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Newsline - March 28, 1996


"THIRD FORCE" CANDIDATES ISSUE JOINT STATEMENT ON INTEGRATION.
Presidential candidates Aleksandr Lebed, Svyatoslav Fedorov, and Grigorii Yavlinskii issued a joint statement calling for greater economic integration of the countries making up the former Soviet Union within the framework of the CIS, Russian media reported on 27 March. The three politicians criticized attempts by both the Communist Party and President Yeltsin to expand Russian influence among its neighbors as discrediting the idea of integration. Earlier, they had called on the Duma not to denounce the Belavezha accords. The issuing of these joint statements suggests the increasing cohesion of a "third force" in the presidential campaign: Yavlinskii had previously shunned all alliances. -- Robert Orttung

"THIRD FORCE" MAY USE PRIMARIES TO DETERMINE LEADER.
The "Third Force" may organize a poll of its supporters in the regions to determine which of its three leaders will be the group's presidential candidate, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March, citing Konstantin Zatulin, a member of the Congress of Russian Communities Council. According to Zatulin, Lebed is in favor of the idea, Fedorov is leaning toward it, while Yavlinskii is skeptical, fearing falsification of the results. Russia has not previously seen anything resembling a party primary.
-- Robert Orttung

NTV CHAIRMAN DEFENDS DECISION TO JOIN YELTSIN STAFF.
Igor Malashenko, president of the independent television station NTV, said his decision to join President Yeltsin's re-election campaign staff will not affect NTV's reporting, RFE/RL reported on 27 March. Observers had expressed concern that Malashenko's decision might compromise the station's editorial independence (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 March 1996). Malashenko said his decision is not tied to an attempt to secure advantages for NTV, but he did say that he expects NTV to shortly receive permission to broadcast 24 hours a day. At present, NTV broadcasts about eight hours a day. -- Penny Morvant

ZYUGANOV DESCRIBES FOREIGN POLICY GOALS.
Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov described his foreign policy goals as "extremely simple: maximum openness both to the West and to the East but with active support and protection for the internal market," ITAR-TASS reported 27 March. He also argued that "everything that is connected with the territory of the former USSR falls within the area of our vital interests." To back this claim, he noted the 25 million Russians living in the non-Russian former Soviet republics who "have been thrown upon the mercy of fate and are not receiving any support." Additionally, Zyuganov said that he would not allow the buying and selling of farmland should he come to power and that Yeltsin's approval of such policies is "killing" state and collective farms. -- Robert Orttung

LUZHKOV OFFICIALLY ENTERS MAYORAL RACE.
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has officially announced that he will run for re-election, Russian media reported on 27 March. Luzhkov was endorsed for re-election by a group of supporters on 13 March. Announcing his intention to stand for the 16 June mayoral poll, Luzhkov said that he cannot leave his job without finishing it and "must be in a race." Earlier this week, the Duma Communist Party faction announced that it might put forward a Communist candidate for the Moscow mayoral race. Luzhkov is considered to be the favorite. -- Anna Paretskaya

VOTE COUNTING SYSTEM WORKED WELL IN TATARSTAN.
Experts from a Moscow
research institute who deal with implementing the new computerized vote counting system Vybory (Elections) have concluded that the system performed well in Tatarstan's 24 March presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. Specialists say the system prevents electoral fraud. Moreover, it completes the counting procedure within several hours; the "final" preliminary results of the December Duma elections, which were counted manually, were released eight days after the poll. The Tatarstan election, it should be remembered, had only one candidate. -- Anna Paretskaya

PREVENTIVE DIPLOMACY IN CHECHNYA.
Representatives of fifteen Chechen political parties and deputies to the parliament of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus (CPC) adopted an appeal to the peoples of the North Caucasus at a conference in Urus-Martan on 27 March to prevent the spread of hostilities in the North Caucasus, Radio Rossii reported. Conference participants also agreed to put forward Chechen parliament speaker Yusup Soslambekov as a candidate for president of the CPC at the upcoming congress of peoples of the North Caucasus in Nalchik. Speaking on local television on 27 March, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev condemned the individual peace agreements that more than 120 Chechen villages have signed with Russian federal forces, AFP reported on 28 March. Russian troops resumed their artillery bombardment of Bamut on 27 March; fighting was also reported elsewhere in southern Chechnya and along the border with Ingushetiya, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Liz Fuller

