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Newsline - March 21, 2000




RUSSIAN TROOPS TAKE CONTROL OF KOMSOMOLSKOE

Federal forces raised the Russian flag over the Chechen village of Komsomolskoe on 21 March after a two-week battle in which an estimated 50 Russian soldiers were killed and 300 wounded. Russian military spokesmen estimated Chechen casualties in that battle at 500-600 killed. Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 20 March that there is at present no large-scale fighting in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian Defense Ministry officials said that "small groups" of Chechen fighters are concentrated near the villages of Gekhi, Grushevoe, Goiskoe, and Alkhazurovo, southwest of Grozny. LF

ANOTHER CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER CAPTURED

A Russian Interior Ministry detachment has apprehended Chechen field commander Salautdin Timirbulatov in the village of Duba-Yurt, Russian agencies reported on 20 March. Timirbulatov will shortly be charged with executing four Russian prisoners of war in Urus- Martan in April 1996 and with membership in an illegal armed formation. LF

MILITARY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE RULES OUT RUSSIAN INVOLVEMENT IN ALDY SHOOTINGS

Russia's Main Military Prosecutor's Office on 20 March concluded an investigation that established Rusian troops were not responsible for the killing last month of some 60 Chechen civilians in the Grozny suburb of Aldy, Russian agencies reported. The case has been turned over to the Grozny city prosecutor for further investigation. In Moscow, Yastrzhembskii said that exhumations will be conducted if necessary and that those found to be responsible for the killings will be punished, AP reported. LF

RADUEV IMPLICATES FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S WIDOW

An investigator from the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office flew to Moscow on 19 March to question captured Chechen field commander Salman Raduev about his claim to have been involved in the 9 February 1998 attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Interfax reported. Raduev has claimed that Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, the widow of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was involved in that attack. Also on 19 March, Russian Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev told Russian Public Television that his agency believes that field commander Shamil Basaev may be planning an attempt to attack Lefortovo prison and secure Raduev's release, Interfax reported. LF

EU 'DEPLORES' MOSCOW'S FAILURE TO IMPROVE CHECHEN RELIEF

EU foreign ministers on 20 March issued a statement deploring Russia's failure to improve international relief efforts in Chechnya or permit the European Humanitarian Office to visit Chechnya, dpa reported. PG

PUTIN FLIES TO CHECHNYA IN MILITARY JET

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to Grozny on 20 March in an Su- 27 training jet piloted by air force General Aleksandr Kharchevskii, Interfax reported. On arrival, Putin said the campaign in Chechnya is not over but Moscow will pull out some troops to comply with Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) limits. He said that other troops will remain there indefinitely lest the Chechen armed formations resume "the enslavement of the Chechen people" and launch new attacks on Russia. Putin noted that in the current campaign, "there are no winners or losers." PG

INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS, NOT CHECHENS THREATEN PUTIN

Federal Security Service Director Petrushev told Russian Public Television on 19 March that there are real threats to acting President Putin's life but that they emanate from international terrorists rather than Chechen militants, ITAR- TASS reported on 20 March. He said that his agency is working closely with the Federal Bodyguard Service to ward off such threats. PG

PUTIN PUSHES BENEFITS BEFORE ELECTION

Acting President Putin issued a decree on 20 March to ensure the social protection of war veterans, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the Russian government announced plans to issue 24,000-25,000 state housing certificates to military officers. It also said that wage areas in the state sector have dropped by more than 3 billion rubles ($106 million) this month. And Russian agencies reported that Putin will issue a decree indexing by 20 percent the wages of public sector workers as of 1 April. PG

UNITY VIEWS PUTIN AS INFORMAL LEADER

Boris Gryzlov, the head of the Unity faction in the Duma, told Interfax on 20 March that his group sees acting President Putin as its "informal leader." He added that the movement will hold its second conference in May and transform itself into a formal political party. PG

NEWSPAPER QUERIES PUTIN'S DEEDS IN EARLY 1990S

In its latest issue (No. 10). "Novaya gazeta" reports on Putin's activities in the early 1990s as chairman of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Relations, in which capacity he oversaw a program to sell natural resources abroad and use the proceeds to buy food, at the time in short supply in the northern city. The newspaper raises questions about the issuing of licenses for firms to engage in such sales: licenses were apparently issued to firms that were not authorized to engage in foreign trade, and such "incredibly high" commission fees were demanded by intermediary companies that more than one-third ($34 million) of the total profits from the project ended up in those companies' bank accounts. Many of the contracts between the committee and the mediator firms were neither signed nor dated, and the newspaper points to "suspicious" price-setting practices that provided for "immense" profit margins. JC

