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Rebels allow polio vaccinations to begin in Sudan's Darfur region

Rebels opened sections of Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region on Monday to allow health workers to vaccinate children younger than 5 years old against polio, the paralyzing illness that re-emerged in Africa's largest country last year in the midst of civil war.

The United Nations children fund, UNICEF; the World Health Organization; and the Sudanese Health Ministry began a three-day campaign that aims to inoculate 6-million children against the virus throughout Sudan.

Joanna van Gerpen, UNICEF's representative in Sudan, said 112 people have so far tested positive for the virus in 17 of the country's 26 states. Most cases were reported in the capital, Khartoum, the Red Sea state and the three states in Darfur, the western region where government troops and Arab militias are fighting two main rebel groups.

"While the number does not seem very large, the concern is that the virus has re-emerged," van Gerpen said in a telephone interview after launching the national program in the capital of the Red Sea state, Port Sudan.

The Sudan Liberation Army, one of the two rebel groups, opened areas it controls in North Darfur state to health teams, including workers from UNICEF.

U.N. MAY SEND PEACEKEEPERS: The U.N. Security Council said Monday that it would speedily consider sending peacekeepers to Sudan to support a new peace deal and urged the new government of national unity to work actively to end the conflict in western Darfur.

If implemented, the peace deal signed Sunday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, would end 40 years of civil war that has caused 2-million deaths, mainly from war-induced famine and disease, uprooted 4-million people, and forced 600,000 to flee the country altogether.

Cuba-Europe ties resume fully

HAVANA _ Cuba said Monday that it was resuming formal ties with all of Europe, ending a deep freeze in relations following a 2003 crackdown on dissidents and the firing-squad executions of three men who tried to hijack a ferry.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told journalists that official contacts had resumed with the ambassadors of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and the Netherlands, as well as with the European Union mission.

Last week, Cuba re-established contacts with eight other European nations: France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Portugal and Sweden. Cuba earlier had resumed formal contact with Spain, Belgium and Hungary.

Although diplomatic ties with the European countries were never severed, high-level contacts between Cuba and many EU members were limited for more than 1{ years. Relations between Cuba and Europe chilled after Cuba cracked down on the island's opposition in March 2003, rounding up and sentencing 75 dissidents to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department expressed hope Monday that European nations would continue to support the Cuban opposition despite the resumption of official contact with Fidel Castro's government.

Senators meet with Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela _ Three U.S. senators met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday and said they came away optimistic the two governments can mend relations despite past tensions.

Chavez met for two hours with U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd, Lincoln Chafee and Bill Nelson, who said they saw their visit as a first step toward better ties.

"We've had a very sour relationship in the past. Every indication is that there will be better times ahead," said Nelson, a Florida Democrat. "Let's see if the words translate into action."

The senators said they discussed trade with Chavez as well as efforts against drug trafficking and terrorism. The United States is the No. 1 buyer of Venezuelan oil.

Vietnam accused of torture

HANOI, Vietnam _ Human Rights Watch on Monday accused Vietnam of mass arrests and torture of ethnic minorities in the central part of the country and urged Cambodia to open its border and allow asylum-seeking tribal members to cross.

In a report released Monday, the New York organization said police had detained dozens of Montagnards before Christmas. "The Vietnamese government's mistreatment of Montagnards continues unabated," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division.