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Newsline - January 8, 1999




MOSCOW TRIES AGAIN TO TIGHTEN ALCOHOL CONTROLS...

President Boris Yeltsin on 7 January signed a law amending and expanding state regulation of the production and sale of alcohol. Three months earlier, Yeltsin had signed a similar measure intended to tighten control over the alcohol market and reduce illegal alcohol sales. On 6 January, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov criticized cabinet officials for failing to fully implement plans to prevent the illegal production and sale of alcohol. Primakov said that reprimands have been given to "those who did not take their tasks too seriously." Disciplined or not, the government faces a difficult task. Sergei Lukashuk, production manager of the Kristall vodka factory in Moscow, told the "Globe and Mail" on 29 December that "it's very easy to produce vodka in underground plants. You can set up a factory in a week. It's easy to get bottles and spirits, and it's big money." JAC

...AS SARATOV ABOLISHES DRUNK TANKS

Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov issued a resolution disbanding the region's "drying-out" centers, where police take drunken citizens to sober up, as of 1 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January. The decision was made after reports of numerous violations of local citizens' human rights by a regional commission on human rights. The country's economic crisis may have put a small crimp in alcohol consumption. In September, after the devaluation of the ruble, the Russian population bought 17 percent less alcohol and beer, compared with the same month last year, "Vremya MN" reported on 3 November 1998. JAC

COURT HEAD EXAMINES RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Russian Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai told Ekho Moskvy on 7 January that although he welcomes the idea of integration between Russia and Belarus, Belarusian and Russian leaders "have not yet approached the problem of unification in earnest." He explained that the Russian Constitution contains provisions for states to join the Russian Federation as a constituent member, but Belarus, as a sovereign with its own constitution and elected bodies, "will hardly want to become a constituent member of the Russian Federation." He concluded that to become one state, Russia and Belarus would have to adopt a single constitution. On 8 January, former parliamentary speaker Ivan Rybkin suggested that President Yeltsin would be a "realistic" candidate to head a unified Russian-Belarusian state, Interfax reported. JAC

IMPACT OF POSSIBLE CLINTON RESIGNATION PONDERED

If U.S. President Bill Clinton is forced to resign, Russia will have a harder time obtaining foreign loans, Georgii Arbatov, honorary director of the USA and Canada Institute, told Interfax on 7 January. He added that in the case of Clinton's departure, Russia "should not expect an improvement of [its] relations with the Americans, given that the present Congress" includes "rather conservative people who may hardly be seen as [Russia's] friends." Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policies, on the other hand, expected little impact on the provision of loans to Russia. He suggested that U.S.-Russia relations may improve following Clinton's possible resignation because Vice President Al Gore is a strong advocate of cooperation with Russia. "That is exactly why it is unlikely that Clinton will be forced out of office, because such a development may prove worse for the Republicans," he commented. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO SELL MORE SHARES IN LUKOIL?

The government continues to revise its tentative list of companies to be privatized in 1999, Interfax reported on 7 January. "Segodnya" had reported earlier that the Russian government plans to sell packages of shares in six large enterprises: Gazprom, Svyazinvest, Onako, Sovkomflot, Aeroflot, and the Moscow River Steam Navigation Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1998). Also on the block may be shares in Samara-based Zavod Maslinnikova, Vologda-based Rotor, Bor in Primorskii Krai, Moscow's Moselektrolfolga, and the Balashovskii Bakery Combine in Saratov Oblast, according to Interfax. In addition, three companies will join the Sukhoi aircraft production holding, whose shares will then be offered to investors. Between the first and third quarter of 1999, the government will offer a block of 9 percent of Lukoil for a starting price of 4 billion rubles ($193 million), Interfax reported. JAC

RUSSIA REPEATS CALLS FOR UNSCOM OVERHAUL

Russian representative to the UN Sergei Lavrov has repeated his country's demand that the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) be reformed, according to Radio Rossii on 7 January. According to Lavrov, the "UNSCOM report that was used as a pretext for carrying out attacks against Iraq in December was an act of provocation." Lavrov added that Russia no longer has faith in UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler. JAC

