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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Rebels in Pankisi

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) -- Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili said Monday that Chechen rebels may still be hiding in the Pankisi Gorge and troops would continue their operation in the valley "for a few more months."

"They have no weapons or uniforms, so it will take a few more months to completely bring order to Pankisi," he said.

He denied that there were large rebel units in the valley. Narchemashvili said representatives of the Federal Security Service and Russian border guards recently visited Pankisi and could have seen for themselves that there are no major groups of fighters there.

Vatican Fumes

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- The Vatican voiced outrage Monday after a church property in Moscow was turned into a brothel, saying it was part of what it sees as a long-running smear campaign against the Catholic Church in Russia.

In a statement, the Vatican said Franciscan friars in the Russian capital had rented out one of their apartments to a private individual who had assured them it would be used for "charitable purposes." Instead, it became a house of ill repute with prostitutes dressed as nuns, the Vatican said.

Pope John Paul's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, branded the incident "a despicable operation designed to discredit the … brothers … and through them, the Catholic Church."

Navarro-Valls' statement said the episode and Russian television broadcasts of people in religious attire acting immorally was part of a campaign "bent on damaging the reputation of the Catholic community."

Relations between the Vatican and Russia have been particularly tense recently, with three Catholic priests being expelled in the past six months.

Kiev Probe Starts

KIEV (Reuters) -- A group of U.S. and British experts began an investigation in Ukraine on Monday into charges that it might have sold an early warning system to Iraq.

The experts were on a 10-day visit to probe Washington's charge that President Leonid Kuchma had approved the sale of the high-tech aircraft detection system to Baghdad.

Viktor Medvedchuk, chief of Kuchma's staff, said Ukraine would cooperate with the experts. Government sources said the team would visit military installations where the Kolchugas are located and the producer in eastern Ukraine.

"Ukraine is very worried about the charges and will do everything to help the investigators," Medvedchuk said. The experts declined to comment.

Japanese Minister Visits

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin told Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Monday that Moscow hopes to strengthen ties with Tokyo.

The talks were expected to lay the groundwork for a January visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Monday that Koizumi would arrive Jan. 10.

Kawaguchi and Ivanov agreed Saturday to a six-point plan for developing relations, including intensifying efforts to sign a peace treaty, cooperation in the international arena and boosting economic ties. That plan is to be approved by Putin and Koizumi in January.