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Newsline - May 23, 2000




THINK TANK SUBMITS ECONOMIC PROGRAM

The Center for Strategic Research on 22 May presented its short-term economic program to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The center's director, German Gref, was recently named minister for the newly created Ministry for Economic Development and Trade. In an interview with "Vedomosti" on 17 May, Gref said the program should not be compared to plans implemented in other countries such as Chile because there is no single country that has emerged from the same conditions as Russia. Accepting the program on 22 May, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said he has given orders to ministries and departments to review the plan and draw up the government's economic program by the middle of June, ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov said last week that he has ordered the Finance Ministry to draft the 2001 budget by the end of next month. JAC

PUTIN SUPPOSEDLY IN THE DARK ON MEDIA-MOST RAID

An unidentified source on the presidential staff told Interfax on 22 May that neither President Putin nor his staff were informed in advance about the 11 May raid on the Moscow headquarters of the Media-Most Group. According to the agency, the source expressed regret that the operation had not been carried out in a "more moderate fashion." But he added that "there can be no organizations in Russia engaged in eavesdropping on telephone conversations." On 12 May, the U.S. State Department criticized the raid while welcoming a statement by President Putin that he favors freedom of speech (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). JAC

PUTIN CRACKS DOWN ON VODKA SEPARATISM

The government adopted a resolution on 22 May establishing Rosspirtprom, a state holding composed of all Russia's official registered distilleries and spirits producers, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 May. According to the daily, since almost all spirits producers are already state-owned, the chief impact of the resolution will be to transfer control over local distilleries from regional leaders to the center. The new resolution, together with additional legislation that will be submitted to the State Duma and is intended to crack down on illegal distilleries, aims at discouraging governors from trying to maximize the amount of vodka produced in their regions by imposing draconian taxes on vodka brought in from outside. The newspaper, which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, concludes that the measure will mean better-quality vodka for consumers and higher budget revenues for the state. JAC

MOSCOW TO BOYCOTT MEETING THAT EXCLUDED BELGRADE

Interfax on 22 May quoted unidentified diplomatic sources as saying that Russia will not be represented at a meeting in Brussels on 23-24 May of the council overseeing the implementation of the Dayton accords. The same sources said this decision was to protest the fact that Yugoslavia had not been invited to attend the meeting. After talks in Moscow last week with his Yugoslav counterpart, Zivadin Jovanovic, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had commented that "whoever tries to obstruct Yugoslavia's participation [in the 23-24 May gathering] will damage the implementation of the Dayton peace accords, with all the ensuing consequences." JC

ENVIRONMENTALISTS SAY GOVERNMENT ASKED FOX TO MIND THE CHICKEN COOP

Greenpeace Russia has condemned the Putin government's decision last week to disband the State Environment Committee and transfer its responsibilities to the Minister for Natural Resources, Reuters reported on 22 May. Greenpeace Russia Executive Director Sergei Tsyplenkov issued a statement that the "light-minded" decision to save money "will bring the country to the verge of ecological disaster." Tsyplenkov noted that the Natural Resources Ministry's chief agenda, the exploitation of natural resources such as oil and gas extraction, could be seen as running counter to protection of the environment. Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, chairman of the committee, also declared that "environmental testing and control must be carried out by an independent body" and that the ministry itself "exerts a negative impact on the environment, and all of its numerous projects are objects of our monitoring," "The Moscow Times" reported on 23 May. JAC

PRECEDENT FEARED VIS-A-VIS FREEZING OF CENTRAL BANK ASSETS

Commenting on the recent decision by banks in Luxembourg, Switzerland, and France to freeze assets of the Russian Central Bank and other Russian businesses, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told reporters on 22 May that he thinks the Central Bank "will be able to fend off this attack," explaining that the bank's Paris branch will challenge the decision in court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000). Gerashchenko added that the bank's gold and hard- currency reserves were not affected. Former Central Bank Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko was less optimistic, telling Interfax that "unfreezing" the accounts could take several years. He said "the Swedish court's recent decision to freeze the assets in those countries set a 'bad precedent' because now a retroactive suit against the Central Bank can be filed on any default by the Russian government." JAC

MOVSAEV REPORTED KILLED, BASAEV'S DEATH NOT CONFIRMED

Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told ITAR- TASS on 23 May that media reports the previous day that the body of Chechen National Security Service chief Abu Movsaev has been found near the Argun gorge are true. On 22 May, both Yastrzhembskii and Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo had declined either to confirm or deny reports that field commander Shamil Basaev had died of gangrene. Basaev had one foot amputated after being injured by a mine explosion when withdrawing from Grozny in early February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 7 February 2000). A Chechen government spokesman told Interfax on 22 May that Basaev is still alive. LF

