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Newsline - September 26, 2002


PACE WARNS RUSSIA AGAINST MILITARY INTERVENTION IN GEORGIA...
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted on 25 September a resolution proposed by the Georgian delegation that warned Russia to desist from any actions or statements that constitute interference in Georgia's internal affairs or that violate the country's sovereignty or territorial integrity, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported. The resolution included in the former category unilateral actions -- including economic aid -- in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. At the same time, the resolution called on Georgia to continue to cooperate with all interested countries to eradicate terrorism and not to provide either direct or indirect support to groups that seek to use force to resolve territorial conflicts on Georgian territory. State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin, who heads Russia's delegation to PACE, complained that the resolution ignores Russia's right, as guaranteed by the UN Charter, to launch a preemptive strike on terrorist bases on Georgian territory in self-defense, ITAR-TASS reported. He accused PACE deputies of wanting to rewrite that charter and suggested that their unwillingness to confront "terrorism" could rebound on Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

...AS DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA MIGHT STRIKE ANYWAY...
Addressing a meeting of his NATO counterparts in Warsaw on 25 September, Sergei Ivanov said that despite the PACE resolution, "Russia reserves the right to use any method of action approved by the UN Charter to repel possible aggression from Georgian territory," NTV and other Russian news agencies reported. Russia, he said, feels that it is a victim of international terrorism originating from Georgian territory and that the Georgian leadership does not control the situation in the Pankisi Gorge or elsewhere. "If terrorist incursions from there continue, we will use military force to resist them, with all the consequences that might bring," Ivanov said. He also said that Russia wants to keep the issues of Georgia and Iraq separate. "The Georgian problem interests Russia much more than Iraq," he said, according to RBK on 26 September. VY

...AND REAFFIRMS OPPOSITION TO MILITARY ACTION AGAINST BAGHDAD
Speaking to journalists in Warsaw about Iraq, Ivanov said that "only experts on the spot can determine whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," Russian news agencies reported on 25 September. He said that the international community should wait for the reports of UN weapons inspectors before adopting more resolutions. He added, though, that Russia insists that Iraq must comply with all UN resolutions because this is the only way the present situation can be resolved peacefully. VY

EXPERT URGES KREMLIN TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF U.S.-EUROPE SCHISM ON IRAQ
Ivan Safronchuk, director of the Defense Information Center in Moscow, has said that "it is normal and even very desirable for Moscow to take advantage of differences that arise between the United States and Europe over the Iraq problem," polit.ru reported on 26 September. However, he cautioned, Russia should not overplay its hand and risk provoking "a strong retaliatory reaction." He recalled that Russia ineptly attempted to play upon such differences over the proposed U.S. missile-defense shield. Although Russia managed to garner some European sympathy for its views, the Kremlin's efforts were so clumsy and transparent that Europe ultimately would not risk quarrelling with Washington in order to back Russia, Safronchuk said. VY

RUSSIAN MILITARY ANTICIPATES NEW CHECHEN INCURSION FROM GEORGIAN TERRITORY
Speaking on 25 September in Warsaw, where he attended the NATO defense ministers' meeting together with Ivanov, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said several hundred Chechen militants and foreign mercenaries, including field commander Ruslan Gelaev, remain in Georgia close to the border with Chechnya and that he has "no doubt" they will attempt a new incursion onto Russian territory, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Georgian border officials denied on 21 September that several hundred fighters were concentrated on the Georgian side of the border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2002). Georgian border guards apprehended four men -- two of them Arabs with French passports, one Russian and one Circassian from Syria -- trying to enter Ingushetia from Georgian territory late on 24 September, Russian agencies reported the following day. LF

RUSSIAN FORCES, CHECHEN SEPARATISTS IN FIERCE FIREFIGHT IN INGUSHETIA...
Russian forces on 26 September engaged in a heavy battle near the village of Galashki in Ingushetia against a large unit of Chechen fighters reportedly under the command of field commander Abdul-Malik, Russian and Western news agencies reported. AP reported that 10 Russian soldiers were killed and 15 wounded, citing military sources. The same sources claimed that 50-80 Chechen fighters had been killed. According to a press release from the Russian joint forces in the North Caucasus, two pilots were killed when an Mi-24 helicopter was shot down by a Chechen fighter armed with a shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile, and at least two armored personnel carriers were also destroyed. According to Russian intelligence, Abdul-Malik's real name is Vitalii Smirnov and he commands a detachment of 200-300 fighters. He is an ethnic Russian from the Chechen settlement of Kalinovskaya who converted to Islam in 1997, RTR reported. Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin said that Abdul-Malik's detachment is surrounded by Russian forces and has taken heavy casualties. Kvashnin said he has personally taken control of the operation to liquidate the formation. VY

...AND BRITISH CITIZEN REPORTED KILLED IN THE FIGHTING
Russian soldiers near Galashki found the body of man bearing a British passport with the name Gervase Roderick John Scott, AP and Russian news agencies reported on 26 September. Near the body, the soldiers also found a video camera and numerous videocassettes. Lenta.ru quoted a source in the presidential administration as saying that the security services "are now checking the authenticity of the document." AP reported that the British Embassy said it had been informed of the death of a British citizen but that it would release no information pending the notification of relatives. ITAR-TASS reported that Scott was a freelance journalist working with support from Frontline News, citing sources at the British media company. The same report cited authorities in Georgia as saying that the Georgian visa found in Scott's passport was valid and that he had entered Georgia legally as a journalist. "How he ended up in Ingushetia in the company of Chechen fighters is unknown to the Georgian Foreign Ministry," the Georgian official said. RTR added that individuals bearing Georgian and Turkish documents were also found among the slain Chechen fighters. VY

RUSSIA SLAMS OSCE DELAY IN REPORTING OBSERVERS' ABDUCTION
In separate statements in Moscow on 25 September, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii and Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said Russia would like an explanation from the OSCE for its delay in reporting the detention on 20 September of two members of the OSCE observer force deployed on the Georgian-Ingush border, ITAR-TASS reported. The two observers were apprehended by 12 unidentified armed men and released one hour later. OSCE headquarters in Vienna reported the incident only on 23 September, apparently, according to Yakovenko, because the gunmen released the observers on condition that they keep quiet for 48 hours. Both Yakovenko and Yastrzhembskii commented sarcastically that this was the first time in many months that the OSCE monitors "noticed" the presence of unidentified gunmen on Georgia's borders with Chechnya and Ingushetia. LF

