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Newsline - November 19, 1997




YAVLINSKII, SHOKHIN SAY FATE OF CHUBAIS SEALED

Grigorii Yavlinskii, the leader of the pro-reform Yabloko faction, and Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction, said on 19 November that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has informed them First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais will be replaced as finance minister, Reuters reported. "There will be one more change (in the government).... Chubais will leave the Finance Ministry," Shokhin told reporters. He did not say, however, whether Chubais would retain his post as first deputy prime minister. Yavlinskii said Chernomyrdin had informed him of the decision to sack Chubais in a telephone conversation the previous day. Chubais is embroiled in a scandal involving payments for a book on privatization. Yeltsin fired three of Chubais's associates over the book scandal but only reprimanded Chubais. AW

CHERNOMYRDIN, DUMA FACTIONS DISCUSS POSSIBLE CHUBAIS OUSTER

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin discussed the possible sacking of Chubais at a 19 November meeting with Duma faction leaders, ITAR-TASS reported. However, no action was taken, an unnamed member of the NDR told the news agency. No other details of the meeting have been released. AW

SELEZNEV SAYS DUMA WANTS CHUBAIS REMOVED COMPLETELY

Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the opposition-dominated Duma will not be satisfied if Chubais is removed only as finance minister, Interfax reported on 19 November. Seleznev said it would "be more fair" to relieve Chubais of all of his positions but added he considers it likely that Chubais will resign. Seleznev also stressed that the Duma will probably not link the adoption of the 1998 budget with the firing of Chubais. He said he will insist on being present when Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin meet 20 November. He said he wants to pass on the results of today's non-binding resolution in the State Duma appealing to the Russian leader to relieve Chubais of his duties. AW

"COUNCIL OF FOUR" TO MEET NEXT MONTH?

Seleznev also said on 19 November that a meeting of the so-called "council of four" will be convened on 9 December, ITAR-TASS reported. However, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin has not scheduled such a meeting with the prime minister and the speakers of both houses of the parliament. Only Yeltsin, and not the Duma speaker, can decide when such a meeting will take place, Yastrzhembskii said. AW

DUMA REJECTS GOVERNMENT'S TAX CODE

By a vote of 297 to two, the Duma formally rejected the government's proposed tax code on 19 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma thereby overturned its June vote of initial approval, noting that the government's draft code elicited more than 4,500 proposed amendments. The Duma called for suggested revisions to the code to be submitted by 15 January and a new draft to be drawn up for a vote in February. Deputies rejected calls for the creation of a special legislative-executive commission to put together a compromise draft. The government had hoped the tax code would be passed--at least in part--by mid-1998. But the Duma vote now suggests it could be delayed further. AW

GAZPROM SAYS U.S. PRESS DID NOT DELAY BOND ISSUE

Gazprom on 18 November denied that pressure from the U.S. Congress played a role in delaying the gas concern's $1 billion convertible bond issue, ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksandr Semenyaka, head of the company's securities department, said the bond issue will go ahead in the first quarter of next year. He said international market turmoil prompted the decision to delay the bond issue, noting that Gazprom's shares on the international market fell sharply in the recent crisis. The bond was scheduled to be issued in December. However, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee is due to hold hearings on the issue. Observers say the offering could violate U.S. legislation providing for sanctions against Iran for its alleged sponsorship of terrorism. Gazprom belongs to a consortium that recently signed a $2 billion deal to develop Iranian gas fields. AW

KREMLIN SAYS BALTS INFLEXIBLE OVER SECURITY OFFER

The Kremlin has accused the three Baltic States of lacking flexibility for rejecting Russian security guarantees, Reuters reported 18 November. "The reaction does not reflect flexibility or subtlety in Baltic diplomacy," presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii told a news briefing. He added that Moscow has a "certain right to take a pause and ponder how to proceed in the new situation." The three Baltic presidents rejected the Russian security guarantees at a 10 November summit, saying the offer does not "correspond to the spirit of the new Europe." The Kremlin has said it will reconsider its relations with NATO if Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are admitted to the alliance. AW

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL DISMISSES DISAPPEARANCE OF NUKES AS GROUNDLESS

Vladimir Klimenko, the coordinator of the Defense Council, has repeated Russian assertions that its nuclear arsenal, including the so-called "nuclear briefcases," is fully accounted for. Klimenko was speaking at an 18 November meeting in Moscow with U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon. Recent media reports that small-scale nuclear weapons disappeared as a result of poor oversight were "groundless", Interfax quoted Klimenko as saying. Former Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and environmental expert Aleksei Yablokov have been at the forefront of such charges. But Klimenko doubted whether the two are in a position to make such assessments since, he argued, they lack knowledge of Russia's system of nuclear weapon storage. AW

ROHKLIN IS CONFIDENT MOVEMENT WILL BE REGISTERED...

