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Newsline - February 26, 1999




RUSSIAN PRESS CALLS SANCTIONS RESULT OF FAILED U.S. VISIT...

"Izvestiya" on 26 February linked the recent visit of a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State Strobe Talbott with the U.S. Commerce Department's publication of a list of 10 Russian organizations that will be sanctioned for assisting Iran with missile technology. The newspaper concluded that Talbott and his delegation came to discuss, among other topics, the pending sanctions and that their announcement soon after Talbott left indicates that Talbott and Primakov did not reach an understanding at their meeting earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 1999). JAC

...ARGUES WEAPONS SALES REPORTS ARE CONVENIENT EXCUSE FOR CUTTING AID

Meanwhile, "Vremya MN" quoted anonymous Russian defense specialists as saying they believe that recent Western news reports about Russian weapons sales to Iraq and allegations that U.S. financial aid to Russian defense enterprises were misspent are all part of the U.S. government's preparations to drastically reduce its foreign aid spending on Russia's nuclear and defense industry. According to the newspaper, "Washington's new approach is boiling down to the simple assumption that Russian is not the Soviet Union and can be safely ignored." It added that "it certainly seems that the U.S. has stopped taking seriously" even the threat of a "brain drain into third countries with nuclear ambitions." JAC

RUSSIAN, CHINESE PREMIERS SIGN AGREEMENTS...

Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and his Chinese counterpart, Zhu Rongji, met in Moscow on 25 February and signed 11 agreements, Russia media reported. Those agreements covered bilateral trade and economic cooperation, transportation, science and power engineering, including in nuclear energy, and cooperation between regions of the two countries. Both sides emphasized that bilateral trade and economic relations remain "weak." The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that last year's bilateral trade volume of $5.5 billion was "a far cry" from the $20 billion that the two countries' presidents, meeting in spring 1997, had called for by 2000. Zhu and Primakov also agreed to open a hot line between their offices. BP

...COMMENT ON THEIR TALKS

Primakov said his talks with Zhu were "constructive" and took place "without a hitch." Zhu commented that China will continue on its current path in relations with Russia, "which are those of partnership and strategic teamwork." He also thanked Russia for helping to improve China's relations with India but stopped short of supporting a "strategic triangle" between Russia, China, and India, which Primakov had proposed during a state visit to India last December (RFE/RL Newsline, 21- 22 December 1998). It was announced that an informal meeting between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin will be held in China sometime in mid-1999. BP

WORLD BANK TARGETING ASSISTANCE TO REGIONS?

Russia and the World Bank on 26 February signed an agreement for a $400 million loan to build and improve Russian roads and a protocol on an earlier coal sector loan, Russian agencies reported. However, final signature of an agreement on a third structural adjustment loan has been delayed until March, Interfax reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the road loan will primarily pay for repairs and upgrading of road networks in Siberia and the Far East. Earlier, a World Bank delegation began a working visit to the Chuvash Republic to discuss a possible $30 million loan to improve the provision of healthcare in the region, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 23 February. JAC

YELTSIN, PRIMAKOV PLEDGE COMMITMENT UNTIL 2000

President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 25 February reaffirmed their commitment to remain in office until 2000 but no longer, NTV reported. Prime Minster Primakov complained that he is "sick and tired of newspaper speculation" about his running for president in 2000. He will begin a two-week vacation at a Black Sea resort on 28 February. JAC

TAX COLLECTIONS SLIPPING IN FEBRUARY

Although February is not yet over, the Federal Tax Service says it is unlikely to match last month's rate of tax collection. Deputy chief of the tax service Sergei Shulgin told reporters on 25 February that little more than 15 billion rubles ($650 million) has been collected so far this month compared, with 20 billion rubles last month. In December, the service collected 27 billion rubles. JAC

YABLOKO, OTECHESTVO TO DIVIDE AND CONQUER?

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told Ekho Moskvy on 24 February that he wants to form an election alliance with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Otechestvo movement, so that the two parties do not compete against each other in key single-mandate districts. But Luzhkov told the station the same day that news reports about an alliance between Otechestvo and Yabloko are a "case of wishful thinking on the part of political experts." Nonetheless, "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 February speculated that such a partnership involving a division of the country into "spheres of influence" could be ideal: "Otechestvo could compete against the Communists in the red regions, while Yabloko has a better chance in the big cities where Luzhkov's social-democratic rhetoric is not as effective." JAC

