THE MIDDLE EAST

Kuwait Shuts Down Office of Al-Jazeera

KUWAIT -- Kuwait closed down the local office of Arabic-language satellite television channel al-Jazeera for alleged lack of objectivity in its coverage of the Persian Gulf country, a government minister said yesterday.

"We regret we had to take a decision like this," said Information Minister Ahmad Fahd Sabah. "The closure decision was not due to a single news item."

He said al-Jazeera had been given several warnings, but did not offer details.

Al-Jazeera's office in Kuwait confirmed it was officially notified of the Kuwaiti decision yesterday.

Qatar-based al-Jazeera is one of the most popular TV channels in the Arab world. It gained notoriety during the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan by broadcasting videotaped messages from Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda officials, Washington's main suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Sources said Kuwait was angered by al-Jazeera's reporting of Kuwait sealing off about a third of the country on Saturday for U.S.-led military exercises close to the border with Iraq.

Reuters

AFRICA

Ivory Coast Rebels Protest Peace Talks

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast -- Thousands of rebel supporters demonstrated in an insurgent stronghold in central Ivory Coast, shouting their opposition to peace talks and cheering when a uniformed rebel leader said the rebels would never lay down their arms.

On Ivory Coast's border, meanwhile, aid groups said they had begun supplying log rafts to ferry refugees who had used clandestine footpaths to flee the region.

The rebel rally in Bouake came a day before the resumption of peace talks to end a six-week rebellion that split this West African nation in two. The talks are scheduled to restart today in the Togolese capital, Lome.

"The mutineers will never agree to be disarmed and confined to barracks," Guillaume Soro, the rebels' chief negotiator, said at the rally in Bouake, Ivory Coast's second-largest city.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has insisted the rebels disarm and be confined to specific barracks.

Associated Press

ASIA

Ferry Sinks Off Indonesian Island

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- An Indonesian ferry packed with more than 200 passengers sank off the country's volatile eastern city of Ambon, leaving five people dead and 73 missing, a government official said today.

Local government spokesman Martin Luther Djari said 127 passengers were being treated in three hospitals in Ambon, the main city of the Moluccas islands, while rescuers were searching for those missing after the vessel sank last night.

"Up until now, we don't know what caused the ferry to sink because we are still trying to search for the victims," Djari said by telephone from Ambon, 1,400 miles east of Jakarta.

Reuters

THE AMERICAS

Colombian Military Frees 244 Hostages

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombian troops backed by helicopters freed 244 people who had been briefly kidnapped by leftist rebels at a roadblock, the military said. Two women were wounded in the rescue.

The mass kidnapping occurred 56 miles northeast of the capital when rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia stopped 32 vehicles on a rural road and took the travelers, including women and children, into nearby mountains. Witnesses said the rebels stole jewelry and cash.

Reuters