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Newsline - February 19, 1999




YELTSIN, EUROPEANS CALL FOR EXPANDED TIES

In a statement released following their meetings on 18 February, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, European Commission President Jacques Santer, and German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder said that relations between Russia and the EU are "a fundamental factor of peace and stability in Europe" and called for closer ties in the future, Russian agencies reported. In talks that Russian officials characterized as "very candid," the Europeans called on Russia to improve its financial system and open its markets, while Yeltsin and his aides pressed Europe to reverse declines in trade between Russia and Germany. PG

SERGEEV SAYS RUSSIAN-GERMAN TIES NOT AIMED AT OTHERS

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said on 18 February during a meeting with his German counterpart Rudolf Scharping that expanding Russian-German military cooperation "strengthens European stability and will never be directed against any third country," Interfax reported. Scharping responded that "a strong Russia is needed for peace in Europe." PG

RUSSIA MAY JOIN A KOSOVA FORCE UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 18 February that Moscow might send troops to participate in a Kosova force if agreement is reached at Rambouillet and if Belgrade approves, Interfax reported. But if that does not happen, Ivanov said, the Contact Group will have to gather in order to decide what to do. "There can be no other way of settling this problem," the Russian diplomat said. Other Russian officials have suggested that any use of force in Kosova would have to be approved by the UN Security Council and the OSCE. Meanwhile, nationalist Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky quoted Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov as saying that Russia will give the Yugoslavs "whatever they ask for" if NATO moves unilaterally against Yugoslavia. And Duma deputy speaker Sergei Baburin, who heads a parliamentary delegation that flew to Belgrade on 18 February, told Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that the Russian legislature wants only a peaceful resolution of the Kosovo problem. PG

U.S. DENIES YELTSIN WARNED CLINTON ON KOSOVA

A White House spokesman told CNN on 18 February that "there has been no contact" between Yeltsin and President Clinton since the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein, thus effectively rejecting Yeltsin's statement that he had telephoned Clinton on 16 February. But even as the U.S. rejected Yeltsin's claims on this point, Russian Ambassador Boris Mayorskii said at Rambouillet that the French were taking Yeltsin's remarks very seriously. PG

YELTSIN FIRES TAX POLICE CHIEF

Without explanation, President Yeltsin on 18 February fired Sergei Almazov, who had been in charge of the federal tax police service. "Kommersant" speculated that Almazov had been sacked for his failure to "make the work of the tax police correspond to the level of economic crime." No successor has yet been announced. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin fired top law enforcement officials in Sverdlovsk and Yakutia, AP reported. PG

CENTRAL BANK DEFENDS USE OF OFFSHORE MANAGEMENT COMPANY

Oleg Mozhaiskov, the deputy chairman of Russia's Central Bank, told journalists in Moscow on 18 February that the bank had done nothing wrong when it allowed a small company located in the Channel Islands to manage billions of dollars in foreign exchange between 1993 and 1997, AP reported. Meanwhile, however, the Central Bank submitted a bill to the Duma calling for regulation of the opening of correspondent accounts in offshore banks, Interfax- FIA reported. PG

GAIDAR DENOUNCES BUDGET AS "POLITICAL" DOCUMENT

Following the Federation Council's approval of the 1999 state budget, former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar told Reuters on 18 February that the budget "is not an economic document. It is a political document, a declaration of support for the Primakov government." He indicated that the assumptions on which it is based are completely unrealizable. PG

MOSCOW HAS NO PLANS FOR EARLY TALKS ON GKO RESTRUCTURING

Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Interfax on 18 February that it is premature to have any discussions with Western investors on restructing GKO treasury bills. PG

DEFENSE MINISTRY REJECTS TALKS ON ABM MODIFICATIONS

Leonid Ivashov, the head of the defense ministry's international military cooperation department, told Interfax on 18 February that Moscow is not holding talks with Washington about the possible amendment of the 1972 ABM treaty. Ivashov said that Moscow "does not think it expedient" to make any changes, even though "the United States is trying to entangle us" in such talks. PG

MOSCOW TO SELL SUKHOI-30M FIGHTERS TO CHINA

Beijing will soon announce plans to purchase 20 to 50 of Russia's advanced Sukhoi-30M fighter aircraft, Russian trade officials told Interfax on 18 February. PG

DEFENSE MINISTRY REJECTS BAKU'S COMPLAINTS ON ARMENIA

Officials at the Russian defense ministry on 18 February dismissed Azerbaijan's complaints concerning Moscow's shipments of arms to Armenia, Interfax reported. The Russian defense officials said they were simply replacing now- outdated equipment at Russia's military base there, rather than introducing new weapons. And they said that Azerbaijan's suggestion that Moscow had upset the balance of forces in the southern Caucasus is simply not true. PG

POLITICAL ACCORD STATEMENT READY IN SIX WEEKS ...

Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, told Interfax on 18 February that he expects the draft statement on political accord to be set for signing "in four to six weeks." PG

... ABOUT WHEN DUMA TO CONSIDER YELTSIN IMPEACHMENT

Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin told reporters on 18 February that the Duma may vote on the impeachment of President Yeltsin in mid to late March. But Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that the Duma has not set a date, and virtually all predicted that the effort will fail to garner the 300 votes needed. PG

LEBED SAYS RUSSIA IS "LIKE A DINOSAUR"

In an interview with Munich's "Suddeutsche Zeitung" on 18 February, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed said that Russia suffers from what he called "'a dinosaur syndrome.' Its head is small and its body enormous. By the time a signal from the tiny and often sad to say brainless head has reached the end of the tail, the situation has often changed." In other comments, he said that Russia is a "bandit state" and that "the old imperial mentality still prevails." PG

MOSCOW TO CUT EXPORT DUTIES

In hopes of spurring new foreign investment, the Russian government will soon cut export duties by 50 percent, Valerii Draganov, the chairman of the State Customs Committee, told Interfax on 18 February. He said that Moscow has already begun this process, cutting some levies by 5 percent. PG

RUSSIA TO CONDUCT NON-NUCLEAR TESTS ON NOVAYA ZEMLYA

The Russian defense and atomic energy ministries will conduct a new round of non-nuclear explosion tests at the Novaya Zemlya test site, Minister for Atomic Energy Yevgenii Adamov told Interfax on 18 February. The tests are to upgrade nuclear ammunition, he said. PG

MOSCOW, TEHRAN AGREE TO EXPAND DIALOGUE

At a meeting in Moscow on 18 February, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov and Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Safari agreed to expand their bilateral dialogue concerning non- proliferation, combatting terrorism, and defending human rights, Russian agencies reported. PG

DUMA TO CONSIDER SANCTIONS AGAINST TURKEY OVER OCALAN

Aleksei Mitrofanov, the chairman of the Duma Geopolitical Committee and an ally of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, told Interfax on 18 February that he and his allies will submit a resolution calling for sanctions against Turkey because of Ankara's detention of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. But Vladimir Lukin, a member of the Yabloko group and chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, warned that the Russian parliament should condemn the arbitrary way in which Ocalan was arrested, but should beware of backing an independent Kurdish state. Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry repeated its call for a fair trial of Ocalan. PG

YELTSIN CONSIDERING PLAN TO REORGANIZE CIS

The Russian government has prepared and sent to President Yeltsin a plan for reorganizing the Commonwealth of Independent States, the president's office told Interfax on 18 February. The plan, drafted by the CIS Executive Secretariat, is to be considered at the next CIS summit. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii told journalists in Minsk on 18 February that that summit will probably take place in March. PG

GAZPROM TO EARN $300 MILLION FOR TURKMEN GAS TRANSIT

Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom will receive the equivalent of more than $300 million in transit fees during 1999 for the shipping of Turkmenistan's natural gas to Ukraine, Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev informed the Duma on 18 February, Interfax-PIA reported. Of that sum, 60 percent will be paid in cash and the remainder in kind (i.e. in natural gas). In other petroleum-related deals, Gazprom announced that it will cut its exports of gas through Ukraine in six months time; and Lukoil indicated that it is considering making a bid for a controlling share of Bulgaria's state-owned gasoline company Petrol. PG

TB EPIDEMIC PROMPTS MOSCOW TO SEEK WORLD BANK LOAN

Russian Health Minister Vladimir Starodubov told Ekho Moskvy on 18 February that a tuberculosis epidemic is sweeping across Russia and that he will seek a World Bank loan to combat it. PG

MOSCOW TO COMPENSATE VICTIMS OF SARATOV FIRE

Prime Minister Primakov has issued a decree directing that the government give 164 million rubles ($7 million) to the families of victims of the 10 February fire in Samara in which 67 people lost their lives. PG

PATRIARCH URGES CONTINUED FIGHT AGAINST 'ALIEN' IDEAS

As he marked his 70th birthday on 18 February, Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II told ITAR-TASS that the struggle against "pseudo-religions and spiritually alien 'conquistadors' who are ruining the spiritual integrity of Russian society" must continue. He praised the country's new religion law, widely condemned by human rights groups, but said that it has not yet fully eradicated the "alien" religions. PG

