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Newsline - February 22, 2000




FIERCE FIGHTING CONTINUES IN ARGUN GORGE

Russian military aircraft on 22 February continued their intensive bombardment of the Argun gorge, where an estimated 4,000 Chechen fighters are totally surrounded, according to Russian Defense Ministry reports. Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii denied on 21 February that those Chechen fighters could break through Russian lines to the lower-lying regions of Chechnya. Interior Ministry troops commander Vyacheslav Tikhomirov said in Moscow on 21 February that some 1,500 Chechen fighters remain in the "populated areas" of Chechnya, Interfax reported. Meanwhile "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 February that Russian military losses last week--45--were the highest reported to date. LF

CHECHEN EMISSARY BOOTED OUT OF PAKISTAN

The Pakistani authorities have asked former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev to leave the country immediately, ITAR- TASS reported on 22 February. The previous day, the Pakistani Embassy in Moscow denied reports that Yandarbiev had met with Pakistan's ruler General Pervez Musharraf and Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, according to Reuters. The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly criticized Islamabad for allowing Yandarbiev to tour the country to seek support for the Chechen cause (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 February 2000). LF

SERGEEV PROMOTES RUSSIAN MILITARY COMMANDERS IN CHECHNYA

Visiting Grozny on 21 February to mark Defenders of the Fatherland Day (on 23 February), Igor Sergeev promoted Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev, who commands the combined federal forces in Chechnya, to the rank of army general, Interfax reported. Kazantsev's first deputy, Lieutenant- General Gennadii Troshev, was promoted to colonel-general, while the commander of the eastern front in Chechnya, Major- General Vladimir Shamanov, was promoted to Lieutenant- General. Also on 21 February, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said his ministry may assume command of the "anti- terrorist" operation in Chechnya, but he did not specify when this might happen. He noted, however, that a transfer of command to the Interior Ministry would not mean that all army troops would be withdrawn from Chechnya. First Deputy Chief of Army General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov on 19 February gave the total number of Russian troops currently serving in Chechnya as 93,000. LF

GANTEMIROV'S SPOKESMAN DENIES STATEMENT ON BABITSKII

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 February quoted members of the staff of Beslan Gantemirov, who is deputy to Russian government representative in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman, as refuting statements attributed to Gantemirov by the Russian media. Those media quoted Gantemirov as claiming that missing RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii is in the village of Duba- Yurt, in southern Chechnya, and vowing to secure Babitskii's release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). LF

CHECHNYA OFFENSIVE LIFTS ARMY SPIRITS, SAYS PUTIN

Addressing a gathering of high-ranking military, police, and security officers in the Kremlin on 21 February, acting President Putin remarked that as a result of the Russian campaign in Chechnya "the army has regained trust in itself and society believes in and trusts its army," Reuters reported. "The way the operation is unfolding and the results already achieved show the real potential of our state, its defense capability," he noted. The gathering was convened to mark the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, 23 February, which under communism was known as the Day of the Soviet Army. JC

AND THEN THERE WERE ELEVEN

The Central Election Commission on 21 February registered three more candidates for the 26 March presidential elections. These are suspended Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov, Moscow businessman and co-owner of the Radisson-Slavyanskaya Hotel Umar Dzhabrailov, and head of the Moscow Fund for Presidential Programs and former deputy head of the presidential administration Yevgenii Savostyanov. The candidacy of Anzori Aksentev-Kikalishvili, the head of the All-Russian Political People's Party, was rejected because too many signatures collected to support his candidacy proved invalid. As of 22 February, the number of presidential candidates totaled 11. The other eight are acting President Putin, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, Movement for Civil Dignity head Ella Pamfilova, State Duma deputy and film-maker Stanislav Govorukhin, and Spiritual Heritage leader Aleksei Podberezkin. JAC

SKURATOV PROMISES TO REVEAL ALL

Suspended Prosecutor-General Skuratov barely met registration requirements: the Election Commission found that 14.82 percent of his signatures were invalid; 15 percent would have disqualified him. Last month, Skuratov promised that once he is officially registered and has gained the public's attention, he will say "everything that I have to say. I have to say who [acting President] Putin really is, what sort of relationships exist among the corrupt Kremlin elite and many, many other things." Skuratov told "The Moscow Times" on 27 January that already major violations have occurred in the lead-up to presidential elections, including the practice of appointing deputy governors in the regions to head campaign headquarters. He added that the heavy involvement of local authorities in Putin's campaign could provide a legal basis to challenge the results of presidential elections. According to his income declaration form, Skuratov earned 212,251 rubles ($7,385) in 1998-1999. He owns an apartment in Moscow and a dacha outside of the capital. JAC

