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Newsline - August 27, 1999




CHARGES, DENIALS OVER FINANCIAL SCANDAL

Acting Prosecutor- General Vladimir Ustinov has announced that his office and the Federal Security Service will investigate the alleged money laundering scheme by Russian businessmen to cycle billions of dollars through the Bank of New York. "We will check all the facts," the Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement, noting that "today newspapers will write anything." Meanwhile, President Boris Yeltsin and former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais officially denied reports that they opened accounts in foreign banks, as "Corriera della Sera" had reported on 25 August. "Kommersant-Daily" offered Chubais an apology for misreporting on the issue. And the Russian Foreign Ministry denied any participation by its officials in the alleged money laundering operation, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. PG

MOSCOW DENIES MISUSING IMF CREDITS

Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told Ekho Moskvy on 26 August that Russia has never misused IMF credits, as some have charged. "This is an absolute lie," he said, "and the impression is that a campaign has been launched for the purpose of undermining relations between investors and Russia." But he acknowledged that some money has been transferred abroad, noting that the government is looking into the matter. PG

YELTSIN PRAISES SOVIET NUCLEAR PIONEERS

Three days before the 50th anniversary of the explosion of the first Soviet nuclear device, President Yeltsin released a statement on 26 August praising "our scientists, engineers, workers, and military personnel" for "their selfless labors" to lay "a powerful basis for Russia's nuclear shield," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, both Semipalatinsk, where the explosion took place, and the Russian Nuclear Center in Saratov Oblast, formerly Arzamas-16, announced plans to mark the anniversary. Even as Yeltsin released his remarks, the Russian government was considering how to handle the disposal of nuclear waste and whether to allow the importation of radioactive materials, Interfax reported. And Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Lev Ryabev said that Russia is working to modernize its nuclear arsenal. PG

YELTSIN PLANS EARLY SEPTEMBER VACATION

Boris Yeltsin plans to take a vacation in early September, his staff told Interfax on 26 August. Yeltsin reportedly has not decided where to go but may return to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. PG

NAINA YELTSIN STANDS BY HER MAN

In comments to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 26 August, Naina Yeltsin said that her husband knew what he was doing when he fired four prime ministers in 17 months, even though his logic was not always clear to others. "Now it may be difficult to explain but some time will pass and everyone will understand that it was correct," she said, noting that "it is just stupidity to think the president fires prime ministers because someone is influencing him." PG

GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS PRESIDIUM

At its session on 26 August, the government approved the following as members of its presidium: the prime minister, his two first deputies, three deputy prime ministers, and the ministers of finance, foreign affairs, interior, defense, justice, and economics as well as the head of the government staff. PG

PUTIN APPOINTS NEW DEPUTY PREMIER FOR MEDIA

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on 26 August appointed Mikhail Seslavinskii, head of the Russian Service for Television and Radio Broadcasting, as first deputy prime minister for the press, television and radio broadcasting, and communications. PG

GOVERNMENT SUBMITS FIVE TAX BILLS TO DUMA

On 26 August, the Russian government submitted five tax bills to the State Duma that would abolish some taxes, transfer others to the regions, change the way in which value-added tax is calculated, and set new income tax rates ranging from 12 percent to 30 percent. PG

STEPASHIN SAYS HE MAY RUN FOR PRESIDENT...

Former Prime Minster Sergei Stepashin said on 26 August that he may run for president if he and his allies do well in the upcoming Duma elections. He said that he joined with Yabloko because he wants "an open struggle against the Communist Party of Russia." He added that he believes he would bring in many well-known figures to the Yabloko list, including former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov. In other comments, he suggested that the ruble will decline to 30 to the dollar by the end of 1999. PG

...BACKS PUTIN ON DAGHESTAN

Also on 26 August, former Prime Minister Stepashin told ITAR-TASS that he completely supports his successor's approach in Daghestan. He said that he regrets that preventive measures were not taken in time to prevent the invasion of Daghestani villages. And Stepashin also backed Putin's approach to economic questions. PG

LUZHKOV SAYS KREMLIN FEARS HIS POLITICAL BLOC

In an interview with Moscow's Mayak Radio on 26 August, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said that the Kremlin opposes his Fatherland movement out of "fear of a political force that might lay claims on state power, including work in the State Duma." He added that the current Russian leadership is especially worried that Fatherland may be willing to "tackle economic problems differently or work to curb corruption and crime." In other remarks, Luzhkov suggested that the Russian Constitution should be amended to end what he called the overly frequent changes of government. PG

AGRARIAN PARTY RATIFIES ALLIANCE WITH FATHERLAND-ALL RUSSIA BLOC

The Central Council of the Agrarian Party voted 107 to 42 to ratify that party's alliance with the Fatherland-All Russia bloc, Interfax reported. But Nikolai Kharitonov, the Agrarian leader in the Duma, opposed the alliance and said the party should "go it alone" in the elections. PG

LEBED SAYS HE WON'T JOINT ANY ELECTION BLOC

Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed said that he will not join any of the election coalitions now being formed, Interfax reported. "I take no part in cockroach races," he said, noting that "you know what people think of all these coalition makers." PG

'KOMMERSANT-DAILY' SUES FIRE FIGHTERS

The publishers of "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 August filed a lawsuit in the Moscow Arbitration Court to recover losses they incurred when the State Fire-Fighting Service closed down the newspaper for supposed infractions against the fire code, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. PG

MILITARY PROSECUTOR APPEALS RULING IN SKURATOV CASE

The Main Military Prosecutor's office has lodged a protest over the decision by a Moscow court to dismiss the extension of the investigation into the case of former Prosecutor- General Yuri Skuratov. The lower court had ruled that the Military Prosecutor's Office had violated the law by unilaterally extending the investigation. PG

NO MAJOR CHANGES AT GAZPROM SESSION

Contrary to the predictions of many observers, there were no major changes in the leadership of Gazprom at a 26 August meeting of its shareholders. Viktor Chernomyrdin was re-elected as chairman, Rem Vyakhirev was re-confirmed as president, and the number of government officials on the 11-member board increased only from four to five, ITAR-TASS reported. Vyakhirev denied that he made any deal with the Kremlin to keep his job: "I am a simple worker and my conscience is clear," Interfax reported. At the session, Chernomyrdin said the new board will work to stabilize the country's gas sector, even as other officials announced that the government will sell another 3.37 percent of its shares in the gas giant. PG

JAPAN TO PROVIDE LOANS FOR BLACK SEA PIPELINE?

Gazprom board member Sergei Dubinin told Interfax in Moscow on 26 August that Gazprom has held talks with Japan's Ex-Im Bank on financing for the Blue Stream project to build a gas pipeline from Russian to Turkey across the Black Sea. Dubinin said the Japanese bank may provide between $300 million and $500 million toward the cost of purchasing pipes. The first gas is scheduled to be pumped through the finished pipeline in early 2001, Dubinin added. LF

GASOLINE PRICES RISE AS INFLATION SLOWS

Prices for gasoline at Moscow service stations have risen between 6 and 20 percent in the last 10 days, ITAR- TASS reported on 26 August. Meanwhile, the state statistics agency announced that inflation ran at only 1.7 percent during August, well below July's 2.8 percent. PG

CHECHNYA COMPLAINS TO UN OVER RUSSIAN AIRRAIDS

Chechnya's Foreign Ministry on 26 August called on the UN Security Council "to take the most resolute steps" to prevent new aggression by Russia against Chechnya, Interfax reported. The ministry said the 25 August air strikes on two districts in southern Chechnya were part of Moscow's preparation for a new war in Chechnya. Four people were injured in those attacks. The ministry invited the UN to dispatch an international commission to Chechnya to determine whether Russian claims that there are terrorist bases in Chechnya are true. Shamil Basaev, who commanded the militant force that recently withdrew from Daghestan, told Interfax on 26 August that the Russian air raids were "the beginning of a war against Muslims." "The united headquarters of the Daghestani Islamic forces have reserved the right to retaliate throughout Russia," he added. LF

DUMA LEADER LINKS KYRGYZSTAN, DAGHESTAN FIGHTING

Duma deputy speaker Mikhail Gutseriev told ITAR-TASS on 26 August that the hostage takings in Kyrgyzstan and the invasion of Daghestan were "links in one chain." He added that all CIS member states "should join ranks to fight terrorism and extremism." PG

LIVSHITS SEES EXPANDED RUSSIAN ROLE IN BALKANS

Speaking in Berlin on 26 August, Aleksandr Livshits, Moscow's coordinator for relations with the G- 8, said that "Russia will be invited to all official international forums devoted to the Balkans and will participate in the economic restoration of this region." He concluded that "neither the Group of Eight nor the donor conference or any other forum will decide on the restoration of the Balkans without Russia." PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES ARREST OF INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL...

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 26 August criticizing the arrest of Bosnian Serb General Momir Talic in Vienna the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999). The statement said that authorities detaining indicted war criminals "should take into account first and foremost how [that practice] will influence the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Reuters reported. The statement added that "Talic was taking part in a seminar...on the military aspects of implementing the [Dayton] peace agreement, at the invitation of the foreign minister of Austria. It is not difficult to see how this arrest will affect the further participation of Bosnian delegations in international forums." The statement also expressed "serious doubts" about the practice of issuing secret indictments, which it said "deprives Bosnian authorities and the accused themselves of the opportunity to demonstrate their readiness to cooperate with the tribunal." FS

...CALLS FOR SWIFT UCK DISARMAMENT

The next day, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Albanian gunmen shot at Russian KFOR soldiers who were evacuating priests from an Orthodox monastery. The statement stressed that "this incident is yet more evidence that the process of demilitarization of the [Kosova Liberation Army], and other armed groups of [Kosovar] Albanians...is proceeding extremely slowly." The ministry urged NATO to accelerate the disarmament process. FS

DID SPY PASS TOP-SECRET NATO INFORMATION TO RUSSIA?

Reuters quoted "The Scotsman" as reporting on 27 August that an unidentified Western military officer attached to NATO passed top secret information about the alliance's air campaign against Yugoslavia to Russian foreign intelligence. "The Scotsman" quoted an unidentified NATO official as saying that the Russian authorities handed over that information, including flight plan details, to the Yugoslav authorities. The official claimed that this enabled Serbian forces to intercept and shoot down a U.S. stealth fighter during a raid on a defense research base in late March. "The Scotsman" said that the officer was arrested shortly after the Stealth fighter was shot down and that NATO kept his arrest secret. A Russian foreign intelligence spokesman declined to comment. FS

MOSCOW NEWSPAPER URGES TIGHT LEASH FOR BALTIC COUNTRIES

"Vechernaya Moskva," a newspaper closely linked to a media group controlled by Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, said on 26 August that Moscow should exploit the large size of the ethnic Russian communities in Estonia and Latvia and its economic influence over all three countries to put pressure on them not to join the Western alliance. The newspaper added that all potential successors to Yeltsin would take this position. PG

RUSSIAN MOBSTER HELD IN GREECE

Vladimir Tatarenko, known in the underworld as Tatarin, remains under arrest in Greece, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. He is reportedly connected with the Krasnoyarsk crime family and is wanted by the Russian authorities for 13 murders and other crimes. The Greek press noted that Tatarenko was "the think-tank" for the Krasnoyarsk crime family, having "guided and personally participated" in all its activities, particularly in the Khakass Republic. PG

CHOLERA, DYSENTERY STRIKE RUSSIAN REGIONS

Four people in Vladivostok who were scavenging in a dump for food have come down with cholera, AP reported on 26 August. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS said, more than 35 cases of dysentery have been reported in Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Altai Autonomous Republic. PG

TV CENTER ATTACKED IN INGUSHETIA

Five armed men attacked the television center being built by Turkish construction workers in the Ingush capital of Nazran early on 27 August, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The attackers took a security official hostage, but Ingush police forced them to release him. One of the attackers was reportedly killed when a grenade he was holding exploded. The other four escaped by car in the direction of the border with Chechnya. LF




FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER WARNS OF DEFAULT DANGER

Hrant Bagratian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 26 August that the Armenian government will be unable to make internal debt repayments on schedule if it continues to sell high-yield, short-term treasury bills. The yields stand at more than 50 percent annually, which is considered high given single digit inflation. In budget amendments submitted to parliament earlier this week, the government asked for an additional 1.65 billion drams ($3.1 million) to cope with the rising cost of borrowing. No top Armenian government official has yet mentioned the possibility of a default. T-bills have never been the principal source of covering the budget deficit. More than 90 percent of this year's deficit, projected at 56 billion drams, is due to be financed by much cheaper external loans. LF

AZERBAIJAN OPPOSITION BLASTS MUNICIPAL ELECTION PREPARATIONS

At a session on 26 August, the Chairmen's Council of the opposition Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections (MERDE) announced the creation of a nine-strong team charged with collecting information on violations of the election law during the preparations for and the conduct of the 12 December municipal elections, Turan reported. MERDE also issued a statement protesting violations during the creation of so-called sortition committees charged with appointing local election commissions, which, MERDE claims, are totally controlled by local administrators and local branches of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party. MERDE warned that if such infringements continue it may launch mass protests beginning in mid-September. The opposition Musavat Party issued a statement on 26 August condeming "offenses and violations" during the setting up of the sortition committees. LF

GEORGIA TO BUILD NEW BLACK SEA OIL TERMINAL

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has approved plans by an Austrian-Georgian joint venture to build a new oil terminal in the village of Kulevi, some 15 kilometers north of Poti, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The terminal will have a capacity of 5-6 million tons per year and will be used primarily for the storage of crude to be transported by barge across the Caspian from Turkmenistan and then by rail across Azerbaijan and Georgia. The joint venture has reached a preliminary agreement with the EBRD on financing for the project, the cost of which is estimated at $70 million. LF

GEORGIA, ESTONIA DISCUSS ECONOMIC, SECURITY COOPERATION

Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and his visiting Estonian counterpart, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, discussed in Tbilisi on 26 August the prospects for defense and security cooperation both on a bilateral basis and within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, Caucasus Press reported. They also reviewed the prospects for cooperation between GUUAM and the Baltic States, with Ilves noting the particularly good relations between the Baltic States, Georgia, and Ukraine. The two ministers also signed a trade and economic cooperation agreement. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S UIGHUR MINORITY ADDRESS 'SHANGHAI FIVE'

The Association of Uighur Organizations of Kazakhstan issued a statement in Almaty on 25 August pegged to the "Shanghai Five" summit in Bishkek, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported the following day. The statement affirms that "the struggle of Uyghurs in Eastern Turkistan (Xin Jiang province, western China) has nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism or extremism, that struggle can be defined as [one for] national liberation." In Moscow, Interfax on 26 August quoted an unnamed senior Russian diplomat as saying that the leaders or Foreign Ministries of several countries, which he declined to identify, have requested clarification of the security agreement signed by the heads of state of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan at their 25 August summit. Some of those inquiries registered concern at the possible emergence of a new Russian-Chinese union. LF

MORE DEBRIS FROM EXPLODED RUSSIAN ROCKET FOUND IN KAAKHSTAN

Kazakh officials 26 August recovered on 99 large chunks of debris from the Russian Proton rocket that exploded shortly after blastoff from the Baikonur cosmodrome in early July, Interfax reported. Those chunks included fuel tanks containing heptyl fuel, which the Kazakhstan authorities claim poses a serious environmental danger. Kazakh and Russian investigators are to determine the extent of the financial damage Kazakhstan suffered as a result of the explosion at a 31 August meeting in Moscow, according to ITAR-TASS. Kazakhstan's National Space Agency director Meirbek Moldabekov said on 26 August that the provisional estimate of $80,000 will probably be revised upward in the light of the new find. LF

KYRGYZSTAN ASKS RUSSIA FOR HELP TO CAPTURE HOSTAGE- TAKERS

Acting Defense Minister Nuridin Chomoev told journalists in Bishkek on 27 August that the Kyrgyz government has asked Russia for military and technical assistance to locate and disarm the groups of guerrillas holding several dozen hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 August commented that the Kyrgyz armed forces are clearly not competent to neutralize the guerrillas without help. On 26 August, Kazakhstan offered to provide Kyrgyzstan with military equipment and personnel, according to Interfax. The same day, Kyrgyz forces launched an air strike on one of the militants' bases. Presidential administration official Bolot Dzhanuzakov said in Bishkek on 26 August that the hostage-takers, whom Chomoev identified as members of an Islamic group from Uzbekistan, have not made any demands of the Kyrgyz authorities, not have they tried to establish contact with those authorities. LF

TURKMENISTAN TALKS TOUGH ON TRANS-CASPIAN PIPELINE...

Turkmenistan's Oil and Gas Industry Minister Redzhepbai Arazov told Interfax in Ashgabat on 26 August that Turkmenistan is considering the possibility of allowing Azerbaijan to use the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline to export gas from its Caspian off-shore Shah Deniz deposit. But Arazov added that Turkmenistan will not reduce the amount of gas it has contracted to supply Turkey via that pipeline. In Baku two days earlier, Ilham Aliev, who is vice president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, told journalists that Azerbaijan cannot sign any agreement on the Trans-Caspian pipeline before it decides how much gas it wants to export via that pipeline, according to Turan. Aliyev predicted that as a gas exporter Turkmenistan will have problems competing with Azerbaijan as production costs in Azerbaijan are lower. LF

...AND GAS DEBTS

Chairing a cabinet session on 26 August, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov noted that Georgia and Azerbaijan owe his country some $374 million and $56 million, respectively, for supplies of natural gas, Interfax reported. Niyazov expressed the hope that those two countries will not jeopardize their long-term relations with Turkmenistan by failing to pay off those debts promptly. Visiting Ashgabat last week, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson urged Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to sign a four-way agreement pledging their commitment to the Trans-Caspian pipeline project. Senior EBRD official Yuri Woyzechowski told journalists in Ashgabat on 25 August that his bank may help finance construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, Interfax reported. LF




BELARUS SAYS OPPOSITIONIST WORSENING TIES WITH LITHUANIA

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 26 August said that the activities of Syamyon Sharetski, speaker of the opposition Supreme Soviet, "are aimed at further deepening the confrontation in Belarusian society and worsening Belarusian-Lithuanian relations," Belarusian Television reported. Sharetski fled to Vilnius in July, saying it was not safe for him to remain in Belarus. Sharetski announced this week that all documents signed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after 20 July are illegal because Lukashenka's legitimate term has ended. According to the ministry, Sharetski's announcement is "illegal" and "provocative" and aims at impeding the OSCE-mediated "constructive dialogue" between the authorities and the opposition. JM

WILL FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER BE RELEASED FROM JAIL?

Mikhail Sazonau, head of the government delegation for the talks with the opposition, told oppositionist Anatol Lyabedzka on 26 August that former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir's release from jail "could become a gesture of good will" on the part of the authorities ahead of the talks, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to an RFE/RL correspondent in Minsk, Lukashenka authorized Sazonau's meeting with Lyabedzka, which suggests that the idea of freeing Chyhir may come from the president himself. Chyhir, who challenged the Lukashenka regime by participating in the opposition presidential elections this year, was arrested in late April on charges of embezzlement. No official charges have been brought against him so far. JM

UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS DEATH SENTENCE ON SERIAL KILLER

The Supreme Court on 26 August rejected the appeal to commute the death sentence handed down to serial killer Anatoliy Onopriyenko to life imprisonment. Onopriyenko was sentenced in April after being found guilty of 52 murders. However, Onopriyenko may avoid execution because in 1997 Ukraine introduced a moratorium on carrying out the capital punishment. The Council of Europe is urging Ukraine to abolish the death sentence. There are "more than 410 persons" currently on death row in Ukraine, according to ITAR-TASS. JM

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER URGES ZERO DEFICIT BUDGET FOR 2000

Deputy Premier Serhiy Tyhypko said on 26 August that a "zero budget deficit should be approved for next year's budget," the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported. Tyhypko argued that if the parliament approves a large budget deficit, the government will have to take out foreign loans to cover it. He added that the cabinet does not plan to issue any T-bills in the near future. JM

MINIMUM WAGE TO INCREASE IN ESTONIA

The government, the Employers' and Industry Central Union, and the trade unions have agreed to boost the minimum monthly wage from the current 1,250 kroons ($83) to 1,400 kroons, ETA reported on 26 August. The agreement is to go into effect as of 1 January 2000. AB

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SAYS PENSION REFORM 'RESTS WITH PEOPLE'

"Lauku Avize" on 26 August quoted Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga as saying the fate of recently adopted changes to the country's pension law "rests with the people." Vike-Freiberga expressed her view that Latvia's retirement age is very low and that residents must understand that, sooner or later, it will rise. She also criticized the practice of granting companies discounts on pension contributions, stating "it is especially unacceptable that employers not only refuse to pay their share" of pension costs "but neglect to transfer employee [pension] contributions as well." MJZ

FINLAND PROVIDE FUNDS FOR LATIVAN STATE LANGUAGE PROGRAM

The Finnish Government has earmarked $100,000 for implementation of Latvia's state language program, BNS reported on 26 August. Finnish Ambassador Hannu Hemelainen informed Latvian Education and Science Minister Silva Golde of that decision when the two met to discuss Latvian-Finnish cooperation in education and science. The previous day, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel promised to help secure the $1.3 million needed to fully fund the program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999). AB

LITHUANIAN COURT SENTENCES COUP PLOTTERS...

A Lithuanian court has found six people guilty of complicity in the 13 January 1991 coup attempt. ELTA reported on 26 August that the court took into account the old age and weak health of some of the defendants when it imposed sentences ranging from three to 12 years. The defendants are former leaders and officials of the pro-Soviet Lithuanian Communist Party. They were found guilty, among other things, of organizing premeditated acts of murder, inflicting serious bodily harm, and setting up anti-state organizations. Defense lawyers said they will appeal the court's decision. Forty-five people charged with the same crimes are in hiding in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. AB

...PROMPTING CRITICISM FROM RUSSIAN POLITICIAN

BNS reported that State Duma deputy Yurii Kuznetsov strongly condemned the verdict, saying that in the future the Baltic states will be answerable for taking such actions. A member of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Kuznetsov told BNS, "The sentences are severe indeed. History is moving round in circles like a blind horse in a pit." Earlier this week, ELTA reported that Russian diplomats in Vilnius had publicly warned Lithuanian officials that handing down severe sentences could "mar bilateral relations." AB

POLISH TRADE UNION LEADER ANNOUNCES 100,000-STRONG RALLY

Jozef Wiaderny, leader of the left-wing National Trade Union Accord, told journalists on 26 August that some 100,000 people are expected to participate in a demonstration in Warsaw on 24 September. "The demonstration is directed against the government's socio-economic policy. The government has no social support and should resign," PAP quoted Wiaderny as saying. JM

POLISH DEFENSE OFFICIAL SUSPECTED OF TIES WITH COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICES

"Rzeczpospolita" reported on 26 August that Lustration Prosecutor Boguslaw Nizienski has begun examining the lustration statements of four officials who denied ties with communist-era secret services. One of the officials suspected of such ties is Deputy Defense Minister Robert Mroziewicz. Mroziewicz is responsible for foreign cooperation and integration with NATO in the ministry. From 1992-1995, he was deputy foreign minister. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT BILL

Vaclav Havel on 26 August expressed reservations about the government bill on regional self-governments, which the cabinet had approved the previous day, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1997). "I believe it is enough that we have two central parliaments and we do not need fourteen more," Havel commented, referring to the provision that regional authorities will have between 40 and 60 members. This, he said, will lead to an unwarranted "politicization" of local government affairs. MS

POPE INVITED TO SLOVAKIA

Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jan Figel has handed to Apostolic Nuncio Luigi Dossdena a formal invitation from Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda asking Pope Paul John II to visit Slovakia. Dzurinda said the Slovak government wants to conclude an agreement with the Vatican "soon." He added that the visit would confirm Slovakia's "repeated desire" to be part of "a Europe that developed on Christian foundations," SITA reported. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER EXPLAINS KOVAC JR.'S EMPLOYMENT

Eduard Kukan on 26 August "resolutely" rejected allegations by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia that former President Michal Kovac's son is being employed at the Foreign Ministry in order to protect him from prosecution in Germany, CTK reported. Kukan said that Michal Kovac Jr. is not the holder of a diplomatic passport and that his position in the ministry's consular section is "at the lowest possible level" and does not protect him from prosecution. Kovac Jr. is suspected of financial fraud in Germany, where his trial is to start in the fall. MS

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA TO REBUILD DANUBE BRIDGE

Officials from the Hungarian and Slovak Transport Ministries on 25 August initialed a bilateral agreement to rebuild the bridge over the River Danube between Esztergom and Sturovo. Sandor Gyurkovics, Hungarian state secretary at the Ministry of Transport, said the project to rebuild the bridge, which was destroyed in World War II, will cost some $16 million. Construction is planned to start in spring 2000 and to be completed by the end of 2001. MSZ




NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE IN RAHOVEC

Captain Mike Bos, who is a spokesman for the Dutch forces in Rahovec, told Reuters on 27 August that negotiations between Albanian protesters and KFOR will continue later in the day. Bos said "we're not expecting some sort of breakthrough.... We're just keeping the talks going." The previous day, local Serbs and Albanians participated in the talks. Meanwhile, ethnic Albanians continued their blockade of the city for the fifth day, preventing the deployment of Russian troops there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999). FS

KFOR FINDS MASS GRAVE WITH SUSPECTED SERBIAN BODIES

KFOR soldiers have discovered a mass grave in the village of Uglar, near Gjilan, containing 11 bodies presumed to be those of Serbs. The soldiers also found four more bodies above ground about 600 meters from that location, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported on 26 August. A KFOR official said that the victims were killed after the arrival of KFOR troops in Kosova in June. Local Serbs identified three of the victims. A team of forensic experts working for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has begun investigations. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic issued a statement saying that KFOR "must thoroughly change [its] conduct and abandon patronage of the separatist and terrorist organization," by which he meant the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), AP reported. He also called for an urgent session of the UN Security Council to review the role of KFOR. The KFOR spokesman said that there is no evidence to suggest UCK involvement in the killings. FS

SERBIAN TOWN COUNCIL PLEDGES SCHOOLING FOR REFUGEES

Zivojin Pavlovic, who chairs the town council of Medvedja, said that all Kosova Serb refugee children there have the right to enroll in local schools, "Danas" reported on 27 August. More than 100 children have registered for the new school year, the newspaper added. Medvedja is in southern Serbia near the border with Kosova. The Serbian authorities have generally not allowed refugee children to enroll in schools near their current places of residence. The government wants refugees to return to Kosova. PM

MILOSEVIC SAYS U.S. BEHIND DRUG TRADE

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said in a statement on 26 August that Washington is in "alliance with murderers, drug traffickers, and terrorists" of the UCK. He added that "all steps by the American government so far in [Kosova]--especially founding and organizing the terrorist [UCK], organizing arms and drug trade--indicate a planned, deliberate criminalization of the entire region and of Europe." Referring to the mass grave of 13 Serbs, Milosevic argued that "this crime was....hidden for more than a month." That "proves [U.S.] protection of the criminals, which by all standards amounts to being an accomplice," AP reported. Observers noted that this is the Yugoslav president's strongest attack on Washington yet. He most likely intended it for a domestic political audience. PM

NO SPLITS IN PRO-MILOSEVIC RANKS?

Ivica Dacic, who is a spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, told a Belgrade press conference on 26 August that "our party has had no disunity in the last 10 years" since Milosevic took power. Dacic denied rumors that Serbian President Milan Milutinovic is in poor health. Observers note that there has been much speculation recently in the private Belgrade press regarding the possible extent of splits in the ranks of Milosevic's supporters. Western countries will not issue visas to 308 of them, and this ban has caused considerable difficulties for Milosevic backers with business interests abroad. PM

DJINDJIC THREATENS TO QUIT POLITICS

Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told the Belgrade mass-circulation daily "Blic" of 26 August that he will leave political life if Milosevic is not out of power by the end of 1999. Later in Sofia, he expressed support for the cantonization of Kosova on ethnic lines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999). Djindjic said that cantons are already a "reality." He called them "necessary" because "Serbs need self-rule. They cannot be governed by Albanians." Observers note that one of the causes of Serbia's 1991 war against Croatia was the refusal of the Serbian minority there to live in a state in which Serbs were governed by others. PM

PENSIONERS URGE MILOSEVIC TO RETIRE

Several hundred retired persons protested in Belgrade on 26 August because they have not received their pensions since May. "Retire, Milosevic!" was the motto of the gathering, "Danas" reported. PM

BEATEN SERBIAN DISSIDENT FINALLY HAS SURGERY

Bogoljub Arsenijevic, who led anti-Milosevic protests in Valjevo in July, has undergone surgery for a broken jaw, the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported on 27 August. Belgrade police beat and arrested Arsenijevic on 17 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999). His friends subsequently claimed that the police held him incommunicado and denied him medical attention. PM

FRENCH COURT ORDERS RELEASE OF SUSPECTED PRO-SERBIAN SPY

A Paris appeals court ordered the release of suspected French spy Major Pierre Bunel pending the outcome of an investigation. Bunel was working as an officer at NATO headquarters in Brussels until October 1998, when he was arrested on the suspicion that he gave Belgrade secret documents on plans for NATO air strikes. FS

BELGRADE CALLS TALIC ARREST 'KIDNAPPING'

The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 26 August in which it called the arrest of Bosnian Serb General Momir Talic and his deportation to The Hague a "kidnapping" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999). The statement added: "This is an unprecedented trick, reminiscent of the dark era of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages and not of a Europe on the threshold of the third millennium. It was carried out with the assistance of Austria. By its complicity in this crime, Austria, which holds the position of high representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, fully exposed its anti-Serb stance," Reuters reported. At his Belgrade press conference, Dacic said that the OSCE, which sponsored the conference at which Talic was arrested, "showed itself to be an ordinary dirty weapon in the hands of the U.S. administration." PM

U.S. WARNS CROATIA ON WAR CRIMES

State Department spokesman James Foley said in Washington on 26 August that Croatia faces "the gravest possible consequences" if it does not improve its cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999). Foley specifically mentioned that Washington is "not convinced" by Zagreb's claim that indicted war criminal Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic is too ill to stand trial either in Croatia or The Hague. PM

ALBANIAN POLICE FREES GREEK HOSTAGE

Albanian police freed Giorgos Laliotis, the son of a Greek entrepreneur, near Tepelena on 26 August and arrested 10 suspected hostage-takers. Laliotis was kidnapped three months ago. The kidnappers had demanded a $262,000 ransom payment, AP reported. FS

ALBANIAN MINISTER REJECTS 'UNIFICATION' OF EDUCATION

Education Minister Ethem Ruka told an RFE/RL correspondent in Tirana on 26 August that his government's initiative to improve cooperation with Albanian-language schools and universities in Kosova, Macedonia, and Montenegro must not be misunderstood as an attempt to impose Albania's education system on neighboring countries' Albanian-speaking populations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999). He said that the intention is to create a framework in which the schools and universities will recognize the validity of each other's examinations and diplomas. He stressed, however, that Albania does not want to create a "unified" education system for all Albanian-speakers in the Balkans. He said the priority is to help ethnic Albanians in the neighboring countries with expertise in drawing up their own education programs. FS

INCREASING ATTACKS ON ALBANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHES

Unidentified persons have damaged or desecrated more than 10 Orthodox churches and monasteries over the past two years in Albania, dpa reported. The Albanian Helsinki Committee issued a report on 26 August saying that some buildings have been blown up by explosives, burned down, or subjected to theft and desecration. It added that "these acts of vandalism are a dangerous attack against the old, civilized tradition of religious tolerance in Albania." The statement warned that the attacks could undermine harmony between Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Albanians. FS

ROMANIAN SENATE FAILS TO DEBATE LAND RESTITUTION BILL

A 26 August extraordinary session of the Senate adjourned without its members debating the law on the restitution of land nationalized by the Communists and incorporated into State Agricultural Farms. The decision not to debate the law was taken after two Senate commissions failed to draw up final recommendations to the house. On 24 August, the Judicial Commission had decided that restitution should be limited to 50 hectares per family, instead of per person, as envisaged by the government-sponsored bill. The next day, however, the Agricultural Commission--on which the opposition has a majority-- limited restitution to 10 hectares per family The recommendations are not binding on the house, which will resume debate on the law at regular session early next month. MS

MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER DECORATE GAZPROM CHIEF

Acting on President Petru Lucinschi's behalf, Moldovan Ambassador to Russia Valeriu Bobutac on 23 August decorated Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev with the "Glory of Labor" order on the occasion of the latter's 65th birthday, Flux reported on 26 August, citing "Nezavisimaya gazeta." The order was conveyed for Vyakhirev's "contribution to solving Moldova's energy problems."On 21 August, Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov awarded Vyakhirev the "Order of the Republic" for his contribution to ensuring energy supplies for the breakaway region. MS

BESSARABIAN METROPOLITAN CHURCH DISPUTE ERUPTING AGAIN

Government spokesman Nicolae Chirtoaca on 26 August said the problem of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church must be resolved in negotiations between the Romanian and the Moscow Patriarchates. Chirtoaca said the position of Ion Sturza's cabinet on recognizing the Church is "a continuation" of that taken by Andrei Sangheli's cabinet, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. In July, Sturza turned down the Bucharest- subordinated Church's renewed registration, saying the Church is a "splinter-group of the [Moscow-subordinated] Moldovan Orthodox Church." A lawyer representing the Bessarabian Church expressed confidence that the complaint lodged in January at the European Court of Justice will be successful. MS

BALKAN PEACE FORCE TAKES SHAPE IN BULGARIA

"I am honored to work for regional stability and security, all the more so since several southeastern European countries are pooling their efforts for the first time in a common cause, guaranteeing peace," Turkish Brigadier General Hilmi Akinzorlu told journalists in Plodviv on 26 August. Akinzorlu said that Bulgaria's hosting the first Multinational Peace Force Southeastern Europe, which he commands, is "the first step" on the road toward that country's integration into NATO, BTA reported. The force was set up last September by Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, and Turkey and will be officially inaugurated at a ceremony in Plodviv on 11 September. MS

YUGOSLAV OPPOSITION LEADER IN BULGARIA

During his two-day visit to Bulgaria, Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told BTA on 26 August that Serbian opposition activists will come to Bulgaria to learn from the experience of the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) in forming a unified opposition. The same day he met with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and SDS deputy chairwoman Ekaterina Mihailova. He is also scheduled to hold talks with Deputy Premier Evgeni Bakardzhiev and Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski. MS




GREAT EXPECTATIONS


By Liz Fuller

On 22 August, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met at a lake-side chateau near Geneva for the second time in just over five weeks. The focus of their talks was how to bridge the differences between the conflicting sides over the optimum approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict.

As was the case after the 16 July talks, few details were released initially about the topics discussed. But observers said this reticence clearly stemmed from the mutual desire to preserve and build on an atmosphere of incipient trust, rather than to conceal the magnitude of the differences between the two sides.

Consequently, when speaking to journalists the two presidents focused on those areas where they had reached agreement. They said the defense ministers of the two countries will meet in the near future to discuss ways to prevent further violations of the cease-fire that has been in effect since 1994. They affirmed their intention to meet again soon but did not say when. (The Baltic/Black Sea summit in Yalta on 10-11 September has been named as a possible venue.) As in July, they termed the meeting useful, constructive, and a badly needed step toward a definitive solution of the conflict. And Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliyev again told journalists that both he and his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, agree that the conflict must be resolved peacefully and on the basis of mutual compromise.

Given subsequent statements by the two presidents and other senior officials present at the Geneva talks, it seems that the contentious issue of Karabakh's future status vis-a-vis the central Azerbaijani government was discussed, as was the need to resume peace talks in a broader format. On his return to Yerevan on 23 August, Kocharian told journalists that he and Aliyev agreed that their foreign ministers should attempt to galvanize the stalled OSCE Minsk Group peace process and that Karabakh officials should participate in those talks

Kocharian refused, however, to disclose any details of the discussions on Karabakh's future status, which he said amounted to no more than an exchange of opinions. He confirmed observers' impression that the two sides are making a concerted effort to avoid offending each other, which in itself, he said, is a positive achievement. And he added that he and Aliyev have come to understand each other better as a result of the two Geneva meetings.

At the same time, Kocharian cautioned that the conflict resolution process is "complicated" and that "one should not expect results with lightning speed." But a protracted negotiating process conducted in secrecy is likely to increase the risk both of leaks of confidential details and of domestic dissatisfaction and protests in both countries.

Some Azerbaijani observers have pointed to Aliev's use of the term "compromise" as suggesting he is prepared to retreat from his previous insistence that the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic must not exceed "the broadest possible autonomy" within Azerbaijan. (Both Armenia and Karabakh favor as a basis for negotiations the formula "more than [conventional] autonomy but less than [outright] independence," which reflects the disputed enclave's present ambiguous status.) In an attempt to quash such alarmist inferences, Azerbaijan's State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade, who was present for part of the Aliev-Kocharian talks, told Turan on 24 August that both sides are seeking a compromise that will preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.

Interviewed by Turan, Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman and former President Abulfaz Elchibey argued that Aliyev has no right to keep secret the details of his talks with Kocharian. Elchibey claimed to have details of a new draft peace agreement whereby Armenian forces would be withdrawn from seven occupied districts of Azerbaijan adjacent to Karabakh, but the strategic Lachin corridor that constitutes the sole overland link between the enclave and Armenia would not be returned to Azerbaijan's control. Elchibey predicted that the Azerbaijani people would not accept such an arrangement and that Aliyev could be ousted if he agreed to it.

The Democratic Congress, which unites the dozen most influential Azerbaijani opposition parties, issued a statement on 26 August rejecting outright the concept of a "common state" comprising Azerbaijan and Karabakh. That concept was outlined in the most recent draft peace plan proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group. The Azerbaijani leadership initially rejected the formula, but Aliyev said after last weekend's Geneva talks that the plan as a whole remains on the table.

Nor are misgivings and suspicion confined to Azerbaijan. The Armenian newspaper "Iravunk," which is published by the opposition Union for Constitutional Rights, claimed on 24 August that "Kocharian has already agreed that the territory of the [Nagorno- Karabakh Republic] should be reduced to that of the [pre-war] Autonomous Oblast and its overland link with Armenia should be minimal by including the Lachin corridor only." But even Lachin, "Iravunk" claims, would not be under full Armenian control. "There are facts indicating that at least a tentative variant of settling the [Karabakh] issue has already been found."

The newspaper further argues that the Armenian president has no right to conclude "behind-the-scenes deals" without keeping the parliament informed of the details. The Union for Constitutional Rights is a member of the nationalist Right and Accord parliamentary bloc. Hard-line former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, who has said repeatedly over the past two years that he does not exclude the possibility a new war over Karabakh, supports that bloc.


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