Accessibility links

Newsline - February 9, 1999




COMMUNISTS CALL FOR REVISING CONSTITUTION

Soon after the Security Council approved the "political peace treaty" proposed by Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov suggested that constitutional amendments on the redistribution of power between government branches be adopted within a month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). Primakov's plan called for the legislative and executive branches to refrain from suggesting unilateral amendments to the constitution. Zyuganov told reporters on 8 February that amendments redistributing power are necessary because sooner or later "a decree with [President Boris] Yeltsin's signature will be issued and the cabinet will have to resign." Zyuganov also called for abolishing presidential elections, suggesting that the president be selected by a body made up of elected representatives and regional leaders as well as members of political parties and movements, trade unions, and every religion. JAC

YELTSIN CUTS JORDAN TRIP SHORT

Russian President Yeltsin's trip to Amman, Jordan, on 8 February to attend King Hussein's funeral was quick, lasting only six hours. However, he managed to chat briefly with the presidents of the U.S., France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey as well as with the King of Spain, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Interfax reported. Yeltsin also met with new King of Jordan Abdullah Hussein. Various news agencies reported that presidential aides supported Yeltsin as he walked up the stairs of the Raghadan palace, but Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Russian Public Television that Yeltsin did not require medical assistance during "a single moment" of the trip. "Izvestiya" reported that Yeltsin "looked radiant" as he disembarked in Amman, commenting that he was apparently not stricken by grief but elated by his effort "to put Prime Minister Primakov in his place." It was originally planned that Primakov, an Arabist by training, would head the delegation. JAC

ARMED FORCES WILL HAVE TO WAIT FOR NEW WEAPONS

In a speech to the Air Defense University in Tver Oblast on 8 February, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said the Russian armed forces will not start receiving new weapons until after 2005, ITAR-TASS reported. Until then, existing weapons must be repaired and updated if possible. Navy Commander Vladimir Kuroydov was more optimistic, telling ITAR-TASS on 6 February that the navy will get new weapons in the near future, possibly later this year. In the nearer term, however, the navy will focus on "research and development for future projects." JAC

ASSISTANCE SOUGHT FOR POCKETS OF STARVATION IN FAR EAST...

The Russian branch of the International Red Cross has called for $5 million to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the Far East, where 82,000 people need medical and food aid, AFP reported on 8 February. According to a Moscow-based Red Cross representative, the aid is needed within six weeks, to avoid deaths from starvation in Chukotka, Magadan, and Kamchatka Oblasts. Many hospitals in Magadan have been forced to reduce their operations because of a shortage of anesthetics, while the tuberculosis rate in the three-oblast area is four times the national average. JAC

...AS SVERDVLOVSK APPEALS FOR FOOD AID

Sverdlovsk Oblast authorities are appealing for 75,000 tons of wheat, 27,000 tons of soy, 4,000 tons of rice and also meat and powdered milk from the food assistance shipments provided by the EC and U.S., "Vremya MN" reported on 5 February. According to the daily, the price of bread has risen 30 percent and the oblast cannot purchase the necessary volume of wheat that it needs from its traditional suppliers, Kurgan Oblast and Bashkortostan, whose own supplies are low. In addition, the oblast's minister of labor and economics, Galina Kovaleva, revealed that the oblast government does not have enough money to import bread. JAC

START-II ON AGENDA FOR MARCH

State Duma Security Committee Chairman and member of the Communist Party Viktor Ilyukhin told Interfax on 9 February that the Duma will start debating ratification of the START-II treaty in March. According to the agency, Ilyukhin does not think that the treaty will be ratified. Writing in "Novoe Vremya," Aleksandr Pikaev of the Moscow Carnegie Center says the chances of ratification for the treaty have never been so small. According to Pikaev, the U.S.'s suggested revision of the ABM treaty requires that the whole process of nuclear arms reduction be rethought. He concludes that the U.S. has left Russia with little choice: "Either the U.S. quits the treaty unilaterally or Russia gives its consent and gets in turn at least a hypothetical chance of influencing Washington's anti-ballistic missile defense system policy." JAC

