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Newsline - February 15, 2001




GOVERNMENT'S BUDGET CHANGES UNLIKELY TO BE APPROVED

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met President Vladimir Putin on 14 February to discuss the draft budget changes he has submitted to the Duma to allow for the servicing of Moscow's debt to the Paris Club of creditors, Russian and Western agencies reported. Duma Budget Committee chairman Aleksandr Zhukov said that the government's "schemes have very little change of passage" because they take money away from programs the Duma members want to see implemented. If the measure fails to pass, he said, that will be "a real government crisis." Other deputies echoed that position. "Kommersant-Daily" said that because the Duma is "certain to decline these proposals," deputies may seek a vote of no confidence in the government and lead to its dismissal. PG

NEW MOVES ON FOREIGN DEBT

The Duma on 14 February by a vote of 231 to 96 with three abstentions approved an amendment to the IMF agreement of 23 September 1997, ITAR-TASS reported. That will open the way to $1.7 billion tranche previously authorized by the fund but not yet released and allow Moscow to pay its current debt to the IMF. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 February that Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has given German negotiators a list of seven projects in which German investors might participate as part of a debt swap. The paper said that the Germans are very interested in several of them. But Duma Budget Committee chairman Zhukov said that Russia might find itself in technical default to the Paris Club if the parliament does not pass government-proposed modifications in the 2001 budget, Interfax reported. Zhukov said that without the Duma's backing, "the Cabinet will have no legal right to pay the Paris Club of creditors." PG

JAPAN, NORWAY PROTEST RUSSIAN FLIGHTS

Both Tokyo and Oslo protested on 14 February what they said were overflights by Russian military aircraft earlier that day, but Russian officials said that the planes involved, Tu-22 Backfires and Tu-160 Blackjack bombers, were only participating in an exercise and had not violated the airspace of either country, Russian and Western agencies reported. Russian defense analysts said that the flights were intended as a signal that the Russian air force is preparing to play a more prominent role. PG

ENTREPRENEURS REJECT BEREZOVSKY APPEAL

An executive meeting of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs on 14 February voted unanimously to issue a statement indicating their belief that Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky must pay the "hundreds of millions of dollars" he owes to Gazprom and that Gazprom has the right to seek redress if he does not, Russian agencies reported. The statement said that "the country needs independent television," although it added that "independent television should not be offensive." The statement concluded that the group rejected media oligarch Boris Berezovsky's plan to collect funds in support of NTV. Meanwhile, the Moscow arbitration court postponed until 3 October a hearing of a suit by a Gazprom-Media subsidiary against Media-MOST, Interfax reported. PG

DEFENSE MINISTER CONDEMNS U.S. ON NMD

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said on 14 February that American plans to build a national missile defense and to "destroy" the 1972 ABM treaty will make the world "unsafe," Interfax reported. But Sergei Rogov, the director of Moscow's Institute for the Study of the USA and Canada, was quoted in "Krasnaya zvezda" as saying that the Russian government will eventually have to negotiate with Washington on a post-ABM regime. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" suggested that Moscow has brought its current problems on itself in this sphere by adopting a generally anti-American line since last summer. PG

MOSCOW SAYS NEW ISRAELI PM WILL CONTINUE PEACE PROCESS

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 14 February that he is satisfied by Israeli assurances that the new government of Ariel Sharon intends to continue the peace process, Russian and Western agencies reported. Ivanov said that Russia looks forward to playing a more active role in that process in the future. PG

BUSINESS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT RUSSIA'S FUTURE...

A report prepared jointly by the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, the Russia-U.S. Association, and the Expert Institute under the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs said that Russia's achievements "in the economic sphere" during 2000 "appeared to be better than even the most optimistic projections," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, a day earlier, London's "Financial Times" moved Russia up from the 49th most attractive country in which to invest to the 32nd, "Izvestiya" reported. Experts told Interfax that the recent burst in inflation would likely prove to be seasonal. Meanwhile, the government said it will consider five draft bills to debureaucratize the economy and thus save businesses 18 billion rubles ($640 million a month) in expenses, Interfax reported. But other economists and politicians warned that a strengthening ruble and continuing corruption could undercut progress, "Vremya MN" reported. PG

...BUT SCIENCE, EDUCATION SAID IN CRISIS

Science Minister Aleksandr Dondukov told the Duma on 14 February that Russian science is in a crisis situation, Russian and Western agencies reported. He said that low salaries and poor research funding have caused the number of researchers to decline to 910,000, half the number of a decade ago. He said that the quality of research has declined as well, with the number of Russian research publications having fallen 30 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, Education Minister Vladimir Filipov said that the situation in educational institutions is also bad, Russian and Western agencies reported. Many students are not mastering their subjects, he said, and therefore the country needs to impose more standardized tests of their progress, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 February. And low funding of educational institutions means that some will have to be privatized or charge tuition fees, strana.ru reported the same day, pointing to a plan to do so drafted by Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref. PG

CHUBAIS EXUDES CONFIDENCE

In a wide-ranging interview published in "Izvestiya" on 14 February, Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais said that he has "untied the hands of the state" by changing the rules of his company in such a way that the state as the largest stockholder could dismiss him at any time. Meanwhile, the head of Prosperity Capital Management said that minority stockholders in EES do not plan to call for the election of a new head of the company when stockholders meet on 28 April. And former Russian Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, who remains on the EES board, said that Chubais might even be reconfirmed in his post by that meeting. PG

MAYORS WORRIED ABOUT HEAT NEXT WINTER

Vitalii Shilov, the secretary of the Congress of Municipal Bodies in Russia, told Interfax on 14 February that Russian mayors are warning that there may be a "total energy crisis" across the country next winter unless the Russian government takes action now. In other comments, he said that the mayors want the government to address the social and infrastructure problems they face. PG

PUTIN MEETS WITH NAZDRATENKO

The presidential press service confirmed that President Putin met with former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko on 14 February. Nazdratenko told ITAR-TASS after the meeting that he and Putin discussed the current situation in the krai, the date of new gubernatorial elections and possible candidates as well as "my job opportunities." In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" the same day, Nazdratenko repeated that his earlier statement that he will not seek re-election as head of the krai. He predicted that State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Viktor Cherepkov, Primorskii Sea Shipping General Director Aleksandr Kirilichev, Nakhodka Mayor Viktor Gnezdilov, Vladivostok Mayor Yurii Kopylov, and local legislators Grishukov and Sergei Zhekov will likely run. And he suggested that presidential envoy to the Far Eastern district Konstantin Pulikovskii will likely support the candidacy of his deputy, Pavel Apanasenko, for the job. Of the likely candidates, he said Gnezdilov and Zhekov are "intelligent." JAC

A NUMBER OF REGIONS ACCUSED OF SLACKING IN BRING LOCAL LAWS IN LINE WITH FEDERAL...

