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Newsline - June 9, 1998




YELTSIN THANKS KOHL FOR SUPPORT...

Ending a two- day official visit to Germany, President Boris Yeltsin on 9 June thanked German Chancellor Helmut Kohl for backing reforms in Russia, saying such support is essential in maintaining investor confidence in Russia. During a joint press conference at the end of the visit, Kohl said "Germany will support the reform process with great commitment." Asked whether direct financial aid was discussed during his talks with the chancellor, Yeltsin replied, "not directly." Kohl and Yeltsin had met for talks over dinner the previous evening and discussed Russia's financial crisis "in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere," German government spokesman Otto Hauser said. Earlier, Yeltsin economic adviser Aleksandr Livshits had said that Yeltsin is seeking nothing more than political support. AW

...SAYS RUSSIA CAN SUPPORT RUBLE

On 8 June, Yeltsin gave assurances that Russia has sufficient reserves to support the ruble, Reuters reported. "The Western press is already playing up this question, that there is already a crash going on in Russia..., There is not and there will not be," Yeltsin told reporters before informal talks with Kohl. The deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank, Sergei Aleksashenko, said a week ago that Russia's gold and foreign-currency reserves amounted to $14.6 billion. AW

GERMANY, RUSSIA SIGN PACTS ON NUCLEAR TRADE

Also during Yeltsin's visit to Bonn, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov signed two agreements on trade in nuclear materials on 8 June, Reuters reported. One agreement allows Russia to ship weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium to a research reactor currently under construction in southern Germany. The second limits German firms' liability in the event of a nuclear accident at Russian plants they serve. AW

HEAD OF STATE STATISTICS COMMITTEE ARRESTED

The director of the State Statistics Committee, Yurii Yurkov, was arrested on 9 June, along with an unspecified number of senior workers in charge of data processing, ITAR-TASS quoted government spokesman Aleksei Volin as saying. They were charged with "systematic distortion of statistical data on big companies, which allowed [those companies] to evade taxes," Volin said. Yurkov and his alleged accomplices are accused of manipulating economic data to hide the real output of companies and reduce their tax liability. They are also alleged to have sold classified information about rival companies' performances. Yurkov was appointed director of the State Statistics Committee in 1993. AW

COMMUNISTS SUBMIT SIGNATURES TO LAUNCH IMPEACHMENT PROCEDURES

The Communist Party submitted to the State Duma Council on 9 June its request to launch impeachment procedures against Yeltsin. The impeachment request, which accuses Yeltsin of multiple violations of the constitution since the break up of the Soviet Union, was signed by 215 Duma deputies. Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin told reporters that at a 11 June meeting of the State Duma council, a commission will be set up to consider the charges before the Duma votes on them. But Ilyukhin said it will be "very difficult" to muster the necessary 300 votes in the Duma to back the impeachment bill. AW

BEREZOVSKII SEES 'BLOODY' FIGHT FOR RUSSIAN PRESIDENCY

Controversial Russian tycoon and CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii predicted on 8 June that the 2000 presidential elections could trigger a "bloody" settling of accounts and that chances among so- called reformers were slim. "We have a very complex and dangerous situation.... I don't see any clear, able candidate among the reformers," Berezovskii told NTV. After suggesting earlier this year that he might support former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Berezovskii mentioned only Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Krasnoyarsk Krai governor, reserve General Aleksandr Lebed as the leading presidential candidates. With regard to Lebed, Berezovskii said he is a "serious politician" capable of garnering support from Russians who have suffered during the country's transition. AW

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT TO CUT RAIL TRANSPORTATION FEES

Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said on 8 June that the government will reduce by 25 percent fees for transporting coal, iron ore, oil, and fuel oil by rail, Interfax reported. "This is a key step in the government's industrial policy," Nemtsov said in announcing that policy, which is aimed at supporting Russia's industries. The railroads, which are expected to lose 6 billion rubles (some $1 billion) when the fees take effect on 15 June, have "volunteered to take the financial blow," according to Nemtsov. Russia's gas monopoly, Gazprom, and electricity monopoly, Unified Energy Systems, are expected to introduce similar cuts in gas and energy rates, Nemtsov said. AW

