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Newsline - December 30, 2002


DEATH TOLL IN GROZNY BOMBING RISES...
The number of victims of the 27 December car-bomb attack on the government building in Grozny has risen to 80, dpa and other news agencies reported on 30 December. Some 150 people were injured. Several Chechen administration officials were reportedly injured in the attack, including Deputy Prime Minister Zina Batyzheva and Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev. A chechenpress.com report that Dudaev died in the attack has not been confirmed. LF

...AS CHECHEN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CONDEMN INCOMPETENCE...
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said on 27 December that the bombing was the result of inadequate security precautions, Interfax reported. Russian presidential representative to the South Russia Federal District Viktor Kazantsev likewise claimed that "irresponsibility" on the part of the Chechen government ministry charged with security made the blast possible, but at the same time predicted that "the crime will be solved very soon." Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii said on 29 December that investigators have established that security regulations at the government building were violated, Interfax reported. He added that those deemed responsible for security lapses will face criminal charges. "This tragedy again clearly demonstrates that Kadyrov's team has no control over the situation in the republic or in the center of Grozny," "Novye izvestiya" editorialized on 28 December. LF/VY

...AND DISAGREE OVER IDENTITIES OF BOMBERS
The Foreign Ministry and presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov both blamed the Grozny bombing on "international terrorists" intent on undermining President Vladimir Putin's efforts to resolve the Chechen conflict, Interfax reported. Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, who is a spokesman for the joint federal forces in Chechnya, told ORT on 27 December the bombing was organized by Chechen field commanders Abu al-Walid and Shamil Basaev. Shabalkin had told Interfax on 24 December that the two commanders were planning "large-scale attacks" in Grozny and elsewhere. Administration head Kadyrov, for his part, accused Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov of masterminding the attack, Reuters reported on 28 December. But Chechen Deputy Interior Minister Akhmed Dakaev told Interfax the three men who drove the two trucks did not seem to belong to any Caucasian ethnic group, while Interior Minister Ruslan Tsakaev said on 29 December that two of them were fair-haired and that all spoke Russian without accents. Dakaev said the trucks displayed on their windshields official passes similar to those issued by the Russian military, that the drivers had other documentation apparently issued by the Chechen administration, and that they drove to Grozny from Nadterechnyi Raion in northwestern Chechnya passing through three checkpoints en route. LF

LEFT-WING WEBSITE CHARGES MOSCOW WITH COMPLICITY
The left-wing website pravda.ru commented on 28 December that corrupt circles in Moscow could be behind the Grozny blast, citing an unidentified source in the pro-Kremlin administration. The website speculated that the explosion might have been organized by people within the General Staff or the presidential administration who are interested in further destabilizing the situation in Chechnya. They could have been motivated by a desire to loot the federal funds that will be allocated to rebuild the administration complex. They might also have wanted to outrage federal troops in Chechnya and to frighten the civilian population with the threat of reprisals, the website quoted its source as saying. VY

MOSCOW TO DISCONTINUE PEACE CORPS AGREEMENT
Moscow has informed Washington that it intends to discontinue a 1992 bilateral agreement concerning the work of Peace Corps volunteers in Russia, RIA-Novosti and other news agencies reported on 28 December. The Kremlin explained its decision by saying the situation in Russia has changed drastically since 1992 and that Russia can no longer be considered a developing country in need of such assistance. However, analysts note that the decision accords with a recent statement by Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev accusing Peace Corps volunteers of espionage. There are currently about 200 U.S. volunteers teaching English and business management in about 30 Russian cities. VY

THIRTY COMPANY HEADS ENTER SAKHA PARLIAMENT
Incumbent Yakutsk Mayor Ilya Mikhalchuk was reelected on 29 December, newsru.com and other Russian news agencies reported. Mikhalchuk received nearly 62 percent of the vote, while his nearest rival, Aleksandr Kirillin, polled just 7.28 percent. Seventeen percent voted against all candidates. Sakha (Yakutia) Republic voters also elected 69 of 70 deputies to the region's unicameral legislature, and the heads of 33 other municipalities. Of the 69 deputies elected, 30 are general directors or heads of local companies, including Yakutskenergo General Director Konstantin Ilkovskii and Sakhaneftegaz CEO Kliment Ivanov. RC

REFORM OF THE BUREAUCRACY ON HOLD UNTIL 2004?
In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 27 December, Georgii Satarov of the INDEM Foundation commented on the effort to reform the federal bureaucracy. According to Satarov, bureaucrats have made it clear they are not interested in such reforms, and President Vladimir Putin will not initiate any changes until after the 2004 presidential election. Satarov added that current discussions about the reforms have focused on two approaches -- one that would serve the government and another to serve the citizenry. Under discussion is the introduction of a contract system for state workers that would enumerate their work goals and relate their pay to the results they achieve. Satarov also stated that simply raising salaries will not solve the problem of corruption because the share of expenditures on state employees correlates only weakly with the level of corruption in government. JAC

UPPER HOUSE RUBBER STAMPS MORE DUMA BILLS
The Federation Council approved on 27 December a number of laws recently passed by the State Duma, including amendments to the laws on presidential elections, on the regulation of heating and electricity tariffs, and the 2003 Pension Fund budget. The bill amending the law on presidential elections passed with 109 votes in favor, eight against, and six abstentions, according to RIA-Novosti. The bill reduces the length of the official presidential election campaign from five months to three and raises the ceiling of the amount of money that can be spent on such a campaign to 150 million rubles ($4.7 million) from the current level of 30 million rubles (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 6 November 2002). Senators also approved amendments to the Tax Code that will extend the discounted 10 percent VAT rate for printed media until 1 January 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December), and the upper chamber approved a bill canceling the tax on foreign-currency purchases. JAC

ELECTION CHIEF PROMISES TO MAKE 1999 DEADBEATS PAY UP
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters in Moscow on 27 December that 25 political associations are eligible to participate in next year's State Duma elections. However, not all of them will be eligible for free airtime on Russian television and radio stations, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to Veshnyakov, there are still 21 electoral blocs that did not manage to collect more than 2 percent of the total vote in the 1999 State Duma elections and therefore must reimburse national and regional television and radio companies and periodicals for the free airtime they were allotted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002). According to Veshnyakov, even though many of those parties have reformed into new groups, they will still be held responsible for their debts. Veshnyakov added there were 14 elections for regional leaders last year, and there will be 15 in 2003. Many of these could be held simultaneously with the State Duma elections in December, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 27 December. JAC

1993 CONSTITUTION AUTHOR SAYS FEDERAL, REGIONAL POWERS SUPPOSED TO OVERLAP...
In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 December, Sergei Shakhrai, one of the authors of the constitution adopted in 1993, commented on the recent activities of presidential administration deputy head Dmitrii Kozak's commission to demarcate responsibilities among the various levels of government. Shakhrai said he takes a positive view of the commission but added that he believes there are people on the commission and in the regions who believe erroneously that everything can be divided up into "yours" and "mine" and then this division can be codified. However, he said, "we tried to invest the Russian Constitution with a model of cooperative federalism based on cooperation between the center and the regions, and therefore joint jurisdictions must be preserved." JAC

