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Newsline - May 20, 1999




FOREIGN, JUSTICE MINISTERS TO RETAIN POSTS...

RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 20 May that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov will be reappointed. According to Interfax, President Boris Yeltsin asked Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin to suggest several names for candidates to replace him at the Interior Ministry. Current senior Interior Ministry officials such as Vladimir Strashko, Vladimir Kolesnikov, Vladimir Vasilev, and Vladimir Rushailo are reportedly top contenders for the post. Former Minister for International Economic Relations and current President of Alfa Bank Petr Aven will likely be appointed Russia's envoy to international financial institutions such as the IMF, Interfax reported, citing "financial sources." JAC

...AS STEPASHIN GETS FIRST REJECTION

State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov (Russian Regions) announced on 20 May that he will not accept Prime Minster Stepashin's offer of the post of deputy premier with responsibility for economic policy, ITAR-TASS reported. Zhukov told reporters that he will accept the position only under certain conditions--one of them being that the cabinet's economic team be composed of like-minded individuals. Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev said later that day that "Zhukov is absolutely right in refusing to work with [First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai] Aksenenko." NTV reported the previous day that Aksenenko "has demonstrated an extraordinary independence in his actions and statements these past few days." "Moskovskii komsomolets" of 20 May was more frank, suggesting that Aksenenko is "behaving as if Stepashin did not exist at all" and commenting that "he seems to believe in the market even less than [acting First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii] Maslyukov." JAC

BEREZOVSKII, OTHERS TRYING TO INFLUENCE CABINET MAKE-UP...

Russian media are devoting renewed attention to the behind- the-scenes machinations of the country's so-called oligarchs. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 20 May that SBS-Agro Bank President Aleksandr Smolenskii has asked Prime Minister Stepashin to reappoint Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik or another candidate sympathetic to his bank. On 18 May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that business magnate Boris Berezovskii is trying to strengthen the position of First Deputy Prime Minister Aksenenko, "his protege in the government." According to the newspaper, Stepashin is resisting that effort and plans to promote acting Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants to deputy prime minister overseeing the economy, the Trade and the Anti-Monopoly Ministries as a counterbalance to Aksenenko. Shapovalyants was a member of former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Tuba's team. An additional counterweight to Aksenenko was supposed to been provided by Duma Budget Committee Chairman Zhukov. JAC

...AS ZHIRINOVSKII MAKES HIS OWN SUGGESTIONS

On 20 May, "Sovetskaya Rossiya" published what it alleged is a letter from Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii presenting a list of candidates from his party for cabinet posts. He suggests 17 candidates to head Slavneft, Sberbank, and the ministries of education, trade, anti-monopoly policy, state property, and regional policy, among other posts. For himself, he suggests the post of first deputy prime minister. However, at a press conference the previous day, he said he wants to be responsible only for the committee to bury former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. JAC

BILL ON HELPING RUSSIANS ABROAD BECOMES LAW

The Federation Council on 17 May overrode a presidential veto on the law on state policy regarding relations with Russians abroad, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 May. Under the law, Russia can provide "compatriots" living in foreign countries the means to establish local governing bodies. The law also addresses the status of the Russian language in other countries where ethnic Russians are a minority, the daily reported. According to the newspaper, President Yeltsin rejected the legislation earlier because the term "compatriots" has no legal basis and the bill violates the principle in international law of non- interference in the affairs of other countries. Now that his veto has been overridden his only recourse is to challenge it in the Constitution Court, according to the daily. JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS MILOSEVIC TOOK 'STEP FORWARD'

Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin proceeded to Belgrade on 19 May, after talks in Helsinki with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Returning to Moscow on 20 May, Chernomyrdin said that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic took "a step forward" during their talks, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, he noted that Milosevic rejected the complete withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosova. Chernomyrdin will brief both Talbott and Ahtisaari in Moscow later on 20 May. Milosevic's office in Belgrade issued a statement the previous day saying that "the solution could be found only politically and within the UN, and with the active and direct participation of Yugoslavia, [based on] the principles" laid down by the G-8 countries in early May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 1999). The BBC on 20 May quoted an unnamed Yugoslav diplomat as saying, with regard to the G-8 document, that "Belgrade likes vaguely worded documents because that opens the door for negotiations." FS

