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Newsline - February 23, 1999




RUSSIA KEEPS UP VERBAL PRESSURE ON NATO, U.S.

Top Russian officials on 23 February continued to warn against the use of force in Kosova. Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's Department for International Military Cooperation, said NATO strikes against Yugoslavia without the consent of the UN Security Council would "nullify all achievements and throw relations between Russia and NATO backward." Ivashov noted that Russia would participate in a peace-keeping force in the region only with leave from the UN Security Council and under the auspices of the OSCE, while Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov added that Yugoslavia as a sovereign state "should determine the degree of the presence of international forces, civilian or military." According to Ivashov, "the U.S. is trying to impose complicity in blood- letting on its European partners." JAC

U.S., RUSSIA REACH STEEL AGREEMENT

Russia on 22 February agreed to reduce its steel exports to the U.S. by almost 70 percent in exchange for the U.S. government's agreeing to drop plans to impose punitive sanctions against Russian steel producers. Under the package of accords, Russia will refrain from exporting hot- rolled steel to the U.S. for six months and will then sell an amount fixed by an annual quota at a minimum price, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Russian steel makers Novolipetsk and Magnitogorsk already switched about half of their exports to cruder products, such as steel slabs, which have lower profit margins, the "Moscow Times" reported on 16 February. The agreements are expected to be signed in late March, after a public discussion period has elapsed, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

U.S. REPORTEDLY BEGINS TALKS ON ABM TREATY

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott began the first day of his official visit to Moscow on 22 February, meeting with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Luzhkov's aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told ITAR-TASS that the two officials discussed the recent cooling in U.S.-Russian relations and the Kosova crisis. The next day, Talbott and other State Department and U.S. National Security Council officials met with members of the Russian-American strategic stability group, diplomatic sources told Interfax. According to the agency, talks will focus on the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which the U.S. has suggested revising. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 February that an exchange of views on the treaty is the key goal of Talbott's visit. JAC

RASH OF REGIONS HEADING FOR DEFAULT?

Citing Finance Ministry sources, "Kommersant-Daily" predicted on 23 February that nearly half of Russia's regions may default on their debt owed to foreign creditors. Leading the pack may be Leningrad Oblast, where legislators are now considering in the third reading a 1999 budget that does not make provision for paying a 1.8 billion ruble ($80 million) debt, $50 million of which is owed foreign banks, according to the newspaper. Ministry of Finance officials fear that other regions will follow Leningrad Oblast's example, forcing the federal government to decide whether or not to bail them out. The same day, Standard & Poor's lowered Sverdlovsk Oblast's long-term foreign-currency issuer credit rating from CCC- to "selective default." The 1999 federal budget contains only $9.5 billion for foreign debt payment while nearly $17.5 billion is owed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). JAC

PRIMAKOV MAKES MORE SUGGESTIONS FOR REGIONS

After a meeting of the Coordination Council of the North-West Interregional Economic Association on 22 February in St. Petersburg, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told reporters that federal authorities should do everything in their power to strengthen the role of the eight interregional economic associations, both as a basis for a future organizational structure of the Russian federation's subjects and as a means of furthering the country's economic integration, Interfax reported. Primakov first raised the issue of merging Russia's constituent territories in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). On the first day of his trip to St. Petersburg, Primakov suggested that governors be appointed rather than directly elected, echoing an earlier suggestion of the Communist Party that came in response to Primakov's calls for a political peace treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). JAC

AS FOOD PRICES RISE, HURDLES TO AID REMOVED?

The price of 25 basic foodstuffs rose 12 percent in January, while consumer prices in general rose 8.5 percent, according to the State Statistics Committee, Prime-Tass reported on 22 February. In the regions, the basket of foods cost the most in Yakutsk, at 832.8 rubles ($37.17) compared with 476.7 rubles nationally and only 347.4 rubles in Ulyanovsk. Meanwhile, the State Customs Committee announced on 20 February that it will simplify clearance rules for EU and U.S. food aid to Russia, Interfax reported. The committee's announcement follows the signing of an additional EU- Russian memorandum on food aid. Earlier in February, the EU postponed the delivery of such aid, accusing Moscow of imposing extra requirements that were unreasonable and not mentioned in the original Russian-EU food aid memorandum. JAC

