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Newsline - December 8, 1999




RUSSIA, BELARUS SIGN UNION TREATY...

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, on 8 December signed the treaty on the union of the two countries. The treaty, which follows a number of documents on the countries' union, calls for the creation of a Higher Council, comprising the presidents, prime ministers, and speakers of the legislatures of both countries, to coordinate policies. It also calls for the creation of a single currency and uniform tax policy by 2005 and a joint military doctrine by next year, according to Reuters and Interfax. President Lukashenka, who earlier said the treaty would barely change the status quo, hailed the establishment of the union "as a moral triumph of justice." President Yeltsin noted that the "union is based on the sovereignty and independence of member nations and is not directed against anyone not even against [U.S. President] Clinton." JAC

...AS DUMA SET TO CONSIDER IT NEXT WEEK

State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said on 6 December that the Duma will likely consider the treaty for ratification at a plenary session on 13 or 14 December. He announced earlier that if necessary, Duma deputies are even willing to hold an extraordinary session on 19 December, the date of parliamentary elections, to ratify the treaty. "Izvestiya" noted on 3 December that even after the treaty is ratified, it will not affect the process of forming a joint state since the economic situation of both countries is so different: Russia is experiencing political uncertainty combined with real economic growth, while "in Belarus, everything is clear politically, but the economy is in an appalling state." JAC

RUSSIAN MILITARY LEADERS SEEK TO RATIONALIZE GROZNY ULTIMATUM...

Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev, who commands the Russian forces in the North Caucasus, told journalists in Mozdok on 7 December that leaflets dropped on Grozny the previous day warning that intensive bombing will begin after 11 December were addressed to Chechen fighters, not the civilian population. He said he hopes that the city's defenders will opt to surrender rather than subject elderly people, women, and children to the planned air strikes. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo told NTV that the checkpoint in the village of Pervomaiskoe that serves as the "safe corridor" out of Grozny will continue to function even after the 11 December deadline. But Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev pointed out to Interfax on 7 December that the fleeing civilians must brave Russian aircraft and artillery on the 35 kilometer road from Grozny to Pervomaiskoe. And Reuters reported on 7 December that many of the remaining inhabitants of Grozny are not aware of the warning to leave by 11 December. LF

...WHILE INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION CONTINUES

French President Jacques Chirac on 7 December condemned Russia's warning to leave Grozny or face intense bombardment "unacceptable" and called for peace talks to resolve the conflict, Reuters reported. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer similarly issued a statement saying that "Russia's conduct in the Caucasus is completely unacceptable" and demanding that the ultimatum to Grozny's civilian population be revoked, Reuters reported. A Turkish government statement expressed strong condemnation of Moscow's continued concentration on military strategy and its ignoring the search for a political solution. And Italian Prime Minister Massimo d'Alema said "what is happening in Chechnya is horrible, unacceptable." He added that Rome has repeatedly warned the Russian leadership to cease military activities in Chechnya. LF

RUSSIA TELLS U.S. IT SHARES ITS CONCERN...

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters on 7 December that the statement by U.S. President Bill Clinton the previous day on Russia's actions in Chechnya was more an expression of concern than a warning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). "What is very important here is that none of our Western partners questions the need to fight terrorists," Rakhmanin said. He added that "Russia takes the [humanitarian situation in the North Caucasus] seriously because the people involved are its citizens." Prime Minister Putin suggested that the West could assist Russia in Chechnya, telling NTV that "if some representatives of foreign states are that worried by events in the North Caucasus, they should instead use their influence not only to put pressure on the Russian leadership. Let them use their influence to free hostages (in Chechnya)." JAC

...AS QUESTIONS RAISED ON WHAT ACTIONS WILL FOLLOW WORDS

When asked by reporters on 7 December whether the "heavy price" Russia might pay, to which President Clinton referred to in his earlier remarks, would include sanctions, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart refused to speculate "on what [the U.S.] might do." However, he added that the U.S. will not "want to undermine [its own] national security in order to make some sort of statement," according to Reuters. The same day, Leonid Kholid, head of the Russian's government's agribusiness department, told Interfax that the delay in deciding on a new U.S. food assistance package may be linked to U.S. opposition to Russia's campaign in Chechnya. However, unidentified government sources told the agency the previous day that U.S. officials are waiting for the results of the State Duma elections. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak noted that U.S. officials are also waiting for the results of an inspection of the last food aid shipment. JAC

TOP SWEDISH OFFICIAL STAYS AWAY BECAUSE OF CHECHNYA

Sweden's Defense Minister Bjorn von Sydow has postponed a working visit to Moscow scheduled for 8 December, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Sydow told dpa that his visit was postponed because of Russia's offensive against Chechnya. "If the whole world agrees to criticize the Russian leadership, a Swedish high-level visit would not be appropriate," he said. JC

