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Newsline - April 23, 1998




YELTSIN ASKS ZYUGANOV TO PUT COUNTRY BEFORE PARTY

President Boris Yeltsin telephoned with Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 23 April to lobby for the confirmation of Sergei Kirienko as prime minister. According to Interfax, Yeltsin argued that the Communist leadership should "think about the state, not about [the interests of] their party," when considering Kirienko's candidacy in the third and final vote. The State Duma would seal its own dissolution if deputies rejected Kirienko a third time. Earlier on 23 April, Zyuganov told journalists that 21 senior members of the Communist Party have agreed to urge the party's Central Committee to oppose Kirienko's confirmation, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Yeltsin told Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev during a Kremlin meeting that he does not plan to visit the State Duma on 24 April to present Kirienko in person. LB

DUMA VOTE LOOKS TOO CLOSE TO CALL

Our Home Is Russia Duma faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Russian Regions faction leader Oleg Morozov have all confirmed that their factions will support Kirienko on 24 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Those three factions can deliver a combined total of some 160 votes. Agrarian faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov announced on 23 April that more than half of the Agrarians in the Duma plan to vote for Kirienko, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Opinion is also divided in the Popular Power faction. Even if most Agrarians and Popular Power deputies, along with some independent deputies, vote for Kirienko, the acting prime minister would still need some Communist support in order to obtain the 226 votes needed for confirmation. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction will either unanimously reject Kirienko or, if the Duma conducts the vote by secret ballot, will decline to participate. LB

FEDERATION COUNCIL ASKS DUMA TO CONFIRM KIRIENKO

The Federation Council on 22 April adopted an appeal calling on the Duma to ensure that all branches of government will be able to function without interruption, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Council's appeal, adopted shortly after Kirienko addressed the upper house, does not mention the acting premier by name. Council deputies do not necessarily support Kirienko but do not want to see legislative activity halted for several months pending new Duma elections. The appeal also calls on Yeltsin to take the opinions of members of parliament into account when forming the next government. Although the upper house does not have a formal role in confirming the prime minister, the views of regional leaders are believed to carry weight in the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1998). LB

OFFICIAL SAYS EARLY ELECTIONS REQUIRE NEW RULES...

Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Ivanchenko announced on 22 April that Yeltsin will be required to issue decrees regulating new parliamentary elections if such elections become necessary, ITAR-TASS reported. He argued that the September 1997 law on the rights of voters contradicts some passages of the 1995 law on parliamentary elections and that only presidential decrees can resolve those contradictions. Ivanchenko implied that Yeltsin could do away with the proportional representation system currently used to elect half the Duma. He pointed out that the law on the rights of voters says political parties and movements cannot compete in parliamentary elections unless they have amended their charters at least one year prior to those elections. No existing party or movement could meet that requirement if the Duma were dissolved and new elections held this year. LB

...BUT YELTSIN'S RIGHT TO CHANGE SYSTEM REMAINS QUESTIONABLE

There is no consensus regarding Ivanchenko's assertion that Yeltsin could change the electoral system by decree. Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai recently argued that Yeltsin has no right to issue decrees overriding the 1995 electoral law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1998). "Kommersant-Daily" commented on 23 April that the Kremlin "could not think up a more frightening threat" for Duma deputies than Ivanchenko's announcement. But even if Yeltsin did order that the new Duma be elected only in single-member districts, it is unclear whether such a Duma would be more amenable to the president's policies. Abolishing proportional representation would be devastating for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and would also harm Yabloko, but the Communist Party and its allies would likely win far more seats than pro-government or pro- Yeltsin movements. LB

DUMA PASSES REVISED LAND CODE

The Duma on 22 April passed a revised version of the land code by 265 to three with two abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma overrode Yeltsin's veto of an earlier version of the code last year, but the Federation Council did not override that veto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 February 1998). Duma Agrarian Affairs Committee Chairman Aleksei Chernyshev said Yeltsin's comments were taken into account when the land code was revised. But like the previous version, the code approved on 22 April would prohibit the purchase and sale of farmland--a provision Yeltsin is almost certain to find unacceptable. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 April that Saratov Oblast has now held four auctions at which agricultural land was sold. The legislature of the Republic of Tatarstan has also approved a law allowing the purchase and sale of farmland. LB