REPORT ON INTERIOR MINISTRY CASUALTIES IN CHECHNYA.
Figures released on 27 March indicate that the Interior Ministry's troops have suffered considerable losses in Chechnya. Russian media quoted Lt. Gen. Anatolii Shkirko, commander of the Internal Troops, as saying that 621 Interior Ministry servicemen had been killed since the military campaign began in December 1994. On 12 March, Radio Mayak quoted the first deputy commander of the troops as saying that 423 internal troops had died and another 157 were missing in action. Shkirko said that more than 23,000 of his men were currently deployed in Chechnya. According to an ITAR-TASS report of 27 March, the establishment strength of the Internal Troops is 272,000. The force has 29 divisions and 15 brigades in nine okrugs. It has been facing severe financial difficulties, and morale is low. -- Doug Clarke and Penny Morvant

CIS DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET TO INCREASE COOPERATION.
Defense ministers or their representatives from the CIS states, minus Moldova, met in Moscow on 27 March, Russian media reported. NTV reported that the discussion centered around the implementation of the joint CIS air defense system that is to be launched on 1 April and has been signed by all of the CIS states except Azerbaijan and Moldova. Other topics of discussion included peacekeeping force policies and the financing of CIS collective security measures. In addition, ITAR-TASS reported that the defense ministers of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan prepared documents that are to be signed at the 29 March summit of those country's presidents. In an interview following the meeting, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev emphasized the need to coordinate defense policies, especially in light of the expected NATO expansion. -- Roger Kangas

COURT RULES DEFENDANTS CAN CHOOSE OWN LAWYERS.
The Constitutional Court ruled on 27 March that defendants charged under the Law on State Secrets are entitled to choose their own lawyers, Russian and Western agencies reported. The ruling followed complaints that the stipulation in the law that defense lawyers in such cases must first obtain security clearance was unconstitutional and gave the prosecution an unfair advantage. One of the complainants was retired Navy Captain Aleksandr Nikitin, arrested by the Federal Security Service in February on charges of treason in connection with his work for the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona. The ruling, which Bellona described as a major victory, came a day after President Yeltsin promised Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland that Nikitin would be allowed to use his own lawyer. -- Penny Morvant

FOUNDATION WANTS EURO-DOLLARS FOR KOMSOMOLETS SALVAGE.
The European Parliament's Committee on Petitions turned down a petition asking for $12.5 million in EU funding to salvage the nuclear-armed torpedoes in the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Komsomolets. According to a 26 March press release, the Belgium-based Komsomolets Foundation requested the money because the Russians could no longer afford to salvage the vessel. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was listed among the foundation's backers. The committee criticized the petition for being concerned solely with the weapons aboard the submarine rather than its nuclear reactor. It did agreed to forward the petition to two other committees in case they wished to pursue the matter. -- Doug Clarke

INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL DEFENDS DEATH PENALTY.
First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov said on 27 March that 53 people have been executed in Russia in the past three years, the BBC reported, citing Interfax. Kolesnikov said that 423 people were sentenced to death in 1980, 225 in 1986, and 160 in 1994, and that Russia has 69,500 prison inmates convicted on charges of premeditated murder. He argued that abolishing the death penalty--a condition of Russia's recent admission to the Council of Europe--would be counterproductive and that Russia lacks the funds to take such a step. -- Penny Morvant

NEW $100 BILLS APPEAR IN MOSCOW.
At a joint press conference on 27 March, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin said that the introduction of new $100 banknotes is proceeding smoothly, ITAR-TASS reported. The first consignment of $60 million worth of the new bills arrived in Moscow on 25 March, AFP reported. The U.S. has spent $1 million on a publicity campaign reassuring Russians that the old bills will still be legal tender. -- Peter Rutland

BANKRUPTCY DATA.
Petr Mostovoi, head of the Federal Insolvency Administration, told ITAR-TASS on 27 March that Russia has made decisive strides toward financial stabilization. He also claimed that the bankruptcy law is starting to work effectively. Ten firms declared themselves insolvent in 1993, followed by 350 in 1994, and 1,103 in 1995. Following the recommendations of Mostovoi's agency, courts declared 459 firms bankrupt over the past year. However, this is only a small fraction of Russia's more than 40,000 firms; virtually no large-sized enterprises have been declared bankrupt. -- Peter Rutland