Lev Rokhlin, the leader of the Movement in Support of the Army, the Defense Industry, and Military Sciences, said on 18 November that he will not appeal a Justice Ministry ruling denying registration to his movement, Interfax reported. A Justice Ministry official told the news agency the previous day that the registration of Rokhlin's group has been delayed owing to inconsistencies between papers filed with the Justice Ministry and documents from the movement's September founding congress. In particular, the group's charter calls for the revitalization of the country's defense sector, while a statement from its founding congress named the ousting of President Boris Yeltsin as its top priority. Rokhlin said he saw such arguments as "not serious" and that they could be overcome by turning the organization into a political movement. AW

...WHILE ANTI-YELTSIN STATEMENTS COME UNDER SCRUTINY

Meanwhile, the Main Military Prosecutor's Office is examining whether statements by Rokhlin a month ago violate Russia's constitution, Russian media reported. At a meeting of his movement in a Moscow suburb, the outspoken general had called for the ousting of the "hated regime" of Yeltsin. AW

PRIMAKOV ANNOUNCES PLAN TO END IRAQ CRISIS

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz held talks in Moscow on 18 November with President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. Later, Primakov announced that agreement was reached on a program of measures to prevent an armed conflict and to resolve the crisis precipitated by Baghdad's refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on weapons inspectors. Primakov did not disclose details of the plan, which is based on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's response to a letter from Yeltsin. But Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov said on 18 November that Moscow is working to secure the resumption of weapons inspections and to give Baghdad hope that sanctions against it will be lifted, according to the "Financial Times" on 19 November. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS CALLS FOR HIS RESIGNATION

Speaking at a press conference in Washington on 18 November, Aslan Maskhadov said that criticism of his policies by a 16 November emergency congress of the Freedom Warriors Union "is not a tragedy," ITAR-TASS reported. Congress participants had voted no confidence in Maskhadov's policies and denounced the peace agreement that he signed in May with Russian President Yeltsin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997). Maskhadov also announced that Chechnya will earn $800,000 in transit fees in 1997 from Caspian oil exported through the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline. The same day, the Chechen parliament voted again to postpone a debate on Maskhadov's request to expand his presidential powers. LF

KALININGRAD TO GET GERMAN BANK LOAN

The Dresdener Bank has signed an agreement with the Kaliningrad local government on a $30 million loan for small and medium-size business projects and for upgrading the region's infrastructure, Interfax reported on 18 November. Interfax quoted Kaliningrad governor Leonid Gorbenko as saying this is the first time that a regional administration has signed such an agreement with a foreign bank, thereby bypassing the federal center. LF

CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER JAPANESE REPORTERS

Japan's NHK television company continues to argue that a group of its journalists filming in Russia's Primorskii Krai broke no laws (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997), ITAR-TASS reported. A spokesman said permission had been received from the relevant authorities to run the live broadcast about North Korean workers in the Russian lumber business. He noted that the journalists had rehearsed filming the program in the presence of Russian border guards. Those guards later interrupted the live broadcast and claimed the journalists had filmed North Korean territory, which is forbidden in Russia. The Russian Federal Security Service also criticized the use of "unconventional means" and "gadgets" in the filming. BP



NAZARBAYEV MEETS WITH CLINTON...

