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Newsline - May 4, 1999




NO BREAKTHROUGH IN CHERNOMYRDIN-CLINTON TALKS

Russian envoy for Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin handed U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington on 3 May a letter from President Boris Yeltsin containing proposals for resolving the Kosova crisis, Interfax reported. After meeting with Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Chernomyrdin told AFP that the negotiations were "very complicated." Clinton earlier expressed readiness to discuss the composition of an international peace force. He said that "we would be willing to have a bombing pause" but added that "we would need acceptance of the basic principles and at least the beginning of withdrawal of Serbian forces." An unnamed senior U.S. official told AFP that "the Russians have some further ideas which we will continue to discuss with them," but he predicted that "I expect these discussions will continue over some days and weeks." FS

ROBERTSON SAYS MILOSEVIC IGNORES CHERNOMYRDIN

British Defense Secretary George Robertson said in London on 4 May that "while Mr. Chernomyrdin continues with his diplomacy--and it's very commendable that he should [continue] trying--there's nobody really listening to him in Belgrade," Reuters reported. Robertson stressed that NATO wants Russia, Ukraine, and other countries to be involved in a peace-keeping force. The previous day in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said in an address to the nation that he sees "no reason to change strategy." He added that "Milosevic's political will remains the same. ...NATO must, therefore, pursue its mission." Chernomyrdin is scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on 4 May in New York. FS

IS THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY STABILIZING?

Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants told ITAR-TASS on 4 May that according to the results of the first quarter of 1999, the Russian economy is showing signs of stabilizing. The news agency quoted him as saying that industrial production in March was 1.4 percent higher than the previous year and that there was flat movement in GDP, whereas a decline had been expected. Earlier, the State Statistics Committee had reported on 28 April that industrial output was down 2 percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period last year, while agricultural output had slipped 5.4 percent and the volume of retail trade 15.8 percent, Interfax reported. Overall output in the five key branches of the Russian economy shrank 3.7 percent. The committee also reported that industrial production in March had declined, rather than increased, by 1.4 percent. JAC

GERASHCHENKO SAYS RUSSIA'S CREDITORS STALLING ON LONG-TERM RESTRUCTURING...

Russian Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told reporters on 3 May that although the agreement recently reached with the IMF has given a green light to talks with the London and Paris Clubs, the creditors are willing to defer payments for 1999 and 2000 but are refusing to talk about subsequent years. Gerashchenko concluded, "This shows that they wish to keep us on a short leash." JAC

...AS GKO PLAN FINALLY CONCLUDED

Gerashchenko added that most foreign banks have finally agreed to the government's plan for swapping the defaulted short-term treasury bonds that they hold. The Finance Ministry announced on 30 April that Russian investors exchanged 95.6 percent of the bonds they held for new government securities, while foreign investors swapped 88.5 percent of their bonds, Interfax reported. Under the government's scheme, foreign investors are offered 10 percent in cash, 20 percent in special investment bonds, and 70 percent in new ruble-denominated long-term government bonds for their old bonds, Oleg Larichev, manager of Troika Dialog, told the RFE/RL Russian Service's program "Delo i Dengi." Foreign investors will have the right to buy shares in six "blue chip" Russian companies: UES, Mosenergo, Irkutskenergo, Rostelekom, LUKoil, and Norilsk Nickel, according to Larichev. JAC

RUSSIA, GERMANY SIGN ANTI-CRIME AGREEMENT

Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and his German counterpart, Otto Schily, signed an anti-crime agreement in Moscow on 3 May. The accord provides for closer cooperation between law enforcement bodies from the two countries, AFP reported. Stepashin said that over the next three months, Russian and German officials will jointly investigate "the methods used by criminals to channel money out of Russia to Germany and elsewhere, including operations through offshore zones." Schily is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 4 May to discuss other areas of Russian-German cooperation, a government spokeswoman told ITAR-TASS. Stepashin announced that Yeltsin plans to visit Germany in June at the time of the scheduled G-8 summit in Cologne. It will be his first visit abroad since February, when the ailing president attended the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein against his doctors' advice. FS

