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Newsline - March 31, 2000




GOVERNMENT TOLD TO HURRY WITH INCREASINGLY TARDY ECONOMIC PROGRAM...

First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 30 March that President-elect Vladimir Putin has called on the experts drafting the country's new economic program to accelerate their efforts and finish the document by the end of April. German Gref, head of the Center for Strategic Research, which is drafting the program, told reporters the same day that the program itself will not be ready until around 20 May but that a presidential message on budget policy for the next four years may be ready earlier. On 14 March, Gref said that the program would appear in April. Putin assigned Kasyanov, Gref, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, and head of the presidential administration Aleksandr Voloshin to a group tasked with coordinating the center's efforts with government policy. "Kommersant-Daily" suggested on 31 March that this group of officials will form the core of Putin's new cabinet. JAC

...SPEED UP HOUSING REFORM...

Addressing cabinet officials on 30 March, Putin called on them to develop a plan for housing reform for the next five years, Interfax reported. He noted, "Plenty of decisions have been made, but this issue remains crucial. We have developed many programs, but they have not been fully implemented." Putin suggested that housing subsidies could be distributed in a more efficient manner by giving them directly to the residents, as some regions are doing. Putin also called for more housing construction financed through mortgages and proposed that laws on mortgages, rentals, and guarantees of real estate property rights, as well as other legislation, be adopted over the next five years. Purchasing housing remains beyond the grasp of most Russians, with prices at the end of 1999 ranging from $657 per square meter in Moscow to $185 per square meter in Tver (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 March 2000). JAC

...AND PROMOTE TOLERANCE

According to "Vremya novostei" on 30 March, Putin has also authorized a program for the "creation of tolerance and the prevention of extremism in Russian society." The daily reported that the program was drawn up under Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko's supervision by an initiative group composed of Yevgenii Gontmakher, director of the government department for social development, Aleksandr Kondakov, deputy education minister, and Aleksandr Asmolov, a well-known psychologist. Matvienko, according to the daily, approached Putin and asked him to make the program a federal one and include it in the 2001 budget. JAC

INAUGURATION SET FOR MAY

Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 30 March that his commission is planning to endorse the official results of 26 March presidential elections on 5 April, which means that President-elect Putin would assume office on 7 May. JAC

TITOV, STEPASHIN VOLUNTEER FOR CABINET POSITIONS

Samara Governor and unsuccessful presidential candidate Konstantin Titov told Russian Public Television on 29 March that he has not yet been approached to work in the new cabinet but would consider doing so if asked. The next day, former Prime Minister and State Duma deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Stepashin also expressed his willingness to work in the team of the new president. He added that he has not yet received any such proposals. Also on 30 March, Stepashin dismissed speculation in a variety of Russian newspapers that he is likely to be named head of the State Audit Chamber. With regard to such a possibility, he said "it is still too early to say.... I figure that there must be many candidates for the position." The tenure of the current head, Khachim Karamokov, expired on 17 January. JAC

CHECHENS REPORTEDLY REGROUPING AFTER ATTACK ON RUSSIAN CONVOY

Russian forces on 30 March began searching for the Chechen fighters who attacked an Interior Ministry convoy near the southeastern village of Zhani-Vedeno the previous day, killing four men and wounding 18, Interfax reported quoting Russian military spokesmen. Thirty-nine police are reported missing in action. The acting commander of the federal troops in the North Caucasus, Colonel General Aleksandr Baranov, told journalists on 30 March that a local Russian troop commander was to blame for the ambush of the convoy as he had not observed the required precautions, Interfax reported. LF

PUTIN AUTHORIZES RED CROSS INSPECTION OF CHECHEN DETENTION CENTERS

President-elect Putin agreed in Moscow on 30 March to a request by International Committee of the Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger for Red Cross representatives to visit filtration camps in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Russian spokesmen have repeatedly denied reports by human rights organizations that detainees at those camps are subjected to mistreatment and torture. Agreement was also reached on additional humanitarian aid for Chechnya, according to Interfax. Kellenberger told journalists after his meeting with Putin that the Red Cross may reopen a permanent mission in Chechnya within the next few weeks. That mission was closed following the murder of six of its personnel in December 1996. LF

INGUSH PRESIDENT'S ASSASSINATION PLANNED?