MAYORSKII SAYS G-8 TALKS 'DIFFICULT AND UNPLEASANT'

Russian senior diplomat Boris Mayorskii said in Bonn on 19 May that the negotiations there among G-8 diplomats over a UN Security Council resolution are "difficult and sometimes very unpleasant." He stressed Russia's position that "as long as the [NATO] bombing continues, the result of our work cannot be agreed upon," AP reported. German diplomat Guenter Pleuger said that the officials drafted a working text of a resolution but noted that many parts of it were left open for further negotiation and "important points remain to be settled." Pleuger also commented that the key points of disagreement are NATO's role in a peace-keeping force and a precise timetable for an end to air strikes and a Serbian troop withdrawal. Talbott, who arrived in Bonn from Helsinki, said the key question is whether Milosevic is ready to accept the G-8 principles. FS

RUSSIA, SYRIA SIGN NUCLEAR POWER AGREEMENT

Yevgenii Adamov, who is minister of atomic energy in the outgoing Russian cabinet, and Ibraghim Osman, director-general of the Syrian Commission for Atomic Energy, signed a 10-year cooperation agreement in Moscow on 19 May, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement provides for scientific, technical, and economic cooperation in the peaceful application of nuclear energy. Adamov noted that the agreement took years to draft and sign and that no time must be lost in its implementation. LF

BARAK VICTORY CUTS SHORT RUSSIAN-ISRAELI HONEYMOON?

Yeltsin on 19 May hailed the victory of Labor Party leader Ehud Barak in Israel's general elections, saying that the "results of the Israeli people's choice convincingly demonstrate their desire for a speedy political settlement with their Arab neighbors," according to the presidential press service. Noting that several members of the cabinet of vanquished former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had visited Moscow, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated that the Kremlin is more likely cursing its bad judgement for backing the "wrong horse." According to the newspaper, "Moscow was carried away by its practically unilateral support for Netanyahu" and "has not only worsened its already poor relations with Israeli socialists...but has also caused discontent in many Arab states." JAC

MOSCOW TO MOVE UP CITY ELECTIONS?

A bill submitted to the city's legislative assembly on 19 May provides for moving up elections for Moscow's mayor and deputy mayor from June 2000 to December 1999 so that they would take place simultaneously with the State Duma elections, Interfax reported. According to assembly chairman Vladimir Platonov, the move would save the city money. However, political analysts told "The Moscow Times" that the reasoning is more along the lines that a victory in December elections would allow Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to focus on his presidential campaign and ensure his political future should his presidential bid falter. JAC

VLADIVOSTOK TO TRY AGAIN

Vladivostok's city election commission on 20 May announced that by-elections for seats in the city's legislative assembly in four districts would be held on 20 June, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission announced earlier that the results of elections held on 16 May had to be declared invalid in eight of the city's districts because of low turnout. Under federal and local legislation, new elections in these districts must be held no later than the end of September. One candidate in the election, former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, may be in Moscow come July, according to Radio Mayak on 20 May. The station claims that he has been offered the position of minister for labor and social development at the recommendation of Right Cause movement leaders Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. JAC

KEY WITNESSES REFUSE TO TESTIFY IN PASKO TRIAL

Three Japanese journalists refused to testify in the espionage and treason trail of military journalist Grigorii Pasko, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 19 May. One of Pasko's lawyers told AP that the reporters are afraid to come to Russia because they believe they might be arrested as Pasko's accomplices. Pasko is accused of supplying classified military information to Japanese television about the environmentally hazardous practices of Russia's Pacific Fleet. JAC

FIRES SWEEP THROUGH FAR EASTERN FORESTS

The number of forest fires in the Far East has more than tripled over the last two days, an official with the forest service for the Far East told ITAR-TASS on 19 May. According to the agency, up to 7,500 acres in Khabarovsk Oblast were on fire. The next day, the agency reported that almost 5,000 acres of forests in Irkutsk Oblast are engulfed in flames. Forest service officials are concerned that their agency's chronic lack of fuel and equipment will lead to the destruction of more of the region's taiga as fire season sets in. Last year, more than 400,000 acres were destroyed. JAC

