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Newsline - March 20, 2001




PUTIN URGES DECISIVE ACTION IN MACEDONIA

President Vladimir Putin said on Russian television on 19 March that the situation in Macedonia is getting out of control and that the international community must take decisive action, including, "if it comes to that," the use of force to stop the Albanian insurgency, Russian and Western agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). Meanwhile, in Belgrade, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 19 March called for the lifting of international sanctions against Yugoslavia and broad international support for the government there. In Moscow, Duma deputy (independent) and former USSR Council of Ministers Chairman Nikolai Ryzhkov, who heads the permanent commission to assist Yugoslavia, proposed that the Duma adopt a declaration condemning U.S. interference in Yugoslavia, Interfax reported. PG

SADDAM HUSSEIN HOPES TO MEET PUTIN

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein told visiting Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev that he hopes to meet President Putin in the near future, Russian and Western agencies reported on 19 March. Seleznev said Saddam is clearly healthy and has "a sharp mind." Iraqi officials told the visiting Duma delegation that they estimate Russia has lost $30 billion over the last seven years by participating in the Iraqi embargo, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Meanwhile, Duma Foreign Relations Committee Deputy Chairman Konstantin Kosachev told the Russian agency that Moscow should seek compensation for these losses even as it presses for the lifting of the embargo. PG

PUTIN NAMES YASTRZHEMBSKII KREMLIN INFO HEAD

President Putin on 19 March signed a decree establishing an Information Department within the presidential administration and named Sergei Yastrzhembskii to head it, ITAR-TASS reported. Yastrzhembskii, 47, said he will continue to provide "information support for the anti-terrorism operation in Chechnya" as well as help to develop information policy. PG

PUTIN EXPANDS CONTROL OVER RELIGIOUS COUNCIL

President Putin on 19 March issued a decree replacing government officials from the Council on Relations with Religious Organizations in the Office of the President with academic experts, Interfax reported. The agency suggested that this move is intended to end duplication of effort with the government's Commission on Questions of Religious Organizations, but it almost certainly will increase Putin's control over the council itself. PG

PUTIN SUPPORT SAID 'UNIQUE PHENOMENON'

Sociologists told ITAR-TASS on 19 March that the breadth of popular support for President Putin is "a unique phenomenon in the modern Russian political process." The unnamed experts were commenting on a ROMIR poll that suggests 56.4 percent of Russians would vote for Putin were elections held today. One reason for that support may be his largesse to particular groups from his reserve fund, Interfax suggested the same day, in detailing his contributions to children's institutions in Vladimir Oblast. PG

RUMORS ABOUT MOSCOW MAYOR'S DEPARTURE DENIED

Moscow Deputy Mayor Valerii Shantsev on 19 March "categorically denied" rumors in the Russian media that Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is about to retire or to take a post in the federal government, Interfax-Moscow reported. Shantsev said he has no idea who is spreading these stories or why, adding that even those who do not like Luzhkov know he is the best mayor Moscow has ever had. PG

TWO SENTENCED FOR BUINAKSK BOMBING

A court in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, on 19 March sentenced Isa Zainutdinov, 62, and Alisultan Salikhov, 35, to life imprisonment on charges of organizing the bombing of an apartment building in Buinaksk in September 1999, Russian and Western agencies reported. That bombing claimed the lives of 64 people and was one of the incidents the Russian government adduced to justify its intervention in Chechnya. The court sentenced two others to nine years' imprisonment and amnestied three others after sentencing them to lesser terms. PG

GDP GROWTH SLOWS

Russia's GDP increased only 0.8 percent in February 2001 compared with the same month one year ago, the smallest increase since 1998, Interfax reported on 16 March. Bloomberg reported the same day that analysts had expected a slowdown, but that this figure is much worse than most had expected. Meanwhile, the Russian government predicted that growth for 2001 will amount to 4 percent overall, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW TO COMPLETE JANUARY PAYMENT TO PARIS CLUB IN APRIL

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin said in St. Petersburg on 19 March that in early April the Russian government will pay in full the amount that was due to the Paris Club of creditors in January, Interfax reported. He also said it is unlikely that there will be any restructuring of the Paris Club debt in 2001, and that Moscow is continuing discussions with Berlin about converting debt into investment shares. PG

KODZOEV SAYS POLITICS NOT BEHIND ATTACK

Duma deputy (Unity) Bashir Kodzoev, who was shot and wounded last week in Moscow, said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 19 March that he does not believe the attack on him was political. The Moscow press has been full of stories since he was shot on 15 March linking Kodzoev to a variety of criminal groups. PG

RETURNING GUSINSKY TO RUSSIA SAID RISKY

Igor Malashenko, the deputy chairman of Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST group, told Reuters on 19 March that the Russian government would be taking a risky step if it actually achieved the extradition of Gusinsky from Spain. Malashenko predicted that Moscow would simply ratchet up the pressure but not ultimately seek to bring Gusinsky back to Russia. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 March that Israeli Knesset leader Abram Burg has demanded that the Spanish authorities release Gusinsky, who has an Israeli passport as well as a Russian one. PG

GAZPROM WILL NOT END MEDIA ROLE QUICKLY

Despite its agreement with auditors to pull out of the media, Gazprom will not do so immediately, but rather over the next year, Gazprom-Media board member Anatolii Blinov said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 19 March. Blinov said Gazprom is making a profit from its media ventures and therefore is not in any particular hurry to divest itself of them. PG

ENVOY OPPOSES ELECTED GOVERNORS

Georgii Poltavchenko, the presidential envoy to the Central federal district, said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 19 March that he is against the election of governors. He also said the number of federation subjects will be reduced, but not immediately, and that he is convinced that the envoy system has prevented the disintegration of the country. PG

AMBITIOUS BUSINESSMEN CHOOSING REGIONAL ROUTE TO POWER

An article in "Novoye vremya," No. 10, argues that Aleksandr Khloponin, the head of Norilsk Nickel, and Roman Abramovich, the owner of Siberian Aluminum, chose to run for the post of governors of the Taimyr and Chukchi autonomous districts respectively, because they are politically ambitious, but find that other avenues of advancement are now blocked. PG

WORK WITH COMPATRIOTS SAID TO BE INCOMPETENT

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 March said the disorder and confusion in Moscow's approach to ethnic Russians living abroad is the work of "a dictatorship of dilettantes," each of whose members pursues his or her own goals at the expense of the others. The paper called for the creation of a single, well-organized program to overcome these divisions, one it said should be modeled on the work of other countries. PG

