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Newsline - April 30, 1999




GOVERNMENT FACING TOUGH BATTLE TO PUSH 'IMF BILLS' THROUGH DUMA

The Russian government will soon introduce one-third of a package of laws required by the IMF to disburse new money to Russia, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov said on 30 April. The previous day, State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov predicted that "the government will have to make a colossal effort to persuade deputies to increase excise duties and to give up the reduction of value-added tax" particularly during an election year. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev was more optimistic, saying that the upper legislative body is likely to approve the measures unless senators feel that the IMF is trying to pressure them politically. Duma Deputy Aleksandr Shokhin suggested to Interfax that Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov might successfully blackmail the Duma into passing the entire package of 59 bills by threatening to resign. JAC

FEARS RAISED FOR NEXT CROP

Specialists at the Ministry of Agriculture said on 29 April that this summer Russia may experience a drought similar to the one that ruined crops in 40 regions last year, ITAR-TASS reported. Unusually warm weather in the spring caused snow to melt too quickly for the soil to absorb the water. The ministry expressed particular concern about the low levels of moisture of soil in Stavropol and Krasnodar Krais and several regions in the Volga area and central Russia. Farmers can try to lock moisture in by using tractors, but fuel shortages have limited the use of that technique. Last year's grain harvest was the worst in 40 years. JAC

DUMA DEPUTY SUGGESTS REVISING NO FIRST USE DOCTRINE...

In an interview with "Ekho Moskvy" on 29 April, Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich (Our Home Is Russia) repeated an earlier suggestion that Russia amend its military doctrine to allow the option of a first nuclear strike-- "but not necessarily with strategic missiles." Popkovich added that the change is needed because NATO's new strategy allows it the option to launch a first nuclear strike. The next day, "Izvestiya" reported that although Russian officials claimed that the Security Council's discussion the previous day of Russia's nuclear weapons strategy was unrelated to the Balkans crisis, an anonymous source at the council said "the recent conceptual alterations in NATO's tactics and strategy...did not go unnoticed during the adoption of the final version of the [council's] documents." JAC

...AS RUSSIA PREPARES FOR EVENTUALITY OF LAND WAR?

Noting that the content of the documents has not been made public, the newspaper speculated that Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces would return to "the old encounter attack form of combat actions," abandoning its current orientation toward retaliatory attacks. The new emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons suggests that the armed forces are preparing for the eventuality of a land war, according to the daily. Reuters quoted an anonymous Russian defense analyst as saying that the development of tactical nuclear weapons "will take 15 years at a minimum and huge amount of resources." "It's a game so that the West will get upset," he concluded. JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN REPORTS PROGRESS

After meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Bonn on 29 April, Russia's envoy for Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin said that "there is progress but no breakthrough." He stressed that "our major task is to stop the bombings in Yugoslavia and establish peace there," AP reported. Schroeder told Reuters that there was movement "only on the diplomatic front." Following subsequent talks with Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in Rome, Chernomyrdin commented that "our positions have moved closer on the ways and the directions in which we can pursue" a political solution to the Kosova conflict. Chernomyrdin did not elaborate on the "concrete proposals" he pledged to put forward in Belgrade at a scheduled meeting with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 30 April. FS

TALBOTT SAYS 'HARD WORK' NEEDED TO REACH COMMON POSITION

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told the NATO Council in Brussels on 29 April that there is still a lot of "very hard work" to do before the West and Russia find a common position. Chernomyrdin also discussed by telephone with U.S. Vice President Al Gore the possible composition of a peace-keeping force. A U.S. spokesman told AP that Gore "reiterated NATO's conditions for ending the air strikes." FS

