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Newsline - May 6, 1999




RUSSIAN STOCK MARKET ROARS BACK TO LIFE...

The Russian stock market hit a new peak for 1999 on 5 May, reaching 102.69 on the RTS benchmark stock index, a 12 percent rise from the previous day. This marked the first time that the index has risen above 100 since the devaluation of the ruble last August. Leading the pack of rising stocks were Rostelekom and Tatneft, whose shares rose 33 percent and 30 percent, respectively, Interfax reported. Traders attributed the market's pickup to the recent rise in oil prices and the announcement of a deal with the IMF. They predicted that the rally could turn out to be short-lived if either of these developments are reversed, "The Moscow Times" reported on 6 May. However, Dmitrii Yudin, emerging markets analyst for Merrill Lynch, noted that the market cannot crash from its current level. "Shares are extremely cheap," he said. On 6 May the index closed barely changed from the previous day at 102.67, or 0.02 percent lower. JAC

...AS RUBLE FIRMS AGAINST DOLLAR

The ruble continued its rise on 6 May, inching up to 24.07 rubles to $1 or 0.08 percent higher than the previous day, AFP reported. Moreover, bankers are confident that the ruble's exchange rate will remain between 24.5 and 25.5 rubles to $1, barring any sudden political developments, "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" reported on 6 May. According to the newspaper, Russian exporters, flush with cash since the rise in oil prices, are pushing the ruble's value up vis-a-vis the dollar. Another factor influencing the exchange rate, the daily claims, is the Central Bank's success in its "struggle against profiteers" and its effort to reduce demand for dollars by 10-15 percent. The IMF has objected to the Central Bank's new rules restricting access to the foreign exchange market, saying that they reduce the ruble's convertibility. JAC

LENINGRAD DEFAULTS

Leningrad Oblast missed a 5 May deadline to pay off a $50 million loan to an international bank syndicate, AP reported. Regional officials had been trying to get creditors to agree to restructuring the loan, but they apparently failed to do so before time ran out (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 May 1999). On 4 May, two of the oblast deputy governors, Sergei Susekov and Valerii Goloshapov, resigned. The next Russian entity expected to default, according to "The Moscow Times" on 6 May, is Tatneft, whose grace period to pay a $13.5 million coupon, which already matured on its $300 million Eurobond, ends 25 May. According to Standard & Poor's, the company's fortunes have been boosted by the rise in oil prices, but its close ties to the cash-strapped government of Tatarstan could interfere with its making good on its debts. Despite the company's troubles with its creditors, its shares have been popular lately with traders, who consider them undervalued. JAC

YELTSIN SAYS RUSSIA, U.S., NATO POSITIONS MOVE 'CLOSER'

Russia's special envoy for Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin briefed President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on 6 May, AP reported. Yeltsin said later that "of course, he didn't manage to solve everything --stopping the bombing and so forth, but we did not count on that. We counted on him bringing the positions of the Americans, NATO and [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic closer together." Chernomyrdin also met with Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes, who stressed the importance of Russia's role in resolving the Kosova conflict. Chernomyrdin told journalists after the meeting that "the war should be stopped at the negotiating table and under the UN's aegis," ITAR-TASS reported. FS

DRAFT PEACE PLAN READY AT G-8 MEETING?

"The New York Times" quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying on 5 May in Washington that NATO and Russia have narrowed their differences over the composition of a peacekeeping force. They will be able to issue a joint statement at the G-8 meeting in Bonn on 6 May, the officials added. A senior German official said both sides agreed to a draft accord providing for "an international civilian and security presence" that will enter Kosova under a UN mandate after the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova, Reuters reported. But so far Yugoslav President Milosevic has rejected any such settlement. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, before leaving for Bonn on 6 May, said that "one should look at things realistically. I am not optimistic about a breakthrough. But if there is the slightest progress, this will be important," ITAR-TASS reported. FS

ZYUGANOV CALLS CHERNOMYRDIN 'SPECIAL DEMOLISHER'

Russian Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov has accused the Russian government of secretly approving and justifying NATO air strikes. He told Interfax on 5 May that "Chernomyrdin should be seen not as a special envoy but as a special demolisher, a special agent, a kind of political screen to conceal the fact that the positions of Moscow and Washington on the Balkans are coming closer together." He accused Chernomyrdin of "traveling around the world to justify the international crimes against" Yugoslavia. Chernomyrdin rejected Zyuganov's accusations. FS

YELTSIN TO DO MORE CHAIR REARRANGING?

