RUSSIA, U.S. MAY REACH COMPROMISE ON IRAQ
Talks at the UN concerning expanding the list of goods that can be supplied to Iraq are making substantial progress and an agreement appears likely by the time of the 23-26 May summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March. According to an unidentified source within the Russian mission, the talks "are proceeding in a constructive spirit, although there are still outstanding issues," the news agency reported. A third round of talks is to be held in Moscow on 27-28 March. The key issue is the improvement of the UN's "oil for food" program with Iraq and the expansion of the list of goods that can be supplied to the country without the approval of the UN Sanctions Committee. RC
VDOVIN CONTINUES SHUTTLE DIPLOMACY
Russia's special envoy to the Middle East, Andrei Vdovin, was in Cairo on 22 March for talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, Western and Russian news agencies reported. "We have discussed ways of consolidating the initial signs of easing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and of moving on toward dialogue," Vdovin was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying. Vdovin continued to express Russia's support for Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's recent peace initiative, saying that a settlement to the conflict "could be founded on the proposal," according to ITAR-TASS. Vdovin was in Saudi Arabia immediately prior to flying to Egypt. RC
ON SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF ADVENT TO POWER, PUTIN REMAINS POPULAR
According to a poll carried out by the Public Opinion Fund on the eve of the second anniversary of Putin's election as president on 26 March, 59 percent of Russians say that they are not disappointed in their president, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 March. Sixty-one percent of the 1,500 respondents from all regions of Russia agreed that, on balance, Putin has had more successes than failures. Just 13 percent believe that he has had more failures than successes. Asked to name Putin's achievements, 29 percent of respondents mentioned his social policy, 10 percent named his foreign policy, and 5 percent named his domestic policy. VY
DUMA DEFENSE COMMITTEE HEAD SAYS MILITARY REFORM NOT YET UNDER WAY
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, the head of the Duma's Defense Committee, Andrei Nikolaev, said that reform in the army has not yet begun and that neither the Defense Ministry nor the General Staff have a clear concept of what kind of reform is needed, "Kommersant-Daily" and RosBalt reported on 21 March. He said that the measures put forth as reform so far were merely imitations and have no underlying logic. The situation regarding modernizing the armed forces' weaponry is even worse, Nikolaev continued. In terms of the production of modern military hardware, Russia lags behind the United States by five to 12 years, and within the next few years, this gap will become insurmountable, Nikolaev said. He claimed that 80 percent of the state armaments program adopted last year consists of things that the defense industry managed to lobby for rather than what the military actually needs. VY
DUMA CALLS ON KASYANOV TO REPORT ON BUDGET
The Duma has invited Prime Minster Mikhail Kasyanov to report on the execution of the 2002 budget on 15 May, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March. The invitation comes at the initiative of the Fatherland-All Russia faction, which has been calling for increased parliamentary control over the federal budget. Kasyanov is expected to report on the fulfillment of the budget during the first quarter of the year, as well as to comment on the general economic situation. RC
CHUBAIS SAYS HE WILL TEAR DOWN THE 'ENERGY IRON CURTAIN'
In Warsaw on 21 March, the chief of the Unified Energy Systems (EES), Anatolii Chubais, and the president of Eurelectric, Rolf Bierhoff, signed a protocol on cooperation in unifying the electrical standards of the European Union and Russia, RosBalt reported the same day. "Today the technological frontier between national electrical systems corresponds to the former border of the Soviet Union, and this Cold War-era technological barrier should be dismantled," Chubais was quoted as saying. The planned unification of the Russian and European electrical grids will facilitate the creation of a stable continental system from the Baltic Sea to Central Asia and from the Atlantic coast to the Urals, added "Vremya MN" on 21 March. VY
RUSSIA CONSIDERS SHARING WATER RESOURCES WITH CENTRAL ASIA
Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Valerii Roshchupkin announced that several Central Asian states have expressed serious interest in possibly resurrecting the scheme first debated in the 1990s to reroute excess water from Siberia's Ob and Irtysh rivers to their territories, RosBalt reported on 21 March. These countries realize that only Russia is capable of providing them with the reserves of fresh water that they need, he said. Roshchupkin noted that the Ob and Irtysh regions regularly suffer from flooding and that Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan could divert up to 200 cubic kilometers of water per year. However, he warned that the environmental impact of any such project would have to be seriously studied and that enormous financial resources would have to be mobilized. VY
KASYANOV SEEKS TO RETURN SOME TROPHY ART TO GERMANY
Prime Minister Kasyanov has asked Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi to draft a federal law on the restitution of some cultural artifacts removed from Germany by the Soviets following World War II, gazeta.ru reported on 21 March. Although the draft law would only concern the stained-glass panels removed from the Church of St. Maria in Frankfurt, which are presently kept in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, it could set a precedent if adopted by the Duma and signal a change in Moscow's long-standing opposition to returning artistic treasures to Germany, the website noted. VY
RUSSIA, JAPAN FAIL TO REACH COMPROMISE ON CONTRABAND
Russian-Japanese talks on combating the trade in contraband marine products opened in Tokyo on 20 March and are moving extremely slowly, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 March. Moscow accuses Tokyo of allowing illegal Russian fishing vessels to use its ports in order to bring contraband goods to the Japanese market. In addition, a general climate of political mistrust is forming an obstacle to mutual understanding, gazeta.ru reported. VY
JAPAN TO CHARGE RUSSIAN WITH ESPIONAGE
Japanese police on 22 March began the process of charging a former Russian official with espionage for trying to obtain classified information from a Japanese defense contractor, Western and Russian news agencies reported. According to Japan's Kyodo News agency, the Russian was identified as Aleksei Shchelkonogov, and some local news sources identified him as a member of Russia's military intelligence arm, the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). "[The man] asked...in October 1999 for classified information on manuals on radar-guided missiles and infrared-guided missiles," a police spokesman was quoted as saying by AFP. According to Japanese news reports, the manuals had been provided to Japan by the United States. The authorities did not identify the company involved, saying only that the incident took place in Tokyo. No classified information was handed over to the Russian. ITAR-TASS reported that Shchelkonogov, a former official with the Russian trade mission, is not currently in Japan. The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the charges as a provocation intended to prevent closer cooperation between the two countries. RC
UNION OF ARMENIANS HOLDS CONGRESS
The second congress of the Union of Armenians of Russia opened in Moscow on 22 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Union President Ara Abrahamian told the news agency that the congress would discuss ways of intensifying contacts between Russia and Armenia and the education of young Armenians. Over the last 18 months, the union has created branches in all 89 regions of Russia, 62 of which are represented by delegates at the congress. Armenian communities in Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, France, and the United States also sent delegates. The union incorporates around 2.5 million ethnic Armenians living in the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2000). RC
INTERIOR MINISTRY TO PUBLISH ENCYCLOPEDIA FOR ITS 200TH ANNIVERSARY
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry (MVD) announced on 21 March that a group of researchers headed by Major General Vladimir Nekrasov has prepared for publication an encyclopedia entitled "Russia's MVD. Two Hundred Years," RosBalt reported the same day. The 1,200-page book is entirely devoted to the history of Russia's largest and oldest law enforcement agency, which as far back as tsarist times not only dealt with internal security, but also ran the post office, highways, health institutions, construction enterprises, and the meteorological service. During the Stalin era, the agency was not only an integral part of the system of Soviet oppression, but it also supervised a number of branches of the state machine, including the Soviet nuclear program. The new encyclopedia, which will be published this fall, also contains biographical information of all 62 men who served as the head of the agency from Count Viktor Kochubei to current Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov. VY
PUTIN DROPS IN ON KRASNOYARSK KRAI...
