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News Briefs I

China Reverses Veto in U.N., Voting for Guatemalan Monitoring

The Washington Post

China reversed its veto of plans to send U.N. military observers to Guatemala and joined other members of the Security Council in voting unanimously for U.N. monitoring of the cease-fire agreement ending Central America's last and longest civil war.

China's about-face means that 155 observers will be available to oversee implementation of the accord signed Dec. 29 in Guatemala City by President Alvaro Arzu and leftist rebel leaders. If the cease-fire is implemented successfully, Guatemala will follow neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador in ending the bitter internecine conflicts that marked the 1970s and 1980s as a time of right-wing death squads, military dictatorship, and leftist guerrilla warfare in Central America.

The Jan. 10 veto, the first cast by China in 24 years, was in retaliation for Guatemala's support of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province of China. As a permanent member of the 15-nation Security Council, China has the power to veto any decision, and at the time, said it could not permit Guatemala to "harm China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, while asking for China's support in the Security Council."

Clinton Plans to Make Proposals For Curbs on Medicare Growth

The Washington Post

President Clinton announced Tuesday that in an effort to "reach out to the Republicans" he is proposing new funding cuts in Medicare, the giant health-care program for the elderly that last year was one of the principal obstacles to a balanced-budget agreement.

The Medicare initiative drew strong praise on Capitol Hill from Republican leaders, who said Clinton's flexibility will make a bipartisan agreement on balancing the budget more likely.

The budget Clinton will formally propose Feb. 6, administration officials said, will include $138 billion in spending reductions over six years - savings that come largely by reducing the amount of money the government pays to hospitals, health-maintenance organizations, home health agencies, skilled nursing homes, and, to a lesser degree, physicians who provide services to Medicare patients.

Since Medicare is increasing far faster than other federal programs, containing its growth is critical to achieving the overall goal of a balanced budget. Yet it is also one of the most popular programs, and politicians have made changes to it at their peril.

FDA Permits Manufacturers To Label Oats Products as Healthy

The Washington Post

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it will allow food manufacturers to label certain foods containing oats as being part of a diet that "may" reduce the risk of heart disease.

Although the agency has allowed previous "health claims" for categories or classes of foods, Tuesday's decision marks the first time companies will be able to name a specific food in the claim.

The decision brings to an end a nearly 20-year-long saga in which oat bran became the first food touted to have disease-preventing properties.

Many dieticians and health food advocates said that eating oats - which contain a high proportion of largely indigestible fiber - could lower bloodstream cholesterol. That, in turn, could reduce a person's risk of coronary heart disease, the proponents said.

Dozens of scientific studies investigated the claims. Many found specific benefit from oat bran, while others suggested that oat-eaters had lower cholesterol because they also ate less fat. In recent years, however, the medical evidence has clearly pointed to a specific - if undramatic - effect from the fiber in oats.

Quaker Oats Co. sought permission to make the health claim under the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act.