Several regional leaders in the Northwestern federal district may be held legally accountable for the failure of their regions to bring their legislation into conformity with federal laws, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent reported on 14 February citing Vladimir Zubrin, deputy prosecutor-general. According to Zubrin, executive level officials in St. Petersburg, Pskov Oblast and Komi Republic "ignored" demands from the prosecutor's office to change local laws that violate federal legislation. Meanwhile, in the Far Eastern federal district, the first deputy prosecutor in the republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Nikolai Takhvatulin, told reporters on 14 February that the local legislature there is unsatisfactorily completing its work amending local legislation. Takhvatulin said that from 1999-2000, the republic prosecutors appealed to republic-level officials 90 times about 43 laws and 35 decrees which violate federal legislation. As a result, some 34 laws and 22 decrees were changed. JAC

...AS SIBERIAN REGION ALTERS ETHNIC REQUIREMENT

In the Altai Republic, local legislators approved a series of amendments to the republican constitution on 14 February which will make it conform to federal law, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, deputies removed an article from the constitution which forbids two persons of the same nationality to occupy the posts of prime minister and parliament speaker at the same time. The legislature also changed the wording of the constitution's first article which had stated that the republic is a democratic state that is part of Russia. It now will state that the republic is an equal subject but inseparable part of the Russian Federation. JAC

KALININGRAD WILL NOT BE A BARGAINING CHIP

In advance of discussions with senior European Union representatives about future relations between the EU and Kaliningrad, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 14 February that the Russian exclave will not be a bargaining chip, BNS reported. Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Boris Nemtsov said that Moscow should convert Kaliningrad into a Russian Hong Kong, London's "Financial Times" reported the same day. And the Russian Foreign and Defense Policy Council called for putting the region under direct rule from Moscow, Interfax reported. Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov said that he expects an accord with the EU "before summer," Russian agencies said. Yegorov added that Moscow plans to cut troops in the exclave by 8600 by 2003. Meanwhile, a Kaliningrad court ruled that the dismissal of the port director there to make room for former governor Leonid Gorbenko was illegal, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. PG

MOSCOW URGES SETTING CLOSING DATE FOR YUGOSLAV TRIBUNAL

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations, told the UN Security Council on 14 February that his government would like to establish "as soon as possible" a date for "terminating the temporary jurisdiction" of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). He said that Moscow is concerned by what he called "serious misjudgments in the operation" of that court, including the secrecy of its investigations. Lavrov also called for continuing the probe into the consequences of the use of depleted uranium shells by NATO in Kosova and Yugoslavia. PG

PATRIARCHATE OPPOSES PAPAL VISIT TO UKRAINE, RUSSIA

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox hierarchy told Interfax on 14 February that the church remains opposed to a visit by Pope John Paul II to Russia or Ukraine. The spokesman said that Roman Catholic missionary activity since the fall of communism and disputes over church property in western Ukraine must be discussed and solutions found before a visit would be acceptable. PG

MOSCOW TO PROTECT COUNTRY'S FARMERS

Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev said on 14 February that the Russian government believes that "a policy of moderate protectionism" will be necessary for some time to help Russian agriculture develop, Interfax reported. At the same meeting of the Russian Agricultural Sciences Academy, other officials and analysts expressed concern about the current state and future of the country's rich "Black Earth" zone, noting that it had seriously deteriorated in recent years. PG

DUMA AGAINST REVIEW OF NORILSK PRIVATIZATION

The Duma on 14 February voted against reviewing the results of the privatization of Norilsk Nickel, Russian agencies reported. The deputies on the same day approved in the first reading a measure to provide additional assistance to the population of the Russian Far North, Interfax-AFI reported. Meanwhile, having failed to get broader support in the Duma, a group of deputies from the Union of Rightist Forces, Fatherland-All-Russia and Yabloko on 14 February formally asked Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov for an explanation of how he acquired his luxury apartment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). PG

PROSECUTORS WEIGHT CHARGES AGAINST DIPLOMAT

Russian prosecutors said on 14 February that they will decide this week whether to charge Russian diplomat Andrei Knyazev, who killed a Canadian woman in an automobile accident in Ottawa last month, Russian and Western agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2001). Knyazev remains at large in Moscow because prosecutors said they see "no need for any detention as this was not a murder or a premeditated crime." PG

RUSSIANS BUY MORE HARD CURRENCY

Russians purchased $9.04 billion in hard currency from commercial banks in 2000, $2.24 billion more than they sold during the same period, Russian agencies said. Meanwhile, on the same day, the Duma voted against increasing the tax on purchasing hard currency to 2 percent, Interfax reported. PG

NO NEED SEEN FOR 'IRON CURTAIN' AGAINST CHINA

Russian experts and officials see no need for the erection of a new "iron curtain" to prevent Chinese from coming into Russia in unauthorized ways, "Argumenty i Fakty" reported on 14 February. Meanwhile, the Russian government has approved a new conception for cross-border ties and new support for Russian border guards, Interfax reported on 13 February. PG

RUSSIA SELLS ANTI-AIRCRAFT MISSILES TO INDIA

The KBM design bureau announced on 14 February that it has signed a contract to supply hundreds of portable anti-aircraft missiles to India during the first six months of 2001, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, export control officials told the Russian news agency that Russian arms exports grew by 34 percent from 1999 to 2000. And Nikolai Svirin, a spokesman for the Russian Agency for Conventional Weapons, told ITAR-TASS on the same day that Russia and Ukraine may earn as much as $5.5 billion each year between now and 2010 by repairing and modernizing tanks in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Vietnam, Romania and India. PG

POLICE ARREST WEBSITE CREATORS

Police have arrested a group of people who set up the kogot.ru website several years ago to distribute information discrediting well-known people, strana.ru reported on 14 February. Meanwhile, a Kostroma student was sentenced to 18 months in jail for hacking, "Segodnya" reported on the same day. Also on 14 February, Interfax-Moscow reported that up to 15 percent of all Internet providers and operators in the Russian capital have experienced problems with hacking and other crimes. PG

