Accessibility links

Newsline - January 28, 1999




YELTSIN MAKES CAMEO TV APPEARANCE...

President Boris Yeltsin will likely remain hospitalized until the end of the week and then convalesce at home, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told reporters on 27 January. Yeltsin made a 10-second silent appearance on Russian Television, sitting in a chair in his hospital as he met briefly with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. Yakushkin denied that any rift had occurred between the two men as a result of Prime Minister Primakov's letter to the Duma suggesting a political cease-fire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). JAC

...AS SPECULATION SWIRLS AROUND PRIMAKOV

Nevertheless, the Russian press continued to speculate that the Kremlin was taken by surprise and Prime Minister Primakov is seeking to expand his power. "Tribuna" reported on 28 January that "well-informed and reliable sources" said that Yeltsin's daughter's first reaction to news of Primakov's initiative was that Yeltsin would "fire Primakov on the spot." The previous day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that "its sources in the inner presidential circle argue that the president did not know anything about Primakov's intention to approach the [State] Duma." Both "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" conclude that Prime Minister Primakov's real motive for suggesting the political accord is that he has decided to run for president next year. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL PUTS OFF DECISION ON UKRAINE TREATY

State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 27 January that the Duma may send the Russian-Ukrainian Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership to President Yeltsin for signature without ratification by the Federation Council. The Council voted by 115 to 15 with nine abstentions to postpone ratification of the treaty until mid-February. Seleznev blamed the vote on Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who, according to Russian Television, managed to persuade some governors not "to give away Sevastopol and Crimea" to Ukraine. Deputy Secretary of Ukraine's National Security Council Oleksandr Razumkov warned on NTV that non- ratification would have extremely negative consequences, such as the suspension of the existing agreement on the Black Sea Fleet. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was more calm, saying that the upper body's decision was evidence only of its reluctance to make a hasty decision on such an important matter. JAC

INFLATION RACING AHEAD OF GOVERNMENT FORECAST

Inflation in January will likely reach almost 8 percent, according to the State Statistics Committee on 28 January. The government based its 1999 budget on an assumed annual inflation rate of 30 percent. However, an 8 percent monthly rate would be the equivalent of more than 150 percent annually, according to AFP. JAC

KREMLIN TO INCREASE CONTROL OVER STATE COMPANIES?

President Yeltsin has ordered Prime Minister Primakov and chief of the presidential administration Nikolai Bordyuzha to increase control over the selection of state representatives to the boards of director of companies in which the controlling share is owned by the state, "Vremya MN" reported on 26 January. "A high-ranking state official from the presidential administration" told the newspaper that when controversies regarding privatization and tax payments dogged Gazprom, Svyazinvest, and Purneftegaz last summer, "it became clear that the role of the state within the structures of the largest companies and control over their activities should be strengthened." According to the source, at the time the state had no levers to affect policy at these companies. Meanwhile, according to "Kommersant-Daily," Svyazinvest posted heavy losses in 1998 of 4 billion rubles ($176 million), in part because the devalued ruble made purchases of foreign equipment more expensive. JAC

CHECHNYA'S NEIGHBORS WANT STRONGER FENCES

The Federation Council asked President Yeltsin to declare a state of emergency in Stavropol Oblast on 27 January so that local law enforcement agencies are better able to cope with the region's rising crime, Interfax reported. The upper house blames the region's situation on its proximity to Chechnya and the presence there of refugees and forced migrants numbering almost 400,000. "Segodnya" reported the previous day that residents of the village of Kurskaya in Stavropol Oblast blocked roads leading to Chechnya, demanding that the status of the border with Chechnya be upgraded to that of national one. During the past year, five people from Kurskii Raion were taken hostage and "local agricultural enterprises are constantly being pillaged," Russian Television reported. JAC

TOP MILITARY OFFICIALS CALLS FOR NEW ALL- ENCOMPASSING TREATY

Strategic Rocket Forces Commander Colonel-General Vladimir Yakovlev suggested that the U.S. and Russia launch talks on a new "global strategic stability treaty" that would attempt to resolve the two countries' differences over the ABM treaty and lower the number of nuclear warheads envisaged by all the START treaties, Interfax reported on 27 January. Yakovlev also called for an agreement "on the inviolability of space." Eventually, according to Yakovlev, France, Britain, and China would join the global stability treaty. JAC

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW

Bronislaw Geremek met with Premier Primakov on 27 January to discuss bilateral and European security issues. Geremek also met with Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev and Foreign Minister Ivanov. Ivanov later told reporters that they did not discuss Poland's granting of political asylum to former Yeltsin adviser Sergei Stankevich. JAC

