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Newsline - March 1, 1996


RUSSIA

INGUSH VILLAGE BOMBED AGAIN.
An unidentified helicopter bombed the outskirts of the Ingush village Arshty on the Chechen-Ingush border on 29 February, wounding one person, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Russian TV, the helicopter came from the Chechen settlement of Bamut, which is controlled by the Chechen rebels. The Russian Defense Ministry denied that a federal helicopter was ordered to conduct a strike, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. Federal troops bombed the village of Arshty on 23 February, leaving several civilians killed and wounded (see OMRI Daily Digest, 26 February 1996). Meanwhile, investigators from the offices of the procurator-general and military procurator-general have arrived in Ingushetiya to look into the actions of federal troops in the republic last week. -- Anna Paretskaya

YELTSIN MEETS WITH GAIDAR.
In a meeting with President Boris Yeltsin, Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar said he could only support Yeltsin if he found a peaceful solution to the Chechen war, removed "antidemocratic figures" from his government--including Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov, Chief of Staff Nikolai Yegorov, and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev--and limited government spending so that the "budget does not become a hostage to the campaign," NTV reported on 29 February. Gaidar warned Yeltsin that it would be a "serious mistake" to take the democrats' votes for granted, as Yeltsin's statements a day earlier implied that he was doing, and said that the president must take positive steps to gain their backing. -- Robert Orttung

LOCAL LEADERS DESERTING OUR HOME IS RUSSIA.
Regional leaders are deserting local branches of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia "in droves" because of what they they see as the party's poor prospects, according to Mos-kovskii komsomolets on 29 February. The paper said that the activists replacing the local elite in the party's 83 branches tend to be more radical than their predecessors and have come into conflict with the party's Moscow leaders. If such trends continue, the movement could split before or during its scheduled March congress. -- Robert Orttung

BATTERED BRIGADE TO RETURN TO CHECHNYA.
Units of the 131st Independent Motorized Infantry Brigade from Maikop, in the Republic of Adygeya, have been ordered to return to Chechnya, Russian media reported on 28 February. The Maikop brigade participated in the New Year's Eve 1994 attack on the Presidential Palace in Grozny and was said to have suffered more losses than any other unit in the Chechen war. Adygei officials recently told Moscow that they feared a terrorist attack from Chechen separatists. Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev earlier warned that his troops might launch such attacks in the Adygei capital if the brigade was sent back to Chechnya. Reportedly, it will guard the border between Chechnya and Ingushetiya. -- Doug Clarke

RUSSIA, IRAN, CHINA, AND INDIA TO JOINTLY DEVELOP NEW REACTOR.
Academic Yevgenii Velikhov, head of the Kurchatov Institute, announced on 29 February that Russia, Iran, China, and India have formed a new multilateral Asian Fund for Thermonuclear Research (AFTI), Russian and Western agencies reported. Velikhov said atomic scientists from the four member countries would collaborate in the construction of a new experimental thermonuclear reactor, to be completed by 1998. He said that the new reactor would provide safe electric power and that research into its design would have an exclusively civilian application. A site for the construction of the experimental reactor has yet to be chosen, he added. If the project moves forward, it may provoke objections from the U.S., which is wary of Iran's nuclear ambitions as well as, to a lesser extent, those of India. -- Scott Parrish

ATTACK ON ETHNIC GERMAN IMMIGRANTS IN RHINELAND-PFALZ.
Two ethnic German immigrants from Russia received serious injuries when a gang of youths, shouting fascist slogans, attacked an immigrant dormitory in the western German city of Pirmasens, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 February. The gang smashed windows and doors in the dormitory, shot at residents with air-pistols, and beat several residents with spiked clubs. The attackers escaped before police arrived. A few days earlier, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said ethnic German immigrants are still welcome in Germany, in response to calls from opposition Social Democratic leader Oskar Lafontaine to further restrict immigration (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 February 1996). Under article 116 of the German constitution, ethnic Germans are eligible for citizenship, regardless of their place of birth. -- Scott Parrish

U.S. BOOSTS NUCLEAR SECURITY AID TO FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Charles B. Curtis announced on 29 February that the U.S. will spend $330 million over the next six years to upgrade security at nuclear facilities in seven former Soviet republics, Russian and Western agencies reported. The aid will finance the installation of sophisticated monitoring and surveillance equipment at 40-50 sites in Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan where fissionable materials are stored. Some sites have already received security upgrades, (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 October 1995), but Curtis said that at up to two-thirds of them security measures consist solely of "guards, guns, and gates," prompting worries about the theft of fissionable materials. U.S. aid for such security upgrades increased from $2 million in 1994 to $70 million in 1995 and is expected to reach $100 million in 1996. -- Scott Parrish