Interrupting his address at a meeting to organize celebrations for the 2000th anniversary of Christianity and the new millennium, President Yeltsin asked that newly promoted First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin be reseated to sit closer to the presidential chair, NTV reported on 5 May. Later, Yeltsin interrupted Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's remarks saying that Primakov's plans had not been coordinated with the Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church. Although seemingly insignificant, these actions are being added by Kremlin watchers to an increasingly growing list of "signs" that Yeltsin is about to dismiss Primakov, such as the recent remark of Oleg Sysuev, deputy head of the presidential administration, in an interview with "Vlast" that "there are no irreplaceable prime ministers." In its May issue, "Argumenty i Fakty" reported that Sergei Zverev, former Gazprom and MOST executive, is to be appointed deputy director of the presidential administration in charge of political strategy. As one of the country's top lobbyists, he would reportedly be able to repair any damage that might occur with relations between the Kremlin, cabinet, and State Duma. JAC

SUPREME COURT CHAIRMAN AGREES TO STAY ON

After meeting with President Yeltsin on 6 May, Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev told reporters that he has accepted the president's offer to be reappointed to the court. Lebedev's 10-year term expires in July. The Federation Council must approve Lebedev's candidacy. JAC

FEDERAL AUTHORITIES TO INTERVENE IN VLADIVOSTOK?

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has appealed to the head of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, to ensure that elections to Vladivostok's legislative assembly scheduled for 16 May actually take place, Interfax reported on 5 May. In a letter to Voloshin, Veshnyakov expressed his concern about that city administration's refusal to provide financing for the elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 May 1999). "Vremya MN" reported on 27 April that acting Mayor Yurii Kopylov is refusing to transfer 2.5 million rubles ($104,000) needed to hold the elections because, according to him, the chairman of the election commission "cannot be trusted with the people's money." However, many city residents believe that Kopylov's stance might be connected with the fact that he will likely be removed from office in such elections, according to the daily. JAC

NEW MINERS STRIKE LAUNCHED

About 1,000 coal miners on Sakhalin Island declared a strike on 6 May to protest a 10- month backlog of unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported. The mine supplies coal to one of the oblast's chief power stations that has already been experiencing a coal shortage. Meanwhile, in Chita Oblast, teachers in 36 schools are continuing a strike that has already lasted one month, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 5 May. The teachers are also demanding unpaid wages. Local school authorities fear that the strike may interfere with final exams. JAC

LIFESTYLES OF THE YOUNGISH AND POWERFUL

In its April edition, "Argumenty i Fakty" asked members of President Yeltsin's administration to disclose their income and property. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin earned 87,043 rubles ($3600) in 1998, owns one apartment measuring 107.5 square meters and two cars, including a Mitsubishi Charisma. Sysuev, deputy director of the presidential administration, earned 101,864 rubles last year, owns a 152 square meter apartment but no securities or cars. Presidential adviser and daughter Tatyana Dyachenko owns a Mitsubishi Pajero jeep and a BAZ 8142 trailer. Last year, she earned 1,508,477 rubles which included money earned from the sale of a house and land. The recently appointed chief of the presidential administration, Voloshin, has--or had--perhaps the most modest lifestyle, earning 75,669 rubles in 1998 and sharing a 56.4 square meter apartment with his mother. JAC

YELTSIN MEETS WITH NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT

Aleksandr Dzasokhov met with Yeltsin in the Kremlin on 5 May to brief him on the April session of the North Caucasus Association Council and to discuss the general situation in the North Caucasus, according to Radio Rossii on 5 May and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 1999). Yeltsin endorsed Dzasokhov's proposal to convene a further meeting of the Russian and Transcaucasus presidents. The first such summit was held three years ago on the initiative of Dzasokhov's predecessor, Akhsarbek Galazov (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 4 June 1996). Meanwhile, Ingush displaced persons have staged a mass demonstration on the border between Ingushetia and North Ossetia to protest the alleged refusal by the North Ossetian authorities to allow 30 Ingush families to return to their homes in North Ossetia, which they fled during the fighting of November 1992, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 May. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES ELECTION CAMPAIGN...

