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Newsline - March 15, 1999




IS YELTSIN INTERVIEWING JOB CANDIDATES?

Russian President Boris Yeltsin met with Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev on 12 March, unleashing a new round of speculation that he is "interviewing" replacements for Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. Yeltsin had met with Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii earlier in the week. Both Yavlinskii and Stroev denied that personnel issues had been discussed, but that did little to squash the speculation. "Kommersant-Daily" argued the next day, citing an anonymous Kremlin official, that the president wants to give Primakov "a little fright" by meetings with leading politicians who are moving into opposition to Primakov. Another goal of the meetings was to weaken the image of the "irreplaceable prime minister" somewhat in the public eye, the daily argued. "Segodnya" reported that Yavlinskii and Stroev themselves met later. According to the newspaper's sources, Stroev suggested that the two join forces and that one of his advisers draft Yabloko's agricultural program. JAC

DUMA SENDS IMF MIXED MESSAGE

State Duma Budget Committee members said the Duma could reconsider its 12 March decision approving legislation that lowered value-added tax to 15 percent beginning 1 July, Interfax reported. Prime Minister Primakov had earlier asked the Duma to postpone considering the bill until after IMF negotiations were completed. The IMF opposes lowering VAT. Also on 12 March, Duma deputies failed by eight votes to pass legislation introducing amendments to the law on the Central Bank, ITAR-TASS reported. The vote was 218 to eight with five abstentions. IMF official Jorge Marquez-Ruarte had earlier circulated a letter advising against the legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). Deputies approved on 12 March in the second and third readings a bill raising income tax for those in the top wage bracket of 300,000 rubles ($13,000) a year from 35 percent to 45 percent. The vote in the third reading was 303 to 26 with one abstention. JAC

CREDIT SUISSE FIRST BOSTON WOULD RATHER FIGHT

The largest holder of Russia's defaulted short-term treasury bonds, Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), officially rejected on 12 March the Russian government's plan to exchange its bonds at a heavily discounted rate, Interfax reported. Instead, the bank is setting up a special fund to manage all its Russian debt investments and is encouraging other foreign holders of GKOs to participate. Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin told Interfax on 15 March that the CSFB has chosen a legal method to fight the government. JAC

RUSSIA SUSPENDS RAIL, AIR LINKS WITH CHECHNYA

The Russian Railways Ministry on 12 March suspended some passenger rail links to Chechnya on the grounds that passengers' safety on Chechen territory cannot be guaranteed, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, the Russian Federal Aviation service stopped civilian flights to Chechnya. Speaking at a press conference in Grozny on 13 March, newly appointed Chechen Foreign Minister Isa Idigov criticized the latter move as a form of military pressure on Chechnya and a violation of the 1997 peace treaty, AP reported. Idigov said that preparations have been completed for the planned meeting between Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and Russian Prime Minister Primakov, which he said will take place "soon." On 14 March, a Russian naval officer who was abducted at gunpoint from a Tbilisi-bound train in Chechnya on 10 March was handed over to Dagestan police, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER'S FAMILY SNATCHED

Shamil Basaev, head of the opposition state Shura [council], issued an ultimatum to President Maskhadov on 15 March to release the parents-in-law and one-year-old daughter of Jordanian-born field commander Khottab within three days, ITAR-TASS reported. The three had been detained at a police post in Gudermes, east of Grozny, on the night of 13 March. But ITAR- TASS on 15 March quoted an unidentified Russian intelligence official as pointing out that Gudermes and the whole surrounding area are controlled by Chechen opposition field commanders. He identified maverick field commander Salman Raduev as the man responsible for kidnapping Khottab's family members. LF

RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER IN CHINA

Grigorii Karasin was in Beijing on 13-14 March to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yinfan, ITAR-TASS reported. The two discussed Japanese-U.S. plans to create a Theater Missile Defense system in the Asian Pacific region, the situation in south Asia following last year's nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and the Asian economic crisis. The spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, Zhu Bangzao, said "the Russian Federation is opposed to the missile defense system and China is resolutely objecting to it." It was announced after the meeting that arrangements have been made for Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan to visit Moscow in the second half of 1999. Meanwhile, Karasin arrived in Pyongyang, North Korea, on 15 March for talks with leaders there. BP

