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Newsline - January 14, 1998




YELTSIN DEMANDS POLICIES TO STIMULATE ECONOMIC GROWTH

President Boris Yeltsin told First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 13 January that the government must provide for economic growth of 2-4 percent in 1998, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. During a meeting in Valdai, where Yeltsin has been vacationing since 4 January, the president instructed the government to implement several key policies to make 1998 the "year of economic growth." In particular, he called for reducing taxes and securing the adoption of a new tax code; tackling the problem of non-payments; restructuring social benefits so that only the needy receive financial support from the state; and lowering interest rates. Those policy priorities are virtually identical to the ones outlined by Nemtsov during an interview with NTV on 12 January. The government has previously predicted GDP growth of 2 percent in 1998. LB

FINANCE MINISTER SKEPTICAL ON GROWTH PROSPECTS

Mikhail Zadornov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January that he is not optimistic that Russia will experience economic growth in 1998. He argued that the instability on Russian financial markets during the last quarter of 1997 set the country's growth prospects back at least half a year because of significant rises in interest rates. Zadornov added that those rates are unlikely to be lowered to a level that will facilitate borrowing by enterprises until the second quarter of 1998 at the earliest. He also argued that delays in implementing tax reform have taken their toll on prospects for economic growth. It will take at least six months for the government and parliament to work out a new tax code that could stimulate domestic industry, he said. LB

FOOTAGE OF YELTSIN SHOWN ON TV

Major Russian television networks on 13 January showed brief clips of Yeltsin riding a snowmobile in Valdai and talking with Nemtsov. In the only footage in which Yeltsin's voice could be heard, the president was telling Nemtsov and other aides about ice fishing. It was the first television footage of Yeltsin in more than two weeks, not counting recorded holiday addresses. On 14 January, Communist State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Mikhailov called on the Duma demand a report on Yeltsin's health, but his proposal was not put to a vote, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB

DUMA DELAYS THIRD READING OF BUDGET

The Duma Council decided on 13 January to postpone the third reading of the budget from 23 January to 4 February, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to Duma Budget Committee Acting Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov, the deputies need extra time to consider more than 3,000 proposed amendments to the document. The budget must pass four readings in the Duma before going to the Federation Council and then to the president. LB

RUSSIA WELCOMES IRAN'S OLIVE BRANCH TO U.S.

Moscow welcomes Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's 7 January affirmation that his country is ready to end its confrontation with the U.S. and step up bilateral dialogue, Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told journalists in Moscow on 13 January. Nesterushkin said that the normalization of U.S.-Iranian relations would impact favorably on the situation in the Middle East. He noted that Khatami had emphasized in his 7 January interview with CNN that Iran has no plans to develop nuclear weapons and that it condemns terrorism. LF

RUSSIA DELIVERS MORE PLANES TO VIETNAM

A Volga-Dnepr Airlines cargo plane has transported two Su-27 fighter planes from Komsomolsk-on-Amur to Vietnam, Interfax reported on 13 January. The first two were delivered in early December, but an An-124 cargo plane transporting two more crashed in Irkutsk later that month. Vietnam is to receive another two fighter planes, but a delay is being caused by the current ban on Russian Air Force An-124 planes while authorities investigate the Irkutsk crash. The director-general of the Sukhoi company that manufactures the fighter planes said if the ban is not lifted, he will contract Volga-Dnepr again. BP

NEW DRAFT NORTH CAUCASUS POLICY ENDORSED

The Russian Ministry of Nationalities and Federal Relations on 12 January approved a draft concept on policy toward the North Caucasus. Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov told journalists that the draft is intended to serve as a basis for adopting measures to overcome the protracted economic and social crises in the region. He added that it will help regulate Chechnya's relations with Moscow and the aftermath of the North Ossetian-Ingush conflict, according to Interfax. But "Izvestiya" on 14 January pointed out that the document affirms seemingly contradictory principles, a commitment to the inviolability of the present borders of the Russian Federation and the ethnic principle of developing Russian federalism, but also allows input from the Russian Foreign Ministry. The daily also cites State Duma deputy Vladimir Lysenko as pointing out that the new North Caucasus policy is a 90 percent duplicate of one adopted in 1992. LF

