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Newsline - February 4, 2000




RFE/RL JOURNALIST'S WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN

U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman James Foley expressed concern on 3 February at Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii's statement that detained RFE/RL journalist Sergei Babitskii was exchanged earlier that day for three Russian servicemen held by the Chechens. Yastrzhembskii produced a fax statement in which Babitskii allegedly consented to that exchange and noted that the move had been proposed by Chechen field commander Turpal-Ali Atgeriev, according to Interfax. Russian military commanders in Chechnya on 2 February had said that Atgeriev had been killed the previous day, together with Khunkar-pasha Israpilov and Aslambek Ismailov. Yastrzhembskii said that Babitskii was handed over to the Chechens at a crossroads between Shali and Argun, southeast of Grozny. He has not made direct contact either with RFE/RL or with his family in Moscow, and his present whereabouts are unknown. On 4 February, U.S. newspapers quoted Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov as saying the Chechen leadership has no knowledge of any prisoner exchange involving Babitskii. LF

FEDERAL FORCES CONTINUE TO ROUND UP CHECHEN CIVILIANS

Yastrzhembskii also said on 3 February that federal forces in Chechnya had detained 140 civilians in 22 settlements over the previous 24 hours, ITAR-TASS reported. A Defense Ministry spokesman in Grozny said the same day that federal units are checking identity papers in five villages, including Alkhan- Kala, southwest of Grozny. Chechen NGOs had reported on 31 January that federal forces were rounding up civilians, including women, in Nauri and Shelkovskii Raions (in northwest and northeast Chechnya, respectively) and transporting them to filtration camps. LF

RUSSIA DEMANDS RELEASE OF SEIZED TANKER

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vasilii Sredin on 3 February demanded the release of the Russian tanker intercepted and boarded by an international monitoring force in the Gulf the previous day on suspicion of smuggling Iraqi oil. According to Sredin, the vessel was transporting Iranian fuel oil and had entered neither Iraqi territorial waters nor any Iraqi port. He noted that Moscow has expressed its "surprise" over the incident to its embassies in the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates. Also on 3 February, a senior official from the Transpetro-Volga company, which owns the seized tanker, told ITAR-TASS that the vessel had been chartered by the British company Primstar to carry fuel oil from Iran to the United Arab Emirates. A spokesman for the multinational interception force, meanwhile, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the tanker had been tracked departing from Iraqi waters and was believed to be transporting Iraqi petroleum products. JC

KOKOSHIN SLAMS WEST FOR DETERIORATING RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA

Andrei Kokoshin, a former Defense Council secretary and currently a State Duma deputy of the Fatherland-All Russia alliance (OVR), told the annual "prayer breakfast" meeting organized by the U.S. Congress in Washington on 3 February that the West is to blame for its worsening relations with Russia. According to Interfax, Kokoshin pointed to NATO enlargement, the alliance's bombing campaign last year in Yugoslavia, an IMF policy that he described as "disproportionate to Russian conditions," and U.S. plans to set up a limited national defense system as contributing to that state of affairs. And he also remarked that events in Chechnya are becoming a "source of what in the mildest terms can be described as a growing lack of understanding in relations between Russia and Europe." U.S. President Bill Clinton attended the meeting, and, according to Interfax, leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were also present. JC

PRIMAKOV REVEALS PLANS

OVR leader Yevgenii Primakov announced on Russian Television on 4 February that he will not seek the presidency in the 26 March elections. He said that he made the decision when the recent State Duma election shown him how far Russia has moved away from "true democracy." Primakov's popularity ratings have slipped significantly, and he was not expected to win against acting President Vladimir Putin. JAC

TAX CODE AT TOP OF GOVERNMENT AGENDA

First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 3 February that the Russian government intends to persuade the State Duma to fine-tune the second part of the country's tax code and introduce changes to the first part before legislators take a summer recess, ITAR-TASS reported. He also said that the government plans to submit a priority package of 14 pieces of economic legislation shortly. According to Kasyanov, the World Bank is insisting that these bills be passed. Union of Rightist Forces faction leader Sergei Kirienko said the same day that the Duma opposition considers the most important pieces of legislation to be the Land Code, the second part of the Tax Code, and a bill stripping deputies of parliamentary immunity, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 February. JAC

