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Newsline - March 2, 1998


President Boris Yeltsin on 28 February followed through on his threat to remove three cabinet members, signing decrees to sack Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov (in charge of CIS issues), Transportation Minister Nikolai Tsakh, and Education Minister Vladimir Kinelev. Yeltsin's press service gave no explanation for the dismissals and did not clarify which "new jobs" the fired ministers were said to be taking, although government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told Interfax that Kinelev is to become director of a Moscow institute affiliated with UNESCO. Serov, Tsakh, and Kinelev all kept relatively low profiles in the government. Speculation about Serov's dismissal had circulated widely in the Russian media since a CIS summit last October, at which other CIS leaders criticized Yeltsin. Serov was also under investigation for allegedly writing off part of Uzbekistan's debt to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1998). LB


Yeltsin announced after a 2 March meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that he has appointed Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin to replace Serov as deputy prime minister in charge of CIS issues, Russian news agencies reported. Rybkin told journalists that during a "transition period" he will continue to supervise relations between Russia and Chechnya. He declined to name his possible successor as Security Council secretary. Also on 2 March, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin has appointed Yurii Mikhailov as transport minister and Aleksandr Tikhonov as education minister. Mikhailov and Tikhonov previously served as deputies in those ministries. LB


Yeltsin had been expected to reshuffle the cabinet on 26 February, the day the government reported on its 1997 performance. According to NTV on 1 March, Yeltsin decided whom to fire before the cabinet session but postponed announcing his decision until after his meetings with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 26 and 27 February. LB


Commenting on the cabinet reshuffle, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax on 1 March that "the president and prime minister ... have opted to openly disregard public opinion." He said Serov's ouster is a victory for "the group opposing closer ties and friendship among CIS countries and hating all things Slavic." He also expressed regret that Yeltsin did not fire First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, or Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev. According to Zyuganov, Chubais and Urinson have "ruined the economy," while Nemtsov and Sysuev are incapable of solving problems in the energy sector or with its social policy. Speaking to ITAR-TASS while visiting Kuwait, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, also a prominent Communist, said he was "surprised" Urinson was not fired, since, in Seleznev's view, the Economics Ministry has "failed to implement" government policies. LB


President Leonid Kuchma flew from Moscow to Kemerovo Oblast in Siberia on 27 February. Kuchma spent two days meeting with the oblast's governor, Aman Tuleev, and his administration, signing several trade agreements. Kemerovo will ship coking coal, rail tracks, chemical and electrical engineering goods to Ukraine and will receive cars and buses, light industry goods and foodstuffs. Kuchma told business leaders in Kemerovo on 1 March that Ukraine lost $3 billion in trade with Russia in 1997 but said agreements signed with Boris Yeltsin on 27 in Moscow ended the "trade war" between the two countries. Kuchma also visited relatives and his sister's grave in the village of Berezovskii before returning to Kyiv. BP


Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov attended the opening of the revamped border crossing at Zabaikalsk in Chita Oblast on 1 March. The fourteen-lane crossing point can handle 10,000 to 20,000 people and 1,500 cars daily. About 60 percent of trade between Russia and China passes through this point. Nemtsov pledged that entry requirements for Chinese citizens would be simplified soon to facilitate trade. In other related news, construction began on the Lianyungang nuclear power station in China's Jiangsu province. About 200 Russian companies are involved in the project. BP


Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov told ITAR- TASS on 27 February that recent press reports of the imminent delivery to Cyprus of Russian T-80U tanks are untrue. The Russian arms export company Rosvooruzhenie has similarly denied that Cyprus signed a contract with an Omsk defense plant to buy 40 T-80Us at a cost of $20 million, as has a Cypriot government spokesman. LF


Meeting in Ulan-Ude (Republic of Buryatia) with leaders of many Siberian regions, Nemtsov rejected calls for delaying the completion of housing reform from 2003 to 2007, ITAR- TASS reported on 28 February. The federal government's reform program calls for citizens to pay the full costs of municipal services by 2003. A resolution on housing reform adopted by the Siberian Accord association on 28 February did not include a point to extend the restructuring through 2007. Like the federal program, the plan endorsed by Siberian leaders calls for granting subsidies for rent and utilities payments only to poor families. The housing reform program approved by the Moscow city government will not be completed until 2007 and imposes the sharpest increases in rent and utilities charges after 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 1998). LB


