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Newsline - February 17, 2000




LEADING MEDIA ORGANIZATIONS PROTEST INCURSIONS ON PRESS FREEDOM

Thirty media organizations, including "Segodnya," NTV, and "Sovetskaya Rossiya," issued a special edition of "Obshchaya gazeta" on 16 February to draw attention to increasing violations of freedom of speech and of the press. According to a statement by the Union of Journalists carried in the newspaper, the "threat to freedom of speech in Russia has for the first time in the last several years transformed into its open and regular suppression." The statement noted restrictions on media coverage of Russia's military campaign in Chechnya and focused on the disappearance of RFE/RL corespondent Andrei Babitskii in Chechnya. The Babitskii case, it said, has been perceived by reporters "not as an isolated episode, but almost as a turning point in the struggle for a press that serves society and not the authorities." The first time the special edition appeared was after the August 1991 coup, when several opposition newspapers were shut down. It appeared a second time in 1993, when the Supreme Soviet attempted to renationalize "Izvestiya," according to "The Moscow Times." JAC

...AS SOME NEWSPAPERS ABSTAIN

Absent from the roster of publications were those backed by Boris Berezovskii, such as "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily." Also not participating were "Izvestiya," which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros group and LUKoil, "Trud," which is financed by Gazprom, and "Vremya MN," which is close to the Central Bank. According to "The Moscow Times" on 17 February, Vitalii Tretyakov, editor of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said the sponsors of the special edition of "Obshchaya gazeta" are those who oppose acting President Vladimir Putin "in a united front." Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said on 16 February that he does "not feel that pressure on the press has grown lately," ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

UN, RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEFS CRITICIZE MOSCOW ON BABITSKII

After the Russian government refused her permission to visit Chechnya, UN Human Rights chief Mary Robinson issued a statement on 16 February saying that Russian behavior there and especially vis-a-vis missing RFE/RL correspondent Babitskii appears to violate the Geneva conventions to which Russia is a signatory. She added that Moscow is being "overly restrictive" in its handling of the press. The same day, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov denounced Moscow's handling of Babitskii as a violation of Russian and international law , Reuters reported. He said that "we don't know, he may be in jail, held by the Federal Security Service or the Interior Ministry," according to AP. And Mironov added that the situation surrounding Babitskii causes "bewilderment and indignation" because "it comes as a signal that the same thing may happen to every reporter." PG

RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY NOT LOOKING FOR BABITSKII

Vyacheslav Trubnikov, the head of the Interior Ministry's Main Criminal Investigation Division, told a Moscow news conference on 16 February that his ministry has not yet begun a search for Babitskii. "No search for Babitskii has been initiated," Trubnikov said. And it will only happen "if the investigators issue an appropriate warrant. But we have not received any document of this kind so far." PG

NATO'S ROBERTSON RAISES BABITSKII ISSUE

NATO Secretary- General George Robertson said in Moscow on 16 February that during talks with Russian leaders (see below), he raised the issue of Babitskii and welcomed a Russian plan to set up a special international human rights adviser to hear complaints about Russia's actions in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Russian agencies claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had voiced support for Russian policy in Chechnya in a telephone call with acting President Putin. But Israel denied that Barak had said anything of the kind. PG

JUSTICE MINISTRY REJECTS CHARGES OF RUSSIAN BRUTALITY

Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin said on 16 February that media suggestions that Russians are mistreating Chechens suspected of siding with the rebels are "blatant lies," RIA- Novosti reported. He said he has films of Russian soldiers being tortured and killed by Chechens, Interfax reported the same day. Meanwhile, Vladimir Kartashkin, the chairman of the Russian presidential Human Rights Commission, told Ekho Moskvy on 16 February that Moscow is entirely within its rights in temporarily limiting access to Grozny, ITAR-TASS reported. Some 12,000 Chechens have been subject to identity checks during this process, Reuters reported. PG

RUSSIAN FORCES CONTINUE ATTACKS IN CHECHNYA

Russian air power and ground forces continued to attack in southern Chechnya on 17 February, with Russian officials announcing gains and the capture and killing of ever more Chechen fighters. The Chechen website , meanwhile, called some of these claims into question. Sergei Shoigu, Russia's deputy prime minister and emergencies minister, said he will go to Chechnya on 17 February to form a special group to plan for the restoration of essential functions there. PG

RUSSIAN-NATO TIES: OUT OF THE PERMAFROST, INTO A THAW...

