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Newsline - April 3, 2000




PUTIN PRESSES FOR START-2 RATIFICATION

Speaking in the city of Snezhinsk (formerly Chelyabinsk-70) on 31 March, President-elect Vladimir Putin announced that he has ordered the Foreign and Defense Ministries to step up consultations with the parliament on ratifying the START-2 treaty. "We are setting the task of freeing the world from piles of excessive weapons," AP quoted him as saying. At the same time, Putin noted that Russia must strengthen its nuclear weapons complex and make it more safe and effective, but he added that Moscow is not planning to "build up" that complex. With regard to the conversion of the nuclear industry to civilian production, Putin commented that "thoughtless restructuring and layoffs" should be avoided. JC

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Mary Robinson travelled on 1 April to Ingushetia, where she visited two camps for displaced persons from Chechnya and held talks with Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev. The following day, Robinson visited Grozny, inspecting a hospital and jail and speaking with city residents. But she did not visit the notorious detention camp at Chernokozovo, and her spokesman, Jose Diaz, told Reuters that Russian authorities had refused her access to several Chechen villages on the grounds that hostilities were under way. Robinson said she is aware of "unacceptable violence and human rights violations" by Chechen fighters, but at the same time called on the Russian authorities to make "a credible response" to reports of widespread war crimes and atrocities committed by Russian troops. On 31 March, the OSCE had similarly issued a statement urging Russia to prosecute soldiers responsible for human rights violations in Chechnya, Reuters reported. LF

MISSING INTERIOR MINISTRY TROPS FOUND KILLED

The bodies of 32 Interior Ministry servicemen reported missing in action after an ambush by Chechen fighters on 29 March in Zhani- Vedeno have been found, Interfax reported on 2 April. Speaking in Dushanbe the same day, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev called for an investigation into the incident, which he blamed on inefficiency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2000). Meanwhile, pathologists in Mozdok have not yet determined whether a body recovered in the south Chechen village of Itum-kale is that of Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun, who was abducted from Grozny airport 13 months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). As recently as 20 March, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo told Interfax that reports indicated that Shpigun was still alive. LF

TWO MORE CHECHEN COMMANDERS APPREHENDED

North Caucasus police detained Chechen field comander Idris Matsalgov in Shatoi on the night of 30-31 March, Interfax reported. Matsalgov, who served in the Interior Ministry under President Djokhar Dudaev, is currently under interrogation. On 31 March, Russian security officials also captured Brigadier General Movladi Khamzatov at a roadblock in the village of Goity, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking in Moscow on 31 March, First Deputy Chief Of Army General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov claimed that Russian forces now control the whole of Chechen territory, according to Interfax. LF

RUBLE SAGS

The ruble's exchange rate vis-a-vis the dollar fell 33 kopeks on 31 March, and the previous day it dropped by 19 kopeks. According to "Segodnya" on 1 April, traders believe that the fall is linked not to the decline in world oil prices but to the Central Bank's failure to intervene to support the ruble in the currency market. The daily cites Andrei Dronov, an economist at BIN-Bank, as saying the bank wants the ruble to fall in order to support domestic producers and exporters. On 31 March, Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Motorin told reporters that "the slide in the ruble rate is normal. It supports exporters." JAC

BANKER/OLIGARCH CALLS ON PUTIN TO BECOME PINOCHET

In an interview with the British newspaper "The Guardian" on 31 March, Alfa Group head Petr Aven proposed that President- elect Putin resort to dictatorial controls in order to push through economic reform. "The only way ahead is for fast liberal reforms, building public support for that path but also using totalitarian force to achieve that," Aven said. "I'm a supporter of Pinochet, not as a person but as a politician who produced results for his country.... He supported his team of economists for ten years." Aven added that Putin should "use force to suppress" Russia's regional leaders since they are certain to defend their fiefdoms ruthlessly. In late February, "Novaya gazeta" published an extensive article detailing how the Alfa Group has systematically infiltrated the Kremlin, the State Duma, and regional administrations by placing key personnel in these structures and providing "financing" when needed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000). JAC

PUTIN COMMENTS ON POSSIBILITY OF COALITION GOVERNMENT...