STEPASHIN CLARIFIES NEW DUTIES

In an interview with NTV on 2 May, summarized by Interfax the following day, Stepashin attributed his surprise appointment as first deputy prime minister to the need to strengthen control over the regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 1999). Central to this process, he said, will be the Interior Ministry, which he will continue to head. Stepashin also noted the need to prevent "criminal elements" from coming to power in regional elections. He expressed concern at violence in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, where a presidential runoff is scheduled for 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 1999). Stepashin said he has written to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov advocating the resumption of cooperation between the Chechen and Russian Interior Ministries. An agreement on cooperation was reached earlier this year but torpedoed by the 5 March abduction in Grozny of senior Interior Ministry official Gennadii Shpigun. Stepashin said talks are under way with Shpigun's kidnappers, who have demanded a ransom for his release. LF

IS LUKASHENKA READY TO BE NUMBER TWO?

Vladimir Putin, Security Council secretary and Federal Security Service head, told Russian Television on 2 May that in a Russian- Belarusian state, Russia's president would lead while the president of Belarus would serve as vice president. Putin added that while the leaders of both countries want to unify, they are reluctant to yield some of their state's sovereignty. "Everything depends on the readiness of the unifying countries to pass over to the new country and its institutions a certain part of their sovereign rights and powers," he said. After a recent meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka admitted that he has brought to Moscow an ambitious, radical plan for unification between his country and Russia, but he now "understands that Russia is not ready" yet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1999). JAC

RECENTLY SACKED CABINET OFFICIAL TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR

Vadim Gustov, who was dismissed from his post as first deputy prime minister on 27 April, will run for governor of Leningrad Oblast in elections scheduled for 19 September, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 30 April. According to the daily, Gustov said "I said that I was ready to resign in order to run for governor of Leningrad Oblast and the prime minister agreed." Seven candidates have already announced their intention to run, including acting Governor Valerii Serdyukov, former St. Petersburg police chief Anatolii Ponidelko, and Fedor Shkrudnev, former presidential envoy to the oblast. Gustov's chances of victory are considered good by local analysts. Leonid Kesselman, political analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology, told the daily that "Gustov is uncompromised in the eyes of the public and most of the regional bureaucracy supports him." JAC

TOP DUMA OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH BRIBERY

The Prosecutor-General's Office has charged Vladimir Trofimov, chief of staff for the State Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, with bribe-taking, Interfax reported on 30 April. Trofimov was arrested by Federal Security Service officials on suspicion of accepting a $5,000 bribe, "Segodnya" reported on 24 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 1999). JAC

SPRING BRINGS NEW PATIENTS FOR LOCAL HOSPITALS

Although the season for hunting wild mushrooms has only just started in Stavropol Krai, eight cases of poisoning have already been reported after ingestion of some local fungi, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 May. Officials at the krai's Ministry of Health blame the illnesses on violations of the unwritten rule of any mushroom hunt: "If you don't know what it is, don't put it in your basket." JAC




FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER DETAINED

Vano Siradeghian was taken into custody at Yerevan airport on 3 May on returning from a three-month stay abroad, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He had left Armenia on 29 January, three days after parliamentary deputies rejected a demand by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian to strip him of his parliamentary immunity so that he could be questioned over allegations that while serving as interior minister from 1992- 1996 he ordered several murders. In a second vote on 17 February, deputies acceded to Hovsepian's request. Siradeghian was re-elected chairman of the board of the former majority Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) at its congress in early March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999) and has been nominated by that party as a candidate in the 30 May parliamentary elections. As such, he can be arrested only with the consent of two-thirds of the 13 members of the Central Electoral Commission. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT TELEPHONES WITH TURKISH COUNTERPART

Heidar Aliev, who is recuperating from heart bypass surgery in the U.S., held a brief telephone conversation on 2 May with Suleyman Demirel, who wished him a speedy recovery, Turan reported the following day. A presidential press spokesman described Aliev's condition as "good." LF