CHECHEN CABINET LIST SUBMITTED TO PARLIAMENT

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov will continue to hold the post of prime minister in the new cabinet, a list of whose members was submitted to parliament on 13 January, Interfax reported. The cabinet includes five deputy prime ministers, including current acting premier Shamil Basaev, who said that the new government's priorities will be restoring the economy and combating crime. Presidential adviser Mairbek Vachagaev commented that Maskhadov is likely to announce the composition of the new government on 15 January, shortly before he departs on a trip to unspecified countries in the Middle East. LF

ATTACK ON CHECHEN ANTI-KIDNAPPING BRIGADE HQ

Some 100 armed men staged an attack on the Grozny headquarters of Chechnya's anti-kidnapping squad on 13 January but failed in their alleged aim of securing the release of suspected kidnappers detained there. A similar attack took place last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1997). There are currently 27 separate Chechen groups engaged in abductions, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 January, quoting the Chechen Prosecutor-General's office. Interfax quoted unnamed Russian government sources as claiming there are 300 armed groups in Chechnya with a combined strength of 2,500 men who are beyond the control of the Chechen authorities. The largest of these is the General Dudaev Army, commanded by maverick field commander Salman Raduev, which numbers approximately 1,000 troops. LF

NEW HEAD OF TREASURY APPOINTED

Duma deputy Tatyana Nesterenko of the Russian Regions faction has been appointed head of the Federal Treasury to replace Aleksandr Smirnov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 January. Nesterenko headed the finance department of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug before being elected to the Duma, where she served on the Budget Committee. Mikhail Zadornov chaired that committee before he became finance minister in November. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Nesterenko's appointment demonstrates that Zadornov has significant leeway in personnel matters. The newspaper claimed that First Deputy Prime Minister and former Finance Minister Anatolii Chubais was displeased with Smirnov's work but unable to secure his removal. In addition, Zadornov's former top aide on the Duma Budget Committee, Mikhail Motorin, was recently appointed deputy finance minister in place of Sergei Shatalov, who oversaw the drafting of the tax code. LB

BLAME GAME ON WAGE ARREARS CONTINUES...

During their meeting in Valdai, Yeltsin supported a proposal by Nemtsov to survey mayors of some 2000 cities to find out whether federal funds are going astray in the regions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 January. Appearing on NTV the previous day, Nemtsov claimed the federal government has "over-fulfilled" its obligations on helping pay wage arrears. He again said regional leaders are responsible for the failure to pay the debts in a few regions. However, Vera Orlova, the deputy head of the Tomsk Oblast finance department, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview that chronic underfunding by the federal government in other areas sometimes forces regional authorities to divert funds from wage payments to essential needs such as coal and oil for heating during the winter. LB

...AS GOVERNOR SAYS REGIONS STILL OWED MONEY

Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel charged on 13 January that cabinet officials are not being truthful when they claim that the federal government has settled all its debts to the regions, ITAR-TASS reported. Rossel said the government has not fulfilled a commitment approved months ago by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to loan 400 billion old rubles ($67 million) to Sverdlovsk. Just 233 billion rubles have arrived in Sverdlovsk, and only in late December. Consequently, Rossel said, Sverdlovsk has had to borrow money from banks in order to pay all wage arrears to state employees, which totaled some 400 billion rubles at the end of 1997. He added that there is no telling when the government will pay its debts to the Urals military district or to the defense industry. Many manufacturers of military equipment are located in Sverdlovsk. LB

REGIONS TO PAY BACK SOME LAST-MINUTE FUNDS FOR WAGES?