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT TO LAY OFF STATE EMPLOYEES

The Russian government on 8 June announced plans to lay off 231,000 employees this year, Interfax reported. Government officials told Duma deputies that the layoffs represent 3.6 percent of government employees and will save 5.86 billion rubles ($953 million), according to the agency. The Finance Ministry has said it plans to cut 62.4 billion rubles from this year's planned spending of 499.9 billion rubles. AW

AIDS CASES SOAR AMONG DRUG USERS

First Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko told a parliamentary hearing on 8 June that Russia will be forced to spend its entire health budget on people with the HIV virus in a few years unless steps are taken now to stop the disease spreading. A three-year federal program on educating Russians about the risk of contracting AIDS expired in 1996, just when the number of AIDS cases began to increase, Onishchenko explained. The number of people registered as having the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, is still relatively low at 8,313, he said. Onishchenko said the number of AIDS cases has quadrupled since 1996, mainly because of the rapid spread in intravenous drug-taking among young people. AW

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS KILL TWO MORE CHINESE POACHERS

Russian border guards from the Far Eastern Border District shot and killed two Chinese citizens caught poaching in Makarikha Bay, ITAR-TASS reported. The incident occurred on 4 June but was made public only four days later when commander of the district informed the Chinese governor of Heilongjiang Province. When the border guards sought to apprehend the poachers, one of the Chinese attempted to attack a border guard with an ax. This incident comes two weeks after Russian border guards killed two Chinese fishermen and wounded five others caught poaching in the Bering Sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). BP

SIBERIAN MAYOR TO STAND TRIAL FOR EMBEZZLEMENT, TAX FRAUD

Prosecutors have formally charged the mayor of the Siberian city of Leninsk- Kuznetskii, Gennadii Konyakhin, with tax fraud and embezzlement, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 June. Konyakhin has been in custody since his arrest in October 1997. The charges against him stem from his activities as a businessman before he became Leninsk-Kuznetsky mayor in spring 1997. President Yeltsin had called for an investigation into Konyakhin after "Izvestiya" accused him of being linked to organized crime. AW

MISSING JOURNALIST FOUND DEAD IN RUSSIAN REPUBLIC

Russian police say the body of a newspaper editor has been found in Elista, capital of Russia's southern republic of Kalmikiya, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 June. Larisa Yudina, editor of "Sovetskaya Kalmikiya," was reported missing two days earlier, after reportedly meeting with unknown people who had offered her important documents relating to an unknown topic. Police said her body bore signs of a violent attack and was found by a pond in the city. Yudina was also co-chairwoman of the local branch of Yabloko. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 9 June that he considers Yudina's death to be a politically motivated act. Yavlinskii said his party will call for a federal investigation into the slaying. AW

TATARSTAN REACHES AGREEMENT WITH GAZPROM

Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev has reached a compromise agreement with Gazprom on resuming gas supplies to Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 9 June, citing Tatarstan Television. Gazprom threatened to halt deliveries in retaliation for Tatarstan's failure to pay its debts to the company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 1998) LF

SHAIMIEV RULES OUT UNILATERAL AMENDMENTS TO CONSTITUTION

Commenting on the 5 June meeting in Moscow between Russian President Yeltsin and the leaders of Russia's republics, Shaimiev said he refuses to back down from his insistence that any amendments to the Tatar Constitution be accompanied by changes to the Russian Constitution, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The Russian State Duma has protested that the Tatar Constitution, adopted in 1992, contravenes its Russian counterpart as it does not explicitly state that Tatarstan is a constituent part of the Russian Federation. Some Russian politicians have also objected to Tatarstan's introduction of dual citizenship. LF

INGUSH BUS PASSENGERS ABDUCTED IN NORTH OSSETIA

Five ethnic Ingush are still being held hostage after the two busses in which they were traveling were intercepted in the North Ossetian village of Zilgi on 8 June, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Another 10 Ingush passengers have been released. The Ingush were abducted in retaliation for the kidnapping of seven Ossetians in Zilgi on 7 June. LF




UN OBSERVERS INJURED IN ABKHAZIA...

