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Newsline - May 27, 1999




CHERNOMYRDIN REPORTEDLY PROPOSES PARTITION OF KOSOVA...

"Izvestiya" on 27 May quoted unspecified diplomatic sources as saying that Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin's peace plan provides for a de facto division of Kosova. The newspaper also referred to a report in the previous day's "Guardian" quoting unidentified military analysts close to the British government as saying that Russia favors a de facto partition of Kosova, as evidenced by its suggestion to deploy a Russian peace-keeping contingent in northern and western Kosova and a NATO contingent in the central and southern part. The alleged proposal envisages that Peja, Mitrovica, and Podujeva de facto remain under Serbian administration and Prishtina is divided into western and eastern sectors. FS

...WHILE IVANOV DENIES PARTITION PLANS

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 26 May denied that Russia is pursuing plans for the division of Kosova, "Izvestiya" reported. The daily, however, pointed out that "until the conclusion of the negotiations, Ivanov will and must not show all his cards, [nor will he inform] the public about every step and allow the journalists into the diplomatic kitchen." Meanwhile in Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Gazeau-Secret stressed that "France and NATO totally rule out partition." FS

CHERNOMYRDIN MISSION CONTINUES, DESPITE MILOSEVIC INDICTMENT

Chernomyrdin and Ivanov continued negotiations with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari in Moscow on 26 and 27 May. Russian diplomats in Moscow said that Chernomyrdin will visit Belgrade after the talks, despite the impending indictment by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (see Part II). They added that Russia regards the indictment as an attempt to "torpedo the peace process," ITAR-TASS reported. For the first time, the talks involved both Russian and U.S. military officials, including Russia's military representative to NATO, Lieutenant-General Viktor Zavarzin, AP reported. Talks focused on the composition of a possible peace-keeping force. Ivanov also paid a short visit to Stockholm on 26 May, where he told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Russia is opposed to NATO's air campaign and demands that any international peace-keeping force be under UN command. FS

STEPASHIN, AHTISAARI DISCUSS BOOSTING TIES

Taking time out from the talks in Moscow on the Yugoslav crisis, Finnish President Ahtisaari met with Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin, to discuss boosting bilateral economic ties, Interfax reported on 26 May, citing the Russian government's Information Department. The two leaders also debated the possibility of "deepening cooperation between Russia, Finland, and the EU" within the context of the union's "Northern Dimension," a Finnish initiative that focuses on economic cooperation throughout Northern Europe, including Russia's Northwest. Finland takes over the rotating EU presidency in July. JC

WHO'S MINDING THE FINANCE MINISTRY?

As of late morning on the 27 May, Russian and Western media were carrying conflicting reports on the leadership of the Finance Ministry. NTV reported that acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov has been reappointed to his post and will now be both first deputy prime minister and finance minister. (Earlier in the week, the television had broken a story, which was later proved false, that State Duma Budget Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov had been appointed to the cabinet.) On 26 May, a various news outlets reported that First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov would be promoted to head the ministry. Kasyanov has refused to comment on any of the reports about his fate. A Finance Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters that she expects an announcement later on 27 May, adding that at present she does not know who is heading the ministry. JAC

A NEW OLIGARCH EMERGES?

In an unusual article, the 27 May "Kommersant-Daily" depicts Russian President Boris Yeltsin as a weak, isolated, almost marionette-like figure manipulated by those around him. It adds that since he was "banished" to Sochi, he has been cut off from all information not provided by his family. The newspaper goes on to allege that the real powers pulling Yeltsin's strings and practically determining cabinet assignments are Sibneft head Roman Abramovich and business magnate Boris Berezovskii, with Abramovich in the lead position, not Berezovskii. The article concludes that "who the real figure is leading the government--Yeltsin or Abramovich--will become clear today." JAC

TOUGH TIMES PREDICTED FOR IMF BILLS IN BOTH LEGISLATIVE CHAMBERS

Duma deputy and former Our Home Is Russia faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin said on 26 May that the package of legislation prepared by Yevgenii Primakov's government in accordance with its agreement with the IMF faces a "very, very difficult future" in the lower chamber, Interfax reported. He predicted that the "Communists and their supporters may agree with excise taxes only on top-quality fuel and expensive vodka brands so as not to lose their potential voters." He added that it is unlikely that the majority of deputies will support delaying the implementation of a reduction in value-added tax from 20 percent to 15 percent as the fund has requested. Two days earlier, Federation Council member and Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov predicted the bills could also face a difficult passage in the upper chamber from members there "who are sympathetic to the Communists in the Duma," Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

RUSSIA'S CREDITORS READY TO ACCEPT INEVITABLE?