UPPER HOUSE APPROVES LAW ON ELECTRICITY GIANT

The Federation Council on 22 April overrode Yeltsin's veto of a law regulating the distribution of shares in the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System (EES), Russian news agencies reported. Deputies voted by 131 to two with one abstention, in favor of the law, which requires the state to hold at least a 51 percent stake in EES and more than half of the state-owned shares to be managed by regional authorities. The law also restricts foreign ownership of EES to 25 percent of the company. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 April that foreign shareholders currently own some 30 percent of the company's shares. Anatolii Sliva, Yeltsin's representative in the Federation Council, told Interfax that the law "will undermine foreign investors' confidence in the Russian stock market." Yeltsin is constitutionally obliged to sign the law within seven days. LB

IRAN AGAIN DEFENDS NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA

Iranian Foreign Ministry official Mahmud Mohammadi on 22 April said that Iran's cooperation with Russia in the field of nuclear energy serves "exclusively peaceful means" and is carried out "in strict compliance with international law," ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, Russian acting Nuclear Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told visiting U.S. Under-Secretary of State John Holum that Russian-Iranian cooperation in nuclear-power engineering has purely peaceful purposes and observes both the spirit and the letter of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, Interfax reported. Also on 22 April, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that visiting U.S. special envoy on nuclear non-proliferation Robert Gallucci and Yurii Koptev, director of the Russian space agency, discussed new U.S. claims that Moscow has provided nuclear weapons technology to Iran. LF

GOVERNMENT SEEKING WAYS TO FILL BUDGET GAP

Acting Prime Minister Kirienko announced on 22 April that the government is drafting plans to reduce 1998 budget expenditures by 35-40 billion rubles ($5.8-$6.5 billion), Russian news agencies reported. Addressing the Federation Council, Kirienko said one such measure, which would save an estimated 10 billion rubles, would impose limits on the energy and heat consumption of budget- funded organizations. The 1998 budget calls for some 500 billion rubles in total expenditures, but analysts agree cuts will be necessary because tax collection remains low and falling oil prices have cut into government revenues. Also on 22 April, the State Property Ministry announced that planned 1998 revenues from privatization and the management of state property have been raised from the targeted 9.5 billion rubles to 17.5 billion rubles. LB

SKURATOV CALLS FOR REPAYING DEBTS TO DEFENSE INDUSTRY

Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has sent a letter to acting Prime Minister Kirienko calling for steps to repay debts to defense enterprises, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April. Those enterprises produced military equipment requested by the Defense Industry Ministry, which was dissolved in March 1997. The Economics Ministry took over its duties but has yet to repay the debt to the enterprises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February and 20 March 1998). Skuratov said his office receives many complaints about the debts, since defense enterprises often find it difficult or impossible to pay their employees. LB

SERGEEV DOUBTS SOLDIERS' WAGES CAN BE RAISED THIS YEAR

Acting Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has expressed doubts that Russia can afford to increase salaries for military personnel this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 April. Earlier this year, officials promised to increase soldiers' wages substantially in 1998. However, Sergeev said the authorities must concentrate their efforts on paying 11.4 billion rubles ($1.9 billion) currently owed to military personnel. He also spoke out against adopting laws that contain funding requirements that exceed the government's capabilities. The Duma recently overrode a presidential veto on a law that would raise soldiers' wages significantly. The Federation Council has yet to consider that law. LB

YELTSIN WANTS TO KEEP CRIMINALS OUT OF PUBLIC OFFICE

Yeltsin has submitted to the Duma a draft law aimed at preventing convicted criminals from gaining public office, Russian news agencies reported on 21 April. The bill would amend the law on voters' rights to require convicted criminals to disclose all information about their criminal records in order to compete in elections. If they concealed such information, they could be denied registration as candidates. The president also proposed amending a law on requirements for government employees in order to prohibit the appointment of people with certain types of criminal convictions. Several people with alleged criminal ties or criminal records have won elections in the Russian regions, most recently in the Nizhnii Novgorod mayoral election, which was subsequently annulled. LB

