Accessibility links

Newsline - April 25, 2000




NEWSPAPER SAYS REAL COST OF CHECHEN CAMPAIGN DOUBLE ESTIMATE

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 April that First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's recent statement that Russia's military campaign in Chechnya is costing 2.5 billon rubles ($88 million--not $262 million as was incorrectly calculated in a "Newsline" item last week) a month underestimates the war's real cost by at least half (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2000). The daily suggested that the cost of weapons, military hardware, and ammunition alone must be higher than 2.5 billion rubles a month, noting that the federal budget owes some 20 billion rubles to the military-industrial complex. According to Igor Buzuev of the Chelyabinsk Interior Troops Department's press service, local "sponsors" have covered half of their general costs: For example, local enterprises recently sent four KamAZ vehicles to Chechnya. Business magnate Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest in "Kommersant-Daily." JAC

CHECHENS AGAIN AMBUSH RUSSIAN CONVOY

A group of some 50 Chechen fighters led by an Arab mercenary attacked a Russian convoy near the southern village of Serzhen-Yurt on the evening of 23 April killing 13 Russians and wounding a further six, Russian agencies reported, quoting senior Russian military officials. In contrast to earlier such attacks, Russian army troops, not Interior Ministry personnel, were targeted. Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, who had been confirmed two days earlier as commander of the combined federal forces in the North Caucasus, told journalists in Khankala, near Grozny, on 24 April that the Russian commanders were not to blame for the attack. The earlier ambushes were blamed on reconnaissance failures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 6 April 2000). LF

DUMA PASSES ANOTHER ARMS CONTROL TREATY...

State Duma deputies voted on 21 April to approve the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by a vote of 298 in favor with 74 opposed and three abstentions. According to Interfax, Russia signed the treaty in September 1996, and President Boris Yeltsin first presented it to the Duma in November 1999. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov hailed the Duma's action, stating that ratification should be seen as a "serious claim by the new Russian leadership to an active foreign policy in the field of disarmament." The Foreign Ministry also called on other states who have signed the treaty but not ratified it--such as the U.S.-- to do so. "Kommersant-Daily " concluded on 22 April that Russia is trying to involve the U.S. in a "disarmament race," adding that ratification of the treaty gives Russia a "certain moral advantage in its argument with the U.S. over the ABM treaty." JAC

...AS U.S. FEELS THE PRESSURE?

Reacting to news of the ratification, U.S. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters that "the U.S.'s leadership on arms control [and] nonproliferation is unparalleled" and that U.S. President Bill Clinton "is confident that ultimately the [U.S.] Senate will see this [issue] the way he does and will ratify the treaty." In an interview with "Die Welt" on 22 April, Former German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said the most important thing about the Duma's ratification of the treaty is that it will force the U.S. to consider this step. U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan also praised the Duma's ratification of the treaty and called on the U.S. and China to also ratify the treaty. JAC

RUSSIA USES NPT CONFERENCE TO DISCUSS PROBLEMS WITH ABM

While attending the sixth conference on the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty in New York on 25 April, Foreign Minister Ivanov again slammed the U.S. for its desire to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, declaring that it "could irreparably harm all nuclear pacts signed over the last 30 years and destroy international stability forever." However, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the previous day that "the treaty has been amended before, and there is no good reason it cannot be amended again." In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 April, Yurii Kapralov, director of the Foreign Ministry's Department for Security and Disarmament Issues, said that on the eve of the treaty conference "Russia is confirming with concrete actions its commitment to the letter and spirit of the [Nuclear Non- Proliferation] Treaty." JAC

NEW MILITARY DOCTRINE COMES INTO USE

President-elect Putin signed a decree on 22 April approving Russia's new military doctrine, which the Security Council had approved in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). The new doctrine replaces one approved by then President Yeltsin in 1992, Interfax reported. According to a Kremlin statement, the new doctrine states that "the Russian Federation envisages the possibility of using all forces and means at its disposal including nuclear weapons, when all other means of settling a crisis have been exhausted or have proven ineffective." U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters on 21 April that the U.S. doesn't believe that the doctrine constitutes "a major departure." However, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, said earlier in the month that the new doctrine is a "step in the wrong direction" because it "represents a turning away from the previous policy of increased openness and cooperation with the West, which the Russian military put in place in the early 1990s." JAC

RUSSIA PLEDGES TO DEFEND ITS INTERESTS IN CASPIAN...