U.S. CHARGES FOUR WITH DEFRAUDING RUSSIAN COMPANIES.
The U.S. has charged four men, including two Russian nationals living in New York, with conspiracy to cheat 24 Russian companies out of $10.8 million, Western agencies reported on 1 March. The four promised to deliver a variety of U.S.-made computer products and consumer goods at discount prices to Russian organizations, including a charity for Chornobyl victims. The accused allegedly demanded full payment before delivery, although they had no such goods to offer. The FBI said the arrests followed a two-and-a-half year investigation aided by the Russian Interior Ministry. FBI Director Louis Freeh described the probe as a "prime example of the new cooperation" between U.S. and Russian law enforcement agencies. -- Penny Morvant

KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA ON YELTSIN'S CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN.
Commenting on the bribery charges brought against former Duma Deputy Sergei Stankevich, Kom-somolskaya pravda argued on 29 February that the current anti-corruption campaign is nothing more than a pre-election ploy. The paper noted that former officials predominate among those accused and quoted former Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov as comparing the current campaign to the one conducted by former Soviet leader Yurii Andropov, in which a lot of petty criminals were imprisoned while the most notorious offenders went unpunished. Popov argued that Stankevich and former Roskom-dragmet Chairman Yevgenii Bychkov, who has been accused of embezzlement, are being used as a "smoke screen" while the most corrupt officials are beyond the reach of the law. -- Penny Morvant

CIS BORDER SERVICES MEETING IN BREST.
Representatives of the various CIS Federal Border Services met in Brest, Belarus, on 29 February, to discuss cooperative efforts in border control, Russian media reported. All 12 states were represented, which is rare for CIS meetings, although the service directors from Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan did not personally attend. They signed nine agreements, including an accord on information exchanges and a decision of Tajikistan to set up its own border units, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian Federal Border Service director, General Andrei Nikolaev, said the meeting was conducted in an atmosphere of "trust and cooperation." Other representatives said there is no alternative to closer integration among the CIS states. The next meeting will take place in Erevan in the first half of May. -- Roger Kangas

SOSKOVETS REPORTS HIGHER ARMS EARNINGS.
Russia had exported arms and military services worth $3 billion in 1995, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said on 29 February. The figure represents an 80% increase over the previous year, Reuters reported. Earlier in the year, Russian officials had predicted arms sales of $2.7 billion for 1995. Soskovets said the exports went to 51 countries, most of which were former Warsaw Pact allies and developing countries. He also said that Russian weapons makers sold 60% more abroad than they did to the Russian armed forces. In a related story, the Turkish ambassador to Russia on 28 February said Turkey plans to increase its purchases of Russian arms. He said that Turkey--the first NATO member to buy arms from Russia--buys around $200 million worth of Russian arms annually. -- Doug Clarke

YELTSIN CRITICIZES MILITARY REFORM.
President Yeltsin blasted the slow pace of military reform in Russia at a 29 February government meeting, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said that military reform made practically no headway in 1995 and said that he would press for the creation of a "combat-ready professional army." Yeltsin added that the implementation of reform is complicated by the crisis in the Russian military-industrial complex. He also said he plans to reform the military by the end of 1996. This is the second time within a month that Yeltsin has publicly criticized the pace of military reform (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 February 1996). -- Constantine Dmitriev

MILITARY WANTS TO GROW MORE FOOD.
The Defense Ministry has decided to establish 20 more of its own farms in 1996 to supply the Russian armed forces with food, Krasnaya zvezda reported on 29 February. According to ministry spokesman Fedor Druzhinin, the new farms will provide "food security" for the military. Druzhinin added that the ministry wants to avoid a repetition of the August 1995 crisis, when the military ran out of funds to purchase food. Reports of undernourished soldiers frequently appear in the Russian media. -- Constantine Dmitriev

TELEMARATHON AGAINST VIOLENCE.
A telemarathon entitled "Musical Barrier to Terrorism and Violence" got under way in Moscow on 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported. About 50 Russian artists are taking part in the event, which will be broadcast by all the major Russian television stations. The first song, "Russia, Arise," with words by Andrei Voznesenskii, was dedicated to the memory of journalists who died as a result of terrorist attacks. -- Penny Morvant

