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Newsline - February 13, 2001




PUTIN CALLS FOR PROBE OF PROSECUTOR GENERAL...

President Vladimir Putin has directed Kremlin auditors to launch an investigation into how Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov obtained his luxury apartment, Russian and Western agencies reported on 12 February. NTV, part of the Media-MOST empire Ustinov is investigating, had charged earlier that Ustinov had not paid taxes on his government apartment and suggested that he had received it from the hands of former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin, who is now detained in New York on a Swiss extradition request. But a lawyer for Ustinov said questions about this apartment had already been "exhausted," Interfax reported. PG

...AS PROSECUTOR GENERAL ANNOUNCES CASES

Meanwhile, Prosecutor-General Ustinov said on 11 February on ORT television that 15 criminal cases have been launched against those responsible for the heating and power outages in the Russian Far East. He said six people have been accused and one has already been convicted. On a more general level, First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov said that approximately 18,000 officials were charged with economic crimes last year, including more than 1,000 Interior Ministry officials, 120 customs officials, more than 20 tax police officials, 30 judges, and 10 prosecutors, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

STRUGGLE OVER MEDIA CONTINUES

Prosecutors on 12 February continued their search of the accounting office of Media-MOST, Interfax reported. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov said that the Swiss have not provided Moscow with materials concerning the cases of Borodin and others, the news service reported the same day. Kolmogorov added that the investigation of the case of Vladimir Gusinsky, head of the Media-MOST empire, will be continued. Meanwhile, Gusinsky was quoted in London's "Financial Times" as saying that he will block the efforts of Gazprom to replace the leadership of NTV at a 12 March corporate meeting in Gibraltar. PG

STROEV SAYS HE HAS NO PLANS TO RESIGN

Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev said on 12 February that there is no truth to rumors that he will resign anytime soon, Interfax reported. He also rejected reports that the legislative body would not be organized along party lines but would continue to represent "state interests," Interfax reported. In other comments, he said that the parliament's upper house can be expected to reject about 35 percent of laws passed by the Duma because they either are "populist" or reflect the interests of lobbyists. Meanwhile, Mikhail Margelov, the representative of Pskov Oblast in the Federation Council, said that a new law will be adopted this month to pay new members of the Federation Council at the same level as Duma deputies are paid. PG

DID BRITISH INTELLIGENCE RECRUIT CHECHEN POLITICIAN?

Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii refused on 13 February to comment on an Internet article claiming that the MI6 recruited Malik Saidullaev, the head of the Moscow-based Chechen State Council, in 1994, ITAR-TASS reported. The article claimed that the State Council served as a cover for British intelligence operations in the Caucasus and that Britain had hoped to fund the election of Saidullaev as Chechen president in February 2001 after Aslan Maskhadov's presidential term expired. LF

CHECHEN PREMIER AIMS TO MAKE FUNDING TRANSPARENT

The Russian government's priority tasks in Chechnya are to rebuild homes and enable displaced persons to return, Stanislav Ilyasov told Interfax on 12 February. Ilyasov said that a detailed program of reconstruction will be published so that inhabitants of all districts are told how much will be spent on rebuilding and when. Ilyasov said his government will receive cash from the federal centers only to pay salaries and pensions, and that building materials for reconstruction will be channeled through a special division of the Russian State Committee on Construction. LF

KOZAK DEFENDS COURT REFORM PLANS

Dmitrii Kozak, presidential deputy chief of staff in charge of a judicial reform commission, was quoted by "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 February as saying that proposals to allow judges to be the targets of criminal probes and imposing a mandatory retirement age for judges are intended to improve the judicial system rather than to impose a political agenda. He also said that prosecutors must appear in court only in defense of public interests. Meanwhile, the federal tax police told Interfax that the government is drafting a bill to impose criminal penalties for false declarations on company incorporation documents. PG

STEPASHIN SEEKS NEW POWERS FOR AUDIT CHAMBER

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin on 12 February called for an expansion in the chamber's role in overseeing the Central Bank's operations and improving budgetary accountability -- he said that errors in budget planning averaged 30 percent in 2000 -- and introducing a line item in the budget for counterterrorist operations in Chechnya in order to improve control over spending there, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the Audit Chamber and the Anti-Monopoly Ministry have reached agreement on joint work on anti-monopoly and state control legislation, Interfax-AFI reported on 12 February. PG

MONEY-LAUNDERING DRAFT SAID NEAR COMPLETION

Citing an unnamed "informed source," Interfax on 12 February said that the key ministries are near agreement on a draft money-laundering statute. The news service reported that the draft calls for a special information-analytic center in the Finance Ministry to monitor information about suspicious financial activities. The news service also said that the government is considering legislation that would liberalize hard-currency transactions. PG

STANKEVICH SEES RPDS AS ALLY OF DEMROSSIYA

Sergei Stankevich, the leader of Democratic Russia (RPDS) who now resides in Poland because of an arrest warrant against him, told Interfax on 11 February that the Russian Party of Social Democracy headed by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov is "the most likely partner" for his party. Stankevich also said that he does not exclude that the Union of Rightist Forces will soon fall apart. PG

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL 'SOMEHOW' ACCEPT NMD

Speaking upon his arrival in Moscow, Joschka Fischer said on 12 February that harsh rhetoric notwithstanding, "in the end, the Russians are going to accept [an American decision to go ahead with NMD] somehow," AP reported. After meeting with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov, Fischer said he is pleased by Moscow's constructive approach but stressed that Berlin has no interest in serving as an intermediary between Moscow and Washington, ITAR-TASS reported. In meetings with Duma officials, Fischer expressed Germany's concerns about the state of media freedom in Russia and also the sincerity of official Russian statements that there were no political motives behind the investigations of Media-MOST, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA, GERMANY SAID NEAR ACCORD IN DEBT RELIEF

The German Finance Ministry on 12 February said that it has reached an agreement in principle with Russian officials concerning Moscow's servicing of Soviet-era debt, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 February that the Duma is unhappy with the Russian government's proposals on how to finance debt payments this year, and that President Putin may side with the deputies against the cabinet. And Interfax-AFI reported on 12 February that the Duma plans to consider passing a resolution calling for more rapid delivery of debt-related information by the government to the parliament. PG