TATAR NATIONALISTS CALL FOR ELECTION BOYCOTT

The All-Tatar Public Center issued a statement on 19 May calling on voters to boycott the upcoming State Duma elections and next year's Russian presidential poll, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The statement also called for a ban on all "pro-Russian parties, movements, and media" in Tatarstan. The newspaper interpreted the appeal as a direct response to Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev's unequivocal support for the recently created Vsya Rossiya political bloc. LF




SOME ARMENIAN CLERGY OPPOSE POPE'S PLANNED VISIT

The Vatican officially confirmed on 19 May that Pope John Paul II will visit Armenia from 2-4 July as part of the celebration of the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity as the state religion, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March and 21 April 1999). But Azg/Mirror-On-Line reported the same day that some members of the Armenian clergy oppose the planned visit, which they fear reflects an attempt by the Catholic Church to bring the Armenian Apostolic Church under its influence. Some priests reportedly also resent the fact that Catholicos Karekin I did not consult with his clergy before inviting the pontiff to visit Armenia. LF

CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY VISITS ARMENIA

Continuing his tour of CIS capitals, Yurii Yarov met with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Armen Darpinian in Yerevan on 19 May, Noyan Tapan reported. Those talks focused on the planned CIS free trade zone, the restructuring of the CIS Executive Committee, and the distribution of posts on that committee among individual CIS states. Yarov subsequently told journalists that the level of economic cooperation between CIS member states is inadequate, which he attributed to the impact of the region-wide financial crisis. Darpinian said that CIS heads of state will sign an agreement on the free- trade zone at their next summit in Minsk in early June, adding that the zone will become operational on 1 January 2000. Yarov also rejected suggestions that his predecessor, Boris Berezovskii, was responsible for the decision by Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia not to renew their participation in the CIS Collective Security Treaty. LF

CHINESE EMBASSY DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF ROCKET SALES TO ARMENIA

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Yerevan told Noyan Tapan on 19 May that the embassy has no information concerning allegations made the previous day by Azerbaijan State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade that Armenia has acquired eight Chinese Typhoon multiple rocket systems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1999). LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT TO SEEK RE-ELECTION

Vladislav Ardzinba intends to seek a second term in the presidential elections to be held in September 1999, Caucasus Press reported on 20 May, quoting presidential adviser Astamur Tania. Tania said that "other political forces" in Abkhazia, whom he did not name, will also nominate candidates. Tania dismissed the Amtzabz (Fire) opposition movement as "a myth created by Georgian intelligence" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1999). He said leaflets distributed in Abkhazia in the name of that movement were printed in Georgia and are of a higher quality than can be produced using the typographic facilities available in Abkhazia. LF

ABKHAZIA REJECTS RUSSIAN CRITICISM OF PLANNED MILITARY EXERCISES

Caucasus Press on 20 May quoted Abkhaz Security Minister Astamur Tarba as saying that as planned, the unrecognized republic will hold large-scale military maneuvers late this month, despite the protest by a senior officer of the Russian peacekeeping contingent that such exercises would violate the May 1994 cease-fire agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1999). Tarba said the maneuvers will be held in a district of Ochamchira Raion that is not part of the military zone, in which only limited amounts of military equipment may be deployed. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN MEMORANDUM

Several opposition parties and movements including Azat, Azamat, Orleu, and the Communist Party have signed a memorandum on preparations for the October parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 20 May. Orleu leader Seydakhmet Quttyqadam explained that the opposition's primary aim is to campaign against the existing political system rather than against either President Nursultan Nazarbaev or Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev. LF

