US - NOKOR: U.S. and North Korean envoys opened talks in Geneva today on normalizing relations, and possibly removing the reclusive state from Washington's list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The two-day meeting in Switzerland is part of a flurry of working group sessions called for in a six-nation disarmament agreement in February. Under the deal, North Korea agreed to end its nuclear program in exchange for political concessions and fuel aid. Upon arriving in Geneva Friday, the top U.S. nuclear envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said he is optimistic the talks will help resolve obstacles in the way of ending Pyongyang's nuclear program.
IRAQ: Iraqi government statistics show at least one-thousand-771 civilians were killed in the country in August, a slight increase from July. The figure includes the more than 400 people killed August 14th in a massive bomb attack on the minority Yazidi community in northern Iraq. Meanwhile, the U.S. military says radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's decision this week to stop Mahdi Army militia activities will allow coalition forces to intensify operations against al-Qaida in Iraq. Early today, the U.S. military said U.S. and Iraqi forces raided the Baghdad stronghold of the Mahdi Army, Sadr City, and detained three people.
AFGHAN VIOLENCE: U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan say police and international troops killed nearly two dozen suspected insurgents in the south of the country Friday. A statement today says the combined force was on a combat patrol in Helmand province when insurgents attacked with guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. The statement says the the insurgents were killed in the battle that followed. The coalition said no civilians were killed in the fight. Also on Friday, Afghan officials said at least 10 civilians were killed when a barrage of rockets targeting a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan hit a nearby village.
AFGHAN - HOSTAGES: Nineteen South Korean hostages, released by Afghanistan's Taleban after six weeks in captivity, have begun their long journey home. The church volunteers, part of a group of 23 Christian missionaries kidnapped July 19th in southern Afghanistan, flew out of Kabul on a chartered U.N. plane to Dubai, where they arrived late Friday. Local authorities say the former hostages would stay overnight before leaving for South Korea today. Before their departure from Afghanistan, two members of the group apologized to the South Korean people and government for the agony they caused the country.
PAKISTAN UNREST: Military officials say a suicide bombers killed at least three Pakistani soldiers today near the Afghan border. A military spokesman says at least two civilians were wounded in the attack in the northwestern Bajur tribal region. Elsewhere today in Pakistan's troubled northwest, tribal elders met with Islamic militants to seek the safe passage of at least 120 Pakistani soldiers the military says are trapped in the region. Pakistan's military has denied reports that the soldiers, missing in a remote area near the Afghan border, were kidnapped by pro-Taleban militants Thursday.
SRI LANKA: The Sri Lankan military says it launched a new offensive today against Tamil Tiger rebels in the northeastern district of Mannar. A military spokesman (Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe) said the new operation was a "humanitarian offensive" to liberate about six thousand people being held in the area. On Friday, military officials said soldiers killed three suspected Tamil rebels in the northern district of Jaffna. They said the rebels were trying to breach army defense lines overnight when they were shot. Fighting between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels has intensified recently despite a 2002 ceasefire.
THAILAND - LAOS - HMONG: An international rights group is urging the Thai government not to agree to repatriate Lao Hmong refugees when it holds meetings with officials from Laos next week. The Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch (Brad Adams) says it is shocking that Thailand is considering returning the refugees who are fleeing political persecution, rights abuses and fighting in Laos. Human Rights Watch is asking the Thai government to accept offers from other countries to resettle the refugees, and to allow them to remain in Thailand until that process in complete. The group says it is concerned about the fate of refugees, especially since Thailand forcefully deported some 200 of them earlier this year.
UN - BURMA: The United Nations special investigator on human rights in Burma is asking authorities there to free all the people who were arrested in a rare string of anti-government protests. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro also voiced concern Friday about a hunger strike involving a group of detainees and allegations that detainees have been severely beaten and tortured. Burma is experiencing its most sustained demonstrations in decades. For more than a week (since August 21st), people have been taking to the streets to protest the government's sharp increase in fuel prices.
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