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Newsline - May 29, 2000




MOSCOW RULES OUT 'RECKLESS' INTERVENTION IN AFGHANISTAN...

Distancing himself still further from his 22 May threat that Russia could launch preemptive strikes against Taliban bases in Afghanistan, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 26 May that any replay of the "reckless" 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan is "out of the question," Interfax reported. Also on 26 May, the commander-in-chief of Russia's Strategic Rocket Force, Colonel-General Vladimir Yakovlev, told journalists in St. Petersburg that those forces would not be used to launch such a strike, according to Interfax. "We have other deterrents and means to hit terrorists," he said. Interfax quoted unnamed Russian defense experts as saying that the best planes for such a mission are the long-range Tu-22MZ and the front-line Su-24 bomber. Some 20 of the latter are currently deployed in Tajikistan. LF

...AS TALIBAN THREATEN UZBEKISTAN

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar warned Uzbekistan that it will carry "full responsibility" if it allows Russia to launch an attack on Afghanistan from its territory, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 May. In a clear indication that Tashkent has no intention of allowing Russia to do so, however, President Islam Karimov said on 25 May that Uzbekistan will not agree to the deployment of Russian troops or military facilities on its territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2000). Mullah Omar also denied that there are any Uzbek terrorists in Afghanistan. Tajik officials recently claimed that they had persuaded Djuma Namangani, one of the leaders of the Islamic Party of Uzbekistan--which is banned in Uzbekistan--and several hundred of his armed supporters, to leave Tajikistan for Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2000). LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT SAYS CONTACTS BROKEN WITH MOSCOW

Aslan Maskhadov told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 26 May that following the detention earlier this month of Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov and the editor of the underground Chechen newspaper "Ichkeria," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2000), all political contacts between the Chechen and Russian leaderships on possible peace talks have come to an end. Maskhadov condemned as "irresponsible" Russian presidential aide Yastrzhembskii's threat to launch preemptive strikes against Taliban bases in Afghanistan (see above). He said that Chechnya had not requested any military help from Afghanistan or any other country because "we have enough forces and means to sustain a full partisan war with the Russian army." LF

MOSCOW DENIES INCURRING HEAVY CASUALTIES IN CHECHNYA

Yastrzhembskii and Russian Interior Ministry deputy troop commander Lieutenant-General Stanislav Kavun told journalists in Moscow on 26 May that reports that up to 60 Russian servicemen were killed in Chechnya the previous day are untrue, Interfax reported. On 24 May, the Chechens claimed to have launched a massive counterattack on Grozny and to have inflicted heavy losses on the town's Russian defenders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). Also on 26 May, "Trud" quoted Grozny's military commandant, Major-General Vasilii Prizemlin, as denying that large numbers of rebels failed to leave the capital in February and have since then remained in hiding underground, launching nighttime raids. LF

RUSSIAN COMMANDER SAYS CHECHEN POPULATION SHOULD NAME NEW LEADERSHIP

Colonel-General Gennadii Troshev, who is tipped to take over command of the federal forces in Chechnya from Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev, told journalists at federal headquarters in Bachi-Yurt on 27 May that each district of Chechnya should propose "influential people," from among whom three, five, or 10 could be selected to engage in peace talks, Interfax reported. But Troshev ruled out the participation in such talks of either Maskhadov or other "irreconcilable militants." He added that the Russian forces' "main tasks" at present are to capture or kill the leading Chechen field commanders. LF

RUSSIAN COMMISSIONER ALSO PROPOSES COLLECTIVE MEDIATING BODY

Former Russian Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov, who heads the Russian Public Commission on Chechnya, told journalists on 27 May after a 40-minute discussion of the Chechen situation with President President Vladimir Putin that "we do not see a single leader of the Chechen people and should deal with a collective body for a settlement in Chechnya," Interfax reported. Putin reportedly told members of Krasheninnikov's commission during that meeting that Russia is not oppressing the Chechen people, merely "combating banditry and terrorism." LF

PUTIN REAPPOINTS ALLEGED BEREZOVSKII PROTEGE...