FSB CONFIRMS ABDULATIPOV ASSASSINATION RUMORS

Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zhdanovich told Interfax on 12 March that the agency is aware of plans to assassinate Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 1999). But Zhdanovich said he has no information that would clarify who among the present Dagestan leadership is behind those plans. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 March that the opposition in Dagestan had intended to propose Abdulatipov as its presidential candidate if the republic's electorate had voted in favor of direct presidential elections in the referendum earlier this month. But 70 percent of voters rejected that proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). LF

NEW DELAY IN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES TRIAL

A Moscow judge on 12 March put a court case against Jehovah's Witnesses on indefinite hold so that a panel of experts can examine the evidence. The Moscow Prosecutor's Office is trying to have the group banned under the 1997 law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations. Since the trial began, the Jehovah's Witnesses have lost leases on three places of worship in Moscow, AP reported. The group has 10 days to appeal the judge's decision. Meanwhile, in Vladivostok, the Russian Orthodox Church has established a missionary center to assist those who have suffered from the activities of religious sects, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 March. JAC

RED CROSS WARNS OF TUBERCULOSIS SPREAD

The Russian branch of the Red Cross warned on 12 March that Russia and neighboring Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine may soon face a tuberculosis epidemic. Last year, 86,000 people in Russia alone contracted the illness. Boris Ionov, deputy head of the Russian Red Cross, told reporters that tuberculosis cannot be treated purely with medicine. According to Ionov, the disease primarily affects those citizens who are the least well off, such as the homeless, prison inmates, and low-income families. The Red Cross is trying to raise 9 million Swiss francs ($6 million) to fund a program to combat the disease by dispatching some 6,000 nurses to seven regions of Russia as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. The money would also be used to equip clinics in regions where the situation is worst, such as eastern and western Siberia. For example, every fifth person in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is suffering from tuberculosis (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 March 1999). JAC

CUSTOMS CHIEF SACKED

Prime Minister Primakov signed a decree on 13 March relieving State Customs Chief Valerii Dragonov of his post, ITAR-TASS reported. Dragonov told Russian Public Television that he saw "no clear reasons" for his dismissal. But Russian newspapers offered plenty of explanations. According to "Segodnya," Dragonov was offered up as a distraction from corruption accusations lodged against other cabinet officials, while "Kommersant-Daily" suggested that Primakov dismissed Dragonov to indicate that he recognizes that the problem of corruption exists in his government and that he is doing something about it. JAC

IN DUMA, DEAD MEN CAN VOTE

Duma deputy and member of the Popular Rule faction Yurii Polyakov disappeared from his home in Krasnodar Krai on 2 December 1996 and is presumed dead by his relatives. Nevertheless, he is still technically employed as a Duma deputy and has been recorded voting on three occasions since his disappearance, the "Moscow Times" reported on 13 March. According to Dmitrii Krasnikov, head of the Duma's House Rules Committee, it is not only legally permissible for other deputies to vote on absent members' behalf but also necessary to keep legislation moving because of Duma members' frequent absences. The reporter from "Komsomolskaya Pravda" who first uncovered Polyakov's votes from beyond is now facing an official request by members to be banned from the Duma, but the deputy head of the Duma's press service told the "Moscow Times" that the journalist is unlikely to be stripped of her accreditation without a court order. JAC

ALTAI RESIDENTS FIGHT CATHEDRAL CONSTRUCTION

At least 20 public organizations in the Altai Republic have signed an appeal protesting the construction of a Catholic church on the banks of Lake Teletskoe, which was presented to the head of the republican government, Semen Zubakin, and legislative assembly speaker Daniil Tabaev on 15 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The appeal also accused Catholic missionaries of "brainwashing the local population." Zubakin repeated his earlier pledge that he will not allow the construction of a Catholic church in Altai. According to the agency, an Austrian citizen requested permission to construct the cathedral last September in the region, two-thirds of whose residents are Russian Orthodox and one-third Buddhist. Meanwhile, residents in Murmansk are waging their own struggle against the construction of a mosque (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 March 1999). JAC

SLAVA BOWS OUT OF RUSSIA

World-renowned cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, in an interview with the weekly "Vek," has announced he will no longer perform in Russia, Interfax reported on 12 March. "I shall perform only where people want to listen to me and listen to me with pleasure, not where I am dismissed as 'finished,'" he commented. The musician said he made that decision after one critic accused him of "seizing the opportunity" to perform in Moscow on the occasion of his close friend Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 80th birthday last December. Rostropovich and his wife, opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya, emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1974. Since August 1991, when he rushed to Moscow to oppose the attempted coup, Rostropovich has frequently appeared in Russia, both on and off stage. JC