RIGHTIST BLOC OPTS TO SUPPORT NEITHER PUTIN NOR TITOV

The Coordinating Council of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) announced on 21 February that it will not back any candidate for the presidency. Last week, Samara Governor Titov, who is a member of SPS, predicted that the movement could split because some members wished to support him, while others wanted to support acting President Putin. SPS faction leader Sergei Kirienko said on 21 February that he personally supports Putin. Democratic Russia, which is part of the SPS, announced earlier that it will support Titov. "Segodnya" concluded on 18 February that Titov "will try to play the role of the 'liberal alternative' to Putin. He has adopted a pacifist position on Chechnya and will fight for private property in agriculture and preserving the right to elect governors." On 17 February, Titov repeated his call for negotiations with leaders in Chechnya. JAC

RANKS OF THE UNEMPLOYED SHRINK

The number of unemployed persons in Russia totaled 9,124,000 at the end of January 2000, a drop of 9.7 percent compared with January 1999, the State Statistics Committee reported on 21 February. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 February, the increase can be explained in terms of the general growth of the economy last year. For example, industrial production was up 10.7 percent in January 2000 compared with one year earlier. JAC

MOSCOW READY TO DISCUSS 'GEOGRAPHICAL CHANGES' TO ABM

"The New York Times" reported on 19 February that during his recent trip to Washington, Russian Security Council head Sergei Ivanov announced that Moscow is prepared to discuss allowing the U.S. to move its radar site at North Dakota to another location. The North Dakota site, which was authorized in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, was dismantled in the mid-1970s. The U.S. has suggested it wants to set up a site in Alaska in order to deal with the threat of missile attacks from North Korea. Ivanov, however, noted that Moscow remains opposed to the idea of the U.S.'s deploying a national defense system. The ABM treaty prohibits national missile systems but allows each side to deploy a system that protects only one part of its territory. JC

'SERGEEV'S DOCTRINE' NO TOUGHER THAN ITS PREDECESSOR

In an interview with the 19 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Vladimir Dvorkin, the head of the Defense Ministry's Fourth Central Scientific Research Institute and the alleged author of the section of the new Military Doctrine dealing with nuclear weapons' use, denied Russia's position has toughened on the first use of such weapons. Rather, he suggested, the wording of the doctrine has been brought into line with the nuclear strategy principles "preached for many years by the U.S., Britain, and France." In the doctrine, Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of such weapons against itself and "also in response to large- scale aggression with the use of conventional weapons in critical situations for the Russian Federation's national security." Asked who can be considered the main author of the doctrine, Dvorkin asserted that Defense Minister Sergeev had played a "decisive role," particularly in the "radical changes" made to earlier versions of the document. JC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN RE-ELECTED

Marat Baglai was re-elected as chairman of the Constitutional Court on 21 February. Although incumbents usually hold that post for three years, Baglai will have to step down on 13 March 2001 when he turns 70, which is the mandatory retirement age for court members, Russian Public Television reported. JAC

FSB ACCUSES SCIENTIST OF BEING NATO SPY?

A spokesperson for the Primorskii Krai directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) told TV-Tsentr on 21 February that environmental researcher Valerii Soifer was found with documents in his possession that could be of use to NATO in its program for high-precision weapons. FSB investigators raided Soifer's home and laboratory in July 1999, accusing him of misusing classified documents in his research on the ecological effects of a nuclear submarine accident in 1985 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 1999). Earlier this month, a court in Vladivostok ordered the FSB to return to Soifer some of the materials seized from his home. "The Moscow Times" reported on 16 February that another environmental researcher, Igor Sutyagin, remains in a jail in Kaluga Oblast as investigators there continue to try to prove that he is a spy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999). JAC

DEADLINE TO REGISTER RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS ABOUT TO BE EXTENDED

"Vremya MN" reported on 21 February that last week the State Duma passed in the first and second reading an amendment to the law on "freedom of conscience and religion organizations" that will extend until year's end the period under which religious organizations can be registered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," see 22 October 1999). According to the daily, there are some 14,000 religious organizations in Russia but only half of them are registered. Vyacheslav Polosin, an adviser to the chairman of the State Duma's Committee for Social Associations and Religious Organizations, said the Lutheran Church has complied most fully with the law, while the Muslim orders are the worst offenders, with only one Muslim spiritual directorate registered. JAC