JAPANESE FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Masahiko Komura held talks in Baku on 2-3 May with his Azerbaijani counterpart Tofik Zulfugarov and with Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. The Japanese side agreed to extend a 18.3 billion yen (some $160 million) loan toward the ongoing modernization of a key hydroelectric power station on the Apsheron Peninsula and 1 billion yen to renovate the country's road network. Agreement was also reached on the opening of a Japanese embassy in Baku next year. A Japanese spokesman said Tokyo may offer to finance some sections of the TRACECA Asia-Europe transport corridor and is interested in expanding its participation in Azerbaijan's oil and gas sector. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL HINTS AT FURTHER EXPANSION OF GUUAM

Azerbaijani State Foreign Policy advisor Vafa Guluzade told Turan on 3 May that Poland and Romania are interested in joining the Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan- Azerbaijan-Moldova alignment in the near future. He added that GUUAM is expected to intensify its activities and hold meetings with the heads of state of countries that have expressed an interest in membership. Talks are under way on the optimum location for the organization's headquarters and the formation of its Secretariat, Guluzade added. In related news, a delegation from the Romanian Defense Ministry and military-industrial complex visited Georgia last week to discuss areas of future cooperation, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN STUDENTS PROTEST PLANNED U.S. EXHIBITS

Several dozen Georgian students and members of the clergy are continuing a hunger strike at several locations in Tbilisi to protest plans to send priceless antique manuscripts and Church treasures on a tour of four U.S. cities this fall, Caucasus Press reported on 3 May. AP had quoted one of the protest participants as predicting that the valuables would be clandestinely sold to private collectors and replaced with fakes. LF

KAZAKH JOURNALISTS CRITICIZE DRAFT LAW ON MASS MEDIA

Meeting in Almaty on 3 May to mark International Media Day, journalists subjected Kazakhstan's new draft law on mass media to harsh criticism, RFE/RL correspondents in the former capital reported. They charged that unless unspecified drastic amendments are made to that draft, freedom of speech and the press in Kazakhstan will be restricted. It is not known who prepared the draft law, which was published in the press last week but has not been distributed to parliamentary deputies for discussion. LF

KYRGYZ, UZBEK TRAIN TRANSIT RESUMES THROUGH KAZAKH TERRITORY

The heads of Kazakhstan's and Uzbekistan's national railroad companies have reached an agreement on the resumption of rail traffic from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan across Kazakh territory, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 4 May. Kazakhstan had halted rail freight shipments from Kyrgyzstan in mid-April and from Uzbekistan one week later because of unpaid transit debts amounting to $3.8 million and $8 million, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 1999). Those debts will now be repaid by 31 May. LF

KYRGYZSTAN'S INDUSTRY UNABLE TO REPAY DOMESTIC, FOREIGN LOANS

Kyrgzystan's industrial sector owes the government some 403 million soms (about $11 million) in domestic loans and an additional 4.367 billion soms (about $125 million) made available in foreign credits, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 3 May quoting government sources. Two-thirds of the 105 enterprises that received foreign loans during the period 1992-1998 are now on the verge of bankruptcy. LF

TAJIK COMMANDER RELEASES ANOTHER HOSTAGE

Mansur Muakalov, whose fighters seized six Tajik police officers on the night of 27-28 April to demand the release of five of their associates under investigation for murder, handed over a fourth hostage late on 2 May, AP reported from Dushanbe the following day. Talks are continuing on the release of the two remaining captive policemen. LF




U.S. AMBASSADOR RETURNS TEMPORARILY TO BELARUS

U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Daniel Speckhard has returned to Belarus for the first time since he was recalled to Washington last June in protest at his eviction from the Drazdy diplomatic compound near Minsk. Speckhard told journalists on 3 May that he will stay in Minsk for one week to examine the Belarusian authorities' offers to provide him with a new residence, Belapan reported. Speckhard added that he will also hold meetings with government officials, opposition leaders, and ordinary citizens during his visit, AP reported. JM

BELARUSIAN POPULAR FRONT PROTESTS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION PROCEDURE

Following an objection by its exiled leader Zyanon Paznyak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 1999), the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) has protested the early voting procedure adopted by the Central Electoral Commission for the May presidential elections, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 3 May. The BNF's protest will be examined by the Supreme Soviet Presidium on 4 May. Syarhey Papkou, chief of Paznyak's election staff, told RFE/RL that the early voting procedure does not conform with the presidential election law. The BNF wants the elections to be held on 16 May at stationary polling stations, instead of conducting voting at voters' homes from 6-16 May. According to Papkou, the resolution on early voting was adopted "under pressure" from President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime. JM

