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Newsline - August 5, 1998




DUMA WILL RECONVENE BEFORE SEPTEMBER

State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev on 5 August reluctantly accepted Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko's request that the Duma interrupt its summer recess to debate those parts of the anti-crisis program that the lower house failed to pass before its vacation. According to ITAR-TASS, he said the Duma will likely reconvene from 15-20 August. President Boris Yeltsin has introduced some parts of the anti-crisis program by decree, but the constitution stipulates that only the parliament can change fiscal legislation. According to "Vremya MN" the previous day, Yeltsin has already vetoed eight laws included in the anti-crisis plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 1998). The Duma was not scheduled to resume work until 21 September. JAC

GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO PROTECT MINORITY SHAREHOLDERS

Bloomberg reports that the cabinet has approved draft legislation to force Russian companies to make their finances more transparent and increase minority shareholders' rights. The legislation would give the Securities Commission the right to fine companies that do not file earnings reports on time. It would also make asset-stripping and insider-trading punishable in a criminal court. According to Bloomberg, investors are concerned that the commission does not have sufficient powers to enforce the legislation, which must still be approved by the Duma and Federation Council. JAC

MOSCOW CONTEMPLATES SOLUTIONS FOR SAKHALIN

More federal officials descended on Sakhalin on 5 August. Interior Ministry officials arrived to collect data on economic damage inflicted by the miners' strike, while Deputy Fuel Minister Viktor Kudryavii was there to assess the energy situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1998). Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that the federal government is considering permanently replacing local coal supplies with shipments from Australia and China. Despite transportation costs, such shipments would reportedly cost less than local deliveries. JAC

ZADORNOV CLAIMS BUDGET SURPLUS

In an interview with "Komsomolskaya Pravda" on 4 August, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said that in the first half of this year, budget revenue exceeded spending by 0.4 percent of GDP. He noted that this was the first time in several years that such an increase has been registered. But this is only the case if one excludes the not inconsiderable sum Russia spent on debt payments--one-third of the budget in the first six months. On the topic of devaluation, Zadornov pledged that the government will do "everything it can to avoid such a possibility." JAC

RUSSIA TO ABOLISH CAPITAL PUNISHMENT...

The current ban on capital punishment will be followed by its abolition in April 1999, Minister of Justice Pavel Krasheninnikov told Interfax. This is in keeping with Russia's commitment under the terms of its membership in the Council of Europe. According to ITAR-TASS, Krasheninnikov said on 5 August that the Justice Ministry will create three or four new penitentiaries for criminals sentenced to life imprisonment. JAC

...WHILE PURSUING OTHER PENAL REFORMS

On 4 August, "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" reported that other changes are planned in Russia's penal system. The Justice Ministry intends to transfer management of the nation's entire prison system to the Justice Ministry, to separate adult prisoners from juvenile ones, and to assign prisoners to a jail close to where the crime was committed. JAC

RUSSIA SOON WORLD'S TOP ARMS PRODUCER?

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Russia and France are vying to overtake the U.S. as the world's biggest arms supplier, "The New York Times"reported on 4 August. However, Yevgenii Ananev, director of the main arms exporter Rosvooruzheniye, claims that Russia ranks only fourth and trails considerably behind Great Britain and France. Writing in "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" on 22 July, he claims that Russia exported only $2.5 billion worth of arms in 1997. CRS reports that Russia currently has 40 percent of the Asian market. India, which bought 409 Russian fighter jets last year, and China, which purchased two destroyers, are its top customers. Iran, one of the Soviet Union's principal weapons purchasers, has had to curtail its arms purchases because of lack of funds. JAC

CHANGE OF VENUE FOR RUSSIAN-U.S. NAVAL EXERCISES

Russian-U.S. naval exercises that were scheduled to take place near Vladivostok on 6-7 August have been moved to another venue following protests by local communities, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Since last week, Vladivostok citizens, backed by some local officials, have been protesting the landing of U.S. troops on Russian soil When the U.S. landing ship "Germantown" entered a Vladivostok port on 4 August, it was met by about 50 protesters waving communist flags and signs reading "Yankee Go Home!" The exercises, which simulate a response to a natural disaster, will now be held at Cape Clark in the Khasan district. BP

