Accessibility links

Newsline - December 14, 1999




MOSCOW AIMS TO TAKE GROZNY WITHIN 10 DAYS

Nikolai Koshman, Moscow's envoy to Chechnya, said on 13 December that Russian forces will capture the Chechen capital in a week to 10 days "at most," Interfax reported. But Defense Minister Igor Sergeev repeated his suggestion that federal forces will not have to storm the city: "The problem of Grozny," he said, "will be solved by the local population." According to Russian agencies, there are approximately 2,000 Chechen militants in Grozny, along with 10,000 civilians. Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to expand the area under their control, demanding the surrender of the town of Shali, seizing an airport and a suburb near Grozny, and enlarging what Russian forces called their "safety zone" in the republic, Russian agencies reported. One Russian plane and two helicopters were shot down or crashed, the agencies reported, adding that no Russian servicemen have been killed to date in Grozny itself. Some Chechen villages are attempting to negotiate their surrender to Russian forces in order to avoid destruction, Western agencies reported. PG

PUTIN SAYS DUMA AMNESTY WILL SAVE LIVES

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that an amnesty for most Chechens passed by the State Duma by a vote of 332 to four will save both Russian and Chechen lives, Interfax reported on 13 December. He said that ever more people in Chechnya are turning away from the "bandits" and showing a readiness to "cooperate constructively with the federal authorities." PG

RUSSIAN MILITARY TO REMAIN IN CHECHNYA PERMANENTLY

Russian Defense Minister Sergeev announced on 13 December that federal forces will remain in Chechnya on a permanent basis, ITAR-TASS said. To that end, Sergeev said, President Boris Yeltsin "has issued a decree on deploying an all-arms unit in the Chechen territory within the framework of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty." PG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE MAY SUSPEND RUSSIA OVER CHECHNYA

The bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said on 13 December that the continuation of violence in Chechnya may force it to suspend Russia's participation not only in the assembly but in the Council of Europe as a whole. "As a member of the Council of Europe, Russia is obliged to respect the European Convention on Human Rights," many provisions of which are "being violated through indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force affecting large numbers of the civilian population," a PACE statement said. PG

OSCE CHIEF CALLS FOR CEASE-FIRE, INTERNATIONAL ROLE

Knut Vollebaek, who is chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as well as Norwegian foreign minister, appealed to Moscow on 13 December to declare a cease-fire around Grozny to allow civilians to leave the city and to give the international community a larger role in resolving the conflict. "We stick by our view that Russia's military action far exceeds its goals of rooting out 'terrorists'...but the top priority now is to save civilian lives," Vollebaek said in Baku. PG

MOSCOW LASHES OUT AT FINLAND...

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 13 December summoned the Finnish ambassador to hear a protest about Finnish government officials' decision to receive a Chechen emissary on 11 December, Interfax reported. The ministry's information and press department said "he was told that this act is regarded by Russia as an attempt to interfere in its internal affairs and [as] effective collusion with separatists and terrorists...He was also told that Russia expects an explanation from Finland and wants it to prevent such "hostile acts toward Russia." PG

...AND AT NATO COMMANDER

The ministry also sharply criticized General Wesley Clarke, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, for his suggestions that Russian forces are "indiscriminately" killing civilians in Chechnya, Interfax reported. The ministry release added that "what is surprising is that it is Clarke, one of the chief perpetrators of NATO aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who is making anti-Russian statements at this time." PG

ONLY ONE THING CERTAIN: COMMUNISTS IN THE LEAD...

Based on a survey taken at the end of November among 3,000 respondents in more than 2000 Russian cities, the Agency for Regional Political Studies concluded that the Communist Party has 22 percent backing among voters, the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance 15.9 percent, Unity 13.9 percent, Yabloko 13.8 percent, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) 8.2 percent, Zhirinovskii's Bloc 6.1 percent, and Women of Russia 4.9 percent. Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Institute for the Problems of Globalization, offered a similar prognosis for the results of the 19 December State Duma elections in "Segodnya" on 4 December. He forecast the Communists taking 23-35 percent of the vote, OVR at least 15 percent, Yabloko 8-12 percent, Unity about 10 percent, the Liberal Democratic Party 7 percent, and the SPS squeaking by the 5 percent barrier. JAC

...AS OVR, UNITY BATTLE FOR SECOND?