FISHERMAN IN VLADIVOSTOK PROTEST AUCTIONS

Fishermen in Vladivostok staged a one-day strike on 14 February to protest the introduction by Moscow of the auctioning of access to biological resources, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). Meanwhile, in another development with potential impact on the country's fisherman, "Vek," no. 5, reported that some border control functions on sea borders may be shifted from the border troops to the Russian navy. PG

MIR DEORBITING SUCCESS ESTIMATED AT 98 PERCENT

Russian space scientists told DPA on 14 February that the chances of a successful deorbiting of the Mir space station into the ocean are 97-98 percent. Meanwhile, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov stepped up his campaign to save the Russian space station by accusing officials in the Russian space program of "working for the United States," AFP reported. PG

PUTIN USES UP RESERVE FUND ON GOOD WORKS

President Putin during 2000 used up all 200 million rubles ($7 million) of a special reserve fund to help people in need, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 February. PG

YELTSIN MAY BE MORE ILL THAN REPORTED

"Argumenty i Fakty" on 14 February cited an unnamed former Kremlin official as saying that former President Boris Yeltsin's health has worsened significantly in recent weeks. PG

TV AUDIENCE RESEARCH GROUP ESTABLISHED

First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinsky told Interfax on 14 February that the country's television networks, advertisers, and other experts have created a media committee for research on Russian television audiences. PG

ARE INTERNAL PASSPORTS TO GO PLASTIC?

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 February, the Russian government is considering replacing internal passports with plastic cards. Moreover, the Duma may reduce the amount of information included in such documentation, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day. PG

95 PERCENT OF CHILDREN IN ORPHANAGES ABANDONED BY PARENTS

Vera Lekareva, the deputy chairman of the Duma Family and Youth Affairs Committee, said on 14 February that 95 percent of the children in Russia's orphanages were left there by their parents rather than being genuine orphans with no living parents, Interfax-Moscow reported. She said she is also worried about the fate of the 25,000 young Russians adopted by foreigners over the last decade and by the status of 17,000 young people in detention centers. She called for the establishment of a special plenipotentiary official for the affairs of the child to look into these matters. PG

MORE THAN HALF OF RUSSIANS SWEAR REGULARLY

A survey of 1,600 Russians from across the country by monitoring.ru found that 52 percent of Russians admit to using swear words sometimes, 13 percent do so frequently, while 35 percent say they do not use such language, Interfax reported. People with higher education were more likely to say that they sometimes use foul language, the survey found, than were those with only a secondary education. PG

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT

Following a five-week trial, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria handed down a life sentence on 15 February on 40-year-old Chechen field commander Salaudin Temirbulatov, known as "Tractor-Driver." Temirbulatov, who was captured in March 2000, was accused of killing a Russian servicemen in 1996, forming and participating in illegal armed groups, hostage-taking torture and the illegal possession of weapons. His lawyer said he will appeal the verdict to the Russian Supreme Court, according to AP. LF

CHECHEN LEADER WANTS STRICTER CONTROL OVER HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATIONS

Meeting in Grozny on 14 February with Russian presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov, Ahmed-hadji Kadyrov said that in future humanitarian organizations will not be permitted to operate in Chechnya without supervision, Interfax reported. He claimed that some such organizations are "speculating" on peoples' suffering. Kadyrov also criticized the practice of unloading aid shipments in the neighboring republics of North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Daghestan, implying that much is stolen during that procedure. Also on 14 February, Kadyrov again said that he is in contact with moderate field commander Ruslan Gelaev who, according to Kadyrov, has given up fighting and left Chechnya. There have been numerous unconfirmed reports in recent months that Gelaev is in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 41, 20 October 2000). LF




KARABAKH ASSASSINATION SUSPECTS PLEAD NOT GUILTY

Samvel Babayan, former Defense Minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, on 14 February formally pleaded not guilty to charges of plotting the attempt in March 2000 to assassinate the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, with the aim of seizing power, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Babayan and co-defendant Levon Mirzoyan have repeatedly denied any complicity in that attack, while Sasun Aghadjanian has admitted to opening fire on Ghukasian's limousine, but denies any intent to kill the president. Aghadjanian has also denied that Babayan knew in advance of the planned attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 29 December 2000 and 31 January 2001). LF

AZERBAIJAN CRITICIZES FRANCE, RUSSIA OVER ARMENIAN GENOCIDE

In a formal statement published on 14 February, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev condemned as "a mistake" and "meddling in Turkey's internal affairs" the resolution passed by the French parliament last month condemning "the Armenian genocide of 1915," AFP reported. That resolution contains no explicit reference to Turkey. Aliyev said that Baku "protests this decision by France." The previous day, Aliyev had held a telephone conversation with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. Chirac assured Aliyev that as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, France will continue its efforts aimed a speedy resolution of that conflict. Some Azerbaijani opposition parties argue that the resolution testifies to France's pro-Armenian bias, and that France should therefore be replaced as Minsk Group co-chair by Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2001). Also on 14 February, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev told MPA news agency in Baku that Russia has "no moral right" to raise the issue of the Armenian genocide, Groong reported. The Russian State Duma declined the same day to discuss a statement initiated by Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) on the Armenian genocide, RIA reported. LF

BAKU AUTHORITIES BAN AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS' PROTEST

The Baku municipal authorities have rejected as "inexpedient" a request by the Union of Editors of Azerbaijan to stage a picket of the Council of Ministers' building on 16 February to protest the newsprint shortage, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). Deputy Mayor F. Huseynova said the government is working to overcome that deficit. Prime Minister Artur Rasizade said on 12 February that the recent steep increase in the price of newsprint is temporary and that the price will fall once the Russian State Duma ratifies a bilateral agreement abolishing dual taxation. LF

GEORGIAN RULING PARTY SUES FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF OVER RUSSIAN FUNDING CHARGES

The Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) intends to bring a lawsuit for slander against former national intelligence chief Irakli Batiashvili, the party's secretary-general, Eduard Surmanidze, told Caucasus Press on 14 February. The SMK rejects as "groundless" Batiashvili's allegations that then Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko provided $1 million to pay for Russian PR experts to advise the SMK during the runup to the October 1999 Georgian parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 13 February 2001). Batiashvili claims to have evidence to substantiate his allegations. LF