Russia and NATO have agreed to resume contacts, following an 11-month period in which those ties were virtually frozen. Speaking in Moscow on 16 February, where he held talks with acting President Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson told reporters that "I think we've moved from the permafrost into lightly softer ground." A joint statement issued at the end of Robertson's visit stresses that NATO and Russia remain committed to building a "stable and undivided Europe." To this end, according to that statement, they will seek to strengthen European security on the basis of the 1997 Founding Act, which governs Russian-NATO ties, and through cooperation within the Permanent Joint Council. Russian officials recently have called for Moscow to be regarded as an equal partner with the alliance if bilateral ties are to improve. JC

...THOUGH KOSOVA, CHECHNYA REMAIN CHILL FACTORS

Before meeting with Robertson, Putin had noted that it will be "rather complicated" for Russia to develop ties with NATO following the alliance's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia last year, which led to souring of Russian-NATO relations. Some analysts had predicted earlier that Putin would be reluctant to revive ties with the alliance ahead of the presidential elections lest voters view such a move as pandering to the West. Robertson, for his part, made clear that NATO has not changed its position on the Russian offensive in Chechnya: while the alliance recognizes that Russia faces the threat of terrorism and other problems in Chechnya, it does not believe that the offensive is right either in principle or in practice." The Russian side, he added, "robustly responded" to such arguments in what Robertson described as "quite a strong exchange of views." JC

RUSSIAN SPY SHIP HEADED FOR MEDITERRANEAN

Interfax on 16 February quoted a source at navy headquarters as saying that a navy intelligence vessel has departed from the Black Sea base of Sevastopol for the East Mediterranean-- a move that the source suggested is linked to the presence of the U.S. Navy-led Multinational Interception Force (MIF) in the Persian Gulf, which is monitoring compliance with the UN trade embargo against Iraq. Another navy spokesman told Reuters the same day that the "Kildin" will be gathering information in the Mediterranean and the Gulf for the navy and other branches of the Russian armed forces. He added that "the political interests of many countries are engaged in that region and we should be there." Earlier this month, the MIF intercepted and detained a Russian tanker in the Gulf suspected of smuggling Iraqi oil in violation of the UN embargo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 2000). JC

MOSCOW DENIES LOWERING NUCLEAR THRESHOLD

Reporting on statements made by Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov at a 15 February council meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement the next day denying that Moscow has lowered the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, Reuters reported. Referring to Russia's new security concept, which acting President Putin approved earlier this year and which referred to use of nuclear weapons "to repel armed aggression," Ivanov was quoted as saying that "Russia has never stated the possibility of being the first to use nuclear weapons. At the same time, Russia does not make a commitment to not being the first." Ivanov arrived in Washington on 16 February, where he reportedly intends to hand a letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton from Putin. According to ITAR-TASS, Ivanov refused to reveal the contents of that letter to journalists. JC

GUILTY PLEAS ENTERED IN BONY CASE

Two key figures in the Bank of New York scandal, former BONY Vice President Lucy Edwards and her husband, Peter Berlin, pleaded guilty on 16 February to money-laundering charges. According to AP, the couple admitted accepting $1.8 million in exchange for allowing Russian bankers to set up unlicensed banking operations in Queens and Jersey City, New Jersey so that Russian citizens could avoid paying taxes in Russia and the U.S. Reuters quoted Edwards as saying she helped Depozitarno- Kliringovy Bank (DKB) and Flamingo Bank establish branches in the U.S. without obtaining licenses from the Federal Reserve Bank. "I was aware that personnel for DKB were on occasion in fear of their customers and afraid to leave the bank because they said customers with machine guns were waiting for them," she said. JAC

PUTIN SPEAKS OUT AGAINST BREAKING UP GAZPROM...

In a speech to the board of the Federal Independent Trade Unions of Russia, acting President Putin said that he opposes breaking up Gazprom, Unified Energy Systems (EES), and the Railway Ministry. He said that these structures should be "optimized" but not split. According to Interfax, he added "it may be that the EES has some elements that are impairing the structure's efficiency overall but there can be no discussion of any kind of breakup." JAC

...AND SUGGESTS DEPLOYING UNIONS AGAINST LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

Putin also said he supports the idea of giving trade unions the right to monitor the expenditure of federal funds through local budgets. According to ITAR-TASS, he commented that "it is impossible, without drawing in trade unions, to monitor from Moscow what happens in small towns and villages." A number of Finance Ministry officials, as well as former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, have accused some local governments of misappropriating federal funds transferred as wages for state sector workers such as teachers. Union leaders earlier suggested that local newspapers publish information about financial transfers from Moscow so that unions might be able to track how money is being spent locally. However, many regional newspapers operate with local government supervision and with local government money (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 March 1999). JAC

TWO MORE LEADERSHIP POSITIONS FILLED BY DUMA OPPOSITION GROUPS

State Duma deputies voted on 16 February to elect Boris Nemtsov of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko's Vladimir Lukin as deputy speakers. Deputies voted 242 in favor of Nemtsov, while 132 opposed. The vote for Lukin was 240 to 98. Nemtsov told reporters that he held lengthy talks with leaders of Unity and the People's Deputy group to ensure that he would be elected. Seventy-six members of Unity and 33 members of People's Deputy voted for Nemtsov on 16 February, compared with 61 and 11 last week. Almost half of the People's Deputy group did not vote for any candidate in either ballot, according to results published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 February. Lukin hailed his and Nemtsov's election, noting that "some balance" has been restored to the Duma. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev (Communist) told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 17 February that now that he has eight deputies, he "has only one headache: I will have to keep them all busy." JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY HALTS INVESTIGATION OF KHINSHTEIN

The Interior Ministry announced on 16 February that it has dropped its case against "Moskovskii komsomolets" reporter Aleksandr Khinshtein. Khinshtein had been accused of concealing a psychiatric disorder when he applied for a driver's license (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). Earlier in the month, Khinshtein voluntarily checked into a mental health facility to submit to a check-up. He and his newspaper have suggested that the case was manufactured by the ministry to pressure him for his investigative pieces about Boris Berezovskii and other figures. "Moskovskii komsomolets" is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, a foe of Berezovskii's. JAC

BEREZOVSKII ADMITS HE'S BUYING UP ALUMINIUM SECTOR

State Duma deputy and business tycoon Boris Berezovskii confirmed to Interfax on 16 February that the Sibneft oil company and LogoVAZ car dealership have purchased stakes in several leading companies of the Russian aluminum industry, such as Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, Achinsk Alumina Combine, the Bratsk and Novokuznetsk Aluminum Plants, and the Krasnoyarsk hydropower station. Meanwhile, a court in Hungary decided the same day to extradite the director-general of Krasnoyarsk Aluminum, Anatolii Bykov, to Russia, where he is wanted on charges of money-laundering. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 February, Bykov, who owns 28 percent of the shares in the company, is likely to be stripped of his post by Sibneft. Berezovskii owns a controlling interest in "Kommersant- Daily." JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT EXPECTS CLOSER TIES WITH LEBANON

President Robert Kocharian said in Beirut on 16 February that he expects his visit will "deepen" the already well- established ties between Armenia and Lebanon, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Commenting on military cooperation between Turkey and Israel, Kocharian said Yerevan views it with "certain concerns," and he urged both countries to do more to prove their ties are "not directed against third countries." In other remarks, Kocharian called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. PG

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S REFERENDUM IDEA DRAWS FIRE

Yerevan newspapers on 16 February attacked President Kocharian's recent suggestion that any peace accord on Nagorno-Karabakh could be put to a referendum, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "Haykakan Zhamanak" said this idea "can change the logic of the conflict's settlement," reducing Kocharian's influence on the process. "Aravot," meanwhile, asked why such a vote should be taken in Armenia: "If there is any need for such a referendum, it should be held in Azerbaijan and Karabakh rather than Armenia." PG

INCOME GAP WIDENS IN ARMENIA

The average annual income of the richest 20 percent of the Armenian population is now 32 times higher than that of the poorest 20 percent, compared with 27 times higher three years ago, according to an Armenian government survey reported by RFE/RL's Armenian Service. But the government noted that these figures do not reflect the large shadow economy or the substantial cash inflows from Armenians abroad. And the government said that despite this widening gap, Armenians are now eating better than they did in 1996, although not yet at the consumption levels of the late Soviet period. PG

AZERBAIJAN PLANS TO SELL GAS TO TURKEY

Azerbaijani and BP Amoco officials announced on 16 February that Baku plans to sell its own natural gas to Turkey two years from now, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The first deliveries from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field are to reach Turkey in the winter of 2002-2003, officials said. PG

AZERBAIJAN POLICE ARREST ASSASINATION ATTEMPT SUSPECT

Baku police said on the capital's ANS television station on 16 February that they have arrested Rasim Hasanov, who is suspected of being one of the organizers of the 1995 assassination attempt against President Heidar Aliev. The police said that Hasanov has been in the Russian Federation since 1995. PG

RELIGIONS MINISTRY URGED FOR AZERBAIJAN

Yusuf Cunaydin, the deputy chairman of the pro-government Motherland Party, on 16 February said that various minority religious groups are carrying out "sabotage against Azerbaijan," and he urged that the government create a special ministry for national relations and religions. Other speakers at a conference on religious confessions joined in this recommendation, Azerbaijani Space TV reported, with some noting that the current religious affairs department is "functioning just as it did during the Soviet period. Neither structural nor staff changes have taken place since it was set up." PG

