The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has cleared the way for the Agency for International Development (AID) to distribute $10 million in family-planning funds to foreign governments and private U.S. groups that were awarded the money after it was withdrawn from a United Nations fund.

AID Administrator M. Peter McPherson withdrew the money in late September from the U.N. Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) because it assists birth-control programs in China that he said involve coerced abortions.

The money has been frozen since then, however, because of a lawsuit.

In mid-November, a three-judge appeals court panel barred the AID indefinitely from disbursing the funds. It said McPherson had not presented a properly "reasoned determination" in applying a congressional amendment, passed last summer, that no U.S. money may go to "any organization or program . . . which supports . . . coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

On Nov. 25, McPherson issued a 12-page statement explaining his reasons for withholding the $10 million.

In a brief order, released late Thursday, the court said McPherson's statement had "addressed the concerns" in its earlier ruling.

An AID spokesman said yesterday that programs to which the funds had been shifted "will get going immediately" but that the money would be disbursed as needed over the next 10 months.

The money has been earmarked, he said, for voluntary family-planning programs run by Ecuador, Jamaica, Kenya, Nepal and Tunisia and to similar programs run abroad by five private U.S. groups.

Werner Fornos, president of the Population Institute, a Washington-based group that brought the suit, expressed disappointment in the ruling. He said his group would probably continue to seek a full trial on the merits of the case, which is scheduled for oral argument next month.