World briefs – October 14

U.S. and NATO forces are helping top Taliban leaders sit down for talks with the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan as a step toward political reconciliation with the insurgency, a senior NATO official said Wednesday.

NATO helping Taliban in talks with Afghan government

BRUSSELS, Belgium — U.S. and NATO forces are helping top Taliban leaders sit down for talks with the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan as a step toward political reconciliation with the insurgency, a senior NATO official said Wednesday.

Some talks between the elected government and the insurgents have taken place in Kabul, the official said, where Taliban leaders would not dare to travel without NATO approval.

The account was the most detailed yet of the U.S. and NATO role in clandestine talks that officials have said has been happening for several weeks.

The official on Wednesday spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to describe the subject publicly.

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has acknowledged some high-level contact with the Taliban, a homegrown Islamist insurgency seeking to displace Karzai’s secular government.

The extent of the discussions has not been clear. The NATO official described recent face-to-face contacts but did not gives names dates or precise locations for the meetings.

The U.S and the NATO alliance are not mediating the talks, only allowing for safe passage of Taliban officials, U.S. officials said.


Head of firm linked to sludge freed

VESZPREM, Hungary — The lawyer defending the head of the company linked to Hungary’s devastating red sludge spill says a judge has ruled against charging him and he’s been released from custody.

Janos Banati says a judge of Veszprem City Court ruled in Zoltan Bakonyi’s favour after finding that prosecutors couldn’t substantiate charges.

Some 700,000 cubic meters (184 million gallons) of caustic sludge and water burst from a storage pool of the metals plant run by Bakonyi Oct. 4, inundating three west Hungarian villages and spilling into the Danube.


Ban on gays serving ‘will have consequences’

WASHINGTON — Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that abruptly ending the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays as a federal judge has ordered would have enormous consequences.

The policy forbids the military from asking about a service member’s sexual orientation but retains a ban on gays disclosing their status.

A day after a judge in California ordered the Pentagon to cease enforcement of its policy barring gays from openly serving in the military, Gates told reporters travelling with him to Brussels that the question of whether to repeal the law should be decided by Congress, and done only after the Pentagon completes its study of the issue.


Humpback makes longest migration

LONDON — It wasn’t love. It could have been adventure. Or maybe she just got lost.

It remains a mystery why a female humpback whale swam thousands of miles from the reefs of Brazil to the African island of Madagascar, which researchers believe is the longest single trip ever undertaken by a mammal — humans excluded.

While humpbacks normally migrate along a north-to-south axis to feed and mate, this one — affectionately called AHWC No. 1363 — made the unusual decision to check out a new continent thousands of miles to the east.

Marine ecologist Peter Stevick says it probably wasn’t love that motivated her — whales meet their partners at breeding sites, so it’s unlikely that this one was following a potential mate.

“It may be that this is an extreme example of exploration,” he said. “Or it could be that the animal got very lost.”

Stevick laid out the details of the whale’s trip on Wednesday in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, calculating that, at a minimum, the whale must have travelled about 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometres) to get from Brazil to Madagascar, off the coast of east Africa.

“No other mammal has been seen to move between two places that are further apart,” said Stevick, who works at the Maine-based College of the Atlantic.