The government decided on 27 February that Tsar Nicholas II will be buried in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress on 17 July, the 80th anniversary of the day he and his family were killed. Nemtsov said cabinet ministers unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the commission he headed, which studied the authenticity of the remains and considered various options for a burial place, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel had lobbied for the tsar to be buried in Yekaterinburg, where he and his family were killed. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov had advocated burying Nicholas and his family in the capital. LB


Although Nemtsov told journalists on 27 February that there are "no differences" between the government and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, the decision to bury the tsar in St. Petersburg is at odds with a recommendation adopted by the Synod on 26 February. The Church called for burying what it called the "Yekaterinburg remains" temporarily in a "symbolic grave" until all doubts about their authenticity have been resolved, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Metropolitan Yuvenalii explained that the Church is to consider whether to canonize Nicholas II in the coming years and "cannot afford to make a mistake" about the authenticity of the bones. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which is not connected to the Moscow Patriarchate, has repeatedly claimed that the true remains of the last tsar are in Brussels. LB


Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov told ITAR- TASS on 28 February that investigators are very close to solving the murder of television journalist Vladislav Listev. Skuratov said the Prosecutor-General's Office has obtained various documents from Switzerland, which shed light on the commercial activities of Listev and other associates of Russian Public Television (ORT). Listev was shot in an apparent contract killing on 1 March 1995. In November 1994, Yeltsin had appointed him to supervise the transformation of the network Ostankino into ORT, which began broadcasting in April 1995. Skuratov is to brief Yeltsin on 2 March about the Listev case and investigations of other high-profile murders. LB


"Moskovskii komsomolets" on 27 February charged that Boris Berezovskii, who is reportedly receiving medical treatment for a snowmobiling injury, in fact fled to Switzerland to avoid questioning in connection with the Listev case. Berezovskii, an influential figure at ORT, reportedly had a lengthy conversation with Listev on the day of the murder. "Moskovskii komsomolets" is considered very close to Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and has repeatedly published sharp criticism of Berezovskii during the last year. Meanwhile, an unnamed investigator involved in the Listev case on 28 February denied that Berezovskii is hiding from the police, Interfax reported. The investigator said Berezovskii responded to a police summons in connection with the Listev case last December and will be questioned again soon. LB


Prominent politicians from the Communist-led opposition participated in a congress of Russian commodity producers in Moscow on 27 February, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The congress formed a Coordinating Council of Domestic Producers, which will lobby for measures to support Russian industry. Addressing the congress, Nikolai Ryzhkov, the leader of the Popular Power Duma faction, charged that the policies of the 1990s have inflicted more economic damage than did World War II. He said Russia has stopped importing grain and begun limited grain exports only because of steep declines in the animal husbandry industry. Ryzhkov asked delegates to the congress, "Has what's happened in recent years been a coincidence [...] or the purposeful action of international economic institutions in close cooperation with the fathers of Russian democracy: [former acting Prime Minister Yegor] Gaidar, [First Deputy Prime Minister] Chubais, and other reformers?" LB


Incumbent Ruslan Aushev polled 66.5 percent of the vote in the pre- term 1 March Ingushetian presidential poll, defeating eight other candidates, ITAR-TASS reported. His closest rival, Russian procuracy official Issa Kostoev, polled 13.36 percent, and LUKoil Vice President Mukharbek Aushev (no relation to Ruslan) -- 9.13 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 64 percent. Aushev told Interfax on 2 March he has reached agreement with North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov on the repatriation of Ingush displaced persons to North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, whence they fled during fighting in November 1992. He also affirmed that Ingushetia will never seek to secede from the Russian Federation, even if neighboring Chechnya is internationally recognized as an independent state, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported on 2 March. LF


