U.S., Philippines to Hold Exercise

SUBIC BAY, Philippines -- U.S. troops arrived at a former U.S. naval base yesterday for joint military exercises with Philippine soldiers aimed at dealing with security and terrorist threats.

High-speed vessels carrying the first group of 450 U.S. military personnel and equipment arrived at the former U.S. base at Subic Bay, north of Manila, for the two-week exercise, which begins on April 25.

The exercise was named "Balikatan," a Filipino word meaning shoulder-to-shoulder.

The operation is separate from a U.S.-Philippine anti-terror training exercise to be held on the Sulu islands in the country's restive south, where Muslim rebels are based.

About 1,200 U.S. personnel and 2,500 Philippine troops will take part in the training, to be conducted at three points on the main island of Luzon, including the former U.S. Clark air base.


Former Taliban Official Arrested

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan agents arrested a former Taliban leader in the feared ministry that enforced bans on educating girls, playing cards and even flying kites, officials said.

Moulawi Qalamuddin was arrested several days ago in Logar province, east of Kabul, a senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

Qalamuddin served under the Taliban regime as deputy head of the Vice and Virtue Ministry and as deputy minister of mosques and Hajj -- the annual Muslim pilgrimage to holy sites in Saudi Arabia. When the hard-line Taliban government fell in 2001, Qalamuddin was head of the National Olympic Committee.

Under the Taliban, the Vice and Virtue Ministry deployed 32,000 enforcers across the country who harassed women if their head-to-toe veils did not cover them completely. They also harassed men if their beards did not meet the length required under the Taliban's version of Islam.

Associated Press


Kosovo Group Labeled as Terrorist

PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro -- Kosovo's U.N. governor took the unprecedented step of branding an Albanian rebel group a terrorist organization after it said it was responsible for a bomb attack on a railway in a Serbian part of the province.

The ruling by German diplomat Michael Steiner means that members of the Albanian National Army (ANA) can be jailed for up to 40 years. The move suggests that Western officials are starting to take more seriously a group that some diplomats have dismissed as little more than a band of criminals.

ANA wants to unite ethnic Albanian lands in the Balkans. It said this week on its Web site that it was behind the bomb attack, which it described as intended to cut the railway connecting what it called Serbian-occupied parts of Kosovo with Belgrade. Steiner said the bombing was aimed at killing "a large number of innocent civilians and damaging public property."

U.N. police spokesman Barry Fletcher said the remains of two people were found by a bridge damaged in Saturday night's explosion near Zvecan in northern Kosovo.


Russia Catholic Bishop Transferred

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II transferred a bishop who was assigned to Russia but had been barred from reentering the country, removing an irritant in the Vatican's relations with Moscow and the Orthodox Church.

Monsignor Jerzy Mazur was the bishop in Irkutsk, in Siberia, but was not allowed back in Russia a year ago after a trip abroad.

A native of Poland, Mazur was one of five Roman Catholic clerics barred from the country last year amid tension over the church's activities in predominantly Orthodox Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church complains that Roman Catholics are making converts of people who traditionally would have been Orthodox adherents.

News Services


Thirty Killed in Collision in Cuba

HAVANA -- Thirty people died and 71 were injured when a bus crashed into a truck in central Cuba, the official news agency AIN said.

Traveling from Havana to Santiago with 44 passengers, the bus swerved to avoid a cow crossing the road and slammed into an oncoming truck and trailer 170 miles east of the capital near the town of Santa Clara, AIN reported. Hospital officials in Santa Clara said 18 of the injured were in serious condition.



U.S. Delegation Meets Arafat

JERUSALEM -- A U.S. congressional delegation met with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the newly appointed Palestinian prime minister, attempting to clear the way for a U.S.-backed peace plan that envisions a Palestinian state.

It was the first high-level meeting between U.S. officials and Arafat since President George W. Bush effectively boycotted him in June, conditioning Palestinian statehood on Arafat's departure. The talks, however, were not sanctioned by the State Department.

The three congressmen said Arafat assured them he would give designated Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas real power to lead Palestinians -- a key demand for the peace plan to move forward.

The delegation was made up of Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.) and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.).

The talks came as clashes erupted between Israeli troops and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Soldiers shot and killed a 16-year-old in the West Bank and shot a 17-year-old in the chest in Rafah in Gaza. Witnesses said the boys were throwing stones at troops.

Associated Press