UTILITY PRICES TO RISE.
Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin explained that utility prices, frozen since last October, are to be increased, Segodnya reported on 29 February. Despite this, Yasin said overall consumer price inflation in February should not exceed 3.2%, the lowest rate since 1991, Delovoi ekspress reported on 29 February. Electricity prices will go up 16% with effect from 1 February, the first rise since August 1995. As of 31 March, the prices of electricity, gas, and rail tariffs will be allowed to rise at the rate of 80% of the index of general industrial prices. On 25 February, rail tariffs went up by 20%, causing complaints, particularly in the Far East. Chita railways cut off all deliveries to army bases because of chronic nonpayment of rail fees, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 February. -- Peter Rutland



OSCE CONFERENCE ON ETHNIC RELATIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN.
Economic hardships and anxieties over whether their children will enjoy equal access to university education and employment has led to an exodus of ethnic Russians and Germans from Kazakhstan, Max Van der Stool, the OSCE high commissioner on national minorities, said at an OSCE-sponsored conference on ethnic relations in Almaty on 29 February. He said this is happening despite Kazakhstan's long tradition of inter-ethnic harmony and efforts by the government to ensure ethnic stability, Russian media reported. Only legal assurances that no single ethnic group has a privileged position with respect to others can check the emigration of other minorities, he argued. -- Bhavna Dave

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CONCLUDES VISIT TO TAJIKI-STAN.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati announced a compromise proposal aimed at reinvigorating peace negotiations between the Tajik government and the opposition at the end of his two-day visit to Tajikistan on 29 February, Russian and Western press reported the same day. Velayati suggested that instead of sending leading officials from the opposition to an 11 March session of the Tajik parliament, a lower level delegation should attend. There was no immediate reaction from the opposition. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov agreed to Velayati's proposal that the two sides exchange prisoners as a gesture of good will. He added, "We welcome any effort by Iran for the establishment of peace in our country and the region," Tehran IRIB television reported. -- Bruce Pannier



CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT ORDERS TRANSFER OF SOCIAL SERVICES TO MUNICIPALITIES.
The Ukrainian government has ordered the phased transfer of local social services from state-owned firms to municipal jurisdiction, UNIAN reported on 27 February. A government resolution provides that 30% of housing and 20% of pre-schools and recreational facilities be turned over to city government financing and management this year. The plans calls for nearly all social services to be under municipal control by 1998 and is part of a government effort to restructure and streamline the industrial and agricultural sectors. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

CRIMEANS TO SERVE IN BLACK SEA FLEET.
The Black Sea Fleet has begun accepting applications from Crimeans wishing to serve in the Black Sea Fleet, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March. Ukraine until now has been against Crimeans serving in the fleet. More than 80 Sevastopol residents have taken Russian citizenship and are being trained to serve in the fleet. Instructors at the fleet's technical school say Crimeans tend to be the most-disciplined students. -- Ustina Markus

UNPAID WAGES IN BELARUS.
The Belarusian Ministry of Statistics has said that one in four Belarusians was not paid in December 1995, Belarusian Radio reported on 29 February. As of 9 February, workers were owed 509 billion Belarusian rubles ($44 million) in back wages. Over half of the debt is owed to collective farm workers. Trade unions have been threatening strikes since late 1995 over the issue of unpaid wages. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER TALKS.
Some progress was made during border talks in Moscow on 28-29 February but there was no breakthrough on the dispute over the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, BNS reported the delegation heads as saying. A trilateral meeting with Finnish officials is to take place in late March over determining the point of convergence of the three countries' borders in the Gulf of Finland. Russia promised to consider what Estonia termed a constructive proposal on the 1920 treaty, but no information about its contents was revealed. The next round of Estonian-Russian talks is scheduled for 27-28 March in Tallinn. -- Saulius Girnius

ESTONIA'S TV3 WINS BROADCASTING LICENSE.
Culture Minister Jaak Allik on 29 February granted a national broadcasting license to the private company TV3, formed by the merger of the private stations RTV and EVTV, ETA reported. The ministry's Broadcasting License Committee two days earlier voted in favor of AS Trio, which owns several radio stations. Allik, however, doubted that it could start transmissions immediately since it lacked the technical basis and experienced employees. Major shareholders in TV3 are the Swedish media giant Kinnevik and Finnish MTV3. -- Saulius Girnius

