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Newsline - March 28, 1997

Workers took part in strikes and demonstrations on 27 March in a national day of protest against delayed wages, international agencies reported. RIA quoted the Interior Ministry as saying 1.8 million people took part in 1,300 protests, which were coordinated by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR); ITAR-TASS, also citing the police, put turnout at 1.22 million in 984 rallies in 73 regions. The biggest rallies were reportedly in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kemerovo. FNPR Chairman Mikhail Shmakov, however, told TASS on 28 March that 21 million people had participated, of whom 5.1 million stopped work at least temporarily. Whatever the true number of participants, the protest was clearly larger than a similar day of action held last November. Slogans demanding the resignation of President Boris Yeltsin and the government were in evidence at many of the rallies, accompanied by red flags and portraits of Lenin, but the demonstrations passed off peacefully, and many reporters described the dominant mood as one of resignation. -- Penny Morvant

President Yeltsin signed a decree on 27 March requiring the government and the presidential Control Administration to submit material to the Temporary Extraordinary Commission by 30 April on the misuse of federal budget funds earmarked to pay wages, ITAR-TASS reported. Wage arrears totaling some 50 trillion rubles were the main grievance of workers participating in the union day of action. Speaking at the first meeting of the new government, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin stressed its efforts to reduce the budget wage debt and promised to work more closely with the unions. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov described the protest as a no-confidence vote in the new cabinet, contending, "Changes in the government have convinced no one," Reuters reported. Aleksandr Lebed attributed the protest to the poverty in the country, saying: "One gets the impression that it has been decided that a third of the population are to be killed off." -- Penny Morvant

Reports on the protests dominated Russian news coverage on 27 March, but most news agencies and electronic media outlets emphasized that dissatisfied citizens turned out in lower numbers than had been expected and made primarily economic rather than political demands. The three major television networks all noted that the number of demonstrators nationwide was closer to 1 million than to the 20 million that opposition leaders had predicted. They also reported that extreme political demands found little support among the protesters. For instance, state-controlled Russian Public TV (ORT) noted that just a few hundred supporters turned out to rallies organized by Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Viktor Anpilov, leader of the radical communist movement Workers' Russia. -- Laura Belin

At its meeting on 27 March the government instructed Deputy Economy Minister Sergei Vasilev to draft a plan to promote more effective corporate management in privatized enterprises, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Minister without Portfolio Yevgenii Yasin argued that lack of clarity in accounting procedures and in defining managers' duties was deterring investors. "Companies which infringe shareholders' rights will not get government support," Vasilev said. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said: "Those firms which do not follow basic reform parameters must be cut off from all sources of budget funding," Kommersant-Daily reported. One of the perks will be that progressive companies will be given ownership of the land on which they are located. To date only 1,264 firms have been allowed to buy their own site. -- Peter Rutland

In a 27 March interview with Moskovskii komsomolets, presidential foreign policy aide Dmitrii Ryurikov said that as part of its proposed charter with NATO, Russia wants a veto over NATO decisions with which it disagrees. He said Moscow does not accept U.S. President Bill Clinton's statement after the Helsinki summit that the charter will give Russia a voice, but not a veto. Ryurikov asserted that President Yeltsin "acts on the assumption that if our country has a voice, it will have the right to block decisions that are unacceptable to it," adding that "otherwise, there is no sense in having a voice." Ryurikov concluded that it was important to make sure that any agreement with NATO "precludes ambiguous interpretations." His comments suggest that the negotiations on the proposed charter will prove arduous, as its specifics remain contentious. -- Scott Parrish

The heads of government of the 12 CIS countries met in Moscow on 27 March: the heads of state meet on 28 March. The ostensible aim of the meeting is to promote economic integration. However, despite the signing of 700 inter-governmental agreements and the creation of 80 supranational CIS organs, coordination of economic policies remains weak to non-existent, while political rifts continue to grow. The Ukrainian and Azerbaijani presidents met earlier this week and issued statements affirming that the CIS must be a union of equals. Andranik Migranyan, a Yeltsin adviser, accused the other CIS members of "consolidating power on an anti-Russian basis," AFP reported. "If they develop alternative economic and military unions Russia will be unable to maintain its territorial integrity, because they will serve as an example for Russia's regions," he said. Like OMRI, the CIS seems to have outlived its usefulness as a temporary organization bridging the transition from socialism to capitalism. -- Peter Rutland