Addressing a session of the Russian Security Council on 21 April, President-elect Putin said that Russia must strengthen its position in the Caspian and defend its interests there. He said the interest shown in the region by the U.S., Turkey, and the U.K. was the consequence of Moscow's "inactivity." But at the same time, Putin stressed that Moscow does not intend to exclude any other country from the region, or to turn the Caspian into "a zone of confrontation," according to Caucasus Press. Putin announced the creation of a special group within the Foreign Ministry charged with proposing solutions to the problems connected with the Caspian. He also said that the post of Russian presidential advisor for the Caspian has been created, and will be filled after the new Russian government is unveiled next month. LF

...AND AZERBAIJAN WANTS CLARIFICATION

Azerbaijani Presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov on 21 April told Turan that "it is too early" to comment on Putin's statement concerning Russia's interests in the Caspian, but he added that "it is clear" that Azerbaijan does not infringe on those interests as it operates only within its own sector of the sea. A second Azerbaijani official told Turan that Putin's statement is in line with his earlier comments on foreign policy. But retired state foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade termed Putin's statement "worrying," noting that "defense of Russia's interests" was the rationale adduced for the Red Army's intervention in Azerbaijan in 1920. He proposed "a tenfold strengthening" of Azerbaijan's military capability and "serious negotiations" with Turkey and the U.S. LF

U.S. TO LIFT SOME SANCTIONS, IMPOSES NEW ONES FOR AIDING IRAN

The U.S. State Department announced on 24 April that the U.S. will impose sanctions against the rector of Russia's Baltic State Technical University, Yurii Savelev, for helping Iran develop a missile program. At the same time, the U.S. announced that it will lift restrictions imposed on two Russian organizations, the INOR Scientific Center and the Polyus Scientific Production Association because the two organizations have ceased their "proliferant behavior," AFP reported. According to the State Department, Savelev "is believed to have violated Russian export controls and attempted to export goods or services that could contribute to the construction of missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction." Last month, Savelev was suspended as rector on suspicion of having allowed students from abroad, including Iran, to study "subjects related to missile technology," according to one Russian newspaper (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2000). JAC

UNITY WANTS TO BE CALLED 'RULING PARTY'...

At a meeting of the pro-Kremlin bloc Unity's political council on 22 April, Unity faction leader Boris Gryzhlov called on Unity to become a "ruling party" in words and actions. Unity leader and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shoigu also instructed reporters to call Unity a "ruling party" rather than a "party of power," "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" reported on 25 April. Shoigu said that Unity members will run in elections of all levels throughout the country and place their representatives in power whenever possible. According to the daily, more than 200 regional Unity representatives came to the meeting in Moscow to discuss the issue of transforming Unity into a political party at its congress on 27 May. The party will reportedly be constructed on the basis of regional organizations under the supervision of Unity's political council. JAC

...AS NEW 'LIBERAL' MOVEMENT ORGANIZED

A new political movement was formed under the name "Liberal Russia" at a constituent congress held on 23 April, Interfax reported. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) deputy Sergei Yushenkov told reporters that participants in the Congress decided that they will have "co-chairmen" rather than leaders. These co- chairpersons will be Yushenkov, deputy (SPS) Viktor Pokhmelkin, deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) Sergei Shokhin, and Boris Zolotukhin and Galina Sartan of the Democratic Choice of Russia party. Yushenkov said that the formation of the new movement was necessary because existing liberal- democratic parties defend the interests of oligarchs. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, described on 25 April the formation of Liberal Russia as a split within the ranks of SPS in part to protest the influence of Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais over that group. JAC

STEPASHIN PROMISES MORE COOPERATION ON MONEY-LAUNDERING INVESTIGATIONS

The newly-elected head of Russia's Audit Chamber, Sergei Stepashin, met with U.S. Representative (Republican) Jim Leach, who heads the House of Representatives' Banking Committee, on 24 April to discuss the Bank of New York (BONY) scandal and other issues. According to Interfax, Stepashin agreed to exchange more documents on the subject of money-laundering with U.S. authorities although he charged that "there is a political tinge" to the BONY case. Stepashin also said that he will seek more assistance from Russian security and law enforcement agencies. JAC

FORMER ALUMINUM TITAN AND WOULD-BE POLITICAL REFUGEE RETURNS

The former head of Krasnoyarsk Aluminum, Anatolii Bykov, was flown from Budapest to Russia on 21 April to face charges of money-laundering and conspiracy to commit murder. Bykov had unsuccessfully fought extradition from Hungary, claiming that he was unfairly targeted by law enforcement officials in Krasnoyarsk due to his opposition to Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2000). ITAR- TASS reported on 25 April that the legislature of Krasnoyarsk Krai will have to give its consent in order for Bykov to be prosecuted since he was elected to that body and therefore has legislative immunity from criminal prosecution. On the other hand, Bykov's term is due to expire in a year and a half and an unidentified local law enforcement officer told the agency that investigation of the charges against him could take that long. JAC




ARMENIA COMMEMORATES GENOCIDE ANNIVERSARY

Tens of thousands of Armenians, including the country's entire leadership, marched in silence on 24 April to the Yerevan monument to an estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a televised address to the Armenian people, President Robert Kocharian said that Armenia will continue to try to persuade the international community to formally acknowldge the killings as genocide. At the same time, he called for reconciliation and for "a new kind" of relationship between Armenia and Turkey which, he said, is crucial to maintaining stability and developing regional cooperation. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS DEMAND FOR INTERIOR MINISTER'S DISMISSAL

President Kocharian on 22 April rejected a call by Prime Minister Aram Sargsian the previous day for the firing of Interior Minister Hayk Harutiunian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian argued that Harutiunian is responsible for the escape from justice of his one of his predecessors, Vano Siradeghian, who is currently on trial on charges of ordering a series of contract killings. Kocharian had suggested on 19 April that some members of the Interior Ministry staff had helped Siradeghian flee the country after parliament deputies voted to lift his immunity from detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 11 April 2000). But a presidential spokesman quoted Kocharian on 22 April as noting that Harutiunian was not in Armenia on 3 April, the date of Siradeghian's disappearance. LF