Russian President Putin reappointed Aleksandr Voloshin as head of the presidential administration on 27 May. The Russian press has consistently linked Voloshin, who has held the post since March 1999, with business magnate Boris Berezovskii and former President Boris Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko JAC

...AND ASSIGNS DUTY ROSTER OF SECURITY COUNCIL

Putin also renamed on 27 May Sergei Ivanov as secretary of the Security Council. Other permanent members of the Security Council are Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Federal Security Service head Nikolai Patrushev. Also appointed were Voloshin, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information Director Vladimir Matyukhin, Military Intelligence Service head Sergei Lebedev, Federal Border Service head Konstantin Totskii, Russian Academy of Sciences President Yurii Osipov, and the presidential envoys to the seven federal administrative districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). JAC

PUTIN OPENS EU-RUSSIA SUMMIT

Addressing a high-level delegation of European Commission officials in Moscow on 29 May, President Putin declared that "Russia has accorded and will continue to accord vital importance to its relationship with Europe." Putin added that Russia "was, is, and will be a European country by its location, its culture, and its attitude toward economic integration," Interfax reported. Among those attending the EU-Russia summit are Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres and Foreign Minister Jaime Gama, EU President Roman Prodi, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Leading negotiations for Russia will be Prime Minister Kasyanov, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, Foreign Minister Ivanov, and presidential envoy to the Group of Seven, Andrei Illarionov. Prior to the meeting, Ivanov told Interfax on 26 May that he "hopes that the EU portfolio contains constructive plans, not only a dossier on Chechnya." JAC

UNITY BECOMES A PARTY...

The pro-Kremlin movement Unity transformed itself into a party at a founding congress in Moscow on 27 May. Unity's faction leader in the State Duma, Boris Gryzhlov, declared at the congress that "the range of views in Russia should be limited to two or three parties" and that Unity will occupy "the center" of the country's political spectrum. Gryzhlov rejected comparison of Unity with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, noting that Unity "rejects all forms of monopolization of political life" and that Unity's principles are incompatible with "the notorious 'democratic centralism.'" Gryzhlov also noted that Unity favors "free access to markets, private ownership, and fair competition." Sergei Shoigu, who was re-elected as the new party's leader, said that with 128,000 members Unity is the second largest party in Russia after the Communist Party. JAC

...AS OUR HOME IS RUSSIA CEASES TO EXIST?

According to Gryzhlov, a number of movements and political organizations have decided to join Unity, including Our Home is Russia (NDR) and All Russia. NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin told reporters on 25 May that the three organizations plan to form a single party. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 May, participants at the eighth congress of Our Home is Russia (NDR) decided formally to end their existence as NDR and join Unity. The chairman of NDR's executive committee, Yevgenii Trofimov, was elected a member of Unity's Political Council while Chernomyrdin was elected a member of its Observer Council. According to ITAR-TASS, the Observer Council is not necessarily a governing body and its members may not necessarily be members of Unity. Former NDR faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov decided not to join Unity's Political Council, saying it was "too serious" a step, but he added that he supports the creation of a "center right" party, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. JAC

PUTIN CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING STATE, CIVIL SOCIETY...

Addressing participants at Unity's congress on 27 May, President Putin called on Unity to overcome the "weakness" of Russia's state institutions and civil society, ITAR-TASS reported. He also lamented the "very modest" influence of political parties on regional elections and noted that candidates trying to distance themselves from political parties "come under the influence of clans and groups, closed off from society and pursuing their own corporate interests." According to Putin, Russia has "no more important task" than ridding itself "...of poverty and backwardness." JAC

...AND DEFENDS HIS EFFORT TO RESTRUCTURE FEDERATION

Putin also addressed criticism of legislation that he recently submitted to the State Duma that would introduce seven new administrative federal districts and remove regional leaders that violate federal laws. He said the "steps that we are taking are aimed at strengthening the unity of Russia" and eradicating the emergence of "'states within the state' with their own laws that run counter to the constitution of Russia." He noted that it was because of these mini-states that "medium-sized and small businesses have failed to develop." During a meeting with the leaders of 16 regions in Siberia on 27 May, Putin stressed that the purpose of his reforms is not to "interfere in the internal affairs of the region, but to ensure the more efficient work of federal structures." He added that "you can call the reforms managerial--not federal, not constitutional, but managerial." JAC

GREF TAKES ON OIL LOBBY

In an interview with Russian Television on 29 May, Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref accused the "petroleum lobby" of trying to link increases in gasoline and vodka prices with the government's tax reform plan in order to kill one of that plan's key components, the hike in the excise tax on gasoline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2000). Gref insisted that "gasoline prices, even if they go up, will not increase by more than 25-30 percent in 2001," while vodka prices will remain unchanged. Meanwhile, a variety of regional officials told ITAR-TASS that they expect higher prices on merchandise and services because of the sixfold increase in the excise tax. For example, the head of Krasnoyarsk's Union of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs, Valerii Sergeiyenko, predicted a 40 percent increase in prices, while Chuvash Prime Minister Enver Ablyakimov suggested that the hike in the excise tax will affect all industries. JAC