GAZPROM HEAD SAYS COMPANY TO REMAIN WHOLE

Following a meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov and Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev told reporters on 4 February that the break-up of the company into a gas producer and a gas transportation company is currently not under discussion, contrary to earlier media reports. Khristenko said that the government plans to devote considerable attention to raising the cash component of Gazprom's federal tax payments. "Kommersant-Daily" suggested on 4 February that there cannot be two Gazproms since there is only one Vyakhirev. JAC

PUTIN RESHUFFLES REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVES

Acting President Putin has sacked 17 presidential representatives to Russia's regions, "Segodnya" reported on 3 February. Among those dismissed were Sergei Kizin from Belgorod Oblast, Valerii Borodulin from Samara Oblast, Valerii Adrov from Astrakhan Oblast, and Vladimir Shapovalenko from Orenburg Oblast. Aleksandr Kosarikov was relieved from his post in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, having been elected to the State Duma. Putin dismissed Sergei Tsyplyaev from his post as representative and replaced him with Aleksandr Bespalov, a former colleague of Putin's in the St. Petersburg mayoral administration. Representatives in Kursk and Kemerovo were also dismissed, according to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 4 February. According to that daily, most observers link the large-scale firings to the Kremlin's desire to strengthen its role in relations with the regions. JAC

NEW DEFENSE COMMITTEE CHAIR'S VIEW PROFILED

According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 4 February, the Military News Agency reported that the resignation of Marshal Igor Sergeev from the post of defense minister has already been decided and General Andrei Nikolaev, who recently became chairman of the State Duma's Defense Committee, will take his place. However, the newspaper cited its sources in the Kremlin as saying that the report is premature, although "Putin has not been particularly impressed with the results of the last two-and- a-half years of military reform." The daily added that the "new union" between Nikolaev and the Kremlin is "strange" in light of some of Nikolaev's past statements, such as "any thinking person supports socialism." Nikolaev also predicted that Unity would not overcome the 5 percent barrier for entry in the Duma and criticized the military for understating its losses in Chechnya. And he supports the creation of a 15- kilometer military control zone around the republic. JAC

NEW EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM IN THE WORKS

Education Minister Vladimir Filippov told reporters on 2 February that the federal government hopes to introduce in the next three to four years a 12-year educational program for Russian students. Children would start school at the age of six and complete it at 18. He added that over the next few years, new textbooks and school programs are being prepared. According to Filippov, the demographic situation in the country is changing, and there will be 1.3 million children in their final year of school in 2009 while the number of free places in higher educational institutions will total 1.7 million. Meanwhile in Arkhangelsk Oblast, some 400 first-grade classes have been closed at state schools in the oblast as the number of children there has dwindled following the drastic decline in the region's birthrate in the early 1990s (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 2 February 2000). JAC

POLICE HOLD WOMAN IN STAROVOITOVA CASE

St. Petersburg police were quoted by the RIA news agency on 3 February as saying that a woman is being held in connection with the November 1998 murder of the State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova. According to RIA, during a search of the detained woman's apartment police had discovered traces of gunpowder similar to that found outside Starovoitova's apartment, where the popular parliamentary deputy was gunned down. No other details were given. JC

NATIONAL CARRIER TAKES TO THE AIR AGAIN

The Domodedovo airline resumed its regularly scheduled flights on 4 February after a hiatus of more than two weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2000). The airline cancelled all flights when a tax inspectorate froze its bank accounts. The tax inspectors said the airline has neglected to pay some 16 million rubles ($?) worth of taxes, while the airline said that federal Defense Ministry owed it more than 200 million rubles. According to ITAR-TASS, Domodedovo's First Deputy General Director Vladimir Parchenko announced on 4 February that the Defense Ministry has finally paid part of its debt and transferred 50 million rubles to the airlines. Meanwhile, the tax service has granted the company a deferment on its taxes. Domodedovo accounts for some 70 percent of all flights to cities in the Far East, such as Vladivostok, Yuzhno- Sakhalinsk, and Khabarovsk. In addition, it is the sole airline servicing some cities, including Anadyr and Yuzhko- Sakhalinsk. JAC

TAX POLICE FIND ALTERNATIVE USE FOR VODKA

Federal Tax Police head Yurii Lukyanov told reporters on 3 February that illegal alcohol confiscated by the tax police will be reprocessed into anti-freeze for motor vehicles and aircraft, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that profits from the sale of the product will be distributed among federal and regional budgets. JAC




ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS ANTI-TERRORISM MEASURES

Visiting Yerevan on 2-3 February, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo met with President Robert Kocharian, Premier Aram Sargsian, and his Armenian counterpart, Haik Harutiunian, to discuss the threat of terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. Following a 3 February joint meeting of the boards of the two countries' Interior Ministries, Rushailo told journalists that they will soon undertake more joint operations against criminal groups operating in Russia and Armenia and to curb arms smuggling, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Also on 3 February, visiting Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov and his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, signed a memorandum on increased cooperation in the spheres of defense, security, and commerce. LF

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DELEGATION SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENTS IN ARMENIA

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan held talks in Yerevan on 2 February with his Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, on expanding economic cooperation, TASR and Armenpress reported. The two ministers also signed a protocol of cooperation between their respective ministries. The same day, Slovak Economy Minister Lubomir Harach and Armenian Minister of Industry and Trade Karen Jshmaritian discussed cooperation in the energy and nuclear power sectors and in the production of synthetic rubber and chemicals, according to Noyan Tapan. On 3 February, Kukan met with President Kocharian and with parliamentary speaker Armen Khachatrian, whom he assured of Slovakia's support for Armenia's bid for acceptance into full membership in the Council of Europe. LF

AZERBAIJAN TO CLOSE DOWN THREE INTERNET PROVIDERS...

Azerbaijan's Communications Ministry has decided to close down the Intrans and Baknet companies and the Azeurotel joint venture on the grounds that they have been operating without the required licenses, Groong reported on 3 February, citing the 1 February "Zerkalo." Company representatives told the newspaper, however, that they have repeatedly applied to the ministry for registration but have been refused. LF

...AS ARMENIA ACCUSES AZERBAIJANI HACKERS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION

The blocking by Azerbaijani hackers of Armenian Websites that provide information about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict constitutes a violation of the right of access to information, Snark on 31 January quoted the Armenian Foreign Ministry as saying. Armenian Television's Website is among those to fall victim to this practice. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY RE-REGISTERED

The Ministry of Justice on 3 February formally registered the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, Turan reported. The party was founded and originally registered in 1992 but had its registration revoked by the Ministry of Justice in 1995. Party secretary Aydyn Kuliev told RFE/RL's Baku bureau on 3 February that he does not think the ministry's decision reflects a change in the authorities' attitude toward the party, one of whose co- chairmen is former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev. Kuliev attributed the decision to re-register the party to the campaign it has waged to that end in recent months and to the pressure of public opinion both in Azerbaijan and abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2000). LF

RUSSIA AGAIN VIOLATES GEORGIAN AIRSPACE

Tbilisi has protested to Russia after two Russian military helicopters entered Georgian airspace near the Georgian-Chechen border on 3 February, Interfax reported. A Georgian border guard official said the two aircraft were apparently on a reconnaissance mission. Last year, Russian combat helicopters twice targeted Georgian villages close to the border with Chechnya, but no one was injured in either incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August and 18 November 1999). LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS SIGN PROTOCOL ON EXCHANGE OF HOSTAGES

Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, accompanied by several senior military and security officials and by UN Special Representative Dieter Boden, traveled to Sukhum on 3 February for talks with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba and Prime Minister Vyacheslav Tsugba, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz side had proposed the talks in the hope of stabilizing the tense situation on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, where rival groups of Georgians and Abkhaz are demanding the release of co-ethnics held by the other side (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 February 2000). The two sides finally signed a protocol pledging an exchange within two days of all persons taken hostage in the past two months. They also agreed to withdraw all illegal armed formations from the conflict zone within one month and to draw up, with the help of the UN Observer and CIS peacekeeping forces, a register of the armed forces in the conflict zone. The number of those forces may not be increased. LF

JAPAN TO REBUILD OIL REFINERY IN KAZAKHSTAN

The Japanese Bank of International Cooperation has approved funding for a $450 million project whereby Japan's Marubeni company will rebuild the Atyrau Oil refinery, Interfax reported on 3 February. The reconstruction will increase the refinery's annual capacity and boost product yield from crude oil, which is currently 42-29 percent. Japan's involvement in the project has been criticized by Atyrau Governor Imangali Tasmagambetov, who told Interfax last month that the refinery could meet the costs of reconstruction itself over a five- year period if it functioned at full capacity. In 1999, Tasmagambetov said, the refinery operated at only 38 percent of its capacity. Similarly, the Pavlodar refinery stood idle for much of last year because of limited supplies of crude oil. LF