Russia asked its foreign creditors to defer for at least six months an interest payment coming due on its debt inherited from the Soviet Union, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 26 May. Russia is supposed to pay $216 million in interest on 2 June. Kasyanov, who was in London for talks with the London Club of creditors, said that the next round of talks will be held in late June or early July, Interfax reported. Unidentified senior banking sources told Reuters the same day that some creditors are now prepared to accept that Russia can no longer service its $26 billion Soviet-era debt and is forming an economic sub-committee to make projections on what kind of payments it can realistically make over the next three to five years. JAC

REGIONAL LEADERS PIN TENTATIVE HOPES ON NEWLY FORMED CABINET

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev commented on 26 May that the cabinet's smooth functioning may have been hampered by the appointment of an additional first deputy prime minister since the existence of two such posts inevitably complicates decision-making, regardless of the personalities involved, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov expressed the hope that now vacancies have been filled the government might--finally--devote its full attention to economic questions. Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel said that the new cabinet will be "better" for the country's regions, adding that Prime Minister Stepashin accepted and approved practically all proposals by the Urals Economic Association connected with the strengthening of the ruble and the legalization of flight capital. Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev predicted that Zadornov would not allow any lobbying groups to filch money from the federal budget. JAC

UDMURTIA TO PUSH FOR MORE AUTONOMY

Aleksandr Volkov, chairman of Udmurtia's legislative assembly, said that republican officials have Russian President Yeltsin's "preliminary" support for a revision of the existing power- sharing treaty between the republic and the federal center, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 May. The public relations department of the assembly told the daily that the specific areas Volkov wants addressed are inter-budgetary relations, property issues, procedures for the appointment of federal officials in Udmurtia, and the adoption of republican laws in the sphere neglected by federal legislation. JAC

TATARSTAN AMENDS ELECTION LAWS

Tatarstan's State Council has passed in the first reading amendments to the republic's constitution and election laws to provide for elections to the Russian State Duma and to Tatarstan's parliament and local councils to be held simultaneously in December, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 May. The mandate of the present parliament does not expire until April 2000. Several dozen members of the Communist Party and Liberal Democratic Party picketed the parliament building to protest holding elections to the Duma and to the republican parliament simultaneously. They argued that two separate polls would give candidates who did not win election to the Duma a chance to run in the republican elections. Tatarstan's President Shaimiev said the decision to hold national and republican polls simultaneously was based on economic considerations and would entail less "stress" for the electorate. LF

CENSUS-TAKERS ASK FOR EXTENSION

The State Statistics Committee has asked Prime Minister Stepashin to postpone the national census from the fall of 2001 to September-October 2002, Interfax reported on 26 May. Goskomstat officials consider the delay necessary because they have not been able to finalize their cost estimates for conducting the census. Preliminary estimates suggest that 2.504 billion ($102 million) will be required from the federal budget and 811 million rubles from local budgets. Committee officials would have to have their costs ensured by the middle of next month in order to guarantee the census would be carried out in the fall of 2001, according to the news agency. JAC

AIRLINE PASSENGERS TAKE FLIGHT SCHEDULING INTO THEIR OWN HANDS

After the announcement of the cancellation of a Vladivostok-Krasnoyarsk-Moscow flight on 26 May, some 130 angry passengers blocked the airline counter at which passengers register, causing other flights to be delayed, Interfax-Eurasia reported. AFP explained that the passengers had been waiting for six days to fly to Krasnoyarsk, but the airport had refused to fuel the Krasnoyarsk Airlines' flight reportedly because of the airlines' enormous debts. In March, when another Krasnoyarsk airplane flight was cancelled, a band of angry passengers forced the airport to allow them to leave by trying to demonstrate on the tarmac. Meanwhile, British Airways announced that it will start servicing Yekaterinburg but only once the local economy picks up, "The Moscow Times" reported on 25 May. An airline industry analyst told the daily that the few Western carriers servicing Russian cities other than Moscow and St. Petersburg are doing so at zero profits but are trying to stake a claim to future markets. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST ELECTION FRAUD

Robert Kocharian told law and justice officials on 26 May that he will hold them responsible for the conduct of the 30 May parliamentary elections, adding that anyone attempting to falsify the outcome of the poll will be severely punished, Noyan Tapan and Reuters reported. Assessing the election campaign to date, Kocharian said that conditions exist for an "exemplary" poll. International observers criticized the 1995 parliamentary elections and the presidential polls of 1996 and 1998 as not conforming to international standards. Some opposition politicians have charged that the registration of parliamentary candidates and the compilation of voter registers were marred by irregularities (see also "End Note" below). LF