MEDIA CHIEF RESIGNS OVER ULTRA-NATIONALIST PROGRAMMING

Boris Petrov, the general director of the state-controlled radio and television network in Saint Petersburg, resigned on 18 February to protest the launching of a new program anchored by ultranationalist journalist Aleksandr Nevzorov, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Nevzorov, who first came to public notice for his attacks on non-Russians in the show "600 Seconds" at the end of the Gorbachev era, began his new show in December 1998. He is also an advisor to Governor Vladimir Yakovlev on television issues. PG

INGUSH PRESIDENT BACKS DOWN OVER REFERENDUM

Meeting in Moscow on 19 February, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha, Interior Minister Stepashin and Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev signed an agreement on the division of responsibilities between the federal authorities and the Republic of Ingushetia in ensuring law and order in Ingushetia, Caucasus Press reported. Aushev subsequently told journalists that he has suspended the referendum scheduled for 28 February on support for the nomination by the Ingush leadership of local judges and police officials. President Yeltsin had ruled that the referendum violates the Russian Federation Constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1999). Aushev added that the 19 February agreement provides for the pardoning of persons convicted under federal law for crimes that in Ingushetia are regarded as national traditions. (Such customs include the abduction of a girl by her prospective bridegroom.) He said a new Ingushetian interior minister will shortly be appointed, whose candidacy will be agreed with Moscow. LF

CONVICTED CHECHEN TERRORISTS MOVED FROM STAVROPOL

The two Chechen women found guilty by a court in Stavropol krai earlier this month of planting a bomb at the Pyatigorsk railway station in April 1997 that killed two people have been sent to an unknown destination to serve their sentences of 15 and 18 years, Russian agencies reported on 18 February. Stavropol had intensified security on the internal border with Chechnya after opposition Chechen field commanders had threatened reprisals for the sentencing of the two women, whom they claim are innocent. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had asked Russian President Yeltsin to send the two back to Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 17 February 1999). LF




ARMENIA SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS FOR 30 MAY

On 18 February, President Robert Kocharian set 30 May as the date for the upcoming parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The previous day, Kocharian had signed into law the controversial election bill passed by parliament in the final reading on 5 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). Opposition deputies had called on Kocharian to veto the bill, arguing that the allocation of 75 of 131 seats in single-candidate constituencies is conducive to election fraud. Representatives of two pro-presidential parties, the Self-Determination Union and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, said on 18 February that they will continue to lobby for amendments to the law. LF

AZERBAIJAN OIL EXPORTS RESUMED

The export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline resumed late on 17 February, Interfax reported the following day quoting an official from Russia's Transneft, which operates the Russian sector of the pipeline. Export had been halted on 16 February, the third such stoppage this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). LF

$500,000 IN COUNTERFEIT NOTES CONFISCATED IN TBILISI

Georgian police have arrested six people from whom they confiscated a total of $500,000 in counterfeit notes, Interfax reported on 18 February quoting a senior Georgian Interior Ministry official. He added that the haul is the largest single sum in counterfeit dollars ever found in either the CIS or Europe. He did not say where the counterfeit notes originated, but Interfax suggested they may have been printed in Urus Martan, the stronghold of opposition to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. LF

ABKHAZIA'S GREEK MINORITY SEEKS TO RETURN

An unspecified number of Pontic Greeks who were evacuated from Abkhazia to Greece during the 1993 war now wish to return, Caucasus Press reported on 18 February. In an appeal published in "Respublika Abkhaziya," the Greek refugees expressed concern that efforts by international organizations to repatriate those former inhabitants of Abkhazia who now want to return focus primarily on the ethnic Georgian population. Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba has promised his support for those Greeks who wish to return to Abkhazia. The Greek minority there numbered approximately 15,000 prior to the 1992-1993 war. LF

KURDS DEMONSTRATE IN KAZAKHSTAN...

