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Newsline - March 26, 1999




ANTI-U.S. SENTIMENT GROWING AMONG OFFICIALS...

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov accused the U.S. on 25 March of seeking "to impose a unipolar order on the world, in which peoples' fates should be decided in Washington," and providing direct assistance to the Kosova Liberation Army. He asked, "Does the U.S. not understand that by backing Muslim extremists at the expense of American taxpayers it's breeding new bin Ladens?" in allusion to the accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. Former Ambassador to the U.S. and State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin said that the "U.S. has clearly shown that it does not care one whit about relations with Russia or about the START-II treaty." The same day, Ivanov also noted that "we are not in favor of a breach of diplomatic relations with the U.S" and "clearly realize how important for the world as a whole are relations between Russia and the U.S." JAC

...AND IN THE STREETS

Demonstrations were held outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok on 25 March, Russian news agencies reported. According to "Izvestiya" on 26 March, protesters gathered outside an oblast administration building in Volgograd and burnt the U.S. flag. In other cities, they burnt the U.S. flag and threw ink, eggs, and beer bottles. Demonstrators displayed signs and banners reading "Yankees, Go Home," "Pentagon Die," and "Retribution Is Coming." Police told Interfax that more than 1,000 people attended a rally outside the Moscow embassy, although AFP estimated that there were some 600 people in attendance. While most public attention seemed focused on the U.S., the consulate in Novosibirsk of another member of the NATO alliance, Germany, was set on fire and a note attached "For Serbia," ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

MORE FALL-OUT FROM NATO AIR STRIKES

The Duma announced on 25 March the suspension of all contacts between it and NATO parliamentary organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. Duma members also called on the government to close all NATO's information centers in Moscow. The legislative assembly of Primorskii Krai adopted a statement protesting NATO's "aggression against Yugoslavia," while Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev announced the formation of an anti-NATO political bloc, Interfax-Eurasia reported. RFE/RL's correspondent in the Marii El Republic reported that residents there supported the Kremlin's position against NATO, while opinion in Krasnoyarsk Krai was more mixed. Former Krasnoyarsk Governor Valerii Zubov told RFE/RL that Russia "should pause and solve its own problems." JAC

RUSSIA TO OFFER INTELLIGENCE DATA TO YUGOSLAVIA?

Although Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that he was "sure that [Russia] would offer military assistance to Yugoslavia," Russian media did not take this claim seriously. General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of the general staff of the armed forces, told Interfax that Russia is prepared to exchange intelligence data with Yugoslavia if it requests it. However, Russian "military experts" told the agency that arms deliveries to Yugoslavia would be difficult since they could be transported only by sea and thus through the Bosphorus. JAC

RUSSIANS VOLUNTEERING FOR DUTY IN YUGOSLAVIA

The office of Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who had announced earlier that he is ordering charter flights to dispatch volunteers to Yugoslavia, has been converted into a mini-recruitment center for Russian citizens wanting to volunteer for Yugoslavia, the "Moscow Times" reported on 26 March. According to one staff member, more than 2,700 people telephoned on 25 March expressing their willingness to sign up. In Primorskii Krai, 91 people signed up and 100 in Pskov. In Khabarovsk, Colonel-General Viktor Chechevatov, commander of the Far Eastern Military District, announced his willingness to head any military unit dispatched to Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. And in Irkutsk, Cossack ataman Nikolai Merinov expressed his readiness to organize and head a Cossack brigade for the defense of Serbia, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

'KOMMERSANT' FIRES EDITOR FOR CRITICIZING PRIMAKOV

"Kommersant-Daily" editor Raf Shakirov has lost his job over an article on 24 March that was highly critical of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's decision to return to Moscow in mid-air (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1999), Russian Public Television reported on 25 March. According to Interfax, the newspaper apologized for the article. JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY STAFF FACING LARGE REDUCTION

The Interior Ministry will cut 129,000 personnel from its staff in 1999, including 66,000 policemen and 63,000 servicemen, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 March. Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin told a conference of personnel chiefs from police departments across the country that 59 of Russia's 89 regions will face a 10 percent personnel reduction on average in their police forces. Current staff in the ministry totals just under 2 million, according to the agency. JAC

LUZHKOV, YELTSIN TO COOPERATE?