RUBLE REMAINS UNPOPULAR

According to a survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation of 1,500 urban and rural residents in Russian in May 2000, more than half--56 percent- -prefer to hold their savings in U.S. dollars while only 14 percent chose rubles, Interfax reported on 26 May. According to a survey conducted two years ago by the same organization, 64 percent preferred dollars and 15 percent rubles. The dollar is clearly the currency of choice among respondents under 35 years of age--some 78 percent of them prefer the greenback. JAC

PUTIN SIGNS TEST BAN TREATY

President Putin signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on 28 May. The treaty was ratified by the State Duma on 21 April and by the Federation Council on 17 May. JAC

ENVOY SAYS U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS TO BE BASED ON EQUALITY

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 27 May, Andrei Illarionov, the recently appointed presidential envoy to the Group of Seven, announced that Russia plans to introduce a new concept for U.S.-Russian relations at the upcoming June summit in Moscow between President Putin and U.S. President Bill Clinton. According to Illarionov, the bilateral relationship will now be one between equals because Russia will start living according to its means without borrowing from abroad. He said "Currently Russia does not ask anything from international financial institutions." JAC




AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RATIFIES OIL PIPELINE AGREEMENT

Deputies voted on 26 May by 93-0 with three abstentions to ratify the package of agreements on construction of the Baku- Ceyhan oil export pipeline, Interfax and Turan reported. Those agreements were signed by the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey in November 1999 and earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999 and 11 May 2000). The Georgian parliament is to debate ratification of the agreement on 30 May, and its Turkish counterpart by 10 June. Western oil company representatives met in Tbilisi last week with Georgian officials to discuss four possible routes for the Georgian sector of the pipeline, according to Caucasus Press. Experts from Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey gathered on 29 May to prepare for joint military exercises, to be held next month, on guarding the pipeline once it is completed. Once a consortium to finance the 1,730 km pipeline has been created, construction time is estimated at three years. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT OPENS WEBSITE

Ayaz Mutalibov, who has lived in Moscow since the Azerbaijan Popular Front thwarted his bid to regain power in May 1992, has launched his personal website at , Turan reported on 27 May. The same day, several hundred members of the political parties aligned in the United Azeri Forces congregated at the memorial on the outskirts of Baku to Azerbaijan Democratic Republic leader Memed Emin Rasulzade to mark the 82nd anniversary of the proclamation of Azerbaijan's independence. They carried banners proclaiming their support for Mutalibov and demanding democratic reforms, free and fair elections, and the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. LF

RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA

Visiting Tbilisi on 26-27 May, Vladimir Rushailo met with his Georgian counterpart, Kakha Targamadze, and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The two ministers focused on joint measures to combat organized crime and drug-smuggling and signed a cooperation program for the period 2000-2001. Rushailo told journalists that several "odious figures" from Chechnya are currently living in Georgia's Pankisi gorge, which borders on Chechnya. He said that Georgian and Russian law enforcement agencies are working together to prevent Chechen fighters crossing into Georgia under the guise of refugees. Rushailo also affirmed Moscow's readiness to enter a dialogue with any Chechen figures who have the authority to end the current fighting, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

DEPUTIES FROM ABKHAZIA QUIT GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT MAJORITY FACTION

The 17 deputies from the Abkhazeti faction, which represents the ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war, decided on 27 May to quit the Georgian parliament majority faction, Caucasus Press reported. In the future the Abkhazeti faction will seek to represent the interests of those displaced persons, and may to that end transform itself into a political party, but it will not join the parliamentary opposition, faction member Gia Gvazava said. It is not clear whether the proposed new party will merge with the Party for the Liberation of Abkhazia formed in late 1999 by Abkhaz parliament-in-exile chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili. Nadareishvili announced his resignation from that post last week to protest the Georgian government's approach to resolving the Abkhaz conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). Following Abkhazeti's decision, the Union of Citizens of Georgia and the "Majoritarian" faction together have a 135 majority in the 235-member legislature. LF

CHINESE DELEGATION TARGETED IN KYRGYZSTAN

Unidentified gunmen opened fire in Bishkek late on 25 May on a car carrying three ethnic Uighur members of a delegation from China's neighboring Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Reuters and AP reported. One of the three was killed, and the other two injured. The three men had traveled to Bishkek to investigate an arson attack earlier this month on the city's Chinese market. An ethnic Uighur citizen of Kyrgyzstan was shot dead in Bishkek two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2000). LF

