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Newsline - September 28, 1999




KHRISTENKO SAYS IMF AGREEMENT IMMINENT...

First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters on 28 September that in the next few days Russia and IMF will reach an agreement on the technical terms for disbursing the next installment of an IMF loan, Interfax reported. According to Khristenko, the additional conditions stated in the recent G- 7 communique are of a general nature and have not yet been transformed into a set of technical requirements, such as the quarterly monitoring of Central Bank gold and foreign currency reserves and the transparency of operations involving money from international financial institutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 1999). JAC

...WHILE OTHERS COMPLAIN OF POLITICAL PRESSURE

However, Russian newspapers the same day characterized the situation differently. "Izvestiya" reported that the G-7 wants the Russian government to impose a system of quarterly audits on the Central Bank and require the State Duma to pass legislation against money laundering. The daily reported that an unidentified member of the Russian delegation to the talks with the IMF said that Russia may get the next tranche by 20 October "at best." "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin was uncertain whether any IMF money would be forthcoming in October. According to "Vremya MN", Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko said that everything in the G-7 statement is "nonsense." He added that "we can improve our technological financial controls in the future, but why should we report back on a daily basis?" And Vyugin reportedly declared that IMF officials are showing signs of operating under "political pressure," according to the daily. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT WANTS MEETING WITH YELTSIN...

In an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 27 September, Aslan Maskhadov argues that only a face-to-face meeting between himself and his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, can avert an all-out war in Chechnya and yield a political solution to the standoff between Moscow and Grozny. Maskhadov again denied any Chechen participation in the invasions of Daghestan or in the terrorist bombings in Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk. Maskhadov was particularly critical of the involvement in Chechnya of Russian magnate Boris Berezovskii, who he said "poses a big threat both to Russia and to Chechnya." In Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told journalists after meeting with Yeltsin on 27 September that a Yeltsin-Maskhadov meeting will take place when the Russian president deems that the time is right. Maskhadov first asked for such a meeting in March following the abduction in Grozny of Russian Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun. LF

...AND WITH NORTH CAUCASUS COLLEAGUES

Maskhadov told Interfax on 27 September that Moscow is deliberately delaying the meeting sheduled for the same day between the Chechen and other North Caucasus presidents. He said that meeting is essential in order to avoid a larger conflict in the region. Maskhadov again affirmed that Grozny wants "strong economic, political, and even military relations with Moscow within a common space." He added that Chechnya could serve as a loyal ally to Moscow in its efforts to oust "certain international groups" from the Caucasus. LF

RUSSIA CONTINUES BOMBING SELECTIVE TARGETS

Russian aircraft on 27 September continued to hit oil wells, bridges, and fuel depots in Grozny, killing 14 people in the Staraya Sunzha district of the city alone, Interfax reported. They also targeted a brick works in the northern town of Gudermes, where 11 people died, and alleged terrorist camps in the districts of Urus Martan and Achkhoi Martan, southwest of Grozny. In Moscow, Anatolii Chubais, head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems, advocated cutting power supplies to Chechnya in retaliation for the republic's non-payment of its 690 million ruble ($27 million) debt, Interfax reported. Three days earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko had told NTV that Moscow is no longer remitting pensions to Chechnya as it cannot control how those funds are spent. LF

GROUP OF 39 BECOMES GROUP OF 31...

The head of the new Unity (Edinstvo) bloc, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, told reporters on 27 September that he has the support of 31 governors. He added that his bloc will hold a founding congress on 2 October and a bloc-forming congress the next day, at which a tentative list of federal and regional candidates for the State Duma elections will be compiled. According to Shoigu, world renowned wrestler Aleksandr Karelin will take the number two spot on the bloc's federal list. Karelin, a three-time Olympic champion, was sports adviser to Sergei Stepashin during his short tenure as prime minister. Shoigu said he will take vacation at the end of October in order to take part in the election campaign. Also attending Shoigu's press conference was the president of Kalmykia and the governors of Primorskii Krai, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and Tver, Kursk, Saratov, and Kaliningrad Oblasts, Interfax reported. JAC

