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Newsline - November 24, 1999




PUTIN SAYS ECONOMY REVITALIZED...

In a speech to the State Duma on 24 November, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised the Russian economy's recent strong performance, calling for a long-term economic development strategy. He noted that "for the first time since the beginning of reforms, positive tendencies [in the economy] have continued for 14 months," according to ITAR-TASS. He claimed that factories' profits "have jumped five times during the first 10 months of 1999," according to Interfax, while pension arrears have been paid in full, wage arrears to state sector workers are declining, and joblessness is decreasing. Putin acknowledged that capital flight and the decline of the population's incomes remain problems. He also said that too much of the government's economic policy is ad hoc, as officials are compelled to work at "a fire-fighting" pace and "patch up holes." JAC

...REAFFIRMS HIS SUPPORT FOR PRO-KREMLIN BLOC

According to ITAR-TASS on 24 November, Putin told reporters that in his capacity as premier, he "should not define his political preferences" with respect to election blocs but "as an ordinary citizen" he will vote for the interregional group Unity (Edinstvo). In his speech to the Duma, Putin praised the work of the Emergencies Ministry, which is headed by Unity's leader, Sergei Shoigu. "The ministry has demonstrated its best skills in the North Caucasus," he noted. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 November that according to unidentified sources, the leaders of another election alliance, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), Yevgenii Primakov and Yurii Luzhkov, offered during a recent meeting to back Putin in the June 2000 presidential race if he would support their bloc in the upcoming State Duma elections. At the same time, according to the daily, other sources claim that Luzhkov and Primakov asked only that the Kremlin cease its "campaign of persecution through the media." JAC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT UPHOLDS MAIN TENETS OF RELIGION LAW...

The Constitutional Court on 23 November ruled that the restrictions imposed on religious associations by the 1997 law on religious organizations do not violate the Russian Constitution, according to Interfax. According to the ruling, "the government has the right to erect certain barriers so that the status of a religious organization is not granted automatically and the legalization of sects that violate human rights and commit unlawful and criminal deeds is prevented." In addition, according to the court, the government has the right "to obstruct missionary activities (not least in connection with the problem of proselytism)," particularly if such activities "are accompanied by offers of material or social benefits with the purpose of recruiting new members for a Church, the unlawful influence on people in need or distress, psychological pressure or threat of force, and so forth." JAC

...AS RELIGIOUS GROUPS WIN PARTIAL VICTORY

At the same time, the court also ruled that the clause in the 1997 law requiring religious groups to show proof they have existed in Russia for more than 15 years does not apply to groups registered before the 1997 law was enacted or to congregations that are part of a registered centralized religious organization. The court made the ruling in response to a case brought before the court by a group of Jehovah's Witnesses from Yaroslavl and Pentecostalists from Khakassia. According to a Jehovah's Witnesses press release, the Yaroslavl congregation has existed since 1967 but was registered only in 1992. Under the law, groups that existed for less than 15 years are not allowed to own property, organize worship in public places, distribute literature, or invite foreigners to Russia to act as clergymen, according to "The Moscow Times" on 24 November. JAC

CHECHENS PREPARE TO DEFEND URUS MARTAN

Russian military officials in the North Caucasus told Interfax on 23 November that over the previous 24 hours, an additional 500 Chechen fighters have joined the estimated 3,000 defenders of the town of Urus Martan. Urus Martan was subjected to continued intensive artillery and air bombardment on 23 November. And in a move that analysts said could herald a major Russian offensive, the federal command in the North Caucasus ordered the shutoff of Chechnya's cellular telephone system to disrupt communications between Chechen fighters, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

MOSCOW EQUIVOCAL ON OSCE CHECHEN ROLE

Having repeatedly ruled out any OSCE mediation in the Chechen conflict, Russian Foreign Ministry sources told Interfax on 23 November that "the OSCE can play a certain positive role" in resolving that conflict, but only after the "anti-terrorist operation" in Chechnya has been brought to a successful conclusion. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said on 23 November that consultations are under way on scheduling OSCE Chairman In Office Knut Vollebaek's visit to Moscow. Rakhmanin added that the visit will focus primarily on humanitarian issues, including increased aid for displaced persons from Chechnya. LF

SOSLAMBEKOV WILLING TO MEDIATE

Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus President Yusup Soslambekov told Interfax on 23 November that at a recent meeting with President Aslan Maskhadov in Chechnya, he offered to mediate between Maskhadov and the Russian leadership. He said the latter has no clear understanding of how to stop the fighting. Soslambekov said Maskhadov has not yet responded to that offer but may do so when Soslambekov returns to Chechnya in the next few days. Maskhadov appointed Soslambekov deputy prime minister and presidential representative for foreign- policy issues last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1998). LF

UN APPEALS FOR AID FOR CHECHNYA

The UN on 23 November launched a global appeal for $16.2 million in aid to provide food and shelter for displaced persons who have fled Chechnya, Reuters reported. But the president of Medecins du Monde, Jacky Mamou, told journalists in Paris the same day that the Russian authorities are slowing down the distribution of aid to displaced persons and delaying the issuing of visas to foreign relief workers in order to limit the number of witnesses to events in the North Caucasus. A spokesman for Russia's Federal Migration Service told Interfax on 23 November that the number of displaced persons could rise to 300,000 from the current estimated 22,000. LF

NGOS TO TURN TO COURTS?

