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Newsline - September 6, 2002


PUTIN, OTHER OFFICIALS OPPOSE MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ
In a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 6 September, President Vladimir Putin said that he does not believe the use of military force against Iraq would conform to international law, AP, Interfax, and other news agencies reported. Putin said he believes there is "real potential" for a political solution to the crisis. Putin also spoke by telephone to U.S. President George W. Bush on 6 September, but details of the conversation were not released, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, AP reported that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking to reporters after a meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs in Moscow, said: "We believe a policy of diplomatic steps and decisions might enable us to find a long-term settlement to the situation around Iraq that would be in the interests of regional stability." Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said that Russia might use its veto in the UN Security Council if the United States seeks a resolution on military action. "The Russian delegation expects that the issue of a military operation will not be raised in the Security Council and that we will not have to make a decision on [using the veto]," Fedotov was quoted by AP as saying. RC

MILITARY SUSPENDS TBILISI TRIP...
The Defense Ministry has indefinitely postponed sending a military delegation to Georgia to participate in a joint investigation of the 23 August bombing of the Pankisi Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2002), RTR and ITAR-TASS reported, citing an unidentified ministry spokesman. The spokesman said that the ministry must first receive and study documents from the Georgian authorities before deciding whether to send the delegation. Meanwhile, Paata Gomelauri, head of the Georgian Interior Ministry's press service, responded to Russian criticism that Georgian efforts to combat "terrorism" are too feeble (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2002), polit.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 5 September. Gomelauri said that Russia's actions during years of war in Chechnya have shown a lack of concern for the civilian population. "As for us, we are not going to engage in mass cleansings [zachistki] of a region where thousands of civilians and refugees are living," Gomelauri said. VY

...AS PAPER PRESENTS THEORY ON PANKISI BOMBING...
"Argumenty i fakty," No. 36, on 4 September reported, quoting intelligence sources, that the Russian military carried out the 23 August bombing and that the real target was a convoy of 70 trucks transporting some 600 Chechen guerrillas, together with their weapons, ammunition, and food supplies. The paper claimed that because of poor visibility, the raid destroyed only seven trucks, killing some 50 Chechens. Russian authorities continue to deny that Russian forces were involved in the attack. LF

...AND FSB CLAIMS KASPIISK TERRORISTS WERE TRAINED IN GEORGIA
The Federal Security Service (FSB) believes that the men who carried out the 9 May terrorist attack in Kaspiisk that killed 45 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002) received special training in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, polit.ru and other Russian media reported on 6 September. According to Ivan Mironov, deputy director of the FSB's Antiterrorism Department, the men who have been arrested in connection with the Kaspiisk bombing told investigators they received "special explosives-mines training" in Georgia. Mironov said that alleged training was conducted by "Arab mercenaries." RC

PUTIN MAKES APPROACH TO POLAND, LITHUANIA...
President Putin has sent messages to his Polish and Lithuanian counterparts informing them about proposals he has made to the European Union concerning transit between the Kaliningrad exclave and the rest of Russia in the event of EU expansion, strana.ru reported on 5 September, citing the presidential press service. In his letters, Putin wrote that he hopes Poland and Lithuania, "as good neighbors to Russia and as EU candidates, will demonstrate a readiness for constructive dialogue on the Kaliningrad problem." VY

...AS LUKOIL, YUKOS MAKE THEIR OWN OVERTURES
Vagit Alekperov, chairman of oil giant LUKoil, met on 4 September in Warsaw with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller to discuss his company's plans to buy Poland's largest oil refinery, Rafineria Gdanska, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian news agencies reported on 5 September. Although no details of the talks were released, LUKoil's intentions have many opponents in Poland. The local firm PKN/Orlen has asked the government not to approve LUKoil's bid and instead to restructure the entire Polish oil sector. PKN/Orlen is however also engaged in partnership negotiations with the Russian firms Yukos and Surgutneftegaz, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 August. Meanwhile, Yukos took control of Lithuania's national oil company, Mazeikiai Oil (Mazeikiu Nafta), following a government decision not to buy a 26.85 percent stake formerly held by the U.S. company Williams International (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August and 4 September 2002). The move gives Yukos a 53.7 percent stake in Mazeikiai Oil. VY

GAZPROM, LUKOIL TO EXPLORE CASPIAN TOGETHER
Gazprom and LUKoil signed an agreement on the joint exploration of oil and gas fields in the northern and central parts of the Caspian Sea, lenta.ru reported on 5 September. The Caspian agreement is part of a broader accord on strategic partnership between the two energy giants signed by Gazprom Chairman Aleksei Miller and LUKoil head Alekperov on 27 August. Under the accord, Gazprom will transport condensed natural gas recovered by LUKoil from northern Russia, including the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. VY

OLIGARCHS LISTED AMONG THE YOUNG AND RICH
The September issue of "Fortune" magazine lists five Russian billionaires among the world's 40 richest people under the age of 40 living outside the United States. Yukos Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovskii heads the list with a personal fortune estimated at $7.2 billion. Sibneft shareholder and Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich was listed fourth with a fortune estimated at $4.2 billion; Alfa-Group President Mikhail Fridman was ranked ninth with $2.1 billion; and Russian Aluminum co-owner Oleg Deripaska made the 13th slot with his $1.5 billion. Finally, MDM-Group President Andrei Melnichenko was listed 24th with a fortune estimated at $380 million. VY

PROSECUTOR TO LOOK INTO FOREST FIRES...
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov announced that his office is investigating the passivity of regional authorities in connection with the massive forest fires that have engulfed Moscow Oblast and left Moscow choking in smog (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2002), RTR reported on 5 September. Ustinov added that after the investigation, "appropriate decisions" will be made regarding the possible filing of criminal charges. Moscow Oblast Prosecutor Eduard Denisov told RIA-Novosti that more than 3,000 oblast officials will face administrative sanctions for their ineffective handling of the fires. VY/RC

...AS OTHERS ALSO JOIN IN THE BLAME GAME
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 5 September, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov blamed the government for allowing the fires to spread, RTR reported. Communist Duma Deputy Vasilii Shandybin said that he believes the fires "were intentionally arranged." Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Yurii Vorobev criticized Moscow Oblast officials for their thoroughly incompetent handling of the fires, strana.ru reported. VY/RC

