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Newsline - February 15, 1999




YELTSIN FACING FIFTH IMPEACHMENT CHARGE

The State Duma's Impeachment Commission on 12 February approved charging President Boris Yeltsin with genocide for overseeing a calamitous drop in Russians' living standards and the wider availability of abortions. Commission chairman and member of the Communist Party Vadim Filimonov said the commission will likely submit all its charges to the Duma Council on 18 February. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," impeachment proceedings will begin if more than two-thirds of the Duma vote in favor. Yeltsin is also accused of high treason for signing the Belovezha agreements, which dissolved the Soviet Union, abuse of office for waging the war against Chechnya, allowing the disintegration of the armed forces, and fomenting state disorder by dismissing the parliament in the fall of 1993. JAC

CLOCK IS TICKING ON RUSSIAN DEBT

No date for reopening talks with foreign investors holding defaulted Russian short-term treasury bonds has been scheduled, Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Interfax on 15 February. Kasyanov's assertion follows reports that a new round of negotiations will open in London this week. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko told "Izvestiya" on 13 February that the Russian government must reach an agreement with IMF and the London and Paris Clubs on refinancing its foreign debt by May. Otherwise, according to Kirienko, "Russia's foreign debt will cause its economy and fragile political stability to collapse." Kirienko has reportedly been tasked by Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov with enlisting German creditors' support for refinancing Russian debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1999). JAC

UNSCOM HEAD TO GO?

The Russian government, which has long demanded the resignation of UN chief weapons inspector Richard Butler, may be about to get its way, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 February. The newspaper claims that it has obtained information about a "special agreement" between Russia, the U.S. and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan under which Butler will be "freed from his duties" when his contract expires in June 1999. According to the newspaper, the U.S. has secured a post for Butler in The Hague as head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. JAC

RUSSIA DENIES ARMS SALE TO IRAQ

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov denied a report by the U.K.'s "Sunday Telegraph" that Russia has signed a deal worth more than 100 million pounds ($163 million) to upgrade Iraq's anti-aircraft weapons and MiG jet fighters, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. According to the "Telegraph," Iraq's transportation and communications minister signed an agreement on the transaction during his visit to Moscow on 13-14 January. JAC

KURDISH LEADER PETITIONS MOSCOW FOR ASYLYUM

Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdish Workers' Party, has asked the governments of Russia, Italy, and Greece to grant him political asylum, Interfax reported on 15 February. On 4 November, the Duma adopted a non-binding resolution urging that Ocalan be granted asylum. JAC

NEW COAL MINERS STRIKE LAUNCHED

Coal miners at the Intinskaya mine in Komi Republic launched a strike on 15 February to demand unpaid wages from 1998 and vacation money totaling some 30 million rubles ($1.3 million), ITAR-TASS reported. Some of the 1,000 miners or so employed at the mine earlier tried picketing the office of the joint-stock company Intaugol, which controls Intinskaya. In addition, miners at nine mines in the republic are continuing a hunger strike at the Intinskaya mine's administration building. JAC

NDR TO TRY AGAIN

The Our Home is Russia (NDR) faction will propose two more candidates, Boris Kuznetsov and Oleg Gonzharov, for the position of Duma deputy speaker, which was vacated by Vladimir Ryzhkov when he became NDR faction head, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. Earlier, the Duma twice rejected NDR's bid to replace Ryzhkov with Andrei Polyakov. Polyakov withdrew his candidacy on 12 February. JAC

OIL COMPANY HEAD COMES IN SECOND IN OIL TOWN ELECTIONS

Incumbent mayor Viktor Tkachev won 42 percent of the vote in mayoral elections in Nefteyugansk in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug held on 14, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Tkachev will compete against Yuganskneft oil company head Anfar Fazlutdinov, who captured 20 percent of the vote, in a second round of elections to be held on 28 February. JAC

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT IN MOSCOW FOR UNOFFICIAL VISIT

Prime Minister Primakov called Russia's relations with Bulgaria "a priority" at a reception for Bulgarian President Petr Stoyanov in Moscow on 15 February. Primakov also announced that he is "not against going to Bulgaria." Stoyanov, a former lawyer, was awarded a prize from the association of Russian lawyers for his contribution to building a law-governed state and his "juridical thinking in politics and economy." Primakov and Stoyanov are also expected to discuss Russia's paying off its debt to Bulgaria for military spare parts. JAC