YELTSIN SEES 'HIGH STAKES' FOR ENTIRE WORLD

Russian President Boris Yeltsin told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Moscow on 29 April that "the stakes are very high now not only for the Balkans and Europe, but for the entire world," AP reported. He added that "either law and order will be restored or lawlessness and the unlimited force of one country will rule the world"" (an apparent reference to the U.S.). Meanwhile, Yugoslav Ambassador to Moscow, Milosevic's brother Borislav, stressed that Belgrade is willing to accept only a "civilian mission under the UN flag" with a large Russian component, but no NATO participation, ITAR- TASS reported. And on 30 April, an Il-76 transport plane carrying humanitarian aid bound for Yugoslavia left Nizhnii Novgorod. The plane did not receive an air corridor to Belgrade and was redirected to Skopje. FS

YELTSIN ORDERS TIGHTER CONTROL IN KRASNOYARSK

President Yeltsin has issued an unexpected order to Prime Minister Primakov and heads of various power ministries to intensify control over the office of the Prosecutor-General, the Interior Ministry, and other law enforcement agencies in Krasnoyarsk Krai, "Trud" reported on 30 April. According to the daily, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed neither asked nor knew anything about the "assistance" President Yeltsin is offering. Earlier, Lebed enlisted Primakov in his fight against local business baron Anatolii Bykov, who is now facing criminal charges for money laundering (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 April 1999). The newspaper speculates that Yeltsin's order was prompted by information from Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov, who heads a commission investigating economic crimes in the region. Kolesnikov has reportedly had to enlist many new personnel as the number of criminal cases needing attention has far outstripped expectations. JAC

COMMUNISTS TO DIVIDE AND CONQUER?

The Central Committee of the Communist Party (KPRF) is likely to announce on 22 May its strategy for upcoming Duma elections, unidentified Duma deputies from the Communist faction told Interfax on 29 April. According to these sources, the party intends to run Communists in "three columns," with KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov heading the biggest column, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin and deputy Albert Makashov the radical column, and Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev and Aleksei Podberyozkin, head of Spiritual Heritage, the third column. Earlier, Ilyukhin said that he would run in the elections in his own bloc, the Movement for Support of the Army, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 21 April. According to the daily, Ilyukhin's movement is composed of the Russian Party, the Union Movement, and the Moslem Committee. On 19 April, Viktor Anpilov, head of Labor Russia, said his movement is also willing to join. JAC

PASKO ACCUSES FSB OF COVERING UP EMBEZZLEMENT

Military journalist Grigorii Pasko testified in court on 29 April that the main reason for the case against him was that he came too close to exposing the embezzlement of a $100 million grant from the Japanese government intended for the construction of a plant for the treatment of liquid radioactive waste, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 April. Pasko has been charged with espionage and treason for disclosing to Japanese media classified materials about the Pacific Fleet's environmentally hazardous practices. He had kept all the evidence at his home; however it all disappeared after Federal Security Service officers searched his home before the trial. According to Pasko, the treatment facility was never built, AP reported. JAC

YELTSIN NAMES NEW ENVOYS TO REGIONS

President Yeltsin signed decrees on 28 April appointing Gennadii Mushkin his envoy to the Republic of Kalmykia and Aleksandr Korobeinikov his representative in Stavropol Krai, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

RUSSIAN PIPELINE THROUGH CHECHNYA REOPENS

Azerbaijani officials told Reuters on 29 April that oil is again flowing from Baku through Chechnya to Novorossiisk. The pipeline, which carries 115,000 barrels a day, was shut down for three days because of "technical problems on the Chechen part" of the route. PG




AZERBAIJAN'S Aliyev UNDERGOES BYPASS SURGERY

President Heidar Aliev, 75, underwent a heart bypass operation in Cleveland, Ohio, on 29 April and is now resting comfortably, his office told Reuters on 30 April. Aliyev reportedly suffered a heart attack in 1987. Earlier this year, he was hospitalized in Turkey for what was officially described as acute bronchitis but was thought by some observers to be more serious. PG

SHEVARDNADZE SAYS GEORGIA SEEKS MEMBERSHIP IN NATO...

