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Newsline - December 10, 1998




NEW PSA LEGISLATION PASSES

After rejecting a number of bills on production sharing agreements (PSA), the State Duma on 9 December finally passed in the third reading a series of amendments to the PSA law. The vote was 347 to six. Under the law, small oil fields with less than 25 million tons of reserves will need approval only from federal and local governments--not from the Duma. In addition, the law requires PSA participants to purchase 70 percent of their equipment and hire 80 percent of their work force in Russia. The "Moscow Times" on 10 December quoted one oil industry lobbyist as saying that passage of the bill opens the door for the Duma to pass other legislation necessary to convince foreign investors to proceed with large investments in the oil sector. The law is expected to easily win the approval of the Federation Council and President Boris Yeltsin. JAC

U.S. OFFICIALS ARRIVE IN MOSCOW

A delegation of U.S. officials led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers arrived in Moscow on 9 December. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said that "such a broad interdepartmental composition of the American delegation reflects the important, comprehensive character of Russian-U.S. relations." "Noviye izvestiya," on the other hand, called the delegation "a motley crew" sent to Russia because the [Bill] Clinton administration realizes that "it is impossible to understand Russia" from Washington. The newspaper reported that the delegation will try to persuade Moscow to send "a leading negotiator" to the IMF before the end of the year. It also noted that First Deputy Minister Yurii Maslyukov is scheduled to visit around 15 December and quoted "an IMF spokesman" as saying that if Maslyukov "really wants to secure any results on his arrival, he will have to revise some of his economic views." JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT SHEDS LIGHT ON HOSTAGES' MURDER

Aslan Maskhadov confirmed on 9 December that the three British engineers and their New Zealand colleague were killed by their abductors during a botched rescue operation. Maskhadov vowed to "take all necessary steps to resolve this horrible crime," AP reported. Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev on 9 December denied media reports that one of the murderers has been arrested, according to Interfax. Neighboring Stavropol Krai, Ingushetia, and Dagestan have all closed their borders with Chechnya. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev expressed concern that the murders may deter potential foreign investors in the North Caucasus. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii said on 9 December that the killings are "a tragedy" for Maskhadov, given that they will exacerbate Chechnya's pariah status. Berezovskii hinted that Moscow's failure to give unequivocal support to Maskhadov has eroded the latter's control over internal Chechen developments and thereby contributed to the killings. LF

RUSSIA REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN

Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told journalists in Moscow on 9 December that Russia will continue construction of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant but will not violate the nuclear non- proliferation treaty by providing Tehran with nuclear technology, AP and Interfax reported. Visiting Tehran in late November, Adamov discussed with Iranian experts the possibility of Russia building three additional reactors for that plant. Also on 9 December, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asked her Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, for a firm commitment to limit Russia's involvement in the Iranian missile program, according to "The New York Times." The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Iranian Embassy in Moscow have both declined to comment on a 8 December report in that newspaper saying Iran has recruited several Russian germ warfare experts. LF

NATO INVITES RUSSIA TO PARTY

NATO on 9 December formally invited Russia to attend its 50th anniversary summit in Washington next April. The same day, Foreign Minister Ivanov, who was in Brussels, condemned a proposal to include the use of NATO forces without UN Security Council consent in the alliance's new strategic concept. He said that "any decision on the use of force must be adopted in accordance with Article 7 of the UN Charter," Interfax reported. Ivanov also repeated Moscow's opposition to NATO's decision to retain the option of using force against Belgrade for its actions in Kosova. At a cost of $11 million, Russia will send more than 120 men to Kosova to participate in the OSCE monitoring mission, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 December. JAC

JUSTICE MINISTRY PROPOSES DEATH PENALTY BAN

Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov on 9 December presented a draft bill to abolish the death penalty. Russia promised to ban capital punishment by the end of February 1999 when it joined the Council of Europe. The Duma, however, is unlikely to pass the bill, having already rejected similar draft legislation. Mikhail Mityukov, presidential representative to the Constitutional Court, told Interfax on 10 December that Yeltsin supports a gradual implementation of a ban on capital punishment. The president also favors the gradual introduction of trial by jury. Last year, the Duma failed to debate a bill to introduce juries, which was submitted by the administration, because Duma deputies believed that there was not enough money to fund the proposal. JAC

