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Newsline - March 16, 2000




LUZHKOV JUMPS ON PUTIN BANDWAGON...

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 15 March declared his willingness to support the candidacy of acting President Vladimir Putin in the 26 March presidential elections. "I see a hand proffered by Putin, the hand of a partner. In no circumstances, will we reject such a hand," Luzhkov said. He added that "anybody fighting for honesty and stability in politics will find support in Fatherland." Luzhkov, together with the leader of the State Duma's Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction Yevgenii Primakov, had run an anti-Kremlin campaign in the lead-up to 19 December State Duma elections. Also on 15 March, the OVR faction was given the chairmanship of another committee in the State Duma, the newly created committee for veterans' affairs, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 March. According to Primakov, Marshal Viktor Kulikov will chair the new committee. JAC

...AS AGARIAN PARTY ALSO DECLARES ITS ALLEGIANCE

At a plenum of the Central Committee of the Agrarian Party on 14 March, party members adopted a decision to support Putin's candidacy. Voting in favor of the decision were 121 members of the committee, with only two opposed, Interfax reported. Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin reported that the majority of the party's regional organizations support Putin and "only a few organizations support Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov." Lapshin is also a State Duma deputy and a member of the OVR faction. The committee added that after the presidential elections a Land Code must be adopted that guarantees the property rights of agricultural producers. On 14 March, 30 members of the party met with Putin, after which they declared they had "found a common language." JAC

TIGHTER FINANCIAL CONTROLS TO LEAD TO DE FACTO RECENTRALIZATION...

At a meeting at the Finance Ministry on 14 March, the country's top financial officials reportedly discussed measures to tighten the center's control over regional finances, "Vedomosti" reported on 15 March. Federal Treasury head Tatyana Nesterenko said that in 2000 practically all budget monies, including revenue from regional customs offices, Defense Ministry accounts, and even the coffers of the Finance Ministries of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, will flow through the State Treasury. Nesterenko also declared that the fiscal privileges "extorted from the Kremlin" by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov several years ago has cost the federal budget some 10 billion rubles ($350 million at today's exchange rate). The daily concluded that if this "special legal order" is introduced, "Moscow will not need to merge regions or introduce amendments into the Constitution," noting that regional heads "will become docile without these administrative measures" JAC

...AS TAX MINISTRY EXTENDS ITS REACH

Yurii Lavrenov, head of the governmental Central Consultation Service of the Tax Ministry, told Interfax-AFI on 15 March that his service intends to establish tax consultation centers in 25 to 30 regions in Russia at which enterprises and citizens could receive explanations about various questions related to tax regulations. Such centers have already been created in Chelyabinsk and Volgograd Oblasts, according to Lavrenov. In January, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that federal tax officials in Volgograd Oblast had started compiling an information register about the region's enterprises that includes data about the enterprises' activities, its directors, the number of employees, and investment projects (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 January 2000). According to "Vedomosti," Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok reportedly declared at the Finance Ministry meeting that the Russian government "has never been so close to the creation of a united financial system. We cannot lose our chance." JAC

TAX MINISTRY CALLS FOR ABOLISHING OFFSHORE ZONES

Also on 13 March, Tax Minister Pochinok called for considering the abolition of offshores worldwide but at least within Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Pochinok made specific reference to closed administrative-territorial establishments (ZATOs). According to Pochinok, "the continued existence of offshore zones is unacceptable, because it affects all developing countries, which is why we should consider abolishing them." The daily reported that he also suggested that Russia's dual taxation agreements with countries with offshore zones should be cancelled. The next day, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin suggested that revenues from value-added tax be redistributed. Currently, 15 percent remains in the regions while 85 percent is forwarded to the center. Instead, he suggested that the revenues be distributed depending on the given region's dependence on the center for financial assistance or transfers. JAC

PUTIN, RUSSIAN MINISTERS DISCUSS CHECHEN RECONSTRUCTION

Acting President Putin met for three hours on 15 March with cabinet members, Russian government representative in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman, Chechen district administration heads, and Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov to discuss the financing of reconstruction and the advisability of imposing presidential rule, Interfax reported. Putin reportedly expressed displeasure that funds earmarked for spring agricultural work had not been disbursed. Khasan Moshalatov, a Chechen physician who has been named provisional republican head, estimated the total cost of reconstruction at 20 billion rubles ($700 million). Koshman told ITAR-TASS that "it will take some time" to decide whether direct presidential rule in Chechnya is appropriate. LF

RUSSIAN MEDIA WARNED NOT TO INTERVIEW CHECHEN 'TERRORISTS'