Finance Minister Zadornov says that in 1998 regional governments will be obliged to return to the federal budget some of the funds they received in December 1997 in order to pay wage arrears. The federal government allocated some 14.5 trillion old rubles ($2.4 billion) to the regions to pay the back wages, including 3.2 trillion rubles in extra funds for regions that were unable to pay their share to settle the wage debts. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January, Zadornov said that the extra 3.2 trillion rubles were allocated in the form of loans that must be repaid in 1998. LB

GOVERNMENT CREATES FEDERAL DEBT CENTER

The government has created a Federal Debt Center to oversee sales of property belonging to debtor enterprises, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 January. Such sales may be authorized by courts or certain institutions, such as the tax police. "Kommersant-Daily" argued that the Federal Bankruptcy Service lobbied for creating the center in response to Russia's new law on bankruptcy, which was signed by Yeltsin earlier this month. That law deprived the Federal Bankruptcy Service of the right to initiate bankruptcy procedures against enterprises. "Rossiiskie vesti," the official newspaper of the presidential administration, reported on 14 January that the creation of the Federal Debt Center is linked to the recent controversy over the attempt by a government commission to order the seizure and sale of property belonging to persistent tax debtors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 December 1997). LB

HEAD OF GAZPROM-MEDIA EXPLAINS GOALS

Viktor Ilyushin, the head of the media holding of the gas monopoly Gazprom, says Gazprom-Media will intervene in the editorial policy of media outlets it partly owns or finances. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 January, Ilyushin explained that Gazprom is "not indifferent as to who will govern the regions, who will pass laws, and what kind of government we will have." Asked why Gazprom created a subsidiary to manage its media assets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997), Ilyushin said that "we should legalize our conjugal relations with certain mass media. We have had friendly relations, but you don't get far today on friendship alone." "Kommersant-Daily" reported that the main task of Gazprom-Media will be to support a presidential bid by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. In addition, Gazprom-Media is compiling a database of all Russian journalists. LB

BOMB EXPLODES NEAR GOVERNOR'S CAR IN YEKATERINBURG

A bomb exploded on 14 January at the side of a Yekaterinburg road as a car carrying Sverdlovsk Governor Rossel passed by, RFE/RL's correspondent in Yekaterinburg reported. Rossel was not hurt in the blast. Police are investigating the explosion as a possible assassination attempt. Rossel, one of Russia's more prominent regional leaders, was sacked by Yeltsin as governor of Sverdlovsk in 1993 but regained the post in the August 1995 election. LB

RUSSIA TO HOLD CENSUS NEXT YEAR

Russia will conduct a census in November 1999, the first to be held there since the Soviet census in January 1989, "Segodnya" reported on 10 January. In addition to specifying their age, gender, and occupation, respondents will be asked to designate their nationality (which is not included in the new Russian passports currently being issued), their fluency in foreign languages, and details of their employment and living conditions. In January 1989, the population of the RSFSR was 147,386,000, while on 1 November 1997, that of the Russian Federation totaled 147,200,000. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan will also conduct censuses in 1999. LF




ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP DIVIDED OVER KARABAKH?

Serious differences emerged within the Armenian leadership during the 7-8 January Security Council meeting, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 14 January, citing the independent daily "Aravot." The newspaper quotes an unidentified source as saying President Levon Ter- Petrossyan's conciliatory position was backed by Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghian and parliamentary leaders. Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, and Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian supported the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which has rejected the most recent peace proposal of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. Presidential spokesman Levon Zurabian denied that Ter-Petrossyan threatened to split into two the Interior and National Security Ministry, headed by Karabakh-born Serzh Sarkisian. That threat reportedly prompted Kocharian, also a native of Karabakh, to tender his resignation, which Ter-Petrossyan refused to accept. LF

GEORGIA ACCUSES ABKHAZIA OF GENOCIDE...

