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Newsline - April 15, 1999




MORE RUSSIAN SHIPS TO HEAD FOR ADRIATIC

In an interview with the military newspaper "Krasnaya Zvezda" on 15 April, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that evidence suggests that NATO is preparing a ground operation in Yugoslavia. He pointed to the increased intensity of the air strikes, the introduction of an additional number of planes and ground- based aircraft as well as the deployment of Apache helicopters and multiple-rocket launchers. He also said that Russia is planning to replace its repair ship off the coast of Syria, which will require the accompaniment of military ships. The Turkish General Staff announced the previous day that an eight-ship squadron of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, heading for the Adriatic, will pass through the Turkish straits in three groups beginning 15 to 22 April, ITAR-TASS reported. A naval analyst told Reuters that "booking passage through the Turkish straits indicates an intention to sail and is no longer just talk." JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN BACKS GERMAN PEACE PROPOSAL

Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's new presidential envoy to Yugoslavia, said on 15 April that he supports Germany's call for a 24-hour suspension of hostilities. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 April, Chernomyrdin also spoke out against sending military weapons or personnel to the conflict zone. In remarks to reporters, Chernomyrdin condemned recent NATO air strikes which resulted in casualties of civilian Kosovar Albanians as "a tragedy and a crime," which demonstrate the "need for a rapid, peaceful resolution of existing problems." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov slammed Chernomyrdin's appointment, saying "this person made a mess of everything in the country, but today he is assigned to the worst hot spot." JAC

YUGOSLAV CONFLICT TO HAVE SPILLOVER EFFECT ON RUSSIA?

The Federal Security Service (FSB) is concerned about the domestic effects of the increasing number of volunteers being recruited in Russia to serve in the Kosova conflict (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 April 1999), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 April. According to a FSB source, "radical organizations are setting up illegal paramilitary formations on the pretext of recruiting volunteers for Yugoslavia--either for the propaganda effect on the eve of the State Duma election campaign or for use in street clashes should the domestic political situation deteriorate." The daily also cited the fear voiced by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev that participation by Russians on both sides of the front line could destabilize the situation in Tatarstan and elsewhere. In addition to some Tatarstan residents, a volunteer battalion from the Congress of Peoples of Dagestan and Ichkeria are also planning to go to aid the Kosovar Albanians, the newspaper reported. JAC

IMPEACHMENT DEBATE ON SLATE FOR MID-MAY...

The State Duma voted on 14 April to delay the debate on impeachment of President Boris Yeltsin from 15 April to 13 May. There were 241 votes in favor of the postponement. Earlier that day, two previous votes to delay the debate failed to gather enough votes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April), and "Izvestiya" argued on 15 April that "from a legal point of view" the Duma reached "a dual decision" and the debate can be held either 15 April or 13 May. According to the daily, Duma deputy Oleg Morozov (leader of the Russian Regions faction) and deputy Yelena Mizulina (Yabloko), among others, believe that since the Duma twice failed to adopt a decision postponing the question then the impeachment issue must be examined on 15 April. The Kremlin responded negatively to the latest development: presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said that by postponing the debate the Duma paralyzes its legislative activities. JAC

...AS YELTSIN WINS MORE SUPPORT FROM REGIONAL LEADERS

Konstantin Titov, Samara Oblast governor and the informal leader of the Golos Rossii movement of Russian regional leaders, sent a letter to President Yeltsin expressing his willingness to transform his movement into a pro- presidential one, Interfax reported on 13 April citing a source in the Federation Council. A source in Golos Rossii said the letter was received on 9 April. According to the agency, Yeltsin has been invited to participate in a forum Golos Rossii is holding on 20 April in Moscow. On 13 April, 17 heads of Russia's republics issued a declaration calling on the Duma to stop impeachment proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). JAC

WORLD BANK PRESIDENT ARRIVES FOR TALKS

World Bank President James Wolfensohn arrived in Moscow on 14 April for a two-day visit to assess the government's economic program and discuss additional disbursement of its third structural adjustment loan. Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants told reporters that he hopes that Wolfensohn's visit will settle the issue of the "timing of the loan and size of the tranches to be disbursed in 1999 and 2000." Key issues between the bank and Russia still to be resolved, according to Shapovalyants, are "the size of cash payments to natural monopolies such as gas and electricity, the regulation of access to export pipelines, and the operating mode of the Russian development bank," Interfax reported. JAC