President-elect Putin told reporters on 1 April that a government formed on the coalition principle "is hardly likely in the classical meaning [of this term]" but "it is not out of the question that representatives of different political circles will become members of the government." He continued, "There is only one criterion: professionalism." Putin also said that the main principles on which the government will be based are "strengthening of the state and continuation of market reforms." JAC

...SAYS WEST MISUNDERSTANDS HIM

According to Interfax, Putin also said on 1 April that the West has misinterpreted his previous statements about building a strong state in Russia to mean that an increasing role will be played by law enforcement agencies and security services. Instead, he said, he means "an effective state capable of guaranteeing the rules of the game translated into laws for everyone." JAC

IRAN WANTS THREE MORE NUCLEAR REACTORS FROM RUSSIA

According to Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, who accompanied Putin to Snezhinsk, Iran is preparing to place orders with Russia for another three nuclear reactors for its Bushehr power plant, Interfax reported on 31 March. Russia's involvement in the construction of that plant has repeatedly raised concerns in the West that Russia is helping Iran develop nuclear weapons technology. Moscow has denied this is the case. Adamov also announced that a contract to supply India with five reactors is expected to be closed at the start of 2001. JC

DUMA URGES PUTIN TO PUSH FOR LIFTING OF SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ

The State Duma on 31 March voted by 259 to 75 in favor of a non-binding resolution asking President-elect Putin to "step up efforts aimed lifting all economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on Iraq," Interfax reported. The resolution, which was initiated by Duma deputy speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, notes that the sanctions have led to a "very significant" drop in living standards in Iraq and have done "a lot of harm" to Russia's economic interests. Among the resolution's most prominent supporters was former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. JC

NOVAYA ZEMLYA TO BECOME OFFSHORE ZONE?

Defense Minister Sergeev revealed in Snezhinsk on 31 March that government plans for the nuclear industry include the possibility of turning the nuclear testing region of Novaya Zemlya into a closed administrative-territorial establishment (ZATO), Interfax reported. "Segodnya" the next day quoted State Duma deputy (Communist) Ivan Nikitchuk, who visited Novaya Zemlya in 1998, as questioning the feasibility of such a plan, which, he notes, would require "a great deal of money." According to Nikitchuk, there is no infrastructure on the archipelago, and only a few of the deserted barracks remain habitable. Last month, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok called for considering the abolition of offshore zones, if not worldwide at least within Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). JC

RUSSIA APPEALS FOR MORE AID TO DESTROY CHEMICAL WEAPONS STOCKPILE

Within the framework of a conference organized by the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Lieutenant General Valerii Kapachin, the head of Russia's chemical weapons destruction program, estimated that $6 billion are required to destroy Russia's weapons stockpiles and production facilities, AP and Reuters reported on 31 March. Kapachin admitted that Russia has so far destroyed none of these weapons because its lacks the financial resources to proceed with its program and because promises of aid from the West are insufficient. AP quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry official as saying that Canada and Norway recently joined seven other donor countries in pledging assistance to Russia in disposing of its chemical weapons arsenal. JC

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT GIVES GREEN LIGHT FOR OIL COMPANY LOAN

The U.S. State Department is withdrawing its objections to the Export-Import Bank's provision of loan guarantees for the Tyumen oil company, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported on 1 April. Last December, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had objected to the bank's guaranteeing $480 million worth of loans because Western oil companies had complained that they were cheated by the Tyumen company. State Department spokesman James Foley said the department has conducted an extensive review of the case and now believes that Tyumen is properly addressing the needs of its creditors. JAC

G-7 WANTS RUSSIA TO GET LESS MONEY

"Financial Times Deutschland" reported on 3 April that finance ministers from the G-7 industrial countries want to reduce the amount of money lent to Russia because of evidence that such monies have been misused, according to Reuters. The daily reported that these ministers decided to consider a tighter credit policy toward Russia at a meeting last January and that the policy may get a final okay at upcoming talks in Washington. Meanwhile, Paris Club members did not object to moving the deadline for Russia's reaching a bilateral debt restructuring deal with the 18 members of the club from 31 March to 30 June, an unidentified source at the Russian Finance Ministry told Interfax on 31 March. According to the source, Russia has reached agreement on servicing its debt with Austria and Spain and hopes to reach similar deals with Australia, France, and Switzerland soon. JAC

LYSENKO RESIGNS

Anatolii Lysenko has resigned his position as chairman of the Moscow city government's media committee, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 April. Lysenko was also a member of the board of directors of Moscow's TV-Tsentr. According to the newspaper, Lysenko, who has spent much of his recent career in television, wants to devote himself to the "rebirth of book distribution in Russia." JAC

FSB LOSES APPEAL IN SOIFER CASE

A court in Primorskii Krai ruled on 3 April that the seizure of materials and documents from the apartment of noted scientist Vladimir Soifer by Federal Security Service (FSB) officers last year was illegal, Interfax-Eurasia reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999). In response to an appeal lodged by the FSB, the krai level court upheld the decision of a lower court in Vladivostok that had called the seizure illegal back in February 2000. The FSB has accused Soifer of misusing classified documents in his research on the ecological effects of a nuclear submarine accident in 1985. According to Interfax-Eurasia, no criminal proceedings have so far been launched against Soifer. JAC