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 5 May to mark his first year in office, Robert Kocharian expressed his "sympathy" for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) and for the Miasnutiun (Unity) Bloc that comprises the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), headed by former Armenian Communist Party first secretary Karen Demirchian and Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian's Republican Party, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. Observers believe the latter grouping will win the largest number of seats in the 30 May parliamentary elections and that Miasnutiun and the HHD will be represented in a reshuffled cabinet. But Kocharian hinted that other "sound political forces," which he did not name, may also join the government. He expressed satisfaction at the course to date of the election campaign, stressing the importance of ensuring the poll conforms to international standards, Interfax reported. LF

...AND KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS

Kocharian further predicted that once the Kosova crisis is resolved, the international community will adopt a more serious approach to the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian predicted that the Balkan crisis will have a positive impact on the prospects for a solution to that conflict, arguing that developments in Kosova show that "the principle of self-determination cannot be realized in countries that have a very basic understanding of democracy. The forcible suppression of a people's right to self-determination leads only to war," he concluded. LF

AZERBAIJAN REJECTS IRANIAN CRITICISM OF NEW OIL CONTRACTS

Ali Hasanov, who heads the social-political department of the presidential administration, said on 5 May that Iranian objections to the three oil contracts Azerbaijan signed with U.S. oil companies last month are "groundless," according to Interfax on 5 May and "Izvestiya" on 6 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 1999). Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamidrza Asafi had said that Iran does not recognize the contracts as legal, since some of the oil deposits in question lie in Iran's sector of the Caspian, according to Turan on 1 May. He added that until a new agreement defining the national sectors of the five Caspian littoral states is reached, Tehran will view any development of those deposits as violating its national rights. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT REPRIMANDS SENIOR GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

Nursultan Nazarbaev has criticized Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uraz Zhandosov and Energy, Trade, and Industry Minister Mukhtar Abliazov for inadequate control over their ministries and for failure to implement unspecified presidential decrees, Interfax and RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported on 5 May. Nazarbaev instructed Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev to review the cases in question and to take whatever action proves necessary, including firing those responsible. LF

KAZAKH JOURNALIST RELEASED FROM PSYCHIATRIC CLINIC

Armial Tasymbekov, who was forcibly taken to a psychiatric hospital in Astana last week, was released on 5 May, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 1999). A doctor at the clinic told RFE/RL that Tasymbekov had been treated for "a temporary mental disorder" and is now "absolutely sober and healthy." The doctor added that he is "forbidden by law" to reveal the nature of that disorder. Tasymbekov told an RFE/RL correspondent who managed to gain access to the clinic on 3 May that he was interrogated by a colonel of the National Security Committee about the appearance in Astana earlier this year of slogans denigrating President Nazarbaev and extolling former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES RUSSIAN MEDIA COVERAGE OF BORDER TALKS

In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 5 May, Kasymzhomart Toqaev complained that Russian media allegations that Kazakhstan has ceded territory to China risk harming not only Sino-Kazakh but also Sino-Russian relations. After four years of negotiations, the presidents of China and Kazakhstan signed an agreement in July 1998 formally demarcating the frontier between the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1998). Also on 5 May, a Kazakh delegation began talks in Beijing on the optimum division of waters from the Irtysh and Ili Rivers that flow from China through Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 20 April 1999). LF

KYRGYZSTAN MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF NEW CONSTITUTION

In a 4 May address on national television to mark the sixth anniversary the following day of the country's constitution, President Askar Akaev said that one of the most crucial tasks facing the country is the timely payment of wages, pensions and other benefits, according to Interfax. He rejected speculation that either the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2000 or the presidential election in December 2000 will be brought forward, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Meanwhile, two Kyrgyz newspapers on 5 May quoted an unnamed Interior Ministry official as saying that the 12 people arrested the previous day, allegedly for preparing terrorist attacks on transport facilities, had in fact been preparing an attempt to assassinate Akaev, kidnap several other senior officials, and stage a coup. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT AGREES TO OPPOSITION AMNESTY PROPOSAL

In response to a 4 May appeal by the Commission for National Reconciliation, Imomali Rakhmonov charged senior government officials with drafting a decree on terminating criminal proceedings against Tajik opposition fighters and amnestying those already sentenced for their actions during the civil war, AP-Blitz reported on 5 May. In its appeal, the Commission for National Reconciliation had expressed concern about the slowdown in the peace process over the past three months. Also on 4 May, field commander Mansur Muakalov released the last two of six police officers abducted by his men south of Dushanbe on 28 April, Reuters reported. LF