YAVLINSKII ANNOUNCES 'BREAKTHROUGH STRATEGY'

Yabloko presidential candidate Grigorii Yavlinskii said on 20 March that he is set to enter a run-off election with acting President Putin, Russian agencies reported. In announcing his "Breakthrough Strategy," Yavlinskii said that before the run- off, he will announce the names of 12 key ministers of his government. He said he is confident that he will defeat Communist Gennadii Zyuganov to gain second place in the first round. In other comments, Yavlinskii said he now favors the imposition of a state of emergency in Chechen areas lacking a local administration. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS PARIS CLUB BACKING ON RESCHEDULING

A Finance Ministry official told Interfax on 20 March that Moscow plans to seek a three-month extension to the deadline for signing accords with the Paris Club on restructuring debts owed in 1999 and 2000. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Livshits, Russian presidential envoy to the G-7, said that the West "understands" the need to lessen Russia's debt burden, Interfax reported. And Russia's Sberbank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced an agreement under which the EBRD will provide 100 percent guarantees for Sberbank letters of credit to Russian importers and exporters, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

LIVSHITS SAYS WESTERN INVESTORS UNCONCERNED BY CHECHNYA

Aleksandr Livshits, Russian presidential envoy to the G-7, told Interfax that "Western investors are not talking about Chechnya at all," which, he said, is in sharp contrast to Western political leaders. PG

CENTRAL BANK AGAIN CUTS INTEREST RATES

The Russian Central Bank on 20 March told Interfax that it will reduce its refinancing rate from 38 percent to 33 percent on 21 March, Interfax reported. On 7 March, it cut the rate from 45 percent to 38 percent. PG

IVANOV SAYS NATO EXPANSION UNDERMINES SECURITY

During a meeting with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, on 20 March, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that the further expansion of NATO "does not promote European security" and suggests that essential issues will be addressed "behind Russia's back." Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said the same day that a NATO representative should return to the Russian capital on a permanent basis, Interfax reported. And he expressed the hope that there will be a meeting between Russia's chief of general staff and his NATO counterparts in early May, Reuters reported. PG

SHABANOV CALLS FOR RUSSIAN BASE IN YUGOSLAVIA

Aleksandr Shabanov, the deputy chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, told ITAR-TASS on 20 March that Moscow should "set up a large Russian military base in Yugoslavia to enhance Russia's presence in the Balkans" and to counter NATO attempts to gain a military airfield of strategic importance there. PG

MOSCOW GREETS EASING OF U.S. SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement to Interfax on 20 March welcoming U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's proposal to partly lift U.S. economic sanctions against Iran and open an official dialogue between Washington and Tehran. "This would not only meet the interests of the United States and Iran but of regional stability as a whole," the statement concluded. PG

MOSCOW SCORES LATVIAN NATIONALISM

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 March issued a statement asserting that nationalism in Latvia is entering a phase of openly advocating Nazism, Interfax reported. The statement said Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins's assertions about an "equal approach" to those who fought on different sides in World War II showed this. "We doubt that the countries which sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives for the victory over Fascism and which put their signatures to the resolutions of the Nuremberg Trial can put the fascists and their accomplices on the same footing as those who fought against them," the statement said. And it added that "what is meant here is an attempt to justify what is going on in Latvia where discrimination against ethnic Russians is flowing over from the spheres of language, education, and civil rights into the area of nationalism and the open advocacy of Nazism." PG

PUTIN SUBMITS TERRORISM PACT FOR RATIFICATION

Acting President Putin on 20 March submitted to the State Duma the European Convention on Putting a Stop to Terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia signed the convention on 7 May 1999. PG

JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS JAILS MAJOR SITE OF TB INFECTION

Yurii Chaika told Western diplomats and journalists on 20 March that Russia's local jails have become "the focal point of tuberculosis epidemics," ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. He said that every third case of TB in Russia--some 100,000 people--is in places of detention, with that number increasing by more than 25,000 a year. He said that some $400 million is needed just to cope with this problem, an amount equal to the entire annual budget of the Justice Ministry. PG

AEROFLOT PLANS FOR FLIGHTS TO POST-SANCTIONS IRAQ

Russia's national carrier, Aeroflot, told Interfax on 20 March that it has held talks with an Iraqi airline on possible flights between Baghdad and Moscow once sanctions are lifted. PG

INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO PUTIN FOR AID FOR IDPS

Ruslan Aushev sent a telegram to acting Russian President Putin on 20 March asking him to renew the free distribution of bread to internally displaced persons from Chechnya who are now in Ingushetia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 March. That distribution was halted on 20 March for financial reasons, while free hot meals to displaced persons were stopped on 1 February. According to Interfax on 17 March, there are currently some 260,000 displaced former residents of Chechnya in Ingushetia. LF

KAZAKH EMBASSY IN MOSCOW ATTACKED

Five young members of Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party threw Molotov cocktails, which failed to explode, at the Kazakhstan Embassy building in Moscow on 18 March, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported three days later, citing Kazakh media reports. The attack was a protest against the decision by Kazakh officials not to allow Russian lawyers to participate in the investigation of the case of 11 ethnic Russians charged with planning to establish an autonomous Russian Altai Republic in Eastern Kazakhstan Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1999 and 20 March 2000). The Kazakh government has not commented on the incident. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT TIGHTENS CONTROL ON SECURITY BODIES

Robert Kocharian on 17 March repealed a government resolution signed in August 1999 by then Premier Vazgen Sargsian giving the prime minister the exclusive right to make key appointments in the Ministries of Defense, Interior, and National Security, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian ruled that the resolution is anti-constitutional and that it is the prerogative of the head of state to name the officials in question (see also "End Note" below). LF

ARMENIA GREETS EASING OF U.S. SANCTIONS ON IRAN

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ara Papyan on 20 March expressed approval of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's announcement three days earlier that Washington will lift the ban imposed in 1979 on the imports of certain categories of goods from Iran, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Papyan said that U.S. moves aimed at effecting a rapprochement with Tehran reflect Armenia's national interests and will contribute to peace and stability in the South Caucasus. LF

AZERBAIJAN POPULAR FRONT DEPUTY CHAIRMAN RESIGNS

Arif Pashaev, a former Azerbaijani army colonel and one of four deputy chairmen of the Azerbaijan Popular Front, tendered his resignation at a session of the party's Supreme Council on 18 March, accusing its chairman, former President Abulfaz Elchibey, of regional favoritism, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported on 21 March. Observers have long been aware of tensions within the Popular Front between the "radical romantics," led by Elchibey, and the mostly young reformers, headed by first deputy chairman Ali Kerimov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 51, 23 December 1999). In a recent interview with the daily "Zerkalo," Kerimov admitted that "differences of opinion" exist within the party but denied any antagonism or confrontation within its ranks. Asked to comment on Pashaev's resignation, Kerimov told RFE/RL that he respects Pashaev as a sincere individual. LF

POLITICAL PRISONERS IN GEORGIA THREATEN COLLECTIVE SUICIDE

Four inmates of a Tbilisi prison have threatened to commit suicide on 9 April--the date of the Georgian presidential elections--if the authorities do not meet their demands for an amnesty of all political prisoners and the dropping of all outstanding criminal cases against members and supporters of the administration of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Caucasus Press reported on 20 March. The four men and five other prisoners began a hunger-strike in early February in support of those demands. LF

BISHKEK PROTESTERS ADDRESS DEMANDS TO KYRGYZ LEADERSHIP

Some 200 people who have been staging a picket in central Bishkek for the past six days to protest the outcome of the 12 March parliamentary runoff elections have appealed to the country's top leaders on 20 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The appeal, addressed to President Askar Akaev, Central Electoral Commission Chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev and Prosecutor-General Asanbek Sharshenaliev, lists seven demands: to halt the persecution of picket participants; to annul the runoff elections in Kara-Buura constituency, where opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov was defeated; to revoke the court ruling barring opposition EL (Bei Bechara) Party Chairman Daniyar Usenov from contesting the runoff and all other court rulings against opposition candidates; to permit opposition candidate Omurbek SubanAliyev to participate in the runoff; to release detained Ar-Namys party member Emil Aliev; and to identify and punish all officials responsible for falsifying the poll outcome. LF

PROTESTS AGAINST KYRGYZ POLL OUTCOME CONTINUE

Up to 1,000 people picketed the local administration in Kara-Buura on 20 March, as the ongoing protest against Kulov's failure to win election entered its ninth day, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Representatives of the OSCE office in Bishkek met with the protesters the same day. Also on 20 March, a local official in Talas Oblast admitted to villagers that district administration head Ilimbek MurzAliyev had paid 5,500 soms (approximately $120) to members of the Kara-Buura election commission to ensure Kulov's defeat. A second official had paid voters 100 soms apiece to vote for Kulov's rival Alybai Sultanov. Some 200 residents of the town of Balykchy arrived in Bishkek on 20 March to present a letter to President Akaev demanding that opposition candidate SubanAliyev be permitted to contend the runoff in Issyk-Kul constituency. Some 4,000 people signed that demand. LF