FORMER GROZNY MAYOR IMPLICATES GRACHEV, KULIKOV, KORZHAKOV

In an interview with the most recent issue of "Ogonek," Beslan Gantemirov claimed that former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, former Federal Security Service director Mikhail Barsukov, former Yeltsin bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, and current Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov diverted billions of rubles allocated for reconstruction programs in Chechnya in 1996. Gantemirov said that Russian officials knew in advance of the planned terrorist attack in Budennovsk in June 1996 but did nothing to prevent it in order to create a pretext for the replacement of then Interior Minister Viktor Yerin by Kulikov. A former head of Djokhar Dudaev's presidential guard, Gantemirov split with Dudaev in 1992 on "ideological grounds" He was mayor of Grozny under President Doku Zavgaev until May 1996, when he was arrested and extradited to Moscow on charges of embezzling 7 billion old rubles ($1.7 million) intended for reconstruction in Chechnya. LF

TATAR NEWSPAPER CLOSED OVER TECHNICALITY

A district court in Tatarstan ordered the closure of "Altyn Urda," the newspaper of the opposition Ittifaq Tatar National Independence Party, on a minor technicality. According to Tatar-Inform on 22 April, the newspaper has violated Article 11 of the republic's media law by publishing some articles in Russian when it is registered as a Tatar-language publication. Tatar-Inform also noted that "Ittifaq" has systematically published articles insulting President Mintimer Shaimiev, which the Ministry of Information cited in instigating legal proceedings to have the newspaper closed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 1998). LF




BAKU DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST RFE/RL BAN

Police and security officials on 22 April forcibly dispersed some 100 young protesters who picketed the Ministry of Communications to protest the government's decision to suspend the rebroadcasting on medium-wave of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani-language programs. Fifteen demonstrators were detained and an unknown number injured, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The opposition Liberal Party has created a Radio Liberty Defense Committee, and that body has drafted a letter to the UN and U.S. leaders protesting the Azerbaijani government's move. Representatives of four newspapers and 26 political parties in Baku have signed the letter. LF

AZERBAIJAN PREVENTS EXPORT OF DUAL TECHNOLOGY TO IRAN

According to a statement released on 22 April by the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry, Azerbaijani customs officials at the Astara frontier crossing with Iran on 26 March intercepted a consignment of stainless steel plates allegedly intended for construction of liquid-fuel ballistic missiles, Turan and ANS-Press reported. International law prohibits the export of such components to third countries. The consignment was shipped by a Russian company. LF

CRIME RATE IN ARMENIA CONTINUES TO FALL

Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on 22 April that some 1,300 crimes were committed in the country during the first quarter of 1998, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That figure represents a 25 percent decrease, compared with 1,724 crimes committed during the first quarter of 1997, and a continuation of the fall in crime registered last year. Sarkisian said the investigation into the case of some two dozen men arrested in February on charges of murder, armed robbery, and illegal possession of weapons has yielded "interesting revelations." But he declined to confirm speculation that the group is connected with the chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, former Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghian. LF

ADJAR-GEORGIAN TENSIONS INTENSIFY

The Revival faction within the Georgian parliament has announced that it will boycott future parliament sessions, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi reported on 22 April. The same day, the chairman of the Adjar Supreme Council, Aslan Abashidze, said Adjaria will boycott the next Georgian parliamentary elections unless his republic's demands are met. Those demands include the creation in the Adjar capital, Batumi, of a free economic zone and the revision of the Georgian election law to reduce the number of deputies elected by proportional representation. He also announced that Adjaria plans to amend its constitution and that in cases where those amendments contradict the Georgian Constitution, the Adjar basic law will take precedence. Abashidze did not rule out the possibility that he will run against incumbent Eduard Shevardnadze in the presidential elections in 2000. LF

