ASIA

Burmese Dissidents Free Hostages

BANGKOK--A group of armed attackers who seized the Burmese embassy in Bangkok and held at least 30 people hostage since Friday freed their hostages on Saturday and left the compound in two minivans to board a helicopter nearby, witnesses said.

They were driven to a school neighboring the embassy to board the police helicopter which they had demanded Thai authorities provide in exchange for the release of their hostages and for them to escape to the Thailand-Burma border.

Hundreds of police officers surrounded the walled embassy compound, floodlit by trucks that were brought in.

Bangkok police commander Lt. Gen. Wannarat Kotcharak said the hostages included three Frenchmen, two Malaysians, one Canadian, one Singaporean, one Japanese and at least five Thais, in addition to Burmese diplomats.

In a statement, the dissidents--calling themselves the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors-- demanded the release of all political prisoners in their military-ruled homeland, a dialogue between the country's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military, and the convening of an elected parliament.

EUROPE

U.S. Paratrooper Dies in Kosovo Jump

VITINA, Yugoslavia--In the face of Yugoslav army saber rattling, a demonstration of U.S. readiness to reinforce the NATO presence in Kosovo turned tragic yesterday when a flawed jump left a U.S. paratrooper dead.

A U.S. general said the exercise, which involved 130 airborne troops, nonetheless demonstrated the soldiers' commitment to their task.

Russia Plans Money Laundering Law

MOSCOW--Russia's government, stung by a series of financial scandals that have damaged the country's image, plans to draft a new law to combat money laundering, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said.

"The government will above all work out a new law on the struggle against laundering of illegal incomes," Kasyanov said in a televised appearance after meeting with President Boris Yeltsin.

Kasyanov said the government's proposal was welcomed at a meeting in Washington last week with representatives of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.

Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Steps Down

ALMATY, Kazakhstan--Kazakhstan's beleaguered prime minister, Nurlan Balgimbayev, 51, resigned after his popularity slumped this year along with the economy.

He left office for personal reasons, his press secretary Viktor Kiyanitsa said by telephone from the capital Astana, adding that Balgimbayev would return to his former position as head of the resource-rich state oil industry. Kiyanitsa said Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev has been named as Balgimbayev's successor, with 10 days to form a new government.

THE AMERICAS

Mexico Puts Quake Death Toll at 18

OAXACA, Mexico--Mexico counted at least 18 dead from a powerful earthquake that rattled nine of the country's 31 states on Thursday.

Officials assessed the damage and residents began to clear away fallen debris. Roofs crumbled, roads buckled and electricity was cut off in the impoverished southeastern state of Oaxaca, the epicenter. Most of the victims were killed by falling masonry.

The earthquake lasted 42 seconds and measured 7.5 on the open-ended Richter scale, which is capable of causing severe, widespread damage in built-up areas, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Haiti Vows to Try Cedras for Killings

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti--Raoul Cedras, the military leader whose brutal government prompted the U.S. invasion of Haiti, will be tried for a 1994 massacre, the country's justice minister said.

Justice Minister Camille LeBlanc announced the trial in a radio interview on the eighth anniversary of the coup that Cedras led against democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Port-au-Prince Thursday to remember the event.

Cedras will likely be tried in his absence, since he now lives in Panama as part of a U.S. deal aimed at preventing bloodshed during the invasion. LeBlanc did not cite a date for the trial.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Ocalan Loyalists Surrender to Turks

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey--A group of nine Kurdish rebels loyal to their condemned leader Abdullah Ocalan surrendered to Turkish forces near the border with northern Iraq, the German-based Kurdish DEM news agency said.

Ocalan last week called for some of his Kurdish Workers' Party guerrillas to turn themselves in to show that the group was serious about peace after 15 years of separatist conflict. Turkey regards the rebels' new policy with suspicion. The armed forces this week said the surrender of a few guerrillas meant nothing and called on the whole organization to surrender.

Palestinian Authority Frees Journalists

GAZA CITY--Three Palestinian journalists detained for writing articles critical of the Palestinian Authority have been released, an official said.

The journalists were freed Thursday after 24 hours at Palestinian police headquarters in Gaza, said a police spokesman, who insisted on anonymity. They were questioned about the articles published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a London-based Arabic-language newspaper. The official said the articles were false, but would not elaborate. The journalists could not be reached for comment.

Top Iranian Cleric Backs President

TEHRAN--Iran's supreme religious leader threw his political and religious weight behind embattled reformist President Mohammed Khatemi and warned hard-liners not to take matters into their own hands.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the president and judicial authorities for their handling of a scandal over a satirical student play deemed to have insulted a holy Shiite figure that has outraged Iran's religious leadership. And he issued a rare warning to conservatives not to exploit religious sentiment for political advantage in their increasingly open conflict with Khatemi.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We kill our enemies. We are warriors, too."

-- Lucas Martin, commander of the Blood of Integration militia in Timor