AFRICA

Congolese Rebel Groups Work Together

KIGALI, Rwanda--Three rival Congolese rebel groups agreed yesterday to speak with one voice during forthcoming negotiations with President Laurent Kabila, rebel officials said.

The rebels have been divided by personal animosities and power struggles for more than a year, but after four days of talks in the southwestern Ugandan border town of Kabale, they agreed to form a committee to reconcile their political views and coordinate military operations.

They fell short, however, of banding together into one movement, rebel spokesman Sesanga Hipungu said.

ASIA

Japanese Radiation Patient Released

TOKYO--One of three workers exposed to massive radiation in Japan's worst nuclear accident was released from a hospital yesterday, officials said.

Yutaka Yokokawa, 55, was discharged from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba state, east of Tokyo. In October, he underwent a blood transfusion there after his white blood cell count dropped following the accident, hospital spokesman Saburo Tojo said.

Japan Urged to Resume Aid to N. KoreaTOKYO--Red Cross officials from Japan and North Korea signed a document today urging Tokyo to resume food aid to the famine-stricken communist state, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Japanese media said the agreement by the officials, meeting in Beijing, cleared the way for preliminary talks by foreign ministry officials from the two foes on normalizing ties. Japan suspended all food aid to Pyongyang after North Korea fired a missile over Japan's main island in August 1998.

EUROPE

Britain Will Not Prosecute Ex-Spies

LONDON--An 87-year-old woman who has publicly admitted being a Soviet agent and four other people recently identified as spies will not face prosecution, the British government said yesterday. "The reason in each instance is the same, namely that sufficient is known about the case to make it clear that any prosecution would fail," Solicitor General Ross Cranston said in a written statement to the House of Commons.

Melita Norwood was among those identified in "The Mitrokhin Archive," a recently published book based on KGB documents smuggled out of Russia.

Cranston said Norwood's statements to the media, in which she readily admitted passing on details of the British nuclear bomb program, likely would be ruled inadmissible as evidence.

Way Open For Pope Pius IX's Beatification

VATICAN CITY--The Vatican cleared the way for the beatification of Pope Pius IX, whose long pontificate in the last century was marked by a wave of anticlericalism during the drive to unify Italy.

The decree was one of several approved by the Vatican for candidates for canonization and beatification, the last formal step before sainthood.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Jailed Iranian Cleric Attacks Ayatollah

TEHRAN--Jailed reformist cleric Abdollah Nouri questioned Iran's anti-U.S. stance and challenged the country's supreme clerical leader in an open letter published by newspapers.

"What material or religious advantage has our people gained from slogans such as 'Death to America'? . . . Is it a principled stand to isolate the country and block foreign and domestic investment?" Nouri, jailed on dissent charges by a hard-line court, wrote in the letter from his prison cell.

Nouri--sentenced on charges that included advocating renewed ties to Iran's archenemy, the United States--remained defiant, saying all he had said and published was "only a small part of the righteous demands of the people."

The letter came days after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated Tehran's hostile stance against Washington.

THE AMERICAS

Castro Launches More Anti-U.S. Protests

HAVANA--Fidel Castro sent thousands of Cubans back into the streets for a second wave of mass protests aimed at pressuring the United States to return a 6-year-old boy at the center of a custody dispute.

Elian Gonzalez was found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast on Nov. 25, after his mother drowned during an attempt to reach the United States illegally. To Cuba's consternation, he was placed in the temporary custody of relatives in Miami while federal officials consider his Cuban father's claims on the boy.

Panamanians Demand U.S. Compensation

PANAMA CITY--Hundreds of people took to the streets to demand the United States pay damages to civilian victims of the 1989 U.S. invasion that ousted Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega. Some pelted the U.S. Embassy with rocks and bags of paint.

Participants representing unions, business organizations and other groups took part in the rally to mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion ordered by then-president George Bush to bring Noriega to trial on drug-trafficking and racketeering charges. He is now serving a 30-year term in a Florida jail.

Washington has estimated that about 300 Panamanians died in the invasion, but Panamanian human rights groups say the civilian death toll topped 3,000. Panama City residents who lost homes and businesses in the U.S. attack were paid $11.5 in compensation.

Body Dug Up in Mexico Had Been Shot

MEXICO CITY--A man possibly executed by a drug cartel and buried in northern Mexico had been gagged, blindfolded and shot in the neck, the Attorney's General's office said in a statement.

The body of the man, aged 50 to 55, was found near Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso. Mexican officials and FBI forensic experts are digging at four sites near Ciudad Juarez, looking for the remains of possible victims of drug killings.

A group representing families of missing people in Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, say almost 200 people have disappeared in the past four years from the area, possibly killed by the powerful Juarez drug cartel, or by corrupt law enforcement officials.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"There are bodies in the sea, bodies buried under mud, bodies everywhere."

-- Jose Vicente Rangel, Venezuelan foreign minister, on the death toll in flooding and mudslides --Page A1