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Newsline - January 28, 1998




RUSSIA TRIES TO DEFUSE IRAQ CRISIS

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told journalists on 27 January that Moscow is making every effort to avert the use of military force against Iraq, Interfax reported. Similarly, participants in the first meeting of the Russia-EU Cooperation Council in Brussels the same day were unanimous that the standoff with Iraq must be resolved by diplomatic means. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said that Moscow is "in favor of the UN inspectors being allowed to continue their work," adding that "we are not certain whether Iraq is producing chemical and biological weapons. We must be certain," dpa reported. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk arrived in Baghdad on 27 January and met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, but no details of their talks have been released, Interfax reported. LF

PRIMAKOV TALKS TRADE IN BRUSSELS...

Foreign Minister Primakov on 27 January charged that the EU discriminates against Russian goods, an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported. Attending the first session of the EU-Russia Cooperation Council in Brussels, Primakov told EU foreign ministers that Russia will not meet EU demands on cutting import tariffs. The EU has applied anti-dumping duties to more than a dozen Russian goods, and Russian officials estimate that those duties cost the Russian economy some $1 billion annually. Moscow also claims that European quotas on textiles produced in Russia cost the domestic economy some $400 million a year. Meanwhile, European officials object to Russian quotas on imports of eggs, alcohol, and carpets from the EU. Russian exports to the union totaled some $21.5 million in 1997, while EU imports to Russia reached $20.8 million. LB

...CRITICIZES CLASSIFYING RUSSIA AS 'NON-MARKET' ECONOMY

Speaking to journalists in Brussels on 26 January, Primakov criticized the EU for classifying Russia as a non-market economy despite the fact, he said, that 70 percent of Russian production comes from the private sector, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The current classification allows the EU to decide whether to apply anti-dumping duties based on European (rather than Russian) estimates of production costs for Russian goods. In February, EU officials are likely to approve a proposal from the European Commission to consider Russia a market economy in dumping disputes, an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported on 27 January. But Russian First Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Georgii Gabunia told reporters in Moscow that Russian companies should not have to prove case by case that they are operating on market principles. He claimed that "there are no economic reasons" for considering Russia a non-market economy. LB

YELTSIN, ZYUGANOV COMMENT ON NEXT ELECTION

President Boris Yeltsin announced during a 27 January Kremlin meeting with Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker that "we must work this year so that a president capable of guaranteeing Russia's development along a democratic path will be elected in 2000," Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin did not name a favored candidate or specify whether he will run for re-election again. The president has called for the government to provide strong economic growth ahead of the 1999 parliamentary elections and the presidential race in 2000. Also on 27 January, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov predicted that the next presidential election will be held earlier than 2000, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 January. Speaking in Strasbourg, Zyuganov argued that Yeltsin "is simply not in a condition to work, and his trips to China and Sweden [last November and December] require no additional commentary." LB

KULIKOV UNREPENTANT OVER CHECHNYA

Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, who was rebuked by Yeltsin last week for failing to request the president's permission before advocating preemptive strikes against Chechen guerrilla bases, told journalists on 27 January that crime in Chechnya is the most serious in the entire Russian Federation, ITAR-TASS reported. Kulikov claimed that one in nine murders, one in five bandit attacks, and two-thirds of all terrorist acts perpetrated in Russia take place in Chechnya. He added that the Russian Interior and Defense Ministries as well as the Federal Security Service are carrying out "operational and radio surveillance" on the border with Chechnya and will continue to do so. Describing Chechnya as a region "where Russian power and laws are not in effect," Kulikov blamed the Chechen Interior Ministry for holding up a cooperation agreement with its federal counterpart. LF

STEPASHIN DEFENDS PLAN TO COMBINE FSB AND BORDER SERVICE...

