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Newsline - January 14, 1999




RUSSIA STILL RILED ABOUT U.S. ACCUSATIONS...

Russian officials continued to express indignation at announced U.S. sanctions against Russia for allegedly sharing sensitive technology with Iran. Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told ITAR-TASS on 14 January that U.S. intelligence services are wrong to believe that the two institutes and one university against which sanctions have been announced were violating export technology controls. According to an FSB statement, the current situation "is either the result of a misunderstanding or the product of insufficient work by American intelligence." The Russian Foreign Ministry echoed the FSB's assertion that the U.S. charges are unfounded and characterized the administration's steps as "in flagrant contradiction of understandings reached by the presidents of the two countries in September 1998." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that the U.S. believes itself to be a "gendarme that has a right to dictate its will not only to countries but even to separate educational establishments, scientific establishments, and work collectives." JAC

...AS NEW MEASURES THREATENED

The U.S. increased pressure on Russia on 13 January by threatening to put curbs on Russian space launches of US commercial satellites if Russia does not stop cooperating with Iran's nuclear and missile programs. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said that "if [the US] does not get progress on the missile proliferation problem," then Russia will not be able to launch any more satellites, Reuters reported. Permission for 16 launches has already been granted, but those launches are expected to be carried out early in 1999, requiring Washington to complete a review of the program, which has provided Russia with much-needed revenue. Russian Foreign Ministry sources responded by saying that "Russian-U.S. relations must be based on dialogue, not on unilateral moves," Interfax reported the next day. JAC

MASLYUKOV TO MEET WITH IMF...

First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on 13 January in Washington on the first leg of a five-day U.S. visit. Maslyukov told reporters before the meeting that U.S. sanctions and Russian steel imports would likely top the discussion's agenda. Maslyukov is scheduled to meet with IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus, World Bank president James Wolfensohn and U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley. He is accompanied by First Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin, Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants, and Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Tatyana Paramonova, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

...AS DUMA TINKERS WITH BUDGET BACK HOME

Meanwhile in Moscow, the State Duma's Budget Committee has approved a number of amendments, redistributing some 7.9 billion rubles ($350 million) among various budget items, Interfax reported on 13 January. The committee suggested that spending on international activities be cut by 4.3 billion rubles or 11 percent, while aid to regional budgets be increased by 3.5 billion rubles or 9 percent. JAC

RUSSIA IN DEFAULT ON SOVIET-ERA DEBT

The credit agency Fitch IBCA on 13 January declared Russia's debt inherited from the Soviet Union in default, downgrading it from the level of CC to DD. The failure of Vneshekonombank to make a $362 million interest payment on 2 December prompted the decision, according to an agency statement. Two days earlier, the Russian government invited London Club creditors to hold talks in the second half of January on payment of its Soviet-era debts. On 19 January, creditors will vote whether to demand immediate payment or give Russia more time to settle its debts, Interfax reported. The debt, which Russia accumulated after the Soviet Union broke up, still carries a rating of CCC as do Russia's Eurobonds. JAC

TEACHERS' PROTESTS SPREAD THROUGHOUT COUNTRY...

Teachers' actions have spread throughout Russia and are expected to increase significantly on 27 January, the date of an all-Russia teachers' protest action, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 January. Noting that more than 90 percent of education workers are women, the newspaper reported that while the government has no money to pay the teachers their full wages, the problem has been exacerbated by the central and local authorities' disrespectful treatment of the teachers. For example, authorities in Novosibirsk tried offering some teachers three bottles of vodka in lieu of their wages. The daily concluded that the "humiliating position in which teachers have been placed by authorities is an indicator of the gangrene that is eating the Russian state more powerfully every day." JAC

...AS ACTIONS TALLIED

According to data released by an educational workers' union, as of 11 January teachers at almost 1,400 schools across nine Russian regions were on strike, "Vremya MN" reported on 12 January. Those regions are the republics of Altai, Khakassia, and Buryatia; the oblasts of Kurgan, Novosibirsk, Smolensk, Irkutsk, and Magadan; and Krasnoyarsk Krai. Teachers at 181 schools in Vologda Oblast and at six schools in Vladimir Oblast are also on strike, Russian agencies reported. JAC

TOP FINANCE MINISTRY OFFICIAL RESIGNS

First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin tendered his resignation on 14 January, Prime-TASS reported. Prime Minister Primakov has accepted his resignation. Kudrin will not leave government service and will work at a state agency, according to Interfax the previous day. JAC

VLADIVOSTOK ELECTIONS TO TAKE PLACE ON SCHEDULE?