CHECHEN MUFTI NAMES MURDER ATTEMPT ORGANIZER

Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov has identified Chechen Defense Minister Magomed Khambiev as responsible for the failed attempt to kill him last month, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2000). In an interview published in "Kommersant-daily" on 17 May, Kadyrov said his bodyguards tracked down the assassins, whom Khambiev had paid $250,000 to murder him. Kadyrov added that he believes the 12 May attempt to kill his son Ramazan was undertaken to avenge the first failed murder bid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). Father and son are currently in Moscow at the invitation of President Putin, who offered to arrange for Ramazan to receive hospital treatment for his injuries. LF

MEDIA MINISTER REPEATS CALL FOR REGISTERING WEB MEDIA

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 22 May, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said that all Internet-based Russian media should be registered, like any other kind of media organization. "As long as they identify themselves as mass media outlets, they should be subject to registration in compliance with the law," Lesin said. Last week, the website gazeta.ru reported that agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB) conducted a raid on the office of a Moscow internet provider, Zenon NSP. A member of Zenon's staff told the website that the search was aimed at one of Zenon's clients. According to gazeta.ru, the FSB is refusing to comment. JAC

MEAT PRODUCTION SET TO INCH UP

Russia's agricultural output increased 1.2 percent during the first four months of 2000 compared with the same period last year, the State Statistics Committee reported on 22 May. Agricultural output from January-April 1999 had fallen 4.6 percent compared with 1998. Meanwhile, Meat Union President Iosif Rogov said the same day that meat production in Russia will grow 2 percent in 2000 to 7.057 million tons, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Rogov, Russia will import at least 1.5 million tons of meat and meat products in 2000. Last year, the Agriculture Ministry predicted that Russia's per capita consumption of meat would amount to 42 kilograms in 1999, a 12 percent drop over the previous year, and that Russia would import 1.8 million tons of meat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 1999). JAC

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN YEMEN

Igor Sergeev was in Sanaa on 22 May to take part in celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the unification of North and South Yemen. Along with some 1,200 guests from nearly 50 countries, he attended a parade that included Russian-built MiG-29 and Sukhoi-27 airplanes as well as T-72 tanks. Russia recently supplied Yemen with 30 such tanks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000). Also on 22 May, Sergeev met with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to discuss further military cooperation, according to ITAR-TASS. JC

IRAN SAYS BUSHEHR NEARLY HALF FINISHED

Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Safari announced in Moscow on 22 May that the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, whose construction is being finished by Russia, is 40 percent complete, Interfax reported. Safari added that it is hoped that part of the plant will become operational in 2002. And dismissing statements by Washington that Iran poses a "nuclear threat," he said Tehran's aim is to make the region "nuclear-free." JC

CAVIAR FORECAST BECOMES MORE DIRE

Vladimir Izmailov, chairman of the State Fishing Committee, said on 23 May that it is possible Russia will have to halt all exports of caviar in 2000 because of extremely small quantities of sturgeon to be found in the Lower Volga and Caspian Sea. Russia's sturgeon quota was set at 560 tons for 2000, 10 percent down on 1999 and more than 200 percent down on 1998. Last month, Izmailov predicted that Russia would be able to export only 60-80 metric tons of black caviar this year--one-third of the amount that it exported last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2000). JAC




ARMENIAN PREMIER PLEDGES CONTINUITY

Speaking at his first press conference since his 12 May nomination as prime minister, Andranik Markarian said in Yerevan on 22 May that the policies pursued by his cabinet will not differ radically from those of previous governments, Reuters and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian pledged to wage a merciless struggle against corruption and thefts of state property and to ensure the "strictest discipline" within the cabinet as well as close cooperation between the president, government, and parliament. He also affirmed that "reform should be the main essence of economic change." LF

ARMENIA, IRAN DISCUSS REGIONAL SECURITY

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi discussed the proposed South Caucasus security system during a recent meeting in Yerevan with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported on 22 May. Sarmadi told journalists on 21 May that Tehran believes that "at the initial stage," such a system should include only the countries of the region but that once that system has developed, other states could join. Kocharian had proposed in Tbilisi in March that the three South Caucasus states, together with Russia, Turkey, Iran, the U.S., and the EU, should be members of such a system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). Sarmadi added that Kocharian had assured him that Yerevan will never agree to resolving the Karabakh conflict by means of an exchange of territory that entailed ceding its southern district of Meghri, which borders on Iran. LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ LEADERS SEEK TO PREVENT ESCALATION

