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Friday, March 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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World Digest

Safety board believes spark led to 1998 Swissair Flight 111 crash

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — A fire likely caused by an electrical spark crept undetected along the insulation of Swissair Flight 111 four years ago, giving the pilots no chance to save the 229 people on board, investigators concluded yesterday.

Canada's Transportation Safety Board ended its largest investigation ever — lasting more than four years and costing more than $30 million — without being able to declare unequivocally what caused the fire that brought down the McDonell Douglas MD-11 airliner off the coast of Nova Scotia on Sept. 2, 1998.

The 338-page report focused on the in-flight entertainment system aboard the McDonnell-Douglas aircraft, saying a problem with the wiring to power the system went undetected and the spark "most likely" started there. The report offered no specific reason for what caused the spark.

It said the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's certifying system failed to ensure that the entertainment system was designed and installed properly for the MD-11. However, chief investigator Vic Gerden said a wiring flaw detected by investigators in the entertainment system did not spark the fire.

The report included nine safety recommendations involving testing for insulation materials and electrical systems, and improving the flight cockpit and data recording systems.

Safety-board investigators previously made 14 recommendations that led to the removal of flammable insulation material from aircraft and improved fire reaction measures for pilots.

Swissair Flight 111 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off of Nova Scotia while en route from New York to Geneva. Pilots reported smoke in the cockpit 53 minutes into the trip; electrical systems began failing 13 minutes later.

Swissair went out of business after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States crippled the airline industry.

There was no immediate response to the report from Boeing, which bought McDonell Douglas in 1997.

North Korea to face U.N. over human-rights abuses

GENEVA — The European Union plans to bring North Korea before the U.N.'s top human-rights body for major abuses, including killings and torture, the first such move against Pyongyang, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

The United States has indicated it will be a "co-sponsor" of the resolution, expected to be presented in the next day or two to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

"The EU text expresses deep concerns on torture, harsh and degrading treatment, public executions and capital punishment for political motives," a diplomat said.

The Geneva meeting coincides with rising tensions over North Korea's suspected nuclear ambitions.

Israeli troops arrest member of militant Islamic Jihad group

JERUSALEM — Israeli troops raided the West Bank offices of the International Solidarity Movement yesterday and seized a wanted member of the militant Islamic Jihad group, the army said.

An American activist with the group, 23-year-old Rachel Corrie of Olympia, was killed March 16 while trying to stop an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip.

The army said two women with the group — one British and the other Canadian — tried to hide the man, but the group's spokesman, Tom Wallace, said the two group members were not aware of the man's background.

The army said the suspect, who was not identified, is a senior member of Islamic Jihad who planned a number of attacks on Israelis that were foiled by Israeli security forces.

Blast at explosives factory leaves three dead in French town

ARRAS, France — A blast at an explosives factory in northern France killed at least three people yesterday and damaged nearby shops and homes.

Local officials said the cause appeared to be accidental. The explosion originated in a workshop where cartridges containing flammable material were made, they said.

The plant, Nitrochimie, is among some 370 sites in France classified as high-risk, meaning that extra security precautions must be taken. It produces highly flammable chemicals such as ammonium nitrate and nitroglycerine.

Abduction of Ugandan youths on rise, watchdog group says

KAMPALA, Uganda — Rebels in northern Uganda have dramatically increased their abductions of children, forcing 5,000 to be soldiers, sex slaves and laborers since June, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The report was based on interviews with children who recently escaped from the Lord's Resistance Army.

The group estimates that during the rebels' 16-year insurgency, 20,000 children have been abducted.

The report said abductions skyrocketed after the government launched an offensive against rebel bases in neighboring Sudan.

Rebels and the government declared a cease-fire this month, but fighting has continued.

Colombian soldiers killed after stepping into minefield

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Eleven Colombian soldiers were killed yesterday when they walked into a minefield planted by leftist rebels, the army said.

The troops were hunting for guerrillas when they stumbled into the trap near Aracataca, 430 miles north of Bogotá. Eight soldiers were wounded.

Thousands of people die every year in the four-decade war between leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary outlaws and state security forces.

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