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Newsline - September 24, 1999




BOMBING OF GROZNY CONTINUES

Russian aircraft continue to bomb targets in Grozny, including industrial and oil facilities and a television tower, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 September. Both the capital and four villages in the Nozhai- Yurt district were targeted the previous day in strikes that inflicted "heavy casualties," Interfax reported, quoting Chechen Deputy Chief of Staff Umar Bankurov. On 23 September, State Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev denied that the Chechen capital was being bombed, explaining that the strikes targeted only "Chechen militants and their military depots," according to ITAR-TASS. Meeting on 23 September in emergency session, the Chechen parliament and government approved the formation of a state defense committee, Interfax reported. Presidential spokesman Said Abdumuslimov said the commander- in-chief of the Chechen armed forces was instructed to convene all field commanders and issue them with instructions on how to counter a Russian invasion. LF

PUTIN RULES OUT IMMEDIATE LARGE-SCALE GROUND OPERATION

Arriving on 23 September in Astana, where he is to meet with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 24 September, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ruled out a large-scale ground invasion of Chechnya in the near future, Interfax reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the following day argued that inclement weather conditions and the December State Duma elections will militate against such an operation before the end of 1999. But it argued that an invasion could be launched in the spring in the run-up to the presidential poll. LF

OFFICERS UNHAPPY WITH RUSSIAN TACTICS

"Noviye izvestiya" on 23 September quoted an unnamed Russian officer as terming the massive defense preparations along the border between Chechnya and neighboring federation subjects to the north as "sheer madness." He argued that the Russian military should use guerrilla tactics against the Chechen militants, sending small, highly mobile groups into Chechen territory to liquidate field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev. And he expressed incomprehension and regret that during the 1994- 1996 war, plans to kill field commanders were frequently called off on instructions from politicians in Moscow. LF

KVASHNIN TO REPLACE SERGEEV?

Amid speculation that Defense Minister Igor Sergeev is about to be dismissed, "Segodnya" on 23 September cited unnamed government sources as tipping Chief of General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin as his successor. According to those sources, Kvashnin, who distinguished himself during the previous Chechen campaign, has already won favor with Prime Minister Putin. His reputation as a "hawk" and eagerness to fight "is exactly what the Kremlin needs" given the "local threat," those sources argue. Sergeev, on the other hand, is considered "not entirely suitable" for the current situation: as former commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, he is seen above all as a "global strategic" thinker, and he is also blamed for the insufficient forces and "technical means" with which to respond to the local, "extremist" threat. "Segodnya" reports that an excessive amount of the defense budget has been used for strategic purposes--primarily "Sergeev's" Strategic Rocket Forces. JC

RYAZAN BOMB TURNS OUT TO BE FAKE

In a 12-story apartment building in Ryazan, police on 23 September discovered and defused what they thought was a bomb, but the device turned out to be a dummy. In the basement of the apartment building, police found three sugar sacks with a timer, detonators, and traces of cyclonite, which was also used in other blasts in Russia, according to Reuters. A police spokesman told "The Moscow Times" on 24 September that terrorists frequently plant a few dummies before laying real bombs. JAC

MOSCOW'S 'OPERATION FOREIGNER' DEEMED ILLEGAL...

Anatolii Kovler, who was recently appointed human rights judge at the European Court of Human Rights, told "Vremya MN" on 23 September that the court may soon be deluged with complaints from Russian citizens about the city of Moscow's policies vis-a-vis non-Muscovites. He noted that "Russia's Constitutional Court has twice passed verdicts declaring registration requirements unconstitutional, but little has changed." The same day, "Segodnya" reported that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has signed a directive requiring the deportation of non-registered people from the capital. According to the daily, all non-registered persons who are detained by Moscow police will be advised to voluntarily leave the capital within three days. If a person is detained twice within three days, he or she will be put in a "distribution center." That person will then be escorted back to his/ her native city by a police official at his/her own expense. JAC

