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Newsline - March 9, 1999




YELTSIN RESIGNATION WOULD OPEN WAY FOR STALINISTS, AIDE SAYS

In an interview with "Die Welt" published on 8 March, Oleg Sysuev, first deputy chief of the presidential staff, said that President Boris Yeltsin and his government are working to stabilize conditions in Russia and that Yeltsin's premature resignation would open the way to "a representative of the third force," namely, nationalists and Stalinists. Sysuev added that Russia will achieve stability and become a "state power with democratic and market-oriented principles" no sooner "than the end of the term of the next president, in 2004." PG

PRIMAKOV TO RETURN TO MOSCOW

Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov is scheduled to return to work in Moscow on 9 March, ITAR-TASS reported. He has been on leave in Sochi since 27 February, but during that time, he met with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and various Russian officials. He also conducted negotiations with IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus over the telephone. PG

WESTERN BANKS ACCEPT RUSSIAN GKO PROPOSAL

Western banks who hold Russian GKO securities have accepted in principle a Russian plan to unblock payments on overdue short-term Treasury bills, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March. The 19 banks are now considering the specifics of the agreement, which would see payments resume on 30 April. PG

ONE LOCAL LAW IN FIVE CONTRADICTS CONSTITUTION

Justice Minister Pavel Krashenninikov told the Duma on 5 March that approximately 20 percent of all legal acts contradict the federal constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. He indicated that the situation is somewhat better in the regions and that a new register of regional normative acts should ensure closer conformity with constitutional standards. PG

FOUR ZHIRINOVSKY DEPUTIES MAY SUPPORT YELTSIN'S IMPEACHMENT

Aleksei Mitrofanov, a member of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's ultranationalist party and chairman of the Duma's geopolitical committee, told Interfax on 9 March that four or more of the deputies in his faction "are close to voting in favor of Yeltsin's impeachment." PG

INDUSTRIALISTS CHALLENGE COMMUNISTS IN 'RED ZONE'

Several senior industrial directors have indicated that they will "seize power" from communist local officials who gained election several years ago unless the latter change their economic policies, "Novie izvestiya" reported on 6 March. PG

DUMA CONCERNED ABOUT U.S. AIRSTRIKES AGAINST IRAQ

Duma Deputy Speaker Mikhail Gutseriev told ITAR-TASS on 8 March that "the continuing U.S. air strikes [against] Iraq is a matter of increasingly serious concern" for the Russian parliament. "The U.S. is again using force by itself without obtaining approval of all UN Security Council members." PG

SYNAGOGUE IN NOVOSIBIRSK VANDALIZED

Jewish leaders in Russia told Western agencies that vandals desecrated a newly rededicated synagogue in Novosibirsk on the night of 7-8 March . The attackers destroyed much of the interior and painted swastikas and the signature of the Russian National Unity movement on the walls. While no one was hurt, Rabbi Berel Lazar of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Moscow said the attack qualified as "a pogrom," Reuters reported. But local Russian officials played down the attack. A Novosibirsk police official said that "nothing terrible happened here," suggesting that "this is just some kids having hi-jinks," AP reported. The official added that he is not sure whether the authorities will launch criminal proceedings. PG

RUSSIA MARKS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

The women of Yeltsin's family took the lead in marking International Women's Day in Russia by visiting the president in the hospital on 8 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Elsewhere, there were parades, a car race, and reports of the progress of women in the Russian Federation. The news agency pointed out, for example, that recent cutbacks in the country's armed forces have not led to a decrease in the number of women serving as officers. PG

SAINT PETERSBURG, HONG KONG PLAN COOPERATION

Representatives of the two cities met in Russia's second capital to outline measures for future cooperation in their capacity as the major sea ports of their respective countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 March. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev said that the cities can "cooperate as the sea gates" to their respective markets. He added that the Russian side can help Hong Kong in "creating its own incubators of high technologies." PG

RUSSIA TO PUT RADAR-INVISIBLE MISSILES ON BOMBERS

Military officials told Interfax on 8 March that Moscow plans to put stealth cruise missiles on its most advanced strategic bombers. Such missiles, the experts said, have a range of 3,000-5,000 kilometers and can infiltrate anticipated air defenses "with minimal losses." The new missiles are to remain on line for 50 years. No date was given for the introduction of the new weapons. PG

