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Newsline - March 13, 1997

By a vote of 300-1, the State Duma on 12 March passed a resolution harshly criticizing NATO's expansion plans, which it said would "detract" from efforts to "construct a new global security system in Europe," ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution backed the government's public negotiating stance in talks on a proposed charter with NATO, saying any such agreement should "be of a restrictive nature and contain effective security guarantees for Russia." It also argued that the 1995 Russian federal law on international treaties requires that any proposed charter be subject to parliamentary ratification. While the Russian government has insisted that the agreement take the form of a legally binding international treaty subject to parliamentary ratification, NATO has balked at this condition. -- Scott Parrish

International agencies, citing anonymous Western diplomatic sources, reported on 12 March that Russia and NATO are close to deal under which Russia would accept a limited enlargement of NATO in return for various concessions including an expanded role in the G-7. The diplomats said Moscow had dropped its insistence that the NATO-Russia agreement be a legally binding treaty, and would accept the alliance's preference for a political declaration. They added that Moscow wants the agreement signed at a separate ceremony before the July NATO summit in Madrid, at which prospective East European members will be invited to begin accession talks. Such a ceremony could take place at the scheduled June G-7 meeting in Denver, Colorado. Russia has long pressed for full membership in the G7, a position supported by Germany, though other members are more skeptical. -- Scott Parrish

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has refused to name specific candidates for posts in the forthcoming new cabinet, but he announced on 12 March that the government will include many "professional market economy experts," who are "firm supporters of the president's reform course," ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin added that although the new appointees will be experienced administrators, "as a rule" they will not be older than 50. The prime minister's comments lent support to speculation that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who was appointed on 7 March, will bring several of his associates to the government. -- Laura Belin

The State Duma, by a vote of 230-122, passed a resolution calling the appointment of Chubais a "direct challenge to Russian public opinion," Russian and Western agencies reported on 12 March. The resolution linked Chubais "to the failure of the Russian economy, [the failure] of the financial system, and the cynical pillaging of national property under the guise of privatization." It also asked President Boris Yeltsin to consult parliament before approving new ministers, and called on Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov to accelerate his investigations into the financing of Yeltsin's re-election campaign (for which Chubais was a key adviser) and Chubais's compliance with tax laws. Duma deputy Sergei Ivanenko (Yabloko) criticized the resolution; he told NTV that left-leaning Communist, Agrarian and Popular Power factions had passed it primarily in order to conceal their support for the 1997 budget and for Chernomyrdin. -- Laura Belin

In the latest issue of Moskovskie novosti (no. 10), Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii called on the government and Yeltsin to sign an "Anticrisis Agreement" with the "democratic opposition," with a view toward "effective reform for the majority" without any redistribution of property. He argued that the current government is neither "Red" nor "White" and has no ideology at all except for greed. Yavlinskii's proposed agreement would require the government to set a deadline for the payment of all wages and pensions owed to the public. If the debt has not been paid within 10 days of the deadline, the entire government would be forced to resign. The government would also amend the 1997 budget substantially. Yavlinskii explained that his associates would not join the government without such an agreement. "We are not engaging in horse trading; we are upholding our principles," he wrote. -- Laura Belin

Defense Minister Igor Rodionov has canceled a scheduled 16-20 March visit to the IDEX'97 arms exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Russian and Western agencies reported on 12 March. According to ITAR-TASS, Defense Ministry officials refused to link Rodionov's decision to the ongoing government reorganization, in which some speculate the defense minister could be sacked. Instead they said Rodionov needed to prepare for a scheduled 13 March meeting of the Defense Council, which is to discuss Russia's position on NATO expansion and the 19-20 March Yeltsin-Clinton summit in Helsinki. Instead of Rodionov, Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, head of the ministry's international cooperation department, will lead the 350-member Russian delegation to the arms fair, where Russian firms will display a wide range of weapons systems. -- Scott Parrish