On 27 February, in response to a request adopted the previous day by the Congress of Peoples of Ingushetia, Aushev cancelled the referendum due to take place on 1 March on a new draft law on the legal and judicial system, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 February. Under that draft, which the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has termed unconstitutional, court chairmen and judges would be appointed by the president of Ingushetia, not the Russian president. Aushev and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will sign an agreement on 6 March on the division of responsibility for the legal and judicial system between Nazran and Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


The bank accounts of the Vladivostok city government were frozen on 26 February on the orders of the Primorskii Krai justice department, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. The city administration is said to owe some 130 million rubles ($21 million) to individuals and legal entities that have won lawsuits against it. Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov says freezing the accounts is a "political provocation" designed to undermine his authority by paralyzing the city administration. He claims most of the city's debts piled up during the tenure of his predecessor, Konstantin Tolstoshein. The dispute is the latest turn in a long-running feud between Cherepkov and the Primorskii Krai authorities, who are loyal to Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. Last November, Cherepkov announced plans to step down, but new mayoral elections, which were scheduled for late March, were postponed indefinitely in January. LB


The State Council of the Komi Republic has scheduled local elections for February 1999, the same day as republican- wide legislative elections, according to the "IEWS Russian Regional Report" of 26 February. The Constitutional Court recently ruled that mayors in Komi must be elected rather than appointed by Komi President Yurii Spiridonov. However, Spiridonov questioned that decision, saying it contradicted the 1992 Federation Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January and 3 February 1998). The decision of the Komi legislature will allow Spiridonov's appointees to stay in office for more than a year after the Constitutional Court ruling. LB


The Georgian authorities have released twelve men detained for their role in the 19 February abduction of four UNOMIG observers in the western Georgian town of Zugdidi, Interfax reported on 27 February. The men have given written pledges not to leave the area. Speaking to journalists in Zugdidi, one of the twelve denied reports that Gocha Esebua, the leader of the group, had been killed, but admitted that he does not know Esebua's present whereabouts, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 March. Esebua escaped on 25 February from the village of Djikhaskari where the hostages were being held several hours before his accomplices released their remaining prisoners and surrendered to Georgian interior ministry forces. LF


In an interview with RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 28 February, former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan said that if elected president in the 16 March poll he aims to consolidate all political forces in order to promote democratization and the transition to a free market economy. He claimed his long acquaintance with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev could help expedite a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Demirchyan denied reports that he has concluded a secret agreement with Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan to ensure the latter's election as president. On 27 February, National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukyan told journalists that "the police, former KGB and government bodies" are pressuring people to vote for Kocharyan, but added that Kocharyan may be unaware of this. Manukyan said he will soon publicize evidence of numerous violations of the electoral law. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 27 February, acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian evaluated the implications of Kocharyan's presidential candidacy, Interfax and RFE/RL reported. Kocharyan candidacy is controversial because he does not meet the election law requirement that candidates must have been citizens of the Republic of Armenia and have lived there for ten years. Oskanian reasoned that if Kocharyan is registered as a candidate, the international community may condemn that decision as based on the December 1989 resolution of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic's Supreme Soviet on the unification of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, which has never been annulled. But not to register Kocharyan's candidacy, Oskanian argued, is tantamount to Armenian recognition of Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. LF


Heidar Aliyev and Japanese Prime Minister Rutaro Hashimoto signed joint statements on Friendship and Partnership and trade cooperation on 26 February, Turan reported. Rutaro stated that Tokyo will support Azerbaijan's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization, according to ITAR-TASS. Azerbaijan's Economy Minister Namik Nasrullaev and Japanese Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi exchanged notes on a grant of up to 400 million yen ($3.13 million) to develop Azerbaijan's food processing industry. The previous day, Japan's state- owned Export-Import Bank announced a 5.5 billion yen to Baku to finance the upgrading of a chemical plant. LF