Justice Minister Sergei Stepashin, a former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), confirmed on 27 January that the Federal Border Service is to be subordinated to the FSB, Interfax reported. Stepashin commented that the plan is "justified," since it "is quite normal that structures responsible for national security are under one command." Stepashin also said "political concerns" lay behind the decision to separate the border service from other security agencies, adding that "one should remember when it was done and what the public attitude toward the KGB was at that time." According to "Novye izvestiya" on 27 January, the Committee to Protect the State Border was removed from the jurisdiction of the KGB in November 1991 and transferred to the Ministry for Security in June 1992. A December 1993 presidential decree created the Federal Border Service, which was directly subordinated to the president. LB

...WHILE OTHERS EXPRESS CONCERN

State Duma deputy Valerii Borshchev of Yabloko told Interfax on 27 January that the plan to subordinate the Federal Border Service to the FSB reflects an "alarming trend" and "the beginning of the process" of reviving the KGB. Borshchev, who chairs the Human Rights Chamber of the president's Political Consultative Council, an advisory body, warned that Russians may be faced with "that most dangerous monster of all, which will not so much ensure the security of our state as pose a danger to Russian citizens, as was the case in the past." Similarly, "Segodnya" on 27 January argued that subordinating the border service to the FSB will "revive half of the structure of the KGB." "Novye izvestiya" commented the same day that the plan is "a blow to the entire concept for the development of the border service, approved by the president little more than a month ago." LB

CHERNOMYRDIN TO MAKE FINAL DECISION ON ROSNEFT AUCTION

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov announced on 26 January that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will soon select one of three possible privatization plans for Rosneft, the last major fully state- owned Russian oil company. Nemtsov said the government may sell a 75 percent plus one share of Rosneft or a 50 percent plus one share and may retain a "golden share" that would allow it to veto certain decisions of the company's new owner, Russian news agencies reported. Potential bidders for Rosneft recently criticized proposals to sell off less than 75 percent of the company, saying they would make the investment much less attractive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 1998). The official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 27 January announced the terms for a contest to select the firm that will determine a starting price for the Rosneft stake by mid-March. LB

FOREIGN PARTICIPATION IN AUCTION UNCLEAR

It is still not known whether foreign investors will be allowed to bid for Rosneft. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev, considered close to Chernomyrdin, recently predicted that foreign investors will be barred from the auction. But government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told Russian news agencies on 27 January that the government's main goal in privatizing Rosneft is to receive the maximum possible revenues for the budget. Meanwhile, Nemtsov said on 26 January that the government would be disappointed if major companies that have expressed the intention to bid for Rosneft were to withdraw from the auction. Last November, Yeltsin issued a decree lifting restrictions on foreign ownership of Russian oil companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1997). LB

ROKHLIN NOT TO LEAVE DUMA POST QUIETLY

Lev Rokhlin told journalists on 26 January that he will not resign as chairman of the Duma Defense Committee because "I want the Russian people to know who is who," ITAR-TASS reported. Duma leaders reportedly agreed recently to allow the Our Home Is Russia faction to replace Rokhlin, but some Communists are expected to oppose that move. Rokhlin confirmed that his Movement to Support the Army will stage a demonstration on 22 February under the slogan "If you can't, don't know how, or don't want to govern in the interests of the people, then resign!" In an appeal for public support, excerpts of which were published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 27 January, Rokhlin called for more financial support for the armed forces, defense industry, and veterans. He also claimed that "unilateral disarmament is the main condition for foreign loans" issued to Russia. LB

ILYUKHIN BLAMES YELTSIN FOR CORRUPTION

Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a prominent member of the Communist Party, argued on 27 January that Yeltsin "lacks the political will" to fight corruption, Russian media reported. Ilyukhin named several former high officials and Yeltsin associates who have been charged with corruption, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 January. In particular, he cited First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who was involved in a scandal over book fees last November and reportedly instructed his associates to carry more than $500,000 in cash out of government headquarters during the 1996 presidential campaign. Ilyukhin noted that Yeltsin has vetoed three anti-corruption laws approved by the parliament in recent years. He also accused the president of nepotism, Interfax reported. Last summer, Yeltsin appointed his younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, as an official presidential adviser. LB