CHECHEN PRESIDENT IN TURKEY

Aslan Maskhadov held talks with former parliamentary speaker and Democratic Turkey Party chairman Husamettin Cindoruk in Istanbul on 3 August and was scheduled to meet with diplomats at the British Consulate in Istanbul the following day, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 4 August. A group of wealthy British investors has expressed an interest in plans for a Caucasus Common Market, in which Chechnya would play a key role. But Maskhadov canceled a planned visit to Ankara, the newspaper reported. LF

MUSCOVITES TO GET MORTGAGES

Home ownership will become a more realistic option for Moscow's middle class in September, when a Moscow city-sponsored mortgage agency will be launched. According to Interfax, Moscow city officials announced on 4 August that during the program's first stage, Moscow will borrow more than $500 million from major foreign banks and provide 10,000 mortgages repayable over 10-15 years. The program became possible when Russia's new law on mortgages went into effect in late July. Other municipalities are expected to follow suit. JAC

SAMARA GOVERNOR WILL FIGHT TAX CHANGES

"Vremya MN" reported on 4 August that in two weeks, Konstantin Titov, governor of Samara, will file a law suit in the Constitutional Court against the government's revision of rules for levying value-added tax. He maintains that the changes are illegal because the parliament did not approve them. JAC

RUSSIAN POPULATION DECLINE TO REVERSE?

Beginning in October, Russian men should be able to purchase Viagra, the anti-impotence drug, for $10 to $12 a pill, roughly one- tenth of its reported price on Russia's black market. Nikolai Lopatkin, director of the Russian Institute of Urology, told reporters in Moscow that roughly 52 percent of Russian men aged between 40 and 70 have difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection. JAC




PROMINENT AZERBAIJANI POLITICIAN SET TO REGISTER AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

Supporters of National Independence Party of Azerbaijan chairman Etibar Mamedov have collected 65,000 signatures in support of his registration as a candidate for the 11 October presidential elections, Turan reported on 4 August. The election law requires candidates to submit a minimum of 50,000 signatures in order to qualify for registration, which is to take place between 15-22 August. Nine candidates have announced their intention to run, and several initiative groups or political parties have proposed the candidacy of incumbent Heidar Aliev. LF

WORK OF ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM COMMISSION CRITICIZED

Self-Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hayrikian has expressed dissatisfaction that the commission set up in May by President Robert Kocharian to draft amendments to the constitution has rejected his party's proposal that the posts of Armenian president and prime minister be combined, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 August. Hayrikian told journalists in Yerevan that the existing semi-presidential system makes the president dependent on the parliament. But Hayrikian said that he will continue to take part in the work of the commission, even though it is "impossible" to implement the constitutional changes his party wants by working with the commission. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT SAYS GEORGIA UNWILLING TO COMPROMISE

Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 4 August that Abkhazia made "many concessions" during the most recent round of UN mediated talks in Geneva in late July. But he added that the Georgian delegation refused to sign the documents that had been agreed on, Interfax reported. Ardzinba also noted that the 30 July UN Security Council resolution on the Abkhaz conflict for the first time explicitly condemns attacks by Georgian guerrillas on the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia. UN special envoy for Abkhazia Liviu Bota traveled to Sukhumi on 4 August for talks with Ardzinba aimed at breaking the deadlock in peace talks. LF

GEORGIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF SUBSERVIENCE TO TSARIST RUSSIA

Georgian politicians on 4 August marked the 215th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Georgievsk, whereby the kingdom of eastern Georgia became a protectorate of the Tsarist Empire. Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Giorgi Kobakhidze said the signing of that treaty by King Irakli II was "a tragic page" in Georgia's history, adding that its repercussions continue to be felt today. Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, similarly told Caucasus Press that the signing of the treaty resulted in the loss of Georgian independence for 200 years. Nadareishvili added that "even now Russia cannot change its imperial attitude toward Georgia." LF

