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Newsline - March 3, 1999




MASLYUKOV ORDERS COUNTERPROBE OF NEWSPAPER...

First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov announced on 2 March that he will ask the Prosecutor-General to investigate "Nezavisimaya gazeta" over the second in a series of articles implicating him in criminal wrongdoing, ITAR-TASS reported. Maslyukov's spokesman clarified the next day that Maslyukov is not seeking curbs on press freedom but merely wants an investigation into slanderous media reports about the government. On 2 March, the newspaper did a follow-up to an earlier piece, suggesting that Maslyukov and his aides somehow embezzled $130 million of budget funds. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC

...COMPLAINS ABOUT IMF

Maslyukov also accused IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus of "pressuring" Russia during negotiations in a way that is "simply indecent," Interfax reported on 2 March. He added that "Mr. Camdessus wants too much to score an easy victory and make us do something that we will not accept." Maslyukov's comments follow an announcement by Camdessus the previous day that Russia's 1999 budget remains unrealistic and unworthy of a new loan in the near future. JAC

CONSIDERATION OF START-II TREATY DELAYED

The State Duma Council on 2 March decided not to include the START-II treaty on the Duma's agenda for 5 March, as the Liberal Democratic Party had proposed, Interfax reported. Defense Committee Chairman and member of the Our Home Is Russia faction Roman Popkovich, who supports ratification of the treaty, said the proposal to include the treaty on the Duma's agenda was "a provocation" designed to defeat that document. Popkovich repeated his earlier conviction that before considering the START-II treaty, the Duma must pass in the first reading a bill on financing of the strategic nuclear forces until 2010. JAC

RUSSIA SPILLING MORE OIL THAN QATAR PRODUCING

Russia lost almost 20 million tons of oil--more than is annually produced by Qatar, an OPEC member--during drilling and transport, the state pipeline company Transneft reported on 2 March. According to ITAR-TASS, losses amounted to some 6.5 percent of last year's annual production. JAC

INTERNATIONAL ACCOUNTING FIRM TO AUDIT FIMACO

Three days after Duma Deputy and Budget Committee member Nikolai Gonchar made new accusations against the Central Bank for its involvement with the Channel Islands-based FIMACO investment firm, the head of the Duma's Audit Chamber, Khachim Karmokov, told reporters on 2 March that his organization has "not uncovered any serious, large-scale violations" of Central Bank procedures. However, he also noted that his chamber has not tracked the flow of capital outside Russia. Karmokov disclosed that his agency has filed a report on the Central Bank but added that the document is not available to either the public or the press. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko plans to ask the international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of FIMACO, Interfax reported. Central Bank Deputy Chairman Oleg Mozhaiskii said, "Our professional and business reputation is more important than the money that will have to be spent on an audit. " JAC

STAND-OFF BETWEEN POLICE, RELIGIOUS GROUP IN SAKHA GETS STRANGER

Members of the evangelical Christian group that seized a public building in Aldan Raion in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) on 28 February have asked police to shoot them, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 March. They promised they would forgive the police and others for any "injustices" perpetrated against them. According to Reuters, the group has rejected offers of money and broken off negotiations with the police. In a statement released to the press, the group added that in addition to wanting the police to shoot them, they also would like the Sakha government to recognize financial debts owed the group, according to ITAR-TASS. The agency also reported that the leader of the group, Pastor Yevgenii, has served a 13-year prison sentence for killing his wife. JAC

RUSSIA HAILS LIBYA, DEMANDS END TO STRIKES AGAINST IRAQ

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters on 2 March that U.S.-U.K. air strikes against Iraq "must end immediately" since they "cannot be justified from a legal or a moral point of view and hinder the settlement of the problem, which is being sought by the UN Security Council." Rakhmanin also called for the earliest possible implementation of the UN Security Council's resolution on starting a trial in The Netherlands of the suspects in the downing of the Pan-Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Rakhmanin added that Libya "has made noticeable progress" in implementing the UN Security Council's resolution on initiating the trial. JAC

NEW DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER, ENVOYS NAMED

Sergei Ordzhonikidze was appointed deputy foreign minister on 2 March by presidential decree, Interfax reported. Ordzhonikidze previously headed the International Organizations Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry. Also appointed by decree were Vladimir Chistyakov and Leonid Semergei as presidential envoys to Novgorod and Volgograd Oblasts, respectively, ITAR-TASS reported. Envoy to the Republic of Kalmykia Vyacheslav Bembetov and envoy to Krasnodar Krai Vitalii Spiridonov were relieved of their duties the same day. JAC