NATO DELEGATION VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Prime Minister Artur Rasimzade and Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov met with representatives of NATO's consulting group on Euro-Atlantic policy in Baku on 26 May, Interfax and Turan reported. ITAR- TASS quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov as saying after the talks that Azerbaijan should develop direct relations with NATO, as Ukraine is doing. He noted that Azerbaijan's concept of relations with the alliance defines those relations as "an integration partnership," which, Azimov said, is the preliminary step to NATO membership. He added that Azerbaijan wants to cooperate with NATO in guarding the oil export pipeline from Azerbaijan via Georgia and in preventing illegal arms trafficking in the Caucasus, according to Reuters. LF

GEORGIAN POLICE DISPERSE OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION

Police prevented some 250 supporters of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia from staging an anti-government demonstration in Tbilisi on 26 May, the anniversary of Georgia's 1918 declaration of independence, AP reported. Six people were temporarily detained, including Gamsakhurdia's widow, Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia. LF

GEORGIA ACCUSES ABKHAZ OF POLICE BUILDUP

Representatives of the ethnic Georgian Abkhaz Security Ministry in exile told Caucasus Press on 27 May that an additional Abkhaz 150 Interior Ministry troops have been sent to three locations in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. Abkhaz officials say the deployment was in response to reports that Georgian guerrillas are planning acts of terrorism in the region. Meanwhile on 25 May, Abkhaz armed forces began three days of maneuvers in Ochamchira, which borders on Gali to the north. LF

OTHER CIS STATES IMPLICATED IN ABORTIVE GEORGIAN COUP?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 May quotes Georgian Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze as claiming that in addition to Russia, two other CIS states were involved to some degree in the plot to assassinate President Eduard Shevardnadze. The newspaper did not name those countries. Meanwhile a total of 17 people are being held in detention for questioning in connection with the plot. Formal charges have been brought against 10 of them. Another three people who were detained for questioning were released on 26 May, Caucasus Press reported the following day. LF

U.S. ENVOY MEETS WITH KAZAKH LEADERSHIP

Stephen Sestanovich, who is adviser for the Newly Independent States to the U.S. Secretary of State, met in Astana on 26 May with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, and Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev, RFE/RL bureau in the capital reported. Sestanovich said after the talks that Nazarbaev is committed to improving the new election law, noting that amendments would "be a major step forward" to ensuring that the parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall will be free and democratic elections. He said that the U.S. will give Kazakhstan more than $50 million in aid in 1999, which is the "biggest aid program" Washington has ever implemented in a Central Asian country. Sestanovich also said that an agreement has been signed whereby the U.S. will provide technical assistance to the Kazakh border guards. LF

KAZAKHSTAN NOT TO WITHDRAW FROM CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY

Speaking on national television on 25 May, Defense Minister Altynbaev said that the 1992 CIS Treaty on Collective Security "is necessary" and that both Kazakhstan and Russia agree that "not one government in the CIS can solve its defense problems on its own," Reuters reported. Altynbaev said he believes that if the treaty were amended, those countries that have suspended their participation (Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan) would decide to prolong it. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TAKES U.S. JOINT VENTURE TO COURT

A regional prosecutor in Kazakhstan's Atyrau Oblast has opened legal proceedings against the TengizChevroil joint venture on behalf of the local ecological administration, AP reported on 26 May. The prosecutor is demanding the closure of seven oil wells from which TengizChevroil is currently extracting 2,200 metric tons per day, instead of the agreed 600 tons. TengizChevroil denied ecologists' claims that exceeding the allowed quota has caused serious ecological damage. LF

KYRGYZSTAN TO RECEIVE MORE GAS FROM UZBEKISTAN

Deputy Prime Minister Esengul OmurAliyev told a parliamentary committee in Bishkek on 25 May that Kyrgyzstan will soon begin receiving increased gas supplies from Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. In addition, Uzbekistan will begin paying rent for a gas pipeline that transits Kyrgyz territory to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has cut gas deliveries to Kyrgyzstan several times in 1999. Kyrgyzstan owes Uzbekistan several million dollars for previous supplies. LF