On his return from the U.S., Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told a press conference on 29 April that his country is now actively seeking membership in NATO and that he has asked the alliance's secretary-general, Javier Solana, to accelerate the process, Western agencies reported. The Georgian leader said that "time is needed" for this to happen, but he expressed the hope that "possibly this will happen sooner than we assume." PG

...CALLS FOR UN REFORM...

The Georgian president said the UN must be "significantly reformed" or it will "lose its purpose," Interfax reported on 29 April. He called for the creation of a UN peacekeeping force, limitations on the right of permanent members of the Security Council to cast vetoes, and an increase in the number of members in that body. PG

...SAYS CLINTON SEES KOSOVO-ABKHAZ ANALOGY

Shevardnadze also said that U.S. President Bill Clinton "believes that the same crime happened in Abkhazia as in Kosova," ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. The Georgian president added that he and Clinton agreed that "ethnic cleansing and genocide should not remain unpunished regardless of where they take place." His comments came as the Abkhaz and Georgian sides agreed to set up a joint commission to monitor violations of the May 1994 cease-fire agreement, Interfax reported. PG

TURKISH NAVAL SQUADRON VISITS GEORGIAN PORTS

Four ships of the Turkish Navy began three-day visits to the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi on 29 April, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

FORMER KAZAKH POLICE OFFICIAL FOUND GUILTY OF SPYING

Major-General Rais Khadeyev, a former deputy head of Kazakhstan's security service, was found guilty of spying for a foreign power and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the confiscation of property, and the loss of his rank, Interfax reported on 29 April. PG

UZBEKISTAN PRESIDENT TO FOCUS ON SECURITY

On his return from Washington, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov said that he will devote more attention to both external and internal security, Interfax reported on 29 April. Karimov said that many threats originated with the "outside sponsors" of various factions in the Afghan civil war. PG

UZBEK, UKRAINIAN NATIONAL AIRLINES FORM ALLIANCE

In order to improve cooperation in the airline industry, the national carriers of Uzbekistan and Ukraine on 29 April signed an agreement in Tashkent on forming a new "CIS-Alliance" air system, Interfax reported. PG

RAKHMONOV RULES OUT ISLAMIC STATE FOR TAJIKISTAN

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said in St. Petersburg on 27 April that "only a secular government can guarantee peace" in his country, Interfax reported on 29 April. Meanwhile, Tajik Islamic opposition members have demanded that the authorities release prisoners in exchange for the return of six policemen taken hostage on 28 April, Reuters reported. PG

RUSSIAN GUARDS KILL DRUG SMUGGLER ON AFGHAN- TAJIK BORDER

Russian border troops killed a drug smuggler and wounded another on the Afghan-Tajik border on 29 April, AP reported. The two suspects were carrying 13 kilograms of heroin and 7 kilograms of marijuana. PG

TURKMENISTAN PUSHES FOR GAS PIPELINE

At talks in Ashgabat on 27 April, Turkmenistan President Saparmurad Niyazov and PSG, the U.S. company that plans to build a gas pipeline across the Caspian, agreed to speed up work on the project, Interfax reported on 29 April. They discussed the preliminary financial plan and the organization of the multicompany consortium that PSG will head. PG




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LAYS DOWN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION PROCEDURE

Belarus's opposition Central Electoral Commission, which is organizing presidential elections in accordance with the 1994 constitution, has adopted procedures for that ballot, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 29 April. Since the authorities have refused to provide polling stations for the elections, the central commission ordered local electoral commission representatives to visit voters' homes with ballot boxes. Voting will take place from 6-16 May. In adopting such a resolution, the commission said it took into account Article 32 of the presidential election law, which allows ballots to be cast at voters' homes if voters cannot visit polling stations because of "health reasons or other valid causes." Commission secretary Barys Hyunter commented to RFE/RL that the voting procedure is "irreproachably" in accordance with the country's legislation. JM

