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Newsline - July 28, 1997


In Russia's largest privatization sale to date, a consortium involving affiliates of Russia's Oneksimbank and Germany's Deutsche Bank AG won a 25 July auction for 25 percent plus one share of the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest. The consortium offered $1.875 billion for the stake in Svyazinvest, which holds controlling interests in 85 of Russia's 87 regional telecommunications companies as well as the long-distance and international telephone provider Rostelecom. Only one other bid, for $1.71 billion, was submitted for the Svyazinvest auction. A consortium involving Russia's Alfa-group and Most Bank, as well as the Spanish Telefonica de Espana SA, made the losing bid, Interfax reported. According to Bloomberg News, 71 percent of the money raised at the auction will go to the federal government, 24 percent to regional governments, and 5 percent toward investment in Svyazinvest.


The Svyazinvest sale drew sharp criticism from Sergei Dorenko, the anchor of a weekly news and analysis program on the state-controlled Russian Public Television (ORT) network, Reuters reported on 27 July. Although the winning bid was higher than the losing offer and well above the minimum bid of $1.18 billion, Dorenko charged on 26 July that the rival offer would have channeled more investment toward updating Russia's telephone network. He also claimed that State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh had shown favoritism toward Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin. Reuters cited an unnamed government source as saying Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii was involved in the rival bid for Svyazinvest, but Berezovskii could not be reached for comment. Appointed to the Security Council in October 1996, Berezovskii has wielded considerable influence at ORT since the network began broadcasting on Channel 1 in April 1995.


Audit Chamber Deputy Chairman Yurii Boldyrev has sent letters to President Boris Yeltsin, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, and Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov demanding that the upcoming sale of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel be halted, RFE/RL and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 July. Audit Chamber inspector Valerii Meshalkin, who conducted a recent audit of Norilsk Nickel, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow that a May 1995 presidential decree prohibited the sale of the government stake in Norilsk Nickel before the end of 1998. He added that a September 1995 government directive listed Norilsk Nickel among enterprises that have "strategic significance for national security" and therefore should not be sold off quickly. Oneksimbank acquired the state's 38 percent stake in the company in November 1995 in exchange for a $170 million loan. The Audit Chamber has previously declared that acquisition illegal.


Yevgenii Primakov, arriving in Kuala Lumpur on 26 July to attend an Association of South East Asian Nation conference, met with his Chinese counterpart Qian Qichen. It was announced later that Russian President Boris Yeltsin is tentatively scheduled to arrive in China about 10 November for an official visit. Addressing the ASEAN conference the next day, Primakov unveiled a plan for the ASEAN area that envisions a "simultaneous advance in three directions: introduction of confidence building measures, preventive diplomacy, and development of mechanisms for settlement of conflicts." He also joined those who called for North Korea's participation at ASEAN conferences, noting that the situation on the Korean peninsula was potentially the most dangerous for the Pacific area.


Also on 27 July, Primakov met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to discuss disarmament and the Middle East peace process. Primakov later said a new "impulse is needed" to accelerate the peace process and that it is necessary to consider both the Syrian-Lebanese and the Palestinian sides. The next day, Primakov addressed the Post Ministerial Conference and once again blasted NATO's recent invitation to three former eastern bloc states to join the alliance. Primakov said Moscow views this "enlargement" as a threat to its security, and he called such alliances an "anachronism." Russia fears that "bloc expansion would once again create dividing lines" similar to those that existed and fueled tensions during the Cold War, he commented.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov says President Boris Yeltsin "has begun a new stage of the crusade against Russia" by vetoing the law on religious organizations and the land code, Interfax reported on 26 July. The previous day, Yeltsin vetoed the code, primarily because it would have banned the purchase and sale of farmland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 1997). Zyuganov charged that Yeltsin "has already sold two-thirds of the country" through privatization and now "is preparing the third re-distribution of property" through land sales. However, he admitted that the State Duma will find it "very, very difficult" to override the veto. At the same time, Zyuganov expressed confidence that both the Duma and the Federation Council will override Yeltsin's recent veto of the religion law. A two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament is required to override a presidential veto.