APRIL OPENS WITH THIEVING FALCONS, SPYING TOILETS

Russia media reported a number of unusual developments on April Fool's Day. "The Moscow Times" wrote about a crime ring in Moscow that had trained falcons to snatch expensive fur hats off unsuspecting victims. The story quoted two victims, Irina Vorobeva and Vika Lastochkina ("vorobei" and "lastochka" mean "sparrow" and "swallow" in Russian, respectively), and one police officer, Vyacheslav Popugayev ("popugai" means parrot) as saying that Moscow city security forces were responding by launching "Operation Big Bird" on 1 April. The same day, NTV reported that a seaside resort in Belgium has developed a new kind of automatic toilet that examines users' urine, providing a complete health assessment, according to Reuters. However, the television station continued, Russian diplomats are reportedly worried that the new device is part of a radar network launched by NATO, whose headquarters are in Brussels. JAC




ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER AGAIN CALLS FOR NEW ELECTIONS

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 30 March, National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian again advocated pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections, Armenpress and Noyan Tapan reported. He had called on President Robert Kocharian to resign in mid-January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2000). Manukian argued that Armenia is "on the verge of disaster" as a result of the "process of destruction" embarked upon by individuals "of a low intellectual level" long before the 27 October parliament shootings. Manukian also repeated his doubts that Samvel Babayan, the former defense minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was involved in the 22 March attempt to assassinate the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian (see also "End Note" below). LF

ARMENIA, RUSSIA CONCLUDE WAR-GAMES

Some 2,000 Armenian and Russian troops on 31 March wrapped up four days of military maneuvers at a training ground west of Yerevan, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2000). The commander of the Russian Group of Forces in the Transcaucasus, Lieutenant General Vladimir Andreev, who directed the maneuvers, denied that the exercise was connected with or aimed to duplicate Russia's ongoing military campaign in Chechnya. But Armenian General Mikael Harutiunian said the Armenian armed forces are looking into elements of Russia's tactics against veteran Chechen fighters in mountainous terrain in order to improve their performance in mountainous or wooded areas. LF

ARMENIAN POW RELEASED

An Armenian serviceman who had been held prisoner in Azerbaijan for five months was released on 31 March in what an Armenian Security Ministry official termed "a goodwill gesture" on the part of Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Armenia still holds 10 Azerbaijani prisoners. LF

RUSSIAN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Russian Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu held talks with President Aliyev in Baku on 31 March, focusing on responses to natural disasters and on measures to prevent landslides such as the one that caused major damage in Baku on 6 March, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2000). Aliyev assured Shoigu of his country's continued support for Russia's military action in Chechnya and called for greater Russian input in resolving conflicts on the territory of CIS member states. He said resolving such conflicts is a prerequisite for greater regional cooperation between Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. LF

GEORGIA EXTRACTS FIRST OIL

A U.S.-Georgian joint venture that began drilling its first well at Taribana in eastern Georgia four months ago extracted its first oil on 1 April in the presence of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. According to the news agency, Shevardnadze, having sampled the oil, said the taste is reminiscent of Georgian red wine. Taribana's reserves are estimated at 1 million tons. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION CONVENES ANTI-ELECTION DEMO

Some 350-400 supporters of deceased Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia attended a demonstration in Tbilisi on his birthday, 31 March, AP reported. Participants called on the Georgian electorate to boycott the 9 April presidential election. Also on 31 March, a 49-year-old woman set fire to herself near the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi to protest the authorities' refusal to amnesty political prisoners, Caucasus Press reported. The previous day, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights wrote to President Shevardnadze to draw his attention to the condition of four prisoners who have declared a hunger strike to demand such an amnesty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2000). The letter noted that when Georgia joined the Council of Europe one year ago, it undertook to review the cases of some 100 imprisoned Gamsakhurdia supporters but has not yet begun to do so. LF

KAZAKHS STAGE PROTEST ON BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN...

Some 200 residents of the Sary-Aghdash district of South Kazakhstan Oblast gathered on the border with Uzbekistan on 31 March to protest the planned construction of additional customs points on the Uzbek side of the border, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. Local officials from the two countries agreed to postpone the beginning of construction work. Speaking in Astana on 1 April, Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov denied that any tensions exist along unpopulated stretches of the border that are currently being demarcated, but he admitted that demarcation is proving more problematic in populated areas, ITAR-TASS reported. Idrisov said that the Kazakh authorities have reached agreement with their Uzbek counterparts that no unilateral actions wll be taken on the border until the demarcation is complete. LF

IS KAZAKHSTAN PLANNING TERRITORIAL-ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM?

RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent quoted "unofficial sources" on 3 April as saying that the Kazakh leadership is considering abolishing the 14 oblasts into which the country is currently divided and creating in their place five larger regions. The five would be Western Kazakhstan, comprising the present Atyrau, Oral, Mangystau, and Aqtobe Oblasts; South Kazakhstan, comprising Qyzyl-Orda, Zhambyl, and South Kazakhstan Oblasts and some districts of Almaty and the former Taldy-Qorghan Oblast; Eastern Kazakhstan, comprising the rest of Taldy-Qorghan as well as the former Semey and Eastern Kazakhstan and Pavlodar Oblasts; Northern Kazakhstan, comprising the present North Kazakhstan, Qostanay, and Kokshetau Oblasts; and Central Kazakhstan, comprising Aqmola, Qaraghandy, Zhezkazghan, and Torghay Oblasts. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY TO 'GO UNDERGROUND'

Some 150 delegates to a 2 April emergency congress of the opposition Ar-Namys party voted to go underground in response to ongoing persecution by the Kyrgyz authorities, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The delegates also appealed to the international community to exert pressure on the Kyrgyz leadership to give detained Ar-Namys chairman Feliks Kulov and the head of Kulov's election campaign team, Emil Aliev, the official status of political prisoners. Meanwhile, several hundred people continued their picket in central Bishkek to demand Kulov's release and the annulment of the parliamentary election results in the constituency where he lost the 12 March runoff vote. LF

COURT IMPOSES NEW PENALTIES ON KYRGYZ OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER

A Bishkek district court on 31 March imposed a 40,000 som (about $850) fine on the opposition weekly "Res Publica" for libel, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The newspaper's chief editor and a journalist were fined 5,000 soms each. The newspaper has suspended publication as it has still not paid a fine imposed by a previous court ruling for slandering the chairman of the National Radio and Television Corporation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2000). LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CALL FOR COOPERATION TO FIGHT TERRORISM

Imomali Rakhmonov and Igor Sergeev on 2 April appealed to Russia and the CIS states, specifically the states of Central Asia, to cooperate in the battle against international terrorism, Russian agencies reported. The two men were speaking on the final day of the first stage of military exercises in Tajikistan, in which some 13,000 troops from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan took part. Belarus and Armenia have sent observers. With the aid of 40 tanks and armored vehicles, those troops were called upon to simulate the elimination of a terrorist group that had crossed into the territory of one of the Central Asian states. The second stage of the maneuvers begins in Uzbekistan on 3 April. LF

TURKMENISTAN, UZBEKISTAN PREPARE TO DEMARCATE COMMON BORDER

The presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Saparmurat Niyazov and Islam Karimov, agreed during a telephone conversation on 31 March to draft an agreement on demarcating the border between their two countries, Russian agencies reported. The agreement will also focus on the shared use of waters from the Amu-Darya River, which forms part of that frontier. LF

UZBEKISTAN INTERCEPTS RADIO-ACTIVE MATERIALS ON BORDER WITH KAZAKHSTAN

Uzbek customs officials on 31 March confiscated 10 lead containers with radio-active material from an Iranian-registered truck at the Kazakh-Uzbek border, Russian agencies reported on 2 April. The truck was headed for Pakistan, and its driver had documentation claiming that his cargo consisted of stainless steel scrap. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MARKS 'UNIFICATION DAY' WITH MEMORIAL SERVICE

Some 500 people marked the anniversary of the 2 April 1997 pact on the creation of a Belarusian-Russian union state with a memorial service for those who fought for Belarus's independence in the past, Belapan reported. The service took place at the monument in Minsk to Belarusian poet Yanka Kupala. The police did not intervene even though the meeting was not authorized. The anniversary is an official holiday in Belarus called "Unification Day of the Peoples of Belarus and Russia." JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS 25 MARCH CRACKDOWN WAS 'MISTAKE'

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said that the 25 March police action in Minsk, which led to the arrest of several hundred people, including some 40 journalists, was a "misunderstanding and mistake" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000). Lukashenka pledged to journalists to "sort out" the circumstances surrounding the incident and "draw conclusions," Belarusian Television reported on 31 March. On 25 March, Lukashenka was on an official trip to the United Arab Emirates. Interior Minister Yury Sivakou told Belarusian Television after the 25 March arrests that Lukashenka had instructed him "to ensure order and security during his absence," adding that the ministry "complied with this instruction." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECREES AMNESTY FOR UNTAXED CAPITAL

Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree whereby untaxed capital of individuals is to be legalized by submitting a revenues declaration to the State Tax Inspectorate without indicating the source of those revenues, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 3 April. The decree intends to boost investments in the Ukrainian economy, improve tax revenues, and stop the outflow of capital from the country. Kuchma also ordered the cabinet to draft a law that would ban officials from seeking information about the declared capital's origin and include a promise that the "earnings legalized under this law would not be confiscated in the future," AP reported. JM