MAJOR NEW OIL VENTURE BETWEEN SHELL AND EVIKHON.
The Russian oil company Evikhon and Royal Dutch/Shell's Russian subsidiary have agreed to set up a joint venture to exploit the Salym oil fields, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. The Salym fields in Tyumen Oblast have recoverable oil reserves of 139 million metric tons, and are expected to yield 6 million metric tons annually by the year 2003. Over the next 25 years, up to $11 billion could be invested in the project. Evikhon was created to develop the Salym fields in 1992: since then Evikhon and Shell have already spent $100 million on exploratory work in Salym. Shell officials said that the new venture's strategy in Russia will depend on the outcome of the presidential election in June. -- Natalia Gurushina

RUSSIA TO SUPPLY NUCLEAR REACTORS TO CHINA.
The Russian government will provide China with a 15-year $2 billion loan at 4% interest to supply Russian reactors to a new nuclear power station in northeast China, Reuters reported on 27 March. The cost of the station, whose construction will begin in 1998, is $4 billion. The agreement to buy Russian reactors was signed during Prime Minister Li Peng's visit to Moscow in June 1995. Chinese officials said that they chose Russian reactors because they were 15-20% cheaper than Western ones. -- Natalia Gurushina



PUBLICATION OF ARMENIAN NEWSPAPER SUSPENDED.
A Yerevan court has banned the daily newspaper Lragir for three months for the serialized publication of an article advocating the annexation by Armenia of predominantly Armenian-populated regions of southern Georgia, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 20 March. The paper's editor had ignored a warning from the Armenian Justice Ministry not to continue publishing the article after its first installment. -- Liz Fuller

PAKISTANI OFFICIALS ON TURKMEN GAS.
According to unnamed officials in Pakistan's Petroleum and Natural Resources Ministry, the U.S. firm UNOCAL has submitted a pipeline project to move natural gas from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad field to Pakistan via parts of Afghanistan that are now held by the Taliban rebel movement, AFP reported on 28 March. The cost of the 1,271 km-long pipeline project is estimated at $3 billion. The Argentinean firm Bridas proposed a similar plan in the past; last summer, the firm's president secured numerous promises from Ashgabat, Islamabad, Kabul, and several combatants involved in the Afghan civil war, only to see the deal unravel following renewed fighting in Afghanistan. -- Lowell Bezanis

UNICEF CALLS FOR AID TO TAJIKISTAN.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched a fundraising campaign for Tajikistan on 27 March with the aim of collecting $5.6 million, Reuters and AFP reported. Speaking from the Kazakhstani capital Almaty, UNICEF's Executive Director Carol Bellamy said Tajikistan is coping "with the double burden of outright civil war as well as economic restructuring." The money would go for medical supplies, education, and clean water programs for women and children. UNICEF reports show that infant mortality in Tajikistan is running at more than 60 per 1,000 and that as many as 2 million children suffer from respiratory and childhood diseases. -- Bruce Pannier

UZBEK PRESIDENT IN VIETNAM.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov arrived in Vietnam on 28 March to meet with President Le Duc Anh, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, and Communist Party Secretary-General Do Muoi, ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides signed several agreements on bilateral trade, investment protection, and double taxation. Karimov is the first CIS president to visit Vietnam since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. -- Roger Kangas



UKRAINE RECEIVES 27 BLACK SEA FLEET VESSELS.
Russia turned over 27 warships of different classes to Ukraine at a ceremony in Crimea on 27 March, Western and Ukrainian media reported. The ceremony was the first stage of an expected transfer of 150 ships to Kyiv in compliance with Russian-Ukrainian agreements to split the Soviet era Black Sea Fleet. Ukrainian Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk and Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin met in Moscow on 26 March to hammer out remaining differences over dividing up the fleet. Russian agencies reported that they reached agreements on the status of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea and on the naval base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. A treaty on leasing the fleet's Crimean infrastructure by Russia and the terms of payment remains unresolved. Both sides have been trying to finalize agreements before Russian President Boris Yeltsin's scheduled visit to Kyiv on 4-5 April to sign a long-awaited friendship treaty with Ukraine. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

