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Newsline - March 2, 1999




BORDYUZHA ORDERS CABINET CORRUPTION PROBE...

Nikolai Bordyuzha, head of the presidential administration and Security Council, instructed his staff to investigate corruption allegations, specifically those included in a 25 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta" article, against members of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's cabinet, Interfax reported on 1 March. The article hinted that First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov procured government contracts for companies in which he or relatives had an interest. It also suggested that the entire cabinet is riddled with corruption. The previous day, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii repeated his earlier demand that the government respond to charges of corruption. Maslyukov said that they emanated from organs controlled by politically powerful businessmen whose names are "symbols of corruption, economic crime, and political extremism." That "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial backing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group has prompted some analysts to speculate that Berezovskii himself is trying to discredit Primakov and his cabinet. JAC

...AS BEREZOVSKII LABELS CABINET 'DANGEROUS'

Berezovskii told reporters on 1 March that the course being pursued by Primakov's cabinet is "very dangerous." Nevertheless, he added, he will not push for the cabinet's resignation. "Moskovskii komsomolets," a newspaper with close ties to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, a Berezovskii foe, suggested on 1 March that the return to television of journalist Sergei Dorenko was evidence supporting rumors that President Boris Yeltsin ordered Primakov to put a stop to attacks on Berezovskii. Russian Public Television, in which Berezovskii reportedly owns shares, has recently come under pressure, and the Duma has demanded that Berezovskii resign from his post as CIS executive secretary. Dorenko is reportedly close to Berezovskii. JAC

STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS POSTPONED

President Yeltsin's doctors on 2 March declared his health "normal." Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told ITAR-TASS that Yeltsin's annual state-of-the-nation address, which is usually delivered at the end of February or the beginning of March, will likely be pushed back until the end of March. Russian newspapers widely blamed Yeltsin for his latest health set-back, noting that he had attended the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein against his doctors' advice. JAC

SPLIT EMERGES AMONG RUSSIA'S CREDITORS

Chase Manhattan on 1 March followed Deutsche Bank's lead in announcing an agreement with the Russian government on terms for restructuring frozen defaulted short-term treasury bonds, Reuters reported. Headed by Deutsche Bank, the 19 foreign banks negotiating with the Russian government had put up a more or less united front. However, disagreements reportedly emerged among those banks that wanted to settle and those that are contemplating legal action against Russia in order to obtain better terms. "Izvestiya" noted on 3 March that for the last two months, German and Russian government officials had been conducting talks on the issue, and "the role of politics in Deutsche Bank's decision was apparently quite large." According to the newspaper, the Ministry of Finance asked on 26 February that creditors be given until 30 April to accept or reject the government's terms. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO MEDDLE WITH FOOD PRICES

Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik announced on 1 March that Primakov's government intends to "strictly control prices on foodstuffs," Interfax reported. According to Kulik, priority will be given to regulating the prices of bread, dairy products, and vegetable oil. He acknowledged that Russian food prices are already much lower than world prices. For example, the price of one ton of grain costs $110-$120 on the world market and $50-$70 on the Russian market. Meanwhile, First Deputy Minister of Agriculture Vladimir Shcherbak told Interfax that Russia may set minimum prices for sugar beets and sugar. According to Scherbak, "sugar prices are artificially low" and do not provide enough incentive to plant a large crop. JAC

PREPARATION OF POLITICAL PEACE TREATY NEARING COMPLETION

The working group preparing a draft statement on the political accord between Russia's branches of government met on 27 February and 1 March, Russian Television (RTR) reported. Duma deputy and head of the Russian Regions faction Oleg Morozov said the draft document is almost ready and will be forwarded to the presidential administration, the cabinet, and Federation Council on 2 March. According to RTR, the most controversial elements of the accord will be a Duma proposal for a constitutional amendment requiring the formation of a government of the parliamentary majority after legislative and presidential elections. JAC

MORE INDICATORS OF ECONOMIC DECLINE

More than 55 percent of all large and medium-sized companies were unprofitable in 1998, according to the State Statistics Committee, ITAR-TASS reported. Agriculture was among the sectors hardest hit, registering a 35 billion ($1.5 billion) loss. Meanwhile, the flow of foreign capital slipped 4.2 percent last year and foreign trade turnover 17.6 percent. In January, five of Russia's major industries-- manufacturing, agriculture, construction, transport, and trade/public catering--recorded a decline of 6.6 percent in their output of goods and services compared with the previous year, according to the State Statistics Committee, Interfax reported. JAC