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SLAM TREATMENT OF REFUGEES

Representatives of Amnesty International and other human rights defenders told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 27 January that refugees and forced migrants are routinely harassed and denied fair treatment by Russian border guards and law enforcement officials. According to Petr Kaznacheev, police officers regularly demand bribes from refugees and sometimes tear up their documents. Boris Suvorov, a coordinator for Amnesty in Moscow, told RFE/RL that asylum-seekers are kept in a special transit zone in Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 airport, where they are denied access to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or the Russian Federal Migration Service before being deported. Last April, Amnesty International issued a report criticizing Russian asylum procedures. Russian government officials have previously promised to improve refugees' access to the UNHCR, according to a 1996 U.S. State Department report on human rights in Russia. LB

PROTESTERS BLOCK TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILROAD IN PRIMORE

More than 2,000 people in Primorskii Krai blocked the Trans- Siberian Railroad for about two hours on 27 January to protest continuing wage arrears, Russian news agencies reported. Unpaid coal miners blocked the railroad at Partizansk, and miners obstructing the railroad near Vladivostok were joined by workers at major defense industry plants and some Vladivostok city employees. Protesters addressing the rallies blamed Yeltsin for the declining coal industry and high-level corruption, "Kommersant-Daily reported." In Partizansk, protesters burned an effigy of Yeltsin. Commenting on the action in Primore, government spokesman Shabdurasulov told ITAR-TASS that it would be wrong to blame the federal government alone for the wage arrears, since most of those who protested in Primore are not state employees. LB

RUSSIA, MONGOLIA COOPERATE IN SECURITY

Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and parliamentary deputy Puntsagiyn Zhasray of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) held talks on 26-27 January on security cooperation, ITAR-TASS and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The two reviewed progress in implementing the security agreement signed by their countries in 1995 and measures to be undertaken in 1998. They also discussed cooperation between Russia's Socialist Party, which is headed by Rybkin, and the MPRP. Zhasray, however, said his party's platform differs significantly from that of the Russian Socialists, who, he said, place more importance on regulating ties between local branches. BP

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL CONDEMNS PLANNED INGUSHETIAN REFERENDUM

The federal authorities have said that plans to hold a referendum in Ingushetia on 1 March on the reform of the republic's legal and judicial system are "illegal," according to "Russkii telegraf" of 27 January and "Kommersant-Daily" of 28 January. Those reforms would subordinate the Ingushetian prosecutor-general, Interior Ministry, and the courts directly to the republican president. Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov appealed on 26 January to the Supreme Court to adopt a resolution condemning the referendum as illegal on the grounds that under federal law, issues that come under the joint jurisdiction of the federal center and federation subjects may not be submitted to a referendum. Ingush presidential press spokesman Manolis Chakhkiev denied that the new legislation would remove Ingushetia from Moscow's legal jurisdiction. He attributed Moscow's reaction to its "eternal failure to comprehend the problems of the North Caucasus." LF

NORTH, SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENTS MEET

Aleksandr Dzasokhov, who was elected president of North Ossetia last week, has met with Lyudwig Chibirov, his counterpart from the former Georgian autonomous oblast of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 28 January. The two presidents discussed integration between the two regions and the prospects for increasing investment in South Ossetia. That region receives virtually no funding from the central Georgian government in Tbilisi and is financially dependent on Russia. Dzasokhov assured Chibirov that he will do his utmost to expedite a political solution to the unresolved issue of South Ossetia's status within Georgia. In an interview in "Izvestiya" on 23 January, Dzasokhov had pledged to improve conditions for both Russian and foreign investment in his republic. LF




NATO MAY CONSIDER INTERVENTION IN ABKHAZIA

Mikhail Machavariani, secretary-general of the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia, has told journalists in Tbilisi that NATO would "definitely consider" intervening to impose peace in Abkhazia if the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe requested such action, Caucasus Press reported on 28 January. Machavariani headed a Georgian delegation that met with Deputy Secretary-General Sergio Balandini and other senior NATO officials in Brussels on 20 January. Machavariani added that the two sides discussed the possibility of a more substantive cooperation program than provided for within the framework of Partnership for Peace. He said that such a program would be modeled on the one agreed by NATO and Ukraine. Georgia has also discussed with Armenia possible joint projects within the Partnership for Peace program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). LF

