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Newsline - February 27, 1998




SELEZNEV IN DAMASCUS

State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev met with Syrian leaders, including Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Zoabi and President Hafez- al-Assad, in the Syrian capital on 25-26 February. Seleznev told reporters later that his talks were "very productive" and that Moscow to intends to restore its relations with Syria to their level before the collapse of the USSR. He added that Moscow is preparing to make "a strategic comeback" in the Middle East but as a "guarantor of peace and for the sake of our economic interests" rather than to impose its will on any of the states in the region. Seleznev also argued that U.S. forces should withdraw from the Persian Gulf as their presence there cannot be justified following the UN-Iraq agreement allowing inspectors access to weapons sites. LF

KHARRAZI MEETS WITH CHERNOMYRDIN, RYBKIN

At the close of his three-day official visit to Moscow, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to discuss expanding bilateral trade and economic cooperation, in particular Russia's role in constructing the Bushehr nuclear reactor, Russian agencies reported. Kharrazi also discussed Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the situation in the Caucasus with Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" published on 27 February, Kharrazi denied Russian press reports that Tehran is interested in purchasing Russian attack helicopters and high-speed warships (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1998). Interfax reported that Russia and Iran failed to agree on dividing the Caspian. Russia advocates dividing the sea bed into national sectors, while Iran wants both the sea bed and the waters of the Caspian to be exploited jointly by all five littoral states. LF

FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES RUSSIA DEVELOPING BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin has denied reports in the Russian and foreign press that Moscow is not complying with agreements prohibiting the development of weapons for biological warfare. Nesterushkin said Russia "strictly observes its obligations under the Convention on Banning Biological Weapons." He also pointed out that Yeltsin signed that convention after the demise of the USSR and later issued a decree banning biological warfare programs. He added that newspapers that publish articles claiming Russia is developing biological warfare "are apparently not concerned about their reputation," and that "any honest reporter could easily verify the facts." Former Soviet researcher Kanatzhan Alibekov, who now lives in the U.S., claims that Russia continues to develop biological weapons but conceals that activity through its defense research programs. BP

CONFUSING SIGNALS OVER CABINET RESHUFFLE

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told ITAR-TASS on 27 February that Yeltsin is still considering possible cabinet dismissals. Yastrzhembskii did not specify when the president's decision will be announced. On 26 February, Yeltsin said three cabinet members may lose their jobs, but he left a government session without naming the victims. The same day, Yastrzhembskii told Reuters that cabinet changes are likely to be announced on 27 February. Meanwhile, ITAR- TASS quoted unnamed sources as saying the dismissals will be announced sometime before 5 March. LB

CHERNOMYRDIN FAVORS VETO IF DUMA WON'T AMEND BUDGET

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told journalists on 26 February that if the State Duma does not approve amendments to make the 1998 budget realistic, he will recommend that Yeltsin veto the document, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The same day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said his party will support the budget when it is again put to a fourth reading in the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. He did not specify whether his party has revised its opposition to a government-proposed amendment that is likely to lead to spending cuts of 27.8 billion rubles ($4.6 billion). The Duma overwhelmingly rejected that amendment on 20 February. LB

OFFICIALS UPBEAT ON TAX COLLECTION...

While Chernomyrdin criticized the government's poor tax collection during a 26 February cabinet session, other officials claimed significant progress has been made in that area. State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok announced that monthly tax receipts have improved since 1997 and that the tax collection target of 12.3 billion rubles ($2 billion) for February has already been met, Russian news agencies reported. He added that if the gas monopoly Gazprom settles its debts to the budget, the February target will be overfulfilled. But Pochinok acknowledged that executing the 1998 budget will require monthly tax revenues of 15-18 billion rubles. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said in his report to the cabinet that taxes collected in cash rose by 30-35 percent in the first two months in 1998. Under a November 1997 presidential decree, the government is no longer allowed to offset taxes against debts owed to enterprises. LB

...BUT PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER SKEPTICAL

Aleksandr Livshits, Yeltsin's economic adviser and deputy head of the presidential administration, told NTV on 26 February that he doubts the government's tax collection target for February has been met. According to his figures, he said, at most 10 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) in taxes have been collected this month. LB

COMMISSION DEMANDS TAX PAYMENTS FROM 'NATURAL MONOPOLIES'