PRIMAKOV AGAIN DENIES PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 December, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov again denied that he has any plans to seek the presidency or that he will consider remaining prime minister under a new president. He said "Don't forget that in 1999, I will be 70." JAC

LEBED, KEY INDUSTRIALIST TANGLE

Anatolii Bykov, CEO of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, told NTV on 6 December that supporting Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksander Lebed's election campaign was a mistake. The next day, Bykov elaborated, saying that 70 percent of the district administration heads in the krai are poised to resign from sheer frustration. He added that Lebed's young and inexperienced team mistreat the local elite and neglect official work to return home to Moscow. "Izvestiya" on 10 December described Bykov as having "colossal" influence in Krasnoyarsk and said that opposition to Lebed is now of a new, different order. "Trud" reported the same day that Lebed accused Bykov of meeting with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on several occasions and of intending to back Luzhkov's Otechestvo [Fatherland] movement. Bykov denies that he has ever met with Luzhkov. JAC

REGIONAL SUPPORT FOR NEW LUZHKOV MOVEMENT GROWS

Otechestvo has attracted the support of 20 regional governors, including Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Ivan Sklyarov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December. The newspaper also reported that several members of the left-wing Movement for the Revival of the Urals will likely join as well. In November, Nikolai Lubenets, mayor of Trekhgornii in Chelyabinsk Oblast, formed his own branch of Otechestvo. The daily reported that Luzhkov visited Lubenets in September during a short trip to the Urals. Elsewhere in the Urals, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel was not invited to join Luzhkov's party, "EWI's Russian Regional Report" concluded on 3 December, because Luzhkov believes that Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii has a better chance to win upcoming gubernatorial election. On 10 December, "Kommersant- Daily" reported that Luzhkov signed an economic cooperation agreement with Rossel, but the newspaper quoted the former as making a joke at the latter's expense while visiting the oblast. JAC

ELECTION FRAUD IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD?

Loose lips sank Anatolii Nekrasov, head of the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast election committee, who lost his job after he told a local newspaper that the results of mayoral elections held in September might have been rigged, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 December. Nekrasov admitted that local officials might have tampered with automatic vote-counting devices. JAC

YAROSLAVL CONSUMERS FACING EMPTY SHELVES

Moscow consumers are buying up unprocessed food products and raw materials from Yaroslavl Oblast at prices higher than locals can afford, "EWI's Russian Regional Report" reported on 6 December. For example, collective farms can charge their Moscow-based customers 5-6 rubles (15-25 U.S. cents) per liter of milk, while local customers will pay only 3 rubles. As a result, shelves in local stores are increasingly bare. On 1 December, Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn signed a decree reducing subsidies for collective farms that sell their products to consumers outside the region. JAC

WASHINGTON EMBASSY SNAFU CONTINUES

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington hinted that Moscow might retaliate for Washington's withdrawal of a security guard post from the Russian ambassador's residence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998), "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 9 December. In a statement issued to the newspaper, the spokesman said, "As the 'Washington Times' writes, the Americans have taken these measures in order to economize. Economizing is economizing, but the Americans of all people should be perfectly well aware of the consequences of inadequately protecting a foreign mission." He added that "there is, of course, no question of withdrawing protection from the U.S. ambassador's Moscow residence in Spasopeskovskii Pereulok, but Russia's next steps will largely depend on the U.S. reaction to the protest note." JAC

PRIMAKOV LOOKING SHAGGY?

"Moskovskii komsomolets" on 8 December asked Yelena Vasina, a leading stylist from the L'Oreal Professional salon, for advise on how to spiff up some of Russia's leading politicians. For Prime Minister Primakov, she suggested a hair cut would not be a bad idea. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov would be better off wearing shirts with wider collars and ties with a large knot to offset his large head and wide face, she said And former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, according to Vasina, needs to update his eyeglass frames with something more dignified. JAC




ARMENIAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER SHOT DEAD

Colonel Vahram Khorkhoruni was shot dead outside his home in Yerevan early on 10 December, Western agencies reported, citing Interfax. Khorkhoruni, who was 47, began his career in the Russian Interior Ministry and then in its Armenian counterpart, before transferring to the Ministry of Defense. His most recent responsibility was for armaments. Armenian Presidential aide Aram Sargsian told Reuters that the motives for the killing are unclear. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT STARTS DEBATING BUDGET...