...AS MORE LOCALITES ADOPT CAPITAL'S METHODS

Earlier this week, Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashov signed a decree requiring the re-registration of all people who are living in the city temporarily, "Vremya MN" reported on 23 September. According to the daily, local police are conducting inspections of retail and wholesale markets and other locations in the city where Asians and Caucasians frequently gather. The Krasnoyarsk city authorities told the newspaper that the krai prosecutor-general will cancel the decree within a few days, but the local police chief said the measures--even if only implemented over a short period-- should be sufficient to clear the city of Caucasians. The same day, the head of the Chechen diaspora in Volgograd told the daily that the heads of various raions in the city have distributed secret orders to local authorities to find new tenants for apartments and offices now occupied by Chechens and other persons of Caucasian origin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1999). JAC

POTENTIAL NEW REGIONAL GROUPING SEEKING ALLIES

Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov confirmed on 23 September that some of the 39 regional leaders who signed an appeal to stop dirty political games in the run-up to parliamentary elections are trying to persuade the NDR's leadership to join an alliance that they are putting together, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Federation Report," 22 September 1999). The agency, citing unofficial and unnamed sources, claimed that Ryzhkov and NDR head Viktor Chernomyrdin met with Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu the same day. It has been widely reported that Shoigu is likely to become the leader of the new grouping, which at least one member said would be called inter-regional movement Unity (mezhregionalnoe dvizhenie Edinstvo). "Moskovskii komsomolets" suggested on 23 September that this name will be shorted to "Medved," which means bear in Russian. JAC

LIGACHEV TO SEEK DUMA SEAT FROM TOMSK...

Gorbachev-era Politburo member Yegor Ligachev intends to run in the State Duma elections from Tomsk Oblast, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 22 September. For many years, Ligachev was head of the Tomsk Oblast Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. JC

...AS COMMUNISTS TO BACK AGRARIANS IN 22 DISTRICTS

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 September that the Communist Party (KPRF) will back 22 members of the Agrarian Party in single-mandate districts during Duma elections. In the Gorno-Altai okrug, the KPRF will nominate one of its own local members to compete against Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin. Lapshin earlier announced that the Agrarians will align with Fatherland-All Russia bloc rather than with their traditional partner, the KPRF. On 24 September, Lapshin announced that the Agrarian Party leadership will not try to "settle scores" with those party members who participate in the elections with the KPRF. However, he noted that under the Agrarian Party's charter, members who violate party discipline may be expelled, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

RUSSIAN ECONOMY SET TO GROW NEXT YEAR?

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 24 September, Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants predicted that real incomes will grow by 3 percent in 2000 and retail trade turnover by 5-7 percent. He also forecast that GDP will increase by 2 percent next year. The previous day, IMF Economic Counselor Michael Mussa had suggested that the Russian economy will grow by 2 percent in 2000 and will finish 1999 with zero percent growth--a significant improvement over last year's minus 4.6 percent, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Mussa cautioned that the positive benefits of the ruble devaluation experienced by domestic industry will not last forever and that "a reinvigorated effort" by Russian authorities with regard to reforms in the banking sector and other areas is needed. JAC

RELEVANT PARTIES AGREE BUDGET TO BE PASSED BEFORE NEW YEAR

The State Duma's Budget Committee recommended on 23 September that the lower chamber reject the draft 2000 budget in its first reading, scheduled for 28 September. Earlier in the week, the committee recommended rejecting a number of the tax laws submitted with the budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 1999). First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko declared that the government is willing to work with legislators round the clock on a compromise budget so that the draft is passed before the end of the year, ITAR- TASS reported. Budget Committee chairman Aleksandr Zhukov echoed Khristenko's concern, saying "to enter presidential elections without a budget would be dangerous," "Vremya MN" reported on 24 September. After consulting with Khristenko on 23 September, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that "although leftists do not agree with its concept, technically the budget will be passed." JAC

TATAR RELIGIOUS INSTITUTE TEMPORARILY CLOSED

Tatarstan's Ministry of Education on 23 September suspended the license of the Yoldiz Islamic Institute in Chally, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the following day. A former student of that institute, Denis Saytakov, is suspected of involvement in last week's bombing of a Moscow apartment building (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1999). LF

GOVERNMENT BUILDING IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA BLOCKADED