PASKO'S LAWYERS TO ASK FOR NEW TRIAL LOCATION

Defense attorneys for military journalist Grigorii Pasko, who is charged with espionage for having divulged information from classified materials about the Northern Fleet's environmentally hazardous practices, intend to ask that the trial be moved to a new location, Interfax reported on 15 February. According to the agency, the defense team will allege that trial Judge Dmitrii Savuskhin has breached the Criminal Proceedings Code several times and cannot be impartial. They will therefore ask not only for the appointment of a new judge but that the trial be moved to another military district or to the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court. JAC

MURDOCH, BEREZOVSKII UNVEIL FIRST JOINT PROJECT

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch and business tycoon Boris Berezovskii launched their first joint project, when they purchased 101.7 FM from SBS- Agro Bank and unveiled a new station called Nashe Radio, the "Moscow Times" reported on 13 February. Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko ruled out the sale of a stake in Russian Public Television (ORT) to an international entity or foreign person, Interfax reported on 11 February. Russian media had reported earlier that Murdoch was engaged in negotiations with Berezovskii to acquire a 20 percent stake in ORT. JAC

SINGLE RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN CURRENCY NOT TO APPEAR IN IMMEDIATE FUTURE

At an Executive Committee meeting of the Russian- Belarusian Union on 12 February, representatives of the two countries concluded a protocol on mutual recognition of export and import licenses, an agreement on cooperation in dealing with money-laundering, and an inter-government accord that restricts and, in some cases, prohibits trade in certain goods, ITAR-TASS reported. Prime Minister Primakov expressed support at the meeting for a single currency for Russia and Belarus, but he added that "we will not be introducing [a single currency] in the weeks to come, because it still requires preparation." JAC

CHECHEN MUTUAL RECRIMINATIONS CONTINUE

The Chechen parliament on 12 February issued a statement saying that President Aslan Maskhadov's pro-Russian orientation has left Chechnya politically and economically dependent on Moscow, Interfax reported. The statement accused Maskhadov of trying to usurp power and of generating tensions and instability. Addressing some 5,000 supporters the following day, Maskhadov accused rival field commanders of endangering the region's independence by allegedly seeking to "overthrow the legally elected government." On 14 February, maverick field commander Salman Raduev put his private army on high alert, without giving any explanation. LF

TATARSTAN'S PRESIDENT DISCHARGED FROM HOSPITAL

Mintimer Shaimiev left hospital in Kazan on 13 February after receiving treatment for high blood pressure over the previous two weeks, ITAR-TASS reported. He will spend a further two weeks vacationing at his dacha. On 15 February, a Tatar delegation traveled to Moscow for talks on prolonging the 1994 power-sharing treaties between Tatarstan and the Russian Federation. Tatarstan State Council chairman Farit Mukhametshin on 11 February said the renewed agreements will probably not be signed before the end of February, as Kazan insists on signing all agreements simultaneously, but talks with the Russian Ministry of Finance on inter-budget relations continue, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 12 February. Both Mukhametshin and Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov positively evaluated the 1994 agreements, which Mukhametshin said "pushed the federal government toward reforming the entire Russian Federation." LF




ARMENIAN TOP BRASS CALL FOR ARREST OF COLLEAGUE'S MURDERER

Armenian armed forces commanders have sent an open letter to Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian demanding that the murderers of the interior troops commander Artsrun Markarian be brought to justice within a "short period," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 12 February. The text of that letter was released to the media by the press service of the Defense Ministry. The letter also criticizes the Interior and National Security Ministry's failure to resolve the murder last December of Deputy Defense Minister Vahram Khorkhoruni (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 12 February quoted Serzh Sarkisian saying that he will resign if he is unable to solve Markarian's murder. Sarkisian added that his ministry has requested "professional assistance" from the U.S. government and from Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to achieve that end. LF

IRANIAN EX-PRESIDENT WARNS AZERBAIJAN OVER BASES

Speaking on Tehran Radio on 12 February, Al-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said the establishment of either U.S. or NATO military bases in Azerbaijan would be "dangerous" and could jeopardize the exploitation of Caspian oil reserves, Turan and Reuters reported. Rafsanjani also expressed displeasure at the Russian military presence in Armenia, noting, however, that "the Russians have been there since the Soviet era, and now they are packing up." LF