TAJIKISTAN CLAMPS DOWN ON VIOLENCE

Tajikistan's Interior Ministry has launched a new anti-violence campaign, banning the wearing of camouflage uniforms by persons not entitled to do so and the use of cars with tinted glass windows, Russian media reported. Both phenomena feature regularly in reports of armed clashes in Dushanbe and elsewhere. Officials who are regularly accompanied by bodyguards have been warned that their motorcades may be halted by police and the identity of the bodyguards verified. Despite the new restrictions, unidentified men in military uniform opened fire on 20 March in central Dushanbe on a school bus carrying the children of Russian troops stationed in the country, Interfax reported. One child was injured in the attack. LF




BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES CONTINUE TO PREPARE DIALOGUE WITHOUT OPPOSITION

Belarusian Television reported on 20 March that 81 organizations have expressed their readiness to participate in the "social dialogue" proposed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The dialogue is expected to start by the end of March and focus on five topics: elections, mass media, economic situation, civil society and human rights, and Belarus's sovereignty and foreign policy. Belarusian opposition parties consider Lukashenka's initiative a "window-dressing" campaign and have decided only to send experts to discussion groups without applying for formal participation. The opposition wants negotiations that could lead to amendments in electoral legislation. JM

UKRAINE'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT POSTPONES RULING ON REFERENDUM

The Constitutional Court has announced that its verdict on whether the 16 April referendum is in line with the constitution will be handed down at some later date, Interfax reported on 20 March. The court, which was required to make a ruling by 18 March, cited protracted open hearings in the case as the reason for the delay. JM

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY SPEAKER SAYS PARLIAMENTARY CRISIS IS OVER

Stepan Havrysh on 20 March said "the parliamentary reform has practically been concluded" and the country's parliamentary crisis is over, Interfax reported. According to Havrysh, the parliamentary leftist minority is not contesting the legality of the parliament's actions. He added that the parliament "continues to fruitfully discuss draft laws with the participation of representatives from left caucuses." JM

ESTONIA'S ACCOUNT DEFICIT SHRINKS

The Bank of Estonia on 20 March announced that the current account deficit in 1999 was 4.64 billion kroons ($250 million), or 6.3 percent of last year's GDP. This compares with a deficit of 9.2 percent of GDP in 1998. The bank suggested there has been an improvement in the balance of Estonia's economy and its openness, ETA reported. The drop was fuelled by a decrease in consumer demands, as the bulk of the deficit is derived from a negative trade balance. MH

LITHUANIA'S NEW ALLIANCE CELEBRATES VICTORY IN LOCAL ELECTIONS...

According to the preliminary results of the 19 March local elections, the center-left New Alliance (Social Liberals) won the largest number of seats, about 270. The party won the most seats in about a dozen councils, coming in first in Siauliai and a strong second in Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipeda. The radical Farmers Party had the second-largest number of seats nationwide and won many rural councils. Party leader Ramunas Karbauskis promised to campaign against EU integration if his party does as well in the fall parliamentary elections, ELTA reported. The Liberal Union of ex-Premier Rolandas Paksas did not fare as well as expected, taking sixth place, but won the most seats in Vilnius and their stronghold Klaipeda. The radical Freedom Party, led by Vytautas Sustauskas, scored a surprising victory in Kaunas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). MH

...AS LOSERS TAKE STOCK

The ruling Conservatives came in third nationwide, winning about 200 seats and a few councils in smaller urban areas. Before the election, the party had nearly 500 seats in local councils. The ex-communist Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party and Centrist Union took fourth and fifth place, both winning several councils around the country. The Polish Electoral Action maintained their absolute majority in the Vilnius region and Salcininkai, while the Social Democrats came in seventh and blamed their poor showing on divisions within the party, ELTA reported. The breakaway group, Social Democracy 2000, fared poorly, securing only one seat. MH