UNEMPLOYMENT RISING IN KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan's Center for Employment said on 2 February that some 62,000 people are currently registered as unemployed, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. In October 1999, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Imankadyr RysAliyev had given the number of people officially registered as out of work at 56,000. Local observers say the figure is closer to 1 million of the country's 4.8 million population. Of the 6,000 people who underwent retraining courses last year, approximately half subsequently found new jobs. Only 10 percent of those registered as unemployed drew unemployment benefits last year, although that allowance has been increased from 150 soms to 250 soms ($5.5). LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT SOLICITS OSCE ASSISTANCE FOR DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS

Imomali Rakhmonov on 3 February assured visiting OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections are democratic. At the same time, he requested the help of the OSCE in achieving that objective, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Rakhmonov also expressed an interest in possible OSCE assistance in post-conflict rehabilitation. Kubis, who in 1998-1999 served as the special representative in Tajikistan of the UN secretary-general, also met on 3 February with Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov and with National Reconciliation Commission Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri to discuss the situation in the country. On 4 February, ITAR-TASS quoted a German Embassy official in Dushanbe as saying that the German government has allocated $100,000 to finance the activities of the joint UN/OSCE commission that will monitor the parliamentary elections. The Iranian Embassy has donated 20 tons of paper to the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda, according to Asia Pluz-Blitz. LF

UZBEKISTAN APPROVES DEFENSE DOCTRINE

Uzbekistan's National Security Council on 3 February approved a new, "exclusively defensive" military doctrine that demonstrates the country's "peace-oriented policy," Interfax reported. That document lays down guidelines for a fundamental reform of the armed forces. Council members stressed the threat posed to Central Asia by "the criminal aspirations of radically-oriented extremist forces" that promote international terrorism and religious extremism. They also advocated coordinated measures by the states of the region to counter that threat. LF




BELARUS READY TO ADOPT RUSSIAN RUBLE AS NATIONAL CURRENCY

The Belarusian National Bank has prepared a draft agreement on setting up a single money-issuing center for the Belarusian-Russian Union, Belapan reported on 2 February. The Belarusian side will soon send the document for approval to Russia's Central Bank. The Belarusian National Bank told Belapan that it had shown "flexibility and, taking into consideration the existing economic realities, agreed to accept Russia's national currency as the basis for the creation of a Union single monetary unit." The 3 February "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Belarusian chief banker Pyotr Prakapovich as saying the document calls for the temporary existence of two money-issuing centers until a Union central bank is established. JM

UKRAINE'S NEW SPEAKER ELBOWS HIS WAY INTO OFFICE...

Together with his bodyguards, Ivan Plyushch, who was recently elected parliamentary speaker by the center-right majority, used his elbows and shoulders on 3 February to force his way through leftist deputies trying to keep him from entering former speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's office, Reuters reported. Later the same day, Premier Viktor Yushchenko met with Plyushch and other majority leaders in that office to discuss prospects for adopting a budget for this year. Leftist deputies tried to break into the office during the meeting but were prevented from doing so by guards. Interfax reported that following the meeting, Yushchenko ordered that a 2000 draft budget be submitted to the parliament on 4 February. He then went on sick leave. JM

...WHILE LEFTISTS LAWMAKERS CONTINUE PROTEST

Tkachenko on 3 February opened a session of the leftist minority, at which an appeal to the international community was adopted, Interfax reported. The leftist lawmakers said all the decisions taken so far by the parliamentary majority are illegal, therefore Ukraine "will not bear any responsibility" for any legislative acts passed by its split parliament. The leftists added that the current "coup d'etat" in Ukraine was inspired by the president and is fraught with unpredictable social consequences. Meanwhile, a group of radical leftist deputies headed by Natalya Vitrenko spent another night in the parliament. "I think that finally the authorities will throw us out of this building by force," Vitrenko told Reuters, adding that "the parliament of Plyushch will collapse anyway due to internal tensions." JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER SAYS NO REASON TO DISBAND PARLIAMENT