AZERBAIJANI EX-PREMIER SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT

Azerbaijan's Supreme Court sentenced Suret Huseinov on 15 February to life imprisonment and confiscated his property, Interfax reported. Huseinov, who led the 1993 insurgency that culminated in the flight of President Abulfaz Elchibey and the return to power of Heidar Aliev, was found guilty on charges of attempting a coup d'etat in October 1994 and plotting to assassinate Aliyev the following year. LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS RUSSIAN TIES WITH ABKHAZIA

The Georgian Foreign Ministry sent a formal protest to Moscow on 13 February expressing its concern that some Russian regions continue to circumvent the Georgian central government and establish economic contacts with Georgia's breakaway Black Sea region of Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported. Tbilisi also protested the fact that Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba and his South Ossetian counterpart, Lyudvig Chibirov, were both invited to attend a 6-8 February conference of North Caucasus leaders in Sochi. LF

ABKHAZ LEADER EXPLAINS RATIONALE FOR REPATRIATION OFFER

Meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Drachevskii on 12 February, Vladislav Ardzinba explained that he proposed beginning the unilateral repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion on 1 March because he has lost hope of reaching an agreement with Tbilisi whereby the beginning of the repatriation would be linked to economic issues, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Ardzinba's spokesman, Ruslan Khashig. Khashig also said that Arzdzinba has appealed to the UN and Russia to name representatives to a working group that will monitor the repatriation process and security measures in Gali. In an interview with ApsnyPress on 25 January, Arzdinba said that representatives of international organizations proposed postponing the beginning of repatriation until mid-April but that he insists on the 1 March date. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS WITHDRAW FROM GEORGIAN-TURKISH FRONTIER

The last contingent of Russian border guards on the Akhaltsikhe sector of the Georgian-Turkish border formally ceded their post to Georgian colleagues on 14 February, Russian agencies reported. Under an intergovernmental agreement signed in November 1998, Russian border guards are to be withdrawn from Georgia's land frontiers, including the Adjar sector of the Georgian-Turkish border, by July 1999. The Russian troops are ceding half their arms and equipment to Georgia, according to Interfax. LF

TEN PERCENT OF CHILDREN BORN IN GEORGIA ARE HANDICAPPED

Almost one in every 10 children born in Georgia suffers from either a mental or physical deficiency, Caucasus Press reported on 13 February, citing the Georgian Statistics department. The incidence of both premature births and infant mortality has risen dramatically in recent years. The national birthrate in 1997 was 10.7 per thousand, 6 percent lower than in 1990; but in certain regions, including Kakheti and Imereti, it is close to zero. LF

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SEES LITTLE PROGRESS IN TAJIKISTAN

Kofi Annan, in a report on progress in the Tajik peace process given to the Security Council on 12 February, said the slow pace of implementing constitutional reforms has led to a "growing restlessness" in the country, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. Annan noted that the United Tajik Opposition is close to having its 30 percent share of representation in the government guaranteed under the terms of the 1997 Peace Accord but added that it has not fully disarmed is fighters nor integrated all of them into the national armed forces. Annan also criticized the Tajik government for neither fully implementing an amnesty law nor preparing for a referendum on changes to the constitution. He said that "at this stage, it is impossible to say with certainty that in 1999 a constitutional referendum, presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in [Tajikistan]." BP

UTO DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN DRUG TRADE

UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri issued a statement on 11 February rejecting allegations that UTO members are involved in the narcotics trade, Asia-Plus reported. Nuri was responding to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov's claim that UTO members are participating in trafficking drugs and plan to use profits from that activity to finance future political campaigns. Nuri said such claims "may endanger the peace process." BP