The Kremlin is planning the assassination of Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev and will lay the blame on Chechen displaced persons who fled to Ingushetia, Caucasus Press reported on 31 March, quoting "reliable sources in Moscow." Mukharbek Aushev, a 38- year-old businessman, former LUKoil vice president, and ex- deputy chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, is reportedly being groomed as his namesake's successor. Mukharbek Aushev ran unsuccessfully against the incumbent in the March 1998 presidential election in Ingushetia, polling 9.1 percent of the vote. Ruslan Aushev has repeatedly criticized Moscow's policy toward the North Caucasus in general and the war in Chechnya in particular (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 36, 3 November 1998). LF

RECTOR SUSPENDED FOR ALLEGEDY ALLOWING IRANIANS TO STUDY MISSILE TECHNOLOGY

Yurii Savelev was suspended as rector of the Baltic State Technology University (BGTU) on suspicion of having allowed students from abroad, including Iran, to study "subjects related to missile technology," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 March. The order for Savelev's suspension, which was marked "classified," came from federal Education Minister Vladimir Filippov after the U.S. State Department had accused the St. Petersburg-based BGTU of offering foreign students instruction in such subjects. Savelev has denied those charges. According to the newspaper, over a period of eight years the university planned to admit some 500 Iranians, whose combined annual tuition fees would total $2.5 million--or five times the amount the university receives in state subsidies. In 1998, the U.S listed the BGTU among those educational establishments in Russia that might offer foreign students instruction in the production of weapons of mass destruction. JC

ROBERTSON PREDICTS IMPROVED RUSSIA-NATO TIES IN PUTIN ERA

Speaking in Riga on 30 March, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson commented that President-elect Putin's "personal decision" to resume relations with NATO is a "clear indication that we will not see a more antagonistic approach between NATO and Russia," Reuters and Interfax reported. "I see a new constructive engagement between NATO and Russia...in which we will seek to explain to the Russians that NATO enlargement is in their interests as well as in the interests of NATO itself," Robertson added. In an interview with Interfax the same day, Russian Foreign Ministry officials stressed Moscow's frequently stated position that the Baltic states' membership in the Atlantic alliance would be "unacceptable" (see also Part II). JC

SERGEEV MEETS WITH CHINESE COUNTERPART IN ASTANA

Defense Ministers Igor Sergeev and Chi Hao Tian met behind closed doors in the capital of Kazakhstan earlier this week to discuss military and military-technical cooperation, "Segodnya" reported on 30 March. According to a member of the Russian delegation quoted by the Russian newspaper, among the topics discussed at that meeting were confidence-building measures along the Russian-Chinese border, including mutual reductions of forces and military hardware in the frontier region. JC

LUZHKOV INVITES PUTIN TO LEAN ON MOSCOW

In an interview with "Trud" on 31 March, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said that President-elect Putin's first steps will be to strengthen the "vertical powers of the government." He said that in his opinion, the head of the government "will try to bring some order to relations between the center and the regions." He continued that "if [Putin] really wants to free the country of the influence of oligarchs, he needs to have serious support." Such support should come from the "strong subjects of the federation" and the "first of these is Moscow." In an interview with "Itogi" released the same day, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais said that he believes the influence of oligarchs on political life now "does not compare with that which existed from 1996-1998." He added that "nevertheless, I do not believe that the question will be resolved" and will no longer have any significance. JAC

SWISS OFFICIAL CONFIRMS WARRANT ISSUED FOR BORODIN

Geneva- based investigator Daniel Defoe told "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 March that he has issued an order for the arrest of Pavel Borodin, the former head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, on charges of money-laundering. Borodin, who is now secretary of state for the Union of Belarus and Russia, told reporters that he plans to file a lawsuit against Defoe because Swiss law enforcement agencies have "no legal reasons for persecuting Borodin." He accused Swiss authorities of being more interested in former President Boris Yeltsin than himself and said that the main goal of the "Swiss attack" is to "lower Russia's international prestige." He added that he is also coming under attacks from within Russia and that these attacks were being spearheaded by suspended Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov. JAC

LOCAL FAT CAT DISAPPEARS

A court in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast has sentenced a man to two years probation for killing a family's pet cat for food. According to ITAR-TASS on 30 March, the assailant, a Mr. Samoilov, is unemployed and was reportedly starving. Eyewitnesses to the catnapping helped the family track down Samoilov, but it was too late to save the victim. Last January, then acting President Putin vetoed a bill on cruelty toward animals that would have prohibited, among other acts, the eating of pets, explaining that animals are already protected under existing legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1999 and 6 January 2000). JAC




