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Newsline - November 29, 2001


AFGHAN WAR VETERAN NAMED TO HEAD RUSSIAN OPERATIONS IN KABUL...
President Vladimir Putin has appointed Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Colonel General Valerii Vostrotin to coordinate Russia's political, humanitarian, and organizational activities in Afghanistan, Russian news agencies reported on 27 November. A Soviet Airborne Troops veteran, Vostrotin made his name at the beginning of the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979, when a group of KGB operatives and special forces troops stormed the palace of Afghanistan President Hafizulla Amin and killed him. Vostrotin, then a major, was the commander of one of the attacking units. Vostrotin served with Soviet troops in Afghanistan for 10 years, and was known as a very tough and cunning officer. VY

...WHILE MOSCOW DENIES SENDING TWO REGIMENTS OF PARATROOPERS TO AFGHANISTAN
Meanwhile, Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Nikolai Deryabin denied sending Airborne Troops to Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 29 November. "A small security group for the Russian diplomatic mission and the humanitarian center is in the Islamic state," Deryabin said. "All Airborne units are at their permanent locations, with the exception of the ones taking part in the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya," he added. Deryabin said nothing about General Vostrotin's background. VC

RUSSIA SEEKS INVOLVEMENT IN AFGHAN SETTLEMENT...
Following a session of the Council of Ministers from the Collective Security Treaty signatories on 28 November, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia, along with the other signatories, intends to "actively participate in a postcrisis political settlement in Afghanistan," Interfax reported on 29 November. Ivanov said Russia favors a "widely representative government, representing all ethnic groups and honoring its commitments to the international community on eliminating terrorist bases and hotbeds of organized crime and drug trafficking." Members of the Collective Security Treaty include Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. VC

...WHILE PUTIN ENCOURAGES DIALOGUE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
In a message to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on 29 November, President Vladimir Putin called for the start of the practical implementation of the Mitchell plan, Interfax reported. "Today as never before, both sides need political will and decisive steps to start the implementation of the Mitchell plan covering key aspects of normalization -- the cessation of violence as soon as possible, trust, and resuming political dialogue," the message said. VC

RUSSIAN UNION OF JOURNALISTS PROTESTS AGAINST CLOSING DOWN TV-6...
In a statement signed by Alexei Simonov, the president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, the Russian Union of Journalists wrote: "The government, continuing to demonstrate its interest in eliminating any independent journalism, once again was able to make use of the well-known weakness of the Russian justice system and its dependence on outside influence." The statement, posted on the Internews website on 28 November, added that "it is patently clear that the company's financial indicators played no role in this decision: for several years, the channel's loss-making didn't bother anyone, but as soon as the new team of professionals arrived, as soon as the channel's ratings began to rise, and its profitability along with them, a shareholder goes to court for the expressed purpose of depriving himself of any opportunity of recovering the money he has invested." The Union of Journalists concluded its statement by calling "on the Russian and international communities not to deceive themselves into viewing this situation as a routine financial dispute and to defend society's right to an information channel independent of the state." VC

...AS GAZPROM CONFIRMS ITS WILLINGNESS TO SELL MEDIA ASSETS...
Meanwhile, Gazprom-Media, the media arm of the state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom, declared that it has officially come into ownership of the media assets it received in payment of debts, "The Moscow Times" reported on 29 November, citing a company statement. "Ownership rights will help Gazprom-Media to establish control over the activity of the [media] companies, introduce anticrisis measures, and will speed up the work of financial consultants to evaluate and prepare the assets for sale," the statement said. Last month, Gazprom head Aleksei Miller confirmed his intention to sell the company's media assets, which include NTV television and NTV Plus, THT television, and the Ekho Moskvy radio station. He said details of the sale will be decided in January. VC

...AND INVESTIGATIVE MAGAZINE 'VERSIYA' CHANGES OWNERSHIP
The leading Russian investigative publication "Versiya," which belonged to the holding company Top Secret founded by Artem Borovik, has recently been purchased by Aleksei Mordashov, the owner of the steelmaker Severstal, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 27 November. The weekly has since begun a campaign of revealing corruption by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and President Putin. Apparently, Mordashov intends to resurrect the bold reputation that the weekly earned under Borovik, who died in a plane catastrophe last year. VY

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE CONFIRMS CHARGES AGAINST TWO CUSTOMS OFFICIALS
The Prosecutor-General's Office has accused Customs Inspectorate head Aleksandr Volkov and Murat Faizulin, the head of the Customs Investigation Department at the Prosecutor-General's Office, of abuse of office, Interfax reported on 29 November. Both officials have been forbidden to leave Moscow. VC

GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES PLAN TO DEVELOP NUCLEAR INDUSTRY
Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Bulat Nigmatulin said Russia will modernize 11 nuclear power stations by 2005 in order to increase the amount of electricity generated by nuclear power plants to 20 percent of the total nationwide, "Moskovskaya pravda" reported on 27 November. Nigmatulin explained that the era of inexpensive gas is gone, and that Russia now annually sees 30 percent increases in gas prices at a cost of $4 billion per year. In addition, he said, even by very liberal estimates Russian gas reserves will be exhausted in 70 years, leaving no other alternative than to use nuclear power. VY

RUSSIA WORRIED BY PROSPECTS OF OIL PRICE WAR WITH OPEC
The Russian government is seriously concerned that OPEC countries, which have failed to convince Russia to radically lower its oil exports, might change tactics and attempt to flood the world market with surplus oil from their reserves, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 November. Algerian Oil Minister Shakid Khalil added to those fears when he said in Paris on 26 November that, if Russia continues to resist OPEC policy to reduce oil quotas, the organization will begin flooding the market with up to 5 million barrels of oil per day. Such a policy would quickly lead to an artificial oil glut, and stabilize oil prices at around $10 per barrel. In such conditions of hyper-competition with the world's leading oil producers, Russia would be faced with a situation in which production costs for one barrel of oil would exceed the selling price, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. VY

ENERGY MINISTER SAYS U.S. INVESTMENTS IN SAKHALIN WILL BE PROTECTED
Igor Yusufov told visiting U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham in Moscow that Russia will accelerate its creation of a legal basis for the protection of American investments in the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-3 hydrocarbon projects, ORT television reported on 27 November. VY

DUMA ADOPTS PACKAGE ON LEGAL REFORM...
On 27 November, the Duma approved on final reading a legislative package aimed at reforming the legal system in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. The package extends professional requirements for judges, establishes norms for disciplinary and criminal responsibility; sets the retirement age at 65 years of age; and will introduce jury trials nationwide beginning in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). The legislation also introduces open public competition for judicial offices for the first time in recent Russian history. VY

...PREPARES BILL ON COSSACKS' STATUS...
The Duma Committee for Federal and Regional Policies introduced a new bill on 27 November on the status of Russian Cossacks, RIA-Novosti reported. The bill defines Cossacks as a "historical ethno-cultural entity that has specific relations with the state." The bill defines the term of "Cossack community," defines regulations for their service in the Russian armed forces, and outlines their rights to wear traditional clothes, carry arms, and have a specific form of self-government. Similar bills have been circulating the Duma for some years (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 22 September 1999, and 28 June 2000). VY/JAC

...AS MVD WANTS TO CHANGE LAWS ON FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND STATUS OF FOREIGNERS
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said at a hearing in the Duma that because of the expanded functions of his agency, his experts are drafting amendments to the laws of assemblies and manifestations, individual identification documentation, and the status of foreigners and refugees. Gryzlov explained that the essence of these amendments is to streamline current legislation and keep it in line with constitutional norms. Gryzlov also said the additional areas of responsibility that the MVD has been granted give his organization the right to initiate legislation. VY

PRESIDENT SIDES WITH PENSIONERS...
Duma deputies voted on 28 November to approve on second reading a bill allowing retirees to receive their benefits in full even if they are still working, polit.ru reported. The Pension Fund had previously expressed its opposition to the bill, saying it had insufficient funds to cover it (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 October 2001). According to polit.ru, the presidential administration has taken the deputies' side in the controversy. JAC

...AS DUMA LEADERS DISMISS RECONSIDERATION OF COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS
Meanwhile, the leaders of the Unity and Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) factions and the Russian Regions group held a press conference on 28 November during which they declared their intention to eventually combine forces, polit.ru reported. Polit.ru noted that OVR leader Vladimir Pekhtin called for a "strengthening of discipline" but did not mention the People's Deputy group, which is considered to be part of the larger group of four deputies groups that support the Kremlin. Pekhtin also did not make any general reference to dissent within the current "coalition of four." Pekhtin, as well as Russian Regions head Oleg Morozov, spoke against any changes in the so-called "package agreement" that apportioned committee assignments, arguing that any redistribution would lead to unnecessary tensions. As for the reduction of the number of committees, as People's Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov previously suggested, the Duma leaders suggested that the issue should be postponed until the next Duma convocation. JAC

YELTSIN TOUTED TO HEAD RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION...
Gazeta.ru reported on 28 November that the most likely candidate for the presidency of the Russia-Belarus Union is former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. That possibility was first raised soon after Yeltsin resigned as president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000). However, the issue of the presidency of the union had not come up since. But according to the electronic daily, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka brought with him to Moscow a document of "constitutional principles" for the new union that proposes the creation of the office of the union's president as well as the holding of a broad national referendum on the union. JAC

...AS LUKASHENKA SAYS RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN RELATIONS BACK ON TRACK
Following a meeting between Lukashenka and President Putin on 28 November, presidential Deputy Chief of Staff Sergei Prikhodko told journalists that negotiations between the two officials was "very frank, benevolent, and sincere." Prikhodko added that the next meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Russia-Belarus Union will take place on 26 December. Also on 28 November, Lukashenka told reporters that recent presidential elections in Belarus had "somewhat slowed down relations between the two states," but that "today there was a truly thorough analysis of our relations and we arrived at many conclusions." Putin added that he and Lukashenka discussed "almost the entire range of cooperation issues, including economic issues, military and military-technical cooperation, and foreign policy." JAC

ANOTHER PUTIN PAL FROM ST. PETERSBURG TO TRANSFER TO MOSCOW...
Aleksandr Nazarov, the deputy head of the Federation group in the Federation Council, announced on 28 November that his group is considering nominating Sergei Mironov, the speaker of St. Petersburg's legislative assembly, for the post of speaker of the Federation Council, RIA-Novosti reported. However, a final decision will not be made until the eve of the group's 4 December meeting. Valerii Goreglyad, the head of Federation, said the same day that consultations on the question are continuing and include the presidential administration. Goreglyad has also been touted as a possible nominee (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 November 2001). Mironov is considered a long-time ally of President Putin from the latter's tenure as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. JAC

...AS SKURATOV'S COMEBACK PROVES SHORT-LIVED
Members of Buryatia's legislative assembly voted on 28 November to repeal its resolution of 19 November appointing former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov as its representative to the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 28 November 2001). Legislators took the action in response to a protest by the republic's prosecutor, who charged that procedural violations had occurred during the vote confirming Skuratov. Skuratov told the agency that he will challenge the legislative assembly's latest decision in court. JAC

WRITER VIKTOR ASTAFYEV DIES
On 29 November, Viktor Astafyev died in Krasnoyarsk, agencies reported. He was hospitalized in April 2001 for a stroke and had remained extremely weak, losing his sight last week. Astafyev was born on May 1, 1924. As a representative of the Soviet rural writers of the 1960s, Astafyev mainly wrote on daily life in Siberian villages with the theme of World War II predominate in his novels and short stories. During perestroika, Astafyev turned to nationalist thinking. He was the author of "Shooting Star" (1962), "Blue Dusk" (1968), "The King-Fish" (1972, which won the Soviet state prize), "The Sad Detective" (1986), "Condemned and Killed," (1992), and "The Merry Soldier" (2000). Astafyev also published mainly short stories, which were reprinted in "Shepherd and Shepherdess" (1963-1990) and "The Last Bow" (1954-1992). Astafyev will be buried in his native village of Ovsyanka in Krasnoyarsk Krai. VC

SAKHA PRESIDENT GETS ANOTHER REPRIEVE
Supreme Court justices in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) again failed on 28 November to cancel incumbent Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev's registration in upcoming presidential elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). According to ITAR-TASS, the judges decided to once again transfer consideration of the issue to the Federal Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters in Moscow that there is no possibility of rescheduling the republic's 23 December presidential elections. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov also commented on the election situation in the republic, declaring that any attempts to foment interethnic strife during presidential elections "must be stopped from the very beginning." JAC

