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Newsline - March 30, 2000




GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS SHRUG OFF PROSPECT OF LOWER OIL PRICES...

Russian government officials continue to express confidence that the Russian economy can weather a drop in world oil prices. First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 29 March that while higher oil prices in the first quarter of 2000 provided $100 million in additional revenue for the budget, lower oil prices in the second quarter would simply mean that the budget would not get extra funds. "This is not a decline in revenue that would push us into emergency measures, and it will not be reflected in the economy as a whole," he explained. He added that prices will not be any lower than $20 a barrel, while Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, who oversees the Fuel Ministry, said on 30 March that prices will not fall below $22-$23. He added that in any case, Russia's 2000 budget was based on an assumed oil price of $18 a barrel. JAC

...AS CENTRAL BANK SAYS EFFECT ON RUBLE WOULD BE TEMPORARY

The previous day, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko said that lower oil prices could lead to temporary fluctuations in the ruble's exchange rate. He added that the decline in Russian companies' oil export revenues expected to result from lower prices will be offset by a rise in export revenues in other industries. Earlier in the week, Aleksandr Shokhin, State Duma Banking Committee Chairman (People's Deputy), said that "a catastrophe [with the 2000 budget] won't occur from the formal point of view" if the oil price falls below $25 per barrel; however, the budget anticipated foreign loans that have not come through. He continued that while he expects the price to remain above $20 per barrel throughout the year, a price between $18 and $20 would likely lead to inflation as the Central Bank is forced to print more money. JAC

RUSSIAN ARMORED COLUMN AMBUSHED IN SOUTHERN CHECHNYA

Chechen spokesmen claimed on 29 March to have killed at least 60 Russian troops in an ambush of an Interior Ministry armored column near the village of Zhani-Vedeno, close to the southeastern town of Argun, earlier that day, dpa reported. A second column sent to assist the first was also attacked. Reuters on 30 March quoted Russian military officials as saying that fighting is continuing and the fate of the trapped Russian convoy is unclear. But in Moscow, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo told Interfax that the situation in Chechnya, while "not simple," is under control, despite continuing Chechen attacks, AP reported. Russian Deputy Interior Minister Ivan Golubev said in Grozny on 30 March that field commander Ruslan Gelaev is commanding the Chechen fighters in Zhani-Vedeno. LF

MOSCOW SOFTENS STANCE ON MASKHADOV?

Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said in Moscow on 29 March that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov may be eligble for amnesty if the ongoing criminal investigation into his alleged participation in an armed insurrection "proves that he does not have blood on his hands," Interfax reported. Yastrzhembskii was commenting on the 29 March disclosure by Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev that since January he has acted as an intermediary between Maskhadov and Moscow leaders and continues to do so. Yastrzhembskii said he is aware that North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov is also in contact with Maskhadov, Interfax reported. LF

MOSCOW AGAIN DENIES REPORTS OF TORTURE AT CHECHEN FILTRATION CAMPS

Amnesty International researcher Maryana Katsarova said in Moscow on 29 March that her organization is convinced that the Russian authorities are concealing the true conditions at detention centers in Chechnya and that people "are constantly being tortured" in such camps, Interfax reported. Responding to those allegations in Moscow later the same day, Russia's Human Rights Commissioner for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, denied that Chechens being held in so-called filtration points are subjected to torture, Interfax reported.. Kalamanov argued that "so many delegations have visited [the filtration camp in] Chernokozovo, including international ones, that it is ridiculous to speak of secrecy." On 28 March, Kalamanov had told ITAR-TASS that a list exists of all persons held in detention in Chechnya and that relatives "can now address us and get full information about detainees." LF

WESTERN MEDIA 'WAGING WAR' AGAINST RUSSIA, SAYS IVANOV

Addressing the Foreign Ministry's Council for Science, Culture, and Education, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov remarked that Western media have unleashed an "information war" against Russia and are "drawing an extremely negative, one-sided picture...not only of the [Russian] state but of society as a whole," Russian news agencies reported on 29 March. "The more extensive the campaign in the West to discredit the image of Russia, the more difficult it will be for us to carry out our political tasks and develop scientific and cultural contacts," he argued. At the same time, Ivanov stressed that Russia will not allow itself to be "deprived of an independent voice in world affairs," nor will it slide into a policy of "primitive anti-Westernism" or self-isolation. JC