In preparation for the 28 March summit, the CIS councils of foreign and defense ministers met in Moscow on 27 March, Russian media reported. The foreign ministers discussed the future of the predominantly Russian CIS peacekeeping forces in Tajikistan and Abkhazia. They recommended that the CIS heads of state extend the mandate of the peacekeepers in Tajikistan until the end of 1997, and broaden the mandate of those in Abkhazia. Georgia had earlier said it would demand the peacekeepers' withdrawal unless their mandate was broadened to include police powers. Citing the "immense quantity" of CIS interstate organizations that have been created since 1991, many of which are duplicative and wasteful, the session imposed a moratorium on creating new ones. -- Scott Parrish

Meanwhile, CIS defense ministers continued discussing a Russian proposal to reinstate Army General Viktor Samsonov as head of the CIS military cooperation staff, Russian media reported. Despite earlier reports suggesting that the January session of the council had approved his nomination (see OMRI Daily Digest, 29 January 1997), it apparently has not been finalized. Samsonov resigned from the post in October 1996 when he was appointed chief of the Russian general staff. After the non-Russian members of the CIS rejected Yeltsin's suggested replacement for Samsonov, Moscow suggested that he could head both the Russian general staff and the CIS cooperation staff. Reflecting the tenuous nature of CIS military cooperation, only nine of the 12 CIS states attended the meeting. Moldova was absent, while Ukraine and Turkmenistan attended only as observers. -- Scott Parrish

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov went to the Volga region for his first official business trip and addressed the trade union protest rally in his native city of Nizhnii Novgorod with a promise to solve all acute social problems facing the country, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. Nemtsov said he plans to support Russian producers, reduce tariffs for electricity and transport as part of the reform of natural monopolies, narrow the gap between rich and poor, and fight corruption. According to a Public Opinion Foundation poll cited by ITAR-TASS, 52% of Russia's urban population approve of Nemtsov's being appointed to the government, with only 12% expressing disapproval. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

The presidium of the Moscow city court overturned the October 1995 conviction of journalist Vadim Poegli, who was accused of insulting the honor and dignity of then Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Russian media reported on 27 March. In October 1994, Poegli published an article on corruption in the military in the popular newspaper Moskovskii komsomolets, under the title "Pasha Mercedes: A Thief Should Be In Prison, Not Defense Minister." Rather than bringing a civil suit against Poegli, Grachev sought a criminal conviction, and the journalist was sentenced to one year of corrective labor, although he was amnestied before having to serve his sentence (see OMRI Daily Digest, 30 October 1995). -- Laura Belin

Following the crash of an Antonov An-24 in the Caucasus on 18 March in which some 50 people were killed, the Russian Federal Aviation Service (FAS) decided to suspend the domestic use of all airplanes of this type, Izvestiya reported on 28 March. All An-24s will now be subject to a technical inspection. An-24s form the core of the Russian passenger fleet, servicing 40% of all passenger traffic in Russia. The An-24 is also one of the oldest Russian passenger carriers; manufacture began in 1962 and continued until the end of the 1970s. The ban can be lifted only when An-24s get another technical certificate. -- Natalia Gurushina

There are some 40 joint ventures with the participation of foreign capital operating in the Russian oil industry, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 27 March. The bulk of them (73%) are extracting companies, and the rest render technical and other services. About half the oil joint ventures operate in Western Siberia, while the remaining firms work deposits in the Caucasus, Far East, and Eastern Siberia. In 1996, joint ventures extracted 22 million metric tons of oil, or 7.7% of Russia's total oil output (compared to 6.5% in 1995). Joint ventures accounted for 12.5% (12 million metric tons) of Russian oil exports. -- Natalia Gurushina

Former Azerbaijani Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, who staged the June 1993 coup that resulted in Heidar Aliev's return to power in Baku, was arrested near Tula on 20 March by Russian and Azerbaijani Interior Ministry officials and extradited to Baku on 27 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. Huseinov faces charges of treason and armed rebellion in connection with a so-called coup attempt in October 1994, following which he fled to Moscow, and an alleged plot to assassinate Aliyev in December 1996. -- Liz Fuller

Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan and Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin met in Moscow on the eve the CIS summit, Russian media reported on 27 March. Rybkin called for a "renewed" comprehensive treaty between the two countries that should also include a "military component." According to Ter-Petrossyan, Russia is Yerevan's "main strategic partner," and the parliaments of both countries will soon ratify the treaty on a Russian military base in Armenia. Meanwhile, during his one-day visit to France, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said there is no need for the Russian military presence in Armenia and Georgia, Reuters reported on 27 March. "I don't think it's right and I even protest against that," he added. -- Emil Danielyan

Bekzhan Karikbolov, the head of Interpol in Kazakstan, said on 27 March that up to 100 kilograms of raw opium pass through the Central Asian country every month on the way to markets in Europe, Reuters reported. Karikbolov also said that besides being a transit route for opium from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kazakstan produces a large amount of marijuana and hashish and there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of ephedrine in circulation. In 1996, 16 tons of narcotics were confiscated but it is estimated that that represents only 7% of the total which made its way through the country. Karikbolov said there are 20,000 registered drug addicts in Kazakstan but that the real figure of addicts was likely five to 10 times higher. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan

A tender to upgrade Kazakstan's electrical grid has been won by the British National Grid Company, AFP reported on 27 March. The company plans to spend $1 billion on Kazakstan's system over the next 10 years to construct new power lines, install new meters and create an integrated, automated control and accounting system. The operational center will be located at Akmola, the future capital. Deputy Finance Minister Zhannat Yertlesova said on 26 March: "I have no problem with foreign ownership. The main thing is there is an owner," Reuters reported on 27 March. -- Bruce Pannier

Ahead of the CIS summit in Moscow, Saparmurat Niyazov said the CIS role as a forum for bilateral and multilateral cooperation was useful but added that there was no need for the establishment of supranational structures, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March. Niyazov said "maximum use" should be made of those structures "which represent the CIS," but that no attempt should be made to "step up any processes artificially." According to Niyazov the present formation of the CIS allowed each country to participate and "find (its) own forms of partnership." -- Bruce Pannier

While in Moscow attending a CIS summit, Leonid Kuchma told reporters that the future of the CIS depended on Russia, Ukrainian radio and ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. He said this was because Russia was the only country which enjoyed privileges within the CIS; other members were less "comfortable" in the organization. Kuchma also said he was in favor of prolonging Russia's leadership of the CIS for one more year, but not permanently. Currently, Kuchma felt there was no other CIS state which could fulfill the leadership role, and called for developing CIS integration along the European model. But he said he was dissatisfied with CIS activities, since there were none. The structure of the CIS was amorphous, and its member states have split up into separate camps that work more effectively than the CIS. On the subject of the Black Sea Fleet, Kuchma said Ukraine was ready to compromise and felt the issue should be separated from the wider treaty of friendship and cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, which he said should be signed as soon as possible. -- Ustina Markus

In an ongoing diplomatic feud between the U.S. and Belarus, U.S. authorities asked the newly appointed Belarusian ambassador, Valery Tsepkalo, not to come, international agencies reported on 27 March. A U.S. embassy spokeswoman, Janet Demetry, said that Tsepkalo's arrival to Washington "is not appropriate at this time in connection with the recent expulsion of the U.S. embassy first secretary" earlier this week. The American diplomat was declared persona non grata after he was detained during an anti-president demonstration with some 70 other people. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement protesting the U.S. decision to expel Vladimir Gramyka, first secretary of the Belarusian embassy in Washington, in retaliation. The statement confirmed Belarus's readiness to develop bi-lateral relations on the basis of mutual respect, but ruled out any intervention in its domestic affairs, RFE/RL reported. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Toomas Ilves in Washington on 27 March that even after its Madrid summit meeting in July, NATO will remain open to all European democracies that are able to contribute to its goals, Reuters reported. The Washington Post noted that the Clinton administration is offering to negotiate a security agreement with the three Baltic states to ease their security concerns. Ilves said that Russia's objections should not prevent Estonia from ever joining NATO for a country should not "give up its aspirations to freely join an organization simply because its neighbor objects." Albright added that the first countries accepted to NATO will not be the last. -- Saulius Girnius

