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Newsline - February 16, 1998


Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 13 February said his country considers the moment has arrived for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to pay a visit to Iraq. Primakov added that a "verdict of failure" cannot be passed on diplomatic efforts until Annan has visited Iraq. Meanwhile in Baghdad, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said on 13 February that the State Duma delegation has found no evidence that Iraq is producing weapons of mass destruction. Zhirinovsky and six other Duma deputies were allowed to tour whichever sites they wished, ITAR-TASS reported. On 15 February, the deputies visited the Al- Farum palace in Tikrit, 190 kilometers north of Baghdad, which is one of the eight suspect sites. The next day, the State Duma Council approved a plan to send a delegation to meet with U.S. congressmen "in Washington or Baghdad." BP


On the last day of his trip to Russia, the United States Secretary of Defense, William Cohen visited a nuclear weapons storage site at Sergeev Posad, Russian agencies reported on 13 February. Cohen said it is "essential" that the U.S. allocates $442 million for the next fiscal year to allow the continued implementation of the Nunn- Lugar program for dismantling nuclear weapons. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who accompanied Cohen to the site, said that the first stage of SALT I has ended and that 10,000 warheads have been dismantled. Both Sergeev and Cohen stressed the importance of U.S.-Russian cooperation in nuclear disarmament, following their different stands on Iraq the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 1998). "Izvestiya" on 14 February commented that the storage and use of nuclear weapons constitutes one area of U.S.-Russian relations in which there is no conflict. But it also pointed out that there are no nuclear warheads stored at Sergeev Posad. BP


At their 90-minute meeting in Grozny on 15 February, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin agreed on measures to locate and release people registered as missing in Chechnya as well as Chechens held in Russian jails. Rybkin made proposals for increasing both Russian and international investment in Chechnya The two men also discussed how to expedite work on drafting a treaty regulating bilateral relations, ITAR-TASS reported. In a television interview on12 February, Rybkin had castigated Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for his alleged loss of interest in Chechnya and warned that neglect of Chechnya's problems could aggravate the situation throughout the North Caucasus, Interfax reported. LF


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says the government's program of 12 major tasks for 1998 gives him the authority to supervise government regulation of "natural monopolies" in the energy and transportation sectors, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 February. Nemtsov's authority in that area had appeared to have been weakened by the recent redistribution of duties in the government, which gave Prime Minister Chernomyrdin the power to oversee energy policy. However, Nemtsov told a 13 February meeting of the Federal Energy Commission that he will fight for further reductions in energy tariffs and charges for railroad cargo. He added that he still wants oil companies with gas reserves to be granted access to the pipeline system of the gas monopoly Gazprom. Nemtsov's efforts to reform Gazprom were largely seen to have failed last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 23 December 1997). LB


During the same meeting of the Federal Energy Commission, Nemtsov called for more transparency in the budgets of regional electricity monopolies, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 February. He said supervisory councils should be created both in Moscow and the regions to oversee the utilities' activities. In particular, Nemtsov questioned why the heads of energy companies with partial state ownership often have luxurious offices and villas, as well as the funds to play the stock market and participate in the privatization of other firms. After outlining railroad reform plans at a 13 February session of the Duma, Nemtsov told journalists that the directors of large firms should be forced to disclose their real incomes. Speaking to RFE/RL, he said the tax inspectorate and tax police are already investigating some executives. He also repeated that he enjoys the "absolute support" of President Boris Yeltsin. LB


The Duma on 13 February ratified the 1957 convention banning all forms of forced labor, ITAR-TASS reported. The convention, which has been ratified by 119 countries, prohibits the use of forced labor as punishment for holding or expressing political views or for participating in strikes, as discrimination against workers on the basis of race, religion, or social or ethnic origin, or a as a means to enforce labor discipline or achieve economic development. During the Soviet period, forced labor in dangerous conditions claimed the lives of millions of prisoners. LB


