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50 people die as Russian plane crashes

A civilian airliner exploded into fiery pieces and crashed into a woods in southern Russia on Tuesday, killing all 50 people on board.

The Stavropol Airlines AN-24 crashed shortly after taking off from the southern city of Stavropol. Officials said it was too early to determine the cause. Plane fragments and human remains were scattered over a 4-mile-wide area near Cherkessk, about 55 miles south of Stavropol.

Witnesses heard a bang and then saw the plane's tail falling to the ground, said Viktor Beltsova of the Emergency Situations Ministry. Rescue workers had identified at least 36 bodies as of late Tuesday.

The plane was flying at 19,700 feet when it disappeared off radar screens shortly after 10 a.m., officials said.

The 41 passengers and nine crew members were headed to the northern Turkish city of Trabzon.

Stavropol Airlines is one of the many private airlines that has emerged since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Many have poor safety records.

American geologist kidnapped in Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia _ Rebels kidnapped an American geologist March 7 near a gold mine in southern Colombia where he was working, police said Tuesday.

Frank Skee and a Colombian colleague, Hermes Torres, were abducted by rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The group, Colombia's oldest leftist insurgency, makes millions of dollars a year in ransoms.

Skee's hometown was not immediately known. He was working for a local company, Lencol.

On March 4, an Austrian and a German being held by rebels in northwest Colombia were killed when soldiers clashed with their captors.

On Feb. 25, an American geologist was found shot dead in a guerrilla stronghold 11 weeks after he was abducted.


MEXICO CITY _ The second Mexican army general in a month is behind bars.

Brig. Gen. Alfredo Navarro Lara was accused of offering $1-million a month to a top federal agent to protect a notorious Tijuana-based drug smuggling family.

Navarro faces charges of drug trafficking, bribery and criminal conspiracy, the Mexican attorney general's office said.

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea _ The U.S. State Department advised American citizens to postpone all non-essential travel to Papua New Guinea because of threats against foreigners by insurgents in Bougainville province. The announcement gave no details of the threats.

Americans on Bougainville island, scene of a nine-year-old uprising, should leave immediately, it said, and others elsewhere in the country should defer all travel there.

MANSFIELD, England _ Buckingham Palace ordered a sculptor to scrap his bronze relief portrait of Queen Elizabeth II because it made her appear too toothy.

"On all the photographs I was using of our present queen she was smiling," Gordon Brown said.

A second version, not showing her teeth, will be unveiled by the queen when she visits Queen Elizabeth School on Friday.