Guntis Ulmanis made a short trip to Helsinki on 26 March to discuss with Finnish counterpart Martti Ahtisaari the results of the recent Russian-U.S. summit meeting and Latvian-Finnish relations, BNS reported. Ulmanis noted that the summit had not resulted in the redivision of Europe or the creation of "gray zones" and the Russian stance on the admission of the Baltic states into NATO had softened. The presidents agreed that Russian President Boris Yeltsin's offer of security guarantees to the Baltic states "is sooner a symbolic statement ... than an offer to directly guarantee Latvia's security." Ulmanis reaffirmed that NATO membership remains Latvia's strategic goal and feels that "the door to NATO is open for those who want it." -- Saulius Girnius

Polish Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister Marek Belka said recently that the Gdansk shipyard has over $130 million in debts, Rzeczpospolita reported on 28 March. The controversy is still not resolved whether the prospective buyer will be responsible for the debt. The Solidarity trade union recently started to distribute shares valued from $1.6 to $33 in a public collection of funds to save the shipyard. The lowest valued shares--up to $3--are the most popular. Every third respondent declared his readiness to buy a share, according to a public opinion poll conducted on 22 and 23 March by Social Research Bureau and published by Rzeczpospolita on 28 March. Supporters of the opposition Solidarity Electoral Action and Movement for Poland's Reconstruction are the most inclined to buy shares, while 90% of the co-ruling Democratic Left Alliance followers would not spend a penny for the shares. -- Jakub Karpinski

The lower chamber of the Czech parliament approved on 28 March a report on the state budget delivered by Finance Minister Ivan Kocarnik, Czech media reported. Opposition Social Democratic party chairman and parliament speaker Milos Zeman called the country's economic situation "critical" and demanded that Kocarnik resign. The budget showed a deficit of 8 billion crowns ($280 million) for the first months of 1997. It was originally envisaged to be balanced. -- Jiri Pehe

Slovakia on 27 March completed its presentation on the Gabcikovo dam controversy to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, TASR reported. Slovakia's arguments in its dispute with Hungary focused mainly on international law, legal succession, and international responsibility. Over the four days of its defense, the Slovak team called forward a number of Western experts. Peter Tomka, who heads Slovakia's delegation, expressed his conviction that his team's arguments were persuasive and understandable from the standpoint of the environment and of international law. The Hague judges will visit Gabcikovo and Nagymaros on 1-4 April to conduct on-sight inspections. The second round of the court proceedings will continue with Hungary's presentation on 10-11 April and Slovakia's on 14-15 April. The court is expected to issue a verdict in October. -- Sharon Fisher

The U.S. State Department press office has said that Washington did not make any agreement with Moscow that Slovakia or any other country should be kept out of NATO expansion, CTK reported on 27 March. Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar recently said that if Slovakia is excluded from the first wave of NATO expansion, the reason is not domestic political problems but rather "global agreements" between superpowers. In the latest U.S. government report on NATO expansion for Congress, Slovakia was mentioned together with Albania as countries that have problems respecting democratic principles. In other news, the continuing chill between Slovakia and Czech Republic has become increasingly visible. Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus on 27 March said Meciar's visit to Prague is not a priority, CTK reported. Meanwhile, Czech President Vaclav Havel noted that although Meciar is welcome in Prague, he will not like what he hears from the castle. -- Anna Siskova

Agnes Nagy Maczo is under fire from fellow deputies and the Jewish community for an anti-Semitic remark made in parliament, Hungarian media reported on 28 March. In a recent speech, Maczo referred to communist-era dictator Matyas Rakosi as "that Hungarian-hating Mano Roth," stressing his Jewish origins. Maczo not only made a remark widely viewed as condemnable but was also factually wrong because Rakosi's original name was Rosenfeld, not Roth. Several bodies, including the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities; the parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Minorities, and Religion; and the junior coalition party, Alliance of Free Democrats, protested the remark and want to see Maczo removed from her post. Maczo is also vice president of the opposition Smallholders Party, whose chairman, Jozsef Torgyan, said the party supports her. Torgyan described the attacks against Maczo as a "fascist initiative aimed at intimidating democratic parliamentary forces and destroying multi-party parliamentary democracy." -- Zsofia Szilagyi