CHIZHOV DISMISSED

Before leaving for his vacation on 28 February, Prime Minister Primakov signed a decree dismissing First Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Chizhov. Citing "a source close to the government," Interfax reported that at the request of Aeroflot general director Valerii Okulov, Chizhov has been offered the post of first deputy director-general of Aeroflot with special responsibility for the company's economic and financial performance. Chizhov was criticized by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 February for his role in the upcoming privatization of a Bulgarian oil company. JAC

ORTHODOX CHURCH SPEAKS OUT AGAINST SCIENTOLOGY

Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Father Vsevolod told Interfax on 1 March that the Russian Orthodox Church considers the Church of Scientology a socially dangerous totalitarian sect that negatively affects persons' personalities and family relationships. He added that the Orthodox Church wants an "appropriate legal assessment of the unseemly acts" of the Russian Scientology community. Last week, policeman raided the offices of Church of Scientology offices reportedly looking for evidence of criminal activities. JAC

PENTECOSTALS MOUNT PROTEST IN SAKHA

About 60 members of a Pentecostalist group seized a public building in the village of Kutana in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), threatening to commit suicide en masse if the police forced them to leave that building, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 March. According to the news agency, the group took over the building to protest the local residents' decision to expel them from the village. Two years ago, the group reportedly occupied a police station in the neighboring raion of Ust-Mayskii. JAC

INGUSHETIA ELECTS NEW PARLIAMEN

Some 50.7 percent of Ingushetia's 115,000-strong electorate cast their votes in the republic's 28 February parliamentary elections. The minimum required turnout was 25 percent. A total of 122 candidates contested the 21 parliamentary seats. Two seats were earmarked for representatives of the Russian-speaking population, and one for Ingushetia's Chechen minority. The party affiliation of the new deputies is not known, with the exception of one member of the pro-presidential Daimokhk movement. A member of Ingushetia's electoral commission told Interfax on 1 March that no complaints of procedural violations have been filed either by candidates or voters. President Ruslan Aushev said on 1 March that the immediate priority of the new parliament is to prepare elections to a state council that will amend the republic's constitution and decide on procedures for electing the next president, Interfax reported. LF




NEW ARMENIAN ENVOY TO BELARUS, CIS APPOINTED

President Robert Kocharian on 1 March named Suren Harutiunian as Armenia's ambassador to Belarus and plenipotentiary representative to the CIS. Harutiunian served as Armenian Communist Party first secretary from May 1988 until April 1990, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He then worked for the Soviet Foreign Ministry and later its Russian counterpart. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER TO REMAIN HEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION

Self-Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hairikian has withdrawn his threat to resign as chairman of the presidential commission on constitutional reform, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 1 March. Hairikian had said that he would tender his resignation if President Kocharian did not overrule the commission's 19 February decision not to include the introduction of dual citizenship in a package of proposed constitutional amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 1999). Senior members of the Self-Determination Union said Kocharian asked the commission last week to propose the abolition of the constitutional article banning dual citizenship. LF

AZERBAIJAN SAYS NATO BASES SOLE DEFENSE AGAINST RUSSIA

In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 February, Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Guluzade said his recent proposals that Azerbaijan should host either U.S. or Turkish military bases are "a cry of despair" prompted by Russia's ongoing support for Armenia's occupation of Azerbaijani territory. He said Azerbaijan "cannot exist if it does not enter some security system or other." He added that Baku cannot accept Moscow's invitation to enter its security system while Azerbaijani territory is still occupied. Russia must fundamentally revise its policy toward Azerbaijan if does not want NATO bases to appear there, Guluzade continued. The official also said that the work of the OSCE Minsk Group has not yielded any progress toward resolving the Karabakh conflict, which he characterized as between Azerbaijan and Russia, not Azerbaijan and Armenia. LF

ARMENIA CALLS FOR DIRECT TALKS BETWEEN BAKU, STEPANAKERT

Writing in the 2 March issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Armenian Foreign Ministry official Arsen Gasparian affirmed that "the territory of the former Azerbaijan SSR is the homeland of two peoples, Azerbaijanis and Armenians, and relations between them are not a question of a majority or a minority but of a partnership of equals." Gasparian said that progress in the deadlocked Karabakh mediation process is contingent on direct talks between Baku and the Armenian leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. In his interview with that newspaper, Guluzade had termed then Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's 1996 proposal to embark on such direct talks one of the reasons for the deadlock in the peace process. LF

GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS START RETURNING TO ABKHAZIA...

