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Newsline - September 12, 1997




FOREIGN MINISTRY AGAIN DENIES GIVING IRAN MISSILE TECHNOLOGY

The Foreign Ministry has once again firmly denied U.S. media reports that it is providing Iran with the technology for creating long-range missiles. Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told journalists in Moscow on 11 September that he is surprised the topic continues to be brought up, even after repeated Russian denials. "The Washington Times" on 9 September quoted an alleged Israeli intelligence report indicating that Russia and China are jointly working with Iran to build long-range nuclear missiles. The alleged document reportedly said Russia's space agency and the Rosvooruzhenie armaments export agency are directly involved. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today he is freezing all major economic projects with Russia, including plans for a major gas purchasing deal, until the issue is resolved.

GOVERNMENT DEMANDS CHECHEN VICE PRESIDENT RETRACT THREATS

The government on 11 September issued a statement condemning remarks by Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov as anti-Russian and insulting, Russian media reported. Arsanov told Ekho Moskvy on 8 September that the Chechen procuracy has opened criminal proceedings against the Russian leadership to determine who was responsible for the "genocide" of the Chechen people. Arsanov urged that those found guilty be publicly executed. The Russian government demanded that the Chechen leadership distance itself from Arsanov's "humiliating" statement before the next round of bilateral talks, scheduled for 13 September. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia State Duma faction, said Arsanov's statement is an "act of international terrorism," Interfax reported.

CIS TO IGNORE CHECHEN REQUEST FOR ASSEMBLY MEMBERSHIP

CIS executive secretary Ivan Korotchenya told journalists in Moscow on 11 September that the CIS will ignore the Chechen parliament's request to be admitted as a member of the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly, Russian agencies reported. Korotchenya said that Chechnya is "Russia's internal affair" and that the secession of federation subjects could trigger Russia's collapse.

FEDERAL SECURITY OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN INGUSHETIA

Yurii Gribov, the head of the Federal Security Service's Ingushetia department, and one of his deputies were abducted by armed masked men in the capital, Nazran, on 11 September, Russian media reported. A spokesman for the Ingush Interior Ministry told ITAR-TASS the next day that he is certain the abduction was masterminded by Chechnya. Ekho Moskvy reported that Gribov's name figures on a Chechen militants' list of Russian officials who are designated enemies of the Chechen people.

DUMA ACCUSES MEDIA OF BIAS

The State Duma has issued a report accusing the media of a coordinated misinformation campaign against the legislature, Interfax reported on 11 September. The report analyzed political reporting in more than 30 mainstream Russian newspapers and magazines. It concluded that negative reports about the Duma outnumbered positive ones by three-to-one. The report said this amounted to an anti-Duma campaign aimed at discrediting the chamber in the eyes of the electorate and ultimately having it disbanded. It noted that by contrast, the Russian media often favorably reports on President Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, his deputy premiers, and activities of the pro-government Our Home is Russia. The report concluded that most news publications are losing their function as "honest mediators" between society and the authorities.

YELTSIN TO CONTINUE FIGHT AGAINST ILLEGAL ALCOHOL PRODUCTION

President Yeltsin, speaking during his weekly radio address, said the illegal production and sale of alcohol has become the second most lucrative criminal activity in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 September. It is surpassed only by white-collar crime "involving shady financial transactions," he commented. He also said illegal alcohol production not only endangers public health but deprives state coffers of trillions of rubles in tax revenues and hurts traditional domestic alcohol producers. Yeltsin noted that the government's campaign to bring alcohol production back under state control and seize illegal shipments was yielding results, and he vowed to press on with the campaign. Alcohol sales in the Soviet era provided about a quarter of the state's budget revenue, according to Yeltsin.

CHERNOMYRDIN URGES REASSESSMENT OF WTO BID

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told a cabinet meeting on 11 September that Russia should carefully study the possible negative consequences of its bid to join the World Trade Organization. He said officials should take a closer look at China's experience, where, he said, going slow on WTO entry has allowed effective protection of domestic markets, ITAR-TASS reported.

SERGEEV CALLS FOR FULLY PROFESSIONAL ARMED FORCES

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has reiterated the need to transform Russia's bloated armed forces from a conscript force to a smaller professional one. Sergeev told ITAR-TASS on 11 September that the transition is necessary because only professionals will be able to operate future weapons. But he said that a complete transition by the year 2000, as ordered by President Yeltsin, remains problematic owing to a lack of funds. Yeltsin has ordered the Defense Ministry to cut troop numbers by 500,000 to 1.2 million by the end of 1998 as part of overall military reforms.