JAPAN DENIES REJECTING RUSSIAN PROPOSAL ON DISPUTED ISLANDS

The Japanese Foreign Ministry released a statement on 8 January denying reports published by the Japanese press the previous day claiming that Tokyo has rejected a Russian proposal on the four Kuril Islands, ITAR-TASS reported. The Kyodo news agency reported that Tokyo had rejected a proposal made by Moscow in November for a settlement of the territorial dispute over the islands. It added that the reason for the rejection as that "neither a concrete date nor a concrete place where the demarcation line will be drawn has been mentioned." And it commented that "more and more Russian officials have been skeptical about the prospects for a settlement of the problem" by 2000. The Japanese Foreign Ministry statement said the report was "conjecture by the press." BP

PATRIARCH HOSTS ELITE GATHERING

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II entertained an array of Russian politicians, statesman, military officials, and scientists and artists, at a Moscow concert hall on 7 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Among those attending were Prime Minister Primakov and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Addressing the guests, Primakov called for a joint effort to get Russia out of its crisis. In interview with Moscow's TV Center on the same day, Patriarch Alexii II described the past year as a difficult one for Russians and a tough one for the Orthodox Church. He noted that religious faith remained especially strong in Russia's remote regions, where external difficulties have brought neighbors together. JAC

STATE TO AUGMENT FINGERPRINT COLLECTION

In accordance with a new law that took effect on 1 January, more than 30 million people, including workers with dangerous or sensitive jobs, will be subject to compulsory fingerprinting, the "Moscow Times" reported on 6 January. Other categories of individuals requiring fingerprint registration are foreigners seeking political asylum and citizens who cannot identify themselves, such as the mentally disabled. The previous day, "Segodnya" described the fingerprinting effort as "an experiment" that, if successful, will lead to "every Russian leaving his or her fingerprints at police stations." The newspaper also argued that the law has raised no serious concerns among human rights organizations because they were involved in the drafting of the legislation. However, the "Moscow Times" quoted Sergei Grigoryants, chairman of Glasnost Public Foundation, as saying the law "is undoubtedly an infringement on civil rights" and represents an attempt "at total surveillance." JAC

RUSSIAN RAILWAYS CHUG INTO THE BLACK?

Russian Minister of Railways Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters on 8 January that his ministry finished 1998 with a profit, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the ministry has no outstanding debts to the federal budget or to the pension fund. According to the minister, 320,000 railway workers were laid off in 1998, while energy- and time- saving devices were introduced at all railway stations and depots. JAC




COMMUNIST CANDIDATE IN KAZAKHSTAN'S ELECTION WRAPS UP CAMPAIGN...

Three of the four candidates in the 10 January presidential elections continued to campaign on 8 January, the last day of the election campaign, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Serikbolsyn Abdildin of the Communist Party held a press conference at the Press Club in Almaty, repeating that the government has paid no attention to his ideas or criticisms about the campaign or the vote itself. Abdildin said that his success in the elections would be a victory for democracy in Kazakhstan and that he would institute constitutional reform within one or two years and make changes in the institution of the presidency. He added that if he were to lose, he would work to unite various opposition groups. On 7 January, leaders of Kazakhstan's Workers Movement said they will support Abdildin in the upcoming poll. BP

...AS DO TWO OTHER CONTENDERS

Gani Kasymov, the chairman of the country's Customs Committee, was also campaigning in Almaty. At a press conference, Kasymov did not reply to questions about what he would do should he lose the election, nor did he respond to a question about his possible appointment to a cabinet post if he were defeated in his bid for the presidency. Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev, meanwhile, met with voters in the village of Chemolghan, where he grew up. There are no reports that the fourth candidate, parliamentary deputy Engels Gabbasov, was campaigning on 8 January. BP