GAMSAKHURDIA ALLY REPORTEDLY STABS GEORGIAN POLITICAL PRISONER

Loti Kobalia, former commander of deceased president Zviad Gamsakhurdia's national guard, attacked and seriously injured Petre Gelbakhiani in a Tbilisi prison on 19 July, according to the German branch of the International Society for Human Rights press release of 5 August. A second political prisoner, Irakli Dokvadze, was injured trying to protect Gelbakhiani. Gelbakhiani was arrested shortly before the 1992 Georgian parliamentary elections for criticizing the Georgian leadership. He was sentenced to death in 1995, but that sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. Prison director Shota Kobadze told Caucasus Press on 23 July that Kobalia denied stabbing Gelbakhiani and Dokvadze, although he admitted that there was "a little incident" between them. LF

RUSSIAN, UZBEK OFFICIALS DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN

As the Taliban movement reportedly advanced on Mazar-i- Sharif, the only remaining major city it does not yet control, the head of the Russian General Staff, Anatolii Kvashnin, and First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov were in Tashkent on 4 August, ITAR-TASS reported. Uzbek Defense Minister Hikmatulla Tursunov and Foreign Affairs Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov met with the Russian officials and later released a statement calling on the Taliban to stop their advance. The statement also said that Russian and Uzbek representatives are ready to meet with representatives from the opposing Afghan factions to mediate a settlement. The Russian and Uzbek officials also reserved the right to take all necessary measures to preserve the integrity of the CIS border. BP

UZBEKISTAN DENIES AFGHAN WARLORD ON UZBEK SOIL

Sources at the Uzbek Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs denied on 4 August that Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum has fled to Uzbek territory, ITAR-TASS reported. Dostum's headquarters in Sheberghan were overrun by forces of the Taliban movement on 2 August. Subsequent reports suggested that Dostum had crossed into Uzbekistan. Last year, Dostum fled to Turkey via Uzbekistan following a mutiny within his ranks. BP

GAS SUPPLIES RESUME TO KYRGYZSTAN

The head of the Kyrgyz state oil and gas company, Shalkar Jaysanbayev announced in Bishkek on 4 August that gas supplies from neighboring Uzbekistan have been restored, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Uzbekistan cut off supplies on 1 August because of unpaid bills. The Kyrgyz government has paid $900,000 of the debt and sent a letter to the Uzbek authorities guaranteeing future payments. BP

ANTHRAX OUTBREAK IN CENTRAL ASIA

Some 50 cases of anthrax have been registered during the last two weeks in southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan, according to RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS. Two villages in the Jalalabad region of Kyrgyzstan are affected, as are a number of villages in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. In all cases, the cause is reported to be contaminated beef and milk. BP

DRUG SMUGGLER SENTENCED TO DEATH IN TAJIKISTAN

A drug smuggler has been sentenced to death by a Tajik court, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 August. Bobo Boboyev was found guilty of seeking to smuggle more than 300 kilograms of raw opium into Russia. He is the first person in Tajikistan to receive the death penalty for drug smuggling. BP




INTERNATIONAL CONSORTIUM TO REINFORCE CHORNOBYL SARCOPHAGUS

An international consortium has won a tender to reinforce the sarcophagus covering the damaged reactor at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, AP reported on 4 August. The consortium, headed by the French company Technique Atom, includes British, German, and U.S. companies. The $5.4 million deal is the second stage of a broader project on improving Chornobyl's safety. The funds will be used for, among other things, the technical maintenance of and repairs to the sarcophagus. Some 20 donor nations have pledged $400 million to make the concrete and steel sarcophagus environmentally safe. JM