Russia's non-governmental organizations, many of whom were unable to re-register before the 1 July 1999 deadline stipulated by a 1995 law, have continued working, "although not quite legally," "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 24 November. According to the daily, some regional administrations are not kindly disposed toward such groups, particularly human rights organizations, and have used "the most insignificant pretexts to refuse to re- register organizations." The newspaper also reported, without citing any group by name, that legal proceedings are inevitable and "will cost the Treasury much more than prolonging" the registration period would have. An amendment extending the deadline to 1 July 2000 passed the State Duma but was rejected by the Federation Council. The Duma can override the decision of the upper legislative body but only with a two-thirds vote. JAC

MORE MONEY TO BE DIVERTED TO CHECHNYA...

Prime Minister Putin on 23 November announced that the Russian government and State Duma deputies have agreed to reallocate 5.5 billion rubles ($208 million) from the federal Road Fund to cover military expenditures, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 November. The next day, Putin said that the government has earmarked some 3 billion rubles from additional budget revenues for the offensive in Chechnya. Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters earlier that next year financing the military operation in Chechnya will require only 3 billion rubles in additional budget funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT APPEARS TO BE VIOLATING BUDGET LAW

The Russian government is not following the letter of the budget law, which requires that 50 percent of any revenues above projected levels be used to fund social expenditures, "The Moscow Times" reported on 24 November. The government's 1999 revenues are expected to exceed projected levels by 85 billion rubles, according to the head of the Finance Ministry's Economic Expert Group. At least 50 billion rubles have been spent so far, according to some estimates, and of that sum, 34 billion rubles have gone to the army, coal industry and regions. Renegade Capital's Robert Devane told the daily that while Russia is seeking debt forgiveness from the London Club and new funds from the IMF, "a costly war in Chechnya is being escalated, negating the positive fiscal effect of this year's revenue windfall." JAC

MEDIA BAN TURNS SPOTLIGHT ON BASHKORTOSTAN

The recent decision of legislators in the Republic of Bashkortostan to ban broadcasts of two "analytical programs" of Russian Public Television and Russian Television has triggered increased scrutiny in Moscow and the Moscow-based media of how that republic is ruled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 November 1999). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 November the parliament's decision was a natural consequence of Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov's call at a republican Security Council meeting for the republic's leadership to support the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance. Rakhimov, who is a member of that group, has reportedly "declared war in his republic on the enemies of OVR leaders Yevgenii Primakov and Yurii Luzhkov." Business magnate Boris Berezovskii, who is a Luzhkov foe, owns a controlling interest in "Nezavisimaya gazeta." An Ufa-based political analyst told Radio Mayak the previous day that Rakhimov ordered legislators to adopt the ban. The state- controlled station concluded that "a totalitarian regime has been created in the republic." JAC

RUSSIA AIMS TO REGAIN NAVAL MIGHT

Addressing the Security Council on 23 November, Prime Minister Putin warned that the situation in the Navy has become "very dangerous and alarming," Interfax reported. The Navy is no longer present "even where it has always been," he commented, adding that it must re-establish its presence in such locations "not to threaten anyone but to protect our national interests." The Security Council's press service announced after the meeting that a naval strategy will be presented to President Yeltsin next year. Meanwhile, First Deputy Premier Ilya Klebanov has announced that funds allocated for the development of the Navy will be more than doubled in 2000--from 9.3 percent to 20 percent of the state defense order, according to ITAR- TASS. JC

MOSCOW URGES BAGHDAD TO CONTINUE COOPERATING WITH UN

Foreign Ministry spokesman Rakhmanin told journalists on 23 November that Moscow has urged Iraq to continue cooperating with the UN, Interfax reported. That statement followed reports that Baghdad is preparing to end all crude oil exports to protest a UN Security Council decision to link the lifting of economic sanctions with increased control over Iraq's weapons programs Also on 23 November, Rakhmanin commented that "because of the U.S.'s hard-line policy, it has been impossible to come up with a plan to suspend current sanctions against Iraq that is acceptable to everyone." JC

INGUSHETIA'S PRESIDENT DISSOLVES GOVERNMENT

Ruslan Aushev dismissed the republic's entire cabinet on 23 November, accusing its members of incompetence in social and economic policy, Interfax reported. Aushev specifically criticized the government's slowness in reacting to the influx of an estimated 200,000 civilians fleeing the war in Chechnya. Possible candidates to head the new government are First Deputy Premier Akhmed Malsagov and Business Development Center head Alikhan Amerkhanov, according to Interfax. LF

