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Newsline - January 6, 1999




RUSSIA TIGHTENS MISSILE TECHNOLOGY CONTROLS

President Boris Yeltsin on 5 January signed amendments designed to bring previous Russian policies into compliance with international agreements on the control of exports of weapons and dual-use technology. The amendments expand the list of items prohibited for export. According to the presidential press service, the amendments confirm Russia's commitment to a policy of non-proliferation and strengthen its national system for export controls. The U.S. and Israel have charged Russia with exporting its missile technology to Iran. JAC

OIL REVENUES PLUMMET...

Russian oil exports generated 30 percent less revenue in the first 11 months of 1998 compared with the previous year, according to statistics from the State Customs Committee, Interfax reported on 5 January. During the same period, producers exported 10 percent more to partly compensate for the slump in world oil prices. According to AFP, exports of natural gas, crude oil, and refined products make up 42 percent of Russia's hard currency earnings. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT SLAPS DUTY ON FUEL OIL EXPORTS

The government has introduced export duties on fuel oil in order to prevent electricity shortages. A duty of 10 ecus per ton ($11.7) will be imposed on shipments from 1 January to 31 March. Unified Energy System (UES) head Anatolii Chubais had complained to the parliament that increased fuel oil exports have reduced the nation's fuel oil reserves over the past two months. The fall in the ruble made fuel oil exports profitable, despite low world prices, Bloomberg reported on 5 January. Some refinery managers have said that they will find ways to continue exporting, the "Moscow Times" reported. JAC

DUMA TO APPROVE BUDGET BY MID-FEBRUARY?

State Duma Deputy Speaker and member of Our Home is Russia Vladimir Ryzhkov told ITAR-TASS that the 1999 budget might be approved in its fourth and final reading as early as 10 February. According to Ryzhkov, the second reading of the budget will likely be scheduled for 15 January and the third for 3 February. He added that 150 suggested amendments to the budget, most of which proposed redistributing budget expenditures, have been submitted. Meanwhile, citing Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov, Interfax reported that the second reading may occur on 12 January and that 130 amendments have been submitted, which if passed would increase spending by one-third. On 5 January, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov authorized the government to spend money at the same rate as the previous year until the new budget is approved. JAC

MORE TALKS WITH IMF SCHEDULED

First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov is expected to meet with IMF First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer in Boston within the framework of a conference from 14-16 January, an IMF spokeswoman told Reuters on 5 January. An IMF mission will visit Moscow sometime in the last two weeks of January to review the government's economic plans. Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin said that the release of new credits is not on the mission's agenda. JAC

YELTSIN PLEDGES TO PAY MOSKVA REPAIR BILL

President Yeltsin has approved proposals for financing repairs of the nuclear cruiser "Moskva" by Ukraine's Nikolaev shipyard, Interfax reported on 5 January. The government owes the shipyard 58 million rubles ($2.8 million) for repairs to the cruiser, which are more than 90 percent complete. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that the ship, which was built in the 1980s, "is an excellent vessel from a technical point of view" and that its "life span has not been exhausted." JAC

ANTI-REFORM REGIONS COMPRISE MAJORITY

Regions with strong economies and good prospects for growth are the most likely to support politicians that favor market economic reforms; however, these regions are outnumbered by their poorer counterparts, who tend to tend to support Communists and "anti-liberals," the January issue of "Vek" argued. According to the journal, "it is impossible to find more than 15 regions with strong economies." JAC

COSMONAUT ON 'MIR' TO SERVE ANOTHER STINT

Sergei Avdeev, the cosmonaut who celebrated his 43rd birthday and 500th day in space on 1 January, may spend an additional 99 days on board the space station "Mir" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). Avdeev may remain on board when a new international crew arrives in February. "Mir" was scheduled to cease operations in mid-summer, but a private investor has recently offered to keep "Mir" in orbit, provided the government guarantees a loan to the company that runs the station. JAC

