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Newsline - March 11, 1999




PRIMAKOV RULES OUT MILITARY INTERVENTION IN CHECHNYA...

Speaking at a 10 March government session that included the speakers of both houses of the Russian parliament, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov made it clear that Russia has no intention of launching military action against Chechnya in retaliation for the 5 March abduction of Interior Ministry official Major-General Gennadii Shpigun. Primakov said that Russian and Chechen special services and police are cooperating in the search to locate and release Shpigun. Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov told RTR the same day that both Primakov and President Boris Yeltsin are ready to meet with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov if there are "real steps toward each other." Maskhadov had requested such a meeting on 9 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1999). LF

...AS DO OTHER TOP RUSSIAN POLITICIANS...

Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev, who attended the 10 March government meeting, said it would be "madness for Russia to resume the war in Chechnya," according to ITAR-TASS. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that Maskhadov should admit he cannot handle the present situation and should formally request help from Moscow, Interfax reported. Krasnoyarsk Krai governor Aleksandr Lebed, who negotiated with Maskhadov the two agreements of August 1997 that formally ended the war, warned that any Russian military action in Chechnya would spill over to the entire North Caucasus. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov also ruled out military action, advocating instead that Russia impose an economic blockade on Chechnya. That proposal was echoed by Vladimir Ryzhkov, chairman of the Our Home Is Russia Duma faction. Moscow mayor Yurii Luzhkov called for arming the North Caucasus Cossacks and imposing emergency rule in the Russian republics bordering on Chechnya. LF

...WHILE SPECULATION ABOUT ABDUCTORS' IDENTITY CONTINUES

The Chechen Shariah Security Ministry on 10 March refuted an ITAR- TASS report that two of Shpigun's abductors have been identified. Maskhadov's special foreign policy representative, Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus President Yusup Soslambekov, accused Russian security services of organizing kidnappings in Chechnya to blacken the region's image, according to AP. "Moskovskii komsomolets" claimed on 11 March that Russian security officials believe that dismissed CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii may have stage-managed Shpigun's abduction with the intention of subsequently mediating his release and thereby rehabilitating himself politically. The Chechen field commander who abducted Shpigun was Arbi Baraev, according to the newspaper. Maskhadov fired Baraev as commander of the special Islamic regiment last July, following fighting between that detachment and Chechen government forces. LF

WHO WOULD WANT TO ASSASSINATE ABDULATIPOV?

Russian Nationalities Minister Abdulatipov has told ITAR-TASS that he believes reports of a planned assassination attempt against him are "real and serious," Caucasus Press reported on 10 March. Abdulatipov did not exclude the possibility that his planned murder is linked to the leadership struggle in his native Dagestan. But security officials in Dagestan denied forwarding to Moscow any information on a possible murder attempt. LF

YELTSIN TO VETO MEDIA BILL

President Yeltsin will veto the law on "the supreme council for protection of morality in broadcasting" passed by the State Duma on 10 March, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told Interfax. The law, which establishes a council with the authority to issue warnings to broadcasting companies and impose fines for violating guidelines on morality laid out in the bill, still must be approved by the Federation Council before Yeltsin can act on it. According to ITAR-TASS, fines would range from 1,000 to 50,000 times the current monthly minimum wage, which is 83 rubles ($3.6), for national broadcasting companies. The president, Duma, Federation Council, and government would each appoint three members of the 12-strong council. According to Yakushkin, President Yeltsin considers the law "an attempt by the Duma to restrict freedom of speech." JAC

RUSSIA, IMF COMPROMISING ON TAX ISSUE?

IMF Moscow representative Martin Gilman told reporters on 10 March that progress has been achieved in identifying outstanding issues between the IMF and Russia and that the mission arriving on 11 March will seek to narrow these differences. Also on 10 March, Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told Interfax that he does not rule out that the planned reduction in value-added tax might be postponed until 1 January 2000 because of the fund's objections to the government's tax plans. The Duma has already passed in the second reading a bill lowering VAT as of 1 July. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, who has had and theoretically still has primary responsibility for dealing with the IMF, headed off for a trip to Indonesia on 10 March and will remain in Asia for the next several days. JAC

RUSSIA PARTICIPATING IN NATO'S KOSOVA PREPARATIONS?