RUSSIAN STOCKS RISING AGAIN

Shares on Russia's stock market soared 7.4 percent on 22 February, according to the benchmark Russian Trading System, but inched up only 0.76 percent on 23 February. Analysts say the gains are driven by primarily speculative interest sparked by a government plan to allow foreign investors holding defaulted short-term treasury bonds to invest discounted proceeds into stocks, Bloomberg reported. However, one nay-sayer, investment manager Mark Mobius of Templeton fund managers, predicted last week that Russia would have the best performing emerging market this year, the "Moscow Times" reported. According to Bloomberg, Russia's stock index has risen 29 percent so far in 1999, outperforming all other primary stock indexes. Earlier in the month, stocks experienced a five- day rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1999). JAC

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT TO JAPAN

Igor Ivanov's four-day visit to Japan finished on 23 February after a meeting the previous day with Japanese Prime Minister Keidzo Obuchi, Russian press reported. Ivanov handed over a letter to Obuchi from Boris Yeltsin in which the Russian president said he is highly satisfied with the progress to date of Russo-Japanese relations. Ivanov mentioned that Moscow expects Tokyo to respond at the next Russo-Japanese summit to Russian proposals related to the treaty concluding World War II and ownership of the four Kuril Islands. Yeltsin made those proposals when Obuchi visited Moscow last November. Ivanov admitted the two sides are still far from reaching an agreement on how the two issues should be addressed. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" criticized Ivanov's decision to go to Japan when negotiations are ongoing in France over the Kosova problem. The newspaper wrote "when a very acute international crisis is under way, routine consultations are relegated to the background." BP

SHARANSKY REVIEWS HIS KGB FILE

On an official visit to Moscow on 22 February, Israeli Minister of Industry and Commerce Natan Sharansky met with Federal Security Service chief Vladimir Putin, who allowed him to review materials from the criminal file KGB authorities compiled on him in the late 1970s. At that time, Sharansky, who was one of Russia's most vocal advocates for the rights of Jews to emigrate to Israel, was jailed on charges of being a CIA spy. During his visit, Sharansky also met with First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, and Moscow Mayor Luzhkov. The last-named, according to Interfax, reassured Sharansky that Moscow would not allow expressions of anti-Semitism or pogroms against the Jewish population. According to Luzhkov, anti-Semitic leaflets containing references to him have appeared in Krasnodar Krai. JAC

UNEMPLOYMENT INCHES UP

Unemployment grew 0.29 percent in January compared with the previous month, reaching 8,956,000 people or 12.4 percent of the population that is "economically active," according to preliminary estimates by the State Statistics Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 February. Official unemployment statistics are generally assumed to understate unemployment. JAC

MURMANSK SHIP WORKERS PROTEST WAGE ARREARS

Some 1,000 civilian workers at the Northern Fleet's ship repair facilities in Murmansk staged a protest in the city's central square on 22 February to demand the payment of back wages, Interfax reported. Wage arrears for the Northern Fleet's civilian employees total 90 million rubles (some $4 million). AFP cited NTV as reporting that workers at dry-docks on the Kamchatka peninsula, on the Baltic Sea, and in Arkhangelsk have expressed support for their Murmansk colleagues. JC

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 22 February incorrectly identified Nikita Mikhalkov's new film as "The Barber of Seville." Its correct name is "The Barber of Siberia."




ARMENIAN ELECTION LAW SPARKS NEW ACCUSATIONS

Opposition parliamentary deputies have accused Viktor Dallakian, the author of the new election law, of arbitrarily introducing changes to the bill after it passed in the final reading, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 22 February. Those changes increased the powers of the Central Electoral Commission and stipulated that the law takes effect immediately after it has been signed by the president and published. The original wording said the law takes effect 10 days after its publication. On 22 February, deputies demanded criminal proceedings against Dallakian, who rejected charges of deliberate falsification. He said that it is normal practice in Armenia to edit the text of a bill after its passage in the parliament. LF

ARMENIAN SCIENTIST CORROBORATES AIDS CURE CLAIMS

The sensational claim by Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian that Armenian scientists have developed a cure for AIDS is true, former Armenian Health Minister Emil Gabrielian told journalists in Yerevan on 22 February. Gabrielian, who currently heads the national agency for authorizing distribution and sales of pharmaceuticals, said the cure has been tested on 14 AIDS patients, whose condition has improved dramatically. He said the drug will be registered and patented within the next few days, but he added that it must be subject to international tests. Sarkisian announced on state television on 19 February that he and unnamed businessmen financed the research program that yielded the new drug, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION REJECTS DUAL CITIZENSHIP

