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Newsline - March 22, 1999




CHECHEN PRESIDENT ESCAPES FOURTH ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT...

One person was killed and eight injured when a bomb exploded in central Grozny on 21 March as Aslan Maskhadov's motorcade drove past. Maskhadov escaped uninjured, as he has on two previous occasions. He was slightly wounded in a third assassination attempt last summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 1998). Maskhadov, Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Magomed Magomadov, and Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin all posited a connection between the assassination attempt, the 19 March bomb explosion in Vladikavkaz, and the 5 March abduction in Grozny of Russian Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun. They said all three incidents are intended to destabilize Chechnya and discredit its leadership. Meanwhile no firm date has been set for the proposed meeting between Maskhadov and Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. LF

...AFTER RESHUFFLING SECURITY AGENCIES

Interfax on 19 March reported that Maskhadov has changed the name of the Shariah Security Ministry to the Interior Ministry and appointed General Aidamar Abalaev as its head. Abalaev was charged with overseeing the investigation into Shpigun's abduction. Maskhadov also decreed the creation of a Defense Ministry, but newly appointed Minister of State Security Turpal Atgeriev told ITAR-TASS that reports saying that field commander Ruslan Gilaev will be appointed defense minister are "premature." Atgeriev described the duties of his State Security Ministry as "preventing and combating crime that threatens the nation and the lawfully elected government." He compared it to the Soviet-era KGB. LF

VLADIKAVKAZ DEATH TOLL RISES

Interfax on 19 March reported that 60 people died and 101 were injured in the previous day's explosion in the central market in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz. Russian Interior Minister Stepashin, who flew to Vladikavkaz with a group of investigators, said the bomb was clearly intended to exacerbate tensions between ethnic groups in the North Caucasus. Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Oleg Vershinin similarly stated that the explosion was "unequivocally" a terrorist act. Both Stepashin and President Boris Yeltsin sent messages of condolence to North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov. LF

BORDYUZHA GETS THE SACK

As was widely expected, former presidential administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha has been dismissed, just hours after returning to work on 19 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1999). To replace him, Russian President Boris Yeltsin promoted Aleksandr Voloshin, deputy head of the administration. According to "Segodnya" on 20 March, when Voloshin went into private business in 1993, one of his first business partners was Boris Berezovskii. In November 1997, Voloshin became an assistant to then head of the presidential administration, Valentin Yumashev, who is now an unpaid presidential adviser. Voloshin also prepared Aleksandr Lebed's economic program when the latter was running for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The daily also commented that Yeltsin's choice of Voloshin had less to do with his connection to Yumashev and Berezovskii and more to do with the fact that the two met "rather often" while Yeltsin was in the hospital preparing his annual address to the nation. JAC

STATE WORKERS GET PAY RAISE

Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov signed a decree on 20 March increasing wages for state workers beginning 1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Primakov chaired a meeting to discuss trimming the 300,000 or so workers in federal bodies located outside of Moscow. Meanwhile, "Vremya MN" reported that the backlog to state workers was 11.6 billion rubles ($440 million) as of 2 March and the government has had only limited success in reducing it in 1999. JAC

START-II, LAND CODE ON DUMA AGENDA FOR EARLY APRIL

The State Duma on 19 March approved the Central Bank's monetary and credit policy for 1999 by a vote of 276 to 45 with no abstentions, Interfax reported. According to the draft statement, M-2 money supply may increase 18-26 percent during the year. In addition, the bank plans to increase the volume of credits available to commercial banks. The Duma took a break on 19 March until 31 March, after which it will consider ratification of the START-II treaty on 2 April, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, the land code will also be considered in April and is likely to pass. He added that the Communist faction will support the legislation. JAC

COMMUNISTS REFUSE TO SIGN POLITICAL ACCORD

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 19 March that his faction will not sign the political peace treaty presented by a working committee last week. The deal breaker, according to Zyuganov, is the resignation of President Yeltsin, which is one of the party's main conditions for signing the accord. The previous day, Our Home Is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov told "Kommersant-Daily" that although he participated in the working committee that drafted the accord, he does not like the results, since it contains only a hint of the concrete suggestions made by Duma members He also said that he is upset by the presidential administration's insistence on removing one of the draft accord's nine points--namely, that after 2000 the government be formed on the basis of a parliamentary majority. JAC

TWO-THIRDS OF RUSSIAN BANKS TO SURVIVE?

Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told the Duma on 19 March that a little over 1,000 of the country's 1,500 commercial banks will survive the economic crisis that began mid-August, Interfax reported. Noting that the Central Bank originally forecast that no more than 250-350 banks would survive, he said that this forecast was overly pessimistic and that many provincial banks are "surviving on their own without significant assistance from the Central Bank." On 16 March, the Central Bank launched a new organization to revive the banking industry, the "Moscow Times" reported. That organization will include members of international financial institutions as well as representatives from the Duma and Federation Council. Banking analysts, according to the daily, believe that the organization's principle goal will be to create the impression that the government is doing something to restructure the banking sector. JAC

TITOV PROPOSES ALLIANCE WITH NDR

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov proposed on 18 March that his movement, Golos Rossii, join Our Home Is Russia (NDR), "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 19 March. According to Titov, such an alliance would be assured of overcoming the 5 percent barrier for the Duma. Since Titov has openly criticized NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin on a number of occasions, his proposal took some analysts by surprise. However, "Segodnya" on 20 March quoted "a source close to the executive committee of NDR" as saying that Titov is favorably impressed by NDR's new economic program, drafted by faction leader Ryzhkov. Titov, according to "Novye Izvestiya," believes that "Now everything depends on Chernomyrdin, who should understand that NDR without the regions, without a strong regional policy, without a clear- cut policy on federalism will be preparing for the elections by going down a blind alley." JAC

OMSK DEPUTY GOVERNOR TARGETTED FOR ASSASINATION

First Deputy Governor of Omsk Oblast Andrei Galushko survived an assassination attempt on 22 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Galushko is in charge of finance, foreign trade, and property issues within the oblast administration and is also a member of the commission for tax and budget discipline. That commission recently approved a series of measures designed to bring order into the region's crime-ridden grain, vodka, and beer businesses, according to the agency. Galushko received two bullet wounds and his driver was killed. Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev's press secretary said that the attack on Galushko was a result of his attempts to fight drug trafficking, corruption, and the "vodka mafia." JAC

RUSSIA TO TRIM OIL EXPORTS

Russia is cutting its oil exports by 100,000 barrels a day beginning 1 April, the Ministry of Fuel and Energy told ITAR-TASS on 22 March. The move is being to taken to support OPEC and other oil producers in their attempt to raise flagging oil prices. JAC

PERSONNEL CHANGES ANNOUNCED

President Yeltsin has signed a decree appointing Valerii Loshchinin as Russia's permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March. His predecessor, Oleg Sokolov, retired. Yeltsin also dismissed Petr Kamshilov from the post of presidential representative to Saratov Oblast. JAC

RUSSIA, BULGARIA PEN GAS DEAL

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Evgeni Bakardzhiev and Gazprom President Rem Vyakhirev signed an agreement on 18 March increasing deliveries of Russian natural gas through Bulgaria from 19 billion cubic meters to 30 billion cubic meters annually within two years, BTA and ITAR-TASS reported. The next day, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters that Russia has also agreed to pay off its $100 million debt to Bulgaria. Zadornov noted that to revive flagging trade between the two countries, Bulgaria has been granted most-favored-nation status with regard to customs duties. According to ITAR-TASS, trade turnover between the two countries fell more than 90 percent over the last 10 years, dropping from $17 billion in 1988 to a mere $1.2 billion in 1998. JAC

RURAL FOLK USING EMPTIES FOR CASH

The Alexinbytservice company in Tula Oblast's Alexin Raion has introduced the use of empty glass bottles as a surrogate currency because of the lack of available cash in outlying rural regions, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. The firm, which provides a variety of services such as repairing domestic appliances, tailoring, and hair-cutting, found many potential clients but few with ready cash. According to the agency, a hair cut costs five empty bottles. The firm delivers its empties to wholesale buyers who pay 1.3 rubles (5 cents) per bottle. JAC

YELTSIN ISSUES FORMAL INVITATIONS TO CIS SUMMIT

President Yeltsin wrote to his fellow CIS heads of state on 19 March inviting them to the summit to be held in Moscow on 2 April, Interfax reported. Yeltsin also thanked his fellow presidents for their comments on the proposals for amending the structure of the CIS apparatus. Those proposals are one of the main items on the summit agenda, together with the dismissal of Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii and implementation of plans to create a CIS free trade zone. LF