After meeting with Prime Minister Primakov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 10 March, OSCE Chairman in Office and Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek stressed to reporters the key role Russia plays in the Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia and the importance of Ivanov's visit to Tirana and Belgrade beginning on 11 March. During their meeting, Vollebaek and Primakov discussed a new security system for Europe and the Kosova crisis. "Izvestiya" reported on 10 March that the Russian transport ship "Novorossiysk" is taking part in NATO preparations for a peace-keeping operation in the Balkans, despite the government's official position that it will not participate in such an operation except under UN auspices and with Belgrade's consent. According to the daily, ships from the Russian Federation Navy may also be involved in transporting NATO equipment and personnel to Kosova as part of its commercial operations using auxiliary ships. JAC

MOSCOW RAPS NATO EXPANSION...

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin stressed Russia's opposition to NATO expansion on 10 March, calling his country's stance on the issue "invariably negative." According to Rakhmanin, "NATO enlargement is an inadequate response to the current changes in Europe and its new security challenges and contributes to the development of a new dividing line in Europe that moves the military infrastructure of the alliance closer to Russia's borders." He added that the creation of a reliable system of European security is possible only on the basis of the OSCE. JAC

...CLAIMS PROGRESS ON CFE

Rakhmanin told reporters that Russian government and NATO officials have reached an agreement to "settle the key problems of the adjustment of the conventional forces in Europe (CFE) treaty no later than the end of March." Without elaborating, Rakhmanin hailed "positive changes" in the positions of NATO members. Russia has maintained that the treaty needs revision in response to NATO's eastward expansion. JAC

ST. PETERSBURG POLICE USING FORCE AGAINST RELIGIOUS SCHOOL

St. Petersburg police and OMON officers forcibly removed about 35 adults and children from the school run by the Dutch religious organization, Society for Open Christianity on 10 March, the "Moscow Times" reported. Students and school authorities had locked themselves into the school to protest a court order evicting them from the premises. A police spokesman told the newspaper that the situation has to be resolved quickly because the building represents a fire hazard. According to the newspaper, it "remains unclear to what degree the dispute rested on the lease agreement for an attractive downtown property." School officials maintain that the real issue is the school's unusual religious status. Earlier St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev warned city officials to "look carefully into all the religious schools and what they teach" because "we already have enough 'zombified' children." JAC

RUSSIA DENIES MODERNIZING IRAQ'S AIR DEFENSES

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 10 March, Sergei Kulakov, deputy head of the Russian arms export giant Rosvooruzhenie, denied that his company has sent anti-aircraft systems to Iraq or assisted Baghdad in modernizing its air defenses, Interfax reported. Kulakov said that all contracts with Iraq were suspended "long ago," when international sanctions were imposed on that country. LF

NO DATE SET FOR DEPLOYMENT OF S-300S ON CRETE

Kulakov told Interfax on 10 March that no date has been set for the delivery to Crete of the Russian S-300 air defense missiles originally intended for deployment on Cyprus. Cypriot Defense Minister Yiannakis Chrisostomis reached agreement with the Russian government last month on amending the terms of the original 1997 contract to allow those missile systems to be deployed on Crete instead of Cyprus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 February 1999). Interfax on 9 March had reported that Russia and Greece would negotiate the precise date for delivering the missile systems, adding that those systems would be deployed on Crete by early summer. LF

GAZPROM, MILITARY NOT WORRIED ABOUT MILLENNIUM BUG

Gazprom spokesman Gennadii Yezhov dismissed testimony by CIA official Lawrence Gershwin to a U.S. Senate committee that the company's aging computer system will not be able to manage the transition to the year 2000 and as a result big chunks of Europe will be left without natural gas. Yezhov told ITAR-TASS on 10 March that his company "has practically unraveled the Y2K problem" and that the company's gas transportation control system is fully up to date. Earlier, Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, chief of the Defense Ministry's Fourth Central Scientific Research Institute, declared that the Y2K problem does not exist at all as far as country's nuclear strategic forces are concerned, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 March. According to Dvorkin, the forces' automated control systems do not operate in real time and do not involve any specific calendar dates. The daily reported that the ministry has 30 groups working on updating its computer systems. JAC

SBERBANK FIRMLY IN THE BLACK

The state savings bank Sberbank posted profits exceeding 15 billion rubles ($652 million) in 1998, Sberbank President Andrei Kazmin told NTV on 10 March. According to Kazmin, this amount is a tripling of profits from 1997. The company also paid a total of 11 billion rubles in taxes last year, making the company the second biggest taxpayer after Gazprom. JAC