Looking toward presidential elections in 2000, several opposition groups in Kazakhstan joined forces at a conference in Almaty creating the People's Front of Kazakhstan on 27 February, Interfax reported. The new organization is made up of representatives from the Communist Party, Socialist Party, the Workers Movement, Azamat, Lada, and Azat. Galym Abilsiitov of the Azamat movement was elected chairman of the organization and said the goal is to nominate a candidate for the presidency and "struggle against the regime of personalized power carried by President (Nursultan) Nazarbayev." Azamat Chairman Petr Svoik was named first deputy leader of the People's Front and Madel Ismailov deputy chairman. Svoik said following the conference that delegates attending the conference were detained by police, according to RFE/RL correspondents. BP


Some 1,000 people, mostly pensioners, held a rally on 28 February outside the offices of the Belgian firm Tractabel in Almaty protesting hikes in the company's utility rates, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Tractabel is the foreign partner in the joint venture Almaty Power Consolidated and the firm has complained several times in 1998 that the company is losing money and prices for heating and electricity need to be raised. BP


Khoja Akbar Turajonzoda, the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), returned to Tajikistan on 27 February after five years of exile in Iran, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Government security forces erected fences around the airport but a crowd of several thousand still gathered to greet Turajonzoda outside the airport. Turajonzoda said he is prepared to work on implementing the peace process in Tajikistan but repeated an earlier statement on the need to hold a referendum to replace the words "secular government" in the Tajik constitution with "people's government." He said such a change would guarantee all political parties, including Islamic, the right to participate in the political process. BP


Polish Foreign Minister and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Bronislaw Geremek called on the Belarusian government to show greater cooperation with the OSCE at the opening of its Minsk mission on 27 February, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Geremek said the current Belarusian parliament was not recognized by European parliamentary organizations and that they hope to see free and democratic elections in Belarus soon. Belarus Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich said during the inauguration that he was "delighted" by the opening and that "with good advice we will reach a compromise in our society." The head of the mission, German diplomat Hans-Georg Wieck, said on 1 March that he will bring in foreign specialists to address government officials and non-government groups about democratic procedures, the RFE/RL correspondent reported. He said the mission will remain low profile but will go public with decisions and conclusions that it makes. PB


An economic cooperation agreement between the European Union and Ukraine became valid on 1 March. Borys Hudyma, the Ukrainian representative to the EU, said the document gives Kyiv "new responsibilities" but also improves economic cooperation between the EU and Ukraine. The agreement commits both sides to creating favorable conditions for trade and investment. The EU is second behind the U.S. in trade with Ukraine. The agreement comes on the heels of unilateral restrictions by Kyiv on car imports in a move designed to benefit Korean automaker Daewoo, which has made substantial investments in Ukraine. The EU said the restrictions violate the agreement, and that sanctions could be imposed as a result. PB


Serhiy Parashin, the director of the Chornobyl nuclear plant, on 27 February protested the decision by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development not to help fund the construction of two new reactors that would facilitate the permanent closing of Chornobyl. The EBRD decided last week to not fund eight of 13 projects proposed by Ukraine and approved by the Group of Seven industrial nations in 1995. Parashin said the decision was a "serious political loss." The EBRD's decision cripples Kyiv's hopes of closing Chornobyl by 2000, as the government pledged to do in 1995. PB


Lennart Meri, on a six-day state visit to England, received praise for his country's economic and democratic progress on 27 February, BNS reported. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook praised Meri for Estonia's quick adoption of international norms in its treatment of non- citizens. Meri also met with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth. Bilateral relations and EU expansion were the main topics of discussion with Cook and Blair. Meri reportedly told Cook that his country needed to make government institutions more efficient. Estonia's economic progress was praised at an investment seminar held by the London Chamber of Commerce the next day.


Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski fired his spokesman on 27 February over the publication of an embarrassing advertisement for a furniture company that featured the president, Reuters reported. In a statement, the presidential press office said Antoni Styrczula, a former RFE/RL correspondent, was fired for mishandling an advertising campaign. In early February, Kwasniewski appeared in a print ad with the caption "the president should be pleased." A storm of criticism from politicians and the media resulted in the ad being pulled. Kwasniewski claimed the ad was an effort to promote Polish exports, but later admitted that some of his wife's relatives worked at the furniture company in the ad. PB