VULNERABILITY OF COLLEAGUES SEEN RESTRICTING GLUCK'S ABILITY TO SPEAK OUT

An article in "Novye Izvestiya" on 10 February suggested that Kenneth Gluck, an aid worker for Doctors without Borders, may not be able to tell all the details of his recent captivity in Chechnya because his colleagues remaining in the North Caucasus are vulnerable to pressure. But even his press conference in Moscow, the paper said, "supported the suggestions of those who thought [Gluck] had been abducted not by the Chechens but by the Russian intelligence service itself which then took credit for releasing him." The paper suggested that this represented the latest success of the FSB in controlling information about what is taking place there. PG

IVANOV TO ASK POWELL ABOUT RICE COMMENTS

Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 12 February that he will ask U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for an explanation of several recent statements by National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice when the two ministers meet, Interfax reported. He said he would ask what Rice "concretely" had in mind when she said that Russia is a threat to Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, the Foreign Intelligence Service and Foreign Ministry refused to comment on reports that Sergei Tretyakov, who defected to the U.S. last year, was not a diplomat but rather a spy under diplomatic cover, the news service said. PG

SHAKHNAZAROV ON BUSH ADMINISTRATION PLANS

Writing in "Vek," no. 6, Russian political analyst Georgii Shakhnazarov aligned himself with those who say that Russians should welcome the new U.S. administration's plans to stop providing financial assistance to Moscow unless it undertakes reform and fights corruption. He added that "Washington has many other means of aiding Moscow," including an end to restrictions on high technology exports to Russia, removing barriers to Russian exports, and stopping "its intrigues against Russia on post-Soviet territory." Moreover, he suggested that Moscow must recognize its new, diminished position in the world and stop trying to act as if the bipolar world still existed. PG

ZHIRINOVSKY URGES ALL-OUT DEFENSE OF KUCHMA

The deputy speaker of the Duma, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, told Interfax on 12 February that Russia should do everything possible to support the victory in Ukraine of "pro-Russian forces" and help Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma beat back opposition groups supported by "Western special services and political centers." (See Part 2 for more on the protests against Kuchma.) PG

RUSSIA, UKRAINE TO DISCUSS AZOV SEA STATUS

Russian Ambassador Vadim Kuznetsov and his Ukrainian counterpart Yuri Kostenko on 12 February in Moscow agreed that the two countries will continue talks in April on the legal status of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, as well as on delimiting the Black Sea, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES LATVIA ON WAR CRIMES SENTENCE

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement to Interfax on 12 February saying that Moscow is displeased that a Latvian court had reconfirmed the conviction of Yevgenii Savenko, 87, for genocide during World War II even though a Riga court had released him. "Such an approach," the Foreign Ministry said, "creates obstacles on the path to improving Russian-Latvian relations." Meanwhile, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said in response to questioning on ORT television that Latvia seeks "to have an open democratic society where the rule of law is equal for all and where there are no privileged citizens." PG

AUSTRIA WON'T BUY OR TRADE FOR MIGS

Austrian Defense Minister Herbert Scheibner said on 9 February that Vienna is not interested in either purchasing or acquiring through a debt swap Russian MIG fighter aircraft, Ekho Moskvy reported. Russian President Putin had pushed the Austrian government to do so during his visit. PG

PUTIN TO PROMOTE EAST-WEST CORRIDOR IN SEOUL

First Deputy Railways Minister Aleksandr Tselko told ITAR-TASS on 12 February that President Putin will use his visit to South Korea later this month to discuss connecting trans-Korean railways to the Russian Trans-Siberian line. Tselko said that his ministry is already working with its counterparts in Seoul and Pyongyang on this part of the larger east-west corridor project Putin has proposed. PG

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY CLEANS HOUSE IN FAR EAST PROVINCE...

Following a meeting on 12 February with the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, on 12 February, 11 out of 12 of former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko's deputy governors resigned, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported. First Deputy Governor Valentin Dubinin has been retained to preside as acting governor and over the next two weeks he will be helped by a team from Pulikovskii's headquarters, ITAR-TASS reported. RFE/RL's correspondent reported that local observers are expecting the introduction of presidential rule in the krai; however, Pulikovskii told regional legislators that he doesn't support such a decision, Interfax reported citing local deputy Vladimir Gilgenberg. According to ITAR-TASS, legislators in the krai's Duma believe the en masse resignation of Nazdratenko's team is a step towards conducting clean elections for the future leader of the krai. According to the Duma's speaker, Sergei Zhekov, those elections might be called for 10 June, Reuters reported. JAC

...AS 3,000 RESIDENTS REMAIN WITHOUT HEAT

The situation with regards to heating remains difficult in the Far East, RFE/RL's Russian service reported on 12 February. More than 9,000 people in 15 different cities have had their heat interrupted: In Primorskii Krai alone, around 3,000 people remain without heat. The previous day, Prosecutor-General Ustinov told Russian Public Television that the regions other than Primorskii Krai that have been affected by the outages include the Republic of Yakutia, Khabarovsk Krai, and Irkutsk Oblast. At a meeting with governors of Far Eastern regions on 9 February, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais pledged that fuel reserves for electricity stations will be supplied in the middle of this summer in order to avoid an energy crisis next winter. JAC

ILLARIONOV SAYS BUDGET SIZE IMPEDES GROWTH

In an interview published in this week's "Novaya gazeta" and reported by Interfax-AFI on 12 February, presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov said that the size of the state budget -- more than 40 percent of GDP -- is impeding economic growth. He said that for maximum growth, the amount of government spending should be no more than 13-17 percent of GDP. He said that Russia's natural wealth in oil, metals, gas, and other resources in fact represented "Russia's misfortune" because it has allowed the government to delay needed reforms. Meanwhile, tax arrears continued to grow during 2000, rising to 569 million rubles ($20 million), Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA NOW HAS A MIDDLE CLASS

According to the Economic Analysis Bureau, 20-25 percent of Russians have at least three of the five features that mark them as members of the middle class, "Finansovaya Rossiya," no. 4, reported. The five characteristics are a certain income level, have some property, some savings, a certain educational attainment, and the feeling that they are "successful and worthy members of society," the report said. PG