SAKHALIN-3 PSA SAILS THROUGH DUMA

Members of the Duma approved on 14 April a bill allowing production sharing at the Sakhalin-3 oil field. The vote was 310-8 with two abstentions. The bill allows the sale of the right to exploit the hydrocarbon resources of the Kirinski exploration bloc to different buyers, ITAR-TASS reported, in addition to the usual tax breaks provided under a production sharing agreement (PSA). The law still must be approved by the Federation Council and signed by President Yeltsin before it goes into effect. JAC

NIZHNII NOVGOROD HEADED FOR EUROBOND DEFAULT

Nizhnii Novgorod is likely to become the first region in Russia to default on its Eurobond, "Vremya MN" reported on 13 April. On 2 April, the oblast did not pay a $4.4 million coupon maturing on its $100 million bond. According to Governor Ivan Sklarov, the oblast at the present time can only pay about half of the amount due, $2.2 million, but, according to the newspaper, no negotiations with its creditors about a restructuring of its debt are now taking place. However, by 14 April, Sklarov made it to Moscow to discuss the issue with top Finance Ministry officials, "The Moscow Times" reported on 15 April. An official with the oblast's administration finance department told the daily that the oblast is hoping that its creditors will not enforce "cross-default provisions" requiring the oblast to make good on the $100 million bond immediately and instead allow them to restructure or defer payment. JAC

WITH RESTRICTIONS IN PLACE, RUBLE BOUNCES BACK

The ruble continued strengthening on 15 April for the sixth day in a row, rising to 24.80 rubles per dollar. According to AFP, analysts explain the rise by the new regulations imposed on trading by the Central Bank. The IMF has expressed its opposition to the Central Bank's limitations on ruble convertibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). JAC

MOSCOW PUSHING FOR BUMPER GRAIN CROP THIS YEAR

Federal- level agricultural officials are offering farm credits and fertilizer discounts to encourage a strong grain harvest this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 April. Last year's harvest was one of the worst in 40 years, and this year Agriculture Minister Viktor Semenov is predicting that Russia will produce 70 million metric tons of grain, a 46 percent increase over last year's yield. Government spokesman Igor Shchegolev pledged the same day that the federal government will provide farmers with 65 percent of their total funds for the year by May, which will be the first time in the last 10 years that such a large sum is provided in such a short period of time, according to ITAR- TASS. JAC

KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA'S SUPREME COURT CHAIRMAN INJURED IN GRENADE ATTACK

Islam Burlakov was hospitalized with serious injuries on 13 April after unknown persons threw a grenade at his home, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 April. The paper quoted General Vladimir Semenov, the former commander of Russian army land forces and a candidate in the 25 April republican presidential elections, as saying that the attack is intended to discredit him (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 1, 5 January 1999). The KChR Supreme Court rejected a complaint last week by the head of Semenov's campaign staff that the republic's Central Electoral Commission had violated the Russian Constitution in agreeing to register Boris Ebzeev, who is a member of the Russian Constitutional Court, as a presidential candidate. Semenov escaped an apparent assassination attempt unscathed on 2 April. LF

RUSSIA, IRAN SIGN OIL, GAS AGREEMENT

Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov and his Iranian counterpart, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, signed a memorandum of understanding in Tehran on 14 April on oil and gas exploration and development, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. The agreement covers the purchase of equipment and chemicals, cooperation in petrochemical joint ventures, and the construction of underground gas storage facilities. According to Generalov, the agreement is the first of its kind. LF




ARMENIA, RUSSIA INAUGURATE COMBINED AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM

Colonel-General Anatolii Kornukov, commander in chief of the Russian air force, and his Armenian counterpart, Lieutenant-General Mikael Harutiunian, attended a ceremony at a Russian base 30 km southwest of Yerevan on 15 April to mark the integration of the two countries' air defense systems, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kornukov told journalists in Yerevan the previous day that Russia will send a further eight MiG-29s to Armenia in addition to the five recently deployed there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1998 and 18 February 1999). Kornukov said on 15 April that other CIS member states, including Azerbaijan, are invited to join the CIS air defense system, of which Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are also members. He noted that the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia demonstrate that in conditions of modern hi-tech warfare, small countries need to enlist the help of larger states in order to repel a massive air assault. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS KILL TWO ARMENIANS

Two drunken Russian border guards who had deserted their unit near the north Armenian town of Gyumri seized sub-machineguns from a Russian border post and then indiscriminately opened fire in the town streets, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Two people were killed and nine more wounded before the two soldiers were overpowered and disarmed. Russia's ambassador to Armenia, Anatolii Dryuker, expressed formal apologies for the incident on 15 April. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS RAIL TRANSPORT