KUCHMA SACKS CHIEF AVIATION OFFICIAL

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has fired State Aviation Administration chief Volodymyr Maksymov for failing to improve the safety of Ukrainian air flights, AP reported on 4 August. The formal reason for the dismissal was Maksimov's failure to implement Kuchma's January 1998 decree on measures to tighten air transport regulations. The decree was issued shortly after a Ukrainian Yak-42 crashed in Greece, killing 70 people. Last month, a Ukrainian Il-76 aircraft fell into the sea near the United Arab Emirates, killing all eight people on board, and a Ukrainian Il-78 military plane crashed in Eritrea, killing 10 people. JM

UKRAINE SETTLES BORDER DISPUTE WITH MOLDOVA

During Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc's visit to Kyiv on 4 August, agreement was reached on resolving a border dispute in an area near the Danube delta. Under that agreement, Moldova will receive a small area of Ukrainian territory to build an oil terminal on the banks of the River Danube. In exchange, Ukraine will receive a section of the road connecting the Ukrainian cities of Odessa and Izmail. Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko said that Moldova is Ukraine's strategic partner and that economic relations between both countries must be intensified. JM

BELARUSIAN PRIVATE NOTARIES CLOSE OFFICES

Since 1 August, Belarusian private notary offices have ceased operations, "Beloruskaya Delovaya Gazeta" reported on 3 August. The reason for that move is President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's May decree ordering private notaries to transfer 77 percent of their fees to the state and pay taxes on the remaining 23 percent. An edict issued by Lukashenka one month later increased the percentage of fees to be transferred to 81 percent. In addition, a government directive in January ordered the private notaries to pay taxes retroactively for the period 1993- 1997. In July, the Chamber of Private Notaries adopted a resolution ceasing operations as of 1 August. JM

LATVIA TO CONTINUE WITH PLANS TO UNILATERALLY DEMARCATE BORDER

Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs told BNS on 4 August that Latvia will not give up its plan to unilaterally demarcate the border with Russia. Birkavs was responding to an appeal by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin that Latvia abandon those plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1998). The Latvian minister said Riga has met many demands by Russia, including amendment to its citizenship law. And he argued that his country cannot be blamed for the failure to sign the border treaty with Russia. JC

NEW CAUCUS JOINS LATVIAN RULING COALITION

Prime Minister Guntars Krasts told a news conference on 4 August that the caucuses of the ruling coalition parties have signed an agreement allowing a new caucus to join the coalition, BNS reported. The new parliamentary group, the fourth largest in the legislature, has been set up by the Labor Party, the Christian Democratic Union, and the Green Party, which have formed an alliance for the October parliamentary elections. JC

LATVIAN CABINET MINISTERS SIGN PROTEST AGAINST BUTINGE

Nearly all members of the Latvian government have already signed an appeal saying that an oil terminal at Butinge, Lithuania, should not be constructed without a thorough environmental study, BNS reported on 4 August. Foreign Minister Birkavs, who signed the appeal several days ago, stressed that he is not opposed to the terminal's construction, which, he said, is an internal affair of Lithuania. But he noted that he has always supported the "observance of environmental norms" in the Baltic Sea. JC

POLISH FARMERS BLOCK ROADS TO PROTEST GRAIN IMPORTS...

Polish farmers on 4 August blocked roads with tractors to protest grain imports and low prices for domestic grain. Police reported that 54 road blocks had been erected mainly in northern provinces of the country, while the farmers' unions put the number at 200. "We demand cheap credits, protection of the domestic market, and a system of contracts that would ensure that farm output can be sold," Andrzej Lepper, one of the protest organizers, told Reuters. JM

...WHILE GOVERNMENT PLEDGES MEASURES TO APPEASE FARMERS

Deputy Prime Minister Jerzy Tomaszewski called the protests a "great surprise to the government" and said they were "political" rather than aimed at protecting farmers' interests. He added that on 6 August, the government will introduce threshold prices on grain imports in accordance with its earlier announcement. Agricultural Minister Jacek Janiszewski pledged that beginning on 15 August, the state-run Agricultural Market Agency will buy grain from Polish farmers in an emergency procurement measure. He also promised state subsidies to private companies that buy Polish grain. JM