LEBED SLAMS CABINET MEMBERS

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed told workers from the Krasnoyarsk coal company, Krasugol, on 24 February that Primakov's "inner circle" is deliberately misinforming the premier about the situation in the krai while "pursuing an anti-state policy" there, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Lebed declared that he will write a letter to Primakov expressing his lack of confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak, Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov, Economics Minister Andrei Shapovaliants, and First Deputy State Property Minister Yurii Medvedev. According to Lebed, those officials recommended transferring a block of shares in Krasugol to a private company in exchange for a loan of "a few kopeks." According to earlier news reports, 60 percent of the company's stock would be transferred in exchange for payment of a 72 million rubles ($3.1 million) debt. Earlier, Lebed criticized Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais for not fulfilling his pledge to prevent the bankruptcy of Krasugol. JAC

SCIENTOLOGISTS BECOME NEW TARGET FOR POLICE SCRUTINY

Police raided the Moscow headquarters of the Church of Scientology on 25 February. Reuters quoted an anonymous police officer as saying he and his colleagues were looking for everything from tax records to weapons. In a public statement, Church officials condemned the raid as an attack on freedom of religion. According to Interfax, municipal police, Federal Security Service and tax police officers participated in raids on four Church offices in Moscow. JAC

MURMANSK RESIDENTS PROTEST MOSQUE CONSTRUCTION...

Residents of the northern port of Murmansk are protesting the construction of a mosque at one of the city's most prominent sites, close to residential areas inhabited largely by Russian Orthodox believers, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. Murmansk residents fear that the mosque, whose minaret is planned to be some 24 meters high, will dominate the skyline and become a symbol of the city. According to the news agency, they are not opposed to the mosque itself but to the planned site. A petition is under way to request that the authorities halt construction. Muslims began arriving in Murmansk, whose population is predominantly Russian Orthodox, in the 1920s but have had no mosque there. JC

...WHILE BID UNDER WAY TO UNITE NORTH CAUCASUS MUSLIMS

Meanwhile, Muslims in the southern part of the country are to have a Moscow-based coordination center aimed at achieving "political stability..., civil peace, and religious accord" in the North Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. The establishment of the Coordination Center of North Caucasian Muslims was announced in the Russian capital on 24 February by Mikhail Gutseriev, deputy State Duma chairman, who is to coordinate the center's activities with the Russian parliament. Gutseriev commented that the center's most important task is to unite the North Caucasus's Muslims on the basis of "consolidating society and advocating progressive principles of Islam." JC.

FLAMMABLE INSULATION BLAMED FOR SAMARA FIRE

Experts believe that the fire at the regional Interior Ministry directorate in Samara earlier in this month spread so quickly because of the type of insulation used in the building, NTV reported on 24 February. A thick felt widely used during Soviet leader Stalin's era had decayed over 60 years, becoming highly flammable, according to the television station. JAC

PASKO TRIAL DELAYED AGAIN

The military court trying journalist Grigorii Pasko for espionage decided on 24 February to adjourn the trial until 1 March so that at least one of its judges can attend a conference, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Pasko is accused of providing classified documents about the Pacific Fleet's environmentally hazardous disposal of nuclear waste. On 19 February, the Pacific Fleet's prosecutor told Russian Television that Pasko and his attorneys participated in the distribution on the Internet of classified materials from the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). If found guilty, Pasko could receive a prison sentence of 12- 20 years, according to the news agency. JAC

KIDNAPPINGS OF STAVROPOL MANAGERS' CHILDREN CONTINUE

Andrei Nikulin, the son of a manager of an agricultural plant in Stavropol Krai, has been kidnapped and is being held in Chechnya for ransom, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 February. Over the past four months, four young people from the krai have been taken hostage there. Meanwhile, reportedly thanks to the efforts of Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, three hostages have been released from Chechen captivity, ITAR-TASS reported. PG




ARMENIA PRESSES FOR MEMBERSHIP IN COUNCIL OF EUROPE

Armenian parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutiunian on 25 February met with the ambassadors of several Council of Europe member states to urge them to support Armenia's inclusion into that organization, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Responding to recent comments by a Council of Europe official that Armenia must conduct free and fair elections, Harutiunian said "it is obvious that our membership will depend on the upcoming parliamentary election." Last month, Georgia became the first southern Caucasus country to become a member of the council. Armenia and Azerbaijan retain "special guest" status. PG

AZERBAIJAN TO GIVE HAGUE COURT DOCUMENTS ON 1992 MASSACRE

Idayet Orudshev, state secretary for nationality issues, has said Baku will present the international court at The Hague with documents on the massacre of 600 Azerbaijanis by Armenian forces in the city of Khojaly on 26 February 1992, Interfax reported. In addition, more than 500 Azerbaijanis were injured in the attack and some 1,200 taken prisoner. PG

