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Newsline - March 17, 2000




CAPTURED CHECHEN COMMANDER 'SANE,' REFUSES TO ACKNOWLEDGE GUILT...

Maverick Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, who is being interrogated by the Federal Security Service (FSB) in a Moscow prison, is pleading not guilty to charges of terrorism and hostage-taking, Russian media reported. Raduev reasoned that Russia and Chechnya are at war, and that he simply acted as a soldier obeying orders, his lawyer, Pavel Nechiporenko, told Ekho Moskvy. Nechiporenko added that initial psychiatric tests indicate that his client is "absolutely sane." Apprehension is growing nonetheless in the Tatar capital over speculation that Raduev will be transferred to a Kazan psychiatric hospital, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 March. LF

...MAY SHED LIGHT ON GEORGIAN ASSASSINATION BID

The Georgian Prosecutor-General's office has sent investigators to Moscow to question Raduev over his claims to have been involved in the February 1998 attempt to assassinate President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported on 17 March. FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev told Interfax on 16 March that Raduev knows the whereabouts of other Chechen commanders, including Shamil Basaev, and that an operation to apprehend them is being planned, but will be difficult to carry out. Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Igor Zubov told Interfax on 16 March that Basaev and fellow field commander Khattab are in an isolated and inaccessible district in the south of the Argun gorge. Meanwhile, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said in Moscow on 16 March that Russian troops are still trying to wipe out "two very small" pockets of resistance in the village of Komsomolskoe, the scene of fighting for the past 10 days. LF

INVESTIGATORS STILL TRYING TO LINK APARTMENT BOMBINGS WITH CHECHNYA

Russian law enforcement officials investigating the apartment building explosions in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk last year presented a list of 26 suspects at a Moscow press conference on 16 March. Sixteen people have been detained for questioning, nine are still wanted, and only one person, Ruslan Magayayev, has been arrested. None of the suspects are ethnic Chechens, "The Moscow Times" reported on 17 March. However, according to "The Washington Post," Aleksandr Shagako, first deputy head of the FSB research department, said the explosives used for the Moscow blasts--a mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder--were identical with supplies found in a truck in Daghestan He also reported that five tons of ammonium nitrate were found in Urus-Martan in Chechnya. According to "The Moscow Times," FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said that no effort was made to find the origin of the explosives other than in Chechnya. JAC

PUTIN BANDWAGON GETS MORE CROWDED

At a press conference on 16 March, Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov appeared to express his support for the candidacy of acting President Vladimir Putin, ITAR-TASS reported. Gromov said that Putin "is a man who, in my opinion, does everything precisely and consistently." Gromov, who ran in State Duma elections on the Fatherland-All Russia party list, was only recently elected governor, after narrowly defeating State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev, who was reportedly supported by Putin in that race. On the same day, one of the founders of All Russia, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, told Reuters that he, too, supports Putin's candidacy for president. Rakhimov also dismissed the possibility that Putin might revoke many of the freedoms his republic has won from the center. Putin hinted recently that such changes were in store for neighboring Tatarstan (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 March 2000). JAC

PERSONNEL CHOICES OF FUTURE PRESIDENT TIPPED

With the 26 March presidential election still more than a week away, speculation about the likely appointees of the likely winner of that ballot, acting President Putin, has already begun in earnest. On 17 March, "Izvestiya"--without reference to sourcing--proclaimed that Anti-Monopoly Minister Ilya Yuzhanov, a St. Petersburg native, is likely to become Putin's premier. The previous day, "Vedomosti" quoted State Duma deputy Andrei Isaev (Fatherland-All Russia) as saying that there are rumors that Fatherland-All Russia faction leader Yevgenii Primakov will be named to the post of Russia's representative to the UN. It also cites an unidentified former consultant of Primakov who says that Primakov "has been approached already, though I cannot say the exact nature of the proposal. Something diplomatic...." JAC

