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Newsline - May 28, 1998




YELTSIN MOVES TO CALM MARKETS...

President Boris Yeltsin told Russian Television viewers on 28 May that the central bank has enough reserves to defend the ruble and that ordinary Russians will not suffer from the recent market uncertainty. He said foreign investors should "feel confident" that there will be "no collapse" of Russian financial markets. At the same time, Yeltsin indicated that "several heads will roll" as a result of recent developments. The Russian president met with his senior advisers to discuss plans for coping with the crisis. Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin said after the meeting that the Russian government is confident that it will not only cope but will do so in a way that "there will be no such problems again in Russia." PG

...AS MELTDOWN CONTINUES

Russia's stock and bond markets continued their downward slide on 27 May and yields on government treasury bills climbed above 80 percent. At a joint press conference, Central Bank Chairman Dubinin and Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov held and repeated that no sharp ruble devaluation is in the works, despite the activities of "speculators" leading the latest attack on the ruble, Russian media reported. Dubinin announced the second hike in the Central Bank's refinancing rate in as many weeks--this time from 50 percent to 150 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1998). According to Dubinin, efforts to prop up the ruble have depleted the Central Bank's gold and hard-currency reserves by $1.5 billion over the last two weeks. Those reserves now total some $14 billion. LB

KIRIENKO SAYS TAX POLICE WILL TARGET RICHEST RUSSIANS

Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko said on 28 May that as part of Yeltsin's effort to cut the budget deficit by enforcing the tax laws, the tax police will single out the country's richest citizens, "the majority of whom," he noted, "do not pay taxes," ITAR-TASS reported. In a related move, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told NTV that the Russian government plans to identify on 29 May firms that are to be subject to bankruptcy proceedings because they have not paid taxes. PG

DEPUTY PREMIER DOUBTS CONSPIRACY THEORIES

In an interview with NTV on 27 May, Khristenko said he does not believe there is a conspiracy behind the latest crises facing the government. Some Russian commentators have charged that financial groups are trying to destabilize the political and economic situation on many fronts, including orchestrating the recent protests by coal miners and leading a drive to devalue the ruble. (For instance, some media financed by Oneksimbank have seen the hand of CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii at work.) Khristenko dismissed speculation about a grand conspiracy as a "myth" but argued that certain political and financial groups, which he did not name, are taking advantage of the crises to promote their own interests. LB

GOVERNMENT TO LOWER STARTING PRICE FOR ROSNEFT

First Deputy State Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman on 27 May told journalists that when the government tries again to sell a 75 percent stake in the oil company Rosneft, it will lower the starting price, Russian media reported. For the auction that fell through on 26 May, the minimum bid was $2.1 billion plus $400 million to invest in the company. Braverman suggested that the government's next asking price will correspond to the evaluation of the international firm Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, which in March determined that $1.6 billion-$1.7 billion would be a fair price for a 75 percent stake in Rosneft. The terms for the new auction are to be announced no later than 1 June. LB

LUKOIL, ONEKSIMBANK FORM PARTNERSHIP

LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov and Oneksimbank founder Vladimir Potanin on 27 May signed a partnership agreement, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The oil company and the bank will cooperate on some oil projects, but Alekperov and Potanin said they will be involved in different consortiums for the next Rosneft auction. In addition, the new partnership will not involve the sale of the Sidanko oil company (in which Oneksimbank owns a controlling stake) to LUKoil. LB

CHINA CONDEMNS RUSSIAN SHOOTING INCIDENT

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on 28 May denounced as "drastic" an incident three days earlier in which Russian border guards killed two Chinese fisherman, Western agencies reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said that "these measures are not consistent with friendly and good-neighborly relations with China." Earlier, Russian officials had said that the Chinese fisherman failed to respond to repeated warnings, but Zhu said Beijing believes the killings could and should have been avoided. PG

RUSSIA REGISTERS CONCERN AT PAKISTANI NUCLEAR TEST...

