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Newsline - March 29, 1999




PRIMAKOV TO MEET WITH MILOSEVIC

Russian agencies reported on 29 March that Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov will meet with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic the next day in Belgrade. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev will accompany Primakov. According to State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Primakov and Milosevic have been in "constant contact" since the NATO air strikes began, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, President Boris Yeltsin has sent a letter to Milosevic expressing support for Yugoslavia and detailing a "whole range of specific proposals for a settlement to the crisis," presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told Ekho Moskvy on 27 March. JAC

FOREIGN MINISTRY MIXES HARSH RHETORIC WITH SUPPORT FOR START-II

In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 March, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov accused NATO of committing "genocide" against the Yugoslav people and suggested that the alliance answer for its crimes before the UN war crimes tribunal. He added that it is "obvious that NATO can no longer claim to discharge peace-making functions." The same day, in his address to the Duma, Ivanov argued that the START-II treaty should still be ratified, although "now is apparently not the best time." Ivanov also rejected the possibility of closing the Russian embassy in the U.S., adding that Russia will not end its ties with the U.S., although bilateral relations have been severely damaged. Also on 27 March, Duma members adopted a 16-point resolution condemning NATO by a vote of 366 to four with two abstentions. Among other things, the resolution recommends that ratification of the START-II treaty be postponed to protest NATO air strikes JAC

RUSSIA TO TRIM BACK FURTHER MILITARY COOPERATION

Citing Defense Ministry sources, Interfax reported on 26 March that Russia will be scaling back planned military contacts with NATO member countries for the next few months by as much as 100 percent in some cases. The same day, the Defense Ministry announced that it will stop cooperation with the U.S. to solve the so-called millennium computer bug problem, and General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of staff of the Armed Forces, refused to speak by telephone to his U.S. counterpart, General Harry Shelton, on 26 March, according to the agency. Russia earlier announced the end of its military cooperation program with NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1999). On 27 March, Russia refused to host Pentagon experts who were to have arrived in Moscow that day to discuss nuclear weapons safety under the auspices of the Nunn-Lugar program. JAC

SHOTS FIRED AT U.S. EMBASSY...

Unidentified attackers tried to fire a grenade launcher and released two bursts of automatic rifle fire at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on 28 March. NTV and ITAR-TASS reported that three men have been detained in connection with the incident. According to ITAR-TASS, some 1,500 people had gathered near the embassy on 28 March. The previous day, NTV estimated that 3,000- 4,000 people were in attendance. According to news agencies, participants were both young and old and members of such diverse organizations as the Communist Party, soccer fan clubs, and political extremist organizations. Vladimir Ryzhkov, Duma deputy and leader of the Our Home Is Russia faction, predicted on NTV that if the bombing continues for another week or couple of weeks, "then the whole world will come out against the U.S. and its allies." JAC

...WHILE OTHER EMBASSIES REMAIN RELATIVELY UNTOUCHED

Protests at the British Embassy have been markedly less violent, the "Moscow Times" reported, while the German Embassy witnessed only one small protest on 24 March. Other than a swastika painted on the building opposite the German embassy and blue paint splashed on the gates of the British embassy, property damage has been minimal. JAC

REGIONAL LEADERS JOIN MOSCOW IN CONDEMNING NATO...

A number of regional leaders, including Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Volgograd Mayor Yurii Chekov, and Novosibirsk Governor Vitalii Mukha, have expressed solidarity with the position of the Moscow government in condemning NATO air strikes, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 March. The previous day, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, whose oblast was once called one of Russia's islands of reform by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, suggested on 26 March that the Federation Council hold an emergency session on 31 March to censure NATO. He called NATO attacks on Yugoslavia "a colossal mistake by the U.S.," Interfax-Eurasia reported. The legislative assembly of Karelia and members of the interregional association Bolshaya Volga have adopted statements protesting NATO actions, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. JAC

