EUROPE

Mitchell Hails Progress in N. Ireland Talks

BELFAST--Raising hopes of a breakthrough, U.S. mediator George Mitchell said yesterday that Protestant and Roman Catholic politicians are developing unprecedented "common ground" on how to govern Northern Ireland together.

Speaking in the 11th week of his mission to resuscitate last year's Good Friday peace accord, Mitchell suggested that Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party, now agrees with the major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, that the IRA should start disarming "as quickly as possible."

Mitchell said all negotiators agree that the new provincial government should be formed "at the earliest possible date."

Observers Cite Flaws in Ukraine Election

KIEV, Ukraine--International observers criticized Ukraine's presidential election, saying it was riddled with gross violations, including vote rigging and illegal campaigning, and that foreign support for incumbent Leonid Kuchma should be withheld until he ends rampant corruption.

Still, observers stopped short of challenging Sunday's results. Moderate reformist Kuchma won a second five-year term, defeating his Communist opponent, Petro Symonenko, 56 percent to 38 percent.

Macedonia Elects Trajkovski President

SKOPJE, Macedonia--Macedonia's deputy foreign minister Boris Trajkovski, the government's candidate, won the presidency in what international monitors said was a generally fair runoff marred by some faults.

According to preliminary results, the Central Electoral Commission said Trajkovski, backed by the center-right government, led Tito Petkovski of the opposition Social Democratic Union of ex-Communists by about 77,000 votes in Sunday's ballot. Turnout was 70 percent.

ASIA

IAEA Reports on Japan's Nuclear Accident

VIENNA--Human error and poor design at a fuel processing plant were to blame for Japan's worst nuclear accident, which occurred in September and caused no significant contamination, international experts said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a preliminary report that the accident on Sept. 30 at JCO Co.'s uranium processing plant 90 miles north of Tokyo in Tokaimura should have no lasting effect on the environment or public health.

"The accident was essentially an irradiation accident; it was not a contamination accident as it did not result in a radiologically significant release of radioactive materials," the IAEA said in a report published on its Web site.

Problems Force Japan to Blow Up Rocket

TOKYO--Japan's ambitions to become a world leader in aerospace technology were dealt a major setback when engine trouble forced officials to blow up a rocket carrying a $95 million satellite minutes after launch.

It was the second time this year that problems with the H-2 rocket, the key to Japan's satellite program, failed to put the MTSAT satellite into orbit. Another H-2 rocket failed to get its payload into orbit last February, although there had been five successful launches previously.

Indonesia to Let Aceh Vote on Its Future

TOKYO--Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid said today that the troubled province of Aceh could hold a referendum on its future in seven months. It was the first time that Wahid had offered a timetable for the vote.

Wahid did not say whether the referendum would allow Aceh to separate from the rest of Indonesia or opt for more autonomy. Indonesia has been fighting a separatist movement in the territory, 2,000 miles east of Jakarta, for years.

Residents of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in August, setting off a rampage by anti-independence militants and leading to the deployment of Australian-led peacekeeping forces.

THE AMERICAS

Colombian Rebels Waver on Truce

BOGOTA, Colombia--The country's largest guerrilla group said it would reject a year-end truce offer unless the government stopped extraditing drug suspects to the United States and extended benefits to the working class.

The statement by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia came four days after a powerful car bomb killed eight people in Bogota in what authorities took to be a drug mafia warning against extradition.

Meanwhile, police said they suspected either drug traffickers or guerrillas in the previous night's bombing of a regional office of Colombia's largest newspaper.

Hurricane Rains Lash Caribbean

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti--Hurricane Lenny lost some strength as it headed directly toward southwest Puerto Rico, but it also threatened Haiti and the Dominican Republic with heavy rain, an ominous forecast for a region already saturated by water.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands were under hurricane warnings, while hurricane watches were declared for the southern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola.

Before the hurricane arrived, police said two toddlers were killed in mudslides in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, when saturated earth collapsed onto mud houses in shantytowns surrounding the city.

Noting the hurricane's eastbound route, the U.S. National Weather Service warned, "This is a potentially very serious situation."

THE MIDDLE EAST

U.S. Envoy Pushes Peace Talks

JERUSALEM--President Clinton's Middle East envoy Dennis Ross tried to push forward peace talks after a West Bank troop pullback was delayed by a dispute over what lands Israel should transfer to the Palestinians.

Despite the delay, Israeli troops began dismantling some security installations in the West Bank.

Israel was to hand over a total of 5 percent more of the West Bank, but the Palestinians refused to accept the withdrawal, saying the West Bank land they were offered is too sparsely populated and does not connect their scattered enclaves.

Ross met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"With the WTO deal, you are locking China into the international market system ...irreversibly."

-- Xiao Geng, an adviser to the Chinese government --Page A1