KULIEV RETURNS TO MOSCOW

Avdy Kuliev, a Turkmen opposition leader and former Turkmen foreign minister, returned to Moscow on 22 April after nearly a week in Turkmenistan, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Kuliev had been detained by Turkmen authorities after his arrival in Ashgabat on 17 April; following his release, he was kept under house arrest. Officials from the Russian Embassy requested that Kuliev, a Russian citizen, return to Moscow. They said that Turkmenistan and Russia had agreed it would be better for Kuliev to leave Turkmenistan to avoid creating turmoil there. BP

FOUR DIE IN DUSHANBE SHOOT-OUT

Four men were killed in a shoot-out in Dushanbe on 22 April, RFE/RL correspondents reported. All four were reportedly members of the Tajik armed forces. The reasons for the shoot-out are unclear, but RFE/RL correspondents in Tajikistan say a group loyal to the Chalov brothers in Kulyab was involved. One of the Chalov brothers was arrested several weeks ago in possession of a large amount of heroin. Since then, some of his relatives and their followers have been disarming guards at roadside checkpoints between the southern city of Kulyab and Dushanbe. The group, which is reported to be just outside the capital, is seeking the release of the arrested brother. BP

WORLD BANK TO LOAN TAJIKISTAN $50 MILLION

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with a representative of the World Bank in Dushanbe on 22 April, Interfax reported. After the meeting,it was announced that the World Bank will extend $50 million in soft loans to Tajikistan this year. The first installment of the loan, worth $20 million, will be released in the third quarter and is intended for health care, education, telecommunications, highways, and public transportation. The release of the remainder will depend on how successfully the first installment is used. BP

KYRGYZ LAWMAKERS APPROVES PLAN FOR FURTHER PRIVATIZATION

The upper house of the Kyrgyz parliament has approved a plan for the fourth stage of privatization, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 22 April. That stage will involve sales of state enterprises in sectors such as telecommunications, mining, and energy industries. Deputy Daniyar Usenov called for an investigation into whether members of parliament are making personal profit from the privatization process. Another deputy, Adakhan Madumarov echoed Usenov's call, noting that many mistakes have been made already. By way of example, Madumarov pointed out that former Bishkek Mayor Boris Silayeva sold a large home repairs store for 4 million som (about $220,000) when its real value was 60 million som. Silayev is now deputy prime minister. BP




UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT REDRAFTS 1998 BUDGET TO MEET IMF TARGETS

Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov has said the government will submit a revised 1998 budget to the Supreme Council in May, Ukrainian Television reported. The document will put the deficit at 2.5 percent of GDP, compared with 3.1 percent in the current budget. Mityukov said the change is a condition for obtaining new IMF credits. An IMF mission is considering a $2.5 billion loan for Ukraine to support structural economic reforms. JM

UKRAINIAN CURRENCY EXCHANGE CHAIRMAN KILLED

Vadym Hetman, head of the Ukrainian Interbank Currency Exchange, has been shot dead at his home in Kyiv by an unknown assailant. A Kyiv Interior Ministry Directorate spokesman told Interfax on 22 April that the police believe there are three possible reasons for the murder. Two of those reasons are economic. The third is political and related to "serious conflict situations" in the recent elections, in which Hetman made an unsuccessful bid for a parliamentary seat. JM

LUKASHENKA EASES CONTROL OVER CITIZENS' FINANCES...

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree liberalizing administrative control over individual hard-currency deposits, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 22 April. The decree states that the government will guarantee the safety of deposits and return the money upon the depositor's first request. Furthermore, deposits will be tax-free and confidential, while depositors will not be required to disclose the source of their money. The Belarusian Central Bank chairman said the decree will draw an additional $2 billion into the economy. JM

...INTRODUCES MANDATORY INCOME DECLARATION

Also on 22 April, Lukashenka signed a decree introducing mandatory income and property declaration, Interfax reported on 22 April. Citizens are now obliged to declare real estate and personal possessions each of which is worth more than 200 minimum wages. Failure to submit a declaration or supplying false data incurs a fine of 20-50 minimum wages. JM