The Armenian parliament began debating the 1999 draft budget on 8 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The draft budget provides for revenues of 187.9 billion drams (some $360 million), expenditures of 239.1 billion drams, and a deficit of some 57 billion drams. Economics and Finance Minister Eduard Sandoyan told deputies that the government intends to strengthen its social policy and will introduce a system of modest family allowances for some 230,000 needy families. Employees paid from the state budget will receive a 20 percent wage increase and the basic pension will rise by 30 percent. The opposition Hayrenik parliamentary group is boycotting the debate. Its members argue that the budget protects the shadow economy without alleviating the plight of the population. LF

...WHILE DASHNAK PARTY CRITICIZES DRAFT

Leading members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), which has only one parliamentary deputy, told a news conference on 9 December that some provisions of the 1999 budget run counter to election promises made by President Robert Kocharian, Noyan Tapan reported. Noting that "people are running out of patience," they predicted that the financial situation of many Armenian families relying heavily on money from relatives in Russia may deteriorate as a result of the financial crisis in that country. The ARFD strongly backed Kocharian's presidential bid. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER PROPOSES GUAM PEACEKEEPING FORCE

Davit Tevzadze has proposed that Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova form a peacekeeping force to promote regional security and guard the proposed export oil pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, Turan reported on 9 December. Tevzadze said experts from all four countries have discussed the possibility of cooperation with NATO to create such a force within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program. Tevzadze said that the proposed force could also interact with the Balkan peacekeeping force set up earlier this year. Tevzadze was speaking in Bucharest, where he signed a bilateral agreement on defense cooperation with his Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, on 8 December. LF

GEORGIAN RULING PARTY LOSES CONTROL OF TBILISI CITY COUNCIL

Lado Kakhadze of the opposition Labor Party was elected chairman of the Tbilisi City Council on 9 December, Caucasus Press reported, citing "Rezonansi." The Union of Citizens of Georgia, the majority party within the parliament, did not participate in the vote. The union failed to win an absolute majority in most areas in the 15 November local elections. LF

GEORGIA'S CHECHEN MINORITY LAUNCHES PROTEST

The Chechen population of two villages in the northeastern Sighnaghi Raion have blocked a local highway to protest delays in paying wages and pensions, Caucasus Press reported on 10 December, citing "Akhali kartuli gazeti." There are an estimated 10,000-15,000 Chechens in Georgia. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY BANNED

The Supreme Court has banned the National Unity Party, Interfax reported on 9 December. The party was headed by former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullojonov, who is wanted by Tajik law enforcement agencies for his part in the November rebellion in northern Tajikistan. All the party's property and assets have been nationalized. The Supreme Court noted that the party has not held a congress since its founding in 1994, has not issued any membership cards, and has not decided on a seal or letterhead. The party's leadership attempted to distance itself from Abdullojonov in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2O November 1998) condemning Abdullojonov for his role in the November violence. BP

AKAYEV SACKS HEAD OF ADMINISTRATION

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev signed a decree on 10 December dismissing the head of his administration, Omar Sultanov, ITAR-TASS reported. Akayev's press secretary told journalists that in the future, Akayev will deal firmly with those who are engaged in intrigue." He declined to comment further on the reasons for Sultanov's dismissal. ITAR- TASS, meanwhile, noted that Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev has accused Sultanov of interfering in his ministry's work. Sultanov was appointed head of the presidential administration in March 1998. BP

QUESTIONS ARISE ABOUT TURKMEN GRAIN HARVEST

Despite the Turkmen government's claims that this year's grain harvest exceeds target figures, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 8 December that the price of government-subsidized flour has quadrupled since 1 November. The government announced at the end of the summer that farmers had harvested slightly more than the planned 1.2 million tons of grain. While the Agricultural Ministry has claimed many times that 800,000 tons would be enough to supply all domestic needs, there are reports that in some areas that flour is scarce and the price of government-subsidized flour, which only the poor and families with many children are eligible to receive, has risen from 25 manat ($1=5,200 manat) per kilogram to 100 manat. The government admitted at the end of November that less than half the targeted amount of cotton has been gathered. BP