COAL MINERS CALL FOR BROADER PROTEST

Leaders of coal miner unions in the Donetsk basin called on 1 March for large-scale protests nine days later, ITAR-TASS reported. At a plenum of Rostov Oblast unions representing 120,000 miners in the region, leaders drafted a message to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov noting that the government still owes miners unpaid wages as well as disability and other benefits amounting to 1.3 billion rubles ($56 million). Meanwhile, dozens of miners in Komi Republic declared their willingness on 2 March to join 10 of their colleagues who launched a hunger strike last month over unpaid wages. The miners work for the Severuglestroi coal company, in the city of Vorkuta. According to ITAR-TASS, company officials say that they cannot pay workers wages because the mine where they work is to be liquidated. JAC

FOUR YEARS LATER, NO BREAKTHROUGHS ON LISTIEV CASE

1 March marked the fourth anniversary of the contract slaying of Vladislav Listiev, famous television journalist and first director-general of Russian Public Television (ORT). An anonymous senior official in Russian law-enforcement bodies told ITAR-TASS that investigators still involved in the case are now working on a theory that Listiev's murder was connected with the re-division of ORT's advertising market. Financial magnate Boris Berezovskii told reporters the same day that he does not doubt that President Yeltsin's former security head Aleksandr Korzhakov was invovled in the killing. The next day, two unidentified men tried to kill a local military journalist in Rostov na Donu, Aleksandr Tolmachov. JAC

TATARSTAN REJECTS CONSOLIDATION WITHIN RUSSIAN FEDERATION

State Council chairman Farit Mukhametshin has categorically rejected Russian Prime Minister Primakov's recent proposal that the number of subjects of the Russian Federation be drastically reduced by means of consolidating the present 89 federation subjects into fewer, larger territorial entities, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 2 March. "There can be no discussions on affiliating the Tatarstan Republic with any of the other territorial entities of the Russian Federation. This issue cannot be a topic for discussion by Tatarstan's government," Mukhametshin said. Also on 2 March, Tatarstan's enlistment officer Major-General Rim Mustaev, told Tatar-Inform that Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev's proposal to merge the Volga and Urals military districts is premature. LF

DOUGHNUTS LATEST VICTIM OF ECONOMIC CRISIS?

The Dunkin' Donuts chain, specializing in doughnuts and coffee, has closed its two shops in Moscow because Russia's economic crisis negatively impacted sales, AP reported. In October, another U.S. fast food chain Pizza Hut announced plans to shut its two Moscow locations. JAC




BEREZOVSKII VISITS TBILISI...

CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii held talks with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi on 2 March on the first leg of a tour that will take him to the capitals of six CIS member states to discuss CIS reform, Interfax reported. Berezovskii told journalists after his meeting with the Georgian president that Georgia's misgivings about extending its participation in the CIS Security Treaty reflects that pact's inadequacy and thus constitutes a problem for the CIS as a whole. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told Interfax that Georgia is ready to work on revising the treaty and may extend its membership if those revisions meet its needs. Menagharishvili implicitly endorsed Berezovskii's performance as CIS executive secretary. Berezovskii also discussed with Shevardnadze the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons, echoing Shevardnadze's objections that the security guarantees offered by Abkhazia are inadequate. LF

...AND YEREVAN

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan the same day after talks with President Robert Kocharian, Berezovskii said he believes individual CIS states support his proposals for CIS reform, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Berezovskii added that his talks with Kocharian focused on creating a CIS free trade zone--an initiative first proposed in 1994 and revived by Berezovskii last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998). Berezovskii said the most acceptable development model for the CIS is the EU and that the former Soviet Union is totally unsuitable in that respect. He rejected the argument that the viability of the CIS depends on CIS states' continued participation in the Collective Security Treaty. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONTINUES TO CRITICIZE ELECTION LAW

The majority Yerkrapah group within the parliament convened an emergency debate on 2 March to propose 31 minor amendments in the controversial election law passed in the final reading last month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). Those amendments do not address the opposition's main objection to the bill, which allocates 75 of a total of 131 seats in single-mandate constituencies. During the debate, Mkrtich Gimshian of the Hayrenik faction claimed to possess proof that changes in the text of the law after its passage were made not by the bill's author, as previously believed, but by the staff of President Kocharian, Noyan Tapan reported. Aram Manoukian of the former majority Hanrapetutiun faction claimed that the bill was adopted with numerous violations of both the parliament's regulations and the country's constitution. LF

