Accessibility links

Newsline - April 6, 1999


The ruble slipped below 25 rubles per dollar for the first time on 5 April, closing at 25.11 rubles to the dollar. Analysts point to the dwindling reserves of the Central Bank, which have contracted to $10.9 billion (a three-year low), as a primary cause for the currency's slide, AFP reported. The ruble has already lost 22 percent of its value since the beginning of 1999, according to the "Moscow Times" on 6 April. Barring either a jump in world oil prices or an agreement forgiving some of Russia's foreign debt, downward pressure on the ruble is likely to continue, analysts say. Meanwhile, inflation slowed to 2.8 percent in March from 4.1 percent the previous month and 8.5 percent in January, Interfax reported. JAC


Russian television news began coverage of ethnic cleansing in Kosova on 4 April, when NTV's "Itogi" showed pictures of Kosovar Albanians being forced from their homes by Yugoslav soldiers. In addition, "Itogi's" anchorman Yevgenii Kiselev disclosed that the reports of Russian journalists in Serbia were subjected to military censorship. NTV chief editor Vladimir Kulistikov explained the shift by pointing to simple economics, telling the "Moscow Times" on 6 April that the network has finally found the money to send its ace reporter, Pavel Lobkov, to Macedonia to get a first- hand report from ethnic-Albanian refugees. Analysts expect the rest of Russia's TV networks to follow NTV's lead, and Yevgenii Volk of the Heritage Foundation told the daily that the change in media coverage was an indication that the Russian government would eventually soften its stance against NATO. JAC


Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told reporters on 3 April that food aid delivered to Russia by the EU and the U.S. will not be sent on to Yugoslavia. The first shipment of Russian food aid for Yugoslavia will be sent on 7 April, according to Minister for Emergencies Sergei Shoigu. About 900 tons of aid worth about $1 million will be transported by truck, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia will supply medicines and foodstuffs, including baby food, sugar, and salt, as well as warm clothes and tents. JAC


Russian President Boris Yeltsin called NATO air raids "barbaric" and accused the alliance on 6 April of bombing "historical cultural monuments which are registered by UNESCO." Moscow mayor and likely presidential contender Yurii Luzhkov lodged his own charges against NATO, accusing it of using radioactive and environmentally dangerous obsolete missiles and bombs in its strikes against Yugoslavia. The same day, citing information from the Armed Forces' General Staff, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that spies hired by the U.S.'s OSCE contingent were arrested trying to set up an automatic laser beacon near the town of Avala. Meanwhile, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's department for international cooperation, said that the withdrawal of Russian peace-keepers from Bosnia is among the possible new measures Russia is considering as a response to continued NATO air strikes. JAC


Russia's embattled prosecutor-general, Yurii Skuratov, again submitted his resignation on 6 March, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev told reporters. Skuratov had only just recently vowed to fight President Yeltsin's decision on 2 April to suspend him pending the outcome of a criminal investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 2 April 1999). According to Stroev, the Council's committees on legal and constitutional control will analyze the situation and render a final decision. "Izvestiya" speculated the same day that Skuratov does not actually have compromising evidence on people in the Kremlin as he has been hinting at for the past weeks. It noted that "compromising materials are kept in safes" and once bargaining has ended then "all cards and materials are laid on the table...If Skuratov had anything to reveal, he would have done so already." JAC


Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat arrived in Moscow on 5 April for two days of official meetings. Central to his visit are discussions of his plans to declare a Palestinian state on 4 May, when an interim peace accord with Israel expires. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Arafat on 5 April that the declaration should be postponed in order to continue talks within the framework of the Middle East peace process, ITAR-TASS reported. After Arafat met with President Yeltsin the next day, presidential foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters that Yeltsin hopes that the Palestinian leadership will opt for prolonging the transitional period between Palestine and Israel. Arafat was also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 6 April. JAC


Russia's Foreign Ministry on 4 April called the U.S.'s imposition of sanctions against three Russian defense enterprises for cooperating with Syria "an openly hostile move," Interfax reported. According to the ministry, Russian supplies to Syria "do not violate the nonproliferation or export- control regimes," nor do they "upset the alignment of forces in the region" or "compare in terms of characteristics and volumes of U.S. arms supplies to other regions." The ministry concluded that the sanctions are representative of "one more anti-Russian step taken by the U.S. administration." "Izvestiya" argued on 6 April that the U.S. is driving Russia "into a corner" by restricting its room to maneuver in the Mediterranean region. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev earlier called the U.S.'s charges against the Tula machine-building design bureau, the Volsk mechanical plant, and the Central Research Institute of Precise Machine Building "groundless." JAC