During a 22 May telephone conversation, Eduard Shevardnadze and Vladislav Ardzinba assured each other of their shared desire to avoid a new outbreak of hostilities in southern Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 23 May. The Georgian newspaper "Dilis gazeti" on 16 May had quoted the leader of the Georgia's White Legion guerrilla movement as threatening reprisals in Abkhazia to mark the 26 May anniversary of Georgia's 1918 declaration of independence. A representative of the Abkhaz government in exile, which is composed of ethnic Georgian officials who fled Abkhazia during the 1992- 1993 war, claimed on 22 May that the Abkhaz authorities had sent 180 guerrillas to Gali Raion in southern Abkhazia, and parliament deputy speaker Vakhtang Kolbaya said the same day that ethnic Georgians are fleeing the district in anticipation of new fighting. LF

GEORGIAN NGOS CALL FOR PROSECUTOR'S RESIGNATION

Students and representatives of 27 Georgian NGOs staged a demonstration on 22 May outside the state chancellery in Tbilisi to demand the resignation of Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili and his deputy, Anzor Baluashvili, Caucasus Press reported. The demonstrators accuse the two officials of having warned television journalist Akaki Gogichaishvili to leave Georgia or risk being murdered following programs Gogichaishvili aired on official corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). Babilashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 May that his office has no reason to threaten Gogichaishvili and that the demands for his resignation are unfounded. Also on 22 May, President Shevardnadze ordered the Interior and Security Ministries to take all necessary measures to protect Gogichaishvili and his family. LF

NEW KAZAKH ACTING CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF APPOINTED

Deputy Chief of General Staff Malik Saparov has been promoted to acting chief of General Staff, Interfax reported on 22 May, citing the Kazakh Defense Ministry. He replaces Bakhytzhan Ertaev, who was appointed commander of the first army corps in Semipalatinsk last week. Ertaev had been tried and acquitted earlier this year on charges of arranging the illegal sale of 40 decommissioned MiG fighters to North Korea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). LF

TAJIK DIPLOMATS IMPLICATED IN DRUG SMUGGLING TO KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakh security officials impounded 62 kilograms of heroin worth some $1 million, together with $54,000 in cash and a bank check for 1.2 million British pounds ($1.78 million), from two cars intercepted near Almaty on 21 May, Reuters and Interfax reported. One of the vehicles belongs to Tajikistan's Ambassador to Kazakhstan Sadulajan Nigmatov. Interfax quoted Kazakh security officials as saying that the heroin was to be delivered to the head of the Tajik trade mission in Almaty. Five Tajiks have been arrested. ITAR-TASS on 22 May quoted the Tajik Foreign Ministry as denying any knowledge of the incident. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES NEW LANGUAGE BILL

The lower house of the parliament began debating a new state language bill on 22 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The new draft reportedly makes no mention of giving Russian the status of an official state language, as President Askar Akaev had proposed to both chambers of parliament last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). But it does stipulate that no one should be discriminated against for the inability to speak Kyrgyz, which is currently the sole state language. The country's language legislation is one of the reasons cited by ethnic Russians for leaving Kyrgyzstan. LF

NEW KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS CHAIRMAN

The Erkindik (Freedom) Party, which split several months ago from the Erkin Kyrgyzstan (Free Kyrgyzstan) party, held its founding congress in Bishkek on 21 May and elected as its chairman Topchubek Turgunaliev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2000). Turgunaliev, who had founded Erkin Kyrgyzstan in 1990, has served two prison sentences in recent years on charges of insulting President Akaev. LF




BELARUS, KAZAKHSTAN BACK CIS FREE TRADE ZONE

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbaev, have spoken out in favor of a CIS free trade zone. The two presidents met in Minsk on 23 May, on the eve of a summit of the CIS Customs Union, which consists of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Russia. "If the free trade zone is not created, the CIS will be on the verge of collapse," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. Russia is the only country in the CIS Customs Union that has not ratified the free trade zone agreement. Moscow fears that the accord, which makes duties payable at the goods' destination rather than in their country of origin, would hurt Russia's economic interests since it is heavily dependent on exports of natural resources. Lukashenka and Nazarbaev agreed that Kazakhstan will continue to deliver wheat to Belarus in exchange for Belarusian tractors. JM