Visiting Tbilisi on 14 April, Russian Transport Minister Nikolai Aksenenko discussed with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Georgian Railways Director Akaki Chkhaidze the possibility of writing off Georgian railway's debts to Russia and the resumption of rail traffic, including freight from Russia via Abkhazia to the Black Sea port of Poti, Caucasus Press reported. A preliminary agreement was reached on the repair of Russian locomotives and carriages at a Tbilisi plant. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY PROTESTS OFFICIAL RESTRICTIONS

Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 14 April, Seydahmet Quttyqadam, leader of the recently registered ORLEU party, complained that the city authorities have created obstacles for his party, specifically by withdrawing permission for it to hold a congress at the trade union confederation building earlier this week, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. At a session of the pro- presidential Otanshyldar Party in Almaty on 14 April, members announced that Kazakhstan's current priority is not to create an open society but to strengthen national statehood (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). LF

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH CHINESE AMBASSADOR

Qasymzhomart Toqaev and Li Huei discussed the joint use of water from the Irtysh River, which flows through eastern Kazakhstan and Xinjiang, in Astana on 14 April, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kazakh capital reported. Li said that the Chinese government is assessing unspecified proposals made earlier by the Kazakh side (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN REGISTERS POPULATION DECLINE

According to the preliminary results of the census conducted earlier this year, the current population of Kazakhstan is 14.95 million, Reuters reported on 14 April quoting the State Statistics Agency. That figure represents a decline of over one million since 1989, when the population numbered 16.2 million, and is only marginally higher than the 1979 total of 14.684 million. It is not clear what percentage of the decrease is attributable to out-migration as opposed to negative population growth. Nor is any information yet available on shifts in the ethnic composition of the population. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION OFFERS TO PROVIDE SECURITY FOR UN OBSERVERS

United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri, who also chairs the Commission for National Reconciliation, met in Dushanbe on 14 April with Joachim Hutter, a senior UN official with responsibility for peacekeeping operations in Asia and the Middle East, AP- Blitz reported. Hutter informed Nuri of the UN's recent decision to resume operations in the Karategin valley, whereupon Nuri offered to ensure the security of the UN observers in that region. The UN suspended operations outside Dushanbe last year following the murder of three members of its observer force and their interpreter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1998). LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS ISLAMIC THREAT WILL NOT HALT DEMOCRATIZATION

In a two-hour speech to Uzbekistan's parliament on 14 April, Islam Karimov said his country's security is currently threatened by external Islamic forces. But he pledged that those forces will not succeed in reversing the embryonic reform process, pledging further liberalization in both the political and economic spheres. Specifically, Karimov advocated a mixed economy with a strong private sector, and said the Uzbek currency will become convertible before the end of this year, according to Interfax. He added that Uzbekistan must step up its efforts to gain admittance to the World Trade Organization, and called for the deregulation of foreign trade. Karimov also announced that those accused of the 16 February bomb attacks in Tashkent, including opposition Erk party founder Muhammad Solih, whom he identified as the organizer of those attacks, will go on open trial in Tashkent in May. LF




LUKASHENKA REPORTEDLY SAYS 'THOUSANDS' OF NATO SOLDIERS DESERT TO ROMANIA

After returning from Yugoslavia on 14 April, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists that a possible intervention of NATO ground troops in Yugoslavia will have a negative impact primarily on the U.S., ITAR-TASS reported on 15 April. "When thousands of coffins come to the U.S., the public opinion in this country will change within a day," Lukashenka said. Citing Yugoslav sources, Lukashenka said he "has been surprised by the fact that thousands of NATO soldiers are deserting," ITAR-TASS reported. "They pay $500 and are transferred to the border with Romania, where they change their clothes and escape," the agency quoted him as saying. Lukashenka stressed that Yugoslavia's losses in equipment are virtually nil. "All the artillery, all the tanks [and] even aircraft are standing on the roads. The Yugoslavs have saved everything," he said. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES SAY EXILED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE INELIGIBLE

Belarusian Deputy Justice Minister Volha Syarheyeva has stated that Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, cannot be a candidate in the opposition presidential elections because of his three-year stay abroad, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 14 April. To support her claim, Syarheyeva cited the Belarusian Constitution stipulating that a presidential candidate must "permanently reside in the Republic of Belarus for at least 10 years directly before the elections." Paznyak received political asylum in the United States in 1996 and has remained outside Belarus since then. Mikhail Pastukhou, a former Constitutional Court judge, said that the constitutional requirement of permanent residence means having a permanent residence permit in Belarus. According to Pastukhou, both Paznyak and another candidate, Mikhail Chyhir, who is currently in jail, have the right to run in the elections. JM