SIBERIAN RESEARCHERS ANNOUNCE ANTI-AIDS DRUG

Scientists at a research center in Novosibirsk announced on 8 March that they have patented a drug they believe will suppress the HIV virus that causes AIDS, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The new drug reportedly kills the HIV virus but does not damage blood cells. Team leader Aleksandr Lelyak said that the medicine may lead to the discovery of a cure for those who are already HIV positive or have AIDS. Last month, Armenian scientists claimed to have discovered an anti-AIDS drug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 1999). PG

ORTHODOX CHURCH READY TO HELP DELIVER AID...

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II told Interfax on 6 March that his Church is ready and willing to help distribute food and medical assistance coming from abroad. He said that the aid packages must be given to the "least protected" members of society, including orphanages and residents of the country's Far North. PG

...WHICH U.S. SAYS WILL BEGIN ARRIVING 22 MARCH

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that the first shipments of U.S. food aid will arrive in Russia between 22 March and 5 April, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March. The first 250,000 tons will be shipped from Gulf of Mexico ports, while another 80,000 tons will be sent from Pacific ones. The aid package will total 3.1 million tons. PG

RUSSIA, WESTERN COUNTRIES SIGN NUCLEAR CLEAN-UP PLAN

At a meeting in the Norwegian city of Bodoe on 5 March, Russia, the Nordic countries, European states, and the U.S. signed an agreement to help clean-up Moscow's huge stockpile of nuclear waste, Reuters reported. Various Western countries, including the U.S., will make financial contributions to the effort. PG

SAS ENDS FLIGHTS TO ARKHANGELSK

Citing losses, the SAS Scandinavian airline ended its Stockholm-Arkhangelsk route on 7 March, ITAR-TASS reported. SAS had made three flights a week for the last 30 months on this route, and Russian officials suggested that the flights had been full enough for the company to make a profit. A Finnish company has indicated that it may fill in with flights to the northern Russian city, as has the St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo airline. PG

YELTSIN CHIEF OF STAFF HOSPITALIZED

Nikolai Bordyuzha was hospitalized over the weekend after experiencing heart pain, Interfax reported on 9 March. Bordyuzha's deputy, Sysuev, will fill in on a temporary basis. PG

STEPASHIN ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO GROZNY...

In a harshly worded statement issued on 7 March, Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin warned that Moscow will resort to "extremely rigorous measures to ensure law, order, and security in the North Caucasus region" unless his subordinate, Major-General Gennadii Shpigun, is released "shortly," Interfax reported. Shpigun was abducted in Grozny on 5 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). Stepashin said that despite assurances from the Chechen leadership that it is cracking down on crime and terrorist activities, the situation continues to deteriorate and the Russian leadership's tolerance is exhausted. "In effect, several thousand armed scoundrels dictate their will to Chechen society, driving it into medievalism and obscurantism," Stepashin said. He hinted that Russian sanctions on Chechnya could entail cutting rail and air links and energy supplies to the region. And he added that in the event of future "terrorist acts," Russia will intervene "in conformity with international practice" to destroy "criminal formations' bases." LF

...AS CHECHEN LEADERSHIP VOWS TO FIND KIDNAPPED GENERAL...

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Grozny on 8 March that he has given investigators three days to locate Shpigun, Interfax reported. Presidential press spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told Interfax that Russia has aggravated the situation in Chechnya by circumventing Maskhadov and dealing directly with his rivals. Vachagaev added that any armed intervention by Moscow "will forever turn the Chechen people away from Russia." The Chechen presidential press service issued a statement on 8 March claiming that Russian intelligence had acted together with opposition state Shura [council] leader Shamil Basaev in abducting Shpigun. LF

...AND OPPOSITION WARNS OF REPRISALS

Speaking on Grozny television on 8 March, Basaev denied any part in the abduction and urged whoever is holding Shpigun to hand him over to the Shura as a "war criminal," ITAR-TASS reported. Opposition field commander Vakha Arsanov said the Shura has placed its armed forces on high alert to counter anticipated Russian military aggression. On 9 March, Basaev's deputy Movladi Udugov warned that a Russian attack could trigger Chechen reprisals against individual Russian politicians. LF