ECONOMICS MINISTER SAYS ECONOMY RECOVERING

Deputy Prime Minister Yakov Urinson, who is also economics minister, has said that Russia's economy has not yet returned to "sound growth" but is on the road to recovery. In an interview with "Kommersant Daily" published on 11 September, Urinson said official figures show the economy growing by 0.8 percent in the first five months of 1997. Meanwhile, Minister without Portfolio Yevgenii Yasin said on 11 September that inflation will rise slightly this fall due to seasonal pressures. But he added that Russia is still on course to meet its annual inflation target of 12-14 percent for 1997.

PROCURATOR-GENERAL URGES LEGISLATION ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

Yurii Skuratov told a news conference on 11 September that Russia's pledge to outlaw capital punishment was too hasty and is creating problems for prison authorities. Russia promised to ban the death penalty within three years when it joined the Council of Europe in February 1996. President Yeltsin followed this up with an unofficial moratorium on executions after he was re-elected last July. But legislators have so far blocked any attempts to sign the ban into law. Skuratov said this leaves the status of prisoners on death row in limbo. He said the psychological pressure on some prisoners is so great that several have even asked for their sentences to be carried out. Skuratov urged the government and deputies to draft permanent legislation to resolve the issue. Opinion polls show the vast majority of Russians support capital punishment.

PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT IN MOSCOW

Fidel Ramos, at the beginning of an official visit to Russia, has urged the Kremlin to play a stronger role in the Asia-Pacific basin, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 September. Ramos visited the MAPO military complex, which manufactures the MiG-29 fighter plane. He called for military and technical cooperation between the two countries and said the Philippine air force plans to buy new fighter planes in the near future and will consider any Russian tender. Ramos, who is accompanied by dozens of business executives, is also scheduled to visit the Russian Chamber of Commerce and a car manufacturing plant.

MYSTERY OF WHO ORDERED LAST TSAR EXECUTED UNRESOLVED

A senior criminal investigator at the Procurator-General's Office says the newly-displayed archive on the final days of the tsar and his family does not shed any light on who ordered their execution in 1918, Interfax reported on 11 September. The archive, which contains a protocol of the investigation into the execution, recently went on display in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September). Investigator Vladimir Solovyov told Interfax the documents do not clarify whether Lenin personally ordered the executions or whether they were carried out on the initiative of local Bolsheviks.




OPPOSITION LEADER ARRIVES IN DUSHANBE

United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri arrived in Dushanbe on 11 September, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Nuri was met at the airport by Tajik government officials and UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem. At talks with President Imomali Rakhmonov on 12 September, it was agreed that the Tajik Reconciliation Commission would begin work in Dushanbe on 15 September. Rakhmonov remarked that "as of today, the word 'opposition' has disappeared from Tajikistan." No statement has been made as to why UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda did not arrive in Dushanbe with the UTO delegation.

KAZAKH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES BUDGET, TAX POLICY

Nursultan Nazarbayev, speaking on Khabar TV on 10 September, said the government needs to revise the 1998 budget, Interfax reported the next day. In particular, he criticized the collection of tax revenues, claiming that taxes collected from the 20 major enterprises under foreign management was "inadequate." (Many foreign companies have been attracted to investing in Kazakhstan largely because of tax exemptions and lower rates offered by the government.) Nazarbayev added that the government is partly at fault for not "properly regulating" those businesses. He said that it is enough to sell 30-40 percent shares of enterprises, which would allow domestic investors the chance to buy the remainder.

TURKISH PRIME MINISTER IN KAZAKHSTAN

Mesut Yilmaz concluded his two-day visit to Kazakhstan on 11 September, AFP and dpa reported. Yilmaz said on arrival at Ankara airport that during his visit there was much discussion about constructing a pipeline from western Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field along the bed of the Caspian Sea and through the Transcaucas to Turkey. The Turkish government has already hired a German firm to carry out a feasibility study. Yilmaz is quoted by dpa as saying he hopes "concrete steps" toward implementing the project will begin by February 1998.