Ethnic Cherkess and Abazin supporters of defeated presidential candidate Stanislav Derev continue to prevent anyone entering the government building in Cherkessk, which is guarded by OMON troops, Caucasus Press reported on 24 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1999). Derev's supporters are demanding that the outcome of the 16 May run- off, in which according to official data Derev's rival Vladimir Semenov polled more than 70 percent of the vote, be ruled invalid. LF




ARMENIAN PREMIER APPEALS TO DIASPORA FOR MORE INVESTMENT

Addressing the Armenia-Diaspora conference in Yerevan on 23 September, Vazgen Sargsian called upon ethnic Armenians from abroad to invest more heavily in Armenia, promising financial and tax incentives and a crackdown on corruption, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian said the recently created Armenian Development Agency will provide would-be investors with a wide range of services, including legal counseling, registration of enterprises, and information about business opportunities. The agency plans to open offices in London, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Beirut. Conference participants adopted two statements calling for closer ties between Armenia and the diaspora. One expresses support for the Karabakh Armenians' drive to become a "subject of international law," while the other reaffirms the continued pursuit of international recognition of the 1915 genocide of more than 1 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. LF

HUNGER-STRIKE FOR KARABAKH ENDED IN AZERBAIJAN

Members and sympathizers of the Coordinating Council of Political Parties on Karabakh have ended the hunger strike they began last month to protest the Azerbaijani leadership's apparent readiness for compromise in resolving the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported on 23 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999). Nureddin Askerli, who is press secretary to the Coordinating Council, told Turan the previous day that the council will resort to more active methods of protest. "Hurriyet" reported on 23 September that under political pressure, a high-school director in Khirdalan Raion expelled a 10th-grade student for having participated in the hunger strike. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S SUPREME RELIGIOUS LEADER DENIES RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTRICTED

The head of Azerbaijan's Muslim Spiritual Board, Sheykh-ul Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, has rejected the conclusions of a U.S. Congress report on restrictions on religious freedom in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 23 September. Pashazade acknowledged that the activities of religious missionaries are limited, but he argued that those limitations are justified because such proselytizing leads to tensions between adherents of various religious faiths. He added that some missionaries offer cash incentives to prospective converts. And he acknowledged that one reason for missionaries' success is the low level of Islamic propaganda. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE NAMES PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CANDIDATE

The so-called Batumi alliance of five opposition parties on 23 September named Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze as its candidate for next year's presidential elections, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze is considered virtually the only Georgian politician capable of posing a real challenge to incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze, who has already signaled his intention to run for a second term. A spokesman for Abashidze quoted him as saying that his decision was motivated by the desire "to save Georgia, which has been ruined by the policies of the president and current authorities," according to AP. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY AGAIN ON COLLISION COURSE WITH GOVERNMENT

Marat Ospanov, who is speaker of the lower house and deputy chairman of the pro-presidential Otan Party, told Interfax on 23 September that his party hopes to vote down the government's proposed draft budget for 2000 at a 25 September joint session of the two chambers of parliament. The draft budget envisages cuts in expenditures, including pensions, a budget deficit of 3 percent of GDP, and GDP growth of 1 percent. Ospanov has repeatedly criticized the government's financial policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 June 1999). He is regarded as a possible successor to Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev. LF

COMISSION TO COMBAT RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM CREATED IN KAZAKHSTAN

A spokesman for Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev said on 23 September that the president has decreed the formation of a commission to counter the threat of religious extremism, Reuters reported. The commission will be headed by Security Council Secretary Marat Tazhin. LF

ARMS HAUL SEIZED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Police in Almaty have arrested a group of Chechens and confiscated from them 17 new Kalashnikov submachine guns and Makarov pistols with silencers as well as $2,300 in forged banknotes, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported on 23 September. The weapons have a black market value of $30,000. LF

INCUMBENT NOMINATED AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN TAJIKISTAN...

