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Newsline - March 6, 2000




RUSSIAN FORCES SUFFER MORE LOSSES...

Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, first deputy commander of the Russian forces fighting in Chechnya, said on 5 March that 31 Russian troops were killed in recent days in clashes with Chechen fighters trying to break out of the Argun gorge near the villages of Ulus-Kert and Selmentausen, Reuters reported. Also on 5 March, Russian forces intercepted a group of Chechens trying to advance north out of the Argun gorge. That group was driven back after several hours' fierce fighting near the village of Komsomolskoe. The villages of Komsomolskoe, Yaryshmardy, Shalazhi, Selmentausen, and Ulus-Yurt were subjected to heavy air and artillery bombardment on 4-5 March, according to Interfax. LF

...AS SOME AMBUSHERS REPORTEDLY CAPTURED

Russian First Deputy Interior Minister Vyacheslav Kozlov said on 3 March that 10 Chechens have been apprehended in Grozny on suspicion of having participated in the ambush of Russian Interior Ministry OMON troops in Grozny the previous day, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2000). Interfax, however, said on 4 March that a total of 48 people were detained. The death toll in that attack rose the same day when another 17 Russians died of their injuries. Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the ambush on the incompetence of Interior Ministry officers, who he said failed to conduct a reconnaissance mission before dispatching the convoy in question, Interfax reported. LF

BRITISH PRESS REPORTS NEW ATROCITIES AGAINST CHECHEN CIVILIANS

"The Observer" on 5 March cited eyewitness reports of an attack by Russian forces on 4 February against civilians in the village of Katyr-Yurt, 20 kilometers northeast of Grozny, Reuters reported. Russian planes reportedly began bombing the village that morning, and buses flying white flags were later sent to evacuate the villages. Those buses were then targeted by ground-to-air missiles. In all, some 363 people were killed in the attack. LF

CHAIKA, SELEZNEV RULE OUT CHECHEN TALKS

There is "no need" for peace talks between acting Russian President Putin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax on 4 March quoted Russian Justice Minister Yurii Chaika as saying. Chaika termed Maskhadov an internationally wanted criminal. He added that there are no other potential negotiating partners in Chechnya but that such talks are in any event unnecessary as Chechnya "is a republic in an indivisible Russia." Speaking in St. Petersburg on 4 March, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev similarly said that he sees no high-profile politician in Chechnya with whom Moscow could begin talks, ITAR-TASS reported. But Seleznev suggested that Chechens loyal to pro- Moscow militia leader Beslan Gantemirov could take responsibility for the situation in Chechnya and become "power structures or governing bodies" in the future. Gantemirov arrived in Grozny from Moscow on 4 March with the aim of holding a national reconciliation conference, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

RUSSIAN COMMANDER OUTLINES CHECHEN PRIORITIES

Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, who commands the Russian forces fighting on the eastern front in Chechnya, told Russian Public Television on 4 March that the Russian military should learn from its mistakes during the 1994-1996 Chechen war. Shamanov said that Maskhadov and field commanders Shamil Basaev, Khattab, and Arbi Baraev should be hunted down. He accused unnamed officials of such organizations as the OSCE and Medecins sans Frontieres of conducting intelligence operations on Russian territory. Shamanov said that legislation should be drafted outlining the responsibilities and powers of federal structures in Chechnya, adding that those structures should be empowered to use force if necessary. He said social guarantees must be created for those Russian troops who will remain deployed permanently in Chechnya. And he stressed the importance of strict financial control over funds sent to Chechnya to finance reconstruction. LF

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN POLITICIAN DENIES HIS MEN HELD BABITSKII

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 3 March, Adam Deniev, leader of the Moscow-based movement For the Revival of the Chechen People and the Chechen Republic, denied the 1 March claim by RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii that the masked Chechens to whom he was handed over by federal forces on 3 February were Deniev's supporters, Interfax and ITAR- TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2000). Deniev added, however, that it was "thanks to his influence" that Babitskii was ultimately released, according to Interfax. LF

TWO POLISH RESEARCHERS RELEASED IN CHECHNYA

Two Polish women scientists abducted in Daghestan last August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August and 4 November 1999) were freed by Russian troops in Shatoi in southern Chechnya on 3 March, Interfax reported. They told journalists in Moscow the following day that they had been constantly moved from place to place during their period in captivity but were not subjected to violence or physical abuse (see also Part 2). LF

WEST CONTINUES TO DEMAND GREATER COOPERATION OVER CHECHNYA

At a 3 March meeting in Lisbon attended by high-ranking EU, U.S., and Russian officials, Western participants noted that Russia has taken some measures to allay concern over the situation in Chechnya but they stressed they still want greater cooperation between Moscow and international human rights groups. In addition to announcing that Russia will permit the presence in Chechnya of two Council of Europe human rights monitors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2000), Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov invited the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger to visit Chechnya later this week and also agreed to a visit by the head of the OSCE's Assistance Group, Reuters reported. The meeting was attended, among others, by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Portuguese and French Foreign Ministers Jaime Gama and Hubert Vedrine. JC

OFFICIALS SEEN UNDERESTIMATING COSTS OF CHECHEN WAR

"Segodnya" on 3 March reported that the Russian government's official estimate of the costs of the Chechen war totaling 5 billion rubles ($175 million) understates actual costs by at least 50 percent. The newspaper reached that conclusion by multiplying the daily wages of each serviceman fighting there by the number of days of fighting, adding that the actual total must be far greater when munitions are included. But the newspaper also noted that the real costs are unlikely ever to be known because "the state has ways of hiding" them elsewhere in the budget. "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group. PG

PUTIN DOES NOT EXCLUDE NATO MEMBERSHIP ON 'EQUAL TERMS'...