OSCE SLAMS BELARUS FOR SENTENCE ON FORMER PREMIER

The OSCE Consultative and Monitoring Group in Belarus has criticized the three-year suspended prison term imposed last week on former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2000), Belapan reported on 22 May. The group said it had notified the Belarusian authorities of a number of violations of the law during Chyhir's pretrial investigation and trial. The group also noted that the sentence "neutralizes on purpose the political potential of the former prime minister at a crucial moment of the development of the country" and "puts into doubt the readiness of the government to create a situation of trust and peace in the interest of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections." The OSCE mission called on the authorities to revise the sentence and thus "contribute to the restoration of the credibility and independence of the judiciary in Belarus." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS INTEGRATION WITH EUROPE 'QUESTION OF TIME'

"Ukraine's integration into the EU is not a question of choice, it is a question of time," Viktor Yushchenko said in Brussels on 22 May at a forum devoted to EU- Ukrainian relations, Interfax reported. Yushchenko added that Ukraine's membership in the EU is an "unconditional goal" of his cabinet's program. He said his government has recently taken a number of steps to bring the country closer to the EU, including abolishing almost all tax breaks and "optimizing" economic activities within the country. JM

UKRAINE'S SOCIALISTS WARN AGAINST TOTALITARIANISM

A congress of the Socialist Party in Kyiv on 20 May warned that Ukraine's democracy and parliamentary system is in danger, Interfax reported. The Socialists appealed to the international community "to condemn totalitarianism in Ukraine" and protest the country's current economic course, which they believe is oriented toward pauperizing the Ukrainian people. The congress re-elected Oleksandr Moroz as the party's head. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, in an address to the gathering, appealed to Ukrainian leftist forces to unite in order "to restore socialism" in the country. JM

ESTONIAN CENTRAL BANK COUNCIL, MERI AT ODDS OVER NOMINEE

The Council of the Bank of Estonia announced that it will renominate Mart Opmann as the bank's governor, even though President Lennart Meri has rejected his nomination, ETA and BNS reported on 22 May. "Opmann continues to be our candidate," bank council chairman Mart Sorg noted, adding "we will also investigate the legal side of the matter." Sorg has already asked Legal Chancellor Eerik-Juhan Truuvali to examine whether the constitution grants Meri the right to reject the bank council's choice. Members of the central bank council were invited to the President's Office late on 22 May to discuss the stalemate. AB

EBRD MEETING IN RIGA PROMPTS ENVIRONMENTAL PROTESTS

Four members of Greenpeace were detained and questioned by Riga police outside Congress House, where the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was still in session, BNS and LETA reported on 22 May. The protestors, three from Germany and one from the U.S., were removed for staging an unsanctioned demonstration against the EBRD's plans to finance the construction of two nuclear power stations in Ukraine. Police said no charges would be brought against them. The previous day, 20 protestors from the local Environmental Protection Club gathered outside Congress House, holding posters that called for the prevention of "globalization" and "financial totalitarianism." Their protest was peaceful and was monitored by the police. On 22 May, participants in the EBRD meeting praised Latvian officials for the arrangements made for the gathering, BNS reported. AB

LITHUANIA PROTESTS TO BELARUS OVER NEW MINISTER

Lithuania warned neighboring Belarus that General Vladimir Uskhopchik's appointment to deputy minister of defense could impair relations between the countries, BNS and "Lietuvos Rytas" reported 22 May. Uskhopchik headed the Vilnius-based division of Soviet troops that stormed the city's television tower in January 1991, killing 14 unarmed civilians. In 1994, Belarus refused an extradition request for Uskhopchik. The Lithuanian authorities have not dropped the charges against the general. AB

MAZEIKIU NAFTA, LUKOIL ESTABLISH JOINT MARKETING VENTURE

Mazeikiu Nafta and LUKoil, Russia's largest oil company, have agreed to establish a joint marketing venture in the Baltic region and a joint venture for crude oil transit from Russia to the Lithuanian refinery, ELTA reported 22 May. The negotiations, which took place in London, concluded with a protocol of intent whereby the oil refinery will receive 6 million tons of Russian crude oil from LUKoil each year. Mazeikiu Nafta reserves the right to purchase another 6 million tons from the joint supply venture. AB

POLAND'S FREEDOM UNION TO PULL OUT FROM GOVERNMENT?

