Cuban missile crisis myth constrains today's diplomatic standoffs

Kennedys and Khrushchevs
This post has been corrected.

Fifty years after the superpowers were poised to annihilate each other over nuclear missiles sent to Cuba, the myth prevails that President Kennedy forced Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to back down by threatening to unleash nuclear war.

It took three decades after October 1962, when the world hovered on the brink of a cataclysm, before  documents were declassified that disclosed the back-channel diplomacy and compromise that led to peaceful resolution of the Cuban missile crisis. But even today, hard-liners cling to the narrative that taking a tough, inflexible stance with adversaries is the path to diplomatic triumph.

GlobalFocusThat misguided interpretation hampers diplomacy today, say veterans of the perilous Cold War standoff and the historians who study it. The notion that threatening military action can force an opponent's surrender has created dangerously unrealistic expectations, they say, in high-stakes conflicts like the U.S.-led challenge of Iran's purported quest to build nuclear weapons.

Kennedy didn't stare down Khrushchev with vows to bomb Cuban missile sites, although that was the tactic pushed by his military advisors, recently revealed history of the crisis shows. The president sent his brother, then-Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, to secretly negotiate with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. In the strictest of confidence, RFK offered withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey and a promise not to invade vulnerable Cuba in exchange for the Kremlin pulling out the nuclear arms it had deployed to Fidel Castro's island.

"The secrecy that accompanied the resolution of the most dangerous crisis in foreign policy history has distorted the whole process of conflict resolution and diplomacy," said Peter Kornbluh, Cuba analyst for the National Security Archive at George Washington University. "The takeaway from the crisis was that might makes right and that you can force your opponents to back down with a strong, forceful stance."

Documents released sporadically over the last 20 years show that the crisis was resolved through compromise, not coercion, said Kornbluh, who has spent decades pushing for declassification of U.S.-Cuba history documents related to the crisis. Some 2,700 pages from RFK's private papers were released by the National Archives and Kennedy Library just last week.

R. Nicholas Burns, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service now teaching diplomacy at Harvard's Kennedy School, sees applications for the Iran dispute from the real story of the missile crisis resolution.

The fundamental breakthrough in the confrontation occurred "because Kennedy finally decided, against the wishes of most of his advisors, that rather than risk nuclear war he was going to make a compromise with Khrushchev," Burns said. He pointed to the confidential offer to remove U.S. Jupiter missiles from Europe, a turning point still "not well understood -- people think Khrushchev backed down."

In the real world, Burns said, "it is exceedingly rare that we get everything we want in an international discussion. To get something of value, you have to give up something."

Burns sees the outlines of a negotiated agreement with Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon, a plan he believes would be acceptable to Democrats and Republicans once the presidential election is over and the campaign rhetoric that rejects compromise dies down. In exchange for Iran's submitting its nuclear facilities to regular international inspections, Burns said, U.S. and other Western leaders could recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium to the levels needed in civilian arenas, such as energy production and medicine.

Lessons learned in the U.S.-led wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan also argue for exhausting every diplomatic option before engaging in armed conflict, Burns said.

"Sometimes it's necessary to use military force -- I'm not a pacifist," said the retired diplomat, who was an undersecretary of State for political affairs under President George W. Bush. "But more often than not, you have to put your faith in diplomacy. We have the time and space to negotiate with Iran."

Differentiating between national interests and those of allies is an even more important lesson gleaned from the missile crisis, said Robert Pastor, an American University professor of international relations and former National Security Council official in the Carter administration.

"Fidel Castro actually urged Khrushchev to attack the United States because he felt American imperialism would try to destroy both Cuba and the socialist world," said Pastor, who credits Khrushchev with wisely rejecting Castro's adventurism in favor of peace. Pastor sees a similar danger of Israel provoking war with Iran, confronting Washington with the need to decide between trying to restrain Israel or fighting a new Middle East war.

Sergei N. Khrushchev, the late premier's son who is now a U.S. citizen and international affairs analyst at Brown University, has been campaigning for a correction of the Cuban missile history at anniversary events this week.

"Khrushchev didn’t like Kennedy any more than President Obama likes [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad," he said in an interview. "But he realized you have to speak to them anyway if you want to resolve problems. We say we will never negotiate with our enemies, only with our friends. But that's not negotiating, that's having a party."

