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Carter, in visit, aims to improve U.S. ties

HAVANA (AP) -- Former President Jimmy Carter arrived here Monday on a mission of personal diplomacy to discuss economic policies and ways to improve Washington-Havana relations, which are even more tense than usual over the imprisonment of a U.S. contractor on the island.

Carter met with Jewish leaders -- suggesting that his visit will deal at least partly with the case of Alan Gross, who was arrested in December 2009 while working for Development Alternatives of Bethesda, Md., on a democracy-building project backed by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Gross has said he was trying to improve Internet access for Cuba's small Jewish community. Jewish leaders here, however, have denied working with him. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison earlier this month for crimes against the state for bringing illegal telecommunications equipment into the country.

Carter is expected to meet with President Raul Castro, other government officials and Catholic Cardinal Jaime L. Ortega before leaving Wednesday.

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Bombing fatal to 24 admitted by Taliban

KABUL -- The Taliban on Monday claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in eastern Paktika province Sunday night that killed at least 24 people. The attack appeared motivated to show the insurgent group's strength as springtime brings the likelihood of more intensive fighting.

The Taliban took responsibility a day earlier for kidnapping 50 men in Kunar province, also in the east.

NATO commanders said they think the Taliban will step up high-profile attacks this spring to show that an aggressive drive by foreign troops over the winter to clear insurgent strongholds didn't weaken them.

Three suicide bombers slammed a truck packed with explosives into a building that housed a construction company in the Barmal district of Paktika province, said Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the governor. At least 59 people were wounded, the spokesman said.

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11 soldiers killed in ambush of convoy

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- Islamist militants ambushed a convoy of Pakistani soldiers traveling close to the Afghan border Monday, killing 11 of them in an unusually bloody attack, a government official said.

Khyber government official Iqbal Khan said the convoy was returning from a mission in three vehicles when it was attacked not far from the main northwestern city of Peshawar. He said that several of the attackers were killed.

Pakistan's tribal regions close to the Afghan border are home to al-Qaida and Taliban militants seeking to overthrow the U.S.-allied secular government and establish a hard-line Islamic state.

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