DUMA REJECTS CHALLENGE TO YELTSIN'S IMMUNITY

Following a long debate, State Duma deputies voted on 29 March to reject the Communist faction's proposal to lodge an appeal with the Constitutional Court that would challenge the decree granting immunity to former President Boris Yeltsin. Only 136 deputies voted in favor, while 144 were opposed and 27 abstained, according to Interfax. For the motion to pass, 226 votes would have been needed. Commenting on the measure, Budget Committee Chairman (Russian Regions) Aleksandr Zhukov said "it's time we stopped beheading tsars. If it helped us get out of the crisis right here and now, I myself would have voted for it. As it is, however, it will mean continuation of the crisis or even its aggravation." Duma deputy (Communist) Sergei Reshulskii said that he will begin gathering signatures to send the appeal to the court in any case, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 March. JAC

POLICE RAID MOSCOW BANK

Law enforcement officials from the department for combating economic crime of Moscow Oblast raided the Moscow headquarters of the Guta Bank on 29 March, "Segodnya" reported. The police, outfitted in masks and camouflage, were seeking documents connected with the Guta Bank's earlier absorption of Unikombank, after the latter had been declared bankrupt. The bank's leadership suggested that the search for documents was only a pretext and that the raid was connected with tension between the bank and the new leadership of Moscow Oblast. Guta Bank had supported then Moscow Oblast Governor Anatolii Tyazhlov, who lost his re-election bid. The chairman of the bank's board, Artem Kuznetsov, told the daily that bank officials consider the raid a psychological attack. Governor Boris Gromov's press spokesman denied that the administration had anything to do with the law enforcement agency's activities. Central Bank Chairman Gerashchenko called the search an "outrage," according to Interfax. JAC

RUSSIANS STASHING AWAY MORE IN BANK ACCOUNTS...

The amount of money in Russian citizens' accounts in domestic commercial banks is rising. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 March that savings in ruble and hard currency accounts increased by 4.7 percent as of 1 February 2000, compared with 1 January 2000. In addition, the amount of money in ruble accounts increased from 159.6 billion rubles ($5.6 billion) on 1 February 1999 to 218.2 billion rubles on 1 February 2000. The amount of money in hard currency accounts also jumped from 75.6 billion rubles to 115.7 billion rubles during the same period. However, earlier in the month, Vladimir Sokolin, head of the State Statistics Committee, said that the Russian population has some 585 billion rubles in private bank accounts and at least another $17 billion stashed away at home rather than at banks. JAC

...BUYING SLIGHTLY LESS HARD CURRENCY

The State Statistics Committee also reported that Russians spent 7 percent of their incomes on buying hard currency in February 2000, compared with 8.2 percent in January 2000, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 March. This reflects only a slight drop in buying activity compared with the same period last year: In January 1999, Russian citizens spent 8.4 percent of their income on hard currency and 7.4 percent in February. JAC

ALWAYS A CANDIDATE, NEVER AN ELECTED OFFICIAL?

The election of former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov to the State Duma has hit another major snag. On 30 March, the regional election commission declared the results of the 26 March ballot invalid. Cherepkov, who had received some 27 percent of the vote, had earlier been declared the winner (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 March 2000). The regional commission based its decision on the exclusion of candidate Orysya Bondarenko just two days before the elections on the order of a krai court. According to ITAR- TASS, the Central Election Commission will have the final say. If it upholds the decisions, new elections will have to be held in that district for a third time. Cherepkov told Interfax-Eurasia that the controversy surrounding Bondarenko's candidacy "was a planned spectacle organized by the administration of Primorskii Krai in case of the undesirable victory of Cherepkov." Cherepkov is a long-time foe of Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. JAC

NEW COMMITTEE HEAD NAMED FOR UPPER LEGISLATIVE BODY

Members of the Federation Council elected Voronezh Governor Ivan Shabanov chairman of that body's security and defense committee, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 March. Shabanov takes over the position that had remained vacant for the three months in which the senators debated whom to select. According to the daily, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev lobbied actively for Shabanov, who is a Communist. JAC

PATRIARCH MAKES ANOTHER DIG AT UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II criticized the Ukrainian government on 29 March for its support for creating an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Aleksii II said "statesmen in Ukraine are still making appeals to establish an independent Church" and that such appeals are deepening the rift in the Orthodox community, Interfax reported. He added that he reminded Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma that the Patriarchate had "granted complete autonomy to its Kiev Exarchate" in January of this year. JAC

COULD JAPANESE SECT SABOTAGE RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR SYSTEMS?