Russian Deputy Minister of Nuclear Energy Nikolai Egorov told ITAR-TASS on 27 May that he is concerned about the political and environmental repercussions should Pakistan conduct a nuclear test in response to those carried out by India two weeks ago. But Egorov added that he has no precise information about Pakistan's nuclear plans. Pakistan exploded the device on 28 May. LF

...CALLS ON TURKEY TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM IRAQ

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 27 May calling on Turkey immediately to withdraw the troops it has sent to northern Iraq to target Kurdish insurgents, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said the troop deployment is "a serious violation by Ankara of the fundamental norms of international law, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a neighbor country." It called on Turkey to resolve its problems with the PKK "not by force but by civilized political methods." LF

OFFICIAL SAYS NEW TAX CODE TO TAKE BITE OUT OF REGIONAL REVENUES...

Konstantin Laikam, the head of the Economics Ministry's Finance Department, predicted on 26 May that the new tax code will lead to a 15 billion ruble ($2.4 billion) decrease in regional tax revenues, Interfax reported. Appearing at a conference in Moscow on prospects for tax reform, Laikam estimated that two- thirds of Russia's 89 regions, including the city of Moscow, would face declining revenues. The Duma has approved the new draft tax code in the first reading, but the document may be substantially amended before a final version is passed. Laikam noted that transfers of tax revenues from the regions to the federal budget comprised nearly a third of all federal tax revenues in 1993 and 1994, but that figure rose to nearly 46 percent in 1997 and is projected to reach 50 percent this year. LB

...CALLS FOR REVISING DISTRIBUTION OF TAX PROCEEDS

At the same conference, Laikam called for changing the distribution of tax proceeds so that the federal government would receive 56 percent of profit tax revenues (instead of the current 75 percent) and 20 percent of income tax revenues (instead of the current 6 percent). He advocated retaining the current distribution of value-added tax revenues, which, he said, are equally divided between federal and regional budgets. Last year, the government proposed a new tax code that would have earmarked most revenues from easy-to-collect taxes (such as the value-added tax) for the federal government. That code provoked strong opposition from many regional leaders and was never approved by the Duma. LB

ELECTION COMMISSION CONCERNED ABOUT 'CHARITABLE' ACTIVITIES...

Central Electoral Commission Secretary Aleksandr Veshnyakov says his commission supports a ban on charitable activities by candidates for political office or by their campaign structures, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 May. He noted that the commission has received complaints about former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, who is competing in a 31 May election for a State Duma seat in the Altai Republic. Critics say Vavilov is trying to disguise his attempts to buy votes as charity. Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin, Vavilov's main rival for the Duma seat, and two other candidates have appealed to the central and local electoral commissions, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the Duma over alleged violations of electoral procedures by Vavilov, Interfax reported on 25 May. They charge that Vavilov is bribing voters and benefiting from unlawful support by the Altai authorities. LB

...SUPPORTS PROCEDURES FOR RECALLING REGIONAL LEGISLATORS

The Central Electoral Commission has sent regional authorities a model draft law on procedures for recalling deputies in legislatures, "Russkii telegraf" on 27 May. Such laws already exist in 20 regions. The commission's proposal would allow groups of at least 50 voters to initiate procedures for recalling legislators whom they do not trust, or who, they believe, have failed to perform their duties, broken the law, or disgraced their office. Local electoral commissions would have the right to set an election on revoking a deputy's mandate if more votes are cast for recalling the deputy than were received by the deputy when elected. The newspaper argued that such a law would allow groups to remove legislators on purely political rather than legal grounds. It also said the Constitutional Court ruled in December 1996 that a recall system has no place in democratic legislative bodies. LB

MOSCOW COURT DEFIES HIGHER COURT RULING ON RESIDENCE PERMITS

A Moscow municipal court has ruled against a citizen who appealed against the city authorities' refusal to register him as a long-term resident of the capital, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 May. Andrei Inozemtsev, a native of Lipetsk Oblast, sought a five-year registration but was told that residence permits can be issued only for up to six months. The Constitutional Court has ruled that city authorities do not have the right to refuse to register Russian citizens as local residents, and Inozemtsev cited that ruling in his court appeal. The Moscow court upheld the city's registration rules, although the authorities did not send a representative to the hearings. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has vowed to retain the "propiska" system of residency permits, despite the conclusions of the Constitutional Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 March 1998). LB

