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Newsline - April 9, 1998




HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS PROTEST WAGE ARREARS...

Rallies organized by trade unions and opposition political parties in scores of Russian cities attracted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on 9 April. Trade union groups planned the rallies to advance strictly economic demands, above all an end to persistent wage delays. Protesters belonging to Communist groups and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia made political demands as well, including calls for the President Boris Yeltsin's resignation. As in the case of similar nationwide protests in the past, turnout was lower than organizers had predicted. But there were at least one dozen rallies in Primorskii Krai alone, and tens of thousands of krai residents joined those protests, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. In Kemerovo Oblast, the majority of coal mines continued working, contrary to expectations, but an estimated 35,000 demonstrators participated in rallies held across the region. LB

...AS OFFICIALS SHIFT BLAME FOR PROBLEM

Acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko announced at a 9 April cabinet meeting that the government has transferred some 700 million rubles ($114 million) to the regions to help clear wage arrears, Russian news agencies reported. Addressing that meeting, acting Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev called for creating a procedure to force regional and local governments to pay wages. Repeating accusations made frequently by federal officials, Sysuev charged that some local authorities have misappropriated federal funds earmarked to pay wages. Meanwhile, in an apparent effort to shift responsibility for the wage arrears problem to the State Duma, presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii commented that the "sooner a government is formed, the faster it will begin to clear these [wage] debts." LB

KIRIENKO'S REJECTION IN FIRST DUMA VOTE GUARANTEED

Duma deputies are virtually certain to refuse to confirm acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko when his candidacy is put to a vote on 10 April, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Deputies from various factions interviewed by RFE/RL all agreed that Kirienko will fall far short of the 226 votes he needs in order to be confirmed. Aleksandr Kotenkov, the president's representative in the Duma, also acknowledged on 8 April that Kirienko is "extremely unlikely" to win approval on the first vote. Yeltsin is not expected to visit the Duma on 10 April, which suggests he may be saving such a gesture for a later vote on his nominee. LB

DEPUTIES TO VOTE BY SECRET BALLOT

The Duma Council on 9 April rebuffed efforts by the Communist faction to change the procedures for voting on Kirienko's candidacy, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia faction, announced that the vote will go ahead by secret ballot, in accordance with the Duma's regulations on confirming the prime minister. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 8 April advocated an open vote on Kirienko "so that there will be no doubts about the honesty" of Duma deputies. Earlier the same day, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin of the Communist faction alleged that foreign money is being used to bribe Duma deputies to support the acting prime minister. Meanwhile, Grigorii Yavlinskii has announced that deputies from his Yabloko faction will not even pick up ballots on 10 April in order to demonstrate that they unanimously oppose Kirienko's nomination. LB

COMMUNISTS STILL HOPE TO CHANGE YELTSIN'S MIND...

Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev announced on 9 April that if the Duma rejects Kirienko in the first vote, he will try to persuade Yeltsin to nominate someone else for prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin and other Kremlin officials have said the president has firmly settled on Kirienko to lead the new government. But Seleznev, a prominent member of the Communist Party, commented in an interview with the 7 April edition of "Kommersant- vlast" that "no one believes" Yeltsin's "categorical" statements on Kirienko. Seleznev noted that "not long ago" Yeltsin said former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais would work in the government until 2000. LB

...QUESTION PRESIDENT'S RIGHT TO NOMINATE KIRIENKO AGAIN

Communist Party leader Zyuganov announced on 8 April that his faction is preparing an inquiry to the Constitutional Court asking judges to rule on whether the president may nominate the same candidate for prime minister more than once, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii has already said the president will nominate Kirienko a second time if the Duma rejects him on 10 April. Article 111 of the constitution stipulates that the president is to dissolve the Duma if deputies reject his nominee for prime minister three times. Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, Kotenkov, told RFE/RL that such an appeal would not affect the current process of appointing a prime minister, since it usually takes at least six months for the Constitutional Court to rule on cases. LB