Abkhaz and Georgian officials have given widely differing estimates of the number of Georgians who wish to take up Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba's offer to allow Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion during the 1992-1993 war or the renewed hostilities in May 1998 to return to their homes beginning on 1 March. Georgian parliamentary deputy Vakhtang Kolbaya told Caucasus Press on 1 March that only three Georgians have crossed the bridge over the River Inguri, which marks the internal border. He denied that the Georgian displaced persons who have been picketing the bridge for the past two weeks to protest Ardzinba's initiative have prevented persons who wished to cross from doing so. But Abkhaz Security Minister Astamur Tarba said some 300 persons have gathered near the bridge but are being prevented by the picketers from crossing into Gali Raion. LF

...AMID DIVERGING RUSSIAN ASSESSMENTS

Russian special envoy for Abkhazia Lev Mironov predicted that only those Georgian displaced persons whose living conditions in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi are unbearable will accept Ardzinba's invitation to return, Caucasus Press reported on 1 March. Echoing the standard objection voiced by the Georgian leadership, he added that it is "risky" for Georgians to return to Gali without adequate security guarantees. Mironov pointed out that the Russian peacekeepers deployed along the internal border cannot protect all villages and that therefore the Abkhaz leadership must assume the responsibility for the returnees' safety, which it has undertaken to do. But ITAR-TASS on 1 March quoted Nikolai Rusak, political adviser to the Russian peacekeeping force, as saying that the Abkhaz leadership made the correct decision in initiating the unilateral return of the displaced persons. LF

ETHNIC GREEKS IN GEORGIA WANT DUAL CITIZENSHIP

Meeting with the Georgian parliamentary committee for human rights and national minorities, representatives of Georgia's ethnic Greek minority, estimated to number some 100,000, affirmed their support for the policies pursued by the present Georgian leadership, Caucasus Press reported on 26 February. At the same time, the Greeks expressed regret that the Georgian Constitution does not allow dual citizenship and that no Greeks are represented in the upper echelons of the country's leadership. They called on the parliament to expedite the passage of a law on national minorities. LF

AZERBAIJAN ACCUSES RUSSIA OF VIOLATING AIRSPACE

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 27 February claiming that a Russian MiG entered Azerbaijani airspace from Armenia for a period of two minutes on 25 February, Turan and Reuters reported on 1 March. The statement termed the incident the direct consequence of Russian arms deliveries to Russian bases in Armenia and proof that those arms deliveries are not, as Russia claims, exclusively for defensive purposes. Reuters quoted an unnamed senior Azerbaijani Defense Ministry official as saying that Azerbaijan could have shot down the intruder but chose not to do so. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S HONORARY CONSUL IN ST. PETERSBURG INJURED IN SHOOTING

Gudsi Osmanov was hospitalized on 28 February after being shot and wounded in his office, ITAR--TASS reported the following day. A spokesman for the St. Petersburg police said there were no political motive for the attack and that the perpetrators are known with a reasonable degree of certainty. LF

PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY IN KAZAKHSTAN HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS

The reconfigured political party Otan held its founding congress in Almaty on 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The 380 delegates unanimously elected President Nursultan Nazarbayev as party chairman. Nazarbayev, who was present, declined to assume that post, pointing out that the country's constitution forbids an incumbent president to simultaneously be chairman of a political party. The delegates accepted Nazarbayev's recommendation that former Prime Minister Sergei Tereshchenko be elected chairman. Tereshchenko was also Nazarbayev's campaign manager during the recent presidential election campaign. According to Tereshchenko, there are 35,000 members of Otan, which recently merged with the Liberal Movement, the Popular Unity Party, and the Democratic Party, hence the need for a founding congress. Nazarbayev urged delegates not to allow Otan to become "a party of elites" but rather to "unite a broad spectrum of people." BP

JAPANESE OIL COMPANY SIGNS CONTRACT WITH KAZAHSTAN

The Japanese National Oil Corporation signed an agreement with Kazakhstan's national oil company, Kazakhoil, in Astana on 1 March, Interfax reported. Under the terms of the agreement, the Japanese corporation will spend $50 million during the next three years to prospect in three different areas in western Kazakhstan. BP

KAZAKHSTAN TO CUT ARMY BY 50 PERCENT

Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry announced on 1 March that it intends to cut the number of army personnel by 50 percent, Interfax reported. The ministry plans to accomplish all the cuts "within months," mainly by reducing the length of service for conscript sergeants and privates from two years to one. The Defense Ministry had announced on 24 February that it will create an all-volunteer army by 2000. However, a law on alternative service, which is to be drafted soon, will allow draftees to avoid military service by paying a fee but will oblige them to undergo basic military training. BP

ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS KAZAKHSTAN

Raul Malk met with his Kazakh counterpart, Kasymjomart Tokayev, in Astana on 1 March, BNS and Interfax reported. The two signed an agreement on avoiding double taxation. Malk mentioned his country's desire to ship goods to China via Kazakhstan, and Tokayev said Kazakhstan would like greater access to Estonian port facilities for metals, oil, and grain exports. BP

GAS SUPPLIES FROM UZBEKISTAN TO KYRGYZSTAN RESUMED

The managing director of Kyrgyzgaz, Ishenbek Omurbekov, told RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek on 27 February that supplies of natural gas from Uzbekistan have been restored (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1999). Omurbekov said it may take as long as one week for full supplies to reach Kyrgyzstan. BP

UZBEK TELEVISION ACCUSED OF BROADCASTING ANTI-KYRGYZ PROGRAMS

Parliamentary deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbayev told Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly on 1 March, that on a recent visit to his constituency in Jalalabad he had seen television broadcasts from Uzbekistan that were anti-Kyrgyz in nature, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Sadyrbayev said the programming criticized political and economic reforms in Kyrgyzstan and was partly targeted at President Askar Akayev. The mountain ranges that divide Kyrgyzstan mean that it easier for people in southern Kyrgyzstan, particularly in the Kyrgyz section of the Fergana Valley, to receive Uzbek broadcasts than national ones. Sadyrbayev told a 19 February session of the parliament that Uzbekistan has moved some of its border posts into Kyrgyz territory by as much as 24 kilometers. BP

ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK TO GIVE LOANS TO TAJIKISTAN, KYRGYZSTAN

The Asian Development Bank will grant Tajikistan soft loans of $40 million annually from 1999-2002, Interfax reported on 1 March. The bank will also extend loans of $4 million annually to develop Tajikistan's energy sector, agriculture, the infrastructure, health care, and education system. On 27 February the Asian Development Bank said it will give Kyrgyzstan a $45 million loan this year, $40 million for the agricultural sector and $5 million for reconstruction of the Bishkek-Osh highway, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. BP

ANOTHER PRESIDENTIAL PARDON FOR FOREIGNERS IN TURKMEN JAILS

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 1 March ordered 379 foreign nationals serving sentences in Turkmen jails to be released and sent home, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Niyazov called this latest pardon a "gesture of good will" to strengthen friendly relations with "partner nations." Those pardoned come from CIS countries, Pakistan, Latvia, Turkey, and Syria. Niyazov has ordered thousands of prisoners freed this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1999). BP




RUKH TO SUPPORT SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, DESPITE SPLIT

The Popular Rukh of Ukraine will support Hennadiy Udovenko as the party's candidate in the presidential elections in Ukraine this fall, dpa reported on 1 March. Rukh was divided when a 28 February extraordinary congress elected Yuriy Kostenko as its chairman to replace former Soviet dissident Vyacheslav Chornovil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 1999). Kostenko said Udovenko can win the presidential elections if all national and democratic forces unite around his candidacy. Chornovil and his supporters also confirmed their support for Udovenko. JM

UKRAINE DISCUSSES ELECTRICITY DEBTS TO RUSSIA

Anatolii Chubais, head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), met with Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv on 1 March to negotiate ways of repaying Ukraine's debts for electricity supplied by his company. Ukrainian commercial companies owe $123.5 million to EES, and Chubais wants the Ukrainian government and the state-owned company Ukrenergo to cover that sum. Ukraine's newly appointed energy minister, Ivan Plachkov, said before the talks that the government will not bear responsibility for the "debts of commercial companies," AP reported on 1 March. EES, whose electricity exports accounted for 3 percent of Ukraine's needs last year, suspended supplies to Ukraine on 1 January. JM

BELARUSIAN POLICE ARREST OPPOSITION ELECTORAL COMMISSION HEAD...

Viktar Hanchar, head of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, was arrested in Minsk on 1 March and sentenced to 10 days in custody, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Hanchar was arrested for not appearing at an administrative court to which he had been summoned last week on charges of holding an unsanctioned meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1999). Henadz Samoylenka, a member of the commission, was fined 30 million Belarusian rubles ($131) for participating in the same meeting. The Minsk human rights center "Spring-96" reported that other commission members were fined 15-30 million Belarusian rubles, sentenced to five days in custody, or given a warning. The commission headed by Hanchar is preparing alternative presidential elections in Belarus, which the opposition Supreme Soviet has scheduled for 16 May. JM