SELEZNEV SAYS SLAVIC UNION ON HOLD UNTIL AFTER ELECTIONS

In an article in "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 17 March, State Duma Chairman Seleznev addresses the question of whether Yugoslavia will join the Union of Russia and Belarus. Noting that the union is "open for all those wishing to join it," Seleznev states that "as for Yugoslavia, we are satisfied with the fact that this fraternal Slavic country is confidently advancing toward uniting with Russia and Belarus. A special parliamentary commission has been founded for consideration of all aspects of this process." However, he adds that with the prospect of an upcoming presidential election in Russia and parliamentary elections in Belarus and Yugoslavia, "it is necessary to wait a bit, until these important events have passed." He also acknowledged that the "the parliament's initiative alone [in this matter] is insufficient" and "the position of Russia's executive branch will be extremely important." JAC

PLANE CRASH BLAMED ON DE-ICING FLUID

Investigators have concluded that the 9 March plane crash that killed Alyans Gruppa head Zia Bazhaev and Sovershenno Sektretno head Artem Borovik was caused by a low quality de-icing substance, Interfax reported on 16 March. According to the agency, preliminary reports from the office of the Moscow transport prosecutor reveal that the flaps on the plane had been covered with a special oil to prevent icing but the quality of the oil was too poor to perform this job adequately. No technical defects were discovered in the plane. A spokesman for the office said that the possibility of sabotage has not yet been completely rejected and the investigators will try to determine why the low quality oil was used. JAC

ANOTHER ALUMINUM BARON TO HAVE NEWSPAPER?

"Vremya MN" editor Vladimir Gurevich and the entire staff of the daily quit after putting out the 6 March edition of that newspaper. Gurevich and his staff now plan to put out a new daily newspaper called "Vremya Novostei." In the meantime, the publisher of "Vremya MN" announced on 16 March that it is appointing Dmitrii Murzin as editor in chief of "Vremya MN." Murzin is the former president of "Izvestiya" and "Finansovye izvestiya." Murzin told "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 March that he expects to restart publication of "Vremya MN" at the beginning of April although he currently lacks a staff. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 March that Gurevich did not want to reveal who are the investors in his new publication, but he "did not deny that negotiations were ongoing with Siberian Aluminum." Boris Berezovskii, whose company LogoVAZ recently reportedly acquired more than two-thirds of Russia's aluminum sector, owns a controlling share in "Kommersant-Daily." JAC

MIR ROLE CANCELED AT LAST MINUTE

The Russian Space Agency announced on 17 March that the actor, Vladimir Steklov, has been dropped from the next flight crew scheduled to fly to the space station "Mir" on 3 April. Steklov was due to star in a movie to be partly shot aboard the space station about a cosmonaut who refused to return to earth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). According to AP, space agency officials claim that the company sponsoring Steklov still hadn't paid for his training let alone for his participation in the flight. According to Interfax, the two cosmonauts who are still going will film some episodes for the proposed film themselves. Steklov, who had been training intensively for his role in the space mission since last June, told the agency that he was devastated by his removal from the mission "when the training is over and the launch is just 20 days away. Now, I am just a jobless actor." JAC

PENSIONERS OPT FOR SINGLE-HORSEPOWER VEHICLE

More than five dozen veterans of World War II in the republic of Buryatia eligible for special gifts on VE-day have opted for a horse with sleigh rather than a new Oka car, ITAR- TASS reported on 17 March. A source in the republic's Social Welfare Ministry told the agency that the veterans, all of whom live in villages, are insisting on having a mare younger than four years old and ten subsistence level pensions to pay for feed. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS RATIONALE FOR ARMY PROMOTIONS

Speaking on Armenian National Television late on 15 March, Robert Kocharian said that the reason behind his 14 March promotion of senior army officers who are members of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war was to prevent the military from being drawn into Armenian politics and the weakening of the country's defense potential, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said that domestic political tensions had begun to affect the army, prompting "numerous complaints" from military personnel. Kocharian added that the reshuffle will enable him as commander in chief "to control the army and bear full responsibility for the country's security." The following day, Kocharian met for two hours with the leadership of the Miasnutiun parliament majority alliance to discuss the political situation. No details of those talks were divulged (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 11, 17 March 2000). LF

