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Newsline - May 27, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin signed the Founding Act on relations between Russia and NATO on 27 May in Paris, hailing the document as a "historic victory for reason" that will "promote stability throughout Europe." The accord, which was also signed by high-level representatives of the 16 NATO members, gives Russia a say in Europe's future security arrangements and creates a permanent joint council that will discuss policy twice a year. After the signing ceremony, Yeltsin surprised observers by announcing that Russia will no longer target its missiles at NATO countries. (The U.S. and Russia agreed not to target each other's cities in 1993.) The announcement followed tough talk on 26 May from Yeltsin and his spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who warned NATO against failing to take Russia's views into account or expanding to include former Soviet republics.


Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed says that in concluding an agreement with NATO, Russia is "the losing side, signing an act on its own capitulation." Lebed argued in the 27 May issue of Izvestiya that the Founding Act is not a legally binding document but only a "high-level political assurance" through which NATO hopes to gain a "moral right to expansion in order to conceal its aggressive intentions." He said the accord "does not in any way protect our country against possible actions of NATO" and will not allow Russia to influence events in Europe. He slammed Yeltsin for putting his own personal interests "ahead of Russia's interests." Given Russia's current situation, Lebed argued, Moscow should not sign anything less than a legally binding treaty.


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says the signing of the NATO-Russian accord is a "great result" and a "victory," as it shows NATO is assuming certain obligations with respect to Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 26 May. Luzhkov also argued that the agreement will help "contain" NATO expansion.


Sergei Rogov, the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, argued in the 27 May issue of Izvestiya that given Russia's limited financial and military resources, Moscow's decision to sign the Russia-NATO Founding Act is its only reasonable alternative. Diplomacy is the art of the possible, Rogov noted, reminding readers that today's Russia has half the population and only a quarter of the GDP of the former Soviet Union. Under those circumstances, Moscow can protest against NATO, but that is unlikely to stop the alliance's planned expansion. Rather than a policy based on "emotions" that would lead to Russia's "isolation," Rogov said, engagement in NATO's decision-making process serves Russia's interests and will allow Moscow to shape European security into the next century.


Maj.-Gen. Anatolii Shatalov, the press secretary of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, says Sergeev is looking for "unconventional methods" of military reform, Russian news agencies reported on 26 May. Shatalov gave few details but said Sergeev hopes to consolidate the work of the Defense Ministry, Security Council, and Defense Council. He did not mention the two new governmental commissions on military reform that First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov recently said Yeltsin had created (see RFE/RL Newsline, 23 May 1997). Several observers, including Lebed, have speculated that Sergeev will not last long as defense minister and will ultimately be replaced by Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin, a civilian.


A lawyer representing Konstantin Kobets, the sacked Army general and former deputy defense minister, says Kobets has been unable to see his attorney since his 21 May arrest. Dmitrii Shteinberg sent a telegram to Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov complaining that Kobets was being denied his right to defense and that the case against him was merely a "political stunt," Interfax reported on 26 May. Kobets is accused of corruption, abuse of office, and illegal possession of firearms.


Yeltsin on 26 May signed treaties and agreements on Russian troops' use of bases in Armenia, cooperation between Azeri and Russian border guards, the transference of citizenship for Russians living in Kazakstan and Kazaks living in Russia, as well as accords with Venezuela and Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. He also put his signature to the border agreements signed by China, Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Col.-Gen. Aleksandr Golbakh, the commander of the Far East Border Troops, said the final demarcation of the Russian-Chinese border will be completed by the end of this year. However, politicians in the Far East are still resisting the planned demarcation, claiming it will mean the loss of land vital to Russia's interests in the area.


Yeltsin has refused to sign the law on the government, citing procedural violations in the way it was adopted, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. The law would force the entire cabinet to resign if the prime minister left office. It was passed by the Federation Council using the same procedure of written ballots used for the trophy art law, which Yeltsin rejected last week. The law on the government now goes back to the parliament, and Yeltsin could still use his veto if the parliament passes the law again. Also on 26 May, Yeltsin returned the law on terrorism to the Duma, saying some of its provisions were unconstitutional or contradicted current legislation. However, the president signed the law outlining how road funds will be collected and distributed by federal authorities (see RFE/RL Newsline, 15 May 1997).