Two members of the UN observer force in western Georgia and an interpreter were injured on 8 June when their armored vehicle ran over an anti-tank mine in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Russian agencies reported. Six Abkhaz police officers were killed in a similar incident in Gali on 2 June. LF

...AS ABKHAZ TALKS REACH IMPASSE

Russian Foreign Ministry officials Lev Mironov and Gennadii Ilichev joined Georgian and Abkhaz presidential representatives Vazha Lortkipanidze and Anri Djergenia at their sixth day of talks in Moscow on 8 June, Russian agencies reported. They failed, however, to overcome differences between the two sides. The talks are intended to prepare a draft peace agreement, a protocol on the repatriation of ethnic Georgians to Gali Raion, and another protocol on control mechanisms. Those documents are intended to be signed at a meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba. Shevardnadze said on 8 June that the Abkhaz proposals on repatriation are unacceptable as they stipulate no time frame, according to Interfax. Abkhazia has rejected Tbilisi's proposal that the Russian peacekeeping contingent currently deployed in Abkhazia under the CIS's aegis be augmented by a Ukrainian force. Abkhazia also demands that Tbilisi and Sukhumi jointly petition Moscow to lift the economic embargo on Abkhazia. LF

TALKS ON SOUTH OSSETIA POSTPONED

The meeting scheduled for 9 June between Georgian President Shevardnadze and his South Ossetian counterpart, Lyudvig Chibirov, has been postponed "for a couple of weeks." Caucasus Press reported on 9 June quoting Irakli Machavariani, who heads the Georgian delegation to the Georgian-South Ossetian talks. Machavariani said the postponement was necessitated by Shevardnadze's need to concentrate on the Abkhaz situation. LF

ARMENIAN JOURNALIST FACES LIBEL CASE

Armenian parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutiunian has opened libel proceedings against Haik Babukhanian, editor of the Union of Constitutional Rights newspaper "Iravunk," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 June. Speaking on national television on 2 June, Babukhanian said that the current parliament is "95 percent criminal" and was elected in 1995 by "illegal" means. Those charges were subsequently reprinted in the 5 June issue of "Iravunk." Babukhanian told journalists after being summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office on 8 June that he will summon in his defense members of the former opposition electoral commission and their proxies who were "beaten up and intimidated" during the1995 elections. Union of Constitutional Rights chairman Hrant Khachatrian, who endorsed Robert Kocharian's candidacy after receiving only 0.21 percent of the vote during the first round of the March presidential elections, says his party backs Babukhanian. Khachatrian condemned Harutiunian's decision to open libel proceedings as "outrageous." LF

KARABAKH GOVERNMENT CRISIS CONTINUES

Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, announced on 8 June that he has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Leonard Petrosian, an RFE/RL correspondent in Stepanakert reported. Ghukasian did not say whether he will assume the duties of prime minister himself, as he hinted last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 1998.) Speaking at a news conference in Stepanakert on 5 June, Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan said he would not accept the post of prime minister if it were offered him. At the same time, he said he will not remain indifferent to the composition of the new cabinet, warning that he is prepared to resign unless "young, experienced, and skillful people" are included in the new government. Babayan also said his brother Karen has resigned as interior minister to put an end to what he termed "unnecessary gossip." LF

KARABAKH PRISONER SWAP FAILS

An exchange of prisoners of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan planned for last month failed to take place, Noyan Tapan reported on 8 June. Azerbaijan proposed exchanging Armenian civilians for Azerbaijani POWs, but Armenia and Nagorno- Karabakh rejected that proposal. LF

AZERBAIJANIS PROTEST IRANIAN POLICE ACTION

Members of the Movement for the National Independence of South Azerbaijan have lodged a protest with the Iranian Embassy in Baku against the detention by Iranian security forces of some 60 ethnic Azeris in Tabriz on 3 June, Turan reported on 8 June. Thousands of Iranian Azerbaijanis participated in a rally in Tabriz to protest the 29 May adoption by the French National Assembly of a resolution recognizing the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. LF

ANOTHER DEATH LINKED TO ISSYK-KUL SPILL?