Citing reports by the Tokyo police, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 March that the Aum Shinri Kyo sect is in possession of classified information on "some Russian nuclear systems" and "technical data" that in theory could be used to cause another major accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine. A Tokyo-based computer company founded by the sect has apparently managed to acquire classified data on nuclear facilities worldwide, including information on the system for emergency situations at Chornobyl that had been requested "on behalf of" the Japanese Foreign Ministry ostensibly to offer assistance to the Ukrainian authorities. The Aum Shinri Kyo sect was outlawed in Russia following the 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. JC

SPS REFUTES STANKEVICH STATEMENT ON SUPPORTING MATVIENKO

Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) spokesman Andrei Polyakov has rejected a statement by former presidential aide Sergei Stankevich saying that that SPS will support the candidacy of Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko in the St. Petersburg gubernatorial ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2000). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 March quoted Polyakov as saying that Stankevich is not a member of the SPS and therefore has no right to speak on the party's behalf. SPS leader Sergei Kirienko, according to Polyakov, has offered Matvienko the use of the campaign team he formed for the Moscow mayoral election. JC

FIRST LADY SAYS PUTIN FALTERED WITH LANGUAGE OF LOVE...

President-elect Putin's recent victory in elections has caused Western media to pay new attention to his wife, Lyudmila Putina. Putina speaks fluent German, also studied French and Spanish at university, and for a time was a flight attendant. According to "Die Welt," her mother worked at a cash desk, while her father worked in a repair shop. AFP reported that Putina initially thought that her "taciturn, reserved, and easily riled" boyfriend was trying to end their relationship when he proposed marriage. JAC

...WHILE TEEN PUTIN EMBRACED KGB BUT SPURNED KOMSOMOL?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 March that young Putin was involved in small love triangle in the ninth grade at school No. 281 in St. Petersburg. Reportedly, "Volodya" liked a certain black-haired Lena Gryaznovaya, while a fair-haired Tanya Naprienkova, who was secretary of the school's Komsomol organization, made several romantic overtures to the budding KGB agent, which he ignored. JAC




SUPPORTERS URGE COMEBACK BY FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT

Some 20-30 people gathered outside the Yerevan home of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian on 26 March to urge him to return to active politics and try to reconcile rival factions within the present leadership, Snark reported on 29 March. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT OPTIMISTIC ON KARABAKH SETTLEMENT...

Robert Kocharian said in Tbilisi on 29 March that his ongoing direct talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict will resume "soon," according to Armenpress, as cited by Groong. The previous day, Kocharian had told Georgian State Television that he is "optimistic" at the prospects for reaching a settlement of the conflict. But he declined to specify any timeframe for doing so, saying that "we must try to be patient and carry on with this process in a positive and constructive manner." Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze affirmed his readiness to promote an Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue in order to resolve all issues related to the Karabakh conflict. LF

...SUGGESTS FORMAT FOR REGIONAL SECURITY PACT

Addressing the Georgian parliament on 29 March, Kocharian said that the proposed security pact for the Caucasus can be effective only if all regional states are involved, Russian agencies and AFP reported. Kocharian said that the pact should not only address security issues and conflict resolution but provide a basis for economic cooperation and democratic reforms. He suggested the formula 3 + 3 + 2, meaning the pact would constitute an agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, with Russia, Iran, and Turkey as guarantors and the U.S. and the EU as sponsors. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili expressed approval of that formula, Caucasus Press reported. He said Tbilisi "supports all initiatives aimed at stabilizing the situation in the Caucasus." LF

KARABAKH JOURNALIST DETAINED

Vahram Aghajanian, a journalist with the Karabakh newspaper "Tasnerord nahang" who was detained on 28 March, may be charged with slandering the authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, local law enforcement officials told RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent on 29 March. Aghajanian had claimed in a Western e-mail publication last week that the Karabakh authorities had embarked on "a witch-hunt" following the 22 March attack on the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian. "Tasnerord nahang" is critical of the Karabakh leadership, and some observers believe it is financed by Ghukasian's most prominent political foe, former Karabakh Defense Minister and army commander General Samvel Babayan. LF

AZERBAIJAN REJECTS BRITISH PRESS ALLEGATIONS

Azerbaijan's National Security Minister Namik Abbasov has dismissed as inaccurate and slanderous an article published in the "Sunday Times" on 26 March claiming that Western oil companies were behind the June 1993 insurrection that resulted in President Abulfaz Elchibey's ouster, Turan reported on 29 March. Abbasov also rejected the newspaper's assertion that its findings were based on Turkish intelligence materials. He said that assertion is intended to undermine Azerbaijani-Turkish relations. At a session in Baku on 29 March, the Democratic Congress, which unites 10 Azerbaijani opposition parties, similarly dismissed the British newspaper's claims as unfounded. LF

AZERBAIJAN JAIL INSURGENCY PARTICIPANTS SENTENCED

Following a two-month trial, sentences of between six months and 15 years have been handed down to 23 persons accused of attempting to break out of the Gobustan jail, near Baku, in January 1999, Turan reported on 29 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999 and 26 January 2000). A prison employee accused of abetting the insurgents was sentenced to five years' imprisonment but immediately amnestied. LF

