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UKRAINIAN MINISTER DENIES PRESENCE OF FOREIGN TROOPS IN CRIMEA. Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists in Kyiv on May 31 that there are no "foreign military units" on Ukrainian territory, UNIAN reported. Tarasyuk was referring to some reports claiming that a group of U.S. servicemen has disembarked in the Crimean port of Feodosiya, along with engineering equipment and construction materials brought by the U.S. naval ship "Advantage." In particular, Interfax reported on May 30 that 120 U.S. servicemen were staying in a Defense Ministry spa near Feodosiya. The visit of the U.S. ship to Feodosiya on May 27 have sparked anti-NATO protests in the city and a blockade of the port by several thousand people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006). The Ukrainian Navy's press service said the Americans are going to build barracks, bathrooms, and dining rooms at a training range near Feodosiya. Ukrainian sailors will use these facilities during the upcoming Sea Breeze-2006 military exercise, which will reportedly involve soldiers from some 40 countries. The deployment of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory must be approved by the parliament for each individual case. In February, the previous Verkhovna Rada rejected a bill on staging the Sea Breeze-2006 exercise in Ukraine. The newly elected legislature is scheduled to gather for a session on June 7. Tarasyuk assured journalists that the government will make every effort to have a bill allowing the deployment of foreign troops passed by the parliament before the planned exercise. JM

TRANSDNIESTRIAN GROUP APPEALS TO OSCE CHAIRMAN TO END NEW CUSTOMS RULES. A group in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region has appealed to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman in Office Karel de Gucht to abolish new customs regulations on the border with Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported on May 30. Addressing the Belgian foreign minister, Transdniester's Antiblockade Coordinating Committee said the new customs rules have "led to a full-scale economic blockade of the [Transdniester] region." Moldova and Ukraine implemented the new regulations in early March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 7, and 8, 2006). The rules, designed to combat smuggling, are supported by the European Union and require that all goods bound for Ukraine that move through the Transdniestrian portion of the border clear Moldovan customs and have a Moldovan stamp. Russia and the pro-Moscow regime in Transdniester have called the move an "economic blockade." De Gucht is scheduled to arrive in Moldova on May 31 to try to jump-start stalled talks on settling the conflict. BW