...AS CITIZENS ORGANIZE NEW PROTESTS

Meanwhile, more street protests were held outside of Moscow. In St. Petersburg, members of the Liberal Democratic Party, National Bolshevik Party, and monarchist and extreme leftist organizations participated in a rally on 27 March outside of the city's Kazan Cathedral, carrying placards that read "Yesterday Iraq, Today Serbia, Tomorrow Russia" and "Yankees Out of Yugoslavia," Interfax-Northwest reported. The previous day, students in Blagoveshchensk in Amur Oblast burned a U.S. flag, and trade union members in Ryazan led a protest in the town's Victory Square, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Meanwhile, burial ceremonies for Wehrmacht soldiers killed in Russia during World War II scheduled to be held on 15 May have been postponed to protest NATO bombings, Volgograd oblast officials announced on 26 March, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

GOVERNMENT DISTANCES ITSELF FROM RIGHT-DEMOCRATS' PEACE EFFORT

Former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, and former State Tax Service head Boris Fedorov, all of whom are members of the Right Cause party, launched their own private Balkan peace initiative, meeting in Budapest with U.S. presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke and Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 28 March. Foreign Minister Ivanov told reporters the next day that "neither the president nor the government authorized them to hold talks and to put forward initiatives on behalf of Russia." He added that it looked "strange that Holbrooke arrived in Budapest all of a sudden, allegedly as a private individual at exactly the same time as when the Russian politicians arrived." Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said after his meeting with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on 26 March that he will take back to Moscow new peace proposals. JAC

NEW HOPE IN MOSCOW FOR IMF AGREEMENT

After the arrival of IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus in Moscow on 27 March, Russian officials were noticeably more optimistic about the outcome of negotiations. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters that an agreement could be reached in three days, and First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov said that the two sides have only "millimeters" of differences left to bridge. "Izvestiya" commented that "practically no one doubts that an agreement with the IMF will soon be reached." Camdessus met with Maslyukov, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 28 March and with Duma Chairman Seleznev the next day. He also spoke with President Yeltsin by telephone. JAC

NEWSPAPER EDITOR SACKED FOR APOLOGY, NOT CRITICISM?

"Kommersant-Daily" editor Raf Shakirov was likely dismissed for his published apology to Prime Minister Primakov for an earlier article, not for the article itself, as was first reported, according to the "Moscow Times" on 27 March. Speaking on NTV two days earlier, Prime Minister Primakov said that he was indignant over Shakirov's departure. "To sack a brilliant journalist and good manager for his apologies? You can agree or disagree with him, but if he sees that some information does not correspond with reality and wants to correct it, I think he improves the newspaper," Primakov commented. JAC

SUPREME COURTS SUPPORTS MOSCOW BAN ON RNE

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling on 26 March banning the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity (RNE) from convening its national congress in Moscow. According to "Kommersant-Daily" the next day, the group's last chance may be to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights in the Hague. Also on 26 March, the daily reported, Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov instituted criminal proceedings against Duma deputy and member of the Communist Party Albert Makashov for his repeated anti-Semitic public statements. JAC

ELECTION UPSET IN KHAKASSIA

According to preliminary data, voters in the Republic of Khakassia voted against incumbents in the 28 March elections for most of the nine city and raion administrations heads and 50 municipal organs, ITAR-TASS reported. One newspaper correspondent, two directors of state enterprises, and a deputy police chief unseated current heads of rural raion administrations, while Petr Ovchinnikov, deputy head of a municipal communications center, was elected mayor of Sayangorsk. JAC




ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER, FORMER CP FIRST SECRETARY TO FORM ELECTION ALLIANCE?

