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Newsline - March 12, 1997

Valentin Yumashev, a former journalist who ghost-wrote President Boris Yeltsin's two memoirs, Against the Grain and Notes of a President, was appointed head of the presidential administration on 11 March, Russian media reported. The relatively unknown Yumashev, who has little administrative experience, is unlikely to have as much authority as Anatolii Chubais exercised as chief of staff during Yeltsin's illness. Komsomolskaya pravda and Kommersant-Daily reported on 12 March that Yumashev is a good friend of Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and has close links to Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii. Since 1991, Yumashev has held senior posts at the magazine Ogonek, which is partly financed by Berezovskii's Logovaz empire. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin praised Yumashev and said he looked forward to close cooperation between the government and presidential administration, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Laura Belin

President Yeltsin appointed former USSR Defense Minister Aviation Marshal Yevgenii Shaposhnikov as a presidential aide, Russian media reported on 11 March. According to Kommersant-Daily on 12 March, Shaposhnikov will advise Yeltsin on the development of Russia's civil aviation and space programs. Before the appointment, Shaposhnikov was general director of Aeroflot, a post he held since 1995. Previously he served as presidential representative to the state arms exporter, Rosvooruzhenie (1994-95), Secretary of the Security Council (1993), and commander of the CIS Armed Forces (1991-93). The paper said Yeltsin values Shaposhnikov's personal loyalty, although it questioned his performance in his most recent jobs. The same day Yeltsin appointed the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yurii Osipov, to the Security Council. ITAR-TASS said Osipov will oversee the creation of a new scientific advisory board for the council. -- Scott Parrish

In a rare press conference, Presidential Business Manager Pavel Borodin warned that if he lost his job in the current reshuffling, he would be forced to go into politics, Kommersant-Daily reported on 12 March. Since taking the position in 1993, Borodin boasts that he increased the property controlled by the Kremlin 10-fold. His staff of 350 oversees 200 companies, which employ many thousands, and who operate 300 buildings in Moscow, medical facilities in Sochi and the Northern Caucasus, and the Rossiya air company, ITAR-TASS reported. His office handles financing for the parliament, government, and many federal offices in the regions. He criticized the president's annual address to the parliament for attacking a plan to build a new $1.4 billion center to house the parliament and provide accommodation for deputies. He also said that Yeltsin's family lives "modestly" in a 167 square-meter apartment. -- Robert Orttung

Russian Public TV (ORT) has appealed to the Supreme Court against the recent decision by the State Duma to revoke the accreditation of the network's journalists for one month, ORT reported on 11 March. The President's Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes, a consultative body, requested on 7 March that the Duma reverse its decision. The chamber found that the lower house of parliament had violated both the law on the mass media and the constitutional principle of separation of powers, since a court must approve decisions to revoke journalists' accreditation. -- Laura Belin

The State Duma passed the resolution granting amnesty to participants of the war in Chechnya on the third and final reading on 12 March, ITAR-TASS reported. On 11 March, Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov announced that 14 people have been arrested in connection with the abduction last week of four Russian journalists, according to ORT. Also on 11 March, Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Shkirko said that the number of border troops deployed along the administrative frontier between Chechnya and the rest of the Russian Federation is being increased to prevent Chechen fighters and criminals infiltrating other regions. He claimed that the administration of President Aslan Maskhadov is powerless to crack down on crime, according to NTV and ITAR-TASS. -- Liz Fuller

Benjamin Netanyahu discussed bilateral relations and the Middle East peace process on 11 March with President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Russian and Western media reported. Yeltsin told Netanyahu that bilateral trade, which reached nearly $500 million in 1996, "can be considerably increased" now that Moscow and Tel Aviv have "put their prejudices behind them." However, Yeltsin also "voiced concern about Israel's unilateral steps in east Jerusalem," a reference to the Netanyahu government's recent decision to expand Jewish settlements there. Meeting with Primakov, Netanyahu expressed concern about Russia's technical and military cooperation with Iran and Syria, arguing it threatened regional stability. Primakov said the light-water power reactor Russia is supplying Tehran is "unrelated to military matters," and also rejected reports that Russia is help Iran develop ballistic missiles. -- Scott Parrish