The CIS presidents failed at their meeting in Moscow on 2 April to adopt a statement condemning NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia; instead they called for a halt to the bloodshed and a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosova. Six of the nine CIS states that signed the CIS Collective Security Treaty in 1992-1993 affirmed their intention to prolong that treaty when it expires later this month, but Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan declined to do so. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told Interfax on 2 April that the summit was held "with dignity," the implicit contrast being with the shouting matches that marred the October 1997 summit in Chisinau. Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov similarly noted that "everything went well and without problems." But Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliyev struck a pessimistic note, saying that despite attempts to reform the CIS, "crisis phenomena" within it have not been overcome, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


A bomb equivalent to 1.5 kilograms of TNT was detonated near the entrance to the building that houses the reception office for the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 3 April, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. An FSB spokesman linked the bombing with an incident on 13 August 1998 when another bomb exploded in the vicinity, "Trud" reported on 6 April. According to the newspaper, in the most recent explosion must have been planned by professionals since they managed to place the device near a spot where FSS guards are always stationed and "according to what information is available, video cameras near the entrance did not get any shots of the criminals." JAC


In elections held on 4 April, voters in the Republic of Udmurtia filled 12 slots in the republic's legislative assembly with members of the Communist Party, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 April. In the previous assembly, 20 deputies were communists (a minority of the total seats available). According to Interfax-Eurasia, voter turnout was relatively high with more than 51 percent of eligible voters participating--in several okrugs this figure reached 70.4 percent. Fourteen candidates from the "Honor and Motherland" party were selected, 11 from the Liberal Democratic Party and five from Yabloko, according to the agency. JAC


President Yeltsin signed a decree on 5 April appointing Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov commander of the Interior Ministry troops and promoting him to the rank of a three-star general. Colonel- General Ovchinnikov earned the nickname "Hawk" during his service in the war in Chechnya for his rough treatment of Chechen terrorists, ITAR-TASS reported. Ovchinnikov replaces Pavel Maslov, who resigned on 2 April. The same day, Yeltsin dismissed his envoy to the Leningrad Oblast, Fedor Shkrudnev. JAC


Yeltsin also shifted and trimmed personnel at the FSB, dismissing Colonel General Valentin Sobolev as first deputy director of the FSB and appointing him deputy secretary of the Security Council on 2 April, Interfax reported. Lieutenant General Yevgenii Solovyov was appointed deputy director and head of the personnel department. In addition, an unidentified source in the FSB told the agency that dozens of personnel have been dismissed including Mikhail Dedyukhin, the head of counterintelligence protection of strategic installations, Aleksandr Izmadenov, his first deputy, and Aleksei Pushkarenko, the head of counterintelligence operations. JAC


An angry crowd occupied the local administration building in the town of Kayakend on 5 April after storming the local militia headquarters and releasing a man held in detention on suspicion of the 31 March murder of Deputy Prosecutor- General Kurban Bulatov, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1999). Nasir Gaidarov, deputy chairman of the People's Assembly, finally persuaded the protesters to disperse. LF


A spokesman for the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the only international consortium currently exporting Caspian oil from Azerbaijan, told Reuters on 5 April that the consortium will be forced to cut production unless the Baku-Novorossiisk export pipeline is reopened. The Chechen authorities closed the Chechen sector of the pipeline on 29 March because of the Russian government's $4 million unpaid debt for security arrangements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1999). Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov subsequently called for talks with Russian officials with the aim of reaching a "reasonable compromise" on that debt, Interfax reported on 3 April. But Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Aleksandr Blokhin told journalists in Baku on 5 April that the reasons for the closure of the Baku-Novorossiik pipeline were purely political, Turan reported. Blokhin said that unnamed "forces" wish to export the maximum amount of Caspian oil via Georgia and the minimum via Russia. LF


Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 April that a new attempt on his life may be imminent, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze instructed Georgian security agencies to take the necessary measures to prevent new acts of terrorism in Georgia. Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian Parliamentary Commission on Defense and Security, had told journalists in Tbilisi on 2 April that he believes it is "quite possible" that a further attempt will be made this month to kill Shevardnadze. Adamia explained that possibility in terms of Georgia's unambiguously pro-western orientation. Shevardnadze survived earlier attempts to kill him in August 1995 and February 1998. Adamia also condemned as an "anti-state movement" repeated charges of corruption made by the Georgian media against Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze, according to Interfax. LF


