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Newsline - March 7, 2001




NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE SET...

The council of the Duma on 6 March agreed to hold a vote of no-confidence on Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Russian agencies reported. "Izvestiya" sketched out different scenarios from a defeat of the no-confidence motion, to its victory, to a new government, or to the organization of a Duma even more pliant to the will of the Kremlin than the present one. The paper said that "one gets the impression that those in power are tired of the political calm and have decided to get down to business," but just what that business is remains a matter of dispute. PG

... BUT OUTCOME INCREASINGLY UNCERTAIN...

Under withering criticism from its opponents, some of its own members -- including party leader Sergei Shoigu -- and people close to the Kremlin-like presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov, Unity Duma faction leader Boris Gryzlov said that party leaders will meet on 7 March to discuss their unexpected announcement of plans to support the vote of no-confidence. Gryzlov said they are now prepared to withdraw plans to vote against the government if the Communists withdraw their motion for such a vote, Russian agencies reported on 6 March. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev predicted on 6 March that Unity will in fact decide to oppose the motion and thus guarantee its defeat. Interfax also reported that "it is not excluded" that Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov will meet with President Vladimir Putin on 7 March. PG

... AS POSSIBLE ELECTION OUTCOMES DISCUSSED

Unity leaders like Gryzlov have argued that they decided to support the no-confidence motion in the hope of forcing new elections in which they expected their party to gain seats. In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 6 March, Gryzlov said his party would get "a minimum of 40 percent" of the vote and thus increase its numbers in the Duma. But Duma speaker Seleznev said Unity has almost certainly miscalculated its chances and might even lose seats. Other deputies made similar comments, and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction member Aleksei Mitrofanov even opined that "all these games around the Kremlin could end with a Moldovan outcome" -- that is, that the communists could gain dramatically. PG

PUTIN ANSWERS QUESTIONS ONLINE

President Putin on 6 March spent an hour answering 18 questions from some 15,000 submitted to gazeta.ru, strana.ru, and the BBC about his personal life and political views. He said that he does not believe the Russian president should be a member of a political party at this stage, that the Russian army should remain outside of politics and under civilian control, and that he remains against any modification of the ABM treaty. In other responses, he called for more participation in public life, although he said that his wife's decision to adopt a low profile is something he cannot interfere with. He said that those who oppose his policies in Chechnya do not understand the situation there, and he dismissed criticism that he is cracking down on the media by saying "the questions our listeners are asking are a bit aggressive. Not very tolerant." Putin added that he is pleased with the progress of the last year, but will not introduce further change by decree. He said he will soon send legislation to reform the country's legal system, and that it is still too early to talk about Russia's entrance into a unified Europe. Following the session, Putin ordered his staff to go through all the questions submitted that he did not have a chance to answer in order to come up with ideas, Interfax reported. The news agency also said that hackers had unsuccessfully tried to break into the interview. PG

PUTIN SENDS MONEY-LAUNDERING CONVENTION TO DUMA

President Putin on 6 March sent to the Duma for ratification the convention on combating money-laundering, Interfax-AFI reported. The Russian government signed the convention on 7 May 1999 but has never submitted it for ratification. Meanwhile, a group of Duma deputies in the Security Committee have prepared a new bill to combat corruption in the hope that Putin will approve what former President Boris Yeltsin blocked three times in the past, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. In another move, Putin signed into law legislation that will require that other owners of property be notified when one of their number sells part of that property, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN BACKED FOR RE-ELECTION

A poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax on 6 March showed that 39 percent of Russians want President Putin to run for, and win, re-election, Interfax reported. Only 17 percent said they were opposed. And a commentary by Aleksei Levinson of the VTsIOM polling group published in "Izvestiya" on the same day noted that Putin's reputation has not fallen over the past year despite widespread predictions that it would. PG

NEMTSOV OUTLINES PUTIN'S STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES

In an interview published in the 6 March "Komsomolskaya pravda," Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov said that President Putin's future rating is likely to depend on his ability to push through pension reforms. In other comments, he said that Putin has a unique quality: "regardless of what he does, people love him all the same." But at the same time, Putin has one obvious weakness in comparison with his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin constantly changed officials -- he had five prime ministers, 45 deputy prime ministers, and 185 ministers -- while Putin in contrast "separates himself from people [only] with great difficulty and sometimes this reaches the point of absurdity: instead of punishing [Yevgenii] Nazdratenko [the former governor of Primorskii Krai], Putin names him to head the fishing industry." PG

UNITY, YABLOKO LOOK BEYOND MOSCOW

Frants Klintsevich, who is one of the leaders of Unity, told Interfax on 5 March that his party is strong outside of Moscow. He noted that 27 of the 44 regional heads elected last year are Unity members and that more than 600 Unity members gained election to regional legislative bodies during the same period. Meanwhile, Yabloko Duma deputy Sergei Ivanenko said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 March that Yabloko is stronger than its showing in the regions suggests, in part because about half of its vote "is somehow taken away" during the counting of the ballots. PG

DEATH TOLL RISES ON SAKHALIN

The death toll from the Sakhalin Oblast's recent heavy snowstorm rose to seven people as of 6 March, Interfax-Eurasia reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). According to the agency, in the southern part of the island the blizzard has stopped, and the streets are clear, but there is practically no movement of cars or other vehicles. In the oblast's capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the struggle to maintain energy supplies continued and the local hospital was unable to prepare meals for its patients, who were given packets of dried food. Preliminary estimates of the cost of damage to the capital city amount to 60 million rubles ($2 million), according to Mayor Fedor Sidorenko. JAC

ISRAEL COMES TO THE ASSISTANCE OF THE JEWISH AUTONOMOUS OBLAST

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast plans to increase its production of gold this year with help from Israel, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 March. According to the daily, a new diamond-producing artel called "Dzhar" has been created with 100 percent of its capital coming from Israel. In recent years, the oblast has not been able to meet its planned production quotas; last year production totaled only 200 kilograms but this year the oblast is aiming for 350 kilograms. The oblast had one of the richest gold-bearing regions in the Far East in the 19th century, according to the newspaper, but Magadan Oblast surpassed it at the beginning of the 20th century. JAC

TAIMYR REGIONAL GOVERNMENT WELL STOCKED WITH NORILSK NICKEL EMPLOYEES

Newly elected Governor of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Aleksandr Khloponin announced appointments to his apparatus on 6 March, and four of his seven appointed deputies are former employees of Norilsk Nickel. That company is the region's largest employer, and Khloponin was its head until his victory in the 28 January election. The chairman of the okrug's legislative assembly, Vladimir Sitnov, is a former executive director of Norilsk Nickel, while the mayor of Norilsk, Yurii Budargin, is former deputy director of that company, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 2 March (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 January 2001). JAC

INFLATION DECREASES IN FEBRUARY

Inflation in Russia fell from 2.8 percent in January to 2.3 percent in February, according to the State Statistics Committee on 6 March, Interfax reported. For the first two months of this year, inflation stands at 5.1 percent as compared to 3.4 percent for the same period last year. PG

GAZPROM READY TO SUPPORT TURNER-SOROS BUY OF NTV SHARES

Gazprom-Media director Alfred Kokh said in Washington on 6 March that his company is prepared under certain conditions to back proposals by U.S. magnates Ted Turner and George Soros to make an investment into NTV, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the Office of the Prosecutor-General confirmed that it is renewing active investigation of the Vladimir Gusinskii case by conducting additional searches and questioning new witnesses, Interfax reported. PG

BORODIN READY TO GO TO SWITZERLAND VOLUNTARILY

In an interview to be published in "Izvestiya" on 7 March but reported by Interfax the day before, Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State Pavel Borodin, who is now under detention in New York, said he would be willing to go to Switzerland voluntarily on the condition that the American courts refuse to extradite him. PG

MOSCOW'S MUSLIMS PLAN NEW MOSQUES

Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, said in Moscow on 6 March that the Muslims of the Russian capital plan to construct a series of new mosques in addition to the six they already have there, Interfax reported. In other comments, Gainutdin said that the number of mosques in Russia as a whole has risen from 98 in 1989 to almost 6,600 now. He said that many people, including "50,000 ethnic Christians," have converted to Islam and noted that there are now as many Muslims in Russia as there are in Saudi Arabia. PG

PATRIARCH PROMISES TO PROTECT RUSSIANS ABROAD

Aleksii II told a group of Russians from the former Soviet republics that "you are flesh of flesh and blood of blood of our people," adding that "we see it as our duty to take part in all actions aimed at consolidating the unity of our compatriots living abroad," Interfax reported. The patriarch also condemned efforts to separate from the Russian Orthodox Church orthodox congregations in Estonia and Ukraine and said that it is not yet time for Pope John Paul II to visit Ukraine, the news agency reported. Meanwhile, Russian media gave prominent play to the closure of the only Russian-language daily in Lithuania, noting that its editors had informed President Putin that the paper will cease publication, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2001). A committee headed by Duma speaker Seleznev announced the same day that a Slavic Congress of the Peoples of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine will take place in Moscow 1-2 June, Interfax said. PG

RUSSIAN EMBASSY WORKERS IN WASHINGTON MAY HAVE SUFFERED FROM LASER RADIATION

As the Russian media continued to discuss the reports of a U.S. intelligence community tunnel under the Russian Embassy in Washington, doctors at a Russian cancer research center told Interfax on 6 March that diplomats and other workers there may have suffered damage to their health as a result of laser radiation. Former Russian Ambassador in Washington Yuliy Vorontsov told the news agency the same day that his officials had always taken countermeasures on the assumption that the Americans were trying to listen to their conversations. Meanwhile, the trial began in Moscow of a man who attempted to fire a grenade at the U.S. embassy in Moscow on 28 March 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW DECRIES U.S. PLANS TO DEPLOY FORCES NEAR CUBA

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 6 March released a statement saying that Washington's plans to project military force around Cuba contradict President George W. Bush's claim that the U.S. administration is planning to get rid of "relics of the Cold War," Interfax reported. PG

SHVYDKOI SAYS TALIBAN'S ACTIONS 'A FIT OF FASCISM'

Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi said on 5 March that the destruction of Buddhist shrines by the Taliban represented "a fit of fascism" that the world must oppose, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA, NIGERIA REACH NEW AGREEMENTS

President Putin met with visiting Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo to promote expanded economic, military and political ties between the two countries, Russian agencies reported on 6 March. Putin used their joint press conference to call for expanded UN action to prevent the supply of weapons to rebel forces in Africa. PG

RUSSIA TO BEGIN DESTRUCTION OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Acknowledging that Russia has not destroyed the amount of chemical weapons required under its earlier agreement with the United States, Russian officials said on 6 March that they will begin doing so this year in order to detoxify and then destroy 40,000 tons of such weapons now stored in six regions of the country, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the first Russian complex for handling metallic radioactive wastes opened in Leningrad Oblast, Interfax-North-West reported the same day. PG

PAVLOVSKY URGES BETTER INFORMATION SECURITY...

In an interview published in the 6 March "Krasnaya zvezda," unofficial presidential political adviser Gleb Pavlovsky said that the army must reform in order to be able to meet the challenges ahead, including new threats to information security. He said that "in the modern world, it is necessary, while preserving openness, to either regulate the parameters of this openness or agree to another's, sometimes anonymous, shadow control." PG

... AS 'SREDA' EDITOR POINTS TO ONE WAY TO GET IT

In the 6 March issue of "The Moscow Times," "Sreda" editor Aleksei Pankin said that Moscow could get all the help it needs to improve Russia's image by being more forthcoming. He noted that Patrick Cockburn, the Moscow correspondent of "The Independent," had said that "if [Moscow officials] create an information vacuum regarding a situation of interest to the public, you cannot complain when that vacuum is filled by the opinions of your enemies." But Pankin said that "for a businessman like [Media Minister] Mikhail Lesin, a free image looks even worse than a trap." PG

DEORBITING OF MIR POSTPONED AGAIN

The Russian space agency on 6 March said that the Mir spacecraft will be programmed to fall from orbit not on 9 March but sometime between 17 and 20 March, Interfax reported. The agency said that it is continuing to try to purchase $200 million in insurance to cover damage should any of the 1,500 pieces of the ship thought likely to reach the earth's surface do any damage. Meanwhile, defenders of the Mir held a solemn meeting and concert in a last-ditch effort to convince the authorities to reverse their decision on deorbiting the Mir. In a related move, the space agency announced that a Russian rocket would in fact carry the first space tourist, American financier Dennis Tito, to the International Space Station, despite American and European objections, Interfax said. PG

USE OF CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING BANNED

Drivers are no longer allowed to use cell phones while their vehicles are in motion unless those phones are fitted with special features to allow the operators to keep both hands on the wheel, according to a decree issued by Prime Minister Kasyanov, Interfax reported on 6 March. PG

FEMALE PRISONERS KEPT IN POOR CONDITIONS

The 50,000 women now in Russian prisons -- 5 percent of the total prison population-- are not given adequate support for their female needs and are thus rendered unable to function in society upon their release, Valerii Abramkin, the director of the Center for the Reform of the Criminal Justice System, said in Moscow on 6 March, Interfax reported. PG

ONE MILLION FLOWERS FOR MOSCOW'S WOMEN

Russian officials said that more than one million flowers have been brought into Moscow shops in advance of International Women's Day, Interfax-Moscow reported. A poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion and reported by Interfax the same day suggests they are likely to be purchased: According to that survey, 42 percent of Russian men plan to buy flowers and 44 percent of Russian women expect to receive them. PG

ENGLISH SCHOOLS TO BE MORE CAREFUL IN ADMITTING RUSSIANS

"Vremya MN" reported on 6 March that private English schools and colleges, where more than 1,000 Russians are now studying, plan to be more careful about admitting those whose fees are paid from funds the provenance of which is unclear. The reason for this change, the paper said, is that some Russian parents are refusing to enroll their children in schools where they believe children from Russian criminal families are studying. PG




ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DOWNPLAYS THREAT OF NEW KARABAKH WAR

In an interview published on 6 March in the independent daily "Golos Armenii," Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian shrugged off the growing support in Azerbaijan for a new war to bring the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic back under Baku's control, saying such statements "are not new." "If the Azeri army had the ability to solve the problem by use of force it would have done so a long time ago. Today we are even more prepared [to fight]," the minister said. Sarkisian added that he anticipates new peace proposals from the international community that will be even more favorable to Armenia than those made earlier. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PESSIMISTIC AFTER PARIS KARABAKH TALKS...

On his return to Baku on 6 March, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev told journalists his 4-5 March talks in Paris with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and French President Jacques Chirac on resolving the Karabakh conflict were "difficult and tense," ITAR-TASS reported. Chirac had said the previous day they had proceeded "in a warm and friendly atmosphere" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). Aliyev added that the talks yielded "no concrete results," and that he does not believe the OSCE Minsk Group is preparing a new draft peace proposal, according to Reuters. He claimed that Armenia will not consider any alternative to independence for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. But he added that Azerbaijan "has no choice" but to continue the Minsk Group talks. LF

... AS HIS FORMER ADVISORS UNVEIL STRATEGY FOR RESOLVING CONFLICT...

Former presidential advisor Eldar Namazov and former Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov on 6 March unveiled their "platform" for resolving the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. They argue that international mediators base their proposals on an assessment of what they consider Azerbaijan will accept, ignoring the need to preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. They argue, as Zulfugarov did in several articles published in "Zerkalo" last year, that Azerbaijan should concentrate on building up its economic and military potential in order to be able to negotiate from a position of strength. They say that the Azerbaijani leadership and opposition should cooperate closely in their efforts to achieve a settlement of the conflict. They envisage such a settlement comprising autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh and the preservation of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. They discount the possibility, mentioned in the Azerbaijani parliament resolution on Nagorno-Karabakh adopted late last month, that the international community would condemn military action to restore Azerbaijani control over the disputed enclave. LF

... AND INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SEEKS TO RAISE FUNDS FOR RECONSTRUCTION

U.S. ambassador Bill Taylor, who headed the U.S. delegation to this week's session of the U.S.-Armenian joint task force, told RFE/RL in Yerevan on 6 March that the session had discussed raising the funds that would be required for post-conflict rehabilitation in the event of a final Karabakh peace agreement. He said the World Bank is preparing a team of international experts who would travel to the region to estimate what funds would be needed. That assessment would serve as a basis for a Donors' conference to raise the necessary funds. LF

TURKEY REASSURES AZERBAIJAN OVER DELAYED GAS DEAL

Turkey's Fuel and Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer told a private Turkish TV station on 6 March that Ankara plans to finalize agreements with Azerbaijan both on buying natural gas from the Shah Deniz field and on construction of a pipeline to transport that gas to Turkey, AP reported. The agreements will be signed during President Aliev's visit to Turkey next week, Ersumer said. On 5 March, President Aliev's son Ilham had expressed concern at what he termed Ankara's apparent reluctance to make a firm commitment to buy gas from Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS ON ABKHAZIA TO CANCEL LOCAL ELECTIONS

Council of Europe Ministers' Council chairman Indulis Berzins, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe President Lord Russell Johnston and PACE Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer on 7 March appealed to the leadership of Georgia's breakaway Republic of Abkhazia to cancel the local elections scheduled for 10 March, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2001). They said those elections "cannot be considered legitimate," adding that "it is not in the interest of the Abkhaz side to be seen as confronting the international community and undermining efforts to achieve an early and comprehensive settlement of the conflict by peaceful political means." It is not clear whether the three officials also condemned the Georgian guerrillas who recently stepped up their mine warfare against the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia for similarly "confronting the international community" and urged them too to seek to resolve the conflict by "peaceful political means." LF

PARIS CLUB GRANTS GEORGIA MORATORIUM ON DEBT REPAYMENT

Meeting on 6 March, the Paris Club group of creditor countries agreed to reschedule payment of Georgian debts totaling $921.9 million, Caucasus Press reported. Repayment will now begin in three years' time and will extend over a period of 15 years, according to "Dilis gazeti" on 7 March. The moratorium reportedly extends to Georgia's $393.6 million debt for gas supplies from Turkmenistan, even though the latter is not a Paris Club member. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATE ON CAPITAL AMNESTY

The Mazhilis, the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's bicameral legislature, on 5 and 6 March debated the possibility of allowing persons who illegally exported capital from Kazakhstan to return that money to Kazakh banks without incurring any punishment, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Deputies and banking officials who addressed the session failed to agree on the sums involved and whether the repatriation of those monies would improve the financial situation in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). LF

PACE DELEGATION VISITS KAZAKHSTAN

A delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is currently in Kazakhstan to assess the political situation there prior to a decision on whether to grant Kazakhstan observer status in that organization, Interfax reported. The delegation, headed by Tadeusz Ilinski, chairman of the PACE Committee for Migration and Refugees, held talks in Almaty on 5 March with representatives of both pro-government and opposition political parties, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. On 6 March, the delegation traveled to Astana to attend a parliamentary session and meet with Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, who assured them that "the democratic processes in Kazakhstan have become irreversible." Mazhilis speaker Zharmakhan Tuyaqbaev told Ilinski in response to the latter's expression of concern over restrictions on opposition political parties that the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan does not face any pressure from the Kazakh authorities, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF

KYRGYZ COURT POSTPONES HEARING IMPRISONED POLITICIAN'S APPEAL

Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court has postponed from 6 to 13 March hearing an appeal by opposition politician Topchubek TurgunAliyev against his conviction last summer on charges of plotting to assassinate President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2000). The postponement was requested by Turgunaliev's lawyer. The Bishkek City Court reduced Turgunaliev's sentence in November from 16 to six years' imprisonment, but TurgunAliyev is seeking his acquittal. LF

KAZAKH GOVERNMENT DELEGATION DISCUSSES WATER RESOURCES IN KYRGYZSTAN...

Kazakh and Kyrgyz government delegations headed by Deputy Premier and Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Vladimir Shkolnik and First Deputy Premier Nikolai Tanaev respectively met in Bishkek on 6 March to discuss sharing water resources and hydroelectricity, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kazakhstan has asked Kyrgyzstan to supply 750 million cubic meters of water this year in return for supplies of coal and heating oil. A corresponding agreement is to be signed by the end of this month. Kyrgyzenergo Director General Bakirdin Sartkaziev told the meeting that the inter-governmental agreement on water resources signed by Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in December 2000 needs to be amended. He explained that due to Uzbekistan's cutoff of natural gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan in January, Kyrgyzstan has used large amounts of water from its reservoirs to generate hydro-electricity. As a result, Kyrgyzstan will be able to supply Uzbekistan with only 750 million cubic meters of water this year rather than the 2.3 billion cubic meters envisaged in the December 2000 agreement. That reduction could result in water shortages in Uzbekistan this summer. LF

... AND TAJIKISTAN

Shkolnik also attended a session in Dushanbe on 6 March of the Kazakh-Tajik inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation together with Tajikistan's First Deputy Prime Minister Hodja Akbar Turajonzoda, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The two sides signed an agreement on the shared use of water resources from the Naryn-Syrdarya reservoirs in 2001. During subsequent talks between the Kazakh delegation and Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov, the two sides agreed to prepare a quadripartite agreement with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and to form a commission to rule on the rational use of water from the Syrdarya river during the seasons of the year when the water-level is at its lowest. LF

TURKMENISTAN SEEN AS KEY TO TRANS-CASPIAN PIPELINE

U.S. presidential advisor for Caspian energy issues Elizabeth Jones said in Tbilisi on 6 March that whether the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline to export Turkmen gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia is built will depend on the willingness of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov to continue negotiations on that project, Interfax reported. She said that the Trans-Caspian pipeline and the proposed pipeline to export to Turkey gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz Caspian field (see above) are not mutually exclusive in the light of the growing demand in Europe for natural gas. Nor, she said, can the Blue Stream pipeline to bring Russian gas to Turkey supply all of that country's gas needs. Caucasus Press on 6 March reported that Jones has been scheduled to travel from Tbilisi to Baku that day, but failed to do so. LF




EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARIANS MEET BELARUS'S POTENTIAL PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS...

A delegation of Europe's parliamentary troika (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001) on 6 March met with four opposition politicians who have announced their intention to run in this year's presidential elections: Mikhail Chyhir, Syamyon Domash, Uladzimir Hancharyk, and Pavel Kazlouski. "We told [the delegation] that the [potential] candidates are being persecuted... .We were advised to work parallel [with one another] at this stage and support each other, and to decide later on the one who has best chances [to win]," Chyhir told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. "We declare that our main goal is to unite at some stage of the presidential campaign and support one candidate," Domash said. JM

... OPPOSITION LEADERS...

At a meeting with leaders of the opposition parties that are united in the Consultative Council of Democratic Forces, the European delegation discussed possibilities for holding a free and democratic presidential ballot in Belarus, Belapan reported. Vintsuk Vyachorka from the Belarusian Popular Front, Syarhey Kalyakin from the Belarusian Party of Communists, and others told the delegation that the government has done nothing to meet the four conditions set by the international community for democratic elections in Belarus. Those conditions were: to improve electoral legislation, establish a climate of trust in society, provide media access to the opposition, and give meaningful functions to the legislature. The opposition leaders claimed that the political climate in Belarus has even changed for the worse since the legislative elections last October. JM

... AND STATE OFFICIALS

The delegation also met with Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna, Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou, and legislators from Belarus's lower house, the Chamber of Representatives. According to the ministry's press release, Khvastou said during the meeting that Europe should "take a more unbiased approach to assessing the political situation in Belarus and the steps the country's leadership is taking to democratize our society." Khvastou called on European organizations to stop applying "double standards" to Belarus. JM

BELARUSIAN YOUTHS MOCK TV SPYMANIA

The Youth Front, an organization associated with the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, staged a happening at the offices of Belarusian Television on 6 March to mock TV propaganda programs and documentaries, Belapan reported. Four activists dressed in black and wearing "spy" sunglasses delivered a document confirming the transfer of 288 Belarusian rubles ($0.23) to television for advertising the organization. Last week, Belarusian Television said the CIA helps the Youth Front organize subversive operations in Belarus to topple Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "We decided to pay Belarusian Television [for advertising our] goals -- we [really] want to lead young people to the presidential election this year in order to topple the regime," Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets said, adding that his organization got the money from "our American masters." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS OFFICIALS TO FOLLOW HIM, OR QUIT...

President Leonid Kuchma said on 6 March that state officials have one week to publicly renounce ties to the opposition or resign their posts. "I suggest that every civil servant, starting with ministers, who are members of, or sympathize with... opposition groups, should decide within a week whether to give up their jobs in authority bodies or publicly renounce anti-state groups," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. According to Kuchma, such a step by officials would be "politically correct and honest." The president added that some officials, including those of "the highest rank," have taken a "wait-and-see position" on Ukraine's current situation. "One has an impression that some people want to keep silent, which is equivalent to passively encouraging those actions [by the opposition]. I do not understand or accept this," Kuchma said. JM

... LASHES OPPOSITION FOR DRAFT LAW ON PARLIAMENTARY REPUBLIC

President Kuchma harshly criticized a draft law proposed recently by the opposition to change the constitution in order to transform Ukraine into a parliamentary republic. "How much cynicism and disregard for the people is needed in order to practically reject the implementation of the [constitutional] referendum results, in order to redraft the constitution for satisfying personal political ambitions?" Kuchma asked. Kuchma noted that the current political campaign against him was initiated "not for national salvation or strengthening the state or the people's well-being, but for [gaining] power itself." He added: "It is necessary to do everything, in both the center and the provinces, in order to defend society in a democratic way from such deliverers." JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS SECURITY POLICY PRINCIPLES

The parliament approved on 6 March a document setting out Estonia's official security concept by a vote of 64 to four (all against from the opposition United People's Party), thus putting an end to discussions begun at the end of January, BNS reported. Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves said that amendments proposed by the National Defense Committee -- placing greater emphasis on social topics such as patriotic education, freedom of the media, and achieving positive population growth -- had been included. He noted that the document correctly sets out the wish to increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, and offers a more comprehensive account of the different forms of Baltic cooperation. The document asserts that the main risks to Estonia's security are possible instability and politically uncontrollable situations in the international environment, as well as international crises, but no direct military threat to Estonia is foreseen now or in the immediate future. NATO representatives had urged Estonia to adopt a security policy concept. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES MINIMUM WAGE

The Cabinet of Ministers passed on 6 March regulations raising the minimum monthly wage by 20 percent from the current 50 lats ($81) to 60 lats as of 1 July, LETA reported. The minimum hourly wage will also be raised to 0.35 lats. However, the minimum rate for youths aged 16 to 18, working 35 hours per week, will be 0.405 lats per hour. Finance Minister Guntis Berzins noted that the higher wages would increase government expenditures by 58 million lats, but that this will not cause problems as the sum had already been calculated in this year's national budget. SG

LITHUANIA URGES BELARUS TO MARK ITS BORDER

Deputy Foreign Minister Oskaras Jusys told his Belarusian counterpart Aleksandr Sychiov on 6 March in Vilnius that Belarus should speed up the process of marking its border with Lithuania, BNS reported. The two countries had agreed to split the work of clearly marking their 650-kilometer border. Lithuania has already finished fixing its segment, but Belarus has only completed about 30 kilometers, or less than one-tenth of its share. Jusys noted that Lithuania has eased procedures this year for the issuance of visas and lowered the costs for Belarusian citizens to $10, while Belarus still requires Lithuanians to pay $20 for a visa. He also mentioned that in seeking to meet European Union requirements Lithuania will have to review agreements on travel by Lithuanian and Belarusian citizens, and on simplified border-crossing procedures. SG

POLISH PREMIER SAYS NATION MUST FACE POLISH ROLE IN POGROM

"As a nation we can live only in truth. The participation of Poles in the crime at Jedwabne is unquestionable -- no historian denies it," Jerzy Buzek said on 6 March. Buzek was referring to the 1941 killing of some 1,600 Jews at Jedwabne, northeastern Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). Buzek said the murder at Jedwabne was not committed in the name of Poles of the Polish state, because Poland was under occupation at that time. "However, if as a nation we are proud of those Poles who risked or even lost their lives to rescue Jews, we must also recognize the guilt of those who participated in murdering them," Buzek said. Buzek added, however, that "we object to the use of the Jedwabne case for propagating false theses about a shared Polish responsibility for the Holocaust and an innate Polish anti-Semitism." JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT PLEDGES $26 BILLION FOR SIX-YEAR ARMY MODERNIZATION...

The government on 6 March approved a six-year program worth 105 billion zlotys ($26.3 billion) to bring the country's armed forces closer to NATO standards, PAP reported. The bill, which must be approved by parliament, provides for annual defense spending of at least 1.95 percent of GDP to restructure the army and cut its personnel by some 25 percent to 150,000 by 2006. JM

... APPROVES PLAN TO CUT UNEMPLOYMENT

The government also approved a plan to fight unemployment by lowering taxes, amending the Labor Code, and encouraging investment. Premier Buzek said the cabinet will draft a package of appropriate legislation by the end of March. JM

CZECH, CROATIAN PRESIDENTS STRESS COMMON PAST, FUTURE

Meeting with Czech President Vaclav Havel on the first day of his two-day visit to the Czech Republic, Croatian President Stipe Mesic said that the good relations between the two countries stemmed from their similar past and the centuries that they were part of a common state, CTK reported 7 March. Havel, however, said he believes the two countries are "connected with a common future," and both presidents said their countries see their future in a united Europe. They said the signing of an agreement on a free-trade zone for next year should help both countries further their goals of European integration. DW

TEMELIN TO BE SHUT DOWN AGAIN

The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant will be shut down again for further repairs, AP reported on 6 March, citing plant spokesman Milan Nebesar. The plant was shut down from 18 January to 25 February due to vibrations in the main turbine generator, and this is once again the reason for the decision to interrupt output, which is currently tested at 30 percent of Temelin's capacity. Nebesar said it is necessary to adjust three regulatory valves, which are causing the vibrations. He added that repairs will take six days, after which the plant's management intends to ask permission to raise output to 55 percent. MS

ROMA DEPORTATION BY NAZIS MARKED IN BRNO

The beginning of the mass deportations of Czechoslovak Roma by the Nazis in March 1943 was marked on 6 January in Brno, CTK reported. The ceremony was conducted at the site of a recently unveiled plaque placed on the Nazi Protectorate police building where Roma were held before the first mass transport to Auschwitz left on 7 March 1943. Some 5,000 Roma were deported to the "gypsy camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau between that date and January 1944, of whom only 500 survived. MS

FORMER SLOVAK COUNTERINTELLIGENCE CHIEF RETURNS HOME

Rudolf Ziak has returned to Slovakia, CTK reported on 6 March. His lawyer told Slovak television that the former Slovak Counterintelligence chief had "ended a study tour in the U.S." Police investigators on the same day received a copy of the Prosecutor-General Office's decision to stop proceedings against Ziak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). Ziak was suspected of being involved in sabotage activities aimed at hindering neighboring countries' efforts to join NATO and the EU, but the prosecution ruled that the charge of "sabotage" cannot be applied to intelligence operations conducted abroad. MS

SLOVAKIA WANTS COMMAND OF UN MISSION IN CYPRUS

Chief of Staff Milan Cerovsky on 6 March told journalists Slovakia wants to be entrusted by the UN with the command of its UNFICYP peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, CTK reported. Cerovsky said four other former communist countries -- Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia -- are interested in taking over the mission's command from Austria. He said that if needed, Bratislava is ready to share the command with Budapest. Slovakia has no peacekeeping troops in Cyprus, but is preparing a contingent to be sent there. Some 320 Slovak soldiers serve in peacekeeping missions, most of them in Eritrea and the Golan Heights. MS

HUNGARY TO REDUCE DURATION OF MILITARY SERVICE

The government on 6 March decided to reduce compulsory military service from nine to six months effective January 2002, cabinet spokesman Gabor Borokai announced. The bill still must be approved by parliament. The cabinet also plans to reduce reservist military service from four to three months, and tighten the military health aptitude test. In 1982, some 12 percent of recruits proved to be unfit for military service, but the ratio rose to 49 percent in 1999, as the children of wealthy families and those with good contacts attempted to escape military service, Borokai concluded. MSZ

TORGYAN CRITICIZES HUNGARY'S INTERIM AGRICULTURE MINISTER

Independent Smallholders' Party Chairman Jozsef Torgyan, Hungary's former Agriculture Minister, on 6 March harshly criticized in the parliament interim Agriculture Minister Imre Boros, saying that contrary to the government's program, Boros is assisting large-scale farmers rather than those with family farms. Torgyan characterized as a "witch-hunt" the ongoing financial probes of the ministry. So far, the investigations have concluded that companies affiliated with the ministry have given more than 800 million forints ($2.7 million) to the FTC sports club, which had been chaired by Torgyan. Torgyan urged Prime Minister Viktor Orban to "speedily decide" on a new agriculture minister. MSZ

HUNGARY DECLARES ALERT, EVACUATES FLOODED VILLAGES

The government on 6 March declared an "extraordinary state of emergency" in areas affected by flooding on the upper stretch of the Tisza, Tur, and Szamos rivers, and started the evacuation of some 25,000 people from 19 villages. Transport and Water Management Minister Janos Fonagy said some 13,500 soldiers and volunteers are fighting to maintain flood defenses along the rivers. The cost of flood prevention has risen to 40 million forints ($138,000) per day, Fonagy said, adding that the ministry has a budget of 800 million forints for such purposes. MSZ




RENEWED FIGHTING ALONG MACEDONIAN BORDER WITH KOSOVA...

Fresh fighting was reported on 6 March between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents in Macedonia near the border with Kosova, AFP reported. A Macedonian Defense Ministry official said Macedonian forces "are only responding to provocations by Albanian extremists." He added that no casualties were reported. Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski told the government that the area around the rebel stronghold of Tanusevci is mined, the daily "Dnevnik" reported. He said because of that, "any armed intervention in the Tanusevci region would carry major risks." The Defense Ministry said it expects "provocations" by the insurgents will occur "in other places on the northern border." PB

... AS U.S. SOLDIERS GET INVOLVED IN GUN BATTLE

Two U.S. soldiers, part of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosova, wounded two men in an exchange of fire on 7 March in the Serbian province near the border with Macedonia, AP reported. The incident took place near the village of Mijak and involved the KFOR troops and a group of five or six armed men. One of the injured men escaped with the others into Macedonia, while one man was detained. PB

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES TOUGH ACTION AGAINST 'TERRORISM'

Boris Trajkovski said on 6 March in Skopje that his country will not surrender "a single foot to terrorism," AP reported. Speaking to parliament, President Trajkovski said "terrorism and extremism must be militarily and politically defeated and kicked out of Macedonia." He said if the ethnic Albanian extremists are not stopped, then "we will face a new wave of violence in the region." Trajkovski warned the international community of the seriousness of the conflict, saying that if the insurgents destabilize Macedonia, it will mark the "beginning of the end of regional peace and stability." PB

NATO CONSIDERING USE OF YUGOSLAV TROOPS TO KEEP ETHNIC ALBANIANS OUT OF MACEDONIA

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said on 6 March that the alliance is discussing the possibility of allowing Yugoslav forces to help patrol a portion of the border with Macedonia, AP reported. Robertson said a decision will be made this week on whether to let Yugoslav troops return to a small stretch of territory along the joint border of Yugoslavia, Macedonia, and the Serbian province of Kosova that is currently under NATO and UN control. The corridor is believed to be used by ethnic Albanians to smuggle weapons into southern Serbia. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington on the same day that "we are examining how we can begin to transfer the ground safety zone back to Yugoslav authorities over time -- not all at once, but perhaps beginning with the most difficult area in the south." Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade that allowing the Yugoslav troops to patrol the border area would allow the "best protection" for Macedonia and for southern Serbia. PB

YUGOSLAV OFFICIAL SAYS MILOSEVIC TO BE ARRESTED BEFORE APRIL

Milan Protic, the Yugoslav ambassador to the U.S., said on 6 March in Washington that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be arrested by 31 March, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Protic, speaking at a hearing of the U.S. Congress's Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said "no one... will be very enthusiastic about [assuming the job]... of putting Milosevic under arrest, because he's got his private guard, which could be pretty dangerous... . But we are ready to do it, and we are doing everything to prepare that move. And it's going to be done before March 31, I can assure you about that, too." PB

YUGOSLAV SECURITY CHIEF DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN ALLEGED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Rade Markovic, the former head of Yugoslavia's state security, denied that he had anything to do with a fatal car crash in which opposition leader Vuk Draskovic survived, AP reported on 6 March. Investigative judge Dragoslav Rakic said that Markovic replied that "I have nothing to do with this," when asked about his involvement in the accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). Rakic said "he can defend himself with silence, or with lies. The penal code says he can defend himself in any way he knows how," but added, "if we did not have firm evidence, we would not hold these people in detention." Rakic said that 23 people have thus far been questioned in the investigation, and suggested that charges against Markovic could be filed soon. PB

CROAT, U.S. OFFICIALS IN TALKS ON BOSNIA

The U.S. ambassadors to Croatia and Bosnia met with Croatian officials, including Foreign Minister Tonino Picula, in Zagreb on 6 March in attempts to defuse the crisis over Bosnian Croat threats to enact self-rule in Croat-majority areas of Bosnia, Reuters reported. "We came here for an exchange of views and advice, and I got some very good advice," said Thomas Miller, the ambassador to Bosnia. A diplomat close to the talks said that the HDZ, which issued the threats, had acted more out of desperation than strength, and was not prepared to go into opposition. "If it weren't electoral rules, it would have been something else. They would have seized any pretext." DW

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN GERMANY

Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 6 March met in Berlin with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer and other officials to discuss bilateral relations, Romania's quest to join the EU and NATO, and the prospects of increasing German investments in Romania. Geoana told journalists that it would be "premature" to say that Germany has decided to "firmly engage in backing Romania's joining of NATO in 2002" but that he could "sense a clear inclination in favor of EU expansion if our country fulfills the EU criteria." He also said German investors are interested in Romania "provided certain conditions are met" and later explained that his government is "doing its best" to remove the numerous bureaucratic hurdles hindering foreign investment and to pass clear legislation to encourage it. In his capacity as rotating OSCE chairman, Geoana also discussed with Fischer the evolution of events in Macedonia, Moldova, the south Caucasus, Russia, and Ukraine. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS ALBANIAN VIOLENCE IN MACEDONIA

The Foreign Ministry on 6 March said in a press release that Romania "firmly condemns the escalation of violence" on the Macedonian border with "the Serbian province of Kosovo." The ministry said Bucharest "backs the effort of authorities in Skopje and of the international community to fight terrorist acts and to find the right instruments leading to a peaceful solution of the present conflict," including "the use of OSCE instruments." MS

ROMANIAN MINISTER WANTS TO ACCELERATE EU NEGOTIATIONS

European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak told journalists on 6 March that Romania has closed the lowest number of chapters (six) in negotiations with the EU from among all accession candidates, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. She said the government intends to accelerate negotiations and hopes to have closed negotiations on at least 20 chapters of the aquis communautaire by the end of this year. MS

BESIEGED ROMANIAN LEADER WANTS COLLEAGUES TO 'RETURN HOME'

Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman, who will face the challenge of Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu for the party leadership in May, on 6 March appealed to former prominent party figures to return to the fold of the Democratic Party. Among the names mentioned by Roman were those of Adrian Severin, Victor Babiuc, George Serban and Cazimir Ionescu, all of whom left or were expelled from the party after conflicts with Roman himself. Serban and Ionescu, who like Babiuc are now members of the National Liberal Party, rejected the appeal while Severin, currently a member of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, has thus far not reacted. MS

ROMANIAN PARTIES SEAL MERGER AGREEMENT

The National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and the Christian Democratic National Alliance (ANCD) on 6 March finalized an agreement stipulating that the ANCD will return to the fold of the PNTCD, which it left in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2001). Under the agreement, ANCD leader Victor Ciorbea will become chairman of the PNTCD's National Steering Board and two ANCD members will be appointed deputy chairmen of that board, while three members will become deputy PNTCD secretary-generals. Neither of the two formations managed to gain seats in the parliament elected in November 2000. Andrei Marga, who in January 2001 became PNTCD chairman, said the new Christian Democratic formation will be "strong and capable of balancing the situation on Romania's political spectrum." MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS DENY BEING 'ANTI-ROMANIAN'

Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) Deputy Chairman Victor Stepaniuc, in an interview with the BBC on 6 March, denied that PCM has an anti-Romanian position, as claimed by Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). Stepaniuc said that "Moldova perceives Romania as being a sister-country, sharing the same historic and ethnic origins," Mediafax reported. However, "unlike the Romanian premier, who speaks of 'two Romanian states,' PCM strives for the consolidation of Moldovan state identity," he remarked. There are also differences between the foreign policies pursued by the two countries, Stepaniuc added, because "Moldova remains a neutral state." Romania, on the other hand, intends to join NATO. MS

BRAGHIS SAYS HE WAS NOT OFFERED MOLDOVAN PREMIERSHIP

Outgoing Premier Dumitru Braghis on 6 March told journalists that PCM leader Vladimir Voronin has not proposed that Braghis continue as prime minister at the head of the new cabinet, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Braghis said that at their 3 March meeting, Voronin discussed with him only "matters pertaining to the structure of the new parliament." He also said he believes the next cabinet will be formed "within one month." MS

TIRASPOL AWAITING VORONIN'S PROPOSALS

Valerii Litskay, who holds the "foreign minister" portfolio in the Tiraspol leadership, on 6 March said the breakaway authorities are "waiting for the [new Moldovan leadership] proposals for a solution of the conflict" but will "insist that all agreements previously concluded be implemented," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Litskay said on Russia's RTR television that many of the points previously expressed by the PCM "coincide" with the views of his "government" and mentioned in this connection the quest to join the Russia-Belarus Union, CIS "full integration," and opposition to NATO's eastward "expansion." He added that he is, however, "skeptical" that either Russia or Belarus can afford financing the "huge costs of Moldova's reorientation from the West to the East." MS

IMF DELEGATION TO VISIT MOLDOVA

The IMF congratulated Voronin on his party's electoral victory and expressed the hope to further cooperate with Moldova, ITAR-TASS and Infotag reported on 6 March. An IMF delegation will arrive in Moldova on 25 April for a two-day "fact-finding mission." MS

BULGARIA URGES 'FIRM STAND' AGAINST ALBANIAN SEPARATISTS

President Petar Stoyanov on 6 March said at NATO headquarters in Brussels that ethnic Albanian guerrillas trying to test the will of Balkan governments are a "politically isolated group that must be stopped in its tracks," Reuters reported. Stoyanov said these people must "receive the clear and categorical message" that Balkan governments and the international community will not stand for a new round of ethnic violence and are "ready to go to any length" to prevent it. He added that the entire region is encouraged by the "unequivocal condemnation" of these actions by Albanian and Kosova Albanian leaders alike. Clarifying an earlier statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2001), Stoyanov said it would be "inconceivable" for Bulgaria to send troops to Macedonia unilaterally. Such a step must be taken "through international organizations of which we are members," he said. MS

WORLD BANK APPROVES BULGARIAN CHILD WELFARE LOAN

The World Bank has approved an $8 million loan aimed at improving child welfare in Bulgaria, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 7 March. The loan will be used for activities promoting community-based welfare, such as placing abandoned children in homes instead of institutions. The loan matures in 20 years. MS




CROATIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES BELGRADE-BANJA LUKA ACCORD


By Ron Synovitz

Speaking at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on 6 March, Croatian President Stipe Mesic said the cooperation treaty signed in Banja Luka the previous day by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic shows that the post-Milosevic Yugoslav leadership has not abandoned the former president's dream of creating a Greater Serbia. Mesic said that cooperation treaty will contribute to the further destabilization of Bosnia.

"Both Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should have their relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole," Mesic said. "We should not encourage the entities within Bosnia to get the impression that they are states. To be fair, it should be mentioned that Croatia also has an agreement on special relations with the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But it's just a framework [accord]. Without any amendments and annexes to this framework, this agreement cannot be implemented. That's why I insist that our relations with Bosnia should be like relations with any other country -- [that is,] relations with the country as a whole, not particular parts of that country. The idea behind [both] these agreements is to connect Croat parts of Bosnia with Croatia and Serb parts of Bosnia with Serbia in order to encourage the continuation of the division of Bosnia."

Mesic also criticized radical Bosnian Croats in the Croatian Democratic Union who have threatened to create their own mini-state out of the parts of Bosnia where Croats are in the majority. The Croatian president said similar moves by Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs would mean the end of the Bosnian state.

"It is our duty to support the role of the individuals among Croats in Bosnia who are not for the division of the country [that is, Bosnia-Herzegovina], to support their political stands and to strengthen them. The Croatian Democratic Union has no legal right to pretend to be the only and exclusive representative of [the] political interests of Bosnian Croats, especially when this policy is disastrous," Mesic said

Mesic said that he has been encouraged by the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Yugoslavia. But he said the people of Serbia must face up to the crimes committed by their former leadership before relations between Zagreb and Belgrade can be completely normalized. "The departure of Milosevic is not enough. His policies have to go as well, and all those who were supporting his policy, who were creators of this policy, they have to be held responsible for their actions, and ultimately, to face the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Unless this happens, unless Serbia goes through a complete change and faces its history of the last 10 years, we are only going to be able to make small steps to improve our relations."

Mesic said he does not think the Macedonian leadership will need foreign intervention to help contain a conflict with ethnic Albanians guerillas on the Macedonian border with Kosova. But the Croatian president also urged the United Nations to move ahead with elections in Kosova as soon as possible.

"With regard to Kosovo, I think it would be good to hold elections as soon as possible because they will provide official and legitimate partners in negotiations with the government in Belgrade with regard to the future status of Kosovo. Extremists on both sides should be suppressed and the presence of the international community should be reinforced and needed for a few more years," Mesic said.

Ron Synovitz is a Prague-based senior editor with RFE/RL.


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