DUMA REJECTS APPEAL TO BAN COMMUNIST PARTY...
Duma deputies rejected on 24 April a proposal to liquidate the Communist Party, polit.ru reported. According to the website, only seven deputies voted in favor of the appeal to the Justice Ministry to abolish the party, while 196 voted against the measure. There were no abstentions. The same day, deputies adopted the Pension Fund's budget for 2002 in its third reading. The vote was unanimously in favor, according to polit.ru. Under the budget, the fund has 783.4 billion rubles ($25 billion) in revenues and 739.1 billion rubles in expenditures. JAC
...VOTES IN FAVOR OF PREMIERS OVER THE AGE OF 35...
Deputies on 24 April also adopted amendments to the law on government in its first reading, under which the country's prime minister should be at least 35 years old and a citizen of Russia who has been living there for no less than 10 years. The vote on the bill was 306 in favor to two against, with two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. The government's representative in the Duma, Andrei Loginov, spoke out against the bill, arguing that no country in the world has such a legislative norm and, in any case, such a requirement should be made only by introducing changes to the constitution. However, the president's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, supported the bill except for the 10-year residency requirement. JAC
...AND APPROVES JUDICIAL REFORM AND SMALL-BUSINESS MEASURES
A bill "on credit cooperation" was also approved in its first reading on 24 April. The vote was 351 in favor, according to RIA-Novosti. Before the vote was held, First Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatolii Mikhalev explained that the bill creates a legal basis for the organization and activities of credit cooperatives, oriented mainly for servicing small businesses and entrepreneurs. In addition, another element of the presidential administration's judicial reforms was approved the same day. The bill, adopted in its first reading, amends the law on prosecutors and on additional guarantees of the social defense of judges and workers in the court apparatus, so that court workers and prosecutors are no longer eligible for a series of exemptions and special privileges, such as discounts on rent, but will instead receive a higher wage, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
DUMA ADOPTS RESOLUTION CONDEMNING ISRAELI ACTIONS...
The Duma adopted with 227 votes in favor a nonbinding resolution on 24 April that harshly condemns the actions of Israeli troops in Palestine, ITAR-TASS and ORT reported on 24 April. According to the resolution, the Israeli action is "leading to mass deaths among the civilian population." The resolution also demands that Israel withdraw its troops from "occupied territories" and allow freedom of movement to Palestine Authority leader Yasser Arafat. The document also states that if Israel refuses to comply with the demands of the global community, it will be necessary to "take measures to restore peace and security in the region, including imposing economic and other sanctions against Israel." VY
...AND APPROVES INQUIRY ABOUT RFE/RL'S STATUS IN RUSSIA
The Duma on 24 April approved by a vote of 347 to one a parliamentary inquiry to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on RFE/RL's status in Russia, Russian and international media reported. The inquiry was initiated by Sergei Shishkarev of the People's Deputy group and submitted by the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee in response to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Languages Service's broadcasts in the Avar, Chechen, and Circassian languages that began on 3 April. The inquiry asks Kasyanov to provide information on how RFE/RL acquired its registration to broadcast in Russia and whether there are any bilateral agreements in place that would allow Russia to set up English- and Spanish-language radio broadcasts to the United States. According to the statement, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Languages Service's broadcasts are a "gross interference in Russia's internal affairs" that can "further destabilize the situation in the region." Russia's Interior Ministry recently announced that it is forming a new "counterpropaganda" agency to broadcast into Chechnya so residents of the republic can "receive firsthand reliable information instead of listening to reports of Radio Liberty and speeches of rebel ringleaders on foreign channels," ITAR-TASS reported Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov as saying on 12 April. MES/VY
UPPER CHAMBER VOTES AS ONE...
On 23 and 24 April, Federation Council members approved a series of bills that were recently approved by the State Duma, such as the bill raising the minimum monthly wage index from 300 rubles to 450 rubles and a bill raising servicemen's wages. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 April, representatives to the upper chamber voted "practically unanimously" on all questions discussed the previous day. Discussion of the agenda went unchallenged, and during the discussion of the candidacy of Andrei Kolesnikov for the post of deputy prosecutor-general, only "one senator dared to ask" a question (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). JAC
...AND REJECTS TWO BILLS
Over the course of 23 and 24 April, senators did manage to reject two bills, although they took this action in a unified fashion. A bill amending the law on mortgages was turned down when Nikolai Kondratenko (Krasnodar) said the bill is "yet another attempt to leave peasants as slaves on their own land," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Also rejected was a bill amending the law on mass media, which would have restricted what kind of names media outlets could adopt (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 9 April 2002). According to "Vremya MN" on 24 April, the senators complained that the bill had a "declarative" character and lacked a "real mechanism for defending citizens' rights." JAC
MORE ON AUSHEV'S RESIGNATION
"Vremya MN" reported on 24 April that the sudden resignation the previous day of Ingushetia's former President Ruslan Aushev from the Federation Council "did not cause a sensation in Ingushetia itself" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). Recent presidential candidate Mukharbek Aushev explained that Aushev is a "smart politician." According to Mukharbek, Ruslan Aushev realized that the current front-runner in the 28 April runoff for the presidential election, Alikhan Amirkhanov, would be disqualified, and that as soon as Federal Security Service General Murat Zyazikov came to power, Aushev would have had to leave the council anyway. JAC
TULA RESIDENTS PROTEST HIGHER RENTS
About 1,000 residents of Tula took part on 24 April in a protest meeting against higher rents -- a hike on average of 50 to 70 percent took effect that day, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, Tula Mayor Sergei Kazakov told the crowd that their rents are the lowest in Russia and if they were not raised the entire public-housing sector would face inevitable collapse. However, local specialists believe that two-thirds of local citizens will no longer be able to pay their rents. JAC
ANALYST PREDICTS MORE POWERS FOR ENVOYS...