Russian First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii warned journalists on 14 March that any press or television interview with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, field commander Shamil Basaev, or former Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov will be considered a violation of the Russian law on combatting terrorism, Russian agencies reported. LF

RUSSIA NABS ALLEGED BRITISH SPY

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on 15 March that it has arrested a Russian citizen for spying for Britain. AP quoted an FSB statement as saying that the unidentified Russian was recruited by foreign intelligence agents "with the direct participation of the Estonian special services." A spokesman declined to give any other details, while London's Foreign Office stressed its policy of "never commenting on intelligence matters," and the Estonian government decided to take the same tack, according to Reuters on 16 March. The previous day, hearings in the case of a Russian diplomat arrested in April 1996 for spying for Britain were postponed. Platon Obukhov, who reportedly admitted he was recruited by British intelligence, has been found by a Moscow court to be mentally unstable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1997). JC

GORE ADVISER SEEKS TO REASSURE DUMA OFFICIAL OVER TEST BAN TREATY...

U.S. Vice President Al Gore's adviser Leon Fuerth, meeting with State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) in Moscow on 15 March, sought to dispel Russian "concerns" over the reason why the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Interfax quoted Rogozin saying after the meeting. According to Washington, that failure was tied to the run-up to the U.S. presidential elections and was not a bid to undermine the treaty, Rogozin said. The Duma official added that he and Fuerth also discussed START-2, whose ratification the Russian lower house is expected to begin discussing soon. Rogozin urged that stronger emphasis be placed on linking ratification with adherence to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Fuerth also met with Duma Defense Committee chairman Andrei Nikolaev, according to ITAR-TASS. JC

...WHILE MOSCOW REMAINS BAFFLED OVER U.S. IRAN BILL

Commenting on U.S. President Bill Clinton's signing of the bill that provides for sanctions against foreign firms that supply nuclear technology to Iran, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told Interfax on 15 March that Russia is not supplying such know-how to that country and does not understand "why we are considered fools." Selling such technology to Iran would be tantamount to "giving your neighbor a grenade with a pulled-out pin" that would be "hurled back at us," he added. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who had met with U.S. vice presidential adviser Fuerth in Moscow the previous day, commented that the law is "discriminatory and biased." Among other things, the new legislation stipulates that U.S. payments to Russia's space agency for the International Space Station will be cut if Russian firms are found to have assisted Iran in developing nuclear arms. JC

NATO, RUSSIA RENEW TIES

For the first time since NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia last year, NATO and Russia met at the ambassadorial level in Brussels on 15 March. According to a NATO communique, the 19 NATO ambassadors and their Russian counterpart, Sergei Kislyak, "reiterated their determination to cooperate closely in all areas, including the protection of Kosovo's minorities." Among the topics discussed were arms control issues, including the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The next such meeting is scheduled for 12 April. JC

PUTIN RESPONDS TO U.S. CONGRESS WITH DIG AT LATVIA

In response to a message from some 200 U.S. Congressmen asking him to combat anti-Semitism, acting President Putin on 15 March replied in writing that political and religious extremism is unacceptable to both the Russian public and Russia's authorities. "Any expressions of anti-Semitism are seen as aggressive nationalism and are therefore unacceptable," he wrote. Putin also called on U.S. "lawmakers to resolutely condemn the leadership of those countries where anti-fascist veterans are prosecuted while former Nazis" remain unnoticed. The same day, Russia's Chief Rabbi Adolf Shaevich said that "while it is true that authorities [during the reign of President Boris Yeltsin] could have done something more, but let's hope that the real fight against anti-Semitism will be waged by Yeltsin's successor." JAC

BEREZOVSKII FAILS TO DEFUSE TENSIONS IN KARACHAEVO- CHERKESSIA

Oligarch Boris Berezovskii, who represents the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia in the State Duma, met in Cherkessk on 14 March with the city's mayor, Stanislav Derev, whose supporters began demonstrating the previous day against the policies of republican President Vladimir Semenov, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2000). But Berezovskii was unable to meet with Semenov, whom he accused of failing to implement agreements reached in talks between Semenov, Derev, and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999). Under those agreements, Semenov, who is Karachai, undertook to appoint an ethnic Cherkess as republican premier, but the only candidate the Cherkess community proposed was Derev, whom Semenov rejected for that post. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the Cherkessk demonstrators are also concerned at Semenov's plans to divert two rivers flowing through Cherkess-inhabited territory, depriving the local communities of water supplies. LF