The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) met in Moscow on 14 February to discuss strategy and, in particular, the party's policy toward young people. Gennadii Zyuganov, who has led the KPRF since its founding congress in February 1993, told delegates that the party's influence on youth is "obviously insufficient," Interfax reported. However, he said 70,000 of the KPRF's more than 500,000 members are below 40 and have joined during the last five years. After the plenum, Zyuganov told ITAR-TASS that delegates approved plans to create a broad Communist youth movement. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 14 February that the Komsomol, the successor to the Soviet youth movement of the same name, has failed to become a large or politically significant movement. Furthermore, its leader, Igor Malyarov, is preparing to found a new political party, the newspaper said. LB


Zyuganov says a nationalities policy that focuses on reviving the ethnic Russian nation is the only "serious answer" to separatism in the Russian Federation and must be a priority "if our goal is saving and strengthening the unity of the Fatherland." In a lengthy article published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 12 February, Zyuganov argued that ethnic minorities were the main beneficiaries of the Soviet nationalities policy of the 1920s and 1930s. He added that ethnic Russians are currently disadvantaged compared with other groups and are facing "genocide." According to Zyuganov, a presidential system is particularly unsuitable for multi-ethnic countries. He called for introducing a parliamentary system in which the legislature contained representatives of all ethnic groups and could overrule decisions adopted by regional authorities. He also called for providing equal social and economic rights to all regions of the federation. LB


Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin sent an open letter to the KPRF Central Committee plenum urging the party to alter its "cynical" and "mendacious" strategy toward the government. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 15 February, Baburin said he also distributed copies of the letter to Communist Duma deputies on 13 February. He again accused the KPRF leaders of "flirting with the authorities" and said his letter is aimed at "preventing the collapse of the left [opposition] movement." Baburin has long called for the Duma to vote no confidence in the government even if such action were to lead to the dissolution of the lower house of the parliament. His differences with KPRF leaders over strategy have caused a split within the Popular Power Duma faction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998). LB


"Izvestiya" on 12 February reported that the Federal Public- State Fund for the Protection of the Rights of Investors and Shareholders has asked law enforcement agencies to take action against the founders of the All-Russian Automobile Alliance (AVVA). The main organizers of that alliance, which was founded in 1993, were LogoVAZ head Boris Berezovskii and AvtoVAZ chief executive Vladimir Kadannikov, "Izvestiya" said. The newspaper charged that AVVA sought to attract some $300 million by selling shares to citizens. The money was to be invested in the construction of a new factory but that facility was never built because the share issue attracted only $50 million. However, AVVA refused to return money to some 2 million investors who had purchased shares. Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya," and Berezovskii is a leading business rival of Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin. LB


"Novye izvestiya" on 11 February accused Oneksimbank of "constructing its own state" through "oligarchic" cooperation with regional governments. Oneksimbank has signed agreements with 18 Russian regions, most recently with Yaroslavl Oblast in late January. As a rule, those regions have either large enterprises in which Oneksimbank owns shares or such strategic natural outlets as ports. "Novye izvestiya" argued that unlike some commercial banks, Oneksimbank has not built a large network of branches in the regions. Rather, it has focused on gaining authorization to handle regional budget funds, which is a lucrative arrangement for it. Oneksimbank has also offered loans to regions with financial difficulties. Those loans are likely to ensure that regional leaders support the bank's objectives and eventually its favored candidate in the next presidential election, the newspaper charged. "Novye izvestiya," founded by journalists who quit "Izvestiya" last summer, reportedly receives financing from Berezovskii. LB


Economics Minister Yakov Urinson on 13 February announced that the government will this year settle debts accrued to the defense industry in 1997, Russian news agencies reported. Meeting in Voronezh with leaders of the "Black Earth" regions in European Russia, Urinson said the government will create a commission on the debts, to be chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who also attended the Voronezh meeting. According to Urinson, the government will likely pay only some 10 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) of its 19.9 billion rubles in 1997 debts to the defense industry. He said enterprises ran up the remainder of the debt by producing more goods than the state ordered. Last September, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov promised that the government would pay all debts to the defense industry by April 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 1997). LB