In an interview with "Gazeta" on 24 April, Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center said he believes that judging by his recent annual address, President Vladimir Putin has decided that the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts "should gradually become a new institution of power." He continued, "It is impossible for [Putin] to talk about this, because then it would be necessary to cancel the moratorium on changes to the constitution. Therefore, [we] must expect an attempt to legitimize the institution of the envoys in a rough manner, not completely officially." Ryabov also argued that by giving the envoys more power, Putin risks disintegration of the Russian Federation. JAC
...AT THE RISK OF FEDERATION COHESION
According Ryabov, Putin hopes to reduce the power of regional leaders, but while they have experienced "serious financial weakening," the "real power of governors in their regions remains." Ryabov added that, "The attempts by the envoys to somehow squeeze out the strong governors has not been successful," and concluded that if the "envoys are given more powers in opposition to the governors, then the probability of a breakup of Russia, without a doubt, grows." JAC
BARRING OF BISHOP DELAYS CONSTRUCTION OF CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SIBERIA
The construction of a Roman Catholic church in Buryatia has been delayed by the recent refusal to allow Polish Bishop Jerzy Mazur to enter Russia, Interfax reported on 24 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 April 2002). Mazur heads the Catholic diocese in Irkutsk. Mazur had been scheduled to conduct a consecration of the land that the church will be built on -- and without this consecration construction of the church cannot begin. The church would have been the first Catholic church in Buryatia. JAC
ZHIRINOVSKY PROPOSES RENAMING CIS TO 'USSR'
Taking the floor in the Duma on 24 April, deputy speaker and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky proposed renaming the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) into the Union of Free Sovereign Republics, the abbreviation of which is identical with that of the Soviet Union (USSR), RIA-Novosti, nns.ru, and izvestiya.ru reported on 24 April. Zhirinovsky also suggested restoring the Tsarist-era names of some cities: Ulyanovsk to Simbirsk, Kirovo to Vyatka, and Volgograd to Tsaritsyn. Finally, he proposed redenominating the ruble. The Duma voted in favor of Zhirinovsky's proposals and asked its appropriate committees to make the necessary inquiries to the CIS legislative bodies, the Russian government, and the Finance Ministry, according to "Izvestiya." VY
KASYANOV FAILS TO CONVINCE EU THAT RUSSIAN ECONOMY IS READY FOR FREE-MARKET STATUS...
Speaking to business representatives in Brussels on 24 April, Prime Minister Kasyanov said that, while Russia does not seek privileged entrance to the World Trade Organization, it will not accept any discrimination, Russian news agencies reported on 24 April. He also said Russia welcomes EU expansion, but would like the union to address the economic problems Russia might face as a result. Kasyanov, who is touring European capitals, has thus far failed to make any progress in touting Russia's status as a free-market economy and in addressing the future of Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast following EU expansion, commented polit.ru on 24 April. According to "Vedomosti" on 24 April, Kasyanov faces a difficult dilemma: whether to accept the status of a limited-market country, which would not bode well for Russian exporters, or continue to seek free-market status and face very long negotiations. VY
...OR THAT KALININGRAD OBLAST DESERVES VISA PRIVILEGES
Kasyanov also failed to reach an understanding with the EU during his talks on 23 April in Copenhagen with his Danish counterpart Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country will take over the rotating chair of the EU in the second half of this year, according to polit.ru. Despite Kasyanov's efforts to secure special visa privileges for Kaliningrad Oblast residents once neighboring Lithuania and Poland join the EU, Rasmussen said the EU will issue its visas based on the Schengen agreement. VY
INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS FOR TOUGHER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Speaking at a conference of the officers of the Interior Ministry's (MVD) Immigration Service on 24 April, MVD Minister Gryzlov called for a radical change in Russia's immigration policy, RIA-Novosti reported. Gryzlov said some 1.5 million illegal immigrants currently live in Russia, many of whom are working without being registered and are not paying taxes, costing the state from $7 billion to $8 billion annually. Gryzlov said his agency will introduce in the near future a computerized system that will register every person's entry to, and exit from, Russia. He also proposed to increase drastically the penalty for Russian employers that illegally hire foreign laborers, and to work out mechanisms for implementing legislation that will make obtaining Russian citizenship more difficult. VY
CHECHENS APPEAL TO EXCAVATE MASS GRAVE
In a statement carried on 25 April by chechenpress.com, residents of Argun, Chechnya's second-largest town, appealed for international assistance to excavate a mass grave on the town's outskirts that they believe may contain the bodies of relatives who disappeared during Russian search operations. They note that they received permission in early March to uncover one nearby gravesite that was found to contain the decapitated bodies of a 62-year-old disabled person and three other men. But Russian troops opened fire without warning when the townspeople tried to uncover a second such gravesite, and the Russian military commandant subsequently warned them not to undertake any further attempt to do so. LF
ARMENIA MARKS GENOCIDE ANNIVERSARY
Hundreds of thousands of Armenians marched on 24 April to the monument in Yerevan to an estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a written address to the Armenian people, President Robert Kocharian characterized the genocide as "the most tragic page" in Armenian history, adding that "the Armenian people, both in their homeland and abroad, are still waiting for acknowledgement and denunciation" of the killings, according to Reuters. But he stressed that the campaign for recognition of the genocide "is not pursuit of revenge, but...an attempt to rule out a repeat of similar crimes." LF
AZERBAIJAN, GREECE DISCUSS POSSIBLE GAS EXPORTS
During a visit to Baku on 21-24 April, Greek Development Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos discussed with Azerbaijan State Oil Company President Natik Aliev the possibility of Azerbaijan exporting to Greece via Georgia and Turkey natural gas from its Caspian Shah Deniz field, Turan and Caspian News Agency reported. While admitting that such exports would benefit both Azerbaijan and the EU, Aliev pointed out that Azerbaijan must first comply with its commitments to provide some 6.6 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Turkey. Only once yields from Shah Deniz surpass that amount in 2007 will Baku be in a position to sell the additional gas to Greece. Moreover, such exports would necessitate construction of an additional section of pipeline from Turkey to Greece, Aliev noted. The two sides will carry out a feasibility study and a joint evaluation of the likely market demand. LF
UN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DENY GEORGIAN CLAIMS OF ABKHAZ, RUSSIAN TROOP BUILDUP
Dieter Boden, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for Abkhazia, and Major General Anis Ahmed Bajwa, who is Chief Military Observer of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, both rejected on 24 April Georgian media claims that Abkhazia and Russia continue to build up troops and weapons in Tkvarcheli Raion and the lower reaches of the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Bajwa told Apsni Press after a meeting in Sukhum with Abkhaz President Anri Djergenia that the UN has informed Georgia that no accumulation of forces has been registered in those districts. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, whom President Vladimir Putin recently named his special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002), similarly denied in Moscow on 24 April that Russia is providing Abkhazia with military hardware, Caucasus Press reported. LF
RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SUGGESTS PEACEKEEPERS' MANDATE COULD BE EXPANDED...