BLACK SEA GAS PIPELINE DEAL SIGNED

Representatives of the Blue Stream Pipeline Company, which comprises Russia's Gazprom and Italy's ENI, signed an agreement in Moscow on 23 November with Italian, French, and Japanese companies on the design and construction of the planned pipeline under the Black Sea that will transport Russian natural gas to Turkey, Interfax reported. The project is scheduled for completion in 2002 and will cost an estimated $1.7 billion, of which the Blue Stream Company will raise 20 percent. Western banks are likely to advance some funding, according to Gazprom executive Sergei Dubinin. Gazprom is already financing construction of part of the Russian sector between Izobilnoye and Dzhubga on the Russian Black Sea coast. Turkey and Russia will probably sign a formal protocol next month granting tax concessions to companies engaged in the project, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev told Interfax on 23 November. That protocol was to have been signed during Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit's visit to Moscow earlier this month. LF




ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET

Vagharshak Harutiunian and Igor Sergeev, meeting in Moscow on 23 November, signed a plan for cooperation between their ministries in 2000, Noyan Tapan reported. Sergeev stressed after the signing ceremony that the ongoing intense defense cooperation between the two countries is not aimed against a third party but intended to underpin security and stability in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev is to join his Russian and Armenian colleagues for talks in Moscow on 24 November on strengthening the May 1994 Karabakh cease-fire agreement. LF

ANOTHER GEORGIAN MILITARY CARGO IMPOUNDED IN MOSCOW

Customs officials at Domodedovo airport have impounded some 300 kilograms of Georgian ammunition that was being returned to Georgia from a defense industry exhibition in Bucharest, arguing that the consignment is intended for militants fighting in Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported on 24 November, quoting Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman Koba Liklikadze. The head of the ministry's technical department, Gogi Tavadze, expressed concern lest Russian military specialists steal unique Georgian technology. Russian customs officials impounded military uniforms donated to Georgia by the U.S. earlier this month on the pretext that they were allegedly being sent to Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 1999). LF

GEORGIAN PARAMILITARY ORGANIZATION MARKS TENTH ANNIVERSARY

Members of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary organization congregated at the Saburtalo cemetery in Tbilisi on 23 November to commemorate the 840 members of that organization killed while defending Georgia's territorial integrity, Caucasus Press reported. Mkhedrioni's political secretary Tornike Berishvili said the organization now numbers 5,000 members, compared with 45 when it was founded. Also on 23 November, Caucasus Press reported that President Eduard Shevardnadze has given permission for the release from jail after next year's presidential elections of Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani. Ioseliani, who is 73, was sentenced in November 1998 to 11 years' imprisonment on charges of banditism and attempting to assassinate Shevardnadze. He has appealed that sentence with the European Court. LF

MOSCOW DOWNPLAYS ARRESTS OF SEPARATISTS IN KAZAKHSTAN

Russian Premier Vladimir Putin told journalists in Moscow on 23 November he does not believe that the arrest last week in Kazakhstan of 12 Russian citizens on suspicion of planning to declare an independent Russian Altai Republic poses a serious threat to bilateral relations, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin similarly said that Russia "does not meddle in Kazakhstan's internal affairs" and respects Kazakhstan's sovereignty and territorial integrity. On 24 November, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that for the past two months the alleged ringleader of the group, Vladimir Kazimirchik, had openly sought support in eastern Kazakhstan for proclaiming the secession of part of the region. Local officials had repeatedly warned local security officials about his activities, the paper said. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S CHIEF OF STAFF DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN MIG SALES

Major General Bakhytzhan Ertaev said on 23 November that he did not play any role in the illegal sale to North Korea of some 40 obsolete MiG-21 fighter aircraft, Interfax reported. Ertaev is expected to be called as a witness in the trial of unnamed Kazakh officials suspected of having arranged that deal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT VISITS MONGOLIA

Visiting Ulan-Bator on 22-23 November, Nursultan Nazarbaev met with his Mongolian counterpart, Natsagiyn Bagabandi, Prime Minister Rinchinnyamiin Amarjargal and parliamentary speaker Radnaasumbreliin Gonchigdorj, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 November. The talks focused on developing bilateral economic cooperation, security issues, and repatriation of ethnic Kazakhs from Mongolia. The two presidents signed a joint declaration pledging to expand cooperation in prospecting for and mining precious metals and to build highways and an electric power line linking the two countries. LF

KAZAKHSTAN CONCERNED ABOUT CHECHEN INFLUX

Kazakhstan's Interior Minister Kairbek Suleimanov told journalists in Astana on 23 November that his forces are establishing additional checkpoints at ports and railway stations to screen Chechens fleeing the fighting in the North Caucasus. Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Suleimanov estimated the number of Chechens who have entered Kazakhstan since the start of the fighting at 2,064, while presidential chief of staff Sarybai Kalmurzayev told another press conference the same day that the figure could be as high as 10,000. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, EU DISCUSS COOPERATION