SHORT LIFE OF VLADIVOSTOK'S CITY DUMA ENDS

The Leninsk District Court in Vladivostok has dissolved the city assembly, some of whose members were improperly elected on 17 January, Interfax reported on 27 January. The court also revoked all the assembly's decisions, including its adoption of a new city charter and appointment of former mayor Viktor Cherepkov as the city's new mayor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). JAC

LINK BETWEEN ORTHODOX CHURCH, EXTREMIST GROUPS DISCUSSED

At a Moscow press conference, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II addressed the issue of Orthodox clergymen cooperating with neo-Nazi groups such as Russian National Unity, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 January. The patriarch said he knows nothing about such cases, according to the newspaper. But he admitted that there may be people who either profess Orthodoxy or consider themselves members of the Orthodox Church who are in extremist groups. The Church does not have the right to reject such people, he argued. JAC

STAROVOITOVA ALLIES UNHAPPY WITH INVESTIGATION

Ruslan Linkov, aide to slain deputy Galina Starovoitova and witness to her murder, told Reuters on 27 January that Starovoitova's killer will probably never be caught because the rank-and-file employees of the organs investigating the crime "do not completely answer to the leadership that promised to solve the case." Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin told reporters the same day that "much progress has been made" in the case. The previous day the "Moscow Times" reported that St. Petersburg journalists interrogated by investigators said that they were asked irrelevant and offensive questions, while one reporter was told "we are going to solve this case in a way that buries your democratic movement." The Duma commission set up to investigate the murder is expected to work until 30 May, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 January. JAC

NEW LIGHT SHED ON FAMED PILOT'S DEATH

The daughter of renowned pilot Valerii Chkalov alleges in the 28 January issue of "Ekho planeti" that her father's death while testing a I-180 fighter plane was caused by gross negligence on the part of the factory that made the aircraft. From previously inaccessible materials from the Federal Security Service archives, Chkalova found a document that the factory's director had sent to Stalin and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov that grossly misrepresented the plane's flight- readiness. After his death in 1938, it was officially reported that Chkalov, often called Russia's Charles Lindbergh, was fully informed of the plane's defects and defied a personal order from Stalin not to risk a test flight. JAC

TATAR PRESIDENT ON COLLISION COURSE WITH MOSCOW?

Mintimer Shaimiev told a conference on federalism in Moscow on 26 January that he intends to defend the interests of Russia's national-territorial formations against what he termed the federal center's "unconcealed aspiration" to transform Russia into a unitary state, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 28 January. He added that none of those national- territorial formations, including Tatarstan, has any intention of trying to undermine the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Shaimiev argued that complaints by Moscow that the constitutions of some of Russia's republics are at odds with that of the Russian Federation are "out of place," since many of the constitutions in question were adopted before the 1993 Russian Constitution. He said that the process of coordinating legislation should involve amendments both to federal and local legislation. LF

INTERIOR MINISTRY PURGE IN TATARSTAN

Eleven regional police chiefs have been fired in Tatarstan, together with the head of the Interior Ministry department for combating economic crime, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 26 and 27 January. The latter quotes Interior Minister Asgat Safarov as saying that the officers involved systematically overstated the percentage of reported crimes that had been solved. Safarov, a former head of the presidential bodyguard service, was appointed interior minister in June 1998, after President Mintimer Shaimiev sacked his predecessor for opposing the election of Farit Mukhametshin as parliamentary chairman. LF

RUSSIA, TURKEY DISCUSS CFE MODIFICATION

Meeting in Ankara on 25 January, Russian and Turkish delegations discussed unspecified issues relating to the ongoing attempt to amend the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe to take into account the shifts in the European security landscape resulting from the end of the Cold War and NATO's planned eastward expansion, according to ITAR-TASS and the "Turkish Daily News" of 26 and 27 January. Also on 27 January, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel told journalists in Ankara after visiting Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev in the hospital there that Baku has made no "formal request" for the stationing of Turkish troops on Azerbaijani territory, AFP reported. LF




ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR DISSOLUTION OF PARLIAMENT

Leading members of the Communist Party of Armenia and the Union for Constitutional Rights have deplored the parliament's 26 January rejection of Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian's demand that former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian be stripped of his deputy's immunity to facilitate his arrest for suspected incitement to murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). Communist Party leader Sergei Badalian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that his party's seven deputies may boycott parliamentary proceedings. Haig Baboukhanian told Noyan Tapan that the parliament should be dissolved. Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) party leader Vahan Hovanessian had told the party's newspaper "Hayots ashkhar" before the 26 January vote that President Robert Kocharian should dissolve the parliament if it failed to lift Siradeghian's immunity. LF