EU COMMISSIONER SEES ESTONIA IN 'FIRST ROUND' OF NEW MEMBERS

During a visit to Tallinn on 31 March, European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said he sees no reason for Estonia not being in the first wave of EU enlargement. He added that key decisions on the timetable for enlargement will be made later this year, BNS reported. Verheugen told journalists that the Baltic countries constitute "economically a very dynamic region, with thriving economic growth, strong potential," but he added that "investment possibilities have not been used 100 percent," according to ETA. He also touched upon the possibility of one Baltic country joining before the others: "It is extremely advisable for geographic and political regions to stay together but it is not obligatory." MH

INVESTIGATOR CLEARS LATVIAN PROSECUTOR

Supreme Court justice Voldemars Cizevskis, who was charged with investigating the conduct of outgoing Prosecutor-General Janis Skrastins, has cleared the official of any wrongdoing, LETA reported on 31 March. Cizevskis said Skrastins has neither violated the law nor been negligent in carrying out his duties, a charge brought by members of the parliament. A total of 57 parliamentary deputies signed a petition asking the Supreme Court to investigate Skrastins (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 7 February 2000). Skrastins had resigned in early January, citing the debate over new legislation on prosecutors politicizing his position. MH

TOTAL INVESTMENTS IN LATVIA NEAR $6 BILLION

The Statistics Department on 31 March announced that as of 1 January 2000, a total of 3.51 billion lats ($5.91 billion) had been invested in Latvia, BNS reported. As of that date, accrued total foreign direct investment in Latvia was 1.1 billion lats, or 453 lats per capita. Total foreign direct investment for 1999 reached 214 million. In all, 777 million lats have been invested from abroad in registered capital of Latvian- incorporated companies: Denmark tops the list at 107 million lats (14 percent), followed by the U.S. with 76 million lats (10 percent) and Germany with 65 million lats (8 percent). The largest investors in 1999 were Sweden (19 million lats), Estonia (15 million lats), and Finland and Germany (9 million lats each). MH

CZECH PREMIER OFFERS SUPPORT TO LITHUANIA

Milos Zeman stressed his country's support for Lithuania's NATO and EU aspirations during his visit to Vilnius on 31 March. Zeman, in a meeting with his counterpart, Andrius Kubilius, expressed the desire for closer cooperation in economic, political and military spheres, ELTA reported. Several bilateral agreements were signed during his visit. Zeman also offered assistance on agricultural reform, saying that in the Czech Republic the number of people working in agriculture has dropped from 15 percent to 4 percent, although the transition was "painful." MH

POLISH COURT ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER

The regional court in Lodz, central Poland, has issued a warrant for the arrest of Andrzej Lepper, leader of the radical farmers' trade union Self-Defense, after he failed to appear in the court for a second time on charges of slander, Polish media reported on 1 April. Prosecutors filed charges following statements by Lepper last June referring to the government as an "anti-Polish, inhuman regime" and to a deputy prime minister as a "bandit." Lepper, who is currently in India, told a radio station on 1 April that he is innocent and not afraid to return to Poland. If found guilty, he could face a two-year prison sentence for slandering state bodies. JM

POLISH MINISTER DENIES HE URGED RUSSIA TO STOP SPYING

Janusz Palubicki, Poland's minister in charge of special services, denied on 31 March that he threatened "further steps" if Russia does not stop spying activities in Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2000), PAP reported. Palubicki said journalists misinterpreted his words. Palubicki's denial followed Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek's statement that he is unaware of any Russian spying in Poland and President Aleksander Kwasniewski's demand that Premier Jerzy Buzek provide explanations for Palubicki's statements. JM

POLISH EUROSKEPTIC ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID

Jan Lopuszanski, leader of the right-wing nationalist "Polish Agreement" parliamentary group, has said he will run in this year's presidential elections, Polish media reported on 31 March. Lopuszanski said he had opposed Poland's joining NATO and will now oppose Poland's EU bid. JM

CZECH INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS...