KUCHMA EARNS PLACE IN PRESS 'HALL OF SHAME'

The U.S. Committee to Protect Journalists has included Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in a list of 10 heads of state considered to be the biggest "enemies of the press." The list, which was made public on 3 May, places Kuchma alongside the leaders of Yugoslavia, China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia. The committee says that by "using tax and libel laws as instruments of his hostility to journalists, Kuchma runs roughshod over any expression of opposition." It also accuses Kuchma of "tacit acceptance of violence against the press," which encourages assaults on Ukrainian reporters and editors and adds to a "general climate of fear and self-censorship." Conspicuously absent from the list is Belarusian President Lukashenka, who had been included on it for the past several years. JM

IMF SAYS PLANNED CUTS IN ESTONIAN BUDGET INSUFFICIENT

IMF experts told Prime Minister Mart Laar on 3 May that they believe Estonia's 1999 budget should be cut by 2.3 billion kroons ($156.5 million), ETA reported. The government has a drawn up a negative supplementary budget that envisages cuts in expenditures totaling some 1 billion kroons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 1999). It plans to discuss the draft on 4 May. JC

LATVIAN PREMIER EXPANDS CABINET...

Vilis Kristopans said on Latvian Radio on 3 May that he will appoint two new state ministers, LETA reported. Viktors Jaksons of the For Fatherland and Freedom party has been appointed state minister for heath and Tatjana Koke of the New Party state minister for high education. Kristopans noted that negotiations are continuing on the posts of forestry and municipal reforms state ministers. Both the Social Democrats and Latvia's Way have nominated candidates for those positions. JC

...WHILE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS EXPAND COOPERATION

Following a meeting between representatives of the New Party and the Social Democrats, Egils Baldzens, the chairman of the Social Democrats' parliamentary group, announced that the two parties will soon sign a cooperation agreement focusing on issues of interest to both, including the privatization of large enterprises, the national economy, social issues, and cooperation between the Ministries of Agriculture and the Economy, ELTA reported on 3 May. Baldzens also announced that a cooperation agreement with the For Fatherland and Freedom party will be signed this week. That accord will provide for cooperating on social issues and on the protection of the domestic market. JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS ACTING PREMIER...

Valdas Adamkus on 3 May appointed Labor and Social Welfare Minister Irena Degutiene as acting prime minister, after accepting earlier the same day Gediminas Vagnorius's resignation from the premiership. Together with five other ministers (finance, transport, justice, public administrative reforms, and culture), Degutiene, 49, had handed in her resignation on 3 May. All of those ministers, with the exception of Finance Minister Algirdas Semeta, are members of the ruling Conservative Party. There were no reports, however, that Adamkus has accepted the ministers' resignations, and ELTA quoted presidential spokeswoman Violeta Gaizauskaite as saying that all ministers must stay in their posts until a new government has been formed. JC

...AS CONSERVATIVES SOFTEN ANTI-PRESIDENT STANCE?

Following a meeting with Adamkus on 3 May, leaders of the ruling Conservative Party stressed they will not nominate a candidate for the premiership but want the president to do so in order that the new government enjoys the "president's confidence." At the same time, contrary to earlier statements, they gave to understand that they will participate in the new government. And, according to ELTA, Conservative Party members avoided giving direct answers to the question of what the party would do if the president were to nominate a Conservative as next premier. Caucus leader Arvydas Vidziunas told reporters that "we will wait for the presidential nomination and then decide." JC

RUSSIA RESUMES GAS SUPPLIES TO LITHUANIA

Lithuania's state gas corporation Lietuvos Dujos said on 3 May that Gazprom has resumed full gas supplies to Lithuania after cutting deliveries last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1999). Gazprom had claimed that Lithuania owed it some $18 million and threatened to cut supplies if the debt were not paid. Lithuania insists that it owed about half that amount and that the debt has now been settled, AFP reported. JC