NEW NDR CANDIDATES DISCUSSED

Among the likely candidates to head the Our Home is Russia (NDR) faction in the Duma are acting faction head Boris Kuznetsov, Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich, Andrei Polyakov, head of the Committee for Local Government, and Valerii Yazev, a prominent Urals businessmen, Deputy Duma speaker Ryzhkov told ITAR-TASS on 5 January. Ryzhkov admitted that his name has also been floated as a prime contender for the post, which was vacated by Aleksandr Shokhin in late December following a disagreement with NDR party head, Viktor Chernomyrdin. JAC

NEW HEAD OF RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION APPOINTED

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and President of Belarus Alyaksandr Lukashenka have appointed Viktor Stepanov, former premier of the Karelian Republic, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Russia- Belarus Union, Interfax reported on 5 January. Stepanov replaces Vladimir Pokrovskii, who was dismissed. JAC

DZERZHINSKII TO BE CAST IN ICE

To express their support for an earlier decision by the State Duma to restore the statue of Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinskii to Lubyanka square in Moscow, the municipal authorities in Birobidzhan, capital of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast have authorized the construction of their own Dzerzhinskii in ice, "Trud" reported on 1 January. A local businessman and former Communist Party regional secretary will provide the several thousand rubles to fund the project. The ice sculpture is expected to last only until the spring. JAC

CYPRUS CONSIDERING ALTERNATIVE TO S-300s?

Having decided not to deploy on Cyprus the S-300 air defense missiles it contracted to purchase from Russia, the Greek Cypriot government is now considering buying either Tor-M1 Russian short-range missiles or comparable ASPIDE Italian-made missiles, AP and "Financial Times" reported on 6 January, citing the Russian daily "Segodnya." Greek Cyprus reached that decision under pressure from Turkey. The Tor- M1 has a range of 12 kilometers, compared with 200 kilometer range of the S-300. Following the Greek Cypriot decision, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesmen said Moscow expects the Greek Cypriot government to abide by the 1997 contract to purchase the S-300s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). LF

FOUR RUSSIAN POLICEMEN SHOT DEAD ON CHECHEN-INGUSH BORDER

Unidentified gunmen have shot dead four Russian police officials and wounded several others in the Ingush village of Aki-yurt, close to the border with Chechnya, Russian agencies reported on 5 January. Ingush Interior Ministry officials said the killers then crossed the border into Chechnya. But Chechen State Security Minister Aslanbek Arsaev told ITAR-TASS that a search has yielded no trace of the killers, who he suggested may be hiding in Ingushetia or neighboring North Ossetia. LF




AZERBAIJANI EX-PREMIER PLEADS NOT GUILTY ON COUP CHARGE

Suret Huseinov pleaded not guilty on 4 January to charges of attempting a coup d'etat in October 1994, setting up illegal armed formations, and drug trafficking, Turan reported the following day. Huseinov also denied any involvement in the declaration of a separate Talysh-Murgan Republic on the Azerbaijani-Iranian border in mid-1993. He claimed that the disturbances in October 1994, which the prosecution characterized as an attempted coup, were orchestrated by former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev. Huseinov, who led the insurrection that precipitated the flight from Baku in June 1993 of President Abulfaz Elchibey, served as prime minister under Heidar Aliyev until October 1994, when he was dismissed on suspicion of attempting to oust Aliev, He fled to Moscow but was extradited to Azerbaijan in April 1996. The prosecutor has demanded life imprisonment for Huseinov. The final sentence is to be handed down later this month. LF

ANOTHER JOURNALIST BEATEN IN AZERBAIJAN

Yalchin Imanov, a journalist with the independent "Yeni Musavat" newspaper, was beaten in two separate incidents on 3 January when he tried to obtain an interview with the chief administrator of Barda Raion, Turan reported. Imanov was first assaulted by a guard employed by the administrator and then taken to the local police department, where he was beaten again. Reporters Sans Frontieres has lodged a protest with Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov over both incidents. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER CALLS FOR DEFENSE PACT WITH TURKEY

In a statement published by the Turkish daily "Zaman" on 31 December and cited by Groong on 5 January, Vafa Guluzade said that in view of what he termed the "Cold War" between Russia and Turkey, Baku wants to conclude a defense agreement with Ankara on the lines of that between Russia and Armenia. Guluzade added that military assistance to Azerbaijan would strengthen Turkey's own security as well as its position in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1998). LF