RUSSIA TO REDUCE OIL EXPORTS. Acting First Deputy

Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 8 April announced that Russia will reduce its oil exports in response to the slump in oil prices on international markets, Russian news agencies reported. Nemtsov said a meeting of government officials and oil industry executives "unanimously" approved plans to reduce oil exports by 2.3 percent, or 61,000 barrels a day, and exports of petroleum products by 3.2 percent, or 4,900 metric tons a day. Analysts quoted by AFP said the reductions will be symbolic measures with a greater political than economic impact. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had asked Russia, a non-OPEC country, to cut oil exports by 100,000 barrels a day, according to dpa. But before 8 April Russian officials had said such exports would not be reduced. Russia is the world's third-largest oil producer. LB

GOVERNMENT, CENTRAL BANK TO SIGN POLICY STATEMENT SOON

Acting Prime Minister Kirienko and Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin are to sign a joint statement on economic policy for 1998 by 14 April at the latest, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 April. The statement, which has been drafted in coordination with the IMF, is important for securing the release of the next tranche of a $10 billion, four-year IMF loan to Russia. Dubinin and Yevgenii Yasin, minister without portfolio, are to attend meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington on 15-17 April. The fund's board of directors will decide later this month whether to release the next tranche on schedule. LB

MIXED SIGNALS ON DOWNSIZING PLANS

A major reduction of state employees is considered an important condition for IMF support for Russia, and in his upcoming address to the Duma, Kirienko is expected to endorse staff cutbacks to help the government "live within its means." But the notes for Kirienko's speech, cited by Reuters, do not specify the scale of the cutbacks. Kirienko and Yeltsin recently contradicted First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's announcement that more than 200,000 jobs will be eliminated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March and 2 April 1998). Acting Deputy Prime Minister and Labor Minister Oleg Sysuev on 8 April told NTV that contrary to Kudrin's remarks, there will be no major cuts among doctors and teachers. But Sysuev's future is uncertain, as the new cabinet is expected to have fewer deputy prime ministers and trade union leaders are rumored to have been promised the labor portfolio. LB

DUMA CALLS FOR BAN ON BASE TRANSFER IN GEORGIA...

By a vote of 234 to 0 with five abstentions, the Duma called on President Boris Yeltsin to annul a 24 March instruction from acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko calling for the country's defense ministry to transfer control of the land occupied by Russian military bases in Georgia, Russian agencies reported. Kirienko's decision was based on the still unratified agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi on the status of Russian forces in Georgia. During the debate on the Duma resolution, chairman of the CIS Affairs Committee Georgii Tikhonov suggested that NATO troops could be deployed at those bases if Russia transferred the facilities to Georgia. PG

...CRITICIZES U.S. CONGRESS OVER BELARUS

The Duma on 8 April voted 284 to five in favor of a statement that criticizes the U.S. Congress for its draft resolution calling on U.S. President Bill Clinton to deny Belarus most- favored-nation status if there is no "considerable improvement" in human rights, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma statement said the U.S. Congress is seeking "to put pressure on a sovereign state which does not want to follow the U.S. lead in global politics." It called the draft resolution an example of "new and large-scale joint actions by external and internal opponents of...Russian-Belarus rapprochement." Galina Starvoitova, co-chairperson of the Democratic Russia party, asked if Belarus has requested the Duma's support. Duma Deputy Chairman Sergei Baburin replied "we cannot wait until someone asks us for fraternal assistance. We must act on our own." BP

NIKOLAEV WANTS BROADER POWERS FOR PARLIAMENT...

Andrei Nikolaev, former director of the Federal Border Service, has advocated constitutional amendments to increase the powers of the parliament, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 7 April . In particular, he supported forming the government from Duma groups that have been backed by the majority of voters. (Yeltsin and other Kremlin officials have repeatedly rejected proposals on forming a coalition government.) Nikolaev, who is competing in a 12 April by-election in Moscow for a State Duma seat, declined to comment on speculation that he may run for president in 2000. LB

...AS CAMPAIGN RIVALS SAY HE HAS UNFAIR ADVANTAGE

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 April that five candidates for the 12 April by-election, including former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and Officers' Union head Stanislav Terekhov, have appealed to the Supreme Court to revoke Nikolaev's registration and have dropped out of the race to protest alleged attempts by the Moscow authorities to "push through" Nikolaev's victory. (Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has endorsed Nikolaev.) In an interview with "Russkii telegraf" on 8 April, Rodionov noted that Nikolaev has been given vast exposure in the press and electronic media. Two other well-known contenders for the Duma seat, Peasants' Party Chairman Yurii Chernichenko and former Presidential Security Service deputy chief Valerii Streletskii, have also withdrawn from the race, but they are not cooperating with the five who have lodged the Supreme Court appeal. LB