President Boris Yeltsin and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov met on 25 March. Luzhkov, who had not talked with Yeltsin in more than a year, according to "Vremya MN" on 26 March, said the conversation focused on the formation of his Otechestvo party. According to the newspaper's sources, the two officials also agreed that the mayor and the presidential administration would collaborate in the future, but what form this collaboration would take was not discussed. "Izvestiya" concluded that since Yeltsin met with Luzhkov right before the mayor's upcoming meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, Luzhkov will present the presidential administration's view as well as his own. Luzhkov told reporters on 24 March that Otechestvo is working on a political accord with the Communist Party and Yabloko, "the three forces in the country that determine its political atmosphere," in order to maintain political stability in Russia. JAC

KOSOVA, IMF UNCERTAINTY PUTS RUBLE UNDER PRESSURE

The street value of the ruble continues to fall, despite the firming of its official rate. Muscovites, according to the "Moscow Times" on 26 March, were exchanging rubles for dollars at rates of 28 rubles per dollar--16 percent above the official rate. In other parts of Russia, the daily reported, workers are turning their ruble salaries into dollars as a matter of course. Part of the ruble's weakness, according to traders, stems from rubles being printed to pay a backlog of wages to state workers. The Central Bank has been intervening in the currency market to try to prop up the flagging ruble. Its hard currency reserves fell $200 million from 19 March to 25 March and by $1 billion from 1 January, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the stock market's benchmark index, RTS, rose almost 5 percent on 25 March, with oil stocks benefiting from the ruble's weakness. JAC

FIRST BATCH OF EU FOOD AID ROLLS IN

Twenty-four trucks loaded with 18 tons of German beef from the EU arrived in the city of Smolensk on 25 March, Interfax reported. The next shipment of EU food aid, which will contain Irish beef, is due to arrive in St. Petersburg at the end of March. Deliveries were supposed to start in February but were delayed because of high Russian customs duties and Russian officials' criticism of the quality of the meat and grain, dpa reported. JAC

COMMUNIST ADMINISTRATION PAYS FOR CHURCH CONSTRUCTION IN VORONEZH

Construction of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in down-town Voronezh is proceeding quickly, thanks to state revenues channeled directly to the Church, according to the "IEWS Russian Regional Report" on 25 March, citing the local newspaper "Novaya gazeta." Under a decree signed by Governor Ivan Shabanov some 15 months ago, major companies in the Communist-controlled oblast have transferred some 7 million rubles ($289,000) in tax arrears to the Voronezh diocese for the purpose of completing the cathedral. JC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DEPARTS ON HAJJ

Aslan Maskhadov has left Grozny for Saudi Arabia, where he will visit Mecca and Medina, presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told Russian agencies on 25 March. Vachagaev said Maskhadov will not visit any other countries en route. Maskhadov previously made the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1997. LF

YELTSIN, PUTIN DISCUSS VLADIKAVKAZ BOMBING

Federal Security Service Director Vladimir Putin informed President Yeltsin on 25 March of progress made in identifying and apprehending the persons responsible for the 19 March bomb in the North Ossetian capital, which killed some 60 people, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 March 1999). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 March reported that investigators are focusing on several alternative hypotheses, one of which is that the perpetrators were Chechens affiliated with Islamist field commander Khottab. LF

SIX CIS DEFENSE MINISTERS CONDEMN NATO STRIKES

Meeting in Moscow on 25 March, the defense ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan adopted a joint statement condemning the NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia as "inhuman" and "a threat to peace and security," ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said the decision to resort to force "contradicts the norms of international law" and calls into question the existence of the UN. The Georgian observer at the meeting, Colonel Guram Nikolaishvili, did not sign the statement, as he was not empowered to do so, according to Caucasus Press. It is unclear whether the representatives from Kazakhstan and Ukraine added their signatures to the statement. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Moldova did not send representatives to the meeting. Major-General Alecks Agafonov, who is chief of staff of the headquarters for coordinating CIS defense, told Interfax that the ministers ruled out any CIS military intervention in Yugoslavia. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT INVITES POPE TO VISIT

Meeting with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican on 25 March, Robert Kocharian reaffirmed the official invitation to the pontiff to visit Armenia, extended earlier this week by Armen Sarkisian, Armenia's ambassador to the Vatican, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. No date for the papal visit has been set. Kocharian and Armenian Catholicos Karekin I are to attend the formal opening of an exhibition at the Vatican Library devoted to the 1700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity as the state religion. Kocharian also met on 25 March with his Italian counterpart, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, to discuss bilateral relations, according to Noyan Tapan. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN MINISTER OF EDUCATION CHARGED WITH EMBEZZLEMENT

