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Newsline - March 20, 2000




PUTIN ADVOCATES DIALOGUE IN CHECHNYA, BUT NOT WITH PRESENT LEADERSHIP

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin told Radio Mayak on 18 March that conducting peace talks with "bandits" would be tantamount to withdrawing Russian forces from Chechnya, which, he said in an allusion to the 1996 peace agreement, would be "a major mistake," Reuters reported. But Putin also said in Voronezh the same day that Moscow has never broken off dialogue with other Chechen figures. He termed last week's meeting with Chechen representatives including Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov "a new stage in the development of our relations with Chechnya," according to Interfax (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). Speaking in London the previous day, First Deputy Chief Of Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov had said that "excess" Russian forces are already being withdrawn from Chechnya. Two days earlier, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev had said that the withdrawal had not yet begun. Russia currently has some 90,000 men in Chechnya. That figure is to be reduced to 25,000. LF

VOTING IN PRESIDENTIAL POLL BEGINS IN CHECHNYA

On 17 March, members of the Russian military in Chechnya were the first to cast their votes in early voting in the Russian presidential poll, Interfax reported. Central Electoral Commission officials said last week that more than 300 polling stations have been set up to enable an estimated 457,000 voters, including the Russian troops, to cast their ballots. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT WARNS OF GUERRILLA WAR...

In an interview that "Komsomolskaya pravda" published on 18 March in defiance of a warning by the Russian Media Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000), President Aslan Maskhadov said that his men's combat efficiency is unimpaired and that he has issued ordered to field commanders now deployed around Shatoi and Sharo-Argun to embark on a guerrilla war. Maskhadov again said he is ready for talks with any Russian representatives, including Putin, in order to stop hostilities, but he expressed doubts whether the Russian military would allow the civilian leadership to embark on such talks. Maskhadov also denied any Chechen involvement in last summer's terrorist bombings of apartment buildings in Russian cities. On 19 March, AFP quoted Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov as saying that "soon we shall be able to stage full-scale military action across Chechnya." LF

...AS DOES RUSSIAN COMMANDER

In Moscow, Russian Airborne Troops Commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak confirmed on 18 March that Maskhadov "is still in command," Interfax reported. Shpak predicted that the Chechens will switch to night-time attacks in lowland areas of Chechnya by groups of 15-20 fighters, which will be almost impossible to distinguish from the local population. LF

'MOP-UP' IN KOSMOMOLSKOE FAILS TO LOCATE GELAEV

Russian forces continued to comb the village of Komsomolskoe on 17-18 March but failed to apprehend field commander Ruslan Gelaev, who had reportedly commanded the Chechen guerrillas entrenched there, Russian media reported. Interfax on 19 March reported that some 1,500 Chechens were regrouping near Vedeno under the command of Maskhadov and field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev. Air and artillery bombardment of villages between the Argun and Vedeno gorges continued on 19 March. LF

POPULAR SUPPORT FOR CHECHEN WAR INCREASES

According to the All-Russian Public Opinion Survey Center (VTsIOM), 73 percent of Russians back Moscow's military campaign, up 3 percent from one month ago, Interfax reported. The number of those in favor of talks fell from 22 percent in February to 19 percent in March. Of those polled, 47 percent now back direct Moscow rule over Chechnya. PG

PUTIN CONFIDENT OF VICTORY...

Acting Russian President Putin said on 17 March he is confident of winning election in the 26 March ballot, Interfax reported. "Without confidence, one should not get involved in battle," he said, noting that "it doesn't matter in which round one wins. What matters is the result." In other comments, he noted that he has no major disagreements with either Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov or Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov. Both regional heads have expressed their support for Putin as president. PG

...CALLS FOR FIGHT AGAINST OLIGARCHS

Speaking in Voronezh on 18 March, Putin said that he will fight oligarchs in Moscow and will provide assistance to regional officials to fight them locally, Interfax reported. The same day, "The Moscow Times" reported that the Central Election Commission has ruled that Putin did not violate campaign regulations by distributing gifts worth nearly $1 million this year, including watches and portable television sets to soldiers wounded in Chechnya and apartment vouchers to officers. Lev Ponomarev, acting head of the For Human Rights movement, had complained that Putin's distribution of such gifts during an election season should be considered abuse of power. PG/JC

YAVLINSKII SLAMS PUTIN...

