Accessibility links

Newsline - March 4, 1999




WAR OF WORDS WITH IMF CONTINUES...

As statements of both IMF and Russian government officials have taken on a new testy tone, the Russian government repeated its old threat that it will print its way out of its current economic crisis if no help from the IMF is forthcoming. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov warned on 3 March in an interview with the "Financial Times" that if the Russian government does not reach an agreement with the IMF within the next few weeks, its hard currency reserves used for repaying foreign debts will be exhausted. In such a situation, he concluded, the government will have no choice but to print more money. Russian Television said that the 1999 budget, which has already been signed into law, would also have to be revised. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev remains blase, telling reporters that "we shall get out of the situation somehow, and Russian will not crumble because of [IMF Managing Director Michel] Camdessus's capricious behavior." JAC

...WHILE YELTSIN TO COME TO THE RESCUE?

Calling Camdessus's recent negative assessment of Russia's economic program "very, very disappointing," deputy chief of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev suggested that ailing Russian President Boris Yeltsin may "at some point" intervene in talks with the IMF. Yeltsin's doctors want him to remain in the hospital until he makes a full recovery, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin reported, suggesting that Yeltsin's hospital stay will be extended beyond the one week originally forecast. Yakushkin admitted that Yeltsin's hospitalization will likely alter his working schedule, but he declined to say that an upcoming trip to France would be delayed, ITAR-TASS reported. However, Interfax said that Yakushkin announced the trip has been postponed. "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 4 March that naive Kremlin doctors believe that since Yeltsin has fallen ill, then he might content himself with working only with documents. But, the newspaper commented, they obviously do not know about his cellular phone. JAC

DUMA PASSES TWO TAX BILLS

The State Duma on 3 March approved in the second reading legislation amending the law on valued-added tax (VAT), ITAR-TASS reported. Starting in July 1999, VAT will be levied at 15 percent, a 5 percent reduction in the current rate. On 1 January 2000, VAT will be reduced further to 10 percent. The bill is the first of a package of seven pieces of tax legislation. The same day, the Duma passed another piece of legislation from this package, one that amends the law on the corporate profit tax. The bill sets the rate of corporate profit tax payable to federal budget at 11 percent, beginning 1 April 1999. The rate for corporations' payments to regional authorities must be set by regional legislatures but cannot exceed 19 percent. JAC

RUSSIA SEES NO TRIANGLE ALLIANCE WITH INDIA, CHINA

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said on 3 March that his country has no plans to establish a strategic alliance with India and China, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Rakhmanin, alluding to remarks made by Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov in India late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 December 1998), said the creation of such a triangle "is not a goal that Russia is pursuing." He said Russia favors close ties with the two countries and welcomes an improvement in relations between India and China. BP

BRITAIN ASSISTS IN RUSSIAN NUCLEAR CLEANUP

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, speaking in Murmansk on 3 March, announced aid worth $4.8 million to help deal with nuclear waste from the Northern Fleet's decommissioned submarines, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. Most of the aid, Cook said, would be used to provide storage facilities for waste such as spent fuel rods currently stacked on vessels in the northern port. According to Reuters, environmental activists expect the fleet to accumulate 320 discarded nuclear reactor cores (some 20 percent of the world's total) and 75,000 spent fuel rods by next year. Norway and the EU have granted almost $100 million to help deal with the problem. Cook also said that during talks in Moscow on 4 March, he will raise the issue of Northern Fleet officer Aleksandr Nikitin, who has been charged with treason and espionage for informing a Norwegian environmental group about the extent of the nuclear waste problem in Russia's North. JC

DIVISION IN RANKS OF START-II SUPPORTERS OVER NUCLEAR FORCES LAW

First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov slammed the draft law on financing Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces until 2010, calling its adoption "ill-advised," "Izvestiya" reported on 3 March. He also noted that the law contradicts the already passed law on the federal budget. Duma Defense Committee Chairman and member of the Our Home Is Russia faction Roman Popkovich has repeatedly said the passage of this law is crucial to the ratification of the START-II treaty, of which Maslyukov is also a strong supporter. JAC