PUTIN AGAIN OUTLINES TERMS FOR CHECHEN PEACE TALKS

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told journalists in Moscow on 7 December that the Russian leadership is ready to "expand the political basis" for a settlement of the Chechen conflict on two conditions, Russian agencies reported. Those are that the estimated 352 hostages currently held on Chechen territory are released and that Grozny hands over all "international terrorists who have committed crimes in Russia." Putin denied that the warning to Grozny residents to leave the city by 11 December constitutes an ultimatum, arguing that it is intended to protect civilians and minimize troop casualties. He added that Chechen leaders, including President Aslan Maskhadov, have long since evacuated their dependents from the capital. Maskhadov's wife and children are currently in Russia under the protection of the Federal Security Service, Putin said. He did not disclose the exact location. LF

NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV

At a press conference in Moscow on 7 December, Aleksandr Dzasokhov advised Russian leaders not to pass up the opportunity for a political dialogue with President Maskhadov, ITAR-TASS reported. Dzasokhov reasoned that such contacts do not run counter to Moscow's policy of combating terrorism, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 8 December. He added that he has maintained constant "political and human" contact with his Chechen counterpart. Dzasokhov also expressed concern that Moscow's policies in the North Caucasus and its plans to impose visa requirements for Georgia and Azerbaijan risk creating a rift between Russia and the Transcaucasus. LF

ZHIRINOVSKII TO CALL FOR ELECTION POSTPONEMENT...

Vladimir Zhirinovskii, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), announced on 7 December that his party will appeal to the Russian Supreme Court "and raise the question of canceling the presidential decree setting the date for parliamentary elections for 19 December." He suggested that it would be more advisable to hold parliamentary and presidential elections simultaneously in June 2000. The Central Election Commission recently reinstated the LDPR on the election ballot for the 19 December State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1999). Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that the decision had been prompted by the need to prevent any possibility of overruling the results of parliamentary elections. JAC

...AS KREMLIN SUSPECTED OF SPONSORING BID

According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 December, Zhirinovskii declined to object to the inclusion of both of his parties on the ballot--despite the likely confusion this would cause voters. The newspaper offers three explanations. One, Zhirinovskii wanted a scandal right before the elections to gain some popularity. Two, he wants to someone to blame in case his party fails to surpass the 5 percent barrier, which is considered likely by some analysts. Or three, Zhirinovskii's gambit "is nothing but the Kremlin's 'insurance' against an undesirable result in the election." JAC

NEW POINT MAN FOR THE REGIONS APPOINTED

President Yeltsin on 7 December appointed Aleksandr Abramov as new deputy chief of staff. Abramov will be in charge of relations with regions, according to Interfax. Before his appointment, Abramov worked as deputy chairman of the board at Alfa Bank and before that at Menatep and Finist-Bank, according to ITAR-TASS. Oleg Sysuev, who held the same position in the administration, resigned last May. JAC

DATE OF YELTSIN'S VISIT TO JAPAN TENTATIVELY SCHEDULED

On the eve of Yeltsin's visit to China, which is to take place against the recommendations of his doctors, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rakhmanin announced that the president's planned visit to Japan has been provisionally scheduled for spring 2000, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 December. During meetings at deputy foreign minister level in Tokyo earlier this week, it was also decided that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will visit the Japanese capital on 25-26 January to prepare for the summit meeting. JC

RUSSIA TAKING SOFTER STANCE ON UN SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ?

Russia's decision to abstain from a UN Security Council vote on a resolution extending by one week Iraq's oil-for-food program is being interpreted in the West as a possible shift in Moscow's position on the Iraqi embargo. Reuters quoted an analyst from Nomura International as saying that by abstaining, rather than voting against a return of arms inspectors into Iraq, Moscow showed a "flexibility" that may improve relations with the resolution's authors. AP noted that at a press briefing in Moscow on 7 December, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rakhmanin stopped short of repeating Russia's demand for an immediate end to the embargo. It quoted him as saying that there is "still room for compromise--we can work on a monitoring regime and time frame for lifting the sanctions." JC

RUSSIA CALLS WTO TALKS A FAILURE

Foreign Ministry spokesman Rakhmanin told reporters on 7 December that the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle "yielded no results," but he expressed hope that in the absence of results the conference will "not prove a stumbling block on the way to the establishment of a balanced multi-party trade system." A Russian delegation headed by Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov attended the talks as observers. During the conference, Germany's Economics Minister Werner Mueller told ITAR-TASS on 2 December that Russia should be given a chance to play a more active role in the work of the new round of talks despite its observer status. JAC

MOSCOW TO REVISE POWER-SHARING TREATY WITH TATARSTAN?