The Temporary Emergency Commission on Tax and Budgetary Discipline held its first meeting of the year on 24 February and demanded that "natural monopolies" clear their debts to the federal budget, Interfax reported. Pochinok announced after the meeting that by the end of February, the Railroad Ministry must pay its debt of 600 million rubles ($99 million) and the electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES) 1.4 billion rubles in back taxes. The gas monopoly Gazprom is keeping up with its current tax payments but is estimated to owe some 2 billion new rubles in debts carried over from the end of 1997, Pochinok said. LB

CENTRAL BANK CUTS REFINANCING RATE AGAIN

The Central Bank's board of directors on 27 February decided to reduce the annual refinancing rate from 39 percent to 36 percent, effective 2 March. The bank's move comes as representatives of three major international credit rating agencies are in Moscow to determine whether to downgrade Russia's sovereign debt rating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 1998). The Central Bank raised the refinancing rate from 28 percent to 42 percent on 2 February but lowered it to 39 percent on 17 February, saying the situation on Russian capital markets has stabilized. The bank says it hopes that by the end of 1998 the refinancing rate will be between 16-18 percent. Real interest rates remain extremely high. Government projections call for an annual inflation rate of 5-7 percent this year. LB

YELTSIN PROMISES TO SUPPORT MIDDLE CLASS

Yeltsin on 27 February promised to support Russia's emerging middle class, which he described as the most "reliable foundation of stability" in the country. In a nationwide radio address, the president said creating a large group of people who are "well provided for and confident" is "the main goal of reforms." He praised Irina Khakamada, who heads the State Committee for the Support and Development of Small Businesses, and called on her committee to focus on "protecting businessmen from the arbitrary actions of bureaucrats" and on simplifying and reducing taxes. However, Yeltsin noted that given the current budget crunch, the state will not be able to provide huge financial aid for small businesses. Yeltsin cited figures showing that some 1 million small businesses employ about 10 percent of the Russian work force and contribute an estimated 12 percent of the country's GDP. LB

PROGRAM ON SMALL BUSINESSES RECEIVES PRELIMINARY APPROVAL

A government commission on 24 February gave preliminary approval to a federal program for supporting small businesses in 1998-1999. Khakamada announced the next day that the program, which was drafted by the State Committee on the Support and Development of Small Businesses, will be considered at a cabinet session in late March, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The program seeks to increase small businesses' contribution to the GDP to15 percent and double the number of Russians employed by small businesses from some 7.5 million to 15 million. Khakamada claimed that reducing the tax burden on small businesses will cause tax revenues to improve and the shadow economy to decline. "Izvestiya" on 26 February quoted Khakamada as saying the draft 1998 budget calls for 100 million rubles in spending on her committee's program. LB

SECOND SUSPECT CHARGED IN JOURNALIST'S MURDER

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 26 February charged Major Vladimir Morozov with helping organize the October 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, Interfax reported. Morozov served in the Airborne Troops under Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, who has also been charged in the case. Meanwhile, prosecutors say they have made significant progress in the investigation of the March 1995 murder of popular journalist Vladislav Listev, the head of the Russian Public Television network. Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov is to report to Yeltsin about that case on 2 March. Petr Triboi, who is heading the investigation, told "Izvestiya" on 27 February that Listev's murder was "not political." Speculation in the Russian media has focused on possible economic motives for the crime. Shortly before his death, Listev ordered a moratorium on advertising on the network. LB

AGRARIAN PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS

The Agrarian Party of Russia (APR) held its sixth congress near Moscow on 26 February, ITAR-TASS reported. APR chairman Mikhail Lapshin told delegates that the party, which inherited part of the Communist Party's network when it was formed in 1993, has 300,000 members. Lapshin lost his seat in the parliament after the APR failed to gain five percent of the vote in December 1995, but he is competing in an upcoming by-election for a State Duma seat from the Altai Republic. Lapshin told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 24 February that his strongest rival is former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov. He left the government last April and is now a top executive in the Renaissance Capital investment firm, part of the Oneksimbank empire. Vavilov is said to be on good terms with Semen Zubakin, who vacated the Duma seat after being elected head of Altai last December. LB