RUSSIA, KUWAIT DISCUSS BIGGER, BETTER OPEC

After meeting with Kuwaiti Prime Minster and Foreign Minister Sabah Jaber Ahmad Sabah on 8 February, Prime Minister Primakov declared that Russia hopes to broaden military-technical and economic cooperation with Kuwait. Primakov, according to his spokesperson, told Sabah that Russia will continue to insist on using only political and diplomatic tools to resolve Iraq's dispute with the UN over weapons inspections. Sabah is also scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, Minister of Fuel and Energy Sergei Generalov, and top officials at Rosvooruzhenie. Generalov said that he and Sabah will discuss the creation of a new petroleum exporting organization combining OPEC and IPEC. JAC

PASKO TRIAL POSTPONED AGAIN

The espionage trial of military journalist Grigorii Pasko reopened in Vladivostok on 8 February only to be suspended again until 16 February. Pasko's lawyers won a recess until then to find a replacement for defense lawyer Karen Nersisian, who was barred from the trail on 29 January for allegedly leaking sensitive information to the press, ITAR-TASS reported. Pasko is charged with providing classified materials to Japanese television about the Northern Fleet's illicit dumping of nuclear waste. In a similar espionage case, lawyers for Aleksandr Nikitin, an environmentalist accused of publishing classified information about the Northern Fleet, have decided to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 January. JAC

KOMI ELECTS NEW STATE COUNCIL...

Residents of Komi Republic went to the polls on 7 February to elect a new local legislature and municipal councils. RFE/RL's Russian Service reported that among those elected to the 50-strong State Council were 16 managers of leading local companies, 13 local administration heads, and three trade union leaders. Yabloko won only a single seat, while the Communist Party left empty-handed. Turnout was 44.81 percent, according to ITAR-TASS. JC

...WHILE VOTERS STAY AT HOME IN KARELIA

The same day, in two by- elections in Karelia, Yabloko member Aleksandr Gavrilov and television journalist Viktor Maksimov, backed by a voters' initiative group, were elected to the republic's Legislative Assembly, ITAR-TASS reported. According to preliminary results, Gavrilov received 39.5 percent of the vote and Maksimov 52 percent. Turnout was only 15 percent in Petrozavodsk, where Gavrilov triumphed. Election officials attributed this to temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius. The republic's law does not stipulate a minimum turnout for the elections to be valid. JC

ALLEGED ARMENIAN SPY ARRESTED IN RUSSIA

Federal Security Service personnel arrested an Armenian in Tver on 3 February on suspicion of espionage, "Vremya MN" reported the next day. The man, whose name was given as Karmen Tunan, was said to be in possession of an automatic pistol with a silencer and an identity card naming him as on the staff of the Armenian Interior and National Security Ministry. LF

AFFORDABLE HOUSING EVER MORE SCARCE IN SIBERIA

To purchase an apartment in Novosibirsk is now out of reach for all but the super-rich, "Nezavisimaya gazeta--Krug zhiznii" reported in its February issue. Since the 17 August devaluation of the ruble, apartments now cost twice as much as before. The few people who still had money after the crisis cornered the real estate market, quickly buying up apartments without even looking at them, according to the newspaper. Before the crisis, a two-room apartment with a telephone near the metro cost 150,000 rubles ($6,500 at the current exchange rate). JAC

YELTSIN RULES PROPOSED REFERENDUM IN INGUSHETIA UNCONSTITUTIONAL

President Yeltsin on 6 February overruled Ingush President Ruslan Aushev's December decree ordering a referendum on 28 February on the division of responsibilities between Ingushetia and the federal center, Interfax reported. The referendum is intended to gauge the degree of public support for Aushev's proposals that Moscow should have no say in the nomination or dismissal of local police chiefs in Ingushetia and that certain, specifically Ingush customs (such as the abduction of a young girl by her prospective bridegroom or carrying a dagger) should not be considered crimes in Ingushetia, even though they are not permitted under the criminal code of the Russian Federation. Interfax reported on 8 February that the deputy chief of the Russian presidential staff, Oleg Sysuev, and Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Vyacheslav Mikhailov will meet with Aushev on 11 February to discuss unspecified "problems" that have arisen as a result of Yeltsin's ban on the referendum. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT SAYS ISLAMIC LAW DOES NOT PRECLUDE DEMOCRACY

Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Grozny on 8 February that the introduction of Shariah law, which he decreed on 3 February, will ensure democratic government and "will not leave any place for extremism, fundamentalism, and other radical trends," Interfax reported. The previous day, Maskhadov had decreed the creation of a shura, or Islamic council, as demanded last year by the radical field commanders who head the opposition to him, several of whom he named as its members. But since the shura is merely a consultative body, his rivals may ignore it. They plan to meet on 9 February to create their own alternative shura, which former Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov said will be empowered to nominate the next Chechen president, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 February. LF




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CONVENES EMERGENCY DEBATE OVER ARMENTEL

Deputies on 8 February began debating an opposition demand that the law on telecommunications be amended in order to strip the ArmenTel telecommunications company of the 15-year exclusive rights it acquired one year ago, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Constitutional Court ruled in January that the relevant article of the telecommunications law violates the constitutional ban on state and natural monopolies but need not necessarily be amended in the next five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). A U.S. former employee fired from ArmenTel last year claimed on 5 February that corruption within the company is endemic, and that Armenian officials have accepted millions of dollars in bribes from Trans World Telecom, which previously owned a 49 percent stake in ArmenTel. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S TRIAL AGAIN ADJOURNED

The trial of Abulfaz Elchibey on charges of slandering the honor of President Heidar Aliev, which was scheduled to resume at a Baku district court on 8 February, has again been postponed, this time until 11 February, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 3 February 1999). No explanation was offered for the delay. "Avrasiya" on 8 February quoted Elchibey's lawyer as arguing that the case should be closed as there is no evidence to substantiate the charge. In November 1998, Elchibey claimed that Aliyev was instrumental in creating the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Elchibey subsequently told journalists that he will produce documentation in court to substantiate that allegation. LF

AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY WANTS ALIEV'S SON TO SUCCEED HIM...

"Yeni Azerbaycan," the newspaper of the eponymous ruling party, argued on 5 February that "public opinion" supports the candidacy of Aliev's son Ilham to succeed him as president, Turan reported. The newspaper added that Ilham "is the bearer of the genetic code of Heidar Aliev" and that "this genetic code does not belong to an ordinary person, but to a national patriarch and leader of the state." Sayad Aran, head of the Yeni Azerbaycan party's ideological department, told Turan three days later that the party supports Ilham Aliev's candidacy. But Abulfaz Elchibey and Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar dismissed the argument that Ilham is genetically the most suitable successor to the presidency as "dilettantism." LF

...EXPELS WOULD-BE REFORMER

Eynulla Fatullaev, who reportedly tried to create a faction within the Yeni Azerbaycan party to promote democratization, has been expelled from the party's ranks, Turan reported on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). The independent newspaper "Azadlyq" quoted Fatullaev on 6 February as saying that he will continue to struggle for "political purity" within the party. LF

KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER MAKES ACCUSATIONS...

Jumabek Ibraimov, speaking at a press conference in Bishkek on 8 February, said three leading officials are to be dismissed, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Former Finance Minister Taalaibek Koichumanov, who is currently head of the government's financial and investment department, chairwoman of the National Social Fund Roza Uchkempirova, and Salmor Alykulov, director-general of the Kyrgyztelekom joint-stock company, will all be sacked for embezzlement. Ibraimov did not say whether they will be formally charged. Such a decision must be approved by President Askar Akayev. BP

...AND REVELATIONS

Ibraimov also said that in the past, high ranking posts in the government have been "sold" to individuals. Ibraimov said that since he became prime minister, his relatives have been offered bribes in exchange for receiving positions in the government or in leading companies. He also said someone had offered him a $200,000 bribe to privatize a state industry and another a $50,000 bribe to become head of the Kyrgyzalco joint- stock company. The premier declined to name any particular individual but stressed the need to fight economic crime and corruption. He said the IMF and World Bank are prepared to help Kyrgyzstan to achieve this. BP

INVESTIGATION INTO SLAYING OF UN WORKERS CONCLUDED

The office of the Tajik Prosecutor-General has completed its investigation into the killing of four UN employees last July and sent the case to the Supreme Court, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 February. The three men from the United Tajik Opposition will appear in court soon. All three were handed over by the UTO to law enforcement authorities. BP