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT TRADE UNION ACTIVIST DISCIPLINED

Syarhey Antonchyk, an independent trade unionist and head of the Belarusian Strike Committee, has been fined 10 million Belarusian rubles ($41.50) for "organizing and holding an unsanctioned rally" at a plant in Orsha (northeastern Belarus) in early March, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 14 April. Antonchyk says that he only conversed with a group of workers. The incriminating verdict was passed despite evidence supplied by plant workers and two policemen that the meeting did not resemble a rally. The policemen also testified that Antonchyk's conversation with workers was attended by "at least two KGB officers." JM

LAZARENKO SAYS DEPORTATION TO UKRAINE MEANS TORTURE

Former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko told a U.S. immigration court in San Francisco that he could be tortured if he is deported to Ukraine to face charges of corruption, AP reported on 14 April. Lazarenko issued a statement saying that his bid for U.S. political asylum is based on the International Convention Against Torture. Lazarenko cited reports by international organizations which stated that "torture and violence committed by Ukrainian officials cause suffering, bodily injury and, in a number of cases, death." Lazarenko added that his political opposition to President Leonid Kuchma may expose him to "intense physical and psychological coercion" in Ukraine. JM

UKRAINIAN JEWS UNITE FOR A SECOND TIME

Following the recent creation of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 1999), three Jewish breakaway groups have organized another congress and on 14 April created another umbrella organization--a Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, AP reported. "It is a historic moment for Ukrainian Jews as practically all of them are now represented [in the confederation]," the agency quoted Kyiv chief rabbi Dov Bleich as saying. JM

FIRST ESTONIAN PENSION FUND LAUNCHES ACTIVITIES

The Hansa Pension Fund has become the first such institution in Estonia to begin operating, ETA reported on 14 April. Under the Pension Funds Act, both pension funds and life insurance companies can offer voluntary endowment pensions. Payments into such funds or companies of up to 15 percent of an individual's salary are exempt from tax, while pay- outs when an individual reaches pension age are subject to a 10 percent tax. JC

ADAMKUS WITHDRAWS CANDIDATE FOR OMBUDSMAN

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has withdrawn the candidacy of Audrius Rudys as state ombudsman at Rudys's own request, ELTA reported on 14 April. Adamkus's 1 April decree nominating Rudys for that post had met with opposition from the ruling Conservatives and Christian Democrats. Rudys explained that his request is based on a "simple arithmetical calculation" that took into account the ruling coalition's intention to oppose his candidacy in the parliament, leaving him with no chance of being elected. He added that the president decided to approve his request "with regret." JC

RUSSIA SLIPS TO FIFTH PLACE AMONG LITHUANIA'S EXPORT PARTNERS

According to the Lithuanian Statistics Department, Russia has slipped to fifth place on the list of Lithuania's main export partners, behind Germany, Latvia, Belarus, and Italy, ELTA reported on 14 April. It remains, however, Lithuania's second-most important import partner. In February, Lithuanian exports in general were down by 3.8 percent and imports by 12.4 percent compared with the previous month. Exports to Russia fell by 11.6 percent, while imports from that country were down 14 percent. Exports to EU countries accounted for 54 percent of the total goods exported, while those to CIS countries dropped to 19.2 percent. Imports from the EU made up 48.9 percent of the total goods imported and from the CIS 22.2 percent. JC

POLAND TO ELIMINATE UNCONTROLLED EU FOOD IMPORTS

Newly appointed Agricultural Minister Artur Balazs has announced the sealing of borders against the uncontrolled import of subsidized food from the EU and countries that re-export EU foodstuffs. According to Balazs, border controls and customs duty hikes will contribute to the profitability of Polish agriculture. "This control is to consist of the introduction of a register of import contracts and a day- to-day monitoring of the import of foodstuffs to Poland," Balazs told Polish Radio on 14 April. He added that the EU, made uneasy by his actions, has already sent a commission to Poland to negotiate the principles of EU food imports. JM

KRZAKLEWSKI SAYS SOME SOLIDARITY PARLIAMENTARIANS LIED IN LUSTRATION

Marian Krzaklewski, leader of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), told Radio Gdansk on 14 April that the AWS parliamentary caucus includes persons who submitted false statements as to whether they collaborated with the Communist-era services or not. Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek said none of the governmental officials who submitted lustration statements to him have admitted such collaboration, but he refused to comment on Krzaklewski's statement. The truthfulness of questionable lustration statements by Polish officials is to be checked by the lustration prosecutor and the Lustration Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES CHANGE OF FIELD HOSPITAL'S MANDATE

