THE MIDDLE EAST

U.S. Secretive on Scholars' Exit From Iran

WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials confirmed yesterday that a group of American academics had left Iran suddenly under "sensitive" circumstances but said the Clinton administration still supported people-to-people exchanges with the Islamic republic.

"They left" was all that one administration official would say. He declined to provide details. "It's that sensitive," he said of the reasons for the scholars' departure.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that a group of American scholars working in Iran from institutions such as Yale, Tufts and the University of Pennsylvania were mysteriously pulled out of Tehran on Aug. 25, 10 days ahead of the scheduled departure date.

Turkey to Let Draftees Pay for Exemption

ISTANBUL -- Turkey's government, desperate to raise money for earthquake relief, announced legislation that would let Turkish men pay their way out of compulsory 18-month military service. Turkey's generals backed the move, a major turnaround for NATO's second-largest army, which has been locked in a 15-year war against Kurdish rebels. Army Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu calculated that up to 200,000 men would take the offer. Turkish media estimated it could bring in about $1.6 million.

Turkey needs at least $8 billion to rebuild after the devastating Aug. 17 quake, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said. The official death toll from the quake is 14,695. Thousands more are missing, and the quake left more than a half-million people homeless.

Iranian Calls for Democratic Reforms

TEHRAN -- President Mohammed Khatemi, under pressure to boost growth and jobs, said only democratic reforms could revive the economy and foreign investment. "It is impossible to have economic development in a socially and politically underdeveloped society," Khatemi, a moderate, said in a television interview late Thursday. Khatemi's conservative opponents have been pressing him to shift from political and social reforms and address economic problems.

U.S. Planes Hit Iraqi Defense Sites

ANKARA, Turkey -- U.S. warplanes patrolling the "no-fly" zone in northern Iraq bombed Iraqi air defense sites after being targeted by both antiaircraft artillery fire and missile radar, the U.S. military said. Iraq said one person was injured. The U.S. bombs destroyed some of the artillery, according to the Germany-based U.S. European Command. The artillery was at a site eight miles north of Mosul.

AFRICA

Angolan Refugees Burden Infrastructure

LUANDA, Angola -- More than 9,000 people who fled recent clashes between government and rebel forces in the northwest have poured into two cities, placing further strain on already overburdened Angolan infrastructure, a senior U.N. aid official said. The displaced people -- some of the 1.7 million uprooted by Angola's two-decade-old civil war -- traveled dozens of miles, sometimes crossing battle zones, to reach the relative safety of Negage and Uige, according to Francesco Streppoli, head of the U.N. World Food Program in Angola.

Since fighting between the government and UNITA -- a Portuguese acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola -- resumed last year, the rebels have blown up bridges, planted land mines and shelled airports in major cities in an effort to choke the government's supply routes.

Nigeria Begins Pullback From Peace Force

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Nigeria has begun its withdrawal from the West African ECOMOG intervention force in Sierra Leone by bringing home 1,200 troops, Defense Ministry officials said. The contingent, which returned in two groups, represented about 10 percent of Nigeria's contribution to the force, and its withdrawal marks the beginning of the end of nearly a decade of intervention in West Africa's conflicts by the regional giant.

President Olusegun Obasanjo had said that Nigerian troops who helped defend Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah against rebel forces would be withdrawn following a peace accord that was signed on July 7.

EUROPE

Rebels Retain Hold on Dagestani Village

MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- Islamic militants still controlled at least one village in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan and were fiercely resisting efforts by government troops to drive them out, Russia's military said.

Russian security forces had been saying that they controlled all the villages where they had fought the rebels since Sunday. But Yevgeny Ryabtsev, the Interior Ministry spokesman in Dagestan, acknowledged that the rebels still held the village of Chabanmakhi, while federal troops were also coming under fire in nearby Karamakhi.

The militants took over a district about 25 miles south of Dagestan's capital late last year and have been running it according to their strict interpretation of Islamic law. Russian forces began an offensive Sunday to drive them out.

THE AMERICAS

Francophone Summit Stresses Human Rights

MONCTON, New Brunswick -- A three-day summit of Francophone leaders opened with calls for all members to respect human rights and pledges to make the organization of French-speaking countries more responsive to rights abuses. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former head of the United Nations and now the secretary general of La Francophonie, said the 52-member cultural organization had made progress in tackling political problems in member countries, such as sending election observers and advising members on judicial reform.

Human rights has become a significant issue at this summit, primarily because so many of the delegations attending are reported by rights organizations to be among the worst violators of basic freedoms, such as Burundi, Congo and Rwanda.

ASIA

Islanders Respond to N. Korea Threat

SEOUL -- Local authorities began taking stock of food and other supplies for residents on five isolated Yellow Sea islands after North Korea threatened to use military force to gain control over contested waters around them. North Korea announced a territorial claim to waters around the five islands on Thursday, saying that it would protect its sovereignty by "all means and measures."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I call on East Timor society and the whole of Indonesian people to accept the fact sincerely and patiently,"

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie, on the results of a referendum favoring independence.