Leaders of the Freedom Union (UW) have called a meeting of the UW National Council for 28 May to discuss withdrawing UW ministers from the government, Polish media reported on 22 May. Tensions over uncoordinated parliamentary votes between the UW and its coalition partner, the Solidarity Electoral Action, culminated over last week's appointment of a government commissioner to manage the Warsaw-Centrum commune, Poland's wealthiest municipality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 22 May 2000). The UW said that "remaining in the current arrangement gives no chances to efficiently rule the country," adding that "recent votes in the lower house show that the government of Jerzy Buzek has lost its majority." Buzek told the parliament on 23 May that he is ready to step down to prevent the collapse of the coalition. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT WINS LIBEL CASE AGAINST RIGHT-WING DAILY

The Warsaw District Court ruled on 22 May that the right- wing daily "Zycie" slandered President Aleksander Kwasniewski when it published a report in 1997 alleging that Kwasnieski had met with a Russian spy one year before taking office. The court ordered "Zycie" to publish a front-page apology but rejected Kwasniewski's demand for 2.5 million zlotys ($555,000) in damages, which was to go to a flood-relief fund. "Zycie" chief editor Tomasz Wolek called the verdict "scandalous" and said he will appeal. The newspaper submitted to the court hotel bills showing that Kwasniewski, together with his family, and the spy were staying in the same hotel at the same time. Kwasniewski's lawyers presented an Irish visa stamp in Kwasniewski's passport and a letter from British Airways confirming that he took a flight to Ireland at the time of his alleged meeting with the spy. JM

POLISH OFFICER SENTENCED FOR SPYING FOR MOSCOW

The Warsaw District Military Court on 22 May sentenced a former intelligence officer--identified as Colonel Czeslaw W., the head of the military intelligence service in Lodz--to four years in prison and demoted him to the rank of private, Polish media reported. The defendant was found guilty of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia in late 1980s and early 1990s. The court said he had revealed information regarding the activities of the Polish military intelligence service and handed over photocopies of confidential documents. The officer did not plead guilty. JM

CZECHS REJECT SUDETEN GERMANS' DEMAND

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told journalists after a 22 May cabinet meeting that he rejects the demand that Germans expelled under the 1945 Benes decrees be paid compensation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000), CTK reported. Kavan said he is "pleased" that his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, has already rejected the demand, which was made by the organization representing German expellees. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC EXTENDS VISA REQUIREMENT FOR CIS CITIZENS

Kavan also told journalists that visa requirements will be introduced "as of this summer and fall" for citizens of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Turkmenistan, CTK and ITAR-TASS reported. Citizens of Russia and Belarus need a visa to enter the Czech Republic as of 29 May, and Ukrainians will need a visa beginning 28 June, according to an earlier government decision. MS

CZECHS AGREE TO SELL SKODA STAKE TO GERMANS

The government on 22 May agreed to sell its remaining 30 percent stake in the Skoda car manufacturer to Volkswagen, provided the German company pays 12.3 billion crowns ($300 million) for the share, AP reported, quoting government spokesman Libor Roucek. Volkswagen already owns a 70 percent stake in Skoda. According to earlier reports, the government initially asked for 20 billion crowns but Volkswagen offered only 8 billion crowns. MS

CZECH, SLOVAK PREMIERS END FEDERAL PROPERTY DIVISION CONFLICT

Prime Minister Milos Zeman presented his Slovak counterpart, Mikulas Dzurinda, with a gold bar on 22 May, thereby symbolically ending the conflict over the division of the federal property of the former Czechoslovakia, AP and Reuters reported. Four tons of gold that had been at the center of that dispute were secretly transported last week to Bratislava. "Now that we have settled the past, we can tackle the future," Dzurinda said, adding that both countries see that future in a united Europe. MS

NEW HUNGARIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER SWORN IN

President Arpad Goncz on 22 May appointed FIDESZ parliamentary deputy Laszlo Nogradi as minister for transport and water management, Hungarian media reported. Nogradi replaces outgoing minister Kalman Katona, who was dismissed last week after he opposed Prime Minister Viktor Orban's plan to transfer telecommunications to the supervision of his office. MTI says that Katona is expected to become chairman of the Hungarian Electric Works. In related news, Istvan Stumpf, the minister heading the Prime Minister's Office, announced that Zoltan Sik has been appointed commissioner for telecommunications and information technology. MSZ




OPPOSITION CALLS BELGRADE RALLY

Leaders of several opposition parties appealed in a statement on 22 May to people throughout Serbia to attend a rally in Belgrade on 27 May. The meeting's slogan will be: "For Serbia, without terror and fear--for the freedom of Studio B [Television] and other media," AP reported. The statement added that the "resumption of terror against citizens and violence against media [will] result in a clear radicalization of our citizens, who increasingly oppose such behavior by the regime." Elsewhere, lawyer Borivoje Borovic said that a Belgrade court has sentenced some 31 persons to prison terms ranging from between 25 to 30 days for their participation in recent opposition rallies. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION TO CHANGE FOCUS?