RUSSIAN ANALYSTS NOW CALM ABOUT U.S. NMD STATEMENTS

An unsigned article in "Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie," No. 9, said Russian military and security analysts have concluded that Moscow should react calmly to American statements about NMD because the U.S. is not going to be in a position to build it in the near future. But an article in "Kontinent," No. 11, warned that over the next five years, the Russian side is scheduled to decommission up to 80 percent of its older missile systems, even though it has not made much progress in building a new missile system. PG

MOSCOW EXPELS THREE BULGARIANS, DENIES LINK TO SOFIA'S ACTION

First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev said on 19 March that Moscow's decision to expel three Bulgarian diplomats has no connection to Sofia's request that Russia pull three of its diplomats from Bulgaria, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). But earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that "Moscow is watching with bewilderment and concern a new anti-Russian campaign unfolding in Sofia which also involves members of the government." PG

RUSSIA, NORTH KOREA AGREE ON RAILROAD LINK

Citing North Korean media, AP reported on 19 March that the railway ministers of North Korea and Russia, Kim Yong Sam and Nikolai Aksenenko, have signed an agreement to expand cooperation on building a rail-link between their two countries. Russian agencies the same day reported that the final agreement on the link will be worked out over the next several months. PG

MIR NOW TO COME DOWN ON 23 MARCH

On 19 March, Russian space officials announced that they will deorbit the Mir space ship on 23 March, a day later than they had said last week, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Duma Speaker Seleznev called for the station to be saved even at this late date and urged that Moscow begin to build a Mir-2 replacement vehicle, Interfax reported. A group of Russian cosmonauts and designers have arrived in Fiji in the South Pacific in hopes of viewing the re-entry of Mir, Reuters reported. PG

TAX AUTHORITIES YIELD TO ORTHODOX CHURCH

The Russian tax authorities have agreed to a demand by the Russian Orthodox Church that they will give a new number to any taxpayer who receives a 666 number combination within his tax number, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 March. Many Orthodox Christians believe that 666 is the sign of the Antichrist. The concession by the tax authorities appears likely to calm disputes within the church itself. PG

DEMOGRAPHIC 'COLLAPSE' PREDICTED FOR 2006

Zhanna Zyanchkovskaya, the head of the migration laboratory of the Moscow Institute of Economic Forecasting, was quoted by "Segodnya" on 17 March as saying that Russia's demographic "collapse" will begin in 2006, when for the first time more people will retire than enter the workforce. She said that by 2010, the number of those retiring will reach one million a year, with the number of new entrants to the workforce continuing to fall. But Valerii Tishkov, the director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, wrote in "Izvestiya" the same day that while the proportion of ethnic Russians in the population will continue to decline, he does not accept predictions that the number of Russians will fall below 100 million. He said that immigration will increase if Russians overcome their xenophobic attitudes toward outsiders and that reidentification will take place by those now categorized as non-Russians within the Russian Federation. There was one piece of good demographic news on 19 March: Interfax reported that the Health Ministry announced that youth mortality fell by 13 percent from 1999 to 2000. PG

YELTSIN REPORTEDLY EMBEZZLED GERMAN MONEY INTENDED FOR SOLDIERS' HOMES

An article in the 16 March "Vedomosti" said that the Audit Chamber has confirmed that former President Boris Yeltsin embezzled money by diverting German funds intended for the construction of housing for Russian soldiers withdrawn from Eastern Europe. The paper added that only 10 percent of the housing built in Kaliningrad was given to servicemen. PG

FORMER SOVIET JUSTICE MINISTER FETED

The Russian Justice Ministry has held a celebration in honor of Vladimir Terebilov, 85, who served as Soviet justice minister from 1970 to 1984 and then headed the Soviet Supreme Court from 1984 to 1989, Interfax reported on 19 March. PG

CRIME INCREASES, DRUG DEATHS UP

Deputy Interior Minister Valentin Chernyavskii told Interfax on 19 March that crime in Russia increased 4 percent between the first quarter of 2000 and the first quarter of this year. He said that the "escalation" of crime was especially great in regions with the greatest economic and industrial potential. Meanwhile, Moscow city medical officials said that 1,300 people died in the city from drug overdoses in 2000, up from the recent average of 1,000 a year, the news service said. PG

SKINHEADS ATTACK ARMENIAN SCHOOL IN MOSCOW

Twenty skinheads shouting Nazi slogans attacked an Armenian school in the Russian capital on 15 March, breaking windows and beating some of the students, "Segodnya" reported on 17 March. But the paper said that local police later placed the blame on the Armenians themselves, claiming that no attack by skinheads had in fact taken place. PG

WHO WILL LOOK WORSE IN 100 YEARS -- YASTRZHEMBSKII OR BASAEV?

A review in the 17 March "Izvestiya" of the opening episodes of the second season of the ORT television program on the Tsarist secret police, "The Empire Under Threat," said that the program turned upside down most of the ideas about the Tsarist period that Russians had learned during the Soviet period in that it portrayed the Tsarist police as the good guys and the revolutionaries as evil. The review asked rhetorically whether viewers one hundred years from now will find the real hero in the struggle against terrorism today to have been Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev or presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii. PG

TATAR PARTY PROTESTS PLANS TO MARK KULIKOVO BATTLE

The leaders of the Vatan party, a group that unites Tatars in many regions of Russia, told Interfax on 19 March that they will protest plans by the central Russian government to mark later this year what Moscow calls "the day of victory of Russian forces over the Mongol-Tatar armies at Kulikovo in 1380." Such a celebration, the Vatan party said in a statement, would be insulting for a large number of Russian soldiers and officers, many of whom are descended from the Tatars. The statement added that the Kulikovo battle should be marked only as a conflict between the Moscow principality and the Crimean branch of the Golden Horde, "and not as a war between two peoples, the Tatars and the Russians." PG

CHECHENS LOOK ABROAD FOR NEWS

At a conference on the news media in Chechnya, Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said that "the population receives news even about events taking place in a neighboring village in a distorted form since it is forced to find out about this from the radio broadcasts of foreign countries," Interfax reported on 19 March. Meanwhile "Finansovaya Rossiya," No. 9, argued that Moscow's plans to send another 12 billion rubles ($450 million) for Chechen reconstruction would simply be sending money "into a black hole." A Russian finance official was quoted by "Izvestiya" on 19 March as saying that during the past year almost 800 cases of theft of financial means intended for Chechnya have been registered. PG