NEXT JAMES BOND MOVIE TO BE SHOT IN BAKU

A spokeswoman for Eon Productions told journalists in Baku on 5 January that the company plans to shoot a new movie featuring the British agent 007 in Baku, Reuters reported. She said the plot will focus on "power-hungry criminals in an oil-rich former Soviet republic" and that Baku was selected for the location because of its petroleum infrastructure. Also on 5 January, Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR announced that it exceeded the 9 million metric ton target for oil extraction in 1998 by 52,000 tons, ITAR-TASS reported. But an RFE/RL correspondent noted that because of plummeting oil prices, Azerbaijan failed to make any profit on oil exports last year. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH BLASTS ELECTIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN

Human Rights Watch, in a 5 January press release on the presidential elections in Kazakhstan, blasted the upcoming vote as "blatantly unfair," according to RFE/RL, which obtained a copy. The organization said that incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev "likes to present himself as a dignified partner for Western leaders and investors" but "the way his government has twisted arms in this campaign should leave no illusions about what kind of leader Nazarbayev really is." The release lists a series of abuses, including pressure on workers and students to sign petitions in support of President Nazarbayev, the violation of citizens' rights to freely disseminate and receive information, the government's encroachment on the right to free speech, bias in registering political support groups, and obstruction of public demonstrations. BP

CANDIDATE IN KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS COMPLAINS ABOUT LEAFLETS

The campaign office of Gani Kasymov, the head of Kazakhstan's Customs Committee and a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, issued a statement on 5 January complaining about leaflets being distributed in Almaty, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The leaflets say that Kasymov is "a member of the corrupt nomenklatura and a puppet candidate brought into the race by the incumbent president's people." No one has claimed responsibility for distributing the leaflets. Kasymov's campaign manager, Zhanquat Abdigaliyev, said two state-controlled newspapers, "Kazakhstanskaya Pravda" and "Yegemen Kazakstan," have refused to print Kasymov's political platform. Meanwhile, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, the Communist Party candidate in the elections, has said he will appear on national television on 7 January and has challenged President Nursultan Nazarbayev also to appear for a debate with him. BP

OSCE SAYS IT WILL BE ABLE TO ASSESS KAZAKHSTAN'S ELECTIONS

Dimitr Dimitrov, a representative of the OSCE mission to Kazakhstan, said on 5 January that the mission has full access to documents necessary to assess the conduct of the 10 January presidential elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Dimitrov said the authorities in Kazakhstan are not interfering with the mission's work and that the mission expects to release a brief official statement on the day after the elections and a detailed analysis one month later. BP

TAJIK SUPREME COURT PASSES DEATH SENTENCE

The Supreme Court on 5 January handed down the death sentence to Sharip Sharipov and prison terms to 17 of his accomplices, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January. Sharipov was accused of organizing and carrying out attacks on Tajik and Russian servicemen in the Dushanbe area in 1994-1995. He and his group are alleged to have been responsible for "dozens of murders" and to have planned to bomb the presidential palace. Sharipov has claimed that he is a victim of slander. Observers say Sharipov has no chance of being granted a presidential pardon. President Imomali Rakhmonov rejected a request for pardon in late December by six men sentenced to death for their alleged role in an attack on Rakhmonov in Khujand in April 1997. Among those sentenced for involvement in that incident was Abdulkhafiz Abdullayev, the brother of former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullojonov. Abdullojonov is wanted on charges by the Tajik authorities. BP

UNITED TAJIK OPPOSITION ORDERED TO CONTROL ITS UNITS

Tajikistan's National Reconciliation Commission on 5 January ordered the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) to inspect the temporary bases of its units on the outskirts of Dushanbe and to inventory stockpiles of weapons and munitions, ITAR-TASS reported. The deputy leader of the commission, Abdumajid Dostiyev, said it is "necessary to control the presence of opposition personnel...as well as armaments and ammunition." Dostiyev added that every absence without leave or unauthorized opening of weapons lockers must be reported and investigated. The decision comes following a gun battle between two UTO field commanders in downtown Dushanbe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1998). BP

