NEWS FROM AROUND THE WORLD .

KUWAIT The mistake made by two Americans held in Iraq was panicking when they realized they had strayed over Kuwait's desert border, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported Sunday.

An Iraqi border patrol noticed the Americans last Monday when they backed out of a gate to the U.N. compound, swung their car around and took off for Kuwait, the English-language Arab Times said.

''Had they not panicked, they would have been in the hands of UNIKOM (the U.N. force) and not in the hands of ... you know who,'' an unidentified U.N. officer was quoted as saying.

The newspaper said Bangladeshi peacekeepers stopped the two at the gate of UNIKOM headquarters in the port of Umm Qasr because they did not have proper authorization.

The headquarters is inside the six-mile-wide demilitarized zone on the Iraqi side of the border, which is marked by cement pillars 1.3 miles apart.

The Americans reportedly went to the outpost to visit friends in a Danish engineering unit.

UNIKOM spokesman Salim Fahmawi could not be reached for comment Sunday. He said Friday the Iraqis seized the two Americans as they were returning from the post.

On Saturday, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told The Associated Press in Baghdad that ''nothing much will happen to them.'' However, he hinted the Americans' release could be linked to demands to lift the U.N. trade sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

SALINAS, Calif. Gov. Pete Wilson toured flood-ravaged farmland Saturday and suspended the endangered species act in disaster areas to help in the cleanup.

Wilson flew in a helicopter over the Salinas Valley the nation's so-called salad bowl and viewed wide swaths of dun-colored, silt-drenched farms.

He later met with angry farmers who claim environmental laws have contributed to the devastation.

''As Californians start their rebuilding efforts, it is important that state rules and regulations not stand in their way,'' the Republican said.

By suspending the state's endangered species act, farmers and residents will be able to clean up and restore their property without getting bogged down by permits, spokesman Sean Walsh said.

The act, passed in the early 1970s, protects a long list of animals, including insects, ranging from the Blunt-Nosed Leopard Lizard to the San Joaquin Kit Fox. When removing brush or clearing river channels where endangered species live, farmers usually have to get permits.

Wilson already has temporarily waived air-pollution laws to allow farmers and others to burn fallen timber, rotted produce and other debris.

Farmers said an Army Corps of Engineers prohibition against deepening channels, a failure to maintain levees, and laws protecting wildlife habitat helped push rivers over their banks.

LONDON Encouraged by U.S. backing for its calls for IRA disarmament, Britain has sent the IRA-supporting Sinn Fein party a draft agenda for possible ministerial-level talks on Northern Ireland.

A week that began with British anger as Sinn Fein made its White House debut ended with British satisfaction at growing international pressure on the Irish Republican Army to lay down its arms.

Prime Minister John Major's office confirmed Saturday the government has sent Sinn Fein a draft agenda for possible talks that would be the first at the ministerial level with the IRA's political allies.

''The ball is firmly in their court,'' a spokesman for Major said, on customary condition of anonymity. ''We are saying, if and when a minister were to join talks, this is the sort of agenda we visualize.''

The spokesman said that despite Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams' comments that his party is prepared to discuss ''all relevant issues,'' the government has ''had no firm assurance yet'' that Sinn Fein is prepared to talk about destroying the IRA's large arsenal.

But he welcomed President Clinton's call Friday for all gunmen to surrender their weapons, and said Major's office ''will have more to say'' after the two leaders talk by telephone sometime Saturday. He did not say when draft agenda was sent to Sinn Fein.

The IRA's Sept. 1 cease-fire ended its 24-year campaign of violence against British rule in Northern Ireland. But the outlawed group did not give up any weapons, a British condition for Sinn Fein's participation in all-party talks on Northern Ireland's future.

TUCSON Arizona's new area code went into effect this weekend, but print shops around the state said businesses have been slow in making updates to their paper supplies.

Cities outside the Phoenix-area split off from the once-statewide 602 code prefix on Sunday and will use 520 instead.

But callers have a four-month grace period through which the 602 code will continue to work, and some say it has delayed the panic.