SHEVARDNADZE SAYS GEORGIA MAY LEAVE CIS SECURITY PACT

In an interview with Japanese journalists prior to his departure for Japan, President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 25 February that Tbilisi is still considering whether to continue in the CIS Collective Security pact but has no plans to leave the CIS as a whole, Russian agencies reported. A Japanese source earlier suggested that Georgia is planning to leave the CIS, sparking expressions of concern and denials by Georgian officials. Shevardnadze's spokesman Vakhtang Abshidze told journalists that "Georgia indeed has a negative attitude toward this treaty because of its uselessness, but the country will form its final position on this issue only at the CIS summit in Moscow in early March." PG

YELTSIN ASKS CIS STATES FOR IDEAS ON ABKHAZIA

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has called on the members of the CIS to come up with suggestions for bringing peace to Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, Interfax reported on 25 February. The Russian leader reportedly has asked them to consider the question of continued peacekeeping operations there. Meanwhile, an Abkhaz official told ITAR-TASS that Abkhazia is prepared to guarantee the safety of refugees who return to Gali Raion. Ruslan Kishmaria said that a meeting attended by CIS peacekeepers, UN observers, Georgians, and Abkhazians had discussed disengagement of the contending forces as well. PG

TAJIKISTAN ACCEPTED INTO CIS CUSTOMS UNION

Tajikistan has been officially accepted as a member of the CIS Customs Union, Russian media reported on 26 February. The other members of the organization are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Belarus. The decision was made at the union's intergovernmental council session in Moscow, attended by those countries' presidents and prime ministers. Russian President Yeltsin told the session that "there is no alternative to integration and to the development of our cooperation." But Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka said Kyrgyzstan's entry into the World Trade Organization will doubtless cause conflicts within the union. Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev responded that his country is prepared to "participate actively" in the union, noting that other union members are negotiating to join the WTO. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev was named chairman of the union. BP

TRIAL OF SUSPECTS IN UN MURDERS BEGINS IN TAJIKISTAN

The trial of three men accused of killing four UN employees in Tajikistan last July began in the Tajik Supreme Court on 25 February, Reuters and AP reported. All three face the death penalty if found guilty. They initially confessed to the murders, but according to their lawyer, they have since recanted and now maintain they did not commit the crime. BP

NEW COMMANDER FOR RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS IN TAJIKISTAN

Russian Colonel Aleksandr Markin on 26 February assumes his duties as commander of the Russian Border Guards serving in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Makarin takes over from Lieutenant-General Nikolai Reznichenko. The previous day, a soldier from Russia's 201st division, stationed in Tajikistan, was shot and killed while trying to enter the Tajik presidential palace. The soldier disregarded warning shots. His motives are unclear. BP

MORE ARRESTS MADE IN CONNECTION WITH UZBEK BOMBINGS

Russian police have extradited to Uzbekistan a man suspected of involvement in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, AP and Interfax reported, quoting Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin. Also, three Uzbek citizens were arrested on 24 February at the Gerzel check point on the Dagestani-Chechen border, according to Interfax. The three were in possession of weapons and reportedly said they had been receiving training at a special military facility run by a Chechen field commander. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has said that some of those involved in the Tashkent bombings were trained in Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. Asia-Plus reported on 24 February that one suspect arrested in Tashkent in connection with the bombings is a citizen of Tajikistan. BP

UZBEKISTAN CUTS OFF GAS SUPPLIES TO KYRGYZSTAN

Uzbekistan has again cut natural gas supplies to northern Kyrgyzstan, including Bishkek, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 25 February. A special delegation left Kyrgyzstan for Tashkent on 25 February to negotiate the resumption of full supplies of gas. Uzbekistan halted deliveries last November pointing to the large Kyrgyz debt for supplies until that time. Kyrgyzstan owed Uzbekistan $3.3 million but, according to ITAR-TASS, has paid off $1.7 million of that amount. BP

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT LAUDS RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA...

