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Newsline - February 21, 2000




CHECHEN PRESIDENT CHARGED WITH ARMED INSURRECTION

Yurii Biryagov, who heads the North Caucasus office of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, said in Moscow on 18 February that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has been charged with organizing between October 1999 and February 2000 an armed rebellion with the aim of changing by violence the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, Interfax reported. Those charges are based on the incursion into Daghestan last August by forces subordinate to the Congress of Peoples of Chechnya and Daghestan, which is chaired by field commander Shamil Basaev and with which Maskhadov has no formal connection. Russian First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kozlov said in Moscow on 19 February that Russia will ask Interpol to launch a search for Maskhadov. LF

GANTEMIROV VOWS TO FREE BABITSKII

Western news agencies on 20 February quoted Beslan Gantemirov, who is deputy to Russian government representative in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman, as saying that his militia will soon rescue RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii from the Chechen fighters who are holding him in the village of Duba-Yurt. It was unclear whether Gantemirov is in Chechnya or still hospitalized in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2000). President Maskhadov has denied that his troops are holding Babitskii, who is believed to have been handed over to Gantemirov's men. A senior RFE/RL official on 18 February cast doubts on a report published that day in "Komsomolskaya pravda" that Babitskii is in Duba-Yurt with field commander Rizvan Chitigov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY DISCOUNTS REPORTS OF RADUEV'S DEATH

The Russian Defense Ministry on 19 February rejected as false unconfirmed reports that renegade Chechen field commander Salman Raduev was killed in Nozhai-Yurt the previous day, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen sources have neither denied nor confirmed the rumors of Raduev's death. Caucasus Press had reported on 10 February that Raduev had been seriously wounded and taken to Turkey for medical treatment. LF

THREE MORE CANDIDATES REGISTERED...

The Central Election Commission on 19 February registered another three candidates for 26 March presidential elections: State Duma deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) and film-maker Stanislav Govorukhin, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, and Movement for Civil Dignity head Ella Pamfilova. As of 19 February, eight candidates were registered for the presidential elections. According to the Commission, Yavlinskii earned 2,480,848 rubles ($86,320) in 1998-1999 and he has 899,642 rubles on deposit in Austria's Creditanstalt bank. His wife, Yelena, has 32,233 rubles on an account in the same bank. He owns apartments in Moscow and Lvov, Ukraine, as well as a dacha outside Moscow. JAC

...AS ONE MORE REJECTED AND ONE DROPS OUT

The commission voted on 19 February to reject the registration of Tishkino Director-General Ismail Tagi-zade because he submitted only 482,929 signatures instead of the required 500,000. German Khrustalev, an aide to a Moscow City Duma deputy, informed the commission the same day that he is dropping out of the race. JAC

SOBCHAK DIES

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak died of a heart attack in Svetlogorsk, Kaliningrad Oblast, on 20 February. Sobchak, who was 62 and had been a prominent advocate of reform in the late 1980s, fled to France in November 1997 after allegedly suffering a heart attack during police questioning in connection with corruption charges. He returned to St. Petersburg last summer, and several months later the charges against him were dropped. Acting President Vladimir Putin described Sobchak as a "brilliant representative of the generation of politicians who founded the new Russian state." Sobchak was one of Putin's law teachers at Leningrad University in the 1970s and appointed him his deputy when he became mayor. According to Interfax, Sobchak was in the Russian exclave as Putin's official representative at the time of his death. He is to be buried in St. Petersburg on 24 February, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. JC

PUTIN CALLS FOR BOOSTING LIVING STANDARDS IN SIBERIA...

Addressing a gathering of the interregional association Siberian Accord in Irkutsk on 18 February, acting President Putin said that "the improvement of the living standards of the people [in Siberia] must be the end goal of any discussion of economic policy in Siberia," according to ITAR- TASS. Putin noted that despite Siberia's vast natural resources, the population there "is poorer than in the country as a whole." Nevertheless, "Siberians are a state- minded people and put the country's interests in the forefront," he added. The pro-Kremlin party Unity did particularly well in Siberia and the Far East in the 19 December State Duma elections. JAC

...SPEAKS OUT AGAINST APPOINTING GOVERNORS...