RUSSIA PROPOSES STARTING TALKS WITH GEORGIA ON CLOSURE OF BASES

A Russian delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov will travel to Tbilisi shortly to begin talks with the Georgian government on implementation of last November's agreement on the closure of Russia's four military bases in Georgia, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman told ITAR-TASS on 29 March. He added that Moscow is ready to discuss with Georgia "all military aspects of bilateral relations." Georgian Foreign Minister Menagharishvili told Interfax the same day that talks with Russia on military and other bilateral issues could begin immediately after the 9 April Georgian presidential elections. LF

GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA EXCHANGE HOSTAGES

Four Abkhaz, two of them police officers taken hostage in western Georgia earlier this year, were released on 29 March under UN auspices, Reuters reported. Eight Georgians who had been held in detention in Abkhazia were released the same day. Meeting with Abkhaz leaders earlier this week, UN Special Representative Dieter Boden had deplored the failure of both sides to implement an agreement signed in Sukhum in early February on the release of all prisoners and hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2000). LF

'SHANGHAI FIVE' DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET

Meeting in Astana on 30 March, the defense ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China, and Russia assessed progress in implementing those countries' 1996 agreement on confidence-building measures, including troop reductions, on their borders, ITAR-TASS reported. They also addressed the issues of separatism and international terrorism, which Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev termed "a headache" for all five states, and pledged to continue cooperation in the field of regional nuclear security, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev told a press conference after the meeting that the foreign ministers of the five states will meet next month, as will the interior ministers and intelligence chiefs. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY CONVENES DEMONSTRATION

Several hundred people attended an officially sanctioned demonstration in Almaty on 30 March organized by the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan. RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. The participants called on the Kazakh authorities to embark on a dialogue with the opposition and to amend the country's election law. They also expressed opposition to the proposed privatization of land. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION FIGURES' APARTMENTS VANDALIZED

The doors of the Almaty apartments of leading members of the Orleu movement and the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan were daubed with insults and obscenities during the night of 29-20 March, and telephone lines to those apartments ripped out, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. Orleu leader Seidakhmet Quttyqadam said he is convinced the vandalism was politically motivated. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION OUTLINES FUTURE TACTICS

Opposition El (Bei Bechara) party chairman Daniyar Usenov told a press conference in Bishkek on 29 March that he has no intention of quitting politics, despite the ban on his and his party's participation in the recent parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Usenov said the party will hold a congress in May at which its statutes will be amended to state that one of the party's aims is participation in elections. Usenov also said that he intends to begin publication of a Russian- language version of the newspaper "Asaba." Published twice- weekly, "Asaba" is the most popular Kyrgyz-language opposition publication. LF

PROTEST PICKET IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL CONTINUES

Despite police harassment and the destruction of the shelters in which they spend the night, some 100 demonstrators continued their picket in central Bishkek on 29 March to protest the arrest of opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov. Also on 29 March, Kyrgyz Human Rights Movement chairman Tursunbek Akunov told RFE/RL that he has quit the public commission set up under the chairmanship of secretary of the Security Council, General Bolot Djanuzakov, to discuss the protesters' grievances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000). Akunov said he will not participate in the work of that body as it does not include any of the protesters. LF

CIA DIRECTOR VISITS UZBEKISTAN

George Tenet arrived in Tashkent on 29 March and held "top secret" talks with Uzbek leaders, Reuters reported. The U.S. embassy in Uzbekistan declined to comment on those talks. Earlier, Tenet met with the presidents of Georgia and Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 March 2000). LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION SAYS FREE ELECTIONS IMPOSSIBLE THIS YEAR

The Consultative Council of Opposition Parties on 29 March said that free and democratic elections in Belarus cannot be held this fall owing to the "cynical crackdown" of the authorities on the peaceful 25 March rally in Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 March 2000), Belapan reported. The council noted that the crackdown "unambiguously demonstrated to both Belarusian society and the international community that the [Alyaksandr] Lukashenka regime will neither create a climate of trust nor negotiate a peaceful transition to democracy." The council demanded that the authorities set up a commission that includes public organization representatives in order to investigate the 25 March events and punish all responsible for the suppression of the rally, including Interior Minister Yury Sivakou and the Minsk mayor. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES HOLD 'SOCIOPOLITICAL DIALOGUE'