FUGITIVE ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER REELECTED CHAIRMAN OF FORMER RULING PARTY

The ruling board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) on 8 March voted narrowly to reelect former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian as its chairman, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Following three days of heated debates and two rounds of voting, 22 members of the 41-strong HHSh board finally voted for Siradeghian, while 14 others backed his main challenger, former parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsian. A third candidate, former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian, withdrew after the first round of voting. Siradeghian left Armenia in late January, two weeks before the parliament voted to strip him of his deputy's immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1999). He is wanted in connection with several murders. "Oragir" reported on 9 March that former President Levon Ter-Petrossian lobbied energetically for Ararktsian's candidacy. LF

THREE SMALL ARMENIAN PARTIES TO FORM ELECTION ALLIANCE?

The nationalist Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM) has reached a "tentative agreement" with two leftist groups, the Scientific-Industrial and Civic Union (GAKM) and the Miabanutyun (Accord) organization, on fielding a joint list of candidates in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 30 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 March, quoting SIM chairman Hrant Khachatrian. SIM and GAKM are members of the Justice and Unity grouping, which endorsed Robert Kocharian's candidacy in the March 1998 presidential elections. Neither of those parties is believed capable of overcoming the 5 percent barrier to gain entry to the parliament under the proportional system. Armenia's main parties have said they will not form any electoral blocs. But Khachatrian said the alliance will also seek to recruit another two pro-Kocharian parties, the Democratic and Ramkavar Azatakan parties, whose leaders hold senior government posts. LF

BULGARIA TO BACK ARMENIAN MEMBERSHIP IN COUNCIL OF EUROPE

Bulgarian parliamentary chairman Yordan Sokolov met with his Armenian counterpart, Khosrov Harutiunian, and other senior officials, including President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Armen Darpinian, and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, in Yerevan on 5-6 March. Sokolov said Bulgaria will support Armenia's bid for full membership in the Council of Europe, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sokolov concurred with the Armenian argument that Yerevan's membership in that organization should not be directly linked to the Karabakh conflict. LF

GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS END PICKET

Several hundred displaced persons who on 16 February began blocking the bridge over the River Inguri, which marks the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, ended their protest action on 8 March after meeting with Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and with the chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, Caucasus Press reported. The fugitives had been demanding a meeting with Lortkipanidze to express their dissatisfaction over Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba's offer to begin repatriation on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). Lortkipanidze told the fugitives that the Georgian leadership had tried without success to persuade the UN to mount a "peace enforcement" operation in Abkhazia, which was also one of the displaced persons' demands. He added that peace talks "are not the only way to return the refugees." LF

GEORGIA HAS MORE THAN 100,000 REGISTERED UNEMPLOYED

Georgia currently has 101,700 registered unemployed, a 14.5 percent decrease from early 1998, Caucasus Press reported on 8 March, citing the State Statistics Department. More than half those seeking work have higher education, and 25 percent are under 30. ITAR-TASS, which cited a total of 98,000 jobless, said that the real figure is probably three times higher. Some 400,000 people out of a total population of 5 million in 1991 have emigrated since then in search of work. LF

GEORGIAN INSURGENCY LEADER INTERCEDES FOR EXTRADITED GAMSAKHURDIA SUPPORTER

Caucasus Press on 8 March quoted Akaki Eliava, who led the abortive October 1998 uprising in western Georgia, as denying that Valerii Gabelia played any role in that action. Gabelia was extradited to Tbilisi from Moscow where he was detained last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February and 5 March 1999 ). He has been charged with treason and with financing both the February 1998 attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and the mutiny led by Eliava. LF

NEW PARTY IN KAZAKHSTAN WANTS YOUNG MEMBERS

Representatives of the People's Republican Party held a press conference in Almaty on 9 March to reveal some of the party's goals, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Amirzhan Kosanov, the spokesman of party leader Akezhan Kazhegeldin, said the party will focus on gaining supporters from among the country's younger generation. He noted that party branches have been established throughout the country, even in remote areas. The party's deputy chairman, Ghaziz Aldamzharov, said the process of choosing candidates to participate in parliamentary elections later this year has already begun. Aldamzharov added that the party currently has 4,000 registered members, although it was officially registered only last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 3 March 1999). Kazhegeldin was not present at the press conference. Kosanov said he was in the U.S. to inform people abroad about the existence of the new party. BP

UZBEKISTAN TO CUT OFF GAS TO KYRGYZSTAN AGAIN?

