Recent Toll in Sri Lanka Placed at Nearly 4,000COLOMBO, Sri Lanka --European cease-fire monitors said Friday that nearly 4,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka in the past 15 months, and they emphasized the importance of the government and rebels adhering to a truce.

During the three previous years, fewer than 130 people died in the ethnic conflict, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said in a statement.

The monitoring mission was called to oversee the 2002 cease-fire. About 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the cease-fire.

Separatist Tamils began fighting in 1983 for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.1 million Tamils in the north and northeast, following decades of discrimination by the country's majority Sinhalese.

AFRICA · CONAKRY, Guinea --Guinea's parliament refused a request from the president, Gen. Lansana Conté, to extend martial law in a rare act of defiance against his autocratic rule over the West African country.

The period of martial law, imposed nationwide 11 days ago to quell violent protests accompanying a general strike, was to expire later Friday, but the president had asked the National Assembly to prolong it, citing security concerns.

· FREETOWN, Sierra Leone --Sam Hinga Norman, a former government minister on trial for allegedly overseeing a militia accused of torturing and mutilating civilians during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, died Thursday at a Senegalese hospital, the court said.

Norman, 67, Sierra Leone's former internal affairs minister, had been awaiting a verdict at the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone Special Court. He died of apparent heart failure.

He was facing eight charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly performed by fighters he oversaw during the 1991-2002 war.


· EL-ARISH, Egypt --Security forces Friday discovered about a ton of explosives hidden underground near Egypt's border with Gaza, a security official said.

Meanwhile, 37 Egyptians and Palestinians -- believed to belong to an extremist network plotting attacks in southern Sinai -- have been arrested, the official said. The arrests brought the number of those detained in the past three days to 57.

Three of those arrested were Palestinians armed with explosive belts who intended to sneak into Gaza by an underground tunnel and carry out suicide attacks in Israel, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said they confessed to being members of Islamic Jihad, which has been responsible for suicide attacks in Israel.

The explosives, mostly TNT believed to be recovered from land mines, were stashed in 34 plastic bags in a separate underground cache and were to be smuggled to the Gaza Strip, the official said.

the AMERICAS · SAO PAULO, Brazil --Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega was held up and kidnapped by three robbers who invaded a country home he was visiting during Carnival, police said. Three suspects were arrested in connection with the crime.

The Sao Paulo state chief investigator said the criminals did not know a minister was in the house. Mantega, his wife and at least three other people who were inside were released unharmed.

· Cuba has ordered three western journalists to stop reporting from the Communist island, sparking international criticism and dashing faint hopes for democratic reforms under interim leader Raul Castro.

Cuban authorities this week told Gary Marx of the Chicago Tribune, Cesar Gonzalez-Calero of the Mexican daily El Universal and Stephen Gibbs of the BBC that their accreditation was not being renewed and that they must immediately stop reporting on Cuba. All three have been based in Havana for several years.


· RIGA, Latvia --Faulty electrical wiring may have sparked a catastrophic fire that raced through a home for the disabled in western Latvia, leaving 25 people dead or missing, rescuers said.

· LONDON --One person was killed and dozens seriously injured when a high-speed London-to-Glasgow train derailed in northwestern England late Friday, rescue services said.

ASIA · MULTAN, Pakistan --A blast killed two men carrying explosives Saturday when their bicycle hit a bump in the road on the outskirts of a town in Pakistan's central province of Punjab, according to police.

· TOKYO --Japan launched its fourth spy satellite, completing its capabilities to monitor activities worldwide and bolstering its ability to observe neighboring North Korea's nuclear program.

· SEOUL --North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, plans to visit the United States within days for follow-up talks on a recent disarmament deal, South Korean news reports said.

-- From News Services