KAZAKHSTAN, WESTERN OIL COMPANIES SIGN AGREEMENT

Kazakh officials were in Washington on 9 December to sign an agreement with representatives of Royal Dutch Shell and the U.S. companies Mobil and Chevron on conducting feasibility studies for a pipeline connecting the eastern and western coasts of the Caspian Sea, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. The pipeline will connect oil and gas fields in western Kazakhstan with Baku. Russian Minister of Oil and Fuel Vladimir Stanev was also present at the signing and said his country "need not be concerned about the deal." He noted that under the terms of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium agreement, participants can ship oil via any route they choose but must nonetheless pay Russian tariffs for oil they originally agreed to pump to Novorossiisk. BP




NATO TO STATION LIAISON OFFICERS IN UKRAINE

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said on 9 December that two NATO liaison officers will be stationed in Kyiv, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. The announcement was made after a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO commission. Tarasyuk also said that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma will attend the alliance's summit in April. Tarasyuk said he hoped relations with NATO continue to develop. In Kyiv, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk and his Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, said the two countries will sign a military cooperation treaty next year, AP reported. The agreement will include officer exchanges, the modernization of Romanian tanks and planes, and joint arms exports. Babiuc, who also met with Kuchma, is on a two-day visit to Ukraine. PB

UKRAINE FORMS COMMISSION ON LAZARENKO

The Ukrainian parliament on 9 December announced it will set up a commission to investigate the arrest by Swiss authorities of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, AP reported. The commission will be headed by deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk. The parliament also urged speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko to ask Swiss authorities to resolve the issue quickly. A Geneva court said Lazarenko's case would be heard on 11 December. PB

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER SHUT DOWN

Oleh Lyashko, the editor in chief of the daily "Politika," said he has been informed that a Kyiv court has revoked the newspaper's registration, forcing it to shut down, AP reported. Lyashko said no representatives of the newspaper has been asked to appear in court. He charged that the decision was made because "Politika" recently published a series of articles on alleged corruption within Kuchma's office. Lyashko, however, said "in this case I don't see the hand of the president. I think it's an action by people who wish to arrange for Kuchma to look as if he's strangling the press." "Politika" closed down for several months earlier this year when a criminal case was launched against it by tax officials. PB

BELARUS SAYS HOUSING CONFLICT WITH EU RESOLVED

Belarusian Foreign Minister Ural Latypov said on 10 December that Minsk and the EU have resolved a row over diplomatic housing, Reuters reported. Latypov said EU ambassadors with houses at the Drazdy housing area will "voluntarily" give up those properties in exchange for new ones elsewhere. It is unclear when the EU ambassadors will return to Minsk and move to new quarters. In May, some 14 ambassadors living at Drazdy were evicted, ostensibly because of repairs to the infrastructure of the compound. But after leaving, ambassadors were told they would have to find permanent housing elsewhere, and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka declared the whole compound to be the president's residence. Latypov said the dispute with the U.S. over Drazdy has not been solved. EU countries had said the Drazdy conflict would not be over until Minsk observed the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, which includes the inviolability of diplomatic housing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 1998). PB

LUKASHENKA, RIVAL HOLD MINI-DEBATE

President Lukashenka received a question from declared presidential candidate and former Premier Mikhail Chyhir during a Russian Public Television chat show on 9 December, Belapan reported. Chyhir called in to ask Lukashenka to explain why pensions and average wages have declined since Chyhir stepped down in 1996. Lukashenka said Chyhir's statement was "absolutely far-fetched" and that the former premier must have used "the fraudulent rate of the black market" in calculating real wages and pensions. Lukashenka also said that the reason that currency reserves have shrunk is because the IMF dislikes "our policy, so we cannot create reserves using IMF loans." Lukashenka also announced that he will meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on 17 December to discuss further harmonization of the countries' economies. Lukashenka and Yeltsin have not met this year. PB

EU, OSCE WELCOME AMENDMENTS TO ESTONIAN CITIZENSHIP LAW

The EU has welcomed the passage of amendments to Estonia's citizenship law that grant virtually automatic citizenship to stateless children (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1998). "The vote of the Estonian parliament reflects a forward-looking approach which promotes the stability of Estonian society and is consistent with the principles and aims of the European Union," the EU presidency said in a statement. OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel also praised the Estonian lawmakers' decision, saying that the amendments conform with his recommendations and will stimulate the integration process, according to ETA and BNS. JC

FINAL VOTE ON ESTONIA'S 1999 BUDGET POSTPONED UNTIL NEXT YEAR?