KAZAKHSTAN'S JUSTICE MINISTRY DELAYING REGISTRATION OF PARTIES

Viktor Voronov, the chairman of the ZAN Corporation, held a press conference in Almaty on 8 February to complain about Justice Ministry delays in registering political parties, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Voronov said the ministry is "biased" in its treatment of certain parties and movements, noting that the For Free Elections movement attempted to register in October and has still received no reply. According to Kazakhstan's law, the registration process must be completed within 15 days of submitting necessary forms. Voronov also pointed out that OTAN, a party organized by supporters of incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was registered quickly. BP

KAZAKHSTAN'S PROSECUTOR-GENERAL COMPLAINS ABOUT GOVERNMENT

Yurii Khitrin told a meeting of the finance committee of the parliament's lower house on 8 February that the government is responsible for the "deliberate destruction" of agencies subordinated to the prosecutor's office, ITAR-TASS reported. Khitrin said since he came to office in 1997, the government has cut personnel three times and that following the latest cut in late January, only 1,335 people remain working in his office. Khitrin also complained about the plans to cut financing for his office by 390 million tenge ($4.5 million) and to lower the budgetary status of the office, which, he noted, will result in even more personnel cuts. BP

TAJIK PRESIDENT DECLARES WAR ON TERRORISM, ORGANIZED CRIME

Imomali Rakhmonov, addressing the country's power structures and law enforcement agencies on 9 February, declared 1999 the year of combating terrorism and organized crime, ITAR-TASS reported. Rakhmonov said the battle must begin with "self-cleansing" within the power structures and law enforcement agencies as they "all too often break the laws, are involved in crimes, and are connected with the narcotics business." Rakhmonov said that illegally-owned weapons must be confiscated and order must be enforced within military units. He ordered an inventory of all national armed forces and military formations of the UTO, to be completed by 1 March. BP




UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR OFFICIALS APPEAL FOR MORE FUNDS

Some 28 Ukrainian nuclear energy officials have warned of a deepening crisis in their struggling industry and appealed to the government for more money, AP reported on 8 February. A letter signed by nuclear plant directors, scientists, and energy executives says the failure of consumers to pay their bills has left nuclear plants unable to pay wages or upgrade aging equipment. Nuclear officials also said that existing energy facilities in the country are inadequate and that many nuclear plants are operating in dangerous conditions. PB

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY QUESTIONS IMF RELATIONSHIP

Adam Martynyuk, the first deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, said on 8 February that the legislature will debate Kyiv's relationship with the IMF, Reuters reported. Martynyuk, who leads a Communist bloc in the parliament, said "even a portion of the executive branch [is]starting to understand that it is time to reject the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank." He said the government is not implementing its own program but "the parameters of the IMF memorandum." PB

BELARUSIAN NATIONAL BANK HEAD MEETS WITH IMF OFFICIAL IN MINSK

Pyotr Prakapovich met with IMF mission head for Belarus Thomas Wolf on 8 February to assess the possibility of extending a loan to Minsk, Belapan reported. Wolf heads a mission that is checking Belarusian compliance with its commitments to the IMF that are necessary to receive a $100 million loan. Prakapovich said Minsk has met all the targets it agreed to with the IMF. He added that it has also liberalized its exchange markets and did not print any new money last month. In other news, the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis said that agricultural output declined by 0.4 percent in 1998, with grain production dropping by 25 percent. PB

BELARUSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS

A spokesman for Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in Minsk on 8 February that the president has accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Valyantsin Ahalets, Reuters reported. The agency said Jury Sivakou has been named his replacement. Lukashenka awarded Ahalets the rank of lieutenant- general, while state television said he will be involved in diplomatic work. PB

BLEAK ECONOMIC OUTLOOK AS BELARUSIAN UPPER HOUSE APPROVES BUDGET

The upper house of the Belarusian National Assembly passed the 1999 draft budget on 8 February by 54 votes to one, Belapan reported. Earlier, the draft had been passed by the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). Mikhail Matusevich, the chairman of the upper house's Committee on Economics, Budget, and Finances, said full implementation of the budget will be hindered by a higher than expected inflation rate, a severe foreign trade deficit, the slow pace of privatization, and a decline in profitable companies. He added that he doubted the budget will ensure growth, attract foreign investment, or eliminate the shadow economy. PB