UN REPRESENTATIVE CONCERNED AT TAJIK TENSIONS

Jan Kubis, who is the UN Secretary-General's special representative in Tajikistan, proposed that the Tajik government and opposition refrain from further mutual accusations, and that President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposiiton leader Said Abdullo Nuri meet to discuss the latter's demands on the country's leadership, AP-Blitz reported on 27 May. The United Tajik Opposition announced on 24 May that it will suspend participation in the work of the Commission for National Reconciliation until the Tajik authorities comply with its demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 May 1999). On 25 May, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov discussed the situation in Tajikistan with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, who insisted that both Tajik camps should comply meticulously with the 1997 peace agreement, of which both Moscow and Tehran are guarantors, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN SIGN ANTI-TERRORISM AGREEMENT

Meeting in Khojand on 26 May, the foreign ministers of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Talbak Nazarov and Abdulaziz Komilov, signed an inter-state agreement on cooperation to combat terrorism, political and religious extremism, and illegal drug- trafficking, AP-Blitz reported on 27 May. President Rakhmonov characterized the document as testifying to "a high level of trust" in bilateral relations. Those relations were severely strained by Tajik claims that the Uzbek authorities provided clandestine support for the leaders of the unsuccessful insurrection in northern Tajikistan last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1998). LF




BELARUSIAN PARTY OF COMMUNISTS DENIED REGISTRATION

The Justice Ministry has denied registration to the opposition Belarusian Party of Communists (PKB), one of the country's two communist parties that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet-era Communist Party of Belarus (KPB), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 26 May. The Justice Ministry explained its refusal to register the PKB by saying that the party cannot claim in its charter to be a successor to the KPB. According to PKB Chairman Syarhey Kalyakin, the Justice Ministry's move is "absurd." Kalyakin said the other communist organization, the pro-government Party of Communists of Belarus, is composed of "impostors." Under a presidential decree, all parties and public associations in Belarus must re-register by 1 July (see also "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," Vol. 1, No. 1, 25 May 1999). JM

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER FACES BAN

The State Press Committee has issued its second warning to the newspaper "Naviny" within one year, which gives grounds for the authorities to close the newspaper. The committee accused "Naviny" of "stirring social enmity" in an article on Belarusian policemen published two weeks earlier. The first warning was issued in February after "Naviny" had reported on the opposition presidential elections. "Naviny" deputy chief editor Mikalay Khalezin told RFE/RL that the newspaper will challenge the warning in court. But anticipating a worst-case scenario, it has already registered another newspaper under the title of "Nasa svaboda" in order to continue publication after "Naviny" is closed. The independent newspaper "Svaboda" made a similar move in 1997 when it was banned and resumed publication under the current name of "Naviny." JM

UKRAINE DENIES SHIPPING OIL TO YUGOSLAVIA

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on 26 May denied U.S. allegations that Ukraine is delivering oil to Yugoslavia in violation of the oil embargo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). "Ukraine does not provide oil deliveries to Yugoslavia, does not offer its vessels for such deliveries, and does not possess any information concerning oil transit through Ukrainian ports to Yugoslavia by a third party," dpa quoted the ministry's statement as saying. JM

KUCHMA SIGNS DECREE ON LOCAL TAXES

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree on local taxes, which will take effect on 1 January 2000, UNIAN reported on 26 May. The decree establishes mandatory taxes on advertising and foreign tourism as well a hotel tax for those staying in hotels and camping areas. The decree also legalizes the collection of fees for operating trade outlets and service facilities. Under the decree, towns may impose parking fees, charge for holding auctions, sales, and lotteries, and collect payment for crossing the territory of Crimea and border regions. JM

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES EU STRATEGY

The cabinet on 26 May approved its national program for integration into the EU. According to officials, the document considers every aspect concerned with the EU and not only priority areas, BNS reported. The plan will be presented to the 16 June meeting of the EU associate committee. MH

CONFIDENTIAL BUDGET TALKS VIOLATED LATVIAN LAW?

