GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE TO CREATE JOINT PEACEKEEPING FORCE. Meeting in Baku on 21-22 January, the defense ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine discussed the creation of a joint peacekeeping force that, according to an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman, could be deployed to guard the proposed oil export pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia, Reuters reported. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze had proposed such a force last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). The three ministers also signed a joint communique on coordinating their relations with NATO and the UN and on holding joint maneuvers. The defense minister of Moldova, the fourth country in the GUAM alignment, had been scheduled to attend the meeting. No explanation was offered for his failure to do so. LF

UKRAINE TO DEFAULT ON FOREIGN DEBT? Ukraine may default on its foreign debt payments in 1999 unless foreign donors resume their aid to the country, AP quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying in a statement on 22 January. According to that statement, Ukraine must pay $1.17 billion to foreign creditors in 1999, but the government is asking for new loans because it will not be able to raise the money on its own. In addition, the National Bank, which has $1 billion in reserves, owes the IMF $700 million in loan payments. Ukrainian Television reported the next day that last year Ukraine's foreign debt increased by $2 billion to $11.5 billion, which is equal to 40 percent of the country's GDP or 70 percent of its annual exports. According to the Finance Ministry, Ukraine needs $2.2 billion in foreign loans this year. JM

LAZARENKO NOMINATED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. A congress of the opposition Hromada party on 22 January nominated former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko as its candidate for the October presidential elections. Lazarenko is currently under investigation by Swiss police on money laundering charges. He was arrested in Switzerland in December and released on a $3 million bail. The Prosecutor-General's Office has asked the parliament to lift Lazarenko's deputy immunity so that he can be arrested and tried on charges of embezzling government funds and siphoning some $4 million abroad. Lazarenko told the Hromada congress that the corruption charges against him are aimed at removing him as President Leonid Kuchma's potential rival in the presidential race. JM

UKRAINIAN MINER IMMOLATES HIMSELF OVER UNPAID WAGES. Anatoliy Konarev, a 37-year-old miner from Luhansk, set himself alight on 22 January after the director of the local mine had refused to discuss with him his wage arrears. Konarev died in the hospital several hours later. The mine owed him 600 hryvni ($175). JM

LUKASHENKA AMESTIES SOME 34,000 PRISONERS. The Belarusian president has signed a bill setting free or slashing the prison terms of some 34,000 prisoners, AP reported on 22 January, citing official sources. The bill grants amnesty to World War II veterans, minors, pregnant women, pensioners, single parents with children under the age of 18, victims of the Chornobyl nuclear accident, and people suffering from tuberculosis or cancer. The amnesty is expected to ease overcrowding in Belarusian prisons, where 60,000 people are held in facilities designed for 39,000. JM