Nursultan Nazarbayev, arriving in Moscow on 25 February to attend the CIS Customs Union summit, told journalists there are no outstanding issues to be resolved between his country and Russia. He said Kazakhstan will renew its participation in the CIS Collective Security Treaty in April, noting that those countries opting not to do so are "within their rights, as independent states." He said he is pleased that part of his "Ten Simple Steps for Ordinary People" program is expected to be adopted at the Customs Union summit. BP

...COMMENTS ON REGIONAL ISSUES

Responding to journalists' questions about the Caspian Sea, Nazarbayev said he hopes the sea's legal status will not become a bone of contention. He said its "vast resources" could greatly help the development of both his country and Russia in the next century. At the same time, he argued that legal clarity in the use of the sea's resources is essential and pointed to an agreement Kazakhstan signed with Russia last year on the division of the northern Caspian as an example of resolving the problem. Nazarbayev also denounced the bombings in Uzbekistan on 16 February, saying his country's security services are cooperating with their Uzbek counterparts. BP

GROUP OF KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES SUPPORT PRESIDENTIAL RULE

An 25 February appeal by 20 parliamentary deputies and by members of the Kazakhstan-2030 Movement urged the country's leadership to reject proposed budget amendments and consider introducing direct presidential rule, Interfax reported. The appeal says the government-proposed budget cuts--which foresee reducing social spending by 8 billion tenge (about $100 million) and unemployment funds by 3 billion tenge--will affect mainly those hit hardest by the current economic crisis in Kazakhstan. The authors of the appeal say the government has no "realistic program" for improving the living standards of those currently below the poverty line. They also argue that "the transition to direct presidential rule will help avoid duplication in the executive authority's work and make it more efficient." BP

KYRGYZ FINANCE MINISTER REPORTS ON ECONOMY...

Marat Sultanov told the government on 25 February that aggregate economic growth was 11.5 percent over the last three years, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Sultanov said over the same period, agricultural output increased by 15.5 percent and industrial output by 7 percent, while inflation totaled 35 percent. Sultanov said that there is no expectation of industrial growth in 1999 but that the trade deficit will be reduced from 19.7 percent to 9.7 percent this year. Sultanov added that the 1 billion som ($33 million) deficit foreseen by the 1999 budget will be reduced. BP

...WHILE PRESS ACCUSES HIM OF CORRUPTION

Also on 25 February, Sultanov revealed that he has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate allegations made in an article published in the Kyrgyz daily newspaper "Vecherny Bishkek" the previous day. The article, authored by former presidential press secretary Kabai Karabekov, alleged that when Sultanov was chairman of the National Bank, he had assured commercial banks that state treasury bonds issued by the Finance Ministry were guaranteed. The value of those bonds has since dropped significantly, and many commercial banks have extended loans totaling millions of dollars to bond holders. Shalkar Jaisanbaev the former head of the state oil and gas company, was granted loans worth $18 million but has vanished, along with those funds. The article noted that at the time the loans were granted, Sultanov was both chairman of the National Bank and chairman of the board of directors of the state oil and gas company. BP




UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR PLANT WORKERS PROTEST OVER BACK WAGES

Some 500 nuclear plant workers remained for the second consecutive day in tent camps near Ukraine's five nuclear power plants, AP reported on 25 February. The protesters are demanding that the government pay long-overdue wages and allocate more funds for their industry. According to an atomic energy workers' union, nuclear plant employees are owed 150 million hryvni ($42 million). JM

UKRAINE JOINS INTERNATIONAL LAND MINE BAN

Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada Volodymyr Kandohyy has signed the international convention banning anti-personnel land mines, AP reported on 25 February. Ukraine agreed to destroy its arsenal of nearly 8 million land mines following a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1999). Canada has pledged financial and technical aid for the destruction of Ukraine's land mines. JM

LAZARENKO INTERVIEWED BY U.S. IMMIGRATION AUTHORITIES

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Department on 24 February interviewed former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Lazarenko's U.S. lawyer. Lazarenko, who has asked for political asylum in the U.S., told the immigration authorities that he fears persecution on the part of President Leonid Kuchma if he returns to Ukraine, where he is charged with corruption. According to the news agency, the interview was the first step in a long process of finding out whether Lazarenko's fears are justified and whether he is thus entitled to receive political asylum. JM.

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONISTS FACE TRIAL OVER PRESIDENTIAL POLL

The members of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, who were detained by the special police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1999), have been released and subpoenaed to appear in court on 1 March. "We are accused of [holding an] illegal meeting, although no law says a meeting in a room needs an official sanction," Barys Hyunter, the commission's secretary, told Reuters. The central commission met in a privately owned cafe to approve a list of some 2,000 people to take part in territorial electoral commissions formed following the Supreme Soviet decision to hold presidential elections on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999). The Belarusian KGB said earlier this month that the opposition election initiative is a "conspiracy" to seize power. JM