HAVEL REPORTED IN STABLE CONDITION

Doctors treating Czech President Vaclav Havel used electric shocks during the night of 3-4 August during a two-hour crisis in which Havel's heart rate soared to 200 beats a minute, the CTK reported on 4 August, quoting Ilja Kotik, who heads the Czech medical team treating Havel. He was later reported to be in a stable condition. Doctors say he experienced a "temporarily critical" condition but his life was not in danger at any time. MS

KOHL CRITICIZES ZEMAN OVER SUDETEN GERMAN COMMENT

Chancellor Helmut Kohl said in an interview with RTL television on 4 August that Czech Premier Milos Zeman's comparison of an organization representing the Sudeten Germans with Communists and neo-Nazis is "totally unacceptable." Kohl said it is "incomprehensible" how such "absurd remarks" could be made by a head of government. He said that the next time he meets Zeman, "I will tell him that if his idea of good neighborhood means insulting a group of people who suffered just as your people suffered under the Germans, then you cannot expect that we will be good neighbors," AP reported. Czech Deputy Premier Egon Lansky said Kohl's comments were based on a " totally incorrect interpretation" of what Zeman said. The Czech government "will make no further comment" to German politicians' reactions to Zeman's statement, Lansky added. MS

HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL SEEKS TO END JOB DISCRIMINATION

Jeno Kaltenbach, ombudsman for minority rights, has appealed to the Ministry of Justice to examine the possibility of drafting new bills that would end discrimination on the country's labor market, Hungarian media reported on 4 August . Kaltenbach's move came after a private-building contractor sought "white labor" through an advertisement in the "Expressz" daily. The contractor admitted that he wanted to keep Roma from applying, arguing that his regular employees refuse to work with them and that clients will not talk to him if he is accompanied by them. Kaltenbach said the advertisement violated the constitution, minority rights and the labor code. MSZ




HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN IN KOSOVA MASS GRAVE

Local eye-witnesses took several foreign journalists on 4 August to the site of at least two mass graves near Rahovec, which fell to Serbian paramilitary police and Yugoslav army forces after clashes with the Kosova Liberation Army in mid-July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 1998). The Vienna daily "Die Presse" wrote that Kosovar grave-diggers have already opened one of the graves and found "the corpses of more than 500 people, of whom 400 were children. The second grave may contain about 1,000 bodies." The grave-diggers said that the paramilitary forces of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" committed the killings, but Western observers hold the Serbian police responsible, the newspaper added. Kosovar spokesmen recently told "RFE/RL Newsline" that the police include many veterans of the "ethnic cleansing" campaigns in Croatia and Bosnia. PM

UNHCR WARNS OF 'ETHNIC CLEANSING'

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees sent a relief convoy from Prishtina to the Malisheva area on 4 August, but the vehicles had to stop at Qirez in the Skenderaj region because of heavy fighting. Relief workers could see Lausha and other nearby ethnic Albanian villages on fire. The UNHCR's Chris Janowski said in Geneva that the convoy "cannot go into a battlefield." He compared the latest developments in Kosova to the Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaigns in Bosnia and added that if this is an attempt to drive Kosovar Albanians out of Kosova, "that would be total lunacy." PM

RED CROSS FEARS EPIDEMICS

In Prishtina, UNHCR spokesmen estimated that some 200,000 people, or 10 percent of Kosova's total population, have been displaced since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic launched his crackdown in February. Officials of the World Food Program added that some 70,000 have taken to the roads since the current offensive began just over one week ago. Red Cross officials warned that "serious epidemics" could break out on Mount Berisha in central Kosova, where several thousand people are living in the open, AFP reported. PM

SCHUESSEL SAYS SITUATION 'TOO CONFUSED' FOR AIR STRIKES

Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the EU chair, told the Hamburg weekly "Die Woche" that the situation in Kosova is "too confused" for any air strikes there to be effective, dpa reported on 5 August. He added that only ground troops could help secure a cease-fire but that the UN would not agree to outside intervention because of Russian and Chinese opposition. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Tanjug quoted Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic as saying that attempts to put down the UCK's insurgency are a justified defense of national sovereignty. "We will suppress any violence in [the province].... We shall win this battle," he added. PM