Cornelius Wittebrood, who is chief of the European Commission department for relations with the CIS, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, told journalists in Almaty on 23 November that the EU plans to expand trade with Kazakhstan and investment in that country's economy, Interfax reported. EU countries are among Kazakhstan's main trade partners. Wittebrood said his talks in Astana the previous day with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev focused on Kazakhstan's admission to the WTO and cooperation under the recent partnership agreement between the EU and Kazakhstan. He also stressed the EU's support for the diversification of pipeline routes to transport Caspian hydrocarbons to international markets. He specifically mentioned Kazakhstan's Caspian Pipeline Consortium, the Trans-Caspian pipeline to export Turkmen gas, and the Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil. LF

TAJIK GOVERNMENT RESIGNS

In accordance with the Tajik constitution, the entire cabinet on 23 November submitted its resignation to President Imomali Rakhmonov at its first session following his inauguration, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Ministers and their deputies will, however, continue to perform their duties until a new government is formed. LF

TURKMEN PARLIAMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET

Lawmakers on 23 November approved the draft budget for 2000 which envisages revenues of 26.6 trillion manats ($5.03 billion) and expenditures of 29.05 trillion manats, Interfax reported. Some 67 percent of budget spending will go on social needs. The $86.15 million budget deficit is equal to 2.08 percent of GDP. Finance Minister Matkarim Radzhabov predicted that industrial output next year will increase by 12 percent to 17 trillion manats and that investments will total 14.4 trillion manats or double this year's level. LF




CLINTON DID NOT MEET LUKASHENKA AT OSCE SUMMIT

A U.S. State Department official told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 23 November that U.S. President Bill Clinton did not have a formal meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at the OSCE summit in Istanbul last week. "As President Clinton was leaving the final signing ceremony, Lukashenka stepped in front of him with his hand extended. Out of courtesy the president shook it. Lukashenka invited the president to visit Belarusian capital Minsk. The president responded that he had already been there. There was no further discussion," the U.S. official said. In a bid to inflate Lukashenka's political clout, Belarusian Television reported on 19 November that he had a meeting with Clinton in Istanbul. And Foreign Minister Ural Latypau told journalists on 22 November that Lukashenka had two meetings with Clinton in Istanbul. JM

BELARUS TO INCREASE PENSIONS IN DECEMBER

The Belarusian government will raise pensions by an average of 15.2 percent beginning 1 December, Belapan reported on 23 November. The minimum pension will be the equivalent of $6.8, the average pension $17.7, and the maximum pension $29.3 (according to the street exchange rate). JM

SOROS WANTS AID TO UKRAINE TO DEPEND ON REFORM

In an opinion piece published in the 24 November "International Herald Tribune," U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros called on the West to condition its assistance to Ukraine on democratic improvements in the country. Soros noted that Kuchma's "corrupt and ineffective" government has been able to survive so far owing to international assistance granted "largely on account of Ukraine's geopolitical position." Soros said that in order to receive further Western financial support, Ukraine should push ahead with its political and economic reforms, comply with the IMF's recommendations, allow more freedom for the media, and be more efficient in combating corruption. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FIRES MORE REGIONAL LEADERS

In what appears to be an act of political revenge, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has fired the governors of Zaporizhzhya and Mykolayiv Oblast as well as four raion heads in Luhansk Oblast and two raion heads in Chernihiv Oblast. In all those regions, Kuchma lost to Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko in the 14 November presidential runoff. Following the 31 October first round of voting, Kuchma fired the governors of Kirovohrad, Poltava, and Vynnytsya, where he lost to either Symonenko or Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. Moreover, Kuchma replaced presidential administration staff head Mykola Biloblotskyy with Volodymyr Lytvyn. Biloblotskyy was appointed Ukraine's ambassador to the Russian Federation. JM

EU TO ADOPT STRATEGY ON UKRAINE THIS YEAR

Finland's ambassador to Ukraine said on 23 November that by the end of this year, the EU will adopt its strategy regarding Ukraine, Interfax reported. The ambassador, whose country currently holds the EU rotating presidency, added that the document "will not only declare [the EU's] intent of further support to Ukraine on its European path but will also point to specific integration directions, including several specific cooperation projects for the next year." In the 23 November "Financial Times," Kuchma had appealed to the EU for a clear sign that Ukraine might eventually be granted union membership. JM

AGREEMENT REACHED ON INVESTMENTS IN ESTONIAN POWER PLANTS

Estonian government officials and the U.S. company NRG Energy have agreed to invest $376 million in the Narva Power Plants (NEJ) over the next 15 years. NRG is negotiating with the Estonian government the purchase of a 49 percent stake in NEJ; those talks are scheduled to be wrapped up by the end of the year. The investment deal calls for the construction of two new energy blocs over the next five years at a cost of $220 million as well as modernizing two oil shale-firing power plants in the northeast of Estonia. Other issues that need to be resolved with NRG include the final purchase price of the 49 percent stake and the price of electricity for the consumer. MH

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT FINDS EXTRA CASH FOR NATIONAL OPERA

The government on 23 November allocated 330,000 lats ($562,000) to help solve the Latvian National Opera's financial problems, BNS reported. Cultural Minister Karina Petersone, who earlier threatened to resign if the government failed to find a bail-out scheme for the opera house, said the problem has now been "solved." The government called on the Riga city authorities to come up with 72,000 lats of the necessary funds, as the city owns the National Opera House. The National Opera's director, Andrejs Zagars, voiced satisfaction at the allocation. MH

LATVIA URGES NON-CITIZENS TO OBTAIN NEW PASSPORTS

The parliament has called on the Citizenship and Migration Department to encourage the exchange of old USSR passports for Latvian non-citizen passports, BNS reported on 23 November. Under Latvian laws, the Soviet passports will become invalid as of 1 January 2000. But according to data released by the Citizenship and Migration Department, 113,000 non-citizen permanent residents in Latvia have yet to exchange their passports. Officials speculate that passport fees may be one reason for the reluctance among non-citizens to apply for the new documents. MH

NEW LUSTRATION LAW PASSED IN LITHUANIA

Lawmakers have passed in the final reading a law on the registration of those who collaborated with Soviet security services, ELTA reported on 23 November. The law, which passed by a vote of 57 to six, requires all collaborators to register with the authorities and make a voluntary confession of their activities. Their names would be held in a secret database, but the law allows the names of those former collaborators who now hold top government jobs to be published The law also contains provisions to protect registered former collaborators from blackmail. Opponents of the law suggest that by proposing the new law, the government is trying to divert attention from problems in the economy. MH

SOLIDARITY ACTIVIST FOUND TO BE COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICE AGENT

Poland's Lustration Court ruled on 23 November that 64-year-old Marian Jurczyk, senator and mayor of the port city of Szczecin, was an agent of the Communist-era special services and did not admit this fact in his lustration statement, Polish media reported. The court added that Jurczyk entered into collaboration under pressure, afraid for his life. Jurczyk disagreed with the verdict and said he will appeal. Jurczyk led the Solidarity movement in Szczecin in the early 1980's and vied with Lech Walesa for Solidarity's leadership. He was arrested in 1981 and spent three years in prison. "In a civilized country, giving a false statement should mean political death," Solidarity spokesman Piotr Zak commented. "The [lustration] process serves to cut down inconvenient people," prominent Solidarity activist Andrzej Gwiazda commented, adding that Jurczyk was punished for defending "Polish interests." JM

CZECH CITY GETS MONEY TO TEAR DOWN WALL

The Usti nad Labem city council on 23 November voted to have a wall dividing ethnic Czech inhabitants from Roma torn down after the Czech government pledged to grant the city a 10 million crown ($285,000) subsidy, Czech media reported. Usti nad Labem Mayor Ladislav Hruska said some 3.6 million crowns from that total will be used to buy three houses from ethnic Czechs living on one side of the wall who want to move out of the area. Romany activists and local inhabitants welcomed the resolution but expressed regret that the state had to buy out the Czech inhabitants. Hruska said the rest of the money will be used to improve infrastructure and social services in the Nestemice district where the wall is located. Hruska and special government negotiator Pavel Zarecky issued a joint statement saying that the wall never had "anything to do with racism" and that reports describing the wall as a symbol of racism are a "regrettable mistake." VG

CZECH POLICE ARREST FORMER FINANCE MINISTER

Police arrested Ivo Svoboda and his former adviser Barbora Snopkova on 23 November, Czech media reported. Svoboda and Snopkova are charged with committing fraud while running a company before Svoboda became minister. Svoboda served as finance minister in the Social Democratic government until July of this year. VG

CZECH REPUBLIC, SLOVAKIA TO SIGN DIVISION OF PROPERTY AGREEMENT

The Czech government on 23 November decided to waive a 25.8 billion crown ($737 million) debt that the Czech National Bank says Slovakia owes it, CTK reported. The government will buy the debt from the bank for the symbolic sum of 1 crown, according to government spokesman Libor Roucek. He added that the bank will return some 4.1 metric tons of Slovak gold that it was holding against the payment of the debt. The decision comes the day before Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and his Slovak counterpart, Mikulas Dzurinda, are expected to sign an agreement in Bratislava on outstanding issues related to the division of the former Czechoslovakia's property. VG

SLOVAKIA SAYS NUCLEAR DECISION FINAL, BUT AUSTRIA WANTS MORE

Mikulas Dzurinda on 23 November said Slovakia's decision to close down two reactors at the Jaslovske Bohunice plant between 2006 and 2008 is final, TASR reported. Dzurinda, who was speaking in Brussels after a meeting with European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi, said he is willing to explain the decision to the Austrian government. Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima said he still expects "signals" from Slovakia that the reactors could be shut down earlier. Klima said the EU will not admit new members with unsafe nuclear power plants. In Brussels, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said he cannot see any obstacles to Slovakia's being invited to accession talks at the December EU summit in Helsinki. VG

OPPOSITION DEMANDS RECALL OF HUNGARIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.