LETA suggests that the 26 May government session may have been in violation of the law. Finance Minister Ivars Godmanis reportedly requested that the discussion on possible budget cuts be labeled "confidential," alongside two sensitive foreign- policy topics: border negotiations with Lithuania and arms purchases from Sweden. LETA pointed out that the Law on Budgets prohibits discussions on the budget to be confidential. MH

LITHUANIAN PREMIER INVITED TO MOSCOW

Russian ambassador to Lithuania Konstantin Mozel on 26 May handed an invitation to Lithuanian Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas to visit Moscow. The invitation schedules a one-day visit on 29 June. Preliminary plans foresee a bilateral meeting with Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and the signing of several important bilateral agreements, according to BNS. MH

POLISH CABINET APPEASES MINERS, THROWS OUT ARMAMENT WORKERS

The government on 26 May ended a coal miners' protest by promising to spend an extra 400 million zlotys ($100 million) on severance payments to the 8,000 miners to be laid-off this year under a mining restructuring plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). Economics Minister Janusz Steinhof told the 27 May "Gazeta wyborcza" that the government will "most likely" have to take out a credit to cover the cost, since this year's budget has no provision for making severance payments to the redundant miners. The same day, the police used force to remove five workers from the Lucznik arms plant who were staging a sit-in at the Labor Ministry over restructuring plans. Those workers are demanding the payment of overdue wages, increased production orders from the Defense Ministry, and severance payments. JM

POLISH FARMERS THREATEN NEW BLOCKADES

Poland's farming unions are continuing negotiations with the Agricultural Ministry to obtain higher tariffs on grain and dairy imports from the EU, increased state purchases of domestic agricultural produce, and a freeze on loan repayments. The radical Self-Defense farming union has threatened road blockades throughout the country on 27 May to pressure the government. "Agricultural Minister Artur Balazs is willing and knows what to do, but his capabilities end before the door to the Finance Ministry," Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper commented, adding that the Finance Ministry "treats [us] with total contempt." Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz of the liberal Freedom Union is widely seen by farmers as the main culprit of Poland's agricultural woes. JM

CZECH CABINET SAYS 'NO' TO WALL

The Czech cabinet on 26 May announced it will order the head of the regional administration in Usti nad Labem to put a stop to the construction of a wall separating Roma from Czechs in the city of Usti nad Labem, Czech media reported. Local officials expressed dismay at the decision, saying the government is interfering in a municipal issue. City councilors in Usti nad Labem can legally overrule the regional administration chief. If they do so, the issue will have to be decided by national parliament. In other news, President Vaclav Havel's decision to pardon a woman who was found guilty of killing someone while driving when drunk has come under fire from the family of the victim, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 27 May. Havel's office said he pardoned the woman because she is a single mother of a 12-year-old girl. VG

SCHUSTER, MECIAR MAKE FINAL PRE-ELECTION APPEARANCES

The two candidates in the Slovak presidential elections, Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster and former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, made separate, final campaign appearances in the media on 26 May, three days before the second round of voting, Slovak media reported. Schuster, who is supported by the current governing coalition in Slovakia, said the country needs unity among its top political authorities. Meciar said that the political equilibrium in the country would improve if he were elected president. He also referred to the fact that Schuster had been a high-ranking Communist Party official until 1990, whereas he, Meciar, had been expelled from the party after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. VG

NATO AIR TANKER MAKES FORCED LANDING IN HUNGARY

A NATO air tanker on 26 May was forced to release 50,000 liters of kerosene in mid-air in eastern Hungary before turning back to make a forced landing at Budapest airport. The office of the U.S. Air Force said this was the first malfunctioning in Hungarian air space of a refueling tanker taking part in NATO operations against Yugoslavia. The tanker unit stationed in Budapest has supplied more than 550 NATO planes since early May. In other news, U.S. Ambassador Peter Tufo said on 26 May that any attack by the Serbian army on the ethnic Hungarian minority in Vojvodina would draw a rapid response from NATO, Hungarian media reported. MSZ




HAGUE COURT TO INDICT MILOSEVIC

Louise Arbour, who is the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, will announce later on 27 May that the court has indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes in Kosova and has already issued an international arrest warrant for him, international media reported. He will be the first serving head of state of any country to be indicted by an international court for war crimes. In Washington, State Department and White House officials declined to comment on the report but stressed that it is U.S. policy to cooperate with the court. Arbour said in April that the court needs "the sophisticated kind of assistance that only states can provide" if it is to indict top-ranking Balkan leaders for war crimes. In recent weeks, U.S., U.K., and German officials offered to increase their cooperation with the tribunal. PM

WHAT FUTURE FOR PEACE TALKS?

It remains unclear what effect the reported indictment of Milosevic will have on the plans of Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin to travel to Belgrade on 27 May, Reuters reported (see related story in Part I). Unnamed diplomats in Brussels suggested to AFP that at least some Western governments may have encouraged the court to indict the Yugoslav president as a pressure tactic to intimidate him and encourage his closest associates to break with him. Other diplomats argued that the indictment will pose difficulties for Russian and Western officials who seek a negotiated settlement for Kosova with Milosevic. Observers noted, however, that indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic were present at some of the talks that U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and his staff held in Belgrade in conjunction with the 1995 Bosnian peace settlement. PM

GERMANY WELCOMES INDICTMENT...