Deputy Economics Minister Vladimir Salo announced on 6 February that production in the defense industry declined by 16.4 percent in 1997 and the production of arms and military hardware by 31.2 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. (Overall industrial production was up 3 percent for the year.) Salo attributed the decline to government debts to the sector. He noted that spending on conversion programs for defense enterprises totaled just 11 percent of budget targets in 1996 and virtually nothing in 1997. Duma Defense Industry Conversion Committee Chairman Georgii Kostin, a Communist, said on 3 February that output in the industry has fallen elevenfold over the last six years. He described the state of the industry as a threat to national security. According to "Izvestiya" on 14 February, the government is planning to reduce the number of defense enterprises from 1,700 to some 600 by the year 2000. LB


Pavel Grachev received a severe concussion in a car accident on 13 February in Ryazan Oblast, Russian news agencies reported. He remains hospitalized in serious condition, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 February. Grachev was defense minister from May 1992 until June 1996. He recently became an adviser to the arms exporting firm Rosvooruzhenie (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). LB


Former acting Prosecutor-General Aleksei Ilyushenko was released from pre-trial detention on 15 February, exactly two years after he was arrested on bribery and corruption charges, ITAR-TASS reported. Officials confirmed that the charges against Ilyushenko have not been dropped and that he will still face trial for his alleged involvement in illegal dealing by the Balkar Trading company. Ilyushenko was released because two years is the maximum period of pre-trial detention. Yeltsin appointed Ilyushenko to head the Prosecutor-General's Office in February 1994 and kept him in that post until October 1995, despite the fact that the Federation Council twice refused to confirm the appointment. LB


Preliminary returns indicate that incumbent Mordovian President Nikolai Merkushkin gained some 96.6 percent of the vote in the 15 February election, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Turnout was estimated at more than 75 percent. The Mordovian result was reminiscent of Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev's victory in last October's gubernatorial election in Orel Oblast. In both cases, incumbents won with more than 95 percent of the vote amid allegations that serious challengers were excluded from participating in the campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1997 and 13 February 1998). LB


Ivan Sklyarov has issued a directive partially suspending a Constitutional Court ruling, according to the "IEWS Russian Regional Report" on 12 February. Last December, the court struck down an article of the Civil Code stipulating that enterprises pay their workers before paying taxes. Sklyarov's directive says companies that owe wage to employees can use only half their income toward paying taxes to Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Enterprise directors support the measure, but oblast Prosecutor Aleksandr Fedotov told "IEWS Russian Regional Report" that any attempts to revoke Constitutional Court rulings are invalid. Sergei Speranskii, chairman of the Legal Committee in the oblast legislature, also condemned Sklyarov's directive as illegal. Yurii Spiridonov, the leader of the Komi Republic, ignored a recent Constitutional Court ruling on local government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1998). LB


Georgian security officials on 15 February announced the arrest of five suspects in connection with the recent assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze. Fifteen Georgians and three Chechens were said to have participated in that attack, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tbilisi the next day. Speaking on state television on 15 February, Shevardnadze said those arrested were supporters of ousted late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and were recruited and financed by unnamed circles outside Georgia. Shevardnadze also suggested that there is a connection between last week's attack and the failed bid to kill him in August 1995. Shevardnadze again demanded that former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who is suspected of participating in the 1995 attack, be extradited from Moscow. Several members of the banned paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni are currently on trial for their alleged role in that attack (see also "End Note" below). LF


Addressing a government session on 13 February, Vladislav Ardzinba accused the Georgian leadership of planning terrorist attacks against the estimated 10,000 ethnic Georgians who have returned to their homes in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Interfax reported. Ardzinba charged that this action is intended to mobilize Georgian public opinion to press for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The peacekeepers' mandate expired on 31 January. Ardzinba said the so-called White Legion Georgian guerrilla organization, which he claimed is financed by the Georgian government, is distributing leaflets in Gali warning that Abkhaz military formations are planning to attack Georgians living there. LF