AZERBAIJAN REJECTS RUSSIAN STATE DUMA STATEMENT ON U.S. BASES

State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade dismissed as "groundless" the 18 March statement by the Russian State Duma condemning Baku's stated willingness to host U.S. military bases, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1999). Guluzade said that Azerbaijan is a sovereign state and thus entitled to decide on its own security policy. He also dismissed as "ridiculous" the Duma's denial that Russia is supplying arms to Armenia. LF

KARABAKH PARLIAMENT WELCOMES EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

Boris Aroushanian, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the parliament of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, has described the 11 March endorsement by the European Parliament of the OSCE Minsk Group's Karabakh peace proposal as "a hopeful sign," Interfax and Noyan Tapan reported on 18 March. At the same time, Aroushanian expressed incomprehension at Azerbaijan's rejection of those proposals, given that they comprise "not a formula for the final resolution of the conflict but principles for continuing talks." Also on 18 March, Azerbaijan's opposition Vahdat Party and National Unity Party issued a joint statement condemning the European Parliament resolution as "against the will" of the Azerbaijani people, according to Turan. The two parties blamed the resolution on the erroneous foreign and domestic policies pursued by the present Azerbaijani leadership. LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS YEREVAN

On a one-day working visit to Yerevan on 19 March, Irakli Menagharishvili discussed with his Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, the Abkhaz and Karabakh conflicts, the recent meeting in Strasbourg of the parliamentary speakers of all three Transcaucasus states, and the prospects for strengthening economic ties, Noyan Tapan reported. Speaking later to journalists, Menagharishvili said that while Georgia does not currently aspire to NATO membership, it considers the alliance "an important component of the future European security structure" and intends to increase its participation in the Partnership for Peace program, according to Interfax. Oskanian characterized "stable" Armenian-Georgian bilateral relations as an important component of regional stability in the face of growing "polarization." LF

TURKMENISTAN'S DECISION TO INTRODUCE VISA REGIME CRITICIZED...

Speaking in Minsk on 19 March, the chairman of the Integration Committee of the CIS Customs Union, Nigmatzhan Isingarin, said the CIS will make an "adequate" response to Turkmenistan's announcement that as of June, it will require citizens of most CIS countries to have a visa when traveling to that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999), Interfax reported. Isringarin said the decision has "pluses and minuses," adding that "Turkmenistan will not only isolate itself from CIS countries but other countries will be closed to it." Isingarin pointed out that some highways connecting southwest Asian countries with the CIS run through Turkmenistan and that many CIS businessmen transit Turkmenistan on routes from one CIS country to another. "This means [such businessmen] will find routes around Turkmenistan,...,which will lose most of all." BP

...AS ASHGABAT EXPLAINS DECISION...

Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry has sent a note to the CIS Executive Secretariat explaining the decision to introduce a visa regime, Interfax reported on 19 March. The note said the action "should in no way be understood as aspiring to break off relations with governments of the CIS." It added that the 1992 agreement on visa-free travel was concluded to "create favorable conditions for those who elected or desired to return to the country they considered their homeland." Now, it continued, "the situation has been complicated as those who do not heed laws and criminal elements have become the main users of the visa-free regime." This situation is becoming "more and more difficult to control," the note said. BP

...INTRODUCES NEW TRANSIT RULES FOR SOME GOODS

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree on 19 March establishing new rules for the transit through Turkmenistan of beer, hard liquor, wine, and tobacco products, Interfax reported. An unspecified fee will be imposed on goods transiting Turkmen territory at the point of entry into the country. Those same goods must leave Turkmen territory within 30 days and the fee will be returned at the point of departure. The Foreign Ministry is charged with informing accredited embassies in Turkmenistan "and other interested parties" about the new regulations by 3 April. The action is aimed at "protecting the domestic market," according to Niyazov. BP

TURKMEN PRESIDENT DECLARES ANOTHER AMNESTY

Niyazov on 19 March signed a decree freeing 5,000 prisoners, Interfax reported. This latest amnesty coincides with the holidays of Nawruz and Kurban Bairami. The news agency reported that in 1999, more than 22,000 people have been freed under amnesties. The crime rate in January and February has reportedly dropped by 20 percent compared with the same period last year. BP

TURKMENISTAN PLANS 10-YEAR SOCIO-ECONOMIC REFORM PROGRAM

At an expanded session of the Cabinet of Ministers on 19 March, President Niyazov signed a resolution on drafting a socio- economic reform program through 2010, Interfax reported. All proposals must be submitted by 1 September, and final approval is expected to be given at a joint session of the Peoples' Council, the Council of Elders, and the parliament in December. BP

