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Newsline - January 17, 1996

A group of gunmen of Caucasian origin seized a ferry in the northeastern Turkish port of Trabzon on 16 January, international media reported. The Panama-registered ferry, the "Eurasia," was about to depart for the Russian port of Sochi with 165 passengers and crew when it was seized. In an interview with Turkish television, the leader of the group, identified as Muhammed Tokcan, threatened to blow up the ship if Russian forces did not cease their attacks against his "Chechen brothers" in Pervomaiskoe. According to preliminary reports, about 95 passengers on the ferry are Russian citizens. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack as an "ignoble act of terror" and stressed that Turkish and Russian officials are cooperating to resolve the situation. The ferry is currently sailing toward Istanbul, trailed by Turkish patrol ships. -- Scott Parrish

First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais resigned from the Russian government on 16 January, after his work as the chief coordinator of the government's economic policy had been criticized by President Yeltsin. The 40-year-old Chubais was appointed to head the State Privatization Committee in November 1991, becoming Deputy Prime Minister in June 1992 and First Deputy in November 1994. He was the last senior government official to survive from the reform team of Yegor Gaidar. His resignation came the same day that an IMF team arrived in Moscow to negotiate a new $9 billion, three-year Extended Fund Facility. -- Peter Rutland

Presidential aide Aleksandr Livshits said that Yeltsin blamed Chubais for the government's failure to pay wages and pensions on time, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January. On 16 January Russian TV showed Yeltsin upbraiding Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on this issue. Another factor, according to Livshits, was the poor organization of the recent loan/share auctions, in which insider banks acquired large stakes in leading firms. Livshits told Western journalists that "we cannot follow a policy of financial stabilization for ever. We must move on to a policy of growth, and (Chubais' departure) is the first step towards such a policy." Last month, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov called for the removal of Chubais, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakrai. All three have now left the government. -- Peter Rutland

Russian troops continued to meet heavy resistance from the Chechen fighters barricaded in Pervomaiskoe, Russian and Western agencies reported on 17 December. Although the Federal Security Service (FSB) told NTV that 29 hostages had now been freed, 70-100 remain captive in the center of the blockaded village. According to military spokesmen, five federal servicemen have been killed and at least 40 wounded, while Chechen losses number more than 100. NTV ridiculed these figures, saying it was impossible that the well-prepared and entrenched Chechen fighters should suffer heavier losses than the attacking forces. Some Russian soldiers interviewed by Izvestiya and NTV criticized the coordination of the assault, in which Russian helicopters mistakenly fired on their own forces. Meanwhile, rescued hostages refuted earlier reports that the Chechen fighters had executed some of the hostages, which the Russian government has used to justify the storming of the village. -- Scott Parrish

An investigation into the disappearance of a group of Russian workers from a suburban Grozny power plant has concluded that 29 workers, mostly specialists from Rostov oblast who were repairing the plant's equipment, has so far failed to determine their whereabouts, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. A spokesman from the plant said the workers had been kidnapped by masked gunmen at about 4 am on 16 January, and refuted rumors that they might have simply left in protest over a wage dispute. No one has taken responsibility for the kidnapping, however, and Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev has suggested that ordinary criminals may simply be holding them for ransom, a crime he said had become commonplace in Chechnya. According to NTV of 17 January, another group of 29 Russian construction workers were kidnapped in Achkhoi-Martan in the last week. -- Scott Parrish

Cordons were put up 15 km away from Pervomaiskoe on 16 January and journalists were barred from approaching the village, leaving the media in an "information vacuum," Russian TV reported. One reporter said his car had been fired upon by Russian soldiers, and an ABC cameraman and a Christian Science Monitor reporter were bitten by a guard dog at another checkpoint. AFP reported that two Russian journalists working for the UK television company WTN, who were trapped in Pervomaiskoe when the attack started, had their equipment confiscated by Russian soldiers after they were released. The 17 January issue of Izvestiya complained of "unprecedented" official attempts to manipulate information on the crisis. The paper said journalists have been denied free access to the released hostages. Izvestiya `s correspondent in Pervomaiskoe, Valerii Yarov, has not been heard from in four days. -- Laura Belin

