EUROPE

Actions of GIs in Kosovo Probed

A preliminary U.S. military investigation has found that seven U.S. soldiers, including two first lieutenants, serving as NATO peacekeepers in Vitina, Kosovo, may have used excessive force and inappropriate threats in questioning residents and engaged in "inappropriate physical contact with Kosovar females."

According to one U.S. military officer, three soldiers took an ethnic Albanian man accused of a violent criminal act to a warehouse where they punched him in the stomach, hit him in the head with a rifle and threatened him as they tried to extract information.

The human rights section of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is also looking into allegations that soldiers in Vitina have engaged in a "pattern of abusive behavior," said one State Department report.

The investigation of A Company, 3rd Battalion, 504th Infantry began at about the same time one of the company's staff sergeants, Frank Ronghi, 35, was charged with sexually assaulting and killing an 11-year-old Vitina girl. The wider investigation is ongoing, no charges have been filed, and officials said none of the alleged misconduct is linked to the murder case.

Russians Claim Gains in Chechnya

STARAYA SUNZHA, Russia--Despite a surprise rebel ambush against Russian troops advancing on the Chechen capital, Grozny, the Russian military insisted yesterday it was gaining ground in its building-by-building drive to seize the heart of the city.

The body of a general who disappeared last week, Mikhail Malofeyev, was found in Grozny at the site of the battle where he was killed, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said.

Malofeyev, the highest-level Russian commander to be killed in the four-month offensive, was found in a trench, the military said. Street fighting frustrated efforts to retrieve his body, the military said. Rebels almost grabbed it first, but were thwarted by Russian artillery.

Austrian Rightist Considered for Coalition

VIENNA--Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima suggested for the first time that his Social Democrats could form a government coalition with Joerg Haider's far-right party, a group he had steadfastly rejected as anti-democratic.

The comments come as Austria's political leaders worked to end four months of political deadlock on forming a new government. Talks have been going on since parliamentary elections in October, when Klima's Social Democrats finished first, but without enough seats to rule on their own.

Klima attempted to revive the previous coalition of Social Democrats and the center-right People's Party--which came in third--but those efforts collapsed last week.

ASIA

Burmese Group Holds Hundreds Hostage

RATCHABURI, Thailand--Gunmen from a Burmese insurgent group called God's Army stormed a hospital west of Bangkok today and took as many as 500 workers and patients hostage, Thai officials said.

The attackers demanded refuge in Thailand for God's Army members, said Interior Minister Sanan Kachornprasart. They also demanded doctors treat their colleagues wounded by Burmese troops in raids on their base just across the Thai border.

Witnesses said five to 10 gunmen fired volleys of shots after storming the Ratchaburi hospital and tied a grenade to the gate. It was not known whether there were any casualties.

"Altogether, about 500 people are inside," the hospital, said Thailand's army chief, Surayudh Julanond.

God's Army is an insurgent group of 200 mostly ethnic Karen fighters battling Burma's military regime. It is led by 12-year-old twin boys, Luther and Johnny Htoo. Their followers believe the boys have mystical powers that make them invulnerable during battles.

Kidnapped Child Found in Japan

TOKYO--Police yesterday found the kidnapped son of a former cult guru who is on trial for the 1995 sarin gassing on Tokyo subways. The 7-year-old boy was abducted Friday by several people, who have since been arrested, believed to be members of the Aleph cult, formerly known as Aum Shinrikyo.

It was unclear why the child, the son of cult leader Shoko Asahara, was kidnapped. Japanese media said it was probably related to infighting within the cult.

Police found the boy in a boarding house in the resort town of Hakone, 54 miles southwest of Tokyo.

THE AMERICAS

Anti-Pollution Barriers Promised in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO--Petrobras, the government-owned oil company, will lay down additional floating barriers to prevent the massive oil spill polluting Rio's Guanabara Bay from spreading to world-famous beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema, the company's president Henri Phillipe Reichstul said.

On Tuesday, a pipeline at the Reduc refinery leaked and spewed 42,000 barrels of crude oil into the bay. It spread through the Guapimirim and Jequia mangrove swamps, which are protected areas and important spawning grounds for fish, birds and crustaceans.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Barak Rejects Golan Heights Pledge

JERUSALEM--Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told his cabinet that he would not make any written promises to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights to resume peace negotiations with Syria.

The Syrian state-owned newspaper al-Thawra said Saturday that Barak should promise in writing to withdraw to the border that existed before Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War.

FOR THE RECORD

* ANKARA, Turkey--Police dug up six bodies near a militant Kurdish Islamic group's hideout in southern Turkey, raising to 31 the number of corpses uncovered recently of people believed killed by the militants.

* JAKARTA, Indonesia--Violence across Indonesia claimed at least 40 lives over the past few days, authorities and news reports said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I wish for a day when we live like the Chinese proverb says: 'Radishes or cabbage, everybody's got the thing they love.'"

-- Zhang Beichuan, a doctor who has studied homosexuality in China for more than a decade -- Page A1