PREPARATIONS FOR ELECTIONS FINALIZED

The chairwoman of the Central Elections Commission, Zagipa Baliyeva, said on 8 January that the new computer system for tallying votes in the presidential election is up and working, ITAR-TASS reported. Updates will be given from around the country every two hours during the vote count. Baliyeva also noted that the commission has registered 6,147 observers from local organizations, the largest number of whom are from the Communist Party. In addition, 75 foreign journalists and 133 foreign observers--from Austria, Great Britain, Romania, the Czech Republic, Israel, the U.S., and India have been registered. RFE/RL correspondents report that a delegation from the U.S.'s Republican Party have arrived in Kazakhstan to be present during the elections. BP

TAJIK GOVERNMENT SAYS CUTS NOT TO AFFECT UTO

Presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov on 8 January said that cuts in the number of government officials will not affect the number of cabinet posts held by the United Tajik Opposition, ITAR-TASS reported. As of 1 January, 10 percent of government posts at all levels are to be abolished. Under the terms of the 1997 Tajik Peace Accord, the UTO is to receive 30 percent of cabinet posts. That process has still not been completed, however. BP

SEVERAL DEAD IN AZERBAIJANI PRISON REVOLT

An unknown number of convicts and guards were killed on 8 January before guards succeeded in quelling an uprising at the Gobustan prison, southwest of Baku, AP and Reuters, reported quoting Interior and Justice Ministry officials. It is unclear how many of the prison's estimated 500 inmates participated in the uprising. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER DENIES ADVOCATING DEFENSE PACT WITH TURKEY...

In an exclusive interview with Turan on 7 January, Vafa Guluzade denied having called for a bilateral agreement on defense cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey analogous to that between Russia and Armenia. The Turkish daily "Zaman" quoted Guluzade on 31 December as saying such a pact is desirable in view of the "Cold War" between Russia and Turkey (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1999). Guluzade told Turan he had merely advocated more intense military cooperation between Baku and Ankara. LF

...ACCUSES RUSSIA OF SUBVERSION

In a lengthy article published in "Ayna/Zerkalo" on 26 December, Guluzade argued that what he terms the "Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict," meaning the war waged by the Karabakh Armenians for independence, was a proxy struggle between Russia and Turkey. He quoted an unnamed senior Armenian official as having admitted that the 1993 Armenian occupation of several Azerbaijani districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh was not an Armenian initiative but undertaken at Moscow's instigation. Guluzade also quoted then Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Adamishin as having proposed in April 1993 the deployment of "at least one battalion" of Russian troops in Azerbaijan's Kelbadjar Raion, located between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier, in exchange for the withdrawal of the Armenian forces that had recently occupied the region. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S RULING PARTY NOT PLANNING COOPERATION WITH IRAN

Eldar Sabir oglu, a spokesman for the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party, has rejected allegations that the party has discussed with a senior Iranian diplomat in Baku the possibility of cooperation with Iranian political parties, Turan reported on 7 January. Those allegations were made at a press conference in Baku two days earlier by Piruz Dilenchi, one of the leaders of the Movement for the Liberation of Southern Azerbaijan. LF

EU GRANT FOR GEORGIA

Georgian Finance Minister Davit Onoprishvili and the head of the EU mission in the Transcaucasus, Denis Corboy, signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 7 January whereby the EU will give Georgia 6 million ecus ($7.05 million) to underpin policies for overcoming the country's current financial difficulties, ITAR-TASS reported. LF




UKRAINIAN POLICE EXPOSE MONEY-LAUNDERING NETWORK

Tax police have uncovered an underground network that allegedly laundered money for some 3,000 companies, including state-run enterprises, AP reported on 7 January, citing official sources. The network, which operated from Kyiv, received money from interested companies through bank transfers, which it then channeled through fictitious firms for conversion into cash, thereby avoiding taxation. The network's daily turnover amounted to 1 million hryvni ($292,000). Tax evasion is a common practice among Ukrainian firms, which complain that the country's taxes are too high. Last December, the national tax debt totaled 10 billion hryvni--nearly half of budget revenues. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO CONVENE, DESPITE OFFICIAL WARNING