TEENAGERS ENGAGED IN BRAIN CELL DESTRUCTION

According to Russian Health Ministry data, almost 2 percent of the country's residents are "registered" alcoholics, while the actual number is likely to be even higher, Interfax reported on 10 March.. The number of teenage alcoholics, 20 in every 100,000, is growing, up 16 percent last year compared with 1993. Russia and France both consume about 14 liters of alcohol per capita, 6 liters above the level the World Health Organization considers threatening to a nation's gene pool. JAC

DUMA NOSTALGIC FOR SOVIET TUNE

Duma deputies passed in the first reading a bill on 10 March replacing the national anthem with that of the Soviet Union, minus the lyrics. The vote was 307 to 35 with three abstentions. The current anthem, composed in the 19th century by Mikhail Glinka, has no lyrics. Should the bill pass two more readings and the Federation Council, President Yeltsin is likely to veto it. JAC

BREZHNEV TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR OF SVERDLOVSK

The grandson of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Andrei Brezhnev, announced on 10 March that he will run for governor of the Sverdlovsk Oblast in elections scheduled for the fall. Brezhnev, who leads the All-Russian Communist Political Movement, will likely face off against Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii and incumbent Eduard Rossel. JAC




ARMENIAN, KARABAKH OFFICIALS COMMENT ON PEACE PROCESS

In a telephone interview with RFE/RL on 10 March, Naira Melkumian, foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said recent meetings between the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, and U.S. officials testify to a shift in the U.S.'s attitude toward the Karabakh conflict. Melkumian, who is accompanying Ghukasian on his U.S. tour, said that Donald Kaiser, U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, had said that the most recent Minsk Group Karabakh peace proposal remains in force and that no amendments to it should be expected. Azerbaijan has rejected that proposal, which calls for Azerbaijan and Nagorno- Karabakh to form a "common state." Also on 10 March, Armenian presidential foreign policy adviser Aram Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan that Armenia intends to make new proposals "soon" to give fresh impetus to the deadlocked Karabakh peace process. But he declined to outline what those proposals entail, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ASSESSES AZERBAIJANI THREAT

Addressing students at Yerevan State University on 10 March, Vazgen Sargsian said that Armenia's military advantage over Azerbaijan has increased in recent years, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But he warned that both Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic must continue to build up their armed forces to enable them to counter any possible attempt by Azerbaijan to solve the Karabakh conflict by military means. He predicted that if Azerbaijan launched a new offensive, "we will make more serious gains." "We are ready for peace [with Azerbaijan], but not at any cost," he said. Sargsian also reiterated that he will spare no effort to prevent fraud and malpractice in the 30 May parliamentary elections, adding that "I don't care what the correlation of forces will be in the next parliament." Opposition parties claim the present election law favors Sargsian's Republican Party. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY DENIES SPLIT

Ararat Zurabian, a leading member of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 10 March that rumors of an imminent split in the party are exaggerated. He predicted that no more than 1 percent of the party's members are likely to resign. Two leading HHSh members announced on 9 March that they intend to quit the party's ruling board following that body's reelection the previous day of fugitive former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian as its chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 March 1999). On 9 March, the HHSh board issued a statement expressing its concern at the death in a hit-and-run car accident of opposition journalist Tigran Hayrapetian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1999). The statement said Hayrapetian had recently received threatening anonymous phone calls. It commented that the manner of his death "is clearly reminiscent of the style employed by 'special services,'" Noyan Tapan reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ON CIS, RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA

Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 10 March that he believes the CIS has "good prospects" provided that it gives priority to expanding economic cooperation among its member states, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze said he does not think President Yeltsin's firing of Boris Berezovskii as CIS executive secretary will have a negative impact either on Georgian-Russian relations or on relations between CIS states. He said he considers it unlikely that either Nikolai Ryzhkov, former chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, or a Georgian candidate will be named as Berezovskii's permanent successor. Shevardnadze and Yeltsin discussed bilateral relations and CIS reform in a telephone conversation later the same day. LF

KAZAKHSTAN RATIFIES BORDER TREATY WITH CHINA

Kazakhstan's Senate on 10 March ratified a border treaty with China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999), Interfax reported. Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokayev told the Senate "in the context of the current geopolitical situation, the Kazakh-Chinese border treaty is very favorable for Kazakhstan and gives us additional security guarantees." Kazakhstan is to receives 56.9 percent of a disputed area totaling 944 square kilometers. BP