Aleksander Kwasniewski signed on 27 February a 143.4 billion zloty ($41 billion) budget for 1998. The budget projects a deficit of 1.5 percent of GDP and aims for an inflation rate of 9.5 percent. The largest expenditures are for social services (23 billion zloty), health care (19 billion zloty), defense (8.3 billion zloty), and education (6.3 billion zloty). In other news, Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz was overwhelmingly re-elected on 28 February to lead the co-ruling Freedom Party. Balcerowicz is the architect of Poland's economic reforms after the fall of communism. He said he would lead the party to become the "most influential political party." PB


Social Democratic Party (CSSD) chairman Milos Zeman said on 1 March that an election stalemate could be avoided by raising the current 5 percent threshold necessary for a party to be elected to parliament. Speaking on Czech private television, Zeman said another option that could avoid a crisis would be to use a system of majority representation. Zeman ruled out the possibility that the CSSD would form a coalition with either the Freedom Union, the Civic Democratic Party, or the Civic Democratic Alliance after the elections, but said a coalition with the Christian Democrats or a minority CSSD government was "feasible," CTK reported.


The Rom Civic Initiative (ROI), meeting in a congress in the central Czech city of Pardubice on 1 March, said the country's Romanies "feared for their lives" because of the racist violence directed against them. ROI President Emil Scuka told the delegates that the organization would ask the government to enroll more Roma into the police force as a way to fight racism. Since 1989, some 29 Roma have been killed in racially- motivated attacks. The congress deplored an incident in which 30 Roma attacked four policemen in Moravska Trebova on 27 February, injuring three of them. CTK reported on 27 February that a British court granted asylum to three members of a Romany family from the Czech Republic in January. MS


Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, in a closed-door speech to the National Board of his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 24 January, called for the party to mobilize all of its resources to prevent a victory of the opposition and especially of the "fascistoid" Christian Democrats in the September elections, the daily "Prace" revealed on 28 February. Meciar reportedly said that anyone holding public office who is unwilling to support the HZDS campaign must be "purged or neutralized." He also said local opinion leaders, such as priests, doctors and lawyers, must not be allowed to harm the HZDS campaign. Meciar said after the elections the HZDS should be in a position to enact constitutional amendments that would "definitely change the political regime in Slovakia." MS


In an interview with Slovak radio on 27 February, Meciar said President Michal Kovac acted against the constitution when he called for a repetition of the referendum held in March 1997. He said he would not allow the repetition of the referendum, which included a proposal calling for the direct election of the president, unless the parliament approved it or a petition signed by at least 350,000 people was submitted to parliament. MS


Hungarian and Slovak negotiators signed a protocol on 27 February in Bratislava on settling the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam dispute. The agreement stipulates the principles for a framework treaty to be signed by the two countries' prime ministers before the 25 March deadline set by the International Court of Justice. Hungarian delegation head Janos Nemcsok said the protocol includes a proposal that Hungary build a lower dam on the Danube. Opposition parties in Hungary expressed shock at the news, while the national convention of the junior coalition party, the Free Democrats, empowered the party's cabinet members to veto the decision. On 28 February, an estimated crowd of 30,000 people protested in downtown Budapest against the construction of a new dam on the Danube. MSZ


Spokesmen for the Serbian Interior Ministry said in Belgrade on 1 March that some 20 people died in violence in the Srbica-Glogovac- Drenica region of Kosovo, west of Pristina, during the weekend of 28 February-1 March. The dead included four Serbian policemen and 16 ethnic Albanians. Independent Belgrade Radio B-92 and Albanian spokesmen said, however, that the death toll was closer to 30. Officials of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which is the leading Kosovar political organization, and other Albanian spokesmen charged that Serbian special police units opened fire at random at Albanian villagers, including women and children. Police sealed off ten villages with armored vehicles and shot at the inhabitants of at least one village from a helicopter. The incidents began on 28 February, when masked Albanians ambushed a Serbian police car heading to a center for Serbian refugees, which unidentified persons had attacked the previous day. PM


Police used water cannons, tear gas, and batons to end a protest by several tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians in Pristina on 2 March. The coordinating council of Kosovar political parties had issued a call the previous day for demonstrations against political repression and police brutality. PM