Syamyon Sharetski, speaker of the Supreme Soviet, which was disbanded in 1996 by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has confirmed his intention to convene that body, despite a warning by the Prosecutor-General's Office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 1999), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 7 January. "As the Supreme Soviet chairman, I am obliged to convene a Supreme Soviet session and set a date for [presidential] elections [in 1999]," he said, adding that the session will be held on 10 January. Yury Khadyka, deputy chairman of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, said his organization supports the Supreme Soviet and will "most likely" take part in a Congress of Democratic Forces, which is to be held in late January. He added that the official warning will "most likely" be followed by arrests and trials of opposition representatives. JM

ESTONIAN, LATVIAN PREMIERS DISCUSS PORK QUOTAS...

Mart Siimann and Vilis Kristopans, meeting in Tallinn on 7 January, discussed among other things the quotas proposed by the Latvian government on the import of Estonian pork and live pigs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999), ETA and BNS reported. Estonian officials argues that such quotas would violate the free trade agreement between the Baltic States. Kristopans confirmed that he has no intention of violating that agreement and will oppose the quotas if they are proven to be of a protectionist nature. Siimann told journalists that the two sides intend to have "intensive consultations, in the course of which it must become clear how Estonian exports have damaged [the interests of] Latvian producers, because there are grounds to establish quotas only in case of proven damage." JC

...WHILE LITHUANIA JOINS FRAY

Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Algimantas Rimkunas handed over a note to Latvia's charge d'affaires Ilona Kirule on 7 January saying that the proposed quotas on Lithuanian pork imports would violate the Baltic free trade agreement and noting that Riga has not provided any data showing that the imports have damaged Latvian producers' interests, BNS reported. The statement stressed that Latvia's failure to abide by signed agreements would undermine further economic cooperation in the Baltics. JC

SOME 300 POLICEMEN SACKED IN ESTONIA OVER LANGUAGE, CITIZENSHIP REQUIREMENTS

Some 300 policemen have been dismissed because of their poor command of the Estonian language and their failure to acquire Estonian citizenship by the end of 1998, BNS reported on 6 January. Earlier this week, the government announced some 700 jobs will be slashed in the police force and the wages of remaining officers raised. It noted, however, that the aim of the move is to carry out structural reform, not to lay off officers. A police spokesman told BNS that among those discharged from the police force were many who were about to be granted citizenship but had received no confirmation by 1 January. "When those people become Estonian citizens we will gladly take them back, because we have many vacancies in the force," the spokesman said. JC

KRISTOPANS SAYS FORMER GOVERNMENT MADE MISTAKE OVER POLICE CHIEF'S DISMISSAL

Latvian Prime Minister Kristopans told reporters on 6 January that the previous government made a mistake when it voted to dismiss former police chief Aldis Lieljuksis following the bombing last spring of the Riga synagogue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1999), BNS reported the next day. At the same time, Kristopans, who was transport minister in that government, exonerated the former cabinet ministers from blame, arguing that they had not been given "exact information." The premier also praised Lieljuksis's decision not to return to his former post as a "question of honor." JC

EUROPEAN COMMISSION WELCOMES VILNIUS'S ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY

The European Commission on 7 January issued a statement welcoming the abolition of the death penalty in Lithuania, BNS reported. The statement also notes that Lithuania is about to sign the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits capital punishment. The signing is expected to take place later this month. JC

LILEIKIS TO UNDERGO ANOTHER MEDICAL CHECKUP?