TRIAL OPENS IN KYRGYZSTAN OVER CYANIDE SPILL

The trial of Murat Murtazin and Viktor Perminov began in an Issyk-Kul district court on 11 March, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Murtazin was the driver of the truck that overturned last May and spilled 1.5 tons of sodium cyanide into the Barskoon River (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 1998). Perminov is the chief of security at a warehouse in Balykchy, where the sodium cyanide is stored. Both are accused of "ecocide." The spill is blamed for the deaths of four people and the hospitalization of more than 1,000. The cyanide affected a wide area adjoining the river. As a result, local villages, which are dependent on agriculture, were unable to sell their produce last year. BP

KYRGYZSTAN CREATES OIL MONOPOLY

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has signed a decree forming the Munai Oil Company and charging the new company with providing petroleum products to various sectors of the economy, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 9 March. The primary goal of Munai, which replaces Kyrgyzgazmunaizat, is to ensure the agricultural sector has the fuel it needs to start spring planting. Agriculture requires 30,000 tons of oil for spring planting but currently has only 18,000 tons. BP

TAJIK OPPOSITION FIGHTERS INTEGRATED INTO ARMY, POLICE

Twenty fighters of the United Tajik Opposition have reinstated in the posts they held in law enforcement and defense agencies before the outbreak of civil war in Tajikistan in 1992, Interfax reported on 10 March. The head of the UTO press center, Sultan Khamadov, said that 450 UTO fighters have been integrated into five units of the Interior Ministry. That move follows a 2 March presidential decree that ordered the integration of UTO fighters into regular army and law enforcement structures. The UN and countries that are guarantors of the Tajik Peace Accord have complained about the lack of progress in recent months in implementing that integration, which is one of the terms of the accord. BP

AFGHAN TALKS OPEN IN TURKMEN CAPITAL

Representatives of the Taliban and Northern Alliance began negotiations in Ashgabat on 11 March. The talks were delayed because of the late arrival of delegates from the Northern Alliance owing to bad weather. BP

TURKMENISTAN SAYS IT CAN SATISFY ALL NATURAL GAS CONSUMERS

At the opening of the fourth Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan exhibition in Ashgabat on 10 March, Turkmen Minister of Oil, Gas, and Mineral Resources Rejepbai Arazov said the country's gas industry is able to produce as much as 90 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Arazov said once new fields are open, that figure will rise to 100 billion cubic meters annually. He noted that this year Turkmenistan will ship 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Ukraine and 4 billion cubic meters to Iran. But Arazov added that Iran is not prepared to pay for all those supplies, in which case deliveries may be smaller. The Turkmen minister said his country "can provide consumers with any amount of natural gas required. The question is whether they have the money to pay for it." BP




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION DENIES NOT REPAYING STATE LOANS

Belarusian opposition leaders have refuted charges by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that they have received millions of dollars in state loans and failed to repay them, AP reported on 10 March. Lukashenka said on Belarusian Television the previous day that certain opposition leaders, whom he described as "crooks striving for power," have not repaid some $250 million to Belarusian banks. He ordered law enforcement bodies to put them in jail, "give them cellular phones, and let them call their relatives and [others] abroad to collect the money." Stanislau Bahdankevich, former chief of the National Bank and current leader of the opposition Civic United Party, said the charges are a "shameless lie," Mikhail Chyhir, former prime minister and a candidate in the opposition presidential elections, also rejected the allegations as "groundless." JM

OSCE URGES DIALOGUE BETWEEN BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION

The OSCE on 10 March f called or a "civilized dialogue" between the Belarusian authorities and opposition, Reuters reported. Hanspeter Kleiner, acting head of the OSCE Minsk mission, said the dialogue should result in a "new constitution." The Belarusian opposition does not recognize the current constitution, adopted in the controversial referendum in November 1996. Meanwhile, Interfax reported that the Belarusian authorities are unlikely to release Viktar Hanchar, organizer of the opposition election campaign, when his 10-day detention expires on 11 March. Lawyer Hary Pahanyayla told journalists on 10 March that the authorities may bring other charges against Hanchar in order to retain him in jail and conceal evidence of physical violence on Hanchar's body. Earlier, Hanchar was forced to give up the hunger strike he launched in jail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). JM