The presidential Commission for Constitutional Reform voted on 19 February not to include the introduction of dual citizenship in a package of proposed constitutional amendments to be submitted to the parliament later this year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 22 February. President Robert Kocharian implicitly endorsed the introduction of dual citizenship for Diaspora Armenians during his 1998 election campaign, but Armenia's chief military prosecutor, who is a member of the commission, argued that the provision would enable young Armenians to avoid military service. Self-Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hairikian may resign as chairman of the presidential commission if Kocharian does not overturn the commission's decision, a senior Self-Determination Union member said on 22 February. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY WARNS GEORGIA OVER PICKET

In a statement issued on 22 February, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern at what it termed the recent aggravation of the situation on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The statement blamed this development on the Georgian displaced persons who have been blocking the bridge over the River Inguri (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 February 1999). It accused them of threatening the Russian peacekeeping force deployed along the internal border and of preventing the repatriation of displaced persons. LF

GEORGIAN GUERRILLA LEADER REJECTS SMUGGLING CHARGE

Zurab Samushia, commander of the White Legion guerrillas operating in Abkhazia, told Caucasus Press on 22 February that there is no truth to charges by a west Georgian police official that his men smuggle scrap and ferrous metals from Abkhazia to the Georgian port of Batumi. Samushia added that his men currently operate only in the Ochamchire, Tkvarcheli and Sukhumi Raions of Abkhazia but not in Gali. At least one dozen civilians and Abkhaz police officials have been killed either by landmines or in ambushes in Gali since the beginning of this year. LF

GEORGIAN ARRESTED FOR SHEVARDNADZE CAR BOMB ATTACK

Austrian police arrested Rudiko Goguadze, a former Georgian convict, in Vienna on 20 February on suspicion of involvement in the failed 1995 attempt to assassinate Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press and AP reported. Goguadze is also suspected of planning to assassinate Shevardnadze's nephew Nugzar. LF

U.S. OFFICIAL UPBEAT ON CASPIAN PIPELINE PROSPECTS

U.S. special presidential adviser on the Caspian Richard Morningstar told journalists in Baku on 22 February that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan will sign an agreement in June on the demarcation of their respective sectors of the Caspian, thereby removing a major obstacle to the proposed construction of a Trans-Caspian pipeline to export gas from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev informed Morningstar that the documentation for the proposed Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline has been completed, according to Interfax. But the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 22 February that the Turkish government and oil industry officials are engaged in cut-throat negotiations on the financing of that project. Georgian President Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 February that a "special unit" has been created to guard the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline but that it does not include NATO troops, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

MORE COMPLAINTS FROM IRAN ABOUT TURKMEN PIPELINE DEAL...

The Iranian daily "Iran News" ran an article on 22 February criticizing the Trans-Caspian pipeline deal signed by Turkmenistan and two U.S. companies last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1999). While the article notes that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has been a frequent visitor to Iran, it claims that "this latest move by Turkmenistan is in effect rejecting the hand of friendship extended by Iran." The article mentioned that Turkmenistan still plans a pipeline to Europe through Iran but noted that "the recent move by Ashgabat has caused Turkmenistan to fall into the U.S. trap." It added "the U.S. presence in Turkmenistan will not benefit that country in the long run." BP

...WHILE TURKMEN PRESIDENT URGES NOT TO 'POLITICIZE' DEAL

Saparmurat Niyazov said at the 19 February signing of the Trans- Caspian pipeline deal that "unfortunately, politicizing is frequent in new international projects," ITAR-TASS reported. The news agency reported, however, that Niyazov was responding to a note he had received from the Russian Foreign Ministry complaining about the "negative effect" the pipeline could have on the ecological and seismic situation of the region. Niyazov said Turkmenistan is seeking several export routes because the country urgently needs to sell its major exports. He added that the need is greater for his country now than it was "in Soviet times, when Turkmenistan exported in the late 1980s and early 1990s via Russia more than 85 billion cubic meters of natural gas, worth $15-20 billion. But "profits were distributed unequally and we were given kopecks," he commented. BP

BOMB BLAST IN ALMATY

A vehicle exploded in the former Kazakhstani capital on 21 February, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The car was in the center of the city near a gas station when it exploded, killing one person and injuring another. The explosion comes less than one week after several bombs went off in the capital of neighboring Uzbekistan. BP

KAZAKHSTAN TO RECEIVE FOREIGN AID FOR VICTIMS OF NUCLEAR TESTING

The Kazakh leader of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement, Olzhas Suleimenov, told a news conference in Almaty on 22 February that international organizations have promised $43 million for the victims of nuclear tests conducted in the area around Semipalatinsk, Interfax reported. Suleimenov said that between 1949 and 1989, 473 nuclear explosions were carried out in the region. Suleimenov said Kazakhstan's government does not have the funds to care for the surviving victims. BP

UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS 30 ALREADY ARRESTED FOR BOMBINGS

Islam Karimov told diplomats and journalists on 23 February that 30 people are in custody in connection with the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Karimov said all detainees have ties to "extremist religious groups" and all underwent training in sabotage in Afghanistan, Chechnya or Tajikistan. He added that most of the arrested are Uzbek citizens but that the main organizers of the attacks, which left 15 people dead and more than 100 injured, are not among the detainees. BP

FORMER IMAM'S RELATIVES AMONG THOSE DETAINED?