SOBCHAK ASSAILS INVESTIGATORS' METHODS

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak says he may file an appeal to the European Court in Strasbourg to protest his treatment by Russian investigators. In a telephone interview from Paris, broadcast on RFE/RL on 7 April, he compared the methods of today's Russian law enforcement authorities to their Stalin-era equivalents. Sobchak, a witness in a corruption case allegedly involving his former associates, was picked up for questioning on 3 October 1997. That interrogation ended when he fell ill and was taken to hospital. He later accused investigators of giving him a heart attack. Speaking to RFE/RL, Sobchak said investigators have ignored his offer to answer questions about the corruption case from Paris. His supporters say Russian law enforcement authorities have also selectively leaked material in order to damage Sobchak's reputation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 1998). LB




KOCHARYAN SWORN IN AS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT

Robert Kocharyan took the oath of office as president of Armenia on 9 April, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In his speech, Kocharyan pledged to work toward strengthening Armenian statehood, establishing balanced relations between the various branches of the Armenian state, and securing international recognition for the right of the Karabakh people to national self-determination. Expanding on the last point, Kocharyan said that Karabakh must be allowed to develop under safe conditions with permanent ties to Armenia. The same day, Kocharyan met with U.S. Senator John Warner and Admiral Joseph Lopez, the commander of NATO forces in Southern Europe. He told them that Armenia's commitment to democracy and liberal economic reforms is "irreversible." PG

GEORGIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF 1989 KILLINGS

Georgian government officials on 9 April marked the ninth anniversary of events in Tbilisi in which Soviet troops fired on a large crowd demanding independence for Georgia and killed some 20 demonstrators, ITAR-TASS reported. Those events radicalized Georgian opinion at the time and have been marked by Tbilisi every year since. PG

ABKHAZIA CALLS ON MOSCOW TO INFLUENCE GEORGIA

The government of the breakaway region of Abkhazia on 8 April urged Moscow to "exercise influence on the Georgian side" in order to promote a settlement to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. The Abkhaz Foreign Ministry charged that Georgia continues to use force, despite its past pledges not to do so. PG

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS PROTEST SENTENCING OF KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST

Human Rights organizations have protested a Kazakh court verdict sentencing opposition leader Madel Ismailov to one year in prison for insulting the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 1998). Amnesty International released a statement calling for his "immediate and unconditional release. In Almaty, the deputy director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights, Jemis Turmagambetova, termed the court ruling "absolutely unconstitutional," AFP reported. Turmagambetova said the law used to imprison Ismailov was introduced in 1993, revoked by the Kazakh Supreme Court, and reintroduced last summer by presidential decree. BP

RYBKIN VISITS NEW KAZAKH CAPITAL

Russian acting Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin was in Akmola on 8 April to meet with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Their scheduled one-hour meeting lasted nearly three hours, as the two discussed Russia's leasing of the Baikonur cosmodrome, the CIS Customs Union, and the upcoming CIS summit. ITAR-TASS reported that Rybkin praised Nazarbayev's document "Ten Simple Steps Toward Ordinary People," due to be discussed at the CIS summit. According to RFE/RL correspondents, Rybkin said that "some part" of Russia's $500 million or so debt for use of Baikonur will be paid in 2001-2002. Nazarbayev, however, has said on several previous occasions that he wants the debt settled quickly. BP

U.S. BANK TO HELP FUND TURKMEN PIPELINE

The U.S. Export-Import Bank will extend guarantees loans totaling $96 million to modernize Turkmenistan's natural gas pipelines, "Neitralny Turkmenistan" reported on 9 April. The newspaper noted that this is the first time U.S. Eximbank is involved in projects in Turkmenistan. BP