Yerevan city prosecutor Ashot Tamazian on 25 March said that a criminal case has been opened against former Education Minister Ashot Bleyan on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement of public funds totaling $120,000 intended for the publication of school textbooks, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Bleyan, who currently heads the small Nor Ughi [New Path] opposition party and placed last of the 12 candidates in the March 1998 presidential election with 0.11 percent of the vote, dismissed the charges as "fabricated and unfounded." LF

AZERBAIJAN CONTINUES INVESTIGATION OF IMPOUNDED MIGS

Turan on 25 March quoted an unnamed official source in Baku as saying that the investigation into the impounded Russian freight plane and its cargo of six MiG fighters at Baku's Bin airport has not yet yielded any evidence that would be sufficient to bring a criminal case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 March 1999). But ITAR-TASS the same day reported that Azerbaijani intelligence will need at least another two days to complete its examination of the freight plane and its cargo. LF

FORMER RUSSIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR POLICY SHIFT ON GEORGIA

On a private visit to Tbilisi on 25 March, Sergei Kirienko told Georgian parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania that Moscow should revise its current policy toward Georgia since relations between the two countries are pivotal for the situation throughout the Caucasus, according to Caucasus Press. The two men agreed on the need to improve bilateral relations. LF

TAJIKISTAN CONTINUES INVESTIGATION INTO LENINABAD INSURGENCY

The Prosecutor-General's Office has completed investigation into the role of 64 participants in the November 1998 insurgency in Leninabad Oblast by supporters of rebel Colonel Makhmud Khudoberdiev, ITAR- TASS reported on 25 March. The 64 are charged with treason, creating illegal armed formations, terrorism, and offenses against the state. Hundreds more people remain in pre-trial detention for their involvement in that uprising. LF

UZBEK AUTHORITIES HARASS UNREGISTERED PROTESTANTS

Over the last two months, twelve members of separate Christian communities in the Uzbek cities of Tashkent, Termez, Bukhara, and Nukus have been arrested and either fined or sentenced to short prison sentences , according to a Human Rights Without Frontiers press release dated 25 March. In three of those cases, the communities in question were preparing formal applications to register their Churches legally. The 1998 amended Uzbek law on religion bans all unregistered religious activities. LF

TRANSCAUCASUS, CENTRAL ASIAN RESPONSES TO NATO STRIKES

In a 25 March statement, Armenian Foreign Ministry acting spokesman Ara Papyan expressed concern at NATO's recourse to force, adding that Yerevan hopes the conflict parties will still find a peaceful resolution to the Kosova problem, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. "Armenia has always stood up for the right of peoples to self- determination," he added. In Tbilisi, President Eduard Shevardnadze the previous day expressed regret that the international community had failed to coordinate measures to impose peace. He said future steps should not lead to a new round of tension in international relations, according to Interfax. The Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan issued a statement that neither condemned nor endorsed the strikes but called for the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. The Tajik Foreign Ministry unequivocally condemned the strikes as destabilizing the global situation and called for immediate peace talks. No official comment from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan is currently available. LF




LUKASHENKA COMPARES NATO STRIKES TO FASCIST AGGRESSION

Meeting with villagers in a flood-hit area of Brest Oblast on 25 March, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said "the Americans along with NATO and their allies--as the Fascists in their own time--have committed an act of aggression" against Yugoslavia. Lukashenka explained that NATO and the U.S. are forcing their way into Yugoslavia because it is one of the "richest regions [where] people mine gold and other precious metals." He added that NATO has been "punched fairly well in the jaw" by the Serbs and will hardly dare launch warfare on the ground. Lukashenka said he opposes sending "our boys, even volunteers," to help Yugoslavia, which, he noted, needs "not soldiers, but good, modern weapons to defend itself," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

NATO STRIKES DRAW MORE CRITICISM IN UKRAINE

Following the Supreme Council resolutions on 24 March denouncing NATO strikes on Yugoslavia as aggression and urging the cabinet to reconsider Ukraine's nuclear status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1999), left-wing deputies have demanded more actions over the Kosova crisis. Borys Oliynyk, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded the following day that Ukraine recall its ambassador from Washington and the cabinet step down for promoting cooperation with the U.S. and NATO. Petro Symonenko, head of the Communist Party, said the parliament should immediately reconsider Ukraine's relations with NATO. After an emergency cabinet session devoted to the Kosova crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Chaliy called the use of force in Yugoslavia "inadmissible" without the consent of the UN Security Council. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO STOP COOPERATION WITH IMF

