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Newsline - February 5, 1998




YELTSIN SAYS RUSSIA WON'T ALLOW STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ

Commenting on the Iraqi crisis, President Boris Yeltsin told reporters on 5 February that Moscow will "not allow the problem to be solved by force." The president added that he is an optimist and believes the crisis has already peaked. Later, Yeltsin announced he had received a telephone call "about Iraq" and that Russian diplomacy has succeeded in finding a peaceful solution to the situation. ITAR-TASS, however, commented that "he did not define what [the telephone conversation] was about." BP

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL EXPLAINS YELTSIN'S COMMENT ON 'WORLD WAR THREE'

Yeltsin's 4 February comment that a strike against Iraq could lead to World War Three was a reference to the use of nuclear weapons, according to Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov. A press release from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on 4 February said the U.S. does not intend to use nuclear weapons against Iraq because "we realize the...consequences of such actions." Meanwhile, talking to Yeltsin by telephone on 4 February, British Prime Minister Tony Blair noted that in order to have Iraq to comply with inspections, there has to be "a real threat of force and the use of force if necessary." Meanwhile in China, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin is continuing talks with Chinese officials. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said "both countries oppose military action against Iraq." BP

DUMA PASSES LAW ON COOPERATION WITH IRAQ

The State Duma on 4 February passed by 290 to seven with three abstentions a law on cooperation with Iraq, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The law, which was proposed by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, is a revised version of a bill passed last year by the Duma but rejected by the Federation Council. It would prohibit federal funds from being used to maintain UN sanctions against Iraq unless such expenses are listed as a separate item in the federal budget, Interfax reported. It also would allow Russian companies to conduct trade with Iraq "that is not banned by the Russian president and government." The bill was approved after deputies passed a controversial resolution urging Yeltsin to review Russia's adherence to UN sanctions if Iraq comes under military attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1998). LB

LUKIN COMMENTS ON IRAQ DIPLOMACY

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko argued on 4 February that the Russian government must make sure its promises regarding Iraq take into account the "limit of Russian diplomatic possibilities in the Middle East," ITAR-TASS reported, quoting comments made in an interview with Ekho Moskvy. Lukin said he had voted against the non-binding resolution on Iraq approved by the Duma, which he described as "distorted." In particular, he questioned a provision in the resolution saying Iraq does not pose a global or regional threat. Foreign Ministry officials also criticized that resolution and urged Duma deputies to reject it. LB

YELTSIN SAYS CHUBAIS, NEMTSOV TO STAY

Yeltsin said on 5 February that First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov will stay in the government until 2000 if they wish to do so, despite attempts by others to secure their removal. Yeltsin said that Chubais and Nemtsov "are not trying to rock the boat" but that others "are trying to force them out either individually or together," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that he will "resist all those who are putting pressure on [Chubais and Nemtsov] and will not allow them to be touched." The comments reflect Yeltsin's traditional leadership style of balancing competing factions in his government. Since last November, the authority wielded by Chubais and Nemtsov has been significantly reduced, and a recent redistribution of responsibilities within the cabinet was seen to strengthen Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 January 1998). LB

ZYUGANOV VAGUE ABOUT INTENTIONS ON BUDGET VOTE

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 4 February that his faction will vote "intelligently, knowledgeably, and responsibly" when the 1998 budget is put to a third reading in the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the Communist stand on the budget will reflect the "interests of domestic industry," but he did not elaborate. Communist leaders vowed to oppose the budget in the first and second readings, but on both occasions the document was approved by slim margins with some Communist support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 29 December 1997). On 4 February, the Duma began debating the budget in the third reading, during which deputies vote on the document item by item, but a final vote was postponed until the next day. Duma Budget Committee acting Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov urged deputies to approve the document. LB

DUMA APPROVES INCREASED FUNDING FOR MILITARY REFORM

The Duma on 5 February passed an amendment to the 1998 budget that calls for allocating 1 percent of the consolidated budget (the combined federal and regional budgets) toward carrying out military reform, ITAR-TASS reported. Yabloko deputy Oksana Dmitrieva, who chairs a budget subcommittee, spoke out against the amendment. She described the measure as a "built-in sequester," since it will reduce by 1 percent expenditures on all other programs, including science, education, and agriculture. However, the Duma approved the amendment by 237 to 23 with three abstentions. LB

OFFICIAL CITES NEED TO RATIFY START-2...

First Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov argued on 4 February that military reform will be "brought to a standstill" if Russia fails to ratify the START-2 arms control treaty, Russian news agencies reported. Mikhailov said Russia cannot afford to maintain its current stockpile of nuclear weapons. He added that the country's security is determined not by the number of warheads it possesses but by its ability to launch those warheads. LB

...WHILE ZYUGANOV CALLS FOR REJECTING TREATY

Communist Party leader Zyuganov told journalists on 4 February that no member of the parliament "who has self-respect" should vote to ratify the START-2 treaty, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Zyuganov slammed recent U.S. actions concerning Iraq, saying the U.S. "talks about democratic principles" but behaves like a "slightly intoxicated cowboy." He also charged that the U.S. has violated earlier arms control treaties, including the START-1 agreement. LB

DEFENSE MINISTRY OFFERS EXPLANATION FOR ARMY PROBLEMS

The Defense Ministry says inadequate training is to blame for the wave of killings and suicides in the military, according to "Segodnya" of 2 February. The daily reported the Defense Ministry as explaining that "society is sick and therefore sends to the army sick conscripts." A lack of discipline among the ranks is exacerbated by sergeants, 90 percent of whom are draftees under 21. In addition, lieutenants are being rushed through military academies, "as if in time of war," to fill depleted ranks. The Defense Ministry's plans to cut up to 100,000 "experienced officers" as part of downsizing the military. BP

RUSSIA TO CEASE NEW BORROWING IN FIRST QUARTER...

During a meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais on 4 February, Yeltsin instructed the government to "live within its means" and to avoid new foreign and domestic borrowing during the first quarter of the year, Russian news agencies reported. Chubais told ministers at a 5 February cabinet meeting that Russia will be able to avoid new borrowing during the first quarter of 1998, thanks to improved tax collection, ITAR-TASS reported. He said tax receipts in January were up 26 percent and collection of customs duties up 30 percent over the same month last year. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov announced on 3 February that tax revenues totaling 9.5 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) were collected in January, close to the target of 10 billion rubles. Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko said the previous day that tax receipts for January 1998 were 40 percent higher than in January 1997. LB

...AS DOWNGRADE THREATENS TO RAISE BORROWING COSTS

The move to avoid new foreign and domestic borrowing comes as market turmoil and interest rate hikes have pushed up the cost of borrowing on Russian markets through treasury bills. In addition, an expected downgrade in Russia's credit rating is likely to increase the cost of future foreign borrowing. The international credit rating agency Moody's announced on 3 February that it is sending representatives to Moscow to consider downgrading Russia's sovereign debt rating. Moody's is also reviewing the credit ratings of nine major Russian commercial banks. On 4 February, the Finance Ministry announced that it is ready to meet with Moody's experts in order to convince them that Russia's fiscal situation has improved, Russian news agencies reported. Chubais announced at the 5 February cabinet meeting that Russia will not borrow on European markets again before late March at the earliest. LB

YELTSIN DEMANDS TOUGH TAX POLICY, INVESTOR PROTECTION

In an apparent effort to boost confidence in the Russian markets, Yeltsin told Chubais on 4 February that the government must do more to promote tax reform and protect investors' rights. He urged the government to seek to ensure that, by the end of March, the Duma passes the new tax code in the first reading. He also told Chubais that the government must be tough with tax debtors and must not allow tax debts to be canceled against other debts owed to companies. (A November presidential decree banned the use of offsets to settle tax debts as of 1 January 1998.) In addition, Yeltsin called for convening a session of a government commission on the rights of foreign and domestic shareholders. He said those who do not respect shareholders' rights must be punished. LB

GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES CRITICIZE EES MANAGERS

The government representatives in the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System (EES) on 4 February criticized both Anatolii Dyakov, the chairman of the company's board of directors, and Boris Brevnov, the company's chief executive, Interfax reported. The representatives concluded that the energy sector has been harmed by the high-profile struggle between Dyakov and Brevnov, which began when the EES board recently tried to sack Brevnov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). They also decided to call an extraordinary meeting of EES shareholders in March. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov announced on 3 February that the government will make personnel changes at EES after it has studied a report on the company by the Audit Chamber, ITAR-TASS reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office is also investigating alleged financial crimes committed by EES managers. LB

PREDICTABLE PRESS COVERAGE OF SCANDAL

"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 4 February published a friendly interview with Brevnov, who denied the allegations against him and again accused his adversary Dyakov of improprieties. Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Komsomolskaya pravda," which generally supports First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov (Brevnov's patron). In contrast, coverage of the EES conflict in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" has been unsympathetic to Brevnov. On 5 February, the newspaper charged that the EES leadership has managed the company poorly and is not concerned enough about "the dangers to the national economy posed by the consolidation of EES shares in the hands of foreigners." The company plans to raise cash by reducing its state-owned stake from some 52 percent to 50 percent plus one share. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" is largely financed by the LogoVAZ group of Boris Berezovskii, who has recently warned against foreign investment in the Russian energy sector. LB

NO PROGRESS MADE ON REVISING LAND CODE

Duma Agrarian Affairs Committee Chairman Aleksei Chernyshev told Interfax on 4 February that work on revising the draft land code has not begun, despite an agreement reached at roundtable talks on land reform last December. Chernyshev, a member of the Agrarian faction, said a conciliatory commission of representatives from the Duma, Federation Council, and government has not even been formed. State Land Committee Chairman Ilya Yuzhanov, who has sharply criticized the current version of the land code, recently said reaching agreement on the document by the end of March will be extremely difficult (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997 and 8 January 1998). LB

DAGESTANI POLICE PUT ON ALERT

Authorities in Dagestan have put police there on alert ahead of the 15 February elections for mayor of the capital city of Makhachkala, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. They also put Dagestani police on alert along the Dagestan-Chechnya border out of concern that the Chechens might stage an incident. Grozny, however, has denied any such possibility. PG




KOCHARIAN ALLY ELECTED ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER

Khosrov Harutunian, a long-time adviser of acting President Robert Kocharian, has been elected speaker of the parliament by a vote of 99 to 66, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 4 February. Khosrov was prime minister briefly in 1992 but was dismissed by then president Levon Ter-Petrossyan over policy differences. Also on 4 February, the parliament formally accepted Ter-Petrossyan's resignation (see "End Note" below). PG

KOCHARIAN SAYS ARMENIAN VOTE WILL TAKE PLACE ON SCHEDULE...

Acting President Kocharian said on 4 February that new presidential elections will take place within 40 days, as specified by the constitution, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian said the vote will be free and fair but declined to hint whether he will be a candidate. Because Kocharian comes from Nagorno-Karabakh, he would be allowed to run only if the constitutional provisions on Armenian citizenship and residency for the presidency are waived. PG

...OUTLINES HIS PLANS FOR KARABAKH, ARMENIA

Kocharian says he is committed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Karabakh and that his accession to the presidency does not represent any threat to peace, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. But Kocharian suggested that the current stability in the region may be upset by the introduction of peacekeepers or observers--both of which are provisions of the peace formula suggested by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. In another move certain to strengthen those opposed to the Minsk Group formula, Kocharian announced he will re-legalize the Dashnak party, a nationalist group that Ter-Petrossyan banned in December 1994 for alleged involvement in terrorism. PG

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY EXPRESSES REGRET, HOPE OVER CHANGES

Governments around the world have generally reacted with regret over Ter-Petrossyan's resignation but also with hope that the political changes in Yerevan will not affect the Karabakh peace process or change Armenia's relations with other countries. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev convened his Security Council and announced that he is "concerned" by developments in Yerevan, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. Russia's President Boris Yeltsin and State Duma leaders expressed regret at Ter-Petrossyan's departure but said they hope that ties between Yerevan and Moscow will remain strong. A U.S. State Department spokesman praised Ter-Petrossyan but said Washington has "every hope" that the OSCE Minsk Group's proposals will ultimately be accepted as the basis for peace. France, the third co-chairman of that group, expressed deep regret but also said it hopes that the peace process will continue. PG