KAZAKHSTAN'S GOVERNMENT WANTS CUTS IN BUDGET EXPENDITURES, REVENUES

Kazakhstan's Finance Minister Uraz Jandosov told the parliament on 19 March that 1999 budget expenditures and revenues need to be cut by 29 billion tenge ($333 million) and 32.9 billion tenge, respectively, Interfax reported. Jandosov said the government predicts that this year's GDP will be down by 1.5 percent on 1998 and will be 8 percent smaller than forecast in the current version of the 1999 budget. The government also predicted that inflation for this year will be 3.7 percent, not the 8.3 percent foreseen by the budget, and that exports will shrink by 10.3 percent and imports by 12.3 percent (compared with the planned 1.3 percent increase). BP

ORLEU MOVEMENT IN KAZAKHSTAN PREPARES FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

The head of Kazakhstan's Orleu Movement, Seydakhmet Kuttykadam, said at a meeting on 19 March in the city of Shymkent that he expects his movement to win three or four seats in the parliamentary elections later this year, Interfax reported. Kuttykadam said he believes the elections will be moved forward from December to June. He also said he expects incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev to remain in office no longer than three more years. Kuttykadam said Nazarbayev will have to step down because of "Kazakhstan's growing international isolation, on the one hand, and the catastrophic scale of the country's economic decline and corruption in all strata of government, on the other hand." BP




KUCHMA URGES DEMOCRATIC FORCES TO UNITE...

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma addressed the nationwide forum of democratic forces Zlahoda [Concord] in Kyiv on 19 March, urging those formations to unite in order to support Ukraine's independent statehood and economic reforms. "All of us must make a choice between statehood and amorphousness, between reforms and a retreat [from them], between democracy and anarchy or totalitarianism," the 20 March "Uryadovyy kuryer" quoted him as saying. The initiative to form Zlahoda came from Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko in an attempt to enlist wider support for Kuchma's re-election bid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 1999). JM

...MEETS WITH ISRAEL'S NETANYAHU

The Ukrainian president met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Kyiv on 21 March to discuss bilateral relations. "Ukraine supports Israeli efforts in the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian problem," Kuchma commented after the meeting. Kuchma added that Ukraine needs Israeli investments, while Netanyahu confirmed the interest of Israeli businessmen in investing in Ukraine's large enterprises. JM

UKRAINE RATIFIES NUCLEAR COOPERATION DEAL WITH U.S.

The Supreme Council on 19 March ratified an agreement with the U.S. on civilian cooperation in nuclear energy. The 1998 agreement will allow Ukraine to import U.S. nuclear materials and much-needed technology to revamp its nuclear industry. It was signed after Ukraine pledged to give up building turbines for Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr. JM

LUKASHENKA SAYS GOVERNMENT CANNOT HALT PRICE HIKES

"Owing to various objective reasons, the authorities cannot put a stop to price increases in the country," Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a cabinet meeting on 19 March. He explained that price hikes are largely caused by inflation in "neighboring countries" from which Belarus buys raw materials for domestic production. He also blamed the hikes on "enormous charges" by some Belarusian "monopolist" producers as well as by trade intermediaries. "There are ridiculous [instances] of selling Belarusian products on the domestic market at prices higher than those for exports," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

OSCE MINSK MISSION DENIES PROPOSING TALKS BETWEEN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION

Hanspeter Kleiner, deputy head of the OSCE Minsk group, has denied that his mission proposed talks between President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and four opposition figures, as some Belarusian media reported last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999). JM

ESTONIA'S LAAR NAMED PREMIER-DESIGNATE

As widely expected, President Lennart Meri has nominated Mart Laar, chairman of the Fatherland Union and former prime minister, to form the next government, Baltic agencies reported on 19 March. Earlier, the right-wing alliance of the Fatherland Union, the Moderates, and the Reform Party, which have a total of 53 seats in the 101-strong parliament, had selected Laar as their choice for premier. The 38-year-old Laar, who was prime minister from 1992-1994, is credited with having put Estonia on the road to economic reform. He was removed from office in a no confidence vote amid accusations that, among other things, he had lied about the sale of rubles to Chechnya. He later admitted to that lie, saying he had been afraid the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia might have been delayed had the rubles deal come to light. JC