IRANIANS FIND 'ARGUMENTY I FAKTY' PORNOGRAPHIC

Iranian officials have covered over pictures in the Russian weekly "Argumenty I Fakty" before delivering them to Russian subscribers at the Bushehr nuclear power station construction site, who constitute "the largest Russian colony" in Iran, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 March. The Russian daily expressed surprise at the Iranian action because it said that the Russian weekly is known for its "sterility." PG

POLICE TRAIL SELLERS OF DOG MEAT

Police in Ekaterinburg are searching for an underground factory that is preparing and selling for human consumption food products made from dog meat, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 19 March. The police began the search when they discovered portions of the bodies of 50 dogs in a trash heap. PG

ENVIRONMENTALISTS HAVE SUGGESTION FOR NUCLEAR MINISTER

Environmental activists in Chelyabinsk Oblast greeted visiting Nuclear Power Minister Yevgenii Adamov and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov with pickets when the two officials arrived in the oblast's capital for a two-day visit, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 March. Activists carried placards with the words, "Mr. Adamov, bury the nuclear waste [on the grounds] of your villa." Adamov supports legislation that would allow imported nuclear waste to be processed and stored in Russia; the bill will again be considered in the State Duma on 22 March. During a visit to the oblast's Mayak plant, which reprocesses spent nuclear fuel, Mayak's head of public relations, Yevgenii Ryzhkov, said the plant is losing $50 million a year because of the State Duma's ban on taking in spent nuclear fuel from abroad, according to the daily. Greenpeace currently is posting a report by the Duma's Anti-Corruption Commission about Adamov's unethical behavior as minister on its website, www.greenpeace.ru/econews/2001/march/adamov.htm (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 12 March 2001). JAC

LOCAL ELECTRICITY HEAD OUTSPENDS ELECTION OPPONENTS

Omskenergo General Director Yevgenii Belov won mayoral elections in Omsk on 18 March, Russian agencies reported. According to RFE/RL the next day, Belov won 58 percent of the vote in an election with a record low turnout of just under 29 percent of eligible voters. Belov spent 10 times more money during the campaign than all three of his opponents, according to ITAR-TASS, and local observers feared that voters might not bother voting since Belov's victory appeared to be "predetermined." The mayoral elections were held early because former Omsk Mayor Valerii Roshchupkin resigned abruptly last December, complaining that the oblast administration was strangling the town financially. In other mayoral elections on 18 March, incumbent Sakhalin Mayor Fedor Sidorenko was re-elected. JAC

REGIONAL LEADER SAYS HE VALUES OPPOSITION MEDIA

In an interview with Ren-TV on 18 March, Vologda Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev declared he can happily report that an opposition press does exist in his oblast, but "if it didn't, then I would create one." Pozgalev said there are too many opposition media to list, and they "compete with each other about who can sting the government more," which is "very good." JAC




FUNDING FOR ARMENIAN CENSUS FINALIZED

International donors and Armenian government officials signed a memorandum of understanding on 19 March under which the former will provide some funds for the population census scheduled for October 2001, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The exact sum to be provided remains unclear. The international donors, including the World Bank and the U.S. government, agreed last month to help with financing the project after the Armenian authorities had admitted that due to budget constraints they would not be able to raise the required $2.2 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January and 13 February 2001). LF

ARMENIAN LEFT DEMANDS END TO ENERGY PRIVATIZATION

Over one dozen left-wing political parties and NGOs, including the People's Party of Armenia, one of the members of the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, issued a statement on 19 March calling on the government to abandon the planned sale to foreign investors of a 51 percent stake in four state-run electricity distribution networks, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They argue that the Armenian leadership risks jeopardizing national security by placing a "strategic" sector of the economy under foreign control. The winners of the tender for the four networks are to be announced on 28 March. The sale is a precondition for the release by the World Bank of a $50 million loan intended to cover approximately half of this year's anticipated budget deficit. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT TO LOBBY FOR GEORGIAN BYPASS

The majority Miasnutiun parliament faction created an ad hoc working group on 19 March to lobby the Armenian government in order to secure financing for construction of a 18-kilometer bypass on the main Yerevan-Tbilisi highway that would avoid several Azerbaijani-populated villages on Georgian territory, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The working group will function under the aegis of the parliament committee on state and legal affairs, whose chairman, Viktor Dallakian, said the Georgian authorities have no objection to the proposed bypass. Dallakian said construction costs will not exceed $100,000, and should be borne by Armenia. Dallakian further argued that once construction of the bypass is completed, the Armenian authorities should close the major market at the nearby town of Bagratashen, which is frequented by numerous Azerbaijani traders from Georgia. LF

GEORGIAN PRISONERS END HUNGER-STRIKE

Some 100 prisoners at several prison colonies have abandoned the hunger-strike they embarked on last month, Caucasus Press reported on 19 March. The prisoners are members of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation and are demanding that their sentences be revised to take into account their role in preserving Georgia's territorial integrity during the fighting in South Ossetia in the early 1990s. They argue that as they fought on the side of the Georgian leadership, they should enjoy the same privileges as have been extended to imprisoned supporters of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, some of whom are eligible for amnesty. Those Mkhedrioni members who have already served half their sentence will have their cases reviewed on an individual basis. LF

GOVERNOR DENIES PRESENCE OF ARMED BANDS IN MINGRELIA

Bondo Djikia, who is governor of Mingrelia and Upper Svaneti, has rejected as an exaggeration the claim by parliament's human rights committee chair, Elene Tevdoradze, that armed bands freely walk the streets of Zugdidi, the Mingrelian capital, Caucasus Press reported on 19 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). Djikia admitted, however, that many residents of the town carry arms and that the crime situation is alarming. He said the deployment in the region of additional police would be "useful." LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL DISCUSS COOPERATION

During a telephone conversation on 19 March, Nursultan Nazarbaev and Lord George Robertson discussed bilateral cooperation within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, in particular the joint regional seminars on military-civilian cooperation in emergency situations and on regional security to be held in Kazakhstan in May and in the fall, Russian agencies reported. They also discussed the situation in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT APPROVES SAUDI LOAN FOR HIGHWAY REPAIRS

The upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 19 March approved the ratification of a $12 million loan from the Saudi Industrial Development Fund that will finance repairs to the main Almaty-Astana highway, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2000). Repairs will begin this summer and should be completed by late 2002. LF

COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE ON OPPOSITION KYRGYZ POLITICIAN

Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court on 20 March upheld the guilty verdict handed down in September 2000 on opposition politician Topchubek Turgunaliev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. TurgunAliyev was found guilty of "ideological leadership" of a group of persons who allegedly plotted to assassinate President Askar Akaev and was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment; the Bishkek City Court subsequently reduced that sentence to 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2000 and 27 November 2000). LF

