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Newsline - September 20, 1999




MOSCOW STEPS UP AIR BOMBARDMENT OF CHECHNYA...

Beginning late on 17 September, Russian aircraft flew some 100 raids on Chechen targets within 24 hours and continued bombing the following day, Interfax reported, citing Defense Ministry sources. Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, speaking in Arkhangelsk on 18 September, insisted once again that only guerrilla bases are being targeted in those raids, and Interfax on 19 September quoted a Russian military spokesman in Makhachkala as estimating that 140 guerrillas were killed in the previous day's bombing. But Chechen presidential spokesman Selim Abdumuslimov said that more than 20 people died and 50 were injured air attacks on villages in the districts of Shelkovksii, Gudermes, Nozhai-Yurt, and Vedeno over the previous two days. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev told Interfax on 19 September that "not a single so-called militant or mudjahedin" was among the 200 people killed since the bombing raids began three weeks ago. LF

...BUT REPORTS OF GROUND INVASION PROVE PREMATURE

Chechen government officials claimed on 18 September that Russian motorized units had penetrated 1.5 kilometers into Chechnya from neighboring Ingushetia and were digging in, Interfax reported. But Russian Defense Ministry sources in Moscow denied that claim, as did Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev. Reuters quoted a Russian military spokesman as saying that it is "senseless" to invade Chechnya from the west given that the Chechen threat to Russia is aimed at Daghestan, which borders Chechnya to the east. But on 19 September, ITAR-TASS reported that more federal troops were moved from North Ossetia to the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya. LF

FEDERAL FORCES REGROUP IN DAGHESTAN

In Daghestan, Russian forces have been redeployed in the border districts of Kizlyar, Khasavyurt, and Babayurt in order to repel anticipated new attacks from Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. At the same time, Interior Ministry and OMON troops are reportedly still combing and demining the villages of Shushia, Karamakhi, and Chabanmakhi as well as the Kizlyar uplands. ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September that "small groups" of militants remain in Daghestan, but he did not specify in which areas. LF

INTERIOR MINISTRY CLAIMS PROOF OF OFFICIAL CHECHEN INVOLVEMENT IN DAGHESTAN FIGHTING

Russian Interior Ministry spokesmen told ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 17 September they have evidence that a 300-strong unit of the Chechen army directly subordinate to President Aslan Maskhadov took part in the fighting in Daghestan, returning to its base in Gudermes on 11 September. There has been no official Chechen response to those accusations, although Chechen government spokesmen earlier denied any involvement in the attacks on Daghestan. LF

NATIONALITIES MINISTER CALLS FOR MASKHADOV-PUTIN MEETING

Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov told journalists in Moscow on 18 September that Maskhadov should state definitively that he is "against bandits," ITAR-TASS reported. Mikhailov added that a meeting between Maskhadov and Russian leaders is planned to discuss joint measures against terrorism. Maskhadov wrote to President Yeltsin to propose such measures last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). Both Mikhailov and Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev said on 18 September that preparations are under way for a meeting between Maskhadov and Russian Premier Putin at which the two men will sign a declaration outlining measures for resolving the North Caucasus crisis. LF

FEDERATION COUNCIL SKEPTICAL OF PUTIN'S CHECHEN PROPOSALS?

Addressing a closed session of the Federation Council on 17 September, Prime Minister Putin outlined his measures for countering the Chechen threat, including the imposition of a cordon sanitaire and continuing air strikes against the "guerrillas," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 September. Putin himself told journalists after the session that senators expressed support for those plans and urged the Russian government to act "harshly and rapidly." But the daily said all senators with whom its correspondent spoke unanimously slammed Putin's proposals, arguing that air strikes are insufficient and ground troops should be sent into Chechnya. The newspaper quoted unidentified senators as expressing doubts that it will be possible to "resolve the Chechen problem" before next year's Russian presidential elections. LF

CHECHNYA STIPULATES CONDITIONS FOR EXTRADITING 'TERRORISTS'

In a 19 September letter to Russian Prime Minister Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov said Chechnya will "consider" extraditing to Moscow the terrorists responsible for the apartment bombings in Moscow and Buynaksk only on certain conditions, Interfax reported. He said that Moscow must furnish convincing proof of those persons' involvement in the bombings, and agree to hand over to Chechnya the "war criminals responsible for the genocide of the Chechen people in 1994-1996" as well as Russian pilots responsible for the air raids on Chechnya during the past three weeks. LF

RESIGNATION RUMORS GAIN INTENSITY

Duma deputy and former Economics Minister Aleksandr Shokhin wrote in "Segodnya" on 20 September that Russian President Boris Yeltsin will resign on 19 October in order to force his opponents to choose between running in the State Duma elections scheduled for 19 December or in presidential elections. One of Yeltsin's chief rivals, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, is planning to seek re- election as head of the capital on that date, and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii is another likely presidential candidate who will be participating in the State Duma elections. In an earlier article in "Segodnya," Shokhin had been only one day off when he predicted Yevgenii Primakov's ouster from the premier's office. JAC

LEBED TOUTED AS YELTSIN'S SUCCESSOR...