UKRAINE PLEDGES 'BREAKTHROUGH' IN FIGHTING CRIME

National Bureau of Investigations head Vasyl Durdynets has promised President Leonid Kuchma that 1999 will be a "breakthrough year" in fighting organized crime in Ukraine, Ukrainian Television reported on 11 March. According to Durdynets, some 200 criminal groups are currently active in Ukraine, controlling nearly 12,000 firms. He said that more than 2.5 million crimes have been registered in the country since 1995 but that the crime rate decreased by 10 percent last year. Kuchma said that while law enforcement bodies have managed to "stabilize" the crime situation, the number of economic crimes in Ukraine is increasing. He pledged to fight crime and corruption without making exceptions for "untouchables." Some commentators suggest that Kuchma's current anti-corruption drive is primarily motivated by his bid for re-election in the 31 October elections. JM

UKRAINE'S BUDGET FALLS SHORT OF TARGET REVENUES IN FEBRUARY

The State Tax Administration on 10 March reported that budget revenues in February fell short of target by 2 billion hryvni ($583 million). Moreover, those revenues in January were some 10 percent below targets. Total revenues for 1999 were planned at 34.2 billion hryvni, but the Finance Ministry said last month that the figure will likely be down by 2 billion hryvni. JM

CHORNOBYL TO CLOSE ONLY AFTER WESTERN HELP

Presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko said on 10 March that Ukraine will keep its promise to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant by 2000 "on condition that there is enough financial assistance," Reuters reported. Ukraine promised the G-7 to shut down Chornobyl in exchange for financial aid to finish building two replacement reactors. According to expert estimates, completing the reactors may cost $1.2 billion. JM

MOSCOW TO DELAY SIGNING OF BORDER TREATY WITH ESTONIA?

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told BNS on 10 March that Moscow views the issue of signing the Russian-Estonian border treaty within the context of bilateral relations in general. Last week, delegations from the two countries initialed the treaty at a meeting in St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly said it links the signing of the border treaties with Estonian and Latvia to the situation of those countries' Russian-speaking minorities. JC

ANOTHER CONVICTION IN ESTONIA OVER 1949 DEPORTATIONS

The Parnu County Court on 10 March found 80-year-old Vasili Beskov guilty of involvement in the deportation of seven families when he worked for the Soviet secret police in 1949, ETA reported. Beskov was given an eight-year suspended sentence. He is the second person to be convicted in Estonia for involvement in deportations during the Stalinist era. In January, 77-year-old Johannes Klaassepp received an eight-year suspended sentence for ordering the deportation of more than 20 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). JC

LATVIAN PREMIER URGES PUBLIC DISCUSSION ON INTEGRATION OF SOCIETY

Presenting a draft concept for the integration of society, Vilis Kristopans on 10 March urged residents to take part in a public discussion on the document in order to promote the development of a "united and stable [civil] society in Latvia," BNS reported. The document deals with, among others, issues related to education, language, culture, citizenship and naturalization. It will be put to public discussion until 15 December 1999. JC

LITHUANIAN PROSECUTOR DROPS CASE AGAINST LIETUVOS ENERGIJA

The Prosecutor-General's Office has dropped charges against Lietuvos Energija after the State Control Department failed to produce evidence to justify prolonging the case, BNS reported on 10 March. The department had initiated the case one month ago, and at the beginning of March the Prosecutor-General returned the charges to the department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February and 1 March 1999). JC

LITHUANIA'S IGNALINA PLANT WILL BE Y2K-FREE, SAYS OFFICIAL

Martynas Bieliunas, the government's chief operational official for dealing with the so-called millennium bug, told Reuters on 10 March that the computers that run Lithuania's Soviet-built Ignalina nuclear reactor will be secure at the turn of the new century. He added that 80 percent of the country's state or state-controlled institutions are now millennium-compliant. Some experts believe that Soviet-built nuclear power plants may be more immune to the millennium bug than Western facilities as many of their systems are still analogue, but Ignalina--which was modernized following the Chornobyl disaster--is seen as "somewhere between the two," according to the news agency. JC

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 10 March incorrectly identified the Latvian foreign minister as Valdas Adamkus. Adamkus is the president of Lithuania. Valdis Birkavs is Latvia's chief diplomat.