Galust Sahakian, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) which is headed by Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 26 March that the HHK and the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) will "most probably" declare a joint list of candidates for the 30 May parliamentary elections. That party was founded last year by former Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian. Sargsian has demonstrated respect for Demirchian since last year's presidential election campaign, in which Demirchian lost in the runoff to Robert Kocharian. Demirchian has not confirmed Sahakian's statement. LF

RUSSIA AGAIN HINTS AT SHIFT ON KARABAKH MEDIATION

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Drachevskii told journalists in Yerevan on 27 March that as one of the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, Russia is prepared to amend the most recent draft peace plan for Nagorno-Karabakh in order to "find a normal solution acceptable to all parties," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have endorsed that plan, which advocates that Azerbaijan and Karabakh create a "common state," but Azerbaijan has rejected it. Visiting Baku four days earlier, Drachevskii had similarly assured Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev that Moscow will no longer insist that the "common state" model be used as the only one for mediating a solution to the conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1999). Karabakh Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian, who together with her Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, met with Drachevskii in Yerevan, said she does not believe Russia favors more concessions to Baku. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAW ON MILITARY SERVICE

Lawmakers on 26 March voted to raise the maximum age for military service from 26 to 27, Interfax reported. They also abolished the previously existing exemption from the draft for only sons and for the sons of persons killed in the Karabakh war or during the Soviet army intervention in Baku in January 1990. LF

AZERBAIJAN DENIES CONDEMNING NATO STRIKES

The press service of the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry issued a statement on 27 March denying that Defense Minister Safar Abiev had appended his signature to the statement condemning NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia adopted two days earlier at the CIS defense ministers' meeting in Moscow, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1999). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT PAYS TRIBUTE TO PREDECESSOR

In his weekly radio broadcast on 29 March, Eduard Shevardnadze spoke against ignoring the role of any Georgian politician who contributed to the restoration of Georgia's independent status, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze singled out the 31 March 1991 referendum, organized by the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia, as having made an important contribution to that process. In that referendum, the majority of the Georgian population voted for the restoration of independence. Gamsakhurdia, who died on 1 January 1994, would have celebrated his 60th birthday on 31 March. LF

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN VISITS GEORGIA

Vytautas Landsbergis held talks in Tbilisi on 25-26 March with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, and parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze thanked Lithuania for supporting Georgia in its quest for full membership in the Council of Europe. Landsbergis expressed Lithuania's interest in gaining observer status with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and in participating in joint economic and transport projects. He mentioned specifically the TRACECA project to revive the "Silk Road" and the export of Caspian oil via Lithuania. LF

UN MILITARY MISSION TO RESUME OPERATIONS IN GORNO-BADAKHSHAN

The UN observer mission in Tajikistan has carried out two inspection missions to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Republic of Tajikistan and will resume operations there shortly, AP-Blitz reported from Dushanbe on 26 March. The UN suspended operations in Gorno-Badakshan last year following the murder last summer of three mission members and their driver in the region. Also on 26 March, the Tajik Supreme Court handed down death sentences to three former opposition fighters found guilty of those murders, Interfax reported. LF

TURKMENISTAN MOVES TO DEREGULATE HOUSING MARKET

President Saparmurat Niyazov has signed a resolution empowering the Ashgabat mayor's office to sell state-owned apartments to individuals and legal entities, including foreigners, Interfax reported on 26 March. The resolution also allows government banks to offer long-term loans to Turkmen citizens for the purpose of purchasing houses or apartments. LF




UKRAINE WON'T REARM WITH NUKES, WILL MAINTAIN NATO TIES

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said on 26 March that "there is no turning back" with regard to the country's nuclear weapon-free status, ITAR-TASS reported. He spoke following a resolution in the parliament calling for Kyiv to rearm with nuclear weapons in response to NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. Vladymyr Horbulyn, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said the country does not have the "technological or financial resources" to revoke its nuclear-free status. He added that Ukraine still intends to take part in the NATO summit in Washington next month. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk had told parliament on 26 March that cooperation with NATO is in the national interests. PB

KUCHMA TO BELGRADE?