In an interview broadcast on 5 March, acting President Putin told BBC Television that he does not rule out Moscow's joining NATO but stressed it will do so only "when Russia's views are taken into account as those of an equal partner." Saying he cannot imagine Russia's being isolated from Europe, Putin remarked that "it is hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy." "When we talk about our opposition to NATO's expansion..., we have never declared any region of the world a zone of our special interest," he said, adding that attempts to exclude Russia from the enlargement process have triggered such opposition in Moscow. With regard to Chechnya, Putin said Russia is acting against "extremists" who have turned the province into a "mini-Afghanistan." Russia's actions, he maintained, are aimed solely at "minimizing civilian casualties." The BBC interview was recorded on 29 February, the same day as federal forces in Chechnya took Shatoi. JC

...FINDS SUPPORT FROM LUKIN, GOVERNORS...

Deputy State Duma speaker Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) told Ekho Moskvy on 5 March that he agrees with Putin that Russia could become a member of NATO if it were treated as an equal partner, Interfax reported. Putin's comment also found support from two prominent regional heads. Samara Governor and presidential candidate Konstantin Titov told Interfax that if Russia were to join the alliance, NATO could become a "market for our weapons," while Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy, commented that any cooperation is better than none whatsoever and that Russia must "integrate" with the Western economy. JC

...AND OPPOSITION FROM DUMA SPEAKER AND OTHERS

Interfax on 6 March quoted Duma speaker Seleznev as describing Putin's comment about NATO as "highly questionable." "I do not understand under which conditions we could join the alliance because one can hardly expect the equal treatment of Russia in NATO," he said. He suggested that Russia could only consider joining NATO if the alliance evolved into a political organization. State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy) echoed that viewpoint, saying that Russian membership would be possible if NATO became an organization "along the lines of the OSCE." Meanwhile, Reuters quoted Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Gennadii Zyuganov as saying Putin's remark was "naive and unforgivable for a politician of such magnitude." JC

PUTIN'S REFUSAL TO ADVERTISE SEEN AS AN ADVERTISEMENT

"Izvestiya" commented on 4 March that acting Russian President Putin's refusal to take part in debates or use free air time reflects a strategy designed to show that he "needs neither external financial aid, nor the political support of prominent people, nor advertising." In short, the newspaper said, "the refusal to advertise is also an advertisement." Meanwhile, Putin himself said that he is not planning to employ image makers in his campaign, ITAR-TASS reported. "Probably it is my mistake," Putin said. "But any election campaign partially consists of advertising. Meanwhile, people who are working ...must prove their abilities...by doing a real job, not by humbugging or brain-washing." PG

PUTIN CAMPAIGN HQ DENIES CHARGES OF VIOLATING ELECTION LAW

Acting Russian President Putin's campaign headquarters denied a report in "Segodnya" on 4 March saying the Central Election Commission has warned Putin that his campaign violated the law by beginning too early, AP reported. Putin aides said he "never got any official warnings from the Central Election Commission for any violations in the course of the election campaign whatsoever, much less for a 'false start.'" Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy reported that the commission is investigating reports that both Putin and fellow presidential candidate Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev have not reported all their assets as required by law. PG

PUTIN OPPOSES ANY REDISTRIBUTION OF PROPERTY

Acting Russian President Putin told an energy conference on 3 March that he opposes "any redistribution of property," Interfax reported. He added that he is opposed to the splitting up of natural monopolies anytime soon. PG

YAVLINSKII SAYS PUTIN, COMMUNISTS FORMING 'STRATEGIC' ALLIANCE

Yabloko leader and presidential candidate Grigorii Yavlinskii said on 4 March that acting Russian President Putin and the Russian Communist Party have formed a "strategic" alliance, "based on the use of force rather than the political process and negotiations," Interfax reported on 4 March. Yavlinskii said that he will campaign harder and not withdraw from the election "under any condition." PG

RUSSIAN MUSLIM PARTY BACKS PUTIN

A 4 March conference of Refakh, a political movement that claims to represent the interests of Russia's Muslims and other minorities, "unanimously" supported the candidacy of acting President Putin, ITAR-TASS reported. Its leader, Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, said that "we are for the unity, stability, and territorial integrity of Russia." PG

'FREEDOM OF SPEECH' CONGRESS OPENS IN MOSCOW

Journalists from across the Russian Federation convened in Moscow on 6 March for a conference entitled "Freedom of Speech in Russia- -2000," ITAR-TASS reported. Organized by the Journalists' Union of Russia, the meeting will continue on 7 March, when delegates will meet with Russian officials. PG