ARMENIAN KURDS END HUNGER STRIKE

Some 30 ethnic Kurds announced on 2 March that they are abandoning the hunger strike they began two weeks previously outside the UN building in Yerevan to protest the arrest of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 1999). In Tbilisi, some 80 members of Georgia's estimated 25,000 Kurdish minority staged a demonstration on 2 March to demand that Ocalan be tried not in Turkey but by the International Court in The Hague, Caucasus Press reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN CLAIMS EX-PARLIAMENT SPEAKER PLANNED EX-PRESIDENT'S ASSASSINATION

Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry issued a statement on 1 March saying that former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev hired a contract killer in Russia to murder former President Abulfaz Elchibey early last month, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported on 2 March. The statement added that the ministry had warned Elchibey about the threat to his life. Guliev, who left Azerbaijan for the U.S. after being dismissed from his post in September, 1996, dismissed the claim as "stupid," according to Turan. Almost all other leading Azerbaijani opposition politicians expressed either total disbelief or strong skepticism over the allegations. Elchibey has declined to comment, but Azerbaijan Popular Front Party deputy chairman Assim Mollazade said he considers the allegations "unlikely." Guliev and Elchibey were among a group of five prominent opposition leaders who jointly boycotted last year's presidential elections. LF

RUSSIA DENIES VIOLATING AZERBAIJANI AIRSPACE

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told Interfax on 2 March that there is no truth to Azerbaijan's 27 February claim that a Russian fighter aircraft stationed in Armenia entered Azerbaijan's airspace two days earlier. Rakhmanin said that the plane had turned back 15-20 kilometers before the frontier. In Yerevan, Colonel Anatolii Balaev, military attache at the Russian embassy, said the incident is still being investigated, according to Noyan Tapan on 2 March. He conceded that the aircraft in question might inadvertently have entered Azerbaijani airspace, noting that Russian pilots have been stationed in Armenia only for a short time and are not yet familiar with the terrain. LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS SERGEEV STATEMENT ON PEACEKEEPING

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has sent a note to its Russian counterpart protesting a statement made by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on NTV on 25 February, Caucasus Press reported on 2 March. Commenting on the possibility that Russia may contribute troops to a peacekeeping operation in Kosova, Sergeev said that "Russian peacekeeping forces will perform their duties as they do in Bosnia, Tajikistan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Adjaria." Tbilisi protested that the Russian military contingent in Georgia's Black Sea Adjar Republic is part of the Russian Group of Forces in the Transcaucasus and that its duties do not include peacekeeping. The Georgian protest termed Sergeev's statement a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the situation in Adjaria. Speaking on Georgian Radio on 1 March, President Shevardnadze had termed Sergeev's statement offensive, adding that the Russian minister apparently "doesn't know his geography," Interfax reported. LF

OPPOSITION GROUPS REGISTERED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Months after submitting their registration applications, the People's Republican Party and the Orleu Movement were registered by the country's Justice Ministry, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported on 3 March. The People's Republican Party is headed by former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was barred by a court decision from participating in the presidential elections held in January. The Orleu Movement is led by journalist Seydakhmet Kuttykadam. BP

ANOTHER KYRGYZ DEPUTY COMPLAINS ABOUT UZBEK TELEVISION...

The day after deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbayev told the Kyrgyz parliament that Uzbek Television is broadcasting anti-Kyrgyz propaganda, his colleague Adakham Madumarov told the parliament he has received complaints from his constituency about the same problem, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 2 March. According to Madumarov, who represents the Uzgen District of southern Kyrgyzstan, Uzbek President Islam Karimov appeared in a television interview saying "5,000 poor citizens of the country led by the scientist come to Uzbekistan every day to buy 10,000 loaves of bread." Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev is a physicist by training. In 1990, the Osh riots, which turned into a violent conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, began in Uzgen. BP

...WHILE OTHERS RAISE ISSUE OF WATER

Also on 2 March, Dooronbek Sadyrbayev and deputy Omurbek Tekebayev raised the question in the parliament of the use of water from reservoirs straddling the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in the Fergana Valley, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Both claimed that water from these reservoirs flows only to the Uzbek side of the border. More than 90 percent of Kyrgyz territory is mountainous, and the area where the reservoirs are located is also one of the few agricultural regions in Kyrgyzstan. BP