...AND REDUCING THE NUMBER OF REGIONS WILL NOT REQUIRE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
He also commented that the constitution in its current form does not have to be amended if two or more regions decide to merge. According to Shakhrai, the Constitutional Court issued a decision seven years ago that said that if two regions merge, the passage of a Constitutional law is sufficient and the name of the new region can be entered into Article 65 of the constitution by presidential decree. JAC

EXPERT HAILS DEMISE OF SOVIET VALUES
"Izvestiya" on 30 December marked the 80th anniversary of the official founding of the Soviet Union on 30 December 1922 by writing that the Soviet system of values is disappearing and the so-called Soviet Man faces extinction. Nikolai Lapin, director of the Center of Social and Cultural Change of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that in 1990, 54 percent of the Soviet people were dissatisfied with their lives. In 1994, nearly 80 percent of Russians expressed such dissatisfaction. However, at present, only 44 percent say they are dissatisfied, indicating real improvements in social self-perceptions over the last decade. From 1990-94, survey respondents said that the main dilemma facing the country was the choice between individual freedom and government control. From 1998-2000, this dilemma was eclipsed by the choice between freedom and security, Lapin said. In 1990, 47 percent rated individual freedom as the highest value, while 17 percent chose personal security. In 1994, those figures were 47 percent and 31 percent, respectively. In 1998, 20 percent of respondents said that individual freedom is a higher value than security, while 50 percent rated security higher. In 2000, the number of respondents ranking freedom above security remained at 20 percent, while those ranking security above freedom had increased to 58 percent. VY

FORMER NAZDRATENKO DEPUTY KILLED IN FAR EAST...
Former Primorskii Krai Deputy Governor Yevgenii Krasnov was shot dead in Vladivostok on 27 December, Russian news agencies reported. Krasnov, who most recently was rector of the Far Eastern State University, was shot by an unknown assailant outside his home. Krasnov was a member of the team of former Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who resigned from office amid controversy last year (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 February 2001). As deputy governor, Krasnov headed the krai's fisheries department. JAC

...AS BROADCAST COMPANY RAIDED
Armed gunmen stormed the building of the Novaya Volna television and radio company in Vladivostok on 27 December, Ekho Moskvy reported. Yevgeniya Golubeva, the company's deputy managing director, said the gunmen were representatives of the legal departments of Primorskii Krai, as well as people unofficially representing mayoral candidate Vladimir Nikolaev. According to Golubeva, the men said that "you heard what happened to Krasnov" and "if you don't vacate the building, the same thing will happen to you." Golubeva speculated that the raid might be linked to a company ownership dispute. The founder of the Novaya Volna media holding, Oleg Sedinko, was killed in Vladivostok last summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). After his death, his shares were purchased by former acting Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein and Sergei Gubich, another founder of Novaya Volna. JAC

RUSSIA HANDS OVER TERRORISM SUSPECTS TO GEORGIA...
Soso Toria and Vepkhia Durglishvili, who are suspected of involvement in the February 1998 attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, were flown to Tbilisi on 28 December, Interfax quoted Georgian Deputy State Security Minister Irakli Kotetishvili as saying. Both men were close associates of deceased Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. They were apprehended in Russia on 19 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). LF

...DEMANDS EXTRADITION OF CHECHEN GUNMEN
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko accused Tbilisi on 27 December of "playing into the hands of terrorists" by repeatedly delaying the extradition to Moscow of a group of Chechen fighters apprehended in August after having entered Georgia illegally from Russia. On 25 December, the Georgian Supreme Court overturned a Tbilisi district court decision upholding a request by the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office to extradite three of the Chechens to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 27 December 2002). LF

SENIOR ARMENIAN MEDIA OFFICIAL MURDERED
Tigran Naghdalian, chairman of the board of Armenian Public Television, was shot in the head late on 28 December while leaving his parents' home in Yerevan and died in the hospital two hours later, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. President Robert Kocharian, whose policies Naghdalian supported, and the Prosecutor-General's Office condemned the killing as an act of terrorism aimed at destabilizing the country, according to Armenian Public Television, as cited by Groong. Opposition politicians Vazgen Manukian and Arshak Sadoyan both said they doubt the murder was politically motivated. Two similar high-profile killings -- of Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian in 1998 and of Gagik Poghosian, an aide to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, in 2001 -- both remain unsolved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 1998 and 11 September 2001). LF

KARABAKH COMMANDER WARNS AZERBAIJAN AGAINST LAUNCHING OFFENSIVE
Lieutenant General Seyran Ohanian, who is commander in chief of the armed forces of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, on 27 December warned Azerbaijan that the enclave's army is "better prepared than ever before" and "ready to repulse the enemy" and carry out a successful counteroffensive, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Azerbaijani officials, including President Heidar Aliev and Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev, have repeatedly hinted that Azerbaijan might resort to arms to bring Karabakh back under its control if ongoing talks fail to yield a political solution to the conflict that would subordinate the unrecognized republic to the central Azerbaijani government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2001). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION HIGHLIGHTS SHORTCOMINGS OF NEW ELECTION CODE
At a discussion in Baku on 26 December to which foreign diplomats and representatives of the Azerbaijani authorities were invited, representatives of the 10 opposition parties aligned in the Opposition Coordinating Center criticized the new draft election legislation as less democratic that its predecessor, Turan reported. The opposition boycotted a roundtable discussion of the bill organized the previous week by the OSCE office in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). Also on 26 December, 12 small opposition parties including the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party formed a rival Center for Free Elections, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ACCUSES EU OF DOUBLE STANDARDS
Meeting on 25 December with Turkish Ambassador to Baku Ahmet Unal Cevikgoz, President Aliev accused the EU of "double standards" in setting 2004 as the date for beginning talks with Turkey on its bid for EU membership, Turan reported. Aliev said Turkey has a stronger right to EU membership than do the 10 states that were assured at the EU summit in Copenhagen earlier this month of EU admission in 2004. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA ANTICIPATES NEW GEORGIAN ATTACK
Eduard Kokoyty, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, said on 27 December that he believes Georgia might launch a new offensive under the pretext of a crackdown against crime to bring the breakaway republic back under the control of the central authorities, Russian news agencies reported. The South Ossetian authorities launched their own crackdown on crime two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October and 5 December 2002). Earlier this month, Kokoyty announced plans to create a 6,000-man South Ossetian army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). LF

KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S TRIAL OPENS, ADJOURNS
The trial opened in an Almaty district court on 24 December of opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, Reuters reported. U.S. and Dutch diplomats were allowed to attend the hearing, according to Interfax. Duvanov, who has published materials criticizing President Nursultan Nazarbaev, faces charges, which most observers believe are unsubstantiated and politically motivated, of raping a 14-year-old girl. LF

AFGHANISTAN INVITED TO JOIN CENTRAL ASIAN COOPERATION ORGANIZATION
Meeting in Astana on 27 December, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan discussed regional security and the effectiveness of measures adopted earlier to combat terrorism, drug trafficking, and other cross-border crime, Interfax reported. They also assessed the process of integration within the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO) since its establishment one year earlier on the basis of the Central Asian Economic Community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). At the suggestion of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, the four leaders extended an invitation to Afghanistan to become an observer member of the CACO. LF