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said on 27 March that he is awaiting word from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on the possibility of the latter meeting with President Leonid Kuchma, Reuters reported. Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Kuzmuk met with Milosevic and other Yugoslav officials the same day. Kuchma has said he is willing to go to Belgrade in an effort to mediate a resolution to the Kosova crisis. PB

UKRAINE WELCOMES IMF DECISION TO RESUME AID

Ukrainian officials welcomed the IMF's decision on 26 March to release the next tranche of a $2.2 billion loan to the country, AP reported. Ukraine is to receive $153 million over the next few days. The IMF halted the loan in November because of Ukraine's slow pace in reforms. The government has since raised prices on utilities and taken moves to streamline the government by reducing ministries. It can now expect to receive World Bank loans. PB

OPPOSITION MARKS ANNIVERSARY WITH RALLY IN MINSK

Several thousand people held a rally in Minsk on 28 March to mark the 81st anniversary of the first independent Belarusian state and to protest against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, AP reported. Most of the participants were members of opposition groups and called for Lukashenka to resign. The short-lived Belarusian Democratic Republic was established on 25 March 1918 but the exiled government disintegrated under the 1921 Treaty of Riga, which created the Belarusian SSR. PB

ETHNIC RUSSIAN YOUTHS IN TALLINN DEMONSTRATE AGAINST NATO STRIKES

Some 50 Russian youths gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn on 28 March to protest NATO strikes against Yugoslavia, ETA reported. They dispersed peacefully, however, after police pointed out that they did not have permission to hold a demonstration. The youths, who were aged 14 to 24, vowed to gather again outside the embassy later this week. JC

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED INTO LATVIAN NEWSPAPER

The Office for the Protection of the Constitution has launched a criminal investigation into "Latvietis Latvija" for inciting racial and ethnic hatred, BNS reported on 26 March. The deputy director of the office, Uldis Dzenitis, told the news agency that the move was discussed and coordinated with the Prosecutor-General's Office. Meanwhile, the prosecutor- general is still examining whether the re-publication of "The Fearful Year" constitutes incitement to racial hatred (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1999). JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS ONLY ONE REMAINING DIFFERENCE WITH PREMIER...

Speaking to journalists after meeting with the parliamentary group of the Christian Democrats, the junior coalition party, Valdas Adamkus said the only remaining disagreement between himself and Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius is the latter's unwillingness to recognize the many problems confronting the country, ELTA and BNS reported on 26 March. Adamkus added that he does not believe that it is his job to "prove the existence of the difficulties that all Lithuania is talking about." Asked whether a government that refuses to recognize existing problems should stay in office, Adamkus suggested that the cabinet would have to decide for itself what to do. JC

...APPOINTS NEW OMBUDSMAN

Also on 26 March, Adamkus said he will propose Audrius Rudys, a financial consultant and a member of the Social Democratic Party, for the post of ombudsman, ELTA reported. Arvydas Vidziunas, head of the ruling Conservatives' parliamentary group, responded that his colleagues are "astounded" that the president has proposed a "clearly politically engaged" person for the post. He warned that the Conservatives may oppose Rudys's candidacy. Earlier this year, Adamkus twice nominated lawyer Kestutis Lapinskas as ombudsman, but the Conservatives succeeded in rejecting that nomination by a narrow majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January and 12 February 1999). JC

POLISH PRESIDENT SAYS MOSCOW ALSO TO BLAME FOR YUGOSLAV CONFLICT

Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 26 March that Russia is "co-responsible" for the failure in the recent peace talks, which has led to NATO strikes against Yugoslavia, AP reported. Kwasniewski, in an interview with Radio Zet, said "Russia could have played a significant role by pressuring...[Yugoslav] President [Slobodan] Milosevic and the Serbs to find a compromise solution." But he added that "Russia's role is not finished." In other news, Miroslaw Czech, the leader of the Freedom Union (a ruling coalition partner), said he is resigning from that post to protest Premier Jerzy Buzek's failure to get the party's approval for his cabinet reorganization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1999). PB