Opposition politicians on 23 November demanded that Ambassador Geza Jeszenszky be recalled from his post in Washington following reports that he strongly criticized Hungarian journalists awarded the Hungarian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. Jeszenszky wrote a letter describing 13 recipients of the prize as "hirelings of the Socialists and [belonging to] the worst wing of the Free Democrats" who used "Goebbels's methods" to discredit late Prime Minister Jozsef Antall's first post-communist government. Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said Jeszenszky's partiality makes him unsuitable to represent Hungary. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said Jeszenszky's private opinion does not affect the country's diplomacy. However, the ministry's state secretary, Zsolt Nemeth, admitted that "it was unfortunate that Jeszenszky used the embassy's stationary for private letters." MSZ




TUDJMAN'S CONDITION 'GRAVE'

Doctors treating Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said on 24 November for the first time that the president's condition has become "grave." They did not elaborate, except to say that he remains in intensive care. Tudjman has been in a Zagreb hospital since 1 November and is widely believed to be dying of cancer. The authorities have released no photographs of him since he entered the hospital. The sparse official statements on his condition have become increasingly less optimistic. PM

CONSTITUTIONAL DEADLOCK IN CROATIA...

Representatives of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and of six opposition parties failed during the night of 23-24 November to reach agreement on a constitutional amendment to enable the parliament to declare Tudjman incapacitated and transfer at least some of his powers to parliamentary speaker Vlatko Pavletic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). The HDZ wants such a declaration to be limited to 30 days and extensions to be decided by the Constitutional Court, where the HDZ has a majority, the VOA's Croatian Service reported. The opposition wants him to be declared permanently incapacitated and for the parliament to retain the last word in matters regarding his continuing in office. The opposition also demands that the parliament receive a detailed report on the state of Tudjman's health. PM

...AS SEKS SEEKS TO FUDGE THE ISSUE...

Deputy parliamentary speaker and HDZ leader Vladimir Seks said he will introduce a measure in the legislature on 24 November to enable the parliament to declare Tudjman temporarily incapacitated without passing a constitutional amendment, the BBC's Croatian Service reported. He did not say how he will try to legislate the change without an amendment. The constitution provides for the president to be declared incapacitated only permanently, not temporarily. The HDZ says that it would be "disrespectful to the founder of the state" to declare Tudjman permanently incapacitated. The HDZ has a simple majority in the legislature but not the two-thirds majority necessary to change the constitution. PM

...AND ELECTIONS COMPLICATE ISSUE

An additional reason for the collapse of the negotiations on 23-24 November was the opposition's insistence that any agreement include a fixed date for parliamentary elections, which the HDZ does not want. Opposition leaders Drazen Budisa and Ivica Racan told the BBC's Croatian Service on 24 November that the issues of the presidency and the elections are inseparably bound up with each other. Seks, for his part, accused the opposition of trying to mix unrelated issues. PM

MONTENEGRIN PARTY DENIES ROLE IN PARAMILITARIES...

Zoran Zizic, who is a spokesman for Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic's Socialist People's Party (SNP), told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in Podgorica on 23 November that his party has no knowledge of any paramilitary forces loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Montenegro. Zizic added that recent charges by former General Momcilo Perisic that the SNP helped set up such paramilitary formations are "absolutely untrue" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). The spokesman stressed that the SNP wants Perisic to explain his accusations in court. PM

...GOVERNMENT NOT 'ALARMED'

Unnamed officials of Montenegro's Interior Ministry told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in Podgorica on 23 November that they will not comment on Perisic's charges until the ministry takes an official position on the matter. It is unclear when that will be. Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan, for his part, said he is not "alarmed" by Perisic's remarks. Burzan added that the Montenegrin authorities are aware that recently Belgrade has been increasing the strength of some individual army units in Montenegro. Paramilitary police formations, however, remain at a "low level," Burzan said. The Montenegrin minister stressed that Milosevic is no longer in a position to do as he pleases in Montenegro. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service noted, however, that Milosevic remains in command of the army in all parts of Yugoslavia. The Montenegrin authorities, moreover, have no control over the shipments that arrive daily in Podgorica for the army. PM

CLINTON MEETS WITH U.S. TROOPS...

U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke to U.S. troops at Camp Bondsteel on 23 November following his enthusiastic reception by ethnic Albanians in Ferizaj (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). He told U.S. troops that they can set an example of how people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds can work together (see also "End Note" below). PM

...AND REPRESENTATIVES OF KOSOVA SERBS

Bishop Artemije, who is one of the two main leaders of the Kosova Serbs, told Clinton in an open letter on 23 November that he believes the current violence in Kosova against Serbs and other non- Albanians is not in keeping with U.S. policy. He appealed to Clinton to do what he can to enable all peoples in Kosova to live in peace, "Vesti" reported. Artemije condemned the polices of Milosevic and of "Albanian extremists" and urged the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to investigate all atrocities in the province. A spokesman for Artemije told the BBC that he is convinced that Clinton appreciated the bishop's plea. Momcilo Trajkovic, who is the second principal leader of the Kosova Serbs, said, however, that the Serbs will not return to the UN's Transitional Council as long as violence continues against Serbs, "Vesti" reported. PM

