Accessibility links

Newsline - January 26, 1999


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright continued the second day of her official visit to Moscow by meeting with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Anatolii Kvashnin, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, and Yabloko party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Yavlinskii said Albright backed his proposal for a pan-European anti-ballistic missile system. Lebed, on the other hand, told reporters that he discussed only Russia's "extremely difficult" economic and political situation and that "foreign policy issues are not in my area of competence." Albright also talked with Russian President Boris Yeltsin on the telephone for 30 minutes about "key parameters of Russian-U.S. relations," Interfax reported on 26 January. In a speech at the All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature, Albright pledged $10 million to assist the development of Russia's independent media. JAC


Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told reporters on 25 January that Russia and the U.S. have reached an agreement on the U.S. providing Russia with 15,000 tons of seeds free of charge. Proceeds from the sale of the seeds are to be used to support individual Russian farmers and agricultural research centers, Interfax reported. Russia may also agree to increase its imports of U.S. poultry parts provided that supplies of grain are also increased, a "source close to talks on U.S. food aid" told Interfax. According to that source, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman is under strong pressure from U.S. poultry producers and offered to increase U.S. shipments "considerably." JAC


Yurii Kobaladze, until recently spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, has been appointed first deputy director of ITAR-TASS, the agency reported on 25 January. Earlier press reports had maintained that Kobaladze would be named to the board of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). JAC


In an interview with "Krasnaya zvezda" on 23 January, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's department for international military cooperation, accused the U.S. of violating the START-I treaty, thereby creating difficulties for the smooth ratification of the START-II treaty by the State Duma. As one example, he noted that the U.S. is carrying out flight tests of Trident intercontinental missiles in violation of the treaty. After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Albright on 25 January to discuss the START-II treaty, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that the U.S. is prepared to begin negotiations on the START-III treaty. Commenting on START-II, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told reporters that he believes the Duma will ratify the treaty only if the U.S. guarantees its observance of all earlier concluded arms control agreements and decisions taken by the UN Security Council. JAC


Despite earlier statements by cabinet ministers that the oil industry is already suffering too much on account of low world oil prices to bear new taxes, Yevgenii Primakov's government on 23 January introduced a new export duty on crude oil (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 21 January 1999). The new charge adds 2.5 euros ($2.9) per ton of crude oil. However, should the monthly average price for Urals crude drop below $9.5 a barrel, then the Trade Ministry can request that oil producers be exempt from the duty for 30 days. If the price rises above $12 per barrel, then the duty can be doubled for 30 days. However, some tax relief may be in the offing for oil producers. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak told reporters on 25 January that the government plans to introduce next year a new system of taxation for several oil companies. That system is designed to encourage oil production and the drilling of new wells. JAC


Rosneft, Slavneft, and Onako announced plans to merge on 25 January. According to Deputy Prime Minister Bulgak, the government will have a 75 percent stake in the new company, which will reportedly be the world's largest in terms of oil reserves and will produce 58 million tons of oil annually. The new company may be joined later by the Tyumen Oil Company. Bulgak noted that LUKoil and Yukos executives greeted the news of the merger "with some disappointment." LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov had proposed merging his company with Slavneft and Onako, while Yukos President Mikhail Khodorkovskii suggested teaming his company with Rosneft and Onako (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1998). JAC


The 17 January elections to Vladivostok's city assembly have been declared valid in only 10 out of 22 districts, Vladivostok election commission chairman Ilya Grinchenko told reporters on 26 January. Originally, polls in 16 of 22 districts were declared valid, but numerous complaints from voters and candidates prompted the local election commission to carry out additional checks. As a result, results were invalidated in four districts, while checks are still under way in two other districts, according to Interfax. Since the assembly requires at least 15 members to start work, the legislature's adoption of a new city charter and appointment of former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov as the new mayor are also invalid. JAC