ARMENIAN DEMONSTRATORS CALL FOR ACCESSION TO RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Some 10,000 mostly elderly people participated in a 21 April demonstration in Yerevan to demand that Armenia join the Union of Belarus and Russia, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. Armenian Communist Party leader Vladimir Darpinian argued that joining the union would resolve Armenia's economic problems, according to AP. Right and Accord bloc parliament deputy Aghasi Arshakian said that 38 out of a total of 131 parliament deputies support Armenian membership in the union (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 16, 21 April 2000). LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS WITHDRAWAL OF BASES

Following talks in Moscow on 20-21 April, Georgian and Russian government delegations signed a protocol under which Moscow agreed to reduce the amount of equipment at its military bases in Georgia by the end of 2000 and to close the bases in Vaziani, near Tbilisi, and Gudauta, in Abkhazia, by 30 June 2001, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The Georgian delegation reportedly proposed that all four bases be closed within three years, while the Russians advocate abiding by the bilateral agreement signed in November 1999, which left open the date for closure of the two remaining bases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). The two delegations also agreed to draft a program of bilateral military cooperation, according to Caucasus Press. Moscow further returned to Georgia military equipment and uniforms confiscated in Moscow last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 24 November 1999). LF chancellery

ABKHAZIA PROTESTS POLICE KILLINGS...

The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia on 22 April issued a statement condemning the shooting four days earlier of seven Abkhaz police officers and calling on the CIS peacekeeping force and UN Observer mission in Abkhazia to require Georgia to abide by earlier agreements on a cessation of hostilities, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz statement accused Tbilisi of failing to curtail guerrilla activities in Abkhazia. On 24 April, UN Observer Mission head General Anis Ahmed Baiwa said that the situation on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia has deteriorated as a result of the shootings. He expressed regret that "political considerations" frequently hinder the investigation by a joint Abkhaz-Georgian-Russian-UN working group of such killings. LF

...ACCUSES UKRAINE OF BIAS

Also on 22 April, Ukraine's ambassador to Georgia, Stepan Volkhovetskii, told Caucasus Press that during talks with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, the latter had accused Ukraine of favoring Georgia. Ardzinba also again expressed his opposition to the inclusion of Ukraine in the Friends of the UN Secretary-General group that is trying to mediate a solution of the Abkhaz conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2000). LF

MAN WHO FEIGNED ATTACK ON GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DIAGNOSED AS PARANOID

Artem Bagdiev, who was briefly taken into custody on 20 April after throwing a bag of knitted woolen hats at President Eduard Shevardnadze's limousine, has been diagnosed as "paranoid" and will be held for two weeks observation in a psychiatric hospital, Caucasus Press reported on 25 April. Bagdiev had said after the incident that his sole objective had been to draw attention to his hat-making skills, and promised to refrain from similar actions in future. LF

GEORGIAN PENSIONERS DEMAND OVERDUE ALLOWANCES

Some 150 pensioners and former Interior Ministry personnel staged a demonstration outside the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi on 24 April to demand their allowances for the past 11 months, Caucasus Press reported. The following day, a group of mothers of large families demonstrated outside the state chancellery to demand that child allowances be raised from the present 12 lari ($6) per month. As Georgian Communist Party first s ecretary in the early 1980s, Shevardnadze had promoted a policy of encouraging women to bear 4-6 children. LF

RUSSIAN ROCKET CRASHES IN KAZAKHSTAN

A Russian test missile fired from the Ashuluk military testing range in Astrakhan Oblast went out of control and crashed on 21 April near the village of Primore in western Kazakhstan, Reuters and ITAR- TASS reported. Although no one was injured by the crash, Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov summoned Russia's ambassador, Yuri Merzlyakov, on 24 April and demanded an explanation of the accident. Idrisov told journalists the same day that the Kazakh government will ask Moscow to suspend rocket tests at the Ashaluk range. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT MARKS 10 YEARS IN OFFICE

In a 24 April address marking the 10th anniversary of his election as president, Nursultan Nazarbaev stressed that his country had succeeded in avoiding political instability and interethnic tensions following the collapse of the USSR and that his economic reforms are already bearing fruit, Reuters reported. He said the country's priorities for the immediate future are to strengthen independence, to preserve political stability, and to encourage economic growth. At the same time, Nazarbaev warned journalists against abusing press freedom and criticized unnamed foreign states for attempting to sow tensions between Kazakhstan and neighboring Russia and Uzbekistan. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, UZBEKISTAN PLEDGE TO RESOLVE BORDER DISPUTES

Also on 24 April, Kazakh Foreign Minister Idrisov and Uzbekistan's ambassador to Kazakhstan, Turdykul Butayarov, told journalists in Almaty that working groups from the two countries will meet next week to begin demarcating their 2,150 km common border, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Unilateral attempts by Uzbekistan to do so earlier this year gave rise to protests and tensions in southern Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 8 March 2000). LF