"INTELLECTUAL ARMENIA" QUITS RULING COALITION

Hovannes Tokmajian, leader of the Intellectual Armenia party, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 27 January that his party has quit the five- party Hanrapetutyun coalition. Tokmajian said Hanrapetutyun has retreated from its 1995 election platform. He accused the Armenian Pan-National Movement--the senior coalition partner--of obstructing the adoption of new election legislation that would be acceptable to all the main political forces. He said his party demands the dissolution of the current parliament and parliamentary elections. Tokmajian also expressed his support for Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan, who has been criticized by the ruling coalition for his rejection of the most recent draft Karabakh peace plan proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. LF

AZERBAIJANI CENSORS CUT SUSURLUK ALLEGATIONS

The Azerbaijani Censor's Office on 27 January excised from all opposition newspapers any reference to the leaked Turkish government report on the Susurluk scandal, Turan reported. Extracts from the official investigation that appeared in the Turkish press claimed, among other things, that Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev handed over a Baku casino to Turkish casino magnate Omer Lutfu Topal as payment for a $6 million gambling debt incurred by Aliev's son Ilham (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1998). LF

TUBERCULOSIS RATE GROWS IN KAZAKHSTAN

Aman Zhangireyev, the director of the Kazakh tuberculosis research center, as said the country is confronted by an "emergency situation" owing to the spread of the disease, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported on 27 January. The rate of deaths from tuberculosis has increased by 41 percent in the last three years. Currently, 53,000 people in Kazakhstan are infected with the disease, and more than 13,000 are carriers. Also on 27 January, the U.S. concern Chevron Oil announced it will contribute $2 million to a special program to combat tuberculosis in Kazakhstan. BP




COUNCIL OF EUROPE DEMANDS END TO EXECUTIONS IN UKRAINE

The Council of Europe has approved a resolution demanding that Ukraine pass legislation banning the death penalty, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Strasbourg on 27 January. After a long debate, the council's Parliamentary Assembly agreed to allow the Ukrainian delegation to continue its work in the assembly but urged Kyiv's soon-to-be elected parliament to abolish capital punishment. It also demanded that President Leonid Kuchma pardon the more than 250 prisoners on death row in Ukraine. Kyiv has repeatedly violated a moratorium on the death penalty, which it proclaimed on joining the council in 1995. A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry statement the same day said an official ban on executions would be handled by the legislature in "priority order." PB

WAGE ARREARS PROTESTS INCREASE

More than 1,500 people demonstrated for their unpaid wages outside a government building in Simferopol, Crimea, during a special meeting of the Ukrainian cabinet, Reuters reported on 27 January. Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoitenko told the crowd that the autonomous republic's disastrous economy is due to the "independent policy" it has pursued. In Kyiv, workers from coal mining regions protested wage arrears for the second straight day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1998). PB

RUSSIAN MEDIA HEADS CONVERGE ON MINSK

Some 25 Russian media executives, including Boris Berezovskii and Vladimir Gusinskii, met behind closed doors in Minsk on 27 January with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarusian service reported. That meeting was thought to be connected with agreements signed by Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow last week on the formation of a Russian-Belarusian television and radio organization. Lukashenka has in the past frequently complained about the Russian media "waging a war" on Belarus and has described both Berezovskii, a financier who wields great influence at Russian Public Television (ORT), and Gusinskii, whose Media- Most controls NTV, as "hoodlums." PB

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT SLAMS KIDNEY TRANSPLANTS

The cabinet has sharply criticized the kidney transplants recently performed on Israeli citizens at the Tallinn Central Hospital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1998), ETA and BNS reported. The government described the operations as "unethical," although it acknowledged that the law had not been broken. The chief physician of the Tallinn Central Hospital has been sacked, while the Israeli health care minister has demanded that Estonia launch criminal proceedings against the Israeli doctor who performed the operations. JC