KYRGYZSTAN HOSTS ROUNDTABLE ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

The upper chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament hosted a discussion on 19 March on cooperation to fight international terrorism, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Lawmakers from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan also participated. Addressing the participants, Yevgenii Zelenov, who chairs the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly's Permanent Commission on Defense and Security, said that the states of Central Asia have not yet succeeded in coordinating their actions aimed at combating terrorism, according to Interfax. He warned that Afghanistan poses a major threat to the region. Zelenov also criticized Uzbekistan, saying that Tashkent "does not contribute to resolving the problem [of terrorism] by creating an iron curtain and planting land mines that are banned by international convention and that kill civilians living in border areas." In recent months several dozen Tajiks have been killed by such mines planted on the unmarked border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to deter Islamic militants from entering Uzbekistan. Zelenov described the Tajik armed forces as "quite combat-ready," but said neither they nor the Kyrgyz army is capable of repelling a large-scale invasion of Islamic militants from Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. He said both countries either lack sufficient combat aircraft or those planes are grounded because of lack of fuel. LF

TAJIK, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRIES SIGN COOPERATION PROTOCOL

Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov and Russia's ambassador in Dushanbe, Maksim Peshkov, signed a protocol on 19 March on cooperation both between their two countries and within the framework of regional and international organizations, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF

TURKMEN AUTHORITIES SETTLE FAMILY IN CONFISCATED CHURCH

The authorities of Ashgabat's Niyazov district have settled a family in a private home confiscated last month from a Baptist community that used it as a place of worship, Keston News Service reported on 19 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February and 5 March 2001). LF

UZBEK-SOUTH KOREAN JV BANKRUPT

Korean Shareholders, which owns an 80 percent stake in the South Korean-Uzbek joint venture Uz-Samsung Electronics, voted last week to put the company into liquidation, Interfax reported. A member of the management said that the joint venture will not be economically viable as long as the Uzbek government maintains restrictions on the conversion into hard currency of its annual $30 million earnings. LF




BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT OBSERVERS SAY REPEAT ELECTION UNFAIR

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported on 20 March that Belarusian independent observers registered a "huge amount" of violations of electoral procedures during the repeat legislative elections on 18 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). According to those observers, the most common falsification by electoral commissions was reducing the number of eligible voters in constituencies -- by 20 to 40 percent on average -- in order to report better turnouts. "There is no doubt that in Brest Oblast 105 percent of the electorate took part in the voting," the Charter-97 website commented. JM

UKRAINIAN POLICEMEN PICKET PARLIAMENT OVER PRIVILEGES, ANTIPRESIDENTIAL PROTESTS

Some 5,000 policemen, including many police veterans, picketed the parliamentary building on 20 March, demanding the restoration of privileges to law enforcement officers, higher wages, and the punishment of those responsible for violent clashes during the 9 March antipresidential protests, Interfax reported. In 1999 the parliament canceled privileges to law enforcement officers that covered the payment of rents, transportation fees, and vouchers for stays in sanatoriums and recreation centers. JM

UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTER'S SACKING CONFIRMED, DENIED

Permanent presidential representative in the parliament Roman Bezsmertnyy on 19 March confirmed earlier media reports that President Leonid Kuchma dismissed Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, Interfax reported. However, Premier Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on 20 March that, as regards Kravchenko and other cabinet reshuffles, "consultations are under way and no resolution has been adopted yet." JM

FORMER UKRAINIAN BANKER DETAINED FOR ABUSE OF OFFICE

Kyiv prosecutors have detained Volodymyr Bondar, first deputy head of the National Bank in 1995-99, on charges of abuse of office, Interfax reported on 19 March. The prosecutors allege that in 1997 Bondar signed an unsound deal with a bank in Cyprus, inflicting a loss of $5 million on the state. In June 2000, prosecutors instigated criminal proceedings against a number of National Bank officials, accusing them of mishandling foreign currency reserves in 1997-98. The names of those officials have not been officially released. The Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" suggests that Ukrainian oligarchs Oleksandr Volkov, Hryhoriy Surkis, and Viktor Medvedchuk are behind Bondar's detention. According to the newsletter, the oligarchs want to put pressure on Premier Yushchenko to form a coalition government. Yushchenko headed the National Bank at the time the alleged mishandling of foreign currency reserves took place. JM

FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENTS INTO ESTONIA INCREASED IN 2000

The Bank of Estonia announced on 19 March that foreign direct investments (FDI) to Estonia grew in 2000 by 2.35 billion kroons ($134 million) to 6.8 billion kroons, BNS reported. Estonians had 2.7 billion kroons of FDI in foreign countries, resulting in a positive balance of 4.1 billion kroons, which covered 73 percent of the country's foreign trade deficit. Most of the foreign investments came from Finland and Sweden and more than half of them were investments in stock or equity capital. Estonian FDI was the highest ever recorded and about 80 percent of the investments were long-term loans to subsidiaries and affiliated companies abroad, especially in Latvia. SG

COSTS OF LATVIA BECOMING A FULL EUROPEAN UNION MEMBER

The Finance Ministry has calculated that it will cost about 1.2 billion lats ($1.9 billion) over the next 10 years for Latvia to fulfill promises it has made under the National Program for Integration into the EU, LETA reported on 19 March. The greatest share of the expenditures (646 million lats) is to come from the state budget, with 202 million lats expected from bilateral assistance, including donations and co-financing from other countries; 168 million lats from the EU as financial assistance; and 184 million lats from loans. The largest expenses are foreseen for the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (800 million lats) to improve garbage collection, water quality, and control air and industrial pollution. The Ministry of Welfare will also spend large sums over the next four years to continue the reform of health care, social security and assistance systems, and to ensure the public has healthy and environmentally friendly food. The largest expenditures are expected this year (268 million lats) and next year (296 million lats). SG

BRITISH MINISTER VISITS LITHUANIA

The main aims of a one-day visit to Vilnius on 19 March by British Foreign Office Minister Brian Wilson were to discuss bilateral relations and the country's preparations for EU and NATO membership, ELTA reported. Wilson informed Economic Minister Eugenijus Gentvilas of Britain's decision to donate 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) to the fund for closing the first reactor of the nuclear power plant at Ignalina. Wilson and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis signed an agreement on avoiding double taxation of income and capital gains, and preventing tax fraud. Lithuania has now signed such agreements with 23 countries, including eight from the EU. He also talked with Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas about the expansion of NATO, although he noted that the debates in London on this question have not yet started. SG

ANTI-EU POLITICAL ALLIANCE EMERGES IN POLAND

More than 30 organizations -- including the Confederation for an Independent Poland-Homeland, the Polish National Alliance of Pensioners, the Greens, and the Free Trade Union August 80 -- have signed a declaration to form a new political initiative called Alternative (Alternatywa), PAP reported on 19 March. Alternative declares its intention of taking part in parliamentary elections and aims its manifesto at those opposing Poland's EU membership. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR SUPPORT FOR MACEDONIA...

