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Newsline - May 18, 1999




GOVERNMENT SEARCHING FOR CASH TO PAY CREDITORS

The State Duma's Budget Committee on 17 May approved amendments to the 1999 budget that would allow the government to borrow up to $4.5 billion from the Central Bank in the first half of the year, "The Moscow Times" reported on 18 May. The money would cover the country's total debt payments for the first six months of 1999, according to First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Disbursements from international financial institutions such as the IMF are expected to be delayed owing to the change in government, forcing the Finance Ministry to scramble for cash to cover its debt payments. On 15 May, Standard & Poor's lowered the rating on Russian Eurobonds from CCC- minus to CC because of the possible postponement of IMF loans to Russia following the dismissal of former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's cabinet. JAC

YELTSIN NO-SHOW RAISING NEW HEALTH FEARS

A meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar scheduled for 18 May was cancelled for unknown reasons. According to dpa, a Spanish radio station quoted Russian diplomats as saying that ill health prevented Yeltsin from attending the meeting. The same day, when asked about the president's health, acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said "Everything is normal. We settled all questions with the Spanish premier yesterday," Interfax reported. The same day, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin emphatically denied reports by some agencies that Yeltsin is ill with bronchitis. JAC

DUMA TO HAVE ONLY ONE CRACK AT STEPASHIN?

Citing anonymous sources in the Kremlin and White House, "Moskovskii Komsomolets" reported on 18 May that if the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Stepashin fails to win Duma approval during the first round of voting, scheduled for 19 May, then a new candidate will be put forward. According to the daily, one of its sources said "there may be no second chance for Stepashin--first of all because he himself does not want it." JAC

STEPASHIN OUTLINES ECONOMIC POLICIES...

In his speech to Federation Council on 17 May, acting Prime Minister Stepashin said that he is counting on the Duma to pass legislation prepared by the previous government in accordance with its agreement with the IMF. Stepashin also vowed to follow up on an earlier pledge by former Prime Minister Primakov to reduce the number of federal employees in the regions. He said that he was shocked to learn that in Kursk Oblast, there are 19,000 civil servants for a total population of 1.3 million He also promised to crack down on tax deadbeats and the "criminalization of Russian business both at the state and private levels." He noted that Interior Ministry and tax police staff in Krasnoyarsk Krai managed to uncover more than 500 million rubles ($20.1 million) that properly belonged in the krai's coffers. Stepashin added that the federal government would make better use of the region's "colossal economic experience" and "regional economic programs." JAC

...AS DOES AKSENENKO

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 18 May, First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko said that he will most probably be put in charge of the economy's "real sector," the power sector, and transportation infrastructure. Regarding his appointment to supervise the operative affairs commission, Aksenenko said that the commission will examine this year's investment program and the situation in the country's gasoline market and try to resolve the problem of enterprise indebtedness. Aksenenko added that a key component of the country's industrial policy should be the development of enterprises engaged in the manufacture of goods that can be substituted for imports. He also noted that the country's military industrial complex is "waiting for real proposals and real money." On the issue of IMF negotiations, he noted that the first deputy prime minister cannot stand on the sidelines during talks, but he added that a "highly specialized expert should take up the issue." JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS FOREIGN INVESTMENT LAW...

The Federation Council on 18 May rejected the Law on Foreign Investment, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, some senators feared that the law gave foreign investors an unfair advantage over domestic producers. A conciliatory commission will re-examine the law and suggest changes and amendments before resubmitting it to the Federation Council. Foreign lawyers and investors found the version of the law that passed the State Duma "welcome enough in that it cleans up some minor confusions about the status of foreign investors" in Russia, but none of them thought it would attract new investment, "The Moscow Times" reported on 11 May. JAC

...APPROVES JUDICIAL APPOINTMENT

On 17 May, the upper chamber confirmed the appointment of Magomed Magomedov as a new Supreme Court judge, ITAR-TASS reported. Previously, Magomedov was a judge on the Supreme Court of Dagestan. JAC

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION AGAINST SKURATOV DISMISSED--FOR NOW