JAILED LITHUANIAN DEPUTY RETURNS TO PARLIAMENT

Audrius Butkevicius, convicted of bribery, returned to the parliament on 20 March after being released from jail on parole. The disgraced deputy, who served some two-and-a-half years in jail, maintains his innocence, saying his arrest was "a political provocation," BNS reported. Last year, the parliament failed to revoke the mandate of then-jailed Butkevicius, earning the wrath of President Valdas Adamkus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). Owing to the fact that he is on parole until 2001, Butkevicius will be unable to run in the fall parliamentary elections. MH

POLAND'S COALITION PARTNERS COMPETE TO HEAD BODY OVERSEEING SECRET FILE ACCESS

Deputy Interior Minister Bogdan Borusewicz of the Freedom Union (UW) and Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) parliamentary deputy Jerzy Polaczek are two candidates to head the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which is to oversee public access to communist-era secret service files. The IPN council will choose between them and submit its candidacy to the parliament for approval. Since a three-fifths majority is required to approve an IPN head, the AWS-UW coalition needs to gain the support of the opposition Peasant Party in order to push through its candidate. The stalemate over the election of an IPN head has lasted for more than a year. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT URGED TO SIGN BAN ON PORNOGRAPHY

More than 100 scientists, journalists, artists, and university professors have appealed in a letter to President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 20 March to sign a law banning all pornography in Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000), PAP reported. "Research around the world has shown that pornography has a destructive influence both on social and family bonds and individuals," the letter said. Kwasniewski must decide whether to sign by 28 March. The ban on all pornography was supported mainly by center-right and Catholic parliamentary deputies and was opposed by the Democratic Left Alliance. A recent poll showed that 53 percent of Poles have nothing against the sale of soft pornography. Another poll suggested that Kwasniewski would win presidential elections in the first round with 58 percent backing if such a ballot were held in early March. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT DISCHARGED FROM HOSPITAL

Vaclav Havel has been discharged from the Prague Military Hospital after being hospitalized for one week to treat chronic bronchitis, CTK reported on 20 March. He will spend another week at home receiving medical care. Havel had to cancel scheduled visits to Turkey and Romania as a result of his illness. It was eighth time he has been hospitalized since a cancerous tumor was removed from one of his lungs in December 1996. MS

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SAYS RACISM SURVIVES IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Despite many improvements, racism and intolerance remain evident in the Czech Republic, according to a report by the Council of Europe's Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), cited by CTK on 20 March. ECRI says violent racist acts are committed against Roma, but not only against them. It also says that "discrimination against members of the Romany community in all spheres of social life is equally alarming." MS

EU SAYS POLITICAL STABILITY NEEDED IN SLOVAKIA

Dirk Megnack, head of the European Commission's negotiating team with Slovakia, told the Slovak-EU parliamentary committee in Bratislava on 20 March that lack of political stability might be a "critical obstacle" to Slovakia's bid to join the union, CTK reported. Jozef Migas, leader of the Party of Democratic Left (SDL), responded that the Slovaks "realize that economic, social and political stability are crucial for Slovakia's integration ambitions." But the SDL leadership on 19 March said the government must examine whether the "restructuring" of its ranks is necessary. It said the coalition is "in crisis " due to the breakup of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Coalition. Observers say the demand comes against the background of Economy Minster Lubomir Harach's dismissal of SDL member Stefan Kosovan from the management of the state electricity company. MS

EXTREMIST LEADER SEES POLLUTION AS AIMED AGAINST HUNGARIANS

Istvan Csurka, chairman of the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, told the parliament on 20 March that environmental pollution originating in Romania is "an offensive war without the crack of rifles" that is aimed against Hungarian "living space" and the extermination of the Hungarian nation. Csurka urged military defense as well as economic and ecological protection against further pollution. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth replied that pollution cannot be prevented by either military or economic means and noted that Hungary has taken necessary precautions through law suits. Free Democrat parliamentary group leader Gabor Kuncze distanced himself from Csurka's remarks "on behalf of all democratic parliamentary forces," noting that the cabinet had failed to do so. MSZ

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CRITICIZES 'LATENT ANTI-SEMITISM' IN HUNGARY

In the section dealing with Hungary, the recent report by the Commission Against Racism and Intolerance criticizes the living conditions of Hungary's Roma population and "latent anti-Semitism" in some media and in society. The report says that the legal protection of Roma is ineffective and regulations banning discrimination are insufficiently implemented. It also says that "elements in the parliament" use overtly nationalist slogans, including some "coded" anti- Semitic and xenophobic statements. MSZ




EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT URGES GREATER EFFORT FOR BALKANS