For the record, 8:35 a.m. Oct. 17: This post originally said the RFK papers made public this week were posted on the nongovernmental National Security Archive website. They were released by the National Archives and Kennedy Library.

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Follow Carol J. Williams at www.twitter.com/cjwilliamslat

Photo: Caroline Kennedy, daughter of late President John F. Kennedy, shows her mother's original copy of the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to Sergei Khrushchev, son of late Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, next to a photograph of their fathers at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston at a commemoration Sunday of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. Credit: Michael Dwyer / Associated Press

 


Israeli Army Radio ban on protest song raises controversy

JERUSALEM — A leading Israeli radio station's decision to ban for broadcast a protest song is stirring controversy and underscoring the sensitive intersection of art, politics and freedom of speech in the country.

"A Matter of Habit," recently released by veteran Israeli musician Izhar Ashdot, describes the slippery slope Israeli soldiers go down, from fear and confusion to complacency, until "killing is a matter of habit."  The lyrics, written by Ashdot's life partner, novelist Alona Kimhi, reportedly were inspired by her tour with Breaking the Silence, an organization of former combat soldiers whose website says it is dedicated to exposing the "reality of everyday life in the occupied territories." 

The song was welcomed by liberals as a protest of Israel's actions in the West Bank but fiercely criticized by others, who defaced Ashdot's official Facebook page last month, with one angry reader referring to Ashdot as a "draft-dodging dog" — though he didn't evade mandatory service.

Army Radio stuck by an advance invitation that Ashdot perform in its studios but expressly vetoed the playing of this song. The station later issued a statement saying there was no room on the military station for a song that "denigrates and denounces those who have sacrificed their lives for the defense of the country."

"I am worried when songs are banned for broadcast in a democratic country," Ashdot told Israeli media, adding he was shocked by the "incitement" against him that the statement encouraged. The decision and statement were issued by Yaron Dekel, a veteran journalist appointed to be the station's military commander in February.

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Syrian military using cluster bombs, rights group charges

Syrian military accused of using cluster bombs
BEIRUT -- The Syrian military has used cluster bombs against civilians throughout the country in recent months, a human rights group charged Sunday.

Many of the cluster strikes were near the city of Maarat Numan in Idlib province, where Free Syrian Army rebels last week launched an offensive to free the city of government checkpoints, Human Rights Watch said in its report. The city is strategically situated along the main highway that connects the major cities of Aleppo and Damascus, the capital.

Towns in several other provinces, including on the outskirts of Damascus, were also hit with the cluster bombs, the international organization said. It did not have figures for how many people were killed in these attacks.

Cluster munitions explode in the air, sending dozens or more smaller bombs over a large area. But the smaller bombs often don’t explode on initial impact, leaving the munitions to act like landmines and explode when handled, the group said.

More than 100 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use of cluster munitions and requires clearance of contaminated areas and assistance to victims. Syria is not a party to the convention.

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U.S., allies girding for worst-case scenario with Syria's WMD

Chemical weapons response training site in Jordan
During a week that witnessed deadly artillery exchanges between Syria and Turkey and a tense showdown over a plane purportedly ferrying munitions from Russia, the arrival of 150 U.S. troops in Jordan was likely to be viewed as token support for an ally coping with a refugee influx from Syria's civil war.

GlobalFocusThe deployment, though, may be a response to mounting concerns at the Pentagon and among European and Middle East allies that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of hostile forces if the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is eventually toppled.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta disclosed little about the special-forces mission to Jordan when he confirmed it at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday. But he noted that the United States has been working closely with Jordan to keep track of Syria's weapons of mass destruction as the 19-month-old rebellion grinds on.

Unlike a decade ago, when bad intelligence on Iraq's alleged chemical and biological weapons spurred a clamor for U.S. military intervention, defense strategists appear to be approaching the suspected stockpiles of mustard and nerve gases in Syria with more collaboration and caution.