Uzbek law enforcement officials on 21 February brought in for questioning the mother, wife, and son of the former Imam of Tashkent's Tokhtoboy Mosque, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Nazarov has been in hiding over the past year, since police began to investigate his links to Wahhabis. Nazarov's mother and son were released the same day, but his wife remains in custody. It is unknown if they are among the suspects in the 16 February bombings. BP

KYRGYZSTAN TO WITHDRAW BATTALION FROM TAJIKISTAN

Interfax on 22 February quoted a "high-ranking source in the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry" as saying the Kyrgyz battalion serving with CIS peacekeeping troops in Tajikistan will be withdrawn by 25 February. The source said the decision is based on the withdrawal of Russian border guards from Kyrgyzstan, which is to be completed by the end of this year. Kyrgyzstan will then be responsible for guarding its own borders but has insufficient funds to protect both its and Tajikistan's borders. The source also said the decision had "undoubtedly been influenced by the withdrawal of the Uzbek contingent from Tajikistan," which took place last November. The departure of the Kyrgyz battalion leaves only one Kazakhstani battalion and several Russian units as part of the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan. BP

UZBEK-KYRGYZ BORDER REOPENS

According to Rustam Anarbotoev, the head of the Kara-Suu District, the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border reopened on the weekend of 20-21 February, following its closure in the wake of the 16 February bombings in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1999), RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. BP




UKRAINE EXPECTS LAZARENKO'S EXTRADITION FROM U.S.

Viktor Lakizyuk, spokesman for the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office, said on 22 February that he expects a "positive" U.S. decision on the extradition of former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko from the U.S., Reuters reported. Lazarenko was detained at New York's J.F. Kennedy airport on 19 February while seeking entry without a valid visa. According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Lazarenko is currently under an "expedite removal" procedure whereby he may be sent to the country of his nationality or of his birth, the country he was last in, or any other country willing to accept him. Lazarenko can apply for asylum or challenge the decision in court. Commenting on Lazarenko's possible appeal for political asylum in the U.S., Lakizyuk said he is "absolutely sure" the U.S will reject such a plea. JM

UKRAINE'S POPULAR RUKH FACING SPLIT?

Thirty of the 48 deputies of the Popular Rukh parliamentary caucus supported a vote of no confidence in their leader Vyacheslav Chornovil last week. According to the 20 February "Den," Chornovil was removed from his post for making political decisions single-handedly. "Rukh is facing a choice: either its historical past or a promising future. The period of idolatry is over," Rukh member Roman Zvarych told "Den." A Rukh congress on 6 March is expected to address the conflict between Chornovil's opponents and supporters. President Leonid Kuchma has expressed his regret over the "split" in Rukh and called on party officials to show unity. The nationalist-leaning Rukh, the third-largest party in the Ukrainian parliament, is not seen as a pro-Kuchma force, although it has not directly opposed the government either. JM

KYIV DAILY SUSPENDS PUBLICATION OWING TO FINANCIAL PROBLEMS

The Kyiv-based Russian-language daily "Kievskie Vedomosti," which has a circulation of some 200,000, has suspended publication owing to financial problems, Reuters reported on 22 February. Deputy Chief Editor Iryna Titova told the news agency that the daily's reporters have worked in "field conditions" without being paid for the last four months. She added that the newspaper's financial situation considerably deteriorated after it lost a libel case brought by Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko over corruption allegations. The court ordered the daily to pay some $2.5 million in damages to the minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 1998). JM

LUKASHENKA CALLS ON RUSSIA, IRAN, CHINA, INDIA TO 'COUNTERBALANCE' U.S.

