Indonesian Defends Aceh Referendum

JAKARTA, Indonesia--Summoned before parliament to explain his policies for the first time, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday defended his controversial plan to hold a referendum on the future of strife-torn Aceh province and urged legislators to debate whether it should go ahead.

Many legislators fear a vote could trigger a wider breakup of Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous nation with 210 million people spread over 17,000 islands.

Leaders of the rebel Free Aceh Movement have threatened to continue their struggle until Aceh becomes independent like East Timor, which broke away from Indonesia after its people voted for independence in a U.N.-supervised referendum on Aug. 30.

Sri Lankan Rebels Recharge Ethnic War

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka--Tamil Tiger rebels captured new territory in northern Sri Lanka as heavy fighting ended a short lull in the ethnic war, military officials said.

The separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) took the northwest town of Palampiddy in the Wanni region after heavy fighting, they said, adding that the army had retreated south in the face of a heavy attack. The rebels also said they had inflicted heavy casualties on the military, but the report could not be independently verified.

A Defense Ministry statement said heavy fighting had broken out around Palampiddy and the sides exchanged artillery fire.

Ruling Party Challenged in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan--Mobbed by chanting supporters, independent James Soong officially registered for Taiwan's presidential race, a day after the ruling Nationalists expelled him from the party for challenging their candidate.

Soong, the front-runner according to most polls, threatens to end the Nationalists' 54-year grip on the presidency. He must collect 220,000 signatures to get his name on the ballot for the March vote, Taiwan's second direct presidential election.

Japan's Lower House Backs Cult Bill

TOKYO--Japan's lower house of parliament approved a bill meant to rein in the doomsday cult accused of a deadly gas attack on Tokyo's subways.

Under the bill, which is expected to be approved in both houses, the government would be allowed to monitor groups that have committed mass murder. One target would be the Aum Shinrikyo cult, whose guru is on trial for the March 1995 gassing that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.

U.N. Afghan Operations Back to Normal

KABUL, Afghanistan--The United Nations said its operations in Afghanistan have returned to normal after protesters, denouncing U.N. sanctions, attacked its offices.

Tens of thousands of Afghans staged the protests to condemn U.N. aviation and economic sanctions imposed Sunday after the ruling Taliban movement refused to expel Saudi-born terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden, who is wanted by the United States in connection with attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa last year.


Clashes Erupt in Eastern Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia--New clashes flared around a provincial capital in eastern Colombia yesterday, a day after Marxist rebels attacked a U.S.-trained naval unit amid an offensive that fueled new criticism of faltering peace talks.

A police commander in Puerto Inirida, a jungle town in Guainia province that borders Venezuela and Brazil, said the latest fighting erupted in mid-morning. The army said it had killed 35 guerrillas and lost one marine, but the report could not be independently verified.


U.S. Urges Congo to Adhere to Peace Deal

KAMPALA, Uganda--The U.S. government warned that it would not tolerate a breakdown of the tentative peace deal in Congo, but it did not say how Americans would react if any side abandoned the deal and returned to all-out war.

Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the peace deal, agreed to in late August in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, provided the only way out of a war that has drawn in a half-dozen African nations. Since the Lusaka deal was signed, all sides have accused their enemies of cease-fire violations.


Talks Fail on Restructuring Russian Debt

MOSCOW--Russia and its Western creditor banks failed to reach an agreement on restructuring $30 billion of debt after three days of negotiations, Russian state television reported.

The Russians want the banks to forgive $12 billion of the debt, which was inherited from the Soviet Union, and restructure the remaining $18 billion on easier terms.


U.N. to Extend Food Program in Iraq

UNITED NATIONS--The U.N. Security Council has agreed to a two-week extension of the oil-for-food program for Iraq while it debates a new comprehensive policy toward Baghdad, a U.S. official said.

The 15-member council is expected to approve the resolution today, a day before the humanitarian program expires, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Posters About Wife Land Man in Jail

JERUSALEM--When Albert Sorag plastered posters all over town, accusing his wife of cheating on him, he apparently felt all was fair in love and war.

But a judge took a dim view of Sorag's public relations campaign and sent him to prison for eight months on a slander conviction.

Sorag and his wife, who live in the Negev Desert town of Arad, are separated, according to a court document. In April, he threatened her at her home and put up a poster there, outlining her alleged misbehavior in detail. He put up another sign at her place of work.

After the regional psychiatrist found Sorag sane, Magistrate Moshe Machlis passed the sentence against him.


"You have no right to criticize Russia for Chechnya. ... Suffice it to recall the aggression of NATO headed by the United States that was mounted against Yugoslavia."

-- Russian President Boris Yeltsin, speaking to President Clinton at the OSCE summit in Istanbul --Page A1