Stepan Havrysh, who was elected deputy speaker by the parliamentary majority, told Interfax on 3 February that several "factors set in the referendum [decree]" and the behavior of the majority render early parliamentary elections "unnecessary." Havrysh added that the proposed vote of no confidence in the parliament during the 16 April referendum "has lost its sense from a legal viewpoint" since the majority voted to change the numbering of Ukraine's consecutive legislatures. On 1 February, the majority decided that independent Ukraine's legislatures be renumbered to make the current Supreme Council the third rather than the 14th. Meanwhile, lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy said the same day that Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, headed by Yevhen Marchuk, has advised the president to dissolve the parliament. Marchuk denied making such a statement. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET PLEDGES TO PAY PENSION ARREARS IN 2000

Labor and Social Policy Minister Ivan Sakhan said on 3 February that in its 2000 budget draft the government provides for the payment of all overdue pensions, totaling 1.3 billion hryvni ($237 million), Interfax reported. Sakhan noted that the cabinet also has "serious intentions" to repay overdue wages and social allowances but added that "this is a problem of draft laws that were submitted to the Supreme Council." Sakhan said that as of 1 January, total wage arrears in Ukraine stood at 6.3 billion hryvni. Also on 3 February, some 1,500 war veterans, miners, and nuclear power sector workers picketed the parliamentary building to demand that the government revoke its decision to cancel a number of benefits and social allowances for which they are eligible. JM

U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY CALLS FOR BALTIC UNITY

During a visit to Vilnius on 3 February, Bill Richardson called for a unified Baltic approach to energy and environmental issues. "A 'Baltic' approach, rather than three national approaches, will put the Baltic countries in a much stronger position vis a vis their Nordic and European neighbours, as well as Russia," Reuters quoted him as saying. Richardson and representatives of all three countries signed a joint statement on cooperation, BNS reported. The U.S. secretary also hailed the decommissioning of Lithuania's Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant and stressed the importance of privatizing that sector. "There are so many economic and social benefits that flow from a market-based economy," Richardson said. Richardson is also scheduled to visit Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine. MH

LITHUANIAN PARTY CRASHER ISSUES HARSH STATEMENT

Leader of the radical Lithuanian Freedom Union Vytautas Sustauskas issued a statement on 3 February saying that Austrian Ambassador to Lithuania Florian Haug should be "declared persona non grata and deported from Lithuania" so that he can "organize Vienna Balls in his country and dance at them," ELTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). Parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis warned about "neo-Bolshevism" and "Lithuanian Nazism" in criticizing groups such as the Freedom Union and the National Socialist Unit. The leader of the latter group, Mindaugas Murza, is listed as the Independence Party's top candidate in Siauliai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2000). Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius also called on law enforcement officials to prevent extremism and "hooliganism." Several radical politicians have made extremist comments recently, including Peasants Party leader Ramunas Karbauskis, who accused President Valdas Adamkus of "treason" in seeking to legalize the sale of agricultural land to foreigners. MH

POLISH STALINIST MILITARY INVESTIGATORS ACCUSED OF TORTURE

The Warsaw Military Prosecutor's Office has accused five former officers of the military counterintelligence service of "physically and psychologically torturing" Polish generals and officers in the late 1940s, "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 4 February. The five officers, who now are all over 70, are charged with conducting so-called "conveyor investigations" in which their victims were interrogated and denied sleep for many days. In the late 1940s, the Polish authorities fabricated many cases of spying and anti-state conspiracies among top military leadership. Those cases resulted in death penalties or long-term prison sentences being handed down. JM

CZECH COMMUNISTS 'EXPLAIN' EU POLICIES ON HAIDER...

The 14 EU states' policy toward Austria is reminiscent of the Soviet Union's 1968 strategy against Czechoslovakia, Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia deputy Jaromir Kohlicek told CTK on 3 February. "I remember the Soviet-Czechoslovak talks in Cierna nad Tisou and I remember the tanks were in Prague soon afterward, " Kohlicek said. He added that "Brussels is evidently waiting for a letter of invitation," in an allusion to the letter in which hard-line Czechoslovak Communist Party leaders "invited" the Warsaw Pact to extend "brotherly help" to their country. MS

...WHILE KLAUS SUPPORTS NEW AUSTRIAN COALITION

"Lidove noviny" on 4 February reported that Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus has sent a letter to the Austrian People's Party supporting its decision to enter into a coalition with Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party, CTK reported. In an interview with the Czech daily, Klaus said Haider's participation in the coalition "is the lesser evil compared with the attempt of the EU to oppose the sovereign decision-making of one of its members." And in a letter to Austrian People's Party Chairman Wolfgang Schuessel, Klaus condemned the EU's "attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state." Haider is "not a person we would like to be friends with" but "comparing him to Hitler is ridiculous and scandalous," Klaus remarked to the daily. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT REJECTS NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN JUSTICE MINISTER...