Also on 5 April, Shevardnadze dismissed as unfounded the threat made the previous day by Colonel Akaki Eliava to abolish the central Georgian government's control over the west Georgian region of Mingrelia, Caucasus Press reported. Bondo Djikia, who is the governor of Mingrelia, similarly dismissed Eliava's threat, saying that no more than 15-20 people support him. Eliava has been in hiding since launching an abortive rebellion in western Georgia in October 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19-20 October 1998). LF


Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has proposed to Beijing that the two countries begin talks later this month on how to share water from the Irtysh and Ili rivers, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 1 April. Nazarbaev hopes that they will be able to sign an agreement specifying how much of the flow each side can take from these two river systems. If talks are held, they are likely to be complicated by the relative underdevelopment of international law on riparian issues and by the impact of any decisions on various ethnic groups in Xinjiang, many of which have co-ethnic communities in Kazakhstan. PG


The government and National Bank of Kazakhstan decided late on 4 April to free the exchange rate for the national currency, the official exchange rate for which fell from 88 to 100 to the dollar in trading the following day. The street rate fell to 200 tenge to the dollar in panic buying, according to AP. Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev told journalists that the move was necessitated by the fall in value of the currencies of neighboring countries, including Russia, which made Kazakh exports less competitive. He said the government will introduce unspecified social security measures to minimize the impact of the tenge's loss in value on the population. Revenues Minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov told Interfax on 5 April that he believes 110 to 120 tenge to the dollar would be a realistic exchange rate. LF


Djumabek Ibraimov died in Bishkek on 4 April at the age of 55 after a long battle with stomach cancer, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He had occupied the post of premier for only three months, since 25 December 1998. A former CPSU activist, Ibraimov was appointed mayor of Bishkek in January 1993. He subsequently served as a state secretary and advisor to President Askar Akaev, who named him chairman of the State Property Fund in December 1997. Interfax on 4 April named Osh Oblast Governor Amangeldy MurAliyev as the most likely candidate to succeed Ibraimov as premier. LF


Four Tajik opposition parties have addressed a statement to the CIS presidents expressing concern at what they term the widespread repression of political parties and movements that are not aligned with the United Tajik Opposition. They also accuse President Imomali Rakhmonov of pursuing "regional and ethnic genocide," predicting that the Tajik leadership's policies risk precipitating a new civil war. The four parties--"Popular Unity of Tajikistan," Free Tajikistan, the People's Republican Party of Tajikistan and "For Universal Peace in Tajikistan"--ask the presidents of CIS states and of those countries that are co-guarantors of the Tajik peace process to try to convince Tajikistan's leaders that their current policy of reconciliation and power-sharing only with the UTO is futile and counterproductive. The appeal was published in "Novaya gazeta" of 29 March-4 April. LF


Eighteen Russian border guards, including three senior officers, died on 2 April when their helicopter crashed into the Pyandj River near the Tajik-Afghan frontier. The cause of the accident has not yet been determined. LF


Speaking on state television on 4 April, Uzbekistan's Interior Minister Zakirdjon Almatov said that young Uzbek men who have embraced radical Islam in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, or Chechnya will not be punished if they voluntarily turn themselves in to the Uzbek authorities. But he added that any who fail to do so will be punished "severely," and their fathers will also be held legally responsible, Reuters reported. Almatov said his ministry estimates that some 6,000 young men are members of extremist religious organizations. President Islam Karimov had made a similar televised appeal on 1 April, as a result of which "dozens" of young men have already surrendered, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 April. LF


Belarus held local elections on 4 April, in which 26,883 candidates were running for 24,524 seats on city and village councils. The elections were boycotted by major opposition parties whose leading activists have been de facto barred from taking part in the race by a decree issued by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1998). "Some 90 percent of constituencies have only one candidate, like in Soviet times," Yury Khadyka from the opposition Belarusian Popular Front told Reuters. According to preliminary data from the Central Electoral Commission on 5 April, the election turnout was 66.3 percent. JM