Reforms--New Course leader Vladimir Shumeiko says his movement and the pro-government bloc Our Home Is Russia are forming a Union of Progressive Reformist Forces, Russian news agencies reported on 26 May. Shumeiko described the new union as a "marriage of convenience and love." He said the groups that join the alliance, which is expected to include former presidential chief of staff Sergei Filatov's Union of People's Homes, would nominate common candidates in the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Shumeiko, a Yeltsin ally, is believed to have presidential ambitions. He was speaker of the Federation Council from 1994 until January 1996 and further developed contacts with the regional elite by endorsing candidates in many of last fall's gubernatorial elections.


Combined police and army patrols have begun checking transport and searching buildings in Grozny and other Chechen towns, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. Unofficial Sharia guards have also intensified anti-alcohol raids. Also on 26 May, Yakub Usmanov, who intends to run for mayor of Grozny in the 31 May elections, was released two days after being abducted. His main opponent in the mayoral race will be a comrade-in-arms of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Meanwhile in Moscow, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin chaired a meeting of the working group monitoring compliance with the 12 May economic cooperation agreement signed by Maskhadov and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Efforts to secure the release of seven journalists abducted in Chechnya in recent months were also discussed at the meeting, Radio Rossii reported.


Russian environmental activists say waste water from a cellulose factory on Lake Baikal may be responsible for poisoning dozens of the lake's indigenous seals. The animals are the world's only freshwater seals. Russian Public TV on 26 May, showed pictures of around 50 seal carcasses washed up on the lake's southern shore. Ivan Blokov, a campaign coordinator for Greenpeace, told NTV that the seal bodies showed high concentrations of doxins. He blamed sewage from the pulp mill as the source of the pollution. Environmentalists have long pushed for the plant's closure, but local authorities say shutting the factory down would ruin the local economy. There have been two previous cases of mass deaths of Baikal seals--in the 1930s and in 1988. Scientists attributed both incidents to an infectious disease.


Yeltsin has replaced Vladimir Ignatenko, his representative in Primorskii Krai, with Federal Security Service Lt.-Gen. Viktor Kondratov, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 26 May. While the sacked presidential representative was an old friend of krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, Kondratov is known for his "cool relations" with the governor. He is charged with monitoring the activities of federal agencies in the krai. Meanwhile, the local press in Vladivostok continues to speculate that Nazdratenko may resign or be removed from office because of this month's energy crisis in Primore. It is unclear how Nazdratenko could be dismissed, since he won a gubernatorial election in December 1995.


Communist groups in St. Petersburg are divided over whether a referendum should be held to remove the city's governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported on 26 May. The radical Russian Communist Workers' Party and the Russian Party of Communists led the signature collection campaign and have already submitted petitions to the city's electoral commission (see RFE/RL Newsline, 20 May 1997). However, after it emerged that former Mayor Anatolii Sobchak supports the referendum, activists from the Workers' Russia movement asked to withdraw their signatures. Nina Andreeva, under whose name a famous letter defending Stalinism was published in 1988, told RFE/RL that her Communist Party of Bolsheviks was also against the referendum. She said it was "unprincipled" and "senseless" to try to remove Yakovlev from office, given that his successor would likely carry out the same policies.


Minister without portfolio Yevgenii Yasin, who deals with economic matters, has been hospitalized, Reuters reported on 26 May. Yasin was scheduled to address a bankers' conference the same day but did not appear. Bankers at the conference said they were informed Yasin had heart problems. Government sources told Interfax that Yasin had checked into Central Clinical Hospital for a routine examination. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 26 May that renowned human rights activist Sergei Kovalev had a successful heart bypass operation last week in Germany. Kovalev suffered a heart attack last July and had an angioplasty in the U.S. last September.


Representatives of nine CIS states meet in Moscow today to suggest options should the problems in Afghanistan spill across the border into the CIS, AFP reported. All countries represented signed the CIS collective security pact, which calls for concerted actions if one member comes under attack. The countries represented at today's meeting are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Border force commander Gen. Andrei Nikolayev said on 26 May that forces along the border with Afghanistan are sufficient to repel any attack by Taliban forces. In related news, Saudi Arabia on 26 May, became the second country to recognize the Taliban government (see "End Note" below).