Doctors say that, according to preliminary finding, the death of a 71-year-old man from the Issyk-Kul area on 6 June was from sodium cyanide poisoning following the spill last month, RFE/RL correspondents reported. An autopsy is currently being performed in Bishkek. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 9 June that 40 people assisting in the clean-up of the area have been taken ill and brought back to the capital, for treatment. Meanwhile, the department head of the Kumtor gold mining venture, which is being held responsible for the spill, told RFE/RL correspondents on 8 June that Kumtor president Gerhardt Glattis has resigned and will be replaced by one of his predecessors, Len Homeniuk. BP

KAZAKH PLANE WITH RADIOACTIVE CARGO ALLOWED TO LEAVE UKRAINE

Ukrainian customs authorities have given permission to a Kazakh airliner with radioactive material aboard to continue its journey after they found all documents to be in order, Radio Rossiya reported on 8 June. The plane was grounded at the Rovno airport, outside Kyiv, when officials found unusually high levels of radiation from metal barrels aboard the plane. RFE/RL correspondents quoted officials in Kazakhstan as saying the radioactive material comes from Africa and the U.S. and is not dangerous. They added that it is intended for use at the Oskemen Metallurgical Plant as "raw material." BP




BELARUS TRIES TO LOCK U.S. AMBASSADOR OUT OF RESIDENCE...

Belarusian authorities have given an order to weld shut a gate to the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Daniel Speckhard at the Drazdy compound outside Minsk. Workers preparing to carry out that order retreated when Speckhard arrived with journalists at his residence on 8 June, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The move follows a warning in April that diplomats from 22 countries will have to leave Drazdy by 10 June owing to planned repairs there. Speaking at a news conference in Minsk on 8 June, Speckhard said Belarus has breached the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by violating the ambassador's residence, which is considered foreign territory, like the embassy itself. "If the government wants to lock us out, we will have to leave the country," Speckhard commented to Reuters. He added that the action is without precedence since the Cold War. Speckhard has appealed to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to rescind the eviction order. JM

...WHILE STATE DEPARTMENT THREATENS DIPLOMATIC RETALIATION

U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin says the U.S. government has urged Belarus "to halt this self-destructive action" of evicting foreign ambassadors of their residences at Drazdy, Reuters reported. "If the government in Belarus makes it impossible for our ambassador to carry out his responsibilities, we will be forced to take retaliatory action," he added. "We certainly would have options of our own in the welding area here in Washington," UPI cited Rubin as saying. Meanwhile, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in a statement read on state television on 8 June that "all embassies are being offered new land and other properties." It added that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Prime Minister Syarhey Linh, who also have their official residences at Drazdy, have set an "example" by vacating those buildings for repairs. JM

UKRAINIAN MINERS' STRIKE ENTERS SECOND MONTH

According to the Ukrainian Miners Independent Trade Union, strikes at 43 mines throughout the country entered their second month on 8 June, Ukrainian Television reported. Miners marching to Kyiv from Dnipropetrovsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1998) are now 80 kilometers from the capital, while another group continue to picket the oblast administration building in Dnipropetrovsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 May 1998). Meanwhile, miners picketed the National Bank building in Kyiv on 8 June to demand that the government implement a parliamentary resolution allocating funds for the purchase of coal. Under pressure from the striking miners, the government has announced it will reduce coal imports by 80 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. JM

PASSENGERS WANT $2 MILLION IN COMPENSATION FOR ABORTIVE SEA TRIP

The Ukrainian cruiser "Taras Shevchenko," owned by the Odessa-based Black Sea Shipping Company, is returning home with more than 500 passengers aboard after a canceled Mediterranean cruise, Ukrainian Television reported on 8 June. The passengers had strongly protested the previous day after realizing that the ship had changed its route and was returning from Piraeus to the Black Sea. Greek authorities had tried to impound the vessel because of the Black Sea Shipping Company's debts, which total $125 million. The passengers, who paid $1,500 -$7,000 for the trip, are to file suit against the company to obtain "moral and material compensation" amounting to $2 million. JM