KUCHMA CONFIDENT OF ELECTION VICTORY

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in Khmelnytskyy on 29 April that he is convinced of his victory in the presidential elections on 31 October, Ukrainian Television reported. He added that his main election rival is the economic situation in Ukraine but noted that he knows what measures to take. According to the president, Ukraine's economic troubles are due to the fact that the country "has not renounced Communist ideology." Kuchma said Ukraine's power structure determined by the constitution is ineffectual and should be changed "with the help of the people." Kuchma also criticized the parliament for its inefficiency, saying that lawmakers lack the "political will to take resolute steps" and continue to "battle with the executive." JM

UKRAINIAN BANKS PROTEST DISCLOSING CUSTOMER DATA

Along with eight business organizations and trade unions, the Association of Ukrainian Banks have issued a statement protesting a new regulation whereby commercial banks are to provide information to the tax authorities about some of their accounts, AP reported on 29 April. Under that regulation, Ukrainian banks will be asked to disclose transaction records and other information on the accounts of individuals and companies suspected of tax evasion. The protest statement says that tax officials want information that has "nothing to do with taxation" and that this violates "citizens' legal rights to conduct business." JM

ESTONIA'S INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS CITIZENSHIP POLICY 'TOO INFLEXIBLE'

Writing in "Eesti Paevaleht" on 29 April, Juri Mois of the coalition Fatherland Union argued that Estonian policy vis-a-vis its non-citizens has been "too inflexible" and should be changed, ETA reported. "The state should be braver in making exceptions in the granting of citizenship and at the same time make the status of alien in Estonia more attractive," he commented. Pointing to the country's low birth rate, Mois argued that it would be expedient from the point of view of national interests, including with regard to foreign investment, to ease legislation on restricting immigration. And he stressed that Estonia's national interests also require that non-citizens "be given a clear message that they are in every way personae gratae in our country." JC

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT RE-ELECTS KAMALDINS...

Lawmakers on 29 April voted to re-elect Lainis Kamaldins as director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, LETA reported. In the secret ballot, 68 of the 91 deputies present voted for him to continue in office. Kamaldins was at the center of a controversy last month when he suggested that Latvian Jews may have been involved in the 1998 bombing of the Riga synagogue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). JC

...SACKS TELECOMMUNICATIONS TARIFFS COUNCIL

Also on 29 April, the parliament voted to dismiss the Telecommunications Tariffs Council and appoint a new council within one month, according to LETA. A parliamentary commission had argued in favor of such a move saying that the council's work is "incompatible" with the interests of the state and taxpayers. In January, the council had approved increased telephone charges that were later revoked by Transportation Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January and 7 April 1999). Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans, meanwhile, has said he will ask legal experts to determine whether the parliament's move is in keeping with the constitution. JC

LANDSBERGIS AT ODDS WITH CONSERVATIVES OVER STATEMENT BACKING PREMIER

Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, speaking to journalists on 29 April, said he has informed President Valdas Adamkus that he does not concur with all points of the Conservatives' statement backing Premier Gediminas Vagnorius amid his ongoing dispute with the president, ELTA reported. The previous day, the parliamentary group of the Conservative Party had issued that statement, in which the deputies also made clear that they will not take part in a new government if the president is involved in its formation. Such a minority government, the Conservatives argued, would be the "president's government." Landsbergis had been in Sofia on 28 April attending a meeting of parliamentary chairmen of EU associate member countries. Meanwhile, Vagnorius is expected to make a statement on 30 April in response to Adamkus's expression of no confidence in him. JC

POLISH RIGHTISTS DEMAND FIVE DEPUTIES BE SUBJECT TO LUSTRATION

Michal Janiszewski, a parliamentary deputy and a member of the right-wing Confederation for an Independent Poland--Homeland (KPN--0), has asked the lustration prosecutor to examine the cases of five prominent parliamentary deputies: Leszek Miller, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Jerzy Jaskiernia, Jacek Piechota (all members of the Democratic Left Alliance), and Jerzy Osiatynski of the Freedom Union. According to Janiszewski, there are grounds to believe that they collaborated with the communist-era special services. Miller and Cimoszewicz said on 29 April that the charges are "groundless and false." Earlier, another KPN-- O member, Tomasz Karwowski, asked the lustration prosecutor to examine whether Premier Jerzy Buzek had been a communist-era collaborator. JM