The Russian government may attempt to punish Tatarstan for supporting the Fatherland-All Russia electoral alliance by seeking to amend the power-sharing treaty between the federal center and the Tatarstan Republic, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 December. That treaty, which was originally concluded in February 1994, was extended for five years in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1999). It does not require Tatarstan to harmonize its constitution with that of the Russian Federation and allows Tatarstan considerable tax breaks as well as the entire profits from the export of the 17 million tons of oil it extracts annually. The Russian government may seek to abolish this latter concession, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" predicted. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" is financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. LF

IVANOV TREATED TO 'FIDELIO' AT LA SCALA

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov and his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, attended the opening of La Scala's new season in Milan on 7 December at the invitation of Italy's chief diplomat, Lamberto Dini. On the program was Beethoven's "Fidelio," which relates how the young nobleman Florestan, with the help of his wife Leonora, overcomes the tyranny of the corrupt prison governor Pizarro to regain his freedom. Writing in the 6 December issue of "Corriere della Serra" the previous day, Dini stressed that "Fidelio is not just an opera about the love between two people but it is also about liberty denied, human rights violated and finally the triumph of man and his values." He explained that the decision to invite his Russian and German colleagues was prompted by the opera's significance as the "hymn of a united Europe." Prior to the performance, Ivanov had informed Dini and Fischer about the goals of Moscow's ongoing campaign in Chechnya, ITAR- TASS reported on 7 December. JC




ARMENIAN MINISTER AGAIN CALLS FOR PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION

Minister for Industrial Infrastructure Vahan Shirkhanian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 7 December that President Robert Kocharian should step down as he has failed to present a "comprehensive program" to bring the country out of the crisis into which it was plunged by the 27 October killings of Premier Vazgen Sargsian and other senior officials. Shirkhanian had earlier called for Kocharian's resignation in his 4 December address to a congress of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war. Kocharian had responded to that statement by accusing Shirkhanian of aspiring to the premiership and possibly also to the presidency. But on 7 December Shirkhanian told RFE/RL that "I could never think of myself as premier after Vazgen Sargsian. It's impossible." LF

KARABAKH PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON POLITICAL SITUATION

Arkadii Ghukasian told journalists in Stepanakert on 7 December that there is no political opposition in the unrecognized republic, Noyan Tapan reported. He conceded that former Defense Minister Samvel Babayan is still seeking to influence economic and defense policy, adding that Babayan should limit himself to his duties as commander of the Defense Army of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic rather than interfere in matters in which he has no expertise. Ghukasian also said that the Karabakh Armenian leadership will do its best to help defuse the "certain internal tension" that has arisen in Armenia following the 27 October parliament shootings, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT INAUGURATED

Vladislav Ardzinba was sworn in on 6 December for his second term as president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. He was re-elected in a 3 October poll whose validity the international community rejects. Ardzinba pledged to do everything in his power to restore peace and prosperity and to guarantee the human rights and civil liberties of the unrecognized republic's multi-ethnic population. Abkhaz parliamentary speaker Sokrat Djindjolia told the daily "Respublika Abkhaziya" that Ardzinba's main objective during the next five years is to achieve international recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state, according to Caucasus Press on 8 December. LF

GEORGIA WANTS PIPELINE AGREEMENT AMENDED

Less than three weeks after the signing in Istanbul of legal agreements on the operation of the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, Georgian International Oil Company President Giorgi Chanturia told journalists in Tbilisi on 7 December that Georgia wants those agreements revised, Caucasus Press reported. Chanturia said that Georgia wants changes introduced in the sections of those agreements dealing with the ecological safety of the pipeline and the distribution of responsibility for its operation between the companies using the pipeline and the states across whose territory it runs. He said Georgia specifically considers "unacceptable" an article under which Georgia would bear sole financial responsibility for ecological damage caused by a rupture of the pipeline on its territory. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S ECONOMY MINISTER PREDICTS STEADY GROWTH...