Lawmakers on 9 December suspended the second reading of the 1999 draft budget, which means that its passage is likely to be postponed until next year, ETA reported. The budget has been reduced by 3.8 percent or 702.7 million kroons (some $54 million) to 17.75 billion kroons, following objections by the opposition that the initial version was "unrealistic." GDP growth is estimated at 4 percent and inflation at 7.2 percent. Finance Minister Mart Opmann noted that the budget volume may be increased after revenues from the privatization of Estonian Telecom are known. JC

BIRKAVS SAYS RIGA SHOWING 'WILL' TO IMPROVE RUSSIAN TIES

Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs told journalists in Riga on 9 December that the new Latvian government has already demonstrated that it wants to improve relations with Russia, BNS reported. "The new government has made strong signals demonstrating our actual will to improve relations [with Moscow], but this is not a unilateral act, this is bilateral action," he said. Relations between Latvia and Russia have recently progressed toward "certain actions," Birkavs noted, pointing to his recent meeting with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov. Birkavs also urged Moscow to appoint its co-chair to the Russian-Latvian intergovernmental committee. JC

LATVIAN LAWMAKERS VOTE TO DISMISS COMMANDER OF ARMED FORCES

The parliament has voted by 67 to 7 with 10 abstentions to confirm the dismissal of Juris Eihmanis, LETA reported on 10 December. Earlier this fall, Eihmanis tendered his resignation over the so- called apartment affair in which he was alleged to have used some 43,000 lats ($75,438) from military funds to renovate his apartment. Former Prime Minister and acting Defense Minister Guntars Krasts subsequently removed Eihmanis from office. JC

LITHUANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES AGAINST DEATH PENALTY

The Constitutional Court has ruled that capital punishment contravenes the country's basic law and should be removed from the criminal code. Juozas Zhilys, chairman of the court, told Reuters that the death penalty violates the basic human rights to life and protection from cruelty that are enshrined in the Lithuanian Constitution. President Valdas Adamkus's Office said in a statement that the president supports the court's decision and urges the parliament to quickly amend the criminal code to implement the ruling. His predecessor, Algirdas Brazauskas, had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 1995. Lawmakers are expected to begin discussions early next year on a new criminal code that makes no provision for capital punishment, BNS reported. JC

CZECH GOVERNMENT RAISES MINIMUM WAGE

The government on 9 December approved raising the monthly minimum wage by 22.5 percent, to 3,250 crowns ($107). Prime Minister Milos Zeman said that in accordance with the European Social Charter, the minimum wage must be higher than the subsistence level. He dismissed objections that a hike in the minimum wage might result in higher unemployment, saying that no more than 2 percent of the working force earns only the minimum wage, CTK reported. One day earlier, the Ministry of Labor said unemployment rose by 11,000 in November to reach 363,000, a record high of 7 percent of the work force, dpa reported. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 9 December reported that every third unemployed person in the country is under 25 years. MS

HUNGARIAN RULING PARTY INTRODUCES TAX POLICE BILL

Finance Ministry State Secretary Mihaly Varga on 9 December presented to the parliament a bill on setting up a tax investigative body, which was proposed by the major coalition Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party. Varga argued that the regular police force does not have the necessary means and skills to deal with tax-related crimes. He said the cabinet will set aside 2.8 billion forint ($13 million) to establish a 240-strong force, which will be armed and authorized to "apply secret service methods." Opposition parties fear that the tax police could be used arbitrarily and will contravene citizens' constitutional rights. Moreover, the cabinet and opposition disagree whether the bill's passage requires a two-thirds majority in the parliament. MSZ

ALBRIGHT SOUNDS WARNING NOTE TO HUNGARY

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi in Brussels on 9 December that Washington will consider it "an unfavorable sign" if Hungary does not pass a constitutional amendment to facilitate the movement of NATO troops across its territory. Martonyi admitted that the present situation, in which the parliament must decide on the movement of foreign troops across Hungarian territory, is an "impossible state of affairs." Opposition parties in Hungary have refused to guarantee the two- thirds majority required to pass the amendment, which would authorize the government to decide on the movement of NATO troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998). MSZ