Loshchinin also suggested that the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone could theoretically be expanded, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 April. But he added that this could be done only as a result of talks between Georgia and Russia "with the unconditional participation of the Abkhaz side." He also commented that Tbilisi has not informed Russia what specific changes it wants. After the Georgian parliament voted last fall to demand the peacekeepers' withdrawal, Georgian officials suggested augmenting the 100 percent Russian force with contingents from other CIS states, redeploying the peacekeepers along the Galidzga River, which forms the northern boundary of Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, and amending their mandate to give them broader powers to protect Georgian displaced persons who wish to return to Gali (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 2, 10 January 2002). LF
...AS ABKHAZIA REGISTERS OPPOSITION...
Speaking in Sukhum on 24 April, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said the Abkhaz leadership categorically opposes any change in the peacekeepers' mandate, Caucasus Press reported. He argued that no changes are possible without the consent of the Abkhaz side. Deploying peacekeepers along the Galidzga River would effectively result in the loss of Abkhaz control over the unrecognized republic's southernmost Gali Raion. LF
...AND GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS DEMAND THEIR WITHDRAWAL
Major General Aleksandr Yevteev, who is acting commander of the Russian peacekeeping force in the Abkhaz conflict zone, met on 24 April in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi with Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. The displaced persons had earlier threatened to block the border bridge over the Inguri River if Yevteev refused to meet with them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2002). They demanded the withdrawal of the peacekeeping force by 31 July. Yevteev explained that as a military man he is not qualified to take such decisions, and advised the displaced persons to address their demand to the Georgian government. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DEMANDS STRICTER MONITORING OF USE OF FOREIGN GRANTS
Addressing a government session in Tbilisi on 24 April, President Eduard Shevardnadze said it is imperative to control more closely the use of foreign grants to ensure that such monies are not allocated to terrorist organizations, Caucasus Press reported. He charged Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli with monitoring the use of all grants received from foreign countries and organizations. LF
FUNDS RELEASED TO FINANCE LOCAL GEORGIAN ELECTIONS
The Georgian Finance Ministry has allocated to the Central Election Commission the 4.2 million laris ($1.87 million) needed to finance local elections scheduled for 2 June, Caucasus Press reported on 23 April. The ballot was postponed last fall because those funds were not earmarked in the state budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2001). LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES QUARREL OVER ARMENIAN GENOCIDE
Deputy parliament speaker Giga Tsereteli was forced to intervene on 24 April to prevent a fistfight between ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani deputies of the Georgian legislature, Caucasus Press and Turan reported. Armenian deputy Van Baiburt proposed commemorating the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide (see above), but two Azerbaijani deputies argued against doing so on the grounds that a formal statement could aggravate tensions between Georgia's Armenian and Azerbaijani communities and negatively affect Georgia's relations with Azerbaijan. The issue was therefore dropped from the agenda. LF
IRANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
Following the Caspian summit in Ashgabat, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami traveled to Almaty where he discussed with his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev bilateral relations, redressing the imbalance in bilateral trade, and the possibility of exporting oil from Kazakhstan via Turkmenistan and Iran, Russian agencies reported. Of the $220 million trade turnover between the two countries in 2001, Kazakhstan's exports to Iran accounted for $210 million. The two presidents also signed a declaration on friendly relations. An intergovernmental protocol on trade and economic, scientific, technical, and cultural cooperation was also signed. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR AKSY DEATHS MUST BE PUNISHED...