Yeltsin signed the law on privatization on 25 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Under that law, the government is to seek parliamentary approval for its annual privatization targets. Transfers of government stakes in enterprises in exchange for bank loans ("loans for shares" schemes) will be prohibited. In addition, the privatization of certain "strategically important enterprises" will require the passage of a special federal law. The law signed by Yeltsin also allows the state to appropriate privatized property if the new owner fails to meet investment requirements or other obligations under which the privatization contract was awarded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June and 7 July 1997).


Yeltsin vetoed several laws on 25 July, including the law "on military-technological cooperation with foreign countries," which would have declared a state monopoly on the arms trade, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin also vetoed the law on protecting Lake Baikal and the law on the status of those serving in the armed forces or troops subordinate to federal agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1998). The presidential press service did not specify on what grounds those laws were rejected. On 23 July, Yeltsin vetoed a law on regulating relations between autonomous okrugs and the krais or oblasts of which they are part. In a message to the parliament, Yeltsin said a recent Constitutional Court decision on Tyumen Oblast's relationship to Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs should be taken into account when that law is revised (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1997).


Boris Govorin was elected governor of Irkutsk Oblast on 27 July with 50.34 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, RFE/RL's correspondent in Irkutsk reported on 28 June. Communist candidate Sergei Levchenko finished a distant second with 18.8 percent. State Duma deputy Viktor Mashinskii of the Popular Power faction gained some 14 percent, while Vostsibugol director Ivan Shchadov, who was backed by former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, gained just over 7 percent, according to Russian news agencies. Turnout was 46 percent. Although Govorin was the candidate favored by the Moscow authorities, he campaigned primarily on promises to defend the oblast's interests; no federal officials traveled to Irkutsk to campaign on his behalf. Govorin was considered the front-runner in the race but was not expected to win by such a large margin.


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says the government has adopted a resolution to reduce the federal bureaucracy by 10 percent, Russian news agencies reported on 26 July. Answering telephone calls to a hot line organized by the newspaper "Komsomolskaya pravda," Nemtsov said the money saved would go toward "burning needs" such as paying wages, pensions, and benefits for those serving in the armed forces. He added that he would cut by 25 percent the personnel of the Fuel and Energy Ministry, which he also heads. In recent years, promises by various government officials to cut down the bureaucracy by as much as a third have not been implemented. Nemtsov also promised that housing benefits for those serving in or discharged from the military will be transferred directly to soldiers' bank accounts to prevent the funds from being "pocketed by local authorities."


A Nizhnii Novgorod court heard the first arguments in Communist State Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev's lawsuit against First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported on 25 July. Appearing in the Republic of Mordovia on 30 June, Nemtsov repeatedly asked his audience whether they wanted a "Communist" or a "normal person" to be in charge of the neighboring oblast. Those comments were broadcast on local television in Nizhnii Novgorod on 1 and 2 July, and Khodyrev lost a gubernatorial election to Ivan Sklyarov on 13 July. Khodyrev claims that by implying that all Communists are abnormal, Nemtsov insulted his honor and dignity and damaged his business reputation. He is demanding that Nemtsov apologize and publicly retract his statement. The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for October.


The command of the Moscow city police has asked the city's procuracy to reopen the criminal case against Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Interfax reported on 25 July. Television journalist Yuliya Olshanskaya had previously asked the Moscow procurator's office to reopen the case, according to the 25 July "Kommersant-Daily." Zhirinovsky was investigated for hooliganism following an incident in which he forced Olshanskaya into his car after striking her and her cameraman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 21 May 1997). The Moscow city police closed the case on 10 July on the grounds that Zhirinovsky's actions had not been premeditated. Even if the case is reopened, Zhirinovsky cannot be prosecuted unless the Duma votes to lift his parliamentary immunity.


Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov met with Ingush refugees in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion on 25 July, Interfax reported. They were accompanied by the presidents of North Ossetia and Ingushetia, Akhsarbek Galazov and Ruslan Aushev. Rybkin said the 200 billion rubles ($34.6 million) earmarked by the federal government for aid to refugees should be exempt from the budget sequester. ("Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 July quoted a local official as saying the North Ossetian leadership had received only 14 billion of the planned 200 billion rubles.) Rybkin called for vigorous measures to defuse rising tensions in the region, but he neither agreed to nor rejected Aushev's suggestion that Russian Interior Ministry troops be deployed in Prigorodnyi Raion to prevent violence.