FOUR SENTENCED IN KYRGYZ SHOOTINGS TRIAL
After a five-day hearing in the town of Maily-Su, the Osh Military Court handed down sentences on 28 December in the trial of seven men accused of responsibility for the deaths in March of five people when police opened fire on a protest march in Aksy, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Former Djalalabad Oblast Prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov and former Djalalabad Police Chief Kubanychbek Tokobaev were found guilty of exceeding their authority and sentenced to three years' imprisonment each. Tokobaev's deputy and a former Aksy district prosecutor were each sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Three other local government and police officials were acquitted. Opposition politicians on 29 December criticized the verdicts as too lenient, predicting that the four men will soon be amnestied. Asaba Party leader and parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose arrest the Aksy demonstrators were protesting, accused Akaev of breaking a promise to the people of Aksy to punish those responsible for the shootings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002). LF

KYRGYZSTAN, TAJIKISTAN RESUME BORDER DELIMITATION TALKS
Government delegations from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan met in Bishkek from 24-28 December to discuss delimitation of the 940 kilometer border between the two countries, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kyrgyz official Salamat Alamanov said on 23 December there are 40 disputed areas along the border. The talks focused on simplified border-crossing procedures for the officials engaged in the delimitation and demarcation process and on the exchange of maps and aerial surveys of the border region. Talks on border delimitation were opened in 1997 but were suspended due to political instability in Tajikistan. LF

TURKMEN TELEVISION SCREENS FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER'S CONFESSION
Turkmen state television screened footage late on 29 December in which former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov confessed to plotting while in exile in Moscow to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov and seize power, Interfax and turkmenistan.ru reported. Shikhmuradov also confessed that he financed the planned coup attempt from the 1994 theft and subsequent sale of military aircraft. Turkmen authorities accused Shikhmuradov of that theft shortly after he declared his opposition to Niyazov in November 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2001). He has repeatedly denied the charge. Shikhmuradov also admitted that he was abetted by Uzbek Ambassador to Ashgabat Abdurashid Qodyrov. The Turkmen authorities declared Qodyrov persona non grata last week (see "End Note" below). Interfax on 28 December quoted unnamed Turkmen police sources as saying Shikhmuradov was being treated "correctly" and has not been subjected to violence. But a Reuters correspondent in Ashgabat reported on 29 December that in the television footage Shikhmuradov's speech was slow and almost "robotic." LF

BELARUSIAN WRITER SAYS HIS DECISION TO LIVE IN CZECH CAPITAL NOT POLITICAL
Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau on 27 December denied Russian media reports that his decision to move to Prague is politically motivated, Belapan reported. Bykau has been highly critical of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and since 1998 has lived in Finnish and German exile. Bykau told Czech media that he has never asked the Czech government nor President Vaclav Havel for political asylum but requested "a more-or-less lasting residence permit," which he needs for literary work and treatment for his chronic lung illness. Such a permit was granted to him with the assistance of the Czech president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003). AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS AMENDED BILL TO COMBAT MONEY LAUNDERING
Leonid Kuchma on 27 December signed a bill aimed at helping to fight money laundering, UNIAN and AP reported on 27 December. The Verkhovna Rada last week passed amendments to a previously approved law to combat dirty money, introducing stricter requirements on identifying account holders and giving government agencies broader rights to monitor suspicious accounts. The parliament's action followed a decision by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force to impose sanctions against Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). Legislators also gave tentative approval to a bill introducing fines and prison terms of up to 15 years for those convicted of money laundering. AM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKERS TO APPEAL SENTENCES AGAINST RIOTERS
The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc in the Ukrainian parliament is collecting signatures for an appeal against a 25 December verdict handed down to members of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO) who were accused of provoking riots during an antipresidential protest in Kyiv in March 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 12 March 2001), UNIAN reported on 27 December. A district court in Kyiv sentenced 14 UNA-UNSO members to prison terms of between two and five years, while four others received two-year suspended sentences. Yuliya Tymoshenko said her caucus demands that a probe be launched into the "brutal behavior of the court," which, she added, made its ruling under an obsolete Criminal Code. AM

UKRAINIAN JUDGE PROTESTS CANCELLATION OF KUCHMA PROBES
Kyiv Court of Appeals judge Yuriy Vasylenko told journalists on 28 December that a Supreme Court ruling canceling his decision to open criminal investigations against President Kuchma violates the constitution and criminal-procedure legislation in the country, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 28 December. "Basically, it was impossible in any way to cancel the probes ordered by me because current legislation does not provide for a legal possibility of their cancellation, and all really qualified and impartial lawyers have come to this conclusion," Vasylenko said. In October, Vasylenko opened a criminal case against Kuchma in connection with charges by opposition lawmakers that he violated 11 articles of the Criminal Code, including his alleged involvement in the illegal sale of military technology to Iraq and the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2002). AM

ESTONIAN, RUSSIAN LAW-ENFORCEMENT BODIES SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
The director general of the Estonian police, Harry Tuul, and Major General Boris Uemlyanin, the chief of the Russian Interior Ministry's Northwest District, signed a cooperation agreement in Tallinn on 27 December, BNS reported. The document names the agencies that will cooperate and their responsibilities. Tuul noted that cooperation between the countries' law-enforcement agencies has been ongoing and the signing only formalized its legal basis. The two sides agreed to cooperate in fighting organized crime, terrorism, and the illegal trade in weapons and drugs, as well as to intensify exchanges of information and conduct joint surveillance activities, in-service training, and consultations. SG

LATVIA SETS DATE FOR REFERENDUM ON EU MEMBERSHIP
The government decided on 27 December to conduct a referendum on Latvia's entry to the European Union on Saturday, 20 September 2003, LETA reported. Earlier in the week, on 23 December, ministers resolved to grant the country's Central Election Commission 1.14 million lats ($1.82 million) for organizing the referendum. The cabinet instructed the State Chancellery and the European Integration Office to decide between themselves who will be responsible for the coordination and implementation of the related public-information campaign. Latvia will be the last of the Baltic states to hold the plebiscite, as Estonia will hold its referendum on 14 September and Lithuania most likely on 11 May. SG

LITHUANIA, RUSSIA BREAK KALININGRAD CONSULAR STALEMATE
Kaliningrad Oblast Deputy Governor Mikhail Tsikel informed Vilnius that the Russian Foreign Ministry has granted Lithuania permission to expand the facilities of its consulate in Kaliningrad and to open another consulate in the town of Sovetsk in the Kaliningrad Oblast, "Kauno diena" reported on 28 December. Lithuanian Consul General in Kaliningrad Vytautas Zalys expressed regret that it took Russia more than a year to grant the permission, as the necessary construction work will have to be hurried. He said the number of visas granted will expand greatly after 1 July 2003, when visa-free travel for Kaliningrad residents will end. Earlier this month, Lithuania gave Russia permission to open a consulate in Kaunas and a branch office in the town of Taurage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). SG

POLISH PREMIER WANTS PROBE INTO CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS
Premier Leszek Miller expects an investigation into the alleged solicitation of a bribe to influence media legislation described in "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 27 December, PAP reported, citing government spokesman Michal Tober. He added that the results of that probe should be made available to the public. The daily alleged that Lew Rywin, the chairman of the supervisory board of Canal+ Television and owner of Heritage Films production company, proposed that "Gazeta Wyborcza" publisher Agora pay $17.5 million for a favorable law on radio and television broadcasting. That legislation is currently under government consideration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). Rywin, citing Premier Miller, allegedly offered to arrange changes to government draft amendments to the law that would allow Agora to buy Polsat Television, a deal that Agora is reportedly seeking. "The chairman of the Council of Ministers never instructed Lew Rywin to be an intermediary in any matter whatsoever," Tober told PAP. "[Rywin] was also never a formal nor an informal adviser to the prime minister." AM