Representatives of the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition, meeting in Tehran on 26 May, initialed a protocol for implementing the accord on peace and national reconciliation agreed to in August 1995, Russian press reported. The protocol is scheduled to be signed in the Iranian capital on 28 May. Afterward, the work of the reconciliation council will begin. The council is charged with amending the Tajik Constitution so that new elections can be held next year.


The United Tajik Opposition has released a statement on the recent arrests of demonstrators in the northern Tajik city of Khojand. The statement, sent to Interfax on 25 May, claims that the Tajik government is using the 30 April assassination attempt against President Imomali Rakhmonov as grounds for persecuting those involved in the 1996-97 demonstrations in Khojand, particularly members of the UTO and National Revival Movement. The brother of Abdumalik Abdullajonov, the National Revival Movement's leader, was arrested on 23 May. In a second UTO statement, released on 26 May and obtained by RFE/RL's Tajik service, the Tajik government is urged to remember there are still many Tajik refugees living in camps in northern Afghanistan. Provocative action on the part of Dushanbe toward the Taliban could lead to the worsening of conditions for those refugees, the statement warned.


Sadato Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is touring the CIS Central Asian states, according to ITAR-TASS. Ogata's first stop was Kazakstan, where she said the situation was not particularly alarming for the UNHCR. From Almaty, Ogata travels to Kyrgyzstan, where there are currently an estimated 40,000-45,000 refugees from Tajikistan. Kyrgyz border guards are preparing for more refugees in the wake of the Taliban's taking control of the northern regions of Afghanistan, near the Tajik border. Ogata is scheduled to visit Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan on her 10-day tour of the region.


Some 4,000 troops from all branches of the armed forces and power ministries--escorted by 100 tanks, seven warplanes, and five military helicopters--participated in a parade in central Tbilisi on 26 May to mark the anniversary of the formation of the first independent Georgian Republic in 1918, Russian and western agencies reported. In a clear warning to the leadership of the breakaway Abkhaz republic, Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze, according to Reuters, told troops that their first obligation was to restore the country's territorial integrity, by force if necessary. President Eduard Shevardnadze affirmed that the only acceptable solution to the Abkhaz conflict is by peaceful means. One person was hospitalized after police intervened to break up an unsanctioned demonstration by several dozen supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, BS-press reported.


Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists on 26 May that Russian media reports of a state of emergency throughout the region to prevent clan warfare were untrue, ITAR-TASS reported (see RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 1997). Ardzinba said that "the situation in Abkhazia is now calm as never before." The news agency reported on 25 May that a curfew had been introduced.


A Ukrainian parliament delegation headed by speaker Aleksandr Moroz arrived in Yerevan on 26 May on a two-day visit, Armenian agencies reported. Addressing the Armenian National Assembly, Moroz said that a "certain stagnation" in bilateral relations has been overcome and that Ukraine is ready to maximize the potential for cooperation between the two countries, especially in the economic sphere. In an allusion to Armenian perceptions that the emerging Baku-Tbilisi-Kyiv axis could pose a threat to Armenia, Moroz said Ukraine rejects the concept of a "friendship with somebody aimed against a third party" and affirmed that Ukraine is ready to discuss any draft agreement proposed by Armenia, according to ITAR-TASS. Ukraine's ambassador in Yerevan, Aleksandr Bozhko, told Respublika Armeniya that bilateral trade in 1996 more than doubled to reach $30 million.


The Central Referendum Commission on 26 May officially told the parliament that the 23-24 May referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections was invalidated owing to faulty procedures, Slovak media reported. The commission said the referendum did not comply with election rules because four questions, including one on direct presidential elections, should have been included on the ballots. The commission did not confirm a Statistics Office announcement that fewer than 10% of registered voters participated. A member of the Central Referendum Commission denounced the ballot papers distributed by the Interior Ministry as a "massive swindle" after the question on direct presidential elections was dropped from ballots on the orders of Interior Minister Gustav Krajci. The Constitutional Court earlier ruled that the question on direct presidential elections could be included on the ballots but would not be legally binding.


President Michal Kovac said on 26 May that the failed referendum on Slovakia's NATO membership and direct presidential elections has ruined the country's chances of early entry into NATO and the EU. Kovac said Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia should seriously consider whether Slovakia would benefit from Meciar's complete withdrawal from political life. He also suggested that Interior Minister Gustav Krajci resign. The president argued that responsibility for the worsening international standing of the country lies mostly with Meciar. Meciar, for his part, blamed Kovac for the failure of the referendum and suggested that the president should resign.