The Vilnius District Court is to consider ordering another medical examination of suspected World War II criminal Aleksandras Lileikis after he failed to appear in court on 7 January, BNS reported. Lileikis's first and only appearance to date in court was cut short in November when the defendant was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance complaining of heart pains. His lawyer told the court on 7 January that the 91-year-old Lileikis's condition has deteriorated since then and that he is too weak to appear in court. The lawyer also presented a medical certificate stating that the November hearing subjected Lileikis to life-endangering stress. JC

POLISH TEACHERS PROTEST PLANNED EDUCATION REFORM

Some 1,000 teachers picketed the building of the Polish parliament on 7 January to protest the proposed education reform while lawmakers discussed that very issue, "Zycie Warszawy" reported. The ruling coalition wants to begin restructuring the school system on 1 September 1999, while the Union of Polish Teachers (ZNP), which organized the protest, wants to delay it at least for a year. The ZNP is afraid that some 140,000 teachers will lose their jobs if the proposed reform is implemented. The ZNP also demands that the restructuring of the school system be preceded by a revision of school curricula. The draft education reform bill provides for basic education lasting nine years (instead of the current eight) in six-year primary schools and three-year secondary schools. It also proposes three-year high schools (instead of the current four-year ones). JM

ZEMAN, KLAUS SKEPTICAL OF CALL FOR MAJORITY COALITION

An appeal by the leaders of a right-of-center opposition coalition for talks on the formation of a majority government was given a lukewarm reception by the ruling Social Democrats and the leading opposition party, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), CTK reported on 7 January. Premier Milos Zeman said he was "amused" by the call, issued by Jan Ruml, the head of the Freedom Union. Stanislav Gross, the head of the Social Democrats' parliamentary group, said his party will not violate its opposition agreement with the ODS. Vaclav Klaus, the ODS chairman and speaker of the parliament, said he does not know what the offer "is about." In other news, Cyril Svoboda announced he will challenge acting chairman Jan Kasal for the leadership of the Christian Democrats. PB

CATHOLIC CHURCH WOULD CONSIDER CROWNS INSTEAD OF PROPERTY

A spokesman for the Czech Bishops' Conference said on 7 January that the Catholic Church would consider receiving compensation instead of the return of its still unrestituted property, CTK reported. Daniel Herman said a plan by Christian Democrat deputy Cyril Svoboda to assess the value of former Church property still held by the government and then pay the Church compensation over a longer period of time was "one of many alternatives" that the Bishops' Conference is prepared to consider. The Catholic Church has received only some 200 of the more than 3,000 properties that were confiscated from it during the communist era. PB

SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES EMERGE

Milan Cic, the chairman of the Constitutional Court, said on 8 January that he is seriously considering running for president, TASR reported. Cic said the high level of trust that Slovaks have in the Constitutional Court will help his chances. Parliamentary deputy Juraj Svec, the former rector of Comenius University, said he is also considering running. He was nominated by the Slovak Democratic Union's Political Committee and ran against Michal Kovac in 1993. Svec said he will never endorse the candidacy of Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, whom the ruling coalition has agreed to nominate as its candidate. Jan Slota, the chairman of the chauvinist Slovak National Party, said he will run if he garners the support of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. The election for president is expected to be held in the spring. PB

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES ECONOMIC PACKAGE

Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova announced on 7 January that the government has approved an economic plan based on stabilization and development initiatives, TASR reported. Schmognerova said the cabinet hopes to sustain a budget deficit of no more than 2 percent of GDP and achieve an inflation rate of 10 percent and an unemployment rate of 15 percent. The package projects a budget of 175 billion crowns ($4.78 billion). PB

FISCHER GIVES NO DATE FOR HUNGARY'S EU ADMISSION

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told journalists in Budapest on 7 January that Bonn continues to press for the earliest possible conclusion of EU accession talks, but he did not mention a date for Hungary's admission to the union. During his short visit to Hungary, Fischer met with Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, and President Arpad Goncz. He also visited the former home of his parents, who were among the 200,000 ethnic Germans expelled from Hungary in 1946. MSZ