A Kyrgyz government official who requested anonymity told RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek on 8 March that Uzbekistan has sent a telegram to Kyrgyzstan warning that gas supplies will soon be cut off if the latter does not start paying its $3.3 million debt. Uzbekistan reduced gas supplies in late February and stopped supplies altogether last November. On both occasions, a Kyrgyz delegation traveled to Uzbekistan to negotiate the resumption of deliveries. BP

KYRGYZ NATIONAL BANK TAKES MEASURES AGAINST TWO COMMERCIAL BANKS

Kyrgyzstan's National Bank has announced that the Maksata bank will work under a "conservative regime" for the next six months, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March. Chairman of the National Bank Ulan Sarbanov also said the Insana bank will be placed under a "temporary administration" until June. Sarbanov said these moves are necessary owing to the banks' violations of the law, which, he said, could "lead to a worsening of the country's financial situation." Sarbanov said the measures taken by the National Bank are aimed at "preventing insolvency and will protect the commercial banking system." BP




OSCE CHAIRMAN APPEALS TO LUKASHENKA TO FREE OPPOSITIONIST

OSCE Chairman and Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek has sent a letter to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka urging him to release oppositionist Viktar Hanchar from jail. "Mr. Hanchar's health is under risk. I appeal [to you] to urgently stop Mr. Hanchar's hunger strike by releasing him from custody," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service quoted Vollebaek as saying. Hanchar began a hunger strike on 1 March, the first day of his arrest. According to his wife and colleagues, he was forcibly fed on 6 March by jail authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). Hanchar's wife, who was refused permission to see Hanchar in jail, has requested that a prosecutor investigate the violent measures taken against her husband in jail. JM

BELARUS TO EXPAND TRADE WITH CHINA

A Chinese government delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk on 7 March. Belarusian Television reported the next day that the sides "admitted the need" to expand bilateral trade from the current volume of $170 million to $500 million. JM

UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR PLANT WORKERS THREATEN GENERAL STRIKE

The Atomic Energy Sector Employees' Trade Union announced on 5 March that it will launch a strike over unpaid wages at Ukraine's five nuclear power plants on 22 March, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 9 March. Valeriy Matov, deputy head of the union, said the strike will include all employees, except for a small number of support workers who will maintain essential operations. Some 12,000 nuclear plant workers demonstrated on 6 March to demand back wages. Some 2,000 employees continue their protest in tent camps built around nuclear power plants. Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko has promised to set up a government commission to oversee payments for electricity consumption. The commission will be given the right to cut off electricity supplies to debtors. JM

CORRECTION:

Citing AP, "RFE/RL Newsline" on 8 March incorrectly reported that the Ukrainian parliament has ratified a $22 million loan from the World Bank. That money is in fact a grant, not a loan. JM

LEADERS OF ESTONIA'S RIGHT-WING ALLIANCE MEET WITH MERI

Mart Laar of the Fatherland Union, Siim Kallas of the Reform Party, and Andres Tarand of the Moderates told President Lennart Meri on 8 March that they are ready to form a new government, ETA reported. The left-leaning Center Party won the 7 March elections, but the right-wing alliance will have a combined total of 53 seats in the 101-strong parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). Mart Siimann, outgoing premier and leader of the Coalition Party, which foiled pre- election expectations by winning some 7 percent of the vote and seven parliamentary seats, has expressed his party's support for the right-wing alliance. Meri must nominate a prime minister within two weeks of the election. Under the constitution, he is not obliged to name a candidate from the party that won the most votes. JC

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SAYS 16 MARCH 'MISTAKE'