Vahan Hovanissian, one of the leaders of the recently reinstated Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), has expressed his party's conditional support for Prime Minister and Acting President Robert Kocharyan's presidential candidacy, Interfax reported on 13 February. Hovanissian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that although he personally respects National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian, his party believes Kocharyan can achieve greater progress in resolving the Karabakh conflict and in implementing democratization. But Hovanissian added that his party may withdraw its support for Kocharyan if the "power ministries" attempt to influence the elections in the latter's favor, according to Interfax. The Social-Democratic Party, the Scientific-Industrial and Civic Union, and the Union of Industrialists and Businessmen of Armenia (which until now supported former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan) have also pledged their backing for Kocharyan's candidacy, ArmenPress and Noyan Tapan reported. LF


Karen Demirchyan, who was first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party from 1974-1988, announced on 13 February that he intends to contend the presidency. For the past 10 years, the 66-year-old Demirchyan has headed the Armelektromash research and production association, one of the largest of its kind in Armenia. To date, nine candidates have announced their intention to contend the poll. "Respublika Armeniya" on 14 February predicted that none of the three leading contenders--Kocharyan, Manukian, and Demirchyan--will receive the required absolute majority in the first round and that a runoff is therefore virtually inevitable. LF


President Heidar Aliyev told journalists in Istanbul on 14 February that he has fired Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov because of the latter's "criminal actions." A government investigation, whose finding were made public on 12 February, established that Hasanov diverted a Turkish loan intended to finance construction of an official Foreign Ministry hotel and used the money to turn the building into a luxury hotel and casino. Azerbaijani National Security Minister Namig Abbasov denied, however, that criminal proceedings have been brought against Hasanov, AFP reported. LF


Lawmakers have approved a privatization program ending a legislative ban on the sale of state assets, AFP reported on 13 February. The program, submitted by President Leonid Kuchma, allows for the privatization of the energy and telecommunications sectors but would not permit the sale of farm land. Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko said he expects privatization to add about 1 billion hryvna ($521 million) to state coffers this year. The parliament put a freeze on the privatization process in November after several reports of inefficiency and corruption. In other news, the National Statistics Committee said on 13 February that Ukraine received $759.2 million in foreign investment last year. That is a 42 percent increase over the previous year. Investors from the U.S. accounted for the largest percentage of investments. PB


Anatoly Gritsenko said on 13 February that the Ukrainian parliament's call for early elections in Crimea is unconstitutional, ITAR-TASS reported. The Kyiv parliament's decision the previous day to hold early elections on 29 March is one of a "series of illegal acts" against the autonomous republic of Crimea, he argued. Gritsenko also said the Ukrainian parliament can demand early elections only if the Crimean legislature violates the country's constitution and the Ukrainian Constitutional Court rules to dissolve the peninsula's parliament. PB


Zurab Zhvania held talks in Kyiv on 13-14 February with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Moroz, and with Premier Pustovoytenko. Moroz affirmed Ukraine's support for Georgia's application for membership in the Council of Europe and promised that Ukrainian lawmakers will soon debate Georgia's request that Kyiv provide a peacekeeping unit to serve on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Pustovoytenko said Ukraine is interested in drawing up a long-term program of economic cooperation that would increase bilateral trade. Zhvania, for his part, expressed support for Ukraine's planned participation in the TRACECA transport corridor project. LF


An opposition group used a registered Valentine's Day march in Minsk to protest the policies of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarusian service reported on 14 February. Some 1,000 protesters carried signs with slogans such as "I Love NATO" and "I Love the EU" and also shouted anti-Lukashenka slogans. The march was organized by the Youth Front, which seeks to orient Belarus more toward the West. Marchers delivered letters to Western embassies calling for the release of political prisoners and describing Lukashenka's policies as confrontational. Police filmed the march but did not stop it because it was officially registered. PB