KAZAKH NEWS AGENCY DISSOLVED

The state news agency Kaztag has been abolished by presidential decree, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 September. The government has been instructed to pass legislation on forming the Kazakh News Agency within the next month. The new agency is to be located in Akmola, which is to become the official capital of Kazakhstan. In other news, between 20 and 40 people from the Kazakh Workers Party gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Almaty on 12 September to protest the NATO-sponsored "Cenazbat" military exercises, which begin in Kazakhstan on 15 September, RFE/RL correspondents reported.

CENTRAL ASIANS DISCUSS ARAL SEA

The deputy prime ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan met in Tashkent on 11 September to discuss efforts to save the Aral Sea, Interfax reported. They agreed that starting in 1998, all five countries will contribute to a special fund aimed at alleviating damage caused by overuse of water from the two rivers that flow into the Aral Sea, the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya. Under the agreement, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will give 0.3 percent of their budget revenues to the fund and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 0.1 percent. Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Jurabekov is quoted by Interfax as saying the five countries have already contributed more than $2 billion to the effort.

FORMER GEORGIAN PRIME MINISTER SENTENCED

A Tbilisi district court on 10 September passed sentence on Tengiz Sigua, RFE/RL's bureau in the Georgian capital reported. Sigua was accused of causing the state to suffer financial losses estimated at $15 million by continuing to use the old Soviet dollar/ruble exchange rate after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. He was also accused of irregularities in issuing licenses to private companies for the export of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. He has been ordered to repay some $5.8 million losses allegedly incurred by the state budget. Georgian Finance Minister Mikhail Chkuaseli has argued in Sigua's defense that the former prime minister's decisions were not illegal. Sigua has accused President Eduard Shevardnadze of fabricating the case against him for political reasons.

ANOTHER AZERBAIJANI-JAPANESE OIL VENTURE IMMINENT

Following talks in Baku on 10 September with President Heidar Aliev, Minoru Mirofushi, the president of Japan's Itochu Corporation, announced that his company will sign another agreement with Azerbaijan on developing Caspian oil and gas deposits. Itochu is already a participant in two Azerbaijani projects. The new agreement covers the Ateshgyakh, Yavan Tapa, and Mugan Deniz fields, which are located in shallow water south of Baku and have estimated combined reserves of 100 million metric tons of oil. Two other Japanese and one Indonesian company will participate in the project. Turan quoted Mirofushi as saying his corporation is also interested in participating in construction of the main export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil and in investing in the petrochemical and transport sectors.

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEPUTIES AGAIN DETAINED IN NAKHICHEVAN

Azerbaijan Popular Front deputy chairman Mirmahmud Fattaev and two other front members were again detained at Nakhichevan airport and ordered to return to Baku, Turan reported on 11 September. Fattaev and two traveling companions had been prevented from entering Nakhichevan on 6 September to visit former President Abulfaz Elchibey in the village of Keleki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 September 1997).

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT REMOVES REBEL COMMITTEE HEAD

In an emergency session on 10 September, the National Assembly voted to remove Eduard Yegoryan as chairman of its Committee on State and Legal Affairs, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yegoryan had announced on 9 September that he planned to withdraw from the majority Republic bloc and create a new faction called Fatherland. Twelve deputies, mostly from the Republic bloc have already joined the new faction. Yegoryan, who is one of the authors of the current constitution and a former Armenian Pan-National Movement leader, had distanced himself from the Armenian leadership following the disputed September 1996 presidential elections. Former National Security adviser Davit Shakhnazaryan, a Yegoryan ally and a former prominent member of the Armenian Pan-National Movement, was expelled from the movement on 10 September.

ANOTHER NEW FACTION IN ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT

Gegham Gharibjanyan, the chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Social and Health Issues, announced on 11 September that he, too, will form a new parliamentary faction, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The faction will be called Social State and will focus primarily on social issues. Gharibjanyan added that the faction could find itself in opposition to the present leadership. He did not say how many deputies will join his faction (a minimum of 10 are required). Gharibjanyan forecast that Armenia could "explode" at any minute, given that an estimated 88 percent of the population are living in poverty.

TWO ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTIES COME OUT OF HIDING

Making their first public appearance since September 1996, Arshak Sadoyan and Albert Baghdassaryan held a news conference in Yerevan on 11 September, RFE/RL's Armenian bureau reported. The two men went underground after the storming of the Armenian parliament on 25 September 1996 following the disputed presidential elections. Sadoyan was accused by the Armenian authorities of beating up parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan during the disorder, but he denies the charges. He told journalists he went into hiding "to avoid being imprisoned for seven or eight months and being beaten up like other innocent people." Both men stressed there is no evidence to support charges against them. They will meet with Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatryan on 12 September to discuss their legal situation.

KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER PREDICTS NEW WAR

In an interview published by Noyan Tapan on 11 September, Samvel Babayan, the defense minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said renewed hostilities are "quite likely." Babayan said the peace plan proposed earlier this summer by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group co-chairman is unacceptable to the Karabakh leadership. He added that alternative proposals by the Karabkh leaders have been rejected by Baku and that no Azerbaijani politician will risk making concessions in the run-up to the 1998 Azerbaijani presidential elections. Babayan stressed that the Karabakh army is not prepared to withdraw from occupied Azerbaijani territory until security guarantees have been created for the enclave. He excluded the possibility of a withdrawal from Kelbajar and the Lachin corridor, where, he said, many of the 500,000 Armenians expelled from Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan have settled.




ESTONIAN SOLDIERS DIE IN MANEUVERS

Fourteen soldiers from the Estonian unit of the peacekeeping company BALTBAT are presumed to have drowned on 11 September when they tried to wade across a shallow bay to the mainland, BNS and ETA reported, Rescuers found eight soldiers alive and discovered the bodies of two who drowned during the crossing. A spokeswoman for the Estonian Defense Force said 12 others are missing and presumed dead. The men were in survival training on the island of Vyaike-Pakry when they tried to cross Kurgse Bay to Estonia's northwestern coast. The water is normally shallow in the bay but, owing to storms and high winds, was unexpectedly deep when the soldiers tried to cross. The government called an emergency session on 12 September to discuss the accident.

ESTONIA RECEIVES INTERNATIONAL CREDIT RATINGS

The Bank of Estonia on 11 September announced that Moody's Investors Service has granted Estonia the long-term foreign-currency rating of Baa1 and the short-term domestic foreign-currency rating of Prime-2. The same day, IBCA gave Estonia the long-term foreign-currency rating of BBB and the domestic currency rating of A3, RFE/RL's Estonian service reported. The ratings make Estonia the highest-rated former Soviet republic, IBCA said. In other news, the parliament has amended the language law to allow live non-Estonian programs on television and radio to be broadcast without an Estonian translation, BNS and ETA reported.

CHECHEN OFFICIAL IN BELARUS

Chechen presidential envoy Ruslan Kutayev on 11 September passed a personal message from Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Interfax reported. The Chechen envoy also discussed economic contacts with Belarusian officials. A Belarusian presidential spokesman told journalists later that Belarus "is ready to develop trade-economic cooperation with Chechnya as well as with any other regions of Russia." He said Belarus could supply Chechnya with significant quantities of construction materials. He also noted that contacts with Chechnya are part of "Belarus's policy to establish close cooperation with Russia's regions."

UKRAINE TO REMAIN BIGGEST CONSUMER OF RUSSIAN NATURAL GAS

Mikhailo Kovalko, the head of Ukraine's state oil and gas committee, told journalists in Kyiv on 11 September that Ukraine will remain the biggest consumer of Russian natural gas next year but will seek to reduce its dependence on Moscow in the future. He also said Russia has agreed to supply Ukraine with more than 45 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 1998, the same amount as this year. But Kovalko said Ukraine will buy 15 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan and several billion from Uzbekistan. Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko is due to fly to Moscow soon. Gas supplies are expected to be among the topics of discussion with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

POLISH PREMIER CALLS FOR INCREASED TRADE WITH EAST

Speaking at a news conference during the Seventh Poland-East economic forum, Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on 11 September called for increased economic ties with former Soviet republics. Cimoszewicz proposed to foreign manufacturers the co-production of goods aimed at the huge Russian market. He said Poland's official trade with its eastern neighbors totaled $7 billion in 1996, to which another 30 percent of unregistered trade should be added. He said that during the first eight months of this year, Poland's trade with the East grew by 35 percent.

POLISH FINANCE MINISTER ON ECONOMIC PROSPECTS

Marek Belka on 11 September told Reuters he believes Poland's macroeconomic policy will not change after the 21 September parliamentary elections. He said he is confident Poland will manage to deal with the growing current account deficit and thereby avert a financial crisis like that in the Czech Republic. He added that he is also confident that President Aleksander Kwasniewski will appoint a "good replacement" for the National Bank chief Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz when her term ends in March 1998. This, he remarked, will ensure the Polish economy stays on a healthy track. Belka noted that the new government will face the key challenge of controlling the trade and current account deficits.