MOSCOW ARGUES THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES TO U.S. NATIONAL DEFENSE SYSTEM

An unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official who took part in last week's U.S.-Russian arms reduction talks in Geneva told Reuters on 5 March that Moscow is seeking to convince Washington that there are alternatives to a U.S. limited national defense system. He identified one such alternative as Russian-U.S. cooperation to address perceived threats from so-called rogue states such as Iraq and North Korea. JC

NORWAY COMPLAINS OF CONTINUED RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE GATHERING

In an interview with the Norwegian daily "Verdens Gang" on 4 March, Norwegian Justice Minister Odd Einar Eorum said there is "still considerable Russian intelligence activity in Norway," adding that "by that, I mean all forms of intelligence," Reuters reported. Russian intelligence, he noted, is seen as one of the main threats to his country. Recently, officials in Moscow criticized Norway for allowing U.S. radar installations to be stationed on its territory, saying those facilities constitute a threat to Russian national security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). JC

RUSSIA, SOUTH KOREA TO HOLD FIRST JOINT NAVAL EXERCISES

AP on 6 March quoted the Defense Ministry in Seoul as saying that next month Russia and South Korea are to conduct their first-ever joint naval maneuvers. Naval ships and helicopters from the two countries will carry out a mock search-and- rescue operation, according to the ministry. JC

REGIONAL COURT OVERTURNS RULING IN PASKO'S FAVOR

The Primore regional court has overturned a ruling by a Vladivostok city court awarding journalist Grigorii Pasko some 25,000 rubles ($870) in damages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2000), Russian agencies reported on 6 March. Last month, the lower court had ordered the head of the Federal Security Service's Pacific Fleet directorate, Nikolai Sotskov to pay that sum for accusing Pasko in an August 1999 interview of being a Japanese spy Pasko was arrested in November 1997 on suspicion of revealing classified information about the Pacific Fleet's environmentally hazardous treatment of nuclear waste. In July 1999, he was found guilty only of abuse of office and was amnestied. JC

SOLZHENITSYN SAYS REFORMS WERE 'A DISASTER'

In an interview with the German magazine "Der Spiegel," Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that reforms under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin were "a disaster" for Russia. U.S. President Bill Clinton's suggestion that Yeltsin was "the father of Russian democracy," the Nobel laureate said, can only be considered "a sick joke," adding that "our decline lasted more than 70 years under communism and during the 10 years that followed." PG

'MORE PEACE AND LESS WAR'

A Russian publisher has issued a new version of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" for Russian high school students that is only half as long as standard editions. The publisher, Igor Zakharov, says his version is the much shorter first draft that Tolstoy completed in 1866. He added that it includes all the essential features of the longer and more familiar version but contains "more peace and less war." PG




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT MAJORITY ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO PRESIDENT...

In a statement adopted on 3 March in the presence of Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, the Miasnutiun parliament bloc demanded that President Robert Kocharian fire his chief of staff, Serzh Sarkisian, and Armenian National Television Director Tigran Naghdalian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The statement accused the two men, who are among Kocharian's closest political allies, of misrepresenting and obstructing the ongoing investigation into the "attempted coup d'etat," by which it meant the 27 October parliament shootings. On 2 March, lawyers for presidential aide Aleksan Harutiunian and Naghdalian's deputy, Harutiun Harutiunian, both of whom are charged with complicity in the shootings, had criticized the conduct of the investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2000). The statement calls on the president to "create normal conditions" for the activities of the state body responsible for conducting that investigation. Sargsian, whose brother and predecessor as premier, Vazgen, died in the attack, said that both he and the family of a second victim, parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian, have absolute trust in the investigators. LF

...WHILE ONE OF PROPOSED VICTIMS REJECTS THAT DEMAND

Naghdalian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 4 March that he will not resign, saying that the demand that he be fired constitutes a threat to freedom of speech in Armenia. He said it is "absurd" to victimize him for National Television's coverage of the two lawyers' 2 March criticisms, which were widely reported by other media. Naghdalian denied that Presidential Chief of Staff Sarkisian controls or dictates media coverage of the investigation into the parliament shootings. He added that the president is not empowered to order his dismissal. Only the board of directors of National Television is empowered to appoint or dismiss its director. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY INSTITUTE RENAMED AFTER SLAIN PREMIER

The Defense Ministry's Military Institute has been renamed after Vazgen Sargsian, who served as defense minister before being named premier last year, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 March. President Kocharian and military leaders laid wreaths at Sargsian's tomb on 5 March, which would have been his 41st birthday. LF

TALKS ON TRANS-CASPIAN GAS PIPELINE CONTINUE IN BAKU...