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS STAGE NEW PICKET

Some 50 people picketed the parliamentary building in Bishkek on 19 May to demand the resignation of Justice Minister Nelly Beishenalieva and the re-registration of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, RFE/RL correspondents in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Members of the committee, whose registration was revoked by the Ministry of Justice in September 1998, had staged a similar picket last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 1999). Members of the presidential administration met with the picketers that day and created a joint commission to investigate the issue. Commission member Beishenalieva continues to oppose the committee's re-registration. LF

TAJIK AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATE LATEST ARMED CLASH

Members of the Committee for National Reconciliation and the United Tajik Opposition are trying to determine the circumstances that led to fighting between refugees from Uzbekistan and fighters from an Uzbek opposition group during the night of 16-17 May in a village in Garm Oblast, AP-Blitz reported on 20 May. Some 18 people were killed in the fighting. The head of the Uzbek opposition group, Juma Namangoni, is reportedly wanted in Uzbekistan on suspicion of involvement in the series of bombings in Tashkent in February. Since those attacks, the number of refugees fleeing from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan has increased. LF

TURKMENISTAN'S CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION MEETS

The Central Electoral Commission has held its first session devoted to preparations for the 12 December parliamentary elections, Interfax reported on 19 May. Under the schedule adopted at that meeting, the commission has 10 days after the elections in which to count votes and announce the names of new parliamentary deputies. For the first time, international observers will be on hand to monitor the poll. LF

UZBEKISTAN WANTS FOREIGN INVOLVEMENT IN PRIVATIZATION

President Islam Karimov has described foreign participation in the ongoing privatization process as "vital" at the current stage of the reform process, Interfax reported on 19 May. Revenues from privatization in the first quarter of 1999 were some 20 percent down on the same period last year. Karimov said that the world financial crisis should not negatively affect either privatization or the process of attracting foreign investment. It is unclear whether he addressed the deterrent effect on potential investors of restrictions on the convertibility of the national currency. LF




NO WINNER IN BELARUS'S SHADOW PRESIDENTIAL POLLS...

The Central Electoral Commission on 19 May announced the final results of the Belarusian opposition presidential elections, which took place from 6-16 May. Viktar Hanchar, head of the commission, said slightly more than 4 million voters, or 53 percent of the total electorate, cast ballots. That figure was sufficient for the vote to be declared valid. However, the commission ruled that the results of balloting were invalid because of "irregularities" during the vote, citing the "hostility" of the authorities, the absence of conditions for free election campaigning, and the "violation of the election law" by presidential candidate Zyanon Paznyak. Paznyak had withdrawn from the elections, claiming that the commission had falsified turnout figures. The commission announced it will organize another presidential poll within three months. JM

...WHILE 'UNOFFICIAL DATA' SHOW PAZNYAK CAME FIRST

The Central Electoral Commission did not disclose the number of votes cast for Paznyak or Mikhail Chyhir in the opposition presidential elections. A correspondent for RFE/RL's Belarusian Service was told by a member of Paznyak's electoral staff that, according to "unofficial data," Paznyak won the poll with 2.37 million votes, while Chyhir gained 1.62 million votes. Meanwhile, Lyavon Barshcheuski, acting chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), said the BNF will address the Supreme Soviet with a request to assess the activities of the Central Electoral Commission. "While in the initial stages [of the election campaign] we had only a few allegations, the final stage has produced a scandal. It discredits all democrats in Belarus," Barshcheuski said. JM

LUKASHENKA DECREES PRICE REGULATION

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka on 19 May signed a decree on regulating prices and service charges, Belarusian Television reported. The decree bans any increase in the prices of specified goods and services without "adequate" social security measures. It provides for the government and the National Bank to set ceilings each year on increases in the price of Belarus- manufactured goods. And it establishes penalties for violations of its provisions. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS PUNISHING CABINET

The Supreme Council on 19 May announced it will hold a special debate on punishing the government for its failure to collect sufficient revenues. The decision was made a day after the government told the legislature that unpaid pensions and wages to state employees rose by 10 percent in January-March to 3.6 billion hryvni ($916 million). In more bad economic news, the State Statistics Committee reported the same day that foreign investments in Ukraine plunged 52 percent in January-March, compared with the preceding three months. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT PLANS SMALL BUDGET SURPLUS IN 2000