Speaking in Nizhnii Novgorod on 17 March, Yabloko presidential candidate Grigorii Yavlinskii said that acting Russian President Putin's term in office "has resulted in the communist takeover of the [State] Duma, the concentration of capital in the hands of oligarchs, immense spending on the war, with which no economic growth is feasible, and the imposition of political censorship," Interfax reported. Putin, Yavlinskii continued, has not moved the country forward in any area. And he scorned suggestions that the presidential term should be extended to seven years. Such an extension, Yavlinskii said, would create "a kind of monarchy which, with built- in corruption, would set up a pseudo-democratic but essentially dictatorial system." PG

...COMPLAINS OF ORT CENSORSHIP

On 19 March, Yavlinskii demanded that Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov look into Russian Public Television's (ORT) refusal to run one of his commercials, Interfax reported. Yavlinskii said that the commercial must be broadcast on 20 March "in keeping with the agreement for drawing up and allocating paid air- time slots." ORT has refused to run it because the feature "warns about the danger that the possible establishment of totalitarian rule poses to Russia," Yavlinskii said. PG

KOMSOMOL OPTS FOR PUTIN

Igor Malyarov, first secretary of the Russian Communist Youth Union, indicated to journalists on 17 March that his group supports acting President Putin in his bid to gain election, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 March. "We are realists and understand that Putin will win," he commented. Malyarov's group split with the Communist Party over a year ago, accusing the latter of being "overly loyal" to the government. Since then, Malyarov has been at loggerheads with Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Gennadii Zyuganov. JC

65 PERCENT VOTER TURNOUT FORECAST

Central Election Commission chairman Veshnyakov predicted on 17 March that approximately 65 percent of the electorate will participate in the 26 March vote, Interfax reported. He added that 250,000 people have already cast their ballots. Meanwhile, acting President Putin noted on 17 March that if the election goes to a second round, it will cost some 2.4 billion rubles ($80 million), "almost as much as all Moscow region's pensioners are paid," Interfax reported. PG

POLICE ON ALERT AHEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

Russian Interior Ministry troops and police went on alert on 17 March and will remain so through the 26 March elections, Interfax reported. They will guard polling stations as well as centers where election materials are held. During last week alone, Interior Ministry officials said, the police confiscated 15,000 firearms, three tons of explosives, and 631 explosive devices across the Russian Federation. PG

RUSSIA INTRODUCES SLIDING SCALE FOR OIL DUTIES

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters on 17 March that the government has approved a sliding scale for oil tariffs that will be linked to world oil prices, Interfax and AP reported. The new system of oil tariffs is to go into effect on 7 June. Within the scale, there are 10 price ranges, beginning with below $12.5 per barrel (no export duty) and ending with above $32.5 (48 euros, or $46.5). At current world oil prices, a duty of 27 euros would be levied. Khristenko noted that the duty on crude can be changed only once every two months and that the government will issue a directive each time world oil prices move to a new level on the scale. JC

MOSCOW TO USE INTERNET TO ATTRACT INVESTMENTS...

First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in an on-line press conference on 17 March that Moscow plans to use the Internet to promote investment in Russian industry, Interfax reported. Kasyanov said that the government is also considering a government insurance scheme to protect private investors, including banks, and to attract the $60-70 billion Russians currently hold at home. PG

...LEARNS TO LIVE WITHOUT FOREIGN LOANS...

Kasyanov also said that the Russian economy will get "an additional impetus" if the IMF and World Bank loans planned for in the state budget are forthcoming, Interfax reported. But he said that "nothing horrible will happen" if Russia does not receive them because Moscow has learned to live without loans. One of the reasons for that, he acknowledged, is the additional revenue the Russian government has received thanks to high oil prices. PG

...OUTLINES ECONOMIC PLANS

Kasyanov added that the Russian government does not want to restrict the independence of the Central Bank but would like to improve the level of cooperation between it and the Duma and executive branch, Interfax reported on 17 March. He also said that the current Russian government was now working on a three- to four-year economic plan, rather than a single-year one, and that Moscow hopes to be able to issue Eurobonds in 2001. The latter step, he said, is "not for money but to restore our name and presence on this market." PG

MOSCOW MAKES IMF PAYMENT...

The Russian Finance Ministry repaid $57.8 million to the IMF on 17 March, part of the $3.6 billion it owes this year and the $15.23 billion it owes to the IMF overall, Interfax reported. PG

...INSISTS NIS PAY DEBTS TO RUSSIA

First Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov said that all debts owed to Russia by the newly independent states "should be paid, not written off," Interfax reported on 17 March. He said that the NIS currently owe Russia $7.2 billion, $5 billion of which are for energy supplies. Kasyanov noted that "in some cases," the countries involved could pay by barter or through the transfer of debtors' properties. PG

SHOIGU WARNS AGAINST ULTIMATUMS TO RUSSIA

Deputy Prime Minister and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said on 17 March that the West must not use the language of threats and ultimatums in its dealings with Moscow, Interfax reported. He sharply criticized comments by delegations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and other international groups that have charged Moscow with violations of human rights in Chechnya. "I wonder how one can think of knowing the whole picture and making conclusions from a few hours spent in Chechnya and Ingushetia," Shoigu commented. PG

IVANOV SAYS PACE SHOULD NOT CONSIDER MOSCOW'S SUSPENSION

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 17 March that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should not consider suspending Russia during its April session in Strasbourg, Interfax reported. He said that "speaking about the suspension of membership is not the language to use with Russia today." Meanwhile, Vladimir Kalamanov went to Strasbourg the same day to meet with Council of Europe officials. PG

MOSCOW WON'T OPPOSE REVIVAL OF CONTACT GROUP...

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 17 March indicated that Moscow is prepared to attend a meeting at the political director level of the Contact Group on Yugoslavia, Interfax reported. That group, which is composed of the U.K., Germany, Italy, the U.S., France, and the EU, has not met since the start of the NATO operation in Kosova last year. But Russian officials indicate that they will oppose using the group to continue current policies there. PG

...BUT REMAINS UNHAPPY WITH WESTERN POLICY IN KOSOVA

Speaking to the Duma on 17 March, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that Russia will retain its troops in Kosova for now but will pull them out if the situation deteriorates further, Interfax reported. He added that Russia remains dissatisfied with the West's approach in Kosova. Meanwhile, the Duma has formed a special commission to help Yugoslavia overcome what it called NATO aggression there. PG

DUMA TO URGE GERMANY TO STOP GDR PROSECUTIONS

The Duma on 17 March gave preliminary approval to a statement calling on Berlin to end what it called the persecution of former GDR officials, including former GDR State Council Chairman Egon Krenz, Interfax reported. A Russian Foreign Ministry official said that such trials are a form of political revenge. PG

RUSSIA, JAPAN MAINTAIN SALMON QUOTAS

Moscow and Tokyo have agreed that this year's salmon fishing quotas will remain at their 1999 level, Interfax reported on 17 March. PG




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES CABINET'S ECONOMIC POLICY...

During 17 March meetings with the leaders of parties and factions in the parliament, President Robert Kocharian criticized the cabinet's economic track record, in particular public-sector wage arrears, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Also on 17 March, Yerevan Mayor Albert Bazeyan, who is a senior member of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war, tendered his resignation to Kocharian but was subsequently persuaded by other Yerkrapah members, including recently appointed Deputy Defense Minister General Manvel Grigorian, to withdraw it, according to Snark. Bazeyan told RFE/RL the following day that he had been upset by criticism of him aired by the independent television station A1+. LF

...AS YERKRAPAH REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PREMIER

On 16 March, Grigorian and other senior Yerkrapah members promoted by Kocharian several days earlier pledged their continued support for Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported, quoting unidentified Yerkrapah members. Grigorian reportedly assured Sargsian that he and his fellow generals would never turn against Sargsian because of their personal loyalty to his murdered brother and predecessor Vazgen, who founded the Yerkrapah Union. On 18 March, Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian denied that he had considered resigning to protest not having been informed by Kocharian in advance of the impending promotions. LF

ARMENIAN OFFICIAL SOUNDS ALARM OVER OUT-MIGRATION

If economic and social conditions in Armenia do not improve over the next five to10 years, another 500,000-700,000 people are likely to leave the country, Noyan Tapan reported on 17 March, citing a recent report by the head of the Department for Refugees Affairs and Migration, Gagik Yeganian. The report put the number of people who left Armenia in 1999 at between 75,000-85,000 and in 1997-1998 between 30,000-40,000. As of 1 January 2000, the population of Armenia was 3,803,000. LF

RUSSIAN STATE DUMA ACCUSES GEORGIAN COUNTERPART OF ANTI- RUSSIAN RHETORIC

The Russian State Duma Committees for Defense and Foreign Affairs have called on the Georgian parliament to refrain from issuing "unsubstantiated" condemnations of Russian policy in Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported on 17 March. The statement accused the Georgian government of failing to take any measures to prevent Chechen "terrorist" activities in Georgia. Visiting Georgia on 20 March, OSCE Secretary General Jan Kubis said the number of OSCE observers deployed on the Georgian-Chechen border to monitor any crossing of the border by Chechen fighters will be doubled from 10 to 20, Caucasus Press reported. Those observers have been in place since last month. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AGAIN PROTESTS HARASSMENT

Opposition presidential candidate Djumber Patiashvili complained on 17 March that police are releasing drunks and tramps from jail and ordering them to attend his campaign rallies in order to create the impression that such social groups constitute the majority of his supporters, Reuters reported. He said Georgian state television had screened footage of drunks at his rallies in an attempt to discredit him. Also on 17 March, the OSCE election observer mission in Georgia decided to detail a special observer to accompany Patiashvili on his campaign engagements, Caucasus Press reported. Patiashvili's meeting with voters on 19 March in the Tbilisi district of Gldani was attended by some 5,000 people and passed without incident. LF

GEORGIAN INSURRECTION PARTICIPANT ARRESTED

Former professor Zaur Kvaratskhelia was arrested in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi on 17 March on suspicion of having helped organize the insurrection in western Georgia in October 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 October 1998), Caucasus Press reported. Georgia's Military Prosecutor Badri Bitsadze predicted that further arrests will follow. The leader of the insurrection, Colonel Akaki Eliava, is still in hiding. LF

GEORGIA DENIES KFOR PEACE-KEEPERS SENT HOME

The head of the Georgian Defense Ministry's press center, Major Koba Liklikadze, has denied media reports that the 34 Georgian soldiers serving with KFOR in Kosova were sent home after a dispute with the Turkish contingent with which they were deployed in the German sector, Caucasus Press reported on 17 March. Liklikadze said that 23 men returned to Georgia as scheduled in late February, while the remaining 11 continue to serve in Kosova. A further 21 Georgian troops left on 5 March for Turkey for training, after which they will join their colleagues in Kosova. LF

'SEPARATISTS' IN KAZAKHSTAN CHARGED

A senior Kazakh National Security official told journalists on 17 March that the investigation into a November 1999 bid by a group of ethnic Russians to establish an independent Russian Altai Republic on the territory of Eastern Kazakhstan Oblast has been completed, Interfax and RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November and 6 December 1999). He said most of the men, except for their putative leader Viktor Kazimirchuk, who refused to testify, have admitted to trying to seize control of the region. They have been charged with seeking to seize power by force, illegal possession of arms, and membership of a criminal group, but not with terrorism. However, a spokesman in the oblast for the LAD organization, which represents Kazakhstan's Slav population, claimed the same day that the investigation was conducted with numerous procedural violations and should be reopened. LF

PROTESTS IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL CONTINUE

Several hundred people continued their demonstration in Bishkek on 17-19 March to demand the annulment of the 12 March parliamentary runoff, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Meeting with the protesters on 18 March, State Secretary Naken Kasiev and Security Council Secretary Bolot Djanuzakov termed their actions illegal, adding that it is up to the courts to handle appeals against the election outcome. Also on 18 March, a Bishkek district court fined eight people brought to trial the previous day on charges of participating in an unsanctioned demonstration. Meanwhile, some 400 people continued their protest demonstration in the town of Kara- Buura in Talas Oblast, where opposition Ar-Namys Party leader Feliks Kulov was unexpectedly defeated in the 12 March runoff. The chairman of the Kara-Buura district electoral commission hanged himself on 17 March. Local residents had accused him of falsifying the results of the run-off vote. LF

U.S. CONDEMNS SENTENCING OF TURKMEN DISSIDENT

In a statement on 17 March, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said the trial last month of Turkmen opposition politician Nurberdy Nurmamedov "falls far short of any acceptable standard of judicial due process," Reuters reported. Nurmamedov was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on charges of hooliganism and intent to commit murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). LF

UZBEKISTAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS SECURITY COOPERATION

Visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and Minister for CIS Affairs Leonid Drachevskii held talks in Tashkent on17 March with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and with First Deputy Premier Bakhtiyar Khamidov, Russian agencies reported. The talks focused on joint measures to counter terrorism and drug trafficking and the creation of an inter-state aviation company. Klebanov said that a formal agreement on that joint undertaking is likely to be signed by May of this year. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO HOLD MARCH, DESPITE BAN

Belarusian opposition parties have said they will hold a march on 25 March to mark the 82nd anniversary of the proclamation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic, Belapan reported on 17 March. The Minsk city authorities imposed a ban on all protest marches in the city center following the 15 March Freedom March-2, which, they argue, disrupted traffic and elicited many complaints from residents. According to Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) leader Vintsuk Vyachorka, the presidential administration is behind the ban because it could not respond to "the triumph of the Freedom March-2 with any other arguments and is now [living] in fear and hysteria." "We will conduct the march without bloody clashes and provocations," BNF deputy head Viktar Ivashkevich pledged. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST SENTENCED TO SIX YEARS IN PRISON

A Minsk court on 17 March sentenced Andrey Klimau, a political opponent of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, to six years in prison on charges of fraud and misappropriating funds. Klimau's construction company has built some of the most prestigious apartments in Minsk, which house many senior officials from Lukashenka's administration. During the Supreme Soviet's 1996 attempt to impeach Lukashenka, Klimau had accused the president of violating the constitution and called for his arrest. Klimau's arrest in 1998 and subsequent trial is seen by the Belarusian opposition as Lukashenka's retaliation. More than 500 parliamentary deputies from throughout Europe and many international human rights organizations had called on Minsk to drop the charges against Klimau, which they saw as politically motivated. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ON IMF LOAN RESUMPTION

Viktor Yushchenko on 17 March said he still hopes for new loans from the IMF, despite a statement by the fund last week saying that Ukraine misled the IMF in 1996-98. "We can look at the resumption of IMF credits for Ukraine with optimism," Yushchenko told journalists, adding that "we have an answer for renewal of the IMF program," AP reported. Meanwhile, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has said an IMF mission will visit Kyiv in early April to discuss the resumption of loans. Interfax quoted U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Steven Pifer as saying that Yushchenko's visit to Washington may take place in April. The visit, planned for this month, was canceled by Washington after the IMF accused Ukraine of misusing IMF loans. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT 'NEGATIVE' TOWARD CABINET'S ACTION PROGRAM

The parliament's first reaction to the government's plan of action for 2000-2004 is "negative," the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 20 March. Oleksandr Volkov, deputy head of the Revival of Regions caucus, said the document suggests the "dilettante attitude of schoolchildren toward serious problems" rather than a plan of action. According to the agency, the program is also "traditionally" opposed by all leftist caucuses in the parliament, while Fatherland is the only caucus supporting it without reservation. According to Social Democratic Party (United) deputy Viktor Suslov, Yushchenko, in his capacity as premier, has already fulfilled his main task of rescheduling Ukraine's foreign debt repayment and is no longer "useful" to the president. JM

BALTIC MINISTERS AGREE ON WITNESS PROTECTION

The three Baltic interior ministers have signed an agreement on the protection of witnesses and victims. Estonian Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus was host on 17 March to his counterparts, Marek Seglins of Latvia and Ceslovas Blazys of Lithuania, to discuss boosting cooperation in the fight against crime. The new agreement will allow for cross-border protection of both witnesses and victims and deals with such issues as relocation in a second country. Seglins said that "in declaring a war on organized crime we must also provide a guarantee to the residents of our countries that their life won't be threatened in the course of this struggle," BNS reported. MH

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TOURS BALTICS

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian has wrapped up a five-day tour through the Baltic countries to promote bilateral relations with each country. Oskanian began the tour on 13-14 March in Lithuania, where he met with various officials and signed an agreement on the prevention of double taxation. From 14-16 March, he was in Latvia to discuss with his counterpart, Indulis Berzins, improving bilateral ties and to sign an agreement on the prevention of double taxation. Ending his trip in Tallinn on 16-17 March, Oskanian thanked Estonia for its support in Armenia's bid to join the Council of Europe-- especially when Estonia held the council's presidency in 1996. An aviation agreement was signed, paving the way to direct flights between the two countries Oskanian also opened an Armenian honorary consulate in Tallinn. MH

LITHUANIA HOLDS LOCAL ELECTIONS

Lithuanians went to the polls on 19 March to vote for local councils in 60 municipalities in what is seen as a ballot foreshadowing the outcome of the fall parliamentary elections. Turnout was 52- 53 percent. Provisional results issued by the State Election Commission showed that the parties with the most seats are the New Alliance (Social Liberals) with 154, the Farmers Party with 147, and the Conservatives with 137. The radical Farmers Party took advantage of widespread protests by farmers to win many rural councils. In Vilnius, the Liberal Union took the most seats, while the radical Freedom Union of Vytautas Sustauskas gained the most seats in Kaunas. The center-left New Alliance won many urban councils. MH

SOLIDARITY LEADER URGED TO DECIDE ON PRESIDENTIAL RACE

A group of Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) parliamentary deputies have urged AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski to make a decision immediately about whether to run for president in this year's ballot, Polish media reported on 18 March. Krzaklewski, who earlier pledged to make that decision by the end of April, said he will do so before that date. Krzaklewski insists that the AWS field a single presidential candidate following a decision by one of the AWS's leading bodies, while some AWS politicians want a preliminary vote in the AWS to decide on the issue. Parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski said the previous day that the problem is not "who is the AWS candidate in the elections" but "how to make the choice". Some Polish media speculated that Plazynski himself may be considering whether to run. JM

POLISH PREMIER SEEN AS 'LACKEY' OF RULING COALITION

A "Gazeta Wyborcza" commentator wrote on 18 March that the AWS treats Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek "as if he were a lackey." The newspaper was referring to the unexpected resignation of Interior Minister Marek Biernacki the previous day. According to "Gazeta Wyborcza," Buzek demanded that Biernacki resign after the latter had agreed to apply for the post of chairman of the National Remembrance Institute (IPN), which is to oversee public access to communist-era secret service files. The newspaper said AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski decided, however, that Biernacki will remain in the government and simultaneously continue to be a candidate for the IPN post. Buzek confirmed the same day that Biernacki will stay in the government, and Biernacki formally withdrew his candidacy for the IPN job. JM

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR RETURNS TO WARSAW

Sergei Razov returned to Poland last week after being recalled to Moscow "for consultations" over an incident at the Russian consulate in Poznan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). "I would like to hope that the canceled visit of the Russian foreign minister to Poland and the ambassador's recall for consultations have made [the Polish authorities] at least think about prospects for [Poland's] relations with Russia," ITAR-TASS quoted Razov as saying. JM

EMERGENCY SESSION OF CZECH PARLIAMENT TO DEBATE IRAN BILL?

Bohuslav Sobotaka, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies (CSSD), told CTK on 17 March that the CSSD wants to convene the lower house in an emergency session to debate the bill prohibiting supplies to the Iranian Bushehr nuclear power plant under construction. The Senate last week introduced amendments to the bill that provide for compensation to the ZVVZ Mielevsko company for the losses it would incur as a result of the legislation. But Chamber of Deputies Chairman and Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus said he sees "no reason" why the bill must be debated in an emergency session. He added that he does not believe the house will discuss the draft law before April. MS.