RETIRED U.S. DIPLOMATS SEEK TO KICKSTART KARABAKH MEDIATION

Two former senior U.S. diplomats have held talks in Baku and Yerevan with leading officials from Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the prospects for resuming negotiations on a solution to the Karabakh conflict. They told journalists in Yerevan on 25 January that their mission is intended to support the OSCE Minsk Group's ongoing mediation effort, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But their talks in Baku and Yerevan did not focus on the most recent OSCE draft peace proposal, which Azerbaijan has rejected. Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian told the U.S. diplomats that their country should play "a decisive role" in resolving the conflict, ITAR- TASS reported on 27 January. He said the mediators have made "new proposals" with "very serious prospects" but declined to disclose those proposals on the grounds that they have not yet been presented to Azerbaijan's President Aliev. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES INCREASE IN BROADCASTING TARIFFS

President Kocharian has asked the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications to reconsider its decision to raises the fees for use of broadcast frequencies by private television and radio stations from 1 January, according to Snark on 25 January, as monitored by the BBC and reported by Groong on 27 January. The ministry has increased the monthly fees from $40 to $1,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). Kocharian termed the new rates "unrealistic." LF

IMF APPROVES NEW LOAN FOR AZERBAIJAN

The IMF has approved a $79 million loan for Azerbaijan to help counter the impact of the Russian financial crisis and falling oil prices, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 27 January. In addition, the fund will release $33 million under a three-year ESAF program. The IMF noted that while Azerbaijan's projected 1999 budget deficit is equal to only 3.1 percent of GDP, compared with 10 percent last year, it is still larger than planned. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S TRIAL AGAIN ADJOURNED

The trial of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey resumed on 27 January but was adjourned until 2 February at the request of the defense lawyers, who object that the preliminary investigation was not objective and that the prosecution's case contains numerous irregularities, AP and Turan reported. Elchibey is charged with insulting the honor and dignity of President Aliyev by claiming that he was instrumental in establishing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998 and 26 January 1999). On 26 January, a Baku district court handed down two-year suspended sentences on five members of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration in Baku on 12 September and for resisting arrest. Some police witnesses for the prosecution failed positively to identify the accused as having participated in the demonstration, while others denied that the men had resisted arrest. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S RETURN HOME AGAIN DELAYED

Aides to President Aliyev told journalists in Ankara on 27 January that the president is well and will return to Baku no later than 31 January, Reuters reported. Aliyev was flown to a military hospital on 17 January, reportedly suffering from bronchitis and/or influenza. On 19 January, a member of the presidential administration told Interfax that Aliyev would return to Baku "by the weekend," that is, on 23 or 24 January. But on 25 January, the Azerbaijani consul in Istanbul had told Turan that the president would return "on Tuesday or Wednesday," that is, 26 or 27 January. LF

GEORGIA TO BECOME FULL MEMBER OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 27 January voted unanimously to admit Georgia to full membership within three to six months. That decision is conditional on implementation of judicial reform, a tougher crackdown on corruption, and progress in repatriating to Georgia the Meskhetians deported by Stalin to Central Asia in 1944, according to Interfax. In addition, Tbilisi must draw up within two years a constitutional framework that allows autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Addressing the assembly in Strasbourg, Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania urged its members also to admit Armenia and Azerbaijan to full membership in order to promote closer regional cooperation. LF

KYRGYZSTAN REGISTERS DISAPPOINTING ECONOMIC GROWTH IN 1998

National Statistical Board head Zarylbek Kudabayev told journalists in Bishkek on 27 January that GDP in 1998 increased by 1.8 percent, compared with 1997, but that the increase was due almost entirely to the Kyrgyz- Canadian gold joint-venture, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kudabayev said that industrial output amounted to 21.05 billion som (about $700 million), which is equal to a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year. Agricultural output remained at the 1997 level. Annual inflation was 18.4 percent, and the average monthly salary was 825 som ($28). The country's foreign trade deficit increased sharply last year to $290 million. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT, UN REPRESENTATIVE DISCUSS PEACE PROCESS