Vaclav Havel told journalists after meeting in Prague with Kosova Serb Bishop Artemij on 19 March that Macedonia "cannot be left alone in its fight against Albanian separatists." Havel said Macedonia "deserves full political, psychological, and technical help from the international community," which "must also support the Macedonian armed forces, which are engaged in a military struggle against Albanian guerrillas," CTK reported. He said Macedonia had provided asylum to a large number of Kosova refugees and "has been pursuing democratic, reasonable, and balanced policies based on the principles of civic rights and respect of national minorities' ethnic identity." MS

...BUT IS OPPOSED BY CZECH SENATE CHAIRMAN

Petr Pithart on 19 March told CTK that he believes Macedonia "still has the force necessary to protect itself against the infiltration of Albanian guerrillas." The senate chairman said a NATO intervention against the Albanian forces "is at the moment impossible, since NATO is unwilling to use ground forces." But he added that NATO "has not exhausted all of its capabilities" to strengthen the protection of the border between Macedonia and Kosova. Also on 19 March, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told journalists in Brussels that the Czech Republic is not considering "either strengthening or weakening" its participation in the KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosova. Kavan also said the idea of changing the border between Macedonia and Kosova is "unacceptable" to the Czech Republic, which "welcomes" any NATO steps aimed at better protecting Macedonian borders. MS

CZECH UN RAPPORTEUR CRITICIZES KFOR

Jiri Dienstbier, UN rapporteur for observance of human rights in the former Yugoslavia, on 19 March told journalists that the KFOR mission is responsible for the current tense situation in the Balkans. Dienstbier said that KFOR and the UN have failed to fulfill the tasks set by the UN Security Council resolution that ended the war in Kosova. "In two years, they have not created democracy or civil society. Neither have they prevented ethnic cleansing and the Kosova Liberation Army has not been disarmed," he said. Dienstbier said the situation in the region is "extremely tense and a lot more agitated than six months ago" and added that if the international forces had fulfilled their mission, guerrillas from Kosova would not have been able to penetrate the border with Macedonia and start fighting on its territory. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE TO PRESENT 'SHADOW CABINET' IN APRIL

Christian Democratic Party Chairman Jan Kasal on 19 March told journalists in Prague that the Four Party Coalition will present the members of its "shadow cabinet" on 2 April, CTK reported. Kasal did not specify which politicians will make up the cabinet but said "the post [reserved for] Freedom Union Chairman Karel Kuehnl is clear." Observers say Kuehnl wants the post of "shadow foreign minister." MS

ANTI-TEMELIN U.S. ATTORNEY ARRIVES IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Ed Fagan, who acquired fame as an attorney in lawsuits representing Holocaust victims, on 19 March arrived in the Czech Republic, AP and CTK reported. Fagan, who volunteered to represent Austrian and Czech Temelin opponents, met with antinuclear activists in Ceske Budejovice. He said he had planned to visit Temelin on 20 March, but was refused permission to do so. Fagan also said he is still considering filing law suits if his demand that documents attesting to the plant's safety is not met. Last month, Fagan called on CEZ, the utility company that owns Temelin, and on the U.S. concern Westinghouse, which supplied the plant with safety technology, to submit such documents by 20 March. A CEZ spokesman said Fagan has never approached his company officially, adding that some of the information Fagan demands is "confidential" to protect "intellectual ownership of technology." MS

STUDY REVEALS CZECH COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICES VIOLATED CORRESPONDENCE

Tens of millions of private letters were opened and read every year by communist Czechoslovakia's secret police (StB), a study conducted at the request of the government by the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes reveals. Daniel Povolny, an official of that institute, on 19 March told journalists that at the peak of private correspondence violation in 1966, some 99 million letters were opened and read by the StB, more than half of them being received from abroad or sent abroad. Hundreds of phones were also tapped each year, and in 1976 the StB had four translators working to transcribe and translate taped conversations conducted in foreign languages, Povolny said. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT TO LAUNCH PRO-NATO CAMPAIGN

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 19 March said the government will try to boost public support for NATO membership by 10 percent over the next 12 months, AP and CTK reported. Dzurinda said the government will campaign for public support of NATO membership through the media and through his own appearances at meetings around the country. "We will meet with people...and explain them what NATO membership means," Dzurinda said, adding that "we need to tell them that NATO's goal is not war, but peace and prosperity." The premier called on nongovernment organizations to join the campaign to boost public support for NATO membership from the present 50 percent to 60 percent. He said he will also ask for the help of opposition parties. MS

ANTI-HUNGARIAN GRAFFITI MARS SLOVAK CITIES

The statue of Hungarian national poet Sandor Petofi was again desecrated in Bratislava, the Hungarian MTI agency reported on 20 March. Unidentified vandals painted the statue with slogans saying "Go home" and calling for outlawing the Hungarian Coalition Party, as well as obscene words. The windows of a Hungarian school in the Slovak capital were broken on 19 March. Hungarian media reported on 20 March that unidentified people had earlier painted anti-Hungarian slogans on the main entrance to the Hungarian primary and high school buildings in Kosice, demanding "a clean Slovakia" and "Hungarians to the other bank of the Danube." School principal Geza Reiter blamed Slovak nationalists for the incident, saying they could not accept that ceremonies on 15 March in honor of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution were held in a dignified way and without disturbances across Slovakia. MS/MSZ

HUNGARIAN ROMA LEADER THREATENS TO SUE BRITISH PERIODICAL

Jozsef Krasznai, spokesman of the Roma group from the Hungarian village of Zamoly, on 19 March told "Magyar Hirlap" that he plans to sue the British periodical "Jane's Intelligence Digest" for printing a report alleging that Russian secret services had encouraged the emigration of the group to France (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 March 2001). Krasznai said the periodical should name its sources, who have spread "obviously false reports." He said he and his son decided "without any outside influence" to facilitate the emigration of the Roma group to Strasbourg. Meanwhile, Alex Standish, editor of the British periodical, told Hungarian Television that his staff "assumes responsibility" for the report. MSZ