The Georgian Foreign Ministry on13 January issued a statement claiming that the allegedly "barbaric" detention of ethnic Georgians in Gali Raion on 7 January is part of a "policy of ethnic purges and genocide" against the breakaway republic's ethnic Georgian population, Interfax reported. The Abkhaz police detained 30 Georgian bus passengers on 7 January to check their identity papers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 January 1998). The Georgian statement further appealed for stronger international support, primarily from the UN, for Tbilisi's efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict. LF

...WHILE ABKHAZIA DENIES CHARGES

Also on 13 January, Igor Akhba, Abkhazia's permanent representative in Moscow, rejected the Georgian Foreign Ministry's charges of genocide, saying the new Abkhaz passport checks introduced last month are aimed solely at combatting crime. The same day, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry condemned any attempt to resolve the dead-locked conflict by force. Since 1 January, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has twice suggested that the international community could mount a peace-keeping operation in Abkhazia similar to that in Bosnia. Meeting in Tbilisi in August1997, Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba, rejected the use of force in resolving their differences. LF

CHERNOMYRDIN IN TURKMENISTAN

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 13 January. The two signed an agreement avoiding double-taxation did not conclude an accord on shipping natural gas via Russia, which was Chernomyrdin's publicized reason for visiting Turkmenistan. Chernomyrdin was accompanied by a Gazprom delegation headed by the company chairman, Rem Vyakhirev. Turkmenistan has complained about the high costs of using Russian pipelines and that Russia buys Turkmen gas for half its real value. BP

KUNAEV COMMEMORATED

A mass meeting took place in Almaty on 12 January to mark the 86th anniversary of the birth of Dinmuhammed Kunaev, former CPSU Politburo full member and First Secretary of the Kazakh Communist Central Committee from 1964 to 1986, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported the next day. Kunaev's ouster in December 1986 and his replacement by ethnic Russian Gennadii Kolbin sparked mass protest demonstrations in Almaty in which dozens of people were killed. Kunaev died in 1993. Also on 12 January, prayers were held at his grave in Almaty's Kentau cemetery. LF

MAJOR INCREASE IN GOLD PRODUCTION IN KYRGYZSTAN

The state gold company Kyrgyzaltyn announced on 13 January that gold production reached 17 tons last year, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. That total is a major increase over the 1996 figure of 1.5 tons. The boost in production is attributed to the Kumtor mining operation, a joint venture with Canada's Cameco Corp., which began full operations last year. Although the gold produced in 1997 has an estimated value of $176 million, the Kyrgyz state budget received only about $8 million from the gold industry last year. BP




UKRAINE BACKTRACKS ON CURRENCY EXCHANGE CORRIDOR

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Tigipko on 13 January announced that a new trading corridor for the hryvna will soon be made public. The central bank previously set a 1.75-1.95 hryvna to $1 range for the first six months of this year. But many currency traders think the government cannot maintain that range for the battered currency. The National Bank had to abandon a corridor for the hryvna in November when it was unable to defend the currency against massive selling. PB

BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS COUP REPORT TAKEN SERIOUSLY

Ivan Antonovich said in a state television interview on 13 January that the government must react seriously to the report of an alleged plan by the opposition to overthrow the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1998). "In other European countries, such events are classified as an attempted coup," he said. Opposition leaders have called the charges ridiculous. "It is clear the authorities are preparing a wave of repression against dissidents," said Valery Buyval, a spokesman for the opposition Belarusian Popular Front. PB

NEW STRATEGY IN ORT JOURNALIST TRIAL?