At a meeting in Dushanbe on 27 January, Jan Kubis and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov agreed on the need to expedite implementation of the 1997 Tajik peace accords, which Kubis termed "painfully slow," Russian agencies reported. Kubis expressed concern at the delay in implementing agreements reached between Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri and in disarming opposition and maverick armed formations. He also noted that no headway has been made on drafting amendments to the country's constitution, which the Commission for National Reconciliation has just begun discussing, according to Asia- Plus-Blitz on 27 January. Kubis briefed Rakhmonov on his recent talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Ministry officials about the situation in Tajikistan. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT FIRES AGRICULTURE MINISTER

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov sacked Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Kurban Velmuradov during a cabinet meeting on 26 January, Interfax reported on 27 January. Velmuradov's deputy, Kurbanmurad Rozyev, has been named to succeed him. Niyazov criticized unnamed officials in the agricultural sector who, he claimed, "do not understand...the tasks given them" and still act according to "obsolete" and "Soviet-era" methods. Niyazov's claims that the country's agriculture is in crisis are difficult to reconcile with official statistics showing a 20 percent increase in agricultural output last year. Interfax reported on 18 January that the Turkmen government has adopted a six-year program for the partial privatization of farms and industrial and construction companies belonging to the agro-industrial complex. Initially, the government will retain a 51 percent stake in those companies. LF




CANADIAN PREMIER PLEDGES SUPPORT TO UKRAINE...

Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has pledged support to Ukraine in obtaining foreign loans to help the country "develop a market economy and a solid democracy," Reuters reported on 27 January. Chretien also hailed Ukraine's decision to accede to an international treaty prohibiting landmines. With Canadian assistance, Ukraine has already destroyed 120,000 landmines in the country's arsenal of 7.6 million. On 28 January, the two sides signed seven agreements, including on cooperation in environmental protection, education, agriculture, and the food industry. Last year, trade turnover between the two countries totaled $64 million, up 50 percent from 1997. JM

...AS DOES ITALIAN PRESIDENT

Visiting Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro on 27 January called for international assistance to help Ukraine overcome its financial problems, saying that Ukraine "can count on Italy's support. We cannot work miracles, but we can guarantee a real, concrete friendship." He added that Italy will promote Ukraine's interests at World Bank and IMF meetings. That promise follows Ukraine's recent talks with an IMF mission in Kyiv, which failed to result in the resumption of a $2.2 million loan program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). Ukrainian Television reported that negotiations with the IMF will be continued next week. JM

BELARUSIAN WORKERS PROTEST HARDSHIPS, DEMAND LUKASHENKA'S RESIGNATION

Some 10,000 workers took part in a trade union rally in Minsk on 27 January to protest low living standards and demand President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's resignation, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The protesters want the government to increase wages (the monthly average currently stands at $30) and improve the economic situation in the country. They threatened to seek the government's dismissal if their demands are not met by the end of March. A rally of 2,000 potash miners took place in Salihorsk, and some 60,000 private retailers around the country supported the trade union action by going on strike for several hours. JM

LUKASHENKA ORDERS PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS TO RE- REGISTER

The Belarusian president has signed a decree ordering public organizations, trade unions, and political parties to re-register between 1 February and 1 July, Belapan reported on 27 January. The new regulation stipulates that trade unions and public groups must have at least 500 members to register (the previous threshold was 10 members). Political parties, which until now were required to have 500 members, must now have at least 1,000. Opposition leaders have criticized the decree as an infringement of citizens' rights. Social Democratic leader Mikalay Statkevich told Belapan that Lukashenka's aim is "to limit the participation of parties in the political process." According to Statkevich, most of the 28 Belarusian parties registered by the Justice Ministry will fail to enlist the 1,000 members needed to re-register. JM

GERMANY'S RUHRGAS ACQUIRES LARGEST STAKE IN EESTI GAS

The German gas company Ruhrgas has bought an additional 11.38 percent stake in Eesti Gaas, ETA reported, citing the Estonian Privatization Agency. Ruhrgas thus becomes the largest shareholder in Estonia's main gas distribution company, with a total of 32.08 percent of shares. Russia's Gazprom had originally intended to buy the 11.38 percent stake but, in the wake of the financial crisis in Russia, was forced to revise those plans. JC

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS ANTI-CORRUPTION LAW

Lawmakers on 27 January voted unanimously to adopt a new anti-corruption law that was nearly three years in the making, ETA and BNS reported. Under the law, high-ranking officials are obliged to submit detailed accounts of all financial assets and transactions. The list of such officials has been extended to include ambassadors and heads of public television and radio stations. The new law also states that high-ranking officials will have to continue to submit financial declarations for three years after quitting their posts. JC