Hans-Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE mission in Minsk, said on 5 April that the local election law in Belarus "cannot provide for a free and fair election process." According to Wieck, Lukashenka has "changed the character of elections from a democratically organized, competitive an event characterized by the interest of the state in organizing political support for its institutions and leaders." Wieck denied that the OSCE sent its official observers to watch the elections, saying that his mission monitored the vote as part of its regular work in studying human rights in Belarus. JM


At a meeting with the Foreign Ministry senior staff on 5 April, Lukashenka demanded that diplomats step up their work to promoting Belarusian economic interests abroad, Belarusian Television reported. Citing Belarus's negative trade balance with a dozen countries, Lukashenka said he will assess diplomatic work on the basis of "practical results" in Belarus's foreign trade and threatened to replace some ineffectual ambassadors. Interfax reported that Lukashenka urged the Foreign Ministry to normalize relations with the U.S. by offering Washington the "tactics of small steps toward one another." JM


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on a visit to Zaporizhzhya on 5 April condemned appeals by some Ukrainian politicians to provide military assistance to Yugoslavia in the Kosova crisis. "Only politicians who have neither soul nor heart can call for armed assistance to Yugoslavia," UNIAN quoted Kuchma as saying. Kuchma's statement is seen as a response to parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's pronouncement in St. Petersburg on 2 April that Ukraine should send "humanitarian, food, medical, and first of all military aid" to Yugoslavia. JM


Tkachenko also announced in St. Petersburg that the Supreme Council will discuss Ukrainian-NATO relations on 6 April and adopt a resolution introducing a "drastic change" in those relations, Interfax reported. Kuchma responded in Zaporizhzhya that any resolution by the parliament on Kyiv's relations with the alliance "will under no circumstances affect those relations. We believe that we are implementing a balanced policy in our relations with NATO," Kuchma added. Meanwhile, the parliament on 6 April failed to approve a resolution calling on the cabinet to suspend cooperation with NATO and condemning the "aggressive character" of NATO's strikes against Yugoslavia, AP reported. JM


The Ukrainian president vetoed a law on utility price hikes passed by the parliament on 17 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999). The law obliges the cabinet to ask the parliament for permission to raise utility prices and bans the cabinet from such initiatives until it fully pays its wage and pension arrears. Kuchma has also vetoed a law passed by the parliament last month, which raises the minimum monthly pension from 16.6 hryvni ($4.20) to 55 hryvni. The president argues that Ukraine cannot afford the hike, adding that the law would only increase the current pension arrears of 2.3 billion ($585 million), AP reported on 5 April. JM


Lennart Meri said in an interview with "Izvestiya" that while Russian and Estonian leaders have not met since 1994, "bilateral relations are not at a standstill," BNS reported on 3 April. Meri argued that far more important than personal contacts between heads of state is a "firm legal basis for bilateral relations. Heads of state come and go, but the legal foundations in the form of various agreements and treaties they've created will remain." With regard to last year's amendments to Estonia's citizenship laws, Meri said he currently sees "no need for further changes." Meanwhile, on 5 April, Prime Minister Mart Laar agreed to become Estonian co-chairman of the Estonian-Russian intergovernmental commission. JC


Defense Minister Juri Luik said on Estonian Television that Tallinn will send troops to Kosova only as peace-keepers after the warring sides have concluded a truce, BNS reported on 3 April. Meanwhile, one of the organizers of the rallies outside the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn told the news agency that city authorities have given the Union of Russian Citizens permission to continue to hold protests outside the embassy later this week. JC


"Diena" reported on 6 April that the losses sustained by Latvian banks last year exceeded the most pessimistic official forecasts. According to information released by the Central Bank, Latvian banks- -including those, such as the Riga Commercial Bank, whose activities were suspended--lost a total of 120 million lats (some $203 million) in 1998. On a more optimistic note, only one of the more than two dozen still functioning banks was unable to meet the legal requirement of capital and reserves totaling at least 2 million lats. On 3 April, "Diena" quoted the president of the Association of Latvian Commercial Banks as saying that the "panic and rumors about the instability of Latvian banks" in the wake of the Russian financial crisis and the more recent problems experienced by the Riga Commercial Bank are "groundless." JC


Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis said on 2 April that he is in favor of "political protests and pressure on the Belgrade government" as a means of stopping the expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosova, ELTA and BNS reported. Landsbergis, who was speaking after a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 1999), added that since Lithuanians had a similar experience under Soviet rule, "we should speak up." He also argued that the Russian authorities' failure to deal with the crimes of their predecessors is having an influence on the current situation. Also on 2 April, Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius urged the president to put aside all "non-essential and personal matters" and to convene as soon as possible the Councils of State Defense and Coordination of Foreign Policy to discuss the situation in Kosova and relations between Russia and NATO. JC


Grzegorz Michniewicz, an official in the prime minister's office, has said the freedom of movement for journalists and other persons in the cabinet office area will be restricted under the law on the protection of classified information (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999), PAP reported on 5 April. According to new rules, journalists will have no access to the area adjoining the cabinet meeting room, while ministers will not be available for comments before cabinet meetings. "The prime minister's office should not be a place where journalists lie by the walls in the evening or play cards," the 6 April "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted Michniewicz as saying. JM


At an extraordinary meeting on 2 April, the government approved a request by NATO for its military aircraft to overfly Czech territory, CTK reported. Czech air space had already been used by NATO refueling planes on the basis of an earlier agreement. The cabinet empowered Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy to oversee the use of the air space by the NATO planes and said the use will be governed by Czech regulations. Deputy Premier Egon Lansky on the same day told journalists that the cabinet's decision was not unanimous, and four ministers had abstained. MS


"It cannot be in the interest of the Serbian leadership to generate any conflict with Hungary, as this would entail the most disadvantageous consequences, both politically and militarily," Janos Martonyi told journalists on 4 April. If Serbia is to take any "irrational action," Hungary is "under the full protection of NATO," he added. Some 320 refugees have arrived to date in Hungary from Yugoslavia, Istvan Erdelyi, deputy director of the Migration Office told "Magyar Hirlap" on 5 April. Meanwhile, the opposition Free Democrats and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee released a joint statement asking the cabinet to grant refugee status to ethnic Hungarians from Vojvodina so that they can legally work in Hungary. MSZ


President Bill Clinton said in Washington on 5 April that NATO air strikes will continue "unceasing and unrelenting" until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agrees to make peace and let the Kosovars go home and govern themselves. "A commitment to cease killing and a [Kosova] denied its freedom and devoid of its people is not acceptable," he added. "We know we are up against a dictator who has shown time and again that he would rather rule over rubble than not rule at all, someone who recognizes no limits on his behavior except those imposed by others. If Mr. Milosevic does not do what is necessary, NATO will continue an air campaign," Clinton concluded. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stressed that "we seek the withdrawal of Milosevic's military police and paramilitary forces, the return of all refugees, the deployment of an international security force, and the creation of a democratic political framework" in Kosova. PM


British Defense Secretary George Robertson told the BBC on 6 April that Milosevic is "paying a very heavy price" after 13 days of NATO air strikes aimed at reversing his policies of ethnic cleansing. "Day after day we are weakening [Milosevic's military] machine and we will eventually change his behavior. He will have to recognize we are not going to go away." Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in London the previous day that "Milosevic must withdraw his army, his special police, and his paramilitary thugs and cooperate with an international force." Then, warning Milosevic directly, he added: "I will tell you, don't begin offering peace unless you are prepared to reverse the ethnic cleansing of the war. NATO will not accept peace in [Kosova] without the population" of that province back in its homes. Cook stressed that "NATO's campaign will continue until the refugees can return to their homes with international protection." PM


On April 5, NATO forces completed their 13th consecutive day of air strikes against Serbian targets. Earlier, Clinton ordered 24 Apache helicopters and 2,000 support troops to Albania. A Pentagon spokesman said that the helicopters will enable NATO to attack Serbian tanks regardless of the weather. The previous day, the Pentagon confirmed that the aircraft carrier "U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt" is on its way to the Adriatic. Sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed the Yugoslav and Serbian Interior Ministries in central Belgrade on 2 April. PM


Foreign journalists and OSCE monitors in Albania and Macedonia report that the stories of ethnic cleansing and mass executions told by Kosovar refugees are remarkably uniform, the "International Herald Tribune" wrote on 6 April. Reporters noted that the long lines of arriving refugees contain few military-age men. The BBC the previous day quoted refugees as saying that the Serbian forces frequently use Kosovars as human shields and rape women. Other refugees noted that there were few, if any, Kosovars left in Prishtina, Mitrovica, and several other towns. Reporters added that Gjakova can be seen burning from Kukes. One refugee smuggled out a grisly video of what he said were the bodies of some 26 farmers near Rahovec, whom Serbian forces executed at close range. Cook said in London that the video "underlines the murderous brutality [of] the ethnic cleansing...It is exactly the type of atrocity that underlines the need for the military action." PM


Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said in Skopje on 3 April that Macedonia cannot accept more than 20,000 Kosovars without "endangering its own security." NATO officials in Brussels announced that the alliance will immediately begin an intensive program of refugee relief. Of the 120,000 refugees who fled to Macedonia as of 6 April, some 85,000 are stranded in the no-man's land at Blace or Jaznice. Thousands more are believed to be en route. A NATO spokesman said in Brussels on 3 April that Kosova will be "completely empty" in 10-20 days if the Serbs continue to expel civilians at the present rate. The BBC reported three days later that "half the population of [Kosova] has fled or is fleeing." NATO officials have repeatedly charged that Milosevic is trying to destabilize neighboring countries by flooding them with refugees. PM


Separate flights of refugees left Skopje airport for Turkey and Norway in the early hours of 6 April. Some refugees on the plane to Turkey said that they had been "forced" into leaving and had no opportunity to contact relatives waiting for them in Macedonia or to find their relatives among other refugees. Germany has agreed to take 40,000 Kosovars, while the U.S. and Turkey will house 20,000 each. Norway, which holds the rotating OSCE chair, will take 6,000, while Greece and Canada will accept 5,000 each. On 4 April, Albright said that the refugees should be housed as close as possible to Kosova to facilitate their eventual return. PM


Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told public television on 5 April that the government decided the same day to accept an additional 100,000 refugees stranded in the Kosova- Macedonian border area. Information Minister Musa Ulqini added that "the number of Kosova refugees of all ages who are starving to death [there] is growing." In a separate statement in Tirana, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said that the Albanian authorities are deeply worried about the condition of Kosovar refugees in Macedonia. He stressed that "the Macedonian authorities are not showing proper care for them." The BBC reported that the Macedonian authorities seem "indifferent" to the refugees' plight. A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Skopje said that significant airlifts are some days off, due to logistical problems on the ground. FS


Rexhep Meidani suggested in an interview with the Paris-based daily "Liberation" of 2 April that NATO send forces into Kosova to help displaced persons there. Meidani also proposed that NATO help those hiding in the forests by parachuting in food aid. He stressed that "we are prepared to put our infrastructure--including airports and all other important facilities--at the disposal of NATO units," adding that Albania will also offer troops if the alliance wishes. FS


U.S. troops on 5 April began building a camp near Tirana airport to handle relief operations for Kosovar refugees, Reuters reported. U.S. military transport planes brought in supplies and equipment. A total of 6,000 U.S. troops will run the relief operation. According to government estimates on 5 April, a total of 223,000 displaced persons have sought refuge in Albania since 1998, ATSH reported. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the UN's World Food Program said in Tirana that food distribution to Albania is now proceeding apace. He added that NATO intends to have "a full air bridge of 10 flights a day" into Tirana by 7 April. Transport inside Albania, however, remains a problem due to lack of trucks. French troops, meanwhile, started sending 12 tons of food from Tirana to the northern town of Kukes each day by helicopter. FS


British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Montenegrin Television on 5 April that "Milosevic must know that we stand ready to support the people of Montenegro. If he thinks that he can take you on, he will pay a very heavy price." Asked about Western policy toward Montenegro, Blair replied: "I think because of the stand that President [Milo] Djukanovic has taken, the sense of responsibility that we all have towards Montenegro is all the greater. The fact that you have stood out against Milosevic and refused to agree to his policy of ethnic cleansing has enormously increased the respect and support for Montenegro." Blair referred to Milosevic as a "brutal, bloody dictator" and added: "We cannot allow a dictator to drive people in their hundreds of thousands from their homes, butcher them, maim them, torture them, dump them on surrounding countries and sit idly by." In Podgorica, a pro-Milosevic rally took place on 4 April without incident. PM


Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 5 April that he wants to leave Kosova "to help this situation for the Serbian side and for the [ethnic] Albanian side." Asked by reporters whether he is indeed under house arrest, Rugova replied: "I have here Serbian security," the "Los Angeles Times" wrote (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1999). Russian Ambassador to Yugoslavia Yurii Kotov told Russian journalists that Rugova "is getting assistance from the Serbian authorities because his life is in real danger that comes from those extremists who believe that Rugova has betrayed the interests of the Albanian people," ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, a NATO spokesman said in Brussels that Rugova held his recent meeting with Milosevic under duress and that Serbian Television's footage of the two together was two years old. The Yugoslav government said in a statement on 2 April that the meeting "is just one more confirmation" of Belgrade's intentions "to reach a settlement by peaceful means and through dialogue." PM


