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Newsline - June 2, 1999




STEPASHIN COMPLETES MINISTRY APPOINTMENTS

Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin has completed a series of appointments at government ministries and agencies, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 June. Oleg Vyugin and Aleksei Kudrin have been named first deputy finance ministers, Mikhail Ivankov first deputy railways minister, and Georgii Gabunia first deputy trade minister. JB

PRESS SPOTLIGHTS ABRAMOVICH...

"Moskovskii komsomolets" on 2 June features a long profile of oil magnate Roman Abramovich, a close associate of business magnate Boris Berezovskii, who is rumored to have become a key member of President Boris Yeltsin's entourage. The newspaper, like several other publications, identifies the publicity-shy Abramovich as the architect of the new cabinet and credits him with lobbying for the appointment of Nikolai Aksenenko as first deputy prime minister. "Moskovskii komsomolets" notes that Abramovich's close links with the transport and oil monopolies may enable him to shed Berezovskii's patronage and soon make him the ultimate powerbroker in Russia. JB

...WHILE SKEPTICISM PREVAILS ON AKSENENKO

"Kommersant- Daily," for its part, says the outlines of Aksenenko's economic policies are already becoming clear. In its June 2 issue, the newspaper writes that Aksenenko, who was railways minister before his appointment as first deputy premier, appears to want to restructure the Russian economy in a similar way to the railways so that each sector will be controlled by one large monopoly with close links to the government. JB

LONDON CLUB CONSIDERING RESCHEDULING RUSSIA'S DEBT

Russia on 2 June missed a $578 million payment on its commercial debt to the London Club of creditors and has asked the organization for a six-month extension. The London Club brings together some 600 commercial banks and investors who are owed more than $20 billion by Moscow from loans dating back to the Soviet era. The club is to consider the request by 6 June, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia's foreign debt totals about $150 billion. JB

CHERNOMYRDIN, AHTISAARI DELAY BELGRADE VISIT

Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin and his EU counterpart, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, postponed a scheduled visit to Belgrade on 2 June after failing to agree on a set of terms to present to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, AP reported. The two envoys continued negotiations that they had begun the previous day with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott near Bonn. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told ZDF television on 1 June that differences of opinion remain among the mediators about "who must get out [of Kosova], who must go in to protect the refugees," and over when NATO must stop its air campaign. Minister of State in the German Foreign Ministry Ludger Volmer said: "If the two delay their journey, it indicates a degree of skepticism about the Yugoslav assertion that [Belgrade] is ready to come to an agreement," Reuters reported. FS

RUSSIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTERS DEMAND END TO NATO AIR CAMPAIGN

Meeting in Beijing on 1 June, Igor Ivanov and his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, demanded an end to NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said that a halt to the bombing is "an indispensable condition for achieving a political settlement." He added that "Russia and China regard with anxiety the new trends toward creating a world with only one center of power and imposing the policy of dictate." He pledged to "closely coordinate [Russian-Chinese] cooperation in order to block the development of those dangerous trends, to promote the consolidation of international law, and to enhance the role played by the UN." During his three-day stay in Beijing, Ivanov will also meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. FS

RUSSIA CALLS URGENT UN SECURITY COUNCIL SESSION OVER IRAQ

Russia requested an urgent UN Security Council meeting on 1 June to demand that UNSCOM chairman Richard Butler submit a report on what chemicals UNSCOM left behind in its Baghdad laboratory shortly before the U.S.-British airstrikes last December, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. The demand was made at the request of Iraq, after UNSCOM recently talked to UN officials about dismantling the laboratory. UNSCOM say it is known that the laboratory had "miniscule samples" of nerve gas necessary to calibrate testing equipment as well as one liter of mustard liquid gas "stored tightly." Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov, however, commented "we do not know what '[miniscule] quantities' are, [nor] which substances specifically" are stored there. Reuters reported on 2 June that Butler will tell the Security Council in his report that the laboratory needs to be dismantled, while denying Russian allegations that inspectors left nerve gas unprotected. JC

FEDOROV TO RUN FOR MOSCOW OBLAST GOVERNOR

Anatolii Chubais, head of Unified Energy Systems and a leader of the Pravoe Delo movement, said on 1 June in Yekaterinburg that former Federal Tax Service chief Boris Fedorov will run as the movement's candidate in the Moscow Oblast gubernatorial elections, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, Chubais noted that he himself will not run in the State Duma elections scheduled for this fall. JC

MORE THAN 1 MILLION HOMELESS CHILDREN IN RUSSIA

Russia marked International Children's Day on 1 June. Deputy Labor Minister Galina Karelova says there are currently more than 1 million homeless children in Russia and more than 13 million single-parent families, ITAR-TASS reported. JB

POLICE ON RUSSIAN-LATVIAN BORDER SEIZE ANOTHER ILLEGAL ICON SHIPMENT

Police on the Russian-Latvian border recently stopped a truck laden with a large quantity of undeclared antique icons, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 June. The value of the icons is currently being assessed by museum experts. The latest seizure once again puts the spotlight on the problem of icon smuggling. This was the seventh such find by customs officers on Russia's western border since the start of 1999. Some 800 religious works of art intended for smuggling have been seized so far this year. JB

RUSSIA BUILDING GIANT MOAT ON CHECHEN BORDER

The Russian military is building a 113-kilometer moat on the border with the breakaway republic of Chechnya, "Izvestiya" reported on 2 June. The border moat, 16 km of which has already been completed, is deeper and wider than a previous moat which was attempted to be built two years ago. Its purpose will be to help Interior Ministry forces in their battle against cattle rustlers and equipment thieves who cross the border, raid villages in Stavropol, and then slip back into Chechnya. Russian news agencies reported on 2 June that at least one policeman was killed and three wounded in renewed border fighting between Russian police units and armed bands from Chechnya. JB

CHECHEN PRESIDENT SEES 'INTERNATIONAL CONSPIRACY'

Addressing Shariah Court officials on 1 June, Aslan Maskhadov claimed that the international community is seeking to destabilize Chechnya out of fear that other nations will follow the Chechen example and establish independent Islamic states, Interfax reported. Maskhadov said the recent failed assassination attempts against Mufti Ahkmad-hadji Kadyrov and presidential adviser Danilbek Tamkaev were part of that conspiracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 May 1999). Two days earlier, Maskhadov had blamed unnamed Western intelligence services for provoking the attack on a Russian border post on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 1999). LF




THREE ARMENIAN PARTIES CALL FOR ELECTIONS TO BE ANNULLED

Self-Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hayrikian said on 1 June he will appeal to the Constitutional Court to declare the results of the 30 May parliamentary elections invalid, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hayrikian and the leaders of the Hayrenik and Intellectual Armenian parties addressed a statement to that effect to the Central Electoral Commission, according to Noyan Tapan. Hayrikian said that he will file a similar appeal with the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. Hayrikian said that more than 100,000 potential voters were unable to cast their ballots because their names had been left off voter lists. An Armenian UN official who oversaw the computerization of the voter lists blamed local district administrators for the omissions, according to "Respublika Armeniya" on 1 June. LF

U.S. MONITORS CRITICIZE ARMENIAN POLL SHORTCOMINGS

In a statement issued on 1 June, the National Democratic Institute said the 30 May poll showed that despite unspecified "positive developments," Armenia "failed to meet the international standards and commitments that it has accepted as the basis for organizing genuinely democratic elections," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The statement said that the incomplete voter lists increased the potential for illegal voting and disenfranchised a large number of voters. The NDI assessment was harsher than those of either the OSCE monitoring mission or the Council of Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 1999). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION, PARLIAMENT FAIL TO REACH MODUS VIVENDI

During talks on 31 May, the 17 opposition deputies aligned in the Democratic Bloc reached a preliminary agreement with parliamentary leaders to stop their boycott of parliamentary proceedings, which they began in mid-April, Turan reported. But the following day, the Democratic Bloc annulled the agreement. A parliamentary spokesman told Turan that the opposition deputies have put forward new demands, while Party of National Independence of Azerbaijan member Nazim Imanov said the parliamentary leadership insists details of the 31 May agreement should not be made public. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTEST FORCIBLY DISPERSED

Some 50 members of the Democratic Party were beaten by police on 1 June when they tried to picket the Prosecutor-General's Office to protest the arrest of Etibar Guliev, Turan reported. Guliev is nephew of the party's chairman, exiled former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE ELECTED TO PARLIAMENT

Social Prosperity Party chairman Khanhuseyn Kazymly, who polled less than 1 percent in the October 1998 Azerbaijani presidential election, was elected to the parliament in a by- election on 30 May, Turan reported, citing "Yeni Azerbaycan" on 1 June. A defeated rival candidate alleged that the poll was rigged and that domestic observers were refused permission to monitor the voting. LF

TWO MORE ABKHAZ POLICE OFFICERS SHOT

Two Abkhaz police officers were shot dead and a third injured when their car was ambushed on 1 June in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Russian agencies reported. Abkhaz Interior Minister Amazbei Kchach told Caucasus Press that the attackers were Georgian guerrillas who subsequently crossed back over the Inguri River, which marks the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. At least 20 Abkhaz police have been killed in similar attacks over the past year. LF

ACCUSATIONS AGAINST FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER TERMED 'GROUNDLESS'

U.S. attorney Charles Butt told journalists in Almaty on 2 June that the charges of tax evasion and illegally acquiring property abroad brought against Republican People's Party chairman Akezhan Kazhegeldin are groundless, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 26 May 1999). Butt said that Kazhegeldin paid all the taxes for which he was liable in 1998. Those taxes totaled some 1 million tenge ($9,200). He also claimed that villas, which were said to be Kazhegeldin's and photographs of which were published in the Kazakh press, belong to the children of a prominent Kazakh metallurgy plant director. Butt denied that his client owns any property in Belgium. LF

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION STILL NOT RE-REGISTERED

Kyrgyz Commitee for Human Rights chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev told journalists in Bishkek on 1 June that the Ministry of Justice has still not re-registered his organization, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The committee's original registration was revoked in October 1998, and its members staged two protests in Bishkek last month to demand re- registration. The parliamentary commission on legal issues recommended on 27 May that the Ministry of Justice comply with the committee's request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT 'READY TO MEET' WITH OPPOSITION LEADERS?

Yevgenii Belov, who is Moscow's ambassador to Tajikistan, told ITAR-TASS on 1 June that Imomali Rakhmonov informed him at a meeting earlier that day of his readiness to meet with opposition representatives to discuss their demands. The United Tajik Opposition has suspended participation in two commissions on which both it and the Tajik government are jointly represented to protest the leadership's failure to comply with specific conditions of the 1997 peace agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May and 1 June 1999). Also meeting on 1 June, UN Special envoy to Tajikistan Jan Kubis and Tajik parliamentary first deputy chairman Abdulmajid Dostiev agreed that the government and opposition should resume direct dialogue, AP-Blitz reported. LF

UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTER HOLDS TALKS WITH TALIBAN LEADER

Abdulaziz Komilov travelled to Kandahar on 1 June where he met with Taliban militia leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, dpa reported. The Taliban leader said that his group will not attend a planned meeting of the so-called six-plus-two (the six countries that border on Afghanistan plus Russia and the U.S.) under UN Security Council auspices unless the Taliban are invited as Afghanistan's legitimate government. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION SAYS GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBLE FOR TRAGIC STAMPEDE

A group of Belarusian oppositionists has signed a statement saying that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime is responsible for the tragic stampede in Minsk on 30 May (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 1 June and 31 May 1999), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 1 June. They argued that government has been seeking for several years to enlist popular support by giving free alcoholic drinks to impoverished citizens, including teenagers. The Minsk stampede, which claimed 52 lives, mostly teenage girls, occurred after a crowd of 2,500 people rushed into a metro passageway from a beer festival, where free beer had been served. Belarusian NGOs have formed a public commission to find out the reasons for the tragedy. JM

COMMUNIST LEADER ACCUSES KUCHMA OF PROVOKING 'ANTI-COMMUNIST HYSTERIA'

Ukrainian Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko has accused President Leonid Kuchma of stirring up "anti- communist hysteria" in the lead-up to the presidential elections on 31 October, AP reported. According to Symonenko, Kuchma is afraid of losing power and facing responsibility for his policies and is therefore seeking to shift the blame for his mistakes onto the parliament and the left-wing camp. "Instead of repentance in front of Ukraine and its people, the dirty political affair of advancing the incumbent president in the elections is continuing," the agency quoted Symonenko as saying. Symonenko has registered to run against Kuchma in the presidential race. JM

COMMISSION DEEMS ESTONIAN SPECIAL OPERATIONS GROUP UNNECESSARY

An ad hoc commission examining the Special Operations Group (SOG) ruled on 1 June that the group's activities are "not practical on the current basis," according to a report released by the Defense Ministry. Defense Minister Juri Luik ordered the creation of the commission, led by Defense Ministry Under-Secretary Tarmo Mand, after the acting head of the SOG, Indrek Holm, allegedly took part in an attempted robbery last month. The report noted that the "actual and legal chain-of-command of the SOG do not coincide," making oversight difficult. The report also suggested there have been violations of various regulations, including on firearms. It suggested tightening laws governing the defense forces. MH

LATVIAN 'DELAYED' EXPENDITURES REVEALED

Several Latvian ministries have revealed what expenditures they will delay in accordance with the government's plan to cut spending this summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 1999). According to LETA, the Finance Ministry plans to hold back 10.6 million lats ($18 million), the largest amount specified by any single ministry. The Ministry of Education follows with 1.4 million lats and the Defense Ministry with 736,000 lats. In addition, the government will delay 700,000 lats earmarked for municipalities. However, no delays will affect the President's Office, the parliament, or several other state institutions. MH

NEW LITHUANIAN CABINET PRESENTED...

President Valdas Adamkus on 1 June named the cabinet members chosen by new Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas. Of the 14 ministers, seven are from the previous government, including the foreign affairs and defense portfolios, which are held by Christian Democrats. Gintaras Balciunas of the Center Union is nominated as justice minister, while Ceslovas Blazys is to leave his job as head of the Vilnius police to take over the Interior Ministry. Jonas Lionginas is to be promoted from within the Finance Ministry, while banker Eugenijus Maldeikis is slated to become the new economics minister. The parliament is scheduled to approve the ministers on 2 June. MH

...BUT COALITION BREAKS APART

Following a meeting of the Christian Democrats' faction on 1 June, the party announced it is breaking its coalition agreement with the Conservative Party. Christian Democrats' chairman and Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said his party is "unilaterally" breaking the agreement, and he accused the Conservatives of evading responsibility in the formation of the new government after the resignation of former Premier Gediminas Vagnorius, according to "Kauno Diena." The minister denied that his party's not receiving a third cabinet position had influenced the decision. However, Christian Democrats emphasized that they will support their two cabinet ministers as the party's delegated representatives in the government. MH

POLAND READY TO SEND AIR ASSAULT BATTALION TO KOSOVA

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek on 1 June said the 800-strong 18th Air Assault Battalion from Bielsko Biala, southern Poland, is ready to leave for Kosova immediately to participate in a possible NATO-led peacekeeping force of some 50,000 troops. The battalion is currently part of the reserve back-up to the Stabilization Force in Bosnia. Once NATO approved its participation in a Kosova stabilization force, it would be replaced by another unit from Poland. Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz said the same day that the battalion will be financed from government budgetary funds. It is estimated that its possible deployment in Kosova would cost 7 million zlotys ($1.76 million) a month. JM

POLISH PEASANT PARTY TO ASK POPE FOR HELP

Jaroslaw Kalinowski, leader of the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), said on 1 June that PSL parliamentary deputies will hand Pope John Paul II an open letter asking him to save Polish farmers, PAP reported. They intend to hand the letter to the pontiff during his planned visit to the Polish parliament on 11 June. "Please help farmers in their misery, please lend inspiration to those in power, and give us all strength and hope to remain faithful to our religion and culture," PAP quoted the letter as saying. The PSL also wants a special parliamentary committee to investigate the police's use of force against farmers who last week set up road blocks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). JM

POLISH CABINET ENTER TALKS WITH PROTESTING NURSES

The government on 1 June began talks with the Nurses and Midwives Trade Union, PAP reported. A group of midwives and nurses, who have been staging a hunger strike in the Labor Ministry since 27 May, suspended their protest for the duration of the negotiations. The union is demanding that the wages of nurses and midwives be increased to the equivalent of 1.5 times the average wage in the state enterprise sector. It also wants a freeze on lay-offs and increased spending in the health service. JM

NATO TRANSPORT TRAINS CROSS CZECH BORDER

Two NATO transport trains have crossed the Czech border for the first time, carrying military equipment for NATO use in the Balkans, CTK reported on 1 June, citing a Defense Ministry spokesman. The agency said one of the trains was bound for Romania and contained equipment for a possible peace-keeping force in Kosova. The other train was heading for the Balkans via Hungary and transporting equipment for SFOR units in Bosnia- Herzegovina. MS

HUNGARY INSISTS ON VOJVODINA AUTONOMY

Hungary has a "vested interest in a long-term, comprehensive resolution" of the Kosova crisis, which is "not conceivable without introducing autonomy for ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina," Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth told honorary consuls in Budapest on 1 June. In other news, the two devices that landed on Hungarian territory from NATO aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 1999) were identified as radar traps that are used for the purpose of disrupting Yugoslav radar stations, Defense Ministry spokesman Lajos Erdelyi told Hungarian media. MSZ

NEW MEDIA WAR ERUPTS IN HUNGARY

Hungarian Television (MTV) Executive Director Zsolt Laszlo Szabo has appointed Peter Csermely, editor of the right-wing weekly "Magyar Demokrata," as news director of MTV. Journalists say Csermely is sympathetic to the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), the daily "Nepszabadsag" reported on 2 June. Opposition Socialist Party chairman Laszlo Kovacs said the appointment signals the start of "a new media war," as Csermely previously drew attention to himself through his "extremist, radical articles." MIEP chairman Istvan Csurka said the opposition is "losing their hegemony over the media, that is why they are plotting and moaning." MSZ




DJUKANOVIC WANTS TO JOIN BALKAN RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and his Macedonian counterpart, Kiro Gligorov, met in Skopje on 1 June and issued an appeal for an "immediate, peaceful end" to the crisis in Kosova. Djukanovic told reporters that Montenegro "cannot waste any more time" and remain in a "permanent cage of isolation" from international efforts to draft a plan for the reconstruction and development of the Balkans after the conflict ends (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 June 1999). He stressed that Montenegro wants to be an active participant in ongoing discussions on the postwar Balkans but will accept observer status. Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who has been at the forefront of international efforts to draft a "stability pact" for the region, argues that Yugoslavia may join the pact once it becomes "democratic, peaceful and committed to European values," the "Berliner Zeitung" reported on 28 May. It is unclear whether Fischer is prepared to admit Montenegro to discussions on the region's future independently of Serbia and before the conflict ends. PM

TENSIONS CONTINUE BETWEEN MONTENEGRO, YUGOSLAV MILITARY

Mayor Savo Paraca of Cetinje called on the army to withdraw its 1,500 troops from his city, Reuters reported on 1 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 1999). "Previously there were just 15 soldiers based here. Now hundreds have come, bringing with them their cannons and artillery. What are they doing here? This place has no strategic importance," he concluded. Elsewhere, Yugoslav Navy Vice Admiral Milan Zec said in a statement that a recent request by officials of the town of Herceg Novi for the navy to cease "unnecessary activities near inhabited areas" is "completely unacceptable." Zec added: "You are constantly trying to blunt the sharpness of our defense. It seems you openly stand on the side [of NATO]." PM

YUGOSLAV GENERAL KILLED

General Ljubisa Velickovic, who is deputy chief of the General Staff and former commander of the Air Force, died while inspecting troops at the front, Montenegrin Radio reported on 1 June. It is unclear when, how, or where he died, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service added. He was a professional pilot who often flew the air force's MiG-29 aircraft. Meanwhile in Nis, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands the Third Army, said his forces' losses after 70 days of NATO air strikes are fewer than 1,800 men. He stressed that casualties were low because "we took our units out into the field [and away from buildings and equipment] in time. We did the maximum to save our people, which is our strategic job." The Third Army's area of responsibility includes Kosova. PM

CONFUSION OVER BELGRADE'S READINESS TO ACCEPT G-8 PROPOSAL

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic has sent a letter to the rotating chair of the EU Presidency and German Foreign Minister Fischer saying that "Yugoslavia has accepted G-8 principles, including a UN presence, mandate and other elements to be decided by a UN Security Council resolution" (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 7 May 1999). Jovanovic added that "in order to achieve a successful solution, it is necessary immediately to end the NATO aerial bombardment and to concentrate on a political agenda," AP reported. Jovanovic did not indicate if and when Yugoslavia will withdraw its troops from Kosova. Elsewhere, General Pavkovic told the private news agency BETA that "we have accepted all the G-8 principles--of course with alterations regarding the departure of the army and police troops...and the presence of an international peace mission." FS

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES SLOW REFUGEE FLOW

Serbian authorities recently began demanding that Kosovars seeking to cross into Macedonia first show their passports or identity cards, a spokesman for the UNHCR said in Skopje on 1 June. Most of the refugees were not allowed to cross the frontier because they had no such documents. This was because other Serbian authorities inside Kosova had previously confiscated the refugees' papers and destroyed them, the spokesman added. He noted that the UNCHR does not know why the Serbian border guards "have suddenly become sticklers for paperwork." PM

NORWAY COMPLETES QUOTA FOR KOSOVAR REFUGEES

Some 150 Kosovars arrived on 1 June at Kirkenes, which is located near Norway's Arctic frontier with Russia, AP reported. With their arrival, Norway met the quota of 6,000 refugees it promised to take in. The Norwegian government wants to set an example to other countries in giving temporary homes to Kosovars because Norway currently holds the OSCE's rotating chair. Norway has accepted more Kosovars per capita of its own population than has any other Western country. The population of Norway is 4.5 million. PM

UN COURT THROWS OUT SERBIAN CASE

On 2 June, the International Court of Justice, which is based in The Hague and is the UN's top judicial body, ruled against Belgrade in its complaint against four out of 10 NATO member countries. The court will rule on the remaining cases later in the day. The Serbian authorities charged the 10 with genocide because of their participation in NATO's bombing campaign. The court ruled that there is no clear indication of an attempt by the four "to bring about [Serbia's] physical destruction in whole or in part." The ruling added that that the court has no jurisdiction to order the Atlantic alliance to cease hostilities on the basis of the Serbian claim. The court noted that it "expresses its deep concern with the human tragedy, the loss of life, and the enormous suffering [in Kosova,] which form the background of the dispute." It concluded that it will investigate whether the NATO air strikes violate international law. PM

NATO PLANES BOMB ALBANIAN TROOPS IN BATTLE OF MORINA

Two NATO planes accidentally dropped bombs on Albanian territory on 1 June, destroying four concrete bunkers and slightly injuring two refugees and two Albanian soldiers, AP reported. The accident occurred as fighting intensified near the main Kosovar-Albanian border crossing of Morina. Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) troops were trying to take positions inside Kosova on Pashtrik Mountain in order to open a second supply corridor into Kosova. Serbian troops moved tanks to the border through the White Drin valley, where they destroyed the main border post and shelled the village of Morina, several kilometers behind the border. The NATO pilots were attempting to bomb the tanks when they hit the Albanian bunkers, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told the BBC. Elsewhere, Serbian troops fired numerous shells into the villages of Pogaj, Vlahen, and the town of Kruma, injuring one Albanian citizen, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. FS

UNHCR WARNS THAT FIGHTING ENDANGERS REFUGEES

A spokesman for the UNHCR told AP in Kukes on 1 June that the escalation of fighting near the town is endangering relief efforts for refugees. He stressed that "over the past week, we've had sniper fire, mortars, NATO bombardment and Albanian war maneuvers. Our operation up there is pretty much in tatters." He added that more than a dozen refugee workers were close to the place which the NATO bombs hit. A total of 46 ethnic Albanian refugees, all of whom are detainees released by the Serbs, crossed into Albania at Morina that day. Elsewhere, 430 refugees arrived in Korca from Macedonia. They left Macedonian refugee camps voluntarily to join their relatives in the Albanian camp. FS

THACI SAYS RUGOVA REFUSES TO MEET HIM

Provisional Kosovar government Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bonn on 1 June that his government is "willing to cooperate with everybody and of course also with [rival Kosovar leader] Ibrahim Rugova." He said he regretted that Rugova so far has "shown a lack of willingness to meet. In Paris [last week] we were both invited to the Albanian embassy to meet there, but Rugova did not have the...courage to come and see me. I do not know the reasons." Thaci accused Rugova of "taking his Democratic League of Kosova [LDK] hostage" by not allowing LDK officials to participate in Thaci's government. He stressed that the LDK "should play the most important political role" in Kosova's political scene. FS

SLOVENIA TO REQUIRE VISAS FROM MACEDONIANS, TURKS

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Ljubljana on 1 June that Slovenia will require visas from citizens of Macedonia and Turkey as of 1 September. He added that the move comes as "part of our adopting the European Union visa regime," Reuters reported. Slovenian officials have recently stressed that their republic wants to play a key role in aiding Balkan reconstruction efforts. Observers note that one of the main problems hindering regional integration is the presence of visa requirements between many countries of Southeastern Europe. PM

ROMANIA ACCEPTS IMF CONDITIONS

Meeting on 1 June, Prime Minister Radu Vasile, Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes, State Property Fund chief Radu Sarbu, and National Bank governor Mugur Isarescu announced they will accept the IMF conditions for approving the April letter of intent on a $475 million loan. Approval is conditional on scrapping a bill that would give tax incentives to major foreign investors, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A one-year "moratorium" is to be imposed on the bill, whose effects on the budget will be studied by a team of IMF experts. Participants also discussed the ongoing crisis in the banking sector. Isarescu, whose policies of controlling the exchange rate rather than lowering interest rates have been criticized by Vasile, said he is confident that interest rates will be lowered once inflation drops as a result of securing international loans. MS

LABOR UNREST IN ROMANIA

Bucharest metro workers who have been on strike since 31 May are demanding, among other things, the payment of a 13th monthly salary. Transportation Minister Traian Basescu said the strike is illegal and has asked the Supreme Court to ban it. Meanwhile on 1 June, more than 10,000 workers in Brasov marched on the office of the prefect, breaking windows and attacking police, to protest wage arrears and the threat of being laid off. Premier Vasile promised the government will find a way to save the Brasov Tractorul plant, but he added that there is "no solution other than restructuring and privatization." Earlier, veterinarians launched a nationwide stoppage to demand higher wages. Their strike threatens to reduce the number of livestock slaughtered and may lead to a meat shortage. Data released by the Central Statistics Board on 1 June show the economic performance in the first three months of 1999 is the worst in the last decade. MS

MOLDOVA, UKRAINE TO SIGN BORDER TREATY IN JULY

Moldovan Deputy Premier Nicolae Andronic and visiting Ukrainian Deputy Premier Serhiy Tyhypko told journalists in Chisinau on 1 June that the treaty on the demarcation of their countries' joint border will be signed during President Petru Lucinschi's official visit to Ukraine in July, Reuters reported. Tyhypko said that the text has been finalized and that an official map will be completed within two weeks. Under the agreement, Moldova will receive a 100-meter swath of land along the River Danube, near the village of Giurgiulesti, which is essential for the construction of a Moldovan oil terminal. They will swap plots of land near the southern Moldovan town of Basarabeasca, and Moldova will give up a 7-kilometer portion of the road near the village of Palanca. MS

BULGARIA'S KOZLODUY REACTOR SWITCHED OFF

A reactor at the Kozloduy nuclear plant had to be switched off on 1 June because of the malfunctioning of one of its turbines, AP reported. A spokesman for the plant said the incident posed no threat to people living in the area. MS




SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS USHER IN NEW ERA


by Victor Gomez

The Slovak electorate handed Vladimir Meciar his latest defeat in last weekend's presidential election. Many described that defeat, at the hands of ex-communist-turned- reformist Rudolf Schuster, as the end of an era. The days of nationalist politics mixed with corruption appear to be over. The new president and his allies in the coalition government can now devote themselves to the work of putting Slovakia back on track to European integration.

But while Meciar's defeat may have signaled the end of an era, the presidential elections in Slovakia have far from guaranteed the country's overall stability. In fact, much work remains to be done.

With a robust 57 percent of the votes in the 29 May final round of the presidential elections, Schuster has received a solid endorsement from the electorate. Although the Slovak presidency is largely a ceremonial position, the fact that the head of state is directly elected by the people lends it somewhat greater political authority than in countries where the president is elected by the parliament. As the government-backed candidate, Schuster's main pledge was to ensure that reforms continue unhindered in Slovakia. While he said he will oppose the government wherever he deems it necessary, for the time being he can be expected to pursue the same line as Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet. His cooperation will be ensured in the short term not because Schuster is a weak politician but because Slovakia has little room to maneuver at present. The country's currency recently tumbled as the markets expressed nervousness both at the upcoming presidential elections as well as at the general economic situation in the country. While Meciar's defeat should have a calming effect, that does not mean the government can afford to rest on its laurels. At the moment, Slovakia's economy is stagnating, with many analysts predicting GDP growth for this year to hover around just 1 percent. Unemployment, meanwhile, is dangerously high, at more than 16 percent.

The government has responded with austerity measures designed to control public finances and stimulate economic growth. Whether these prove sufficient to deal with the situation will become evident in the coming weeks and months. Meanwhile, the Dzurinda cabinet has also had to deal with the trail of corruption and dubious privatizations left by Meciar's government.

The problems are manifold, but so far Dzurinda's coalition government has shown remarkable political will to deal with them. Composed of a broad mixture of Christian Democrats, post-communist leftists, representatives of the country's ethnic Hungarian minority, and former members of Meciar's party, the government is an unwieldy creature. The first few months of the Dzurinda government have shown that-- regardless of a few squabbles--the cabinet has the potential to govern. Having secured the defeat of Meciar in both last fall's parliamentary elections and the presidential vote, the government will now have to maintain a united front in order to deal with the economic morass the former premier left behind.

The danger is that with Meciar soundly defeated at the ballot box, the disparate groups within the government will be even more tempted to engage in petty squabbling. The cabinet can ill afford such internal disunity, not only because the economy is in deep trouble but also because Meciar remains a political force to be reckoned with. After all, he won almost 43 percent of the vote in the presidential election. In addition, Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia has explicitly said its goal is to force early elections as soon as possible.

None of this will necessarily be a threat to the current government if it manages to continue to pursue much-needed economic reforms and austerity measures. The results of the presidential election more or less mirrored those of last fall's parliamentary elections in terms of the relative strength of the current government's supporters and of Meciar's backers. For the time being, the majority of the Slovak electorate seems prepared to accept the government's arguments about the necessity of tough economic reforms. But such policies will eventually start to bite. When that happens, some coalition members within the government will be sorely tempted to distance themselves from those measures or seek to have them watered down.

In this regard, Schuster can help by acting as a unifying figure around which the country can rally. In his capacity as the country's first-ever directly elected president, he will be in a position to provide some leadership during the hard times ahead. While he remains anathema to some Slovaks because of his past as a high- ranking Communist, many seem willing to accept him. And with Meciar lurking in the background, Schuster and the current unwieldy coalition government appear the best hope of getting the country out of its current crisis.


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