SOLIDARITY LEADER ASKED TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

The Social Movement of Solidarity Electoral Action (RS AWS), Solidarity's political arm, headed by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, has asked Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski to run as its candidate in presidential elections in 2000, PAP reported on 3 May. Krzaklewski said the same day that the RS AWS proposal came as a surprise to him and that he has not yet made up his mind whether to run. He added that he could run for president only if the right-of-center parties fielded one candidate. JM

POLAND'S LEFT WING WANTS EQUAL SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES

A dozen left wing parties--including the Social Democrats of the Polish Republic, the Labor Union, and the Polish Socialist Party (PPS)--met on 30 April to discuss an alternative development strategy for Poland as well as a different market-economy model, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 4 May. According to the daily, Poland's left wing wants to work out a program that will guarantee equal social opportunities for everybody. "More and more people are suffering losses due to the systemic transformation [in Poland]," PPS leader Piotr Ikonowicz commented. JM

HAVEL CALLS ON CZECHS TO SHOW COMPASSION TO KOSOVAR REFUGEES

President Vaclav Havel on 3 May urged Czechs to be sympathetic toward the Kosovar refugees' plight and not to hesitate to provide them with temporary lodging, CTK reported. Havel made his comments amid reports of Czech towns and villages protesting and even refusing to accommodate ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosova. Havel said Czechs should remember that before the 1989 revolution Czechs emigrated en masse to many different countries. The president added that the low level of public support for NATO air strikes among the population can be attributed in part to the failure of Czech politicians to explain the situation in Kosova. Havel also was less than enthusiastic with Foreign Minister Jan Kavan's peace plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 1999), saying that "there are similar proposals in other NATO countries." PB

LEADING OPPOSITION PARTY ADOPTS RESERVED POSITION ON KOSOVA

The Executive Committee of parliamentary speaker Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) passed a resolution on Kosova on 3 May that casts doubt upon NATO's strategy, CTK reported. The resolution supports the Czech Republic's fulfilling its NATO obligations but is skeptical about the use of air strikes to resolve the crisis. Several members of the ODS objected to the passage of the resolution, which closely reflects the stance of the ruling Socialists (CSSD). In other news, the daily "Lidove noviny" reported that the Central Bohemian branch of the CSSD has drawn up a report highly critical of CSSD head and Premier Milos Zeman. PB

KOVAC REJECTS CALLS TO THROW IN THE TOWEL

Former Slovak President Michal Kovac said on 3 May in Bratislava that he will stay in the race for the presidency, despite calls for two of the three independent candidates to renounce their candidacies, TASR reported. The "Three for One" initiative, organized by 26 Slovak Democratic Coalition deputies, is seen as an attempt to boost support for candidate Magda Vasaryova over former Premier Vladimir Meciar so that she would take part in a likely runoff against frontrunner Rudolf Schuster. Or, in the event of Vasaryova's dropping out of the race, that Schuster would receive more than 50 percent of the vote and win outright. Vasaryova consistently trails Meciar by a small percentage for third place in opinion polls. Kovac regularly places fifth, behind nationalist Jan Slota, both of whom have only single-digit support. PB

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DENIES UNCONSTITUTIONALITY CHARGES

The Slovak government issued a statement on 3 May refuting charges made by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) that Bratislava's granting of air space to NATO violates the constitution, TASR reported. The statement said that Article 119 of the Slovak Constitution gives the government the right to make such important internal and foreign-policy decisions. In other news, the deputy chairman of the HZDS, Vojtech Tkac, said the party will establish its own vote-counting system for fear of fraud during the upcoming presidential election. PB

COALITION, OPPOSITION CONFLICT DEEPENS OVER USE OF HUNGARIAN AIR SPACE

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on 3 May that the Socialist Party is "playing with fire" by attempting to limit NATO's access to Hungarian airports and air space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 1999). He said Hungary could find itself in a difficult position if the largest opposition party withdraws from a six-party agreement guaranteeing unlimited use of the country's air space and airports by NATO aircraft. In other news, Peter Balas, deputy state secretary at the Economics Ministry, announced on 3 May that Hungary has joined the EU oil embargo on Yugoslavia. And President Arpad Goncz agreed with visiting South African President Nelson Mandela that the conflict in Yugoslavia must be resolved through negotiation. MSZ