LATVIA'S JEWS ANGRY AT SYNAGOGUE BOMBING INSINUATION

Leaders of Latvia's Jewish community responded angrily to Director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution Lainis Kamaldins's suggestion that Latvian Jews may have been involved in the 1998 bombing of their Riga synagogue. Kamaldins told BNS on 18 March that there were several leads in the investigation into the bombing, one of which "lead to believe that the Jewish community itself was involved in organizing the blast." Jewish leaders denounced Kamaldins's statement as unsubstantiated. Kamaldins, whose term in office ends next month, later issued a statement saying his office has no information suggesting that any member of Latvia's Jewish community was involved in the organization or realization of the bombing, "Diena" reported on 19 March. Parliamentary speaker Janis Straume of the rightist Fatherland and Freedom party rejected calls for Kamaldins's resignation, saying his statements did not "considerably harm" Latvia's interests or its international image. JC

RUSSIA EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER DESECRATED SOVIET SOLDIERS' GRAVES IN LITHUANIA

The Russian Embassy in Vilnius has voiced its concern over "recurrent acts of vandalism against the graves of former Soviet servicemen in Lithuania," BNS reported on 19 March. In a note to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the embassy drew attention to the desecration of Soviet soldiers' graves in the town of Kruopiai, in northern Lithuania, one week earlier. Vandals removed two plaques from a memorial and overturned some 40 tombstones. The embassy urged the Lithuanian authorities to punish those responsible. JC

POLISH FARMERS PROTEST GOVERNMENT AGRICULTURAL POLICIES

Some 30,000 farmers rallied in Warsaw on 21 March to demand higher prices for farm produce, larger government subsidies for agriculture, and limits on food imports, Polish media reported. Peasant Party (PSL) leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski called for a "Pact for the Countryside" that would lay down an agricultural policy to be pursued irrespective of which parties are in power. The demonstrators said government agricultural policies are "destroying Polish villages and agriculture." They also demanded the ouster of liberal Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, whom farmers blame for their plight. Balcerowicz said the previous day the agricultural sector is suffering on account of insufficient privatization, largely thanks to the PSL. "The smaller the PSL's influence in the countryside, the better for the fortunes of residents in those areas," PAP quoted Balcerowicz as saying. JM

POLAND REDUCES MILITARY SERVICE TO 12 MONTHS

The parliament on 19 March passed a law shortening the compulsory military service term from 15 months to 12 months. At the same time, the law made it more difficult to avoid military service. Students exempted from service will have to prove regularly that they are still studying, while the sole providers for families and farmers who run their own farms will no longer be automatically exempt, as is the case now. JM

HAVEL SUPPORTS REFERENDUM ON EU MEMBERSHIP

President Vaclav Havel on 19 March said he supports the idea of holding a referendum on the country's joining the EU. Havel was responding to a statement by Vaclav Klaus, chairman of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), who noted that the ODS will support such a referendum but is "categorically opposed" to the government's intention to place European legislation above that of the Czech Republic and to delete the constitutional provision saying the country is "a sovereign state." Premier Milos Zeman said his Social Democratic Party (CSSD) supports both a referendum and amending the constitution to give EU law precedence over Czech law. The possibility of deleting the "sovereignty provision" from the basic law was recently mentioned by Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky. CTK reported. MS

CZECH MINISTER WILL NOT SEEK RE-ELECTION TO PARTY POST

Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda on 20 March said he will not seek re-election as CSSD deputy chairman in charge of the party's financial affairs at the party's April national congress, CTK and Reuters reported. Svoboda, who said he is leaving for "personal reasons," has been linked by the media to improper financial activities both within the CSSD and in connection with his membership on the board of a loss-making company in northern Bohemia. Premier Zeman told Czech Radio that Svoboda still has his full support and will remain in the cabinet as finance minister. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS TO BE HELD IN MAY

Parliamentary chairman Jozef Migas on 19 March announced that Slovakia's direct presidential elections will be held on 15 May. Candidates must be nominated by 9 April, AP reported. Parliamentary spokeswoman Elena Zatkova told Reuters that a run-off will be held on 29 May if no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round. In other news, Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) leader Jan Carnogursky told journalists on 20 March that the KDH Council has rejected a proposal that the party unite with the other four members of the ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK). Carnogursky said the electoral law must be changed to allow party alliances and the SDK must become an alliance of independent political formations, CTK reported. MS




MILOSEVIC TO MEET WITH HOLBROOKE...

