Today's Story Line

Most of us are now familiar with the on-going war in Chechnya - a republic within Russia that wanted to secede when the USSR disintegrated in 1991 but was denied. A republic that did go on its own - Armenia - has struggled along mainly in obscurity since. But Wednesday's tragic shooting of the Armenian prime minister and seven others has focused world attention on the unrest there. An underlying factor for all the conflict in the region - and one the US is interested in - is oil

There's a much less volatile, but still serious, war of words between France and England - over beef - Faye Bowers, Deputy world editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB *A BIKE TO BAUCAU: The Monitor's Cameron Barr contracted with two motorcycle taxi drivers to take him and a translator to Baucau. The driver warned Cameron about his tire - that it would cost 50,000 rupiah ($7) to fix if it blew on the trip. But Cameron thought that was a bargaining ploy. They reached a price (370,000 rupiah - $53) for both bikes, round-trip. Off they went on a grueling, 70-mile trip that was to take two hours but took four. The bike Cameron was on had a fuel leak, "and gears slipped a lot going uphill, and there are lots of hills between Dili and Baucau," he says. Interviews completed, they were about to return when the driver (in front of the bishop's house) invoked God's help with the tire. "A half hour into the return trip, the tire exploded. No danger, but the situation seemed dire - no repair shops in sight" - only rice fields and palm trees. The driver grabbed the other bike to find a pump, with which he returned. Work, work, pump, pump, and the inner tube was replaced and the wheel back on the bike. "Note that the tire hadn't been changed, and I surmised the same thing may happen down the road," Cameron says. Just then a minibus approached, one of the very few, bound for Dili. "Of course I opted to switch to the bus (not the least because the bikes are not comfy)," he says. The driver apologized for the delay, kindly offered to pay the minibus fares (about $7). Cameron declined. The minibus - filled with produce and live chickens - arrived in Dili on time.

*A FLOOD'S A FLOOD: When Mexico City correspondent Howard LaFranchi was looking over flood damage, he told a state official that what he was seeing reminded him of the devastation left in hurricane Mitch's wake last year. The official, seeming anxious to remind Howard that damage from uncontrolled development in high-risk areas is not a uniquely third-world problem, quipped, "Yes, and I think they're facing some of the same issues in North Carolina."

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