YASIN SEES NO THREAT OF RUSSIA'S DISINTEGRATION

Yevgenii Yasin, the president of the Liberal Mission Fund, said that there is "no danger" of Russia's disintegration, even though "Chechnya will continue to trouble us for a long time," Interfax reported on 12 February. Yasin concluded that "the basic centrifugal tendencies which were called forth by the collapse of the USSR have passed." Russia's current challenges are to liberalize the economy, breakup monopolies, and restrict the shadow economy, he said. PG

RUSSIA, U.S. TO MAINTAIN JOINT CONTROL OF ISS

Refuting media reports to the contrary, a spokesman for Russian Mission Control said on 12 February that Russian scientists will continue for a few more months to exercise joint control over the International Space Station before handing it over entirely to American controllers, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Duma leaders announced they will take up a proposal to keep the Mir station in orbit beyond its scheduled fall from space in March 2001, Interfax reported. PG

CIA, FBI REPORTEDLY SEEK RUSSIAN HELP ON BIN LADEN

"Time" magazine is reporting that the U.S. CIA and FBI hope that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) will help them catch accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. Meanwhile, Russian and American military experts are meeting in Moscow this week to discuss the problems involved in forming an all-volunteer military, the Russian news service said. PG

CHAIKA TELLS PACE ABOUT RUSSIAN LEGAL CHANGES

Justice Minister Yurii Chaika on 12 February told a visiting delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) about Russia's ongoing efforts to reform its criminal justice system. He noted that his ministry has set up a special inspection service to ensure that the rights and freedoms of all citizens are guaranteed. PG

STATE MONOPOLY ON CAVIAR URGED

Scholars and caviar dealers from Russia, Europe, and North America have appealed to the leadership of Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to introduce a state monopoly on caviar harvesting in the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported on 12 February. They made their appeal after a meeting of the International Union for the Preservation of Nature, which was held in Moscow from 9-11 February. PG

PATRIARCHATE DEFENDS PRIVACY RIGHTS

Even as he backed away from a statement by an Orthodox churchman in opposition to individual tax identification numbers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001), a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate said that the church is against "the establishment of total control over the personality which is completely possible with contemporary technical means," Interfax reported 12 February. PG

MOSCOW CITY TO AID METRO BLAST VICTIMS

The Moscow city government has allocated 200,000 rubles ($7,000) for assistance to the 19 people who were injured in the 5 February metro station bombing, Interfax reported on 12 February. PG

AZERBAIJANI-RUSSIAN CLASH IN ST. PETERSBURG MINIMIZED

Both Russian officials and the honorary consul of Azerbaijan in St. Petersburg played down as "hooliganism" a clash on 10 February between ethnic Azerbaijanis and local Russians that left three Azerbaijanis injured, Interfax North-West reported on 12 February. They also minimized a march by 200 Azerbaijanis there on 11 February demanding that officials do more to protect the approximately 150,000 Azerbaijanis in the region. PG

NEW SUBSISTENCE MINIMUM SET

Prime-TASS reported on 12 February that the Russian government has set the per capita subsistence level at 1,285 rubles ($45) a month. This minimum is used to calculate a variety of payments and fines. PG

HOUSING CONSTRUCTION DECLINES ACROSS CIS

Construction of new housing stock fell by 4 percent from 1999 to 2000 across the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Interfax reported on 12 February. In Russia the decline was 6 percent, according to the Intergovernmental Statistical Committee of the CIS. PG

FAR EASTERN FISHERMEN PROTEST NEW POLICY

A group of fishing companies in the Far Eastern federal district announced that they will stage a strike on 14 February to protest the government's plans to introduce the use of auctions for the distribution of fishing quotas, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, several dozen fishing companies have put in requests to participate in the first auction scheduled for 17 February, the agency reported citing the press secretary of the State Fishing Committee. The spokesperson claimed that the active participation of fishermen in the auction suggests that "the fishermen of Russia support the decision of the government to organize auctions" for the sale of fishing quotas. Previously, a group of governors from the Far Eastern region sent a letter to President Putin asking that the auctions not be held (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 January 2001). JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS STATE VISIT TO FRANCE...

President Robert Kocharian began a five-day state visit to France on 12 February accompanied by a number of senior officials. He met in Paris that day with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss bilateral relations, Armenia's policy towards Europe, and the Karabakh conflict. In an interview with "Le Figaro" published the same day, Kocharian said other states should follow the example of the French parliament, which last month adopted a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide of 1915. He said recognition of the genocide is one of the objectives of Armenia's foreign policy, but that the campaign to achieve that objective is organized primarily by the Armenian diaspora. Proposing a toast at a banquet in Kocharian's honor on 12 February, Chirac said that the French people "pay homage to the victims" of 1915, and that in passing last month's resolution the French parliament "wanted to mark their respect for the Armenian martyrdom," AP reported. LF

...ACCEPTS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S RESIGNATION

Before departing for Paris, President Kocharian formally accepted Boris Nazarian's resignation as prosecutor-general, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Nazarian has still given no official explanation for having tendered his resignation last week. But Yelena Vartanian, the wife of detained businessman Arkadii Vartanian, told journalists on 12 February that Nazarian had told parliament deputies he is no longer prepared to take "unconstitutional steps" to convict Vartanian on charges of calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership. LF

PROSECUTORS TO CHALLENGE RELEASE OF ARRESTED ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER

Armenian prosecutors said on 12 February they will challenge the Review Court's 9 February decision to release former Industry Minister Ashot Safarian from pre-trial detention, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Safarian was arrested earlier this month and charged with illegally writing off a Georgian chemical company's $6.2 million debt to the Armenian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). LF

FUNDS SECURED FOR ARMENIAN CENSUS

Armenia has secured pledges from several Western governments of funding worth $1 million that will make it possible to hold the planned nationwide population census this fall, Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian told journalists in Yerevan on 12 February. The Armenian government will contribute a further $400,000 for that purpose in addition to the $167,000 earmarked in this year's budget, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Armenian officials had expressed concern last month that the lack of funds might necessitate postponing the census (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

JAILED FORMER AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER EMBARKS ON HUNGER-STRIKE

Rahim Kaziev, who served as Azerbaijan's Defense Minister from 1992 to early 1993, has begun a hunger-strike in the notorious Gobustan jail to which he and former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov were recently transferred, Turan reported on 12 February. Kaziev has accused the Azerbaijani leadership of bringing all imprisoned former senior officials to that jail with the aim of staging a repeat of the alleged mass escape attempt in January 1999 in which several associates of former OPON special police commander Rovshan Djavadov were shot dead, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 11 January 1999). LF

CHEVRON TO JOIN CONSORTIUM TO BUILD BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE

The U.S. oil company Chevron last week formally indicated its willingness to join the sponsor group to build the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, "The New York Times" reported. According to Reuters, Chevron is to begin talks with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR on joining the project. SOCAR Vice President Ilham Aliyev said last month that Baku may sell up to half of its 50 percent stake in the Baku-Ceyhan project. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT POSTPONES ANNUAL SPEECH TO PARLIAMENT...