A Moscow court ruled on 17 May that an order to launch a criminal case against Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov was illegal and canceled the order, Interfax reported. In early April, a deputy Moscow city prosecutor opened a criminal investigation into whether Skuratov was guilty of abuse of office. The Moscow court ruled that the deputy prosecutor exceeded his authority by instituting the criminal proceedings. An official at the Central Military Prosecutor's Office said that the ruling will be challenged by the military board of the Russian Supreme Court, ITAR-TASS reported. In remarks to reporters, the chairman of the Federation Council's Committee for Constitutional Legislation, Sergei Sobyanin, did not rule out the possibility that new criminal proceedings will be launched against Skuratov and that President Yeltsin will send another letter to the upper chamber asking that he be dismissed. JAC

RUSSIA LIFTS LIBYA SANCTIONS

President Yeltsin signed a decree on 17 May lifting sanctions against Libya, Interfax reported. The UN suspended its international sanctions last month, after Libya agreed to hand over two suspects in the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. JAC

RUSSIA, EU PLEDGE DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION FOR KOSOVA...

After meeting with EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 17 May, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow will continue to work toward a diplomatic solution of the Kosova crisis. He warned, however, that "this is not going to be an easy thing to do...if bombs are still being dropped." The EU foreign ministers issued a statement saying that "half or partial measures [by Belgrade] which do not meet the conditions [set by the international community] will fail to provide the guarantees necessary for the safe return of the refugees," AP reported. The foreign ministers also agreed to conclude a "stability pact" for southeastern Europe designed to develop the region's economy after the end of the war. Details of that pact have not yet been finalized (see also Part II). FS

...WHILE EU SUPPORTS CHERNOMYRDIN-AHTISAARI MISSION

The EU foreign ministers also expressed support for the joint mediation mission of Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Brussels. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Ahtisaari in Helsinki on 17 May that the Finnish president has "the full support of the EU in this work which he is carrying out together with Chernomyrdin," AP reported. Finland takes over the chair of the EU presidency from Germany in July. Schroeder then visited Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in Bari to discuss an Italian-Greek proposal for a 48-hour suspension of the bombing campaign. According to that proposal, this would provide an opportunity for a new round of negotiations with Belgrade and would allow the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution referring to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of force to uphold international peace and security. FS

CHERNOMYRDIN URGES NATO TO END AIR STRIKES

Chernomyrdin told Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in Moscow on 17 May that NATO must stop its air campaign if it wants to reach a political solution. After the meeting, Aznar said he expects "a serious breakthrough toward a political settlement" in "the next few days," AP reported. A spokesman for Russian President Yeltsin announced that Chernomyrdin will travel to Belgrade later this week. Duma speaker Gennadii Zyuganov, after meeting with Aznar, said that "we consider this to be NATO aggression. [Aznar] does not think so, and we will not convince [him] otherwise." Acting Prime Minister Stepashin said that "any negotiations are possible under one condition: First the hostilities must stop." Stepashin also commented that he "considers Spain [both] a serious trading partner [and] a model of how a deep social and economic crisis can and should be resolved," ITAR-TASS reported. FS

RUSSIA'S NEWEST COSMONAUT REPORTS FOR TRAINING

The controversial British businessman Peter Llewellyn arrived in Moscow on 14 May to begin his training for his flight on space station "Mir," Interfax reported. According to the agency, the Energiya company, which operates "Mir," hopes that Llewellyn will help it obtain a $100 million loan to prolong the station's life. "Kommersant-Vlast" reported in its 11 May edition that Energiya President Yurii Semenov does not give much credence to allegations that have appeared in both Western and Russian media that Llewellyn is an international swindler. According to the weekly, Semenov co- signed documents creating a new Energiya investment company in which he is president and Llewellyn is vice president. JAC

DEFEATED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA CLAIMS RUN-OFF WAS RIGGED

Some 15,000 supporters of Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev gathered on the town's central square on 17 May to protest the alleged falsification of the second round of voting for the president of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 May. According to preliminary estimates, Derev received only 19 percent of the vote while his rival, former Russian armed forces ground troops commander Vladimir Semenov polled 75-80 percent. In the first round of voting on 25 April, Derev had received 40 percent of the vote and Semenov 19 percent. Derev called for raions populated by ethnic Russian and Cherkess to be separated from the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the transfer of those districts to neighboring Stavropol Krai if the poll is not declared invalid. LF

NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS MOTIVES FOR BOMB ATTACK

Speaking on 17 May in Moscow, where he was attending the Federation Council session, Aleksandr Dzasokhov suggested that the 16 May bomb explosions in a settlement for retired Russian army officers in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, may have been intended to deflect attention from the continuing investigation into the explosion two months earlier in the town's central market, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March and 17 May 1999). In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published on 18 May, Dzasokhov rejected the possibility that the 16 May bombing was a purely criminal act. He termed it part of a broader, concerted campaign to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus. Meeting with Dzasokhov, Interior Minister and acting Russian Prime Minister Stepashin vowed to continue to monitor the investigation of the March Vladikavkaz bombing, Interfax reported. LF




ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONCERNED AT IRREGULARITIES IN VOTER REGISTRATION

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 17 May, two prominent representatives of the National Democratic Union (AZhM) cited instances in which district electoral commissions in Yerevan have included the names of deceased and temporary residents in lists of persons eligible to vote in the 30 May parliamentary election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Vahe Varsanian, who is the AZhM's representative on the Central Electoral Commission, also claimed that the Self- Determination Union (IM) and the Hayrenik bloc have sold to pro-government figures the seats on local electoral commissions to which they are legally entitled. He offered no evidence to substantiate that allegation, which an IM spokesman rejected. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DELAYS RETURN HOME

Heidar Aliev's departure from the U.S. for Turkey, which Russian media reported had taken place on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999), was postponed until 18 May because of "technical reasons" connected with the choice of airplane in which Aliyev will travel, Reuters reported on 17 May, quoting presidential administration member Ali Hasanov. LF

ARE RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS LEAVING ABKHAZIA?

Georgian border guards commander Valeri Ckheidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 May that Russian border guards have already withdrawn from three posts in Abkhazia in accordance with an agreement signed last year by Moscow and Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. He rejected as "unserious" a demand by the Abkhaz leadership that departing Russian guards should not be allowed to take their equipment with them. But Abkhaz officials denied on 17 May that the Russian contingent has begun to leave Abkhazia. The chief of staff of the Russian Border Guards' Service, General Nikolai Reznichenko, had reached an agreement on 5 May with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba whereby the Russians would leave only after the end of the academic year, as their children are attending local schools. LF

RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING COMMANDER CONDEMNS PLANNED ABKHAZ MILITARY EXERCISES

Nikolai Rusak, who is a political officer with the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, told Caucasus Press on 18 May that the Abkhaz "have no right" to conduct large- scale military maneuvers in the region's central Ochamchire Raion and should have informed the Russian contingent of their intention to do so. Abkhaz Defense Minister Vladimir Mikanba had announced the previous day that the military exercises, which will include the use of heavy equipment, will be held in late May. Rusak added that the conduct of such exercises would constitute a violation of the May 1994 cease-fire agreement, under which Ochamchira is designated part of the arms-limit zone, in which only limited quantities of military equipment may be deployed. LF

ABKHAZ SECURITY MINISTER SAYS PARLIAMENT BOMB WAS 'HOOLIGANISM'

Astamur Tarba told Caucasus Press on 17 May that the bomb that damaged the Abkhaz parliament building in Sukhumi on the night of 15-16 May was not the work of professionals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). He dismissed as improbable earlier suggestions by Abkhaz Interior Ministry officials that Georgian intelligence may have been responsible, saying that professional saboteurs would have used more powerful explosive and planted the bomb on a weekday. Also on 17 May, the Georgian paper "Dilis gazeti" reported that an organization known as Amtsabza has distributed leaflets in Sukhumi criticizing the present Abkhaz leadership's policies and calling on the Abkhaz population to oppose the regime. LF

KAZAKH SECURITY MINISTRY SAYS IT IS BUGGED

Kazakhstan's National Security Ministry officials say they have discovered a secret radio receiver on the roof of the building that houses the British, German, and French embassies, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 18 May quoting the "31st Channel" TV station. The unnamed security officials told the TV station that the receiver could be used to monitor conversations within the ministry building and incoming electronic messages. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S OPPOSITION PARTIES MEET

Representatives of the People's Republican Party, the Communist Party, Azamat, the Azat movement, and cultural centers representing ethnic minorities held a conference in Almaty on 17 May, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. The discussion focused on the current political situation and the parliamentary elections due this fall. LF

TURKMENISTAN TO SELL ELECTRICITY TO TURKEY

Under an agreement signed on 12 May by the Turkish and Turkmen Energy Ministers, Ziya Aktash and Safarmurad Nuriev, Turkey will purchase 750 million kW hours of electricity annually from Turkmenistan between 2000 and 2006, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 17 May. The electricity will be transported via Iran. It is unclear how much Ankara will pay for it. LF