The Supreme Council on 25 March voted four times to renounce the 1998 memorandum on cooperation between Ukraine and the IMF but failed by a margin of 21 votes to pass an appropriate resolution. Communist leader Symonenko told the parliament that policies outlined in the memorandum amount to the Ukrainian government's "genocide against its own people." National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko argued that World Bank and IMF loans are the only means of replenishing state reserves and financing the budget deficit, other than printing money. The parliament on 26 March voted by 231 votes to 44 to adopt a compromise resolution saying that the 1998 memorandum should be revised to correspond with Ukrainian law. JM

RUKH LEADER KILLED IN CAR ACCIDENT

Vyacheslav Chornovil, leader of the Popular Rukh of Ukraine, was killed on 25 March in a car crash near Kyiv, ITAR-TASS reported. Chornovil had led Rukh since its formation in the late 1980s and became well known as a staunch advocate of Ukrainian independence. JM

BALTIC STATES REMEMBER VICTIMS OF 1949 DEPORTATIONS

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on 25 March remembered the victims of mass deportations that took place 50 years ago on the orders of the Soviet authorities, Baltic news agencies reported. In March 1949, 20,702 people from Estonia, 47,322 from Latvia, and 29,180 from Lithuania were taken under armed guard to cattle trains bound for Siberia. Some victims died on the journey, many others fell victim in Siberia to hunger and illnesses. In Estonia, two former KGB employees have been convicted in connection with their involvement in the deportations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January and 11 March 1999). Both men were given suspended prison sentences. JC

TALLINN SAYS NATO ACTION 'UNAVOIDABLE'

Following the swearing in of the new Estonian cabinet, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 25 March saying that it regrets that negotiations failed to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Kosova but arguing that NATO action was "unavoidable." Estonian President Lennart Meri had told journalists the previous day after his return from France that NATO, its partner states, and Russia did "everything to avoid that war." He added that he "regrets deeply that the world was left with no choice" but to use force to bring peace to Kosova. JC

LITHUANIA'S RULING CONSERVATIVES REJECT PRESIDENTIAL AMENDMENTS

The ruling Conservatives, meeting late on 25 March, rejected amendments to the law on privatization submitted to the parliament by President Valdas Adamkus, ELTA reported the next day, citing "Lietuvos Rytas." Under those amendments, the government's right to decide on the distribution of money from the Privatization Fund would be transferred to the parliament. The Christian Democrats, which form the ruling alliance with the Conservatives, have said they will support the amendments, as have other factions in the parliament. The news agency noted that in previous controversies between the president and the ruling Conservatives, the Christian Democrats supported the presidential candidate to the post of State Controller and voted in favor of the presidential amendments to the competition law. JC

POLISH PREMIER COMPLETES GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE

Jerzy Buzek carried out a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle on 25 March by appointing Maciej Srebro, Franciszka Cegielska, Artur Balazs, and Andrzej Zakrzewski as new ministers of telecommunications, health, agriculture, and culture. All the appointees are affiliated with Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). Government spokesman Krzysztof Luft commented that the "reconstruction of the government" has been completed. The Freedom Union (UW), the AWS's coalition partner, said Buzek nominated Srebro and Zakrzewski without the UW's approval. Zakrzewski replaced Joanna Wnuk- Nazarowa of the UW. Andrzej Potocki of the UW commented that the coalition will survive, but "it will continue in conditions considerably more difficult than so far." JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT 'ACCEPTS' NATO DECISION

The government on 25 March said that while the Czech Republic, as a member of NATO, accepts the decision to launch air strikes on Yugoslavia, that decision was taken "before the Czech Republic became a member," CTK reported. Premier Milos Zeman told "Mlada fronta Dnes" that it is "superfluous" to speculate on whether Prague would have had any effect on the decision if the Czech Republic had been a NATO member when it was made. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on 25 March told Nova TV that the Czech Republic "is not at war with Yugoslavia." He said NATO has not formally declared war on Yugoslavia and the Czech Republic "takes no part in the NATO operations." MS