President Putin visited the city of Norilsk on 21 March and toured the Oktyabrskii mine, and afterward flew to Krasnoyarsk, "Izvestiya" reported the same day. Officially, the purpose of the trip was to discuss social and economic problems in Krasnoyarsk Krai, but according to the daily and the pro-Kremlin website, strana.ru, a likely additional topic is the desire of Norilsk authorities to have their tax revenues flow to the Taimyr Autonomous Okrug rather than to the krai (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 and 20 March 2002). The company's taxes provide about 70 percent of Krasnoyarsk Krai's revenues, but the plant has been increasingly diverting its taxes to the Taimyr region since its chief, Alexander Khloponin, was elected the region's governor last year, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC/RC
...AS REGIONAL LEADERS SEE HIM AS A MEDIATOR
Unidentified sources told "Izvestiya" and "Kommersant-Daily" that regional leaders would very much like to involve Putin in the conflict as an arbiter; however, he does not intend to get very deeply involved in the matter but may "stress this or that aspect" of this issue. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed will face re-election this year should he chose to run again. Meanwhile, strana.ru notes that Norilsk's problem is not unique. Moscow and Moscow Oblast have been arguing over Sheremetevo, while Astrakhan Oblast and Kalmykia also have conflicts over various settlements. JAC
...AS KREMLIN 'FIXER' STOPS BY UFA
Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov met a high-level delegation headed by deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov at the airport in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, on 21 March, "Izvestiya" reported that day. Surkov, who was accompanied by Unified Russia General Council Chairman Aleksandr Bespalov, had just visited Kazan (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 March 2002). According to the daily, Rakhimov and Surkov discussed the process of harmonizing the republic's legislation and constitution with the federal laws, and it concluded that the likely intention of Surkov's visit was to persuade Bashkortostan's leaders to give up their claims of sovereignty and to renounce the earlier-negotiated power-sharing agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). However, Surkov said his visit had only one purpose: "I want to discuss the State Duma elections in 2003." JAC
REGIONAL, BUSINESS INTERESTS MERGE...
"Parlamentskaya gazeta" argues in an article on 21 March that as regional economies are improving and Russian business decision-making becomes concentrated not just in Moscow, industrialists are becoming politicians. According to the daily, there is active rotation of staff between the economic and political "circles" of power. It notes that the head of the Taimyr Autonomous Okrug is former Norilsk Nickel head Kholoponin, while the head of Evenk Autonomous Okrug is a former Yukos executive. In addition, politics in many regions is becoming focused on questions of economic interaction between the top financial industrial groups. For example, Irkutsk Oblast politicians have to try to find a balance between the interests of Yukos, Russian Aluminum, MDM-Group, and Tyumen Oil Company. And in Krasnoyarsk Krai, the competing forces are Norilsk Nickel, Russian Aluminum, MDM-Group, Rusneft, and Mezhprombank. JAC
...AS SHOWDOWN LOOMS IN LIPETSK
In Lipetsk, according to the daily, a battle is looming between the older generation of politicians headed by the current governor, Oleg Korolev, and the leadership of the largest plant in the region, Novolipetsk Metallurgical Company. Vladimir Lisin, the head of the company, signed a "cooperation agreement" with Korolev last month not to participate in upcoming gubernatorial elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). JAC
LEGISLATION BEING DRAFTED TO CREATE LARGER REGIONS
Legislation is being prepared in Russia's Federal Assembly that would create an association of two-four regions in central Russia, Interfax reported on 21 March, citing unidentified sources in Yaroslavl Oblast. The legislation is based on a proposal of Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn to create such a group based on the principle of "strong plus the weak." Lisitsyn said the idea is to assist economically weak regions in the central district. The governor does not believe his idea should be extended to the very large territories in Siberia or the Far East or to the ethnic republics. JAC
FAR NORTHERN NEWSPAPER SEIZED AS ELECTION NEARS...
On the eve of legislative elections in Murmansk Oblast, the entire print run of the opposition newspaper "Nord Vest Kurer" has been seized, RFE/RL's Russian service reported on 20 March. The newspaper contained a story accusing one candidate, Sergei Gabrielyan, of corruption and illegal campaign practices. This is the second seizure that the newspaper has experienced. According to pravda.ru, Gabrielyan is suspected of buying votes for 200 rubles ($6.41) each. Renata Karchaa, the newspaper's editor in chief, told the website that authorities do not object so much to the fact that the newspaper reported about the unscrupulousness of one of the candidates, but the way in which this was done. "Our newspaper tries to analyze what is happening in the oblast," and this is what the authorities don't like, she said. JAC
...AS FAR EASTERN TV STATION FORCED TO RELOCATE
The TV company Alfa-Channel was forced to leave its office in Blagoveshchensk on 11 March, strana.ru reported on 21 March. Amur Oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov told local reporters that while he is not delighted that such methods were used, he believes that this company's forced relocation was merely the result of an economic dispute. However, local journalists in Amur Oblast believe that while it appears to be an economic dispute, it was really an attempt by oblast authorities to give short shrift to an authoritative, independent mass media company, and should be considered an infringement of free speech. JAC
SCHOLARS TO SEE NEW FINDS FROM WRITER SHUKSHIN
A conference dedicated to the work of writer Vasilii Shukshin opened in Altai State University in Barnaul on 21 March, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Philologists from all over Russia are participating and some 60 reports on various aspects of his work will be given. Scholars will also get to see a unique archive of diaries, lectures abstracts, and drafts of Shukshin's articles for a raion newspaper that two children in a village in Altai Krai discovered while playing in the attic of the house where Shukshin once lived. Previously, Shukshin's family archive was considered lost. JAC
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
A competition for the best babushka began on 21 March in Kalmykia, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Seven grandmothers along with their grandsons and granddaughters are participating in the contest, which was initiated by Kalmykia's president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. The grandchildren had sent in essays to local newspapers about their grandmothers. The winning babushka will be named at a festival in which artists, musicians, and the runners-up babushkas will participate. According to the agency, each kindergarten and middle school in the republic has a staff babushka, who helps children with schoolwork, tell stories, and explain the traditions and customs of the Kalmyk people. JAC
PACE OFFICIAL SAYS PEACE TALKS WITHOUT CHECHEN PRESIDENT POINTLESS
In a 21 March interview with "Ekho Moskvy," Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation head Lord Frank Judd affirmed that any attempt to exclude Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov from the search for a political solution to the Chechen war is doomed to failure, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. It is not clear whether Judd was alluding to the new Chechen Public Consultative Council established under the auspices of the State Duma-PACE working group on Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 11, 21 March 2002). Judd also drew attention to the huge discrepancy between the number of reported human rights violations in Chechnya and the number of criminal cases opened against the alleged perpetrators. Russian presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii complained that Judd's assessment of the situation is at odds with the facts, while Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the Duma's International Relations Committee, accused him of "playing political games," Interfax reported. Yastrzhembskii also said that Russia will not condone the creation of an international war crimes tribunal for Chechnya analogous to that for Yugoslavia, Interfax reported. LF
SERZHEN-YURT SWEEP ENDS AS ONE IN GROZNY GETS UNDERWAY
Russian troops ended their search operation in Serzhen Yurt, southeast of Grozny, on 21 March and withdrew the armored vehicles that cordoned off the village on 18 March, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). Also on 21 March, Russian forces launched a major security operation in Grozny in preparation for a meeting between Chechen government officials and Russian Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin. LF
RUSSIA CLAIMS TO HAVE THWARTED CHECHEN ATTEMPT TO ACQUIRE NUKES
One of three Chechens detained on 21 March in Sverdlovsk was found to have a bona-fide permit to the closed city of Lesnoy where nuclear warheads for Russian missiles are produced, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 March. An investigator told the paper that the man's father is a former army serviceman who had lived for some time in Lesnoy. The Chechens allegedly had in their possession quantities of weapons, some of which they were trying to sell, and uncut gems. LF
MINISTER INJURED IN SHOOTING IN INGUSHETIA
Justice Minister and Deputy Premier Movlat-Girey Dzagiev was hospitalized with leg injuries on 21 March after unknown attackers opened fire on him from behind as he was waiting outside his home in Malgobek for his official car, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Dzagiev was appointed to the post of justice minister (which he held in 1994) only two weeks ago, but he has already fired senior officials appointed by his predecessor, Kazbek Chapanov. Dzagiev and Chapanov support rival candidates for the presidential election scheduled for 7 April. LF
ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS U.S.