The resistance to preemptive action isn't just a consequence of lessons learned in Iraq. Syria is believed to have one of the world's largest chemical weapons arsenals, with commercial satellite surveillance and intelligence reports suggesting as many as 50 production and storage sites as well as missiles that could carry the deadly agents beyond its borders. Jane's Intelligence Review reported in 2009 that Damascus had embarked on a major upgrade of its chemical weapons facilities, transforming its Safir site near Aleppo, now the scene of intense fighting, into a credible deterrent to any threat from nuclear-armed Israel.

The scope of the Syrian chemical weapons program and the international community's failure to craft a cohesive plan to stop the fighting confront Western military strategists with the need to plan for a worst-case scenario rather than act to prevent it, analysts say. That means preparing allies in the region to launch a massive rapid-deployment operation after the Assad regime collapsed but before Al Qaeda-aligned fighters or rogue elements of the Syrian rebels could get their hands on the WMD.

Military exercises in JordanThe U.S. special forces sent to Amman are probably training Jordanian troops in containment techniques and checking their equipment and chemical-biological hazard protection and practices, said Steven Bucci, a former Army Green Beret officer and senior Pentagon official who is now a research fellow in defense and domestic  security at the Heritage Foundation.

"They will probably be running them through training procedures for dealing with this stuff to secure it and get it under control or to respond to it if it gets used" in a calamitous last battle, said Bucci. "This is about the best use of our military we could have now, and hopefully we're also helping out the Turks."

Bucci testified to Congress in July that even a limited operation to secure Syria's chemical weapons would require more than 75,000 troops -- and many more if launched amid the civil war now raging.

It is "not a viable option" to commit masses of U.S. ground troops to such an operation, Bucci told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Any effective force, he said, would have to involve troops from allied Muslim countries also at risk of attack with Syria's chemical weapons.

That's why, he said in an interview Thursday, it is essential for the United States to coordinate with Syria's neighbors now to prepare a post-Assad operation that can prevent terrorist groups or smugglers from making off with the WMD.

Raymond Zilinskas, director of the chemical and biological weapons program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, points out that assessments of Syria's chemical weapons program are largely unverified. But he, too, says the United States and its allies should be girding for the worst.

"From what I understand, these depots are pretty well guarded by the Syrian regime's forces, and they would probably be the last to give up their guarding duties," Zilinskas said. "But if there is a total collapse, there would of course be a threat of jihadists getting these weapons."

Talk of airstrikes to remove the threat is nonsensical, Zilinskas said. Syria has formidable antiaircraft defenses built with Russian assistance, and the international community lacks crucial information on the precise locations, quantities and containment of the gases to be able to bomb them without risking spreading the deadly substances.

"Sarin is pretty volatile. If all these other problems could be resolved, the sarin would probably be destroyed or would be so volatile that it would disappear quickly," Zilinskas said. "But that's not necessarily the case with mustard gas. It's much less deadly but much more persistent. And if the Syrians turn out to have VX, which is a persistent nerve gas, that could cause real problems. That is the worst-case scenario they have to prepare for."

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Photo, top: A military training facility in Russeifeh, Jordan, where U.S. forces and a handful of British allies began training Jordanian commandos this week to respond in case of an attack with chemical weapons from neighboring Syria. Credit: Mohammad Hannon / Associated Press

Insert: A scene from U.S.-Jordanian military exercises in the Qatrana desert in June. Credit: Jamal Nasrallah /AFP/Getty Images


9 from Guatemala military arrested in killings of protesters

Ceremony for Guatemalan shooting victims
GUATEMALA CITY -- Nine members of the Guatemalan military were ordered arrested Thursday in connection with the killing last week of six indigenous peasants during a protest -- a remarkable development in a country where the army was long considered untouchable despite egregious abuses.

National prosecutor Claudia Paz y Paz said a colonel and eight soldiers would be tried on charges of "extrajudicial execution" in the shootings of the peasants, who blocked a highway in western Guatemala's Totonicapan province Oct. 4 to denounce electricity prices, a series of proposed constitutional reforms and other grievances (link in Spanish).

At least six peasants were killed, more than 30 were wounded, and one remains missing.

The government of former Gen. Otto Perez Molina initially blamed the shootings on "provocations" by protesters engaged in what he called illegal demonstrations. But as pressure mounted, the president ordered the army to cooperate with the investigation.