DATE FOR CASPIAN SUMMIT FINALIZED

The long-planned summit of Caspian littoral states will take place in Turkmenbashi on 8-9 March, Interfax reported on 14 February. A statement published in advance of that meeting in the official Turkmen press repeats that Ashgabat believes that the division of both the seabed, surface and waters into equal national sectors is "the only acceptable approach" to defining the status of the Caspian. It said such a division would preclude the need for creation of any multilateral structures to rule on the use of the sea's resources. Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, however, advocate dividing only the seabed and leaving the surface and waters in common use, while Azerbaijan opposes any modification of the existing median line dividing the Azerbaijan and Turkmen sectors. The statement also said that the summit should address "issues of regional security," and declare the entire Caspian a demilitarized zone. Deputy foreign ministers from the five littoral states are to meet in Tehran on 20 February to finalize the agenda for the summit. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN BRINGS LAWSUIT AGAINST GOVERNMENT

Amirzhan Qosanov, who is a leading member of the opposition People's Republican Party of Kazakhstan, told journalists in Almaty on 14 February that he has filed suit with the Supreme Court against the government and intelligence services, ITAR-TASS reported. Qosanov is claiming moral and material damages resulting from the security service's refusal to allow him to travel to London in December 2000 to attend a seminar there. LF

'SHANGHAI FORUM' PARTICIPANTS ANTICIPATE NEW INCURSIONS BY ISLAMIC MILITANTS

At a meeting in Bishkek of security officials from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that opened on 14 February, Kyrgyz General Askar Mameev expressed concern that members of the outlawed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) will begin their infiltration of neighboring states earlier this year and on a larger scale than in 1999 and 2000, Reuters and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Mameev estimated the number of IMU militants currently in Tajikistan as between 1,500 and 2,000. Kyrgyz National Security Council secretary General Bolot Djanuzakov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 13 February most of the IMU militants recently deported by the Tajik authorities to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 17 and 31 January 2001) have already returned to Tajikistan. LF




BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONISTS PROTEST OVER WAGES...

Several thousand workers took part in a protest rally organized by the Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions in Minsk on 14 February, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The rally demanded that the government raise wages to catch up with price hikes. Federation leader Uladzimir Hancharyk told journalists that, given "the unprecedented pressure of the authorities on the trade unions," he is "generally satisfied" with the protest action. Belarusian commentators note, however, that the Federation expected the protest would gather some 30,000. JM

...WHILE TELEVISION SAYS PEOPLE ARE HAPPY, AT LEAST IN HRODNA

Belarusian Television, which conducted a prolonged smear campaign against the leadership of the Federation of Trade Unions in the runup to the 14 February protest, commented that the rally failed to mobilize masses of people. A television commentator noted that the rally reminded him a "nationalist" opposition gathering, rather than a trade union demonstration. The station showed a report from a dairy plant in Hrodna, where people said they are extremely happy about their lot. "I am satisfied with my wage and my job, I'm satisfied," one woman said. "Our director always listens to the opinion of employees, we always make decisions together, we are trying to live merrily and amicably and to give good production for our city," another employee added. JM

BELARUSIAN YOUTH MARK VALENTINE'S DAY BETWEEN POLICE CORDONS

Some 1,000 young people took part in a march to mark Valentine's Day in downtown Minsk, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 14 February. Participants in the march, which was organized by the opposition Youth Front, gave passing pedestrians Valentine cards, chanted anti-government slogans, and demanded democratic changes in the country. Police officers repeatedly reminded the participants that the city authorities had given permission to stage the demonstration at a different venue. "[Police] colonels in fur hats and with mobile phones were running like ordinary sergeants to keep pace with adolescent demonstrators. Gosh, they were gasping for breath!" an RFE/RL Minsk correspondent reported, expressing her shock at the heavy attendance of uniformed policemen and plainclothes at the march. JM

UKRAINIAN ANTI-PRESIDENTIAL OPPOSITION DEMANDS TYMOSHENKO'S RELEASE...

The National Salvation Forum, an anti-presidential group formed from lawmakers and politicians last week, demanded on 14 February that the authorities release former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, who was arrested the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). The Forum said in a statement that the authorities, instead of arresting "criminals from the entourage of President Leonid Kuchma," have applied "the full power of their punitive-repressive system against a woman." The Forum noted that Tymoshenko was arrested to punish her for her opposition activities and for reforms in the energy and coal sectors. "The arrest of a sick woman who was not hiding from investigators...perfectly demonstrates that the people holding power in Ukraine are immoral and cynical, devoid of universal human values," the Forum said. JM

...SLAMS YUSHCHENKO FOR SIDING WITH KUCHMA

The Forum also addressed an open letter to Premier Viktor Yushchenko saying its members do not understand why Yushchenko signed the statement condemning the Forum and threatening reprisals against "destructive forces" in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). Apart from Yushchenko, the statement was signed by President Leonid Kuchma and parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch. "Your signature under the statement contradicts both human and God's laws, because it was put on the day of the arrest of the woman [Yuliya Tymoshenko] who for the past year was your closest aide in implementing reforms," the Forum said. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz commented that Yushchenko's signature under the "provocative" statement "surprised and disappointed" him. Yushchenko commented later the same day that he signed the document because he believes "the path of undemocratic transformations, disinformation, and violent pressure" leads to "deadlock." JM

BELGIAN PRIME MINISTER SEES ESTONIA AMONG FIRST EU ENTRANTS

On an official one-day visit to Tallinn on 14 February, Guy Verhofstadt told his Estonian counterpart Mart Laar that Estonia has made great progress and would certainly be among the first new European Union entrants, BNS reported. Belgium will take over the six-month chairmanship of the EU from Sweden in the second half of this year. Verhofstadt said that he expects Estonia will close several more negotiating chapters in its EU membership talks during this chairmanship. Verhofstadt also had meetings with President Lennart Meri and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves. He told reporters that he agrees with the opinions about the future of the EU that Ilves had recently expressed in a speech at Berlin's Humboldt University (see "RFE/RL Newsline." 6 February 2001). SG

LATVIAN CAPITAL TO DONATE PETER THE GREAT MONUMENT TO ST. PETERSBURG

Riga Mayor Andris Argalis said on 14 February that he believes that St. Petersburg will accept the restored monument of Czar Peter the Great that the Riga city council had decided the previous day to donate to it, BNS and LETA reported. The monument had been originally unveiled in Riga in 1910, but was dismantled in 1915. The ship which was transporting it to St. Petersburg was sunk by a German submarine and it spent almost 20 years at the bottom of sea before being retrieved by Estonian divers in 1934 and bought by Riga City Council. Last year the private firm "Teikas nami Ltd." agreed to finance the monument's restoration which was carried out by restorers from the St. Petersburg's Russian Museum. Argalis said that during public discussion about where in Riga the monument should be placed, the responsible committee had received "stacks of letters" saying Riga does not need such a monument. The city council's decision to donate the monument was a gesture of good will from one city to another prompted by the recent meeting of the Latvian and Russian presidents in Austria. SG

LITHUANIAN COURT FINDS GIMZAUSKAS GUILTY OF GENOCIDE

The Vilnius District Court on 14 February found Kazys Gimzauskas guilty of genocide against Jews during the Nazi occupation, but taking into account that the 93-year-old terminally ill defendant suffers from incurable mental disorders released him into the care of family and medics, BNS reported. Gimzauskas, who had served as the deputy director of the Security Police in Vilnius, had been charged with collaboration with Nazis in executing five Jews, but the court found him guilty of signing orders to hand over three of them to the Nazi security police. Israel Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff said that the conviction "while a positive step, clearly underscores Lithuania' reluctance to prosecute Lithuanian Nazi war criminals who could actually be punished for their crimes." SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT MULLS TOUGHENING PENAL CODE

Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski on 14 February told the parliament that criminality in Poland has taken on "dangerous dimensions." Kaczynski proposed to the Sejm introducing some 400 changes in the Penal Code in order to toughen punishments and lengthen prison sentences. Proposed amendments increase the minimum term for aggravated murder to 25 years instead of the current 12 years. They also increase terms for repeat offenders and rapists and toughen rules that allow some convicts temporary leave from prison to visit families. According to police statistics, the annual rate of serious crimes in Poland is some 2,500 per 100,000 citizens -- the eighth highest in Europe. JM

ENTOURAGE DENIES CZECH PRESIDENT PLANS TO RESIGN

Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek on 14 February said "only tabloids" speculate on President Vaclav Havel's alleged intention to resign on health grounds. Spacek told the daily "Hospodarske noviny" that Havel will not leave office before the January 2003 end of his mandate "either because of health problems or for political reasons." Political scientist Jiri Pehe, a former Havel advisor, rejected speculation that Havel intends to resign in order to promote as successor a personality close to himself, like Senate Chairman Petr Pithart. Pithart himself, who said he might run when Havel's term ends, said there is no reason for the president to leave office on heath grounds. "His health problems are a recurrent nuisance that does not impede his capability to perform his duties," CTK reported. Havel's personal physician said on 14 February that the president's condition is improving but he will remain in hospital over the weekend. MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS FOLLOWING ODS?

The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 15 February says it has concluded that the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) has accepted an illegal 20 million crowns ($5.3 million) donation from businessman Karl-Heinz Hauptmann prior to the general elections of 1998. The daily says that contrary to legal provisions, that donation was made incognito and no taxes were paid on it. A similar scandal in the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) had led to the fall of the government headed by Vaclav Klaus. The daily said it reached this conclusion after investigating the circumstances of an attempt to murder CSSD creditor Ivan Lehotsky in 1999, and that this attempt was in turn linked to the blackmailing of former Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda. It says that Svoboda, who was CSSD treasurer when Hauptmann's donation was made, was among the few in the CSSD leadership to know of it. MS

AUDITORS BEGIN WORK AT CZECH TV

The private PriceWaterhouseCoopers auditing company on 14 February began reviewing the records of Czech Television to establish whether the recent turmoil at Czech TV was in any way connected to financial improprieties, dpa and CTK reported. Members of the dismissed Radio and Television Council had claimed when the conflict broke out that it was partially prompted by attempts to cover up such improprieties. The Chamber of Deputies' resolution that made the ending of the conflict possible included a stipulation calling for such an audit to be carried out. The contract with PriceWaterhouseCoopers had been signed by the former acting TV management, and new director Jiri Balvin approved it on 12 February. MS

FIGHT OVER CZECH PRIVATE TV CONTINUES

A Paris-based international arbitration court on 13 February ruled that Czech media tycoon Vladimir Zelezny must pay $23 million to U.S. billionaire Ronald Lauder in exchange for his shares in the Media Enterprise Company, AP reported. The court rejected a claim by Lauder for $470 million in damages. Zelezny said he is considering appealing the verdict, while a spokesman for Lauder's company, CME, said the company will accept the ruling, providing that the Czech state guarantees the payment as ordered by the court. Lauder and Zelezny, former partners in the private Nova TV, have been in conflict since 1999. Lauder sued Zelezny and the Czech Republic, claiming that the government allowed his former partner to violate legal contracts by hiring away Nova TV's best talent and starting their own network under the same name. MS

NATO OFFICIAL SAYS SLOVAKIA ON COURSE

NATO Deputy Secretary General Klaus-Peter Kleiber on 14 February said after talks with President Rudolf Schuster, Defense Minister Jozef Stank and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan that Slovakia must press on with reforms, including political reforms, if it wants to have a good chance of joining the alliance when it discusses further expansion, Reuters, AP and CTK reported. "It is important that the parliament pass the necessary amendments to the constitution, that a convincing national security strategy be adopted [and] that legislation be passed concerning the protection of information," Kleiber said. He emphasized that the delegation he heads could see that "a lot of these things are on track... A lot has been done. But I detect that a lot [more] can be done in Slovakia to be well prepared for the moment in 2002 when the NATO alliance will review the enlargement process." MS

SLOVAK PROSECUTOR GENERAL STOPS PROCEEDINGS AGAINST ZIAK

Prosecutor General Milan Hanzel on 14 February said on Markiza TV that he has stopped proceedings launched by police against the former chief of the Slovak Counter-Intelligence Service, Rudolf Ziak. Ziak was charged with "sabotage" in connection with intelligence operations aimed at preventing the integration of neighboring Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland into NATO and the EU. Former Slovak Intelligence Chief Ivan Lexa and two of Lexa's deputies were also charged in that connection. Hanzel said that "sabotage is a criminal offense explicitly linked with the protection of the [Slovak] republic" and cannot be applied to intelligence operations abroad. Observers say the decision is one more defeat in a series suffered by Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner. MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS AHEAD OF SLOVAK VISIT

In an interview with TASR on the eve of a visit to Slovakia beginning on 15 February, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said Budapest "welcomes" the way Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet has responded to the demands of the Hungarian minority and is supportive of the positions of the Hungarian Coalition Party. Martonyi said Hungary itself is searching for the best solutions to grant parliamentary representation to its 13 officially recognized minorities, but the task is "complicated" by the country's proportional representation electoral system. He also said the situation of Hungarian Roma will improve as a result of the country's economic growth, its expected European integration, and the implementation of programs for education and employment of Roma. On the still pending solution of the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam, Martonyi said both countries have "agreed to de-politicize the issue and place it in the hands of experts." MS




SERBIA SEEKING NATO BACKING FOR PRESEVO SWEEP?