GEORGIA CONFIDENT OF RUSSIA'S SUPPORT ON ABKHAZIA AFTER CHECHEN EXPERIENCE

Levan Aleksidze, President Eduard Shevardnadze's foreign policy adviser, told Interfax on 16 February that "after Chechnya, Russia would not dare to propose at talks that a Georgian-Abkhaz confederate state be created." In other remarks, Aleksidze said that Tbilisi plans a balanced approach in foreign affairs, simultaneously improving ties with Russia and continuing its efforts at integration with Europe. PG

OSCE SETS UP OBSERVER MISSION ON GEORGIAN-CHECHEN BORDER

Under the terms of a December 1999 decision, the OSCE is setting up a permanent observer mission on the Georgian- Chechen border, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 February. Georgian President Shevardnadze welcomed the move, saying the presence of such observers will make it possible "to once and for all do away" with suggestions that Islamic militants and weapons are reaching Chechnya via Georgia. PG

NAZABAEV SAYS KAZAKHSTAN WON'T JOIN RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION...

In a press conference on 16 February, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said that his country does not intend to join any unions, including the Union of Russia and Belarus, Interfax reported. He said that this is the choice of his nation. In other remarks, Nazarbayev came out against any state interference in the country's banking system and said that the incident concerning the illegal supply of Mig-21s to North Korea is over, the Russian news agency said. PG

...ARGUES KAZAKHSTAN NOT READY FOR LOCAL VOTES

Also on 16 February, President Nazarbaev said that his country is not yet ready to elect its local leaders and that those positions will remain appointed ones for the immediate future, Interfax reported. He said that before such elections could occur, Kazakhstan would have to become a law-governed state "where all laws will be effective and court decisions will be unconditionally fulfilled." PG

KYRGYZ, UZBEK OFFICIALS DISCUSS 'RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM'

Officials from Bishkek and Tashkent have met to discuss cooperation in the fight against what they called manifestations of religious freedom, the "Vecherniy Bishkek" website reported on 16 February. One of these officials told the paper that "acts by illegal organizations such as the Hezb-e Tahrir in Fergana or in Adizhan are being repeated in Osh and Bishkek." These sessions are to be followed by a meeting of the special service directors of the two countries. PG

BOMB BLAST KILLS DEPUTY MINISTER IN TAJIKISTAN

A bomb explosion in Dushanbe killed Tajikistan's Deputy Security Minister and parliamentary candidate Shamsullo Dzhabirov on 16 February, Reuters reported. Dushanbe Mayor Makhmadzsaid Ubaidullayev, who was in the same car as Dzhabirov, escaped uninjured. President Imomali Rakhmonov said the bombing attack was "an act of terrorism aimed at destabilizing the socio-political situation before the parliamentary elections," Interfax reported. PG

TURKMENBASHI IS COMPUTERIZED

The COMPAQ computer company, which has provided computers to Turkmenistan's banks, has now given computer software to the country's presidential palace, the Turkmen state news agency reported on 16 February. Meanwhile, President Saparmurat Niyazov pardoned some 1,500 convicted criminals on the occasion of his 60th birthday and the country's Flag Day. Both take place on 19 February. PG




BELARUSIAN-RUSSIAN INTEGRATION TO PROCEED AHEAD OF SCHEDULE?

Russian First Deputy Premier Mikhail Kasyanov, who is also head of the Russia-Belarus Union government, met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Belarusian Premier Syarhey Linh in Minsk on 16 February to discuss the harmonization of the two countries' customs and tax legislation. Kasyanov said the sides might unify their customs and tax legislation as soon as in 2001, one year ahead of the schedule stipulated in the union treaty. Contrary to Minsk's expectations, the sides did not discuss issuing a Russian stabilization credit to prop up the Belarusian currency, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Kasyanov and Linh announced that the 2000 union budget will amount to 2.2 billion Russian rubles ($76 million). Belarus will contribute 35 percent of that sum. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES COOPERATION OF GOVERNMENT, PARLIAMENT

Leonid Kuchma believes that Ukraine's executive and legislative branches are now working "very constructively," Kuchma's spokesman, Oleksandr Martynenko, told journalists on 16 February. Speaking about the forthcoming vote of no confidence in the parliament in the 16 April referendum, Martynenko said the vote was proposed in relation to the 14th Supreme Council, while "now we have the Supreme Council of the 3rd convocation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000), Interfax reported. With regard to other questions related to the referendum, he said "we need to wait for the Constitutional Court's ruling" and that the president will take action on the basis of that ruling. JM

IMF QUESTIONS UKRAINE'S PLANNED 2000 BUDGET REVENUES

The IMF mission in Ukraine, which has started a detailed review of that country's 2000 draft budget, expressed doubts on 16 February whether Ukraine will achieve its planned revenues, Interfax reported. Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov made that statement to the agency, while mission head Mohammad Shadman-Valavi refused to comment. Yekhanurov added that Premier Viktor Yushchenko will ask parliamentary deputies "to adopt a number of laws oriented toward making budget revenue items more realistic." JM

UKRAINE POSTS 3.4 PERCENT GROWTH IN JANUARY

The State Statistics Committee has reported that Ukraine's GDP in January 2000 increased by 3.4 percent, compared with January 1999. Last month's inflation was 4.6 percent. The government predicts that GDP in 2000 will increase by 1 percent, compared with 1999, while inflation will not exceed 15.9 percent. In 1999, Ukraine's GDP fell by 0.4 percent, while inflation reached 19.2 percent. JM

RUSSIAN CONSULAR OFFICIAL ACCUSED OF SMUGGLING

The managing director of the Russian Consulate in Narva, Aleksandr Trofimov, was accused of smuggling after a large consignment of cigarettes and vodka was found in his vehicle at the Estonian-Russian border. In that car, which had diplomatic plates and which Trofimov claimed was for personal use, customs officials found 30 liters of vodka and 39,300 packs of cigarettes that had not been declared, "Postimees" reported on 17 February. Officials at the Customs Department said they are discussing the issue with the Foreign Ministry in order to cover all the legal aspects of the issue. "Postimees" on 16 February pointed out that it would take 100 years at a pack a day for the smuggled cigarettes to be consumed. MH

TOO OLD TO HAVE MOBILE PHONE IN LATVIA?

The Latvian National Human Rights Office said nothing prevents mobile phone companies from denying service to elderly customers, LETA reported on 16 February. The issue was raised by the case of 70-year old Marta Svika, who tried to purchase a mobile phone in Jekabpils in December and connect to the Baltkom GSM system. Svika was refused service in two stores in the city, with one telling LETA that "regulations say that people over the age of 55 cannot register their mobile phone with Baltkom GSM in their own name." However, an employee with Baltkom GSM said that the company has no such policy, although it does have one against "destitute people," which is implemented on the basis of "the person's outer appearance, how he/she is dressed." LETA added that upon checking with Baltkom GSM operators, there are restrictions on customers over 70. MH

PROTESTOR CRASHES LITHUANIA INDEPENDENCE DAY CEREMONY

A protestor twice interrupted an awards ceremony in Vilnius on 16 February, Lithuanian Independence Day, to protest the choice of recipients, "Lietuvos Rytas" reported. Nijole Sadunaite, a nun and a former dissident, approached President Valdas Adamkus while the latter was bestowing an award on ex- Premier Kazimiera Prunskiene and, later, on former Interior Minister Marijonas Misiukonis. Sadunaite accused both of being accomplices of the Soviet regime, saying Prunskiene had a hand in the 13 January 1991 massacre in Vilnius and Misiukonis was a ranking KGB official. MH

POLISH PREMIER URGES QUICK PASSAGE OF EU-RELATED LAWS

Jerzy Buzek on 17 February asked the parliament to establish a fast track for passing some 150 laws needed for Poland's EU membership. Buzek said the country's EU entry is a "great national task" that should be pursued jointly by the government and the opposition. The largest opposition party, the Democratic Left Alliance, pledged cooperation in speeding up the approval of EU-related laws but also criticized Buzek's cabinet for its bad information policy and "legislative delays" regarding Poland's EU entry. JM

WARSAW, MINSK SQUABBLE OVER DETAINED BELARUSIANS

Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said on 16 February that the deportation of 10 Belarusians this week was an administrative decision that had no political motives, PAP reported. Dobrowolski was commenting on the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's note protesting the 13 February detention of 47 Belarusian citizens in Gizycko, northeastern Poland. Minsk said the Polish authorities arrested the Belarusians under the pretext of checking their documents and detained them for 12 hours at a police station. The Polish Border Guard says it released 37 Belarusians immediately after checking their documents and noted that 10 Belarusians as well as two Russians and two Lithuanians were deported for illegal trade. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT CALLS ON EU TO SUPPORT CIVIL SOCIETY IN EASTERN EUROPE