POLISH TROOPS' DEPARTURE FOR ALBANIA DELAYED

The departure of 140 Polish troops to Albania, scheduled to take place on 29 April, has been delayed, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported. The soldiers were due to travel to Italy by train and proceed by ferry to Albania. Defense Ministry spokesman Leszek Laszczyk said that it turned out "at the very last moment" that the Polish troops must have permission from the Hungarian parliament to transit Hungary. Poland has received such permission from the Hungarian government, but under the Hungarian Constitution, the transit of foreign troops through Hungary requires parliamentary approval. JM

CZECH AMBASSADOR TO EU REJECTS CALLS FOR ABOLISHING BENES DECREES

Josef Kreuter said in Brussels on 29 April that the European Parliament's resolution calling for the abrogation of the Benes decrees is "deplorable," CTK reported. Kreuter said it is impossible to "tear things out of their concrete historical context." He said the expulsion of ethnic groups, including some 2.5 million Germans, from Czechoslovakia after World War II was discussed at the Potsdam conference in 1945 and that the confiscation of property was approved by the Paris conference one year later. Kreuter also dismissed a statement by Germany's European Parliament deputy Hartmut Nassauer that the issue of the Benes decrees would be reviewed during EU accession talks. Some members of the Czech Constitutional Court said recently advocated that the decrees be abrogated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1999). PB

CZECH, SLOVAK PREMIERS AGREE ON DIVISION OF PROPERTY

Czech Premier Milos Zeman and his Slovak counterpart, Mikulas Dzurinda, said on 29 April that they have tentatively agreed to sign an agreement on the controversial division of Czechoslovak assets, TASR reported. The two made the announcement after meeting in the Czech town of Uherske Hradiste. They refused to reveal details of the possible settlement, though Dzurinda said Zeman presented a new alternative to the long-standing dispute. They said the agreement could be signed in Prague on 23-24 September or 7-8 October. In other news, Czech President Vaclav Havel said in an address to a joint session of the Canadian parliament in Ottawa that human rights take precedence over state rights. He said the campaign against Yugoslavia is being conducted in defense of humanitarian values. PB

POLISH OFFICIAL WANTS SLOVAKIA IN EU'S FAST TRACK

Jan Kulakowski, Poland's chief negotiator in EU accession talks, said in Bratislava on 29 April that Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania should definitely be added to the list of fast track candidates for EU membership, CTK reported. Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda told Kulakowski that Slovakia is indebted to Poland for its support at the recent NATO summit in Washington. "Slovakia does not owe us anything. This is our solidarity," Kulakowski responded. In other news, two presidential candidates, front-runner Rudolf Schuster and Magda Vasaryova were involved in separate minor traffic accidents on 29 April. Neither was injured. The official presidential campaign kicks off on 30 April and ends two days before the 15 May vote. The Radio and Television Broadcasting Council will monitor all news programs on state channels as well as on the private stations TV Markiza and VTV to ensure balance and fairness, TASR reported. PB

ORBAN TELLS PARLIAMENT HUNGARY IS SAFE

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the parliament on 29 April that Hungarians "could not be more secure than we are now," Hungarian Television reported. Orban said it is not surprising that "citizens of Hungary, especially those living in the area of the southern frontier, are worried about the NATO strikes." But he said that when the air campaign began, "we were not lonely and helpless but enjoyed equal membership with the strongest military alliance in the world." Laszlo Kovacs, the chairman of the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party, said it is important for the government to "clearly disassociate itself from all border modification proposals and territorial claims." Istvan Csurka, head of the nationalist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, has recently made several irredentist proposals in connection with the ethnic Hungarian population in Vojvodina. PB