Some 300 ethnic Kurds took to the streets of the former capital, Almaty, on 18 February to demonstrate against the arrest and detainment of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, RFE/RL correspondents reported. As the demonstration was unsanctioned and Almaty's mayor had warned Kurdish groups against such demonstrations, police attempted to stop the group before they could reach the Turkish Embassy. A scuffle broke out and four Kurds were arrested. They were later released from custody but a criminal case will be opened against them. BP

... AND PLAN A HUNGER STRIKE IN KYRGYZSTAN

An official from the Nyshtyman Kurdish Association in Bishkek told RFE/RL correspondents on 18 February that if Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev does not appeal to Turkish leaders for clemency in the case against Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, some plan to go on hunger strike. BP

SECURITY TIGHTENED ALONG KAZAKH-UZBEK BORDER

Kazakhstan has tightened security along its border with Uzbekistan following the bombings in the Uzbek capital on 16 February, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. Uzbek customs officer are no allowing any citizens of Kazakhstan to cross into Uzbek territory. BP

TURKMEN CELEBRATE HOLIDAY, PRESIDENT NAMES PARTICIPANTS OF CONSORTIUM

Turkmen citizens celebrated National Flag Day on 19 February, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov used the occasion to officially announce the operator for construction of the Trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline. The United States Consortium PSG, comprised of General Electric Capital Construction and Finance Group and Bechtel Enterprises, received the contract to build the 2,000- kilometer long pipeline, which will cost an estimated $2 billion. Richard Morningstar, the special advisor to the US President and Secretary of State, attended the signing ceremony along with Niyazov and representatives of the two companies. Morningstar appeared on Turkmen National Television the night before saying construction of the pipeline is "a major step in establishing on a permanent basis, the independence and sovereignty of the country of Turkmenistan." BP

TURKMENISTAN PREPARES PLANS FOR FIRST DECADE OF NEXT CENTURY

At an 18 February ceremony dedicated to National Flag Day and his own birthday, the Turkmen president said the 1991 program "Ten Years of Stability" has largely been fulfilled, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Niyazov said a program for economic development up to the year 2010 will be adopted this December and that the next century will be a "golden age" for his country. The plan aims at making the country self-sufficient in food and providing an increase in annual average per capita income equivalent to between $10,000-$15,000. Niyazov said Turkmenistan will "build a society in which spiritual and moral laws will dominate" and that "everybody, no matter what their ethnic origin, will feel as a citizen, enjoying every right." BP

PICTURES OF SUSPECTS IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS SHOWN ON TELEVISION

Uzbek Television on 18 February showed pictures of two people wanted for questioning in connection with the bombings in Tashkent on 16 February, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Ulughbek Babajanov, 28, and his wife Dildora, 22, are believed to have been involved in organizing the bombings which authorities there say were an assassination attempt on Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Both the suspects reside in the Fergana Valley, an area which has been under special scrutiny by Uzbek law enforcement agencies because of its strong ties to Islam. RFE/RL correspondents in Tashkent reported that the Babajanovs' vehicle was seen in Tashkent prior to the explosions. BP




KUCHMA BLASTS MINISTERS FOR POOR PERFORMANCE

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 18 February criticized the cabinet's performance in 1998, saying that "numerous ministers are not good enough in their daily work," Interfax reported. Kuchma said the cabinet's erroneous budgetary policies resulted in "dangerous surprises," including the fact that "1998 did not become the first year of real economic growth." Kuchma called the cabinet's and National Bank's policies of seeking new loans to finance Ukraine's mounting debts and introducing higher interest rates as "non- professional and irresponsible," AP reported. He also blamed the government for failing to implement his orders and submit new laws to the parliament. According to Kuchma, of a total of 235 presidential orders, fewer than half have been carried out. JM

UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR PLANT WORKERS, MINERS DEMAND UNPAID WAGES

Some 700 nuclear plant workers demonstrated in Kyiv on 18 February to demand unpaid wages and more funds for Ukraine's five cash-strapped nuclear power plants, AP reported. According to the nuclear workers' trade union, wage arrears in the nuclear power sector stand at 52 million hryvni ($15 million). Union leaders demand that the debts be paid between 22 February and 6 March. They threaten to stage more protests, including hunger strikes and a 30-percent decrease in power output, if not paid by that date. Meanwhile, six coal miners from Luhansk Oblast slashed their wrists in a suicide threat to demand back wages, dpa reported on 18 February. JM

EU TO DROP VISA BAN ON BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS?