Referring to unnamed Kremlin sources, "Segodnya," which is owned by Vladmir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group, reported on 18 September that Prime Minister Putin is about to be dismissed and Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed named in his place. In addition, Lebed's backer, media magnate Boris Berezovskii, will receive a "high administrative position" probably connected with North Caucasus affairs, the daily claimed. The next day, Igor Shabdurasulov, deputy chief of presidential administration, dismissed the report, telling Interfax that the "goal in fabricating sensational rumors is simple--to create the pretext under which the opportunity is given over and over again to 'show oneself' and gain publicity through electronic and press media professing one's comments, assessment, and forecasts." On 15 September, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin had described earlier reports about Lebed's appointment as "utter rubbish." JAC

...AS GOVERNOR SAYS HE'S NOT MOVING TO MOSCOW--YET

In an interview with the German magazine "Der Spiegel" on 19 September, Lebed said that he would not accept any position in the Yeltsin government. The same day, Lebed told Russian Public Television that if he were elected president, he would have a better chance than others of resolving Russia's problems with Chechnya. Earlier, Lebed had said Russia needed a military man as president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 1999). JAC

RAISA GORBACHEV LOSES BATTLE WITH LEUKEMIA

Raisa Gorbachev died early on 20 September at the Muenster University Clinic, where she had been undergoing treatment for leukemia since late July. Her husband, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, had remained with her throughout her stay in the German hospital. While earlier having found little sympathy among the Russian public, the couple was flooded with letters from well-wishers within Russia after Raisa Gorbachev was diagnosed with leukemia. JC

MOSCOW'S FIRST LADY THROW HER HAT INTO RING...

Yelena Baturina, the wife of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, announced on 18 September that she will seek a seat in the State Duma from a single-mandate district in the Republic of Kalmykia. Baturina said she will run as an independent candidate and plans to "engage in creative activity, notably implement construction projects" in Kalmykia, according to Interfax. Baturina's brother, who runs the INTEK construction company, is prime minister of Kalmykia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1998). Baturina also said that she plans to take an active part in the construction of a Buddhist temple in Moscow. The predominant religion in Kalmykia is Tibetan Buddhism. JAC

...AS MAYOR DESIGNATES HIS RUNNING MATE

Mayor Luzhkov has tapped Valerii Shantsev, current deputy Moscow mayor, as his running mate in the upcoming mayoral elections, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 September. Luzhkov is pledging to reduce taxes, construct housing on a scale of 3-4 million square meters a year, and upgrade the standard of living of Muscovites by one-third, according to the daily. On 14 September, Luzhkov launched his "official" web site at . JAC

MORE MANAGEMENT PROBLEMS CLOG WORK AT TRANSNEFT

Transneft's top managers decided not to show up at work on 17 September to show solidarity for ousted director Dmitrii Savelev, "The Moscow Times" reported the next day. Policeman armed with saws had forcibly installed new director, Semen Vainshtok, the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 & 16 September 1999). "Komsomolskaya pravda," in which the Interros financial group holds a 51 percent stake, suggested that Savelev was dismissed primarily because of his support for the Baltic Pipeline System project over a competing pipeline project backed by LUKoil. Both Deputy Fuel Minister Vladimir Stanev and Vainshtok are former LUKoil vice presidents. According to the daily, Fuel Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii had to dismiss Savelev in an unorthodox manner because he was in a hurry: Savelev reportedly intended to run in the State Duma elections, and once he was registered as a candidate, he could have been dismissed only with the permission of the Central Election Commission. JAC

RUBLE FIRMS TEMPORARILY, STOCKS DIP...

The ruble exchange rate rose to 24.41 rubles to $1 on 17 September from 25.47 rubles two days earlier. Traders attributed the rise to the Central Bank's issuing a new regulation for commercial banks that had the effect of tightening the money supply, AFP reported. However, traders do not expect the trend to last because of expected higher inflation and rising political tensions, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, the stock market values continued to slide. The benchmark RTS index slipped 2.77 percent on 15 September from the previous day, Reuters reported. Stocks have fallen steadily since the apartment bombings in Moscow. JAC

...AS INFLATION PREDICTED TO RISE

Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 17 September that inflation will be slightly over 40 percent in 1999, rather than the 30 percent projected in this year's budget. Kasyanov added that GDP will experience zero growth in 1999, compared with the previous year. Real incomes fell 14.8 percent and real wages 35.9 percent during the first eight months of 1999, the Russian Statistics Agency reported the same day. JAC

GROMOV SAYS START-2 IMPORTANT FOR RUSSIA

In an interview published in the 19 September "The Washington Times," Colonel General Boris Gromov, chairman of the Russian State Duma's Subcommittee on International Affairs said he believes that START-2 ratification is "strategically important" for both Russia and the U.S. and that the treaty has not lost its "significance and positive potential" since it was signed in 1993. He attributed the delay in ratifying START-2 to the "serious decline of the economic and social situation in Russia," noting that the cost of implementing START-2 is a "heavy burden" for the current Russian budget. With regard to the U.S. desire to amend the 1972 ABM treaty, Gromov stressed the Russian standpoint that it is an "indispensable part of any system of strategic stability." He urged that the two sides find a compromise, possibly establishing a joint ABM system or making "mutual concessions within the future START- 3 framework." JC