NAKHICHEVAN ARMENIANS APPEAL TO RUSSIA TO ANNUL KEY TREATY

Meeting in Yerevan on 16 March, representatives of the former Armenian community from the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan adopted an appeal to the Russian State Duma to annul sections of the Treaty of Moscow signed 79 years earlier, according to a National Council of Nakhijevan Armenians press release. That part of the treaty, which was signed by Soviet Russia and Turkey, transferred Nakhichevan, which in November 1920 had been formally recognized as part of Armenia, to Azerbaijani jurisdiction, the appeal notes. In 1924, Nakhichevan was given autonomous status within Azerbaijan which subsequently, the press release claims, implemented a policy of compelling the region's ethnic-Armenian majority to emigrate. The press release argues that as the legal successor to Soviet Russia, the Russian Federation should annul the "illegal and illegitimate" treaty which hinders friendly relations and trust between Armenia and Russia. LF

AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE SIGN NEW COOPERATION AGREEMENTS

Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma signed a treaty on friendship, cooperation, and partnership in Baku on 16 March that designated the relation between the two states as "a strategic partnership," ITAR-TASS reported. Also signed were a 10-year economic cooperation agreement and agreements on interbank financial settlements, pensions, and education. Aliyev and Kuchma also discussed cooperation within GUUAM, the prospects for exporting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via the Odesa-Brody pipeline, and the Karabakh conflict. The two presidents pledged to coordinate their efforts towards integration into European structures. Kuchma promised support for Azerbaijan's aspiration to be accepted into full membership of the Council of Europe. LF

AZERBAIJAN AGAIN REJECTS TURKMEN CLAIMS TO CASPIAN OIL- FIELD...

Azerbaijan's foreign minister, Vilayat Guliev, said on 16 March that Ashgabat's claims to ownership of the Kyapaz (Serdar) Caspian oil field will not be valid until the five Caspian littoral states (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) have reached agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported. The two countries have been in dispute over ownership of that field for several years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1997, 17 April 1998, and 17 March 1999). Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has proposed convening a summit of leaders of the littoral states next month to try to resolve differences over the legal status of the Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). LF

...DEMANDS INCREASED SHARE OF CAPACITY OF GAS EXPORT PIPELINE

Less than one week after his father Heidar accepted Niyazov's offer to allow Azerbaijan to export 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year via the planned Trans-Caspian pipeline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2000), Azerbaijan State Oil Company First Vice President Ilham Aliyev said in Baku on 15 March that Azerbaijan will demand that allocation be increased to at least 8 billion cubic meters, Turan reported the following day. That pipeline will have an initial capacity of 16 billion cubic meters, and a final capacity of 30 billion. Ilham Aliyev said that Azerbaijan will soon begin gas production at offshore Caspian fields that are so large that two or three pipelines will be needed to export the gas. LF

KARABAKH AUTHORITIES ACCUSE BAKU OF XENOPHOBIA, ECONOMIC PRESSURE

The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic has issued a statement accusing the Azerbaijani authorities of creating obstacles to the enclave's normal political and economic development and to the establishment of peace and stability in the region, Noyan Tapan reported on 17 March. The statement rejects as unfounded an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry statement of 15 February claiming that plans by the enclave's government to attract foreign investment could have a negative impact on the ongoing search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict. The statement accuses Baku of seeking to arouse anti- Armenian sentiment and to exacerbate economic conditions in Karabakh in order to compel the Armenian population to emigrate. LF

AZERBAIJANI PAPER WARNED OF IMMINENT ATTACK

A police official who declined to divulge his identity telephoned the independent Azerbaijani daily "Azadlyg" on 15 March and warned that preparations are under way for an attack on the paper's premises, Turan reported on 17 March. The Baku premises of the opposition Musavat Party and its newspaper "Yeni Musavat" were attacked in early February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2000). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER UNVEILS PROGRAM

Djumber Patiashvili told supporters (and some hecklers) on 16 March that if he wins the 9 April presidential poll his priorities will be restoring Georgia's territorial integrity, developing domestic industry, eliminating unemployment, and resolving social problems, Caucasus Press reported. Patiashvili also pledged to pay wages and pensions on time, raising the monies to do so by abolishing what he termed "unnecessary" state structures such as the post of regional governor. Incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists on 13 March that Georgia will not resort to a monetary emission to cover domestic debts. Pension arrears since the beginning of the year have already reached 20 million lari (over $10 million) in addition to the 110 million lari outstanding pension and wage debts for previous years. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY TO SEEK ASYLUM ABROAD