According to a recent poll by the Kiskunsag agricultural association, the proportion of agricultural workers and producers who approve of the country's membership in the European Union fell from 40% in 1996 to only 12% this year, Magyar Hirlap reported on 28 March. Of the 1,000 people polled, about 68% thought that the country's agricultural sector will probably weaken as a consequence of EU membership; this figure was 34% a year ago. The survey also revealed that 98% of agricultural producers have no idea how the government is preparing for membership in the EU, while 30% had not even heard of the integration process. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Some 300 veterans of Serbia's wars in Croatia and Bosnia demonstrated outside government offices to demand their pensions and disability benefits, AFP reported on 27 March. They charge that payments are up to ten months late. While the protesters gathered outside, a delegation from the Serbian Union of Disabled War Veterans went in to see Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic to stress their point. The men claim that the very politicians who sent them off to war are now ignoring them and their families. Spokesmen said there are 2,628 disabled veterans in Serbia plus 2,860 fatherless families dependent on disability pensions. Worst off are the 15,000 ethnic Serbs and their families from Croatia and Bosnia, who are treated as foreigners with no right to pensions or financial aid. The authorities have not given Bosnian and Croatian Serbs citizenship lest they take revenge on President Slobodan Milosevic by voting for his opponents. -- Patrick Moore

Elisabeth Rehn, the UN's special envoy for human rights in the former Yugoslavia, urged Belgrade to reconsider its proposed press law, AFP reported on 27 April. The measure would reinforce the nearly complete government control over the electronic media. Also in Belgrade, the Supreme Defense Council agreed to keep the military state of alert on the frontier with Albania, Nasa Borba reported on 28 April. And in Washington, the U.S. Congress has invited a delegation from the Montenegrin parliament to discuss the "disturbing news" from Montenegro. The authorities in Belgrade and their allies in Podgorica have been working against Montenegrin politicians critical of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his policies. -- Patrick Moore

Advised and supported by the World Bank, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina has established an Investment Guarantee Agency (IGA) to offer guarantees to foreign investors providing loans to local industries, Reuters reported on 27 March. Each IGA guarantee will be backed by an irrevocable standby letter of credit from IMG Bank of Netherlands, which holds $18 million in government funds set aside to cover losses stemming from IGA-identified risks. Investors must provide the loans to a production-related business to qualify for the guarantees. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Biljana Plavsic has come under attack from her party colleagues after raising questions about war profiteering and criticizing a cooperation pact between the Republika Srpska and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Reuters on 27 March quoted unidentified diplomats as saying. In both cases, a person indirectly criticized by Plavsic was Momcilo Krajisnik, a Serb member of Bosnia's collective presidency. While Plavsic was never a very powerful figure on the Bosnian Serb political scene, Krajisnik is one of the most influential people in the Republika Srpska. A cabinet reshuffle this month removed two ministers who were based in city of Banja Luka, where Plavsic's offices are also located, leaving her the only one there. All other Bosnian Serb government members are based in Pale, a Serb stronghold near Sarajevo. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Romanian television on 27 March carried a lengthy interview with prosecutor Alexandru Cinteza, who on the same day filed charges against Miron Cozma, the miners' leader who rampaged Bucharest on several occasions in 1990 and 1991. The charges, however, refer only to the rampage of September 1991, which toppled the government headed by Petre Roman. No date has been set for the trial. Charges include undermining state authority, firearms violations, incitement to violence, and compromising rail safety. Cozma faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted. In an unrelated move, miners in several locations threatened to protests plans to restructure the industry and close down unproductive pits. Marin Condeescu, leader of one of the miners' union, said its 160,000 members will strike for two hours on 3 April and go on a general strike on 5 April, the daily Adevarul reports on 28 March. A representative of miners in the Motru valley said a referendum on privatization of the mines will be conducted among its 13,588 members, who, he said, in general are opposed to the intention, Curierul national reported on 28 March. -- Michael Shafir