Edward Smith, president of the PSG corporation, told Azerbaijani officials in Baku on 3 March that since Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed an agreement with Turkey last year to export 16 billion cubic meters of gas annually via the planned Trans-Caspian pipeline, Niyazov could permit Azerbaijan an export quota of only 5 billion cubic meters, Turan reported. Azerbaijan is demanding 50 percent of the pipeline's throughput capacity. Smith, whose corporation is to operate the planned Trans-Caspian gas export pipeline, said talks are continuing on a transit treaty to be signed by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan and four separate agreements between PSG and those four countries. On 4 March, Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov said that Baku will present new proposals to Ashgabat within one week, Caucasus Press reported. Sharifov said that PSG is seeking permission to manage the entire Azerbaijan gas pipeline system but that Baku will not agree to that demand. LF

...AS AZERBAIJAN SEEKS ALTERNATIVE EXPORT POSSIBILITIES

Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev and top managers from the Azerbaijan International Operating Company and from BP/Amoco attended a presentation in Baku on 4 March at which Azerbaijan sought to interest investors in the reconstruction and extension through Georgia of an existing pipeline to export to Turkey natural gas from the Shah Deniz field, A similar presentation was held in Ankara one week earlier. Commenting on 3 March on BP's interest in that project, PSG President Smith said on 3 March that construction of one large pipeline rather than two smaller ones would lower construction costs, according to Interfax. LF

ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Toomas Hendrik Ilves and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Vilayat Guliev, signed an inter-governmental agreement on trade and economic cooperation in Baku on 2 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Ilves held talks with Guliev and with Parliamentary Speaker Murtuz Alesqerov on strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation, and also met with President Aliev, Turan reported. Ilves advocated a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict and expressed his support for the accession of both Azerbaijan and Armenia to the Council of Europe as full members. LF

RUSSIA DEMANDS CLOSURE OF CHECHEN REPRESENTATION IN GEORGIA...

Georgia's ambassador to Moscow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on 3 March and informed of Moscow's demand that the Georgian authorities immediately close the Chechen "Representation Office" and "Information Center" in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported the following day, citing a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. The statement said the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi is the sole legitimate Russian representation in Georgia. It claimed that the two Chechen offices, which together employ more than 100 people, are engaged in funding bandit groups, and organizing supplies of arms and ammunition to Chechnya and the transportation of wounded fighters to other countries for medical treatment. By tolerating the presence on its territory of those offices, the statement said, the Georgian leadership is acting counter to its expressed wish to improve relations with Russia. LF

...PROTESTS GERMAN DIPLOMATS' FILMING OF RUSSIAN BASE

The press service of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus issued a statement in Tbilisi on 4 March accusing two German diplomats of taking photographs and videos of the Russian military base at Vaziani, near Tbilisi, earlier that day, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The statement termed those actions illegal. But a Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman commented later that day that neither Georgian nor international law prohibits photographing the exterior of either Russian or Georgian military bases on Georgian territory. LF

POLL INDICATES LOW LEVEL OF TRUST IN GEORGIAN POLITICIANS

A poll recently conducted among 400 Tbilisi residents indicates that President Eduard Shevardnadze enjoys the highest level of trust among respondents, with a rating of 24 percent, Caucasus Press reported on 6 March. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania came second with 9 percent, followed by Union of Citizens of Georgia parliamentary faction leader Mikhail Saakashvili (8 percent) and former Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Djumber Patiashvili (7 percent each). Eighteen percent of respondents said they do not trust any Georgian political figure. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION DISCUSSES LEGAL ACTION AGAINST STATE MEDIA...

Leaders of several Kyrgyz opposition parties decided at a roundtable discussion in Bishkek on 3 March to form a coordinating group, of which Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan chairman Djypar Djeksheev was elected head, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Participants discussed the possibility of recruiting a group of lawyers to initiate legal action against those state-controlled media that slandered opposition candidates during the runup to the 20 February parliamentary elections. Some participants also demanded the convening of a session of the outgoing parliament at which Central Electoral Commission Chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev would be required to report on election violations. LF

...AS KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER EXCLUDED FROM RUNOFF POLL

A local election commission in Bishkek ruled on 3 March that El (Bei Bechara) Chairman Daniyar Usenov may not participate in the runoff after a rival candidate claimed that Usenov failed to mention in his income declaration that he owns apartments in Bishkek and the town of Kara-Balta, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Usenov told the commission that he sold the Kara-Balta apartment in 1994. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY

Former Bishkek Mayor Feliks Kulov, who last year founded the opposition Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party, told participants at the 3 March opposition meeting that he intends to contest the presidential poll due in December 2000, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov said he advocates abolishing the presidency and declaring Kyrgyzstan a parliamentary republic. The Central Electoral Commission has not yet clarified whether Kulov qualifies for the runoff elections in single-mandate constituencies to be held on 12 March. LF

TAJIK, KAZAKH PRESIDENTS CONCERNED ABOUT AFGHAN ESCLATION

In a telephone conversation on 4 March, Imomali Rakhmonov and Nursultan Nazarbaev expressed concern over the recent intensification of fighting in Afghanistan and support for proposed measures to strengthen protection of the southern borders of the CIS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2000), ITAR-TASS reported. Fighting was reported that day at a distance of only 7-8 kilometers from the Afghan-Tajik border. On 3 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry had issued a statement calling on the international community to take urgent measures to effect an immediate cessation of the new hostilities, which it blamed wholly on the Taliban and their supporters, Interfax reported. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT OUTLINES CLEMENCY PROPOSAL FOR DISMISSED MINISTER