On a working visit to Washington, Serzh Sarkisian held talks on 20 and 21 March with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Lincoln Bloomfield, according to Noyan Tapan and Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Issues discussed included the situation in the South Caucasus, U.S.-Armenian military-political cooperation, and U.S. military assistance to Armenia. LF
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT ENDORSES 'ENTERPRISES FOR DEBTS' SWAP WITH RUSSIA
The Armenian government formally approved on 21 March a list of five state-run enterprises that are to be transferred to Russian control in part or total payment of Armenia's $94 million debt to Russia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They are the Hrazdan thermal power station (Armenia's largest), a Yerevan electronics factory, and three research institutes formally subordinate to the Soviet military-industrial complex. The "enterprises for debt" deal was agreed in principle during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Yerevan last September and finalized in December during negotiations with then-Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2001 and 3 January 2002). LF
ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER AGAIN REJECTS AZERBAIJAN'S CLAIM TO NAGORNO-KARABAKH...
Addressing a session of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 21 March, Vartan Oskanian again argued that "Azerbaijan's legal claim to Nagorno-Karabakh is deficient." He pointed out that in 1920 the League of Nations refused to recognize Azerbaijan's claim to sovereign control over territory that included the present unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and on that basis rejected Azerbaijan's application for membership. He added that Nagorno-Karabakh's secession from Azerbaijan in 1991 was conducted in compliance with existing Soviet law. "Azerbaijan cannot base its claim on Nagorno Karabagh on Soviet laws and acts, while simultaneously denying the validity of the Soviet constitution in providing for foreseen mechanisms for the independence of Nagorno Karabagh from Azerbaijan, mechanisms that were scrupulously followed by the people of Nagorno Karabagh," Oskanian said. He also expressed Armenia's profound appreciation for the ongoing efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. LF
...AS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO WIN IT BACK
In a 21 March address to the nation on the occasion of Norouz, the Persian New Year, President Heidar Aliev assured the Azerbaijani people that "occupied Azerbaijani lands will be liberated, Azerbaijan's state independence will be restored, and our fellow citizens, refugees, will return to their permanent places of residence," AP reported. LF
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY ACCUSES GEORGIA OF PREPARING FOR NEW WAR AGAINST ABKHAZIA...
In a statement released on 21 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Georgia of "duplicity" in affirming its support for the war against international terrorism while at the same time abetting the Chechen militants under Ruslan Gelaev who shot down a UN helicopter over Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge last October and arming and financing over a period of several years the Georgian guerrilla formations behind the 18 March abduction of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia, Interfax reported. The statement noted that the UN has repeatedly called for the disarming and disbanding of those guerrilla formations. The statement further alleged that "Georgia has clearly adopted the policy of preparing the domestic and international public for new attempts to solve the Abkhaz problem by force...under the guise of unfounded official claims about the presence of international and Arab terrorists in Abkhazia." LF
...AS UN ENVOY APPEALS TO TBILISI AND MOSCOW TO TONE DOWN RHETORIC
Dieter Boden, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, appealed on 21 March to both Georgia and Russia to refrain from "militant rhetoric," Caucasus Press reported. He reaffirmed that there is no alternative to a peaceful solution to the Abkhaz conflict, and expressed regret at the tone of the resolution on Abkhazia adopted by the Georgian parliament the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). Following a meeting the same day with Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, Boden again stressed the need to create conditions conducive for a discussion of the UN draft document on the division of powers within a unified Georgian state between Tbilisi and Sukhum. LF
UN OBSERVERS FAIL TO LOCATE NORTH CAUCASUS MILITANTS ON ABKHAZ TERRITORY
At the weekly meeting between representatives of the Abkhaz and Georgian governments, the UN Observer Mission (UNOMIG), and the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, UNOMIG representatives stated on 21 March that in response to an official request from the Georgian side (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002) they have investigated reports that "suspicious fighters" are encamped in Abkhazia's Tkvarcheli Raion, but have found no evidence to substantiate those claims, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking in Moscow on 21 March, Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia implicitly rejected the Georgian parliament's allegations that Abkhazia has become "a haven for terrorists," Interfax reported. "We are not hiding anything, we are prepared to show everything to military experts, international observers, or UN officials any time as of today," Djergenia said. LF
GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS RESIST EVICTION FROM TBILISI INSTITUTE
Some 150 displaced persons from Abkhazia set fire to a library containing rare books while resisting a police attempt to evict them on 21 March from the Botanical Institute in Tbilisi that they occupied several days earlier, Caucasus Press and AP reported. LF
GEORGIAN SERVICEMEN DESERT, THEN RETURN TO UNIT
Forty-one servicemen from Georgia's elite 11th Brigade who deserted their unit returned to their barracks late on 21 March, Caucasus Press reported. The servicemen reportedly explained their action in terms of the "unbearable conditions" in which they serve, while officers told the new agency that the men "are simply not used to the tough conditions in the army." The 11th Brigade is one of four crack divisions that will be trained by U.S. military instructors. "Akhali taoba" on 5 March quoted the office of the Georgian ombudsman as saying that over 1,000 servicemen are currently absent without leave. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT BLAMES 'DEMAGOGUES' FOR DISTURBANCES...
Speaking at a public meeting in Bishkek on 21 March, President Askar Akaev again criticized the "provocateurs and demagogues" who, he claimed, were responsible for the violent clashes between police and demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan's Djalalabad Oblast on 17 and 18 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev implicitly approved the police response to the standoff, saying that "if we had waited just a little longer, the situation could have spiraled out of control." Police opened fire on marchers on 17 March, killing five people. LF
...AS FREED PARLIAMENT DEPUTY ORDERED TO REMAIN IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
Parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release participants in the 17 March protest were demanding, must remain in Bishkek, where he has his official residence, and may not return to Djalalabad for a period of more than two days, Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev announced in Bishkek on 21 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov, who is on trial on charges of dereliction of duty, was released on 18 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 19, and 20 March 2002). LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT IMPLICATED IN LARGE-SCALE DRUG TRAFFICKING
In a 21 March interview with Deutsche Welle that was reproduced both by dw-world.de and by the Turkmen opposition website gundogar.org, a former Turkmen political prisoner claimed that President Saparmurat Niyazov condones large-scale drug smuggling from Afghanistan via Ashgabat's international airport, part of which is organized by the Turkmen National Security Ministry. Those accusations were based on information reportedly received from the former customs head at Ashgabat airport, Major Vitalii Usachev, who was arrested in early 1997 after he discovered hundreds of kilograms of heroin in a cargo container guarded by National Security Committee personnel. Usachev was subsequently framed on drug charges and executed. A Deutsche Welle correspondent also claimed that Niyazov established close ties with both the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, and that the money received from drug trafficking is laundered in the United Arab Emirates. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT GLOOMY OVER RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION PROSPECTS...