INFECTIOUS DISEASES SPREADING AT A HIGHER RATE

At a meeting of the board of the Ministry of Health on 16 March, ministry officials discussed the spread of infectious diseases, ITAR- TASS reported. According to the agency, over the past 10 years, the number of syphilis cases has increased by 44 times. Officials also reported that at least 1,000 people in Russia are infected with the AIDS virus every day; in particular, drug addicts have proved vulnerable. Regions with a high concentration of HIV-infected people are the city of Moscow and Irkutsk, Kaliningrad, and Moscow Oblasts. The number of cancer cases also continues to grow, however, the agency did not say by how much. Regions particularly hard hit are Novogorod, Ivanov, Saratov, and Ryazan Oblasts and St. Petersburg. JAC




ARMENIAN PREMIER ANGERED AT PRESIDENT'S ARMY APPOINTMENTS

Meeting late on 14 March with representatives of the parliamentary majority Miasnutiun bloc, Aram Sargsian condemned President Robert Kocharian's failure to inform him in advance of his intention to promote senior army generals who are leading members of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). That failure, Sargsian said, was "a violation of the rules of the game." He stressed that he does not oppose those appointments but added that Kocharian's failure to inform him or Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian in advance was unacceptable. Miasnutiun members present at the meeting told RFE/RL that Sargsian said Harutiunian had wanted to resign in protest but that he had dissuaded him from doing so. LF

KARABAKH PARLIAMENT BACKS NEW DRAFT ELECTION LAW

The legislature of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has adopted "as a basis for further discussions" a draft election law that does not provide for the election of deputies under the party list system, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported on 15 March. The enclave's top leaders maintain that political parties in Nagorno-Karabakh are still too weak to take over the leadership. The opposition had proposed an alternative draft under which 11 seats in the new parliament would have been allocated under the party list system and the remaining 22 in single-mandate constituencies. LF

GEORGIAN, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS REAFFIRM PARTNERSHIP...

Leonid Kuchma met with his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, in Tbilisi on 15 March, Caucasus Press reported. The two presidents signed a joint statement on extending bilateral cooperation within the framework of a relationship that Kuchma described as "deeper than just a special partnership." Shevardnadze, for his part, told journalists after his talks with Kuchma that the two countries' interests "completely coincide," according to Interfax. Those interests include the possible transport of Caspian oil to international markets via Ukraine and the TRACECA transport project. Ukraine is also likely to be formally included in the Friends of the UN Secretary-General Group, which is seeking to mediate a solution of the Abkhaz conflict (see " RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2000). Kuchma is to meet with Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania on 16 March before flying to Baku. LF

...DISCUSS GUUAM

At their joint press conference on 15 March, Shevardnadze said that he and Kuchma want regional cooperation within GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) to serve the interests of all its members, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian president noted that the doors of that group are open to new members. But he stressed that the alignment is primarily economic and that military cooperation between its members plays only a minor role. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE THREATENS LAW SUIT

A spokesman for Djumber Patiashvili said Patiashvili will begin legal proceedings against the Georgian leadership if the latter fails to identify and arrest a group of young men who pelted him with rotten eggs during a campaign meeting in the southeast Georgian town of Bolnisi on 14 March, Caucasus Press reported. Local police failed to intervene, even when a fight broke out between the egg-throwers and Patiashvili's supporters. Central Electoral Commission chairman Djumber Lominadze condemned the incident on 15 March. Patiashvili is regarded as the most serious of the six rival candidates to Shevardnadze, who is seeking a second term. Meanwhile, Roin Liparteliani, whose application to register for the poll was rejected, has said he will seek political asylum in Europe, according to Caucasus Press. Liparteliani said he was pressured by the Central Electoral Commission which claimed that signatures submitted in support of his application were forged. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER TO DECIDE ON TENGIZCHEVROIL SALE

Presidential administration official Sarybai Kalmurzaev told journalists in Astana on 15 March that President Nursultan Nazarbaev has asked Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev to decide whether Kazakhstan should sell part of its 25 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture, Interfax reported. The country's leaders disagree over the advisability of and timeframe for doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999 and 7 March 2000). LF

PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE IN KYRGYZSTAN...