However, in surveys carried out around the same time, the Public Opinion Foundation put Unity in second place, with 14 percent backing and OVR with only 10 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1999). While media close to OVR, such as "Segodnya," questioned the accuracy of the Public Opinion Foundation poll, Komkon-Vektor's Petr Zalesskii told the "RFE/RL Russian Election Report" on 9 December that he doubts whether any major Russian polling firm actually falsifies its results. Nevertheless, there is reason to doubt them, according to Zalesskii because firms conducting polls across the country may give interviewers only two days to collect data from 10 to 20 local respondents. Under such conditions, it is nearly impossible to adhere to random sampling methods, Zalesskii said (see http://www.rferl.org/elections/russia99report). JAC

ANNIVERSARY BRINGING CATHOLIC, ORTHODOX CHURCHES CLOSER?

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II met with the Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano on 13 December to discuss cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and Catholics worldwide on the upcoming celebration of Christianity's 2000th anniversary. The meeting was a significant event in the history of the two Churches since before this time Aleksii II has refused any personal contacts with top Vatican officials, according to "Vremya MN" the next day. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Sodano and Aleksii II also discussed a possible meeting between the patriarch and Pope John Paul II in Palestine. Aleksii will leave for Jerusalem on 2 January. Sodano also met with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. According to "Vremya MN," Sodano discussed the situation in Chechnya with Ivanov. JAC

U.S., RUSSIA REACH PRELIMINARY STEEL AGREEMENT

The U.S. Commerce Department announced on 13 December that Russia and the U.S. have reached a preliminary agreement on Russian steel exports to the U.S. According to Reuters, Moscow agreed to cap shipments of cold-rolled, flat- rolled, and carbon-quality steel, while the U.S. agreed to halt its anti-dumping investigations launched in June. Last July, the two countries reached a similar agreement capping Russian exports of hot-rolled steel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999). JAC

RUSSIA TEST-FIRES TOPOL MISSILE

In the presence of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces Vladimir Yakovlev, a Topol-M missile was launched from the Plesetsk test site, in Arkhangelsk Oblast, on 14 December, successfully hitting its target on the Kamchatka peninsula, Interfax reported. The news agency quoted military officials as saying this was the ninth test of the ballistic missile. Last week, a second contingent of Topol-M missiles went into service at Tatishchevo in Saratov Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1999). JC

SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS MOSCOW GOVERNOR'S RE- ELECTION BID...

The Supreme Court refused to satisfy an appeal challenging the right of Moscow Oblast Governor Anatolii Tyazhlov to seek another term in office on 13 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day, citing RIA Novosti. According to the appeal, Tyazhlov already has served two terms in office and is ineligible for a third. However, the court found that Tyazhlov was appointed rather than elected to his first term. Gubernatorial elections for the oblast will take place on 19 December. Tyazhlov, a member of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland, will compete against State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, a Communist, and Colonel General Boris Gromov, who is also a Duma deputy. JAC

...AS MOSCOW MAYOR LAMENTS PASSING OF DEMOCRACY IN RUSSIA

The Prosecutor-General's Office refused on 10 December to check the list of signatures gathered to support Luzhkov's candidacy in the Moscow mayoral elections, which will also take place on 19 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 December. Another candidate, Aleksei Mitrofanov, a State Duma deputy and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, had complained to the office that up to 70 percent of the signatures had been forged. Moscow's election commission had previously okayed the list. On 11 December, Luzhkov complained to journalists that personnel in the "top power echelons and presidential administration resorted to unprecedented interference in the election campaign." He continued, "democracy and freedom of expression were our only accomplishments in the decade of so-called reforms. Unfortunately, we have lost them, too." "Expert" concluded in its issue No. 46 that Luzhkov's advisors' insistence on a policy of confrontation with the Kremlin is a key mistake. JAC

