News In Brief

In a last-ditch effort to salvage the Good Friday peace accords, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish Republic counterpart, Bertie Ahern, opened a three-day conference in Belfast with Northern Ireland's Protestant and Catholic leaders. Following months of unsuccessful efforts to convince the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party to allow Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army, to join a coalition government, Blair set tomorrow as the "absolute" deadline for resolution. He is pushing for a gradual IRA disarmament by May 2000, but Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has thus far refused to sign on. Analysts say the urgent negotiations are fraught with the danger of possible violence, since the Protestant Orange Order begins its annual marching season Sunday.

A massive UN effort to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Kosovo refugees officially began as buses carried about 380 ethnic Albanians from Macedonia to Pristina, the capital. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estiamtes that more than 415,000 refugees - mostly ethnic Albanians - have already returned home on their own in the past two weeks. Organized repatriation is beginning with Kosovo's larger cities, which international peacekeepers have declared secure. About 400,000 Kosovars remain outside the country, mostly in Albania and Macedonia.

The first group of Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers surrendered their weapons to international peacekeepers. Complying with the terms of a June 21 agreement, KLA rebels may only bear arms in designated areas, and arsenals must be supervised by NATO-led forces.

In a surprise move - and after earlier indications to the contrary - Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak rejected the hard-line Likud group of his predecessor as a coalition partner. Negotiations with Likud representatives reportedly broke down yesterday amid "mutual recriminations" and the latter walked out after Barak refused to compromise on peace issues. Since his May 17 defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak has pledged to resume peace talks with Israel's neighbors, in contrast to Netanyahu's cold-shoulder approach.

Tensions in disputed Kashmir escalated again as India reportedly violated Pakistan's airspace. The Islamabad government said an Indian MiG-27 and MiG-21 were shot down on the Pakistani side of the border. This follows reports that Pakistan's prime minister recently sent an envoy to India to quell tensions. In their most serious standoff over Kashmir in 30 years, the nuclear rivals have continuously exchanged artillery fire since May 26.

Sweden announced it will compensate victims of a mass-sterilization campaign, targeted at those deemed "inferior" or of "poor or mixed racial quality." The move follows the uncovering of evidence two years ago by an investigative reporter that almost 63,000 people - primarily females - were subjected to Nazi-style forced sterilization between 1936 and 1976 because of their social or racial status. The revelation came as a blow to Swedes, who consider their nation to be egalitarian. Compensation has been set at $20,780 each and may be claimed starting Thursday.

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