'ETHNIC CLEANSING' UNDER WAY IN MONTENEGRO

The Yugoslav army has begun ordering the mainly Muslim inhabitants to leave a 5 mile (8 kilometer) wide swathe of territory between Rozaje and the Kosovar border, "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 30 April. The ethnic cleansing operation, which is apparently aimed at depriving the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) of places to regroup and hide, has strained relations between the army and the population of Rozaje. The Muslim mayor said the "relationship between the town and the army is like a thread. It can easily break at any time." Some Kosovar refugees, who fled to the Rozaje area one month ago, told the London-based daily that men in Yugoslav army uniforms recently forced their way into some homes in the Rozaje area, robbed the Kosovars staying there, and ordered them to leave. Some refugees said they want the Montenegrin police to protect them. Others charged that "there is no safe place in Montenegro," adding that they want to go to Albania. PM

MILOSEVIC'S ALLIES BREAK UP MONTENEGRIN 'PEACE TALKS'

Representatives of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) walked out of talks in Podgorica on 29 April aimed at preserving domestic peace and avoiding a civil war between supporters and opponents of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. SNP deputy leader Predrag Bulatovic charged that the Montenegrin government of President Milo Djukanovic, who opposes Milosevic, is "obstructing the Yugoslav Army and treating Montenegro like a separate state." It is unclear what prompted the walk-out. Djukanovic has often said he fears that Milosevic will use the conflict in Kosova as a pretext to stage a putsch in Podgorica. PM

EU OIL BAN GOES INTO EFFECT

The EU's ban on oil shipments to Yugoslavia has gone into effect, an EU spokesman said in Brussels on 30 April. The previous day, a NATO spokesman noted that efforts on enforcing the ban will center on stopping ships at sea. He stressed that the Atlantic alliance does not plan to attack oil pumping or storage facilities in Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The governments of some 15 non-member countries have announced that they will respect the ban. They are Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Cyprus. PM

NATO COMPLETES 600TH SORTIE AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA

A spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said in Brussels on 30 April that "NATO forces" struck a variety of targets in Belgrade and elsewhere in Serbia the previous night, including two buildings belonging to the Ministry of Defense. The spokesman called the offices "the brains that guide the operations" in Kosova. In Geneva, Mary Robinson, who is the UN's top official for human rights, said that "unless diplomacy succeeds, [Kosova] will be thoroughly cleansed of Albanians, while Serbs will...be bombed without end. There must be a better way." In Belgrade, U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said that "until there's a diplomatic breakthrough, the bombing will escalate and will expand." He met with Orthodox Patriarch Pavle as part of a mission that Jackson hopes will lead to the release of three U.S. soldiers, whom Serbian forces captured just inside Macedonia on 31 March. PM

SERBIAN TELEVISON BACK ON AIR

The overnight air strike also hit a television transmitter near Belgrade. The Serbian authorities quickly repaired the damage, and state-run Radio- Television Serbia (RTS) was soon back on the air with a limited offering of news and patriotic videos. Observers noted that several recent NATO air strikes hit either the studios or transmitters of RTS and that the authorities quickly resumed broadcasting. RTS is nicknamed "Milosevision" and is the government's main mouthpiece. PM

AID ORGANIZATIONS REPORT ALBANIAN 'LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE'

A spokesman for the aid organization Concern Worldwide told AP on 29 April that humanitarian aid deliveries to northern Albania are a "logistical nightmare." He said that in recent weeks there were cases of muggings and harassment of refugees by locals, petty theft of relief supplies, and occasional cases of armed robbery, especially in the Tropoja region. He stressed that aid organizations must cope with bad roads and heavy, slow traffic, a virtually non-existent telephone network in the north, and disputes with district officials and landowners. UNHCR spokesman Ray Wilkinson said that "you're in Europe but in some ways you're at the end of the world." A spokesman for the Irish relief agency Goal complained about police harassing truck drivers, ostensibly because they lacked necessary documentation for their goods. Observers, however, noted that the police controls are intended to prevent theft of aid supplies. FS

