UKRAINE DECLARES ECOLOGICAL DISASTER ZONE IN MASS POISONING AREA. President Leonid Kuchma on 31 August declared five villages in Mykolayiv Oblast--Boleslavchyk, Chausove-1, Chausove-2, Michurino, and Pidhirya--an ecological disaster zone, following a mysterious mass poisoning in July, Interfax reported. Health officials are now checking some 6,000 residents of villages around the disaster zone for symptoms of the poisoning. Ukraine intends to appeal to the World Health Organization and foreign governments to help it deal with the emergency situation. The government, meanwhile, seems split over the reason for the poisoning: some officials attribute it to a high concentration of nitrates in the soil, while others point to liquid rocket fuel waste possibly buried in the disaster area. Kuchma asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide information about the possible burial of military equipment and toxic substances in Ukraine in 1991. JM

UKRAINE ASKS MICROSOFT FOUNDER, WORLD BANK TO HELP COMPUTERIZE SCHOOLS. Education Minister Ivan Kremen on 31 August said his ministry had appealed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the World Bank to help Ukraine computerize its schools, Interfax reported. Kremen added that the appeal has so far remained unanswered. The minister noted that the computerization of schools is one of the priorities in Ukraine's education system reform, which is currently under way. He said the government will spend 6.5 million hryvni ($1.2 million) this year to buy computers and provide access to the Internet for schools in the countryside, adding that the Internet helps form "not provincial but global awareness." JM

POLISH PRESIDENT OPTIMISTIC OVER FUTURE ECONOMIC TIES WITH EAST. Aleksander Kwasniewski told a business forum in Krynica Gorska, southern Poland, on 31 August that he expects improvements in Poland's economic ties with central and eastern European countries over the next five years, PAP reported. The Poland-East Economic Forum brought together some 800 participants from 15 countries, including Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, and Russia. Kwasniewski also said Poland is interested in the development of gas and oil transport infrastructure in Europe. Referring to the Yamal gas pipeline, he stressed that Poland will not agree to any pipeline construction project that could harm Ukraine's interests. JM

UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SIGNS AGREEMENTS IN SLOVAKIA. Oleksandr Kuzmuk signed an agreement with his Slovak counterpart, Pavol Kanis, on sharing information and on the joint command of military exercises in Slovakia and Ukraine, CTK reported on 31 August. Kanis and Kuzmuk also discussed NATO enlargement and European security. Kanis said the two countries hold similar views on security and cooperation with NATO and that Kyiv has no "reservations" about Slovakia's joining the Atlantic alliance. Kuzmuk said an agreement on military and technical cooperation will be signed soon. PB