ESTONIA'S RURAL BANK OPTS FOR LIQUIDATION

Estonia's sixth largest bank has opted for voluntary liquidation, ETA reported on 8 June. The Rural Bank, which last year registered significant losses owing to unsuccessful stock market ventures, has suspended deposits worth some 842 million kroons ($58.9 million). Of that sum, 260 million kroons belong to private individuals and 500 million kroons to the government. In an address on public radio, Prime Minister Mart Siimann said the crisis is a "serious matter" but does not reflect the state of Estonian banking in general since the market share of the Rural Bank was "rather small." In response to the bank's liquidation, the Tallinn Stock Exchange fell 7.53 percent on 8 June. JC

LATVIAN PRESIDENT WANTS EXTRAORDINARY PARLIAMENT SESSION

Guntis Ulmanis has urged Prime Minister Guntars Krasts to call an extraordinary session of the parliament to adopt amendments to the citizenship law in the third and final reading, BNS reported on 8 June. Ulmanis was speaking following a meeting with the parliamentary group of Latvia's Way. The president said that Krasts should call the meeting because it was his cabinet that had proposed the amendments, whereby citizenship would be granted to all children born to non- Latvians after 21 August 1998 should their parents request it. If the premier fails to call an extraordinary session, the president said he will do so to ensure the amendments are passed at least by the end of this month. JC

UNCERTAINTY REMAINS OVER NUMBER OF POLISH PROVINCES

Despite the 5 June vote in favor of an administrative reform bill providing for 12 new provinces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1998), uncertainty remains over how many provinces will be set up in the country. The ruling coalition has announced that it will seek the support of the upper house to increase the number of provinces to 15. On 9 June, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported that both the opposition Democratic Left Alliance and President Aleksander Kwasniewski are in favor of 17 provinces. Presidential aide Marek Siwiec told the newspaper that the president will veto the bill if it provides for only 15 provinces. The issue of administrative reform, which prompted protests by some provincial communities, is likely to dominate the local elections scheduled for this fall. JM

SLOVAKIA ACTIVATES MOCHOVCE REACTOR

Slovakia on 8 June activated a reactor at the controversial Mochovce nuclear plant, Reuters reported. Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Milan Tokar told the agency that Slovakia has the right to determine its energy policy without foreign interference and that "no one can deny us our right to guarantee our energy." A spokesman for the plant said all safety and technical requirements for activating the reactor have been met. Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima said the Slovak decision was "unfriendly and irresponsible" and that he is considering withdrawing Austria's ambassador to Bratislava in protest. MS

SUSPECTS OF RECENT BOMBINGS ARRESTED IN HUNGARY

One German, one Israeli, and two Russian citizens suspected of involvement in a series of recent bomb attacks in Hungary have been arrested, National Police commander Laszlo Forgacs announced on 8 June. The four persons were detained after police raided three houses in Budapest and discovered a laboratory for producing explosives. Police also seized 10 kilograms of explosive materials and weapons as well as 1 ton of paper suitable for forging bank notes. Since 1991, there have been 111 bombings in Hungary, most of which are thought to have been perpetrated by rival domestic and foreign gangs. MSZ




EU, U.S. FREEZE ASSETS, BAN INVESTMENTS IN SERBIA

In separate moves, the EU and the U.S. government have frozen all Yugoslav assets in their countries and slapped a ban on investment in Serbia, Reuters reported. Meeting in Luxembourg, the EU foreign ministers decried the "ethnic cleansing" under way in Kosova and called on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to allow humanitarian organizations and foreign observers to western Kosova, where military operations are taking place. The ministers also said they have not ruled out the option of putting into effect Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes foreign military intervention in order to keep peace. The U.S. State Department said it is working with Britain on a UN Security Council Resolution that would allow "all necessary measures" to stop the violence in Kosova. The official Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, called the new sanctions against Serbia "politically motivated" and "incomprehensible." PB