ESTONIAN COMMISSION ON CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY WRAPS UP FIRST SESSION

The Estonian Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity wrapped up its first session on 27 January, ETA reported. Chairman of the commission and retired Finnish diplomat Max Jakobson stressed that the commission's work is aimed not at taking legal action against anyone but at clarifying "in as detailed a way as possible" what crimes against humanity were committed in Estonia during the Soviet occupations, from 1940-1941 and 1944-1991, and the Nazi occupation, from 1941-1944. The six-member panel, which was formed last year by President Lennart Meri and includes publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" Paul Goble, is to convene again on 7 June. JC

KRISTOPANS WANTS AGRICULTURE MINISTER CONFIRMED NEXT WEEK

Latvian Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans has said he hopes the parliament will vote to approve Social Democrat Peteris Salkazanovs as minister for agriculture on 4 February, "Diena" and LETA reported on 27 January. He stressed that before that date, it is essential that the draft agreement between the prime minister and the Social Democrats be signed. Following a meeting with the Social Democrats' caucus on 27 January, the premier expressed confidence that the two sides will reach agreement on all points. Caucus leader Egils Baldzens, for his part, said he finds "unacceptable" Kristopans's proposal that the Social Democrats vote for everything approved by the Coalition Council, "Diena" reported the next day. JC

ADAMKUS WRAPS UP VISIT TO FRANCE

On the last day of his visit to France, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that Vilnius is seeking membership in the EU and NATO because it has the same values as those organizations, ELTA reported on 27 January. Noting that former President Algirdas Brazauskas visited France in July 1997, the news agency quotes "Kauno Diena" as commenting that the frequent visits of Lithuanian heads of state to Paris indicate that ties with France have been made a foreign policy priority as Lithuania seeks support for its EU membership bid. JC

POLISH FARMERS CONTINUE PROTESTS

Some 4,000 farmers with heavy farm equipment blocked 90 roads on 27 January to continue to protest the government's agricultural policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). The police used force to unblock the roads in several localities, but no injuries were reported. The government has threatened to fine protesters but is also inviting the protesters to take part in negotiations, claiming to have found "solutions" that will facilitate the sale of farmers' produce. However, the Farmers' Solidarity and the National Union of Farmers, Agricultural Circles, and Organizations are refusing to participate in such talks without radical Farmers' Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper. Lepper said the same day that the farmers' protest will escalate. He also demanded that he appear live on public television "to explain the situation." JM

POLISH CABINET TO RAISE ANESTHETISTS' WAGES

The government has reached a "preliminary agreement" with anesthetists who since December have been striking over low wages, PAP reported on 27 January. Under the deal, the doctors will return to work on 1 February. Their average monthly salary will be 2,500-3,000 zlotys ($695-$833), up from the current 1,100 zlotys. The national average monthly salary in December was 1,582 zlotys. JM

KWASNIEWSKI VETOES CONTROVERSIAL BILL ON PRIVATIZATION WATCHDOG

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 27 January vetoed a bill providing for a prosecutor-general's office that would supervise the sale of state-owned industries, Polish media reported. The bill was passed by the parliament earlier this month, despite opposition from the Freedom Union (UW), Solidarity's coalition partner. The UW believes the bill would obstruct privatization. UW leader and Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz commented that Kwasniewski's veto is "good for Poland." Polish media say that the parliament is unlikely to override the veto. JM

CATHOLIC CHURCH SEEKS INDEPENDENCE FROM CZECH GOVERNMENT

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk on 27 January said that the main goal for the Catholic Church's representatives on the government commission for state-Church relations is to secure the Church's independence from the state, CTK reported. Vlk said the Church will continue cooperation with the state in some social spheres but that its independence will not be achieved until it is economically independent of the government. He added that the two sides must also settle the issue of property restitution. The Social Democratic government issued a list of members to the commission later the same day. The Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren also said that it will seek economic independence from the state during commission talks. PB

CZECH GOVERNMENT DISMISSES COUNTER- INTELLIGENCE HEAD

Karel Vulterin, the head of the Czech Republic's counter-intelligence service, was fired on 27 January for allegedly violating the secret services law, CTK reported. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky said Vulterin increased the country's security risks and damaged foreign interests. He added that the violations cannot be made public for security reasons. Jan Ruml, the chairman of the Freedom Union, said the dismissal is a bad move, particularly as the country is months away from joining NATO. Jaroslav Jira was named acting head of the counter-intelligence service. PB