...AS NDR LEAVES OPTIONS OPEN

Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov told ITAR-TASS that while he supports the new movement, he is not planning to leave Our Home Is Russia (NDR). NDR faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said on 27 September that the NDR continues to advance toward the elections independently, noting that informal consultations have taken place "with some governors and political activists" on abstract rather than concrete issues. According to "Vremya MN" the same day, Ayatskov favors a union of NDR with Unity and wants his name among the top three spots on the joint party list. Ryzhkov and a number of other governors in the NDR, meanwhile, oppose such a link-up. JAC

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS TIPPED FOR 4 JUNE

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 25 September that the first round of presidential elections in Russia is likely to take place on 4 June and the second round three weeks later, on 25 June. By law, Russian President Boris Yeltsin must formally announce the election date four months in advance. Meanwhile, the deadline for candidates for the State Duma elections in December to submit documents supporting their candidacies or an election deposit is 24 October, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

ARE RUSSIA'S CREDITORS READY TO FORGIVE?

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 September that foreign creditors are prepared to discuss writing off part of Russia's debts. In exchange for partial debt forgiveness, London Club creditors want to convert all debts from Vneshekonombank securities into Eurobonds, according to the newspaper. Non-payment of debt on Eurobonds would put the Russian government into default; under the current situation, Vneshekonombank, which has only $280,000 in authorized capital, is liable. On 26 September, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov confirmed that creditors "agreed to examine the question of writing off debt" but would not elaborate on the terms of such a write-off, ITAR- TASS reported. According to "Vremya MN" the next day, the government is not in favor of "increasing Russia's new debt." JAC

FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT IN RUSSIA LESS THAN HALF POLISH LEVEL

According to data from the Anti-Monopoly Policy Ministry, the proportion of direct foreign investment in terms of total foreign investment in Russia continues to drop, "Finansovaya Rossiya" reported in its September issue. Foreign direct investment slipped from 70 percent from 1991- 1995 to 36 percent in 1996-1997 to 33 percent in 1998. UN Committee for Trade and Development data for 1998 shows that foreign direct investment in Russia totaled only $2.183 billion, compared with $5.129 billion in Poland and $2.54 billion in the Czech Republic, according to RFE/RL's Washington bureau. JAC

SHOKHIN TO SEEK SEAT FROM MOSCOW

State Duma deputy and former Economics Minister Aleksandr Shokhin told Ekho Moskvy on 27 September that he will seek a seat in the new State Duma from a district in Moscow. Shokhin, the former faction leader for Our Home Is Russia, said that if he is elected, he will decide then which faction to join. JAC

YELTSIN APPROVES DRAFT TREATY ON RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Russian President Yeltsin has approved the draft treaty on establishing a Russian-Belarus union state, Interfax reported on 27 September, citing the presidential press service. Moscow intends to publish the draft on 1 October for a month- long public discussion and is seeking Belarus's approval for this. The union's Executive Committee will consider incorporating amendments proposed during that discussion, and the revised draft will then be submitted to the countries' presidents. No date for signing the treaty has been set, but Prime Minister Putin said earlier this month in Minsk that the signing is expected to take place before the 2000 Russian presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 1999). JC

MOSCOW TO TRANSFER ARMS TO KAZAKHSTAN UNDER CFE TREATY

Prime Minister Putin on 28 September signed a resolution approving changes to ceilings on weaponry under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Under those changes, 50 combat tanks, 200 combat armored vehicles, 100 artillery systems with a caliber exceeding 100 millimeters, 15 combat aircraft, and 20 attack helicopters are to be transferred to Kazakhstan, according to the news agency. In March of this year, agreement was reached on the basic elements of a new treaty restricting conventional weaponry in Europe, the final text of which is expected to be signed at an OSCE summit in Istanbul in November. Unidentified "military diplomatic sources" in Moscow told Interfax on 27 September that Russia is ready to comply with the new treaty, which, they noted, will require cuts in conventional weaponry at Russia's military bases in Georgia. Those sources added that the issue will be the subject of future talks between Moscow and Tbilisi. JC




