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Newsline - March 16, 1999




PRIMAKOV TO LAST AT LEAST ANOTHER MONTH?

Russian President Boris Yeltsin made a rare television appearance on 16 March in which he reaffirmed his support for Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. He also advised Primakov on how to better handle the media, suggesting that he make himself more available by meeting with top editors and appearing on television more frequently. Political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov, writing in "Izvestiya" on 16 March, argued that Yeltsin will initiate only a minor personnel shuffle in the near term, such as reducing First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov's responsibilities particularly with regard to overseeing IMF negotiations. According to Nikonov, removing Maslyukov altogether would create too much of a stir in the State Duma, although no one there would object too strenuously to the dismissal of Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik. Yeltsin cannot remove Primakov at the present moment because of his crucial upcoming meetings with U.S. President Al Gore and the IMF, Nikonov wrote. JAC

PROSPECTS FOR START-II IMPROVING?

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and member of the Yabloko faction Vladimir Lukin told Ekho Moskvy on 15 March that there is a real chance of ratifying the START-II treaty because it is now obvious that the country cannot finance and maintain its armed forces at the proper level. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 16 March that the Duma will ask President Yeltsin to formally start the ratification process. Later on 16 March, Prime Minister Primakov will participate in a televised discussion of the treaty along with First Deputy Prime Minister Maslyukov. JAC

PLOT THICKENS AROUND SKURATOV RESIGNATION

"Moskovskii komsomolets," the newspaper that first unveiled the "news" that influential businessman Boris Berezovskii was engaged in illegal wiretapping of President Yeltsin and his family, reported on 16 March that presidential administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha black-mailed Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov into tendering his resignation with a videotape of Skuratov's "sexual exploits." "Novye izvestiya" offered a different version in its 13 March edition, alleging that Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, forced Skuratov out because he had uncovered Borodin's shady dealings with Mabetex, a Swiss construction company that had done some work at the Kremlin. Interfax reported on 15 March that Skuratov will meet with Switzerland's prosecutor-general shortly. Skuratov is scheduled to tell his side of the story to the Federation Council on 17 March. JAC

NEW VERSION OF POLITICAL PACT READIED

The Duma's working group in charge of drawing up a political peace agreement between Russia's various branches of power has completed a nine-point draft document, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Duma deputy and leader of the Our Home Is Russia faction told Interfax on 15 March. That document foresees giving the Primakov cabinet "political guarantees," setting up a working group to prepare amendments to the constitution, and ensuring that regional authorities pledge not to engage in destabilizing actions. The most controversial aspect of the document--at least for the Kremlin--will be the stipulation that beginning in the second half of 2000, the cabinet would be formed by a parliamentary majority. The document must be signed by President Yeltsin and approved by the Duma and Federation Council. Earlier this month, "Vremya MN" noted that a similar draft "failed to satisfy either the Communists or the presidential administration." JAC

DOLLAR PLAYING SMALLER ROLE IN RUSSIAN ECONOMY

Writing in "Novye izvestiya" on 13 March, economic analyst Otto Latsis argues that the Russian economy is less dependent on the dollar than a year ago but that the benefits of this "freedom" are hard to detect. In 1998, the amount of hard currency brought into Russia dropped by 2.3 times from the previous year to $16.2 billion, according to the State Statistics Committee. Domestic manufacturers, according to Latsis, are letting the opportunity presented by the devalued ruble slip through their fingers. He notes that in January 1999, output in the ferrous metallurgy, light industry, food, engineering, and metals sectors was lower than during the same period the previous year. On the positive side, the backlog of unpaid wages and pensions has decreased. However, since consumer prices have skyrocketed, state workers are receiving much less than when wage debts were growing. JAC

DEFENSE MINISTRY WATCHING ITS MONEY TO LAST KOPEK

In interview with "Obshchaya gazeta" in its issue dated 11-17 March, Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev revealed that his ministry will prepare two or three options for the creation of a joint command for the country's nuclear strategic forces and ask President Yeltsin to choose one of them. Sergeev added that after his trip to India in late March, he will focus on the preparation of these options. He also revealed that economic considerations are the major criterion in decision about combat readiness "these days." According to Sergeev, "we earned $200 million selling equipment and I already know how it will be spent to the last cent. Some money will be spent on repairing combat helicopters. Some will be spent on equipment for troops stationed in the Caucasus." JAC

