Accessibility links

Newsline - March 2, 2000




BABITSKII DESCRIBES CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS DETENTION, EXCHANGE

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 1 March, RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii described how he was beaten by guards at the Chernokozovo detention camp in Chechnya last month and how he witnessed the systematic mistreatment and torture of other detainees. Babitskii says he believes that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind his hand-over to unidentified masked men on 3 February, in exchange for three Russian soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). He said the men to whom he was handed over are members of an armed formation loyal to Moscow-based Chechen politician Adam Deniev. The same day, FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich and Deniev both dismissed those accusations as untrue, according to Interfax. LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY SAYS GUERRILLA WAR IN CHECHNYA COULD CONTINUE FOR MONTHS

Major General Vadim Timchenko, who is deputy chief of staff of the Russian forces in Chechnya, told Interfax on 2 March that fighting in Chechnya could continue for several months and that Russian forces will probably remain there until the summer. But Timchenko denied that a long-term guerrilla war is likely because, he claimed, the Chechen fighters cannot rely on the mass support of the Chechen population. LF

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DENIES LEGALITY OF CHECHEN POWER BODIES

Russian Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai told journalists in Moscow on 1 March that "juridically the Chechen republic has always been outside the constitutional field of Russia," ITAR-TASS reported. For that reason, Baglai continued, none of the bodies of power created there can be considered legitimate. Baglai said that official contacts between the Russian leadership and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov were undertaken in a spirit of "political compromise" and do not constitute formal recognition of Maskhadov or his regime. Also on 1 March, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Moscow must identify qualified individuals who enjoy the respect of the Chechen population and who could be appointed to serve in a new Chechen administration together with the federal center, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

MOSCOW SLAMS U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORTS

Moscow has rejected the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights as "unacceptable." That report, issued last week, criticized what it called the indiscriminate use of force in Chechnya, resulting in the killing of civilians. In a statement issued on 1 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the report was based on "unverified, biased information" about Russia's campaign in Chechnya and shows Washington's "prejudiced stance" toward human rights in Russia. JC

GERMANY FAVORS INSTRUCTION IN DEMOCRACY FOR RUSSIAN OFFICERS

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in Moscow on 1 March that it would be "arrogant" to criticize Russia if it fails to respect the principles that countries with longer democratic traditions adhere to, Interfax and AP reported. Rather, he proposed, the West should offer training programs for Russian officers and teach them not only foreign languages "but also our understanding of [human] rights, law, democracy." Scharping added that while there are "deep and fundamental disagreements" between the Russian and German Defense Ministries over Russia's campaign in Chechnya, there remains the potential to develop bilateral relations. JC

PUTIN TO PRESENT ECONOMIC PROGRAM--AFTER ELECTIONS

German Gref, head of the Center for Strategic Studies, told reporters on 1 March that his think tank will not manage before the 26 March presidential elections to complete a comprehensive program for economic, political, and social reforms. Acting President Vladimir Putin said earlier that the center is working on his economic program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2000). Putin had also said that he would present his election program on 25 February; instead, he published a letter to voters in "Izvestiya" outlining the problems Russia is facing and the top priorities for any Russian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2000). Gref added that before 26 March, his center will provide Putin with a draft document containing the "philosophy" of their program. JAC

PUTINA'S SECRET SUMMER COTTAGE REVEALED...

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 March that it has discovered a small lake cottage owned by acting President Putin's wife, Lyudmila, that was not declared on Putin's income and property declaration form filed with the Central Election Commission. The house is being constructed on a 600-square meter lot next to the Chudskoe Lake, 150 meters from St. Petersburg. An official at Putin's campaign headquarters, Ksenia Ponomareva, told the newspaper that Putina declared only the lot and not the house because construction of the house has not been completed. An unfinished building is not considered immovable property and therefore does not have to be listed, she explained. Business magnate Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest in "Kommersant-Daily." JAC

...AS SPLIT IN PUTIN TEAM ALLEGED...

"Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 2 March that a split in Putin's campaign team, with "Muscovites fighting the people from St. Petersburg," has sparked rumors of a "kompromat" campaign to be waged against Putin. Two days earlier, Gleb Pavlovskii, a political consultant for the campaign, told "Segodnya" that a "fifth column" of persons from the staff of the presidential administration and government is plotting to "cripple" Putin during the campaign so that he will not seek a second term in 2004. Reportedly, those individuals fear Putin as a threat to their existence. "Komsomolskaya pravda" is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil. JAC