Pavol Hamzik resigned on 26 May, saying that the domestic political situation and the failed referendum on Slovakia's NATO membership had made it impossible for him to continue. In a statement, Hamzik said the circumstances surrounding the referendum have "to the greatest possible extent" limited his ability to achieve Slovakia's foreign policy goals. Hamzik said he wants his resignation to signal that Slovakia's "vital international interests" are being subordinated to domestic fights for power. Hamzik, a career diplomat who became foreign minister last August, was regarded as an ardent support of Meciar's government.


Leonid Kuchma urged Ukrainians on 26 May to back his efforts for speedy integration with Western organizations, including NATO. But he stressed that Ukraine is not currently seeking to join the alliance. Speaking at a youth congress, Kuchma said the Ukrainian people must understand the importance of the special partnership expected to be signed this summer between NATO and Ukraine. He argued the agreement is crucial for the security of Ukraine and Europe. Kuchma noted that public acceptance will be difficult because "NATO was depicted by official propaganda as our main enemy for half a century."


Lyavon Barshchevski, acting president of the opposition Popular Front, told journalists in Minsk on 26 May that his movement did not recognize the union charter signed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin last week. He predicted it would strengthen public support for the country's independence. Barshchevski said the charter threatened the independence gained by Belarus when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Popular Front, which admits it has only minority support among the population of 10 million, has staged a series of protests in recent months against Lukashenka's authoritarian rule.


Lennart Meri of Estonia, Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia, and Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania have urged NATO to keep its doors open to countries not included in the alliance's first wave of expansion, BNS reported. The three Baltic leaders met on 26 May in the southern Estonian town of Otepaa. In a joint statement, they called on NATO to set up a Euro-Atlantic partnership council and to expand its Partnership for Peace program. They also said they would work toward establishing a Baltic customs union while seeking integration into the EU. The three presidents are scheduled to meet in Tallinn on 27 May with their Ukrainian and Polish counterparts, Leonid Kuchma and Aleksander Kwasniewski, to discuss economic cooperation, security, and integration with European structures, ETA reported.


An international study of economic freedom puts Estonia in 52nd position among 115 countries worldwide and in top place among former socialist bloc countries, ETA reported on 26 May. The survey, entitled "Economic Freedom of the World 1997," was based on 17 indicators, including finance, tax collection, private property, inflation, and foreign trade. It notes that the strongest point of the Estonian economy is free trade and also mentions that foreign currency accounts can be opened, restrictions on business activity are few, and income tax is low at 26%. On a scale of zero to 10, Estonia was awarded 5.6 points. Of the former socialist bloc countries, Lithuania followed with 5.5 points, the Czech Republic with 5.2 points, and Hungary with 5.1 points.


President Brazauskas sent a letter to Israeli parliamentary speaker Dan Tikhon on 26 May promising Lithuania will investigate all suspected former Nazis and prosecute those found guilty of crimes during World War II, Interfax and Western agencies reported. The letter followed Israeli requests to speed up the investigations. Meanwhile, parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis said Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov has no "historical memory," BNS reported. Landsbergis was responding to the minister's comments about possible NATO membership of the Baltic States, which Primakov called "ex-Soviet" (see RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 1997). Landsbergis recalled the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and suggested that, in evoking the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, Primakov revealed the "true mentality" of the current Russian government.


Official final results of the 25 May referendum on a new Polish Constitution, released to the media the following day showed 52.7% of Poles backing the document. Some 46% were opposed. Voter turnout was 43%. The constitution was drafted by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance, its coalition ally, the Peasant Party, and two opposition parties in the parliament. It retains the current political system but weakens the presidency.


The Central Bank on 26 May decided to abolish the 15% band in which the exchange rate for the Czech crown was allowed to fluctuate. The step was announced at a press conference by the bank's governor, Josef Tosovsky, and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. Klaus said the government will adopt measures to stabilize the crown. But economic experts predict that the bank will no longer be obliged to defend the band in which the crown fluctuated, the currency will quickly devalue by as much as 15%. Bank officials said that despite last week's massive interventions to support the crown, the bank still has about $10 billion in hard currency reserves, which it would use if speculators drove the crown too low. President Vaclav Havel said that in view of the latest developments, the ruling coalition should restructure the government rather than make only cosmetic changes.