Meeting in Grozny on 26 July, representatives of up to 20 Chechen political parties called for the consolidation of political forces in the Caucasus, the annexation of districts in neighboring Dagestan traditionally inhabited by Chechens, the extradition to Chechnya of pro-Russian former leaders Salambek Khadzhiev and Doku Zavgaev, and establishing Islam as the world religion, Russian agencies reported. Speaking on Chechen television on 25 July, Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, the head of the Chechen Oil Company, called for volunteers to join a 450-strong force that will guard the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk oil pipeline. He added that Chechnya will receive $4-5 of the $15.67 that Azerbaijan will pay for each metric ton of oil exported, according to Interfax. In other news, the last two of five Chechens taken hostage in North Ossetia on 8 July were released on 24 July.


A 78 km stretch of railway went into operation from Kizlyar, in Dagestan, to Karlan-Yurt, bypassing Chechnya on 26 July, Russian agencies reported. The railway, which was built in eight months, will end the virtual blockade of Dagestan caused by the suspension of rail transport through Chechnya.


Georgian and Abkhaz government representatives agreed on 26 July not to resume hostilities after the expiration on 31 July of the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The agreement came after two days of talks under the aegis of the UN and with the participation of U.S., French, German, British, and Russian representatives, all of whom asked the conflict parties to agree to the extension of the peacekeepers' mandate. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists on 26 July that he is optimistic that the peacekeepers' mandate will be extended. But he added that if they withdraw, Abkhaz units will advance south and occupy their positions, Interfax reported. The Georgian parliament will vote in the next few days on whether to endorse extending the peacekeepers' mandate.


Under an intergovernment loan signed in Yerevan on 25 July, Germany will lend Armenia DM 10 million (some $5.4 million) to finance reconstruction of the Kanaker hydro-electric power station, Interfax and Armenpress reported. A second agreement worth DM 15 million is scheduled to be signed in August.


According to a poll conducted by Kazakhstan's Giller Institute among 1,400 people from six of the country's regions, President Nursultan Nazarbayev would win presidential elections if they were held today, Interfax reported. He garnered the support of 41.6 percent of respondents. Some 33 percent said they back the present course of reforms, while 48.6 percent said they did not favor Nazarbayev's economic policy. Only 5.5 percent said they have trust in the government. About one-third said they thought Kazakhstan would be a "well-off" country one day; 11.4 percent said the country would never be considered "prosperous." Only 1.9 percent thought the economic situation in Kazakhstan had improved, and 13.7 percent said the country is sliding into "chaos."


The Semireche Cossacks have celebrated their 130th anniversary, according to ITAR-TASS. On 26 July 1867, a detachment of Cossacks arrived at the foot of the Tien-Shan Mountains and constructed fortification of Vernyy, which was renamed Alma-Ata early in the Soviet era. Semireche Cossacks invited to their anniversary celebration members of the government, Almaty municipal officials, representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and ambassadors of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. ITAR-TASS on 26 July reported that Kazakh officials had not given their approval to the festivities. Many members of the indigenous ethnic groups of Central Asia regard the Cossacks as "instruments of colonization," according to the news agency.


Thousands of people demonstrated in Minsk on 27 July to mark the seventh anniversary of the country's declaration of sovereignty, AFP reported. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has changed Belarus's official independence day to 3 July -- the day Soviet forces expelled Nazi troops during World War II. Protesters chanted anti-Lukashenka slogans criticizing his efforts to promote greater integration with Russia. No violence was reported. But a spokesman for the Belarusian Popular Front said the party's deputy chairman, Stanislav Gusak, and 14 members of the group's youth wing were detained.


The Second World Congress of Belarusians, which took place in Minsk on 26 July, accused Lukashenka of trying to destroy the Belarusian language and culture. Some 70 ethnic Belarusian representatives from 15 countries attended the congress, but Belarusians from the U.S. boycotted it. The congress condemned Lukashenka for recent actions, including closing Belarusian-language schools, and said the language is in danger of dying out. Vasil Bykov, Belarus's most famous writer, commented that "the leader of the state is not the leader of the nation." Lukashenka is using all his strength to destroy "the nation, its national consciousness, its culture, and language," Bykov added.