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton at the White House on 18 November to discuss political and economic reform in Kazakhstan and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. A joint statement released after their meeting said the "U.S. will support economic reform in Kazakhstan through concrete programs of technical cooperation." Washington also "welcomed Nazarbayev's endorsement of a pipeline route that would bypass Iran," according to AFP. The Russian newspaper "Kommersant-daily" on 18 November commented on what it called the growing U.S. influence in the Caspian region," saying Nazarbayev's visit will not be the first or the last of "pilgrimages by leaders of Transcaucasia and Central Asia to the U.S capital." Both Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliyev and Georgia's Eduard Shevardnadze were in Washington in the summer. BP

...PRESIDES OVER SIGNING OF ENERGY DEALS

Nazarbayev and U.S. Vice President Al Gore were present at the 18 November signing of an agreement on production-sharing at Kazakhstan's Karachaganak oil and gas field. The accord was signed by representatives of Texaco (U.S.), Agip (Italy), British Gas, and LUKoil (Russia). Estimates of the field's reserves are 2.4 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. A deal on production sharing at the Kashgan field, in the Caspian Sea, was signed by representatives from Mobil (U.S.), Agip, British Petroleum, Statoil (Norway), Shell (U.S.), British Gas, and Total (France). The U.S. also agreed to donate $10 million to dispose of nuclear material from Kazakhstan's Aktau reactor and improve security at the facility. BP

UZBEK PRESIDENT IN TURKEY

Islam Karimov met with his Turkish counterpart, Suleyman Demirel, in Ankara on 18 November, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL correspondents reported. The two president signed a friendship agreement and accords on cooperation, tourism, health, science, and technology. Before his trip, Karimov had asked that his opponent in the 1991 presidential elections, Muhammad Salih, be expelled from Turkey. Salih is currently living in self-imposed exile in Turkey. However, he told an RFE/RL correspondent that he would leave voluntarily for a vacation in order not to "spoil" the presidential talks. BP

UZBEK CEMETERY VANDALS CAUGHT

Uzbek authorities have taken five people into custody and promise more arrests soon in connection with vandalism at a Russian Orthodox cemetery, Russian media and AFP reported. In early November, monuments were destroyed and 162 graves "violated." at the 19th-century Botkin cemetery in Tashkent. Those arrested say they belong to a group of "Satanists." Uzbek police are seeking six more people in connection with the incident. BP

FRENCH COUPLE BELIEVED KIDNAPPED IN TAJIKISTAN

A French couple in Tajikistan are believed to have been kidnapped on 18 November, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. The man works for TACIS. A car belonging to the couple was found some 3 kilometers from their home in Dushanbe. The couple's passports were inside the car. There was no indication of violence. BP

KARABAKH PRESIDENT DISCUSSES MEDIATION PROCESS

In an interview published in "Azg" on 18 November, Arkadii Ghukasyan concedes that "really serious" differences exist between Yerevan and Stepanakert on how to resolve the Karabakh conflict, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Armenian capital reported. Ghukasyan added that Stepanakert is under constant pressure from Yerevan to change its approach but will only do so on the basis of a referendum in both Armenia and the unrecognized enclave. He expressed regret that Armenia is ready to accept a solution that makes Karabakh de jure part of Azerbaijan. But he said the main reason for the current deadlock is that the co-chairmen of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group "reserve too many rights for themselves." Ghukasyan met on 17 November with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, but no details of their talks have been released. LF

ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER IN GEORGIA

Robert Kocharyan met with Georgian President Shevardnadze, Minister of State Niko Lekishvili, and Parliamentary Speaker Zurab Zhvania in Tbilisi on 18 November , Armenian and Georgian agencies reported. Following talks on energy, trade, communications, and customs cooperation, Kocharyan and Lekishvili signed an agreement on avoiding dual taxation. Kocharyan emphasized Armenia's interest in using Georgian transportation conduits, especially in the Eurasian transport corridor, which will have ferry connections from Georgian Black Sea ports to Bulgaria and Ukraine. Only 20 percent of the cargo capacity of the existing railway from Armenia to Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti is currently being utilized. LF

KOCHARYAN RULES OUT "PEACE FOR PIPELINE" OPTION

Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 18 November, Kocharyan said Armenia is not prepared to discuss the possible routing of an export pipeline for Azerbaijani oil across Armenia because Baku insists on linking this issue to a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, Interfax reported. Kocharyan argued that "the Karabakh conflict has its [own] logic and cannot be solved through a bargain." Shevardnadze on 17 November had expressed support for what he described as Kocharyan's "bold, far-sighted, and principled" ideas on how to resolve the Karabakh conflict. However, he did not explain what those ideas entail. In an interview in "Iravunk" on 14 November, Kocharyan said he favors the "package" approach to a settlement. The Armenian leadership has accepted the OSCE's "phased" variant as a basis for further negotiations. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FACTIONS DENIED AIR TIME