UZBEKISTAN INTRODUCES NEW REGULATIONS ON RESIDENCY, VISAS

According to a presidential decree signed on 1 March, foreign citizens, including those of CIS countries, may reside in Uzbekistan only if they have a permit issued by law enforcement authorities, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. Citizens of CIS countries visiting Uzbekistan for more than three days must obtain a visa. Regulations remain the same for non-CIS citizens. BP

NEW TAJIK POLITICAL PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS

The National Movement Party held its founding congress in Tajikistan on 27 February, Asia Plus reported three days later. Hokim Muhabbatov, the editor of the newspaper "Junbish," was elected chairman of the party. The major goals of the party are reported to be establishing peace and national accord, repairing damage caused by the civil war, achieving political and economic independence, combating factionalism and regionalism, and integration into the CIS as well as the Central Asian and world communities. BP

TAJIK PRESIDENT ORDERS INTEGRATION PROCESS EXPEDITED

Imomali Rakhmonov issued a decree on 2 March ordering all obstacles to implementing the terms of military protocol removed by 12 March, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The decree calls for complete integration of soldiers from the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) into the regular army forces. The decree also orders opposition leaders amnestied and reinstated to the post they held before the outbreak of the civil war in 1992. BP

TAJIKISTAN OFFERS UZBEKISTAN COOPERATION IN COMBATING TERRORISM

Tajikistan has proposed to Uzbekistan establishing a joint force to inspect remote mountainous areas of Tajikistan and locate suspected terrorist training areas, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 2 March. After the 16 February bomb explosions in the Uzbek capital, President Islam Karimov said some of the terrorists involved had trained in camps in Tajikistan. BP




UKRAINE TO JOIN CIS INTERPARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY

Following several failed attempts last year, the Ukrainian Supreme Council has voted to join the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. The decision was backed by 230 lawmakers; at least 226 votes were necessary for the motion to pass. JM

RUKH REGISTERS NEW PARLIAMENTARY CAUCUS

Following a split in the leadership of the right-wing Popular Rukh of Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 1999), 16 parliamentary deputies have registered a "Popular Rukh of Ukraine-1" caucus in the Supreme Council, Ukrainian Radio reported on 2 March. The caucus, headed by Rukh former leader Vyacheslav Chornovil, is composed of 16 Rukh deputies, including Rukh presidential candidate Hennadiy Udovenko. The Rukh party has 47 seats in the parliament. JM

UKRAINIAN POWER PLANTS FREE OF MILLENNIUM BUG?

Oleksandr Parkhomenko, head of the Enerhoatom state nuclear agency, has said the equipment at Ukraine's nuclear power plants is so obsolete that it cannot be affected by the so-called millennium bug. "Fortunately, our nuclear energy sector is not fully computerized, and problems existing in the West are not relevant for us," Reuters quoted Parkhomenko as saying. Meanwhile, nuclear plant workers have escalated their protests over unpaid wages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1999). Ukrainian law forbids them to strike, so they are spending most of their spare time in tent camps built around power plants. JM

POLICE SEARCH PREMISES OF HRODNA INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER

The Belarusian police on 2 March searched the offices of the independent newspaper "Pahonya" in Hrodna, confiscating political cartoons and letters from readers, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The State Committee for the Press last month warned "Pahonya," along with five other independent newspapers, against publishing materials connected with the opposition's initiative to hold presidential elections on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). The police told "Pahonya" chief editor Mikola Markevich that the authorities have instigated criminal proceedings against those attempting to seize power in Belarus. JM

BELARUSIAN LAWYER BARRED FROM VISITING JAILED OPPOSITIONIST

Hary Pahanyayla, a lawyer known for defending Belarusian oppositionists and people persecuted by Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime, was prevented on 2 March from visiting Viktar Hanchar, who was jailed the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). Pahanyayla was stripped of the right to practice law in Belarus last year but is registered as a lawyer in the Russian Federation. He demanded to be allowed to visit Hanchar on the basis of a 1993 convention between CIS countries on rendering legal assistance to persons charged with minor offenses. Hanchar has been detained for 10 days for holding a meeting of the opposition Central Electoral Commission last week. Thirteen other members of the commission were jailed, fined, or given a warning for participating in that meeting. JM