ARMENIA APPEARS SET TO HAVE COALITION GOVERNMENT

At a meeting in Yerevan on 19 February, Armenian Prime Minister Aram Sargsian invited representatives of all eight political parties represented in the parliament to propose candidates for a coalition government, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 21 February. Vartan Ayvazian, leader of the Kayunutiun (Stability) parliamentary faction, told RFE/RL that the parties have accepted the invitation and will nominate their ministerial candidates "in the next few days." Sargsian and the eight parties also signed a joint statement pledging to work together to extricate Armenia from its present economic crisis. Noyan Tapan political commentator David Petrosian predicted last week that some ministries may be merged. He identified as possible victims of the reshuffle Finance Minister Armen Darpinian, Health Minister Hayk Nikoghossian, Social Security Minister Razmik Martirossian, and Energy Minister David Zadoyan. LF

AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN AT ODDS OVER GAS EXPORT PIPELINE...

Speaking to journalists in Tbilisi on 21 February, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze confirmed that "some problems" have arisen between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over the use of the planned Trans-Caspian export gas pipeline, Russian agencies reported. Shevardnadze said the problems derived from the discovery last year of huge quantities of gas in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian. That discovery prompted Baku to demand 50 percent of the throughput capacity of the pipeline to export its own gas. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 17 February said the Azerbaijani demand runs counter to Turkmenistan's interests and could render the entire project economically inexpedient, Interfax reported. According to a declaration of intent signed last November in Istanbul by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey, a framework agreement on the Trans-Caspian pipeline was to have been concluded in April 2000. LF

...ENABLING RUSSIA TO MUSCLE IN

Also on 17 February, Niyazov declared that Turkmenistan is ready to export 100 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Russia, according to Interfax. Two days later, Niyazov discussed that possibility with visiting Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev, with whom he signed an agreement in December on the resumption of exports of Turkmen natural gas via Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 1999). Caucasus Press noted that Ashgabat will not be forced to renege on its previous agreement to export gas to Turkey, as Turkmen gas exported to Russia can be transported to Turkey through the Blue Stream pipeline across the Black Sea. Construction of that pipeline began earlier this month and is expected to be completed next year. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER APPEALS ON BEHALF OF CHECHENS

In a 21 February appeal to world leaders, Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar condemned the atrocities, humiliation, and "unbelievable brutality" inflicted on the Chechen civilian population by the Russian military. Gambar called on the international community and international human rights organizations to pressure the Russian government to halt the "massacres and genocide." LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL WELCOMES CHECHEN OFFER OF MILITARY HELP IN ABKHAZIA

Tamaz Nadareishvili, who is chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile (composed of the ethnic Georgian deputies elected to the Abkhaz parliament in 1991), said on 21 February that he appreciates an alleged offer by unnamed Chechen militants to help Georgian guerrilla formations to return Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion to Georgian control by military means, Caucasus Press reported. But Nadareishvili stressed that the operation should be conducted by the country's armed forces, rather than by Georgian guerrillas. The Chechen offer, reportedly made by Chechen guerrillas already in Gali, was reported in "Alia" on 21 February. But Chechnya's official representative in Georgia, Khizri Aldamov, told Caucasus Press on 22 February that he does not know of any such Chechen detachment in Abkhazia. Aldamov said new hostilities in Abkhazia would not be "the best solution." LF

STALIN'S GRANDSON BARRED FROM GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL

Yevgenii Djughashvili cannot contend the 9 April Georgian presidential elections because he is a citizen of Russia, not of Georgia, Reuters reported on 21 February, quoting Georgian Central Electoral Commission Deputy Chairman Giorgi Zesashvili. LF

SIX PARTIES WIN REPRESENTATION IN NEW KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT...