In an interview with Iranian State Television on 22 February, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called for a union of Russia, Iran, China, and India to offset the U.S.'s influence in a "unipolar world," AP and Interfax reported. "I would like politicians in these regions to discard their differences...[and] to understand that only they can counterbalance today's bloc of NATO and the U.S.," Lukashenka said. He criticized the U.S. for bombings of Iraqi targets, the threat of NATO strikes against Yugoslavia, and efforts to block leaks of weapons technology to Iran. Lukashenka predicted that Iran will become a "superpower" in the early 2000s, adding that Belarus wants close ties with Tehran in trade and "other spheres." JM

EU LIFTS VISA BAN ON BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS

EU foreign ministers voted in Luxembourg on 22 February to scrap a seven-month visa ban on Belarusian officials, Reuters reported. The EU imposed the ban last July after EU ambassadors had been forced out of their residences at Drazdy, near Minsk. The five EU ambassadors who were recalled from Belarus over the diplomatic housing scandal returned to Minsk last month. The U.S., which took the same retaliation measures against Belarus, has so far neither sent its ambassador back to Minsk nor lifted the travel ban on Belarusian officials. JM

COURT RULES COMPENSATION FOR PRO-MOSCOW ACTIVIST DEPORTED FROM ESTONIA

A Tallinn court has ruled that compensation totaling 46,000 kroons ($3,300) be paid to the pro-Moscow activist Pyotr Rozhok, ETA and BNS reported on 22 February. The Citizenship and Migration Department had expelled Rozhok in 1995, citing his "subversive actives." The following year, however, a district court ruled Rozhok's expulsion "illegal," arguing that the expulsion order was not issued in full compliance with the law. JC

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SAYS GOVERNMENT 'STABLE'

Guntis Ulmanis, speaking on Latvian Radio on 22 February, commented that the cabinet of Vilis Kristopans is "stable" and is ready to deal with "real issues," BNS reported. Ulmanis's comment was in response to a study by analysts at the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies who argued the ruling coalition is "unstable " and will likely fall before year's end. Kristopans called this viewpoint "mistaken." JC

FRANCE RELEASES LATVIAN CREW OF SEIZED VESSEL

The Latvian crew detained last week by French authorities on suspicion of drug- smuggling has been released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1999), LETA and BNS reported on 22 February. A Latvian diplomat in France told BNS that after questioning the Latvian crew members, the French authorities had concluded they were not involved in smuggling narcotics. Customs officials had found some 23.5 tons of marijuana aboard the seized vessel. JC

EU TO HELP FUND LITHUANIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER CROSSING

The EU has announced it will fund construction of the Kaliningrad part of the Chernichnoe/Kybartai crossing point, on the Lithuanian- Russian border, BNS reported on 22 February. Funds are to be allocated for this purpose under the TACIS program. A spokeswoman for the Lithuanian Customs Department told BNS that money for construction of the Lithuanian side of the border crossing has been earmarked from the state budget. JC

POLISH UNEMPLOYMENT ON THE RISE

The number of registered jobless people in Poland totaled 2.046 million in January, up by 215,000 from December, "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 23 February. That figure represents an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent. Polish experts attribute this increase to an economic slowdown triggered by the sharp decrease in Polish exports to Russia and other post- Soviet countries. They also point to the health reform launched this year, which obliges the state to pay health insurance contributions for registered jobless people. According to estimates, some 100,000 people working in Poland's shadow economy may have registered to have health insurance paid by the state. JM

U.S. PRAGUE EMBASSY REOPENS AFTER TERRORIST ALERT

The U.S. embassy in Prague, which was closed after a terrorist alert on 18 February, reopened on 22 February for "essential business," an embassy statement said, adding that the mission will be open to regular visitors beginning 23 February. The British embassy, which was also closed after the alert, reopened on 22 February, but an embassy's spokesman said it is unclear when regular work will resume, CTK reported. An RFE/RL spokeswoman said the radio, which reduced its staff during the alert, resumed "working normally" on 22 February. MS

SLOVAK AGENTS WHO SOUGHT TO DISCREDIT NEIGHBORS DISMISSED...

Slovak Counter-Intelligence Service (SIS) agents who were involved in provocation aimed at preventing the accession to NATO of the Czech Republic and Hungary have been dismissed, the new head of the SIS told CTK on 22 February. Vladimir Mitro added that he "has no information" confirming that such operations had been conducted at the request of foreign secret services, such as Russia's. In a report delivered to the parliament's closed session on 12 February, Mitro said that under his predecessor, Ivan Lexa, the SIS had "active contacts" with the Russian secret services. MS