LEFTIST LAWMAKERS SUBMIT ALTERNATIVE DRAFT OF NEW UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTION.
A group of 125 leftist deputies have submitted to the parliament an alternative draft of the new Ukrainian constitution, Ukrainian agencies reported on 25 March. The document, which is called the Basic Law of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, provides for the restoration of the former Soviet-era regime but stops short of calling for union with other former republics. It declares Ukraine a "socialist state," eliminates the Presidency, and grants all powers to a supreme soviet or council. The draft also calls for Ukrainian and Russian as state languages and the return of communist-era emblems. The legislators are calling for a national referendum on the main provisions of their draft constitution. Nationalist groups, including the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, called the move a provocation aimed at destroying the constitutional process. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES UNION TREATY.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 27 March told the parliament that he will sign a union treaty with Russia in Moscow on 2 April, Western agencies reported. He distanced himself from earlier comments suggesting the treaty will create "a unified state" by saying "We are creating a union of two states" that will be similar to the EU." Lukashenka described the organizers of the anti-treaty demonstration in Minsk on 24 March as "enemies of the people." The organizers, including Belarusian People's Front Chairman Zyanon Paznyak, have gone into hiding to avoid arrest. But the parliament seemed unimpressed by his speech, since it failed to pass two resolutions on the treaty. -- Saulius Girnius

ESTONIA, RUSSIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON MEDICAL INSURANCE FOR RETIRED MILITARY.
Representatives of the Estonian Social Insurance Department and the Russian Defense Ministry on 27 March signed a medical insurance agreement for retired Russian military, ETA reported. Russia agreed to transfer more than 1 million kroons ($90,000) every month to a special bank account to pay the medical expenses of the 6,500 people covered by the agreement. Talks on the matter began in fall 1994. Meanwhile, Russian and Estonian delegations in Tallinn have begun another round of talks on determining the border between the two countries. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN POLITICAL PARTY PROPOSES REFERENDUM ON PROHIBITING SALE OF LAND TO FOREIGNERS.
The Lithuanian National Progress Party (LTPP) on 27 March proposed to the Supreme Electoral Commission that a referendum be held on prohibiting the sale of land to foreigners, Radio Lithuania reported. The parliament last week approved an amendment to the constitution allowing foreigners to purchase non-agricultural land. If the parliament passes the amendment again after a three-month interval, it will go into effect immediately. The prohibition of sale of land to foreigners would prevent Lithuania from becoming a member of the EU. -- Saulius Girnius

POLISH PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS DRAFT PENAL CODE.
The Polish government on 27 March submitted to the Sejm the draft penal code, which provides for more lenient treatment of prisoners than under current legislation. Capital punishment, which was recently suspended in Poland, is replaced by life imprisonment. Anyone receiving a life sentence can apply to be released after 25 years. Justice Minister Leszek Kubicki told the Sejm that while citizens want a tough law, public sentiment cannot define legislation that should be oriented toward the future, Polish dailies reported on 28 March. -- Jakub Karpinski

POLISH PREMIER, PRIMATE MEET.
Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on 27 March met with Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Polish dailies reported. Cimoszewicz said they discussed "friendly world-view pluralism," while the primate noted that the meeting proved that the Church and the state were looking for new ways to collaborate. After a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Government and the Episcopate the same day, Archbishop Jerzy Stroba said the Polish Foreign Ministry has asked the Vatican for clarification of unclear points in the Concordat, which has still not been ratified. Meanwhile, a group of left-wing deputies have proposed that an extraordinary Sejm commission be formed to investigate the restitution of Roman Catholic Church property; 175 deputies, mostly from the ruling Alliance of Democratic Left, were in favor of the proposal and 136 against. -- Jakub Karpinski

BRITISH QUEEN IN PRAGUE.
Queen Elizabeth II on 27 March arrived in the Czech Republic from Poland for a three-day state visit, the first ever by a reigning British monarch. At a state banquet in Prague Castle, she supported Czech attempts to "regain a rightful place in the community of free nations," Czech media reported. "We strongly support the enlargement of the EU and NATO. We welcome your ambitions to become a member of these institutions," the Queen added. On 28 March, she is due to visit Brno. -- Steve Kettle