HUNGARY TO HELP ESTONIA TRAIN OFFICERS

Following the signing of a framework agreement on defense cooperation in Tallinn on 27 January, Hungarian Defense Minister Gyorgy Keleti told journalists that Hungary is ready to train Estonian officers at the Budapest Military Academy, ETA and BNS reported. Hungary also proposed training Estonian military engineers who could later join their Hungarian counterparts participating in the peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. Keleti promised that Hungary will "do everything" to help Estonia join NATO. Estonia has signed 16 such framework agreements, including with the U.S., Canada, Poland, and the Czech Republic. JC

ADAMKUS'S ELECTION HQ IN FINANCIAL STRAITS

Darius Tarasyavicus, press secretary to Lithuanian President-elect Valdas Adamkus, told ITAR-TASS on 27 January that the election campaign quarters have run up debts amounting to $100,000. Tarasyavicus said that the center spent just over 1 million litas (some $250,000) during the campaign but added that this sum was "not enough to pay for the mass media campaigns." He noted that the center is hoping the U.S.-based Lithuanian Emigrants Committee will be able to help pay off the bulk of the debt. JC

POLISH PRESIDENT SATISFIED WITH "CABINET COUNCIL"

Aleksander Kwasniewski said he is "satisfied" following the first meeting of a new council made up of himself and government ministers, Reuters reported on 27 January. The "cabinet council" meeting was created under the constitution passed last year. Both the president and the government hope it can help ease strained relations and improve cooperation. Presidential spokesman Antoni Styrczula said the council will meet regularly to discuss all major issues, including talks on joining the EU. PB

ARMENIAN OFFICIAL SAYS POLAND HAS ROLE TO PLAY IN KARABAKH

Armenian Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzoumanian said Poland could play a large role in finding a resolution to the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's correspondent in Warsaw reported on 28 January. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, the current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said there is a strong "determination in Armenia" to resolve the issue and that he would do his best to help. Arzoumanian also said he hoped Warsaw would help his country to integrate into the EU. Poland is not a member of the OSCE's Minsk Group, which is mediating a solution to the conflict. In other news, a police officer in the northern city of Slupsk has been charged with manslaughter in the beating death of a 13-year old boy. The incident sparked three days of riots in the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1998). PB

CZECH PARLIAMENT DELAYS CONFIDENCE VOTE

The Chamber of Deputies on 27 January postponed the confidence vote in Josef Tosovsky's cabinet until the next day, CTK reported. Milos Zeman, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, demanded that the government present a timetable for its plans on price deregulation and privatization, both of which his party opposes. The Social Democrats want the parliament to be dissolved before those plans are implemented. The Social Democrats' support is crucial for the government to win the vote of confidence. Addressing the lower house, President Vaclav Havel urged deputies to vote confidence in order to ensure that the government is able to organize early elections in June. MS

GREEK DEFENSE MINISTER IN CZECH REPUBLIC

At the end of a two-day visit to the Czech Republic, Akis Tsohatzopoulos and his Czech counterpart, Michal Lobkowicz, signed an agreement on military cooperation, CTK reported on 27 . At a meeting with President Havel earlier that day, Tsohatzopoulos said his country is keen to see the rapid expansion of NATO and the EU to the East. MS

ROMANIAN CONSULATE OPENS IN SOUTHEASTERN HUNGARY

Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu and his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, officially opened the Romanian consulate in Szeged on 27 January, Hungarian and Romanian media reported. The inauguration was attended by the presidents of both countries.. Hungarian Education Minister Balint Magyar met with his Romanian counterpart, Andrei Marga, whom he urged to push for the Chamber of Deputies to pass another version of the education law. Romania's Hungarian minority regards the version passed by the Senate as discriminatory. Meanwhile, a Slovak Ministry of Culture official said Bratislava had protested to the OSCE commissioner for minority affairs over Magyar's speech at the opening of the Hungarian Institute in Bratislava last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). MS

