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Awaiting Word on Two Missing Soldiers in Iraq; World Refugee Day

Aired June 20, 2006 - 06:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning more rain is in the forecast, coming right down, in fact, now in Houston. That means the threat of more flooding.
On Monday, storms dumped more than 10 inches of rain in parts of Houston.

Some Senate Democrats are going to unveil their plans today for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. One plan is to start bringing troops home by the end of the year; the other, for all troops to be out of Iraq by July of next year.

And Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco-is sending National Guard troops back into New Orleans. The deployment follows a weekend where five teenagers were gunned down in the state.

Good morning.

Welcome back, everybody.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

JOHN ROBERTS, ANCHOR: And I'm John Roberts in this week for Miles O'Brien, as we mark World Refugee Day today.

An interview with Mia Farrow coming up in just a few minutes.

Right now, though, while an intense search goes on in Iraq's Triangle of Death, the families of two missing soldiers wait for news and pray for their safe return.

CNN's Kyung Lah is live in Washington now -- good morning, Kyung.


We are anticipating a military update in just about two hours, hoping to get a little more information. What we know so far, according to the U.S. military, they're using F-18s, manned and unmanned spy planes in an all out effort to try to find the missing Americans.


LAH (voice-over): American flags sit outside the childhood home of Army Private Thomas Tucker. The 25-year-old from Madras, Oregon's last phone message to his family: "Be proud of me, mama. I'm defending my country."


LAH: In Houston, Texas, another vigil. Private First Class Kristian Manchaca told his family manning checkpoints is dangerous work.

JULIO CESAR VASQUEZ, MENCHACA'S BROTHER: He might be being tortured now. And thinking about that, it just bothers me. One thing is getting killed in action. Another thing is getting taken by terrorists and getting tortured every day.

LAH: Eight thousand U.S. and Iraqi soldiers swept through the area near Yusufiya, where Iraqi police say insurgents attacked a checkpoint and then abducted the two Americans. An al Qaeda-linked Web site claimed to hold the soldiers, but posted no proof.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The American military has made very clear that they are going to do everything possible -- and I think they've said air, land and sea -- to try and find them. And obviously their safe return is something that everyone will work for.

LAH: A third family grieves. Twenty-five-year-old David Babineau died in the initial attack. His mother tells the Associated Press his deployment was supposed to end in May, but was kept in Iraq for a second tour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a good young man and we'll miss him.


LAH: And we are getting some breaking news now.

This is reported by the Reuters News Service. The Iraq Defense Ministry spokesman says the two missing soldiers have, indeed, been found. There is some bad news, though. Their bodies have been found. Word from a report from Reuters, reporting out of Reuters, saying that the two U.S. soldiers have now been killed.

CNN has not independently confirmed that, John, and we are working that angle of the story.

ROBERTS: Well, if that's true, that would be terrible news.

We're working hard to confirm that.

Kyung Lah, thanks very much -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Happening in America this morning, things back to normal at Salt Lake City's airport. One passenger is never going to see his luggage again, though. Screeners shut down one terminal when they saw what they thought was a hand grenade strapped to a container of fuel. But, after they blew up the bag, investigators realized they had a hand grenade-shaped belt buckle and a bottle of cologne. An Idaho woman alive this morning thanks to the heroic efforts of some firefighters. They pulled her to safety from the rushing waters of the Boise River. Officials say she was in the water for two hours. She was checked out at a hospital for hypothermia.

A New Jersey woman under arrest. She's been charged with animal abuse. Take a look at these pictures. Her house literally crawling with cats. Animal control officers found at least 70 cats and nine dogs living inside her home. Neighbors complained of a nasty smell. So the house absolutely filthy.

Firefighters in Arizona are going to try again today to contain that 1,500 acre wildfire. Look at the smoke there. It started on Sunday. It's been fanned by the hot, dry winds that Chad has been telling us about. Hundreds of homes have now been evacuated.

Let's get back to Chad, in fact, for a forecast, an update on what's happening there -- hey Chad, good morning.


When you see that smoke hang along the ground, you know that it's windy, because smoke naturally wants to rise. It's part of the hot air that comes out of a storm, comes out of a firestorm. It's two miles per hour, though, up in Phoenix, two in Flagstaff right now, five up around the Four Corners and seven in Las Vegas. So the winds have clearly died off in the morning hours. That's helpful for the firefighters, so that they can get a handle on it in the overnight. That's when the wind typically dies off.