U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke discussed the Kosova crisis with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Brussels on 22 March. Holbrooke is slated to meet Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade later that day. On 21 March in Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said "Holbrooke will emphasize to President Milosevic that NATO airstrikes against [Serbian targets] are being prepared. [The envoy] will make clear that Milosevic faces a stark choice: to halt aggression against the Kosovar Albanians and accept an interim settlement with a NATO-led implementation force or bear the full responsibility of NATO military action." PM

...RECEIVES WARNING FROM WESTERN LEADERS

President Bill Clinton said in Washington on 19 March that "if we and our allies do not have the will to act, there will be more massacres. In dealing with aggressors in the Balkans, hesitation is a license to kill. But action and resolve can stop armies and save lives." Over the weekend, Cook, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, and several other Western leaders publicly warned Milosevic that time is rapidly running out for him to accept the Rambouillet accords. Unnamed NATO officials said in Brussels on 21 March that the alliance will be able to launch air strikes against Serbia "within hours" of NATO leaders' deciding to do so. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini added the same day that matters will "come to an end" by 23 March. PM

SERBIA PREPARES FOR WAR...

General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands the Third Army in the region that includes Kosova, inspected border defense units and anti-aircraft batteries on 21 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He stressed that the military are taking "all possible measures to prevent foreign troops from entering our territory." Broadcasts on state-run television also emphasized that the military are prepared for any eventuality. PM

...BUT MONTENEGRO WANTS NO PART OF IT

Meanwhile, President Milo Djukanovic told a political rally in Podgorica on 19 March that Milosevic is prepared "to go to the end" over Kosova in order to preserve his power, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Djukanovic added that Milosevic has "usurped control" over all key federal institutions, including the army. The Montenegrin president called on Montenegrin officers not to take part in a conflict on Milosevic's behalf and stressed that only a truly Yugoslav army is welcome on Montenegrin territory. PM

OSCE WITHDRAWS MONITORS FROM KOSOVA

Some 1,400 OSCE civilian monitors left Kosova on 20 March. Serbian border police invalidated their visas as they left. The previous day, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, who currently holds the rotating OSCE chair, had announced in Oslo that the monitors would leave Yugoslavia immediately. PM

SERBIAN FORCES LAUNCH MAJOR OFFENSIVE

Following the departure of the monitors on 20 March, Serbian forces launched an offensive in the Mitrovica, Vushtrri, and Drenica regions to the west of Prishtina. "Serbs in white coveralls and black ski masks drove thousands" of Kosovar civilians from Skenderaj "in a classic ethnic-cleansing operation not seen since the Bosnian war," Reuters reported. A grinning Serbian soldier said to journalists: "See what we're doing? When are the Americans coming?" Elsewhere, Serbian forces closed to civilian traffic the road connecting Prishtina and Podujeva. On 21 March, Serbian sources said that unidentified persons shot dead four Serbian policemen in Prishtina. Following the reported killings, Serbian forces set up checkpoints on roads leading into and out of the provincial capital. One unidentified Serb told the news agency: "If [armed conflict] is starting in Prishtina, it's going to be very dangerous for everyone." PM

ALBANIA WANTS NATO HELP AFTER BORDER INCIDENT

Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on 21 March asked the Tirana ambassadors of NATO countries to give "immediate support to improve our military infrastructure and our ability to handle any humanitarian emergency." He demanded an urgent meeting of the NATO Council and Albanian diplomats, AP reported. Milo also urged international organizations such as the OSCE to "increase the number of their monitors on our northern border so that there are eyewitnesses in case of further Serb provocations." His appeal came one day after a reported gun battle between Albanian forces and about 30 Yugoslav soldiers who had entered Albanian territory at Lugu i Zi, near Tropoja. The exchange lasted at least 50 minutes, "Shekulli" reported. FS

UCK LEADERS CALL FOR NATO ACTION...

In Tirana on 20 March, several leaders of the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) delegation to the Paris peace talks called for swift NATO action against Yugoslavia. UCK spokesman Jakup Krasniqi said that Serbian forces have mounted a large-scale offensive against ethnic Albanian civilians with the aim of driving them from Kosova. He added that "today, the whole of Kosova is at war. This fighting that follows our signing of the final agreement obliges the international community and NATO to intervene against this fascist and barbaric machine," Reuters reported. The following day a delegation member told the Kosova Information Center that the UCK leaders will delay a planned visit to the U.S. because of the "grave situation" in Kosova. FS