EU COMMISSIONER DISAGREES WITH SLOVAK RESERVATIONS

Leon Brittan on 11 September told a Slovak government delegation in Brussels that he does not accept Slovakia's reservations about the Commission's appraisal of the country, CTK reported. The appraisal said Slovakia has "political shortcomings" and is not ready to start talks on EU membership. Brittan said the European Commission wants Slovakia to be in the EU and that its position could change as soon as Bratislava did something about its problems. He commented that political problems could be removed far faster than economic ones.

MINORITIES COMPLAIN ABOUT SLOVAK PREMIER'S SUGGESTION

The Association of Nations Under Threat has filed an official complaint with the Council of Europe over the "grotesque" proposal by Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar to resettle the Hungarian minority from Slovakia to Hungary, the Austrian news agency APA reported on 11 September. Association president Tilman Zuelch described Meciar's idea as "ethnic cleansing." The association has also urged European governments to protest Meciar's controversial suggestion. Hungarian Premier Gyula Horn revealed on 5 September that Meciar had spoken about an exchange of ethnic populations between Slovakia and Hungary during talks in Gyor in mid-August.

YUGOSLAV DEFENSE MINISTER IN SLOVAKIA

Pavle Bulatovic, who arrived on a two-day visit to Slovakia on 11 September, told journalists that Europe should have a security model of its own. The Yugoslav military delegation was received by parliamentary deputy chairman Marian Andel and Prime Minister Meciar. During his meeting with Bulatovic, Meciar congratulated Slobodan Milosevic on his election as Yugoslav president. Meciar said Slovakia supports Yugoslavia's effort to join international structures and that Slovakia "is willing to cooperate with Yugoslavia in all [possible] spheres."

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT URGES SUPPORT FOR NATO REFERENDUM

The government has called on the opposition parties to honor an earlier agreement by supporting the 16 November referendum on NATO membership, Hungarian media reported on 12 September. Opposition representatives responded that they do not intend to boycott or demand the postponement of the referendum but want the question on foreign ownership of land to be included in the version formulated by the opposition. Meanwhile, a Hungarian delegation led by state secretary Ferenc Somogyi, who is head of integration affairs at the Foreign Ministry, began talks with NATO officials in Brussels on 10 September on joining the alliance.




BOSNIAN CROATS END ELECTION BOYCOTT

Robert Frowick, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's chief supervisor of the 13-14 September Bosnian local elections, has said in Zagreb that Bosnian Croat leaders agreed to end their boycott and to participate in the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 1997). Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Bosnian Croat leader Kresimir Zubak reached an agreement with Frowick and with Carlos Westendorp and Jacques Klein, the international community's two chief representatives in Bosnia. Zubak said that the pact cleared up most of the Croats' objections, particularly those involving registration of voters. He provided no additional details. The U.S. and EU had placed Croatia and the Bosnian Croats under strong pressure to end the boycott.

BOSNIAN SERBS END BOYCOTT OF PRESIDENCY

Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and chief aide to Radovan Karadzic, attended a meeting of the presidency in Sarajevo on 12 September for the first time in two months. He began his boycott in July to protest the arrest of one indicted Bosnian Serb war criminal and the killing of another by British peacekeeping forces. Westendorp recently warned him that he will forfeit his seat on the presidency if he fails to attend its meetings.

U.S. TO JAM BOSNIAN SERB BROADCASTS?

A Defense Department spokesman said in Washington on 11 September that the Pentagon has sent three EC-130E aircraft to Bosnia to broadcast what the spokesman called messages of peace during the election weekend. The spokesman added that the aircraft might also jam broadcasts of the Bosnian Serb hardliners' Radio-TV Pale because Pale's transmissions contain "vehement rhetoric and incitement to violence." He also said, however, that the aircraft "are not necessarily going to jam everything." Observers note that Washington has said for some weeks that it might jam Pale's broadcasts if the station does not tone down its rhetoric. Some recent broadcasts call SFOR an "occupation force" and claim that Western countries want to push the Bosnian Serbs out of Bosnia and into Serbia.