MILO INVITES RUGOVA TO TIRANA

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo, speaking to journalists in Tirana on 29 April, called on the Yugoslav authorities to release Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova and allow him to travel to Albania with his family, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1999). Milo said he has no means of contacting Rugova directly, adding that the Yugoslav authorities will not allow him to leave Kosova. Milo said the Albanian leadership wants Rugova to come to discuss joint strategies with other prominent political figures from Kosova and Albania. FS

ALBANIA HOPES FOR QUICK EU ASSOCIATION

Milo told Reuters in Tirana on 29 April that in Luxembourg earlier this week, EU officials promised him that they will sign an EU association accord with Tirana "very soon." The foreign minister expressed the hope that his country will become a full member in "about 10 years." He acknowledged that Albania must first meet numerous membership requirements and stability must be restored in the Balkans before his country can join the EU. In Bonn, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder encouraged Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko to work toward membership in both NATO and the EU. He added that Albania deserves "generous assistance" to maintain its internal stability following the influx of more than 350,000 refugees, which amounts to about 15 percent of the country's total population. Schroeder added that "Albania's political leadership has acted in an extremely responsible manner in this very difficult crisis situation." FS

WESTENDORP FIRES TUZLA SECURITY CHIEF

The international community's Carlos Westendorp on 29 April removed Ferid Hodzic as head of security in Tuzla because he "failed to support rule of law." Hodzic reportedly tried to obstruct investigations of charges of fraud, corruption, and racketeering against several senior officials in Tuzla, AP reported. Corruption linking the government, the military, and criminal structures remains endemic throughout Bosnia- Herzegovina. Elsewhere, a spokesman for Westendorp refused to confirm or deny reports in the Bosnian Serb media to the effect that Westendorp plans to leave his job and return to Spain in June, "Oslobodjenje" reported. The spokesman added that it is an "open secret" that his boss will leave his post this summer, but he noted that Westendorp has not yet set a date. PM

ROMANIA AGREES TO OIL EMBARGO

The Romanian government announced on 29 April that it will observe an EU- approved fuel embargo against Yugoslavia, AP reported. A government spokeswoman said the embargo will begin next week. The decision comes on the heels of a Bulgarian report that Serbian tankers are carrying crude oil to Romanian refineries and returning with fuel. Valentina Yonova, chief of customs at Bulgaria's Danube port of Vidin, said two Serbian captains have acknowledged that their barges were carrying crude oil to Romania for processing. There was no immediate comment from Romanian officials on the report. PB

FOUR KURDS IN POSSESSION OF EXPLOSIVES ARRESTED IN ROMANIA

Four Kurdish men were arrested in Bucharest after police found bomb-making materials and false passports in an apartment, Rompres reported on 29 April. They were charged with possession of explosives and illegally entering the country. They will be detained for one month while an investigation continues, the Interior Ministry said. Interior Minister Dudu Ionescu said police are investigating whether there was any connection to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Bucharest on 7-9 May. Some 4,000 Kurds live in Romania, and Turkey suspects that many of them are activists of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party. PB

NATO ADMITS MISSILE CAME FROM ITS WARPLANE...

NATO officials in Brussels said on 29 April that a missile that destroyed a home in a Sofia suburb was mistakenly fired by one of their planes, AP reported. U.S. Army Major-General Henry Kievenaar met with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov to express the alliance's "deep regret on the missile incident." Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev said "there hasn't been such a drastic violation of our air space so far." Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said that if NATO pilots are having trouble orienting themselves when air-borne, Bulgaria could use lights to mark its western border. Konstantin Varbenov, the man whose home was destroyed in the incident, said that despite his loss, "we better lend NATO our air space. You see what happens even without our consent. I want the war to end as soon as possible." PB

...AS AGREEMENT ON AIR SPACE IS SENT TO PARLIAMENT

The Bulgarian government on 29 April approved a draft accord allowing NATO planes to use a limited zone of its air space to conduct raids against neighboring Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. NATO and Bulgarian officials have been working out the details of that agreement and the security guarantees NATO will give Bulgaria in exchange for the air space rights. The accord would allow NATO planes to fly in a 130-170 kilometer-wide strip along the border with Yugoslavia as well as in a 20 kilometer-wide corridor along its southern border with Turkey. The opposition Socialist Party and other parliamentary groups are strongly opposed to the accord. PB




NEW POLITICAL BLOC FINDS APPROVAL IN KAZAN


By Floriana Fossato

When a number of influential Russian regional leaders announced the creation last week of the new political bloc Vsya Rossiya (All Russia), surprise was expressed not only in Moscow but elsewhere.