Zhaqsybek Kulekeev told journalists in Almaty on 7 December that Kazakhstan's GDP is set to grow by 5 percent in 1999, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. He said that figure would have been higher but for the repercussions of last year's Russian financial crisis. He predicted that the Kazakh economy will grow steadily over the next few years, according to Interfax. LF

...RULES OUT SALE OF TENGIZCHEVROIL STAKE

Kulekeev also told journalists on 7 December that Astana has decided not to sell its stake in the Tengizchevroil consortium in the near future, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. The proposal to do so, which was made last summer, gave rise to heated disagreements within the Kazakh leadership and resulted in the firing of Kazakhoil President Nurlan Qapparov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August and 3 September 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S NATIONAL BANK CHAIRMAN GREETS FINANCIAL STABILIZATION

Grigorii Marchenko told journalists in Almaty on 7 December that the situation on the financial market finally stabilized in November, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. Marchenko said that the tenge has now stabilized at a rate of 137.9 to $1, compared with 142.2 in early November. Kazakhstan's gold and hard-currency reserves rose by 6.5 percent in November, Interfax reported on 6 December. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES UNVEIL PROGRAMS

Incumbent President Islam Karimov and People's Democratic Party chairman Abdulkhafiz Djalalov have published their respective programs for the 9 January presidential poll, Interfax reported on 7 December. Karimov's program prioritizes political and economic development and provides for raising the minimum salary by 250 percent and the average wage by 80-100 percent over the next five years. He also pledges to provide natural gas to 82 percent and drinking water to 85 percent of the population by 2005. Djalalov similarly focuses on promoting economic liberalization. He calls for stronger public control over state authority and greater media freedom. In foreign and security policy, he advocates broadening mutually advantageous cooperation, above all with other Central Asian states. LF




BELARUSIAN ORGANIZATIONS ORDERED TO AMEND NAMES

An amendment to Belarus's law on public associations, which went into force on 7 December, prohibits Belarusian political and social organizations from using the words "Belarus," "Republic of Belarus," "national," and "popular" in their names. The Justice Ministry told Belapan the same day that the organizations that have banned words in their names should "bring their names into line with the new legislation" within a month. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC TO SELL WHEAT TO BELARUS ON CREDIT

The Czech Export Bank will provide a credit of $60 million to Belarus's Belvneshekonombank for the purchase of 140 trainloads of Czech wheat, "Lidove noviny" reported on 8 December. The repayment of that credit is guaranteed by the Belarusian government. Czech Agricultural Minister Jan Fencl said the deal is "very advantageous" for his country. "Lidove noviny" quoted Belarusian oppositionists as saying that the deal will help Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka quell imminent protests by Belarusians faced with mounting poverty and will reinforce his regime. Belarusian independent media formerly reported that because of this year's poor harvest, Minsk is also seeking to purchase grain from Poland. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WOOS FRENCH INVESTORS...

Leonid Kuchma met with French investors in Paris on 7 December to brief them on the program of reforms he intends to implement in Ukraine during his second term in office, Interfax reported. Kuchma said priority will be given to reforming the budget and tax systems as well as the agricultural sector. He also pledged to create favorable conditions for the development and protection of small and medium-sized business. Answering a question about the repayment of Ukraine's foreign debt, Kuchma said there is "only one way out--to find mutual understanding with creditors." Ukraine, which has to repay more than $3 billion in 2000, hopes to restructure a part of this sum. JM

...WARNS RUSSIA OF 'GREAT LOSSES' IN UNION WITH BELARUS

In an interview with the 7 December "Le Monde," Kuchma said Ukraine is not going to join the Belarus-Russia Union. "We are not playing that game," he added. While noting that both Belarusians and Russians have the "sovereign right to unite," he said that Russia "will suffer great losses from this union." JM

UKRAINIAN CURRENCY CONTINUES TO FALL

Interfax reported on 7 December that on the interbank exchange the hryvnya continued its fall, reaching 5.27-5.32 to $1, before slightly improving. The National Bank's exchange rate on 7 December was 4.86 hryvni to $1. JM

FUEL COMPANIES IN ESTONIA CHEATING CONSUMERS?

The Estonian Consumer Protection Department on 7 December charged four major gasoline retailers--Shell, Neste, Statoil, and LUKoil--with deceptive labeling, "Postimees" and "Eesti Paevaleht" reported. According to Helle Aruniit, the head of the department, the companies were selling standard high-quality "95" gasoline as "95E," which contains a significantly lower sulfur (as well as lead and benzene) content. Epp Kiviaed, head of Statoil in Estonia, said that Statoil follows EU standards on fuel, adding that the EU standard "95E" allows for 10 times more sulfur than in Estonia and that EU fuel regulations in this respect will reach Estonian standards only in 2005. The retailers could be fined up to 10,000 kroons ($660) each for the mislabeling. MH