President of the Marii El Republic Vyacheslav Kislitsin violated Russian law in soliciting the sale of the advanced model of the S-300 missile defense system to Kuwaiti Prime Minister Crown Prince Sheikh Saad Abdullah Salem Sabah, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 26 January. The daily alleged that it has an official letter from Kislitsin offering Kuwait not the S-300 system produced for export but the version that has exclusive classified technology intended for use only by Russia's military. According to the daily, only a small list of Russian state agencies and enterprises are allowed to sell weapons abroad, and Kislitsin has violated federal and criminal laws. The head of presidential press service in Marii El declined to comment on the charges, the newspaper reported. JAC


Prime Minister Primakov told visiting South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Hong Soon Young on 25 January that Russia "is ready to play an important role in ensuring stability" on the Korean peninsula. Primakov joked that although both Russia and South Korea are experiencing economic difficulties, South Korea has been luckier since it received more money from the IMF. He added, "Don't worry, we won't ask you to give us anything." Young also met with Foreign Minister Ivanov, who said that the visit is important for "boosting bilateral political dialogue." South Korean President Kim Dae Jung is scheduled to visit Moscow in mid-April. JAC


The Yabloko party has unveiled a new economic program involving drastic tax cuts and measures to stimulate domestic production and demand, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 25 January. According to Yabloko leader Yavlinskii, Russia needs a new economic policy and the budget that the Primakov government proposed is a "scam" that is likely to lead to annual inflation closer to 180-200 percent than the 30 percent envisioned in the budget. JAC


Responding to a report in the U.K.'s "Sunday Times," Oscar-winning film director/actor Nikita Mikhalkov told ITAR-TASS on 26 January that he will participate in upcoming presidential elections only as a voter. CIS Executive Secretary and influential business tycoon Boris Berezovskii told reporters in Tashkent the previous day that he supports Mikhalkov's candidacy and believes that Mikhalkov "thinks about Russia," unlike other contenders, who "think more about how they will become president." The "Sunday Times" quoted Mikhalkov as saying that he will think in earnest about running for president "if I feel that the people really need me and want me to be their president." JAC


By a vote of 65 to 56 with 25 abstentions, the National Assembly on 26 January turned down a request by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian to lift Vano Siradeghian's immunity to allow his arrest on suspicion of ordering two murders, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). Hovsepian had told deputies the previous day that there is "sufficient evidence" to claim that Siradeghian ordered the murder in January 1994 of two Armenian police officers who had bungled the assassination one month earlier in Moscow of Armenian-born Russian businessman, Serge Jilavian. Jilavian was at odds with the former Armenian authorities. Siradeghian, who is chairman of the board of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, has denied the charges and accused the country's present leadership of leading Armenia to "civil war." LF


Deputies on 25 January voted to postpone until 1 February the final vote on the new election law, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The opposition objects that the bill allows the government to control electoral commissions and provides for the allocation of 75 seats in single-mandate constituencies. LF


A spokeswoman for Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent on 25 January that Azerbaijan is behind Russian and Turkish media reports that Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan has arrived in the enclave after leaving Italy on 16 January. She added that those reports are aimed at providing a pretext for a Turkish military presence in the region. On 23 January, Turkey's Anatolia News Agency carried a written denial by Armenian Foreign Ministry acting spokesman Ara Papyan that Ocalan has been or is currently in Armenia. But Mahir Valat, who heads the Kurdish National Liberation Movement office in Moscow, told Interfax on 25 January that Ocalan entered Russia from Italy en route to a third country, which he declined to name. LF


The trial of former president and opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey opened in Baku on 25 January and was adjourned until the following day. Elchibey is charged with insulting the honor and dignity of his successor, President Heidar Aliev, by claiming in November 1998 that the latter, together with Yevgenii Primakov, then head of Russian foreign intelligence, was instrumental in founding the Kurdistan Workers' Party in the 1980s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). LF