NATO SPOKESMAN PRAISES POLAND'S CHOICE OF FIGHTERS...
The government's decision in a tender to supply Poland with multitask jet fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002) is a good move that will help modernize Polish air forces, PAP quoted NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel as saying in Brussels on 27 December. Pszczel refused to comment on the previous day's statement by Charles Edelstenne of French Dassault, producer of the Mirage jets that were also offered to Poland, that Poland's choice of F-16s was motivated more by political considerations and the wish to please Washington than by quality or price. All three fighter options on offer (F-16, Mirage, and Gripen) are fully compatible with basic NATO standards, Pszczel added. AM

...WHILE RIVAL BIDDER 'HAS NOT LOST HOPE'
Bjoern Magnusson, a Saab and BAE Systems spokesman, told PAP on 27 December that his side is disappointed that the F-16 jet was selected. "We believed our offset program was very strong, but we were told that the U.S. offer was stronger," Magnusson said. "Now we will be carefully following negotiations connected with offset conditions as we assess the decision, which we fully respect, to be still an initial one. We have not lost hope. We believe our offer placed second and if the offset negotiations do not end with a contract we will be ready to start talks." In the neighboring Czech Republic, the cabinet in December 2001 selected Saab/BAE Systems to supply Gripens for air defense, but the deal was thwarted in parliament and has since been abandoned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001 and 19 August and 19 November 2002). AM

CZECH PREMIER DOWNPLAYS PARTY RIFT OVER PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on 28 December dismissed speculation that his ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) might split over its choice for president, CTK reported. Party Chairman Spidla is backing official CSSD candidate and former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures, while a faction within the party is backing former party leader Milos Zeman. Speaking on Czech Television, Spidla said that even if former Premier Zeman became president, he would not expect relations between himself and Zeman to be worse than those between outgoing President Vaclav Havel and former Premier Vaclav Klaus. Havel and Klaus have had notoriously chilly relations for much of the past decade. Spidla added that Klaus, the official candidate of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), "does not suit in the least my idea of a president either." Legislators are slated to convene to elect a president at a joint session of the bicameral parliament on 15 January 2003. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITIONIST PROPOSES ANTICORRUPTION BODY...
Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico, speaking on Slovak Radio on 28 December, proposed the creation of a special structure aimed at fighting corruption in top state administration. Fico said its members should be appointed by the president -- without interference from the government or the parliament -- in order to ensure its independence and prevent its being politically influenced, TASR reported. Fico said he has already conducted talks with President Rudolf Schuster on the initiative, adding that if parliament approves a law on setting up the proposed structure, Schuster is ready to appoint a personality with no political affiliation to head it. Fico said Slovaks do not trust the government's anticorruption drive and will start doing so only after "someone is sentenced for receiving a bribe over an important tender, for instance." MS

...WHILE JUSTICE MINISTER ANNOUNCES NEW MEASURES IN CORRUPTION BATTLE
Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic, who participated with Fico in the broadcast debate on 28 December, said a law on appointing a special prosecutor in charge of the struggle against corruption is under preparation, TASR reported. He said such a special prosecutor would have powers to charge constitutionally elected officials with wrongdoing and that he or she should therefore be appointed by the parliament. On 29 December, Lipsic told TASR that one of his ministry's main priorities next year will be to speed up court procedures. MS

HUNGARIAN 'HOUSE OF TERROR' TO GET ADDITIONAL FUNDS
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy announced on 27 December that the cabinet will use government reserves to ensure the continued operation of the controversial House of Terror museum in Budapest, Hungarian media reported. Free Democrat parliamentary deputy Ivan Petoe, who had submitted to parliament the motion that resulted in a substantial cut in the museum's state-financed budget, objected to the decision. He said funding of the institution is disproportionately high compared with other institutions. Director Maria Schmidt, who had accused legislators of playing politics with the museum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002), welcomed the announcement. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES PETITION AGAINST SOFT TREATMENT FOR SOFT DRUGS
The chairman of the Gyoer chapter of the Federation of Christian Intellectuals on 27 December delivered to President Ferenc Madl a petition with 100,000 signatures urging him not to enact a law easing penalties related to the use of soft drugs. Legislators approved the bill on 23 December, calling for the abolition or reduction of punishment for those who have used soft illegal drugs and take part in treatment programs, Hungarian media reported. MS

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT ADMITS VIOLATIONS OF IRAQ EMBARGO
The Republika Srpska's Supreme Defense Council on 26 December approved a report on illegal arms exports by the Orao aircraft factory to Iraq, the "Southeast European Times" reported. The report concedes that UN Security Council resolutions were violated, but it goes on to say that measures have been adopted to continue the investigation and prevent such exports in the future. Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said the report will be handed over to the Bosnian joint Presidency and SFOR on 3 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report, " 25 October, 8 and 29 November, and 19 December 2002). UB

U.S. RELEASES FROZEN YUGOSLAV ASSETS
The U.S. Treasury Department decided on 27 December to release all remaining Yugoslav property and interests frozen in U.S. banks, according to its official website (http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/bulletin.txt). Exceptions include the property and interests of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's diplomatic missions, the Yugoslav National Bank, and individuals subject to sanctions under the so-called Milosevic Regulations or the Western Balkan Regulations. Yugoslav assets have been blocked since 1992, when international sanctions were imposed on that country. The regulations have been changed several times. The department's bulletin cites U.S. government efforts to assist Yugoslavia in recovering from the effects of the Milosevic regime. UB

YUGOSLAV SUPREME DEFENSE COUNCIL PREPARED TO HAND OVER DOCUMENTS TO THE HAGUE
The Supreme Defense Council has de-classified a number of documents requested by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 27 December. The documents from the military archive will be handed over the National Council for the Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal. UB

SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER CALLS ON WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR TO RESIGN...
Justice Minister Vladan Batic on 29 December called on the international war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, to resign, Beta reported. Batic accused Del Ponte of seeking "selective justice" by indicting for war crimes allegedly committed by Serbs in Srebrenica while ignoring responsibility for crimes against Serbs in Sarajevo and Tuzla. He added that Del Ponte "will not, may not, or cannot" indict former leaders of the disbanded Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) including Hashim Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj, and Agim Ceku. In August, Batic sought the extradition of those three former commanders, who are among Kosova's most influential ethnic Albanian leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). UB

...WHILE TRIBUNAL SPOKESWOMAN REPEATS CALL FOR OUTGOING SERBIAN PRESIDENT TO SURRENDER
Prosecution spokeswoman Florence Hartmann said on 28 December that she expects outgoing Serbian President Milan Milutinovic to surrender voluntarily to the war crimes tribunal, Beta reported. She noted that the tribunal issued an arrest warrant for Milutinovic in 1999 and it does not recognize any immunity. Meanwhile, the Republican Election Commission said on 27 December that Milutonivic's term ends on 29 December -- and not on 5 January, as has been reported previously (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). UB

KOSOVAR PRESIDENT REPEATS CALL FOR INDEPENDENCE
In a televised interview on 27 December, President Ibrahim Rugova called on the international community to recognize the independence of Kosova, saying this would contribute to the region's peace and stability, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Rugova stressed the considerable progress the province made in all aspects of life in 2002, including the functioning of Kosovar institutions as well as the beginnings of integration by ethnic minorities. Though the international community recognizes positive developments in the province, Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), has repeatedly said it is too early for any decision about Kosova's future political status (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 13 November and 16 December 2002). UB