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 16 February, Vaclav Havel said the EU must support the strengthening of civil society in Eastern Europe, CTK reported. Havel urged the parliament to consider adopting a European constitution that would contribute to the better understanding of European values. He also recommended that it set up a second chamber in the European parliament, which, he said, would reassure smaller EU members that their voice would be heard. Havel appealed to the EU not to slow down the enlargement process, saying that the reform of EU institutions must not affect the enlargement process. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT BLOCKS IRAN DEAL

Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky told journalists on 16 February that the government will halt a $27.5 million deal whereby the air-conditioner maker ZVVZ Milevsko would have supplied equipment to a nuclear power plant under construction in Bushehr, Iran. The U.S. has warned Prague that implementation of the deal may bring about sanctions against the Czech Republic under U.S. legislation. Rychetsky said the government had "good reasons" for not allowing the deal to take place, but he refused to say what steps it will take, saying only that the cabinet "does not rule out" taking over ZVVZ Milevsko, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER SAYS 'NO ONE LEAVING CABINET'

Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on 16 February that Slovakia is making up for "lost time" in accession talks with the EU and that he is not concerned that a breakup of the ruling coalition will disrupt that process, CTK reported. Alluding to a recent statement by Party of Democratic Left leader Jozef Migas that his party might leave the coalition, Dzurinda said "no one is leaving the government." Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said one day earlier that he had received assurances in Brussels from his Austrian counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, that Vienna will not pose any obstacles to EU enlargement. MS




MONTENEGRO SAYS BELGRADE SETTING UP PARAMILITARIES

President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) said in a statement in Podgorica on 16 February that the Yugoslav Army General Staff has transformed a military police unit in Montenegro into a paramilitary one (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 15 February 2000). "The Yugoslav Army General Staff is trying to conceal what everybody in Montenegro can see--that the seventh military police battalion is in fact a paramilitary and party formation made up of the staunchest [pro-Belgrade] Socialist People's Party (SNP) structures.... [That unit] has several times more troops than it did during the [1999] NATO air campaign, and it is being trained in skills that could be abused," Reuters reported. Montenegrin government officials have frequently charged that Belgrade has set up paramilitary structures in the mountainous republic in the hope of staging a coup against the Djukanovic leadership. PM

FEDERAL AUTHORITIES REOPEN MONTENEGRIN AIRPORT

Air traffic officials reopened Tivat airport on 16 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2000). They said in a statement that NATO aircraft had repeatedly entered Yugoslav airspace in the area and endangered the safety of civilian air traffic. PM

BELGRADE SETTING UP TELEVISION STATION IN MONTENEGRO?

Television transmitting equipment arrived on a military aircraft from Belgrade in Podgorica, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 16 February. The daily "Pobjeda" reported that the federal authorities plan to set up their own television station on a military base in northern Montenegro. Information Minister Bozidar Jaredic said that Belgrade has not raised the matter with his government. PM

MILOSEVIC PARTY CONGRESS OPENS

The congress of the Socialist Party of Serbia opened in Belgrade on 17 February. Its main purpose is to reshuffle the leadership to present a fresh image ahead of the local elections that are expected in Belgrade and elsewhere later this year. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic told delegates that the 1999 conflict in Kosova was a victory for Serbia in its "struggle for freedom and independence." Party Secretary-General Gorica Gajevic said that the opposition are traitors. More than 100 buses brought in party faithful from numerous localities across Serbia. The private and independent media were not given accreditation to cover the congress. Several foreign delegations are present, including from Libya and Iraq. Elsewhere, Montenegrin Television reported that several Serbian opposition leaders will attend the inauguration of Croatian President Stipe Mesic in Zagreb on 18 February. PM

UCK BLAMES MILOSEVIC FOR KOSOVA VIOLENCE

Hashim Thaci, the leader of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said in Prishtina on 16 February that the recent violence in Mitrovica could easily spread to other municipalities in the province. General Agim Ceku, who is the former commander of the UCK and now head of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps, added: "The source of all this violence are Milosevic's gangs. If the international community wants to stop the violence, it has to stop the source as soon as possible," Reuters reported. PM

UN APPEALS FOR POLICE FOR KOSOVA

Assistant Secretary-General Hedi Annabi said in a report that the recent violence in Mitrovica underscores the need for more foreign police in Kosova, AP reported from the UN on 16 February. Only 2,055 police out of a total of 4,718 promised by several countries are currently serving in the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2000). Annabi also noted that some 1,600 Kosovars continue to be imprisoned in Serbia. They include several prominent ethnic Albanian activists, such as student leader Albin Kurti. In related news, the UN's Bernard Kouchner said in Mitrovica that another 100 police will arrive in the city by the end of February. Some 27 police arrived there from Peja on 16 February. PM

FRENCH MINISTER TO DISCUSS KOSOVA IN U.S.