The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies on 14 April separately approved the government's request to change the mandate of the field hospital and an unarmed AN-26 transportation plane to be deployed in the Balkans as part of NATO's aid mission for Kosovar refugees, CTK reported. The two chambers had approved the deployment in March, but only as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping operation that had to have Belgrade's approval. Now the field hospital and the plane can be deployed anywhere in the Balkans outside Yugoslavia. MS

HAVEL SAYS PEACE IMPOSSIBLE WITH MILOSEVIC AT HELM

President Vaclav Havel said in an interview with Reuters on 14 April that long-term stability in the Balkans is impossible as long as Slobodan Milosevic is Yugoslav president, CTK reported. He said that Milosevic has "too much blood on his hands for him to be a trustworthy partner." Havel also said that NATO is fighting "for human rights and [it] gave them precedence over state sovereignty." This is why, he said, it has attacked Yugoslavia "even without having a mandate from the UN Security Council." He also said that although Czech units are not technically equipped to take part in NATO's "high- tech air campaign," the country had "certain specialized troops" that could "provide a meaningful asset in a peacekeeping mission." MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR STOP TO FIGHTING IN KOSOVA

The parliament on 14 April passed a resolution calling on all sides involved in the Kosova crisis to "end military operations" and renew negotiations for a "solution ensuring the minorities' civil and ethnic rights and preserving the territorial integrity" of Yugoslavia, CTK reported. The resolution says that the international community "cannot passively watch the large-scale violation of human rights, massacres of civilians, ethnic cleansing and the growing flow of refugees." The legislature also approved the decision of the cabinet to allow the use of Slovak air space by NATO planes, saying the decision is "in line with Slovakia's long-term foreign policy goals," but said that in future the government "must inform faster and more fully" the parliament and public opinion about its decisions. The resolution was approved with a vote of 77- 13. MS

FORMER SIS EMPLOYEE ADMITS INVOLVEMENT IN KOVAC JR

KIDNAPPING. Jaroslav Ivor, head of the team investigating the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son, on 14 April confirmed to journalists that a former high- ranking official of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) has admitted participation in the planning and cover-up of the plot, CTK reported. Ivor refused to say whether Jaroslav Svechota has also admitted that former SIS head Ivan Lexa participated in the plot, saying that at this stage of the investigation he will not mention other persons named in Svechota's evidence. The parliament began debating whether to allow Lexa to be taken into custody. MS

DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN HUNGARY?

The National Election Committee on 14 April ruled by a vote of 6-3 that the Social Democratic Youth Movement may start collecting signatures on a petition calling for direct presidential elections, Hungarian media reported. The committee's decision takes effect if not challenged in the Constitutional Court within three days and the signature- collecting drive needs to be endorsed by 200,000 people. It would be binding on the parliament. The opposition wants to prevent Smallholders' Party leader Jozsef Torgyan from succeeding Arpad Goncz as president with the backing of the ruling coalition, though the coalition has not yet decided to back Torgyan's candidacy. MS




SERBIAN FORCES 'CLEANSE' FERIZAJ

Macedonian Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov said that he expects over 7,000 Kosovar expellees to arrive in the course of 15 April. At the Blace refugee camp on the Macedonian border with Kosova, some of the more than 4,000 refugees who arrived the previous day told Reuters that "Ferizaj is no more." They added that Serbian forces emptied the town and surrounding areas of its Kosovar population and sent them south in at least three trains. A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called the systematic expulsion of the Kosovars "swift and clinical," noting that "it starts with a knock at the door at 5 a.m." One refugee added: "as soon as the [Yugoslav] army saw us leaving, they set the village on fire." PM

GEORGIEVSKI: MILOSEVIC TRYING TO DESTABILIZE MACEDONIA

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told "The New York Times" of 15 April that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has sent tens of thousands of Kosovars to Macedonia in an effort to provoke ethnic tensions between the Slavic Macedonian majority and the ethnic Albanians, who make up some 23 percent of the republic's population. "Milosevic is [counting on a] Christian-Muslim conflict [in Macedonia]. I think we were very close to it." Georgievski added that "the problem is that people have been made to choose between the Albanians and the Serbs. It should not be a question for a country that already has a complicated political life." He concluded that "as a state we have had a difficult 20 days. And I think we passed this exam." PM