There are some 150,000 Afghan refugees in Russia who fled their country after the Soviet-backed regime collapsed in 1992, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported on 11 March. Only a few hundred have been granted refugee status, the remainder have documents which say they are applying for that status. They receive no state support, and eke out an existence through petty trading. They include many former leading members of the Kabul regime, including 30 ex-generals. As they do not hold Moscow residence permits they are often picked up by the police and forced to pay a 50,000 ruble ($8) bribe to avoid deportation from that city. -- Peter Rutland

The Udmurt State Council has given in to pressure from Moscow and annulled a law abolishing elected local government institutions in the republic, ORT reported on 11 March. The law, which was passed by the republican parliament in April 1996, dissolved popularly elected local bodies and replaced them with legislatures and executives appointed by the State Council. Although the Russian Constitutional Court ruled in January that the law violated federal legislation, the republican authorities have continued to implement it. On 21 February and again on 10 March Yeltsin issued decrees ordering republican authorities to abide by the court decision and instructed federal authorities to ensure that they did (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 March 1997, and OMRI Russian Regional Report, 6 March 1997). -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

A crowd in the Dagestani city of Buinaksk on 4 March burned a couple identified as Mr. and Mrs. Gadzhiev who were suspected of kidnapping a 12-year-old girl and selling her organs, ITAR-TASS reported. The girl's body had been found on 2 March, and although she was violently murdered, there was no sign that organs had been removed. The Dagestani authorities claim to have evidence connecting Mr. Gadzhiev to the murder, but not his wife. They are still investigating the circumstances leading to their death. Many children are rumored to have disappeared in Dagestan recently, and some suspect that their organs are being used abroad. Seventh Day Adventist sources (who identified the couple as Tanya and Hadgimurat Magomedov) in the U.S. report that the couple were members of the church and had provoked the ire of the local community, which is predominantly Muslim, by seeking converts. -- Robert Orttung

At a meeting of the government's Commission on Operational Questions on 11 March there was disagreement over the number of unemployed in Russia, Kommersant-Daily reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov said there are 17 million jobless, or 22% of the labor force, citing data from surveys conducted by Guy Standing of the International Labor Organization. Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan accused Standing of "muddying the waters" and said that at the end of 1996 there were only 7 million (9.7%) unemployed: 2.5 million registered unemployed, plus 3 million on part-time work and 2 million more on unpaid leave. Whatever figure one uses, all sides agree that the number of openly unemployed will increase this year. -- Peter Rutland

There are arrears of 1.2 trillion rubles ($210 million) in the payment of unemployment benefits, and there are plans to cut the level of entitlements in order to maintain the solvency of the Unemployment Fund, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March. Currently, an unemployed person receives 75% of his or her last wage. The government is preparing a new law under which the benefit will be equal to the subsistence minimum for the region in which the applicant resides. -- Peter Rutland

There are 9,800 officially registered private security firms in Russia which employ 155,000 people, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March, citing Interior Ministry official Nikolai Pershutkin. According to the ministry, about one-third of these firms' workers are former employees of state law enforcement agencies and special forces units. The Interior Ministry is concerned that private security agencies are often used as a front by criminal organizations. Of 5,000 security firms inspected by the ministry in 1996, one in 10 had criminal connections. Some 3,000 security agents did not have licenses. Inspectors also discovered 1,700 unregistered firearms. -- Natalia Gurushina