Former Batumi mayor and Georgian parliament deputy Aslan Smirba has appealed for political asylum abroad after Georgian Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili asked the legislature to strip Smirba of his immunity to allow his prosecution, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March. Smirba is accused of embezzling $290,000 from the London office of the Georgian Merchant Fleet, of which he is a former director. Investigators believe he may also have been responsible for the disappearance of millions of dollars in other funds belonging to the company. LF

KYRGYZ PROTESTS CONTINUE

Some 200 supporters of opposition El (Bei Bechara) Party chairman Daniyar Usenov staged a further demonstration in Bishkek on 16 March to demand the annulment of the court ruling barring Usenov from contesting the 12 March runoff election to the Kyrgyz parliament, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Around 500 supporters of Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov staged a separate protest in Bishkek, while 1,000 people congregated outside the local court building in the town of Kara-Buura for the fifth consecutive day to protest Kulov's poll defeat. An Ar-Namys Party member told RFE/RL that village officials in Talas Oblast had told local residents that they had been pressured from above to falsify the poll outcome. Also on 16 March, State Secretary Naken Kasiev, Deputy Interior Minister Kalmurat Sadiev and Bishkek City Prosecutor Jumadyl Makeshev warned on state television that the protest demonstrations in Bishkek were illegal and that their organizers will be punished. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ARRESTED

Erkin Kyrgyzstan leader Topchubek TurgunAliyev was arrested in Bishkek late on 16 March, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Earlier that day TurgunAliyev had addressed one of the protest meetings in Bishkek and called on President Askar Akaev to resign. Turgunaliev, who is 58 and a former university rector, has been arrested and tried three times in the past five years on charges of insulting Akaev, abuse of his official position, and planning to assassinate the president. LF




MINSK AUTHORITIES TO BAN PROTEST MARCHES?

"I think that the city authorities will not grant permission to hold any marches in the city anymore, " Belarusian Television quoted Minsk City Deputy Mayor Viktar Chykin as saying on 16 March. The city authorities accused the opposition of failing to observe the pledges given to them with regard to the 15 March Freedom March-2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). In particular, the Minsk City Council blamed the marchers for blocking traffic, interfering with public transportation, and preventing people from getting home on time. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, while referring to "three secret reports" he obtained, said the Freedom March-2 gathered 7,500 people maximum. According to Lukashenka, a majority of the protesters were rich people and their families "offended" by his "unpopular" economic decisions that diminished their wealth. JM

BELARUSIAN COURT REJECTS LIBEL SUIT OVER ANTI-SEMITIC BOOK

A Minsk district court on 16 March rejected a libel suit filed by Jewish organizations against the publisher of an anti-Semitic book (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2000), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The book, published by the "Orthodox Initiative" private company, includes "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and other anti-Semitic articles written in tsarist Russia. The judge ruled that the book contains "scientific information" and cannot be subject to court litigation. "There is nothing surprising in this court's decision given the fact that [the Belarusian] president has publicly eulogized Hitler," AP quoted Yakov Gutman, the president of the New York-based World Organization of Belarusian Jews, as saying. JM

U.S. CONCERNED ABOUT ALLEGED MISUSE OF IMF MONEY BY UKRAINE

The U.S. State Department said on 16 March that it is "concerned about allegations of past mismanagement and misreporting of Ukraine's reserves and welcomes the Ukrainian government's commitment to cooperate fully in the investigation." "The New York Times" reported the same day that Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko canceled his trip to Washington after the Clinton administration said he should wait until he has "cleaned up" his government and after he learned that President Bill Clinton could not see him. However, the U.S. State Department said a series of meetings with U.S. cabinet officers had been arranged and that a meeting with Clinton "[is] being finalized." JM

UKRAINE POSTPONES DEBT RESCHEDULING DEADLINE

The Finance Ministry extended until 7 April the deadline for its debt- rescheduling plan, hoping to attract a few remaining creditors to the offer (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 16 March 2000), AP reported on 16 March. Premier Yushchenko told journalists that 92 percent of creditors had accepted the offer by 16 March. The ING Barings bank, which helps Ukraine manage its foreign debt, urged creditors "to take advantage of this final opportunity to participate in the exchange offer, since no further payments will be made on any non-tendered, unrestructured debt after the completion of the exchange." JM