ARMENIAN HIT-AND-RUN DRIVER SURRENDERS TO POLICE

Andranik Markarashian, the driver who killed opposition journalist Tigran Hayrapetian in an accident in Yerevan on the night of 8-9 March, has surrendered to police, Noyan Tapan reported on 12 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10-11 March 1999). Markarashian told police he had barely seen his victim because of darkness. But on 11 March Reporters sans Frontieres addressed a message to Armenian President Robert Kocharian asking him to take a personal interest in clarifying the circumstances of Hayrapetian's death. That appeal claimed that the accident occurred in "a broad and well-lit avenue." LF

VOTE TO AMEND ARMENIAN ELECTION LAW PROVOKES FRAUD ALLEGATIONS

Prominent opposition deputy Ara Sahakian of the Hanrapetutyun faction, the second-largest group in the legislature, has accused the parliamentary majority of fraud in the 12 March vote passing 31 proposed minor amendments to Armenia's controversial election law, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The National Assembly's electronic indicator board showed that 100 deputies, which is four more than necessary, voted for Yerkrapah's motion to amend the bill it had pushed through in January. But reporters counted 106 deputies present at the session and said that only 91 of them could have backed the amendments because 15 opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote. Parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutiunian rejected the charge of fraud. He admitted that two deputies voted for absent colleagues but argued that this did not affect the outcome of the vote. Parliamentary regulations ban deputies from voting on behalf of absent colleagues. LF

IRAN OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN KARABAKH CONFLICT

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart, Tofik Zulfugarov, in Tehran on 13 March that Tehran is prepared to try to mediate a political settlement of the Karabakh conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Kharrazi said the unresolved dispute risks forcing the U.S. or NATO to send troops to the region, which, he added, would pose a huge threat to regional stability. Meeting in Baku on 13 March with former Armenian presidential adviser Zhirair Liparirtian, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said that Azerbaijan's stance on resolving the conflict remains unchanged, ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev said Baku is prepared to offer the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic broad autonomy after Armenian troops are withdrawn from occupied Azerbaijani territory and displaced persons have returned to their homes. LF

GEORGIAN GREENS PROTEST PLANNED BLACK SEA GAS PIPELINE

In a statement issued on 13 March, Georgian "Greens" argued that the planned construction of a 400 kilometer gas pipeline from Russia's Black Sea coast to Turkey is ecologically risky, Caucasus Press reported. They called for the implementation of that project to be suspended until an international commission is created to evaluate the risks involved. Officials from Russia's Gazprom, which intends to sign an agreement shortly with French and Italian companies to build that pipeline, said last month that planning is complete, but no date has been set for the start of construction. LF

TURKMENISTAN, TURKEY SIGN NATURAL GAS DEAL

A framework agreement was signed in Ashgabat on 12 March whereby supplies of Turkmen gas are to be shipped to Turkey, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, Executive Director-General of Botas Nadir Behik Oglu, Turkmen Deputy Prime Ministers Yely Kurbanmuradov and Batyr Sharjayev, Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Ziya Aktash, and President of the U.S. consortium PSG Edward Smith signed the agreement. Turkey will receive 5 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas in the year 2002, when the Transcaspian pipeline is finished. The PSG consortium will build a pipeline to carry the gas along the bed of the Caspian Sea. By 2009, supplies of gas will increase to 16 billion cubic meters annually. The price of the gas deliveries is to be announced when the final agreement is signed on 30 May. BP

KAZAKHSTAN'S COURTS VIOLATE HUMAN RIGHTS

The director of Kazakhstan's Human Rights Bureau, Yevgenii Zhotis, said on 10 March that not a single citizen of Kazakhstan is safeguarded against unlawful arrests, falsification of criminal cases, tortures, beatings, and unjust court proceedings, Interfax reported on 12 March. Zhotis said he has reviewed many of the 1,000 appeals his bureau receives annually and bureau members have attended trials "in which the legal rights of the accused were severely violated." Zhotis noted that without jurors in court, the country's citizens have no opportunity to participate in legal proceedings. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 March quoted Zhotis as also saying that Kazakhstan's society has no opportunity to take part in political life. BP