Representatives of some 90 public organizations gathered in Minsk on 29 March for the first sitting of the so-called "sociopolitical dialogue" which was proposed by President Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Several women's organizations appealed to the forum not to participate in the dialogue until all those responsible for human rights violations during the 25 March rally have been punished. The forum, which was to discuss procedural rules of the dialogue, passed no resolutions. The next meeting within the "sociopolitical dialogue" framework will take place in two weeks. Belarusian Language Association head Aleh Trusau announced that his organization is suspending its participation in the dialogue. Belarusian Helsinki Committee head Tatsyana Protska had a made a similar announcement earlier. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO AMEND REFERENDUM DECREE

Presidential administration staff deputy head Leonid Podpalov said on 29 March that President Leonid Kuchma will "soon" issue a decree to make "corrections" to his earlier constitutional referendum decree in order to bring it into line with a Constitutional Court ruling announced the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 29 March 2000), Interfax reported. Podpalov added that in the 16 April referendum Ukrainians will be asked those four questions that were not disallowed by the court. According to Podpalov, referendum decisions "will have to be implemented by the current parliament." JM

UKRAINE'S MOROZ SAYS REFERENDUM INITIATORS FAILED TO ACHIEVE GOAL

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told Interfax on 29 March that the ruling of the Constitutional Court to strike two questions from the 16 April referendum signifies the "bankruptcy of the nationwide referendum contrivance." Moroz added that "the main goal pursued by the [referendum] initiators was to obtain the possibility to amend the constitution by means of a referendum and to revise it." According to Moroz, those initiators "did not achieve anything" since it is the parliament that will make amendments to the constitution if they are approved in the referendum. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT SET TO CLOSE CHORNOBYL THIS YEAR

The cabinet has ordered that the Fuel and Energy Ministry draw up within three months a plan for closing the Chornobyl nuclear power plant by this year's end, Interfax reported on 29 March. Another plan for ensuring social protection for Chornobyl's workers is to be prepared within six months. However, Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko said the precise date of Chornobyl's closure will be announced only after Kyiv has reached a deal with the G-7 and the European Commission on Western assistance to compensate Ukraine for the loss of power due to the closure. JM

LATVIA REGISTERS MINOR ECONOMIC GROWTH IN 1999

The Statistical Department on 29 March reported that Latvia's economy grew by 0.1 percent last year. The economy picked up in the second half of the year after the recession in the first half resulting from the 1998 Russian economic crisis, BNS reported. Figures for the third quarter were revised by the Statistical Department; instead of remaining unchanged, GDP was reported to have grown by 0.2 percent in the third quarter of 1999. In the fourth quarter, GDP rose by 2.8 percent. The Statistical Office said that three sectors accounted for the growth in GDP: wholesale and retail sales, real estate, and construction. MH

LATVIAN SHIPPING COMPANY PRIVATIZATION FAILS ONCE MORE

Another attempt to privatize the Latvian Shipping Company has failed, according to Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) director Janis Naglis. Speaking to the press on 29 March, Naglis said the only bid received was invalid, largely because the bidder failed to pay a security deposit. The board of the LPA was scheduled to discuss the issue on 29- 30 March. Prime Minister Andris Skele, meanwhile, has proposed three scenarios--including not privatizing the company. The last of several attempts to privatize the company occurred at the end of last year December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1999).

RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT SUSPENDS LATVIAN SANCTIONS BILL

The Russian State Duma on 29 March suspended for a week debate on a resolution that could lead to economic sanctions against Latvia, BNS reported. Moscow remains critical of Latvia's policies toward its ethnic Russian population and has condemned the conviction of Soviet war criminals such as Vasilii Kononov. MH

LITHUANIA SETS DONORS CONFERENCE DATE FOR IGNALINA

The Lithuanian government has scheduled a donors' conference on the shutdown of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant for 21-22 June. The first unit of the controversial power plant is due to be shut down by 2005, but Lithuania has demanded financial assistance to complete that process. Among those invited to the conference are the EU, the EBRD, the World Bank, and the G-24. Deputy Economics Minister Rimantas Vaitkus said that the shutdown costs for the first unit could run up to 800 million litas ($200 million), ELTA reported. Several governments and organizations have already pledged funding, including the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2000). MH

POLISH PARLIAMENT AMENDS PRIVATIZATION LAW

The parliament on 29 March voted by 235 to 191 with one abstention to amend the privatization law, PAP reported. The amendments stipulate that 7 percent of state shares in privatized companies will be allocated to a national mass sell-off program, while no less than 10 percent of revenues from privatized companies will go to support the reform of the social security system. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said the vote was a "great success" and a "good day for the coalition," adding that the amendments had been discussed for nearly two years. The bill also envisages that 5 percent of state shares in privatized companies will be set aside in a "property restitution reserve." Two percent of shares in state-owned companies will be allocated to a state scientific research fund and another 2 percent will support industry restructuring. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES COMPROMISE PLAN FOR JEWISH CEMETERY