MILOSEVIC MEDIA CONDEMN CLINTON VISIT TO KOSOVA

State-run Serbian Television said on 23 November in a commentary on Clinton's visit to Kosova that the U.S. president's arrival in the province proves that "the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime." The Milosevic government regards NATO's campaign in the spring of 1999 to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosova as "aggression." Belgrade also argues that foreign officials should not visit the Serbian province without the Yugoslav government's permission. PM

SERBIAN POLICE INJURED NEAR KOSOVA BORDER

The private Beta news agency reported from Belgrade on 23 November that two Serbian policemen were injured in an "armed attack" in Konculj, an ethnic Albanian village in southern Serbia. No details are available. The alleged incident follows the death of two Serbian police in a mine explosion near the border with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). PM

KOSOVARS TRIED FOR 'TERRORISM'

The trial opened in Belgrade on 23 November of six ethnic Albanians on charges of "terrorism." The six each face sentences of up to 20 years in prison. PM

'ENERGY FOR DEMOCRACY' OIL HEADS FOR SERBIA

An initial convoy of trucks carrying fuel oil supplied by the EU left Skopje on 23 November for the opposition-controlled cities of Nis and Pirot. The EU and the Serbian opposition hope that the Energy for Democracy Program will show ordinary Serbs that the opposition is able to bring them concrete benefits even before parliamentary elections take place. Local and independent media are giving extensive coverage to the oil deliveries in the hope that such publicity will discourage the Belgrade authorities from interfering with the shipment. If the pilot project to Nis and Pirot is successful, it will be extended to additional municipalities. PM

ALBANIAN AID MONEY FOR ROAD TO KOSOVA

An Albanian government spokeswoman said in Tirana on 23 November that some $12 million in foreign aid for the government budget will be spent on building a key road linking the port of Durres with Prishtina. The government has attached great importance to the project since announcing it in September. A spokesman for Prime Minister Ilir Meta argued that it is more important to construct a small number of major projects than a larger number of smaller ones, "which often melt away like salt in water," dpa reported. PM

GUNMEN ATTACK ALBANIAN JOURNALIST

Unidentified gunmen seriously injured Vjollca Karanxha while she was filming in Pogradec on 22 November, dpa reported. She is a reporter for the local radio and television station and has often written about the role of local officials in smuggling and corruption. PM

OSCE ISSUES REPORT ON BOSNIAN CORRUPTION

The OSCE's Robert Barry made public a report that shows that corruption linking business, political, criminal, and police elites is rife in many parts of Bosnia. He stressed that corruption is the "life-blood" of one-party rule in most parts of the republic. Barry noted that many governments work "hand-in-glove with organized crime and remnants of old security services...to maintain control of citizens' lives," AP reported. He did not provide specific examples. PM

LABOR PROTESTS MOVE TO BUCHAREST

Some 5,000 workers marched through Bucharest on 23 November calling for the government to resign, Reuters reported. The protest, organized by a bloc of labor unions, came on the heels of one in the northern town of Iasi calling for the sacking of Premier Radu Vasile amid worsening economic conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). Union leader Pavel Todoran said "people have lost confidence in this government...a new [one] might defuse tensions and help us weather the expected harsh winter ahead." PB

ROMANIA TRIES TO STABILIZE CURRENCY

The National Bank of Romania on 23 November intervened to prop up the country's flagging currency, Mediafax reported. The bank sold some $20 million in hard currency after the leu fell to 18,000 to $1. One week earlier, the exchange rate was 17,410 lei to $1. After the bank's intervention, the leu strengthened to 17,910 to $1. In other news, the Romanian Senate and the Chamber of Deputies approved at a joint sitting on 22 November President Emil Constantinescu's request that Dutch and U.S. military hardware and materiel for Kosova be allowed to transit Romania by train, Rompres reported. PB

ROMANIA HAS MOST AIDS INFECTED CHILDREN IN EUROPE

Romania has some 8,700 children suffering from AIDS, the largest total number of any one country in Europe, Mediafax reported on 22 November. Adrian Streinu-Cercel, the head of the National AIDS Committee, said most of the children became infected through the use of unsterile needles. PB

WAS INTERIOR MINISTER CANDIDATE RESPONSIBLE FOR MOLDOVAN CABINET'S NON-APPROVAL?

