News In Brief

By , Lance Carden and Ross Atkin

The last highway route out of Chechnya was blocked by Rus- sian forces, leaving the fate of would-be refugees in doubt. Security officials were quoted as saying the move was made because the road was being used to smuggle fuel to neighboring Ingushetia, where it was sold to help finance the Muslim guerrillas Russia is pursuing. Up to 3,000 civilians a day had used the highway to flee the fighting. Chechnya's Health Ministry claimed Russian shelling and air attacks killed or wounded 543 people over the weekend.

There were tears all around as separatist leader "Xanana" Gusmo met with his fighters on East Timorese soil for the first time since his return from an Indonesian prison. At their mountainside camp, under a broiling sun, he told hundreds of armed followers: "Our war is not finished .... We must wage [it] not with guns but by caring for our land and looking after our people." Gusmo arrived in Dili, the capital, from a temporary base in Australia Friday, calling for unity and reconciliation between pro- and anti-independence elements.

This time will be different, residents of a southern Colombia town said as government and leftist rebel negotiators prepared to open a new round of peace talks. The opening ceremonies were to coincide with nationwide marches demanding quick progress. But a new Gallup poll found 77 percent of Colombians unconvinced that the rebels are sincerely interested in peace. The rebels abruptly broke off an earlier round of talks in May, and the two sides have squabbled since over ground rules.

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Seeking to end a murder case that had become a diplomatic hot potato, an Israeli court sentenced Maryland teenager Samuel Sheinbein to 24 years in prison for the 1997 incident. He also was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment. But the sentence counts time already served, and Sheinbein will be eligible for two furloughs a month within six years and parole within 14. He fled to Israel following discovery of the remains of the victim, Alfred Tello Jr. He was granted refuge in Israel because his father was born there, angering Maryland and US authorities, as well as members of Congress. Some of the latter threatened to cut US aid to Israel over the issue.

With their client now in a French prison hospital, lawyers for convicted Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon said they planned to seek a pardon from President Jacques Chirac. Papon was expelled by Switzerland Friday after fleeing France to avoid a 10-year sentence for deporting Jews to German death camps. An attorney said the pardon would be sought on medical grounds. Chirac, who was among the first to thank Swiss authorities for expelling Papon, has not said how he'd act on such a request.

To relieve pressure on a dam filled beyond capacity, authorities in Mexico opened its gates - even as they admitted that doing so would further aggravate flooding downriver. The move was expected to raise water levels in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco state, by almost two feet. Parts of the city already are under 6-1/2 feet of water, and almost one-third of its 465,000 residents have been evacuated. Forecasts were calling for only light rain through the early part of this week.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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