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In brief: U.N. chief: Belarus broke embargo

NEW YORK – The U.N. chief said Sunday that Belarus has broken an international arms embargo on Ivory Coast by shipping three attack helicopters to military forces supporting the longtime ruler who refuses to cede power after losing a presidential election.

U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast are providing 24-hour protection to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the Nov. 28 presidential election. He has been confined to the grounds of a heavily guarded hotel because Laurent Gbagbo refuses to give up the presidency.

On Sunday night, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office said the U.N. chief “has learned with deep concern that three attack helicopters and related materiel from Belarus are reportedly being delivered at Yamoussoukro for Mr. Gbagbo’s forces.”

Ban said he “demands full compliance with the arms embargo and warns both the supplier of this military equipment and Mr. Gbagbo that appropriate action will be taken in response to the violation.”

South Korea, U.S. begin war drills

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean and U.S. troops began annual military drills today that rival North Korea warned could trigger a nuclear war on the divided peninsula.

Despite North Korean threats to retaliate, South Korea and the United States went ahead with the drills, which are the allies’ first major combined military exercises since the North shelled a front-line South Korean island in November, killing four people.

About 12,800 U.S. troops and some 200,000 South Korean soldiers and reservists are to participate in the drills, which are aimed at defending South Korea and responding to any attack.

The main part of the drills, which will involve computer war games and live-firing exercises, will last 11 days, while some field training will continue until late April, according to the South Korea-U.S. joint forces command in Seoul.

On Sunday, the North said that if provoked, its military would turn Seoul into a “sea of flames” and start a full-scale war with “merciless” counterattacks.

South Korean and U.S. officials have repeatedly said the drills are purely defensive.

Assailants attack president’s home

KINSHASA, Congo – Armed gunmen also wielding machetes attacked Congo’s presidential residence Sunday, and at least nine people were killed during nearly an hour of gunfire, a witness said. The president and his wife were not home at the time of the assault.

President Joseph Kabila, who first inherited the job after his father’s assassination, blamed opponents ahead of the elections set for November.

“It is these people who fear facing me in the elections who did this,” Kabila said, according to an adviser. “I am handling the situation wisely.”

Communications Minister Lambert Mende later appeared on national television and said the matter was under control. He said some of the assailants had been killed or wounded, while others were arrested.


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N. Korea, setting stage for talks, halts nuclear, ICBM tests

UPDATED: 10:03 p.m.

North Korea said Saturday it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear indication in the North’s announcement if it would be willing to deal away its arsenal.