SMOKE CLOSES PETERSBURG AIRPORT
St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport was closed briefly to arrivals on 5 September because of smoke from Leningrad Oblast forest fires, ntvru.com reported. Early in the morning, visibility at the airport was less than 300 meters. By mid-afternoon, however, the situation had improved, and the airport returned to its normal routine. Meteorologists were forecasting continued dry and calm weather in St. Petersburg at least through 8 September. RC

EMERGENCY MINISTRY CLAIMS CREDIT FOR THE RAIN
The Emergency Situations Ministry on 6 September said that it is responsible for a light rain that fell in Moscow earlier in the day, AP reported, citing ORT. Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said that an ionizer intended to attract rain clouds was switched on on 5 September, bringing a slight drizzle to the smoke-engulfed capital the next day. Beltsov said that ionizer is still switched on in hopes that additional rainfall can be generated. According to the report, the smog situation might have been exacerbated by Moscow city government efforts to prevent rain during City Day celebrations last weekend. RC

OFFICIALS PRESENT LATEST CREATIONS AT BOOK FAIR
The 15th International Book Fair opened in Moscow on 4 September, featuring stands representing 82 countries, Russian news agencies reported. Among the presentations at the fair was Prosecutor-General Ustinov's book "Terrorism Is To Blame," strana.ru reported on 5 September. The book reportedly describes the history of the growth of terrorism in the North Caucasus. Foreign Minister Ivanov also presented a book at the fair, strana.ru reported on 5 September. Ivanov's book is called "Russia's Foreign Policy in the Age of Globalization" and reportedly presents Ivanov's vision of a multipolar world order and a significantly expanded role for the UN in world affairs. It was also announced at the fair that a new biography of President Putin by journalist Oleg Blotskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2002) is currently being translated into nine foreign languages. RC

POLITICIANS LINE UP BEHIND PUTIN ON BELARUS
State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 5 September that he fully backs President Putin's proposals to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka regarding three possible models of integrating the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 5 September. Seleznev said that both he and Putin consider unification based on the model of the European Union as the most promising option. Pavel Borodin, secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union, said on 5 September that the president's suggestion that a bilateral working group be created to accelerate unification is a "brilliant idea," polit.ru reported. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 September that SPS also supports the idea of union with Belarus "according to the example of the European Union." "But real integration will mean political death for Lukashenka," Nemtsov added. VY/RC

SPS LEADER REBUKES UNIFIED RUSSIA FOR PRE-CAMPAIGN SPENDING...
In the same "Nezavisimaya gazeta" interview, Nemtsov criticized the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party for the national campaign that it has conducted to raise its visibility in the run-up to this fall's State Duma elections. Nemtsov said that SPS "unlike Unified Russia does not have extra-budgetary funds to cover the whole country with posters claiming that it will take charge of the payment of wages and pensions." He said that Unified Russia has "enormous sums of money," but that its campaign has not been effective, since the Communists recently regained first place in national opinion polls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2002). Nemtsov cited advertising specialists who claim that the Unified Russia public-relations campaign must have cost "millions of dollars." RC

...AND ENDORSES IDEA OF SINGLE CANDIDATE FROM LIBERAL FACTIONS
Nemtsov also told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that "confidential negotiations" are being held with representatives of all liberal parties and groups in order to develop a unified platform and nominate a single candidate for the 2004 presidential election. He said that he believes the chances that a single candidate will be endorsed are good. He added that the liberal platform would be based on "the defense of Russia's democratic foundations, a federal state, local self-government, a political solution to the problem of Chechnya, and the lifting of censorship." RC

U.S., RUSSIAN PACIFIC-REGION LEADERS TO MEET
Administration heads from the Russian Far East and Far North will meet in Anchorage, Alaska, with U.S. governors from West Coast states on 17-19 September, RIA-Novosti reported on 5 September, citing the Foreign Ministry. Chukotka Governor Abramovich, Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov, Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev, Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, and Koryak Autonomous Okrug head Vladimir Loginov will participate in the gathering, which will also be attended by more than 300 U.S. and Russian businesspeople. VY

MEDIA WARNED FOR KRASNOYARSK ELECTION VIOLATIONS
Elections officials in Krasnoyarsk Krai have issued more than 120 administrative warnings against krai media outlets for violations of the mass-media law in connection with the ongoing campaign for governor, RosBalt reported on 5 September. Local prosecutors say that the editors of 22 administration-controlled municipal papers will be held responsible for violations. The independent newspapers "Segodnyashnyaya gazeta" and "Komsomolskaya pravda-Krasnoyarsk," as well as the state-owned paper "Krasnoyarskie novosti" have been given written warnings. According to the law, papers that receive two warnings could have their registration annulled by the Media Ministry. Voting in Krasnoyarsk Krai will be held on 8 September. RC

SAVING THE WORLD FROM 900 BAD-HAIR DAYS
Authorities in St. Petersburg on 5 September unveiled a memorial plaque dedicated to hairdressers who worked during the 900-day siege of Leningrad, RosBalt reported. The plaque was placed on the Nevskii Prospekt building where the only hairdressing establishment to remain open throughout the blockade was located. At the unveiling, St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Deputy Petr Shelishch called on Petersburgers to patronize hairdressers more often, saying that "beauty is strength." The plaque quotes 19th-century writer Fyodor Dostoevsky: "During these years (1941-44), the work of hairdressers proved that 'beauty will save the world.'" RC

ANOTHER CHECHEN POLICE CONVOY TARGETED
One Chechen police officer died and three were injured on 4 September in the second attack on a police convoy within two days, Interfax reported on 5 September. A police spokesman said the convoy came under attack from Chechen fighters armed with small arms and grenade launchers. Eight police died on 3 September when their truck was destroyed by a booby-trap bomb. Five others were killed between 21-24 August. According to chechenpress.com on 23 August, the killings are the work of the Russian military, not of the Chechen resistance. LF

ARMENIAN COMMUNISTS SHELVE DEMANDS FOR ACCESSION TO RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION
The Armenian Communist Party (HKK) has suspended the campaign it embarked on in 1997 for Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union in light of the recent disagreements between Russia and Belarus over how that union should evolve, HKK First Secretary Vladimir Darpinian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 5 September (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 1997). But Darpinian added that virtually all Armenian left-wing parties, including Hanrapetutiun and the People's Party of Armenia, are still in favor of Armenia joining the Russia-Belarus Union at some future date. He said the HKK will continue to campaign for its other primary objectives -- the creation of a parliamentary republic and the nationalization of "strategic" industries. LF