Some 500 people turned out for a protest rally in Belgrade on 22 May, Reuters reported. Another 5,000 attended a rally in Cacak, where Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic spoke against the tough measures the police use toward demonstrators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000). Christian Democratic leader Vladan Batic said in Belgrade that the opposition and the Otpor (Resistance) student movement are considering changing the focus of their protests from public rallies to unspecified forms of civil disobedience. Elsewhere, Vladimir Goati and Mladjan Dinkic of the G-17 group of economists charged that the opposition parties have played into the hands of the regime, which is looking for an excuse to declare a state of emergency. For that reason, the G-17 will not participate in protests led by the parties, as opposed to those led by Otpor, "Danas" reported on 23 May. PM

OTPOR SEEKS OFFICIAL REGISTRATION

Some 50 members of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and an unspecified number of other prominent persons from the country's intellectual and cultural spheres attended a meeting organized by Otpor in Belgrade on 22 May to sign the "founding charter" of the student organization. Otpor intends to present the document to the Justice Ministry shortly as part of the legal procedure to register that organization. Otpor members feel that they will deprive the regime of an excuse to ban the organization if it is legally registered, AP reported. Several unidentified young men dressed in black attended the meeting and heckled the participants as "traitors" and "fascists," which are some of the regime's epithets for its opponents. PM

OSCE: SERBIAN REGIME THREATENS ITS REPRESENTATIVES

The OSCE said in a statement in Belgrade on 22 May that Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic recently sent a letter to Freimut Duve, who is the OSCE's chief representative dealing with freedom of the media. Matic accused Duve of being an "accomplice in a crime" by calling for an end to the Belgrade regime's campaign against the independent media. Matic added that "support for independent media is defined as 'terrorism and a crime against a sovereign state.'" He added that "we have a long memory," AP reported. PM

SERBIAN JOURNALIST REARRESTED FOR 'ESPIONAGE'

A military court in Nis on 22 May ordered the rearrest of Miroslav Filipovic for "espionage" and "spreading false information" because of several articles he wrote for "Danas," AFP, and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). The espionage charge could carry a stiff penalty and centers on some of Filipovic's articles for the IWPR. A military prosecutor asked the court to order Filipovic's return to detention, from which he was freed on 12 May, Reuters reported. PM

EU HELP FOR MONTENEGRO

EU foreign ministers have agreed in Brussels on a $10 million aid package for Montenegro. The ministers also pledged unspecified future assistance to promote democracy, freedom of expression, and inter-ethnic relations in the mountainous republic. Meanwhile in Podgorica, President Milo Djukanovic said that Bodo Hombach, who heads the EU's Balkan Stability Pact, recently promised him that Montenegro will attend the pact's meeting in Thessaloniki in July as a full participant, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Montenegro plans to participate in some 20 projects that the pact is coordinating, Djukanovic added. Montenegro, which under international law is part of federal Yugoslavia and not a sovereign state, has attended previous meetings of the pact as an observer. PM

THACI: INDEPENDENT KOSOVA STILL THE GOAL

Hashim Thaci told a convention of his Democratic Party of Kosova in Prishtina that independence for the province remains his goal and that of the party, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 23 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000). The delegates elected a 61- member steering committee. "Die Presse" noted that Thaci is having a difficult time maintaining the support of his former fighters from the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Many more radical UCK members now back Ramush Hajradani's Alliance for the Future of Kosova, as do Azem Vllasi and some other former communist-era leaders. Many moderate UCK supporters and former backers of Ibrahim Rugova have joined Naim Maloku's Liberal Center Party. Both Hajradani and Maloku are widely regarded as heroes of the 1999 conflict. PM

UNHCR SAYS 150,000 NON-SERBS FLED KOSOVA

The UNHCR released statistics in Prishtina on 22 May showing that it has registered some 150,000 Serbs, Roma, and other non-Albanians who fled the province in 1999. Most left following the end of the NATO bombing campaign against the Belgrade regime. The Belgrade authorities put the figure of Serbs who left much higher and charge that NATO has done little to protect Kosova's Serbs. Some local Serb and refugee leaders have accused Belgrade of doing little or nothing to help the refugees. PM