Iurie Rosca, the leader of the Christian Democratic Popular Front, said the candidacy of Nicolae Alexei as interior minister was the reason why Premier-designate Valeriu Bobutac's government was not approved, BASA-press reported on 23 November. Bobutac's government failed by four votes to receive a simple majority from the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). Rosca claims that any government including Alexei will not be approved by the parliament. Alexei was sacked as head of the Department Against Organized Crime and Corruption after bringing corruption allegations against several members of the previous government. Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi is set to name a new candidate for premier later this week. PB

BULGARIA SEEKING INVITE TO EU TALKS WITHOUT PRECONDITIONS

Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said on 23 November that Bulgaria is close to being invited to start talks on EU accession without having to fulfill preconditions, Reuters reported. Mihailova said Bulgaria "is in the last phase of negotiations at all levels, from experts to heads of states, on getting an invitation for accession talks." The European Commission recommended last month that the EU invite Bulgaria and five other countries to join the six countries already negotiating their union membership. The sticking point for Bulgaria is the EU demand that the four oldest reactors at its controversial Kozloduy nuclear power plant be shut down early. PB




U.S. TROOPS IN KOSOVA: IN FOR THE LONG HAUL?


by Michael J. Jordan

The amber waves of grain that once covered the rolling hills two miles east of Urosevac, in south-central Kosova, are no more. They have been replaced with sprawling Camp Bondsteel.

The heavily fortified, 755-acre military base is the largest the U.S. has built from the ground up since the Vietnam War.

As U.S. President Clinton visited on 23 November to spend an early Thanksgiving with the troops, some observers here were wondering: Why is Bondsteel so big?

Soldiers at this $36.6 million U.S. base say it's strictly about safety and comfort. If nothing else, it sends a direct message to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who already has provoked four wars this decade and may be capable of more mayhem.

"The base is a response to the perceived need for a presence in the Balkans for years to come," says Bryan Hopkinson, Kosova director of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank. "It shows the U.S. means business."

One day it could mean even more. Some say Camp Bondsteel will smooth the logistics of a future U.S. military intervention. Others see it yielding benefits in terms of Balkan geopolitics and trade. Perhaps with this in mind, says Hopkinson, U.S. planners are shrewdly "taking advantage of favorable circumstances" to build a base spacious enough to accommodate any future needs.

Those "favorable circumstances" are the key. Three months of NATO air strikes this spring ended a Serbian campaign of "ethnic cleansing" that unleashed a wave of some 1 million refugees in the Yugoslav province. So ethnic Albanians here are thrilled to have 47,000 international troops--6,300 of them from the U.S.--protecting them, even if assistance has so far fallen short of their goal of independence.

This contrasts starkly with Macedonia and Hungary, Yugoslavia's neighbors to the south and north. During the air strikes, both countries were uneasy about being drawn into NATO operations. Hungary, unlike Macedonia, is a NATO member. But the country only rid itself of Soviet troops nine years ago.

"Albanians are the only people who embrace NATO with all their heart," says Sevdije Ahmeti, a human-rights activist in Kosova. "America will find no better allies in the Balkans, or in Europe, than the U.S."

Allies may be needed with Milosevic still holding the reins in Belgrade. A slew of destabilizing scenarios are possible: secession by tiny Montenegro, leaving landlocked Serbia the lone Yugoslav republic; conflict with ethnic Hungarians in northern Serbia; civil war between pro- and anti-Milosevic factions; or upheaval in Macedonia, which has its own restive Albanian minority.

With soldier-safety high on the Clinton administration's agenda, nothing is left to chance at Camp Bondsteel. The troops are ensconced behind miles of barbed wire and countless earthen and concrete barriers. Eleven guard towers keep watch.

The base has a large helipad for nearly 55 transport, reconnaissance, and attack helicopters, including a dozen of the vaunted Apaches.

There is no runway for fixed-wing fighter aircraft, although Hopkinson and other analysts speculate that the base may be big enough to accommodate a runway in the future. U.S. officials reject this possibility, pointing to the area's undulating terrain. They also have tried to quash rumors that Camp Bondsteel eventually may replace Aviano, Italy, as one of the prime European airfields of the U.S. Air Force.

Still, observers suggest Camp Bondsteel would serve several geostrategic functions. Though Kosova is a diamond- shaped province smaller than New Jersey, it has proximity to the Black Sea to the east, the Mediterranean to the south, and the Adriatic to the west.

As NATO expands eastward, perhaps even into the Balkans, some say Bondsteel could underpin security for the alliance's southeastern flank.

It's not only Russia that considers the Balkans within its sphere of influence. The Arab world is also looking to make inroads between the Bosnian Muslims and the predominantly Muslim but highly secular populations of Albania and Kosova, "Kosova can be treated as a small spot in the ocean, or a very important spot in Europe," says Ahmeti. "The Near East also tries to put U.S. [in] their sphere, so we're sandwiched."

But some Western diplomatic sources scoff at the idea of Kosova having any real strategic value.

"The notion that the U.S. is interested in forward bases and extending its international presence is fundamentally paranoiac and fundamentally wrong," says one diplomat, who asked not to be identified. "On the contrary, the U.S. would prefer to let countries conduct their own defense and not have to intervene around the world."

And while President Clinton and others talk of a Marshall Plan-style reconstruction of the Balkans, ethnic Albanians hope that the mere sight of Camp Bondsteel may soothe jittery foreign investors.

Ardian Arifaj, news editor of Kosova's leading daily paper, "Koha Ditore," says, "There's a perception here that there are American bases all over the world, and all those countries have prospered with them." The author is a Budapest-based journalist (michaeljjordan@csi.com).


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