...WHILE COMMISSION REGISTERS SUPPORT GROUPS FOR TWO CANDIDATES

Following Hanchar's arrest, 15 members of the Central Electoral Commission registered support groups for two candidates who are to run in the 16 May presidential elections. Some 800 people were registered to collect signatures in support of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir's candidacy, and some 500 people for Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the Belarusian Popular Front. According to the 1994 constitution--to which the Belarusian opposition remains loyal--a presidential candidate must collect 100,000 signatures to be officially registered. Paznyak told RFE/RL on 1 March that the opposition elections are to elect a "real president who will form a real cabinet [and restore] constitutional power in Belarus." Paznyak has hinted he will return to Belarus for the election campaign once he is registered. JM

ORGANIZER OF ANTI-FASCIST MARCH IN MINSK JAILED FOR 10 DAYS

Ales Byalyatski, head of the human rights center "Spring-96," has been sentenced to 10 days in jail for "violating public order" during the anti-fascist march in Minsk on 27 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 1999), Belapan reported on 1 March. The city authorities gave permission for a march on the sidewalks, but some of the 2,000 protesters walked along Minsk's main avenue. The trial of two other organizers was postponed after their lawyer requested that an expert opinion be delivered on whether 2,000 people could fit onto the sidewalks during the march. JM

CHINESE DEPUTY PREMIER IN TALLINN

Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann, meeting with Wu Ji in Tallinn on 1 March, urged Chinese businessmen to invest in Estonia, ETA reported. Siimann noted that Estonia could handle Chinese goods in transit to Europe. Wu responded that while China is interested in business opportunities in Estonia, the competition is "fierce" there. China currently occupies 26th place on the list of Estonia's trading partners, according to the news agency. JC

LATVIAN POLICE BRACE FOR MARCH DEMONSTRATIONS

Interior Minister Roberts Jurdzis told journalists on 1 March that the Latvian authorities have information that extremists may provoke disturbances on both 3 March, the first anniversary of a pensioners' rally at which police used force to unblock a main road in downtown Riga, and 16 March, Latvian Soldiers' Day, "Diena" reported. He stressed that the authorities have already drawn up plans to prevent mass disturbances on either of those days. "Diena" also reported that the Russian-language press has urged "leftists" to take part in the 3 March rally to continue the "fight for the defense of their rights." JC

KRISTOPANS SAYS NEW ANTI-CORRUPTION BILL IN OFFING

Speaking to journalists on 1 March, Latvian Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans announced that a working group will be set up within the coming weeks to draw up a new anti-corruption bill, "Diena" reported. Kristopans stressed that both Latvian and foreign experts will be involved in drafting the new law, which, he said, will be ready by the end of the year. JC

LITHUANIAN STATE DEFENSE COUNCIL APPROVES ELECTRICITY EXPORTS TO BELARUS

At a 1 March session under the chairmanship of President Valdas Adamkus, the State Defense Council recommended that the government approve continued electricity exports to Belarus, ELTA reported. Adamkus told reporters after the meeting that the matter was "analyzed in both economic and political terms" and that it was agreed that there was no point to cease supplies when Belarus has given a "concrete commitment" to settle its outstanding debt of some $100 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 25 February 1999). Also attending the session were parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis and Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius. The government is due to discuss the issue on 3 March. JC

MAZEIKIU NAFTA POSTS LOSSES OF NEARLY $25 MILLION

Lithuania's oil concern Mazeikiu Nafta registered losses last year totaling some 98 million litas ($24.5 million), ELTA reported on 1 March. But an Economy Ministry official argued that Mazeikiu Nafta activities in 1998 would be regarded as profitable, not loss- making. "Due to the fact that the plant does not have enough capital of its own, it cannot make profits as it has to pay 9-10 percent interest [on] borrowed capital", the daily "Lietuvos Rytas" quoted the official as saying, according to the news agency. Meanwhile, negotiations continue between the government and the U.S. energy company Williams over the latter's participation in the oil concern's privatization. JC

POLISH PREMIER TO STREAMLINE CABINET STAFF

Jerzy Buzek told Polish Radio on 1 March that he plans "far-reaching changes to streamline the functioning" of his office, including reductions in the office's personnel. According to PAP, Chief of Prime Minister's Staff Wieslaw Walendziak will be dismissed and offered another job in the cabinet. A cabinet reshuffle will follow in April, when the current 17 ministries are expected to be reduced to 10 or nine. Polish commentators note that the planned restructuring is being used as a pretext to get rid of unpopular ministers and to improve the cabinet's image. Buzek's cabinet has recently seen its popularity drop significantly in the wake of protests by farmers and health service employees. JM

