The Taliban captors of the 21 remaining South Korean church volunteers held since July 19 in Afghanistan agreed Thursday to hold face-to-face talks with South Korean and Afghan officials if a meeting place is arranged in Taliban-controlled territory. The Taliban, which killed two hostages earlier, wants to negotiate the release of eight of its fighters. South Korea and the US said they will not use force to free the hostages in Afghanistan, but Afghan troops warned of a possible offensive in the area where the captives are held.

Using two minisubmarines, Russia did Thursday what no one had done before, namely reach the sea bed nearly 2-1/2 miles under the North Pole. Besides allowing for study of Arctic plants and animals, the expedition was undertaken to establish Russia's claims to huge gas and oil deposits.

A South Australian state leader said Thursday that the government would accept a court decision to make the first-ever compensation payment to an Aborigine taken from his family as a baby, once a common practice. From 1910 until the 1970s, about 100,000 mostly mixed-blood Aboriginal children were removed from their birth families in an effort to give them brighter futures. Bruce Trevorrow, a member of the so-called "stolen generation," will receive $446,000 for the injustice done him.

The East Japan Railway Co. has begun passenger runs in Saku, Japan, on possibly the world's first in-service diesel-electric hybrid trains. They rely only on diesel power when climbing a hill or when the batteries for two electric motors run low. The train boosts fuel efficiency by 20 percent and reduces emissions by up to 60 percent.

The Israel Defense Forces, perhaps the Jewish state's most admired institution, is "gradually becoming the army of half the people," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. The statement reflects concern by Israeli leaders that army service has lost some of its luster. The latest conscription figures show about 25 percent of eligible male draftees do not serve, more than double than in 1980, as exemptions of various kinds are used to avoid mandatory three-year service.

Heavy monsoon rains have hammered northern India and Bangladesh, causing dozens of rivers to burst their banks and leading to the displacement or stranding of as many as 12 million people, according to government estimates that indicate at least 164 people have been killed.

In an unusually vocal condemnation, Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric called for a ban Thursday on so-called honor killings, calling the custom of murdering a female relative for sexual misconduct a "repulsive act."

The World Food Program will begin delivering 3,000 tons of food to 26,000 refugees in Cameroon by the end of this week and continue the distribution for six months, as result of an agreement reached Wednesday. The refugees, including many children experiencing what aid workers call "alarming" malnutrition, have fled a civil war in neighboring Central African Republic.

Brown clouds of pollution, mostly from burning wood and plant matter used for cooking in India and South Asian countries, are contributing as much to global warming as greenhouse gases, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Nature.

Five Kenyan activists who demonstrated against a proposal by lawmakers to award themselves bonuses of $85,000 each were freed Thursday when a court ruled the protesters had been detained without charge beyond the 24-hour legal limit. The average monthly income for a Kenyan is $47.

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