Defense Minister Victor Babiuc and his visiting Greek counterpart Tsohatzopoulos Apostolos on 27 March signed a memorandum aimed at increasing cooperation between their armed forces, Radio Bucharest reported on the same day. The memorandum focuses on cooperation in defense technology and provides for an exchange of classified and sensitive military information. Apostolos reiterated Greece's full support for Romania to enter NATO in the first wave of new members. -- Michael Shafir

Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE mission in Moldova, who are mediating in the Transdniestrian conflict, on 27 March released a statement saying the problems connected with the memorandum on the conflict's settlement can be overcome, Infotag reported on the same day. Yurii Karlov, Yevhen Levitsky, and Donald Johnson said in the joint statement the provisions of the memorandum (which Moldova refuses to sign, regarding it as a breach of its sovereignty) cannot contradict and should not be interpreted as a violation of existing international agreements, of the OSCE decisions--which acknowledged Moldova's territorial integrity--or of the joint Moldovan-Russian-Ukrainian declaration of 19 January 1996, which recognizes Moldovan sovereignty. The three representatives said signing the memorandum would represent but one step in the completion of the negotiating process. A more important step, involving a final settlement agreement, is to follow immediately after the memorandum is signed. -- Michael Shafir

Klaus Kinkel on 27 March paid a brief visit to Plovdiv, Trud and Reuters reported. He met with President Petar Stoyanov, interim Prime Minister Stefan Sofiyanski, and his Bulgarian counterpart, Stoyan Stalev. Kinkel signed a technical cooperation agreement and delivered a private donation of 40,000 marks ($23,650) to the regional hospital in Kazanlak. He promised German backing for Bulgaria's efforts to join NATO and the EU. Kinkel gave no timeframe, saying Bulgaria is "welcome in the [EU] as soon as possible." He also pledged German support at the upcoming meeting of the G-24 industrialized countries. Kinkel warned that measures to recover Bulgaria's economy will be painful but are inevitable. -- Stefan Krause

Following an order by Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev on 28 March, police in a high-profile action on Sofia's streets seized cars worth more than $59,000, RFE/RL and national media reported. Sofia is one of the biggest stolen-car markets in Eastern Europe. Police beat 4 people and seized 700 cars according to Novinar, but Duma cited Bonev saying that their were 78. Media attribute a possible political motivation to the action, as parliamentary elections are due in three weeks and the former Socialist government was allegedly implicated in corruption. -- Maria Koinova

At least 18 died in the southern village of Levan, which broke out after an armed gang killed the village chief, AFP reported on 28 March. Most of the dead were gang members, apparently on a looting raid. Meanwhile, the Albanian parliament issued a general amnesty for 600 of the 1,309 prisoners who escaped from jail, and a partial amnesty for 150 more. Justice Minister Spartak Ngjela said that prisoners who returned on their own accord would have their sentences reduced by one-third. Those serving life imprisonment would have their sentence cut to 20 years. Those imprisoned for murder, rape, genocide, corruption, or organized prostitution are excluded from the amnesty. -- Fabian Schmidt

The UN Security Council met informally late on 27 March on Italy's request, but failed to issue a mandate for international troops to protect aid convoys to Albania, Reuters reported. Most delegations were in favor of endorsing a multinational force but hesitated on giving quick approval without details on its mandate, its duration and who would pay. The UN also said it needed a formal request from Albania. Italy, which is expected to lead such an operation, asked the council to meet during the three-day holiday weekend when the UN is officially closed. France, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Romania, and Austria also have expressed a willingness to send troops. Italy has estimated about 2,500 personnel would be deployed initially, with another 2,500 in reserve. If authorized, the troops' status will be similar to the U.S.-led operation to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait in which the UN gave the operations international legitimacy without organizing the missions. -- Fabian Schmidt

Prosecutors charged fifteen Kosovo Albanians with terrorism on 27 March, AFP reported. They are accused of membership in the Kosovo Liberation Army, suspected of having killed over 20 people since early 1996. Three of the accused, Besim Rama, Avni Nura, and Idriz Aslani, were arrested late last year. The other 12 are still being sought. The charges against those arrested also relate to attacks on army and police property between 1992 and 1996 in which four people were killed and 16 wounded. So far this year, police have arrested 66 Albanians suspected of "terrorist organization" membership. Eighteen of them were charged on 21 March. Defense lawyers have raised doubts about the validity of those charges. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Valentina Huber