A visiting Russian delegation, led by Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak, has offered MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets to Hungary, the daily Nepszabadsag reported on 27 May. The previous day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Ogurcov told a Budapest press conference that Hungary is Russia's second largest trading partner in the region after Poland, with Russian-Hungarian trade totaling $2.5-2.7 billion annually. The delegation intends to negotiate the payment of the former Soviet Union's debt to Hungary and is expected to meet Industry, Trade, and Tourism Minister Szabolcs Fazakas and Prime Minister Gyula Horn. Last week, in a sales drive, U.S. aircraft producer Lockheed Martin Corporation displayed F-16 jet fighters in Kecskemet, saying purchase would allow the Hungarian air force to improve cooperation with NATO. Also last week, Defense Minister Ferenc Vegh said Hungary will have to buy new aircraft if it is invited to join NATO.


Sali Berisha on 26 May announced in Tirana the composition of the 17-member Central Election Committee. The chairman will be Kristaq Kume, a member of the president's Democratic Party and the deputy chairman Fatos Klosi, a Socialist. They will share responsibilities and validate election returns jointly. The secretary will be Democrat Thimio Kondi, the Interior Ministry's state secretary for local government. Socialist Prime Minister Bashkim Fino's government will challenge that appointment, since Fino nominated someone else. The Democratic Party and the Socialists have four seats each. Eight other parties share the remaining seats, the daily Indipendent reported on 27 May.


Following a meeting with Fino in Tirana on 26 May, eight parties in the broad-based coalition government announced they want the lifting of the state of emergency, strict international monitoring of the elections, and government control over the secret service. The parties said they still may boycott the ballot if Berisha does not meet their demands, Koha Jone reported. Meanwhile at a conference on Albania in Rome, Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini warned Albanians that future international aid to their country will depend on whether free and fair elections take place. OSCE special envoy Franz Vranitzky said that Operation Alba's mandate will have to be extended beyond the June elections (see RFE/RL Newsline, 23 May 1997).


The government on 26 May launched an investigation into the previous night's attack by members of Berisha's elite National Guard on the Tirana military hospital (see RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 1997). Hospital doctors threatened to walk off the job unless Berisha identifies the attackers. Defense Minister Shaqir Vukaj pledged "not to tolerate such banditry anymore." A spokesman for the National Guard also condemned the attack. Elsewhere, armed insurgents blocked a convoy of special police forces from entering Gjirokaster on 26 May, before a visit by Berisha. Several days earlier, on 23 May, shots were fired at the car of Leka Zogu, the claimant to the throne, near Tropoja, Koha Jone reported on 27 May.


Slobodan Milosevic on 26 May told Robert Gelbard, the new U.S. special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, that Belgrade will not hand over indicted war criminals to the Hague-based tribunal. Gelbard had earlier told Milosevic that federal Yugoslavia's relations with the U.S., Western Europe, and international financial institutions will depend on Belgrade's cooperation with the court and on its willingness to solve the Kosovo question. Milosevic is obliged by the Dayton agreement to work with the tribunal. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported from London on 27 May that Britain's new Labor government will release its secret service documents on Bosnian war crimes, which many observers expect to cast light on Milosevic's own involvement in the atrocitiies.


Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic and Serbian Radical Party chief Vojislav Seselj have called for the replacement of Belgrade Mayor Zoran Djindjic, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital on 26 May. Draskovic and Djindjic are partners in the opposition Zajedno coalition but have been feuding in public for weeks. Many moderates regard Seselj as a war criminal and as Milosevic's political stalking horse. It is unlikely that such people will back Draskovic as Zajedno's presidential candidate now that he has made common cause with Seselj. Belgrade press reports say that former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic is hoping to emerge from the imbroglio as the eventual joint opposition Serbian presidential candidate.


Federal Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovc returned from a four-day visit to Kuwait on 26 May and announced in Belgrade that Kuwait will buy $50 million-worth of Yugoslav military equipment. Across Serbia, 106 schools remain closed because of a teachers' strike, Nasa Borba reported. In Kosovska Mitrovica, an ethnic Albanian couple was found murdered in their home. The man was a retired employee of the Interior Ministry, BETA wrote. In Novi Pazar, Serbian government Minister without Portfolio Milun Babic warned the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) that "this is the first time in the history of the new Yugoslavia that a nationally-based party holds total power." He told the SDA that "it must show how democratic it is." The Serbian parliament is currently debating a bill that will guarantee Serbs and Montenegrins a power role in regions where they are in the minority.


