Accessibility links

Newsline - June 9, 1999




PRESS RAISING NEW QUESTIONS ABOUT CENTRAL BANK HEAD'S FUTURE...

"Izvestiya" on 9 June asserted that rumors about the removal of Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko have some "real basis," despite a series of denials by both cabinet and presidential administration officials that such a move is contemplated. According to the newspaper, Gerashchenko must resign voluntarily. Sources in "banking circles" told the daily that Gerashchenko's opponents are trying to pressure him through the print media. These foes are members of "clans close to the Kremlin" who are trying to put their own people in money-management positions before parliamentary and presidential elections, the newspaper alleged. Two days earlier, "Moskovskii komsomolets" made a similar allegation, naming Sibneft head Roman Abramovich and Russian President Boris Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, among others, as chief supporters of the effort to remove Gerashchenko. JAC

...AS SHAKY BANK GETS NEW LEASE ON LIFE

The Central Bank on 7 June suspended an order issued last August withdrawing the Imperial Bank's license to operate, ITAR-TASS reported. The decision to renew the bank's license was taken at the recommendation of the bank's creditors, shareholders, and management under a bail-out/restructuring plan, according to the agency. Imperial was once one of the country's 10 largest banks. According to "The Moscow Times" on 8 June, Gazprom, LUKoil, and Zarubezhneftegaz all requested that the Central Bank reissue the bank's license to operate. According to the daily, Vyacheslav Medvedev, the bank's former court-appointed temporary manager, said in a letter to the Central Bank that LUKoil borrowed $300 million from the bank. However, LUKoil's position is that it is in fact a creditor of Imperial. LUKoil and Oneksimbank are major investors in "Izvestiya," while "Moskovskii komsomolets" is considered close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. "The Moscow Times" is owned by Independent Media, which, in turn is owned by Menatep. JAC

STEPASHIN CALLS FOR BOTH STRONG CITIES, STRONG OBLASTS

In his address to the Council for Local Self-Government on 8 June, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin appeared to refuse to take sides in the conflict between municipal and oblast authorities, declaring that a strong Russia needs both "strong municipal governments and strong federation subjects," according to Interfax. Stepashin also noted that he finds attempts by federal authorities to trample on their municipal counterparts and reduce their authority "in principle unacceptable," saying that such efforts "run counter to the Russian Constitution and are indications of the weakness of the state." "Izvestiya" reported on 9 June that according to Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, who attended the meeting, little has changed for the better since last year's gathering, although everyone understands the key issues, such as the necessity of creating some kind of system for resolving conflicts that arise between municipal and oblast authorities. JAC

AGREEMENT ON ENERGY, TRANSPORT PRICES CLAIMED IMMINENT...

First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters on 8 June that Russia's largest oil companies, electricity giant Unified Energy Systems (EES), Gazprom, and the Russian government will sign an agreement before the end of the next week on a joint pricing and tariff policy on the domestic market. That agreement will be valid until the end of 1999, he added, Aksenenko's announcement follows a warning by Prime Minister Stepashin the previous day that companies that raise refined product prices will have their access to export outlets cut off. "Vremya MN" reported on 8 June that according to sources at Tyumen Oil, a shortage of refined products such as gasoline is already anticipated in connection with seasonal growth in consumption. If the authorities begin to deny access to crude export pipelines, then companies may try to shift to exporting more refined products, which is unregulated, those sources claim. As a result, the daily predicts a fuel crisis will occur in the fall. JAC

...AS AKSENENKO, CHUBAIS SEEN AS REAL POWERS IN REGION

In another article in its 8 June issue, "Vremya MN" argues that Aksenenko and Chubais are the few Moscow-based officials whose opinions are heeded by regional leaders, because railroads and energy are key to the health of regional economies. "A slight alteration of tariffs on railroad transportation or the simple refusal to transport shipments of debtor enterprises could ruin the economy of any region," according to the daily. As a result, no critical remarks are ever heard about either of these controversial figures in the Federation Council. The newspaper concludes that if the Kremlin continues its practice of exchanging "a bit of railroad or energy lines" here and there for pledges of political loyalty from the regional leaders, the federal center will eventually "be of no use to anyone." JAC

PRIMORYE ASKS CENTER FOR SPECIAL ENERGY SUBSIDIES

Primorskii Krai's Economic Council, partly composed of leaders of the region's largest enterprises, on 9 June called on the State Duma and the Russian government to adopt a special resolution increasing subsidies to the region to compensate for the difference between existing energy tariffs and the higher tariffs demanded by EES, ITAR-TASS reported. The krai's Deputy Governor Vladimir Rud declared that an increase in energy tariffs would be the last straw "that broke the economy's back," noting that energy tariffs are already three times higher in the krai than the Russian average, according to Interfax-Eurasia the previous day. According to ITAR-TASS, energy accounts for 40 percent of local enterprises' production costs. JAC

DUMA SETS UP COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE NATO 'CRIMES AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA'

The State Duma on 9 June voted to set up a commission of 20 legislators to investigate "the crimes committed during [NATO] aggression against Yugoslavia," ITAR- TASS reported. The commission is expected to submit the results of its investigation to the parliament by 1 December. A parliamentary resolution says that the commission will cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. FS

STEPASHIN STRESSES MOSCOW WANTS 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' WITH CHINA

Meeting with Zhang Wannian, deputy chairman of China's Central Military Council, in Moscow on 9 June, Russian Premier Stepashin stressed that his government "will make every effort to intensify ties between Russia and China." He added that "we must jointly realize the course toward a strategic partnership" determined by Yeltsin and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin. Stepashin, who was born in 1952 in Port Arthur (at the time a Sino-Soviet naval base), also stressed his personal ties to China, remarking that "no other Russian premier" was born in that country. JC

ORTHODOX CHURCH FINDS COMMON GROUND WITH IRANIAN CLERGY...

At the conclusion of a four-day "theological dialogue" between the president of Iran's Culture and Islamic Relations Organization, Aya Mohammed Ali Tashkiri, and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the two religious leaders announced they are united in their determination to protect their traditions against what they see as an onslaught from the West, "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 June. According to the daily, both religious officials spoke out strongly against proselytizing by Western Churches and new religious movements. Tashkiri noted that "unfortunately, we currently are observing a cultural immoral aggression on the part of the United States and similar countries and this aggression has to be repelled." Metropolitan Kirill added that the "moral and spiritual values professed by the Orthodox are essentially very close to the moral and spiritual values that are professed today by Islam." JAC

...WHILE SNUBBING TOLSTOY

Meanwhile, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II declined to visit a museum honoring Russian writer Leo Tolstoy while visiting Tula, AFP reported on 8 June. A church spokesman told the agency that "the Patriarch has never changed his position on the ideas of Tolstoy, which are incompatible with the dogma of the Orthodox Church." JAC

NEXT CIS SUMMIT SET FOR OCTOBER

Meeting in Minsk on 4 June, the CIS heads of government scheduled the next CIS summit for October 1999, Interfax reported on 8 June, quoting a senior Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official. The heads of government failed, however, to finalize an agreement on creating a CIS free economic zone, although CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov had secured support for that project during talks with CIS presidents last month. It is not clear which CIS member states objected to the proposed free economic zone. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka blamed all five GUUAM members (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) for "literally blocking" adoption of the resolution. But Georgian State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze told Caucasus Press on 8 June that Georgia approved the proposal to create a free economic zone on condition that the regulations do not conflict with those of the World Trade Organization, which Georgia hopes to join before the end of this year. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT RETREAT FROM MARKET REFORM

Robert Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 8 June that Armenia will not diverge from its commitment to market reforms in the wake of the 30 May parliamentary elections, saying that to do so would be "destructive" for the economy and the country as a whole, Reuters and Interfax reported. Nor is any retreat likely from the country's drive for integration into European structures and membership of the Council of Europe, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the next day. Kocharian said he will announce the composition of the new government on 11 June. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS

The parliament passed the law on municipal elections in the second reading on 8 June, Turan reported. Under that law, local council members will be elected for a period of five years under the majoritarian system. The 17 opposition deputies aligned in the Democratic Bloc, who have been boycotting parliamentary proceedings since mid-April, did not participate in the vote, although they earlier condemned the law as anti-democratic and reactionary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). LF