Two Abkhaz police officers were killed and three wounded on 25 January in an ambush by Georgian guerrillas in Gali Raion, Interfax reported, quoting Abkhaz Deputy Interior Minister Valerii Lagvilava. But Temur Khevsuriani, deputy security minister of the self-styled Abkhaz government in exile, told Caucasus Press that the Abkhaz were killed by members of the Russian peacekeeping force in retaliation for an earlier attack on them. Also on 25 January, President Eduard Shevardnadze criticized Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba for going back on an earlier agreement on the return to Gali of ethnic Georgians who fled the fighting there in 1992-1993 and 1998, ITAR-TASS reported. It is unclear whether Shevardnadze was referring to the protocol prepared for signing at a planned meeting between himself and Ardzinba. Each side has blamed the other for sabotaging that meeting by backtracking on earlier agreements. LF


Two former generals of the Kazakh National Security Committee have been arrested, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported on 26 January. One has been charged with illegal operations involving the sale of alcohol. The other is suspected of having provided classified information on the current economic and political situation in Kazakhstan, especially Kazakhstan's relations with Russia, to an unnamed country, possibly in Asia. LF


Russia on 25 January delivered four SU-27 military jets to Kazakhstan in part payment for the lease of the Baikonur space complex, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. According to Interfax, Russia will also provide Kazakhstan with another 12 such aircraft and with S-300 anti- aircraft systems to upgrade the security of the new capital. LF


Parliamentary deputy and respected film director Dooronbek Sadyrbayev told journalists in Bishkek on 25 January that he will forego his deputy's salary and official car until "order is restored" in the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Seven deputies had made a similar announcement the previous day. Sadyrbayev criticized press censorship, inadequate pensions, and what he termed "the practice of appointing persons with a criminal record to high state posts." On 22 January, summarizing the findings of a poll conducted by the Association of Kyrgyz Sociologists among 100 scientists, journalists, and public figures, Interfax reported that the Communist Party is the most popular of Kyrgyzstan's 22 registered political parties and movements. Absamat Masaliev, who headed the Communist Party from 1985-1991 and re-elected to that post in 1994, was named the best-known political leader in Kyrgyzstan. LF


The United Tajik Opposition on 21 January agreed on another eight candidates for government posts, including nominees for the positions of first deputy interior, foreign, and security minister, Asia-Plus- Blitz reported on 25 January. The Committee for National Reconciliation has endorsed those candidacies, which must now be approved by President Imomali Rakhmonov. LF


Arriving in Islamabad on 25 January, Boris Shikhmuradov told journalists that his country still intends to proceed with construction of a gas export pipeline to Pakistan via Afghanistan, dpa reported. The U.S. company UNOCAL, which had a 46 percent stake in the consortium created in 1997 to build that pipeline, announced last month that it was withdrawing from the project because of the instability in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1998). Shikhmuradov is to meet with his Pakistani counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. He is also scheduled to meet with Taliban representatives. LF


Gazprom Executive Board Chairman Igor Bakai told journalists on 25 January that Ukraine has begun repaying its gas debt to Russia, Interfax reported. Bakai said that last month, Ukraine paid $7 million in cash to Gazprom and shipped $28 million worth of commodities in payment for gas supplies. Ukraine's state-run and private companies owe Gazprom some $1 billion for last year's gas supplies. JM


Seven German firms, including BMW-Rolls Royce and Fairchild Dornie, have agreed to join a Ukrainian-Russian project to construct a military cargo plane based on the Ukrainian- Russian An-70 aircraft, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 25 January. Eight European countries are planning to announce an international tender on 29 January to choose a new cargo plane for their military forces. German firms decided to join the Ukrainian-Russian bid, which is an updated version of the military cargo plane constructed by the Ukrainian-Russian venture. The new plane is adjusted to NATO standards and can carry cargoes up to 35 tons for a distance of 3,800 kilometers at a speed of 750 kilometers per hour. JM