...AND POST-ELECTION PURGE PREDICTED

Without reference to sources, "Segodnya" reported on 2 March that a purge of the presidential staff is expected after the 26 March elections. Among those likely to be dismissed are Igor Shabdurasulov, first deputy chief of staff, Yevgenii Lisov, deputy chief of staff and head of the Control Department, and possibly presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, who is considered close to Berezovskii. "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group. JAC

EXTENDING PRESIDENTIAL TERM FACES HURDLE

Constitutional Court Chairman Baglai told reporters on 1 March that prolonging the term of Russia's president from four years to seven years, as some of Russia's governors have suggested, would require a constitutional amendment (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 March 2000). Acting President Putin has said he is not opposed to the idea but that implementing such a change cannot be considered before the 2004 presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February 2000). JAC

PROBE INTO BEREZOVSKII ASSASSINATION PLOT REPORTEDLY OVER

The Office of Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor has dropped its investigation of whether a plot existed within the Federal Security Service to assassinate business magnate Boris Berezovskii, Interfax reported on 1 March. Unnamed sources in law enforcement circles said the investigation was stopped because of a lack of evidence. The office of the chief military prosecutor reopened its investigation into a plot to murder influential Berezovskii in fall 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). JAC

MEDIA MINISTER DENIES POLITICAL MOTIVES BEHIND LICENSING DECISION...

Mikhail Lesin said on 1 March that his ministry's announcement the previous day that the broadcasting licenses of Russian Public Television (ORT) and TV-Tsentr will not automatically be renewed was not the result of a political decision. He said that the decision was based on a pure "technicality" because the media law requires that a channel that has received an official warning will not have its license renewed automatically. The two channels were warned by the ministry because of their slanted coverage of the lead-up to the 19 December State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000). A tender for the licenses will be held on 24 May. JAC

...AS KEY TV CHANNELS POTENTIALLY UP FOR GRABS

TV-Tsentr is controlled by the administration of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov but is reportedly close to Berezovskii. Berezovskii said on 29 February that although he has already handed over his stake in ORT to another individual, in accordance with Russian law, he is "not indifferent to the channel's fate." Boris Kagarlitskii of the Institute for Comparative Politics told "The Moscow Times" on 2 March that Berezovskii's business interests would not be endangered even if the fully state-controlled Russian Television won the tender for the licenses, because the company Video International, which "has a monopoly [on advertising] on both RTR and ORT," is connected to Berezovskii. According to Kagarlitskii, Media Minister Lesin worked for Video International. JAC

RUSSIAN WARSHIPS BOUND FOR MEDITERRANEAN IN NOVEMBER

The Russian Navy command announced on 1 March that it will send up to 10 vessels to the Mediterranean Sea in November for exercises that will last for three months, Interfax reported. Among those vessels will be the aircraft carrier "Admiral Kuznetsov" and nuclear submarines. Last month, Russia sent the navy intelligence ship "Kildin" to the East Mediterranean shortly after the Multinational Interception Force in the Gulf detained a Russian tanker suspected of smuggling Iraqi oil in violation of the UN trade embargo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2000). JC

STEPASHIN SAYS HE'LL SUPPORT MATVIENVKO IN ST. PETE BALLOT

Citing unidentified sources close to the former prime minister, Ekho Moskvy reported that Sergei Stepashin has decided not to run in the St. Petersburg gubernatorial elections in May, according to the Website lenta.ru on 1 March. Instead, those sources revealed, Stepashin will support Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko in that ballot. Matvienko, for her part, told NTV the same day that she will not make a final decision on whether to run for the post until 6 March, when she is scheduled to meet with acting President Putin. Unlike many other pretenders to the St. Petersburg governership, the 51-year-old Matvienko is not a native of that city, but she completed her medical studies there and held various party posts in the city throughout the 1970s and 1980s, according to RIA-Novosti. JC

CORRUPTION AMONG OFFICIALS ON THE RISE

Acts of crime and corruption committed by Russian government officials increased by 35.6 percent in 1999, compared with the previous year, First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kozlov said on 1 March. According to Kozlov, charges have been brought against more than 21,000 officials. He added that some 53,700 crimes were committed by officials last year. JAC

GOVERNMENT CURBS DEFICIT-SPENDING

The federal budget deficit totaled 53 billion rubles (1.8 billion) in 1999, compared with 146.3 billion rubles the previous year, resulting in a 64 percent drop, the State Statistics Committee reported on 1 March. Revenues increased 88 percent, while expenditures rose 41 percent, according to Interfax. JAC