Defense lawyers for Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist Pavel Sheremet and his cameraman Dmitriy Zavadskiy are considering filing criminal charges against a group of Russian and Belarusian parliamentary deputies for illegally crossing the border, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 January. The lawyers claim that the deputies, who met last June at an inter-parliamentary session of the assembly of the Russia-Belarus union, crossed the border in the same fashion as Sheremet and Zavadskiy did when they were arrested on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border the following month. The case against the deputies would include charges against Paval Shypuk and Anatol Malafejeu, the heads of the two chambers of the Belarusian National Assembly, and Gennadii Seleznev, speaker of the Russian State Duma. PB

MOSCOW DAILY COMMENTS ON U.S.-BALTIC CHARTER

"Segodnya" on 13 January wrote that Washington's indirect support for the Baltic States' bid to join NATO and its decision to set up a joint U.S.-Baltic partnership committee signal the failure of Moscow's proposal to set up a security zone in the region, according to BNS. At the same time, the newspaper pointed out that the charter is so generally worded and U.S. politicians' statements on NATO and the Baltic States so "cautious" that they are unlikely to bring those countries any closer to the Atlantic alliance (see also "End Note" below). JC

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT GIVES INITIAL APPROVAL TO EXTRADITION BILL

The government on 13 January approved in principle a bill regulating the extradition of illegal immigrants and the refusal of entry to undesirable individuals, ETA reported. Under that bill, the authorities could demand that an illegal immigrant leave the country within 15 days; in the case of a non-citizen whose residence permit is revoked, that deadline could be extended to 60 days. Interior Minister Robert Lepikson estimates the number of illegal immigrants in Estonia at 70,000. JC

MOSCOW ADMITS RUSSIAN UNIVERSITIES IN ESTONIA ILLEGAL

The Russian Education Ministry has admitted that several Russian universities have opened branches in Estonia without obtaining licenses from either country, ETA reported on 13 January. The activities of those universities contravene Estonian and Russian legislation, the Russian Education Ministry said. At talks in Moscow last week, Estonian and Russian officials agreed that a bilateral agreement must be concluded before Russian universities can open branches in Estonia. According to Estonian Minster of Education Mait Klaassen, the illegal university branches in Estonia have made it impossible to reach such an agreement. JC

POLISH TRANSPORT STRIKE EASED

Public transport officials in Poznan have decided to downgrade their six-day-old strike, Reuters reported on 13 January. Drivers will go back to work but will not accept fares from passengers. They will also hold hunger strikes and block roads to back their demand for a 21 percent wage hike. City officials are offering a 17 percent raise. PB

CZECH PRESIDENT'S RE-ELECTION SEEMS CERTAIN

President Vaclav Havel on 13 January said he will dissolve the parliament immediately and call early elections if he is re-elected for a second term and if the constitutional preconditions for dissolving the legislature are met. Havel's re-election appears secured following the decision on 13 January of 30 Civic Democratic Party deputies--out of a total of 69--to quit their formation and set up a new party. That party, to be called the Freedom Union, is expected to back Havel's candidacy. Also on 13 January, former dissenting members of the other ruling conservative party, the Civic Democratic Alliance, set up a new formation, the Party of Democratic Accord. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS POSTPONED

The chairman of the Slovak parliament on 13 January told journalists that the presidential elections scheduled for 23 January will be postponed by six days to avoid clashing with the summit of Central European leaders due to be held in Levoca, eastern Slovakia, on the same day. Ivan Gasparovic said he had forgotten about the summit when announcing the original date of the elections, stressing that this had been "unintentional." MS

HUNGARIAN LEFTIST FORCES SIGN ELECTION PACT

The governing Socialist Party (MSZP) on 13 January signed an election cooperation agreement with the Social Democratic Party (MSZDP) and the Agrarian Alliance, Hungarian media reported. The Agrarian Alliance will not field its own candidates in the next elections, but four of its members will be included on the Socialist national list. The MSZP and MSZDP will run independently but will not campaign against each other. Prime Minister and MSZP chairman Gyula Horn described the unity of left-wing forces as an important goal, while MSZDP chairman Laszlo Kapolyi said his party would like to see the Left remain in power. MSZ

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS NATO COMMANDER

Wesley Clark, the supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, has urged Hungarian Defense Minister Gyorgy Keleti to prepare the Hungarian military for NATO accession, Hungarian media reported. The two men met in Mons, Belgium, on 13 January. The alliance expects the Hungarian military to improve soldiers' command of English, familiarize them with NATO standards and regulations, and improve the level of training. MSZ




