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Ukraine Leader to Face Questions on Drug Ties

February 21, 1996|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration said Tuesday that it will question Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma during a scheduled visit to the White House about reports that the Kiev government has sold and leased aircraft to South American drug traffickers.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns described the report in Tuesday's editions of The Times as disturbing, although he noted that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had denied that the government-owned aircraft company is doing business with drug lords.

"Obviously, the report is disturbing," Burns said. "It has certainly attracted a great deal of attention here in Washington, and we'll certainly raise this report with President Kuchma's team."

Kuchma is scheduled to confer with President Clinton and with Secretary of State Warren Christopher today. The talks were arranged weeks ago.

The Times reported that at least a dozen twin-engine turboprop Antonov-32B aircraft produced by a state-owned plant in Ukraine have been operating in Colombia. It said some have ended up in the hands of known and suspected traffickers and been used on traditional cocaine routes in Colombia, Peru, Panama and Mexico.

The newspaper quoted a senior administration official as saying that Washington had warned Kiev about the transactions, but Burns indicated that the report came as a surprise to the administration.

In Kiev, the Associated Press reported Tuesday that Ukrainian officials denounced The Times' report as a ploy to ruin U.S.-Ukrainian relations but acknowledged that Ukraine's security service and U.S. law enforcement agencies are investigating the planes' alleged drug-running connections.

A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government did not dispute the fact that Ukrainian-made planes are flying in Latin America, Reuters news service said. But he rejected suggestions that the government is involved with drug traffickers.

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