Romano Prodi said in Brussels on 21 March that the EU needs "radical new plans" and a "heavy-duty political commitment" in order to bring lasting peace to the Balkans, Reuters reported. Prodi, writing in the "International Herald Tribune," said "the resources are available and the projects are ready. To delay action would be to let the region down and bring shame on ourselves." Prodi said clearing the River Danube to reopen the waterway to barges would be a good start. He added that failure would lead to "a fresh wave of refugees." NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia began nearly one year ago, on 24 March 1999. PB

PROTESTS AGAINST TV, RADIO CLOSURE CONTINUE

Some 5,000 people rallied in the central town of Kraljevo on 20 March to protest the removal of a transmitter from Kraljevo Radio-TV (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2000), dpa reported. The authorities' confiscation of the transmitter from Mount Goc has reduced the station's broadcast range by 60 percent. PB

ANOTHER MOBSTER GUNNED DOWN IN BELGRADE

Former Serbian paramilitary leader Branislav "Dugi" Lainovic was shot and killed in Belgrade on 20 March, Beta reported. The assassin fled the scene. Lainovic, who allegedly had ties to organized crime in Novi Sad, was the last commander of the Srpska Garda, which operated during the early part of the war with Croatia. The first two commanders of the Garda have also been assassinated. PB

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PRESENTS KOSOVA PEACE PLAN

Speaking on state television on 20 March, Igor Ivanov said that Moscow believes that a solution to the Kosova problem must conform to four principles, ITAR-TASS reported. First, Yugoslavia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be maintained. Second, the relationship between Kosova and Yugoslavia must be defined. Third, the borders between Yugoslavia and Albania and Macedonia must be blocked "reliably" to prevent the influx of weapons. And fourth, conditions must be created for the return of refugees. PG

BOSNIAN SERBS GO ON TRIAL FOR RAPE CAMPS

The trial of three Bosnian Serbs charged with mass rape began at The Hague on 20 March, dpa reported. Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovac, and Milorad Vukovic are accused of crimes against humanity and violations of the rules of war, in particular, the use of rape as a weapon during the Bosnian war. The prosecution said dozens of Muslim women and girls in and around the town of Foca were imprisoned and then raped and tortured. The accused were commanding officers of army units during the Bosnian war. They have all plead not guilty. Many victims--their identities kept secret to protect them against possible reprisals--will testify in the case. In other tribunal news, a spokesman for the war crimes court said on 21 March that the tribunal may expand indictments against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to include charges of genocide and sex delicts for crimes that occurred in Kosova. PB

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SEES PROGRESS IN BOSNIA

Kofi Annan said in a report that there has been "steady progress" in the restructuring of the police force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, an RFE/RL UN correspondent reported on 20 March. The report says that the UN mission in Bosnia has begun initiatives to balance the ethnic composition of local police forces and to improve cooperation between the different entities there. But Annan said obstruction to many reforms continued, including the implementation of a single state border service. He also criticized Bosnian Croat officials for not integrating the Interior Ministry and police in the divided city. The full report is available at: . PB

UN ENVOY DECRIES SITUATION IN KOSOVA

Jiri Dienstbier, the UN's special human rights investigator for the Balkans, said on 20 March that Kosova is "in chaos" and that the province is "a paradise for different mafias," Reuters reported. Dienstbier, who had just concluded a 10-day tour of Yugoslavia, said "there are very different private structures of power" in Kosova. He said the situation there "is the result of a mistaken policy of the international community...bombing Yugoslavia without knowing what will be next." Dienstbier slammed Belgrade for its crackdown on independent media and said "we all have to fight for freedom of the media...without which this society can only stagnate further." He also called for the release of ethnic Albanian activist Flora Brovina, who was recently sentenced to 12 years in jail for "anti-state activities." PB

KOSOVAR ALBANIAN LEADER PLEDGES TO HALT VIOLENCE

Ethnic Albanian leader Hashim Thaci said on 20 March that he will use his influence to try to end the tense situation in the Presevo Valley of southern Serbia, AP reported. Thaci said "we should do everything we can to overcome this difficult situation." Armed ethnic Albanians are heading to the area across the Kosova border to protect ethnic Albanians from alleged Serbian repression. Thaci blamed Yugoslav President Milosevic for the simmering tensions in the area. He added that he will "do everything...to stop the armed confrontations there." PB

ZAGREB SENDS WAR CRIMES SUSPECT TO THE HAGUE

Croatian Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic said that alleged Bosnian Croat war crimes suspect Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic was flown to The Hague on 21 March aboard a specially-equipped plane, AP reported. Naletilic's extradition has been delayed for various reasons for more than two years. He was indicted on 17 counts of war crimes for alleged crimes committed against Muslims in southwestern Bosnia in 1993-1994. PB