RELEASED BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST DESCRIBES PRISON CONDITIONS

Alyaksey Shydlouski, who served a 18-month term in prison for anti-presidential graffiti, has briefed journalists on his prison life, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 25 February. "Prisoners have no rights. [Prison] conditions do not meet any international standards. People are held in prison for nothing, as under Stalin's [regime]," he said. He also noted that prisoners are forced to perform "slave labor" in conditions detrimental to their health. He himself had to work in a paint and varnish workshop where "safety rules were not observed." JM

BALTIC DEFENSE COLLEGE OPENS IN TARTU

Estonian President Lennart Meri opened the Baltic Defense College in Tartu on 25 February, ETA reported. The college will offer officers of the three Baltic States' armed forces military instruction that meets contemporary Western standards. The head of the college, Danish General Michael H. Clemmesen, said that such instruction will give the Baltic States a significant advantage over other countries seeking NATO membership. The countries directly supporting the project are Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S. JC

ESTONIAN LAWMAKERS PASS LEGISLATION ON OMBUDSMAN

Several minutes before the close of the current parliament's last session, lawmakers passed a law providing for the chancellor of justice to carry out the duties of ombudsman, ETA reported on 25 February. Justice Minister Paul Varul had said earlier that said it was "not expedient" to create a separate office of ombudsman, as the job could be done by the existing Chancellor of Justice's Office. JC

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1999 BUDGET

By a vote of 60 to 40, lawmakers on 25 February adopted this year's budget in the second and final reading, "Diena" and LETA reported. The budget provides for a fiscal deficit of 114 million lats ($228 million, reported to be the equivalent of some 3 percent of GDP), 4 percent growth of GDP, and a 4.5 percent increase in inflation. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans commented his government "is stable and will be even more stable in the future" as a result of the vote. A cooperation agreement concluded with the Social Democrats last month secured the minority government the necessary votes in the parliament for the budget's passage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1999). JC

MAYORS OF MAIN LITHUANIAN CITIES TO BE ELECTED DIRECTLY

Beginning next year, the mayors of Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Siauliai, and Panevezys are to be elected by popular vote, ELTA reported on 24 February. The government is to submit an amendment to the parliament to avoid any contradictions with the constitution. It intends to introduce direct mayoral elections throughout the country at a later date. JC

POLAND LAUNCHES LUSTRATION OF OFFICIALS

The Lustration Court, convening for the first time on 24 February, ruled that neither ombudsman Boguslaw Nizienski nor his two deputies worked for or served in the communist-era secret services. The court thereby inaugurated the lustration process in Poland. Under the 1997 lustration law, officials are obliged to submit written declarations on whether they collaborated with the secret services. The task of the ombudsman is to check whether those declarations are truthful. In the event of doubt, he is obliged to send such declarations to the Lustration Court for a final verdict. Out of the 23,000 officials who submitted declarations, some 300 admitted collaboration with the communist secret services. JM

GERMAN PRESIDENT AGAIN CALLS FOR CZECH-GERMAN RECONCILIATION

Roman Herzog renewed a plea on 25 February for complete reconciliation between Czechs and Germans who are still at odds over territorial claims from World War II, dpa reported. Herzog said forgiveness can succeed "only when we live within the truth." He made the plea while presenting Czech Roman Catholic Cardinal Miloslav Vlk with the German Grand Order of Merit for his role in bringing Germans and Czechs together. He has called the expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia a "profoundly immoral act." Czech President Vaclav Havel attended the ceremony in Berlin. PB

HAVEL SAYS NATO MEMBERSHIP NOT ONLY MILITARY ACT

President Vaclav Havel said on 26 February that in admitting the Czech Republic as a member, NATO is aknowledging that the country shares Western values, CTK reported. Havel is to sign ratification documents for NATO entry later the same day in a simultaneous ceremony with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. In other news, Havel said during a visit to RFE/RL the same day that it is his country's duty to support the "message of freedom" being delivered to those countries where authoritative regimes or dictatorships are in power and people do not have access to objective information. PB

OECD SAYS BRATISLAVA NEEDS TO CHANGE POLICIES

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says Slovakia must implement policy changes in order to sustain its growth levels. In a report issued on 25 February, the Paris-based OECD said Slovakia is on the verge of a crisis because its large budget and current-account deficits will not allow economic growth to continue. The Slovak economy has grown by 6 percent in recent years. The report also said delays in restructuring state banks and companies is hurting the economy. In other news, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the cabinet will freeze the salaries of judges and prosecutors. He added that police, prison, and customs officials as well as other state employees face similar freezes. PB