YABLOKO GETS EXCLUSIVE

Yabloko became a political party rather than a sociopolitical movement on 1 March, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 March. According to the newspaper, the rationale for the change is that while movements allow dual membership, parties do not. With elections nearing, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii wants to be certain of his party's support, the daily added. JAC

NORILSK NICKEL GETS NEW LEASE ON LIFE

The government has granted Norilsk Nickel (NN), Russia's sole producer of palladium, which accounts for 70 percent of the world's total supply, an unusual 10-year export quota, Interfax reported on 3 March. Yevgenii Ivanov, deputy chairman of Rosbank, told Reuters that the decision means Russia has completely overhauled its system of selling palladium. NN now has the opportunity to export all the palladium it produces. Vladimir Potanin, so-called oligarch and chairman of Interros, which owns NN, told Interfax that the company has emerged from its past management crisis and is now one of Interros's main assets. JAC

KRASNOYARSK POLICE HAVE QUESTIONS FOR CITY OFFICIAL

A member of Krasnoyarsk's city council, Sergei Boyakin, was taken into police custody on 3 March on suspicion of embezzling some 8 billion rubles ($349 million) from Krasnoyarsk Krai's budget, Russian Television reported. According to the television station, the monies were intended to buy fuel and foodstuff for residents of the Northern regions. JAC

BUDDHIST HOLY BOOK TO RETURN TO BURYATIA

An atlas of Tibetan medicine, which has been in the U.S. since May 1998 on exhibition in museums there, will likely return to the Republic of Buryatia on 8 May, the director of Buryatia's History Museum, Maria Romanova, told reporters on 2 March, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Last summer, news of the government's decision to allow the book to be sent abroad caused local police to clash with protesting Buddhists and triggered an open dispute between Buryatia's President Leonid Potapov and one Buddhist leader, Damba Ausheev, the "Moscow Times" reported on 16 January. Potapov maintains that the book is government property, while Ausheev says it is a sacred treasure belonging to the Buddhist community. JAC

STAND-OFF BETWEEN POLICE, RELIGIOUS SECT ENDS IN SAKHA

Police in Aldan Raion in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) on 3 March ended a three-day takeover of a local administration building by about 60 members of an evangelical Christian group. The previous day, a local court banned the group under a controversial federal law allowing local authorities to ban religious groups that incite hatred or intolerant behavior. When the police finally entered the building, members of the group offered no resistance, although it had earlier been reported that they wanted the police to shoot them. According to Interfax-Eurasia, local authorities regarded this threat as blackmail and a publicity stunt. The leader of a Russian national Pentecostal group told ITAR-TASS that the Sakha group is operating outside the umbrella of his organization. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT NAMES NEW CABINET

One month after curtailing the powers of the Chechen parliament, Aslan Maskhadov has succeeded in winning its approval for his restructured cabinet, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 March. The new cabinet comprises nine "blocks", charged with security, the economy, the agro-industrial complex, social issues, relations with the Chechen Diaspora and the CIS, transport and industry, construction and highways, fuel and energy, culture, and the media. The parliament had protested that the division of responsibilities was too detailed for a small republic, proposing instead the creation of five blocks, each to be headed by a deputy prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998). In addition, Maskhadov charged former field commander and Culture Minister Akhmed Zakaev with supervising the drafting of Chechnya's new Islamic constitution. LF




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT ADJOURNS ELECTION LAW DEBATE

The emergency debate convened on 2 March to debate proposed minor amendments to the controversial Armenian election law was adjourned late that evening because of lack of a quorum, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1999). LF

ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER IMPLICATED IN FURTHER MURDERS

Vano Siradeghian, who is wanted for questioning in connection with five murders that he is believed to have ordered as interior minister, has been implicated in further killings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 3 March. Armen Ter-Sahakian, the alleged leader of what prosecutors say was a "criminal gang" arrested in January 1998, has told prosecutors that in the early 1990s, he arranged the murders of two senior officials at Siradeghian's orders, according to his lawyer, Safar Khachatrian, on 3 March. But Khachatrian added that he is sure Ter-Sahakian came under pressure from law enforcement officials to give false testimony to substantiate the case against Siradeghian. LF

