ASIA

India Drops Commandos Into Kashmir

BATALIK, India -- India yesterday ruled out mediation with Pakistan as commandos dropped by parachute behind Islamic guerrilla lines in the Himalayas to try to block supply routes from Pakistan, military officers said.

The Indian military rushed reinforcements to the front-line town of Kargil in Kashmir, anticipating a long battle to evict nearly 700 guerrillas from mountains on the Indian side of a 1972 cease-fire line. India was caught by surprise when it found militants on the heights overlooking a national highway as the snow melted in May.

Pakistan has demanded mediation by the United Nations or Western countries to resolve its long-standing dispute with Kashmir.

"There is no need for any mediation," Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in New Delhi. "This is a bilateral issue and we will resolve it." Pakistani President Rafiq Tarar accused India of being "inflexible and rigid," according to Press Trust of India.

N. Korea Assures South It Will Attend Talks

SEOUL -- North and South Korea will hold their first talks in 14 months despite a naval clash on Tuesday that resulted in the sinking of a North Korean gunboat, South Korean officials said.

The North Korean government sent a message saying it would send a delegation to Monday's meeting in Beijing, the South Korean Ministry of Unification said. The message was sent through South Korea's Red Cross office in Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, the ministry said.

The talks originally were expected to focus on food aid for the hunger-stricken North and on the reunion of millions of separated family members in the divided Korean peninsula. But the meeting could take another direction if the North raises the issue of the naval clash in a contested area in the Yellow Sea.

AFRICA

Congo Rebels Set Terms for Peace Talks

PRETORIA, South Africa -- In a hardening of their position before planned peace talks, Congolese rebel leaders announced a set of demands Congo must meet before they would agree to a cease-fire.

Congolese President Laurent Kabila's forces must stop bombing civilian targets, release political prisoners, stop "genocide" against the Tutsi ethnic group and agree to direct talks with the rebels, said Emile Ilunga, leader of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy.

"If Kabila really wants a cease-fire, he should show signs of goodwill," Ilunga said. He said the rebels, backed by Uganda and Rwanda, control more than 50 percent of Congo.

Despite numerous peace talks, chances for ending the almost yearlong war seemed as remote as ever. The fighting, which has destabilized Central Africa, involves troops from a half-dozen countries. Even the rebels recently split into factions.

Sierra Leone Urged to Make Lasting Peace

LOME, Togo -- The United States has urged Sierra Leone's government and rebels to forge a "good and robust" peace accord rather than rush to hammer out a pact that will not permanently end the bloody civil war.

Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for Africa, said she was encouraged by the progress of peace talks aimed at ending the eight-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people in the West African nation. Rice's comments came in a letter Friday to President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, which is hosting the talks.

Joseph Melrose, a European Union envoy working to end the conflict in Sierra Leone, said Friday he had discussed with Eyadema how to take advantage of a cease-fire that began late last month and achieve "a happy ending of peace in Sierra Leone."

Ghana Objects to Place in Terrorism Alert

ACCRA, Ghana -- Ghana has criticized U.S. intelligence reports that American facilities here may be terrorist targets, saying they undermine the West African nation's image as a safe haven for foreign investors.

In a statement issued late Friday, the Foreign Ministry expressed surprise and dismay at recent reports suggesting African nations such as Ghana or Mozambique -- where security tends to be more lax than in the West -- could be the next targets of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

The exiled Saudi millionaire, whom the United States accuses of ordering last year's bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, is believed by U.S. intelligence to be in the advanced stages of planning another attack.

EUROPE

Bosnia Peacekeeping Force to Shrink

SARAJEVO, Bosnia -- The NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) that safeguards Bosnia's peace process with 32,000 troops from about 40 countries will start to be reduced this year, its commander said.

"It will be a significant amount, it won't be small change," U.S. Gen. Montgomery Meigs said. He declined to provide figures.

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council authorized a 12-month extension of the mandates of SFOR and the U.N. mission supervising police restructuring in the country.

One of the main reasons for the troop reduction was the financial burden on NATO member countries, which are also contributing most of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) in neighboring Yugoslavia, Meigs said.

FOR THE RECORD

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Disenchanted Mapuche Indians from southern Chile walked the final leg of a 420-mile, 24-day protest march and prepared to enter the capital for a demonstration to demand more land and greater autonomy.

LUANDA, Angola -- Opposition parties are pressing Angola's president to declare a cease-fire in the long civil war against UNITA rebels and to negotiate an end to the conflict.

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Malawi was quiet following violent protests by opposition supporters that rocked the southern African country after President Bakili Muluzi was pronounced winner of a closely fought presidential race.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"Maybe the man who killed my son was born in my hands."

-- Hylki Spahiu, an ethnic Albanian physician who treated both Serbs and ethnic Albanians, discussing the murder of his son, Astrit, by Serbian police