UZBEKISTAN AGAIN CUTS OFF GAS SUPPLIES TO KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Boris Silayev said on 12 March that Uzbekistan has suspended supplies of natural gas to northern parts of Kyrgyzstan, including Bishkek, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Silayev said the cut-off of deliveries is due to Kyrgyzstan's debt of $3.3 million for gas supplies. Kyrgyz officials reportedly reached a deal in Uzbekistan to deliver 22,000 tons of flour to that country in payment for those supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1999). BP

SECRET MEETING IN TASHKENT?

"Kommersant-Daily" on 12 March claimed that Uzbek President Islam Karimov met recently with the president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, in Tashkent. The daily did not say when the meeting took place, but it noted that the two leaders agreed to coordinate activities in fighting terrorism and the spread of Wahhabism, Islamic adherents of which have been implicated in crimes in both Ingushetia and Uzbekistan. A "source" cited by the daily said "Russia's impotence in the North Caucasus is forcing Uzbekistan to seek its own methods of identifying the training bases and sources of finance for Wahhabite terrorists operating in Uzbekistan." BP

AFGHAN NEGOTIATIONS IN ASHGABAT YIELD PEACE AGREEMENT

Representatives of the Taliban movement and the northern alliance, meeting in the Turkmen capital, have reached an agreement whereby the two sides will share power. The two sides agreed to exchange 20 prisoners as soon as possible and schedule another round of talks in Afghanistan in the near future. A statement released by the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan said the two sides have also agreed to "form a shared executive, a shared legislature, and a shared judiciary." The delegates met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 15 March and thanked him for "creating favorable conditions for the talks." BP




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF 1994 CONSTITUTION

Thousand of oppositionists marched in Minsk on 14 March to mark the fifth anniversary of the constitution abolished by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka following the 1996 controversial referendum. Belarusian law enforcement agencies put the number of protesters at 3,000 while opposition sources estimated 7,000 took part in the rally. The protesters called on Belarusians to vote in the 16 May opposition presidential elections scheduled in accordance with the 1994 constitution. Both Viktar Hanchar, organizer of the elections, and Mikhail Chyhir, a presidential candidate, have said the 16 May elections will elect a "new president" in Belarus. Zyanon Paznyak, exiled oppositionist and Chyhir's rival in the elections, has appealed to the UN and the OSCE to send observers to the May presidential elections. He has also asked for "international security guarantees" for his return to Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 12 March. JM

LUKASHENKA PLANS TO BEEF UP MILITARY FOLLOWING NATO EXPANSION...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in Kyiv on 12 March that in response to the entry of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland into NATO, Belarus will reinforce its armed forces. "We are conducting very serious consultations with Russia, and I think Ukraine will be interested, too," Lukashenka added. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma commented on NATO expansion by saying that "it is necessary today to take into account the realities existing on the European continent. Regardless of what we declare, of how loudly we shout, the position [of NATO] will not change." Some 1,000 Ukrainians formed a "live chain" in Kyiv on 12 March between the Polish, Czech, and Hungarian embassies to hail NATO expansion. One hundred or so Ukrainian nationalists who had gathered in front of the Belarusian embassy demanded that Lukashenka free political prisoners and protested his pro- Russian policies. JM

...PREACHES SLAVIC UNITY IN KYIV

"The Russian man is the one around whom we shall unite one day, or at least stand beside him," AP quoted Lukashenka as saying after his meeting with Kuchma on 12 March. Lukashenka added that Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine will hold consultations to work out a "memorandum on our strategic partnership in all areas, not just the economy." Kuchma said that Ukraine's economic relations with Belarus should be "continued and developed," but he declined to comment on further Slavic integration. Following his meeting with parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko the next day, Lukashenka said he and Tkachenko are in "full agreementin the sphere of economy [and] development," Ukrainian Television reported. JM

KUCHMA DECREES REDUCTION OF CABINET STRUCTURE

Leonid Kuchma has decreed reducing the number of ministries from 21 to 18. The Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ministry for Youth and Family Affairs have been downgraded to the status of state committees. The edict also eliminated the State Committee for Oil and Gas and lowered the status of a dozen other state committees and agencies. "The main goal is to optimize state power and to cut out extraneous links in the government," Reuters quoted Kuchma's spokesman, Oleksandr Martynenko, as saying. Kuchma's edict is widely seen as a bid to appease the IMF, which has demanded radical administrative reform before it resumes releasing its $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine. JM

MART LAAR TO BE NEXT ESTONIAN PREMIER?