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER EXPECTS EU NEGOTIATIONS THIS YEAR

Eduard Kukan on 27 January said that he expects the EU to open accession negotiations with Slovakia this year, Reuters reported. Kukan, who made his comments before a meeting with his British counterpart, Robin Cook, said he has been told by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine that Bratislava may begin EU accession talks this year. In other news, Slovakia's government will meet next week to discuss the "expediency" of importing S-300 anti-aircraft missiles from Russia. The contract was signed by former Premier Vladimir Meciar three months ago, but the Slovak Defense Ministry recently urged the new government to abrogate it. PB




ANNAN SAYS WORLD MUST HEED 'LESSONS OF BOSNIA'

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Brussels on 28 January that the international community must note the "lessons of Bosnia" and not allow the issue of state sovereignty to deter it from intervening to prevent "horror." Annan told NATO officials that the international community should have "no illusions about the need to use force when all other means have failed. We may be reaching that point once again in the former Yugoslavia. We're horror-threatened," Reuters quoted him as saying. After meeting with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, Annan told reporters that he is "pushing very hard for a political settlement. If force becomes necessary we will need to look at that. The threat is essential." NATO is expected to issue an ultimatum to Belgrade on Kosova on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). The international Contact Group will meet in London on 29 January. PM

SERBS LAUNCH ASSAULT IN NORTHERN KOSOVA

Serbian tanks and artillery shelled positions of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in the hills along the road connecting Prishtina and Podujeva on 27 January. "There was fierce fighting in the same area around Podujeva as at Christmas time," a spokesman for the UCK told "RFE/RL Newsline." Serbian sources in Prishtina said that the assault was in response to an attack on a Serbian police station, but UCK spokesmen denied any knowledge of such an incident. A U.S. member of the OSCE monitoring team told Reuters that the Serbs used "heavy stuff," including tanks and armored personnel carriers, before withdrawing to their bases before nightfall. PM

DID BELGRADE LAUNCH COVER-UP OF RECAK MASSACRE?

The "Washington Post" reported on 28 January that "Western governments" recently intercepted telephone calls between two top Serbian officials responsible for Kosova, namely Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic and Interior Ministry General Sreten Lukic. The two men's conversations indicated that officials "at the highest levels of the Yugoslav government" ordered security forces to "go in heavy" into Recak and launch a "search-and-destroy mission" in response to the killing of three Serbs. The top officials then "systematically sought to cover up the assault," the Washington daily added. Sainovic and Lukic tried to make the killings look like the result of a battle in order to blunt outrage from abroad in response to the massacre. PM

BELGRADE SAYS 'NO'

An unnamed senior official of the Clinton administration told the "Washington Post" of 28 January: "We have to have a full, independent investigation of [the report of a massacre and cover-up] to get to the bottom of it. Those responsible have to be brought to justice." In Belgrade, an unnamed Yugoslav official told Reuters that the "Washington Post" story "is a big manipulation by the CIA, who are preparing to put in NATO troops and eventually [start] bombing. We are completely aware of the circumstances in which we live and to give such an order [for a massacre and cover-up] would be completely idiotic. So it's a pure invention of the intelligence services in America who want at any price to find excuses and pretextsto continue with pressure and threats" against Serbia. PM

KOSOVARS NON-COMMITTAL ON CONFERENCE

UCK official Jakup Krasniqi said in Dragobilj on 27 January that his talks with U.S. envoy Chris Hill and his EU counterpart, Wolfgang Petritsch, on a possible Kosova peace conference were "useful" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). Krasniqi declined to commit the UCK to negotiations or to elaborate. Hill told AP that "frankly speaking, we do not have much more patience with this. The international community wants to see the process move quickly and we need the participation of all parties." In Belgrade, Serbian officials repeated their position that the Kosovars must negotiate directly with Serbian authorities without international mediation. PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS KOSOVAR MEDIATION SUCCESS

Presidential public relations secretary Sotiraq Hroni told dpa on 27 January that President Rexhep Meidani convinced visiting Kosovar leaders earlier this month that they should "set up a body representing them all in negotiations with the international community and Yugoslav authorities." Hroni added that the Kosovars "have all agreed in principle to meet and establish an institution to represent all of them." He predicted that several shadow-state and UCK representatives will meet "possibly this month" in Vienna or Frankfurt to set up "an executive board" representing all Kosovar groups. FS