PROSECUTORS CALL FOR DETENTION OF ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER

Armenian Deputy Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian asked a Yerevan court on 30 March to authorize him to request that the parliament lift the deputy's immunity of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputies voted in February 1999 to lift Siradeghian's immunity to allow his prosecution on charges of ordering several contract killings during his tenure from 1992-1996 as interior minister on condition that he was not taken into custody. His trial on those charges got under way in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February and 10 September 1999). Hovsepian said that it is not fair that other defendants in the same case have been held in custody for 11 months. He added that relatives of the men Siradeghian allegedly ordered killed have complained they are being subjected to intimidation by his associates. LF

DETAILS OF ARMENIAN-GEORGIAN ECONOMIC COOPERATION DISCLOSED

Before leaving Tbilisi on 29 March after a two-day official visit, Armenian President Robert Kocharian noted that mining, transport and energy are priority sectors in Armenian- Georgian economic cooperation, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Kocharian added that good prospects also exist for expanding cooperation in the chemical industry. "Hayots ashkharh" on 30 March quoted Kocharian as saying that he and his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, agreed on construction of a power line to supply energy from Armenia to Georgia's southern Djavakheti region, which has a majority Armenian population. Also on 29 March, the two countries' energy ministers, David Zadoyan and Davit Mirtskhulava, signed an agreement on the rescheduling of Georgia's $4.4 million debt for earlier energy supplies, according to Snark, as cited by Groong. LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA, TURKEY CONCLUDE SECOND ROUND OF GAS TALKS

Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Turkish government working groups held talks in Tbilisi on 28-30 March with officials from the international consortium developing Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz Caspian oil and gas field. On the agenda of those talks were the legal and technical aspects of exporting that gas through a pipeline from Baku via Tbilisi to Erzerum, Caucasus Press reported. Completion of construction of that pipeline is scheduled for the end of 2002. The pipeline will have an initial throughput capacity of 5 billion cubic meters per year. LF

LUKOIL QUIBBLING OVER BAKU COMPENSATION

LUKoil's Azerbaijan office is engaged in a dispute with an Azerbaijani insurance company over damage to one of its gasoline filling stations sustained during the Baku landslide earlier this month, Turan reported, citing "Uch nogte" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2000). LUKoil is demanding $1.7 million in compensation in line with its insurance policy, but the Ateshgakh insurance company is willing to pay only $1.4 million. LF

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ARRIVES IN GEORGIA

Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Tbilisi on 30 March on a two-day state visit, the first ever to Georgia by the head of a G-7 state, Reuters reported. Speaking at a joint press conference after receiving the Order of the Golden Fleece from Georgian President Shevardnadze, Schroeder said that Berlin has raised the amount of aid it will grant Georgia this year by 20 percent, to 60 million marks ($30 million). Addressing the Georgian parliament the same day, Schroeder expressed concern at Russia's continuing military action in Chechnya, saying that the EU should play a role in containing conflicts in the South Caucasus, dpa reported. LF

PUTIN CALLS FOR PROLONGING PEACEKEEPERS' ABKHAZ MANDATE

Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin on 29 March submitted a written request to the Federation Council to extend until 30 June the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed under the CIS aegis along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Putin said the peacekeepers' continued presence in the conflict zone meets the interests of the Russian Federation. In Tbilisi, UN Special Representative Dieter Boden said on 30 March he sees no alternative at present to the Russian peacekeepers' continued presence. Astamur Tania, aide to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, welcomed Putin's initiative, characterizing the CIS peacekeepers as the only guarantors of peace and security in the region. A delegation from the Abkhaz parliament-in-exile headed by its chairman, Tamaz Nadareishvili, was in Moscow earlier this month to try to persuade Russian State Duma deputies not to vote for the renewal of the peacekeepers' mandate. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN SEEKS TO MEDIATE WITH AUTHORITIES...

Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov told a press conference in Bishkek on 30 March that official falsification of the outcome of the parliamentary elections has precipitated a political crisis in the country, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. He added that he is trying to arrange a meeting between senior state officials and representatives of the 100 or so demonstrators who continue their protest picket in central Bishkek. Also on 30 March, opposition Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Jypar Djekshev told journalists that he has received a written warning from the Bishkek city prosecutor saying he violated the law by publishing in the weekly "Res Publika" a protest against the arrest of Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov. LF

...AS U.S. REGISTERS CONCERN

In Washington, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman James Foley said on 30 March that on her visit to Central Asia next month, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will deliver "a tough message" to the Kyrgyz leadership on democracy and human rights, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NATIONAL RECONCILIATION COMMISSION, WORLD BANK REPRESENTATIVE

Imomali Rakhmonov has met for the last time with the members of the Commission for National Reconciliation, whom he thanked for their contribution to implementing the 1997 peace agreement, Asia Plus Blitz reported on 31 March. The commission held its final session earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000). On 30 March, Rakhmonov met with the World Bank regional director for Central Asia, Kiyeshi Kadera, and discussed an ongoing World Bank-sponsored program to alleviate poverty in Tajikistan. LF

TURKMENISTAN WAIVES DEMAND FOR PRELIMINARY BONUS FOR GAS PIPELINE PROJECT

During talks in Ashgabat on 28-29 March with visiting Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov backed down from his earlier insistence that the international sponsors of the planned Trans-Caspian gas export pipeline pay Turkmenistan a $500 million bonus prior to the start of construction, Bloomberg reported on 30 March, citing the "Wall Street Journal." The two presidents again pledged their shared commitment to implementing that project, and Demirel undertook to resolve with Georgia and Azerbaijan all outstanding political questions relating to it, according to Interfax. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS SUCCESS IN UAE

Alyaksandr Lukashenka concluded his five-day visit to the United Arab Emirates on 30 March, Belarusian Television reported. According to the television station, the results of the trip were better than expected. Lukashenka signed accords on economic cooperation, the avoidance of double taxation, and mutual support to investors. "These are very important agreements.... I think the process [of Belarus-UAE cooperation] will be accelerated," Lukashenka commented. JM

BELARUS, UKRAINE SIMPLIFY PROCEDURE FOR CHANGING CITIZENSHIP

Minsk and Kyiv on 30 March exchanged the ratification instruments of a 1999 agreement on a simplified procedure for changing the citizenship of Belarusians permanently residing in Ukraine and of Ukrainians in Belarus. "This procedure will take no more than a month and will be free of charge," Belarusian Television quoted Ukrainian Ambassador to Belarus Anatol Dron as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT AMENDS REFERENDUM DECREE...

Leonid Kuchma on 30 March signed a decree excluding two questions from the 16 April referendum ballot in line with a Constitutional Court ruling earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2000), Interfax reported. He refused to comment on the ruling, saying that "as the president I should not comment on but [rather] implement Constitutional Court decisions." Kuchma added that referendum decisions will be binding on the authorities (see also "End Note" below). JM

...PLEDGES TO CLOSE CHORNOBYL IN 2000

Kuchma on 30 March told journalists that the Chornobyl nuclear power plant will be closed "no later than December this year," in line with the government's decision earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000), Interfax reported. Kuchma added that he has ordered the establishment of a working commission "to consider the problem of Chornobyl's closure from all points of views." JM

UKRAINE TO INTRODUCE VISAS FOR SLOVAKS

Ukraine has informed Slovakia that Kyiv will introduce "an appropriate travel regime" for Slovaks in response to Bratislava's decision to introduce visas for Ukrainians beginning 28 June 2000, Interfax reported on 30 March. JM

BALTIC PRESIDENTS MEET IN VILNIUS

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus hosted his Baltic counterparts, Vaira Vike- Freiberga of Latvia and Lennart Meri of Estonia, for a one- day meeting on 30 March focusing on Baltic cooperation. The three heads of state confirmed their commitment to cooperation, stressing the importance of coordinated action. They also discussed various energy issues, including constructing power links to Finland and Poland, and relations with Russia, adding that they hope the election of Vladimir Putin as president will improve ties with the Baltics. MH

UNEXPECTED RESULT IN ESTONIAN CENTRAL BANK ELECTION

Vello Vensel has unexpectedly won the election for new governor of the Bank of Estonia,. The council of the central bank backed Vensel, a professor of statistics at the Tallinn Technical University, instead of the incumbent, Vahur Kraft, ETA reported on 30 March. The vote for the nine council members, which includes Kraft, was secret. Kraft has been criticized for his handling of several bank failures during his tenure. The president still has to approve Ventsel's appointment. Ventsel, meanwhile, hinted to "Postimees" that the bank's policies will remain much the same under his leadership. MH