CHINARA JAKIPOVA RESIGNS FROM SOROS FOUNDATION IN KYRGYZSTAN

Former Minister of Education Chinara Jakipova on 5 January announced she will step down as head of Kyrgyzstan's branch of the Soros Foundation. Jakipova has received high popularity ratings in polls on likely future presidential candidates and is known to be a very influential figure in Kyrgyzstan's political circles. However, she told an RFE/RL correspondent in September that she is not yet considering running in the 2000 presidential elections. Jakipova said on 5 January that she is leaving the Soros Foundation to engage in some "creative work." BP




INFLATION IN UKRAINE REACHED 20 PERCENT LAST YEAR

Presidential aide Valeriy Lytvytskyy said on 5 January that inflation in Ukraine reached 20 percent last year, AP reported. Inflation in September was 3.8 percent and rose to 6.8 percent in October in the wake of Russia's financial crisis, sinking to 3 percent in November and 3.3 percent in December. The previous year, inflation stood at 10 percent. Lytvytskyy commented that the 20 percent inflation rate in 1998 was "a relatively acceptable price to pay for the regional crisis, considering its depth and comparing Ukraine's inflation figure to those of neighboring countries." JM

UKRAINIAN SECURITY SERVICE SAYS 12 SPIES CAUGHT IN 1998

The Security Service reported on 5 January that last year it caught 12 agents from foreign intelligence services and thwarted 14 attempts to pass sensitive data to foreign diplomats. It added that a total of 19 foreigners were expelled from Ukraine in 1998 for their involvement in espionage. JM

PROTESTING REPAIRMEN SHUT OFF ELEVATORS IN SEVASTOPOL

Workers of a company maintaining and repairing elevators in Sevastopol have closed down all elevators in the city, except those serving hospitals, to protest unpaid wages, AP reported on 5 January. The protesters say the repairmen are owed more than 300,000 hryvni ($87,500) in back wages and have not been paid for more than seven months. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER'S CHIEF EDITOR SACKED

Ihar Hermyanchuk, chief editor of Belarus's main opposition newspaper "Naviny," was dismissed on 4 January, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported the next day. Pavel Zhuk, the founder of the newspaper, who decided on Hermyanchuk's ouster, told RFE/RL that "the newspaper should be changed" but gave no details. Since 1991, Hermyanchuk has been chief editor of the opposition newspaper "Svaboda," which was banned by the authorities in late 1997 and resumed its publication under the name of "Naviny" early last year. Hermyanchuk told RFE/RL that this spring, he intends to launch an information and analytical weekly, "something like Moscow 'Itogi,' which has so far had no analogs in Belarus." JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES RAILWAYS PRIVATIZATION

The cabinet on 5 January approved the principles of the concession agreement for privatizing Estonia's railways network, ETA reported. Under that agreement, the highest bidder for the railways will sign a deal on improving the sector's infrastructure. It is estimated that an initial investment of 5.9 billion kroons (some $454 million) is needed to improve tracks and to update signal equipment. Economy minister Jaak Leimann said that by the end of the month a tender for the railways may be announced. JC

IVANGOROD EMPTYING SEWAGE INTO NARVA RIVER

BNS reported on 5 January that Ivangorod has been releasing some 1,700 cubic meters of sewage into the Narva River since the Estonian water company Narva Vesi stopped treating its waste water (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). An Ivangorod official told the news agency that 90 percent of the sewage is domestic and some 10 percent industrial waste. He added that industrial production in Ivangorod has declined considerably and thus no heavy metals waste is among the sewage. Ivangorod's sewage outlet is some 6 kilometers from the Gulf of Finland. Estonian environmental experts say that Ivangorod's untreated waste spells catastrophe neither for the Narva River nor for the Gulf of Finland but may affect their fauna and flora. JC

FORMER CHIEF OF LATVIAN POLICE DECLINES TO BE REINSTATED

General Aldis Lieljuksis, who was dismissed as head of police following the April 1998 bombing of the Riga synagogue, has declined to return to his former post following a court ruling that he be reinstated, BNS reported on 5 January, citing the Interior Ministry. The ministry said that it has revoked a statement released on 6 April 1998 giving "tendentious and exaggerated information about Lieljuksis" and has apologized for the "moral damage" he sustained as a result of that statement. Interior Minister Roberts Jurdzs told journalists that last spring, all the blame for the bombing of the synagogue had been wrongly placed on one person, namely Lieljuksis. JC