Speaking at a training seminar for government officials on 21 March, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Belarus and Russia are now in a difficult situation, Belapan reported. According to him, this situation "is worsening since we are irreversibly losing our resources, gaining nothing in exchange." The reason for such a situation, Lukashenka argued, lies in the fact that Belarus and Russia are building a union state "while being guided by ephemeral models imposed by the West, and not by [our] own interests." JM
...AND SOUR OVER OSCE...
Lukashenka unambiguously suggested that he sees no further task for the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus. "What does the OSCE want from us? Why are they pulling out a similar group from the Baltic states [Pribaltika] -- where human rights are being really violated, where [the Balts] jeer at Russian people, at our citizens, at Slavs in general -- while leaving a group in Belarus to regulate something? This is a direct interference in [our] internal affairs. If we behaved like that in the U.S. or, let's say, in Germany or France, we would have been thrown out of there long ago," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM
...BUT SEES SOME HOPE IN CHINA
While analyzing the pros and cons of privatization, President Lukashenka touched upon transformation processes in the Chinese economy. "One needs to very thoroughly study China's experience and adopt a lot of it. So, slowly and without hullabaloo, we are adopting the best [of China's experience]," Belarusian Television quoted the president as saying. JM
OPPOSITION BLOC APPEALS TO WORLD COMMUNITY TO ENSURE FAIR ELECTION IN UKRAINE
The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc has sent an open letter to the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the embassies of the United States, Canada, Japan, and a number of European countries, as well as international election observers in Ukraine, appealing to them to ensure that the 31 March parliamentary election is fair. "We are forced to appeal to you for help and ask that you make a real estimation of Ukraine's situation, [and] intervene in the process to the extent of your authority not to allow total unlawfulness during the election campaign," AP quoted from the appeal. "We have been informed by confidential sources that in the near future, following an instruction from the administration of President Leonid Kuchma, a [politically motivated] court resolution will be prepared to disqualify the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc from the election," UNIAN quoted from another passage of the appeal. JM
OUR UKRAINE SLAMS RIVALS OVER ACCUSATIONS OF FOUL PLAY...
The Our Ukraine press service on 21 March said provocative actions against the Our Ukraine bloc and its leader Viktor Yushchenko have become more frequent in the last weeks of the parliamentary election campaign. The press service cited incidents in Kirovohrad Oblast and Kyiv where some individuals, who had nothing to do with the bloc, disguised themselves as campaigners for the bloc and offered alcoholic drinks to passersby to drink "to Yushchenko's health." The press service added that such actions were recorded by television crews to be broadcast by television channels controlled by Our Ukraine's rivals in order to accuse Yushchenko's bloc of violating the election law. JM
...AS MORE TROUBLES EMERGE
Police on 21 March arrested former State Reserve Committee head Yevhen Chervonenko, who is running for the parliament as Our Ukraine's candidate. Deputy Prosecutor-General Yuriy Haysynskyy said recently that Chervonenko was wanted by the Prosecutor's Office because he had failed to appear there for questioning. Chervonenko denied receiving any summons from prosecutors. The same day, the Central Election Commission rejected a motion to oust Chervonenko from the race on charges that he allegedly is an Israeli citizen and has failed to inform the commission of this fact. Chervonenko commented that Our Ukraine rivals, by playing "the card of anti-Semitism," intended to sow discord in the bloc. Meanwhile, the Popular Movement of Ukraine (led by Bohdan Boyko) has accused Petro Yushchenko, the brother of Viktor Yushchenko, of being a link in siphoning funds from the bankrupt bank Ukrayina. "It is hardly a coincidence that Ukrayina paid for [Viktor Yushchenko's daughter] Vitalina Yushchenko's education, and that funds from this bank ended up in Petro Yushchenko's accounts," Inter Television commented on 21 March. JM
UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT REINSTATES YABLUKO LEADER AS ELECTION CANDIDATE
The Supreme Court on 21 March complied with a complaint from Yabluko Party leader Mykhaylo Brodskyy and reinstated him as a candidate in the 31 March parliamentary election, UNIAN reported. Last week, the Central Election Commission disqualified Brodskyy, saying he provided a false declaration on his income and possessions. JM
MOSCOW MAYOR HEARTENS EMBATTLED CRIMEAN SPEAKER
Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov on 21 March visited Simferopol and expressed his support for Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach, who was disqualified from the election to the Crimean Supreme Council by a court decision last month. Luzhkov said he views the court decision on Hrach as a political, not a legal, action, STB Television reported. Hrach met Luzhkov in the Crimean parliament and introduced him to the public as the mayor of the capital of the formerly common motherland. Luzhkov noted that the 10 years of Ukraine's independence have ruined Russian-Ukrainian relations. "The Crimean Republic is a special Russian region," Luzhkov said, but then corrected himself and said it is "a special Ukrainian region." Luzhkov's slip of the tongue provoked stormy applause in the parliamentary hall. Meanwhile, the Crimean Supreme Council has failed to convene for the two past days, with only a few deputies registering for what should be their last session before the election of a new legislature on 31 March. JM
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS HALF OF UKRAINIAN ELECTION CANDIDATES ARE CRIMINALS
"Half of those running for parliament could be jailed today for what is going on at the moment. Just take a look at the election lists!" Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko told the pro-presidential daily "Stolichnye novosti" on 19 March. Potebenko himself is running on the election list of the Communist Party. JM
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR INDIGNANT OVER U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES' RESOLUTION ON UKRAINIAN ELECTION
Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin on 22 March expressed his indignation over the recent resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives urging a fair parliamentary election in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002), UNIAN reported. Chernomyrdin suggested that Ukraine should issue a statement in response. "Why could Ukraine not make a statement to the effect that [people] in the U.S. elected one president but are ruled by another?" Chernomyrdin asked. JM
ESTONIAN PREMIER REJECTS NEW OFFER ON POWER PLANT PRIVATIZATION
Responding to the letter of 19 February from Dave Peterson, the president of the U.S. company NRG Energy, Siim Kallas wrote on 21 March that he sees no reason to change the decision of the previous government to end negotiations with NRG on the privatization of the Narva oil-shale power plants, BNS reported. Kallas noted that the political and economic situation in Estonia has changed dramatically in the six years since the talks on the sale of the plants began. He rejected Johnson's claim that Estonia had backed out of the deal by refusing to include the Estonian Oil Shale Co. and its assets, as this had not been discussed earlier. He added that the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September resulted in banks demanding more guarantees, which NRG was unable to offer. He concluded by stating that U.S. investments in Estonia are always welcome, and thanked NRG for the six-year cooperation. SG
EU RECOGNIZES LATVIA'S RIGHT TO DECIDE STATE LANGUAGE
The EU presidency issued a statement on 21 March declaring that Latvia alone has the right to determine its state language, LETA reported. The previous day, OSCE official Gerard Stoudmann created an outrage in Latvia by suggesting that Russian should also be granted the status of a state language (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). Prime Minister Andris Berzins called the suggestion irresponsible, and even urged Stoudmann to resign. The statement stated: "There is no expectation whatsoever on the part of the EU that Latvia should change or amend the provision that establishes that the Latvian language is the state language of Latvia." The Danish Embassy in Riga was used to release the statement because the current presiding country, Spain, does not have an embassy in Latvia, and Denmark will take over the EU presidency in July. In addition, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus said the EU does not expect Latvia to change or supplement legal norms that stipulate Latvian as the state language. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VETOES AMENDMENTS TO TWO LAWS