...AS HUNGARY OPENS SIS ACTIVITY INVESTIGATION

The Hungarian Intelligence Office and the National Security Office have launched an investigation to identify SIS contacts in Hungary during the term in office of Vladimir Meciar's government, Hungarian media reported on 22 February. Intelligence sources said that agents working in Slovakia passed on to Budapest information about contacts between the SIS and criminal gangs operating in Hungary. In his report, Mitro also said the SIS's "Operation Omega" was aimed at creating the impression among Hungary's neighbors that Budapest was being treated preferentially by the U.S. MSZ/MS

HUNGARY NOT TO JOIN POSSIBLE NATO ACTIONS IN KOSOVA

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath on 22 February said Hungary will not "actively take part "in any NATO operation in Yugoslavia. If peace talks in France are successful, Hungary could provide health and technical aid units, but only outside Yugoslavia, he said. "A parliamentary resolution that allows NATO to use Hungary's air space is still in force, but this does not include the use of the Taszar military air base," Horvath noted. MSZ




KOSOVA TALKS REMAIN DEADLOCKED...

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark on 22 February sought to reassure ethnic Albanian delegates to the peace talks in Rambouillet, France, that NATO will move troops into Kosova quickly to protect them if an agreement is reached. But the Albanians, who appeared to be constrained by Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) field commanders, are continuing to demand a referendum on independence after three years. Unnamed officials said that UCK representative Hashim Thaci is the main obstacle to agreement within the Albanian delegation. The same day, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said the Yugoslav government "is still not prepared to engage seriously on the military piece" of the accord and remains adamantly opposed to allowing NATO peacekeepers. FS

...WHILE FRESH FIGHTING BREAKS OUT

Thousands of Kosova Albanians fled their homes on 22 February as fierce fighting broke out between the UCK and Serbian forces in several villages near Vushtrri, northeast of Prishtina. UNHCR officials told Reuters that about 4,000 people, mostly women, children, and the elderly, fled, while male residents had stayed behind. An unnamed OSCE official told Reuters that Serbian authorities earlier had announced a "live-fire" exercise in the area. OSCE official Ferdinand Schafler blamed the fighting near Vushtrri on "provocations" by the Yugoslav army, which moved troops through UCK-controlled territory, AP reported. VOA's Albanian Service reported on 23 February that at least six people died in the fighting and that 2,000 refugees had arrived in Macedonia the previous day. FS

MONTENEGRIN-SERBIAN ROW OVER NATO INTENSIFIES

Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda told "Blic" of 22 February that Montenegro will not allow Yugoslav army troops to use its territory in the event of hostilities with international forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). Kilibarda stressed that "we will find a way to prevent the abuse of our territory," adding that "any supplies necessary for sustaining [federal military] installations are under Montenegrin authority," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, an official from the ethnic Albanian Democratic League of Montenegro, which is a member of Montenegro's governing coalition, told VOA's Albanian Service on 23 February that "we do not even consider fighting against NATO." He added that Montenegro will not participate in a possible Yugoslav mobilization. FS

TRIBUNAL PRESIDENT ALARMED OVER RAMBOUILLET DRAFT

Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said in The Hague on 22 February that participants in the Rambouillet talks have "sacrificed" granting the tribunal's investigators full access to suspected war crimes sites in Kosova for the sake of obtaining an agreement. McDonald said that according to unnamed sources close to the talks, the Serbs are insisting there should be no reference to the tribunal in the agreement. McDonald attacked the draft agreement in its reportedly "watered-down" form, which excludes a specific reference to the court included in the original draft, Reuters reported. She stressed that "there can be no lasting peace without justice." FS

NATO OFFICIAL REJECTS UN COMMAND FOR KOSOVA FORCE

An unnamed senior NATO official told Reuters on 22 February that NATO will not accept any attempt to substitute a UN command for that of the Western alliance. He stressed that NATO must command any mission in Kosova. In a reference to Bosnia, he added that "there is no way that we will ever put ourselves into a dual-key situation again." He went on to say that "Yugoslav national mythology is steeped in repelling foreign dominance, but Belgrade must appreciate that NATO would not enter Yugoslavia as a conqueroronly NATO can do the job." The official also stressed that the peacekeeping mission would be "broad-based" and NATO would welcome Russian participation. Meanwhile, German government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye said Bonn is prepared to offer up to 4,500 troops to take part in any peacekeeping operation in Kosova. FS

ALBANIAN PREMIER SAYS RAMBOUILLET AGREEMENT 'TEMPORARY'

Pandeli Majko told reporters in Tirana on 22 February that "any deal that could be achieved at Rambouillet would have a transitional character." Majko, who was speaking after telephoning with U.S. Secretary of State Albright, also appealed to the Kosovars to accept the Contact Group's proposal. Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo and the chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs commission, Sabri Godo, left for Rambouillet the same day to attend the talks, Reuters reported. FS