REACTIONS TO SLOVAKIA'S LAW ON PROTECTION OF REPUBLIC.
President Michal Kovac on 27 March said if he finds that the law on the protection of the republic violates basic human rights and the constitution, he will have no choice but to veto it, TASR reported. He added that neither the government nor the president permanently represents "the national state interest," emphasizing that neither is beyond criticism. Kovac said he does not feel that Slovak statehood is currently endangered. What Slovakia really needs, he said, is laws on the protection of the citizen and personal freedoms, since these would strengthen democracy. Also on 27 March, Justice Minister Jozef Liscak said the "protective provisions [of the new law] have long been required." He stressed that the law "will never harm anyone who has not acted with the intent of subverting the republic." -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT RE-APPROVES ANTI-COMMUNIST LAW.
The parliament on 27 March passed a slightly amended law on the immorality and illegitimacy of the communist regime, Narodna obroda reported. The law, first approved in early February, was vetoed by President Michal Kovac at the cabinet's request. Opposition deputies criticized the coalition's "contradictory" behavior in passing a law that condemns the previous totalitarian regime only one day after approving the law on the protection of the republic. The parliament also approved laws on highway and housing construction. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY WELCOMES SLOVAK RATIFICATION OF TREATY BUT NOT "INTERPRETATION CLAUSES."
Budapest has welcomed Slovakia's ratification of the bilateral treaty but believes that the "interpretation clauses" rejecting collective rights for minorities have no legal force, Hungarian dailies reported Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs as saying on 27 March. He said those clauses contravene the Council of Europe Recommendation 1201. Kovacs added that they also reveal a one-sided interpretation of the treaty that should have no consequences for Hungary. Both he and Prime Minister Gyula Horn stressed that Hungary will only exchange ratification documents--thereby allowing the treaty to go into force--if the clauses are not included. Meanwhile, Hungary's opposition parties voiced concern about the treaty, with some suggesting that it should be renegotiated. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

UNHCR HELPS FIRST GROUP OF BOSNIAN REFUGEES RETURN HOME.
Two busses and a truck carrying 54 Bosnian Muslims and their belongings left the Nagyatad refugee camp, in southern Hungary, as the UNHCR began helping Bosnian refugees from outside former Yugoslavia return home, Hungarian and international media reported on 27 March. Since January, some 300 refugees have left Hungary on their own. The International Organization for Migration, the Hungarian authorities, and the UNHCR are all taking part in helping the refugees. The UNHCR provides $50 each to adults, $25 to children, and cold food for two days. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



IFOR TO HELP WITH BOSNIAN CIVILIAN RECONSTRUCTION.
In an apparent reversal of NATO policy, U.S. commander Gen. George Joulwan on 27 March said that IFOR troops will join in civilian projects as well as perform purely military tasks. They will concentrate on opening roads, building bridges, and clearing mines to permit freedom of movement, AFP reported. The general said that "if this doesn't happen right, then it's going to be very difficult to carry out an election. If people can't travel along the roads, I don't call that `mission creep,' I say that's part of the mission." IFOR had previously insisted that freedom of movement was a police matter that did not concern the peacekeepers. Joulwan added that the most serious Bosnian issue is now tension between Croats and Muslims, which is threatening to undermine the federation, the BBC reported on 28 March. In Washington, the U.S. Defense Intelligence chief, Gen. Patrick Hughes, stated that IFOR will also arrest indicted war criminals like Bosnian Serb civilian leader Radovan Karadzic and his military counterpart, Gen. Ratko Mladic, Nasa Borba reported. -- Patrick Moore

CROATIAN-MUSLIM MEETING SCRAPPED.
The German government on 27 March cancelled a planned session near Bonn to mark the second anniversary of the Bosnian federation and to discuss practical questions about putting federal structures in place. German officials said the feuding allies had to learn that the international community cannot "hand them peace on a plate," AFP reported. The meeting was scrapped because the two sides failed to make any substantial progress on a host of issues dividing them. But Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian lawyers meeting in Sarajevo did set up a Human Rights Commission, Oslobodjenje said on 28 March. The UN police force, meanwhile, protested to federal authorities about an alleged total lack of cooperation with it on the part of federal police, Dnevni avaz reported. -- Patrick Moore

SACIRBEY WARNS ABOUT FUTURE OF FEDERATION.
Muhamed Sacirbey has resumed his old job as Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, saying that peace "will fail if the war crimes tribunal is not supported and does not bring about at least a minimum level of justice," AFP reported on 27 March. He singled out the need to protect mass grave sites and to arrest indicted war criminals like Karadzic and Mladic. Sacirbey also warned that the federation is threatened by powerful interests in the "Croatian para-state of Herceg-Bosna." He alleged that such individuals would like to torpedo the federation, not for the sake of a greater Croatia but for their own "criminal" economic gain. This includes such pursuits as exacting customs and transit duties, the BBC reported on 28 March. -- Patrick Moore

