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S. Korea, U.S. troops raise alert level

SEOUL, May 28 (UPI) -- U.S. and South Korean troops are on high alert, and surveillance and reconnaissance picked up to answer what officials termed a grave threat from North Korea.

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The South Korean Defense Ministry said allied troops, including, 28,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea, raised their Watch Condition to the second-highest level from Watchcon 3 to Watchcon 2, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been roiling since North Korea conducted its second nuclear test Monday, followed by the test-firing of short-range missiles.

The higher alert level allows for increased use of reconnaissance planes and spy satellites, and a more aggressive collection and analysis of electronic signals from the North, South Korean defense officials said.

The North's state-controlled media warned Thursday "even a minor accidental clash could lead to nuclear war."

North Korea stepped up its threats against South Korea and the United States Wednesday, warning of a "powerful military strike" if North Korean ships were stopped or searched as part of a U.S.-led operation to intercept vessels believed to be carrying unconventional weapons, the Times said.

South Korea agreed to join the operation, known as the Proliferation Security Initiative, after North Korea's nuclear test despite Pyongyang's warning not to do so.

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In its Wednesday statement, North Korea also said it "no longer felt bound" to honor the 1953 armistice reached to end the Korean conflict.


Pakistan, Indian nuclear work worries U.S.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 28 (UPI) -- North Korea's nuclear capabilities may be grabbing headlines, but U.S. officials say growth of nuclear programs in Pakistan and India also are of concern.

U.S. intelligence and proliferation experts say India and Pakistan indicate their nuclear programs offer leverage in an arms race that has picked up and diversified similar to the U.S.-U.S.S.R. arms race, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

"They are both going great guns (on) new systems, new materials; they are doing everything you would imagine," a former U.S. intelligence official told the Post.

Pakistan is expected to be ready to produce plutonium for its nuclear arsenal sometime next year, observers said. Engineers in India, meanwhile, are designing cruise missiles to carry nuclear warheads, and the country's missile-defense capability is scheduled to be upgraded in 2010.

U.S. officials say focused appeals to the two countries to slow their nuclear work probably won't work, the Post said.

"We have to think of dealing with the South Asian problem not on a purely regional basis, but in the context of a more global approach," Gary Samore, senior White House non-proliferation adviser, said after a speech to the Arms Control Association last week.

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Abbas likely to offer peace plan to Obama

WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) -- A framework for Middle East peace likely will dominate talks Thursday between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Abbas was expected to present a plan for peace in the Middle East to Obama during a White House meeting that includes a proposed supervisory committee to ensure Israelis and Palestinians comply with their commitments, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Abbas said he also would offer suggestions that link the Road Map for Peace and the Arab League peace initiative, Israel Radio reported.

The road map requires the Palestinian Authority to make democratic reforms and abandon the use of terrorism and requires Israel to accept and support a reformed Palestinian government and end settlement activity in Gaza and the West Bank. The Arab League initiative offered full normalization of the relations with Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from all occupied territories and recognition an independent Palestinian state, among other things.

The supervisory committee Abbas is likely to float would work under the direction of the Middle East Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- involved in mediating the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Abbas said during the Israel Radio interview he would not ask that 5 million Palestinian refugees return to Israel, saying he reached an understanding on the matter with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"We will not destroy Israel," he said.


Clashes kill 35 Taliban in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 28 (UPI) -- Clashes between coalition troops and Taliban rebels in Afghanistan's Paktika province killed nearly three dozen militants, the local government said Thursday.

Ground and air forces struck Taliban hideouts in a village in the eastern province, killing 35 rebels, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

"U.S.-led coalition forces pounded Taliban hideouts in Walmama district Wednesday night leaving 35 militants dead," provincial administration spokesman Hamidullah Zhwak said.

In Kunar province Wednesday, two civilians were killed in a missile attack, the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement.

"Three rockets hit the provincial capital, Asadabad city ... killing two and wounding seven others," the statement said.

The statement said some missiles landed in a residential area in Asadabad not far from the governor's office.


Missing mom, daughter found at Disneyworld

ORLANDO, Fla., May 28 (UPI) -- A missing Pennsylvania woman and her daughter turned up at Walt Disney World in Florida Wednesday night, authorities said

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An intensive search had been initiated Tuesday after Bonnie Sweeten of suburban Philadelphia called emergency dispatchers to say she and her 9-year-old daughter had been kidnapped. Her abandoned car was found later.

However, Sweeten, 38, and her daughter, Julia Rakoczy, 9, wound up being taken into custody at the amusement park about 8:40 p.m., The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The FBI said Sweeten was being held by authorities in Orange County, Fla., and faces misdemeanor false report and identity theft charges in Pennsylvania, the newspaper said. Other charges also were possible.

The girl's biological father, Anthony Rakoczy, was expected to pick up his daughter in Florida Thursday.

It wasn't clear what prompted Sweeten to initiate the episode. She had left a husband and two other children behind.

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