UZBEK OFFICIAL IMPLICATES TAJIK LEADERSHIP IN DRUG-SMUGGLING

The director of Uzbekistan's National Center to Fight Narcotics , Kurban Baimuradov, told AFF on 17 May that drug cartels regularly bribe senior Tajik government officials, including members of the presidential apparatus. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that Tajikistan's military court has sentenced a police colonel to death for dealing in raw opium. LF




EU URGES BELARUS TO RELEASE JAILED OPPOSITIONIST

EU foreign ministers on 17 May urged the Belarusian government to enter political talks with the opposition and immediately set free Mikhail Chyhir, the former prime minister jailed on charges of "grand larceny" and abuse of office in his capacity as head of a bank in 1994. Chyhir was arrested at the end of March after announcing his intention to run in the May unauthorized presidential elections in Belarus. He was nominated prime minister by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1994 and resigned in 1996 to protest violations of the law during the constitutional referendum that immensely expanded Lukashenka's powers. Observers believe Chyhir's arrest was politically motivated. JM

CRIMEAN TATARS TO CONVERGE ON SIMFEROPOL

Thousands of Crimean Tatars are marching toward Crimea's capital, Simferopol, in marches that began in seven towns throughout the peninsula earlier this month. The Tatars are demanding that they receive more rights. They also want to mark the 55th anniversary of the deportation of Tatars to Central Asia on 18 May 1944. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had accused them of collaboration with Nazi Germany. According to estimates, there are some 270,000 Tatars among Crimea's 2.5 million population, including tens of thousands who do not have Ukrainian citizenship. Crimean Tatars demand proportional representation in the Crimean parliament, the recognition of their language as one of the official languages on the peninsula, and the legalization of their traditional self-governing bodies, the Kurultay and Mejlis. JM

UKRAINE'S FOREIGN TRADE SHRINKS

Ukraine's exports from January-March decreased to $2.43 billion, down by 11.4 percent from the same period last year, Ukrainian News reported, citing official data. Imports in the first quarter of 1999 fell to $2.89 billion, down 18.9 percent compared with 1998. JM

BRZEZINSKI SAYS NATO SHOULD CONSIDER BALTIC STATES SEPERATELY

Former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told BNS on 16 May that NATO should consider admitting the Baltic States separately and not as a group. "I don't think there is a basis for saying [about] any region of Europe that all of the countries of the region should be taken in or not. I think each country has to qualify on its own merits," said Brzezinski, who was attending the Baltic Development Forum in Copenhagen. He also argued that it will be easier for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to eventually enter the alliance if they are considered separately. But he was "more doubtful" as to whether they will be ready for membership by 2002. "I think Lithuania might be ready, but I am not sure all three will be," he said. Speaking at RFE/RL headquarters last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 1999), Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis had urged NATO to admit the three Baltic States simultaneously. JC

CONTROVERSY IN ESTONIA OVER ELITE MILITARY UNIT

Estonian army commander Lieutenant-General Johannes Kert has suspended the activities of the Defense Forces' Special Operations Group (SOG) following the alleged participation of its acting commander, Indrek Holm, in an attempted robbery near Tallinn on 15 May, ETA reported on 18 May. Holm received gunshot wounds to the head and remains in a coma. Defense Minister Jurii Luik had demanded that the unit's activities be ceased following the incident. Parliamentary Defense Commission chairman Enn Tarto has admitted that secrecy surrounds the SOG and that his commission has no information about its composition or to whom it is subordinated. According to "Eesti Paevaleht," police suspect that Holm was also involved in two unsolved robberies over the past 18 months, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tallinn reported. JC

GORBUNOVS TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Minister of Transport Anatolijs Gorbunovs on 17 May announced he has agreed to accept the nomination of Latvia's Way as its candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, LETA reported. The 56-year- old Gorbunovs had long been hesitating over whether to accept that nomination (which was made before last fall's general elections), citing his past as a former high-ranking communist official. He is the third candidate in the race, along with Janis Priedkalns of the Fatherland and Freedom Party, a former Australian national and current Latvian ambassador to the UN, and Vaira Paegle of the People's Party, a parliamentary deputy who holds both U.S. and Latvian citizenship. The incumbent, Ulmanis, is barred from seeking a third term in office. JC