On 23 April, First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev presented the preliminary findings of the government commission charged with investigating the circumstances of the 17-18 March clashes on Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion in which at least five people were killed, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. President Askar demanded that those responsible for the deaths be punished, according to the presidential press service on 24 April. Akaev also instructed Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev to designate as politically motivated all acts of violence committed during the clashes between demonstrators and police. The presidential press service also reported on 24 April that Abyshkaev has sanctioned the arrest of unnamed law enforcement officials in connection with the Aksy deaths. LF
...WHILE KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST CLAIMS PRESIDENT IS TO BLAME
During a roundtable discussion in Bishkek on 24 April convened by the editorial board of the newspaper "Aghym," Jash Kyrgyzstan party Chairman Dosbol Nur Uulu blamed the Aksy deaths on Akaev personally, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He reasoned that neither Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev nor Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov, both of whom have the authority to order police to open fire, would have done so unless Akaev had given the go-ahead. LF
TURKMENISTAN VETOES CIS OPEC
Speaking at the 23-24 April Caspian summit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov rejected the suggestion made late last year by his Kazakh counterpart Nazarbaev that those CIS states that export hydrocarbons (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) should create a CIS equivalent of OPEC, "Vedomosti" reported on 25 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001 and 4 March 2002). Niyazov argued that before creating such an organization it is necessary to reach a new agreement on Turkmen access to Russian export pipelines and on the price Russia pays for Turkmen gas. Gazprom currently buys gas from Turkmenistan at the Kazakh border for $54 per 1,000 cubic meters and sells it in Europe for $120. The other four Caspian littoral state presidents for their part rejected Niyazov's proposal to set up a permanent committee of Caspian states. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS 'INTERNATIONALIST' TEXTBOOKS
Alyaksandr Lukashenka met on 24 April with a group of authors who are writing new textbooks on literature, history, and social sciences, and ordered them to be ready with draft versions of these textbooks by September 2003, Belarusian Television and Belapan reported. He said the textbooks introduced in the early 1990s -- after Belarus became independent -- should be reworked since "the small group that was [then] in power thought differently from the people or even our intelligentsia and social elite," Belarusian Television reported. "There should be no nationalism. One should take into account that we are not only mild-mannered people but also...absolutely internationalist people... What has nationalism to do with this? We are now suffering because of [nationalism]. It needs to be taken into account, it's a conceptual thing," Lukashenka advised the authors. JM
NTV CORRESPONDENT IN BELARUS GETS OFFICIAL WARNING
Belarus's Foreign Ministry on 24 April warned Russia's NTV correspondent in Minsk, Pavel Selin, over the allegedly "biased and unsubstantiated information" he presented in NTV-aired reports from Belarus earlier this month, Belapan reported. The ministry demanded that Selin make apologies and refute his reports, and threatened to cancel his accreditation if he goes on with "such activities." Belapan has not been able to contact Selin for comments but conjectures that the warning is linked to Selin's reports on a recent wave of emigration from Belarus and an opposition rally on 19 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 April 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE PLAN
Concluding his Middle East tour in Amman on 24 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 24 April 2002), President Leonid Kuchma called for the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in the West Bank and Gaza to set the stage for the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, AP reported. Kuchma said such negotiations should focus on the establishment of a Palestinian state and a cease-fire. He also called for an unconditional, immediate, and complete Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, and "ending all violent operations and terrorist acts, a step that must be declared officially by the Israeli leadership and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat." JM
UKRAINE ARRESTS SUSPECTED SYRIAN TERRORIST
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has arrested a Syrian national suspected of links to international terrorist organizations, New Channel Television reported on 24 April. The SBU accuses the Syrian, a former student of Kyiv University, of laundering $28 million hryvni ($5.3 million), converting this sum into U.S. dollars, and sending it to the Middle East. The money-laundering operation was conducted with the use of fly-by-night companies registered in Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk under fictitious names. JM
GERMAN POLITICIANS SUPPORT ESTONIA'S ACCESSION TO EU, NATO
Parliament Chairman Toomas Savi, heading a delegation of four other deputies, held talks in Berlin on 24 April with German Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse, BNS reported. The delegation also met with the heads of the Social-Democratic, Liberal, and other parliamentary factions, all of whom affirmed their support for Estonia's membership in the EU and NATO. In a lecture at the European Policy Institute, Savi spoke about the future of the EU and the current views prevailing in Estonia about the effects that EU membership would have on the country. In talks with the chairman of the Bundestag Tourism Committee, the delegation presented Estonia as an attractive destination for tourists, especially those interested in nature tourism. The delegation will return to Estonia on 27 April. SG
AUSTRIA'S PRESIDENT IS SURE OF LATVIA'S EU ACCESSION
Thomas Klestil began his first official visit to Latvia on 24 April with talks with his Latvian counterpart Vaira Vike-Freiberga, LETA reported. He confirmed Austria's support for Latvia's membership in the EU, and said he is sure the country will soon become a member of the union. Klestil told a press conference after the meeting that while Austria had previously focused on providing financial assistance to Central European countries, now is the time to increase cooperation with the Baltic states. He also mentioned that, although not a member of NATO, Austria also backs Latvia's efforts to join that defense alliance. Vike-Freiberga told a subsequent Latvian-Austrian Economic Forum that the bilateral relations between the two countries should become stronger after Latvia joins the EU. In separate talks with Agriculture Minister Atis Slakteris, Austrian Agriculture, Forestry, Environment, and Water Minister Wilhelm Molterer said that Austria believes that the EU's proposals concerning agricultural subsidies for new EU members are acceptable, and that it will share its own experiences with Latvia to help it receive better conditions in accession negotiations. SG
NATO GENERAL COMMENDS LITHUANIA FOR MEETING OBLIGATIONS
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Joseph Ralston began a one-day working visit to Vilnius on 24 April with a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus, ELTA reported. He praised Lithuania for the progress it has made in the 10 months since his last visit to the country, noting that the country's fulfillment of its commitments has given "confidence for the future." In talks with Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius and armed forces commander Major General Jonas Kronkaitis, Ralston advised Lithuania not to copy other countries' armed forces, and to decide on the field of specialization of its military forces on its own. He told parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas that Lithuanian servicemen performed well in NATO-led peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. Before traveling to Latvia, Ralston also gave a lecture at the Lithuanian Military Academy about Europe's security and defense prospects, NATO expansion tendencies, and new terrorist threats. SG
POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY SLAMS PROPOSED MEDIA-LAW CHANGES
Law and Justice leader Lech Kaczynski said on 23 April that the changes in Poland's media law proposed by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) would allow the SLD to monopolize the media market in communist-era style, PAP reported. Kaczynski warned that the SLD's proposals threaten to strengthen the position of Poland's public television at the cost of commercial broadcasters. "This way, the SLD would have influence over the private media and hold practical hegemony over the entire market," he added. In particular, the controversial amendments forbid issuing more than one license for nationwide broadcasting to one broadcaster and ban the owner of a nationwide daily from obtaining a license for nationwide broadcasting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). JM
POLAND DISLIKES BEING NET CONTRIBUTOR TO EU BUDGET
Premier Leszek Miller on 23 April said Poland cannot pay more into the EU treasury than it will receive from it, Polish Radio reported. The following day, Poland's EU chief negotiator Jan Truszczynski explained that currently the EU's liabilities toward Poland amount to some 1 billion euros ($892 million) annually, while the membership fee once Poland accedes to the EU would amount to at least 2.5 billion euros. Truszczynski noted that an improvement in Poland's net financial situation would require the EU to transfer to Poland more than 3.5 billion euros annually. JM
POLISH PARTIES LOSE 'CONSIDERABLE' SUBSIDIES AFTER IMPROPER ELECTION ACCOUNTS
The Supreme Court on 24 April upheld a decision by the State Election Committee that deprived the ruling-coalition Peasant Party (PSL) and the opposition, right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR) of "considerable" state subsidies and refunds after rejecting both parties' reports on their spending during the 2001 parliamentary election campaign, Polish Television reported. Janusz Wojciechowski from the PSL commented that the party did not commit any financial abuses in the campaign and added that the PSL financial report included only "mistakes of a formal nature." Meanwhile, Zbigniew Wrzodak from the LPR said the court ruling against his party was politically motivated. "[There has been] pressure from various politicians that the LPR not receive financial subsidies since it would then be threatening in the confrontation with the Euro-enthusiasts over the issue of Poland's entry to the EU," Wrzodak noted. JM
EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER WELCOMES 'MODERATE' CZECH DECLARATION ON BENES DECREES
Guenter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner in charge of enlargement, on 24 April welcomed the "relatively moderate tone" of the declaration on the Benes Decrees approved by the Czech Chamber of Deputies earlier that day. Verheugen told CTK that efforts should be made to calm down the dispute, as "nobody wants to call into question the outcome of World War II." He said the debates on the decrees should be conducted in a "calm and factual manner," and added that the European Commission and the European Parliament are still examining the decrees' compatibility with current EU legislation and the principles on which that legislation is based. MS
FIRST MEMBERS OF CZECH FIELD-HOSPITAL TEAM LEAVE FOR KABUL
The first 30 members of the Czech field hospital team left for Afghanistan on 24 April, despite lingering doubts over how the mission will be financed, CTK and Czech radio reported. They were seen off at the airport by President Vaclav Havel and Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik. Tvrdik told the soldiers he hopes they will "represent the Czech Republic better than some of its politicians do." The Chamber of Deputies recently rejected the government's proposal for financing the mission, and the Defense Ministry says the move puts the country's international reputation in jeopardy. The 30 soldiers are to prepare the ground for setting up a 150-bed field hospital in Kabul. MS
CZECH LOWER HOUSE RETURNS TO COMMISSIONS BILL ON FIGHTERS' PURCHASE
The Chamber of Deputies did not approve the second reading of the government-sponsored bill on the financing of 24 Jas-39 Gripen supersonic fighters on 24 April, and returned the bill to several of its commissions for further debates, CTK reported. The first reading of the bill was approved earlier this year. The decision followed criticism by deputies representing the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), who said the government substantially altered the financing aspects since the first reading of the bill. Instead of proposing that the deal be financed though a loan from a state bank, the cabinet introduced a change saying that the deal is to be financed from the sale of the state-owned Cesky Telecom company. MS
CZECH COALITION LEADERS CRITICIZE KLAUS, DO NOT RULE OUT COOPERATION
Freedom Union-Democratic Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova told journalists on 24 April that if ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus returns to power as a result of the June elections, he is likely to commit the same mistakes as in the past, CTK reported. But Marvanova added that the winner of the elections should be entrusted with forming the new cabinet and that the Coalition, of which her party is a member, will cooperate with whatever party wins the ballot. Marvanova said the Coalition is closer to the views of the ODS on the economy but that there are more similarities with the Social Democratic Party on issues such as the struggle against corruption and foreign policy. MS
TEMELIN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT RESTARTED
The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant was restarted on 24 April after a two-month shutdown, AP reported, quoting plant spokesman Milan Nebesar. The plant was shut down on 24 February for a "planned technical inspection" during which faulty turbine valves were also replaced. Nebesar also said Temelin's second reactor will be started up next month. MS
SLOVAKIA WILL NOT FOLLOW CZECH EXAMPLE ON BENES DECREES RESOLUTION
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on Slovak radio that Bratislava "respects" the Czech parliament's resolution on the Benes Decrees, but added that "we should not unnecessarily start political discussions and debates" on the issue, CTK reported on 24 April. Kukan said, "It is necessary to consider the sensitivity of every political move." Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda backed Kukan's statement and said Slovakia will "certainly not" follow the Czech example. Hungarian Slovak Coalition (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar said a discussion on the decrees now could turn into an electoral issue ahead of the September ballot, but added that the decrees "unfortunately" do have an impact on existing legislation and several laws should be modified "in order to avoid various possible interpretations." The only party to support a Czech-like debate in the parliament is the Real Slovak National Party. MS
FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK SECRET-POLICE CHIEF HANDED SUSPENDED SENTENCE IN SLOVAKIA
The High Military Court in Trencin on 24 April upheld a 15-month suspended sentence handed down to Alojz Lorenc, the last chief of the communist secret police, CTK and international agencies reported. Both Lorenc and the prosecution had appealed against the verdict but the court rejected the appeals. Lorenc was found guilty of persecuting dissidents during the 1980s. The sentence carries a three-year probation term. MS
