U.N. copter plea gets no offers yet

BRUSSELS, Belgium - European nations look unlikely to meet an urgent U.N. call to provide military helicopters for a peacekeeping force planned for Darfur, saying their armies are already stretched by missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo and other hot spots.

Despite the verbal support, no one has offered any of the 24 helicopters sought by U.N. officials. The joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force of 26,000 soldiers is scheduled to take over from a smaller AU force in three weeks.

"There's something like 12,000 military helicopters in Europe, so it's bizarre that not one has been found available so far to commit to this force," said Thomas Cargill, Africa program manager at Chatham House, an international affairs think tank in London.

- AP

Mission to retake S. Afghan town

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan and foreign troops launched an operation to retake a southern Afghan town controlled by the Taliban, officials said.

Ground forces have surrounded the area, and airstrikes are targeting militants inside Musa Qala, the town in the southern province of Helmand, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.

Taliban militants overran Musa Qala in February, four months after British troops left the town following a contentious peace agreement that gave security responsibilities to Afghan elders. Musa Qala has been under the control of Taliban fighters ever since.

- AP

Nuclear envoy: N. Korea on task

TOKYO - The top U.S. nuclear envoy for North Korea said that disablement of the communist nation's atomic program was on schedule and that the removal of reactor fuel from its key facility would soon be under way.

Christopher Hill, who delivered a personal letter from President Bush to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a visit this week in Pyongyang, also urged the North to provide a "complete and correct" disclosure of its nuclear programs.

"As important as the declaration is, it's also important to understand that actual work is on the ground in Yongbyon and is proceeding very much on schedule," Hill said during a stop in Japan following a three-day visit to inspect the main nuclear facility in Yongbyon.

- AP

Elsewhere:

A trumpet player was found dead in southern Mexico with his hands and feet bound and a plastic bag over his head, in what authorities said was apparently the country's third murder of a musician in less than a week.

Japan will develop

its own stealth fighter jets to compete against the rapidly advancing Chinese air force and other threats to its air defenses, officials said.

A judge in Aruba

yesterday ordered the release of the last of three suspects rearrested last month in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, ruling the evidence was not strong enough to continue holding him.