By a vote of 119 to 35, the parliament on 3 February rejected a vote of no confidence in Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky moved by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). The HZDS accused Carnogursky of attempting "to seize control over the independence of the judiciary" and of "behavior bordering on anti- constitutionality and illegality." Deputies representing the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), a member of the ruling coalition, abstained from voting. Carnogursky said after the vote that the SDL is objecting to his decision to set up within the Justice Ministry a department in charge of investigating communist crimes, CTK reported. MS

...STRIPS LEXA OF IMMUNITY AGAIN

Also on 3 February, the legislature stripped former Slovak Intelligence Service chief Ivan Lexa of his parliamentary immunity on another three counts, namely abuse of public office, fraud, and the illegal possession of arms, Radio Twist reported, citing CTK. Legal proceedings have been started on all three counts. Lexa's immunity was first lifted in 1998 in connection with the investigation into the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 and four other charges. MS

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER CLAIMS TRANSITION COMPLETE

In his annual state of the nation address, Viktor Orban said on 3 February that Hungary's change of regime ended in 1999. "The average salary has returned to its 1990 level, and the economy has reached the level of 10 years ago but has since been transformed into a viable, modern, and competitive economy," Orban said. With regard to NATO accession, the country has taken its "deserved place among European countries," he said. And the premier summed up the government's family-oriented program by saying "three kids, three rooms, and four wheels for everyone" are the goals of the cabinet. MSZ

NEW GROUP SURPRISES FIDESZ, SMALLHOLDERS

Senior officials from the Federation of Young Democrats (FIDESZ) and the Independent Smallholders' Party responded with surprise to recent efforts by their junior coalition partner, the Democratic Forum, to integrate center-right forces under the name of the Right Hand of Peace 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2000), Hungarian media reported on 4 February. FIDESZ officials say the new group is a renewed effort by the Forum to distance itself from the cooperation that developed during the 1998 elections. They noted that the joint support for the three parties forming the new group is less than 5 percent, so none could win seats in the parliament without the support of FIDESZ. MSZ




RENEWED VIOLENCE IN DIVIDED KOSOVSKA MITROVICA

Hundreds of angry ethnic Albanians stoned French military vehicles and blocked their paths in Kosovska Mitrovica on 4 February, AP reported. French peacekeepers then broke up the crowd by firing tear gas. At 9:00 p.m. local time the previous evening, unknown assailants shot two ethnic Albanians dead. Half an hour later, a grenade attack on a Serbian cafe injured up to 15 people. Then at 10:00 p.m. local time, unknown persons killed an ethnic Albanian woman. Shortly afterward, unidentified individuals hurled a grenade into a second Serbian cafe, wounding some 10 people, Reuters reported. Angry Serbian and Albanian crowds then confronted each other on the bridge that links the two halves of the divided city. The incidents came in the wake of a rocket attack on a UN bus in which two elderly Serbs died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2000). PM

SERBIA IMPOSES BLOCKADE ON MONTENEGRO

Serbian officials closed the border with Montenegro for the transport of all goods on 3 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Belgrade has periodically imposed a blockade on truck traffic with the mountainous republic as part of the ongoing cat-and- mouse maneuvering between the political leaderships in Belgrade and Podgorica. PM

BELGRADE AUTHORITIES SLAM CRITICISM OF AUSTRIA

Ivica Dacic, who is the spokesman for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, said in Belgrade on 3 February that recent international criticism of Austria and Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider is similar to the criticism that Serbia has received abroad "for years." Dacic stressed that "all that is happening in regard to Austria is only another example of interference in the internal affairs of other countries, because...anything is possible in today's Europe, which serves America and not itself." He added that any country that does not accept Washington's "new world order" can expect to be internationally isolated. Elsewhere, far-right Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj said this party "does not have any particular sympathy for Haider" because he is not pro-Serbian. "If he would have changed his position on the Serbian question we would have sympathized with him," Reuters reported. Observers note that Serbs living in Austria generally reject Haider, whom they regard primarily as a xenophobe. PM

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST HDZ BUSINESSMAN IN HUGE FRAUD CASE