A French Defense Ministry spokesman said in Paris on 16 February that Defense Minister Alain Richard will travel to Washington within one week to discuss Kosova. The spokesman added that Richard wants to "explain our views to the Americans, who are giving out some information which, from our point of view, is questionable," Reuters reported. He did not elaborate. Elsewhere, Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said that "France is not at the root of the difficulties that have been encountered [by peacekeepers in Mitrovica].... France has agreed to be on the frontline [by stationing its forces there], which explains why the French are being targeted" by armed Serbs and Albanians. PM

ANNAN NAMES NEW BOSNIAN POLICE CHIEF

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed France's General Vincent Coeurderoy to head the UN police force in Bosnia. He replaces Detlef Buwitt, who returns to Germany. The 1,900-strong UN force trains and "monitors" local Croatian, Muslim, and Serbian police, AP reported. PM

EU OUTLINES TASKS FOR CROATIA

Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told "Jutarnji list" of 17 February that the EU wants the government to decide within one month how it will enable ethnic Serbian refugees to return home. EU officials also told him during his recent visit to Brussels that they expect a clear plan from the government on improving relations with Bosnia and on depoliticizing state-run Croatian Television. He said that the EU's support for the new government has been stronger than Zagreb had expected. Picula added that it will take some time to clarify Croatia's legal obligations toward the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He stressed that the Justice Ministry has many tasks before it. The ministry will have to deal with several unspecified problems before it can tackle the question of relations with The Hague. Picula added, however, that the government will soon begin direct talks with Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. PM

ALBANIA GETS FIRST OMBUDSMAN

The parliament on 17 February elected law professor Emir Dobjani as Albania's first-ever ombudsman. The position was provided for in the 1998 constitution at the recommendation of the OSCE. The ombudsman will investigate citizens' complaints against officials in a country where the government is widely regarded as inefficient and corrupt, Reuters reported. PM

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER QUITS DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Victor Babiuc on 17 February announced he is resigning from the Democratic Party, of which he was a deputy chairman, because he has felt "more and more isolated within the leadership of a party with whose policies I find it more and more difficult to identify," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Babiuc said he is ready to quit his ministerial post if the party wants him to do so. Democrats' spokesman Dumitru Marinescu said Babiuc's move was a "surprisingly cynical act." Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Traian Basescu said on Romanian Television that Babiuc had the opportunity to resign before the formation of the new cabinet, headed by Mugur Isarescu, and that the move was likely triggered by his realization that he would not be nominated for leadership positions at the party's national conference later this week. Mediafax reported Babiuc may join the National Liberal Party. MS

CYANIDE POLLUTION BACK TO ROMANIA

The pollution caused by the spill into a tributary of the Tisa River has now returned to Romania. Romanian Radio reported on 17 February that water supplies in Drobeta Turnu Severin, on the banks of the River Danube, were halted the previous day, and fishing in the river has been prohibited. Cyanide concentration in the waters of the Danube was some 20 times higher than normal. Meanwhile, police in Baia Mare launched a criminal investigation into the Aurul company, which caused the spill. Foreign Minister Petre Roman, responding to Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's statement one day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2000), said he "fails to comprehend the logic behind suing Romania before the joint experts' commission has finalized its investigation." He appealed to Budapest "not to attempt to politicize the issue." MS

WORLD BANK, IMF SPECIFY CONDITIONS FOR RESUMING AID TO MOLDOVA

Roger Grawe, World Bank director for Moldova, told journalists in Chisinau on 16 February that the bank is ready to resume aid to Moldova if an agreement is reached with the IMF and if the privatization process continues, Infotag reported. Richard Haas, who recently headed an IMF mission to Chisinau, said the fund will resume loaning if the government meets the provisions of the memorandum of understanding agreed with Dumitru Barghis's cabinet. He said the parliament must pass legislation for the privatization of the wine and tobacco industries and for the reform of the energy sector. Haas said that "if everything is on track" by 31 March, the IMF will disburse a $35 million tranche in May, Infotag reported. MS