SUPPORTERS OF FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SENTENCED
Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes on 5 September handed down sentences of between five and 10 years to five supporters of former President Ayaz Mutalibov found guilty of planning to mount a coup d'etat in October 2001 with the aim of returning Mutalibov to power, Turan reported. Those charges were based on the testimony of a single witness. All five men pled not guilty. LF

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTRY SPOKESMAN DENIES REBELLIOUS CADETS INJURED
Interfax on 5 September quoted Azerbaijani Defense Ministry press spokesman Ramiz Melikov as rejecting as untrue media reports that at least five of the military cadets who left the Higher Military School on 3 September to protest conditions there have been hospitalized. An unspecified number of the over 2,000 cadets who walked out have still not returned to the college (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 September 2002). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT APPROVES CREDITS FOR MASS MEDIA
In a decree issued on 5 September, President Heidar Aliev allocated a total of 3 billion manats ($612,000) from the National Fund to Support Business to develop the media, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. The Azerbaijani government disbursed 17.3 billion manats in credits for media outlets earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March and 30 April 2002). LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS DISMISS CBS REPORT OF AL-QAEDA PRESENCE...
In separate statements on 5 September, Georgian presidential spokesman Kakha Imnadze and National Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili both cast doubts on the accuracy of a "Pravda" report that cited cbsnews.com as reporting the previous evening that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted a phone call between an Al-Qaeda member in Afghanistan and someone in Georgia some 15 minutes after the passenger jet crashed into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. One of the two persons reportedly told the other that "another target is next." Laliashvili dismissed the Russian report as part of the ongoing vilification of Georgia by Moscow. Interfax quoted Imnadze as saying that the Georgian leadership cannot rule out the possibility that members of Al-Qaeda directly involved in the 11 September attacks "may" have been hiding in Georgia. The same agency quoted National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania as saying that U.S. intelligence can confirm that no members of Al-Qaeda have ever been in Pankisi, but that individuals who maintained contact with that and other terrorist organizations have been detected there. LF

...SEEK TO PUT POSITIVE SPIN ON PUTIN CRITICISM
Imnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 September that he considers Russian President Vladimir Putin's letter to his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze to be a positive development that could help ease tensions between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. In that letter, Putin rejected as impermissible Georgia's chosen tactic of trying to pressure the Chechen militants in the Pankisi Gorge to return to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2002). Putin said that instead, the Chechens should be forcibly apprehended and handed over to Russia; he again offered Russian help in doing so. Addressing a 5 September meeting of the Tbilisi branch of the Union of Citizens of Georgia, Shevardnadze again said Georgia needs no military input from Moscow to cope with the Chechen presence in Pankisi. But Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Paata Gomelauri said Tbilisi would welcome any technical assistance or relevant information that Moscow would be willing to provide, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ARE U.S. SPECIALISTS TRAINING GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS?
The Abkhaz authorities are verifying allegations that the U.S. military advisers conducting the "Train and Equip" program for the Georgian armed forces have also trained some members of the Georgian guerrilla groups operating in southern Abkhazia, Interfax quoted Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba as saying on 5 September. Arshba said a group of Georgian guerrillas recently detained in Gali Raion were trained in Kutaisi in sabotage techniques by U.S. specialists. Meanwhile, Georgian guerrillas are demanding a ransom of $20,000 for two Abkhaz civilians taken hostage late on 4 September, ITAR-TASS reported. On 5 September, the Russian peacekeeping troops deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone were placed on high alert after five small groups of Georgian guerrillas and foreign mercenaries were spotted in Abkhazia's Tkvarcheli Raion the previous night. LF

RUSSIA REPATRIATES DETAINED GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS
The three Georgian border guards detained on Russian territory on 2 September after having inadvertently strayed across the border were handed over to a Georgian border-guard contingent near the Mamison Pass on 5 September, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2002). LF

KAZAKH SECURITY OFFICIAL WARNS OF POSSIBLE ATTACKS ON EMBASSIES
Addressing a 5 September session of the Committee for International Affairs, Defense, and Security of the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of parliament), National Security Committee Deputy Chairman Baurzhan Elubaev said the committee has warned the embassies in Kazakhstan of Russia, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Israel of the possibility that they may be the target of a terrorist attack, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He did not elaborate. LF

POLICE CRACK DOWN ON INCIPIENT NEW KYRGYZ PROTEST
Kyrgyz police have detained some participants in an unsanctioned rally on 4 September in the southern town of Djalalabad. Interfax quoted Interior Minister Bakirdin Subankbekov as saying two people were detained, while opposition Kyrgyzstan parliament faction head Adaham Madumarov gave the number as five. Parliament deputy Bektur Asanov told a press conference in Djalalabad on 5 September that as police are taking measures to thwart the planned protest march from southern Kyrgyzstan to Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," Vol. 2, No. 34, 5 September 2002), residents of several southern districts are planning separate marches to the southern city of Osh. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION CRITICIZES CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL
Leaders of the five opposition parties aligned in the Public Congress issued a statement in Bishkek on 5 September affirming that the Constitutional Council convened by President Askar Akaev is not a legislative body and therefore has no right to amend the constitution, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The statement added that the parliament could consider recommendations made by the council if the population expressed support for those recommendations during a nationwide discussion. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY ACCUSED OF ABETTING IMU
National Security Service Chairman Kalyk Imankulov told a session of the Legislative Assembly (the lower parliament chamber) on 5 September there is evidence suggesting that parliament deputy Tursunbal Bakir Uulu maintained contacts with the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Imankulov claimed that calls have been made from a mobile phone registered in Bakir Uulu's name to "extremists" in Afghanistan. In 1999, Bakir Uulu helped to negotiate the release of hostages seized by the IMU in southern Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 October 1999). Bakir Uulu told RFE/RL later on 5 September that he will sue Imankulov. LF