DJUKANOVIC CALLS ON MONTENEGRINS TO DEFEND NATIONAL INTERESTS

Presidential candidate and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told the convention of his Democratic Socialist Party in Podgorica on 11 September that his election on 5 October would affirm that Montenegrins are determined to defend their autonomy from Belgrade and to give priority to Montenegro and its prosperity. Djukanovic slammed his rival, President Momir Bulatovic, as being the leader of an old-style communist faction in Montenegrin political life and a tool of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Djukanovic also blamed Bulatovic and Milosevic for Yugoslavia's international isolation. Meanwhile, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle wants to mediate between Djukanovic and Bulatovic. The Patriarch fears that the political tensions could lead to violence, the German daily "Die Welt" reported on 12 September.

SERBIAN POLICE BEAT DEMONSTRATORS

Police in Cacak beat two anti-Milosevic political demonstrators so badly that the men had to be taken to the hospital. Slobodan Vikovic and Rados Belic had gone to a rally of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) on 11 September to protest the presidential candidacy of Zoran Lilic, one of Milosevic's closest aides. Meanwhile in Belgrade, the Constitutional Court rejected a complaint against a recent law that redrew the boundaries of Serbia's electoral districts, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. The plaintiffs charged that the law is unfair because the new districts are of unequal size. Opposition parties believe that the law favors the SPS and its allies.

ATTACK ON KOSOVO POLICE STATIONS

Belgrade's independent Radio B-92 reported on 12 September that unknown persons attacked police stations in five towns in Kosovo the previous night. The attackers used automatic weapons and caused extensive material damage, but no one was injured in the exchanges of fire between the gunmen and the police. No one has claimed responsibility for the raids. Observers noted that the attacks were most likely the work of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which frequently attacks police and other symbols of Serbia's authority in the province.

ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS WANT TO NAME NEW ANTI-CORRUPTION CHIEF

Three candidates are running for the chair of the State Control Commission, which investigates charges of corruption, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 12 September. The strongest candidate is Eduard Ypi of the Democratic Party. The other two candidates are Spartak Ngjela, the former justice minister from the Monarchists, and Mustafa Kercuku from the National Front. The Democrats argue that they should have the post because they are the largest opposition party and because a round table agreement signed in Rome on 23 June promised the post to the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 1997). The parliament will select the new anti-corruption chief within the next few days.

ALBANIAN PYRAMID COMPANIES STONEWALL INVESTIGATION

Albania's largest pyramid investment companies have blocked investigations by government appointed Chief Administrator Farudin Arapi, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 12 September. In recent weeks, all such firms have denied him access to their records pending legal proceedings over the government's plans to close the companies down. Representatives of the firms did not show up at a court hearing on 10 September, further delaying the shutdown. Arapi told the newspaper that the companies aim "to indefinitely delay the beginning of [his] work." The IMF demands that the pyramids be closed soon. Meanwhile, Albania has not yet signed a short-term agreement with the IMF, forcing the postponement of an international aid donors' conference in Rome (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997).

ROMANIAN AUTOMAKER TO BE LISTED ON STOCK EXCHANGE

Romania's largest automaker, Dacia Pitesti, will be listed on the Bucharest Stock Exchange beginning 15 September, RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported on 11 September. Dacia will be the 59th company to trade on the exchange In a statement, stock exchange officials said trading in shares of four more companies--Banca Transilvania, Navol, Amonil, and Siretul--will begin later in September. They also said they plan to launch the BET Index soon. The index will track 10 firms traded on the exchange, including Dacia. The Romanian government announced recently that foreigners will be given access to the government securities market. That decision followed a decree permitting full repatriation of profits for foreign equity investors.

CIS SUMMIT DATE BROUGHT FORWARD

CIS leaders will meet in Chisinau on 22 and 23 October, CIS Executive Secretary Ivan Korotchenya announced on 11 September. In August, the date was set for 20 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1997). Korotchenya said agreement has already been reached on some items to be included on the summit agenda. They include talks on resolving conflicts and increasing economic cooperation between CIS members. A meeting of CIS foreign ministers will take place shortly before the summit. Korotchnya said Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov has asked for the summit to be postponed until late December, presumably to give him time to recover from his recent heart surgery.