HILL VISITS DEVASTATED AREA

Christopher Hill, who is U.S. ambassador to Macedonia and Washington's principal negotiator in Kosova, said after visiting central Kosova on 4 August that he is "particularly concerned about the activities of the security services that are out there now.... We observed a number of structures in villages and towns that were burning as of today. We did not see any signs, however, of any fighting today," Hill told Reuters. He said he visited one village where male inhabitants who had returned for food and water for families hiding in the hills said tanks had fired on houses. "They brought me a shell from a T-55 tank and said they had many more like that. I saw some tank rounds on the ground in another village." Kosovar spokesman Veton Surroi added that he saw one house go up in flames seconds after two uniformed police emerged from it. "We saw police burning houses and looting shops," Surroi noted. PM

WESTWARD FLOW OF KOSOVARS CONTINUES

Some 600 persons, half of whom are Kosovar refugees, leave Albania by boat each day to try to enter Italy illegally, Deutsche Welle reported on 5 August. Of that number, only about 200 are caught at sea and sent back (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1998). Those Kosovars who reach land are interned in detention camps. Meanwhile in Bonn, Bavarian Interior Minister Martin Beckstein said that camps for Kosovar refugees should be set up in Italy and northern Albania as part of a "European system of burden-sharing," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote. He said that Germany will not deport any Kosovars currently living there "except for law-breakers," but he warned against any general recognition of Kosovars as refugees from a civil war. Beckstein added that such recognition would lead to an influx of refugees into Germany, as was the case during the Bosnian war, and that Germany cannot agree to that. PM

SERBIAN PEACE GROUP CALLS FOR PROTECTORATE

The Serbian peace organization Women in Black appealed to the international community in a statement in Belgrade on 4 August to establish a protectorate over Kosova "as soon as possible." The text called on the international community to exert "all possible pressure on all warring parties to desist from using armed force and [carrying out] ethnic cleansing" and from violating human rights, the Belgrade daily "Danas" wrote. Women in Black is one of the best known and oldest peace groups in the former Yugoslavia. Meanwhile in Podgorica, the People's Party, the Social Democrats, and the Democratic Socialist Party are opposed to the recent proposal of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement that the authorities declare a state of emergency in Kosova. Leaders of the three parties feel that such a move would bind Montenegro all the closer to Milosevic's policies there, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH ARAFAT

Prime Minister Radu Vasile, who is on a four-day visit to Israel, met with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in Ramallah on 4 August and offered his country's "good services" to mediate in the dispute with Israel over the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tel Aviv reported. Vasile also met in Modiin with Romanian workers in Israel, who complained about working and housing conditions as well as unpaid wages. He promised to appoint an embassy official to examine their complaints. The same day, Vasile and Israeli parliamentary deputies agreed to establish a joint commission to examine the restitution of Jewish property seized by the fascist and communist regimes. Mediafax reported that Vasile was "angered" by remarks of a National Religious Party deputy who accused Romania of "indifference" toward "vandalism" in desecrated Jewish cemeteries. Vasile said the accusation was based on "misinformation." MS

MOLDOVAN COALITION LEADERS TRY TO MEND FENCES

Parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov on 4 August said on Moldovan television that the ruling Alliance for Democratic Reforms "is viable and will carry out its goals," BASA- press reported. He expressed "regret" that the intra- alliance agreement was violated when the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc voted jointly with the opposition Party of Moldovan Communists on the transit of Bulgarian nuclear waste to Russia and on the nomination of the new prosecutor-general (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 1998). He said this was "the last time" that this will happen. Iurie Rosca, parliamentary deputy chairman and co- chairman of the Democratic Convention of Moldova, told journalists on 4 August that all disputes within the alliance "will be overcome," but he added that voting with the Communists remains "unacceptable." MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION DAILY TEMPORARILY SUSPENDS PUBLICATION

