Korean Talks Resume Amid High Tensions

GENEVA -- Talks aimed at bringing permanent peace to the Korean peninsula resumed yesterday with little sign of a breakthrough and against a backdrop of renewed tension over North Korea's missile program.

Opening the latest round of negotiations with the two Koreas and the United States, China called for a positive approach and stressed their "importance and urgency." The talks, launched in 1997, are "still far from reaching their ultimate objectives" after five rounds were taken up largely by procedural issues, said Qian Yong-nian, head of the Chinese delegation, which is chairing this session.

As the talks opened, South Korea and Japan continued joint naval training exercises in the East China Sea. Communist North Korea has denounced the move as provocative.

Opposition Retakes Air Base From Taliban

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Opposition forces in Afghanistan recaptured Bagram air base and several key towns in a surprise counterattack against the Taliban Islamic militia, a Taliban official and independent sources said.

The overnight assault was launched by the forces of opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud and forced the Taliban to retreat from Bagram and the towns of Charikar, Jabal Saraj, Mahmood-e Raqi and Golbahar.

"The opposition forces attacked last night, and we feared civilian casualties and retreated. It was a tactical retreat," Taliban Information Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told the independent Afghan Islamic Press news agency.

Bagram and the recaptured towns lie in a belt of land about 50 miles north of Kabul that Massoud's forces have controlled for more than two years, denying the Taliban complete domination of Afghanistan.

Floods Claim More Lives Across East Asia

SEOUL -- North Korean border guards pulled the bodies of three soldiers from a flood-swollen stream in the demilitarized zone after torrential rains that aid workers say have killed 42 people in the Communist nation.

The first reports of casualties in North Korea emerged as South Korea and other Asian nations began to assess the loss of life and property from monsoon rains, flooding and landslides over the past week.

In the Philippines, rescuers pulled more bodies out of the wreckage of a hillside housing project that collapsed Tuesday. So far, 29 people are confirmed dead from the landslide and at least 71 have died in the country after four days of rain.

In China, at least 725 people have been killed and more than 5.5 million have been evacuated from the flood region this summer, the official New China News Agency said. Last year, 4,150 died in floods in China.


Possible Ebola Case Reported in Germany

BERLIN -- An Ebola virus scare has taken root in Germany after a newspaper reported that a man is gravely ill at a Berlin hospital and experts said he could be suffering from the deadly illness, for which there is no known cure.

Olaf Ullman, 40, returned this week from the Ivory Coast, where he had been filming animals on the savannah, and on Tuesday came down with symptoms of a hemorrhagic fever disease. Researchers at the Institute of Tropical Diseases in Hamburg have been unable to diagnose his illness.

Doctors said Ullman's kidneys and liver were failing, and he no longer knew who he was. He was isolated in an air-tight tent. Swissair was swamped with calls from people who believe they were on the same flight from Africa.


Peru's Ex-President Calls for Demonstrations

LIMA, Peru -- Peru's exiled ex-president Alan Garcia called for civil disobedience against President Alberto Fujimori's government after the legislature approved a law effectively stopping his plans to run for Congress.

The legislature, which is dominated by Fujimori's party, formally approved a law Wednesday that stops Peruvians facing pending court cases from running for public office. The new law comes just nine months ahead of the 2000 general elections.

Garcia, wanted in Peru on corruption charges, said the law could halt his bid to run as head of the opposition American Popular Revolutionary Alliance party in Congress, as well as stop other opposition candidates from running.


Panel Grants Amnesty in S. Africa Bombing

JOHANNESBURG -- A panel investigating apartheid-era abuses granted amnesty to a former cabinet minister and 16 others for a 1988 attack on the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches. The bombing heavily damaged the downtown Johannesburg building and injured several people.

Former law and order minister Adriaan Vlok said he was "very glad and deeply grateful" for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's decision to grant him amnesty. The commission can grant amnesty for abuses committed during white rule if the applicant makes a full confession and if the crime was politically motivated.

Vlok testified a year ago that then-President Pieter W. Botha ordered the destruction of the church headquarters. Botha denied authorizing the bombing and didn't seek amnesty.

U.N. Team, Others Seized in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone -- Angry former soldiers demanding food and medicine kidnapped more than two dozen U.N. military observers, aid workers, regional intervention force members and journalists, witnesses said.

The hostages were seized Wednesday during a meeting outside Freetown, where U.N. officials had arranged the handover of about 150 women and children captured during Sierra Leone's eight-year-old civil war. After freeing a handful of the women and children, the gunmen cocked their machine guns and turned them on the U.N. observers and others, demanding supplies and a meeting with U.N. officials.

The soldiers freed Roman Catholic Bishop Giorgio Biguzzi and Jacqueline Chenard, a spokesman for the U.N. military observer mission, but forced the others to march into the forest. Two hostages -- a Reuters reporter and a civilian U.N. worker -- were freed yesterday with letters from the kidnappers to the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the U.N. observer mission and U.S. officials. The contents of the letters were not released.


"My life here is like a cruise ship. . . . The only problem is the name of the cruise ship is the Titanic."

Yehuda Harel, resident of the Israeli-annexed

Golan Heights -- Page A15