POLAND TO EXPEL RUSSIAN BUSINESSMEN

ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March that Poland has refused to prolong residence permits to 15 Russian businessmen who allegedly "threaten the interests of Polish national security." According to the agency, Polish officials have so far refused to comment on that move. A representative of the Russian embassy in Warsaw told Polish Television the same day that Russia will take "reciprocal" steps unless Polish authorities justify their decision to expel Russian businessmen. ITAR-TASS noted that almost 3,000 Polish businessmen are currently working in Russia. JM

HAVEL SAYS COMMUNIST LEGACY INFLUENCES CZECH SUPPORT FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP

In an interview with "Le Monde" on 1 March, President Vaclav Havel said the relatively low support among Czechs for NATO entry (56 percent, according to the latest polls) must not be interpreted as deep-rooted resentment toward the alliance. He said this is a reflection of the communist legacy, when NATO was presented as an "instrument of imperialism." Additional reasons, he said, are "a certain amount of parochialism, isolationism, and faint-heartedness, all of which have an established tradition in modern Czech history," CTK reported. Havel said enthusiasm for joining NATO is greater in Poland because that country has had to "make huge sacrifices for its [independent] existence in modern history." On 2 March, Havel begins a three-day visit to France. MS

CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST FORMER SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER

Gustav Krajci on 1 March was charged with abuse of power and forging ballots in the 1997 referendum, CTK and AP reported, quoting a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. The trial date has not yet been set. Krajci, who was recently stripped of his parliamentary immunity, is accused of having abused his position as deputy chairman of the Central Electoral Commission by deleting from the 1997 referendum the question on direct presidential elections. He is also charged with stamping the altered ballot with the official stamp of the commission, without that commission's knowledge. MS




YUGOSLAV FORCES PRESS OFFENSIVE ON KOSOVA-MACEDONIAN FRONTIER

Serbian tanks and heavy artillery shelled the region between Kacanik and the Macedonian border on 2 March, AP reported. The news agency added that "the operation, which has begun in the past few days, appears to be an ominous military effort to control a strategic artery in the Serbian province. Troops and tanks have been massing at the border, and a bridge connecting Macedonia and [Kosova] is mined--preparations either to prevent NATO forces from coming in, or keep diplomatic monitors and refugees from getting out." A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees noted that some 3,000 displaced persons are crowded into the border town of Jankovic and hundreds more are living rough in nearby woods. He added that "this is the first case in some time where people are staying in the open." PM

UCK CONFIRMS THACI AS HEAD OF PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT

The General Headquarters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) said in a statement on 1 March that "Hashim Thaci is appointed as a mandatory with the duty of constituting the Provisional Government of Kosova, which in turn will carry out preparations for free and regular parliamentary elections." The text described Thaci as a "member of the General Headquarters and head of the Political Directorate of UCK." The guerrilla leadership also appointed a delegation to represent it at talks with U.S. officials in Washington, which will take place prior to the reconvening of the peace talks on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 1999). The delegation will consist of Thaci, Jakup Krasniqi, Rame Buja, Bashkim Jashari, Bislim Zyrapi, and Ramush Hajredinaj. On 2 March, the pro-Milosevic Belgrade daily "Politika" charged that Washington is "giving legitimacy to terrorists" by inviting the UCK team. PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT ENCOURAGES THACI TO SIGN AGREEMENT

Rexhep Meidani told Thaci and other UCK representatives in Tirana on 1 March that the peace negotiations are "a vital process for all [ethnic] Albanians and for the stability of the region," according to a statement issued by Meidani's office. He called the peace talks "only a first positive step toward the solution of the Kosova crisis" and stressed that "every action or political decision by [the Kosovars] should aim at preserving the continuity of international support, especially U.S. support," for the Kosovar cause, dpa reported. The statement also quoted Thaci as saying he is "committed" to reaching an agreement "that will end the Serbian violence and genocide...and result in the presence of NATO troops on the ground," Reuters reported. FS

COHEN WARNS MILOSEVIC

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said in Washington on 1 March that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will face NATO air strikes if he resumes attacks on civilians in Kosova. "To the extent that his forces launch any attack against innocent people, he is going to face action by NATO itself.... NATO countries are committed to making sure that he does not violate the agreement" he made with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke in October 1998, Cohen said. He added that "if the Serbs, by virtue of their heavy armor and their artillery, start to engage in massive assaults upon innocent villagers, that would constitute a violation of the agreement...and that would prompt an attack by the NATO forces." PM