Guntis Ulmanis, speaking on national radio on 8 March, said that approving 16 March as a day officially commemorating Latvian soldiers was a "mistake" on the part of both the parliament and himself, "Diena" and BNS reported. He urged that no large-scale meetings be held on 16 March, noting that almost half of the soldiers' organizations he has met with over the past month do not intend to mark that day.. Last week, the parliament narrowly voted in favor of retaining 16 March as Soldiers' Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 1999). JC

LATVIAN PREMIER SAYS SECTOR WILL SURVIVE BANK'S COLLAPSE

Vilis Kristopans said on 8 March that the collapse of Rigas Komercbanka does not pose a systemic threat to Latvia's banking sector, which he said is "stable and secure," having weathered "tremors" in the past, "Diena" and Reuters reported. (In 1995, the country's largest bank, Banka Baltija, was declared insolvent.) Kristopans also argued that the Central Bank's decision to suspend the operations of Rigas Komercbanka, which had invested heavily in Russia, will increase "trust in the banking system and the economy as a whole." While independent analysts backed that viewpoint, they also criticized the EBRD--the bank's largest share- holder--for inadequate supervision and assistance. JC

SIX LITHUANIAN PROSECUTORS SUSPENDED UNDER LUSTRATION LAW

Prosecutor-General Kazys Pednycia has suspended six prosecutors under the law banning former KGB agents from holding government office and various private-sector jobs, BNS reported on 6 March. Within three months, a decision must be taken on whether those officials are to be sacked. Last week, the Constitutional Court ruled that the lustration law does not violate the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 1999). JC

TALLINN, RIGA THREATEN RETALIATION AGAINST LITHUANIA

Estonian and Latvian officials said in Vilnius last week that their countries will take unspecified "punitive measures" against Lithuania if it does not abolish the system of minimum ceiling prices on agricultural imports, ETA and ELTA reported on 8 March. Tallinn and Riga argue that those prices violate the Baltic free trade agreement as well as the principles of the World Trade Organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). Lithuania disagrees with the first of those arguments and, while acknowledging that the second is correct, points out that it is not yet a member of the WTO. JC

KWASNIEWSKI REASSURES INVESTORS OVER POLAND'S DEVELOPMENT

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told foreign investors on 8 March that Poland's major achievements since 1989 were sustained dynamic growth, inflation curbed below the planned 9.75 percent, and a budget deficit less than 2 percent of GDP, AP reported. He added that Poland's most important tasks are to ensure the competitiveness of Polish products in the West and to restructure state-owned industries. According to Kwasniewski, Poland will be ready for EU membership by the end of 2002. Meanwhile, a European Commission report published the same day advising Poland to take measures to compensate for the loss of its markets in crisis-stricken Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. The commission said that Poland should seek to maintain its current financial stability by increasing exports to the West. That step, it added, requires significantly improving the quality of Polish products and support for Polish small firms. JM

ZEMAN, SCHROEDER WANT END TO CZECH-GERMAN DISPUTES

Milos Zeman, who on 8 March undertook the first official visit of a Czech premier to Germany, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have agreed to end disputes over mutual compensation claims dating back to World War II and its aftermath, CTK and AP reported. Schroeder said, "We consider these questions closed," adding that "both governments agreed not to raise any claims." He also stressed that the demands of the organizations representing the Sudeten Germans "have no impact on German foreign policy." In an interview with CTK, Zeman explained that while the Czech Republic will not revoke the 1945 Benes decrees, their effect has "faded away." Schroeder also said Germany supports the Czech Republic's accession to the EU "without conditions" but did not specify a date. MS

CZECH ENVIRONMENT MINISTER AGAINST TEMELIN COMPLETION

Milos Kuzvart says he will propose that the cabinet decide not to complete the controversial nuclear power plant at Temelin, CTK reported on 8 March. Later this month, the government will discuss a report recently submitted by a government commission. According to that report, the Czech Republic will not need new electricity-producing facilities until 2010 at the earliest. The report also argues that completion is "a risky entrepreneurial deal," "rather than one that serves the national interests," and that its success depends on market demand. The commission also urged that the impact on the environment be taken into consideration. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF

Magda Vasaryova, a former ambassador to Austria and a popular actress who ended her screen career 10 years ago, launched her presidential campaign on 8 March, as did former incumbent Michal Kovac, CTK reported. According to a Focus opinion poll, Rudolf Schuster, who is mayor of Kosice, leader of the Party of Civic Understanding, and the ruling coalition's presidential candidate, leads the pack with 23 percent. Vasaryova has 9 percent support and Kovac 7 percent. They are followed by Party of Democratic Left deputy Juraj Svec (3 percent), who is running as an independent. On 6 March, the extra- parliamentary Communist Party of Slovakia nominated Juraj Lazarcik, a lecturer in economics at the Agricultural School in Nitra, as its presidential candidate. Zoltan Adorjan, a Marxist who has no party affiliation, announced his candidacy on 2 March. MS

SLOVAK FAR RIGHT LEADER THREATENS HUNGARY

Jan Slota, chairman of the far-right opposition Slovak National Party, has threatened to "get into our tanks and crush Budapest." Slota was speaking at a rally last week in Kysucke Novo Mesto, central Slovakia, Radio Twist reported on 8 March. He said Slovaks must defend their territory in southern Slovakia, which is densely populated by ethnic Hungarians, and "not give up a single centimeter [of land] to the Hungarian scoundrels." He said he will never tolerate a Romany minority in Slovakia because "they are Gypsies who steal, rob, and pilfer." And he warned about "a Czech woman[who] calls herself an American and even the U.S. Secretary of Stateand [who] wants to teach all Slovaks lessons about what sort of idiots we are," CTK reported. The government sharply criticized Slota's speech as "irresponsible and unacceptable." MS

STATE OF EMERGENCY IN HUNGARY'S FLOODED REGIONS

More than 320,000 hectares are under water and 2,600 houses in danger of collapsing in eastern Hungary as a result of heavy floods, Hungarian media reported on 9 March. Some 550 people have been evacuated from the region. On 6 March, Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared a state of emergency and appointed Transport, Communications and Water Management Minister Kalman Katona to head a crisis team. Katona said his ministry has already spent some 780 million forints ($3.4 million) to deal with the damage. MSZ




UCK'S GENERAL STAFF REPORTEDLY AGREES TO PEACE ACCORD...

The U.S. State Department said on 8 March that the general staff of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) has agreed to the interim peace accord for Kosova, an RFE/RL correspondent reported in Washington. The State Department said U.S. envoy Chris Hill has been assured by the UCK that it will sign the agreement, which would grant the Kosovars autonomy for three years. UCK leaders met with Hill and EU envoy Wolfgang Petritsch outside Prishtina. Petritsch said UCK officials "are absolutely in favor of signing" but that some local commanders are not ready to do so. Ramush Hajredinaj, a UCK commander based in the village of Jablanica, told AP that the UCK will never give up its weapons. Other UCK officials are reportedly uncomfortable with possible Russian participation in the proposed NATO-led peace-keeping force in Kosova. PB

...WHILE MILOSEVIC REMAINS OPPOSED...

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic told German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Belgrade on 8 March that he remains opposed to allowing a peace-keeping force deploy in Kosova on the signing of a peace agreement, Reuters reported. Fischer, who was accompanied by EU Human Rights Commissioner Hans van den Broek, said it will be "hard work" to convince Belgrade to agree to the stationing of troops in Kosova, but he thinks it is possible. Fischer also met with his Yugoslav counterpart, Zivadin Jovanovic, who said Belgrade is ready to resume talks on Kosova. Jovanovic called on Europe to stop supporting the ethnic Albanians and to lift the economic embargo against Yugoslavia. EU envoy Petritsch said he believes "Milosevic is already becoming very reflective, even perplexed, because he has seen...that no compromise is possible on the stationing of troops." PB

...AND HOLBROOKE SETS OUT FOR BELGRADE

The U.S. announced on 8 March that diplomat Richard Holbrooke will arrive in Belgrade for talks with Milosevic on 10 March. Holbrooke brokered the October cease-fire for Kosova, which led to the stationing of OSCE "verifiers" in the province. PB

KOSOVA FIGHTING INTENSIFIES, SERBS KILLED BY MINE

Fighting was reported in Kosovar Albanian villages near the Macedonian border on 8 March, Reuters reported. OSCE officials said Serbian forces prevented monitors from observing the fighting, although shelling and artillery fire were audible. Tanks were also engaged in fighting reported in Mitrovica, Vucitrn, Bukos, and Pantina, just north of Prishtina. The same day, the Serb-run Pristina Media Center said two Serbian policemen were killed and three others wounded when their car hit an anti-tank mine near Djakovica. PB

