ASIA

Signal Operators Sought in Indian Train Wreck

GAISAL, India -- While rescuers were still prying bodies from the twisted wreckage of two trains yesterday, police were seeking four railway signal operators suspected of mistakenly sending one express train hurtling into the path of another.

At least 257 bodies have been pulled from the crumpled mass of steel, wood and debris. The collision occurred before dawn Monday near Gaisal Station, a small-town rail stop 310 miles north of Calcutta.

Senior railroad official V.K. Aggarwal said the driver of the Avadh-Assam Express from New Delhi may have switched to the wrong track, driven for four miles, then crashed head-on into the Brahmaputra Mail from Gauhati.

Four signal operators working at the time of the accident fled the scene. Three returned to work late yesterday.

U.S. Raises Missile Issues With N. Koreans

GENEVA -- U.S. and North Korean officials held talks in Geneva, during which the Americans expressed serious concern about missile testing. The bilateral discussions are a precursor to a new round of four-party talks on the Korean peninsula.

The talks between U.S. negotiator Charles Kartman and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan come amid new tension in the region, with Pyongyang declaring that it would test-fire a missile if Washington stepped up the pressure.

Thousands of Afghans Flee to Capital

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Thousands of weary women and children fleeing an offensive by the Taliban Islamic militia have converged on the battered Afghan capital in search of shelter, witnesses said.

Some estimates put the number at 10,000, but no official figure was available from the Taliban -- which controls all but a tiny portion of Afghanistan -- or aid agencies based in the capital.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Two Israelis Attacked, Wounded in Hebron

HEBRON, West Bank -- Two Israeli settlers were shot and slightly wounded in the West Bank town of Hebron in what appeared to be an attack by Palestinian militants, the army and settlers said. If true, it would be the first Palestinian attack on Israelis since Prime Minister Ehud Barak took office last month.

The Israeli men were traveling from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba to a Jewish enclave in Hebron when their car came under fire.

Saddam Hussein Gives Son Broad Powers

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has granted his youngest son, Qusay, wide powers that will allow him to act as president in "an emergency," the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.

The Saudi-owned newspaper, quoting "informed Iraqi sources in Amman," said the decree proposed forming a committee of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, the defense minister, the interior minister and security chiefs to advise Qusay Hussein.

Asharq al-Awsat said an official Iraqi source in Amman had denied the measure was an attempt by Saddam Hussein to pave the way for his youngest son to succeed him.

Dozens Purged From Turkey's Military

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey's military has dismissed 58 officers in a bid to rid the army of suspected Islamic militants and other extremists, news reports said. Most of the officers expelled by the high military council on Monday were alleged anti-secularists, two newspapers reported. The rest, one said, were suspected of having links to illegal leftist groups.

EUROPE

Britain Plans to Ease Pet Quarantine

LONDON -- Britain unveiled the most radical changes to its stringent quarantine laws in a century, announcing a one-year pilot program that will allow owners to take their pets abroad, even on day trips, without having to quarantine them for six months upon their return, as is now required.

Pets that fulfill certain conditions will be able to travel freely to and from European Union countries as well as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. The pilot program is to start in April.

Regional Chiefs Align With Russian Candidate

MOSCOW -- Russia's regional leaders have decided to pool efforts with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in campaigning for December's parliamentary elections.

The All Russia movement, set up by several influential local governors, said it would formally merge with Luzhkov's Fatherland political movement. Luzhkov is considered a top prospect for the presidential race, and a strong showing by his group in parliamentary elections would help advance his presidential bid.

Yeltsin Fires His Deputy Chief of Staff

MOSCOW -- President Boris Yeltsin fired his deputy chief of staff, who retaliated by claiming that the Kremlin was considering an emergency rule affecting elections. Sergei Zverev, who was fired after writing a letter in which he criticized Yeltsin's administration, said the Kremlin may move to postpone December's parliamentary elections and next summer's presidential vote.

"I wouldn't exclude any of those scenarios," Zverev told a news conference. "They are losing control over the situation."

Yeltsin's spokesman, Dmitry Yakushkin, quickly dismissed Zverev's claim. "Both parliamentary and presidential elections will take place as scheduled," Yakushkin said on television.

THE AMERICAS

More Than 20 Colombians Die in Fighting

BOGOTA, Colombia -- At least 21 people, including soldiers, Marxist rebels and two pastors, have died in the latest wave of political violence in Colombia, an army spokesman said.

The worst clashes between guerrillas and government troops took place in the banana-growing northwest region of Uraba, where 15 rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and one soldier died in fighting that began late Saturday. Fighting in Antioquia province yesterday left three soldiers and an "undetermined number" of guerrillas dead, the army said.

In a separate incident, rebels kidnapped and killed two Pentecostal pastors in eastern Meta province, according to the commander of the army's 7th Brigade.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I have prevented a revolution in my country. I changed that into an accelerated evolution."

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie -- Page A15