In testimony to Congress on 11 March, Ambassador Richard Morningstar called for a 44% increase in U.S. aid to the Newly Independent States next year. Aid spending would rise from $625 million in 1997 to $900 million in 1998, while spending on Russia alone would go from $95 million to $225 million. Total U.S. aid to the NIS peaked at $2.5 billion in 1994, falling to $850 million in 1995 and $641 million in 1996. Rep. Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said he was doubtful Congress would support the requested increase, Reuters reported. Gilman said "We do not have any kind of 'partnership' at this point with the current government in Moscow," and objected to the idea of increasing aid in return for Russian acquiescence in NATO expansion. Morningstar said the aid program "has nothing to do with NATO expansion," VOA reported. -- Peter Rutland

Environmental groups in Krasnoyarsk have collected the 100,000 signatures necessary to force the local legislature to consider holding a referendum on halting the construction of a nuclear waste processing plant, NTV reported on 12 March. The legislature will make its decision on 19 March. In a referendum on 8 December, Kostroma voters rejected by 87% to 10% a proposal to complete the construction of a nuclear power station in the province. -- Robert Orttung

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, visiting Tula to support the candidacy of Vasilii Starodubtsev in the 23 March gubernatorial campaign, lashed out at the appointment of Anatolii Chubais as first deputy prime minister, NTV reported. Starodubtsev, who was among the 1991 coupmakers and is now a leader figure in the Agrarian Party, made clear, however, that he would work with the new government even though he did not support its policies. Because Starodubtsev is far ahead of the other 10 candidates, attracting more than 40% support in opinion polls, Sergei Filatov's pro-Yeltsin All-Russian Coordinating Council decided that it will not back anyone in the race, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March. The presidential administration has already found common ground with many opposition candidates who won gubernatorial races in the fall. -- Robert Orttung

Aeroflot's board of directors has appointed Boris Yeltsin's son-in-law as acting chairman, Kommersant-Daily reported on 13 March. The 44-year-old Valerii Okulov, who worked as a navigator for 20 years, is married to Yeltsin's daughter Yelena. Okulov replaces Aviation Marshal Yevgenii Shaposhnikov, who was appointed presidential adviser for aerospace on 11 March. Okulov was appointed Shaposhnikov's deputy at Aeroflot in June 1996. Aeroflot is 51% state-owned, and has about two-thirds of the Russian air transport market. Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ is financially involved with the company. -- Peter Rutland

President Yeltsin has signed a decree on restructuring companies' debt to the state Pension Fund, Kommersant-Daily reported on 13 March. The decree allows the fund to sign agreements with individual firms on debt restructuring which will take into account the company's financial situation. Russian companies' debt to the state Pension Fund now totals 60 trillion rubles ($10.5 billion). Another 14 trillion rubles are owed by the federal government. Meanwhile, Pension Fund officials called for changes in the 1997 federal budget in order to eliminate the 7.7 trillion rubles discrepancy between the fund's 1997 revenue and the corresponding item in the federal budget, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. -- Natalia Gurushina

The volume of foreign currency in the non-banking sector increased by $7.7 billion from January through September 1996, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 13 March, citing balance of payments figures published by the Central Bank. The increase was caused mainly by declining yields on major financial instruments denominated in rubles, mounting non-payments in all sectors of the economy, increasing demand for foreign currency in the shadow economy, and political instability on the eve of the presidential elections last summer. Net foreign currency assets of commercial banks declined by $2.9 billion during the same period. -- Natalia Gurushina

The government has passed a decree revoking some of the state subsidies to eight industrial companies, including Norilsk Nickel, Kommersant-Daily reported on 13 March. The privileges were granted to Norilsk Nickel under a government decree of 30 August 1996. They included the allocation in 1996-1997 of $200 million worth of foreign investment credits for technical reconstruction, and providing state guarantees for credits from commercial banks in order to finance shipments of goods to the Norilsk region. Company officials reacted coolly to the new decree, saying that the August bill did not work anyway and Norilsk Nickel had received no subsidies since that time. -- Natalia Gurushina

A Russian coastguard patrol on 12 March intercepted nine Turkish fishing vessels engaged in poaching in Georgian territorial waters off the Black Sea port of Batumi and opened fire when they ignored instructions to desist, killing one Turkish sailor, Russian and Western agencies reported. The Turkish vessels were escorted to Batumi where criminal proceedings were instigated against the crew members. -- Liz Fuller