As the Pervomaiskoe operation drags on, there is increasing criticism of Yeltsin's policy towards Chechnya. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov advised President Boris Yeltsin not to seek a second term and said that the use of force to save the hostages in Pervomaiskoe would not help him because his "policy is completely bankrupt and has failed," Interfax reported on 16 January. Retired General Boris Gromov, newly elected to the Duma, said, "I think the decision makers in the operation just have no brains." Ingush President Ruslan Aushev argued that "the closer we get to the [presidential] elections the worse the situation will get. Every side will be trying to take advantage . . . Ingushetiya will be next after Dagestan, then Stavropol and Krasnodar," Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 15 January. Bashkortostan's president, Murtasa Rakhimov, said Russia "should not have tried to hold on to Chechnya by force and organize a mass grave there as an example," AFP reported 17 January. -- Peter Rutland and Robert Orttung

In a 16 January opening session that stretched late into the night, the State Duma tried to elect a new speaker, but no candidate won the 226 votes necessary, Russian media reported. In the first poll, Communist Gennadii Seleznev won 216 votes; former Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, who was supported by Our Home Is Russia (NDR), received 166; and Yabloko's Vladimir Lukin won 56. Deputies from Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and NDR refused to take part in another round of voting that night. The second round was held without them, but again failed to produce a winner. Seleznev won 219 votes while Rybkin dropped to 51, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung

In the new Duma, the Communists and Yabloko seem to have found common ground, while Our Home Is Russia and Zhirinovsky appear to be pursuing similar goals. Some members of Yabloko and deputies from NDR and the LDPR have accused Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii of seeking an alliance with Zyuganov to ensure a larger number of committee chairmanships. Both leaders have strongly denounced the government's use of force in Dagestan and have continued talks over committee positions even after other factions have walked out. Yavlinskii denied the accusations and blamed them on an anti-Yabloko campaign in the media, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January. The LDPR and NDR have taken a pro-government line over the Pervomaiskoe crisis and have cooperated in preventing the election of a Communist speaker. -- Robert Orttung

The new State Duma registered seven factions during its opening session on 16 January, ITAR-TASS reported. They are the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Gennadii Zyuganov), with 149 members; Our Home Is Russia (Sergei Belyaev, 55; Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (Vladimir Zhirinovsky), 51; Yabloko (Grigorii Yavlinskii), 46; Russian Regions (Ramazan Abdulatipov and Artur Chilingarov), 42; Popular Power (Nikolai Ryzhkov), 37; and the Agrarians (Nikolai Kharitonov), 35. -- Robert Orttung

The new 450-member Duma includes 157 former members of the old Duma and 15 former members of the Federation Council, Rossiiskie vesti reported on 16 January. The lower house now includes 46 women, down from 58 in the last Duma. A total of 29% of the members are from Moscow. The average age is 47. The Duma's membership consists of 219 deputies who have worked in the legislative branch at various levels, 52 previously employed in executive branch positions, 76 businessmen, 154 from various branches of industry, 30 activists in social organizations, and 29 writers, artists, and actors. -- Robert Orttung

At a 16 January Moscow working meeting to discuss bilateral ties, President Boris Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, signed an agreement creating a new joint economic cooperation commission to be headed by each country's prime minister, Russian and Western agencies reported. Despite bilateral difficulties, Russia remains Ukraine's largest trade partner, accounting for 43% of its exports and more than half its imports in 1995. Yeltsin and Kuchma pledged to "rapidly" solve the lingering Black Sea Fleet problem and to conclude the long-delayed Russian-Ukrainian friendship treaty, although they did not set a date for its signing. -- Scott Parrish