PUTIN PRAISES KYRGYZ LAW ON RUSSIAN LANGUAGE

Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev on 26 May to express his approval of the law adopted the previous day that designates Russia an official language in Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported. A member of Putin's press service said the Russian president considers that legislation the outcome of joint efforts to protect the rights of Kyrgyzstan's ethnic Russian population. The law is intended to stem the increasing emigration of Russians from Kyrgyzstan. Until recently, ethnic Russians, who held many senior economic and administrative posts, played an important role in defusing tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan between local Kyrgyz and the region's sizable Uzbek minority. The prospect of an escalation in such tensions, together with the earlier language law that Russians considered discriminatory, contributed to the increase this year in ethnic Russian emigration. LF

TURKMENISTAN REDUCES ACCESS TO INTERNET

The Turkmen government has rescinded the licenses of all the country's private Internet providers as of 29 May, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. State-owned Turkmentelekom is the sole remaining company providing Internet access. LF




BELARUS, UKRAINE CRITICIZE RUSSIA OVER FREE TRADE ACCORD

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, met in Brest on 27 May and agreed to sign accords on mutual debts and border issues, Belapan and Interfax reported. No details of the accords have been made known. Kuchma said after the meeting that Russia pursues its own political interests in the CIS while failing to promote genuine economic integration. "All the CIS countries have ratified the free trade accord, only Russia is undecided. What customs union can we speak of?" Belarusian Television quoted Kuchma as saying. "This is the main problem, a stumbling block.... He [Kuchma] is right," Lukashenka responded. JM

MINSK 'UPSET' BY U.S. SENATOR'S INTENT TO SUPPORT OPPOSITION

Belarus's Foreign Ministry said on 27 May that it is "upset" by Senator Jesse Helms's pledge to sponsor legislation to provide direct U.S. financial support to democratic forces and civil society in Belarus, Belapan reported. Helms, who chairs the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, promised such a move at a 24 May meeting in Washington with a Belarusian opposition delegation. The delegation consisted of Vintsuk Vyachorka, head of the Belarusian Popular Front; Anatol Lyabedzka, head of the United Civic Party; Pavel Zhuk, chief editor of "Nasha Svaboda," an independent newspaper; and Zmitser Bandarenka, a leader of the Charter-97 human rights group. The ministry warned the U.S. that the pledged support constitutes interference in Belarus's internal affairs. JM

UKRAINE TO HOLD CROWDED PARLIAMENTARY BY-ELECTIONS

Central Electoral Commission head Mykhaylo Ryabets said on 26 May that 179 candidates have registered to seek parliamentary seats in 10 constituencies where his commission ordered by- elections for 25 June, Interfax reported. Those seeking parliamentary mandates include Economics Minister Serhiy Tyhypko (currently on leave) and the former head of Naftohaz, Ihor Bakay. Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko did not register despite rumors that she may want to quit Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet for the parliament (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 May 2000). JM

UKRAINIAN TEACHERS DEMAND OVERDUE WAGES

Some 2,500 teachers on 26 May picketed the government building to demand that the government pay their overdue wages, and for it to increase salaries and budget spending on education, Interfax reported. According to Leonid Sachkov, head of the Trade Union of Education Workers, the wage backlog in the sector now totals 140 million hryvni ($25.8 million). Sachkov said the average monthly wage of a teacher is 138 hryvni ($25). JM

BALTIC ASSEMBLY MEETS IN TARTU...

The Baltic Assembly, a joint meeting of the legislatures of the three countries, held its 16th session in Tartu on 26-28 May. Economic cooperation topped the agenda, as well as tourism and defense issues, ELTA reported. Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar lauded Baltic cooperation, saying, "We are linked by common aims--Euro-integration and accession to transatlantic structures," adding, "We can only do it by supporting each other and learning from each other's success, and if we are clever, also each other's mistakes," BNS reported. The body adopted six resolutions: development of tourism, prevention of illicit trade, cooperation on food control, sustainable development, an anti-drugs campaign, and human rights in Belarus. The three foreign ministers also signed an agreement on the exchange of classified information, ETA added. MH