GAZPROM ACQUIRES SHARES IN REGIONAL COMPANIES

The gas monopoly Gazprom, which is owed large debts by many of its consumers, is collecting payment for some debts in property rather than cash, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 26 February. Gazprom's chief executive Rem Vyakhirev recently visited Tatarstan and Bashkortostan to negotiate methods for settling those republics' debts to the company. Leaders in Bashkortostan agreed to transfer to Gazprom the right to manage controlling stakes in three large companies. In Kazan, a preliminary agreement was reached to pay Tatarstan's debts to the gas monopoly partly in airplanes and partly in shares of several large companies. Last month, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a member of the Gazprom board of directors, announced that in 1997 the company was able to collect only 38 percent of payments for gas deliveries, "Rabochaya tribuna" reported on 9 January. LB




GEORGIA ASSESSES UNOMIG ABDUCTION

A Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman on 26 February said that Gocha Esebua, leader of the group of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia supporters that abducted four UN observers in western Georgia last week, is one of the prime suspects in the failed 9 February attempt to kill President Eduard Shevardnadze. In response to one of the abductors' demands, Shevardnadze has proposed the creation of a commission of historians, lawyers, and scholars to evaluate recent political developments in Georgia. Shevardnadze has also proposed drafting new principles to serve as the basis for national reconciliation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 February. Liviu Bota, the UN secretary-general's special envoy to Georgia, has expressed concern that the unarmed UN observer force in western Georgia could be the target of further attacks or hostage-takings, Reuters reported. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS WITH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

Vazgen Sarkisyan met with seven of the 12 Armenian presidential candidates at the Central Electoral Commission on 26 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sarkisyan subsequently said that an agreement was reached on the participation of military personnel in the 16 March presidential election. No details of that agreement were released. International observers who monitored the 1995 and 1996 polls expressed suspicions that, on those occasions, servicemen may have voted several times at different polling stations. In an interview with Noyan Tapan earlier this month, Sarkisyan said that elections should be "absolutely fair." But on 25 February, Liberal Democratic Party chairman and presidential candidate Vigen Khachatryan told "Aravot" that Sarkisyan has been summoning various local governors and members of electoral commissions to his office "to instruct them how to act" during the poll. LF

ARMENIA, GEORGIA TO BROADEN COOPERATION WITH CHINA

Meeting on 25 February with Aram Vardanian, chairman of the Union of Businessmen and Industrialists of Armenia, Chinese Ambassador to Yerevan Yan Kejun discussed expanding cooperation and possible joint ventures in the electrical engineering, food-processing, and textile sectors, Noyan Tapan reported. The same day, Georgian Minister of Transport Merab Adeishvili met with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Wu Bangguo in Beijing to discuss broadening cooperation in the transportation sector. Such cooperation would presumably take place within the framework of the TRACECA project to develop rail, road, ferry links from China via Central Asia and the Caucasus to Europe. LF

UZBEK DELEGATION VISITS BAKU

Visiting Uzbek First Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Djurabekov and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Abbas Abbasov, also discussed the benefits of the TRACECA during their talks in Baku on 25 February. That meeting took place within the framework of the first session of the Azerbaijani-Uzbek intergovernmental cooperation commission, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Djurabekov said that Uzbekistan last year saved $40 per ton by transporting goods from Tashkent via Turkmenbashi, Baku, Poti, and Ilichevsk. He added that Uzbekistan plans to double the amount of goods shipped by this route this year from the 1997 volume of 200,000 tons. The two sides signed three inter-governmental economic agreements on streamlining currency and export operations and combatting financial and economic crime. LF

BISHKEK WORRIED ABOUT CITIZENS ARRESTED IN UZBEKISTAN

The Kyrgyz parliamentary Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security, and Human Rights convened a joint session on 26 February to discuss what to do about two of its citizens currently held by Uzbek law enforcement authorities, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. The Kyrgyz government has requested details about the reasons for the arrests but so far has received no reply from the Uzbek authorities. Rustam Usmanov was arrested in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on 13 February, while Zakirjan Normatov was taken into custody by Uzbek police in the Kyrgyz city of Osh in late January. Uzbek police sources told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Usmanov is wanted on charges made four years ago, when he was an Uzbek citizen. Normatov is wanted in connection with the December disturbances in Namangan. BP

TAJIK PRESIDENT SAYS GOVERNMENT WILL REMAIN SECULAR

Imomali Rakhmonov has responded to an article by Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition, arguing that the term "secular government" should be struck from the Tajik Constitution and a referendum held on the issue. The article appeared in the Iranian newspaper "Jumhuri-e-Eslami" on 14 February. Rakhmonov said at a meeting with political activists in Khujand on 25 February there will be no revision of the relevant article of the constitution, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Mehmadsharif Himmatzade of the Islamic Renaissance Party said his party will respect the law and leave it to the people to decide which form of government they prefer. BP




UKRAINE SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH SOUTHERN NEIGHBORS...