Police arrested Miroslav Kutle at the Bregana border crossing with Slovenia on 3 February, hours after Zagreb police issued a warrant for his arrest. Kutle and three other top officials of the financially troubled Tisak printing and news distribution firm are suspected of illegally transferring some $6 million from Tisak to several companies owned by Kutle. The businessman told "Jutarnji list" that he is innocent and that he "never took anything from Tisak." Zagreb police chief Zdenko Senicnjak told Reuters that police had to wait for the recent change of government before they could act against Kutle and his associates. Observers note that Kutle's is but the best-known case of a businessman embezzling huge sums under the protection of powerful politicians belonging to the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which held power from 1990 to its defeat in January 2000. Kutle and his associates have been linked to other cases of fraud or embezzlement, including the collapse of the Dubrovacka Banka. PM

BOSNIAN ENVOY PLEDGES BETTER RELATIONS WITH CROATIA

Bosnian Ambassador to Croatia Hasan Muratovic spoke with Deputy Prime Minister Slavko Linic in Zagreb on 3 February about "improving economic relations," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service. In Sarajevo, Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic said the Bosnian government should make improving relations with Croatia its top priority in the wake of the HDZ's defeat. PM

BOSNIAN HDZ TO SPLIT?

The Sarajevo Muslim daily "Avaz" wrote on 4 February that Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, who is also a member of the Bosnian HDZ's presidency, will soon form his own party, to be called the Croatian People's Union (HNU). The newspaper quoted unnamed Croatian sources as saying that Prlic and some of his associates have concluded that the defeated Croatian HDZ and its Bosnian affiliate are no longer capable of defending the interests of Bosnia's Croats. Observers note that the Bosnian HDZ has long been dominated by the hard-line nationalists from Herzegovina. Several prominent moderate Croat leaders from Bosnia proper have left the HDZ over the years, including Stjepan Kljuic and Kresimir Zubak. PM

SREBRENICA SURVIVORS FILE CHARGES IN THE HAGUE

The Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinje Association, which is based in the Bosnian town of Vogosca and represents the survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, filed a "criminal complaint" on 4 February with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The Mothers of Srebrenica said in a statement that they want an investigation of the role that several UN and other international officials played in the fall of Srebrenica and the massacre that followed, in which Serbian forces killed approximately 7,000 Muslim males. Those charged include Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Kofi Annan, Yasushi Akashi, General Bernard Janvier, General Rupert Smith, Thomas Karremans, Thorvald Stoltenberg, Carl Bildt, Lord Owen, and General Sir Michael Rose. PM

SAROVIC ENDS BID FOR BOSNIAN SERB PRESIDENCY

Republika Srpska Vice President Mirko Sarovic said in Banja Luka on 3 February that he will remain in that office, the private Beta news agency reported. Observers note that in effect, the announcement ends his bid to take over the presidency. The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch recently called the bid "illegal" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000). PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES MEDIUM-TERM DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY

The government on 3 February approved the medium- term development strategy aimed at accelerating Romania's accession to the EU, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2000). The government also approved setting up a commission, chaired by Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu and Academician Tudor Postolache, to work out the program that is due to be submitted to the EU in March. And it gave the go-ahead to establish an agency for the protection of abandoned children, in line with EU demands. President Emil Constantinescu, who chaired the government meeting, said at a joint press conference with Isarescu that Romanians "know where they are headed, know the rules," and cannot allow the effort to join the EU to be "derailed." He urged his countrymen to accept the envisaged austerity measures. MS

ROMANIA, U.S. TO BOOST COOPERATION

U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering and Foreign Minister Petre Roman on 3 February signed a " framework-convention" for enlarging the two countries' "strategic partnership," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They agreed to increase economic cooperation and boost efforts to promote regional stability and military relations as well as combat "unconventional risks." On 4 February, a joint U.S.-Romanian peace-keeping exercise was scheduled to begin at three airfields in Romania. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER 'EXPLAINS' JOINING FAR-RIGHT PARTY

In an interview with RFE/RL on 3 February, former Prime Minister Radu Vasile said he is "not aware" of the fact that the Romanian Right Party, which he and his supporters joined earlier that day, had "a reputation of [promoting] extremism." If this is the case, he noted, "our joining the party will transform it." Earlier on 3 February, Vasile was elected chairman of the party, which subsequently changed its name to the Romanian People's Party. AFP reported that the party's manifesto says the formation espouses nationalism, close links with the Orthodox Church, authoritarianism, and the "rejection of multi-culturalism." MS