IMBROGLIO OVER MACEDONIAN RECOGNITION OF TAIWAN

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said in Beijing on 28 January that her government will "firmly oppose any country that has established diplomatic relations with China to have any official contacts with Taiwan." She urged the Macedonian authorities to "wisely choose not to recognize the so-called communiqu" that the Taiwanese and Macedonian foreign ministers signed in Taipei the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). In Skopje, President Kiro Gligorov said that he did not know anything about Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's plans to recognize Taiwan and that he opposes such a move. It is unclear what Gligorov may legally do, if anything, to counter Georgievski's move. Taiwan's Vice Foreign Minister David Lee said in Taipei that Taiwanese officials have been negotiating with Georgievski and his political allies for over a year. Lee added that the talks were kept secret from Gligorov and Beijing, AP reported. PM

GRANIC HAILS AGREEMENT WITH MONTENEGRO

Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said in Zagreb on 27 January that the recent agreement with Montenegro to reopen two border crossings is a first step toward ending the dispute with Belgrade over the Prevlaka peninsula (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). In Strasbourg, the Council of Europe will soon approve a "tough resolution" condemning Croatia for its poor cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, "Jutarnji list" wrote on 28 January. The council is also expected to be critical of Croatia's electoral law. PM

WESTENDORP WANTS PROGRESS ON PRIVATIZATION

The international community's Carlos Westendorp told members of the international Privatization Monitoring Commission in Sarajevo on 27 January that they should quickly propose measures aimed at speeding up privatization of state- owned assets in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Foreign experts have frequently criticized the slow pace of privatization as a major obstacle to economic redevelopment of the war-torn country. PM

ALBANIAN DISARMAMENT PROGRAM BEGINS

The UN Development Program (UNDP) on 27 January launched its voluntary disarmament project in the central Albanian town of Gramsh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 1999). As a first step, villagers in Tunja, a remote village near Gramsh, handed over about 120 weapons, 100,000 cartridges, and 120 grenades. The UNDP project aims at the voluntary handover of weapons in exchange for the improvement of local infrastructure. The population of Gramsh is estimated to possess some 100,000 weapons, "Albanian Daily News" reported. FS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE COUNCIL URGES POLICY CHANGES

The country's Supreme Defense Council on 27 January said that the country risks another outbreak of unrest similar to the violent miners' strike last week unless economic efficiency and the social security net are improved, AP reported. The council said that the government's policy changes should be in line with the council's recommendations. The council was summoned by Constantinescu earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999) to review why Interior Ministry troops failed to stop the coal miners' march on Bucharest. PB

MINISTER RESIGNS, SENATOR SUSPENDED IN ROMANIA

Gyorgy Tokay, the minister for ethnic minorities, resigned for personal reasons on 27 January, AP reported. Tokay is a member of Romania's ethnic-Hungarian minority and had been minister since 1996. Leaders of the Hungarian Democratic Party nominated Senator Peter Eckstein to replace Tokay. The same day, Romania's upper house voted to suspend ultranationalist Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor for urging coal miners to strike last week. A Senate committee voted by six to four to ban him from Senate sessions for 30 days for "not respecting the professional code of the Senate." Tudor is the leader of the Greater Romania Party. PB

BULGARIAN OFFICIAL OPTIMISTIC AFTER TALKS IN SKOPJE

Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Marin Raykov said in Skopje on 27 January that there was renewed confidence in Bulgarian-Macedonian relations, BTA reported. Raykov, speaking after a meeting with officials from the Macedonian Foreign Ministry, said "we took the first step in the process of stepping up our dialogue and meetings." Relations between the two countries have been strained, and numerous bilateral agreements cannot be implemented because of a disagreement over which language should be used for those accords. Sofia does not recognize Macedonian as a separate language but as a Bulgarian dialect. Skopje insists that each document be in Macedonian and Bulgarian. PB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CURRENCY REVALUATION

Lawmakers passed a law on 27 January that will revalue the national currency on 1 July, dpa reported. The lev will be revalued by 1,000 percent. Opposition deputies voted against the measure. In other news, the IMF said it will continue to support the Bulgarian government's reform package, BTA reported. A deputy director with the IMF said in Sofia after meeting with Finance Minister Muravey Radev that he is impressed with Bulgaria's accomplishments in 1998. PB




SLOVAKIA TO REOPEN INVESTIGATION INTO DUBCEK'S FATAL CRASH?


by Jolyon Naegele

Slovak authorities are considering reopening the investigation into Alexander Dubcek's fatal car crash in 1992. Dubcek was best known for introducing "socialism with a human face" while Czechoslovak Communist Party leader in 1968.