LATVIAN MARCH WITHOUT MAJOR HITCH

The annual march by Latvian legionnaires took place on 16 March with only some minor altercations with protestors, LETA reported. Over 1,000 veterans and supporters took part in the morning church service and the march to the Freedom Monument. The legionnaires were forcibly conscripted by the Nazi occupation forces to fight against Soviet forces during World War II. Though the event was not sponsored by the government, several parliament members took part in the event. However, angry reactions were forthcoming from Moscow. For example, the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Dmitri Rozogin, called the march "total ignorance regarding common courtesy and the outcome of World War II," and said the marchers are "blatantly impudent." MH

PARTY WARNS POLISH GOVERNMENT AGAINST 'PEASANT REVOLT'

The opposition Polish Peasant Party (PSL) warned Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek in a letter disclosed at a news conference on 16 March that the government may provoke a "general peasant revolt" by continuing its agricultural policies, PAP reported. According to the PSL, because of the government's policy allowing foreign capital expansion in the agricultural sector, Polish farm products are pushed out from the domestic and foreign markets. PSL parliamentary caucus head Janusz Dobrosz said the government might protect Polish agricultural production by introducing high tariffs for imports. Governmental spokesmen Krzysztof Luft responded that the government spends much more on intervention measures on the market than the PSL did when it was a coalition partner of the left-oriented cabinet. JM

RUSSIAN SPY CAUGHT IN CZECH REPUBLIC

An assistant to Russia's military attache in Prague had been gathering NATO-related military secrets in the Czech Republic before he was deported last December, "Lidove noviny" reported on 17 March, citing unidentified sources close to the government and the Czech secret services. The Russian diplomat reportedly tried to get information from an employee at the Aero Vodochody aircraft maker, in which the U.S. company Boeing holds a majority stake. The employee was actually an undercover Czech counterintelligence agent who supplied the Russian spy with "modified information." However, the Czech agent failed to induce his Russian counterpart to cooperate with the local secret service. VG

CZECH SENATE SENDS BACK BILL ON BUSHEHR CONTRACT

The Czech Senate on 16 March voted to amend a bill banning Czech companies from supplying parts to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2000), Czech media reported. The amendment calls for the state to compensate any companies that had contracts to supply Bushehr before 1 March. The bill will now go back to the Chamber of Deputies. A majority vote among all 200 deputies in the lower house is enough to overrule a Senate veto or amendment. VG

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT REJECTS LAW TO CANCEL MECIAR'S AMNESTIES

The Slovak parliament on 16 March voted to reject a draft constitutional law which would have canceled former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's amnesties of suspects in the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son as well as in the misconduct of a 1997 referendum, Slovak media reported. The constitutional law, which required 90 votes to pass, was defeated after only 50 deputies supported it. The bill was defeated by the opposition and part of the current coalition government. It would have canceled a series of amnesties that Meciar issued when he temporarily had presidential powers. Although current Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda subsequently canceled those amnesties, two separate Constitutional Court rulings have thrown doubt on the issue. The Party of the Democratic Left, which voted against the constitutional bill, has proposed a law that would call for a decisive Constitutional Court ruling on the issue. Meanwhile, Michal Kovac Jr., who was abducted in 1995, said after the parliament vote that he would take his case to international courts. VG

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT ADVISOR UNDER FIRE FOR ROMANY COMMENTS

Three Hungarian civic organizations on 16 March called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban to dismiss Peter Szegvari, a top Prime Minister's Office official, for comments on the country's Romany minority, Hungarian Radio reported. Szegvari recently commented that the birthrate among Romany families is too high in view of their living conditions and concluded that they should be offered free contraceptives. The three groups--the Habeas Corpus working group, the Romany Women, and the Women for Women Association--said the government should be working to improve the living conditions of Roma rather than turning individual Romany families into scapegoats. VG

CRIMINAL PROCEEDING LAUNCHED AGAINST HUNGARY'S KFOR COMMANDER

Authorities in Hungary have launched criminal proceedings against the commander of the country's unit in the KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosova, Hungarian Radio reported. Commander Gyula Papp, who was recalled from Kosova on 15 March, is suspected of criminal negligence in failing to take action against the illegal activities of some of his troops. Three other soldiers in the unit also face criminal charges in connection with the forging of documents, damaging the reputation of the Hungarian military, and disobedience. VG




