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Key political leaders softened their positions somewhat in the first hint of a breakthrough in months in the Northern Ireland peace process. The Ulster Unionist Party said "the way will be clear" for seating a Protestant-Catholic self-rule government if the Irish Republican Army sends a go-between to meet with the province's disarmament commission. In response, Sinn Fein, the political ally of the IRA, said disarmament was an essential part of the peace process and pledged itself to opposing the use of force. Peace efforts have been stalled for weeks as a formal review of last year's accord proceeds.

A referendum on independence for the restive province of Aceh is "planned" if separatist strife there ends within a month, new Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid said. Wahid also set a timetable for such a vote: next June. Previously, he'd said only that he didn't oppose an East Timor-type vote in Aceh, although his senior military commanders do. Meanwhile, transportation was reported fully booked for at least two weeks as non-Acehnese seek to flee what they believe may be new violence if the referendum doesn't materialize.

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Police hastily broke up a silent rally by Falun Gong members in Beijing's Tiananmen Square that appeared to be an appeal to visiting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for help. A large red banner was torn from the hands of followers and an estimated 20 of them were pushed into a van and driven away. Meanwhile, a letter to Annan also said the group doesn't oppose China's Communist government, is little interested in politics, and is concerned "only with perfecting our souls." Annan said he was given "a full explanation" of China's policy toward the banned group by Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and would leave with "a better understanding" of the issue.

More international police - and more money - are needed to help bring about a reconciliation between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the chief of the UN mission there said. Bernard Koucher said he asked for 6,000 policemen to help prevent ethnic violence in the province, but was given only 1,700. He planned to ask a conference of international donors today in Brussels for additional funds to be spent on Kosovo's long-term reconstruction needs.

An inability to recognize "the scope of the evil confronting us" was one of the key reasons why the UN failed to prevent the deaths of perhaps 8,000 Muslims at the hands of Serbs in the so-called Bosnian protection zone of Srebrenica, a new report found. The self-critical document said neither deployment of a peacekeeping force nor humanitarian aid could have prevented the 1995 massacre, "which cried out for a political-military solution." The remains of about 2,500 Muslim men and boys have been found in mass graves near the town.

Thousands of people lured by a radio ad watched in a Kabul sports arena as a mother of seven became the first woman to be executed publicly by Afghanistan's Taliban religious movement. She was convicted of killing her husband in a family dispute. Under the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law, convicted murderers are shot by relatives of their victims.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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