Vaclav Grulich told journalists on 31 March that he has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Zeman and President Vaclav Havel, effective 4 April. Grulich, who had long been tipped to be among the "victims" of the reshuffle agreed between his own Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Civic Democratic Party, said his enforced resignation was "politically motivated," CTK reported. Grulich is likely to be replaced by Stanislav Gross, leader of the CSSD parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said Havel has no objection to Gross replacing Grulich. Hinting at the recent dispute between Havel and members of the government over the alleged politicization of the police, Gross said on 31 March that if he takes over the ministry he will not let anyone "meddle" in his decisions on personnel matters. MS

...OUTLAWS EXTREMIST ORGANIZATION

Before submitting his resignation, Grulich announced he has banned the far-right National Alliance. He told Czech Radio he revoked the organization's legal registration owing to repeated violations of the law, Reuters and CTK reported. Vladimir Skoupy, leader of the alliance, was taken into police custody in February and charged with the propagation of fascism and displaying Nazi symbols. Alliance spokesman Zbynek Rais said that the group will challenge the decision in the Supreme Court. He added that the alliance has officially applied to be registered as a political party and expects the registration to be approved this week. At the same time, he said, it wants to preserve its status as a "civic association" because many of its members are under 18. Under Czech law, members of a party must be at least 18, while the minimum age for members of a civic association is 16. MS

U.S. PILOTS TRAINING IN SLOVAKIA

Twelve F-16 U.S. air force fighter planes landed on 1 April at the Slovak Kuchnya air force base, where they will carry out training flights until mid-April, CTK reported. The equipment used during training will remain at the base and will also be used by the Slovak air force, although no joints flights are planned. MS

CHARGES AGAINST TISO PLAQUE PROMOTERS DROPPED IN SLOVAKIA

A police investigator said on 31 March that charges have been dropped against Zilina's municipal councilors, who had decided to put up a memorial plaque honoring fascist war-time Slovak leader Josef Tiso (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000), CTK reported. The investigator said the town council has revoked that decision, and there is thus no reason to continue with criminal proceedings. MS

HUNGARIAN BY-ELECTIONS TO BE REPEATED IN TWO WEEKS

Two parliamentary by-elections will have to be repeated on 16 April. In Szekesfehervar on 2 April, only 28 percent of eligible voters turned out. The opposition Socialist Party candidate Albert Molnar garnered 40.8 percent of the vote, followed by Peter Miko, the joint candidate of the FIDESZ, the Independent Smallholders and the Christian Democratic Federation. The same day in Fehergyarmat, turnout was over 50 percent, but none of the candidates received more than half of the votes. FIDESZ-Smallholder candidate Janos Lengyel came first with 42 percent backing, followed by Socialist Istvan Nemes with 27 percent. MSZ




NATO TROOPS ARREST EX-BOSNIAN SERB CHIEF

SFOR troops arrested Momcilo Krajisnik in Pale on 3 April under a "sealed indictment" from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The former Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency is "the highest-ranking person" arrested and sent to The Hague so far, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Brussels. Krajisnik faces charges of "genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, including murder, willful killing, extermination, complicity in genocide, deportation, and inhumane acts," according to Robertson. He added that the arrest of the former top aide to Radovan Karadzic "is good news for justice and good news for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. To those individuals who remain at large I will repeat...the net is closing. It is time to give yourselves in." Robertson praised the "courage, professionalism, and dedication" of the troops who carried out the arrest. PM

KRAJISNIK'S FAMILY DESCRIBES ARREST

Krajisnik's son Milos (21) told AP on 3 April that an unspecified number of NATO troops "took my dad away. Some of them spoke Serbian, some English, but mostly French." He said he counted seven or eight soldiers before they bound him and his brother Njegos and turned their faces toward the floor. Krajisnik's father, Sretko, told reporters that the troops used unnecessary force when they destroyed the door to the Krajisnik home with explosives prior to making the arrest. "If they had knocked on the door, I would have opened it," the elderly man said. PM

CLARK SAYS NATO WATCHING MONTENEGRO

NATO's Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark said in Riga on 2 April that the Atlantic alliance is carefully monitoring possible moves by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to undermine the Montenegrin leadership under President Milo Djukanovic. "I can tell you that NATO remains concerned, we are very watchful. We have seen over the past...months long development of various capabilities that could be employed to threaten Mr. Djukanovic," Reuters reported. He did not elaborate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). Meanwhile in Podgorica, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said that three Yugoslav generals have been appointed as advisers to Djukanovic and the government as a means of improving communication between the Montenegrin authorities and the army, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MESIC WARNS OF IMPENDING BALKAN CONFLICT

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told the German weekly "Der Spiegel" of 3 April that "Milosevic is like a bicyclist who can keep going only as long as he moves in the direction of war." The possibility of a new war in the Balkans is great, and the West knows that a number of danger signals are already present. "Violence can erupt at any time," Mesic stressed. Montenegro and Macedonia are possible flashpoints, but Kosova and southwestern Serbia are more likely, the Croatian president continued. In any event, the West must let Milosevic know beyond any doubt that "if you attack Montenegro militarily, then your days are numbered." Montenegro needs international support to develop its democracy and a free economy. This, in turn, can serve as a model for Serbia. Mesic warned, however, that "it is a waste of time to wait for democracy to come to Serbia" at any time soon. PM

