- - Monday, December 31, 2012

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan released eight members of the Afghan Taliban from prison on Monday, including the former justice minister under the Taliban, in a bid to boost the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan, the government said.

Pakistan is seen as a linchpin to efforts to bring about peace in Afghanistan as foreign troops plan to depart the country in 2014.

Kabul has been pressing its neighbor to release more prisoners who they hope would bring the Taliban to the negotiating table before the U.S. troops go home.

The Pakistanis appear to have an interest in promoting peace across the border, as a resumption of the civil war there could bring harsh consequences on its side as well.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said eight detainees were released, including Nooruddin Turabi, the justice minister under the Taliban.

Mohammad Azeem, a former guard of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, also was among those released, according to a Taliban official.

It was not clear what role the eight released prisoners might play in bringing Taliban leaders to the negotiating table or what links they have to the group’s current leadership.

COLOMBIA

9 people killed in farm massacre

BOGOTA — Nine people have been shot to death in the countryside outside Medellin in a massacre police suspect is a settling of accounts between drug traffickers.

Gen. Yesid Vasquez is commander of the Metropolitan Police Department in Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city. He said that the five men and four women were killed on a farm, apparently early Monday.

Gen. Vazquez said the slayings came after a Sunday afternoon party at the “extremely luxurious” country home, and the farm’s owner was among the dead.

The general said that the victims apparently were shot with guns that had silencers, explaining why no one nearby reported hearing gunfire.

Santiago Londono, secretary of government for Antioquia department, said one woman survived the massacre and was being questioned by investigators.

EGYPT

Gunmen fire on protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square

CAIRO — Egyptian security officials said masked gunmen drove into Cairo’s Tahrir Square and opened fired on an anti-government sit-in, seriously wounding two activists.

They said the four gunmen also vandalized vehicles in the area, including those of the U.S. Embassy, early Monday.

The U.S. Embassy, which is off Tahrir Square, said vandals attacked an embassy van, slashing its tires and breaking a window. It warned U.S. citizens against going to the square in downtown Cairo, where New Year’s celebrations are planned later.

The square was the center of Egypt’s uprising two years ago.

The sit-in was to protest Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s moves to pass a disputed constitution.

NORTH KOREA

Kim gives rare address, calls for easing tensions

SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called Tuesday for an easing of tensions with the South and flagged a “radical turnabout” in the national economy in a rare voiced message broadcast on state television.

“An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the North and the South,” Mr. Kim said in a New Year’s message.

“The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war,” he said.

The message came just weeks after the election of the conservative Park Geun-hye as South Korea’s new president and coincided with U.N. Security Council discussions on how to punish North Korea for its recent long-range rocket launch.

The voiced message was the first of its kind since Mr. Kim’s grandfather and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung delivered one in 1994, the year of his death.

Kim Jong-un, who took power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17, 2011, also said 2013 would be a year of “great creations and changes in which a radical turnabout will be effected.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports