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Newsline - November 26, 1997




RUSSIA ADMITTED TO APEC

On the second day of the Vancouver conference, the 18 member nations of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation organization voted unanimously to admit Russia, along with Vietnam and Peru. Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto expressed his satisfaction with the vote, noting his country strongly supported Russia's admission to APEC, Russian media reported on 25 November. He noted that Russia will participate as a full member at the 1998 APEC session in Malaysia. ITAR-TASS reported the next day that at the 22-23 November APEC meeting, Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Mexico had expressed doubts about admitting Russia. BP

YELTSIN WANTS MORE INFORMATION ABOUT FINANCIAL MARKETS

President Boris Yeltsin has said he and the government need more information about international finance markets in order to defend Russia against economic turbulence, Interfax reported on 25 November. Yeltsin said he receives a lot of information on political matters from his Security Council, the Federal Security Service, and the border service. But he complained that he does not get "enough systematic information on economic matters." Central Bank head Sergei Dubinin said the same day that world financial turmoil has upset Russia's ambitious plans for privatization this fall. He said Russian banks are finding it increasingly difficult to borrow money, forcing the cancellation of some privatization auctions. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said recently that the present upheaval on the world's financial markets poses a "real danger to Russia." JB

YASIN SAYS NEGATIVE PERCEPTION OF RUSSIA MUST CHANGE

Former Economics Minister and current Minister without Portfolio Yevgenii Yasin says it is imperative to change foreign investors' negative image of Russia. Yasin spoke to ITAR-TASS on 25 November from California, where he is attending the second annual Russo-American Investment Forum. He said changing Russia's image abroad is crucial to increasing investment and noted that many negative articles in Western newspapers are often directly picked up from the Russian press. Yasin said the government intends to organize an economic forum on the West Coast of the U.S. to try to mobilize American business leaders to invest in Russia. JB

GOVERNMENT MAY FAIL TO PAY WAGE ARREARS

Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said the government may fail to meet its year-end deadline for paying off public-sector wage arrears, Russian media reported on 25 November. Sysuev said wage arrears totaling 3.3 trillion rubles ($568 million) have been paid off since 1 July, leaving 9.6 trillion rubles to be paid before January 1. The deadline was set by President Yeltsin in the summer. JB

CHUBAIS SAYS REGIONAL AUTHORITIES NOT COOPERATING

First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told Russian Public Television on 25 November that regional authorities are not cooperating with the government's efforts to pay off public-sector wages. In his first interview since being stripped of the finance portfolio following corruption allegations, Chubais said the government is "very worried" about the issue. He noted that some regions are not paying their half of the debt, as agreed under a plan proposed by Yeltsin. Chubais estimated the total arrears owed to state workers at 26 trillion rubles ($4.45 billion). JB

GAZPROM TO INVEST $600 MILLION IN IRAN

A top Gazprom official said on 25 November that the gas giant will invest some $600 million in the controversial $2 billion deal to develop Iran's South Pars gas field. Pyotr Rodionov, the deputy chairman of Gazprom's board of directors, told ITAR-TASS that his company is "absolutely indifferent" to complaints raised in the U.S. about the deal recently reached between Iran and Gazprom in partnership with France's Total and Malaysia's Petronas. JB

PRIMAKOV SAYS RUSSIA HAS RIGHT TO SELL ARMS

Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told a news conference in Buenos Aires on 25 November that Russia has "as much right as any other country in the world to export arms, except where there are international restrictions." But he added that he did not want his visit to be "associated with the desire to promote Russian arms exports to Latin America." Earlier this year, the Russian arms export agency, Rosvooruzhenie, launched a new marketing drive in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Russia has sold military helicopters to Colombia and MiG-29 fighter jets to Peru. Primakov is currently touring several Latin American countries. JB

YELTSIN TO VISIT CHECHNYA

Addressing the Russian Security Council on 25 November, Yeltsin announced his intention to visit Chechnya, Russian media reported. But no date for that trip has yet been set, according to Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin. Rybkin added that Yeltsin believes all deputy premiers and government ministers involved in the reconstruction of Chechnya's infrastructure should also visit the republic. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said Yeltsin's announcement was "wise and courageous" and vowed that no one would harm the Russian president while he is on Chechen soil. Rybkin later told journalists that Moscow is offering Chechnya the status of "a self-ruling republic" within the Russian Federation, which, he said, would constitute a "high level of autonomy," Interfax reported. Maskhadov, for his part, told journalists in Grozny on 25 November that Russia's refusal to recognize the republic's independence is delaying a solution to the problem of Russian-Chechen relations. LF

KVASHNIN PROMOTED TO "FULL GENERAL"

Yeltsin on 25 November gave Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed forces Anatolii Kvashnin the rank of "full general." The two men met to discuss social problems stemming from the downsizing of the armed forces and improving cooperation between the military and the Federal Border Guards. In an article in "Segodnya" on 24 November, military commentator Pavel Felgengauer had predicted Kvashnin's promotion, attributing both it and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev's recent promotion to marshal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997) to Yeltsin's desire to redirect officers' discontent away from himself. Meanwhile the Main Military Prosecutor's Office has established a "hot line" for victims of hazing in the armed forces, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 26 November. The incidence of such mistreatment increased by 22.9 percent during the first nine months of 1997, compared with the same period last year. LF

UNION OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIAN WORKERS IN WORST CONDITIONS IN 70 YEARS

Bill Jordan, the secretary-general of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), told a news conference in Moscow on 25 November that Russian workers are experiencing the worst conditions since the 1920s. He noted that 40 percent of workers did not receive their October wages and that only one-quarter of workers are paid on time and in full. Jordan said that in parts of Russia, people have not been paid for a year and one-eighth of workers are now paid with items ranging from tinned pineapples, manure, meat grinders, to coffins. JB

RUSSIA SAYS ORGANIZED CRIME NO THREAT TO FOREIGN COUNTRIES

First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasiliev told a news conference in Moscow on 25 November that Russian criminal groups pose no threat to the security of foreign countries. But he admitted that criminal activities by Russians abroad have grown five-fold since 1991 and that more than 400 criminal groups are operating beyond the country's borders. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Louis Freeh had said in October that Russian organized crime posed an "imminent danger" to the U.S. Freeh toned down that statement during a recent visit to Moscow, saying such crime did not directly threaten U.S. security. JB

JOURNALIST SEVERELY BEATEN IN DAGESTAN

Police in Dagestan took the editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Dagestanskaya Pravda" to hospital after finding her unconscious on the steps of her house, Russian media reported on 25 November. Galina Beibutova had been badly beaten and sustained severe back and head injuries. Interfax reported that "Dagestanskaya Pravda," which is widely read in the republic, recently published an article denouncing organized criminal groups allegedly active in the republic. Ruslan Gitinov, a top police official, and two other people were wounded in a bomb attack in Dagestan recently. Gitinov had pledged to step up the fight against organized crime in Dagestan. JB



TAJIKISTAN RECEIVES $56 MILLION PLEDGES AT DONOR CONFERENCE

At the international donor conference in Vienna, Tajikistan received pledges worth $56.6 million, some $9.4 million short of the $65 million Tajikistan had hoped for. UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem nonetheless found the results "overwhelming in view of critical comments about security" in the Central Asian state. The money will used for demobilizing the army, preparing for multi-party elections to the parliament, the resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, and generally repairing the country's damaged economy. The Vienna conference was attended by more than 100 representatives from 40 countries. BP

MORE ARRESTS IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajik law enforcement authorities on 25 November arrested another group of people in connection with the 18 November kidnapping of two French nationals. Following searches of villages outside the capital, 23 people were taken into custody. Tajik officials said some of those detained may have been involved in the wave of bombings that have plagued Dushanbe since early September. The location of the two hostages is still not known, but officials say the group responsible for the kidnapping may have taken up to 12 local villagers captive as well. The U.S. embassy on 24 November warned U.S. citizens to leave the country, questioning the ability of Tajik law enforcement bodies to protect them. BP

U.S. OFFICIAL CRITICIZES TURKMENISTAN OVER HUMAN RIGHTS

Michael Hathaway, a member of the U.S. delegation to the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe conference in Warsaw on 25 November, has sharply criticized Turkmenistan for failing to respect human rights, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Polish capital reported. Hathaway charged that Turkmenistan "still finds political dissidents mentally ill and incarcerates them in psychiatric institutions." He claimed the country's "misuse of mental institutions against political dissidents violates...the most fundamental norms of human decency." Hathaway called on Turkmenistan to "put an end" to such practices and urged the OSCE to "settle for nothing else." BP

TURKMEN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1998 BUDGET

Legislators on 25 November approved the 1998 state budget, ITAR-TASS reported. Revenues are set at 6.4 trillion manat ($1.5 billion) and expenditures at 6.6 billion manat ($1.58 billion). The budget deficit is not expected to exceed 1.4 percent of GDP. BP

NAZARBAYEV IN GERMANY

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, meeting in Bonn with leading German officials on 25 November, encouraged Germany to invest in his country's oil and gas reserves. Nazarbayev also discussed the situation of ethnic Germans living in Kazakhstan. German officials said they are pleased with the improved conditions of Kazakhstan's ethnic German community and said more efforts will be made on its behalf. Both sides agreed it is desirable to keep those Germans in Kazakhstan and thereby "create a bridge between both nations." BP

ARMENIAN, TURKISH BUSINESSMEN SIGN PROTOCOL

Meeting in Istanbul on 25 November, a delegation from the Union of Businessmen and Industrialists of Armenia signed a protocol with a group of Turkish businessmen calling for the normalization of bilateral economic ties, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 26 November. Union President Aram Vardanian argued that opening a border crossing between Turkey and Armenia would contribute to resolving unemployment in eastern Turkey and to attracting investment to both countries. During their four-day visit to Turkey, the Armenian delegation held unofficial meetings with Trade and Industry Minister Yalim Erez and Minister of State Eyup Asik. Asik stressed the interest of all members of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization to resolve the Karabakh conflict, according to ArmenPress. Armenia and Turkey do not have diplomatic relations. LF

GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER DISPUTE INTENSIFIES

The Georgian parliament's Committee for Defense and Security issued a statement on 25 November criticizing the Russian Federal Border Service's unilateral decision to move its Verkhnii Lars frontier post 1 kilometer into Georgian territory, CaucasusPress reported. The committee intends to raise again the question of abrogating the bilateral agreement whereby Georgia's frontiers with Russia are jointly patrolled by Russian and Georgian troops. LF




UKRAINE'S ECONOMIC PROBLEMS MOUNT

President Kuchma said on 25 November that he is extremely worried about the stability of the country's currency, the hryvna, Interfax reported. In order to cope with Ukraine's economic problems, Kuchma has done a turnabout and now backs Russian participation in the operation of Ukrainian oil refineries, many of which have been working at significantly reduced capacity. And in another indication that Ukraine faces difficulties, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 November that 24 Ukrainian ships are now being held in ports around the world owing to non-payment of various fees. PG

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES CRIMEAN PARLIAMENT

In a sharply worded letter, President Leonid Kuchma told the Crimean parliament that some of its recent actions--including a measure granting the Russian language primacy on the peninsula--were incorrect and "intentionally disruptive," Ukrainian media reported on 25 November. Kuchma urged the legislators to reverse those decisions themselves lest they be overturned by Kyiv. PG

WARSAW MARCHERS PROTEST BELARUSIAN NEWSPAPER CLOSURE

A small group of demonstrators gathered in front of the Belarusian embassy in the Polish capital on 25 November to denounce Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decision to close the "Svaboda" newspaper, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The protest was organized by the Belarusian Popular Front, Solidarity, and other groups. In a related development, editors from five East European countries issued a joint statement denouncing Lukashenka's decision and arguing that now virtually "anything is possible" in Belarus, including a return to totalitarianism. PG

POLISH COURT REVISITS JARUZELSKI CASE

A court in Gdansk on 24 November asked doctors to determine whether former Polish leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski, 74, and four of his associates are well enough to stand trial, PAP reported. The five are charged with organizing a bloody crackdown on a strike in 1970. PG

RUSSIA'S SERGEEV SAYS BALTICS NEED NOT FEAR MOSCOW

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has reassured the Baltic States they have nothing to fear from Russia even if they have rejected President Boris Yeltsin's offer of security guarantees, BNS reported on 25 November. Speaking upon his arrival in Norway, where he was scheduled to meet with his Nordic counterparts, Sergeev said "Russia will never resort to force in solving problems with the Baltic States." He added that he cannot understand the Baltics' "lingering fear" of Russia, given that "the Russia of the present is not the same as the Russia of the past." Meanwhile in neighboring Sweden, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis told the Swedish Foreign Policy Institute that Riga wants to see Russia involved in the "political development" of Europe, according to BNS. JC

U.S.-BALTIC CHARTER TO BE SIGNED MID-JANUARY

Estonian Ambassador to the U.S. Kalev Stoicescu told VOA on 25 November that the U.S. and Baltic presidents will meet in Washington on 16 January to sign a charter setting down principles and values recognized by the four countries. The signing of the document, originally planned for December, was postponed after tensions arose between the U.S. and Iraq over UN weapons inspections. The charter is to be non-binding and will contain no security guarantees. JC

WARS CRIMES SUSPECT DIES IN LITHUANIA

Antanas Mineikis, long suspected of war crimes during Lithuania's occupation by Nazi Germany, has died aged 80 in a Lithuanian retirement home, BNS reported on 25 November, citing "Respublika." Mineikis had recently suffered a stroke. In 1992, he was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and deported to Lithuania for concealing his activities in a Nazi-led execution squad. Lithuanian authorities launched an investigation into his past but later announced they were unable to gather enough evidence to indict him. JC

HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST DEPUTY URGED TO RESIGN

A screening panel has urged Socialist parliamentary deputy Matyas Szuros to resign after it found he had access to secret service data during the communist era, Hungarian media reported on 26 November. The judges' ruling says that as a member of the Secretariat of the Socialist Workers Party's Central Committee, parliamentary speaker, and acting Hungarian president in 1989, Szuros received reports on internal security. According to the screening law, if he refuses to resign within 30 days, details of his past will be made public. In his capacity as then speaker of the parliament, Szuros had proclaimed the Republic of Hungary on 23 October 1989. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ON SITUATION OF ROMA

Addressing a conference on the situation of Hungary's Romani population, Gyula Horn said the country is "still far from seeing the position of Roma change substantially," Hungarian media reported on 26 November. Horn said it is unacceptable that social benefits should be the sole source of income for a family, and he called on Gypsies to exclude from their ranks those who want to live by crime. Labor Minister Peter Kiss asserted that affirmative action is needed to provide jobs for Roma. Similarly, Florian Farkas, the chairman of the National Romani Government, said the inequality between the majority population and the Romani minority can be done away with only if additional funds are allocated for Roma. MSZ




WESTENDORP WARNS OF NEW WAR

Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in London on 25 November that war could return to the former Yugoslav republic if the peacekeepers' mandate is not extended beyond the June 1998 expiration date. Westendorp stated that "if [SFOR] leaves now, I am sure war, the killings, and ethnic cleansing will come back. It will take at least two to three more years before we no longer need the troops." PM

OSCE CRITICIZES BOSNIAN SERB VOTE

Niels Helveg Petersen, the chairman of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which supervised the 22-23 November Bosnian Serb parliamentary elections, said in Copenhagen on 25 November that the vote "fell far short of normal democratic standards." He added that "the political level of this vote was not very high." In Sarajevo, an OSCE spokesman said no official results will be published until all the votes are counted, which will be 10 December at the earliest. In Mostar, an OSCE spokesman denied that the delay in announcing the outcome will allow the results to be manipulated, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. PM

EU PLEDGES $7.5 MILLION FOR SARAJEVO BUILDINGS

A spokesman for the EU said in Sarajevo on 25 November that Brussels has allocated $7.5 million to rebuild Sarajevo's historical city hall and other important buildings destroyed or damaged during the Serbian siege from 1992-1995. Rebuilding the Technical High School and the Olympic stadium complex will also have priority, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. PM

MOSTAR CROATS BAN FRIENDSHIP RACE

Croatian authorities in Mostar on 25 November banned the Muslim-organized Bridges of Friendship 1997 marathon race from the Croatian half of the divided city. The Croatian police said that they could not guarantee the safety of the runners. UN police officials, however, called the Croatian decision "purely political." They added that the Croats had ample time to take sufficient security precautions. Meanwhile in nearby Serb-held Trebinje, a hand grenade exploded under a vehicle belonging to EU monitors. PM

U.S. DEFENDS SOROS'S WORK IN CROATIA

A State Department spokesman said on 25 November that the Croatian government was wrong to take legal measures against George Soros's Open Society Institute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997). The spokesman added that Washington "remains concerned about the Croatian government's discussion of draft legal measures and selective application of existing legal measures, including criminal prosecutions and taxation policies, to intimidate prominent opposition journalists and non-governmental organizations. We find unacceptable the public defamation in Croatia of George Soros and the Soros Foundation, which we believe is making a valuable contribution...to free speech and democratization." PM

WAR BLAMED FOR RISE IN CROATIAN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Deputy Prime Minister Ljerka Mintas-Hodak said in Zagreb on 25 November that psychological and other problems stemming from the 1991-1995 war are to blame for the recent growth in domestic violence. She added that instances of wife-beating have risen by 11 percent so far in 1997, compared with last year. She noted that many women do not report violence to the police or are unable to defend their rights in court because they lack the money to do so. Mintas-Hodak added that a center for battered women in Zagreb has looked after 850 women since it opened in 1990 but had to turn away another 2,000 for lack of space. PM

YUGOSLAVIA BARS OWN CITIZENS FROM ENTRY

Several Serbian non-governmental organizations issued a statement on 25 November criticizing the Yugoslav authorities for holding some 50 Yugoslav citizens with valid documents at Belgrade airport for nearly one week and not allowing them to reenter the country. Most of the detained citizens are ethnic Albanians or Muslims who were returning from Germany, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. Albanians and Muslims returning to Yugoslavia often report harassment by the police and other authorities. PM

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE WANTS KOSOVO RECOGNITION

The Albanian parliament's Foreign Relations Committee has asked the government to recognize the Tirana office of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo as an embassy, "Shekulli" reported on 26 November. Committee Chairman Sabri Godo stressed that "Pristina and Tirana need to find a common position on the Kosovo question." The opposition and many Kosovars suspect that Prime Minister Fatos Nano made a deal with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at the Kosovars' expense during the recent Balkan summit on Crete (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997). On 24 November, Albanian opposition leader Sali Berisha charged Kosovar President Rexhep Meidani with treason after Meidani had called Milosevic's party "the lesser evil for Kosovo" in the 7 December Serbian elections. The opposition, for their part, regard Meidani's remarks as further evidence of a deal between Tirana and Belgrade. FS

ALBANIAN COMMUNISTS WANT NEWSPAPER BACK

Spokesmen for the illegal communist Party of Labor of Albania (PPSH) said in Elbasan on 25 November that they will go to court to regain ownership of the former party daily "Zeri i Popullit," which the Socialists now publish, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. The PPSH was banned after the founding of the Socialist Party in 1991. Some die-hard communists were jailed under Berisha. The PPSH expects to be legalized soon and plans to reclaim some of its property. FS

TIRANA STUDENTS END STRIKE

Secondary students in Tirana ended a strike on 25 November after the authorities agreed to raise the students' monthly allowance by $11 and to improve standards in dormitories. It is unclear whether students outside the capital have accepted the offer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1997). PM

ROMANIAN SENATE SAYS ROMANIAN LANGUAGE MANDATORY

The Senate on 25 November agreed to change the education law in order to make mandatory the study of the Romanian language in all schools, regardless of the ethnic origins of the pupils, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Bucharest. The legislation specifies that pupils must study Romanian because it is the official state language. The new measures also require all pupils to complete eight years of basic education and to remain in school until age 16. PM

ROMANIA, BULGARIA, TURKEY TO COMBAT PKK

Following his one-day visit to Bucharest, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel said in Ankara on 25 November that Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria will soon sign an agreement to fight organized crime and Kurdish separatists. The three countries' heads of state reached a basic agreement on the issue in Varna in early October. PM

BULGARIA TO JOIN NATO IN SECOND ROUND?