POLL ON POPULARITY OF LI-THUANIAN POLITICIANS.
A poll carried out in mid-February by the British-Lithuanian joint venture Baltic Surveys suggest that public trust in Lithuanian politicians has grown since January, Radio Lithuania reported on 29 February. Seimas Deputy Chairman Egidijus Bickauskas remained in first place, with a 54% rating. He was followed by Center Union chairman Romualdas Ozolas with 50%. President Algirdas Brazauskas's rating registered the largest increase, by nine points, to 48%. But trust in the presidency increased by only two points, to 25%. Former Premier Adolfas Slezevicius received a positive rating of only 7%. -- Saulius Girnius

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST FORMER POLISH PREMIER TO BE DROPPED?
The Supreme Military Prosecutor's Office on 29 February said it will not lift Jozef Oleksy's parliamentary immunity. Such a move is necessary for prosecutors to formally charge the former prime minister, who has been accused of spying for the former Soviet Union. Polish dailies on 1 March suggest that the prosecutors will most probably drop the proceedings against Oleksy. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH DOCTORS CALL SECOND STRIKE.
Members of the Medical Trade Union Club (LOK) on 29 February called a two-day strike for 25-26 March to demand higher pay and better work conditions, Czech media reported. LOK chairman David Roth said no progress has been made in reforming the state health system, harming patients and frustrating doctors. The strike will include a rally in central Prague, while emergency services will be maintained at hospitals. If LOK's demands are not met, doctors will limit overtime work after the strike. Up to 5,000 doctors and nurses took part in the first strike rally last November. -- Steve Kettle

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN SLOVAKIA.
Yevgenii Primakov, during his first visit to a former Eastern bloc country since taking office, on 29 February urged top Slovak officials to drop plans for NATO membership, Slovak and international media reported. Primakov's counterpart, Juraj Schenk, stressed that Slovakia continues to aim for full integration into West European structures. While noting that Russia has "no veto right" in the matter, Primakov emphasized that NATO expansion "would put Russia into a worse geopolitical and military position, not to mention the psychological aspects of the process." A Slovak Statistical Office poll released on 29 February showed that 65% of Slovaks favor EU membership, while only 43% view integration into NATO positively. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK ROUNDUP.
Interior Minister Ludovit Hudek on 29 February signed a draft law on Slovakia's new territorial arrangement, Narodna obroda reported. The bill, which provides for eight regions and 74 districts, will be reviewed by the cabinet next week. Also on 29 February, Mikulas Dzurinda of the Christian Democratic Movement criticized the cabinet's new privatization method, Pravda reported. He claimed that when the government privatizes a firm, it keeps 34% for itself. Meanwhile, Narodna obroda's new editor-in-chief, Tatiana Repkova, announced that under her leadership, the paper will be a "general daily with a liberal democratic orientation" and will focus on economic and social issues. As of 1 March, Pravda's new editor-in-chief is Pavol Minarik, formerly a correspondent for the Czech daily Pravo. Minarik is the fourth person to assume that post in less than one year. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN ISRAEL.
Gyorgy Keleti on 29 February met with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to discuss cooperation on security matters and the Middle East peace process, international and Hungarian media reported. The two men also discussed the possibility of the Israeli air defense companies upgrading Hungarian Air Force MiG-21 fighter planes. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

USAID MAY CLOSE DOWN IN HUNGARY.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) may close down its Budapest office before 2000. International agencies quoted office head Tom Cornell as saying "Hungary is progressing faster than expected and thus needs less and less American assistance." The organization has spent some $230 million on aid programs since 1991 and has an annual budget of between $15 and 21 million for the coming years. USAID's Budapest bureau provides financial and technological aid in the financial sector and supports several non-governmental organizations, Cornell said. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



BOSNIAN SERBS RESUME NEGOTIATIONS ON ARMS CONTROL.
Bosnian Serbs on 29 February resumed talks in Vienna on disarmament and arms control in the former Yugoslavia, international agencies reported. The Bosnian Serbs quit the talks two weeks ago after the arrest of the two senior Serbian officers suspected of involvement in war crimes. Contacts with the international community were restored on 22 February. The Vienna talks are organized by the OSCE and include officials from the rump Yugoslavia, Croatia, and the Bosnian Federation. Nasa Borba on 1 March reported the Norwegian ambassador to the OSCE as saying that if participants do not reach agreement by 6 June, the Dayton accord regulations on arms quotas will be enforced. -- Daria Sito Sucic