Estonian Finance Minister Siim Kallas told an IMF delegation in Tallinn on 19 May that Estonia plans to have a state budget with a surplus equivalent to 0.5 percent of GDP next year, ETA reported. John Odling-Smee, head of the delegation, welcomed the cabinet's "conservative approach" to the 2000 budget, as well as the "austerity measures" contained in this year's negative supplementary budget. At the same time, he warned that the report on the Estonian economy shortly to be submitted to the fund's board of directors will be more critical than in previous years. The IMF recently argued that Estonia's 1999 budget should be cut by 2.3 billion kroons ($156.5 million), rather that the 1 billion kroons reduction foreseen by the negative supplementary budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 1999). JC

LATVIA'S NEW PARTY TO REMAIN IN COALITION

The board of the New Party has voted to remain in the ruling coalition, following the dismissal last week of its economics minister, Ainars Slesers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 May 1999), LETA reported on 19 May. The party had threatened to respond to Slesers's dismissal by withdrawing its cabinet ministers. Also on 19 May, the board nominated parliamentary deputy Ingrida Udre as the next economy minister. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans praised both decisions as a "logical step." JC

CREATION OF POLISH OIL GIANT SPARKS PROTEST

The Petrochemia Plock refinery and the CPN gasoline distribution concern have merged to form the Polish Oil Concern (PKN), Polish Television reported on 19 May. Several dozen CPN employees protested the same day against the planned restructuring and workforce reductions. They demand two-year employment guarantees and high severance payments, saying that some 3,000 people, or 50 percent of the CPN workforce, will lose their jobs in the restructuring. The PKN board chairman said the concern will not give preferential treatment to CPN employees at the cost of its other component, Petrochemia Plock. JM

ATTEMPT TO LUSTRATE POLISH PREMIER CONTINUES

Tomasz Karwowski, a parliamentary deputy from the right-wing Confederation for an Independent Poland-Homeland (KPN-O), lodged an appeal on 19 May against the decision of the lustration prosecutor not to launch lustration proceedings against Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 12 May). Buzek's spokesman Krzysztof Luft called Karwowski's action a "kind of madness." Andrzej Potocki-- spokesman of the Freedom Union, a member of the ruling coalition --said that by accusing the premier of collaboration with communist-era secret services, the KPN-O is seeking "to destabilize Poland [and] to overthrow the government." JM

HAVEL HAS CHEST INFECTION

Czech President Vaclav Havel has fallen ill with a viral chest infection, Czech media reported on 19 May. Havel's doctor, Ilja Kotik, said the president's temperature rose to 37.7 degrees Celsius on 18 May but receded the next day. Kotik said the president's schedule for this week has been canceled and that he will be treated at home. Last year, Havel underwent an urgent colostomy operation. Later, he contracted a life-threatening bout of pneumonia, when doctors operated again to remove the colostomy bag. In 1996, doctors operated to remove a malignant tumor from his lungs. VG

CZECH COURT SENTENCES TWO COMMUNIST POLICE OFFICERS

A regional Czech court on 20 May sentenced two former communist police officers, Michal Danisovic and Bedrich Houbal, to three-and-a-half and three years in prison, respectively, for abuse of power in connection with a police crackdown against demonstrators in central Prague on 17 November 1989, CTK reported. In other news, the Czech Republic signed a military cooperation agreement with Georgia as well as an agreement to sell 120 T-54 and T-55 tanks to that country. Visiting Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze dismissed speculation that the tanks were destined for use by the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, CTK reported on 18 May. VG

FORMER SECRET AGENT DENIES IMPLICATING MECIAR IN CRIME

Former Slovak Intelligence Service deputy director Jaroslav Svechota on 19 May said he has never suggested that former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar was implicated in the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son, CTK reported. On 17 May, chief police investigator Jaroslav Ivor said that Svechota, who is currently being detained in connection with the abduction, had sent a letter to Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda requesting a pardon and mentioning Meciar in connection with the abduction (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 18 May 1999). Svechota said he had spoken about the former prime minister only "in connection with privatization." According to Ivor, Svechota has come under pressure from unnamed sources to retract his confession in connection with the Kovac case. At one point, Ivor said Svechota received a warning in the form of a razor blade placed in a book as a bookmark. VG