By a vote of 52 to 43 with 47 abstentions, the National Assembly on 17 November rejected a proposal by several opposition deputies, including "Hayrenik" faction leader Eduard Yegoryan, to grant parliamentary groups and factions air time on state television, Armenpress reported. Father Husik Lazaryan, representing the Armenian Pan-National Movement--the senior party within the majority Hanrapetutyun bloc--said that it was unclear whether the parliament or state television would have had to bear the costs of such broadcasts. LF

ABKHAZ-GEORGIAN TALKS MAKE PROGRESS ON PRACTICAL ISSUES

Unidentified participants in the Abkhaz-Georgian talks that began in Geneva on 17 November say the two sides may agree to sign an interim document, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 November. That document will create a council to coordinate the activities of three working groups that will address security issues (including maintaining the existing cease-fire), assistance to displaced persons, and economic issues. The agreement does not address the unresolved issue of Abkhazia's future status within the state of Georgia. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, who heads the Abkhaz delegation to the talks, told ITAR-TASS that Tbilisi's unwillingness to reach a settlement of the conflict is reflected in Georgian President Shevardnadze's criticism of Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's decision to allow the export of agricultural produce from Abkhazia to Russia. LF

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER IN SYRIA

Hasan Hasanov met in Damascus on 18 November with his Syrian counterpart, Faruq al-Shara, and with President Hafez al-Assad, Turan and AFP reported. Talks focused on expanding bilateral ties, including air transport between the two countries. and the situation in the Middle East. Particular attention was paid to the Caspian Sea. LF




UKRAINIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS IMPROVING

Speaking at a press briefing on 18 November, Vladimir Solovei, the head of the CIS Department at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, positively assessed the outcome of Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais's 14 November visit to Kyiv. He also praised the results of the 16-17 November summit in Moscow between Russian President Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma. Solovei said Russian-Ukrainian relations are increasingly dominated by a pragmatic, calm, and rational approach. He said the agreement reached by Yeltsin and Kuchma on abolishing value-added tax will contribute to increasing bilateral trade turnover. LF

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FIXES MINIMUM PENSION

The parliament on 18 November reaffirmed its decision to peg the minimum pension in 1998 to the level of subsistence wages, ITAR-TASS reported. Such wages are set at 74 hryvnas ($39). President Kuchma refused to sign an earlier draft of the pension law fixing the minimum pension at this level on the grounds that the budget does not contain adequate funds. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICER WINS CASE AGAINST ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT

A Tallinn court has ruled that the government did not give sufficient reason for refusing a residence permit to retired Russian officer Sergei Mirochnitchenko and his family, ETA reported on 18 November. Mirochnitchenko, 51, was extradited on the grounds that he poses a threat to Estonia's security. The court ruled that the country's security cannot be endangered by a past service record. The government must now review the former officer's application for a residence permit. Earlier this year, Mirochnitchenko won another case against the government because his name had been misspelled in an extradition order. JC

LATVIA PROPOSES "AMBER GATEWAY"

Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs has officially called for the creation of an "amber gateway" to encourage greater economic cooperation and promote security in the Baltic Sea region, BNS reported on 18 November. The "gateway," based on the 14th century Hanseatic League free trade area, would complement, rather than replace, Latvia's goal of integration into European structures. Birkavs suggested the "gateway" include the Council of Baltic Sea States (to which the Nordic countries, Germany, Poland, and Russia also belong). The idea of an "amber gateway" has been discussed recently among diplomatic circles in Washington. JC

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES CRIMINAL CODE CHANGES

Lawmakers on 18 November began debating amendments to the criminal code that would facilitate investigations into genocide cases, BNS reported. Specifically, genocide suspects would be allowed to familiarize themselves by proxy--either in writing or through their attorney--with the charges brought against them if their state of health precludes standard procedures for conducting a preliminary investigation. Earlier this year, the prosecutor-general was prevented from pressing charges against the 90-year-old Aleksandras Lileikis, suspected of involvement in genocide during World War II, because of the latter's poor health. JC