SLOVAK NATIONALISTS TO MOVE NO CONFIDENCE VOTE OVER GOVERNMENT'S NATO SUPPORT

The extreme right Slovak National Party (SNS) on 25 March said it will move in the parliament a no confidence vote in Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet, CTK reported, quoting SNS chairman Jan Slota. Slota said the government "has lost the moral right to stay in office" by allowing "the aggressor" to use Slovak air space. Yugoslav ambassador to Bratislava Veljko Curic said Slovakia's decision was "an enormous shock" and that those who made it "without consent from the parliament must answer before their own people." Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on Slovak television that the ambassador's remarks were "inappropriate," and he denied Slovakia intended to dispatch to Kosova an engineering platoon composed of 30-40 troops, CTK reported. MS

HOLBROOKE IN HUNGARY

U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on 25 March attended a closed session of the Hungarian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and discussed the Kosova crisis with Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, Hungarian media reported. Holbrooke said that while "there is no guaranteed way" to protect ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina from extremist Serbs, "it would not be in Milosevic's interest to open new front lines." Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 25 March told journalists that "Yugoslavia has enough problems already, even without considering any military operations against Hungary." He said consultations between the cabinet and NATO are "continuous" and that NATO had "accurately informed" Budapest twelve hours in advance of the operations it undertook. MS




NATO LAUNCHES SECOND NIGHT OF AIR STRIKES

NATO aircraft attacked up to 20 military targets in Serbia and Montenegro during the night of 25-26 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Targets included army and air bases as well as military communications centers. U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen told CNN that all planes returned to base safely. During the previous night's raids, NATO aircraft destroyed three Yugoslav MiG fighters, the BBC reported. The correspondent added that "there is not one shred of evidence" to substantiate Belgrade's claims that its forces shot down at least one NATO aircraft. Observers noted that NATO officials are surprised that the Yugoslav military has fired only one missile from its Soviet SAM air defense system at NATO aircraft. Retired Croatian General Martin Spegelj, who is one of the region's senior military commentators, told "Novi List" that he expects NATO attacks will become "even more intense" in the coming days. PM

BELGRADE BREAKS DIPLOMATIC LINKS

Yugoslav authorities on 25 March announced that Belgrade has broken diplomatic relations with Washington, London, Paris, and Bonn. The Yugoslav authorities are considering the future of their diplomatic ties with other countries involved in the air strikes. PM

INFORMATION BECOMES MORE DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN

Serbian authorities on 25 March told journalists from NATO countries that they must leave Yugoslavia because their reporting allegedly encouraged the Atlantic alliance to launch air strikes. It is unclear whether Greek journalists, who are often sympathetic to Serbian views, are included in the ban. It has become increasingly difficult to verify conflicting Serbian and Kosovar claims as to what is happening on the ground in that province because most foreign journalists and all OSCE monitors have left, several international broadcasters reported on 26 March. Observers noted that some of the Serbian independent media have recently moved closer to Belgrade's official line in their reporting on the conflict, including Radio B-92 and the BETA news agency. PM

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN KOSOVA?

Guerrillas of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) have taken advantage of NATO air strikes to attack Serbian positions, the Serbian Media Center reported from Prishtina on 25 March. Kosovar sources reported heavy fighting in the areas to the north and west of Prishtina. They added that Serbian tanks have surrounded Qirez, where 20,000 people have taken refuge. Serbian police in several localities have detained Kosovar males "of whom all trace is then lost," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. One Serbian soldier told a Kosovar woman to "ask NATO where your husband is." A UCK spokesman in London said that Serbian police have singled out middle-class persons and especially teachers in the latest round-up. In Prishtina, a Serbian policeman told Serbian residents of an apartment building to put special stickers on their doors, the BBC reported. PM

SERBIAN FORCES "ETHNICALLY CLEANSE" BORDER VILLAGE

About 200 Kosovar refugees, mostly women and children, arrived from the remote border village of Goden in the village of Dobruna in Albania's Kukes district on 25 March. The refugees reported that Serbian security forces entered Goden and separated the men from the women and children, whom they forced to march across the border along the only mine-free route. They then set the village ablaze, AP reported. FS

OSCE FEARS NEW MASSACRE

OSCE spokesman Andrea Angeli told Reuters in Tirana on 25 March that "we confirm that Goden is in flames. Our monitors [on the Albanian side of the border] saw Serbian forces round up the [ethnic] Albanian population...and later heard gunshots." Albanian police reported seeing their Serbian counterparts enter Goden, round up all the residents in front of the school, take the men away, and then set fire to the schoolhouse. One of the 10 male eye-witnesses who managed to flee Goden said he fears the forces killed 24 male inhabitants. He added "I am alive only because I knew the Serbian commander." FS