HAVEL CRITICIZES 'NATO CRITICS'

President Vaclav Havel told CTK on 26 March that those who publicly denounce NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia will be responsible for creating an "isolationist and, in the long run, extremely dangerous mood" in the Czech Republic. Earlier, opposition Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus had expressed "disappointment" over the strikes. Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart, Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Senator Petr Smutny, and human rights government commissioner Petr Uhl have all criticized the strikes, while Stanislav Gross, CSSD parliamentary group chairman in the Chamber of Deputies, said he cannot "in clear conscience" vote in favor of a NATO military operation in Yugoslavia. At a demonstration in Prague on 27 March organized by the Communists, participants threw eggs at the U.S. Embassy and broke a window. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT SAYS UN MANDATE 'DESIRABLE BUT NOT NECESSARY'

Jan Kavan said in a televised discussion on 28 March that the government has concluded that a mandate from the UN Security Council and the OSCE for NATO action in Yugoslavia would have been "desirable" but was "not absolutely necessary," CTK reported. He said that "in exceptional situations," NATO must be able to intervene without a specific mandate. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil told "Lidove noviny" the next day that Kavan is dissatisfied with the government's "too cautious" and "alibi- seeking" statement and with the assertion that the decision on the strikes was made before the Czech Republic officially joined NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1999). Kavan admitted on Czech television on 29 March that the government agreed to the strikes through its NATO ambassador, Karel Kovanda. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTRY WARNS 'VOLUNTEERS' FOR YUGOSLAVIA

Defense Ministry spokesman Pavol Vitko on 26 March warned that a Slovak citizen can serve in a foreign army only with the consent of the country's president and faces up to five years in prison if he does so without obtaining that permission, CTK reported. Vitko was reacting to a statement by Yugoslav ambassador to Bratislava Veljko Curic, who told journalists on 25 March that hundreds of young Slovaks have offered to fight on the Yugoslav side. Also on 26 March, several hundred people demonstrated in the center of the Slovak capital to protest NATO air strikes. The demonstration was organized by the Communist Party and the Slovak National Party. MS

SERBIAN JEWS FLEE TO BUDAPEST

Some 80 Jews from Yugoslavia, mainly women, elderly people, and children, have fled to Budapest to escape the wave of NATO bombings, Hungarian media reported, noting that the Serbian authorities are not allowing anyone over 15 to leave. Hungarian Workers' Party chairman Gyula Thurmer told some 150 people demonstrating in the front of the U.S. Embassy on 28 March that "we do not want a world war or yet another Vietnam war, but peace, security, and an independent Hungary free from NATO." MSZ




REFUGEES REPORT 'ETHNIC CLEANSING'

Consistent but unconfirmed reports by refugees arriving in Albania and Macedonia over the 26-28 March weekend suggest that Serbian security forces and paramilitaries have launched a systematic campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in much of northern and western Kosova, including Prishtina. Many refugees said that armed Serbs told them to leave their homes at short notice, robbed them, and then looted and burned the Kosovars' homes. The refugees added that many other Kosovars are too frightened to leave their homes to flee. The displaced persons noted that armed Serbs have looted shops in Prishtina and in provincial towns. Some refugees said Peja is deserted and on fire. Many Serbian residents of Prishtina put special stickers on their doors, Austrian Radio reported on 27 March. Serbian forces have targeted Kosovar intellectuals for execution and used women and children as human shields, the BBC noted. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll as running into the hundreds. PM

NATO SAYS 'DARK THINGS HAPPENING' IN KOSOVA

A spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said in Brussels on 27 March that "dark things are happening" in the Serbian province. He added that NATO is monitoring developments on the ground closely and passing information regarding possible war crimes to the Hague-based tribunal. German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping told ZDF Television on 28 March that "genocide is starting" in Kosova. British Defense Secretary George Robertson noted in London the previous day that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has sent paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" to Kosova, "which tells us [all we] need to know about [Milosevic's] true intentions." Robertson added that Serbian artillery has "obliterated" many Kosovar villages. Prime Minister Tony Blair noted that NATO attacks are the "only way" to stop repression in Kosova. The BBC stressed that Serbian forces are "killing Albanians for the sake of killing Albanians." Arkan told German NTV on 29 March that his message to the world is: "Don't quarrel with Serbs, ever." PM