Deputy chief of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev pledged on 13 January that "the president of Russia personally and the presidential administration will do everything possible to make sure that the [Vladivostok mayoral] elections scheduled for 17 January take place," ITAR-TASS reported. A district court had earlier ruled that the elections would be illegal, and although local officials intended to lodge an appeal, they said the elections would not take place as scheduled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999). Sysuev said that the "cancellation of mayoral elections and all this unhealthy fuss around them benefit those who do not want law and order to be restored." According to Interfax, he is slated to become head of a new department in the presidential administration on regional policies and local self-government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999). JAC

NEW FOREIGN INVESTMENT LAW IN PIPELINE

The Russian government is preparing a new version of the law on foreign investments, Deputy Economic Minister Vladimir Kossov told Interfax on 13 January. The law contains a provision that the government will protect investors from adverse changes in investment terms for the first seven years of a project. The bill, according to Kossov, "virtually renounces the nationalization of foreign property" and provides fair compensation in those rare cases in which nationalization is necessary for national security reasons. JAC

LEBED TO SEEK POWER REDISTRIBUTION BETWEEN CENTER, REGIONS...

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed told ITAR-TASS on 14 January that he will push for a "redistribution of relations between the center and regions" at a meeting of the Siberian Accord organization on 15 January. According to Lebed, Moscow still tries to run everything long-distance. As an example, he cited the Krasnoyarskugol association, whose coal reserves and electric power stations are located in Siberia but are "managed from the Arbat." On the other hand, he noted that the 1999 budget shows the federation "has been increasingly shifting more responsibilities to regions without backing them financially." Deputy chief of the presidential administration Sysuev is planning to represent the government's position at the upcoming meeting. JAC

...WARNS OF NEW NORTH CAUCASUS CONFLICT

In a statement summarized by Interfax on 13 January, Lebed, who is also former Russian Security Council secretary, warned that unless Moscow takes swift action in support of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, a new war may erupt in the North Caucasus. He argued that Russia has ceded its strategic interests in Chechnya to the U.S., Turkey, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Forces opposed to Maskhadov are "ready to start an armed insurgency at any moment," he argued. Lebed also blamed Moscow for not having taken advantage of the opportunity offered by the peace agreement that he and Maskhadov signed in late August 1996 to stabilize the political and economic situation in Chechnya and the neighboring North Caucasus republics. In July, Lebed and three other leading Russian politicians called on the Russian government to take measures to stabilize the deteriorating situation in the North Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1998). LF

GOVERNMENT ASKS KALMYKIA TO PAY UP

The republic of Kalmykia will not receive funds from the federal budget until it pays its 236 million ruble ($10.5 million) debt to the center, First Deputy Finance Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters on 12 January. According to Khristenko, Kalmykia suggested transferring outstanding taxes to the center twice a year in a fixed sum. But Khristenko argued that such a scheme would lead to regional separatism and is therefore unacceptable. JAC

CENTRAL BANK BAILS OUT PROMSTROIBANK

The Central Bank has granted a 1.5 billion ruble ($66 million) stabilization loan to Promstroibank, Interfax reported on 13 January, citing "sources close to banking circles." In exchange the Central Bank has received a 75 percent stake in the company. JAC

RUSSIA TO STUDY WOMEN IN SPACE

Yelena Kondrakova, the third Russian female cosmonaut, will participate in a simulated space flight on a model space station on earth, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 January. According to the agency, data need to be gathered on how women would participate in an international space crew. Two other women from the U.S. and Canada and several men will also take part in the simulated flight. The team will be divided into four crews that will live on a model international space station consisting of two modules measuring 200 and 100 cubic meters that have only computer and radio contacts with the outside world. JAC




KAZAKHSTAN TO HAVE NEW PRO-GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION PARTIES

Former Prime Minister Sergei Tereshchenko, who headed President Nursultan Nazarbayev's recent successful campaign for re- election, told journalists on 13 January that his campaign team intends to create a new political party, called Otan [Fatherland], which Nazarbayev will be invited to head, Reuters reported. Tereshchenko said the new party will adhere to "democratic and parliamentarian principles" and will contend the local and parliamentary elections later this year. The new group will propose Nazarbayev as its candidate for the presidential elections in 2006, he added, according to Interfax. Also on 13 January, Hasen Qozhakhmet, one of the leaders of the opposition AZAT movement, told journalists in Almaty that he intends to found a new political party called Otanshildar [Lovers of the Fatherland], which will unite patriots and intellectuals, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported the following day. LF

KYRGYZ PREMIER MEETS WITH PRIMAKOV, LUZHKOV...