A crowd estimated between several hundred and 1,000 gathered in central Bishkek on 15 March to protest the conduct and outcome of the 12 March second round of voting for a new parliament, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. They were prevented by police from entering the government building or the Constitutional Court, where they had hoped to hand over a petition addressed to President Askar Akaev, Constitutional Court chairwoman Cholpon Baekova, Bishkek mayor Medet Kerimkulov and the OSCE. That petition, which was signed by some 13,000 people, demands the holding of repeat elections in constituencies contended by opposition candidates and the annulment of court rulings barring opposition candidates from contending the poll. Protests also continued on 15 March in the village of Kara-Buura, Talas Oblast, in Djalalabad, and in Balykchy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). LF

...AS OSCE TOP OFFICIAL MEETS WITH PRESIDENT

OSCE Secretary- General Jan Kubis arrived in Bishkek on 15 March for a one- day visit during which he discussed the elections with President Akaev and with opposition party leaders Feliks Kulov and Daniyar Usenov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Usenov was barred from the second round, while OSCE monitors have publicly questioned the legality of Kulov's defeat in Kara-Buura (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2000). Kubis cancelled a scheduled press conference, but Reuters quoted him as describing the poll as "a blemish on the president's prestige." LF

PARLIAMENT CANDIDATE KILLED IN KYRGYZ HELICOPTER CRASH

Erkinbek Maryev, a deputy to the outgoing Kyrgyz parliament who was re-elected on 12 March, was killed in a helicopter crash in Naryn Oblast on 15 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Two crew members also died, while the remaining four crew members and passengers were seriously injured. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MARCHES TO DEMAND FREEDOM, POLITICAL TALKS...

An estimated 20,000 opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime on 15 March participated in the Freedom March-2 in Minsk, which ended peacefully with a rally and rock concert. Protesters shouted slogans urging Lukashenka's resignation, demanding political freedom, and calling for Belarus's integration with Europe. A resolution adopted by the rally appealed for negotiations between the opposition and the regime to resolve the country's political and economic deadlock. "We are sick and tired of empty promises of the man who was elected president by mistake. Belarus needs changes and it will have a happy future," AP quoted oppositionist Yury Khadyka as saying. "We come out in favor of Belarus's return to Europe instead of dragging it into the empire which is bogged down in war and corruption," another oppositionist, Vintsuk Vyachorka, was quoted as saying. JM

...GETS SUPPORT IN EUROPEAN CAPITALS

Sweden's Social Democratic Party held rallies in Stockholm and Kiruna on 15 March to coincide with the Freedom March-2 and opened a Web site to raise public awareness of the opposition movement in Belarus, AP reported. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported that rallies of solidarity with the Minsk march took place in front of the Belarusian embassies in Brussels, Warsaw, and Kyiv. The Kyiv picket, which was organized by Youth Rukh activists, also protested the Ukrainian authorities' intention to hold a constitutional referendum and warned against "repeating the Belarusian scenario" in Ukraine. JM

UKRAINE'S CREDITORS ACCEPT DEBT RESCHEDULING OFFER

The Dutch ING Barings bank, which advises Ukraine on managing its debt, announced on 15 March that it has convinced 88 percent of Ukraine's foreign creditors to accept the $2.6 billion debt rescheduling plan offered by Kyiv last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). "We analyzed the situation very carefully, and I think investors saw that the offer...was a good one. Also, the Ukrainians did an exceptional job at getting the word out," dpa quoted ING Barings Kyiv Director Robert Grant as saying. The acceptance of the rescheduling plan reduces the threat of a Ukrainian default and increases Kyiv's chances of receiving further support from the IMF and the World Bank. JM

UKRAINE HOPES FOR IMF LOAN RESUMPTION, DESPITE RESERVES CONTROVERSY

Economy Minister Serhiy Tyhypko said on 15 March he is confident that Ukraine and the IMF will agree next month on the resumption of the fund's $2.6 billion loan program, Interfax reported. Tyhypko added that arguments for the loan's resumption are the 6 percent increase in Ukraine's GDP in January-February 2000 and the successful rescheduling of Ukraine's foreign-debt repayment. He refused to comment on the IMF statement the previous day saying that Ukraine provided the fund with inaccurate data on its hard currency reserves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). Meanwhile, Ukraine's National Bank and the government have expressed their readiness to clarify all questions included in the IMF statement. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov and National Bank Chairman Volodymyr Stelmakh are currently in Washington for talks with the IMF and the World Bank. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA SIGN DOCUMENTS ON RUSSIAN BLACK SEA FLEET

Russian Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov and Ukrainian National Defense and Security Council Deputy Chairman Oleksander Belov have signed seven agreements on the Russian Black Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol, AP reported on 16 March. The documents regulate issues connected with the fleet's debt for port facilities, schooling for Russian sailors' families, and housing for retired officers. They also provide for Ukraine's monitoring of the fleet's military activities. The fleet owes Ukraine some 40 million hryvni ($7.24 million) for various facilities and repair work. One of the documents provides for writing off this debt with Russian gas supplies to Ukraine. JM