Acting President Putin also said on 18 February that since the system of electing governors has already come into effect, "it would not be right to go back on it," ITAR-TASS reported. Putin was commenting on the recent statements by some Russian officials that regional heads should be appointed by Moscow rather than elected (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 16 February 2000). He added that appointing governors is not the "only way to strengthen vertical management" in the Russian Federation. JAC

...MAKES A PLAY FOR SUPPORT OF INTELLIGENTSIA

Also on 18 February, at a meeting with representatives of Irkutsk's intelligentsia, Putin said that any form of censorship in Russia is inadmissible and "undermines democratic society," Interfax reported. He added that he finds "shameful the kind of situation in which our intelligentsia has found itself" and declared that the share of the budget devoted to culture will increase from 0.6 percent to 1 percent. Interfax also reported the same day that Putin revealed some of his favorite things: the summer season, the color ice blue, reading history books, and listening to "popular classical" music, such as Michail Oginski's Polonaise. JAC

PUTIN ACTS TO SAVE FAILING BANK

Acting President Putin has called on the Central Bank to stop bankruptcy proceedings against Promstroibank and hand over consideration of the bank's fate to the Agency for Restructuring Credit Organizations (ARKO), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 February. According to the daily, such an act is strictly speaking illegal since Promstroibank has already lost its banking license. Promstroibank Chairman Artur Zhuravlov told "The Moscow Times" that the Putin government has realized the importance of the Promstroibank as one of Russia's oldest industrial banks. He added that the bank needs an injection of only some 3 billion rubles ($104 million) to restore its liquidity. Richard Hainsworth, a banking analyst at Thompson Bankwatch, said that it will be difficult to revive the bank, which, he added, "is likely to continue to be run as the living dead." Putin has his largest savings account in Promstroibank and also owns 23 shares in its St. Petersburg branch. JAC

...CONTEMPLATES OTHER ACTIONS IN BANKING SECTOR

According to "Kommersant-Daily," work has almost been completed on a presidential decree "setting out tough measures to be taken against problem banks." Dmitrii Ignatiev, head of the Tax Ministry's department for taxation of financial organizations, said the decree is expected to be signed at the end of February. The newspaper, which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, concluded that the existence of the decree suggests that Putin is willing to interfere in the Central Bank's traditional sphere of influence--possibly to the benefit of the Tax Ministry, which has frequently differed with the Central Bank on policy matters related to commercial banks. JAC

SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD MEETS WITH CLINTON, BERGER

Sergei Ivanov delivered a letter from acting President Putin to U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington on 18 February. Interfax quoted the Russian presidential press service as saying the letter stressed that relations with the U.S. are a "top" Russian foreign-policy priority. Clinton and Ivanov discussed the situation in Chechnya, with the former noting concern about the humanitarian situation in the republic and the need for a political solution. Ivanov also had several meetings with his U.S. counterpart, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who reportedly raised the issues of the Duma's ratification of START-2 and concern over continued cooperation between "Russian entities and Iran's missile program." Berger also brought up the issue of missing RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii. JC

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT JAPAN THIS SUMMER?

The Japanese press on 19 February quoted Russian Ambassador to Japan Aleksandr Panov as saying that the winner of the 26 March presidential elections will hold talks in Japan this summer on an agreement officially ending World War II hostilities between the two countries, Reuters reported. According to Panov, the new Russian president will meet with Japanese officials after the Group of Eight summit in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture in July. Ahead of his recent visit to Tokyo, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had commented that it is "highly unlikely" that Russia and Japan will conclude a peace treaty this year, despite a 1997 agreement to that effect (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 10 February 2000). JC

PUTIN MAKES MORE APPOINTMENTS

Acting President Putin on 18 February appointed Sergei Khetagurov as head of the Federal Migration Service. Khetagurov was until recently a deputy emergencies minister, according to ITAR-TASS. Khetagurov replaces Vladimir Kalamanov, who was recently named presidential representative for human rights in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). Putin also appointed Sergei Kolotukhin as deputy finance minister, replacing Oleg Vyugin, who resigned earlier. Kolotukhin, who was an acting vice president at Troika Dialog, will oversee Russia's external debt policy, according to Interfax. JAC

ANOTHER SWISS FIRM IMPLICATED IN KREMLIN SCANDAL

Geneva's chief prosecutor, Bernard Bertossa, told Reuters on 18 February that while his office's investigation of alleged bribes made to Kremlin officials initially focused on the Swiss firm Mabetex, it has now been extended to another Swiss firm, Merkata Trading, which, like Mabetex, is a construction firm. According to Bertossa, Merkata made payments of $60 million to top Kremlin officials, including former facilities directorate head Pavel Borodin, in exchange for contracts to renovate the Kremlin. A spokeswoman for Borodin, who is now the secretary of state for the Union of Belarus and Russia, called the entire matter "absurd." JAC

RUSSIA, CZECH REPUBLIC EXCHANGE INTELLIGENCE AGENTS

RIA- Novosti reported on 18 February that Russian and Czech foreign ministries have "silently swapped intelligence agents" who had been working as diplomats. According to the agency, the Czech Foreign Ministry recently "quietly" expelled a Russian citizen who was suspected of intelligence activity. It did not state if and when Russia ejected a Czech citizen. Last month, Poland and Russia engaged in a similar "swap" when Poland expelled nine suspected spies from the Russian embassy in Warsaw and Russia responded by demanding the departure of nine Polish diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). JAC




