ASIA

India Agrees to Talks With Pakistan

NEW DELHI -- India agreed yesterday to hold talks with Pakistan in hopes of diffusing the current conflict in Kashmir, the worst crisis between the two new nuclear powers in nearly three decades.

The progress on talks came even as Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the situation in Kashmir is akin to war and India continued an air and ground offensive to flush out what it says are militants backed by Pakistan.

Indian jets strafed hillside positions in the Indian-controlled part of the disputed Himalayan territory and New Delhi moved in more ground troops. Army officials reported hand-to-hand combat and said the campaign would be lengthy.

Indonesia Questions Suharto's Daughter

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Sliding in the polls a week before elections, Indonesia's ruling party tried to prove that it is serious about fighting corruption, questioning former president Suharto's daughter about allegations that her family illegally amassed a fortune.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people rallied in the capital waving the bright green banners of the United Development Party, a Muslim-oriented party. Marchers ripped up and stomped on the yellow flags of the ruling Golkar party.

THE AMERICAS

Troops Comb Andes for Church Hostages

CALI, Colombia -- Troops combed Colombia's Andes Mountains, searching for Marxist rebels holding about 60 of more than 140 people kidnapped in broad daylight from a church Sunday here in Colombia's second-largest city.

"This was a demented act, a terrorist act that has to be condemned by the entire country," army Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel told reporters.

"We think around 60 people are still in the hands of these bandits," he said, adding that troops deployed in the huge search-and-rescue mission were backed by helicopter gunships and spotter planes.

U.S. Boats Compete in Havana Regatta

HAVANA -- This sea-front capital was awash with scores of U.S. boats completing a controversial race from Tampa Bay to Cuba that crossed the short waters but huge political gulf between the estranged nations.

About 250 U.S. craft, with an estimated 1,500 sailors, took part in the largest Havana Cup regatta in the seven-decade history of the race between Tampa and Cuba's capital.

All the yachts had received U.S. Coast Guard permission to enter Cuban waters, but most crews said they did not have a Treasury Department license to spend money on the island as technically required under Washington's economic embargo. Rather, they were relying on a clause allowing "fully hosted" visits to Cuba.

Socialist Is Front-Runner in Chilean Race

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile's year-end presidential election turned into a straight right-left race after a landslide victory for Socialist Ricardo Lagos in Sunday's primary vote for a sole ruling coalition candidate.

Lagos, backed by the Socialist Party and the Party for Democracy, humiliated his centrist opponent, Andres Zaldivar, in the runoff for the Concertacion coalition ticket, winning more than 70 percent support. The victory left Lagos as odds-on favorite to slip on the presidential sash after the Dec. 12 executive vote.

AFRICA

Obasanjo Suspends Predecessor's Contracts

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, in one of his first policy moves, ordered the immediate suspension of all contracts awarded by his predecessor since Jan. 1.

"A panel is to be established to review the affected contracts, licenses, awards, approvals and appointments to determine their propriety and relevance," presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe said in a statement.

Affected under the criteria contained in the suspension order are 11 lucrative deep offshore oil concessions awarded by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who stepped aside Saturday, to companies linked to powerful military interests.

In a related development, the European Union announced it was lifting remaining economic sanctions against Nigeria now that a civilian government has been inaugurated.

50 Killed in Nigeria as Tribal Violence Flares

LAGOS, Nigeria -- More than 200 armed youths in speedboats attacked a coastal village in Nigeria, killing 50 people and injuring 87 in an ongoing tribal conflict, news reports said.

A witness, quoted in Nigeria's Punch newspaper, said Ijaw tribe fighters beheaded three elderly Itsekiri people who were unable to flee the village of Arunton, 300 miles southeast of Lagos.

The witness said helicopters owned by the Shell and Chevron oil companies airlifted many of the wounded and survivors to a private hospital in Warri and were trying to evacuate other survivors.

Congo Rebels Shoot Down Zimbabwean MiGs

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Rebels fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have shot down two Zimbabwean MiG fighters, a Rwandan government spokesman said. The Zimbabwean planes were flying in support of the Congolese government, which is battling rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

EUROPE

Yeltsin May Commute Death Sentences

MOSCOW -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin plans to commute hundreds of death sentences in the next few days, emptying death row and in effect eliminating capital punishment, an official said. Robert Tsivilev, head of the presidential Pardons Commission, told Reuters news agency he expected the president to sign four decrees this week that would commute all Russia's remaining death sentences to lengthy prison terms.

Austrian Tunnel Death Toll Rises

VIENNA -- Rescue teams retrieved four more bodies from an Alpine tunnel, where a devastating weekend fire left five dead and 49 injured, Salzburg governor Franz Schausberger said. According to the Austria Press Agency, Schausberger said more victims may be found in the Tauern tunnel, a main north-south traffic link in western Salzburg province, that was badly damaged by a blaze on Saturday that raged for some 15 hours.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I have no advice for Thabo [Mbeki], because he has the wisdom to lead the country."

South African President Nelson Mandela, speaking of his likely successor.