KAZAKHSTAN HOPES FOR FURTHER COOPERATION WITH GAZPROM

Kazakhstan's prime minister, Qasymzhomart Toqaev, told visiting State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev in Astana on 21 April that increased economic cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan, including the possible creation of a common economic space, could contribute to resolving problems in bilateral relations and does not necessarily entail Kazakhstan's loss of statehood and independence, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Toqaev reportedly also said that Kazakhstan would welcome the return of Gazprom to Kazakhstan following the withdrawal of the Belgian company Tractebel, which in 1997 acquired a 20 year concession to manage Kazakhstan's gas distribution network. LF

CHINESE DELEGATION VISITS KYRGYZSTAN

Following talks in Bishkek on 21 April between Kyrgyz Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev and a 17-person Chinese delegation headed by Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade Jiang Syang, it was announced that Beijing will give Bishkek 5 million yuan ($600,000) in aid towards implementing economic reforms, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

UZBEK SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS SIGN ANTI-TERRORISM TREATY

Meeting in Tashkent on 21 April, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan signed a 10-year treaty on joint efforts to combat terrorism, political and religious extremism, transnational organized crime, and other threats to security and stability, Interfax reported. Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov and Tajikistan's Imomali Rakhmonov told journalists after the signing that one of the main threats to regional stability is the war in Afghanistan. Meeting in Moscow the same day, the interior ministers of the so-called Bishkek group comprising the five signatory states to the Shanghai Agreement (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) adopted an appeal to their respective heads of state containing specific proposals on cooperation in combatting crime, Interfax reported. LF




LUKASHENKA NAMES NEW INTERIOR MINISTER

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka named Mikhail Udovikau as his interior minister on 22 April after releasing Yuriy Sivakau "for reasons of health" the day before, DPA reported. Sivakau had recently fallen out of favor for his use of force against demonstrators, journalists, and OSCE observers during a demonstration on 25 March. Meanwhile, the Belarusian opposition announced plans to go ahead with a rally on 26 April despite not having received official permission to do so. PG

NO JOINT RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN COMMAND PLANNED

Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin on 21 April said that Moscow will assist Belarus as needed but that he did not favor the creation of a joint Russian-Belarusian armed force, ITAR-TASS reported. "The Belarusian armed forces will only be under the control of their Ministry of Defense," Putin said, "and the Russian forces under the command of their leadership." PG

MISSILES GO AWRY IN UKRAINE

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk on 24 April confirmed suspicions that an explosion in Kyiv on 20 April had been caused by a stray Ukrainian Tochka-U missile, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 24 April, a stray Russian dummy missile slammed into a Ukrainian passenger ship during a Black Sea training exercise, Reuters reported. That was the second such Russian missile misfire in one day; in Kazakhstan, a Russian Strizh-3 rocket spun out of control after launch and exploded in the western region of that country (see related item in Part I). PG

CHORNOBYL SURVIVORS MARCH IN KYIV

Approximately 1,500 survivors of Chornobyl marched in Kyiv on 23 April to mark the 14th anniversary [the explosion took place on 26 April] of the accident at that nuclear power plant, wire services reported. Yurii Andreev, the head of the Chornobyl Union, told Reuters that the Ukrainian government's contribution "to the invalids, widows, and orphans of Chornobyl" is "offensive." Meanwhile, Ukrainian health officials reported an increase in the death rate among those who were exposed to radiation during the clean-up after the accident, AP reported. And the German Environment Ministry pledged to provide additional assistance to Ukraine to "modernize" its energy sector, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 April. PG

UKRAINIAN CABINET BACKS DRAFT LAND CODE

Ukraine's cabinet on 21 April approved a draft land code which would abolish most restrictions on the private ownership of land, Interfax reported. The draft will now be sent to the parliament for possible adoption. PG

UKRAINIAN CENTRAL BANK MAY CLOSE 30 BANKS

Yaroslav Soltis, the deputy chairman of Ukraine's Central Bank, told Reuters on 21 April that the bank might close most of the country's 38 commercial banks currently under Central Bank supervision. "There will be 122 or 125 working banks left," he said. "If a bank is ill with such a disease as illiquidity or insolvency, then it should be closed." PG

UKRAINE, RUSSIA DISCUSS ENERGY COOPERATION

Gazprom chairman Viktor Chernomyrdin met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to discuss energy cooperation between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April. Chernomyrdin played down the importance of Ukraine's gas debt, saying that "there are other more important problems in the development of production and cooperation." But Ukrainian Prime Minister Yushchenko said on the same day that Kyiv will work out a mechanism for serving that debt within 30 days. PG

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS EDI

Four cabinet ministers-- Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus, Agriculture Minister Ivari Padar, Transport Minister Toivo Jurgenson and Finance Minister Siim Kallas--signed on 24 April an agreement on the implementation of an electronic data interchange (EDI) system, ETA reported. The agreement establishes the infrastructure of electronic data transmission, which the government hopes will reduce paperwork, fraud, corruption, and will make Estonia more competitive. The program will begin when the law on digital signatures, passed earlier this year, comes into effect in December. The system should be fully functional by the end of 2001 at a cost of 15 million kroons ($900,000), Jurgenson told BNS. MH