A three-person crew from Russia's ORT television is in the custody of Belarusian authorities, AFP reported. An ORT administrator in Minsk said he had been informed that reporter Pavel Sheremet and his driver were arrested at Minsk airport on 26 July, while cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky was arrested at his home. They are reportedly being held near the Lithuanian border. A border guard official told AFP that the three have been detained, but he said only that they are witnesses in a border violation case. Other reports have indicated that three may face criminal charges of attempting to cross the Belarusian border illegally. Sheremet and his crew were recently detained at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border while shooting a film about Belarusian border guards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 1997).


Leonid Kuchma on 25 July replaced the ministers of economy, agriculture, energy, coal mining and industry, UNIAN reported. The ministers of defense, interior, and finance and the deputy prime minister in charge of economic reforms all retained their posts. Earlier this month, Kuchma appointed Valery Pustovoitenko as prime minister after accepting the resignation of Pavlo Lazarenko. Under the constitution, Kuchma is obliged to form a new cabinet following the appointment of a new prime minister. Among the new ministers are Viktor Suslov (economy) and Yuri Karasyk (agriculture).


Chornobyl nuclear power plant director Sergei Parashin told journalists on 25 July that repairs to the third reactor at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant have been postponed until 1 October.The third reactor is the only one at the facility still in operation. He said the plant has received only 25 percent of the equipment it needs. Meanwhile, work on the sarcophagus covering the damaged fourth reactor and on the first and second reactors has received almost no financing since the beginning of this year. The first reactor was halted last year in accordance with a memorandum signed by Kiev and the G-7. Parashin said he hopes the halt of all power units will not result in the plant's closure. But he said the lack of control over the power plant may have "dreadful consequences."


Hennady Udovenko and his Estonian counterpart, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, signed a joint declaration in Tallinn on 25 July on boosting bilateral relations, BNS and ETA reported. Estonia and Ukraine pledged to step up cooperation between their governments and parliaments and to encourage trade between small and medium-sized companies . The declaration also states that each country has the right to choose its own method of ensuring security. The previous day, Udovenko met with President Lennart Meri at the presidential summer residence in Paslepa, northwestern Estonia. Udovenko told Meri that relations with Tallinn were a foreign-policy priority for Kyiv, noting that Estonian had been a "supporter" of Ukraine's independence.


Andris Skele on 28 July submitted his resignation to President Guntis Ulmanis. Announcing his intention to resign several days earlier, Skele noted that his opinion of democracy differed from that of the coalition parties. He also rejected criticism that he has impaired parliamentary democracy. Skele, who does not belong to any political party, was appointed prime minister in December 1995 and is credited with boosting reforms. However, he increasingly came into conflict with the seven parties that form the ruling coalition. Recently, five ministers were forced to resign, four of them amid allegations of violating the anti-corruption law. Also on 28 July, the seven ruling parties announced they have nominated Economics Minister Guntars Krasts of the Fatherland and Freedom party as new premier, RFE/RL's Latvian Service reported.


Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II and Lithuania's Roman Catholic Archbishop Audrys Juozas Backis took part in an Orthodox-Catholic ceremony in Vilnius on 26 July. The two Church leaders offered a benediction at the Gate of the Sunrise Chapel to some 4,000 people, including Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas. In his address, Backis urged Aleksii to ensure freedom of worship in Russia and noted that no restrictions are placed on the Orthodox Church in Lithuania, whose population is overwhelmingly Catholic. Aleksii recently criticized President Boris Yeltsin for vetoing a controversial bill that declares only Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism to be Russia's "traditional" religions. The Russian patriarch was on a three-day visit to Lithuania to participate in celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the Holy Spirit Monastery and the 650th anniversary of the martyrdom of three Orthodox saints. It was the first-ever visit to Lithuania by a Russian patriarch.


Further evacuations were ordered in both Poland and Germany on 27 July as flood waters moved down the Oder River, PAP and dpa reported. Some 1,000 residents have been asked to leave in Frankfurt an der Oder, in eastern Germany, as river waters there reached record highs. Some 19,000 others have been told to prepare to depart because of an "acute danger" of more breaks in dikes holding back the river. In the Polish border town of Slubice, at least 2,000 people have been asked to evacuate as officials said flooding was imminent. Meanwhile, Polish officials announced on 26 July that some 15 tons of freon -- the gas used in refrigerators -- had escaped from a flooded plant in Raczibor. Freon is known to damage the earth's ozone layer.