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Wolfgang Ischinger said in Bonn on 27 May that the German government "can only welcome this action," Reuters reported. "This is the only way that we can convince the Serbian people that they should not feel tied to the Milosevic line for the future," he added. Ischinger was speaking to representatives of some 30 countries who came to discuss a long-term "stability pact" for the Balkans. PM

...BUT SERBIA DISMISSES IT

Branko Brankovic, who is Belgrade's representative to the UN in Geneva, said on 27 May that the indictment by "a non-existing court" is a ploy by NATO to sabotage peace efforts. Other Serbian diplomats told the BBC that the indictment is further "proof" that the Hague-based tribunal is a political instrument to "demonize Serbs." PM

FRESH FIGHTING ALONG ALBANIAN BORDER

Serbian forces shelled the village of Vlahen in the Has Mountains on 26 May, killing two people and damaging several buildings, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. Villagers said that at least 15 artillery shells hit the village. Serbian troops also used heavy artillery to fire on the village of Padesh near Tropoja. Nearby, Serbian troops entered Albanian territory at Kamenica. Albanian troops exchanged fire with the intruders, who later withdrew. RFE/RL's correspondent also reported heavy fighting at the Morina border crossing. Officials of the Public Order Ministry said that Serbian troops fired artillery shells from a distance of eight to 10 kilometers into the Albanian villages of Kishaj, Pogaj, and Cahani. NATO planes later pounded Serbian positions in the White Drin valley, Reuters reported. At the border crossings, the influx of refugees has been reduced to a trickle. FS

VEDRINE MEETS THACI BEFORE RUGOVA

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine met with Hashim Thaci, who is the prime minister of the provisional government of Kosova and a leader of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), in Paris on 27 May. The meeting took place hours before Vedrine's scheduled talks with Ibrahim Rugova, who is Thaci's rival, Reuters reported. A spokeswoman for Vedrine said that "it's important to review the situation with all parties." She added that Vedrine is meeting the two because they are signatories to the Rambouillet accords. In Skopje on 26 May, Abdurrahman Aliti, who is the leader of the moderate Party of Democratic Prosperity, told an RFE/RL correspondent that Rugova agreed with him "that it is necessary to promote cooperation among all political and military forces of Kosova." He added that after visiting Paris, Rugova will visit Tirana. FS

INTERNATIONAL DONORS PROMISE $200 MILLION FOR ALBANIA

A meeting of international aid donors in Brussels on 26 May promised $200 million in economic assistance to Albania to help it cope with the flood of Kosovar refugees and to continue economic reform. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told dpa that he is happy with the aid pledges and said that Albania will continue to welcome refugees fleeing Serbian ethnic cleansing. EU officials urged Majko to honor his government's commitment to economic reform. Majko said that maintaining stability is his government's "top priority." FS

SERBIAN TELEVISION LOSES SATELLITE LINK

Eutelsat stopped broadcasting the programs of Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) throughout Europe in the evening of 26 May. Members of the Eutelsat consortium voted recently to stop broadcasting RTS' programming on the grounds that the station foments ethnic hatred. RTS broadcast a commentary on its local Belgrade frequencies on 26 May saying that Eutelsat's move is "another attempt to prevent the dissemination of truth on developments" in the Balkans. PM

SERBIAN ARMY ISSUES WARRANT FOR CACAK MAYOR

The military authorities in Belgrade issued an arrest warrant for Velimir Ilic, who is mayor of Cacak, for "hampering the military in carrying out their duties" and for "treason," the state-run daily "Politika" reported on 26 May. The text added that his main offense was to tell RFE/RL recently that the military had placed tanks and other equipment near civilian buildings in Cacak, which led to civilian deaths (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1999). In Krusevac, police took RFE/RL correspondent Ljubisa Popovic to a police station on 26 May and told him that he will be detained for three days, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. And in Belgrade, a military court began the trial of two Australian aid workers on charges of spying. The court turned down a request by their government that Australian officials be present. In Canberra, Prime Minister John Howard said he hopes the two will receive a "fair trial." PM

NATO TO STATION KFOR TROOPS OUTSIDE MACEDONIA?