...AS ESTONIA AND LATVIA PUSH ENERGY TIE-UP

Also on 26 May, Estonian Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja and Latvian Economics Minister Aigars Kalvitis signed a letter of intent pledging closer cooperation in the energy sector. Many analysts say this agreement foreshadows a merger of the power companies Eesti Energia and Latvenergo, ETA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). Estonian Prime Minister Laar stressed that Lithuania should also take part in the common Baltic energy market after officials in Vilnius voiced anger at being left out in this deal. Parnoja said Lithuania was excluded at this point because Swedish company Vattenfall has a 10 percent stake in Lietuvos Energija, while the other two are fully state-owned. MH

ESTONIAN SHOPPING CENTER BOMBER CAUGHT

Police in Tallinn arrested three individuals suspected of planting two small bombs in the well-frequented Stockmann shopping center, ETA reported on 26 May. The bombs went off on 19 May, causing minor damage and several injuries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000). "Postimees" reported that one of the suspects arrested is a security guard with ESS Security, which provides security to Stockmann. Security at the shopping center has been stepped up visibly since the bombing and there has been a copycat attempt with yet another anonymous bomb threat was made after the arrest. MH

EU ISSUES STATEMENT SUPPORTING LATVIA

Portugal, which holds the rotating EU presidency, on 25 May issued a strongly- worded statement supporting Latvia in light of Russian criticism, BNS and LETA reported. The statement said that recent Russian "sharp statements" reproaching Latvia and Estonia is "not only unproductive but are simply unacceptable for modern Europe." MH

LITHUANIAN MAYOR FACES CORRUPTION CHARGES, ANGRY PARTY

Algirdas Balcytis, mayor of the western Silute district is coming under increasing pressure to resign after charges of corruption were levied against him, ELTA reported. Arturas Paulauskas, leader of the New Alliance (Social Liberals), formally suspended Balcytis, a party member, on 26 May. Balcytis is accused of funneling municipal funds designated to repair damage from hurricane Anatoli into two companies he controls, an amount estimated at 84,500 litas ($21,125). There is some confusion over a planned no-confidence motion against Balcytis, while other reports suggest that Paulauskas has been further angered by Balcytis reneging on an agreement to resign. MH

POLAND'S FREEDOM UNION WITHDRAWS MINISTERS FROM CABINET

The Freedom Union, led by Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, voted on 28 May to withdraw its ministers from the 30-month-long cabinet coalition with the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). The pullout brings an uneasy political partnership--in which the liberal UW often accused the AWS of reneging on coalition promises and failing to give legislative support to vital market-oriented reforms--to a very critical juncture. The UW, however, held open the option of forming a new cabinet with the AWS under a new prime minister provided that the AWS disciplines its rebellious deputies in the parliament. The UW on 29 May submitted the resignations of Balcerowicz, Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka, Transport Minister Tadeusz Syryjczyk, and four deputy ministers. Premier Jerzy Buzek rejected the resignations, urging the coalition partners "to start talks immediately." JM

WILL POLAND HAVE MINORITY CABINET?

AWS leaders decided at an emergency meeting on 28 May to recommend that its National Council hold talks with the UW in order to save the ruling coalition. Last week the AWS proposed economist Boguslaw Grabowski, a member of the National Bank's Monetary Policy Council, as a replacement for Buzek. Balcerowicz praised Grabowski as a man with "strong, clear economic views, which are in line with Poland's needs," but noted that the AWS first must ensure parliamentary support for a new premier among its own lawmakers. If the UW and the AWS fail to agree on a new coalition, the AWS could try to form a minority government. The AWS controls 185 of the 460 seats in the lower house. Polish commentators deem early parliamentary elections unlikely because of the presidential ballot that is to take place this fall. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE'S EUROPEAN INTEGRATION

Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 26 May that Poland will support Ukraine's integration with Europe, PAP and Interfax reported. "Europe will be free only if Ukraine becomes a member of the European structures, if it is allowed into European markets," Interfax quoted him as saying. Kwasniewski met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Rzeszow at a Polish-Ukrainian economic forum where they discussed ways to boost bilateral trade and investment as well as joint plans to construct an Odesa-Brody-Gdansk gas pipeline. Kwasniewski denied reports that Poland supports a project to construct the Yamal-Slovakia pipeline via Polish territory and bypassing Ukraine, Ukrainian Television reported (see "RFE/RL's Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 May 2000). JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE AMENDS ELECTORAL LAW

With a vote of 117 for and 45 against, the Chamber of Deputies on 26 May approved a bill sponsored under the Social Democratic Party (CSSD)--Civic Democratic Party "opposition agreement" amending the electoral law in favor of larger political formations. The senate has yet to approve the bill. Under the amended legislation, the proportional system remains but the number of electoral districts increases from eight to 35. Due to that change, fewer seats will be allocated from each district to the 200-strong chamber, thus making it more difficult for smaller parties to gain representation. The 5 percent electoral hurdle is maintained, but party-alliances will have to get between 10 and 20 percent of the vote to gain representation, depending on the number of members in the alliance, CTK and Reuters reported. Six deputies representing the CSSD voted against the bill. MS

CZECH PREMIER REJECTS GERMAN COMPENSATION DEMAND, DEFENDS BENES DECREES

In an interview with the "Berliner Zeitung" published on 26 May, Milos Zeman rejected a recent demand by the organization representing Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1945 to receive financial compensation, CTK reported. Zeman said that this organization "is not a partner of the Czech government" in the Czech-German Fund for the Future from which it demands the compensation and that "if I were a Czech nationalist, I would speak about the 300,000 Czech victims of the Nazi regime that was supported by the Sudeten Germans." He added that "since I am not a nationalist, I prefer to close that chapter of the past." MS

SLOVAK LEFTIST PARTY ABANDONS DEMAND FOR CABINET RESHUFFLING

Jozef Migas, leader of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), told journalists on 28 May after a meeting of his party's National Council that the SDL has abandoned its demand for changes in Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet but has "entrusted its ministers and deputies with the task of consistently implementing the party's program," CTK reported. Migas said the SDL will demand that the coalition partners implement their pledges in the social and economic spheres, coordinate economic policies, "radically improve" industrial performance in order to reduce unemployment, reform the judicial system, and improve public security. MS

U.S. TO SUPPORT SLOVAK OECD MEMBERSHIP

The U.S. will back Slovakia's quest for gaining membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Douglas Hengel, charge d'affaires at the embassy in Bratislava, told journalists on 26 May. He said the support follows the cabinet's "firm commitment to undertake continued reforms" and will ensue "provided all OECD technical requirements have been met," CTK and AP reported. MS

WORLD FEDERATION OF HUNGARIANS DEMANDS REVISION OF TRIANON TREATY

The assembly of the World Federation of Hungarians (MVSZ) on 26 May decided to ask the Hungarian government and international bodies to review the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon, which caused Hungary to lose some 70 percent of its territory to other states. Imre Borbely, president of the MVSZ's Carpathian Basin branch, said it would be desirable to examine whether the provisions of the treaty on the right to self-determination of minorities have been implemented. He said the federation does not demand any border changes. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said Hungary's foreign policy will not change despite the MVSZ's call. The federation on 26 May elected Miklos Patrubany, president of the MVSZ's Transylvanian branch, as its chairman. Thirteen delegates of the MVSZ have "suspended" their membership, saying they are unhappy with the presidium, which is dominated by Transylvanians. MSZ

TORGYAN STRESSES ROLE OF JEWS IN HUNGARY

"There can be no Europe without Hungarians, and there can be no Hungarians without Jews," Agriculture and Regional Development Minister Jozsef Torgyan told an international conference on the future of Jewry in Europe and promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue on 26 May in Debrecen. He said that incitement to hatred, regardless against whom it is directed, must be "stifled at [its] source," Hungarian media reported. MSZ




MILOSEVIC ACCEPTS INVITATION TO VISIT MONTENEGRO

Predrag Bulatovic, who is vice president of the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) of Montenegro, said in Podgorica on 28 May that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has accepted the SNP's invitation to visit Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). Bulatovic did not specify when or where Milosevic will go. Bulatovic added that the trip will "create problems" for the reformist government of President Milo Djukanovic because he "cooperates with the [Hague-based war crimes] tribunal and will have to keep his promise to arrest all war crimes suspects, including the Yugoslav president," "Danas" reported. Bulatovic added that Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic was "wise" when he said that Montenegro will only detain those indicted persons whose arrests will not harm "civil peace" in the republic, Reuters reported. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY WARNS MONTENEGRO

General Milorad Obradovic, who commands the Second Army, said in a statement that the command has outlined a series of steps to heighten the army's military preparedness, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 27 May. Among others, the measures include shutting down airports built without Belgrade's approval and arresting persons who urge others not to cooperate with the military. PM

MONTENEGRIN DELEGATION HURRIES HOME

Montenegrin Vice President Dragisa Burzan and other members of the Montenegrin delegation unexpectedly left a regional conference on Kosova in Prishtina on 27 May and returned home. The Montenegrins said simply that they had to "attend an urgent meeting in Podgorica," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