ENVIRONMENTALISTS FEAR MORE PRESSURE FROM FEDERAL AUTHORITIES

The Office of Russia's Prosecutor-General has launched a nationwide probe into the activities of environmental groups, "The Moscow Times" reported on 1 March. The head of Zelenyi Mir, Oleg Bodrov, told the daily that since authorities have failed in their efforts to convict environmentalists Aleksandr Nikitin and Grigorii Pasko as traitors, "they are now trying a different method to see what works best." Both Nikitin and Pasko investigated the Russian Navy's environmentally hazardous handling of nuclear waste. An official at the Prosecutor-General's Office, Yelena Ushakova, said that audits of various environmental groups had been planned for more than a year and are now being carried out. She denied that their aim was to curtail environmental activism. JAC




AGREEMENT FORMALIZES RUSSIA'S FREE USE OF MILITARY BASE IN ARMENIA

Under a protocol signed by Armenian Deputy Defense Minister Astvatsatur Petrosian and Russian Embassy official Igor Gordyushev on 1 March, Moscow is exempt from paying rent for the use of land, buildings, and other facilities of its military base in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That agreement formalizes an arrangement that has existed since the collapse of the USSR. LF

ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY DENIES LINKS WITH LATEST SHOOTING SUSPECT

Armenia's Interior Ministry has issued a statement clarifying that Armen Harutiunian, who was detained on 28 February on suspicion of involvement in the 27 October parliament killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000), is not employed by the ministry, Noyan Tapan reported. According to the statement, since March 1999 Harutiunian has been employed as a security guard by Armentel. LF

UN REPRESENTATIVE CHIDES GEORGIAN OFFICIAL FOR WAR-MONGERING

Dieter Boden, who is the UN secretary-general's special representative for Abkhazia, expressed concern on 1 March over Georgian parliamentary Defense and Security Committee chairman Revaz Adamia's recent remarks, according to Caucasus Press. Following talks in Sukhum(i) on 27-28 February with senior Abkhaz representatives, Adamia had said that Tbilisi should resort to the "Chechen variant" if Abkhazia continues to reject the offer of autonomous status within Georgia. Boden said such statements run counter to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's insistence that the Abkhaz conflict must be resolved peacefully. Also on 1 March, Georgian presidential adviser Levan Aleksidze told Interfax that "Georgia will not launch hostilities against the separatist regime in Abkhazia because the international community may respond with force as it did in Bosnia." LF

ADJAR LEADER LAYS DOWN GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT MANDATE

Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze, who heads the so- called Batumi alliance of five Georgian opposition parties, has informed the Georgian parliament that he is relinquishing his deputy's mandate, Caucasus Press reported on 1 March. Abashidze was elected a parliamentary deputy in 1992, 1995, and again in October 1999 but has not attended a single parliamentary session, claiming that he fears Georgian security officials may undertake an attempt on his life. On 2 March, "Alia" quoted a member of Abashidze's parliamentary faction as saying that Abashidze plans to travel to Tbilisi later this month for the first time since 1991 to campaign for the 9 April presidential poll. LF

KAZAKH OIL SECTOR EMPLOYEES CALL FOR ANNULMENT OF CHINESE CONTRACT

Employees at the oil production company Aktobemunaigaz have published in the local Aktyubinsk press an open letter to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev asking him to annul a contract concluded in 1997 with the Chinese National Petroleum Company, which owns a 60 percent stake in Aktobemunaigaz, Interfax reported on 29 February. The appeal claimed that the Chinese management of Aktobemunaigaz continues to ignore the interests of the company's personnel and to violate labor legislation. Specifically, it has reneged on an agreement to pay unemployment benefit to 2,000 Kazakh staff made redundant in April 1999. The signatories to the appeal asked Nazarbaev to establish a government commission to launch an investigation. Kazakhstan's Premier Qasymzhomart Toqaev discussed the situation at Aktobemunaigaz with Chinese Vice Premier Wu Bangguo in Davos earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2000). LF

KYRGYZ FIRST-ROUND ELECTION RESULTS STILL UNCLEAR

Kyrgyzstan's Central Electoral Commission announced on 1 March that the final results of voting in the 20 February parliamentary elections are still unclear, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The commission refuses to grant opposition candidates permission to resume campaigning until it becomes clear which candidates qualify for the 12 March runoff in an estimated 87 constituencies where no candidate won a clear majority in the first round. A group of 11 prominent opposition candidates, including the chairmen of the El (Bei- Bechara) and Ar-Namys parties, Daniyar Usenov and Feliks Kulov, had intended to tour the country together to meet with voters. The opposition attributes the delay in publicizing the results of the first round of voting to the authorities' attempt to falsify the outcome in those constituencies where opposition candidates won. The CEC says it is still checking numerous reported violations. LF

ANOTHER ATTACK ON POLICE IN TAJIKISTAN

Three police officers were wounded on 29 February in an exchange of fire in Darband, 80 kilometers east of Dushanbe, with fighters loyal to one of the former field commanders of the United Tajik Opposition, Asia Plus-Blitz reported, quoting Interior Minister Humdin Sharipov. LF




BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES HOLD 'DIALOGUE' WITHOUT OPPOSITION...