Jumabek Ibraimov held separate talks with Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov in Moscow on 13 January, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Ibraimov and Primakov focused on the prospects for expanding bilateral economic cooperation and on rescheduling Kyrgyzstan's $132 million debt to Moscow. Primakov characterized bilateral relations as "warm and friendly" and expressed confidence that the "few outstanding problems" can be resolved. (Ibraimov told Interfax on 11 January that Moscow had failed to deliver on earlier promises of industrial and technological cooperation.) Ibraimov said after his talks with the Russian premier that he does not exclude the possibility of Kyrgyzstan concluding an economic and political alliance with Russia, but he added that he did not discuss that possibility with Primakov, Interfax reported. LF

...AND SERGEEV

Meeting with Ibraimov and his Kyrgyz Defense Minister Murzakan Subanov the previous day, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev described bilateral military cooperation as "long-term and stable." He said that Russia will continue to render military assistance to Kyrgyzstan and that the two countries will sign a military cooperation agreement later this year, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

FAMINE IMMINENT IN EASTERN TAJIKISTAN?

The Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, eastern Tajikistan, may soon face a famine as a result of the significantly reduced deliveries of humanitarian aid in recent months, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 January. The population of the region, one of the poorest in the entire former USSR, is Ismaili and has relied heavily on humanitarian aid from the Aga Khan's foundation and international agencies. LF

TAJIK BORDER GUARDS RELEASED

Three Tajik border guards taken hostage on 10 January after an armed clash with an Afghan border patrol were released on 13 January, ITAR TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1999). LF

UZBEKISTAN HALTS BBC MEDIUM-WAVE TRANSMISSIONS

A BBC editor told Reuters in Tashkent on 13 January that the Uzbek government has curtailed BBC medium-wave broadcasts in Uzbek, Russian, and English, switching those programs to a waveband inaccessible to many listeners. The BBC continues to broadcast on short-wave to Uzbekistan. LF

UZBEKISTAN UPGRADES RAIL LINKS

The Asian Development Bank will extend a $120 million loan to Uzbekistan to upgrade its rail system, Interfax reported on 13 January. A recent session of the Uzbek-Chinese intergovernmental commission in Beijing also discussed the expansion of rail links between the two countries. LF

ARMENIA CONCERNED THAT OSCE MAY AMEND KARABAKH PEACE PLAN

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, speaking to journalists in Yerevan on 13 January, urged that the U.S, French, and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group not to amend their latest draft Karabakh peace plan to accommodate Azerbaijan's objections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Azerbaijani leadership has rejected that plan, which advocates the creation of a "common state" composed of Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998). Oskanian said he has conveyed his concerns to the Russian and U.S. co-chairmen in recent meetings. He also expressed concern that Azerbaijan and Turkey might conclude a defense agreement, which he said would undermine stability in the region, according to Interfax. Turkish media have quoted Azerbaijani Presidential adviser Vafa Guluzade as advocating such a pact (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 8 January 1999). LF

ARMENIAN DASHNAKS ANNOUNCED PLANNED COOPERATION WITH LUZHKOV'S OTECHESTVO

Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-- Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) told journalists in Yerevan on 13 January that the party reached an agreement on "comprehensive cooperation" with Moscow Mayor Luzhkov's Otechestvo [Fatherland] political alliance during talks in Moscow last month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Dashnak presidential adviser Vahan Hovannisian said the HHD and Otechestvo have the same "social democratic" ideology, and he praised Luzhkov for what he termed his rejection of "inter-ethnic hatred in Russia." He said his party will help Otechestvo become a member of the Socialist International, which the Dashnaks joined in 1907. LF

RUSSIA WELCOMES ABKHAZ REPATRIATION OFFER

The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement expressing cautious approval of Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's unilateral offer to permit Georgian displaced persons to return to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion beginning 1 March, Interfax reported on 13 January. But the statement also queried whether such repatriation is feasible without the agreement of the Georgian leadership and the overall stabilization of the region. Georgian leaders have dismissed Ardzinba's offer as populism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999). LF




KUCHMA OPPOSES ABOLITION OF PRESIDENCY...