Arrest warrants were issued and agents dispatched to pick up the accused military personnel, the government's website said  (link in Spanish).

The shootings drew widespread condemnation from church officials, human rights organizations and international agencies, and sparked larger demonstrations by indigenous communities demanding justice.

"We hold Col. [Juan] Chiroy Sal principally responsible for the acts because he had a position of command over the actions of his troops, but he abandoned them," Paz y Paz said at a news conference.

She said he ignored orders from the National Police, which was in charge of attempting to disperse the demonstrators, to steer clear of the people in the roads.

The Guatemalan military was the most brutal in Central America's dark history of civil conflict in the last half of the 20th century. About 200,000 people were killed or disappeared --  the majority of them indigenous campesinos --  during the nation's 35-year civil war, which ended in 1996.

In only a handful of cases have military officers been held accountable.

Human rights organizations welcomed Thursday's arrests in the Totonicapan killings.

"Considering the history of impunity for members of the military in Guatemala," said Kathryn Johnson, development and advocacy coordinator for the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, "the charging of the soldiers in this case is an important step toward ensuring justice and the peaceful resolution of social conflicts in the future."

She also expressed concern about the "alarming rise" in the deployment of the army in what should be police actions under the Perez Molina administration.

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-- Anna Bevan in Guatemala City and Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Activists attend a ceremony Tuesday for one of the indigenous campesinos killed during a protest in western Guatemala on Oct. 4. At least six people were killed when the army opened fire on the demonstrators, authorities say. Credit: Moises Castillo / Associated Press

 



Jaded Mexicans air doubts about killing of top Zeta leader

Lazcano
MEXICO CITY -- The Mexican Navy says it is "100% certain" that it was Heriberto Lazcano, notorious leader of the notorious Zeta paramilitary cartel, who was killed in a shootout with marines over the weekend.

But try telling that to the average Mexican.

Ever skeptical, and distrustful of governments that historically concealed the truth, Mexicans on Wednesday were debating whether the corpse really was the man known as "The Executioner," expressing lots of doubt and asking many questions.

Authorities did not help their credibility, of course, when they managed to lose the body.

“In Mexico, we can believe in chupacabras [a mythical blood-sucking monster], in UFOs and even in [cult favorite] Saint Death,” Maria Olmos, a secretary, said as she worked out Wednesday morning in the gym, which was abuzz with theories about Lazcano. “But we will never believe what the authorities tell us.”

“Maybe they threw his body in the Rio Bravo, imitating what the U.S. did with Osama [bin Laden],” a man identifying himself as Jose Luis Morales said via Twitter.

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Long-elusive Philippines peace accord reflects exhaustion

Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in southern Philippines
With 150,000 dead from decades of religious and ethnic fighting and no family in the southern Philippines free of fear they could be the next slain, Filipinos and their fractious leaders have run out of energy for rebellion.

A road map to peace unveiled this week by the Philippine government and the main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has been hailed by Muslims and Catholics alike as a glimmer of hope that an end is in sight to bloody clashes that have racked the islands since the 1960s. The deal also eases Western concern that foreign Islamic militants could be drawn to remote Philippine jungle camps, already the scene of kidnappings and beheadings.

GlobalFocusUnder the accord to be signed Sunday in Manila, the rebels would eventually enjoy self-rule over a yet-to-be-defined territorial entity to be called  Bangsamoro, or Moro Nation. They would also have more control over the region's rich tropical forests and oil and gas reserves.

The agreement lays out a four-year transition to autonomy for the southern islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. But huge hurdles remain to be cleared: How does the government integrate Islamic rebels into the mainly Catholic ranks of the national armed forces? Which areas of the ethnically diverse south will be included in the new state? Will sharia law be invoked in Bangsamoro, and can it realistically be applied only to the Muslim population, as proposed during the internationally mediated negotiations?

The most perplexing question may be how police and soldiers can disarm the legions of gun-toting rebels and resisters who constitute the only law in much of the south's remote mountains and jungles.

Having weathered dictatorship, corruption and conflict for much of the 66 years they have been independent, Filipinos are eager to answer those daunting questions, relief officials and analysts say.