Jamie Shea, who is a spokesman for the Atlantic alliance, said on 27 May in Brussels that NATO will discuss with the Macedonian authorities how many more of its KFOR peacekeeping troops Macedonia is willing to accept (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). He added that he has "no doubt that the [other] countries in the region will continue to show the cooperation that they have thus far" if Macedonia cannot accept additional troops. Observers note that the governments of several countries in the region hope to acquire membership in NATO as a result of their cooperation with NATO's campaign against Serbia. PM

SCREWS TIGHTEN ON MONTENEGRO

Montenegrin aid officials said in Podgorica on 26 May that Serbian authorities are preventing refugee relief supplies from the West and from Russia and Belarus from reaching Montenegro. Elsewhere, the state oil company Jugopetrol imposed limits on gasoline sales in Montenegro. Car owners will be able to buy only 30 liters at any given time, while the limit for bus and truck drivers is 50 liters. Gasoline has recently become increasingly scarce in Montenegro, Reuters reported. PM

CROATIAN PARTIES AGREE ON ELECTION LAW

Representatives of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and a coalition of six opposition parties agreed in Zagreb on 27 May on new legislation governing parliamentary elections due by the end of 1999. The HDZ accepted that Croatian Television, which the HDZ now tightly controls, will become a public broadcaster. The ruling party also agreed to additional proposals by the opposition and the international community to enable Croatia to gain entry into Euro-Atlantic structures. The coalition dropped its objections to continued representation in the parliament of Croats living abroad. Voters abroad will, however, no longer have a bloc of seats reserved for them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 1999). PM

ROMANIA, BULGARIA REJECT OIL EMBARGO CLAIMS

Romania and Bulgaria rejected suggestions that they are not doing enough to enforce an oil embargo on Yugoslavia, AP reported on 26 May. Both countries, however, added that they will not interfere with shipments originating in other countries because they are signatories of the Danube Convention. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking at a 25 May news conference with her German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, expressed concern over the continuing oil deliveries by barges on the Danube River. In other news, the Romanian Environment Ministry has released a study analyzing the environmental impact of the NATO bombing campaign on the River Danube and areas bordering Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 26 May. While the report noted that pollution levels have increased since the campaign began in March, it also said those levels are within permissible limits. VG

ROMANIA TO MAKE SECURITATE ARCHIVES PUBLIC

The Romanian Chamber of Deputies on 25 May announced it will allow the publication of documents on the activities of the communist- era secret service, the Securitate, according to a 26 May Mediafax report cited by the BBC. In addition, citizens will be able to look at their Securitate files by sending a written request to the National Council for Studying the Securitate Archives. VG

ACTING MAYOR OF CHISINAU DECLARED WINNER OF ELECTION

The municipal election council in the Moldovan capital has announced that acting Mayor Serafim Urecheanu won the 23 May mayoral election with 51.05 percent of the vote, BASA-Press reported on 26 May. Earlier, election officials had said that a second round would be held in Chisinau because no candidate obtained the necessary 50 percent of the vote required for a first-round victory. And according to earlier reports, Urecheanu had won 47 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). The chairman of the local election commission, Ion Plesca, said discrepancies in earlier reports were due to "a computer error." Meanwhile, Communist leader Vladimir Voronin said a massive number of ballots were falsified, BASA-Press reported. Veronica Abramciuc of the Communist-Agrarian-Socialist electoral bloc said the largest number of violations took place in Chisinau. She said the bloc will "seek the truth in the courtroom." VG

GREEK PRESIDENT VISITS BULGARIA

Greek President Kostas Stephanopoulos on 26 May said his country will back bids by Bulgaria and Romania for early EU membership, Reuters reported. Stephanopoulos and his Bulgarian counterpart, Petar Stoyanov, both emphasized the need for an effective post-war Balkan reconstruction plan. Meanwhile, Greek Development Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who is also visiting Sofia, stressed the importance of finalizing plans for a trans- Balkan pipeline to carry Russian crude oil to Greece from Bulgaria, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 26 May. A trilateral meeting of Russian, Greek, and Bulgarian officials is scheduled to discuss the proposed pipeline in Moscow this July. The pipeline would run from the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis in northeastern Greece. VG

BULGARIAN PREMIER IN GERMANY

During a 26 May meeting in Bonn, Ivan Kostov presented to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer two reports on Bulgaria's preparations for EU accession, according to a 26 May BTA report monitored by the BBC. Kostov said that the reconstruction plan for the Balkans after the Kosova conflict should correspond with EU and WTO regulations and should make no allowances for any perceived regional peculiarities. Kostov said that "oligarchic regimes" tend to ask for special treatment to avoid having to fulfill international regulations. VG




PERSONALITIES, NOT POLICIES, TO DECIDE ARMENIAN ELECTIONS


By Liz Fuller

On 30 May, Armenians go to the polls to elect a new parliament. A total of 627 candidates are vying for 75 seats allocated in single-candidate constituencies, while 1,002 candidates representing 21 parties and blocs will contend 56 seats allocated under the proportional system to those parties that poll a minimum of 5 percent of the vote.

The election campaign has been the subject of intense discussion in the press, not least because Armenia's chances of being accepted as a full member of the Council of Europe depend largely on the voting being perceived as free and fair--in contrast to the parliamentary elections of 1995 and the presidential polls of 1996 and 1998, all of which international monitors criticized as marred by vote-rigging. But much of the country's electorate is reportedly apathetic, leading some observers to predict a low turnout. Commentators note the broad similarities between the various parties' election programs, virtually all of which vow to stamp out poverty, revitalize the economy, rebuild the area of northern Armenia that was devastated by the 1988 earthquake, and "achieve a just solution to the Karabakh conflict."

The lack of alternative programs has reinforced the widespread impression that what is ultimately at stake is who will gain control over political decision-making and its attendant privileges. Many voters are convinced that the outcome of that distribution of power and privilege will have no positive impact on their daily struggle to make ends meet. In particular, many people see the outcome of the poll as crucial to the fortunes of Prime Minister Armen Darpinian and two "power" ministers from the government of the Republic of Armenia as well as those of the powerful defense minister of the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Darpinian, whom most observers believe will forfeit his post after the elections, is reportedly sponsoring the recently created Decent Future party, headed by the respected sociologist Lyudmila Harutunian. Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian's Republican Party of Armenian (HHK) has joined forces with the People's Party of Armenia, founded last year by former Armenian Communist First Secretary and defeated 1998 presidential candidate Karen Demirchian. Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sargsian (not related to Vazgen) is widely believed to be supporting the Country of Law party. And Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan has openly declared his backing for the nationalist Right and Accord bloc. Babayan explained his involvement in the election campaign by citing his strong disapproval of the economic policies of the present Armenian leadership.

Most observers agree that the Miasnutyun (Unity) bloc of Karen Demirchian and Vazgen Sargsian is likely to win the largest number of seats, if not an absolute majority, within the new parliament. They base that prediction on Demirchian's undoubted popularity, which derives largely from the "nostalgia factor." Other commentators, however, suggest that some voters who backed Demirchian against Robert Kocharian in last year's presidential election may construe the former's alignment with Vazgen Sargsian as a betrayal, and transfer their support to the Communist Party of Armenia, one of five or six parties considered likely to poll the minimum 5 percent needed for representation under the proportional system.

Of the "traditional" parties that have played a prominent role in Armenian politics since 1991, only the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), Vazgen Manukian's National Democratic Union, and Paruyr Hayrikian's Self-Determination Union are believed likely to surmount the 5 percent barrier, along with the Country of Law party. The former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) is not expected to do so, although individual candidates, including its controversial chairman Vano Siradeghian, may win several seats under the majoritarian system.

Kocharian has hinted strongly that he will ask Miasnutyun and the HHD to form a new cabinet after the elections. But neither Vazgen Sargsian's repeated denials that he harbors presidential ambitions nor Kocharian's expressions of support and approval for Miasnutyun have dispelled the perception of a rift between Sargsian and the president, which is believed to pose a long-term threat to the latter.

Some analysts have even suggested that Miasnutyun was created with the backing of former Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov and the Russian military to torpedo Kocharian's policy of balancing Armenia's traditional pro-Russian orientation with a drive for integration into European structures. Sargsian, by contrast, has made no secret of his view that Russia should be Armenia's main defense partner.

Other aspects of the election campaign have given grounds for concern. Leaders of several opposition parties, including Vazgen Manukian and Paryur Hayrikian, have charged that the registration of candidates and parties was marred by widespread irregularities, and they predict that the poll will be no more free and fair than previous elections. Some prominent HHSh members, together with the chairmen of the Liberal Democratic and 21st Century parties, Vigen Khachatrian and David Shahnazarian, are boycotting the poll in the belief that the outcome has been determined in advance. And the fact that numerous businessmen with connections to the present government or to the Republican Party have spent large sums of money on campaigning has engendered fears that many of the future parliamentary deputies may be reluctant to enact legislation that would benefit the country and the population at large but at the same time could undermine their own financial interests.


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