KYRGYZ SECURITY OFFICIAL IDENTIFIES HIZB AS MOST SERIOUS THREAT
Imankulov also told the Legislative Assembly on 5 September that the greatest threat to domestic political stability in Kyrgyzstan is posed by religious extremism, specifically the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said Hizb has not shelved its plans to overthrow the Kyrgyz leadership and establish an Islamic Caliphate, and claimed the organization is about to launch the "third phase" of its activities, comprising "antigovernment rallies and protests." Imankulov admitted that at present there is no direct link between Hizb and the planned protest march to Bishkek, but warned that "religious extremists may try to use political instability in Kyrgyzstan for their own ends." He also noted that Hizb "is interested in instigating interethnic conflicts," by which he presumably meant pitting the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in southern Kyrgyzstan against each other. But a 5 September Eurasianet analysis noted that Hizb's membership in southern Kyrgyzstan comprises both nationalities. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO STICK TO 1999 UNION TREATY WITH RUSSIA
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 5 September received credentials from Russia's new ambassador to Belarus, Aleksandr Blokhin, Belarusian media reported. "Belarus will always be an avowed, reliable, and trustworthy adherent of Russia. We will hold sacred the existent treaty between Belarus and Russia on a union [state]. We will in no way agree to abrogating this treaty," Belarusian television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY IGNORANT ABOUT PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE TO SADDAM
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has no information regarding reports that Belarusian Trade Union Federation leader Leanid Kozik passed a message from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Belapan reported on 5 September, quoting ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka. Foreign news agencies reported earlier this week that Kozik, the former deputy chief of the presidential administration, passed Lukashenka's personal message to Saddam during his recent visit to Iraq. Latushka said the message might have been expressed verbally, adding that the Foreign Ministry usually participates in the preparation of written messages on behalf of the president. JM

KGB 'LIFESTYLE' IN BELARUS GETS REINFORCEMENT
Seventy-two graduates from the Belarusian National Security Institute and the Russian Federal Security Service Academy were ceremoniously admitted into the ranks of Belarus's KGB on 5 September in Dzyarzhynava (50 kilometers southwest of Minsk), Belapan reported. Dzyarzhynava is the birthplace of Feliks Dzerzhinskii, the founder of the Soviet Cheka -- a predecessor of the KGB. "Our work is not just an ordinary service, it is a lifestyle," KGB Chairman Leanid Yeryn told the fresh KGB agents at the ceremony, during which they were handed KGB identification cards and handguns. Yeryn said that in the Soviet era an agent who had served in the KGB for less than three years was still considered a freshman. "Now we believe that an agent should master his job within a year to receive admission to operational activity," he added. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST SEEKS ASYLUM IN BELGIUM
Vadzim Kabanchuk, a leader of the Belarusian opposition organization Kray, has requested political asylum in Belgium, the Charter-97 website reported on 5 September. Kabanchuk spent more than six months in prison in 1996 for his role in street protests. He also received a three-year suspended prison sentence in March 1998 for his part in opposition demonstrations staged in Minsk in March 1997. JM

THOUSANDS MOURN TRAGIC AIR-SHOW CRASH IN LVIV
More than 10,000 people took part in a solemn gathering in Lviv on 5 September to commemorate the victims of the 27 July air-show crash, UNIAN reported. The ceremony -- which took place 40 days after the disaster in keeping with the Uniate and Orthodox Christian tradition -- was attended by Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, although in the city that day, did not attend the gathering. The organizing committee of the mourning ceremony had warned Moroz and Symonenko that their attendance could lead to "unforeseeable political consequences." Some 12,000 people attended a rally in Lutsk earlier the same day at which Tymoshenko, Moroz, and Symonenko solicited support for the upcoming opposition protest campaign. JM

ESTONIA'S FOREIGN-TRADE GAP WIDENED SUBSTANTIALLY IN JULY
The State Statistics Office announced on 5 September that Estonia imported goods in July worth 6.6 billion kroons ($420 million) and exported goods worth 4.0 billion kroons, resulting in a foreign-trade deficit of 2.6 billion kroons, ETA reported. Compared to June, when the trade deficit was 1.7 billion kroons, imports rose by 4 percent while exports fell by 14 percent. European Union countries accounted for 67 percent of exports and 59 percent of imports while figures for CIS countries were 5 and 9 percent, respectively. SG

MOSCOW MAYOR'S VISIT TO LATVIAN CAPITAL CONFIRMED
During his recent visit to Moscow, Riga Deputy Mayor Sergejs Dolgapolovs received assurances that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov will visit Riga on 27 and 28 September, BNS reported on 4 September. He thus refuted an earlier Latvian Television evening news program "Panorama" report that Luzhkov had canceled his planned visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2002). It was rumored that Luzhkov might be denied a visa because he made statements in the past comparing Latvia and its treatment of Russians to Pol Pot's Cambodia. Luzhkov's visit, which will take place shortly before the 5 October parliament elections, could boost the campaigns of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party and the Latvian Socialist Party. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT TO RUN FOR ANOTHER TERM
In a prerecorded television address, Valdas Adamkus announced on 5 September that he will be a candidate in the presidential elections in December, ELTA reported. He said he feels a responsibility to complete the work he began when he was elected in 1998, declaring, "I feel I have the strength and experience, which may be useful to our country in this historically important period." More than a dozen people -- including the chairmen of the Lithuanian Christian Democrats, Liberal Union, Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania), and Center Union -- have already announced that they will run in the presidential election. Those considered to have the best chances of winning the elections, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, are expected to announce soon whether they will run. SG

VISEGRAD FOUR PLANS TO STICK TOGETHER IN EU
The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary met at a Central European economic forum in the Polish spa town of Krynica Gorska on 5 September, Polish media reported. The four leaders pledged to continue cooperation within their group after their expected admissions to the European Union. "We have used here as an example the Benelux countries which, while being members of the union, cooperate very effectively within the Benelux group," PAP quoted Polish Premier Leszek Miller as saying. Miller also said the four premiers agreed that the most likely period for holding referendums in their countries on joining the EU is from April to June 2003, CTK reported. JM