The agreement reached this week is less the product of strategic give-and-take during years of negotiations than a white flag of surrender to exhaustion sent up by both the government and the rebels. That is the view of Albert Santoli, president of the Asia America Initiative that for more than a decade has provided relief to the tens of thousands of Filipinos who have fled the fighting.

"People are tired of killing each other. They're tired of never knowing if they're going to have to flee their homes," Santoli said. He pointed to the relative harmony in refugee camps that shelter internally displaced Muslims and Christians together as grounds for confidence that Filipinos are eager to work for peace.

Although he views a 2016 target for creating Bangsamoro as unrealistic, Santoli said the deadline may motivate young Filipinos to take advantage of the apparent sincerity of President Benigno Aquino III to broker an end to the fighting.

"The hope is that if everyone is committed to the process that things will get better, that they'll be able to create an attitude of cooperation among youth," Santoli said. "But in practical terms, it will take a generation."

Michael Buehler, Philippines expert for the Asia Society and a political science professor at Northern Illinois University, sees the potential for success in this latest peace effort of the post-World War II era.

"Mindanao is one of the most resource-rich parts of the country," which is its blessing and its curse, Buehler said. The decades of fighting have prevented the south from tapping its valuable tropical woods, minerals and fuels. They have also provided cover for backdoor deals between business interests in the north and southern provincial kingpins who often have sway over the rebels in their fiefdoms.

"Very often Manila has had a divide-and-rule approach to problems in the south," Buehler said. If autonomy looks to be getting in the way of deals cut on the sidelines of the conflict, "that could provide incentive for them to undermine the peace plan," Buehler said of the de facto rural power brokers unlikely to be eager to step aside for Islamic rebel leaders. 

Still, the new plan is seen as a serious effort to integrate Muslims who have long felt like outsiders in the Catholic-dominated state, said Gerard Finin, a senior fellow at Honolulu's East West Center who has traveled and worked in the Philippines since the 1970s.

He sees two major challenges ahead, though. The mediators -- which include the United States, Europe, Malaysia and other Muslim nations -- must strive to keep the rebels unified behind the Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders during the difficult negotiations ahead. And all must remain vigilant, Finin said, in protecting any new Bangsamoro government from being undermined by the multitude of political, economic and tribal conflicts of interest fueling the violence.

"There are still many big questions to be answered," Finin said. "But things are looking better today than they have for some time."

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Follow Carol J. Williams at www.twitter.com/cjwilliamslat 

Photo: Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels patrol inside their base at Camp Darapan on the island of Mindanao in 2011. The rebels and other unauthorized gunmen would be disarmed under a peace plan to be signed Sunday in Manila. Credit: Ted Aljibe / AFP/Getty Images

 


Body of slain Mexican drug boss stolen by armed gang

 

LazcanoMEXICO CITY -- The body of the man identified by Mexican authorities as the top leader of the vicious Zetas paramilitary cartel was stolen from a funeral home by an armed commando unit, officials said Tuesday.

At the same time that the Mexican navy confirmed the identity of Heriberto Lazcano, alias The Executioner, based on fingerprints, local officials in Coahuila state acknowledged the body was missing. Lazcano was slain in the northern Mexican state on Sunday.

"The owner of the Garcia funeral home called us at 8:05 a.m. [Monday] to say that at about 1 or 1:30 a.m. an armed commando, faces covered and well-guarded, showed up, overpowered the personnel and took away the bodies in a hearse from the funeral home, forcing the owner to drive it," Coahuila state prosecutor Homero Ramos said in a brief appearance before journalists. 

The remarkable turn of events left a raft of unanswered questions. What was the body of one of the most notorious drug cartel chieftains doing unguarded in a funeral home less than 24 hours after his death? How can authorities definitively identify the body if there is no body?

Ramos did not take questions. It may be that no one realized the dead man was Lazcano when he was taken to the funeral home, which is apparently where the autopsy and other forensic tests were conducted.

The elimination of Lazcano, a founding member and top leader of one of the world's bloodiest drug cartels, should be a major victory for the government of President Felipe Calderon, who leaves office in less than eight weeks and who nearly six years ago launched a military-led offensive against trafficking networks. Lazcano is the most important figure felled in that fight.