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CAUTIONS RUSSIAN DUMA

BNS reported on 15 March that Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins cautioned the Russian State Duma against imposing economic sanctions against Latvia. Berzins said, "It is contrary to Russia's international obligations...I hope Russia will act rationally because on our part the approach to relations with Russia is very positive." The Duma is expected to vote on the sanctions bill on 16 March. The draft law is sponsored by the Communist members of the Duma committee for CIS affairs and relations with compatriots abroad. AB

FRANCE COMMENDS LITHUANIAN MILITARY

Lithuanian Defense Minister Ceslovas Stankevicius was told by high-ranking French officials during his visit to France earlier this week that Lithuania's troops should be included in a joint military structure to ensure European defense, BNS reported on 15 March. Stankevicius met with French Defense Minister Alain Richard, the commander of the Joint Armed Forces headquarters Jean-Pierre Kelche, and members of the French Senate's foreign affairs and defense committees. AB

LITHUANIAN STATE SECURITY AGENCY NEEDS RESTRUCTURING

State Security Director Mecys Laurinkus called for his agency to be restructured and its priorities reordered, ELTA and BNS reported on 15 March. Addressing a plenary session of the parliament, Laurinkus said that there is a need to boost the counterintelligence efforts of the country because of increased activities by foreign intelligence services on Lithuania's territory. Laurinkus said his agency is now required to perform 11 functions, most of which overlap with the work of the Interior Ministry, Customs Department, and other agencies that, he said, have ample resources to fight organized crime, economic crimes, and corruption. AB

POLISH PARLIAMENT REJECTS SPY AMNESTY BILL

The Sejm on 15 March rejected a government-proposed bill that would grant amnesty to citizens who admit spying for foreign countries, PAP reported. The motion to reject the bill was supported by the opposition Democratic Left Alliance and the Peasant Party as well as by nine deputies from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action and the Freedom Union. The government argued that the bill was intended to curb espionage, while opponents said it would allow grave crimes to go unpunished. President Aleksander Kwasniewski had indicated he would veto the bill if it were passed. According to Kwasniewski, such a bill would be "morally dubious." JM

ITALIAN PRESIDENTS HAILS POLAND'S CONTRIBUTION TO REUNITED EUROPE

Carlo Azeglio Ciampi on 15 March thanked Poland for its role in helping reunite a Europe that was "so unjustly divided" during the Cold War era. "Europe will never forget your contribution," Ciampi told the Polish parliament. The previous day, he said Italy supports Poland's plans to join the EU in 2003, adding that "there is no reason why this date...should not be a realistic one," according to PAP. JM

CZECH CABINET APPROVES NEW ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS

The Czech cabinet on 15 March approved draft amendments to the country's electoral law, CTK reported. Those amendments are a key aspect of the so-called "opposition agreement" between the governing Social Democrats and the opposition Civic Democrats. They are aimed at narrowing the political field in the parliament and enabling one or two parties to form a majority government after the elections. VG

CZECH GOVERNMENT'S 'CLEAN HANDS' CAMPAIGN CHANGES HANDS

Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman said the government's anti-corruption "Clean Hands" campaign will be transferred from the cabinet to the State Attorney's office, Czech media reported. Earlier, outgoing Minister without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta had been responsible for the campaign. While Basta and Zeman described the campaign as a success, it has been widely criticized as a failure by law enforcement officials and other observers. Basta attributes to his office the 20 percent increase in the number of economic crimes investigated between 1998 and 1999. Last fall, the Supreme State Attorney Marie Benesova said law enforcement agencies were investigating many of those cases independently of Basta's office. VG

EU TO OPEN EIGHT CHAPTERS WITH SLOVAKIA

The committee of EU ambassadors to Brussels announced on 15 March that the EU will open membership talks on eight chapters with Slovakia, TASR reported. The talks are to begin in May. The Slovak Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision, adding that it hopes to open another seven chapters by the end of 2000 and the remaining chapters next year. VG

SLOVAKIA IMPOSES VISAS ON UKRAINE, RUSSIA, BELARUS

The Slovak government decided on 15 March to impose visa restrictions on Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Cuba, TASR reported. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the move is aimed both at protecting Slovakia's labor market and decreasing the number of illegal migrants in the country. Ukraine announced that it will take reciprocal action. VG

HUNGARY, ROMANIA, UKRAINE SIGN ENVIRONMENT PACT

Representatives from Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine gathered in the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen to sign an agreement to prevent environmental pollution. Under the protocol, each country will list potential sources of risk to the environment. The three countries are also to cooperate with the International Danube Commission and a special EU task force set up after a cyanide spill from a Romanian gold mine in January spread through several European rivers. The representatives also discussed a second spill in Romania, which released heavy metals pollution into the Tisza River last weekend. The Romanian representative said that a new wave of heavy metals pollution reported by Ukraine on 14 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000) did not result from yet another spill but rather from the leak reported earlier. VG