The cabinet on 29 March approved a compromise solution to the dispute over the insurance company Ceska pojistovna's plans to construct offices on the site of a 13th century Jewish cemetery in Prague, Czech media reported. Under the plan, the insurer will construct the building around the cemetery site, which was discovered last year during work at the construction site. The cemetery itself will be encased in concrete and declared a heritage site. The government agreed to contribute up to 45 million crowns ($1.2 million) to the 60 million crown plan. Ceska pojistovna will cover any remaining costs. Both Ceska pojistovna and representatives of the local Jewish community have agreed to the compromise. VG

CZECH PARTY NOMINATES ITS OWN SPEAKER TO BROADCASTING BOARD

The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has nominated its own speaker, Lukas Herold, to one of the vacant positions on the state-owned Czech Television's governing board, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 30 March. Observers have commented on increasing attempts to exert political influence over the board and the public broadcaster in recent months. In other news, the Czech government approved on 29 March investment incentives for the Dutch company Philips, which plans to build a new company for television screens in an eastern town of the Czech Republic. Earlier reports indicated the company plans to invest more than $580 million in the plant over the next few years--the largest greenfield investment in the country's history. VG

MECIAR TO DEFY SLOVAK LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITIES

The press secretary of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Jozef Grapa, said on 29 March that HZDS leader Vladimir Meciar will not obey "the police, police investigators, [or] supervising prosecutors until law and order return" to Slovakia, TASR and CTK reported. Slovak police investigators have issued several summons for Meciar to testify as a witness in the case of the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son as well as in two other cases, but he has failed to respond to any. Grapa said Meciar has decided to refuse to cooperate because the amnesties he issued in connection with the Kovac case have not been respected. The HZDS spokesman said Meciar "reserves the right to take further measures," including civil disobedience. The next day, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner noted that Meciar has not been accused of a crime so he cannot be arrested. However, he added that the former prime minister can be "compelled" to testify. VG

HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST MAINTAINS TISZA POLLUTION WAS DELIBERATE

"There are increasing signs that point to a deliberate act having caused disaster on the River Tisza," Istvan Csurka, chairman of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party told reporters on 29 March, one day after a new toxic spill was announced in Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2000). Csurka claimed as "evidence" Prime Minister Viktor Orban's recent remarks that the Romanian government is refusing to name dangerous plants operating near rivers flowing into Hungary. "If such essential information is not released, despite a basic treaty being in force between the two countries, then secrecy prevails," Csurka concluded. MSZ




NATO WARNS BELGRADE OVER VIOLATION OF BUFFER ZONE

Yugoslav forces illegally entered the demilitarized buffer zone between Kosova and Serbia on 25 March with a tank and an armored personnel carrier, the "Washington Post" reported on 30 March. NATO officials said that the move was "serious" and a deliberate attempt to test the Atlantic alliance's reaction. A Pentagon spokesman added that Milosevic has long tested others' intentions by "throwing something out and seeing what happens. He starts at the low end of the threshold and builds up." To ensure that Milosevic does not persist, NATO officials met with Yugoslav officers on 28 March to warn them against further incursions into the zone. To reinforce the point, two senior British officers and some 24 peacekeepers entered the zone to look for tank tracks and other evidence of illegal military activity in the area. PM

SERBIAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST REVEALS COURT SCAM

Natasa Kandic, who is perhaps Serbia's best-known human rights activist, said in Belgrade on 29 March that Serbian courts work together with Serbian lawyers from Kosova to pressure families of ethnic Albanian prisoners to buy their relatives' freedom. The lawyers approach the respective families, promising liberty for the prisoners in return for the payment to the lawyer of at least $5,000, AP reported. Once the family agrees, the court gives the Albanians sentences equal to the time they have already served while waiting for their trial, thereby enabling the prisoners to go free, Kandic added. She noted that even poor families turn down human rights lawyers' offers of free services because the Kosova Serb lawyers promise that they can secure their clients' freedom in return for a payment (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 30 March 2000). PM

BELGRADE SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON MONTENEGRO...

The state-run Tanjug news agency on 28 March quoted Defense Ministry Secretary Milovan Coguric as calling on "Montenegrins living in Serbia to decisively and voluntarily stand up against separatists and traitors of all kinds." He added that "despite attempts at separatism and treachery by Montenegrin leaders [under President Milo Djukanovic], most Montenegrins have a right frame of mind." He did not elaborate. Coguric is a Montenegrin and a member of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) of Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, which backs Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But Bulatovic himself said that Montenegro has the right to secede from Yugoslavia if its people so decide, "Vesti" reported on 30 March. He added that the "army will never attack Montenegro" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000). Bulatovic noted that he regrets that Montenegro has a leadership that is sometimes involved in "criminal activities." PM

...WHILE WEST MAINTAINS 'DELIBERATE AMBIGUITY'

An unnamed official of the Clinton administration told Reuters in Washington on 29 March that the U.S. is weighing its options should Milosevic use force against the government of Montenegro. The official stressed, however, that "we haven't stated privately or publicly whether we would intervene militarily." Both Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her press spokesman James Foley maintain a "deliberate ambiguity" regarding possible Western responses to a military crackdown in Montenegro, the news agency added. In Riga, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said that he is concerned about Milosevic's attempts to "interfere or make trouble" in Montenegro, "but we're not saying what we would do about it or what the implications of our thinking are." NATO Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark noted in Lisbon that "we've observed over the last six months how Milosevic has...tightened the noose around Mr. Djukanovic.... Mr. Milosevic should well understand what NATO's capabilities are." PM

ARTEMIJE SAYS YUGOSLAV ARMY WILL NEVER RETURN TO KOSOVA

Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, who is Kosova's senior Serbian cleric and a key leader of the anti- Milosevic Serbian opposition there, said in Vienna on 29 March that there will be no solution to the Kosova problem as long as Milosevic and the "regime" remain in power. Artemije added that the Yugoslav army will never return to the province because the local Serbs do not recognize it as their army, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He urged his fellow Serbs to admit the mistakes they have made in the past and to stop blaming others for their problems. "The world has nothing against the Serbs," he added. Elsewhere, Father Sava, who is Artemije's spokesman, said that pro-Milosevic Serbs staged "provocations" against him during his recent visit to London, "Vesti" reported on 30 March. Sava added that the Kosova Serbs might join the UN's provisional advisory council in the province once Serbian refugees come home and KFOR ensures their security. PM

MILOSEVIC HAS NO MONEY FOR PIROT

City Council President Boban Tolic said in Pirot that the new federal budget does not include "even a single dinar" for his city, "Danas" reported on 30 March. He said that the council will take unspecified "emergency measures" but warned that the city administration could collapse without money from Belgrade. Pirot is controlled by the opposition and, together with Nis, was one of the beneficiaries of the EU's Energy for Democracy program in recent months. PM

EU PLAYS COY WITH SLOVENIA

Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama said on 29 March in Lisbon that Slovenia is a "true case of success." He declined, however, to suggest a date for the Alpine republic's admission to the EU, saying that he would not make "false promises," AP reported. Gama added that "our relations with the candidate countries are too solid, so we speak a language of authenticity." Portugal holds the rotating EU chair. Gama made his remarks after meeting with Slovenia's President Milan Kucan and Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel. PM

EARLY ELECTIONS FOR SLOVENIA?

Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said in Ljubljana on 28 March that he may call parliamentary elections soon if the legislature passes a new election law. Elections are due at some point during the last three months of 2000, but the future of the government was called into question recently, when nine ministers of the People's Party said they will resign on 15 April to form a new election coalition with the Christian Democrats. The parliament is the center of political power in Slovenia. PM

MESIC SAYS GOVERNMENT WRONGFOOTING HIM

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told "Jutarnji list" of 30 March that the government is trying to prevent him from carrying out his duties by withholding information from him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2000). "I am the least well informed person in the Croatian state," Mesic added. He stressed that the large two-party coalition has never truly accepted his election because he comes from the smaller four-party coalition. The Zagreb daily noted that Mesic is willing to share with the government the sweeping powers that currently belong to the president. Mesic insists, however, that he will not give up the power to name the head of the intelligence services or to make other key appointments. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE SAID 'HOT LINE' TO MOSCOW WAS ONLY DISCUSSED

General Constantin Degeratu, the Romanian presidential adviser on defense issues, testified before a Senate Defense Commission on 29 March that discussions were held between Bucharest and Moscow on the establishment of a "hot line" between 1993 and 1996 but no agreement was ever signed, Romanian radio reported. Senator Alexandru Nicolae, who chairs the commission, said the negotiations were held with the written approval of then Romanian President Ion Iliescu. VG

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT REJECTS PROPOSAL TO LEAVE CIS

President Petru Lucinschi rejected a suggestion by Christian Democratic Popular Party leader Iurie Rosca that the country quit the CIS, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Rosca said Moldova should immediately quit the CIS and focus its efforts on joining the EU. Lucinschi said he does not consider Moldova's membership in the CIS to be an impediment to the country's integration into European structures. Moldovan parliamentary speaker Dimitru Diakov dismissed the proposal as the "beginning of electoral canvassing," Infotag reported. VG

