World

Some of the worst flooding in years has returned North Korea to the brink of famine, the UN warned Monday. But it said there was no word on when the communist government would allow the distribution of "critically needed" food. As preconditions for distribution, the UN's World Food Program is insisting on conducting a full assessment of damage itself and on controls to ensure that the aid reaches people who need it most. It estimates that at least 60,000 North Koreans have been left homeless by the flooding. In the 1990s, 10 percent of the population – 2.5 million people – is believed to have died from famine. Meanwhile, Bank of China officials could not be reached for confirmation of a report that they'd frozen North Korean accounts because of alleged counterfeiting and money-laundering.

One of the quietest regions of Afghanistan was shattered early Monday by a bold Taliban attack on a police headquarters. Trucks brought an estimated 400 fighters to Bakwa in Farah Province, where they targeted the building with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, killing or wounding at least 10 policemen. The Taliban also took casualties, reports said, and headed for neighboring Helmand Province after the attack. NATO is due to lead a force responsible for security in the region beginning next week. Some of its chiefs inspected security conditions there earlier this month and said they were satisfied with them.

Failure to agree on lowering both subsidies and tariffs on farm products caused the collapse of global free-trade negotiations, and participants said it could take years before they resume. The talks broke up Sunday night in Geneva after 14 hours of haggling by delegates from the European Union, Brazil, Australia, Japan, India, and the US. The EU and the US blamed each other for the lack of a breakthrough on the Doha round, which began in 2001 as a so-called once-in-a-lifetime effort to ease world poverty, especially by clearing away obstacles to increased exports from developing countries.

Already low hopes for a breakthrough appeared on target Monday as the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo's Albanian majority met for their first negotiations on the future of the province. The talks in Vienna consisted of presentations of hardened positions, reports said. Serbian delegates complained that the Albanian side had demanded unconditional independence, which they said was unacceptable since it would take away 15 percent of Serbian territory. An Albanian spokesman said his side is pledged to protect the rights of Serbs living in the province but that "independence is the alpha and omega – the beginning and end – of our position."

Urgent capitalist-style reforms are needed to control China's torrid economic growth because too little of it is benefiting the poor, President Hu Jintao told a Communist Party meeting Monday. He cited no specific initiatives but said government officials must "resolve issues that seriously concern the masses," such as improved access to medical care and education. Hu spoke as the government was announcing proposed new rules to limit foreign investment in real estate, which has grown 27.9 percent so far this year. Increased urbanization is expected to take the land of 15 million farmers over the next five years, the Xinhua news agency said.

A suspected Islamist gunman dressed in student uniform shot and killed a Buddhist school- teacher Monday in front of his class in southern Thailand, then fled on a waiting motorcycle. The victim was the 44th teacher to die at the hands of militants since the push for separatism in Thailand's three mainly Muslim southern provinces began in 2004. Teachers are targeted because they are seen as symbols of the nation's Buddhist authorities. At least 20 local schools closed indefinitely following the attack, the BBC reported.

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