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Newsline - March 16, 2001




SAUDI SECURITY FORCES END HIJACKING DRAMA

With Russian approval, Saudi security forces stormed a Vnukovo Airlines aircraft on 16 March and ended a hijacking drama that began on 15 March when four men identified in the media as Chechens hijacked the plane with 166 people on board in Istanbul and forced it to fly to Medina in Saudi Arabia, Russian and Western agencies reported on 15 March. The hijackers had demanded an end to Russian military actions against Chechnya and also that the plane take them on to Qandahar. President Vladimir Putin followed the crisis first in Khakasia, where he was vacationing, and in Moscow upon his return. PG

THE IVANOV IN MOSCOW...

In an article entitled "Ivanov vs. Ivanov," "Izvestiya" on 15 March said the highly positive statements by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov concerning the visit to Russia by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had complicated the life of Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov during his ongoing visit in Washington. Russian officials continued to describe the warming relations between Moscow and Iran, pointing out that Russia will sign an agreement to build another nuclear reactor in Iran as soon as it completes the one it is working on now, Russian and Western agencies reported the same day. And Russian officials said Iran will allow Russia to gain rail access to South Asia, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 March. Khatami, for his part, said he was pleased with his visit and on a stop in Kazan said he was happy to see the rebirth of Islam there, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. PG

...VERSUS THE IVANOV IN WASHINGTON

Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov insisted in Washington on 15 March that his talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell show that "we are definitely not enemies," despite American criticism of Russian arms and nuclear sales to Iran. Ivanov said there are many points of agreement, although he highlighted discord on NMD (national missile defense), the case of detained Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin, as well as on Iran. After talks with U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Ivanov said Moscow does not view its relationship with Washington as pivotal, but rather as part of its overall foreign policy effort, ITAR-TASS reported. And he said Moscow has no plans to try to create a new bilateral commission like the Gore-Chernomyrdin one that existed under former President Bill Clinton. PG

POLITICAL CRISIS -- 'OR WHATEVER IT WAS' -- SAID OVER

Russian media continued to discuss who lost the most in the failed no-confidence effort in the Duma. An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 March declared "the political crisis -- or whatever it was -- has run its course." Meanwhile, Communist deputies defended their attempt to bring the government down and lashed out at criticism of Communist leaders in the Duma and at suggestions that the Communists should lose some of their committee assignments, Interfax reported the same day. For his part, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said he hopes to improve relations with the parliament, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW SAYS CIA SEEKS TO BLACKEN RUSSIA'S IMAGE...

Commenting on the release of a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency report on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a Russian Foreign Ministry press release said "the undisguised anti-Russian orientation of the document is surprising," ITAR-TASS reported. The U.S. intelligence agency, the ministry said, is obviously trying to "create a new image of the enemy, to cast suspicion on the economic, military, and technological cooperation of Russia with other countries." PG

...AND SAYS U.S. PUBLIC MISUNDERSTANDS MOSCOW'S APPROACH ON CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Sergei Kirienko, the presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, said in New York on 15 March that Americans appear to believe that "Russian chemical weapons are a Russian problem," ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March. Kirienko said that such weapons are everyone's problem, and that "we need agreed [upon] international programs to eliminate all of those chemical weapons in a period fixed by international conventions." PG

NOSTALGIA FOR SOVIET PERIOD GROWING...

A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 15 March found that 79 percent of Russians now regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union, up from the 69 percent who regretted it in 1992. The poll, released for the 10th anniversary of the Gorbachev-era vote on 17 March on whether Soviet citizens wanted the USSR to survive, also shows that 63 percent of Russians now think it would have been possible to save it but that only 30 percent continue to hope for its restoration. Also in connection with that anniversary, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said people in the post-Soviet states are now reassessing "democratic values" and increasingly showing their interest in the re-establishment of the USSR, Interfax reported. PG

...AS IS INTEREST IN ROMANOVS

In advance of the 84th anniversary of the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Figurii I Litsa" on 15 March carried a laudatory article about the current Romanov pretender to the throne, Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich. And "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published on the same day an article praising the work of Paul I, a Tsar not usually associated with progressive change. PG

AUDIT CHAMBER FINDS MISUSE OF FUNDS FOR MILITARY HOUSING

The Audit Chamber on 15 March presented to the Duma a report documenting that funds -- including some supplied by Western countries -- for constructing housing for Russian soldiers had been misused, Interfax-AFI reported. PG

RUSSIA MAY AVOID 'FIRST WORLD HOOF-AND-MOUTH DISEASE WAR'

An article in "Izvestiya" on 15 March suggested that Russia may be able to avoid becoming drawn into what it called "the first world hoof-and-mouth disease war," a reference to the closing of borders in European countries to livestock and beef from abroad. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Gordeev told Interfax on the same day that Russia had taken efforts to prevent an outbreak in Russia, including blocking meat from France, but he indicated that Moscow was opposed to a complete blockade. However, the Duma's Economic Policy and Entrepreneurship Committee believes that a serious threat exists, "Ekho Moskvy" reported on 15 March. PG

MOSCOW SEEN BACKING AWAY FROM LUKASHENKA

In advance of presidential elections in Belarus, an article in "Izvestiya" said on 15 March that Moscow is backing away from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka just as it backed away from Vyacheslav Kebich, who served as prime minister and sought to become president of that republic in 1995. The paper said recent comments about the need for Belarus to meet loan requirements echo the kind of statements Moscow made six years ago, which ultimately hurt Kebich's chances. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER CONCERNED OVER MACEDONIAN EVENTS

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Murmansk on 15 March that Moscow is concerned by the development of events in Macedonia and Serbia's Presevo Valley, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that "deplorably, extremist groupings there are trying to destabilize the situation and plunge the region into a new conflict." (Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Defense Ministry's main department for international cooperation, said on ORT television that the situation in Kosova resembles that in Chechnya before the current war.) And in Moscow, the Foreign Ministry released a statement saying Russia seeks an early end to the completion of the work by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and believes that Balkan courts should take up many of the issues now being dealt with by that tribunal, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

CHANCES SEEN FOR COOPERATION IN ARCTIC...

Speaking to a ministerial meeting of the Barents Sea/Euro-Arctic Council in Murmansk on 15 March, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the Arctic region is being transformed from a zone of confrontation into one of cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. Murmansk Governor Yurii Yevdokimov seconded that view and called for expanded economic ties between Norway and the Russian North, Interfax reported. PG

...WHILE DEPUTY LAMENTS LACK OF POLICY FOR THE NORTH

In an interview with "Krasnaya zvezda" on 15 March, State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) and member of the Committee on Problems of the North and Far East Valerii Markov complains that there is an absence of systematic and consistent policy with regard to northern and far eastern regions. He said that attention to the North is "seasonal," focusing on the "Northern Delivery" and the heating season. According to Markov, 64 percent of Russian territory is in the north and it contributes about one-fourth of the nation's tax and around 60 percent of its hard currency revenues. But only 8 percent of its population resides there. Markov noted that in Canada there is an entire ministry devoted to the affairs of northern territories, while in Russia the problems of ethnic communities of the North are taken care of by the Ministry for Nationality Affairs and its economic problems by the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade. He declared that in Canada "they understand that the North must be a constant preoccupation." JAC

MOSCOW EXPECTS PUTIN-MORI SUMMIT TO TAKE PLACE

Russian officials are preparing for a summit meeting between President Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, which is scheduled to take place in Irkutsk on 25 March, Russian agencies reported on 15 March. But Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said the same day that should Mori resign before that date, the Russian-Japanese dialogue might be suspended, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, Duma Deputy Speaker Mikhail Zadornov said that even if the summit does take place, there will not be any breakthrough on the territorial dispute between the two countries, the agency said. PG

ANOTHER RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SLIPS AWAY

Igor Dereichuk, an ethnic Ukrainian who went missing on 27 February from his post as an attache at the Russian Embassy in Panama, has since informed his family that he is alive and well but indicated that he does not intend to work for the Russian Foreign Ministry in the future. PG

GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO CONTROL PRIVATIZATION...

The Russian government on 15 March approved draft legislation that would centralize privatization efforts, reduce the number of privatization methods from 14 to nine, and specify that larger companies be sold via share auctions, ITAR-TASS reported. Writing in "Vremya novostei" on 15 March, political commentator Aleksandr Stepanov said the cabinet is seeking to take control of the privatization process away from the Duma. Meanwhile, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said on the same day that the cabinet will continue its efforts to debureaucratize the economy by cutting licensing requirements and improving the country's legal arrangements, Interfax reported. PG

...TO EXPAND HOUSING THROUGH MORTGAGES...

Prime Minister Kasyanov said on 15 March that the high cost of housing is preventing many Russians from acquiring adequate housing, Interfax reported. Kasyanov said the creation of a mortgage market could help remedy the situation. The premier's comments came as the government discussed a plan for expanding the country's housing stock over the next five years. PG

...AND TO PROMOTE PATRIOTISM

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said on 15 March that the government will allocate means to promote the patriotic education of youths beginning in the next budget year, Interfax reported. PG

PARAMONOVA CALLS FOR BANK CONSOLIDATIONS

First Deputy Central Bank Chairwoman Tatiana Paramonova called for the consolidation of Russian banks in a speech to the Federation Council on 15 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Paramonova said such a consolidation should leave the sector with both government and private banks. But she warned the parliamentarians that they should not think that all the economic problems of the country can be solved by the banks, Interfax-AFI reported the same day. PG

MOSCOW NOT WORRIED ABOUT FALLING OIL PRICES

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said falling oil prices would not lead to a review of budgetary priorities or a delay in Moscow meeting its debt obligations, Interfax reported on 15 March. Russian oil companies also indicated that they are not concerned by the downward trend in prices for oil, Interfax-AFI reported the same day. PG

RUSSIA TO COOPERATE WITH COAST GUARDS OF PACIFIC RIM STATES

Russian, U.S., Japanese, and Korean officials met in Vladivostok on 14 March to discuss expanding cooperation among their border patrols, "Izvestiya" reported the next day. Meanwhile, Russian border patrol forces were forced to fire on a poacher ship in order to stop it to allow officers to conduct an inspection, Interfax reported on 15 March. PG

OFFICIALS TAKE HEAT OVER DEATH OF BASAEV'S 'BROTHER'

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 March noted that government sources about Chechnya are either engaged in deliberate lying or are clearly incompetent. The paper noted that Russian officials had reported that the brother of Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev had been killed on 14 March (see RFE/RL Newsline, 15 March 2001), but it pointed out that Basaev does not have a brother, making such a claim extremely problematic. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 14 March that Khamid Basaev, who was killed during a Federal Security Service operation, was a cousin of Shamil Basaev, and not a brother as officials had stated earlier. PG/LF

PUTIN'S REGIONAL POLICIES SEEN FAILING

An article in "Literaturnaya gazeta," 14-20 March, suggested that President Putin has failed to take control of the regions or complete the political isolation of the oligarchs. Indeed, the article said, "so far, there is nothing to show for Vladimir Putin's presidency." It suggested that Putin must "abandon the course he has chosen of these endless games of bureaucratic checks and balances and build a simple and reliable model for a state hierarchy without abandoning the principles of democracy and federalism." PG

KAZANTSEV WANTS NORTH CAUCASUS RUSSIANS TO ORGANIZE ETHNIC PARTY

Viktor Kazantsev, presidential envoy to the North Caucasus, told ethnic Russians there that they should organize themselves into a single ethnically based party as non-Russians do in the republics there rather than divide their numbers in various groups, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 March. Some of the participants urged that President Putin end the election of republic heads and appoint them directly, the paper said. PG

AZERBAIJANIS IN RUSSIA CALL FOR DUAL CITIZENSHIP

At a meeting this week, Azerbaijani activists representing the 2.5 million ethnic Azerbaijanis in Russia called for Baku to reach dual citizenship arrangements with Russia and other CIS countries, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 March. PG

MORE HOMELESS CHILDREN, LESS JUVENILE CRIME

Russian police officials told AP on 15 March that the number of homeless children in Russia rose from 113,000 in 1993 to about 180,000 today. (Human rights groups estimate the real number to be far higher.) The officials said that after a decade of growth, juvenile crime fell slightly in the past year, although violent crimes by young people continued to increase. PG

ORTHODOX CHURCH URGED TO ALLOW PROTESTANT ETHIC TO EMERGE

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii," No. 5, suggested that the Russian Orthodox Church is currently acting as a brake on economic development because of its public attitudes. The paper said the church should change its relationship to the state to allow for the emergence of the kind of Protestant ethic that Max Weber celebrated as one of the foundations of West European capitalist development. Meanwhile, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad said in an interview published in the 15 March "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he thanked God that those who oppose him do not include "the government and some of the serious people." PG

ZHIRINOVSKY PLANS 50-VOLUME COLLECTED WORKS

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the outspoken leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, told Russian book dealers on 14 March that he plans to continue to combine literary activities with political work, Interfax reported. He presented two new books, "Thoughts" and "War and Peace," which he said summarize the ideas contained in what will be the 50 volumes of his "complete collected works." The new books were printed in Tula in editions of 1,000 copies each. PG

EDITOR OF RUSSIAN EDITION OF 'PLAYBOY' SHOT

Maksim Maziakov, 32, editor of the Russian edition of the American men's magazine "Playboy," was shot in Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported. Doctors said Maziakov will survive the attack. PG

ALUMINUM OLIGARCH TRIES TO EXTEND GRASP

Siberian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska is likely to succeed in his effort to take over Irkutskenergo, which produces one-third of Russia's annual production of primary aluminum, "The Moscow Times" reported on 15 March. At an upcoming shareholders meeting in April, Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin is expected to side with two companies, Russian Aluminum and Siberian-Urals Aluminum, which own 36.4 percent of the company and want to install a new general director. The oblast has a 15.5 percent stake in the company, and Govorin, who is up for re-election in July, is considered to be vulnerable to pressure from the companies. Meanwhile, Deripaska met with Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin on 7 March to discuss Deripaska's interest in purchasing the Ural Automotive Factory, the East-West Institute's "Russian Regional Report" reported on 14 March. Deripaska already owns the Gorky Automotive Factory in Nizhnii Novgorod. JAC

FORMER TRANSNEFT HEAD TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR IN NIZHNII...

State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) and former head of Transneft Dmitrii Saveliev announced on 14 March that he will run for governor in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, where elections are scheduled for July of this year, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. According to the daily, at least four other candidates are likely to run: incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov; infamous local businessman Andrei Klimentiev; and State Duma deputies Gennadii Khodyrev (Communist) and Vadim Bulavinov (People's Deputy). Opinion polls show that Sklyarov and Klimentiev currently lead, but Saveliev has at his disposal "the most important campaign tool -- the media," according to the paper. One radio station, two television companies, three newspapers, and one advertising agency are either owned by Saveliev or are dependent upon him, the daily reported. JAC

...AS UNITY BACKS YUKOS CANDIDATE IN FAR NORTH

The pro-Kremlin Unity has announced that it is supporting YUKOS executive Boris Zolotarev in his candidacy in 8 April gubernatorial elections in Evenk Autonomous Okrug, Interfax Eurasia reported on 15 March. The decision was reached by the presidium of the party's political council, according to the agency. Zolotarev will compete against four other candidates, including former chief federal inspector to Evenk and Taimyr Autonomous Okrugs Yevgenii Vasiliev. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF ASSESS COOPERATION

During talks in Yerevan on 14 March, Robert Kocharian and Federal Border Service Director Konstantin Totskii positively evaluated the level of cooperation between the two countries in guarding Armenia's borders, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Totskii also met with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and National Security Minister Karlos Petrosian, and signed together with Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian a protocol on estimates for the shared funding of the Russian border guard contingent in Armenia in 2001. LF

ARMENIAN POLITICAL PARTIES ADVISE AGAINST MASS RALLY FOR LOST TERRITORIES

Four Armenian political parties -- the National Democratic Union, the National Unity Party, the Ramkavar-Azatakan Party and the pro-government Union of Veterans of the Liberation Struggle -- have rejected a proposal by presidential Human Rights Commission Chairman Paruyr Hairikian to stage a mass rally to pressure the government to call for the annulment of the 1921 Treaty of Kars, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2001). Nerses Zeinalvandian, who is chairman of the Union for Self-Determination that Hairikian founded, told journalists that while those parties largely agree with Hairikian's arguments, they consider it inexpedient to hold a mass demonstration at this juncture. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER NAMED TO HEAD BILATERAL COMMISSION WITH RUSSIA

Armenian Prime Minister Markarian has appointed Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian as co-chairman of the Armenian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 March. LF

TRIAL, SENTENCE ON FORMER KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER TERMED 'ILLEGAL'

Three attorneys who defended General Samvel Babayan and several other men accused of the March 2000 bid to assassinate the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arkady Ghukasian, claimed on 14 March that the six-month trial proceeded in gross violation of the enclave's new judicial system, effective since January 2000, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 March. The lawyers argued that Babayan and 15 other defendants were tried and convicted by the Soviet-era Supreme Court, which was to be disbanded in line with legislation enacted in Karabakh in late 1999. Babayan was sentenced to 14 years in prison after a Supreme Court judge found him guilty of masterminding the apparent attempt on Ghukasian's life. Four other defendants received jail terms ranging from 13 to 14 years, while eleven more got off with suspended sentences. Officials at Ghukasian's office in Stepanakert declined to immediately comment on the lawyers' statement. LF

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS FOR GREATER COOPERATION WITH TURKEY

Colonel General Safar Abiev, who is accompanying President Heidar Aliyev on his official visit to Turkey, met in Ankara on 15 March with the Turkish Army General Staff to discuss regional security, Turan reported, citing an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry press release. Abiev said during that meeting that Turkey and Azerbaijan should join forces against their "common enemies," and advocated a more prominent role for Turkey in the South Caucasus. Lieutenant General Nusret Tasdeler, whom Turan identified as head of the strategic department of the Turkish General Staff, said that stability in the South Caucasus will be possible only after a solution to the Karabakh conflict is found that preserves Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Tasdeler praised the level of bilateral military cooperation between the two countries, adding that it must be strengthened. LF

AZERBAIJAN DENIES IT WILL SELL GAS AT DUMPING PRICES

Speaking in Ankara on 15 March, Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov denied that Turkey has agreed to pay less that $30 per thousand cubic meters for the natural gas it will purchase from Azerbaijan, Turan reported. He said no price was stipulated in the interstate agreement signed in Ankara earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001), but that the price would be in excess of $48 per million cubic meters. Reports circulating prior to the signing said Turkey would pay less than world prices, but President Aliyev subsequently denied those reports. LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS RUSSIAN BOMBING OF ITS TERRITORY

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a formal protest on 16 March after a Russian jet dropped a bomb near a Georgian border post on the frontier with Chechnya two days earlier, Caucasus Press reported. No one was injured in that attack, which was the third in Georgia since the beginning of hostilities in Chechnya in the summer of 1999. On 15 March, the head of the press service of the Russian air force, Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevskii, denied that any Russian combat planes had violated Georgian airspace on 14 March, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS OPEN

UN Special Representative Dieter Boden told the first session of Georgian-Abkhaz intergovernmental talks in Yalta on 15 March that he hopes the two-day meeting will contribute to "confidence-building" contacts between Georgian and Abkhaz NGOs -- including those representing veterans, journalists, regional elders, and women -- in order to dispel mutual mistrust and facilitate the peace process, AP reported. Abkhaz Prime Minister Vyacheslav Tsugba expressed concern at the international community's failure to condemn the recent upsurge of attacks by Georgian guerrillas in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. Tsugba also called for the signing of the "Agreement on Peace and Non-Resumption of Hostilities" and the "Protocol on the Repatriation of Displaced Persons" that have been under discussion since 1998, and which he said would reduce tensions in the region. Georgia recently declined to sign the most recent draft of those documents (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 5). LF

KAZAKH BUSINESSMAN CONVICTED OF ILLEGAL SALE OF MILITARY AIRCRAFT

The Baikonur City Court on 14 March sentenced InfraKo company Director Bolatbatyr Esmaghambetov to 12-years imprisonment for having illegally sold an AN-12 military cargo plane to Congo last year, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported the following day citing the Kazahstan Today news agency. The National Security Ministry established that the plane, which was valued at $1.5 million, was sold for $35,000. The plane was later returned to Kazakhstan. Esmaghambetov's lawyers told journalists they will appeal the verdict in the Qyzyl-Orda Oblast Court. LF

MORE REPRISALS AGAINST INDEPENDENT KYRGYZ PRESS

Melis Eshimkanov, who owns the opposition newspaper "Asaba," told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek on 15 March that officials began confiscating the paper property's, including about 3,000 kilograms of newsprint stored at the Uchkun publishing house, which printed "Asaba" until ordered to cease doing so earlier this month. Subsequent issues of "Asaba" were printed jointly with a second opposition paper, "Res Publica," which, however, has no paper reserve of its own. Eshimkanov faces criminal proceedings unless he pays fines totaling several thousand dollars in damages. Also on 15 March, the bank account of Eshimkanov's paper "Asaba-Bishkek" was frozen. According to chief editor Bermet Bukasheva, the most recent edition on 14 March, which contained articles criticizing President Askar Akaev and his family, was bought up in its entirety of 5,000 copies by unknown persons early on the day of publication. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTIES SET PRIORITIES

Meeting in Bishkek on 15 March, representatives of the parties of Ar-Namys, El, Erkindik, Kairan-El, Republican, and Communist parties identified as their most pressing priorities campaigning for the release of imprisoned opposition politicians and the defense of the freedom of the press, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The chairman of the Party of Communists, Absamat Masaliev, told RFE/RL by phone that his party and the Ata-Meken Party will join that campaign. LF

SECURITY TALKS IN KYRGYZSTAN POSTPONED

A meeting in Bishkek of the chiefs of General Staff of the five Shanghai Forum member states (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) scheduled for 15 March was postponed at Beijing's request until early April, ITAR-TASS reported. The meeting was to have discussed the military and political situation in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan intended to ask at the talks for more material and technical assistance to counter an anticipated new attack this summer by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION SLAMS DECREE ON FOREIGN AID

Anatol Lyabedzka, head of the United Civic Party, has said President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree on foreign aid to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001) intends "to nationalize the activity of political parties and public associations," Belapan reported on 15 March. Lyabedzka added that Lukashenka's decree contradicts Belarus's domestic legislation and international agreements. Mikalay Statkevich, leader of the Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly), said the decree is connected with the upcoming presidential elections and aims at preventing election monitoring by NGOs. Under the decree, all foreign aid to Belarus should be registered and approved by the Presidential Department for Humanitarian Aid. The decree threatens the closure of domestic and international organizations in Belarus in the event they have violated its provisions. "This decree was drafted by some barbarian who wants to put everything under his control," former Labor Minister Alyaksandr Sasnou commented to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. JM

BELARUSIAN SPORT CHAMPIONS URGE LUKASHENKA TO SEEK RE-ELECTION

Eleven Belarusian Olympic champions have signed an appeal to President Lukashenka, who is also president of the National Olympic Committee, urging him to run on this year's presidential ballot, Belapan reported on 16 March. A final version of the appeal is still being worked out by the National Olympic Committee and the presidential administration, and will be published later. Belapan learned that the appeal includes a list of Lukashenka's contributions to the country's well-being: strengthening the national Olympic movement, supporting the development of physical education and sports, promoting a healthy way of living, and transforming Belarus into a sports power. JM

UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS TO OUST GOVERNMENT UNLESS IT RESTORES SOCIALISM

Four Communist lawmakers on 15 March met with Premier Viktor Yushchenko and handed him a list of 17 demands, Interfax reported. In particular, the Communist Party wants the government to switch to a socialist economy, nationalize banks, introduce a planned economy for state enterprises, give official status to the Russian language, and break all relations with NATO. Lawmaker Oleksandr Bondarchuk commented after the meeting that "each side has remained on its own position." Bondarchuk said the Communists will vote to dismiss the cabinet in a possible no-confidence vote following Yushchenko's report to the parliament on 10 April. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told a Communist rally the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001) that the party "will arouse the people of Ukraine and do away with this regime in a week" if it fails to resign voluntarily. JM

UKRAINE MUST PASS BILLS TO GET IMF MONEY

First Deputy Premier Yuriy Yekhanurov on 15 March said the IMF will resume its loan program with Ukraine if the parliament passes a bill on reducing the sunflower seed import duty from 23 percent to 10 percent and a bill on budget debt restructuring in line with proposals from President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax reported. Yekhanurov was commenting on his recent talks with the IMF in Washington. According to "Eastern Economist Daily," Yekhanurov also complained that IMF officials are influenced by politics in making decisions despite their assurances that they are not. JM

POLLS IN ESTONIA ON DEFENSE ISSUES

The results of a poll of 988 individuals, selected on the principle of proportional representation carried out by ES Market Research from 1-9 February, indicate that 58 percent of respondents are willing to resist foreign aggression, BNS reported on 15 March. While 16 percent have no opinion, 11 percent said they would definitely not offer armed resistance, and 15 said they would probably not resist. The number willing to resist increased by 20 percent compared to a similar poll held one year ago. The poll also indicates that support for NATO membership among ethnic Estonians is 63 percent, an increase of 7 percent since October. Opinions are more divided on the question of defense spending: 31 percent are in favor of increasing spending; 16 percent for decreasing spending; 34 percent for maintaining the current level; and 19 percent have no opinion. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT CONTINUES LITHUANIA VISIT

Lithuanian Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas told Vaiva Vike-Freiberga on 16 March in Vilnius that the ratification of a sea border treaty between their countries signed in 1999 should not be linked to other economic agreements, such as Latvian requests for a new fishing treaty, ELTA reported. The parliament greeted with particular applause the beginning and end of the Latvian president's speech, in which she spoke Lithuanian and not Latvian. Vike-Freiberga stressed that the two countries share the common goals of membership in the EU and NATO, but still need to improve bilateral relations, as the reaction to the recent oil spill at the Butinge oil terminal revealed. The president did not repeat her comment during a talk show the previous day that the admission of Lithuania alone into NATO would be a mistake. After a meeting with businessmen, she visited the airspace monitoring center in Karmelava and the Rukla training division where she met with Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius. SG

ATTEMPT TO OUST LATVIAN INTERIOR MINISTER FAILS

The parliament rejected on 15 March a request that Mareks Seglins resign because his incompetence had led to an increasing crime rate, BNS reported. The measure failed with 25 in favor, 56 opposed, and five abstentions. Votes for the minister's ouster were cast by deputies from the opposition Social Democratic Workers Party, For Human Rights in a United Latvia, and the New Faction. SG

LITHUANIA, SLOVAKIA SIGN TREATIES

Foreign ministers Antanas Valionis and Eduard Kukan signed in Vilnius on 15 March treaties on avoiding double taxation and on visa-free travel, BNS reported. The countries' citizens had been visiting on a visa-free basis under an order established in the 1992 treaty between Lithuania and Czechoslovakia, which split later that year into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The ministers exchanged opinions on their common goals to acquire EU and NATO membership and discussed five other treaties that are still being prepared. Kukan also met with President Valdas Adamkus, who offered an invitation to his Slovak counterpart Rudolf Schuster to visit Lithuania. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT URGES KUCHMA NOT TO USE FORCE AGAINST PROTESTERS

Aleksander Kwasniewski told his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in Kazimerz Dolny on 15 March that he should use not force, but dialogue, for resolving the current political unrest at home, PAP reported. Kuchma responded that he is ready for dialogue with the opposition, but only within the framework of the law and the constitution. Kuchma added: "When the so-called opposition wants to dictate the resignation of a president...protesting with sharp metal objects and Molotov cocktails in their hands -- how can we talk to such groups?" Polish Television reported that the Ukrainian president said he will not talk to "fascists" who provoke social disorder in Ukraine. JM

POLISH TOWN REMOVES CONTROVERSIAL MONUMENT TO MASSACRED JEWS

The authorities of the town of Jedwabne on 15 March removed a controversial monument with an inscription that blamed only Nazi Germans for the massacre of some 1,600 Jews from the town in 1941. The monument is to be replaced with a new one ahead of the 60th anniversary of the pogrom on 10 July. A book published recently by a Jewish scholar from New York says the pogrom was carried out solely by Polish inhabitants of Jedwabne without any encouragement from Germans. While Polish historians do not deny the participation of Poles in the massacre, some of them claim Germans were responsible for inciting or even forcing Poles into burning the Jews in a barn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). JM

FORMER DETAINEES CRITICIZE CZECH RESOLUTION ON CUBA

Freedom Union deputy Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik, on a visit to the U.S., said they hope there is still time to change the Czech Foreign Ministry's proposed UN resolution on human rights in Cuba, CTK reported. The two men were arrested and detained for three weeks in Cuba in January for having contact with dissidents on behalf of Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO. Pilip said there was no reason to include criticism of the U.S. embargo against Cuba in the resolution "whatever our view about it. This certainly has nothing to do with the state of human rights in Cuba." Pilip added that if the resolution is submitted as is, it would embarrass the Czech Republic and worsen ties with the U.S. DW

DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER WANTS TO SCRAP ACQUISITION OFFICE

Czech Deputy Defense Minister for Economic Affairs Jaroslav Tvrdik, charged with cleaning up the ministry's financial situation, has proposed eliminating the ministry's Acquisition Office, CTK reported 15 March. In a report submitted to Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy, Tvrdik reportedly suggested the office's purchasing powers be transferred to the commands of the individual services. Addressing rumors that Vetchy had forced Tvrdik to cancel a press conference and forbade him to speak to the press, ministry spokesman Milan Repka called such speculation "utter nonsense," and that Vetchy and Tvrdik have planned a press conference for 23 March. DW

SLOVAKIA SEES FIRST-EVER THEFT OF TRAIN RAIL

Three men aged 18 to 21 have stolen a section of rail from a train route in western Slovakia, perpetrating the first such theft in Slovakia's history, CTK reported on 16 March, quoting the Slovak daily "Novy cas." The thieves cut out a 12.5-meter piece of the rail, cut it into small pieces, and sold them to a waste material plant for 1,500 Slovak crowns ($31). The misdeed was discovered after a train with seven people on board derailed. No one was injured, but damage has been estimated at 250,000 Slovak crowns. The daily notes that the theft of the rail was accomplished after the three men had failed to steal a field irrigation unit. JM

HUNGARIANS CELEBRATE NATIONAL DAY

Tens of thousands of Hungarians gathered in streets and central squares across the country on 15 March to commemorate the country's National Day. The day marks the failed revolt against Austrian rule in 1848. Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a crowd in front of the National Museum in Budapest that the day "is an eternal measure which always shows accurately how strong in spirit the nation is." Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni said Hungary is lucky to be a country that can live in "peace, freedom, and concord." Meanwhile, at a rally on Budapest's Heroes' Square, ultranationalist leader Istvan Csurka decried globalization and warned many thousands of people in attendance that foreigners are taking Hungarian land just like "when the Jewish settlers arrived in Palestine." Csurka's Hungarian Truth and Life Party has 12 seats in the 386-seat parliament. PB

KEY FIGURE FROM 1956 HUNGARIAN UPRISING DIES

Gyula Obersovszky, a journalist, writer, and poet who was sentenced to death for his opposition to Soviet control in Hungary in 1956, died on 15 March. Obersovszky founded the "Igazsag" (Justice) newspaper on the second day of the 1956 revolt. After the uprising was suppressed, he started the underground newspaper "Eluenk" (Still Alive), considered an early version of samizdat, or "self published" underground press in the communist era. PB




MACEDONIAN MILITARY TRIES TO SMOKE OUT INSURGENTS

Artillery pounded a mountain near Tetovo with incendiary shells in an effort to smoke out ethnic Albanian rebels, "The Guardian" reported on 16 March. The daily added that ethnic tensions between Slavs and Albanians in the town have become open and ugly. Many Slavs have fled. The authorities have sacked the ethnic Albanian police chief and replaced him with a Macedonian, dpa reported. OSCE representative Carlo Hungaro met with leaders of the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) and urged them to help quiet the situation. Hungaro said that he "does not agree completely" with PDP leader Ymer Ymeri's views but added: "I do not think that the PDP is involved in the armed conflicts." PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES FIRST MOVES...

The Macedonian authorities agreed in Skopje on 15 March to set up two bodies to deal with the crisis. One will coordinate efforts to limit the spread of the violence, while the other will seek to "eliminate the crisis," dpa reported. The authorities did not declare a state of emergency. An Interior Ministry spokesman nonetheless told "The Guardian" of 16 March that the rebels have a quality and quantity of weapons equal to those of the government forces. PM

...TAKES STEPS TO TIGHTEN BORDER WITH KOSOVA

In Skopje on 15 March, the Macedonian authorities discussed a series of measures to tighten the borders with Kosova. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said of the rebels: "At first we thought they were just criminals...but it now seems that they have strong political and logistic support from some [unspecified] structures in Kosovo," Reuters reported. The border defense zone will be expanded from 500 meters to 3 kilometers, Deutsche Welle noted. The authorities "ordered" local media not to rebroadcast foreign television programs, especially those from Kosova, Tanjug reported. In Prishtina, U.S. Balkans envoy James Pardew told Emrush Xhemaili, who heads the People's Movement of Kosova (LPK), not to support the insurgents and instead to concentrate on Kosova's problems, Reuters noted. PM

MACEDONIA CALLS FOR NATO HELP

The Macedonian government has asked Germany for military equipment and weapons, dpa reported on 16 March. Prime Minister Georgievski appealed to his Greek counterpart Kostas Simitis to use his influence to "ask NATO to directly confront the terrorists," AP reported from Athens. The Macedonian authorities have repeatedly asked NATO to intervene directly against the rebels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 March 2001). Speaking in the Greek capital on 16 March, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said that the alliance "takes the situation...very seriously indeed" but has no mandate to intervene. He added: "I don't believe that the government in Skopje wants a military involvement by NATO." Robertson noted that the alliance will soon appoint a special envoy to the area. "The Guardian" reported that "NATO officials are skeptical that Macedonia's tiny army, which has no combat experience, can snuff out the insurgency. Its air force has three helicopters." PM

STRONG SUPPORT FROM ABROAD FOR MACEDONIAN PEACE

Meeting in Vienna on 15 March, Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo and his Yugoslav counterpart Goran Svilanovic jointly condemned the violence in Macedonia, "Die Presse" reported. The two also expressed support for Macedonia's territorial integrity. Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that "extremists" must not be allowed to jeopardize the chances for Balkan stability following the change of government in Belgrade last October. Elsewhere, the EU, NATO, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. all expressed concern. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said in Paris, however, that he does not expect the situation to degenerate into a Bosnian-style conflict, Reuters reported. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is due in Macedonia on 16 March to discuss the crisis. He said in Berlin the previous day that it is important that "extremism and violence don't get a chance." Kosovar moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova said after meeting with Fischer that he "expects Macedonia to take steps to find out what problems the Albanians have there." PM

GERMAN ARMY SHORES UP POSITIONS IN TETOVO

German peacekeepers based in Tetovo have stepped up security precautions and reinforced the defenses around their quarters, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 16 March. PM

SERBIAN FORCES WITHDRAW TANKS NEAR PRESEVO VILLAGES

As part of the NATO-brokered cease-fire with the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB), Serbian forces pulled back tanks and artillery from around Lucane on 15 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2001). Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said "there is no need for tanks, considering that we have signed a statement of a cease-fire," Reuters reported. The Serbian press center in Bujanovac announced that, in place of the tanks, an anti-terrorist unit had gone into the area "to assume responsibility for the protection and safety of citizens." U.S. Balkans envoy James Pardew said the withdrawal of the tanks "shows the goodwill of the government here and the military." Local ethnic Albanian human rights activist Shaip Kamberi stressed that "the withdrawal will have a calming influence and the population will feel much safer." PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS TO STAGE PROTEST RALLY

Alarmed by the re-entry of Serbian forces into part of the formerly demilitarized security zone along the frontier with Kosova, leaders of two ethnic Albanian political parties announced plans for a protest rally in Presevo on 17 March. The motto of the rally will be "give peace a chance against militarization and violence," Reuters reported on 16 March. PM

SERBIAN PREMIER CALLS ON KOSOVAR SERBS TO VOTE

Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Mitrovica Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic agreed in Belgrade on 15 March that Serbs should take part in the Kosova general elections widely expected later in the year, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Serbs of Kosova boycotted the October 2000 local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2000). Local representatives of the international community said that the boycott amounted to "self-imposed isolation." PM

YUGOSLAV AMBASSADOR FIRM ON ARREST OF MILOSEVIC

Yugoslav Ambassador to the U.S. Milan Protic said in Washington on 15 March that he stands by his earlier statement that former President Slobodan Milosevic will be arrested by the end of the month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2001). Protic played down the importance of President Vojislav Kostunica's criticism of his remarks, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 March 2001). PM

SERBIAN HEROIN HAUL LINKED TO MILOSEVIC AIDE

The 600 kilograms of 93 percent pure heroin found recently in a State Security bank vault were confiscated in 1997 by customs agents from smugglers, "The Guardian" reported on 16 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). The operation was headed by Milosevic's customs chief Mihalj Kertes, in whose office police have found a small quantity of identical heroin. "Vreme" wrote on 15 March that this is the biggest scandal yet uncovered by the new Serbian authorities. The magazine asked whether the heroin was intended for Serbian youth or Western markets. "Vesti" wrote on 13 March that the quantity is too large for the small Serbian market, and that Yugoslav diplomats may have played a role in marketing the drugs abroad. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT DECLARES ANTI-NATO HOLIDAY

The Yugoslav government on 15 March approved a request by Kostunica to make 24 March a legal Day of Remembrance. The date marks the anniversary of NATO's 1999 intervention to stop the Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign in Kosova. Kostunica said in a letter that "our cooperation with NATO would be based on flimsy foundations if we try to act as if nothing ever happened in the spring of 1999," AP reported. He called the intervention "evil," adding that "we are obliged to recognize and remember the evil that was inflicted on us, as well as the evil that we inflicted on others." Kostunica frequently expresses the view that Serbs have been victims throughout history, but rarely, if ever, speaks of "evil" done by Serbs to others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). PM

DRASKOVIC SAYS SERBIA'S RULERS PRESERVING OLD ORDER

Vuk Draskovic, who heads the Serbian Renewal Movement, said Belgrade's new leaders are using "legalistic" arguments as an excuse to keep the Milosevic-era power structure largely in tact, "Vesti" reported on 16 March. "Jane's Intelligence Review" wrote on 2 March that the new leaders have cut deals with the old establishment, particularly with the police and the military. PM

CROATS IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA LAUNCH 'SELF-ADMINISTRATION'

The governing body of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) issued a statement in Jajce on 15 March in which it called on party bodies at the canton level to begin setting up cantonal governments, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2001). PM

CROATIA NOT TO DEVELOP SPECIAL TIES TO MUSLIM-CROAT FEDERATION

Zdravko Tomac, who is deputy speaker of the Croatian parliament, said in Zagreb on 15 March that the government will not develop special links with the Muslim-Croat federation, as it is entitled to do under the Dayton peace agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). Tomac stressed that Croatia wants to develop good relations with all of Bosnia. PM

BOMB BLAST OUTSIDE ZAGREB CITY HALL

Zagreb police say that an explosive device placed in a garbage can outside City Hall damaged several cars on the morning of 16 March. No one was injured, Reuters reported. Police are investigating. PM

EU MAINTAINS VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR ROMANIANS

The EU Council of Interior Ministers on 15 March decided to remove Romania, together with Bulgaria (see below), from the "blacklist" of countries with entry visa requirements, but Romanian nationals still need visas for entry into the EU, Mediafax reported. The ministers decided to maintain visa requirements until Romanian authorities fulfill all conditions for abolishing the visas. These conditions include tightened border controls, more secure travel documents, and prevention of illegal immigration from Romania to EU countries. If an EU report on the fulfillment of these conditions to be presented on 30 June has positive conclusions, Romanians could travel freely to the EU from this summer on. As Bulgarian citizens will already be allowed to do so beginning next month, Romania will be the only candidate country whose citizens will be required to obtain a visa for travel to EU member countries. ZsM

GOVERNMENTAL OFFICIAL RESIGNS

Ovidiu Grecea, director of the Romanian government's Control and Anticorruption Department resigned from his office on 15 March, Radio Bucharest announced. Grecea announced that several members of the government wanted him removed from his office. Grecea on 9 March complained that, while examining dubious privatizations in Neamt county, he was closely watched by agents of the Interior Ministry's information service who tried to intimidate him. He accused the local commander of that service, Colonel Ioan Ouatu, of being involved in illegal privatizations. Interior Minister Ioan Rus on 13 March said Grecea's reports about being followed are "fairy tales," but admitted Ouatu's possible involvement in illegal affairs. The same day, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase warned Grecea that he was to present his report to the prime minister's office and not to the press. The Interior Ministry on 15 March announced that Ouatu was dismissed from his post for "professional" reasons. ZsM

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT, GAZPROM AGREE ON DEBT PAYMENT

Outgoing Moldovan Premier Dumitru Braghis and Gazprom Vice President Aleksandr Puskin on 15 March in Moscow agreed on the payment of a $10 million debt owed by Moldova-Gaz to the Russian gas company, Flux reported. Moldova-Gaz may pay off debt accumulated in the first two months of this year with food products, but must continue payment of gas delivered to the country thereafter. Previously, Gazprom has threatened to reduce, or even stop, natural gas deliveries to Moldova if payments are delayed. ZsM

DEPUTIES CONTEST VORONIN'S INTENTION OF HOLDING TWO SEATS

Christian Democratic People's Party (PPCD) deputies Iurie Rosca and Vlad Cubreacov asked the Constitutional Court to express an opinion whether Moldova's president can also be the leader of a political party, Flux reported. They were motivated to make the request by Vladimir Voronin's declaration that, after being elected president, he will not give up his seat as Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) chairman. Although the constitution does not prohibit holding two seats, the contestants argue that article five of the constitution provides that "no ideology can be established as the official ideology of the state." The PCM holds 71 seats in the newly elected parliament. As it is the parliament that elects the president, and the necessary majority for electing the president is 68 votes, Voronin has a clear path to being elected. Voronin on 15 March announced that the first round of the presidential election will be on 4 April. ZsM

EU LIFTS VISA REGIME FOR BULGARIANS

The justice and interior ministers of the EU agreed on 15 March in Brussels to lift visa requirements for Bulgaria, Reuters reported. The decision will allow Bulgarians to travel to any EU member state without a visa beginning at a still-to-be-determined date in April. The EU's Council of Ministers first made the decision to abolish the visa requirements for Bulgaria in December, but needed the approval of the parliament and the justice and interior ministers. In Sofia, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said: "I think that Bulgarian citizens who travel will be considerate and avoid creating tensions by heading [en masse] toward Europe." Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova called the decision "a victory for Bulgaria. It took us many years of effort." PB

BULGARIAN RULING COALITION NOT WORRIED ABOUT NEW PARTY

Members of Bulgaria's Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) said on 15 March that it maintains a majority in the parliament and sees no serious threat from the formation the previous day of the rival Parliamentary Group for Dialogue and Partnership (PGDP), Reuters reported. Several members of the UDF faction left their parties to form the PGDP, which has promised support for the return to politics of former King Simeon II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). Assen Agov, the chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said "the UDF and its coalition partners have a sufficient majority to complete their term in parliament." The UDF and its junior partners hold 124 seats in the 240-seat chamber. Krassen Stanchev, the director of the Institute for Market Economics, an independent think-tank, said he doubts "whether [the PGDP] will be able to attract more than 4 percent" of the vote needed to enter parliament. A recent survey by the MBMD polling agency gives the UDF 21 percent support if elections were held now, while the Socialist Party has 16 percent, and a party backed by King Simeon II polls 12 percent. King Simeon II has not yet given his support to the PGDP. PB




QUESTIONS FROM TETOVO


By Patrick Moore

A Macedonian Interior Ministry spokesman told journalists on 14 March that the security situation there is "horrible." He added that "we have information that new flash points [of violence] could appear throughout the country" at any time. London's "The Guardian" wrote the next day that Macedonia appears "to be on the brink of civil war." These very serious developments serve to raise a series of questions regarding Macedonia's future in the short, medium, and long term.

The first question that comes to mind is: Just who are these insurgents who have emerged in recent weeks to threaten the stability of probably the most strategically sensitive country in the Balkans? Their political wing says they want full equality for the 23 percent Albanian minority with the Macedonian majority, and the restructuring of Macedonia as a federation of two equal peoples -- all of which is a non-starter for the Macedonian leadership. But are the rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) a cohesive group, or are they a collection of diverse elements that may or may not coordinate their activities? To what extent do ex-guerrillas and money from Kosova play a role? Is the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) active in exporting violence across the border? And is there a link between the insurgents (and their apparently well-stocked arsenals) and the notorious bands of smugglers and drug traffickers for which western Macedonia has long been known?

A second question is: What support do the insurgents enjoy among the population? A few thousand nationalist supporters turned out in Tetovo on 14 March to applaud the sounds of gunfire in the hills, but that does not in and of itself suggest a groundswell of support for a violent insurrection that would put lives and property in jeopardy.

It will be particularly interesting to see what the Macedonian authorities will do. Will they act quickly to isolate the rebels without polarizing society along ethnic lines? Will they move decisively to address long-standing Albanian grievances regarding civil, cultural, and economic rights, including access to government jobs and Albanian-language higher education? Will former President Kiro Gligorov and others in the opposition play a responsible role in the crisis, or will they attempt to wrong-foot the government the government for partisan political ends?

This leads to a series of questions regarding developments in the medium term. Is it possible that a full-scale civil war could actually break out? Could Skopje become another Sarajevo or Mostar? Who would stand to gain from a major insurgency? Surely even the most hardened Albanian nationalist is aware that no mainstream party in Albania, Kosova, or Macedonia is prepared to support the insurgents, to say nothing of the international community (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001).

Macedonia has its problems, but it looks like an oasis of prosperity to a traveler coming in from Albania. Macedonia's Albanians have their grievances, but these pale compare to what the Kosovars have endured for over a decade. One of the two leading Macedonian Albanian parties is in the present government, and its rival was in the last one. This adds up to much more access to political power than the Kosovars had under Milosevic or the Albanians of the Presevo Valley have now.

And if Macedonia degenerates into civil war, what will be the effects on the region? The political and economic development of Albania and Bulgaria will most likely be adversely affected, and the jitters will probably extend to Greece and Turkey as well. Investors could be scared away from the Balkans as a whole, dealing a severe blow to the EU's Balkan Stability Pact, not to mention the EU's efforts, and those of others, aimed at conflict prevention and mediation. Finally, a panicked international community might turn up the pressure on Montenegro not to declare independence, even if a referendum shows strong support for it.

And might not there be some in Belgrade who would see growing turmoil in Macedonia as favorable to Serbian interests? They could argue that a frightened Macedonian government would become a strategic ally against a "greater Albania" (even though no mainstream Albanian party anywhere endorses that concept). They could also say that NATO's inability to control the movements of rebel bands has been demonstrated, and that the alliance should leave the job to Belgrade and Skopje. Most importantly, international attention would become focused on "Albanian extremists and terrorists" and not on the extent to which Serbia's leaders and political culture have truly broken with the ways of the past.

Finally, the prospect of civil war in Macedonia raises additional questions for the long-term future of the Balkans. What does it say about the future of multiethnic states in the region if Macedonia splits apart, despite careful attention by the international community over the years on behalf of a united and multiethnic Macedonia? Might a full-blown insurgency in Macedonia give credence to those who argue that many of the countries of the region will be unable to escape from a cycle of poverty, instability, and violence? And what would that suggest about the future of poorer post-communist states as a whole?


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