EUROBOND HOLDERS GRANT NIZHNII NOVGOROD REPRIEVE

Governor Ivan Sklyarov told ITAR-TASS on 12 December that a meeting of creditors in London two days earlier agreed to extend from 2002 to 2005 the period in which Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast can pay its Eurobond. Nizhnii Novgorod's $100 million Eurobond was issued in 1997. Several months ago, the oblast had sought a postponement of a $4.375 million interest payment due in October. When it failed to meet that deadline, having been unsuccessful in its bid to persuade bond-holders to agree to a debt restructuring scheme, it technically defaulted on the payment (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 December 1999). JC




EAST-WEST TENSIONS MAY FORCE ARMENIA TO CHOOSE SIDES

At a press conference in Yerevan on 13 December, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that rising tensions between Russia and the West might force his country to choose sides, which he said it has tried not to do until now, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He added that if Yerevan were forced to take one or the other's side, that might further slow progress toward a resolution of Armenia's dispute with Azerbaijan over the status of Nagorno- Karabakh. PG

OBSERVERS, OPPOSITION CHARGE IRREGULARITIES IN AZERBAIJANI VOTE

Observers from the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and opposition political parties pointed to widespread irregularities in the 12 December municipal elections in Azerbaijan. Turan reported the next day that the congress found widespread ballot stuffing as well as other irregularities. Officials of the Musavat, Democratic, and Social Democratic party said that not enough voters took part to make the elections valid. A monitor from the Czech Republic reached the same conclusion. And leaders of the Popular Front said there was a "total falsification" of results after the polls closed. PG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT GREETS U.S. SUPPORT ON CHECHEN STANCE...

In his weekly radio address on 13 December, Eduard Shevardnadze said he views Washington's public support for his decision to prevent Chechen fighters from entering Georgia as reflecting "the wish of the U.S. to protect Georgia from any complications in connection with the events in Chechnya." He added that by its rapid response to his statement, the US State Department sent a clear message that "the international community, including the U.S., will not allow any violation of the sovereignty of Georgia." PG

...WARNS OF 'CATASTROPHE' IF RUSSIAN GAS CUT OFF

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told a press conference in Tbilisi on 13 December that it would be a "catastrophe" if a Russian company cuts off gas supplies to Georgia, the Prime News Agency reported. The Georgian leader said that his new fuel and energy minister has invited Russian officials to Tbilisi for talks to resolve the issue of Georgian debts, which have prompted the Russian side to reduce gas supplies to the Caucasian republic. Meanwhile, a report on the Georgian television station Rustavi-2 suggested on 12 December that Georgian officials orchestrated the crisis in order to gain control of key industries in Georgia. PG

KAZAKHSTAN CHARGES OPPOSITION WITH STOCKPILING ARMS

Speaking on Kazakhstan Television on 13 December, Internal Affairs Minister Kairbek Suleymanov said that his officers have seized "several barrels of arms...that belong to the supporters of former Prime Minister Akezhan Magzhanovich Kazhegeldin." The minister confirmed the arrest of three of the former premier's bodyguards, who he said have confessed to criminal charges, Interfax reported. The news agency quoted opposition spokesman as saying the charges were a "provocation" designed to discredit Kazhegeldin in the eyes of the population of Kazakhstan. PG

NO ISLAMIC MILITANTS IN KAZAKHSTAN, DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS

Sat Tokpakbayev told journalists in Astana on 13 December that he has no information about the alleged presence of bandit formations and Wahhabis in Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. If representatives of the country's special services have reported the existence of such groups, Tokpakbayev said, then it "seems that they have more detailed information" than he does. In other comments, ITAR- TASS reported on 13 December, the defense minister said Russia will deliver several S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Kazakhstan later this month. PG

KAZAKHSTAN PLEDGES TO MEET FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS

According to Interfax on 13 December, Deputy Prime Minister Yerzhan Utembayev has told reporters that Astana will meet its $200 million Eurobond obligations by the end of the month. The government will raise money from improved tax collections, the sale of state-owned assets, and borrowing from local companies. Meanwhile, a U.S. businessman is seeking to embarrass President Nursultan Nazarbayev during his visit to the U.S. this week by seeking to force hotels and other vendors to hand over money the businessman says Kazakhstan owes him over a disputed oil deal, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 December. PG