An "initiative group for holding a social and political dialogue" under the auspices of the presidential administration gathered for its first session in Minsk on 1 March, Belarusian Television reported. The group convened in response to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent decision to organize a "broad dialogue" in the country without OSCE mediation. According to Belarusian Television, some 40 associations and political parties have signed up for the proposed dialogue. The group decided that key topics for future discussion will be parliamentary elections and electoral legislation. Belarusian opposition parties, however, did not take part in the session. They believe that Lukashenka's dialogue initiative is based on "ultimatum-like conditions and diktat" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000). JM

...WHILE OSCE, U.S. URGE 'GENUINE' TALKS

OSCE Chairwoman Benita Ferrero-Waldner has called on the Belarusian government to hold a "real" political dialogue with the opposition "to overcome the constitutional controversy and the still existing discrepancies between the present version of the Electoral Code and OSCE standards," Belapan reported on 1 March. The same day, the U.S. urged Minsk to open a "genuine" dialogue with the opposition in which the OSCE would participate. Washington called on Minsk to stop harassing opposition figures and to cease seeking the closure of independent media. "Failure to take such steps will lead to a sham dialogue, illegitimate parliamentary elections, and [will] further polarize Belarusian society and deepen the country's isolation from democratic Europe," U.S. State Secretary spokesman James Rubin noted. JM

THREE BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONISTS ARRESTED

Presidential security service officers arrested three oppositionists who staged an unauthorized picket outside the presidential administration building in Minsk on 1 March. The protesters demanded that the authorities clarify the fate of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, former Deputy Premier Viktar Hanchar, and Hanchar's friend Anatol Krasutski, who disappeared last year. The security officers also seized three reporters covering the protest, including an RFE/RL correspondent. The reporters were released an hour later, while the oppositionists remain in custody pending trial. JM

NATO URGES MILITARY REFORM IN UKRAINE

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, who participated in the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting in Kyiv on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000), has called on Kyiv to speed up military reform. Robertson pledged that NATO is prepared to help Ukraine reform its defense sector and help retrain military personnel for reintegration into society. "You cannot avoid the pain in army reform," AP quoted him as saying. Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists that NATO envoys at the meeting were critical of Ukraine's record on reforming the armed forces, but he added that the tone of the discussions was positive, according to Reuters. The two sides also discussed the use of the Yavoriv military range (Lviv Oblast) to train international peacekeeping forces. Robertson said Ukraine can expect payment for making Yavoriv available to NATO troops. JM

ESTONIANS HAVE CONFIDENCE IN PRESIDENT

An ES Market Research poll shows that 74 percent of Estonians have confidence in the president, ETA reported on 1 March. Fifty-seven percent expressed confidence in the Church, 56 percent in border guards, and 50 percent in the defense forces. Bottom of the list were the national guard, Kaitseliit, and the courts, both of which earned the confidence of only 34 percent of respondents. Among citizens, the president held the top spot, with a 78 percent confidence rating, while for non-citizens, the Church scored highest (67 percent). MH

DRIVE TO PUBLISH LATVIAN KGB FILES FALTERS

Draft legislation that would facilitate the publication of Latvia's KGB files faced a major setback on 1 March when the parliamentary Defense and Interior Affairs Committee rejected it. The People's Party of Prime Minister Andris Skele proposed the legislation, which some have criticized as not going far enough, BNS and LETA reported. Related to the case, head of the Totalitarian Legacy Documentation Center Director Indulis Zalite said that 23 of the 134 Supreme Soviet deputies who voted for the restoration of Latvia's independence were KGB collaborators. That news notwithstanding, the Latvian leadership plans to bestow state honors on all the deputies who voted in the affirmative in the 1990 vote. MH

OSCE SAY 'NO MANDATE' IN LATVIAN WAR CRIMES CASE

Following Russian demands for the OSCE to become involved in the case of convicted war criminal Vasili Kononov, the organization's mission in Latvia said it has no such mandate, BNS reported on 1 March. The Russian government reacted angrily to the conviction of former Soviet partisan Kononov, which it said was "unfair." Kononov thanked Russian acting President Vladimir Putin for his assistance in his case. Russia also voiced anger at the beginning of the trial of Yevgenii Savenko, who is charged with genocide and who publicly apologized to Janis Rungis, a victim of KGB oppression, "on behalf of all Russian people," LETA added. MH

POLISH PRESIDENT SAYS RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA ARE BAD

Aleksander Kwasniewski on 1 March said Poland's relations with Russia are currently at a "very low level," Polish media reported. According to him, those ties were damaged by the recent expulsion of nine Russian diplomats over spying charges (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 January 2000) and last week's attack on the Russian consulate in Poznan by pro-Chechen demonstrators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). Kwasniewski also criticized the current government for "not taking advantage of many opportunities" to boost relations with Russia. He expressed hope that ties with Moscow will improve after the 26 March "election fever" in Russia is over. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS PROMISE MORE PROTESTS

Some 1,000 people protested government agricultural policies in a rally organized by the radical Self-Defense farmers' trade union in Hrubieszow, southeastern Poland, on 1 March, PAP reported. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper called on the government to step down and said road blockades will be held as of 6 March to force early parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, Wladyslaw Serafin, the leader of the Farmers' Circles, said his organization will not support the protests organized by Self-Defense. Serafin noted that there is no need for protests since the government is scheduled to begin talks with farmers on 8 March. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT RESCHEDULES DEBATE ON EXPORTS TO IRAN...

Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus said on 1 March that an extraordinary session will be held on 7 March to pass a bill banning the export of supplies to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, CTK reported. Klaus also complied with the government's request to extend until 8 March the state of legislative emergency, which enables bills to be fast-tracked through the parliament. On 29 February, Communist deputies managed to prevent the bill from being included on the chamber's legislative agenda for this week. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Hynek Kmonicek told RFE/RL on 1 March that the contract whereby ZVVZ Milevsko is to supply Bushehr is problematic also because it involves a Russian firm, Atomstroiexport. He remarked that it is odd that the Russian firm would ask ZVVZ Milevsko to supply technology for Bushehr that Atomstroiexport already produces itself. VG

...PASSES BUDGET ON SECOND READING

The Chamber of Deputies on 1 March passed the budget in its second reading, Czech media reported. The opposition Civic Democratic Party agreed earlier this year not to block the passage of the budget of the minority Social Democratic government. Also, the chamber passed in the first reading a draft amendment to the law on political parties, which would limit the amount of donations a party can receive in one year to 40 million crowns ($1.1 million). President Vaclav Havel signed the press law on 1 March. The law, which provoked a stormy debate last year, was watered down by the Chamber of Deputies to remove its most controversial passages. VG

ALBRIGHT SAYS SHE WILL NOT RUN FOR CZECH PRESIDENCY

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 1 March rejected speculation that she would run for the Czech Presidency after Vaclav Havel's term expires, CTK reported. Albright, who was born in Czechoslovakia, said she "would always love the place where I was born" but added that her "allegiance is to the United States." VG

MECIAR'S PARTY SAYS IT HAS ENOUGH SIGNATURES FOR REFERENDUM

Former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) says it has gathered the required 350,000 signatures to call a referendum on early elections, Radio Twist reported on 1 March. However, the opposition party says it wants to collect even more signatures. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Miklos on 1 March said a group of Spanish investors has postponed a planned visit to Slovakia until September in response to news about the proposed referendum. He criticized President Rudolf Schuster for "endorsing" the HZDS referendum proposal, TASR reported. The same day, Schuster rejected the criticism, saying the referendum proposal is in line with the constitution. He added that if it were true that investors are deterred by referendums, then Switzerland would have no business. VG

SLOVAK RAILWAY COMPANY WANTS COMPENSATION FOR HUNGARIAN STRIKE

Slovak Railways spokesman Milos Cikovsky said on 1 March that the company wants 39,429 euros ($38,400) in compensation from the Hungarian National Railways for losses related to the Hungarian railway workers' strike in February, CTK reported. In other news, Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on 1 March that the government will spend 30 million crowns (about $700,000) to raise awareness in the country about NATO, CTK reported. VG

HUNGARIAN CHIEF PROSECUTOR TO RESIGN?

Hungarian Prosecutor- General Kalman Gyorgyi met with President Arpad Goncz on 1 March to discuss his intention to resign over the recent scandal surrounding the election of board members of Hungarian Television, "Magyar Hirlap" and the private TV "RTL Klub" reported. According to the reports, Gyorgyi said earlier that it would be unconstitutional to elect only government representatives to media boards and that he intends to resign because his opinion has not been taken into consideration. Opposition politicians demanded the resignation of parliamentary speaker Janos Ader, saying he breached the law by proposing that lawmakers vote for incomplete media boards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February and 1 March 2000). MSZ




SERBIAN GENERAL SAYS NATO RESPONSIBLE FOR TROUBLE IN SOUTHWEST SERBIA...

General Vladimir Lazarevic, who commands the Yugoslav army in southern Serbia, said on 2 March that "NATO forces already call the Pcinj district (Presevo, Bujanovac, and Medvedja municipalities) 'eastern [Kosova],' and plan [to annex it to Kosova] as the next phase in breaking up Serbia and Yugoslavia. In other words, they want to spread the very bad security situation in [Kosova] to this part of Serbia," AP reported from Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 February 2000). Zivorad Igic, a Serbian official from Kosova, added: "Albanian terrorists now have aspirations toward Serbian territories outside [the province]. Unfortunately, the international security forces are unbelievably and unreasonably tolerant toward the Albanian terrorists, whose unpunished crimes show that they...can do whatever they want and be responsible to no one," Zigic added. NATO officials previously said they are closely observing the tense situation in the region and will not allow armed persons to cross the frontier. PM

...WHILE UNHCR CONCERNED ABOUT SERBIAN INTIMIDATION OF ALBANIANS

The UNHCR said in a statement in Geneva on 2 March that 102 ethnic Albanians recently arrived in Gjilan seeking safety. They reported an increase in Serbian military and police presence in southern Serbia, AP reported. The refugees gave "consistent accounts of harassment, beatings, confiscation of houses and apartments, forced conscription, rape threats, and demands for money," the UNHCR added. Young families make up the majority of the refugees and call the security situation "intolerable." Observers note that the incidents reported by the refugees recall the developments in Kosova prior to the 1999 conflict. PM

SERBS STONE ALBANIANS USING KFOR FOOTBRIDGE

Some 150 Serbs-- most of whom were women--threw stones at two ethnic Albanians trying to cross KFOR's new footbridge across the Ibar River in Mitrovica on 2 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February 2000). The Albanians fled back to the south side of town. Prior to the incident, a French KFOR spokesman said: "We launched this little temporary footbridge to provide civilians freedom of movement, which is their essential right. Freedom of movement is essential for the development of civic society here. We are monitoring the situation closely and we hope that there will be no incidents," AP reported. PM

SERBIAN CIVILIANS IN STANDOFF WITH U.S. TROOPS

On 1 March, some 200 angry Serbian civilians surrounded 15 U.S. KFOR soldiers near Gjilan after the troops detained one Serb in possession of illegal weapons. The Serbs let the soldiers leave with the suspect only after U.S. reinforcements arrived, AP reported. PM

RUSSIAN KFOR SOLDIER DIES OF WOUNDS

A KFOR spokesman said in Mitrovica on 2 March that a Russian soldier "died of internal bleeding overnight," Reuters reported. Unknown persons in an ethnic Albanian area of Skenderaj shot the man recently while he was on patrol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000). Meanwhile in Decan, KFOR troops arrested two ethnic Albanians in connection with the recent mortar shelling of the medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery complex there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 1 March. The monastery was not damaged. PM

KOUCHNER'S PLAN A NON-STARTER?

The UN's chief administrator in Kosova, Bernard Kouchner, has prepared a four-stage plan for the reunification of Mitrovica, "Danas" reported on 2 March. It calls for reestablishing security, allowing all persons to return to their homes, and setting up a unified city council and administration. Kouchner has submitted his proposal to the Security Council. Oliver Ivanovic, who is a leader of the local Serbs, dismissed the plan, calling it "cosmetic" and stressing that it will "not lead to a lasting solution" to Mitrovica's problems. PM

ARTEMIJE: NO CHANGE IN KOSOVA'S STATUS YET

Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, who is one of the two main leaders of the Kosova Serbs and who supports the Serbian opposition, said in Washington that it is too early for any discussion on Kosova's political future. He said that a change in the province's status should come only after democracy has been established in Serbia and Yugoslavia. Some international as well as Albanian observers have recently called for talks on the political future of Kosova. They argue that the UN's interim administration has proved ineffective and that time has come to set up permanent structures, which presumably would be controlled by the ethnic Albanian majority. PM

ALBANIA SEEKS 'ALBANIAN SPACE IN EU'

Tirana's Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 1 March that his government does not support the creation of a "greater Albania," as Belgrade has frequently charged. Instead, Milo argued, his government wants "an Albanian space within the EU...[which has] nothing to do with a greater Albania or Albanian state." He called for increased regional cooperation involving Albania and all of its neighbors as preparation for their joining the EU. Referring to Kosova, he called on KFOR not to allow local Serbs to affect a partition of Mitrovica or of the province. Milo regretted that Serbs and Albanians have not yet re-established joint communities, but he added: "How can that happen in such a short time after the Serbs have committed so many atrocities?" PM