LUKOIL EXECUTIVE REAPPEARS AS STRANGELY AS HE DISAPPEARED
LUKoil First Vice President Sergei Kukura, the No. 2 person in one of Russia's largest oil companies who was kidnapped on 12 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002), was released by his as-yet-unidentified kidnappers on 25 September, Russian news agencies reported on 26 September. Reports about the release -- including the motive for the kidnapping, the identity of the kidnappers, and the conditions under which Kukura was released -- varied widely. "Kommersant-Daily" cited unnamed investigators working on the case as saying the kidnapping was staged by LUKoil itself for internal reasons. Gzt.ru reported that the abduction was genuine and that LUKoil paid a ransom of $3 million and 3 million euros to secure Kukura's release. Polit.ru expressed skepticism over the entire incident, arguing that the commercial secrets that Kukura possesses are worth billions of dollars, not millions. The website concluded that it is very unlikely anyone will ever hear the true story about this case from investigators or anybody else. VY

DUMA GIVES NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET AN INITIAL RUBBER STAMP...
State Duma deputies approved the draft 2003 federal budget in its first reading on 25 September, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 309 in favor, with 112 against and four abstentions, according to Interfax. The Communist and Agro-Industrial groups voted against the bill. The draft document assumes that annual inflation will remain between 10-12 percent, the ruble-exchange rate will average 33.7 rubles per dollar, and the price of oil will average $21.50 per barrel. Revenues are set at 2.418 trillion rubles ($76 billion) and expenditures at 2.346 trillion rubles. The second reading of the budget is scheduled for 18 October. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT AGREES TO DECLASSIFY SOME DEFENSE SPENDING...
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the government will declassify 65 percent of the articles on national defense included in the draft budget by the third reading, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier, the Union of Rightist Forces faction announced it will support the budget provided the government declassifies many now-secret parts of the military budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002). Defense expenditures under the bill will increase by 0.15 percent from this year's level to 345.8 billion rubles ($11.15 billion), according to Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Nikolaev on 24 September. Of that, 35 billion rubles will be spent on arms purchases, and 110 billion rubles on research, development, and military equipment repairs, according to Kudrin. JAC

...AND CONTINUES TO RAISE WAGES FOR STATE-SECTOR WORKERS
According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 September, the government plans to continue increasing wages for state-sector workers in 2003, but the budget does not stipulate any additional subsidies for the regions. According to the daily, when the government raised state-sector wages by 89 percent earlier this year, wage arrears reached almost 3 billion rubles ($95 million) by early autumn as regional budgets proved unable to cope with the increased payrolls. Only then did the government decide to increase subsidies to regions by 60 percent. On 1 October 2003, wages for state-sector workers will rise by another 33 percent. JAC

DERIPASKA'S NUMBER 2: HE TRIES HARDER
In its monthly ranking of the most influential lobbyists in Russia prepared by the Agency for Economic News and published on 25 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" lists Russian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska in second place, just behind presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin. According to the daily, Deripaska's "conceptual speech on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization noticeably resonated with the public." Other members of the top 10 are Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Mezhprombank head Sergei Pugachev, Alfa-Group head Mikhail Fridman, Sistema head Vladimir Yevtushenkov, and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin. Interestingly, the most influential regional leader, according to the survey, is also an oligarch -- Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich. JAC

GOVERNOR OUTLINES OLIGARCH SYSTEM IN HIS REGION
In an interview with "Novyi region" on 25 September, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel said it is possible to resolve all the economic issues of the region by turning to the directors of the seven largest industrial holdings. According to Rossel, SUAL head Viktor Vekselberg "comes to me and we can sit down and discuss what is necessary to do." Rossel added that there are six other industrial magnates of this stature in the region, including United Machine-Building Plants President Kakha Bendukidze, Yevraz Kholding head Aleksandr Abramov, UGMK President Iskandr Makhmudov, and Trubnaya Metallurgiskaya Kompaniya head Dmitrii Pumpyanskii. Rossel also said he expects his oblast to lose 2 billion rubles ($64.5 million) under next year's federal budget, but he nevertheless expects the budget to be approved easily. "Even our own deputies vote against the interests of Sverdlovsk Oblast," he said. JAC

PUTIN NIXES IDEA OF ADDITIONAL DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
Addressing a meeting of the All-Russia Conference of Young Industrial Leaders in Moscow on 25 September, President Vladimir Putin said he doesn't believe it is necessary to create an additional deputy prime ministerial post to oversee industry, ITAR-TASS reported. The idea had been proposed by Trubnaya Metallurgiskaya Kompaniya head Pumpyanskii. Putin acknowledged that he has spoken "a lot" about the structure of the government with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and that "the government itself does not consider its current structure optimal." JAC

PRIMORE CHARTER BROUGHT INTO LINE
The charter of Primorskii Krai is now in complete accord with federal legislation, lenta.ru reported on 26 September. According to the press service of the krai's legislature, the last three points in the charter that contradicted national law were removed during the body's 25 September session. Among the changes, deputies removed an article that had previously authorized the krai to negotiate and adopt international agreements. RC

PUTIN LAUDS RUSSIAN ELECTIONS...
President Putin, addressing on 26 September a conference of election officials from Central and Eastern Europe being held in Moscow, said that "many positive changes in our country have taken place precisely because the professional and regular holding of elections is becoming one of the basic conditions for ensuring the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens," strana.ru reported. Putin asserted that Russian elections "completely conform to international standards" and said that elections have become "a political tradition" in Russia. RC

