Briefs, November 20, 2012

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 11:29am

FARC rebels announce truce amid peace talks

HAVANA - Colombia's FARC rebels announced a two-month unilateral ceasefire, the first truce in more than a decade, as peace negotiators met in Cuba in the latest attempt to end the five-decade war. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' government, however, has said it would not cease military operations until a final peace deal was signed with the country's largest rebel group, and even vowed to step up the offensive. The FARC said it would halt all offensive military operations and acts of sabotage against infrastructure from today to January 20. Reuters

Insurgents mass at Congolese city's gates

GOMA - The Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels, who have closed in on the main eastern city of Goma, warned they would continue their fight against the government unless it opened direct talks within 24 hours. The rebels would "pursue the resistance against the government of Kinshasa until it falls" unless it started "direct political negotiations" and demilitarised Goma and its airport. The rebels were massed at the city gates despite efforts by government troops and UN helicopters to stop them. AFP

Violent dolphin deaths worry scientists

GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI – Dolphins are washing ashore along the northern Gulf Coast in the United States with bullet wounds, missing jaws and hacked off fins and federal officials are looking into the mysterious deaths.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said on Monday that they were asking fish and wildlife agents and dolphin monitors in several states to be on the lookout for other troubling cases. A marine mammal biologist for NOAA said two dolphins were found shot in Louisiana last year. This year, three dolphins were found shot – two in Mississippi and one in Louisiana. On Friday, experts from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, said they found a dead dolphin with part of its jaw missing. AP


Colombia wins legal wrangle over islands

THE HAGUE - The International Court of Justice ruled that a group of tiny islands in the western Caribbean belongs to Colombia, rejecting Nicaragua's claim in a long-running territorial dispute between the two Latin American nations. Nicaragua first went to the UN's highest judicial organ in 2001 arguing that Colombia had no legal claim to the islands. The court partially rejected that argument in 2007, saying a 1928 treaty between the two sides established that Colombia owned the English-speaking islands of Providencia, San Andres and Santa Catalina. AP

Supertrawler ban off Australia's south coast

SYDNEY - Australia banned supertrawlers fishing in its southern waters for two years, saying there was uncertainty about the impact of such large vessels on species such as dolphins and seals. Environment chief Tony Burke in September blocked the 9,500 tonne, 143-metre Abel Tasman from operating for 60 days until more scientific research was completed. The Dutch-owned vessel planned to trawl off Tasmania, but Greenpeace expressed concerns over depletion of fish stocks. AFP

Kidnappers 'wanted €35m from Berlusconi'

ROME - Silvio Berlusconi's accountant was taken hostage in his home last month by armed intruders who demanded a €35-million (HK$346 million) ransom from the former Italian prime minister. The police arrested three Italians and three Albanian citizens accused of taking Giuseppe Spinelli and his wife Anna hostage on October 15. Three attackers forced their way into Spinelli's flat, forcing him to call Berlusconi. They left a few hours later. Police said there was no evidence that the ransom had been paid. AFP

Astronauts return after four months in space

MOSCOW - Three astronauts touched down on the snowy steppes of Kazakhstan in a pre-dawn landing aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule after spending over four months aboard the International Space Station. Russia's Yuri Malenchenko, Sunita Williams of the US and Akihiko Hoshide of Japan touched down as scheduled, the Russian Space Flight Control Centre announced. The successful landing came despite fears it could be postponed after workers in the Moscow region accidentally cut through a cable providing communications between Russia's mission control centre and the space station. AFP

Charlie Chaplin bowler, cane fetch US$62,500

LOS ANGELES - Charlie Chaplin's iconic bowler hat and cane, trademarks of his Little Tramp character, were auctioned off for US$62,500 (HK$485,000). Legend has it Chaplin came up with the tramp persona and wardrobe spontaneously one rainy afternoon in February 1914, seizing various wardrobe items in a communal male dressing room at a Hollywood studio. These included baggy trousers from actor Fatty Arbuckle, size 14 shoes which he had to wear on the wrong feet to keep them from falling off, the hat belonging to Arbuckle's father-in-law, and a moustache intended for another actor. The 81cm bamboo cane is inscribed "CCLT 36" in black ink, a reference to the Little Tramp. AFP

Bond actor Daniel Craig visits Afghan base

LONDON - James Bond actor Daniel Craig surprised British troops in Afghanistan by turning up at Camp Bastion in Helmand province to introduce the latest 007 movie Skyfall as 800 soldiers sat down to watch it. According to the Ministry of Defence, the 44-year-old actor was given a tour of the camp and met soldiers to see some of the training they underwent before being deployed to forward operating bases. He also fired some of the machine guns used by British forces in Afghanistan and visited Bastion Role 3 Hospital which specialises in treating trauma patients. "It was really good morale for everyone - it's a decent thing for him to take time to come out and visit everyone here," said Private Scott Craggs. Reuters