Late last year, Jaroslav Volf, the former head of Dubcek's Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS) and a member of parliament, received a commitment from Czech officials to assist Slovakia in reopening the investigation into Dubcek's car crash. The two sides discussed setting up a joint investigative commission and handing over the findings of the Czech investigation into the crash.

SDSS spokesman Miroslav Spejl told RFE/RL last week that the time has come to clear up uncertainties. He notes too many questions remain unanswered in the Dubcek case. If a political element is confirmed, investigators must determine who was behind Dubcek's death, he argues.

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's government is currently reopening investigations into nearly a dozen cases in which the previous government of Vladimir Meciar may have been implicated. These include the 1995 abduction to Austria of Michal Kovac Jr., the son of Slovakia's president at the time, and the murder of a key witness to the abduction, Robert Remias, who some say knew too much about the alleged involvement of the Slovak intelligence service. The recent murder in Bratislava of former Economy and Industry Minister Jan Ducky, who also served under Meciar as head of the Slovak gas monopoly, has thrust the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office into the spotlight.

The Slovak and foreign media have portrayed Ducky's murder as the first of a top Slovak politician since the fall of communism. However, such an assertion assumes Dubcek died as the result of an accident in which no foul play was involved. At the time of the crash, Dubcek was in political limbo, having had to give up the post of speaker of the Czechoslovak parliament following the June 1992 general elections. He remained a parliamentary deputy and headed the tiny Social Democratic Party, coming under increasing criticism from among those who had won the elections: the Czech center- right, led by Vaclav Klaus, and the Slovak populists, led by Vladimir Meciar. Talks that summer between Klaus and Meciar on loosening the bonds between Prague and Bratislava resulted in an agreement to dissolve the Czechoslovak state. Dubcek, though on the sidelines and apprehensive about the split, began to appear as the most logical choice to become first president of an independent Slovakia.

Dubcek's chauffeur-driven BMW skidded off the Bratislava-Prague highway in heavy rain on 1 September 1992. Dubcek's driver was a Czechoslovak Federal Interior Ministry warrant officer named Jan Reznik. Dubcek said later in the hospital that he had sensed something was wrong and had laid down on the rear seat well before the crash. Reznik suffered relatively minor injuries. But Dubcek was found lying 20 meters in front of the car.

A study conducted by the Brno Forensic Institute determined that Reznik must have been driving at between 114 km and 131 km per hour at the time the car went off the road and that Dubcek apparently was catapulted out of the rear window as the car spun out of control. Dubcek was flown to a Prague hospital, where he died on 7 November 1992.

Today, rumors persist that Dubcek may have been the victim of a plot, although a strong motive is lacking. Jan Langos, Czechoslovakia's last federal interior minister and currently a Slovak parliamentary deputy with the ruling coalition, told RFE/RL in 1997 that he remains convinced Dubcek died as the result of an accident. He said the only mistake made in the investigation was to permit the BMW to be destroyed following examination by investigators.

But a lawyer for the Dubcek family and the Slovak Social Democratic Party, Liboslav Leksa, is virtually convinced foul play was involved. Last year, he published a book containing various documents from the investigation as well as his own list of unanswered questions. Leksa also said he possesses documents which he was unable to make public at that time. He now lives in the Czech Republic and remains cautious about voicing suspicions.

Leksa's study suggests that if anyone knows whether or not Dubcek's car crash was simply an accident, it would be the driver, Reznik, who refused to cooperate with investigators. Leksa says Reznik had worked for the Communist secret police and did not enjoy Dubcek's trust.

After the car crash, Reznik, though an Interior Ministry officer, refused to cooperate with investigators. A Czech military court in Ceske Budejovice in March 1993 convicted him for having caused bodily injury and for failing to reduce his speed to conform to conditions. He was sentenced to one year in prison and banned from driving for two-and-a-half years. The conviction was later confirmed by an appeals court. But an amnesty declared in the newly independent Slovakia saved Reznik from having to serve time.

The full story of what happened to Dubcek may well remain a mystery, just like the death in March 1948 of Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, the son of the country's founder and first president, Tomas Masaryk. Dressed in his pajamas, Masaryk plunged to his death from a high bathroom ledge into a courtyard at the Foreign Ministry in Prague late at night. At the time, Masaryk's death was labeled a suicide, but in later investigations, no definitive answer has been found to the question: Did Jan Masaryk jump or fall or was he pushed? The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


XS
SM
MD
LG