The center-right alliance of the Fatherland Union, the Reform Party, and the Moderates have proposed Mart Laar, chairman of the Fatherland Union, as their candidate for prime minister, ETA reported. Laar was prime minister from 1992-1994. At a meeting on 12 March, the working groups of the three parties also decided that cabinet portfolios will be distributed evenly, with each party receiving five. According to unidentified sources cited by BNS and the daily "Postimees," Toomas Hendrik Ilves of the People's Party (which ran on a joint list with the Moderates) will be foreign minister, a post he held in Mart Siimann's government, while Siim Kallas, chairman of the Reform Party, will become finance minister. The Reform Party is also reported likely to receive the post of parliamentary chairman. President Lennart Meri, who is currently in the U.S., has not yet named a premier-designate. JC

FINAL ELECTION RESULTS ANNOUNCED

The Central Electoral Commission on 12 March announced the final results of the 7 March elections. The Center Party won 23.41 percent of the vote or 28 seats, the Pro Patria Union 16.09 percent (18 seats), the Reform Party 15.92 percent (18 seats), the Moderates 15.21 percent (17 seats), the Coalition Party 7.58 percent (seven seats), the Country People's Party 7.27 percent (seven seats), and the United People's Party 6.13 percent (six seats). Turnout was 57.43 percent. JC

LATVIA'S STRAUME COMMENTS ON 16 MARCH

Parliamentary speaker Janis Straume of the rightist Fatherland and Freedom party, commenting on the decision to commemorate 16 March as Latvian Soldiers Day, argued that the living have the "sacred duty" to remember those who fell in combat, BNS reported on 12 March. He added that Latvians have every reason to remember those who fell because none of the latter were members of the National Socialist Party in Nazi Germany. He also asked whether "we have to explain again and again the truth about the place and role of Latvian soldiers who fought on either side during World War II," commenting that there is only one answer to that question--"yes!" The designation of 16 March as Latvian Soldiers' Day has caused controversy because veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS mark 16 March as the day their unit first fought against the Red Army in 1943. JC

NEW MEMBERS HAIL NATO ENTRY

Speaking at the accession ceremony in Independence, Missouri, on 12 March, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said that by joining NATO, his country is accepting "the guarantee that it will never again become the victim of a foreign invasion," as was the case in 1968. Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said that while Hungarians have often complained of "being abandoned or standing alone," that feeling "belongs to the past." He added that "we are back in the family." His words were echoed by Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, who said "today, Poland returns where she belongs." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said NATO expansion will not end with the admission of the three new members (see also "End Note" below). MS

POLAND, ITALY TO BOOST ECONOMIC TIES

Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and his Italian counterpart, Massimo d'Alema, agreed in Warsaw on 12 March that their countries should strengthen economic relations to help Poland win EU membership, Reuters reported. D'Alema said Warsaw can expect more investments from Italian companies to compensate for Poland's sizable deficit in trade with Italy. Poland's exports to Italy totaled $1.4 billion in the first 11 months of 1998, while imports exceeded $4 billion. Buzek said he is counting on Italian investments in Poland's arms and steel sectors. JM

MECIAR CLAIMS TO HAVE RECEIVED DEATH THREAT

Former Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar on 12 March filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office against "unknown suspects," claiming he has received an anonymous letter threatening to kill him unless he quits politics. Meciar added that a bullet was attached to the letter. Meanwhile, Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has released a facsimile of another anonymous letter warning that Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner plans to search Meciar's residences and imprison him, AP and CTK reported. The HZDS said the plan is designed to link Meciar to former Slovak Intelligence chief Ivan Lexa and former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci. Pittner responded that the letter disseminated by the HZDS was a "foolish piece of provocation" aimed at scaring off deputies from voting in favor of stripping Lexa of his parliamentary immunity. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DECIDES AGAINST S-300 SYSTEM