BALTS BACK 'NORTHERN DIMENSION' CONCEPT

The three Baltic prime ministers, taking part in a meeting with their Nordic counterparts in Helsinki on 8 February, voiced support for the EU "Northern Dimension" concept, Baltic agencies reported. Proposed by Finland, that concept foresees "strategic cooperation between Brussels and Moscow in the areas of energy, infrastructure, and ecology," according to BNS. ELTA quotes Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius as saying that Vilnius supports the Finnish initiative as an integral part of European integration, but not as a substitute for existing integration programs. JC

ESTONIA WRAPS UP LATEST ROUND OF WTO TALKS

An Estonian delegation headed by Clyde Kull, deputy chancellor of the Foreign Ministry, concluded the latest round of talks with the World Trade Organization in Geneva on the weekend, ETA reported on 8 February. According to the news agency, Estonia still has to make a "serious effort" in order to be admitted to the organization. Several new laws must be enacted and two conventions ratified before it can receive an invitation to join. Latvia was accepted as a member of the WTO last year. JC

LATVIA, LITHUANIA STILL HARBOR NATO HOPES, DESPITE SCHROEDER COMMENT

Following German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's comment on the weekend that he does not expect a decision on future members to be taken at NATO's April summit, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis remarked on state radio on 8 February that Schroeder assumed "big personal responsibility" by making such a statement. Ulmanis added that he does not believe that statement corresponds to "what has been heard at NATO headquarters," BNS reported. In Vilnius, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said that Lithuania, along with the other two Baltic States, continues to hope that in April NATO will make a "clear forecast" about further expansion of the alliance. JC

LILEIKIS, GIMZAUSKAS TO UNDERGO MEDICAL EXAM BY INTERNATIONAL TEAM?

Suspected World War II criminals Aleksandras Lileikis and Kazys Gimzauskas, whose trials have been repeatedly postponed owing to their poor health, may be subject to a medical examination by an international team of experts. That option was proposed at a 8 February meeting of law-enforcement officials convened by Lithuanian government Chancellor Kestutis Cilinskas after the U.S. Justice Department had expressed doubts over the validity of conclusions reached by Lithuanian doctors that the defendants are not fit to stand trial, ELTA reported. Also on 8 February, the Jerusalem-based office of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said it will file complaints against Lithuania to the EU and the U.S. Congress alleging that Vilnius is pursuing a "conciliatory" policy toward former Nazis. JC

PUMPING OF CRUDE OIL TO MAZEIKIAI NAFTA RESUMES

ELTA reported on 8 February that the pumping of crude oil from the Polatsk station in Belarus to Lithuania's Mazeikiai Nafta refinery has resumed. Supplies were halted some 10 days earlier, resulting in the shutdown of the refinery and what the news agency described as losses of millions of litas to the company. Late last week, an agreement was reached in Moscow on the delivery of an additional 300,000 tons of crude to Mazeikiai Nafta (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 8 February 1999). JC

POLISH POLICE DISPERSE LAST PROTESTING FARMERS

Polish police fired rubber bullets on protesting farmers to free a handful of blockaded roads on 8 February, AP reported. The nine blockades were the last in the country and were set up at the request of Self Defense farmers' group leader Andrzej Lepper. Other farmers' union leaders, who signed a protocol with the government the previous day, criticized Lepper. Roman Weirzbicki, head of the Farmers' Solidarity union, said "this is Lepper's private war," "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported. PB

CZECH-SLOVAK NEGOTIATIONS ON FEDERAL PROPERTY DIVISION TO BE 'DIFFICULT'

Negotiations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the division of former Czechoslovak Federation property will be "extremely difficult," Czech Deputy Premier Pavel Mertlik said in an interview with the daily "Pravo" of 9 February. Among the contentious issues he mentions the claim of the Czech National Bank of a $24.7 billion crowns (some $735 million), which the Slovak National Bank refuses to acknowledge. Mertlik met with his Slovak counterpart, Ivan Miklos, on 6 February in Bratislava to discuss resuming the joint commission's negotiations on property division. MS

DUCKY MURDERER WRITES TO INTERIOR MINISTER

Interior Minister Vladislav Pittner has received a letter from someone claiming to have murdered former Interior Minister Jan Ducky on 11 January, CTK reported on 8 February. The author of the letter hints that the reasons for the murder were Ducky's economic activities. The head of Slovak police, Jan Pipta, said the letter is "very important" but declined to offer more details, noting only that the letter could lead to those who contracted the murder. MS