Niyazov on 3 March offered former Deputy Premier and Energy and Industry Minister Saparmurat Nuryev the choice of facing prosecution or repaying the $2.5 million he is accused of having embezzled from the state treasury, Interfax reported. Nuryev was accused of nepotism and abuse of office and dismissed as deputy premier in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2000). Niyazov has also instructed the Turkmen parliament to draft legislation that would allow convicts to perform penal servitude in outlying regions of the country rather than serve a jail sentence, Interfax reported on 3 March. Niyazov explained that proposal by pointing to the Turkmen "traditions of justice and humanism," but observers note that the country's prisons are very overcrowded. LF




EUROPEAN TROIKA 'CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC' ABOUT DIALOGUE IN BELARUS...

Jan Wiersma of the European Parliament told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 3 March that the European "troika"--the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the OSCE--is "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects for a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition in Belarus. A "troika" delegation visited Minsk last week to organize a roundtable meeting of government officials, NGO representatives, and oppositionists and meet with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. According to that delegation, the authorities are ready to discuss amendments to the electoral code, which does not meet European standards. The delegation admitted that Lukashenka opposes any discussion about the powers of the legislature that is to be elected this fall. PACE representative Wolfgang Berendt said Lukashenka believes that the powers of the executive and the legislature in Belarus are "perfectly" balanced, according to Belapan. JM

IMF NOTES 'SERIOUS CONTRADICTIONS' IN BELARUSIAN ECONOMY

Mark Horton, IMF permanent representative for Lithuania and Belarus, told journalists in Minsk on 4 March that Belarus's economic policies have improved since last year but still have inherent contradictions, Belapan reported. Horton approved recent steps to liberalize the foreign exchange market but expressed disappointment at last week's presidential edict obliging Belarusian exporters to sell a 40 percent share of their hard-currency proceeds to the government. Horton added that the government's plan to borrow 76 billion rubles ($86 million) from the National Bank this year means fewer opportunities for the National Bank to liberalize the exchange rate. The IMF also disapproves of large loans that Belarus's agricultural sector is expected to receive this year from commercial banks. According to Horton, the IMF wants the National Bank to state clearly that it will not guarantee these loans in any form. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET APPROVES ACTION PROGRAM

The government on 3 March approved the main points of its action program, which is based on President Leonid Kuchma's annual address to the parliament last month, Interfax reported. The program--called "The Reforms for Prosperity"--is to be in force throughout the term of the current government. The programs foresees a 1.2 percent increase in GDP this year and a 6.5 percent average annual increase in GDP from 2002- 2004. The government expects that the planned reforms will result in a 40 percent growth in personal income in Ukraine. The program also pledges to create market mechanisms in the energy sector and diversify energy supplies. JM

UKRAINE TO CONTINUE BORROWING MONEY ABROAD

Economy Minister Serhiy Tyhypko on 3 March said Ukraine will not stop borrowing money from international financial organizations, Interfax reported. "We need not be afraid of foreign debts-- we need to be afraid of budget deficit, inasmuch as its existence practically increases foreign debt," Tyhypko noted. Commenting on inflation in January and February (8.1 percent), Tyhypko said that figure was the result of "larger than planned" money supplies at the end of 1999. JM

TALLINN TO REDUCE MUNICIPAL LABOR FORCE

BNS reported on 4 March that a plan to fundamentally reform city management was adopted at a joint meeting of Tallinns city managers, borough heads, and representatives of party factions. Mayor of Tallinn Juri Mois said the plan calls for reducing the number of municipal officials by 10,000. The mayor said the current 30,000 labor force can be reduced by privatizing many municipal companies and laying off underutilized government workers. Under the plan, the salaries of remaining municipal employees would be raised by some 65 percent to match the average level in the private sector. AB

LITHUANIAN UNIONS STAGE ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS

ELTA reported on 4 March that 1,000 protestors representing professional associations and trade unions marched to the governments offices to demand the introduction of a minimum monthly wage and a tax-free income minimum. The protestors also accused the government of working for the IMF and World Bank rather than the interests of Lithuania. Demonstrations were also staged in the cities of Kaunas, Kupiskis, Klaipeda, Siauliai, Panevezys, and Marijampole. "Lietuvos Rytas" reported on 6 March that the protestors demands were drafted at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party by party leader Vytenis Andriukaitis. AB

POLISH PARLIAMENT BANS ALL PORNOGRAPHY

The parliament on 3 March voted by 210 to 197 with 19 abstentions to ban the import, distribution, and sale of both soft and hard pornography, Polish media reported. The bill, which must still be signed by the president, provides for fines and prison terms of up to two years for those who violate its provisions. In cases involving child pornography, five-year prison terms could be handed down. The bill, promoted by pro- Catholic legislators from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), was opposed by the leftist Democratic Left Alliance and the liberal Freedom Union, the AWS's coalition partner. JM

TWO POLISH SCIENTISTS RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY IN CHECHNYA