THOUSANDS OF KOSOVARS REACH MACEDONIA

Some 9,000 Kosovars arrived at the Blace frontier crossing with Macedonia on 3 May. One-third of them spent the following night in the open while waiting to enter Macedonia and the transit camp at the border. Most of the 9,000 came from Podujeva, north of Prishtina. Aid workers said that the fact that the Serbian authorities deported the Kosovars in an "unprecedented three trains" suggests that the Serbs "are working overtime to clear the area north of Prishtina" of ethnic Albanians, Reuters reported. One refugee said that police separated young men from the rest of the expellees at the Prishtina railway station. Aid workers added that this marks the first time they have heard of such a practice in the capital. Other refugees at Blace said they spent "weeks" living in the mountains. Some of the women were raped by Serbian forces. PM

ALBANIA PREPARES TO TAKE 60,000 REFUGEES FROM MACEDONIA

British Lieutenant-General John Reith, who is commander of NATO's humanitarian relief mission in Albania, said in Tirana on 3 May that the alliance plans to build camps for an additional 160,000 Kosovar refugees, including 60,000 from neighboring Macedonia. He added that the Albanian government wants to make "a gesture of intent" to the Macedonian government to show that it is "willing to take people" from Macedonia's overcrowded camps. Reith said that Tirana airport currently handles 80 humanitarian aid flights daily. Meanwhile, aid workers from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees evacuated about 7,000 refugees from Kukes in 15 buses and 75 military vehicles. A UNHCR spokesman said in Tirana that the number of refugees in Albania now exceeds 400,000. Elsewhere, Serbian artillery shells hit an Albanian Television transmitter and a private radio station near Qafe e Prushit in the Has Mountains, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. FS

UCK REJECTS LDK OFFER TO FORM NEW GOVERNMENT

Jakup Krasniqi, who is the principal spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), told private Klan TV in Tirana on 3 May that a proposal by officials from Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) to form a new provisional government is "unacceptable," dpa reported. Krasniqi added that "there is already a government of Kosova led by [the UCK's] Hashim Thaci." Also in Tirana, an LDK delegation led by shadow-state Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi held talks with Albanian government officials who are working to bring together the rival Kosovar political forces, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Meanwhile, Krasniqi told the Ljubljana daily "Delo" of 3 May that "we did not correctly anticipate either the dimensions of war that would ensue from the air strikes or that the Serbs' actions would concentrate on civilians." He added that "we thought that Serbia would mainly concentrate on defending itself from NATO attacks." FS

NATO SAYS SERBS MADE 'PROPAGANDA TRICK' OUT OF BUS INCIDENT

A spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said in Brussels on 4 May that an attack on a bus near Prizren the previous day was the result of fighting between the UCK and Serbian forces and was not the work of NATO aircraft. He added that "after a comprehensive review of operations, and although several of our aircraft were in the general area, there is no evidence to link our activities with this alleged incident." Shortly after the attack on the bus, which left at least 17 dead, Serbian authorities charged that a NATO bomb hit the vehicle. PM

BLAIR HAILS 'JUST WAR'...

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said at Macedonia's Stankovic refugee camp on 3 May that "we will do everything we can to make sure that these people, these innocent people, are allowed to go back to their homes, their towns, their villages." Blair stressed that NATO will continue its efforts to stop Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's "appalling policy of ethnic cleansing and racial genocide... . That commitment is total." The prime minister added that "this is not a battle for territory. It is a battle for humanity. It is a just cause." PM

...AS DOES CHIRAC

French President Jacques Chirac said in Paris on 3 May that NATO will continue its efforts against Serbia until Milosevic accepts all of the alliance's demands. Chirac added: "To all of you who have not seen a war, especially the younger generations, I want to tell you that this conflict is exemplary. It is not based on hidden economic or strategic concerns, but on a concept of morality and the honor of nations. To accept the horrors that we have witnessed would mean losing our soul. It would allow an unspeakable gangrene to settle once more on our continent." PM