The OSCE consultative and monitoring group in Minsk has negatively assessed the local election law, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 25 January. The group said the law "cannot secure a free and fair election process" because it does not provide for the "free nomination" of candidates, prohibits those convicted of minor administrative offenses from running in the elections, and does not foresee election observers during early voting. Moreover, the OSCE believes that the Central Electoral Commission is not pluralistic and that the current situation in Belarus does not guarantee free access to the media. The law contravenes not only OSCE standards but also Belarus's 1996 "working constitution," according to the OSCE. Local elections are due in Belarus on 4 April. JM


At its Minsk session last week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarusian-Russian Union omitted to include in the union's budget the joint project of the Minsk Automotive Plant and the Yaroslavl Motor Plant, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 25 January. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, earlier called the Minsk-Yaroslavl project the "locomotive of economic cooperation" between the two countries. According to an RFE/RL correspondent, the approved union budget draft has disappointed Belarusian deputies. Council of the Republic Chairman Pavel Shypuk called it a "conglomerate of random items." Budget expenditures amount to 586 million Russian rubles ($26 million). Russia is to contribute 65 percent and Belarus 35 percent. JM


Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Linh said on 25 January that last year Belarus's GDP increased by 8 percent, compared with 1997, Interfax reported. Industrial output grew by 11 percent, he added. He also said that "Belarus has sufficient stocks of food and hydrocarbons for the winter." Linh admitted that inflation in 1998 exceeded the projected level by 400 percent. He promised that the cabinet "will sort out last year's ambiguous results." JM


Speaking at the start of a three-day visit to Moscow, Estonian armed forces head Johannes Kert said that Russia and its armed forces are not perceived as a threat by Tallinn because relations between the two countries have "normalized," ETA and ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, Kert stressed that Estonia seeks full membership in NATO and does not see "any danger for anyone" in the alliance's expansion. Kert met with his Russian counterpart and deputy defense minister, Anatolii Kvashnin, and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who commented that Russia and Estonia "are destined to enter the 21st century as good neighbors." The last time an Estonian armed forces commander visited Moscow was in April 1994, when Aleksandr Einseln met with then Russian chief of staff Mikhail Kolesnikov to discuss the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia, according to BNS. JC


Receiving Latvian parliamentary speaker Janis Straume in Tallinn on 25 January, Lennart Meri said it is important that the Baltic States make a joint effort at NATO's Washington summit this spring, BNS reported, citing the president's spokesperson. The meeting between the two leaders focused on issues related to NATO enlargement. Straume expressed the hope that despite a very tight budget and pressure by "extremist groups in the Latvian press," Latvia's defense budget for 1999 will remain at least at 0.9 percent of GDP. Estonia's 1999 budget foresees defense expenditures at some 1.6 percent of GDP. JC


Egils Baldzens, head of the Social Democrats' parliamentary group, told reporters on 25 January that his party is ready to agree to "increasing the defense budget" if the government can find the necessary funds without reducing financing for other institutions, LETA reported. Also on 25 January, Baldzens received a draft agreement on cooperation with Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans's government. Kristopans stressed the same day that the agreement must be signed before voting can take place on the candidacy of Social Democrat Peteris Salkazanovs as agriculture minister. JC


Speaking on Latvian Radio on 25 January, Guntis Ulmanis urged the nation to mark Latvian Soldiers Day on 16 March to "show respect to Latvians who were killed during the war," BNS reported. He called on Latvians not to turn this day into an "ideological war" but to commemorate those "who will never return." He also said that any "restrictions or strict orders concerning participation in ceremonies on that day" would be "incorrect." Later this week, Ulmanis is to meet with representatives of various army organizations. Also on 25 January, Premier Kristopans told journalists that the government has planned no special ceremonies for 16 March, which he described as only one of the many commemorative days declared by the state. Last year, a march by veterans of the Latvian SS Legion provoked a heated debate in Latvia and strong criticism from Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1998). JC


Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus on 21 January signed the law on funding political parties, which provoked a heated debate following its passage last week, BNS reported on 25 January. The presidential spokeswoman said the signing follows an agreement with representatives of parliamentary parties whereby they will receive no state funds this year until all amendments related to parties' funding have been drafted. Under the law, political parties and organizations that have at least 3 percent backing in parliamentary and local elections will be granted state funding. The total amount of such funding cannot exceed 0.1 percent of budget expenditures, which this year would amount to some 7 million litas ($1.75 million). JC


Some 4,000 farmers blocked roads at 90 locations throughout Poland on 25 January to protest cheap food imports and the government's inability to improve the situation in agriculture, according to Polish media, citing police reports. Severe clashes occurred at Lubliniec, in Silesia Province, where police used water cannons and tear gas to break up the road block but were forced to retreat under jets of liquid manure fired by the farmers. Injuries were reported at Nowy Dwor Gdanski, in Pomeranian Province, where farmers threw gasoline bombs at the police with water cannons. Andrzej Lepper, leader of the radical Self-Defense farmers' trade union, said he will "call upon peasants to stir up a rebellion," and he demanded a meeting with the premier. "Mr. Lepper is facing a meeting with the prosecutor-general, not with the prime minister," a government spokesman responded. JM


The Federation of Health Care Trade Unions, which represents some 150,000 doctors and medical workers, threatened on 25 January to launch a nationwide strike unless the government meets its demands, PAP reported. The federation wants the government to increase health insurance contributions from 7.5 percent to 11 percent of wages and to offer a social security program for laid-off medical workers. The federation gave no deadline for the government's response. Meanwhile, the government is seeking to resolve the ongoing anesthetists' strike as well as a protest by nurses and midwives, who are demanding their wages be increased to one-and- a-half times the national average. JM


Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien praised Poland for its political and economic reforms, adding that the country can serve as a "bridge between the EU and the rest of Europe," AP reported on 25 January. Chretien joined Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek in calling for both countries to help Ukraine pursue reform. "Once you show trust in Ukraine, market reforms and democratic reforms will be moving forward quite quickly," Buzek said. Chretien admitted that "two middle powers like Poland and Canada" can combine efforts to assist Ukraine's development. JM


Czech Premier Milos Zeman said on 24 January that he favors prolonging the opposition agreement with Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS), CTK reported. Zeman, speaking on TV Nova, said he envisages an agreement whereby the ODS would also support legislation initiated by his Social Democratic party. Klaus responded that he is willing to listen to Zeman about an extension but will never consider an agreement in which the ODS was required to support "government policy and socialist proposals." Freedom Union chairman Jan Ruml said he believes the Socialists and the ODS will either form a coalition or abrogate the opposition agreement that allows the Socialist minority to hold power. A poll released on 25 January showed that 41 percent are against the opposition agreement. Some 15 percent supported it, and 16 percent said it is the best solution currently available. PB


John Shattuck, the U.S. ambassador to Prague, said on 25 January that the Czech government must speed up reforms that are necessary to join NATO, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Shattuck said the government must quickly pass defense reform legislation drafted in 1997. He added that the country's commitment to NATO will not be complete unless it fully protects the rights of minorities. In other news, a poll taken in early January showed that confidence in President Vaclav Havel has fallen to 46 percent, the first time it has slipped below 50 percent. PB


Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said on 25 January that the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) had influence over the Interior Ministry under former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, TASR reported. Presenting a "black paper" on the state of the Interior Ministry under Meciar, Pittner said the SIS's sway on the ministry led to the postponement of some investigations and the unfair dismissal of some detectives. Pittner said the SIS was particularly influential within the investigative and the criminal police sections of the ministry. The report did not directly accuse the SIS of involvement in the abduction of Michal Kovac Jr., the son of former President Michal Kovac, or in the murder of Robert Remias, a key witness in the case. PB