SLOVAKIA'S SMK DISTANCES ITSELF FROM DURAY'S STATEMENT IN BUDAPEST
The SMK leadership on 24 April said the statement recently made at a pro-FIDESZ rally in Budapest by its Deputy Chairman Miklos Duray was "unfortunate" and does not represent the SMK's official view, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). At the rally, Duray expressed support for outgoing premier Viktor Orban and used the expression "Upper Hungary" when describing the alleged support of ethnic Hungarians in areas that became part of Czechoslovakia after 1918. Bugar added, however, that the SMK leadership decided that Duray will still be an SMK candidate in the forthcoming elections, although a warning was issued to all members that similar statements on "sensitive issues" in future will carry the risk of being removed from the SMK's lists. MS
RECOUNT LEAVES SOCIALISTS WITH ONE FEWER SEAT IN HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT
A recount of votes in Hungary's northeastern town of Szerencs has transferred its parliamentary seat from Socialist Gyorgy Szabo to FIDESZ-Democratic Forum candidate Ferenc Koncz, Hungarian media reported on 24 April. A recount determined that Koncz won by one vote, while initial results showed Szabo winning by five votes. Szabo announced that he will challenge the decision in court. In other news, a new election has been ordered in Nyirbator after Socialist Janos Veres, who received 40.75 percent of the vote on 21 April, produced evidence that the FIDESZ-Forum alliance and its candidate, Miklos Simon, had tried to influence voters illegally. The regional committee accepted the appeal, but the head of the FIDESZ regional office will challenge it in court. MSZ
OUTGOING HUNGARIAN PREMIER TO HAVE NO FORMAL ROLE IN FIDESZ
Prime Minister Viktor Orban will not assume any official functions in either in the party, or in its parliamentary group or in the parliament, "Vilaggazdasag" on 25 April quoted FIDESZ officials as saying. Instead, the role of a leader who is "above daily skirmishes" is to be reserved for Orban. The party officials said the idea is that Orban will represent the entire right wing, rather than just one party. This also means that Zoltan Pokorni will remain FIDESZ party chairman and Jozsef Szajer its caucus leader. In other news, "Magyar Hirlap" commented on 25 April that FIDESZ has drawn the necessary conclusions and silenced its Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover. According to the daily, FIDESZ officials have realized that Kover's inflammatory remark ahead of the elections suggesting that opposition politicians should hang themselves did not do any good. MSZ
DEMOCRATIC FORUM TO HAVE OWN PARLIAMENTARY GROUP IN HUNGARY
The Hungarian Democratic Forum, FIDESZ's coalition partner, will form a separate parliamentary group, party Chairwoman Ibolya David announced on 24 April. The Forum will have 24 deputies, making it the third-largest caucus in parliament, after the Socialists and FIDESZ. David explained that the decision will enable the Forum "to represent civic forces with greater weight and prominence, in a more successful way." She stressed that the Forum and FIDESZ must cooperate as closely as possible to enhance the strength of the "civic union of forces." For his part, FIDESZ Chairman Pokorni said the two parties should issue a political statement to make it clear that their alliance does not end with the fact that "parliamentary mathematics took the possibility of joint governing" out of their hands, Hungarian media reported. MSZ
MIEP CHAIRMAN RETURNS TO CONSPIRACY THEORIES
Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka told reporters on 24 April that in France the same circles are pressing for a recount of votes that "thwart all attempts at recounting votes in Hungary," Hungarian dailies reported. "I am referring to the leadership of the Socialist Party and the Free Democrats, a narrow section of the banking elite and, let me say openly, Jewish circles in Hungary," Csurka declared. He said that France's National Front, like MIEP, has never proclaimed anti-Semitic slogans and "yet, those are imputed to it in an effort to push it to the political fringe." Peter Tordai, head of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary, expressed satisfaction that "as a result of the voters' decision, no party advocating racist ideas has won seats in Hungary's new parliament." MSZ
MILOSEVIC'S GENERAL JOINS HIM IN THE HAGUE
General Dragoljub Ojdanic arrived in The Hague on 25 April, the first Serbian indicted war criminal to turn himself in to the tribunal since Belgrade's recent approval of legislation on cooperating with that body, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). Before leaving Belgrade, he told reporters that he wants the authorities to provide the tribunal with guarantees so he can await his trial in Serbia rather than in prison, saying, "I hope that the [Yugoslav] government will take seriously [its legal] commitment to provide guarantees. The new law also requires the [Serbian] government to stick to this commitment. Everything else depends on The Hague tribunal." Florence Hartmann, who is the spokeswoman for the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said she has nothing against the idea of Ojdanic awaiting his trial in Serbia, "Vesti" reported. Tribunal spokesman Jim Landale noted that each case is different and that each indicted war criminal is treated according to his or her specific situation. PM
WASHINGTON: BELGRADE HAS NOT DONE ENOUGH
"Vesti" reported from the State Department on 25 April that the U.S. still expects Yugoslavia to do more to cooperate with the tribunal. Even though plans for some extraditions are "encouraging," Belgrade must ensure that all indicted war criminals on its territory go to The Hague. It must also guarantee the tribunal access to archives and witnesses. Secretary of State Colin Powell has not reached a decision yet as to when and if to unfreeze U.S. aid funds for Serbia. PM
YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER: THE HAGUE AND THE MILITARY ARE KEY ISSUES
Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 24 April that his recent talks with European leaders have taught him that Yugoslavia must improve its cooperation with The Hague and place its military firmly under civilian control if it wants integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Strasbourg, Walter Schwimmer, who heads the Council of Europe, said that Yugoslavia must extradite Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic if it wants to be admitted to that body, "Vesti" reported on 25 April. Carla Del Ponte stressed that existing Yugoslav legislation is insufficient because it does not allow for the arrest and extradition of persons who will be indicted by the tribunal in the future. PM
BOSNIAN LEADERS HAIL ADMISSION TO THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Bosnian presidency Chairman Beriz Belkic said in Strasbourg on 24 April that his country will live up to its pledges to reform its judiciary, strengthen its weak central institutions, arrest war criminals, and fight crime, corruption, and terrorism, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija added that "Bosnia and Herzegovina is today formally enlisted as a European country." Schwimmer noted that Bosnia's success is the result of years of cooperation between the Bosnian authorities and the international community (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2002). Bosnia hopes to start talks before the end of 2002 with the EU about an association and stabilization agreement. PM
BOSNIA GATHERS EVIDENCE ON TERRORISTS
Deputy Interior Minister Tomislav Limov told Hina in Sarajevo on 24 April that his ministry has collected considerable evidence about former intelligence and police officials with links to Islamic terrorists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2002). He added that the ministry also keeps an eye on Croatian extremist terrorist bombers in Herzegovina and members of the Serbian Ravna Gora Chetnik movement. PM
STEINER PRAISES KOSOVA'S PROGRESS...