Six of the 11 Kyrgyz political parties and blocs contesting the 20 February parliamentary elections surmounted the 5 percent barrier to win representation in the new legislature, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 21 February. They were the Communist Party (27 percent support), the pro-government Union of Democratic Forces (17 percent), the Women's Democratic Party (13 percent), the Party of War Veterans (9 percent), the pro-presidential "My Country" (5.7 percent), and the moderate opposition Ata-Meken (5.6 percent). Those parties will share the 15 seats (of a total of 60 in the lower house of parliament) to be allocated under the proportional system. The Agrarian party, the Agrarian-Labor Party, Asaba, the Erkin Kyrgyzstan party, and the Manas bloc each polled less than 5 percent. LF

...BUT OVERALL RESULTS UNCLEAR

Runoff polls will be held on 5 or 12 March in most single-mandate constituencies, including those contested by Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov, El (Bei-Bechara) chairman Daniyar Usenov, and Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Djypar Djeksheev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported, citing the Central Electoral Commission. The very few candidates who won outright in the first round of voting include Turdakun Usubaliev, who was first secretary of the Kirghiz Communist Party Central Committee from 1961-1985, and Asankul Akaev, elder brother of Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev. LF

HIGH-LEVEL KIDNAPPING, MORE SHOOTING IN TAJIKISTAN

The younger sister of Deputy Premier Nigina Sharopova was abducted on 21 February outside the Dushanbe hospital where she works, ITAR-TASS reported. Later the same day, two unidentified groups of armed men exchanged fire in central Dushanbe after the vehicles in which they were travelling collided near the presidential palace. Two passers-by were injured. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Khomidin Sharipov has ordered the country's entire police force confined to barracks until after the first round of parliamentary elections on 27 February. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DECORATES FIRED PREMIER

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 21 February awarded Syarhey Linh, the prime minister he dismissed last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000), with the Order of Honor. Lukashenka said Linh "has honestly and conscientiously worked all his life for his country," adding that the former premier may take up a post in a Belarusian mission abroad. Belarusian Television suggested that Linh will head Belarus's UN mission sometime in the future. New Premier Uladzimir Yarmoshyn said the same day that he sees "no reason to speak about any revolutionary changes in the government." Yarmoshyn pledged not to "lose" what was achieved by his predecessor. Last year, inflation in Belarus reached 350 percent, while the monthly average wage was $35. JM

BELARUSIAN POLICE QUESTION DEFECTOR'S DISCLOSURES

Deputy Interior Minister Major General Yury Radzyukevich said on 18 February that police Senior Lieutenant Aleh Baturyn will be fired for absence from work, Belapan reported. Earlier this month, Baturyn published an open letter accusing the police of provoking clashes with participants in last year's opposition Freedom March (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 February 2000). Baturyn's current whereabouts are unknown. Radzyukevich said Baturyn was never ordered to take part in any police operations, including the Freedom March. He added that Baturyn may be sued for slandering the police but did not say whether the Interior Ministry will instigate criminal proceedings against him. According to Radzyukevich, Baturyn published his letter to present himself as a "prisoner of conscience" and seek political asylum abroad. JM

UKRAINE LETS HRYVNYA FLOAT

The Ukrainian government and the National Bank on 21 February allowed the national currency exchange rate to float freely. A joint statement by the cabinet and the bank says the floating exchange rate will "correspond to Ukraine's level of integration in the world economy, balance the demand for and supply of foreign currency...as well as keep Ukrainian goods competitive and enterprises profitable." So far, Ukraine has tried to keep the hryvnya exchange rate within a "trading corridor." Premier Viktor Yushchenko commented the same day that the introduction of the floating hryvnya testifies to the stability of the Ukrainian currency. The current exchange rate is 5.56 hryvni to $1, while the 2000 budget is based on an average annual exchange rate of 5.78 hryvni to $1. Some Ukrainian currency dealers deem this projection "too optimistic," according to Interfax. JM

IMF TO DECIDE ON MONEY FOR UKRAINE AFTER AUDIT OF NATIONAL BANK

Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said on 21 February that the IMF will decide whether to unfreeze its $2.6 billion loan program for Ukraine after an audit of the National Bank, Interfax reported. The audit was ordered after the "Financial Times" alleged in a series of publications that Kyiv misused some IMF credits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January, 14 and 15 February 2000). IMF mission head Mohammad Shadman-Valavi said after his meeting with Yushchenko on 21 February that both sides reached agreement "on many points...but a lot of work is still to be done." Yushchenko said the talks with the IMF mission ended "optimistically for Ukraine," adding that the fund will "most likely" make a decision on further credits in March. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS REFERENDUM ONLY SOLUTION TO PARLIAMENTARY CRISIS