The U.S. firm AMOCO will finance Kazakstan's $150 million stake in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) as part of deal permitting the company to transport 3 million metric tons of oil via the planned CPC line, RFE/RL reported on 12 March. Nurlan Balgimbayev, the new head of Kazakoil, which was established on 4 March as part of a wholesale restructuring of the country's executive bodies, declared the pipeline to the Russian port of Novorossiisk will be completed by early 1999. In other news, the first load of Chevron-owned Kazak crude, transported by train across Azerbaijan and Georgia, was loaded onto tankers in Batumi for sale on international markets, Russian media reported the same day. Meanwhile, Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Gochmurad Nazjanov told a major oil and gas exhibition in Ashgabat he foresees Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan reaching a compromise agreement on the disputed Azeri and Chirag fields in the Caspian Sea, Russian media reported on 11 March. -- Lowell Bezanis

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Uzbek counterpart Otkir Sultanov signed an economic cooperation accord in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. The agreement outlines cooperation in 1998-2000 in spheres including agriculture, petrochemicals, and non-ferrous industries. Chernomyrdin was quoted as saying the sides also reached agreement on the formation of undefined "large financial-industrial groups." It was also agreed that the Ilyushin-114 aircraft to be manufactured in Uzbekistan will be equipped with Russian engines and avionics. -- Lowell Bezanis

President Askar Akayev, in talks with visiting NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, said he was opposed to NATO expansion, international media reported on 12 March. Akayev told Solana it was "important to heed Russia's concerns," and called Russia "our strategic partner." The two held more productive talks on the issues of a Central Asian peacekeeping battalion, mountain rescue operations training, and the planned joint military exercise between three Central Asian countries and seven other countries scheduled for September. Radio Rossii reported on 12 March that the peacekeeping battalion would most likely be used on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the event that the Afghan Taliban movement should reach the Tajik border. A spokesman for the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry said Kyrgyz troops may participate in NATO operations in the near future. -- Bruce Pannier

According to the 13 March edition of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Tajikistan is indeed providing a safe haven and help to Afghan Gen. Ahmed Shah Masoud in his fight against the Taliban Afghan religious movement. Although Tajik press secretary Zafar Saidov denied on 7 March that any foreign troops were based in Tajikistan, the paper quoted its own reporter who had recently been in the southern city of Kulyab. According to the reporter, it was easy to meet Afghan pilots who "did not try to hide they were flying daily from Tajikistan to Afghanistan." The article also alleged that Masoud himself was living in a hotel in the center of Kulyab and that his personal airplane was in a hanger at the city's airport. -- Bruce Pannier

Malcolm Rifkind said in Washington on 11 March that NATO should expand to Ukraine's eastern borders, NTV and Intelnews reported. He said the move would give the alliance the opportunity to prevent the development of ethnic conflicts. This is the first time a high-ranking official from a NATO member country has raised the possibility of Ukraine's inclusion into the alliance, and there has been confusion over how the remark should be taken. British Ambassador to Ukraine Roy Reeve played down Rifkind's statement, saying only that Ukraine has the right to choose its form of cooperation with NATO structures. Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk's reaction was to repeat Kyiv's position that there is nothing preventing Ukraine from joining the alliance in the future, but he did not say this was an immediate goal. -- Ustina Markus

The third session of the Russian-Belarusian Parliamentary Assembly ended in Minsk on 12 March, Belarusian Radio and Belapan reported. Russian Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev was elected chairman of the assembly and Belarusian National Assembly speaker Anatol Malafeyev deputy chairman. Otherwise, few concrete measures were taken to speed up integration. A proposal to immediately consider the need to create a federation between Russia and Belarus was voted down. Meanwhile, visiting Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov seemed to make more progress than the assembly in increasing ties with Belarus. Luzhkov signed agreements on health, technical-economic cooperation, and agricultural and machine deliveries. In talks with his Minsk counterpart, Uladzimir Yarmosh, Luzhkov said Moscow is prepared to place an order for 50 Belarusian trolley buses manufactured in Minsk. Luzhkov also plans to organize celebrations in Moscow on 2 April to mark the first anniversary of the Russian-Belarusian Community agreement. -- Ustina Markus

Commander in Chief Juris Dalbins, speaking to journalists after meeting with President Guntis Ulmanis, said that Latvia's armed forces will be divided into three entities, BNS reported on 12 March. The Early Response Force will consist of the Baltic Battalion's Latvian company; the Forces on Duty will be made up of the Navy and the Air Force; and the core of the Basic
Force will be the National Guard. Currently, the Latvian defense forces are organized as the National Guard, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Mobile Infantry Brigade. The government action program requires bringing the national defense system into line with NATO standards. A national defense plan has to be drafted by 1 July. -- Jiri Pehe

Algirdas Brazauskas told journalists on 12 March that it was essential to increase funding for the country's security services, BNS reported. He was speaking after meeting with State Security Department (SSD) officials. Brazauskas noted that the security services are doing everything in their power to continue to function normally despite insufficient staff and technical equipment. He added that the SSD had to be strengthened to enable it to "fight Lithuania's domestic ills--corruption, contraband and the squandering of state property."
-- Jiri Pehe

Vytautas Landsbergis, meeting with representatives of Lithuania's Russian organizations on 12 March, promised to seek to resolve the community's most pressing problems, BNS reported. Russians constitute the largest ethnic minority in Lithuania, accounting for 9% of the total population. The meeting focused on cultural and educational issues. Landsbergis mentioned the signing of a cultural cooperation treaty with Russia as a high priority issue. In his view, the 1992 cultural cooperation treaty has produced no tangible results. -- Jiri Pehe

The National Committee of the Solidarity trade union on 12 March met in Warsaw, Polish media reported. The meeting coincided with a protest by some 2,000 Gdansk shipyard workers against the shipyard's closure (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 March 1997). Committee head Marian Krzaklewski said the shipyard's closure is an "act of political vengeance." Solidarity plans more protests in
a bid to persuade the government to save both the shipyard and 400 other enterprises slated for restructuring. Krzaklewski said he has filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's office over the police action in Warsaw last week against protesting arms industry workers. The committee decided that Solidarity will continue to insist that the new constitution include references to God, the protection of life from the moment of conception, and the settling of accounts with the communist system. -- Jakub Karpinski

The Czech government on 12 March appointed Karel Vulterin as director of the Czech Intelligence Service (BIS), Czech media reported. Vulterin, who has experience neither in government nor the security services, is a scientist and trade union leader. The government looked for three months for a replacement for Stanislav Devaty, who resigned in November following charges that the BIS was shadowing politicians. Devaty was, in fact, only acting director, although he presided over the BIS for more than four years. The BIS has recently been rocked by a series of scandals over allegations of shadowing politicians and leaking secret documents. -- Jiri Pehe

As of 1
July, apartment rents will be allowed to increase by as much as 100%
in Prague and 62% in other cities, Czech media reported. Rents for apartments in smaller towns may increase by no more than 30%. The government also decided to increase energy prices by 15% this year. Previously the coalition parties had agreed that energy prices should rise by 35%, but the government saw such an increase as too steep. Energy prices will rise by 17% next January, however. -- Jiri Pehe

Michal Kovac on 12 March issued a statement expressing anxiety over events at the Culture Ministry
two days earlier, Slovak media reported. He stressed that if Culture Minister Ivan Hudec does not "begin a constructive dialogue" with the striking actors, he should resign. Referring to the actors' sit-in (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11-12 March 1997), Kovac said "it is deplorable that this country's artists must resort to such methods to come into contact with their minister." He added that Hudec "should be an example of cultivation, communication, and dialogue and not [of] ... arrogance, intolerance, and conflict." Also on 12 March, the Slovak National Theater's ballet and students from several universities went on strike alert. Hudec, meanwhile, has filed criminal proceedings against those who participated in the "unauthorized and violent occupation" of his ministry building, CTK reported. Finally, the opposition announced it will propose parliamentary no-confidence votes in Hudec and Interior Minister Gustav Krajci. -- Sharon Fisher

The parliament on 12 March rejected an opposition proposal for direct presidential elections, Slovak media reported. The proposal was defeated by a vote of 62 to 46 with 37 abstentions. Shifting the vote from the parliament to the people would require a constitutional change. Opposition parties still plan to hold a referendum on the issue, but the parliament will make the final decision. Also on 12 March, the parliament re-approved an opposition bill delaying bank privatization until the year 2003. However, a government amendment exempts two key banks--Vseobecna uverova banka and Investicna a rozvojova banka--from the bill, allowing their privatization to begin after 31 March. Only the privatization of
Slovenska sporitelna and Slovenska poistovna
will be prevented. Association of Workers Chairman Jan Luptak later apologized to his supporters for voting in favor of the government amendment. -- Sharon Fisher

Gyula Horn and Victor Ciorbea, meeting in Budapest on 12 March, spoke of a "new chapter" in bilateral relations, Hungarian media reported. This is the first visit by a Romanian premier to Hungary since 1989. Horn and Ciorbea signed five agreements, including one establishing a commission
to monitor the implementation of the basic treaty concluded last year. Ciorbea announced plans for a new Romanian law to protect minorities' rights in Romania that would include allowing the mother tongue to be used in education and official dealings. He noted that the two countries' strategic partnership as well as the involvement of the Hungarian minority in the Romanian government could serve as a model for the region. Ciorbea also expressed optimism about Romania's chances of joining NATO, saying that "it is up to us to see that these two nations--without delays or slowdowns--step together on the road to Europe." -- Zsofia Szilagyi

MTI could be insolvent within a month unless it receives financial assistance, Vilaggazdasag reported on 13 March. The news agency's management blames stagnating state support, excessive spending, and MTI's inability to collect outstanding debts to pay the 360 million forints ($2.1 million) it owes the social insurance fund. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Rebellion has now reached the capital city, international media report today. In the early hours of this morning, looters ransacked the Tirana military academy. Some soldiers broke the city's curfew and chanted "Vlore" in the main square, in an apparent show of solidarity with the rebels in that southern town. Tirana's airport has been closed owing to the latest developments. Reuters reported that five people were killed and at least 40 injured during the night in the northern city of Shkoder, which until now had staved off the rebellion. Newly appointed Premier Bashkim Fino told the BBC that the country is now on the brink of civil war, AFP reported. "Let's be realistic. ... We're on the brink of civil war here. We're in danger. Europe has to help us at this difficult time," he said. -- Stan Markotich

Gajevi, a Bosnian Muslim village in Serb-held territory in north-eastern Bosnia, came under attack on 11 March, international media reported the following day. According to UN officials, it was the third time this year that the town has been attacked, causing substantial damage to buildings. An unarmed band of up to 50 civilians were responsible for this latest incident, which came one day after the NATO-led Stabilization Force lifted its security cordon around the village, AFP reported. No casualties were reported, and Russian troops stationed near the village said they were unaware that it was under attack until they saw the flames from houses that were set ablaze. -- Stan Markotich

Milan Panic, who was federal Yugoslav premier in 1992, has joined the chorus of voices urging Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to allow fair elections and take steps toward respecting independent media, Reuters reported on 11 March. Panic has written a letter to Milosevic saying that, "The dignity of the Serbian nation can be fully restored only if all future elections pass the test of the most rigorous international scrutiny. ... The essential first step to achieve this goal is to assure that the Serbian media is fully independent and free." -- Stan Markotich

The U.S. State Department on 12 March criticized the ruling Montenegrin Democratic Socialist Party, saying that lawsuits it has brought against opposition politicians are merely a method of silencing critics, international media reported. Spokesman Larry Corwin said, "We are very concerned about the implications for democracy in Montenegro." The State Department's comments were made during Montenegrin Premier Milo Djukanovic's ongoing visit to the U.S. A Montenegrin court on 10 March found opposition leader Novak Kilibarda guilty of slandering both President Momir Bulatovic and Parliamentary Speaker Svetozar Marovic during last year's election campaign. Kilibarda has been ordered to pay some $13,000 in fines. Corwin said the ruling was "an effort by the Montenegrin ruling party to intimidate opposition parties." -- Stan Markotich

The Croatian embassy in Sarajevo on 12 March sent a sharply worded letter of protest to the Bosnian Foreign Ministry complaining of "an anti-Croatian campaign by the Sarajevo press," Hina reported. The embassy alleged that Sarajevo press practices were "unacceptable," because high-ranking Croatian officials are allegedly portrayed "improperly and, of late, in extremely bad taste." The letter added that "it is particularly worrying that statements by senior government officials of...Muslim nationality have also contributed to this campaign." -- Stan Markotich

President Kiro Gligorov on 12 March upgraded the state of combat readiness already imposed a week ago (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 March 1997) at the Debar, Gostivar, Kicevo, Ohrid, and Tetovo bases, all near the Albanian border, AFP reported. A scheduled parliamentary debate on rising inter-ethnic tension was canceled on 12 March after the nationalist, non-parliamentary opposition VRMO-DPMNE refused an invitation to participate, MILS reported. Meanwhile, Premier Branko Crvenkovski may fire five ministers from the ruling Social-Democratic Union of Macedonia in connection with the scandal over the closure of the TAT savings house, MILS reported, citing Vecer. Finally, the health of 20 students on hunger strike to protest a law allowing instruction in Albanian at the Pedagogical Faculty is said to be deteriorating. The students say that over 40,000 people have signed a petition in support of their
demands. -- Michael Wyzan

Romano Prodi paid a one-day visit to Ljubljana on 11 March, Western agencies reported. After meeting with Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek and President Milan Kucan, Prodi said Italy supports Slovenia's bid for inclusion in the first wave of new NATO members as well as its accession to the EU. He added that "in the next months, a mixed Italian-Slovenian group will be established that will work on bilateral questions so that all shadows of the past will disappear," Reuters reported. Italy is Slovenia's second most important trading partner, accounting for about 20% of Slovenia's total trade turnover. -- Michael Wyzan

Romanian premier Victor Ciorbea's announcement before his departure for Budapest that the Bolyai Hungarian-language university in Cluj will be reopened has prompted protests in Romania, not just among extremist parties. Cluj Prefect Alexandru Farcasan, who is a member of the ruling National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic, said reopening the university and permitting bilingual street signs are likely to cause "discontent" among the Romanian ethnic majority. The reopening of the Bolyay university, which in 1958 was merged with the Romanian-language Babes University, has long been demanded by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, now a member of the ruling coalition. But ethnic Romanian faculty of the Babes-Bolyay University, including Rector Andrei Marga, are opposed to the move. Meanwhile, Radio Bucharest quoted Ciorbea as saying in Budapest on 12 March that a separate Hungarian-language department would be opened within the existing university and would train Hungarian-language teachers. -- Michael Shafir

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Gilda Lazar on 12 March denied that Romanian ambassador to Ukraine Ion Bistreanu said at a press conference that Bucharest is no longer abiding by the reported compromise reached with Kyiv in talks over the bilateral treaty, Radio Bucharest reported. ITAR-TASS had reported on the alleged press conference, and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko had deplored the new Romanian position in an interview with the agency, Romanian media reported on 13 March. Lazar said Bistreanu has not held a press conference for the last ten days. She added that the Romanian side was waiting for a Ukrainian response to its latest proposals. Foreign Minister Adrian Severin was "ready to travel anywhere and at any time" in order to help clarify outstanding issues, she added. -- Michael Shafir

Contrary to earlier reports, Infotag said on 12 March that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and the leader of the Transdniester breakaway region, Igor Smirnov, met the previous day in Chisinau, not Tiraspol. The meeting was also attended by Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and parliamentary chairman Dumitru Motpan, as well as Transdniestrian Supreme Soviet chairman Grigore Markutsa. Boris Akulov, head of the breakaway region's State Committee for Information, said the talks do not signal "a resumption of the negotiation process." He said that summit meetings will be resumed only if and when Moldova agrees to sign the memorandum on the long-term settlement of the conflict. Kuchma has invited Smirnov to visit Ukraine in April to discuss the possible participation of Ukrainian troops in the peace-keeping process. He also spoke in favor of boosting trade with the Transdniester. -- Michael Shafir

Bulgarian Premier Stefan Sofiyanski on 12 March said different views over a $150 million IMF loan to recapitalize Bulgaria's banks were delaying agreement with the fund, Pari reported. Bulgaria's Banking Consolidation Company wants the money to be used for rehabilitating banks before privatization, while the fund insists that four banks be sold before the end of 1996 and that foreign managers be sought for another two. The IMF holds that the banks experienced difficulties because of bad management, weak supervision, and intentional malfeasance. It says it will
not bale out corrupt institutions. Michael Depler, head of the IMF's European Department I, said on 12 March he expects an agreement to be reached within two days. -- Michael Wyzan

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave