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Newsline - May 28, 1999


Presidential envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin, who had delayed his trip to Belgrade until 28 May, told journalists the same day that he is "unsatisfied that "all of our negotiations [with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott] have failed to yield results," Interfax reported on 28 May. "If they continue in this vein, then their continuation would be senseless," he added. However, he noted that there is currently no alternative to such negotiations and that they therefore must proceed. "Izvestiya" the same day called Chernomyrdin's planned meeting in Belgrade with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic pointless since news of the latter's indictment for war crimes. The daily cited Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov as saying that the West is making the same mistake as it made against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, "demanding the implementation of resolutions from a person who is not considered a negotiating partner." JAC


Chernomyrdin said that Russia will continue to negotiate with Milosevic since the Yugoslav president is the elected leader of his country. He acknowledged that the indictment "has complicated talks on a settlement in the Balkans for everyone," ITAR-TASS reported. Citing unidentified military and diplomatic sources, Interfax reported on 28 May that one of the main purposes of Chernomyrdin's trip was to probe the Belgrade leadership's attitude toward a peace-keeping operation in Kosova. The previous day, similarly described sources told the agency that Russia could provide up to 10,000 troops as part of a future international peace-keeping force in Kosova. ITAR-TASS reported a similar figure citing its own military source. That source claimed that Russia might agree to a NATO-dominated force but would insist it be headed by a general from a neutral country, such as Finland. JAC


Noting that the Korean peninsula continues to be a potential source of instability in northeastern Asia, Russia and South Korea agree that the Korean problem must be solved by the "interested parties"--namely, North and South Korea-- and that a dialogue between the two countries must be revived as soon as possible, Interfax reported on 28 May. That stance was outlined in a statement issued after a meeting the same day between the Russian and South Korean presidents, Boris Yeltsin and Kim Dae-jung, in the Kremlin. The two leaders signed agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal cases, on the creation of a Russian-South Korean industrial complex in the Nakhodka free economic zone (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 May 1999), and on cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, ITAR-TASS reported. Kim is on a three-day visit to the Russian capital. JC


The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 27 May accusing the U.S. Congress of undermining the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty by approving a bill to deploy a national anti-missile defense system. The statement reads that "by its ABM actions, [the U.S.] stimulates the emergence and global spread of more advanced missiles [and contributes] to the unleashing of a new arms race." It continues that such actions "threaten the whole disarmament process, including the preservation and consolidation of the key regimes of the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of trade." JAC


Mikhail Zadornov, whose status in the government as first deputy prime minister and possibly finance minister as well still had not yet been confirmed by the late morning of 28 May, announced the previous day that Russia may have to hold new talks with the IMF if the fund does not approve a compromise reached on supplementary budget revenue, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). Zadornov explained that only some of the bills sent to the State Duma in accordance with the government's agreement with the IMF have been approved, while others face a likely tough reception requiring compromise legislation to be hammered out. Zadornov also announced that the Central Bank will return to a single trading session on the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange and lift its ban preventing foreign banks from buying hard currency from their ruble correspondent accounts. JAC


First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko suggested at a meeting at the Ministry for Fuel and Energy on 27 May that Russia should increase its coal production to increase employment and allow for bigger exports of oil and gas, AP reported. He added that it is also important for Russia to increase its production oil and refined products. The same day, former Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov told reporters that the government is increasing Sibneft's quota for oil imports from Iraq under the UN's Oil for Food Program, Interfax reported. Under the program, a narrow list of companies are allowed to take delivery of Iraqi crude and collect a commission. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that Sibneft head Roman Abramovich is Aksenenko's patron. JAC


The previous day, Aksenenko told Ekho Moskvy said that he will be in charge of every field of the cabinet's activities. He also commented that he is not sure whether Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko will retain his post, explaining that he needs time to see how well the bank performs. The next day, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin appeared to react to Aksenenko's claim of responsibility for all fields of cabinet activity, saying "in order to avoid various sorts of talk about who is the boss in the government, I state that the prime minister leads the government and he is responsible for all that happens." JAC


As President Yeltsin and others cast about for the appropriate candidate to fill the spot designated for a deputy prime minister to oversee defense issues, a special government commission for the military industrial complex has already been created, "Segodnya" reported on 27 May. The heads of regions with a large defense industrial base, such as St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, reportedly urged Stepashin to establish the committee even before he had been confirmed as premier by the Duma. According to the daily, the state commission will oversee six entities: the Russian Space, Shipbuilding, Systems of Administrations, Conventional Weapons, and Ammunition Agencies as well as the Atomic Ministry. The commission will encourage these agencies to develop technologies that can be exported to foreign markets, develop new areas of work for military-industrial enterprises, and boost their profitability. JAC