LUKASHENKA STRESSES ECONOMIC TIES WITH GERMANY

Lukashenka said at an industrial fair in Hannover on 22 April that Minsk sees Germany as its main economic partner in the West, ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka, who is visiting the fair at the invitation of German businessmen, complained that the German government makes bilateral cooperation conditional on the political situation in Belarus. "If we cannot interact politically, we will focus on economic and trade ties," ITAR-TASS quoted Lukashenka as saying. Meanwhile, Gerhard Schroeder, the opposition candidate for chancellor, has come under fire for his luncheon meeting with Lukashenka at the fair. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said Schroeder "has gone outside the positions" of the EU and the Bundestag prohibiting contacts with Lukashenka owing to human rights violations in Belarus. JM

ESTONIAN BANKS SIGN MERGER AGREEMENT

The Union Bank and the Bank of Tallinn, Estonia's largest and fourth- largest banks, have signed a formal merger agreement, ETA reported on 22 April. The merger creates the largest financial institution in the Baltic States, with assets totaling nearly 16 billion kroons (some $1.06 billion). The Union Bank will have a 80.3 percent stake in the new institution and the Bank of Tallinn 19.7 percent. The two banks signed a preliminary merger accord earlier this year. JC

OPPOSITION FAILS TO CALL CONFIDENCE VOTE IN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER

The United Opposition on 22 April failed to collect enough votes to call a vote of no confidence in Environment Minister Villu Reiljan, ETA reported. The opposition has accused Reiljan of the "careless and ineffective" use of tax payers' money and of breaking the law. Reiljan rejects those accusations, saying he achieved additional income for the state and has not mismanaged funds. In 1996, at Reiljan's initiative, the Environment Ministry invested state funds totaling 19 million kroons ($1.27 million) in stocks, reaping a 7 million profit. The State Audit Office is to carry out an investigation to determine whether Reiljan acted within the law. JC

LATVIAN PREMIER AGREES TO CONFIDENCE VOTE IN CABINET

Guntars Krasts has agreed to a vote of confidence in a new government, BNS and Reuters reported on 22 April. The vote, which follows the departure earlier this month of the largest coalition partner, is scheduled to take place on 30 April. Before then, Krasts and the remaining coalition partners will agree on a new cabinet lineup, a government spokesman said. Also on 22 April, Krasts told an extraordinary session of the parliament, at which he presented the government's stabilization plan, that he regards the Latvian economy as stable, although he admitted there is a "certain instability" in the political sphere and "drawbacks in the security and foreign policy sectors." He added that Russia's recent threats of trade sanctions confirm the "need to strengthen our political and economic direction--EU integration, close cooperation with Baltic and Nordic states, and a reorientation to more stable and wider markets." JC

DOCTORS SAYS HAVEL'S HEALTH CONTINUES TO IMPROVE

The Austrian doctors treating Czech President Vaclav Havel on 22 April said that the state of his health has shown a "slight further improvement" and that he will be gradually be brought out of an artificially induced sleep "in the coming days," CTK reported. They also said he will soon be able to breathe normally, without the aid of a respirator. MS

U.S. COMPANY TO PURCHASE TROUBLED CZECH PLANE MANUFACTURER

The government on 22 April approved an agreement for selling its 93 percent stake in the Let Kunovice airplane manufacturer to the Georgia-based U.S. Ayres Corp. Minister of Trade and Industry Karel Kuhnl told journalists that Ayres Corp. will pay $4.5 million and will invest a further $20 million in Let Kunovice, whose debts total some $1.2 million. MS

HUNGARIAN ETHNIC PARTIES MERGE IN SLOVAKIA

The three political parties representing Hungarian ethnics (Co- existence, the Christian Democratic Hungarian Movement, and the Hungarian Civic Party) have reached an agreement to merge to form a new party, Hungarian media reported on 22 April. Previously, the parties were joined in an alliance. The merger to form a party comes after Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia submitted a draft law that would raise the threshold for parliamentary representation from the present 5 percent to 5 percent for each formation represented in an electoral alliance, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. MS




