SERGEEV WORRIED BY ISLAMIC MILITANTS IN CENTRAL ASIA. Defense Minister Sergeev told his CIS colleagues on 25 August that Islamic militants "will try to exacerbate the situation in Central Asia by conducting acts of sabotage and terrorism and organizing rebellions," Interfax reported. Sergeev said that there are more than 5,000 gunmen in the ranks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, many of whom are in Afghanistan. Sergeev met with his colleagues from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine during a CIS military exercise in the Astrakhan region from 21-26 August. PG

AZERBAIJAN TO JOIN CIS AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM. Azerbaijan will join the CIS air defense system, ITAR-TASS on 26 August quoted Defense Minister Safar Abiev as saying in Astrakhan. Abiev was observing the joint exercises undertaken by the seven CIS states aligned in the common air defense system (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine). LF

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO OSCE ARGUES AGAINST SENDING OBSERVERS TO BELARUSIAN POLLS. David T. Johnson said in a statement last week that sending international observers to Belarus's 15 October elections "at the urging of a regime that seeks such observation as a badge of legitimacy would be a mistake." Johnson noted that the Belarusian government has made no real progress toward complying with the OSCE's four conditions to democratize the electoral process. And he called Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent pledges to undertake some democratizing measures (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 August 2000) "overdue, inadequate, and hollow in the absence of meaningful implementation." According to Johnson, the elections are taking place at a time of increased political repression and harassment of journalists, while Lukashenka's announcement of a "period of peace" comes late and cannot be put to the test by the opposition or international community. JM

UKRAINE REPAYS IMF $100 MILLION AHEAD OF SCHEDULE. Ukraine last week paid a $100 million debt to the IMF ahead of its repayment schedule, Interfax reported on 25 August. Premier Viktor Yushchenko commented that the repayment was made "exclusively with the aim of focusing attention on the resumption of [the IMF's $2.6 billion loan program.]." According to Yushchenko, this move is intended "to cut short discussions around the technique and methodology" of determining the hard-currency reserves in Ukraine's National Bank. An international audit ordered by IMF found earlier this year that the bank had overstated the size of those reserves in 1997 in reports to the fund (see RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). The fund suspended its loan program to Ukraine in September 1999. JM

UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES EVACUATE CHILDREN FROM MYSTERY POISONING AREA. The authorities have evacuated 378 children from the four villages in Mykolayiv Oblast, whose inhabitants are suffering from a mysterious form of poisoning (see RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2000), Interfax reported on 27 August. According to health officials, the poisoning is "noninfectious and non-allergic." Last week, 71 people from those villages, including 58 children, remained hospitalized with symptoms whose cause could not be identified. JM