UN ENVOY TO TAJIKISTAN TO RETIRE

UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan released a statement on 8 April praising UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem for his work in the Central Asian country over the last two years, Reuters reported. The statement also said that "after 25 years of distinguished service" Merrem plans to retire. Representatives of the countries and organizations that are guarantors of the Tajik peace accord similarly released a statement saying Merrem played a "key role" in negotiations between the Tajik government and opposition that led to the signing last June of the peace accord, ITAR- TASS reported on 9 April. The Russian news agency also noted that Merrem was named "Man of the Year" in 1997 by "a number of Russian newspapers." BP




UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER RESIGNS

Hennadiy Udovenko, current president of the UN General Assembly, has resigned his cabinet post to devote himself to parliamentary politics, AFP reported on 9 April. Udovenko was elected to the parliament on the Popular Rukh party list. In a resignation letter to President Leonid Kuchma, he said he wished to "work full time" as a parliamentary deputy. JM

UKRAINE REPORTS ECONOMIC GROWTH...

Yewhen Kushnaryov, chief of the president's administration, told journalists on 8 April that 1998 may be the first year of economic growth in independent Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that industrial output from January through March grew by 1.7 percent, while the inflation rate was only 0.2 percent. JM

...NEGOTIATES NEW LOAN FROM IMF

An IMF representative in Kyiv told ITAR-TASS that the fund's further cooperation with Ukraine has been called into question. In the first quarter of 1998, Kyiv exceeded by 2.2 times the budget deficit limit agreed with the IMF, which responded last month by withholding the next two tranches, each worth $50 million, of its stand-by loan. The Ukrainian News agency reported on 8 April that the Finance Ministry has decided not to seek a resumption of the IMF stand-by program. Instead, the government is negotiating a new three-year loan with an IMF mission currently in Kyiv. JM

U.S. ENVOY CRITICIZES UKRAINE FOR HEAVY BUREAUCRACY

Richard Morningstar, U.S. special ambassador for Russia and the newly independent states, who was in Kyiv on 8 April, has censured Ukraine for having too much bureaucracy, AFP reported. He said Ukrainian business regulations are "too numerous, too burdensome, too complicated, too arbitrary." He added that economic development is also hampered by inconsistent tax regulations. The United States, which is the largest investor in Ukraine, has spent $90 million to help resolve disputes between Kyiv and U.S. firms operating in Ukraine, AFP reported. JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS SLAM CRACKDOWN ON INDEPENDENT MEDIA

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has sent an open letter to top Belarusian officials, representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Minsk, and international journalists' organizations protesting an internal government directive cracking down on the independent media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 1998), RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. BAJ chairwoman Zhanna Litvina said that the directive, which forbids officials to hand over documents to the independent media, is "anticonstitutional, antidemocratic, and discriminatory." The BAJ urges the president and prime minister to put an end to such actions, which, it says, "disgraces Belarus in the eyes of the world community." JM

WARSAW TO INTRODUCE SUMMER CURFEW FOR MINORS

Warsaw authorities have ordered a night-time curfew for youths under the age of 18, dpa reported on 8 April. Such youths will not be allowed on the streets of the capital between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. from 1 May to 30 September unless they are accompanied by adults. The curfew was imposed in a bid to fight the capital's growing juvenile crime rate. JM

SLOVAK PARTY LAUNCHES DRIVE FOR DEATH PENALTY, NEUTRALITY

The right-wing Slovak National Party has begun a petition drive to reinstate capital punishment and establish Bratislava's neutrality in foreign affairs, TASR reported on 8 April. State television showed large lines of people ready to sign the petitions at the city hall in Zilina, where the drive was launched. Jan Slota, the head of the coalition member Slovak National Party and mayor of Zilina, claimed that a huge majority of Slovaks want the death penalty. He said neutrality would be better than membership in NATO, which, he said, would strip the country of its sovereignty. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar has said that reintroducing the death penalty would be unconstitutional and that declaring neutrality goes against government policy. PB

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DETAILS PROGRAM

Viktor Orban, the head of the opposition Young Democrats- Hungarian Civic Party, said on 8 April that he will nullify the Hungarian-Slovak agreement on the disputed Gabcikovo- Nagymaros dam if his party comes to power in the May elections. Orban, who tops opinion polls as the most popular politician in Hungary, said his party would also reduce taxes, set up incentives to aid small and medium- sized companies, and create a smaller, more effective parliament. He also said his party opposes a bill allowing foreigners to buy property in Hungary. The Young Democrats trail the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Gyula Horn in opinion polls. PB