ROBERTS: Events across the globe marking World Refugee Day today. The theme of this World Refugee Day is keeping hope alive. More than one million Iraqis have been uprooted in the past three years.

Nic Robertson is embedded with U.S. troops in Ramadi.

He reports on the violence that is keeping people from coming home.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The refugee problem in Iraq has been growing massively over the last few years. About a million Iraqi refugees are believed to live in Jordan. Many others have moved into neighboring Syria; others throughout the Middle East; some to Europe; some to the United States.

The bigger problem that's happening right now, many people say, is a sectarian shift, a displacement of people internally along sectarian lines. Shias moving out of Sunni neighborhoods, Sunnis moving out of Shia neighborhoods.

Here in Ramadi, the problem has been generated by the violence of the insurgency. Moths who can afford to leave the city have left the city.

The recent increase in military tempo here to what they say -- what they describe as isolating the city to surround it, to contain the insurgents here, to move forward operating bases deeper into the city to try and root out the insurgency, that has caused, in some areas, some people of Ramadi to flee the city.

This is a city of normally over 400,000 people, according to the military here. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of families have fled. In one suburb of this city that we went to right after U.S. troops had moved in to seal off and control that suburb, about half the population have moved out.

We've been told that those people are expected to move back. But that is how the insurgency is affecting this city. Refugees leaving if they can, if they have the money to. Many going to the nearest place possible, one of the neighboring countries in this region.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Ramadi, Iraq.


O'BRIEN: CNN's special coverage of World Refugee Day continues.

Still to come, we're going to visit with Palestinian refugees in the West Bank. Their fate, of course, a core issue in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Nearly 60 years later, they still dream of returning home. We've got their story.

ROBERTS: And they call them night commuters -- Ugandan children who flee their villages are prey to being kidnapped and forced to serve in a rebel army.

O'BRIEN: And we'll talk this morning with UNICEF goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow. She's just back from her trip to Darfur. She's going to update us on the situation there.


O'BRIEN: We're getting this word just in.

According to reports coming to us from Reuters and also the AFP News Service, it looks as if the bodies of those two soldiers who were missing have now been found. They are dead.

Soldiers Private First Class Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25 years old, from Madras, Oregon, and Private First Class Kristian Manchaca, 23 years old, of Houston, Texas.

We are not getting confirmation from the U.S. military yet.

CNN is working to confirm these wire reports. But these are the reports that are coming to us now that, in fact, these two soldiers are dead. We're working to confirm that information.

The soldiers, you will recall, were involved in an insurgent attack at a U.S. checkpoint in the Triangle of Death.

we're going to continue to update you on this as we continue this morning -- John.

ROBERTS: A sad ending to that, Soledad.

As a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, actress Mia Farrow has seen the suffering firsthand.

She just returned from the Darfur region of Sudan, where she visited three refugee camps.

And Mia Farrow joins us now from Berlin, Germany.

You visited us, Ms. Farrow, just before you left on your trip.

We're glad that you checked in with us on the way back -- or at least halfway back -- to the United States.

What's the situation like there now? Is it any better than it was when you visited 18 months ago? Is it any worse?

MIA FARROW, UNICEF GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: I would have to say it's worse. I mean there was a much welcomed peace agreement, but not signed by all parties. So it's a bit like asking a one-legged dog to run.

So in this interim period before it's signed and implemented, we have further chaos. And it's, as you know, World Refugee Day. So it's really time to focus on the refugee population of Darfur. Some two million people living in the camps and entirely dependent on the humanitarian agencies who are really doing a heroic job under very dangerous and difficult conditions, sustaining the lives of more than three million people, because the villages around there are unable to move, also.

ROBERTS: Let me just come back to that Darfur peace agreement. You've characterized it as a one-legged dog because only one of the three rebel groups have signed onto it.

Has there been any sign that it has had any kind of an effect?

FARROW: Well, the effect it's had for the now, when I said it's a welcome first step, I mean we're hoping that all parties will sign on and that it will result in a speedy supplementary force to fortify the African Union, who are sorely lacking in every department.

But for now what it's triggered is division among the various rebel factions and within the camps themselves. That's putting the suffering refugee population at further risk.