HUNGARY'S CORRUPTION SCANDAL ENDS WITH TOCSIK'S ACQUITTAL

Lawyer Marta Tocsik, former consultant of the State Privatization and Holding Company, has been acquitted of charges of fraud and forgery in Hungary's biggest corruption scandal since the fall of communism. In 1996, Tocsik received an honorarium worth 804 million forint ($5.3 million at that time) for mediating between local governments and the privatization agency to settle the issue of sharing income from the sale of state-owned property. Former Socialist Party treasurer Laszlo Boldvai, who is still a Socialist parliamentary deputy, and Gyorgy Budai, a businessman with close links to the Free Democrats, were convicted of abuse of power for having persuaded Tocsik to transfer millions of forints to companies named by them. Boldvai was sentenced to 10 months in prison and Budai to six months. MSZ

HUNGARIAN-SLOVAK MINORITIES COMMITTEE ESTABLISHED

Zsolt Nemeth and Jan Figel, the two co-chairmen of the joint committee overseeing the implementation of the Hungarian-Slovak basic treaty, said in Budapest on 8 February that they are open to the idea of establishing consulates in Kosice (Slovakia) and Bekescsaba (Hungary). They were speaking after the committee's first meeting. In other news, Hungary's air force on 8 February inaugurated its new air surveillance system. Defense Minister Janos Szabo attended the inauguration in Veszperem. The new system is viewed as major step toward compatibility with the air surveillance system used by NATO. MSZ




FOREIGN MINISTERS RETURN TO RAMBOUILLET

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and his British counterpart, Robin Cook, returned to the Kosova peace talks at Rambouillet on 9 February in order to encourage the rival delegations to negotiate seriously and "move the talks forward," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the French town. U.S. mediator Chris Hill told reporters that the negotiating process "is not easy. Frankly, it's not a lot of fun. But we are making progress, we're moving ahead through some very difficult territory." Vedrine and Cook opened the negotiations, but U.S., EU, and Russian mediators have since shuttled between the Serbian and Kosovar delegations to the proximity talks. PM

U.S. SAYS GROUND TROOPS NECESSARY...

State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 8 February that "the work at Rambouillet is progressing. It's going at a constructive and business-like pace. We thought the fact [the two delegations] expressed their regret and indignation over the bombing in Prishtina was an encouraging sign" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). He stressed that foreign ground troops will be have to be present in Kosova to help enforce any agreement to emerge from the talks. "Some peace implementation force will be necessary if we are going to get this agreement to stick and create a secure environment in which the [governmental] institutions of the Kosovar Albanians can take root and their level of self-government increase. So we don't agree that you can have a solution right now in the absence of some force," he concluded. Moscow and Belgrade oppose the sending of foreign troops to Kosova. PM

...BUT MAINLY FROM EUROPE

Secretary of Defense William Cohen said in Bonn on 8 February that the Clinton administration intends to include U.S. ground troops in any NATO force sent to preserve a peace settlement in Kosova, AP reported. Cohen stressed, however, that "we will be there to keep a peace, not to make a peace. There must be an agreement that is real, which is agreed to by all parties, which is not simply some sort of tactical move or temporizing on the part of any of them. President [Bill] Clinton has indicated that under those circumstances, should NATO decide to commit land forces to keep that peace, that we would participate, but that the majority of the burden should be borne by the European countries," the secretary concluded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). PM

WHAT MANDATE DOES MILOSEVIC'S DELEGATION HAVE?

Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic said in Belgrade on 8 February "the mandate of the Yugoslav delegation to Rambouillet gives it the right to conduct negotiations...but the ultimate decision will be made not there, but in the only possible place--Belgrade." Observers have noted that the delegation sent by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic does not include any members of the top leadership or representatives of the Kosovar Serbs. The delegation contains several persons without any political influence who are the nominal representatives of tiny ethnic or political minorities. Observers add that Belgrade's choice of delegates suggests that it regards the talks at least in part as a propaganda exercise. PM

TIRANA IN TOUCH WITH RAMBOUILLET?