IGNALINA TO BE SHUT DOWN TEMPORARILY

Lithuania's Ignalina nuclear power plant is preparing to shut down temporarily because of its failure to meet a 17 May deadline to acquire an operating license for one of its two reactors, Reuters and BNS reported. Saulius Kutas, the head of Lithuania's State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate, told a news conference the same day that the plant has failed to provide documents on the implementation of some safety regulations and is expected to take a month to complete licensing procedures. The plant "has to prepare, according to the regulations and procedures, to safely shut down Unit One," Kutas said. The plant's second reactor was closed earlier this year for routine maintenance and is expected to re-open in the summer. Ignalina has two Soviet-era RBMK-type reactors. The EU, among others, has repeatedly expressed concern about safety at the plant. JC

EBRD TO INVEST NEARLY $400 MILLION IN POLAND THIS YEAR

Horst Koehler, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said on 17 May that the bank will invest 370 million euros ($395 million) in Poland this year, PAP reported. The EBRD is to focus on projects promoting small and medium-size enterprises in Poland. It will also support restructuring processes in economically promising giants such as the Sendzimir and Katowice steel mills, LOT airlines, Nafta Polska, and the PKP state railways. Since 1991, the EBRD has allocated 1.3 billion euros for 83 investment projects in Poland. JM

POLISH LEFT-WING'S POPULARITY GROWING

Support for the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is at its highest level since the party lost power in the 1997 parliamentary elections. A poll conducted by the PBS agency last week for "Rzeczpospolita" showed that backing for the SLD rose to 38 percent from 36 percent last month, while the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action's (AWS) support decreased to 27 percent, down from 29 percent in April. The Freedom Union (UW), the AWS's coalition partner, saw its popularity grow by 1 percent to 11 percent. In the 1997 elections, the AWS received 33.8 percent support, the SLD 27 percent, and the UW 13.4 percent. Commentators attribute the declining support for the ruling coalition to social discontent over ambitious reforms in health care, education, and the pension system launched by the government this year. JM

CZECH CABINET TO FINANCE LETY MONUMENT

The Czech government on 18 May agreed to spend 1 million crowns ($28,600) on improvements to the monument in Lety marking the site of a World War II forced labor camp for Roma, Czech media reported. Recently, the Czech cabinet rejected a proposal to remove a pig farm from the area, arguing that such a project would be too expensive. In response, the Romany National Congress has organized a boycott of Czech pork (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 1999). In other news, Czech Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich on 17 May said the British ambassador in Prague has warned him that London may impose visa restrictions on the Czech Republic owing to a large increase in the number of Czech emigres to Britain, "Pravo" reported on 18 May. A total of 99 Czech citizens, along with their 109 relatives, applied for immigration in Britain in April -- the largest number for any one month since 1996. Czech diplomats cited by "Pravo" say the majority of these emigres are Roma. VG

CZECHS LAGGING BEHIND IN EU ACCESSION PREPARATIONS

The Czech government on 17 May approved an economic strategy paper for accession to the EU, "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 18 May. But Deputy Prime Minister Egon Lansky, who is responsible for the country accession to the EU, said several ministries are falling behind in preparations for EU membership. Lansky is the third minister to complain recently about the Czech Republic's EU preparations, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 18 May. VG

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER IMPLICATED IN MICHAL KOVAC JR. KIDNAPPING...

Former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) official Jaroslav Svechota has implicated Vladimir Meciar in the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son, TASR reported on 17 May. Svechota has sent a letter to Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda asking to be pardoned for his role in the abduction of Michal Kovac Jr. In the letter, he stated that then SIS chief Ivan Lexa ordered him to kidnap Michal Kovac Jr. and mentioned Meciar three times in connection with the case. Lexa and Svechota are both being held in custody. Police investigator Jaroslav Ivor, who revealed the contents of the letter at a 17 May press conference, rejected the possibility that Svechota was under psychological pressure to testify. On 12 May, Svechota had complained that his own defense lawyer was putting him under such pressure. VG

...DENIES INVOLVEMENT

Meciar, however, has denied any involvement in the abduction of former President Kovac's son, saying Ivor was "exceeding the boundaries set by the law and democracy." Meciar said that the cabinet does not run the SIS and merely receives regular reports on the activities of the service. Meanwhile, the Regional Court of Bratislava rejected Lexa's appeal against the District Court's decision to take him into custody. The court argued that if Lexa were released, he might try to influence witnesses or others involved in the case. In other news, two gunshots were fired at the home of former Finance Minister Miroslav Maxon in the western Slovak town of Trencin on 16 May, AP reported the next day. Nobody was injured in the incident and police are investigating. Maxon is a member of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. VG