NEW WEAPON SHORT CIRCUITS SERBIAN POWER GRID

The Atlantic alliance shut down much of Serbia's power supply on 2-3 May by using a new and highly secret "graphite bomb," AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 1999). The device, about which a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment, explodes above a power station and releases a cloud of graphite dust. The graphite in turn acts as a conductor and short circuits the switching station, causing it to shut itself down. Some equipment is permanently damaged, but the graphite dust can be easily removed. "The Guardian" of 4 May described the effects of the bomb on the electrical network as "having the mechanical equivalent of a series of heart attacks." Allied forces used an earlier version of the weapon to shut down Iraq's power system in the 1991 Gulf War. PM

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT NOT INFORMED ABOUT PORT CLOSURE

The government said in a statement on 3 May in Podgorica that it has not been officially informed about the military authorities' decision to close the port of Bar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 1999). Jusuf Kalomperovic, who is minister for shipping and communications, said that he hopes that the navy will revoke its decision to shut down the port. PM

TUDJMAN, OPPOSITION MAKE DEAL ON ELECTION LAW

In Zagreb on 3 May, President Franjo Tudjman agreed with opposition leaders Ivica Racan of the Social Democrats and Drazen Budisa of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party to abolish separate electoral lists for Croats living abroad. Members of the Diaspora will continue to have the right to vote and run for office and will receive places on the party lists that appear on ballots throughout Croatia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In recent elections, the existence of separate lists meant in practice that voters in Herzegovina elected a solid bloc of deputies to the Croatian parliament from Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community. Many Western governments and institutions have criticized Croatia's electoral laws, chiefly on the grounds that the ethnic Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina are citizens of that country and should not be allowed vote in Croatian elections. It is unclear whether the latest compromise will help pave the way for Croatia's admission to Euro-Atlantic institutions. PM

PERRY TO MEDIATE GULF OF PIRAN DISPUTE

A spokesman for the Slovenian Foreign Ministry said in Ljubljana on 3 May that Croatian and Slovenian officials will meet the following day in Washington with former Secretary of Defense William Perry. The spokesman added that the governments of the two ex-Yugoslav states asked Perry to mediate their dispute over their maritime border in the Gulf of Piran. Croatia claims that the gulf belongs to it alone. Slovenia wants a corridor through the gulf to enable Slovenian ships and fishing boats to have direct access to the high seas. Since 1991, Zagreb has stuck to its position in the hope of extracting concessions from Ljubljana on other bilateral issues, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Both countries need to resolve the dispute in order to accelerate their integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. PM

BLAIR MEETS ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER IN BUCHAREST

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on 4 May that he favors holding a conference on ways to help Balkan countries suffering economically because of the war in Yugoslavia, AP reported. Blair made his comments after a meeting with Premier Radu Vasile. He reportedly told Romanian President Emil Constantinescu that he also favors a reconstruction plan for the Balkans at the conclusion of the war. He said NATO appreciates Bucharest's support during the air campaign. Blair is to address the parliament before returning to Britain. PB

NATO COMMANDER PRAISES BULGARIA, SAYS MILOSEVIC LOSING WAR

U.S. General Wesley Clark, the top NATO commander in Europe, said in Sofia on 3 May that NATO is winning the war against Yugoslavia, AP reported. Clark was in Sofia for talks with Bulgarian leaders in an attempt to rally support for a parliamentary vote on an accord with the alliance granting it access to a limited air corridor over Bulgaria. Clark said after meeting with Premier Ivan Kostov that NATO is "very appreciative of the courageous and very forward-looking approach" of the Bulgarian government. He said Bulgaria is a "very valued, special member of the Partnership for Peace program" and added that NATO will work with Bulgaria to prevent a repetition of the errant missile incident last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1999). The Bulgarian Constitutional Court ruled on 3 May that the accord with NATO does not violate the constitution. More than 1,000 people demonstrated outside the parliament on 4 May as debate on the accord began. PB