CZECH FAR RIGHT LEADER CRITICIZES HAVEL

Miroslav Sladek, leader of the far-right Assembly for the Republic- Czechoslovak Republican Party (SPR-RSC) told an 18 March meeting of his formation marking the 61st anniversary of Czechoslovakia's occupation by Nazi Germany that President Vaclav Havel is "kowtowing" to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a display of "disgusting servility." Sladek accused NATO of making it possible for the "Albanian Mafia" to operate in Kosova and said that Germany "still intends to use Czech territory" for its own plans, CTK reported. Also on 18 March, some 50 skinheads demonstrated in Mlada Boleslav against the Czech Republic's membership in NATO and its bid to join the EU. They also protested against the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia as well as the detention of National Alliance head Vladimir Skoupy on charges of propagating fascism. They expressed support for Austrian far right leader Joerg Haider. MS

SLOVAKIA'S HZDS TRANSFORMS ITSELF INTO 'CENTER-RIGHT PARTY'

A congress of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has approved the HZDS's "transformation" into a "regular political party," CTK reported on 18 March. It also decided that the party will be known as HZDS-People's Party. Meciar was almost "unanimously" re-elected party chairman--he himself was the only delegate to abstain. Meciar said the HZDS supports Slovakia's bid to join the EU and gain NATO membership, adding that it will not cooperate with formations that oppose those goals. He said the HZDS's criticism of Slovakia's support for the NATO air strikes in Kosova was due to "mistakes in communication that will soon be corrected." He also noted that while in power the HZDS was linked to some "privatization scandals," and he apologized for those "mistakes." MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER WANTS 'DEEDS, NOT WORDS' ON TISZA RIVER POLLUTION

Viktor Orban told journalists on 18 March after meeting with his Romanian counterpart, Mugur Isarescu, in Budapest that while he has received "all possible explanations" about the causes of the Tisza River pollution, "Hungary has suffered damages caused by others and those others must pay compensation." He said Hungarian legal advisers will soon decide whether to seek that compensation from the Romanian government, Romanian Radio reported. Isarescu said he will ask the EU to help Romania introduce European environmental standards. On 17 March, Hungarian officials said heavy metals pollution was again spotted in the river, but they added that such pollution is less concentrated than earlier. Isarescu was attending a Budapest conference on the Balkan Stability Pact. MS

ORBAN'S OFFICE INITIATES PROCEEDINGS AGAINST ANTI-ROMA COMMENTS

The Hungarian Prime Minister's Office has launched legal proceedings against Peter Szegvari, a high-ranking official in the office, for having suggested that contraceptives be distributed to the Romany population to combat "excessive multiplication," Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2000). Peter Balazs, a member of Szegvari's staff who had prepared the offending document, was dismissed from the office. His dismissal, however, is not connected to Szegvari's suggestion but to a breach of the "conflict of interests" regulation in another, unrelated case, the premier's office said. MS




MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT WARNS OF CIVIL WAR...

Milan Djukanovic said in an interview on 20 March that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is trying to "create a civil war from which he can completely distance himself," AP reported. Djukanovic, quoted in the Viennese daily "Der Standard," said Milosevic will "create internal conflicts." Djukanovic stressed the republic's plans to hold a referendum on independence if Belgrade does not embrace democracy and free market reforms. But he said his government is not "going to be overly hasty" in holding the vote because "Milosevic would use our nervousness as an alibi to intensify the crisis." The EU external relations commissioner, Gunnar Wiegand, said on 17 March in Brussels that the EU Commission will ask EU member states for additional financial aid for Montenegro at a foreign ministers' meeting on 20 March. He called the situation in the republic "very serious." PB

...WHILE NATO, EU WATCHING TENSE SITUATION IN MONTENEGRO

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Budapest on 17 March that the alliance is watching the situation in Montenegro with "growing concern," dpa reported. Robertson, speaking at a two-day meeting of Balkan officials to discuss the Balkan Stability Pact, said he publicly calls on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to "end the economic blockade of Montenegro." That embargo, he said, is "a provocation, which seeks to undermine the authority" of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's government. Robertson's predecessor and the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the EU "will not tolerate the creation of any problem in Montenegro." Solana said his message is directed at Milosevic. The conference was attended by the premiers of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, and one member of the Bosnian presidency, who all declared in a statement that Montenegro should remain within the Yugoslav federation. PB

SERBS PROTEST YET ANOTHER BLOW AGAINST INDEPENDENT MEDIA

Thousands of Serbs rallied for the second day in the central Serbian town of Kraljevo on 19 March to protest the closure of Kraljevo Radio-Television the previous day, Reuters reported. More than 10,000 people rallied on 18 March after authorities had dismantled the main transmitter of the opposition-run television and radio station. Ivan Rajovic, the news editor of the station, said the shutdown was probably punishment for the five days of protests by local army reservists against frequent call-ups. The Federal Telecommunications Ministry said the transmitter was taken away because the broadcaster did not have a valid license. The ministry has closed down four local radio and three television stations in the last 10 days. PB

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER VOWS MAJOR PROTESTS

Zoran Djindjic said the opposition in Serbia is planning mass protests in the near future, Reuters reported. Djindjic made his remarks on Russian public television. He said the opposition will launch a civil campaign aimed at bringing new elections and economic changes. Djindjic pledged that the opposition will not indulge in violence in its campaign. Serbia's factional opposition is due to meet this week to decide on a united plan for protests. PB

YUGOSLAV COMMANDER ANNOUNCES ARMY TO BE REORGANIZED

Yugoslav Army General Staff Commander Colonel-General Nebojsa Pavkovic said on 18 March that the military's leadership is planning to reorganize the army, the news agency Beta reported. Pavkovic said the goal of the reorganization is the creation of a "small, flexible, mobile, and more modern army" capable of "meeting all challenges." Pavkovic made the remarks at a ceremony in Belgrade marking Military Education Day and the 150th anniversary of the founding of the first military academy in Serbia. PB

UN OFFICIAL IN KOSOVA SAYS ETHNIC RECONCILIATION 'IMPOSSIBLE'

Bernard Kouchner said in an interview published on 18 March that despite progress, reconciliation between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosova is "absolutely impossible." Kouchner, who was speaking in an interview with the French newspaper "L'Humanite," said that such steps as the reopening of schools and the formation of a banking system were improvements that received little attention. But he said the hatred between Serbs and ethnic Albanians is "extremely strong..., it's true that today reconciliation is absolutely impossible." He added "who is crazy enough to think that in eight months we could have done what they haven't been able to do in Ireland for 30 years?" He said multiethnicism is possible but that "peaceful coexistence" must be first established. PB

YUGOSLAV ARMY GENERAL WARNS KOSOVAR ALBANIANS, NATO

Yugoslav Army Staff Commander Nebojsa Pavkovic warned that further problems with ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia could jeopardize the safety of NATO troops in Kosova, AP reported. Pavkovic said in an interview with the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti" that "KFOR must know that in the event of an escalation of aggression against Yugoslavia, [NATO has possible] hostages in Kosovo." Pavkovic said the military is not currently mobilizing troops in response to the activity of ethnic Albanian rebels in southern Serbia but that it "is monitoring the situation." In other news, Serbian police released seven Czech NATO peacekeepers on 18 March who were detained after they strayed across the Kosova border. PB

OSCE WARNS BOSNIA IT MUST HOLD ITS OWN POLLS

The head of the OSCE, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said in Sarajevo on 17 March that the Bosnian parliament must pass a law on holding its own elections or have the law decreed by the international community, Reuters reported. The divided Bosnian parliament has twice refused to discuss the bill, the passage of which is a prerequisite for membership in the Council of Europe. Elections in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina have been funded and run by the OSCE since 1995. Robert Barry, the OSCE mission head in Bosnia, said the member states of the OSCE "are not eager to go on paying bills for the elections indefinitely." Ferrero-Waldner also urged citizens of Bosnia to vote for change in the 8 April local elections. The call echos the OSCE's controversial slogan for the ballot, "Vote for Change." PB

UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES WELCOMES CROATIAN, BOSNIAN REFUGEE RETURNS

Sadako Ogata said on 17 March that she supports pledges by Croatia's new government to allow the return of Serbian refugees to their pre-war homes in Croatia, AP reported. Ogata spoke to reporters after a meeting with Croatian President Stipe Mesic in Zagreb. Ogata said the UNHCR will provide full support for Croatia's attempts to receive international financial aid to facilitate the returns. In Laktasi, Bosnia two days later, Ogata urged the Croatian and Bosnian governments to work together toward the return of refugees. She said only 25,000 Muslim and Croatian refugees have returned to their homes in the Bosnian Serb republic since the signing of the Dayton agreement five years ago. PB

ACCUSED WAR CRIMINAL TO FIGHT EXTRADITION TO THE HAGUE

The attorney for Bosnian Croat Malden "Tuta" Naletilic said on 19 March that he will use "all means" to try to postpone his client's extradition to The Hague, AP reported. The attorney, Kresimir Krsnik, was responding to reports in Croatian newspapers that Naletilic will be transfered to The Hague in the coming days. A spokesman for the war crimes tribunal said the court has provided guarantees for Naletilic's health during the trip. The accused war criminal has severe heart problems and has undergone two operations in the last several months. PB

ALBANIA SEIZES RUSSIAN CARGO SHIP

Albanian coast guard ships seized a Russian cargo ship on 17 March for violating the country's territorial waters, Reuters reported. Police said the vessel, with a crew of 15, was sailing from Montenegro in an area often used by tankers to smuggle fuel into Albania. The captain is being questioned. PB

ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATS OPT FOR STAYING IN RULING COALITION

The Democratic Party's National Coordination Council on 17 March voted by 414 to 94 to continue the party's participation in the ruling coalition, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Observers note that the next coalition crisis is looming large following Democratic Party leader Petre Roman's rejection of a demand by the National Liberal Party that a package of laws on reforming the judiciary system be passed by a procedure called "assumption of government responsibility." Under this procedure, the parliament would be considered to have approved the package if a no-confidence vote is not moved against the cabinet. Roman said on Romanian television that the package is too important to be passed without debate in the legislature. MS