FODOR DENIES HUNGARIAN AIR FORCE STORY

General Lajos Fodor, Chief of Staff of the Hungarian Armed Forces, on 19 March denied a report in "Nepszabadsag" claiming that the Hungarian air force is unable to meet NATO requirements for training (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). Fodor said he never told the daily that Hungarian fighter pilots must fly 160-180 hours annually, nor that Hungary made such a commitment to NATO. In other news, the Hungarian Interior Ministry on 19 March initialed in The Hague a cooperation agreement with Europol. The document provides Hungary "associate membership" in the organization, which coordinates police cooperation in EU countries. MSZ




MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT TO LAUNCH MILITARY OFFENSIVE

A government spokesman said in Skopje on 19 March that the military is massing tanks and artillery in Tetovo in preparation for a major assault against the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK). "We will liquidate terrorists at minimal cost in life," a spokesman said. "Orders have been given at the highest level," the "Financial Times" reported. In Gostivar, former mayor and political prisoner Rufi Osmani told "The Guardian" that he fears that the government will seek a military victory, which will lead to interethnic conflict. PM

ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS BLAST SKOPJE'S POLICIES...

AP reported from Tetovo on 20 March that the UCK there issued a statement saying that "in vain we tried for years to have our rights realized through a change in government, and to have Macedonia refrain from a wrong policy. Unfortunately, we chose a president whom we hoped would be a president for all. We gave him time and space to send us clear signals whether he was going to accept the Albanians as equals. But this did not happen. Therefore, we decided not to allow further humiliation and trampling upon our dignity. We appeal to all political and nonpolitical Albanian figures not to delude themselves that our rights will be granted by this government" of President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. PM

...APPEAL FOR PEACEFUL SOLUTION

The UCK statement issued in Tetovo on 20 March added that "we know that none of you...support a war. But you all should know the truth. [The government's moves toward] recognition of our rights have been trivial, and our aspirations to build a democratic, civilized, European society [have not been met by what the government has offered]... We also appeal to all political factors, internal and external, to give real recognition to those who are fighting to be equal [and] can never be [considered] terrorists. We are no adventurers. We have no lives to gamble away. We don't seek killings and war, because for centuries we were the victims. From this moment on, peace does not depend only on us. We are determined to realize our demands, and urge the Macedonian authorities and nongovernment figures to make public as soon as possible whether they want this to be resolved peacefully or not. After that, we will bear no responsibility for the future chain of events. We urge the international community to recognize our demands, which are for peace, not for war." PM

ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY TO STAY IN MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT

Arben Xhaferi, who heads the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), told Macedonian Television on 19 March that the PDSH will remain in the governing coalition despite a certain "atmosphere in the party" to leave. He stressed that the PDSH and the UCK have very different aims. "We have never sought federalization or separation. We have sought to achieve...equal rights...that would increase the loyalty of citizens toward the system and would prevent [political] turbulence," dpa reported. "The Guardian" wrote that support is drying up for the PDSH in rural areas. The daily quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as saying that "every day the conflict goes on, the militants drain Xhaferi. He is blamed for not delivering [on campaign promises to achieve interethnic equality] and risks becoming an irrelevance." PM

SOLANA CALLS FOR POLITICAL SOLUTION IN MACEDONIA

EU security policy chief Javier Solana told Spanish state radio from Macedonia on 20 March that "the solution [in Macedonia] has to be political. The Balkans have suffered too many wars already, too many people have suffered," Reuters reported. Solana stressed that "there is no more time, now that we are in the 21st century and that we have reached major agreements between the EU and the Balkan countries, to resolve any question by violence, no matter how difficult. We will do everything possible to find solutions of a political nature." He said later that the government is correct is seeking to "isolate" the rebels and not to negotiate with them. PM

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER: KFOR TO STAY IN KOSOVA

Joschka Fischer told ZDF television on 19 March that KFOR's mandate is limited to Kosova and that it will remain there. He noted that KFOR has recently discovered previously unknown arms caches in the province. Regarding Macedonia, Fischer said that Germany will use "firmness" together with "support for the Macedonian government." He stressed that "the radicals will be isolated and stay isolated." PM

U.S. SAYS KFOR WORKING TO CLOSE BORDER

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 19 March that UCK members are "extremists" who represent only a small minority of opinion. He added that "NATO has stepped up its patrols, tightened its patrols along [Kosovo's] borders. They've detained insurgents that are trying to move across the Kosovo-Serbia boundary. They've interdicted arms shipments. They have seized weapons caches. And so we'll continue to move, within NATO and with our allies, to tighten up on the Kosovo side of the border... First and foremost, our job is to fill the task along the Kosovo side of the border. The denying safe haven to these armed groups is a very important part of the strategy. That's being done by NATO's stepped-up patrols on the Kosovo side. It's being done by the entry of Yugoslav forces into the Serb side of the border, and by the actions of the Macedonian army...on the Macedonian side of that border... [Our] mandate at this point is only within Kosovo," RFE/RL reported. PM

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER BACKS BELGRADE

Igor Ivanov said in Belgrade after talks with President Vojislav Kostunica on 19 March that "the world community must state in clear terms that the developments in the south of Serbia and in Macedonia [constitute] aggression by international terrorists, who must be resolutely rebuffed if we are against destabilization and an explosion in the Balkans... The time has come for each state and for the international community to decide which side they are on: those who would like to build a peaceful, prosperous, and multiethnic Yugoslavia, or those who are sowing the seeds of ethnic enmity and death in Yugoslavia," Interfax reported. Russia's rhetoric may be an effort by Moscow to score points with the current leadership, which was unhappy that Moscow took longer than other powers to hail the Serbian opposition's victory over former President Slobodan Milosevic last year. Russia has little influence in the region outside of Serbia, with which it nonetheless drives a hard bargain over natural gas sales. PM

DOOR WIDE OPEN FOR PUTIN IN MACEDONIA?

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on 19 March for international military intervention in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). A Russian military analyst told the BBC on 20 March that there is nothing stopping Putin from sending in Russian troops from Kosova if he wishes to do so, because Russian forces there are not technically part of KFOR and not bound by the KFOR mandate. PM

EU PLEDGES POLITICAL SUPPORT FOR MACEDONIA...