LITHUANIAN CONSUL EXPELLED FROM GULF STATE

Lithuania's consul to the United Arab Emirates, Gvidas Kerusauskas, was declared persona non grata by the Gulf state and was officially recalled by Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas on 20 April. Though Saudargas refused to point at the cause of the expulsion, local press attributed it to public intoxication in the Muslim country, ELTA reported. MH

CLARK PRAISES POLISH CONTRIBUTION TO NATO

In Warsaw on 21 April as part of his farewell tour of NATO capitals, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, praised Poland's contribution to the alliance and reiterated that NATO is the "pre-eminent" basis for European Security, Western wire services reported. PG

NEW POLISH SOCIAL SECURITY, PRIVATIZATION LAWS

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 21 April signed into law mreasures increasing social security payments and channeling funds from the sale of state-owned enterprises to Polish citizens, AP reported. The new privatization measure sets aside 10 percent of the stake in privatized companies to fund pension increases, 7 percent to provide benefits to Poles not covered by the first provision, and 5 percent to provide money for restitution to those who lost property during the Nazi or Communist eras. PG

CHORNOBYL EFFECTS CONTINUE IN POLAND

Researchers in southeastern Poland, the region most affected by the April 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident, have found thyroid changes in every second young woman and in 10 percent of all young people, PAP reported on 24 April. In the towns of Kolno, Sejny, and Suwalki, up to 70 percent of the population have enlarged thyroid glands. The Bialystok Medical Academy plans to publish a full report later this year. PG

CZECH MINERS END STRIKE

A 22-day sit-in strike at the Kohinoor brown coal mine ended on 21 April with an agreement reached between representatives of the striking miners and the Mostecka uhelna spolecnost company that owns the mine, CTK reported. The miners renounced their demand that the mine be sold to a company that would guarantee jobs and that its management be dismissed. Under the agreement, 450 out of the 950 employees are to be made redundant by the end of 2000 and the continuation of the mine's operation will depend on the government's subsidy. Those made redundant will receive severance pay amounting to three monthly wages, instead of two as provided by the law. MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS SAY 'OPPOSITION AGREEMENT' VIOLATED...

Zdenek Skromach, leader of the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, on 21 April said the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) is violating the January 2000 extended version of the "opposition agreement," CTK reported. Under the agreement, the ODS pledged to support the establishment of a State Fund for Housing, aimed at building low-rent apartments and financing repairs to existing ones, as well as improving infrastructure. Skromach said his group will initiate a meeting between the two parliamentary groups and if that meeting fails to reach agreement, the leaderships of the two parties will have to meet in line with the "opposition agreement." ODS deputies say the money slated for the fund is not provided for in the budget and that similar attempts in the past to solve the chronic housing problem have failed. MS

...WHILE KLAUS CRITICIZES ZEMAN OVER 'TUNNELING' ALLEGATION

ODS leader Vaclav Klaus on 21 April sharply criticized Prime Minister Milos Zeman over a statement alleging that the trade unions at the Nova Hut steelworks plants were involved in illegal privatization deals, colloquially known as "tunneling," CTK reported. Klaus said the statement was "outrageous" and "pushed the Czech Republic back from Central to Eastern Europe." Union leaders at Nova Hut also protested the statement. The Petricle company, established by Nova Hut management, has bought shares in the Nova Hut steelworks and Zeman claims union representatives were aware of the deal. Petricle, in turn, was recently bought by British Central European Consultants, which allegedly intends to tender for a majority stake in Nova Hut. Zeman said the management of Nova Hut must step down as a condition for the government to participate in the search for a solution to the company's problems. MS

MECIAR SUPPORTERS TURN LEADER INTO 'JESUS CHRIST'

Some 2,500 supporters of former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar on 21 April (Good Friday) demonstrated in Bratislava against the brief detention of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) leader on 20 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 April 2000), comparing the Mikulas Dzurinda cabinet with the Nazi Gestapo and using anti-Semitic slogans, CTK, AP, and Reuters reported. One banner read "The Jews crucified Christ and Dzurinda and company want to crucify Meciar." HZDS deputy Dusan Jarjabek told the protesting crowd that "Just a few days before the anniversary of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, they broke into his house" in "an act of state terrorism," and an 80-year old protester said that "Christ was captured on Thursday, and they captured Meciar on Thursday." MS

ROMANY ASSOCIATION PROTESTS BELGIAN DEPORTATION OF SLOVAK ROMA

The Budapest-based European Center for Romany Rights (ERRC) voiced concern in a letter to Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt on 21 April over reports that the authorities are about to start expelling Romany asylum-seekers from Slovakia, CTK reported. The ERRC said collective deportations are an infringement of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms of which Belgium was a signatory. Meanwhile, Belgian Interior Minister Antoine Duquesene on 21 April called on the municipal councils of Tienen and Gent to start deporting some 800 Slovak Roma who stayed in these towns despite receiving notification that their requests for asylum had been rejected. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS EU CRITICISM OF AUSTRIA UNJUSTIFIED...

Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 22 April told the "Neue Kronenzeitung" that the new Austrian cabinet "has so far done nothing to justify the criticism of the [other] 14 EU members," the BBC reported. Orban spoke ahead of the 27 April visit by Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel to Budapest. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi had a different explanation of the visit. In an interview with the Italian daily "Il Sole 24 Ore" on 23 April, he said that Hungary did not introduce sanctions against Austria because Hungary is "not in the same position as the 14 EU countries and cannot adhere to the same procedure." Martonyi also said that the visit had been initiated by Vienna and stressed that it will be "a short one, lasting just a few hours." MS

...DESCRIBES FLOODS AS 'WORST FIVE DAYS IN DECADES'

Orban on 24 April said on national radio that "critical days are still ahead" in the struggle to cope with the floods caused by the Tisza River but that "we are over one of the hardest four to five-day periods we have known in decades," AP reported. Despite the Easter holidays, work continued on reinforcing dikes and sealing leaks in dozens of villages along the river. MS




KFOR DETAINS MITROVICA SERB LEADER

NATO peacekeepers detained Oliver Ivanovic for two hours on 24 April as he was heading to Leposaviq. That town is to the north of the divided city of Mitrovica, where he is the hard-line political leader of local Serbs. Peacekeepers said that Ivanovic's documents had expired and that they "wanted to take a picture to renew his papers." Ivanovic insisted that his papers were still valid, and showed Reuters a KFOR pass good until the end of June. Some 200 Serbs gathered to protest the detention of Ivanovic and dispersed only when a Belgian peacekeeper fired a warning shot. Previous to his detention, Ivanovic met with his counterpart in southern Mitrovica, Bajram Rexhepi, and with the international community's negotiator for the divided city, William Nash. PM

IVANOVIC ANNOUNCES FIRST PLANNED RETURN OF SERBS

Ivanovic told Reuters in Mitrovica on 25 April that he is planning the organized return of up to 1,500 Serbs to Kosova. He stressed that he will need the support of the UN civil administration, KFOR, and the UNCHR. "We have to [first] get insurance [sic] from KFOR that everything will be safe. We will need supplies. The Albanians cut the water, electrical, [and] telephone supplies in the area. They have to be repaired by KFOR before we send in the first group. If they do that and secure the area, it's enough for the start. It will be the first organized return of Serbs" to Kosova, he said. PM

KURTI, BROVINA PROTEST IMPRISONMENT

Student leader Albin Kurti and human rights activist Flora Brovina told journalists at Pozarevac prison on 22 April that they are being "unjustly held behind bars," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Kurti stressed that he had been sentenced "simply because I am an [ethnic] Albanian" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2000). PM

KOUCHNER HAS NO ANSWER FROM MILOSEVIC

Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, said on 22 April that he has not had an answer from the Belgrade authorities about his proposal for ethnic Serbian refugees from Kosova to participate in the local elections expected later this year. Kouchner had suggested that Serbian refugees could vote where they are currently living, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION SETS UP COUNCIL

Some 100 delegates representing the Serbian opposition as well as Serbs in Kosova, Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro met on 21 and 22 April in Athens under the sponsorship of Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic. Participants agreed to form a Council of Democratic Forces of Serbia under the leadership of Aleksandar and Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, "Vesti" reported on 25 April. After the session, opposition leaders met with Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who said that from them he "heard a different vision of Serbia, [namely] a democratic one open to the broader European family" of nations, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SHOW TRIAL IN SERBIA

The trial began in Nis on 24 April of three men from Krusevac, who are charged with plotting the assassination of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and army chief-of-staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic. The military court heard the men confirm that they are members of the shadowy "Serbian Liberation Army (OSA)." Some observers have suggested that OSA and other alleged conspiratorial groups with names such as Spider are really the invention of Milosevic's intelligence services. The regime seeks to divert attention, sow confusion, create an atmosphere of uncertainty, and supply pretexts for future crackdowns, the observers conclude. PM

MONTENEGRO DEVALUES DINAR

Beginning 21 April, the National Bank of Montenegro devalued the Yugoslav dinar by 15 percent against the German mark. The government introduced the mark on its own initiative as a parallel currency to the dinar in November 1999 in an effort to ensure stability and insulate Montenegro from inflationary trends in Serbia. The Belgrade authorities subsequently declared this move illegal but have not regarded it as a reason to consider the Montenegrin government in open rebellion. This is partly because the German mark has been the unofficial second currency throughout the former Yugoslavia for decades. PM

ALBANIA, MONTENEGRO DEEPEN TIES

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo arrived in Podgorica on 24 April in the latest of a series of moves by Albania and Montenegro to promote closer relations despite Montenegro's continued membership in Milosevic's Yugoslav federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2000). Milo met with Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic and Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac to discuss joint initiatives under the EU's Stability Pact (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 April 2000). PM

TOP ALBANIAN AWARD FOR CLARK

President Rexhep Meidani gave General Clark, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, the Order of Skanderbeg, which is the highest Albanian award that a foreigner can receive. Meidani said at the ceremony in Tirana on 24 April that Clark played a key role in the "triumph of humanism and democracy, the protection of human lives, and the restoration of dignity and human rights of oppressed people in Kosova." PM

KFOR SEND INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL TO HAGUE

NATO peacekeepers seized Dragan Nikolic on 21 April on Bosnian Serb territory and sent him the next day to The Hague. The tribunal has indicted him on more than 80 counts, including several of murder, stemming from his time as commander of a Serbian prison camp at Susica, near Vlasenica, in 1992. Nikolic was indicted in 1994 in the first Bosnian war crimes indictment. PM

'CREEPING PARTITION' IN BRCKO?