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 15 February with details of a plan to remove the sources of tensions in the Presevo valley (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 9 February 2001 and "End Note" below). Reuters reported that the two officials are "expected to press the alliance to let Serbian security forces begin counter-insurgency operations against the rebels, who number several hundred and operate with relative impunity in a buffer zone where Serbian forces are not allowed to pursue them" under the 1999 Kumanovo agreements that ended the Kosova conflict. Some observers suggest that Belgrade is using the Presevo conflict as a first step toward undoing the Kumanovo agreements and gradually reestablishing its position in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). PM

NATO PREPARING TO YIELD TO SERBIA?

NATO is prepared to consider changes regarding the demilitarized zone, Reuters reported from Brussels on 15 February. NATO Secretary General George Robertson told his visitors that Belgrade should not issue any ultimatums to ethnic Albanian fighters and should not seek to end the tensions through violence or "so-called anti-terrorist operations." He praised the Covic plan and called on Belgrade to remove the army's Prishtina Corps from the region in order to help build confidence with the Albanians. Covic replied that Belgrade will work with "moderation, patience, and no ultimatums, but quickly enough because we don't have time" lest Presevo lead to a wider conflict. PM

YUGOSLAV EX-GENERAL: 'WE WILL DEFEND OUR TERRITORY'

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic, who is a former commander of the Yugoslav General Staff, said in Belgrade on 14 February that "those who reject a political dialogue and continue with terrorism should know that the democratic authorities in Serbia know how to protect [their] citizens and territory and are able to do so," "Danas" reported. He added that if the ethnic Albanians "insist" on including "terrorists" in their negotiating team, that will mean that the Albanians want talks to fail. Perisic argued that the new Belgrade authorities will not "take the bait" offered by the Albanians as quickly as the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic did in Kosova, but did not elaborate. In any event, he added, the Albanians now lack the strong foreign support they enjoyed in 1999. Perisic recently warned the authorities against using force in Presevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). "Vesti" reported on 15 February that Serbian tanks recently "destroyed two Albanian bunkers" in the Susajski Rid area in an exchange with "Albanian terrorists." PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS WANT AUTONOMY

Presevo Mayor Riza Halimi told a news conference on 14 February that ethnic Albanians want autonomy, demilitarization, and international mediation. He referred specifically to an "adequate level of autonomy that would not envisage a change of borders." Halimi also called for an end to the "drastic discrimination that has been carried out here for decades," AP reported. Referring to Belgrade's plan for the region, he charged that it is an attempt to present a "done deal" even before any talks have begun. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has already ruled out autonomy and international mediation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 13 February 2001). In place of demilitarization, Belgrade wants to reduce the size of or eliminate the demilitarized zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT CALLS BELGRADE LEADERS 'NATIONALISTS'

President Milo Djukanovic told Reuters in Podgorica on 14 February that his government intends to seek independence despite sharp warnings from the EU and U.S. that it should remain in a joint state with Serbia. He said that the Belgrade authorities are "nationalists who want to dominate Montenegro." Djukanovic added that "the international community has had such a bad experience with the Balkans over the past decade [that] it cannot believe that an initiative like ours could have a democratic and non-violent outcome. I don't want to be held hostage [to that] Balkan heritage." He denied any link between Montenegrin constitutional issues and those affecting Kosova. "What is the necessary condition for resolving the Kosovo problem? A sincere and constructive political initiative between Belgrade and Prishtina, now with the inevitable arbitration of the international community. It's in that triangle that the formula for resolving the Kosovo problem must be found," Djukanovic argued. PM

DEL PONTE TAKES ARREST WARRANTS TO MONTENEGRO

Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 14 February that "it is the obligation of the democratic Montenegrin leadership to provide full cooperation with the tribunal and to make sure that all those charged be handed over to the court," AP reported. On 15 February, chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is slated to give Djukanovic and other top officials an unspecified number of indictments for war criminals, including three for Montenegrins involved in the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik, the "Financial Times" reported. An additional indictment is that of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is originally from Montenegro and may be planning a trip home to see his sick mother. PM

BELGRADE AUTHORITIES MARK 100 DAYS' ANNIVERSARY WITH MIXED RECORD

The Serbian legislature took the first steps on 14 February to dismantle the legal system of the Milosevic regime and oust numerous judges and other personnel widely seen as political appointees, the "Daily Telegraph" reported. Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic said elsewhere that it is "in the national interest" to cooperate with The Hague, adding, however, that cooperation does not mean accepting all of the tribunal's demands, "Danas" reported. Federal Information Secretary Slobodan Orlic told "Glas Javnosti" that the private B92 radio "is [still] working under the same conditions as under [Milosevic's] rule, the only difference being that journalists' lives are no longer in danger." In London, the "Independent" noted that "a hundred days after Vojislav Kostunica's velvet revolution, the Serbian capital remains a place of refuge for indicted war criminals." PM

SWITZERLAND BALKING OVER YUGOSLAV ENVOY?

"Vesti" reported on 15 February that almost all of the new government's diplomatic appointees have received the approval of the countries to which they have been named. The sole exception is Dragan Vuksic, whom Switzerland has not approved as ambassador. Bern has given no reason for the delay. Vuksic is a former colonel and military attache. PM

SERBIAN RADICAL LEADER IN IRAQ

Vojislav Seselj is visiting Iraq, apparently as a guest of President Saddam Hussein, London's the "Independent" reported on 15 February. Little is known about the purpose of the trip. Seselj's party was part of Milosevic's last coalition government, which had close relations with Baghdad. PM

CROATIAN PROTEST RALLY FIZZLES

Fugitive General Mirko Norac did not call on President Stipe Mesic on 14 February, as Mesic had suggested he might (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). It is not clear what the general's plans are. His approach to Mesic and his expression of willingness to face trial have split the ranks of his backers. Only 5,000 people turned out for a 15 February demonstration in his support in Zagreb, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Veterans' leader Marinko Liovic charged that Norac betrayed his supporters by contacting the government, AP reported. Liovic added that the government is "manipulating the people" by its handling of the case, "Jutarnji list" reported. Former Foreign Minister Mate Granic told the daily that the government should not yield to any of the veterans' demands on war crimes lest it risk international isolation. PM

BOSNIAN BISHOP CALLS FOR MOVES AGAINST ETHNIC CLEANSING

Roman Catholic Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka told "Oslobodjenje" of 15 February that the international community has not done enough to enable non-Serbs to go back to their pre-war homes in the Republika Srpska. He charged that the foreigners have the knowledge and ability to change things, but that their inaction "is as if they wanted an ethnically pure Republika Srpska." He noted that only 10 percent of Roman Catholic refugees and displaced persons have returned home since the end of the conflict at the close of 1995. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER DENIES 'PRIBOI SCANDAL' AFFECTS NATO INTEGRATION...