Leonid Kuchma said on 21 February that the "divergence of opinions" within the center-right parliamentary majority can be overcome only by the 16 April referendum, Interfax reported. Kuchma said the referendum is "absolutely necessary" and should help resolve Ukraine's main problem--"the ability of the state power to function." According to Kuchma, the existence of a parliamentary majority is equivalent to the existence of the parliament itself. JM

ESTONIAN WAGES STILL RISING

Average wages in Estonia reached a record high in the fourth quarter of 1999, increasing by 12.6 percent compared with the same period in 1998 to reach 4,799 kroons ($303) month, BNS reported. In December, that figure rose even further to 5,375 kroons. Stock brokers remain the highest earners, making on average 2.2 times the national average, with 10,736 kroons a month. The lowest wages are in the catering industry, at 47.9 percent of the average, or 2,299 kroons. MH

LITHUANIAN TROOPS TO LEARN ABOUT NAZI, SOVIET CRIMES

Members of the Lithuanian army are to start receiving education about crimes against humanity committed by both the Nazis and Soviets. An agreement to that effect was signed on 21 February by the Defense Ministry and the commission investigating Soviet and Nazi war crimes in Lithuania. Special emphasis will be placed on teaching about the Holocaust, BNS reported. MH

SOLIDARITY TO 'FORGET' PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS?

Maciej Jankowski, a parliamentary deputy from the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), told Polish Radio on 21 February that the AWS should focus on next year's parliamentary elections and "forget" this year's presidential ballot. According to Jankowski, the AWS has no "strong" presidential candidate and is unable to effectively conduct two election campaigns. Leading activists from the AWS, however, disagreed with Jankowski's suggestion. Parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski said the same day that the AWS will "certainly" field a presidential candidate. According to Miroslaw Styczen, Jankowski's proposal is a "scenario for the AWS's disappearance." And AWS parliamentary caucus secretary Kazimerz Janiak commented that "political parties must include every campaign in their plans, even a potentially lost one." Incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski's ratings currently exceed 70 percent. JM

KLAUS CRITICIZES CZECH PRESIDENT'S 'CASTLE BLOC'

Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus, in an interview with the daily "Hospodarske noviny" cited by CTK on 21 February, has strongly criticized what he calls the "Castle bloc" of President Vaclav Havel's supporters, saying "nothing has changed" in the policies of that group since Havel was first elected president in December 1989. Klaus said that the ideology of the "bloc" has been and continues to be power acquisition and preservation. "Ideas, ideals, and visions play only a secondary role," he said, while the bloc's "political style is dominated by the effort to minimize the role of political parties." MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS HAIDER 'THREAT FOR ALL EUROPE'

Addressing the French Institute of International Relations in Paris on 21 February, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said Austrian Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider is "a threat not only for Austria but for Europe as a whole." Zeman said the EU is "not only an economic organization" but also one that has "many other dimensions" in which people like Haider "do not fit," CTK reported. Owing to their historical experience, he said, Czechs are "extremely sensitive to violence, " which he said is why the Czech Republic was the only EU candidate to have "clearly denounced" the Austrian leader. Zeman also said the Czech Republic was lagging behind in passing EU legislation because of the policies of Klaus's cabinet, but he added that it is now catching up. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTY LAUNCHES REFERENDUM DRIVE

The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia on 18 February began collecting signatures in support of a referendum calling for early elections, CTK reported. A public opinion poll conducted by the MVK institute shows that 50 percent of Slovaks oppose the plebiscite, 42 percent support it, and 8 percent are undecided. Another poll, conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research, shows 58 percent opposed to the referendum and 33 percent in favor, with the remainder undecided. At least 50 percent of eligible voters must participate in the referendum for its results to be valid. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT OPPOSES GOVERNMENT'S VISA POLICY

President Rudolf Schuster on 21 February said that the government's "effort" to introduce visa requirements for citizens of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine was "hasty." Schuster said he shares the view of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Hungarian President Arpad Goencz that "no new Iron Curtain" must be raised between Ukraine and the Western world. He added that it is important to maintain "good neighborly relations" with Ukraine, and he praised President Leonid Kuchma's policy of "working together with the EU and NATO." Schuster also criticized the planned plaque commemorating Jozef Tiso in Zilina, saying those who cherished their memories of Tiso should visit the Yad Va'Shem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem to see what the Slovak "fascist state led by Tiso" achieved. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER CRITICIZES HAIDER'S REMARKS ON EU ENLARGEMENT

Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 21 February criticized Joerg Haider's recent statement saying that EU enlargement should not take place until wage levels in candidate countries reach EU levels. The Hungarian government views Haider's statement as "anti-enlargement," Orban said, adding that none of the countries seeking entry can reach that level. "An anti-accession policy would harm Austria, as the country has four neighbors that want to join the EU," Orban concluded. MSZ




KOSOVSKA MITROVICA REMAINS TENSE

U.S. peacekeepers took up positions on the bridge separating the mainly Serbian north and mainly Albanian south of the northern Kosova town on 22 February. The previous day, KFOR troops from several countries used tear gas to turn back up to 10,000 ethnic Albanians who tried to force their way across the bridge into the north (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). KFOR's General Klaus Reinhardt said: "The key thing really was to prevent an escalation in which somebody fired on the other one. It would have been a disaster. My soldiers were very reasonable. They used just the amount of power needed and did not overreact." PM

ROBERTSON WARNS TROUBLE-MAKERS

In Brussels, NATO Secretary- General Lord Robertson called the clashes between peacekeepers and ethnic Albanians an "indefensible disgrace," BBC Television reported on 22 February. He warned that "anybody who seeks to be provocative in that part of the world, on whatever side of the divide they may be..., [should know that] we will not tolerate action being taken." A BBC commentator noted, however, that peacekeepers in Mitrovica are vastly outnumbered by Albanians and Serbs alike. PM

HOW DID ALBANIANS GET THROUGH?

Observers note that a key question remains as to how up to 75,000 ethnic Albanians arriving on 21 February from Prishtina and other parts of Kosova managed to get through or circumvent U.K. KFOR cordons erected to keep the protesters out of the center of town. A BBC correspondent said that many of the demonstrators came from the Drenica region, which is a stronghold of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). He suggested that the UCK's Thaci hoped to use the demonstration to strengthen his own political hand at the expense of the shadow-state's Ibrahim Rugova. Several of Thaci's aides were "prominent" in the crowd, the reporter added. PM

HOLBROOKE, CLARK SLAM BELGRADE ROLE IN KOSOVA UNREST

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke said in New York on 21 February that "the situation in Mitrovica is dangerous and requires the immediate attention of all the countries concerned. I think there is no question who's responsible for it. It's Belgrade. The leadership in Belgrade is fomenting trouble north of the Mitrovica bridge. There's no question. The problem here comes from Belgrade" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). Speaking with Kosova's Hashim Thaci and Macedonia's Arben Xhaferi in Tirana, NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark took a similar stand: "There is an influence by Belgrade in the area," AP reported. PM

WHAT IS BELGRADE DOING IN KOSOVA?

An unnamed Yugoslav Army officer told Reuters in Belgrade on 21 February that "only regular and planned activities [by Serbian forces] are going on in the region." He did not elaborate The Yugoslav government said in a letter to the UN Security Council that U.S. and German KFOR troops had engaged in "unprovoked [and] arrogant behavior...against the [local] Serbs," AP reported. Unnamed NATO sources in Brussels told Reuters that four companies of Serbian paramilitary police recently moved into a region of Serbia just east of Kosova where up to 100,000 ethnic Albanians live (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). In Brussels on 21 February, Robertson himself referred to "large numbers of additional Yugoslav troops [moving] into the area," but he did not elaborate. A BBC correspondent said in Mitrovica on 22 February that unnamed Serbs used mobile phones to "control" the crowd in mainly Serbian northern Mitrovica during the recent unrest. PM

HAGUE COURT TO ADD CHARGES AGAINST MILOSEVIC

A spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal said on 21 February that the list of charges against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be expanded, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He did not elaborate. Referring to recent reports by an Athens-based radio station that China has offered Milosevic asylum, the spokesman stressed that no country can legally offer refuge to an indicted war criminal. PM

MONTENEGRO SLAMS BELGRADE'S 'WAR PROPAGANDA'

Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said that the new television station set up by Milosevic's backers in northern Montenegro is aimed at polarizing society in the runup to local elections, "Danas" reported on 22 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2000). Burzan stressed that the setting up of the television station is part of a larger campaign that Belgrade is staging against Podgorica and in which economic measures also play a part. PM