GEORGIA DENIES INTERCEPTING CHECHEN ARMS SMUGGLERS

Georgian Border Guards Commander Valerii Chkheidze on 27 September rejected as "absolute rubbish" Russian media reports that two days earlier his men had detained five Chechens attempting to transport weapons across the border from Georgia into Chechnya, Interfax reported. He added that such reports are intended to create a negative image of Georgia as "a country conniving with terrorists." Also on 27 September, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze similarly denied repeated Russian claims that arms are entering Chechnya via Georgia. He said that the only source of such clandestine weapons transfers are the Russian bases located in Georgia. Shevardnadze also told journalists that Georgia will not "change the regime" on Georgia's 80 kilometer border with Chechnya as it does not want to "support terrorism." But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 28 September that there are no effective controls along that frontier. LF

PRESIDENTS OF RUSSIA, KAZAKHSTAN AGREE TO MEET

During a telephone conversation on 27 September, Boris Yeltsin and Nursultan Nazarbaev agreed on an unofficial meeting to be held at an unspecified date next month, ITAR-TASS reported. They also discussed the 24 September meeting in Astana of the prime ministers of the CIS Customs Union member states as well as Nazarbaev's separate talks with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S OPPOSITION CANDIDATES PROTEST ATTEMPTED VOTE BUYING

The leaders of the Azamat (Citizen) Party said at a press conference in Almaty on 27 September that the pro- presidential Civic Party has spent almost $1 million on its campaign for the 10 October elections to the lower chamber of the parliament, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Part of that sum, they added, was provided by foreign investors. The law on elections does not set an upper limit on campaign spending. Also on 27 September, independent candidate Erkin Sultanbekov told a separate press conference that some candidates are attempting to win voters by buying computers for local schools or distributing food and clothing to orphanages. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S UIGHUR MINORITY APPEALS TO PRESIDENT

Organizations representing Kazakhstan's ethnic Uighurs have sent an open letter to President Nazarbaev alerting him to the oppression of Uighurs in western China's Xinjiang Province, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 28 September. Sixteen ethnic Uighurs were sentenced to death in that region last week. Yusufbek Mukhlisi, who heads the Eastern Turkistani Revolutionary Front, told RFE/RL on 28 September that after the meeting of the "Shanghai Five" states in Bishkek last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999), the Chinese authorities launched a crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang. Those five states are Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. LF

KYRGYZSTAN PREPARING TO STRIKE AGAINST GUERRILLAS?

Interfax on 27 September quoted National Guard Commander Lieutenant- General Abdygul Chotbaev as saying that preparations are under way for a military strike against the ethnic Uzbek guerrillas holding 13 hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan. But Chotbaev added that all other possible means of securing the hostages' release, including "people's diplomacy," should also be used. Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov left Bishkek last week for an unnamed Islamic state where he hopes to hold talks with the "senior commanders" of the guerrillas, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 27 September. Akunov has been mediating between the guerrillas and the Kyrgyz leadership for several weeks. LF

TAJIK VOTERS APPROVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

In a nationwide referendum on 26 September, voters overwhelmingly endorsed proposed changes to 27 articles of the country's constitution, Reuters reported. The final results of that vote are not yet available. Turnout was 91.2 percent of the 2.9 million electorate. The amendments provide for creating a bicameral parliament, extending the president's term in office from five to seven years, and allowing the formation of religious-based political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1999). LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION NAMES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

The Islamic Renaissance Party, resuming its congress on 27 September after a one week-break, approved Minister of Economic and Foreign Economic Relations Davlat Usmon as its candidate for the 6 November presidential elections, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Usmon was nominated by recently elected IRP chairman Said Abdullo Nuri, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. From 1990-1992 he was deputy chairman of the IRP and served as deputy premier in the National Reconciliation Government in 1992. ITAR-TASS quoted First Deputy Prime Minister Hodja Akbar Turandjonzoda as arguing at the congress that the party should not nominate a candidate for the poll, as doing so "could consolidate anti-Islamic forces against us." LF




MISSING BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST SPOTTED IN LITHUANIA?

The state-owned Belarusian newspaper "Belorusskaya niva" reported on 25 September that Viktar Hanchar, deputy chairman of the opposition Supreme Soviet, who disappeared on 16 September, was seen in Vilnius on 19 September. According to the newspaper, Hanchar was seen walking with Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski, who left Belarus for Vilnius in July. JM

KUCHMA OPPOSED TO BROADCASTING PARLIAMENTARY SESSIONS

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said on 27 September that Kyiv must not spend public money on broadcasting parliamentary sessions, Interfax reported. "Why should we spend money on the glorification of deputies?" Kuchma asked, adding that once state radio and television suspended relays from the parliament, that body began to work better. Parliamentary deputies, he added, need no longer "flaunt themselves" in front of the entire country; rather "they need to work." JM

LATVIAN CONVICTED OF GENOCIDE

A Riga regional court on 27 September found Mikhail Farbtukh guilty of genocide. The 83- year-old former KGB operative was found of guilty of signing the deportation orders for 31 Latvian families from the Daugavpils area in 1941, "Neatkariga Rita Avize" reported. Farbtukh called his seven-year prison sentence a fate "worse than death" owing to his poor health and physical condition. However, presiding judge Olga Putane responded that many people deported by Farbtukh were also "old and in poor health," according to LETA. Currently, three others individuals in Latvia have been charged with genocide and are awaiting trial. MH

NEW CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY FOUNDED IN POLAND

Members of the Center Alliance-Solidarity Electoral Action (PC-AWS), the Christian Democratic Party (PChD), and the Movement for the Republic founded the Polish Christian Democratic Alliance (PPChD) at a congress in Warsaw on 26 September. PC-AWS Chairman Antoni Tokarczuk was appointed chairman of the PPChD and PChD head Pawel Laczkowski was named head of the PPChD Political Council. In accordance with the PPChD's program, the party will be "guided in its actions by Christian values." The PPChD is part of the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action. PAP reported that a group of PC-AWS members opposed the merger and have declared they will continue the activities of the PC-AWS as a separate party. JM

POLISH NURSES DEMONSTRATE FOR WAGE HIKES

Poland's nurses on 27 September staged protests throughout the country to demand wage increases and improved social benefits, PAP reported. Nurses and midwives demanded that the government fulfill the promises it made in an accord signed with nurses' trade union in July. In Krakow, nurses blocked traffic on the city's main crossing for one hour, while some 80 nurses began a hunger strike in Rabka, southern Poland. JM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER MEETS WITH CZECH PRESIDENT

Vuk Draskovic, the chairman of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, met with Vaclav Havel in Prague on 27 September, Czech media reported. Draskovic says his primary goal is to overthrow Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, but he added that this should be accomplished through elections rather than street demonstrations, "Lidove noviny" reported. Havel said that while he does not believe that politics should be conducted in the streets, there are times when public demonstrations are the only means by which people can show their opposition to a regime. Czech Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said the U.S. government supports Prague's decision to hold meetings with Serbian opposition leaders. Havel met with Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic in the summer. VG

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT PASSES ROMANY STRATEGY

The Slovak government on 27 September approved a strategy paper for issues related to the Romany minority, CTK reported. The strategy, which was put together with the help of foreign advisers, focuses on education for Slovakia's Roma. Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky said the measures are not related to the recent decisions by Norway and Finland to impose visa restrictions on Slovaks. Vincent Danihel, the government commissioner for Romany issues, said that for the first time a Slovak government has come up with a package of measures that does not treat Romany citizens like "objects." VG

STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN SLOVAK NATIONAL PARTY

Jan Slota has claimed he is still the leader of the extremist Slovak National Party (SNS), despite a weekend party congress that voted to remove him, Slovak media reported on 27 September. Slota considers the congress's decision to be invalid, arguing that party regulations were violated during the vote. SNS Deputy Chairwoman Anna Malikova told journalists the same day that the vote was valid and that Slota is no longer the chairman. VG

SLOVAKS FROM CZECH REPUBLIC VISIT BRATISLAVA

Representatives of the Slovak minority in the Czech Republic met with Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky in Bratislava on 27 September, CTK reported. The representatives want to work with the Slovak government to find ways of slowing down the "assimilation" of the estimated 500,000 ethnic Slovaks living in the neighboring Czech Republic. The representatives noted that the similarities between the Czech and Slovak languages make the assimilation process "unnoticeable" but also "more dangerous." They added that the process is natural and is being neither encouraged nor discouraging by the Czech state. VG

CALLS FOR DISMISSAL OF HUNGARIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER

A group of Independent Smallholder parliamentary deputies have called for the dismissal of Environment Minister Pal Pepo, who is a member of their own party, "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 28 September, citing a letter the group sent the previous day to party chairman Jozsef Torgyan. Government sources have also claimed that Prime Minister Viktor Orban is displeased with the continuing allegations that Pepo is involved in shady business dealings. Torgyan, however, has denied that he is considering replacing Pepo, saying that the environment minister is the target of a witch hunt. MSZ

HUNGARIAN MINISTRY RESPONDS TO NATO JOURNAL CRITICISM

The Defense Ministry on 24 September responded to criticism in the "NATO Review" of Defense Minister Janos Szabo and of the reform of the Hungarian armed forces, which, the publication said, is "plodding ahead without any strategic concept." Ministry spokesman Lajos Erdelyi said a review of military reform is still under way and will be completed by the end of this month. Szabo told the daily "Vilaggazdasag" that the review will include proposals to reduce the size of the military from 53,000 to 39,000 employees and eliminate two divisions. "NATO Review" is the alliance's official publication. MSZ




OPPOSITION PROTESTS CONTINUE IN SERBIA

Tens of thousands of people on 27 September demonstrated for the seventh straight day against the rule of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Reuters reported. At least 15,000 protesters--less than one-third of the number who had taken to the streets the previous day--gathered in Belgrade's Republic Square to attend mock trials of Milosevic and his wife, Mirjana Markovic. Rally organizers blamed the low turnout on bad weather. In Novi Sad, opposition leader Nenad Canak said he will form a "transitional government" for Vojvodina and that he himself will be "premier." He added that he will seek international aid for the province. High turnouts were reported at rallies in Nis, Cacak, and Kragujevac. Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic said in Prague the same day that he advocates ousting Milosevic by means of elections rather than street demonstrations (see above). PB

OPPOSITON ACTIVIST DETAINED IN BELGRADE

Marchers in Belgrade stopped and jeered at the capital's main police station to protest the arrest of opposition activist Nikola Djurickovic as well as a new police action that began on 27 September, AP reported. Djurickovic--who owns the sound system used at the Belgrade opposition rallies--was arrested the previous day and sentenced to a week in jail for having "irregular" residence papers. Police began a door-to-door action on 27 September to check the residence papers of all Belgrade citizens, saying this would let citizens "get acquainted" with local police. The opposition claims it is a "police sweep" aimed at opponents of the government. Vladan Batic, an organizer of the opposition rallies, said the government is "trying to count the opponents of the regime and mark us with yellow ribbons," as Germans had done with Jews before and during World War II. PB

YUGOSLAV RED CROSS SAYS POVERTY INCREASING...

The Yugoslav branch of the International Red Cross said on 27 September that some 2 million Yugoslavs are living in poverty, the news agency Beta reported, citing the daily "Blic." It said some 800,000 people are dependent on humanitarian aid. It is unclear if these figures include people in Kosova. The government said there are some 700,000 refugees from Bosnia- Herzegovina and Croatia in Serbia and about 250,000 displaced people from Kosova. The newspaper reported that the average wage has fallen below $80 a month. PB

...AS CURRENCY LOSES VALUE

The Yugoslav dinar fell on the Belgrade black market on 27 September owing to growing inflation, Reuters reported. The exchange rate was 14-14.5 to the German mark compared with 13.5-14 the previous day. The official exchange rate is 6 dinars to DM1. Local media reported recent price hikes of between 10 and 300 percent on various goods. PB

SOLANA IMPRESSED WITH SERB, ETHNIC ALBANIAN EFFORTS IN KOSOVA

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said on 27 September that the security situation in Kosova is improving and that he believes all sides are working toward peace and stability in the Serbian province, Beta reported. Speaking in Prishtina after talks with officials from the international community, Solana said some 45,000 UN peacekeeping troops (KFOR) from 45 countries have been deployed in Kosova thus far. He also praised the "brilliant leadership" of KFOR commander Lieutenant-General Michael Jackson and the UN's Kosova mission head, Bernard Kouchner. He warned that anyone who commits "criminal deeds" in Kosova will be punished. In Belgrade, Serbian official Veljko Odalovic said some 300 non- Albanians have been killed and 500 kidnapped in Kosova since KFOR troops arrived in June. In other news, the bodies of 22 ethnic Albanian men were discovered in a mass grave outside of Mitrovice. PB