...AS VOTER URGES ANNULMENT OF NIZHNII VOTE
Nizhnii Novgorod voter Tatiana Speranskaya has filed a suit asking a municipal court to set aside the results of the 15 September first round of voting for city mayor, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 September. Speranskaya alleges that many of the ballots discarded as invalid were done so "either mistakenly or maliciously." A representative of the campaign of Andrei Klimentiev, whose candidacy was annulled by a court the day before the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 September 2002), told the daily that as many as 10,000 ballots marked "against all" were discarded by local election officials because "they had other things written on them." Only 29 percent of registered voters participated in the first round. According to the official results, current Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev received 31.47 percent (98,699 votes); Duma Deputy Vadim Bulavinov polled 30.85 percent (96,747 votes); and 30.35 percent (95,168) voted "against all." RC

DUMA BEGINS CONSIDERATION OF WITNESS-PROTECTION LAW
The Duma's Security Committee on 26 September considered a government bill on the protection of witnesses and victims of crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002), strana.ru reported. However, the website commented that the problem of protecting witnesses in criminal trials is not the result of a lack of legislation, but of a lack of funds allocated for this purpose. According to unidentified sources on the committee, the government has not yet presented its report on the budgetary impact of the proposed legislation, however earlier Interior Ministry estimates put the cost at 3.82 billion ruble ($123 million) per year. The website also cited unidentified officials in the government as saying that approximately 10 million Russians each year give some sort of testimony in legal matters, and about one-fourth of them change their testimony at least once. The officials said that, in many cases, such changes of heart are the result of intimidation or "pressure." RC

MORE POLITICAL PARTIES REGISTERED
The Justice Ministry registered on 25 September the Russian Agrarian Movement led by Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev as a new public organization, ORT reported. Another member of the group is Ivan Starikov, a Federation Council representative for Kostroma Oblast, according to ITAR-TASS. Earlier in the week, the ministry registered the Party of Life, which is associated with Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 September. Also expected to be registered is the Party of Russia's Rebirth headed by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, according to "Izvestiya" on 25 September. JAC

SUSPECT ARRESTED FOR VLADIVOSTOK PATHOLOGIST'S MURDER
Police have arrested a suspect in the murder of Vladivostok professor and pathologist Sergei Melnik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002), ntvru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 26 September. According to local Deputy Prosecutor Yurii Avramenko, the unnamed suspect, who has reportedly confessed to the crime, worked as a janitor at the funeral home co-owned by Melnik and murdered him over a personal dispute. Avramenko alleged that the man was drunk at the time of the murder. RC

NORTHERN CAPITAL TO SOON STOP HUMMING
The St. Petersburg administration has stopped accepting entries for a competition to write lyrics for the city's official anthem, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 September. The anthem is the overture to Reinhold Gliere's 1948-49 ballet "The Bronze Horseman," based on the poem by Aleksandr Pushkin. In the spring, the city's Legislative Assembly rejected all proposed lyrics for the anthem, including Pushkin's text, leading them to announce the present competition. In all, deputies received 320 entries, many of which were submitted by local pensioners. A committee will choose 10 of the entrants, to be narrowed down to three finalists by a committee of distinguished local citizens. Of those three, Governor Vladimir Yakovlev will choose the winner, and its author will received a prize of 30 minimum salaries. RC

MOST OF THE MONKEYS COME HOME
Eleven of the 12 monkeys stolen on 25 September from the Leningrad Zoo in St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002) have been recovered, ntvru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 26 September. One suspect has been arrested in the case. The recovered monkeys are in satisfactory condition and are expected to make a complete recovery. Police continue to investigate the matter. RC

MUSLIM LEADER MAKES BID FOR GREATER TATAR UNITY
Galimzyan Bikmullin, chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Tyumen Oblast, has called on local ethnic Tatars to identify themselves on the national census as simply Tatar rather than as Siberian Tatar, islam.ru reported on 25 September. However, at the same time, the representative of the Tatar national-cultural autonomy in the oblast, Faizulla Kamalov, has expressed the opposite opinion. Kamalov believes that Tatars in Siberia should identify themselves as Siberian Tatars so that they can receive the status of a "native people." The question of whether the Tatar ethnic group should be divided into many different categories on the census has been a controversial one, with a number of officials in Tatarstan arguing that federal authorities are trying to undermine the group's cohesiveness and status by introducing additional categories (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2001 and 15 and 20 March 2002). JAC

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT PARTLY WRITES OFF CONSUMERS' DEBTS FOR WATER
In a move Yerevan observers linked to the upcoming local, presidential, and parliamentary elections, parliament on 25 September voted to write off 45 percent of households' unpaid debts for water supplies in 2000-01 provided they pay the remaining 55 percent, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Total outstanding debts for water supplies are estimated at 35 billion drams ($62.5 million). The government issued a decree earlier this year requiring all households to install water meters in a bid to enforce the widely disregarded billing system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2002). LF

ARMENIA AMENDS LEGISLATION TO COMPLY WITH WTO REQUIREMENTS
Also on 25 September, the parliament approved in the third and final reading amendments to the Customs Code and the laws on VAT and excise taxes that bring them into full compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements, according to Armenpress, as cited by Groong. Noyan Tapan on 19 September quoted Trade and Economic Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian as saying that Armenia will become a WTO member by the end of this year. LF

ARMENIA WANTS CONSULATE IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA
Teimuraz Mosiashvili, who is Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's representative in the largely Armenian-populated south Georgian region of Djavakheti, met in Yerevan on 25 September with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian to discuss a recent program approved by the Georgian government aimed at improving social and economic conditions and creating new jobs in Djavakheti, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2002). Markarian suggested that Armenia should open a consulate in the region to monitor implementation of that program, to which he said Armenia is prepared to contribute financially. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION UNVEILS FINAL REFERENDUM REPORT
The four Azerbaijani opposition parties that jointly monitored the voting in the 24 August referendum on amendments to the country's constitution published on 25 September a statement detailing the final results of their observations, Turan reported. The four parties fielded observers at 2,814 of the total 4,997 polling stations, and calculated that only some 20.3 percent of registered voters participated in the plebiscite, rather than the 84 percent claimed by the Central Election Commission. Minimum participation of 50 percent was required for the referendum to be valid. LF

GEORGIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY TASKED WITH INVESTIGATING LEAKED DOCUMENT
President Eduard Shevardnadze has asked the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office to question all members of the National Security Council in a bid to establish why a classified document recently drafted by that body on measures to reduce tensions in Georgian-Russian relations provides for taking legal action against parliamentary deputies whose activities are considered a threat to Georgia's security, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002). "Alia" on 26 September suggested that the leak of that section of the document was prompted by infighting between pro-Russian and pro-Western factions within the Georgian leadership. LF

THREE ABKHAZ OFFICIALS KILLED IN TERRORIST ATTACK
A senior border guard and two customs officials were killed early on 25 September when unidentified assailants opened fire from a grenade launcher on their car in the village of Chuburkhindji, Caucasus Press reported. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba suggested that Georgian guerrilla formations operating in southern Abkhazia may have been responsible for the attack, but spokesmen for the White Legion and Forest Brothers denied responsibility. In a statement the same day, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry accused the Georgian authorities of "conducting a policy of aggression and terrorism against Abkhazia" by funding guerrilla groups, Caucasus Press reported. The most recent UN Security Council resolution on the Abkhaz conflict reminded the Georgian government of the need to make good on its commitment to put an end to the activities of such illegal armed groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002). LF

LEADER OF GEORGIAN MILITARY PROTEST STRIPPED OF COMMISSION
Nika Djandjgava, the former commander of the Georgian Army's ground forces, has been stripped of his officer's rank in connection with his role in the protest two months ago by some 100 young officers from the crack Kodjori battalion, Caucasus Press reported. The men resigned their commissions to protest inadequate financing for the army and incompetent commanders, but Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze refused to accept the resignations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 July 2002). LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER DENIES PANKISI OPERATION CLOSE TO COLLAPSE
Koba Narchemashvili on 25 September rejected as exaggerated reports that due to the incompetence of National Guard head Koba Kobaladze the anticrime and antiterrorism operation in the Pankisi Gorge is close to collapse, Caucasus Press reported. "Akhali taoba" the same day quoted Interior Ministry spokesman Paata Gomelauri as saying the operation will continue for another six weeks. Narchemashvili had said two days earlier that the "active" phase of the operation would be over within 10 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2002). A further suspected criminal was detained in Pankisi on 26 September, Caucasus Press reported. His is the eighth arrest since the campaign got under way one month ago. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY MEETS REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT
The leaders and founders of Kazakhstan's Aq Zhol (White Path) Party held a press conference in Almaty on 25 September at which they announced that they have signed up 52,000 party members nationwide, which is more than the 50,000 minimum required for registration with the Justice Ministry under the controversial new law on political parties, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. They said they hope membership will reach 70,000. They criticized, and said they will lobby for changes to, the 2003 draft state budget. The party was founded early this year by former Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Uraz Djandosov, former Labor and Social Welfare Minister Alikhan Baimenov, and former parliamentary deputy Bulat Abilov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002). LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT APPROVES COMPENSATION FOR AKSY VICTIMS
The Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) passed on 24 September a government-sponsored bill that will provide lifelong welfare payments to the relatives of the five people killed in clashes between police and demonstrators in Aksy Raion in March, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The government will also support victims' children until the age of 18, or 21 if they enter higher education. The minimum monthly payment will be 140 soms (about $3). The parliament approved the government draft rather than an alternative proposed by opposition parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov because the former was more specific and detailed, according to Interfax. LF

TAJIKISTAN'S RUSSIANS COMPLAIN THEY ARE ABANDONED
Valerii Yushin, who heads Tajikistan's 68,200-strong Russian community, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 26 September that he believes the new Russian citizenship law discriminates against ethnic Russians living in the former Soviet republics and should be amended. "We don't renounce the Russian state, but it, in the person of its officials and parliament deputies, has renounced us," he said. He added that none of the numerous programs adopted over the past decade intended to assist Russian communities in other former Soviet republics has been implemented. According to the 2000 Tajik census, Russians constitute only 1.1 percent of the country's population; Tajiks account for some 80 percent, and Uzbeks 15.3 percent. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SCRUTINIZES LEGAL SYSTEM
A special commission on 25 September reported to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the results of its examination of how judiciary and law enforcement bodies operate in the country, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka took advantage of the opportunity to publicize his own efforts to enhance the rule of law. "While touring the country this past season, I [often met] with this bandit revelry of prosecutors, our police, and, partly, judges," Belarusian Television quoted the president as saying. "[My words] primarily refer to the KGB, police, and prosecutors. They are the chief poachers; they are people who just threaten our citizens." Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman told the president that prosecutors are currently conducting some 200 corruption investigations against officials at the raion level, as well as against business managers. Lukashenka asked him whether he, presidential administration head Ural Latypau, and State Monitoring Committee head Anatol Tozik take bribes. "I think they do not," Sheyman replied. Lukashenka also praised Belarus's system of controlling lawyers through the National Collegium of Lawyers. "Russia and Ukraine have lawyers who are sort of independent. We have no such lawyers. Do our justice system and citizens lose from such a situation?" Lukashenka asked. "No, they only win," was the reply from the head of the National Collegium of Lawyers, who was identified only as N. Andreychuk. JM

ANOTHER BELARUSIAN NEWSPAPER TO BE BANNED?
Trade Union Federation of Belarus (FPB) head Leanid Kozik has requested that Information Minister Mikhail Padhayny close the opposition newspaper "Narodnaya volya," Belarusian Television reported on 25 September. Kozik said "Narodnaya volya" published a series of articles that presented the recent FPB extraordinary congress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002) in a "distorted" way and insulted the 4.5 million FPB members. Meanwhile, a major international trade union, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF), has said in a statement that the FPB extraordinary congress put an end to independent trade-union activism in Belarus. "Lukashenka attended the [congress] as a delegate. He openly declared that Belarusian trade unions must be 'incorporated into the state-authority system.' And he rewarded the obedient delegates with the restoration of the check-off system [for collecting membership fees], which was previously abolished by a presidential decree in his war against the unions," Belapan quoted from the IUF statement. JM