Officials from Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania signed a cooperation treaty in Izmail, Ukraine, on 26 February, Mediafax reported. The signatories to the agreement pledged to protect ethnic minorities and to put aside territorial disputes. The document, which was sponsored by the European Council, also draws up free-trade zones and sets common policies on border traffic. PB

...FAILS TO AGREE WITH LATVIA OVER TARIFFS REDUCTION

Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko and his Latvian counterpart, Guntars Krasts, signed five cooperation agreements in Kyiv on 26 February but failed to agree on the abolition of tariffs on some goods, BNS reported. A free- trade agreement on many foodstuffs was signed. But Krasts was opposed to a reduction of the 75 percent tariff on Ukrainian grain imports, while Pustovoytenko insisted on maintaining a 20 percent duty on Latvian canned fish products. Other agreements provided for cooperation in the transportation and communications sectors. PB

LATVIA'S ULMANIS REJECTS AMENDED ELECTION LAW

Guntis Ulmanis has rejected amendments to the law on general elections recently adopted by the parliament, BNS reported on 26 February. Under the amended legislation, political parties would have to receive 5 percent and coalitions 7 percent of the vote to gain parliamentary representation. Ulmanis said he believes that the existence of different thresholds for parties and coalitions would lead to the unequal division of seats in the parliament. The amendments, he added, are not favorable to the development of democracy and the political system. More than one-third of deputies had appealed to the president not to sign the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 1998). JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT WANTS EU, NATO ENTRY WITHIN FIVE YEARS

Valdas Adamkus, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who was sworn in as Lithuanian president on 26 February, says he will strive for Lithuania to join the EU and NATO by the end of his five-year term. Addressing the parliament during his inauguration ceremony, Adamkus also pledged to maintain friendly relations with neighboring states. In remarks later to a crowd on Vilnius's Cathedral Square, Adamkus announced he will launch a "moral renewal program" and will invite the media and political parties to help promote it. One day before his inauguration, Adamkus renounced his U.S. citizenship. JC

POLAND WANTS ACCESS TO LABOR MARKET UPON EU ENTRY

The Polish Labor Ministry on 26 February insisted that Polish citizens be allowed to work in other EU countries as soon as Poland becomes a member of the union, Reuters reported. Deputy Labor Minister Irena Boruta said that Poland will "demand the principle of the free movement of labor" upon joining the EU and that this view will be presented at entry talks with the union on 31 March. German Ambassador to the EU Dietrich von Kyaw had said the previous day that such access for Poles would be "unthinkable" immediately upon entering the EU. With more than 12 percent of its work force unemployed, Germany fears an influx of Polish workers flooding the EU and pushing up unemployment even higher. PB

POLISH PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF DIVERTING COMMUNIST PARTY FUNDS

Aleksander Kwasniewski is among three former Communist Party officials who have been accused of diverting funds in 1990 that were to be returned to the state, AFP reported on 26 February. Kwasniewski, current Socialist Democratic Party (SDRP) leader Leszek Miller, and SDRP Treasurer Wieslaw Huszcza deposited 10 million Swiss francs and $750,000 with a lawyer in Warsaw. Such dealings in foreign currency were illegal in Poland at the time. The money was to have been put in state coffers as Communist Party assets were nationalized after the party's dissolution in 1990. Kwasniewski has refused to comment on the charges, but Miller said the funds were not returned but were in zlotys. He claims the money was contributed by Communist Party members working abroad and thus did not have to be turned over to the state. PB

CZECH LOWER HOUSE VOTES TO DISSOLVE ITSELF IN JUNE

The Chamber of Deputies on 26 February approved a constitutional amendment that cuts its term in half and makes possible early elections by 30 June. The amendment, which will not apply to future ballots, was submitted by the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, and supported by 130 deputies against 43. The Senate has yet to approve the amendment. Also on 26 February, Premier Josef Tosovsky said in the Chamber of Deputies that the Czech Republic's entry into the EU should be decided by Czech citizens in a referendum, noting that EU membership will affect daily life more than will NATO entry. MS