POLAND, CHINA SEEK TO BOOST TRADE

Visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, have signed contracts worth some $200, including a $110 million deal for the sale to Beijing of spare parts and engines for Polish-made buses. Polish Television reported. In addition, China will make use of an existing $340 million credit line to buy Polish goods, including turbines, and coal mining equipment. Last year, Chinese imports to Poland totaled $734.8 million, while Polish exports to China reached only $33.7 million. With regard to human rights, Kwasniewski said he and Jiang had discussed the issue but "with the understanding that not all countries espouse the same definition of human rights," according to dpa. JC

FURTHER RUSSIAN DENIAL OF POLISH DAILY'S SPY ALLEGATIONS

A spokeswoman for the Russian Federal Security Service has denied allegations by the Polish daily "Zycie" that Russian diplomats are spying in Poland, Interfax reported on 18 November. She described the article as a typical example of "espionage-mania." The person identified as "Yackimishin," who according to the newspaper was killed because of his alleged involvement in the ouster of former Premier Jozef Oleksy, is alive, she added. The Russian embassy in Warsaw has also protested the article to the Polish Foreign Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1997). AW

HIV-POSITIVE SOLDIERS CANNOT SERVE IN CZECH ARMY?

Defense Minister Miloslav Vyborny told a press conference in Prague on 18 November that infection with the HIV virus or heart ischemia "can disqualify people from serving in the military." Vyborny declined to comment on a report published in "Mlada Fronta Dnes" saying a decree disqualifying HIV-positive soldiers from service has already been issued. He added, however, that he "does not see any discrimination" in banning such people from serving in the army. He said they can "file charges, but it is [another] question if they will win." MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS INCREASE LEAD IN POPULARITY POLL

A public opinion poll conducted by the STEM private agency shows the opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) widening its lead over Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS), Reuters reported on 18 November. The poll shows 29.2 percent backing the CSSD and 20.3 percent supporting the ODS. This compares with 30 and 22 percent, respectively, in a similar poll conducted in October. MS

DOLE ON HUNGARY'S NATO ASPIRATIONS

Former U.S. majority leader Bob Dole told Prime Minister Gyula Horn in Budapest on 18 November that the large majority that voted in favor of Hungary's accession to NATO in the 16 November referendum will "certainly give an impetus to the ratification of NATO expansion in the U.S. Senate," Hungarian media reported. Horn, meanwhile, said Hungary's economic progress is reason enough to hope his country will join the EU in 2000 or 2001. He added it is "strange" that some West European politicians speak of 2005 and even of 2008 as the expected year of Hungary's entry. According to Horn, that might have a "demoralizing effect" on Hungarian public opinion. MS




CROATIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS MAKE CORRUPTION CHARGES

The parliamentary Committee for Domestic Affairs and National Security on 18 November discussed corruption charges made by three former members of the intelligence services against the Defense Ministry and other unnamed high government officials. Opposition deputies asked that the closed hearings be made public, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. The three former agents said they will publish their charges on the Internet if the government does not allow them to be discussed openly, "Novi List" reported. PM

CROATIAN UNDERWORLD LEADER GOES ON TRIAL

Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic, one of the most prominent criminal figures in Mostar, went on trial in Zagreb on 18 November for abduction, assault and battery, inciting murder, and aiding and abetting crime. Independent media charged, however, that Tuta should also be tried for war crimes against Serbs and Muslims. Opposition spokesmen said that Tuta has strong links to the governing Croatian Democratic Community in Mostar and that he helped enforce the party's anti-Muslim policies. PM

RADIO VUKOVAR BACK ON AIR

Croatian Radio Vukovar resumed broadcasting on 18 November for the first time since the eastern Slavonian city fell to Serbian attackers six years earlier. Elsewhere in Vukovar, a UN spokesman noted that the peaceful reintegration of eastern Slavonia into Croatia is well under way. He added, however, that it could take at least 10 years for the region's various nationalities "to learn to live together again." PM

WORLD BANK LOAN FOR CROATIA

World Bank officials on 18 November approved a $30 million loan to promote financial reform and to develop the private sector. The Investment Recovery Loan is repayable over 15 years, with a grace period of three to five years. PM

BANJA LUKA AIRPORT REOPENS

The only airport in the Republika Srpska able to handle commercial flights reopened to civilian traffic on 18 November after a break of four years. A flight carrying international officials arrived from Sarajevo, but a Yugoslav Airlines promotional flight from Belgrade was canceled, ostensibly for technical reasons. British and U.S. development aid funded the reopening. A joint Bosnian civil aviation authority that includes Serbs, Croats, and Muslims will supervise the facility. A spokesman for Austrian Airlines said that his company may begin international flights to the airport. PM