OSCE CALLS FOR DIRECT TALKS ON KARABAKH

OSCE Chairman-in- Office Knut Vollebaek met in Vienna on 3 March with the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group to discuss the Karabakh peace process, an RFE/RL correspondent in Vienna reported. In a subsequent statement, the co-chairmen unanimously called for the resumption of direct talks between the conflict parties with the aim of defining "a mutually acceptable basis for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict." They also advocated establishing a "regular dialogue" between the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaderships. Both the chairman-in-office and the co-chairmen appealed to the conflict parties "to demonstrate restraint in their official declarations and public statements so as not to complicate the negotiating process." In Yerevan, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on 3 March that the impasse in the peace process negatively affects Armenia's chances of being accepted as a full member of the Council of Europe, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

SECOND AZERBAIJANI OIL CONSORTIUM MAY CLOSE

The North Absheron Operating Company, which in December 1996 concluded a $1.5 billion contract to develop the Ashrafi and Dan Ulduzu Caspian oilfields, is likely to be liquidated next month after drilling three trial wells that failed to yield oil in commercial quantities, AFP and Reuters reported on 3 March. When British Petroleum, Unocal, Japan's Itochu, and Saudi Arabia's Delta concluded the contract, the estimated reserves of those two fields were given as 150 million metric tons. Another Western consortium ceased operations in February after failing to discover commercially viable quantities of oil in three test wells (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998). LF

BEREZOVSKII IN ASHGABAT

CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii told journalists in Ashgabat on 3 March following talks with President Saparmurat Niyazov that the CIS summit scheduled for later this month will focus on CIS reform, specifically the creation of a CIS free trade zone. He said that "the greatest priority" for the CIS "is the economy, not politics, as it used to be, and CIS bodies will be transformed accordingly." Berezovskii added that he derived considerable pleasure from discussing "philosophical problems" with Niyazov, noting the latter's statesmanship and "absolute independence from anyone's influence," Interfax reported. LF

ANOTHER SUSPECT IN TASHKENT BOMBING APPREHENDED IN TURKEY...

Turkish authorities have detained a man suspected of having been involved in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, the Anatolian news agency reported on 3 March. Rustem Manutkulov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, was apprehended upon his arrival at Istanbul airport during a routine identity check. Turkish authorities are still questioning Manutkulov, who is expected to be deported to Uzbekistan. BP

...AS CONNECTIONS WITH INTERNATIONAL TERRORIST SUGGESTED

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 March that Uzbek authorities are investigating the possibility that international terrorist Osama bin Laden played a role in the Tashkent bombings. The Russian daily speculated that having recently given the Taliban the slip, bin Laden may have "chosen Uzbekistan for his latest attack on the bastions of imperialism." It pointed to Uzbekistan's battle against Islamic fundamentalists, which includes keeping track of "citizens who visit 'suspect' mosques, who have been in Saudi Arabia, or have links with opposition figures abroad." Also, bin Laden has reportedly invested $150 million in the region and, the newspaper cites "Uzbek special services: as saying "this money was used to organize saboteur training camps." "USA Today" reported on 24 February that the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, which borders Uzbekistan, was temporarily closed in September over concerns that bin Laden was targeting it for a terrorist attack. BP

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTAN...

Boris Shikhmuradov met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov in Dushanbe on 3 March, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The focus of their discussion was stability and security in the region. Shikhmuradov said after the meeting that the two sides held similar views, but no other information was released. However, it was reported that Turkmenistan will open a diplomatic mission in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe and that Shikhmuradov handed an invitation from Turkmen President Niyazov to Rakhmonov inviting the latter to attend a conference on security and the Aral Sea in Ashgabat next month. BP

...FOLLOWING A MEETING WITH TALIBAN LEADER

Before his arrival in Dushanbe, Shikhmuradov was in Kandahar on 2 March to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, according to the Pakistani newspaper "The Nation" and dpa. The Turkmen foreign minister reportedly attempted to convince the Taliban and Northern Alliance to hold talks in Ashgabat. The Pakistan- based Afghan Islamic Press is cited by dpa as reporting that the talks between Shikhmuradov and Mullah Omar were "positive and fruitful." The two also reviewed plans to return the reportedly 5,000 Afghan citizens currently held in Turkmen jails. BP