KOUCHNER: MILOSEVIC DESTABILIZING KOSOVA

Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, told the regional conference in Prishtina on 27 May that Milosevic is "continuing his efforts at destabilizing Kosova," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Kouchner added that Milosevic's actions serve to destabilize "the entire region." Delegations from Kosova, Macedonia, Albania, and--at least at the outset--Montenegro, attended the conference. PM

GEORGIEVSKI, THACI PLAN COOPERATION

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Kosova Protection Corps commander Hashim Thaci spoke in Prishtina on 27 May about the possible opening of representative offices in each other's capitals. The two leaders also discussed ways to facilitate the improved exchange of people and goods between Kosova and Macedonia, as well as the future of Albanian-language higher education in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2000). PM

RYZHKOV: SITUATION IN KOSOVA 'GETTING WORSE'

A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina on 27 May that there have been four violent incidents involving attacks on Russian peacekeepers in recent days (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 24 May 2000). Nikolai Ryzhkov, who heads a Russian State Duma commission that just visited the province, said in Belgrade on 27 May that the situation there is "getting worse" and that "there is no order nor is there any kind of authority" in Kosova. Ryzhkov added that Kouchner "follows a clearly Western policy" in the province, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS RECEIVED IN RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY

Vuk Draskovic, Zoran Djindjic, and Vojislav Kostunica met with officials of the Balkan department of the Foreign Ministry in Moscow on 29 May. Draskovic told reporters that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will speak with the Serbian delegation later in the day, ITAR-TASS reported. Draskovic added that Ivanov confirmed the meeting "10 days ago." It is not clear why, if this is indeed the case, Serbian and international media reported down to that very morning that it is not clear whether Ivanov will see the opposition leaders. The Serbs want Russia to use its influence in Belgrade to persuade the regime to cease repression and hold new elections. PM

MILOSEVIC'S POLICE ARREST STUDENT ACTIVISTS

A spokesman for the Otpor (Resistance) student movement said in Belgrade on 29 May that police arrested four activists in Nis and eight in Subotica in the early hours of the morning. The spokesman added that "Otpor is now the regime's primary target because it is so widespread, it's everywhere in Serbia," AP reported. He added that "with every new arrested student activist, a hundred more join Otpor." PM

OTPOR PRESENTS DEMANDS TO SERBIAN OPPOSITION

Otpor on 27 May sent the leaders of the opposition parties a proposal to draw up a "strategy of national defense against violence and repression," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Otpor asked for a reply by 31 May. The students want a strategy meeting on 1 June in Belgrade that will include representatives of all cities and communities. The students stressed to the fractious parties that "if you are not willing to take steps [for a joint action program], we will do it alone," London's "The Observer" reported. An Otpor spokesman told a rally of 15,000 people in Belgrade that too much time has been wasted on "senseless meetings." "Vesti" noted on 29 May, however, that most people remain afraid of the regime and its police and are reluctant to attend mass rallies. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIM PARTY ELECTS NEW LEADERS

The steering committee of the Party of Democratic Action voted in Sarajevo on 27 May to elect Edhem Bicakcic and Sulejman Tihic as vice presidents. They replace Ejup Ganic and Halid Genjac, who recently lost a vote of confidence following the party's poor showing in local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2000). PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES NEW TAX PACKAGE

Parliament approved a series of measures on 26 May aimed at creating jobs by shifting the burden of taxation "from production to consumption," "Jutarnji list" reported. Taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline, and coffee will rise, while some taxes that companies pay will drop. Critics say that the measures will fuel inflation and hit consumers in a country where the average wage is about $450 per month. PM

ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY CRITICIZES PREMIER

Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman on 28 May backed his deputy's criticism of Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu of two days earlier, Mediafax reported. Deputy Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said on 26 May that Isarescu is responsible not only for the collapse of the National Investment Fund's (FNI), but also of acquiescing to a "lack of transparency" in the intended privatization of the Agricultural Bank and Commerce Bank. He said the two banks have refused to hand him reports on their assets and that he will resign as governmental coordinator for parleys with the World Bank unless they do so, saying that under Isarescu "the mafia system feels it is protected by the cabinet." MS