Leni Fischer, the chairwoman of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said on 25 January that she is pleased by the "first steps" taken by the Slovak government, TASR reported. Fischer said, however, that Council of Europe deputies "cannot be satisfied" with these initial actions and that time is needed to stabilize the situation in Slovakia. In other news, a delegation of Slovak politicians and military officers began a five-day working visit to the U.S. Defense Ministry headquarters at the Pentagon. The group is led by Defense and Security Committee Chairman Vladimir Palko. PB


OSCE monitors on 25 January found the bullet-ridden bodies of five ethnic Albanians--a married couple and a father and his two sons--on a tractor near Rakovina, on the Gjakova-Klina road. All five were wearing civilian clothes. The faces of the father and his two sons, who were aged 10 and 12, were "disfigured," AP reported. Monitors said that all five were shot at close range. Kosovar spokesmen said that the five were victims of Serbian security forces. Serbian officials argued that the killings took place in an area that is firmly under the control of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Observers noted that the murders are likely to further complicate efforts by the international community directed at finding an interim political solution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). Meanwhile in Prishtina, U.S. special envoy Chris Hill discussed possible political formulas with shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova. PM


General Klaus Naumann, the head of NATO's military committee, told Germany's ZDF television on 26 January that the Atlantic alliance has completed its military preparations for possible intervention in the Kosova crisis. He stressed that both sides must understand that NATO's patience with the continued violence has reached its limits and that the alliance will launch "military action" if the violence continues. In Moenchengladbach, a spokesman for the U.K.'s Royal Air Force said that four Harrier vertical take-off planes have flown from their air base in Germany to one in southern Italy in conjunction with NATO preparations for possible air strikes in the Balkans. PM


Officials of the Atlantic alliance agreed in Brussels on 25 January that NATO "cannot put physical pressure on one side [the Serbs] and just rhetorical pressure on the other [the UCK]," AP quoted an unnamed alliance official as saying. Reuters quoted another official as noting that NATO is "looking at various possible ways of restraining" the UCK. He did not provide details but added that "we certainly want to do something to clearly demonstrate that we recognize that the problem is not uniquely on one side." The official also noted that the alliance seeks "to work as long and as far as possible with the Russians on this." Unnamed Western diplomats said in London on 26 January that NATO ground troops will occupy ports and airports in Albania to stem the flow of weapons to the UCK if the guerrillas do not support peace efforts. NATO ground troops will be sent to Kosova to guarantee any agreement on autonomy, the diplomats added. PM


EU foreign ministers decided in Brussels on 25 January to increase diplomatic pressure on Belgrade, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The ministers demanded that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic work with Kosovar leaders to find a political settlement for the troubled province and that he enable the OSCE monitors to carry out their duties unhindered. The ministers also called on Milosevic to allow the Hague tribunal's Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour to investigate the recent massacre at Recak and to bring to justice those responsible for the killings. The ministers recommended that the EU tighten economic sanctions if Milosevic does not comply. Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jacques Poos said that possible NATO "military action needs a political plan, and it's up to the EU together with others to find the political plan." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that the compromise plan will offer the Kosovars autonomy and the Serbs an opportunity to end international isolation. PM


Unnamed Western diplomats told Reuters in London on 26 January that the international Contact Group will meet in Paris on 29 January to demand that the Serbs and Kosovars attend peace talks within 10 days or face NATO military action. The diplomats added that the U.S., however, wants NATO to take the lead by issuing a declaration on Kosova before the meeting of the Contact Group, which includes Russia. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 25 January that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright feels that any meeting of foreign ministers of the Contact Group would require "careful preparation" and that this week would be "too early" for such a gathering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). PM


A delegation of Kosovar shadow- state legislators met with representatives of the Albanian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and with Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on 25 January. The delegation is headed by Fehmi Agani, who is a senior leader of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova. The Albanian government regards the visit as a first step toward coordinating the policies of rival political groups inside Kosova among themselves and with the policies of Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 January 1999). On 26 January, the legislators are scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and President Rexhep Meidani, "Albanian Daily News" reported. Observers have suggested that Agani is also likely to meet with representatives of the UCK during his visit to Tirana. FS