MINORITIES WANT PARLIAMENTARY REPRESENTATION NOW

Spokesman for organizations representing national minorities in Hungary have protested the government's intention to postpone the representation of national minorities in the parliament until 2002. Socialist Party deputy Mihaly Bihari had earlier argued that a bill providing for minority representation either in May (when parliamentary elections are due) or in separate elections in October raises constitutional questions. Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze responded by withdrawing the cabinet's proposal on special parliamentary seats for minorities since the bill needs across-the- board support in the legislature. In other news, the World Bank on 27 January approved a $ 150 million loan to Hungary to help implement a comprehensive reform of the pension system, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. MS




EU CALLS ON BELGRADE TO OPEN KOSOVO SCHOOLS

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, speaking on behalf of the EU Presidency in Brussels on 27 January, called on the Serbian authorities to restore Albanian- language education in Kosovo. He said that "it's not just in the interests of Kosovo that the schools be reopened. It's in the interests of Belgrade. As long as the schools remain closed Belgrade is creating a breeding ground for terrorism and violence." Cook added that he told visiting Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo that "the EU supports a high degree of autonomy [for Kosovo] but we cannot support any acts of violence or terrorism." PM

NATO CONCERNED ABOUT KOSOVO, MACEDONIA

An unnamed senior NATO official said at the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium, on 27 January that growing violence in Kosovo could lead to regional destabilization. He added that "the wholesale transfer of weapons to Kosovo" from Albania following the breakdown of law and order there last spring contributed significantly to the violence. The official noted that Macedonia is worried the violence may spread across its border with Kosovo. He added that Skopje wants UN peacekeepers to remain in Macedonia beyond 1 July, when their current mandate expires. Reuters reported that NATO is considering a role for itself in preventing any future conflict in Kosovo from spreading to Macedonia. PM

GLIGOROV, YELTSIN SIGN DECLARATION

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov and his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, signed a "declaration of friendly relations and cooperation" in Moscow on 27 January. Yeltsin noted that this is the first document to be signed between "democratic Russia and sovereign Macedonia at the highest level." Macedonia is the only former Yugoslav republic to have such an agreement with Russia, he added. Gligorov pointed out that Russia was one of the first countries to recognize Macedonia and that the two countries have long- standing cultural and religious ties. Also on 27 January, Gligorov and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin signed agreements on economic relations, cooperation in customs, environmental protection, and health care. Gligorov noted that Russian-Macedonian trade turnover is only one- tenth of what it was between the USSR and the former Yugoslav Macedonia, Interfax reported. PM

CROATIAN WAR CRIMES COVER-UP?

Spokesmen for the Interior Ministry said on 27 January that the ministry has launched an investigation into charges by three former soldiers that Croatian troops carried out kidnappings, executions and expulsions of Serbs and anti-nationalist Croats in the Gospic area in 1991. Earlier that day, the three former soldiers charged that prominent politicians knew of the atrocities in Gospic at the time they were carried out and that the Croatian authorities recently refused to listen to what the three men have to say about the killings. Last fall, Josip Manolic, President Franjo Tudjman's former top security official, informed the media about mass "liquidations" of Serbian civilians in Gospic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997). PM

TUDJMAN SETS GOALS

In his annual state-of-the-nation speech on 27 January, President Tudjman said Croatia must overcome high unemployment and a large foreign debt. He called for greater "social justice" and for "the defense of the freedoms and rights of each citizen." Tudjman added that his goals for 1998 include continuing the reintegration of eastern Slavonia under existing international agreements. He called for normalizing relations with Belgrade and for demilitarizing the strategic Prevlaka peninsula. He also said he may send home UN peacekeepers based in Prevlaka and call for international arbitration if there is no agreement with Belgrade on demilitarization within four months. Tudjman added he plans to continue talks with Slovenia and with the Bosnian federation and to promote Croatia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. PM

BOSNIAN SERB MINISTER WANTS MLADIC FREE

New Bosnian Serb Defense Minister Manojlo Milovanovic told the 27 January issue of the Belgrade weekly "Svedok" that he hopes indicted war criminal General Ratko Mladic remains free. "He is safe. Thanks to the security system, [NATO-led peacekeepers] cannot get Mladic," he remarked. PM

ARBITRATION FOR BOSNIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENTS?