SERBIAN POLICE KILLED IN GRENADE ATTACK

Unknown persons fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a Serbian police car near Suhareka, southwest of Prishtina, on 8 January, AP reported. OSCE monitors said that two policemen died in the attack. Serbian police spokesmen added that a third policeman subsequently died of his wounds. The spokesmen blamed Kosovar guerrillas for the attack. A spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) told "RFE/RL Newsline" that there was a "fierce fighting" between Serbian security forces and the UCK in the area. PM

KOSOVA SERBS DEMAND ACTION FROM MILOSEVIC

Hundreds of angry local Serbs blocked roads leading into Prishtina on 7 January to protest the killing of a Serbian security guard the previous day. Serbian spokesmen said that they hold the UCK responsible for the killing. The Serbs demanded that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his Serbian counterpart, Milan Milutinovic, travel to Kosova and announce "urgent measures" to provide security for local Serbs. AFP quoted one Serb as saying: "We cannot take any more of this. The terrorists are killing us in our work places [like the security guard] and in the cafs." He referred to a recent incident in which unidentified persons threw a grenade at a Serbian caf in central Prishtina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1999). Another Serb said that "if nothing is done to guarantee our protection within another two or three weeks, we'll leave [the province] in convoys." On 8 January, protesters blocked only the main road leading south to Skopje and Prizren. PM

RUGOVA, HILL CALL FOR RESTRAINT

Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 8 January that he hopes that the local Serbs will show "restraint" in response to what he called "quizzical killings," AP reported. The previous day, U.S. envoy Christopher Hill urged both sides to seek a negotiated settlement, adding that "nothing is going to be resolved by violence and blocking roads." He stressed that he is "working on some specific ideas for invigorating the political process and considering what [to do] nextto get a political process going that can gain momentum and lead us into a peaceful spring." PM

CHIRAC URGES NEW DIPLOMATIC INITIATIVE

French President Jacques Chirac told the diplomatic corps in Paris on 7 January that "all talks are now blocked by both sides [in Kosova]. They refuse any compromise and are tempted to use violence. Strong diplomatic action is urgently required to get out of this dangerous diplomatic impasse." He pledged that the international Contact Group will step up diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving a political settlement. France recently assumed the rotating chair of the Contact Group and increased its own diplomatic activity in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). PM

SESELJ BLASTS BISHOP ARTEMIJE

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade that Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren is "using the unhappiness [of the Kosova Serbs] to promote his own political goals" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 January 1999), "Danas" reported on 8 January. Seselj added that only elected officials may represent Kosova Serbs and not "some crazy bishop or some politician who never won a single seat in an election." Artemije has long been one of the most eloquent voices among Serbs in calling for reconciliation with the ethnic Albanians and in opposing Milosevic's policies. Seselj has said that any Kosova Albanians who are not loyal to the Serbian state should leave. "Danas" suggested that Seselj's remarks could mark the beginning of a new conflict between the authorities and the Orthodox Church, which has never trusted the ex-Communist Milosevic. PM

DEMACI "ENCOURAGED" AFTER TIRANA VISIT...

Adem Demaci, who is the UCK's political spokesman, told dpa on 7 January in Tirana that he feels "more encouraged and more determined" after his visit to Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1999). He said that he received "full understanding and support" in Tirana, but he did not elaborate. Unnamed Albanian government officials told Reuters that Demaci expressed his readiness to meet with rival Kosova leaders to discuss a common strategy for peace. FS

...WHILE ALBANIA WANTS TO INVOLVE RUGOVA

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sokol Gjoka told Reuters on 7 January that an unnamed Albanian special envoy visiting Prishtina in recent days has invited Rugova to Tirana. The invitation is part of Albania's efforts to bring together rival politicians from Rugova's moderate Democratic League of Kosova and from the UCK to agree on a joint negotiating position. FS

SERBS, MONTENEGRINS RULE OUT ELECTORAL PACT

Representatives of the anti- Milosevic governing coalition in Montenegro and of the Serbian opposition agreed in Podgorica on 7 January that federal Yugoslav elections should be held as soon as possible. The two sides also agreed not to form any alliance or sign any agreement between Milosevic's opponents in Belgrade and those in Podgorica, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SETS CONDITIONS FOR BOSNIA