SFOR troops on 3 April destroyed part of the Belgrade-Bar railway line that runs through Bosnia in order to deny Serbian forces access to Bosnia or Montenegro. Two days later, the Yugoslav and Bosnian Serb governments announced that they want the UN Security Council to investigate the attack on the railway. Serbian spokesmen called the attack a "violation of the Dayton agreement," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


The government on 5 April released details of a program aimed at overcoming the country's economic crisis that involves closing down loss-making enterprises and massive layoffs, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The program is to be discussed on 7 April at a meeting with the opposition in the absence of convalescing Premier Radu Vasile, who was released from hospital on 6 April. On 1 April, Transportation Minister Traian Basescu said that about 100,000 people will lose their jobs. Standard & Poor's on 2 April lowered the country risk grading for long-term and short-term deposits in Romanian national currency from B plus to B and from B to C, respectively. Also on 2 April, the General Electric Capital and the Banco Portugues de Investimento signed a $43 million deal to acquire a 45 percent stake in Romania's Bancpost. MS


The Defense Ministry on 2 April denied a "Newsweek" report saying that NATO aircraft have passed through Romanian air space on their way to bombing raids in Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. President Emil Constantinescu, in an interview with "Monitorul de Iasi," said that Romania's chances of achieving integration into NATO "have been fortified" as a result of the Kosova conflict, Mediafax reported. On 5 April, the Timisoara airport was reopened, but on 6 April the national railway company announced it was temporarily suspending trains between Bucharest and Belgrade "as a consequence of the Yugoslav events and of low demand." MS


NATO Deputy Secretary-General Sergio Balanzino met in Bucharest on 5 April with Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, Defense Minister Victor Babiuc, and President Emil Constantinescu, and later that day met in Sofia with President Petar Stoyanov. Both Plesu and Babiuc (who has been standing in for ailing Premier Radu Vasile since 2 April) told Balanzino that Romania needs international help in order to shelter refugees from Yugoslavia. Babiuc said Romania was willing to accept 6,000 refugees if it received the necessary aid, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. After meeting Stoyanov, Balanzino said that NATO "does not expect Bulgaria to act as a NATO member" but "Bulgaria is a front-line state" and "communication and coordination between us will continue." MS


Speaking after an extraordinary meeting with the parliamentary groups leaders, Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov on 4 April said that because of its economic problems, Bulgaria will not be able to shelter many more ethnic Albanians fleeing from Kosova. "Pressing Bulgaria to accept more refugees would mean to export the conflict," he said. There are reportedly a few thousand Kosovar refugees in Bulgaria and a few thousand more have transited the country to other destinations. Kostov said that Bulgaria could, however, host for a week some 5,000 potential refugees from the Bulgarian minority in Yugoslavia, or Macedonian refugees, if the warfare spreads to that country, AP and Reuters reported. ITAR-TASS reported on 5 April that the National Security Council, at a meeting chaired by Kostov, decided to close its borders to Kosovar refugees. MS


"We understand and respect the decisions that have already been taken, this is a dynamic situation," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot told journalists after meeting Kostov and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 5 April, Reuters reported. Mihailova said Bulgaria "appeals to the U.S. government to guarantee that the conflict will not spread in the region," since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic aims at "exporting the conflict through refugees." Talbott said the U.S. and NATO were "very grateful" to Bulgaria for its "understanding and support" of the operations in Yugoslavia, adding that Sofia is "not just a good friend and partner of the U.S., but also a promising and credible candidate for eventual membership in NATO." President Stoyanov urged Talbott to consider the early admission of Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Romania to NATO to create "a security belt around Yugoslavia." MS


Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea on 5 April told journalists that President Petru Lucinschi considers the results of the Moscow CIS summit to be "positive." Golea said that an agreement has been reached to hold an 8 April meeting in Kyiv between Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, and Lucinschi in order to give "new impetus" to the settling of the Transdniester conflict. He said that Lucinschi is also satisfied with the summit's decision to establish an all-CIS free-trade zone. Golea stressed that the Yugoslav crisis has not been discussed at the summit, but the Moldovan delegation there "refuted information" that Moldova was supporting the NATO air strikes, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS


The name of the Communist deputy mentioned in the item "Moldovan Communists Block Parliament Resolution on Kosova" on 2 April is Victor Stepaniuc, and not Vasile Nedelciuc, as mistakenly reported.


by Michael J. Jordan

In the shadowy world of espionage, there is no fool-proof system for preventing the betrayal of an Aldrich Ames, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, or, now, allegedly, of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who has been accused of leaking nuclear-warheads research to China. Such a system would require the technology to read an individual's thoughts.