According to Igor Khromov, the first deputy head of the Interior Ministry's Main Administration for Criminal Investigations, 31,500 murders and attempted murders were recorded in Russia in 1995, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January. This was a slight reduction on the 1994 figure of 32,300 but a large increase from the 15,600 cases recorded in 1990. Khromov also said there were 61,700 cases of grievious bodily harm and 12,500 rape cases in 1995--down from 67,700 and 14,000 in 1994, respectively. Also on 16 January, it was reported that more than 294,000 fires took place in 1995, in which about 15,000 people were killed. The corresponding figures for 1994 were 325,000 and 15,700. -- Penny Morvant

RUSSIAN GDP FELL 4% in 1995.
Russian GDP fell by 4% in real terms in 1995, totaling 1,659 trillion rubles (approximately $350 billion), according to Goskomstat figures cited by Interfax on 16 January. In 1994, GDP had fallen by 12.6%, so the rate of decline of the Russian economy has slowed. However, the upturn which had been predicted for 1995 failed to materialize. -- Peter Rutland

In accordance with IMF recommendations, the Georgian government has approved a draft budget for 1996, Interfax reported on 15 January. The draft foresees budget revenues of 555 million lari, 68% of which will come from taxes. Expenditures are projected at 772 million lari. The budget deficit of 217 million lari (approximately $176 million) will be covered with national bank loans (99 million lari) and credits from the IMF and World Bank (118 million lari). The projected budget deficit represents 3.8% of Georgia's GDP. -- Lowell Bezanis

A joint effort by Russian and Tajik military and law enforcement personnel has captured a substantial amount of illegal drugs in recent raids, Western and Russian sources reported. According to ITAR-TASS on 16 and 17 January, more than 280 kg (600 pounds) of opium were seized along the Tajik-Afghan border. These actions are part of an effort by both governments to stabilize and secure the Tajik-Afghan border. Since the beginning of 1995, Russo-Tajik efforts have resulted in the seizure of more than 5 tons of drugs on their way northward from Afghanistan, through Tajikistan, and into the rest of Central Asia and Russia. The value of the trade is estimated to be in the tens of millions of U.S. dollars. -- Roger Kangas

Ukraine's parliament debated this year's budget at its session on 17 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The budget envisages a 6% deficit. Deputies proposed placing tight restrictions on the government's authority over the budget, and putting a moratorium on its activities related to changing revenues and expenditures in parts of the budget. -- Ustina Markus

Latvia's Way and the Green Party issued statements on 15 January urging voters not to support the alternative citizenship law proposed by the For the Fatherland and Freedom union, LETA reported the following day. The statement of Latvia's Way noted that only 1,199 persons had received citizenship under the current law and that there was thus no danger that mass naturalization will threaten the continuity of the Latvian nation and existence of Latvia as a state. The restrictive nature of the alternative law would encourage the political isolation of Latvia, threatening its integration into European structures, hindering foreign investments, and raising internal tensions. -- Saulius Girnius

President Algirdas Brazauskas signed a decree on 16 January removing Ambassador to the United Kingdom Raimundas Rajeckas from his post as of 10 February, BNS reported. Rajeckas, who had headed Brazauskas's presidential campaign and served as his senior advisor in 1993, criticized Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius in a newspaper interview earlier this month. He said the decision by Slezevicius to remain in office even though he had withdrawn his personal savings from a commercial bank two days before its activities were suspended showed that he "lacked decency, honor, and a conscience." Rajeckas had said that if he were recalled for these remarks he would return to Lithuania and participate actively in the election campaign, although not for the ruling Democratic Labor Party. -- Saulius Girnius

The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, arrived in Minsk on 17 January for an official visit, ITAR-TASS reported. During the visit Nazarbayev is expected to sign an agreement on friendship and cooperation with his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In addition, agreements will be signed on the rights of Kazakhs living in Belarus and Belarusians living in Kazakhstan, and on cultural and educational cooperation. Most talks are expected to focus on economic issues. Kazakhstan is Belarus's third largest trading partner within the CIS, after Russia and Ukraine. -- Ustina Markus