EU CONCERNED OVER POLISH SUPERVISION OF AID FUNDS
The European Commission has launched a probe into allegations that Poland's leftist government is packing the Agency for Restructuring and Modernization of Agriculture (ARiMR), which will manage billions of euros in EU aid after the country joins the union, with political cronies, Reuters reported on 5 September. "We have sent a letter to the Polish government asking for an explanation of replacements and appointments in the agency," said Gregor Kreuzhuber, a spokesman for EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler. Polish media have reported that the two ruling parties -- the Left Democratic Alliance and the Peasant Party -- struck a deal to divide their spheres of influence in ARiMR regional offices. Parliamentary speaker Marek Borowski denied on Polish radio on 5 September that there is any agreement between the ruling coalition partners concerning the division of posts in the ARiMR. JM

UKRAINE INVITES POLAND TO JOIN GAS CONSORTIUM
Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh has invited Poland to participate in the creation of an international consortium to operate the Ukrainian gas-pipeline system, Interfax reported on 5 September. Kinakh made this proposal at a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller in Krynica Gorska on the sidelines of the Central European economic forum. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC TO WITHDRAW FIELD HOSPITAL FROM AFGHANISTAN, REDUCE PRESENCE IN KUWAIT
Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka said on 5 September that the ministry intends to withdraw the military hospital currently deployed in Afghanistan and reduce the size of its unit deployed in Kuwait, CTK and AP reported. Repka said that about 200 troops dispatched with the hospital will return by the end of January, while some 20 doctors are to remain in Afghanistan. The withdrawal must still be approved by the government. Repka said that from the beginning of its mission within Operation Enduring Freedom, the deployment of the hospital was viewed as temporary because "we cannot afford to have them deployed abroad permanently." He also said that only the 50-man core unit of the 200-strong antichemical and antibacteriological mission deployed in Kuwait will remain after 1 April. If necessary, he said, the unit could again be brought up to full strength within 48 hours. MS

CZECH, AUSTRIAN PRESIDENTS OPTIMISTIC ON OVERCOMING DIFFERENCES
Meeting in Znojmo, South Moravia, on 5 September, President Vaclav Havel and his Austrian counterpart Thomas Klestil called for a constructive dialogue on divisive issues such as the Benes Decrees and the Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK and AP reported. Klestil said they agreed on "a certain process that will ensure that all controversial questions are completely solved before the admission of the Czech Republic to the EU," according to AP. In a joint declaration, the two presidents said in an apparent reference to the Benes Decrees that "the darker side of our history" must be faced and that "moral responsibility for...wrongs done in the past to many people must be acknowledged." Havel said the Czech Republic inherited the Temelin nuclear power plant from the communist regime and it is now important to make the plant safe for the sake of "Czechs, Austrians, and others." Klestil and Havel told journalists that a possible U.S. attack on Iraq must be supported by the international community. "It is not possible to act alone, without calling on friends and allies to join" in the action, Klestil said. MS

CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS PROPOSE SENATE LEADER FOR PRESIDENT
The leadership of the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) will propose Senate Chairman Petr Pithart as the party's candidate for president, CTK reported on 6 September, citing the daily "Hospodarske noviny." Deputy Chairman Jan Kasal told the daily that the proposal will be submitted for approval by KDU-CSL's National Committee next week. President Havel's term ends in January, and under current law his successor would be elected at a joint session of the parliament's two chambers. Only the Senate-represented Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) has so far officially endorsed a presidential candidate: ODA Senator Jana Moserova. MS

HEAD OF CZECH DIPLOMATIC SERVICE RESIGNS
Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Vladimir Zavazal told CTK on 5 September that Ludek Fiala, head of the ministry's Diplomatic Service, resigned at the end of August. Fiala and one of his subordinates purchased homes costing more than 10 million crowns (nearly $330,000), according to local media, while the salary of the head of the Diplomatic Service is under 50,000 crowns a month. The company from which Fiala purchased his flat won major contracts from the Diplomatic Service in 2000. The service oversees contracts for purchases by Czech diplomats, among other things. Zavazal denied that Fiala resigned because of pressure from the ministry, which recently launched an audit of the Diplomatic Service, or police. MS

SLOVAK JEWISH COMMUNITY PROTESTS REPEATED DELAYS IN COMPENSATION DECISION
The Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities on 5 September said it is angry over a new delay in the Slovak government's pending decision on compensating Jews for property confiscated during World War II, CTK reported. Jozef Weiss, executive secretary of the organization, said the government cited "technical details," although the issue figured on the cabinet's 4 September planned agenda. Weiss said that Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, who is negotiating on behalf of the government, promised a solution in June, then in July and then in August. "We believe that the technical details could have been worked out in the last three years," Weiss said, adding that the negotiations started in spring 1999. Government officials say the cabinet will decide on the matter before the end of its mandate, which runs out after the 20-21 September elections. MS

WAS CAT PUT IN CHARGE OF SECRET SERVICE MILK IN HUNGARY?
Gyorgy Marko, head of the Hungarian Historical Office, on 5 September confirmed earlier claims by FIDESZ politicians that records pertaining to a Free Democrat member of the current government disappeared from the Interior Ministry's records office in 1995, when Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze was interior minister, Hungarian media reported. Marko said such files were prepared not only on informers but also on those who were to be recruited or targeted by the security services. Free Democrat Imre Mecs, chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating government officials' secret-service pasts, said that only one document is missing but a copy was put in its place, as the original was sent to screening judges in 1995. However, Imre Gondos, head of the screening panel, said the document was never delivered to the judges. MSZ

FIDESZ AGAIN PROTESTS 100 DAYS OF HUNGARIAN PURGES
Senior officials of the opposition FIDESZ party alleged on 5 September that the first 100 days of Premier Peter Medgyessy's government included an unprecedented wave of purges in the state administration and state-run companies, "Nepszabadsag" reported. FIDESZ deputy Robert Repassy said personnel changes have been effected in 19 autonomous state bodies. Most members of the boards of 38 state-run companies have been replaced, he added, and in the first 10 days alone 20 senior officials in eight government offices had to leave. Former Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth called on Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs to "stop the consciously politically motivated purges." Nemeth claimed that in recent weeks eight ministry department heads with 10 years of professional experience have been sacked. Their only sin, he continued, was to have been promoted to department head by the FIDESZ government. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER MEETS AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on 5 September told visiting Hungarian Premier Medgyessy that Austria "fully supports" Hungarian membership of the European Union, dpa reported. Medgyessy, meeting with Schuessel for the first time since taking office this spring, said he is confident that Hungary can join EU as scheduled in 2004. Schuessel said he sees no bilateral problems that could prevent Hungary's EU entry. He said there is a clear, joint position within the Austrian government between the coalition partners "that we want this entry." Commenting on the difference in party politics between himself as a Conservative and Medgyessy as a Social Democrat, Schuessel said, "Party politics has absolutely no role here. We are here as Austrians and Hungarians, as Central European friends." MSZ

