- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

NORTH KOREA

Fishing boat seized from South

SEOUL | North Korea’s seizure of a South Korean fishing boat and its four crew members raised fears that the Communist nation could use the incident to exert pressure on Seoul amid badly strained ties between the rival countries.

Thursday’s apprehension follows the North’s sentencing of two American journalists to 12 years of hard labor last month and its months-long detention of a South Korean citizen. Some analysts warn the fishermen could face a similar fate if Pyongyang is tempted to use the case as leverage to pressure Seoul.

South Korea said the 29-ton fishing boat, 800 Yeonan, was towed away by a North Korean patrol boat Thursday morning after it crossed into the North’s eastern waters, apparently because its satellite navigation system malfunctioned.

POLAND

U.S. reconsiders missile options

A senior Defense Department official said Thursday that the United States is considering options for European missile defense other than current plans for a system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow told House lawmakers at a hearing on Russian relations that the Obama administration is looking at configurations as part of its review of missile defense plans.

The administration has been seeking better relations with Russia, which adamantly opposes U.S. plans made by the George W. Bush administration to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. Russia has said continuing with the employment would undermine talks launched by U.S. and Russian presidents on renewed cooperation.

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban warns Afghans not to vote

KABUL | The Taliban urged Afghans on Thursday to stay away from the Aug. 20 elections, threatening to block the roads to polling stations and dismissing the balloting as an “American process.”

Also Thursday, a U.S. service member was killed in a rocket or mortar attack in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. command said. The death brought the number to 41 U.S. service members who have died in the Afghan war in July, the bloodiest month for U.S. forces in the eight-year war.

In a statement posted on a Web site used frequently by the militants, the extremist Islamic movement mocked the upcoming presidential and provincial polls as part of an American “failed strategy” in the country - paid for and secured by foreigners.

PAKISTAN

Swat residents to fight Taliban

SULTANWAS | Village leaders in a former Taliban stronghold are rebuilding their own militia to protect the area from militants holding out in nearby hills after fleeing the Pakistani army’s offensive last spring.

The military operation in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas is winding down, but sporadic fighting persists - a sign that the Taliban has not given up. Locals say Taliban fighters are hiding in the hills outside Sultanwas, a village pulverized by air strikes and tanks during Pakistan’s offensive.

So villagers are leaving nothing to chance: They have reorganized their own militia and say they are talking to nearby villages to join forces.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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