POLISH FARMERS' LEADER TELLS PRESIDENT TO OUST GOVERNMENT

Andrzej Lepper, leader of the radical Self-Defense farmers' union, has demanded that President Aleksander Kwasniewski get rid of "the government of incompetents," who, he said, cannot carry out reform, PAP reported on 10 March. "Please accept this piece of advice, otherwise you will leave this beautiful palace quicker than you think," Lepper told Kwasniewski at a forum on agricultural policies, which gathered some 100 politicians at the presidential palace in Warsaw. Lepper was the main organizer of road blockades during the farmers' nationwide protest in January. JM

POLISH BISHOPS RE-ELECT GLEMP AS THEIR HEAD

Polish Roman Catholic bishops have re-elected Cardinal Jozef Glemp, as the chief of the Polish Episcopate. Glemp has held this post since 1981 and has been re-elected for a five-year term. A recent rule stipulating that the episcopate be headed by someone other that the primate is non-binding in Glemp's case because it was introduced during his term in office as episcopate head. JM

CZECH SENATE APPROVES SENDING FIELD HOSPITAL TO KOSOVA

The Senate on 10 March approved sending a field hospital as part of a possible NATO operation in Kosova. The hospital would be located near Skopje, Macedonia, initially for an 18-month period. The bill must be approved by the Chamber of Deputies, CTK reported. The Senate also approved the transit of NATO troops via Czech territory for an initial 18-month period. It demanded, however, that the government inform the Senate every six months on which troops have crossed Czech territory. The Senate also approved sending an unarmed AN-26 transport plane to participate in the "Eagle Eye" operation, whose purpose is to oversee the envisaged cease-fire in Kosova and the withdrawal of Yugoslav units from the province. MS

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER IN GERMANY

Mikulas Dzurinda, who is on a two-day visit to Germany, said he is "determined" that his country be admitted to fast-track EU entry talks by the end of this year, dpa and CTK reported. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder promised German support but said the EU summit in Cologne in June will not discuss accepting new candidates to the "fast-track" group. He added that the decision on whether to open talks with Slovakia will be made at the December EU Helsinki summit. He praised Dzurinda's cabinet efforts to overcome shortcomings in the democratization process and the measures, approved one day earlier, to encourage foreign investment. Dzurinda said after the meeting, "We are returning to Europe." He also met with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and German businessmen. Germany currently holds the EU rotating presidency. MS

NO BREAKTHROUGH IN HUNGARIAN-SLOVAK DAM NEGOTIATIONS

Talks in Bratislava on 10 March between Slovak and Hungarian delegations failed to result in a breakthrough in the dispute over the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydropower plant, Hungarian media reported. Hungarian senior adviser Gabor Bartus said the two sides will meet again on 14 May in Budapest, adding that if no result is achieved by then, a "third party" may have to be involved in settling the dispute. MSZ

EUROPEAN JEWISH CONGRESS PROTESTS HUNGARIAN COMPENSATION LAW

In a letter of protest addressed to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the European Jewish Congress has asked the Hungarian parliament to amend a compensation law that entitles survivors of Holocaust to receive a one-time compensation payment of 30,000 forints ($140), Hungarian media reported on 10 March. Under a compensation law passed earlier, survivors of those executed by Communists received 1 million forints ($4,300). The distinction being made between the two groups of survivors is "unnecessary and totally unfair," congress president Ignatz Bubis said in the letter. MSZ




MILOSEVIC STANDS FIRM AFTER HOLBROOKE MEETING...

After more than eight hours of talks with U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke on 10 March, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic continued to insist he will not accept the deployment of NATO-led peace-keeping troops in Kosova to enforce a proposed peace plan for the province, Tanjug reported. In a statement, Milosevic said the U.S.-sponsored peace accord is "a good basis" for a political settlement of the conflict but "foreign troops have no business in our country." He added that attempts "to precondition the political settlement with the acceptance of foreign troops is unacceptable." PB

...WHILE HOLBROOKE ADVISES TO WAIT FOR RESULTS OF TALKS

Holbrooke confirmed that he failed to convince Milosevic to accept the deal but said the importance of the meeting "won't be clear until later." Holbrooke said he "clearly and unequivocally" stated the U.S. position. British Defense Secretary George Robertson said in London on 10 March that NATO "will not hesitate" to use force against Serbian military sites if Belgrade fails to sign the peace plan. He added that some 12,000 NATO troops are already in Macedonia and are ready to enter Kosova. In other news, the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) issued a warning to ethnic Albanians in Kosova on 10 March not to cooperate with Serbian officials, otherwise they will be considered "traitors" and receive "the punishment they deserve." PB