MACEDONIAN POLICE FILE CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST FORMER ECONOMY MINISTER
The Macedonian Interior Ministry pressed criminal charges against former Economy Minister Besnik Fetai of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) on 24 December, "Dnevnik" reported. Fetai is suspected of abuse of office and embezzlement. On 26 December, authorities issued an arrest warrant for Vojo Mihajlovski, who is the secretary-general of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). Mihajlovski is charged with misappropriating money during his tenure as director of the state Health Insurance Fond under the previous VMRO-DPMNE-led government (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). UB

ROMANIA DEMANDS THAT PACE URGENTLY DEBATE HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW
Gheorgi Prisacaru, head of Romania's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told Mediafax on 27 December that the delegation will ask PACE to urgently debate the Hungarian Status Law. He said the assembly has on several occasions postponed debating the critical report on the law submitted to it by Dutch PACE rapporteur Erik Jurgens. Prisacaru said Romania considers the law to be a general European problem, not one that affects only the relations between Romania and Hungary. MS

LEAFLETS IN CLUJ DEMAND TRANSYLVANIA'S INDEPENDENCE
Hundreds of leaflets demanding Transylvania's independence were found on 28 December in Cluj, Mediafax reported. The leaflets were written in both Romanian and Hungarian. They called for "an independent and sovereign Transylvania" in which Romanians and Hungarians "can live in peace and mutual understanding." The leaflets claimed poverty in the region "is due to Bucharest" and stated that "we need neither Bucharest nor Moldavia nor Wallachia," on whose development Transylvanian resources are spent and whose bankrupt enterprises Transylvania is forced to support financially. "We want the old border along the Carpathian Mountains back," the leaflets stated, calling on Cluj residents to demonstrate on 31 December for the region's independence. Police have opened an investigation and the Greater Romania Party has accused the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania of being "behind this revisionist diversion." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT URGES CARDINAL REFORMS...
Speaking in parliament on 27 December, President Vladimir Voronin said cardinal reforms are needed to ensure the future development of the economy, Infotag reported. Voronin said the reforms must aim at the modernization of public administration, the liberalization of the economy, and better use of existing labor resources. Voronin said public administration is inefficient, bureaucratic, and is unable to implement the tasks of European integration, country reunification, or to solve social problems. He said economic liberalization should above all be directed at ridding the country of bureaucratic manipulation and blackmail. Voronin also said that in order to ensure the better utilization of labor sources, a social pact should be agreed on between employers and employees. He added that the pact would not be intended to merely facilitate discussions, but to solve concrete problems through forming working groups that would draft relevant bills. MS

...AND REJECTS EU ACCESSION REFERENDUM PROPOSAL
In his 27 December speech to the legislature, President Voronin said it would be premature to hold a referendum on Moldova's EU accession now, as has been proposed by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), Infotag reported. He said such a plebiscite can only take place after Moldova's reunification, when the population on both banks of Dniester River is persuaded of the advantages of EU membership. "Those who come up with these initiatives had plenty of time to implement them in the past but did not undertake them at that time," he said. Infotag did not report on any response by Voronin to the PPCD's initiative on holding a plebiscite on NATO accession simultaneously with that on joining the EU. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY TO BOYCOTT LEGISLATURE
The Braghis Alliance on 27 December announced it intends to boycott the plenary sessions of parliament to protest the rejection of its initiative to hold a referendum on changing the current electoral system, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). Former Premier Dumitru Braghis, the chairman of the Braghis Alliance, accused the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) of "gross violations" of the law and of unilateral and biased coverage of the issue in state-run media. After the boycott was announced, the PCM majority approved a resolution demanding that the performance of the Central Election Commission (CEC), which approved the signatures collected by the Braghis Alliance in support of the referendum, be monitored by the parliament's Judicial Committee. PPCD Deputy Chairman Stefan Secareanu said the PCM seeks to obstruct the work of the CEC and to change its makeup and its chair ahead of the local elections next spring. MS

HIGH-RANKING PROSECUTOR SHOT DEAD IN SOFIA...
Nikolay Kolev, a prosecutor at the Supreme Administrative Court and former military prosecutor, was shot dead in downtown Sofia on 28 December, novinite.bg reported. Initial investigations established that Kolev was struck by six bullets. Investigators also found an unexploded hand grenade at the crime site. Kolev was a former assistant to Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev, who sacked him in early 2001. Shortly after his dismissal, police arrested Kolev for illegally possessing drugs and arms, but had to release him soon afterward after a court refused to proceed with the case, citing Kolev's immunity as prosecutor. A separate court subsequently reinstated Kolev as prosecutor. In March 2001, Kolev told mediapool.bg that he was convinced that Filchev has massive psychological problems [paranoia] and feared Kolev was planning to kill him. UB

...PROMPTING SPECULATION BY FAMILY MEMBERS, COLLEAGUES...
Immediately after the killing, Kolev's son Georgi told BTA he believes that Filchev is responsible for his father's death. "He has been followed for three months now," Georgi Kolev said. "All Bulgaria knows who my father's enemy was." Anna Bankova, a prosecutor and colleague of Kolev's at the Supreme Administrative Court, opined that the murder is connected with the problems within the Prosecutor-General's Office. She said Kolev feared being killed ever since he challenged Filchev's election as prosecutor-general before the Supreme Judicial Council. However, Nikolay Markov, Filchev's spokesman, dismissed such allegations as "nonsense." UB

...AS THE GOVERNMENT VOWS TO CATCH THE PERPETRATORS
Following the killing of Prosecutor Kolev, government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev said on 29 December that "the murder of a senior [prosecutor] is seen as an exceedingly grave crime in each state respecting democratic values," BTA reported. Tsonev stated that the authorities will do everything possible to apprehend the perpetrators. "We are deeply concerned [about the published] versions prompted by reasoning and conjectures of people who are not directly engaged in the establishment of the objective truth about last night's murder of Nikolay Kolev," Tsonev added, in an apparent allusion to speculation that Prosecutor-General Filchev might be involved in the murder. "Such insinuations create prerequisites for the spread of pernicious rumors in the media and in the public." UB

BULGARIAN SECRET SERVICE TO BE RESTRUCTURED
Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov announced on 27 December that the National Security Service (NSS) will be restructured, mediapool.bg reported. According to Petkanov, the departments for internal and economic security will be closed down, while the departments for fighting terrorism and illegal migration as well as the department for the defense of classified information will be reinforced. UB

IS THERE A TASHKENT CONNECTION?
The manhunt for the alleged mastermind behind the 25 November attempt to assassinate Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov, which began with a raid on the Uzbek Embassy in Ashgabat, had all the hallmarks of a wild-goose chase. One week later, with Turkmen authorities crowing that they had captured public enemy No. 1, former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, it looks as if there might have been a method to the madness.

On 16 December, more than a dozen Turkmen special-services officers forcibly entered the Uzbek Embassy and searched the ambassador's residence, claiming to have information that Turkmen nationals involved in the bid to kill Niyazov had taken refuge in the building. When they failed to find anyone, the officers allegedly filmed a Turkmen who had accompanied them into the building and who testified on camera that he had been living in the embassy for some time. The following day, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a protest note, calling the incident a gross violation of the norms and principles of international law and demanding an immediate explanation, as well as immunity for its diplomatic mission.