CREDITORS COUNCIL TO OVERSEE SAMARA FINANCING
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel told reporters on 28 November that during a recent conversation with Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, Titov spoke favorably about introducing external administration over the finances of the city of Samara, ntvru.com reported on 28 November. Samara Oblast Deputy Governor Viktor Kazakov announced in early November that the oblast authorities were taking over the finances of the city of Samara because of the city's excessively high level of indebtedness (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2001). The website cited Region-Inform as saying that a council of creditors for the city will soon be appointed to oversee the city's financial flows. JAC

CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD READY TO TALK WITH MILITANTS...
Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told Interfax on 28 November that he is not opposed to conducting peace talks, and is willing to speak with any representatives of the Chechen fighters, including radical field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab. "I have something to tell them and I am prepared to listen to them," Kadyrov said. Kadyrov had earlier ruled out any talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. LF

...DOUBTS BIN LADEN EN ROUTE TO CHECHNYA
Kadyrov also said on 28 November he considers it highly improbable that Osama bin Laden is en route to Chechnya as Russian media have claimed, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). Kadyrov described those reports as unserious. On 27 November, ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified senior Tajik border official as dismissing reports that Bin Laden was heading for Chechnya via Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as "incredible and fictional." It is hard to imagine experienced terrorists choosing such an incredibly difficult route, that source pointed out. LF

CHECHEN ENVOY BRIEFS FIELD COMMANDERS ON HIS TALKS WITH RUSSIAN REPRESENTATIVE
Akhmed Zakaev, an envoy to Chechen President Maskhadov's, met with field commanders at an undisclosed location in Chechnya on 25 November to brief them on his talks in Moscow one week earlier with presidential envoy to the Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 28 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 November 2001). Basaev and Vakha Arsanov did not attend the meeting but sent representatives. The field commanders expressed support for Maskhadov's initiatives to end hostilities in Chechnya. LF

FORMER SENIOR RUSSIAN OFFICIALS REFUSE TO TESTIFY AGAINST RADUEV
Former Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov and former Federal Security Service (FSB) head Mikhail Barsukov have informed the presiding judge that they are "too busy" to travel to Makhachkala to testify in the ongoing trial of Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, according to "Izvestiya" on 29 November. Raduev faces charges of terrorism, hostage-taking, and murder in connection with a raid he led in January 1996 on the town of Kizlyar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 November 2001). Kulikov and Barsukov were responsible for the abortive attempt to secure the release of the hostages without bloodshed. Thirteen hostages and 29 servicemen were killed when the Russian troops finally stormed the maternity hospital where the hostages were being held. LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER SAYS HE GAVE PUTIN ADVANCE WARNING OF INVASION OF DAGHESTAN
Turpal-Ali Atgeriev, one of Raduev's codefendants, has told the court in Makhachkala that in July 1999 that he telephoned Putin, who at that time headed the FSB, and warned him that field commanders Basaev and Khattab were planning an incursion into Daghestan, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 28 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 1999). LF

ARMENIAN GUNMAN UNREPENTANT OVER PREMIER'S MURDER
Karen Hunanian, who together with four accomplices was responsible for the murder in the Armenian parliament on 27 October 1999 of eight senior officials, told a court in Yerevan on 28 November that he does not regret having shot Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, whom he described as "a dictator and plunderer" responsible for the country's catastrophic situation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Echoing earlier statements by his elder brother Nairi, who led the gunmen, Karen Hunanian said that he considered a revolution and change of government imperative to prevent "the collapse of the state." LF

AZERBAIJANI POW CLAIMS HE WAS ORDERED TO KILL PRESIDENT'S SON
Mahammad Ocaqverdiev, an Azerbaijani who was taken prisoner by Armenian troops in June and recently released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2001), said that his captors offered him a "handsome reward" if he agreed to assassinate President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham and other prominent Azerbaijani political figures, according to ANS TV on 28 November, as cited by Groong. Ocaqverdiev and two other former prisoners also claimed that they were tortured while being held in an Armenian National Security Ministry prison, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLITICAL PARTY CLOSES NEWSPAPER THAT INSULTED FORMER PRESIDENT
Civic Solidarity party Chairman Sabir Rustamkhany ordered the closure of the party's eponymous newspaper on 28 November, four days after it published an article disparaging deceased former President Abulfaz Elchibey, Turan reported. Members of the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party that Elchibey headed picketed the Civic Solidarity party's headquarters on 28 November to protest the article. Elchibey's brother Almurad was quoted by "525-qazeti" on 27 November as saying that he will sue the paper for libel. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICER CADETS PROTEST COMMANDING OFFICER'S 'DESPOTISM'
Up to 100 officer cadets at Azerbaijan's Higher Military School began a protest several days ago against the "despotic" behavior of their commanding officer, Colonel Lankaran Aliev, according to "Azadlyq" on 27 November and "Ekho" of 28 November, as cited by Groong. A special commission has been formed to investigate their complaints. "Ekho" quoted an army captain as saying that Aliev is "experiencing problems in adjusting" his actions to NATO standards. LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS RUSSIAN AIR RAID...
The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 28 November protesting the bombing by Russian aircraft of districts in the northeast of the country and the Kodori gorge in northwest Georgia earlier that day, Caucasus Press reported. The statement characterizes the air raids as "open aggression against a sovereign neighbor state" and suggests they were intended to thwart the meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin scheduled to take place on 30 November on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Moscow. Shevardnadze and Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze have both advocated the creation of a joint commission to investigate the raids. LF

...AS MOSCOW ADMITS TO BOMBING SOUTHERN CHECHNYA
A spokesmen for the Russian forces in Chechnya said on 28 November that earlier that day Russian military aircraft bombarded regions of southern Chechnya in a bid to prevent Chechen fighters from making their way across the Russian border into Georgia, Interfax reported. That agency also quoted Russian military spokesmen as saying that fighting was underway in Georgia's Pankisi gorge between Chechen militants and Arab mercenaries, Interfax reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili rejected that report as "an invention of the Russian media." LF