GIMZAUSKAS FAILS TO SHOW UP FOR TRIAL

Suspected World War II criminal Kazys Gimzauskas failed to attend the opening of his trial on 5 January. His lawyer told the court that the 90-year- old Gimzauskas is seriously ill and confined to bed, to which the judge responded that he will resume the trial the next day to decide whether to call for a medical examination of the defendant. Gimzauskas is charged with handing over Jews to Nazi execution squads in his war-time capacity as deputy Vilnius police chief. His superior at that time, 91-year-old Aleksandras Lileikis, is also charged with such crimes. Lileikis's trial has been repeatedly postponed owing to poor health. JC

GEREMEK SAYS POLAND WILL BE READY FOR EU IN 2002-2003

Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek told the radio station RTL on 6 January that Poland will be ready to join the EU in 2002 or 2003 and wants to sign up for the single currency, the euro, in 2006. "The problem is whether the EU will be ready," he added. Geremek said Poland is "frustrated" that its original EU entry date of 2000, backed by former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac, has been pushed back. JM

POLISH CABINET REJECTS DEMANDS OF STRIKING ANESTHETISTS

The government on 5 January said that it cannot meet the demands of striking anesthetists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1999) because those demands "distort the essence of the [health care] reform," Reuters reported. According to the Health Ministry, some 60 percent of the 742 anesthetists who handed in their resignation failed to show up for work on 5 January. Anesthetists say some 1,500 of the country's 2,700 practicing anesthetists have resigned. Meanwhile, Polish Radio reported the same day that anesthetists from the Baltics and Sweden have begun appearing in Polish hospitals to replace their protesting Polish colleagues. JM

KLAUS WANTS DIALOGUE WITH HAVEL

In an open letter, Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus has called on President Vaclav Havel to meet with him to discuss the Czech Republic's "serious social and economic problems," CTK and AP reported on 5 January. Klaus said that "a dialogue...must replace monologues" and that Havel must help reach consensus. He also expressed the hope that the "walls" about which Havel spoke in his New Year speech "will be destroyed this year" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said Havel "has never been opposed to a dialogue," adding that the president has "repeatedly emphasized that political parties and politicians should not put personal interests and group interests above those of the state and the citizens." Havel, Spacek said, "welcomes any effort to reach a consensus and solutions that would help the country." MS

DUTCH COMPANY DENIES CZECH BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS

A spokesman for the Dutch KPN company on 5 January denied that in 1995 KPN bribed Czech politicians from the ODS and the Civic Democratic Alliance in order to gain a stake in the privatization of the Czech SPT Telecom company, CTK reported. In Prague, a group of deputies from the Social Democratic Party announced they will propose setting up a special parliamentary commission to investigate the allegations. The daily "Pravo" commented on 6 January that the Dutch authorities want to send an investigation team to Prague to clarify the allegations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1999). MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION LEADER EXPLAINS MECIAR'S EXIT FROM POLITICS

Augustin Marian Huska, deputy chairman of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said on 5 January that party chairman Vladimir Meciar has decided to withdraw from politics in order to undermine the only tie that binds the parties of the ruling coalition, CTK reported. Huska said that only "anti- Meciarism" is uniting these parties, whose political programs otherwise differ widely, and "we really do not want to help them put this conglomerate together." Meciar last appeared in public at the end of September 1998, after his electoral defeat. Later, he said he would not run for president and was planning to withdraw from politics "at an appropriate date." Huska also said the most important task facing the HZDS is that of attracting new members who will realize that the country must have a strong opposition party. MS

NATO FRONT-RUNNERS PLEDGE SUPPORT FOR SLOVAK MEMBERSHIP

Deputy defense ministers from the three front-runners for NATO membership, meeting in Bratislava on 5 January, pledged to help Slovakia join the alliance, Reuters and CTK reported. Slovak Ministry of Defense State Secretary Jozef Pivarci told journalists that, "Our colleagues from the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland told us, If you do not come to NATO, we will bring NATO to you.'" MS