HUNGARIAN PREMIER REJECTS ACCUSATIONS ABOUT MEDIA

Viktor Orban on 15 March shrugged off recent criticism about the level of media independence in the country, Hungarian Radio reported. He noted that "half" of the respondents to a recent poll in Hungary believe press freedom is not in danger in the country, while 41 percent believe it is. He added that "party affiliation" has a lot to do with the way people assess the media, noting that 77 percent of the supporters of his party, FIDESZ, do not believe press freedom is in danger. Orban also dismissed the concerns of U.S. Ambassador Peter Tufo and other observers that the parliament failed to elect any opposition members to supervisory boards for the broadcast media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). He added that the British prime minister appoints the BBC board of governors and that the government in Portugal appoints the supervisory board overseeing the public broadcasting in that country. This would be "inconceivable" in Hungary, Orban said. VG




YUGOSLAV ARMY BLASTS MONTENEGRIN LEADERSHIP

The commanders of the Yugoslav Second Army, which has responsibility for Montenegro, said in a faxed statement on 16 March that the Montenegrin leadership is colluding with unnamed NATO powers against the army, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). The statement noted that "attempts here to disunite the army from its people are recognized as coming from those same forces who failed in their aggression through military airstrikes [against Serbia in 1999]. Actions [by President Milo Djukanovic's government] against the army in Montenegro are taken in collusion with foreigners.... The wish of certain persons and institutions in Montenegro to challenge the army's authority is a smokescreen for their own anti-constitutional acts," the statement added, in apparent reference to Djukanovic's reformist policies. "The army and the navy will not cause any incidents but will act decisively whenever their members or property are threatened," the army's message concluded. PM

NATO'S CLARK WARNS OF MILOSEVIC MOVE AGAINST MONTNEGRO

NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark said in Madrid on 15 March that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is "setting the stage for moving on to military action [against Montenegro]. We don't know whether he has taken a decision yet, but we are watching the situation closely," AP reported. PM

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES SHUT DOWN ANOTHER INDEPENDENT BROADCASTER

Officials of the Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry removed essential broadcasting equipment from the facilities of independent Television Pirot in southeastern Serbia on 16 March. It is not clear on what legal basis the authorities took the station off the air. Officials of the United Yugoslav Left of Mira Markovic, who is Milosevic's wife, have criticized the editorial policy of the station in recent weeks. In Belgrade on 15 March, Veran Matic, who heads the Association of Independent Electronic Media, said that the regime "is increasingly resorting to brute force" in its crackdown on the media (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 March 2000). He added that the staff of the Radio Station B2-92 have prepared unspecified "options" should the government try to take the broadcaster off the air. PM

ALBRIGHT: SERBIAN OPPOSITION NEEDS ONE LEADER

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told journalists in Banja Luka that the Serbian opposition should unite behind "one leader, not four," "Vesti" reported on 16 March. She stressed that change will come about in Serbia only through elections and that the opposition must be united in order to win such a vote. PM

U.S. SEIZES ARMS FROM ALBANIAN EXTREMISTS

The U.S. military's Task Force Falcon said in a statement in Prishtina on 16 March that troops "have thoroughly cleared" an unspecified number of arms caches and storage areas used by ethnic Albanian extremists along the border between Kosova and Serbia. Members of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, using helicopters and armored vehicles, seized more than 200 uniforms, 22 crates of ammunition, two mortars, 28 hand grenades, seven rifles, six land mines, and unspecified other military supplies, AP reported. Nine people were detained. The statement added that the arms belonged to "fringe or extremist elements operating in [Kosova], Macedonia, or the Presevo Valley [of southern Serbia].... The results of these operations clearly demonstrate that Task Force Falcon will take all necessary actions to ensure that [Kosova] is not used as a staging base for exporting violence into the Presevo Valley or any attempts to extend violence back" into Kosova, the statement concluded. PM

ALBRIGHT WARNS ALBANIAN NATIONALISTS

In recent days, several top U.S. officials have repeatedly told ethnic Albanians not to engage in violence in southwestern Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). In Washington on 16 March, Albright said that ethnic Albanians "are in danger of losing our support" if they try to provoke the Serbian forces in Presevo. She added, however, that the recent activities by ethnic Albanian extremists cannot be compared with Milosevic's crackdown on Kosova in 1999. "I would say that the large majority of Kosovar Albanians are trying to put their lives together--and this is where the difference is-- after a systematic, government-organized pillaging by the Milosevic Serbs.... [The regime tried] "to kill and ethnically cleanse the entire [Kosova]-Albanian nation," AP reported. Her spokesman, James Rubin, added: "We do not believe we are drifting toward a conflict with Kosovar Albanian insurgents.... We are working to limit the influence of extremists." PM