BELGRADE TURNS BACK MACEDONIANS WITH UNMIK VISAS

The Serbian authorities have recently denied entry to Macedonian citizens whose passports contain visas issued for Kosova by the UN civilian authority in that province (UNMIK). The Macedonians also received stamps in their passport barring them from future trips to Serbia. The Belgrade authorities claim that entering Kosova on a UNMIK visa constitutes illegal entry into Serbia, dpa reported from Skopje on 22 May. PM

CONVICTED BOSNIAN WAR CRIMINAL TESTIFIES AGAINST COMMANDER

Drazen Erdemovic, who has completed a jail sentence for war crimes, testified in The Hague on 22 May against former Bosnian Serb commander General Radislav Krstic. The officer is charged with ordering the killing of up to 7,500 mainly Muslim males after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995. Erdemovic is a Croat married to a Serb. He claims he was forced to take part in murders or be killed himself. PM

COOK SLAMS BOSNIAN LEADERS

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in Sarajevo on 22 May that Bosnia's "privileged elites and corrupt political parties" are to blame for the republic's problems. "I put the blame squarely at the feet of the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Reuters reported. He noted that the international community has provided the republic with more than $5 billion in assistance over the past five years and sent "hundreds of thousands of international military and civilian personnel" there. PM

YET ANOTHER CANDIDATE FOR BOSNIAN JOINT PREMIER

The Bosnian joint presidency approved Spasoje Tusevljak as its nominee for the post of joint prime minister on 22 May. Tusevljak is an economics professor who owes his nomination to the fact that he belongs to no political party, "Oslobodjenje" reported. If the parliament approves him, the next task will be choosing a joint cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April and 18 May 2000). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER STARTS U.S. VISIT

Mugur Isarescu, who is on a five-day visit to the U.S., has met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Defense Minster William Perry, who is the joint chairman of the Romania-U.S. Action Commission, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 22 May. Albright praised Romania's contribution to regional stability. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Albright commended Isarescu for his government's determination to pursue economic reform and congratulated him on the recent memorandum on reaching an agreement with the IMF. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION TO BASIC TREATY WITH MOLDOVA GROWING...

Nineteen senators signed a declaration on 22 May demanding that the recently initialed basic treaty with Moldova be substantially amended, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Earlier the same day, the Civic Alliance Movement distanced itself from the Moldovan treaty. National Peasant Party Christian Democratic Senator Ioan Moisin, who initiated the declaration, said the senators demand that the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact be explicitly condemned, that "Bessarabia" be explicitly recognized in the treaty as being "historical Romanian territory" whose future fate "can be decided only in a joint [Romanian-Moldovan] referendum," and that the treaty be defined as " provisional" and "a stage [toward]...Moldova's natural unification with the mother country". MS

...WHILE CONDITIONS ARE SET FOR TREATY WITH RUSSIA

Setting conditions for a similar basic treaty with Russia, the signatories to the 22 May declaration are also demanding that Russia recognize that "Bessarabia" and northern Bukovina are historic Romanian territories, as are Herta County and the Serpents Island (all in contemporary Ukraine). They also want Moscow to return to Romania the treasury held in the Russian capital since World War I and repatriate to Romania those people deported from Bessarabia and Bukovina under Soviet rule. MS

ROMANIA TO TEMPORARILY CLOSE POLLUTING PLANT

Environment Minister Romica Tomescu on 22 May said that the chemical plant at Turnu Magurele, which has frequently polluted the Bulgarian town of Nikopol across the Danube River, will be "temporarily shut down" for repairs. Part of the plant was closed in November 1999, after ammonia levels in Nikopol reached 20 times the permitted level, AP reported. MS

EBRD DOUBTFUL ABOUT FEASIBILITY OF DANUBE BRIDGE FINANCING

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Acting President Charles Frank, in an interview with RFE/RL on 20 May, said the economic viability of investing in the planned Vidin-Calafat bridge over the River Danube is "questionable" and that the EBRD may decide against helping fund the new bridge, which will link Bulgaria and Romania. But Alexander Bozhkov, Bulgaria's chief negotiator with the EU, told RFE/RL that he expects the bank to change its mind after other backers commit themselves. Both officials were speaking in Riga, where the EBRD held its annual meeting last weekend. MS

BULGARIAN COALITION OPPOSES INCREASED PRESIDENTIAL POWERS

Leaders of Bulgaria's center-right coalition told President Petar Stoyanov on 22 May that they are opposed to changing the status of his largely ceremonial office, AP reported. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov told journalists after meeting Stoyanov that "attempts to replace [political] parties" as the core of Bulgaria's political life are "inadmissible." Aleksandar Pramatarski, leader of the Democratic Party, said that the parties constitute "the basic political institution in Bulgaria" and that his group "vehemently opposes turning Bulgaria into a presidential republic." Calls for increasing the presidential prerogatives have come from opposition politicians and intellectuals. Stoyanov has not made a bid for more power, but recently he said he lacks the political instruments for influencing the government's economic policies and the struggle against corruption. MS




JAW-JAW OR WAR-WAR?