PLAVSIC TELLS VOTERS TO CHOOSE "BEST OF THE BEST"

Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic told supporters in Banja Luka on 18 November that a "wave of democratization" is spreading across Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska. She urged voters to elect her Serbian People's League (SNS) in the 22-23 November parliamentary elections and promised clean and accountable government, BETA news agency reported. Hard-line leader Momcilo Krajisnik, for his part, told Serbian Television in Belgrade that Plavsic is a "traitor" who is working to recreate a multi-ethnic Bosnia. And in Sarajevo, international election officials told an RFE/RL correspondent that 28 parties, three coalitions, and 18 independent candidates will be on the ballot. PM

GUNMEN ATTACK PRO-MILOSEVIC ALBANIAN

On 18 November near Pristina, gunmen wounded Camil Gashi, an ethnic Albanian who heads Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party branch in the Kosovar town of Glogovac. Gashi is also a member of the Yugoslav parliament and one of the leading ethnic Albanians loyal to the Yugoslav president. Almost one year ago, the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) began a campaign of attacking Kosovars whom it regards as collaborators. PM

SHOOT-OUT NEAR MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN BORDER

Macedonian police officials in Skopje said on 18 November that police wounded two Albanians in a fight with a gang of about 30 men near Struga the previous day. Police added that the gang had apparently crossed into Macedonia illegally in order to rob border villages. There have been some 110 incidents involving illegal border crossings since law and order collapsed in Albania in March. PM

ALBANIAN NEWSPAPER STRIKE OVER?

Nikolle Lesi, the publisher of "Koha Jone," Albania's largest-circulation daily, has told an RFE/RL correspondent in Tirana that his paper will resume publication on 20 November. Nine dailies recently began a strike to push for lower taxes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997). Finance Minister Arben Malaj on 18 November offered to cut import duties on newsprint, ink, and spare parts and to lift duties completely on new printing equipment. Malaj also pledged that newspaper publishers will be exempt from profit tax for at least two years to enable them to invest in new equipment. FS

ALBANIA, ITALY SIGN MIGRANT LABOR PACT

Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Piero Fassino signed an agreement in Tirana on 18 November aimed at regulating the flow of migrant labor from Albania to his country. The two governments will fix the exact number of legal migrants at a later date. At least 15,000 Albanians entered Italy as refugees this year. Their residence permits expire at the end of November. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS OPPOSITION MOTION ON HUNGARIAN COUNTIES

By a vote of 183 to 97, the Chamber of Deputies on 18 November rejected an opposition motion criticizing government policies in the two counties in which Hungarians constitute the majority, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The motion was proposed by the Party of Romanian National Unity and supported by the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, the Greater Romania Party, and the Alliance for Romania Party. Opposition speakers accused the government of backing policies of "ethnic cleansing" of ethnic Romanians in Transylvania. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE DEBATES EDUCATION LAW AMENDMENTS

The Senate on 18 November began debating the government regulation amending the education law. Senators from the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic stressed their position that history and geography must be taught in the Romanian language in all schools. Representatives of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, for their part, refrained from threatening to leave the ruling coalition. MS

FATE OF MOLDOVAN-RUSSIAN TREATY HANGS IN BALANCE

Aleksei Mitrofanov, the chairman of the Russian State Duma's Committee for Geopolitics, told "Russkii Telegraf" on 18 November that the chances of the Duma's ratifying the basic Moldovan-Russian treaty remain "zero." Mitrofanov, who is one of the leaders of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, said both his group and the Communist Party faction oppose ratification, adding that two Duma committees have recommended against it. During his visit to Moldova in late October, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the treaty will be ratified in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 29 October 1997). The treaty was initialed in 1990. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER WANTS FINANCIAL POLICE

Ivan Kostov on 18 November said a special force of financial police should be set up to fight corruption among politicians, police officers, and other state employees, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Kostov said that the existing police force, tax authorities, and customs agencies are unable to fight corruption within their own ranks and that current law-enforcement structures make it difficult to combat corruption within the Interior Ministry. He said the financial police would monitor officials' behavior and report suspected wrongdoing to the relevant authorities. The financial police could also demand that politicians disclose how they paid for luxury cars and houses, Kostov noted. MS

