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Newsline - April 20, 1999




CLINTON, YELTSIN AGREE ON NEED FOR POLITICAL SETTLEMENT IN KOSOVA...

In a 50-minute telephone conversation on 19 April, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton agreed that Yugoslav forces must stop attacks on ethnic Albanians and withdraw from Kosova, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Both leaders also demanded the safe repatriation of refugees and access to Kosova for humanitarian organizations, according to Kremlin officials and White House Secretary Joseph Lockhart. It was the first time the two leaders had spoken since the NATO bombing of strategic targets in Yugoslavia began on 24 March. Yeltsin criticized Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for opposing a peace-keeping force in Kosova, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. He also ruled out Russian military intervention on behalf of Yugoslavia and added that Russia will not send any additional ships to the Adriatic, where it currently deploys a monitoring vessel. Both presidents agreed "to keep up as always close contacts." FS

...BUT NOT ON AIR RAIDS

Lockhart said that the talks were "very constructive" but noted that the two politicians disagree over the need for the NATO missile and bombing raids on Yugoslavia as well as over the command structure of a future peace-keeping force. Lockhart stressed that this force must be NATO-led in order to be effective. The Kremlin's press service reported that Yeltsin demanded an immediate end to the NATO air raids and favored a UN-led peace-keeping force. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has said that NATO plans to send ground troops into Kosova. He accused the alliance of using "scorched earth tactics-- destroying everything in sight and then marching in as if through a desert," ITAR-TASS reported. In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that Russia plays "a very active and constructive role" in settling the Kosova crisis. He did not elaborate. FS

RUSSIAN PATRIARCH LAUNCHES KOSOVO 'MEDIATION EFFORT'

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II arrived in Belgrade on 20 April to a red-carpet welcome by religious leaders and politicians, AP reported. Aides of the patriarch said that he will propose to Milosevic the demilitarization of Kosova, as a first step toward re-starting the peace talks, Interfax reported. Observers noted that Kosovars are likely to consider Alexii pro-Serbian. FS

FIRST SHIPMENT OF U.S. GRAIN ARRIVES...

The first shipment of grain under a $1 billion U.S. Department of Agriculture aid program arrived in Vladivostok, RFE/RL's correspondent there reported on 20 April. The grain is the first batch of more than 3 million metric tons of food, including wheat, corn, rice, powdered milk, poultry and seeds, that will be delivered. The foodstuffs will be distributed by ship and rail to eight cities throughout the Russian Pacific region. Distribution of humanitarian assistance packages in Magadan from its sister city, Anchorage, Alaska, began on 19 April, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 March 1999). JAC

...AS GRAIN IN STORAGE HITS LOW LEVELS

As of 1 April, Russia's grain in storage was 51.4 percent down on the level at the same time last year, Interfax reported on 19 April. By early July, according to the agency, grain levels will be at their lowest in recent years. Already, storage levels are especially low in Kamchatka and Magadan Oblasts and the Republics of Komi and Karelia, all of which have less than 5 percent of what they had accumulated by this time last year. Meanwhile, as spring sowing of various crops begins in Altai Krai, the deputy head of the region's agriculture department told ITAR-TASS that machinery and seeds exist in sufficient supply, but concerns remain about fuel, the price of which has risen since the beginning of the year. Krai authorities have pledged that the region will receive some 60,000 tons of fuel by 1 May. JAC

YELTSIN TELLS REGIONS TO TAKE MORE POWER

Russian President Boris Yeltsin told a group of governors on 19 April that they may be given more independence than is currently granted them in power-sharing agreements, Interfax reported the next day. He suggested that the leaders review their agreements and send him their proposals. He added that they should not do so in "haste." He also repeated an earlier suggestion that the regions take a more active role in foreign policy, saying "everything must originate in the regions, including proposals on foreign policy." On 21 April, the Federation Council will discuss Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov's resignation. A source in the presidential administration told ITAR-TASS on 19 April that most senators are beginning to agree with the administration that Skuratov must leave. Yeltsin has recently been actively wooing regional leaders. Earlier, 17 leaders of Russia's republics signed a declaration asking the State Duma to postpone impeachment proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). JAC