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER WANTS TO REBUILD LOST CREDIBILITY
Hungarian Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz on 5 September told Reuters that "in the last three years we've used up all the political capital, trust, and patience [of NATO that] any newcomer deserves" and claimed that the army "is falling apart as we speak." The ministry has called on U.S., British, and German experts to help run a comprehensive audit of the armed forces, Juhasz said, explaining that, "No one has a clear idea even of what weapons are available, let alone if they can be used." He said the review's main aim is to identify capabilities, defense needs, and NATO requirements, laying the foundations for a smaller, more specialized army. "Right now, we have more tanks than France," Juhasz said, adding that the previous center-right government took purchasing decisions without ever questioning NATO requirements. "We're further away from NATO now than when we joined," Juhasz concluded. MSZ

KOSTUNICA LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN...
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica officially began his campaign in the Serbian presidential elections slated for 29 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade on 5 September. Kostunica stressed that he would not be running if he did not feel that he could win. He called for new general elections in Serbia and a new constitution. The latest polls give about 25 percent of the vote each to him and his main rival, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus. Kostunica's popularity has been on the rise lately. Third place goes to Serbian Radical Party candidate Vojislav Seselj with 10 percent, followed by several other candidates. Velimir Ilic, who heads the small Nova Srbija movement, withdrew his presidential candidacy in favor of Kostunica. PM

...AS DJINDJIC RAISES KOSOVA ISSUE
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 5 September that the result of the 29 September election will not be legally valid if fewer than 50 percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Djindjic added that the population of Kosova must be included in calculations of the total electorate lest Serbia be seen as renouncing its claim to the province. Including the population of Kosova puts the number of potential voters at 7.5 million, so that at least 3.75 million people will have to cast ballots for the poll to be valid. Only 3.5 million citizens went to the polls in the September 2000 elections that drove former President Slobodan Milosevic from office. The Frankfurt-based daily "Vesti" commented that Djindjic is trying to give the vote to the Kosovar Albanians. PM

BELGRADE FIRM IN DEFENSE OF SERBIAN EXTREMIST
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said on 5 September in Prishtina that it is possible that ethnic Serb members of Kosova's legislature will boycott that body unless the authorities withdraw an arrest warrant for Serbian extremist politician Milan Ivanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 28 August 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). Ivanovic is wanted for murder by the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), which has asked the Serbian authorities to extradite him. He is living openly in Belgrade. Elsewhere, Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), turned down a demand by Covic that Steiner withdraw the arrest warrant. Steiner stressed that only the courts have the power to do that. PM

FORMER SERBIAN HOSPITAL DIRECTOR ARRESTED
Police arrested Jovan Strikovic in Belgrade on 5 September on corruption charges, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The former hospital director and parliamentary deputy for Milosevic's Socialists was wanted for embezzling nearly $16,000 from the St. Sava Hospital to pay off a loan with which his wife purchased an apartment. PM

SERBIAN FANS 'DELIRIOUS' OVER VICTORY OVER THE U.S.
Several thousand Serbs sang and danced past dawn in Belgrade on 6 September to celebrate the Yugoslav national team's 81-78 victory in Indianapolis over the United States in the basketball World Championship for Men, AP reported. The win sent Yugoslavia to the semifinals and denied the United States the chance to win a medal. Among the chants used by the crowd was "Vlade Divac for president." Yugoslavia is defending champion and seeks its fifth world title. In 2001, Yugoslav sports teams won several major championships, greatly boosting morale in a sports-minded country beset by poverty and a pariah image abroad. The water polo team recently failed in a bid to defend its title. PM

SOLANA APPLIES FRESH PRESSURE TO SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO...
EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana began talks with leading political figures in Belgrade on 6 September aimed at urging the conclusion of a Constitutional Charter for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro, AP reported. The governments of the two republics have already reached a deal, but Kostunica and several other leading politicians have objected that the new state is too weak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 August 2002). Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic takes a very different view, arguing that Serbia must become fully independent of its much smaller neighbor. PM

...AND CALLS FOR PEACEFUL VOTE IN MACEDONIA
Speaking in Skopje on 5 September, Solana said: "We hope very much [that the 15 September legislative] elections and the campaign will be finalized in a climate of tolerance. Free and fair elections will lead to a new page in this country's history," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). He also hailed the "great effort" that the country's citizens have made to overcome the crisis of 2001 and establish a peaceful state. PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT BLASTS ALBANIAN STATEMENT
The Foreign Ministry handed a protest note to Albanian Ambassador to Macedonia Vladimir Prenja on 5 September, "Nova Makedonija" reported. The note called a statement made by Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta before the Albanian parliament on 2 September as "unacceptable meddling in internal affairs." According to "Utrinski vesnik" of 5 September, Meta had said that Albania will cooperate with any Macedonian government after the 15 September election. However, he also noted that the recent call by Macedonian hard-liners for the arrest of Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), amounts to a breach of the Ohrid peace agreement of August 2001. Meta warned the political parties in Macedonia -- be they ethnic Albanian or ethnic Macedonian -- not to look for voters in the Albanian town of Liqenas or in Tirana. The Macedonian Interior Ministry recently tried to add some 3,500 ethnic Macedonians from Liqenas to the voters lists (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2002). UB

NGO CRITICIZES MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT OVER NEWSPAPER
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) has criticized plans by the Macedonian government to reverse the 1995 privatization decision regarding the mass-circulation daily "Vest," dpa reported from the Austrian capital on 6 September. The government claims that "irregularities" in the privatization procedure have been discovered, but the IPI fears that the authorities want to silence a critical voice. PM

EUROPEAN AID FOR ZAGREB AIRPORT
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has approved a loan to Croatia of nearly $25 million for improving air-traffic control facilities in Zagreb, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

