News In Brief

By , Judy Nichols and Stephanie Cook

An offer of negotiations on autonomy for Chechnya was extended by acting Russian President Vladimir Putin - but only after his forces defeat the thousands of Islamic rebels still using the breakaway republic as a base. Putin has refused to meet with rebel leaders, but said "there are forces with whom it's possible" to hold talks. Only sporadic new fighting was reported in Chechnya, but neighboring Georgia said their common border had been closed to prevent the combat from expanding onto its soil.

NATO peacekeepers have the situation in Kosovo's most ethnically mixed city under control, its top leader said. But Serbs in Kosovska Mitrovica threatened more unrest if the alliance followed through with a plan to register displaced Albanian residents today so they can be returned to high-rise apartments in one of the tensest neighborhoods. Serb leaders also called the building of a new footbridge by NATO troops "a provocation" because it's aimed at allowing the Albanians to walk freely to and from the apartments.

Approval for an observer force in Congo was expected in the UN Security Council. But its effectiveness was likely to be muted, analysts said, by the insistence of President Laurent Kabila that it be deployed only in areas occupied by rebel forces trying to oust him. The new condition was advanced at a conference of African leaders in Zambia aimed at propping up the failing truce between Kabila's forces and the rebels. Observers at the meeting described it as marred by "long shouting matches."

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Residents who'd fled sectarian fighting in northern Nigeria trickled back to their homes, but the atmosphere was tense, and armed police and soldiers patrolled the streets. Security is expected to be especially tight today as Muslims attend weekly prayer services, a potential flash point for religious violence. Hospital officials reported more than 300 deaths from the Muslim-Christian strife in Kaduna and said their facilities had treated 400 others for various wounds. The violence was triggered by Christian resentment over the proposed introduction of rigid Islamic law.

More than 20,000 villagers living as far as five miles away were ordered out of a zone in the eastern Philippines where one of the Pacific Rim's most active volcanoes erupted. The 8,120-foot Mayon had shown signs of instability since last June. But experts said its destructive potential did not match that of Mt. Pinatubo in the northern Philippines, whose 1991 eruptions killed almost 900 people and displaced 500,000 others.

Urgent appeals for international aid were issued in impoverished Mozambique. As many as 800,000 people were homeless or in need of food after a cyclone worsened conditions caused by two weeks of severe flooding. At least 87 were reported dead. Weather forecasters said another cyclone appeared headed for the region.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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