HUNGARY OPPOSES INVASION OF YUGOSLAVIA FROM NORTH

Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said on 17 May that the Hungarian leadership is against the use of Hungary as a launching site for any potential NATO ground operation against Yugoslavia. He said an invasion from the north appears relatively smooth in military terms and could be an effective solution, but the political risk is high. A ground operation "is not in our interest in Central Europe," Martonyi said, adding that "this war can be won from the air." In other news, ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina are working on an autonomy concept and want to ensure that the status of the province is included in an eventual peace agreement on Kosova, Laszlo Jozsa, deputy chairman of the Federation of Vojvodina Hungarians, told Hungarian media on 17 May. MSZ

RUSSIAN-HUNGARIAN OIL TRANSIT TALKS

Acting Russian Trade Minister Georgii Gabunia said Russia is engaged in talks with Budapest over the transport of "metal items" and oil products through Hungary to Yugoslavia, RIA Novosti reported on 17 May. He reproached Hungary for employing "discriminatory transit terms." If the parties fail to come to an agreement, Gabunia said, Russia may retaliate with trade sanctions. VG




RUGOVA SAYS AGREEMENT WITH MILUTINOVIC 'MEANINGLESS'

Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 17 May that he signed a declaration with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic in Belgrade on 28 April under duress. The declaration called for a resumption of talks between Serbian government and Kosovar representatives aimed at establishing wide-ranging autonomy for the province and respecting the territorial integrity of Serbia. Rugova stressed that "whatever I signed in Belgrade is meaningless." He added that he put his signature to the document to protect his family, which was under Serbian house arrest, along with him. Rugova stressed that NATO air strikes must continue until the alliance achieves its objectives. He said that he does not recognize the provisional Kosovar government of Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci. And he said he will invite Kosovar leaders, including UCK representatives, to Bonn to negotiate forming a new Kosovar government. FS

ALBANIA'S ULQINI DEFENDS RECOGNITION OF THACI GOVERNMENT

In an interview to RFE/RL on 17 May, Albanian Information Minister Musa Ulqini dismissed opposition charges that the Albanian government has politically divided the Kosovar Albanians by its 12 May recognition of the Thaci government. Ulqini stressed that the Albanian government has engaged itself to achieve "the unification of [the rival Kosovar political groups]. This is what we achieved in Rambouillet, where the [Kosovar] Albanians...managed to present a united stand." He added that "we recognize the agreement [reached by the members of the Kosovar Albanian delegation after the Rambouillet talks] on the creation of a provisional government. We remain engaged in this process and we are convinced that very soon all the Kosovar political and military groups will [form a joint] representation that has the support of everybody." FS

CONTINUING CLASHES ALONG ALBANIAN BORDER

Serbian forces shelled Albanian army tanks near Letaj in the Has Mountains on 17 May, prompting those vehicles to withdraw four kilometers behind the border, AP reported. In Kukes, Albanian army reinforcements arrived, including multiple rocket launchers. Elsewhere, NATO planes attacked Serbian positions in Planeja, between Kukes and Prizren, Reuters reported. Nearby at the Morina border crossing, only a few dozen refugees crossed into Albania. Several of them reported atrocities and arbitrary killings by Serbian forces. Officials of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said refugees continue to oppose efforts to evacuate them from Kukes to safer places in central and southern Albania. Most of those refusing to leave say they are waiting for relatives still inside Kosova. FS

U.K.: TIME TO CONSIDER GROUND TROOPS FOR KOSOVA

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Sofia on 17 May that NATO will continue its campaign against Serbia and will use "whatever it takes" to achieve its goals, "The Guardian" reported. In Brussels, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook argued that the allies will "not hang around waiting for [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic to give us a written invitation" to send in ground forces. Cook added that NATO forces should go into the province as soon as Serbian forces can no longer offer "organized resistance." He suggested that intervention should take place well before the harsh Balkan winter sets in, the "New York Times" quoted him as saying. Cook also charged that Serbian forces used Kosovar civilians as human shields in the recent incident at Korisa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). The foreign secretary noted that he knows of at least 80 cases of Serbian forces using civilians as human shields. PM