TURKEY TO SUPPORT KYRGYSTAN'S MILITARY

Turkish State Minister Abdulhaluk Cay said in Bishkek on 13 December that Ankara will provide logical and military- technical assistance to more than 3,000 Kyrgyz soldiers in the coming years, ITAR-TASS reported. Cay said that Ankara was prepared to reschedule Kyrgyzstan's $2.5 million debt to Turkey's Eximbank. PG




BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE RATIFIES BELARUS-RUSSIA TREATY

The Chamber of Representatives, the 110-seat lower house hand-picked by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka following the controversial constitutional referendum in 1996, ratified on 14 December the Belarusian- Russian treaty on the creation of a union state. The accord, signed by the Russian and Belarusian presidents on 8 December in the Kremlin, was backed by 101 legislators and opposed by one, ITAR-TASS reported. JM

MISSING BELARUSIAN FORMER CHIEF BANKER REAPPEARS

Former National Bank Chairwoman Tamara Vinnikava, who disappeared while under house arrest in Minsk in April, telephoned with a "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" editor on 10 December to say that she is now safe abroad. In an interview published in the 13 December issue of the newspaper, Vinnikava said "I was to die, and only chance and the will of the Almighty helped me avoid the fate prepared for me by the authorities." She added that she knows what happened to several prominent oppositionists who disappeared in recent months, but she refused to provide details. Vinnikava was arrested in January 1997 on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement. She spent 10 months in a KGB prison and was subsequently placed under house arrest. No formal charges have been brought against her. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST BEATEN IN PRISON

Andrey Klimau, a deputy of the opposition Supreme Soviet, was badly beaten in prison on 13 December after he had refused to go to court, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Klimau was brought to the court in torn clothes and without shoes, where doctors found many injuries on his stomach and head and urged that he be immediately taken to hospital. The judge, however, ordered that he be taken back to prison. Klimau was arrested in January 1998 and is now on trial on charges of grand larceny. JM

UKRAINE SHRUGS OFF RUSSIAN ENERGY THREATS

First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh on 13 December said neither the Russian Federation nor Gazprom has taken any measures against Ukraine in connection with the accusations that Ukraine siphons off Russian gas from transit pipelines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999), Interfax reported. Responding to Russian Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi's recent statement that Russia halted oil and electricity supplies to Ukraine, Kinakh said Ukraine has not imported electricity from Russia in 1999 so "there is nothing to halt." He added that Russian oil supplies are handled by commercial firms, so "there is also nothing to halt" for the state. Kinakh will visit Moscow later this week to discuss the restructuring of Ukraine's gas debt. JM

BALTIC PORK TARIFF DISPUTE ESCALATES

During the Helsinki EU summit last weekend, Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar and his Latvian counterpart, Andris Skele, met to discuss the growing dispute over tariffs on pork introduced by Latvia, BNS reported on 11 December. Laar told Skele that unless Latvia drops the protective tariffs, Estonia will protest to the WTO and will claim compensation from Latvia for the losses it incurs as a result of the for protective measures. Laar added that "if one of the parties is not observing the Baltic free trade agreement, it is very difficult to defend the agreement against the EU." Lithuania also stated its readiness to respond by imposing tariffs on pork or other "sensitive foodstuffs." Latvian Agriculture Minister Aigars Kalvitis, meanwhile, confirmed that the European Commission has made negative comments about the tariffs. MH

COMMISSION INVESTIGATES LITHUANIAN OIL SPILL

A Lithuanian government commission announced on 13 December that the 6 December oil spill at the Butinge Oil Platform was caused by the severing of a rope by which the tanker was moored to the platform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). The commission said that there were no procedural faults at the time of the accident, but the reason for the rope's severing is still unclear. And while the commission denied there had been any significant spillage, the Latvian Marine Environment Administration again stressed that there was spillage and accused Lithuanian officials of providing evasive responses to queries. MH