U.S. TROOPS TO JOIN MANEUVER IN KOSOVA

A Pentagon spokesman said in Washington on 16 March that 1,100 Marines will take part in a NATO exercise of 2,000 troops over the weekend. He stressed that the maneuver has been planned since September and is not related to current tensions in Mitrovica and southwestern Serbia. Meanwhile in Athens, Aleka Papariga of the Communist Party of Greece called for anti-U.S. and anti-NATO demonstrations in Thessaloniki while the Marines pass through the city. She said that NATO troops in Kosova are "occupying forces engaged in ethnic cleansing against the Serbs," Reuters reported. Papariga also called for the recall of Greek forces serving with KFOR. Observers note that ordinary Serbs welcome the presence of the Greek soldiers. German army officers have told "RFE/RL Newsline" that Greek crowds have previously harassed and taunted German and other NATO troops in Thessaloniki. PM

REINHARDT: KOSOVA MAY NEED PEACEKEEPERS FOR DECADE

KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt told Reuters in Prishtina on 17 March that peacekeepers may have to remain in the troubled province for up to 10 years. He compared the difficult situation there with those in other trouble spots. "Look at Northern Ireland and how long that is taking. Look at Sinai and Lebanon and you see how difficult that is," he added. Reinhardt also expressed doubts that a multicultural society will return any time soon to Kosova. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has also recently distanced herself from multiculturalism as a goal (see "RFR/RL Balkan Report," 16 March 2000). "The New York Times" ran a commentary on 17 March in which it called on the international community to "get real" and recognize that most Serbs and Albanians do not want to live together. PM

KOSOVARS SHUN CLASH WITH U.S.

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Zagreb on 16 March that the Atlantic alliance has the situation in Kosova under control. "It should not be assumed that because there are one or two flashpoints, the majority of [Kosova] is somehow in flames. That is not true," he added. In Kosova, a U.S. army spokeswoman hailed NATO's confiscation of illegal weapons from Albanian extremists: "This won't be the last time. Everything we find that's suspicious we'll act upon," she said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin noted that the Albanians did not resist and seemed concerned not to provoke any incident between themselves and the U.S. forces. He stressed that this "demonstrates that the Kosovar Albanians do not desire confrontation with American forces. We do not believe we are headed for a confrontation with the Kosovar Albanians," he added. PM

ETHNIC ALBANIAN LAWYER BEATEN IN SERBIA

During the night of 16 March, four unidentified masked men forced their way into the Zemun apartment of Husnia Butyqi, beating him and his wife. He has undergone surgery for head wounds and is in serious condition, the private Beta news agency reported. Butyqi was slated to defend some of a group of five ethnic Albanians in a Belgrade court the following day. He has previously defended Albanian activist Flora Brovina and others. Zemun is run by Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party. PM

JAILED EDITOR FREED

Nebojsa Ristic, who is the editor in chief of the independent Television Soko in the central Serbian town of Soko Banja, was freed from a prison in Zajecar on 17 March. Ristic told a crowd of well-wishers that it remains essential to support free media, AP reported. He had been held for one year for "spreading false information." Ristic had irked the authorities by displaying a poster in his office window reading: "A Free Press--Made In Serbia." PM

SERBIA MAINTAINS BLOCKADE OF MONTENEGRO

Despite recent claims by the Belgrade authorities that the border between Serbia and Montenegro is open, "Vesti" of 17 March wrote that it is as tightly regulated as any international border in Europe. Reporting from Mehov Krs, the reporters added that Serbian authorities do not allow even sheep to pass the frontier freely. There is "no trace" of police on the Montenegrin side of the crossing, the daily noted. Elsewhere, Beta reported that a shipment of 3,500 tons of iron is stuck on the border. The Niksic iron works has had to stop production for a lack of raw materials from Serbia. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY DENIES POLITICAL ROLE

The command of the Second Army said in a statement in Podgorica on 16 March that Montenegrin charges that the military has taken on a political role are "malicious and very dangerous," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). The statement added that the Montenegrin police have recently increased their numbers and conducted military training exercises. PM