For the first time since allegations were made that he had contacts with KGB operatives in Poland, Jozef Oleksy said on 16 January that he may consider resigning if the prosecutors' proceedings and the conclusions of the extraordinary Sejm commission prove to be disadvantageous for him. Polish dailies on 17 January extensively quote an article in the Poznan weekly Wprost that describes the Oleksy affair as the "tip of the iceberg" and reports that there were more registered KGB informers among Oleksy's party, the Social Democracy of Poland, which is the core element of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance.Wprost quotes the codenames of three such informers, including Oleksy; the other two were not identified. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 16 January that "the topic of Oleksy's resignation does not exist today." -- Jakub Karpinski

Gazeta Wyborcza reports on 17 January that a government reshuffle is possible as an outcome of the spy allegations against Oleksy. The Polish Peasant Party (PSL), a junior coalition partner, would obtain the Prime Minister's post if Oleksy resigned, the daily said. PSL leader Waldemar Pawlak was Oleksy's predecessor. The decisions of the Sejm commission investigating the affair are expected on 31 January. The prosecutors' office was to rule concerning a formal accusation by 20 January, but an extension of this term is possible. Any government changes may therefore be delayed. -- Jakub Karpinski

Josef Zieleniec on 16 January accused Germany of raising new demands that complicate the completion of a declaration on bilateral relations, Czech media reported. Zieleniec told a news conference that his German counterpart Klaus Kinkel insisted that the Czech side formally distance itself from the "injustice" of the expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II. The two foreign ministers met in Bonn on 12 January and failed to make a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 January 1996). "This way of escalating demands in meetings cannot lead to the [desired] goal," Zieleniec said, adding that he was nonetheless convinced agreement on the declaration can still be reached. "The ball is now in the German court," he said. -- Steve Kettle

Vladimir Meciar on 16 January announced that the conditions set by the Slovak National Party (SNS) concerning the ratification of the Slovak-Hungarian treaty (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 January) have been accepted. "The coalition problem is resolved," he said. According to Meciar, the SNS's demands will be addressed at one of the cabinet's upcoming sessions, Narodna obroda reported. In other news, government spokeswoman Ludmila Bulakova on 16 January said that Meciar will not meet with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during a trip to Bonn this weekend to attend a Bertelsmann Foundation conference. Bulakova said Meciar will deliver two speeches at the conference and has no time left to meet with Kohl, TASR reported. Meciar is interested in making an official visit to Germany, rather than having "just a short appointment" during a conference, she stressed. -- Sharon Fisher

Slovakia's Third Sector Association on 15 January officially began its campaign against a government bill on foundations, Narodna obroda reported on 17 January. The association is particularly opposed to regulations which would require the consent of the relevant ministry for a foundation to register with the Interior Ministry and which would require a foundation's start-up capital to be proportional to its aims. The cabinet's bill, which was initiated by Justice Minister Jozef Liscak, was prepared by the justice and finance ministries and the cabinet office. -- Sharon Fisher

The late Communist Party chief and Prime Minister Karoly Grosz left behind hundreds of pages of documents on the change of regime and politicians instrumental in bringing it about, Nepszabadsag reported on 16 January. Grosz, who died last week, was apparently prompted by the British government to sum up his views in writing about the transformation. He reportedly also wrote about his last conversations with Communist Party head Janos Kadar. In a related development, Nepszava published an interview with Grosz on 11 January -- conducted in 1991 on condition that it be published only after his death -- in which he harshly criticizes some of Hungary's former or current politicians, including Prime Minister Gyula Horn and former Premier Miklos Nemeth. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The Guardian reported on 17 January that some 800 Bosnians from Srebrenica and Zepa are being held at two secret camps in Serbia, AFP said. Some men who had been freed said that they were treated "like animals" and the Red Cross reported "some abnormalities" in conditions. The Red Cross is in Belgrade trying to negotiate the remaining prisoners' release. Meanwhile, the overall prisoner exchange within Bosnia has been frozen over Bosnian demands for information on missing persons (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 January 1996). The Serb delegation chief told TV Pale, moreover, that things could drag on "for another month" over the fate of 200 Serbs he claimed are being held in Croatia. Croatian Television the previous night had mentioned that the Bosnian Croats had released nine prisoners in a unilateral goodwill gesture. -- Patrick Moore