REFUGEES SAY SERBS BOMBED CONVOY

NATO and Serbian officials on 15 April traded accusations as to who bombed one or possibly two convoys of displaced persons heading for Albania on the Prizren-Gjakova road the previous day. At least 75 persons died. In Brussels, an unnamed NATO spokesman told AP that NATO aircraft may have hit at least a civilian tractor while pursuing military vehicles. Refugees who reached Albania told Reuters in Kukes that low-flying Serbian MiG aircraft attacked them. One added that, after the attack, "Serbian soldiers came with cameras and filmed the blood and the dead and told us to go and say that NATO bombed you." On 15 April, "The Guardian" also quoted refugees as saying that Serbian aircraft attacked them. The daily added that some refugees reported that many of the supposedly displaced persons hiding in the hills of Kosova are actually being held there by the Serbs as human shields. Refugees told the paper that armed Serbs shot into the crowd of prisoners to deter escapes. PM

SERBS TAKING REVENGE FOR AIR STRIKES ON FLEEING KOSOVARS?

Pjarke Tharkildsen, who is a Danish military officer serving as an OSCE monitor, told AP on the Albanian border on 15 April that he is "personally certain" that Serbian forces are responsible for the bombing deaths of the displaced persons in the convoy. He added that "the Serbs can't get at NATO directly, so they are taking it out on the refugees and making NATO look bad." At Blace, one man from Ferizaj told Reuters: "whenever NATO bombs, there is always an answer" from the Serbian forces. PM

ALBANIAN REFUGEE INFLUX CONTINUES

More than 1,500 Kosovars arrived in northern Albania on 14 April from the areas of Skenderaj, Prizren, and Drenica, Reuters reported. Some refugees said that Serbian forces used them as human shields near an ammunition dump after the Serbs turned the refugees back from the border two weeks ago. They added that around 5,000 more are on their way towards Albania. The refugees also told stories of atrocities and killings. In Tirana, an OSCE spokesman said 1,000 ethnic Albanians arrived from Montenegro, where many ethnic Albanians fear that Milosevic will attempt a coup. FS

SERBIAN FORCES SHELL NORTHERN ALBANIA

An OSCE official in Tirana told Reuters that Serbian forces fired mortar shells in the border area in the early hours of 15 April, and that one shell hit Albanian territory near the Morina border crossing. The previous day, the Serbs fired about 40 rounds into the village of Vlahen, near Kruma in the Has Mountains. There were no casualties. The official said that the attacks appeared to be targeted at presumed locations of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Serbian forces also heavily shelled Padesh and Kamenica near Tropoja, forcing local residents to flee. Foreign journalists, meanwhile, saw cars and vans bringing heavily armed UCK fighters towards the border and observed them climbing into the hills. A CNN correspondent, who spent three days with the rebels near Padesh this week, confirmed they use the region as a staging area to move weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades and mortars into Kosova. FS

MEIDANI CALLS MILOSEVIC 'NAZI-COMMUNIST'

Albanian President Rexhep Meidani told Reuters on 14 April that Albania is not an enemy of the Serbian people but of its "Nazi-Communist" leadership. He added that "on one side [of the conflict], we have this machinery of war, crime, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and deportation. On the other side, we seek democratic development, respect of human rights and political rights, as well as cooperation and integration in our region." Meidani warned that "if the Serbian army penetrates our territory, we will respond strongly...by all ways and means." Meidani stressed that only the creation of a NATO-led "protectorate" in Kosova will guarantee security for its population. FS

WORLD BANK PREPARES $70 MILLION LOAN TO ALBANIA

Arntraud Hartmann, the World Bank's country director for Albania, said in Tirana on 14 April that the World Bank is preparing loans to Albania totaling more than $70 million. Hartmann said that the funds will be used to "provide the best possible conditions for the Kosovar refugees and to safeguard economic stability" in Albania. In the next four months, the World Bank expects to approve an initial $40 million for several projects, including irrigation and flood prevention, privatization of state banks and enterprises, and government reform. It also plans to provide funds to turn public buildings into refugee shelters and buy medical equipment, AP reported. FS

FRANCE SET TO COMMIT "THOUSANDS" OF GROUND TROOPS

Defense Minister Alain Richard told Europe-1 radio on 15 April that Paris could send "several thousand" more soldiers to the Balkans should the conflict in Kosova escalate. He added: "The objectives of the alliance will not change. We must be tenacious and keep our sang-froid." In Bonn, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told parliament that Germans "cannot escape our responsibility. That is why our soldiers are on their first combat mission since World War II...To stand by and watch these crimes would have been cynical and irresponsible." PM