A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which supervised the local government elections in Bosnia last September, said in Sarajevo on 27 January that only 45 of the 136 municipalities have respected the results of the vote, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. He added that the OSCE may carry out binding arbitration to set up the local government councils if the local leaders do not do so themselves. In many of the municipalities, refugees succeeded in electing representatives to local councils of towns from which they had been "ethnically cleansed." PM

ALBANIAN JUDGES CONTINUE HUNGER-STRIKE

Eight judges who are protesting their allegedly politically motivated sackings began the 23rd day of their hunger strike on 28 January. Their state of health has severely deteriorated, the daily "Albania" reported. The judges claim that a new Socialist-backed law requiring university degrees from all judges and prosecutors favors communist-era judges and was designed to oust those justices who received their training at six-month courses under President Sali Berisha's government in 1993. The hunger-strikers said in a statement issued on 27 January that they will now refuse medical treatment and break off contact with their families, politicians and the press. Elsewhere, President Rexhep Meidani's adviser Mentor Nazarko visited former political prisoners who are staging a solidarity hunger-strike. Nazarko failed to convince them that the disputed law will not automatically lead to the dismissal of the judges. FS

BIG WAGE HIKE FOR ALBANIAN OFFICIALS

The government approved new salary scales for the civil service on 27 January. In a bid to reduce corruption, it introduced wage hikes of up to 70 percent for top government officials beginning 1 April. The monthly salary of President Meidani will be doubled to $845, while ministers will receive $647-$760 a month. Other civil servants will receive 20 percent salary increases. The average monthly wage in Albania is $55-$65, "Koha Jone" reported. FS

ALBANIAN LUSTRATION COMMITTEE UNCOVERS AGENTS

The parliamentary lustration commission, charged with rooting out communist-era secret service agents and foreign spies, has identified two former Sigurimi agents within the judiciary. Commission head Nafiz Bezhani told "Koha Jone" of 28 January that the commission will give details to the public once the final report is discussed in the parliament later this month. FS

ROMANIAN COALITION CRISIS PEAKS

Ion Diaconescu, the chairman of both the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) and of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), said on 27 January that the CDR council is demanding that the Democratic Party choose between three options by the following morning. Those options are to continue to be represented in Victor Ciorbea's cabinet, to guarantee its support in the parliament of a minority government, or to leave the existing coalition. Should the Democrats opt for the first or the second option, the CDR is ready to negotiate a new government protocol, Diaconescu said. President Emil Constantinescu announced he will convene a meeting with coalition leaders on 28 January and will then make known his position, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ASKED TO REMAIN IN GOVERNMENT

Premier Ciorbea on 27 January said he has asked Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu to stay in the government, even if the Democratic Party decides to withdraw from it. Ciorbea explained that move by saying Plesu is an "outstanding personality" and is not a member of the Democratic Party, which proposed him for the post when the government was reshuffled in December 1997. Plesu said he has not yet decided what to do. Democratic Party Secretary-General Vasile Blaga said his party is abiding by its 14 January decision to withdraw its ministers but is ready to participate in a cabinet not led by Ciorbea. Earlier the same day, Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that despite political differences, there was a consensus in the parliament on the need for reforms. He told a Radio Bucharest correspondent that the withdrawal of Democratic ministers would not mean the party leave the coalition. MS