FORMER GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS CHECHENS BRIBED SECURITY BODIES
In an interview with "Svobodnaya Gruziya" summarized on 28 November by Caucasus Press, former Georgian Interior Minister Shota Kviraya claimed that unnamed members of the Georgian Interior and Security Ministries accepted money from Chechen militants who planned to use the Pankisi gorge as their base. Also on 28 November, Georgian National Independence Party leader Irakli Tsereteli accused the Georgian Interior Ministry of embezzling the $3 million ransom collected by relatives of two Spanish businessmen abducted in eastern Georgia one year ago to secure their release, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT WITHDRAWS PROPOSED CANDIDATE FOR MINISTER OF STATE
President Shevardnadze withdrew on 28 November the candidacy of former Tax Revenues Minister Levan Dzneladze for the post of secretary of state, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 November 2001). Shevardnadze will submit an alternative proposal in two weeks time. LF

KAZAKH DISSIDENT CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESIGN, SUGGESTS POSSIBLE SUCCESSORS
President Nursultan Nazarbaev has neither the skills nor the moral right to remain in office and should resign, respected Kazakh dissident writer and historian Karishal Asanov told a press conference in Almaty on 28 November. Asanov named as possible candidates who should contend the ensuing preterm presidential poll former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, former Deputy Prime Minister Baltash Tursymbaev, former Atyrau Oblast Governor Ghaziz Aldamzharov, and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Amangeldy Tuleev. At present, however, the Kazakh Constitution bars persons who were not born in Kazakhstan from serving as president; Tuleev was born in the then Turkmen SSR and Tursymbaev and Aldamzharov in Russia. Asanov said that following the presidential poll the constitution should be amended to introduce a single-chamber parliament instead of the present bicameral legislature. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA SIGN AGREEMENTS ON GAS, BAIKONUR
During talks in Moscow on 28 November on the eve of the CIS summit, Kazakh Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov signed an agreement on the joint development of gas deposits and direct cooperation between Gazprom and its Kazakh counterpart to export that gas, Interfax reported. They also agreed that Moscow will pay part of its outstanding $65 million debt to Kazakhstan for the lease of the Baikonur cosmodrome by supplying Kazakhstan with aircraft (whether military, passenger, or transport is not clear). LF

KYRGYZSTAN READY TO MAKE AIRFIELDS AVAILABLE TO ANTITERRORIST COALITION
Responding to a request by France, Canada, and Italy for the use of air bases in Kyrgyzstan for the duration of the war in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2001), the Kyrgyz government decided on 28 November to offer the use of one base near Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan and a second in Kant in the north, Deputy Security Council Secretary-General Askarbek Mameev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 28 November. Mameev added, however, that neither base has modern equipment, and it is up to the countries in question to decide whether they are suitable. He said Bishkek's Manas airport would not be made available. "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" on 29 November reported that any decision on allowing foreign military aircraft to use the country's bases must be approved by the Kyrgyz parliament. LF

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT DELEGATION STOPS IN DUSHANBE EN ROUTE TO AFGHANISTAN
Russian officials headed by Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Yurii Brazhnikov held talks in Dushanbe on 28 November with international aid experts and Tajik government officials on ensuring the safe delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

BELARUSIAN KGB SUBMITS ANTITERRORIST BILL TO LEGISLATURE
The Chamber of Representatives on 28 November discussed on first reading a bill on combating terrorism submitted last week and prioritized as "urgent," which means that it should be tackled by legislators within 10 days after its submission, Belapan reported. Presenting the bill, KGB Deputy Chairman Valyantsin Nikitsin described Belarus as "one of the most stable post-Soviet states," but added that due to its geographical location and socioeconomic conditions, the country is "very attractive" to illegal migrants as a transit route to Western Europe. According to Nikitsin, up to 200,000 illegal aliens pass through Belarus every year. He added that they are chiefly people from Asia and Africa, where "the ideas of terrorism are rather popular." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER'S PARTY TO JOIN PRO-PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BLOC
Premier Anatoliy Kinakh said on 28 November that his Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs will join the For a United Ukraine election bloc, Interfax reported. He declined to say whether he himself will run in the parliamentary election on 31 March 2002. Meanwhile, Labor Ukraine leader Serhiy Tyhypko told UNIAN that For a United Ukraine has already selected five top candidates for its election list, adding that they include presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn and Premier Kinakh. Party of Regions leader Mykola Azarov told ICTV television the same day that Lytvyn is the list's No. 1, while Kinakh is No. 2 (see also "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). JM

U.S. OFFERS $200,000 TO UKRAINIAN REGIONAL PRESS...
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual and U.S. Assistance Coordinator for Europe and Eurasia William Taylor have announced a $200,000 assistance program to help improve the Internet capacity of Ukrainian regional print media, AP reported on 28 November. The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine said in a statement that the program opens a nationwide competition for local nongovernmental newspapers and seeks up to 25 winners. The program will fund new Internet connections or upgrade existing information websites, as well as cover the cost of new equipment, training, and online charges. JM

...AND WARNS OF SANCTIONS FOR FAILURE TO CURB CD PIRACY
Pascual on 28 November said Ukraine will face U.S. trade sanctions if the parliament fails to approve legislation aimed at combating piracy of compact discs by mid-December. The parliament failed to pass such a law in mid-November and is currently considering a new bill that was hastily submitted by the government. JM

RUSSIA WAITS FOR CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT IN ESTONIA
Secretary-General of the Estonian Independence Party (EIP) Vello Leito told a press conference in Tallinn on 28 November that during his recent visit to Moscow members of the Russian Duma hinted that the double customs duties Russia is imposing on imports from Estonia will not disappear before the next parliament elections, BNS reported. Russia first wants to see who will come to power in the state. Leito said that Boris Pastukhov, the chairman of the Duma CIS Committee, "came to understand that although Russia does not forbid Estonia to join NATO, Moscow does not remain indifferent to the establishment of NATO bases in Estonia." He said such an action "may reduce bilateral trade to zero." Pastukhov reportedly supported the EIP's position that Estonia should remain neutral between the European Union and Russia, and that the country's security should be ensured by negotiations between the United States, Russia, and Estonia. SG

LATVIA CLOSES THREE CHAPTERS IN EU ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS
Andris Kesteris, the head of Latvia's delegation for EU membership, announced that he closed three more chapters with the EU in Brussels on 28 November and that the country has completed 21 of the 31 chapters overall, LETA reported. The newly closed chapters were on the environment, competition, and financial control. The negotiations on environmental protection were among the most complicated, and Latvia was granted eight transition periods for introducing EU norms, the longest being until 2015 for adjusting the water supply sector. Latvia is among the first candidates to close the competition chapter, and EU representatives stressed Latvia's good preparedness for implementing European competition legislation and its success in introducing and monitoring norms of competition and state support for the business sector. In regard to the chapter on financial control, the EU praised the Latvian government for establishing an updated monitoring system for the flow of budget funding and its implementation. SG