UCK NAMES NEW COMMANDER

The UCK General Staff has named Sulejman Selimi, a 29-year-old regional commander and hard-liner, as its commander, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 February. Unnamed UCK sources confirmed the appointment, which the daily "Kosova Sot" had announced earlier that day, but others denied it, according to Reuters. A Serbian court had earlier sentenced Selimi in absentia to 20 years in jail for terrorism. FS

'RILINDJA' RESUMES PUBLICATION IN KOSOVA

Eight years after it was closed down by Serbian authorities, the daily "Rilindja" resumed publication in Prishtina on 22 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The daily had appeared in exile editions in the Swiss town of Zofingen and in Tirana since the early 1990s. FS

POPLASEN DEFIES INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OVER ARMY CONTROL

Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen has called a session of his army's Supreme Command Council in defiance of the international community. Bosnia's top international official, Carlos Westendorp, recently stressed that the joint presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, rather than the country's two entities, is commander of the armed forces. In effect, Westendorp has transferred command of the Bosnian Serb army to the Bosnian Serb member of the joint presidency, Zivko Radisic. However, Radisic cannot make any decisions without the prior agreement of his Muslim and Croatian colleagues. FS

CROATIAN PREMIER APPOINTS NEW MINISTERS

Zlatko Matesa on 22 February named Ivan Djurkic as agriculture minister to replace Zlatko Dominikovic. Last week, Dominikovic resigned after he had been sharply criticized for months by farmers claiming that his policies are ruining the country's potentially profitable agricultural sector. Matesa also appointed Milena Zic-Fuchs as science and technology minister. That post had been vacant since last year, when the incumbent, Ivica Kostovic, became chief of President Franjo Tudjman's office, AP reported. FS

LEADING ROMANIAN BANK CHIEF RESIGNS

Vlad Soare, president of Bancorex, Romania's largest state-owned bank, and his deputy, Dragos Andrei, resigned on 22 February amid reports of criticism of the bank's restructuring by the IMF chief negotiator for Romania, Emmanuel Zervoudakis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. According to Romanian Radio, their resignations have been officially submitted to the State Property Fund. The restructuring of Bancorex has been at the top of agenda of discussions under way in Bucharest between Romanian officials and an IMF delegation headed by Zervoudakis. The bank has suffered losses on account of bad loans approved in the early 1990s. Soare took over the presidency of Bancorex in March 1998. Also on 22 February, the international rating company Moody's for the first time rated Romania's internal debt servicing, putting the country into its lowest category, alongside Russia and Ukraine. MS

ROMANIA, BULGARIA CALL ON YUGOSLAVIA TO ALLOW NATO TROOPS IN KOSOVA

In a joint appeal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the Romanian and Bulgarian heads of state said an international peace initiative under NATO leadership is the only way to guarantee peace in Kosova, while also protecting Yugoslavia's territorial integrity. Emil Constantinescu and Petar Stoyanov called on Milosevic to allow NATO troops into his country for that purpose, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE STARTS CABINET TALKS

Christian Democratic Popular Front (FPCD) leader Iurie Rosca said after meeting with Premier-designate Ion Sturdza on 22 February that the "negotiations are proceeding quite smoothly." Party of Democratic Forces leader Valeriu Matei also expressed "satisfaction" with their progress, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Mircea Snegur, leader of the Party of Revival and Conciliation, said after meeting with Sturdza that negotiations with his party have not "really started." He noted that Sturdza "just wanted my opinion on some of his proposals," adding that his party has not yet decided on its position vis--vis the premier-designate's program. Following a meeting of the Democratic Convention of Moldova's executive board, Snegur said that the convention "has taken note" that the FPCD has "left the convention." MS

BULGARIA, MACEDONIA SIGN DECLARATION SETTLING LANGUAGE DISPUTE

Visiting Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski and his Bulgarian counterpart, Ivan Kostov, signed a declaration on 22 February saying the two countries have "no territorial claims on each other" and will not "undertake, incite, or support actions of a hostile nature" against one another, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia and BTA reported. The declaration was signed in the official languages of the two countries, ending the so-called "language dispute" that arose when Bulgaria refused to recognize Macedonian as a language separate from Bulgarian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 February 1999). In addition, Bulgaria agreed to Macedonia's request to donate decommissioned weaponry, including Soviet-made tanks and artillery, worth $3.5 million. MS




BREAKTHROUGH IN UKRAINIAN-ROMANIAN RELATIONS?


by Michael Shafir

The recent visit to Romania by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk left observers with more questions than answers. The visit--the first to be paid to Bucharest by a chief Ukrainian diplomat in seven years--was primarily intended to clarify the status of negotiations on issues unresolved in the June 1997 bilateral treaty. On signing that document, the two sides agreed to try to reach an agreement on those issues within two years; failing that, they would ask the International Court of Justice in The Hague to make a ruling.

