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The dozens of ethnic Albanians whose murders in January triggered international outrage over Serb tactics in Kosovo were unarmed civilians, a panel of forensics experts ruled. The Finnish-led team's long-awaited findings disputed the claims of Serb authorities that the victims were rebel fighters or people who accidentally had become caught in crossfire between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serb forces at the town of Racak. But the report stopped short of calling the deaths a massacre. Meanwhile, the US State Department warned that the Yugoslav Army was "bracing for war" in amassing up to 21,000 troops on the perimeter of the restive province.

A tit-for-tat swap that would end nuclear-power cooperation between Russia and Iran was proposed by Moscow's top energy official. Yevgeny Adamov said Russia's 10 leading research institutes would be ordered to halt their involvement in Iran if the US lifted its sanctions against them. The institutes are barred from work in the US because the Clinton administration believes they are providing Iran with technology that could be used in developing nuclear weapons.

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Reporters covering the border war in the Horn of Africa confirmed at least some of the claims by Eritrea that it had routed a force of 40,000 Ethiopian troops, killing hundreds and destroying scores of tanks. The casualties, Eritrea's government said, resulted from three days of heavy fighting earlier this week. Ethiopia denied the claims as "a drama" staged for the journalists' benefit.

By lopsided votes, all six International Olympic Committee members accused of unethical conduct were expelled by their colleagues. Meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, the remaining IOC members rejected the defenses of the three Africans, a Samoan, and two Latin Americans alleged to have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to award the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City. The expulsions were the first in the IOC's 105-year history.

Strong denials from the government followed reports that the top political aide of embattled Ecuadorean President Jamil Mahuad had quit. Cabinet secretary Jaime Duran's resignation would have piled more bad news at the doorstep of Mahuad, whose tough economic reform proposals were rejected by Congress. Last week, the Central Bank chief and three of its directors quit in opposition to Mahuad's proposals. Meanwhile, powerful labor leaders called a new round of nationwide strikes to protest Mahuad's efforts to cope with the nation's deepest economic crisis in 50 years.

The crew of balloonists seeking to circle the globe nonstop was over southern Mexico - having set the mileage record for such flights and becoming the first to cross the Pacific Ocean successfully in the process. Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland and Brian Jones of Britain were on schedule to land somewhere east of 9 degrees west longitude in Africa this weekend - either in Morocco Saturday or, if their fuel holds out, near the Great Pyramids of Egypt Sunday.

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