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), told the Security Council in New York on 24 April that the province has made much progress since the end of the 1999 conflict, the BBC reported. He cited the holding of free and fair elections in 2001 and the setting up of a legislature and government as two important achievements. Steiner stressed that the issue of Kosova's status "should be saved for last," and that efforts should now be concentrated on building up a "functioning society" with law and order and with ample jobs in a free-market economy. He stressed that, "We have the vision to finish the job." Steiner cited Bosnia as another example of progress in the Balkans. PM
...BUT SERBIAN LEADERS HAVE COMPLAINTS
Also in New York for the meeting of the Security Council, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic told the BBC's Serbian Service on 24 April that the council agreed with his complaint that UNMIK and the new government have not done enough to ensure freedom of movement within Kosova and the return of Serbian refugees. He added that it is "too early" to discuss the status issue, which he called "problematic" and "potentially destabilizing." In a separate interview, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic argued against independence for Kosova, saying, "Is it so important to create a second Albanian state?" Djindjic repeated the Serbian "domino theory," according to which independence for Kosova would somehow lead to the breakup of Macedonia and Bosnia and impact adversely on the "democratic forces in Serbia." Other observers have suggested that it is precisely the lack of clarity on Kosova's eventual status that is the main destabilizing factor in the region. PM
ALBANIA HALTS WORK ON GERMAN MEMORIAL
The national government ordered a stop to construction work on a memorial to German soldiers who died in the 1944 fighting in Tirana, dpa reported on 25 April. The city authorities approved the project, but the national government said that "there is a need for clarification over the procedures for the construction permit." The cemetery is ready, and the memorial is almost finished. The remains of the 56 soldiers have been transferred to the area from the German Embassy. But the government -- which is led by the Socialists, who are the successors to Enver Hoxha's Party of Labor -- has come under pressure from organizations representing Hoxha's former Partisans. Under a 1994 agreement, a German NGO that restores and preserves German war graves abroad is handling the project. PM
SLOVENIA TO HOST CENTRAL EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS
In what is likely to be one of his last major acts before a successor is elected in the fall, President Milan Kucan will host a gathering of 16 heads of state on 31 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. His guests are the leaders of Italy, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN BELGIUM
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt told visiting Romanian President Ion Iliescu on 24 April that when his country takes over the rotating EU chairmanship in 2003, it wants to promote a "clear timetable" for Romania's accession to the EU, Mediafax reported. In a speech at Free University of Brussels later that day, Iliescu said Romania is ready to advance accession from the currently envisaged 2006-07 to an earlier date, though this would involve serious social costs. Iliescu said that he believes that with EU help earlier accession would be feasible. On 25 April, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told a forum in Brussels attended by Iliescu that at the end of this year Romania and Bulgaria will be offered "a new timetable for negotiations," and that the two countries "will not be left out" after other EU candidates join the organization. MS
ROMANIA REJECTS RENEGOTIATING MEMORANDUM WITH HUNGARY ON STATUS LAW
Romania has "no intention to renegotiate or to suspend the implementation" of the memorandum signed last December on the implementation of the Hungarian Status Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau quoted Foreign Ministry State Secretary Cristian Diaconescu as saying on 24 April. Diaconescu spoke after meeting in Bucharest with his Slovak counterpart Jaroslav Chlebo. Diaconescu said that the memorandum stipulates that the Status Law be amended by 26 June 2002 to bring it into line with the Venice Commission recommendations, and do away with any discrimination based on ethnic criteria. He expressed "satisfaction" in view of "signals from Budapest" that the prospective new government intends to "renew dialogue with Hungary's neighbors." MS
ROMANIAN CHIEF OF STAFF CONFIRMS INTENTION TO SEND TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
In an interview with Reuters on 24 April, Chief of Staff General Mihail Popescu confirmed that Romania is offering 500 troops to participate in the U.S.-led Enduring Freedom operation in Afghanistan. The same day, Romanian radio reported that the parliament will soon debate a request by President Iliescu to approve the dispatch of the troops, should Romania be requested to do so. A spokesman of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest was quoted by Reuters as saying, "We are getting closer to submitting a formal request to Romania in the near future." MS
ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE AGAINST MINERS' LEADER
The Supreme Court on 24 April upheld a November 1999 lower court verdict that ruled that miners' leader Miron Cozma and former officer Silviu Popescu are responsible for the rampages caused by the miners on their way to, and in, Bucharest in September 1991 and must pay 4.5 billion lei (over $135,000) in damages, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Cozma is already serving an 18-year sentence for his role in those rampages. MS
WHY IS ROMPRES RETURNING TO COMMUNIST NAME?
The Senate's Cultural Affairs Commission on 24 April decided that the official news agency Rompres should be called Agerpres -- its communist-era name, Mediafax reported. Members of the commission justified the decision by the desire to "avoid confusion," since the name Rompres "could be identified with a certain ethnic group" --in other words, with the Romany community. MS
PACE ADOPTS RESOLUTION, RECOMMENDATIONS ON MOLDOVAN CRISIS...
