News In Brief

Amid growing international criticism, Russian military officials denied ordering residents of Chechnya's capital to flee by Saturday or die in a heavy new assault. But they did not change their deadline, and a commander acknowledged that his troops shoot at some cars leaving Grozny - assuming that they carry Islamic militants. Meanwhile, Grozny and its suburbs again came under aircraft and artillery fire, which Russian commanders said was directed only at rebels. But it was unclear how the attackers could distinguish between them and civilians. Above, an armored convoy prepares to move closer to Grozny from the southwest.

A long-delayed vote on whether to ratify the START II treaty was scheduled for Monday in the lower house of Russia's parliament. But with Communist and nationalist members opposed, its prospects were not favorable even though the Kremlin is financially unable to maintain its huge nuclear-weapons arsenal. Under terms of START II, Russia and the US would have to trim their stockpiles of warheads to no more than 3,500 over the next seven years. The pact was ratified by the US Senate in 1996.

The largest Protestant paramilitary group in Northern Ireland will appoint delegates to meet with the province's disarmament commission. But the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), also known as the Ulster Defense Association, said it would consider yielding its weapons only after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) begins decommissioning. The UFF is believed to have more than 2,000 members. The disarmament panel is preparing a report on its first meetings with the IRA and with the Ulster Volunteer Force, another Protestant paramilitary group.

No attempt by separatist elements in Aceh province to break away from Indonesia will be tolerated, new President Abdurrahman Wahid warned. He told parliament Aceh's future would have to be decided in the referendum on increased autonomy he has offered, although such a vote must first be OK'd by lawmakers. Wahid did not include Aceh in announcing plans to visit the Moluccas and Irian Jaya, where sectarian strife and/or separatism movements also have caused problems for his government.

A defense motion that conspiracy charges be dropped against two Libyans accused of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland was rejected by the judge who will preside over their trial. The judge also rejected an argument by lawyers for Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah that their alleged membership in Libya's intelligence agency was irrelevant to the case. But he reluctantly agreed to a request by the lawyers for more time to prepare their defense and delayed the start of the trial from Feb. 2 to May 3.

In a tradeoff aimed at easing tensions in the renewed Congo civil war, forces backing anti-government rebels agreed to allow hundreds of surrounded troops from Zimbabwe to be supplied with food. The Zimbabweans have been under siege for a week at an airfield in northwestern Congo, where they were sent to help embattled President Laurent Kabila. In return, Kabila's allies agreed to give back to the rebels a key town captured in the effort to rescue the Zimbabweans. The fighting in the region has been the heaviest since Kabila and the rebels signed a peace treaty in August.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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