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, on a tour of the western Arad and Timis counties, on 14 February denied that the "Ristea Priboi scandal" is likely to affect his country's NATO integration chances. Nastase said that "as far as he is informed" Priboi "performed his duties as an officer" and "if he is guilty of abuses and excesses, these will have to be examined." Nastase said the affair is being blown up to serve "personal friendships" in the National Liberal Party (PNL). On the same day, PNL First Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica said Priboi's appointment, as well as the earlier appointment of Radu Timofte as new Romanian Intelligence Service chief, shows that the "hard-liners" in the party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) who are close in views to the Greater Romania Party (PRM) are still influential. MS

...SAYS IMF MUST UNDERSTAND ROMANIA'S SPECIFIC PROBLEMS

Nastase also said his cabinet considers the IMF to be "a partner in implementing its economic strategy," but added that the fund "must understand Romania's problems at this particular point in time." He said responsibility for Romania's economic policies lies not with the IMF but the country's government, in line with the mandate it received last fall from the electorate. This is why Romania is insisting on a larger budget deficit in parleys with the IMF. An IMF delegation headed by its chief negotiator for Romania, Neven Mates, is currently visiting Romania. MS

...IS SKEPTICAL ON SOON MEETING EU REQUIREMENTS FOR VISA ABOLITION...

The premier also said he doubts Romania can meet within six months the EU requirements for abolishing visas for Romanian citizens. Nastase said it is more likely that implementing the requirements will take one year. He explained that the most difficult problem is that of securing Romania's border with Ukraine, which necessitates "large financial resources and a great amount of specific equipment." MS

...AND OPPOSES HUNGARIAN-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITY

Nastase said in Arad that "the government does not support the setting up of a Hungarian-language university." He said the existing university structure is capable of meeting the requirements for study in their mother tongue of the Hungarian, as well as of other national minorities. The premier noted that his PDSR had already said during the electoral campaign that it is ready to improve the financing of the Hungarian sections of the Cluj-based Babes-Bolyai University and is also in favor of improving Hungarian professorial representation on that university's decision-making senate. MS

SENATE 'WARNS' ROMANIANS WHO VISITED IRAQ

Senate chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu said on 14 February that the chamber's Permanent Bureau has decided to apply the "warning sanction" to the two PRM senators who recently visited Iraq without the prior permission of the Senate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. On 15 February, Mediafax reported that the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chamber of Deputies has asked the Foreign Ministry to present a report on the possible consequences of the visit. The Romanian "delegation" that went to Iraq also included three deputies--one from the PRM and two from the PDSR. MS

ROMANIA DENIES REPORTS ON INFRINGING ARMS EMBARGO

The Defense Ministry on 14 February denied a report carried by the British media, according to which a team of UN experts has concluded that Romania, alongside Bulgaria and Ukraine, infringed the UN embargo on arms deliveries to Angola, Mediafax reported. The report was published by "The Daily Mail" and "The Guardian" and says that the weapons were delivered to the Angolan UNITA rebels via Togo and Burkina Faso. MS

EU PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR MOLDOVA...

The EU high-ranking delegation that visited Moldova on 14 February said it is interested in the continued democratization of the country and in contributing to the peaceful resolution of the Transdniester conflict, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said the EU "supports Moldovan territorial integrity" and that Russia must meet the obligations assumed at the November 1999 Istanbul summit. Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said the EU is interested in stability in Moldova, a country that will become "a neighbor" after the organization's expansion. Commissioner Chris Patten said the EU has pledged 15 million euro (about $14 million) in financial assistance to help fight crime, money laundering and corruption. Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi urged the EU to open a permanent representation in Chisinau and said more EU members should have embassies in Moldova. At present, only Germany and France do so. MS

...BUT MOLDOVANS NOT ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT EU

Just over 51 percent of Moldovans believe their country should strive for integration into the EU, while 43 percent would rather opt for consolidating relations with other CIS countries, according to an opinion poll conduced by the Romanian Center for Opinion and Market Studies (CSOP), Flux reported on 14 February. Support for EU integration is particularly high among those aged 18 to 29 (66 percent), while 54 percent of those aged 60 and more opt for the CIS. Those with university education are generally inclined to support EU integration (58 percent) while the lesser educated opt for the CIS (60 percent). MS

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE HEAD IN MOLDOVA

Nikolai Patrushev, Federal Security Service (FBS) chief, on 14 February conducted talks in Chisinau with his Moldovan counterpart, Information and Security Services chief Valeriu Pasat, Flux and ITAR-TASS reported. They signed an agreement on cooperation to fight international terrorism and the illegal arms trade, extending and amplifying a similar 1994 agreement. In response to a journalist's question, Patrushev said the FBS "has no information" that Russian armaments stationed in the Transdniester may have found their way into the hands of the Chechen rebels, adding that this is nonetheless "theoretically possible." Neither is the FBS aware of the existence of Chechen "rebel camps" in Moldova, Patrushev said. Patrushev also conducted talks in Tiraspol with the separatist leadership and met there with commanders of Russian troops stationed in the region. MS

ANOTHER POLL SHOWS COMMUNISTS AHEAD IN MOLDOVA

Institute of Social Technologies (IST) director Victor Dordas on 14 February told journalists in Chisinau that three consecutive polls conduced by the IST have shown the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) enjoys the largest backing. According to the latest poll, which was conducted between 10 and 12 February, the PCM will garner 48.2 percent in the elections scheduled for 25 February. In second place is the Braghis Alliance (18.5 percent), followed by the Popular Party Christian Democratic (7.8) and by the Party of Revival and Conciliation (7.3 percent). Dordas said the Democratic Party is likely to receive between 4.3 and 6.2 percent, Infotag reported. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

The parliament on 14 February began debating the no-confidence motion moved against the cabinet headed by Ivan Kostov by the opposition Socialist Party, Reuters reported. Socialist deputy Tatiana Doncheva accused the government of links with shady businesses and of doing too little to establish the rule of law. Premier Kostov said in reply that "there is no evidence" at present of "serious organized crime in Bulgaria." The vote on the motion is likely to take place on 16 February. MS