Officials suggested they had harvested sufficient evidence from the body to make the ID. But the loss of the corpse will fuel suspicions among cynical Mexicans about the true identity and circumstances of the slaying -- not to mention the sloppiness of letting the body be stolen.

Naval officials said Lazcano was shot to death after attacking a special forces patrol with grenades and gunfire. A rocket launcher was found in his possession, the navy said. One other man with him was also killed.

Both the navy and Coahuila state prosecutors said Lazcano was identified based on his fingerprints, which were presumably on file because he once served in an elite unit of the Mexican army before going on to join and build up the Zetas. In addition, the navy released two photos of the dead man and said they appeared to match the known physical traits of Lazcano, who would be 36 or 37.

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-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: This photo released by Mexico's navy on Tuesday allegedly shows the body of Zeta drug cartel leader Heriberto Lazcano while in the possession of Mexico's Medical Forensic Service. Credit: Associated Press / Mexican navy

 


Mexico captures alleged Zetas chief linked to numerous crimes

Squirrel

MEXICO CITY -- The Mexican navy on Monday announced the capture of an alleged Zetas field commander who it accused of numerous high-profile crimes, including the possible murder of an American who disappeared while reportedly jet-skiing on a border lake two years ago.

The suspect, Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, alias the Squirrel, was paraded before reporters in a televised presentation in Mexico City. Without offering evidence, naval spokesman Vice Admiral Jose Luis Vergara alleged that Martinez was linked to a long string of crimes, including the 2010 execution of 72 migrants, mostly from Central America, in the northern state of Tamaulipas as well as two massive prison breaks, also in Tamaulipas, in which nearly 200 inmates escaped.

Vergara identified Martinez as a regional commander of the notorious Zetas paramilitary force and close confidant of top Zetas capo Miguel Angel Trevino. He said Martinez was suspected in overseeing several secret mass graves containing some 200 victims and of executing 50 people "with his own hands."

In addition to Martinez's other alleged crimes, Vergara said he was "presumed responsible" for the possible killing of David Hartley, a 30-year-old Colorado native. Hartley disappeared Sept. 30, 2010, on what his wife, Tiffany, described as a jet-ski outing on Falcon Lake, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border south of the Tamaulipas city of Nuevo Laredo. No body was found, and the only version of events came from Tiffany Hartley.

A top Mexican investigator of the incident was killed shortly thereafter -- also by Martinez, Vergara alleged Monday.

Vergara said Martinez was captured Saturday in Nuevo Laredo several hours after a shootout with navy special forces who eventually intercepted the car in which he was traveling.

Martinez seemed nearly buoyant at the meeting with journalists, offering a tight smile, nodding vigorously to reporters' questions, flashing a thumbs-up and pumping his handcuffed fists in the air as he was led away. A reward of slightly more than $1 million had been offered for his capture.

His arrest is the latest in several important blows dealt by the Mexican military to both the Zetas and their former patron, the Gulf Cartel.

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-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, alias "the Squirrel," is presented before reporters in Mexico City on Monday. Martinez is suspected in a string of high-profile crimes. Credit: Mario Guzman / European Pressphoto Agency


Turkey fires back at Syria on sixth day of trading fire

Turkey

Turkey fired artillery back at Syria on Monday after a mortar round landed on its territory, the sixth straight day that the two countries have traded fire across borders, the Turkish state news agency reported.

The strikes began last week after five people were killed in an attack on a Turkish border town. Officials in Turkey said the bombardment was a Syrian military shelling and that all the victims were women and children. The Turks have retaliated in the days since as attacks on their territory have continued.

The Monday shelling of the countryside south of Hacipasa hamlet reportedly caused no casualties. Turkish forces nonetheless fired back immediately, state media reported. President Abdullah Gul said Monday that “the worst case scenario” was unfolding in Syria, urging the international community to act.

Last week, the Turkish parliament authorized the government to send troops outside the country's borders, but officials have played down the move as a deterrent, not a step toward war. The string of strikes have nonetheless ramped up fears that the Syrian conflict could spread into a broader war in the tumultuous region, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling the situation “extremely dangerous” on Monday.

“We are not interested in war whatsoever, but then again we are also not far from war,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sunday.

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