VIOLENCE BREAKS OUT IN PRISHTINA

Unknown persons tossed a hand grenade at a Serbian caf in central Prishtina on 5 January. Angry Serbs then attacked nearby Albanian cafes with rocks and broken glass. Three Serbs and four Kosovars were injured. Until now, the Kosovar capital had remained largely unaffected by the previous 10 months of violence. Meanwhile in the Rahovec area, south of Prishtina, international monitors began an investigation of a purported mass grave of Kosovars killed in August by Serbian security forces. PM

NATO COMMANDER BLAMES SERBS FOR KOSOVA CRISIS

General Wesley Clark, who is the supreme allied commander in Europe, told the "International Herald Tribune" of 6 January in a telephone interview from Paris that Belgrade's termination of Kosova's autonomy in 1989 "plunged [Kosova] into a cycle of repression, [which led to Kosovar] resistance andvastly excessive reaction" by Serbian forces. He stressed that the Kosovars "have to continue to struggle because they can't risk another catastrophe of falling under political repression from Belgrade." The Serbian authorities, Clark added, "are violating their commitments to NATO" under the October agreement between Belgrade and the Atlantic alliance. He noted that the Serbs have broken their promises by deploying additional troops and giving heavy weapons to the paramilitary police. Clark told his French hosts that he disagrees with Defense Minister Alain Richard, who recently blamed the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) for the continuing crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). PM

UCK WARNS THAT 'TIME IS RUNNING OUT'

Adem Demaci, who is the UCK's chief political spokesman, said in Tirana on 5 January that the Serbs "should realize that this is the last moment for them to lay down their arms, give up their terror and killings, and join the civilized world." He said of his talks with President Rexhep Meidani, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo that "we understood each other very well" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1999). Demaci appealed to Albanian politicians to end their squabbles because "a strong, stable Albania is a great source of support for [ethnic] Albanians in Kosova," dpa quoted him as saying. Demaci and Milo agreed on the need for regular contacts between Tirana and the UCK. Demaci's visit was the first in which a leader of the UCK was officially received by the top Albanian political figures, who favor a negotiated solution to the crisis. PM

HILL RESUMES DIPLOMATIC MISSION

Christopher Hill, who is Washington's chief negotiator in the Kosova crisis, resumed his shuttle diplomacy on 5 January by meeting with shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova in Prishtina. Hill said that he came "to review the situation," including the "serious deterioration on the ground." He stressed that "we need to make sure that the cease-fire holds. The cease-fire is critical to getting a political settlement." Jacques Huntzinger, who is France's chief envoy in the crisis, has taken on an increasingly active role in recent weeks, which led some observers to suggest that Paris would like to replace Washington as the key sponsor of a negotiated settlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1999). PM

GLIGOROV STALLS ON AMNESTY

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov on 5 January returned to the parliament a proposed amnesty law that would end the jail terms of some 800 people found guilty of violating the 1997 law on the public display of national symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1998). Most of the 800 are ethnic Albanians. It is unclear what changes Gligorov would like to be made. Some observers suggested that he may be testing the political determination of the new government of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, which sponsored the amnesty in order to defuse ethnic tensions and concentrate its energies on the economy. The VOA's Albanian Service reported that Georgievski may push through the amnesty without Gligorov's signature if the prime minister feels that the president is deliberately obstructing the measure. PM/FS

OSCE BACKS DODIK

U.S. diplomat Robert Berry, who heads the OSCE's mission in Bosnia, said in Banja Luka on 5 January that "on behalf of the international community, we continue to support the [bid] of Milorad Dodik [to remain the Republika Srpska's] prime minister." Berry's visit to Dodik came in the wake of hard- line President Nikola Poplasen's nomination of Brane Miljus to succeed Dodik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). Elsewhere, Miljus told Belgrade's Radio B-92 that Dodik should be jailed for his business activities during the 1992-1995 war and that former President Biljana Plavsic should be tried for war crimes. Spokesmen for the international community have repeatedly said that the Republika Srpska will continue to receive reconstruction and other aid only if the Bosnian Serbs choose a moderate government. Poplasen defeated the moderate Plavsic for the presidency in the 1998 elections. PM

