EUROPE

N. Ireland Peace Plan Wins Approval

LONDON -- P rime Minister Tony Blair's emergency legislation to save the Northern Irish peace process was passed by the House of Commons after eight hours of heated debate yesterday, but the measure fails to address Protestant leaders' concerns about disarming the Irish Republican Army.

The legislation did not include amendments put forward by Ulster Unionists, who wanted guarantees that the Roman Catholic Sinn Fein party would be excluded from a new Belfast government if its IRA allies do not hand in weapons according to a set timetable before a May 2000 deadline.

Unionists will vote in Belfast today on whether to take part in the new Northern Ireland government. A rejection could torpedo last year's historic Good Friday peace agreement.

Kazakhstan May Relent on Use of Launch Pad

MOSCOW -- K azakhstan, locked in a dispute with Russia over the use of a Kazakh space base, may allow the launch of a rocket carrying vital equipment for the aging Mir space station in three days, Russia's Mission Control said.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the launch would only be allowed after Russia met a string of conditions. "If the negotiations do not end by tonight, then probably the launch date will be moved to July 16," a spokeswoman for Russia's Mission Control said, conceding that a planned launch today would almost certainly be delayed.

Kazakhstan slapped the ban on new launches from the Baikonur space base last week after a Russian rocket crashed, spreading debris and toxic fuel over part of the former Soviet republic.

ASIA

Commandos Free Hostages in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India -- Indian commandos killed a Kashmiri militant today and freed 12 hostages being held at a paramilitary camp in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, police said.

The 12 were taken hostage yesterday when a group of militants staged an attack in Bandipur. Four other people were killed, police said.

Depsite the hostage incident, Islamic militants were withdrawing from Kashmir's snowy peaks. Indian soldiers, under orders to stop firing, took over in bunkers and covered their guns with tarpaulins. The guerrillas spread hundreds of land mines on the barren mountains as they retreated,Indian army officers said.

N. Korea, Japan Trade Words Over Missile Test

TOKYO -- N orth Korea criticized Japan for trying to persuade neighboring countries to help prevent the reclusive Communist nation from launching a ballistic missile.

Tokyo, meanwhile, warned that it might not contribute to an international consortium building nuclear reactors for North Korea if the North went ahead with an expected test of a long-range Taepodong missile.

Flooding Strands 66,000 Tourists in China

BEIJING -- A bout 66,000 tourists who had been stranded by floods along China's Yangtze River had to be evacuated to safer areas, state media reported.

The tourists, including 1,500 foreigners, had been traveling downstream through the Yangtze's scenic Three Gorges when flood waters forced the closure of locks along the river twice in the last week, the New China News Agency said.

THE MIDDLE EAST

U.S. Warplanes Bomb Facility in Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey -- U.S. w arplanes bombed an Iraqi communications site in the northern "no-fly" zone after being fired on by Iraqi antiaircraft artillery, a U.S. military statement said.

Air Force F-16s and F-15s dropped laser-guided bombs on an intelligence and operations center used by Iraqi forces to process radar information and target allied planes, the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said in a statement. The Iraqi communications center is located southeast of Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad.

Arms Team on Mission to Baghdad

AMMAN, Jordan -- A team of experts arrived in Amman en route to Iraq, where they are to destroy chemicals and mustard gas left at a laboratory by U.N. weapons inspectors.

The experts were expected to assess and destroy chemicals left behind at the U.N. Special Commission's chemical laboratory in Baghdad when the weapons inspectors pulled out in December.

THE AMERICAS

Fujimori Says Shining Path Leader Surrounded

JAUJA, Peru -- P eru's military has surrounded the leader of the Shining Path guerrilla group in a jungle battle with his rebel forces, President Alberto Fujimori said.

Government forces closed to within 300 yards of Oscar Ramirez, alias Feliciano, who has headed the guerrillas since 1992. But he escaped across a river and disappeared into the jungle guarded by a few rebels, Fujimori, who supervised the manhunt, told reporters in this town 185 miles east of Lima.

"He is surrounded but we have to wait to see if he is actually captured," Fujimori said. "We have never been closer."

Political analysts predict Ramirez's arrest would be the death knell for one of Latin America's oldest and most violent guerrilla groups that has waged a 19-year war seeking to impose a communist state in this Andean nation. About 30,000 people have died in the violence, but the guerrillas lost considerable strength after founder Abimael Guzman was apprehended seven years ago.

Venezuelan Leader Promises Jobs Program

CARACAS, Venezuela -- P resident Hugo Chavez has announced a nearly $1 billion jobs program to make the country's slums more livable and to invigorate an economy suffering from one of its worst recessions in years.

Chavez said the $930 million program would create about 417,000 jobs in an economy where unemployment is estimated at up to 20 percent. Workers will repair roads and schools, build 64,000 houses, clean up polluted lakes, construct water tanks and improve railways.

FOR THE RECORD

ALGIERS -- Africa's leaders, some of whom seized power in coups themselves, decided at a summit that they will ostracize any future African leader who takes power by force.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"The implementation of every stage [of troop withdrawals] is in a way like giving birth. It's painful, and still it gives a lot of happiness later."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak -- Page A1