ASIA

Fire Kills 23 Kindergartners in S. Korea

HWASUNG, South Korea -- Twenty-three South Korean kindergarten children were killed in a fire early this morning at a summer camp near this west coast city 60 miles southwest of Seoul, police said.

Local officials said about 450 people were in the three-story dormitory building when flames broke out about 1:40 a.m. (12:40 p.m. EDT Tuesday). The cause of the blaze was still under investigation, but initial speculation by firefighters was that a faulty electrical system had sparked the fire.

Amnesty Assails Burma on Rights Abuses

BANGKOK -- Amnesty International accused Burma's ruling military of widespread abuses against ethnic minorities -- including killings, torture and rape -- and said its record had worsened since it joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

A report issued yesterday by the London-based human rights group said the military had killed "dozens" of unarmed farmers from Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic groups in the past year, and forced large numbers off their land or into unpaid labor for the army.

The military "has stepped up its repression of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy, and increased forcible relocation programs," the report added.

Drought Complicates North Korea's Plight

SEOUL -- Droughts and high temperatures this month have caused rice and corn plants to wither across North Korea -- a country already strained by severe food shortages. "With the small amount of precipitation caused by the dry air from the west, drought hit nearly all areas of the country in June," the official [North] Korean Central news agency reported.

Indian Attack Kills Scores in Kashmir

DRAS, India -- Indian soldiers stormed up a strategic mountaintop near the Pakistan frontier, igniting fierce fighting that claimed at least 40 lives, officers said. Infantrymen raided 13 guerrilla positions on the 15,500-foot peak three miles from the Line of Control, the 1972 cease-fire border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The guerrillas retreated, but then counterattacked.

The battle for the peak, known as Point 4700 -- its height in meters -- was part of the groundwork for an expected attack on the nearby 16,500-foot Tiger Hill. The larger peak overlooks India's National Highway 1, the lifeline for northern Kashmir.

Freed S. Korean Tourist Reports Coercion

SEOUL -- A South Korean tourist released last week after being detained by North Korea for six days said she had been forced by Pyongyang to admit to tempting North Koreans to defect.

"I just copied what they forcefully gave me," Min Young Mi told reporters as she left a hospital in Seoul. "I hope you will know [what I am said to have done] is not true."

EUROPE

U.S. Missionary Is Freed in Chechnya

MOSCOW -- A U.S. missionary was freed from captivity in Chechnya after being held for more than seven months in Russia's breakaway region, the Interior Ministry said.

Herbert Gregg, who worked as a Christian missionary and university teacher in the Muslim region of Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, was dragged into a car by four men in November and brought to Chechnya, a ministry spokesman said.

He said Russian security forces freed Gregg, but gave no further details of the operation. Interfax news agency quoted the Interior Ministry in Ingushetia, another region bordering Chechnya, as saying no ransom was paid. Gregg's captives chopped off one of his finger to press their ransom demands.

Au Pair's Parents Charged With Fraud

CHESTER, England -- Police have charged the parents of Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted of killing the baby in her care in Massachusetts two years ago, with fraud in connection with a defense fund set up for their daughter.

Cheshire police, who have been investigating allegations against Woodward's parents, refused to name the two people charged. They identified them only as a 43-year-old man and a 42-year-old woman. But their attorney confirmed the charges. "The charges are vigorously denied," said Neil Cobley, attorney for Gary Woodward.

THE AMERICAS

Two Members of Zedillo's Guard Shot Dead

MEXICO CITY -- Two officers of a Mexican army group assigned to protect President Ernesto Zedillo were shot dead on a busy Mexico City street by unknown gunmen who fired at least seven shots into their car, authorities said. The attackers then made off with a briefcase with about $53,000 in cash earmarked for expenses in the presidential residence. Zedillo is in Brazil attending a summit meeting.

Canada Reviewing Its Ties With Cuba

OTTAWA -- Canada is reviewing its traditionally strong ties with Cuba in light of persisting human rights abuses there, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said.

Relations have cooled since four political dissidents were jailed earlier this year, an event widely decried by rights advocates. Trips to Cuba by two Canadian cabinet ministers have been put on hold. The government also is reviewing proposals for bilateral projects with the Cubans and has frozen some projects.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Ultra-Orthodox Party in Israel Backs Barak

JERUSALEM -- An ultra-Orthodox party handed its support to Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak, moving him closer to his goal of forming a broad-based government to rule Israel. The United Torah Judaism party initialed an agreement that covers issues including the drafting of rabbinical students into Israel's army. The party, which has five seats in parliament, was not given control of a ministry or a legislative committee.

With Barak's One Israel alliance, the growing coalition now controls 42 of the 120 seats in parliament, as negotiations continue with other potential partners.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"His actions constitute a . . . great menace to the Turkish state."

Judge Turgut Okyay, reading the death sentence of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. -- Page A25