SERBS IN KOSOVA CHARGED WITH WAR CRIMES

The international war crimes tribunal at The Hague said on 28 September that it has provided UN peacekeeping forces in Kosova with information and evidence that led to the arrest of nine Serbs suspected of committing atrocities in Kosova, AP reported. The men were arrested in Rahovec and Mitrovice over the past three days by German, Dutch, and French KFOR troops. They are charged "in relation to war crimes in Kosovo," tribunal spokesman Paul Risley said. The men will be tried in the Serbian province, he said, adding that they have not been indicted by the court in The Hague. PB

BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY CHAIRMAN LAMENTS CORRUPTION, CRIME

Ante Jelavic, the Croatian member and chairman of the Bosnian presidency, said on 27 September that terrorism, crime, and corruption are the greatest deterrents to the postwar development of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hina reported, citing the Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje." Jelavic said that all people in administrative posts should be held responsible for that situation. Jelavic said that various tax rates and excise duties in the two entities that make up the Bosnian Federation have created conditions in which organized crime flourishes. PB

IRANIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES SUPPORT TO BOSNIA

Mohammad Khatami pledged his country's continued support to Bosnia- Herzegovina during a meeting in Tehran with Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency, on 27 September, the Iranian state agency IRNA reported. Khatami said that the Balkans are a "linking chain" between East and West. Izetbegovic called for strengthening bilateral relations and increasing economic ties. In other news, a Bosnian Muslim team said it has recovered the remains of 110 people in and around the town of Prijedor. The people were allegedly killed by Serbian forces from April to July 1992. PB

ALBANIA PROTESTS CALL FOR SEPARATE SERBIAN CORPS IN KOSOVA

Albania said demands by Serbian leaders in Kosova to create a parallel Serbian civil defense corps in the province are "provocative," Reuters reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Pellumb Xhufi said that Tirana is "categorically against" the setting up of such a force. He added that "the Kosova Protection Corps includes Serbs and is not exclusively Albanian." In other news, Albania and Macedonia agreed on 27 September to increase transport links between the two countries. Air traffic is to be restored between Skopje and Tirana, while a ferry link from Pogradec to the town of Ohrid will be inaugurated. A railway line between Pogradec and the Macedonian town Struga is also planned. PB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT URGES PASSAGE OF LAND OWNERSHIP LAWS

Emil Constantinescu has sent a letter to the leaders of the political parties represented in the parliament urging them to pass a package of bills on land ownership, according to a 27 September Rompres report cited by the BBC. The bills deal with the restoration of land ownership rights to farm land, forests, and waters as well as the privatization of farm land. In the letter, Constantinescu reminded the leaders that time is running out, given their 9 September promise to pass the bills within three weeks. VG

LOCAL GROUPS CLASH IN ROMANIAN CITY

Police arrested nine people in the city of Brasov on 27 September who allegedly were involved in a confrontation between local groups two days earlier, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The clash started when 100 or so small-business owners, armed with clubs and knives, gathered to fight a gang that allegedly extorts money from them. Some 300 police officers were required to keep the two groups apart. The Romanian news agency Mediafax reported that the confrontation involved two rival gangs involved in a struggle for influence in the city. Several newspapers criticized the police for not making any arrests until two days after the incident. Prime Minister Radu Vasile said the police's response was "inadmissible." VG

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ALTERS PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea on 27 September said the draft law to amend the constitution has been altered following consultations with representatives of the Council of Europe, BASA-Press reported. Golea said the president's office has decided to scrap two provisions of the draft law stating that the president would be the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Magistrate and would be responsible for naming the prosecutor-general. The draft law is designed to increase the powers of the presidency. VG

BULGARIA CONSIDERS ALLOWING FOREIGNERS TO BUY LAND

Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov has said his country may lift its constitutional ban on foreign ownership of land, according to a 27 September BTA report cited by the BBC. Kostov said the ban might be lifted in conjunction with the preparation of a package of laws on local self-government. VG

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ASKS WEST TO HELP BALKANS

Petar Stoyanov on 27 September said the best way to encourage the Serbian people to overthrow Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is to help other countries in the Balkans, "The Chicago Tribune" reported the next day. Stoyanov, who is currently on a visit to the U.S., said Serbs must be shown that cooperation with the West pays off for countries in the region. He added that "any visible success in countries like Bulgaria, Romania, or Macedonia sends this message to the Serbian people." Stoyanov said Bulgaria has lost the equivalent of $5 million owing to UN sanctions and embargoes in the region over the past decade. He added that his country needs Western aid and investment. VG




MOSCOW'S CHECHEN OPTIONS


By Liz Fuller

Statements by leading Russian politicians and military officers over the past few days suggest that the Russian leadership is still undecided about the most effective way to defuse the threat that Chechen radicals pose. Those radicals are led by field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev, who have launched two invasions of Daghestan since early August.