Only six of 89 regions met their 1996 tax obligations to the federal budget, according to Deputy General Procurator Vladimir Davydov, interviewed inRossiiskaya gazeta on 11 March. Davydov said that the main reasons for tax arrears are falling industrial output and the inefficient fiscal system. However, he noted that the mass issuance of bills of exchange (vekselya) and barter deals represent major channels for tax evasion. According to the Central Bank, Russian commercial banks and the federation subjects issued 114 trillion rubles ($20 billion) and 50 trillion rubles worth of vekselya, respectively. At any one time 11 trillion rubles of tax payments are being held by commercial banks, who delay passing the funds on to the federal authorities. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 11 March calling on Azerbaijan to refrain from "a provocative propaganda war" characterized by "misinformation and groundless accusations" and aimed at "discrediting the Karabakh peace process," and to focus instead on achieving a peaceful settlement of the conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 11 March, Turan quoted Azerbaijani presidential advisor Vafa Gulu-Zade as stating that direct negotiations between Azerbaijan and the Armenian leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh can take place only after the latter accepts the resolution of the December 1996 OSCE Lisbon summit which affirmed support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, thereby excluding the possibility of de jure independence for Nagorno-Karabakh. A further round of OSCE-mediated talks on Karabakh is to open in Moscow on 1 April, RFE/RL reported on 11 March. -- Liz Fuller

NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana arrived in Kazakstan on 10 March on the first leg of a five-day, four-country tour, international media reported. Solana assured the Kazakstani government that NATO expansion did not pose a threat to the CIS. After meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Solana described their talks as "fruitful;" the two, however, did not hold a planned press conference. Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev said NATO did not represent a threat to Kazakstan but urged that NATO move slowly in allowing more countries into the organization. Solana departed for Kyrgyzstan on 11 March and will meet with government officials on 12 March before moving on to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The four Central Asian states are part of NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program and all but Turkmenistan will participate in a joint military exercise, "Turkestan-97," along with troops from seven other countries in September to be held in Kazakstan and Uzbekistan. -- Bruce Pannier

In an interview in the 12 March edition of Nezavisimaya gazeta, the number two man in the United Tajik Opposition, Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, called the Taliban threat to Central Asian states such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan "fabrications." Turajonzoda said the Taliban are no more a threat than NATO and noted that for one-and-a-half years they have controlled the area adjacent to Turkmenistan and there have been no problems. "They shouldn't decide in Moscow if the Taliban are a threat to us," he added -- Bruce Pannier

Border guard commanders from CIS states except Moldova met in Ashgabat on 11 March, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The 24th such gathering was chaired by the commander of the Russian Border Troops Gen. Andrei Nikolaev. The agency noted that exchanges of border troops is foreseen as a means of strengthening "integration processes" in guarding the outer borders of the CIS. The participants also greed to cooperate in training border guards. -- Lowell Bezanis

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, addressing the Russian-Belarusian parliamentary assembly in Minsk, urged that steps be taken to speed up integration between the two countries, international agencies reported on 11 March. While criticizing Russia yet again for the little progress toward this goal, Lukashenka proposed every citizen of Russia and Belarus have "Community" citizenship as well as their national passport. He said the equal union of Russia and Belarus was the most acceptable form of integration but stressed there is no need for Belarus to synchronize its economic reform with Russia's. He noted that the most significant progress to date was the creation of a joint air-defense system. Meanwhile, the National Bank of Belarus has promised to do away with multiple-exchange rates in accordance with an agreement signed in Moscow last week. -- Ustina Markus

Some 100 people, mostly youths, who took part in a Minsk demonstration against integration with Russia, have been detained by Belarusian security forces, Reuters reported on 11 March. They face fines and up to two weeks in prison. Despite Lukashenka's restrictions on demonstrations, the democratic and nationalist opposition is planning additional rallies for the spring. Vyacheslau Siuchyk, a leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, said a rally will be held on 15 March, the anniversary of the adoption of the 1994 constitution. -- Ustina Markus

Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko told the parliament on 11 March that Ukraine owes 1.36 billion hryvnyas ($750 million) in wage arrears and 1.2 billion (more than $700 million) in unpaid pensions, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the debts have accrued because budget revenues were smaller than predicted, because unforeseen wage increases were being financed from the budget, and because local budgets were higher than envisaged. He also noted that many ministries have high expenditures. Lazarenko said he hoped that 35% of all wage arrears would be paid by May and all pensions dating from December 1996 by the end of this month. -- Ustina Markus