RUGOVA WARNS OF 'BIGGEST MASSACRE TO DATE'

Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Paris on 9 December that "if there is an escalation of the situation [in the province], that will mean the biggest massacre seen to date." He added that such a conflict could quickly lead to "a mass ethnic-cleansing." Rugova called the current cease-fire "very fragile" and added that he hopes the current diplomatic "efforts of the U.S., European Union, [and] France...will achieve something." French President Jacques Chirac, for his part, urged both sides in the Kosova conflict to "start discussions without delay." PM

MILUTINOVIC REJECTS HILL PLAN

Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and other top government officials issued a statement in Belgrade on 9 December formally rejecting U.S. envoy Chris Hill's plan for an interim political settlement in Kosova as "not acceptable." The statement contained few details but noted that the Hill plan fails to include unspecified "key elements" from the Serbian government's own proposal. The text argued that "the form for solving the problem...is the broadest possible democratic self-rule within the legal system of Serbia and Yugoslavia" and with equal rights for all ethnic groups regardless of their size. Observers suggested that Belgrade rejects the idea of broad autonomy for Kosova at a provincial--as opposed to a local--level. The Serbian authorities also oppose extending the principle of majority rule to Kosova, where some 90 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1998). PM

HILL SAYS TALKS 'STILL ON TRACK'

Hill said in Prishtina on 9 December that negotiations to end the Kosova dispute are "still on track," despite the rejection of his plan by both sides. He added that "ultimately the responsibility of reaching a settlement rests with both sides.... They have to be interested in a settlement more than we [are]." Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the EU's special envoy for Kosova, said that "this is a very decisive point in time. We mustn't lose the momentum." PM

SERBIAN POLICE BLOCK ROAD TO FINNISH FORENSICS EXPERTS

AP reported on 10 December that a "Serb police contingent consisting of an armored personnel carrier and about two dozen policemen wearing flak jackets and carrying automatic rifles stopped...[a] convoy [of 19 Finnish forensics experts] on the road in Trstenik." The Finns were en route to the Drenica region to exhume a site where some 22 ethnic Albanian victims of a massacre by Serbian forces in September are believed to be buried. The Finns returned to Prishtina after the police refused to let them pass unless the Finns took the Serbs with them. A spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), which controls the Drenica area, said that "the Finnish team is free to come on their own but they cannot come with the police." A spokeswoman for the Finns said that the Serbian police committed a "clear obstruction" of what was to have been a pioneering investigation into atrocities in Kosova. PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS KOSOVA WITHIN SERBIA IS NOT A SOLUTION

Rexhep Meidani said in Sofia on 9 December that "no solution within Serbia would help to permanently solve the problem" of Kosova. He did not rule out a solution within the framework of the federal Yugoslavia, but he did not elaborate, AP reported. Meidani and his Bulgarian counterpart, Petar Stoyanov, signed agreements on preventing double taxation and promoting cultural cooperation. During his visit, Meidani is to discuss the planned construction of an east-west highway and railway linking the Bulgarian port of Burgas with the Albanian port of Durres via Macedonia. Many observers have hailed the Turkish-backed project as a key to promoting economic cooperation and political stability in the region by developing east-west infrastructure links. FS

GREECE SEES NO ALTERNATIVE TO MILOSEVIC

Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos said in Brussels on 9 December that there is no alternative to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on the Serbian political scene. Pangalos added, "We must consider that on [Kosova], the positions of all the other [Serbian] political forces are either identical to those of Mr. Milosevic, in the best case, or in most cases they're worse.... We're not happy also in Athens with Mr. Milosevic. But he's there. He has been elected, and he has cooperated to some extent. And we have to make him cooperate to a larger extent. That's the aim, so let's not divert our efforts." Pangalos said that he made his remarks in response to recent criticism of Milosevic by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other U.S. diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1998). PM

MONTENEGRO TO OPEN BORDER UNILATERALLY?