MILOSEVIC CONTINUES OPPOSITION TO PEACEKEEPERS

Knut Vollebaek, who is the OSCE's chairman in office, told reporters in Belgrade on 1 March that Milosevic, with whom he had just met, "flatly rejected" the stationing of NATO peacekeepers in Kosova. In Prishtina, U.S. special envoy Chris Hill said after meeting with several Kosovar political leaders that "there is no question that there are very serious problems on the ground. We feel the way to solve this is through the Rambouillet accords ..., and this means the presence of a NATO-led force, which we feel is in everyone's interest." Speaking of the Rambouillet agreement, Hill added that "we'll have [ethnic] Albanian signatures. And I hope the Serbs will come to understand that it's in their interest to sign." Meanwhile near Rahovec, the UCK released a Serbian civilian whom guerrillas captured two days before (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 1999). PM

MACEDONIA PROTESTS TO SERBIA

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Skopje delivered a "verbal protest" to the Yugoslav embassy on 1 March in response to recent remarks by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, who said that Macedonia would "cease to exist" if NATO troops attack Serbia from Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 1999). PM

UNPREDEP MISSION ENDS IN MACEDONIA

The UN Preventive Deployment Force ended its mission on 1 March after seven years, Reuters reported. China last week vetoed an extension of the mission by the Security Council after Skopje had established diplomatic ties with Taiwan earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1999). An unnamed UNPREDEP official told Reuters that "we have begun preparations to leave. It's a process that will last about two months." He added that some of [UNPREDEP's] equipment is owned by the governments that sent soldiers to this mission and could be used in some other missions. The official suggested that some governments might like their troops to stay in Macedonia "within the framework of NATO." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 26 February that "what we do not need is a vacuum in this area at this critical stage." UNPREDEP was the first mission in UN history aimed at preventing the spread of a conflict to a country at peace. FS

SFOR DISBANDS BOSNIAN SERB BRIGADE OVER ARMS SMUGGLING

Stabilization Force (SFOR) spokesman Dave Scalon told Reuters on 1 March that SFOR has ordered the disbanding of the Bosnian Serb Army's 311th infantry brigade, which is based in Bosanski Samac. He said SFOR took the measure after its forces seized two civilian trucks smuggling six Red Arrow anti-tank systems, 18 SA- 7 air defense systems, and three multiple-rocket launchers near Brcko on 24 February. SFOR later seized another cache of illegal weapons near Bijeljina. Scalon said that a "sufficient" number of soldiers from the brigade were involved in the smuggling to prompt SFOR to take tough action. He added that there is "so far" no indication that the arms were bound for Kosova. FS

FIRST ORE SHIPMENT FOR ZENICA

A Turkish freighter arrived at the Adriatic port of Ploce on 1 March with 7,500 tons of Ukrainian iron ore for the Zenica iron and steel works. This is the first shipment of raw materials to arrive in Ploce for Zenica since the Bosnian war began in 1992. Some 240,000 tons are slated to reach the huge iron and steel complex by the end of 1999. Shipments of raw materials to Zenica accounted for some 50 percent of Ploce's prewar commercial activity, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

NEW WAVE OF PRICE HIKES IN ROMANIA

Gasoline prices were raised by 60 percent beginning 2 March, following a government decision last week, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The hikes reflect the austerity budget approved by the government and the fact that the leu has lost some 16 percent of its value since the beginning of 1999. Prices of basic foodstuffs are expected to rise between 5 percent and 25 percent. MS

ROMANIA'S UNIATES PROTEST 'LIMITED' PAPAL ITINERARY

Senator Ioan Moisin on 1 March sent a letter of protest to President Emil Constantinescu and the government demanding that "freedom of movement" be assured during Pope John Paul II's visit to Romania, which is scheduled for 7-9 May. Moisin said he is "mandated" to do so by the leader of the Uniate (Greek-Catholic) community, Metropolitan Lucian Muresan. At a recent session of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic's Steering Committee, several members of the Uniate community have also protested the intention to limit the visit to Bucharest, saying that the pope must visit localities in Transylvania where most of Romania's Roman-Catholics and Uniates live. Moisin accused the Romanian Orthodox Church of objecting to the pope's visit to Transylvania. MS

ROMANIAN PARTIES MERGE

The National Council of the Romanian Alternative Party (PAR) has approved the party's merger with the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) and the extra-parliamentary Democratic Republican Party, Mediafax reported on 28 February. Mircea Cazacu, who recently resigned from the National Liberal Party (PNL), also joined the PAR. PLD leader Nicolae Cerveni, who was elected to the parliament on the ruling Democratic Convention of Romania's (CDR) list in 1996, was leader of the former National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention. The PAR left the CDR last year. MS