NATO SENDS TWO SERBS TO HAGUE

Miroslav Kvocka and Mladen Radic arrived in The Hague on 9 April to face charges of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva convention, and "command responsibility" in connection with their activities at the Omarska concentration camp in northwestern Bosnia in 1992. The two men surrendered to British peacekeepers in the Prijedor area the previous day after they were surrounded by the peacekeepers, a SFOR spokesman said in Banja Luka. This is the fourth seizure of indicted war criminals by peacekeepers since the Dayton agreement was signed at the end of 1995. To date, some 26 indicted persons have arrived in The Hague. PM

MORE AID FOR BOSNIAN SERBS

The U.S. embassy in Sarajevo issued a statement on 8 April saying Washington will provide $5 million to the government in Banja Luka to cover immediate necessary expenditures, such as salaries for teachers, doctors, and other public sector employees. The U.K., Canada, the EU, The Netherlands, and Sweden have also pledged budget support funds to the Republika Srpska until Banja Luka is able to fund itself through more efficient collection of taxes, customs duties, and other revenues. Meanwhile in Stuttgart, Germany, Republika Srpska Minister for Refugees Miladin Dragicevic said his government will allow all refugees to come home provided that Banja Luka receives financial assistance from abroad to prepare for the returnees. PM

SERBS LEAVE KOSOVA FOR BOSNIA

Elisabeth Rehn, who heads the UN mission in Bosnia, said in Helsinki on 8 April that Kosovar Serbs have begun to flee the troubled province and come to Bosnia. She added that "Kosova will affect us, [it] is already affecting us. We cannot really take more refugees into Bosnia." She did not say how many people have arrived or when they began to come. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, for his part, told "Le Monde" of 8 April that the Bosnian refugee problem requires a regional solution. He stressed that Muslims and Croats will have the possibility of returning to their homes only when the Krajina Serbs now living in those houses are able to go back to Croatia. PM

BOSNIAN SERBS, MONTENEGRINS APPEAL ON KOSOVA...

Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, and Montenegrin parliamentary speaker Svetozar Marovic issued a joint statement in Banja Luka on 8 April calling on all parties involved to solve the Kosovar question through "reason, intellect, and dialogue." Marovic also told reporters that he fears Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's planned referendum on foreign mediation in Kosova will solve nothing and only serve to complicate the problem, BETA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 1998). In London, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic called for wide autonomy for Kosova and for the thorough democratization of the region, RFE/RL reported. He added that Kosova should not be made a full republic within the federation. Djukanovic urged unconditional talks with foreign mediation. PM

...AS DO MACEDONIA, ALBANIA

Macedonian Foreign Minister Blagoje Handziski and his Albanian counterpart, Paskal Milo, released a statement in Skopje on 8 April calling on Milosevic to meet the demands of the international Contact Group to ease the situation in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1998). Handziski added that talks should be launched under international mediation to solve the Kosova problem within the borders of Yugoslavia, RFE/RL reported. PM

KOSOVARS REPORT SHOOTING IN DRENICA

Serbian forces fired automatic weapons in the village of Llausha near Skenderaj on 8 April, the Kosovo shadow-state's KIC news service reported. The agency also wrote that Serbian forces have recently begun building what it called military emplacements at Bernica e Poshtme and other villages north of Prishtina. Meanwhile in the Decan area, local Serbs told BETA news agency that masked, armed ethnic Albanians recently began patrolling the area in small groups. One of the Serbs said that gunfire from automatic weapons can be heard all night long and that Serbian villagers are continuing to maintain the armed patrols they organized one month ago to stand guard at night. PM

RUSSIA DENIES BELGRADE ARMS SALES

Sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry told Interfax in Moscow on 8 April that Russia is strictly observing the UN arms embargo against Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 8 April 1998). The sources noted "the wording of the [UN] document's provisions does not allow any free interpretation of the arms embargo." But, the sources added, "the resolution does not say anything about the termination of cooperation with Yugoslavia in training military personnel and repairing military equipment as envisioned in the [Russo-Yugoslav agreement on] bilateral cooperation for 1998 signed at the end of 1997." PM

UN FAULTS CROATIAN POLICE IN SLAVONIA

A UN spokeswoman said in Zagreb on 8 April that Croatian police have taken part in at least five incidents of intimidating local Serbs over the past week alone, despite the Croatian government's official policy of promoting reconciliation. She added that Croatian police in civilian clothes perform "investigative activities very much in the style of secret police" in the area, which reverted to Croatian control in January. PM

WAS ELITE UNIT INVOLVED IN COUP ATTEMPT IN ALBANIA?