KOSOVA'S SERBS RETURN TO UN COUNCIL

Father Sava Janjic, who is a spokesman for the Serbian National Council (SNV), said in Gracanica on 2 April that SNV leaders have agreed to return to the UN's provisional advisory council for Kosova as observers. Sava stressed that the Serbs' return after a boycott of several months will be on a three-month trial basis to see what the council can achieve in promoting "security, housing, and the return of refugees," AP reported. If the results are not adequate after three months, it "will not be possible to continue our participation within the interim administration," Reuters added. Sava argued that "we are at the door. We need the door opened a bit." Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN civilian administration, said that the Serbs' decision was "courageous." He added that "now the real work can start on setting up the administration." Pro- Milosevic Serbs in Mitrovica called the Gracanica decision "catastrophic." The SNV opposes the Belgrade leadership. PM

TERRORIST ATTACK FOILED IN PRISHTINA?

NATO troops took "unprecedented" security measures around the alliance's headquarters and U.S. diplomatic offices in Prishtina on 2 April, Reuters reported. Alliance officials feared a guerrilla attack after raiding a nearby house that until recently was used by the Joint Relief Committee, a Saudi Arabian charity. A NATO spokesman said that "people in the house had obviously been observing our facilities and U.S. facilities. And they obviously left in a hurry." Members of the former Kosova Liberation Army "had staked out the [house] for months and reported the movements of its staff to U.S. officials," the news agency added. U.S. officials suspected the charity of having links to Osama bin Laden, who is wanted in connection with previous terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities. Spokesmen for the charity denied any links to terrorism. One noted that "people react strangely to Saudi Arabians." PM

SLOVENIAN PRIME MINISTER NAMES NEW CABINET MEMBERS

Janez Drnovsek said in Ljubljana on 3 April that he has proposed eight experts who do not belong to any political party to join his cabinet following the resignation of nine ministers from the People's Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). He added that he will resign if the parliament rejects his nominees. The legislature has until 7 April to decide, AP reported. Drnovsek's Liberals hold only 25 out of 90 seats in the parliament and need the support of their former coalition partners to govern. Elections are due by the end of the year, but many observers believe that an early ballot will be necessary following the decision of the People's Party to leave the government. PM

ROMANIAN ROMA DENOUNCE RACIST STATEMENT BY OPPOSITION LEADER

The Romani CRISS-Roma Center for Social Intervention and Studies asked on 31 March that international institutions involved in the protection of human rights protest a recent racist comment by Alliance for Romania Deputy Chairman Mugurel Vintila. The center said Vintila told the daily "National" of 28 March that "Western chancelleries" are preparing Romania's "transformation into a Gypsy state" and that according to information he had received from "a diplomat posted in the West," there are plans to bring Roma from other countries to Romania and create on its territory "a Gypsy state." Vintila added that the Roma in Romania are financed from abroad in order to "penetrate the [country's] power-structures." MS

PLANNED ANTONESCU STATUE AGAIN RAISES CONTROVERSY

Cluj prefect Bogdan Cerghizan on 31 March said the town's municipal authorities have begun construction for a planned statue of wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu. His predecessor, Vasile Salcudean, had appealed to an administrative court against the decision to erect the statue. That appeal is still pending and Cerghizan says that if construction works are not immediately stopped, he will demand that a criminal investigation be launched against the local authorities, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIA CUTS OFF ELECTRICITY SUPPLIES TO MOLDOVA

Romania ceased supplying electricity to Moldova at midnight 31 March. Romanian Industry and Trade Minister Radu Berceanu said on Romanian Television that Moldova owes Romania $36 million. The current contract for electricity supplies expired on 31 March and a new one has not been negotiated. Moldovan Premier Dumitru Braghis said on 1 April that the cut resulted from a "misunderstanding." He explained that the former Moldtranselectro company, which negotiated the supplies, has been restructured and the Romanian side fears that its three successor-companies will not take over the debt. In a telephone conversation with his Romanian counterpart, Mugur Isarescu, Braghis proposed that the debt be taken over by the Moldovan state. Romania supplies some 20 percent of Moldova's electricity. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT QUESTIONS BILL ON COMMUNIST REGIME UNLAWFULNESS

Petar Stoyanov told journalists on 31 March that the bill on the unlawfulness of the communist regime, which the parliament had passed in the first reading one day earlier, poses some problems and that he hopes lawmakers will look at it once more before the second reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2000), BTA reported. Stoyanov said that the bill is accurate in describing "the misanthropic theory and practices of the communist regime" but "it is another matter whether the legal formulations employed in it and the timing of its passage are the right ones." The bill lifts the statute of limitations on crimes committed by the Communists. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER DENIES FLOATING IDEA OF SERBIA'S FEDERALIZATION