In his traditional Monday radio address, Eduard Shevardnadze said on 12 February that he will deliver his annual address to parliament next month, rather than on 13 February as planned, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze, who is suffering from a severe cold, said the postponement was prompted by the fact that economic data from last year have not yet been evaluated, nor is the outcome of planned Paris Club talks on rescheduling Georgia's debts certain. Opposition parliament deputy Sandro Bregadze (Revival Union) on 13 February accused Shevardnadze of cowardice and of showing "disrespect" to the parliament by postponing his address, demanding that Shevardnadze resign, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF ECONOMIC EXPERIMENTS

Shevardnadze also called during his Monday radio address for the passage of legislation that would allow economic experimentation, Caucasus Press reported. He said it is "ridiculous" that Georgia's current legislation creates obstacles to such experimentation, recalling that Georgia embarked on such experiments "when doing so required courage." Shevardnadze personally oversaw the implementation of new economic models in both agriculture and municipal planning during his final years as first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party Central Committee from 1982 to 1985. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTIES CALL FOR PROBE INTO ALLEGATIONS OF RUSSIAN ELECTION FUNDING

Opposition deputy Zakhari Kutsnashvili (Socialist) called on 13 February for the creation of an interim parliament commission to investigate allegations that then-Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko paid for Russian spin-doctors to advise the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia during the runup to the October 1999 Georgian parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania, who is accused of having negotiated that funding, expressed support for Kutsnashvili's proposal, but suggested that the planned commission probe the funding of all factions' election campaigns. LF

AGIP NAMED OPERATOR OF KAZAKH MEGA OILFIELD

The oil companies aligned in the OKIOC consortium announced on 12 February that Agip has been chosen as project operator to develop Kazakhstan's off-shore East Kashagan oilfield, "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" reported on 13 February. The four largest OKIOC members -- Agip, TotalFinaElf, Exxon, and Royal Dutch Shell -- had been competing for weeks for the rights to manage the $20 billion project to develop East Kashagan, which has estimated reserves of 5 billion metric tons. But OKIOC failed the same day to reach agreement with the Kazakh government on the date for beginning production at East Kashagan. Astana had sought a commitment to do so by 2005, but Statoil representative Per Rettendal said the consortium is reluctant to make a firm commitment to doing so until more information about the field is available, according to "The New York Times." Statoil is to sell its 4.76 percent stake in OKIOC to TotalFinaElf, according to dpa. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES ENERGY CRISIS

Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly on 12 February decided to send a delegation to neighboring Uzbekistan to try to negotiate a resumption of natural gas supplies from that country, which were halted on 25 January, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). Also on 12 February, Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev warned Bishkek Deputy Mayor Abdraim Kulbaev and several senior energy sector officials that they risk dismissal if they fail to improve heating, power, and gas supplies to the population. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES MEDIA, POLICE

Imomali Rakhmonov chaired a cabinet meeting on 10 February to review the economic results for last year, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. At that session, Rakhmonov complained of inappropriate coverage of economic developments last year by the media. It is not clear whether he referred specifically to the introduction of the country's new currency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 October 2000). Rakhmonov also criticized numerous abuses of the legislation governing land tenure, failure to pay pensions on time, and inadequate medical services. He subsequently dismissed the heads of one oblast and four raions. LF

TAJIKISTAN'S EXPO EXHIBITS MISSING?

Thirteen artifacts from Tajikistan's Ethnographic Museum that formed part of the country's exhibit at the EXPO-2000 world exhibition in Hannover have not been returned to Dushanbe, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 February. Police are investigating the disappearance of the exhibits. LF

OSCE REQUESTS ACCESS TO IMPRISONED TURKMEN BAPTIST

The head of the OSCE center in Ashgabat officially requested on 12 February that Turkmen authorities grant permission to visit jailed Baptist Shageldy Atakov, the Keston News Service reported. Atakov, who is serving a four-year term for swindling, is believed to be subjected to treatment with psychotropic drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). Meanwhile Turkmen police and security officials raided a Protestant congregation meeting in a private house in Ashgabat on 2 February, Keston News Service reported on 12 February. LF




FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF 'POLITICAL PROVOCATION'

Former Premier Mikhail Chyhir on 12 February said last week's arrest of his younger son on theft charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001) is a "political provocation" staged by the authorities to discredit the father as a possible candidate in the presidential elections this year, Belapan reported. Chyhir said investigators have focused their attention on his children once his own criminal case "fell apart." He reminded journalists that his elder son asked for political asylum in Germany last year after he had found a box of cartridges planted in his car. Chyhir said the police search that allegedly found parts from stolen cars in his son's garage was conducted without independent witnesses. "It turns out that Chyhir senior has brought up lads with criminal inclinations," Belarusian Television commented the same day. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT HAILS TALKS WITH PUTIN AS 'COLOSSAL STEP FORWARD'

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Dnipropetrovsk on 12 February were a "colossal step forward," Interfax reported the same day. Kuchma is referring to bilateral agreements on cooperation in the space and aviation industries as well as to the decision to rejoin both countries' electricity grids (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Putin commented that the meeting was "positive and fruitful." The two sides signed 16 documents on economic cooperation. JM

COURT RULES TO REMOVE PROTEST TENT CAMP IN KYIV

A Kyiv district court has ruled that a camp of some 30 tents pitched by anti-presidential protesters on the capital's central street, Khreshchatyk, must be immediately removed, Interfax reported on 12 February. The court said that according to Ukraine's Land Code, the tents may not be located on Khreshchatyk as it is a historical site. The court added that the camp also prevents pedestrians from free access to the city subway system. The tents were pitched by activists of the Ukraine Without Kuchma protest, who demand that President Kuchma resign because of allegations of his complicity in the death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. JM