KAZAKHSTAN TO SOW LESS GRAIN THIS YEAR

Kazakhstan's Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Toleuhan Nurkianov, said on 12 February that 12.2 million hectares will be sown with grain crops this year, compared with 13.3 million hectares in 1998, Interfax reported. He added that seeds, weed killer, fuel or operational farm vehicles are insufficient even for the reduced number of hectares to be sown. Nurkianov also reported that last year agricultural output dropped by 18.7 percent, partly owing to bad weather. Kazakhstan traditionally exports grain to Russian regions along its border and also to neighboring countries in Central Asia. The decrease in grain production in Kazakhstan will not affect the domestic market but could mean shortages in other countries in the region later this year. BP

CHEVRON PROMISES CONTINUED INVESTMENT IN KAZAKHSTAN

Nick Zana, the president of Chevron Overseas Petroleum Inc., told the chairman of Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament, Marat Ospanov, on 12 February that his company will not reduce its investments in Kazakhstan's oil sector, despite falling prices on world markets, Interfax reported. Chevron invested $550 million in the TengizChevrOil joint-stock company in 1998 and will stick to its plans for another $450 million investment this year. The joint-stock company produced 8.5 million tons of oil in 1998 and plans 9 million tons this year. BP

FORMER KYRGYZ FINANCE MINISTER FIRED FROM NEW POST...

Taalaibek Koichumanov on 12 February was dismissed as head of the finance, economic, and investment department in the government's administration, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Interior Minister Omurbek Kutuev has called several times for his arrest over an $18.5 million loan that Koichumanov, in his capacity as finance minister, had authorized to the former director of the country's state oil and gas company. The latter took the money and fled the country in December. Shortly thereafter, Koichumanov was fired as finance minister. BP

...WHILE STILL UNDER CRITICISM FOR PERFORMANCE AS FINANCE MINISTER

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev told a meeting of National Bank officials on 11 February that Koichumanov's "unprofessional activities" are to blame for outstanding pensions, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek. Akayev said pensioners are owed some 500 million som ($17 million), which, he promised, will be paid off this year. BP




UKRAINE'S TAX DEBT SOARS

Tax payers in Ukraine owe the government 11 billion hryvni ($3.2 billion), AP reported on 12 February. Oleksiy Shytriya, deputy chief of the State Tax Administration, said the tax debt, which rose by some 8 billion hryvni in 1998, is already turning into an "issue of national security." Ukrainian Television reported the next day that some 50 percent of Ukraine's capital turnover occurs outside the banking system, making it difficult for tax inspectors to deal with tax evasion. The State Tax Administration has identified nearly 90 means of tax evasion. JM

LUKASHENKA ACCUSES POLAND, LITHUANIA OF ELECTRONIC ESPIONAGE...

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in Izhevsk, Russia, on 12 February that Poland and Lithuania have set up radar systems that can "monitor the space from the CIS western borders practically [as far as] Moscow," Interfax reported. He did not elaborate. Both Poland and Lithuania have rejected that allegation. Pawel Dobrowolski, Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman, said this is "not the first time that Lukashenka has disseminated such news. But he has never substantiated his statements," "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 13 February. JM

...CRITICIZES RUSSIAN SYSTEM OF ELECTING GOVERNORS

Lukashenka also criticized the Russian system of electing governors, adding that Moscow will "most likely" borrow a lot from the Belarusian Constitution. He said that as a consequence of the Russian system, a governor "goes out onto the square with his supporters and demands the removal of the head of state," Interfax quoted him as saying. Lukashenka also noted that the Belarusian system of appointing governors "has nothing to do with dictatorship but makes it possible to govern the country efficiently." JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST WARNED AGAINST ORGANIZING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Viktar Hanchar has been warned that his bid to hold presidential elections on 16 May is illegal and may be considered a conspiracy to seize power, Belarusian Television reported on 13 February. Viktar Hanchar is chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, a body authorized by the opposition Supreme Soviet to organize presidential elections in Belarus this year. The 1994 constitution, which was abolished by the controversial November 1996 referendum, provides for such a vote. Meanwhile, several hundred members of the opposition Belarusian Youth Popular Front participating in a St. Valentine's Day march delivered petitions to several embassies in Minsk urging ambassadors not to recognize Lukashenka's administration beyond July, when his five-year presidential term expires. Lukashenka, in his first response to the opposition's election initiative, said last week "we are strong enough to confront that rabble [and] break their necks within 24 hours," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 10 February. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT PROMULGATES AMENDMENTS TO LANGUAGE LAW