Estonian and Latvian customs officials have discovered an underground pipeline probably built to smuggle vodka between the two countries, BNS reported on 11 March. The 300-meter pipeline ran between two border villages alongside the main Riga-Tallinn road. ITAR-TASS reported Estonian authorities as saying the pipeline was discovered before it began operating. The price of vodka in Estonia is 60% higher than in Latvia. -- Jan Cleave

Guntis Ulmanis has said that the low turnout in the 9 March local elections was a protest against the current situation in Latvia, BNS reported on 11 March. Less than 60% of the electorate took part in the ballot. In Riga, the leftist Social Democratic Party emerged as surprise victor, winning 11 of the 60 seats on the city council (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 March 1997). Ulmanis said he considers no party on the Latvian political scene capable of assuming the political responsibility of leadership. He added that he was not surprised by the emergence of new leftist forces. -- Jan Cleave

Gen. Tadeusz Wilecki, who earlier this week was dismissed as chief of staff (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 March 1997), has notified the Supreme Military Prosecutor's Office about an alleged crime involving the abuse of the secret services for "political purposes," the Prosecutor-General's office announced on 11 March. The office says it has launched an investigation into the allegations. Meanwhile, some 2,000 Gdansk shipyard workers on 12 March blocked the most important road junction in central Gdansk to protest the shipyard's closure (OMRI Daily Digest, 7 March 1997), Polish media reported. -- Jakub Karpinski

Polish Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati on 11 March said the Russian authorities have announced the release of the Polish fishing boat Aquarius, Polish media reported. The Polish vessel was fishing on the Sea of Okhotsk when it was impounded last month by Russian inspectors from the Environment Protection Ministry. Communications with Aquarius have not yet been restored, however. The Russian authorities claim that Aquarius did not have a fishing permit on board, while the crew said it had a temporary permit. Rosati said the decision to release Aquarius was taken by Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin. Russia is demanding $200,000 to cover the costs of impounding the Aquarius. -- Jakub Karpinski

Speaking at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters on 11 March, Emil Constantinescu reaffirmed his support for tough economic reform and more foreign investment in Romania, RFE/RL and international media reported. He said the alternative would be "social chaos." Constantinescu argued that Romania has no security alternative to NATO membership, and he urged the alliance to support Bucharest's bid for rapid membership. Constantinescu said that Romania had already met all NATO membership criteria, except upgrading its military equipment to Western standards. He noted that to pay for the upgrading, Romania first has to implement economic reform. "That is why we speak of Romania's nomination in the first wave followed by the effective integration when all the conditions would be fulfilled," he said. -- Jiri Pehe

Vladimir Meciar on 11 March refused to receive the actors and opposition deputies who occupied the Culture Ministry the previous night, Slovak media reported. He also prevented them from entering the government office building to make their demands, which Democratic Union deputy Ludovit Cernak called "illegal." The demonstrators are demanding Culture Minister Ivan Hudec's dismissal and an investigation into police "brutality" against protesters at the Culture Ministry on 10 March. But Interior Minister Gustav Krajci on 11 March defended the police, saying their steps were "fully conformed with the law." Krajci rejected reports that the incident involved police brutality, adding that he believed it was "a provocation." Meanwhile, Confederation of Trade Unions Vice President Jozef Kollar said the demonstration was the result of rising tensions between the government and Slovak citizens. He warned that other unions might soon organize similar protests. -- Sharon Fisher

Magda Pospisilova, the prime minister's spokeswoman, told TASR on 11 March that Meciar has asked President Michal Kovac to accept the resignation of Transport, Postal Services, and Telecommunications Minister Alexander Rezes. Rezes, who reportedly has health problems, is closely connected with the east Slovak steel giant VSZ. Pospisilova said his replacement will be one of Rezes's "close associates." The new minister must be approved by the president. CTK reported that VSZ President Jan Smerek is one of the candidates for the post but added that the job will more likely go to Slovak Postal Services Director Jan Jasovsky or to government highway construction commissioner Viktor Spakovsky. -- Sharon Fisher