LITHUANIA CLOSES THREE MORE CHAPTERS IN EU MEMBERSHIP TALKS
Lithuanian negotiators successfully completed the chapters on the free movement of labor, customs union, and competition in its EU membership negotiations in Brussels on 28 November, BNS reported. Delegation head Petras Austrevicius said he had reluctantly agreed to the maximum seven-year restriction on labor movement, but did obtain the right for Lithuania to impose similar measures on current and future EU member countries. Four EU countries -- Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden -- have announced that they will not place any labor restrictions on new EU states. In closing the customs union chapter, Lithuania agreed to improve its administration of import and export taxes, modernize its customs posts, and invest $12 million for improving the information communications system. Lithuania also agreed to ensure the efficient implementation of the state support mechanism and reinforce administrative capacities in the competition sector. Lithuania has now completed 21 of the 31 membership chapters, surpassing candidates Estonia and Slovakia (20 chapters each), and Poland (19). SG

POLISH RIGHTIST LAWMAKERS STOP WORK ON COMMISSION OVER HASSLE WITH FOREIGN MINISTER
Five deputies from the League of Polish Families (LPR) have suspended their participation in the work of the Sejm's European Integration Commission in protest against Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's recent presentation in Brussels of Poland's stance on land sales (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). "We do not consent to the existence of such a situation, where representatives of the European Union possess greater knowledge about the stance of the government of the Polish Republic on the matter of negotiations with the EU than does the Polish nation," the LPR deputies said in a statement. The same day, Roman Giertych of the LPR submitted to Sejm speaker Marek Borowski a motion to hold a vote of confidence in Cimoszewicz. According to Giertych, the motion was signed by some 100 deputies from the LPR, Self-Defense, and Law and Justice. JM

POLISH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SAYS LEGAL ACTIONS AGAINST LAWMAKERS POSSIBLE
Following a motion from the country's ombudsman, the Constitutional Tribunal on 28 November ruled that deputies can be brought to trial if legal proceedings against them started before their election to the parliament, PAP reported. The law on Sejm deputies and senators stipulates that legal proceedings against lawmakers should be suspended because they are protected by their parliamentary immunity. On the other hand, the constitution requires that the chamber should adopt a separate resolution suspending proceedings against a given deputy or senator. The Constitutional Tribunal agreed with the ombudsman's argument that if no such resolution was adopted, proceedings should be continued. The ruling means prosecutors and courts may pursue their actions against several deputies from the Self-Defense farmers union, including Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper. JM

POLISH CENTRAL BANK CUTS KEY INTEREST RATES
The Monetary Policy Council (RPP) has authorized the National Bank to lower three basic interest rates by 1.5 percent as of 29 November, Polish media reported on 28 November. The Lombard rate decreased to 15.5 percent, the discount rate to 14 percent, and the 28-day intervention rate to 11.5 percent. This is the sixth cut in the central bank's interest rates this year. "I am happy that the RPP lowered the interest rates; however, this is still not enough and I expect that a similar decision will be taken [soon]," Prime Minister Leszek Miller said. JM

POPE RECEIVES POLAND'S LAST COMMUNIST LEADER
Pope John Paul II on 26 November met with General Wojciech Jaruzelski, AP reported on 28 November. A Vatican spokesman said the Vatican did not announce the meeting beforehand and has no comment on it because it was strictly private. The meeting came during a break in Jaruzelski's trial in Warsaw on charges he issued an order allowing soldiers to fire on workers during anti-communist demonstrations in 1970. "I have not treated this visit as a life belt. Let courts and tribunals do their job," "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted Jaruzelski as saying. JM

GOVERNMENT TO SUPPORT PLANS TO ORGANIZE EXPO 2010 IN POLISH CITY
The government will support local authorities' bid to organize the World Exhibition EXPO 2010 in Wroclaw, southwestern Poland, PAP reported on 28 November. JM

POLAND DELAYS VISA CURBS FOR EASTERN NEIGHBORS
Chief EU negotiator Jan Truszczynski said in Brussels on 28 November that Poland will not meet its commitment to introduce EU-style visas for Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians in 2001 because the meager national budget cannot afford the costs that would be incurred in opening new consulates and hiring more diplomatic personnel. "The introduction of visas is an enormous task. In 2000, Poland was visited by 5.9 million Belarusians, 2.75 million citizens of Russia, and 6.1 million Ukrainians, while our consulates all over the world issued [only] 185,000 visas the same year," PAP quoted Truszczynski as saying. The agency said Poland's EU negotiators unofficially suggest that Warsaw will introduce visas for Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians in 2003, shortly before Poland's anticipated accession to the EU in 2004. JM

TEMELIN BACK ONLINE, COMPROMISE IN OFFING
The Temelin nuclear power plant resumed operation on 28 November, amid reports that the Czech Republic and Austria are close to ending their dispute over the controversial plant, CTK and international agencies reported. The plant has been shut down for four weeks due to the malfunctioning of a leaking pump, the latest in a series of mishaps that have plagued Temelin since it began operating in October 2000. Czech Premier Milos Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel are meeting in Brussels on 29 November to discuss the official ending of the so-called "Melk process" of assessing the plant's environmental impact. Earlier Czech and foreign reports said a compromise could be reached according to which the Czechs would partially rebuild the plant to meet standards similar to those of German plants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 November 2001). The Czech cabinet held an extraordinary meeting on 28 November and approved a "preliminary agreement" on Temelin's future drafted by Foreign Minister Jan Kavan. MS

CZECH MINISTER FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST 'RESPEKT'
Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr filed a lawsuit on 28 November against Petr Holub, the editor in chief of "Respekt," over the article in which the weekly last month accused the cabinet of corruption, CTK reported. The government filed its own suit earlier in the month. On 22 October, the cabinet decided that individual lawsuits should be filed by each minister against "Respekt," and Premier Zeman said at the time that the actions would "finally end the existence" of the weekly. Holub reacted by filing a countersuit. MS

SLOTA AGAIN VICTORIOUS IN SLOVAK COURT
The Supreme Court on 28 November heeded an appeal by the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) against the decision of another panel of Supreme Court judges not to register this new formation, which is headed by former Slovak National Party leader Jan Slota, CTK reported. The decision is final. The first panel's decision would have hindered the PSNS from running in the regional elections on 1 December, but that decision had already been suspended by the Constitutional Court last week. MS

HUNGARY TAKES LEAD IN EU ACCESSION TALKS
Hungary became the first EU candidate country to conclude talks on interior and judicial issues during its negotiations in Brussels, EU Ambassador Endre Juhasz, Hungary's chief negotiator, told reporters on 28 November. He said the closure of the chapters means the EU has confidence in the Hungarian judicial system, police, customs guards, and border guards. Interior Ministry Undersecretary Krisztina Berta confirmed that visas must be introduced for neighboring countries left out of the EU. Visas for the citizens of these countries, regardless of their ethnicity, will be introduced a few months prior to Hungary's joining of the EU. Hungary and Cyprus now head the list of candidates, each having closed 23 chapters in EU accession talks, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER REJECTS CALLS TO CHANGE STATUS LAW
Viktor Orban said in a letter to his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase that Hungary's Status Law does not need to be changed and will become effective as of 1 January 2002, as planned. Orban told Hungarian radio on 28 November that he was responding to a letter in which Nastase outlined his objections to the law. Slovakia has also called for changes to the law. Orban argued that the law does not have to be changed, as it is a "framework law," but he added that the government is prepared to discuss the implementation decrees and will strive to reach agreement on as many questions as possible with neighboring countries. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CALVINIST CHURCH CRITICIZES PRIEST'S ANTI-SEMITIC ARTICLE
The synod of the Hungarian Calvinist Church on 28 November declared that an anti-Semitic article written by pastor Lorant Hegedus Jr. is against the Gospel and incompatible with the Calvinist faith. Hegedus, a member of parliament and deputy chairman of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), wrote the article in September in an MIEP magazine distributed in Budapest's 16th district (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2001). The synod requested that the Dunamelleki Diocese, headed by Hegedus's father, Bishop Lorant Hegedus Sr., dissociate itself from the content of the article. The bishop described the procedure against his son as "dictatorial" and walked out of the meeting. The synod is expected to vote in favor of amending the church constitution to state that no pastor can be a member of a political party, and that pastors must suspend their church activity if they remain in politics. Hegedus Jr. said he will appeal to the Constitutional Court if the synod votes to suspend him. MSZ

SERBIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE: MLADIC IS IN BELGRADE
The president of the NGO Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Sonja Biserko, said in Belgrade on 28 November that indicted war criminal General Ratko Mladic "has frequently been seen in Belgrade in recent days...and there are witnesses to this," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. She added that Mladic has been seen on the streets, in cafes, and at sporting events. Biserko argued that the government's "ignorant" policy and refusal to acknowledge requests from The Hague to extradite Mladic and three officers implicated in the 1991 Vukovar massacres has led many foreigners to wonder what kind of people really won the 5 October 2000 elections. Her observation appears to substantiate recent charges by The Hague's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, that Mladic is living in Serbia under the protection of the Yugoslav army and authorities headed by President Vojislav Kostunica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). PM

HAGUE OFFICIAL SAYS YUGOSLAV AUTHORITIES PROTECT MLADIC
Graham Blewitt, who is Del Ponte's deputy, said in The Hague on 28 November that Mladic is living in Belgrade under "the full protection" of the authorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Blewitt added that Radovan Karadzic, who is one of the other most-wanted war criminals, lives primarily in the Republika Srpska and travels frequently to Serbia and Montenegro. The deputy prosecutor said that General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the General Staff and commanded Serbian forces in Kosova in 1999, is under investigation by the tribunal, as is General Sreten Lukic, who is Pavkovic's police counterpart. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT DENIES DEL PONTE'S CHARGES...
Speaking in London on 28 November, Kostunica denied Del Ponte's accusations, adding that the tribunal has indicted many people from Serbia's political and military leadership, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. He stated that he "can say with complete certainty that [Mladic] is not being protected by the army." The broadcast noted that cooperation with The Hague has dominated the Yugoslav delegation's talks with British officials. After meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair on 29 November, Kostunica criticized The Hague for investigating Pavkovic and Lukic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Kostunica stressed that such a move could adversely affect "stability" in his country, as well as its relations with Western countries. He previously said that the tribunal is blowing issues out of proportion and applying what he called "selective truth." Plans were going ahead for Kostunica to meet with Queen Elizabeth II later in the day. PM

...AND TALKS OF KOSOVA
Speaking in London on 28 November, Kostunica stressed the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 regarding Kosova, which states that it is part of Yugoslavia, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. He later told students that his country has three problems: relations between Serbia and Montenegro, Kosova, and cooperation with The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. (It is not clear why he did not stress crime, corruption, or the legacies of four lost wars.) Kostunica argued that "no border" should be changed in the Balkans lest the change set off an unstoppable process of fragmentation. Observers note that Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants nothing more to do with Belgrade, but that UN civilian administration head Hans Haekkerup recently reaffirmed Belgrade's claim to a role in the affairs of the province (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 November 2001). PM

BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY PRAISES SERBIAN RECORD
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told his Yugoslav visitors in London on 28 November that Belgrade has cooperated with The Hague, praising the extradition of former President Slobodan Milosevic in June, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Straw apparently did not mention that the Serbian authorities -- not the Yugoslav ones -- extradited Milosevic, and that Kostunica criticized the move. PM

SERBIAN DIPLOMAT SAYS 'NO PROBLEM'
Speaking in New York on 28 November, Yugoslav Ambassador to the UN Dejan Sahovic said he does not believe that Del Ponte's charges will adversely affect Belgrade's international position, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. PM

VIOLENCE TO RETURN TO SOUTHERN SERBIA?
The BBC reported from the Presevo Valley area on 29 November that local ethnic Albanians say that promised changes have not come to the region. One public official argued that violence could erupt again if Milosevic-era officials are not replaced in free and fair elections. Some farmers complained that police treat them abusively and, in one case, confiscated a man's cattle and had them slaughtered. PM