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL NOMINEE

Lawmakers on 30 March rejected the nomination of Ilgars Zigfrids Septeris for the post of prosecutor-general. Only 44 deputies voted for Septeris, short of the majority needed in the 100-member chamber, while 36 voted against and 15 abstained, BNS reported. As the term of outgoing Prosecutor- General Janis Skrastins ends on 3 April, Supreme Court Chairman Andris Gulans will have to appoint an acting prosecutor-general until someone is confirmed in that post. Some deputies questioned the impartiality of Septeris, citing an obscure case involving an agricultural company where his daughter worked as a lawyer. MH

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN LATVIA

Lord Robertson paid a visit to Latvia on 29-30 March to assess the Baltic country's progress toward NATO integration. He stressed that Latvia is a serious candidate for NATO membership and that the door remains open for all candidates. And he thanked Latvia for its participation in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans (see also Part I). Robertson also spoke at the opening meeting of the NGO Latvian Transatlantic Organization (LATO), which is headed by Latvian Institute director Ojars Kalnins and includes many prominent Latvians, such as the head of the Latvian Foreign Policy Institute, Atis Lejins, and Jewish community leader Grigory Krupnikov. MH

POLISH MINISTER URGES RUSSIA TO STOP SPYING

Janusz Palubicki, minister in charge of Poland's special services, said on 30 March that Warsaw will take "further steps" if Russia does not stop its "intensive spying activity" in Poland, PAP reported. "We want to abolish spying and are not interested in worsening relations with anybody, including Russia," Palubicki added. He recalled that Poland caught three Russian spies in 1999 and expelled nine Russian diplomats over spying charges this year, but Russia "has not drawn conclusions" from these moves. Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said the same day that he is unaware of any Russian spies currently in Poland, adding that in his opinion "the case [of Russian spying] is closed." JM

POLAND INVITED TO JOIN EUROPOL

Europol director Juergen Storbeck said on 30 March that Warsaw has been invited to join Europol, the EU's law enforcement cooperation body, to strengthen combating crime before Poland joins the EU, Reuters reported. Storbeck added that negotiations on Poland's membership in Europol will begin in April and are expected to last "several months." JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT NOT TO TAX SLAVE LABOR COMPENSATION

Premier Jerzy Buzek on 30 March said compensation for Polish slave laborers during the Nazi era will not be subject to income tax, PAP reported. It is expected that more than 400,000 Poles will receive a total of 1.9 billion German marks ($950 million) from the compensation fund formed by the German government and industries. JM

CZECH HOLOCAUST COMPENSATION COMMISSION APPROVES RULES

The Czech Republic's government commission for the compensation of Holocaust victims has approved rules for distributing 300 million crowns (almost $8 million) among Holocaust survivors, Czech media reported. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, who chairs the commission, said the recipients of the money will include Holocaust survivors or their relatives who are no longer Czech citizens. It will also compensate people for confiscated property that the Czech Republic is incapable of returning at present. VG

KLAUS SAYS CZECH-SLOVAK CUSTOMS UNION SHOULD REMAIN IN PLACE

Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus told visiting Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hamzik on 30 March that he will insist on preserving the Czech-Slovak customs union even if the Czech Republic joins the EU before Slovakia, CTK reported. During his stay in Prague, Hamzik said he hopes Slovakia can join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year and become a NATO member in 2001. He praised the Czech Republic's diplomatic efforts but added that not all NATO's new members have met Slovakia's expectations. VG

FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK COMMUNIST OFFICIAL ACCUSED OF TREASON

The Bratislava Prosecutor's Office has brought a lawsuit against former Czechoslovak Communist functionary Vasil Bilak on charges of treason and a handful of other crimes, Radio Twist reported on 30 March. Bilak, 82, is suspected of treason in connection with the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Bilak says he is unable to understand the charges. "I cannot imagine which homeland I betrayed. The socialist homeland? Did I defend socialism insufficiently?" he was quoted as saying. VG

SLOVAK PRESIDENT REJECTS MECIAR'S REFUSAL TO TESTIFY

Rudolf Schuster on 30 March said he sees no reason for Movement for a Democratic Slovakia leader Vladimir Meciar's refusal to testify as a witness in a police investigation of the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000), TASR reported. Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky noted that while Meciar has a right to refuse to testify "for specific legal reasons," he has an obligation to meet with investigators if summoned. Police say they have summoned Meciar several times to no avail. Meanwhile, Meciar is reported to be currently staying in the Elektra Inn in Trencianske Teplice with several HZDS parliamentary deputies. HZDS deputy Dusan Jariabek said the deputies are there to "monitor" any police attempts to bring Meciar in for questioning. VG