TENSIONS RISE ALONG BORDER

Albanian border officials told AP that reinforcements of Serbian forces have been deployed along the border, adding that those troops fired at villages in Kosova all day on 25 March. Reporters on the Albanian side of the border saw "large numbers" of Serbian forces armed with heavy artillery across the frontier. They also heard mortar fire and saw houses aflame in five villages. Captain Ramiz Tahari, who heads the border guards in the Has region, said Yugoslav guards opened fire on his station and wounded one of his men. Information Minister Musa Ulqini said in Tirana that Yugoslav forces fired mortars into Albania earlier the same day, slightly damaging three houses near Tropoja. Army commander Kudesi Lama told AP that "we are no longer talking about avoiding incidents but [are] preparing for possible attacks." FS

ALBANIA CLOSES AIRPORT

Albania shut down its only international airport, which is near Tirana, on 25 March for an indefinite period owing to security reasons. Ferries to Italy are still in operation, Reuters reported. FS

ALBRIGHT WARNS MILOSEVIC OVER MONTENEGRO

Speaking in Washington on 25 March, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned President Slobodan Milosevic not to "attempt to use this crisis to broaden the conflict or spread violence and instability elsewhere in the region. Nor should he attack the democratically elected government of Montenegro, whose approach to the crisis has been rational and constructive, in stark contrast to that of President Milosevic." She added that "any attempt to either overthrow the democratically elected government [of Montenegro] or to create instability would lead to deeper isolation for the Serbs, for Yugoslavia, and escalate the conflict with NATO." Elsewhere in Washington, Montenegrin representative Zorica Maric warned that continuing NATO attacks on targets in her republic could "undermine support among the people for the democratically elected government" of President Milo Djukanovic, who blames Milosevic for the current crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1999). PM

BULATOVIC CALLS FOR MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT SESSION

Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic called for an emergency meeting of the Montenegrin parliament to "decide whether to stand with Serbia," AP reported on 26 March. He added that "it's most vital to maintain peace and then the people of Montenegro can decide later" whether they wish to remain part of Yugoslavia. Bulatovic is the arch- rival of Djukanovic, who does not recognize the Bulatovic government. Djukanovic says he wants Montenegro to remain in Yugoslavia but demands that Milosevic change his policies on a variety of issues, including Kosova. PM

CLINTON APPEALS TO SERBS

President Bill Clinton, in a 25 March televised address broadcast via satellite to the Serbian people, appealed to "all Serbs and all persons of good will to join with us in ending this conflict." Clinton noted that Washington and its allies "have no quarrel with the Serbian people." He stressed that Milosevic and his policies are to blame for the crisis. Milosevic, he continued, "has your sons fighting a senseless conflict you did not ask for that he could have prevented.... Hopefully, he will realize that his present course is unsustainable The sooner we find a peaceful resolution of this dispute..., the sooner Serbia can join the rest of Europe and build a nation that gives all its citizens a choice and a chance for prosperity," Clinton said. He noted that the Milosevic regime has offered its citizens "too much propaganda and too little plain truth." PM

SERBS STAGE VIOLENT PROTEST IN SKOPJE

Some 2,000 members of Macedonia's small Serbian minority, along with some Macedonian nationalists, fire-bombed the U.S. embassy and also damaged the German and British embassies on 25 March. U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Chris Hill said none of his staff was injured. Protesters threw rocks and other objects at cars belonging to the OSCE and international agencies and at the hotel where most foreign personnel are staying. The attacks appeared "orchestrated," the BBC reported. Some protesters physically attacked German journalists, Deutsche Welle added. PM

TAIWAN TO HELP MACEDONIA WITH REFUGEES

Officials of Republic of China's Foreign Ministry said in Taipei on 26 March that Taiwan will provide $2 million to help Macedonia deal with an influx of refugees from Kosova. The officials added that Skopje requested the assistance. Some 20,000 Kosovar refugees are currently in Macedonia, but the total could eventually reach 200,000, Reuters reported from Taipei (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1999). PM