Lennart Meri on 13 February promulgated amendments to the state language law and tax law requiring those working in the services sector to be proficient in the Estonian language (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1999), ETA reported. The Russian Party in Estonia had appealed to the president not to promulgate the amendments, while the United People's Party, the largest party of Russian-speakers in Estonia, issued a statement on 12 February urging the EU and the OSCE to pressure Tallinn to revoke the legislation. The amendments will go into force on 1 July. JC

RIGA TO CRACK DOWN ON CRIME AFTER BOMBINGS

Following a spate of bombings last week, Interior Minister Roberts Jurdz announced on 13 February that security checkups and police operations will be stepped up in a bid to combat crime, LETA and BNS reported. In the early hours of 12 February, a bomb destroyed a Home Guard training plane at the Spilve airport in northern Riga. Earlier, bombs had exploded outside a bank and an office building, while an unknown assailant had fired a grenade launcher at a car, narrowly missing that target. There were also three major fires in the capital on the night of 12 February, as a result of which three people died. JC

LUKOIL PRESIDENT IN VILNIUS

Vagit Alekperov wrapped up his tour of the Baltic States by paying a visit to the Lithuanian capital on 12 February, BNS and ELTA reported. Following meetings with parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis and Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, the LUKoil president confirmed that his company is interested in taking part in the privatization of the Mazeikiai Nafta refinery and the Butinge terminal. He proposed setting up an operating company for the refinery, stressing his company's desire to share operational control over the facility with other investors. Last year, the Lithuanian government passed a law naming the U.S. company Williams International strategic investor in Mazeikiai. JC

MOSCOW WANTS KALININGRAD ACCORD DRAFTED BEFORE VAGNORIUS VISIT

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told journalists in Moscow on 12 February that Lithuanian Prime Minister Vagnorius's visit to the Russian capital can take place only after an agreement on cooperation between Lithuania and Kaliningrad Oblast has been drafted, BNS reported. BNS quoted sources in the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry as saying that negotiations on the accord could be concluded by this spring. Vagnorius's visit to Moscow was postponed following the Russian financial crisis in August 1998. JC

NEW NATO MEMBERS TO JOIN ORGANIZATION ON 12 MARCH...

According to a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Budapest on 13 February, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland will be formally admitted to NATO on 12 March at a ceremony in Independence, Missouri, where former U.S. President Harry Truman announced the formation of NATO 50 years ago, AP reported citing MTI. Czech presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek told CTK that President Vaclav Havel wants to discuss with his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, their joint signing of the NATO accession documents, which have already been signed by Hungarian President Arpad Goencz. MS

...WHILE RUSSIA'S OBJECTION TO NATO EXPANSION DEEMED 'UNACCEPTABLE'

The defense ministers of Poland, Germany, and France agreed in Krakow on 12 February that objections from Russia cannot block NATO expansion after the alliance admits new members in March, Reuters reported. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov recently commented that a "red line" exists along the border of the former USSR marking a barrier to further NATO expansion. That idea "is unacceptable to us," Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz commented. His German and French counterparts, Rudolf Scharping and Alain Richard, both said they favor continued NATO expansion to countries that meet entry requirements and want to join the alliance. JM

CZECH CONTROVERSY OVER NATO VETTING

Premier Milos Zeman on 12 February said the Czech Counter-Intelligence Service (BIS) is to blame for the "sluggishness of the procedure" of vetting officials who will have access to classified NATO information, CTK reported. He said his cabinet intends to submit to the parliament a bill that will streamline that procedure, adding that the delay was the result of a "technical problem." He also commented that NATO Military Committee chairman Klaus Naumann, who recently visited Prague, assured him the Czech Republic's date of accession to NATO would not be postponed. Civic Democratic Party deputy Ivan Langer responded that the government, not the BIS, is responsible for the delay. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER IN BRATISLAVA

Victor Orban and his Slovak counterpart, Mikulas Dzurinda, said they made "significant progress" in improving bilateral relations in their talks in the Slovak capital on 12 February. Dzurinda said both governments demonstrated "good will" in tackling "issues of joint interest," adding that "nationalism has no future". He said that by 30 June the Slovak parliament will approve a new law on the use of minority languages in contacts with the authorities. Orban informed Dzurinda on the setting up of the new National Slovak Self-Government in Hungary and said his cabinet favors the preservation of the minorities' self identity. He added that Hungary supports Slovakia's quest for NATO and EU membership. MS