ITALY, ALBANIA DISCUSS FIGHTING MAFIA

A delegation of Italian experts on fighting organized crime held talks in Tirana with top Albanian officials on 1 and 2 March. Issues include traffic in illegal immigrants, prostitutes, drugs, weapons, and stolen cars from the Balkans to Italy via Albania, dpa reported. President Rexhep Meidani argued that "Albania needs special attention and assistance because it is the last station in the traffic in illegal emigrants and other traffic to Italy." In particular, he asked for technical assistance for Albanian police, prosecutors, and judges. Albanian efforts in combating organized crime have been hurt by corruption, inefficiency, and lack of experience among police and other officials. Italy has long stationed police, customs agents, and other experts in Albania. Italian ships also patrol Albanian waters in an effort to curtail smuggling. PM

SERBIA HIKES ELECTRICITY PRICES

The state-run power company announced in Belgrade on 1 March that it has raised its prices to consumers by 9.5 percent, effective immediately. The company stressed that it needs more money to repair the damage inflicted by NATO's 1999 bombing campaign. PM

SERBIAN POLICE DETAIN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS

Police took some 43 supporters of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV) to the Novi Sad police station on 1 March. Most of the activists were later released. The party had called a protest for that afternoon to coincide with the arrival of Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic to inaugurate work on rebuilding the Varadin Bridge. The LSV has called the government's reconstruction plans a "sham" and charged that Belgrade is dealing with the authorities in Novi Sad in a high-handed manner. PM

CROATIA'S MESIC NAMES LEGAL TEAM

Croatian President Stipe Mesic appointed a five-member legal advisory committee on 1 March to draft proposals for reducing the powers of the president. Initial drafts could be ready within two to three weeks, and the final proposals for changes to the constitution could be finished in about six months, "Jutarnji list" reported. All parties and presidential candidates in the recent elections agreed that many of the late President Franjo Tudjman's powers must be transferred to the parliament or other governmental bodies. PM

ANKICA TUDJMAN WANTS AUDIT

Ankica Tudjman, who is the widow of the late president, called on Prime Minister Ivica Racan to launch a formal audit of her family's wealth, "Jutarnji list" reported on 2 March. She said that she wants to put an end to rumors and media reports that the Tudjmans possess a huge fortune that was accumulated illegally. Mesic has said that the Tudjmans will face legal measures--"as would any citizen--if they are found to have broken the law." PM

SLOVENIA SEEKS REASSURANCE FROM AUSTRIA

Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana on 1 March that his government will soon ask its Austrian counterpart not to block Slovenia's admission to the EU. He also asked Austria to cease raising objections to the Krsko power plant, which, Rupel argued, was built according to Western safety standards. The Freedom Party's Joerg Haider has previously called for Krsko to be closed. He is governor of Carinthia, which borders Slovenia and is home to most of Austria's ethnic Slovenian minority. PM

ROMANIAN DEFENSE INDUSTRY WORKERS MARCH

More than 10,000 Romanian defense industry and aeronautics workers demonstrated outside the governmental and presidential buildings in Bucharest on 1 March, Rompres reported. The demonstrators called on the government to ensure that workers receive part payment of their wages during temporary layoffs, Reuters reported. The same day, NATO Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark arrived in Bucharest to discuss Romania's defense industry reform plans and thank Romania for its support for the alliance during its bombing campaign in Yugoslavia last year. VG

TWO ROMANIANS BEING INVESTIGATED FOR NUCLEAR SMUGGLING

The Romanian intelligence service on 1 March said it is investigating two Romanians on suspicion of trying to smuggle nuclear secrets out of the country, AP reported. The two suspects were carrying materials from the Cernavoda nuclear plant when they were detained on 29 February at the border with Moldova. VG

ROMANIAN LIBERALS DEFUSE GOVERNMENTAL CRISIS

The Standing Bureau of the National Liberal Party (PNL) on 1 March decided to put an end to the coalition crisis triggered by the resignation of Defense Minister Victor Babiuc from the Democratic Party and by the subsequent attacks of Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Traian Basescu against President Ion Iliescu and the PNL, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The bureau said it has "taken note" of the Democrats' "regrets" expressed one day earlier for having "used formulations that affected the public image of the PNL" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000). MS

MOLDOVA APPEALS TO MOSCOW TO RESUME GAS SUPPLIES

President Petru Lucinschi met with Russian Ambassador to Moldova Pavel Petrovsky on 2 March to ask Russia to resume the supply of natural gas to Moldova, AP reported. On 1 March, Deputy Moldovan Prime Minister Valeriu Cozarciuco and Mihail Lisnic, chairman of Moldovagaz, flew to Moscow in an attempt to persuade Russia to resume supplies. Russia cut off gas supplies to Moldovan on 28 February because of unpaid bills. Moldova owes Russian some $7 million for gas deliveries. Moldovan parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov said Russia could be using the cutoff to gain "political capital," but he refused to elaborate. Meanwhile, hospitals in Chisinau have canceled all routine surgery owing to the lack of natural gas. VG