Negotiations at expert level, however, seemed to have stalled, despite repeated reassurances of "progress." The issues put on hold for two years include the status of Serpents' Island in the Black Sea, which was handed over to the former Soviet Union by Romania in 1948 and which became part of Ukraine when the Soviet empire collapsed; the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Black Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil reserves; and the demarcation of the border, which is currently runs along the Romanian bank of the Chilia branch of the River Danube delta and which Bucharest wants moved to the middle of the branch. But there are also issues on which the two neighbors disagree--above all, the implementation of the treaty's provisions dealing with the rights of national minorities.

Whether any progress was made during Tarasyuk's visit is still unclear. Optimists would point to the joint press conference held by Tarasyuk and his Romanian counterpart, Andrei Plesu: a "significant breakthrough" was announced, but the nature of that breakthrough remains unclear. The two sides were said to have reached agreement to continue negotiations on "delicate and sensitive issues" and to settle them "amicably," without appealing to the court in The Hague.

Judging from hints dropped by Tarasyuk, the Romanians appear to have agreed to renounce any claim on Serpents' Island, with the Ukrainian foreign minister arguing that Ukraine's "rightful ownership" of the island "is beyond any question."

Did the two sides reach a "package" agreement whereby Ukraine would agree to the earlier proposal by Romanian President Emil Constantinescu that the sides jointly exploit the natural resources in the continental shelf? From Kyiv's perspective, this would involve a major concession, but Radu Vasile's cabinet might find it difficult to secure approval of such a deal.

It is no secret that Bucharest's rather surprising willingness to sign the 1997 bilateral treaty--which among other things, foresees the renunciation of historical territorial claims on Ukraine (northern Bukovina and the Herta territory annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940)--was motivated by one major factor: the hope of securing an invitation at the NATO summit in summer 1997 to join the alliance. With those hopes dashed and with little chance of receiving such an invitation at the upcoming summit in Washington, many in Romania are likely to question any "further concessions." And opposition is likely to come not only from the ranks of the ruling coalition's political rivals (who have successfully stirred up nationalist sentiment against the treaty) but also from within the ranks of the coalition itself.

Why would Bucharest propose such a compromise solution? Because it apparently has no choice. Ukraine, which is both a nuclear power and, despite its continued economic difficulties, a potentially strong economic partner of the West--is much more likely to succeed in enlisting Western support for its goals than is Bucharest.

But there are two more reasons. First, with presidential elections due in Ukraine later this year, Romanians must be aware that unless they hurry up, they may have to conduct negotiations with a more nationalist-inclined and perhaps even a "nostalgic Communist" in the driver's seat in Kyiv--a somewhat less than thrilling prospect for Bucharest. Second, Kyiv has already taken some steps that are seen in the Romanian capital as aimed at increasing Ukrainian territorial claims, despite Tarasyuk's denials that this is the case. Kyiv has declared the area around Serpent's Island as a nature reserve, which under international law would give Ukraine the right--at least in theory--to enlarge its territorial waters from 12 to 200 nautical miles from the coastline.

Second, there is the issue of minority rights. In 1997, the Romanian side insisted on including the Council of Europe's Recommendation 1201 in the treaty with Ukraine, after long opposing its inclusion in the treaty with Hungary. Now, Bucharest is now demanding that a "multicultural" university be set up in Cernivtsi/Cernauti, while largely stalling on measures to set up such a university for its own Hungarian minority. Many media outlets have long engaged in a campaign aimed at stirring up anti-Ukrainian sentiment, claiming that Ukraine does not respect its obligations toward the 135,000- strong Romanian speaking minority. Those conducting such a campaign disregard the fact that some of these "Romanians" consider themselves Moldovans and reject close contacts with Bucharest.

Tarasyuk, while not denying that problems do exist, says that a lack of funds, rather than ill-will, is to blame. He was quick to point out during his visit that there is only one Ukrainian high school in Romania and that instruction there is conducted 75 percent in the Romanian language. In order to seek a solution, the two sides agreed that a commission of experts will study the issue. As conventional wisdom has it: where there is good will, issues are solved; where there is none, commissions are set up.


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