ROMANIAN INITIATIVE ON TRANSDNIESTER PRISONER REJECTED BY MOLDOVAN LAWYERS

Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman has proposed to his Polish counterpart, Bronislaw Geremek, that Poland assume the judicial retrial of Ilie Ilascu, who has been sentenced to death and is detained in a Tiraspol prison, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 26 May. Moldovan parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov has also recently proposed that the case of the "Ilascu group" be re-examined by legal experts from an OECD-member country. But Moldovan legal experts on 27 May told the bureau that the Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the decision of the Tiraspol court was illegal and that there is "no reason" to revise that ruling. Constitutional Court President Pavel Barbalat, who chaired the Supreme Court in its 1994 ruling, said the separatists in Tiraspol will anyhow never agree to have a third country re-examine the case. MS

BULGARIA'S PARLIAMENT ENDORSES NATO MEMBERSHIP BID

With a vote of 189 to 3, Bulgaria's parliament on 26 May endorsed a government-sponsored resolution backing the government's drive to join the EU and NATO. The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, in a reflection of its recently-held convention, voted in favor of the resolution, although it said that it will demand that a referendum be held before joining NATO, BTA and AP reported. MS




SECURITY PROBLEMS IN KUKES


By Fabian Schmidt

Albania's remote Kukes region has long been known as a center of lawlessness and became even more notorious during the 1999 conflict in nearby Kosova. It has been nearly one year since peace came to the province, but Kukes's problems remain.

In an interview with "Koha Ditore" published on 23 May, Albanian Public Order Minister Spartak Poci acknowledged that crime poses a serious threat to returning refugees on the road linking central Albania with the northern town of Kukes and subsequently with Kosova. The city and district of Kukes, which includes the main border crossing between Albania and Kosova, faced the largest influx of refugees during the 1999 war, when hundreds of thousands of people passed through that city. Since the end of the war, robberies on the roads, illegal attempts to cross the border between Albania and Kosova, and smuggling of illicit goods have been frequent.

Poci explained that the rise in crime is not simply the fault of law enforcement agencies. Rather, he said, it reflects a broader phenomenon triggered by the war: "Kukes was a burden that the police could not cope with. [The town] bore the brunt of the entire humanitarian crisis in Kosova, with all its effects, and witnessed the complete destruction of the regular police service. Thus it was clear that the Albanian state--and not only the police--needed time to bring the entire [security] infrastructure along the border back into service. But this work is proceeding quickly. Of course we have used the opportunity to carry out changes and reorganizations within the local police department and prefecture. It is important to note that we can already see results."

Still, many refugees who return voluntarily to Kosova from western countries are afraid to use the Kukes route. At present, the main concern of the Albanian authorities is to safeguard this summer's expected transit of thousands of voluntary returnees from Germany and Switzerland through Albania into Kosova. Poci stressed that Albania will not allow the transit of refugees whom the host countries have expelled by force. He added:

"We have prepared a plan according to which we will organize [the refugees'] return. The refugees will travel only during specified hours, which means in the daytime. Regardless of whether the people travel in groups or individually, we will give assistance. The Kosovars will always be accompanied by Albanian police. In keeping with an agreement we have with the German and Swiss governments, those countries will cover the necessary logistical expenses of this operation. The agreement has not been ratified, but we expect that it will be in the near future. We will not allow the transit of the Kosovar refugees through Albania to begin before all the preconditions have been met."

Poci also predicted that the overall security situation in the Kukes area will improve in the coming months. He said that KFOR and UNMIK officials have recently stepped up cooperation with the Albanian authorities in patrolling the border. He also shed light on problems within the Albanian security forces: "This is not an easy task, for several reasons. In the first place it is necessary to rid the police of criminals and of those police officers who cooperate with smugglers. This also applies to other institutions such as the customs and customs police."

A joint project drawn up by KFOR and the Albanian government on guarding the Kosova-Albanian border was presented to the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe at the beginning of this year. EU and U.S. border experts launched the project in cooperation with local officials one month ago. A third roundtable on security will take place at the beginning of June, and Poci expects that at this point donor countries will authorize financial support for the Albanian authorities for specific tasks.

These measures aim primarily at eliminating smuggling and preventing the emergence of a new contraband corridor from Eastern Europe through Kosova and Albania into Western Europe. The Albanian authorities have accordingly developed a permanent exchange of information and direct cooperation with KFOR and the UNMIK police. At this point delegations of the respective authorities maintain these contacts through visits rather than via permanent liaison offices.

But that cooperation has already resulted in several cases of the mutual extradition of criminals. Poci stressed: "We are concerned that organized crime does not spread throughout Kosova in the absence of authority and a [capable] police force. Our common struggle aims at creating permanent institutions of cooperation to prevent the emergence of organized crime."


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