Citing diplomatic sources, Reuters reported on 18 February that the EU is planning to lift its visa ban on Belarusian officials. The ban--which extended to 130 Belarusian officials topped by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka--was introduced in July 1998 in retaliation for the expulsion of five EU ambassadors from their residences at Drazdy, near Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 1998). Ten non-EU countries subsequently joined the EU in imposing travel restrictions against Belarusian officialdom. In mid-January, the EU ambassadors returned to Minsk. According to Reuters, the decision on lifting the visa ban will be announced in Luxembourg on 22 February, during a meeting of EU foreign ministers. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST SAYS UNOFFICIAL ELECTIONS 'ONLY A POLITICAL ACTION'

Stanislau Bahdankevich, leader of the opposition United Civic Party, has said that the unofficial presidential election campaign launched by the Belarusian opposition is "only a political action" intended to highlight the fact that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's five-year presidential term expires in July, Belapan reported on 19 February. According to Bahdankevich, the opposition wants to instill the opinion in society that after July Lukashenka will be a "usurper in power." Bahdankevich added that another goal of the opposition election campaign is to show that Belarus has other people who are able to replace Lukashenka in his post. In Bahdankevich's opinion, the campaign is only one of many steps to make the authorities reach "some agreement" with the opposition. JM

BALTIC PRESIDENTS PRESS CASE FOR NATO, EU MEMBERSHIP

At a summit meeting in Tallinn on 18 February, the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said that they hope the upcoming Washington NATO summit will provide a clear signal that they will eventually become members of the Western alliance, BNS reported. But they indicated that there is little chance that the next round of expansion will begin in 1999. In addition, the three called for the inclusion of Latvia and Lithuania in fast-track talks with the European Union. Estonia is already participating in such negotiations. And they reaffirmed that Baltic unity exists. PG

RUSSIAN NATIONALISTS DRAW FINES IN LATVIA

The Liepaja city court fined two leaders of the radical Russian National Unity organization for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration, BNS reported on 17 February. The judge said that law enforcement agencies must work harder to prevent such groups from threatening Latvia. PG

LATVIANS OPERATED MARIJUANA SHIP

Even as Latvians suggested that the ship carrying 23.5 tons of cannabis resin that was seized by French authorities this week belonged to Estonians, French prosecutors announced that five members of the crew are Latvian nationals and five are permanent residents of that Baltic republic, BNS reported on 18 February. PG

ADAMKUS PRAISES SOVIET HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNERS

On 17 February, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus met with former Soviet human rights activists, told them their work had helped protect human rights in Lithuania, and presented three of them with a Lithuanian order, BNS reported. Adamkus said that "the protection of human rights was an important part of the struggle for freedom." PG.

ADAMKUS DOUBTS BROADCASTS TO BELARUS WILL HURT MINSK TIES

Lithuanian President Adamkus told Belarusian Ambassador Vladimir Garkun on 17 February that he does not expect the privately-owned Baltic Waves radio, which plans to broadcast Russian-language programming to the east, will affect relations between Vilnius and Minsk. Baltic Waves is to begin broadcasting later this year. PG

POLISH DOCTORS START 10-DAY GENERAL STRIKE FOR BETTER PAY

Trade unions claiming to represent 70 percent of Poland's health care workers launched a 10-day nationwide strike on 19 February to demand more funding. "Doctors do not have the possibility to provide medical care because they do not have the means to do it," Reuters quoted a representative of the All-Poland Doctors' Trade Union as saying. During the strike, emergency, oncological, pediatric, gynecological, and maternity wards are to operate normally. Under the health care reform launched in January, Poles contribute 7.5 percent of their income to the new funds set up to pay for health care. The protesters demand that the contribution be increased to 11 percent and higher salaries be paid for medical workers. Polish doctors earn an average of $260 a month, while the average monthly salary in Poland is $350. JM

POLISH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIAN ARMY NO THREAT TO POLAND

Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz told the 19 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that the Russian Armed Forces "do not pose a threat that should be counterbalanced by adequate military means." He added that the combat efficiency of Russian troops differs "significantly" from that before 1991. According to him, the lack of "bread and stability" in Russia is a more dangerous threat to Poland. Onyszkiewicz said he does not deem it necessary to deploy NATO nuclear weapons or "essentially significant" NATO troops in Poland. At the same time, Onyszkiewicz stressed that Poland does not want "to turn its back" on Russia and pledged to maintain political dialogue and technical cooperation with the Russian military. JM

U.S., BRITISH EMBASSIES IN PRAGUE CLOSED AFTER THREATS

The U.S. embassy in Prague on 18 February was closed after receiving "reliable and specific" reports indicating a security threat and will remain closed to the public until it is assured that the threat is over, international agencies reported. The British embassy followed suit and security was stepped up at the embassies of Greece, Turkey and Israel as a precautionary measure due to the events at embassies throughout Europe in response to the capture by Turkey of Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan. Czech police said security was also strengthened around the headquarters of RFE/RL. An RFE/RL spokeswoman said all the radio's broadcast services remain on the air. MS