BULGARIAN SECRET POLICE FILES OPENED

Eleven Bulgarians on 18 November became the first persons to read their communist-era secret police files under the law passed by the parliament in October, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. A total of 15,000 people have inquired whether the secret police had files on them. More than 70 percent of the files on police informants and an unknown percentage of victims' files were destroyed by the communist government that deposed Todor Zhivkov, AFP reported, quoting the head of the archive service. MS




THREATS TO PEACE IN TAJIKISTAN


by Salimjon Aioubov

The question troubling many people in Tajikistan is whether the five-year civil war is really over.

True, a peace accord was signed by the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) in Moscow in June. That accord was greeted with great enthusiasm by Tajiks, as was Said Abdullo Nuri, the head of National Reconciliation Commission, when he returned to Dushanbe in September. In addition, the cease-fire between government and opposition forces is holding on the ground. So what's wrong?

Although peace may appear to have been secured, there are still many obstacles to be overcome. A critical factor in the peace equation is the continued existence of independent armed groups. Clashes between former field commanders of the National Front, which brought to power the current elite in 1992, occurred in Dushanbe and in southern Tajikistan's Kurgonteppa area in August. Hostage-taking by Rezvon Sodirov's group has continued in the capital. Many of the numerous explosions in the capital are politically motivated. And faction fighting has recently taken place near the frontier with Uzbekistan, resulting in chilly diplomatic exchanges between Dushanbe and Tashkent.

At the same time, the government and the opposition have been unable to put aside their mutual mistrust and take a united stand against the armed groups. The government, for its part, has tried to put off a resolution to the main outstanding issue: the timing of the return of charismatic opposition leader Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda.

The absence of Turajonzoda from Nuri's team could cause a major split inside the opposition's armed forces. Eight opposition field commanders protested Nuri's return in September. Moreover, a group of opposition commanders from the Kofarnihon region, east of Dushanbe, appealed to the National Reconciliation Commission late in October, saying they would not integrate into government forces until Turajonzoda returned and joined in the power sharing.

A high-ranking UTO representative told an RFE/RL correspondent that Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov and his supporters are strongly against the opposition proposal to appoint Turajonzoda as foreign minister and to give him the post of deputy prime minister as well. The disagreement over Turajonzoda is a key obstacle to agreement on power-sharing between two sides.

But Gerdt Dietrich Merrem, the head of UN mission in Dushanbe, says the opposition should examine its own motives in the case of Turajonzoda. Following a meeting with Rahmonov on 4 November, Merrem told reporters that both he and the president agreed that the National Reconciliation Commission's plan for implementing the peace accords is ambitious but realistic.

Turajonzoda has confirmed that his return depends mostly on a decision by opposition leaders. He says they are cautious because of strong Russian pressure in support of Rahmonov and in favor of minimizing nationalistic elements in the National Reconciliation Commission.

At the beginning of October, Nuri and Amirkul Azimov, secretary of the National Security Council, traveled to the Garm region, ostensibly to estimate war damage in the area. But the main reason was apparently to meet with opposition field commanders to prevent a possible wavering of their loyalty under the impact of the Kofarnihon commanders' stand. Some opposition members fear that they are about to lose the cohesion that sustained them in five years of fighting against the government. And they also fear that, following integration with government forces, Dushanbe will act to limit opposition political activity before new general elections.

Meanwhile, near the border with Uzbekistan, there have been clashes between government forces and supporters of the mutinous Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. There have also been accusations from Dushanbe that Uzbekistan is promoting Khudoiberdiev's group, illustrating the growing strain between the two countries.

For its part, Uzbekistan is unhappy about a closer relationship between Tajikistan and Russia. Uzbek President Islam Karimov recently urged the Tajik authorities to remember whose tanks they rode upon when they entered Dushanbe to take power in winter 1992. Karimov says he was referring to the Russian tanks, but it is also a reminder of the help Rahmonov received from Uzbekistan.

Given all those negative factors, it is difficult to pass judgment on whether the Tajik civil war has really ended. Much depends on how fast the government and opposition can combine forces to resist such factors. The author is an editor for RFE/RL's Tajik Service


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