The Council of Europe told the Bosnian authorities in a recent letter that Bosnia must institute greater media and judicial reform, enable more refugees to return home, and provide greater protection for human rights before it can join the Strasbourg-based body, Reuters reported on 7 January. Some observers have criticized the Council of Europe for having previously granted membership to some former communist states that do not meet European standards in human rights, respect for the rule of law, or independence of the judiciary. PM

CROATIA WANTS UN OUT OF PREVLAKA

The Foreign Ministry asked the UN Security Council in a letter on 7 January to reduce the number of monitors stationed on the strategic Prevlaka peninsula and to bring to a close the UN's mandate there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The letter noted that the UN has already extended the mandate six times but that Belgrade has shown little interest in resolving the dispute. The text concluded that an extension of the mandate is "unnecessary." Prevlaka is Croatian territory that controls access to Kotor Bay, which is home to Yugoslavia's only deep-water naval base. PM

ALBANIAN NAVY INTERCEPTS ITALIAN FISHING BOATS

An unspecified number of Albanian navy vessels intercepted two Italian fishing boats inside Albanian territorial waters on 6 January and escorted them to Durres, Reuters reported. Albanian authorities fined the fishermen for fishing illegally and violating territorial waters. The Albanians later released the crews and ships, Commander Kudret Cela told public television the following day. He did not disclose the size of the fine imposed on the fishermen. Albanian officials claim that the country's fishing industry has lost $50 million annually owing to foreign vessels fishing illegally in its waters. Observers note, however, that Albania's fishing fleet is too small to take full advantage of the number of fish in Albanian waters. FS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO CONTINUE CLOSING DOWN MINES, DESPITE STRIKE

A government spokesman said on 7 January that Bucharest will continue with plans to close down 37 unprofitable metal and coal mines, Reuters reported. Razvan Popescu said the mines due to be closed are not located in the Jiu Valley, where miners are striking for a fourth consecutive day to demand pay increases and promises from the government not to close down mines. In Petrosani, thousands of miners marched one day after meeting with a Senate delegation that urged them to return to work. Union boss Miron Cozma said he will not sign an agreement with "the thieves and criminals who rule this country." He said other union leaders will travel to Bucharest to meet with officials from the Industry Ministry. Some 100,000 miners have been laid off in Romania over the past 16 months. PB

MOLDOVAN WAGE ARREARS REACH RECORD HIGH

The Moldovan Statistics Department said that wage arrears in the state sector reached 638.2 million lei ($76.9 million) on 1 December, BASA-press reported on 6 January. That figure is a record high, exceeding the level of the previous month by 19.6 million lei. The average monthly wage in the public sector in November was 261.8 lei. PB

FORMER BULGARIAN KING READY TO RETURN TO THRONE

Simeon II said in Sofia on 7 January that he is prepared to return to the country as king, AP reported. Simeon, who lives in Spain, said he can offer "50 years of experience, objectivity, and tolerance, things that nobody else can offer in the political battles." He said if "it occurs as necessary and if I still feel fit for it, I will be at my post." Simeon is on a two-week visit to Bulgaria, inspecting two palaces and five estates restituted to him last year. PB




SEA CHANGE IN GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS?


by Liz Fuller

Over the past five years, Russian-Georgian relations have been characterized by tension, threats, recriminations, and mutual suspicion. Most Georgians suspect individuals or interest groups in Moscow of doing everything in their power to undermine Georgian sovereignty, torpedo domestic political stability, and prevent the economic upswing that is expected to result from the export via Georgia of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. Many Russian observers, for their part, view with misgivings what they perceive as Georgia's unequivocally pro-Western orientation. In particular, they impute to Georgia the ambition of wanting to join NATO.