PROBLEM SOLVED: NOT PAYING WAGES IS A CRIME

President Yeltsin signed a law on 15 March that establishes a penalty of up to seven years in prison for heads of enterprises or institutions who fail to pay wages for two months or longer for "selfish or other personal considerations," ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, the maximum sentence will be imposed in situations where the nonpayment of wages causes "grave consequences" for the workers. Shorter prison sentences and fines are also an option for deadbeat bosses. JAC

NEW COAL MINERS STRIKE PLANNED

Coal miners at the Uralugol company in the Khabarovsk Krai will begin an open-ended strike on 2 April to protest unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March. Debts to workers currently total 240 million rubles ($10.4 million). Last week, miners finally got their wages for September 1998 and part of October. JAC

CHECHEN OFFICIAL DENIES THAT OPPOSITION FIELD COMMANDER'S FAMILY ABDUCTED

Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev, who heads Chechnya's combined state security bodies, told ITAR-TASS on 15 March that reports of the abduction of the parents-in-law and daughter of Jordanian- born opposition field commander Khottab are untrue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 1999). Atgeriev admitted that there was a shooting incident in Gudermes on 13 March, during which Khottab's father-in-law's bodyguard was killed and other persons detained. The father-in-law was later released, and all three have returned to their native village in Dagestan. LF

RUSSIA UNIMPRESSED BY KOSOVAR ALBANIAN PLEDGE

Boris Mayorskii, ambassador at large and one of three international mediators at the Paris talks on Kosova, told reporters on 15 March that the Kosova Albanians' agreement to sign the peace plan (see Part II) is "no great surprise" and does not constitute a major breakthrough. He said "obviously, the signing of the agreement by just one side does not resolve the issues, which effectively remain the same." He added, according to ITAR-TASS, that "I do not want to call into question the sincerity of the statement made by the [Kosova] delegation, but the point at issue is the future of the field commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and this problem is far from simple." JAC

...WELCOMES AFGHAN AGREEMENT

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said on 16 March that his country "welcomes" the agreement reached at talks in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, between Afghanistan's warring factions, ITAR-TASS reported. Rakhmanin said Russia would like to see the UN help the Afghan factions to continue resolving their differences peacefully. The statement comes one day after Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with the UN special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi in Moscow. No details are available about that meeting. BP

DUMA SCHEDULES YELTSIN IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS

The Duma will begin impeachment hearings on 15 April, Duma Chairman Seleznev told reporters on 16 March. The vote on the issue will likely occur later, since debates may be lengthy. JAC

INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES FARE WELL IN LOCAL ELECTIONS

In the 14 March election in the Republic of Khakassia, Oleg Pustoshilov and Anatolii Makarchuk were elected as the administration heads of Chernogorsk and Shirinskii Raion, respectively, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 15 March. Both were independent candidates and won more than 50 percent of the vote. Candidates for seats in remaining districts in the republic will compete in run-off elections at the beginning of April, according to the agency. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DETERMINED THAT ELECTIONS WILL BE FREE AND FAIR

Meeting with journalists in Yerevan on 13 March, Robert Kocharian said that he has an interest in ensuring that 30 May parliamentary election poll is free and fair, given the negative international reaction that will inevitably follow if the poll is perceived as flawed by irregularities, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 March. Kocharian downplayed opposition criticism of the election law, adding that he believes the allocation of 56 seats under the proportional and 75 under the majoritarian system is appropriate in current conditions. The Armenian electorate "is politicized but has no certain party affiliation," he commented. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION, PENSIONERS PROTEST ELECTRICITY PRICE HIKE

The opposition Hayrenik parliamentary faction has proposed cutting electricity tariffs to the December 1998 level, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 March. Tariffs were raised that month by 30 percent to 25 drams (5 cents) per kilowatt hour. The government opposes any reduction, which it says runs counter to its policy of gradually liberalizing energy prices. That policy has been endorsed by the World Bank. Also on 15 March, some 1,000 pensioners staged a demonstration outside the parliament building to protest the energy price hike, AP reported. LF

AGREEMENT REACHED ON FINANCING OF AZERBAIJANI PIPELINE...