So it was with a leap of faith last month that NATO-- which stared down the Soviet Union during 40 years of the Cold War--admitted three ex-Soviet satellites as new members: Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. This strategic embrace of former enemies, one decade after the collapse of Communism, means that the three countries' military and political elite are now privy to NATO's deepest, darkest secrets. And though these countries have purged most of their hard-line Communist officials, their historical ties and geographic location make them perhaps more vulnerable to infiltration than, say, some NATO officials.

Many Warsaw Pact military officers were trained in places like Moscow and Kyiv. Trade relations at that time were cozy with countries such as Iraq, Iran, and Libya. Not surprisingly, then, when NATO officials speak privately of "hostile" intelligence agencies, they identify three regions--Russia, the Middle East, and the Balkans--as the primary threats.

"There's still the residue of contacts and relationships between Central Europe and those parts of the world," said one NATO official in Budapest. "You can presume that if Russia, for example, wished to seize classified NATO material, it might be easier to do it here than, say, in London or Paris."

But there is a second side to this coin, says Tamas Wachsler, a state secretary at the Hungarian Ministry of Defense. "While these countries know us, we also know them and their tactics," said Wachsler. "So from this standpoint, NATO shouldn't view us as a deficit, but as an asset."

Today, much of what was once secret is now easily accessible on the Internet. Yet the most sensitive NATO data continue to be those on the alliance's weapons of mass destruction, air-defense system, storage depots of fuel and ammunition, and communication and transportation systems.

So despite their new status as "full and equal" partners of NATO, the Central Europeans will learn NATO secrets in line with the "need-to-know" principle. And under instructions from NATO, each newcomer has taken both legal and practical steps in recent months to do what it can to prevent classified material from falling into the wrong hands.

According to NATO specifications, all three established new systems for the handling of classified material--such as secure telephone lines and storage facilities--and a screening process for those who will have access to such material. Candidates submit to a rigorous questionnaire and interviews. These probe for potential liabilities like family, financial, or psychological problems that might expose the candidate to bribery or blackmail.

But after six years of intensive cooperation, NATO officials already seemed satisfied with their new partners. "It's like a marriage," said another Western officer in Budapest. "Hopefully, from that first day you have the same level of trust, and it continues to grow.... If the trust and confidence weren't there, they never would have been invited to join."

When it the time comes to keep a NATO secret, national pride will be at stake, according Lt. Gen. Lajos Urban, the number two in Hungary's armed forces. "We want to be seen as contributing to NATO's strength and trusted as a new military ally," said Urban, who was trained in Moscow during the communist era and in London and Rome since 1989.

A further motivation is to avoid the national humiliation that befell France last November, when it was revealed that a French major working at NATO headquarters in Brussels had passed along to Serbia NATO's plans for military strikes in Kosova.

So, if even longtime NATO allies are vulnerable, what about the Central Europeans, who continue to unearth their share of skeletons? Polish Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, for example, resigned in January 1996 amid charges he had been a long-time spy for the Soviet KGB. The case was ultimately dropped for lack of evidence.

Another issue is the fate of those Hungarian, Czech and Polish agents who for years operated covertly in the West. Are they still active, or have they found new employers? Either way, it seems accepted as a given.

"You think there aren't American agents in Paris or French agents in London? Everybody still needs good intelligence," said a third NATO official. "Why should they stop? It's completely natural to want to confirm information you receive. Yes, we're allies and partners, but in other areas we're also competitors."

The NATO neophytes will be under pressure not only to meet NATO's expectations but to perform well enough to enable a second wave of expansion eastward. "NATO has never rejected an alliance member," said one of the NATO officials in Budapest. "But if a member brought the alliance into ill-repute or dragged it down, there's no reason why we wouldn't." The author is a U.S. journalist based in Budapest (