GREEK PRESIDENT IN UZBEKISTAN

Constantinos Stephanopoulos met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 2 March during a three-day visit to Uzbekistan, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. The two signed agreements on transportation and cooperation between the two countries' national banks. Stephanopoulos also promised to lend Uzbekistan $50 million to develop small and medium-sized businesses in Uzbekistan. The Greek National Bank is to offer a $30 million loan to Uzbekistan. BP

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT IN ITALY

Askar Akayev and the deputy chairman of Italy's Council of Ministers, Sergio Mattarella, signed an agreement in Rome on 3 March on providing a legal framework for the development of bilateral political, economic, and trade relations, ITAR-TASS reported. Mattarella said at the signing ceremony that Italy plans to help the processes of "democratization and strengthening of stability in the Central Asian region." Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev met with Italy's deputy foreign minister, Valentino Martelli, the same day, and the two signed an agreement on tourism and a joint declaration establishing a consultative body for economic ties. Akayev met with Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro on 2 March. BP

DROP IN EXPORTS, CURRENCY VALUE PREDICTED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Yesbergen Abitayev, Kazakhstan's first deputy minister of energy, industry, and trade, said on 2 March that forecasts show the drop in oil prices on world markets will lead to a 10 percent decrease in Kazakhstan's exports in 1999, Interfax reported. Abitayev said a $100 million loan from Japan will be used to support domestic manufacturers and Kazakhstan's government will provide another $50 million, which, he suggested, will lead to a reduction in imports. The president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, said the same day that he expects the national currency, the tenge, to lose 10 percent of its value in 1999. The currency fell by that amount last year. Nazarbayev said the tenge will be kept stable by the country's gold and foreign exchange reserves, which exceed the amount of money in circulation by 10 percent. BP




JAILED BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONISTS ON HUNGER STRIKE

Viktar Hanchar, head of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, who was jailed on 1 March for 10 days, has gone on a hunger strike to protest his detention, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 3 March. Hanchar is refusing to talk with the jail administration. Syarhey Abadouski, another jailed commission member who has begun a hunger strike, has been hospitalized owing to "hypertension." JM

SUPPORTERS OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ELECTION INITIATIVE INTIMIDATED

Local authorities in the city of Zhodzina, Minsk Oblast, have begun intimidating people who joined or elected regional electoral commissions as part of the opposition initiative to hold presidential elections in May, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 3 March. The city's mayor told local managers and leaders that "there is an order from the top to preventthe initiative groups from collecting signatures in support of Mikhail Chyhir and Zyanon Paznyak as illegitimate candidates for illegitimate presidents." JM

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER IN MINSK

Zivadin Jovanovich met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk on 3 March. According to Belarusian Television, Lukashenka assured Jovanovich that Belarus can cooperate with Yugoslavia "literally in all areas [and] particularly in the economy." Alyaksandr Kozyr, a member of the Belarusian Chamber of Representatives, said the previous day that the Belarusian- Yugoslav talks will focus, among other things, on "possible arms deliveries" to Yugoslavia. The 4 March "Izvestiya" suggests that Belarus will offer Yugoslavia anti-aircraft missile systems produced in Russia. JM

UKRAINE, POLAND AGREE TO CRACK DOWN ON ORGANIZED CRIME

Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and his Polish counterpart, Janusz Tomaszewski, meeting on 3 March in Kyiv, signed an agreement on cooperating to combat organized crime. Kravchenko said that such cooperation will result in the disbanding by this summer of some 60 criminal gangs operating in both countries. "Joint operations [so far] have resulted in bringing the situation at the Polish-Ukrainian border under control. There is no longer such a thing as a Ukrainian mafia in Poland," Kravchenko said. Polish Television commented that this statement "astonished" the Polish delegation, adding that Ukrainians compose Poland's largest criminal group from the former Soviet republics. JM

UKRAINIAN COAL MINING MANAGERS FIRED FOR CORRUPTION

Deputy Coal Industry Minister Volodymyr Novikov said on 3 March that "at least" 41 coal industry executives have been fired on corruption charges, AP reported. He cited such offenses as embezzlement of state property and mishandling of budget funds. He added that some senior executives have used miners to build private houses and have sent their children to colleges or health resorts at the expense of coal enterprises. Deputy Prosecutor-General Olha Kolinko said the reported corruption cases constitute "less than one-tenth of the iceberg of abuses" in the coal industry. Mykhaylo Volynets, head of the Independent Miners' Union, commented that the current anti-corruption campaign was prompted by the approaching presidential elections. President Leonid Kuchma's administration, according to Volynets, is creating an "outward appearance of fighting against corruption and organized crime." JM