Valdas Adamkus decided not to sign amendments to the laws on employment contracts and holidays that the parliament passed on 12 March, and sent them back for revision on 21 March, ELTA reported. The amendments to the employment contracts law are intended to end the widespread practice among employers of concluding fixed-term employment contracts with employees. The modification to the holiday law would limit the maximum term of unpaid holiday per year to 30 calendar days. Before making a decision on the laws, Adamkus held talks with representatives of political parties, business, and other experts. He said the amendments would increase unemployment, as employers would hire fewer workers, and that employees would not have been able to travel abroad for advanced training if it exceeded 30 days. Adamkus has not yet made a decision on whether to sign the amendments to the law on value added tax that the parliament passed on 21 March. SG
NAPOLEONIC ARMY MASS GRAVE SITE FOUND IN VILNIUS
Rimas Kraujelis, head inspector of the Cultural Protection Department, has said that archeologists have resumed excavations at a former military base in Vilnius where construction workers uncovered a mass grave last fall, BNS reported. Based on scraps of cloth and buttons from uniforms, he said that the workers had evidently uncovered the bodies of soldiers from Napoleon's army, which invaded Russia in 1812. It was originally thought that the remains of Polish soldiers had been discovered. It is not clear how many bodies are buried at the site, but people familiar with the ongoing work say they could number 1,000 or more. French Embassy adviser Olivier Poupard said the French Defense Ministry plans to send experts to take part in the investigations, which Kraujelis estimated could take around a month, AFP reported. SG
POLISH PREMIER SATISFIED WITH LAND SALES DEAL WITH EU
Premier Leszek Miller said on 21 March that the government achieved a success in its negotiations with the EU regarding the controversial issue of land sales to foreigners, Polish media reported. He asserted that, compared with other EU-aspiring countries, Poland has gained the best conditions in this negotiation area. The compromise on land sales allows Poland to ban the sale of farmland and forests to foreigners for 12 years after it joins the EU. This period is reduced to seven years for EU farmers who currently lease land in the west and north of the country (regions that belonged to Germany before World War II), and to three years for the remaining part of the country. JM
POLAND, MALAYSIA WANT TO BOOST ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Premier Leszek Miller met on 21 March with his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad to discuss how to intensify bilateral economic cooperation, PAP reported. "We are interested in intensifying bilateral cooperation, as Poland has a deficit in trade with Malaysia," Miller commented, adding that Poland is interested in boosting its investors' presence in Malaysia and wants Polish producers to sell more top-quality goods on the Malaysian market. Mohamad said Malaysia is interested in expanding its trade with Poland in the steel and aircraft industries, construction machinery, and railways. Polish Radio reported that the Malaysian government is also interested in purchasing Polish tanks. Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke said he is counting on the quick finalization of a contract that is worth some $300 million. JM
POLISH BISHOPS SHARE FEARS WITH FAITHFUL OVER EU TALKS
"We share the fears of many believers concerning whether the principles of partner-like dialogue will be observed in the EU accession talks, instead of a de facto dictate," Polish Roman Catholic bishops wrote on 21 March in a document summing up a conference of the Episcopate. "We expect that decisions of the Leaken Convent will fully guarantee the right of every man to life from conception to natural death, respect marriage as a lasting union of a male and a female, and the rights of family -- the basic social cell," the document read. The conference also appointed a team of bishops for "pastoral concern" for Radio Maryja. Radio Maryja is an influential, fundamentalist Catholic radio station opposing Poland's integration with the EU. JM
COX, CZECH POLITICIANS DISAGREE, DESPITE AGREEMENT ON BENES DECREES
European Parliament Chairman Pat Cox and Czech President Vaclav Havel agreed after talks in Prague on 21 March that "more goodwill and less populism" would be helpful for the current discussion on the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. Although Cox, Premier Milos Zeman and Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus said after three-way talks that the decrees should not "burden future relations in Europe," they obviously interpreted that statement differently. Cox told journalists that European politicians now have an opportunity to "close bad chapters" in the history of the last century and "open all doors to a good future." Zeman warned against "opening the questions of the past" and against "tearing the decrees out of their context, which would serve forces seeking to rewrite history." Klaus said the past "cannot be forgotten" and "cannot be changed" and that "our task is to make sure that it is never repeated." MS
CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS ENDORSE CANDIDATES LIST
The Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) National Committee on 21 March approved the party's list of candidates for the June elections in which the KDU-CSL will run jointly with the Freedom Union-Democratic Union as The Coalition. The list includes 13 people who are not party-affiliated. KDU-CSL Chairman Cyril Svoboda told CTK after the meeting that The Coalition does not rule out possible post-election cooperation with either the Social Democratic Party or with the Civic Democratic Party. MS
CZECH COMMISSION ON JEWISH PROPERTY COMPENSATION ENDS WORK
A government commission set up to compensate losses suffered by Czech victims of the Holocaust concluded its work on 20 March, AP reported on 22 March, citing Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky. The commission was set up in 1998 and was tasked with searching for lost works of art and with preparing legislation to allow for the restitution of confiscated property. That legislation was approved in 2000 and made possible the restitution of property confiscated from Jews between September 1938 and May 1945. The previous law allowed only for the restitution of property confiscated by the Communist regime. Rychetsky deemed the commission's work "a success" and said that some 7,000 paintings and other works of art that belonged to Jews had been discovered in galleries and castles. Some of these were returned to their original owners and the rest was handed over to Jewish organizations. MS
CZECH GDP GROWTH HIGHER THAN EXPECTED
The Czech Statistical Office announced on 21 March that gross domestic product increased by 3.6 percent in 2001. This is the largest single-year growth since 1996 and, according to dpa, the government attributes the growth to the surging use of mobile phones and other consumer spending. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development had predicted a 3.5-percent increase in the GDP, while local analysts expected 3.4-percent growth. On 20 March, dpa reported that direct foreign investment was more than $4.9 billion in 2001, a 9-percent increase over 2000. The agency said the growth was due to expanding electronics and automotive manufacturing, and that the Czech Republic is turning into "a hot spot for business growth in Eastern Europe." MS
SLOVAK GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
By a vote of 61 against and 42 in favor, the ruling coalition majority defeated on 21 March a motion of no-confidence in the government submitted by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), international news agencies reported. The HZDS justified its motion citing growing unemployment, the selling of "national assets" to foreigners, and Slovakia's increasing isolation. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, responding to the motion, called it an "electoral exercise ahead of the [September] ballot." He said the cabinet has ended the isolation that began under former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and has been praised for economic and political reforms that transformed Slovakia into a front-runner for EU and NATO membership. MS
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL REITERATES WARNING TO SLOVAKS
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, on a visit to Prague, said on 21 March that "if the people in Slovakia want to be in NATO, they must vote [in the September parliamentary elections] for those parties that will take them into NATO... I am not telling them how they should vote, [but] if this is what they want, that's what they need to do," according to an RFE/RL correspondent. Robertson said that the 19-member Atlantic alliance "will be watching" how Slovakia votes, and voters there should cast their ballots "with their eyes wide open." The repeated warnings against the possible return to power of former Prime Minister Meciar were echoed by Robertson later, when he said that after the Prague summit there will be "no use in saying we did not know." MS
FIDESZ-MSZP DEBATES END BEFORE THEY START...