As earlier announced, a 23 September congress of the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan named incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov as its candidate for the 6 November presidential poll, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). Two rival candidates have also been registered. The Justice Party of Tajikistan nominated Congress of People's Unity chairman Saifiddin Turaev as its candidate at a congress on 20 September, Asia Plus-Blitz reported three days later. Former presidential adviser for legal issues Zafar Ikramov will also contend the poll, according to ITAR-TASS. The Union of Youth of Tajikistan intends to select its candidate at a congress in Dushanbe on 24 September, according to Asia Plus-Blitz. LF

...AND IN UZBEKISTAN

Meanwhile in Tashkent a congress of the Fidorkorlar (Dedicated Ones) on 22 September nominated incumbent President Islam Karimov as its candidate for the 9 January presidential elections, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. LF




EU URGES BELARUS TO FIND DISAPPEARED OPPOSITIONIST

The EU on 23 September issued a statement calling on the Belarusian authorities to find opposition politician Viktar Hanchar, who disappeared along with a friend last week. The Belarusian Interior Ministry said the same day that the Prosecutor- General's Office has instigated criminal proceedings with regard to Hanchar's disappearance and suspects premeditated murder. The office opened a similar case on 21 September in connection with the disappearance of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka in May. The Interior Ministry also reported that former National Bank chairwoman Tamara Vinnikava, who disappeared in April while under house arrest, is abroad, but her precise whereabouts are unknown. JM

BELARUS TO IMPORT 1.5 MILLION TONS OF GRAIN THIS YEAR

Deputy Premier Alyaksandr Papkou on 23 September said Belarus will have to import some 1.5 million tons of grain this year at an estimated cost of $100 million, Belapan reported. Papkou added that Kazakhstan and Russian regions such as Volgograd, Krasnodar, and Stavropol are expected to deliver grain to Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ACCUSES PRESIDENT OF DICTATORSHIP

The parliament on 23 September approved a statement accusing President Leonid Kuchma of creating a dictatorship in the country ahead of the 31 October presidential elections, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. The parliament claims that the authorities are helping the incumbent president to secure his re-election, saying that the government is virtually neglecting its functions and has transformed itself into Kuchma's "campaign headquarters." JM

MOLDOVAN PRIME MINISTER IN ESTONIA

Wrapped up his Baltic tour, Ion Sturza was in Estonia on 23-24 September. Following his meeting with Prime Minister Mart Laar, Sturza praised Estonia's reforms, which, he noted, have "proceeded much faster in Estonia than in Moldova and we are very much interested in the Estonian experience," BNS reported. The two prime ministers also signed a cooperation agreement on fighting crime. Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves discussed the Transdniester situation with Sturza, calling on Russian forces to withdraw from Moldovan territory. MH

NEARLY 200,000 NON-CITIZENS ELIGIBLE TO VOTE IN ESTONIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS

The Estonian Electoral Commission announced that for the 17 October local elections, registered voters number 1,058,818, of whom 194,525 are non-citizens. Estonian law allows anyone 18 and over who has a permanent residence permit to vote in local elections. In Tallinn, the nearly 90,000 non-citizen voters account for some 28 percent of the total electorate, BNS reported. In the northeastern Ida-Viru county, there are 66,113 citizens and 74,263 non-citizens on the election rolls. MH

LATVIA ISSUES EUROBOND

Latvia on 23 September issued 75 million euros ($78.74 million) worth of bonds that have an 6.25 percent annual interest rate. The bonds, which will mature in May 2004, were placed through Credit Suisse First Boston, according to BNS. According to Latvian officials, the terms of this bond issue are the same as those for the 150 million euro bond issue in May of this year. The funds from the issue are to be used to plug a gap in the budget caused by the failure to privatize the Latvian Shipping Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1999). MH

LITHUANIA TO REPLACE IGNALINA?

Amid growing debate over the government's plan to shut down the first unit of the controversial Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999), a high-ranking member of the ruling Conservative Party has suggested Lithuania replace Ignalina with another nuclear plant, BNS reported. The Conservative Party's parliamentary faction has approved a plan whereby the second unit at Ignalina will be decommissioned in 2010. Deputy parliamentary speaker Andrius Kubilius said the party may supplement the current draft plans with the new proposal, but he added that if the debates prove to be "too stormy" the faction will abandon the plan and concentrate on the shutdown of Ingalina's first unit. JC

POLISH PARLIAMENT REDUCES RESTRICTIONS ON ECONOMIC ACTIVITY

The parliament on 23 September passed a law reducing to seven the number of sectors in which licenses are required, PAP reported. These are minerals and explosives; arms, ammunition, and military know-how; fuel and energy; protection of property and persons; transport and air services; toll highway construction and maintenance; and radio and television broadcasting. The same day, the parliament introduced an amendment to the pension law whereby the social security agency will be able to borrow $1 billion from the state treasury to pay pensions and credits the agency drew earlier to stay afloat. JM

POLISH STRETCH OF YAMAL-EUROPE PIPELINE OPENED

Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev on 23 September participated in the inauguration of the 682-kilometer Polish stretch of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, PAP reported. According to Vyakhirev, the pipeline will carry up to 40 million cubic meters of gas a day by the end of this year. The EuRoPol Gaz company, which is 48 percent owned by Gazprom, financed the pipeline project in Poland. JM

CZECH PREMIER RESPONDS TO BLAIR'S LETTER ON ROMA

Milos Zeman on 23 September said he has responded to a letter from British Prime Minister Tony Blair regarding the exodus of hundreds of Czech Roma to the U.K., CTK reported. In his letter, Blair indicated that Britain may have to introduce a visa restriction for Czechs if the situation is not resolved in the near future. Zeman described the letter as a "friendly warning" and said he responded with a letter detailing a list of government measures aimed at dealing with the situation. A record number of Czech Roma left the country for Britain in August. In other news, an official from the Council of Europe told CTK on 23 September that the council has submitted its analysis of the Czech Republic's press bill to Zeman's government. The report, which has not been officially released, is reportedly critical of certain provisions of that bill. VG

CZECH DEPUTY PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN OFFERS TO RESIGN

Stanislav Gross has asked the Social Democrats (CSSD) for a vote of confidence in his capacity as deputy chairman of the Czech Chamber of Deputies and as chairman of the CSSD parliamentary group, Czech media reported. Gross was responding to accusations in the media that he allowed a private company to pay for his cell phone. Many observers in the media view the affair as part of an internal power struggle within the governing Social Democratic Party. VG

GERMAN OFFICIAL LINKS SLOVAK NUCLEAR DECISION TO EU ACCESSION

German Foreign Ministry State Secretary Wolfgang Ischinger told Slovak President Rudolf Schuster that Bratislava's decisions regarding nuclear energy could be "crucial" in the country's attempts to join the EU, Slovak media reported on 23 September. The comments were related to reports that the Slovak government intends to shut down the first reactor of the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear power plant in 2006 and the second in 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1999). Schuster said the issue has been analyzed by "experts" and should not be "politicized." VG

HUNGARY DELAYS DUTCH MILITARY EXERCISE

The Hungarian parliamentary Defense Committee announced on 23 September that 10 Dutch F-16 fighter aircraft must obtain special parliamentary approval for cross-border military exercises in Hungary and Slovenia, according to a Hungarian radio report cited by the BBC. Earlier, the Hungarian Defense Ministry had agreed to allow the planes to conduct a seven-day exercise in the country but had made no mention of flights into Slovenian air space. As a result, the Defense Committee called for a special parliamentary vote on the issue for 27 September. Ferenc Juhasz, a Socialist Party member of the committee, blamed the Defense Ministry for the confusion. VG




SOLANA REJECTS INDEPENDENCE FOR KOSOVA...

NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said on 23 September that ethnic Albanians in Kosova will have to give up any plans for establishing independence from Belgrade, AP reported. Solana, speaking in Washington, said a "shifting of borders" in Yugoslavia could lead to fragmentation elsewhere in the Balkans and perhaps even in Russia. Solana, who will leave his post on 6 October, said he is confident that there will be "moral reconstruction" in Kosova but that "it will take time to cure the many wounds." Solana said the war waged by NATO in Kosova "changed the history of Europe." He added that the only disappointment of his tenure was that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is still in power. PB

...WHILE THACI ADVISER PREDICTS SOVEREIGNTY IN 10 YEARS

Sabri Kicmari, an adviser to Kosovar Albanian leader Hashim Thaci, said on 23 September that Kosova will be independent in 10 years, dpa reported. Speaking on Berlin radio, Kicmari said he is "sure that the majority of Kosova citizens will opt for independence." He said a return of some Serbian soldiers to the province, as mandated in the June peace agreement, is unacceptable. And he argued that Thaci could be viewed as the next prime minister of Kosova. "The Washington Post" reported on 24 September that many senior U.S. officials have dropped their opposition to Kosova breaking away from Yugoslavia, seeing such a development as inevitable. State Department spokesman James Rubin, however, said "we have always said we do not support independence for Kosova." PB

SERBS VOW TO FORM THEIR OWN 'DEFENSE CORPS'

Kosovar Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic said on 24 September that Serbs will demand that they be allowed to set up five cantons within Kosova and establish their own militia if the newly created Kosova Protection Corps is allowed to exist, AP reported. Trajkovic said the cantons will be formed in part of Prishtina and its surroundings, in northern Mitrovice, southeastern Gjilan, western Peje, and in the south of the province. He said his boycott of the interim Serb-Albanian council will end only if NATO and the UN agree to those demands. Trajkovic's plan to set up cantons based on ethnicity was dismissed by UN and NATO officials in Kosova several weeks ago. PB

DJINDJIC SAYS OPPOSITION PROTESTS WILL END IF SUPPORT CONTINUES TO WANE

After the second straight day of declining support, Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic said the campaign to oust Yugoslav President Milosevic will end unless more people join the demonstrations, Reuters reported. An initial crowd of some 400 increased to about 5,000 in Belgrade for the third rally on 23 September. That was about half the number who had protested the previous day. Protests organized by the coalition Alliance for Change in other towns and cities were also smaller than on previous days. Djindjic said "Belgraders have yet to realize that Milosevic's regime took away our freedom, our future." Alliance for Change coordinator Vladan Batic said the turnout was low at the start of the 1996 winter protests as well but that those rallies quickly turned into mass demonstrations. In a separate rally, some 2,000 high school students demonstrated against a ban on travelling abroad imposed by the education minister for "security reasons." PB

YUGOSLAV MILITARY HOLDS EXERCISES NEAR KOSOVA

The Yugoslav army held military exercises on 23 September near its southern province of Kosova, Reuters reported. Colonel- General Nebojsa Pavkovic, the commander of Yugoslavia's Third Army, said after the exercises that Belgrade will not recognize the formation of the Kosova Protection Corps. He called the civilian force a "deceit and farce." PB

COUNCIL OF EUROPE TO HELP GET MONEY TO REBUILD BRIDGES

The Council of Europe has unanimously adopted a Hungarian proposal to request financing from the EU to rebuild the destroyed bridges in Novi Sad, Hungarian Radio reported on 23 September. The proposal would allocate some $14 million for the reconstruction of the three bridges, which were wrecked during the NATO bombing campaign. PB

MONTENEGRO TO DRAFT ITS OWN TRADE, CUSTOMS POLICIES

Deputy Premier Asim Telalevic announced on 24 September that Montenegro will begin drafting a trade policy independent of Belgrade, dpa reported. Telalevic said the republic will have to eventually draw up customs and trade regulations because of Serbian threats to block shipments for food and other goods to Montenegro. Montenegro has threatened to introduce its own currency and to even hold a referendum on independence if Belgrade does not agree to revise the relationship between the Serbian and Montenegrin republics. PB

MACEDONIA FREES NORWEGIAN PEACEKEEPER

Macedonia has released a Norwegian soldier who was detained last month for his part in a car crash that killed Macedonian Minister without Portfolio Radovan Stojkovski, his wife, and daughter, Reuters reported on 23 September. His release ends a bitter battle between Skopje and Oslo, which claimed that as a member of NATO, the soldier could be tried for wrongdoing only in his home country. A NATO spokesman in Macedonia said the soldier will stand trial in Norway for charges associated with the accident. The NATO vehicle was reportedly travelling on the wrong side of the road when it struck the minister's car. The incident outraged many Macedonians who are wary of NATO's presence in their country. NATO still has several thousand troops in Macedonia. PB

MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ASKS THAT PROMISES BE KEPT

Aleksandar Dimitrov has urged the international community to fulfill the financial and political pledges it made to Macedonia during the Kosova crisis, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 23 September. Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, Dimitrov said that the consequences of the conflict are still being felt and that financial support from the international community is "indispensable" in order for the country's economy to recover. Dimitrov said the best guarantee for security in the Balkans would be to admit more countries in the region to the EU and NATO. In other news, Macedonia rejected appeals to allow some 450 Roma to cross the border from Kosova. The Roma said they are seeking to escape attacks by ethnic Albanians. PB

PETRITSCH TO SET UP ANTI-CORRUPTION BODY

Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's high representative to Bosnia- Herzegovina, said he will form a Anti-Corruption and Transparency Group to help combat fraud, Reuters reported on 23 September. Petritsch said such a body would "provide a significant boost in our fight against corruption." "The New York Times" reported last month that some 20 percent of the $5.1 billion aid given to Bosnia has been embezzled or lost through corruption. In other news, Robert Barry, the head of the OSCE mission in Bosnia, said that Republika Srpska Vice President Mirko Sarovic should take over the post of president in line with the republic's constitution. He made his comments in Banja Luka after meeting with Republika Srpska Premier Milorad Dodik. PB

ALBANIA PRAISES NATO FOR ENDING 'GENOCIDE'

In an address to the UN General Assembly on 23 September, President Rexhep Meidani expressed Albania's gratitude to NATO for ending the Serbian "genocide: of ethnic Albanians in Kosova, AP reported. Meidani said the principles of the UN charter were upheld because the alliance's air strikes ended an "unprecedented genocide" by Serbian forces. He said "we welcome the international community for having...shown its firm will to condemn and to take effective measures to put an end to crimes perpetrated against a defenseless population." PB

GERMAN CHANCELLOR URGES ROMANIA TO CONTINUE REFORMS

Gerhard Schroeder on 24 September said his country will support Romania's efforts to join the EU, but he added that Bucharest must continue to implement tough reforms. Schroeder, who is on a two-day visit to Romania, also thanked the country for its support of the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia earlier this year. The German chancellor insisted that Romania is part of a "comprehensive accession process" to the EU that includes all candidates for membership. But he added that "if and when" Romania accedes to the EU depends on the country's "own economic progress," Reuters reported. VG

ROMANIA SECURES BORDER

Romanian Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu on 23 September said his country has met EU targets for securing its borders, Reuters reported. Under an agreement with the EU, Romania pledged to reform its border guard system. However, Ionescu voiced discontent at what he described as the EU's failure to disburse 20 million euros ($20.8 million) to Romania to pay for logistics related to securing the border. He said the EU has given the country only 10.5 million euros for the project. VG

JOINT ROMANIAN-MOLDOVAN PEACEKEEPING BATTALION DISCUSSED

Romanian Defense Minister Victor Babiuc and his Moldovan counterpart, Boris Gamurar, discussed the creation of a joint peacekeeping battalion during a 23 September meeting in Chisinau, according to a Rompres report cited by the BBC. Babiuc said Romania is ready for the creation of such a battalion. Moldpres reported that the two sides also talked about the possibility of creating a larger battalion involving Polish and Ukrainian troops as well. Gamurar stressed that Romania has agreed to allow Moldovan military personnel to undergo training in Romania, Rompres reported. VG

BULGARIAN PREMIER REASSURED AFTER TALKS WITH SCHROEDER

Ivan Kostov said he has more confidence in the implementation of the Balkan Stability Pact following talks with German Chancellor Schroeder in Sofia on 23 September, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Kostov said Schroeder assured him that the pact will be implemented without delay, including measures related to the resumption of river trade on the Danube. However, Schroeder did not promise any direct financial aid to Bulgaria with regard to this issue. Sofia claims it lost some $100 million in trade revenue after NATO bombed bridges on the river during the campaign in Yugoslavia earlier this year. Schroeder also stressed that Bulgaria has made "very large strides" in its reform process, and he pledged German support for the country's efforts to join the EU, BTA reported on 23 September. VG




TAJIKISTAN BETWEEN ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY?


by Liz Fuller

On 26 September, the citizens of Tajikistan go to the polls to vote on proposed changes to the country's 1994 constitution. The referendum marks a milestone in the painful and protracted search by the Russian-backed leadership and the Islam-oriented United Tajik Opposition (UTO) to reach a modus vivendi.