MOSCOW COURT BANS RNE, AS GROUP PREPARES TO RUN IN DUMA ELECTIONS

The Butyrskii district court in Moscow on 19 April banned the Moscow chapter of the neo-fascist Russian National Unity (RNE). The court said that the activities of that chapter violate the Russian Constitution as well as other federal laws and regulations. RNE representatives denounced the decision, calling the trial "political" and saying that they will appeal. Earlier, RNE members said that they will ignore any decision to ban them. On 16 April, a new electoral bloc made up of the RNE, Savior, and Renaissance socio-political movements announced it will run in upcoming Duma elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 April. According to the daily, these little known organizations have registered with the Ministry of Justice and by joining forces with them, RNE will be able to run. JAC

KEMEROVO GOVERNOR'S BLOC TROUNCES OTECHESTVO, YABLOKO IN ELECTIONS...

The electoral bloc led by Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev swept regional elections on 18 April, winning 34 out of 35 seats in the oblast legislature, ITAR- TASS reported. The bloc's nominees also scored well in mayoral and rural administration head races. According to the agency, 44 percent of eligible voters participated. The largest number of votes were cast in rural areas, where Tuleev is extremely popular, the "Moscow Times" reported on 20 April. Losing candidates charged that the ballot was rife with irregularities, such as Governor Tuleev making a host of appearances on behalf of his bloc's candidates, according to the daily. The election law stipulates that the governor cannot participate in local campaigns. The head of the election commission defended Tuleev by noting that the governor had officially been on vacation when he made those appearances. JAC

...AS REGION ANNOUNCES ITS WILLINGNESS TO TAKE IN REFUGEES

Tuleev announced on 19 April that his region is willing to take in 10,000 Yugoslav refugees, Interfax reported. Tuleev's announcement follows a grander declaration by Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov that his oblast is willing to accommodate 50,000 refugees. Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 19 April that "there are enough refugees in Russia who need help. We have to help those who are already on our territory, whether these are refugees from CIS countries, the Baltics, or other countries." JAC

RUSSIA AMASSES HUGE TRADE SURPLUS

Russian exports fell by 18.2 percent in January and February 1999 and its imports by 49.9 percent, compared with the previous year, according to the State Committee for Statistics, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 April. The trade surplus totaled $3.8 billion. JAC

SIDANKO BANKRUPTCY PROBED

The office of the federal prosecutor-general has launched a criminal investigation into whether the oil company SIDANKO illegally initiated its own bankruptcy proceedings, SIDANKO external manager Sergei Kitin told reporters on 19 April. Kitin also denied allegations by the Federal Bankruptcy Service that he personally committed "grave violations." SIDANKO's debt currently totals around $400 million, and according to AP, the company's bankruptcy proceedings are being closely watched by investors, since there is a general perception that investors' rights have regularly been overlooked by companies and authorities. JAC

YELTSIN AGREES TO MEET WITH CHECHEN PRESIDENT

President Yeltsin said on 19 April he will meet at the Kremlin with Aslan Maskhadov to discuss future relations between Grozny and the federal center, Russian agencies reported. Yeltsin noted that Moscow has given the Chechen leadership time to realize that "a republic cannot live inside Russia without Russia." Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told Interfax the same day that Maskhadov "welcomes" the proposed meeting, the precise date and agenda for which will be determined after further Russian-Chechen consultations. Vachagaev said Maskhadov considers the implementation of the 12 May 1997 Treaty on Peace and the Principles of Mutual Relations to be a top priority. Vachagaev added that "Chechnya is prepared [to accept] reasonable compromises which do not curb its independence," Interfax reported. LF

CHECHEN OPPOSITION OFFERS PEACEKEEPERS FOR KOSOVA

The second Congress of Peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan convened in Grozny on 17 April, Interfax and Turan reported. Delegates affirmed their readiness to dispatch military units to Kosova to prevent further ethnic cleansing of Muslim Albanians. Congress leader and former Chechen Premier Shamil Basaev addressed a statement to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana informing him of that decision. Delegates also adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Dagestan as the first step toward the "decolonization" of that republic, and they reaffirmed their commitment to the congress's original goal of creating a united Islamic state comprising Chechnya and Dagestan. On 15 April, Dagestan's Minister for Nationalities, Information and Foreign Affairs, Magomedsalikh Gusaev, criticized the planned congress as illegal and as interference in Dagestan's internal affairs, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