LATVIAN WORKING GROUP FAILS TO DRAW UP RULES ON ACCESS TO INFORMATION

LETA reported on 2 March that regulations have still not been drawn up on how state and municipal institutions are to guarantee public access to information at their disposal. Under the law on access to information passed by the parliament last fall, the government was to draw up such regulations by 1 March. A Ministry of Transport official who heads the working group dealing with the issue told the news agency that owing to inherent "contradictions" and "imperfections," the law itself must first be amended. The absence of the government regulations means that officials and civil servants can continue to deny individuals access to information. JC

LITHUANIAN PREMIER PONDERS RESIGNATION

Addressing a closed meeting of the Conservatives' parliamentary group on 1 March, Gediminas Vagnorius said he is considering resigning, according to Conservative deputy faction head Rasa Rastauskiene, ELTA and BNS reported the next day. Rastauskiene said that both Vagnorius and the Conservatives feel they have been "defamed" over attempts to link "the complex status of the energy sector'' to scandals and to make "grave accusations" of corruption against the government. Conservative Party Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis said that Vagnorius has the right to "mull over [his] resignation as he has been insulted and defamed." Vagnorius reportedly told the Conservative faction that before taking any decision on resigning, his cabinet is determined to investigate whether any powers were abused in the so-called Lietuvos Energija affair and to examine whether the U.S. Power Bridge Group, which won a tender last year to link Lithuania's power grid to Poland's, is financially capable of carrying out that project. JC

WILLIAMS WANTS TO STAY IN LITHUANIA

Following media reports that the U.S. energy company is considering not investing in a major Lithuanian concern, U.S. Ambassador to Vilnius Keith Smith confirmed that the company has not changed its plans and wants to stay in Lithuania, ELTA reported. Smith made those remarks during a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus on 2 March, held at the latter's initiative. Media reports claiming that Williams is unwilling to pay the asking price for a stake in the Mazeikiu Nafta oil concern came on the heels of the announcement that the Mazeikiu's losses last year totaled some 98 million litas ($24.5 million, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). JC

POLISH PREMIER LAUNCHES GOVERNMENT REFORM

Jerzy Buzek began the promised restructuring of his cabinet on 2 March, dismissing eight officials with the rank of deputy ministers, Polish media reported. "This is the first step in the reform of the whole government," Buzek commented. He added that Wieslaw Walendziak, chief of the prime minister's staff, will be replaced by an administrator without political affiliation. Marian Krzaklewski, leader of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), said changes are necessary primarily in the Health and Defense Ministries. Polish media reported rumors that Walendziak, an AWS member, may replace Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz of the Freedom Union, the AWS's coalition partner. According to commentators, Buzek has been forced to restructure the cabinet in order to boost its popularity, which has waned since the introduction of major reforms this year. JM

POLAND BEGINS PUBLISHING NAMES OF SECRET-SERVICE COLLABORATORS

The government mouthpiece "Monitor Polski" on 2 March published the first 25 names of persons who admitted to having been employed by or collaborated with the Communist-era secret services. The list is composed exclusively of judges, prosecutors, and attorneys. Under the 1997 lustration law, Polish officials are required to state whether they collaborated with the communist secret services from 1944-1989. Those who fail to admit to collaborating but are found guilty of having done so by Poland's lustration court will be barred from holding public office for 10 years. JM

HAVEL SAYS CZECH 'INDIFFERENCE' MIGHT HURT EU BID...

Before departing for a three-day visit to Paris, President Vaclav Havel told journalists that Prague's "indifference and "lack of preparedness" might leave it out of the first wave of candidates for joining the EU, CTK and Reuters reported on 2 March. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan responded that "fears" of the Czech Republic's being transferred from the first to the second wave of candidates are "completely unsubstantiated," and he added that he does not share the president's views. Parliamentary chairman and leader of the opposition Civic Democratic Party Vaclav Klaus said Havel's warning "amounts to scaremongering." MS

...THANKS CHIRAC FOR FRENCH SUPPORT

Addressing a state dinner in Paris on 2 March, Havel thanked French President Jacques Chirac for France's support for Czech efforts to join the EU and NATO, saying Prague is "ready to assume its responsibility in European affairs," Reuters and CTK reported. Chirac said he and Havel share a vision of Europe based on "solidarity among peoples, maintenance of peace, and development to the benefit of all." MS