BULGARIAN NATIONAL CARRIER SUSPENDS FLIGHTS

The Israeli Zeevi Holding company, majority owner of Balkan Airlines, announced on 14 February it has decided to halt financing for the airline, "as a result of which Balkan Airlines suspends flying operations," Reuters and AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). Zeevi Holding is demanding that the Bulgarian government pay it $230 million for breaches in the acquisition agreement. It also says flights will remain suspended until the government pays it $6 million in compensation for assets missing from the company after its 1999 purchase. Premier Kostov called the demands "unwise and not serious" and said no court will consider them. MS

U.S. COMPANY TO UPGRADE KOZLODUY REACTORS

The U.S. Westinghouse company signed a $76 million contract on 14 February to update two units at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, AP reported. The project involves the two newer 1,000 megawatt units at the plant, installed between 1987 and 1989. Bulgaria has bowed to EU pressure to close the oldest two 440 megawatt units next year. Kozloduy has a total of six reactors, but only the two newer units have safety encasement. MS




YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT REVEALS DETAILS OF PRESEVO PEACE PLAN


By Jolyon Naegele

Details are now emerging of the peace plan for the Presevo Valley that Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic will present to NATO officials today in Brussels. Several versions of the plan, which is hoped to end a year of ethnic violence in Serbia's southernmost region, have appeared in print recently, leading to confusion over details.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica helped to clear up some of the confusion at a press conference on 13 February in Belgrade and a letter to the editors of "Politika," which published what they said was a version of the plan.

Kostunica said the final version calls on the international community not to mediate in peace talks between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, but only to support the overall peace process. Kostunica told reporters on 14 February the international community should help the ethnic Albanian side choose a negotiating team that will represent "in the best way the interests -- in fact -- the future coexistence of Serbs and Albanians and not the interests of terrorists or the spread of terrorism and violence in the south of Serbia."

Kostunica said the international community would also be allowed to verify progress in establishing peace in the five-kilometer-wide ground safety zone in the Presevo Valley along Serbia's boundary with Kosovo. The zone is now off limits to the Yugoslav army and to heavy weapons. Ethnic Albanian insurgents control most of the villages in the zone and use it as a haven from which to attack targets beyond the zone. Belgrade would like to reduce the size of the zone.

In his letter to "Politika," Kostunica said he expects the international community to be actively involved in the economic development of the Presevo Valley, which he describes as "extremely poor".

United Nations Security Council members on 13 February expressed support for the Covic plan, saying it deserves serious consideration. They praised the restraint shown by Yugoslav leaders in dealing with the tensions in the Presevo Valley and their assurances of continued respect for the military-technical agreement. But Yugoslavia representative Vladislav Mladenovic warned that time is running out for a peaceful solution. He told the Security Council that "the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia cannot exercise indefinite patience since keeping the situation as it is or the status quo is totally unacceptable."

Covic's "Plan for Resolving the Crisis in Southern Serbia" emphasizes integrating the region's 70,000 Albanians into Serbia's state and social system, and respecting their human rights in keeping with European standards. Some of the specifics of the plan include:

Harmonizing the ethnic make-up of those employed in state services, business, and social activities with the ethnic make-up of the population. In other words, the plan calls for integrating Serbs and ethnic Albanians instead of separating them. Albanians would be guaranteed an "appropriate level of representation" in municipal councils and assemblies, as well as Serbia's government and parliament. Police operations would be ethnically mixed. Patrols would have "one Serb and one Albanian."

The plan also says the insurgents, whom it refers to as "Albanian terrorists," must be told their acts will not receive international support.

But insurgents told RFE/RL's Kosovo unit this week there can be no discussion as long as the Serb side refers to them as "terrorists." The insurgents are far from united over how to respond to the plan. However, some ethnic Albanian leaders, in consultation with insurgents, are preparing their own plan, which they expect to have ready by 19 February.

The mayor of the town of Presevo, Riza Halimi, said on 14 February that ethnic Albanians in the region want "a certain level" of autonomy to protect their rights. He told reporters the nine-member Albanian negotiating team will insist on the full demilitarization of the area and will demand a halt to all hostilities in the municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac. But Halimi says the Albanian negotiators will not demand a change to any borders - an apparent concession as some insurgents have called for annexing the area with Kosovo.

The Covic plan stipulates that Serbia and Yugoslavia reject as "unacceptable" any kind of autonomy, special status or change in the borders of Serbia and Yugoslavia. It calls for a peaceful and diplomatic solution through direct negotiations between Serbia and Yugoslavia on the one side, including a representative each of Presevo Valley Serbs, Kosovo Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church, and a negotiating team of "the Albanian national community" on the other side, with the inclusion of a representative of the Islamic community.

The plan warns that if efforts at a peaceful settlement fail and all other means are exhausted, Serbia and Yugoslavia will be forced to protect their constitutional order by counter-terrorist operations, as the only means left for settling the crisis, provided there is international support for such operations.

The Covic plan says for police to able to protect citizens, the five kilometer-wide ground safety zone must be narrowed or phased out and that KFOR should allow what the plan calls "appropriate police and army units" into the zone.

The plan also calls for the demilitarization of two large villages outside of the zone which are currently in the hands of the insurgents: Lucane and Veliki Trnovac, both near Bujanovac. Under this plan, the insurgents and the special police units now in the area would have to leave and local police patrols would enter the two villages. The army would withdraw its tanks and heavy artillery from the Veliki Trnovac-Lucane line and from the area around Bujanovac and Presevo. This would then serve as a model for demilitarizing the rest of the region.

The Covic plan also calls for economic development, particularly in agriculture and timber processing, as well as the repair of 527 Serb homes to accommodate 2,300 displaced Serbs from Kosovo. In addition it provides for the repair of all Albanian houses to accommodate displaced Albanians who wish to return to the area.

The plan envisions peace unfolding in three phases. A precondition for phase two would be KFOR's reduction or abolition of the five-kilometer buffer zone. The second phase calls for a complete and permanent halt to terrorist acts, the disarming of the insurgents and the destruction of fortified installations. It also foresees the withdrawal of military and police forces, with a regular, mixed local police and regular military formations to remain. Insurgents would be amnestied and "reintegrated" into civilian life.

A third phase is intended to promote the prosperous development of a multiethnic and multifaith community on democratic principles. This includes the complete integration of Albanians into the socio-political system and the withdrawal of special military and police forces from the region. Displaced persons would be returned to their restored homes.

The plan envisages demilitarization to begin immediately after the agreement is signed, with complete implementation achieved in four months.


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