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A key barrier to easing tensions along the dividing line between Kosovo and southern Serbia fell as government forces and ethnic-Albanian rebels agreed to demilitarize a divided village. The move followed a decision earlier this week by NATO to allow Serb forces to reenter the last sector of its buffer zone as of next Thursday. The guerrillas have used the zone as a haven from which to attack Serb targets. But although large numbers of guerrillas have been turning themselves over to NATO peacekeepers, a joint US-Russian patrol came under fire Thursday just outside the zone.

The deadline passed for Albanian insurgents in Macedonia to surrender their weapons, but a threatened assault by government troops had not begun as the Monitor went to press. President Boris Trajkovski said his forces would continue to exercise restraint unless there were "provocations." Meanwhile, NATO pledged "military assistance" to the government side.

"About 200" farm laborers seized by armed right-wing vigilantes in Colombia Tuesday were released unharmed. A statement believed to be from the kidnappers said the seizure was a response to attempts by communist rebels to infiltrate the region. The mass kidnapping was one of the largest in the nation's troubled history.

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A significant easing of UN economic sanctions against Iraq was proposed in the Security Council by Britain. It would allow all goods to enter Iraq except those on a list of military-related items and would permit the resumption of commercial flights into and out of Baghdad, provided they were inspected first. Although the plan is assumed to have US backing, it was rejected by the Iraqi government and drew a cool reception from Russia, a permanent member of the Council.

No special security precautions were in place in Fiji for tomorrow's first anniversary of the coup that plunged the Pacific island nation into political chaos for months. And analysts were questioning whether the seizure of parliament by failed businessman George Speight was prompted less by ethnic rivalry between native Fijians and more prosperous Indian immigrants than by a raw grab for power. Speight awaits trial for treason. But if found innocent, he is a presumed candidate for a seat in parliament in elections that must be held by August.

Only one-third of the 320,000 Chinese who have gone abroad to further their education over the last 20 years have returned after graduation, the government acknowledged. But Science Minister Xu Guanhua insisted "all of them wish to contribute to national economic development." He did not answer a question about whether the government's recent policy of arresting Chinese-American scholars could be discouraging others from returning.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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