UKRAINIAN DOCTOR ASKS FOR ASYLUM IN GREAT BRITAIN

Surgeon Valeriy Ivasyuk has asked for asylum in Great Britain, Interfax reported on 13 February, quoting London's "Independent." Ivasyuk was involved as an expert in the identification of the decapitated body that is believed to be that of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Ivasyuk repeatedly contradicted in public the statements of Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko that the body cannot be unambiguously identified as Gongadze's. Ivasyuk told the British newspaper that following his public pronouncements, officers of Ukraine's Security Service threatened to arrest him and suggested that his life is in danger. Ivasyuk left for Great Britain last month, leaving his wife and two children in Ukraine. Ivasyuk previously was a parliamentary deputy representing the opposition Rukh. JM

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER REJECTS CALL TO RESIGN

At a press conference on 12 February, Mart Laar admitted that he may have shot at the picture of Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar at the Nursi military base in May 1999, ETA reported. He said that he feels very ashamed about the incident, but would not resign as some opposition parties are demanding. The scandal developed on 7 February when the Center Party paper "Kesknadal" published an article on the incident and former Vorumaa county Governor Robert Lepikson confirmed its accuracy. President Lennart Meri has ordered Defense Forces Commander Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts to investigate the matter. The newspapers "Postimees" and "Aripaev" have also called on Laar to resign because the scandal had been reported by international news agencies and major Finnish newspapers. SG

POLISH, LATVIAN LAWMAKERS DISCUSS VARIOUS ISSUES

In talks in Riga on 12 February with the Latvian parliament's Foreign Affairs and European Affairs committees, Polish parliament Vice Marshal Jan Krul said that the two countries should take a strong joint position in regard to EU's requirements that free economic zones be liquidated, BNS reported. Because the abolition of the zones will have a negative effect on investments, the two countries should ask for transition periods that would give them a chance to strengthen their economies. Krul also discussed possibilities for the further development of bilateral relations between Latvia and Poland, the need for a joint policy in EU membership talks, as well as relations with Russia in the context of NATO enlargement. European Affairs Committee Chairman Edvins Inkens noted that Poland's admission to NATO to a certain extent paved the way for the Baltic states to also join the organization. SG

LITHUANIAN CONSUMER PRICES FALL IN JANUARY

The Lithuanian Statistics Department announced on 12 February that the consumer price index declined by 0.2 percent last month and by 0.3 percent compared to January 2000, BNS reported. This was mostly influenced by falls in the prices of diesel fuel (10.8 percent), gasoline (10 percent), liquefied gas (6.7 percent), and the reduction of the value added tax on residential heating from 18 to 9 percent. Prices of beverages and tobacco declined in January by 0.4 percent, clothing and footwear by 0.3 percent, while the costs of communications rose by 6.3 percent, and foodstuffs and soft drinks by 0.5 percent. SG

EU OFFICIAL SAYS POLAND'S ENTRY TALKS TIMETABLE UNREALISTIC

Eneko Landaburu, the European Commission's director-general for enlargement, has said Poland's timetable of European Union membership negotiations that provides for the conclusion of talks by the end of 2001 is unrealistic, PAP reported on 12 February. "I will change this opinion only if Poland withdraws by the end of 2001 all requests for transition periods and proves that it is able to apply EU laws once it joins the union," Landaburu noted. JM

CROATIAN PREMIER IN WARSAW

Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek on 12 February told his Croatian counterpart, Ivica Racan, that Poland wants to fully cooperate with Croatia within the framework of the Balkan stability pact, PAP reported. Both premiers discussed a bilateral accord on free trade, Polish investments in Croatia's tourist infrastructure, and a projected gas pipeline from Norway to Poland. Buzek said Poland is interested in Croatia's participation in planned supplies of Norwegian gas. Racan thanked Buzek for Poland's support for Croatia's bid to enter the Central European Free Trade Agreement, which currently groups seven former communist states in the region. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZED ON RETURN FROM MIDDLE EAST

President Vaclav Havel was hospitalized on 12 February in Prague's military hospital after being forced to cut short a visit to the Middle East (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). His personal doctor said Havel's condition is "not critical" and that the first examinations "confirmed what we expected: the blocking of his right lung and initial stages of pneumonia," CTK and Reuters reported. Havel has had to be repeatedly hospitalized after the December 1996 surgery in which a malignant tumor has been removed from his lung. MS

TEMELIN INSPECTED AMID DEMONSTRATIONS

Some two dozen Czech demonstrators opposing the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant on 12 February blocked the entrance to the plant just one hour after an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team began a safety inspection of the plant, CTK and Reuters reported. The blockade ended without incident. The IAEA mission is expected to end its inspection on 1 March. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told journalists that Czech diplomats are "in contact" with the Austrian authorities over the intention of Austrian opponents of Temelin to resume border blockades. He spoke after talks with Finnish Foreign Minister Errki Tuomioja. Tuomioja said the EU cannot treat candidate countries differently from its own members on nuclear power issues. He also offered to share nuclear safety experience with the Czech Republic. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC WANTS 10-YEAR TRANSITION PERIOD FOR FARM LAND

Chief Czech negotiator with the EU Pavel Telicka on 12 February said his country wants to postpone the right of foreign citizens to purchase farm and forest land in the Czech Republic for 10 years after its admission to the EU. He said Prague also wants to have a five-year transition period for the purchase of real estate serving as second-residence, CTK reported. Telicka spoke in Brussels, where he accompanied Prime Minister Milos Zeman on a visit to Belgium. MS

CZECH, BELGIAN PREMIERS DISCUSS EU FUTURE

Meeting with his Belgian counterpart Guy Verhofstadt, Zeman said the Czech Republic wants to access the EU before the elections to the European Parliament in spring 2004. The two premiers reached consensus on their vision of the union's future and the role played in it by small and medium-sized states. They both said they support a "federal Europe" that would address not only joint economic policy but also find a joint approach to foreign affairs, as well as social and environmental matters. MS

SLOVAKIA WANTS EU MEMBERSHIP IN 2004

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, on a one-day visit to Sweden, said in Stockholm on 12 February that Slovakia wants to be ready for EU integration "by the end of 2003," CTK reported. He said Bratislava wants to open negotiations on all 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire during Sweden's six-month rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of 2001. Swedish Premier Goeran Perrson praised Slovak integration efforts and said Slovakia is trying quite successfully to catch up with the candidates admitted to negotiations in the so-called "first wave." MS

CHINESE OFFICIAL VISITS SLOVAKIA

President Rudolf Schuster and Chinese State Council member Wu I, who on 12 February began a three-day visit to Slovakia, discussed economic cooperation and development of bilateral ties, CTK reported. Schuster told journalists after the meeting that he sees "great opportunities" for economic cooperation, particularly in the sphere of power industries. The Slovak firm SES Timace is already present in Chinese markets and will supply boilers to China. China will also import 500 Volkswagen cars produced in Slovakia and 10,000 tons of steel. Schuster also said China will "probably" support Slovakia in its quest to gain a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. MS

TORGYAN WITHDRAWS CANDIDACY FOR PARLIAMENTARY GROUP LEADERSHIP

Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 12 February withdrew his candidacy to become the party's parliamentary group leader after several FKGP parliamentary members expressed opposition to Torgyan filling both that post and that of party chairman. Torgyan's political position further weakened when both opposition and coalition experts refused to support his nominee, Geza Gyimothy, as the new agriculture minister, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 13 February. In related news, six members of the FKGP parliamentary group have established a "civic faction" within the party to "strengthen middle class values." Torgyan firmly opposed the setting up of the faction and convened a meeting of party members loyal to him. MSZ

HUNGARIAN COURT RULES ON BANNING FASCIST ORGANIZATIONS

The Constitutional Court on 12 February ruled that the Hungarian government did not breach the constitution when it failed to enact a law on banning fascist and revisionist organizations. The ruling said that by signing the Paris Peace Treaty in 1947, Hungary had effectively introduced such a ban, as the treaty prohibits the establishment of fascist and revisionist organizations. The court ruling came in response to a request from an unspecified political party to clarify the issue. MSZ

CONDITIONS OF HUNGARIAN ROMA RAISE CONCERN IN U.S.

Four members of the U.S. Congress' Helsinki Committee on 12 February met in Washington with Hungarian Ambassador Geza Jeszenszky and expressed concern about discrimination against the Roma minority in Hungary. Erika Schlager, legal counselor of the committee, said the need to enact a bill banning discrimination was also raised at the meeting. In other news, Fejer county police reported that a group of some 20 unidentified persons attacked the house of a Romany family in the village of Nadasladany, throwing stones, smashing windows and kitchen furniture, and causing injuries to two people. MSZ




YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT RULES OUT FOREIGN ROLE IN PRESEVO TALKS...

Vojislav Kostunica wrote in a letter to "Politika" that the "final" version of the Belgrade government's plan for Presevo excludes any direct participation by the international community in talks, "Vesti" reported on 13 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 9 February 2001). Kostunica stresses that the foreigners' role will be limited to "helping" the Albanians set up a delegation and ensuring that it includes no leaders of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB). The foreigners will also be expected to carry out the implementation provisions of the 1999 Kumanovo agreements. Kostunica stressed that the Serbs and Albanians "alone" must solve questions affecting Presevo as well as Kosova, and that there must be no formulas imposed from outside. PM

IN A MOVE DESIGNED TO BE REJECTED?

Observers note that the conditions described by Kostunica in "Vesti" on 13 February are likely to meet swift rejection by ethnic Albanians, raising the question as to why he raised them at all. First, the Albanians in Kosova and Presevo have long insisted on the active participation of the international community in any talks because they do not trust the Serbs. Second, the Albanians already have a nine-member negotiating team, and it includes three representatives of the UCPMB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has indicated that the fighters are acceptable negotiating partners if the Albanians want them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Kostunica's conditions may serve to underscore the arguments of those observers who suggest that the "peace plan" is just a propaganda ploy aimed at weakening international opposition to an eventual Serbian use of force in Presevo. Some of Kostunica's advisors have written that Belgrade can regain its political position in Kosova through the clever handling of foreigners (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001). PM

MONTENEGRIN MINISTER: SERBIAN CHECKPOINTS RECALL MILOSEVIC

Montenegrin Trade Minister Ramo Bralic said in Podgorica on 12 February that Belgrade's decision to set up customs checkpoints on the border with Montenegro is similar to measures taken against the mountainous republic by former President Slobodan Milosevic, "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Bralic described Belgrade's motive as "political" rather than economic. PM

KOSOVAR SERB LEADER AGAINST CHECKPOINTS

Momcilo Trajkovic told "Vesti" of 13 February that he is "astonished" by the federal government's move to set up customs control points on the border between Serbia and Kosova. He argued that Belgrade's measures will benefit only smugglers, corruption, and the "gray economy." Echoing the views of Montenegrin leaders, Trajkovic added that Belgrade did not consult him before announcing the moves. PM

IS BELGRADE STALLING ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE?

Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told reporters in Belgrade on 12 February that his police are ready to arrest Milosevic but that they cannot act without orders from the state prosecutor, AP reported. Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said in Budapest that experts are preparing a law that will permit extradition of Yugoslav citizens and that he hopes it will be in place "in four or five months." Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic remarked in Belgrade that Milosevic should be tried first in Serbia "before we cooperate with The Hague." Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic expressed similar sentiments (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). PM

CRITICISM OF YUGOSLAV PRIME MINSTER'S REMARKS ABOUT MILOSEVIC

Batic said in Belgrade on 12 February that it was "inappropriate" of Zoran Zizic to say that Milosevic will not be extradited so long as Zizic is in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Batic added that the prime minister does not have the authority to decide on questions of extradition, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Podgorica, Miodrag Vukovic of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists said that Zizic's remarks reflect poorly on the democratic changes in Serbia and amount to an attempt to discredit them. Zizic belongs to the rival Montenegrin Socialist People's Party. PM

