U.S. COURT STARTS HEARINGS ON ASYLUM FOR LAZARENKO. A U.S. immigration court on 12 April began hearing a request for asylum from former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, Reuters reported. The hearings are being held behind closed doors and no details have been made available to the public. Last week in Kyiv, Lazarenko's lawyer said his client has every reason to expect that Washington will heed his plea for asylum. "Lazarenko's life would be in danger in Ukraine," the lawyer added. Lazarenko maintains that the charges of misappropriating more than $2 million worth of state property in Ukraine and of money laundering in Switzerland are politically motivated. "Criminal investigations [against me] in Ukraine and Switzerland are part of a politically motivated plot to repress opposition," Lazarenko reiterated in a recent statement. JM

RUSSIAN CONVOY ALLOWED TO TRANSIT HUNGARY. Following intensive talks between Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and Russian Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu in Budapest, the Russian convoy carrying aid shipment to Yugoslavia on 12 April was allowed to enter Hungary, Hungarian media reported. Five armored trucks were returned to Ukraine and only four of the eight gasoline tankers were allowed to travel with the convoy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 1999). Russia's presidential deputy chief of staff, Sergei Prikhodko, cited by ITAR-TASS, said that despite the settling of the dispute, Moscow "will draw very serious conclusions from Budapest's actions." He said Hungary had not acted "independently" or "freely." Shoigu said before returning to Moscow that Hungary had consulted with NATO before blocking the convoy's passage. MSZ/MS

UKRAINIAN CARGO PLANE DETAINED IN CHISINAU. The Moldovan customs authorities on 9 April detained in Chisinau a Ukrainian "Air Alliance" AN-26 cargo plane secretly transporting 5,000 Hungarian-made pistols bound for Yemen, via Sofia, Infotag and Reuters reported the same day. The plane, which originated in Budapest, landed in Chisinau due to technical problems. The crew provided documentation claiming the plane was transporting oil exploration equipment. On 12 March, a Ukrainian plane belonging to the "Air City" company was detained in Chisinau on route to Yemen, upon suspicion that it was transporting cartridge-cases. That plane was allowed to take off following the intervention of the Ukrainian embassy. "Air City" said it will sue for damages. MS