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News Briefs

Croatian Troops Battle Rebel Serbs

The Washington Post
ZAGREB, Croatia

Croatian army troops battled rebel Serb forces in the biggest engagement since a cease-fire was signed last March, U.N. officials said Thursday, voicing concerns that a coordinated Serb attack on the Bihac pocket, just across the border in Bosnia, could draw Croatia into the Bosnian war.

Croatia's two top military officials vowed that if Bihac falls, Croatian troops will fight to free it. The officials, Defense Minister Gojko Susak and Gen. Janko Bobetko, chief of the general staff, said Croatia had been poised to stop the Serb assault on the Bosnian pocket when it began but was persuaded to halt its attack by the United States and other NATO members.

U.N. spokesman Michael Williams said that on Wednesday Croatian forces around the town of Limar near the Dalmatian coast fired 33 mortar rounds at Serb-held territory in Croatia during a five-hour firefight. He said it marked the most intense clash between the Croatian army and rebel Serbs, who hold 27 percent of Croatia, since March 29 when the two sides agreed on a comprehensive cease-fire.

Tension had been rising in Croatia ever since Bosnian and Croatian Serbs joined forces to attack the Muslim-held Bihac pocket in northwestern Bosnia three weeks ago. U.N. officials said clashes had erupted at six places along the front line separating Croatians from rebel Serbs.

Key Lawmaker Retreats from GOP Contract' on Welfare Reform

Los Angeles Times

A Republican lawmaker whose panel will draft the House version of welfare reform expressed deep reservations Thursday about denying benefits to unmarried teen-age mothers - a central element of the GOP's "Contract with America."

The unexpected retreat from a key contract provision suggests the new Republican majority on Capitol Hill is not fully united behind the aggressive legislative agenda promoted by incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) who will chair the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over welfare reform, said he cannot support Gingrich's proposal to permanently deny cash benefits to poor women who have children while they are teen-agers.

Under the plan, even if a mother who had her baby before she was 18 applied for welfare years later, she and that baby would not be eligible. The plan would also allow states to extend ineligibility to babies born to mothers aged 18 to 20.

42 Nations Sign Declaration To Support Rights of AIDS Victims

Los Angeles Times

With the Eiffel Tower wearing a ribbon of bright red lights, political leaders from 42 countries signed a global declaration here Thursday, promising to protect the rights of people with AIDS and to work more closely with organizations representing them.

The declaration, like the ribbon on the Eiffel Tower, was largely symbolic. But delegates vowed it would launch a solid, international political effort to drum up more money for research, improve the safety of the blood supply and bring the world's largest nations together in the battle against AIDS.

Leaders of AIDS support groups cautiously welcomed the Paris Declaration, saying they were pleased that the issue was being discussed on a world stage by powerful political leaders but also worried that most countries will not take the document seriously.

Many agreed with the AIDS activists who marked World AIDS Day on Thursday with a protest on the Champs-Elysee, laying prone beneath the Arc de Triomphe on the famed avenue and chanting: "Not words but action!"

"This declaration doesn't do much for the needs of people with the disease," said Arnaud Lavauzelle, president of AIDES Federation, the main association representing AIDS victims in France. "It's a compromise, a political decision that doesn't really help in our fight."