SLOVAK COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SUBMITS REPORT TO PARLIAMENT

Vladimir Mitro, head of the Slovak Counter-Intelligence Service (SIS), on 12 February submitted to the parliament a report on the activities of the SIS under its former chief, Ivan Lexa. Ruling coalition deputies described the report, which was delivered in closed session, as "truly shocking and dramatic," CTK reported. Vladimir Palko, chairman of the Defense and Security Committee, said the SIS has been "rightly suspected of committing crimes and breaking the law." Lexa himself dismissed the report as "nothing but rubbish, fairy tales and a spree of lies without a single bit of evidence." Deputies from the ruling majority demanded that the law on secret services be amended to ensure efficient monitoring of the SIS. MS




CONTACT GROUP SETS DEADLINE FOR KOSOVA AGREEMENT

Foreign ministers of the six Contact Group countries agreed in Paris on 14 February that the Serbian and Kosovar delegations to the talks in Rambouillet must reach an agreement by noon on 20 February. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made it clear that NATO is prepared to launch airstrikes against Serbian targets if the Serbian side is the main obstacle to an agreement. The Kosovars face a loss of foreign diplomatic support and interdiction of their arms supplies from Albania if they balk. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Paris that the Contact Group did not discuss the possible deployment of foreign troops to Kosova to enforce a settlement. Moscow and Belgrade oppose any such mission without Serbian approval. On 13 February, President Bill Clinton said in Washington that the U.S. is prepared to send up to 4,000 ground troops as part of an enforcement mission, 85 percent of which would consist of European troops. PM

ALBRIGHT LEAVES 'NOT OPTIMISTIC'

Albright had what Serbian sources called "an extremely unpleasant" meeting with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic in Paris on 14 February, AP reported. She then brought both delegations in Rambouillet together for their first face-to-face meeting. She said later that "they recognizedthat the killing must stop, that time is short." Albright told the negotiators that they "face a fork in the road. One fork leads to chaos, disaster, and more killing. The other fork leads back to a rational solution that will achieve peace, democracy and human rights. I hope the Serbs will see it in their interests to sign" the agreement. Albright noted that the Kosovars "recognize that the Contact Group plan is a fair dealand there is every indication that they will be ready to sign by the time the conference is over." Unnamed U.S. officials nonetheless told CNN on 14 February that Albright is "not optimistic" about the prospects for a successful outcome of the talks. PM

FISCHER SEEKS HARMONY AMONG EU MEMBERS OVER KOSOVA

EU foreign ministers met in Paris on 14 February under the chairmanship of Germany's Joschka Fischer, whose country holds the rotating EU chair. Fischer appealed to the Serbs and Kosovars "to think about the serious consequences" if the talks fail. He added that the 15 ministers discussed the "necessity of military guarantees" for a settlement. Fischer also sought to address complaints by Belgium and other unnamed smaller EU member states that the major European powers have not been keeping them regularly informed about diplomatic developments surrounding the Kosova crisis, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Belgian diplomats said that they need to be fully informed because NATO expects their country to contribute troops to an eventual peace-keeping force. PM

BOMB WOUNDS NINE IN FERIZAJ

Serbian police detained some 40 persons in Ferizaj on 14 February in connection with a bomb explosion there the previous day, which left nine injured, the Kosovars' KIC news agency reported. KIC added that most of those arrested are known supporters of independence. Xhemail Mustafa, who is a spokesman for shadow-state President Ibrahim Rogova, said the Serbian security forces set off the bomb as part of an alleged "campaign of urban terror." Serbian police spokesmen charged that Kosovar guerrillas planted the device in order to deflect attention from the Rambouillet talks. AP noted that the explosion was unusual in that the 11-pound bomb was larger than most devices used in similar incidents and in that it took place during the day. PM

WHAT IS GLIGOROV TRYING TO DO?

