North Korea Signals New Flexibility on Weapons

BEIJING -- North Korea said on Tuesday it was ready to discuss in upcoming six-nation talks freezing its nuclear program and allowing inspections, diplomats said. That would meet part of U.S. demands that the communist state give up its weapons ambitions.

The talks begin Wednesday, with representatives of the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia gathering at a government guesthouse in Beijing.

Two previous rounds of talks failed to settle the standoff, which flared in October 2002 when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 agreement.

On Tuesday, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Hiroyuki Hosoda, said North Korea appeared to be more cooperative, and he expressed hope for "major progress."

On Wednesday, a Japanese newspaper reported that the United States plans to offer North Korea a grace period of about five months to prepare to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The Middle East

* ISTANBUL -- Iran broadcast on Tuesday satellite television images showing eight captured British sailors blindfolded and seated on the ground, a day after taking captive three Royal Navy patrol boats that had crossed over from the Iraqi side of the Shatt al Arab waterway at the head of the Persian Gulf.

Two of the sailors were later shown reading an apology for entering Iranian waters and calling it a mistake. In both cases the images were shown only on al-Alam, the Arabic-language satellite channel operated by Iran for broadcast abroad.

The Iranian government sent out conflicting signals on the fate of the sailors. Al-Alam reported they would be put on trial. But spokesmen for the Iranian military and Foreign Ministry seemed to indicate the matter might be settled in a day or two.

-- Karl Vick

Europe

* BANJA LUKA, Bosnia -- The Bosnian Serb president spoke out on a government report blaming its security forces for the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, calling it "a dark page of Serb history." President Dragan Cavic's comments came nearly two weeks after a government commission for the first time blamed Bosnian Serbs for the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys. His speech marked the first time a top official spoke publicly of the findings.

* ARLON, Belgium -- Marc Dutroux was sentenced to life in prison for a series of child kidnappings, rapes and murders in 1995-96 that horrified Belgians and prompted sweeping police reforms and a crackdown on child sex crimes. Dutroux, 47, contested the verdict, saying he would fight "until the end of my life" to prove his innocence. He was convicted last Thursday.

* PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro -- Some 1,500 Serbs and other Kosovo minorities have not returned to their homes three months after ethnic Albanian riots, the United Nations said. The violence, in which 19 people were killed and more than 800 homes set ablaze, has also been followed by a 35 percent drop in the rate of return to Kosovo by refugees who fled in 1999, U.N. officials said.

Africa

* CYANGUGU, Rwanda -- A renegade Congolese commander who took over a strategic town in eastern Congo this month has fled to neighboring Rwanda with 300 soldiers, Rwanda's army spokesman said. Col. Jules Mutebutsi and his men crossed the border from the eastern Congo town of Kamanyola Monday night and are now about 13 miles inside Rwandan territory, Col. Patrick Karegeya said, adding that they had been disarmed.

-- From News Services