An unnamed official of the Albanian Foreign Ministry told "Gazeta Shqiptare" of 9 February that the ministry is in contact via cellular telephone with the Kosovar delegation in Rambouillet. The official added that the Kosovars have chosen UCK representative Hashim Thaci to head their delegation and that his deputies are shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and nationalist leader Rexhep Qosja. Journalist Veton Surroi is spokesman. According to the rules of the conference, the mediators have a daily press conference, but in general the participants are not supposed to talk to persons on the outside. Leaks to the press have nonetheless already become commonplace because conference organizers did not take away the participants' mobile telephones. FS/TJ

ALBRIGHT REASSURES GLIGOROV

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov in a telephone conversation on 6 February that the current focus on Kosova does not give Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a "free hand to cause problems" elsewhere in the Balkans, Reuters reported on 8 February. She stressed that the U.S. wants the UN to renew the mandate of its peacekeeping force in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). Albright also "applauded the Macedonian government's efforts to improve inter-ethnic relations and ties with neighboring countries and urged continued attention to economic reform," her spokesman said. Gligorov is close to the Social Democratic opposition and has been at odds with the government over its decision to recognize Taiwan and to grant an amnesty that includes many ethnic Albanians. PM

SOUTH AFRICA DENIES KOSOVA LINK TO ARREST OF LEKA

A police spokesman said in Johannesburg on 8 February that Leka Zogu, who is the claimant to the Albanian throne, appeared in court on arms possession charges and returned to prison while the court considers his request for bail, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). Leka's bail hearing will take place on 15 February, the spokesman added. Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo told reporters in Cape Town that no extradition request has arrived and that Leka will face the "full weight of our law." Other Foreign Affairs Department officials denied that the arrest of Leka, who is an arms dealer, is related to the conflict in Kosova. Observers suggested that some members of the international community might prefer that Leka, who faces coup charges in Albania and is regarded by many there as a destabilizing influence, were not at liberty to engage in Balkan politics. PM

ALBANIAN PROSECUTORS LINK TWO COUP ATTEMPTS

An unnamed high- ranking official of the Prosecutor-General's office told "Koha Jone" of 9 February that his investigations have identified 10 key individuals who took part in two coup attempts, one in 1997, the other in 1998. The daily also reported that three persons arrested in conjunction with the 1998 coup attempt have concluded a plea-bargaining deal with investigators and will testify in court. On 3 July 1997, Leka led a crowd of heavily armed supporters in a march on the offices of the Central Election Commission following the Socialist victory in the general elections. On 14 September 1998, armed supporters of the opposition Democratic Party attacked the offices of Prime Minister Fatos Nano and captured two tanks. FS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REDUCES BUDGET DEFICIT

The parliament on 8 February approved reducing the budget deficit from 2.4 percent of GDP, as originally envisaged, to 2 percent, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Heeding Finance Minister Decebal Train Remes's warnings about defaulting on foreign debt servicing, the legislature also approved the government's proposal to suspend tax breaks for domestic and foreign investors. The breaks were approved last December. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE BEGINS TALKS ON FORMING CABINET

Serafim Urecheanu on 8 February began negotiations on forming a new government, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Urecheanu said after talks with leaders of the ruling Alliance for Democracy and Reform (APDR) that he is still aiming at setting up a cabinet of experts not necessarily reflecting parliamentary representation and that he wants his government to be able to rule by decree. For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc leader Dumitru Diacov expressed confidence after meeting with Urecheanu that a "compromise" will be found. He said that another meeting of APDR leaders with Urecheanu will take place within two or three days. MS

MOLDOVAN DELEGATION TO MOSCOW DELAYED BY BOMB THREAT

A Moldovan delegation's departure for Moscow was delayed on 8 February after a hoax call claimed a bomb had been planted on the plane, Infotag reported. Head of the delegation was Diacov in his capacity as parliamentary chairman. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 February that the Gazprom management, in a letter to President Petru Lucinschi, has warned that it will cut off gas supplies altogether if Moldova does not pay $23 million for gas deliveries in January. Supplies for this month have already been halved owing to Moldova's failure to clear its total debt of $439 million, of which $304 million is owed by the Transdniester. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER MEETS NEW REGIONAL GOVERNORS