The State Department said in a statement on 25 January that the recent agreement by Croatia and Montenegro to reopen the border crossings at Debeli Brijeg and Vitaljina "represents an important confidence-building measure" and will help restore "economic and cultural ties that were broken by the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia." Belgrade has opposed reopening the border, which has been closed since 1991, except for some brief openings at the time of religious holidays. PM


Police in Dalj recently arrested three members of a 20-strong Serbian paramilitary group that allegedly attacked a police station and committed crimes against Croatian civilians during the 1991 war, a police spokesman said in Zagreb on 25 January. The other members of the group remain at large. In Sarajevo, a court sentenced a Bosnian Serb to 13 years in prison for allegedly torturing Muslim civilians in Pale in 1992. Five of his victims eventually died from their injuries. PM


The Bosnian Serb parliament on 25 January voted 46 to 29 against the election as prime minister of Brano Miljus, who had been nominated by nationalist President Nikola Poplasen. Miljus is the second of Poplasen's candidates to fail to win sufficient backing of legislators, gaining support primarily from hard-line Serbs. Muslim, Croatian, and most moderate Serbian legislators continue to support incumbent Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, who enjoys the support of the international community. PM


Italian police detained 88 illegal immigrants from Albania on 25 January, including three suspected smugglers, AP reported. The arrests reflect an increase in smuggling only two days after smugglers forced Vlora police to return impounded speedboats by kidnapping the local police chief (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). FS


Senior prosecutor Bujar Himci told "Gazeta Shqiptare" of 23 January that the government is preparing a draft anti-mafia law in a renewed effort to combat organized crime. The law will provide for setting up a special team of anti-mafia prosecutors. The government had planned to present the draft to the parliament in fall 1998, but legislators were too busy at the time debating the new draft constitution, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The draft was approved in a referendum last November. FS


General Teodor Zaharia resigned as deputy interior minister on 25 January as criticism mounted over the failure of the police to contain striking miners marching on Bucharest, Reuters reported. Zaharia said poor communications and bad equipment were to blame for the failure to halt the miners. Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu resigned on 21 January and three Interior Ministry generals were sacked later. President Emil Constantinescu ordered the Supreme Defense Council, which is made up of top ministers and security chiefs, to submit a preliminary report on the crisis by 26 January. Roman Petre, the chairman of the Democratic Party, said that shortcomings in the social provisions of the government's reform program are to blame for the miners' strike. PB


Miron Cozma, the head of the striking miners, said on 25 January in Petrosani that the strike and protest march achieved their goals, Radio Timosoara reported. Cozma, who received a hero's welcome upon returning to the Jiu Valley, said he believes Premier Radu Vasile will not break the agreement ending the strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999 and "End Note" below). He said if the government does not abide by the agreement, the miners "are ready to start all over again." He said the violence was a result of the government's refusal to conduct a dialogue with the miners. PB


The Bulgarian community in Moldova voted in an illegal referendum to express their opposition to a proposed administrative reform that they fear will dilute their identity, AP reported on 24 January. Community leader Chiril Darmanchev said Bulgarians will lose subsidies for Bulgarian-language schools under the proposed nationwide consolidation of counties. Some 48,000 ethnic Bulgarians live in the Moldovan county of Taraclia, which is to be incorporated into another county. Bulgarians currently make up some two-thirds of the county's population but will constitute just 16 percent in the new entity. PB


Bulgarians began using vouchers on 25 January to buy shares in 31 companies included in the country's second wave of mass privatization, BTA reported. Some 560,000 people with voucher books valued at 250,000 leva ($148) each are able to participate in the purchase of shares. The assets of more than 1,000 firms were sold in the first wave of privatization in 1996-1997. PB


by Michael Shafir

In many ways, the agreement reached by Prime Minister Radu Vasile and the leader of the striking miners, Miron Cozma, at the Cozia monastery on 22 January is as mysterious as the shrine in the village where the two sides met. Only the participants in the discussions seem to have seen the document, which government sources claim exists "in a single copy." With no duplicates available, both sides can for the time being offer their own version of the accord. It is encouraging that after reaching an agreement, the two sides prayed together and lit candles. Everything else about that document, however, is less heartening.