EU foreign ministers said in a statement in Brussels on 19 March that "the EU will not tolerate any support for insurgents. Ethnic Albanian extremists must stop all violent attacks immediately," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, as EU chair, said "We have discussed the assistance for improving the border security and we have also been discussing how to promote the interethnic relations, especially at the university in Tetovo. We have been discussing the coordination between KFOR and the EU," RFE/RL reported. Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim replied: "My government is very pleased with the way the European Union is dealing...with the problem we are facing together. And it is a common problem, because we don't want to allow anyone, including these extremists, to change our [common] agenda." PM

...AND ADDITIONAL AID AS WELL

Among the additional projects that Brussels approved are $4.5 million for the private Tetovo University, which has been organized under rigorous international standards by the OSCE. The ministers promised additional political consultations, help for local self-government projects, technical aid with the upcoming census, and financial help to improve conditions for the Albanian minority, which makes up at least 23 percent of the population. The EU provided $27 million in aid to Macedonia in 2000. This will rise to $36 million under the association agreement, which will be signed on 9 April, AP reported. PM

GENERAL CLARK CALLS FOR ACTION ON KOSOVA

Writing in the "Washington Post" of 20 March, former NATO commander, General Wesley Clark, stressed that the current unrest in Macedonia underscores the need to move Kosova to self-rule. "Blaming the Kosovars [for the Macedonian troubles] is not a policy; others, including the United States and our NATO allies, have responsibilities which we must meet... The international community must recognize that the nub of the problem is the continuing delay in moving the province toward democratic self-rule and the resolution of its final status. Troubles across the region are unlikely to ebb until Kosovars are fully engaged in building up their own institutions. Stabilizing Kosovo means following through on our promises and holding elections for a legislative body with real powers; moving forward on the transition to self-government; and committing to a clear timetable for final status negotiations. Kosovo's people deserve self-rule. Albanians elsewhere -- Macedonia, southern Serbia -- deserve fair and lawful treatment. It is in the profound interest of the United States and our allies to see that they get it quickly." PM

FIVE ARRESTED FOR KOSOVA BUS BOMBING

UN police supported by KFOR troops arrested five men, believed to be ethnic Albanians, in Podujeva on 19 March, Reuters reported. They are suspects in the February bombing of a bus that left 11 Serbs dead (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2001). PM

SERBIA'S COVIC SAYS 'NO MORE VUKOVARS'

Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic told Serbian state television that he has good relations with the Yugoslav military and that there are good people in the command structure in southern Serbia, "Vesti" reported on 20 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). He added, however, that there are still unnamed "Milosevic generals" around. He stressed that such individuals will not be allowed to take part in politics again. Covic made it clear that the civilians are now in charge, and that there will not be a repetition of the wartime killings at Vukovar, Dubrovnik, or Sarajevo by the Yugoslav military. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER TO PLEAD CASE IN WASHINGTON

Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 19 March that he will travel to the U.S. later in the week to express his views on his country's cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He says that it would "jeopardize democracy in Serbia" for Washington to insist that the government arrest former President Slobodan Milosevic and send him to The Hague in return for a $100 million aid package, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). PM

HERZEGOVINIANS RALLY IN MOSTAR

Some 10,000 Roman Catholic faithful turned out on 19 March for a prayer meeting under the slogan "for truth and peace." Bishop Ratko Peric criticized the 1995 Dayton peace agreement as unjust because it forces Croats to work within institutions dominated by Muslims or Serbs, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Virtually the entire leadership of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) was present. PM

EU SAYS ROMANIA MUST SPEED UP POLITICAL, ECONOMIC REFORMS

Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner for enlargement, said in Brussels on 19 March that Romania has a "long and difficult road ahead" before it can join the organization, Romanian radio reported on the next day. Speaking after the annual meeting of the EU-Romania Association Council, Verheugen said that among all candidates, Romania's "political, social and cultural heritage" is "the most difficult one," and promised that the EU will take this into account. Verheugen said "facts, not words" will count in assessing Romania's prospects of joining the union and stressed that while progress has been made in some areas, Bucharest must speed up political and economic reforms to justify its candidate members status. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ASSURES MACEDONIA OF SUPPORT

Ion Iliescu told his Macedonian counterpart Boris Trajkovski during a 19 March telephone conversation that Romania supports Macedonia's territorial integrity. Iliescu called for international support for Macedonia and condemned "extremist groups" that threaten the stability of the country and the region as a whole, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said in Brussels that the OSCE, which he currently heads in the rotating chairmanship, must play a "pivotal role" in bringing about a "lasting solution" to the Macedonian conflict. Geoana announced that he has appointed U.S. diplomat Robert Frowek as special OSCE envoy to Macedonia. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE APPROVES PRIVATIZATION OF STATE FARMS

The Senate on 19 March approved a law on the privatization of state farms, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The vote was 97 for and 18 against. The Chamber of Deputies had already approved such a law before the last elections. A mediation commission is to negotiate a compromise between the two chambers' formulations before the law can be promulgated by President Iliescu. MS

CORRECTION:

In yesterday's item "Romanian President Criticizes RFE/RL," the present tense was incorrectly used when reporting on the Romania-Moldova Service director's editorial of 17 March. The correct formulation should have been: "[Nestor] Ratesh said that democratic reforms in Iliescu-led post-1990 Romania encountered difficulties, the media was weak and electronic media subordinated to the rulers. In that situation, international broadcasters, including RFE/RL, attempted to 'substitute and provide alternative sources of information.'" MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS CHOOSE PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CANDIDATE

The Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) Central Committee on 19 March designated Yevgenia Ostapchuk as its candidate for the post of parliamentary speaker, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Her election is certain in view of the PCM's absolute majority in the parliament, which convenes on 20 March for its first session. Ostapchuk is a food industry engineer by profession and was a deputy representing the PCM in the former legislature as well. The PCM also designated Vadim Mishin as its candidate for deputy parliamentary speaker. According to Infotag and ITAR-TASS, the meeting also decided to support Mihai Camerzan, a deputy representing the Braghis Alliance, for the second deputy speaker post. Infotag said the decision "signals the beginning of power-sharing" between the two parties. MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT DECIDES TO RESIGN