SCANDAL OVER FIDESZ LOBBY FOR NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR

A letter signed by 31 parliamentary deputies and three political state secretaries from FIDESZ who are recommending that Stephen M. Jones be the next U.S. ambassador to Hungary has caused an uproar within the party, Hungarian media reported on 19 May. The letter was addressed to U.S. senators Jesse Helms and Joseph Biden of the Foreign Relations Committee but reportedly never reached its destination. Jones, a senior official at Lockheed Martin Corporation, had been lobbying in Budapest in connection with his firm's participation in a postponed Hungarian tender for fighter aircraft. FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Jozsef Szajer apologized to U.S. Ambassador Peter Tufo and said his party will launch an investigation into the matter. Political analysts say the letter amounts to an unprecedented intervention by Hungarian politicians in U.S. internal affairs. MSZ




HUNDREDS OF SERBIAN SOLDIERS DESERT IN KOSOVA

At least 800 Yugoslav army troops left their units in Kosova on 19 May to return to their homes in Krusevac and elsewhere in central Serbia. For several days, their families had been protesting to demand their return, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1999). Some of the deserters handed in their uniforms and weapons before leaving their posts. Other soldiers took their arms and equipment with them, some of whom "used their weapons" to enable fellow deserters to pass the roadblocks of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's paramilitary police. Army spokesmen in Belgrade said the men going home were mainly reservists and that their withdrawal had been scheduled. The BBC reported that the number of deserters was as high as 2,000 and that some soldiers left after bitter arguments with their commanders. In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the desertions are particularly significant because they involved "entire units." PM

U.S. SHOWS EVIDENCE OF MASSACRE

State Department officials showed a video in Washington on 19 May that they said proved the accuracy of earlier reports and surveillance photographs to show that Serbian forces massacred a group of elderly Kosovars at Izbica in mid-April. Rubin added that there are eyewitnesses to the atrocity. He did not elaborate. PM

CACAK CITIZENS CALL ON BELGRADE TO PROTECT KOSOVARS

Members of Cacak's unofficial "citizens' parliament" condemned what they called the dictatorship of the governing Socialist Party of Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 19 May. The parliament also called on the Serbian authorities to "protect [ethnic] Albanian families and their civil rights, and to enable them to return" to Kosova. Observers note that this is one of the first calls by the Serbian opposition for the protection and return of the ethnic Albanians. PM

MONTENEGRO SAYS YUGOSLAV ARMY 'HIJACKING' AID TRUCKS

Zorica Maric, who is Montenegro's diplomatic representative to the U.S., said in Washington on 19 May that Yugoslav troops have recently begun diverting to the Kumbor army barracks humanitarian aid trucks arriving from Croatia. She added that "the confiscation of humanitarian aid is already jeopardizing the humanitarian situation in the refugee camps," AP reported. In Podgorica, Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said the government will try to "convince [the military] to leave the border area. If they don't, we will find another way of dealing with [the problem]. People are getting very impatient with all this," Reuters quoted him as saying. "The army wants to suffocate us," he added. PM

GEORGIEVSKI PLEDGES OPEN BORDER

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Skopje on 19 May that Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has promised him that he will keep Macedonia's border open for Kosovar refugees, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Georgievski added that Macedonia's government is currently able to cope with another 30,000 refugees. Elsewhere, Georgievski announced the appointment of new economics, agriculture, and health ministers. A member of the Liberal Democratic Party joined the government as a minister without portfolio, bringing the number of parties in the governing coalition to four. Also in Skopje, a bomb exploded outside a mosque in the central part of the mainly ethnic Albanian part of town. Two people were seriously injured. Police are investigating. PM

ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS KOSOVAR RIVALS TO TIRANA

Paskal Milo in Tirana on 19 May called on "all political groups in Kosova to send their representatives to a meeting in Tirana in the next few days." He urged them to "reaffirm once again their commitment to work together and to talk with one voice, on the basis of the agreement that they reached in Paris after the Rambouillet talks," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. The rival groups had agreed in France in March to create a joint provisional government. Meanwhile, in an apparently conciliatory gesture, Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) spokesman Jakup Krasniqi said that he welcomes Tirana's role as a mediator between the rival Kosovar factions. The previous day in Tirana, British Prime Minister Tony Blair had urged UCK representatives and the nationalist scholar and writer Rexhep Qosja to reach an understanding with Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova. FS

ALBANIA REINFORCES TROOPS AROUND KUKES

The Albanian army moved additional troops, tanks, and other military equipment into the Kukes area on 19 May, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, U.S. A-10 "tankbuster" planes continued to attack military positions on the Yugoslav side of the border. Elsewhere, no additional refugees crossed the main border checkpoint at Morina. FS

ITALIAN COAST GUARD RESCUES 30 KOSOVAR REFUGEES

An Italian coast-guard vessel rescued 30 Kosovar refugees from Albanian's Karaburuni Peninsula on 19 May, Reuters reported. Instead of bringing the refugees to Italy as promised, smugglers from Vlora dumped them on the Karaburuni Peninsula after a short trip across the bay of Vlora and wished them good luck. The refugees said they paid about $2,500 each for the journey. FS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT FACES POTENTIAL STRIKE

Prime Minister Radu Vasile warned that a threatened general strike would destabilize the country, Reuters reported on 19 May. Vasile's comments came after inconclusive talks between his government and union leaders. The unions are expected to decide on 20 May whether to go ahead with a general strike on 24 May. Vasile also said labor unrest would crush Romania's bid to take part in the planned Balkan reconstruction plan after the Kosova conflict. The Vasile cabinet is facing a confidence vote in the parliament on 20 May in connection with a package of economic reform laws (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 1999). VG

NEW BILINGUAL RADIO STATION TO GO ON AIR IN TRANSYLVANIA

Gyorgy Frunda, a senator for the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), announced that a 24-hour Hungarian- and Romanian-language radio station will be launched in Targu Mures on 1 September, the BBC reported on 19 May, citing Hungarian Duna TV. VG

MOLDOVAN DEPUTIES WANT STRONGER GOVERNMENT

A group of 39 parliamentary deputies from Moldova's governing Alliance for Democracy and Reforms has submitted to the Constitutional Court a package of constitutional amendments on expanding the government's powers, Infotag and BASA-Press reported on 19 May. According to Moldovan law, all amendments to the constitution must be examined by the court before the legislature can deal with them. One of the deputies said the amendments would give the government the power to "pass decisions of a legislative character," provided the parliament did not reject them within "two to three days of their adoption." Deputy parliamentary speaker Iurie Rosca said the proposed amendments are part of President Petru Lucinschi's attempt to "reduce the role of the parliament to that of a decorative body under governmental subordination," BASA-Press reported. A non-binding referendum on expanding the president's powers is scheduled for 23 May. VG

OSCE PRAISES BULGARIAN ROMA INTEGRATION MODEL

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Veselin Metodiev said the OSCE is planning to apply the Bulgarian model for integrating Romani communities and organizations to other countries, according to an 18 May BTA report cited by the BBC. Metodiev's comments came after he met with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel in Sofia. BTA also cited a government official as saying that the EU's PHARE program has approved funding for projects connected to Bulgaria's Romani minority. In other news, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova met with her Austrian counterpart, Wolfgang Schuessel, in Vienna on 19 May, BTA reported. Schuessel said "almost no other country" in the region has suffered as many losses owing to the Kosova conflict as has Bulgaria. VG




RUGOVA SPEAKS OUT TOO LATE


by Fabian Schmidt

Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova has finally outlined his political strategy some two weeks after arriving in Rome from Kosova, where he spent more than one month under Serbian house arrest. He told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 17 May that he does not recognize the provisional government of Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci, thereby clearly defining his position in the ongoing power struggle over the future of Kosova. His statement, even if addressed more to a Western readership than to the Kosovars, was certainly overdue.