HUNGARIAN, ROMANIAN RADIO STATIONS TO COOPERATE

The presidents of Hungarian Radio and Romanian Radio signed a three-year cooperation agreement in Bucharest on 30 March, MTI reported. Under the agreement, the two stations will exchange political, economic, and social reports as well as cultural programs. The agreement also guarantees conditions for "minority broadcasts." VG




U.S. TROOPS, TANKS TO DETER BALKAN 'MISCHIEF'

Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon said in Washington on 30 March that some 125 special reconnaissance soldiers will soon be stationed on the border between Kosova and Serbia as the "eyes and ears" of NATO. Those men and women will investigate on foot any reports of violations of the demilitarized Ground Safety Zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). He added that the U.S. will also send another 14 tanks and six artillery pieces to Macedonia to deter "any mischief that might take place along the borders" of that country, Reuters reported. Elsewhere, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman James Foley said that Washington's "antennae are up" regarding possible activity by militant Albanians in the Presevo Valley area. Meanwhile in Prishtina, a KFOR spokesman said that experts are evaluating photographic evidence of a reported recent Serbian incursion in to the demilitarized zone. On 30 March, General Vladimir Lazarevic, who commands the Yugoslav Third Army, visited the Presevo region, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ROBERTSON WARNS OF FAILURE IN KOSOVA

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Stockholm on 31 March that the Atlantic alliance's mission in Kosova may fail unless member states provide more money and other resources. "I think it is quite possible that we will fail and therefore that the whole world will fail. It is for the international community to make the decision as to whether we want it to succeed and whether they are willing to back up fine words with financial resources," Reuters quoted Robertson as saying. He stressed that "we are on a razor's edge between success and failure. We are rebuilding a multi-ethnic democracy in [Kosova]. It's not going to be an easy job," Robertson added. PM

SERBIAN OFFICIALS FLOUTING EU VISA BAN?

Four Yugoslav legislators banned by the EU from receiving visas have arrived in Marseilles for a conference on security and cooperation in the Mediterranean region, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 31 March. The four are led by Srdja Bozovic, who is speaker of the upper house of parliament. Also present is Ivica Dacic, who heads Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party organization in Belgrade and until recently was Milosevic's press spokesman. Jela Veselic and Vladimir Stambuk represent the United Yugoslav Left (JUL), which is led by Milosevic's wife and is the political home of mainly elderly, old-style Communists. JUL's Zivko Sokolavacki flouted the visa ban in October 1999 to travel to a conference in Berlin. PM

BELGRADE REGIME BEGINS LEGAL PROSECUTION OF OPPOSITION LEADERS

A Belgrade court held its first hearings on 30 March in the trials of several opposition leaders for allegedly slandering prominent regime politicians during opposition rallies in late 1999. Social Democratic leader Vuk Obradovic, who was the first of the leaders to be summoned by the court, called the trials a "political farce," "Danas" reported. Vladan Batic of the Alliance for Change said that the trials are part of a wider campaign of repression, Reuters reported. A lawyer for the Democratic Party's Zoran Djindjic added that the trials recall the communist practice of giving jail sentences to critics. Among the other prominent opposition leaders facing trial are Milan Protic and Goran Svilanovic. If found guilty, each of the opposition politicians faces up to three years in prison. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION: NO BALKAN STABILITY WITHOUT SERBIA

Representatives of several Serbian opposition parties discussed the democratization of Serbia and their country's integration into European structures with EU and U.S. officials in Brussels, "Vesti" reported on 31 March. The Serbian politicians stressed that there can be no stability in the Balkans without a democratic Serbia firmly linked to its neighbors. The talks took place at the donors' conference for the EU's Balkan Stability Pact (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2000). PM

DONORS TELL BALKAN COUNTRIES TO PROMOTE REFORM

World Bank President James Wolfensohn and several other speakers told the Brussels gathering that donors will shun southeastern Europe unless the governments in that region learn to work together rather than compete with each one another for foreign help, "Die Presse" reported on 31 March. The conference nonetheless produced pledges of $1.75 billion for some 300 projects due to be launched in the immediate future. Among the first are expanding the Macedonian border crossing at Blace and constructing a new Danube bridge linking Bulgaria and Romania. Pact coordinator Bodo Hombach said that he will meet every three weeks with European Commissioner Chris Patten and Javier Solana to review progress on each of the many projects. Hombach stressed that these meetings are the response of "those who think in political terms to the foot-dragging of the bureaucracy," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. PM