SERBIAN GENERAL SAYS 'NO COMMENT'
Speaking in Belgrade, General Pavkovic said of the charges from The Hague that he "does not comment on such statements," Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported on 29 November. The broadcast noted that many leading commentators and politicians have been discussing exactly how to define cooperation with the tribunal. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN CROATS END LEGISLATIVE BOYCOTT
Deputies belonging to the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) returned on 28 November to their seats in the parliament of the Croat-Muslim federation, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The move ends a boycott by nationalists that began in March. PM

ALBANIANS CELEBRATE FLAG DAY
Ethnic Albanians across the Balkans celebrated Flag Day on 28 November, which is Albania's day of independence, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Prishtina. At least 30,000 people attended a ceremony in the Kosovar capital, at which a statue of the national hero Skanderbeg was dedicated. The commemorations passed peacefully, except in the Macedonian town of Tetovo, where one Macedonian civilian was injured in the celebratory gunfire traditional in much of the Balkans. In communist Yugoslavia, the ethic Albanians in Kosova used the Albanian flag -- a double-headed black eagle on a red background -- as their official symbol. PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT IN PREPARATION
Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said in Skopje on 28 November that he expects his new government to be formed by 3 December, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. He added that he will take over the foreign affairs portfolio until the new minister is named. Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Krstevski will also serve as defense minister during that time. PM

FIRST JOINT BOSNIAN POLICE EXERCISE ENDS
Some 25 special police from the federation, 29 from the Republika Srpska, and 445 troops from SFOR ended a six-day exercise named Joint Resolve near Tuzla on 28 November, dpa reported. The exercise is the first one uniting the former enemies of the 1992-1995 war and was aimed at preparing for incidents of civilian unrest. PM

SLOVENIA, CROATIA TO SHELVE BORDER ISSUE?
Slovenian President Milan Kucan and Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 28 November that the decade-old dispute over their common border should not serve as a barrier to solving other problems, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2001). The broadcast noted that relations between Ljubljana and Zagreb are currently probably better than at any time since the two countries declared independence in June 1991. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN FRANCE
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, on a three-day visit to France, met on 28 November with his French counterpart Lionel Jospin, Romanian and international media reported. They discussed the current "political partnership" between their countries, bilateral economic relations, and the process of EU and NATO enlargement. Jospin said that at the NATO 2002 summit in Prague his country will back Romania's candidacy, and that Romania can be an important factor in strengthening NATO's southeastern tier. Jospin also said France will continue to support Romania's EU bid. Nastase thanked Jospin for the support and said he is aware of the fact that Romania still has "lots of problems" to solve before it can qualify for EU membership. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE LIFTS PRM LEADER'S IMMUNITY
The Senate on 29 November lifted the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, Mediafax reported. Of the 90 senators who were present, 88 voted in favor of lifting the immunity and two voted against. The PRM parliamentary group boycotted the vote. Justice Minster Rodica Stanoiu addressed the Senate before the vote, accusing Tudor of "dissemination of false information" that damaged the country's image abroad when he alleged that Romania had trained Palestinian Hamas terrorists. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS 'EXAGGERATIONS' FUELED TRANSYLVANIAN DISPUTE...
Ion Iliescu said on 28 November that statements made regarding the alleged "loss of state authority" in Harghita and Covasna counties were exaggerated, and that "both sides" were wrong to overreact, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said there is no interethnic conflict in the two counties "when it comes to simple folk," as ethnic Hungarians, who are in majority there, and ethnic Romanians "understand each other." But he added that "politicians often make things worse." Also on 28 November, Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca said that the government will respond to the recent letter received from Hungarian Premier Orban (see Hungarian item above) making it clear that the Status Law will "under no circumstances" be applied on Romanian territory, Mediafax reported. MS

...BUT ETHNIC HUNGARIANS ARE ALSO UPSET
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko on 28 November described UDMR Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes as "schizophrenic," Mediafax reported. In an interview with the Hungarian-language daily "Romaniai Magyar Szo," Marko said Toekes "cannot be normal" if he is UDMR honorary chairman and at the same time makes harsh anti-UDMR declarations. Not only is such an attitude "undemocratic, but it is a parody of democracy," Marko said. Last week, Bishop Toekes led a demonstration of his supporters in the Transylvanian town of Targu Secuiesc against the UDMR decision to suspend eight local councilors belonging to the Pro Odorhei Civic Organization (ACPO) from membership on the grounds that the organization has not been legally constituted. The Odorheiul Secuiesc local council, in which the UDMR holds a majority, has nullified the election of the eight ACPO councilors who competed against the UDMR in the local elections. Marko also criticized UDMR Targu Secuiesc Mayor Jeno Szasz for making declarations against the formations of which he is a member. MS

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO MOLDOVA OUTLINES FURTHER EVACUATION OF ARSENAL
Pavel Petrovskii told journalists in Chisinau on 28 November that in the first half of 2002 Russia will withdraw some 12,000 tons of ammunition and light weapons, out of the 42,000 tons that are still stockpiled in the separatist region, Infotag reported. Petrovskii said the first trainload carrying this equipment will leave as early as December this year. He also said that 26,000 tons will be recycled on the site at a special plant that is under construction and financed by the OSCE. Petrovskii said the Russian contingent in Transdniester will be "gradually" reduced from the current 2,500 to 1,600 men while the remaining military equipment is dispatched to Russia. He said he "categorically denies" rumors that Russia is considering setting up a permanent military base in Transdniester, saying this is "out of the question, whether in the near or the remote future." Petrovskii said Russia will open a consulate in Tiraspol, but will do so only with Chisinau's consent, as "Russia strictly abides by observing the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Moldova." The opening of the consulate, he added, does not "signify recognition of the Transdniester," but is rather a "normal phenomenon" since "our ministry opens consular offices wherever Russian citizens abroad live in compact numbers." MS

TIRASPOL BANS RTR
Separatist "Information Minister" Boris Akulov told Infotag on 28 November that the authorities in Tiraspol have banned any future access of journalists working for the Russian RTR television station and that the ban will stay in force until RTR "officially apologizes" for having aired on 25 November the report considered by Tiraspol as "libelous" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 November 2001). MS

FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER IN BULGARIA
Visiting French Defense Minister Alain Richard told journalists at a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Nikolai Svinarov on 28 November that "France is determined to support Bulgaria's accession to NATO and would like to see a decision in this sense made at the Prague [NATO] summit next year," BTA reported. Richard also met with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and with Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi. He refused to speculate on Bulgaria's actual chances of joining NATO. The two defense ministers also discussed European joint defense policy, military reforms in the Bulgarian army, and the international struggle against terrorism. Richard said that the Common European Security and Defense policy currently being forged "is already open to EU candidate countries, and they are invited to contribute military resources." MS

DATE SET FOR POPE'S 2002 VISIT TO BULGARIA
Foreign Minister Pasi announced on 28 November that the planned visit to Bulgaria by Pope John Paul II will take place between 23 and 25 May 2002, international agencies reported. Pasi spoke after meeting in Sofia with Monsignor Renato Boccardo, who is in charge of Vatican protocol. Boccardo said the pontiff is scheduled to meet the heads of all religious communities in Bulgaria, including Bulgarian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish leaders. Boccardo also met with Patriarch Maxim, who later reconfirmed that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church "has not and will not invite the pope," but added that the church will "show the traditional Bulgarian hospitality if he visits." The pope will visit at the invitation of President Petar Stoyanov. MS

BULGARIAN SECURITY SERVICE CHIEF EXPLAINS RESIGNATION
"The main reason why I have tendered my resignation as director of the National Security Service is the low confidence in the service I commanded and in myself displayed by the institutions that determine national security policies," BTA quoted Major General Atanas Atanasov as saying on 28 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). He said the resignation tendered the previous day to President Stoyanov will "allow decision-makers to make their choice." He said that his position as head of the service prevented him from reacting to "unfair and false accusations against myself and my family" made in the media and by politicians, since "I did not have the right to react." Atanasov's name was mentioned in the media in connection with several scandals involving surveillance of politicians, but proof has never been produced. It has also been alleged that he and his family have large accounts in foreign banks. Former Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev accused Atanasov of "servility" to the former cabinet headed by Ivan Kostov, and claimed that under Atanasov the National Security Service has become a "business office running political errands." President-elect Georgi Parvanov, a longtime critic of Atanasov, said the resignation was "necessary but belated." MS

MASS GRAVES FROM THE COMMUNIST PAST HAUNT SLOVENIA'S PRESENT


A small, gravel road in central Slovenia ends abruptly at an abandoned mine shaft. Behind its steel door lie the victims of political purges carried out after World War II. Located near the aptly named village of Huda Jama ("bad cave"), a memorial chapel was erected at the site in 1997. After its dedication, unknown persons defaced the chapel and scrawled slogans on its walls, including "death to traitors." According to Franc Perme, the president of the Society for the Regulation of Suppressed Graves, renovation is not feasible at this time. The society, which has erected two other chapels to postwar victims, has received threats that any renovation will be countered by blowing up the chapel.

Recent media attention has heightened discussion of the approximately 100 postwar mass graves in Slovenia. Ironically, most of the dead are probably not Slovenes, but Croats and Germans. The latter are mainly persons who were not able to retreat quickly enough from Yugoslav territory at the end of the war. The former are largely Croatian Ustasha troops who had escaped to Austria but were forcibly repatriated by the British Army along with Slovene Domobranci (home guard) troops. As Yugoslavia's northernmost republic, Slovenia was simply their first -- and last -- stop on the journey back.

Estimates of the number of dead vary widely. Tine Velikonja, the president of the New Slovene Union, which is composed of 700 former Domobranci or their family members, said the organization has collected the names of 8,250 Slovenes executed after the war, both soldiers and civilians. The Slovene Institute for Modern History estimates the total number of postwar victims at 12,000, whereas Croatian estimates range as high as 60,000 to 100,000. In any case, the numbers are high. Seventy meters of a 3-kilometer antitank ditch near Maribor -- recently excavated during highway construction -- yielded 1,179 skeletons alone. Velikonja estimates that 30,000 may be interred there altogether.

Slovenia's coming to grips with its mass graves is not an isolated phenomenon in Central and Eastern Europe. Russians are still coping with Soviet responsibility for the 1940 massacre of Polish officers at Katyn, while Poles are struggling with their role in the 1941 massacre of Jews at Jedwabne. The recent vandalism at the Kurapaty mass grave in Belarus recalls the vandalism at Huda Jama. Other atrocities -- such as the postwar killings of Hungarians in Serbian Vojvodina or the thousands who perished in postwar Soviet concentration camps in East Germany -- often remain primarily local stories.

There are reasons for the lack of public enthusiasm for addressing the issue in Slovenia. As elsewhere in former Yugoslavia, two generations grew up playing their own version of cops and robbers -- Partisans and fascists -- and accusations that tarnish the previously unassailable images of their childhood heroes are not welcomed. In a 22 October article in the weekly "Mladina," Bernard Nezmah argued that the graves testify to several troubling facts: not only did the communists secretly execute their opponents and hide the corpses, but the absence of any valuables in the graves brands the Partisan executioners as thieves. Moreover, from 1945 to 1990 the Slovenian authorities imposed a silence regarding the killings.

Addressing the issue not only concerns national reconciliation, but also has practical ramifications, such as the issuing of death certificates. Years of calls for government action have met with a slow response. However, on 21 November the daily "Delo" reported plans for a special working group to deal with the graves, and the following day the government adopted an official statement expressing its regret on the issue. On All Souls' Day this year, President Milan Kucan commemorated both sides in the war by laying a wreath in Ljubljana's central cemetery and later visiting two mass graves. In a similar gesture, the president of the National Assembly, Borut Pahor, laid wreathes at the Teharje mass grave of postwar victims near Celje as well as at a memorial to the victims of fascism.

Meanwhile, nongovernmental commemoration of the dead is much in evidence. On 7 October, 3,000 people gathered for a memorial service at Teharje. Long a chemical waste-dumping area, part of the site is now covered by an illegally built golf course. Similar commemorations took place throughout Slovenia, particularly on 1 November.

Nonetheless, efforts to defame the postwar victims persist. The sentiments expressed by the vandals at Huda Jama are not isolated, and Slovenian society appears unlikely to reach any consensus on the issue soon.

In the meantime, the scattered graves lie mostly untended and, at least officially, unrecognized. A thought penned by Mark Twain in 1875 still has resonance in Slovenia today: "The community that can stand such graveyards...can stand anything a body can say about the neglected and forsaken dead that lie in them."Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate based in Ljubljana (dreindl@indiana.edu).

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