GAZPROM AGREES TO POSTPONE MOLDOVAN CURRENT DEBT PAYMENT

Gazprom has agreed to a Moldovan request to postpone the payment of its $4 million debt for deliveries in 2000. Chisinau will pay for those supplies on 15 April. Gazprom has agreed to accept monthly, instead of semi-monthly, payments and to increase the volume of deliveries after 1 April 2000, Flux reported on 18 March. However, ITAR-TASS the same day reported that the current debt totals $11 million and the total debt $760 million, of which nearly $500 million is owed by the separatist Transdniester authorities. And the following day, the Russian news agency reported that Gazprom is now demanding that Tiraspol clear its debt by paying for the maintenance of the Russian contingent in the region and by using funds from the sale of ammunition that had belonged to the former 14th Army and was subsequently transferred to the separatists. MS

BULGARIAN, MACEDONIAN PREMIERS TRY TO DEFUSE TENSION

Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski told journalists in Budapest after meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart, Ivan Kostov, that "there is no anti-Bulgarian campaign in Macedonia," BTA reported. Georgievski said that some "individual organizations" have protested the recent outlawing of an ethnic Macedonian party in Bulgaria ( see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 10 March 2000), but he noted that the government "distances itself from such aggressive and extreme positions." Kostov said the planned visit by Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov to Macedonia will be the best way to show that the "people in Bulgaria and Macedonia want our common interests to be put in the foreground, laying aside any artificially fanned confrontation." Both premiers were attending the Budapest conference on the Balkan Stability Pact. MS




EU ENLARGEMENT NEGOTIATIONS: A DIFFICULT PATH TO TREAD


By Breffni O'Rourke

Substantive membership negotiations are due to begin next week between the EU's Executive Commission and the five second-wave Eastern European candidate countries--Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The EU divides accession negotiations into 31 subject areas, which it calls chapters. The commission has proposed that for each of those five countries, the talks initially cover at least five chapters: small business, education, science, external relations, and common security policy. These are seen as the easiest of the chapters, largely because EU members and the eastern applicants already have much in common in those areas.

Bulgaria has been offered negotiations in an additional area, cultural and audio-visual policy. Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been offered that area plus competitions policy and statistics.

Over the coming months and even years, negotiations will be opened on all the chapters. However, the term "negotiations" is somewhat exaggerated in this context, since the process largely consists of the EU side explaining what the candidates have to do to meet EU norms in each of the given areas. As one Brussels-based Bulgarian diplomat, Vesselin Valkanov, told RFE/RL, "These are not classic negotiations, you are not sitting there bargaining in the true sense of the word. You are an applicant, and the rules of the club are as follows, so basically if you are aspiring to become a member of this particular club, you will have to accept the rules that are being laid out for you, and not only for you, but for those who are already members of the club."

Commission officials have made clear that the EU will maintain a hard line and that there will be no softening of requirements for the less advanced second-wave countries. The EU's new chief negotiator on enlargement, Eneko Landaburu of Spain, says the thousands of pages of the EU body of rules must not only be adopted by candidates but also put into practice in reality.

Landaburu says there can be no "handouts" to the future members. What counts, he says, is their state of preparedness, for their own sake and the sake of present EU members. Valkanov said that "on the bulk of the rules, or the so-called acquis communautaire, there won't be any bargaining, simply we must find ways to incorporate them in our legislation and to also effectively to implement them in our daily work in Bulgaria, and not argue whether we accept them or not."

In specific cases where a candidate considers that applying the rules is especially difficult, it can ask for a transition period after accession to give it more time to reach compliance. Diplomats say that it is at this point that the only real bargaining enters the whole process: namely over the terms and length of transition periods. First-wave candidate Hungary, for instance, has asked for 35 such periods.

For its part, the EU has made clear it does not favor many transition periods, and even when allowed such periods must be limited in time and scope. In theory, candidates can go a step further and ask for a "derogation," meaning a permanent exemption from EU rules in a particular area. However, one EU official said all the eastern candidates were told from the start that no derogations are expected.

None of the first-wave countries (Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic) have asked for derogations during their two years of negotiations, and the official said none are expected from second-wave candidates.

Not all the candidates are happy about the EU's hard line, as some see undertones of political self-interest to it. Front-runners like Hungary hint that this approach by Brussels could be designed to slow entry. EU enlargement negotiator Landaburu denies that political pressure has any impact on the enlargement process. But it is clear that pressure exists in many forms.

One example is provided by the foreign minister in Austria's controversial new rightist government, Benita Ferrero-Waldner. She says Austria wants a period of restriction on the movement of people and services from the east into the EU in order to protect Austrian jobs and companies. Germany also favors such a restrictive period.

Senior EU figures, including Landaburu and Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, are adamant that setting dates for the entry of new members is a pointless exercise at this stage. In short, it seems that the second-wave countries have a long haul ahead of them.


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