''There doesn't seem to be a rush of people making orders,'' said Bob Burke, director of printing and publishing support services for the University of Arizona. ''I don't know the reason for the lack of panic, but we certainly appreciate it. People here are taking the change calmly.''

Several businesses are using up what supplies they have left before ordering new stock, said Sandy Wood, manager of Sir Speedy printers in Flagstaff.

''Stationary, invoices, business cards that's what it affects the most,'' said Wood. ''We've made small labels that tell about the change and we've been surprised at how quickly those have sold.''

The labels read ''Effective March 19, the new area code is 520'' and can be placed atop letterhead and other paper stock, Wood said. About 12,000 have already sold.

''I feel sorry for the people who ordered stationery about six months ago without knowing about the new area code,'' said Janet Barbrick, owner of The Ink Well printing shop in Tucson.

The Ink Well and some other printers are making the code changes for free a typesetting cost which usually starts at about $7.

''We've been offering special advertising for our customers where we'd do the typesetting for free if they buy all their supplies here,'' said Phil Worcester, owner of Busy Bee Printers in Tucson. ''But most of our customers aren't concerned about it.''

NEW ORLEANS A beer van with an alleged drunk at the wheel killed one person when it plowed into a crowd watching a St. Patrick's Day parade in the French Quarter. Another 38 people were injured.

''It was bouncing and rolling over people. It happened so fast you couldn't react,'' Michael Foto said.

Five people remained hospitalized Saturday, a day after the van swung around a corner, stopped, then accelerated into the Bourbon Street crowd, trapping three people underneath. One, a 31-year-old woman, died.

Wilfred A. Rome Jr., 63, was charged with one count of vehicular homicide and 38 counts of vehicular negligent injury, Sgt. Cynthia Patterson said. He faces up to 34 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

A blood-alcohol test showed Rome was legally drunk, Patterson said.

Many of those injured were bruised by the truck or burned by its exhaust. Others were trampled by people running away, Patterson said.

MANILA, Philippines The government on Sunday postponed a visit by Singapore's prime minister next month following the outcry over his government's execution of a Filipino maid for a double murder.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Robert Romulo also said the government was recalling envoys to Singapore and six other countries to discuss measures to protect Filipinos working abroad.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore was to have visited April 10-12. Romulo did not say when it would be rescheduled.

Also Sunday, The Manila Chronicle quoted the former Philippine consul general in Singapore as saying the maid, Flor Contemplacion, angrily rejected early advice that she not sign a confession.

The report contradicted claims by critics of the Philippine government's handling of the case, who said Mrs. Contemplacion was innocent and was tortured into making a false confession.

''She was very furious then and kept shouting that she had committed the crime,'' Consul General Elizabeth Buensuceso was quoted as saying.

Mrs. Contemplacion, 42, was hanged Friday. She was convicted a year ago of the 1991 murder of another Filipino maid and that woman's 4-year-old charge. The death penalty is mandatory for murder in Singapore.

Critics contended she was tortured into giving a false confession.

The case became a cause celebre for Filipinos who are angry at the mistreatment of Filipinos working in low-paying jobs abroad.

Critics say the Philippine government gave little assistance to Mrs. Contemplacion, whom they portrayed as a victim of Singapore's harsh legal system and an uncaring Philippine Embassy.

SEOUL, South Korea A shipment of 54,000 tons of U.S. corn is on its way to North Korea, news reports said Sunday. It would be first direct export of U.S. grain to the communist country.

The corn left Seattle on Wednesday, the newspaper Dong-A Ilbo reported, quoting industry sources.

Corn is the chief grain of mountainous North Korea. South Korea says recent bad harvests there have caused worsening shortages.

Defectors from North Korea have all reported severe food shortages, saying people were eating gruel and even animal feed while the communist regime diverted resources to the military.

North Korea agreed last October to freeze its nuclear program, suspected of being used for bomb development. In return, Washington promised to provide it with replacement reactors that produce far less weapons-grade plutonium, and to improve diplomatic ties and economic aid.

The Dong-A said North Korea also plans to import U.S. rice.

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