A debate between Justice Minister Ibolya David and her Socialist Party (MSZP) challenger Peter Barandy on 21 March was canceled, as FIDESZ officials objected to the MSZP displaying campaign material on two large screens behind its speaker, Hungarian media reported. The afternoon debate on culture was also canceled, and the Socialists announced their withdrawal from all further debates between cabinet ministers and their MSZP challengers. The Socialists said it had been agreed that each party would arrange its own backdrop. However, FIDESZ delegate Tamas Isepy said that "the debate over the debates" had been merely a game, as it was apparent that " the MSZP was scared of its own offer." He said the Socialists had violated the agreement, which included no provision on installing the giant television screens. MSZ/MS
...AND DEBATES BETWEEN HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER, CHALLENGER ALSO CANCELED
The MSZP on 21 March also announced that its candidate for prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, will not debate Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Earlier in the day, Medgyessy told foreign journalists that the problems around the now-aborted debates were due to the fact that "FIDESZ wants to impose diktats." Medgyessy, who had proposed that the debate with Orban take place on 3 April, said "if Orban could only give me one good reason why he can only debate on 5 April, then I might accept, but he won't." FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover told reporters in Debrecen that "the MSZP is back to square one." Kover said the only question is "why so much circus and scandal-mongering was necessary," Hungarian media reported. MSZ/MS
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT AVOIDS BENES DECREE ISSUE...
Hungarian President Ferenc Madl on 21 March avoided responding to a question on the Benes Decrees after a lecture at Humboldt University in Berlin, CTK reported. When asked from the audience about the issue, Madl only said that the disputes about the decrees had led to "difficulties" and to the cancellation of a meeting of prime ministers of the Visegrad Four countries. However, he commented that, as a consequence of the decrees, ethnic Hungarians had also suffered since many of them were deported from Czechoslovakia after World War II. MSZ/MS
...WHILE VISEGRAD ENVIRONMENT MINISTERS MEET IN BUDAPEST
The Hungarian, Czech, Polish and Slovak environment ministers, meeting on 21 March in Visegrad, adopted a common environmental-protection program and agreed to enhance cooperation in implementing international conventions. The four ministers also agreed to recommend that their heads of state and prime ministers represent their countries at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002. The ministers decided on continuing mutual cooperation in negotiations with Brussels in order to get a larger share of EU funds. The Visegrad Four meeting was the first since Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in Brussels in February that the Czech Republic and Slovakia should abolish the controversial Benes Decrees, leading to a boycott of the meeting by the Czech and Slovak prime ministers and eventually to its cancellation, Hungarian and international media reported. MSZ/MS
YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT REFUSES TO SACK GENERAL
Vojislav Kostunica said on 22 March that he will not dismiss the head of the military secret service, General Aca Tomic, Reuters reported. Kostunica was responding to calls made by Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic that Tomic be fired because of the detention on 14 March of Serbian Deputy Premier Momcilo Perisic and U.S. diplomat John David Neighbor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). Kostunica told the daily "Blic" that "General Tomic, the Security Department, and the Yugoslav army acted in conformity with regulations." Djindjic was outraged by reports that the military's secret service, which reports to Kostunica, had monitored Perisic and wiretapped his phone for five months before detaining and accusing him of espionage. Djindjic said the Serbian government will not cooperate with Kostunica on state security issues until Tomic is dismissed. PB
SERBIA STRIKES DEAL WITH GAZPROM
The Serbian state oil company NIS and Russian gas giant Gazprom signed a deal on 22 March in Belgrade that secures 765 million cubic meters of natural gas for this year, AP reported. Dimitrijj Vukcevic, NIS acting general manager, said the deal will cost Belgrade $81 million. He said the deal was made possible after a Serbian company repaid its 2001 debt to Gazprom. Vukcevic said Serbia wants to upgrade its ties with Gazprom "beyond simple purchases of natural gas." Relations between Gazprom and Yugoslavia became strained after the ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic, and the gas giant cut off supplies to Serbia in 2000. PB
KFOR COMMANDER SAYS SITUATION IN KOSOVA IMPROVING
General Marcel Valentin said on 22 March that the situation for Serbs and other minorities is improving on a daily basis, Tanjug reported. Valentin said in an interview with the Belgrade daily "Vecernje novosti" that more Serbs are able to move freely around the province and that they are able to travel without a KFOR escort. Valentin said escorts are being replaced with the practice of KFOR soldiers traveling on regular buses. He added that an attack on Serbs is an attack on KFOR. PB
ANOTHER PARTY SET TO LEAVE MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT
The leaders of Montenegro's Social Democrats said on 21 March that their party will leave the ruling coalition if the parliament approves the deal signed to create the union of Serbia and Montenegro, Reuters reported. SDP head Ranko Krivokapic said that "we hope that very soon, within weeks, we will be able to establish a new government, a new stable government that can fulfill the goals of all Montenegrin citizens." If the pro-independence parties cannot agree on the formation of a new government, President Milo Djukanovic will be forced to hold new elections. PB
MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS AGREEMENT PRESERVES RIGHT TO STATEHOOD
President Djukanovic said on 21 March that the agreement he signed with Yugoslav President Kostunica creating the state of Serbia and Montenegro will enable Podgorica to "preserve the right to renew its complete and independent statehood," Tanjug reported. Speaking on Novi Sad TV, Djukanovic said that the negative reactions in Montenegro to the agreement are "of an emotional nature and an expression of impatience." He said that both republics will have "to decide whether they can live together or go their separate ways." The accord does, in fact, allow each republic to call a referendum on independence after three years (see also "End Note"). PB
YUGOSLAV AUTHORITIES HAND OVER CROATIAN REMAINS
In the first such return of Croatian remains since the 1991 war, Yugoslav officials on 21 March delivered 13 coffins containing bodies of Croats that were buried for 11 years in a Serbian cemetery, Western agencies reported from Ilok, Croatia. Four women gathered at the border crossing to see if any contained the remains of their husbands or sons, AP reported. Just one of those bodies has been identified. Exhumations began in March of about 80 Croats acknowledged by Belgrade to have been buried at the Novi Sad cemetery in the north of Yugoslavia. All of those remains are to be returned. Croatia still claims about 1,400 people are unaccounted for as a result of the hostilities, AP added. Earlier on 21 March, forensic experts unearthed 14 Croats from a newly discovered grave in Bogdanovci, in eastern Croatia. AH
CROATIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW CABINET MEMBERS, ENDING STANDOFF...
Legislators on 21 March effectively ended a protracted government crisis by approving Social Liberal Party (HSLS) leader Drazen Budisa as deputy prime minister as two other new ministers were sworn in as well, Hina and local media reported. Hrvoje Vojkovic, a vegetarian and yoga enthusiast, takes up the economy portfolio after a stint as head of the country's Privatization Fund. Parliamentary deputy Mario Kovac is the new minister of maritime affairs, transportation, and communications despite his lack of a driving license, Croatian TV noted. AH
...AND DRAWING CHEERS FROM VIRTUALLY NO ONE
Prime Minister Ivica Racan indicated ahead of the vote that while he does not necessarily support the moves, he thinks they are necessary to end the crisis. "I am not quite happy with either the proposals or the fact that I didn't have much chance of influencing the solutions," Racan told Croatian TV. "However, this is a coalition government, intercoalition relations, and these are firm proposals -- or rather demands by the coalition partner, which I respect." The opposition Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) said ahead of the vote that it would not take part, while the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) was expected to remain in the chamber to ensure a quorum but not vote, Croatian TV reported. AH
CROATIAN LAWMAKERS APPROVE BILL ON CONTROL OF INTELLIGENCE SERVICES...