A top-level meeting of the Bosnian Serb leadership held on 15 and 16 January has decided to try a new approach to force a change in the Dayton agreement's provision that certain Serb suburbs will pass to government control. Instead of talking of a "possible" mass exodus and torchings, Radovan Karadzic and parliament speaker Momcilo Krajisnik told SRNA that they would would work with the international community's civilian affairs chief Carl Bildt. They want him or international arbitrators to agree to maintain the status quo until elections are held between mid-June and mid-September. In the meantime, they will tell their people to stay put. -- Patrick Moore

AFP reported on 16 January that Pale has apparently decided that an exodus would deprive it of any say in the future running of Sarajevo. Earlier reports had suggested that Pale wanted to send the Sarajevo Serbs to Brcko to firm up Serbian claims to the disputed strategic corridor there. The Sarajevo Dnevni Avaz noted on 17 January that anti-nationalist Serbs are seeking IFOR's help to prevent an exodus. They also aim to reassure the population through an amnesty for ordinary Bosnian Serb soldiers. -- Patrick Moore

This is how NATO commander Admiral Leighton Smith described IFOR's latest action in Serb-held suburbs, the VOA's Croatian Service reported on 17 January. Oslobodjenje added that water, power and gas are affected, and that the operation involved 150 French soldiers with 10 light tanks and 20 armored vehicles. -- Patrick Moore

The BBC reported on 16 January that UNHCR chief Sadaka Ogata closed the one-day conference dealing with the phased but flexible repatriation of Bosnian refugees (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 January 1996). Meanwhile in Stockholm, an OSCE gathering dealing with elections said that it may not be possible to hold them this year, AFP reported. The participants also said that absentee voting, for which there is a provision in the Dayton agreement, must be permitted. The treaty also says, however, that casting a ballot indicates an intention to return to the area for which one is voting. Finally, the VOA's Croatian Service noted on 17 January that computers were stolen from a UN office in Zagreb. They may hold sensitive data on human rights in Croatia . -- Patrick Moore

Critics of IFOR have charged that it has followed the example of UNPROFOR and been far too timid in interpreting its mandate. Points in question have included ensuring freedom of movement throughout Bosnia and dealing with war crimes. A spokesman for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia told AFP on 16 January that Justice Richard Goldstone will meet NATO Secretary General Javier Solana on 19 January to discuss cooperation. Goldstone is interested in IFOR's ensuring freedom of movement for those investigating possible atrocities. He also seeks its help in arresting indicted war criminals. An IFOR press spokesman told a briefing on 14 January that IFOR had received no formal request to date for assistance in investigating mass graves. Vecernji list reported on 17 January that Washington favors a more liberal interpretation of the mandate but that London and Paris are reluctant to become involved in the issue of war crimes. -- Patrick Moore

Scheduled OSCE-mediated arms controls talks in Vienna were postponed on 16 January because rump Yugoslavia was not yet ready with its data, Reuters reported. Under the Dayton peace accords, Bosnia, Croatia and rump Yugoslavia are required to provide inventories of heavy weapons -- including tanks, armored personnel carriers, large caliber artillery, airplanes and combat helicopters. "Technical reasons" were cited for the delay. Instead of a full session, the OSCE official chairing the arms talks, Norwegian general Vigleik Eide, held talks with individual delegations. -- Michael Mihalka