That search began more than two years ago, following the signing in Moscow in June 1997 of the Common Agreement on Peace and National Accord, which ended five years of civil war. The peace provided for the return from Iran and Afghanistan of opposition leaders and their armed units, whose members were to be disarmed and given a choice of serving in the Tajik army or police force. In exchange, the UTO was to be given 30 percent of posts in the central government and on local councils.

Hopes that the disarmament process and the formation of a new coalition government would be completed in time for elections to be held in mid-1998 proved over-optimistic, however. The peace process and tenuous political stability were repeatedly threatened by local insurrections, political assassinations. and the inability of government and opposition representatives to reach agreement on the opposition's proposed candidates for 14 ministerial posts.

In part, instability was the consequence of the exclusion from the peace process of representatives of strong regional elites. On three occasions--in August 1997, January 1998, and last November--Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, whose base is in the largely Uzbek-populated Kyurgan-Tyube region of southwestern Tajikistan, launched an unsuccessful insurrection. Tajik officials publicly accused Uzbekistan of supporting the most recent coup attempt by Khudoiberdiev, in Leninabad, in the northwest of the country. In particular, they claim that the Uzbek leadership offered refuge and possibly assistance to the man identified as the "third force" in Tajik politics, former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdulladjonov. Khudoiberdiev reportedly receives both his orders and funding from Abdulladjonov,

The assassination in September 1998 of Otakhon Latifi, a widely respected opposition politician, similarly threatened to derail the peace process. That murder prompted the UTO to suspend temporarily its participation in the work of the Commission for National Reconciliation, on which the UTO and the Tajik government have equal representation.

Those disruptions notwithstanding, by November 1998 the UTO had reached agreement with the Tajik leadership on candidates for 11 of the 14 ministerial posts the opposition was claiming, including the first deputy premiership, which went to UTO Deputy Chairman Hodja Akbar Turandjonzoda. But the Tajik government's steadfast refusal to condone the appointment of former opposition field commander Mirzo Zioev to head the Defense Ministry prompted the opposition to threaten to withdraw from the peace process in May. After weeks of negotiations, and under pressure from the UN and OSCE representatives in Dushanbe, Zioev was named minister for emergency situations in early July, and some 90 imprisoned opposition members were released from jail. In the following weeks, the UTO reciprocated by completing the disarmament of its military units, a key precondition for holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

Those elections, however, are to be preceded by the 26 September referendum, on which the parliament decided in late June. The electorate is to vote on a package of three constitutional amendments: replacing the unicameral parliament with a bicameral one, extending the president's term in office from five to seven years, and legalizing the participation in domestic politics of political parties of a religious nature.

Of the three proposed amendments, the third is clearly the most controversial. The law on political parties, enacted by the parliament in May 1998, bans religious parties, including the Islamic Renaissance Party. That group forms the backbone of the UTO.

In August, following the disarmament of the last opposition military units, the Tajik Supreme Court lifted the ban it had imposed in 1993 on four opposition formations: the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Democratic Party, and the Rastokhez and Lali Badakhshan movements. Those parties, however, must re-register with the Justice Ministry in order to contest the 6 November presidential poll (assuming that the referendum does not extend the president's term by two years) and the January 2000 parliamentary elections. In theory, that requirement could serve as a pretext for preventing the Islamic Renaissance Party from nominating a candidate to run against incumbent Imomali Rakhmonov in the presidential poll. But the deputy leader of the ruling People's Democratic Party, Abdulmadjid Dostiev, told Reuters last week that "opposition participation is important because it will prove that the elections were democratic."

The present Tajik leadership, along with its backers in Moscow, are presumably confident that the country's war-weary population will opt for stability and continuity, rather than risk precipitating a new civil war. Such stability may prevail in the short term, provided that support for the Islamic opposition does not become a groundswell. If that were to happen, either Moscow or Tashkent, which regards any overtly Islamic force with extreme suspicion, might be tempted to intervene to thwart the avowed long-term goal of the Islamic Renaissance Party. According to its newly elected chairman, Said Abdullo Nuri, the party aims to come to power by peaceful democratic means. Alternatively, tensions may emerge between the moderate Nuri and more radical members of the Islamic Renaissance Party over the optimum strategy for assuming power and over the desirability of imposing an Islamic state.


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