CROATIA WANTS ASSURANCES FROM NATO

Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa told the government on 25 March that Croatia supports the NATO air strikes but wants guarantees for its security from NATO and the U.S., "Jutarnji list" reported. He added that Croatia supports Western policies in the region and should receive the same assurances that the Atlantic alliance recently gave to members of the Partnership for Peace program, even though Croatia is not yet a member of that program (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 March 1999). PM

MOST CROATIAN AIRPORTS REOPEN

A spokesman for Croatian Airlines said in Zagreb on 26 March that Croatia has reopened its airspace, which it closed two days earlier. He said that only the airport at Pula, which is near NATO's key air base at Aviano, Italy, will remain closed, Reuters reported. PM

U.S. PROTESTS BOSNIAN SERB ATTACK

The U.S. embassy in Sarajevo issued a statement on 26 March condemning an attack on its office by violent protesters in Banja Luka the previous day. One staff member was seriously injured, Reuters reported. "The U.S. expects local authorities to aggressively investigate and prosecute those responsible for the attack," the text added. "We hold responsible all those officials who recently made statements suggesting that violence against the U.S. and the international community might be acceptable under any circumstances," the statement noted. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj recently called on Serbs to attack U.S. interests everywhere. PM

ROMANIAN CLOSES AIRPORTS NEAR YUGOSLAV BORDER

Transportation Minister Traian Basescu told journalists on 25 March that he has ordered the airports in Timisoara, Arad, and Caransebes closed "in response to a NATO request to set up an "air traffic safety zone" in the vicinity of the Yugoslav border. The Foreign Ministry the same day expressed "concern" over the consequences of the Kosova crisis for the region and said that Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, rotating chairman of the South East European Cooperation (SEEC), which includes Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, and Romania, has convened a meeting in Bucharest of the monitoring group, formed by an SEES gathering in Bucharest on 19 March, to discuss the "humanitarian" consequences of the crisis. The Romanian Red Cross announced it is ready to extend aid "without discrimination" to either side in the conflict. MS

FITCH IBCA DOWNGRADES ROMANIA'S RATING

The Fitch IBCA international rating agency on 24 March downgraded Romania's rating for the service of its long-term external debt from B to B minus and for the servicing of the country's internal debt from BB minus to B minus, Mediafax reported. The agency downgraded the rating for external debt servicing from BB minus to B last December. MS

MOLDOVA, TIRASPOL ON NATO STRIKES

The Moldovan Foreign Ministry on 25 March said it is "worried" about the failure of the negotiating process in Yugoslavia and "takes note" that the NATO decision to use force has been "to a large extent imposed by the irreconcilable position" of one of the sides involved in the Kosova conflict. The ministry said any use of force "carries with it inherent risks" and that Moldova will continue to support and participate in "efforts of the international community to restore peace and the respect of human rights in Kosova," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The communist parliamentary group expressed "indignation" over the strikes. Vladimir Atamanyuk, chairman of the separatist Supreme Soviet, said on 25 March that "Tiraspol will grant Russian armed forces the right to use its military or civilian airfields" and supports "blocking NATO- launched aggression and NATO's eastward expansion." MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT ALLOWS DEPUTIES TO RUN IN LOCAL ELECTIONS

The parliament on 25 March voted to allow deputies to run for mayor in the local elections scheduled for 23 May but requires them to resign from the legislature if elected, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Christian Democratic Popular Front leader Iurie Rosca and communist deputy Vasili Ivov were denied registration by the Chisinau Electoral Council on 19 March. Five days later, the Central Electoral Commission rejected Rosca's appeal against that decision. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT URGES YUGOSLAVIA TO SIGN KOSOVA DEAL

The parliament on 25 March passed a resolution calling on Yugoslavia to "sign the peace agreement in order to avert new human casualties and destruction." At the same time, it called on NATO to accept Bulgaria as a member. Both President Petar Stoyanov and Premier Ivan Kostov told the special session of the legislature that Bulgaria faces no immediate political or military danger from the conflict. The opposition, led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, voted against the resolution. Kostov told legislators that he and Stoyanov received a message from President Bill Clinton saying the U.S. will guarantee Bulgaria's security if the war spills over the border, BTA and Reuters reported. BTA reported that some 120 Albanians from Macedonia and Yugoslavia have fled to Bulgaria. MS




GERMAN ACADEMIC SEES PRO-ARMENIAN TURN IN KARABAKH CONFLICT


by Emil Danielyan

A German scholar specializing in Eastern European law says the Armenian side in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has reversed diplomatic setbacks suffered at the last OSCE summit and has thereby secured a peace plan largely reflecting its interests.