A shipment of medical aid from the U.S. for people suffering from the effects of the Chornobyl nuclear accident arrived in Minsk on 14 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The aid, which includes antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, will be distributed in hospitals in the Gomel and Mogilev regions and at three clinics in Minsk. Belarus was harder hit than any other country by the 1986 Chornobyl accident. PB


President Guntis Ulmanis told reporters on 13 February that he will seek a dialogue with the government parties that will not undermine the cabinet's stability, BNS reported. "I won't give any hope to anyone perhaps wishing the president to become so deep embroiled in a dispute with the Fatherland and Freedom [party] that the government collapses," he said. Two days earlier, Ulmanis had vetoed a controversial amendment to the labor code, proposed by Fatherland and Freedom and Latvia's Way, whereby an employee could be dismissed for insufficient knowledge of the Latvian language (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1998). JC


Ewa Spychalska has resigned as the Polish ambassador in Minsk. According to an RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw on 14 February, Spychalska, who had been criticized by Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, submitted her resignation in order not to complicate relations between Geremek and President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Spychalska's replacement has not been named. In other news, a 63-year-old woman died in a Warsaw hospital of Creutzfeldt-Jakob-Disease, the human variant of "mad cow" disease. Poland banned all imports of gelatin last week. Cow byproducts are used in the production of gelatin. PB


Libor Novak, the former executive deputy chairman of Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS), was taken into custody on 14 February, CTK reported. Novak is accused of evading the payment of taxes totaling 500,000 million crowns ($14,500) in connection with donations given to the ODS. The Financial Office filed a lawsuit against him earlier this month. MS


Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) chairman Jiri Skalicky told journalists on 14 February that he will not run in the upcoming parliamentary elections but will remain ODA chairman. Skalicky said the decision not to run for the parliament is not connected with his demand that ODS deputy Miroslav Tosler, involved in a scandal in which an Opava entrepreneur was allegedly forced to make a donation to the ODA, must tender his resignation. Also on 14 February, the ODA Central Assembly ruled that Tosler can stay on pending clarification of the allegations. Skalicky reacted by saying that if Tosler does not resign, he will do so. MS


Iraq has been attempting to recruit Czechs for an international volunteer force, AFP reported on 14 February, citing CTK. An agent of the Czech counter- espionage service (BIS) said there is an ongoing investigation into the issue. Ludvik Zifcak, a former officer in the communist secret police and now owner of the weekly "Nove Bruntalsko," had recently published an advertisement titled "Hands off Iraq." Eighteen Czechs were said to have been recruited following the appearance of the advertisement. "Lidove Noviny" reported that the BIS and military intelligence officers were also investigating five Iraqis who were arrested last week in Prague without identification papers on them, as part of increased security measures adopted in the wake of the Iraqi crisis. MS


Tibor Cabaj, the chairman of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia's parliamentary faction, said he has spoken to the premier about his intention to propose Meciar's candidacy for president and that he has "received [Meciar's] agreement," Reuters reported on 13 February, citing TASR. Another round of the presidential elections is scheduled for 5 March. Meciar would need nine votes from the opposition to have the required three-fifths majority. Reuters said he is unlikely to receive those votes because of the growing animosity between the two camps. In other news, Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster and former Foreign Minister Juraj Hamzik announced on 13 February that they have founded a new political party, called Party of Civic Understanding, TASR reported. The party is to "support the development of civil society and promote Slovakia's orientation toward North Atlantic structures." MS


The Prime Minister's Office released a statement on 14 February correcting Gyula Horn's earlier remarks that 80 percent of robberies and murders in Hungary are committed by foreigners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 1998). The office said Budapest police chief Attila Berta had provided data suggesting that foreigners account for 80 percent of criminals as well as for 80 percent of the victims of crimes in which weapons are involved. But Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze said only 3.5 percent of all reported crimes are committed by foreigners. In other news, hundreds of neo-Nazis staged a rally at Buda Castle on 14 February to honor German occupying forces and Hungarian fascists who fought Soviet troops for the control of Budapest in 1945. MSZ


Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Brussels that the voluntary surrender of two Bosnian Serbs to the court on 14 February increases the pressure on Belgrade to cooperate with the tribunal, "Nasa Borba" reported two days later. She warned that Yugoslavia will become increasingly isolated the longer it refuses to send indicted war criminals to The Hague. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, for his part, said the international community will insist that Belgrade honor the commitments it made in the Dayton agreement, including a pledge to cooperate with the court. PM


The Belgrade daily "Dnevni telegraf" wrote on 15 February that Simo Zaric, one of six Bosnian Serbs from Bosanski Samac who is wanted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, will turn himself in to the court's representatives in the near future. The newspaper quoted him as saying that he intends to surrender to the court as soon has he has "cleared up some legal matters." Miroslav Tadic and Milan Simic, who are also among the six men charged with setting up concentration camps and carrying out "ethnic cleansing" in 1991, gave themselves up on 14 February. They told reporters in The Hague the next day that they are innocent. Tadic and Simic are the first Bosnian Serbs to voluntarily surrender to the tribunal. PM


Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Zagreb on 14 February that the Bosnian Serbs are "particularly interested in establishing economic cooperation with Croatia." Both he and Croatian Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa agreed to set up a commission on missing persons, which will hold its first meeting within two months. The two sides will also discuss setting up border crossing points and promoting cooperation between the Croatian oil company INA and the refinery at Bosanski Brod, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. Dodik said he supports Croatia's wish to open a consulate in Banja Luka, and his hosts said they will consider abolishing visa requirements for Bosnian Serbs who are holders of the new joint Bosnian passport. PM


Mahmut Bakalli, a leading communist-era Kosovar political leader, told RFE/RL from Belgrade on 14 February that the Yugoslav government is "arrogant and masochistic." He was referring to the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry's statement the previous day that German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, are not welcome to make a previously planned visit. Bakalli added that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is behaving like a "crude Balkan Saddam Hussein" in his stubborn refusal to modify Serbia's policies in Kosovo. Kinkel and Vedrine launched a diplomatic initiative in November 1997 to promote autonomy for Kosovo within Yugoslavia. PM


Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Pristina on 13 February that the Serbian authorities are increasingly using force in Kosovo. He stated that Belgrade's goals are to intimidate the ethnic Albanians and destabilize the province in the run-up to the shadow-state's parliamentary and presidential elections slated for March. Rugova added that the elections could provide an impetus for a Serbian-Albanian dialogue, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Kosovar capital. PM


Ethnic Albanian student representatives on 13 February called for renewed mass protests on 13 March to demand control over school and university buildings. In December, Serbian riot police put down peaceful protests aimed at restoring Albanian- language education (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1997). In other news, unidentified gunmen killed an ethnic Albanian employee of the Yugoslav Post in Glogovac on 13 February. Three days later, the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti" wrote that the body of an ethnic Albanian employee of the Serbian electric company has been found in the Glogovac area. In the past, the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army, which is strong in Glogovac, has killed several ethnic Albanians whom it regards as Serbian collaborators. PM


Interior Minister Neritan Ceka on 15 February asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to prepare charges against opposition Democratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari, who enjoys parliamentary immunity. Hajdari and 15 other people were involved in two armed incidents with police in the Shkoder area the previous day. Police arrested 11 of Hajdari's group and confiscated "a large quantity of arms." Hajdari, who is no stranger to controversy, said in Tirana on 15 February that the police had staged "another attack on me." Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha said that if Hajdari's immunity is lifted, his party will reconsider its recent decision to end its boycott of the parliament. PM


Police briefly detained three journalists, including Fatos Baxhaku, the editor-in-chief of "Gazeta Shqiptare," at a naval base in Vlora on 12 February, a Defense Ministry spokesman said in Tirana three days later. The spokesman said that the three tricked guards at the base into letting them enter the site, which they then filmed. The spokesman added that "the media should respect rules protecting state secrets" and not seek admission to any base without a permit. PM