ABDIC BALKS AT MOVE TO TRY HIM FOR WAR CRIMES

Fikret Abdic, the former kingpin of the Bihac pocket in northwestern Bosnia, told journalists in several telephone interviews from Rijeka on 5 January that the Bosnian government's recent moves to have him extradited from Croatia for war crimes are politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1999). Abdic charged that Sarajevo Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic wants "to see me dead[or] at least in jail" lest Abdic defeat Izetbegovic's allies in a future electoral contest to succeed the elderly Izetbegovic. In the 1998 elections for the Muslim seat on the joint presidency, Abdic won 36,000 votes, compared with Izetbegovic's 511,000, AP noted. Abdic's popularity is largely limited to the northwest, where many regard him as a champion of local interests. His detractors consider him a crook and a war criminal. PM

WOULD CROATIA EXTRADITE ABDIC?

Spokesmen for the Justice Ministry said in Zagreb on 5 January that the authorities have not received a formal request from Sarajevo for Abdic's extradition, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The spokesmen added that the constitution prohibits the extradition of Croatian citizens. This could prove the deciding factor in Abdic's case, since he holds Croatian as well as Bosnian citizenship. The Croatian independent media have repeatedly suggested that Zagreb may be "holding Abdic in reserve" for a possible role in an unspecified future partition of Bosnia. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION SIDES WITH STRIKING MINERS

Former President and Party of Social Democracy in Romania Chairman Ion Iliescu has said the Jiu Valley striking miners' demands are "justified" and the causes of the labor conflict are "more complex" than presented by the government. He called on President Emil Constantinescu to mediate the conflict, adding that the miners' planned visit to Bucharest to stage a protest is "no solution." Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor called on the population to organize a general strike to end "Constantinescu's anti-popular and anti-national regime." He added that the parliament must meet in an extraordinary session to debate the strike. Valeriu Tabara, chairman of the Party of Romanian National Unity, said his party is backing the miners' demands, "except some exaggerated ones," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY APPOINTS NEW OFFICIALS

The leadership of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, meeting in Bucharest on 5 January, appointed Constantin Dudu Ionescu as acting secretary-general of the party and Remus Opris as its acting spokesman. Both positions were held by Premier Radu Vasile until his appointment as head of government. Ionescu and Opris are to fill the posts during Vasile's tenure as premier, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIA INTRODUCES MANDATORY HOLOCAUST STUDIES

History textbooks are to be revised to correct "errors and omissions" on the inter- war and communist period, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education announced on 5 January. Particular attention will be paid to the "apex of modern world barbarity," the Holocaust. The ministry will cooperate with specialists on the Holocaust from Israel and other countries in revising the textbooks. MS

MOLDOVA THREATENS TO LEAVE CIS INTER-PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY

Moldovan parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov, in a letter to Russian State Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev, said Moldova will be "forced to examine the possibility of taking adequate measures, including quitting the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly" if the Duma does not strike from its agenda a planned debate on recognizing the Transdniester as an independent state, BASA-press reported on 5 January. Diacov said that the separatist region is an "indivisible part of the Republic of Moldova" and that the "whole international community" acknowledges this. He added that "some forces in the Russian Federation" play "a negative role" in seeking to "exploit the Transdniester problem for purposes that have nothing in common with the fundamental interests of our [two] peoples." MS




KURDISH NATIONALISM IN ARMENIA


By Onnik Krikorian

The arrest last month in Rome of Abdullah Ocalan, president of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has led to a dramatic increase in support for the Kurdish national liberation movement, even among those Kurds living in countries where repression has not been particularly evident in recent years. In Armenia, Ocalan's arrest has served to accelerate the trend among the country's 50,000--60,000 strong Yezidi community to identify themselves not only as Yezidi but also as Kurds.