One of the most prominent leaders of the bloc is Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. Speaking to RFE/RL earlier this week on condition of anonymity, Tatarstan government officials expressed surprise over the creation of the new bloc and over the 22 April announcement of an alliance with Otechestvo (Fatherland), the movement led by powerful Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov.

One official in the government of Tatarstan said that "nobody" in the republic "was aware of the initiative before it was announced. Another added that the announcement "was a complete surprise."

At the same time, the officials who spoke with RFE/RL praised the initiative as a way to promote regional interests ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

Shaimiev is considered the informal leader of Vsya Rossiya. Other leading participants are Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov; the president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev; the presidents of the Republics of Adygeya and Chuvashya; and a number of influential governors.

According to Saint Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, the bloc will not have a formal leader and will not put forward a candidate for next year's presidential elections.

As for the alliance with Luzhkov, one of the strongest presidential hopefuls, Kazan officials say it could be seen as regional leaders' response to a statement by Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov earlier this year. Primakov had proposed that a vertical power structure should be re-established in Russia. He talked about the possibility of appointing, rather then electing, regional leaders and called for imposing more discipline on governors.

One Tatar official told our correspondent that "Primakov's proposal did not raise any enthusiasm in Kazan. On the contrary, people started asking themselves questions about Primakov's political intentions and orientations."

According to political analysts, other regional leaders probably reacted similarly, fearing the return of Soviet-like structures of power.

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov is head of the electoral movement Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), which has announced its intention to join forces with Vsya Rossii. He said on 21 April that Moscow should grant more power to the regions. According to Titov, excessive centralization of power in the federal government is one of the main causes of Russia's current crisis.

One day earlier, Russian President Boris Yeltsin--whose relations with Primakov are reportedly rapidly worsening--met with the governors of several Russian regions and offered them more autonomy in exchange for their support.

And this week, the deputy head of the presidential administration, Oleg Sysuev, said the merger of Vsya Rossii and Otechestvo would be a "step in a constructive direction."

Attending Otechestvo's second congress on 24 April, Luzhkov reconfirmed his willingness to form an alliance with Vsya Rossii. According to Luzhkov, the two movements both aim to elect a new State Duma that will seek to achieve "practical results."

In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on the eve of the congress, Luzhkov addressed concerns raised by some observers about his ability to co-exist with other political leaders. Luzhkov said the alliance would not entail the absorption of one movement by another. However, Luzhkov did not say if he is willing to review previously voiced positions on what Russia's federal structure should look like.

Fandas Safiullin--the leader of the "Volga Is Our Home" faction in Tatarstan's legislative assembly--told RFE/RL's Kazan Office this week that Luzhkov is in favor of liquidating the national republics, while Shaimiev is a federalist who favors retaining the republics' sovereignty. Safiullin also said that--once the two blocs have achieved their main goal of keeping Communists out of the State Duma--they will likely go their separate ways.

Other officials in Kazan were less categorical, preferring to adopt a "wait and see" attitude until after the elections. They added that Luzhkov and Shaimiev can be considered "compatible, as one cannot be considered more important than the other."

Hinting that the support of regional leaders participating in Vsya Rossiya will be key for Luzhkov's Otechestvo. the officials said that after December it will become clear which of the movements will have played the main role during the parliamentary campaign. That, they concluded, will "help to prepare the ground for further talks among regional leaders and Luzhkov." The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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