ARMENIAN RULING COALITION PARTNER CALLS FOR CABINET RESHUFFLE

Senior members of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), which forms the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, together with the Republican Party, told RFE/RL on 18 February that the Armenian government should be reshuffled in order to bring in ministers capable of implementing its proposed economic policies. They refrained, however, from naming ministers and denied that the party wants more cabinet posts in addition to the two it already holds. The HZhK also criticized the 2000 draft budget as not based on a clear economic program. On 17 February, the HZhK expressed its support for demands by opposition parties to convene a special parliamentary session to debate the planned privatization of the energy distribution network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2000). LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, DASHNAKS DISCUSS KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS

Robert Kocharian met with Vahan Hovannisian and other leading members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-- Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) on 19 February to discuss ongoing diplomatic efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict and the overall political and economic situation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. At the close of its congress earlier this month, the HHD had warned against a solution to the conflict that would entail concessions from Armenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2000). In an interview published in "Iravunk" on 17 February, Hovannisian stated that none of the peace proposals advocated to date by the OSCE Minsk Group is acceptable to his party. He termed recent developments in the peace process "very dangerous," and argued that Armenia should not engage in further talks on resolving the conflict until it has made progress toward resolving economic and domestic political problems. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT UNDERGOES EYE SURGERY

Heidar Aliyev had a cataract removed in surgery at Washington on 17 February, Reuters and Turan reported the following day. Azerbaijani state television reported that Aliyev "feels well." ITAR-TASS quoted Azerbaijani Health Minister Ali Insanov as saying on 18 February that the president will return to Baku "in a few days." LF

ABKHAZIA REJECTS LATEST UN DRAFT PEACE PROPOSALS

Abkhazia will not discuss the "basic principles of distributing constitutional powers" between Georgia and Abkhazia, which were drafted by the UN, Astamur Tania, an aide to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, told Caucasus Press on 18 February. That draft envisages broad autonomy for Abkhazia within a unified Georgian state. Abkhaz Prime Minister Vyacheslav Tsugba, for his part, told Caucasus Press that the Abkhaz authorities are prepared to discuss only establishing relations with Georgia on the basis of two equal states. LF

PICKETS IN WESTERN GEORGIA DISPERSE

A group of Georgians who have blockaded the Inguri bridge, in western Georgia, since early February to demand the release of relatives held hostage in Abkhazia have dispersed after being assured by Georgian intelligence chief Avtandil Ioseliani that two Georgians sentenced by the Abkhaz for crimes committed during the 1998 hostilities will be released, Caucasus Press reported on 21 February. In return, Georgia will release two Abkhaz customs officers seized in late January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 8 February 2000). The Abkhaz had earlier protested that a protocol signed in early February covered the release of all hostages, but not of persons convicted for war crimes. On 18 February, the CIS peacekeeping detachment deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia had accused the Georgians of exacerbating tensions by refusing to expedite the Abkhaz officers' release. LF

GEORGIA SAYS NO CHECHEN MILITANTS ON ITS TERRITORY

Acting Georgian Border Guard Service commander Korneli Salia on 18 February denied the claim made earlier that day by his Russian counterpart, Konstantin Totskii, that between 400 and 1,000 Chechen militants have taken refuge in Georgia's Pankisi gorge close to the border with Chechnya, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. On 19 February, the Georgian Foreign Ministry announced that Azerbaijan, Hungary, Spain, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Romania, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Estonia have sent representatives to serve in an OSCE force that will monitor the Chechen sector of the Georgian-Russian border. LF

STALIN'S GRANDSON HOPES TO CONTEST GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL

Georgia's Central Electoral Commission (CEC) on 19 February received applications from another two presidential hopefuls, raising the total to 16, ITAR-TASS reported. The last two candidates to submit their applications before the 19 February deadline were Yevgenii Djughashvili, 63, a retired Soviet army colonel and grandson of Joseph Stalin, and lawyer Ushangi Dondjashvili. On 18 February, the CEC officially banned the collection of signatures in support of the presidential candidacy of former Georgian Security chief Igor Giorgadze, who the Georgian authorities claim masterminded an attempt to assassinate parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze in 1995. The CEC ruled that Giorgadze cannot contest the poll as he has not lived in Georgia for the past two years. LF

KYRGYZSTAN HOLDS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

Some 64 percent of Kyrgyzstan's 2.4 million voters cast their ballots on 20 February in elections for the country's new bicameral parliament. Preliminary returns indicated that the Communist Party polled some 27 percent of the party list vote, under which 15 of the 60 seats in the lower house are to be allocated. A women's group was in second place, followed by the pro-presidential My Country group and the pro-government Union of Democratic Forces. LF