...BUT HAVE DIFFICULTIES GOING HOME

Following the collapse of peace talks in Paris on 19 March, the UCK leaders traveled to Tirana with the rest of the ethnic Albanian delegation. Delegation member Rame Buja told Reuters that the UCK representatives do not feel that it is safe for them to return to Kosova after the withdrawal of OSCE monitors. Serbian authorities have issued arrest warrants against most of the UCK members in the delegation. Buja, however, stressed that the UCK leaders plan to go home at a later point. Non- UCK members of the delegation continued on to Skopje. FS

MACEDONIAN MINISTER SAYS NO ATTACKS FROM HIS COUNTRY

Foreign Minister Aleksandar Dimitrov said in Skopje on 21 March that his government will "not allow a [NATO] attack to be conducted from Macedonia. We don't want to see the conflict spread into our territory," AP quoted him as saying. Elsewhere, Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Trajkovski said that a "unit" of Yugoslav soldiers crossed into Macedonia the previous day. Although Macedonian soldiers told them to leave immediately, the Yugoslavs did not do so until "several hours" later. Officials of the Macedonian Foreign Ministry then summoned the Yugoslav ambassador over the incident, but he refused to accept Skopje's official protest, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

WILL THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL INDICT CROATIAN GENERALS?

Unnamed employees or former employees of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal told "The New York Times" of 21 March that the court has prepared a 150-page study of Croatia's Operation Storm in the Krajina region in the late summer of 1995. The study reportedly concludes that "during and in the 100 days following the military offensive, at least 150 Serb civilians were summarily executed, and many hundreds disappeared." The report adds that Generals Mirko Norac, Ante Gotovina, and Ivan Cermak may be indicted in the future for their involvement in "ethnic cleansing." Court spokesmen told the daily that the tribunal is investigating the source of the leak. PM

BOSNIAN SERB POLITICAL CONFUSION CONTINUES

Officials of the Bosnian Serb branch of the Serbian Radical Party said in Banja Luka on 20 March that Prime Minister Milorad Dodik had "no authority" to state in Vienna the previous day that the Bosnian Serbs will accept international mediator Roberts Owen's decision on Brcko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). PM

BALKAN FOREIGN MINISTERS URGE BELGRADE TO SIGN PEACE DEAL

After meeting in Bucharest on 19 March, the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey issued a joint statement calling on Serbia to sign the Kosova peace agreement and expressing support for the deployment of an international force in the region, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Serbia and Albania declined to attend the meeting. MS

ROMANIAN LEADERS BACK NATO OVER KOSOVA

In a statement released in 21 March following talks with Premier Radu Vasile and Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, President Emil Constantinescu said NATO intervention in Kosova is "necessary and legitimate" if the international community's efforts to achieve a peaceful solution fail. Defense Minster Victor Babiuc said two days earlier that Romania "will be on NATO's side," will allow NATO planes to overfly its territory, and is ready to dispatch "a medical unit and peace-keepers," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In other news, President Bill Clinton, in a letter to Constantinescu made public on 19 March, expressed support for Romania's political and economic reforms and urged that Bucharest speed up its reform process. Clinton assured Constantinescu that the April Washington summit "will offer aspiring candidates a clear way and a package of practical programs to help them become full NATO members," AP reported. MS

MOLDOVAN MINISTERS ACCUSED OF CORRUPTION

Iurie Rosca, leader of the Christian Democratic Popular Front (FPCD), on 19 March accused four members of Ion Sturza's cabinet of "corruption and incompetence." The four are Agriculture Minister Valeriu Bulgari, Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat, Finance Minister Anatol Arapu, and Minister of State Vladimir Filat, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. All are members of the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMPD). The FPCD had objected to their being re-appointed to the cabinet. Rosca said the Prosecutor General's Office is "a pit" where "any evidence on corruption [by government officials] is buried." MS

CHISINAU ELECTORAL COUNCIL RULES AGAINST FPCD LEADER'S CANDIDACY

The Chisinau Electoral Council on 19 March ruled that neither Rosca nor parliamentary deputy Vasili Ivov can run for mayor in the 23 May local elections because the constitution prohibits the city head from simultaneously being a parliamentary deputy, Flux reported. The same day, the council registered outgoing Chisinau mayor Serafim Urecheanu as a candidate. Rosca responded that Urecheanu (whose appointment as premier was hindered by the FPCD) is "trying to eliminate his competitors." He said that he will appeal the decision in the Constitutional Court, adding that he will resign from the parliament if elected mayor. MS

BULGARIAN DEFENSE COUNCIL APPROVES CUT IN ARMY SIZE

Deputy Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov told state radio on 21 March that Bulgaria will cut its army within five years from 85,000 to 50,000 troops and will improve its funding, training, and equipment to bring it up to NATO standards, AP reported. The decision was reached at a meeting of the Defense Council on 19 March, BTA reported. MS




A DISASTER THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN


By Paul Goble

A march by veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion held in Riga last week had been widely expected to trigger confrontations between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians in Latvia and lead to a deterioration of relations between Riga and Moscow.