MOLDOVAN FPCD LEADER WANTS FOUR CABINET POSTS

Iurie Rosca, leader of the Christian Democratic Popular Front (FPCD), told journalists in Chisinau on 1 March that his party insists on having four ministers in Ion Sturdza's cabinet and that one of the portfolios must be finance and the other deputy prime minister with the rank of minister of state. Rosca said the FPCD will not accept a division into "zones of influence" in which the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova bloc has control over the financial-economic sector, and the Party of Revival and Conciliation over the ministries overseeing military and security affairs, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov, speaking on television on 1 March, ruled out any concessions to the FPCD and added that one possible way out of the stalemate were early elections. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER CRITICIZES EU

In an interview with Reuters on 1 March, Ivan Kostov harshly criticized the EU, saying it has "done nothing for Bulgaria or has done negligibly little." Kostov also said the EU is exerting a "meaningless diktat" in demanding that Bulgaria close down parts of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant. Closure, he said, would "destroy even that little competitiveness the country now has" and greatly damage the Bulgarian economy. Kostov said that unless the EU starts membership talks with Sofia by 2001, his government may have to postpone the issue indefinitely since "society cannot get enthusiastic about goals 15-20 years away." MS




POLAND'S FOREIGN MINISTER ON EASTERN POLICY AFTER NATO ENTRY


by Jan de Weydenthal

In less than two weeks, Poland is to become a full member of NATO. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek recently spoke in Warsaw with an RFE/RL correspondent about the possible effects of Poland's NATO membership on its relations with Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

Noting that entry into the Western military alliance will give Poland a much-needed and long-awaited guarantee of national security, Geremek commented that the move will inevitably have an impact on relations with neighboring countries. But he was quick to emphasize that "Poland, as a member of NATO, will be even better equipped to improve those relations." This is particularly true, he argued, with regard to Ukraine, which he described as one of Poland's strategic partners. "Ukrainian independence is deeply rooted in the Polish national interest," he said. "And we have a very good relationship. We have the feeling that Ukraine sees Poland's accession to NATO as a chance for her security."

Geremek was less upbeat about Poland's relations with Belarus. Minsk, he said, currently appears to "be lacking confidence" in Poland's accession to NATO and "is angry with NATO enlargement." Belarusian officials, and particularly President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, have consistently and vociferously opposed NATO's eastern enlargement, seeing it as a threat to their country's security and a danger to peace in the region.

Geremek questioned the scope of the fear expressed in Belarus. "The question," he said, "is whether [this fear stems from] political elites of the country, the president of the country, or the Belarusian nation. Poland wants to have good relations with Belarus, with the Belarusian state, and with the Belarusian people."

Geremek said that Poland would make every effort to convince Belarus, by moving gradually in a "step-by-step" fashion, that Warsaw's NATO entry is "in the interest of Belarus." He said Poland's membership in the alliance will contribute to strengthening political stability and eliminating conflicts in the region.

But for Poland the central foreign policy issue remains the nature of its relations with Russia. Geremek recalled the centuries of Polish-Russian conflict in which Russia had been the main player in a series of partitions of Poland. More recently, under communist rule, Moscow determined both Poland's government and politics for more than four decades. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has suffered a major decline in its international influence. But, as Geremek put it, "the shadow of Russia is still in the region."

Moscow has strongly opposed Poland's entry into NATO but was finally forced into accepting it. However, Russia remains opposed to any further eastern NATO expansion. Even recently, Geremek said, it has tried to use negotiations with the West on conventional forces in Europe as "an instrument" to reduce the status of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic within NATO by imposing restrictions on their military strength.

Yet, Geremek appears optimistic about the future. Pointing out that he visited Moscow as recently as the end of January, Geremek said he has the feeling that [by] becoming a member of NATO, "we can, in a more determined way, obtain loyal dialogue and cooperation with Russia. Russia understood that Poland is becoming a member of NATO, and Russia cannot say no. [There is] no possibility of a Russian veto in this case. And Russia can see in Poland's accession to NATO a good argument for her good relations with NATO. Poland, as member of NATO, will be the nation the most interested in the establishing good relations between Russia and NATO."

Geremek emphasized that Poland is, and will remain, interested in developing friendly relations with Russia for a number of reasons: economic, cultural, and political. He said Russia is still a big power. And he noted that while Russia may currently be "sick" and that this sickness may last for very long time, Russia is still important for Poland. The author is a RFE/RL senior editor and a specialist in Polish affairs.


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