SLOVAK ECONOMY MINISTER DENIES WORKING WITH SECRET POLICE

Ludovit Cernak on 25 February rejected accusations that he collaborated with the Czechoslovak secret police (StB), CTK reported. Cernak was commenting on a report by Radio Twist saying it has a document confirming that Cernak worked for the StB. Former SIS head Ivan Lexa told Premier Dzurinda in the parliament the same day that one-sixth of his cabinet collaborated with the StB. Cernak said he has a screening certificate that says he did not collaborate with that body. PB

BUDAPEST COURT CONVICTS NEO-NAZIS

Six neo-Nazis were found guilty on 25 February of assaulting police during a raid at a Budapest bar two weeks earlier, CTK reported. The six--two Germans, two Czechs, a Slovak, and a Hungarian--were convicted of a "group attack." They had been taking part in events marking 13 February, the so-called "Day of Pride," commemorating German and Hungarian soldiers' attempt in 1945 to escape from Budapest, which was surrounded by Soviet troops. PB




YUGOSLAV ARMY RESUMES ATTACKS

OSCE verifier Beatrice Lacoste told AFP in Prishtina that Serbian police backed up by at least 15 Yugoslav army tanks and mortars attacked positions of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in Bukoshi, near Vushtrri, on 25 February. The village has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 1999). Lacoste said the OSCE does not have access to that zone, adding that "the Yugoslav army has told us that the gunfire is an 'exercise.'" Meanwhile, OSCE verifier Ferdinand Schafler told Reuters on 26 February that there have been many "attacks [and] provocations" as well as "assassinations of Serbs" in the area recently, adding that "it seems the [UCK] is responsible for these incidents." He noted that Serbs have left the area and that "the ethnic Albanians who remain make very good targets for Serbian forces." FS

YUGOSLAVIA DENIES ENTRY TO OSCE VERIFIERS

Yugoslav border guards denied entry to three OSCE vehicles traveling from Macedonia on 25- 26 February. An OSCE official stressed that the blocking of the cars was in violation of the Geneva convention, since the OSCE representatives enjoy diplomatic immunity, Reuters reported. FS

PENTAGON REPORTS FURTHER MILITARY BUILT-UP

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said on 25 February in Washington that the Yugoslav military have moved about 4,500 troops, more than 60 tanks, some 50 armored personnel carriers and roughly 60 artillery pieces to Serbia's border with Kosova. Those troops are in addition to 1,500 border guards equipped with 70 tanks and another 3,000 troops inside the province. He stressed that "what is most important is that the troops show restraint," Reuters reported. FS

ALBANIAN PREMIER WANTS NATO GROUND TROOPS

Pandeli Majko sent a letter to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on 25 February saying that the massive build-up of troops is "a preparation for the start of a general offensive," Reuters reported. Majko stressed that "NATO is the only institution that can force Belgrade to reverse its course of violence. This is the reason that obliges me to ask for intervention of NATO [troops] on the ground." FS

SOLANA THREATENS ACTION

Solana in Valencia on 25 February warned Belgrade not to try to use the interim period before new peace talks start on 15 March in order to crush the UCK. He stressed that NATO "will not tolerate that" and threatened military action, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. By the same token, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe told the Senate's Armed Services Committee that Kosova's ethnic Albanians "have nothing to gain by planning new guerrilla activity against the Serbs." He stressed that the UCK "must show restraint or risk losing NATO support." FS

SESELJ STRESSES DETERMINATION TO "REPRESS TERRORISM"

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 25 February that "Serbia is not preparing any kind of offensive in [Kosova], but we are determined to repress terrorism," AFP reported. Reuters quoted Seselj as saying that "one cannot speak about offensives. These are only police actions--sometimes bigger and sometimes smaller." He added that "the U.S. will think up new tricks to harm the Serbian people and take away from us what is ours." And he stressed that "the arrival of foreign troops [in Kosova] should not even be discussed." Seselj's federal Yugoslav counterpart, Vuk Draskovic, said in Belgrade, however, that "UN soldiers who would disarm the Albanian terrorists would not be considered occupiers," AP reported. FS

KOSOVAR DELEGATION PLEDGES TO SIGN RAMBOUILLET ACCORD...