CZECH SUPREME COURT WANTS STIFFER SENTENCE FOR SKINHEADS

The Supreme Court on 26 February ruled that four skinheads who drowned a Romani man in 1993 in Pisek must be re-tried. The court said the light sentences handed down to them last June constituted an "abuse of the law to the benefit of the accused," CTK reported. Three of the skinheads received prison sentences of 22-31 months, while the fourth was given a two-year suspended term. MS

MECIAR SUPPORTERS TO RUN NEWSPAPER DISTRIBUTION

The largest newspaper distribution group in Slovakia, PNS, has recently been sold to Danubiaprint, which is run by businessmen close to Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), AFP reported on 26 February. Danubiaprint produces both the HZDS mouthpiece "Slovenska Republika" and some of the leading opposition papers. Members of the opposition claim the move is linked to preparations for the elections scheduled in September. Milos Nemecek, the head of the Association of Slovak Periodicals, said he will complain to the anti-monopoly authorities. MS

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN BUDAPEST

Javier Solana on 26 February met with President Arpad Goncz, Premier Gyula Horn, Defense Minister Gyorgy Keleti, and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs. At a joint press conference with Kovacs, Solana said Hungary has made a great contribution to regional stability and will have to continue doing so as a member of NATO. He said Hungary must make further progress in developing cooperation with NATO members and in particular in perfecting links with the alliance's communication and air defense system. He added that it is important that membership does not lead to tensions in relations with Russia, Hungarian media reported. MS

WORLD BANK LOAN TO HUNGARY

The World Bank on 26 February approved a $150 million loan for Hungary to support educational reform, Reuters reported. A statement by the bank said the project aims at "developing a system of education that responds to the nation's changed and changing economic needs." In other news, Hungarian police on 26 February arrested a 27-year-old Kosovo Albanian, suspected to have assassinated media magnate Janos Fenyo earlier this month, according to dpa. The Albanian is reported to have carried out the murder under contract. MS




BOSNIA SAYS SERBIA MAY HOLD SREBRENICA SURVIVORS

Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, wrote to the Security Council on 26 February that 50 survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre may be secretly held in a prison in Sremska Mitrovica. He asked the council to investigate reports by two independent witnesses that they saw people from Srebrenica in the prison along with a U.S. and a Pakistani citizen. Sacirbey added that "apparently none of those Srebrenica prisoners is registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross. They are held in isolation from other prisoners, and it is not even clear to what extent the central authorities in Belgrade may be aware of the circumstances." Some 7,000 former inhabitants of Srebrenica, mainly adult males, remain unaccounted for and are presumed to have been massacred by General Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb troops. PM

INDICTED SERB PLEADS NOT GUILTY

Simo Zaric, one of six Bosnian Serbs from Bosanski Samac wanted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and who turned himself in on 24 February, pleaded not guilty before the court on 26 February. Zaric said that hopes it will be "easy for the tribunal to see that Simo Zaric is honest and honorable and for the judges to decide that I am innocent." PM

COMMERCIAL RAIL TRAFFIC RETURNS TO BOSNIA

A 30-wagon freight train made the journey from Muslim-held Tuzla across Serb- and Croat-held areas to reach the Croatian Adriatic port of Ploce, Bosnia's natural outlet to the sea, on 26 February. The transportation ministries of the two entities agreed earlier this month to resume rail traffic as soon as possible even before they reach an agreement on setting up a new railway company. PM

MORE CROATIAN RESPONSE TO U.S. CRITICISM

Drago Krpina, a spokesman for President Franjo Tudjman's governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), repeated his party's opposition to U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard's criticism of a recent speech by Tudjman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1998). Speaking in Zagreb on 26 February, Krpina said that "the tone and manner in which Mr. Gelbard spoke about a president of a sovereign nation is out of proportion and unacceptable.... A civil servant--albeit of the United States-- has no right in slapping the wrists of a president of a sovereign nation in that manner." Krpina added that it was "outrageous" that Gelbard spoke without first having read a transcript of Tudjman's remarks. PM

CROATIAN MEDIA GROUP WANTS EDITORS OUT

Spokesmen for Forum 21, which includes prominent journalists from the state-run and independent media, said in Zagreb on 26 February that some top editors from state television (HRT) who recently joined the governing body of the HDZ should resign their media posts. Among those who took the political appointments is HRT editor-in- chief Hloverka Novak-Srzic. The independent weekly "Globus" added that "by [the appointments], the ruling party shows what it thinks about demands made by European institutions to pull HRT from the party claws and turn it into a proper public service broadcaster." The government holds a near monopoly on the electronic media, especially television. HRT is widely regarded as an HDZ mouthpiece. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY DENIES KOSOVO BUILDUP