VOTING STARTS IN OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN BELARUS

In a bid to challenge the authoritarian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the Belarusian opposition on 6 May launched a 10-day voting process in the presidential elections. The elections were scheduled by the Supreme Soviet, Belarus's parliament that was dissolved by Lukashenka after the 1996 controversial referendum which has not been recognized by most European countries. Unable to organize the ballot at stationary polling stations on a single day, the Central Electoral Commission resolved to hold voting at voters' homes from 6-16 May. The candidates in the elections are Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, and former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, now jailed by the authorities on charges of "grand larceny." According to the abolished 1994 constitution, to which the opposition remains loyal, Lukashenka's term in office expires on 20 July 1999. JM

MINSK VENDORS PROTEST GOVERNMENT CRACKDOWN ON PRIVATE TRADE

Some 2,000 private vendors began a two-day "sitting strike" at the Minsk "Dynama" market on 5 May to protest the crackdown by the police and tax inspectors on small trade in Belarus, Belapan and AP reported. According to the protesters, Lukashenka's decrees on "protecting the consumer market" and on "regulating economic relations" are being used by the authorities for confiscating goods without quality certificates from private traders and subsequently selling them in state-run shops in an attempt to replenish the state budget. Lukashenka's regulations allow authorities to sell confiscated goods without the quality certificates that are required from vendors at city markets. "The situation of traders at city markets is on the verge of an explosion," the protesters said in a letter to the government. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES KUCHMA'S VETO ON VETERANS' BENEFITS

The Supreme Council voted 11 times on 5 May to override President Leonid Kuchma's veto of a bill providing for a special pay to World War II veterans, AP reported. The parliament finally voted by 303 to 11 to approve annual payments to veterans ranging from 41 to 162 hryvni ($12-$41), in addition to the veterans' current pensions. Kuchma vetoed the bill in December, arguing that the budget does not include the 340 million hryvni needed to cover the additional payments. Communist parliamentary deputies also sought to override Kuchma's veto on increasing the monthly minimum pension from 16.6 hryvni to 55 hryvni. After failing to do this, the parliament re-approved its initial bill. In order to block the pension increase Kuchma will have to impose a new veto. JM

GERMAN OFFICIAL SAYS NO MONEY TO UKRAINE BEFORE IT REPAYS DEBT

Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber said in Kyiv on 5 May that Germany will not lend Ukraine any more money until it repays a German loan for the construction of a chemical plant, Interfax reported. Germany has extended a credit line for Ukrainian industry, including a loan of DM 22 million ($12 million) for the Oriana chemical plant in Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko assured Stoiber that Ukraine will repay the debt by resorting to "social welfare funds," the agency reported. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES BEING 'ENEMY OF THE PRESS'

Kuchma's press secretary Oleksandr Martynenko said on 5 May that the Ukrainian president may file suit against the U.S. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for calling him an "enemy of the press" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 1999), Interfax reported. In addition, Kuchma intends to send a letter to the CPJ refuting the "inaccurate information" on whose basis he was included on the CPJ's list of the 10 biggest oppressors of the press. According to Martynenko, the parliament, not the president, is responsible for tax policies in Ukraine, therefore Kuchma cannot be accused of using those policies as "instruments of his hostility toward journalists." JM

INTERNATIONAL AGENCY REAFFIRMS LATVIA'S CREDIT RATING

Standard & Poor's has reaffirmed its credit rating for Latvia as BBB, which indicates a favorable environment for investment, LETA reported on 6 May, citing a press statement released by the rating agency. The same rating has been granted to Latvia's eurobond issue worth some $160 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1999). The statement says that despite the impact of the Russian crisis and the resulting decrease in GDP growth, market reform and the development of the private sector are proceeding "successfully" in Latvia. At the same time, the agency notes that problems in the banking sector and the current-account trade deficit could have a negative impact on Latvia's credit rating. JC

LITHUANIAN ACTING PREMIER SAYS SHE DOESN'T WANT THE JOB

"Lietuvos Rytas" on 5 May quoted acting Premier Irene Degutiene of the ruling Conservative Party as saying she is not qualified to hold the position permanently. "I took the prime minister's post temporarily.... I still lack the skills to take on such duties [permanently]," she told the newspaper. On appointing Degutiene as caretaker prime minister, Adamkus called her a "capable administrator." Meanwhile, Algirdas Saudargas, foreign minister and leader of the junior coalition Christian Democrats, told journalists that his party will agree to hold cabinet posts "in proportion to the number of seats it holds in the parliament." He rejected the suggestion of a Christian Democrat premier, saying that this would be a "qualitatively unproportional share of responsibility [that] the Christian Democrats do not intend to shoulder." JC