MESIC HAILS 'IDYLLIC' RELATIONS WITH CROATIAN GOVERNMENT

President Stipe Mesic said that his relations with Prime Minister Ivica Racan and the government are "idyllic," "Jutarnji list" reported on 31 March. He made the remarks after a working "lunch of reconciliation" with Racan and parliamentary speaker Zlatko Tomcic. None of the participants provided any details of the meeting, except to say that Mesic and Racan agreed to merge their respective commissions that are examining reducing presidential powers. Strains in relations between Mesic and the government became public recently, threatening to split the governing coalition of one large and one smaller coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). PM

ISTRIAN MINISTER APOLOGIZES TO GOVERNMENT

Ivan Jakovcic, who heads the Istrian Democratic League and is Croatia's minister for relations with the EU, apologized for his recent remarks against the government, "Jutarnji list" reported on 31 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2000). He acknowledged that his call for Istrian autonomy if the government does not bail out the failed Istarska Banka was "perhaps too strong." He added that he does not want to provoke an "unnecessary crisis." The government set up a commission on 30 March to look into Istarska's problems. PM

KLEIN WARNS AGAINST BOSNIAN ELECTION OPTIMISM

The UN's chief envoy Jacques Klein said in Sarajevo on 30 March that nationalist parties are likely to win the majority of votes in the Bosnian local elections scheduled for April, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Klein stressed that four years after the end of the war is still "too soon" to expect any dramatic political changes in Bosnia, comparable to those that took place in Croatia in January and February. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION INVITES 'MISINFORMED' U.S. CONGRESSMEN

The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) said on 30 March that it will invite U.S. Congressmen Christopher Smith and Frank Wolf to visit Romania and "see for themselves" the "true state of mind of the population" and "Romanian realities." The PDSR said those "realities" are known to Smith and Wolf only from "statements by individuals who represent President Emil Constantinescu," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The two congressmen recently warned of the possible consequences if the PDSR and former President Ion Iliescu returned to power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000). MS

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS DENY PARTY CONFLICT

National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Mircea Ionescu-Quintus said on 30 March that media reports of a struggle for power within the PNL are "absurd" (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 24 March 2000). Ionescu-Quintus said he will stick by his decision not to seek another mandate as PNL chairman in 2001, noting that he considers Valeriu Stoica, PNL first deputy chairman, as the most suitable person to be his heir. He added, however, that he has "no right" to personally decide on the matter and that the decision must be taken by the PNL congress. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES LOCAL ELECTION CALENDAR

The cabinet decided on 30 March that local elections will be held on 3 June, with runoffs scheduled for 17 June. There will be no additional rounds in localities where less than 50 percent of the electorate vote. MS

ROMANIA APPROVES CHILD PROTECTION PROGRAMS

The Romanian cabinet on 30 March approved a package of programs designed to improve child protection services and orphanages in the country, Reuters reported. The EU has specifically called on Romania to take steps to improve child protection institutions. VG

MOLDOVAN PREMIER SAYS IMF DEADLINE COULD BE EXTENDED

Dumitru Braghis said on 30 March that the IMF's deadline of 31 March for the parliament to pass the 2000 budget and approve the privatization of the wine and tobacco industries could be extended for "five to seven days, not more," BASA-Press reported. The passage of those bills within the deadline is an IMF condition for resuming credits to Moldova. Braghis added that his cabinet will negotiate an extension only if it is sure that the parliament will pass the bills. He said current budget revenues indicate that the government will be able to get by next month without foreign assistance. VG

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT GIVES INITIAL APPROVAL TO LAW ON COMMUNIST REGIME

The Bulgarian National Assembly on 30 March passed in the first reading a bill that declares the former communist regime, which held sway from 9 September 1944 to 1989, as unlawful, BTA reported. The bill was passed by a vote of 137 to 60 with two abstentions. After the debate and the vote, which was broadcast live on Bulgarian television, deputies from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) staged a walkout. The bill enumerates the crimes of the former regime, declares both the regime and the Communist Party unlawful and culpable, and lifts the statute of limitations on crimes committed by the regime. The bill was supported by deputies from Union of Democratic Forces, the People's Union, and the Alliance of National Salvation, while legislators from the BSP and one member of Euro-Left voted against it. VG




COUNCIL OF EUROPE TO DEBATE UKRAINE'S SUSPENSION


By Askold Krushelnycky

Ukraine will learn next week whether the Council of Europe will start moves to suspend its membership. The council's Parliamentary Assembly will debate and vote on the issue on 4 April.