MONTENEGRO'S BULATOVIC CLIMBS DOWN

Outgoing Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic and his rival, President-elect Milo Djukanovic, began talks on 14 January to resolve their differences (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 13 January 1998). Bulatovic announced the talks after talks on 12 January with visiting Yugoslav Prime Minister Radoje Kontic, a representative of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is also Bulatovic's political supporter. Observers suggested that the Belgrade leadership, under pressure from the U.S. and the international community, has told Bulatovic to stop his efforts aimed at blocking Djukanovic's smooth succession to the presidency on 15 January. The Belgrade daily "Nasa Borba" reported that Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who is a key ally of Milosevic, will attend Djukanovic's inauguration. PM

KOSOVO SERBS CONTINUE PROTESTS

The Bozur [Peony] Society, which represents Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo, held a rally in Kosovo Polje on 13 January. Speakers said that Serbian authorities in Belgrade assured Bozur's delegation the previous day that Serbia will not allow Albanian "nationalists and extremists" to practice "terrorism" against the Kosovo Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1998). The speakers did not say whether the delegation spoke with Milosevic, as Bozur's leader Bogdan Kecman had earlier demanded. Kecman and other speakers promised to continue to hold rallies in various parts of Kosovo until Belgrade gives more support to the Kosovo Serbs and until the Albanians stop "threatening the Serbs with war," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina. PM

KOSOVO LIBERATION ARMY CONTROLS OWN TERRITORY

The clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army UCK) is firmly in control of an area of about 60 square kilometers around the town of Srbica, the Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" reported from Kosovo on 14 January. The UCK's goal is to establish an independent state consisting of Kosovo and parts of western Macedonia, where the population is mainly Albanian, the daily added. PM

UN EXTENDS MANDATE IN PREVLAKA

The UN Security Council voted unanimously in New York on 13 January to extend until 15 July the mandate of the military observer mission monitoring the demilitarization of the Prevlaka peninsula. Prevlaka is Croatian territory but is claimed by Belgrade because it controls access to the Bay of Kotor, where Yugoslavia's only deep-water naval base is located. The Croatian media have suggested on several occasions in recent years that President Franjo Tudjman might be willing to exchange Prevlaka for Serbian-held Bosnian territory near Dubrovnik. But they claim he had to abandon his plans under pressure from the international community and from domestic public opinion. PM

U.S., MILOSEVIC BACK PLAVSIC'S PRIME MINISTER

Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 13 January that both Milosevic and visiting U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard endorse her nominee, Mladen Ivanic, for the post of prime minister. Meanwhile in Pale, hard-line leader Momcilo Krajisnik confirmed that Milosevic backs Ivanic, but he said that the ultra-nationalist parties, which won a plurality of the vote in the 1997 legislative elections, will insist on naming their own prime minister. Current Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic called Ivanic a "tool of foreign interests." PM

BOSNIA NAMES 32 AMBASSADORS

The members of the three-man joint presidency agreed in Sarajevo on 13 January on a list of 32 ambassadors. An RFE/RL correspondent reported that the presidency could not agree, however, on who would be the ambassador to the U.S. The Serbs have insisted on this key post for themselves, while the Muslims have suggested that it go to a Jew or to someone else who is neither Serbian, Croatian, nor Muslim. The international community has been applying pressure to all three sides for months in an effort to persuade them to agree on a joint list of ambassadors and on joint institutions. In related news, Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said he may make a decision on establishing a joint Bosnian currency if the three sides cannot resolve the matter themselves. PM

NATO TROOPS SEIZE ILLEGAL SERB ARMS

Over the past few days, Danish SFOR troops confiscated two tons of arms from the homes of Bosnian Serbs in the Ozren area between Doboj and Tuzla. A NATO spokesman said in Tuzla on 13 January that there were no casualties in the operation, code-named "Big Bad Wolf." PM