ARMENIA DENIES TALKS WITH AZERBAIJAN ON LIBERATING OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

Armenian presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 19 April that a Russian media report that Armenian and Azerbaijani officials are conducting secret talks on conditions under which Armenian forces will withdraw from five occupied districts of Azerbaijan "does not correspond to reality." Interfax on 17 April quoted unnamed Azerbaijani government officials as saying that the issue had been discussed at a meeting in Georgia on 12 April between the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). Interfax said that in return for withdrawing from five districts that border on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the south, Armenia is demanding the restoration of road and rail links from Azerbaijan to Armenia. LF

CZECH PREMIER IN KAZAKHSTAN

Milos Zeman held talks in Astana on 19 April with his Kazakh counterpart, Nurlan Balghymbaev, on expanding trade and economic relations and on repaying Kazakhstan's debts to the Czech Republic, Interfax and ITAR- TASS reported. Balghymbaev characterized the Czech Republic as one of his country's key partners in central Europe, noting that trade turnover doubled from $50 million in 1997 to $100 million last year. Zeman told Balghymbaev that Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov has agreed to his proposal to remove existing barriers to exports of gas from Kazakhstan to the Czech Republic via Russia. A joint commission is to determine the volume of such exports, which will constitute part payment of Kazakhstan's outstanding debt for construction projects undertaken by Czechoslovakia in Kazakhstan in the 1980s. Zeman also met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER PROPOSES INCLUDING RUSSIA, KYRGYZSTAN IN RIVER NEGOTIATIONS

Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 19 April, Murat Auezov, who is a former Kazakh ambassador to Beijing and co-chairman of the opposition movement Azamat, called for the inclusion of Russian and Kyrgyz government representatives in the upcoming Kazakh-Chinese talks on the use of waters from the Irtysh and Ili Rivers, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 15 April 1999). Auezov noted that Beijing is building new dams and power stations on the Irtysh, which is a tributary of Russia's Ob River. Those facilities could radically reduce the volume of water flowing from China into Kazakhstan. LF

KYRGYZ-RUSSIAN ECONOMIC COMMISSION MEETS

At its first session in Bishkek on 19 April, the Kyrgyz-Russian inter-- governmental commission reviewed a draft 10-year economic cooperation program that includes cooperation in the oil and gas sectors, the involvement of Russian companies in the construction of hydro-electric plants in Kyrgyzstan, and Russian orders from Kyrgyz defense plants, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Russian Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, who is co-chairman of the commission, also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CRITICIZES PACT ON RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE

In an interview with AP-Blitz on 19 April, Muhammadsharif Himmatzoda, who is leader of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan and chairman of the Committee for National Reconciliation sub-committee on legal affairs, said the creation on the territory of Tajikistan of a foreign military base is "unacceptable." Himmatzoda reasoned that the 16 April agreement signed in Moscow by the defense ministers of Russia and Tajikistan, which allows Russia to establish such a base in Tajikistan, will compel neighboring countries to conclude analogous agreements. This, he said, will exacerbate tensions in the region. He said the presence in Tajikistan of the 201st Russian division and of Russian border troops is adequate to ensure the country's security. LF

UZBEKISTAN TO JOIN GUAM

Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 19 April, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said the presidents of the four GUAM states (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) will formally announce the accession of Uzbekistan to that alignment in Washington later this week. Shevardnadze added that the five members have drafted documents redefining the nature and objectives of that organization. He declined to give details, however, other than to say that the draft does not include military cooperation, according to ITAR-TASS and Interfax. LF




EBRD POSTPONES DECISION ON NUCLEAR INDUSTRY LOANS TO UKRAINE

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has postponed a decision on whether to finance the completion of two nuclear reactors in Ukraine to compensate Kyiv for energy loss following the expected closure of the Chornobyl power plant. EBRD Deputy Chairman Charles Frank said that while the cost of finishing the two reactors, located in Khmelnytskyy and Rivne, meets bank criteria, Ukraine must also meet international nuclear safety requirements and reduce barter payments for electricity before receiving an EBRD loan, an RFE/RL correspondent in London reported. Frank added that other criteria include the "real privatization" of energy distribution firms and the availability of financing from other institutions. JM