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said in Skopje on 13 February that the UCK must be disbanded as part of a settlement in Kosova. If not, he warned, "it can be used in other regions inhabited by Albanians, such as Montenegro, Macedonia, or Greece, which could cause an all-out Balkan conflict." Observers noted that ethnic Albanians in those three countries have little, if any, interest in an armed rebellion. The observers suggested that the increasingly outspoken Gligorov, who is close to the opposition Social Democrats but whose own office is largely ceremonial, hopes to weaken the governing coalition by exacerbating tensions between Albanians and Slavs. The coalition includes a Macedonian nationalist party and an Albanian nationalist one. Reuters reported on 14 February that several ethnic Albanian politicians criticized Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev for recently referring to the UCK as a "terrorist organization." PM

ISRAEL, CROATIA SIGN $80 MILLION ARMS DEAL

Croatian Defense Minister Pavao Miljavac and Israel's Moshe Arens signed a military cooperation agreement in Tel Aviv on 15 February. Unnamed Israeli officials told AP that the deal is worth at least $80 million and possibly as much as $120 million, "depending on which options Croatia chooses." He did not elaborate. The deal will enable Elbit Systems and Israel Aircraft Industries to modernize Croatia aging MiG-21 aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). Israeli critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Croatia has failed to confront its fascist legacy from World War II and that the Israeli government is "cynical" for making a deal with Zagreb. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government has accepted President Franjo Tudjman's apology for some allegedly anti-Semitic remarks. The spokesman added that "Israel...sees no difference between Croatia's relations with Israel and its relations with the rest of the world." PM

MAJKO SAYS U.S. WILL 'PROTECT' ALBANIA

Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told "Zeri I Popullit" of 14 February that "the U.S. will react if Albania's sovereignty is violated" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). He called Washington Albania's "greatest ally," stressing that the failure of the Rambouillet talks could lead to a regional conflict. "Nobody should think that Albania could stay out of a long-term conflict in Kosova," he warned. Echoing a recent statement, Majko said that "if a new massacre takes place in Kosova, the Albanians in both north and south will join in a collective self-defense" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1999). "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported the same day that the largely conscript army is continuing its practice of hiring paid soldiers to boost the military presence along the northern borders. FS

WERE ALBANIAN JUDGES INVOLVED IN COUP ATTEMPT?

The High Council of Justice, which is empowered to appoint and dismiss judges, has summoned five judges from the Tirana local court to discuss their alleged involvement in an armed coup attempt in September 1998, "Koha Jone" reported on 13 February. Senior judges recently removed two of the five justices presiding over a trial related to the coup (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). The High Council of Justice has the power to lift the five judges' immunity or discipline them. FS

POPE TO VISIT ROMANIA

Romanian Patriarch Teoctist has officially invited Pope Paul John II to visit Romania, following a decision to that effect by the Holy Synod on 4 February, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 12 February. A spokesman for the Vatican said the visit, the pope's first to an Orthodox country, might take place from 7-9 May. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT, MINERS TO SIGN COLLECTIVE LABOR CONTRACT

The Ministry of Industry and Trade said after negotiations with representatives of the Jiu Valley miners on 12 February that it has authorized the signing of collective labor contracts based on agreements reached last month by Prime Minister Radu Vasile and miners' leader Miron Cozma, Radio Bucharest reported. The sides agreed on the partial closure of two loss-making mines in the valley. In other news, President Emil Constantinescu, speaking to Romanian Television on 12 February, criticized Romanians who are "ostentatiously displaying wealth" while others see their living standards decline. He proposed that a special tax be imposed on the former. MS

IMF POSTPONES TALKS WITH MOLDOVA

The IMF has postponed talks with the Moldovan leadership scheduled for this month until a new cabinet is formed, the IMF chief representative for Moldova, Mark Horton, told journalists in Chisinau on 12 February. Horton said the fund hopes that the cabinet change will not "complicate Moldova's relations with the IMF," adding that Ion Ciubuc's outgoing cabinet "demonstrated its ability to implement reforms and enjoyed the backing of Western creditors," ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 12 February, the World Bank representative to Moldova, James Parks, met with President Petru Lucinschi, who assured him that Moldova will meet its earlier commitments regardless of the composition of the new government, Infotag reported. MS

BULGARIA TO FINANCE DANUBE BRIDGE ALONE?