Speaking on Turkmen Television on 18 December, Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova made two sensational allegations that nonetheless shed light on the police's precipitous actions. First, she alleged that Shikhmuradov, assumed still to be in self-imposed exile in Moscow, was in fact in Turkmenistan. She said he arrived in the Uzbek town of Qarshi on 23 November and slipped across the border that night in order to be on hand to seize power after the planned assassination of Niyazov. Atajanova substantiated that allegation with a wealth of purported detail. She described the model Volvo that Shikhmurdov traveled in, his exact movements, the times and addresses of his meetings with alleged co-conspirators, and the roles of his accomplices in the plot.

Second, Atajanova accused Uzbekistan's ambassador in Ashgabat, Abdurashid Qodyrov, of hiding Shikhmuradov and an accomplice in the embassy after the attack failed. She said the plotters hid out in the building from 26 November until 7 December. Shikhmuradov, she said, had disappeared, but his accomplice, Nurmuhammed Orazgeldyev, was arrested on 14 December at a bus station in the town of Mary dressed in women's clothes.

On 19 December, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov dismissed these charges as groundless. But he did add a rider to his denials, one that was little noticed at the time but that seems more significant in the light of subsequent events. Komilov was quoted by Interfax as saying, "Uzbekistan thinks it expedient to note that Boris Shikhmuradov, who was the foreign minister of Turkmenistan for many years, has visited the republic many times and, naturally, has numerous acquaintances and persons he maintains contacts with in Uzbekistan." For anyone suspicious enough to wonder whether Uzbekistan might really have assisted Shikhmuradov after all, Komilov's caveat sounds like a clever hedge designed to give government figures "deniability" in case compromising revelations ever came out about Uzbek collusion.

Meanwhile, Turkmen authorities offered neither apologies nor explanations for raiding the Uzbek Embassy. The Foreign Ministry in Ashgabat ratcheted up the diplomatic tension on 21 December by issuing a statement declaring Qodyrov persona non grata "for committing acts incompatible with the status of a diplomat" and demanding that he leave the country within 24 hours. Qodyrov duly left the next day.

The Turkmen special services maintained that Shikhmuradov and an accomplice, businessman Iklym Iklymov, were still in the country, and they intensified the search. Turkmen Television called on citizens to assist in the manhunt, showing photographs of the two men and urging viewers to report any information about their whereabouts to police.

At this point, one might have expected Shikhmuradov to prove the Turkmen government to be liars by the simple expedient of showing himself on Russian television. The fact that he did not might have sown seeds of doubt among observers who had been inclined to dismiss Ashgabat's allegations out of hand as wild posturing or pretexts for a purge. Then, on 26 December, presidential spokesman Serdar Durdyev announced that Shikhmuradov had been captured by police at an undisclosed location within Turkmenistan. Prosecutor-General Atajanova confirmed the news on television, saying that Shikhmuradov had been captured together with Iklymov.

Meanwhile, Shikhmuradov posted a statement on his opposition website (http://www.gundogar.com) dated 24 December and allegedly written while he was still at liberty, in which he announced that he would give himself up to the Turkmen National Security Ministry voluntarily. This was the first hint from his side that he really was in Turkmenistan. Shikhmuradov claimed on the website that he had been hiding in the country since September, organizing a series of rallies in Ashgabat and elsewhere that were scheduled to take place in late November. After the assassination attempt -- and he was silent on the all-important question of whether he was involved in it or had prior knowledge of it -- he felt obliged, he said, to surrender in order to stop the police from arresting and torturing innocent people to make them reveal his whereabouts.

Is this likely, given that by delivering himself into Niyazov's hands, Shikhmuradov is almost certainly condemning himself to death? Over the weekend, Shikhmuradov confessed on Turkmen State Television that he masterminded the conspiracy to kill Niyazov.

Or is it more probable that his letter on the website was backdated and posted by someone as prearranged in case he was caught -- part of a face-saving contingency plan creating the impression of a noble martyrdom for the cause of democracy?

Is it likely that Turkmen law-enforcement officials are so reckless and incompetent that they would provoke an international incident by making wild charges against Uzbekistan? Or is it more probable, given the apparent detail with which they had tracked Shikhmuradov's moves in the run-up to the assassination attempt, that they actually had collected enough evidence to substantiate their accusations of Uzbek complicity?

Is it likely that Tashkent might actually have colluded -- albeit at a suitable remove to ensure that all top officials had deniability -- in a plot to eliminate Niyazov? Could the fact that Niyazov recently refused Uzbekistan permission to use its Caspian ports and railways to export goods; or the fact that Uzbekistan has various outstanding land, water, and energy disputes with its neighbor; or the fact that Central Asia would simply be a more stable and predictable place without the erratic Niyazov in power, be relevant in this regard? In that context, it is worth recalling that Tashkent has a history of trying to undermine neighboring regimes: It supported the failed coup in Tajikistan in November 1998 headed by former Tajik Army Colonel Mahmud Khudaiberdiev.

AFGHAN JUDICIARY HOLDS EMERGENCY SESSION TO REBUFF REBELS' WAR CALL
The Supreme Court held an emergency session on 28 December to draft a rebuttal to a statement issued by renegade antigovernment leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar calling for a fresh jihad in the country, AFP reported. The court defended the government's legitimacy in the face of claims by former Premier Hekmatyar that Afghanistan remains in thrall to occupying forces. The statement, published by the official Bakhtar news agency, said President Hamid Karzai's internationally backed government was legitimized through democratic means and is supported by a nationwide judicial system based on Islamic law. It followed a call by Hekmatyar, who heads the extremist Hizb-e-Islami party, for supporters to rid Afghanistan of foreign "aggressors" and fight side by side with the former Taliban militia and its Al-Qaeda associates. Hizb-e-Islami "will never abandon the people and [will] always defend Islam and wage jihad in collaboration with them to expel the aggressors from their country," Hekmatyar said in a letter. The U.S.-led military coalition currently operating in Afghanistan suspects Hekmatyar, who recently ordered an anti-U.S. jihad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002), of involvement in a series of extremist-linked rocket attacks on its bases close to the Pakistani border. Although he remains a notorious figure in Kabul, particularly for pounding the city with rockets in 1992, he still commands a large following in much of Afghanistan and is considered a major threat to Karzai's authority. TG

U.S. SOLDIER WOUNDED IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
A U.S. soldier was wounded on 29 December in a gun battle with enemy fighters near the Afghan-Pakistan border, the U.S. military announced on 30 December, AP reported. The soldier, who suffered a head wound from a gunshot, was evacuated to Bagram Air Base in "serious condition" and later transferred to the Landsthul regional medical center in Germany for further examination and neurological testing. On 28 December, a U.S. soldier was wounded at Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan. The military declined to provide details about the incident. Earlier this month, a U.S. soldier was killed in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan. The paratrooper was shot while participating in a nighttime operation in the eastern province of Paktika, near the Pakistani border. The assailants reportedly fled into Pakistan. More than 115 U.S. soldiers have been injured in noncombat incidents in the course of the war against terror in Afghanistan, and there have been 28 noncombat related fatalities, AFP reported. TG