Muslim politician Mirsad Djapo, who is president of the Brcko district legislature, told "Dnevni avaz" of 25 April that the area is in danger of undergoing a de facto partition. He said that the widespread view that the city proper is Serbian while the surrounding district is Muslim is helping hold up the return of many refugees. Djapo called for a strong role for the international community to offset the influence of nationalists. PM

KUCAN WANTS EARLY ELECTIONS

Slovenian President Milan Kucan said on television in Ljubljana on 21 April that early elections are necessary to ensure the formation of a credible government. He stressed that it is not possible to put together a broadly-based government in the current parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2000). PM

FRENCH EUROPEAN AFFAIRS MINISTER IN ROMANIA

Pierre Moscovici, on a two-day visit to Romania, on 24 April met with President Emil Constantinescu, Premier Mugur Isarescu, Foreign Minister Petre Roman and other officials, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He stressed that France continues to support Romania's integration into the EU and NATO and said that when his country takes over the EU rotating presidency from Portugal, it will act to bring about the abolition of visa requirements for Romanian citizens traveling within the EU. Moscovici also said Paris will support opening negotiations with Romania on more chapters of the aquis communautaire and announced that it will grant Romania aid aimed at extending help to people affected by the recent floods in Transylvania. MS

NATO SPOKESMAN ON POSSIBLE POLITICAL CHANGE IN ROMANIA

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea on 24 April said all states admitted to NATO "must be democratic countries" and in a democracy "the change of government means a change of internal, not foreign policy," Romanian radio reported on 25 April. Shea was answering a journalist's question, who asked if "the possible return to power of [the opposition] Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) would pose obstacles to the development of NATO-Romanian relations." The spokesman added that PDSR leader Ion Iliescu has "emphasized in clear terms that his political orientation favors Romania's integration into NATO." MS

ROMANIA, MOLDOVA, AGREE ON BASIC TREATY

Roman is meeting on 25 April with leaders of parties represented in the parliament to brief them on the basic treaty with Moldova, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The document describes the relations between the two states as a "privileged partnership." Moldovan Deputy Premier Andrei Cucu and Roman on 24 April signed in Bucharest an agreement for collaboration between the two governments. Roman said that Romania will continue to aid Moldova in its quest for European integration. But Cucu was unsuccessful in convincing his partners in Bucharest to renew electricity deliveries. Premier Isarescu said that the resumption of deliveries depends on signing a commercial accord and Industry Minister Radu Berceanu rejected a Moldovan proposal that Romania take over shares in Moldova's electricity grid about to be privatized as "insufficient" to cover Moldova's debt to Romania. MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT, STUDENTS, REACH AGREEMENT

Representatives of the students who rioted for four days in Chisinau and representatives of the government on 21 April reached an agreement that will end the conflict, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. The agreement stipulates that students will be entitled to two cross- country yearly trips on state-owned transportation at half price and that the proportion of students entitled to a scholarship will rise from 25 to 35 percent. Due to the food penury and the high prices, many students bring foodstuff from their villages and cannot afford the travel costs. MS

CIS COMMISSION VISITS MOLDOVA

A peacemaking commission of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly headed by State Duma deputy chairman Boris Pastukhov on 24 April met with President Petru Lucinschi, Premier Dumitru Braghis, and parliament chairman Dumitru Diacov, discussing ways of solving the conflict with the Transdniester separatists, Infotag and Flux reported. Lucinschi welcomed the CIS initiative to mediate in the conflict and said Moldova is ready to accept a "reasonable compromise" provided its territorial integrity is respected. Diacov said that Moldova is ready to grant Tiraspol broad autonomy provided that the sovereignty and indivisibility of Moldovan territory is recognized by the separatists. The commission is to travel to Tiraspol for talks with Igor Smirnov and other Transdniester separatist leaders. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER REJECTS DEMANDS THAT HE STEP DOWN...

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, speaking in parliament on 21 April, rejected opposition demands that he resign in view of the large-scale corruption scandal in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2000). He told Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov, who said the country is being ruled by "the most corrupt government in its history," that "nothing you want to happen will happen." Kostov said he will "continue to sack from office immediately people against whom there are solid and proved suspicions of breaching the law." In an allusion to former Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev, whom Kostov sacked from the cabinet in December 1999 and who has called for the premier's resignation, Kostov said that "the only development that can be described as dangerous is the attempt to attain political goals by discrediting opponents," Reuters and AP reported.

...PLEDGES TO INCREASE POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY, TRANSPARENCY...