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER PREDICTS STRONGER TIES WITH FRANCE

Nicolae Tabacaru said on 11 September that President Petru Lucinschi's recent visit to France will strengthen relations between the two countries. During the visit, agreements were signed on protecting and promoting investments and on cooperation in the transportation sector. Lucinschi also signed a cooperation agreement with UNESCO. France ranks 26th on Moldova's list of direct foreign investors.

WORLD BANK SAYS BULGARIAN BANKS RECOVERING

A World Bank official says more than $1 billion transferred from Bulgarian banks during 1996 and early 1997 has been returned to the country's banking system since the introduction of a currency board on 1 July, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported on 12 September. The official said liquidity at Bulgarian banks is now at an unusually high level. He added that bankers must begin making responsible loans to private enterprises that are capable of turning a profit. To do this, he said, loan officers must learn modern risk-assessment practices.




EVERYBODY VOTES IN BOSNIA


by Patrick Moore

The citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina go to the polls on 13 and 14 September to elect local officials. The circumstances under which the vote is being held make the results anything but a foregone conclusion. According to the Dayton agreement, the local elections should have taken place on 14 September 1996, along with the vote for other offices across the country. However, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which routinely monitors elections in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, decided to postpone the local vote for one year because of widespread fraud in voter registration.

In the runup to the 1996 vote, prospective voters were allowed to register to cast their ballot for offices in the locality in which they then lived, in which they lived before the war, or in which they intended to live. The last provision--known as P-2--was open to great abuse, because nationalist politicians could intimidate, order, or bribe refugees to vote in any given place in order to consolidate the results of "ethnic cleansing" there.

All sides were guilty of those practices, but the OSCE singled out the Serbs for special criticism. The Serbs made particular use of P-2 to underscore their claim to the strategic northern town of Brcko. That town was mainly Muslim before the war, but during the conflict it became the key transportation hub, connecting the two halves of the Republika Srpska. The question of who would ultimately control Brcko was the only territorial issue so thorny that it could not be resolved at the Dayton peace conference in the fall of 1995.

The OSCE modified the 1996 voting rules somewhat for the 1997 elections. In place of the former P-2 provision, refugees can now vote in places where they intend to live but never previously lived only if they can prove that they own property or have close family or business links there.

But even these somewhat tightened regulations were no guarantee against fraud. On several occasions, the OSCE punished each of the three ruling nationalist parties--the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), or the Muslims' Party of Democratic Action (SDA)--by suspending some of its candidates in the locality in question. Once again, the SDS received the most penalties, and once again the main reason was voter registration fraud in Brcko.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the OSCE and the international community made upbeat statements to the foreign and domestic media about how important the local elections will be for the consolidation of grass-roots democracy. Some observers countered, however, that the vote will be no more free or fair than the 1996 one. Those elections enabled the SDS, SDA, and HDZ to further tighten their grip over their respective communities. That grip was first established by the three parties in the 1990 elections and then consolidated during the war.

The basic fact of life remains that, regardless of how many international monitors are present, real power over most communities across Bosnia-Herzegovina lies with the SDA, SDS, or HDZ. Those parties control the electronic media, from which most potential voters get their information. But perhaps more important, the three nationalist parties also control the police and access to jobs as well as exercising patronage in most localities.

The non-nationalist parties are thus likely to attract few votes, as also was the case in the elections in 1990 and 1996. Their strength is likely to be limited to areas that are still relatively ethnically mixed, such as Sarajevo or Tuzla. In most other areas, however, a one-party state prevails.

Meanwhile in the run-up to the elections, the HDZ and SDS have resorted to a tactic that has already become part of the political culture in much of the former Yugoslavia since the fall of communism. The two parties have each threatened to boycott the vote in the hope of extracting concessions from the OSCE.

The HDZ quickly ended its boycott. Diplomats from the U.S., the EU, and the OSCE alike warned the party not to make good on its threat lest the international community punish not only the Bosnian Croats but Croatia as well.

The SDS, however, seems to have had better results. Not only did the OSCE promise to consider restoring to the Brcko voting lists the names of 3,000 Serbs that were removed on account of irregularities. The OSCE also pledged not to arrest any indicted war criminals who appear in public to cast their ballot.

It thus came as no surprise that the Pale parliament voted on 10 September to participate in the elections. It should also not come as a surprise if, in the future, the nationalists across Bosnia do not take very seriously statements by prominent foreigners about the need to arrest war criminals and bring them to justice.


XS
SM
MD
LG