Victor Ciorbea arrived in Budapest on 12 March, becoming the first Romanian premier to visit Hungary since communism collapsed in 1989, Hungarian and international media reported. Before departing, Ciorbea said it is no accident he has chosen Hungary for his first official trip abroad. Rather, "it is proof of how important we regard our bilateral relations and what enormous importance we give to the active partnership with Hungary." Ciorbea's delegation includes Gyorgy Tokay, minister responsible for ethnic minority affairs who is an ethnic Hungarian. Boosting bilateral economic ties and the two countries' bids to join NATO are high on the agenda. Romania has said that Hungary and Romania should be admitted to NATO at the same time. Hungary fully supports that position as long as it does not slow down its integration into the alliance. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The World Bank on 11 March announced it has approved a $225 million loan to Hungary to help efforts to reform the country's corporate and banking sectors, international media reported. The funding will be disbursed in two tranches worth $112.5 million each. World Bank officials said Hungary is currently in an advanced stage of transforming itself into a market economy and has achieved "unprecedented progress in reforming its enterprise and financial sectors." The funding will help the government complete reform, including the privatization of four major banks. Meanwhile, another World Bank agreement on an $200-250 million loan to help finance the reform of pensions and health care is being drafted in Washington. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The Albanian crisis has begun spreading to the country's north, the strongest support base of President Sali Berisha. On 11 March, rebels looted a military base in Bajram Curri, some 215 km north of Tirana, seizing artillery and caches of ammunition, international agencies reported. In the town of Kukes, just 16 km from the border with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, looters seized weapons from a local military depot. In several instances, government troops offered little or no resistance. Meanwhile, gunshots and explosions were heard in Tirana during the night from 11 to 12 March, eyewitnesses said. Sources in the U.S embassy in Tirana said diplomats' families will be leaving the country, while the Foreign Office in London has urged all nationals to leave Albania as soon as possible. -- Stan Markotich

Berisha on 11 March named Bashkim Fino as prime minister in what appears to be the president's latest bid to resolve the crisis. The 35-year old Fino is a member of the opposition Socialists and a former mayor of Gjirokastra, a southern town currently under rebel control. Albanian state radio and television reported that the parliament on 11 March passed legislation granting an amnesty to all those involved in "protests," and calling for rebels to turn in their weapons by 20 March. But AFP reports that the president's concessions to date have failed to calm the rebels. -- Stan Markotich

Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party and new mayor of Belgrade, has once again urged Western governments to support the promotion of democracy in Serbia, Reuters reported on 11 March. Speaking at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn, he said "we need support from abroad" and cautioned that without it, "we can be sure the communists will be back by 1999." In other news, Nasa Borba on 12 March reported that a delegation headed by Montenegrin Premier Milo Djukanovic was in Washington on a working visit. Following a meeting between Djukanovic and Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum, agreement was reached on releasing five Montenegrin cargo vessels impounded for the past five years in U.S. ports. The ships were seized in accordance with sanctions imposed on Belgrade for its role in promoting the wars in the former Yugoslavia. -- Stan Markotich