LATVIAN 3 MARCH RALLY TAKES PLACE WITHOUT INCIDENT

Some 1,000 pensioners took part in a rally in a Riga park on 3 March, exactly one year after an unsanctioned demonstration outside the city hall at which police used force to clear a main road of demonstrators. LETA and "Diena" reported that the police presence was small and that after peacefully gathering for about one hour, the rally participants dispersed. The rally was organized by the leftist Equal Rights movement to honor the memory of Vladimir Artemeva, who took part in the 1998 meeting and, having suffered a stroke the following day, died several weeks later. JC

MOODY'S GIVES LATVIA NEW RATING

The international rating agency Moody's has given Latvia an A2 rating for its long- term domestic currency bonds. That rating reflects a low domestic debt burden and a relatively tight fiscal stance by the government, according to the agency, BNS reported. JC

VILNIUS TO DECIDE IN ONE MONTH ABOUT ENERGY SUPPLIES TO MINSK

The Lithuanian government on 3 March decided it will postpone for one month taking a decision on whether to continue electricity supplies to Belarus, ELTA reported. That decision comes two days after the State Defense Council, headed by President Valdas Adamkus, had recommended that the cabinet approve continuing such supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). Economy Minister Vincas Babilius told the meeting that Belarus has promised to clear its $100 million debt by the summer. The cabinet will propose to Minsk that it conclude a two-party agreement on supplies for 1999, involving only Lietuvos Energija and the Belenergo concern. An agreement on 1998 deliveries included an intermediary, the Lithuanian-registered company Baltic Schem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1999). JC

LITHUANIAN CONSERVATIVES SAY NO REASON FOR CABINET TO RESIGN

The Conservatives' parliamentary group on 3 March issued a statement asserting that no reason exists for the cabinet to resign, according to ELTA. That statement follows Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius's comment that he is considering resigning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1999). Reportedly approved by Vagnorius and party leader and parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, the statement calls on all state institutions and political parties to cooperate at this critical stage of the country's development. JC

THREE POLISH PROSECUTORS FALL VICTIM TO LUSTRATION

Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka has dismissed two regional prosecutors after the government mouthpiece reported the previous day that they have admitted collaborating with the communist-era secret services (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1999). Another prosecutor was dismissed by his immediate superior for collaborating with the secret services. Suchocka said the dismissals were not a "purge" but the result of "certain activity that is described as ethically reproachable." Poland's lustration law does not stipulate any legal responsibility for admitting to collaboration with the secret services. JM

HAVEL ADDRESSES FRENCH SENATE

President Vaclav Havel, addressing the French Senate on 3 March, said that West European countries must put an end to "the policy of double standards, mistrust of the new [Central and East European] democracies," and the fear "that they will swallow up an inappropriate portion of the common pie," CTK reported. He warned that Europe might start to split again and that new divisions will trigger fears that are "a lot more serious" than those now displayed vis-a-vis the new democracies. He proposed that the EU adopt a constitution reflecting the values of "existing contractual documents" and set up a second house of parliament, in addition to the European Parliament, in which all states have equal representation. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC TO AMEND LUSTRATION LAW?

The government on 3 March approved an amendment to the lustration law stipulating that those cleared in court of collaboration with the communist secret police (StB) will no longer be subject to the provisions of the current law, government spokesman Libor Roucek told CTK. The amendment must be approved by the parliament. The current law bars former StB employees, informers, high-ranking communist officials, and members of the former People's Militia from holding high-ranking office. Social Democratic Party deputy Zdenek Jicinski, who initiated the amendment, said the bill would put an end to a situation where people who are named in StB records but did not collaborate "suffer the consequences" as a result. If cleared in court, such people will be viewed for the purpose of the lustration law as not being included in StB records, Jicinski said. MS

SLOVAKS TO BE ABLE TO VIEW STB FILES?