U.S. JETS INTERCEPT RUSSIAN BOMBERS OFF ALASKA

U.S. fighter jets were sent to intercept two Tu-95 Russian Bear bombers some 200 miles off the coast of Alaska on 17 September. The bombers did not stray from international air space, but once they entered the "outer defense identification zone," the U.S. planes were sent to identify them. Interfax quoted the Russian Air Force press center as expressing "surprise and regret" over the incident. It stressed that its aircraft did not violate U.S. airspace and commented that the air force witnesses the "daily barraging of NATO intelligence aircraft along the Russia border but does not take hurried steps." The last time a Russian Bear aircraft was intercepted off Alaska was in March 1993, according to Reuters. JC




AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WANTS NEW KARABAKH PEACE PLAN...

Meeting in Baku on 18 September with visiting OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek, Heidar Aliyev argued that the OSCE Minsk Group is unable to resolve the Karabakh conflict and is biased toward Armenia in its efforts to do so, Turan reported. Aliyev added that he expects the Minsk Group to prepare a new draft peace plan before the OSCE summit in Istanbul in mid-November. Turan quoted Aliyev as saying that his direct talks over the past two months with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, have yielded no results, as "Armenia is offering very difficult proposals that could not be accepted by Azerbaijan." Vollebaek expressed the OSCE's support for a continuation of those direct talks, which he termed "vital" to resolving the conflict, according to ITAR- TASS. LF

...ORDERS RELEASE OF ARMENIAN POWS

President Aliyev announced during his talks with Vollebaek that he has ordered the National Security Ministry to release the last four Armenian prisoners of war held in Azerbaijan. He added that he hopes Armenia will reciprocate by releasing the 15 remaining Azerbaijani prisoners before the OSCE Istanbul summit, ITAR- TASS reported. Armenia released three Azerbaijani POWs on 17 September. Armenia says it still holds six Azerbaijani POWs, while the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic admits holding five Azerbaijani servicemen, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 17 September. LF

POLICE DISPERSE DEMONSTRATIONS IN AZERBAIJANI CAPITAL

Baku police dispersed some 50 people taking part in a picket of the city mayor's office on 18 September, Caucasus Press reported. The picket was organized by the chairmen of the Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections to demand permission to convene a rally in Baku on 25 September. Two days earlier, some 300 police had broken up a rally by opposition representatives at the Salyany race track on the outskirts of Baku. Several participants were arrested. The demonstrators had been protesting alleged violations by local election officials during the first stage of preparations for the 12 December municipal elections. LF

RUSSIA RELAXES, REIMPOSES CONTROLS ON BORDERS WITH GEORGIA...

Interfax reported on 17 September, quoting Abkhaz President Vlasislav Ardzinba, that a week or so earlier, on 9 September, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a resolution lifting restrictions imposed in 1994, 1995, and 1997 on crossing Russia's borders with Azerbaijan and Georgia, Ardzinba termed that step "the lifting of the economic blockade" against Abkhazia. But within days of the signing of the Russian government document, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev called for the closure of those borders to prevent the transport of arms via Azerbaijani and Georgian territory to militants fighting in Chechnya and Daghestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1999). On 17 September, Russian border guards closed the Psou border crossing between Russia and Abkhazia in response to last week's terrorist bombings in Russia, according to Caucasus Press. LF

...SPARKING PROTESTS IN TBILISI

The Georgian State Frontier Department issued a statement condemning the 9 September Russian government resolution as an infringement of Georgia's sovereignty, Caucasus Press reported on 18 September. The statement added that the Russian move abets Abkhaz separatism and "does not promote the development and strengthening of good-neighborly relations" between Moscow and Tbilisi. Also on 18 September, the Abkhaz parliament in exile, which is composed of the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1991, issued a statement demanding that the Georgian government completely reassess relations with Moscow in the light of the Russian government resolution. The statement called for the closure of Russia's four military bases in Georgia and for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers deployed under the CIS aegis along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE DISCUSSES GEORGIAN CONFLICTS

During talks in Tbilisi on 17 September, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili thanked Knut Vollebaek for the OSCE's contribution to resolving the conflict in South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. Interfax quoted Vollebaek as telling a press conference after his talks that the OSCE is prepared to join the process of trying to resolve the Abkhaz conflict and will hold talks with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on doing so. Vollebaek also met with Parliamentary Chairman Zurab Zhvania and with representatives of several opposition parties to discussed preparations for the 31 October parliamentary elections. He was scheduled to meet with Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and President Eduard Shevardnadze. LF

BRZEZINSKI PROPOSES THAT ARMENIA JOIN GUUAM

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 September that he considers the GUUAM alignment comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, "a good initiative" that may at some point evolve into a security system, Caucasus Press reported. But Brzezinski added that he thinks Armenia should also become a member of GUUAM, together with Romania, Poland, and Turkey. He proposed that Tbilisi offer the maximum concessions in order the resolve its conflict with Abkhazia. But he ruled out independence for the breakaway republic, advocating instead a confederation with Georgia, according to Caucasus Press. The Georgian leaders insist they would agree only to Georgia becoming an "asymmetric federation." LF

OSCE CRITICIZES KAZAKHSTAN'S SENATE ELECTIONS

In a statement issued in Almaty on 17 September, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights criticized the conduct of elections that day to the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, Reuters reported. The statement noted the failure of an unspecified number of local election commissions in the city and oblast of Almaty to comply with new regulations allowing local political party representatives to observe and monitor the vote count. The previous day, Central Electoral Commission chairwoman Zaghipa Balieva had pledged that voting would be "absolutely fair, transparent and democratic" and that "all the election laws will be followed." Twenty-nine candidates, all of whom were either government officials or senators whose term is about to expire, were contesting 16 senate seats. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S EX-PREMIER LEAVES RUSSIA

Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was hospitalized after suffering a suspected heart attack following his detention by police in Moscow on arriving from London on 10 September, returned to London on 16 September, Reuters reported on 17 September, quoting members of Kazhegeldin's Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan. Those party members added that Kazhegeldin has no firm plans to return to Kazakhstan, where he faces charges of tax evasion. LF

SEVEN KILLED IN NEW CLASH IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

Seven Kyrgyz troops were killed and another six injured in a four- hour exchange of fire with more than 100 guerrillas who attacked their positions near the village of Syrt in southern Kyrgyzstan early on 18 September. Kyrgyzstan's Security Council secretary Bolot Djanuzakov told journalists that the guerrillas were attempting to gain access to the Uzbek exclave of Sokh, which is surrounded by Kyrgyz territory, but were prevented from doing so. He added that the guerrillas lost 15 men in the fighting, including the field commander who led an earlier incursion on to Kyrgyz territory. During the fighting, the guerrillas also seized some 12 local civilians whom they intend to use as human shields, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. LF

NEW POLITICAL PARTY FORMED IN KYRGYZSTAN

Some 100 deputies elected Zamira Sydykova, chief editor of the opposition weekly paper "Res Publika," as chairwoman of the Party of Republicans at that party's founding congress in Bishkek on 18 September, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. Parliamentary deputy and Ata-Meken party chairman Omurbek Tekebaev, who also attended the congress, said his party may align with the Republicans. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS

Addressing a congress of the Islamic Renaissance Party in Dushanbe on 18 September, United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri called for the consolidation of the peace process in Tajikistan and affirmed that the party's ultimate objective is to come to power "by political means, strictly within the bounds of the constitution," ITAR-TASS reported. The 540 delegates to the congress elected Nuri as the party's new chairman. Former chairman Mukhammed Sharif Himmatzode and First Deputy Prime Minister Khodja Akbar Turadjonzoda were elected deputy chairmen. In August, Tajikistan's Supreme Court lifted the ban it had imposed on the Islamic Renaissance Party in June 1993. But on 17 September, a leading member of the country's Central Electoral Commission said the party will not be able to contend the presidential and parliamentary elections later this year unless it first re-registers with the Ministry of Justice, Reuters reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT TO RUN FOR SECOND TERM

Abdulmadzhid Dostiev, who is deputy chairman of the People's Democratic Party, told Reuters on 17 September that Imomali Rakhmonov will run for a second term in the 6 November presidential poll "at the party's request" as there is "simply no alternative." The party is to convene a congress on 23 September. A former Tajik Supreme Soviet chairman, Rakhmonov was elected president in November 1994 with some 60 percent of the vote. LF

UZBEKISTAN AGAIN IMPLICATES TAJIK OPPOSITION FIGHTING IN KYRGYZSTAN

Speaking at a press briefing in Tashkent on 17 September, Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov claimed that the ethnic Uzbek guerrillas in Kyrgyzstan receive support and instructions from members of the UTO, Reuters and Interfax reported. The UTO has denied earlier Uzbek charges that it supports the guerrillas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 September 1999). Kamilov said that the leader of the band now holding hostages in Kyrgyzstan's Osh Oblast reports by radio to former UTO commander Mirzo Zioev, Tajikistan's Minister for Emergency Situations and Civil Defense, and to headquarters in Kabul and Qaraganda in Kazakhstan. He added that the Tajik government refuses to acknowledge that it has lost control of the situation in the eastern part of the country. At the same press conference, National Security Council Secretary Mirakbar Rakhmonkulov said Uzbekistan will not send ground troops to Kyrgyzstan to help fight the militants, according to Interfax. LF




LUKASHENKA ACCUSES WEST OF 'PROVOCATIONS' AGAINST BELARUS

U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Daniel Speckhard on 17 September expressed concern over the disappearance of Belarusian oppositionist Viktar Hanchar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1999). French envoy to Minsk Bernard Fossier noted that Hanchar's disappearance may "torpedo" the dialogue between the opposition and the authorities in Belarus, according to Belapan. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said the following day that "some politicians" tend to destabilize the situation in Belarus by resorting to "various provocations" and by claiming that Belarus is a totalitarian state where people disappear without trace, Belarusian Television reported. "I would ask the West to look for [those disappeared people] in the West before making loud statements," Lukashenka added. JM

IMF SAYS BELARUS MUST IMPLEMENT REFORM TO COUNT ON MONEY

IMF spokeswoman Kathleen White on 17 September said Belarus will have to lower inflation, liberalize its economy, and implement structural reforms before applying for IMF financial assistance, Reuters reported. White was responding to Belarusian National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich's announcement last week that Belarus will "insist and demand" that the IMF lend it $230 million. Prakapovich had said Minsk will ask for the money under emergency and stand-by loan programs because of this year's poor harvest and other problems. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT RAISES MINIMUM PENSION

The parliament on 17 September voted 299 to eight to approve raising the minimum pension from the current 24.9 hryvni ($5.4) to 55 hryvni, AP reported. Given President Leonid Kuchma's repeated vetoes of several pension increases, the parliament's 17 September decision seems to be yet another example of the confrontation between the legislature and the government ahead of the 31 October presidential elections. State Pension Fund head Borys Zaychuk commented that his fund, whose annual revenues total 13 billion hryvni, will not be able to find the additional 9.7 billion hryvni needed to pay for the increase. JM

UKRAINE, KAZAKHSTAN SIGN DEALS ON OIL, GAS SUPPLIES

Talks between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbaev, on 17-18 September resulted in the signing of several protocols on cooperation in the oil and gas sectors and a 10-year cooperation agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1999), the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported on 20 September. Ukraine wants Kazakhstan to supply 5 billion cubic meters of gas next year so that Kyiv is less dependent on gas supplies from Russia and Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan agreed to supply 1.5 million tons of oil to Ukraine by the end of this year. JM

BALTIC TRANSPORT MINISTERS PLEDGE FURTHER COOPERATION

Transport ministers Toivo Jurgenson (Estonia), Anatolijs Gorbunovs (Latvia) and Rimantas Didziokas (Lithuania) met on 16-17 September in the Latvian port city of Ventspils. The three ministers pledged continued cooperation in transport and fuel taxation as well as in the "Via Baltica" transport link, LETA reported. MH

POLAND, GERMANY, DENMARK INAUGURATE JOINT NATO CORPS

NATO's Multinational Corps Northeast, which is made up of three divisions from Poland, Germany, and Denmark, has begun operations at its headquarters in Szczecin, northwestern Poland. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said at the corps' official inauguration on 18 September that the event signals the "true beginning" of Poland's activities in NATO. "The corps' creation does not mean we are building new walls. Europe cannot end at the eastern border of Poland," German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in Szczecin. The corps, commanded by a Danish general, will specialize in NATO peacekeeping and rescue missions. JM

SOLIDARITY LEADER SAYS 'POSITIVE RESULTS' OF REFORM SOON EVIDENT

Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski told some 100,000 workers at a rally in Czestochowa on 19 September that Poland will soon see "positive results from the reforms and new programs" implemented by the current Solidarity-led coalition, Polish media reported. According to Krzaklewski, the movement has again been attacked by an "anti-Solidarity virus." This time, he said, that virus is nurtured by "our errors and our lack of faith" as well as by a "blockade on media information about our activities." JM

PROVINCIAL GOVERNOR LIFTS BAN ON PROTEST IN WARSAW

Mazowsze Province Governor Antoni Pietkiewicz on 17 September lifted a ban on a trade union demonstration that some 100,000 people are expected to attend on 24 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). Warsaw Mayor Pawel Piskorski had earlier banned the demonstration, arguing that it would paralyze the city. JM

CZECH COMMUNISTS READY TO RETURN TO POWER

An opinion poll conducted by STEM shows the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) closing the gap with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), CTK reported on 17 September. The KSCM is backed by 20.5 percent of the electorate, and if elections were held now, it would gain 52 mandates in the Chamber of Deputies, just two mandates fewer than the ODS, which received 20.9 percent support. The ruling Social Democratic Party is backed by only 15 percent. The findings are in line with a poll released one day earlier by the Institute for Social Research. On 16 September KSCM leader Miroslav Grebenicek said his party expects to win the next parliamentary elections. He said the KSCM "would be glad to take over a country whose economic state would be at least as good as [how] it was left in 1989." MS

CZECH PREMIER CONCEDES TANK SALE TO YEMEN

Responding to journalists' questions on 17 September, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said the government decided two days earlier to sell Soviet-made T-54 and T-55 tanks to Yemen, CTK reported. He refused to provide any other details and said in response to another question that he "knows nothing" about Yemen's intention to re-export the tanks to a third country. Petr Necas, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Defense and Security Committee and a member of the ODS, criticized Zeman for refusing to provide details of the deal, saying Yemen may not be the end destination of the tanks. He said that recently Poland has also sold tanks to Yemen, which then resold them to Sudan. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT IN SLOVAKIA

Vaclav Havel, paying his first official visit to Slovakia, told his Slovak counterpart, Rudolf Schuster, that the days of "strained relations" are over and ties between the two countries will continue to improve. Havel said that the Czech Republic could learn from Slovakia's strong civil society, CTK and SITA reported on 17 September. The two presidents said the problem of the division of former federal property will probably be resolved by year's end. Visiting Kosice on 18 September, Havel said that Slovakia might be admitted to the EU ahead of the Czech Republic. He also said he is heartened to see Kosice's multi- ethnic population, commenting that "when I am sick of the Czech political stage, I will come to be recomforted [sic] in this friendly town." MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT SAVES EXTREMIST LEADER FROM PROSECUTION

The parliament on 17 September voted 42 to 19 with 17 abstentions against lifting the parliamentary immunity of Slovak National Party leader Jan Slota, SITA reported. Police requested Slota's immunity to be lifted on suspicion of incitement to ethnic and racial hatred. In a speech earlier this year, Slota called on Slovaks to "level Budapest to the ground" and insulted members of the country's Roma community, saying he would never consent to having Roma defined as an ethnic minority because they "are just Gypsies who steal, rob, and pilfer." MS

HUNGARIAN JOURNALISTS TO PROTEST PLANNED TV DISMISSALS

The Press Correspondents' Club announced on 18 September that it will stage a protest against the pending dismissals of more that 500 employees of Hungarian Television (MTV). The statement said the 23 September rally will be staged to defend the freedom of the press against the appointment of "political commissars." MTV chairman Laszlo Zsolt Szabo confirmed that a total of 1,000 staff will be laid off in two phases. The cuts will result in a saving of 2.8 billion forints ($11 million) next year, he explained. The opposition Socialist Party said a "political purge" is taking place at MTV, saying the reorganization is aimed at serving the interests of the governing parties. MSZ




UCK OFFICIALS BALK ON DEMILITARIZATION

The leaders of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) on 20 September failed to agree with NATO and UN officials on the future of the demilitarized force and extended the demilitarization deadline by two days, AFP reported. UCK political leader Hashim Thaci said after all-night meetings with General Mike Jackson, the commander of NATO's peacekeeping force, that "the process of demilitarization is still ongoing." UN Mission chief Bernard Kouchner joined the talks early on 20 September. Thaci and UCK military leader Agim Ceku reportedly object to a NATO plan to transform the UCK into an unarmed 5,000-strong Kosova Corps to assist in humanitarian and rescue missions, and they want the new organization to be the basis of a new armed force for Kosova. AP reported that the two sides also disagree over the number of weapons to be given to the Kosova Corps, the right to wear UCK insignias, and control over positions within the corps. PB

THACI CRITICIZES KOUCHNER, CALLS FOR INDEPENDENCE AT UN

UCK political leader Thaci has accused Kouchner of not consulting with Kosovar Albanians but says he is not calling for the UN mission chief to resign, AP reported. Thaci, who was in New York on 19 September for meetings with UN officials, said "what we are asking for is cooperation. We are not asking for a king." He noted that all of Kouchner's "negative positions" could be improved. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan cited a busy schedule when explaining why he did not meet with Thaci, who instead held talks with an assistant to Annan and with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke. Thaci also insisted that Kosova must eventually become independent and should have some representation at the UN. Annan said such a request ran contrary to UN resolution 1244 and would not be possible "for the foreseeable future." PB

UCK HOLDS PARADES THROUGHOUT KOSOVA

Tens of thousands of people turned out for a parade of UCK soldiers on 18 September in anticipation of a farewell ahead of the deadline for the force to disarm and disband, Reuters reported. UCK military leader Ceku and commander Sulejman Selimi led the parade through downtown Prishtina to the sports stadium, where UCK leaders gave speeches to supporters. Political leader Thaci said he is sure the international community "will respect the democratic right for self-declaration and a referendum [on independence]." Similar events were held in Peje and in Rznic, where UCK fighters handed over Kalashnikov rifles to Italian peacekeepers on 20 September to symbolize the demilitarization. NATO officials said more than 10,000 weapons have been turned in by the UCK. PB

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR UN OFFICIALS TO RESIGN

Vladan Batic, the coordinator of the Alliance for Change opposition movement in Serbia, called on the UN mission chief Kouchner and Kosova Stabilization Force (KFOR) officials to resign because of their failure to protect the Serbian population of Kosova, Beta news agency reported on 19 September. Batic said Kosova used to be "the cradle of the Serbian people, but today it is their grave." In an open letter to KFOR, Batic said that instead of protection, Serbs are being offered reservations as safe havens. He also criticized UN officials for supporting UCK leaders instead of "liberal, democratically-oriented [ethnic] Albanian politicians." PB

AVRAMOVIC URGES MILOSEVIC, MILUTINOVIC TO RESIGN...

Former National Bank Governor Dragoslav Avramovic said on 18 September that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic must resign since they are a "major obstacle for the future integration of Yugoslavia into the world community," AP reported, citing the Belgrade radio station B2-92. Avramovic said he knows that Milosevic, being a "smart and responsible person, has enough strength to step down." Avramovic curbed hyperinflation in late 1993 as head of the Yugoslav National Bank and was an ally of Milosevic. He is frequently mentioned as a possible head of an interim government for Yugoslavia. Zoran Djindic, a leader of the Alliance for Change opposition movement, said on the same day that daily protests in 16 Serbian cities against Milosevic will begin on 21 September and should begin having an impact by November. PB

...AS DRASKOVIC SWINGS BACK TOWARD OPPOSITION

Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, said on 19 September that his party will take part in protests against the government only if Milosevic refuses to agree on early elections, AP reported. Draskovic said the opposition, led by the Alliance for Change, would have to draw up a document calling for early elections and present an ultimatum to Milosevic. Draskovic, who served earlier this year in Milosevic's government, opposes installing an interim government before early elections. PB

HIGH COMMISSIONER SACKS BOSNIAN OFFICIALS

Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's newly installed top official in Bosnia-Herzegovina, dismissed two top Bosnian Croat officials for obstructing the peace process, Reuters reported on 17 September. Bosnian Croat Stipo Babic was sacked as justice minister of the Herceg-Bosna canton, and Borivoje Malbasic was fired from his position as the head of the town of Drvar's municipal council. Petritsch said implementation of the Dayton accords is "especially poor" in Herceg-Bosna and "certain offenders and notorious suspects appear to be immune from prosecution, while minorities are extensively discriminated against." Malbasic was removed for failing to convene regular sessions of the council. Drvar was Serb-dominated before it was captured by Croatian forces in 1995 and has been the scene of violence between Croats and Serbian returnees. PB

SRPSKA'S RULING COALITION WANTS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

The Western-leaning Bosnian Serb Sloga (Unity) coalition will ask the OSCE to hold a presidential election if Republika Srpska Vice President Mirko Sarovic refuses to accept the presidency, Reuters reported on 19 September, citing "Oslobodjenje." Srpska President Nikola Poplasen was sacked by former High Commissioner for Bosnia Carlos Westendorp in March for obstructing implementation of the Dayton peace agreement. He has refused to recognize the dismissal. In other news, Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has approved extending the mandate of the 1,400 Russian troops serving in Bosnia. They will remain there until 31 July. PB

POPE VISITS SLOVENIA

John Paul II, on a one-day visit to Slovenia on 19 September, denounced rampant nationalism in the Balkans and urged Slovenians to build peace in Europe, AP reported. At a mass for some 100,000 people in Maribor, the pontiff decried the nationalism evident during World War II as well as during the wars of Yugoslav succession. He also beatified 19th century bishop Anton Martin Slomsek, the first Slovene to be honored in this way. The pope met with President Milan Kucan and representatives of the Serbian minority in Slovenia. The Catholic Church and the Slovenian government have recently been at odds over property restitution and religious education in schools. PB

ROMANIA'S HUNGARIANS DISAGREE ON PRIVATE UNIVERSITY

The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania's Consultative Council on 17 September announced that the private Hungarian university about to be set up with Budapest's assistance will be based in Cluj and have branches in Oradea, Targu Mures, Brasov, Sfantu Gheorghe, Timisoara, and other Transylvanian towns. The council thereby overruled the party's honorary chairman, Bishop Laszlo Tokes, who had said that the university will be a religious one based in Oradea. The council also said that the setting up of the private university does not mean that the demand for a state university offering instruction in Hungarian will be renounced. MS

ROMANIA'S FORMER MONARCH CLAIMS BACK PROPERTY

Former King Michael, whose Romanian citizenship was restored in 1997, has started legal proceedings to reclaim properties confiscated by the communist regime, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 17 September. AP quoted Simona Mezincescu, a close friend of the royal household, as saying that the former monarch wants the properties back in order to stay in them when he visits Romania because "hotels are too expensive." MS

ROMANIA SAYS LAND MINES AD WAS 'MISTAKE'

The National Defense Ministry on 18 September said that an advertisement showing outlawed anti-personnel land mines was a "mistake." The advertisement was run by the Romtehnica state-owned arms manufacturer at an international arms fair in the U.K. The ministry said that those responsible for including the advertisement in the catalogue distributed at the fair have been punished, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The British Ministry of Defense has called for an investigation into the incident. MS

BULGARIA, EU DISCUSS CLOSURE OF KOZLODUY UNITS

Meeting with an EU delegation on 17 September, Bulgarian officials offered three options for the early closure of four controversial nuclear reactors at the Kozloduy plant, Reuters reported, quoting Ivan Shilyashki, chief of Bulgaria's energy agency. This is the first time that Bulgaria has shown readiness to close the reactors earlier than planned. The EU has long been demanding early closure and, in return, might allocate funding for alternative energy projects. Reuters also quoted Metodi Konstantinov, a member of the Bulgarian negotiating team, as telling journalists that the three options envisaged the closure of the four reactors one, two, or three years earlier than the time frame set by the government. According to the parliament's energy strategy, reactors one and two are to be shut down in 2004-2005 and reactors three and four in 2008 and 2010. MS