But in the course of the last several months, there are indications of changes in this relationship. If these changes continue, they are likely to have a major impact on the role of both Russia and Georgia in the future.

Despite an obvious asymmetry in their abilities to affect outcomes, each side has at its disposal levers that can be brought into play in order to rein in, or extract concessions from, the other. Georgians systematically accuse Moscow of encouraging the secessionist Abkhaz leadership to delay indefinitely any settlement of that conflict that would create secure conditions for the repatriation of an estimated 200,000 increasingly angry and militant displaced persons, for whom the Georgian government can provide neither jobs nor permanent homes. The Georgian parliament, for its part, refuses to ratify a 1994 agreement on the status of Russian military bases on Georgian territory until Moscow helps to restore Tbilisi's jurisdiction over Abkhazia and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia.

Over the past two months, however, Russian and Georgian leaders appear to have reached a series of interrelated agreements possibly intended to pave the way for a less confrontational relationship. In early November, Georgian and Russian officials signed a formal agreement whereby Georgia would assume full control over guarding its sea borders as of 1 January 1999 and gradually take over full responsibility for protecting its land borders, currently guarded jointly by Russian and Georgian contingents. The Georgian parliament, which has been consistently more outspoken in its condemnation of alleged Russian interference in the country's internal affairs than has President Eduard Shevardnadze, had passed a law in July 1998 calling for Georgia's border guards to have full control over the country's land frontiers within two years.

But there may have been a quid pro quo for this apparent Russian concession to Georgian demands. During talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow later in November, Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze reportedly agreed that the Russian military bases in Georgia should not be closed (another maximalist demand by the Georgian parliament), as they constitute a "stabilizing factor" in the Caucasus.

Less easy to evaluate is Russia's role in the most recent failure of Georgian and Abkhaz leaders to sign documents intended to address the aftermath of the 1992-1993 war. In early fall, both sides expressed confidence that President Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba would meet in November to sign a protocol on peace and confidence-building measures and an agreement on Georgian economic aid for Abkhazia and on terms for the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. By the end of the month, however, Tbilisi and Sukhumi were accusing each other of sabotaging the meeting by seeking radical amendments to the previously agreed texts.

Interviewed by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in mid-December, Abkhaz Prosecutor-General and presidential envoy to the peace talks Anri Djergenia suggested that the Georgian leadership may in fact have no interest in reaching an agreement with Abkhazia, as the unresolved conflict serves as a unifying factor in Georgian political life. He said that in late November, unnamed Russian mediators had tried to persuade the Abkhaz to soften their position, which inclined him to suspect that Moscow and Tbilisi had concluded some kind of secret deal. Pointing to previous occasions when an agreement appeared to be within reach, Djergenia observed that "whenever problems arise in relations between Russia and Georgia, Tbilisi adopts an openly anti-Russian stance, and we, in turn, begin to step up the negotiation process and try to achieve some kind of results, after which Georgia alters its position vis-a-vis Russia and begins to play tactical games with [Russia], then Moscow begins to pressure us and Abkhazia becomes a bargaining chip."

It is possible that, having wrested agreement from Tbilisi that Russian military bases should remain in Georgia, Moscow is now prepared to allow the current stalemate in the Abkhaz negotiating process to continue indefinitely. A recent comment by Shevardnadze indirectly corroborates both that hypothesis and the suggestion that the Georgian leadership considers the unresolved conflict advantageous since it diverts attention from acute social and economic problems, especially in the run-up to the Georgian parliamentary elections due in the fall of 1999. The Georgian president told journalists in Tbilisi on 31 December that he considers it unlikely that a political solution to the Abkhaz conflict will be reached this year and that such a solution will depend largely on the outcome of the Georgian presidential elections next year (in which he intends to run for a second term). But Ardzinba's presidential term also expires in 1999, and it remains unclear whether he will run for re-election. How a change of leadership in Sukhumi would affect either the negotiating process or the shifting relations between Russia, Georgia, and Abkhazia is difficult to predict.


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