Karzai officials meet secretly with Taliban

The Taliban has held secret talks with representatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said Afghan officials and a senior Taliban representative, in a bid to jump-start a peace process that stumbled and stalled at the starting gate.

The discussions with members of the Afghan High Peace Council have been unofficial and preliminary, seen as an attempt to reach agreement on conditions for formal talks. But they do suggest an interest on both sides in proceeding, or at least toying, with a peace process that has been mired in controversy since the opening of a Taliban political office in June in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.

Habibullah Fauzi, a former Taliban diplomat who is now a member of Karzai’s High Peace Council, told the Associated Press that “some individuals [on the peace council] have met Taliban on an individual basis,” though he would not say who or when. He also said he had heard reports of meetings in Saudi Arabia between High Peace Council members and Taliban delegates who were in that country to perform Islamic pilgrimages.

“The Afghan government certainly is in contact with certain leaders and certain figures among the Taliban,” Janan Mosazai , a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, said Sunday at a news conference in Kabul.

A Taliban representative in Doha, Qatar, told the AP that secret talks with the High Peace Council have begun. The representative, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Taliban leader Mohammad Omar had ordered his spokesmen to refrain from public statements, said Taliban negotiator Mullah Abbas Stanikzai met last month with a senior member of the High Peace Council in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

— Associated Press

Rebels take villages in Assad stronghold

Rebels captured four Alawite villages along Syria’s mountainous Mediterranean coast Monday as they battled government troops in one of President Bashar al-Assad’s strongholds for the second straight day, activists said.

Alawites, members of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, dominate Assad’s regime. The capture of villages in their heartland in Latakia province is a symbolic blow to Assad, whose forces have otherwise been taking territory in recent weeks in central Syria.

Syria’s conflict has taken on an increasingly sectarian tone in the past year, pitting the predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels against the Alawite-led regime.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels captured the villages after attacking government outposts in the Jabal al-Akrad hills on Sunday. The group, which relies on reports from activists, said that at least 32 government troops and militiamen and at least 19 rebels, including foreign fighters, died in Sunday’s fighting.

It was a rare battlefield success for the rebels in recent weeks. Assad’s forces have been on the offensive since June; last week, they captured a key district in the central city of Homs.

— Associated Press

ICC: ‘Crimes against humanity’ possible in Nigeria: The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said that after a preliminary investigation, she thinks that acts attributed to the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram probably constitute crimes against humanity. Fatou Bensouda wrote in a report that the potential crimes include murder and persecution. But she said she will move to a full-fledged investigation only after further study and depending on whether Nigeria is willing and able to prosecute offenders. Nigeria declared a state of emergency May 14 to fight an uprising by Islamist militants in the northeast who want to impose Islamic law across a country split almost equally into a predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south.

Pinochet corruption probe ends without charges: A nine-year investigation into allegations of illegal enrichment by the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet ended Monday with no charges filed against the Chilean dictator’s family. Pinochet’s loyalists often overlooked his human rights record and praised him for a supposedly austere, corruption-free government. But he lost many of his closest allies after allegations of hidden wealth were revealed in 2004 by a U.S. Senate committee investigating money laundering by the Riggs Bank of Washington. Judge Manuel Antonio Valderrama, who has handled hundreds of human rights cases, ended the probe but did not say why.

Dozens hospitalized after Norwegian tunnel fire: A semitrailer truck caught fire in Norway’s ­second-longest tunnel Monday, leading to the evacuation of 160 people — 55 of whom were hospitalized because of smoke inhalation and other injuries. The truck caught fire about two miles into the tunnel in a district east of Bergen, police spokesman Jorn Lasse Refnes said. The Gudvangatunnelen is seven miles long and is in the western part of Norway.

— From news services