STRONG WORDS FROM BLAIR, CHIRAC, COHEN

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on 8 June in Copenhagen that all options are being considered to stop the "unacceptable violence and brutality" in Kosova, AFP reported. French President Jacques Chirac said in Washington the same day that "we cannot accept the ethnic cleansing" and that he hopes the Contact Group (consisting of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the U.S) will "decide to be very firm to Serbs and to President Milosevic." He added that such an approach could include military action, which, he said, would need UN authorization and Russian approval. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said on 8 June that U.S. and European forces may be deployed to prevent the spread of violence in Kosova. U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, however, said unilateral U.S. military intervention in the crisis is not being discussed at this time. Cohen will discuss the situation in Kosova on 11 June at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. The Contact Group meets the next day in Paris. PB

ENVOY URGES TALKS TO RESUME BETWEEN BELGRADE, KOSOVAR ALBANIANS

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said it is imperative that Yugoslav officials and Kosova Albanian leaders renew talks, Reuters reported. Hill, who toured an area of heavy fighting near the Albanian border with Kosovar Albanian official Fehmi Agani, said it is time to "get a negotiating process started." Kosovar officials failed to attend talks scheduled for 5 June in Prishtina because of the ongoing Serbian offensive in western Kosova. The Kosovar side said it will not resume talks until Serbian paramilitary forces withdraw from Kosova. PB

DIPLOMATS TOUR DESTROYED TOWNS

Escorted by Yugoslav officials, some 60 foreign diplomats on 8 June were given a tour of several locations in western Kosova that had been sealed off because of fierce fighting, Reuters reported. The diplomats, who were not allowed to be accompanied by journalists, said most of the towns were deserted and many of the buildings reduced to rubble or burned down. Police also showed the diplomats confiscated weapons. Dutch ambassador Jan Sizoo said the area is a "battlefield" and that Yugoslav officials accompanying the diplomats said the "terrorists" started the fighting. PB

REFUGEE INFLUX SLOWS DOWN, SPREADS OUT

International relief agencies reported on 8 June that the flow of ethnic Albanian refugees fleeing from Kosova to Albania had stabilized, Reuters reported. A UN High Commissioner for Refugees official said some 10,000 refugees arrived in northern Albania over the past 10 days. Albanian officials said the total is closer to 15,000. While most were receiving care in the Tropoje region, some 600 people had fled to the port city of Durres, the Albanian news agency ATA reported. Other reports said refugees are making plans to join relatives in other European countries. Fighting is reported to be continuing near the Albanian border. The pro-Serbian Media Center in Prishtina, said ethnic Albanians had attacked two Serbian villages in the Drenica region. It also reported that one Serbian policeman was killed near the border. PB

ISTANBUL CONFERENCE DISCUSSES KOSOVA

Referring to Kosova, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said at a Balkan conference in Istanbul on 8 June that a tragedy similar to Bosnia cannot be allowed to be repeated, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said in his speech to the delegates that although there will be no mention of Kosova in the declaration issued at the end of the two-day conference, Albania must express its concern over the "killing of innocent civilians, the destruction of villages and towns, and the increasing flow of refugees." Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic, who has insisted that no mention of Kosova be included in the declaration, did not mention the troubled Serbian region in his address. UN Undersecretary-General Vladimir Petrovski, an observer at the conference, urged the group to discuss the Kosova crisis. PB

ATTACK ON NORTHERN ALBANIAN ARMS DEPOT

Unidentified gunmen attacked an arms depot in the northern Albanian district of Mirdita on 8 June, "Koha Jone" reported. Guards exchanged fire with the attackers until the gunmen withdrew. Nobody was injured. The previous day, Prime Minister Fatos Nano told the National Security Council in Tirana that the secret service has warned him that some Kosovar refugees may try to attack arms depots to obtain weapons. Nano claimed that some federal Yugoslav agents provocateur were among the refugees, but he did not elaborate. The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has increased security around depots. FS