PROSECUTORS LOSE COURT APPEAL AGAINST SARATOV LAND LAW

The Saratov Oblast Court has rejected attempts by the Prosecutor-General's official to strike down 14 articles in the Saratov land law adopted last November, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 May. Among other things, the prosecutor's office argued that the constitutional guarantee of private land ownership rights is not a sufficient legal basis for a regional law allowing the purchase and sale of farmland. Representatives of the regional administration and legislature argued that the Saratov law is bolstered by several presidential decrees, government resolutions, and existing federal laws. Yeltsin has praised the Saratov land law and has encouraged other regions to adopt similar legislation. LB

SAMARA LEGISLATURE PASSES LAND LAW IN FIRST READING

Samara Oblast is the latest Russian region to move toward legalizing the purchase and sale of farmland. The Samara Duma approved a land law in the first reading on 26 May, "Russkii telegraf" reported. However, contrary to the wishes of Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, the legislature amended the law to prohibit foreigners from buying land. Like its Saratov counterpart, the Samara law will allow foreigners to rent land. LB

NEW PARLIAMENT SPEAKER ELECTED IN TATARSTAN

Prime Minister Farit Mukhametshin was elected the new speaker of Tatarstan's State Council on 27 May, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Seventy-seven deputies voted for Mukhametshin's candidacy, which was proposed by President Mintimer Shaimiev, and 50 for Challi mayor Rafgat Altynbaev. Mukhmetshin served earlier as parliament speaker from 1991-1995 before being appointed premier. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS RELEASED IN CHECHNYA

The last seven of the 10 Russian border guards abducted in the Ingushetian capital, Nazran, last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1998) were released on Chechen territory on 27 May following a joint operation by Chechen and Ingush security forces, ITAR-TASS reported. Their three colleagues had been released earlier. Meanwhile the search continues for Russian presidential envoy to Chechnya Valentin Vlasov, who was abducted on 1 May. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev, who is in charge of the investigation, rejected Russian media reports that Vlasov's kidnappers have demanded a ransom. Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin affirmed on 15 May that Vlasov is alive and that his whereabouts are known approximately. LF




ABKHAZ PRESIDENT IMPOSES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN GALI

Vladislav Ardzinba on 27 May imposed a state of emergency in Gali and parts of neighboring Ochamchira Raion for three months, Interfax reported. Speaking later that day at a news conference in Sukhumi, Ardzinba accused Georgian leaders, including Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, of deliberately provoking the fighting in Gali in order to bring the entire district under Georgian control and establish joint local administrative bodies there, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. The resolution on Abkhazia adopted by the CIS Moscow summit in April mandates the creation of such bodies in order to expedite the repatriation to Gali of Georgian displaced persons. Ardzinba expressed his willingness to work for peace and reconciliation but added that the restoration of good neighborly relations with Tbilisi is contingent on "a desire for mutual understanding and compromise." LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES GALI EVENTS

Georgian lawmakers on 27 May adopted a statement accusing Abkhazia of a deliberate policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing toward the region's Georgian population, Caucasus Press reported. The statement claims that since early 1994 some 1,500 Georgian inhabitants of Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion have been killed and 1,000 homes destroyed. It blames the Abkhaz leadership and the Russian peacekeeping force for the latest round of fighting and calls on the OSCE and the UN to raise with the UN Security Council the question of replacing the CIS peacekeeping force with an international contingent. Caucasus Press on 28 May quoted Abkhaz Television as reporting that 300 Abkhaz were killed during the fighting of the past week. LF

CONTROVERSIAL GEORGIAN PARAMILITARY ORGANIZATION STILL ACTIVE

The paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni, formally banned in late 1995 on charges of terrorism and involvement in the August 1995 attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze, is still functioning, Caucasus Press reported. Tornike Berishvili, one of the group's new leaders, told journalists on 27 May that some 100 Mkhedrioni members took part in the recent fighting in Gali along with other Georgian guerrilla units. LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NATIONAL SYMBOL