POLL FINDS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S POPULARITY AT A RECORD LOW
According to a poll of a representative sample of 1,509 adult respondents conducted earlier this month by the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI), only 27 percent of Belarusians would vote for Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a presidential election, Belapan reported on 25 September. This is the lowest rating for Lukashenka ever recorded. A similar NISEPI poll in April found that 30.9 percent of voters would support him in a presidential ballot. Thirty-six percent of those polled said they disapprove of the way Lukashenka rules the country, while 20.7 percent "partly disapproved." Nearly 13 percent approved and 26.2 percent "partly approved" of his rule. Among the reasons for disapproval, most respondents cited low living standards, the lack of law and order, and the shortage of accurate information about the situation in the country. According to the poll, 50.6 percent of voters would reject changes to the constitution allowing Lukashenka to run for another term, while 15.5 percent would back such amendments. JM

UKRAINE CONTINUES TO DENY ARMS DEAL WITH BAGHDAD...
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma assured British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon in Kyiv on 26 September that Ukraine has never supplied any weapons to Iraq, UNIAN reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma made his comment in connection with Washington's publicized suspicions that Ukraine might have sold a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq in contravention of UN sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 September 2002). Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko told journalists on 25 September that Kuchma might have authorized selling a Kolchuga system to Iraq -- as suggested by Mykola Melnychenko's secret recording -- but insisted that the sale never took place, AP reported. Zlenko interrupted his visit to the Dominican Republic to meet UN officials in New York in order to rebut the U.S. allegations, Reuters reported on 26 September. Meanwhile, Yuriy Serheyev, the state secretary for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said on 25 September that the U.S. allegations give "a basis for all those who would like to besmirch Ukraine as a part of what is called the 'axis of evil' and who would describe Ukraine as a state supporting terrorists," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. JM

...AS PRESSURE MOUNTS FOR CLEAR EXPLANATION
The U.S. State Department on 25 September said it plans no talks with Ukraine on the alleged sale of a radar system to Iraq unless Ukrainian officials are prepared to discuss the issue honestly, AP reported. "We have strongly urged Ukrainian officials to be as transparent and as forthcoming as possible. Unfortunately, we do not believe that the government of Ukraine has been candid with us in the past on this issue," the department said in a written statement. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson called on Ukraine in Warsaw on 25 September to explain the allegations. Robertson added that relations between NATO and Kyiv have hit a "tricky moment," Reuters reported. "I can tell you that there is a very serious atmosphere on this subject, and some very serious questions still remain to be answered," Robertson noted. Ukrainian lawmaker Heorhiy Kryuchkov (Communist Party), the chairman of the parliamentary Commission for National Security and Defense, told UNIAN on 26 September that the U.S. allegations are "unfair and insulting" to Ukraine, adding that their primary intention is to give a boost to the ongoing anti-presidential protest in Ukraine. JM

OUR UKRAINE, OPPOSITION GROUPS BOYCOTT PARLIAMENTARY VOTING...
The parliamentary caucuses of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Our Ukraine on 26 September said they will boycott voting in the Verkhovna Rada as long as lawmakers fail to address the current political situation, UNIAN reported. A motion to place this issue on the agenda was supported only by 96 deputies out of 228 registered in the session hall. Our Ukraine did not take part in the vote, and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz noted that Our Ukraine made a "tactical mistake" by not participating. He said the motion could not "objectively" be passed even with backing from Our Ukraine lawmakers, but added that Our Ukraine's participation would have shown that more than 200 deputies want a debate on the current political crisis. JM

...AND ASK WORLD COMMUNITY TO REFRAIN FROM SANCTIONS AGAINST UKRAINE
In a joint statement, the parliamentary caucuses of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Our Ukraine have appealed to the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the governments of the United States and Canada not to impose economic sanctions on Ukraine and "to draw a clear dividing line between the people of Ukraine and criminal actions by [Ukrainian] officials," UNIAN reported on 26 September. The caucuses recalled that the previous parliament made several attempts to launch an investigation regarding Ukraine's alleged illegal arms deals, but was prevented from doing this by President Kuchma and "deputies who were dependent on" Kuchma. "We are ready, without waiting for more exposing steps on the part of international community, to carry out a full and comprehensive investigation and to apply all necessary procedures as regards the responsibility of specific officials for illegal arms trading in contravention of United Nations resolutions," the statement read. JM

FRENCH FOREIGN TRADE MINISTER VISITS ESTONIA
Francois Loos discussed trade relations with Prime Minister Siim Kallas in Tallinn on 25 September, ETA reported. He expressed the wish that other French companies could match the success of Peugeot, which is the leading seller of new automobiles in Estonia this year. Kallas called for greater investments from France, which is currently the 14th-largest investor in Estonia. Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland told Loos that higher milk quotas are an important issue for farmers in the ongoing EU admission negotiations. The Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized a seminar on the Estonian economy and business environment for the delegation of businessmen and journalists who accompanied Loos. SG

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES SECOND SUPPLEMENTARY BUDGET FOR 2002
By a vote of 56 to 20, the parliament on 25 September approved a second supplementary budget of 788 million kroons ($49.5 million), ETA reported. Disregarding the advice of the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Estonia, the cabinet in August submitted the supplementary budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002), which in effect raised the 2002 budget to 34.3 billion kroons. Twenty-four amendments to the bill were debated on 25 September, but only five, all suggested by the ruling coalition, were approved. The proposed an additional 145 million kroons to the Foreign Ministry was reduced by 17 million kroons, which was reallocated to schools, cultural establishments, and hospitals. SG

FINLAND DONATES PATROL BOAT TO LATVIAN BORDER GUARDS
Lieutenant General Hannu Ahonen, the chief of the Finnish border-control service, officially turned over the patrol vessel "Valpas" to Latvian State Border Guard Chief Gunars Dabolins in an official ceremony in Riga on 25 September, LETA reported. Finnish Ambassador to Latvia Kirsti Eskelinen-Liukkonen and Interior Minister Mareks Seglins participated in the event. The 48-meter "Valpas," built in 1971, is capable of functioning in all conditions in the Baltic Sea year-round, being able to break through ice 50 centimeters thick. SG