Zofia Fiszer-Malanowska and Ewa Marchwinska-Wyrwal, Polish scientists kidnapped in Daghestan in August 1999 and held in captivity in Chechnya for six months, have returned home, Polish media reported on 4 March. The two women were released following a Russian Interior Ministry operation. According to the 6 March "Gazeta Wyborcza," Chechen fighters negotiated with the women's kidnappers and subsequently handed over the two women to the Russian side (see also Part 1). JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2000 BUDGET

The Chamber of Deputies has approved in the third and final reading the 2000 budget. The 3 March vote was 127 to 36 with 32 abstentions, CTK and AP reported. The bill was backed by the ruling minority Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Civic Democratic Party, the CSSD's "partner" in the so-called opposition agreement. It was opposed by deputies representing the Christian Democratic Party, the Freedom Union, and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. The budget provides for revenues of 592 billion crowns ($17 billion) and expenditures of 627 billion crowns, resulting in a 35 billion crown deficit. After the vote, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said he will inform four of the cabinet's members of their dismissal "within 48 hours." MS

ALBRIGHT MEETS WITH CZECH PRESIDENT

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is on a three-day visit to the Czech Republic, met with Vaclav Havel on 5 March, CTK reported. Havel reassured Albright that the Czech Republic will not allow any exports to Iran that may be used "to the benefit of its nuclear arms industry". Albright asked Havel to increase the number of Czech police serving in Kosova. She will participate in events marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia's first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. MS

HUNGARY'S SOCIALISTS THREATEN PARLIAMENTARY NON-COOPERATION

The opposition Socialist Party will limit its cooperation with the governing parties until the end of their term in office and is prepared to reach agreement with the coalition only on matters of public interest, Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said after the party's Steering Committee meeting on 3 March. He said his party will initiate a special session in the parliament to debate the election of media boards. The party has also proposed setting up a parliamentary investigative committee to examine the freedom of the press, Kovacs concluded. MSZ

FORMER PREMIER'S FILE FOUND IN HUNGARY

The Fact Finding Committee of the Deportation '56 association has found a 1993 authenticated copy of the vanished file of former Prime Minister Gyula Horn, Hungarian media reported on 6 March. Among the documents is a sheet filled out by Horn that shows he was a member of a law enforcement agency from 15 November 1956 and not from 15 December 1956, as he had claimed. According to Szabolcs Szerdahelyi, the president of association, this means that Horn was present at the shooting of protesters outside Budapest's Nyugati railway station on 6 December 1956. MSZ




NATO FORCES ARREST BOSNIAN SERB ACCUSED OF WAR CRIMES

SFOR troops arrested Dragoljub Prcac near Prijedor on 5 March and transferred him to the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. NATO said in a statement that the arrest marks "another step in NATO's drive to arrest the remaining war crimes indictees." It was the fourth arrest of an alleged war criminal in Bosnia in the past three months. Prcac was a deputy commander of the Omarska prison camp in 1992. Thousands of inmates were reportedly tortured, raped, and murdered at the Omarska, Keraterm, and Trnopolje camps during the Bosnian war. PB

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT MEMBERS EXPELLED FROM PARTY

Four members of the Republika Srpska government were expelled from the Bosnian branch of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party on 3 March, AP reported. The four had refused the party's order to resign from the government of Srpska acting Premier Milorad Dodik. The party said the four were expelled because they considered being in power "more important than membership in the Socialist Party." PB

CROATIAN OFFICIALS CRITICIZE BLASKIC JAIL SENTENCE...

Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said on 3 March that the 45-year jail sentence given by the Hague tribunal to former Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic is "very harsh," Croatian Radio reported. Racan said the sentence "will have to be re-examined in the appeals process." Croatian Defense Minister Jozo Rados called the sentence "exceptionally stiff, given what the Croatian public knows about Blaskic and his activities during the war in Bosnia." The harshest criticism came from Drazen Budisa, the head of the Social Liberal party and the runner-up in the recent presidential election, who said he considered Blaskic an "innocent man" and added that "this is a terrible punishment that brings into question the credibility of the Hague tribunal." Racan and President Stipe Mesic have pledged to fully cooperate with the Hague court. PB

...WHILE U.S. APPROVES

The U.S. State Department said on 3 March that it welcomes the sentence given to Tihomir Blaskic, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Spokesman James Rubin said Blaskic was found responsible for having ordered atrocities in central Bosnia and that the verdict shows that the Hague tribunal is making progress in bringing justice to the victims of war crimes committed during the 1992-1995 war. Mirza Hajric, who lost 20 members of his family at Ahmici in the bloodiest massacre in the Lasva Valley, said "when you think of all the killings that took place here, then [the 45-year-sentence] is not a lot." PB

CALM REPORTED IN MITROVICA AFTER ETHNIC ALBANIANS RETURN

NATO-led peacekeepers said that the divided Kosovar city of Mitrovica was calm on 4 March, one day after some 40 ethnic Albanians were moved back to their homes in the Serb- dominated northern part of the city, Reuters reported. The ethnic Albanians were escorted by a convoy of armored troop carriers and had to fend off a mob of Serbs before bringing them to three apartment towers, which are being guarded by French peacekeepers. Serbs also live in those apartment blocks. The city has been the scene of constant clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, which have resulted in 10 deaths. PB