In the ongoing controversy in Macedonia's Gostivar over hoisting Albanian and Turkish flags at the town hall, police on 26 May moved in to break up armed clashes between Macedonians, on the one hand, and ethnic Albanians and Turks, on the other. In Debar, there was another violent incident near the Macedonian-Albanian border, BETA wrote. No details are yet available.


Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, in a letter to the chairmen of Romania's bi-cameral parliament, asked for a vote of confidence in his government, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 26 May. The parliament will vote on 3 June in a joint session of the two chambers. The government is asking the legislature to approve its entire reform program, including accords with international financial bodies. Under the procedure used for this purpose, known as "government assumption of responsibility," the opposition must move a vote of no-confidence within three days. If it fails to do so, the government's program is regarded as having been approved. The leader of the main opposition party, former president Ion Iliescu, on 26 May accused the government of failing to implement its electoral promises. His Party of Social Democracy in Romania will move a no-confidence motion this week.


Arpad Goencz and Romanian counterpart Emil Constantinescu on 26 May unveiled a monument commemorating Hungary's executed premier, Imre Nagy, in Snagov, near Bucharest. Goencz told a joint session of the Romanian parliament the same day that his country viewed Romania's joining an enlarged NATO as "vital" for its own interests. He said he hoped the Romanian parliament will approve draft legislation submitted by the government, which meets many of the Hungarian minority's demands, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Earlier, the two highest officials of the Council of Europe--Secretary-General Daniel Tarschys and Parliamentary Assembly President Leni Fischer, who are attending meetings of the council in Bucharest--held talks with the two presidents. They noted that Goencz's visit is an important step toward democratic stability in Europe.


Walter Schwimmer, vice-chairman of the judicial and human rights committee in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, says Romania must further improve its human rights record. Schwimmer spoke on 26 May in Bucharest, where the assembly's committees are holding their summer meetings. He said the Penal Code's provisions on punishment for homosexual acts must be changed. He also said detention conditions must be improved in Romania's prisons, the passage of legislation on the return of property confiscated by the communists should be accelerated, and the government should launch a resolute campaign against racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The committee's chairman, Gunnar Jansson, said Romania has made progress in the treatment of ethnic minorities, but problems remain with the Roma minority. These, he said, are "all-European rather than specifically Romanian" problems.


Petru Lucinschi says it is up to Russia and Belarus to decide how far they will go toward integration. In an interview with RFE/RL on 26 May, Lucinschi reiterated that Moldova was a "neutral state" and had no intention to change its status or pursue the Russian-Belarus model. He added that Chisinau must nonetheless collaborate with other members of the CIS. The Moldovan president emphasized that the CIS was not an organization aimed at reconstructing the former Soviet Union but a "totally new organization aimed at achieving a new kind of regional community of interests." Lucinschi shrugged off a question concerning his image as "Moscow's man," saying it "would not be the first time in history that a foreigner had been called on to lead another country." He said what counted was to faithfully represent the interests of one's own country.


Lucinschi is urging the parliament to pass as quickly as possible the privatization program for 1997-1998. At a government meeting, Lucinschi also said a national agency aimed at attracting foreign investors should be set up, BASA-press reported on 26 May. One of the conditions of a recent agreement with the World Bankfor a $100 million loan (see RFE/RL Newsline, 22 May 1997) is the speeding up of privatization.


Bulgarian Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev on 26 May called upon the National Security Service to investigate clandestine financial groups that he says are trying to undermine Sofia's new economic policies. Bonev said some groups, "especially among banking circles," are trying to place obstacles in the way of the proposed currency board before it is set up in July. The board is to link the Bulgarian lev to hard currency reserves in the National Bank. Bonev said that the currency board is being attacked by groups that are trying to siphon money from institutions like the State Savings Bank (DSK). Bistra Dimitrova, who was appointed head of the DSK by the previous Socialist-dominated parliament, resigned on 23 May under pressure from Prime Minister Ivan Kostov (see RFE/RL Newsline, 22 May 1997). Bonev said Dimitrova's activities at the bank are under investigation.