Kosovar delegates returning to Prishtina aboard a French military plane from Rambouillet on 25 February expressed their willingness to sign the Rambouillet accord. Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova told Reuters that "we will have consultations...and then the agreement will be signed. This is a very important event because there will be a comprehensive political and military agreement." Rexhep Qosja of the United Democratic Movement told AFP that "we didn't have any illusions of coming back from Rambouillet with an independent Kosova....For us the talks provided a chance to obtain a kind of international protectorate." FS

...DISMISSES DEMACI'S CRITICISM

Kosovar delegation member and publisher Veton Surroi dismissed earlier criticism by UCK political representative Adem Demaci about the creation of a Kosovar interim government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1999). Surroi told AFP on 25 February that "Mr. Demaci is one of 2 million citizens of Kosova" and stressed that five UCK members in the Rambouillet delegation "were authorized by the fighters" and had the right to take decisions. A regional UCK commander, known as "Drini," told Reuters that the Rambouillet talks served to unite the guerrillas. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported, however, that UCK commanders in the field maintain a "tougher line" than those in urban areas. FS

CHINA VETOES EXTENSION OF UN FORCE'S MANDATE IN MACEDONIA

Qin Huasun, who is China's ambassador to the UN, said in New York on 26 February that Beijing feels that the UN's peacekeeping mission in Macedonia (UNPREDEP) has helped "stabilize" the situation there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1999). But he added that the force is no longer needed and should begin "dismantling" on 1 March. Qin denied that Macedonia's recent recognition of Taiwan had anything to do with China's decision to veto the extension. Some 13 out of 15 Security Council members voted to extend UNPREDEP's mandate by six months, while Russia abstained. Danilo Turk, who is Slovenia's ambassador to the UN and holds a rotating European seat on the Security Council, said that the veto reduces the credibility of the UN and marks a "sad day for the Security Council." PM

A NEW FORCE FOR MACEDONIA?

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in New York on 25 February that "a new approach" will be needed to help provide international guarantees for Macedonia's stability. He suggested that Macedonia and its neighbors consult "with the regional organizations that are also involved in the promotion of peace and stability" in the Balkans, by which he presumably meant NATO and the OSCE. In Skopje, government spokesmen on 26 February charged that Beijing was wrong to try to "punish" Macedonia for recognizing Taiwan. Opposition leaders argued that the government should not have recognized the island state in the first place. From Brussels, the independent Podgorica daily "Danas" reported that the first units of NATO peacekeepers for Kosova could begin arriving in Macedonia on 6 March, ahead of their eventual deployment to the Serbian province. PM

CROATIAN JOURNALISTS BEATEN OUTSIDE GENERAL'S HOME

The independent Zagreb daily "Jutarnji list" reported that on 25 February two unknown persons badly beat with wood and metal objects a reporter and a photographer from that newspaper. At the time of the attack, the two journalists were taking photos of the construction work on the new house of General Marinko Kresic on the island of Lopud near Dubrovnik. The daily reported that the journalists were investigating a story that Kresic, who is also assistant defense minister, was building a house without a permit. A military police spokesman denied that the assailants could have been members of that force. Local police later arrested two men as suspects in the beatings. Croatia's independent media frequently report on corruption, including at the highest levels of government. PM

CROATIAN JUDGE WANTS SPY CHIEFS TO TESTIFY FOR JOURNALISTS

Zagreb County Court Judge Gordana Spoljaric-Matasic said on 25 February that she will call top intelligence officials Ivan Jarnjak and Miroslav Separovic to testify on behalf of five independent journalists. The five have charged the Interior Ministry with spying on them. Ivo Pukanic, who is chief editor of the weekly "Nacional," told Reuters that the judge's decision is "the most important judicial ruling since the creation of the Croatian state" in 1991. The Croatian judiciary is widely regarded as a tool of the governing Croatian Democratic Community. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER PLEASED WITH IMF TALKS

Radu Vasile said on 25 February that "significant progress" has been made in the latest round of talks with the IMF, Reuters reported. Vasile, speaking during a visit to an aircraft factory in Bacau, said "without being overly optimistic," he believes Bucharest will sign a new agreement with the IMF at the end of March or beginning of April. Vasile said all major problems have been worked out. Romania urgently needs IMF credits to meet its debt obligations, reported to total $3 billion in 1999. PB

COZMA CALLS NEW CHARGES 'MASQUERADE'

A court in Plesi, some 120 kilometers north of Bucharest, has charged miners' leader Miron Cozma with disturbing public order during a bar fight in 1996 and the beating of a journalist two years earlier, Reuters reported on 25 February. Cozma, already sentenced to 18 years in prison for leading riots in Bucharest in 1991, asked the judge to "please take a decision that will end this masquerade." Costel Postolache, a senior miners' union official, said Cozma will remain the head of the union and "could even lead union affairs from jail." PB