LEXA DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN KOVAC JR. ABDUCTION

Ivan Lexa, former head of the Slovak Counter-Intelligence Service, has denied allegations that he masterminded the abduction to Austria of former President Michal Kovac's son in August 1995, CTK reported on 2 March. The previous day, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said a taped conversation between Lexa and Karol Martinka, the former head of Devin Bank (which had close links to Russia under Vladimir Meciar's premiership), showed the former's involvement. In that conversation, Lexa is heard giving Martinka a detailed account of events. Pittner said the investigation into the kidnapping might be expanded to examine the possibility that "foreign agents" were also involved. Lexa told Slovak Radio that the tape is "a fake" and that he will not agree to being stripped of his parliamentary immunity. MS

HUNGARY, ITALY, SLOVENIA DISCUSS REGIONAL SECURITY

The Hungarian, Italian, and Slovenian Foreign Ministry state secretaries, meeting on 2 March in Budapest, agreed to set up a joint peacekeeping brigade. Zsolt Nemeth, Umberto Ramieri, and Franco Juri announced that a trilateral summit at the level of premier is scheduled to be held in Maribor, Slovenia, in May. Nemeth and Ramieri expressed support for Slovenia's NATO accession in the anticipated second wave of expansion. The three officials also agreed to cooperate in fighting organized crime and illegal migration and in strengthening the international system of protecting minorities' rights. MSZ




NATO HAS 'NO INTENTION' OF LAUNCHING AIR STRIKES?

Citing U.S. administration officials and NATO diplomats, "The New York Times" reported on 3 March that "the United States and its NATO allies have no intention of launching punitive strikes against Yugoslav military targets at this point despite an army buildup and renewed fighting in Kosovo." The article quoted an unnamed Pentagon official as noting that "we're back to square one again. NATO has pulled out the 'we're ready to act' card way too many times." An unnamed diplomat added: "What we don't have at this point is a pre-agreed level of violence at which NATO will respond. It will be judged when it happens." PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT SAYS DEAL LONG WAY OFF

Milan Milutinovic said in Belgrade on 2 March that "a political agreement [on Kosova] has not been adopted and is far from being close at hand." He stressed that "a lot of work on the political agreement remains to be done." After the Rambouillet talks ended on 23 February, several Western diplomats suggested that the Serbs had accepted the proposed political agreement and that the only significant problem was to persuade them to accept a foreign military presence. PM

SERBIAN ASSAULT CONTINUES

The pro-Serbian Media Center reported from Prishtina on 3 March that an unspecified number of Kosovars died the previous day in an assault by Serbian security forces near Jankovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). Some 3,000 displaced persons tried to flee into Macedonia, AP reported. The Macedonian government said in a statement that "persons fleeing due to a worsening security situation [in Kosova] will be transported in an organized manner to shelters and their status subsequently determined." The text added that the authorities will prevent arms smuggling across the frontier. Macedonian officials recently told "RFE/RL Newsline" in Skopje that they fear that a large influx of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosova could upset Macedonia's delicate ethnic balance. Ethnic Albanians make up nearly one quarter of Macedonia's population and many have close family and social ties to Kosova. PM

DEMACI QUITS AS UCK REPRESENTATIVE

Adem Demaci, who was Kosova's best-known communist-era dissident and political prisoner, resigned as political representative for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) on 2 March. He said in a statement in Prishtina that he feels "morally and historically obliged to point out again that this imposed Agreement of Rambouillet will not bring freedom to the Albanian people of Kosova and will not liberate Kosova from Serbian slavery. We feel morally and historically obliged to show that unscrupulous propaganda [by moderate Kosovar leaders] aims at deceiving the people" by claiming that the Rambouillet text offers more political freedom than it actually does. Demaci stressed that anything less than full independence constitutes a betrayal of fundamental Kosovar interests. Veton Surroi, who belonged to the Rambouillet negotiating team, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that the agreement gives the Kosovars much of what they want. He added that Demaci has failed to keep up with changing times. PM

TAIWANESE FOREIGN MINISTER BEGINS VISIT TO MACEDONIA

Jason Hu arrived in Skopje on 2 March with a delegation of government officials and businessmen. It is the first top-ranking visit to Macedonia by Taiwanese officials since the two countries established diplomatic relations earlier this year. AP noted that unnamed Macedonian officials have said that Hu's visit could lead to $235 million in direct government-to-government aid and an additional $1 billion in commercial investments. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's free-market-oriented government hopes that Taiwan will be able to provide a much-needed boost for Macedonia's economy, which has been adversely affected by high unemployment, corruption, and the proximity of conflicts in neighboring former Yugoslav republics. PM

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT TO CONTROL SECRET SERVICES