KOSOVAR ALBANIANS CALL FOR INTERNATIONAL MEDIATION

A delegation of Kosovar Albanians have called on the international community to become involved in seeking a solution to the crisis in the Yugoslav province, AFP reported on 22 April. The delegation was in Strasbourg to meet with officials from the Council of Europe, whose Parliamentary Assembly released a statement saying a solution can be found only "on the basis of greater autonomy" for Kosova within Yugoslavia "where democratic reforms will intervene." Edita Tahiri, the leader of the delegation and a member of the leading Democratic League of Kosova, said talks between Belgrade and ethnic Albanians to be moderated by the EU, the UN, and the U.S. should be held as soon as possible. She said the situation in Kosova "has reached the point of no return." Yugoslavia is holding a controversial referendum on 23 April to ask if international mediators should be involved in resolving the crisis in Kosova. PB

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION SLAMS YUGOSLAVIA

The UN Human Rights Commission approved a resolution on 22 April condemning Serbian officials for violently repressing the expression of political views in Kosova, Reuters reported. The resolution was adopted by a 53-country grouping in Geneva, although 12 countries, including Russia, abstained. It said ethnic Albanians in Kosova have experienced "harassment, beatings, brutality, torture, warrantless searches, and unfair trials." It called for the withdrawal of special Serbian police units from Kosova. The document also called on Yugoslav authorities to capture indicted war criminals. PB

ALBRIGHT PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR MONTENEGRO

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Washington supports Montenegro and will assist the Yugoslav republic in the event that sanctions are imposed against Belgrade, an RFE/RL correspondent reported in Washington on 22 April. Albright made her comments before meeting with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who is on a four- day U.S. visit. Albright praised Montenegro's reforms and said she hoped "the spirit of Montenegro" will extend throughout Yugoslavia. Djukanovic said his government opposes extreme positions in Kosova. He argued that the ethnic Albanians there need to have a say in government but he ruled out independence. A third party is needed to conduct discussions between Belgrade and the Kosovar Albanian leadership, he added. PB

MONTENEGRO WANTS YUGOSLAV DEFENSE MINISTER TO RESIGN

Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic called for the dismissal of Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic after the latter accused Montenegro of supporting terrorism in and independence for the Serbian province of Kosova, AFP reported on 22 April. Vujanovic said that Bulatovic, who is Montenegrin, made the charges in a letter to Yugoslav Prime Minister Radoje Kontic and that the comments were "political manipulations." Bulatovic was a strong supporter of and is related to former Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic, who lost a tense election last year. Vujanovic said Montenegro condemns terrorism and supports a peaceful settlement of the crisis in Kosova, which, he said, must remain part of Yugoslavia. PB

UN PROSECUTOR WOULD SEEK LIFE SENTENCE FOR KARADZIC

Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor at the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, said on 22 April that she will demand a life sentence for former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic if he is brought to face charges of genocide, AFP reported. Arbour, speaking from Sarajevo, said the tribunal has enough evidence to convict Karadzic. In Washington, senior U.S. political and military officials said that an operation to capture Karadzic was called off after French Major Herve Gourmillon had clandestine meetings with Karadzic, "The Washington Post" reported. French officials confirmed the meetings took place and subsequently recalled Gourmillon from Bosnia. U.S. officials said the incident seriously damaged cooperation between the U.S. and French militaries in Bosnia. PB

FORENSIC OFFICIALS SAY MASS GRAVE SITE DISTURBED

International forensic experts exhuming a mass grave near Brnice say the site has been tampered with. Kelly Moore, a spokeswoman for the UN war crimes tribunal, said there is evidence that objects have been removed from the site. She stressed, however, that exhumation work will continue and that, despite the tampering, "valuable evidence" has been found. Hard-line Bosnian Serb officials previously refused permission to officials from The Hague to investigate the mass graves. In the southern Bosnian village of Pljesivica, five Muslim houses were blown up, cantonal officials reported on 22 April. The area is dominated by Bosnian Croats. PB

