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Afghan Opium Farming Grows, Disease Cuts Output

The United Nations says more land in Afghanistan is being used to grow poppies for opium, but that production of the crop has fallen this year because of plant diseases and bad weather.

A report Tuesday from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said opium output has dropped by 36 percent compared to 2011. That is despite an 18-percent increase in the amount of land covered by the poppy crop.

2 Tibetans Dead After Self-Immolation Protests

Tibetan sources tell VOA that two Tibetans have died after setting themselves on fire in the western Chinese province of Qinghai in the latest self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

The sources with contacts in the region told VOA's Tibetan service that Kabum Gyal, 18,and Dangzin Dolma, 23, set themselves alight on Thursday in separate parts of Tongren county, known in Tibetan as Rebkong. They said the two died at the scene of their protests and do not appear to be related.

Burma Issues Prisoner Amnesty Ahead of Obama Visit

Activists dismissed the Burmese government's latest move to release hundreds of prisoners, saying it is a ploy to gain political support ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the country.

State media said Thursday that President Thein Sein will pardon 452 prisoners in an effort to promote bilateral relations. Officials said political prisoners will be among those released, but activists and rights groups said they have not yet seen any dissidents freed.

Zimbabwe Officials Dismiss Report on Diamond Stealing

Zimbabwean officials have dismissed a report by a non-profit group leading the campaign against conflict diamonds. The report says at least $2 billion worth of diamonds have been stolen from the country’s diamond fields and have ended up in the pockets of President Robert Mugabe's ruling circle.

In a report released Monday, Partnership Africa Canada said Zimbabwe's Marange fields have seen "the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes," the colonial magnate who exploited South Africa's diamonds more than a century ago.

Iraq Rethinks Russian Arms Deal

A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki announced the suspension Saturday of a $4.2 billion arms deal between Baghdad and Moscow. A spokesman for Maliki, Ali Moussawi, told Iraqi state TV that the prime minister had decided to re-examine the arms deal with Russia, after discovering apparent graft and corruption.

Activists Fear Diamonds Will Fund Mugabe Power Grab

A lack of transparency in the sale of diamonds remains a major problem in Zimbabwe and activists fear diamond revenues may be used to fund the campaign of President Robert Mugabe's party in an election due to take place early next year.

In 2009 an international ban was imposed on the sale of Zimbabwe’s diamonds. That came as a result of allegations that some mines were controlled by the military and that funds were diverted to Mugabe's ZANU-PF.

Russia Hopes for US Flexibility on Missile Defense Plan

Russia says it expects the United States will show more flexibility in a dispute over U.S. missile defense plans following the re-election of President Barack Obama.

Speaking Thursday at an international conference in Moscow, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin expressed hope that the U.S. president will take into account the opinions of Russia and others regarding the configuration of NATO's missile defense.

Police, Civilians Trained for African Standby Force

The African Union has finished a week of training in Ethiopia for members of its new African Standby Force. The force is due to become active in 2015, though parts of it could be utilized earlier.

More than 100 police officers and civilians from regional African institutions participated in the African Union Police and Civilian Exercise, called Njiwa, for the past eight days in Addis Ababa. These police officers and civilians are expected to further train their colleagues in their home countries and institutions.

Mother, 3 Monks Burn in Anti-China Protests

A young, single mother and three young monks are the latest Tibetans to set themselves on fire to protest Chinese policies in Tibet.

VOA Tibetan reports all four burned themselves Wednesday and the mother and one of the monks have died.

​​The mother, 23-year-old Tamding Tso, set herself ablaze in Rebkong in eastern Tibet. Witnesses say she called for the return of the Dalai Lama as she died.

Report: Briton Bo Xilai's Wife Murdered Was MI6 Informant

A major U.S. newspaper says it has found evidence that a British businessman murdered by the wife of Bo Xilai, once one of China's top politicians, was working as an informant for Britain's spy agency, MI6.

The Wall Street Journal said Tuesday its investigation found that Neil Heywood was providing MI6 information on the Bo family for more than a year before he was murdered last November. The investigation was based on interviews with British officials and friends of Heywood.

China Dissident Given 8 Years in Jail for Advocating Democracy

China continued its latest crackdown on dissent Thursday by sentencing a man to eight years in prison for advocating constitutional democracy and criticizing the ruling Communist Party.

The lawyer for 27-year-old Cao Haibo says his client was sentenced for “subversion of state power” at a secret court hearing in the southwestern city of Kunming. He says Cao, who worked at an Internet cafe, posted pro-democracy articles on a popular online messaging service.

Pentagon Has Full Confidence in Africom Commander, Little Says

Defense Department leaders remain fully confident in the commander of U.S. Africa Command, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told Pentagon reporters.

Little said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, maintain complete faith in the job Army Gen. Carter F. Ham is doing as Africom’s leader.

“General Ham is doing an exceptional job leading Africa Command. He has the full confidence of the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” he said.

Armed Intervention for Mali Being Finalized

International officials are finalizing plans for deploying troops and sending military support to Mali to help it retake the north of the country from al-Qaida-linked militants who seized control in April.

Representatives from the United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), European Union and other partner countries are meeting Tuesday and Wednesday in Bamako to finalize operational plans for the African-led military intervention.

Monitoring Group: Sudanese Factory Hit by Airstrike

A U.S.-based monitoring group says satellite images suggest an airstrike caused an explosion at a Sudanese arms factory last week.

The Satellite Sentinel Project released images Tuesday that show six 16-meter-wide craters near the center of the explosion.

The group said the holes are consistent with impact craters created by air-delivered munitions. It said 40 shipping containers had been stacked in the area where the craters were formed.

Sudan has accused Israel of using warplanes to bomb the arms factory in Khartoum in an attempt to derail Sudan's military capabilities.

UN Says 22,000 Displaced in Burma Fighting

The top U.N. official in Burma says 22,000 people have been displaced in a week of sectarian fighting between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Burma's Rakhine state.

The U.N. chief in Rangoon, Ashok Nigam, said Sunday that getting aid to those who fled their homes will be a challenge, because some fled on boats and others have sought refuge on isolated hilltops.

The Burmese government said Saturday that the fighting has left more than 2,800 houses burned down and 67 people dead in the past week.