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 12 February told the parliament that Bulgaria is ready to finance a bridge over the River Danube between Vidin and the Romanian town of Calafat, Mediafax reported. He said that some 60-70 percent of the estimated $120 million costs might be met by international financing institutions. Romania favors constructing the bridge further east and has argued that the existing bridge between Russe and Giurgiu and ferry boats are sufficient to meet traffic needs, following the lifting of the embargo against Yugoslavia. MS




BULGARIA, MACEDONIA RESOLVE LANGUAGE DISPUTE


by Ron Synovitz

The resolution last week of a long-standing language dispute between Bulgaria and Macedonia is more than a way to unblock stalled accords between the two countries. The deal also resolves potential territorial disputes that had threatened to keep both countries from joining NATO.

Bulgaria was the first country to recognize Macedonia's statehood after the latter declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1992. But none of Sofia's governments in the past seven years has recognized the language spoken in Macedonia as anything more than a regional dialect of Bulgarian. This stand reflects the widespread perception in Bulgaria that Macedonians are in fact ethnic Bulgarians and are not part of Bulgaria only because that country was on the losing side in the Second Balkan War of 1913 and in both World Wars.

Sofia, moreover, feared that recognition of "Macedonian" as a distinct language would set a precedent, allowing Macedonia to make future territorial claims in southwestern Bulgaria, where a similar dialect is spoken. For its part, Skopje has refused to recognize Sofia's position out of similar fears that such a move might allow Bulgaria to make claims on its territories.

The breakthrough agreement, which took the form of a joint declaration, was initialized on 11 February by the two countries' deputy foreign ministers. In that document, both sides state that they have no territorial claims on each other. That removes the primary concerns behind the language dispute.

More important for Sofia, it resolves an issue that has threatened to keep Bulgaria out of NATO. The alliance insists that applicants will not be considered for membership as long as they have territorial disputes with their neighbors. Both Bulgaria and Macedonia have NATO aspirations and are members of the Partnership for Peace program. But Skopje has yet to fully resolve its dispute with Greece over use of the name "Macedonia," which is also the name of a northern region of Greece.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Alexander Dimitrov, speaking from the Kosova peace talks near Paris, told RFE/RL that the deal with Bulgaria will benefit regional stability in the Balkans as well as bilateral ties. "Our interest is in the development of relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia. We are determined, as a new government, to give a new impetus to relations in response to the interests of both countries and their people," he commented.

Some 20 accords have been prepared by Bulgaria and Macedonia in the past seven years. Many are vital for removing barriers to trade and economic relations--such as eliminating double taxation and guaranteeing foreign investments. But none of those accords has been finalized because of Skopje's insistence on the inclusion of a single clause: "The agreement will be written in the official language of Macedonia and the official language of Bulgaria."

Sofia had called that clause unacceptable because the Macedonian Constitution identifies the country's official language as "Macedonian." Sofia also has been uneasy about Article 49 of Macedonia's basic law, which says that Skopje has a right to protect its ethnic minorities abroad.

By agreeing to sign accords "in the official languages of the two countries," Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov has offered a compromise that is, in effect, de facto recognition of the Macedonian tongue. In return, Skopje has agreed not to apply Article 49 to Bulgaria--in effect saying that there is no Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Addressing the Bulgarian parliament on 10 February, Kostov said that "the joint declaration will be signed in the official languages of both countries -- the Bulgarian language according to the constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria and in Macedonian according to the constitution of the Republic of Macedonia."

The Macedonian language is so close to Bulgarian that citizens of one country can understand those of the other without translation. Nevertheless, Skopje has insisted on bringing translators to Sofia on visits by Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov and other senior officials. That has turned some joint news conferences in Sofia into comic affairs.

When Gligorov made his first state visit to Sofia in 1994, the Bulgarian president at the time, Zhelyu Zhelev, told the translator from Skopje to sit down and be quiet because her efforts were unnecessary. The incident, and not least, Gligorov's red-faced reaction, revealed as much about bilateral relations than the policy statements of the two presidents.

Kostov says the declaration will be signed on 22 February, when new Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski is due to visit Sofia. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov has hailed the accord, saying it will preserve the dignity of both states and open the way to broad cooperation. The author is an RFE/RL editor based in Prague and a former free- lance correspondent in Bulgaria.


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