BULGARIAN, ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET

Bulgarian Defense Minister Boyko Noev and his Romanian counterpart, Sorin Frunzaverde, agreed in Sofia on 29 March to explore the possibilities for military cooperation with the Dutch contingent in NATO's KFOR mission in Kosova, BTA reported. Bulgaria already has a 35-man engineering unit serving in the Dutch contingent of KFOR. Frunzaverde confirmed that Romania will explore the prospects for sending a Romanian unit to join the Dutch troops in Kosova. The two ministers are scheduled to meet again in mid-April, when Bulgaria and Romania will take part in joint naval exercises near Varna and Constanta. VG




RECOVERY STILL A LONG WAY OFF IN WESTERN CORNER OF KOSOVA


By Jolyon Naegele

The detritus of war is still visible at every turn in the village of Brovina one year after Serbian forces sent all 600 residents fleeing over the nearby snow-covered mountains to Albania.

Most residents were quick to return after Serbian forces withdrew last June. But little has changed in the village since then. In marked contrast to most other war- damaged parts of Kosova, where homeowners have largely finished reroofing their shelled or gutted houses, this westernmost corner of Kosova, known as Rreka, still looks as if the war just ended. Most houses remain in ruins.

As is the case in neighboring villages, most of Brovina's 14 fortress-like residential stone towers, known as kullas, are empty shells, having been bombed or burned out by the Serbian forces. Elsewhere are blown-up cars, a burned-out bus on which the initials of NATO and the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) have been scrawled, and a roadside mass grave of Albanians executed by the Serbs, covered with wreaths of plastic flowers.

In the center of the village a newly built playground, a donation from abroad, keeps the children out of the wrecks and ruins and away from the surrounding fields, still full of mines and unexploded ordnance.

In the next village, Nivokaz, only two out of the 24 centuries-old kullas survived the Serbian assault intact. Many have nothing left but one or two walls and a stone staircase. The owner of one war-damaged kulla is a two- year-old war orphan.

International humanitarian assistance has arrived in Brovina, Nivokaz, and surrounding communities. But besides the health-care, food, and educational aid and the donations of livestock and assistance to rebuild infrastructure, little has been done yet for the area's war-damaged architectural heritage.

A U.S. foundation has donated some 10,000 square meters of plastic sheeting to cover exposed kulla walls in western Kosova. But the head of the Institute for the Protection of Kosova's Monuments, Fejaz Drancolli, told RFE/RL that this sufficed to protect just 60 damaged kullas out of a total of nearly 500 across western Kosova.

Some donated plastic sheeting appears to have found other uses. In Junik, where about half of all Kosova's kullas are to be found, the co-owner of a gutted kulla, Esat Shehu, has used donated plastic sheeting and timber to build a barn for his war-decimated herd of three dozen sheep.

"No they didn't give this [sheeting] to us for kullas," he told RFE/RL. "The Serbs burned all the farm buildings. I didn't have anywhere to put the sheep, so I built this shelter. But we will save these kullas. A professor from the Institute [for the Preservation of Kosova's Monuments] was here and told us that there are some Americans who are trying to help us. We'll see, but there is no way that we will let these kullas be further destroyed."

As in other villages, residents say visiting foreign aid workers urged them not to tear down the burned out kullas but to try to save them. However, many kulla owners, though proud of their heritage, have no idea where to begin.

One local businessman in Decani who grew up in a kulla, Sali Caca-Drini, hopes to change that. He is working to establish a local non-governmental organization to represent the interests of kulla owners and educate them in what needs to be done to save their heritage.

Caca-Drini, who owns several photo shops, documented the kullas in some 12,000 photographs over the last 20 years but has recovered only about a quarter of his photo archives. The Serbs burned down his home and shops, but he says what caused him to weep for days was the destruction of Decani's kullas.

Virtually the only hope of saving the kullas in the foreseeable future is through local efforts, as the international community treats them as low priority.

European Commissioner Chris Patten made that clear on a visit to Prishtina earlier this month. "Doubtless other donors will want to help rebuild the cultural heritage and in due course that may be something we (the EU) look at first," Patten said. "But I think what people require first of all is a roof over their heads, the assurance that the power supply will be more regular next year, better roads so they can get their goods to market or their exports to regional markets."

In the meantime, foreign aid organizations continue to put up their plaques on the kulla ruins, taking credit for postwar recovery. But tangible recovery in this corner of Kosova is still a long way off.

The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent based in Prague.


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