President Yeltsin signed a decree on 27 May appointing Mikhail Zurabov chairman of the Pension Fund, Interfax reported. Zurabov is a former first deputy health care minister and presidential adviser on social issues. The same day, Yeltsin signed another decree specifying that the government will have five deputy prime ministers, including two first deputy prime ministers. JAC


Former Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak was named a state representative to the board of directors of Svyazinvest, Interfax reported on 28 May. The same day, Prime Minister Stepashin introduced to his staff the new head of the government apparatus, Andrei Chernenko. Chernenko is a former deputy interior minister. JAC


Prime Minister Stepashin on 28 May dismissed former presidential administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha from his post as chairman of the State Customs Committee and appointed Mikhail Vanin in his place, ITAR-TASS reported. Vanin has spent most of his career in the Customs Service. JAC


Citing unidentified sources in the federal Finance Ministry, "EWI's Russian Regional Report" reported that Russia currently has 13 "donor" regions on its territory, that is, regions who contribute more to the federal budget than they receive in return. They are St. Petersburg, the City of Moscow, Moscow Oblast, the Republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, Lipetsk, Samara, Perm, Sverdlovsk, and Irkutsk Oblasts, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs. JAC


The State Council has passed in the first reading a law on introducing a Latin-based alphabet for the Tatar language, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 27 May. According to the draft, the transition to the Latin alphabet in educational institutions will be made gradually and will be finished by September 2011. The cost of implementing the law is estimated at 115 million rubles (about $5 million.) The Latin alphabet for written Tatar was replaced by Cyrillic in 1939. In an interview with TatarInform earlier this month, parliamentary deputy Renat Kharisov rejected the protests of some members of the Tatar intelligentsia who argue that the planned reversion to the Latin script will mean that future generations will not have access to the last six decades of literature printed in Cyrillic. Kharisov pointed out that future generations will retain their familiarity with the Cyrillic alphabet as Russian will continue to be a compulsory subject in schools. LF


The commander-in-chief of the defense army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is currently in Yerevan, together with the enclave's defense minister, Samvel Babayan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 28 May, citing "Oragir." The commander intends to monitor the 30 May parliamentary elections in order to preclude irregularities, the newspaper writes. Babayan is backing the Right and Accord bloc. His Armenian counterpart, Vazgen Sargsian, one of the two leaders of the Miasnutyun alliance, which is tipped to win the polls, appealed to the Armenian military in a statement in "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 27 May. Sargsian warned the armed forces not to try to interfere with the voting, arguing that another flawed election would deal "a heavy blow to the country's interests." LF


Some 50 people picketed the Supreme Court building in Baku on 27 May to demand the release of Fuad Gakhramanly, who was sentenced last November to 18 months in prison for an unpublished article considered subversive, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998). Acting Supreme Court judge Gulzar Rzaeva promised to review the case. Also on 27 May, Ali Mustafaev, chairman of Azerbaijan's Helsinki Human Rights Committee, told journalists that the granting of an amnesty to mark Azerbaijan's 1918 Independence anniversary is not solely the prerogative of the president and that the parliament should proclaim such an amnesty in the president's absence. Mustafaev also criticized the continued detention of 62 people for taking part in opposition demonstrations in October-November 1998, saying it violates the constitutionally guaranteed right of Azerbaijani citizens to participate in rallies. LF


The western oil export pipeline from Baku to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa has been shut down for scheduled maintenance for several days, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. Extraction by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company of crude from 12 off-shore Caspian wells has been halted as a result. The Baku-Supsa pipeline went into operation early this year, and some 500,000 tons of crude have been transported through it since then (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1999). The alternative pipeline from Baku via the Russian Federation to Novorossiisk has been out of commission for most of the past month. LF


Speaking at a financial conference on 28 May, Nursultan Nazarbaev criticized the country's government for its lack of both concrete ideas for developing the economy and qualified economists, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev also accused officials from ministries responsible for specific branches of the economy of interfering in the work of other agencies. "Izvestiya" on 20 May had predicted the government's imminent resignation, noting specifically intrigues and back-biting among its members and the inability of Premier Nurlan Balghymbaev to implement decisive measures to revive the economy. LF


The tenge fell by 7.8 percent against the U.S. dollar on 27 May, closing trading on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange at 131.41 to the dollar compared with 121.85 the previous day, Interfax reported. Commercial banks suspended trading in dollars on the morning of 27 May. Interfax quoted an unnamed Finance Ministry spokesman as saying that on 28 May, Kazakhstan will begin selling some $24 million in hard currency raised from privatization and grain exports. The Kazakh government set a floating exchange rate for the tenge in early April after it fell from 88 to 100 to the dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). LF


An official from Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 27 May that the water supply to Kazakhstan's Jambyl and Chimkent Oblasts from Kyrgyzstan's Kara-Bura water reservoir has been resumed. Those supplies were cut 10 days ago in retaliation for Kazakhstan's failure to deliver coal, as agreed, in payment for those supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). LF


The parliamentary Committee on Legal Issues recommended on 27 May that the Ministry of Justice should reregister the Kyrgyzstan Committee for Human Rights, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That committee was originally registered in 1996, but the Ministry of Justice revoked the registration last year, and the committee has been unable to reregister since then. After two demonstrations by committee members in Bishkek earlier this month, government and parliament representatives formed a committee to look into the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 20 May 1999). LF


Some 70 pensioners picketed the government building in Bishkek on 27 May to protest recent hikes in the price of bread and flour and to demand that pensions be raised and paid on time, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The Kyrgyz government owes several million dollars in back pensions. On 26 May, the chairwoman of Kyrgyzstan's teachers trade union told RFE/RL that the government owes teachers 42 million soms (about $1 million) in back wages for 1999, including 30 million soms for the month of April. An additional 90 million som in salaries for 1998 remains unpaid. LF


Following a meeting on 27 May with Jan Kubis, who is the UN Secretary- General's special envoy for Tajikistan, United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri told journalists that the opposition will not withdraw the conditions it has set for continued participation in the work of the Commission for National Reconciliation, Reuters and Interfax reported. Nuri said that those demands, including the allocation to the opposition of 30 percent of posts in national and local governments and the release of 93 imprisoned opposition figures, do not exceed concessions contained in the 1997 peace agreement. At a meeting with President Imomali Rakhmonov earlier on 27 May, Kubis suggested a meeting between Nuri and the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). LF


Stephen Sestanovich, who is special adviser for the Newly Independent States to the U.S. Secretary of State, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 27 May, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Sestanovich expressed continued U.S. support for plans to build an underwater Trans-Caspian pipeline to export Turkmenistan's natural gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia. At the same time, he steadfastly opposed the idea of a gas export pipeline via Iran. Sestanovich also expressed approval of Turkmenistan's ongoing efforts to mediate talks between the two rival factions in Afghanistan, but he suggested that a new meeting under UN auspices of the countries bordering on Afghanistan plus Russia and the U.S. could also promote a settlement. Also discussed were the prospects for broadening bilateral defense cooperation, human rights issues, and the Turkmen parliamentary elections due in December, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. LF


Rem Vyakhirev held talks on "matters of mutual interest" with President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on 27 May, according to Interfax. No other details were revealed. Uzbekistan is one of the world's 10 largest gas producers but has no export route to world markets other than via Russia. LF


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 27 March attended a congress of the Belarusian Union of Consumer Cooperation, which deals with trade in consumer products in the countryside, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka accused the union of poor performance and announced that he will soon issue a decree subordinating to the state both the union and the consumer trade sector in the countryside. "You will be put under the most rigorous conditions, you will work [the way] all state structures are working in our republic," he told the congress. He also advised the union to earn hard currency by selling mushrooms and wild berries gathered by villagers in Belarusian woods directly to foreigners, bypassing intermediaries, whom he called "private dealers and swindlers." JM


Following an earlier announcement by OSCE official Adrian Severin (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 19 May 1999), the organization has offered to host talks between the Belarusian authorities and the opposition in Bucharest from 11-13 June, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 27 May. The talks would focus on three topics: executive power, media, and elections in Belarus. The OSCE also proposed a list of participants in the negotiations, which consists of representatives of the government, the political opposition, and Belarusian NGOs. JM


The IMF on 27 May approved the release of a $180 million tranche of its $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine, Reuters reported. It also endorsed Ukraine's request for an extra $366 million in financial support. "In view of the country's heavy debt service obligations, Ukraine's economic recovery will require the continued involvement of private creditors. A collaborative solution to Ukraine's debt service must be found in line with Ukraine's capacity to pay," the fund said in a statement. The news agency added that the fund wants Ukraine to use IMF money to repay debts to private creditors. JM


Leonid Kuchma and his Romanian counterpart, Emil Constantinescu, met in Kyiv on 27 May and discussed border demarcation issues and prospects for economic cooperation. "We have made good progress in resolving the question of border demarcation," AP quoted Kuchma as saying. The agency added, however, that no "major breakthrough" has been achieved on the issue. Ukraine and Romania disagree on how to demarcate a part of the continental shelf in the Black Sea where large oil and gas deposits are believed to be located. Interfax reported that both presidents also discussed plans for transporting Caspian oil to Western Europe. Ukraine proposes a route extending from Supsa, in Georgia, via Odesa and Ukraine to Poland, while Romania prefers a route from Odesa to the Romanian port of Constanta. "The two routes will not compete because they will service different areas," Kuchma commented. JM


The parliament on 26 May held a marathon session that ran into the early morning of the following day. The opposition Center Party used delaying tactics in an attempt to block the approval of the negative supplementary budget in the first reading. However, the controversial bill was approved, and the second reading is scheduled for June. Both sides regard the lengthy session as an indication of how future readings of the budget bill will unfold. Returning to work five hours later for the session on 27 May, the parliament passed amendments retaining zero value-added tax on heating. MH


The parliament on 27 May officially set 17 June as the day lawmakers will vote for a new head of state. Four of the parties represented in the parliament have already nominated their candidates: Anatolijs Gorbunovs (Latvia's Way), Vaira Paegle (People's Party), Janis Priedkalns (For Fatherland and Freedom), and Raimonds Pauls (New Party). The Social Democratic Alliance will choose between three possible candidates within a week, while the leftist For Equal Rights in an Integrated Latvia will not put up a candidate. To win, a candidate must gain at least 51 votes in the 100-member body. MH


The Latvian parliament on 27 May approved a bill that establishes import tariffs for pork. The legislation, which will be in effect from 1 June to 17 December, imposes a 70 percent import duty on pork and pork products. The Latvian government pushed for an exemption for Estonia and Lithuania, but the parliament failed to support the government's plan, according to Baltic news agencies. Following the bill's passage, Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans said: "It appears that international commitments have been violated and neighboring countries could conceivably impose sanctions on Latvia," according to LETA. Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar expressed his regret at the decision. He has called for a meeting of the joint committee on the Baltic Free Trade Agreement. MH


Latvian and Lithuanian representatives initialed the long-delayed maritime border agreement in Vilnius on 27 May. Officially titled "Delimitation of the Continental Shelf and Economic Zones in the Baltic Sea," the treaty must be approved by both governments. However, the issue of the oil deposit along the originally disputed zone remains to be solved in another document. In April, the two sides agreed to separate the demarcation issue from the economic interest zone, according to LETA. MH


Following an appeal by Andrzej Lepper, populist leader of the radical Self-Defense union, Polish farmers blocked some 90 roads throughout the country to protest government agricultural policies, Polish media reported. The blockades come after Lepper accused the government of not keeping its promises and broke off negotiations with the Agricultural Ministry. This time, the police acted more decisively than during similar protests in February, using force to clear roads in eight localities. Serious clashes occurred in Nowy Dwor Gdanski, where several policemen and farmers were hospitalized. Agricultural Minister Artur Balazs said the government will offer subsidies to grain producers as part of an aid package for the agricultural sector. So far, the government has refrained from subsidizing farmers, seeking instead to purchase agricultural products at prices above the minimum level negotiated with farmers' unions. JM


Police on 28 May removed some 300 crosses and a wooden chapel erected by radical Catholics at the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, AP reported. According to a joint statement issued by the government and the Polish Episcopate, the crosses have been placed in a monastery near the city of Oswiecim. The legal grounds for the police action, which was intended to end a protracted Jewish-Catholic controversy over religious symbols at Auschwitz, are provided by the law on the protection of former concentration camp sites, which took effect last week. On 27 May, the police arrested Kazimerz Switon, a Catholic radical activist who had led the campaign to erect crosses on the Auschwitz site. The same day, the police detonated an explosive device laid by Switon on the site in a bid to prevent the crosses from being removed. JM


Almost 2,000 NATO officers from 14 NATO countries and 12 Partnership for Peace countries started military exercises in the Czech town of Vyskov on 27 May, Czech media reported. Meanwhile, police have continued to maintain high security at the site after receiving a bomb threat. VG


Milos Zeman on 27 May rejected criticism of the Czech cabinet's new media bill, CTK reported. The bill would require publications to publish responses by readers who feel their reputation has been damaged by an article, even if the reported information is correct. The bill would also give the authorities the power to fine or suspend the publication of periodicals that spread hatred against people because of their race, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. Zeman said the bill is aimed at ensuring a plurality of views in the media and preventing the spread of hatred. VG


Mikulas Dzurinda delivered a televised address to the nation on 27 May callling on Slovaks to participate in the 29 May presidential vote, TASR reported. While not openly supporting either candidate, Dzurinda called on Slovaks not to believe "those who brought this country to the edge of economic collapse." He also made reference to the difficulties caused by the fact that the previous president and the previous government were incapable of working together. Dzurinda's coalition government supports the candidacy of Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster. His comments were a clear reference to former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's government and the latter's conflicts with former President Michal Kovac. The latest polls show Schuster leading Meciar by 56 percent to 44 percent. Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia on 27 May accused Dzurinda of violating the law banning election campaigning within two days of the vote. VG


A member of the environmental caucus of Germany's governing Social Democrats said Slovakia's decision to delay the closure of the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear power plant could affect the country's EU accession talks, TASR reported on 27 May. Slovakia, which had initially agreed to shut down the plant in the year 2000, now says the plant will continue to function until other means of generating electricity are found. Greenpeace on 27 May denounced the decision, saying Bohunice is "one of the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world." VG


Louise Arbour, who is the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, announced on 27 May that the court has indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on three counts of crimes against humanity and one count of a violation of the laws or customs of war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). The court also indicted Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, General Dragoljub Ojdanic, and Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic for their roles in carrying out deportations, murders, and persecutions of Kosovars. Arbour said: "I believe that it is an extraordinary achievement, by any law enforcement standard, for us to have brought to successful confirmation, an indictment against the five accused for crimes of this magnitude committed since the beginning of this year. This has been achieved in less than five months." PM


French President Jacques Chirac said in Paris on 27 May that "we will not negotiate with Milosevic, but rather make Yugoslavia accept a peace plan that is fair and balanced." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington that "we want to see [Milosevic] in The Hague." Her spokesman James Rubin noted, however, that "we are not going to rule out contacts if they can achieve our objectives." Spokesmen for several U.S.-based human rights organizations told VOA that it is unlikely that Milosevic and his colleagues will be arrested unless international peacekeepers in Kosova receive a much tougher mandate to arrest war criminals than SFOR has in Bosnia. For his part, former President Jimmy Carter told CNN that he fears the indictment will make it more difficult for diplomats to end the crisis soon. PM


The federal Yugoslav government said in a statement on 27 May that the indictment shows that Arbour is a "puppet in the hands" of those "conducting a war" against Yugoslavia. The statement called the indictment a "disgraceful act" and the tribunal a "private court of Madeleine Albright, James Rubin and [NATO commander General] Wesley Clark." In Podgorica, Montenegrin Justice Minister Dragan Soc said that the indictment increases the possibility that Milosevic will stage a coup against the Montenegrin government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a 27 May radio address to the Kosovars broadcast in the Albanian language by RFE/RL and VOA, said he personally has heard from Kosovars "stories of innocent people beaten and brutalized for no reason but their ethnicity and faith-- people rounded up in the middle of the night, forced to board trains for unknown destinations, separated from their families." He stressed that NATO and the Kosovars alike want the refugees to be able to "return in safety" to their homes. Clinton added that this "will take time...[but] there is no doubt what the outcome will be. The campaign of ethnic cleansing...will end. You will return. Our military campaign is daily increasing the pressure on the Serbian leadership and on Serbian forces.... We will persevere until the Serbian forces leave and you are allowed to return home, with NATO there to prevent a return to violence," he concluded. PM


Clinton also said in his 27 May radio address: "We are grateful to the people of Albania and Macedonia for accepting refugees into their countries and their homes. It is not easy for any nation to absorb huge numbers of people; and it is certainly not easy for two nations still struggling to meet the needs of their people. We recognize your sacrifices and we are committed to help, by easing your burden, and helping you build security, prosperity and democracy at home and in your neighborhood," he concluded. Meanwhile on the Macedonian-Kosovar border, UN spokesmen said that the flow of refugees has "slowed to a trickle." The spokesmen added that they are not sure why the recent wave of refugees has all but stopped (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). PM


Rear Admiral Thomas Wilson told a Washington press conference on 27 May that NATO air strikes have helped the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). "We believe that it's important to continue to destroy [Yugoslav army heavy] equipment and also to try to make it immobile and keep them...out of the fight, because it tends to level the playing field between the [UCK] and the army." Meanwhile at Morina on the Kosovar-Albanian frontier, Serbian forces and the UCK fought for control of the key border crossing. PM


Moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova recently turned down an invitation from the Albanian government to meet with Albanian officials and Kosovar leaders in Tirana, dpa reported on 27 May. Foreign Minister Pascal Milo said that the government had wanted Rugova to come to Albania following his brief trip to Macedonia on 26 May but he had refused to do so. Majko suggested that Rugova did not want to face embarrassing questions from other Kosovars about his contacts with Milosevic and other Serbian authorities during Rugova's month of house arrest in Prishtina this spring. PM


Rugova said in Paris on 28 May that the UCK's Hashim Thaci and other leaders left the French capital without meeting him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). Thaci recently said that Rugova represents no one but himself and his body guards. He and other critics charge that Rugova has since spent too much time talking to foreign politicians and diplomats and that he has not spent time with the refugees and other Kosovar leaders (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 May 1999). PM


Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told representatives of more than 30 countries and 10 non-governmental organizations in Bonn on 27 May that his proposed "Balkan stabilization pact" must include realistic prospects for EU membership for Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, and Albania, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. He added, however, that the process will take years and does not mean that the five countries will receive easy terms for membership. The stability pact will also include Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia. Its aim is to promote a regional approach to political and economic development and to security issues. The previous day in Brussels, EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek said that Balkan regional cooperation is an essential means to prevent future conflicts there. He stressed that the EU will offer long-term development assistance to Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia, the "Berliner Zeitung" reported. PM


The Senate's Legal Commission voted to strip Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the Greater Romania Party of his parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution, according to a 27 May Mediafax report cited by the BBC. Tudor will be investigated in connection with seven criminal charges. The opposition staged a walkout during the commission meeting to protest the governing coalition senators' refusal to consider delaying the vote so that Tudor could defend himself. Meanwhile, the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic on 26 May announced that it will support President Emil Constantinescu for a second mandate as head of state. In other news, the government on 27 May approved a package of incentives for the Renault car manufacturer to pave the way for the sale of shares in the Romanian car maker Dacia Pitesti to the French company. The package of incentives includes exemptions from value-added tax and customs duties, Rompres reported. VG


Thousand of worried depositors lined up at branches of Romania's Bankcoop bank on 27 May in an attempt to withdraw their savings, AP reported. Two days earlier, the Central Bank had ordered Bankcoop to limit its payouts to depositors. Central Bank officials expressed concern at the outbreak of general panic. VG


Deputies from the Moldovan parliament have criticized the Moldovan Central Electoral Commission (CEC) for delaying the vote- counting process for the 23 May referendum and local elections, BASA-Press reported on 27 May. Deputy Alexandru Mosanu said the manner in which preliminary information about the election results have been released to the media by CEC officials raises "suspicions." The parliamentary commission for control and petitions is preparing a report on the CEC's handling of the vote. CEC spokesman Anatol Semionov dismissed the criticism. Meanwhile, the CEC on 27 May announced that turnout in the referendum may have been larger than the 56 percent announced in the preliminary results. VG


Representatives of the largely ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms as well as mayors from the region of Kurdzhali have called for the dismissal of the region's governor, Plamen Ivanov, according to a 26 May Anatolia report cited by the BBC. Kurdzhali Mayor Radim Musa said that Ivanov has threatened some Turkish mayors in the region and that his actions may cause ethnic tensions to escalate. Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov has launched an investigation into the complaints against Ivanov. In other news, the Bulgarian parliament on 27 May passed a law on refugees, which envisages creating an agency for dealing with refugees. The law defines a refugee as "an alien who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." In other news, thousands of Bulgarian workers from metalworking, machine building, and arms industries marched through Sofia on 27 May to protest against plant closures and decreasing living standards, Reuters reported. VG


Kostas Stephanopoulos has said his country will take the initiative in organizing a trilateral meeting with Bulgaria and Romania on the construction of a new bridge linking the latter two countries, according to a 27 May BTA report cited by the BBC. Stephanopoulos, who is on a state visit to Bulgaria, said Greece wants the issue resolved without delay. Meanwhile, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov asked Stephanopoulos for his country's assistance in getting aid to the ethnic Bulgarian minority in eastern Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 1999). Stephanopoulos and Kostov also discussed joint Bulgarian-Greek investment. VG


by Victor Gomez

The ongoing NATO campaign in Yugoslavia seems to have elicited all manner of reactions across Central and Eastern Europe. But perhaps few countries have presented such a mixed array of foreign-policy statements from politicians in leading positions as has the Czech Republic. Foreign observers and statesmen might be excused for wondering what exactly the country stands for in this conflict. Moreover, the Czech political authorities seem to be at odds over other questions of foreign relations, revealing problems of coordination and leadership in the development of a clear foreign policy.

The Kosova conflict has seen the development of differing positions among Czech politicians. First, there is President Vaclav Havel's firm stance in support of the NATO campaign. Second, there is Foreign Minister Jan Kavan's "peace initiative," which he has presented in cooperation with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou. Among other things, the plan calls for a NATO initiative for a cease-fire and only a partial withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosova, which NATO is not prepared to accept. Third, there is Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus's repeated insistence that the NATO campaign was wrong from the start, that it has clearly failed, and that the alliance is now merely trying to "save face."

Such disagreements are evident in other areas of the Czech Republic's foreign policy. When Kavan visited China as part of a Far East tour in mid-May, government spokesman Libor Roucek noted that not only did the current Social Democratic administration disagree with the previous government's stance toward China, but it also conflicted with Havel's opinions on relations with that country.

While such conflicting statements do not always reflect long-term policy, they tend to confuse the domestic public and send mixed signals to partners abroad. Observers note that over the years Czech political leaders have largely agreed on the country's most important foreign-policy objectives, such as gaining membership in NATO and the EU. It would not have taken an extraordinary amount of coordination for the country's key politicians to formulate a common policy on Kosova--one that would take into account both concern over the humanitarian aspects of the conflict and the country's obligations as a NATO member. The same could be said about the Czech Republic's relations with China.

However, the inability or unwillingness of Czech politicians to formulate a consistent foreign policy line hints at a deeper problem. While Havel's position on the Kosova crisis has been relatively clear and consistent from the beginning of the conflict, there appears to be less consistency among some other politicians. At first glance, Klaus appears to have been relatively consistent in his criticism of the NATO campaign. However, it is odd for a politician to emphatically state that he respects his country's obligations as a NATO member while continuing to publicly blast NATO strategy.

Meanwhile, the cabinet of Milos Zeman has continued to waver on the issue. Zeman says the Czech Republic must fulfill its obligations as a NATO member; at the same time, he points out that the decision to bomb Yugoslavia was made before the Czech Republic became a member. His interior minister says the country will accept 5,000 Kosova refugees, but a lower-ranking official says the country cannot afford to take in that many. First, Foreign Minister Kavan says his ministry is working on a "peace plan" for the conflict, then he says it is a "political initiative," finally insisting that it is a "supplement" to the G-8 plan that contains "suggestions" for NATO with regard to the conflict.

Obviously, there are differences between the positions of Havel and Zeman. Havel is finishing off what will be his last term as president, having never been directly elected by the Czech people. Zeman, in contrast, is at the head of a minority government, and both the government and Klaus's party are aware that a growing number of Czechs are opposed to the NATO bombing campaign. On the other hand, Zeman is aware that as a new member of NATO, his country cannot adopt an attitude that would be perceived as breaking the alliance's unity on the Kosova conflict. Hence the wavering attitude toward the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia.

The problem is that the wavering has been noticed in the West. And if its neighbors and allies--not to mention countries like China--are to take the Czech Republic seriously as an independent state, some of Prague's politicians will have to start working out common and firm stances on key foreign-policy issues.

On the home front, perhaps the Czech public would be more appreciative of a government that showed some leadership and took a firm stand on issues such as the Kosova conflict. While many Social Democrats may bemoan the fact that they are losing support to the Communists in the polls "because of Yugoslavia," they themselves can hardly deny that few things look worse than a government that wavers in the face of a major international crisis.