UTO FREES MORE GOVERNMENT TROOPS

Forces loyal to the United Tajik Opposition in the central Tavil-Dara region have freed the last 44 Tajik government soldiers captured during fighting there in 1996-1997, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. The UTO claims it has now freed all government soldiers captured in the five-year civil war. UTO spokesman Yusuf Khakimov said the organization now awaits "the release of 1,300 opposition soldiers from government prisons." BP

TAJIK DEBT TO UZBEKISTAN RESCHEDULED

Uzbek Prime Minister Utkur Sultanov paid a one-day visit to Tajikistan on 4 February to meet with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. The two leaders agreed to reschedule payment of Tajikistan's $150 million debt to Uzbekistan until the year 2000. They also discussed Tajikistan's entry into the Central Asian Customs Union (whose members are Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan) and Uzbek President Islam Karimov's upcoming visit to Tajikistan. Sultanov also met with his Tajik counterpart, Yahye Azimov, to discuss bilateral trade. BP

HUNGER STRIKER DIES IN KAZAKHSTAN

One of the hunger strikers in the southern city of Janatas has died, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. The 26-year-old Jumahan Esentayev, who worked at the Janatas phosphorus plant, died of a heart attack. Some of the plant's workers have been on hunger strike for three months demanding payment of wage arrears, which in some cases go back three years. BP

KAZAKH CHILDREN ACCIDENTALLY INFECTED WITH TUBERCULOSIS

Negligence among medics in Janatas is being blamed for the infection of 133 children with tuberculosis, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. The children were diagnosed with disease last September and given inoculations of the wrong vaccine. Local officials attempted to cover up the mistake, and the incident went unreported until "several days ago." Criminal proceedings have been launched against both the medics and those who covered up the incident. BP




CRIMEAN PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS VOTE ON PENINSULA'S STATUS

The Crimean Supreme Soviet voted on 4 February to discuss holding a referendum on returning the disputed peninsula to Russian rule. Also proposed for the referendum was a question on adopting Russian as the official language. Despite calls by Russian nationalists for Crimea to return to Moscow rule, Russia and Ukraine signed a treaty last year that declared the inviolability of their common border. The Ukrainian parliament has already ratified that treaty. Ethnic Russians constitute a majority in Crimea, which Russia ceded to Ukraine in 1954. In other news, deposed Yalta city council chief Aleksandr Kalyus and several council members are still refusing to leave the city hall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1998). One deputy said he feared security forces surrounding the building would be used to end the protest and to place a Kuchma-imposed official in office, AFP reported. PB

GERMAN PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES FOR WARTIME ATROCITIES IN UKRAINE

In an address broadcast by Ukrainian Television on 4 February, Roman Herzog apologized for the death and destruction caused by German troops in the country during World War Two. Herzog, who is on a four-day visit to Kyiv, expressed grief for the "barbaric crimes" and said he suffers "together with the victims and their families, and I am ashamed of what was done." The German president has made similar apologies in Prague and Warsaw. Herzog also said Ukraine belongs to Europe "culturally and politically" but noted that joining the EU would entail the attainment of greater economic prosperity. President Leonid Kuchma said he is dissatisfied with the country's progress in reforms but added that "only a blind man" would not notice the positive economic changes that have taken place. PB

LUKASHENKA AIDE DETAINED FOR EMBEZZLEMENT

Valery Popov, an aide to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has been arrested on suspicion of "large-scale embezzlement of state assets," Belarusian TV reported on 4 February. Popov dealt with industrial and agricultural issues in the President's Office. An official government statement provided no details but said Belarusian law applies to all citizens. Lukashenka said after the arrest that he supports an "uncompromising battle against crime." In December, Agriculture Minister Vasily Leonov was arrested on the same charges. PB

BELARUSIAN TRADERS END STRIKE

Some 100,000 small traders have ended their strike after President Lukashenka agreed to their demands to suspend a repressive tax, approved late last year. The strike began on 1 February and virtually crippled outdoor markets in many parts of the country. The tax required small businessmen to pay a high retroactive tax that would have drove many traders out of business. Lukashenka suspended the tax in a 4 February decree. PB