The upper house of the parliament on 26 July rejected bills to bring the country's legislation into line with a Concordat signed with the Vatican in 1994 but still awaiting ratification, PAP reported. Conservatives and former Communists joined forces to vote against the bills. The lower house of parliament, which has already approved the measures, is unlikely to achieve the two-thirds majority required to overrule the upper house's veto. President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz publicly backed the Concordat when Pope John Paul II recently visited Poland.


The former Slovak village of Sidonie, with just 31 residents, has become part of the Czech Republic, while U Sabotu, with a population of 120, is now on Slovak territory, Czech and Slovak media reported. The swap was set out in the new border law, which altered previous legislation and went into effect on 25 July. The law also included the exchange of some 452 hectares of land to satisfy claims from people on either side of the border.


Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said on Slovak Radio on 25 July that the Czech Republic "has no right to decide on Slovak assets." He was referring to the Czech government's decision to pay some $580,000 to a Jewish foundation to settle a claim on gold held by the Czech National Bank. The gold, confiscated during World War II from Slovak Jews, was transferred to the Czechoslovak National Bank in Prague after the war. The amount of $580,000 represents two-thirds of the gold's value and is based on the 2:1 ratio used in dividing former federal assets. Meciar argues that all the gold belongs to Slovakia. A U.S. State Department statement on 25 July praised the Czech government's decision as recognizing the country's moral responsibility.


An extradition agreement signed by Hungary and the U.S. in December 1994 went into effect on 25 July, Hungarian media reported. The agreement provides for the mutual extradition of those who committed fraud, embezzlers, and counterfeiters in cases where the authorities of either country suspect someone of, or have sentenced a person for, a crime punishable by more than one year in prison, a Justice Ministry official said. The treaty does not apply to persons accused of political and military crimes.


Some ten people died in gunfire in Berat on 25 July. Open warfare between rival gangs has become so acute there that business activity has slowed and some residents have fled the town. On 26 July, four gunmen and one policeman were killed in Lezha when police tried to stop the car in which the gunmen were riding. Gang war raged in Vlora, but there are no reports on casualties. Interior Minister Neritan Ceta said in Tirana, however, that special police killed one gunman and arrested eight on the Tirana-Peshkopi road, where the gang had been preying on travelers. News agencies report that about 10 people are killed every day in Albania. Meanwhile, contingents of French, Danish, and Austrian troops withdrew from Albania on 26-27 July. Italian troops staged a farewell parade in Tirana on 27 July.


Paskal Milo said in Tirana on 25 July that his country wants good relations with its neighbors but will also defend the interests of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo. The newly inaugurated minister said that "having new relations with neighboring countries is better than remaining in a Cold War situation with them." He added, however, that wanting to improve ties with Serbia "does not mean we will not support the interests of the Albanian people outside our borders, notably in Kosovo." Milo's most immediate challenge, however, could come in relations with Macedonia, where there has been unrest among the ethnic Albanian majority in Gostivar and Tetovo in recent weeks. No major party in Albania openly supports irredentism.


Federal Yugoslav Communications Minister Dojcilo Radojevic issued an order on 26 July to suspend the threatened closure of 55 independent radio and televisions for the duration of the election campaign. Acting Serbian President Dragan Tomic invited the OSCE to send observers to the 21 September presidential and legislative elections. Two days earlier, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic promised Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic that the vote will be "free and fair" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 1997). Declared presidential candidates include Zoran Lilic of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia and Vojislav Seselj of the ultranationalist Radicals.


The Prosecutor's Office in Podgorica received a request from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 25 July for assistance in investigating at least "one concrete case" of possible war crimes, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. The court also asked for information regarding the activities of some Montenegrin officials during the attack on Dubrovnik in 1991 by Montenegrin-based Yugoslav army units and by Montenegrin reservists. The reservists looted and destroyed peaceful communities and tourist resorts. In May, Montenegro sent a high-level delegation to The Hague to demonstrate Podgorica's willingness to cooperate.