RUSSIA HELPS BULGARIA IN LIBYAN DOCTORS' CASE

The chairman of Bulgaria's National Assembly, Yordan Sokolov, met with Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Vladimir Titov on 1 March to discuss the trial of six Bulgarian doctors in Libya, BTA reported. The doctor are accused of willfully infecting children with the HIV virus. At the meeting, Titov informed Sokolov of his contacts with Libyan officials over the trial. Sokolov says Russia's intervention in the case has helped in securing a postponement of the trial until April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February 2000). Titov said: "Our common aim is to guarantee just and humane proceedings." Deputy Foreign Minister Vasiliy Takev said on 1 March that Bulgaria has demanded that all formalities be settled to allow the departure of another 17 Bulgarian doctors who were initially detained in connection with the case. VG




TURKMEN INCONSISTENCY COULD JEOPARDIZE PIPELINE PROJECT


By Michael Lelyveld

A U.S. official says Washington is working on a finance plan for the trans-Caspian gas pipeline to meet the concerns of Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov.

John Wolf, the Caspian adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton, told reporters in Istanbul earlier this week that the project's developers will submit a detailed project plan by the end of March. The aim is apparently to convince Niyazov that Turkmenistan will not lose money on the pipeline to Turkey if it agrees to terms demanded by Azerbaijan.

In an unusual public show of anger toward a U.S. diplomat, Niyazov last week accused Wolf of "deliberately holding up" the $2,5 billion dollar project and of pressuring Ashgabat to accept unfavorable conditions from Baku.

Azerbaijan has demanded half the capacity of the pipeline for its own gas sales to Turkey as a condition for allowing transit on its territory. Niyazov believes the remaining share for Turkmenistan's gas will not be enough to pay for the line across the Caspian.

In comments carried on the Turkmen Press website on 29 February, Niyazov said if Ashgabat accepts Azerbaijan's terms, it will take Turkmenistan eight years to realize a profit once the pipeline opens in late 2002. In the meantime, Turkmenistan will be faced with an estimated $3 billion debt, Niyazov said.

Showing frustration, Niyazov noted that previous attempts to deal with U.S. companies on planned pipeline projects to Pakistan and Turkey had failed. Turkmenistan recently opened talks with Russia's Gazprom on selling up to 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year. Some analysts believe the sales to Russia could replace the trans-Caspian deal.

The partners for the pipeline will have until 20 March to present new figures that will address Niyazov's concerns. He has extended the mandate of the PSG International consortium for one month from 19 February, when it was due to expire. U.S.-based Bechtel Corporation and General Electric Capital have been working on the project, along with the British-Dutch firm Royal Dutch/Shell.

A further threat to the entire project is posed by Azerbaijan, which last year laid claim to half the pipeline's capacity after finding a large gas deposit in its Caspian offshore field, known as Shah Deniz. At the same time, Baku started its own push to sell gas to Turkey, pressing its advantage of shorter transit distance. That move is also thought to be in retaliation for Turkmenistan's claim to a Caspian oilfield on its border with Azerbaijan. Niyazov has refused to give ground on the disputed oilfield.

As originally planned, the trans-Caspian line was designed to carry 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year. Turkmenistan agreed to sell 16 billion cubic meters to Turkey and an additional 14 billion for transit to Europe. But Azerbaijan's demand for 16 billion cubic meters of capacity on the same line would make Turkmenistan's agreement with Turkey impossible to fulfil.

In trying to make the deal work with less gas, the consortium partners may be facing another problem. Niyazov himself has negotiated terms with Turkey that may not be favorable, regardless of what Azerbaijan does.

Turkey has agreed to pay Turkmenistan only a fixed price for its gas in the first six months of deliveries. After that, the price may be renegotiated to reflect market forces. If the price drops, so would Turkmenistan's profits, making it harder to pay pipeline costs.

Because countries such as Iran and Russia are also planning to sell large volumes of gas to Turkey, there is a good chance that prices will decline for supplies that are not already covered by contract. Turkmenistan is unlikely to be in a strong bargaining position, even if the trans-Caspian pipeline is built.

Niyazov has tried to deal with his troubles by threatening to sell huge volumes of gas to Russia. But higher volumes may only result in lower prices, making Turkmenistan's financing troubles worse.

But without the competition from a trans-Caspian deal, Russia could insist on paying even less for Turkmen gas. The options appear to be limited, and Niyazov may be in the process of limiting them even further unless he can compromise with Azerbaijan. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Boston.


XS
SM
MD
LG