The parliament of Georgia's former autonomous republic of South Ossetia has passed legislation adopting a snow leopard against a mountain background as the region's national symbol, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 May. That symbol is very similar to the state symbol of the Republic of North Ossetia--Alania. South Ossetian parliamentary chairman Kosta Dzugaev said that South Ossetian citizens had "persistently demanded" that the region's parliament adopt a symbol similar to that of North Ossetia. LF

OFFICIAL, UNOFFICIAL RALLIES MARK AZERBAIJANI INDEPENDENCE

Two demonstrations were held in a Baku suburb on 28 May to mark the 80th anniversary of the declaration of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. Some 4,000 people congregated near the cemetery where the family of Mehmet-Emin Rasulzadeh, one of the ADR's founders is buried, while 600 people attended a rally convened by the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party at a nearby statue of Rasulzadeh. Police have cordoned off Azadlyg Square in central Baku to prevent opposition supporters gathering there. LF

AZERBAIJAN CASTS DOUBT ON ARMENIAN SPY CLAIMS

The press service of Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry has rejected as "pure invention" a 23 May Armenian Television broadcast reporting the arrest of a Russian former colonel recruited by Azerbaijan to carry out espionage activities in Armenia, Turan reported on 27 May. The Russian was charged with infiltrating the military leadership of either Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Interfax. LF

KYRGYZ PREMIER COMMENTS ON ISSIK-KUL DISASTER

Kubanychbek JumAliyev held a press conference in Bishkek on 28 May to report on the consequences to date of the sodium cyanide spill into the Barskoon River, RFE/RL correspondents reported. JumAliyev said more than 1,000 residents of the southern Issik-Kul area have sought medical treatment and at least 93 have been kept in the hospital. Two people have died, while eight are in a serious condition and have been moved by helicopter to better facilities in Bishkek, he noted. The previous day, Deputy Premier Boris Silayev said the Kumtor Mining Company was irresponsible in its handling of the situation, pointing to the company's failure to inform the Kyrgyz government or local residents for several hours after the spill. A team of experts from the World Health Organization is due to inspect the scene of the incident on 28 May. BP

TAJIK PEACE PROCESS AT STANDSTILL

The 23 May decision of the parliament to ban religious parties has brought the Tajik peace process to a halt. A 26 May meeting of representatives of the nations and organizations guaranteeing that process yielded only a statement encouraging the two sides to engage in further talks, ITAR-TASS reported. The following day, President Imomali Rakhmonov met with United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri behind closed doors, but no details were provided. Also on 27 May, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin called on Rakhmonov to use his powers to veto the parliament's decision on political parties. Rubin said the decision violates the terms of the peace accord. He also hinted that international aid to Tajikistan may be threatened if the provisions of the UN- mediated peace accord are not fulfilled. BP

TAJIK OPPOSITION SAYS NO FOREIGN TERRORISTS ON TAJIK SOIL

Sultan Khamadov, the UTO's press secretary, told ITAR-TASS on 27 May that the UTO is neither training nor harboring foreign terrorists. Khamadov invited the UN observer mission in Tajikistan to send representatives to UTO camps to verify his statements. He was responding to the Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments' claims that the UTO is providing bases for terrorists whose aim is to commit acts of sabotage in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. BP

NAZARBAYEV WRAPS UP MIDDLE-EAST VISIT

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev concluded his three-day official visit to the United Arab Emirates on 27 May, following a trip to Qatar, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL correspondents reported. The two Arab countries have promised to provide $100 million in loans for developing Kazakhstan's new capital, Astana, and improving environmental conditions around the Kazakh section of the Aral Sea. Nazarbayev invited both countries to participate in Kazakh natural gas and oil projects. He also signed agreements on trade and economic cooperation and on setting up embassies in both countries. BP




MINERS PICKET PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION IN KYIV

Some 400 miners from the Donbas coal mining region began an "indefinite picket" of the presidential administration building in Kyiv on 27 May to demand the payment of wage arrears, Ukrainian Television reported. Miners from other regions intend to join the picket on 28 May. The action was organized by the Trade Union of Coal Mining Workers, Ukraine's largest mining trade union. Meanwhile, some 1,000 miners from Pavlovhrad are continuing their march to Kyiv and are expected to reach the capital by 3 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1998). And another 2,000 miners are continuing to camp outside the oblast administration building in Dnipropetrovsk to protest wage arrears. JM