The parliament on 21 March approved a bill regulating the work and oversight of the country's secret services along constitutional and legal guidelines, Hina reported after the vote. Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic told deputies that they were approving legislation that protects the rights and freedoms of citizens and enables a positive reform of the Croatian intelligence community, the agency added. Granic stressed both legislative and civilian oversight of security services through a parliamentary council and a civilian supervisory council. Deputies passed a requirement that the government submit a report on the implementation of the law by the end of June, Hina said. AH
...PROMPTING DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER TO RESIGN
Croatia's assistant defense minister for intelligence, Mladen Ruzman, tendered his resignation on 22 March, citing the looming reorganization of the intelligence and security structure and the fact that employees of such agencies may not also be members of political parties, Hina reported. AH
ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CONSULTS WITH PARTIES OVER PROSECUTOR'S DISMISSAL
Sources in the office of Rexhep Meidani said on 21 March that the president has not yet signed the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi, adding, however, that Meidani met with political party leaders to discuss the issue, ATA reported. Meidani reportedly had pledged to follow the will of the legislature ahead of the highly contentious 19 March parliamentary vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). Meanwhile, a legal counsel close to the president, Theodhori Sollaku, was tipped as a likely candidate to replace Rakipi, ATA reported. AH
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA SWEARS IN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGES
Federation President Safet Halilovic took part in the swearing-in ceremony for nine newly elected judges to Bosnia-Herzegovina's Constitutional Court on 21 March, FENA reported. The justices include: Sead Bahtijarevic, Mirko Boskovic, Ranko Cvijic, Muamer Herceglija, Miomir Jokic, Domin Malbasic, Nedeljko Milicevic, Kata Senjak, and Kasim Trnka. AH
POLICE IN BOSNIA ARREST SUSPECT FOR PLOTTING ATTACK ON U.S. EMBASSY
Onasa news agency reported on 21 March that authorities have arrested one person for planning an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, which was closed on 20 March following an "unverified threat report." The agency cited a Federation TV report, adding that the Interior Ministry has forwarded information on the suspect to U.S. intelligence. The Interior Ministry is expected to issue a statement on 22 March in connection with the detention. Deputy Minister for European Integration Rasim Kadic noted that the closure "is very bad for Bosnia-Herzegovina," according to a report by BH Radio 1 in Sarajevo. He said authorities must be vigilant to prevent "a handful of people who do not mean well" from holding the country hostage. AH
REMAINS EXHUMED OF 18 SREBRENICA VICTIMS
The Tuzla branch of a federal commission to locate missing persons on 21 March exhumed the remains of 18 people from a mass grave in Vlasenica, in the Debelo Brdo region. FENA reported. The head of the commission's local presence, Murat Hurtic, said the victims were apparently seeking refuge in Sarajevo-controlled lands as they fled from Srebrenica in 1995. AH
SLOVENIAN SELL-OFF COMMISSION WAIVES BIDS FOR NKBM BANK
A commission for the sale of Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (NKBM) has rejected all the binding bids for the state-owned bank, saying none of the offers would meet the goals of the country's privatization program, local media reported on 21 March. Bidders for a 65 percent-minus-one-share stake included local financial group ActivaGroup, Bank Austria Creditanstalt, and Italy's Unicredito. The government will hear from the commission before deciding how to proceed, according to the Television Slovenia website. AH
FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT MAKES POLITICAL COMEBACK...
Former President Emil Constantinescu on 21 March harshly criticized the government, saying that Social Democratic Party (PSD) rule is based on "totalitarian behavior, patronage, incompetence, and lies," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Constantinescu announced that he is returning to political life "if that means [adopting an] attitude and actions," but he stressed that he neither intends to set up a political party nor will he join any existing formation. On the current debate over possible constitutional amendments, Constantinescu said that he backs direct presidential elections and a single parliamentary chamber, or a reduction in the number of deputies and senators if the bicameral system is maintained. In related news, Ion Stan, chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), said on 21 March that the commission might invite Constantinescu to present his accusation that the SRI is tapping his telephone. MS
...PROMPTING GOVERNMENTAL RESPONSE
Reacting to Constantinescu's announcement, governmental spokesman Claudiu Lucaci said it is "regrettable" that the former head of state "is attempting to make a political comeback" based on "occult instruments and diversion," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau also reported. Lucaci said that Constantinescu is reiterating "calumnious and demagogic statements" used by the opposition in its 2000 campaign and that the government "feels no obligation to respond." He said that Constantinescu's behavior is "in striking contrast" with that of "another former head of state," former King Michael, who has "taken on himself the task...of strongly backing Romania's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures," whereas Constantinescu "does nothing but tarnish the country's image" abroad. MS
ONE MORE OPPOSITION MOTION DEFEATED IN ROMANIA
By a vote of 70 against and 47 in favor, the Senate on 21 March defeated a motion submitted by the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) to debate raising the costs of heating for private individuals, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The motion was also backed by the Democratic Party and the Greater Romania Party (PRM). The Democratic Party the same day announced it has started collecting signatures in support of a motion of no-confidence in the cabinet on the law on accelerating privatization, for which the government has "assumed responsibility" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). It is, however, highly unlikely that the Democrats would gather sufficient endorsement for their move, as both the PNL and the PRM announced they would not back such a no-confidence motion. MS
ROMANIAN EXTREMIST PARTY WANTS PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM INTRODUCED
PRM First Deputy Chairman Corneliu Ciontu said on Romanian radio on 21 March that the PRM is not only opposed to changing Romania's semi-presidential system to a parliamentary system, but wants to install a full-fledged presidential system. Ciontu said the proposal is based on the experience of "the most democratic country in the world," the United States. Observers say a full-fledged presidential system would improve the chances of PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor -- a skilled orator and crowd-manipulator -- to both win an electoral contest and to introduce the "iron-fisted rule" that he has often advocated in the past. MS
TURKISH MINISTER SAYS ORGANIZATIONS IN ROMANIA BACK TERRORISM
Turkish Interior Minister Rustu Kazim Yucelen said on 21 March after a two-day visit to Romania that Kurdish associations and foundations active in Romania are backing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which he labeled "an international terrorist organization," Mediafax reported. Yucelen said the PKK has been outlawed in several European countries and expressed the hope that Romania "will study the documents I handed to" Interior Minister Ioan Rus and "act in consequence." He thanked the government for having prohibited the protest demonstration that Kurds in transit from Western Europe to Turkey had planned to stage in Bucharest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 March 2002). MS
HEAVY PENALTIES FOR DESECRATION OF JEWISH CULT PROPERTIES IN ROMANIA
The government on 21 March approved an ordinance providing for stiff penalties for the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and other sites, Mediafax reported. Governmental spokesman Lucaci said that 600 out of 800 Jewish cemeteries in Romania are no longer in use but must be preserved as an important part of the country's heritage. The ordinance stipulates that construction in Jewish cemeteries and other sites cannot be undertaken without the prior approval of the Federation of Jewish Communities and must respect Jewish religious practice and traditions. Penalties for violations range from fines to 25 years in prison. The stiffest punishment applies to cases in which heavy damage has been inflicted on sites or in which the action has led to loss of life. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS NEGOTIATIONS WITH TIRASPOL 'FROZEN'...
Vladimir Voronin told journalists in Chisinau on 21 March that Moldova has frozen negotiations with Tiraspol and that the talks will not resume "until reliable barriers to smuggling are set in place" along the border between the separatist region and Ukraine, Infotag reported. Voronin said 10 years of negotiations with Tiraspol have yielded little more than "concessions to the Smirnov regime." Chisinau, he added, is prepared to negotiate on the region's autonomous status, "but not on the consolidation of the Smirnov regime." MS
...WHILE MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT READY TO 'RESUME DIALOGUE' WITH TIRASPOL...
Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Vadim Mishin told journalists on 20 March that the Moldovan Parliament is "ready to resume dialogue with the Transdniester Supreme Soviet" in search of a solution to the Transdniester conflict, Infotag reported. He said Chisinau has already notified Tiraspol of its readiness but no reply has come "yet." MS
...AND CANCELS HEARING ON DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT WITH ROMANIA
Parliament on 21 March decided to cancel a hearing on the recent incident that led to the expulsion of a Romanian diplomat from Moldova, Infotag reported. Foreign Policy Commission Chairman Andrei Neguta said a debate on the reasons for Ion Ungureanu's expulsion was "no longer topical," Infotag reported. MS
BULGARIAN NEWSPAPER PUBLISHES PROTOCOL OF CABINET SESSION...