GERMAN OFFICIAL WANTS SANCTIONS UNLESS ZAGREB COOPERATES ON REFUGEES

Dietmar Schlee, Germany's chief of refugee affairs, said on 22 April that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman is not keeping a promise he made to allow Serbian refugees back to their homes in the Krajina region, Reuters reported. Schlee said that the international community can no longer accept this and that "sanctions will soon be needed." German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Erdmann said it is too early to discuss sanctions but that the EU is discussing ways of increasing pressure on Zagreb to allow refugees to return. Schlee said that border guards are obeying orders from Zagreb to turn back Serbs when they try to enter Croatia. Some 200,000 Serbs fled Krajina ahead of the advancing Croatian army in 1995 as it retook territory captured by rebel Serbs. The UN High Commission for Refugees says some 18,000 Serbs have returned to their homes. PB

ALBANIA RELEASES PYRAMID SCHEME CHIEF

A court in Tirana released Vehbi Alimucaj, the head of Albania's largest pyramid scheme, from house arrest on 22 April. Alimucaj is the head of Vefa Holding, which reportedly defrauded thousands of Albanians of some $300 million. The pyramid scheme's collapse last year helped prompt riots that threw the country into chaos. Alimucaj had been under house arrest since February. No reason for his release was given. Meanwhile, Albanian President Rexhep Meidani decreed that local elections will be held 16 electoral districts on 21 June. It will be the first time local elections have been held since 1996. Many areas of Albania are currently run by self-appointed officials. PB

ROMANIA TO RENEGOTIATE IMF LOAN

Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 22 April said he has invited IMF chief negotiator for Romania Poul Thompsen to Bucharest on 26 April to re-negotiate the terms of the IMF stand-by agreement, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Vasile said the government has restructured its budget and has a new program, which, he said, means new negotiations are necessary. In February the IMF suspended the release of a $86 million tranche from a $430 million stand-by loan because of the slow progress toward reform. Finance Minister Daniel Daianu said on 22 April that Romania may not be able to meet the loan's conditions because of the recent political crisis and that a new accord may have to be negotiated. MS

ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY CHOOSES MAYORAL CANDIDATE

The Bucharest leadership of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 21 April elected Viorel Lis, the acting mayor of Bucharest, as its candidate for the Bucharest mayoralty. PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu said he hoped to persuade other parties within the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) to accept Lis as the CDR joint candidate. The National Liberal Party, however, has decided to nominate its own candidate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 22 April, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania failed to reach an agreement with the Greater Romania Party and the Party of Romanian National Unity to back its candidate, Sorin Oprescu. But the three parties, together with the Socialist Labor Party, the Socialist Party, and other smaller formations, have concluded a "non-aggression pact" whereby they will refrain from mutual attacks during the campaign. MS

ROMANIAN-FRENCH DEAL ON BLACK SEA OIL DRILLING

The French company Elf Aquitaine and the Romanian oil company Petrom on 22 April signed an agreement to jointly explore for oil in the Black Sea, AFP reported. The French company will initially invest $15 million in seismic studies and trial drilling. MS

DETAILS OF MOLDOVAN COALITION AGREEMENT REVEALED

The center-right coalition agreement reached on 21 April in Chisinau stipulates that the three signatories--For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMPD). the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM), and the Party of Democratic Forces--will receive government representation proportional to the number of votes they received in last month's elections. At the same time, it states that for every two portfolios given to the PMPD and the CDM, the Party of Democratic Forces will receive one. The agreement also stipulates that the PMPD will have the chairmanship of the parliament and the premier will be a member of the CDM, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The agreement will be declared void if those provisions cannot be implemented. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN POSTPONES VOTE ON CHAIRMAN

The parliament on 22 April again postponed electing its new chairman, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Communists first requested a five-minute consultation pause and then failed to return for the debates. Dumitru Diacov, who is the candidate of the center-right coalition for the chairmanship, told journalists that the Communists' accusations that the alliance will adhere to the CDM's pro-Romanian union principles are "groundless." He added that the coalition reflects "national reconciliation" and will allow the government to concentrate on continuing reforms and raising living standards. MS

NATO INFORMATION CENTER OPENED IN SOFIA

Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova attended the formal opening of the NATO information center in the Bulgarian capital on 22 April, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The same day, an AWACS surveillance aircraft carried out its first mission to Bulgaria--a three-hour demonstration flight over Plodviv, with 10 Bulgarian military officers on board. MS




MOVES TOWARD A REAL PEACE IN TAJIKISTAN


by Roland Eggleston

The chairman of Tajikistan's Commission for National Reconciliation, Said-Abdullo Nuri, says that by the end of this week, most opposition armed forces should have gathered in demobilization centers in the Garm and Karatigen valleys.

