- The Washington Times - Monday, August 24, 2009

SOMALIA

Insurgents reject call for cease fire

MOGADISHU | Somali insurgents Sunday rejected a government call for a cease-fire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and accused the president of trying to use religion as a cover for rearming his troops.

President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel, had called for an end to fighting during Ramadan to allow people to pray.

“We will not accept that cease-fire call. This holy month will be a triumphant time for mujahedeen, and we will fight the enemy,” Hizbul Islam leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys told a news conference.

Mr. Ahmed’s United Nations-backed government is seen by many analysts as the country’s best hope for a return to stability after 18 years of conflict, but it holds just small pockets of the capital and parts of the south.

EGYPT

Fishermen escape from Somali pirates

SUEZ | A group of Egyptian fishermen who were kidnapped by pirates off the Somali coast four months ago and managed to overpower their captors sailed home to a hero’s welcome Sunday, but some details of their dramatic escape remained a mystery.

Wearing brand-new track suits, the nearly three dozen fishermen disembarked in the port city of Suez into the waiting arms of hundreds of relatives and friends, as traditional Egyptian drummers and dancers performed in the background. One mother fainted from the joy of seeing her son return.

The fishermen, whose two vessels were hijacked in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, spoke freely of how harrowing the experience had been, but were cagey about exactly how they managed to overpower their captors and seize eight of them, who they brought back to Egypt to stand trial.

The pirates initially demanded millions of dollars to free the captives but eventually lowered their ransom demand to $800,000.

IRAN

Guards boast killing 26 Kurds

TEHRAN | Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have killed 26 Kurdish rebels in northwestern Iran, a commander of the guards was quoted as saying on Sunday by the Fars news agency.

“In an operation to clean up the West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces of counter-revolutionary and terrorist groups, 26 of the agents were killed,” said Mohammad Pakpoor, who was described by Fars as commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces.

He said the operation had delivered a “massive blow” to the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) and other Kurdish rebel groups.

Western Iran, which has a sizable Kurdish population, has seen deadly fighting in recent years between Iranian security forces and PJAK rebels operating from neighboring Iraq.

CUBA

Photo shows Fidel healthy

HAVANA | An official Cuban newspaper Sunday published a photograph of 83-year-old former President Fidel Castro, apparently in good health and meeting visiting Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

The photograph of Mr. Castro, covering most of the front page of the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, showed a fit-looking Mr. Castro standing and wearing a white, short-sleeved shirt in his meeting with Mr. Correa, who began a private visit to Cuba a few days ago.

Mr. Castro, the leader of Cuba’s 1959 revolution, which brought communism to the Caribbean island, has remained out of public view for the past three years and in 2008 handed over the presidency to younger brother Raul Castro for health reasons.

Various photographs of Fidel Castro meeting heads of state and other visitors have been released outside Cuba and on the Internet in recent months. But access to the Internet is severely restricted in Cuba.

While Fidel Castro, who turned 83 on Aug. 13, leaves day-to-day running of the government largely to his brother, Raul Castro, who is 78, he remains influential behind the scenes and writes regular commentaries for state-run media.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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