THE MIDDLE EAST

Israeli, Syrian Head to U.S. For Talks

JERUSALEM--Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa headed to the United States yesterday for open-ended peace talks, but both sides warned that the negotiations would be difficult.

The two leaders are scheduled to meet today in Shepherdstown, W. Va., to tackle a dispute going back more than 50 years. Of primary concern is the future of the strategic Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967. Syria wants Israel to withdraw from the area, home to 17,000 Jewish settlers.

"I have no doubt these will be tough talks. Agreements come at a price, but you don't make one at any price," Barak told Israel Radio.

Syria's official daily newspaper, al-Thawra, said the success of the talks, the second high level meeting within a month after a 45-month freeze, could not be guaranteed.

"The outcome of the first round of talks does not give us reason to be optimistic and it is premature to predict whether the talks will be a success," the paper said. "What is required now is a quick move to start discussing in depth core issues of the struggle and finding solutions for outstanding matters, including a timetable for withdrawal, the nature of peace and security arrangements."

Muslims and Christians Clash in Egypt

CAIRO--Religious tensions in southern Egypt turned deadly yesterday, the third day of riots and looting sparked by a dispute between a Muslim street vendor and a Christian shop owner. Egypt's Interior Ministry said eight people died in the village of el-Kusheh, 275 miles south of Cairo. But a local bishop said 16 people died, and that the violence spread to two nearby villages.

Security forces have sealed off el-Kusheh, Dar el-Salam and Awlad Toq West and were trying to stop people from shooting, looting and burning shops, said Bishop Wissa. El-Kusheh residents were exchanging gunfire from the roofs of their homes, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

ASIA

Indian Accuses Pakistan of Hijacking Ties

NEW DELHI--India's top security adviser accused neighboring Pakistan of having links with the five men who hijacked an Indian Airlines plane last week.

Speaking to Star TV, Brajesh Mishra said Indian intelligence intercepted several radio conversations between militant groups in Kashmir confirming that Pakistan was involved.

"It is clear it is a terrorist state," Mishra said of Pakistan. "The establishment backs terrorism."

The 155 hostages were freed Friday after eight days, but the crisis raised tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers that have fought three wars in 50 years. Two of those were over Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between the two countries.

The hijackers opposed Indian control in Kashmir. They fled the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Friday. India said the five are Pakistanis who crossed back into their homeland and were near the southwestern city of Quetta. Pakistan denied that and said the men would be apprehended if they did turn up.

Sri Lanka Rebels Attack Key Military Base

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka--Sri Lanka's military battled Tamil guerrillas trying to overrun a strategic northern army base in a clash that left 63 people dead, the Defense Ministry said.

The military, using artillery and armored vehicles, killed 50 rebels and lost 13 soldiers, the ministry said.

Another 51 soldiers were wounded in the fighting that began Saturday in Iyakachchi near the Elephant Pass base, 175 miles north of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, the ministry said. There was no independent confirmation of the military's claims..

The rebels are fighting for an independent homeland for the country's 3.2 million minority Tamils.

Indonesian Security Hunts for Illegal Arms

AMBON, Indonesia--Security forces carried out a massive search for illegal weapons in the capital of Indonesia's Spice Islands, where at least 1,200 people have died in a year of fighting between Muslims and Christians.

Lt. Col. Arif Mardiyanto, Ambon's military chief, said hundreds of weapons had been seized in house-to-house searches conducted by soldiers and police. The weapons included arrows, machetes, daggers and homemade guns, Mardiyanto said.

Last week's toll of 350 killed in Maluku and neighboring North Maluku provinces was the worst of any religious conflict in Indonesia's 50-year history as an independent country.

AFRICA

Two Die Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

MARANGU, Tanzania--An American woman and a German man died while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to mark the new millennium and nearly three dozen others had to be rescued from Africa's highest peak, authorities said.

The dead were identified as Janepher Stephen, 51, an American, and Werner Hoain, 55, a German, said Loirivi ole Moirana, the chief warden for Kilimanjaro National Park. Home towns were not immediately available.

Usually, 400 to 700 tourists hike Mount Kilimanjaro during the November-to-January climbing season. But about 1,000 were taking part in the millennium climb that began Dec. 20 and was scheduled to end Wednesday..

EUROPE

Croatians Voting for New Parliament

ZAGREB, Croatia--Expatriate Croatians began voting in a parliamentary election that may herald a new era for a country long ostracized by the West and suffering economic hardship.

When voting in Croatia itself is over today, surveys predict the Croatian Democratic Union will have lost its majority for the first time in a decade, opening the way for a possible center-left coalition government.

Three weeks later, a presidential election will choose a successor to the autocratic Franjo Tudjman, who led Croatia to secession from Yugoslavia in 1991 and dominated domestic politics until his death last month. He left Croatia isolated, with the West accusing his party of trampling on human rights and failing to cooperate with the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Most important now is to support Putin as a democratic leader and then basically to create for him such conditions that he could only be a democrat--and no one else. . . . He simply won't need dictatorship. It will not be profitable, not effective."

-- Irina Khakamada, a leader in the Union of Right Forces, on fears of a new autocratic rule in Russia