UN TO HELP INVESTIGATE MASS GRAVES IN AFGHANISTAN
The United Nations said it will help investigate several mass graves in northern Afghanistan this spring, but will leave it up to Afghans whether -- and how -- to act on any evidence that is uncovered, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 29 December. Site work for a UN-sponsored feasibility study for an investigation has recently been completed, and excavations at three or more sites around Shibirghan and Mazar-i-Sharif could begin as early as April, an unidentified UN source told the daily. The UN will not press the Afghan government to launch a truth commission or a war crimes tribunal even if a wealth of evidence indicating atrocities is found, sources said. "Conditions might not be mature enough to deal with human rights violations of this magnitude," according to an international human rights expert working in Afghanistan. The investigation in northern Afghanistan began after reports surfaced that hundreds of captured Taliban fighters died in metal shipping containers last year while Northern Alliance soldiers transferred them to prisons. Taliban prisoners at the Shibirghan prison told a delegation from the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights last January that hundreds of their comrades never arrived at the prison after giving themselves up in Kunduz. TG

1.7 MILLION AFGHAN REFUGEES, 400,000 DISPLACED PERSONS REPATRIATED IN 2002
More than 1.7 million refugees and 400,000 internally displaced persons returned to their communities of origin in 2002, attesting to their belief in a future climate of stability and economic opportunity, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 17 December. A further 1.2 million refugees and 300,000 internally displaced persons are expected to return home in 2003, according to the report. Despite a vast improvement in the humanitarian situation over that in 2001, immense challenges remain. The report cited the effects of years of conflict, drought, isolation, and impoverishment. Some 2.2 million Afghans are highly vulnerable to the expected effects of the harsh winter, it added. The Transitional Assistance Program for Afghanistan (TAPA) for 2003, a joint initiative drawn up by the Afghan Transitional Administration and the UN, will focus on the restoration of agricultural opportunities; recuperation of agriculture, seed stocks, irrigation systems, and pastures and livestock; as well as pest control and environmental protection. The 2003 program will also support the reconstruction of basic health services and address the nutritional conditions and diseases that contribute to very high rates of mortality and morbidity among the population. TG

AFGHANISTAN INVITED TO JOIN CENTRAL ASIAN COOPERATION ORGANIZATION
Meeting in Astana on 27 December, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan discussed regional security and the effectiveness of measures adopted earlier to combat terrorism, drug trafficking, and other cross-border crime, Interfax reported. They also assessed the process of integration within the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO) since its establishment one year earlier on the basis of the Central Asian Economic Community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). At the suggestion of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, the four leaders extended an invitation to Afghanistan to become an observer member of the CACO. LF

MORE AID NEEDED IN AFGHANISTAN
At the same CACO meeting, the four presidents on 27 December called on the international community to boost financing for the rebuilding of Afghanistan in order to secure stability in the volatile region, AFP reported. The same day, an agreement was signed in Islamabad between the Chinese and Pakistani governments for Chinese assistance to Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Xinhua reported. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Zhang Chunxiang and Pakistan's Economic Affairs Division Secretary Waqar Masood Khan signed the agreement on behalf of their respective governments. TG

AFGHANISTAN, IRAN DISCUSS ANTIDRUG EFFORTS...
Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani expressed regret during a meeting with visiting Afghan President Karzai's national security adviser, Zalmay Rasool, that the cultivation of opium in Afghanistan has increased considerably in the last year, Tehran's official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 29 December. According to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (ODC), the crop in Afghanistan will yield 3,400 tons of opium this year, compared to 185 tons the previous year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October 2002). Rasul arrived in Tehran on 28 December for a three-day visit, IRNA reported. Before leaving Kabul he said he would meet with Rohani, Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, police Commander Brigadier Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and other officials to discuss increased cooperation in security affairs and antidrug efforts. Rasul mentioned the links between drugs and terrorism and said that failure in combating drugs would lead to the failure of counterterrorism efforts. He added that Afghanistan's five-year plan for crop substitution will become operational soon. BS

...AS AFGHAN TRIBESMEN TAKE UP ARMS TO RESIST MEASURES
The destruction of opium-poppy fields in parts of an eastern Afghanistan province has been halted by authorities after tribesmen took up arms to resist the move, Reuters reported on 29 December. Residents told the news agency that tribesmen in the Shinwar, Khogyani, and Achin districts of Nangarhar Province opened fire when antidrug enforcers from the provincial government showed up on 28 December. The tribesmen vowed armed resistance, saying the government has failed to provide alternatives to opium cultivation. More than one-third of Afghanistan's drugs come from Nangahar, which border's Pakistan's tribal belt. Karzai ordered a ban on drug production when he came to power, promising farmers compensation for the destruction of their opium-poppy crops. However, many farmers complain they have not been compensated and have flouted the ban as a result, according to Reuters. TG

HERAT BUYS IRANIAN ROAD-BUILDING EQUIPMENT
Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan recently approved the purchase of 10 modern road-building machines from the Iranian company HECOP, Herat television reported on 23 December. According to Herat television, this is the first such transaction. BS

IRANIAN FIRM TO PROVIDE HERAT WITH NATURAL GAS
A meeting of Herat Province officials has decided to establish five filling stations that would provide locals with Turkmen natural gas supplied by the Iranian company Zarin, the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari-language service reported on 23 December. Ahmed Kakar, who heads Herat's oil-products department, said the price of Iranian gas is too high; thus, the Afghans decided to import cheaper gas from Turkmenistan through the Iranian company. Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan recently inaugurated a gas-storage facility 5 kilometers north of Herat city. BS

IRANIAN STONING BAN CONFIRMED...
Administrative Court head Hojatoleslam Qorbanali Dori-Najafabadi has said that stoning as form of capital punishment has been "stopped for awhile," the "Tehran Times" reported on 28 December. The stoning ban was reported previously by the "Financial Times" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 December 2002). BS

...AND REJECTED
It is up to the Guardians Council to confirm any legislation's constitutional and religious compatibility, and council member Ayatollah Gholamreza Rezvani has said there is no substitute for the stoning of adulterers, "Hayat-i No" reported on 29 December. Rezvani said Islamic rulings do not depend on societal tastes. "Stoning is a sanction for ethical problems such as adultery and there is no other sanction for having intercourse with a married person," Rezvani said. "No other punishment could be suggested as a replacement for stoning." BS

SECOND HEARING FOR ABDI HELD IN CAMERA IN IRAN...
The second hearing in the trial of hostage-taker Abbas Abdi, a member of the board of directors of the Ayandeh Research Institute that conducted a poll in cooperation with the Washington-based Gallup Organization, was held behind closed doors on 29 December, IRNA reported. Abdi's lawyer Saleh Nikbakht did not attend the hearing but did not disclose his reasons for doing so. BS

...AND GERANPAYEH'S TRIAL IS TO BEGIN
The Tehran Justice Department announced on 29 December that the trial of National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls Director Behruz Geranpayeh is to begin on 31 December, IRNA reported. Geranpayeh, Abdi, and Hussein Qazian of Ayandeh all face charges related to their conduction of a poll that showed that the majority of respondents favored the restoration of Iran-U.S. relations. BS

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT PROMOTES MECHANIZED FARMING...
Agricultural Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati said on 24 December during the first nationwide meeting of the 300,000-member Farmers House that his ministry needs help in promoting mechanized farming so Iran can become a major regional crop producer, IRNA reported. Hojjati told the farmers that the agricultural sector enjoyed 9.9 percent growth in the last year. BS