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ALBANIA HAS NATO SUPPORT

Albanian Defense Minister Luan Hajdaraga told parliament on 8 June that the army is ready and able to defend Albania's borders and that it expects NATO support in the event of a Yugoslav attack, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Hajdaraga was responding to a question by opposition legislator Azem Hajdari, who claimed there are "fewer Albanian soldiers at the border than there are deputies during a parliamentary session." Hajdaraga noted that NATO experts recently surveyed the northern Albanian border area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1998) and are planning to hold joint military exercises there in August. FS

BOSNIAN SERB PARTIES TO UNITE FOR ELECTIONS

Three reformist Bosnia Serb political parties announced on 8 June that they will join forces for elections in September. The Serb National Alliance, the Socialist Party, and the Independent Social Democrats said they will nominate a joint list of candidates for the posts of the Republika Srpska presidency and two posts reserved for Serbs in Bosnia's joint presidency and government. The move is aimed at replacing two Bosnian Serb hard-liners: Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian representative on the joint presidency, and Boro Bosic, co-chairman in Bosnia's joint government. The parties announced that they will run independently in the parliamentary elections. PB

BOSNIA SIGNS DECLARATION WITH EU

Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic said in Luxembourg on 8 June that his country is determined to join the "European family of nations," dpa reported. Prlic made his comments after meeting with EU foreign ministers and signing a declaration on relations between Bosnia-Herzegovina and the EU. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Bosnia could expect continued support from the EU "if you help yourselves" and "build a peaceful, democratic and open nation." The EU has donated some $2.2 billion to Bosnia. PB

BOSNIAN CROAT INFORMS TUDJMAN OF PLAN TO SET UP SPLINTER PARTY

Kresimir Zubak said in an open letter to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman on 8 June that he will continue with the formation of a new Bosnian Croat political party, Croatian Radio reported. Zubak, the Croat representative on the joint Bosnian presidency, said he is tired of the hard-liners in the ruling Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia-Herzegovina (HDZ-BH), who, he said, are accumulating power in the Bosnian Croat stronghold in southwestern Bosnia, to the detriment of Sarajevo. Zubak said he has concluded that "the differences within the political leadership of the party are unbridgeable." Tudjman has sought to keep the HDZ-BH intact through the September elections in Bosnia and recently met with Zubak in Zagreb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1998). PB

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVE PLANS TO RESTRUCTURE ELECTRICITY MONOPOLY

The government on 8 June approved a draft law for restructuring the RENEL electricity state monopoly utility. Under that bill, the monopoly would be divided into three companies: two would compete for customers, while the third would remain under state control and oversee nuclear energy production. The draft still has to be approved by the parliament. No layoffs are envisaged by the plan, which would be implemented over two years; the unions, nonetheless, have protested the bill. Also on 8 June, some 20,000 miners in several towns protested the government's program to restructure the mining industry. Almost 10,000 miners have been laid off since last September. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN NEW YORK

Emil Constantinescu, addressing the UN General Assembly on 8 June, said the new democracies in Eastern Europe can and must play a significant role in combating organized crime and drug trafficking. On 7 June, Constantinescu met with the Romanian emigre community in New York, which protested the delay in returning confiscated properties. Constantinescu also announced that Emil Hurezeanu, a former director of RFE/RL's Romanian Service, is to be appointed presidential spokesman. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'RADICAL REFORM' OF ARMY

In his weekly address to the nation on 8 June, Petru Lucinschi called for a "radical reform" of Moldova's armed forces, BASA-press and Infotag reported. He said the reform must improve both the country's "fighting capability" and military technology. Lucinschi also called for an end to the "interminable debates" on whether the country needs an army or a national guard. He said that Moldova is "at a crossroads where the interests of several states intersect" and has "paramilitary structures that are not controlled by the government...and huge arsenals of Russian troops" stationed in the country. He argued that in those circumstances, "the army is an instrument for ensuring the country's security, independence, and territorial integrity." MS