But those disastrous outcomes did not materialize. Not only did the march by 300 aging veterans of a German- organized unit that had fought advancing Soviet troops during World War II not lead to disturbances in Latvia itself; it also revealed some quite remarkable restraint at the official level in both the Latvian and Russian capitals.

As a result, the prospects for inter-ethnic relations in Latvia have dramatically improved, while the possibility of better relations between Latvia and Russia has increased--a development few observers would have predicted only a month ago.

There were some very good reasons for the earlier pessimism. One year ago, a march by Waffen SS veterans exacerbated tensions all round. There were clashes between the marchers and ethnic Russians in the Latvian capital. Several senior Latvian government officials took part in the demonstration. And the Russian government roundly condemned Riga for permitting what it called a manifestation of fascism.

Even though the Latvian authorities dismissed the officials who took part, Riga appeared to have compounded its problems when the parliament voted to make 16 March an official day of remembrance for all those who fell in the service of Latvia, regardless of what uniform they wore.

While supporters of this measure argued that such a memorial day was appropriate, opponents were deeply troubled. The latter argued that by choosing 16 March--the anniversary of the Legion's first battle against Soviet troops, near Velikyy Luky in 1943--Riga appeared to be giving special preference to those Latvians who served in German uniforms rather than all Latvians.

Consequently, many Latvians, ethnic Russians, and Moscow officials predicted that this year's commemoration would provoke an explosion. All were wrong.

First, Latvian officials carefully distanced themselves from the demonstration. The Latvian government announced that no official would take part. President Guntis Ulmanis suggested that the date of such a memorial was wrong and should be changed. And both he and other senior officials chose to be out of town on the date of the march.

Second, all press accounts suggest that the Latvian police acted with professionalism, discipline, and restraint. In contrast to their handling of some earlier demonstrations, the police behaved in a manner that suggested they were there to protect public order rather than to back any particular group. That, in turn, had the effect of reassuring many in the Latvian capital that they could now count on the police, regardless of their own ethnicity.

And third, the predominantly ethnic Russian counterdemonstration called attention to a pattern many of the earlier doomsayers had missed. Local ethnic Russians who participated in it behaved with dignity. Only those with close ties to Moscow political groups appeared interested in provoking any real problems.

The counterdemonstration which attracted ethnic Latvians as well as ethnic Russians was both peaceful and respectful. Speakers denounced the fact that the march was taking place but did not denounce Latvia as such--also a sharp contrast with some similar events in the past.

The only disturbance came from a group of extreme Russian nationalists, both the Latvian and Russian media reported. They condemned Latvia in terms that questioned its right to national existence and even raised a portrait of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin attached to balloons. So hostile and violent were the remarks of this group that others at the counterdemonstration denounced them in even sharper terms than they had criticized those who had taken part in the Waffen SS demonstration itself.

Some in Moscow who had indicated they planned to be outraged by the Latvian demonstration continued to complain-- but in remarkably mild terms. Roman Popkovich, the chairman of the Russian parliament's defense committee, said the Russian Duma "regrets and does not understand" Riga's sanctioning of the demonstration and believes Europe should understand that "Latvia is a country where human rights are not respected."

But a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry is perhaps more telling. While its spokesman, Vladimir Rakhmanin, said Moscow "will always denounce any attempts" to make national heroes of those who supported the German side in World War II or to revive fascism, he concluded with some surprisingly mild and conciliatory words. "Moscow has paid attention to the fact," he commented, "that the Latvian authorities have disassociated themselves from the commemorations." And he expressed the hope that "the next step will be made" by changing the date of the soldiers' memorial day in Latvia.

If that happens, Rakhmanin said, "that will be the best proof of Latvia's genuine adherence to the course of integration of society and the country's merging with democratic Europe." Because Latvian leaders are now saying the same thing, the disaster that didn't happen may point to an even better outcome in the future.


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