BULGARIA, ALBANIA CONCERNED ABOUT EXTREMISTS

Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov has recommended that former Kosova Liberation Army's Hashim Thaci use his influence to prevent any conflict in southwestern Serbia. In a 15 March letter, Kostov added that armed clashes in the region could have "consequences" for Bulgaria. The area is home to a small Bulgarian minority. Meanwhile in Tirana, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said that the government has criticized ethnic Albanian extremists in southwestern Serbia. The government accused the nationalist leaders of being more concerned with their own careers than with the interests of the local population, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

COMPROMISE IN MITROVICA

Serbian guards on 16 March took up positions 30 meters from a bridge in Mitrovica that NATO peacekeepers secured the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). The Serbs had been slated to man posts 100 meters from the bridge, but French officers agreed to a compromise in an apparent effort to defuse tensions between NATO forces and local Serbs. AP reported that "for the first time" Serbian leader Oliver Ivanovic showed a conciliatory attitude toward the U.S., which many Serbs regard as their primary enemy. Ivanovic told the news agency of an "urgent need" for local Serbs to "establish contacts with the American side and improve their image with the Americans," AP reported. PM

MILOSEVIC BLASTS UN MISSION IN KOSOVA

Milosevic said on 15 March in Belgrade that the UN has not carried out its mandate in Kosova and should leave the province. "The UN, which undertook an obligation to stabilize the situation in [Kosova] by its presence there, has betrayed [our] confidence.... Rather than use its authority...to restrain terrorist gangs of ethnic Albanian extremists, we now have a situation in which terrorism takes place under the mission's patronage, even financed by the UN resources. Such a mission should be terminated as soon as possible," Tanjug reported. PM

DID TUDJMAN HAVE TELEPHONE LINE TO MILOSEVIC?

"Jutarnji list" on 16 March quoted unnamed persons "who are very close to President Stipe Mesic" as saying Mesic's staff recently discovered that former President Franjo Tudjman had a "direct telephone line to Milosevic." Former Tudjman aide Hrvoje Sarinic told the paper that he has no knowledge of any "hot line to...Milosevic." Sarinic added, however, that he now realizes that Tudjman did many things about which he and other top aides were ignorant. Sarinic added that he is leaving Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to join the Democratic Center recently formed by leading former HDZ moderates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2000). PM

CROATIA PAID HERZEGOVINIANS SECOND SALARIES

Croatian Defense Minister Jozo Rados told the independent weekly "Globus" of 17 March that Herzegovinian Croat leader Ante Jelavic and some 112 Herzegovinian military officers received salaries from Zagreb in addition to the ones they were paid in Bosnia. In Mostar, members of several war veterans' organizations wrote to the local HDZ to urge it to break with corrupt officials and "criminals" lest it lose the local elections slated for April, "Jutarnji list" reported on 16 March. PM

ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY CRITICIZES ROMANIAN MINORITY POLICIES

Representatives of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) on 15 March criticized the EU and the U.S. for praising Romania's minority policies, Hungarian TV2 reported. At celebrations in Tirgu Mures marking the anniversary of the 1848 revolutions, UDMR chairman Bela Marko criticized European commissioners for trying to "convince" ethnic Hungarians in Romania "how good life is for us." While Marko acknowledged that conditions have improved for Hungarians in Romania, he said more needs to be done. "We need the free use of language, the right to independent decision-making and autonomy here, in our homeland," said Marko. UDMR honorary chairman Bishop Lazslo Toekes accused U.S. President Bill Clinton and OSCE minorities commissioner Max van der Stoel of ignoring the problems of the Hungarian minority. VG

MOLDOVAN, TRANSDNIESTRIAN PARLIAMENTS SIGN ACCORD

The chairmen of the parliaments of Moldova and the breakaway Transdniester region signed a cooperation accord on 14 March in Tiraspol, Flux reported the next day. Under the agreement, the two legislatures will exchange information and hold regular meetings. However, Moldovan deputy Vitalia Pavlicenco noted that the two sides remain far apart on the question of the Transdniester's status. VG

BULGARIAN PREMIER, OPPOSITION LEADER UPBEAT ON MEETING

Bulgarian Prime Minister and Union of Democratic Forces leader Ivan Kostov and Akhmed Dogan, head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Rights and Freedoms, have both described their 14 March meeting as the beginning of a new era of dialogue between their parties, BTA reported. While Dogan said it is too early to talk about a "partnership" between the two parties, he said the meeting was a step toward establishing a "transparent European-style dialogue." VG