Roman Kovac, leader of the Slovak Democratic Coalition parliamentary group, said on 3 March that the government is considering passing a law that would make it possible for Slovak citizens to see their StB files. The Czechoslovak lustration law has been invalid in Slovakia since 1996 and has not been enforced since the 1993 split between the two countries. Radio Twist said four ministers in the government headed by Mikulas Dzurinda are former StB collaborators. The radio mentioned Economy Minister Ludovit Cernak (who has denied the allegation) and Labor and Social affairs Minister Peter Magvasi. Magvasi admitted that as "an expert," he was forced to "cooperate" with the StB but denied having been an agent. Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said that Cernak has a court certificate stating he was not a collaborator, although his name figured in the StB files. MS

HUNGARY REQUESTS VOJVODINA HUNGARIANS NOT BE SENT TO KOSOVA

Hungary is demanding that Yugoslavia not send ethnic Hungarian soldiers from Vojvodina to Kosova, the Foreign Ministry deputy state secretary, Gabor Bagi, told Yugoslav Ambassador to Budapest, Balsa Spajder, on 3 March. Bagi said that if ethnic Hungarians were sent to Kosova, it would "burden local tensions with yet another undesirable ethnic aspect." MSZ




HILL SAYS SERBS VIOLATING CEASE-FIRE AS TROOP BUILDUP CONTINUES

U.S. Kosova envoy Chris Hill told NATO ambassadors in Brussels on 3 March that a military buildup and attacks by Serbian forces near the Macedonian border are in violation of the October cease-fire agreement, Reuters reported. Hill said attacks by Yugoslav tanks and artillery for control of a transport corridor that NATO would use to enter Kosova to monitor a peace agreement is a clear violation of the cease- fire. OSCE verifiers reported that 20 companies of Yugoslav soldiers have been deployed in Kosova, near Mitrovica. Belgrade pledged to keep all but three companies--some 450 troops--in their barracks. An OSCE spokeswoman also reported that Serbian forces have deployed anti-aircraft artillery into Kosova. PB

THOUSANDS MORE FLEE FIGHTING, MANY TO MACEDONIA

International aid agencies reported on 3 March that some 4,000 ethnic Albanian civilians have fled the latest fighting in Kosova, AP reported. Red Cross officials said some 1,700 refugees registered at the Macedonian town of Tetovo. The government said it will step up security on its border to prevent the illegal crossing of people, arms, and armed groups. Macedonian Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev said the army has observed fighting close to the country's border. Yugoslav Information Minister Milan Komnenic accused the Kosovars of staging a humanitarian crisis in order to command international attention. PB

ALBANIAN SIDE EDGING TOWARD ACCEPTANCE...

Rexhep Qosja, leader of the ethnic Albanian Democratic United League, said in Tirana on 3 March that he thinks the Albanian delegation will sign the Rambouillet agreement when talks there in two weeks, Reuters reported. An influential commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) also said on 4 March that the Rambouillet conference "is the first step towards independence." The commander, known only as Drini, is the UCK head of the Pastrik zone in western Kosova. Drini said the UCK would not disarm but would put its weapons "in UCK warehouses which will be watched by our troops." The disarming of the UCK is a key provision of the political agreement. Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole flew to Kosova on 4 March to attempt to get ethnic Albanian leaders to agree to the accord. PB

...AS DIPLOMATIC EFFORT FOCUSES ON BELGRADE

NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana demanded on 3 March that Yugoslavia agree to allow peace-keeping forces to implement a peace accord on Kosova, AFP reported. Solana made that comment following a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels. EU envoy Wolfgang Petritsch said he expected Belgrade to eventually accept the provision. Reports from Washington said the U.S. may send diplomat Richard Holbrooke to Belgrade in an effort to get Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to allow NATO-led troops to deploy in Kosova. In other news, three Serbs were reported killed in two separate incidents in Kosova on 3 March. One of the three was a police officer. PB

BOSNIAN SERB PRESIDENT TRYING TO OUST PREMIER

Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen initiated proceedings on 3 March to oust pro-Western Premier Milorad Dodik, AP reported. The motion to remove Dodik was signed by 26 deputies in the Bosnian Serb parliament who accuse Dodik of supporting Muslim deputies against the interests of the Serbs. According to the Bosnian Serb Constitution, Poplasen has the power to replace the prime minister within 48 hours of initiating the motion to oust him. The move comes after Dodik's supporters in the parliament and international officials tried to strip Poplasen of his control over the secret police and the army. Poplasen, elected in September, has refused to confirm Dodik as premier. PB