PUSTOVOYTENKO PREDICTS FINANCIAL STABILITY FOR 1999

Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko told journalists on 19 April that the hryvnya exchange rate will remain stable at some 4 hryvni to $1 this year, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. Pustovoytenko confirmed that Ukraine will meet its 1999 macroeconomic targets. He added that inflation in the first quarter of 1999 stood at 3.5 percent, while the budget deficit and credit rates were also kept within projected limits. However, Pustovoytenko also noted that from January to March, the state budget was able to collect only 15.9 percent of planned revenues. JM

UKRAINE, SWITZERLAND TO COOPERATE IN COMBATING CRIME

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko and his Swiss counterpart, Carla del Ponte, met in Kyiv on 19 April to sign an agreement on fighting organized crime and money- laundering. "We have prepared this agreement in a fairly short time, thanks to the joint investigation we're already conducting," Del Ponte commented, referring to the Ukrainian- Swiss probe into former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko. "Switzerland has a developed banking system which certain scoundrels from Ukraine use to hide their illegal revenues," AP quoted Potebenko as saying. JM

BELARUSIAN GAYS HOLD FIRST EVER PUBLIC PROTEST

One dozen gay and lesbian rights activists demonstrated in Minsk on 19 April to protest the authorities' refusal to register their organization, the Belarusian League of Sexual Minorities, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. This was the first ever public demonstration by sexual minorities in Belarus. Gay movement leader Edvard Tarletski told RFE/RL that the Belarusian authorities are guided by Soviet stereotypes in their unwillingness to recognize the existence of a "nontraditional sexual orientation" in Belarus. Tarletski added that the demonstrators also wanted to protest a recent seminar organized by the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church at which some participants called homosexuals "servants of the devil" and proposed punishing them by electrocution. JM

EBRD GRANTS ESTONIA LOANS FOR AIRPORT, RAIL DEVELOPMENT

The EBRD has granted Estonia a $7 million loan aimed at helping Tallinn Airport modernize its passenger terminal. The 14- year-loan, guaranteed by the Estonian government, complements a $9 million loan from the European Investment Bank and a grant of some $2 million from the EU's PHARE program. Another EBRD loan worth nearly $15 million is aimed at creating a more efficient railway network. A similar loan was granted by the European Investment Bank for track renewal, while Estonia has already received a $5 million grant from the PHARE program for rail projects, an RFE/RL correspondent in London reported on 19 April. JC

ESTONIA'S RUSSIAN PARTIES TO FORM ELECTORAL ALLIANCE

In an interview published in the 20 April issue of "Postimees," Sergei Ivanov of the United People's Party spoke about the intention of the country's Russian parties to form an alliance for this fall's local elections, ETA reported. According to Ivanov, the People's Trust alliance will first set up a branch in Tallinn, followed by others throughout the country. A 17 April meeting in the capital was attended by representatives of a dozen or so political parties and organizations. The Russian Party in Estonia, which failed to agree with the United People's Party about running on a joint list for last month's parliamentary elections, was not among the dozen. Whereas only citizens can vote in Estonia's parliamentary elections, all permanent residents can take part in elections to local government agencies. According to "Postimees," some 240,000 non-citizens are eligible to vote in the fall ballot. JC

LATVIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR CHANGES TO DRAFT LANGUAGE LAW

Vilis Kristopans has called for changes to the bill on the state language, whose third and final reading is scheduled for next month, LETA and BNS reported on 19 April. Stressing that the legislation must be compatible with Latvia's international obligations, the premier addressed the provision regulating the use of the state language in the private sector. According to Kristopans, state interference in the private sector is permissible only if the interests of society, such as the national security, territorial integrity, or public safety, demand it. He added that the regulations on language use must not affect free enterprise and argued that stricter provisions should apply only to those companies in which the state has at least a 50 percent stake. Kristopans's proposals come on the heels of a letter from OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 1999). JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT EXPRESSES NO CONFIDENCE IN PREMIER