Ivan Kostov denied in the parliament on 31 March that at the 17-18 March meeting in Budapest of countries neighboring Yugoslavia, he promoted the idea of transforming that country into a six-state federation, BTA reported. Kostov said that the idea "was not his"; rather, it had been floated by the Social Democratic League in Vojvodina, and "we only drew attention that such an idea exists." MS




ATTACK ON KARABAKH PRESIDENT EXACERBATES POLITICAL TENSIONS IN YEREVAN


By Liz Fuller

Investigators in Stepanakert announced on 27 March that the botched attempt five days earlier to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was planned and carried out by persons close to Samvel Babayan, the enclave's former army commander and defense minister. Babayan is the most formidable political opponent Ghukasian, who dismissed Babayan as defense minister last July, triggering protests by other senior generals and precipitating a political standoff that was defused only by the intervention of Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Five months later, in December 1999, Ghukasian also replaced Babayan as commander of the Karabakh Defense Army. But Babayan nonetheless remained one of the unrecognized republic's most influential political figures, enjoying the support of many local parliamentary deputies and of the Karabakh-based Armenian National Democratic Party.

Three of the five persons named on 27 March as having confessed to the attack on Ghukasian are members of Babayan's bodyguard, and a fourth is his wife's brother. Babayan was taken into custody within hours of the attack, as was his brother Karen, who has since been suspended as mayor of Stepanakert. As of 30 March, neither brother had been charged with involvement in the assassination bid. But the unrecognized enclave's prosecutor-general told RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent the same day that other charges could brought against Samvel Babayan, in addition to illegal arms possession, abuse of power, and tax evasion.

Senior officials in Stepanakert and Yerevan say that the motives for the attack on Ghukasian are to be sought in the local political situation. The unrecognized republic's foreign minister, Naira Melkumian, was quoted by Armenpress on 24 March as saying that "I do not think that there is a force outside Karabakh and Armenia that was interested in the elimination of President Ghukasian." Speaking in Tbilisi on 28 March, Armenian President Kocharian attributed the attack to "internal processes that take place in post-war countries and regions when order is being restored."

In view of his months-long standoff with Ghukasian, Babayan was the most obvious suspect in the attack on the Karabakh president. Babayan's extensive power can be partly attributed to his control over dubious economic interests on which Ghukasian now plans to crack down. The attack on Ghukasian thus presented the Karabakh leadership with a cast- iron excuse to detain the renegade general and, by extension, hamstring the opposition to Ghukasian in the runup to this summer's elections for the enclave's new parliament, which Babayan's supporters stood a good chance of winning. Noyan Tapan's veteran political commentator David Petrosian observed that the primary beneficiary of the attack is Karabakh Premier Anushavan Danielian, who would have lost his post in the event of an election victory by Babayan's supporters. Danielian is currently discharging the duties of Karabakh president.

But whether despite or precisely because of the fact that Babayan was the most obvious suspect, an increasing number of Armenian politicians from across the political spectrum are expressing doubt at his personal involvement in the attack and are warning against making him a scapegoat. Those skeptics include not only leading members of the nationalist "Right and Accord" bloc, which supports Babayan and is believed to receive funding from him, but also Kim Balayan, a Karabakh-born member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian, who characterized Babayan as too intelligent to issue direct orders for an attempt on Ghukasian's life, and Andranik Markarian, head of the Miasnutiun majority parliamentary bloc.

If Babayan is formally charged with the assassination bid, President Kocharian's failure unequivocally to condemn that charge could exacerbate the rift that already exists between the Armenian president and Miasnutiun, and broaden it into one between Ghukasian and Kocharian, on the one hand, and Babayan's sympathizers and supporters in Yerevan and Stepanakert, on the other. But if Kocharian were to fail to endorse Babayan's indictment, the ensuing perceived lack of solidarity between Yerevan and Stepanakert could, at the very least, negatively affect the ongoing search for a political settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

Meanwhile, the circumstances of the attack, specifically the use of automatic rifles against a moving target, raise the question of whether the intention was in fact to eliminate Ghukasian or simply to create a pretext for neutralizing Babayan. Like some other observers, Lenser Aghalovian, chairman of a small Armenian party composed mainly of Karabakh-born intellectuals, reasoned that if an experienced warrior like Babayan had indeed wanted to get rid of Ghukasian, the latter would not have survived. A single shot from a grenade-launcher would have left Ghukasian with no chance of survival, Aghalovian told "Haykakan Zhamanak."


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