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The international community, active on many humanitarian fronts, often finds itself hindered by politics at ground zero. Those helping Colombia dig out from last week's earthquake, including volunteers from Miami who helped out after the Oklahoma City bombing, felt the frustration of operating in a country whose government has its hands full dealing with rebels as well as looters. Quote of note: "They were shooting near here a few minutes ago, but you just try to concentrate on your work." - a rescue worker from Venezuela.

In Yugoslavia, an escalating NATO threat of airstrikes accompanies diplomatic efforts to bring about an accord that would end the violence in Kosovo. But can a planned Feb. 6 meeting in France produce a deal like the one in Dayton, Ohio, that ended the war in Bosnia?

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Tough economic conditions have put a new spin on practically every aspect of Russian society, including "hazing" in Russia's armed forces. At least one group is trying to help.

In the cross-straits saga of China-Taiwan relations, a loosening of press restrictions in Taipei has generated debate in Beijing's Communist leadership over following suit, at least to some degree.

- Clayton Collins Deputy World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB *PITCHING IN: Covering quake relief in Colombia, correspondent Quil Lawrence ran into an issue often faced by journalists trained to be impartial observers: how to balance work with the urge to help. Arriving at the Pereira airport, Quil grabbed a cab and headed for Armenia - and the story. On the way he passed roadside stands selling spring water at cost. When his driver stopped, Quil bought as much as the trunk could hold. He helped transfer it to a truck headed out to the hardest-hit neighborhoods. Later, amid tear gas and heavy traffic, Quil and his driver delivered two tired women to a bus depot. Getting out of the car, one of the women quickly removed an earring and handed it to Quil as a token of gratitude.

*HITTING A CYBERWALL: Kevin Platt, reporting from Beijing on comparative conditions for the working press in China and Taiwan, got a reminder of the widening gap while conducting a telephone interview across the strait. Each time the Voice of Taipei's Hsu Lu uttered words like "underground," "press freedom," or "prison," a wave of electronic noise would drown her out. Fifteen minutes into the interview, the line went dead, and during his callback, Kevin could hear Ms. Hsu's voice, but she could not hear his. An e-mail message sent to Hsu the next day from Beijing apparently had a "transient, nonfatal error." Another frequent error message, says Kevin: "No route to host."

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