Montenegrin Minister of Industry Vojin Djukanovic said in Belgrade on 9 December that the Montenegrin economy requires the opening of the border with Croatia at Debeli Brijeg, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that Montenegro will "soon" open the crossing unilaterally if the federal Yugoslav authorities continue to oppose it. Croatian authorities, for their part, have shown understanding for the Montenegrin position but have said that border issues can be decided only with Belgrade's approval. PM

UN HAILS AGREEMENT ON BOSNIAN SERB POLICE

In Banja Luka on 9 December, Elisabeth Rehn, who heads the UN mission to Bosnia, met with President Nikola Poplasen and Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and signed an agreement to reorganize the Republika Srpska police. She praised the document as a commitment to setting up a "professional police force" that will include Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. The parliament must ratify the agreement. PM

WESTENDORP CALLS HAGUE TRIALS KEY TO STABILITY

The international community's Carlos Westendorp said in Sarajevo on 9 December that "Bosnia is not going to be a normal country until [all indicted war criminals face justice], until they are all in The Hague." He noted that the influence of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic is decreasing in the Republika Srpska. But he cautioned that the influence of Milosevic and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj is on the rise, which, he said, "is not the best alternative" to Karadzic. PM

SLOVENIAN PRIME MINISTER WINS VOTE

Janez Drnovsek survived a no- confidence vote in the parliament on 9 December. Opposition leader Janez Jansa obtained the support of only 24 out of 90 legislators for his motion to unseat the prime minister. Jansa sought to hold Drnovsek responsible for the fact that the intelligence services concluded a secret agreement with their Israeli counterparts in 1995. The Slovenian Constitution requires all "legal acts" by government authorities to be public. PM

ALBANIA CHANGES POLICY TOWARD ISLAMIC CONFERENCE

The parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee on 9 December recommended that Albania formally reactivate its membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, dpa reported. The move marks a major shift in the foreign policy of the governing Socialist Party. The previous Socialist government of Fatos Nano cut ties with the OIC but never formally left the organization, which Albania joined in 1995 under President Sali Berisha (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1998). Current Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, for his part, has called for an improvement in relations with the OIC for economic reasons. FS

ALBANIAN POLICE CATCH MURDER SUSPECTS

Police in Mallakaster on 8 December arrested four suspects in a bus robbery and the murder of a policeman, ATSH reported. The four are believed to have robbed the Tirana-Athens bus near Tepelena two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 8 December 1998). FS

ROMANIAN CABINET DETERMINED TO CLOSE UNPROFITABLE FIRMS...

Premier Radu Vasile and members of his cabinet told journalists on 9 December that they intend to go ahead with plans to close loss-making state enterprises this month, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Vasile said some of those enterprises generate about 15 percent of total losses to the economy. State Property Fund chief Radu Sarbu said that as a result of the liquidation of the 49 loss-making companies, 70,000 people will lose their jobs. Industry Minister Radu Berceanu said the large mining companies head the list of those earmarked for closure. Berceanu said that the combined losses of the non-ferrous Minvest mining company, the hard coal pits in the Jiul Valley, and the lignite mines in Ploiesti were 1.3 trillion lei ($124.9 million) so far this year, while production costs exceed the value of total production by six times. MS

...BUT UNIONS REJECT GOVERNMENT-PROPOSED MORATORIUM

Dumitru Costin, head of the National Trade Union Bloc, has said his group will not support a six-month moratorium on industrial action proposed by Premier Vasile, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 9 December. Leaders of the Confederation of Democratic Trade Unions, who also met with Vasile on 9 December, said later they are postponing a decision MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT COMMISSION SAYS PRESIDENT, PREMIER ACTED ILLEGALLY

A parliamentary commission set up to review the legality of the sale of Moldovan military and civil aircraft has ruled that President Petru Lucinschi, Premier Ion Ciubuc, Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat, Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru, and other officials acted illegally in promoting and approving the sale of 21 MiG-29 military planes to the U.S. as well as six TU- 154 civil aircraft to a Russian company in 1997-1998. The commission said the sales contravene a 1997 privatization law. Parliamentary deputy chairman Iurie Rosca, said the commission does not intend to make claims against the U.S. or Russia. The parliament voted 83 to zero to ask the commission to make recommendations within one month on the personal responsibility of those involved. It also voted to invite President Lucinschi to explain his conduct to deputies. MS