Kostov said in an interview on 23 April with Bulgarian Radio that he intends to "remove or reduce the [parliamentary] immunity of lawmakers" and possibly also the immunity of magistrates, in an effort to increase the fight against corruption, AP reported. Kostov said he believes lawmakers must enjoy immunity only for statements made in the parliament. He also said his Union of Democratic Forces (FDS) will introduce a bill obliging state officials to declare their wealth at the start and end of political office. Reuters reported on 21 April that former President Zhelu Zhelev, in an interview with "24 Chasa," accused the FDS of being "fraught with mega-corruption." Zhelev defended Bonev as being "the only person brave enough to tell Kostov the truth" and said the FDS had "blackmailed" business to finance its local elections campaign in 1999, "while incumbents took part in privatization through stooges." MS

...GETS WORLD BANK FUNDS TO FIGHT CORRUPTION

The World Bank's director for Bulgaria and Romania, Andrew Vorkink, announced on 21 April in Sofia that the bank is providing a $7.5 million loan for Bulgaria to fight corruption and improve customs operations, DPA reported. On 23 April, Orthodox Patriarch Maxim, speaking at the Palm Sunday mass in the Saint Alexander Nevski cathedral in Sofia, called on the government to introduce mandatory religion classes in schools to protect youth from "sinful temptations," AP reported. Maxim said that "in order to grow honest, fair, affectionate, and compassionate," young people need religious instruction, which must be taught "at equal footing with other school subjects." MS




Energy Disputes May Mar Russian-Armenian Partnership


By Emil Danielyan

A dispute over energy issues is threatening to jeopardize the generally cordial relationship between Armenia and Russia. Russia's Gazprom monopoly is threatening to halt natural gas deliveries to Armenia if Yerevan fails to repay debts it has accumulated over the last few years. The threats coincided with the exclusion of a Gazprom-controlled company from the ongoing international bidding for Armenia's electricity distribution network, a move that Russian diplomats have warned may adversely affect bilateral economic cooperation.

Armenian Energy Minister David Zadoyan flew to Moscow on 21 April to try to win a reprieve for his country, which would face a crippling energy crisis should the Russians shut the tap on the pipeline running through Georgia. Thermal power stations, which primarily use Russian gas, account for a large part of the power generated in Armenia. Gazprom has already cut its supplies from the usual 3.5 million to 1.3 million cubic meters a day. It gave the Armenian government until 24 April to clear $16 million in unpaid bills.

That debt was rescheduled last August, but officials in the Armrosgaz venture, which handles gas imports, complain that Armenian consumers still fail to pay up. Gazprom, together with its subsidiary, ITERA, effectively controls Armenia's natural gas infrastructure through a 55 percent stake in Armrosgaz.

The prospect of a gas cut-off rekindles Armenians' memories of the dark days of the early 1990s when they had just a few hours of electricity a day amid severe energy shortages.

Gazprom's deadline for Armenia raises a number of questions among local observers. The size of the debt, they say, is fairly large but other former Soviet republics owe much more to the Russians. And Armenia is not the worst defaulter. As gas-rich Turkmenistan's ambassador in Yerevan noted on 20 April, Armenia (which still owes his country $14 million for earlier fuel deliveries) meets its payment obligations far better than other ex-Soviet states. Ambassador Toyli Kurbanov told reporters: "It is important to note that of all our debtor-states the Republic of Armenia was and is the most diligent and punctual payer."

The Gazprom demands came as ITERA was left out of a short-list of foreign companies participating in an international tender for four Armenian electricity companies. Deputy Energy Minister Karen Galustian announced on 18 April that ITERA does not qualify because it failed to submit findings of an internationally certified audit that would show its financial situation. A government commission handling the tender left four bidders in the race: the Electricite de France giant, Swiss-Swedish group ABB, Spain's Union Feroza, and the U.S. operator AES Silk Road.

Earlier this year, Armenian press reports said Yerevan was under Russian pressure to declare a consortium of the Gazprom subsidiary and the Rosenergoatom concern winner of the tender. Although Armenian officials denied those claims, the World Bank urged them last February to ensure the fairness and transparency of the process. Furthermore, senior World Bank executives argued strongly against giving ITERA, which is registered in the U.S., ownership rights, citing its financial inadequacy. ITERA has never been engaged in energy distribution and was repeatedly accused by some Russian media of serving as a tool for Gazprom to channel its huge revenues to offshore accounts.

Pressure from the World Bank, Armenia's leading creditor, and from other Western agencies may have been instrumental in ITERA's exclusion from the tender, which Russia's ambassador to Armenia, Anatolii Dryukov, promptly deplored. Dryukov was quoted by local news agencies as saying on 20 April that the decision to reject the Russian bid runs counter to Russian-Armenian agreements on deepening economic cooperation.

In a statement released on 21 April, Rosenergoatom accused the Armenian government of taking a discriminatory approach toward the Russian firms. It said the U.S. government is lobbying hard for the interests of America's AES, which already owns the power grid in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

With ITERA officials unavailable for comment, it is not clear whether the drastic reduction of Russian gas supplies is related to the Armenian energy sector privatization. But it appears that the latest development in the bidding will complicate Yerevan's efforts to keep the vital fuel streaming in. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 April noted that Yerevan may be subject to new pressure from Rosenergoatom, which is the sole supplier of fuel for Armenia's nuclear power station.


XS
SM
MD
LG