CROATIAN CONSULATE OPENED IN MONTENGRO

Former Dubrovnik Mayor Petar Poljanic officially opened the Croatian consulate in Kotor, Montenegro. The town is near the Croatian frontier and is home to most of Montenegro's 15,000-strong Croatian minority. Poljanic stressed, however, that he is interested in promoting good relations with all the people in Montenegro, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported on 22 February. PM

MESIC NAMES MORE TOP ADVISERS

Croatian President Stipe Mesic appointed several key aides on 21 February, "Jutarnji list" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). They include: military specialist Imre Agotic, chief of the president's office Damir Vargek, foreign affairs expert Stanko Nick, and economics advisor Stjepan Zdunic. Elsewhere, Mesic said that Croatia must reform and become a "safe" country in order to attract foreign investment. He stressed that the country's geographic location could help enable it to become an "economic and financial center in this part of Europe." PM

CONTINUITY AFTER ALL IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA?

Prime Minister Milorad Dodik told a press conference in Banja Luka on 21 February that the governing coalition will continue its work, despite the announcement by Milosevic's Socialist allies that they are leaving the coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). He called on Socialist parliamentary speaker Petar Djokic to give up that office but added that he will not accept the resignations of four Socialist ministers. Dodik said that the most important thing for the Republika Srpska is to have a functioning government and avoid instability, "Vesti" reported. Dodik blamed Milosevic for the imbroglio. In Sarajevo, "Oslobodjenje" suggested that some Socialist politicians may have decided to remain loyal to the governing coalition. PM

NEW RULE AGAINST CORRUPTION IN BOSNIA

The OSCE's Provisional Election Commission has decided that anyone elected to municipal councils in April's elections cannot remain director or a member of the governing board of a company in which the government owns more than 25 percent of the capital. OSCE spokesmen said in Sarajevo on 21 February that the ruling is aimed at preventing elected officials from misusing their position to protect, discriminate in favor of, or extend patronage to companies in which they have a vested interest. The OSCE's Robert Barry noted that it is not unusual in Bosnia for elected officials to hold top positions in several corporations simultaneously. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTS TO APPEASE STRIKING TEACHERS

The government on 21 February announced it will raise teachers' salaries by 60 percent on 1 April and another 40 percent on 1 September, Romanian radio reported the next day. Arrears dating back to 1998 are also to be paid if the necessary funds can be found at a cabinet meeting scheduled for 24 February. The teachers are also to be paid a 13th monthly wage for 1999, as provided for in their collective contract. A spokesman for the striking teachers said the unions will examine the decision on 22 February. In response to a journalist's question as to whether he will withdraw his resignation, Education Minister Andrei Marga said he hopes to return to the Cluj Babes-Bolyai University, of which he is dean. MS

WILL ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ALSO RESIGN FROM GOVERNMENT?

The Democratic Party on 21 February said it expects Defense Minister Victor Babiuc to resign from the government following his resignation last week from the party. The Democrats urged Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu to dismiss him if he fails to resign from the cabinet. Citing "political sources," Romanian Television on 21 February said Babiuc continues to enjoy the trust and support of President Emil Constantinescu, who believes the defense minister has the necessary experience and international reputation to see through the process of reforming the army. Also on 21 February, the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) signed an agreement with Fratia, the largest trade union confederation, stipulating that union leaders will run on PDSR lists in the local and general elections. The PDSR is to consult the unions about its program, and the unions will support the party's electoral effort. MS

ROMANIAN 'HOLOCAUST MINIMIZERS' DEALT BLOW

Professor George Voicu on 21 February was elected dean of the Political Science Faculty of the Bucharest University. The author of an 1998 article criticizing "Holocaust minimization" on the part of Romanian intellectuals, Voicu was recently attacked in the Romanian press after his article was reprinted in the prestigious French journal "Les Temps Modernes." MS

BULGARIAN TELEVISION STARTS TURKISH PROGRAM

Bulgarian state television on 20 February began broadcasting a 20-minute weekly program in Turkish, the BBC reported, citing the Turkish Anatolia agency. The program, which has Bulgarian subtitles, covers news, music, and features and is sponsored by the International Center for Cultural Cooperation and Minority Problems. The editor in charge of the program told Anatolia that for now it can be seen only in the Sofia region but that she expects it to draw a great deal of interest. MS




WHAT FUTURE FOR THE EAST-WEST CORRIDOR?


