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Tensions rising in Kosovo buffer zone

A top Serb official and a NATO emissary met with ethnic Albanians on Thursday in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful solution to escalating tensions in a predominantly Albanian region of Serbia along its boundary with Kosovo.

Serbia's deputy prime minister, Nebojsa Covic, and Shawn Sullivan, a political adviser to the top NATO official in the southern Serb province of Kosovo, met with ethnic Albanian representatives from the three-mile-wide buffer zone between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.

"We made significant steps forward in our efforts for a peaceful solution . . . but there still is fear of uncontrollable acts by parties or groups who seek to profit from conflicts and bloodshed," Covic said after his tour.

SERBIAN ENERGY CRISIS: Blackouts and traffic jams sparked more protests Thursday in the main Yugoslav republic of Serbia, which is suffering from its worst-ever energy crisis. But there was hope for the new year as the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom agreed to resume shipping natural gas to Yugoslavia, starting Jan. 1.

4 with suspected ties

to bin Laden arrested

FRANKFURT, Germany _ German authorities arrested four suspected terrorists with ties to Osama bin Laden and seized weapons and explosives during a search of two Frankfurt apartments, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

The four were arrested Tuesday on charges of belonging to a criminal organization, arms and explosives violations and falsifying documents. During a subsequent search of two apartments Wednesday, authorities seized 44 pounds of a chemical used to manufacture explosives, homemade detonators, a hand grenade, submachine guns, dismantled rifles, revolvers and ammunition.

All four suspects were living under assumed names, and prosecutors said their true identities were not yet known.

China, Taiwan may trade

BEIJING _ For the first time since China's civil war ended 51 years ago, mainland China and Taiwan say they are ready to acknowledge a direct trade link _ a small step, but one that many hope will eventually lead to an easing of tensions.

Beijing grudgingly consented to the direct link Thursday after months of ignoring a Taipei initiative to formalize local trade ties that now exist illegally between China's Fujian province and two small islands, Matsu and Quemoy, that are controlled by Taiwan.

The first legal commerce is scheduled to begin Jan. 1.

Elsewhere . . .

CYCLONE HITS SRI LANKA: Half a million people in Sri Lanka fled their homes ahead of a cyclone, and the government struggled Thursday to help the stranded. At least eight people were killed in the storm, which hit coastal areas Tuesday in the northeast of this island off India's southern tip.

LIBYAN SANCTIONS: Developing countries on the U.N. Security Council proposed lifting sanctions against Libya on the grounds that the Tripoli government had cooperated with the trial of two Libyan suspects in the 1988 Pan Am bombing. It wasn't clear if the Non-Aligned Movement of mostly developing countries would push for a vote on a resolution today.

PRIEST KILLED: A Roman Catholic priest, on his way to buy Christmas presents was shot and killed by a suspected Muslim rebel on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, military officials said. The Rev. Benjamin Inocencio, 41, was being driven to a store to buy gifts for a church workers' Christmas party when a lone rebel approached his jeep and shot him twice in the head with a pistol.

GAS EXPLOSION: An explosion ripped through a natural gas pipeline station in East Hereford, Quebec, just across Vermont's border in Canada. At least one man was injured, authorities said.

TURKISH AMNESTY: Nearly 20,000 people have been released from prison since Turkey enacted an amnesty last week, the Anatolia news agency reported. It said 19,152 convicts and 579 people detained pending trial have walked free since last Friday.

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