Giorgi Chanturia, president of the Georgian International Oil Company, told Caucasus Press on 15 March that the Turkish government and international oil companies operating in Azerbaijan have reached agreement on the financing of the so- called Main Export Pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. Under that agreement, the Turkish government will meet additional expenses if the cost of construction exceeds the estimated $2.5 billion. Two routes for the pipeline are currently under discussion: from Baku via the Georgian Black Sea terminal at Supsa to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan and from Baku via the west Georgian town of Zestafoni to Ceyhan. USAID will contribute toward the construction of a new oil refinery at Supsa, for which Japan's Itochu will provide equipment, Chanturia said. LF

...AS A THIRD CASPIAN CONSORTIUM FACES LIQUIDATION

The U.S.- Russian consortium LUKArco, which was created in 1998 to conduct a seismic survey of Azerbaijan's Yalama offshore Caspian deposit, may abandon that undertaking by 30 May unless there are signs that the field contains a minimum of 70 million metric tons of oil, consortium vice president Rim Bagmanov told Reuters on 15 March. Bagmanov said that the results of surveys conducted to date indicate that the Yalama field contains only very small quantities of oil in complex geological structures. The consortium created to exploit the Karabakh field was liquidated last month after three trial wells failed to yield oil in commercial quantities. And the North Absheron Operating Company representing four international oil companies announced earlier this month that it, too, has failed to locate commercial quantities of crude in three test wells (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998 and 4 March 1999). LF

SENIOR OFFICIALS ARRESTED IN AZERBAIJAN

Senior Interior Ministry official Nizami Gojaev, who is married to the daughter of parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, was arrested last week on suspicion of attempted murder and complicity to murder, together with four other police officials and seven men accused of kidnapping, murder, and robbery, AP and Turan reported on 12 and 15 March. Azerbaijani media are speculating that the arrest will serve as a pretext for dismissing Alesqerov and appointing President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham as his successor. A warrant has also been issued for the arrest of Shahin Hasanov, who is vice-president of the state Azeravtoyol company and whose brother Eldar is prosecutor-general. Hasanov is charged with embezzling some 31 billion manats ($7.8 million). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT EVALUATES NATO EXPANSION

In his weekly radio broadcast, Eduard Shevardnadze on 15 March described the formal admittance to NATO of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as completing "an important stage in the final reunification of Europe," Interfax reported. Shevardnadze said that NATO expansion will continue but added that it would be premature to speak of Georgia's possible entry to the alliance before Tbilisi establishes a "new model" for relations with Russia and before relations between CIS members states are founded on "an atmosphere of mutual trust and non-interference." In a possible allusion to earlier Russian arms supplies to Armenia, Shevardnadze said that Georgia is opposed to the use of its territory for the transportation of arms to other countries. LF

EBRD TO PARTICIPATE IN TRANSCASPIAN PIPELINE PROJECT

Following a 15 March meeting between the deputy vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, David Hexter, chairman of the bank's board of directors, Wilhelm Jaggi and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, the presidential press service announced the EBRD will participate in financing the construction of the Turkmen segment of Transcaspian pipeline project, Interfax reported. The report did not indicate what the EBRD's contribution to the project will be. BP

ANOTHER SUSPECT IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN...

Another suspect in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, described as a 45-year-old male Uzbek citizen has been detained in Taldy Kurgan, Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 15 March. The man is also described as a "leader" or "organizer" of the bombings. BP

...WHILE UZBEK PRESIDENT CONFIRMS ARRESTS

Islam Karimov confirmed at a 15 March news conference, following a meeting with visiting Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, that suspects in the Tashkent bombings have been detained in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. He gave no further details about those arrests but did name two people he called "organizers" of the terrorist act: Takhir Yuldash and Mohammed Solih (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 March 1999). Yuldash, according to Karimov, is now in Pakistan and has held meetings with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Solih, who is chairman of Uzbekistan's banned Erk Party, has been living in exile for several years. Karimov said he has evidence that Solih has been in Afghanistan, in Russian and Ukrainian cities, and in Istanbul. He commented that "Solih has sunk to the point of dealing with fanatics with whose support he intends to become president." Karimov has asked Interpol to help apprehend Solih and Yuldash. BP

UZBEK, TURKISH PRESIDENTS MEET

At the same press conference, Karimov said that his country and Turkey will join forces in combating terrorism, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The two presidents also discussed bilateral economic cooperation during their meeting the same day. Demirel noted that Turkey has invested $1 billion in the Uzbek economy since Uzbekistan became independent in 1991 and that there are currently 400 Uzbek-Turkish joint ventures. Karimov called Turkey's experience in building a secular democratic state "invaluable to us." The two leaders said their countries will build relations on an equal, friendly basis and regard each other as a good neighbor and reliable partner. BP