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE

Visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem on 18 February discussed with his Czech counterpart Jan Kavan bilateral trade (including establishing joint ventures in Central Asia) and cooperation in the struggle against drug smuggling, terrorism and tax evasion. Kavan said Cem expressed an interest in the Czech arms industry. He said the Czech Republic has always "opposed terrorism" and will not allow terrorist organizations to operate on its territory, CTK reported. President Vaclav Havel told the visitor that Ocalan's trial must be fair and that the Czech Republic opposes the death penalty. He also expressed the hope that Turkey will preserve the identity of its Kurdish minority and solve its problems soon. Cem (who also met Deputy Premier Egon Lansky) said Ocalan will be tried "according to the Turkish legal system" and in line with international conventions. MS

FORMER SLOVAK COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE CHIEF MONITORED KOVAC JR.'S ABDUCTION

Ivan Lexa personally monitored the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son in August 1995, according to Lexa's successor, Vladimir Mitro. The daily "Sme" on 18 February printed parts of the report delivered at a closed parliamentary session by Mitro on 12 February, although the report has not been officially declassified yet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16 and 18 February 1999). Mitro says Lexa monitored the kidnapping from a house near the Austrian border. He also accuses Lexa of having carried out intelligence activity threatening the constitutional system, of having placed under surveillance former opposition parties and politicians (some of whom are in the new government), and of having monitored churches, trade unions, and journalists critical of Vladimir Meciar's government. MS




ALBRIGHT WARNS MILOSEVIC OF STRIKES...

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that he will suffer damaging air strikes if the Serb and ethnic Albanian sides at Rambouillet, France, fail to reach a peace agreement by the 20 February deadline, Reuters reported. Albright said she told Milosevic by phone on 18 February that "if air strikes occur, he will be hit hard and he will be deprived of the things he values." She said the deadline, noon on 20 February, is firm. Some 430 NATO attack and support planes are on alert and a U.S. Defense Ministry official said an initial strike of 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles is also an option. Albright is flying to France on 19 February to press the two sides to agree to sign the Contact Group's peace agreement. PB

...AND HILL GOES TO BELGRADE AS DEADLINE NEARS

Chief U.S. Kosova envoy Christopher Hill flew to Belgrade on 19 February in a final effort to persuade President Milosevic to accept a Kosova peace deal, Reuters reported. Milosevic specifically objects to a provision in the agreement that would station up to 30,000 NATO troops in Kosova to oversee the agreement. Reports said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, may also fly to Belgrade in an effort to convince Milosevic to accept the agreement. Unnamed diplomats said the EU is considering lifting sanctions against Yugoslavia in an effort to gain Belgrade's approval of the accord. PB

UNHAPPY DELEGATIONS GIVEN REVISED DRAFT OF PEACE ACCORD

The Serbian and Kosovar Albanian delegations at Rambouillet were presented with a final draft of the international community's peace plan on 18 February, AFP reported. Christopher Hill, Russia's Boris Mayorskii, and the EU's Wolfgang Petritsch told the press they had submitted the revised document to the rival sides and asked them to regard it as final. Hill said some members of the delegations were "getting very grouchy." He said they needed to calm down and realize "what we are doing is making sense." An adviser to the Albanian delegation said the draft was "getting messy" and that the Albanian side may not sign it. Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) delegates are reportedly unwilling to give up their arms under the agreement. The three mediators ruled out extending the deadline for signing the accord. PB

SOLANA SAYS NATO HAS POLITICAL SUPPORT FOR STRIKES

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said on 18 February that NATO would have the necessary political support for both air strikes against Kosova and a peace-keeping mission there, Reuters reported. Solana was in Macedonia with U.S. General Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, for talks with Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, Premier Ljubco Georgievski, and Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev. The NATO extraction force in Macedonia could be called on to evacuate the OSCE verifiers in Kosova in case of a withdrawal ahead of air strikes. An OSCE spokeswoman said the verifiers would withdraw in the event an agreement is not signed by the deadline. Western countries also began evacuating non- essential personnel from their embassies in Belgrade on 18 February. PB

SERBIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR END TO PRESSURE

Milan Milutinovic arrived at Rambouillet on 18 February and called on the Contact Group to stop pressuring Belgrade into accepting a NATO peace-keeping force in Kosova and instead focus on political aspects of the peace accord, AP reported. Milutinovic said he sent a letter calling the demand "a flagrant violation of the UN charter and the basic principles of international relations." He added that "threats and ultimatums can only distance the participants in the talks." PB

ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER HOPEFUL ON KOSOVA DEAL

Paskal Milo said he is optimistic that Serbs and Kosovar Albanians will reach a peace agreement by the 20 February deadline, dpa reported. Milo, in an interview with the paper "Zeri i Popullit," said his intuition told him that an agreement would be signed. He said the Albanian government is in contact with "all Albanian political factors" present at Rambouillet. "Our input has been considered very useful," he said. For his part, opposition leader Sali Berisha condemned the peace talks, saying that Kosova's independence is "a condition for peace in the Balkans." PB

CONTACT GROUP CRITICIZES BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT

The six-nation Contact Group issued a statement in Vienna on 18 February criticizing Bosnian Serb President Nikola Poplasen for allowing Belgrade to interfere in its affairs, Reuters reported. The statement accused Poplasen of ceding "his constitutional role to a foreign government." It said it would support "strong action" by Carlos Westendorp, the international community's high representative in Bosnia- Herzegovina, if Poplasen continued to fail to appoint an acceptable prime minister for the Republika Srpska. PB

CROATIAN, SLOVENIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS BORDER ISSUES

Slovenian Foreign Minister Boris Frlec and his Croatian counterpart, Mate Granic met outside of Ljubljana on 17 February to discuss border issues, HINA reported. The talks are expected to last two days and are a continuation of talks involving Istrian territorial disputes. In other news, a former Yugoslav Air Force pilot was acquitted on 18 February of committing a war crime against civilians in Slovenia's battle for independence in 1991. The judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict Vladimir Bodis, an ethnic Serb, of firing missiles and bullets at a truck convoy, killing four people. PB

HEAVY SENTENCES IN ROMANIAN SMUGGLING AFFAIR

A Bucharest military court on 18 February sentenced Lt. Col. Ioan Suciu, former commander of Bucharest military airport, to 14 years in jail for complicity in smuggling, false testimony and forgery in the "cigarette smuggling" affair uncovered in April 1998, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Six other officers and 12 businessmen were also sentenced to jail terms and heavy fines. Col. Gheorghe Trutulescu, considered to have masterminded the affair, received a lighter sentence (7 years in prison) because of his cooperation with the investigators. Also on 18 February, 11 miners who participated in the clash with police forces on 16 February, were fined in Craiova 1 million lei each (about $83) for relatively minor offenses. In Bucharest, police announced that the miners' leader, Miron Cozma, already sentenced to 18 years, will be charged with offenses that may carry a sentence of additional 15 years. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW PREMIER- DESIGNATE

Petru Lucinschi on 19 February appointed outgoing deputy premier Ion Sturdza as the new premier- designate, Infotag reported. On 18 February, the leaders of the coalition majority Alliance for Democracy and Reform (PRCM) failed to agree on a joint candidate for the post made vacant after Serafim Urecheanu withdrew his candidacy. Former president Mircea Snegur's Party of Revival and Conciliation (PRCM) again proposed Nicolae Andronic to the post. Christian Democratic Popular Front (FPCD) leader Iurie Rosca (although allied with the PRCM in the Democratic Convention of Moldova) proposed Sturdza, a member of the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc. Both candidacies were submitted to Lucinschi, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Snegur said after the meeting that the Democratic Convention of Moldova, in which both the PRCM and the FPCD are members) has "practically ceased to exist." MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT ON NATO GROUND DEPLOYMENT IN KOSOVA

Bulgaria is ready to support a possible NATO ground operation in Kosova "with non-combat units," state radio on 18 February cited Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev as saying. Ananiev said Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova will negotiate with NATO an agreement on Bulgaria's possible involvement, which must then be ratified by the parliament. In other news, President Petar Stoyanov on 18 February appointed Deputy Justice Minister Nikola Filichev to be Bulgaria's new Prosecutor-General, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia Reported. His appointment follows the recommendation of the Supreme Judiciary Council on 16 February. Filichev replaces Ivan Tatarchev, who ended a seven year mandate. MS

BULGARIA RATIFIES CONVENTION ON MINORITIES

The parliament on 18 February ratified the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities with a 162-28 vote, and 18 abstentions, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. The opposition Socialist Party opposed the ratification. The legislature also adopted a separate document saying that the endorsement of the convention "by no means sanctions activities directed harming the territorial integrity and sovereignty" of Bulgaria, or its "internal and international security." Prime Minister Ivan Kostov told legislators that the convention's ratification puts an end to "ethnic or religious extremism" and to "nationalism as an antidote to democracy." MS




POPE JOHN PAUL II TO HEAD EAST?