ESTONIA DENIES RUSSIAN STATEMENT OVER DEPUTY PREMIER'S VISIT

The Estonian Foreign Ministry has rejected an accusation by Viktor Cherepov, the head of the office of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, that Tallinn has refused to receive Sysuev before the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Estonia, on 24 February, ETA reported. The ministry said such claims were incorrect and that preparations for Sysuev's visit are under way. It added that the visit will take place at the end of February or the beginning of March. JC

LATVIAN PREMIER, PRESIDENT PATCH UP DIFFERENCES

Following a meeting with President Guntis Ulmanis on 4 February, Guntars Krasts confirmed to journalists that Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has invited him to Moscow, BNS and Interfax reported. That invitation was made during Chernomyrdin's meeting with Ulmanis within the framework of the Baltic Sea Council summit in Riga last month. The two Latvian leaders also discussed "misunderstandings" over assessments of the summit and the naturalization of non-citizens' children (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 February 1998). With regard to the latter issue, they came to the conclusion that Ulmanis's 2 February statement had been based on "misconstrued information," according to BNS. Krasts also confirmed that his relations with the president are good. JC

VILNIUS TO FORMALLY CHARGE LILEIKIS WITH WAR CRIMES

Lithuanian investigators on 4 February announced they are bringing formal charges against alleged war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis, Reuters reported. Kazimieras Kovarskas, the head of the Special Investigations Department at the Prosecutor-General's Office, told the news agency the case could be in court within the next few days. He added that the trial itself could begin within four to six weeks and last about a week. Lileikis was head of the Vilnius security police during World War Two and is alleged to have ordered the deaths of scores of Jews. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Nazi-hunting organization, has repeatedly accused Vilnius of dragging its feet over putting Lileikis and other alleged war criminals on trial. JC

POLAND'S INTEGRATION PROCEEDING 'SMOOTHLY'

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek in Bonn on 4 February that preparations for Poland's entry into NATO are developing "quickly and smoothly." Kinkel added that his government will push for swift ratification in the Bundestag of Poland's application to join NATO. Earlier this week, Denmark and Canada approved the applications of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join the alliance. The German and Polish sides also agreed to expedite customs procedures at border crossings. Germany is Poland's leading trade partner. PB

POLES VISITING RUSSIA TO FACE MORE RESTRICTIONS

In a retaliatory move, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Polish travelers to Russia will face strict regulations starting 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. Poles will be required to show hotel reservations and proof of sufficient funds for their trip before being allowed to cross the border. The move comes on the heels of Warsaw's decision to impose the same requirements on Russians entering Poland. PB

CZECH COURT REJECTS REPUBLICAN PARTY APPEAL

The Constitutional Court on 4 February rejected the far right Republican Party's appeal against the re-election of Vaclav Havel for a second presidential term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). The court said it is not within its jurisdiction to rule on the validity of presidential elections. Party spokesman Jan Vik said the Republicans will protest the ruling before the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, CTK reported. MS

HAVEL GRANTS PRESIDENTIAL AMNESTY

Some 1,500 persons will benefit from an amnesty that President Vaclav Havel granted on the occasion of his re-election, CTK reported on 4 February. The amnesty applies to first-time offenders who committed crimes for which the maximum sentence is less than three years in prison. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT DELIVERS LAST 'STATE OF NATION' ADDRESS

In his last annual "state of the nation" address to the parliament, President Michal Kovac blamed Premier Vladimir Meciar and his ruling coalition for Slovakia's failure to receive invitations to join NATO and the EU, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported on 4 February. Most deputies of the coalition walked out before the speech began, as they did in previous years. Kovac also accused Meciar and his allies of not respecting the constitution and of steering the country away from democracy. Kovac's term expires on 2 March. MS