GERMAN PROSECUTORS INVESTIGATE STABILITY PACT CHIEF

Peter Schwartzwald, a prosecutor in Duesseldorf, told Reuters on 17 March that "an investigation is under way against Bodo Hombach," who heads the EU's Balkan Stability Pact. The former top aide to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is suspected of having illegally diverted $150,000 from a private company to an official of the Social Democratic Party. Charges of financial irregularities and extravagance have surfaced previously against Hombach in the German political arena. Many in Germany and elsewhere criticized Schroeder's 1999 appointment of Hombach, who has little background in international affairs and none in the Balkans. PM

MESIC CONFIRMS EXISTENCE OF FRANJO-SLOBO HOT LINE

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told reporters in Zagreb on 16 March that press reports of a direct telephone line between the late President Franjo Tudjman and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic are true, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). It is not clear when the phone line was set up or how often it was used. Mesic added that investigators will soon begin listening to tapes that Tudjman made of conversations in his office. PM

TWO MORE EX-OFFICIALS ARRESTED FOR GRAFT IN CROATIA

On 16 March, police in Split arrested Zvonimir Vedris and Davor Zuvic, who were prominent officials in the last government's Transportation Ministry. They are suspected of embezzling $2 million that was slated for the construction of two airports that were never built. The money landed in private accounts abroad, "Vecernji list" reported. Police chief Ranko Ostojic said that the arrest proved the "connection between crime and the former government," Hina noted. PM

ROMANIAN CHEMICAL PLANT LEAKS AMMONIA

A chemical plant in southern Romania was reported to have leaked concentrations of ammonia that exceeded local safety standards on 15 March, AP reported the next day. While the Romanian Environment Ministry said the leak was about 1.5 times above the safety level, Bulgarian authorities said it reached 3.6 times the acceptable level. Meanwhile, a German Environment Ministry official on a visit to Romania said local environmental organizations had told her there are some 55 "environmental time bombs" similar to the one that caused a recent heavy metal spill in the Tisza River, MTI reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2000). VG

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REBUKES HUNGARIAN FAR-RIGHT LEADER

The Foreign Ministry on 16 March said in a statement that it has "taken note" of the declaration made one day earlier by far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party leader Istvan Csurka and that it "regretfully must conclude that these declarations are in evident contrast with the positive evolution [marked] in Romanian-Hungarian relations." Csurka told a gathering marking the 15 March Hungarian national holiday that a repeat of "the tragedy" of the Tisza (Tisa) River pollution can only be avoided if Transylvania becomes an independent state. The Romanian ministry says the purpose of the statement is to "create artificial tension" in Romanian-Hungarian relations and that the two countries must continue their effort to achieve integration into "a united Europe that is unburdened by prejudice and reminiscences of the past," Romanian state radio reported. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES KEY ECONOMIC STRATEGY PAPER

The Romanian coalition government on 16 March approved a key medium-term economic strategy paper that calls for non- inflationary and sustainable economic growth, Rompres reported. The document is considered essential for the country's upcoming membership talks with the EU. In other news, Romania announced that it will open eight centers around the country to process Moldovan applicants for citizenship, AP reported on 15 March. The Moldovan government has protested against the decision. Also, a Bucharest court on 16 March rejected a request by Zoe Ceausescu--the daughter of late Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu--for the return of belongings that were confiscated during the 1989 anti-communist revolt, Mediafax reported. VG

MOLDOVAN PREMIER WARNS COUNTRY MAY DEFAULT ON DEBTS

Dumitru Braghis on 16 March warned that his government may default on its debt payments for this year if the parliament does not pass key laws related to a memorandum the country has signed with the IMF, Infotag reported. If Moldova fulfills the memorandum, which calls for the privatization of key companies, it will be eligible to receive external financing. He said the cabinet is not sure it will be able to pay some $81.3 million in debt payments due this year without external financial assistance. VG

U.S. CONFIRMS OFFER OF SUPPORT TO MOLDOVA

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on 16 March told visiting Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru that the U.S. is ready to provide the country with $33 million to speed up the withdrawal of Russian troops from the breakaway region of Transdniester, Infotag reported. VG

BULGARIA SETS UP SPECIAL COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE ARMS SALES