By Liz Fuller

In one of his first statements following his 7 May inauguration as Russian president, Vladimir Putin said that the draft law on direct federal rule in Chechnya will be submitted to the State Duma "in the very near future." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 May quoted then acting Justice Minister Yurii Chaika as saying Putin may issue a federal decree imposing direct rule even before the Duma passes the required legislation.

One of the immediate consequences of imposing direct rule, as the same newspaper pointed out, would be to deprive Aslan Maskhadov of the status of Chechnya's legitimate leader and thus obviate the need for any negotiations with him. That imminent loss of political relevance to Moscow may be one of the reasons for Maskhadov's recent peace proposals, the latest of which was unveiled on 8 May. The first phase of that draft settlement plan, which Maskhadov envisaged being implemented by 31 May, entails a cessation of hostilities, a cease-fire, the start of government-level talks, and a broad amnesty for participants in the fighting. Maskhadov also proposes that Russian-Chechen military districts be created and a civilian administration formed. During the second phase, which would begin six months later, Chechnya would be demilitarized and control handed back to civilians under the supervision of the OSCE.

Russian spokesmen, both civilian and military, continue to insist, however, that the only topic on which talks may be conducted with Maskhadov are the conditions under which he and the Chechen fighters whom he claims to control are prepared to surrender. But there are grounds for suspecting that Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii's repeated denials that any such talks are being conducted or even considered are directed in the first instance at those Russian generals who are intent on continuing the war until the last pocket of Chechen resistance is wiped out.

In late April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" cited the Moscow- based news agency Svobodnaya Chechnya as reporting that as a result of direct talks between Maskhadov and the Russian leadership, a five-point agreement had been reached. Under that accord, Maskhadov would remain Chechen president; all Russian servicemen held prisoner in Chechnya would be released; all Chechen fighters would surrender their weapons, after which all those who had not participated either in terrorist acts or hostage-taking would be amnestied; and a Chechen government would be formed in which Maskhadov's supporters, the pro-Moscow Chechen diaspora, and representatives of the Russian population of Chechnya would be equally represented. But serious disagreements between the two sides remained, according to Svobodnaya Chechnya, over Chechnya's future status within the Russian Federation and the permanent deployment there of Russian troops.

If the information gathered by Svobodnaya Chechnya is reliable and such an agreement with Maskhadov was indeed reached, it may have been torpedoed by the two Chechen ambushes of Russian Defense Ministry forces in Chechnya on 24 and 26 April. And the Russian military will doubtless adduce the 11 May Chechen attack on a Russian troop column in Ingushetia to substantiate its argument that the most effective course of action is to eliminate Chechen resistance by force, rather than seek a political settlement of the conflict.

The introduction of direct federal rule has the advantage of sidelining Maskhadov, whose ability to control his field commanders is questionable, while allowing the federal forces to continue their operations to wipe out the Chechen resistance and permitting Moscow to appoint its own interim candidate as Chechen leader for the next couple of years. One of the prospective candidates for that post is Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who had proposed the option of presidential rule for Chechnya to Putin two months ago. Kadyrov told "Vremya novostei" recently that talks with Maskhadov are essential in order to persuade the Chechen president to surrender his powers to the Chechen parliament elected in early 1997 and "stop hindering [a settlement]." He said that body includes several dozen deputies with whom Moscow could embark on negotiations on Chechnya's future relations with Russia.

Both Kadyrov's logic and that underlining Moscow's apparent determination to impose direct presidential rule seems to be based on the assumption that the Chechen military threat will somehow cease to exist at some point in the near future. But Moscow's parallel argument that Maskhadov is incapable of reining in his field commanders undercuts that assumption. To judge by the recent attack in Ingushetia, Moscow is more likely to be faced with the threat of continued Chechen guerrilla attacks not just in Chechnya but over an increasingly broad geographical area until Chechen field commanders and their supporters decide that such tactics are no longer effective. And the sequel is likely to be that outlined by the Conflict Studies Research Center Charles Blandy in a superb analysis earlier this year: as many as three Chechen governments-in-exile, at least one of which is likely to resort to terrorist attacks against Russian targets.


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