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News Wrap: NATO Deaths Hit 55 for May, Including at Least 31 Americans

May 31, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
In other news Tuesday, NATO said one of its troops was killed in eastern Afghanistan and the U.S. military announced three Americans died on Saturday. State-run TV in Syria reported that President Bashar al-Assad has issued a general amnesty for all political prisoners.

KWAME HOLMAN: The fighting in Afghanistan claimed more lives today.

An unidentified NATO soldier was killed in the east. And the U.S. military announced three Americans died on Saturday. The new combat casualties brought to 55 NATO deaths in the month of May. The total included at least 33 — 31 Americans, fewer than the 43 in April.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered NATO today to stop airstrikes on Afghan homes. It was his strongest statement yet on civilian casualties, and it followed a Saturday strike that killed 14 women and children.

HAMID KARZAI, president of Afghanistan: The Afghan people can no longer tolerate these attacks on their homes, and that one day the Afghan government will be forced, if you do not come to an understanding with us based on a negotiated solution to this, that is the prevention of bombardment of Afghan homes, that the Afghan government will be forced to take a unilateral action in this regard.

KWAME HOLMAN: Karzai didn’t say what he meant by unilateral action, but NATO answered that its airstrikes still are essential in fighting the Taliban.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a general amnesty for all political prisoners today. State-run television reported the amnesty covers all crimes committed before today, possibly affecting thousands of people. At the same time, Syrian troops attacked the town of Rastan with tanks and heavy machine guns. Activists said at least one person was killed.

And the U.S. State Department condemned the torture killing of a 13-year-old Syrian boy, identified as Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. The New York Times reported the boy was arrested at a protest, and his mutilated body was returned later to his family.

North and South Sudan have agreed to set up a demilitarized border zone patrolled by both sides. The African Union announced the arrangement today, after escalating clashes in recent days.

I spoke this afternoon with Rebecca Hamilton of the Pulitzer Center, reporting from Juba in South Sudan.

Rebecca, what is the assessment there of how this talk of an agreement that would stop the dispute in the central region might affect the kind of problems of refugees being displaced in the central region?

REBECCA HAMILTON, Pulitzer Center: Look, everybody is happy to see that the two sides are talking, but this idea that this agreement is going to fix the immediate humanitarian crisis just doesn’t seem realistic. For people here, it seems very far removed.

KWAME HOLMAN: By the way, Rebecca, we have heard a couple of different reports — one that the Ethiopian army would be — would comprise the peacekeeping force, if you will, and the other that there would be sort of some joint North-South operation, soldiers from each side. What’s the story there?

REBECCA HAMILTON: Yes, there are two separate proposals under discussion.

The Ethiopians, it seems, have offered to supply peacekeepers if an enforced peacekeeping deployment goes into Abyei. And then separate from that is the discussion of how the new demilitarized zone along the border areas that may or may not include Abyei — it’s unclear yet — they would be comprised of representatives of both North and South.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rebecca, the problem of the rain and lack of food and lack of fuel, what can be done quickly to address the kinds of concerns you have been talking about?

REBECCA HAMILTON: Certainly, there needs to be a clear passage of fuel from the north back into the south. Whatever it takes to get that to happen needs to happen really as quickly as possible, because time is short for these people that are sheltering under the rain right now, and in particular for the children.

And then the issue of Abyei itself, it’s very hard to see a resolution whilst the Sudanese government is saying that it is keeping its forces there, that it is Northern land, and that it won’t withdraw. And so any agreement needs to deal first with that question of whether the Sudanese government is going to withdraw from Abyei at all.

KWAME HOLMAN: Southern Sudan is scheduled to gain its independence from the North in July.

In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi vowed to remain in his country, defying rebel demands to leave. That word came from South African President Jacob Zuma, who returned home after meeting with Gadhafi. A spokesman for the Libyan government said the two didn’t discuss an exit strategy.

Ratko Mladic was extradited from Serbia today to face a U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands. The former Bosnian Serb general is accused in the murders of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims and other atrocities.

We have a report from Paul Davies of Independent Television News.

PAUL DAVIES: The sudden presence of dozens of heavily armed special police officers outside his Belgrade prison was the first sign that, after a 16-year wait, justice was finally moving fast for Ratko Mladic.

Somewhere in this convoy bound for the airport and ultimately the International Court at The Hague is the Bosnian Serb general, whose attempt to avoid extradition on grounds that he wasn’t well enough to travel had just been rejected.

SNEZANA MALOVIC, Serbian justice minister: With the extradition of Ratko Mladic to The Hague, Republic of Serbia has fulfilled moral and international obligation, and, with it, we have proved that we meet our commitments.

PAUL DAVIES: These are the only moving pictures of Mladic we have seen since his arrest last week. His family say he’s suffered two strokes and won’t survive a trial.

This rally in Banya Luka today was the latest protest staged by those who still see Mladic as a war hero, not the war criminal with the blood of thousands on his hands, as he’s perceived elsewhere. In this atmosphere, the government will be pleased to see the back of him.

KWAME HOLMAN: Hours after flying out of Belgrade, Mladic arrived in Rotterdam. His plane touched down as evening fell, and a waiting convoy of police vehicles took him to the U.N. detention compound outside The Hague.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that former Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft cannot be sued over a post-9/11 arrest. The decision today was 5-3 in the case of Abdullah al-Kidd, an American Muslim. Al-Kidd was arrested in 2003 and held for 16 days. He was repeatedly strip-searched and left naked in a jail cell, but he never was charged with a crime. The high court ruled Ashcroft didn’t violate Kidd’s constitutional rights.

President Obama nominated John Bryson to be secretary of commerce today. Bryson is a former chairman and CEO of Edison International, an energy firm based in California. He also co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The current commerce secretary, Gary Locke, has been tapped to become ambassador to China.

Wall Street finished the month on a high note amid talk of a new financial bailout for Greece. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 128 points to close at 12,569. The Nasdaq rose 38 points to close at 2,835.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.