LATVIA LIVID OVER LITHUANIAN OIL SPILL

Latvian officials reacted quickly to the oil spill by Lithuania's Butinge Oil Platform on the evening of 6 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). Latvian Environmental Minister Vents Balodis said on 7 December that Latvia will demand compensation from Lithuania for any damage resulting from the spill of 3 tons of crude oil at Butinge, which is 7 miles from the Latvian border. An official from Mazeikiai Oil, which owns Butinge, said that the wind speed at the time was under the maximum threshold for operations, but Lithuania's Civil Defense Department officials said the wind gusted beyond the allowed limits for reloading. High waves in the Baltic Sea are also hampering efforts to clean up the spill. Environmentalists are planning to ask the EU to shut down Butinge, BNS added. MH

LATVIAN MASS MURDERER GETS LIFE

The Vidzeme Regional Court sentenced 21-year-old Aleksandr Koryakov to life in prison for killing three nursery school girls and their teacher in the eastern town of Gulbene on 22 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1999), LETA reported. He said at the trial that he wished he had killed more people in his quest to become famous and that "he does not regret his deed for one single minute." Prosecutor Rita Medne regretted that she could not ask for the death penalty. Latvia abolished capital punishment earlier this year. MH

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES TO SACRIFICE WAGE FOR BUDGET?

Parliamentary deputies from the Conservative Party and the Christian Democratic Party, as well as several independent members, announced on 7 December that they will forego their wages for the week between Christmas and New Year, ELTA reported. Parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis, who spearheaded the idea, called on all deputies to do likewise. The government had earlier asked civil servants to take that week off without pay, in order to help resolve the budget crisis. Opposition parliamentary deputies scoffed at the idea, with members of the Social Democrats opting to donate the money to charity instead of the state coffers. Also on 7 December, the parliament voted to assume as part of the state's domestic debt 200 million litas ($50 million) of the amount owed by the Social Insurance Fund (SoDra). SoDra currently has debts estimated at 420 million litas. MH

POLISH COURT ACQUITS HISTORIAN ACCUSED OF 'AUSCHWITZ LIE'

The Opole district court on 7 December acquitted historian Dariusz Ratajczak of charges of disseminating the so-called "Auschwitz lie" in a book published earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1999), PAP reported. In his book, Ratajczak had presented the opinions of historians who deny that Zyklon B gas was used to kill Jews in Nazi death camps. He argued that he does not consider himself guilty, noting that he had merely summarized the opinions of "history revisionists." The court said Ratajczak did not commit a crime because the "social threat" posed by his book, published in only 230 copies, was of a "low degree." The court added that in the book's second edition and in public appearances, Ratajczak criticized the views of the "history revisionists." JM

PRIVATE RADIOS PROTEST HIGH ROYALTIES FOR POLISH MUSIC

More than 100 commercial radio stations in Poland have stopped broadcasting Polish music for three days to protest what they consider excessively high royalties paid to Polish composers, performers, and producers, Polish Television reported on 7 December. Polish private broadcasters have negotiated an agreement on royalties with three organizations protecting the interests of the music market but failed to do so with the fourth, the Union of Actors and Theatrical Composers (ZAiKS). According to the current law, between 2 percent and 7 percent of each radio station's income must be paid to ZAiKS every month. JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE PASSES AMENDED PRESS BILL

The Czech Chamber of Deputies on 7 December voted by an overwhelming majority to pass a heavily amended version of the press bill, Czech media reported. The new version of the bill no longer contains a passage imposing large fines or the suspension of publication on newspapers or magazines that foment violence or spread racial hatred. Deputies noted that Czech Criminal Code already bans the spread of racial hatred and that such a provision in a press law could be abused to shut down any publication. The new version of the bill also limits the right of response to incorrect information published newspapers or magazines. The earlier version had guaranteed that right for both incorrect and correct facts. The new version also allows publications to comment on responses from readers in the same issue in which those responses appear. VG

CZECH REPUBLIC COMPLETES ANOTHER STEP IN EU TALKS

The Czech Republic has completed preliminary negotiations with the EU on the free movement of commodities, CTK reported on 7 December. This means that the country has now completed preliminary talks on 10 chapters in the EU accession process. One EU diplomat told the agency that the completion of the free movement chapter was a big step forward for the country. In other news, Czech Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus on 7 December said his party will not support the current government's draft budget, Czech media reported. The "coalition of four" opposition parties has already announced that they will not support the budget. This means that the minority Social Democratic government will not have enough votes in the parliament to pass the budget, even if the Communists support it. VG

CZECH SUPREME COURT RULES ON COMMUNIST JUDGE CASE

The Supreme Court on 7 December ruled that a case against communist-era Judge Pavel Vitek should be re- opened by state attorneys, Czech media reported. Vitek was one of the judges in a show trial against seven people who were falsely accused of participating in the murder of Communist Party functionaries in the town of Babice in 1951 and were sentenced to death. Earlier, a district court ruled that it could not convict Vitek for abuse of public power because of the statute of limitations. However, the Supreme Court said that Vitek can still be tried for aiding and abetting murder. In other news, a Czech court in Krnov acquitted three youths of involvement in a fire bomb attack on a local Romany family owing to a lack of evidence. VG

SLOVAKIA TO SEND 'MISSIONARIES' AMONG ROMA

Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky on 7 December said his government plans to send "civil missionaries" to live among the country's Roma, CTK reported. Csaky said the "missionaries" will be "well-paid people who will live with Roma in Romany villages." He said the program will be partly funded by the EU PHARE program and has received positive reactions from experts on Romany issues. In other news, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 7 December said Slovakia will be prepared to open negotiations with the EU on some 15 areas if it is invited to begin accession talks at the upcoming Helsinki summit. VG

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER CARRIES OUT FIRST CABINET CHANGES

Viktor Orban on 7 December confirmed that Gyorgy Matolcsy and Zoltan Rockenbauer will be the new economics and culture ministers, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). He told reporters that he was satisfied with the work of the outgoing ministers but added that "other types of people will be needed to implement more practical programs." According to "Magyar Hirlap," several ministers complained at the cabinet meeting that the reshuffle does not affect ministries led by members of the junior coalition partner Independent Smallholders' Party. Opposition leaders said Orban should have dismissed several ministers who have lost their credibility. MSZ

FIDESZ TO SEPARATE POSTS OF PRIME MINISTER AND PARTY CHAIRMAN

The steering board of the major coalition partner, the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party, on 7 December proposed the separation of the functions of party chairman and prime minister, saying that occupying both posts "has proven to be a great load for Viktor Orban." The statement said "someone else is needed who will spend all his energy on organizing the party and preparing for the 2002 elections." Orban has accepted the board's proposal, but the issue has to be dealt with by the party's parliamentary group and the national board. MSZ




EU OIL CLEARS SERBIAN CUSTOMS

All 14 trucks carrying EU fuel oil for Nis and Pirot left the customs area at Nis airport for the two cities' respective power plants on 7 December, the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported. Nis Mayor Zoran Zivkovic said he is happy that the "citizens of Nis and Pirot have received aid from the EU." An EU spokesman said in Belgrade that Brussels is already planning additional deliveries of heating oil to unspecified municipalities controlled by the opposition. PM

DRASKOVIC SUES SERBIAN STATE SECURITY

Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has filed charges in a Belgrade court against the state security forces, Reuters reported on 7 December. A spokesman for the SPO said that the party is convinced that the security services are the owner of the truck that Draskovic believes tried to kill him on 3 October (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 October 1999). Elsewhere, unnamed members of the SPO formed the Serbian Defense Movement (which also has the acronym SPO) to "fight state terrorism," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

TRAJKOVIC: ONLY DEMOCRACY CAN HELP SERBS IN KOSOVA

Momcilo Trajkovic, who is one of the two principal leaders of the Kosova Serbs, said that only the democratization of Serbia can lead to a significant improvement in the situation of Serbian minority in the troubled province, Montenegrin Television reported on 8 December. He took issue with the Belgrade regime's view that KFOR shares responsibility for the ongoing violence against Serbs. Trajkovic said that those responsible are the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and "the Albanian separatists." PM

SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH APPEALS FOR SUPPORT

The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church has issued a statement calling on other Orthodox Churches and on international cultural bodies such as UNESCO for support in helping preserve the Serbian cultural heritage in Kosova, "Vesti" reported on 8 December. The statement noted that some 80 monasteries and churches have been "destroyed" in recent months, including some buildings dating back to the 14th century. The Synod appealed for an "end to crimes aimed at wiping out everything that is Serbian" in the province. Observers note that Serbian forces during the 1991-1995 Croatian and Bosnian wars systematically sought to destroy Roman Catholic and especially Muslim religious buildings in areas under their control, including two Ottoman mosques in Banja Luka that were registered with UNESCO. PM

MONTENEGRIN MINISTER INDICTED

An Italian court has indicted Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Perovic for having links to the Sicilian mafia, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 8 December. Perovic allegedly developed connections to the mafia to smuggle cigarettes and other goods into Montenegro during the 1991-1995 Croatian and Bosnian wars. It is an open secret in Montenegro that both the current leadership and the opposition include many persons who made fortunes in smuggling during that time. It is unclear why the court singled out Perovic. PM

TUDJMAN'S CONDITION DETERIORATES

An unnamed official of the governing Croatian Democratic Community told Reuters in Zagreb on 8 December that President Franjo Tudjman's condition is "the gravest it has been so far." In a statement, Tudjman's doctors described his condition as "very critical," adding that he requires "most intensive care." Tudjman has been in the hospital since 1 November and is widely believed to be in the final stages of cancer. PM

ARE SECRET SERVICES BUGGING CROATIA'S ACTING PRESIDENT?