Oleksandr Martynenko, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's spokesman, says Kuchma is opposed to left-wing parliamentary deputies' efforts to abolish the presidency, Ukrainian News reported on 13 January. Martynenko believes that the Communist Party's attempt to initiate the abolition of the presidency is "ideological" rather than a response to any of Kuchma's actions. After failing to pass a motion on abolishing the presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999), the Communist caucus blocked all parliamentary activities the next day, demanding that another vote be taken on the motion. In that ballot, the motion was supported by 224 votes, just two votes short of the majority required for the motion to pass. JM

...WANTS 'REASONABLE BOUNDS' FOR PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY

Martynenko also said Kuchma believes that the immunity of Ukrainian lawmakers "must be within reasonable bounds as is the way in civilized countries," ITAR-TASS reported on 13 January. According to Kuchma, the best way to achieve this is to amend the constitution. Martynenko refuted parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's allegations that local administration bodies have been instructed to launch "mass actions" in support of the initiative to strip deputies of their immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999). JM

GAZPROM CONFIRMS UKRAINE SIPHONING-OFF RUSSIAN GAS

Gazprom on 13 January presented documents that it says confirm Ukraine has illegally siphoned off Russian gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1999), Interfax reported. According to Gazprom's press office, Russian gas shipments to and via Ukraine in December 1998 totaled 18.9 billion cubic meters, of which 11.5 billion were in transit to other countries, and 7.4 billion remained in Ukraine. Gazprom authorized Ukraine to take only 2.5 million cubic meters of Russian gas in 1998, meaning that almost 5 million cubic meters were misappropriated, the press office said. The office also calculated that Ukraine owes Gazprom $1.6 billion for gas supplies. The day before, a Ukrainian official denied that Ukraine has siphoned-off Russian gas, and he also disputed the size of Ukraine's gas debt to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999). JM

LUKASHENKA SAYS 'CRIME' TO SUBSIDIZE UNPROFITABLE FARMS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 13 January told a meeting of agricultural managers in Minsk that subsidizing loss- making farms will now be considered a "crime," Belapan reported. He said that this year state subsidies will be extended only to profitable farms. He also recalled that in 1998, the government allocated 23 trillion Belarusian rubles ($200 million, according to the current official exchange rate) for agriculture, which, he noted, was the only sector that failed to achieve the government's targets for 1998. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO CONSOLIDATE EFFORTS ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

The Popular Front (BNF), the Social Democratic Party (BSDH), and the United Civic Party (AHPB) have decided to consolidate their efforts on carrying out the Supreme Soviet resolution to hold presidential elections on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 13 January. BSDH head Stanislau Shushkevich called the election initiative an "important political action." AHPB deputy head Alyaksandr Dabravolski stressed that the "bulk of people" in Belarus still do not know that Lukashenka has prolonged his presidential term for two years. BNF deputy head Yury Khadyka said a "dyarchy" exists in Belarus, adding that the people will have their possibility to make their "free and unconstrained choice" on 16 May. Khadyka expressed the hope that the Congress of Democratic Forces will work out a coordinated election strategy when it convenes on 29-30 January JM

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL DEMANDS LATVIAN NEWSPAPER RETRACT STORY

Javier Solana's office has demanded that Latvia's Russian- language daily "Respublika" retract an article it ran earlier this week in which it quoted Solana as saying that "Latvia is not always a democratic state and its legislation does not meet the norms of democracy." The article implies that "Respublika" had interviewed the NATO secretary-general last year. BNS reported on 13 January that the Latvian Foreign Ministry has received official confirmation that Solana has never given an interview to "Respublika" and that he denies having made such comments. Solana's office has demanded that the daily publish a retraction in its next issue. JC

OSCE OFFICIAL WANTS LATVIAN LANGUAGE LAW TO MEET INTERNATIONAL NORMS

Speaking at the end of his three-day visit to Riga, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel said that the draft law on the state language, which is currently being prepared for its second reading in the parliament, "over- regulates" the use of foreign languages in private business, dpa reported on 13 January. The requirement that private-sector employees speak Latvian "intrudes into the private sphere," he argued. "It is possible to have meaningful laws on language that perform the function of promoting and protecting the Latvian language while at the same time choosing regulations in conformity with international law," he concluded. JC

LATVIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY SLATED TO GET BIGGEST FUNDING INCREASE

The 1999 draft budget foresees a 39 percent increase in funding for the Defense Ministry, compared with last year's level, LETA reported on 12 January (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1999). That hike is followed by a 10 percent increase for the Ministry of Education and Science and a 7.7 percent increase for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Foreign Affairs, Economy, Agriculture, and Transport Ministries are all slated to receive smaller budgets than last year. But the Transport and Economy Ministries are being downsized and, relative to their size, will in fact receive more funding than in 1998. JC

LANDBERGIS SAYS MOSCOW UNWILLING TO HELP BRING 1991 OFFENDERS TO JUSTICE

Addressing a special session of the parliament on Liberty Defenders' Day, parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis stressed again that Russian law enforcement officials are unwilling to help bring to justice those responsible for the events eight years ago, BNS reported. On 13 January 1991, 14 people were killed in Vilnius by Soviet armed forces seeking to crush the Lithuanian independence drive. "Despite admitting the charges of coup d'etat and [despite] the existing treaty on legal assistance, Russian law enforcement officials are not making true efforts to help carry out justice," Landsbergis added. He said that most of the accused have not been interrogated as they are "absconding in Russia or other countries," and he accused former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev of "lying" in his memoirs about the January 1991 events in Vilnius. Gorbachev claims to have no knowledge of who gave the orders to use force in Lithuania. JC

LITHUANIA TO TRY NKVD OFFICER FOR GENOCIDE--IN ABSENTIA?

A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office told BNS on 13 January that the case of former NKVD officer Petras Raslanas has been passed over to the Siauliai District Court. Raslanas is accused of organizing a massacre of 76 unarmed Lithuanian citizens on 25 June 1941 in the Telsiai district. Raslanas, aged 84, now lives in Russia. He has ignored a summons by the Lithuanian Prosecutor-General's Office and will probably be tried in absentia, the spokesman said, pointing to articles of the Criminal Code that provide for such trials under certain circumstances. The spokesman added that the trial would likely set a precedent as no one in Lithuania has ever been tried for genocide in absentia. JC

POLISH DOCTORS WARN GOVERNMENT OVER HEALTH REFORM

The Supreme Medical Council has appealed to the authorities to convene a roundtable on the health reform currently under way in Poland, Polish Radio reported on 13 January. According to the council, the reform is set to grind to a halt because not enough money was allocated for its implementation. Council deputy head Wlodzimierz Bednorz said doctors cannot accept the "shameful conditions of employment and pay" offered by the health reform bill. He added that they are preparing to launch a general protest to force the government to increase funding for the health system. JM

TRADE AT POLISH OPEN-AIR MARKETS PLUNGES

Poland's Market Economy Research Institute reports that turnover at Polish bazaars fell by 3 billion zlotys ($856 million) in 1998 or 40 percent, compared with the previous year. According to the institute, the main causes were the Russian crisis and new border regulations introduced by Poland for its eastern neighbors. Poland's three largest bazaars catering primarily for shoppers from the east are in Warsaw, Tuszyn (near Lodz), and Bialystok. The institute estimates that some 240,000 people are directly or indirectly involved in bazaar trading, while an unknown number are employed by some 4,500 companies that produce mainly for bazaars. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT SETS UP INVESTIGATIVE COMMISSION ON BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS

The parliament on 13 January voted 196-163 to set up a special investigation commission to examine allegations of bribery connected to the 1995 privatization of SPT Telecom, CTK reported. The commission will have 10 members and will make public all documents related to the privatization of the company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 January 1999). MS

BRITISH OFFICIAL CALLS ON CZECHS TO HELP ROMA

Visiting British Home Office Secretary Mike O'Brien on 13 January told presidential adviser Jiri Pehe that there is no "immediate threat" of Britain reimposing visa requirements for Czech citizens, CTK reported. Pehe said O'Brien, whose visit is aimed at gathering information on the situation of Czech Roma, praised President Vaclav Havel's New Year speech denouncing racism and the building of "new walls" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). On 12 January, O'Brien urged the Czech authorities to solve the Roma problem in order to encourage them to stay in the country. He said most Roma are fleeing poverty, not persecution, Reuters reported. CTK cited him as saying the situation of Czech Roma is "no longer an internal affair" of the Czech Republic because the wave of Romani asylum-seekers last year "affected us directly." MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION DEMANDS INTERIOR MINISTER'S DISMISSAL