GAZPROM TO CUT MOLDOVAN SUPPLIES

Gazprom on 8 June told the Moldovan government that it will cut gas deliveries by 50 percent as of 15 June, RFE/RL's Chisinau reported. The Russian concern said "normal deliveries" will resume only when Moldova clears its entire debt to the company. It added that Chisinau has paid for only 51 percent of deliveries so far this year and has thus broken the March agreement on clearing the debt. On 31 May, Moldova's total debt to Gazprom was $590 million, of which $388 million is owed by the Tiraspol separatists. MS

BULGARIA FREEZES SERBIAN ASSETS

The government on 8 June announced it is freezing Serbian and federal Yugoslav funds in local banks, Reuters reported, citing BTA. The decision followed that of the EU earlier the same day to freeze assets held abroad by the two governments. The ban will not apply to funds held by Yugoslav companies and individuals in Bulgarian banks. It also excludes accounts of the Yugoslav embassy in Sofia. MS




THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WEARING A BEARD IN CENTRAL ASIA


by Salimjon Aioubov

It may seem absurd, but wearing a beard has acquired more importance politically in some Central Asian countries than any reforms, parties, movements, cease- fires, or agreements.

While Afghanistan's Taleban measure beards and punish the wearer if the beard is shorter than required, in neighboring Uzbekistan people are persecuted if they have bushy or long beards.

Before the civil war in Tajikistan, a beard was a demonstration of political support for the Islamic opposition. However, during the unrest, which broke out after 1992, it became a recognized attribute of army generals and opposition fighters.

In the view of many bureaucrats, having a beard was the same as having links to armed groups. It was unimportant whether those groups are governmental or belonged to the Islamic opposition. But today, the hidden meaning of the beard has disappeared because of acute shortages of money, water, soap, and safety razors.

Wearing a beard was a political thing in Soviet times, too. Communists claimed that men with beards were dissidents. In 1975, when poet and university teacher Foteh Abdullo grew a beard, the authorities--from the rector of the university to the ideology secretary of the Tajik Communist Party's Central Committee--invited him several times for the toughest reprimands. Many people followed that development closely and speculated about the longevity of Abdullo's beard.

Abdullo's reply to the ideology secretary became a folk legend. Abdullo told the secretary that he was a passionate follower of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Comrade Fidel Castro. The Communist authorities could not continue their campaign against Abdullo's beard because they feared showing a lack of respect for the "people's love" for those three communist leaders.

"In the past, only geologists and artists were allowed to grow a beard," said old men. Indeed, during the Soviet era, a beard was associated with Western hippies, U.S. surrogate radio broadcasts, and Soviet dissidents. Uzbek President Islam Karimov's predecessor, former communist boss Sharaf Rashidov, associated the occasional growing of a beard among Uzbekistan students with the pernicious influence of Western culture. However, Karimov's opinion is not very far from this viewpoint, though it emphasizes an undesirable Islamic influence. "If you have noticed. Wahhabis have a characteristic feature--they have beards, untidy beards.... There is perhaps a certain sense in it."

A Kyrgyz newspaper echoed Karimov's statement: "The basic sign according to which the Uzbek special services distinguish Wahabbis from other citizens has become a beard. A [beard] wearer can at any moment be stopped and subjected to a humiliating search and even arrest."

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov does not emphasize a beard as a political sign because many of his army generals sport beards. But in 1992, during the short reign of the National Reconciliation Government, every television broadcast featured someone with a beard. What is more, the inhabitants of the capital city, Dushanbe, have never seen such a large number and variety of beards.

When power changed hands in Dushanbe in December 1992, a large number of people immediately shaved off their beards, except those who thought beards were not a political statement. But they were wrong. Armed supporters of the government often caught those wearing beards and pulled out each hair.

Now wearing a beard in Tajikistan generally has only one meaning: people have neither the time nor opportunity to shave. But it will be a long and difficult road for those in the neighboring countries before they can wear a beard that similarly has an apolitical meaning. The author works for RFE/RL's Tajik Service.


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