BELARUS REQUIRES HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATIONS TO APPLY FOR LICENSES

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported on 27 May that Minsk will this week implement its ruling that all agencies involved in the distribution of humanitarian aid in Belarus and sending Belarusian children abroad for medical treatment must apply for a license to the Presidential Administration Department for Humanitarian Aid. That department will issue five-year licenses and is also authorized to revoke those permits. "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" suggests the government made the ruling to remove "competitors" from what it may consider lucrative activities and to distribute aid only to those individuals "favored by the authorities." JM

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS MOSCOW DOESN'T WANT DIALOGUE...

The Latvian Foreign Ministry has reproached Russia for being reluctant to develop a dialogue with Riga and for spreading "distorted information" about Latvia's citizenship policies, BNS reported. "All Latvian proposals to strengthen confidence and understanding have been rejected or distorted," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrejs Pildegovics told journalists in Riga on 27 May. He added that Russia is also setting conditions for resuming a dialogue, although he did not elaborate. "Such a stance is unacceptable to Latvia and it does not testify to Russia's true wish to have dialogue," Pildegovics said. JC

...WHILE ECONOMICS MINISTRY SAYS MINOR IMPACT OF ECONOMIC MEASURES

The Latvian Economics Ministry says that Russian economic measures against Riga have had few repercussions for Latvia's economy, "Diena" reported on 28 May. It noted that some businesses have registered losses but stressed that many others are trying to take advantage of the situation by seeking compensation from the state for losses that have nothing do with Russian economic measures. The only considerable losses, according to the ministry, have been in the fishing industry, following the reduction in Russian imports of Latvian fish. The drop in revenues from the oil industry is related at least in part to the decline in oil prices on the world market, the ministry added. JC

LANDSBERGIS DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL

Lithuanian Parliamentary Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis has categorically denied that he gave orders to have anyone put under surveillance, BNS reported on 27 May. His denial follows media allegations that the Third Department of the Interior Ministry had spied on the country's top leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). Landsbergis told reporters in Vilnius that he could recall a handful of cases in which he had asked for information from the unit about various individuals who had threatened either him or the leadership in general, but he added he did not think "these types of psychos" deserve much attention. The leaders of the unit have also denied carrying out any surveillance operations. JC

SOLIDARITY LEADER CALLS FOR NEW MEDIA OVERSIGHT COUNCIL

Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski has called for electing a new National Radio and Television Council, "Zycie Warszawy" reported on 28 April. His call follows a Supreme Administration Court ruling annulling licenses to two television stations; according to the court, the council committed procedural violations in granting those licenses. The opposition Democratic Left Alliance and Peasant Party strongly oppose dismissing the current council members, saying the Solidarity-led coalition wants to conduct a "political purge" in the media. The council was set up under the former leftist government and is widely believed to have strong links to the opposition. JM

MECIAR IN MOSCOW

Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar met with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov in the Russian capital on 27 May and signed a cooperation agreement between the cities of Moscow and Bratislava, ITAR-TASS reported. Meciar also met with Patriarch of All Russia and Moscow Aleksei II, with whom he discussed "various aspects of modern life in Russia and Slovakia" and particularly "Slavonic unity" ahead of the celebrations of the Days of Slavic Written Language and Culture. Meciar is scheduled to hold talks with President Boris Yeltsin and Premier Sergei Kirienko on 28 May. In other news, Slovakia on 27 May rejected a call by the Austrian government to delay starting up the controversial Mochovce nuclear power station, SITA reported. The lower chamber of the Austrian parliament the same day called on the government to take steps against starting up the plant. MS