By Felix Corley

Pope John Paul II may be about to fulfill a long-held ambition by making the first-ever visit by the head of the Catholic Church to a predominantly Orthodox country. This month, both Romania and Ukraine have repeated earlier invitations, but this time conditions seem favorable for such visits to take place. And on 16 February Vatican officials announced that a papal visit to Armenia later this year is also being considered. (The vast majority of the population of Armenia belongs, at least nominally, to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a member of the Oriental family of Eastern Christian Churches.)

The Romanian visit may well take place soon. The Pope would never visit a country without invitations from both the government and the dominant religious community, and in the case of Romania, the long-standing government invitation (first extended by former President Ion Iliescu in 1991) has now been complemented by one from the Romanian Orthodox Church, to which 80 percent of the 22 million-strong population belongs, at least nominally. "Given the ecumenical international relations between the Romanian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church and a recent letter addressed by the Pope to the patriarch saying he wishes to come soon to Romania, the synod considers that Patriarch Teoctist can address the invitation," a 4 February statement declared.

The patriarch subsequently issued the invitation, which the Vatican's chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Pope had accepted. Navarro-Valls added that "the date and agenda of the trip have not yet been defined," but Italian media reports and Romania's ambassador to the Vatican suggested it will take place in early May. Ambassador Teodor Baconsky told Romanian Radio that the visit will last two days and be confined to Bucharest, adding that the Pope will meet President Emil Constantinescu and Patriarch Teoctist and hold an ecumenical service and a Roman Catholic mass.

Whether such a circumscribed visit would satisfy the Pope remains to be seen. Much of his flock in Romania is to be found in Transylvania, the home of the Eastern-rite Catholic Church. Many of the Latin-rite Catholics, especially the ethnic Hungarians and Germans, also live in Transylvania. Although arguments over ownership of some 2,000 former Catholic churches handed to the Orthodox after 1948 have largely remained unresolved, the improved atmosphere over the past year has led to a serious attempt on either side to resolve the squabbles over property.

The invitation to Ukraine is likely to be more problematic, in terms of both agenda and scheduling. The 10 February announcement that President Leonid Kuchma had issued an invitation, personally handed to the Pope by Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko on a recent visit, leaves unanswered the question of how the Ukrainian Orthodox will respond. With the Orthodox forming the vast majority of the population outside western Ukraine (the heartland of the 5 million-strong Eastern- rite Catholic Church), the Pope will have to tread warily.

Moreover, matters are complicated by the bitter divisions within the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which has split into three main factions. The Vatican follows the lead of the rest of the Orthodox world in recognizing the Ukrainian Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate (headed by Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan) as the canonical Orthodox Church. And another complicating factor are upcoming elections: since the Pope would not visit a country ahead of such vote, for fear of seeming to endorse any candidates, so any visit to Ukraine will have to be fitted in after presidential elections in October and November but before the end of the year, as the Vatican has declared 2000 a jubilee year during which the Pope will not maintain his customary heavy travel schedule.

The Pope has long wanted to seek to reconcile the two halves of historical Christianity. His fourth foreign pilgrimage as Pope, in November 1979, had been to Istanbul to visit Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios. His 1985 encyclical Slavorum Apostoli (Apostles of the Slavs) praised the two Slavic saints Cyril and Methodius and urged a return to the undivided European Church, which had existed before the 1054 schism. In a 1985 speech, the Pope had declared: "The Church must learn to breathe again with its two lungs--the Eastern one and the Western one."

But the existence of Eastern-rite Catholic Churches--which retain Orthodox-style liturgy while acknowledging the jurisdiction of the Pope--has long been a source of tension between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The recent reemergence of Eastern-rite Catholic Churches that had been banned under communism annoyed the Orthodox Churches, which regard them as traitors to Orthodoxy, and fueled accusations of Vatican "proselytism" in the Orthodox world.

Partly in response to such accusations, relations between the Orthodox Churches and the Vatican have cooled. The head of the largest Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and All-Russia, has several times torpedoed projected meetings with Pope John Paul, although the most senior Orthodox hierarch, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has continued to hold meetings with the Pontiff.

John Paul II has made numerous pilgrimages to countries where Catholics are in a minority and has even visited states such as Muslim Morocco and Lutheran Finland, where Catholics do not even make up 1 percent of the population. But with Orthodox passions running against the Vatican, a papal visit to an Orthodox country would have been unthinkable until recently. The influence of the Orthodox Churches over the governments in their countries had in effect erected a new Iron Curtain. This year appears to offer the best hope yet for Pope John Paul II to push back that curtain.

The author writes on religious affairs in Eastern Europe.


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