outside of parliament.

The pact, which passed 162 votes to 71, excludes rice and meat, the most sensitive products in South Korea's politically powerful agricultural sector, but it includes fruit and other farm products. South Korea's farmers fear that Chile's inexpensive farm produce could put them out of business. 

The South Korean Commerce Ministry, however, praised the move, saying it would boost the country's exports of cars, mobile phones and other industrial goods by more than $200 million a year. 

The trade pact, which Chile passed last month, comes ahead of a general election in South Korea April 15. Farmers pledged Monday to vote against legislators who supported the bill. 

Lawmakers had tried to calm the protests last year by passing a $100 billion assistance package for the agricultural sector, but farmers say it is insufficient.

Countries around the world are trying to make more one-on-one trade deals since global trade talks collapsed in September at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Mexico. There are hopes that another round of talks will soon begin, so governments are eager to reduce trade barriers before then. 

Chavez promises that he will take action against possible coup
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez is threatening to take action against opponents he says seek violent means to topple his government. 

In his weekly radio address Sunday, Chavez accused the opposition of preparing a coup to coincide with a protest march last Saturday. He said the alleged plot was similar to the brief coup in April, 2002 which was triggered by gunfire during an opposition march.

Chavez warned that his government is prepared to put down any coup attempt and will neutralize those who want to take power by force. 

The beleaguered Venezuelan leader is facing popular calls for a referendum on his leadership. Venezuela's opposition leaders say they have 

collected almost four million signatures demanding a recall vote. Chavez insists not enough valid signatures have been collected and is charging opponents with fraud. 

Venezuela's constitution says a recall petition must be signed by 20 percent  or 2.4 million of the country's registered voters.  Election officials said Sunday they expect to finish counting signatures supporting a recall vote by mid-March. 

Political tensions and street clashes rattled the world's fifth largest oil producer after the 2002 coup and a strike at the start of last year. The referendum campaign is the latest challenge to Chavez's five-year rule. 

Opposition leaders accuse the president of copying the dictatorial style of Cuban president Fidel Castro and of wrecking Venezuela's economy.

Armed guards will accompany some Olympic athletes in Athens
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

ATHENS, Greece — Greece will provide armed guards for some of this year's Olympic athletes who could be considered potential targets for terrorists. 

Greece's Ministry of Public Order says guards will be on all buses used to transport athletes during the Athens games, and armed when dealing with athletes of "higher risk" countries. 

The United States and Australia are among 

countries that have requested extra security for their athletes and are part of a seven-nation advisory group helping Greece with security plans. 

Greece plans to have more than 50,000 security personnel on duty for the Summer Olympics, and has budgeted more than $750 million for security. 

Along with magnetic gates, X-ray machines, hand-held metal detectors and sniffer dogs, there will also be strict checks on credentials using a new identification system that took four years to develop. 

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New rebel attacks cranking up violence in Haiti
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Rebels attacked a town in central Haiti Monday, killing the police chief and taking control of a main north-south road in the country. Haiti's president says he will seek international help to control violence now spreading in the north and western parts of Haiti.

A group of heavily armed men attacked the town of Hinche about 113 kms. (abut 68 miles) northwest of here Monday. District Police Chief Maxine Jonas was killed in the encounter and the town is now cut off from the rest of the country.

The attack is the first to take place since two former senior Haitian police and paramilitary officials announced they had entered the country to join armed gangs holding Haiti's fourth largest city Gonaives. Hinche and Gonaives are the two major metropolitan areas of Haiti's Artibonite Valley, which for centuries has been Haiti's most productive agricultural region.

At a news conference Monday, Haiti's president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, singled out the now defunct paramilitary organization known as FRAPH, for being behind the escalating violence. One of the two men who entered Haiti several days ago is Louis Jodel Chamblain, the former deputy commander of FRAPH. The other man is Guy Philippe, who served as Aristide's police chief until he fled the country two years ago after being implicated in a coup attempt. FRAPH is blamed for hundreds of deaths during the period of military rule in Haiti from 1991 to 1994.

Aristide says he will ask the Organization of American States for technical assistance to help Haiti's beleaguered police force fight the rebels. 

Haiti's seven thousand man army was disbanded a decade ago and replaced by a police force of less than 5,000 members.

However much of the force is tied up in Port-au-Prince far away from the violence in the countryside. Aristide, who calls the rebels terrorists, says the international community should not ignore the violence in his country.

"Those terrorists will not only face Haiti, they will be facing the world, through those who are involved in joining themselves to prevent terrorists to kill more people," he said. "So that is why I do believe a group of terrorists killing Haitians are not attacking only Haitians, they are attacking the world."

The crisis in Haiti has been escalating for months, but tensions rose sharply after an armed gang of former Aristide supporters seized the town of Gonaives earlier this month. A separate broad coalition of business leaders, politicians and others based in the capital who say Aristide is guilty of human rights abuses, corruption and mismanagement, have criticized the violence. 

However they say they agree with the rebels that Aristide should step down. Aristide dismisses the accusations and says he will serve out the remaining two years of his term.

Armed gangs holding Gonaives allowed a Red Cross shipment of relief supplies to enter the city Monday. The relief group CARE has also begun distributing food in Gonaives. U.N. officials say they are delivering food to northern Haiti by ship this week because the main north south roads linking the country have been cut due to the escalating violence.

Jo Stuart
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