NATO MOVES TO 'PHASE TWO'

In response to the increased Serbian attacks on Kosovar civilians, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana announced in Brussels on 27 March that the alliance's aircraft will begin attacking Serbian armor and artillery units operating in Kosova. The first such sorties began the following night, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. On 26 March, NATO aircraft shot down two Yugoslav MiG 29s over northeastern Bosnia. The following day, a Yugoslav helicopter entered Bosnian airspace "with hostile intent," a NATO spokesman in Sarajevo said. He added that Yugoslav violations of Bosnian airspace "are a clear threat" to peace and stability in that republic. Near Belgrade, a U.S. "Stealth" bomber crashed, but it is unclear whether Serbian forces shot it down or whether it crashed because of mechanical failure. A special U.S. military unit rescued the downed pilot and returned him to base in Italy. In Macedonia, NATO tanks patrolled the border with Kosova and NATO aircraft flew in Macedonian airspace. PM

REFUGEE CRISIS UNFOLDING IN AND AROUND KOSOVA

A NATO spokesman said in Brussels on 28 March that the alliance puts the number of refugees at more than 500,000, adding that the figure is increasing rapidly. Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana the following day that more than 60,000 refugees fleeing the recent fighting in Kosova have entered Albania. Serbian authorities reopened the border crossings at Qafe Prushi and Padesh in order to accelerate the flow of refugees, dpa reported. Most of the refugees are exhausted women, children, and elderly people. Many said that armed Serbs separated them from the men, whose whereabouts they do not know. "Several thousand refugees" from Peja and western Kosova have arrived in Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Refugees in Albania told the BBC that Serbian border guards took license plates and passports away from them, saying "you will never be allowed to return. " FS

ALBANIA WANTS NATO GROUND TROOPS

Meta, who heads the government's refugee committee, told the BBC on 29 March that "NATO ground troops...are indispensable in order to stop this genocide." President Rexhep Meidani told Reuters the previous day that it is imperative to step up NATO operations and to "consider all forms of intervention on the ground in Kosova." Meidani also said that the government has sent 300 buses to Kukes to help transport the refugees to various parts of Albania. The Kukes and Has district authorities have said they will be able to accommodate up to 3,000 people each in transit centers. Information Minister Musa Ulqini on 28 March repeated the government's call for urgent foreign aid, dpa reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said that the U.S. has promised $8.5 million in assistance, AP reported. FS

UCK CALLS ON KOSOVARS TO STAY

Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci urged ethnic Albanians on 28 March not to leave Kosova. Thaci said on Albanian public television: "Do not fall prey to panic. Do not abandon your ancient homes. We have no other homeland." He told refugees to "go to the territories under the control of the UCK," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, an OSCE spokesman told AP that Yugoslav forces fired 20 artillery rounds into the Albanian border police station in Kamenica, near Tropoja, on 27 March. And near Kukes, an Albanian border commander told Reuters that Serbian and Albanian border guards exchanged fire for three hours on 28 March. FS

CLINTON, ALLIES TO PRESS AHEAD ON KOSOVA

President Bill Clinton issued a statement in Washington on 28 March saying that "in the last 24 hours, I have been in close contact with key NATO allies, including Prime Minister Blair, [French] President [Jacques] Chirac, [German] Chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder, and [Italian] Prime Minister [Massimo] D'Alema. All of them share our determination to respond strongly to Mr. Milosevic's continuing campaign of inhumane violence against the Kosovar Albanian people. That is what we intend to do." PM