TAJIK PRESIDENT ASSESSES PROGRESS IN PEACE PROCESS

Imomali Rakhmonov on 15 March met with members of the National Reconciliation Commission as well as with officials from the government and law enforcement agencies to assess what progress has been made in implementing a 2 March presidential decree ordering that the terms of the Tajik Peace Accord be met within 10 days, Interfax reported. The secretary of Tajikistan's Security Council, Amirkul Azimov, said registration of fighters from the Untied Tajik Opposition (UTO) has been completed in all regions, except Darband and Tavil-Dara. He added that amnesty has been granted to all but 93 of the more than 600 UTO members against whom charges were brought during the 1992-1997 war. The charges against the remaining 93 are currently under review. Azimov said he expects a decision on whether they will be pardoned to be made "in the next few days." Rakhmonov ordered that those UTO members who have met all conditions for integration into the regular national army be equipped and transferred to new units. BP

BELARUS DEFENSE MINISTER IN TAJIKISTAN

Belarus Defense Minister Alyaksandr Chumakou met with his Tajik counterpart, Sherali Khairullayev, in Dushanbe on 16 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The two ministers said later that earlier bilateral agreements need revising, while in some cases new ones need to be drafted. Chumakou said his country could help Tajikistan modernize its military hardware, in particular armored vehicles and aircraft. Khairullayev said Tajikistan would be interested in training and acquiring information on air defense systems. With regard to NATO expansion, Chumakou noted that "the military situation in Tajikistan is complicated, but it is by no means simpler in Belarus," which shares a border with new alliance member Poland. BP

KYRGYZSTAN WILL NOT PRINT MORE MONEY IN 1999...

Finance Minister Marat Sultanov told journalists on 15 March that his country will not print more money this year, Interfax reported. He said that to do so "can only harm the Kyrgyz economy." The minister noted that pension and wage arrears for 1998 and January 1999 have been almost completely paid off. And he commented that Kyrgyzstan has sufficient foreign currency reserves to keep the value of the som against the dollar steady. RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek, meanwhile, quoted Sultanov as saying that the government's debt for back wages, pensions and social allowances increased in January and February by 20 million som ($625,000) and that the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs currently owes 410 million som in benefits arrears. BP




KUCHMA CRITICIZED FOR DECREE ON ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM

Ivan Chyzh, head of the parliamentary Committee for Freedom of Speech and Information, has criticized President Leonid Kuchma's decree reducing the number of ministries and state committees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 1999). "It is a cause of concern that the Information Ministry no longer exists, while such illegitimately created state committees as [those for radio and television and for publishing and printing] remain," UNIAN quoted Chyzh as saying. Chyzh added that Kuchma's decree intends to create a monopoly within the information sector "to allow easy manipulation" in the upcoming presidential election campaign. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko commented that following Kuchma's decree, the government has now met all IMF requirements for the resumption of the fund's $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine. The IMF Board will meet on 24 March to discuss resuming that loan. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT CUTS OFF ELECTRICITY TO DEBTORS

Kyiv has cut off electricity supplies to 60 large enterprises that have not paid their debts for earlier deliveries, "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 16 March. Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov told the cabinet the previous day that those enterprises include several steel plants. Electricity supplies may be resumed only after the head of the newly created commission on monitoring electricity bill payments issues a written agreement to restart deliveries. JM

ALLEGED MURDER PLOT AGAINST CRIMEA'S HRACH UNDER INVESTIGATION

President Leonid Kuchma has ordered that allegations of a murder plot against Crimean Supreme Council speaker Leonid Hrach be investigated, InfoBank reported on 15 March. That move was triggered by a letter from former Crimean parliamentary speaker Yevhen Suprunyuk published in "Krymskaya pravda." Suprunyuk said that during a conversation in 1995 or 1996, a "high-ranking [Ukrainian] official" offered "to physically eliminate" Hrach, at the time first secretary of the Crimean Communist Party. Suprunyuk has been in hiding since November 1998, when an arrest warrant was issued for him on charges of involvement in two murders, assault, and financial wrongdoing. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO SPLIT OVER JOINT COORDINATION BODY?