DOLE FRUSTRATED BY KOSOVAR ALBANIANS

Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole told a television audience in Kosova on 10 March that he is "a little disgusted" with the attitude of ethnic Albanian officials in Kosova, Reuters reported. Dole made his comments in an appearance with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on a television broadcast by TV Tirana and beamed to Kosova. He said if the Kosovar Albanians had signed the peace plan on 7 March, as they promised him they would do, Holbrooke "would have been in a much better position to put pressure on Milosevic." Dole blamed the failure on UCK political leader Hashim Thaqi. U.S. envoy Chris Hill said he still believes the Kosovar Albanians will sign the accord before peace talks reconvene in Rambouillet, France, on 15 March. A UCK representative in London said the ethnic Albanians will "not sign up while the war is going on in Kosova." PB

BELGRADE SNUBS PEACE MISSION FROM NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES

A peace mission that included parliamentary deputies from Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, and Hungary was called off on 11 March owing to Belgrade's opposition to the trip, Reuters reported. Assen Agov, the chairman of the Bulgarian assembly's Foreign Policy Committee, said Serbian officials described a planned stop in Prishtina "a very hostile act." Agov accused Belgrade of hostility toward its neighbors. In other news, Greek Foreign Minister Georgios Papandreou visited Skopje, Tirana, and Sofia to discuss the Kosova crisis with government officials. He said Greece has agreed to a Macedonian proposal for Balkan foreign ministers to meet in Skopje next week. PB

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS RELATIONS WITH BELGRADE HIGHLY STRAINED

Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 10 March that relations between Serbia and Montenegro are strained to a "critical point," AP reported. Djukanovic accused Yugoslav President Milosevic of trying to destabilize the Montenegrin government by "manipulating patriotic feelings" among Montenegrins. He said "the authoritarian regime in Belgrade is maintaining the climate of hostility against the whole democratic world." And he added that such hostility would lead not only to the loss of Kosova but also to the "perishing of Yugoslavia." Djukanovic and Milosevic have been at odds over several economic and political issues, and the Montenegrin government often defies Belgrade's policies. PB

RADISIC SAYS SLOGA TO STAY 'UNITED'...

Zivko Radisic, the Serbian chairman of Bosnia-Herzegovina's collective presidency, said on 10 March that the moderate Bosnian Serb coalition Sloga [Unity] will remain together, Reuters reported. Radisic is the head of the Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska, considered by many to be the weakest link in the pro-Western Sloga. He stressed that Sloga "is absolutely united." The coalition has been racked by infighting between moderates and hard-liners over responsibility for the sacking of Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen and the international arbitrator's decision to make the town of Brcko a neutral district. PB

...BUT POINTS OUT GOVERNMENT CRISIS IN SRPSKA

Radisic emphasized, however, that Milorad Dodik, the caretaker premier of the Republika Srpska, does not have a mandate to form a new government because he was not nominated by the republic's president. Poplasen was in a power struggle with the moderate Dodik and refused to nominate him as premier. Poplasen is no longer in power, although he refuses to leave office. His vice president, hard-liner Mirko Sarovic, has so far refused to recognize Poplasen's sacking. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in Brussels on 10 March that he backs last week's sacking of Poplasen. He said Carlos Westendorp, the high representative in Bosnia, has the power to forcibly remove Poplasen from office if he continues to ignore the dismissal order. PB

CROATIA MAY REOPEN CASE AGAINST SAKIC'S WIFE

A Croatian prosecutor said on 10 March that the case against Nada Sakic, the wife of concentration camp commander Dinko Sakic, may be reopened after the presentation of evidence from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Hina reported. The Sakics were extradited from Argentina last year on suspicion of committing war crimes. Nada Sakic was a commander of a female camp and her husband headed the Jasenovac camp, where tens of thousands of people were killed. Nada Sakic was released in February, after her case was dismissed owing to a lack of evidence. The Wiesenthal Center submitted statements from four new witnesses in Yugoslavia that may provide grounds for pressing charges against Nada Sakic. PB

ROMANIA'S ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE CONTINUES TO WORSEN

Data release by the National Statistics Commission on 10 March show that last year the economy not only continued the decline noted the previous year but fared even worse than in 1997, Romanian media reported. GDP declined by 7.3 percent (compared with 6. 6 percent in 1997), the sharpest drops being registered in industrial production and constructions. Agricultural output was down by 8.5 percent. The balance of trade was the worst registered in the last nine years, with a deficit of $3.52 billion ($2.84 billion in 1997). Investments dropped by 18.6 percent compared with the previous year. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ADDRESSES NATO CONFERENCE

Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu told a NATO conference in London on 10 March that his country expects the April summit in Washington to approve a timetable for further enlargement and a list of criteria to be met by aspirants to the second wave of enlargement, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Plesu also said communist propaganda against NATO in Washington has failed and that most of his countrymen are "worshipping NATO as a utopia of salvation." He added that Romania is aware that it must still make progress in many areas, but he noted that joining NATO will help guarantee reforms and stability. MS