IS GENERAL DJUKIC MISSING LINK TO MILOSEVIC?
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 1 March announced that Serbian General Djordje Djukic has been formally charged with "crimes against humanity" and "violation of war rights and conventions," AFP reported. It will also hold another Serbian officer, Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic, until at least 4 April. The Guardian on 29 February published an article based on a package of leaked documents on Djukic and some secret Serbian maps. It argues that Djukic is an officer in Belgrade's army, not Pale's, and that the "international community" was aware all along of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's role in starting and continuing the war in Bosnia through the end of 1995. The author concludes that "the revelation that the general is Belgrade's man has explosive implications for the Dayton peace agreement, while cutting to the core of the history of the conflict by revealing Belgrade's secret role in the Bosnian Serb war machine." The authenticity of the documents has yet to be verified, but many observers have long suspected such a link. -- Patrick Moore

SIEGE OF SARAJEVO ENDS.
With the arrival of federal police in Ilijas on 29 February, the blockade of the Bosnian capital formally came to an end. Oslobodjenje on 1 March reported that Interior Minister Avdo Hebib has reopened the overland route from Sarajevo to Zenica and Tuzla. The Serbian siege lasted nearly four years, despite repeated attempts by the government army to break through. UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko blamed the Pale leadership for ordering the looting of Ilijas before the federal units arrived. In another development, suspected war criminal and Bihac kingpin Fikret Abdic has reemerged on the political scene by registering his Democratic People's Community in Mostar. -- Patrick Moore

MORE VIOLATIONS OF DAYTON ACCORDS ON PRISONERS, FORCED LABOR.
The Onasa news agency on 29 February quoted a prominent Roman Catholic priest, Karlo Visevicki, as telling Bosnian Prime Minister Izudin Kapetanovic in Banja Luka that Serbs continue to make Muslims do forced labor in western Bosnia. AFP the same day reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross said that the government authorities are holding 52 more Serbian prisoners in Tuzla, bringing the total there to at least 129. Two others are being held in Zenica. These Serbs and all other prisoners not wanted for war crimes should have been freed six weeks ago. The Serbs are still officially holding 23 captives and the Croats two, in addition to those all three sides are keeping in connection with war crimes investigations. -- Patrick Moore

WORLD BANK APPROVES $45 MILLION AID TO BOSNIA.
The World Bank has approved $45 million in emergency reconstruction aid for Bosnia in the form of loans and grants, AFP reported on 29 February, quoting an unidentified source. The aid is part of an emergency fund created by the World Bank totaling $150 million. The World Bank is expected to announce on 1 March which reconstruction projects will be financed by these funds, whose contributors include the EU, the U.S., Canada, Germany, Japan, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Britain. -- Daria Sito Sucic

BOMB EXPLODES IN MOSTAR.
A bomb destroyed a Muslim-owned bank in the Croatian part of Mostar on 29 February, Nasa Borba and AFP reported. No casualties were reported. The bank is owned by a Muslim family that lives in Zagreb. Bosnian Croat police have opened an investigation into the blast, which, they say, may be linked either to mafia operations or to ethnic strife. -- Daria Sito Sucic

SOROS FOUNDATION VOWS TO CONTINUE WORK IN RUMP YUGOSLAVIA.
The Soros Foundation has pledged to re-register in order to continue its aid work throughout rump Yugoslavia, Nasa Borba reported on 1 March. The foundation was banned last month by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's regime. The organization said that since it was banned, there has been a risk that 30,000 refugees will not receive critical food aid, pre-schoolers will be deprived of basic educational supplies, and some 100 health facilities will not get critical medical supplies. Foundation head Sonja Licht noted that the rump Yugoslavia is "the only country that has banned the Soros Foundation from operating on its territory." -- Stan Markotich

WORLD CHESS CHAMPION ENLISTS WITH SERBIAN SOCIALISTS.
Russian chess master Anatolii Karpov has formally joined Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, AFP reported on 29 February. Karpov is said to be the first foreigner to join Milosevic's ruling SPS. -- Stan Markotich

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION SENATOR TO BOYCOTT PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES.
Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu, senator for the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, on 29 February said he will boycott parliamentary debates, Radio Bu-charest reported. Dumitrescu, a former political prisoner under the Communists, said he was protesting the indefinite postponement of the debate over a draft law he proposed two years ago. The bill would provide for information on the former political police to be released and would allow citizens access to their Securitate files. He also pointed to another draft law blocked by the parliament, saying the legislation aimed at banning former communist officials from holding high office within the administration. Dumitrescu argued that informers are still at work everywhere in Romania and that some have infiltrated the democratic opposition. -- Dan Ionescu

