AFRICA

Ministers Agree to Congo Cease-Fire Plan

LUSAKA, Zambia -- African foreign and defense ministers signed a draft cease-fire plan yesterday to end the 11-month-old war in Congo.

Reached after two weeks of intense negotiations, the plan doesn't go into effect until 24 hours after it has been signed by the heads of the six nations involved in the war, heads of the three Congolese rebel groups and other regional and organizational leaders. It was not clear whether rebels fighting in eastern Congo had accepted the plan, but rebel leaders attended the talks and their main backers, Rwanda and Uganda, signed onto the deal, officials said.

Americans Profess Innocence of Gun Charges

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Three Americans arrested in March on weapons charges professed their innocence, saying they were shipping guns home to the United States after closing their church mission in Congo. The three self-described missionaries for the Indianapolis-based Harvestfield Ministries said they didn't know they were breaking the law by transporting weapons through Zimbabwe. They were used to "very liberal firearms legislation" in the United States, said John Lamonte Dixon, 36, Gary George Blanchard, 34, and Joseph Wendell Pettijohn, 35, in an affidavit submitted to the court.

Police Disperse Anti-Government Protesters

NAIROBI -- Police fired live ammunition into the air to disperse demonstrators as 10,000 people gathered to protest President Daniel arap Moi's foot-dragging on constitutional reform. A police statement said 149 people were arrested.

ASIA

Taliban Rulers Criticize U.S. Sanctions

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's Taliban rulers denied knowing the whereabouts of suspected Islamic militant leader Osama bin Laden and called U.S. sanctions an "attack against Muslim people." President Clinton signed an executive order Monday imposing financial sanctions on the Taliban Islamic militia, which controls 90 percent of the country, to increase pressure on bin Laden, who is reportedly based in Afghanistan. Washington accuses bin Laden of masterminding last August's deadly attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa.

U.N. Gets Security Pledge in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- United Nations diplomats involved with East Timor said they had received "assurances" of improved security from Indonesia's top military commander, Gen. Wiranto, following a week-long spate of orchestrated attacks and threats against U.N. personnel trying to organize an upcoming vote on independence. But Ian Martin, head of the U.N. mission in Timor, said he would be looking for "some real change in the conditions," including efforts to rein in government-backed armed militia groups.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Iran Takes Action Against Press, Writers

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Iranian authorities shut down a leading moderate newspaper after hard-liners pushed a bill through parliament aimed at curbing the increasingly bold Iranian media.

The outspoken Salam daily, a staunch supporter of reformist President Mohammed Khatemi, was closed by order of the hard-line judiciary, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Action against the paper was widely expected after it published details of an alleged Intelligence Ministry plot to muzzle the press.

Earlier, hard-liners pushed a bill through parliament that makes writers, not publishers, liable for what they write.

Iraqi Tribesmen Clash With Army Troops

CAIRO -- Tribesmen in southern Iraq have clashed with army soldiers and militiamen of the ruling Baath Party after three clan members were executed, two Iraqi opposition groups said. The London-based Iraqi Communist Party and the Iran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq said the tribesmen killed several party members in a retaliatory attack Sunday against their offices in the town of Rumaitha.

EUROPE

NASA Concerned About Space-Launch Delays

MOSCOW -- A NASA official expressed concern that a decision to suspend Russian space launches in Kazakhstan could delay a vital navigation system from reaching the Mir space station. The last Russian-French crew is to leave Mir in late August, leaving the 14-year-old station unmanned for up to half a year. As a precaution against the unmanned station crashing to earth, Russia had planned to send up another computer system on July 14. But Kazakhstan has banned all launches from its Baikonur cosmodrome until officials determine the reason for the Monday crash of a Proton rocket carrying a Russian communications satellite.

1,000 Evacuated From Ferry After Fire

GOTEBORG, Sweden -- More than 1,000 passengers on an overnight ferry from Germany to Norway were safely evacuated today after a fire broke out below decks, rescue officials said.

A ship in nearby waters pulled alongside the Prinsesse Ragnhild shortly after the flames erupted on the ferry about 2 a.m. The rescue at sea was continuing four hours later, with helicopters from Sweden and Norway helping to airlift stranded passengers, officials said.

Several passengers suffered smoke inhalation, rescue officials said, but there were no serious injuries reported. Evacuees were taken to the city of Goteborg on Sweden's west coast. The ship carried 1,169 passengers and 172 crew members.

Dutch to Pay $10.45 Million to Nazi Victims

THE HAGUE -- The Dutch government will pay $10.45 million to victims of Germany's occupation during World War II as part of a pledge to return gold and valuables plundered by the Nazis, the Welfare Ministry said yesterday. An advisory body said it had approved requests by 122 individuals and organizations out of the 300 applications made between September 1998 and March 1999. The money comes from the 336.5 tons of gold found in Nazi caches and in neutral countries and distributed by the Tripartite Gold Commission set up after World War II.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We will continue to the last drop of our blood, until every holy inch of Kashmir has been liberated from Indian occupation."

Pakistani Islamic militant spokesman Syed Salahuddin