SLOVENIAN, CROATIAN PRESIDENTS HOLD TALKS

Slovenian President Milan Kucan and his Croatian counterpart, Stipe Mesic, agreed after talks in Ljubljana on 20 March that bilateral disputes can be solved, Hina reported. Mesic, on his first trip since becoming president, said "all outstanding issues are solvable with just a little stronger will on both sides." Kucan said that the democratic changes that have occurred in Croatia since the death of former President Franjo Tudjman will help facilitate the resolution of several issues, but he added that some problems "are very difficult." The two countries disagree over part of their common border and dispute the frontier in Piran Bay. They also disagree over the management of the Krsko nuclear power plant in Slovenia, which is owned by both countries but run by Slovenia. PB

ROMANIAN PREMIER SUBMITS TO EU MEDIUM-TERM ECONOMIC STRATEGY

Mugur Isarescu on 20 March submitted his country's medium- term economic strategy for joining the EU. On returning to Bucharest from Brussels, Isarescu said the strategy was well received but now "we must prove we can also apply it with perseverance." Foreign Minister Petre Roman is presenting the strategy on 21 March to the Romanian EU Association Committee. Roman told Reuters on 20 March that his country will ask for EU funding to close down mines in the north of the country that are considered ecologically unsafe, including those that recently caused spills into the region's river system. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION DENIES 'HOT LINE' TO KREMLIN ALLEGATIONS

The Party of Social Democracy in Romania has agreed to the proposal that a parliamentary commission investigate whether a "hot line" existed from 1993 to 1995 between the presidential palace--at that time occupied by then President Ion Iliescu--and the Kremlin. The PDSR says parties belonging to the ruling coalition and the media supporting those parties are attempting to discredit the PDSR by circulating a story published one week earlier by Russia's "Zavtra," which the PDSR described as "anti-Semitic and xenophobe." Iliescu said on Romanian Television that the "hot-line" between members of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon had been discontinued in 1990. In other news, the PDSR said it is "cutting any links" with Romanian Television, following the appointment of Alexandru Lazarescu, a member of the television's administrative council, as executive director. Lazarescu was nominated to the council by President Emil Constantinescu. MS

ROMANIAN PARTIES PREPARE FOR ELECTIONS

Iliescu said in Sibiu on 18 March that one of the main objectives of the PDSR in the forthcoming election campaign is to "end the monopoly of the Right" in Transylvania," Mediafax reported. Social Democratic Party Chairman Alexandru Athanasiu said the PSDR will open discussions with the Democrats on signing a new protocol for the Social Democratic Union, an alliance that has not functioned since the 1996 elections. The Party of Romanian National Unity on 18 March designated party chairman Valeriu Tabara as its presidential candidate, while the extra-parliamentary Socialist Labor Party chose deputy chairman Ion Sasu as its presidential candidate. Former Premier Victor Ciorbea's Christian Democratic National Alliance has appointed Corneliu Turianu as deputy chairman and says it will probably merge with Nicolae Cerveni's Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Monarchist Party. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT AGAINST GOVERNMENT RESIGNATION

Responding to reports that Dumitru Braghis's cabinet might submit its resignation if the parliament fails to approve the privatization of the wine and tobacco industries, as agreed with the IMF, presidential spokesman Anatol Golea said on 20 March that Petru Lucinschi believes the government's resignation would be "the worst of all [possible] options" for Moldova. Golea said Lucinschi hopes the legislature will approve the legislation on privatization, not least since several parties now in opposition "have privatization inscribed in their programs," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. A meeting of the Central Committee of the Party of Moldovan Communists decided on 18 March that the party, a member of the ruling coalition, will not vote for the privatization of those sectors "under any circumstances," Infotag reported. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS KOSOVA VISIT WAS 'PREVENTIVE DIPLOMACY'

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, returning from Kosova on 19 March, said his visit was an attempt at conducting "preventive diplomacy" and reducing emerging national security risks," BTA reported. Kostov met with ethnic Albanian leaders Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci, as well as with Serbian leader Momcilo Trajkovic and Orthodox Bishop Artemije. He said more and more "Kosova factors" perceive Bulgaria as a major contributor to the search for a stable and lasting peace. But he added that he is "not optimistic," noting that instead of "accepting responsibility," both Serbs and Albanians in the region are "opting for pompous phrases." The Bulgarian media have criticized the visit and what is being perceived as Kostov's attempt to play the role of mediator. MS




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S MACHIAVELLIAN RIPOSTE


By Emil Danielyan

Those who had predicted the imminent end of Robert Kocharian's political career proved to be mistaken last week when the Armenian president wrong-footed his opponents in the government with sweeping changes in the army command, a move that will likely have political ramifications. Kocharian's decision to promote senior army commanders affiliated with the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, an influential organization that has challenged him for the last five months, seemed strange and illogical at first glance. After all, Yerkrapah is the main muscle of Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian and his allies in the ongoing power struggle with the head of state.