OIC DELEGATION IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan's Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov held talks in Dushanbe on 17 February with a delegation from the Organization of the Islamic Conference headed by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. Discussing the war in Afghanistan, Nazarov proposed a cease-fire as a first step toward a solution. All parties agreed that further peace talks within the Six-Plus-Two group (Russia, the U.S., China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) are needed to expedite a settlement of the civil war in Afghanistan and should be supplemented by international and private initiatives. LF

TWO TAJIK POLICE OFFICERS ATTACKED

Two masked attackers opened fire late on 18 February on two police officers in Dushanbe, Interfax reported. One of the officers later died from his wounds. On 19 February, ITAR-TASS quoted a senior Tajik security official as saying that several suspects have been detained in connection with the 16 February grenade attack on the car of Dushanbe Mayor Makhmadsaid Ubaidullaev, in which Deputy Security Minister Shamsullo Dzhabirov was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2000). LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL EVENTUALLY STEP DOWN

Speaking in Ashgabat on 19 February, his 60th birthday, Saparmurad Niyazov that over the next five to seven years he plans to prepare a successor, after which he will resign, Interfax and AP reported. He said that he considers it his duty to prepare a new generation of politicians to whom power will be transferred, rather than risk a power vacuum or power struggle. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT ESTABLISHES NEW CONTROL BODY

Islam Karimov has issued a decree creating a Coordinating Council for Control that will be subordinate to himself and will monitor implementation of presidential and government decrees and resolutions, Interfax reported on 18 February. The new commission will also monitor the work of government commissions headed by ministers or presidential advisers. LF




BELARUS HAS NEW PREMIER...

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 18 February dismissed Prime Minister Syarhey Linh and appointed Uladzimir Yarmoshyn as acting head of the cabinet. Belarusian Television reported that Lukashenka was complying with Linh's request to resign, but Reuters quoted Linh's press spokesman as saying that the dismissal took the former premier by surprise. Linh is a 62-year-old former Communist Party functionary, who took over after Premier Mikhail Chyhir resigned in November 1996. He was widely seen as a mere tool for implementing presidential directives. Under him, living standards in the country have declined significantly. Yarmoshyn before his cabinet appointment headed the Minsk city administration and was reportedly seen as an efficient administrator. JM

...BUT LITTLE PROSPECT OF POLICY CHANGE

Lukashenka told Interfax on 20 February that he chose Yarmoshyn because of the latter's "skills as an industrialist and a builder," which, he said, Yarmoshyn demonstrated in running the Belarusian capital. Lukashenka's administration head, Mikhail Myasnikovich, told the news agency that Yarmoshyn is expected "to rigorously implement a socially oriented economy that was established in Belarus by the president." Foreign Minister Ural Latypau told Reuters the same day that the government's "general policy" will be the same as before. Former Premier Mikhail Chyhir and former National Bank Chairman Stanislau Bahdankevich, who are now in opposition, told Belapan that Belarus's economic course is determined by the president and that the change of cabinet head will therefore not mean any changes in the country's economic policies. JM

POPULAR FRONT SAYS RUSSIANS IN 'PRACTICALLY ALL' KEY POSTS IN BELARUS

Alyaksey Kavalets, secretary of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), told Belapan on 19 February that Yarmoshyn's appointment means that "practically all" key posts in Belarus have now been assumed by migrants from Russia. The 57-year-old Yarmoshyn was born in Russia's Ryazan Oblast, while First Deputy Premier Uladzimir Zamyatalin, Defense Minister Alyaksandr Chumakou, Interior Minister Yury Sivakou, and Foreign Minister Ural Latypau are also from Russia. According to the BNF leadership, Lukashenka is preparing to abolish Belarusian sovereignty and that his personnel policy is intended to serve this goal, the agency reported. JM

UKRAINE'S TKACHENKO SAYS PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY HAS 'SPLIT'

Former leftist speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko told Interfax on 18 February that the center-right parliamentary majority is now suffering from "a split and misunderstanding." Tkachenko added that last week the majority approved only six bills of the 44 on the agenda and failed to agree on personnel issues. "The majority has no such enthusiasm as in the beginning. They have felt that they were fooled," Tkachenko added. Deputy Speaker Stepan Havrysh denied that the majority is facing a crisis. Havrysh said the majority's inability to appoint parliamentary committee deputy heads last week was caused by a lack not of agreement but of time. JM

UKRAINE'S 2000 BUDGET SPARKS CRITICISM

Andriy Derkach, a member of the parliament's Budgetary Committee, told Interfax on 18 February that Ukraine will "soon" see that the Economy Ministry made "miscalculations" in the 2000 zero-deficit budget, which was approved by the parliament last week. Derkach also criticized the stance of some lawmakers during the voting on the budget, adding that "it is the government that invented this budget so let the government implement it, while we will only approve it." Meanwhile, Leonid Davydov, a coal mining trade union activist, warned that miners may launch spontaneous protests over insufficient funding for the coal mining sector. The 2000 budget provides for some 1.5 billion hryvni ($268 million) in subsidies to the sector, while trade unions demanded twice that amount. JM

BALTIC PRIME MINISTERS MEET IN TALLINN

Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar met with his counterparts from Latvia and Lithuania, Andris Skele and Andrius Kubilius, in Tallinn on 18 February for a session of the Baltic Council of Ministers. The ministers discussed the ongoing "pork war," which stemmed from Latvia's imposition of import tariffs. The ministers said that "conflict" will be solved by June, BNS reported. They also discussed cooperation in the energy sector, including the creation of the joint Baltic energy market and a joint transmission grid. The ministers said they are still interested in establishing power links to Poland and Finland, while Latvia proposed building a gas pipeline to the Baltics from Finland. The three countries intend make joint military equipment acquisitions, while Latvia and Lithuania will join Estonia in ending the annual switch to daylight savings time, ELTA added. MH

PUTIN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER LATVIAN WAR CRIMES CONVICTION...

Russian acting President Vladimir Putin said in Irkutsk that he has sent a letter to Latvian President Vaira Vike- Freiberga about the conviction of war criminal Vasili Kononov. Putin suggested Russia would be interested in having Kononov sent to Russia and granting him Russian citizenship. He described the conviction as "unfair," BNS reported. Kononov was convicted in January for leading a raid into the Latvian village of Mazie Bati and is held responsible for nine deaths (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). MH

...WHILE YELTSIN REJECTS HONOR

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin has announced he will refuse the Latvian Tri- star Order, citing the Kononov case as the reason for his refusal (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 16 February 2000). Vike- Freiberga voiced her regret at Yeltsin's decision and said she will respond to Putin's letter. MH

ISRAEL REFUSES TO COOPERATE IN LITHUANIAN GENOCIDE CASE

BNS reported on 17 February that the Israeli Prosecutor-General's Office has refused to assist Lithuania in the case of Nachman Dushansky, who is accused of genocide. In a letter received on 4 February, Israeli officials refused either to question Dushansky, an Israeli citizen, or to provide writing samples for Lithuanian investigators. Dushansky, a former KGB operative, is believed to have taken part in the deportation of families to Siberia during the early part of the Soviet occupation and to have been involved in punitive campaigns against resistance fighters. Top Lithuanian war crimes investigator Rimvydas Valentukevicius declined to give more details about Israel's refusal, commenting that "at the moment there is no point in re-opening the investigation." MH

SOLIDARITY CAUCUS STILL UNDECIDED ABOUT POLICY CHANGES

Some 130 deputies from the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) parliamentary caucus discussed for eight hours on 19 February how to overcome the group's internal crisis and improve the ratings of the AWS-led government. They failed, however, to make any decisions on those issues, Polish Television reported. The only outcome of their discussion was the adoption of draft amendments to the caucus's regulations and the expansion of the AWS's Presidium to 25 members. The Conservative-Peasant Union, a component of the AWS coalition, walked out of the meeting to protest those decisions. The AWS is to resume debate on possible cabinet policy and personnel changes in two weeks. JM

CZECHS DEMONSTRATE FOR, AGAINST HAIDER

An unauthorized demonstration in support of Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider took place on Prague's central Wenceslas Square on 19 February without police intervention, CTK reported. The demonstration was organized by the National Alliance skinhead organization. Vladimir Skoupy, who is leader of that group, had said the previous day that his supporters will defy a police ban on such a rally, which he described as unconstitutional and infringing on the freedom of assembly. Some 120 participants shouted slogans against "U.S.-Israel dictates" and President Vaclav Havel, whom they called a "parasite." Police kept the skinheads apart from a group of some 50 left-wing young people, who had came to the square to demonstrate against Haider and racism. Members of that group were later received by an Austrian embassy official. MS

CZECH PREMIER CRITICIZES OPPOSITION LEADER'S AUSTRIAN VISIT

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 18 February said the meeting that took place the same day between Christian Democratic Party leader Jan Kasal and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel was "politically awkward, to avoid using sharper terms." He said the EU has made a decision to boycott Austria and "any political party that wants to present itself as European should not act differently," CTK reported. Before departing, Kasal said his party is ideologically close to Schuessel's People's Party (OVP) and does not want to see that party isolated. On 20 February, he said on Prima television he "does not rejoice" in the Austrian coalition lineup but that he received assurances from Schuessel that the OVP will support "the quickest accession" of the Czech Republic to the EU "without any conditions attached." MS

PLANNED CZECH GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE PRODUCES RIFT IN CSSD