"After major [diplomatic] losses, Armenia now has a considerable position advantage over Azerbaijan," despite the lack of progress in the stalled Karabakh peace process, according to Professor Otto Luchterhandt, who is director of the Department for Research of Eastern European Law at the University of Hamburg and who has been a legal consultant since 1992 in several former Soviet republics, including Armenia.

Addressing students, political analysts, and journalists at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan, Luchterhandt said Azerbaijan is facing a "difficult situation," having rejected the OSCE's most recent proposals to resolve the Karabakh dispute, endorsed by the EU earlier this month. He said by putting forward the idea of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and the Armenian-populated disputed enclave, the OSCE backed down from its previous unconditional support for the principle of territorial integrity.

That principle is championed by Azerbaijan as a necessary condition for a lasting peace with Armenia. Baku, for its part, has said the OSCE plan is unacceptable because it does not guarantee restoration of Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh, which declared its independence in 1991. Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have largely accepted the plan.

At the OSCE's Lisbon summit in December 1996, Armenia found itself alone in opposing a document endorsing Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Many considered it a serious diplomatic defeat. Luchterhandt believes that the OSCE's "diversion" from a hitherto "balanced approach" toward the conflicting parties was a consequence of the 1996 Armenian presidential election, which was marred by widespread fraud. And it was international pressure that led then President Levon Ter-Petrossian to call for sweeping concessions to Azerbaijan in his famous discourse in late 1997. But this, Luchterhandt said, "put Ter-Petrossian at odds with the military guarantors of the illegitimate president's power." The backlash cost Ter-Petrossian his presidency in February 1998.

Yet with Robert Kocharian's subsequent rise to power, the OSCE's Minsk Group returned to "pre-Lisbon principles" in its mediation efforts, the German professor argued. The new plan, unveiled last November, is based on a "package" strategy, whereby all major sticking points, including Karabakh's status, are to be settled by a single peace accord. Besides, the document apparently avoids using terms such as "autonomy."

In purely legalistic terms, Luchterhandt continued, the Karabakh Armenians' drive for independence from Azerbaijan is in accordance with the internationally recognized principle of self-determination. According to the German professor, Karabakh's secession from Azerbaijan in 1991 was in accordance with international and Soviet law since it took place before Azerbaijan's independence was recognized worldwide. A Soviet law allowed autonomous entities to decide their fate if the republic of which they were part seceded from the Soviet Union.

However, political considerations have prevailed over legal ones in the international community's response to the Karabakh and other ethnic disputes. In Luchterhandt's words, the West fears a change of borders would trigger a "chain reaction" of secessionist movements across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Luchterhandt drew parallels with the conflict in Kosova, whose ethnic Albanian majority, he said, has the right of self- determination enjoyed by other republics of the former Yugoslavia. The only difference, he said, is that Kosova's autonomous status was arbitrarily abolished by Serbian authorities in 1989, shortly before the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The scholar also noted that the unresolved Karabakh dispute is a serious obstacle to Armenia's integration in European structures, which is a priority of the Yerevan authorities. He said it is the primary reason why Armenia, unlike neighboring Georgia, failed to gain full membership in the Council of Europe. However, the unresolved dispute did not prevent the EU from signing "partnership and cooperation" agreements with all three Transcaucasian states in 1996. Those agreements will go into force next June following a lengthy ratification procedure by all EU members. Under its accord with the EU, Armenia committed itself to bringing its legislation into conformity with European norms. The EU, for its part, will assist the country in developing democratic institutions. Luchterhandt suggested that this may give a boost to political reform and democratization in the Transcaucasus.

At the same time, Luchterhandt came to the interesting conclusion that problems with democracy and human rights will not disappear in Armenia until the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. With the constant threat of a resumption of the war with Azerbaijan, the military and security apparatus play a disproportionately large role in politics, being, in effect, beyond civilian control. "As long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, there will be no political disarmament of the military and movement toward a civil society," he said.

Europe--and more specifically the OSCE--will nonetheless remain the main forum to search for peace in Karabakh, he argued. True, the OSCE is far away from the region, but "that is both its weakness and its strength." There is simply no international organization (even the CIS) that can offer a credible alternative to the OSCE's mediation, Luchterhandt concluded. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.


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