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 12 March said the government has decided to cancel orders for the Russian S-300 anti-missile system, which Russia was to have supplied to Slovakia in part repayment of its debt under a deal reached by the previous Slovak government, CTK reported. Dzurinda said the system is "not suitable for the Slovak army, too expensive to operate, and the deal would not reflect Slovakia's orientation toward the EU and NATO." MS

DIVERGING VIEWS OVER SLOVAK FASCIST STATE

In a statement issued on 13 March, the sixtieth anniversary of the declaration of an independent Slovak state allied with Nazi Germany, the government said modern Slovakia is "neither ideologically nor politically a continuation of the 1939-1945 Slovak state," which, it said, was "based on bad political and moral principles." The opposition Slovak National Party (SNS) issued a statement saying the day marked "the most important step in the modern history of the Slovak nation." SNS leader Jan Slota, addressing a meeting in Zilina, expressed "gratitude" to Jozef Tiso, the leader of that state. Some 800 people marked the day by taking part in a rally in Bratislava organized by the Maticka Slovenska cultural organization. MS




SERBS CONTINUE OFFENSIVE IN KOSOVA

Serbian forces shelled several Kosovar villages in the Vushtrri area in the north of the province on 15 March. Serbian forces "over the past two weeks have begun to implement a 'scorched earth' policy in areas considered to be of strategic importance," "The Daily Telegraph" noted. Senior NATO officials have recently said that Belgrade has as many as eight times the number of army and paramilitary police forces stationed in the province that are permitted under the October 1998 cease-fire agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 13 March. Over the weekend, Kosovar and Serbian sources reported incidents of low-level violence in several areas of the province. PM

KOSOVA TALKS RESUME

Serbian and Kosovar delegations arrived on 15 March at Paris's Kleber Conference Center for talks that the international Contact Group hopes will lead to a political settlement in Kosova. A Contact Group spokesman said that the negotiations will last "a few days at most." The last round of talks ended inconclusively in Rambouillet on 23 February. Several Kosovar delegates have since said repeatedly that their side intends to sign the Contact Group's 82-page Rambouillet plan, but it has yet to do so. The Serbian side rejects any stationing of NATO troops in the province to enforce the settlement, a point that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic stressed to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Belgrade last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1999). The Kosovars refuse to accept any plan that does not include the stationing of NATO forces in the province. PM

VEDRINE SAYS 'NO OPTIMISM'...

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said in Paris on 14 March that "there is no optimism" within the Contact Group about reaching a settlement quickly. He added that "we are not going to solve the Balkans' problems overnight." He also compared the complexity of the negotiations on Kosova with those on the Middle East. Vedrine nonetheless noted that Milosevic would be "wrong to think" that there has been a weakening of NATO's readiness to launch air strikes against Serbian targets if Belgrade refuses to accept the settlement. The French minister stressed that "the threat [of air strikes] remains constant." PM

...WHILE COOK SAYS 'NO NONSENSE'

Before leaving London for Paris on 15 March, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who is co-sponsor of the conference together with Vedrine, said that the two men "will have a very blunt and very frank message and that [message] is that this is not a conference for high rhetoric. This is not a conference for ceremony. There is going to be no grand opening. This is a conference for serious, business-like discussion, hard bargaining, aiming at a rapid conclusion." Cook added that "if Belgrade opposes peace, then Belgrade may have to take the consequences," "The Daily Telegraph" reported. PM

SERBS, KOSOVARS REMAIN FIRM

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Ratko Markovic, who heads the Serbian negotiating team, said in Paris on 14 March that "Serbia will never give up [the province] voluntarily. It's only by force that it can be taken. If NATO enters Serbia without invitation, it will be met as an aggressor, as an enemy." In Prishtina, Hashim Thaci, who is the chief negotiator for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), claimed that the guerrillas will soon "give a definite answer" regarding the Rambouillet plan. Ibrahim Rugova, who heads the Kosovar shadow-state, said in Paris that the Kosovars have come to the French capital "not for talks, but only to sign" the document. PM

ALBANIA URGES KOSOVARS TO SIGN PLAN...