ROBERTS: An international think tank called the International Crisis Group says that U.N. troops are urgently needed in that region of Sudan, fearing that perhaps because of this -- the weakness, what they say, of this peace agreement, that the whole area could devolve into sort of a warlord situation, the type of which we saw in Somalia. Do you believe that U.N. troops need to get in there and need to get in there quickly?

FARROW: There aren't enough words to say how urgent the situation is. And it is beginning to look a lot like Somalia. And that should provide enough political will for people to -- if the humanitarian crisis doesn't motivate people sufficiently, then is Darfur falls into disarray then so goes Chad and you have a collapsed state wherein any kind of terrorist group or grouping could take place.

So, yes, people need to move quickly. And you hear about five or six months that it might take to get the U.N. in there. I don't see how the situation can hold, because what we saw were feverish groups, armed and angry, against the signing; and other groups that seemed to be less feverish for the signing; and all these splits are now hardening, solidifying into very potent factions.

ROBERTS: Mia Farrow, do you think that there is still a double standard when it comes to Africa? You know, Rwanda was ignored. Kosovo, on the other hand, NATO went in there with troops to solve the refugee crisis there. Sudan -- it's sort of been, you know, a halting response.

Do you think there's a double standard when it comes to Africa?

FARROW: Well, you know, it's way too slow, definitely, the response here in Darfur. That I was there 18 months ago and have seen things deteriorate. Yet you also see the best of humankind there with our, you know, UNICEF and other NGOs. And, you know, just for example, UNICEF is working at 20 percent of what it needs. It only has 20 percent funding to continue the heroic work that they do on a daily basis there.

So this is also a plea on World Refugee Day to support our humanitarian agencies because they are really providing the only structure and life support for almost four million people...

ROBERTS: All right, actress Mia Farrow...

FARROW: ... in the Darfur region alone.

ROBERTS: Actress Mia Farrow, let's hope that that plea got heard.

Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

FARROW: Thank you.

Thank you.

ROBERTS: Mia Farrow, goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, in Berlin -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, just a dire picture she is painting; and others, as well. More of our world refugee crisis coverage is straight ahead, including a closer look at the plight of people who have been forced to leave their countries or people who are displaced within their own borders in the Middle East.

That story is ahead.

Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: As we dedicate our programming this morning to a look at the worldwide refugee crisis, a look at the stories that CNN correspondents around the globe are covering today.


There are at least 100,000 displaced Iraqis, refugees in their own country, nearly double the number of two months ago, as much of the country splits along sectarian lines.

There are hundreds of thousands of more Iraqis who have fled to neighboring countries. But they are the lucky ones.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Paula Hancocks at the Bahasha Refugee Camp in the West Bank.

More than 12,000 Palestinian refugees live in this particular camp in overcrowded conditions. The vast majority are living below the poverty line and employment is scarce. But this is a fraction of the problem. There are more than 4.3 million Palestinian refugees across the region. And conditions have been getting progressively worse in the past six months.

Since Hamas won the Palestinian election in January, the United States and the European Union have been withholding millions of dollars in aid to the government and Palestinians are finding it increasingly harder to travel to Israel, where jobs are easier to come by.

ROBERTS: And a programming note now. Actress Angelina Jolie is Anderson Cooper's special guest tonight. In an exclusive interview, Angelina talks about her passion for helping refugees around the world, her role as U.N. special ambassador for the High Commissioner for Refugees, and, of course, her new baby Shiloh.

Be sure to catch the whole conversation with Angelina on a special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360," tonight, beginning at 10:00 Eastern.

Up next, Andy is minding your business -- good morning, Andy.


New stories from iPod nation. Coming soon, movies. How baseball players are benefiting from the device. And, also, are you ready for Richard Simmons and his ilk?

We'll tell you about that.

O'BRIEN: Sure.

ROBERTS: Everybody get out there.

SERWER: Yes, that's about right.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: Yes. See you sweat.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Andy.

Also ahead, there once was a time when Afghan girls were relegated to the sidelines. But now two Afghan teens are taking the field. For them, soccer is much more than a game. It's a path to their future.

Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Well, you might soon be able to get even more entertainment on your iPod soon, like a full length feature film or even Richard Simmons.

Andy Serwer minding your business -- how are you, Andy?