BULGARIA CRITICIZES 'LEAK' OF UN REPORT

Bulgaria's acting permanent representative at the UN, Vladimir Sotirov, has lodged an official protest over the fact that a UN report on his country's alleged weapons sales to Angola's UNITA rebel group was "leaked" to the media before Bulgarian officials had a chance to see it, Bulgarian Radio reported on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2000). Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said on 15 March that the Bulgarian government will respond to the report after conducting an "in depth" study of it. VG




POLAND WANTS EU MEMBERSHIP BY 2003


By Jan Maksymiuk

Poland's Solidarity-led government has pledged to prepare the country for EU entry by 1 January 2003. Skeptical voices in Brussels about Warsaw's ability to be ready to join the EU by that date tend to provoke irate reactions from Polish coalition politicians. The most recent example of such a skeptical voice was European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi's remark in an interview with the 3 March "Financial Times."

Prodi told the newspaper that the EU will take a tough stance with applicant countries from Eastern and Central Europe now that Austria's Freedom Party, which campaigned largely on an anti-EU enlargement ticket, has joined the Austrian government coalition. "We must tranquilize our public opinion and the public opinion of applicant countries. Otherwise, there will be hundreds of Austrian situations," Prodi noted. According to the EU official, since the Freedom Party joined Austria's cabinet, the EU is "completely at risk" of having its operations blocked by a hostile government among its members. Moreover, this risk will grow with enlargement, he argued.

Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek commented on 6 March that to give in to pressure from populists by delaying EU enlargement would be a "paradox." "The union has always been built on the basis of courage," he said. "If fear were to become its building material now, I would be very skeptical about its future."

Jan Kulakowski, Poland's chief negotiator with the EU, told "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 8 March that Warsaw should not have to pay the price for developments in Austria, which he called "somebody else's problem." According to Kulakowski, in accepting new members, the EU should be guided by the "merits" of those countries rather than reactions from member countries.

Kulakowski admitted that Warsaw is responsible for "delays" in the accession talks with the EU, but at the same time he accused Brussels of "lacking the good political will" to wrap up negotiations on the customs union, financial control, and joint foreign and security policies.

Apparently bearing in mind such arguments, Prodi backed down somewhat from his original remark when he said on 9 March that there will be no slowdown in EU enlargement, despite concerns raised by the Freedom Party in Austria. "It is our commitment to everybody in Europe that enlargement will take place in accordance with the criteria that have been laid down and, in line with that, we have been carrying out this process," he said, adding that Poland's criticism is "completely unjustified."

As for Poland, it faces the difficult task of passing some 200 bills to adapt its legislation to EU standards. It must also persuade a growing number of domestic malcontents that EU entry will benefit the country in the long run, despite the sacrifices required now.

The opposition post-Communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) shares the belief of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action and the Freedom Union that EU entry is Poland's strategic goal and "raison d'etre." However, Poland's post- Communists are cautious about giving a concrete date for when Poland will be ready to join the EU. The reason, perhaps, can be found in the left wing's anticipated victory in next year's parliamentary elections. Some even predict that the SLD will gain a majority of seats in the parliament and form a one-party cabinet. In such a case, the SLD would be held fully responsible for any possible failure to observe the 2003 deadline for EU entry.

Meanwhile, the strongest opposition to the EU within Poland comes from Poland's radical farmers' union Self- Defense, whose populist leader, Andrzej Lepper, once compared the EU to a "kolkhoz" administered by Brussels. Lepper's well-publicized argument that the EU does not treat Poland like a partner but like a market for EU products is echoed by Polish farmers. Lepper has announced his intention to run in this year's presidential elections and build a parliamentary "third force" based on his Self-Defense union. Some even fear that Lepper may become Poland's Haider.

In comparison with the EU, Poland's agricultural sector is overmanned, under-invested, and unable to compete on international markets. Radical--and painful--changes are needed to meet at least minimal EU requirements in the agricultural sphere. So far, however, the Solidarity-led government has avoided any tough decisions in that sector and has more or less complied with farmers' demands for more subsidies.

Another barrier on Poland's path to the EU is the lack of a consistent and well-advertised information policy explaining and promoting European integration goals among the general public. The recently announced plan to hold a referendum on EU entry in Swidnica, a town of 65,000 in southeastern Poland, this summer is a good opportunity to conduct such an information campaign. A poll late last year found that only 46 percent of Poles support joining the EU, a disappointing decline from 64 percent in early 1998.


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