Stanislav Gross, leader of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies and a CSSD deputy chairman, told the daily "Pravo" of 19 February that he will agree to replace Vaclav Grulich as interior minister only on condition that he "keeps his influence on the party," CTK reported. On 18 February, Zeman told journalists in Ostrava :"I would like to see that ministerial candidate who dares talk about any conditions with me." Grulich told Czech Radio on 18 February that he wanted to resign last week but was convinced by his Brno branch colleagues not to do so "because that would facilitate some political steps that I consider incorrect." On 19 February, CSSD deputy chairman Peter Lachnit confirmed that Zeman has offered him the local development portfolio, which is currently occupied by Jaromir Cisar. MS

TISO MEMORIAL PLAQUE PROMPTS CRITICISM IN SLOVAKIA...

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 19 February said he considers the initiative of the Zilina city council to unveil a memorial plaque in memory of Slovakia's war-time fascist puppet state leader Jozef Tiso as "inappropriate." One day earlier, Juray Hrabko, director of the government's Human Rights Department, said the Prosecutor-General's Office has been asked to investigate whether the planned plaque violates the law. The Central Association of Slovak Jewish Communities had earlier protested the move, saying the plaque will glorify a "symbol of Slovak fascism," CTK reported. The U.S. Embassy in Bratislava on 18 February denounced any "intention to rehabilitate Tiso," saying he must be "remembered for his consciously committed crimes that resulted in the imprisonment, expulsion, and murder of innocent citizens in his own country." MS

...BUT ALSO GARNERS SUPPORT

Slovak National Party (SNS) Deputy Chairman Viliam Oberhauser told journalists on 18 February that his party has "no objection" to the planned memorial plaque, CTK reported. "In the center of Rome there is a memorial to Mussolini," he said, adding that Tiso was a "historical personality who deserved this gesture." The French daily "Le Figaro" on 18 February cited SNS chairwoman Anna Malikova as saying the SNS is unwilling to reject "en bloc" the Tiso period but that this does not make the SNS "Tiso's heirs." "People who are accusing us of this are less disturbed by the crimes committed by the Communist Party, whose former members are sitting unpunished in the present government." She also said the EU reaction to Haider is reminiscent of the Soviet "doctrine of limited sovereignty." "Hardly have we gained our sovereignty than we are beginning to lose it again," she commented. MS

HUNGARY TO SUE AUSTRALIAN-ROMANIAN COMPANY

Hungary will file a lawsuit this week against the Australian-Romanian joint venture Aurul and demand that its assets be frozen. That was the 18 February decision of a committee of experts formed to co-ordinate the legal response to the Tisza cyanide spill. In Romania, the Prosecutor-General's Office has also launched an inquiry to establish the responsibility for the damage. Meanwhile, EU Expansion Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said the spill will not effect the EU accession process for either Hungary or Romania. Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill said on 18 February his country "regrets" the damage and is ready to help clean up Hungarian rivers. MSZ




KFOR ENDS SEARCH FOR MITROVICA ARMS

Some 2,300 peacekeepers from approximately 12 countries--including 150 U.S. soldiers- -completed a thorough search of Mitrovica on 21 February, General Pierre de Saqui de Sannes told Reuters. He did not elaborate. The hunt for illegal weapons began the day before, yielding some 10 Kalashnikovs, four M-48s, and several smaller weapons on the first day. In northern Mitrovica, Serbs threw stones and other objects at U.S. troops, whom they accused of using excessive force. A Serbian spokesman said French peacekeepers have been conducting routine searches "for weeks" without incident, AP reported. Ethnic Albanians told journalists that the French had been sloppy and ineffective in their searches. KFOR spokesmen stressed that all KFOR follows the same policy, while one indicated that peacekeepers have precise knowledge of arms caches and are determined to find them. PM

ETHNIC ALBANIANS MARCH ON MITROVICA

Some 20,000 ethnic Albanians began a five-hour march from Prishtina to Mitrovica on 21 February, Reuters reported. They demanded an end to the violence in and division of the town. Some carried banners reading "No to Partition of Kosova" and "Without Mitrovica there is no Kosova." Others carried Albanian, U.S., or NATO flags. In Mitrovica, KFOR officials said that only a "small delegation" will be allowed past NATO checkpoints to enter the city. Before the June 1999 peace agreement, both north and south Mitrovica were predominantly Albanian. Many ethnic Serbs settled in northern Mitrovica at the close of the conflict, saying they felt safe only in an area with a large concentration of Serbs. Ethnic Albanians have accused French peacekeepers of giving tacit support to what the Albanians call the illegal partition of the city. KFOR denies that charge. PM

WHY IS CLARK IN MACEDONIA?

NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark said on a "routine consultation" visit to Skopje on 20 February that he came "to assure your leaders of NATO's continuing intent that there will be peace, stability, and progress in this region. I came here to thank the government for its continued support for the KFOR mission," AP reported. His visit followed one by NATO Secretary- General Lord Robertson (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). "Vesti" reported from Skopje on 21 February that the Atlantic alliance wants to be sure of support from the Macedonian authorities in the event of a conflict in Montenegro or of escalating tensions in Kosova. Should a new conflict come to the region, NATO would again require transit rights across Macedonian territory and air space, as well as military bases in Macedonia, "Vesti" added. PM

ALBRIGHT URGES ALBANIANS TO FORGET NATIONALISM, CORRUPT WAYS

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the parliament in Tirana on 19 February that Albania's future lies in a democratic, united Europe. She urged her listeners to shun violence, corruption, and the absence of the rule of law. She added: "We look ahead to a new and brighter future for Southeast Europe. We look to Albania to help lead the way.... We support your efforts to build a professional and accountable police, an efficient and effective customs service, and an impartial judiciary," AP reported. "The old ways of doing business are no longer acceptable," she added. Prime Minister Ilir Meta told a news conference that charges that Tirana seeks a greater Albania are made by nationalistic Serbs anxious to distract foreign attention from their own plans for a greater Serbia. Meta stressed: "I want to confirm once again that we work for a European Albania and for Southeast Europe to be integrated in the EU and NATO," Reuters reported. PM

SERBIAN PARTIES APPEAL TO SANDZAK

Leaders of the opposition Democratic Party, Social Democracy, and New Democracy appealed to Muslims and Serbs in Sandzak not to heed or spread rumors about a "coming armed conflict" in the region (see "End Note," below). The three opposition parties stressed that the Belgrade regime wants to spread fear and insecurity in Sandzak so that it can better manipulate the people there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ANOTHER FINE FOR SERBIAN DAILY

A Belgrade court on 19 February fined the independent daily "Danas" $8,000 at the free market rate for allegedly slandering the head of the state health insurance fund. The daily wrote that Tomislav Jankovic abused his position for personal gain. "Danas" and some other private media in Serbia have been the targets of recent costly lawsuits by persons close to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

BELGRADE PROTEST AGAINST HAIDER, SESELJ

Some 50 mainly young people held a peaceful protest outside the Austrian embassy on 19 February. They carried banners equating Austria's far- right leader Joerg Haider with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj and with Nazism. PM

SOCIALISTS LEAVE BOSNIAN SERB COALITION

The Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska (SPRS), which is the Bosnian branch of Milosevic's party, said in a statement in Banja Luka on 20 February that it is leaving the governing coalition. The party said the move came in response to Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's recent sacking of Deputy Prime Minister Tihomir Gligoric and health insurance fund manager Dragutin Ilic, both Socialists. Former President Biljana Plavsic, whose party belongs to the governing coalition, said that the SPRS's move is the result of orders from Milosevic's party, which recently held its congress in Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000), RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Dodik's coalition has a three-seat majority in the legislature even without the Socialists. PM

MESIC TO PUBLISH RECORDS OF TUDJMAN-MILOSEVIC DEALS

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told Vojvodina opposition leader Nenad Canak in Zagreb that he will publish the records of the meetings and agreements between Milosevic and the late President Franjo Tudjman, "Jutarnji list" reported on 21 February. It is unclear when the texts will be published. The two presidents are widely believed to have reached several agreements in the 1990s on the partition of Bosnia. Elsewhere, Mesic is slated soon to name Vjera Suman as his spokeswoman and Tomislav Karamarko as head of the National Security Council. Karamarko is a former adviser to Mesic and to former Prime Minister Josip Manolic. He has also headed the Zagreb police. Finally, Defense Minister Jozo Rados said that Tudjman's elite presidential guard will be disbanded and integrated into other units. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT HAS PROPOSAL FOR RETURN OF REFUGEES

Vladimir Drobnjak, who is a top aide to Foreign Minster Tonino Picula, has prepared a $55 million proposal for a forthcoming Budapest meeting of the EU's Stability Pact, "Jutarnji list" reported on 21 February. The plan aims at resettling 16,500 individuals--or 7,000 families--from among the tens of thousands of ethnic Serbian refugees. The new government has expressed its willingness to resettle the refugees but stresses that it needs money to offer them housing, infrastructure, and jobs. PM

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION OF ROMANIA HAS TWO ELECTORAL FACES

The Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) on 18 February signed two protocols on the forthcoming local and general elections. In the June local elections, the CDR will be made up of just two formations--the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic and the Romanian Ecologist Party. Its two other members, the National Liberal Party and the Romanian Ecologist Federation, will run separately from the CDR. However, all four parties will run jointly in the general elections, which have yet to be scheduled. On 19 February, the National Convention of the Democratic Party re-elected Petre Roman as its chairman, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS NEW DEPUTY SPEAKERS