BISHOP'S SUPPORTERS COMPLAIN ABOUT 'HARASSMENT' IN ROMANIA

Bishop Laszlo Tokes, the honorary chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), and other participants in the September 1998 meeting in Cernat of the Szeklers' Forum for Renewal of the UDMR issued a statement on 10 March saying that their "harassment" by the Prosecutor-General's office is an attempt to intimidate "the whole Magyar community" of Romania. They added that they will not agree to testify in the investigation launched following a complaint by the nationalist mayor of Cluj, Gheorghe Funar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1999). The signatories also said that the investigation is "a diversion" provoked by their political adversaries within the UDM. The sixth congress of the UDMR is scheduled for later this year. Tokes's "radicals" have succeeded in ousting several "moderates" from party positions ahead of that meeting. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT CLOSES DOWN PRIVATE UNIVERSITY

The parliament on 10 March voted to close down the Slavic University in Sofia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia and AP reported. The legislature said the curriculum of the university does not meet national standards and that an audit found some 900 million leva ($500,000) missing from its funds. The private Slavic University was founded in 1995 and was sponsored by businessmen linked to the Socialist Party, whose deputies voted against the resolution. Police cordoned off the parliament's building as some hundred Slavic University students booed deputies. The students pitched several tents near the parliament building and threatened to block highways and railroads across the country. MS




BULGARIA RECEIVES PRAISE FROM IMF DIRECTORS


by Robert Lyle

Bulgaria has received new praise for its economic and financial policies.

The IMF Executive Directors, in their annual review of Bulgaria's economy, said that last year, Sofia continued to follow prudent policies that underpinned generally favorable economic developments and kept the worst effects of the Russian and Asian financial crises from hitting too hard. The review was conducted on 19 February and the results released this week.

In a background report, prepared by the IMF staff, it was noted that Bulgaria has suffered from reduced foreign demand, lower prices for key exports--such as chemicals, fertilizers, and metals--and waning investor interest in emerging markets generally. However, it said, Bulgaria's "highly open economy" has benefited from lower import prices, particularly for energy, and lower interest rates on external debt.

The IMF noted that even with these problems, Bulgaria's economy is expected to have grown by 4-5 percent in 1998, although foreign investment inflows declined during the year because of the slowdown in privatization.

Unemployment in Bulgaria declined steadily through last September, but began edging up toward the end of the year, reflecting seasonal factors and a quicker pace of restructuring. The fund also noted that wages in state-owned enterprises regained much of the ground lost since 1995.

All these developments are the result of "prudent fiscal policies, continuing structural reform, and the beneficial effects of Bulgaria's reorientation toward Western Europe," said the fund in its report.

The 24 Executive Directors, who represent all of the fund's 182 member nations either individually or in groups in running the daily operations of the fund, agreed with the IMF staff assessment. They added, however, that for Bulgaria to achieve its goals of establishing a full-fledged market economy and gaining accession to the EU, "continued efforts" will be needed to preserve the benefits of the current financial stabilization as well as the "steadfast" implementation of broad structural reforms.

The IMF directors said that to reduce the risks from Bulgaria's still limited access to international private capital and reduced investor interest, the government should accelerate and deepen its broad program of structural reforms. They urged Sofia to especially speed up privatization of public enterprises, to further strengthen the financial sector, to improve the efficiency and equity of the tax system, and to push ahead with reform of the pension and health care systems.

The IMF directors said overall, the government must work to create a more favorable environment for new private firms.

They also they were concerned by the slow pace of privatization, which they said could further delay much-needed foreign investment. They warned that with still-weak enterprise financial discipline among those not yet privatized enterprises and soft budget constraints, there could be excessive wage increases, which would erode enterprise profitability and competitiveness.

They urged Sofia to complete its enterprise isolation program (removing state enterprises from direct connection with the government's budget) by June or July, while improving the quality and process of privatizing those enterprises.

The directors called continuation of the currency board "critical" and urged Sofia to push ahead on civil service and legal reforms, improved bankruptcy procedures, and fighting corruption.

Bulgaria has a three-year extended loan arrangement with the fund, and only last month it received a tranche of about $72 million from the loan. The total credit, of around $867 million, was approved last September. Bulgaria has drawn around $216 million so far. The author is a Washington-based RFE/RL correspondent.


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