The Council of Europe is responding to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's recent decision to press ahead with plans for a referendum on constitutional changes that Parliamentary Assembly members have strongly criticized. The referendum has been modified since the council expressed its disapproval, but it has not been canceled.

In January, Kuchma said that he wanted to hold a referendum on 16 April to seek popular approval for extending his powers and remodeling the parliament to introduce a second chamber. He said the changes are needed to press ahead with economic reforms that have often been blocked by a bitterly divided, single-chamber legislature.

A month later, two members of the council's Parliamentary Assembly visited Ukraine to examine the proposed referendum. They found that there was no basis for it in Ukrainian law and that it encroached on the existing parliament's powers. They also said the move would be bad for Ukrainian democracy.

The two council members publicly warned that Ukraine might be suspended from the council if the referendum went ahead. In response, Kuchma said he would allow Ukraine's Constitutional Court to decide whether the referendum could be held.

Earlier this week, that court excluded two out of the six questions Kuchma had wanted to ask in the referendum but allowed the other four to go forward. On 30 March, Kuchma agreed to the changes and his spokesman said the referendum would be held.

Danish parliamentary deputy Hanne Severinsen, one of the two assembly members who visited Ukraine, told RFE/RL that on 31 March, a Council of Europe advisory body of constitutional experts--known as the Venice Commission--will examine the Ukrainian court's decision. She said she believes the referendum still violates council principles and doubts she will alter her draft proposal to suspend Ukraine, whatever the Venice Commission advises.

"The draft resolution, which has already been [drafted], will still be our suggestion to the [assembly's] monitoring committee," Severinsen commented. And that also means the suggestion to the Parliamentary Assembly [on 4 April]--that if this binding referendum is carried through, we ask the [council's] Committee of Ministers to start preparations for suspension."

The Committee of Ministers is the organization's chief executive body and as such is empowered to suspend a member on the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly. In its 51-year history, the Council of Europe has never suspended a member-state, although Greece was severely criticized for human-rights abuses by its military regime in the 1970s and voluntarily ceased participation in council organs.

A few years ago, however, the Parliamentary Assembly came close to recommending Ukraine's suspension because that country had not fulfilled its commitment to end capital punishment. Kyiv has since outlawed the death penalty.

Assembly member Severinsen told RFE/RL that Ukraine might be able to avoid suspension if the referendum results are merely advisory, rather than binding. But a spokesman for the Constitutional Court, Pavlo Yehrafov, said on 29 March that the referendum is binding. "Government bodies will be obliged to take [those results] into account and adopt the appropriate measures about those questions addressed in the referendum," he commented.

The two referendum questions rejected by the Constitutional Court dealt with granting the president the right to dismiss the parliament if a majority of respondents expressed no confidence and allowing the results of referendums to alter the constitution.

The four remaining questions include one on permitting the president to dissolve the parliament if it cannot form a working majority within one month. The other three deal with reducing the size of the parliament, creating a second parliamentary chamber, and reducing deputies' immunity from prosecution.

The referendum is opposed by parliamentary deputies across Ukraine's political spectrum. The leader of the center-right Rukh party, Yury Kostenko, said it would be seen by other countries as a threat to Ukraine's democratic development and will cause domestic problems as well.

Serhiy Holovaty, a member of Ukraine's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, strongly opposes the referendum. He praised the Constitutional Court decision because, he said, it barred the two questions that most threatened democratic practices:

"The possibility of introducing a new constitution in Ukraine by using this referendum has been eliminated," he noted. "That's a blow against those forces that wanted to put Ukraine on the same track as [Belarusian President Aleksandr] Lukashenka. Because of this decision, Ukraine will not go down the Belarusian path. Through its decision, the Constitutional Court has supported parliament as an institution."

A recent opinion survey conducted for Ukraine's Institute of Politics found that less than 50 percent of Ukrainians surveyed plan to vote in the referendum. If less than half the electorate does not cast a ballot, the referendum will be declared invalid. The author is an RFE/RL senior corespondent based in Prague.


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