Major-General Nebojsa Pavkovic, the commander of the Pristina region, rejected charges by opposition politicians that the army has launched a military buildup in Kosovo, BETA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1998). He said in Pristina on 26 February that he wants Kosovo to remain "an oasis of peace and not of conflict." He noted nonetheless that the security situation has worsened over the past year in the Glogovac-Srbica-Klina area on account of the activities of "Albanian separatists [and] terrorists." Pavkovic also criticized unnamed foreigners for allegedly encouraging Kosovo's secession from Serbia. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic denied opposition reports of a mobilization on account of the situation in Kosovo, "Danas" wrote. Finally, an army spokesman described the border with Albania as Yugoslavia's "most problematic" frontier from a security standpoint. PM

POLICE MAKE MORE ARRESTS IN HAJDARI AFFAIR

Police arrested three men in Kukes on 26 February after they attempted to break through a police roadblock. Police found four machine guns, 35 grenades, and 2,000 rounds of ammunition in their car, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. One of the three is an ethnic Albanian from Montenegro, while another comes from Tropoja and is the brother of a man arrested after a recent armed clash between police and supporters of the controversial Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). A police spokesman said the three are also suspected of having been involved in the unrest in Shkoder. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry named Mithat Havari, who was sacked as Shkoder's police chief on 23 February, as national director of prisons. FS

NANO SAYS DEMOCRATS PROMOTE CRIME

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in Tirana on 26 February that he "never had doubts that the Democratic Party serves as a breeding ground for crime, smuggling, corruption, and other dubious practices," "Koha Jone" reported. He also charged that the Democrats were behind last weekend's unrest in Shkoder and the recent destruction of water pipes and other infrastructure (possibly an allusion to the blast that crippled the water supply system in Kukes on 25 February). Meanwhile, several thousand Democratic Party supporters held rallies in six central Albanian cities on 26 February, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported. Speakers accused the government of having committed unspecified "political crimes" and of being responsible for widespread poverty. FS

ROMANIAN PREMIER RESPONDS TO DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Victor Ciorbea, in an open letter addressed to former Democratic Party cabinet ministers, said on 26 February that those ministers "initiated the game, established its rules, played by yourselves, and lost more than you thought you would win." Ciorbea said he had decided to break his self-imposed silence and to respond to a letter addressed to him by the former ministers on 2 February because he realizes that nothing will make them stop the attacks whose target he has become. He said that in their campaign against him, they display "an energy that is surprising in view of your performance in the cabinet," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES 1998 PRIVATIZATION PROGRAM

The government on 27 February approved a program providing for the privatization of 2,745 enterprises this year, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Privatization Minister Valentin Ionescu withdrew his resignation submitted one day earlier, saying he is satisfied with the program. Also on 26 February, the Senate voted 86 to 57 to reject an opposition motion criticizing the government for the deterioration of the health system. Meanwhile, the leader of the Sanitas trade union announced on 26 February that the paramedics' general strike, which began some two weeks ago, has been "suspended" because "respect for patients must prevail." MS

GAZPROM TAKES 50 PERCENT SHARE OF MOLDOVAN GAS COMPANY

The parliament on 26 February approved the privatization of the Moldovagas company. Russia's Gazprom is to be the largest shareholder, owning 50 percent of the company's assets, whose total value is $285 million. Moldova owes Gazprom $650 million, and the transfer of half of the new company's shares to Gazprom is to cover part of that debt in line with an agreement reached in Moscow in March 1997 by Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and Gazprom, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. BASA-press said that of the remaining 50 percent portfolio, the Moldovan government will own 35 percent the separatist authorities in Tiraspol 14 percent, and private entrepreneurs 1 percent. MS

BULGARIA, RUSSIA TO COMBAT CD PIRACY

Returning from a visit to Moscow, where he met his Russian counterpart Anatolii Kulikov, Bulgarian Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev told BTA on 26 February that the two countries will cooperate in the struggle against pirated compact discs and money laundering. He said that Moscow is "swamped in pirated CDs and a large share of them are Bulgarian-made." The two countries will also exchange information on suspected money laundering in the real estate sector. Bonev said that some Bulgarian "so-called businessmen imagine that Russia is a paradise for those who committed crimes in Bulgaria." MS




BOSNIAN MERRY-GO-ROUND


by Patrick Moore

The past few weeks have witnessed some remarkable developments in Bosnia. New political constellations are taking shape, but it is unclear whether they will last.