SUSPECTED MURDERER OF RUSSIAN KFOR SOLDIER ESCAPES DETENTION

An ethnic Albanian suspected in the murder of a Russian peacekeeper in Kosova escaped from prison on 5 March, just two days after being captured, Reuters reported. Major Kristian Kahrs, a spokesman for Kosova Force (KFOR), said the suspect is 15 years old. He gave no details of the escape. Russian soldier Igor Korshunov was killed on 29 February in Srbica. PB

THOUSANDS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF SLAIN UCK COMMANDER

Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians gathered in the small village of Prekaz on 5 March to commemorate the 1998 killing of a founder of the rebel Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), Adem Jashari, Reuters reported. Some 50 people--including several women and children--were killed in an attack by Serbian security forces in an attempt to capture Jashari. Some 20 members of his family were also killed in the assault, which took place just 40 kilometers southeast of Prishtina. The attack is considered by many to have been a turning point in the conflict in Kosova because large numbers of ethnic Albanians either joined or rallied behind the UCK after the incident. PB

FIGHTING BETWEEN ETHNIC ALBANIANS AND SERBS OUTSIDE OF KOSOVA

Fighting erupted on 4 March between ethnic Albanians and Serbian police in the village of Dobrosin, AFP reported. Some 175 ethnic Albanians fled into Kosova after gunshots were exchanged in the village, which is in a demilitarized "border zone" with Kosova. The town is part of an area where a new rebel group, the Liberation Army of Procovo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac, has emerged. It claims to be protecting the some 70,000 ethnic Albanians in the area from harassment by Serbian security forces. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Prague on 5 March that she is "very concerned" by the violence and urges both sides not to incite tensions there. In other news, 25 ethnic Albanians were released by Serbian officials from a prison near Pozarevac. They were accused of belonging to the UCK. An estimated 1,700 ethnic Albanians are still being held in Serbia on similar charges. PB

SERB OPPOSITION AGREES ON ANTI-MILOSEVIC PROGRAM

Serbian opposition leaders agreed in Belgrade on the need for free, democratic elections and urgent political and economic reforms, Beta reported on 3 March. The numerous opposition parties and alliances failed, however, to agree on a date for holding mass demonstrations against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Secretary of State Albright said in Prague on 5 March that Serbian opposition groups must work together in order to create a democratic alternative to Milosevic. In other news, the unemployment rate in Yugoslavia grew to 27.3 percent last year, up from 25.2 in 1998, according to the Group of 17 independent economists on 5 March. The official Belgrade estimate is much lower. PB

BELGRADE READY TO RESUME RELATIONS WITH BOSNIA-- CONDITIONALLY

The Yugoslav government said it is willing to resume diplomatic relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina if Sarajevo drops the charges it has filed against Belgrade at the International Court of Justice, Reuters reported on 3 March. Hajrudin Somun, the spokesman for the Bosnian Foreign Ministry, said Belgrade is ready to start talks if Bosnia drops the charges, which were filed in 1993 for Yugoslavia's part in the Bosnian war. Bosnia was Serbia's top trading partner last year. PB

SERBIAN POLICE TIGHTEN BLOCKAGE AGAINST MONTENEGRO

Serbian police have reportedly stopped some Yugoslav army trucks from carrying food into Montenegro, Montenegrin newspapers reported on 5 March. The daily "Glas Javnosti" said the food was for Yugoslav troops based in Montenegro and that the situation caused angry exchanges at the Montenegrin-Serb border. PB

CHIRAC PRAISES MACEDONIA

French President Jacques Chirac praised Macedonia on 3 March for being a stabilizing force in the Balkans during the Yugoslav air strikes last year, AP reported. Chirac made his comments to Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski, who is on a visit to Paris. The EU is negotiating a "stabilization and association" pact with Macedonia. PB

ROMANIAN COALITION RIFT DEEPENS...

The National Coordinating Council of the Democratic Party has accused "a group within the National Liberal Party" (PNL) of violating the coalition agreement, which gives the Democrats the right to appoint the defense minister. The council said on 3 March that this means the PNL has "renounced its political alliance" with the Democratic Party, adding that from now on Democrats' representatives in the legislature will cooperate with the ruling coalition only on legislation linked to budgetary issues and the bid to join the EU. Democratic Party leader Petre Roman said that by procrastinating over the replacement of Victor Babiuc as defense minister, Prime Minster Mugur Isarescu, who is an independent backed by all coalition members, risks becoming identified with just one party. A spokesman for Isarescu said the premier continues to regard Babiuc's replacement as "a political decision that must be taken by the coalition leadership." MS