Stanislau Shushkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, and four other party leaders have issued a statement saying that the Consultative and Coordinating Council "has nothing to do" with the January decision of the Congress of Democratic Forces to set up a joint coordination body, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). According to the statement, Henadz Karpenka, head of the opposition shadow cabinet, and Mikalay Statkevich, head of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, created the council to suit the purpose of "passing themselves off abroad as Belarusian opposition leaders." JM

LOCAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN BELARUS CONTINUES

Last week, the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Belarus registered 26,883 candidates for 24,570 deputy seats in local soviets, Belapan reported. The local elections, which are scheduled to take place on 4 April, are to be boycotted by all political parties, except the Communists and the Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party. The latter has repeatedly accused the authorities of denying registration to its candidates and "discriminating" against them. It is threatening to withdraw its candidates from the campaign. JM

ESTONIA'S MERI URGES MORE CLARITY OVER NATO EXPANSION

President Lennart Meri, currently on a visit to the U.S, told journalists in Washington on 15 March that Estonia is expecting clear signals at next month's NATO summit about the continued expansion of the alliance, ETA reported. Meri criticized what he considers the prevailing tendency to view NATO expansion in terms of the "Cold War" rather than the new spirit of freedom, which, he stressed, enables Central and Eastern European countries to decide for themselves, which organizations to join. According to Meri, Russia's attitude toward NATO enlargement is changing and Moscow no longer views that process with "panic and opposition." JC

PROSECUTOR APPEALS KALLAS'S ACQUITTAL

Prosecutor Jaan Naaber has filed an appeal against the acquittal of Reform Party leader Siim Kallas, ETA and BNS reported on 15 March. Earlier this month, Kallas was cleared of charges of abuse of power and giving false information leading to the loss of some $10 million in state funds in 1993, when he was head of the Central Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999). Kallas is expected to be named finance minister in the new government. JC

LATVIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RECOMMENDS MILITARY STAY CLEAR OF 16 MARCH EVENTS...

Defense Ministry spokesman Janis Podins said on 15 March that Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis has sent a letter to leaders of the National Armed Forces recommending that they not take part in any events commemorating Latvian Soldiers Day, "Diena" and BNS reported. Earlier, National Armed Forces commander Raimonds Graube and Home Guard commander Janis Kononovs announced they will not participate in any such events and will work as normal on that day. Graube's predecessor, Juris Dalbins, was forced to resign over his participation in last year's 16 March events. JC

...WHILE RADICALS REPORTED PREPARING TO DESCEND ON RIGA

Interior Ministry State Secretary Andrs Staris told journalists on 15 March that the security services have received information that members of illegal extremist groups based in various Latvian towns will travel to Riga on 16 March to demonstrate their position toward the planned march by veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion, BNS reported. Staris also commented that the security services have contacted several dozen people considered "likely to cause a disturbance" on 16 March to warn them about the penalties for such an offense. Those people are reported to have signed statements that they will not break the law on 16 March, "Diena" reported. JC

POLISH AGRICULTURAL MINISTER RESIGNS

Jacek Janiszewski resigned on 15 March after the leadership of his Peasant Conservative Party--a member of the Solidarity ruling coalition--withdrew its support for him. Last week, "Gazeta wyborcza" leaked details from a state auditor's report on Janiszewski's performance as manager of the Szczecin branch of the Agricultural Property Agency from 1992-1995. According to the newspaper, the report confirmed earlier allegations that Janiszewski took decisions that benefited his colleagues and friends. Janiszewski was expected to lose his post under government restructuring already under way and due to be completed in early April. Thousands of farmers blocked roads throughout Poland in January and February to protest the government's agricultural policies and sinking prices for domestic agricultural products. JM

HAVEL ON NAZI INVASION ANNIVERSARY

In a statement marking the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany, Czech President Vaclav Havel said on 15 March the country's membership in NATO ensures its sovereignty will never again be threatened, Reuters reported. He added that "Today's democratic Germany has...become our ally." In other news, Czech ambassador to NATO Karel Kovanda said on 15 March that the joint accession to NATO of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland does not necessarily mean they have identical positions on European security affairs. Kovanda said that while all three agree that future enlargement must include Slovakia, Hungary is interested in seeing Romania and Slovenia join NATO, while Poland has shown a "special interest" in the Baltic States, CTK reported. MS

VAN DER STOEL IN SLOVAKIA TO EXAMINE SITUATION OF ROMA

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel, on a two-day visit to Slovakia, told journalists on 15 March that the purpose of his visit is to examine the situation and the living conditions of Roma in Slovakia's "most problematic regions," CTK reported. He said that although responsibility for the Roma's situation rests primarily with the governments of the countries in which they live, the problem is "so serious that it also needs an international perspective." On 12 March, AP reported that the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against the town councils of Nagov and Rokytovce for prohibiting Roma in 1997 from settling in the towns and threatening to expel them if they did so. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER URGES UNITY