KOVACS JR. ARRESTED ON CZECH-GERMAN BORDER

Michal Kovac Jr., the son of the outgoing Slovak president, was arrested on 4 February at Rozvadov, on the Czech-German border, CTK and dpa reported. Prosecutors in Munich, Germany, have issued an international arrest warrant for Kovac Jr., whom they suspect of cheating a Slovak company in 1991- 1992 together with a German resident who has been convicted. Kovac Jr.'s lawyer in Bratislava said his client was on his way to Munich to make a statement at a hearing on the case. Kovac Jr. was kidnapped in Bratislava in August 1995 under as yet unclarified circumstances and was later found in front of an Austrian police station. He was not extradited to Germany because a Vienna court said he was brought to Austria against his will. The Slovak authorities, which observers suspect of involvement in the kidnapping, recently returned his passport, after his father pardoned him. MS

SLOVAKIA, HUNGARY DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION

Defense Minister Jan Sitek and his Hungarian counterpart, Gyorgy Keleti, met in Bratislava on 4 February and signed agreements on confidence- building measures, including cooperation in military aviation and anti- aircraft defense. Keleti said he believes "Slovakia will soon be ready to join NATO," CTK reported. MS

HUNGARIAN NEO-NAZI RECEIVES SUSPENDED JAIL TERM

The Supreme Court on 4 February sentenced Albert Szabo, the leader of the far-right Hungarian Welfare Federation, to a one-year suspended prison term for incitement against the Jewish community in an October 1996 speech. Szabo, who was also put on probation for three years, said his speech depicted the reality in Hungary and was not intended to stir up anti-Semitic sentiments. He said he made a distinction between Zionists and Hungarian Jews, calling the latter "my compatriots." MSZ




NEW MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCED

Prime Minister-designate Filip Vujanovic on 4 February presented to the parliament his nominations for the new government. There are five deputy prime ministers in the multi-party cabinet, and the key ministries remain in the hands of the governing Democratic Socialist Party of President Milo Djukanovic. The new director of state-run radio and television is outgoing Culture Minister Goran Rakocevic, and the new editor-in-chief of state-run television is Velibor Covic, who until now was RFE/RL's Podgorica correspondent. Vujanovic said his priorities include promoting democratization, economic reform, privatization, relations with Croatia, and international ties. PM

BELGRADE HIGH SCHOOL BLAST INJURES 16

Two 15 year-old students were badly injured when they accidentally set off a grenade at their school on 4 February. The explosion also injured 14 of their class-mates. PM

YUGOSLAVIA GIVES VUKOVAR FILES TO CROATIA

Officials of the Yugoslav agency dealing with questions of missing persons from the 1991-1995 war have handed over to their Croatian counterparts the medical records of 393 Croats who disappeared after the Serbs took Vukovar in November 1991. The Croatian authorities will use the files to help identify bodies in a Vukovar cemetery when exhumations begin later in February. The Croats also received 350 files on unidentified bodies and asked the Yugoslavs about the possible location of mass graves of Croats on Yugoslav territory. Meanwhile in Vukovar, local Serbian leader Vojislav Stanimirovic said that Serbs in eastern Slavonia feel increasingly threatened by Croats returning to see the homes they formerly owned and in which Serbs now live. And in Zagreb, officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized Croatian policies on returning refugees. OSCE representatives did not provide any details to the press. PM

SCHUMACHER WARNS HERZEGOVINIAN CROATS

Hanns Schumacher, a deputy of the international community's Carlos Westendorp, told Croatian officials in Stolac on 4 February that attacks on returning Muslim refugees must stop. He added that the violence "violates human rights and we will do all we can to stop this." Schumacher said that he holds Mayor Pero Raguz responsible and will sack him if local Croatian police and other officials do not cooperate more fully with representatives of the international community within seven days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1998). PM

MACEDONIA WANTS NATO PEACEKEEPERS

Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski told the NATO Council in Brussels on 4 February that his government wants a "European" peacekeeping force stationed in Macedonia once the current UN peacekeepers' mandate runs out in August. Unnamed NATO diplomats told Western news agencies, however, that Russia does not favor a role for NATO in Macedonia and that the UN, not the Atlantic alliance, will make any decision on the future of peacekeeping after August. The current UN mission marks the first time that UN peacekeepers have been sent to a region to prevent a conflict from spilling across borders rather than to separate warring parties. PM

POLITICAL REASONS FOR CANCELED MEETINGS?