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 24 April approved a resolution expressing "concern" over the "continuous deterioration" of the political situation in Moldova, Infotag and Flux reported. The assembly recommended that the Moldovan authorities register the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church by 31 July and that they submit for examination by Council of Europe experts the new Criminal Code and the Administrative Code. It also recommended that by 31 July Teleradio Moldova be granted the status of a public organization. The assembly called on the authorities to ensure the independence of the judiciary and said a moratorium should be imposed on actions pertaining to studying history and compulsory foreign-language education in schools. The assembly also called on protesters in Chisinau to end their demonstrations and on the authorities to stop persecuting and intimidating Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) deputies. MS
...WHICH ARE PRAISED BY THE CONFRONTING SIDES
The leaders of the three Moldovan parliamentary groups, who attended the PACE session, all praised the resolution and its recommendations, although emphasizing different aspects, Infotag and Flux reported. Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc said, "The government and the opposition alike have received a good lesson," and called the resolutions "moderate and constructive." He said the authorities will implement the recommendations provided the demonstrations cease. Addressing demonstrators by telephone from Strasbourg, PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca called the resolution "an extraordinary political victory" for his formation, and emphasized that the resolution also expresses concern for the fate of PPCD deputy Vlad Cubreacov. Rosca called on the authorities to "take energetic and concrete steps" to determine Cubreacov's fate. Braghis Alliance Chairman Dumitru Braghis called the resolution "reasonable," and said its recommendations "must be implemented within the stipulated time frame." MS
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS 'SPRING OFFENSIVE' SUCCESSFUL
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi on 24 April called Bulgaria's efforts to promote the country's NATO accession a complete success, BTA reported. In commenting on the talks between Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington, and on the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, Pasi said that "Bulgaria's drive for NATO membership has entered a new stage." He added, "President Bush's support is more than obvious. Bush gave a very high assessment of the performance of the prime minister, his government, and the entire nation on the track toward NATO." According to Pasi, the North Atlantic Council's reaction to the Bulgarian presentation was "more than good -- very positive indeed." He stressed that the council supported Bulgaria's new law on classified information. UB
BULGARIA, U.S. SIGN ANTICORRUPTION COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski and U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Andrew Natsios signed a cooperation agreement on 24 April to support Bulgaria's fight against corruption, focus.bg reported, citing Darik Radio. The new initiative is intended to improve the effectiveness of the Bulgarian authorities' anticorruption efforts. It also provides for support to nongovernmental organizations that work to fight corruption. The U.S. will spend $6.8 million for the anticorruption program. UB
ALBANIA LAUNCHES MILITARY REFORM WITH EYE ON NATO, EU
Albania's armed forces have launched a 10-year reform program sponsored and supervised by the U.S. Defense Department in order to trim down and thoroughly modernize its current standing force of more than 30,000 troops. Weapons and ammunition are to undergo the same radical reform. "To reduce [the military armament capacity], putting [these weapons] out of use, it's necessary to sell them or otherwise to demolish them," said Major General Pellumb Qazimi, the chief of General Staff of Albania's armed forces.
According to Qazimi, the reforms will require the country to sell not only ammunition, but "all surplus equipment we have, including airplanes, tanks, helicopters, artillery pieces, even navy ships, which would be overstock in the new structure." He said that in order to proceed with such sales it is important for the necessary legal foundation to be prepared, adding, "If that's not possible, we will proceed with their demolition to prevent them from becoming a risk for the Albanian population."
Qazimi says he is satisfied that Albania's fractious politics have not obstructed any of the reforms undertaken by the armed forces. He admits that his General Staff continues to implement reforms that were launched in Albania just after the fall of communism nearly a decade ago. But as Qazimi is quick to point out, "Our vision is totally modern and our pace is rapid."
According to Qazimi, the stockpiling of weapons by Macedonian security forces during last year's armed conflict with ethnic Albanian insurgents in Macedonia poses a risk to the whole region. "But on the other hand," he said, "I don't agree that the military component is the only one threatening peace today. There are other mechanisms like political or diplomatic interventions that can prevent regional conflicts." Qazimi considers Macedonia's decision a "negative message not only for solving the problems Macedonia is trying to rid itself of, but at the same time a bad directive for the other countries in the region. Albania is the only state in the region implementing such military arsenal reduction initiatives."
Albania succeeded with a project to destroy 1.6 million antipersonnel mines and explosives over a recent eight-month period. In addition, 116,000 light and small weapons have been destroyed so far in a joint project with United States, Germany, and Norway.
Albania is one of nine Central and Eastern European countries that are actively seeking membership in the 19-member military alliance. NATO is expected to name countries to be included in the next wave of expansion at a summit to be held in Prague in November.
Of the nine, the three Baltic states, as well as Slovenia and Slovakia, are given the best chances of being offered membership. Romania and Bulgaria are considered less likely. The chances of Albania and Macedonia being admitted at this stage are considered to be very slim.
Albania is eagerly awaiting the Prague summit, as are all other aspiring NATO members, according to Qazimi, adding that the Albanian military will continue what he calls its "serious efforts" to meet all obligations for full integration and membership in NATO.
"We will continue our serious efforts to be taken into consideration for NATO membership, but even if the decision to give us [member status] will not be achieved, we will continue in the same way, for this is to the benefit of the country and serves to raise security for the region," Qazimi said.
Qazimi emphasizes that Tirana is not seeking any special favors from NATO, but Albanian authorities say they believe that goodwill and a commitment to NATO guidelines, as well as military preparedness, should be considered in the process of NATO enlargement.
Albanian experts say off the record that none of the countries asking for full membership in NATO fully meets all requirements for membership. They say that due credit should be given to Albania for being a reliable partner in the war against terrorism, as well as for acting to quell regional unrest.
Alban Bala is an RFE/RL correspondent.