PICKET AT JARUZELSKI'S HOUSE MARKS POLAND'S MARTIAL LAW ANNIVERSARY

To mark the 18th anniversary of the introduction of martial law, some 100 members of the right-wing Republican League staged a picket outside General Wojciech Jaruzelski's house in Warsaw during the night of 12-13 December, Polish media reported. The pickets participants formed a cross of burning candles and miners' hats in front of the house. Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa commented that history will judge the introduction of martial law by Jaruzelski to be the worst crime of Poland's post-war period. The same day, Walesa confirmed his previously expressed intention to run for president in next year's elections. JM

CZECH JOURNALIST FACES 'FALSE ACCUSATION' CHARGE

The State Attorney's Office on 13 December launched a lawsuit against journalist Zdenek Zukal for making "false accusations" against police officers in the eastern city of Olomouc, CTK reported. If convicted, Zukal faces up to three years in prison. As a journalist for TV Nova, Zukal reported on alleged links between Olomouc police officers and organized crime rings in the city. Zukal denies any wrongdoing and said the case may deter other journalists from reporting on similar cases. In other news, Romany members of the government's interministerial commission for Romany affairs on 13 December demanded the resignation of commission chairman Petr Uhl and deputy chairwoman Iva Pellarova. VG

CZECH GOVERNMENT EXTENDS POWERS OF 'EU MINISTER'

The Czech government on 13 December extended the powers of the deputy prime minister responsible for European integration, which is to be filled by Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, CTK reported. The new deputy premier will now have the power to demand information and analyses from other ministers, assign them tasks concerning EU integration, and ensure that those tasks are being fulfilled. The previous deputy premier for EU integration, Egon Lansky, had very few real powers. He resigned from his post recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1999). The government also announced that Prime Minister Milos Zeman will now head the government's EU integration committee. The committee will consist of ministers who are responsible for sectors directly affected by the EU entry negotiations. VG

CZECH, SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS COOPERATION

Slovak Defense Minister Pavol Kanis and his visiting Czech counterpart, Vladimir Vetchy, have discussed joint army exercises to be held next year and the possible formation of a joint military unit, CTK reported on 13 December. VG

SLOVAK PRESIDENT'S BOOK CRITICIZED BY GOVERNMENT MEMBERS

Rudolf Schuster's forthcoming book has drawn criticism from various members of the coalition government, "Narodna Obroda" reported on 14 December. The book, "Return to High Politics," details the negotiations that led to the current governing coalition in Slovakia in 1998. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda has said that the publication of the book is "unfortunate." Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hamzik, who heads the Party of Civic Understanding, which Schuster helped establish, said the president should not have published the book at this time. Peter Weiss, a member of the coalition member Party of Democratic Left, described the book's publication as an "inappropriate political tactic." VG

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA PLEASED WITH COOPERATION

Visiting Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and his Hungarian counterpart, Janos Martonyi, said in Budapest on 13 December that there has been a major improvement in Hungarian-Slovak relations. Kukan thanked Hungary for supporting Slovakia's EuroAtlantic integration and called for increased cooperation. He said the ongoing dispute over the joint Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydropower plant is a legal issue, not a political one. Kukan said that talks will resume in the near future, but he admitted that settling the dispute will be a "very difficult and lengthy" process. MSZ

HUNGARY REPORTS LOWER CRIME RATE

Jozser Szajer, parliamentary group leader of the major coalition Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party, told the parliament on 13 December that the number of crimes in Hungary dropped by 20 percent in the first 10 months of 1999 compared with the same period last year. The corresponding figure for Budapest was a 47.8 percent decline. Interior Minister Sandor Pinter attributed the results to tougher legislation and firm action taken by the police. Szajer noted, however, that drug-related crimes rose by 38 percent owing to more stringent regulations. MSZ




CROATIA PAYS LASTS RESPECTS TO TUDJMAN

Some 100,000 people turned out in Zagreb on 13 December for the funeral of President Franjo Tudjman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999), Reuters reported. The state- run news agency Hina put the number of those present at 250,000. The independent daily "Jutarnji list" stressed that no top official from the major powers attended the funeral and that the only head of state present was Turkey's Suleyman Demirel. Some analysts suggested, however, that Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community will try to use the snub to its advantage in the 3 January parliamentary elections by claiming that the absence of key foreign leaders is "evidence" of their unfair prejudice against Croatia. PM

JELAVIC SAYS MUSLIMS, SERBS SNUB CROATS

Ante Jelavic, who is the Croatian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, said at Tudjman's funeral on 13 December that he regrets that his Muslim and Serbian colleagues, Alija Izetbegovic and Zivko Radisic, did not accompany him to Zagreb. Jelavic that the two men's absence--especially that of Izetbegovic--is evidence that the Serbs and Muslims do not accept the Croats as their equals. PM

CONFRONTATION BREWING BETWEEN SERBS, SFOR OVER BRCKO?