LITHUANIA TO CANCEL VISA PRIVILEGES TO RUSSIA AND BELARUS
In order to comply with commitments made to the European Union for accession to the Schengen Treaty, the government on 25 September decided to cancel the temporary agreements it concluded with Belarus in February 1994 and with Russia in February 1995 concerning visa privileges, ELTA reported. Beginning on 1 January 2003, Lithuania will end visa-free travel for passengers traveling between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia, as well as visa-free entry into Lithuania for Belarusian pensioners, residents of border areas, and truckers. Beginning on 1 July 2003, residents of Kaliningrad Oblast will be required to have visas to enter Lithuania. The government also decided to open a consulate in Hrodna, Belarus, as soon as it obtains permission to rent premises. SG

NATO MINISTERS IN WARSAW MULL IRAQ, GEORGIA, TIES WITH RUSSIA
During the second day of an informal NATO summit in Warsaw on 25 September, NATO defense ministers discussed the alliance's policy on Iraq, the situation in Georgia, and NATO relations with Russia, PAP reported. The debate was attended by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said UN sanctions have not succeeded in disarming Iraq and added that, in the event of a military action against that country, Washington will obtain support from many countries. Rumsfeld also said the United States opposes a possible Russian military action targeting Chechen separatists allegedly ensconced in Georgia. "Georgia's sovereignty must be respected," he added. Meanwhile, Ivanov said the anticipated extradition of 13 Chechen fighters from Georgia to Russia -- a move recently announced by the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office -- will not exhaust Moscow's demands on Tbilisi, ITAR-TASS reported. "There are still very many international terrorists in Georgia, whose extradition is demanded by both Russia and the entire world," Ivanov added. Ivanov invited NATO representatives to take part in a seminar in Moscow in December to discuss combating international terrorism. JM

POLISH, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSS COOPERATION
Following the conclusion of a NATO summit in Warsaw on 25 September, defense ministers Jerzy Szmajdzinski (Poland) and Sergei Ivanov (Russia) discussed the possibilities of bilateral technical and military cooperation, PAP reported, quoting Defense Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak. Mleczak said the two sides are expected to sign an accord on 26 September on modernizing and servicing Poland's MiG-29 fighter jets by Russia. JM

CZECHS SAY THEY CAN OFFER EXPERIENCED TROOPS TO NATO'S RAPID REACTION FORCE
Czech Ambassador to NATO Karel Kovanda on 25 September told CTK that his country can offer its experienced units for the planned NATO Rapid Reaction Force (RRF). Kovanda explained that he mainly has in mind the antichemical- and antibacteriological-warfare unit now deployed in Kuwait. He also said the U.S. proposal to set up the RRF is only in its initial stage and will be further examined at the organization's November summit. The planned force should enable the deployment of 25,000 troops within five days to any place in the world. MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER ADMITS LARGE-SCALE AMMUNITION THEFT...
The daily "Pravo" on 25 September said Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik conceded that ammunition has been repeatedly stolen in recent months from military warehouses, CTK and dpa reported. The daily said as many as 175 hand grenades have been stolen from poorly protected military warehouses. It cited Tvrdik as saying the Czech Army has responded to the thefts with a campaign to beef up safeguards, adding that if the investigation shows people in the chain of command "up to the General Staff" are responsible for negligence, they will be dismissed "or I will resign." MS

...AND SAYS FOREIGN MINISTRY DOES NOT 'NOW' DEPLOY VZS AGENTS ABROAD
Tvrdik on 25 September denied that the Czech Military Intelligence Service (VZS) is deploying agents abroad under diplomatic cover. "Nothing of the sort takes place at the moment. A special team will investigate what happened in the past," Tvrdik told CTK. He was speaking after a closed session of the Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Commission. Rumors of the deployment emerged in the media in connection with the alleged commission of a journalist's murder by former Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Karel Srba (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2002). According to press reports, Srba was himself a VZS agent and placed other VZS agents in diplomatic posts abroad. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES EU REFERENDUM BILL
The government on 25 September approved a constitutional amendment on holding a plebiscite to approve the country's accession to the EU, CTK reported. The amendment was approved last week by the Senate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002) and is now to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies. MS

EU RELEASES FROZEN PHARE FUNDS TO SLOVAKIA
The European Commission on 25 September decided to release the PHARE funds it froze last year on suspicion of fraud in handling EU aid, CTK reported. At that time, the EU decided to withhold 10 percent of the funds, amounting to 5 million euros ($4,908,000 at the current exchange rate) until an investigation is finalized, CTK reported. Deputy Premier Maria Kadlecikova said Slovakia's Supreme Audit Office has concluded that there was no misuse of the funds and that police, working jointly with a team from the European Commission's European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), have reached the same conclusion. As a result of the scandal last year, two officials were dismissed: Pavol Hamzik, who was deputy premier in charge of EU integration, and Ronald Toth, at that time director of the Foreign Aid section of the government office. MS

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IMPRESSED BY EVIDENCE ON IRAQ
Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz told "Magyar Hirlap" of 25 September that NATO defense ministers meeting in Warsaw were shown "convincing and detailed" evidence that Iraq is preparing to manufacture chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. MSZ

HUNGARIAN COALITION PARTIES PROPOSE REDUCING SCOPE OF VETTING PROCESS...
On 25 September, governing-coalition member Socialists and Free Democrats submitted motions to parliament for amending their earlier bill on who should be subject to vetting for involvement with the communist-era domestic secret services, Hungarian dailies reported. The new amendment would exclude leaders of labor unions, national and regional leaders of churches registered in Hungary, and chief and deputy editors of national media who could influence public opinion directly or indirectly. Another proposed change would stipulate that the committee set up to investigate those suspected of collaborating with the secret services should consist of 12 judges. The 12 would be designated by parliament's National Security Committee following consultations with the head of the National Judicial Council and would serve for four years. Under another proposed amendment, public figures' collaboration with the communist-era secret services would not be classified as a state secret, but the details of their activities would be. MSZ

