The US and its allies "have all been surprised" by the intensity of Taliban activity in Afghani- stan, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said on a visit to the war-torn country. Boucher told reporters that efforts to extend government rule into southern provinces have encountered stronger than expected resistance. He blamed the strength of the resistance on the influx of money from the narcotics trade and on the ability of guerrillas "to operate in and out of [neighboring] Paki- stan." Taliban fighters and NATO troops fought on three fronts in Kandahar, Khost, and Zabul provinces Wednesday night and Thursday, and both sides took multiple casualties, reports said.

Both sides were claiming victory in a battle at sea Thursday between Sri Lankan naval units and Tamil rebels. The military said eight rebel vessels had been destroyed and a rebel spokes-man said his side had sunk one naval boat and that another was on fire. The incident came a day after artillery fire by government troops killed or wounded as many as 83 noncombatants in northeastern Sri Lanka. A government spokesman expressed regret for the incident but said the rebels had used the victims as human shields.

Bombs exploded almost simultaneously in the showrooms of eight auto or motorcycle dealerships across southern Thailand in another day of violence by Muslim separatists. Hospital spokesmen said 13 people were hurt in the attacks. Unidentified assailants also shot and killed a construction foreman in the area. The attacks came a day after Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont made his second visit to the south in less than a week in an effort at reconciliation with the separatists. He said Muslims there should be allowed to practice sharia law, but ruled out the division of the country along religious lines.

An alleged warlord from northeastern Congo went before judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who must decide whether he'll become the first defendant in its history. Prosecutors argued Thursday that Thomas Lubanga of the Union of Congolese Patriots recruited children as young as age 10 to its ranks, trained them to kill, and threatened them with execution if they refused orders. The ICC judges in The Hague have 60 days to decide whether to order a trial in the case.

A deal that will bring communist rebels into the government of Nepal is "a big political gamble," Prime Minister G.P. Koirala admitted in an address to parliament Thursday. But he said the result would be worthwhile since the rebels would respect human rights and democracy, and the parallel state they've maintained in much of the kingdom would be dismantled. The deal calls for the rebels and government forces to be confined to bases with their weapons locked up under UN supervision by Nov. 21.

Opponents of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev partied in the streets of Kyrgyzstan's capital Thursday after he signed a new compromise Constitution. The charter, hammered out in negotiations between opposition members of parliament and his supporters, sharply limits his powers and gives legislators the authority to dismiss the cabinet. It was not immediately clear whether the compromise would end more than a week of political turmoil or whether parliament would use its new authority to fire unpopular Prime Minister Felix Kulov when it reconvenes Monday.

A large and active new volcanic island has been discovered in a remote area of the South Pacific by crews of two different vessels – and photographed by one of them, reports said Thursday. The discovery, off the Tongan Islands, has yet to be confirmed by the nation's government, but a spokesman for the Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network said, "We're trying to learn about its origins." The photos are posted at: stone-sea-and-volcano.html.

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