TOUGH YEAR AHEAD FOR SLOVENIA

Foreign Minister Boris Frlec said in Ljubljana on 13 January that "the year 1998 will be one of the toughest for Slovenia's domestic and foreign policies because of the extensive and difficult tasks ahead of us." Frlec added that his top priority is to negotiate Slovenia's entry into the EU, which he hopes will be completed by 2003. He also noted that "we are involved in intensive dialogue with NATO and we have to prove this year that we can join the alliance because a decision on further NATO enlargement will be made at the beginning of 1999." PM

BOMBS DESTROY SOCIALIST HQ IN GJIROKASTER

Three large bombs destroyed the Socialist Party headquarters and damaged the local prosecutor's office in the Socialist stronghold of Gjirokaster on 13 January. The neighboring offices of the city's prefecture and the municipality were also damaged. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which resulted in no casualties. Socialist parliamentary faction leader Pandeli Majko said the attack had a "clearly political background," but he dismissed allegations by local Socialist leader Besnik Shehu that the opposition Democratic Party may have been involved, "Koha Jone" reported. It was the 15th bomb blast in Gjirokaster since 13 December. Other attacks have targeted the former family home of communist dictator Enver Hoxha, an overpass, and a children's home. FS

FORMER ALBANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER INVESTIGATED FOR ARMS TRAFFICKING

The Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating former Defense Minister Safet Zhulali and some former high-ranking military officers for arms smuggling, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 14 January. Former Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi, however, told the daily that the previous Democratic Party government was not involved in any illegal deals. He claimed that all revenues from legal arms trade have been properly accounted for. Unnamed officials in the office claim that the state budget does not include any revenues from arms sales. FS

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION OF ROMANIA ON COALITION CRISIS

The Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) Council has expressed the hope that the Democratic Party's National Council, which meets on 14 January to discuss the coalition crisis, will opt for continuing the coalition. CDR chairman Ion Diaconescu argued that although opinion surveys indicate that the CDR might increase its strength in the parliament if early elections are held, "national interest" is more important. Diaconescu also warned that if the coalition is dismembered, the Democrats will lose their posts in both local and central government structures. He said such an upheaval would unavoidably "harm the country's economic and political stability," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

TRANSPORTATION MINISTER ON CRISIS

Traian Basescu says he has "nothing to retract" from his criticism of the government and that consequently "my decision to resign from the government is irrevocable, regardless of the Democratic Party's decision." Democratic Party chairman Petre Roman says the party's National Council is meeting "in order to give the country the means of putting the government on the right reform track." Adrian Nastase, deputy chairman of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania, said that given the Democrats' experience of ruling with "the right," a future alliance between their two formations cannot be ruled out. He added that the best solution to the crisis is early elections, RFE RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

RUSSIAN ARMY IN TRANSDNIESTER PROTESTS ROMANIAN "PROVOCATION"

The command of the Operational Group of Russian Forces deployed in the Transdniester on 13 January officially protested what it called a "gross provocation" by a Romanian general. On 25 December 1997, the Chisinau newspaper "Mesagerul" published an article by General Mircea Calmaru saying his troops are "capable of giving short shrift to two armies such as those based in the Transdniester." Calmaru heads the 10th Romanian Corps, stationed in Iasi, on the border with Moldova. The Russian command says that it has informed the Russian Ministry of Defense about the general's "rude and insulting" statements, Infotag reported. MS

VOTING PROCEDURES FOR TRANSDNIESTRIANS IN MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS

Presidential counselor Anatol Taranu told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau on 13 January that the Transdniester authorities say that in order to vote in the March parliamentary elections, Moldovan citizens in the separatist region will be allowed to "cross the border." The separatists will not allow balloting to take place on the right bank of the Dniester. Meanwhile, the United Social Democratic Party of Moldova and the Speranta [Hope] movement on 13 January set up an electoral alliance that will run as the "Speranta Bloc." MS