KOSTOV WARNS OF THREAT REFUGEES POSE TO MACEDONIA

Premier Kostov said on 3 May that the tide of Kosovar refugees in Macedonia poses political and economic dangers to that country. In an interview in the daily "Trud," Kostov said destabilization of Macedonia can end "in only two tragic ways." One way would be a split in which an ethnic Albanian part of Macedonia joins Albania and the other part returns to Yugoslavia. The second "tragic" end would be "for Macedonia to die the way Yugoslavia is dying." He referred to Macedonia as a "brother country." PB




DESTROYING SERBIA IN ORDER TO SAVE IT


by Christopher Walker

The administration of a hard-hitting therapy for a grave illness has the potential to cure but also runs the risk of grievously harming the patient. For Yugoslavia, NATO's therapy of choice--an ever-escalating bombing campaign-- poses the following question: Will this military operation affect Serbian society so that it becomes consumed with resentment and malice toward the international community? Or will the NATO effort purge from Serbia the cancerous behavior that has so plagued the entire Balkan region for the last decade?

Now into the second month of its bombing operation, NATO is targeting a wider range of transport and communication links and is increasingly focusing on a range of key industrial sites and economic assets throughout Serbia. While most of the targets at the outset of the campaign were overtly military in nature, it is clear that considerable destruction is now being done to the civilian sector and economic infrastructure in Serbia--and not only as a result of collateral damage.

It is also clear that the Western alliance overestimated the effectiveness of air power as the tool for compelling Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accede to its demands. Unable to get Milosevic to capitulate quickly and unwilling to take the more drastic military steps that would help bring the conflict to a close, the allies are relegated to hammering Serbia from the air.

The failure of the Milosevic era speaks for itself. All sectors of Yugoslav society have been infected by the regime's primitive style of governance. A byproduct of the NATO bombing campaign has been an intensification of already existing anti-democratic conditions in Serbia: profiteers who honed their skills during the Croatian and Bosnian wars are now back on familiar, lucrative ground; the country's politics, already extreme by regional standards, have been further polarized; the economy, in shambles dating back several years, is in danger of being gutted entirely; and independent media, which had operated under consistent official pressure, have now been formally taken over and added to the state-run propaganda machinery.

At the same time, the effects of Serbia's condition have not been confined within its own borders. On the contrary, Serbia has played the role of regional menace for a full decade now. And as a result, all of its neighbors have suffered.

The politics of aggression, as directed from Belgrade, have dragged down the regional economy and contributed greatly to the view of the Balkans as a dark corner in Europe. Serbia's actions have also radicalized to varying degrees the politics of neighboring countries and provinces, including Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosova. The dramatic shifts of ethnic populations, largely initiated and orchestrated by the Serbian regime, have wreaked havoc on the regional landscape since the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Recognizing the enormity of the task of enabling democratic habits to take root in Serbia and throughout the Balkans, the NATO alliance is promoting what U.S. President Bill Clinton describes as a post-conflict strategy for reconstruction and renewal. The alliance seems sensitive to the fact that Serbia cannot be left as a festering wound in southeastern Europe after hostilities end.

Soliciting Russia's assistance in bringing about a settlement with Milosevic is a delicate issue. Implicit in using Russia's diplomatic channels to Belgrade is Milosevic's remaining in power after a negotiated settlement. One alternative arrangement, albeit almost inconceivable at the moment, would be a Moscow-brokered plan that met key NATO demands, while simultaneously allowing Milosevic an exit from power that would protect his physical safety and not subject him to prosecution as a war criminal.

But if Milosevic remains, it is hard to imagine a scenario under which renewal and reform could take root in Yugoslavia. At this point, reconstructing Serbia and reorienting its politics will be difficult enough even if a change in leadership were to take place. Moreover, Milosevic's continued presence would negatively influence the ability of fragile neighboring countries to regain their footing.

Thoroughly vanquishing Serbia runs the risk of positioning it as the sick man of Europe for the 21st century. Equally risky would be to conclude the military campaign without reasonable confidence that in the post-conflict period Serbia would change its political habits. A Serbian nation intent on continuing a pattern of belligerence would undermine the entire region's prospects for stability and prosperity.

The NATO alliance is putting forward billions of dollars to continue its military effort against Serbia. Many more billions will be necessary for the civilian rebuilding effort after the guns are laid down. The author is a New York-based analyst specializing in East European affairs (intrel@aol.com).


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