News In Brief

Mixed signals were sent by the Irish Republican Army that it would cooperate in ending sectarian strife in Northern Ireland. The IRA said it would "appoint a representative to enter into discussions" with the province's disarmament commission, a new concession demanded by Protestant leaders before they'll sit with Catholics in a self-rule government. But it also said talks with the commission couldn't take place until the joint government is formed. Analysts said the caveat - and the IRA's continuing failure to commit to surrendering its weapons - would be greeted with suspicion by Protestants.

The possibility that the president of Chechnya would turn up at the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was in the wind as leaders gathered for the two-day meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. Under such a scenario, Aslan Maskhadov would plead his case for an end to the Russian invasion of the breakaway region. Russian President Boris Yeltsin already was in Istanbul for the meeting but has ruled out talks with Maskhadov.

Reports that a referendum on independence will be offered to the people of Aceh "are not true," the governor of the restive Indonesian province said. He said new President Abdurrahman Wahid told him Acehnese would be permitted a choice only between the status quo - direct rule by the Jakarta government - and limited autonomy. Wahid was quoted Tuesday as saying an East Timor- type referendum would be offered Aceh next June. But such a move is strenuously opposed by the military and parliament.

Adamant denials that a suicidal crew member might have caused the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990 were circulated by the Cairo government's official news agency. Use of the Islamic religious phrase heard on the jet's cockpit voice recorder "is normal when a plane experiences an emergency," the dispatch carried by Cairo news outlets said. The government also sent a delegation of security, intelligence, and technical experts, led by its top aviation official, to the US, where it "will ask for hard evidence, not mere utterance of words," an Egypt Air source said.

The arrests of hundreds of Pakistan's wealthiest people were begun by the new military government following the expiration of a deadline for repaying billions of dollars in outstanding bank loans. The junta also proclaimed a tough new law - retroactive to 1985 - that allows the prosecution of persons charged with corruption. Punishment can include 14 years in prison, fines, and disqualification from elective office for 21 years.

Negotiations to set up a multibillion-dollar fund that would compensate Nazi-era slave laborers ended in Germany without agreement. Reports said the government would up its contribution from $3.2 billion to $5.3 billion. But lawyers for more than 1.5 million surviving forced laborers must cut their demands further, a spokesman for companies contributing to the fund said. Those demands, originally upwards of $12 billion, are believed to be about half that now.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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