In his speech marking the 151st anniversary of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on 15 March that unity can overcome Hungary's present-day difficulties. The opposition far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) was invited to the official ceremony, but the Socialist Party (MSZP) and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) were not. MSZP chairman Laszlo Kovacs commented that the cabinet reduced the commemoration to a "party function," while SZDSZ parliamentary group leader Gabor Kuncze noted that the two parties' exclusion from the ceremony "sends a message about division rather than unity." In a demonstration organized by the neo-Nazi Hungarian Welfare Federation, the group's vice president, Viktor Sarosi, sharply criticized those "Jews and Jewish criminals" who gathered at the Budapest synagogue to commemorate the national holiday. MSZ

ORBAN PLEDGES MINORITY REPRESENTATION

Viktor Orban on 12 March told leaders of Hungary's ethnic minorities that the coalition plans a comprehensive reform of election regulations that would provide a "fast solution" to the issue of minorities' representation in the parliament. Orban said he is awaiting a proposal from the government's Office for National Minorities and from the ombudsman for national minorities on how to solve the problems of the Romanian minority, which recently failed to elect a self-governing body. MSZ




KOSOVARS AGREE TO RAMBOUILLET PLAN

Hashim Thaci, who heads the Kosovar delegation to the Paris talks on Kosova, said on 15 March that the Kosovars accept the Rambouillet plan for the province's future. He made his announcement in separate letters to the foreign ministers of the U.K., France, and the U.S., as well as to Joschka Fischer of Germany, which holds the rotating chair of the EU. Thaci stressed that he does not consider the agreement perfect but believes that it will bring peace and open the "way for the democratic process in Kosova and the Balkans." He added that the Kosovars will "be honored to sign the agreement at a time and place of our choosing," which, observers note, means when the Serbs sign it. Observers also note that the Kosovars are reluctant to sign the document unless the Serbs do, lest the Kosovars commit themselves to compromises included in the document without the Serbs' pledging to concessions in return. PM/FS

WESTERN PRESSURE ON SERBS GROWS...

A spokesman for the organizers of the talks said on 16 March that the day will be "crucial in terms of seeing whether the Serbs will engage" in serious negotiations in the wake of the Kosovars' decision, Reuters reported. President Bill Clinton said in Washington on 15 March that the Serbs will leave NATO "little option" but to launch air strikes if Belgrade indulges in further "intransigence and aggression" over Kosova. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine noted in Paris that the Serbs "have their backs to the wall." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook added that the Serbs must now "make up for lost time." PM

...BUT SERBS REMAIN DEFIANT

Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who accompanied the Serbian delegation to Paris, said on 15 March that the Kosovars' decision "does not mean anything" because nothing was agreed at Rambouillet. He stressed that all issues remain open to further negotiation. (Western mediators say that the Rambouillet plan cannot be renegotiated.) Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Yugoslav embassy in London told the BBC that the text that international mediators presented to the delegations in Paris contains more than 50 pages that were not part of the Rambouillet document. PM

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT PRAISES KOSOVARS' DECISION

The Albanian government issued a statement on 15 March hailing the Kosovars' decision as the best course for the province's ethnic Albanian majority. Reuters quoted the statement as saying: "The government of the Republic of Albania and the whole Albanian people warmly greet the signing of the interim agreement. We are convinced Kosova is opening with its own hand a new page in the long history of the Albanian nation, which is full of sacrifices [and which is now heading] toward peace, stability, prosperity, and the future. If Belgrade does not accept the deal, the Albanian government wants force to be used by NATO forces. The [Kosovar ethnic] Albanians [have clearly shown] they are factors of peace in the region." PM

MONTENGRO DROPS VISA REQUIREMENT FOR BOSNIANS

Montenegrin Tourism Minister Vladimir Mitrovic said in Sarajevo on 15 March that Bosnian citizens will not longer need visas to come to Montenegro as tourists, "Dnevni Avaz" reported. He visited the Bosnian capital as part of a festival aimed at promoting tourism to Montenegro. PM