INQUIRY OPENS AGAINST FORMER SERBIAN TV BOSS

A judicial inquiry opened before magistrates in Belgrade on 12 February against Dragoljub Milanovic, the former director of Serbian state television (RTS). He is charged with making 16 employees stay in the RTS building on 23 April 1999 even though he and Milosevic knew NATO planned to bomb it. Milanovic, who has already been expelled from the Federation of Journalists, faces up to 15 yeas in prison if convicted, "The Times" of London reported. The Milosevic regime sought to focus domestic and international attention on civilian casualties in an effort to discredit NATO's intervention in Kosova. PM

SERBIAN AMNESTY STILL DOES NOT FREE KOSOVARS

The parliament passed an amnesty law on 12 February aimed at reducing prison sentences by up to 25 percent in order to quiet unrest in some prisons, AP reported. Some 700 Kosovars seized during the 1998 and 1999 Serbian crackdown still remain in Serbian jails and can only appeal their sentences. The prisoners include student leader Albin Kurti. The Kostunica government seems to have turned a deaf ear to foreign pleas for the Kosovars to be released on the grounds that they are political prisoners jailed by a dictatorial regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). PM

OSCE CALLS ON ALBANIANS TO KEEP ELECTIONS FAIR

In his capacity as OSCE chairman, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana called on rival Albanian political parties to put aside differences in the interest of having a fair and "successful" parliamentary election in June, dpa reported from Tirana on 12 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001). OSCE Ambassador Gerard Stoudman recently visited Albania and called election preparations "disappointing." The October 2000 local elections were widely regarded as successful despite protests by the defeated Democratic Party. PM

MACEDONIA SEEKING TAIWAN'S MILITARY HELP

Despite several indications that Macedonia will switch its recognition from Taipei back to Beijing, it continues to recognize Taiwan and is now seeking military assistance from it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 11 December 2001). For their part, the Taiwanese authorities are seeking to recruit retired airmen to repair and fly the "small number" of used F-5E warplanes that Taiwan has recently acquired in Europe, dpa reported from Taipei on 13 February. The assistance is part of an existing defense cooperation agreement. PM

NATO ROUNDUP IN HERZEGOVINA

A UN spokesman said in Sarajevo on 12 February that SFOR troops recently "raided" the headquarters of the Herzegovinian Croat military in Livno, Onasa news agency reported. The peacekeepers searched for evidence of "anti-Dayton activities," which is a euphemism usually meaning illegal weapons, explosives, or electronic equipment. AP subsequently reported that the issue was eavesdropping on international officials. In a story about another raid, thieves in Banja Luka broke into the office of Veritas, a Serbian organization that compiles evidence of Croatian war crimes against Serbs. The burglars took some equipment but failed to find the indictments and other sensitive documents Veritas officials believe they wanted, AP reported. Veritas has been preparing evidence on the 1995 Croatian offensives. Police are investigating the break-in. PM

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CALLS ON GENERAL TO SURRENDER

Zlatko Tomcic appealed to Mirko Norac to give himself up and face war crimes charges in court, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Zagreb on 12 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Tomcic stressed that just as the general once bravely defended his country and earned a rank and the privileges that go with it, he must now do his duty and face legal proceedings. Elsewhere, the permanent commission of the Croatian Bishops' Conference appealed for calm and the observance of the rule of law in the wake of recent protests arising from the Norac case. Several veterans groups have promised to continue peaceful protests in defense of Norac. Most of the roads blocked by veterans in the Lika region are now open. On 13 February, "Jutarnji list" quoted unnamed government sources as saying that Norac has left Croatia. PM

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN PARTY MOVES MOTION AGAINST LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW...

Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), on 12 February said the PRM has moved a motion demanding a debate in the Senate of the recently-approved Local Public Administration Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tudor demanded that the implementation of the law be delayed until the parliament ratifies the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages. He said the charter makes no provision for granting minorities the right to use their language in localities where they make up 20 percent or more of the population. Tudor also threatened that the PRM will start procedures to remove President Ion Iliescu from office if he promulgates the law as passed by the parliament. Meanwhile, PRM Secretary-General and Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar has ordered that inscriptions of the constitutional provisions on the country's official language and national character be placed in Cluj. MS

...BUT FACES DANGER OF MASSIVE DEFECTIONS

PRM deputy Luca Stefanoiu on 13 February announced he is resigning from the party and intends to join a new political formation, to be called Socialist Party of National Revival (PSRN). Stefanoiu said another former PRM member, Bucharest Deputy Mayor Ioan Radu, will be a PSRN member, as will several PRM and Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) deputies. The intention to set up the new formation was announced by Radu on 12 February. He said "at least 15" PRM and PDSR parliamentarians will resign their membership in the two parties and become PSRN members. He said the main thrust of the new party will be economic and social, but added that "it is strictly necessary to promote those activities from a position that safeguards the Romanian people's national identity" from "moderate, non-extremist positions." MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS EQUIVOCATE OVER IRAQ VISIT

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 12 February told a meeting of the PDSR Executive Committee that the two PDSR parliamentarians who went to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001) have "no political mandate from either the PDSR or the parliament," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the two went to Baghdad as "oil experts." Nastase added that Romania "fully respects" the UN embargo but added that Iraq has a "huge debt" to Romania and Bucharest must not find itself in a position "similar to the Yugoslav one" when the sanctions against Iraq are lifted. Foreign Minster Mircea Geoana on 13 February said his ministry is "evaluating" the contacts with the UN on the "humanitarian mission" to Baghdad. Earlier, the ministry had claimed the UN had approved that mission. MS

ROMANIA HAS NEW FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF...

The Supreme National Defense Council on 12 February appointed Gheorghe Fulga as new director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The 50-year old sociologist and former university lecturer is close to President Iliescu's entourage. He was elected a deputy on the PDSR lists in November 2000 and has been a member of parties headed by Iliescu under various names since 1990. Fulga succeeds Catalin Harnagea, who resigned shortly after last year's elections. MS

...AND PROBLEMS WITH DEPUTY IN CHARGE OF SUPERVISING THAT SERVICE...

The National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) is demanding that the SIE clarify whether Ristea Priboi, the PDSR deputy recently appointed head of the parliamentary commission supervising that body, was a member of the Communist secret police, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. CNSAS chief Gheorghe Onisoru said that SIE, the Romanian Intelligence Service, and the Defense Ministry informed CNSAS at the end of 2000 that they have "no file" on Priboi. The media has uncovered Priboi's past as a Securitate foreign intelligence officer in the U.K. and South America and as a member of the team in charge of anti-Radio Free Europe operations. In an interview in the daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 12 February, Priboi denied he had lied to the CNSAS about his past. "They asked us to declare whether we were collaborators. I did not collaborate. I was an officer," he said. MS.