General Ronald Adams, who is the commander of NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia, said in Banja Luka on 13 December that he may order the demilitarization of the Brcko area if the Bosnian Serb authorities do not make an agreement with SFOR to demilitarize the area voluntarily. Republika Srpska Defense Minister Manojlo Milovanovic recently said that his government cannot make any agreement on demilitarization at present. It can act only if the Bosnian Serb parliament repeals its resolution rejecting the international community's decision to place Brcko permanently under the joint administration of the Republika Srpska and the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation, he added. Also in Banja Luka, Radisic said the Bosnian Serb authorities will continue to respect the resolution because it best serves Bosnian Serb interests, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

HAGUE COURT GIVES 'SERBIAN ADOLF' 40 YEARS

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 14 December sentenced Goran Jelisic to 40 years in prison for the murder and torture of Muslims at the Luka prison camp near Brcko in 1992. The court convicted him on 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Jelisic often referred to himself as the "Serbian Adolf" in a boastful reference to his own brutality. Reuters reported that his sentence is one of the toughest that the court has handed down. PM

DRASKOVIC PARTY SPURNS AVRAMOVIC AS SERBIAN SPOKESMAN

Dragoslav Avramovic, who is a former head of the National Bank and one of the most popular personalities in Serbia, said in Belgrade on 13 December that he has the support of three major opposition coalitions to prepare a common platform. The opposition will use the document in talks with officials of the EU and U.S. in Berlin on 17 December. Ognjen Pribicevic, who is a spokesman for Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), said, however, that his party does not recognize Avramovic as the opposition's chief representative. Predrag Simic, who is a top aide to Draskovic, stressed that the SPO will prepare its own documents. Avramovic is credited with stopping Yugoslavia's runaway inflation in 1994 and is widely regarded as the best candidate to head a post-Milosevic opposition-led government. PM

BELGRADE TO DEVALUE DINAR?

Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic said in Belgrade on 13 December that there will be no devaluation of the dinar, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Marjanovic stressed that the government will continue to control prices for basic goods. Economist Slobodan Milosavljevic said, however, that preparations have been made for a devaluation. In Serbia, the dinar is officially valued at six to the German mark, although the black market rate in recent months has been more than double that. In Montenegro, the official exchange rate in that republic is now 20 dinars to DM 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). The Bosnian Serb government's exchange rate is 16 to DM 1. PM

MORE JUDGES FOR KOSOVA

The UN's Bernard Kouchner said in Prishtina on 13 December that he will soon appoint another 400 judges and prosecutors in an effort "to kick- start a justice system that has barely functioned," Reuters reported. It is unclear where he has found or will find these individuals. Kouchner added that Kosova will soon have its own penal code. For his part, KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt said that "three out of four [peacekeepers] are out day and night patrolling.... I now have 1,000 soldiers on static guard duty every day. Their sole purpose is the guarding of houses, churches, or other sites where ethnic minorities are located," he noted. Reinhardt added that his troops will soon begin additional joint patrols with UN police. PM

ALBANIAN WRITER DEMANDS DIENSTBIER'S OUSTER

Ismail Kadare, who is widely regarded as the greatest living Albanian writer, wrote in "Le Monde" on 13 December that Jiri Dienstbier should resign as the UN's special envoy for human rights in the former Yugoslavia. Kadare said that Dienstbier has frequently taken openly pro-Serbian stands and placed Serbian genocidal policies in Kosova on the same level as isolated revenge killings by individual ethnic Albanians. Kadare added that the former Czechoslovak foreign minister maintains "close and suspicious" relations with prominent Serbs. Observers note that Dienstbier was one of the few representatives--if not the only one--of the international community in the Balkans who frequently made pro-Serbian statements during the spring 1999 conflict. PM