The Moldovan government on 19 March decided to submit its resignation at the first meeting of the legislature the next day. In line with current legislation, the cabinet of outgoing Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis is to continue as caretaker until the appointment of a successor government. Braghis, cited by Infotag, told the cabinet that during its 15-months activity, the government's work "yielded both positive and negative results," citing among the former "our ability to solve problems in the absence of external funding, the achievement of resumption of crediting by international financial institutions, clearing pension arrears, and solving the problems of the energy sector." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES PLEBISCITE ON RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Outgoing President Petru Lucinschi on 19 March said that conducting plebiscites on joining the Russia-Belarus Union or on granting Russian the status of an official language, as proposed by the PCM, would be an "untimely" move that would increase tension, Infotag reported. He also said Russia is "not strong enough to persuade Tiraspol to be more sensible" in its position over the Transdniester region conflict, Lucinschi said that "so far" politicians from Moscow have not "formally or informally" asked Chisinau to agree to the establishment of a military base in the Transdniester region, but admitted that the proposal "has been made at [the] military level." Lucinschi also said GUAM alignment is "not of any benefit to Moldova," and that Moldova should attend only "consultative meetings" of that grouping and refrain from assuming political or military commitments to it. Lucinschi met journalists on the occasion of ending his presidential mandate. MS

WORLD BANK TO CONTINUE BACKING MOLDOVAN REFORMS

In a message of congratulations to PCM Chairman Vladimir Voronin on his electoral victory, World Bank Regional Director for Moldova Roger Grawe says the bank "looks forward to continuing our partnership with Moldova to eradicate poverty and accelerate economic growth," Infotag reported. Resident World Bank representative Carlos Elbirt, in a message released over the weekend, said that during his "recent meetings" with Voronin and "other communist leaders," he was "informed of their willingness to continue key economic reforms, revitalize production, fight corruption, and meet the country's international commitments." Elbirt said the bank "welcomes the PCM statement regarding its intention to continue cooperation with international financial institutions." MS

PROTESTING BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS TAKEN OFF AIR

Acting state radio Director Hristo Brazitsov on 19 March canceled a newscast and took off the air four of the 500 journalists who have been protesting for longer than one month against the appointment of Ivan Borislavov as state radio director. Borislavov is recovering from a heart attack. The 6:30 a.m. news was interrupted by the order of Brazitsov, who also ordered two news editors and two anchors to be removed from duty, the English language daily "Monitor" reported, citing protest leader Sylvia Velikova. Brazitsov later told AP that the four were taken off the air "because they declared civil disobedience... There is no such term in Bulgarian law. They must do the job their employer pays them for or face the consequences." Brazitsov also said some of the protesting journalists may be fired. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT STARTS MIDDLE EASTERN TOUR

President Petar Stoyanov on 19 March began a two-day visit to Syria, to be followed by a visit to Lebanon, AP and "Monitor" reported. He was met by President Bashar Assad, with whom he conducted talks focusing on the Middle East and the Balkans. Bulgarian Ambassador to Damascus Boris Stoychev on the same day told the official daily "Tishrin" that he expects the visit to yield "fruitful results" and said Bulgaria "supports the just Arab cause, mainly the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights and all occupied Arab lands." Stoychev said the president will sign agreements on economic cooperation and cultural and scientific collaboration during his visit. The two sides will also conclude an agreement to avoid double taxation and another agreement on cooperation between their respective interior ministries. MS




GOING FOR BROKE


By Patrick Moore

Macedonia stands on the brink of a civil war. The fate of that republic lies in the hands of its citizens, primarily the political leaders of the Macedonian and Albanian communities.

The late Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. If one ever needed proof of that maxim, Macedonia has now provided it.

Virtually all observers of the past days' events agree that two points stand out: the emerging conflict came unexpectedly, and the speed at which events have moved has been breathtaking. It is now clear that the National Liberation Army (UCK) is not just a small gang of criminals or some freebooters who snuck in from Kosova or Presevo. The movement is well-organized, well-equipped, and supported by many Macedonian Albanians, not the least of whom are some angry young men.

The speed and extent to which polarization has taken place make it clear that the mutual mistrust -- and hatred -- have long been just beneath the surface, waiting for the right incident to bring them out into the open. "The Guardian" on 16 March quoted one Macedonian as saying: "We want guns from the government to fight these Albanians. They want our land, our homes, and we need to repel them. Give me a machine gun and I'll go into the woods to fight them. Macedonians cannot wait any longer. This is real war here. I have Albanian friends, but now we must strike back. I'd say 85 percent of Albanians support these guys." The same paper quoted young Albanians as saying things like: "I don't want people to die, but I can't deny pleasure in having the boot on the other foot," or "We have nothing -- no jobs, no prospects. They've had it well for too long."

Such feelings do not emerge from nothing or overnight. These are two communities that live side by side but not really together. Figuratively as well as literally, they do not speak the same language.

One highly educated young Albanian told "Balkan Report" that the initial emotion he detected among his family and friends of all age groups was that of fear -- followed by an "enthusiasm" for the UCK, simply because the boot is indeed on the other foot. On the Macedonian side, there is a deep feeling of betrayal by "those Albanians," whom Macedonia took in as refugees by the tens of thousands during the 1999 Kosova conflict. Many Macedonians say bitterly that Albanians have now stabbed them in the back.

Regardless of whether the UCK was, or was not, originally an import from Kosova or Presevo, the surprising and important fact is that it is meeting with support from at least some Macedonian Albanians. The UCK is no longer a "minority within a minority." It has come out into the open and is going for broke. The next days and weeks will be decisive.

This is the problem that the mainstream parties must deal with, for it is the mainstream parties among Albanians and Macedonians alike that must take the lead if the current violence is not to turn into a real civil war.

The UN's Carl Bildt told the BBC on 17 March that "Macedonia is a functioning democracy," albeit an imperfect one. One of the imperfections perceived by Macedonians and Albanians alike is that their respective parties give the impression of being more interested in offices and patronage than in their voters' problems. The parties on both sides must work very quickly and very convincingly if they are to overcome the cynicism that their approach has engendered among the electorate and prevent the polarization from spreading rapidly.

This will be a tall order. The Albanian parties will have to spread the message that violence has no future and that the Albanians' home is in Macedonia, because nobody abroad will support border revisions. The Macedonian parties will need to curb anti-Albanian rhetoric and avoid the temptation to score points against each other at the expense of national unity and stability. And the Macedonian politicians leading the country will need to make sure that their policies -- particularly where the police and military are concerned -- do not inflame an already explosive situation.

KFOR has a role to play in helping seal the supply routes across the border. There certainly are enough people who think that it has not done so very well thus far. But the shrill rhetoric from Skopje, Belgrade, and Moscow against KFOR suggests that at least some actors on the political stage are seeking to manipulate the current crisis to settle old scores with the Atlantic alliance. Some might be hoping to "bully" NATO into making war on the UCK. Others might hope to discredit the alliance enough that it will leave the Balkans humiliated, never to return. Then the way would be open for those forces that want to "solve the Albanian question" throughout the region in a time-honored fashion.


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