LUSTRATION PROSECUTOR DROPS INVESTIGATION INTO POLISH PREMIER

Boguslaw Nizienski said on 5 May that he has found no evidence to support allegations that Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek collaborated with the communist-era secret services, Polish media reported. The allegations had been made by parliamentary deputy Tomasz Karwowski of the rightist Confederation for an Independent Poland- Homeland (KPN-O) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 1999). Karwowski said he will appeal Nizenski's decision. "It seems we are dealing with attempted manipulation, an attempt at concealing the need for an honest lustration process in Poland," PAP quoted KPN-O leader Adam Slomka as saying. JM

POLAND, NORWAY AGREE TO BUILD GAS PIPELINE

Premier Buzek and his Norwegian counterpart, Kjell Magne Bondevik, have signed a declaration of intent on building a gas pipeline from Norway to Poland, PAP reported on 5 May. The new pipeline will be built on the bed of the Baltic Sea and subsequently via either Sweden or the Danish Straits. It will carry some 3-4 billion cubic meters of gas annually and limit Poland's dependence on Russian gas supplies. Earlier the same day, both premiers signed a deal on Norwegian gas supplies via Germany from 2001-2006. Those supplies will total 500 million cubic meters annually. JM

POLAND'S RADICAL FARMERS HOLD CONGRESS

Some 2,000 people attended a congress of the radical farmers' union Self-Defense in Warsaw on 5 May. Andrzej Lepper, the organizer of road blockades during the farmers' protests in February, was unanimously re-elected chairman of the union. Lepper said Self-Defense demands that the government introduce higher prices on domestic agricultural products, make timely payments for agricultural supplies, impose a moratorium on farmers' debts, and protect the domestic market against the "uncontrolled" import of agricultural products, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 6 May. Lepper did not rule out that Self-Defense will turn into a political force competing in general and local elections. JM

KLAUS SAYS GRAND COALITION UNLIKELY

Czech parliamentary speaker and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus said that a grand coalition between the ODS and the ruling Social Democrats would be a solution only for an "extreme situation," CTK reported. Klaus made his comments in response to ODS deputy chairman Miroslav Macek's statement, published in the daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 5 May, that such a coalition would be the best solution to the current economic and political situation in the Czech Republic. Klaus said Macek always speaks in "an extreme and pointed way" and that he was expressing his personal opinion, not that of the ODS. Freedom Union leader Jan Ruml said he would prefer a coalition of right-center parties, adding that his party is willing to hold talks on the subject. PB

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER BACKS SLOVAKIA JOINING NATO

Vladimir Vetchy said at a military arms fair in Brno on 5 May that Slovakia's admission to NATO is in the interests of the Czech Republic, CTK reported. Vetchy said Prague has "above average relations" with its eastern neighbors. He said that the Czech and Slovak armies should cooperate more in the future, particularly in efforts to modernize military equipment. Slovak Defense Minister Pavol Kanis said that he hopes Slovakia will become a NATO member in "two or three years." PB

CHIRAC BACKS SLOVAKIA'S NATO, EU BIDS

French President Jacques Chirac told Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda in Paris on 5 May that he supports Bratislava's bid to join NATO and said he hopes Slovakia is admitted soon, CTK reported. Chirac told Dzurinda that France's support for Slovakia was as strong as its support for Slovenia and Romania. Dzurinda said that Slovakia's chances "of being included in the first group of candidates for EU membership" at the EU summit in Helsinki in December "are growing." In Bratislava, Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hamzik said the country's economic performance is the most important factor in determining when it will join the EU. He said he believes 2004 "is realistic." PB

SIS OFFICIAL ADMITS TO ROLE IN ABDUCTION OF PRESIDENT'S SON

Robert Beno, the former head of the surveillance department of the Slovak counterintelligence agency (SIS), confessed on 5 May to involvement in the abduction of then-President Michal Kovac's son to Austria, Slovak Television and TV Markiza reported. Chief detective Jaroslav Ivor said that Beno described the entire planning of the operation. So far, 10 people have been indicted in the affair and five are in custody, including former SIS head Ivan Lexa. In other news, nine Slovak Romany political parties signed an agreement establishing a coalition that is to take part in the next parliamentary elections. PB

NATO FIGHTERS TO ARRIVE IN HUNGARY

The Hungarian government has complied with NATO's request that the alliance be allowed to deploy 24 F-18 Hornet fighters and 500-800 service crew at the Taszar military base in southwestern Hungary, Defense Minister Janos Szabo announced on 5 May. He said the fighters are capable of attacking targets in Yugoslavia, and will defend Hungarian air space and engage in surveillance flights. The planes will also provide protection to C-135 tankers due to arrive at the Budapest airport on 6 May. Szabo stressed again that no armed Hungarian units will take part in eventual peacekeeping operations. MSZ