"Duma," the daily of the opposition Socialist Party, will not be printed for the next two weeks, BTA quoted party spokeswoman Iliana Yotova as saying on 4 August . The previous day, the Rodina publishing company announced that the newspaper will not be printed owing to debts totaling 186 million leva (some $100,000). "Duma" editor in chief Todor Koruev told Bulgarian national radio on 4 August that the crisis within the newspaper reflects the "overall financial and ideological crisis within the party itself." He said some 10 journalists have quit the daily in the last months because of the financial crisis and that the remaining journalists do not want to transform "Duma" into a "tabloid," as "some people inside the BSP" are urging them to do. MS




KOSOVA'S ETHNIC ALBANIAN REFUGEES CLOSE TO CATASTROPHE


by Kitty McKinsey

The scenes across much of the southern Serbian province of Kosova in recent days are reminiscent of the worst days of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Long lines of tractor-drawn carts slowly carrying terrified women and children away from the smoldering remains of their shelled and burned homes. Refugees cowering in forests with only the clothes on their back, little food or water, no medicine, and no shelter.

Contrary to promises made by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic last week, the Serbian and Yugoslav offensive in Kosova is not over. In fact, observers on the scene say that the offensive has escalated, driving another 35,000-70,000 ethnic Albanians from their homes in recent days.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the total number now displaced from their homes in more than five months of fighting could top 200,000. That figure includes those who have sought refuge in neighboring Albania and the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, as well as those on the move inside Kosova.

With the escalation of the Serbian offensive, ethnic Albanians say the Serbs are no longer battling the separatist Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) but are concentrating on driving ethnic Albanian civilians from their homes. They say that Serbian forces are shelling and burning homes of ethnic Albanians who have already fled to ensure that they will not return.

Moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova charged that "Serbian forces kill civilians, burn and destroy settlements and entire villages, and carry out ethnic cleansing."

Mans Nyberg, spokesman for the UNHCR in Prishtina, said he and his fellow aid workers have seen "countless houses burning in practically every village we passed through." He adds: "It is very difficult to see any sound military objective for such behavior by the Serbian police forces."

Only in the last few days have international relief agencies been able to reach any of the fugitives hiding in the mountains and dense forests of Kosova. They have found desperate people camping in the open, sleeping under trees and even in dry river-beds, without any blankets, mattresses or tents. In one area, relief workers discovered that five women had given birth within the last four days. It is, Nyberg says, "a humanitarian catastrophe in the making."

Mick Lorentzen, emergency coordinator for the UN's World Food Program in Prishtina, says that the main problem is that whole villages are on the move: "Within the mountain range itself, there's an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people and this is not the only area that's being affected. People are moving every day. It's a changing situation. The forests are very, very dense, so it's sometimes hard to find them. How much longer are they going to stay out, nobody knows."

Both Nyberg and Lorentzen agree that the fugitives are far too terrified and distrustful of Serbian authorities to return to their villages right now.

Lorentzen says that while he was in the mountains delivering food to refugees on 2 August, the Yugoslav government air-dropped leaflets telling the refugees it was safe for them to return to their villages, and that if they did, they would be protected. As the refugees were reading the flyers, Lorentzen said, they could hear Serbian shelling just a kilometer away. Lorentzen concludes : "The people are just not going to return while this is going on." He also questions what they have to go home to after so much destruction by Yugoslav and Serb forces.

Another major problem is that Serbian forces are routinely blocking attempts by aid agencies to reach people in distress. "This is very serious obstruction," says Nyberg. "President Milosevic has repeatedly assured the humanitarian organizations that they have free access, they can go anywhere they want. The same has been assured to us by the police commander in Prishtina. In spite of all this, it happens almost on a daily basis that our field teams are being stopped by police at checkpoints and being refused access."

The UNHCR has added its voice to that of many countries around the world in appealing to Milosevic to halt the Serbian offensive and allow his ethnic Albanian citizens to live a normal life again. The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent.


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