In a speech broadcast simultaneously by all six Lithuanian television stations on 19 April, President Valdas Adamkus announced that he has no confidence in Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius and urged the ruling parliamentary majority to debate forming a new government, ELTA reported. Strongly criticizing Vagnorius's approach toward government, Adamkus suggested that the premier is returning the country to Soviet-style rule. He reproached Vagnorius for failing to work in a constructive manner and implement the government program. And he also accused him of seeking to limit the authority and prerogatives of the head of state. Earlier the same day, the government issued a statement calling Adamkus a "usurper," as evidenced by his "aspiration to assume part of the government's duties and functions," BNS reported. The statement noted that the cabinet is currently holding discussions on what powers could be handed to the president, along with the concomitant responsibilities. JC

GAZPROM HALVES SUPPLIES TO LITHUANIA

According to an official of the gas company Lietuvos Dujos, Russia's Gazprom has cut Lithuania's natural gas supplies by 50 percent owing to unpaid bills, an RFE/RL correspondent in Vilnius reported. The outstanding debts were due to have been paid on 1 April. Lietuvos Dujos lost some $5 million last year and expects to continue to lose money in 1999. JC

POLAND ACCEPTS KOSOVA REFUGEES, REJECTS CRITICISM

Poland took in some 380 Kosova refugees on 19 April in a continued effort to fulfill its pledge to receive 1,000 Kosovars. Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz rejected recent criticism by a U.S. newspaper and a U.S. congressman that NATO's new members--Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary-- do not show involvement in NATO's military campaign in Yugoslavia. Onyszkiewicz said Warsaw has offered to open Polish airports for NATO refueling planes and set aside its remaining budget reserves for Kosova-related spending. Onyszkiewicz added that Poland is unlikely to be able to participate in a possible NATO ground campaign. "I am afraid [the cost of our participation] would surpass our financial abilities," Reuters quoted Onyszkiewicz as saying. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES NATO REQUEST TO USE AIRPORTS

The government said on 19 April that NATO planes are free to use the country's airports during its bombing campaign of Yugoslavia, CTK reported. The decision still must gain parliamentary approval. A spokeswoman for the country's airport authority said a NATO delegation visited Prague's Ruzyne airport the same day and is to visit Ostrava's Mosnov airport on 20 April. She said these two civilian airports must be used because Czech military airfields are too small to accommodate NATO refueling aircraft. PB

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER VISITING CZECH REPUBLIC

Eduard Kukan praised Czech support for Bratislava's efforts to join NATO during a one-day visit to Prague on 19 April, CTK reported. Kukan said after talks with Czech President Vaclav Havel that he hopes NATO participants at the upcoming summit in Washington will "evaluate objectively the new political reality that has emerged in Slovakia." Kukan also held talks with Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan. In other news, Vladimir Zelezny, the head of the Czech Republic's leading television station, TV NOVA, has been fired by shareholders who accused him of abusing his position. PB

DZURINDA IN VIENNA

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda held talks in Vienna on 19 April with Austrian President Thomas Klestil, TASR reported. Their talks focused on bilateral relations, the crisis in Kosova, and the sending of humanitarian aid to the refugees there. Klestil said he is "pleased" with the progress made by the Slovak government in preparing the country for integration into Western European structures. Dzurinda said Bratislava will speed up privatization and will have to amend the privatization law so that it does not violate various provisions of the constitution. PB

HUNGARY'S SOCIALISTS OPPOSE USE OF GROUND FORCES IN KOSOVO

The opposition Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) supports the government's NATO commitments but opposes the participation of Hungarian troops in any ground operation against Yugoslavia, party chairman Laszlo Kovacs told Hungarian media on 19 April. The MSZP also insists that no troops be sent into Yugoslavia from Hungarian territory, he said. Kovacs accused the government of failing to respond to concerns expressed by the public and said that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's recent statement supporting an increase in NATO attacks endangered the situation of ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina. In other news, the Defense Ministry has received reports that support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has grown among ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina since last week's bombing in Subotica, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ




VEDRINE: BELGRADE'S PERMISSION NOT NEEDED FOR KOSOVA FORCE

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told the "International Herald Tribune" of 20 April that the "UN Security Council has powers to impose solutions, even against the will of a sovereign state." He added that the international community will deploy ground forces to Kosova only within the context of a political settlement. Vedrine noted that "our general goal, shared by all the Western countries, including the Russians...is to see ex-Yugoslavia come into line with European norms and become democratic. That means a change of regime in Serbia.... Someday, the people of Serbia will have a place in Europe, but right now they have developed a mood of paranoia, which existed before the [NATO] airstrikes but has worsened," the foreign minister concluded. PM