Defense Minister Gojko Susak arrived in Washington on 27 July for a medical examination to follow up to his earlier surgery there for lung cancer. He is also expected to have top-level meetings with U.S. defense and security officials to discuss the implementation of the Dayton agreement. In Zagreb, the National Bank confirmed on 25 July that the IMF will withhold a planned credit of $40 million until further notice. The U.S. had earlier urged the IMF to hold up transferring the money until Croatia's record on implementing the Dayton agreement improves. Croatian officials say their country does not need the credit.


Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck said in Mostar on 27 July that "those [Bosnian Serb] authorities who are systematically violating the Dayton agreement by harboring war criminals and preventing freedom of movement will not receive a single penny of assistance." Shattuck met with local Muslim officials but said he regretted that the local Croatian leadership did not come to see him. The U.S. envoy also stressed the need to bring indicted war criminals to justice.


German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel on 27 July warned the Bosnian Serbs that they cannot expect any international assistance if they continue to attack the international community's representatives in Bosnia. On 26 July, Kinkel returned from a one-day visit to Sarajevo and said that Bosnian refugees should not expect a "deluxe return" when Germany sends them home. He warned apprehensive refugees that those who expect "comprehensive security" in Bosnia before they are sent back there "are demanding the impossible." He was accompanied on his trip by Dietmar Schlee, whom the Bonn government recently appointed to coordinate the return of the 340,000 Bosnians. Germany accepted the largest number of Bosnian wartime refugees of any country except Croatia or federal Yugoslavia. It spent more than $7 billion to care for them, but cash-strapped Bonn now wants them to go home.


The Hungarian flag hoisted at the recently opened consulate in Cluj was stolen on 25 July by three employees of a company that works for the local mayoralty, an RFE/RL correspondent in the city reported. The employees, who were apprehended by the police the following day, face prison sentences of between three and 15 years. Nationalist Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar claimed he had nothing to do with the incident, but the wife of one of the three said her husband had acted on orders received from the mayoralty. Prefect Grigore Blaga said charges may be filed against Funar for having instigated the theft. Funar commented that the three are "Romanian heroes" and that the chairman of the Greater Romania Party, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, will award them 1 million lei (some $143) and 3 million lei to anyone who burns the Hungarian flag.


Wrapping up a two-day visit to Bucharest, Valeriu Pasat on 25 July said his country might be interested in purchasing from Romania PUMA helicopters produced in Brasov under U.S. license, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Pasat and his Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, said the joint Romanian-Moldovan peace-keeping unit, which the two countries decided to set up the previous day, will not intervene in the breakaway Transdniester region. Pasat also met with President Emil Constantinescu and Premier Victor Ciorbea. In other news, the Marshal Ion Antonescu League commemorated in Cluj on 26 July the 56th anniversary of the liberation of Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and Herta County by Romanian troops commanded by Antonescu, Radio Bucharest reported.


The parliament on 25 July approved a law making possible the sale of land. The passage of the law was one of the IMF conditions for approving a standby loan to Moldova. Seven communist deputies boycotted the vote, claiming it amounted to an act of "national betrayal," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Under the law, land may be purchased by both Moldovans and foreigners but farmland may be purchased only by Moldovans. At a press conference in Chisinau on 27 July, President Petru Lucinschi criticized the "conservativeness" of the parliament and accused it of blocking reforms, thereby worsening the country's economic and social crisis. An RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau on 25 July reported that out of the 27 laws initiated by Lucinschi as a reform package, the legislature has passed only two bills.


Mihai Popov resigned on health grounds on 25 July, Infotag reported. He was appointed the same day as Moldovan ambassador to France. In other news, Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat, speaking on the eve of a two day-visit to Moscow, expressed confidence in Bucharest on 25 July that an agreement will be reached with Russia on the destruction of World War II ammunition stocked in the separatist Transdniester region. The breakaway region's leadership opposes the destruction of the ammunition in Transdniester and claims it is entitled to a share of the profits that could be made by selling it. The separatists say the earnings should be used for paying off Transdniester's share of the Moldovan debt to the Russian gas company Gazprom.


Responding to an interpellation from the benches of the opposition, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 26 July told the parliament that his government will not order the destruction of eight SS-23 missiles because the step "does not correspond to Bulgaria's current interests and would lead to a serious imbalance of armaments" between the country and its neighbors. The RFE/RL Sofia bureau said that Bulgaria is not infringing on any arms control agreement by refusing to destroy the missiles but that the U.S. had pressed for their destruction. The missiles, which have a range of some 500 km, were delivered to Bulgaria in the early 1980s.