Parliamentary chairman Jozef Migas on 13 January told Slovak Radio that he will call a special meeting of the house at the end of this week to discuss a motion of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) demanding the dismissal of Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner over the 11 January murder of former Economy Minister Jan Ducky. The HZDS said Pittner has failed in his task of cracking down on organized crime. It also accused the government of having conducted a media campaign against Ducky. The government rejected the demand for Pittner's resignation, saying he played an important role "in the struggle against terrorism" and is "a guarantee that this struggle will continue" (see also "End Note" below). MS

ORBAN MEETS ROMANIA'S HUNGARIAN MINORITY LEADER

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, in Budapest on 13 January and told him that Budapest continues to support the establishment of an independent Hungarian-language university in Romania. "The Hungarian cabinet is interested in the political and economic success of the Romanian ruling coalition," Orban also noted. According to Marko, Budapest and Bucharest share an interest in involving Hungarian capital in the Romanian privatization process. Orban announced after the meeting that his Romanian counterpart, Radu Vasile, is to pay an official visit to Hungary on 8-10 February. MSZ




UCK FREES SERBIAN PRISONERS

Officials of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) turned over eight Yugoslav army prisoners to the OSCE's William Walker, U.S. special envoy Chris Hill, and the EU's Wolfgang Petritsch in Likov in northern Kosova on 13 January. The UCK's release of the prisoners ended a five-day standoff that observers feared would have resulted in a full- scale resumption of fighting had the Serbs attempted to free the men by force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999). The eight men returned to a welcome from family members and fellow soldiers at their barracks in Mitrovica. Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minster Nikola Sainovic told the Tanjug news agency that the UCK "terrorists remain terrorists even after the release of hostages. The battle against terrorism continues." The Yugoslav authorities have repeatedly said they will not make deals with the UCK over the release of prisoners. PM

MEDIATORS HINT AT DEAL

Petritsch said after the prisoners' release in northern Kosova on 13 January that the international mediators promised the UCK "nothing except that the Yugoslav side would also make a contribution in this process of trust-building. These were confidential discussions and I am not at liberty to divulge the content." Walker added that the UCK received "guarantees" as part of a "fair and balanced" agreement, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Prishtina. Walker did not elaborate. Elsewhere, the VOA's Croatian Service reported that British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned the UCK not to take any more hostages in the future. PM

UCK EXPECTS SERBS TO RECIPROCATE

The UCK's Kosova Press news agency said in a statement in Prishtina on 13 January that "representatives of the international community have given guarantees that the Serbian side will free nine UCK soldiers detained a month ago near the border with Albania. An agreement on the exchange of prisoners of war has been concluded between the UCK and the Yugoslav army as equal partners, with the guarantee of international mediators." UCK spokesman Jakup Krasniqi added that "a time deadline was set for the release of [UCK] soldiers, and their number was decided. We wish to believe the promises made to us will soon become reality, based on the agreement." He suggested that the UCK will publish the text of the agreement if the Serbian side does not implement it. PM

GELBARD BLASTS SERBIAN CRITICS

Robert Gelbard, who is U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, said in Podgorica on 13 January that those Serbian government ministers who recently criticized U.S. support for democracy in Serbia are themselves people with a "fascist" or "Stalinist" background (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999). Gelbard also announced that the U.S. is ending those sanctions against Yugoslavia that would prohibit foreign investments in Montenegro. He added that direct air links will soon be set up between his country and the mountainous republic. PM

PEACEFUL NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS IN PODGORICA

Some 2,000 people gathered in heavy rain in the streets of the Montenegrin capital on 13 January to see in the New Year according to the Julian calendar, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Large numbers of police were present amid fears that supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would launch renewed street violence, which Belgrade would then use as an excuse for declaring a state of emergency in Montenegro and toppling the Djukanovic government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1998). PM

BALKAN PEACE FORCE AGREEMENT SIGNED

Defense ministers from Italy, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Romania signed an agreement in Athens on 12 January to finalize arrangements regarding a joint regional peacekeeping force. Turkey, which is also a full member, was represented by its ambassador to Greece because of the recent government change in Ankara. The U.S. and Slovenia sent observers. Participating countries agreed in Skopje in September to set up the force, but disputes over where the group's headquarters will be located and over the roles of rivals Greece and Turkey held up the signing of the final document. The headquarters will be in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, for four years and then rotate among other member states. A Turk will be the initial commanding officer, and a Greek will be the first head of the Political Secretariat. Both positions will subsequently rotate among the member states. PM