WORLD BANK PLANS LARGE LOAN TO BULGARIA

The World Bank is planning to lend Bulgaria $ 200 million in several tranches this year, the bank's chief representative for Bulgaria, Andrew Vorkink, told BTA on 2 February. Vorkink spoke with journalists after talks in Sofia with Deputy Premier Petar Zhotev. He said the bank considers that Bulgaria's handling of projects financed by it has improved and that all of the 10 projects now under way are being satisfactorily implemented. Three years ago, Vorking said, 40 percent of the projects launched were considered by the bank to have been unsatisfactorily implemented. MS




PLANNING UNDER WAY TO PRESERVE KOSOVA'S CULTURAL HERITAGE


By Jolyon Naegele

The Council of Europe is developing a plan to preserve Kosova's cultural heritage, the destruction of which is defined by the UN's war crimes tribunal as a war crime.

The move comes after more than half a year in which the UN administration in Kosova (UNMIK) has virtually neglected the province's war-damaged monuments, museums, and libraries.

The Council of Europe and the European Commission have agreed to establish a high-level group of experts to prepare a detailed survey of the damage and destruction to the architectural and archaeological heritage of all ethnic and religious groups throughout the region. Once they complete the survey this spring, they will establish a list of priorities and set up teams of experts from local, provincial, and federal (Yugoslav) levels, representing all groups in Kosova, to draw up by this summer proposals for action.

Since the arrival last June of the NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR, protection of cultural monuments has been limited to Serbian Orthodox churches. Nevertheless, more than 50 churches in Kosova have been damaged by vandalism since June.

By far the most thorough survey to date of the destruction of Kosova's cultural heritage has been conducted by a Harvard University librarian, Andras Riedlmayer, and two architects, an American and an Albanian. They spent three weeks in Kosova conducting a survey of architectural monuments, libraries, historical archives, public records, and museums. One of the survey's goals is to assess damage and reconstruction efforts and to identify projects and institutions in need of assistance.

Riedlmayer says that Serbian forces in 1998-1999 caused widespread destruction to some 500 villages in Kosova and severely damaged or destroyed more than 200 mosques or one in three Muslim houses of worship. The Serbs also gutted the overwhelming majority of some 500 defensive stone towers known as kullas, traditionally inhabited by large Kosovar Albanian families.

Riedlmayer also notes that the destruction of Serbian Orthodox village churches in Kosova since the end of the war is a tragedy. But as he puts it, "it is also wrong to ignore...the massive and deliberate destruction of Albanian religious and cultural heritage by Serbian police, soldiers, and paramilitaries."

Another purpose of the survey is to gather evidence for the Office of the Prosecutor of the UN's war crimes tribunal in its investigations into war crimes allegedly committed by, among others, Yugoslavia's indicted President Slobodan Milosevic.

"The deliberate destruction of cultural property without overriding military necessity is a war crime," Riedlmayer notes. "And the indictment against Milosevic actually specifies among the charges the destruction of cultural and religious heritage. On the other hand, when we talked to the Prosecutor's Office at The Hague they told us that they had no one with either the time or the expertise on their side to look into this."

The Hague tribunal last May indicted Milosevic and five other senior Serbian and Yugoslav officials with "criminal responsibility for violations of the laws or customs of war." The tribunal's statute says this includes "seizure of, destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science."

Riedlmayer's survey team visited some 80 sites and collected documentation on another 120. His preliminary report in mid-December alleged that there was a clear pattern of Serbian forces systematically targeting mosques in Kosova- -including a number of important monuments from the 15th and 16th centuries. According to the survey, "in the majority of cases, it was evident...that this was not collateral damage from fighting between Belgrade's forces and the Kosova Liberation Front (UCK) rebels, nor the result of NATO's bombing."

Riedlmayer comments that "Given that on any kind of population basis, Belgrade's claim to sovereignty over Kosova is rather weak..., heritage has played a disproportionate role in the politics of Kosova, at least since the 1980s.... Then when Belgrade took over direct rule in 1989 and 90, one of the first things that happened was a revision of the listed monuments in Kosova."

Riedlmayer says the California-based Packard Humanities Institute has given a grant of $24,000 to pay for material and labor to conserve Kosova's 100 most-endangered buildings until funding for reconstruction becomes available. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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