The parliament on 18 February elected Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) deputy Vadim Mishin and Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM) deputy Vladimir Ciobanu as deputy speakers, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Radio Bucharest said it is the first time since 1994, when the party was legalized, that the Communists hold a key position in the Moldovan official hierarchy. On 19 February, President Petru Lucinschi said he is "worried" that the new structure of alliances in the parliament will not make it possible for the legislature to pass the privatization laws that the government and the IMF have agreed on. Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea also said Lucinschi is "not ruling out" the "danger" that the new PCM-CDM alliance will vote to transform the country's system into a full-fledged parliamentary system, Flux reported. MS

BULGARIA THREATENS TO EXPEL YUGOSLAV JOURNALIST

Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov told journalists on 20 February that Sofia "will have to reconsider the permit for Tanjug's correspondent to stay in the country," AP reported, citing BTA. The step is in retaliation to repeated entry bans on Bulgarian journalists. Last week, a Bulgarian private television crew was denied entry to eastern Serbia, where a 50,000-strong Bulgarian minority lives. MS




SANDZAK FACES DILEMMAS


By Patrick Moore

Ethnic Muslims make up just over 50 percent of the population of Sandzak, which is a larger percentage than their fellow Muslims constitute in neighboring Bosnia- Herzegovina. But while the Bosnian Muslims exude a certain self-confidence and use the politically correct term "Bosnjak" to refer to themselves in order to underscore their self-image as "the authentic Bosnians," the Muslims in Sandzak are anything but confident.

The root of their problem is that Sandzak is administratively divided between Serbia and Montenegro. Slobodan Milosevic's regime has long remained deaf to calls from the region for its unity and autonomy. Strategically important Sandzak forms a land bridge connecting Kosova and Bosnia and is well known to students of the origins of World War I as the Sandzak of Novi Pazar.

Another problem is a division of the Muslims' own making, namely political splits in their own ranks that prevent them from speaking with one voice. As with the Serbian opposition in Belgrade, the differences often have more to do with politicians' egos than with parties' platforms. One of the best-known figures is Rasim Ljajic, who heads the Sandzak Coalition and the regional branch of Alija Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action (SDA). He is generally at odds with Sulejman Ugljanin, who was his predecessor as head of the SDA.

But other problems are not necessarily of the Muslims' own making. During the Bosnian conflict, there were periodic incidents of "ethnic cleansing" of Muslims carried out by paramilitary groups in Sandzak. Some other Muslims, fearing the worst, fled to Bosnia or beyond.

Another issue centers on Sandzak's current political relationship to Serbia and Montenegro. Like the Kosova Albanians, many of the Sandzak Muslims have chosen in recent years to reject the legitimacy of the Milosevic regime by refusing to participate in Belgrade's political life or take part in Serbian elections. Now the main fear among Sandzak's Muslims is that the tensions between Serbia and Montenegro will somehow work to the Muslims' disadvantage and that matters could come to head very soon.

Several politicians and representatives of NGOs from the region recently participated in a round-table in Belgrade. Some participants were very pessimistic, regarding the Muslims' days in Sandzak as numbered. According to this view, the Muslims have no choice in an increasingly ethnically polarized environment but to emigrate to Bosnia. There, however, they have not always received the warmest of welcomes, at least partly because many Bosnians regard them as competition in a tight job market, given that they are willing to work for relatively low wages.

Another opinion is that the Montenegrin part of Sandzak should seek to unite with Serbia if Montenegro secedes from the Yugoslav federation. This would restore the unity of Sandzak, albeit under Milosevic. Perhaps one speaker at the Belgrade round-table--Dzemail Suljevic, who represents the SDA in the Serbian parliament--felt that an attempt to unite all of Sandzak in a reform-minded Montenegro would provoke an armed response from Milosevic. In any event, another speaker- -Mujo Mukovic of the Sandzak Coalition--said his party wants the unity of Sandzak but argues that it is up to the Muslims of Montenegro to decide their own future.

Several speakers looked beyond the frontiers for a solution to their problems. One argued that the Muslims should involve the international community, just as the Serbian opposition and the Montenegrin government have done. Another speaker went a step further and stressed that the only solution from the Muslim standpoint is to seek an international protectorate for Sandzak.

That, of course, would be a tall order and would likely be met with either stunned silence or the response that the Muslims should concentrate their efforts on promoting democracy and reform in Serbia and Montenegro. The international community has not been too pleased with the results of its experiences in Bosnia. Its more recent effort in Kosova is faltering for lack of money and personnel. One suspects that any Sandzak Muslims are sadly mistaken if they expect a NATO fire brigade to come to their rescue in the foreseeable future.


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