MYSTERY SURROUNDS RUGOVA'S ARRIVAL IN ROME

Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova arrived in Rome on a previously unannounced Italian military flight on 5 May. He had been under house arrest in Prishtina since 31 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1999). Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic told Serbian Television in Belgrade on 5 May that Rugova is a free man, but he added that the Kosovar leader will remain involved in negotiations about the Kosova crisis. Italian officials said Rugova and his family are guests of the government. Neither Rugova nor Italian officials have provided any further information. The offices of his Democratic League of Kosova in Stuttgart and the league's Kosova Information Center in London were unable to provide "RFE/RL Newsline" with any further information. Rugova will give a press conference later on 6 May. Observers suggested that his release may have been mediated by the Roman Catholic Sant Egidio Society, which specializes in non-violent conflict resolution and which helped hammer out an education agreement between Belgrade and the Kosovars before the current crisis began. FS

CLINTON SAYS AIR CAMPAIGN TO 'INTENSIFY'

U.S. President Bill Clinton told U.S. pilots at Germany's Spangdahlem Air Base on 5 May that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's "so-called ethnic cleansing has included concentration camps, murder, rape, the destruction of priceless religious, cultural and historic sites, books and records. This is wrong. It is evil." He added that "we will continue to pursue this campaign [of air strikes] in which we are now engaged. We will intensify it in an unrelenting way until [NATO's] objectives are met." PM

CLINTON: PEACE POSSIBLE WITH MILOSEVIC

Clinton told journalists in Frankfurt, Germany, on 6 May that the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosova were the result of a "carefully calculated campaign" to put and keep Milosevic in office. Clinton stressed that NATO's goal is to enable the Kosovars to go home in safety under the protection of an international armed force. He added that NATO wants the Kosovars to enjoy the autonomy "that Mr. [Josip Broz] Tito put in [in 1974] and Mr. Milosevic took away" in 1989. When asked whether this autonomy will be possible with Milosevic still in power, Clinton replied: "Yes... [The alternative would be] for the international community to declare war on Yugoslavia and march on Belgrade, [but] no one has suggested that." Clinton argued that the question of Milosevic's individual responsibility for the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosova--he did not mention those in Slovenia or Croatia--can be decided only by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM

CLINTON SEES 'INTEGRATED FUTURE' FOR BALKANS

The U.S. president told the press conference in Frankfurt on 6 May that there must be an "integrated vision" for the Balkans as a whole once the Kosova conflict is over and planning for the future of the entire region can begin. Clinton stressed that Serbia's role in the region will "depend on how the Serbs behave" toward their neighbors. He noted that Romania and other, unnamed countries with a smaller industrial base than Serbia's have made "great efforts" to promote democracy at home and good relations with their neighbors. Clinton cited Romania's efforts to improve its relations with Hungary as an example for other Balkan countries to follow vis-a-vis their respective neighbors. Clinton suggested that Serbia must make similar efforts if it wants the international community to accept it as a full-fledged partner. PM

MACEDONIA CLOSES BORDER TO KOSOVARS

"Thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees were reported stranded across the border in Serbia on 6 May after Macedonia abruptly closed its frontiers" with Kosova the previous day, according to Reuters. Serbian police used clubs to force some refugees out of the "no-man's land" back into Serbia, splitting up some families in the process. On 6 May, a train containing another several thousand expellees arrived near the border. A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told AP that the Macedonian decision amounts to "blackmail with people's lives." The Macedonian authorities have repeatedly threatened to close the border unless the international community provides more aid and takes at least as many refugees out of Macedonia as arrive there on any given day. There are at least 200,000 Kosovars in Macedonia, which is equivalent to 10 percent of the country's population. PM

MORE REFUGEES FROM MACEDONIA EXPECTED IN ALBANIA

Government officials told an RFE/RL correspondent in Tirana on 5 May that 6,000 refugees from Macedonia will soon arrive in a newly built camp in the Korca region. Albanian government officials have offered to take in a total of 50,000 refugees from Macedonia over the coming weeks and have called for more international assistance. Albania currently has an estimated total of 420,000 refugees. Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima visited Albania on 5 May to inspect the relief operation by Austrian soldiers overseeing a camp in Shkodra. Meanwhile, in northern Albania, Serbian forces again shelled the village of Letaj. In Padesh, near Tropoja, skirmishes broke out between Serbian forces and the UCK. NATO and the UNHCR continued with evacuations from Kukes, but the number of refugees leaving the town was still lower than the international relief organizations had planned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1999). FS