NATO Assistant Secretary-General Norman Ray said in Sofia on 25 November after meeting with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov that Bulgaria will find itself "in a very strong position" for NATO membership if it continues with its political and economic reforms. NATO has promised to consider admitting more new members from Eastern Europe in 1999. Ray noted that the Bulgarian arms industry is strong in communications, electronics, small arms, ammunition, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. He added, however, that Bulgaria needs to improve its marketing because its products are little known abroad. PM




LIGHT AT THE END OF THE ABKHAZ TUNNEL?


by Liz Fuller

Abkhaz and Georgian delegations met in Geneva from 17-19 November for a second round of talks under the aegis of the UN Secretary-General's Friends of Georgia group, which comprises the U.S., Germany, France, and the U.K (Russia has observer status within that group). The meeting had been postponed for five weeks at the request of the Abkhaz side and was preceded by a sharp deterioration in Georgia's relations with both Abkhazia and Russia. Yet despite the inauspicious omens, the outcome of the talks--in conjunction with earlier Georgian domestic political developments--gives grounds for cautious optimism that gradual progress towards resolving the conflict is possible.

The UN had assumed a more active role in trying to mediate a political settlement of the deadlocked Abkhaz conflict in late July, following the failure of an intensive Russian effort to persuade the Abkhaz and Georgian leaderships to sign a Russian-drafted peace protocol. The first round of talks to be sponsored by the Friends of Georgia yielded an agreement between Tbilisi and Abkhazia to desist from the threat or use of violence against each other--a pledge that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba, reaffirmed at their meeting in Tbilisi in mid-August. That meeting paved the way for lower-level government talks on restoring economic ties between the central government in Tbilisi and the breakaway Black Sea province.

Significant progress toward that goal was precluded, however, by Tbilisi's refusal to lift economic sanctions on Abkhazia until an estimated 200,000 ethnic Georgian displaced persons are allowed to return to the homes they had been forced to flee during the 1992-1993 war . (The Abkhaz, for their part, want repatriation delayed until sanctions have been lifted and the region's devastated economy has begun to recover.) On 13 November, the Abkhaz government drastically reduced electricity supplies to Georgia to protest an explosion at a substation in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. It blamed Georgian guerrilla formations for that incident.

One week earlier, on 7 November, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had signed a decree allowing the sale to Russia without Tbilisi's prior permission of Abkhaz agricultural produce. Such sales were prohibited in early 1996 at Georgia's insistence. Russia's unilateral decision elicited an outraged response from Shevardnadze, who accused Chernomyrdin of creating "special hot-house conditions" for Abkhaz "separatists."

Despite those setbacks, the Abkhaz and Georgian delegations in Geneva agreed to create a coordinating commission to oversee the activities of three working groups that will address security, repatriation, and economic and social issues. Moreover, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists on his return to Tbilisi that the atmosphere at the talks had been "far more constructive" than at the meeting in late July. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov noted, in an infelicitous marriage of metaphors, that the two sides had opted to "untie political knots by small but frequent steps" instead of focusing on the issue of Abkhazia's future political status.

In particular, the working group dealing with security issues, which will meet at least once a week, could make a significant contribution to confidence building. The group will seek to neutralize the various guerrilla formations currently active in Gali Raion, especially the Georgian White Legion, which systematically targets members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia.

The working groups have another advantage insofar as they create a forum for low-level but regular talks on practical issues. This contrasts with the high-level UN- and Russian-mediated talks aimed at persuading both sides to sign a more comprehensive document. Those talks have regularly raised, and then failed to fulfill, expectations.

Recent rifts in the ranks of the ethnic Georgian displaced persons may similarly expedite the negotiating process. At a recent congress of displaced persons in Tbilisi, delegates accused some members of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile (which is composed of the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1990) of misappropriating financial aid intended for displaced persons.

Those charges apparently prompted the parliament in exile to align itself with the Georgian leadership. (Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the parliament, had consistently exerted pressure on the Georgian leadership by advocating a military campaign to restore Tbilisi's jurisdiction over Abkhazia).In return, the exiled parliament received the right to nominate a representative who would belong to the Georgian delegation to the Geneva talks. The "Abkhazeti" faction within the Georgian parliament is similarly threatened by internal dissent over Russia's role as a mediator in the Abkhaz conflict.

Such disagreements have reduced the displaced persons' collective ability to exert pressure on the Georgian leadership, thereby making the policy of "small but frequent steps" a viable option. But it is still uncertain whether progress toward resolving practical issues can be parlayed into a formal political agreement on Abkhazia's status within Georgia.


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