COOK: SERBIA TO LOSE CONTROL OF KOSOVA

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in London on 19 April that "the sheer scale of the brutality directed from Belgrade against the Kosovar Albanians" makes an international administration of Kosova necessary once the Serbian forces leave. Cook suggested that the UN or EU could take over the administration of Kosova from the Serbian authorities, dpa reported. He added that he is making information on "multiple atrocities" and their perpetrators available to the Hague- based war crimes tribunal. PM

HAS YUGOSLAV ARMY STARTED ETHNIC CLEANSING IN MONTENEGRO?

Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said on 19 April that the government is investigating reports that the previous night members of the Yugoslav army forced ethnic Albanians to abandon between one and three villages near Rozaje, along the border with Kosova. Burzan told Reuters that the government does not want "people to move out of the area," which is home to many ethnic Albanians and Muslims. More than 400 people from three villages told AP in Rozaje that Yugoslav soldiers expelled them from their villages amid great physical and verbal abuse. Also in that area, unidentified gunmen recently killed six Kosovar refugees, including a 70-year-old woman and a 13-year-old boy, Reuters added. And in Podgorica, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic warned the army not to arrest Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 1999). PM

YUGOSLAVIA CLOSES ALBANIAN BORDER

The renewed influx of almost 40,000 refugees into northern Albania over the weekend ended when Serbian forces suddenly closed the border on 19 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 April 1999). Only 30 or so refugees arrived in Kukes that day, VOA's Albanian Service reported. Nearby, Serbian soldiers and Albanian border guards exchanged gunfire on 19 April at Dobruna, Reuters added. FS

WHY HAVE YUGOSLAV AUTHORITIES CLOSED THE BORDERS?

Kris Janowski, who is spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in Geneva on 19 April that the Yugoslav authorities have closed most, if not all, of the border crossings out of Kosova and forced the displaced persons back into the interior of the province. He added that "it all sounds fairly ominous and we don't know to what end they're doing it." Janowski stressed that the refugees "are being forcibly prevented from leaving." In Brussels, a NATO spokesman said that up to 250,000 displaced persons may be on the road inside Kosova, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. PM

ALBANIA MOVES REFUGEES OUT OF BORDER REGION

Relief workers in Kukes have speeded up the transfer of refugees to other parts of Albania to the rate of 10,000 a day, Reuters reported on 19 April. More than 130,000 refugees remained in generally squalid conditions in the northern town. Officials in Tirana said they have drawn up plans for a military helicopter airlift of refugees to central and southern Albania. Many refugees have resisted moving out of Kukes in the hope of returning to Kosova soon. A UNHCR official there noted that an estimated total of 15,000 families fled in tractor-drawn carts. He added that "these people are especially attached to their tractors [and] will never leave them behind." He added that the UNHCR plans to create a special camp for them near Kukes. FS

UCK CAPTURES RUSSIAN IN KOSOVA

Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) fighters captured three Yugoslav army soldiers, including one Russian citizen, inside Kosova last week, an UCK spokesman told AP in Tirana on 19 April. He said that the UCK plans to turn them over to NATO officials. The three apparently belonged to the same unit as another Yugoslav army officer, whom the rebels captured last week near Junik. The UCK turned the officer over to the Albanian authorities, which transferred him to U.S. custody. U.S. officials have declared the officer a prisoner of war. Yugoslav forces continue to hold three U.S. soldiers whom they captured on 31 March near the Yugoslav-Macedonian border. FS

KOSOVAR AIDE: MILOSEVIC USED RUGOVA

Adnan Merovci, who is Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova's chief of protocol, said in Skopje on 19 April that Rugova held his two recent meetings with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic under duress (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 April 1999). Merovci, whom the Yugoslav authorities recently allowed to leave Prishtina for Macedonia, stressed that Rugova believes that air strikes against Serbian targets should end only after Serbian forces leave Kosova and the refugees return home under international protection, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