...AND MECS REPORT WILL NOT NAME NAMES
The report of the parliamentary commission investigating government officials' secret-service pasts, headed by Free Democrat Imre Mecs, will not include the names of those implicated, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 26 September. Mecs and Karoly Toth, the commission's Socialist deputy chairman, explained that the lack of a quorum resulting from the opposition delegates' decision to boycott the commission made it impossible to include any names in the report. MSZ

FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS CHURCHES ARE HIS ALLY
Viktor Orban told a Budapest conference for Catholic schoolteachers on 25 September that supporters of the right-wing "polgari" look upon the churches and their institutions as strategic allies, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Orban said many things have changed in Hungarian politics, but that the relationship between the historic churches and learning institutions and those advocating right-wing national values has not changed. He encouraged teachers at church-run schools to establish "a moral yardstick" rather than withdraw from politics and public life. "It is inappropriate for anybody to advise the historic churches to stay out of public debates," Orban concluded. MSZ

MILOSEVIC TRIAL ENTERS BOSNIAN, CROATIAN PHASE...
Hague prosecutors on 26 September launched the second phase of the war crimes trial against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, reading aloud 61 counts including genocide for alleged atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia from 1991-95, international news agencies reported. The Milosevic trial's first phase related to the conflict in Kosova and ended on 11 September. The charges in the new phase of the trial relate to the mass execution of Muslims in Srebrenica, the three-year siege of Sarajevo, and detention camps at Trnopolje and Omarska, among other activities, AP reported. Milosevic was to have three hours to present his opening defense statement on 26 September, and is expected to call his own witnesses toward the end of the trial, probably in the spring. Tribunal spokeswoman Florence Hartmann said on 25 September that Croatian President Stipe Mesic will testify in the current stage of the trial, according to Reuters, although she declined to say when. AH

...WITH LEAD PROSECUTOR CHARGING THAT FORMER LEADER SOUGHT TO 'DESTROY OR EXPEL' NON-SERBS
Lead Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice said on 26 September that prosecutors will try to prove that Milosevic intended to "destroy or expel" non-Serb inhabitants from the region with the aim of creating a Greater Serbia, RFE/RL reported. Nice accused Milosevic of seeking to "carve up Bosnia" with the cooperation of former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, covertly fomenting Serbian rebellion in parts of Croatia, and intending to "destroy the Bosnian Muslim community." AH

CROATIAN PRESIDENT JOINS BOBETKO FRAY, URGES COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE...
Stipe Mesic on 25 September bucked the trend of senior politicians in his country when he implored Croatians to "keep our word" to the international community and suggested that authorities should hand over indicted war criminal General Janko Bobetko, dpa reported the same day. The president's words are a stark contrast to the statements emerging of late from Prime Minister Ivica Racan and his government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 24, and 25 September 2002). Mesic said in a nationally televised address that "nobody is above the law" and "nobody can jeopardize Croatia's future," the news agency reported. He noted that his country adopted a law on cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia six years ago, adding, "We have made a commitment and the world is expecting us to keep our word." Mesic, who is expected to testify for the prosecution at Milosevic's ongoing trial, urged "cooperation by each Croatian citizen with the [war crimes] tribunal," according to dpa. Mesic warned that the country needs to show that "extremist opinions will not prevail," according to AP. AH

...AFTER TRIBUNAL ISSUES STINGING REBUKE
UN war crimes tribunal spokesman Jim Landale said on 25 September that Croatia's obligations are "clear" and "Croatian authorities have a responsibility to arrest Bobetko without due delay and transfer him to The Hague," AP reported. Another Hague spokesperson, Florence Hartmann, warned, "No government can challenge an indictment" by the UN court. "We shall not stay silent if Croatia does not comply" with the indictment and handover request for the 83-year-old former chief of the military Main Staff, AP quoted Hartmann as saying. She declined to specify what measures the UN body might take if the government in Zagreb maintains its defiance. AH

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT WANTS NEW CONSTITUTION, GREATER RULE OF LAW...
Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 25 September that establishing democratic rule of law will be his main priority if he is elected Serbian president in the upcoming election, Reuters reported. In an interview, Kostunica, who is a law professor, said that his main opponent in the 29 September election, Miroljub Labus, "is fond of saying actually that the economy is above everything. For me, the law is above everything. And the economy should be put in some sort of a legal frame." Kostunica, 58, added that he plans to oversee the institution of a new constitution and other important legislation to replace laws established during the reign of former President Milosevic. PB

...AND REITERATES CRITICISM OF THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL
President Kostunica said on 25 September that the UN war crimes tribunal's charges against Serbian President Milan Milutinovic "seem unreal and groundless," AP reported, citing the Beta news agency. Kostunica said the trial of Milutinovic and all other future war crimes trials against Yugoslav citizens should be held in domestic courts. Kostunica said he hopes "that the international war crimes tribunal will reconsider a part of its...practices." He said that currently the trials "are not something that will be considered...justice." Milutinovic has been indicted by the war crimes tribunal for atrocities committed during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosova. PB

DISABLED YUGOSLAV WAR VETERANS DEMAND BENEFITS
Hundreds of disabled veterans of the Balkan wars blocked the entrances to a government building in Belgrade on 25 September to demand the immediate payment of overdue state benefits, AP reported. The protesters, many in wheelchairs or on crutches, chanted "thieves!" and "treason" until they were met by Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic and some other cabinet ministers who pledged to pay some 2 billion dinars ($32 million) in unpaid benefits beginning next month. The protest was triggered when acting Finance Minister Veroljub Dugalic said that the overdue benefits would be paid next year. PB

YUGOSLAVIA OWES BILLIONS IN FOREIGN DEBT
Yugoslav acting Finance Minister Dugalic said in Belgrade on 25 September that the country owes some $8.598 billion in foreign debt, Hina reported. Dugalic said the country's debts have been greatly reduced since the overthrow of President Milosevic, with more than $3.1 billion having been written off. He added that Yugoslavia has been granted loans totaling $1.1 billion since October 2000, when Milosevic was deposed. PB