REFUGEES TELL MORE STORIES OF MASSACRES

Refugees told Reuters in Kukes on 5 May that they found the mutilated bodies of many of their relatives with their eyes gouged out or noses cut off after the latter had fled their homes in the village of Studime near Vushtrri. The refugees belonged to a group of about 7,500 who arrived in Albania the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1999). Many refugees said they saw the bodies of about 50 civilian victims. Other refugees told of another massacre near the village of Ceceli, but it was not clear how many victims it had claimed. Eye- gouging is a centuries-old practice in the Balkans that has frequently emerged in the wars in the former Yugoslavia since 1991. FS

DJINDJIC: TRY MILOSEVIC FOR WAR CRIMES

Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told British journalists in Montenegro on 5 May that Milosevic should be tried before an international war crimes tribunal modeled after the Nuremberg court that judged Nazi leaders following World War II. Djindjic appealed to the EU to help bring an end to Milosevic's rule and help create a "European Serbia." He said that he fears for his own safety following the recent murder of independent journalist Slavko Curuvija in Belgrade. Djindjic added that he frequently moves between undisclosed locations in Serbia and Montenegro. He added: "You cannot belong to the democratic opposition in the Balkans without taking risks." Critics in Serbia and abroad have accused Djindjic over the years of being ineffective and opportunistic. PM

PEROVIC: MILOSEVIC MEANS END OF YUGOSLAVIA

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Perovic said in Podgorica on 5 May that the Yugoslav federation will break up if Milosevic remains in power much longer, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Perovic added that the Yugoslav army in Montenegro "tries to destabilize the government on a daily basis." He argued that popular support for the democratic government of President Milo Djukanovic has so far proven strong enough to enable Djukanovic to resist attempts by the army and local Milosevic supporters to destabilize the government. PM

WESTENDORP TO STEP DOWN

The international community's Carlos Westendorp told Sarajevo's "Dnevni avaz" of 6 May that he will leave his post at some point this summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 1999). He added that he would become "part of the problem rather than part of the solution" if he remained in Bosnia longer. The former Spanish foreign minister noted that his Social Democratic party is counting on him to run for the European Parliament in the 13 June elections. PM

CROATIAN BANK FAILURE TIED TO CORRUPTION

The recent bankruptcy of the Komercijalna Banka is the result of Director Josip Soic's giving or lending the bank's money to individuals, charities, and other institutions linked to President Franjo Tudjman, his family, and the governing Croatian Democratic Community, AP reported on 6 May. In just one case, nearly $250,000 went to a charity run by Ankica Tudjman, the president's wife. Unnamed persons provided the independent weeklies "Globus" and "Nacional" with copies of incriminating bank files. "Thousands" of depositors have been unable to withdraw their money since the bank declared bankruptcy, AP added. It is unclear whether the state will reimburse them for any of their losses. A Zagreb court has launched a criminal investigation against Soic's son, who was a bank executive. Director Soic is currently in a mental hospital, but it is unclear whether he is really ill. PM

CROATIAN COURT INDICTS WHISTLE-BLOWERS

A Zagreb court on 6 May indicted Ankica Lepej and three former colleagues at Zagrebacka Banka for leaking confidential bank documents to the independent daily "Jutarnji list" in 1998. The court also indicted the journalist who wrote the resulting article about details of Ankica Tudjman's undisclosed bank accounts, which contained several hundred thousand dollars. PM

AIRPORT CHIEF SACKED FOR "PAPAL TAX"

Romanian Transport Minister Traian Basescu fired Dumitru Parscoveanu, the director of Bucharest's Baneasa airport, for implementing a tax on journalists covering the papal visit later this week, Reuters reported. Basescu said Parscoveanu has been ordered to return any taxes that were already collected. Parscoveanu said that print journalists would have to pay $30 and television reporters $200 for "access" to the airport during the visit of Pope John Paul II. He said the money would help defray the costs associated with the Pope's visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1999). Parscoveanu argued after being fired that an airport council had approved the taxes. In other news, Bucharest city officials have banned the sale of alcohol in the parts of the city that the Pope will visit during his 7-9 May stay. PB