SPOKESMAN SAYS ORBAN DENIES GIVING CONTROVERSIAL INTERVIEW

Andras Klein, a spokesman for the Federation of Young Democrats- Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ- MPP), told an RFE/RL correspondent in Budapest on 27 May that party chairman Victor Orban did not give an interview to the Austrian daily "Standart.". Klein said the daily published remarks that Orban made "long ago, even before the electoral campaign had started" and that even those remarks had been "misunderstood.". ""Standart" the previous day had cited Orban as saying that Hungary's bilateral treaties with neighboring countries are "inadequate" in their provisions on national minorities' rights" and must be revised. He was also quoted as saying that a new education law must be passed in Romania to safeguard Hungarian cultural identity. Also on 27 May, Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasile said he will ask for explanations from the Hungarian ambassador to Bucharest, while Romania's opposition parties have launched a strong protest against the alleged remarks. MS

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS DEMAND CABINET POSTS

Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) chairman Jozsef Torgyan, who has been re-elected as the party's caucus leader, told Hungarian media on 27 May that the FKGP insists on running a "super-ministry" for developing the countryside and considers the Interior Ministry to be "close to its own area of operation." The caucus has authorized Torgyan to conduct coalition talks with FIDESZ- MPP. Meanwhile, Bertalan Osztroha, leader of the FKGP's Borsod County branch, said "a cult of personality prevails over democracy" in the party. He called for Torgyan's removal. MSZ




NATO ADOPTS KOSOVA STRATEGY

Foreign ministers of the 16 NATO member states have agreed in Luxembourg on a strategy for containing the conflict in Kosova. The package includes detailed planning for "preventive deployment" of troops from the Atlantic alliance in Albania and Macedonia, AFP reported on 28 May. More details are to be released later today. On 27 May, Russian diplomats said in Brussels that Moscow wants detailed information about NATO's plans for Kosova. One diplomat said Moscow has doubts about the legality of any NATO role in the region. PM

U.S. BACKS RUGOVA'S LINE

Robert Gelbard, who is the U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, told CNN on 27 May that the administration wants Kosovar shadow- state President Ibrahim Rugova's upcoming visit to Washington "to demonstrate that the path Dr. Rugova pursues, one of non-violence, one of support for democracy, is the right path for Kosovar Albanians to follow.... We want to show our support for that, and we have urged other governments in Europe to show the same kind of support for him." Also in Washington, a State Department spokesman said that the administration expects the Serbs and Kosovars to continue their weekly talks even though this week's session was canceled because of Rugova's trip to the U.S. PM

RUGOVA SAYS AUTONOMY NOT ENOUGH

Speaking in Vienna en route to Washington, Rugova told Austrian Radio on 27 May that the Kosovars will not accept autonomy. They insist that Kosova become an "international protectorate" as a transitional stage on the road to full independence. But in Strasbourg, the Congress of European Local and Regional Governments passed a resolution calling for the restoration of Kosova's autonomous status as prescribed in the 1974 Yugoslav and Serbian constitutions as a solution to the current crisis. The congress also concluded that Belgrade must make progress in democratization and clarify the status of Vojvodina and Sandzak if Yugoslavia wants membership in the Council of Europe. The congress also ruled that Belgrade must accept Spain's Felipe Gonzalez as the sole mediator in the Kosova crisis and not allow the U.S. to play a predominant role, "Nasa Borba" reported. PM

EUROPEAN CONCERN OVER SERBIAN BLOCKADE

Doris Pack, who is the European Parliament's representative for East European affairs, said in a statement in Brussels on 27 May that the ongoing Serbian blockade of Kosova has led to "alarming humanitarian conditions," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. She added that the blockade has not only cut off normal supplies of food and medicine but is also preventing 200 trucks containing European humanitarian aid from entering the region. Pack noted that available supplies in Kosova are going primarily to the Serbian troops and paramilitary police. She called for urgent international pressure on the Belgrade authorities. Meanwhile in Geneva, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that fighting in Kosova since February has led to some 34,000 persons being displaced. Some 3,000 ethnic Albanians have sought refuge in Montenegro. PM

NANO SAYS BOSNIAN LESSONS APPLY TO KOSOVA

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in a telephone interview on 27 May that the international community has learned from the Bosnian war that it must act quickly and decisively in Kosova. He added that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "does not have a future if he continues to behave like a warlord." Nano said that he is against calling the Kosova Liberation Army "terrorists" because "desperate people who defend their homes and their children...[in the face of] massive ethnic cleansing and violent operations" cannot be legitimately classified as terrorists. The prime minister urged that Kosova become a special entity within Yugoslavia, based on the model of the status of the Republika Srpska within Bosnia. Nano stressed that Tirana backs Rugova's non- violent line and tries to prevent arms smuggling into Kosova. PM