Ramiz Alia, who was president of Albania from 1985 to 1992, underwent tests in Salonika, Greece, on 14 February and is slated to have heart surgery later this week. Alia had a heart attack on 24 January and also suffers from respiratory problems. PM


In a departure from its cautious position on the Iraqi crisis last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1998), the Romanian government released a statement on 14 February saying Bucharest is "ready to participate" in a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq if diplomatic efforts fail to solve the conflict. The statement said the government will seek the approval of the parliament if such participation becomes necessary. In other news, Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu on 13 February ended a two-day visit to Germany, where he met with Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel. Kinkel promised continued support for Romania's integration into Euro-Atlantic structure and for German investments, but said there is "some worry" about political stability in Romania. MS


The Democratic Party has set up a 17-member team to "monitor" the performance of Victor Ciorbea's cabinet, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 13 February. Party deputy chairman Traian Basescu will coordinate the group, which, he said, should "not yet" be viewed as a "shadow cabinet" because "we are still a member of the ruling coalition." However, the group intends to work out "parallel" reform programs" and each of its members will be in charge with "monitoring" the performance of a ministry. Former Foreign Minister Adrian Severin is not included in the group, and foreign affairs will be "monitored" by incumbent minister Andrei Plesu. Observers point out that this is a unique situation in which a party both participates in the governing coalition and adopts an opposition-like stance and in which a minister "monitors" his own ministry. MS


The Moldovan government on 13 February said it does not owe the U.S. company Virtual Defense Development International any money for facilitating the sale of the MiG-29 aircraft to the U.S. last October. Chiril Sorocean, a counselor to Premier Ion Ciubuc, said the sale took place without any intermediaries, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 13 October 1998). In other news, Moldovan and Romanian experts concluded in Chisinau on 13 February a new round of talks on a basic bilateral treaty. Radio Bucharest reported that Romania wants the treaty to mention the "special relationship" between the two states. According to Mediafax, Bucharest wants the document to be called a "fraternity treaty," while Chisinau rejects giving the document any special title. MS


Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, meeting with Moldovan Deputy Premier Ion Gutu in Tiraspol on 13 February, agreed to reschedule the $15 million outstanding debt Chisinau owes for energy supplies from the Moldavskaya power plant on condition that Moldova pays its current debt, Infotag and BASA press reported. At the same meeting, Smirnov delivered an ultimatum demanding the abolition of the tax imposed on Transdniestrian goods transiting Moldovan territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 1998). Smirnov and Gutu agreed that President Petru Lucinschi and Smirnov will discuss the issue at their meeting re- scheduled for 17 February. MS


Ann McGuirk, the IMF's chief representative in Bulgaria, has said Bulgaria's economic performance is "very positive" and "better than expected" after the introduction of stabilization measures in 1997, AFP reported on 13 February. Olivier Descamps, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development regional director, said the same day in Sofia that Bulgaria's credibility with foreign investors and bankers is now "the best it has been in the last five years." He added that legislation on foreign investment and privatization must still be passed by the parliament and the privatization of the banking sector accelerated. In other news, Finance Minister Muravei Radev on 15 February sought to persuade some 400 miners at the Grobuso lead and zinc mines, some 300 kilometers southeast of Sofia, to end a four- day hunger strike and leave the pits. The miners are demanding that the government triple their wages. MS


by Liz Fuller

On 15 February, six days after unidentified assailants failed in their attempt to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze announced the detention of several people suspected of participating in the assassination bid. Shevardnadze disclosed later that day that the five suspects included supporters of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and that they had been trained outside Georgia. But the identity and motives of both the assailants and those who contracted them remain unclear. If Gamsakhurdia's supporters were indeed responsible, it is unclear whom they intended to install as president to replace Shevardnadze. Moreover, political figures in Tbilisi, Moscow, and Chechnya seeking to extract dividends from the assassination bid have made statements that divert attention from the discrepancies and contradictions between the various hypotheses.