...AS LIBERAL LEADER ACCUSED OF BACKING BABIUC

Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Stelian Dutu said on 5 March that the group in the PNL that "encouraged the deserter Victor Babiuc" is led by Valeriu Stoica, PNL deputy chairman and Justice Minister, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 5 March, PNL Deputy Chairman Horia Rusu said his party is "keeping all options open" for the fall parliamentary elections. Rusu said it cannot be ruled out that the PNL might decide to run on separate lists from the Democratic Convention of Romania in that ballot, as it will do in the local elections. He also said that after the election, it cannot be ruled out that the PNL will agree to form a governing coalition with the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), provided that the PDSR accepts the Liberals' "fundamental conditions." MS

OSCE MISSION ENDS VISIT TO MOLDOVA

A five-member fact- finding delegation from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly wrapped up a two-day visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol on 3 March, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. Delegation head Kimmo Kiljunen told journalists that the delegation has invited representatives of the separatists to participate as members of the Moldovan delegation in an assembly meeting scheduled to take place in Bucharest in July 2000. He said the OSCE hopes that by then, the two sides will have reached an agreement on the definition of a "common state." Such an accord, he added, could result in the assembly's adopting a "resolution by consensus" on how to solve the Transdniester conflict. Separatist leader Igor Smirnov told Kiljunen that the OSCE must stop treating the Transdniester "as an unrecognized state." MS

BALKAN FOREIGN MINISTERS CALL FOR 'SAFER KOSOVA'

Meeting in Plodviv on 5 March, the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey said efforts must be made to ensure "safe living conditions for all ethnic communities" in Kosova, BTA and dpa reported. Nadezhda Mihailova, Georgios Papandreou, and Ismail Cem expressed the hope that the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe will give a strong impetus to the economic development of the entire region. They said they are discussing the possibility of concluding a "non-aggression pact" between their countries. Also on 5 March, the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, departing from its previous position, said it will support Bulgaria's quest to join NATO, dpa reported. MS

BULGARIAN QUEEN MOTHER BURIED IN ITALY

Queen Ioanna, mother of exiled Bulgarian former monarch Simeon, was buried on 5 March in Assisi, Italy, AFP reported. She died in Portugal on 26 February, aged 92. The Bulgarian royal family, and Queen Ioanna in particular, contributed to efforts to save Bulgaria's Jews during World War II. MS




BALTICS PREPARE FOR EU MEMBERSHIP


By Breffni O'Rourke

The three Baltic states have all set ambitious target dates for joining the EU. They want to accede to the union within four years at the latest.

But the experience of front-runner Estonia may provide a cautionary signal to Latvia and Lithuania, which will open their own substantive negotiations at the end of this month After two years of detailed talks with Brussels, Estonia has finalized only eight of the 31 required chapters of negotiations.

In the run-up to the start of talks with Lithuania and Latvia, diplomats in Brussels from all three states spoke to RFE/RL.

The head of Estonia's mission to the EU, Ambassador Priit Kolbre, said his country is more than willing to share with its Baltic neighbors the insights gained during two difficult years of negotiations. He said there have been frequent contacts on the subject between the three governments. His personal advice to negotiators is to be "tough," although he admits that "in order to be tough and successful, you should very clearly understand what is behind the EU requirements during the negotiations, and whether they are just positions in principle, or whether there is a substantial interest to maintain."

Lithuanian diplomatic mission counselor Zigismund Pavilionis says that advice from Estonia is welcome but that his country is also receiving guidance from other countries. Pavilionis mentioned Poland--which he called Lithuania's "strategic partner"--as well as other advanced Central European candidates and Nordic countries like Finland, that have only recently joined the EU. Pavilionis is optimistic that Lithuania can catch up with Estonia's lead. He predicts that "15 negotiating positions will be ready at the actual start of the talks, though of course we will submit only those positions suggested by the EU, that should be opened during the Portuguese presidency (until 1 July) but in any case we hope that this year we will open more than half of all the negotiating chapters".

Latvian diplomatic mission Second Secretary Aldis Austers says his country would like all three Baltic states to enter the EU at the same time. He added that Latvia, too, has prepared i15 chapters for the coming negotiations with the EU and hopes to open as many as eight chapters during Portugal's Presidency.

Estonia's envoy Kolbre, however, doubts the likelihood that all three Baltic republics can be ready for accession at the same time. "In theory, the three countries could join together, but looking from the other side, I personally believe that if the EU allows Estonia to continue without any artificial delays in the negotiations, that other countries could not simply catch up [with] two years of negotiations-- it has been very tough work."

Ukraine figures in the Baltic states' considerations. Under the EU's internal single-market rules, Estonia and Lithuania will have to terminate their successful free-trade agreements with Kyiv when they accede to the EU. That means a loss both for the Balts and Ukraine, particularly for Kyiv.

Lithuania's Pavilionis says Vilnius is in contact with Kyiv and is willing to offer help wherever possible: "As you know, we have historic ties with Ukraine and that's why we would like that that country would find some new relations with the EU, because it is so important in our part of Europe."

Estonia's Kolbre notes that there are several years to go before the trade accords with Ukraine must be ended. He says much depends on how quickly businesses in the Baltics and in Ukraine can adjust to the new conditions created by the imposition of EU tariffs. If the adjustment process goes well, he adds, not all trade with Ukraine need be lost. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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