NATO TO AID BULGARIAN ARMY REFORM

Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Wesley Clark, meeting with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova in Brussels on 8 December, that Sofia has played an important role in the Kosova crisis and the support it extends to NATO has helped defuse the situation by peaceful means, BTA reported. Clark reasserted NATO's intention to provide Bulgaria with "all possible assistance for the implementation of reform in its armed forces" and particularly to achieve interoperability with NATO forces. On 9 December Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev told Bulgarian Radio that regardless of what decision is taken at the Washington summit next year on expanding NATO, Bulgaria must reform its armed forces. He spoke after meeting with Admiral James Ellis, commander of NATO troops in southern Europe, who is in Bulgaria for the official opening of a NATO command staff exercise. MS




CROAT-BOSNIAN AGREEMENT: RAISING MORE QUESTIONS THAN IT ANSWERS


by Andrej Krickovic

The long-awaited agreement on special relations between Croatia and the Bosnian-Croat Federation (the Muslim and Croatian component of Bosnia-Herzegovina) was recently signed in Zagreb by representatives of the Croatian government and the federation. The agreement, which promised to be a crucial step toward the final implementation of Dayton, provided the basis for peaceful coexistence between the two nationalities within the federation. Implementation of the agreement, however, may prove a tall order for the signatories. The details of the agreement have yet to be worked out, and both sides face stiff opposition within their own camps. It is questionable if the agreement will provide a lasting solution for the stability of the federation.

By signing the agreement, the Bosnian Croats have agreed to finally dismantle their separate government institutions and to accept the institutions of the federal government. The question of their security as a minority within the federation will be addressed through the development of special ties between the federation and Croatia proper. So far, this has been agreed to only in principle. The separate annexes of the agreement that will work out the details of special relations still have to be worked out.

Those annexes will have to cover some very sensitive ground. The Croatian government's direct financing of the HVO (the Bosnian Croat army which operated during the war in Bosnia and still continues to operate today) has been a bone of contention for years. Through the agreement, the Bosnian Muslim side has accepted the right of the Croats to provide military aid to Bosnian Croatians as long as that aid is transparent. Yet its unclear exactly what form this aid will take and how transparency will be implemented. The Bosnian Muslim side is also sensitive about such other issues as the formation of a free trade zone between the two countries, education, and a joint system of social security. They fear they may be giving up too much of their sovereignty to their larger and economically more developed neighbor.

Indeed, the Bosnian Muslim side was reluctant to come to the signing table and only did so finally through pressure from the international community and the colossal efforts of Jacques Klein, the principle deputy of the international community's high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina. While Croatia's nationalist president, Franjo Tudjman, praised the signing, leading politicians on the Muslim side--Ejup Ganic, president of the Bosnian-Croat Federation, and Alija Izetbgovic, the Bosnian Muslim member of the joint presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina--were noticeably reserved. Many in Sarajevo remember Tudjman as one of the biggest proponents of the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina and are wary of Croatian expansionism. While Ganic and Izetbegovic may tacitly support the agreement, there is no guarantee that it will be ratified by the Bosnian parliament.

Tudjman has enthusiastically touted the agreement as a continuation of Croatia's commitment to Dayton, but Tudjman's motives may have more to do with internal politics in Croatia. Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) faces a serious threat from the opposition in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Croatia's international isolation will be an issue in the election campaign, and Tudjman sees the agreement as a way to decrease that isolation and get Croatia back on track toward European integration.

Nonetheless, there may be problems from the Croatian side as well. The hard-liners in the HDZ have been the biggest supporters of a separate Croatian state in Bosnia. They are often identified as the "Herzogovinian lobby" because of the close ties of many of their leading politicians to the Croat-populated region in Bosnia. In recent months, these hard-liners have strengthened their position within the HDZ and the Ministry of Defense by forcing many of their more moderate opponents out of the political limelight. And they have done so with Tudjman's blessing. Dismantling separate Croatian institutions in the federation may be a difficult task even for Tudjman, and it will be interesting to see how much control he has over his hard-line supporters within the HDZ.

The international community has firmly backed the agreement as the solution to the problem of making the federation function as one self-governing body rather than separate Croatian and Muslim entities. Whether the leaders of the Croats and Muslims of Bosnia will be willing to implement the promises they have made on paper remains to be seen. Nor is it clear whether the U.S. and other members of the international community are willing to take sufficient steps to ensure that they do so. The author is a free-lance journalist in Zagreb.


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