ABKHAZ-GEORGIAN TALKS MAKE NO PROGRESS

A heated dispute erupted between Abkhaz and Georgian delegates to talks in Istanbul on 8 June intended to restore some degree of mutual trust between the two sides. The subject of the dispute was the repatriation to Abkhazia's Gali Raion of ethnic Georgian displaced persons, according to Caucasus Press and a correspondent for RFE/RL's Georgian Service. Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh affirmed that his government is capable of ensuring the security of those displaced persons, several thousand of whom have returned since March 1999. But representatives of the Georgian displaced persons said they cannot return en masse without international guarantees of their safety. The two sides also failed to agree on whether killings of both Abkhaz police and Georgian civilians in Gali should be classified as acts of terrorism. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES COME TO BLOWS

Four parliamentary deputies, one of them a member of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), resorted to fisticuffs during a 8 June debate on a proposal by the National Democratic Party of Georgia that the minimum threshold for parliamentary representation under the proportional system should be raised from 5 percent to 7 percent, Caucasus Press reported. A deputy from the Labor Party sustained a broken nose. Mikhail Machavariani, the SMK deputy in question, condemned that proposal as intended to destabilize the domestic political situation by the use of "puppet" parties. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY JOINS IN CRITICISM OF GOVERNMENT POLICY...

The center-left Azamat Party unveiled an alternative anti-crisis program on 8 June that calls for a retreat from the monetarist policies of recent years and for measures to reduce reliance on exports and boost domestic production, Reuters reported. Party co-chairman Galym Abilsiitov told journalists that neither the present government nor the OTAN (Fatherland) party that has recently criticized its policies has any concrete program for improving the deteriorating economic situation. For that reason, Abilsiitov continued, his party will not demand that the government resign. He interpreted OTAN's criticism of government policies as a signal that the cabinet of Nurlan Balghymbaev will soon be replaced. LF

...BUT PRESIDENT RULES OUT ITS REPLACEMENT

Addressing cabinet members and regional governors in Astana on 9 June, Nursultan Nazarbaev said that both Balghymbaev and the cabinet he heads will remain in office, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. But Nazarbaev nonetheless strongly criticized Balghyambaev and other leading officials, including National Bank chairman Qadyrzhan Damitov and Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Oraz Zhandosov, for "errors" that had led to "a serious economic and social crisis." LF

CHINESE DEPUTY PREMIER VISITS KYRGYZSTAN

Qian Qichen held talks in Bishkek on 8 June with Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Silaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. According to a government communique, there are no unresolved issues between the two countries, which pledged to further develop political, economic, and transport cooperation. China is already Kyrgyzstan's main trade partner, with annual trade turnover estimated at $200 million. An intergovernmental agreement was signed whereby China will grant Kyrgyzstan $1.3 million in technical assistance. Qian and Akaev also discussed the possibility of introducing visa-free travel between Kyrgyzstan and China. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION, GOVERNMENT SEEK WAYS TO RESUME COOPERATION

Working groups representing the United Tajik Opposition and the country's leadership met in Dushanbe on 8 June to discuss conditions under which the UTO will resume full-scale cooperation on implementation of the 1997 peace agreement, AP-Blitz and Reuters reported. UN Special Representative Jan Kubis expressed the hope that the two sides will succeed in resolving their differences within a week. The UTO suspended its participation in the work of the Commission for National Reconciliation two weeks ago to protest the government's failure to comply with commitments it made under the 1997 peace agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). Several explosions took place in Dushanbe during the night of 8-9 June, but there are no reports of any casualties, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT CASTIGATES THREE OFFICIALS FOR CORRUPTION

Addressing a cabinet session on 8 June, Saparmurat Niyazov named three senior officials, including National Radio and Television Company chairman Annangeldy Nurgeldiev, dismissed for embezzlement and taking bribes worth up to $1 million, Reuters and Interfax reported. Niyazov said the three men are under house arrest but may be amnestied if they repay to the state the sums involved. LF




UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT RULES IN MOROZ'S FAVOR

The Supreme Court on 8 June ordered the Central Electoral Commission to issue another 150,000 voter registration forms to presidential candidate Oleksandr Moroz, who has accused the authorities of blocking his election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1999). The candidates registered to run in the 31 October elections must use such forms to collect by 13 July at least 1 million signatures supporting their candidacy. Electoral officials said they will fulfill the court decision, although one of them, Viktor Alsufyev, commented that the court "allowed itself to be dragged into political games," AP reported. Alsufyev noted that the court earlier refused to give more registration forms to President Leonid Kuchma and Hennadiy Udovenko, a candidate from Popular Rukh. JM

UKRAINIAN TV STATION COMPLAINS OF POLITICAL HARASSMENT

The STB television company, a popular private network set up in Ukraine in 1997, has complained of political pressure, which, it says, is part of a growing battle for control over the media during the presidential campaign, AP and Reuters reported. STB acting chairman Dmytro Prykordonnyy told journalists on 8 June that the government ordered the channel to stop broadcasting outside Kyiv by means of satellite. The order, if implemented, would deprive STB of access to half its viewers, according to Prykordonnyy. He also said tax inspectors are almost constantly at STB's offices, looking for tax violations. In March, STB appealed to the president and the parliamentary speaker for protection against assaults on and intimidation of its journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline." 5 March 1999). JM

UKRAINE'S FOREIGN DEBT TOTALS $12.4 BILLION

The Kyiv newspaper "Biznes" reported on 7 June that Ukraine's foreign debt totaled $12.4 billion as of 1 May. The country owes $2.79 billion to the IMF (24.3 percent of the total debt), $1.89 billion to Russia (16.5 percent), $1.77 billion in fiduciary loans (15.4 percent), and $1.21 billion to the World Bank (13.8 percent), among other creditors. JM

WILL BELARUSIAN POLITICAL DIALOGUE IN BUCHAREST TAKE PLACE?

It is unclear whether the Belarusian authorities will be represented at the OSCE-proposed meeting in Bucharest on 11- 14 June between Belarusian officialdom and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 28 May 1999), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 8 June. Both the Belarusian National Assembly and the presidential administration have refused to comment on the proposed meeting. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Representatives, lower house of the National Assembly, has adopted a statement saying it is ready to inaugurate a dialogue with Belarusian "social and political circles" in a bid to "improve legislation within the framework of the constitution in force," Belarusian Television reported on 8 June. The statement adds that the legislature is ready to hold the dialogue in Minsk. It makes no mention of the OSCE proposal to hold the talks in Bucharest. JM

NO RESOLUTION TO BALTIC 'PORK WAR'

The Baltic Free Trade Agreement Committee, meeting on 7-8 June in Riga, failed to resolve the so-called "pork war" among the three countries. The crisis ensued after Latvia introduced protective tariffs on pork and pork products (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). On 7 June, Estonia and Lithuania called on Latvia to remove the tariffs within two weeks, saying that they do not rule out retaliatory measures, according to ETA. MH

ESTONIAN WAR CRIMES COMMISSION MEETS

The committee to investigate crimes committed during the period around World War II has confirmed that its first area of investigation will be the Nazi occupation of 1941-1944. A report is scheduled to be published next year. The committee's task is not to initiate court proceedings but to detail the situation during the occupation years, according to a press release. The body, created by President Lennart Meri and chaired by Finnish top diplomat Max Jakobson, will next meet in November. MH

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT NOT TO DEBATE LANGUAGE LAW BEFORE RECESS

Referring to the decision by the parliamentary Presidium to call an extraordinary session for 16 June to discuss the language law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1999), Dzintars Abikis, the chairman of the Educational, Cultural and Science Committee, said that his committee will not be able to submit the bill by that date. The committee voted by four to five that there is not enough time to prepare the draft for full parliamentary debate before the originally planned target of this fall, according to BNS. Parliamentary officials state that the session scheduled now will have no document to discuss. MH

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW AGAINST KGB FRONTS

The Lithuanian parliament on 8 June passed a law to outlaw organizations and businesses established as fronts for foreign intelligence services. Following a heated debate, the bill passed by a vote of 63 to 11, according to BNS. The law also stipulates that the heads of organizations and businesses that worked for Soviet intelligence must report to the State Security Department. The law states that if a court establishes that such businesses and organizations are "fronts," they will be liquidated and their property confiscated. MH

MAJOR PRIVATIZATION SALES EXPECTED IN POLAND THIS YEAR

Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz on 8 June said the state will sell a 52.1 percent stake in the Pekao SA Bank by the end of June and a 80 percent stake in Bank Zachodni in the third quarter of 1999. Wasacz expects that 25-35 percent of the Telekomunikacja Polska SA monopoly will also be sold this year. He added that the State Treasury also intends to sell its stakes in foreign-trade enterprises by the end of 1999. JM

POLISH PEASANTS CALL FOR BAN ON EU IMPORTS

The Polish Peasant Party on 8 June urged a ban on imports from the EU of any kind of animal-derived food or fodder until all health hazards to Polish consumers are eliminated, PAP reported. Earlier that day, Robert Gmyrek, deputy to Poland's chief veterinarian, said that eight Polish importers probably bought Belgian animal feed that might be contaminated with dioxin. Government spokesman Krzysztof Luft commented the same day that there is nothing to justify a complete ban on farm produce imported from the EU. He added that Belgian imports suspected of containing dioxin will be examined shortly. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT REJECTS CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

The Chamber of Deputies on 8 June rejected a government-proposed amendment to the constitution that would have authorized the cabinet to issue decrees with the power of law necessary for accession to the EU without parliamentary approval. The vote in favor of the amendment was 116, short of the necessary 120, Reuters reported. The amendment also called for the simplification of the procedure of sending Czech troops abroad and allowing foreign troops to enter Czech territory, proposing that the government take that decision without the parliament's approval. Also on 8 June, deputies approved in the first reading a government-proposed bill providing for creating the institution of ombudsman, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK CABINET APPROVES MINORITY LANGUAGE BILL...

The cabinet on 8 June approved a draft of the new minority language bill, which allows national minorities to use their mother tongue in contacts with public administration officials, CTK reported. Both the Party of the Democratic Left opposed the bill, while the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) expressed dissatisfaction with the draft. Party spokesman Lajos Meszaros, in an interview with the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 9 June, said the SMK is ready "to compromise." The cabinet-approved bill states that the minority languages may be used in official contacts in localities where minorities make up 10 percent of the population. The SMK, however, wants that figure raised to 20 percent. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists that the parliament must approve the bill by end of June to allow the EU to move Slovakia up to the "fast-track" group in accession talks. MS

...BUT OPPOSITION MAY TRY TO KILL IT IN REFERENDUM

The Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 8 June that the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) intends to initiate a petition calling for a referendum on the minority language bill. HZDS deputy chairman Vojtecj Tkac told the daily that the HZDS also intends to initiate a petition calling for a referendum that would ban the privatization of companies of "strategic importance." CTK said observers believe the HZDS can easily collect the 350,000 signatures in support of a referendum and that its chances of winning such a vote are not bad. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH CLINTON

U.S. President Bill Clinton, meeting with Arpad Goncz in the White House, praised Hungary's firm stand against ethnic cleansing in Kosova, Hungarian media reported. Asked by reporters about the situation of ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina, Clinton said "this is a very important issue for Hungary, and we are determined to bring it to a successful conclusion." Goncz said Budapest will remain a "responsible and reliable partner" during the on-going NATO mission in Yugoslavia. In other news, the Hungarian cabinet approved a Defense Ministry report on Hungarian participation in the envisaged peacekeeping force in Kosova. Ministry spokesman Lajos Erdelyi said Hungary plans to send some 320 guard troops to the region. MSZ




RUSSIA, WEST AGREE TO DRAFT UN RESOLUTION ON KOSOVA...

The foreign ministers of the G-8 countries, meeting in Cologne on 8 June, agreed on a draft UN Security Council resolution on Kosova, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The resolution stipulates that Yugoslavia must put "an immediate and verifiable end to violence and repression..., and begin [and] complete verifiable phased withdrawals...of all military, police and paramilitary forces according to a rapid timetable." FS

...PUTTING INTERNATIONAL CIVILIAN, MILITARY MISSIONS UNDER 'UN AUSPICES'

The draft also says that the international military and civilian presence in Kosova will be "under United Nations auspices." It specifies, however, that "the international security presence with substantial NATO participation must be deployed under [a] unified command and control and authorized to establish a safe environment for all people in [Kosova] and to facilitate the safe return to their homes of all displaced persons and refugees." The resolution envisages the return of "an agreed number of Yugoslav and [Serbian] military and police personnel" to maintain contacts with international officials, to mark and clear mine fields, and to maintain "a presence at [Serbian] patrimonial sites [and] key border crossings." It also stipulates that the UN secretary- general will "establish an international civil presence...in order to provide an interim administration...under which the people of [Kosova] can enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." FS

ANNAN EXPECTS QUICK APPROVAL

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told AP in New York on 8 June that he expects the resolution to be approved by the Security Council "within the next day or two." He added that "today we are on the verge of peace." Annan pointed out that "it is likely we will have a [bombing] pause just about the time that the Security Council votes." He added that within the next few days, he will appoint an administrator to oversee the civilian aspects of the peace plan. On 9 June, Annan met with OSCE chairman Knut Vollebaek to discuss a possible role for the OSCE in Kosova's civilian administration. Vollebaek told AP that "this will be a major task, and these are areas that are within the mandate of the OSCE.... We would like to assist and participate there." FS

WILL CHINA VETO THE RESOLUTION?

Chinese Deputy UN Ambassador Shen Guofang said on 8 June that Beijing cannot accept demands in the draft resolution for full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia because of the tribunal's indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Shen said "we believe that that indictment is politically motivated," AP reported. He also objected to a provision saying that the international presence in Kosova will be acting under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which will make the resolution militarily enforceable. He argued that "we cannot give justification to NATO for the further bombing of Yugoslavia." Furthermore, he made clear that NATO must stop its air campaign before China approves any resolution. Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin told a visiting Chinese military official that Russia wants a "strategic partnership" with China (see Part 1). FS

NATO RAID KILLS 'HUNDREDS' OF SERBIAN TROOPS

A U.S. B-52 aircraft on 8 June dropped an unspecified number of cluster bombs on some 800-1,200 Serbian troops in an open field near the border between Kosova and Albania. A NATO spokesman in Brussels said that "this hit must have really stunned [the Serbian forces]. There's no doubt that the Serbs suffered enormous casualties. There were absolutely pulverized," the spokesman added. The number of casualties is not known but may be the largest sustained by the Serbs in a single NATO air attack against Serbian forces, the "Washington Post" reported. PM

SERBIAN FORCES PREPARING TO LEAVE KOSOVA?

A Pentagon spokesman told reporters on 8 June that "we've certainly seen preparations" by Serbian forces to leave Kosova. He noted that Serbian forces in the province are in the process of "mobilizing vehicles and other means to transport people out." The spokesman added, however, that he has no evidence that the Serbs have actually begun to leave the province. PM

MILITARY TALKS CONTINUE NEAR KUMANOVO

NATO and Serbian military officials held "intense and constructive discussions" through the night of 8-9 June at Kumanovo airfield in Macedonia, a spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said. The Serbian officers broke off the talks on at least two occasions in order to consult with their superiors in Belgrade. The main stumbling block remains the "timing and sequencing" of the Serbian withdrawal from the province, Reuters reported. NATO officials insist that all Serbian forces must leave Kosova and do so on routes prescribed by NATO within one week or so. PM

UCK PROMISES SERBS SAFE WITHDRAWAL

Bajram Kosumi, who is information minister of the Kosovar provisional government, told a press conference in Tirana on 8 June that the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) will guarantee the safe withdrawal of all Serbian forces in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1999), an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Kosumi said that the provisional government has "full control" over the UCK, adding that this control is "very important for the consolidation of the military and political forces in Kosova." Kosumi added that his government is committed to the establishment of a transitional administration in which democratic institutions will be set up in Kosova. He added, however, that after a transitional period, the Kosovars must be allowed to decide their fate themselves through a referendum. Kosumi urged the international community to quickly help improve the humanitarian situation inside Kosova after the withdrawal of Serbian troops. FS

ALBANIA TO BRING CHARGES AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA AT INTERNATIONAL COURT

Information Minister Musa Ulqini said in Tirana on 8 June that Albania is preparing to bring charges against Yugoslavia at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Ulqini said that Albania will demand compensation for damage inflicted on Albania during the recent war. He also said that Albania will file charges on behalf of Kosova and demand that Belgrade return to the Bank of Kosova some $2 billion that it allegedly withdrew in recent years. Meanwhile, several Serbian artillery shells hit the northern Albanian towns of Kruma and Cahan on 9 June and a television transmitter in Kukes the previous day, Reuters reported. No casualties were reported. FS

NATO 'NOT TO ALLOW' SERBIAN FORCES TO TRANSIT MONTENEGRO

President Milo Djukanovic told reporters in Podgorica on 8 June that NATO will "not allow" Serbian forces leaving Kosova to pass through Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1999). He added that Montenegro will admit NATO peacekeepers to its territory if the Atlantic alliance asks Podgorica to do so. PM

SCHROEDER CALLS ON AID AGENCIES TO 'BUY MACEDONIAN'

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met with Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov in Bonn on 8 June. The German leader told reporters that he has "no understanding" for foreign aid agencies in Macedonia that bring their own food and unspecified other supplies with them rather than buy them on the Macedonian market. He also urged German textile companies to renew the contracts they broke off with Macedonian firms when the crisis in Kosova began earlier this year. Macedonian officials have criticized international aid agencies that do not buy food and other supplies from Macedonian sources. Macedonia lost much of its export income when it ceased to be able to export goods via Serbia on account of the Kosova crisis. PM

CROATIA TO HAND OVER WAR CRIMES SUSPECT

The Zagreb County Court issued a statement on 8 June saying that it "has decided to meet the request of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to hand over indictee Vinko Martinovic.... [The Zagreb court] has decided to allow his extradition" from Croatia to The Netherlands, the statement added. Martinovic told the court that he will not appeal against the decision to send him to The Hague if his extradition expedites Croatia's membership into NATO's Partnership for Peace Program. Western governments have repeatedly criticized Croatia for its lack of cooperation with the Hague-based court. The tribunal has indicted Martinovic for crimes against humanity committed during the Croatian -Muslim conflict in Bosnia between May 1993 and January 1994. PM

ROMANIAN POLL SHOWS OPPOSITION WELL AHEAD

An May opinion poll conducted on behalf of the Soros Foundation shows that former President Ion Iliescu and his Party of Social Democracy in Romania would win presidential and parliamentary elections if those ballots were to take place now, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They received 35 percent and 39 percent backing, respectively. Incumbent President Emil Constantinescu would come second (26 percent) in the presidential race, while the ruling Democratic Convention of Romania would win only 22 percent in a parliamentary ballot. Fully two-thirds (66 percent) said Romania is "moving in the wrong direction." Sixty-nine percent said they oppose NATO's use of Romanian air space, and 78 percent opposed the stationing of NATO troops on Romanian territory. MS

ROMANIA SECURES FOREIGN LOAN

The National Bank on 8 June signed an agreement to borrow $ 108 million from a group of foreign banks, most of which are represented in Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The country's hard- currency reserves have dropped sharply after it recently serviced about one-third of its $2.8 billion foreign debt. The loan, carrying a 9.65 percent interest rate, is to be repaid within two years. In other news, representatives of teachers, whose strike has entered its fourth day, will meet with Premier Radu Vasile on 9 June. The previous day, a court ordered rail workers to suspend for 30 days a warning strike planned for 10 June, saying rail transportation is a national "strategic interest." MS

RUSSIA SUBMITS SCHEDULE FOR REMOVING WEAPONS FROM TRANSDNIESTER

Russia's permanent mission to the OSCE on 3 June submitted to the OSCE Permanent Bureau in Vienna a timetable for the removal of Russian weapons from the Transdniester, a Moldovan Foreign Ministry spokesman told journalists in Chisinau on 8 June. Sergiu Teodor said the timetable has not been agreed on with Moldova and that Chisinau views it as being "only a draft document." Returning from the CIS prime ministers meeting in Minsk last week, Premier Ion Sturza said the Russian timetable is "unacceptable" and that he has agreed with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Stepashin, that Moscow will submit an alternative, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

EU, BULGARIA SIGN JOINT DOCUMENT ON MEMBERSHIP PREPARATIONS

In a document signed by EU commissioner Yves-Thibault de Silguy and Bulgarian Finance Minister Muravei Radev on 8 June, the sides said "substantial progress in stabilization has been achieved in Bulgaria" and that "sound economic policies [have] led to a stable exchange rate, declining inflation and single-digit interest rates." The document also noted that the "successful implementation of economic reforms...will bring the Bulgarian economy closer to the fulfillment of the criteria for accession to the EU," AP reported. MS




UKRAINE'S HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN IN TIGHT SPOT


By Lily Hyde

Hopes were high last year when Ukraine established the office of ombudsman, charged with monitoring, protecting, and upholding the rights of individuals.

But those hopes have since been dashed, with some citizens saying the office seems remote and unhelpful. And employees at the office say they lack the resources to provide much help.

The problems come at a critical stage for Ukraine's international relations. The Council of Europe is threatening measures if the country does not introduce improved human rights legislation. While the ombudsman's office is only a small part of Ukraine's human rights activities, improvements in the way it functions would clearly help the country's image abroad.

Under existing laws, the office's powers are fairly clear. Citizens or residents can address complaints to the ombudsman, who can then present their case to the authorities or the Constitutional Court. The ombudsman also has the right to unrestricted access to any public official, including the president, and is free to inspect any government institution, such as prisons.

The problem is that the law provides the ombudsman with only limited enforcement authority and does not penalize those who obstruct human rights inquiries. Although the law states that the executive branch is to draw up and submit amendments necessary for Ukrainian legislation to comply with the mandate of the ombudsman, this has still not been done.

According to Nina Karpachova, whom the parliament elected as ombudsman last year, her office has taken over that task, proposing amendments to some 70 laws to allow her to operate as stipulated by the law on the ombudsman. However, those amendments have not been enacted.

One of Karpachova's aides, Vasily Radko, told RFE/RL that the failure to enact the amendments means that the office can do little to address the concerns of those who petition it. "We made our changes to 70 laws because the rights of the plenipotentiary Secretariat aren't written [into legislation], he notes. "Until that's done it's difficult for people and for us. We need such an institution with plenipotentiary power. People appeal to us, with their misfortunes, as a last resort. Of course we want our help to be more functional, but at this stage we can only talk to people and help if we can."

There are other shortcomings. Last year, the office, which includes a staff of 30 squeezed into a few small rooms, was not included in the budget, so the employees depended solely on contributions from the foreign diplomatic community. Radko says part of the problem is that a large percentage of those who come to the office have complaints that are not within its competence.

For example, a former collective farm head from Khmelnitsky region claims he was unfairly convicted of alleged abuse of his position because he had installed a telephone at work and tried to privatize the farmland. The ombudsman applied to the regional prosecutor, who eventually gave a negative answer, whereupon the ombudsman turned to the prosecutor-general to review the case. Radko can only explain to the outraged farmer that the process takes a very long time and the ombudsman can do nothing more for him.

Citizens, however, can take their pleas a step further than the ombudsman. Last year, 13,000 Ukrainians applied to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, according to Petro Rabinovich, a human rights expert from Lviv University. Only 200 cases were accepted. The problem, said Rabinovich, is that people do not know how to formulate their complaints or indeed what their rights are under the European Convention of Human Rights.

In theory, those rights should be the same as they are at home, as Ukraine ratified the convention in 1997. One of the jobs of the ombudsman is to oversee Ukraine's adherence to the convention. But in the year since Karpachova was appointed, Ukraine's human rights record has been criticized by a Council of Europe report released at the end of 1998 and a U.S. State Department report released in February of this year.

Both documents sharply criticized the country for what they described as an unreformed prison system, a corrupt judiciary, and the repression of the free press. The Council of Europe report also cited Kyiv's failure to abolish the death penalty. In May, President Leonid Kuchma was named the world's sixth-worst enemy of the free press by the New York- based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Official response to the criticism so far has been angry and defiant. Kuchma has threatened to sue the authors of the New York report. Some parliamentary deputies have said Ukraine cannot impose Western standards on human rights because of its weak economy, arguing that international bodies have no right to criticize the country. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Kyiv.


XS
SM
MD
LG