ALBRIGHT APPEALS TO SERBS

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in a broadcast in Serbo-Croatian on 26 March that "NATO's objective is not to harm innocent Serbs but to stop the attacks [in Kosova]. We ask Serbia's leaders to do now what they promised last fall--end the fighting and reduce their military presence" in the province, she added. "The sooner a peace agreement is reached, the sooner your isolation can end--and the sooner our peoples can work together again to build prosperity, democracy and, above all, peace," Albright noted. She also told her listeners that the Serbian government has not fully informed them about the terms of the Rambouillet peace accords, which Belgrade refuses to sign. PM

MILOSEVIC SLAMS NATO

Milosevic told visiting Ukrainian officials in Belgrade on 27 March that NATO air strikes against Serbian targets are "the worst threat to peace since 1945." He also called the strikes "a criminal act against peace and freedom," state-run television reported. Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic said on 28 March that "genocide is being carried out [in the province] only against the Serbs," Deutsche Welle reported. A Serbian spokesman told the BBC that the refugees are fleeing because they are afraid of NATO air strikes. PM

MONTENEGRO STEERS OWN COURSE

The Foreign Ministry in Podgorica said in a statement on 27 March that the Belgrade authorities did not consult or inform Montenegro about the recent decision to break diplomatic relations with several key NATO countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1999). The statement added that Montenegro does not consider itself bound by the decision. The previous day, the parliament adopted a resolution that "obliges all parties in the parliament and state bodies to work to preserve domestic peace as well as political, religious, and ethnic tolerance in Montenegro," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

BOSNIAN CROAT DEPUTY MINISTER DIES

Federal Deputy Interior Minister Jozo Leutar died in Sarajevo on 28 March as the result of injuries he sustained in a car bomb attack on 16 March. Police are still seeking to identify the killer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER HOSPITALIZED AFTER HEART ATTACK

Radu Vasile, who was hospitalized on 26 March following a "mild heart attack," has designated Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica, one of his two deputies, to "coordinate" the government's activities in his absence, a government spokesman announced the next day. President Emil Constantinescu, who has spoken with Vasile, said the latter's state of health "does not make it necessary to nominate an interim premier." Vasile is likely to be discharged at the end of the week, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REJECTS KOSOVA CRITICISM

Andrei Plesu told journalists on 26 March that media reports and opposition criticism of the government's stand on Kosova are "distorting reality," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Plesu said it is "incomprehensible" to claim support for Euro-Atlantic integration and at the same time distance oneself from the strikes, which, he said, were provoked by Yugoslav President Milosevic's "suicidal stubbornness." Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Elena Zamfirescu said the following day that Romania intends to ask Yugoslavia not to draft ethnic Romanians into the army. And before he was hospitalized, Vasile said Romania is ready to accept some 3,000-4,000 refugees. Romanian Radio reported on 29 March that 45 people have crossed the Serbian border. MS

TRANSDNIESTER COSSACKS READY TO VOLUNTEER FOR YUGOSLAVIA

An organization representing Cossacks who fought on the side of the Tiraspol separatists in the 1992 clashes announced on 26 March that it is ready to send volunteers to Yugoslavia to help in the "unequal struggle against the aggressors," Infotag reported. In a separate protest, the Transdniester Union of [Retired] Commissioned and Non-Commissioned Officers" warned that Moldova intends to "solve the Transdniester problem" using NATO's "Yugoslav blueprint." On 26 March, several dozen people took part in a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Chisinau that was organized by the Communists. Police detained six demonstrators who had vandalized a police van. MS