FORMER YUGOSLAV POLITICAN DIES

Stane Dolanc died in Slovenia at the age of 74 on 13 December, some months after suffering a stroke. One of Yugoslavia's most prominent hard-line leaders in the 1970s and 1980s, Dolanc lived in recent years in virtual seclusion in Kranjska Gora, in western Slovenia. PM

U.S. AID FOR MACEDONIA

USAID officials agreed in Skopje on 13 December to provide a $22 million grant to Macedonia to help the government pay unemployment benefits and create new jobs. U.S. officials said that the grant is in recognition of the help Macedonia provided to Western countries during the Kosova conflict in the spring of 1999. Macedonia's official unemployment rate stands at 54 percent, AP reported. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES PREMIER...

Emil Constantinescu on 13 December dismissed Prime Minister Radu Vasile in a move that has been contested as unconstitutional. Constantinescu said Labor and Social Affairs Minister Alexandru Athanasiu will take over as interim prime minister until a permanent replacement is found. Athanasiu accepted the appointment but added that his interim government will not have the power to draw up legislation or pass ordinances. All 18 ministers attended a meeting called by Athanasiu on 14 December, despite questions about the legality of Constantinescu's move. The president's decision came after the parties in the governing coalition announced they were withdrawing support from Vasile and that their ministers would resign. The revolt against Vasile began after his own National Peasant Party Christian Democratic withdrew its support from the prime minister, saying it wanted a new government that would be able to handle Romania's economic problems and communicate better with the parliament. VG

...BUT CONSTITUTIONAL EXPERTS SAY DISMISSAL IS ILLEGAL...

Constitutional experts on 13 December said Constantinescu does not have the power to remove the prime minister. According to the Romanian Constitution, the president has the power to appoint the prime minister but not to dismiss him. Unless the prime minister is incapacitated by illness, the only way to remove him is through a vote of no confidence. One of the author's of Romania's constitution, Antonie Iorgavan, told the Antena 1 television station that the dismissal was a "coup d'etat." Iorgavan said Vasile is still the prime minister "from a constitutional point of view," AP reported. VG

...AND VASILE REFUSES TO STEP DOWN

Vasile on 13 December said he will not accept Constantinescu's decision, adding that governments can be dismissed only by the parliament. However, government spokesman Andrei Anghel said Vasile did not attend a cabinet meeting called by Athanasiu on 14 December and did not come to the government building, AP reported. The day before, Vasile described his dismissal as the result of a "plot against him." He said Romania has become a "presidential regime which can lead to repressive measures." Meanwhile, opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania Deputy Chairman Adrian Nastase described the prime minister's dismissal as an "unprecedented crisis" and called for early elections, Romanian Radio reported. VG

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT REJECTS EARLY ELECTIONS

Petru Lucinschi said early elections would be the "most undesirable variant" for Moldova, according to a 13 December Infotag report quoting presidential spokesman Anatol Golea. Golea said the president is continuing negotiations with various parliamentary groups on a potential candidate for the prime ministerial post. He said Ion Casian, who has been touted in the press as the most likely candidate, has "rich experience of working in government." However, Casian has said he will not accept the post unless he has a guaranteed parliamentary majority. Golea said that if the parliamentary parties reject Casian, negotiations will continue to find another candidate. VG

CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC POPULAR FRONT CHANGES NAME

Delegates to a weekend congress of the Christian Democratic Popular Front voted to change the party's name to Christian Democratic People's Party, Infotag and BASA-Press reported on 13 December. The party also removed from its statues a reference to the "spiritual and territorial restoration of the national unity of all Romanians on both banks of the Proute River." That passage was replaced by one calling for "integration within Europe of nations and fulfillment of national unity in full agreement with the will of the people and international treaties and in the natural process of approaching of the two Romanian countries," BASA-Press reported. A deputy from the Romanian National Peasant Party Christian Democratic read out a message from party chairman Ion Diaconescu saying, "Romania and Moldova must find each other again in the family of the United European States." VG




THE ROMA OF OBILIC


By Alexandra Poolos

In Obilic, a small town some 20 kilometers north of Prishtina, some 850 Roma have built a makeshift camp where they will remain throughout the winter. Living 10 or 12 to a tent, the Roma of Obilic spend their days cooking, sleeping, or roaming aimlessly through the rows of muddy tents. They say they are trapped in this small field at the end of a long, tree-lined road. No one ever leaves and there are few visitors.