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic broke his long public silence on the Kosovo question on 1 March, when he sent messages to the families of the four dead policemen and to Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. Milosevic's messages were, however, really intended for the Kosovars: "terrorism aimed at the internationalization [of the Kosovo] issue will be most harmful to those who resorted to these means." He also urged the Albanians not to "spill their blood on the behalf of political profiteers and outside mentors." Kosovo, he insisted, is an internal Serbian affair. The LDK and other non-violent mainstream Albanian groups have long sought to attract foreign support and thereby "internationalize" the Kosovo question. The clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army, which uses violence against the Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanians whom it regards as collaborators, advocates an armed struggle for independence. PM


Some 3,000 women demonstrated in front of the United States Information Center in Pristina on 1 March, carrying signs reading: "America is with Kosovo," "We want freedom" and "Peace, not war." Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova called on the U.S. and the EU to put pressure on Belgrade to end what he called its campaign of terror aimed at provoking panic among the Albanians. Rugova's government appealed to Albanians in the Drenica region to "stay calm" and to "protect themselves" if attacked, Albanian state-run television reported. Fehmi Agani, a senior leader of the LDK, said that the Serbian police had deliberately created "an atmosphere of war." PM/FS


The Albanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 1 March calling on the international community to "use its influence on Belgrade to stop the Serbian military violence in Kosovo immediately, to prevent the possible outbreak of a war and to oblige Belgrade to sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the Kosovo Albanians." The statement also pointed out that "the actions of Belgrade violate all international norms and conventions, aggravate the situation in Kosovo and cause a threat to regional peace," state television reported. In another statement, the Ministry called on Belgrade "to stop the escalation of violence and terror against Albanians in Kosovo because the deterioration of the situation there carries big risks for peace in the Balkans and beyond." Tirana added that Belgrade had provoked a "serious war situation." Meanwhile, Prime Minister Fatos Nano issued a call to the Kosovo Albanians "not to let the extremist Serbian forces provoke" them. FS/PM


The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry on 27 February denied Bosnian government charges that some survivors of the Srebrenica massacre are secretly being held in a Serbian prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 1998). The following day, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik told representatives of Bosnian Serb refugees in Belgrade that the Republika Srpska "is currently the [international] favorite in the Dayton peace process," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. Dodik added that the Serbs' future lies in charting a middle path between extreme nationalism and total compliance with the wishes of the international community. And in Sarajevo, Croatian Ambassador Darinko Bago protested to the international community's Jacques Klein about the latter's recent remarks critical of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and of Croatian policies toward Bosnia. PM


Liverpool-based journalists Jeffrey Pickett and Michael Grimes said in Mostar on 1 March that they had been beaten at gunpoint in Croatian-run western Herzegovina by unidentified attackers, who abducted them on 27 February. The attackers damaged the Britons' car and stole their camera and video equipment, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. The journalists reached the village of Buna on 28 February after fleeing their attackers. The Britons are investigating reports that Herzegovinian Croats are using money raised abroad for orphans in order to promote "ethnic cleansing." PM


The U.S.-based auditing firm Deloitte & Touche has recommended in its final report on the Albanian pyramid investment companies that the unprofitable businesses of the five largest of them should be sold off within between nine and 27 months, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 1 March. VEFA, the largest company, has assets totaling $30.6 million and debts amounting to $237.5 million. The four next largest firms have total assets of $15.7 million and debts of $113.9 million. Government-appointed administrators will try to restructure the companies' few profitable businesses and sell them off later. FS


State prosecutors have found evidence that an unspecified number of Tirana judges and prosecutors withdrew money from VEFA after the government froze its assets in early 1997. Indictments are expected soon against the judges and other suspects, "Koha Jone" wrote on 1 March. Meanwhile on 28 February, VEFA owner Vehbi Alimucaj visited a group of about 30 investors, who are staging a hunger strike in Tirana. He promised to pay back his debts if the company is allowed to continue its operation. The hunger- strikers are protesting the planned sell-off of VEFA and demand the withdrawal of the auditing firm. FS