A spokesman for the Macedonian Defense Ministry said in Skopje on 4 February that a meeting of the Macedonian, Albanian, Bulgarian, and Greek defense ministers to discuss regional security issues has been indefinitely postponed. No reason was given for delaying that meeting, which was slated for later this month in Ohrid. Meanwhile in Ljubljana, a spokesman for the Slovenian Foreign Ministry announced the indefinite postponement of Foreign Minister Boris Frlec's visit to Britain on 5 February. No reason was given. Slovenia is currently a member of the UN Security Council, and Frlec was slated to discuss Iraq with his British counterpart, Robin Cook. Frlec has been under sharp criticism recently from the opposition and the media for having allegedly been too accommodating in a series of talks with Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel. PM

ITALIAN-SLOVENIAN COMPENSATION DISPUTE OVER?

Frlec, his Italian counterpart Lamberto Dini, and Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs agreed in Brdo pri Kranju on 4 February that a proposed trilateral peacekeeping unit could be set up within three months and be sent to Bosnia when SFOR's mandate runs out in June. Dini later said the three countries must "harmonize [their] activities so that [they] can limit illegal immigration." He added that Italy has agreed to accept money from special funds set up years ago by Croatia and Slovenia to compensate Italians who fled those two republics in the wake of World War Two. Dini stressed that Rome wants to "put the property question behind it" and move on to European integration. PM

ALBANIAN POLICE CHIEF REBELS AGAINST SUPERIORS

Florenc Shpuza, the chief of the criminal police in the southern city of Devoll, launched an armed rebellion against his superiors on 4 February, charging them with corruption, "Koha Jone" reported. The conflict broke out after Agron Brockaj, who heads all local police units, ordered Shpuza to be suspended from duty for alleged misconduct. Shpuza responded by gathering together a number of his friends, some of whom are policemen, and threatening to kill Brockaj. Shpuza and his supporters later blocked the main highway and engaged in a shoot-out with special police forces from Korca. Nobody was injured, and the rebels fled the scene. FS

ALBANIAN PREMIER DEMANDS FASTER PACE OF REFORM

Fatos Nano told his ministers on 4 February that they must carry out his reform program more quickly. Speaking at a cabinet meeting, he complained about the lack of coordination between government agencies and stressed that every department must put its own house in order, "Shekulli" reported. He added that the reasons behind firings and appointments are often unclear and that some departments have too many personnel. FS

SIGNING OF ROMANIAN COALITION PROTOCOL POSTPONED AGAIN

The leaders of the coalition parties, meeting on 4 February, were unable to finalize the new coalition protocol, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said the protocol will be signed on 5 February. Earlier, the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) Council decided that the portfolios left vacant by the Democrats' withdrawal from the government will be filled by ministers from the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (defense, environment, and relations with the parliament), the National Liberal Party (transportation), and Romanian Alliance (research). The Liberals have nominated Anton Ionescu as transportation minister. They will also have a secretary of state with ministerial rank for defense and have nominated Sorin Stanescu for that post. MS

DEMOCRATS CONFIRM MARGINALIZATION OF SEVERIN

Democratic Party leader Petre Roman told journalists on 4 February that the party's Standing Bureau has redistributed the duties of the party's vice chairmen and that Adrian Severin has been assigned no responsibility. Roman said the decision was due to "what Mr. Severin has been doing lately--and everybody knows what I have in mind." Severin, who has recently criticized Roman's handling of the coalition crisis, refused to comment. Roman also said the new coalition protocol about to be signed does not signal that his party has given up its aim to have the premier replaced. And party deputy chairman Victor Babiuc said the Democrats' deputy ministers will also resign from the government, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

TIRASPOL AUTHORITIES IMPOSE ENTRY TAX

The authorities in the separatist region have imposed an entry tax on all non-residents of the Transdniester, including Moldovan residents, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 4 February. The tax on non-residents is $10, which is the average weekly wage in Moldova. Those entering the region are also required to register with the police within three hours of crossing the border. Gheorghe Cirlan, Moldovan chief representative on the Joint Control Commission, which oversees the truce, described the new measures "unconstitutional and judicially void" as well as "contravening the principles of peace-keeping in the security zone." MS