MOLDOVAN SPEAKER SAYS PREMIER-DESIGNATE TO BE APPROVED

Dumitru Diacov said the center-right majority coalition in the parliament will approve the nomination of Ion Sturza as premier, Reuters reported. Diacov said the coalition has agreed with Sturza on a government program and on the makeup of the cabinet. Sturza, a businessman, headed the Ministry of Economy and Reform in the previous cabinet. PB

GOVERNMENT APPROVES NATO TRANSIT OF BULGARIA

The Bulgarian government said on 25 February that it will allow NATO forces to transit the country and will provide logistical support to the alliance in such a case, BTA reported. Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev said no Bulgarian military bases will be made available to NATO troops in transit, however. The parliament must still approve the measure. Since Bulgaria does not border Kosova, the decision is seen as a gesture of support for NATO, which requested the action. In other news, visiting Greek Deputy Defense Minister Dimitrios Apostolakis said that Athens firmly supports Bulgaria's aim of joining NATO. PB

BULGARIA SCRAPS SOVIET-MADE WARPLANES

Bulgaria has mothballed 100 aging warplanes in order to cut military spending and adhere to the terms of an international treaty on arms reduction, AP reported, citing the daily "Trud." Lieutenant-General Stefan Popov said the scrapped planes are MiG-17s, MiG-21s, and MiG-23s. He added that the air force still has 234 planes, although some 60 percent are grounded because of missing spare parts. PB




UKRAINE UNDER CORRUPTION SPOTLIGHT


By Robert Lyle

The detention in the U.S. of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who is wanted on corruption and money-laundering charges in Ukraine and Switzerland, has put the global spotlight on Ukraine, again drawing attention to the country's problems with corruption.

The editor of the publication "ERT" from the private Ukrainian Center for Independent Research, Inna Pidluska, told an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conference in Washington earlier this week that corruption is "a painful" subject in Ukraine because it has been so broadly discussed since 1992 and more than 20 laws enacted on fighting the phenomenon.

The problem, Pidluska said, is that despite all those laws and seven government ministries and departments assigned the task of fighting corruption, no one is actually doing the fighting. Ukraine, she noted, is lagging behind many other post-communist states, both in economic performance and in dealing with corruption.

One of the reasons, Pidluska added, is the totalitarian attitude of the state toward business--the taxation system has not been reformed, nor has the criminal code. She noted that there is still a law on the books making "speculation" illegal. Speculation is defined as reselling something to gain profit, which is business activity, and in Ukraine that still is de facto outlawed. This means that businesses are pushed into bribing officials.

Part of the problem in Ukraine, said Pidluska, is that the average business owner spends 55 days registering his or her business and it is not unusual for that process to take 90 days. At the same time, there are 26 state bodies authorized to perform inspections in any business and impose fines on entrepreneurs for any infraction of the agency's rules.

But the rules are not published, and frequently the inspectors will not tell even the business owner what violations are being cited. Of course, Pidluska commented, there is a simple and fast way to get a license or pass an inspection--namely, bribery.

Without question, continued Pidluska, President Leonid Kuchma was right last year when he admitted that abuse of power, bribery, and extortion by bureaucrats were the main obstacles to economic development in Ukraine.

Ukraine, of course, is not alone in having to battle corruption.

The deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), Harriet Babbitt, told the conference that in its role of promoting democracy around the world, the American aid agency helps fight corruption as well. She noted that in Armenia, for example, USAID supported 200 community development programs that stressed the importance of transparency and accountability in managing any funds, public or private. It backed judicial reform through ethics classes in schools and the creation of professional associations in law, business, and the media to endorse anti-corruption codes of ethics. And it also encouraged an independent media in Armenia and in the last elections provided the most balanced coverage in Armenia's history.

Additionally, she said, by helping Armenia privatize its energy sector, the U.S. aid agency helped the government reduce electric meter tampering and bribery through launching a computerized system that separates the metering, billing, and collection functions.

The vice president of the private group Transparency International, Frank Vogl, wrapped up the OECD conference saying that corruption is seen as a "massive problem" in more than half the countries of the world.

Petty corruption serves as a vicious tax on the poor, he said, while grand corruption hurts the economies of Central and Eastern Europe. Looting, which he described as the most outrageous form of corruption, has been perpetrated by leaders in Russia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Kenya, among others. While fighting corruption has become a major global topic, Vogl said efforts so far have "only made a dent." He said the armor of protection surrounding the corrupt--in government and business-- remains largely in tact.

Businesses should be pro-active, said Vogl, by reforming themselves and being good corporate citizens everywhere.

The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Washington.


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