BELGRADE RECTOR QUITS

Dragan Kuburovic, who is the rector of Belgrade University, submitted his resignation on 27 May to protest the new Serbian law that ends the autonomy of the universities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1998). He said his decision becomes effective as of 29 May, when the faculty will meet to decide whether to join the students' call for a "general strike." Several thousand students protested against the new law outside the buildings of the Philosophy Faculty. PM

DJUKANOVIC CALLS FOR 'OPEN DOORS'

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told the Belgrade daily "Novosti" of 28 May that Milosevic's government is leading Yugoslavia into ever greater isolation precisely when the country needs more democracy and more openness to the outside world. Djukanovic added that Montenegro has shown the way Yugoslavia should go by "opening all doors" to the EU, the U.S., and Russia. Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Miodrag Vukovic told "Nasa Borba" that Montenegrins will make their own decisions in the 31 May parliamentary elections and do not welcome any pressure from the outside, by which he presumably meant from Milosevic. Some 120 international observers will monitor the election process, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 27 May. PM

CROATIA READY FOR 'PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE'?

William Montgomery, who is U.S. ambassador to Croatia, said in Zagreb on 27 May that Croatia could become a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace Program by the end of this year if it makes sufficient progress in democratization, in allowing Serbian refugees to return, and in supporting the Dayton peace process. Elsewhere in the capital, President Franjo Tudjman received Ante Jelavic, whom the Herzegovinian Croats recently elected to head their branch of the Croatian Democratic Community despite Tudjman's support for another candidate (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 20 May 1998). PM

ALBANIAN ARMS-TRAFFICKING INCREASES

Police on 26 May stopped three trucks filled with arms, "Koha Jone" reported on 28 May. The haul included 500 Kalashnikov machine guns, hundreds of boxes containing ammunition cartridges, grenades, and mortars. The trucks were stopped in Fushe Kruja, in central Albania, en route from Tirana to the north. The drivers fled the scene. Also on 26 May, army officials discovered that some 100 mortars and an unspecified numbers of anti-aircraft guns have disappeared from an army storage facility near Tirana, "Shekulli" reported on 28 May. The daily noted that arms trafficking has become increasingly profitable since the recent intensification of the conflict in Kosova. FS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE INDUSTRY PRESENTS NEW HELICOPTER

The new IAR Puma 330 helicopter produced in Brasov was presented to journalists on 27 May, RFE/RL's Bucharest service reported. The helicopter is jointly produced with Israel's Elbit Systems Ltd. and is equipped with a modern anti-tank device aimed at bringing Romanian military forces up to NATO standards. In other news, a spokesman for the Socialist Party on 27 May denied that his formation has signed an agreement with seven parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties to back the candidate of the Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) in Romania in Bucharest mayoral elections scheduled for October. PDSR chairman Ion Iliescu had announced the signing of such an agreement the previous day. MS

IMF TELLS MOLDOVA TO REDUCE DEBT

The IMF on 27 May said that Moldova's current account deficit is too large and that the government should stop accumulating external debts in order to get its economy on course, Reuters reported. The IMF praised Moldova for progress in the energy and the agricultural sectors reform but said the growing external debt and the government's increasing difficulties to service it are worrying. The fund also urged Moldova to tighten spending and borrowing controls on local authorities, restructure its health and education services, and stop granting tax amnesties and concessions. MS

BULGARIAN-US ECONOMIC GROUP MEETS

At its first meeting in Washington on 27 May, a joint U.S.-Bulgarian economic group discussed ways to strengthen the Bulgarian economy. The meeting was chaired by U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart Eisenstat and Bulgarian Deputy Premier Aleksander Bozhkov. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Bulgaria has undergone a "remarkable economic transformation" under Ivan Kostov's government. He added that the U.S. will continue to provide assistance in privatization, tax reform, and reducing the bureaucracy. MS




ABKHAZ OFFENSIVE RUINS PEACE PROSPECTS


by Liz Fuller

Clashes last week between Georgian guerrillas and Abkhaz Interior Ministry forces in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion precipitated a major offensive that has claimed more than 100 lives and in effect destroyed what tenuous chances had existed for achieving a formal settlement of the deadlocked conflict.