Bosnian Serb and Muslim-Croat troop withdrawals from the 4-kilometer wide zones of separation throughout Bosnia are proceeding on schedule and NATO Brigadier Andrew Cumming said on 16 January that NATO expects the 19 January deadline to be met, western and local media reported. "We're looking at 70% compliance by now and we do expect compliance," NATO commander Admiral Leighton Smith told reporters in Sarajevo. "The military is being really cooperative." Local media reported that troop withdrawals have been completed in several places, including the Posavina corridor and Mostar. There was less confidence that the requirement to remove or destroy all mines in the zones of separation and to mark the ones in the rest of the country would be achieved by the same deadline. "There are so many that we will probably still be finding mines a decade from now," said one NATO official. -- Michael Mihalka

Politika on 17 January reports that Dragoljub Micunovic has said he will be involved in founding a new political party, which sources speculate is to be called the Democratic Party of the Center (DSC). Micunovic, former president and among the founders of the Democratic Party (DS) currently controlled by Zoran Djindjic, was expelled from DS ranks on 2 December. Micunovic now reportedly says his new party may appeal to disaffected DS members. -- Stan Markotich

The left-wing Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 16 January urged Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu to reshuffle his cabinet, Reuters reported. Party executive chairman Adrian Nastase told journalists that a reshuffle would give the party "dynamism and impulse" to fulfill its program, especially a plan for accelerating the privatization of state-owned industries. According to that plan, mass privatization should have been completed by the end of 1995. But the deadline had to be extended until 31 March, due to Romanians' failure to trade their coupons and vouchers for shares in particular enterprises. Vacaroiu, who attended a meeting of the PDSR standing bureau, was quoted by Jurnalul national as saying that the cabinet would discuss the reshuffle later this week. -- Dan Ionescu

Flavio Cotti, Swiss foreign minister and acting OSCE chairman, on 16 January began a visit to Moldova, BASA-press and Infotag reported. Cotti met with Moldovan President Mircea Snegur, Parliament Chairman Petru Lucinschi, and Foreign Minister Mihai Popov. Snegur informed Cotti of the steps taken by his administration to settle the conflict in eastern Moldova, including the drafting of a special status for the Dniester region that is based on OSCE recommendations. He further said that the Moldovan, Russian, and Ukrainian presidents were planning to sign a joint memorandum to speed up the settlement of the crisis. Asked at a press conference about the possible presence in Moldova of a multi-national OSCE force, Cotti said that his organization lacked funds to conduct peacekeeping operations, and therefore preferred "prevention diplomacy." -- Dan Ionescu

The General Assembly of the Bulgarian Supreme Court's criminal divisions on 16 January failed to muster the quorum needed to reach a decision on the appeal of former Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov to review his seven-year sentence,Trud reported the following day. Zhivkov was convicted in 1992 of misappropriating public funds; due to ill health, he is under house arrest. Meanwhile, under the headline "Judicial idiotism turns the criminal Zhivkov into a martyr," Social Democratic Party Chairman Petar Dertliev complained in an article for Standart that Zhivkov never stood trial for crimes against humanity committed during his rule. -- Stefan Krause

Four top politicians from the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) have announced their candidacy for the post of Greek prime minister, Western media reported on 17 January. Former Industry Minister Kostas Simitis and Defense Minister Gerasimos Arsenis are said to have the best chances to succeed Andreas Papandreou, who resigned on 15 January. Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who has deputized for Papandreou since November, and former Foreign and Defense Minister Jannis Charalambopoulos, are given less chances. PASOK's Central Committee was meeting on 17 January to discuss the party's future course until the next party congress due in summer. The presidency of the parliamentary faction will also meet that day to discuss the procedures for the election of a new premier. The actual voting is expected to take place the following day. -- Stefan Krause

The Albanian government passed a standing order on the implementation of an anti-corruption law that was approved by parliament early last year, Albania reported on 17 January. According to the law, all state employees have to declare their property and explain how they financed it. The order defines the procedures of declaration. State employees are also obliged to declare their incomes and those of their family members up to five years after resignation. A special commission of parliament will be created to investigate officials suspected of corruption. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Steve Kettle