Parliamentary speaker Vlatko Pavletic, who is also carrying out Tudjman's duties because the president is incapacitated, said he wants a written statement from Interior Minister Ivan Penic as to whether the security services have bugged his offices, "Jutarnji list" reported on 8 December. The weekly "Nacional" recently claimed that the security services listen to Pavletic's conversations. He is taking the charges very seriously, the Zagreb daily noted. There have been several scandals regarding the misuse of the intelligence services for political purposes since Croatia became independent in 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). PM

PETRITSCH NAMES BOSNIAN TV BOARD

The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch appointed 21 persons to four-year terms on the new Administrative Council, which will supervise the work of public television in the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation. He also appointed Tadej Labernik, who is a Slovene, to a key administrative post in public television, "Dnevni avaz" reported on 8 December. PM

WORLD BANK TO FUND ALBANIAN ROAD CONSTRUCTION

Unnamed officials of the World Bank said in Washington on 7 December that the bank has approved a 40-year, $13.65 million credit for roads linking Durres with Kosova and Berat with Corovode. Both roads were damaged by NATO vehicles and refugee convoys during the Atlantic alliance's Balkan campaign earlier in 1999. Most roads in Albania are far below European standards. PM

THOUSANDS OF WEAPONS HELD ILLEGALLY IN ALBANIA

Neritan Ceka, who heads the parliament's Committee on Public Order, said in Tirana on 8 December that in its campaign to buy illegally-owned weapons, the government has succeeded in acquiring only about 70,000 out of 600,000 such weapons. Many of the illegal weapons taken from government arsenals during the 1997 anarchy found their way to Kosova during the recent crisis, but many others remain in Albania, dpa reported. The UN has offered local communities aid for schools and roads in return for handing in illegal weapons. For centuries, gun ownership has been an integral part of the macho culture that prevails in much of the Western Balkans. PM

ROMANIAN INTELLECTUALS CALL ON PEOPLE TO SUPPORT CONSTANTINESCU

Hundreds of leading Romanian intellectuals and artists have signed a declaration calling on the public to support President Emil Constantinescu. The declaration was published as a one-page spread in several Romanian daily newspapers on 8 December. It praises Constantinescu's efforts to bring the country closer to European structures, saying he has managed to turn the country into an "active partner for the Western world." The appeal was signed by leading writers, academics, writers, and actors in the country. In other news, the Romanian railway strike continued into its third day on 8 December, blocking more than 60 percent of railway traffic in the country. VG

ROMANIAN, ALBANIAN PRESIDENTS MEET

Constantinescu and his visiting Albanian counterpart, Rexhap Meidani, decided to reactivate a joint economic council to promote bilateral trade, Rompres reported on 7 December. Meidani said he appreciates Romania's role in cooperating with NATO on the Kosova crisis. VG

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS PROPOSED GOVERNMENT...

Lawmakers on 7 December failed to give a necessary vote of confidence to Prime Minister-designate and Communist leader Vladimir Voronin's cabinet, BASA-Press reported. Voronin's cabinet received the support of only 48 out of 101 deputies, four short of the required number. President Petru Lucinschi said after the vote that he will resume his search for a new prime minister-designate. If the parliament does not approve a new government by 27 December, the president can dissolve the legislature and call new elections. VG

...WHILE VORONIN PLEDGES TO CONTINUE TALKS

Voronin said his party will resume negotiations with Lucinschi on forming a new cabinet. He said the Communists are not afraid of early elections, but he added that such a ballot would be a "catastrophe for the Moldovan economy." Christian Democratic Popular Front leader Iurie Rosca said only an "outstanding and surprising candidate with all the qualities of a competent and honest person" would be able to secure the support of the parliament. VG

BULGARIAN MINISTER ASKS GREECE TO HELP HIJACKED CREW

Bulgarian Transport Minister Wilhelm Kraus has asked his country's Foreign Ministry to request that the Greek government help ensure the safety of the Bulgarian crew of a cargo ship that appears to have been hijacked in the Aegean Sea, BTA reported on 7 December. Bulgaria says the crew of the ship, which set sail from Burgas on 29 November, has been taken hostage by a group of about 250 illegal migrants. Earlier, a report by Greece's ANA Agency claimed that the migrants paid large sums of money to get on the boat while it was in a Turkish port. VG