By Fabian Schmidt

"Koha Jone" reported on 6 February that the Albanian government has recently focused most of its efforts on building a north-south highway and has virtually stopped construction of the important east-west Corridor 8, which is to link the Adriatic port of Durres with Skopje and Istanbul via Bulgaria.

The east-west route is of both economic and political importance. Development of a modern and reliable east-west highway would strengthen links between the countries involved and weaken their dependency on other routes. In the case of Macedonia, the north-south axis linking it to Serbia and Greece would no longer be so important and would give Macedonia better access to Italy and Bulgaria, thus reducing its dependency on the port of Thessaloniki and the highway through Serbia.

"Koha Jone" stressed that the delay in the construction of Corridor 8 comes at a time when the Greek government has begun construction of a highway linking the Greek Adriatic port of Igoumenitsa with Thessaloniki and subsequently with Istanbul. Athens will receive some 450 million euros ($450 million) from the EU for the project. Interestingly, the Greek project is called "Via Egnatia," referring to the ancient road that once linked Thessaloniki with Durres and ran through an area that is now central Albania; this is the very route of Corridor 8.

Francesco Divela, one of the organizers of the joint Tirana-Bari international trade fair, warned that the Greek road project will reduce the attractiveness of the Corridor 8 project by connecting the Adriatic with the largest Balkan port, namely Thessaloniki. (One could also add that the Greek project will not do much to increase east-west economic integration, given that the highway runs across only Greek territory and does not link Greece with any neighboring former communist countries.)

"Koha Jone" also quoted Italian Trade Ministry and U.S. officials as criticizing Tirana for dragging its heels on the construction of Corridor 8. It added that unnamed officials at the Albanian Transport Ministry's Department of Road Construction indirectly admit that they are not pursuing the Corridor 8 project very vigorously. "We do not implement a policy of [planning] roads or corridors, but we deal with the construction of road segments that we are charged with building," they commented.

But in practice, new contracts have been signed for parts of the major new north-south highway that will eventually link Montenegro and Greece. Shortly before leaving office last November, then Transportation Minister Gaqo Apostoli signed three contracts for parts of the highway that are worth a combined total of $50 million.

"Koha Jone" argues that Albania has given priority to developing the north-south connection to economically strong Greece rather than to much poorer Macedonia. This puts Albania in a difficult position vis-a-vis its two EU neighbors. Italy is interested in developing markets to the east via Corridor 8 and intends to invest in the upgrading of the port in Durres. Greece, for its part, is afraid that it will lose some of the turnover at the Thessaloniki port through the construction of Corridor 8 and is thus promoting the construction of the north-south highway. As for Albania, Prime Minister Ilir Meta maintains that the government considers the two highways of equal importance.

So far, construction of Corridor 8 has begun only between Tirana and Durres--in which stretch Italy has invested some $17 million--and between Rrogozhina and Elbasan, on which a Turkish company is currently working. For the section between Elbasan and Librazhd, Albania has so far received only financial pledges from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. For the stretch between Librazhd and Qukes, Albania has signed a $15 million contract with the Macedonian company Mavropi, but construction had to be interrupted because of archeological discoveries along the ancient Via Egnatia.

The last part of the road--between Qukes and Qafe Thane- -will be constructed with support from Kuwait, but the Albanian government has not yet set a date for beginning work there.

Currently, there appears to be deadlock over the beginning of construction between Durres and Rrogozhina. A Greek company won the tender and was supposed to have begun work by 19 January 2000. However, the company failed to meet that deadline and is accusing the Albanian government of causing the delay by failing to nationalize the property on which the road will be built. The Agricultural Ministry, which is responsible for such action, has done nothing.

The World Bank, meanwhile, has drawn up a project for the reconstruction of existing roads crossing the east, west, and north of the country. The bank has granted a loan worth $66 million, but the government has so far made use of only $7.7 million. The project provides for the construction of 90 kilometers of road, 60 kilometers of which would form part of Corridor 8, while another 30 kilometers would be part of the north-south highway, linking Fushe Kruja with Lezha.

Finally, "Koha Jone" also reported that some of the work on the north-south highway has been marred by "irregularities" and the use of shoddy construction materials.

In short, the day that Albania has a viable road network linking north and south, and east and west--with all the political and economic advantages that implies--is still a long way off.


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