HIGH COMMISSIONER REMAINS FIRM ON POPLASEN SACKING, BRCKO RULING

Carlos Westendorp said on 8 March that the dismissal of hard-line Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen was "final and irrevocable," AP reported. Poplasen has refused to step down, saying that his dismissal by Westendorp is unconstitutional. Westendorp said in a statement that he believes Poplasen is "sensible enough" to leave but that if he does not, he will be forcibly removed. As regards the Brcko decision, Westendorp also said he has written to Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Petar Djokic "guaranteeing that the territory as shown on the Dayton map will remain continuous." Many Bosnian Serbs fear that the decision to make the Sava River port town of Brcko a neutral district would divide their territory. Westendorp added that he and Brcko international supervisor Robert Farrand are prepared to meet with a commission from the Bosnian Serb parliament to "listen to their views." PB

DODIK RETHINKS RESIGNATION...

Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, who offered his resignation last week, said in Banja Luka on 9 March that he may continue in his post once things "cool off," AP reported. Dodik, upset at the decision by an international arbitrator to make Brcko a neutral district, said the move was an "unnecessary experiment." But he added that it would be "counterproductive now to stop cooperating with the international community." Westendorp, who has backed Dodik in his power struggle with Poplasen, noted that the Bosnian Serb parliament has not yet accepted Dodik's resignation. Dodik appears to agree with the decision to sack Poplasen, saying that "it's a good move that he's no longer president." PB

...AND RADISIC ALSO CONCILIATORY

Zivko Radisic, the Serbian chairman of the Bosnian presidency, said the Bosnian Serb parliament's resolution against the Brcko ruling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999) does not "represent a confrontation with the international community but an attempt to bring the peace agreement back on track," AP reported. Radisic suspended his activities in the presidency on 6 March to protest the Brcko decision. Radisic and Dodik are both members of the Sloga [Unity] coalition, which has strong backing from the West. Westendorp said he hopes the coalition will remain intact, despite the continued infighting between moderates and hard-liners. PB

CROATIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WANTS NEWS ON TUDJMAN'S HEALTH

Vlado Gotovac, the leader of Croatia's Liberal Party, accused the government of concealing information about the true state of President Franjo Tudjman's health, AP reported. Tudjman had not been seen in public for 12 days before appearing on television last week looking very frail and with noticeably less hair. The weekly "Nacional" said Tudjman is suffering from a brain tumor and has undergone chemotherapy treatment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1999). His doctor said he was treated for influenza. Gotovac said "considering the deep crisis we are in...the concealment of information regarding the president's health is utterly irresponsible." He added that "only rulers inside the Kremlin continually masked information about their health." PB

MACEDONIAN OFFICIALS IN TAIWAN

The president of the Macedonian parliament, Savo Klimovski, is heading a 32-member delegation that arrived in Taipei on 7 March, AFP reported. Klimovski is to discuss several business deals with Taiwan officials and begin talks on a long-term bilateral economic agreement. The visit comes just one day after Taiwanese Foreign Minister Jason Hu ended a trip to Skopje to sign agreements on diplomatic relations. Beijing has broken off relations with Macedonia and vetoed an extension of the UN peace-keeping force there in retaliation for Skopje's recognition of Taiwan. PB

OSCE JEEP HIT BY GUNFIRE IN ALBANIA

An OSCE group in a jeep monitoring the Albanian border with Kosova was hit by gunfire on 8 March, AFP reported. The incident took place near Kruma, about 2 kilometers from the Kosova border. No one was hurt in the incident. PB

ROMANIAN SENATE CHAIRMAN DENIES COLLABORATION WITH SECURITATE

Petre Roman on 8 March said he will sue for libel retired General Neagu Cosma, who was chief of the counter- espionage service in the 1970s, RFE/RL Bucharest bureau reported. On 5 March Neagu told the private television station Tele 7 abc that Roman was an agent of the former secret police, the Securitate, and was sent to France (where he studied for his Ph.D.) "on a mission." Neagu said the order to send Roman abroad came from former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who wanted to put an end to a romance between his daughter Zoe and Roman, the daily "National" reported on 8 March. Neagu cited Ceausescu as saying " I already have one Jew in the family and that is more than enough." (Ceausescu's son Valentin was married to the daughter of a communist dignitary whose wife was Jewish. That marriage ended in divorce.) MS

ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH DENIES INTERFERING IN PAPAL VISIT

The Patriarchate of the Romanian Orthodox Church on 8 March rejected allegations that it interfered with the planned itinerary of Pope John Paul II's visit to Romania in May in order to prevent the pontiff from visiting Transylvania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). The Patriarchate said the pontiff's itinerary was drawn up in consultation with the Vatican, which requested that the visit be confined to Bucharest "in view of His Holiness's frail health." In an allusion to the Uniate Church, the Patriarchate said that if the visit fails to take place "in the ecumenical and brotherly spirit cherished by both His Holiness and our Church, responsibility must be borne by those who [strive to] worsen relations between the two Churches." MS




WORLD BANK CONFIDENT UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WILL AGREE TO LOANS


by Robert Lyle

World Bank officials say they are confident that Ukraine's parliament will reverse itself this week and ratify agreements on two major loans with the World Bank.

The bank's country director for Belarus and Ukraine, Paul Siegelbaum, says the two loans--one to buy a new computer system for the Ukrainian Treasury department, the other to modernize Kyiv's district heating system--were rejected by the Ukrainian parliament last week because the loan approval measures got caught up in the heated political fight over whether Kyiv should join the CIS Parliamentary Assembly.

The parliament voted to make that move and to override a vetoed bill on Ukrainian elections, two controversial measures that pushed a number of items on the parliament's agenda into the abyss.

Siegelbaum, in an interview with RFE/RL in Washington, said the bank's loans to Kyiv got "hit by flying elbows" in bitter political fights that had nothing to do with the World Bank or its programs with Ukraine.

"I don't think that the parliament in Ukraine is fundamentally a body in opposition to the types of things the World Bank and the [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development] want to do," he commented. "In the past, they haven't been our enemies. There is no reason to believe they are now."

Siegelbaum said that while it is not normal for national parliaments to reject World Bank programs, it has happened before, including among countries that were once part of the ex-USSR.

Now, however, Siegelbaum says he is confident that when those two loans -- and two others -- are presented to the Ukrainian parliament this week, they will be approved.

"The total volume of potential lending under those operations is around $600 million, " he said. "Some of them will be taken up quickly, including the treasury systems project that involves computer equipment to improve the treasury process, and another loan to improve the district heating system in Kyiv. Others are going to be taken up in a slightly more extended schedule, including a loan to accelerate the closure of coal mines, and some other things."

More important, according to Siegelbaum , clearing the way for these loans could open up what has been a log-jam at the World Bank in dealing with Ukraine: "We told the Ukrainians that if we could put this problem behind us, we can now begin to accelerate the preparation of a whole bunch of other loans--seven or eight of them--which are at various stages of our processing, but which we've had to hold up because we couldn't rush ahead knowing 'the wall' was there. Because it would make no sense to continue to present loans to the parliament when it was in the mood to reject them."

Siegelbaum said even as the parliament was rejecting the two loans, it did manage--on a second try--to accept a $22 million grant from the bank to finance the modernization of plants that use ozone-depleting substances. That was a real embarrassment for Ukrainian officials, Siegelbaum explained, because it is an outright grant and will cost Kyiv nothing.

Siegelbaum noted that while the loans are extremely important to Ukraine, the help with reforms that goes along with the money is actually far more significant: "The money's the least important part of these loans, it's the reform. Every one of these loans reforms a different part. Whether it's the water system in Odessa or some district heating system in another city or insulating government buildings for energy efficiency, those reforms are going to create value for Ukraine far in excess of the dollars involved in the loan."

He added that he would "love it" if he could give the reforms without the money because, he explains, Ukraine would have a "healthier economy that wasn't in debt to the World Bank." But since that won't work, he said, it's best that Ukraine borrow the money and get the reform help, in effect, thrown in for free. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Washington.


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