BULGARIAN PREMIER MEETS SOCIALIST OPPOSITION LEADERS

Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 7 December said that he and Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Georgi Purvanov held a "successful" meeting on the country's strategy for obtaining membership in the EU, BTA reported. Kostov noted that the country's EU accession negotiations will require a political consensus on achieving legislative changes as well as amendments to the Bulgarian Constitution before the next elections. VG

BULGARIA, TURKEY SIGN SECURITY COOPERATION PROTOCOL

Turkish Interior Minister Sadettin Tantan and his visiting Bulgarian counterpart, Bogomil Bonev, on 7 December signed a cooperation protocol on various security issues, BTA reported. The protocol includes pledges to cooperate in fighting terrorism, drug trafficking, and the robberies of tourists passing through either country. VG




OSCE RELEASES REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN KOSOVA


By Roland Eggleston

Hundreds of atrocities, against both ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs, have been recorded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The group released details of the human rights abuses earlier this week in two volumes titled "Kosovo--As Seen, As Told."

In 760 pages, the report describes individual and mass killings, the rape of women and girls, the killing of children, and the looting and burning of homes and shops. Unlike many such reports, which give a general overview of a situation, this one is very specific: scores of towns and villages are named along with details of incidents that took place there.

However, none of the victims or perpetrators is identified by name. The OSCE says it does not wish to expose the victims to retaliation for having spoken out, while it wants to protect the privacy of rape victims. The names of the alleged perpetrators were not revealed for legal reasons, but they have been passed on to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

The reports are almost all from victims or eyewitnesses. The sheer number of allegations made it impossible for the OSCE to investigate each one thoroughly, but the group did try to obtain supporting evidence from other sources, including medical authorities.

An OSCE human rights officer, Ian Gorvin, says the organization tried to be balanced in its reporting. "There is data concerning violation of the rights of Kosovo Albanians by Serb and Yugoslav forces, but equally there is data about violations of the rights of Serbs and also of Albanians by the Kosovo Liberation Army," he said.

Volume One of the OSCE report details human rights violations in Kosova between December 1998 and March 1999, when the NATO bombing began. It also contains many reports of crimes said to have been carried out by Serbian military and paramilitary forces during the 78-day NATO bombing campaign, which ended in June. The convoys carrying ethnic Albanians to Macedonia and Albania were often raided by Serbian forces, who survivors said committed murder and rape and looted the refugees' few possessions.

Volume One also contains a breakdown of events in each of Kosova's 29 municipalities, mostly during the bombing campaign. The report gives eyewitness accounts of Serbian activity in nearly 300 towns, villages, and communities. One recurring theme is the pressure applied to many ethnic Albanians to pay large sums of money in German marks to secure their own release or the release of a son. In several cases, the individual was killed even after ransom money was paid.

Volume Two deals with the period after NATO troops moved into Kosova following the bombing campaign. Much of it deals with the revenge taken by ethnic Albanians on Serbs and Roma as well as the political role of the now-disbanded Kosova Liberation Army (UCK).

The OSCE says it documented 750 cases of human rights violations in the period from 14 June to 31 October, and investigations are continuing into hundreds more. The report says the hatred of the ethnic Albanians and their desire for revenge created the climate in which the vast majority of human rights violations are taking place. One human rights investigator said the province is completely polarized: "The bitterness in the ethnic Albanian population about their past treatment has led to a situation where the entire remaining Kosovo Serb population is now seen as a target for Kosovo Albanians."

The report contains pages of descriptions of the abduction of Serbian men and boys, the burning of property, and discrimination against ethnic Serbs, including the elderly and children. The story is told in the separate reports on the situation in each of the five KFOR zones of Kosova.

Volume Two also examines the emergence of rival political factions in Kosova--particularly the now-disbanded Kosova Liberation Army--and the tensions this has provoked in the ethnic Albanian community.

"The rights of Kosovo Albanians to freedom of association, expression, thought, and religion have all been challenged by other Kosovo Albanians," the report notes. It also comments on the political ambitions of the UCK, which has imposed itself as a provisional government in many communities, noting that in many cases those who repress the Serbian population claim to be members of the UCK or associated with it. The report acknowledges that the highest levels of the former UCK leadership have publicly stated that their members have no links to violent disturbances. The UCK leadership says criminal elements who were never part of the UCK are now exploiting the UCK umbrella for their own purposes.

The two volumes that make up this massive report on human rights violations will be sent to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to assist in the prosecution of those responsible for atrocities. The OSCE will provide the court with its list of those believed to be responsible for murders, rapes, beatings, and abductions.

The former chief of the international court, Justice Louise Arbour, sums up the OSCE's hopes for the report in its foreword. Describing the report as a reliable data base, she says it will assist those trying to establish peace and justice in Kosova. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Munich.


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