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AZERBAIJANI PRISONER OF WAR RELEASED. The authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic handed Azerbaijani serviceman Elmeddin Abiev back to Azerbaijani representatives on the Line of Contact on 6 February, Turan reported. Abiev was taken prisoner after being injured in an exchange of fire between Azerbaijani and Karabakh forces on 8 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). His release was negotiated at the highest level, first during talks in Kyiv on the sidelines of the CIS summit between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and then during a telephone conversation between Armenian Catholicos Garegin II and Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian. It was facilitated by the International Red Cross. The Azerbaijani Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" on 31 January quoted Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Ramiz Melikov as saying Baku would not establish any contact with the Karabakh leadership to discuss Abiev's release. LF

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT OF IRAQ DISPUTE. President Leonid Kuchma said at a meeting with foreign diplomats in Kyiv on 6 February that he hopes the UN Security Council finds adequate measures to settle the Iraqi crisis, Interfax reported. "We are still speaking for the settlement of the [Iraqi] situation by political-diplomatic means," Kuchma said. At the same time, he said, "Ukraine fully shares the concern of the world community about the possibility of the spread of weapons of mass destruction." Kuchma also said Ukraine will remain devoted to the ideals of strategic partnership with the United States despite the current bilateral problems. "I would like to emphasize with full responsibility that we have never intended and are not going to revise our policy regarding the U.S.," Kuchma stressed. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAWS TO CURTAIL MONEY LAUNDERING... The Verkhovna Rada on 6 February passed a bill introducing amendments to a number of laws intended to curb money laundering, UNIAN reported. In particular, the legislature reduced the minimum sum subject to financial monitoring to 80,000 hryvnyas ($15,000). Another major legislative change prohibits banks from opening anonymous bank accounts and obliges them to identify customers who perform banking operations exceeding 50,000 hryvnyas and not involving bank accounts. JM

...AND EASES RULES FOR PRISONERS. Parliament on 6 February also passed a bill amending a number of laws to ease rules for prisons and their inmates, UNIAN and Interfax reported. In particular, the bill revokes the Security Service of Ukraine's right to run its own detention facilities (isolation wards) independent of the Interior Ministry. Another measure removes a rule limiting the size of packages that may be received by prisoners from family or friends to 8 kilograms once a month. Prisoners will now be allowed two packages of unlimited weight twice a month. The bill also extends the monthly maximum visiting time for prisoners to four hours from the current two hours. JM

U.S. AMBASSADOR EXPLAINS AID REDUCTION TO UKRAINE. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual told journalists in Kyiv on 6 February that the planned reduction of U.S. assistance to Ukraine under the Freedom Support Act to $94 million in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003) is due to the fact that Ukraine has reached a "certain level of financial independence," Interfax reported. The diplomat said the U.S. government now needs to focus on financing priority projects in Ukraine, including support for civil society, the independent media, and small and medium-sized private businesses. JM