Unnamed military prosecutors told "Koha Jone" of 9 April that they have evidence showing most of the armed men who marched to the building of the Central Election Commission on 3 July 1997 were members of the Presidential Guard (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 4 July 1997). Among the marchers was claimant to the throne, Leka Zogu. One man died in the shoot-out that ensued between the police and the protesters, who tried to storm the commission offices The prosecutors gave no details but said the evidence suggests that only a few protesters were members of the monarchist party. "Koha Jone" concluded that the march may have been a coup attempt by some guard members loyal to then President Sali Berisha, who had disputed the legitimacy of the June 1997 election results. FS

BIG HAUL OF FORGED DOLLARS IN ALBANIA

Tirana police seized some 370 forged $100 bank notes on 8 April while investigating a car theft. The seizure confirms recent media reports that large amounts of forged $100 bills have been circulating in Albania this year. On 8 April, a special police investigation team, assisted by two U.S. experts and equipped with a special laboratory, launched investigations into the authenticity of bills in circulation. Albanian bank officials say they do not have the necessary technology to detect counterfeits. FS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT SETS TIMETABLE FOR CONSIDERING VASILE GOVERNMENT

Prime Minister- designate Radu Vasile said on 8 April that his government's economic plan will be ready soon, ahead of the parliamentary review scheduled for next week, Reuters reported. Vasile said his government is still working out the details of privatization and restitution programs, two issues that coalition parties have been arguing over. Iuliu Furo, secretary of the Chamber of Deputies, said the ministers named to Vasile's cabinet will be interviewed on 14 April, the day before a scheduled vote by both houses of the parliament on the government lineup and its program. PB

AGRICULTURE WORKERS PROTEST IN BUCHAREST

Some 3,000 workers from the agriculture sector marched through downtown Bucharest on 8 April to protest low wages and state policies they say hurt them. the protesters complained that the government is not doing enough to protect domestic farmers. The previous day, some 10,000 workers protested in Bucharest and more than 5,000 in the southern city of Craiova to protest low wages and increasing prices. The average monthly salary in Romania is 850,000 lei (about $102), and inflation this year stands currently at 30 percent. PB

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS WANT COALITION WITH CENTRIST PARTY

Vladimir Voronin, the head of the Communist Party of Moldova, said it is imperative that his party form a coalition with the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMDP), Infotag reported on 8 April. Voronin said the failure to do so could lead to the formation of an anti-Communist coalition that would "aggravate economic and political instability." PMDP leader Diakov said the previous day that he is skeptical about his party cooperating with the Communists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 1998). The PMDP has 24 seats in the new parliament, enough to establish a majority coalition with the Communists. PB

MARKOV GIVES UP HUNT FOR BROTHER'S KILLER

Nikolai Markov, the brother of slain Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov, said he is giving up efforts to find those responsible for the 1978 murder in London of his brother, Reuters reported on 8 April. Georgi Markov, who at the time was working for the BBC and freelancing for RFE/RL, died four days after a poison pellet was injected into his leg at a bus stop. His family believes he was killed on orders from Sofia with help from the KGB. Nikolai Markov said he thinks former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov personally ordered the assassination. Zhivkov denies the charges. PB




GUN-RUNNING TO KOSOVA


by Michael J. Jordan

Ali Mata prefers his black hair tousled, his beard bushy. On the streets of Kukes, it projects him as a guy not to be messed with. He talks the talk of an Albanian nationalist. Today, Ali Mata is railing against the Serbian "wild animals" next door in Yugoslavia and their atrocities against Albanians through the centuries. Mata thirsts for revenge after the recent massacre of some 80 ethnic Albanians in Kosova, the southern Serbian province on the other side of the mountain.

