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Russian President Boris Yeltsin jumped an important hurdle in the move toward a real market economy by signing a decree allowing private land sales, the Russian Itar-Tass news agency reported Friday.

The decree calls for an experimental land auction in a small district near Moscow, providing individuals with an opportunity to buy plots of land to build on - the first time land sale has been allowed in Russia since Joseph Stalin collectivized Soviet agriculture in the 1920s.Yeltsin's office issued a statement saying that the decree "for the first time since the derailment of the totalitarian regime in Russia has brought to the market, experimentally so far, part of the national wealth - land, on which the state has had a monopoly until now."

The move comes on the heels of the Yeltsin administration program of mass privatization - giving all Russian citizens vouchers worth 10,000 rubles for obtaining shares in state-owned enterprises.

The reform-minded Russian government wants Russians to have the right to buy land with their vouchers, but so far hard-line lawmakers in the Russian Parliament have resisted all efforts to allow land ownership.

In an attempt to get around Communist resistance, Yeltsin this past summer issued a decree allowing the sale of land under the thousands of state-owned business to be privatized later this year in a massive divestiture program ending 70 years of state control of the economy.

The latest decree is another attempt by Yeltsin to bypass the conservative-dominated Parliament, beginning the breakup of the state monopoly on land ownership without waiting for legislators to pass a law allowing land sale.

Despite the demise of the Soviet Union, the old Soviet constitution remains largely unchanged as the law of the land, including an extant but obsolete provision outlawing general private land ownership. A move to repeal the measure failed during the last Congress of People's Deputies.

Yeltsin's decree permitting limited land ownership is also an attempt to solve Moscow's chronic housing shortage, as the land plots up for sale in the auction are only to be used by Moscow region residents to build houses on.

Russia's infant private construction industry has been stunted by a lack of clarity around the issue of land ownership.

The auction experiment, in the Ramenki district southwest of Moscow, will be supervised and monitored by a government committee on land reform over. Then it will decide whether this type of auction should be adopted throughout Russia.


(Additional story)

Russian buyer: beware

The state Property Committee is offering a little friendly advice - and a quick course on economics - to Russians taking their first steps into the capitalist jungle.

A primer for investors warns of the pitfalls and shady dealers who lurk behind promises of quick and easy profits. And it offers Russians a lesson many in the West are still learning: Don't believe everything you read.

"Don't sell your check as soon as you get it," the Property Committee primer begins. "During the first several months after receiving checks, the market price of the check might waver."

The memo advises those who ignore its first suggestion to at least shop around in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities for the best price.