- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

INDONESIA

Series of quakes topple hotel, kill 2

JAKARTA | Officials and witnesses say a series of powerful earthquakes Sunday killed at least two people in remote eastern Indonesia.

A 7.6-magnitude quake struck at 4:43 a.m. local time about 85 miles from Manokwari, Papua, at a depth of 22 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was followed by a 7.5-magnitude aftershock.

An emergency-room assistant said the bodies of a man and boy were brought to a local hospital.

A hotel in Indonesia’s West Papua province collapsed when the second quake hit the region, and three people were pulled alive from the rubble, officials said. The three guests who had been staying at the Mutiara hotel in the city of Manokwari were taken to a hospital, but their condition was not immediately clear.

A hotel staff member told the Agence France-Presse news service said the hotel collapsed because it was an old building, but other buildings in the neighborhood received only minor damage, such as cracks in the walls.

SRI LANKA

Troops press Tamil rebels

COLOMBO | Sri Lankan forces launched air strikes and ground assaults on ethnic Tamil rebels in the north Saturday, a day after dealing the separatists’ struggle for autonomy a devastating blow by capturing their de facto capital, the military said.

But in a sign that the insurgents remained determined to battle on, a small bomb planted under a car exploded on a busy street in Colombo on Saturday, wounding three people, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. The attack came a day after a suspected rebel suicide attacker blew himself up near air force headquarters in the city, killing three airmen.

Ethnic Tamil politicians, warning that the beleaguered rebels would simply turn to guerrilla warfare, appealed for an end to the fighting and for new talks to resolve the Indian Ocean island nation’s ethnic conflict.

PAKISTAN

Authorities arrest Taliban figure

PESHAWAR | Security officials say Pakistan has arrested a former Taliban spokesman who was released by Afghanistan in 2007 in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist.

An intelligence official said authorities detained Ustad Mohammed Yasir in Peshawar near the Afghan border. He said Mr. Yasir was Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s spokesman after the regime’s fall in Afghanistan in 2001.

The official said Saturday that Pakistan first arrested Mr. Yasir in 2005 and sent him to Afghanistan, where he was released along with four other Taliban figures for journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo.

A Peshawar police official confirmed the arrest. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The high-profile catch comes at a time when many in the West are concerned that tension with India could distract Pakistan from fighting militants on the Afghan border.

IRAN

Iraq’s al-Maliki visiting Tehran

TEHRAN | Iraq’s prime minister is visiting Iran, where the newly implemented security deal between the United States and Baghdad is expected to top his agenda.

Iranian state television showed Nouri al-Maliki receiving a red-carpet welcome after he arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport Saturday afternoon.

The visit is Mr. al-Maliki’s fourth to Iran since he was elected prime minister.

Iran initially opposed the Iraq-U.S. deal, which went into effect Thursday, fearing it would pave the way for a long-term U.S. presence on its Western border. But Tehran has softened its position on the pact in recent weeks.

The agreement allows U.S. troops to stay in Iraq until the end of 2011.

IRAQ

Military takes step toward withdrawal

BAGHDAD | The U.S. military took a step toward pulling combat troops from Iraqi cities Saturday, moving out of a Baghdad base that Iraqi officials said would be dismantled and converted into a shopping mall.

It was the first U.S. military base to be handed over to Iraq since U.S. forces came under Iraqi authority Thursday in step with a new bilateral security pact.

The pact, which replaced a U.N. mandate, requires Iraqi authorization for U.S. military operations, gives U.S. forces until mid-2009 to pull combat troops out of Iraq’s towns and cities, and until 2011 to withdraw completely.

Brig. Gen. Robin Swan, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, said the handover of Forward Operating Base Callahan in northern Baghdad was “tremendously significant.”

“By June 30th, combat formations are out of the cities. This was a major forward operating base, with 600 soldiers three short weeks ago,” he said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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