BELGRADE IMPOSES BLOCKADE ON MONTENEGRIN COAST

The Yugoslav Navy command announced a 48-hour ban on all sea traffic off Montenegro starting at 5 a.m. on 14 April. The statement said that the move is a "safety" precaution. An unnamed Montenegrin government advisor told Reuters in Podgorica that Belgrade wants "to cut off trade between Montenegro and the rest of the world and strangle our port" of Bar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). PM

POLICE READY TO DEFEND MONTENEGRO

Interior Minister Vukasin Maras told AP in Podgorica on 14 April that "if someone would turn against us, even if that would be the army, he should know that the armed police force is ready to defend Montenegro." He added that "apart from the bombing, Montenegro today is also exposed to juridical, economic, and social terror coming from Belgrade." His 10,000-strong police force is loyal to President Milo Djukanovic. There are 15,000 Yugoslav army troops stationed in the mountainous republic. PM

AIR BOSNA FLIES AGAIN

Bosnia-Herzegovina's flag carrier began regular flights from Sarajevo on 14 April after NATO allowed civilian flights to resume in Bosnian air space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). PM

WESTENDORP RULES ON BOSNIAN PROPERTY RIGHTS

The international community's Carlos Westendorp said on 14 April in Sarajevo that pre-war occupants of state-owned apartments retain their right to them. He charged that many of those who have since occupied the flats are war profiteers seeking to improve their standard of living. He stressed that many new occupants are not really the hardship cases they claim to be. Westendorp's ruling underscores the right of all refugees and displaced persons to go home, which the Dayton peace agreement guarantees. The decision also paves the way for the privatization of state-owned apartments, companies, and banks, as well as for the holding of a major aid donors' conference, the daily "Oslobodjenje" wrote. Elsewhere, the World Bank approved a $15 million loan for developing infrastructure at a local level. And Slovenia has offered Bosnia a reconstruction loan of up to $50 million. PM

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER IN ROMANIA

Hubert Vedrine on 14 April discussed with his Romanian counterpart Andrei Plesu bilateral relations and the conflict in Kosova, on which the chief French diplomat said the views in Paris and Bucharest are "identical or complementary," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Both ministers said that Russia must participate in a search for a solution to the conflict and that the UN must become more involved in its resolution. They also said they were opposed to a military intervention by NATO ground troops, and Plesu added that such an intervention would be "risky" and "evidently have negative consequences" for Romania. Vedrine decorated Romanian Premier Radu Vasile with the Legion of Honor and was also received by President Emil Constantinescu. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES BACKING KOSOVA PARTITION

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Simona Miculescu on 14 April called "ill-willed and abusive" interpretations of a statement by Plesu in alleged support of Kosova's partition. She said Plesu was cited "out of context" and that he only enumerated some "publicly-discussed ideas." The minister, Miculescu said, has "consistently spoken up for the preservation of the territorial integrity" of Yugoslavia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 1999). MS

ROMANIAN TRADE UNIONS DISSATISFIED AFTER MEETING PREMIER

The leaders of the four major trade union confederations said on 14 April after talks with premier Radu Vasile (who resumed his regular duties the previous day) that the warning strike planned for 19 April is on. They said the government has failed to implement solutions agreed on in earlier negotiations. The two sides agreed, however, to continue negotiations to avoid launching a general strike planned for 26 April. Also on 14 April, the State Property Fund decided that its own employees, as well as parliamentarians, local government representatives and trade union leaders can no longer be members of the board of companies administered by the fund, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

LUCINSCHI SAYS BELGRADE PROPOSAL TO JOIN RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN UNION 'REGRETTABLE'

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said on 14 April the decision of the Yugoslav parliament to seek membership in the Union of Belarus and Russia is "regrettable," RFE/RL reported citing ITAR-TASS. Lucinschi also criticized a possible Russian military involvement in the Yugoslav conflict. He said that Moldova will not reconsider its foreign policy and will not join any military bloc, emphasizing that the constitution defines Moldova as a neutral state. Although Moldova is a CIS member, it does not participate in CIS military cooperation, he stressed. MS

SOFIA PROTESTS HARASSMENT OF BULGARIAN DRIVERS IN ROMANIA

Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev, in a letter to his Romanian counterpart Constantin Dudu Ionescu, protested against the harassment of Bulgarian truck drivers transiting Romania instead of Yugoslavia since NATO began its air campaign, Mediafax reported on 13 April. Bonev said that the drivers are often subjected to "unjustified penalties" by the Romanian police who do not issue receipts for the fines collected and fail to specify their reasons. The Bulgarian drivers are forced to pay the equivalent of $14-35. MS




Meciar Enters Presidential Race, Outcome Uncertain


By Jolyon Naegele

The announcement on 9 April, just hours before a deadline for nominations, that former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar will run for president throws the country's presidential campaign wide open.

