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PHILIPPINES

Monitors arrive after deadly fight

MANILA — A tense cease-fire prevailed as peace monitors arrived on a southern Philippine island yesterday to investigate heavy fighting in which at least 14 marines were killed.

A nine-hour gunbattle erupted Tuesday on the island of Basilan between troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the country, despite ongoing peace talks.

The military said the marines were ambushed by hundreds of armed men and that 10 of those killed were beheaded. Rebels said troops entered one of their camps without permission but that they will investigate the beheadings.

THAILAND

Human rights chief slams security laws

BANGKOK — Thailand's top human rights watchdog denounced the army-appointed, post-coup government yesterday for its "stupid" and "dictatorial" push to beef up security laws.

National Human Rights Commission chief Saneh Chamarik said serious concerns had been raised about revamping the Internal Security Operations Command, a shadowy anti-communist army unit spawned during the Cold War.

Thirty-five of Thailand's 76 provinces remain under the martial law imposed the night of the coup in September, and the army has shown it is willing to make life difficult for anybody trying to speak out against its "democracy road map," Mr. Chamarik said.

TAIWAN

Cabinet sets vote on U.N. application

TAIPEI — Reversing a decision, the Taiwanese Cabinet voted yesterday to hold a popular referendum on joining the United Nations under the name "Taiwan."

An appeal committee made the decision after closed-door discussions by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

The island lost its U.N. seat to mainland China in 1971. Its efforts to rejoin the world body using the official Republic of China name have been blocked repeatedly by Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a part of its territory awaiting reunification.

NORTH KOREA

Ministry puts end to karaoke

SEOUL — North Korea will close its karaoke bars in an attempt to stem foreign influences on the isolated communist country, a South Korean civic group revealed this week.

The North's Ministry of People's Security said in a directive last week that silencing the karaoke outlets was a "mopping-up operation to prevent the ideological and cultural permeation of anti-socialism," according to the Seoul-based Good Friends aid agency.

Violators were warned they would face punishment, including deportation to other North Korean regions.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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