On 18 May, Georgian guerrillas from the so-called White Legion killed some 20 Abkhaz police officers in a surprise attack. Two days later, Abkhaz forces armed with heavy artillery launched a counteroffensive against several Gali villages. Estimates of casualties differ widely, but it appears that dozens of Georgian civilians have been killed, as well as a similar number of Abkhaz and Georgian combatants. In addition, 30,000-40,000 ethnic Georgian repatriates who returned to the homes in Gali, from where they had fled during the 1992-1993 war have again sought refuge on the other side of the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia.

On 24 May, Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze and Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba agreed on the wording of a protocol on a cease-fire, the withdrawal from Gali of Abkhaz reinforcements sent there over the past few days, and the return of the Georgian fugitives. Meeting in Gagra the next day, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and his Abkhaz counterpart, Sergei Shamba, signed that protocol, while the UN special envoy to Georgia and the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces appended their signatures to it.

The cease-fire was scheduled to take effect at 6:00 a.m. local time on 26 May and to be followed within hours by the withdrawal of forces from the 12-kilometer security zone on the northern side of the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. But hostilities continued for most of that day, with each side accusing the other of violating the cease-fire agreement. (Given that the Georgian leadership has repeatedly disclaimed any connection with or control over the Georgian White Legion and other guerrilla forces in Abkhazia, it is unclear how the former intended to ensure the latter would comply with the cease- fire.) On 27 May, Abkhaz spokesmen claimed to have expelled the last Georgian guerrillas from Abkhaz territory.

It is also unclear, however, whether the White Legion has in effect been neutralized. Before the most recent fighting, spokesmen for the Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia predicted that failure to expedite the repatriation of those persons could prompt thousands of Georgians to join the partisans. Moreover, unclarity surrounds the alleged links between the White Legion and the Georgian authorities : the legion is said to take orders from Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile composed of the ethnic Georgian deputies from the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1991. Nadareishvili is a member of the Georgian National Security Council.

The fighting over the past week has called into question the effectiveness of both the CIS peacekeeping forces that were deployed in the security zone in 1994 to oversee the repatriation of the Georgian displaced persons and of the UN observer force in western Georgia. One of the White Legion's commanders has charged that the CIS peacekeepers did nothing to prevent the Abkhaz from bringing heavy artillery into the security zone in violation of the cease-fire agreement signed in May 1994. Nadareishvili, for his part, accused the peacekeepers of failing to take any measures to protect the civilian population from Abkhaz reprisals. As for the (unarmed) UN observers, they were said to have done nothing except take photographs of the fighting and compile reports to be sent to the UN secretary-General.

The most serious consequence of the fighting, however, is the setback to the process of repatriation. Abkhaz, Georgian, Russian, and UN representatives had signed an agreement on repatriation in April 1994, but the Abkhaz had for years systematically sabotaged its implementation. Moreover, many Georgians had simply circumvented the repatriation procedure and returned spontaneously to their homes. After they were forced last week to flee for a second time, the Abkhaz torched many abandoned Georgian dwellings. At the CIS summit in Moscow in late April, participants had agreed on a new document detailing measures to expedite the repatriation process. But its implementation was contingent on the presence of the CIS peacekeeping force, whose withdrawal the Abkhaz parliament subsequently demanded.

There is also precious little hope that the two sides can be persuaded to resume negotiations on Abkhazia's future status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government in Tbilisi. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze recently proposed that Georgia become an "asymmetric federation" in which Abkhazia, Adjaria, and South Ossetia enjoy varying degrees of autonomy. Abkhaz President Ardzinba, however, rejected that variant out of hand, insisting that Abkhazia and Georgia "establish state and legal relations as equal subjects of international law." And following the actions of the Georgian guerrillas over the past few days, the Abkhaz leadership has even less incentive than before to agree to a compromise with Tbilisi.


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