Customs officials on 25 July bulldozed a pile of more than 91,000 pirate compact discs produced in the country and seized at border check points. Sofia customs chief Boiko Ivanov said the destroyed discs are only part of the shipments confiscated at the border. Dimitar Enchev, who is in charge of copyright affairs in the Ministry of Culture, said Bulgarian pirate CD producers make up to 12 million discs a year, while domestic consumption stands at only 700,000, Reuters reported. The European Commission has warned Sofia that rampant copyright piracy will hinder Bulgaria from becoming a member of the EU.


by Paul Goble and Bruce Pannier

A demonstration last week at the Kazakh-Uzbek border drew attention to an issue -- the distribution of Central Asia's scarce water supplies -- that is likely to put a brake on the efforts of some leaders there to promote integration. On 24 July, residents of Southern Kazakhstan Oblast staged a demonstration to protest a decision by the Uzbek government to cut the amount of water flowing from that country into Kazakhstan. The demonstrators said the Uzbek decision threatened the corn and cotton crops on some 100,000 hectares of land in the oblast. While insignificant in itself, the protest reflects the conjunction of three factors: geographical location, the legacy of Soviet policy, and the imperatives of competing national interests since independence. Combined, those factors will almost certainly generate more popular protests as well as high-level political conflicts.

For most of its history, Central Asia has suffered from a shortage of water, a problem that has been compounded by extremely rapid population growth, the introduction of cotton monoculture by tsarist and Soviet administrators, and the fact that the region's major rivers rise in areas dominated by one ethnic community but flow into areas where other national groups predominate. While the first and second of those factors have attracted widespread attention from specialists in the region and beyond, the third has not, even though it may ultimately prove the most significant.

There are two major rivers in the region: the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. The Amu Darya rises in Tajikistan, where it is known as the Pyanj, but it flows through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan before reaching the Aral Sea. The Syr Darya rises in Kyrgyzstan, where it is fed by two smaller rivers, the Naryn and the Kara Darya. It then flows through eastern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan before draining into the Aral Sea. Along the length of both rivers, local governments are drawing out part of the flow for their growing populations and to support agricultural development . The combined amount withdrawn is so great that the flows of the two rivers into the Aral Sea are insufficient to prevent the sea's disappearance in the first decades of the next century. Not surprisingly, water shortages both current and anticipated have already sparked conflicts.

Under the Soviets, the borders of the Central Asian republics were drawn in such a way as to ensure there would always be competition between water-surplus and water-short republics. Such a competition worked to Moscow's advantage in two ways. Fights over water reinforced the national distinctiveness of the five republics and thus limited the ability of the republics to cooperate in ways that would threaten Soviet control. In short, water policy became part and parcel of Moscow's effort to divide and rule the region. Also, competition over water forced the republics to look to Moscow to adjudicate disputes among them. The Soviet authorities were only too willing to do so. They established a complex set of dams and irrigation arrangements to control the size of the flow of the two major river systems as well as institutions to allocate water among the various republics and local authorities.

Since achieving independence, the five countries of the region have had to cope with this inheritance. Not surprisingly, those suffering water shortages have pressed hard for maintaining regional cooperation, while those with water surpluses increasingly have wanted to defend their own particularist interests.

Complicating and exacerbating those tensions are three factors, each of which played a role in the 24 July demonstration. First, the civil war in Tajikistan has effectively removed from the competition one of the largest suppliers of water in the region. Several days before the demonstration, a Tajik official told representatives of the region's other governments that neither he nor his embattled government could make any promises over future water supplies.

Second, the independent governments lack the funds to repair the decaying Soviet-era infrastructure. Earlier this year, Kyrgyzstan's parliament discussed asking downstream countries to help offset the $4 million Bishkek now spends to maintain its river-water control system. To date, none of those countries has publicly offered to help out.

And third, the five governments, driven by national interests or pressed by their own populations, are looking to their own interests rather than trying to find a way out of the water crisis through cooperation. To the extent that they continue to do so, the recent demonstration in southern Kazakhstan could prove a watershed for regional cooperation as well.