The first round of elections is scheduled for 15 May, to be followed by a runoff of the two leading contenders.

Just how many candidates will be competing in the first round remains unclear, with various news media reporting figures ranging from eight to 11. The support of at least 15 parliamentary deputies or the signatures of at least 15,000 citizens is required to qualify. The speaker of the Slovak parliament, Jozef Migas, is due to announce on 16 April which candidates have qualified.

Until last week, the three top contenders were considered to be Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, backed by the ruling coalition, and two independents: ex-President Michal Kovac and actress turned diplomat Magda Vasaryova.

Then, after much lobbying, Slovak National Party (SNS) leader Jan Slota succeeded on 8 April in winning support for his candidacy from two MPs from the ruling coalition in exchange for political IOUs. Neither will ever vote for Slota and their motive seemed to be to weaken Schuster's chances. But Slota's chances of getting elected, already slim, have now likely been dashed by Meciar's candidacy. Meciar can be expected to take the lion's share of the nationalist vote while splitting the populist and post- Communist vote with Schuster.

After losing parliamentary elections last September, Meciar announced his departure from the political stage and, as after previous political defeats, he vanished behind the walls of a spa, reappearing only once since then: at the funeral of a murdered former trade minister, Jan Ducky, where Meciar physically attacked several reporters and cursed at them.

Meciar has not been seen since, not even when his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Slovakia's largest opposition party, announced his candidacy.

Meciar's comeback has provoked a variety of reactions. Slovak Justice Minister and Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) chairman Jan Carnogursky told RFE/RL that the candidacies of Meciar and Slota should help ensure that a non-party candidate makes it to the run-off.

"The existence of two candidates from the camp of the current opposition, from SNS and HZDS, significantly increases the likelihood that a civic (non-party) candidate makes it to the second round," Carnogursky said.

And commentator Stefan Hrib, a Meciar critic, says Meciar's candidacy will effectively end his prominent role in Slovak politics: "This attempt of [Meciar's] in reality is the best thing that could happen to this country. If Meciar loses--and according to everything--he will lose, it will mean not only farewell to him once and for all, but also a fatal weakening of all those who linked their political future with him."

But Slovak commentator Milan Zitny offers a different view: "For the other candidates, and especially for those who are truly civic (non-party), Meciar's entry into the electoral arena means a fundamental change. According to estimates, Meciar can count on the support of more than 20 percent of the voters and thus his passage to the second round is guaranteed just as is the candidate of the government coalition, Rudolf Schuster, who is preferred by over 30 percent of the voters."

Zitny says that Meciar can only be defeated in the first round if those candidates who have no hope of making it to the run-off throw their backing behind the only single non-party (civic) candidate with a chance of making it to the second round, Magda Vasaryova. In Zitny's words, "the choice is simple--either she or Meciar."

Similarly, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are reacting to Meciar's candidacy with alarm. For example, Charter 99 -- Civic Democratic Youth is appealing to independent candidates, including Vasaryova and Kovac, to hold a "civic primary" in advance of the first round so as to ensure the participation of a non-party candidate in the run-off.

Meciar's apparent candidacy is predictably drawing considerable press comment. Pavol Minarik, in a 12 April commentary in the left-of-center Bratislava daily "Pravda," says "unless Meciar changes into a serious and responsible politician and convinces the democratic world of this, he will bring Slovakia as before only bad luck and unhappiness." Minarik says that Meciar's chief motive in running for president is his "desperate attempt to amnesty Ivan Lexa one more time."

Lexa headed the Slovak intelligence service (SIS) under Meciar. Before dawn on 9 April, parliament stripped him of his immunity to face criminal prosecution in five cases, including the 1995 abduction of Michal Kovac Jr. to Austria. Before leaving office, Meciar amnestied Lexa and others for unspecified acts committed while in office.

The HZDS daily "Slovenska Republika" of 10 April headlined its story on Meciar's comeback "I Heard the Call of the Nation." The quote appears to have been invented. Immediately beneath the Meciar article was another headline, "Perfect Political Act of Revenge," over a story on Lexa's loss of immunity. Jolyon Naegele is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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