DJUKANOVIC: NO PEACE WITH MILOSEVIC

Most of the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on 17 May had little sympathy for Cook's views and stressed instead the importance of finding a diplomatic solution quickly, "The Guardian" reported (see also Part I). Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told the ministers that any final settlement "must be signed by someone other" than Milosevic in order to be credible, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Djukanovic added that Milosevic seeks to destabilize Montenegro by sending in some 45,000 Yugoslav army troops and trying to censor state-run television. The Montenegrin president stressed that he condemns all violence, including that by Milosevic, the Kosovar guerrillas, and NATO. The EU ministers promised Djukanovic more than $13 million in refugee relief. They gave "no details of how the money would be channeled to Podgorica to prevent it falling into the hands" of Belgrade, "The Independent" reported. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY MOVES INTO CETINJE

Several hundred Yugoslav army troops recently entered Cetinje, the traditional political stronghold of Montenegrins favoring independence from Serbia, Reuters reported on 17 May. Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said that the army "wants to demonstrate that by controlling Cetinje that they control the [entire] country. People in Montenegro are generally armed...[and] they are particularly heavily armed in Cetinje." He urged local people not to respond to any "provocation" by the army and stressed that "whoever starts [a conflict in Montenegro] will end up the big loser." There are some 26,000 Yugoslav army troops in Montenegro. Djukanovic's police number about 12,000. PM

KOSOVAR MALES FREED IN MONTENEGRO

Yugoslav forces returned more than 100 Kosovar males to their families in Rozaje on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). Montenegrin officials said that the release came after the Yugoslav army "checked" the men for their possible links to the UCK. Yugoslav troops recently took the men off busses en route from Montenegro to Albania. Elsewhere, a Georgian-registered ship carrying flour arrived on 17 May in Dubrovnik. The flour will be transferred to trucks and taken to Montenegro by road. They Yugoslav navy had prevented the ship from docking at Montenegro's port of Bar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). PM

LARGE GROUPS OF DISPLACED PERSONS IN KOSOVA

NATO officials said in Brussels on 17 May that a total of 70,000 displaced persons are gathered in the areas around Junik and to the west of Ferizaj and that these people appear to be en route to Albania. Another group of about 40,000 Kosovars is "trapped" in the region between Ferizaj and Gjilan, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. At Blace, on the Macedonian border, Serbian authorities ordered back into Kosova a train carrying some 2,000 persons who boarded in Prishtina and Ferizaj. A UN spokesman at Blace said that he does not know what happened to the people on the train. He added that "this is quite a worrisome development." In Skopje, President Kiro Gligorov said that "it is important" for the international community to send abroad at least 100,000 of the estimated 230,000 Kosovar refugees in his country. PM

WESTENDORP: KOSOVA NEEDS INTERNATIONAL PROTECTORATE

Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, told the UN Security Council in New York on 17 May that Kosova needs "a real protectorate in order to protect the refugees coming back to their homes." He stressed that any international mandate in Kosova should be "much shorter and more robust" than the one in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 1999). Westendorp argued that the international community must control the administration, police, and army in Kosova, which it did not do in Bosnia. He concluded that "there will be no long-term solution or stable solution if Milosevic remains in place for a long time, because it will mean there is no democracy in the region. And without democracy, the problems of the region are not going to be solved." PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION SUBMITS CENSURE MOTION

A group of deputies and senators from the Social Democracy Party of Romania, the Greater Romania Party, and the Romanian National Unity Party have submitted a censure motion against the government, which they accuse of seeking to by-pass the parliament in attempting to push through legislation on economic reform, Rompres reported on 17 May. The move comes in response to the cabinet's decision to accelerate the passage of a package of economic reforms by linking it to a vote of confidence in the government. The package of measures, which is in line with IMF recommendations, is aimed at speeding up economic reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 1999). The opposition said the government's reforms would generate chaos and encourage corruption. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Radu Vasile's coalition government is expected to survive the motion, Reuters reported on 17 May. VG

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR SUPPORT IN REFERENDUM

Petru Lucinschi has called on voters to support his bid to increase the powers of the president in a 23 May non-binding referendum on changing the constitution, Infotag reported on 17 May. Lucinschi said the current "state mechanisms do not work properly" and that presidential rule is needed to "solve problems." He also urged voters to support the candidacy of incumbent Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urecheanu in the 23 May local elections. In other news, officials of Moldova's Gagauz autonomous region signed a bilateral economic and cultural agreement with officials from the republic of Tatarstan in Russia, BASA-Press reported on 17 May. VG

BLAIR VISITS BULGARIA

British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 17 May praised Bulgaria's support for NATO's campaign against Yugoslavia and pledged that his country will support moves to speed up Bulgaria's accession into the EU and NATO, international media reported. Blair met with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov and Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. Just hours before his arrival, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova criticized the West for employing a strategy of "managing existing crises" in the Balkans over the past few years, rather than implementing a "long-term strategic vision" for the region, Reuters reported on 17 May. She said she hoped this "policy of sending fire brigades will be replaced by a fire-prevention policy." Meanwhile, small group of protesters interrupted Blair's speech at Sofia University and another small group of young Bulgarian Socialists burnt an effigy of the British prime minister in the center of the capital. A majority of Bulgarians are opposed to the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia. VG




SCHUSTER LIKELY TO DEFEAT MECIAR IN RUN-OFF


By Ron Synovitz

The first round of voting in Slovakia's presidential election saw Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster and former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar advance to a run-off on 29 May. If turnout is similar to the 74 percent in the 15 May first round, Schuster appears likely to become Slovakia's first directly elected president.

According to the Slovak Election Commission, Schuster, who is the official candidate of Slovakia's governing coalition, won 47 percent of the first-round vote, while about 37 percent supported Meciar.

Third among the nine candidates was Magda Vasaryova, a former actress who gathered 6.6 percent of the vote on an independent ticket. She was followed by independent Ivan Mjartan, with about 3.6 percent, and Jan Slota of the Slovak National Party, with 2.5 percent. While Meciar could get some votes from backers of Mjartan and Slota in the runoff, their combined cross-over vote would be insufficient to push him ahead of Schuster.

Meanwhile, most of Vasaryova's supporters are believed to be vehemently opposed to Meciar. There is little likelihood that the former prime minister will gain votes from them. Yet many of Vasaryova's backers may choose to abstain from the runoff ballot rather than support Schuster. That is largely because of Schuster's background as a member of the Slovak Communist Party's Central Committee before the collapse of communist rule in 1989.

Other political leaders who earlier opposed Schuster because of his communist background have now begun announcing their support for him as the "anti-Meciar" candidate. Most important among them is Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky, who chairs the governing coalition's Christian Democratic Movement.

Schuster told RFE/RL he expects unity over the run-off within the coalition, which first joined forces to defeat Meciar in parliamentary elections eight months ago. "I think that the citizens had the opportunity to gauge the degree to which we are united," he commented, "and now we shouldn't even talk about unity because there are only two candidates. We have only two possibilities. Either a part of the coalition will support Mr. Meciar or the whole coalition will support me. There is no other alternative.... Now we have to act if we want to confirm the change that happened [in last year's parliamentary elections]."

First round exit polls suggest that as many as 92 percent of Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian voters supported Schuster. That development, according to the mayor, shows the strength of the coalition. But he also warned against xenophobic distortions of those statistics.

"I have no problem with [the support I have from ethnic Hungarians]. It is Meciar's problem. Meciar separates Slovak society. I unify it. This is the first evidence that the Hungarian minority can support the candidate of a coalition.... The Hungarians have kept their coalition promise. I see only a positive development in that, not negative."

Meciar, who was Slovak prime minister for most of the period from 1992 to 1998, helped trigger the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Western leaders often criticized what was seen as the authoritarian manner of his rule, which they cited as the reason Slovakia has not been invited to join either NATO or the front-ranking candidate states for EU membership.

But Meciar remains popular in rural communities, and he retains political influence through his allies who still control top management positions in major state companies. Meciar's nationalist rhetoric also could appeal to the unemployed, who have seen little improvement in their economic situation since last year's elections.

Tibor Cabaj, parliamentary leader of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said he does not see Meciar's second place as a failure. In fact, the 37 percent of the vote that Meciar gathered was much higher than pre- election polls had predicted.

While Slovakia's presidency is largely a ceremonial office, Western business leaders in Bratislava have been watching the ballot closely to determine whether Meciar has a political future in the country. If Meciar loses, one effect could be speedier management reforms at state companies. Such reforms are seen by the IMF and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as a key to increasing productivity and foreign investment in Slovakia. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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