Nuri told the visiting chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, at the weekend that those forces include about 5,000 armed men in Tajikistan and about 500 others across the border in the Taloquan region of Afghanistan. The men are supposed to surrender their weapons on arrival at the demobilization centers. Within a month or less, they are to be offered the chance of either joining the regular Tajik forces or taking a civilian job.

The disarmament of the armed forces is a core element in the peace agreement reached between the government and opposition last June to end five years of civil war that cost the lives of thousands. However, this first stage of what is called the "military protocol" of the peace agreement is months behind schedule. As a result, the elections scheduled for this June or July will now probably be delayed until next year.

Despite the delay, Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov told journalists accompanying Geremek that--if the disarmament is successful--it will be a "considerable step forward" in implementing the peace agreement. But he warned that the peace progress is "at the very beginning.... It is not easy to pass from the dialogue of the Kalashnikov to the dialogue of words and thoughts," he said.

Both Nazarov and Nuri acknowledged that even under the best circumstances, not all the armed forces in Tajikistan would be brought safely under control in the demobilization center. Large areas of the countryside outside Dushanbe is under the control of local warlords who have unknown numbers of troops and have ignored the demands of the peace agreement.

Despite the peace agreement, tensions remain high in Dushanbe, and kidnapping is a constant danger. A curfew is enforced from 7:00 p.m., but the silence of the night is still shattered by gunfire. Nuri himself lives in constant danger of assassination. His meeting with Geremek took place in a heavily guarded building in central Dushanbe. Men armed with Kalashkinovs, pistols, and other weapons stood outside the entrance and lined the stairways to the meeting place on the second floor. Nuri spends each night in a guarded government compound in downtown Dushanbe, where officials sent to Dushanbe by the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank also live.

Officials attached to the OSCE' s permanent mission in Dushanbe said they are "hopeful" that the gathering of opposition armed forces in the demobilization centers will bring a real end to the outbursts of fighting, but they say it is unlikely that all shooting will come to an end.

"The peace treaty ended real fighting, but there are still frequent skirmishes," said one official who preferred not to be identified. "Both sides have a problem with teenage boys who have known nothing but conflict since they were young. They don't have work and so they run around with their guns. Often it comes to shooting."

Some officials query the figure of 5,000 opposition fighters named by Nuri. They say not all opposition fighters are in the "regular" opposition. Officials believe there are also others who have jobs in the countryside and a gun at home. At times, they leave those jobs to become involved in a shooting operation and then return to their daily work. There are also armed gangs, some of which seize foreigners as hostages.

Opposition leader Nuri told journalists accompanying Geremek that the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) genuinely wants the peace agreement to work and elections to be held. He added that he believes that President Imomali Rakhmonov also wants peace. "We are on the threshold of democratization," he said. "But it is impossible to move toward democracy in the situation we now have in Tajikistan."

Nuri said the reason for the delay in implementing last year's peace agreement is the lack of trust between the government and the opposition. He also said that the war was "imported from outside" and had involved "those who wanted democracy and freedom and those who wanted totalitarianism and bureaucracy." He charged that those who favored totalitarianism had "misused the religious and nationalist feelings of the people." There are eight legal political parties in Tajikistan and several others that were banned, including Nuri's own group the Islamic Revival party . Last year' s peace agreement included a lifting of that ban.

Nuri said he is confident that the UTO will do well in the elections, whenever they are held. That vote must be preceded by meetings of various commissions on military, political, and legal issues in which the government and the opposition have equal representation. The ideas generated by those groups are intended to produce a series of amendments to the 1994 constitution, which must first be approved by President Rakhmonov and then put to the public in a referendum. With considerable luck, such a referendum may be held later this year. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Munich, Germany.


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