EU THREATENS SANCTIONS AGAINST BULGARIA OVER CD PIRACY

European Commission expert Vincent Pincert told an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia on 13 January that rampant compact disc piracy in Bulgaria is damaging the country's bid for eventual EU membership. Pincert added Bulgaria faces international sanctions in the near future as well. He said state and private producers illegally copy some 45 million CDs a year, more than double the piracy rate one year ago. Most pirate CDs are redistributed through Russia or exported directly to the EU, he noted. MS




U.S.-BALTIC CHARTER: MILESTONE ON WAY TO WEST


by Sonia Winter

The presidents of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania arrived in Washington on 13 January to begin three days of highly visible meetings and ceremonies marking the start of a new chapter in their relations with the U.S.

The high point will be on 16 January at the White House with the signing of a U.S.-Baltic Charter of Partnership, which pledges U.S. support for the integration of the three Baltic nations into Western institutions, including NATO.

From the U.S. perspective, the document marks the true beginning of normal state-to-state relations and the end of the long journey of the Baltic States from the 1940 Soviet occupation, through the declaration of independence, and recovery from Soviet dominion in the first half of the 1990s, to genuine sovereignty and continuing democratization in the closing years of the decade.

But for many in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the charter, which took a year to complete, is only another step forward on their way West--one that falls short of initial high hopes.

State Department spokesman James Rubin on 13 January articulated what the charter does, as well as what it does not do. He thereby pinpointed the quiet controversy, kept out of the public eye during the negotiations.

The charter, Rubin said, sets a framework for development of U.S.-Baltic relations and is a clear statement of U.S. support for "Baltic integration into European and transatlantic institutions." He noted that "the U.S. welcomes and supports Baltic aspirations to join NATO." But he also said "the charter is not a security guarantee" and "does not commit the U.S. to [supporting] Baltic membership."

He emphasized that "the charter in fact reaffirms U.S. policy that aspirants can become members only as they prove themselves able and willing to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership."

Although Estonia is generally recognized by experts as being as able and willing as other successful NATO candidates, Baltic leaders have had to accept their exclusion from plans for the first round of NATO expansion, which was confined to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, Moreover, the Baltics may also miss out on a second round of NATO enlargement, expected after 1999. Washington sources say U.S. officials have advised the Baltic governments they will not be able to join NATO anytime soon.

When asked about Baltic membership, the stock reply of U.S. and NATO officials is that enlargement must take into account the interests of the whole alliance and not weaken it in any way. In other words, U.S. and NATO officials say concern about Russia's opposition is a looming factor in consideration of Baltic membership in the alliance.

Rubin said the U.S. has briefed Russia on the Baltic charter--which seems designed in part to soothe Russian sensitivities regarding the Baltic States--but has not received an official reaction. He noted that the document contains specific language "welcoming the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and the strength in NATO-Russia relationships as core elements of their shared vision of a new and peaceful Europe."

Another early disappointment for Baltic leaders, especially Lithuanians, was U.S. insistence on one charter for all three states instead of separate bilateral documents for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

But in Washington this week, there will be public praise and applause for the charter. Presidents Lennart Meri of Estonia, Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia, and Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania have already said that the charter is a unique and significant document that will strengthen regional stability and forge closer ties with Europe and the U.S.

The charter sets up three bilateral working groups loosely modeled on U.S. commissions with Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, which are co-chaired by U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the respective president. The ranking U.S. official on the U.S.- Baltic Partnership Commission is expected to be Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, with Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Stuart Eizenstat in charge of economic development issues. They will meet regularly to advance cooperation in science, technology, commerce, and other areas.

Outgoing Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas will sign for his country. But Lithuanian sources say President-elect Valdas Adamkus may reaffirm the Partnership Charter when he makes his first trip to the U.S. as president. Adamkus is to be inaugurated into office in late February. The author is a Washington-based RFE/RL correspondent.


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