But as most Armenian observers discovered, it was a well-calculated political maneuver that appears to have staved off a threat to Kocharian's presidency, at least in the short run. All the signs are that in return for higher posts, Yerkrapah generals pledged not to get involved in the periodical disputes between Kocharian and Sarkisian, who is backed by the majority Miasnutyun (Unity) bloc in the parliament. The local press has been more categorical, concluding that the senior war veterans were simply paid off.

The changes in army command will by no means end the turmoil that has plagued Armenia's leadership since the 27 October shootings in the parliament, in which former Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian (Aram's brother), parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian, and six other officials were shot dead. But it may restore the balance of power between president, the executive, and the legislature, which is vital for their normal functioning.

Comrades-in-arms of the former prime minister, particularly Yerkrapah leaders, were shocked and infuriated by his brutal murder. In their search for the possible masterminds of that crime, they began mistrusting other political groups.

As someone who could presumably benefit from the death of the two charismatic leaders, Kocharian also aroused Yerkrapah members' suspicions, which, however, were not expressed openly. Calls for the president's resignation were first made by some Yerkrapah figures in November and were echoed by other members of the current premier's inner circle. Although neither the union nor Sarkisian and Miasnutyun added their voices to those calls, their relations with the president have been strained. The arrest in December of a presidential aide on charges of complicity in the killings fueled speculation that military prosecutors conducting the inquiry might eventually implicate other figures close to Kocharian and possibly even the president himself.

The two rival camps have upped the stakes in the last few months, to the point where one side would have to yield. And Kocharian did not enjoy an advantageous position, to say the least. Thus, the appointment of Yerkrapah's chairman, General Manvel Grigorian, as deputy minister on 14 March was a big surprise. Another prominent Yerkrapah figure, Colonel Seyran Saroyan, became commander of an army corps and was promoted by Kocharian to the rank of general.

More significant is the fact that Sarkisian was not informed of the appointments beforehand. The prime minister was furious that even his Yerkrapah loyalists had kept him in the dark. Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian also learned about the reshuffle as a fait accompli. This led observers to suggest that Generals Grigorian and Saroyan vowed that in exchange for their promotion, they would prevent Yerkrapah from undermining the president's authority. Although they have reassured Sarkisian of their continued support, their promotion must have come at a price, those observers reason.

Kocharian's move was made as he faced an ultimatum from Miasnutyun. On 3 March, the Miasnutyun bloc, whose members include Sarkisian, demanded the resignation of the chief of the presidential staff and the pro-Kocharian director of Armenian National Television for their alleged campaign to discredit prosecutors investigating the parliament killings. Tensions have run high ever since. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told the parliament on 8 March that internationally mediated talks to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have stalled owing to the political situation in Armenia.

But Miasnutyun's demands would be meaningless if they were not supported by Yerkrapah. "President Kocharian has once again showed that he is far more cunning and skillful in political intrigues than the forces confronting him," according to an editorial in the daily "Aravot" last week. As well as naming four new deputy defense ministers, Kocharian sacked three vice-ministers, one of whom was a Yerkrapah member. The reshuffle, it appears, was also meant to warn the military against involvement in politics, and it may prompt all Kocharian's opponents, and Miasnutyun in particular, to temper their anti-presidential sentiments. But boosting Yerkrapah's positions in the upper echelons of the armed forces while expecting the union to remain neutral is a calculated risk.

Meanwhile, another Yerevan daily, "Hayots Ashkhar," wrote that the main reason for "the Yerkrapah generals' loyalty to Kocharian" is that the prosecutors have no evidence to link him with the 27 October assassinations. Indeed, Armenia's chief military prosecutor, Gagik Jahangirian, failed to make anticipated embarrassing revelations at a recent news conference. But full political stabilization is unlikely before the investigation into the 27 October shootings is over. At present, it is still early to say what the results of that probe will be and how they will be received. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.


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