GEORGIA'S ARMENIAN-POPULATED REGION IN LIMBO


By Emil Danielyan

Georgian and Armenian words mingle at the noisy bazaar and in the busy shops and cafes of Akhaltsikhe, a town in the west of Javakhetia. But the situation is quite different in the smaller town of Akhalkalaki, 70 kilometers to the east, at the heart of the southern region of Georgia, where ethnic Armenians constitute an overall majority. Akhalkalaki's population is overwhelmingly Armenian. Georgian is rarely spoken, and there are few other signs that this is Georgian territory. The place looks depressing and is deceptively calm.

Javakhetia's location on Georgia's border with Turkey and Armenia gives the region strategic importance as Russia and the West compete for influence in the post-Soviet South Caucasus. The continuing presence in Javakhetia of Russian troops and the region's ethnic composition are the main causes of tension. Added to those factors are the longstanding grievances of the local population largely stemming from severe living conditions.

Achieving a modus vivendi with its sometimes obstreperous national minorities has been a huge challenge for independent Georgia. Attempts to rein in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force have resulted in Tbilisi's loss of control over those two breakaway regions. And although relations with local Armenians have been mainly peaceful, finding a long-term arrangement with Javakhetia has proved problematic.

The area known as Javakhetia (Javakhk in Armenian) is composed of four raions. Ethnic Armenians are concentrated in two of those raions, Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, accounting for more than 95 percent of the population. The Tbilisi government's influence there is fairly limited. Akhalkalaki still hosts a Russian military base, one of the four remaining in Georgia. In a town with a virtually non-existent economy, the base is the main employer. The locals are strongly opposed to the withdrawal of the Russian troops, which Tbilisi is seeking as part of its bid to establish close ties with NATO and the West.

Some Russians did pull out last year, however, raising the question of who would occupy their empty barracks. Under pressure from local Armenians unwilling to see Georgian army units stationed in Akhalkalaki, the Georgian government agreed to turn the barracks into a hospital. Local government officials now say that Tbilisi has assured them it will not deploy Georgian troops in the area in the foreseeable future. A recent meeting in Akhaktsikhe between the Armenian and Georgian defense ministers was also intended to reassure the local Armenia population.

In terms of culture and education, the region's ethnic Armenian population is oriented toward Armenia. Only a handful of the inhabitants of Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda Raions speak Georgian. Schooling is in Armenian, and textbooks are those used in Armenia. High-school graduates generally choose to continue their education in Yerevan, rather than Tbilisi. Many Armenians in Javakheti have subsequently made careers in the Armenian military, where they are well represented in the officer corps. Armenia's present defense minister was born in Javakheti.

Employment opportunities in Javakheti are limited. Apart from the Russian base and trade, the locals live off farming or money received from relatives working in Russia. Three hours of electricity a day is no incentive to launch a business. Moreover, meager pensions and public-sector wages have not been paid for more than six months.

As a result of the crumbling infrastructure and the lack of prospects, many people feel forsaken by the central government. Akhalkalaki district council chairman Levon Gabrielian, who is a member of Georgia's ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia, says Tbilisi's attitude toward the region is "not objective," while more radical local leaders speak about covert discrimination.

Anti-Turkish and pro-Russian nationalists, who until recently operated under the umbrella group Javakhk, have formed a party called Virk (the medieval Armenian name for Georgia.) The Georgian Justice Ministry refuses to register the party, citing its "regional" character. But one of Virk's leaders, David Restakian, says Tbilisi wants to bar the party from participating in parliamentary elections next month. "We are more dangerous for them than Javakhk because we want to obey their rules of the game," he says. "One in 10 Georgian citizens is an [ethnic] Armenian, and yet we have no senior officials in Tbilisi."

Virk's stated aim is a "federal" Georgia in which Javakhetia would be a separate entity. Its members are against the possible construction through the region of a pipeline carrying Azerbaijani oil to the Turkish Mediterranean coast. They are clearly a force on which Russia can depend to keep its presence in the region.

As the polls near, Georgian parties are competing to win the sympathy of Javakhetian Armenians, who in the 1995 elections voted for President Eduard Shevardnadze's Union of Citizens of Georgia (not least because the Armenian leadership urged them to do so). Posters of Aslan Abashidze, the autocratic ruler of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, can already be seen in Akhalkalaki, while those of his newly formed electoral bloc urge the ouster of the Shevardnadze administration, which, it contends, "has no future."

Abashidze rules virtually independently of Tbilisi, relying on Russian troops to preserve Adjaria's quasi- independence. He recently proposed incorporating Javakhetia into his Black Sea republic, which reportedly enjoys the highest living standards in the country. However, both the Armenian moderates and nationalists are highly mistrustful of Abashidze, pointing to his suspected Turkish connections. The October parliamentary elections will show whether their warnings carry more weight than his economic track record among Javakhetia's impoverished population.


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