SAKIC DECLARED UNFIT FOR TRIAL

The trial of Dinko Sakic, the commander of the notorious Jasenovac camp during World War II, was adjourned on 4 March after he was declared unfit for trial because of poor health, Reuters reported. Doctors told the court that Sakic suffers from a blood circulation obstruction in his brain. The trial was rescheduled for 15 March. Sakic was hospitalized after becoming ill during the night of 2-3 March. He is being prosecuted for the deaths of some 2,000 people held at the camp under his command. PB

TUDJMAN DOCTORS DENY BRAIN TUMOR REPORT

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's doctor, Branimir Jaksic, denied on 4 March that the president is suffering from a brain tumor, the daily "Jutarnji List" reported. Jaksic said the president is recovering from influenza and is feeling better. The independent weekly "Nacional" reported on 2 March that Tudjman is also suffering from a brain tumor. The president has denied having had stomach cancer, although he was reportedly treated for it at a U.S. military hospital in Washington in 1996. PB

ALBANIAN OFFICIALS IN ANKARA

Albanian Premier Pandeli Majko held talks in Ankara on 3 March with his Turkish counterpart, Bulent Ecevit, and President Suleyman Demirel, AP reported. Demirel said after the talks that bilateral relations are "getting stronger each day." He said Turkey places great importance on maintaining peace in the Balkans and is deeply concerned by the situation in Kosova. He said Turkish troops are willing to participate in a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosova. Ecevit said the conflict in Kosova could "spread and reach the proportions of a war." PB

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES RUSSIAN DUMA...

Romanian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Carmen Podgoreanu said on 3 March that neither a resolution passed last month by the Russian State Duma stating that the Transdniester is "a zone of strategic interest for Russia" nor an invitation extended to "separatist leaders" to participate in the Duma's debates is "likely to contribute" to finding a solution to the Moldovan conflict, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The ministry "takes note" that the resolution is non-binding on Russian foreign policy, and it expresses its confidence that Moscow will "act in line with Moldovan-Russian agreements" on bilateral relations and on how to solve the Transdniester conflict. Podgoreanu said this conflict must find its solution "in line with the provisions of the Moldovan Constitution. MS

...AND HUNGARIAN POSITIONS ON VOJVODINA

Podgoreanu also said that Hungary's demand that the Yugoslav province of Vojvodina be granted autonomy alongside Kosova endangers stability in the region as well as the search for a political solution to the Kosova conflict. In other news, the Chamber of Deputies' Education Commission on 3 March rejected by a large majority two bills on setting up a Hungarian-language state university in Cluj. The bills were drafted by representatives of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. MS

LUCINSCHI ON CONSTITUTIONAL STALEMATE

President Petru Lucinschi on 3 March said that if the Constitutional Court invalidates the parliament's approval one day earlier of Ion Sturdza's cabinet, he intends to re-appoint Sturdza as premier-designate, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Also on 3 March, Christian Democratic Popular Front (FPCD) leader Iurie Rosca said his party does not intend to leave the Alliance for Democracy and Reform parliamentary majority, although it has withdrawn its two ministers from Sturdza's cabinet. Rosca said FPCD members continue to be represented "at the second level of the government structure" and will continue to function at that level unless the cabinet decides to dismiss them. Citing government sources, ITAR-TASS reported that owing to the government crisis, an IMF delegation has postponed a visit to Chisinau scheduled for 3 March. MS

EU REJECTS BULGARIAN CRITICISM

European Commission spokesman Nico Wegter on 3 March rejected Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's criticism of the EU earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999), saying it is "up to Bulgaria to make progress in the fields that were identified as encountering difficulties," Reuters reported. Wegter said the EU supported Bulgaria's reform programs and provided Sofia with nearly $825 million between 1990 and 1998. MS




KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WORRIES INTERNATIONAL GROUPS


By Roland Eggleston

Kazakhstan's flawed presidential election in January has led international organizations to argue that greater efforts are needed to develop democratic practices in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Representatives of eight democracy-building organizations met in a closed session in Warsaw last week to consider the assistance they can offer to countries holding nationwide elections this year. The polls include parliamentary elections in Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan and a presidential election in Ukraine.