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 7 February told the 28 new regional governors appointed three days earlier that they have three tasks ahead of them: to work to speed up land restitution and complete agricultural reforms, to establish law and order while stepping up the fight against corruption, and to develop programs for the regions. Kostov said the governors must solve local problems democratically and at the same time implement government directives, BTA reported. He added that governors failing in these tasks will be fired, regardless of which coalition party advanced their candidacy. Under the new local administration system, the country is divided into 28, instead of the former nine, regions. MS




MAKING PEACE BEFORE THE WAR BEGINS


by Tim Judah

On the eve of the peace talks in Rambouillet, France, the pessimists had the upper hand. The Serbs had found excuses to prevent members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) from leaving the southern Serbian province to attend the talks. At the same time, Ratko Markovic, one of the three leading members of the Serbian delegation, arrived in Paris saying that his team had no intention of talking to "kidnappers and murderers."

Twenty-four hours later, Markovic and the full Serbian delegation were sitting just yards away from the ethnic Albanian team, including the UCK group.

On the face of it, there should be no room for optimism about the peace talks that have started in the 14th century chateau in Rambouillet. Although the delegations have been convened to discuss only a three-year interim deal, the ethnic Albanians are demanding a referendum on independence at the end of that period, something the Serbs reject out-of-hand. Chris Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator, calls this "reconciling the irreconcilable."

But all the indications are that, barring the unexpected (another massacre, for example), the negotiators may well be able to clinch a deal. And if even if they do not quite succeed within the two-week timeframe set by the Contact Group for former Yugoslavia, they may make enough progress to reconvene soon afterward to finish the job.

Put simply, both sides have an interest in reaching an agreement. First, they have to weigh up the costs of failure. The diplomats are telling the Serbs that if they are seen to scupper the agreement, then Yugoslav military targets will be bombed. Slobodan Milosevic and his generals have no wish whatsoever to have their air defenses pulverized. This means that in the end, they must take this threat seriously.

The ethnic Albanians are also being threatened. For them the fear is not so much that NATO will cut off arms supply routes to the UCK. It is rather that if they are seen to block progress, then the West will do little or nothing if Serbian forces rampage across the province using their full military might against the lightly armed guerrillas and unarmed civilians.

On a more positive note, the UCK--and the other Albanians in the negotiating team--believe that once a deal is done and a full-scale NATO-led peace keeping force is established in the province, then Kosova will be well on the way to independence. The vast majority of official posts will be in the hands of the Albanians. More to the point, though, while some UCK forces will be confined to barracks, others will be disbanded--only to promptly reappear as the major part of a new local police force.

In public, the UCK and the remainder of the Kosova Albanian delegation are saying that a referendum is a sine qua non of any deal. In fact, their fall back position is that they will give up this demand as long as no option is foreclosed at the end of three years. This is clearly on the table, as British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the delegates that the proposed draft agreement meant that both sides should seek to make progress "without surrendering any of their views as to what should be the long term future for Kosova after three years."

In contrast to the ethnic Albanians, the Serbs are far less optimistic that a deal will be struck in Rambouillet. Still, they do not expect the meeting to be a complete failure either. They predict that enough progress will be made at Rambouillet for a new round of talks to begin soon afterward.

According to Serbian sources, Milosevic has already accepted the inevitability of some sort of foreign peacekeeping force for Kosova. Whether it will be NATO-led or come under some other guise has still to be negotiated. Milosevic also wants to see what his negotiators can get in return for any deal--that is, the lifting of all remaining sanctions.

For the Serbs, the fact that all options are left open at the end of the three-year period can be presented as a plus, because the province will remain both in the interim and possibly after that--as one diplomat puts it--"implicitly" within Serbia. Independence is therefore not inevitable.

The diplomats, meanwhile, are hoping that the three-year interim period will see more than a calming of passions and the end of the war. They hope that by the end of that period, Milosevic will have fallen. It is unclear, however, whether any new democratically elected Serbian or Yugoslav leader would find it any easier to deal with the poisoned chalice of the Kosova issue.

Pessimists believe that the difference between the Dayton conference, which ended the war in Bosnian in November 1995 and Rambouillet is that at the former, all sides were exhausted, had fought one another to a virtual standstill, and wanted a deal. This, they say, is not yet the case in Kosova. Indeed, in the words of one diplomat: "We are trying to get them to agree to a peace deal before the war has really begun." Tim Judah is the author of: "The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Europe (Yale University Press: New Haven/London, 1998).


XS
SM
MD
LG