BOSNIAN CROATS FACE EVICTION FROM KNIN
An association of Croatian refugees from Bosnia said that more than 50 families living in homes owned by Serbs in Knin have received notices from the Croatian authorities saying that they must evacuate the premises within 15 days or face eviction, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. One of the major problems in facilitating the return of refugees and displaced persons in former Yugoslavia is that those who want to go home are often unable to do so because their homes are occupied by refugees from somewhere else -- who themselves are unable to go home. PM

U.S. JOINS CRITICISM OF BOSNIAN SERB REPORT
The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo has called on the Bosnian Serb authorities to repudiate a recent study that denies that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre took place, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 6 September (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TELLS DIPLOMATS TO CHANGE WORKING STYLE
Addressing a forum on 5 September of Romanian diplomats posted abroad, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said the country's likely integration into NATO and the European Union calls for a "reform of Romanian diplomacy," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Geoana said that diplomats must "fundamentally change their values and working styles" in order to be on par with their peers from other countries and to become "more performance oriented and more competitive." He said Romanian diplomats must leave "routine" behind and encourage creativity and intelligence. He said some Romanian ambassadors bring the country fewer benefits than the costs of financing the embassies they serve in. "Neither embassies, nor computers, nor cars are our most important capital," he said, but rather "human capability." Geoana called on Romanian ambassadors to convince the "valuable members of the Romanian diaspora" to return home and to promote abroad the country's "illustrious figures of our national past." MS

ROMANIAN, HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS ANNOUNCE 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP'
Visiting Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs -- one of two special foreign guests at the diplomatic forum in Bucharest -- told the forum on 5 September that the two countries have overcome the "difficult moment" created by the Status Law passed by the former Hungarian government, and that the current government will initiate amendments to that law by the end of this year, Romanian media and international news agencies reported. Kovacs and Geoana told journalists after their meeting that the two states will soon sign a "strategic partnership." Kovacs said Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase will visit Budapest to sign that partnership document, which Kovacs said, "represents the joint accession of both countries into Europe, NATO, and into the 21st century." Hungarian President Ferenc Madl will visit Romania next month, he said. Kovacs was also received by President Ion Iliescu and held talks with Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko. In an interview with the daily "Adevarul" on 6 September, Kovacs said that "Transylvania is part of Romania" and that Budapest's consultations with the UDMR should not be perceived as encouraging separatism. MS

FRENCH MINISTER ADDRESSES ROMANIAN DIPLOMATS
Addressing the Romanian diplomatic forum as a special guest on 6 September, French European Affairs Minister Noelle Lenoir said the special partnership between the two countries is working in all spheres, from the political and economic to the cultural and other spheres, Romanian Radio reported. Lenoir reiterated that France backs Romania's quest to join NATO and the European Union, and is helping Romania to achieve those aims "politically, as well as operationally." She also said France will not demand that the EU reimpose visa requirements on Romanian nationals, because it would be unjust to "punish an entire people for the illegalities committed on French territory by just a few." In an interview with the daily "Adevarul" on 6 September, Lenoir criticized the Romanian government's accord with the United States on the proposed International Criminal Court, saying that, in signing the accord, Bucharest infringed on its "duty of communitarian solidarity" with the EU. MS

U.S. NATO COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN ATTENDS ROMANIAN CABINET MEETING
U.S. NATO Committee Chairman Bruce Jackson attended a meeting of the Romanian cabinet on 5 September, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported, citing governmental spokesman Claudiu Lucaciu. The government examined at its meeting the fulfillment of the 2002 Membership Action Plan for joining the Atlantic alliance and measures to further promote that aim. Jackson said at the meeting that there are "clear indications of success," and that he recommends that Bucharest "continue on the same line of pragmatism, responsibility, and coherence" in the "post-Prague process" after new invitations are offered for NATO membership. Lucaci commented that "Romania knows precisely" what to do if invited to join the alliance. Two years will pass between the extension of invitations and their ratification by current NATO members, during which time Romania will implement its fourth Membership Action Plan program, Lucaciu said. MS

NEGOTIATIONS ON OSCE DRAFT STALLED IN MOLDOVAN CAPITAL
The collapse of discussions on the draft proposed by the OSCE for settling the Transdniester conflict was narrowly avoided on 5 September at the fourth meeting in the current round of negotiations, which was held at the OSCE mission in Chisinau, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. After seven hours of negotiations, OSCE mission chief to Moldova David Schwartz told journalists that the sides agreed to continue negotiating in the presence of the three mediators -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine -- and that "Tiraspol and Chisinau presented divergent opinions on the final document." Schwartz also said that the date for the resumption of the talks has yet to be announced. Moldovan negotiating team chief Vasile Sturza said Tiraspol is again indulging in procrastination tactics and that, instead of being ready to negotiate on the OSCE-proposed document, it insists on a review of commitments assumed by the sides in previous agreements. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER SAYS TIRASPOL DISPLAYING 'PROVOCATIVE' POSTURES
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev on 4 September told journalists that the recent statements of the separatist leadership on the OSCE proposals are a "provocation," Infotag reported. Tarlev referred in particular to a declaration made by Igor Smirnov, who said that the Transdniester must be extended "de jure" recognition before it becomes part of a Moldovan federation. MS

U.S. AMBASSADOR DETAILS SUPPORT FOR MOLDOVA
U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Pamela Hyde Smith, in an interview with the governmental Russian-language daily "Nezavisimaya Moldova" of 5 September, said the United States annually allocates nearly $50 million for various programs aimed at supporting the consolidation of democracy and a market economy in Moldova, Infotag reported. Of this aid, up to $30 million is provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Smith said that since 1994 the United States has supplied Moldova over 2,000 tons of humanitarian assistance -- primarily foodstuffs and medicines for the socially weak, schools, hospitals, and orphanages. MS

BULGARIA'S RULING COALITION SEEKS CLOSER COOPERATION WITH SOCIALIST OPPOSITION
The ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) has invited the Socialist Party to cooperate in the law-making process, mediapool.bg reported on 5 September. The move follows criticism recently leveled against the government by BSP leader Sergey Stanishev. At a meeting on 5 September, Stanishev and Plamen Panayotov, the leader of the NDSV's parliamentary group, agreed that in the future the NDSV will consult with the BSP over law-making initiatives at an early stage in order to reconcile the two parties' positions. Stanishev called the NDSV's plans for the coming parliamentary sessions "too ambitious," but he said the BSP will support the government in its efforts to amend legislation on social and economic questions. UB

