Russia: Amnesty offer can’t halt fighting in Chechnya

Russian troops and Chechen police battled for a second day with rebels Saturday in an eastern Chechen town in fighting that killed at least 20 people, even as an amnesty offer to rebels came into effect.

The amnesty, approved the day before by Russia’s parliament, was touted as a step toward peace, offering immunity from prosecution to rebels who give up their weapons by Sept. 1.

But fighting persisted, particularly in Argun, a town in the eastern part of the republic where a convoy of Russian troops was ambushed by insurgents Friday, according to the Russian military.

A Chechen military police commander, Aud Yusupov, was killed along with three Russian servicemen and two civilians, while 14 rebels were killed and 10 others escaped, said a Russian military spokesman.

Mexico: Flood, gas explosion leaves at least four dead

Five people were still missing after heavy rains turned what is usually only a trickle into a 100-foot-wide torrent that sent mud and rocks crashing down a mountainside late Thursday.

The debris punched holes in a gas line, causing a rapid series of explosions that demolished buildings in Balastrera, a popular truck-stop town between Mexico City and Veracruz.

The floodwaters destroyed 300 houses and damaged about 1,000 others in Nogales.

Federal officials said Friday night that two people drowned, one died of a heart attack and one of burns.

A state spokesman said 20 of the more than 50 people burned in the explosions remained hospitalized Saturday. Veracruz Governor Miguel Aleman Velazco said the search for the missing continued.

Cuba: Castro promises ‘unmasking of many’

Cuban President Fidel Castro did not speak at a political rally Saturday protesting U.S. policies, but told reporters afterward he would have plenty to say in the coming days about recent events.

The 76-year-old leader said after a government-organized rally in a Havana neighborhood, “In these days, there will have to be a lot of talking, and the unmasking of many.”

Apparently referring to the European Union’s recent announcement it was reviewing its policies toward Cuba, Castro said, “We are wondering why we got the first word from the news cables.”

The European Union said Thursday it was beginning a review of its relations with Cuba after the Castro government’s recent crackdown on dissidents on the island — sentencing 75 people to prison terms of up to 28 years — and the firing-squad executions of three convicted hijackers of a ferry.

Netherlands: Dutch to send forces as peacekeepers in Iraq

The Netherlands will send 1,100 peacekeepers to southern Iraq to join the British-led multinational stabilization force, the Dutch government said.

The Cabinet decided Friday to contribute a battalion of marines under a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to a Foreign Ministry statement posted on its Web site.

The Dutch forces will be stationed in the sparsely populated, southern al-Muthanna region for at least six months and possibly a year. No departure date was set, but Defense Minister Henk Kamp said the forces first may go to Kuwait in August for an acclimatization period.