MONTENEGRIN PREMIER DEFENDS SALE OF OIL SUPPLIER
Filip Vujanovic has decided to meet with parliament President Vesna Perovic to discuss questions arising from the privatization of the Jugopetrol oil company, Tanjug reported on 26 September. Vujanovic said in an open letter to Perovic that he is surprised that the parliamentarian has expressed doubts regarding the privatization of Montenegro's largest oil supplier "without having first looked into all the details." Vujanovic, who has received a vote of no confidence from the parliament, said the privatization process "is proceeding through a commission for tenders, with the participation of numerous and very prominent foreign advisers, in a legitimate and transparent way." PB

FUTURE MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER RULES OUT DIRECT INVOLVEMENT OF FORMER REBELS IN GOVERNMENT
Social Democratic Union Chairman Branko Crvenkovski said on 25 September that he opposes the participation of former members of the National Liberation Army (UCK) in any future government, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Crvenkovski added that there is no room for former UCK members in parliament either. However, Crvenkovski said he will begin coalition talks with the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which is led by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, as soon as the Supreme Court has confirmed the final results of the 15 September parliamentary elections. Ahmeti himself has already signaled that he is not interested in a cabinet post in the future government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002). Crvenkovski spoke after a meeting at the French Embassy with the ambassadors of the United States, the European Union, and the OSCE. UB

FORMER MACEDONIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP NAMED SERBIAN EXARCH FOR MACEDONIA
In Bitola on 25 September, former Macedonian Orthodox Bishop of Veles Jovan declared himself "independent administrator of the Ohrid Archbishopric" of the Serbian Orthodox Church, "Dnevnik" reported. One day earlier, the Serbian Orthodox Church named him archbishop of Pec and exarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church for Macedonia. Jovan was dismissed from his position as bishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church after he placed his bishopric under Serbian canonic law in July 2002. Jovan's step followed the failure of the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox churches to reach agreement over the future legal status of the Macedonian church, which is not recognized by other Orthodox churches (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002). UB

HIGH-RANKING U.S. DEFENSE OFFICIAL MEETS WITH ROMANIAN LEADERS IN BUCHAREST
U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith met in Bucharest on 25 September with Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, and President Ion Iliescu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Pascu described the meeting as a "continuation of talks" he held with U.S. officials in Washington last week. After those discussions, Pascu said Romania would allow the United States to use its airspace in the event of a NATO attack on Iraq. Reports in the Romanian media suggested that the use of Romanian airfields may have been discussed during Feith's trip to Bucharest. Feith said after the talks with Pascu that the United States "made no specific request" to Romania regarding a possible military intervention against Iraq. He further said that Washington "does not comment" on the contribution of other countries to that possible operation, saying that it is left up to those countries to "assume the role they define themselves." Feith thanked Nastase and Iliescu for Romania's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and for having recently signed an accord with the United States regarding the proposed International Criminal Court (ICC). MS

PACE DEMANDS THAT ROMANIA REFRAIN FROM RATIFYING ACCORD WITH UNITED STATES
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved a resolution on 25 September demanding that countries that have signed an accord with the United States that would exempt U.S. citizens from extradition to the ICC refrain from ratifying the agreement, Romanian Radio reported. Thus far four countries, including Romania, have signed such an accord. Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu responded that the accord with the United States will not be ratified before an understanding on the matter is reached between the European Union and the United States. MS

EU URGES ROMANIA TO EXTEND BAN ON ADOPTIONS
EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele, in an interview with Reuters on 25 September, said that Romania should extend the moratorium on adoptions by foreigners until the country sets up a better foster-care system and is capable of monitoring it. The moratorium was announced in June 2001 and runs out in October. It followed criticism by the European Union claiming that child trafficking and corruption was rife in the adoption process. Reuters said families in the United States and other countries that had already chosen for adoption children from Romanian orphanages are pressing for the moratorium to be lifted. MS

ROMANIAN COURT OF ACCOUNTS REPORTS DOCUMENTS MISSING
In a report presented on 25 September, Court of Accounts President Dan Drosu Saguna said investigations have revealed that documents submitted as evidence regarding taxes owed to the Finance Ministry by privatized state companies have disappeared, Mediafax and Romanian Radio reported. Saguna said most of the missing documents date back to 1998-2000. He added that documents pertaining to more than $2.2 billion and 1 billion "transferable rubles" owed to Romania by foreign companies before 1989 are also missing. Most of those companies, he said, have since been privatized, and their managers claim they cannot prove how those debts were handled, claiming "different excuses." MS

IMF OFFICIAL CRITICIZES BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT'S PLANS
Speaking at a press conference in Sofia on 25 September, Jerald Schiff, a division chief who represents the Bulgarian team at International Monetary Fund headquarters, criticized the Bulgarian government's plans to use part of its currency reserve to build up an investment fund for risk capital, "Dnevnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002). Schiff said the IMF is skeptical about the idea not only because it will use parts of the country's currency reserve, but also because the state will renew its engagement in the economy at a time when the privatization of state-owned companies has nearly been completed. UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT DISAPPOINTED WITH BIDS FOR TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY
Transport and Communications Minister Plamen Petrov said on 25 September that he had expected higher bids than those recently received for the state-owned BTK telecommunications company, BTA reported. "I hoped the bidders would offer between 50 and 80 percent higher prices. I find the bids slightly disappointing," Petrov said, adding that the company does not have a large debt. A Turkish consortium comprising Koc Bilgi Grubu Ilitisim ve Teknoloji Hizmetleri and Turk Telekomunikasyon offered some $230 million for a 65 percent stake in BTK, while the Vienna-based Viva Ventures Holding GmbH offered $245 million. Both bidders pledged to invest some $392 million in BTK over the next five years. UB

BULGARIA, AZERBAIJAN SIGN MILITARY AGREEMENT
In Sofia on 25 September, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov and his Azerbaijani counterpart Colonel General Safar Abiev signed a bilateral agreement on military cooperation, BTA reported. Svinarov and Abiev discussed future bilateral military-industrial cooperation and the exchange of armed forces' personnel for training. They also spoke about military reforms in Bulgaria and Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. UB

There is no End Note today.


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