SERBIA'S SUPREME COURT FREES MUSLIM PRISONERS.
A group of 24 Muslims convicted of plotting the overthrow of the government and insurrection against the rump Yugoslav authorities were freed in Novi Pazar on 27 March. All of the accused were members of the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) of Sandzak. They were convicted in 1994 and sentenced to six years in prison, but the terms of 18 were reduced following appeals. The SDA members were freed after a ruling by the Serbian Supreme Court Council, Radio Bosnia-Herzegovina reported on 26 March. -- Stan Markotich

WHO OWNS MONTENEGRO'S AIRPORTS?
A row over who owns the airports in Podgorica and Tivat has entered the public domain. On 26 March, Zoran Djurisic, managing director of the republic's airlines, told Pobjeda that the airport facilities "are Montenegro's." SRNA reports that Djurisic's remark is in response to a statement by the director of rump Yugoslavia's airline that "[we] will soon be ready to discuss use of the airports with the Montenegrins." But Djurisic added that "[someone] is going to have to learn who the guest is and who the host is." -- Stan Markotich

CROATIAN FARMERS, FISHERMEN STAGE BIG PROTEST.
The Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) on 27 March organized a two-hour demonstration to protest imports, smuggling, and comodity prices. Farmers blocked 25 border crossings with tractors and demanded a halt to food imports until Croatia can determine what it can produce for itself, news agencies said. A HSS spokesman argued that imports and smuggling are threatening to ruin Croatian agriculture, from which roughly a quarter of the population earns its living. The farmers blame middlemen and others for the high cost of food, which approaches Western European levels, despite the fact that Croats have much lower incomes. Fishermen on the Adriatic also backed the protest. Meanwhile, Croatia has joined the list of countries banning British beef, Reuters reported. -- Patrick Moore

MACEDONIAN PRIVATE BANK RECEIVES $10 MILLION FROM EBRD.
The Skopje-based Komercijalna Banka has received a $10 million investment and loan package from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, RFE/RL reported on 27 March. The package includes a $2.6 million investment in the bank and a convertible loan of more than $7 million. The EBRD said the money is to be used to increase term lending operations to private companies and to state firms undergoing privatization. Komercijalna Banka is one of Macedonia's leading private banks. EBRD President Jacques de Larosiere said he expects it to "play a key role in advancing the transition process" in Macedonia. The EBRD will be represented on Komercijalna Banka's board. -- Stefan Krause

ROMANIA TO APPLY FOR FULL NATO MEMBERSHIP THIS WEEK.
The Romanian Foreign Ministry on 27 March announced that Romania will formally apply for full NATO membership later this week, Romanian media and Reuters reported. Romania is expected to ask NATO headquarters in Brussels to begin discussions on the country's admission. A document mapping out Romania's "individual dialogue" with the alliance has already been approved by the Supreme Council for the Country's Defense and will be accompanied by a letter to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. Jurnalul national on 28 March quoted President Ion Iliescu as saying that drawing up a list of favorite candidates for NATO integration could only "arouse suspicions." Romania was the first former communist country to sign up for NATO's Partnership for Peace program. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIAN ROUNDUP.
President Zhelyu Zhelev on 27 March concluded a three-day visit to Belgium, Bulgarian dailies reported. Zhelev met with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, EU Commission President Jacques Santer, EU External Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek, and WEU Secretary-General Jose Cutileiro to discuss Bulgaria's integration into Western structures. Zhelev said he was surprised by the interest shown in Bulgaria. But RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent noted that Zhelev was clearly disappointed by the outcome of the talks. Bulgaria's chances of joining NATO or the EU in the near future are considered poor, partly because of the slow pace of reform and partly because of the Socialist government's position. In other news, Zhelev approved the government's decision to recall Ambassador to Switzerland Elena Kircheva, following her marriage to Petar Hadzhidimitrov, a Bulgarian emigre known for his anti-Semitic and extreme right-wing views. -- Stefan Krause

GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN ALBANIA.
Volker Ruhe on 27 March wrapped up a two-day visit to Albania, Western agencies reported. He and his Albanian counterpart, Safet Zhulali, agreed to implement 25 military cooperation projects this year, including training Albanian officers in Germany, a joint military exercise, and German assistance in introducing modern command structures into Albania's army. The projects are part of a 1995 bilateral cooperation agreement under which Germany has already supplied Albania with military equipment and helped upgrade the Skanderbeg Military Academy. Ruhe said Germany will continue to back Albania's efforts to join NATO. In other news, Albania on 27 March closed its borders to beef imports from the EU and other European countries out of fear of the "mad cow" disease. -- Fabian Schmidt and Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave




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