The January presidential election in Kazakhstan was frequently cited as a warning. Before it was held, Kazakhstan was considered one of the leaders in democratic reforms in Central Asia. A report issued after the poll said the election process had fallen far short of the standards to which Kazakhstan was committed. Those attending the Warsaw meeting were told by one international organization that the presidential election was a "warning that even best preparations can be tossed aside by political decisions."

In Kazakhstan, these "political decisions" included an unexpected change in the date of the election, which left candidates challenging incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev with insufficient time to develop their campaigns; legal measures that in effect disqualified some candidates; restrictions on the right of assembly; and a media that devoted a disproportionately large share of its coverage to Nazarbayev.

The situation in Kazakhstan was not all bad, however. International organizations found that the Central Election Commission undertook a wide-ranging and impartial program to educate voters about their rights, about the backgrounds of the candidates, and about how to properly complete a ballot slip. They agreed that plans for election day were well- drafted and well-executed. But these positive points were overshadowed by problem areas.

The conditions in which the election took place dismayed international organizations, which had worked for months to arrange free and fair polls. It led some speakers at the meeting in Warsaw to argue that international organizations should not send observers to elections in countries where the development of democracy is stunted. They said cooperation could be misused by authorities to suggest they enjoyed international support. But others argued that it is important that international organizations remain active in these countries to build on the foundations already there.

Although much of the discussion focused on Kazakhstan, some participants were also critical of Uzbekistan, where parliamentary elections are scheduled later this year. Because the meeting was private, none of the speakers would talk about the discussions. But organizers said there was no decision to stop sending electoral assistance to any country. The Warsaw meeting was organized by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)--the OSCE's election arm. ODIHR and the OSCE missions and offices in Central Asia and the Caucasus have developed programs to educate voters and political parties on how a democratic political system and democratic elections should operate.

In its final report on the Kazakh elections, the ODIHR election-monitoring team mentioned six failings that international organizations want to avoid in other elections this year:

DURATION OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN: In October last year, Kazakh authorities announced that presidential elections would be held on 10 January 1999. This was almost two years earlier than planned. The ODIHR said opposition parties and possible presidential candidates were taken by surprise because there had been no public discussions on holding the election earlier than scheduled. In the ODIHR's view, the period before the election was too short to allow for sufficient preparation by all prospective candidates. The ODIHR said an election law adopted by the parliament after a public debate would enhance the credibility of any election process.

ELECTION COMMISSIONS: The ODIHR noted that election commissions at all levels in the Kazakh presidential election were controlled by the president and local officials appointed with his approval. The report said neither the method of the appointments nor the makeup of the commissions encouraged public trust in the electoral process. The report said, "The elections commissions...are not perceived as independent, representative, or neutral."

INFRINGEMENTS ON THE RIGHT TO SEEK PUBLIC OFFICE: Initially, eight candidates sought registration as presidential candidates. Two voluntarily withdrew. Another two were not allowed to participate under circumstances that the ODIHR and other international organizers criticized.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND ASSEMBLY: The Constitution of Kazakhstan guarantees freedom of association. The ODIHR said the authorities restricted this freedom in some cases during the election campaign. It also noted that some human-rights organizations and other NGOs had faced problems with registration. The ODIHR said it appeared that the authorities had the right to delay registration without being obliged to provide an explanation. Some NGO members reported harassment by the police. The ODIHR report said, "These measures tend to discourage the right of individuals and groups to establish political parties and organizations."

CAMPAIGN ENVIRONMENT: The ODIHR report said state authorities in Kazakhstan did not behave impartially and provided election support for some candidates, in particular President Nazarbayev. It noted that, in some cases, candidates had difficulty gaining access to work places, universities, and other places to hold meetings.

MEDIA ACCESS: The ODIHR says both the state-owned and private media devoted a disproportionately large share of their coverage to Nazarbayev. In the ODIHR's view, most of the coverage of Nazarbayev was either positive or neutral. The other candidates received little coverage, and what they did get was generally neutral or negative. The author is an RFE/RL corespondent based in Munich, Germany.


XS
SM
MD
LG