The Roma of Obilic are a disparate group. Before the war they lived in different villages in Kosova as Albanian or Serbian Roma. But now even those Roma who called themselves Ashkalija and spoke Albanian say they face intimidation and violence from ethnic Albanians. They say their own sense of nationality or their actions during the war have no significance whatsoever. They are judged now, they say, by the color of their skin alone.

Protected by Norwegian KFOR troops and provided with humanitarian assistance by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Roma say they have no choice but to remain in Obilic. Most have lived there for five months.

Sixty-year-old Nagije Begeshi said that when ethnic Albanians returned to Kosova and saw their homes destroyed, they in turn wanted to punish someone.

Emine Adici is 12 years old and a leader among many of the Romany children in Obilic. She speaks Albanian, Serbian, English, and French but say she does not know Romany because before the war she considered herself Albanian, not Romany. Adici says she went to school with other Albanian children and never felt ostracized for her ethnicity. "I never really thought about being Romany at all," she says. "Now it's all I know. The Albanians won't let me forget."

Some of Kosova's Roma admit they collaborated with Serbs. They say they often had no choice and were forced to do the "dirty work" for Serbian paramilitaries--to bury the bodies of Albanians, dig trenches for the military, and pillage and destroy ethnic Albanian property. In one interview with the Prishtina-based Humanitarian Law Center, an unnamed Prishtina Rom described how he and nine others were forced by Serbian police to bury the bodies of massacred Kosovar Albanians. He said there were some 40 bodies, all men aged between 25 and 50. Some of the bodies were still warm. He said the bodies were buried one by one in the village's Muslim graveyard.

Following the signing of the peace settlement between NATO and Belgrade, the Roma and members of other minority groups who were involved in more violent acts left Kosova with retreating Serbian forces.

Most of the minorities who remained after the arrival of KFOR troops last June have since left the province in large numbers.

Estimates vary as to the number of non-Albanians now living in Kosova. But it is believed that well under half of the some 200,000 Serbs who lived in the province at the start of this year remain. Among the Roma, only some 6,000 out of some 30,000 are still there.

And their numbers continue to dwindle. Serbs, Turks, Bosnian Muslims, and Croats--all these groups contend with harassment and violence from ethnic Albanians. They are isolated in their small ethnic enclaves, unable to gain access to education, health care, or work. Most depend on humanitarian aid for food and shelter. Almost all depend on the protection of KFOR troops.

Peter Kessler, spokesman for the Kosova office of the UNHCR, says ethnic violence has recently increased in the province after a period of decline. He attributes the attacks on minorities not only to revenge but also to criminals who he says are targeting those who are most vulnerable. Kessler told RFE/RL that more needs to be done by international officials to create a secure environment for minorities.

Ferat Gukatoni, a 20-year-old Rom, believes the Roma will never be able to return to their homes. He says Albanians want all Roma out of Kosova.

Gukatoni is pessimistic about his chances of ever leaving the muddy tents of Obilic for his village in southern Kosova. He says he would rather leave the province entirely and try to build a new life for himself and his family outside Kosova, perhaps in Germany or the U.K.

Moreover, he does not believe that KFOR or UN organizations will be able to deter ethnic Albanians from attacking the Roma if they dare leave their makeshift camp. "For now," he says, "we are stuck here. There is nowhere else to go."

There was a time, not so long ago, when Romany musicians played at every Albanian (or Serbian) wedding in Kosova. The Roma were considered an integral part of society, their presence accepted in schools and businesses and at social gatherings.

There are high hopes that Kosova will one day be multiethnic, but the Roma of Obilic do not believe they will return to their former villages. They say that for now, the Romany musicians will play only for themselves in KFOR protected camps. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


XS
SM
MD
LG