By publishing the stenographic protocol of the government session of 25 October 2001, the Sofia daily "Trud" on 21 March prompted heated reactions. The protocol suggests that the government circumvented the Public Procurement Act when it refused to put out a major consulting contract for tender. The cabinet decided to sign the contract directly with the British consulting company Crown Agents, which is to help reforming Bulgaria's corrupt and ineffective customs authorities. After a short discussion about various possibilities of how to avoid the lengthy procurement procedure, the government made the case an issue of "national security." UB
...PROMPTING MIXED REACTIONS FROM THE GOVERNMENT...
"I ordered an inquiry into the authenticity of the 'Trud' publication. If it is [authentic], I will ensure that the responsible people will be punished," Justice Minister Anton Stankov said on 21 March. He denied commenting on the contents of the protocol, as it was a closed session, "Dnevnik" reported. Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said that the Public Procurement Act offers enough possibilities to the government to ensure national security by signing contracts without tender. Agriculture Minister Mehmed Dikme accused the opposition of using the case to protect their sources of income: "It is no secret that the customs authorities are used to filling the coffers of political parties, and that strong economic groups are not interested in any change and want to keep the status quo," Dikme said. UB
...FROM THE OPPOSITION...
In their reactions to the publication, the conservative opposition demanded that the government resign. Nadezhda Mihailova, the chairwoman of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) said: "We would like the cabinet members to tell us if the press story is true, and if it is, we expect them to resign," BTA reported. Socialist Party Deputy Chairman Rumen Ovcharov said laws are being flagrantly violated, and ministers are looking for ways to circumvent the law. Ovcharov called on the government to clear up the case as soon as possible. UB
While the government's official statement spoke of "criminal interests that stand behind the publication," "Dnevnik" on 22 March came forward with the names of some suspects. The first among them was Stoyan Ganev, the former head of the prime minister's office. Ganev is believed to want revenge for his dismissal. Emil Dimitrov, the former head of the customs authorities, has a similar motivation for revenge. According to the newspaper, Dimitrov has already quoted passages from the protocol in an interview with Darik Radio. The third suspect named by "Dnevnik" is Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev, because he recently met with SDS leaders over the deal with Crown Agents. UB
THE END OF YUGOSLAVIA -- THE END OF DISINTEGRATION?
A lot has been written about the end of Yugoslavia, but officially the great project of the Southern Slav state was buried only recently, on 14 March 2002. According to an agreement signed that day between Serbia, Montenegro, and the federation, their new state will be called "Serbia and Montenegro."
So who is the winner and who is the loser in this deal? On the face of it, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has lost his bid for independence. After all, his political platform for more than a year has been that Montenegro will achieve independence by a referendum to be held this spring. The 14 March agreement puts any such referendum on hold for three years. However, if one views Djukanovic's independence course as strategic, rather than ideological, he has played a good game of repositioning. After all, the international community, and in particular the European Union, was hostile to the idea of Montenegro's independence and never considered giving Montenegro the same chance to break off as it did to all other Yugoslav republics. Adding to his difficulties, Djukanovic could never rely on an overwhelming vote in favor of independence. Although opinion polls found large support, his pro-independence coalition only won a slim victory in the parliamentary elections last year. Such a slim majority for independence would have been difficult to handle -- staying in the federation against the stated desire of the majority would have been impossible, on the other hand a small majority would not have settled the question for good.
Djukanovic's options were narrowing by the month. High-level foreign visitors formed their opinions based on talks with interlocutors in Belgrade, and rarely visited Podgorica. Domestically, he had no room for maneuver, with his coalition set for independence. The agreement will probably finish this coalition, but he could conceivably find new partners among the present opposition. In some ways, Djukanovic can present himself as a winner on all counts -- he has finally achieved formal recognition of Montenegro's right of secession, and agreed simultaneously to give the union one more try.
At the same time, he has greatly expanded Montenegro's influence on the affairs of the whole state. Protection of small states in federal-type structures often amounts to granting those states disproportionate influence. Take Luxembourg representing 370 million Europeans when it holds the EU presidency. Montenegro has negotiated itself into a powerful position; it will have veto powers in the federal parliament and in the defense council. Equal representation of the two republics' single seat in international organizations and on key ministerial posts will be ensured through rotation. That means that half of the time a Montenegrin representative will speak for the state of 10 million Serbs and 600,000 Montenegrins. Crucially, access to international financial institutions will be dealt with separately.
From Serbia's and the federation's perspective, the agreement is a success in that Montenegro's secession is avoided for some time. Particularly important for Serbia's development is the clarification of competencies between the union and the republics through the constitutional charter. The development of the rule of law has been greatly hindered by the present constitutional confusion. However, the high level of protection and representation for Montenegro can make the agreement more difficult for Serbia, which might feel that the tail is starting to wag the dog.
For the EU, the agreement is a limited success. As with the Macedonian peace agreement, it demonstrates that a long-term accession perspective, unity, and one voice -- that of common foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana -- can make the EU the most powerful player in its own "near-abroad." Although the EU's mediation strategy suffered from taking sides (against independence) from the outset, it has managed with this agreement to buy some time. In terms of conflict prevention, it might be a success that a divisive and potentially inconclusive independence referendum has been avoided. It is remarkable, however, that the EU has put its signature under an unqualified right for republics' secession through referendum in three years' time. So far the EU's opposition seemed to be based on principles. EU circles feared that the end of Yugoslavia would make Kosova's status untenable, because UN Security Council Resolution 1244 defines Kosova as part of Yugoslavia, albeit under international administration. The agreement clarifies why the EU is suddenly less nervous about Montenegro's independence: "If Montenegro withdraws from the state union, international documents related to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia [FRY], and the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 in particular, shall relate to and fully apply on Serbia as its successor." In other words, Resolution 1244 would remain intact with or without Yugoslavia.
The procedural aspects of the agreement are cumbersome: First, the three parliaments will form opinions on the constitutional structure and then delegate members to form a commission to draft the constitutional charter. The draft shall then be adopted by all three parliaments, probably with two-thirds majorities. Finally, the president of "Serbia and Montenegro" will be elected and the republics will change their constitutions or adopt new ones. The agreement raises one legal issue that it does not resolve: According to the Montenegrin and the Serb constitution, changes to the state structure and constitutions need to be approved by referendum. Though nominally on constitutional change, such a referendum in Montenegro would certainly be on independence, which is exactly what the agreement tries to avoid.
Can all this work otherwise? Probably not, and in particular not by the end of this year, as foreseen in the agreement. The Macedonian peace process is currently demonstrating yet again just how relative deadlines are in the Balkans. It is improbable that this large and ambitious constitutional reconstruction program can be forced through in a few months. The political implications of the agreement are enormous, in particular for the strained Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition in Belgrade, and the governments involved might not be able to keep the process on track. Even if the changes go through, it is questionable whether the new structure will be able to absorb the constitutional contradictions and political tensions of present-day Yugoslavia. Finally, the old Yugoslavia of six republics offered space for coalition building and deal making, albeit under the conditions of Titoism. The new union of "Serbia and Montenegro" leaves the biggest republic yoked together with the smallest, and offers little space for bargaining by multiple combinations. History does not abound with examples of successful federations, and even less with highly asymmetric ones.Michael Meyer-Resende is a journalist and lawyer based in London.