MAJOR OIL LEAK IN ROMANIA.
An oil tanker has spilled up to 250 tons of gasoline in the harbor of Constanta on the Black Sea, Romanian and Western media reported on 29 February. The leak occurred when the Maltese-registered tank ship was unloading its cargo. A port official blamed the oil spill on "negligence by the crew," who have been ordered to pay a small fine only and the costs of the clean-up operation. Fuel imports have been increased in an attempt to halt an energy crisis caused by particularly cold weather. -- Dan Ionescu

CONTROVERSY OVER PLUNDERED ROMANIAN JEWISH FORTUNES IN SWISS BANK.
The World Jewish Congress has said the Association of Swiss Bankers is hiding data on the fate of Romanian Jews' fortunes plundered during World War II and deposited in a Swiss bank account, Reuters and Cronica romana reported on 29 February-1 March. The WJC said details of an account belonging to Radu Lecca have been discovered in a Securitate file. Lecca, who was in charge of "Romanianizing" Jewish property, is widely suspected of having amassed a fortune by threatening Jews with deportation. He was sentenced to death in 1946 but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The file states that in 1963, Lecca--possibly under pressure from the Securitate--attempted to reclaim money from the Swiss Volksbank but was told no record of the account existed because the bank's records had been destroyed. -- Michael Shafir

EU-MOLDOVA COOPERATION COMMITTEE CONVENES IN CHI-SINAU.
The EU-Moldova Joint Cooperation Committee on 29 February met for the first time, Moldovan agencies reported. Moldovan Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli said the committee was set up to implement the first agreements signed by Moldova and the EU. He expressed gratitude to the EU for its support in the peaceful settlement of the Dniester conflict and in efforts to withdraw Russian troops from Moldovan territory. Without EU's humanitarian assistance and preferential credits, "Moldova may experience social unrest," he added. -- Matyas Szabo

BULGARIAN ROUNDUP.
The Bulgarian government on 29 February adopted regulations for implementing the arms trade law, Standart reported. The regulations give private and state-run companies equal status. Private firms, however, must be Bulgarian majority-owned. Industry Minister Kliment Vuchev said he is not so interested in re-exports but noted that "it is important arms are being sold, that our plants work." Also on 29 February, the cabinet decided to raise the price of gasoline, diesel fuel, and fuel oil. The government said the hikes were due to the devaluation of the lev against the dollar and the need to finance road maintenance and reconstruction. -- Stefan Krause

WAS ITALIAN MAFIA INVOLVED IN TIRANA BOMBING?
Reuters on 29 February quoted unofficial sources "with knowledge of the police investigation into the [bomb blast in Tirana on 26 February]" as saying the owner of the car that carried the bomb has been detained and has links with the Italian Mafia. He reportedly came from Italy's Puglia region. Vefa Holdings, the owner of the supermarket that was destroyed in the blast, is reportedly also involved in arms trading. -- Fabian Schmidt

JOURNALIST CONTINUES TO BE DETAINED IN TIRANA.
Meanwhile, a Tirana court has ruled that Populli Po journalist Ylli Polovina is to remain in prison, Koha Jone reported on 1 March. Polovina wrote an article last November suggesting that bomb attacks like that on Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov in October could also happen in Albania. The prosecutor charged him with "publicly calling for violent acts." Polovina faces up to three years in prison if found guilty. The Albanian Helsinki Committee, Reporters without Borders, and the International Center against Censorship Article 19 have protested both Polovina's arrest and raids on Koha Jone's offices since the bombing. Koha Jone Chief Editor Nikolle Lesi has been charged with illegal arms possession, Gazeta Shqiptare reported. President Sali Berisha continues to blame the communist-era secret police for the explosion. -- Fabian Schmidt

GREECE WILL CONTINUE TO BLOCK EU AID TO TURKEY.
Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis on 29 February said Greece will block EU aid to Turkey "as long as Turkish aggressiveness persists," Reuters reported. He said it "would be foolish for Greece to go along as if nothing were happening while Turkey threatens war." He also noted that Turkey is not following a provision of the customs union with the EU committing it to friendly relations with EU countries. Turkish caretaker Prime Minister Tansu Ciller said the same day that Greece should not use EU membership as a weapon against Turkey. She called on Athens to solve differences by dialogue. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana arrived in Athens on 29 February to discuss the effects of the Greek-Turkish dispute on military cooperation in the region, AFP reported. -- Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave







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