The UN Security Council on 11 March strongly condemned the involvement of Bosnian Croat police in a shooting incident in Mostar last month that left one dead and 34 wounded, AFP reported. The council said those responsible for the incident should be arrested. But High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina Carl Bildt said the Bosnian Croat authorities were continuing to reject UN demands to arrest the three police officers seen on photographs pointing guns at a Muslim crowd. Sir Martin Garrod, chief of the High Representative's Office in Mostar, said the two long-term problems in Mostar were the delay in forming a Muslim-Croat police force and the obstruction of the multi-ethnic city council's work, Oslobodjenje reported on 12 March. Meanwhile, U.S. military envoy to the Balkans James Pardew said the U.S. has now replaced Iran as Bosnia's leading military backer, AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Bosnin gas company Energoinvest will cut all supplies of gas at the end of this month because of its $12.3 million debt to the Russian concern Intergaz, AFP reported on 11 March. Intergaz reduced its pipeline supplies to Bosnia last month owing to outstanding debts from 1996. Energoinvest said the Bosnian Federation has paid its part of the debt, but the other Bosnian entity, the Republika Srpska, has failed to pay its share. In other news, the Bosnian donors conference may be postponed for a fourth time because of delays in passing new economic legislation, AFP reported. The conference is aimed at raising $1.4 billion for Bosnia' s reconstruction. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Gen. Jacques Klein, UN transitional administrator for eastern Slavonia, has announced that elections in the region would be held on 13 April, together with nation-wide elections, Hina reported on 11 March. Klein said voters have to register by 25 March and lists of candidates have to be published within the next two weeks. But Serbs in the region are reported unhappy with the date since they do not feel it gives them enough time to prepare, according to AFP. UN spokesman Philip Arnold said 37% of the local population has so far applied for Croatian citizenship,
Hina reported. Meanwhile, Croatian Deputy Premier Ivica Kostovic has said Croatia will seek help from donors and the UNHCR to enable the return of Croatian refugees to eastern Slavonia and the region's reconstruction. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The British, French, and Greek ambassadors to Skopje have handed over an EU declaration to Premier Branko Crvenkovski expressing concern about rising inter-ethnic tension in Macedonia and its effect on Balkan stability, Nova Makedonija reported on 12 March. They pointed to Macedonia's obligations to the OSCE and the Council of Europe to guarantee minority rights and strive for good relations with neighboring states. The parliament convened a special session on 12 March to discuss relations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. Meanwhile, Tome Nenovski, deputy governor of the National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia (NBRM), has resigned, while NBRM Governor Borko Stanoevski is under growing pressure to quit over alleged negligence and personal involvement in the scandal surrounding the failure of the TAT savings house in Bitola (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 March 1997). Ministers and politicians are suspected of profiting from TAT's activities. -- Michael Wyzan

Leaflets denouncing the government's intention to renounce any territorial claims on Ukraine in the pending treaty with Kyiv have been discovered in the Transylvanian town of Cluj, Romanian TV reported on 11 March. In the past, similar leaflets found elsewhere were anonymous. But those discovered in Cluj were signed by the Association of Christian Orthodox Students in Romania (ASCOR). The leaflets said Romania's "access to NATO should not mean forgetting one's own history." In a Romanian TV interview, an ASCOR member said one cannot forgo one's right to deal with "national problems" just for the sake of "appeasing the world powers." Orthodox Bishop Anania refused to comment on the ASCOR initiative but said the Romanian Orthodox Church "supports the country's reunification" within its historical borders. -- Michael Shafir

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma paid a one-day visit to Moldova on 11 March, Infotag reported. He and Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi signed five agreements, the most important of which deals with setting up a customs union between the two countries. Customs legislation and tariffs are to be unified, customs controls improved, and bureaucratic obstacles to trade removed. At a press conference in Chisinau, the two presidents said the customs union will be totally different from that between Russia and Belarus, because it will be based on full equality. -- Michael Shafir

Kuchma also said at the press conference that Ukraine is willing to step up its mediation efforts between Chisinau and Tiraspol. He said this was one of the reasons for visiting the breakaway region after his stay in Chisinau. He added that Ukraine is "very interested" in the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transdniester and that Kyiv would work out a "mutually acceptable approach" to the issue of withdrawing Russian troops transiting Ukrainian territory.
He noted that while Russia must pay for the transit, Ukraine would not seek to "make any profit out of it." Following Kuchma's discussions with separatist leader Igor Smirnov, Ukrainian Security and Defense Council head Volodymir Horbulin said both Chisinau and Tiraspol have asked Ukraine to send peacekeeping troops to the conflict region. -- Michael Shafir

Visiting Russian Deputy Premier Oleg Lobov on 11 March said that Russia will invest $1 billion in Bulgaria, Kontinent reported. Projects include the reconstruction of a gas pipeline ($600-650 million) and a nuclear plant ($250 million) as well as participation in privatizing Balkankar, Neftohim, and other companies. Although Lobov lost his job in the cabinet reshuffle in Russia, he asserted that the Russian government would honor his signature on the protocol signed during his visit. President Petar Stoyanov told Lobov that he wants to meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin to discuss Bulgaria's desire to join NATO. -- Michael Wyzan

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave