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Newsline - September 10, 1999




PUTIN SAYS CAUSE OF APARTMENT EXPLOSION STILL NOT CLEAR...

In a televised address on 10 September, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said investigators are still trying to determine whether the blast at an apartment house in southeastern Moscow the previous day was the result of criminal negligence or was a terrorist attack. Eighty-four people are now known to have died in the explosion, while dozens have been hospitalized. Putin also said that 13 September will be a national day of mourning for the victims of the apartment blast as well as for those killed in the explosions at the Manezh shopping mall in the Russian capital and in the town of Buinaksk, in Daghestan. Interfax quoted Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Patrushev as saying that Putin has approved a plan to prevent acts of terrorism in Russia and Moscow proposed by the FSB and the Interior Ministry. JC

...WHILE LUZHKOV INSISTS BLAST WAS TERRORIST ACT

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told Interfax on 10 September that the explosion at the Moscow apartment house was "definitely the work of terrorists." According to the city head, industrial explosives were used and the time of the blast, at two minutes to midnight local time, suggests that the device was a time bomb. FSB chief Patrushev said that traces of hexogen and TNT have been discovered at the site of the blast, which, he added, "proves that the explosion was not accidental." However, he said that all other possibilities should continue to be investigated. JC

TALBOTT 'SATISFIED' WITH ARMS TALKS...

Following two days of talks in Moscow on nuclear arms reductions and possible changes to the 1972 ABM Treaty, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said he was "satisfied" with those discussions, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 September. He refused, however, to comment on their outcome. A U.S. Embassy source quoted Talbott as saying that he and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov had been laying the groundwork for a meeting between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin within the framework of the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Auckland. With regard to the money-laundering scandal, Talbott stressed that he does not believe it would have a negative effect on U.S.- Russian relations. JC

...WHILE MOSCOW CONTINUES TO OPPOSE AMENDING ABM TREATY

The Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement after the talks making clear it continues to oppose any changes to the ABM Treaty, Interfax reported. And Grigorii Berdennikov, director of the ministry's Security and Disarmament Department, told RIA Novosti on 9 September that U.S. plans to deploy an ABM system undermine the foundations of the treaty and jeopardize strategic stability in the world. He said the deployment of such a system would not only hinder START-3 talks but also "force Russia to withdraw from the START-2 treaty," which the Russian parliament has yet to ratify. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen is due in Moscow next week for talks with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev. JC

WITNESS IMPLICATES YELTSIN IN CORRUPTION SCANDAL

"The New York Times" on 9 September reported that Felipe Turover, a key witness in the Swiss investigation into alleged bribery of Kremlin officials, says he saw credit card bills and photocopies of credit cards bearing the signatures of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his daughters. He added that those cards were provided by the Swiss construction company Mabetex. Turover, who worked for the Swiss Banca del Gottardo as a debt collector in Russia, also said that senior officials of the bank had told him about a Kremlin meeting at which senior Russian officials accepted money and gifts from Mabetex. Banca del Gottardo spokesman Massimo Antonini declined to comment on Turover's claims. JC

PARIS SUBSIDIARY OF RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK UNDER SCRUTINY

Citing "judicial sources," AP reported on 9 September that a Paris prosecutor has ordered an investigation into how the Paris-based Eurobank managed Russian Central Bank funds, including money from IMF loans. The preliminary investigation is aimed at determining whether Eurobank moved money from Russia's Central Bank to FIMACO on the Channel Island of Jersey. Eurobank owns FIMACO, and the Russian Central Bank has a 70 percent stake in Eurobank, according to the news agency. JC

IMF TRANCHE TO BE DELAYED UNTIL NEXT MONTH?

IMF First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer said in Washington on 9 September that the fund's next loan installment to Russia, worth $640 million, could be postponed until October for "technical reasons" stemming from preparations for the annual IMF meeting at the end of this month. ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying that IMF directors are under no pressure from any member countries to slow down cooperation with Russia. Fischer also noted that Russia's economy has performed "a little better than expected" with regard to efforts to control the budget deficit, AP reported. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Lebedev, chairman of the National Reserve Bank and deputy leader of Our Home Is Russia, said that capital flight from Russia over the past 12 months exceeded $20 billion, Interfax reported on 9 September. JC

OIL EXPORT DUTIES TO INCREASE BY 50 PERCENT

Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi announced on 9 September that oil export duties are to be raised from 5 euros ($5.26) to 7.5 euros per metric ton. The move is seen as a bid to put a stop to fuel shortages and rising gasoline prices throughout the country and to increase government tax revenues. The minister also noted that in the fourth quarter of 1999 Russia will reduce its oil exports by 2 million metric tons, compared with the third quarter of this year, Interfax reported. He said that this move will help boost fuel supplies to the Far North and to the agricultural sector. JC

GOVERNMENT TO SELL 9 PERCENT STAKE IN LUKOIL

Prime Minister Putin has signed an order on the sale of a 9 percent stake in LUKoil this year, Interfax reported on 9 September. The news agency cited unidentified sources at the Ministry of State Property as saying that the starting price for the stake is likely to be $240 million. The buyer would also be required to invest an additional $240 million in the company, according to the same source. JC

LUKOIL, GAZPROM ANNOUNCE FIRST-HALF PRE-TAX PROFITS

LUKoil posted a pre-tax profit of 11.7 billion rubles ($455 million) for the first six months of this year, AP reported on 9 September, citing Interfax. In the same period of 1998, the company's pretax profit was 1 billion rubles, which at the exchange rate that preceded the August 1998 ruble devaluation was the equivalent of some $167 million. LUKoil attributed the growth in profits to higher world oil prices and increased demand for energy. The same day, Gazprom announced its pre-tax profit for the first half of this year as totaling 32 billion rubles ($1.2 billion), compared with last year's 8.1 billion rubles (worth $1.4 billion at the time). JC

ALL PENSION ARREARS TO BE PAID BY MONTH'S END

The head of the Pension Fund, Mikhail Zurabov, said on 9 September that all pensions arrears will be paid by the end of this month, Interfax reported. He noted that arrears shrank from 26.3 billion rubles ($1.02 billion) in January to 1 billion at the beginning of this month. JC

LEBED SAYS RUSSIA NEEDS GENERAL AT HELM

Speaking in Paris on 9 September, Krasnoyarsk Governor and retired General Aleksandr Lebed suggested Russia needs a military man as president. France's General Charles de Gaulle "proved that a general can rule the state," ITAR-TASS quoted Lebed as saying. "In Russia, it is not only possible, but necessary. Nobody will believe in us without a general [in power]. The world no longer trusts us." The next day, however, Lebed denied that he intends to run for president next year. Interfax quoted him as saying that "I have not made any decision yet concerning my participation in the presidential election." JC

SKURATOV'S APARTMENT, DACHA SEARCHED

Officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office searched the dacha and Moscow apartment of Yurii Skuratov, who earlier this year was suspended as prosecutor-general after Russian television showed a video of a naked man resembling Skuratov with two prostitutes. An investigation was subsequently launched into whether Skuratov accepted the women's service as a bribe. Skuratov claims he was suspended in order to halt corruption investigations he had launched against top officials. Recently, he said charges that President Yeltsin and his family received kickbacks from the Swiss Mabetex company have an evidentiary basis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999). JC

U.S. REPORT NOTES CURBS ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AT REGIONAL LEVEL

In its first annual report on religious freedom worldwide, the U.S. State Department said that under a 1997 law, restrictions on religion at the local level are increasing in Russia, Reuters reported on 9 September. While noting that "to date, no religious organization has ceased operations as a result of the law," the report commented that "the vagueness of the law and regulations, the contradictions between federal and local law, and varying interpretations furnish regional officials with a pretext to restrict the activities of religious minorities." The report called the 1997 law on religion "restrictive and potentially discriminatory," adding that its "most controversial provisions" are those "limiting the rights, activities, and status" of religious groups that have existed in Russia for less than 15 years. JC

RUSSIANS TARGETED IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA

The homes in Cherkessk of three Russian supporters of Vladimir Semenov, president-elect of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, were damaged by simultaneous explosions during the night of 8 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 September. The paper further noted the appearance in Cherkessk of slogans calling on the Russians, who constitute the largest ethnic group in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, to leave the republic. In an interview with that paper on 9 September, Semenov (a Karachai) confirmed that during talks earlier this week his defeated rival Stanislav Derev (who is Cherkess) had rejected the post of prime minister of the republic. Derev's supporters refused to acknowledge the republican court ruling that Semenov's election victory is valid, and are campaigning for the division of the republic into Cherkess and Karachai entities. LF

CHECHEN PARLIAMENT MEETS

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov briefed a closed session of parliament on 9 September on unspecified measures to be implemented to "prevent the hostilities against the Chechen Republic from escalating," Interfax reported. Deputies declined, however, to impose martial law in response to the Russian bombing raids of the previous three days, which they condemned as "open and unjustified aggression." Deputies called on the OSCE to investigate those air strikes. They also adopted an appeal to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other international leaders to take measures to prevent "an all-out war" by Russia against Chechnya. LF




DASHNAKTSUTYUN TO SUE FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT FOR LIBEL

A spokesman for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation- Dashnaktsutyun (HHD) told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 9 September that the party is about to bring a libel suit against former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Ter-Petrossian had said early this year that he had suspended the party's activities in December 1994 because it was "engaged in terror." Some 30 HHD activists were arrested and brought to trial in 1996-1997 on charges of murder and preparing a coup, but the court failed to endorse the prosecutor's argument that the party as a whole was responsible for those activities. The HHD was legalized and its imprisoned members released following Ter-Petrossian's forced resignation in February 1998. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES PLANNING TO SEND VOLUNTEERS TO DAGHESTAN

A spokesman for the Armenian Defense Ministry on 10 September told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that there is no truth to reports that it plans to send volunteers to fight against Islamic militants in Daghestan. The Azerbaijani news agency Turan had reported those alleged plans on 9 September. Turan claimed the Armenian volunteers would pose as Russian citizens of Armenian origin. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN ABKHAZ CONFLICT

Robert Kocharian told Caucasus Press on 9 September that he is prepared to mediate between Tbilisi and the leadership of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia if requested to do so by the Georgian leadership. Kocharian noted that some 72,000 ethnic Armenians, or 15 percent of the total population, lived in Abkhazia before the 1992-1993 war. He added that Armenia has an economic interest in the reopening of rail traffic from the Russian Federation via Abkhazia to Armenia. LF

TRIAL OF FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER OPENS, ADJOURNS

The trial of Vano Siradeghian, former interior minister and chairman of the board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement, opened in Yerevan on 9 September, but was immediately adjourned until 17 September in order to enable Siradeghian to engage a fifth defense counsel, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Siradeghian is charged with ordering the murder of several government officials and police officers from 1992 to 1996. He has denied those charges claiming that they are politically motivated. LF

UNHCR TO REDUCE FUNDING FOR DISPLACED PERSONS IN AZERBAIJAN

Meeting with President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 9 September, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said that funding for those Azerbaijanis forced to flee during the Karabakh war will be cut back, according to Turan. The UNHCR estimates the number of displaced persons at 800,000, while the Azerbaijani authorities says it exceeds one million. She noted that the UN has supplied $41 million in humanitarian aid to Azerbaijan, which is more than it granted to Armenia or Georgia. Such assistance is intended as a temporary measure pending a political solution to the conflict that would enable the displaced persons to return to their homes, Ogata said. Aliyev had asked that assistance to the displaced persons be increased. LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA DISCUSS WESTERN OIL EXPORT PIPELINE...

Officials from Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and the Georgian International Oil Corporation issued a joint statement after talks in Tbilisi on 9 September reaffirming their shared commitment to construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, Interfax reported. Some international companies engaged in Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian are reportedly reluctant to make a firm commitment to that pipeline. But on 5 September, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze rejected as misinformation reports that either Georgia or Azerbaijan or "foreign partners" seek to revise plans for that project, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

...AS NORTHERN PIPELINE CONTINUES TO OPERATE

A senior SOCAR official said on 8 September that the fighting in Daghestan has not yet negatively affected the transportation of Azerbaijani oil via Daghestan to Novorossiisk, Interfax reported the following day. A spokesman for the Russian pipeline operator Transneft similarly said that the hostilities in Daghestan are 80 km from the railroad that transports Azerbaijan's crude. He said Azerbaijan exported 1.4 million metric tons of oil via Russia during the first six months of this year, and 52,000 tons last month. Azerbaijan's quota for 1999 is 2.2 million metric tons. LF

RUSSIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF OBSTRUCTING WORK ON MILITARY BASES

The Russian Defense Ministry has complained to the Georgian government over the detention since 23 August at the Russian- Georgian frontier of a convoy of over 200 trucks carrying supplies for Russian military bases in Georgia, Interfax reported on 9 September. Tbilisi disclaimed responsibility for the delay in allowing the convoy to enter Georgia, which it blamed on the British ITS company that now operates Georgia's customs service (see also "End Note" below). LF

GEORGIAN FISHING CREW RELEASED

Nine Georgian fishermen whose boat was intercepted in April in what Abkhazia claims are its territorial waters were exchanged on 8 September for five Abkhaz police held hostage in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported the following day quoting the independent Rustavi-2 TV station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April and 25 August 1999). LF

FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER BARRED FROM RUNNING IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION...

Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission registered the list of candidates for the 10 October elections to the lower house of the Kazakh parliament submitted by the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan shortly before expiry of the deadline for registration on 9 September, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. But the commission refused to register party chairman Akezhan Kazhegeldin as a candidate. The party therefore announced that it will boycott the poll. In a telephone interview with "RFE/RL Newsline" on 9 September, Kazhegeldin predicted that he would not be allowed to participate in the poll. Kazhegeldin said that the present Kazakh leadership is compromised by a series of major economic and foreign policy errors, including the sale of MiG aircraft to North Korea, and would rather incur the disapproval of the international community by restricting election participation than risk losing power in a free and fair poll. LF

...WHILE HIS PARTY BLAMES AUTHORITIES FOR LAWYER'S DEFECTION...

Also on 9 September, the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan issued a statement in Almaty characterizing the decision of Kazhegeldin's lawyer, Vitalii Voronov, to leave the party and break all ties with the former premier as "an episode in the uncompromising political struggle which the party is waging against the ruling regime," according to Interfax. LF

...AND ANOTHER OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CALLS ON LEADERSHIP TO RESIGN

Seydakhmet Quttyqadam, who heads the opposition Orleu party, told a press conference in Almaty on 9 September that "the time has come for the president and the government to resign," according to Interfax. He added that Kazakhstan has "enough competent, respected, and energetic politicians" to lead the country out of the present crisis. Quttyqadam also said that the government should immediately start drafting a concept for protecting Kazakhstan's statehood, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Both Quttyqadam and Kazhegeldin fear that Kazakhstan is ripe for social or interethnic conflict. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT WANTS CLOSER ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH UKRAINE

Meeting on 9 September in Astana with a visiting delegation from Dniprodzerzhinsk, Nursultan Nazarbaev advocated reviving traditional economic cooperation between the two countries, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev said that cooperation is currently hindered by the high railroad tariffs Russia imposes on foreign goods. Nazarbaev is scheduled to visit Kyiv next week for talks on the export of Kazakh crude to Ukraine for refining at the Lisichansk refinery. LF

NO DATE SET FOR TALKS BETWEEN KYRGYZ LEADERSHIP, GUERRILLAS

Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan chairman Tursunbek Akunov, who is acting as an intermediary between the country's leadership and the ethnic Uzbek guerrillas entrenched in the south of the country, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 10 September that no firm date has been set for talks on the release of the 12 hostages whom the guerrillas still hold. Akunov said that there are now no more than 200- 300 Uzbek militants remaining in Batken Raion in southern Kyrgyzstan. He added that the four Japanese geologists and the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry general whom the guerrillas seized three weeks ago are still alive. Some 2,000 of the estimated 5,000 Kyrgyz villagers who fled their homes to avoid being taken hostage by the guerrillas have now returned to their villages from the town of Batken, according to Reuters. A further 2,400 have returned to villages in Chon- Alai Raion, where no guerrillas remain. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET FOR 2000

Finance Minister Oktyabr Mederov told a cabinet meeting on 9 September that the draft budget for 2000 envisages a budget surplus equal to 2.5 percent of GDP, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. It is the first deficit-free budget ever proposed by the government. Revenues are predicted to rise by 12 percent compared with 1999, and spending will be cut by 17 percent. Industrial output should grow by at 2 percent, and agricultural production by 5 percent, according to Interfax. The inflation rate is estimated at 12 percent. LF

UZBEKISTAN ACCUSES TAJIK OPPOSITION OF ABETTING GUERRILLAS

The Uzbek official newspaper "Slovo Uzbekistana" on 9 September said that members of the United Tajik Opposition are behind the hostage-takers in southern Kyrgyzstan, and not the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as the Kyrgyz authorities claim, Reuters reported. The paper claimed that the guerrillas were armed by the UTO and are receiving supplies of arms and ammunition from areas of Tajikistan controlled by the Tajik opposition. LF

TURKMENISTAN TO AMNESTY MORE PRISONERS

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on 9 September that he will pardon and amnesty a further 12,000 prisoners before the end of 1999, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Some 22,000 prisoners, or more than half the entire prison population, have been freed from the country's overcrowded jails in two separate amnesties earlier this year. Many of them were jailed for drug-related offenses. LF

JAPAN HOPES FOR STRONGER ECONOMIC TIES WITH UZBEKISTAN...

Kioko Nakayama, Japan's ambassador in Tashkent, told journalists that her country is interested in expanding trade with Uzbekistan, which last year stood at $122 million, Interfax reported on 8 September. Nakayama said that 16 Japanese companies currently have offices in Tashkent, but a further increase in investment is unlikely because the Uzbek currency is not fully convertible. Japan has invested over $1 billion in Uzbekistan since 1995, of which the Japanese government invested some $334 million. Nakayama said the Japanese and Uzbek governments will sign agreements later this month under which Japan will fund communications programs in Uzbekistan and rebuild three airports. LF

...WHILE IRAN ASSESSES PROSPECTS FOR TRANSPORT COOPERATION

An Iranian government delegation headed by Highways and Transport Minister Mahmud Hojati-Najafabadi is currently visiting Tashkent, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 September. The delegation will meet with representatives of the Uzbek government and the national railroad and airline. LF




LUKASHENKA PLEDGES TO KEEP TRANQUILLITY 'BY ALL MEANS'

"All the law enforcement bodies [in Belarus] are on alert," President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 9 September, commenting on the Moscow blast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). He added that the alert is connected not only with the situation in Russia. "There is no need to walk the streets, to roar, to shout, and to demand," Lukashenka said, referring to a trade union protest planned for 30 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999). According to him, the protest is organized not by workers but by the "trade union functionaries" who have lost their "slice of bread." Lukashenka noted that he is watching over and controlling the situation in Belarus "in the most rigorous way," and pledged to maintain the "peace and accord in our country by all means." JM

BELARUS SAYS UKRAINIAN RECALL OF INVITATION TO YALTA 'UNFRIENDLY'

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said on 9 September that Ukraine had made an "inconsistent" and "unfriendly" step by revoking an invitation to Belarus for the Yalta international conference on 10-11 September. According to the ministry, Ukraine took this step because Minsk has "difficulties" in its relations with the EU. However, the ministry added, neither the EU nor the OSCE have discussed the list of Yalta conference participants with Ukraine, therefore Kyiv canceled Belarus's invitation completely on its own. The same day, UNIAN quoted Andriy Veselovskyy from Ukraine's Foreign Ministry as saying that Ukraine never issued an invitation to Belarus to participate in the Yalta forum. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION CAN'T AGREE ON DELEGATION FOR TALKS

Belarusian opposition parties on 9 September failed to approve a delegation for the planned OSCE-mediated negotiations with the authorities, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The difficulty lies in the fact that nine opposition parties are seeking to be represented in a six-member delegation. JM

UKRAINE HOSTS SUMMIT OF BLACK SEA, BALTIC STATES

On 10-11 September in Yalta, Ukraine is hosting a forum titled "The Baltic-Black Sea Cooperation: Toward an Integrated Europe of the 21st Century Without Dividing Lines." The forum will feature a summit of presidents and senior officials from 22 countries of the Baltic-Black Sea region and a scientific conference of some 150 representatives from international organizations, including NATO, the EU, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe. "The summit aims to establish a new kind of political and economic relationship between northern and southern European countries," presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko said on 9 September. "Europe was divided in Yalta once. Our main dream is that this should never happen again," President Leonid Kuchma said earlier this week. Commentators say Kuchma also hopes for a show of regional support to his re-election bid. JM

UKRAINE'S RUKH LAWMAKERS PROTEST SOVIET-ERA SYMBOLS

Some 40 deputies from the two rival factions of the Popular Rukh walked out of a parliamentary session on 9 September to protest the rejection of their proposal to remove Soviet-era symbols from the parliament building. The walkout appeared to be the first demonstration of unity between Rukh legislators after the organization split into two factions earlier this year and nominated two presidential candidates. JM

LATVIAN PREMIER VISITS ESTONIA

Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele made a one-day visit to Estonia on 9 September to meet with Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar in the village of Karksi-Nuia. The two reaffirmed their mutual support for EU and NATO integration, and Laar also reiterated Estonia's desire to see Latvia begin accession negotiations with the EU. Bilateral relations and cooperation featured prominently in the talks, especially trade issues. Skele confirmed that the Latvian government will consider removing the unilaterally-imposed tariff on pork, which Estonia and Lithuania have deemed as a breach of the Baltic Free Trade Agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999), BNS reported. MH

LITHUANIAN COURT RULES AGAINST NEW MEDICAL TESTS FOR LILEIKIS

The Vilnius District Court rejected on 9 September a prosecution motion for a new medical evaluation of war crimes suspect Aleksandras Lileikis. Lithuanian prosecutors filed the motion under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department and the head of the Special Investigations Department, Eli Rosenbaum, who accused Lileikis of faking his illness, BNS reported. The judiciary panel ruled that there are no legal grounds to order a new examination, as Rosenbaum did not add pertinent new information to the case to compel the medical retest, ELTA added. On 10 September, the same court ruled to suspend the trial indefinitely. MH

LITHUANIA GDP FORECAST REVISED

The Lithuanian Finance Ministry revised downward its 1999 GDP forecast, now predicting growth of only 0.3 percent. The last revision given was 1.3 percent growth for the year. At the same time, the yearly rate of inflation is expected to remain at 2.2 percent. The most drastic revision came in industrial production, with a dramatic downgrade to a 4.2 percent decline compared to the last forecast of a 3.6 percent rise. Finally, the trade deficit for this year is expected to reach 16.4 percent of GDP. The ministry also predicted GDP to grow by 3.8, 4.9, and 4.2 percent in the next three years. MH

SOLIDARITY LEADER SAYS NO CHANGE OF PRIME MINISTER

Marian Krzaklewski, who heads both the Solidarity trade union and the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), said on 9 September that the AWS will not consider changing the prime minister before the 2001 parliamentary elections. "We will start thinking who should be prime minister if we win [in those elections]," PAP quoted Krzaklewski as saying. Krzaklewski was responding to recent comments that Poland needs a cabinet reshuffle, including the replacement of Premier Jerzy Buzek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). JM

POLAND'S INSTITUTE FOR SECRET SERVICE FILES ELECTS CHAIRMAN

The 11-member Council of the National Remembrance Institute on 9 September elected AWS-backed Andrzej Grajewski as its chairman. The institute, which is yet to elect its president, will grant access to Communist-era secret police files to people about whom police gathered information. The institute needs at least 50 million zlotys ($12.5 million) a year to operate, but the 1999 budget has no money for it because the spending plan was approved before the law that created the institute. Secret Service Minister Janusz Palubicki promised that the 2000 budget will allocate funds for the institute. According to parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski, it will take about one year before people will be able to look at their files. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT WITHDRAWS THREAT TO QUIT

Vaclav Havel on 9 September said he will not resign if the Social Democratic Party and the Civic Democratic Party succeed in garnering the necessary parliamentary majority to curtail presidential prerogatives. In an interview with the dailies "Bohemia" and "Vecernik Praha," Havel said that he cannot, however, see how he will carry out his presidential duties if the constitutional amendment is passed, CTK reported. Havel threatened last month to resign if the change is implemented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999). MS

CZECH SOCIALIST POLITICIANS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT...

Stanislav Gross, leader of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, told the daily "Pravo" on 8 September that the cabinet headed by Milos Zeman "is procrastinating in fulfilling some of its pre- election promises," CTK reported. Gross said that some promises are difficult to implement due to the country's economic state, but other promises could have been implemented and "the continued hesitation to do so drives me mad." He said that Zeman is "a born democrat" who prefers to take decisions by consensus but sometimes "it is necessary to end the discussions...Zeman should sometimes bang on the table and end talk that leads nowhere." CSSD Deputy Chairman Zdenek Skromach on the same day told CTK that Zeman must "reconsider" the work of those ministers whom he himself assessed as "mediocre" last July. MS

...BUT ZEMAN REJECTS CRITICISM

Zeman on 9 September said that "only Neanderthals bang on the table, if they have one. A democratic party must be run democratically," CTK reported. He said that he had already given some ministers a "yellow card" and will "issue a red one" when he has reason enough to do so. Zeman also rejected criticism by Havel, who said that it was "surprising" that although former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec has been accused by Zeman and present Foreign Minister Jan Kavan of bribing journalists, no one has produced proof to substantiate the allegations. It will be up to the Supreme Inspection Office or a court of justice to establish whether the bribery charges are legitimate, Zeman said. MS

SLOVAK COALITION TORN BY CONFLICT AGAIN

The Democratic Party on 9 September called for the resignation of Economy Minister Ludovit Cernat, a close ally of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, SITA reported. The Democrats accuse Cernak of failing to annul an agreement between the SE utility, which produces electricity, and Devin Banka, whereby the bank will take over clearing Russia's outstanding debt to Slovakia. The Democratic Party says the tender announced by the SE lacked transparency and that Devin Banka won it without granting other bidders enough time to enter. The Democrats also said they will not support the cabinet proposal to dismiss National Property Fund chief Ludovit Kanik and his deputy, Ladislav Sklenar, in connection with the Nafta Gbely privatization affair. MS

SLOVAKIA TO DRAW UP NUCLEAR PLANT CLOSURE PLAN

Economy Ministry spokeswoman Alica Durianova told Reuters on 9 September that the government will draw up by the end of September a "final plan" for the closure of the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear plant. She said that the cabinet will examine several possibilities, including the problem of compensation from the EU. The statement follows European Commission chief negotiator Francois Lamoureux's declaration one day earlier in Bratislava that the closing of the plant is the only impediment still hindering the opening of EU accession talks with Bratislava (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 1999). MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATE ON NAZISM VICTIMS COMPENSATION

The parliament on 8 September sent to a committee the government-sponsored bill on compensation to Nazi concentration camps inmates, CTK reported. Under the bill, survivors of those camps are to receive 2,500 crowns ($60) for each month spent in the camps, while descendants of those who perished there will receive a one-time payment of 100,000 crowns. The bill was criticized by the Jewish community because it does not cover those who had to hide during the Holocaust. Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky said in the parliament that for "financial reasons" the government decided to compensate only those "who suffered most." He said that calculations show that the bill will cost 200 million crowns, whereas if others were included the costs will rise to 800 million. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SLAMS EU

In a 10 September interview with the German daily "Der Tagesspiegel," Prime Minister Viktor Orban says the EU has been telling the former communist countries in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE "just five more years [to admission] ever since 1990," MTI reported. He says Hungary's admission to NATO is due mainly to the U.S. and it is time that the EU "puts an end to shifting us between NATO and the EU." Orban says the EU has been treating Hungary "correctly" as "a negotiating partner" but "that does not mean it is treating us as a partner with equal rights." He says the decision to admit Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic "could have been made years ago." MS

HUNGARIANS CALL OFF AUSCHWITZ EXHIBITION

Following the protests of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ) against the distorted reflection of anti-Semitism in the country's history in a planned Auschwitz exhibition, the government has decided to cancel the exhibition, Reuters reported on 9 September. MAZSIHISZ official Gusztav Zoltai said the same day on Hungarian television that the country's Jewish communities do not want to see the project halted, but "to see it done right" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). MS




MILOSEVIC PARTY: SERBIA WILL NOT INVADE KOSOVA

Ivica Dacic, who is spokesman for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, said in Belgrade on 9 September that the government will not intervene militarily in Kosova, the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 1999). Dacic stressed that Serbia will observe its responsibilities under UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The Serbian authorities are confident that KFOR will eventually leave the province. In the meantime, no one should make the mistake of thinking that Serbia has turned its back on Kosova, he concluded. PM

MITROVICA CLASH LEAVES ONE DEAD

One ethnic Albanian died and three were injured in clashes between Albanians and Serbs in the divided town of Mitrovica on 9 September, a KFOR spokesman said the following day. (Reuters reported from Mitrovica that 68 ethnic Albanians had been hurt.) Some 15 French soldiers and police were also injured as they tried to separate the two groups. A KFOR spokesman said that it is not clear who fired the shots that hit the Albanians. A NATO official noted that Serbian paramilitaries are present in northern Mitrovica. Meanwhile in Prishtina, a KFOR spokesman confirmed that the elderly woman shot by members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in Suhareka recently was a Rom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). PM

UCK CLAIMS SOLE ROLE IN KOSOVA MILITARY

General Agim Ceku, who is the UCK's chief-of-staff, said in Prishtina on 9 September that NATO has an obligation to the UCK because of the role the guerrillas played in the recent conflict. He added: "Based on the agreements on the demilitarization [of the UCK], the transformation will continue toward creating some institutions in Kosova. The basis for this is the contribution that the UCK made to the war, a contribution that the international community must respect." Ceku stressed that the UCK "will be the only foundation on which the institutions of Kosova will be created." He said these institutions will include a "defense unit" of at least 5,000 members to deal with natural disasters and "defend [the ethnic Albanians] from aggression," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). A NATO official said that the "tasks and forms [of the new force] have yet to be discussed." Russian officials have called the continuation of the UCK in any form "unacceptable." PM

SERBIAN COURTS INDICT KOSOVARS FOR 'TERRORISM'

On 9 September, Serbian authorities in Leskovac and Pozarevac indicted one and 13 ethnic Albanians, respectively, for "terrorism." The authorities charged that the 14 were members of the UCK. The Red Cross previously confirmed that more than 2,000 Kosovars are being held in Serbian prisons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1999). Among them is student leader Albin Kurti. The June agreement that ended the conflict did not require Belgrade to free prisoners or provide information about them. PM

SERBIAN POLICE AGAIN BLOCK REFUGEE MARCH ON BELGRADE...

For the second day in a row, Serbian police on 9 September prevented some 400 to 700 homeless Serbian refugees from Kosova from marching on Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). The refugees ignored police roadblocks in Kraljevo but were finally stopped in Cacak, some 30 kilometers to the north. Milan Nenadovic, who is the government's deputy commissioner for refugees, told the refugees that their lack of shelter is a "problem caused by NATO bombs," London's "The Guardian" reported. He told the refugees: "You are in no position to make any demands." In Belgrade, the opposition Democratic Party charged in a statement that Milosevic's regime finds the refugees to be an embarrassing reminder of his failed policies. The next day, Nenadovic told AP that the refugees have agreed to split up into smaller groups and accept accomodation in Uzice and Pozega. PM

...AS WELL AS FOOD ON MONTENEGRIN BORDER

Serbian police are also maintaining a "total blockade" of the border with Montenegro at Kolovrat. They turn back shipments of food, even those that have been paid for, "Vesti" reported on 10 September, quoting unnamed local sources. PM

MORE MASS GRAVES IN KOSOVA, BOSNIA

Austrian forensics experts are excavating a site at Kotina near the Macedonian border, AP reported on 9 September. Some 22 ethnic Albanian males whom Serbian forces gunned down in March are believed to be buried there. In Sarajevo, a UN forensics teams has unearthed a mass grave at an undisclosed location in northeast Bosnia. A UN spokeswoman said that the grave contains the remains of about 60 people killed after the fall of Srebrenica to Serbian forces in July 1995. PM

SFOR GUARDS RETURNING MUSLIMS

An unspecified number of NATO peacekeepers arrived in Kula Fazlagica, near Gacko, on 9 September to protect 50 returning Muslim residents. The Muslims have been shelled and subjected to gunfire in recent days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). PM

NO SFOR GUARANTEES FOR SRPSKA

Bosnian Serb army representatives took part in a meeting with SFOR and Bosnian federation military officials in Sarajevo on 9 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). The officers from the Republika Srpska attended the meeting even though NATO would not give them the guarantees they demanded of immunity from arrest for war crimes. A SFOR spokesman said that such guarantees can come only from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MUSLIMS DEMAND RECOGNITION IN CROATIA

Spokesmen for the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said in Zagreb on 9 September that members of Croatia's Muslim population may boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections unless they receive the status of a legally recognized national minority. The spokesmen said that there are about 45,000 Muslims in Croatia, or about 1 percent of the total population. Observers note that it is difficult to see what the boycott would achieve, except to play into the hands of the governing Croatian Democratic Community. PM

ALBANIAN RED CROSS INCREASES PROGRAMS FOR THE POOR

The Albanian Red Cross has stepped up efforts to provide food aid to poor families in Albania. The chairman of the Red Cross office in Albania, Shyqyri Subashi, told Reuters on 8 September that his organization has distributed 23,000 food parcels to Albanian citizens since January. The Red Cross plans to give out a total of 90,000 packages by the end of the year. Such programs thus reach about 3 percent of Albania's population. FS

ROMANIA RETALIATES AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA ON DANUBE RIVER

Transportation Minister Traian Basescu on 9 September announced that Romania will block all Yugoslav ships anchored in the Black Sea port of Constanta and will prohibit Yugoslav vessels from sailing to Constanta on the Danube-Black Sea channel. The measure is being taken in retaliation for Yugoslavia's blocking of Romanian vessels near Novi Sad and prohibition on Romanian vessels to the Dunav-Tisa-Dunav bypass of the Danube River, which is blocked by wrecks of bridges destroyed by NATO air strikes, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Earlier on 9 September, Bulgarian Transportation Minister Wilhelm Kraus proposed a trilateral Bulgarian-Romanian-Ukrainian meeting to discuss introducing reciprocal steps against Yugoslavia, BTA reported. MS

COMPROMISE REACHED ON ROMANIAN RESTITUTION LAWS

Following a meeting of leaders of parliamentary parties with President Emil Constantinescu on 9 September, presidential spokesman Razvan Popescu said that opinions "have been bridged" and that the ongoing parliamentary debates on restitution will now be "a lot easier." He said the participants agreed on a three-week deadline for the Senate to end debates on the restitution of property confiscated by the communists and incorporated in the state farms, following which the senate is to begin debates on the law on restitution or compensation for real estate that has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies, Romanian Radio reported. MS

ORTHODOX CHURCH TO BE 'NATIONAL CHURCH' IN ROMANIA

The government on 9 September approved a draft bill on religious cults and religious freedom. The bill stipulates that the Romanian Orthodox Church is the country's "National Church," Romanian radio reported. A spokesman for the Romanian Patriarchate said the stipulation does not grant any privileges to the Orthodox Church and only reflects the fact that this is "the Church of the majority of this nation." MS

HUNGARY TO FINANCE UNIVERSITY IN ROMANIA

Tibor Szabo, chairman of the Office for Hungarians Beyond Borders, said in Cluj on 10 September that Hungary will contribute 2 billion forint ($8.3 million) for the financing of a Hungarian- language private university in Romania, Mediafax reported. Szabo said that it has not yet been decided in what Transylvanian locality the university is to be set up, adding, however, that Cluj is "an important recipient of allocations" offered by the Hungarian government. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT OPTIMISTIC ON TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT

President Petru Lucinschi on 9 September told the OSCE mission chief to Moldova, William Hill, that he is optimistic about finding a solution to the dispute with the Transdniester separatists, Infotag reported. Lucinschi said that the accords reached at the Kyiv July summit stipulate that the conflict must be settled on the principle of a single state, with a single economic, legal, and defense structure and that the dialogue must now proceed on that basis. During his visit to Moscow earlier this month, he said, the possibility of setting up a Russian base in the Transdniester was not discussed, as this would be contrary to the constitutional provision that Moldova is a neutral state. He said that the Russian leadership confirmed its backing of settling the dispute with the separatists by granting Transdniester a special status "within an indivisible Moldova." MS

FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN BULGARIA BELOW EXPECTATIONS

Total direct foreign investment in the first half of 1999 amounts to $320.8 million, almost half of the expected $600 million, BTA reported on 9 September, citing Foreign Investment Agency chairman Ilian Vasiliev. Vasiliev said that compared to 1998, direct foreign investment was 30 percent higher. He said that the agency still hopes that by end of 1999, the total figure will be $1.2 billion. Germany is the leading investor in Bulgaria, followed by Cyprus, the U.K., and Ireland. Most of the investments (50 percent) are concentrated in Sofia. MS




MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?


By Liz Fuller

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov toured the capitals of the three South Caucasus states last week in what many observers both in those countries and elsewhere saw as a desperate attempt on Moscow's part to halt, if not reverse, the ongoing erosion of its influence in the region. Ivanov's stated objective of establishing "all-encompassing, equitable, and mutually advantageous" relations with all three states in the region is, however, unrealistic and untenable, given the suspicions two of those countries (Azerbaijan and Georgia) harbor concerning Russia's motives and given the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The existing tensions in Moscow's relations with Azerbaijan and Georgia derive from those two countries' pro- Western orientation and from their belief that Moscow has sought to manipulate the Karabakh and Abkhaz conflicts in order to weaken them. Georgia and Azerbaijan have both made no secret of their desire to join NATO. Georgia is seeking the closure--on its own terms--of at least two of the four Russian military bases on its soil, while Azerbaijan wants Moscow to reduce its defense cooperation with Armenia, in particular by demanding the return of several billion dollars worth of weaponry clandestinely supplied to that country from 1994-1996. Moreover, both Georgia and Azerbaijan announced earlier this year that they have no interest in renewing their membership in the CIS Collective Security Treaty.

In addition, those two countries are founding members of the GUUAM alignment, which many Russian politicians believe is intended to sabotage the CIS from within. Another priority of the GUUAM member states that is likewise anathema to Moscow is cooperation in exporting Caspian oil and gas to international markets via countries other than the Russian Federation.

In talks with Ivanov in Baku on 2 September, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev harshly criticized what he termed Russia's differentiated approach to relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan and its "passive" policy toward the South Caucasus. That region, Aliyev said, is no less strategic than the Balkans. Aliyev told Ivanov that Baku expects Moscow to galvanize the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to find a settlement to the Karabakh conflict, adding that his own direct talks with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, are no substitute for such mediation. (Ivanov had said before his meeting with Aliyev that he considers those direct talks "the best way" to resolve the conflict.) At the same time, Aliyev noted that Moscow's increasingly close military cooperation with Armenia "is complicating the negotiating process on Nagorno-Karabakh."

Ivanov, for his part, replied that Moscow "understands perfectly" that its defense cooperation with Armenia is a sensitive issue for Azerbaijan and the entire South Caucasus, stressing that it is not aimed at Azerbaijan or any other third country. He called for closer contacts between the defense and other power ministries of Russia and Azerbaijan. Ivanov also said that Moscow does not intend to favor either Armenia or Azerbaijan in seeking a solution to the Karabakh conflict.

Whether Ivanov made any concrete concession to specific Azerbaijani concerns is unclear. After the talks, however, Aliyev struck a more conciliatory note, describing bilateral relations as "friendly." He added that, despite disagreements, Baku will continue its strategic policy of strengthening cooperation with Russia.

In Tbilisi two days later, Georgian officials similarly made it clear to Ivanov that they consider the current state of bilateral relations unacceptable and that Moscow is to blame for that state of affairs. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania pointed out, for example, that for five years the Russian State Duma has declined to ratify the 1994 Georgian- Russian agreement on friendship and cooperation. But, as in Baku, it was the Russian military that proved the fundamental bone of contention. Some Georgian opposition parliamentary deputies, together with the chairman of the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, Revaz Adamia, have proposed that at least two of the existing four Russian bases in Georgia should be closed. The U.S. has indicated that it may be prepared to meet part of the cost of doing so.

But some Russian politicians have attempted to call Tbilisi's bluff. Adamia told the Russian newspaper "Vremya MN" last month that former Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin responded to Tbilisi's demand to reduce its military presence in Georgia by proposing to close at first the Russian military facility in Akhalkalaki. That base is virtually the sole employer for most of the disaffected Armenian population of that region.

Ivanov made it clear that as far as Moscow is concerned, a withdrawal of its troops from Georgia is not on the agenda, since their presence there "serves Russia's interests." There were no reports on how Georgian officials responded to his offer to raise the level of military cooperation between Russia and Georgia to that between Russia and Armenia.

By contrast, Ivanov expressed satisfaction after his talks in Yerevan with President Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian with the level of cooperation between countries that he termed "strategic partners."

In all three capitals, Ivanov discussed the situation throughout the Caucasus, stressing the need for cooperation between the countries and republics there to restore stability to the entire region. But the priorities of those various republics and states are so diverse and the centripetal process in Chechnya so far advanced, that stability appears utopian. And Ivanov's statement that "it is impossible to settle conflicts in this region without Russia or against its interests" will inevitably be construed by many politicians in the North and South Caucasus as a threat rather than a promise.


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