Taliban Take Control in Afghanistan

by Bruce Pannier

Less than a week after one of Abdul Rashid Dostum's commanders staged a revolt, the general's headquarters were overrun by both the mutineers and the Taliban. Gen. Dostum has fled to Turkey, and other forces in the anti-Taliban coalition are under attack or perhaps already defeated. It seems that the Taliban are now in control of 80-90% of the country. Reactions from Afghanistan's neighbors have ranged from alarm to unconcern.

Abdul Malik launched a revolt in Faryab Province on 17 May. As it spread and Dostum turned his troops on the mutineers, the Taliban began their own offensive. By 24 May, Dostum had returned from the battlefield to his headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif to consult with his military commanders. He then left in a jeep convoy, possibly because he feared the skies were not safe following defections within his own air force. Dostum and some of his family members reached the border with Uzbekistan around midnight and were in Ankara, Turkey, by 7:00 a.m. on 25 May. By then, Mazar-i-Sharif had been under Taliban control for several hours and Dostum's four northern provinces had been overrun. Taliban forces were heading east to take the last pockets of resistance.

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov had warned on 24 May that any incursion by Taliban forces into CIS territory would activate the "mechanism of the CIS Collective Security Treaty." He added that Russia would provide "very tough and effective actions." Closer to Afghanistan, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov called an emergency session of the country's border guard command, the Defense and Security Ministries, and the Security Council. Uzbekistan announced it was reinforcing its border with Afghanistan, and traffic crossing the border from the Afghan side was briefly halted. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan are now bracing for waves of refugees. Turkmenistan, which has bordered Taliban-controlled territories for some time, said it "did not expect any complications." It also stressed it has not signed any CIS military agreements.

On 25 May, Pakistan became the first country to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Islamabad called on other nations to do the same. Saudi Arabia responded to that call the next day. Iran, however, declined to do so, saying it would wait until the UN passed judgment.

Initial reports from Mazar-i-Sharif indicate little change. The bulk of the occupying forces are troops under Malik, who had already announced the arrival of more Taliban forces and the imposition of the Taliban's strict version of Shariat Islamic law. The Russian and Turkish consulates in Mazar-i-Sharif have been evacuated, but the UN refugee program headquarters, though ransacked, continue to function.

Radio broadcasts from Islamabad claim former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani has fled to either Tajikistan or Iran. They also report that several more of the anti-Taliban coalition commanders have gone over to the Taliban and are urging Ahmed Shah Masoud, Rabbani's military chief and the last major leader to hold out against the Taliban, to do the same. Taliban forces are reported to be advancing into the eastern provinces and the central Bamiyan Province, the last areas to have evaded Taliban control.

The Taliban would like to have Masoud join their cause voluntarily for several reasons. First, he has been a capable and well-known commander in Afghanistan since the Soviet occupation. Second, unlike Dostum--whom they refer to as a communist, pointing to his ties to Moscow during and after the Soviet occupation--Masoud fought against Soviet occupying forces. And, perhaps most significant, he is an ethnic Tajik. Until now, the reason most often given by countries for not recognizing the Taliban, who are mostly ethnic Pushtuns, as the legitimate government is the lack of representatives of other ethnic groups. When Pakistan recognized the Taliban government, it pointed out that the movement now "genuinely comprises various ethnic groups in Afghanistan," which may have been a reference to Malik's ethnic Uzbek origins. An alliance with Masoud might go far to bringing Afghanistan's 6 million or so Tajiks under Taliban control without bloodshed.

The Taliban's capture of the northern provinces came as suddenly as their seizing control over Kabul last September. Before Malik's mutiny, it had appeared that a long bloody campaign would last at least through the summer. How control will be maintained in the northern provinces is now a major question. The Taliban, who are mainly ethnic Pushtuns, now find themselves in areas where few Pushtuns live. The majority peoples in the north are Tajiks, Uzbeks, and other ethnic groups, all of which have potentially sympathetic CIS states close at hand. Tajikistan, for example, has already expressed interest in the conditions of Tajik refugees who are now living on Taliban territory.

Moreover, the peoples of the northern provinces are generally better educated than those in the south. The Taliban will likely take a different course in ruling there than they have in the south--possibly more liberal or, perhaps, much more authoritarian.