KOSTOV AGAIN DENIES NATO USES BULGARIAN AIR SPACE

Addressing the parliament on 26 March, Premier Ivan Kostov denied NATO aircraft have been using Bulgarian air space during the alliance's strikes against Yugoslavia. Kostov was responding to local media reports that NATO aircraft flew over Bulgaria on 25-26 March. He said that two NATO planes flew "within 3-5 kilometers from the border, inside Yugoslav air space," BTA reported. Also on 26 March, some 10,000 people participated in a demonstration in Sofia against the strikes. The rally was organized by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party. On 27 March, Deputy Foreign Minister Marin Raikov conveyed "Bulgaria's concern" to the U.S. embassy after debris from an air-to-air missile fired by NATO airplanes landed in Bulgaria. MS




TIRANA'S KIOSKS: A MIRROR OF SOCIAL CHANGE


by Fabian Schmidt

In January, the Tirana municipal authorities launched a campaign to remove several thousand unlicensed buildings housing small shops and cafes, dubbed "kiosks" by the locals, from the citys sidewalks and parks. Most people have welcomed this step, which is designed to win back public space from small-sized businesses. They hope that central Tiranas former parks and green areas will be restored to their former splendor, having made way for an unsightly labyrinth of cafes, restaurants, shops, and casinos. At the same time, many are concerned that closing down the kiosks will have a negative impact on the economy since the population will be denied the opportunity to ply a trade, unless, that is, the government provides alternatives for them to do so.

Thousands of families are directly or indirectly dependent on the incomes from the kiosk economy, which developed quickly and in an unregulated manner after the end of communism. Today's Tirana is the only European capital without a single supermarket. The kiosks, together with the city's open markets, provide all manner of consumer goods. (The city's only short-lived supermarket belonged to a pyramid investment scheme and was forced to close after the scheme's collapse in 1997.)

At the same time, some owners replaced their kiosks, which were originally built of light materials such as wood or metal, with solid concrete constructions up to three stories high, thus mirroring Tirana's chaotic urban development. Some of these buildings may be architectonically unsound: observers have warned of a possible catastrophe in the event of an earthquake, since many of the "kiosks" do not have proper foundations.

The kiosks in central Tiranas parks, however, are only part of the problem of illegal buildings in the capital. Since the end of communism in 1992, Tirana has seen rapid growth, with its population soaring from an estimated 400,000 to more than 700,000 as a result of migration from the countryside in the face of growing poverty. In the northwestern part of the city, newcomers--mostly from the northern regions of Bajram Curri and Kukes--have built virtually an entire city of ramshackle houses, which the older citizens of the capital call "New Kukes."

At the same time, a large number of migrant workers in Italy and Greece came back from those countries to build family homes that often also house small workshops or other enterprises. But many built their houses before receiving a building license. The main problem of obtaining such licenses are ongoing ownership disputes and the slow pace of work of the judiciary, which is widely believed to be prone to corruption.

Many Albanians blame Tiranas chaotic and often unregulated urban development on the countrys lack of effective government. But others point out that one of the government's priorities since the collapse of communism has been to promote free market activities and to encourage trade. Albania, in 1992, urgently needed to create jobs, trade, and the foundations of a functioning economy. The development of the "kiosk economy," therefore, appeared beneficial, if not essential, for the countrys recovery. Seven years later, priorities have changed. The government is now trying to win back the public space it has lost to the entrepreneurs, and by doing so, it is hoping to increase the quality of life in the city.

However, it will be impossible to tear down all of the more than 4,000 illegal buildings throughout the city. Most difficult to remove will be the kiosks in the central Youth Park, across from the Mussolini-era Dajti Hotel, and the buildings along the tiny Lana River. The Youth Park is Tiranas largest single area filled with kiosks, including several concrete buildings, many of which belong to influential businessmen. All of them are ordered closed by the summer.

The municipal authorities have not yet taken a decision regarding the buildings along the Lana River. Almost the entire course of the river, which runs through the city, is lined with houses that have no proper sewerage system. The bulk of the houses belong to poorer families, including many Roma. The municipality has so far indicated that it will order the destruction of some houses close to where the river crosses the city's main boulevard. But, as in the case of most illegal buildings in Tirana, they will likely continue to tolerate those farther away from the city center.


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