The Albanian government on 14 March issued a statement urging the Kosovar delegation to sign the Rambouillet plan, AP reported. The statement called the plan "the first essential step towards the realization of the national and democratic aspirations of the Albanian people in Kosova." The statement added that the settlement "will open the way to the process of full affirmation of [the Kosovars'] legitimate national rights." The government also expressed "full confidence" that the leaders of the Kosovar delegation will sign, appealing to them to do so in order to show that they have a sound vision of their people's future. FS

...BUT TURNS DOWN GREEK KOSOVA INITIATIVE

Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on 13 March turned down a proposal by his Greek counterpart, Georgios Papandreou, to hold talks with Milosevic in Bucharest on 15 March before the resumption of negotiations in Paris. Milo said during a press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Nadezhda Mihailova in Tirana that "the day chosen to hold the talks is unsuitable," Reuters reported. He added that "we cannot sit at the same table with Milosevic and...Yugoslav Foreign Minister [Milan Milutinovic], who have not accepted the Rambouillet [accord] and who remain intransigent and do not show any sign of compromise." Mihailova, however, suggested that a conference of Balkan leaders could provide a new impetus for "finding a solid solution" for Kosova. FS

ALBANIAN ARMY HOLDS MANEUVERS IN THE NORTH

Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told soldiers during maneuvers near Shkodra on 13 March that "today the Albanian army is sending the message that if someone dares to touch the sovereignty of our country, Albania has the strength to defend itself," AP reported. The following day, he told local officials that the government plans to construct a major north-south road in order to promote the development of the northern regions. He praised the Montenegrin government as "a factor of stability" but expressed doubts about the possibility of reopening the Shkodra-Podgorica border crossing soon. Majko did not rule out developing bilateral trade and communications with Montenegro but said he will not negotiate the issue with Milosevic, ATSH reported. FS

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES AGREEMENT WITH BOSNIA

The lower house on 12 March approved an agreement signed by Croatian and Bosnian officials in November 1998 after the two countries' Western allies applied considerable pressure on both of them. Bosnian Muslim leaders have balked at ratifying the pact, which they charge gives Croatia too large a say in the affairs of the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croatian officials argue that Zagreb has a legitimate right to protect the interests of the Croats, who are outnumbered by the Serbs and Muslims alike. PM

ROMANIAN DEMOCRATS WILL NOT LEAVE COALITION...

The Steering Council of the Democratic Party announced on 13 March that the party will continue its membership in the ruling coalition, despite misgivings about the pace of reform, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The council elected Alexandru Sassu as the party's deputy chairman to replace Adrian Severin, who was recalled from that post in September and expelled from the party two months later. In related news, the National Council of the Social Democratic Party, the Democrat's allies in the Social Democratic Union, has decided to speed up negotiations on merging with the opposition Alliance for Romania (APR) by May. Welcoming the decision, the APR said it continues to insist that the merged formation be in opposition. MS

...WHILE CHIEF OPPOSITION PARTY CALLS FOR 'DIALOGUE'

Former President Ion Iliescu, addressing the National Council of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 12 March, harshly criticized the coalition's economic policies but said it would be "against the interests" of the PDSR to boycott parliamentary debates. Iliescu called for a "dialogue" between political parties aimed at a "compromise" to solve the country's economic and social crisis. President Emil Constantinescu on 14 March welcomed the PDSR's "constructive position" and said he will convene a meeting of representatives of parliamentary parties, trade unions, employers' associations, banking and financial circles, civil society organizations, and the media. MS

NEW MOLDOVAN CABINET SWORN IN

President Petru Lucinschi on 12 March swore into office Ion Sturdza's cabinet after the parliament voted confidence in the new government, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The cabinet has 22 members who represent the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc, the Party of Revival and Conciliation, and the Party of Democratic Forces. The opposition Party of Moldovan Communists said it will challenge in the Constitutional Court the legality of the confidence vote, which passed owing to an absentee ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1999). MS

BULGARIA, MACEDONIA SIGN DEFENSE TREATY

Visiting Macedonian Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev and his Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Ananiev, signed in Sofia on 12 March a framework accord on military cooperation. Under the terms of the accord, Macedonia will receive from Bulgaria within the next 20 days the first delivery of decommissioned military equipment, including 150 tanks and 142 artillery pieces. Ananiev told journalists that the accord "prepares the ground for intensive cooperation... in the military sphere." Kljusev said that the agreement "shows we can live in friendship and understanding, overcoming all obstacles." He added that the accord also provides for joint military exercises. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO KEEP KOZLODUY OPERATING

