News In Brief

Suspicion fell on two Pakistan-supported groups of militants for the massacre of 40 men in the disputed state of Kashmir. The victims all were Sikhs, a religious minority that mostly has remained neutral in the squabble with India over Kashmir and that has been spared as a target of violence until now. Indian Army officials had warned that they expected an incident by separatist militants to draw attention to the Kashmir dispute during President Clinton's visit to South Asia. Clinton deplored the killings and said he'd discuss terrorism with his hosts when he visits Pakistan Saturday. (Story, page 7.)

Familiar scenes of jubilation by Palestinians were played out across the West Bank as Israeli troops vacated another 6.1 percent of the region. The move, two months behind schedule, now gives the Palestinian Authority control over roughly 40 percent of the West Bank and fulfills a key obligation of the peace accords between the two sides. But the transfer didn't include the eastern suburbs of Jerusalem, as demanded by the Palestinians. In a compromise, the latter were given nearby villages, with terms of a third and final Israeli transfer still to be negotiated.

Setting another new condition on reconciliation with Taiwan, China's premier said his government would "never" talk with anyone or any political party that advocates independence. Zhu Rongji's remarks were a reference to President-elect Chen Shui-bian, whose Democratic Progressive Party favors allowing voters to decide whether to declare independence. Chen, however, has said he'd call a referendum on the issue only if China attacked the island. (Related story, page 2.)

A southern Chechnya town that Russian forces all but destroyed in order to drive out Islamic rebels is once again "safe," military spokesmen said. They said some rebels were still surrendering in Komsomolskoye, one day after the Russian flag was hoisted over the town. At least 50 Russians died in two weeks of fighting to retake Komsomolskoye after the rebels slipped through defensive lines and seized it from the invaders. The experience pointed up the difficulty the Russians will have in holding on to their gains in the restive region, analysts said.

A multibillion-dollar plan to rebuild the region devastated by flooding and landslides along Venezuela's northern coast Dec. 15 was announced by President Hugo Chvez. Much of the funding, he said, would have to come from the private sector because his government cannot pay the full cost. The proposal calls for thousands of new dwellings as well as huge canals to channel future floodwaters away from inhabited areas. Estimates put the number of Venezuelans killed in the disaster at between 5,000 and 30,000, with property damage running as high as $30 billion.

A new coup attempt in the restive Comoros islands was put down by the Army, reports said. If successful, it would have toppled President Azaly Assou-mani, currently on an Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Assoumani himself seized power last April. Authorities said the apparent leaders of the coup were two sons of the islands' first leader, Ahmed Abdallah. The archipelago 190 miles east of Africa in the Indian Ocean had been disrupted by 18 previous coups since its independence from France in 1975.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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