Rugova failed to take advantage of the extensive international media coverage he received immediately after he arrived in Rome. He refrained from stating clearly his position on key issues and explaining what had happened to him while he was under house arrest. Then he lost more valuable time by travelling to Paris, Brussels, Bonn, and London, where he met with numerous Western leaders. Albanian and Kosovar politicians both in Tirana and elsewhere were left guessing about his political views and plans.

By mid-May, the UCK had become a strong political force. It quickly filled the vacuum created by the collapse of Rugova's shadow state in the course of the Serbian ethnic- cleansing campaign. Thaci's government draws its legitimacy primarily from an agreement on forming a provisional government that the Kosovar delegates to the Rambouillet peace talks concluded in March. Thaci, who headed the Kosovar delegation in France, went on to claim the post of prime minister for himself and assigned several ministerial positions to the various Kosovar parties represented in Rambouillet. The key ministerial positions went to the UCK, while Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) received less important ones.

This was apparently one of the main reasons why an LDK delegation, led by shadow-state Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi, declined to join the Thaci government when visiting Tirana on 2 May. Another reason was reportedly that Bukoshi still has large funds from Diaspora donations and does not want to simply hand over the money to Thaci. Instead, Bukoshi suggested forming a new government, which he invited the UCK to join. On 3 May, UCK spokesman Jakup Krasniqi dismissed Bukoshi's proposal as "unacceptable," making clear that "there is already a government of Kosova led by Hashim Thaci."

Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, who had invited the rivals to meet in Tirana, urged them--in vain--to unite. Foreign Minister Paskal Milo stressed that "there is no time to lose as to who will be prime minister and who will be ministers." He added that "it is important to set up a government representing all Albanians in Kosova." Each side, nonetheless, insisted that its rivals join its own government first, and each remained unwilling to compromise.

Two days after the Albanian government's mediation effort ended, Rugova arrived in Rome with his family. He had a golden opportunity to promote unity among the Kosovars and thereby influence the Albanian government to take positions close to his own. But by focusing on meetings with Western leaders rather than spending time with his own people, he left the political initiative to Thaci. On 12 May, the Albanian parliament's Socialist majority voted to recognize the Thaci government. That same day, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer announced that Rugova had decided to stay in Germany.

By that time, Rugova had not yet explained to the Kosovar public what had happened to him in Serbian captivity and whether he signed a document with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic under duress or voluntarily. That document called for autonomy within Serbia and for direct Serbian-Kosovar negotiations, with foreigners present only "as guests." Instead, Rugova said he preferred not to talk about his meetings with Milutinovic.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on 14 May urged Rugova to declare his support for the Thaci government. Milo stressed that the Albanian government does "not support one side [of the Kosovar political spectrum] against the other" but rather seeks to promote Kosovar unity. Milo also called on Rugova to visit Tirana, saying that "if [Rugova] says he is the [president] of the [Kosovar] Albanians..., then first of all he needs to come and see Albanians. [It is] unacceptable, unthinkable that he would not come to Albania, where there are 440,000 people from Kosova. He must come here to encourage them, to support them."

Rugova finally clarified his position in an interview with the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 17 May. "Whatever I signed in Belgrade is meaningless," he said, adding that he put his signature to the document to protect his family. Rugova also said that he will travel to Macedonia and to Albania and visit refugee camps there. Furthermore, he sounded a conciliatory note by saying that "it is tragicomical that we have two provisional governments at the same time." Rugova added that he will invite Kosovar political leaders from all political groups to Bonn to discuss forming a new provisional government.

It remains to be seen how the UCK will respond to that suggestion. Indeed, Rugova risks losing the little sympathy he may have left among the UCK. In an interview with the Hamburg weekly "Die Woche" of 19 May, he called on the West not to arm the UCK and to negotiate with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Rugova seems to be working on the assumption that his most important asset is his good personal and political links to Western politicians. But he must be careful not to lose contact with his electorate in the refugee camps and with fighters in the field if he wants to maintain his position. Sooner or later the Kosovars will hold an election, and foreigners will not be the ones voting.


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