U.S. SEEKING OIL CUT-OFF FOR YUGOSLAVIA

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has recently appealed to foreign ministers of several unnamed European governments to support a "cut- off" of shipments of refined oil to Yugoslavia in order to deny oil to the army, AP reported on 20 April. She noted in Washington the previous day that Croatia has already closed its pipeline to Yugoslavia. A State Department spokesman said that Albright hopes that ships en route to Yugoslav ports could be stopped and searched at sea, but the spokesman did not use the term "blockade." Elsewhere, U.S. diplomats called on foreign governments not to allow the shipment of oil to Yugoslavia. Meanwhile in Paris, unnamed French officials said they doubt whether an oil cut-off is possible under international law without a declaration of war. They added that the EU and countries bordering Yugoslavia should "find a formula" to regulate the flow of oil supplies to Yugoslavia. PM

CLINTON WANTS $6 BILLION FOR KOSOVA

President Bill Clinton asked Congress on 19 April to approve $6 billion to support the U.S. military involvement in the Kosova crisis and to increase aid to Kosovar refugees. He stressed that "there are literally lives hanging in the balance." PM

MACEDONIA ON VERGE OF 'CATASTROPHE'

Foreign Minister Aleksandar Dimitrov said in Vienna on 19 April that "our economy, society, and state are on the brink of a catastrophe," "Die Presse" reported. He noted that Macedonia has already admitted 140,000 refugees even though it is willing to allow only 20,000 to stay. He warned that the massive influx of Kosovars threatens to upset the balance between the Slavic Macedonian majority and the 23 percent ethnic Albanian minority. Dimitrov argued that Macedonian authorities have been admitting refugees only slowly because the authorities must be certain that the people in question, most of whom have no documents, are really refugees. PM

U.S. SUSPENDS PROGRAM FOR BOSNIAN FEDERAL ARMY

Robert Gelbard, who is U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, said in Zagreb on 19 April that he is suspending the $100 million "train-and-equip" program for the mainly Croatian and Muslim Bosnian federal army in the wake of recent "antagonistic...stupid and dangerous speeches" by top Croatian generals. Gelbard stressed that Croatian General Ljubo Cesic-Rojs and Herzegovinian Croatian General Stanko Sopta made "intolerable" remarks regarding Muslims at a Herzegovinian Croatian military ceremony. Gelbard also noted that the Muslim and Herzegovinian Croatian military leaderships have failed to truly integrate their forces, "Oslobodjenje" reported. He also stressed that Croatia must respect the Dayton agreement and no longer allow ethnic Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina to vote in Croatian elections, "Jutarnji list" noted. PM

ROMANIA TO CONSIDER GRANTING NATO AIR SPACE

Romanian political and military leaders are to meet on 20 April to discuss a NATO request for unlimited use of the country's air space, Reuters reported. A spokesman for President Emil Constantinescu said he will chair a meeting of the country's Supreme Defense Council. The four-party coalition government will also consider the request, which will require parliamentary approval. The leftist opposition Party of Social Democracy said in a statement that it "does not want Romania to be dragged into a dangerous military adventure" and asked that a joint session of the parliament be convened to discuss NATO's request. PB

ROMANIAN WORKERS PROTEST POOR CONDITIONS

Thousands of Romanian workers went on a two-hour nationwide strike on 19 April to protest declining living standards, AP reported. Romania's four major trade unions organized the strike, which paralyzed public transportation in several cities and towns. The unions warned that an all-out strike will be called for 26 April if demands for better social programs and lower prices for food are not met. The government has been negotiating with the unions and said some of the problems may be resolved if Bucharest receives a $450 million loan from the IMF. Christian Popa, the vice governor of the National Bank of Romania, said in London that the government expects the loan to be signed by 21 April at the latest, an RFE/RL correspondent in the British capital reported. PB

NEW ROMANIAN POLITICAL PARTY ESTABLISHED

Ion Diaconescu said on 19 April that the formation two days earlier of the Christian Democratic National Alliance (ANCD), whose members broke away from his National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), comes at an inopportune time for the country. Diaconescu said the new party has been formed for personal reasons and that its aim is to damage the PNTCD, Rompres reported. Former Premier Victor Ciorbea is the president of the ANCD. He previously served as vice president of the PNTCD. PB