...AS CONTROVERSY OVER SECURITATE FILES TRIGGERED BY DUBIOUS RULING

CNSAS member Mircea Dinescu on 12 February said former Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) deputy Lajos Rakoczi is "exaggerating" when he claims CNSAS has cleared him of having been a Securitate informer. Rakoczi resigned after the 2000 elections but appealed the CNSAS ruling. He says he has received a letter attesting to his innocence. Several CNSAS members insist that Rakoczi signed a pledge to be a Securitate informer, but while some say he did indeed inform, others say he never provided information. UDMR and CNSAS member Ladislau Csendes says he "assumes responsibility" for having issued the clearing letter to Rakoczi. UDMR leader Bela Marko said the law on the archives of the former communist secret police must be changed and clear-cut criteria must be established on what constitutes proof of having been a Securitate informer. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CONFIRMS DISAGREEMENT WITH ROMANIA ON BASIC TREATY

President Petru Lucinschi, briefing journalists on his 9 February meeting in Vaslui with his Romanian counterpart President Iliescu, said that "neither the citizens of the two countries nor international organizations can comprehend how two countries that claim their relations are without problems are unable to finalize their basic treaty." Lucinschi repeated that Moldova is ready to sign the treaty and "take into consideration any objection Romania may have," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

NEW POLLUTION INCIDENT AT BULGARIA'S BORDER WITH ROMANIA

Bulgarian authorities say ammonia concentration in Nikopol, a Danube River port on the opposite bank from the Turnu Magurele chemical works in Romania, were more than 16 times over permissible levels on 9 February, AP reported on 12 February. The Romanian authorities, on the other hand, said concentration was "at normal levels" and posed no health hazards. MS




KOSTUNICA'S PATH TO NORMALIZATION


By Christopher Walker

From the day last fall when Vojislav Kostunica -- backed by crowds of exasperated and energized Serbs -- dislodged Slobodan Milosevic from the Yugoslav presidency until the crucial parliamentary elections last December, the West discarded its sticks and brought out the carrots in its dealings with Belgrade.

As part of this intensive effort to bolster Kostunica's fledgling administration, the key Western powers driving international policy in the Balkans effectively suspended consideration of issues that could have compounded the new Yugoslav president's political vulnerability at home, including demands that Serbia comply with its obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) or that it actively work toward a resolution of strained relationships with Kosova and Montenegro.

At the same time, the United States and the European Union spared no effort in directing assistance to Kostunica and his political allies. That effort included providing post-Milosevic Serbia with substantial financial and technical aid and authorizing sorely-needed assistance from international financial institutions. Belgrade was also admitted to a host of regional and international organizations -- among them the UN, the OSCE, and the Central European Initiative.

Under the circumstances, all of these steps are quite understandable. After a decade of trying to manage the unreconstructed and irrepressible Milosevic, the West was relieved at the advent to power in Belgrade of a more moderate and flexible leadership. But while Western policy-makers stressed the importance of waiting until the December elections so that the coalition of reform parties in Serbia could consolidate their hold on power, some seven weeks later those leaders are still uneasy with the direction the new Serbian leadership has taken in crucial areas of reform. Kostunica's handling of Milosevic represents only the most glaring cause of frustration and consternation.

Last month, shortly before the arrival in Belgrade of the chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Carla Del Ponte, Kostunica met with Milosevic at the presidential residence in Dedinje, a suburb on the outskirts of Belgrade where the former president has been holed up during the months since his removal from power. Kostunica justified the meeting with Milosevic as part of an effort to normalize politics in Serbia; Milosevic was re-elected head of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) on 25 November at the SPS congress and Kostunica expressed the belief that such a meeting between a sitting president and the head of the largest opposition party is an appropriate and normal form of political contact.

Del Ponte takes a different view. She has described Kostunica's spirited defense of Serbia's old guard as unacceptable and counterproductive. The chief prosecutor has further made clear that Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, must be delivered to the Hague, both as part of Serbia's obligation under international law and as an essential step in bringing about reconciliation and justice to Serbia and its neighbors.

Kostunica, for his part, has defended his protection of Milosevic from extradition to the Hague on at least two grounds: The first is procedural -- that domestic law does not permit Yugoslav nationals to be extradited to foreign courts. The second is political -- that sending Milosevic abroad to face justice will destabilize the political situation in Serbia. The new Yugoslav president suggested that a domestic court should try his predecessor for such offenses as corruption and election fraud.

While Kostunica's recent meeting with Milosevic was particularly brazen -- it came literally days before Del Ponte arrived in Belgrade -- it is not the first time the current and former presidents have met. Kostunica visited Milosevic shortly after masses of Serbs took to the streets last fall to demand that Milosevic recognize Kostunica's election victory. During his election campaign, Kostunica promised not to seek revenge against Milosevic and his associates.

Kostunica's argument in favor of a normalization of political behavior should not be dismissed outright. Key political figures and judges in Serbia have routinely been the targets of assassination attempts and other attacks, giving a particularly violent flavor to political life in that country. Under the Milosevic regime, all pretense of adhering to the rule of law was discarded. As a result, curing the deep-seated pathologies that afflict Serbia's political culture will require political courage and steadfast action.

But determination in taking the necessary action is not sufficient in Serbia's case. Speed is equally important in bringing about needed change. One can rightfully question whether Kostunica's gradualist, legalistic approach is consistent with the type of prompt house-cleaning needed to advance democratic reform in Serbia. Each day that Milosevic is permitted to remain in his villa working the phones also means an additional day of moving dirty bank accounts and cutting deals for himself and his associates.

In recent days, Kostunica has come under greater pressure to change his position on Milosevic. But so far the only result has been a pledge from the governing coalition to bring together a group of experts to draft legislation that would pave the way for Milosevic to be sent to the Hague. However, this effort is projected to take two months to complete. This delay may not deny justice, but putting off this essential step is unlikely to enhance conditions within Serbia. The author is a New York-based analyst specializing in European affairs.


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