On 10 February, a Georgian Interior Ministry official announced that one of the hit squad killed by Shevardnadze's bodyguards was apparently a Muslim. But the passport found on him was reported stolen several months ago by its owner, Dagestani Chechen Visamutdin Djangaliev.

Georgian parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania described the assailants as "highly efficient specialists," adding that there is no military unit within Georgia capable of operating with such professionalism and that they must therefore have been sent from outside Georgia. But a team of U.S. experts who arrived in Tbilisi on 12 February to assist in the investigation initially concluded that those involved were not high-class professionals.

Shevardnadze initially blamed the attack on "external forces" intent on sowing "controlled chaos" throughout the Caucasus. The following day, he implicated unnamed forces "who cannot forgive Afghanistan, the [fall of the] Berlin Wall, Europe's liberation, oil pipelines, and the Eurasian transport corridor." But Shevardnadze also denied having referred to "a Russian connection" in the assassination bid, affirming that "Georgia needs Russia, just as Russia needs Georgia."

But Zhvania, who over the past year has taken a consistently harder line on relations with Russia than has Shevardnadze, said that members of the hit squad had spoken Russian among themselves. He added that they may have been evacuated from Georgia on a Russian military plane that landed at the Russian military base at Vaziani, 30 kilometers east of Tbilisi, several hours after the attack on Shevardnadze and took off 90 minutes later. Russian journalists, however, pointed out that Vaziani and the site of the assassination attempt are located on opposite banks of the River Kura and that the assailants could not have reached the nearest bridge before it was closed off by Georgian security forces.

Predictably, Russian officials have disclaimed any involvement in the attack and have suggested that it was planned inside Georgia, possibly by economic interest groups targeted by Shevardnadze's ongoing drive to eradicate corruption. But there are forces in Russia with a vested interest in eliminating Shevardnadze, although those forces are less likely to be motivated by revenge for Shevardnadze's actions as Soviet foreign minister than by the desire to keep Georgia within Russia's sphere of influence.

The domestic chaos that would inevitably have followed Shevardnadze's assassination would have jeopardized the export via Georgia of Caspian oil, the TRACECA project to transport goods from Central Asia and the Transcaucasus to Europe without transiting Russian territory, and the planned creation of a Caucasian "Common Market" comprising Chechnya, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. (International financial circles including former European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Jacques Attali are reportedly engaged in fund raising for the last-named undertaking.)

Alternatively, some political circles in Moscow, either acting independently or in tandem with the radical wing of the Abkhaz leadership, may have wished to prevent the international community's further involvement in mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. While neither the UN nor NATO is likely to endorse the "Bosnia option," which foresees a peace-enforcing operation in Abkhazia and for which Shevardnadze has been lobbying in recent weeks, the prospect of an international force deployed close to the borders of the Russian Federation may have been unacceptable to those circles.

By contrast, Chechen government involvement in the assassination bid is implausible. Since last summer, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has sought to expand economic relations with Georgia, which is Chechnya's sole outlet to the Black Sea. Shevardnadze, for his part, has proved amenable to such contacts, while stressing that he considers Chechnya an inseparable part of the Russian Federation. But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov has condemned the Georgian "flirtation" with Chechnya. And Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary Commission on Defense Affairs, told RFE/RL that some members of the Russian Federal Security Service may have wanted to eliminate Shevardnadze in order to curtail the Chechen-Georgian rapprochement.

Meanwhile, maverick field commander Salman Raduev's claim that the attack on Shevardnadze was perpetrated by his Caucasian Home organization was probably intended primarily to embarrass Maskhadov and enhance Raduev's own inglorious reputation.

A final question is how the Georgian security service failed to forestall a second attempt on Shevardnadze's life within two-and-a-half years. Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has said he warned his Georgian counterpart in November 1997 that an assassination attempt was in the offing. And an RFE/RL delegation that met with Shevardnadze in Tbilisi earlier this month was struck by the stringent security precautions in effect at the Chancellery.