Among other items: Pope delivers his Christmas message; government, rebels to sign peace accord in Sudan; and a wanted Kashmiri is nabbed after 15 years in India.

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Cuban President Fidel Castro said an offshore crude-oil deposit has been discovered containing up to 100 million barrels, good news for a country that imports about half the petroleum it needs.

“This is the first discovery since 1999,” Castro said Friday in a speech to a closed session of the National Assembly. His comments were aired yesterday on state television.

Castro said the deposit was located off the coast of Santa Cruz del Norte, east of Havana, during an exploratory drilling. He said production at the site could begin in 2006.

Cuba currently produces 75,000 barrels daily, about half of what it needs. It imports most of the rest, much of it on favorable terms from political ally Venezuela.

Oil specialists believe Cuba’s waters in the Gulf of Mexico could contain large quantities of crude, just as those of Mexico and the United States do. Earlier explorations turned up only modest discoveries.

Vatican City

Pope delivers his Christmas message

Pope John Paul II offered Christmas wishes in 62 languages yesterday for a world where he said timid but hopeful efforts at peace co-exist with worries over Iraq, the Holy Land and several tragic conflicts in Africa.

Challenging his frail health, the 84-year-old pontiff turned out in the chilly, steady drizzle of Rome to keep his traditional appointment of reading holiday greetings to a crowd of thousands of Romans and tourists in St. Peter’s Square.

John Paul took deep breaths before each new language and seemed pleased with himself that he made it to the end. Languages ranged from the European ones, including Slavic tongues, which the Polish pontiff knows well, to the languages of Africa and Asia.

Khartoum, Sudan

Government, rebels to sign peace accord

The Sudanese government and the country’s main southern rebel group will sign a peace agreement Jan. 10 in Kenya in hopes of ending more than 20 years of civil war, a senior government official said yesterday.

The government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army had pledged to finalize an agreement to end the longest-running war in Africa by Dec. 31.

The north-south war has pitted Sudan’s Islamic-dominated government against rebels seeking greater autonomy and a greater share of the country’s wealth for the Christian and animist south. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from war-induced famine and disease.

U.N. and U.S. officials are hoping that a solution to the civil war — which will include a new constitution and power-sharing government for Sudan — will spur an end to the separate conflict between government-backed forces and rebels in the western Darfur region.

Srinagar, India

Wanted Kashmiri nabbed after 15 years

A Kashmiri guerrilla leader wanted for more than 15 years was captured yesterday by Indian paramilitary soldiers and police in a raid on a militant hideout, an officer said.

Mohammed Shafi Dar is the chief commander of the Pakistan-based Tehreek-ul Mujahedeen militant group, one of the smaller rebel organizations waging a separatist war against Indian security forces.

It is extremely rare for a rebel commander to be caught alive in India’s portion of Kashmir. Most die in gunbattles or operate from the Pakistan-controlled area of Kashmir while issuing orders to their field commanders.

More than a dozen separatist groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. More than 66,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Korolyov, Russia

Cargo ship delivers food to space station

An unmanned cargo ship docked early today at the international space station, arriving with badly needed food for a two-man U.S.-Russian crew that has been forced to ration dwindling supplies.

The ship — also carrying Christmas presents from families and friends — lifted off Friday from the remote Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with about 2½ tons of water, fuel and research equipment for Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao.

Food stocks have shrunk dramatically since the two took over at the station more than two months ago, causing alarmed Russian and American space officials to order them to cut back on meals.

An international team was looking into how the station’s food inventory ended up being tracked so poorly.

Jakarta, Indonesia

Earthquake rocks northern province

A powerful earthquake rocked Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh today, damaging homes and causing residents to abandon their homes for the safety of the streets, officials said.

Residents in the Aceh provincial capital Banda Aceh said flash floods had hit parts of the city before receding, leaving at least nine people dead.

There were conflicting reports on the size of the temblor, which struck about 8 a.m. and was centered about 100 miles off the west coast of Sumatra. Indonesian seismologists said the quake had a magnitude of 6.4, but the U.S. Geological Survey’s Web site recorded a magnitude of 8.1, considerably larger and capable of massive damage.

Paramaribo, Suriname

Former dictator faces trial in 1982 killings

Former dictator Desi Bouterse and 25 other suspects will face trial for one of this former Dutch colony’s most notorious crimes, the 1982 killings of 15 government critics, a lawyer said yesterday.

Prosecutors notified Bouterse and the others of the decision last week, said Irwin Kanhai, a lawyer who represents five of the defendants, including the former dictator. Bouterse and the others could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The decision comes after a four-year investigation into Dec. 8, 1982, killings. The victims — journalists, politicians, lawyers and union officials — were allegedly taken by soldiers to Paramaribo’s Fort Zeelandia and shot one by one. At the time, the military said the activists were killed while fleeing from prison.

Bouterse, now an elected parliamentarian in this South American nation of 450,000 people, seized power in a 1980 coup. His regime stepped down in 1987 to make way for elections but briefly seized control again through a bloodless coup in 1991.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Soldiers, police take over key cities

Thousands of soldiers and police took over Honduras’ main cities yesterday in a show of force to prevent new attacks by youth gangs after gunmen murdered 28 people on a bus Thursday night.

Armored vehicles mounted with machine guns patrolled city streets as troops and police searched for gang members involved in the bus attack. Some arrests were made.

Col. Rafael Moreno said 1,500 soldiers and police were deployed in San Pedro Sula, about 1,300 in the capital Tegucigalpa and hundreds more in smaller cities across the country.