According to Cozma, the government has agreed to a 10 percent wage hike. He claims the government has agreed to revoke the planned closure of two loss-making pits and to channel $200 million to the valley from EU funds allocated to help Romania cover the social costs of reform. He also says that a joint commission is to study ways of canceling over five years all losses of the state company managing the valley's mines. That commission is to reach an agreement by 15 February.

"Not so," Nicole Stoiculescu, deputy industry and trade minister and a leading participant in the talks with the miners, told RFE/RL the next day. Wage increases will paid for by the company, not from the state budget--an assertion that would make sense if a profit-making enterprise, rather than one that is supposed to cut losses, were involved. Furthermore, while Cozma claims the cabinet has agreed to increase the amount paid for coal extracted by the company, Stoiculescu's version of "zero- costs" to the budget again contradicts Cozma's. And these are not the only discrepancies. According to Stoiculescu, the closure of the two loss-making pits has not been revoked; rather, it has been postponed and is to be discussed by the joint commission.

Stoiculescu is clearly not telling the whole truth. The government concessions must be larger than he claims, since he admits that the "cost of saved lives" is smaller than the financial cost forced on the cabinet. Just what those concessions are, however, unclear. At least one was, above all, symbolic. Having refused to meet with Cozma either in Bucharest or in the Jiu Valley, the premier was finally compelled to do so in Cozia. This, in itself, speaks volumes about the cabinet's crisis management: if such a meeting could have averted the clashes in the valley and at the village of Costesti, it should have taken place sooner, rather than later.

But the cabinet in general and the Ministry of Interior in particular seemed unaware of either the miners' strategy or their logistic capability to deal with the police forces sent to oppose them. The miners outwitted police officers by using such medieval tactics as rolling down huge stones from the surrounding hills, which inexplicably had been ignored by those responsible for police deployment. In a country where conspiracy theories are one of the media's favorite past time, this has led to speculation that the forces of law and order were "betrayed from within."

But on this occasion, there seems to have been at least a grain of truth to such speculation. Deputy Interior Minister Viorel Oancea confirmed that the miners appeared to have inside information. Two officials at the ministry, both with the rank of general, have been dismissed, and, according to some press reports, at least one is related to a leader of the Greater Romania Party. Oancea also noted that some high-ranking Interior Ministry officials were known to harbor sympathies for Corneliu Vadim Tudor's party, which had co-opted Cozma when he was serving a prison sentence for his role in the miners' descent on Bucharest in September 1991 and which was the only political formation that openly incited the miners in their latest protest action. Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu had to pay the price for the failings within his ministry: he tendered his resignation and was replaced by Constantin Dudu Ionescu on the eve of the Cozia agreement.

But does that document constitute a genuine agreement or merely a truce intended to give both sides a breathing space? Unless some serious questions are asked in the Ministry of Interior by 15 February, the answer to that question may come too late. Furthermore, if the miners prove to have had the upper hand in the parleys, other trade unions are likely to be encouraged to follow their example. The Fratia trade union confederation, for example, has already announced its plans to go on strike next month, and the National Syndicate Bloc has said it may follow suit.

This is hardly a good omen for the forthcoming talks with the IMF, which were postponed--apparently at the government's request--from 25 January to 10 February. Romania's ability to service its foreign debt is dependent on the results of those talks, and the government would have to convince the fund that it can reduce its deficit from 3.6 percent of GDP in 1998 to 2 percent this year. That will be a difficult task, not only because of the concessions to the miners and other strata of the population affected by the reform but also because of the worrying signs that the authority of the state is about to collapse, as witnessed by the way police behaved when they came face to face with the miners.