The Bosnian Serbs were for many years international pariahs who enjoyed close contacts only with Serbia, Greece, and Russia. But during the time between last summer, when Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic broke with Radovan Karadzic's supporters in Pale, and last month, when reformer Milorad Dodik became prime minister, the Bosnian Serbs have become the darlings of the international community. Scarcely a day seems to go by without Dodik receiving a pledge of money or other aid from a foreign diplomat or politician.

The reason for the foreigners' generosity is that Plavsic and Dodik have said they are committed to implementing the Dayton agreement. To show their sincerity, the two have launched some basic reforms aimed at curbing the hard- liners' hold on the economy, police, and army. Plavsic and Dodik have also made it clear to foreign capitals that the moderate Bosnian Serb leadership can survive only if some degree of prosperity and development comes to the Republika Srpska, where the per capita income is approximately $35 per month and the unemployment rate 70 percent.

Their point has been well taken. Earlier this month, Plavsic visited France and received all honors due to a head of state. When Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian joint presidency, subsequently filed a formal protest with Paris and accused the French of favoring the Serbs, hardly any European or North American political commentator outside Izetbegovic's own Party for Democratic Action sympathized with him. Instead, Izetbegovic was portrayed in the foreign press as a bitter old man who is angry that he and his followers are no longer the West's sole friends in Bosnia.

Dodik, for his part, paid his first foreign visit not to Moscow or Athens, but to Bonn. Given Germany's long-standing economic, political, and social importance for all parts of the former Yugoslavia (it is no accident that the new Bosnian joint currency is called the "convertible mark"), this may not seem surprising. But if one recalls the vehemence of Serbian propaganda against Germany since at least the 1991 breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Dodik's decision to go to Bonn is both remarkable and ironic.

That irony appeared even more pronounced soon after Dodik left Bonn. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel visited Banja Luka and promised substantial aid to his hosts. Plavsic praised him, saying: "it is good to have a friend in the European Union who will defend our interests with objectivity, and I think we have found a good friend." Such sentiments would have been unthinkable from any Serbian leader anywhere in the former Yugoslavia just a few months ago.

Last week, Dodik was in Washington, where Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described him as a "breath of fresh air." Shortly thereafter, Robert Gelbard, the U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, went to Belgrade, where he praised Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for having shown "good will" and "a significant positive influence" by backing Plavsic and Dodik. Gelbard did not, however, lift the "outer sanctions" that still block Belgrade's full membership in the international community; such a step will be taken only when Yugoslavia becomes more democratic and finds a solution to the Kosovo question. But Gelbard did bring some presents for Milosevic, including landing rights for JAT airlines in the U.S. as well as the right to open a consulate in New York.

Gelbard had quite a different message, however, for Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Ever since Tudjman signed a U.S.-brokered peace with the Muslims in early 1994, he has been fond of referring to his "strategic partnership" with Washington. But early this week, Gelbard said in Belgrade that a recent speech by Tudjman included territorial claims on Bosnia, which Gelbard called "outrageous, dangerous, and ridiculous." The U.S. official also accused Tudjman of "violating the Dayton agreement."

Shortly after, Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, urged Tudjman to fire the hard-line Croatian mayor of Stolac, who is at least partly responsible for preventing local Muslim refugees from returning home. Westendorp's spokesman said that his boss has given Tudjman one week to get rid of the mayor or face a loss of his political credibility.

On 24 February, Izetbegovic's followers in the Bosnian government finally gave in to long-standing international pressure and sent to the parliament a law on property rights that will enable Croatian and Serbian refugees to return to their flats in Sarajevo. The next day, however, Tudjman's party, the Croatian Democratic Community, declared that Zagreb will not be bullied by the "improper statements of foreign diplomats and opposition leaders." The party added that Tudjman had simply stated historical facts about Bosnia "that cannot be denied."

Meanwhile, foreign capitals will be watching to see what Dodik does with his aid money and whether he succeeds in breaking the power base of Radovan Karadzic's backers.


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