Poul Thomsen, the head of an IMF mission to Bucharest, ended talks with government officials on 27 February without agreeing on the structure of the 1998 budget. Thomsen said the government must opt for means to ensure budget revenues by either increasing taxes or reducing expenditures. The disbursement of the third tranche of the loan approved in 1997 is expected to be delayed until after the government announces its plans. Romanian officials tried to play down the event, saying the talks had merely "paused." Also on 28 February, it was announced that the expected rate of inflation for 1998 is 45 percent, instead of the 37 percent previously predicted. National Liberal Party (PNL) Vice Chairman Calin Popescu Tariceanu on 28 February said the cabinet headed by Victor Ciorbea has "exhausted its resources," thus practically adhering to the Democratic Party's demand that the premier be replaced. MS


Former President Ion Iliescu, touring the Jiu valley on 28 February, told miners there that a recently announced judicial inquest into the June 1990 events in which miners rampaged Bucharest reflected the "revengeful objectives of the (ruling) political Right." He said the Right organized the violent events in Romania after the collapse of the Communist regime with the aim of ousting the democratically elected leaders that succeeded the Communists. The Prosecutor General's office announced on 26 February that it was investigating reports that the 13-15 June 1990 violence in Bucharest was organized by groups linked to the government at that time, and particularly the ministries of interior and defense. Iliescu was president then and Petre Roman was premier. The investigations could lead to an indictment of officials involved in organizing the rampage for "undermining state authority." MS


The National Councils of the PNL and the Party of Civic Alliance (PAC) on 28 February approved an agreement reached one day earlier by their respective leaders, Mircea Ionescu-Quintus and Nicolae Manolescu. Under the agreement, PAC is to merge into the PNL and Manolescu is to be chairman of the PNL National Council. Other PAC leaders will be co-opted into PNL leading bodies. A joint unification congress is to be held at the end of March. The PNL National Council rejected a proposal by its vice chairman, Viorel Catarama, for the setting up of a Liberal Federation that would have also included the Liberal Party (formed last year by the National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention and the Liberal Party '93) and the national Liberal Party-Campeanu wing, saying liberal unification must be achieved only through mergers with and within the PNL. MS


Petru Lucinschi on 27 February appealed to the parliament to reduce the 4 percent threshold needed for representation for independent candidates. The threshold is identical to that required for parties to gain election to parliament. Last week, the parliament refused to place on its agenda a debate on reducing the threshold for independent candidacies, after an appeal by 27 such candidates. Also on 27 February, the parliament rejected a motion by 35 deputies to amend articles in the constitution to bring it in line with European legislation. The deputies called for abolishing the death penalty and for reducing the maximum time of preventive detention from the present six months to 60 days, Infotag and BASA-press reported. MS


Moldova will cut its military forces by 1,000 men in 1998, BASA-press reported on 28 February. The decision was approved by the Supreme Council of Security on 27 February, following an initiative by President Petru Lucinschi. The military currently has 9,000 troops, but the cuts will also include personnel from among the border and security guards. MS


A World Bank mission to Bulgaria has recommended the creation of an independent Social Investment Fund to create temporary jobs to help offset job losses resulting from enterprise restructuring. The group of bank experts and officials ended a visit to Sofia on 26 February, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. In other news, International Equities, a subsidiary of Canada's Stellar Global Corporation, bought a 75 percent share in the Plama oil refinery, "24 Chasa" reported on 27 February. Also on 27 February, President Petar Stoyanov, on a private visit to Hamburg, told a gathering that "overcoming the long road" of communist legacy will only be possible with the help of foreign investment. Stoyanov said Bulgaria has created the necessary political conditions for "swift reforms unparalleled in Europe." MS


by Patrick Moore

The Kosovo imbroglio appears to have entered a new stage following a weekend of violence that left at least 20 dead. There are at least three reasons for the change in the Kosovo political scene, the most important of which is the emergence of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) as a key player over the past year.