In military terms, there are four options. First, Moscow could launch a massive ground offensive, as was the case in December 1994. Second, it could intensify the aerial bombardment of Chechen targets, which Russian officials still insist is directed not against the civilian population but only against locations and facilities used by the "guerrillas." Third, it could send its own commandos into Chechen territory to locate and wipe out the most influential Chechen field commanders. And fourth, it could opt for a division of Chechnya, attempting to bring the northern, lowland region under its control while continuing massive air strikes against Grozny and the mountainous south. The dividing line between the two sectors would be the River Terek.

It is in the south that Chechnya's oil, one of the sources of funding for the guerrillas' operations, is located. Depriving the "viable" northern half of Chechnya's most important prospective source of income would therefore increase the region's dependence on the federal budget.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ruled out the first option "for the time being," saying that "if in order to eliminate the base of terrorism we have to use special forces, then we will do so, but very, very, accurately." That statement could be construed as Moscow's favoring the third option. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted last week that preparations for a full-fledged ground war could not be completed before the deterioration of weather conditions within the next four to six weeks. The newspaper also noted that it is politically inexpedient to launch such a war in the run-up to the December elections to the State Duma. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said on 26 September that a ground operation cannot be ruled out. He added that several possible variants of such an operation exist, the primary objective of which would be to "eliminate bandits" and create a "security zone" around Chechnya.

"Izvestiya" quoted an unnamed Russian military officer as saying that the third option is the most logical. He added that operations to eliminate specific field commanders were planned more than once during the 1994-1996 Chechen war but had invariably been called off under pressure from unidentified politicians in Moscow. Russian Air Force Commander Anatolii Kornukov has ruled out the second option, telling Interfax on 25 September that Russia will not resort to carpet-bombing to destroy Chechnya's infrastructure. The U.S., too, has made clear its opposition to indiscriminate air strikes, calling on Moscow to scale down its military operations against Chechnya and try to resolve the crisis through dialogue.

Moscow's choice of military tactics will hinge on its plans for administering Chechnya once the guerrilla threat is neutralized and some semblance of order restored. With regard to those plans, the choice is more limited: Moscow can either continue to support President Aslan Maskhadov or select a "puppet" head of a "government in exile."

Having initially advocated the latter course, Putin last week appeared to retreat from that position, saying that if Moscow decides on negotiations, Maskhadov, as the elected president of Chechnya, is the only possible interlocutor. But on 27 September, Putin said such talks are contingent on Maskhadov expressing condolences to the relatives of the more than 300 victims of the apartment bombings in Moscow, Buynaksk and Volgodonsk. The Russian authorities claim that Chechen terrorists were responsible for those attacks but have offered little evidence to corroborate those claims.

If Moscow is confident that most Chechens support Maskhadov, rather than the field commanders who oppose him (some of whom participated in the attacks on Daghestan), then the most logical course of action would be the fourth of the military options listed above: seeking to divide Chechnya into a northern zone loyal to Moscow and a southern zone that, theoretically, could be blasted into the Stone Age in an attempt to eliminate the offending field commanders. That option would require deploying more Russian troops in Daghestan, to where the field commanders would withdraw in order to escape any carpet-bombing. It would also require intervention sooner rather than later in order to minimize the damage inflicted on northern Chechnya as well as alleviate the alienation and bitterness of the population of the northern region.

Maskhadov's traditional support base is in the north of Chechnya. So, too, is that of one potential candidate for the post of head of a provisional Chechen government in exile: former State Duma speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov. In a recent interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Khasbulatov expressed his intention to return to main-stream Russian politics. Alternatively, Doku Zavgaev, who was installed in Grozny in October 1995 to head a pro-Russian puppet government, could be recalled from his present post as Russia's ambassador to Tanzania to head such a cabinet.


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