AFRICA

French Troops, Rebels Clash in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- French troops clashed with rebels in western Ivory Coast yesterday, their second serious engagement in a three-month war that has crippled the former French colony.

Nearly 2,000 French troops are in Ivory Coast to enforce an often-violated cease-fire between the northern rebels and the government, and to protect French citizens and other foreign nationals.

But the French have been increasingly dragged into the fighting, especially in the west, where they are effectively blocking any rebel advance to the south.

Yesterday's clash took place near the strategic crossroads town of Duekoue, 55 miles south of the western rebel-held town of Man, scene of some of the fiercest fighting.

"A French patrol was set upon by a group of around 30 to 40 rebels on foot," said Lt. Col. Ange-Antoine Leccia, a spokesman for the French army. "They fired on the French soldiers, who responded." No soldiers were hurt, he said.

The rebels could not immediately be reached for comment.

Associated Press

EUROPE

Russia Stops Taking Peace Corps Workers

MOSCOW -- Russia will no longer accept Peace Corps volunteers, the U.S. Embassy said. The decision followed increasing Russian criticism of the volunteers' alleged lack of training and alleged ties to U.S. security services.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Yakovenko, said his government was grateful for the Peace Corps' assistance but that Russia's needs had changed since 1992, when the volunteers first started coming here.

"Due to the changing economic and social tasks facing our country, we are holding consultations with the American side on how new forms of partnership could be worked out more in line with today's needs," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Earlier this year, Russia refused without explanation to issue entry visas for new volunteers or to extend the visas of 30 of the 64 workers already in the country. The head of Russia's Federal Security Service, Nikolai Patrushev, recently suggested that some volunteers had been spying. A U.S. Embassy spokesman denied Patrushev's claims and expressed regret about the decision.

Associated Press

Detainees Reported to Target Russia

PARIS -- Suspected Islamic militants detained by French police were planning attacks on Russian interests in France and abroad, including against the Russian Embassy in Paris, the Interior Ministry said.

The eight suspects were taken in raids in two Paris suburbs amid an investigation into networks thought to be involved in sending fighters to Chechnya to battle Russian troops.

The alleged leader of the cell was Menad Benchellali, the brother of a suspected al Qaeda member being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, judicial officials said. Benchellali was arrested Tuesday.

Associated Press

FOR THE RECORD

A Japanese couple who were kidnapped and taken to North Korea 25 years ago openly criticized the isolated totalitarian state, and demanded it release their children to them. . . . The United States acted to unfreeze about $100 million in Yugoslav assets in a sign of improving relations with reformist leaders.