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U.S. PRESIDENT SUPPORTS UKRAINE'S ENTRY TO NATO. Speaking at a press conference in Washington on 4 April after his meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the United States supports Ukraine's bid to join NATO. According to the White House website,
( Bush remarked : "I'm a supporter of the idea of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO. I think it's important." Bush added that he has requested Congress to provide $60 million in additional funding for Ukraine to strengthen law enforcement and the fight against corruption, and to promote a free media and civil society organizations. Bush also voiced his support for Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organization and to lift the Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions. Bush announced that Energy Secretary Sam Bodman will visit Ukraine to discuss cooperation in energy-related matters. The two presidents also signed a general agreement on what is being billed as a "new century of the U.S.-Ukrainian strategic partnership," according to Interfax. RK

TWO UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS CONFESS TO KILLING JOURNALIST. In an interview published on 4 April on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (, President Yushchenko said that two former Interior Ministry officers have "confessed, and the first stage of the probe in the case [of the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze] is over." The two suspects have helped investigators to reconstruct the September 2000 killing and "led them to locations where it all happened." One additional suspect, Interior Ministry General Oleksiy Pukach, is still wanted and an international arrest warrant has been issued for him. Yushchenko went on to say those who ordered Gongadze's murder are now the subject of the investigation. The Interior Ministry has questioned former President Leonid Kuchma, former Ukrainian Security Service head Leonid Derkach, and speaker of parliament Yuriy Lytvyn in connection with the case and the taping of Kuchma's office by a member of his security detail, Mykola Melnychenko. RK

MOLDOVAN CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT DEFENDS DECISION TO BACK VORONIN... Iurie Rosca, leader of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), said his party's decision to vote in the 4 April presidential election was made out of concern for national interests, BASA reported the same day. Rosca, who had pledged a number of times to boycott the vote, said his party decided to back Voronin after consulting political allies in Romania, Georgia, Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union "This is a difficult, risky, and very responsible decision for us," Rosca said. "Old hostilities between us will remain in the past for the sake of a national consensus and for the European future of Moldova," he added. BW

Most Kosovar Albanians are Muslims, but there is an influential Roman Catholic minority. Relations between those two religious groups are generally good, partly because most Muslim Kosovar Albanians are aware that their own ancestors were most likely Roman Catholic before converting to Islam under Ottoman rule.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, who is the first cardinal in Bosnia's history, said in Sarajevo on 3 April that Pope John Paul served as a bridge between religious faiths. "We can rightfully say that he was a great pope, certainly the man of the century and the man who led the church from one millennium into another," he added.

Borislav Paravac, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency and its current chairman, called the pope a true friend of Bosnia and the entire world.

Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Islamic Community, said that "Pope John Paul II's departure from this world leaves a huge void. It will be difficult to find such a moral figure." The Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" noted that on his 1997 visit to Bosnia, the pope said that "one should be able to ask forgiveness and to forgive."

The pope also visited Bosnia in 2003, when Serbian Orthodox officials gave him a chilly reception in the Republika Srpska. Bosnia's 4 million people are estimated to be about 40 percent Muslim, 31 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 15 percent Roman Catholic.

In Belgrade, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle sent a message on 3 April in his name and that of the church to the Roman Catholic clergy and believers, in which he wrote that he shares their grief and hopes that the soul of the pope may rest in peace. Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica also extended their condolences.

Serbia and Montenegro is one of the few countries that the pope was unable to visit during his reign, reportedly due to the opposition of the Serbian Orthodox Church. About 65 percent of the country's 10.8 million people are Orthodox, while only 4 percent are Roman Catholic, mainly in Vojvodina and Montenegro's Kotor Bay region.

The problem in the pope's relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church and many of former Yugoslavia's Orthodox believers stems from the fact that the area is at a crossroads where Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Islam come together. Interconfessional relations have ebbed and flowed over time but in recent years have seen little of the interfaith dialogue that has characterized relations between religious groups in many Western countries.

Most important, perhaps, is that nationalists of all hues manipulated and exploited religious passions and senses of grievance for their own ends during the wars of the 1990s. Those conflicts -- for which most observers hold former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his supporters chiefly responsible -- were about land, money, and power. Unscrupulous leaders nonetheless had little difficulty in masking their aims by appealing to simple people for their support on religious grounds, particularly with stories about the real or imagined destruction of religious buildings. Serbian propaganda, moreover, stressed that the breakup of Yugoslavia was part of a plot engineered by Germany, Austria -- and the Vatican.

Pope John Paul distanced himself from extremist positions, as did many other religious leaders in the region, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Franjo Kuharic of Croatia, who died in 2002. Kuharic even strained his relations with President Franjo Tudjman by firmly opposing the 1993-94 Croatian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia, which Tudjman privately backed as a prelude to partitioning that neighboring country. In recent years, in the Bosnian town of Bugojno, the local Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim clerics have taken the lead in brining their peoples together. When the Serbian Orthodox priest leaves a community meeting early, he gives his proxy vote to the Muslim imam to cast for him, not to one of the Serbian lay leaders.

But the wars have generally left a climate of mutual mistrust among the religious communities, none of which is far removed from nationalist political groups. This situation also affected the pope's relations with the Orthodox and seems to be the chief reason why the visit to Serbia and Montenegro he hoped for never materialized.

His visit to the Republika Srpska in 2003 highlighted the problem. He paid a brief visit to Banja Luka on 22 June to beatify Ivan Merz, Bosnia's first beatified layman. Speaking to a crowd of over 50,000, the pope called for reconciliation, adding that "from this city, marked in the course of history by so much suffering and bloodshed, I ask almighty God to have mercy on the sins committed against humanity, human dignity, and freedom, also by the children of the [Roman] Catholic Church, and to foster in all the desire for mutual forgiveness. Only in a climate of true reconciliation will the memory of so many innocent victims and their sacrifice not be in vain." His remarks alluded primarily to killings of Orthodox Serbs by pro-Axis Croats during World War II as well as to the ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims by Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict.

But even though police quickly took down posters reading "Pope go home," "Vatican experts agreed that this was one of the coolest welcomes" the pope received anywhere, Deutsche Welle noted. No officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church -- except Bishop Jefrem of Banja Luka -- welcomed him, although he had sent a message to Patriarch Pavle.

From the onset of his papacy in 1978, the Polish-born pontiff stressed the reconciliation of eastern and western Christians as "two lungs breathing in the same body." In 1979, one of his first foreign trips as pope took him to Istanbul to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. But aside from the Romanian Orthodox Church, many of the Orthodox regarded him with suspicion and gave him a chilly welcome on his visits to Greece and Ukraine.