POLITICAL CONFUSION IN BANJA LUKA

A spokesman for the international community's Carlos Westendorp said in the Bosnian Serb capital on 15 March that Milorad Dodik remains prime minister of the Republika Srpska. The spokesman thereby contradicted the announcement by Vice President Mirko Sarkovic "on behalf of President Nikola Poplasen" that Mladen Ivanic, who belongs to no political party, will replace Dodik as prime minister. Sarkovic said that he is confident that Ivanic can win the support of a majority in the parliament and that Dodik's "majority no longer exists." Earlier that day, Dodik withdrew the resignation he issued last week over Brcko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). Dodik said he came to realize that his resignation would not help the Serbian cause in Brcko. The issue is further complicated by the fact that Westendorp recently fired Poplasen and that Sarkovic has neither refused nor agreed to succeed his superior. PM

CAR BOMB INJURES BOSNIAN CROAT OFFICIAL

A bomb seriously injured Jozo Leutar, who is deputy interior minister of the mainly Muslim and Croatian Bosnian federation, and two people accompanying him. The explosion in Sarajevo on 16 March destroyed his car, in which unknown individuals had planted the device. Police are investigating. Tihomir Begic, who is an adviser to Bosnian Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) chair Ante Jelavic, told Reuters that the bombing "is proof that Croats cannot accept this state." He added that the Croats cannot exclude what he called "radical moves" in response to the attack. Leutar is a HDZ official and was known as a hard-line nationalist during the 1992-1995 war. In recent weeks, many Croatian leaders have called for the Bosnian Constitution to be changed and co-equal Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian entities to be established in place of the current Muslim-Croatian federation and Republika Srpska. PM

SAKIC PLEADS NOT GUILTY

Dinko Sakic told a Zagreb court on 15 March that he is not guilty of charges of genocide in connection with his role as a commander at the Jasenovac concentration camp under the pro-Axis Ustasha regime during World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1999). Sakic stressed that his "conscience is clear," AP reported. The indictment states that he subjected inmates to "excessive labor, starvation, physical and psychological torture." Thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma, and opposition Croats died at Jasenovac. PM

SERBIAN PATRIARCH VISITS CROATIA

Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church arrived in Zagreb on 15 March on his first visit to Croatia since Serbian forces launched a war there in 1991. He is slated to meet with President Franjo Tudjman and Roman Catholic primate Archbishop Josip Bozanic on 16 March. Pavle and the Orthodox Church have been widely criticized in Croatia and Bosnia for not condemning Serbian policies of "ethnic cleansing" during the 1991-1995 conflicts. The state-run daily "Vjesnik" wrote on 16 March that many Croats still do not trust Pavle. Over the weekend, the patriarch met with Slovenian President Milan Kucan and Roman Catholic Archbishop France Rode in Ljubljana. PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN GERMANY

Andrei Plesu, on a one- day visit to Bonn, met his German counterpart Joschka Fischer, on 15 March to discuss Romania's bid to gain EU membership. Returning to Bucharest the same day, Plesu said the talks were "pragmatic and realistic," adding that it is "time to switch focus from what we expect others to do for us to what we expect ourselves to do." Plesu said that "others," including Germany, are "ready for cooperation with Romania," which they regard as an EU and NATO candidate "worthy of attention." Those same countries, he noted, "expect us to be efficient and that our aspirations are matched by our performance," Romanian Radio reported on 16 March. MS

POPE'S VISIT TO ROMANIA CONFINED TO BUCHAREST

Bishop Mihaita Nifon said after talks with Vatican envoy Roberto Tucci in Bucharest on 15 March that the Vatican has "accepted the program of the visit [proposed by the Romanian Orthodox Church], which is to include only the capital," Reuters reported. The government's press office announced that during his 7-9 May visit, the pope will celebrate a Roman Catholic Mass and participate in the celebration of an Orthodox Mass. He will also meet with Patriarch Teoctist and Roman Catholic clerics, as well as with President Emil Constantinescu and government officials, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN COURT AGAIN RULES AGAINST 'MULTICULTURAL UNIVERSITY'

A Bucharest court on 15 March upheld an appeal by the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) against the government's October 1998 decision to set up the "multicultural" Hungarian-German Petofi-Schiller University. The court ruled that the decision is unconstitutional and violates several "organic laws." A similar appeal by the Party of Romanian National Unity was backed by the court in December 1998. The Greater Romania Party has also contested the legality of the government's decision to set up the university. The same day, ethnic Hungarians celebrated the anniversary of the 1848 Hungarian revolution. President Emil Constantinescu and Prime Minister Radu Vasile sent messages of congratulations in which they urged that conflicts between Hungarians and Romanians be overcome and cooperation promoted. MS