BULGARIA EXPECTS TO JOIN EU BEFORE 2007

Taking part in the opening of the EU enlargement negotiations in Brussels on 15 February, Foreign Minster Nadezhda Mihailova said her country expects to accede to the EU before the end of 2006. She said that Bulgaria has made "significant progress" in meeting EU membership criteria and that the negotiations with the union are "a strong incentive" for pursuing the membership goal "with even more determination," BTA reported. Mihailova said Bulgaria is ready to start negotiations on 12 chapters of the EU Charter. President Petar Stoyanov said in Botevgrad the same day that following the start of membership negotiations with the EU, the country must "acquire a new frame of mind." "We must meet those criteria that would make Bulgarian goods competitive, first on the European, and then on the global market," he said. MS




KOCHARIAN'S KARABAKH STRATEGY CHALLENGED BY HARD-LINE RIVALS


By Emil Danielyan

Two years ago, then Armenian President Levon Ter- Petrossian took the public by surprise by announcing his resignation under pressure from key ministers unhappy with his conciliatory line on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Masterminding a behind-the-scene effort to remove him was Robert Kocharian, then prime minister and the current president. Now it looks as though Kocharian may find himself in the same situation as his predecessor, as hard-liners show reluctance to make major concessions to Azerbaijan.

The Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war, a group that controls many power structures in Armenia, has warned that no peace solution will work unless the union approves it. At a high-profile meeting on 5 February, Yerkrapah leaders signaled their unwillingness to see most Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan returned to Baku's control--a major condition for peace.

Kocharian has moved promptly to dispel Yerkrapah's concerns, promising that he will not make any deals on Karabakh "single-handedly." He even said in televised comments late last week that a possible settlement with Azerbaijan might be put to a nationwide referendum. Yerkrapah, supported by the Armenian government and parliament, may have been reassured by the president for now. However, its warning is a sign of more difficulties ahead in the peace process. For the past year, domestic opposition to a compromise solution to the Karabakh conflict was thought to be far stronger in Azerbaijan than in Armenia. But recent developments suggest that a backlash is no less likely on the Armenian side.

A catalyst for Yerkrapah's outburst of anger was speculation in the Armenian press that Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, are considering an exchange of territories as a means of ending the dispute. Under such a swap, Yerevan would secure Karabakh's de jure secession from Azerbaijan in return for ceding a stretch of land linking Azerbaijan with its Nakhichevan exclave, sandwiched between Armenia and Iran. This is totally unacceptable to Yerkrapah and most Armenian political parties. Kocharian revealed in his television address last week that such an idea was floated by the OSCE mediators but categorically rejected by him.

The unease over that proposal highlighted broader Yerkrapah concerns about future concessions to Azerbaijan and, in particular, the fate of seven Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh that Armenian forces occupied during the 1991-1994 war. The official Armenian position has been that all but one of those districts will be returned, but only if Baku agrees to relations with Karabakh on an equal footing. The Lachin district, which provides the shortest overland connection between Armenia and the disputed enclave, is not up for negotiation, according to Yerevan.

For hard-line elements in Armenia and Karabakh, this is too soft a position. They believe the lands "liberated by blood" are vital to national security and should not be traded for peace.

The question of the occupied territories was at the heart of differences between Ter-Petrossian and Kocharian in February 1998, when the latter insisted they should be returned only after Karabakh's final status is internationally determined. The ex-president, for his part, backed an international peace plan whereby the handover would precede a decision on the future status of the enclave.

In November 1998, the Kocharian administration persuaded the OSCE to put forward new proposals that envisaged a "package" solution to the conflict, as opposed to the previous "step-by-step" strategy. The new plan reportedly upheld Karabakh's de facto independence in a loose "common state" with Azerbaijan. It was largely backed by Armenian leaders, including Vazgen Sargsian, the late prime minister and Yerkrapah's founder, and was obviously the best the Armenians could get from the international community.

Sargsian's five months as government head must have been enough for him to acquire first-hand knowledge of the country's enormous socio-economic woes and to understand the potential benefits of peace. And there was no question of Sargsian failing to win the support for that peace deal of his Yerkrapah loyalists, many of them molded by the war, given that his moral authority among them was unquestionable.

But things have changed since Sargsian and seven other officials were shot dead in the 27 October attack on the parliament. There now seems to be nobody who could rein in Yerkrapah. Current Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, Vazgen's inexperienced brother, is not considered a political heavyweight, and there is a large question mark over the ability of the Republican Party of Armenia, Yerkrapah's political wing that controls parliament, to act on its own.

The parliament attack has weakened Kocharian, who has come under fire from the late premier's allies, some of whom have called for his resignation. On 5 February, Kocharian again felt the chill of Yerkrapah's disapproval.

Kocharian's every move on Karabakh will likely be treated with suspicion, at the very least. How Yerkrapah will behave when the time comes to make critical decisions is difficult to say. But it is already clear that the Armenian president no longer has a free hand in deal-making. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.


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