OPPOSITION LEADER READY TO SUPPORT MINORITY GOVERNMENT

Former President Ion Iliescu, who is currently chairman of the Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) in Romania, said on 27 January that the PDSR might agree to guarantee its parliamentary support of a minority government but will condition support on negotiations. Iliescu said the PDSR would "by no means make concessions similar to those made by the Democratic Party" on the restitution of property, a republican form of government, and the education law. He added that his party has had "unofficial" contacts with the Democrats as well as with the PNTCD. Meanwhile, Social Democratic Party (PSDR) chairman Sergiu Cunescu said his formation will not withdraw its ministers even if the Democrats decide to do so. The PSDR ran on joint lists with the Democrats in the 1996 elections. Finally, National Liberal Party chairman Mircea Ionescu-Quintus said his party is fully opposed to the idea of a minority government, which, he said, would make early elections unavoidable. MS

BULGARIAN BOMBING SUSPECTS ARRESTED

Bulgarian authorities on 27 January announced the arrest of four suspects who have confessed to the bombing earlier this month of the Sofia offices of the country's largest-circulation newspaper, "Trud" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 1998). Police said they also know the identity of the person who contracted the bombing. They added that the motive for the attack was an attempt by criminal groups to intimidate "Trud" in particular and Bulgarian media in general. The bombing caused extensive damage, but no one was seriously injured. MS




THE LEVOCA SUMMIT


by Genevieve Zalatorius

At a summit of 11 mostly Eastern European presidents in Levoca, Slovakia, on 23-24 January, some of Slovakia's closest neighbors announced they will support that country's bid to enter the EU.

"We cannot imagine Europe without Slovakia," Austrian President Thomas Klestil said. "We're going to support Slovakia," he said, adding that it is one of the "core countries" in Europe. Hungary and Poland expressed similar positions.

EU officials in December decided Slovakia would not be among the first countries to begin accession talks. The EU and other Western institutions have criticized Slovakia for not respecting democratic principles. But, Slovak President Michal Kovac, trying to remain upbeat during the summit, said those gathered are "interested in Slovakia becoming an integral part of Europe." That shows Slovakia is "not shunned and ignored and that there is no international conspiracy against Slovakia," Kovac commented.

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov said the main significance of the meeting was that the participants have the "same philosophy--the philosophy of a united Europe."

Hungarian President Arpad Goncz said Europe "cannot be complete" without Slovakia. "Slovakia has its place in Europe," he added.

Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski said Slovakia has confirmed its desire to be part of European structures. "From the Polish position, we will support Slovakia wanting to be part of EU and NATO," he added.

Discussion at the summit concentrated on the integration of all Central European countries into Western structures such as the EU. The theme of the summit was "Civil Society--the Hope for a United Europe."

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu warned that a civil society "has to be on its guard." He singled out corruption as a problem. And he also emphasized the need to reach harmony with ethnic minorities.

Among those attending the summit for the first time was Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who said his country's long history of totalitarian domination left it farther behind other countries. Kuchma said the transition process will be more "painful" in his country than in others and will "take more time." Referring to his Moscow meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Kuchma said he would deliver "greetings" from the 11 presidents to the Russian leader. We all want to have "normal relations" with our eastern neighbor, Kuchma said.

Although Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar was invited to the summit, he chose not to attend. His absence only served to highlight the strained relations between Meciar and President Kovac, the summit's host. Kovac, who has fewer than 40 days remaining in office, was praised by the summit participants.

Hungarian President Goncz reminded summit participants that this was the last such conference with Kovac. "We see in [Kovac] a person of great determination. His personality is closely linked with the spirit of Europe," Goncz said.

With Slovak presidential elections due on 29 January, those attending the summit said they will be closely monitoring the situation. Czech President Havel took time during his visit to meet with Slovak oppositionists, including representatives of the ethnic Hungarian minority. Havel told reporters that Czechs are interested in having better relations with their Slovak neighbors.

Hungary is also hoping to improve relations with Slovakia. President Goncz met with his Slovak counterpart one day before the summit began for unofficial talks. On that same day, the Slovak and Hungarian foreign ministers met in Budapest to discuss ethnic minorities and the Danube dam dispute. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Bratislava.


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