BULGARIANS CELEBRATE SOCIALISTS' DEMISE

Several thousand people rallied in Sofia on 4 February to mark the first anniversary of the Socialist Party's decision not to form a new government, despite its parliamentary majority at the time, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The former ruling party was compelled to make such a decision in the wake of mass demonstrations against its mismanagement of the economy. In the April 1997 elections, the Socialist were forced into opposition. Premier Ivan Kostov said Bulgaria is now "respected by the world" because "we succeeded in ousting an incompetent government and did it without violence." In a 4 February statement, the Socialists said their decision one year earlier was "a wise step to avoid civil war." MS




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION LIKELY TO CAUSE POLICY CHANGES


by Emil Danielyan

The sudden resignation of Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan is likely to have far-reaching consequences for both the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia's internal politics.

An immediate result is that politicians who take a harder line are now in full control of the country. Prime Minister Robert Kocharian is acting president. Both he and his ministers have consistently rejected the recent "phased" peace plan on Nagorno-Karabakh proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group.

That plan, which has been approved by Ter-Petrossyan and Azerbaijan, would provide for the withdrawal of the Karabakh Armenian forces from six occupied districts in Azerbaijan proper before Nagorno-Karabakh's status is resolved. Ter-Petrossyan argued that confidence-building measures would facilitate an overall agreement on status.

Kocharian's government and Karabakh Armenians, however, say the plan is too dangerous because it provides no sufficient guarantees that Azerbaijan will not attack the disputed enclave once it regains lost territories. Instead, they call for a "package" deal that would involve a single framework accord on all contentious issues.

With the new Armenian leadership and Nagorno- Karabakh certain to reject the "phased" approach, the Russian, U.S. and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group may be forced to return to the "package" strategy. International mediators from the OSCE postponed a meeting in Paris on 4 February pending the resolution of the political crisis in Armenia.

In his final address to the nation, Ter-Petrossyan said internal government disputes over the peace process merely disguise fundamental differences on how and when to end the 10-year dispute with Azerbaijan.

Ter-Petrossyan appears to believe that Armenia has no prospect of economic development without a lasting peace with Azerbaijan. In his view, Armenia will eventually find it very difficult to cope with the oil-rich Azerbaijan. That made him inclined to compromise on Karabakh's status, namely to accept Karabakh returning to Azerbaijani rule but preserving a high degree of autonomy, its own armed forces, and a land corridor link to Armenia.

Kocharian and his two closest associates, Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian (who is not related to Vazgen), take a much tougher view. They rule out any "vertical subordination" of Karabakh to Baku. Kocharian recently said that Armenia should insist on the establishment of some kind of trilateral confederation in which Karabakh and Azerbaijan would be equal entities.

Having forced Ter-Petrossyan's resignation, Kocharian and his associates feel that Armenia could reach prosperity even without a settlement of the Karabakh issue.

Karabakh is important to the Armenians because of historical and psychological factors. After having lost territories for centuries, the Armenians are reluctant to "lose" Karabakh now that they have won a war against Azerbaijan.

But it is clear that the ouster of Ter-Petrossyan will affect the peace process for at least several months. International reaction will depend on internal political developments in Armenia. Ter-Petrossyan's resignation will result in either the country's democratization or stronger authoritarian rule than is the case at present. Observers believe that democratization is the more likely of those two options.

Kocharian said on 4 February that presidential elections, scheduled for March, will be free and fair. He seems to think that he has good chances of winning those elections. Although only an Armenian citizen can become president, Kocharian, who comes from Nagorno-Karabakh, may find a loophole in the constitution enabling him to run.

Kocharian is likely to rally a broad coalition behind him. The re-legalization of the banned Dashnak party, expected later this week, will give a crucial boost to Kocharian's popularity. His main challenger will probably be the former opposition presidential candidate, Vazgen Manukian. In fact, the two men have similar agendas: both favor democratization and a firmer stand on Karabakh.

Another option is that Armenia could be transformed into a parliamentary republic. That idea is supported by most opposition parties but has not been formally considered. The author is an RFE/RL corresponent based in Yerevan.


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