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BUCHAREST

Vartan Oskanian held talks with Romanian President Emil Constantinescu and other top officials during a two-day visit to Bucharest on 4-5 May, Rompres reported. Talks centered on boosting bilateral trade and Romania's involvement in the "Silk Road" project. Romanian Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu pledged Bucharest's support for Armenia's bid to join the Council of Europe. Oskanian visited an Armenian Orthodox church and also held talks with the leaders of the Armenian community in Bucharest before leaving. PB

RUSSIAN HUMANITARIAN AID LANDS IN SOFIA

A Russian plane carrying humanitarian aid landed in Sofia on 5 May, one day later than planned, Reuters reported. The shipment was delayed as the plane awaited clearance from Bulgarian authorities. Russian Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said in Moscow that CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan countries should "not forget about older, proven friends." He said he hoped the shipment would not experience any further delays in Bulgaria. A truck convoy will take the aid to Kosova for distribution. PB




EU, EAST EUROPEAN CANDIDATES REVIEW PROGRESS


By Breffni O'Rourke

Last week, the EU held its annual Association Council meetings in Brussels with Slovakia, Romania, and Estonia. German State Secretary Guenter Verheugen, in his capacity as council president, met separately with the foreign ministers of those countries.

Though grouped together for one day, the three countries are in quite different situations with regard to their membership prospects. Estonia belongs to the "fast-track" group of candidates, along with Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, and has already opened membership negotiations with the EU Executive Commission. Romania, its reform effort stumbling, is widely seen as dropping even further behind the leading group. Slovakia is confident that the reforms and democratization pursued by the present government of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda are now reversing years of stagnation that constituted a barrier between it and the EU.

The head of the EU Integration Section at the Slovak Foreign Ministry, Jan Kuderjavy, told RFE/RL the association meeting revealed the extent to which relations between Slovakia and the EU have changed since the election of Dzurinda's pro-reform government. He noted that Verheugen showed "appreciation" of the changes that have occurred in Slovakia and welcomed measures undertaken by the new Slovak government, particularly in the political sphere.

Kuderjavy said Slovakia expects that on the basis of the EU's next country-by-country progress report, to be issued in the fall, the EU Executive Commission will recommend to the EU Helsinki summit in December that membership negotiations be launched with Slovakia.

Romanian Ambassador to the EU Constantin Ene told RFE/RL that Romania considers the association meeting to have been particularly successful. He said that in light of the conflict in Yugoslavia, Romania stressed the positive role the country plays in maintaining stability in the Balkans. And he noted that just one day before the meeting, the EU foreign ministers had issued a statement recognizing the regional role played by both Romania and Bulgaria.

Commenting that the EU member countries seemed receptive to Romania's argument that the momentum toward accession should be maintained among the 10 East European candidate countries, Ene said his country hopes that the Helsinki summit will also decide to start negotiations with Romania. He said the EU side gave no immediate response to that suggestion but appeared to take good note of it.

Ene acknowledged that his country is not ready for accession and does not expect it anytime soon. But he said that starting negotiations would be a positive political move, demonstrating to the country that it has not been "left outside," particularly considering conditions in the region. He said the same applies to neighboring Bulgaria.

The ambassador also put in a plea for other fellow Balkan countries. "Give them a clear perspective that they belong to Europe, [don't] leave them somewhere in a corner of the continent. Certainly Romania and Bulgaria are in a better position because we are already associated [with the EU], but others may have the feeling that they are somehow isolated. Therefore one of the decisions to be implemented will be to raise the status of the EU's existing agreements with Macedonia and Albania and to conclude with them association agreements."

Estonia, for its part, discussed with the EU panel its progress towards accession. The head of press relations at the Estonian Diplomatic Mission to the EU, Ann Haermaste, told RFE/RL that there was general satisfaction about the overall level of progress. But she said the Estonian side expressed concern at the problems Estonian ships are having at Finnish ports. Finnish trade unions are blocking the handling of Estonian vessels in protest at the much cheaper wages paid to Estonian crews. They want Estonian sailors to be paid more.

The Finnish government has not intervened with this industrial action on the grounds that the labor unions are free of state control. But Haermaste says her country sees this as a matter of competition policy and believes that Finland is in breach of the EU's free competition rules. She said her side has asked the EU commission for an assessment on the situation, adding that the Association Council noted Estonia's concern about the need to preserve free competition in maritime transport in the Baltic Sea region and encouraged continued discussions in order to resolve the dispute. The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent based in Prague.


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