BULGARIAN LEADERS AGREE TO NATO REQUEST FOR AIR CORRIDOR

President Petar Stoyanov, Premier Ivan Kostov, and parliamentary speaker Yordan Sokolov said on 19 April that they will ask the parliament to approve a NATO request to use Bulgarian air space for strikes against Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. After meeting with legislative leaders, Kostov said the government will seek a "positive response" from the parliament. He said that refusing to grant the air corridor to the alliance would mean prolonging the crisis and excluding Bulgaria from European integration. Kostov is to go to Brussels to explain the conditions and to ask for security guarantees. Some 50,000 ethnic Bulgarians live in Yugoslavia, and opinion polls in Bulgaria show that a majority of the people are against NATO air strikes. PB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES MILITARY AID TO MACEDONIA

Bulgarian Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev said in Sofia that the government has approved an agreement granting military aid to Macedonia, BTA reported on 18 April. The first shipment of aid, to be delivered one month after the agreement is approved by the Bulgarian parliament, would include 94 T-55 tanks, 108 M-30 howitzers, and ammunition worth $3.5 million. PB




NEW MOVES ON THE CAUCASUS CHESSBOARD


by Paul Goble

Several recent developments in the southern Caucasus may fundamentally change power relationships not only in that region but also across a much larger portion of the world as well. Precisely because of that possibility, some of the players both within the region and beyond appear to be positioning themselves to respond with new moves.

On 17 April, leaders from the Caucasus and Central Asia marked the opening of a 515-mile pipeline that will carry oil from the Caspian basin to the West. The same day, Ukraine, Georgia, and Bulgaria signed a treaty creating a new Black Sea rail ferry route. Both of these moves, which have been widely welcomed in the West, will allow the countries of this region to reach Europe without passing through either Russia or Iran.

Together, these moves on the chessboard of the Caucasus may come to transform the geopolitical environment of both this region and Eurasia as a whole. As one senior Azerbaijani official put it, these steps mean "the world to us," giving Baku "direct access to the West" and thus allowing it to free itself from Russia "after 200 years."

Indeed, if both this pipeline and ferry arrangement work out, Russian leverage over these countries will decline still further. And as if to underline the decline in Russian power there, approximately 100 soldiers from Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine last week held four-day military maneuvers at Krtsanisi, just east of Tbilisi.

While the number of troops involved was small, such a joint exercise highlights the continuing decay of the Russian-backed CIS as the chief security organization of the post-Soviet region. And it gives new content to GUAM, an organization that includes Moldova as well as the three countries that took part in the maneuvers.

Indeed, many Russian officials are likely to view the exercise as a direct challenge to Moscow, particularly because it came on the heels of a decision by several CIS states not to continue to participate in the Commonwealth's defense agreement. Even more, officials in other countries in this region are certain to be following this exercise as a test of what may now be possible for them as well.

But precisely because so much is at stake, not only for these countries but for others as well, several states have moved some pieces on this chessboard as well. On 14 April, Russia and Iran signed an agreement to cooperate in the exploitation of oil and gas resources in the region, a direct response to the new Azerbaijan-Georgian pipeline.

Russian Oil Minister Sergei Generalov and his Iranian opposite number, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, initialed an accord that will expand the already large degree of cooperation between the two states from which many in the Caspian basin seek to become more independent. Whether this accord will give the two states more opportunities to counter the new east-west corridor in the southern Caucasus remains to be seen. But on 14 April, Moscow took another step designed to defend or even expand its influence there.

In Yerevan to mark Armenia's expanded participation in CIS air defense, General Anatolii Kornukov, the commander of the Russian Federation air force, announced that Moscow will send more fighter jets to its military base in the Caucasus country.

Kornukov went out of his way to say that this new buildup was in no way a threat to Azerbaijan, with which Armenia has been locked in a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh for more than a decade. But few in Baku or elsewhere are likely to see this latest Russian move as anything but precisely that.

Indeed, when Moscow recently deployed advanced S-300 missiles and MiG-29 fighters to Armenia, Azerbaijanis from President Heidar Aliyev down protested that move as inherently destabilizing. They are almost certain to raise their voices again now that Moscow has introduced still more weaponry into Armenia, with which the Russian Federation maintains extremely close ties.

Such moves and countermoves serve as a reminder not only of how complicated this region remains and how much is at stake for how many people but also of how difficult it is for any of the participants in this geopolitical game to make a move that the other side cannot quickly move to counter. Thus neither side is likely to be able to move into an endgame anytime soon.


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