The Bulgarian government has set up a special commission to investigate allegations in a recent UN report that the country sold weapons to Angola's UNITA rebels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000), BTA reported. Several officials have denied that the country made any direct arms sales to UNITA. In other news, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov suggested to his visiting Swedish counterpart, Goran Persson, that the Balkan Stability Pact be used to guarantee foreign investment in the Balkan region, BTA reported on 15 March. Persson praised the idea and said he would present it at the upcoming EU summit in Lisbon. VG




RUSSIA, UKRAINE WAGE WAR OF WORDS


By Askold Krushelnycky

Russia and Ukraine are engaged in an increasingly heated war of words about language. The Russian government has criticized Ukrainian policy aimed at making the use of the Ukrainian language mandatory for all state officials and increasing its use in schools. Russian organizations in both Russia and Ukraine have joined in that criticism.

Last week, hundreds of people in the west Ukrainian city of Lviv demonstrated to demand the closure of all Russian-language publications. In the capital, Kyiv, nationalists demanded that Russian be banned from official use and from television.

Meanwhile in Russia, protesters from Russian Orthodox organizations picketed the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow. They demanded equal rights for the Ukrainian and Russian languages in Ukraine and what one of the organizations, the Christian Rebirth Union, called "equal rights for ethnic Russians on Ukrainian territory."

The upsurge in Russian concern follows Ukrainian proposals in the last three months to increase the use of Ukrainian in education and introduce Ukrainian-language tests for state employees and officials. Russian-speakers are angry that they may not be eligible for some state jobs unless they learn Ukrainian. Some Russian community organizations in Ukraine have characterized the moves as an attack on Russian culture generally.

Last month, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said the measures could infringe upon human rights and damage what it called "the cultural and linguistic environment." The statement added that such actions in so sensitive an area as language usually have "dire consequences."

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov, for his part, said that Ukraine's language proposals grossly violate international norms, particularly the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Ukraine is a signatory. He called the scale of language discrimination in Ukraine "massive and unprecedented."

In reply to the Russian charges, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Hrushko said that everyone in Ukraine has the right to choose his or her language of education. According to the Foreign Ministry, that is not true of Russia, where, it added, the country's large Ukrainian community has received very little official support for Ukrainian-language publications or activities.

In any case, Hrushko commented, Kyiv is sure that its proposals are in accordance with human rights norms. "We have already informed the Russian side that if this practice of groundlessly twisting the facts--that is, the real situation concerning languages in Ukraine--continues, then the Ukrainian side reserves the right to turn the matter over for independent assessment by the Council of Europe, the OSCE's (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) human rights experts or other respected international bodies," he told RFE/RL. "We are absolutely convinced that we are in the right on this issue, and we are ready for any international adjudication."

The language issue is an extremely emotional one throughout the former Soviet Union. Non-Russians in most former Soviet republics point out that they were forced to use Russian in central and local government administration, at the workplace, and in educational establishments. (Notable exceptions were the three Transcaucasus republics, whose respective republican constitutions proclaimed that the mother tongue of the titular nationality was the state language.) The use of a non-Russian native language was often portrayed by Soviet authorities as evidence of nationalism, and thousands were executed or sent to labor camps for trying to defend their mother tongue.

Many Ukrainians, in particular, believe that during the Soviet era, Russian was used as a weapon against the national identity of non-Russian peoples. Under Soviet rule, Ukrainians found it much safer to use the Russian language. Besides, Russian was not only the language of opportunity in education and at the workplace but also the predominant language of literature and entertainment, including television and films.

Within Ukraine, there is a pronounced east-west divide in the use of language. Western Ukraine,. which was not incorporated into the Soviet Union until after World War II, is predominantly Ukrainian-speaking. Eastern Ukraine was heavily russified under the tsar and later under communism. The east also contains many of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, who make up about one-fifth of the country's 50 million inhabitants.

After Ukraine attained independence, Ukrainian became the state language and was introduced into more schools and institutes as the language of instruction. But one-third of the country's schools continue to use Russian, and much official business is still conducted in that language. Moreover, Russian-language publications and television programs abound.

Many Ukrainians say their language needs to be promoted as an essential ingredient of national identity. They feel little sympathy for Russians who are reluctant to learn the language of the country they are living in.


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