The parliament on 12 March voted by 197 to zero with four abstentions to continue operating the four aging nuclear reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power station. Premier Ivan Kostov told the house that 28.5 billion leva ($16 million) will be invested in safety upgrading. The lawmakers authorized the cabinet to renegotiate a 1993 agreement with the EU under which Bulgaria was to have closed the four units last year in exchange for $26 million in financial and maintenance aid. Kostov told the house that it will cost Bulgaria $350 million to close the reactors and another $350 million to construct replacement facilities. MS




COMPETING VISIONS OF NATO'S FUTURE


By Paul Goble

The 12 March celebration of the formal inclusion of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland into NATO highlighted the existence of three very different views among alliance members about the nature of the challenges they face and about the proper role of the Western alliance in meeting them.

The first view, articulated most strongly by the leaders of the newest members of the alliance, might be called the traditional one. It identifies Russia as the most likely potential threat. And it presents NATO as a guarantee of the independence and security of alliance members precisely because it, unlike any other European institution, involves the power of the U.S. in the defense of the continent.

The second view, reflected in the speeches of many European leaders, downplays the possibility of a Russian threat and insists that the alliance not expand its mission beyond its traditional one as a defense pact. Some of those who hold this view stress the role of the alliance in maintaining a link with the U.S., while others see it as a security system that will permit the gradual expansion of Europe itself.

The third view, presented primarily by U.S. officials, shares the assessment of most Europeans that Russia is no longer a threat but argues that other threats to the security of the continent, such as the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosova, mean NATO must assume a new and more active role. And that new role must be undertaken, they argue, even if the alliance has to redefine itself as something other than simply a defensive institution.

As they have in the past, spokesmen and commentators in alliance countries insisted that these views do not reflect any fundamental divisions in the alliance. Instead, they said, such variations in view are simply matters of differing emphasis on parts of a common agenda.

But in the absence of a common threat identified by all members, these differences are likely to grow. And to the extent that happens, they are likely to have a profound impact on those who have joined or want to join the alliance, on links between European members of the alliance and the U.S., and on relations between NATO, its individual members, and the Russian Federation.

The most immediate impact of these divisions within the alliance may be on those countries who have recently become members and on those who want to join as soon as possible. All these countries want to join NATO because they see the Western alliance as the best means of protecting themselves from a potential new Russian threat. If they discover that the alliance now has a different agenda, they may find themselves in some difficulty.

The governments of these countries have justified the financial costs of NATO membership in terms of the popular perception that the alliance has not undergone any fundamental changes. If it becomes obvious to many people in these countries that the Western alliance has changed, at least some segments of the member states' populations may be less willing to pay those costs.

And these regimes have counted on the alliance precisely because of its U.S. dimension. If they decide that Europe and the U.S. are moving in different directions on security questions, that, too, may lead some to question the value of alliance membership.

The impact of these differences on ties between NATO's European members and the U.S., however, is also likely to grow. Not only are Europeans seeking to play a larger role in a grouping long dominated by Washington and are thus prepared to play up divisions that they would have once ignored, but the U.S. also appears to many of them divided over the future role of NATO and thus open to pressure.

Both Europe and the U.S. downplay any immediate Russian threat. Indeed, both appear to want to include Moscow in ever more alliance councils. But they openly disagree on what Europeans call "out of area" activities and what Americans stress are the major challenges facing the West now: the violence in the Yugoslav successor states.

But the greatest impact of these differences within the alliance is likely to be on relations between the alliance and its individual members, on the one hand, and Moscow, on the other.

The Russian leadership not only opposes the expansion of the Western alliance to the east but also believes that NATO, which it describes as a "relic of the Cold War," should cease to exist. Consequently, it is almost certain to seek to exploit these differences in approach in at least three ways.

First, it is likely to try to avoid any step so overtly threatening as to re-unite the alliance. Second, it is likely to continue to reach out to European countries, such as Germany, that appear most opposed to U.S. efforts to redefine the mission of the alliance.

And third, Moscow is likely to try to play up the notion of a special relationship with Washington, something that may anger Europeans and restrict U.S. efforts to overcome the divisions within the alliance itself.

Fifty years ago, one observer commented that NATO existed to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." Now, both the divisions within the alliance and the policies of its members could create a situation in which the Russians are increasingly inside Europe, the U.S.'s role there reduced, and the roles of individual European states far larger and more unpredictable.


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