The Yezidi are indeed Kurdish, speaking the same language as the majority of the Kurds (Kurmanji), and all Kurds were originally Zoroastrian before the majority converted to Islam. The Yezidi religion--even with elements of the Zoroastrian, Islamic, and Christian faiths--closely resembles that of the Armenians before the adoption of Christianity, and the PKK has recently acknowledged that fact in an attempt to clarify the origins of the Kurdish nation. Visiting Armenia in June 1998 in what was most likely a recruiting drive, Mahir Welat, the PKK representative to Moscow and the CIS, affirmed, "I am a Muslim Kurd but I also honor all religions. All Kurds used to be Yezidi [Zoroastrian] in the past. Some of us were forced into becoming Muslim, but now it is our intention to return and to educate ourselves again."

The Yezidi are currently the largest ethnic minority in Armenia, the Muslim Kurds having left during the early years of the Karabakh conflict. Moreover, both the Armenians and the Yezidi fled Ottoman Turkey during the massacres of 1915, and both harbor the same hatred of the Turkish and [Muslim] Kurdish perpetrators that has shaped much of the identity and policy of present-day Armenia.

Although relatively small in size, the Yezidi community in Armenia still has strategic significance for the PKK. An upsurge of Kurdish nationalism in Armenia would inevitably affect an estimated 200,000 Muslim Kurds who have assimilated into Azerbaijani society. Indeed, with the PKK representative to the Caucasus based in Armenia and with Welat's recent visit, the situation of the Azerbaijani Kurds may already be targeted for attention.

According to Welat, "the attitude of Armenia toward national minorities is considered part of the generosity and graciousness of the Armenian people. Azerbaijan has many nations too, but if we consider their national policy, it is very bad. For those who show loyalty toward Azerbaijan, the attitude towards them is normal, but for those such as the Kurds, the attitude is quite different. They do not have normal lives."

Official PKK policy is to praise Armenia but to criticize Azerbaijan for the treatment of its own Kurdish population-- despite a notable silence when the Kurds living in Kelbajar and Lachin were expelled by Armenian forces during the Karabakh conflict. The PKK even remained silent when, under the presidency of Levon Ter-Petrossian, there was a short-term policy to promote a Yezidi identify far removed from any Kurdish origin. That policy, however, only strengthened the resolve among the Yezidi to develop a strong Kurdish identity. Yezidi villages now openly demonstrate their support for the PKK by displaying portraits of Ocalan and PKK guerillas on their walls. In early December, buses ferrying villagers to Yerevan to attend the 20th anniversary celebration of the formation of the PKK displayed ERNK (National Liberation Front of Kurdistan) and PKK flags, and a recorded message from Ocalan himself was broadcast to the hundreds who attended.

While the reasons for the increase in Kurdish nationalism among the Yezidi are complex, there is little doubt that one significant factor is a marked reluctance among many Armenians to consider Armenia anything other than a mono-ethnic country. Even though policy toward minorities may change under President Robert Kocharian, the Yezidi have so far been overlooked during the development of the new social and political structures. Thus, it was inevitable that the opportunity to find themselves an integral part of a nation fighting for liberation would prove attractive. With Ocalan in Rome and with the Yezidi having found a new identity desirable in a new Armenia, open support for the PKK in Armenia is currently politically expedient in that it is directed against Turkey.

As the result of the developments in Rome--and regardless of sensitivities over identity in the past--50,000 Yezidi in Armenia have come to identify themselves as Kurds virtually overnight. But that new sense of purpose may pose problems in the near future, both for the Yezidi themselves and for Armenia. Given the sensitivity of the Kurdish question, it is uncertain how long Armenia will continue with its new-found tolerance toward a minority that enthusiastically identifies itself with a movement that might well achieve autonomy in eastern Turkey, which many Armenians consider part of historical Western Armenia. (Some Armenian political groups such as the Dashnaktsutiune--the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--have reportedly held talks with the Kurds on reconciling the two nations' respective claims on those territories.)

And if there is indeed an upsurge of Kurdish nationalism among the Kurds of Azerbaijan, Baku may choose to attribute that development to a deliberate policy of destabilization on the part of Armenia, rather than lay the blame on the PKK or on its own reluctance to address the needs and aspirations of a significant ethnic minority. The author is a free-lance journalist currently based in Yerevan. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the position of any organization with which he may be employed or otherwise affiliated.


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