BULGARIAN FARMERS STAGE PROTEST
Some 1,500 farmers protested in Sofia on 5 September to demand higher prices for agricultural produce as well as legal mechanisms to defend Bulgarian farmers from foreign competitors, BTA reported. Agriculture Minister Mehmed Dikme said the government will not yield to pressure from producers. "It is not possible to set minimum purchase prices because this country is in a currency-board arrangement [with the International Monetary Fund] and this contradicts market principles," Dikme said. The government recently announced that will purchase part of this year's wheat harvests and will reschedule farmers' debts in order to stabilize the agricultural commodities market. UB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ASKS EU FOR CLEAR SIGNS
President Georgi Parvanov has told European Commission President Romano Prodi Bulgaria's position regarding its bid for accession to the European Union, BTA reported on 5 September. Parvanov and Prodi met on the sidelines of the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. Upon his return to Sofia, Parvanov said that he insisted that Bulgaria receive a clear accession schedule at the next European Council in Copenhagen in December. "If there are no double standards, Bulgaria should be given an accession date," Parvanov said. He warned that otherwise the public and those directly involved in the preparations for EU accession will become discouraged. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi previously said on 2 September that "The date-setting issue [for EU accession] is an open question now. The beginning of 2007 would be a realistic deadline." UB

THE 'NATASHA TRADE'
The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (OMCTP), established within the U.S. State Department in October 2001, estimated in its second annual report released in June that between 700,000 to 4 million women, men, and children have been "bought, sold, transported, and held against their will in slave-like conditions." Although this figure includes forced labor, the majority of these slaves are sex slaves.

Poor socioeconomic prospects in their own countries are the main reason why so many women migrate abroad from postcommunist Europe. Between 60-70 percent of the unemployed in Russia and Ukraine are women, who tend to be paid less than men and are usually the first to be dismissed from jobs.

The sex-slave trade, which has been given the name the "Natasha Trade," is more than a human story of modern-day slavery. It generates huge profits for organized crime -- some $83 million a month in Italy alone. It also breeds corruption among state officials involved in collusion in the trade, and destroys morale among peacekeepers who are accused of complicity in, and use of the sex slave trade, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosova. Many sex slaves are sexually underage, orphans, the children of divorced marriages, or runaways fleeing abusive parents.

The sex trade also breeds violence and murder. Only "a tiny percent of those 'sold' manage to return home alive," a Dnipropetrovsk prosecutor's office investigator said. With their passports confiscated, the sex slaves have no form of identification, are sold on to different clients, subjected to torture, and deprived of food and sleep. But if they become physically ill and mentally traumatized they are no longer of any use to their traffickers.

The sex trade also contributes to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Some sex slaves turn to, or are given, drugs to keep them pliant, thereby increasing the number of drug users. Drug users, in turn, are a major source of the spread of AIDS because they often share needles. Sex slaves who have managed to escape and return home are also a source of sexually transmitted diseases as they were often raped and forced to have sex without protection. The trade also spreads AIDS in the countries where the sex slaves are held against their will. Turkish officials and the media have blamed "Natashas" for the rising incidence of AIDS in that country. The reluctance of rural Turkish men to use condoms means they often pass on sexually transmitted diseases to their wives.

The AIDS epidemic is growing faster in the former USSR than anywhere else in the world, and the region has become second only to Africa with 250,000 persons infected last year alone. Although Ukraine has the highest rate of AIDS infection in postcommunist Europe, with 1 percent of the adult population estimated to have HIV, this was ignored until November 2000 when a presidential decree adopted a three-year program.

A recent BBC news report described the Ukrainian port of Odesa as the "AIDS capital of Europe," and AIDS is developing in Ukraine as fast as in Africa. Dr. Aleksandr Sidyachenko, head of prevention and treatment of infectious diseases for the Odesa Oblast health authority, admitted that "We are witnessing the beginning of the AIDS epidemic [in Ukraine]."

Of the 27 postcommunist countries, Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, and Romania are the main source of sex slaves. The second OMCTP annual report found that in Moldova, new amendments to the Criminal Code that were adopted in April have yet to lead to any convictions. Similar amendments imposing penalties for human trafficking went into effect in Ukraine in September 2001. Both countries are classified as "Tier 2" by the OMCTP, meaning they have begun to attempt to deal with the problem of trafficking of women. Meanwhile, in Russia, there is still no legislation against sex-slave trafficking and the country "is not making significant efforts to" undertake any action. Russia is therefore classified as "Tier 3" by the OMCTP.

The transit countries for the trafficked women are Albania and the former Yugoslavia. The major destinations for the "Natasha Trade" are Germany, Italy (half of its 50,000 prostitutes are East Europeans), Turkey, Israel, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates.

In Israel, Amnesty International reported that 10,000 women from the former USSR became sex slaves in the last decade and until recently the authorities were reluctant to prosecute those involved. In August 2000, four Ukrainian sex slaves died in a brothel in Tel Aviv after an arsonist, suspected of being from an extremist ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, set it ablaze. Between 100,000-150,000 women are sold as mail-order brides to Israel each year, an industry that generates $17 billion annually. Some of these women end up as sex slaves.

Ukraine not only has the highest rate of AIDS infection in Europe, it has eclipsed Latin America as the leading source of trafficked women. The 14 August edition of the Ukrainian parliamentary newspaper "Holos Ukrayny" reported on the breakup of a gang that had sent women to the United Arab Emirates and been paid $2,000 for each girl. In the last three years, 125 criminal cases have been instituted in Ukraine against persons accused of the "unlawful employment of Ukrainian citizens abroad."

According to "Holos Ukrayiny," 120,000 young Ukrainian women were trafficked last year alone and a total of nearly half a million in recent years. The International Organization for Migration estimates a higher figure of 1 million Ukrainians abroad who are in danger of being forced into becoming sex slaves. In the brothels of Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Greece, and Spain, an average of 10 percent of the women are from Ukraine. In the Netherlands an estimated one-third of the prostitutes are believed to be from Ukraine, while in Greece, the term "waitress" has become synonymous for a Ukrainian woman engaged in prostitution, either voluntarily or as a sex slave.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and adjunct staff in the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.

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