"It's been a dream of mine since I was young," he says, "to fight against the Serbs because of all the crimes against my [ancestors'] village in 1913 and which they are still doing today to my Kosova brothers." But Mata's tirade is a bit disingenuous: He is a truck driver-turned-gun- trafficker with a financial stake in the misery of his Kosovar "brothers." Such is the nature of arms-dealing in the Balkans. It will likely continue as Kosova emerges as a potentially lucrative market.

After Serbian police cracked down on Kosova Albanian "terrorists" in early March, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic crowed he had broken the shadowy Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). To the contrary, the killings seem to have radicalized more of the Albanian-dominated province's population. Support for the UCK is rising, despite heated international diplomacy to stave off a new Balkan war. Growing numbers of Kosovar Albanians--as well as restive Albanians in northeastern Albania and northwestern Macedonia--are now spoiling for a fight with the Serbs. One Kosovar, now living in Albania, said the police onslaught was a virtual declaration of war.

"History has shown us that no nation has won its freedom through negotiation, only through fighting," says the man, who claims he fled from Serbian police several months ago. "I hope this war continues because it's the only way to rid ourselves of the Serbs."

But for the UCK to strike back effectively, it will need arms: Serbian police say they destroyed or confiscated a significant quantity of weapons. Military analysts suggest that potential arms smugglers may include Serbia's former partners in the old Yugoslavia- -Croatia, Bosnia, even Slovenia. Before Milosevic sparked its disintegration a decade ago, Yugoslavia was one of Europe's top arms producers. And there is no love lost for Milosevic among those ex-Yugoslav republics.

But a more surefire source for rearmament may be the ethnic Albanian brethren across Kosova's mountainous borders with Albania and Macedonia. The threat is real: Albanians, while desperately poor, are a remarkably well- armed people, courtesy of the chaos that engulfed Albania last year.

The crisis was triggered by the collapse of massive pyramid-investment schemes. Looters raided weapons depots the army had abandoned. Suddenly, Albania was awash in guns. Some 1 million guns were stolen in all. Automatic rifles were selling on the street for $60. And from March to May, many were easily smuggled to the Albanians of Macedonia and Kosova through porous mountain passes.

Yet the gun-running racket isn't what it used to be. First of all, it's become much more risky. In recent weeks Serbia has beefed up patrols along the 60-mile border between Kosova and Albania, particularly at the lone border crossing. They aim to stamp out both trafficking and the possibility of Albanian volunteers pouring into Kosova. Serbian sentries are known for being quick to fire. And if itchy trigger fingers weren't enough, snow can make the preferred routes impassable. The mountain ridge ranges from 1,500 to 6,000 feet.

In northwestern Macedonia, meanwhile, a U.S.-led UN mission remains on alert for suspicious border activity. The 500,000-strong Albanian minority there is also waging a battle for greater autonomy. If Kosova erupts, these Albanians would likely join the fray. The Albanian government itself has also sought to clamp down on gun trafficking. It claims to have recovered 40 percent of the looted weapons.Traffic has indeed been curtailed, but not eliminated.

Ali Mata uses Kukes, an Albanian city of 28,000 people just 14 miles from the Kosova border checkpoint, as his home base. He said his last delivery--five AK-47s--was made more than one month ago. Through his web of contacts around town, the unemployed truck driver bought the guns for $100 apiece. In Kosova, he said, they sold for 1,000 German marks ($550) each. He wouldn't divulge how many he's sold in the past year, nor how he delivers them.

Mata is one of perhaps a dozen professional traffickers in the region, say local observers. But they also point out that the typical smuggler is the individual driven by his economic plight, who loads guns and other salable goods onto a donkey and tries his luck through a mountain pass. The average Albanian salary is now down to about $60 a month.

Mata predicts Albanian smugglers would barely make a dent in the Kosovar market. Echoing the opinions of Western military analysts, Mata agrees the top traders will likely come from within the former Yugoslavia. Even from Serbia itself. Financing the weapons would likely be arranged in part by Kosovars living abroad in countries like Germany and Switzerland.

"If they decide they want weapons, they'll get weapons," Mata says. "There are traffickers in Serbia with truckloads of weapons who are not after any nationalist cause. Only money." The author is the Budapest correspondent for the "Christian Science Monitor" (e-mail: michaeljjordan@compuserve.com).


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