The parliament in Banja Luka on 2 March approved a new law stipulating that the government appoints the top officials of the secret services and the president approves those appointments. Previous legislation gave full control over such appointments to the president, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SAKIC TAKEN TO HOSPITAL

Dinko Sakic (77), whose trial for war crimes during World War II will open on 4 March in Zagreb, was rushed to hospital on 3 March after falling ill in his prison cell, AP reported. It is unclear whether his hospitalization will lead to a delay in his trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). In other news, Jewish groups on 2 March called on the government to take measures to combat what they called a rise in public expressions of anti-Semitism, including on state-run television. PM

SIBENIK AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATE WARTIME SHELLING

Officials of the district attorney's office in Sibenik announced on 2 March that they have begun an investigation into claims that appeared recently in the media to the effect that the Croatian military shelled the Adriatic town during the 1991 war in order to discredit the local civilian authorities. Davor Skugor, who commanded local military units at the time, said recently that he never intended a large-scale shelling of the town. He added that he ordered the firing of two mortars "so that people would understand that there was a war on." PM

INFORMATION MINISTER SAYS KOSOVA DEAL WILL IMPROVE ALBANIAN STABILITY

Musa Ulqini told dpa on 3 March that the signing of the Rambouillet draft peace agreement will help Albania overcome its domestic difficulties and open up new prospects for economic development. Ulqini said that "Albania's prosperity is very much linked with the situation and developments in Kosova. A continuing crisis in Kosova means continuing instability in Albania." He stressed that the Kosova conflict has exacerbated economic and social problems, especially in the northern and northeastern districts that border the Serbian province. Tensions in Kosova have frightened off some foreign investors from investing in Albania and have forced the government into spending scarce funds on the military and refugee relief, Ulqini added. FS

DEPUTY PARLIAMENT SPEAKER SAYS ALBANIA MUST ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY

Namik Dokle told the parliament on 2 March that the Council of Europe will expel Albania if it retains capital punishment in the penal code beyond the year 2000. Dokle stressed that the council is determined to enter the next millennium with no member state's legislation providing for the death penalty. Albania has observed a moratorium on executions since it was admitted to the Council in 1995. Most Albanian politicians are in favor of retaining capital punishment as a means of combating rampant crime. There are five Albanians on death row, "Albanian Daily News" reported. FS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTY STRIPPED OF PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY

The Chamber of Deputies on 2 March approved by a vote of 242 to 50 to lift the parliamentary immunity of opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) deputy Gabriel Bivolaru, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Bivolaru has been charged with fraud and forgery of official documents. Miron Mitrea, deputy leader of the PDSR parliamentary group, said his group voted for lifting Bivolaru's immunity, adding that some of the "no" votes came from among the ranks of the ruling coalition. In other news, the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal on 2 March rejected the request of two non-governmental organizations to outlaw the extremist Greater Romania Party. The court said that under the basic law, such a request can be made only by the government or the chairmen of the parliament's two chambers and that a decision is made only by the Constitutional Court. MS

INTERNATIONAL AGENCY DOWNGRADES ROMANIA'S RATING

The Thompson Bank Watch international rating agency has downgraded Romania's country risk from B plus to B minus, citing internal and external debt servicing difficulties, economic stagnation, and political obstacles to implementing reform. The agency also downgraded two large banks, Bancorex and the Romanian Bank for Development, saying this reflected the country's risk downgrading. Bancorex has encountered recent difficulties owing to bad loans extended in the early 1990s. On 28 February, the government appointed Nicolae Danila as the bank's interim director, following the resignation of Vlad Soare, whose restructuring policies were not approved by either the World Bank or the IMF. Last week, Bancorex was flooded with requests from depositors wishing to withdraw deposits. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT VOTES CONFIDENCE IN STURDZA CABINET

The parliament on 3 March approved Ion Sturdza's cabinet, but it is unclear whether the vote is constitutionally valid, Reuters reported. The cabinet was approved by a majority of 51 deputies in the 101-seat parliament, but the Constitutional Court has ruled in the past that so-called "organic laws" need a majority of 52 to pass. It is unclear whether a confidence vote falls into this category. President Petru Lucinschi said he will ask the court to rule whether the vote is valid; if it is not, "I will propose a new candidate," he said. The motion passed without the support of the Christian Democratic Popular Front (FPCD), which boycotted the vote and continues to insist on four portfolios in the cabinet, instead of the two it has been offered. The FPCD said after the vote that it will leave the Alliance for Democracy and Reform coalition majority in the parliament. MS