SFOR TO RETURN WEAPONS TO HVO

A spokeswoman for SFOR said in Sarajevo that the peacekeepers and the Herzegovinian Croat military (HVO) have settled a dispute over the promotion of several HVO generals by Herzegovinian leaders without the prior approval of either the Sarajevo authorities or NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999). She added that the HVO has agreed to clear the promotions through the proper channels, Reuters reported. The spokeswoman noted that the peacekeepers will soon return weapons that they confiscated from the HVO in conjunction with the row over the promotions. PM

TRUTH COMMISSION FOR BOSNIA?

Richard Goldstone, who is a South African judge and former chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in London on 13 January that he supports calls by some Bosnians for the setting up of a "truth and reconciliation commission" to look into "ethnic cleansing" and other war crimes committed during the 1992-1995 war. He said that such a commission, like the one in South Africa, would allow people to put the past behind them and get on with their lives. His successor in The Hague, Canada's Louise Arbour, has said that setting up a truth commission would unnecessarily complicate the tribunal's work, Reuters reported. PM

ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS CALL FOR CONTINUING DIALOGUE

Deputy parliamentary speaker Jozefina Topalli told a Tirana press conference on 13 January that the Democrats are ready to continue their dialogue with the Socialist-dominated government. She said that the Democrats are currently working on a draft law to launch an independent investigation into the killing of Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari. She urged the Socialists not only to support the bill but to consider the creation of a multi-party government and early elections, ATSH reported. Topalli did not say when the Democrats' boycott of the parliament would end. FS

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT RESTRICTS USE OF BOATS

The parliament on 13 January passed a law banning the use of small motor-boats more than two miles off the coast without a special permit. Speedboats with engines exceeding 70 horsepower are also subject to restrictions. The law is designed to stem illegal migration and smuggling to Italy. Police have the right to impound boats if the owners violate the new law. Legislator Neritan Ceka told dpa that "this law will save more human lives" by helping to deter boat operators from trying to smuggle people into Italy. FS

PROSECUTOR SAYS ALBANIA FLOODED WITH STOLEN CARS

An unnamed prosecutor told "Zeri I Popullit" of 13 January that an estimated 17,000 cars stolen abroad are in use in Albania. A total of 300,000 cars are registered in Albania, of which 80,000 are made by Mercedes Benz. The prosecutor added that corrupt customs and police officials usually supply cars with false documents. The trade in stolen cars has led to $10 million losses in customs duties since 1991. Public Order Minister Petro Koci has ordered the creation of a special police unit to check the documentation of all cars on Albanian roads, dpa reported. FS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT, MINERS FAIL TO REACH COMPROMISE

Miron Cozma, leader of the Jiu valley striking miners, said on 14 January that negotiations held in Bucharest the previous day between a miners' delegation and Industry and Trade Minister Radu Berceanu failed to yield results, Romanian Radio reported. The two sides agreed to set up a joint commission to examine ways to halt loss-making coal extraction in the valley by the end of this year. That commission was to have presented its recommendations by 15 February. Berceanu said that if the commission implements a successful program, the debts of the Jiu valley mining company to the state budget will be written off. But he added that the decision to immediately close down two loss-making mines is final. On 13 January, Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu met with commanders of police forces in the valley to discuss preparations for preventing the miners from travelling to Bucharest. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT RETURNS LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW TO PARLIAMENT

President Petru Lucinschi has again returned to the parliament the law on local administration, Flux reported on 13 January. The legislation was passed by the legislature on 6 November. In a letter to the parliament, Lucinschi said he objects to the provision stipulating that prefects are to be appointed by the government and must resign if the government does so. Lucinschi wants prefects to be appointed for four years by the president at the recommendation of the government. He also said the law does not properly reflect the special autonomous status of the Gagauz-Yeri region and does not take into consideration the possibility of granting of such a status to the breakaway region of Transdniester. MS

BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY IN SOFIA

George Robertson on 13 January praised Bulgaria's contribution to strengthening security in the Balkans through joint initiatives with neighboring states, Reuters and dpa reported. He said Britain will support Bulgaria's bid to join NATO in future rounds of enlargement. In an address to the military academy in Sofia, Robertson said the question was not "whether" but "when" Bulgaria will join NATO. With regard to Russia's opposition to NATO expansion, he said that no one outside the alliance has the right to veto any decision to expand, adding that the expansion poses no threat to Russia. MS

ALARM AT KOZLODUY OVER DANUBE OIL POLLUTION

Bulgarian civil defense officials said on 13 January that a large oil slick, 55 kilometers long and 300 meters wide, is moving along the Danube River toward the Black Sea, AP reported citing BTA. Coast guards and army soldiers are building dams near the Kozloduy nuclear power plant to divert the oil slick away from the facility. Reuters said that the spill occurred outside Bulgarian territory and that the authorities were not warned about it. MS




SLOVAK POLITICS UNSETTLED BY FORMER MINISTER'S MURDER


By Jolyon Naegele

The murder of a former Slovak government minister earlier this week is sending shock waves through the country's political leadership.

No arrests have been made, and no motive has been established in the shooting in Bratislava on 11 January of Jan Ducky. Recently dismissed as head of the Slovak gas distribution monopoly (SPP), Ducky served as economy minister until mid-1996 in the government of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. He was killed in the lobby of his apartment house in Bratislava shortly after noon. Police say an autopsy showed he was hit by four bullets, three to the head and one to his right hand.

Ducky was closely connected with Russian gas interests in Slovakia as well as with Czech gas and petrochemical interests. During an April 1997 visit to Bratislava by then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Ducky signed a controversial contract with Russia's Gazprom on forming a joint venture to import and distribute Russian gas "outside the framework of existing contracts." According to Czech media, Ducky was a member of a group of entrepreneurs who last year acquired a majority share in the now bankrupt Chemapol Group as well as substantial shares in several regional Czech gas distributors.

Ducky was a deputy industry minister of the Slovak Socialist Republic from 1985 until the collapse of communist power. He was then promoted to industry minister, a post he held for six months until the first free elections in June 1990. He returned to government after the fall 1993 parliamentary elections as economy minister in Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) cabinet. He remained faithful to Meciar the following year when several HZDS cabinet members revolted and formed a government with the opposition.

The HZDS holds the current government indirectly responsible for Ducky's death, particularly Economy Minister Ludovit Cernak. The HZDS says the murder was the outcome of political intolerance. It was Cernak who fired Ducky from his post as director of SPP in early November and ordered an extensive audit of the firm, Slovakia's most profitable enterprise. The Slovak press says SPP had pretax profits totaling $252 million in 1997 and an estimated $240 million pretax profit last year.

Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hamzik rejects the HZDS's allegations and says the blame for Ducky's death lies with the financial machinations that occurred during Meciar's final term in office, which ended after his electoral defeat last September. Last week, Slovak authorities filed charges against Ducky involving gross financial mismanagement at SPP and illegal property transfers.

Slovak Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner says it is possible that someone decided Ducky had to be killed in order to prevent his becoming a witness regarding alleged financial improprieties under Meciar's government. Pittner suggests former employees of the Slovak intelligence service may have been involved. "For the past several months, I have been saying that we have indications that after the [September 1998] elections, a parallel secret service was established which is in some way linked to the underworld."

Pittner says the investigation into Ducky's death may help clarify whether a parallel secret service exists. Key leaders of the Slovak Information Service quit in October just before Meciar left office.

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda says if Ducky's murder was an attempt to frighten the government or end audits, then it will prove a failure. He also vows a full investigation: "The Slovak government is committed to use all means to clarify matters and track down the perpetrators of this criminal offense."

Parliamentary speaker Jozef Migas says Ducky's death should result in the strengthening of the fight against organized crime. "It is a call for the struggle with organized crime to be a matter of principle," he commented. "Not even this act should be allowed to divert us if the motive proves to have been a settling of accounts or a cover-up linked with Mr. Ducky's activities, about which someone wanted to prevent any more from being said or divulged and simply took his life."

Ducky's death also may become a catalyst to restrict travel to Slovakia by Russians and Ukrainians. Slovak parliamentary deputy and former Czechoslovak Interior Minister Jan Langos has suggested an eastern connection in the killing. He has called for strengthening visa regulations for Russian and Ukrainian citizens as a way of protecting Slovak citizens against what he terms "further acts of terrorism." The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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