Over the weekend of 28 February-1 March, Serbian police sealed off at least 10 ethnic Albanian villages in the Srbica-Glogovac-Drenica region west of Pristina. Serbian police spokesmen said that the action was aimed at capturing "terrorists" (i.e. the UCK) who had ambushed and killed four Serbian policemen on 28 February.

Kosovar spokesmen, however, charged that the Serbs were themselves carrying out indiscriminate terror with automatic weapons, armored vehicles, and helicopters against civilians, including women and children. Veton Surroi, Kosovo's most prominent journalist, said on 2 March that the special Serbian police involved in the crackdown are veterans of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and hence are "almost paramilitaries."

But how is it that matters have come to such a point? After all, for many years Kosovo was known as "the time bomb that does not explode."

There were two main reasons why Kosovo remained relatively quiet for most of the time since then-Serbian (now Yugoslav) President Slobodan Milosevic destroyed the mainly ethnic Albanian province's autonomy in 1989. First, the Kosovar leadership under Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) held the unquestioned loyalty of the province's ethnic Albanians. Rugova and his party are committed to policies of non-violence and of "internationalization," or of achieving a solution by bringing foreign pressure to bear on Milosevic.

Second, the Serbian authorities had no need to "crack down" on Kosovo or stage military actions as they did in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia for the simple reason that the Serbs already held all the levers of power in Kosovo. The only "threat" to Serbian authority was Rugova's shadow state, which, in any event, busied itself with matters such as education, health care, and political feuds among its leaders.

All that has changed since at least the end of 1996. At approximately that point, the shadowy UCK changed its tactics from carrying out occasional, random and hit-and-run raids to conducting more frequent, well-planned, and well-executed moves against individual Serbs, Serbian institutions, or Albanians whom the UCK regards as collaborators. The UCK has meanwhile successfully established a geographical power base in much of the area between Pristina and the Albanian frontier, and some communities there have become no-go areas for Serbs, at least at night. Armed incidents have increased in this region, moreover, in recent weeks.

There are three basic reasons for the UCK's emergence as a force to be reckoned with. First, the consensus has grown, particularly among young Kosovars, that Rugova's policies have reached a dead end. A spokesman for the LDK admitted in London on 1 March that the peaceful policy "has brought no results."

Second is what might be called the lesson of the Dayton agreement, which ended the Bosnian war at the end of 1995. Some Kosovars argue that the international community intervened to impose a peace in Bosnia only because the foreigners had come to regard the continuing violence there as unacceptable. According to this argument, the major powers will intervene in Kosovo only in response to an armed conflict there. Ergo, this train of thought concludes, the Kosovars must provoke a war with the Serbs if the Kosovo question is ever to attract the attention of the international community.

The third development involves the changes in Albania over the past year. Before the collapse of law and order there exactly one year ago, President Sali Berisha conducted a policy that was supportive of the Kosovars, who knew that they had friends in official Tirana. Berisha openly backed Rugova's goals and peaceful policies, and Rugova was a frequent visitor to Albania. In the past year, however, a Socialist government has come to power that has not always been clear regarding its policy towards Kosovo. Many Kosovars fear that Prime Minister Fatos Nano wants to cut a deal with Belgrade at Pristina's expense. Furthermore --and perhaps most importantly -- the collapse of law and order in Albania provided a ready source of abundant and cheap weapons for Kosovar guerrilla fighters.

There are, moreover, at least two additional reasons for the timing of the Serbian crackdown besides the increased violence by the UCK. First, the shadow state's presidential and parliamentary elections are slated for 22 March, and Milosevic may want to provoke confusion in order to ensure that the vote is postponed indefinitely. A successful election, by contrast, would mean a Kosovar leadership with unquestioned legitimacy to challenge Serbia in international forums.

A second reason has been pinpointed by Surroi and by independent Serbian journalists alike, namely that the major powers may have led Milosevic to think that he has a green light in Kosovo. Those who support this view note that U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard on his recent trip to the region stressed that Kosovo is Serbia's internal affair and criticized the UCK as well as the Serbian police. U.S. Secretary of State James Baker delivered a similarly ambiguous message to Belgrade in June 1991. The Yugoslav army attacked Slovenia shortly thereafter.