MOLDOVAN-TRANSDNIESTER SUMMIT POSTPONED

A 2 March meeting between President Petru Lucinschi and separatist leader Igor Smirnov has been postponed owing to the ongoing political crisis in Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau Bureau reported. On 2 March, Moldovan veterans of the 1992 armed conflict with the Transdniester picketed the parliament's building and blocked traffic in front of the presidential residence, protesting social conditions and pension arrears. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES SERBIAN STATEMENT

Petar Stoyanov on 1 March dismissed as "frivolous" a statement by Serbian Deputy Premier Vojislav Seselj two days earlier. Seselj had told a rally near Belgrade that Serbia will declare war on all neighboring countries that allow NATO to launch an attack against Serbia from their territory. Stoyanov told journalists that Seselj's declaration is "neither serious, nor does it deserve special attention." MS




RUSSIAN MEDIA LOSING ACCESS TO INFORMATION


by Floriana Fossato

Relations between Russian authorities and the media have often been strained since the end of the Soviet-era grip on information.

President Boris Yeltsin has repeatedly said he backs freedom of the press and access to information. But past governments never sought to push through a Russian version of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The current government of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov has given abundant signs that it is willing to work with journalists only if it can establish the rules of the game.

Russian media specialists, who in recent years had registered a trend toward relative openness among officials, are now concerned about what they see as signs of a tightening of control over information. They say that indications of reduced information transparency are most pronounced at the regional level as parliamentary and presidential elections approach.

Aleksei Simonov, president of the media watchdog Fund for the Defense of Glasnost, told RFE/RL's Russian Service recently that on-going political power struggles and the collapse of the advertising market make Russian journalists extremely dependent on authorities for their financial survival.

According to Simonov, Russian media increasingly "have to live with the fact that authorities do not want to deal with independent journalists". He added that there is virtually no possibility of independent journalists having an influence over how they receive information, particularly since the August financial and political crisis.

Simonov noted that two years ago "there were some visible centers of opposition [to control over information] as there were rather independent media, interested in defending their freedom. Today, they are just not visible. The level of self-defense and [the preservation] of standards was shifted from publishers to individual journalists. We can have hope only in people who have not lost their integrity, including journalists. I personally do not have any other hopes."

As regards the situation in the regions, Simonov commented that the authorities are ready to work with the media "only following old Soviet patterns, when they have control over journalists and are sure that media are carrying out tasks that have been imposed on them." He noted that last year a new trend in the conflict between many authorities and journalists started in a number of regions and was linked to local elections. He said that some governors introduced regional legislation tightening their grip on the media "in accordance with their wish and in full opposition to the existing federal media laws." As a result, Simonov said, suits are being filed in court against journalists accused of failing to comply with regional rules.

Russian media have widely reported the worsening of the situation since last September, when the Primakov cabinet started taking measures to limit access to information in Moscow, too. However, the journalistic community appears to be too fragmented and too weak to respond to the threat. The precarious financial situation of most journalists in the regions and --after the August crisis-- also of Moscow's journalists weakens their willingness to protest. Many journalists are understandably more concerned about their salaries, often delayed for months by the state and private structures that control Russia's media.

Iosif Dzyalashinskii, professor of journalism at Moscow University and president of the human rights fund "Commission on Freedom of Media Access," told RFE/RL that journalists in Moscow need to pay more attention to what is happening to their colleagues in the regions, where, he notes, "the right of journalists to obtain information is frequently violated by local authorities," with the latter's "grasp increasing the further one goes away from the capital."

"We would like the journalistic community to take notice of the problem in the regions," he commented. "There is what I would call a certain arrogant attitude [in Moscow] vis-a-vis the regions. Moscow journalists are in a more privileged position. The conflict with the authorities has not yet touched them, at least not to the extent it has affected regional journalists. We would like the journalistic community, ranging from the Union of Russian Journalists to individual professionals, to try to keep the situation under control."

Dzyalashinskii said that in Russia's regions, "the possibility of obtaining information has been curtailed." He called for greater cooperation among journalists, their employers, and others interested in the availability of information.

He also noted that at present, there are some 70,000 non- governmental organizations that have both the necessary experience and the desire to pressure the authorities on access to information. If these groups and the media can find common ground to cooperate at least on this point, "the trend [of blocking access to information] that we witness now in Russia could be resisted," Dzyalashinskii argued. The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent.


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