SERWER: John, good morning.

You know, films are really going to be the next step. I mean they're calling it the holy grail of people who follow this business. And they are working hard on this.

The iPod, of course, almost as ubiquitous as the TV set now in America. Don't try to get an iPod fixed, by the way, but that's the whole other story.

Now, reports today suggesting that Apple is in very serious negotiations with all of the movie studios, trying to do for movies what it did for music at its iTunes store. "Variety" is reporting that Apple suggested a price for new films of $9.99 to $12.99.

Apparently, the movie studios have rejected that price as too low. Not a surprise there. They want $14.99 for a price for new films and less for older films.

This is being hashed out.

The good news is they may be getting close to a deal, which would really revolutionize this business, I think.

O'BRIEN: How would it work? SERWER: You would pay money and download it onto your iPod. Then the question, of course, Soledad, is can you put it onto your computer...


SERWER: Can you put it onto your TV? all of those things have to be worked out.

O'BRIEN: For $15, you should be able to...


SERWER: Right. You should be able to. Can you keep it forever? Yes. I mean the iTunes model is you own it forever.

ROBERTS: Don't u download it to the computer first and then update it to your (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SERWER: You would download it, that's right.

ROBERTS: So it would be on your computer.

SERWER: It would be on your PC, that's correct.


That's going to take up a lot of memory, though, isn't it?

SERWER: And it would be slow. It has to be speeded up. But there is technology so it can be faster.

If you're looking at -- watching a baseball game over the next couple of days and you see some players in the dugout looking at their iPods, they may not be watching a Beyonce video or "Desperate Housewives." They may be studying...

ROBERTS: But they might be, too.

SERWER: But they might be.

But they also may be studying pitchers on the opposing team or their own swings or, if they're hitters, they may be looking at balls coming in, balls and strikes, because several major league teams, including the Rockies, Mariners and Marlins, have now downloaded all this stuff onto players' iPods.


SERWER: And so they are studying this stuff up and the latest thing is the personal trainers, which are also downloading stuff onto it.

O'BRIEN: That's a great idea.

SERWER: Yes, so you can just sit there... O'BRIEN: That's a great idea.

SERWER: You don't have to go to the gym. You...

ROBERTS: You can put your iPod right there on your treadmill and...

O'BRIEN: There, do your little workout.


O'BRIEN: I like that one.

ROBERTS: And have Richard telling you to get sweaty.

SERWER: Sweat with the oldies, wasn't that it?

O'BRIEN: Thank you.


SERWER: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to the forecast now.

Chad has got that -- hey Chad, good morning.

MYERS: That's just a bad thought.

O'BRIEN: Why? Richard Simmons? I love that guy.

MYERS: On your iPod, though?


MYERS: Yes, just leave him off your iPod.


MYERS: Good work.


MYERS: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

O'BRIEN: The very latest on those missing soldiers in Iraq. Details from Baghdad coming up.

ROBERTS: Murder charges now for three American soldiers. They are accused of killing Iraqi prisoners and threatening the life of one of their own.


The president is headed momentarily to Vienna. What's on the agenda at the European Union summit?

I'll tell you, coming up.

O'BRIEN: Fire and rain, major storms leaving parts of Houston under water this morning and more is expected.

Plus, wildfires breaking through those fire lines in Arizona. Hundreds of homes may be in danger.

ROBERTS: And we're taking a closer look at the dire situation for millions of people on World Refugee Day. Their dramatic stories are ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: And good morning.

Welcome back, everybody.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

ROBERTS: And I'm John Roberts in this week for Miles O'Brien.

Good Tuesday morning to you.

O'BRIEN: There is a report out of Iraq this morning that the two missing American soldiers have been found dead. The Reuters News Agency is quoting Iraq's defense ministry. CNN's calls, though, to U.S. military sources are not confirming that report.

Let's get right to CNN's Arwa Damon.

She is live for us in Baghdad -- Arwa, this sounds like it's a very confusing situation at this point.

What do we know?

DAMON: Well, Soledad, we actually don't know much. As you just mentioned, the U.S. military is not confirming that report. They have not changed the status of the two missing soldiers. They are still listed as duty status and whereabouts unknown. And until we receive a military statement from them regarding a change in their status, it is rather premature to be drawing conclusions.


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