VALUE OF MOLDOVAN CURRENCY SHARPLY DROPS

After several weeks of relative stability, the Moldovan leu has again registered a sharp drop against the dollar, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 15 March. Authorized traders charged between 9- 9.5 lei for $1. Two days earlier, the exchange rate was 8.7 lei. MS




DEMOCRACY OR DEPENDENCY IN FORMER YUGOSLAVIA?


by Chris Walker

If the rather intensive effort by the international community to achieve an agreement between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs seems familiar, there is good reason: three-and-a- half years ago in Dayton, Ohio, a similarly aggressive U.S.- led diplomatic initiative compelled warring Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia to conclude the Dayton Peace Agreement.

That agreement, which divided Bosnia between the Muslim- Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serbs, provided for an international peacekeeping force of 60,000 troops at the outset to implement and monitor the military aspects of the agreement. Some 32,000 troops, originally scheduled to depart Bosnia within one year, are still stationed there. Of these, nearly 7,000 are Americans.

Now, fearing a similarly open-ended military commitment in the Serbian province of Kosova, influential voices on Capitol Hill and in the U.S. foreign-policy establishment are expressing their opposition to the participation of U.S. ground troops in Kosova to enforce any prospective agreement.

However, as is clear from the experience in Bosnia, it is not only an extension of military forces that is causing concern but also the long-term implications of the international community's vast civilian nation-building effort throughout former Yugoslavia. If a deal is reached in Kosova, the need for civilian restructuring will be as least as great there as it has been in Bosnia over the past three years.

A foreign-supervised quasi-protectorate has been established in Bosnia. Hundreds of foreigners--officials, assistance workers and other civilian and military support personnel--administer a wide-ranging international aid program. Carlos Westendorp, a former Spanish diplomat and now the international High Representative for Bosnia, is responsible for civilian implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Appointed by the UN Security Council, Westendorp has the authority to impose settlements when Serbs, Croats, and Muslims cannot agree on issues of key importance for the implementation of the Dayton agreement.

These substantial powers include supervising elections, assisting in the formation of elected bodies of self- administration and local police forces, as well as determining broadcasting rights, citizenship laws, and local currency and national flag designs. Most recently, Westendorp used his authority to dismiss elected Bosnian Serb President Nikola Poplasen, while at the same time declaring that the strategic town of Brcko would be removed from the Bosnian Serbs' exclusive control.

But despite the High Representatives' authority to decide by fiat in Bosnia, the local actors themselves have not shown a commitment to building a civil society. Three years into this substantial foreign-orchestrated reconstruction effort, there is still a strong sentiment among rival communities for settling scores rather than differences.

Without their own will to forge a democratic environment, Bosnians must depend on an outside catalyst: namely, the international community. But the longer the region is dependent on foreign assistance and supervision to do the job, the greater the risk that the locals will not develop for themselves the very habits and skills essential for self-supporting, democratic societies. This raises the question of whether international intervention in Kosova will create another quasi- protectorate and possibly intensify a culture of dependency on the West in former Yugoslavia.

At the same time, while foreign-supervised development efforts continue in Bosnia and may soon begin in Kosova, Serbia has continued to slip deeper into the economic and political morass created by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Unlike the "two steps forward, one step back" pattern of development that has emerged in some of the more advanced post-Soviet European states, key countries in the former Yugoslavia are stagnating or falling backward.

Reform fatigue is apparent in a number of countries in the region that have taken tough, but necessary steps to overhaul their political and economic systems. Mired in conflict and suffering from inadequate leadership, there is no such fatigue in Bosnia, Serbia, or the province of Kosova because there has been little or no genuine reform.

Moreover, Croatia's governing elite--like Serbia's--pays only lip service to the rule of law and is beset by rampant cronyism and corruption. In the past weeks, Croatia has been severely criticized by the OSCE and the U.S. for its human rights abuses and general disregard for democratic practices. Repression of independent media, lack of cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal, and poor treatment of displaced ethnic Serbs were among the issues cited in these reports.

The difficult conditions in and around Kosova will no doubt require an international military commitment at least as long as in Bosnia. The need for civilian support in Kosova will be enormous as well. Whether the international authorities policies will ultimately encourage democracy--or dependency--in the former Yugoslavia remains a critical, unanswered question. The author is a New York-based analyst specializing in East European affairs.


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