...AND EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL DEFENDS AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the Farmers House meeting that the council is trying to ensure that the distribution of subsidies to farmers is fair, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani said the council intends to provide price support and prevent fluctuations; facilitate the marketing of agricultural products; and promote water conservation. Rafsanjani said the council is concerned over all agricultural polices -- including insurance, workers' rights, and providing the farmers with the right tools and equipment. BS

IRAN, AZERBAIJAN SIGN GAS-SUPPLY AGREEMENT
Cooperatives Minister Ali Sufi and Azeri Deputy Prime Minister Ali Hassanov on 24 December signed an agreement for the supply of Azerbaijani gas to the Nakhichevan exclave, IRNA reported. Hassanov added that this agreement, the construction of roads, and border cooperation will help both sides. Hassanov called for further cooperation in the cultural, economic, and humanitarian fields, IRNA reported. BS

MOSCOW SATISFIED WITH BUSHEHR PREPARATIONS
Visiting Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told reporters during a 24 December visit to the construction site of the Bushehr nuclear facility in southern Iran that the work is going well and must be evaluated before a final decision is made on building a second unit there, IRNA reported. Rumyantsev said the nuclear-fuel-storage facility meets International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) parameters. Moreover, according to the nuclear.ru website on 24 December, Rumyantsev said 180 fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor unit's initial start-up were manufactured at Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant, but they will stay there until the storage facility for them at Bushehr is equipped with physical security measures that meet or exceed IAEA requirements. BS

IRAN, IRAQ WANT TO OPEN NEW BORDER CROSSING
A UN official announced on 23 December that Baghdad and Tehran have asked the UN to open a new border crossing at Khusravi/Mondhariya, Reuters reported. The crossing is needed to facilitate the transit of goods into Iraq under the UN's "oil-for-food" program, and it could help the sale of Iranian goods in Iraq. The UN official said the UN's Office of the Iraq Program, which oversees the "oil-for-food" program, will send inspectors to the crossing point with a view toward opening it in late January or early February. According to Reuters, existing entry points for the "oil-for-food" program are at the Iraqi towns of Trebil on the Jordanian border, Al-Walid on the Syrian border, Zakho on the Turkish border, Ar-Ar on the border with Saudi Arabia, and at Um-Qasr on the Persian Gulf. BS

SCIRI CLAIMS EVIDENCE OF IRAQI WEAPONS PROGRAM
The Iran-based Iraqi opposition group The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) declared on 28 December that the group has evidence, including documents, proving that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (WMD), IRNA reported. Abd al-Aziz Hakim, a member of SCIRI and a representative of the group at the recent London conference of Iraqi opposition groups (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 December 2002), stated in an interview with IRNA that SCIRI's evidence of Iraq's WMD programs would be given to the UN if it agrees to cooperate with Iraqi dissident groups. "We have important evidence and documents on [the] Iraqi regime's activities and programs in the production of weapons of mass destruction.... We can put the proof at the disposal of the organization [UN]," Hakim said. SH

SMUGGLERS KILLED CROSSING INTO IRAQI KURDISTAN
The bodies of nine Kurdish smugglers killed while attempting to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan in heavy snow were recovered on 27 December, AFP reported on 29 December. Of the 70 Iranian Kurdish smugglers who sought to cross into the Hajji Omran area on 26 December, 39 have been reported missing and at least nine are confirmed dead, according to residents of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)-controlled Suran region. "Some residents of both sides of the [Iran-Iraq] border are involved in the smuggling of alcohol, cigarettes, and sometimes drugs," although activity "usually subsides during harsh winter conditions," according to AFP. Twenty-two of the smugglers successfully crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan. SH

IRAQI TRADE MINISTER INCREASES FOOD RATIONS
Trade Minister Mohammad Mahdi Salih confirmed on 28 December that the ministry will provide "reserve food rations" for Iraqi families, Iraq News Agency reported. The food rations, which will be distributed during the first week of January, will include an additional two months' worth of rations "to promote the Iraqi family's food security" in anticipation of U.S. attacks on Iraq. Salih also noted that the Trade Ministry has made plans to intercede in the market in order to control changes triggered by attacks. SH

BAGHDAD DISTRICT ISOLATED TO PREVENT UPRISING
Iraqi authorities have begun to dig trenches in order to isolate the district of Medina Al-Thawra (Revolution City) from the rest of Baghdad, the Al-Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Al-Ittihad" reported on 27 December. The district was originally built to provide housing for immigrants from southern Iraq who arrived in Baghdad after the 1958 revolution. Iraqi security agencies are concerned that war protests and calls for regime change within Medina Al-Thawra will develop into a popular uprising that will spread to the center of Baghdad. The trench is intended to provide a security barrier, as well as a physical obstacle, in the event of an uprising by the laborers of this district before it can threaten President Saddam Hussein's regime. SH

IRAQ PROVIDES LIST OF SCIENTISTS AS INSPECTORS CONTINUE INTERVIEWS
The National Monitoring Directorate (NMD) submitted a list of more than 500 participants in Iraq's nuclear-, biological-, and chemical-weapons programs to UNMOVIC on 28 December, "The Washington Post" reported. The Foreign Ministry confirmed that the list was given to UNMOVIC in Baghdad "as requested by Hans Blix." Nicosia's Cyprus News Agency (CNA) reported on 28 December that Cyprus is willing to provide "further facilities" for UN weapons inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists. However, the Iraqi scientists and their families "cannot stay for a very long period or on a permanent basis on the island." UNMOVIC spokesman Hiro Ueki declined to comment on Cyprus's offer, according to CNA. The London daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 28 December that an Iraqi opposition leader has "semi-reliable" information that the first Iraqi scientist interviewed outside of Iraq will be Dr. Rihab Taha, also known as Dr. Germs, for her participation in the production of large quantities of biological weapons. Dr. Taha received her doctorate "specializing in germs that cause quick inflammation diseases" from Britain's University of East Anglia, according to the newspaper. She returned to Iraq in 1980, where she was responsible for the biological-weapons program. She is the wife of Oil Minister General Amir Rashid. SH

UNMOVIC INSPECTORS REVISIT SITES...
UNMOVIC biological inspectors visited the Yafa Juice Factory in the Al-Zafaraniyah area on the outskirts of Baghdad on 28 December, the Foreign Ministry announced. The 10-member team verified declared equipment and met with the factory's manager. A second group of biological inspectors went to a previously inspected site, the Al-Kindi Company for the Production of Veterinary Vaccines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002), where they examined the company's six monitoring cameras. A nine-member missile-inspection team revisited the Al-Qaqa State Company, which has been inspected by both IAEA and UNMOVIC teams. The missile team focused on a workshop "where warheads are loaded with explosives for missiles of ranges less than 150 kilometers," according to the ministry. The inspectors observed work at the company and took photographs of missiles. A large chemical-inspection team examined five sites located in a compound 10 kilometers south of Baghdad, including the Al-Husayn Military Branch Headquarters of the Ba'ath Party, a design center, and a branch of the General Automobile Company. An UNMOVIC combined team met with the field commander at the Hadre Air Force Munitions Test Site north of Baghdad, taking samples of "scrapped ammunition," according to IAEA. The combined team returned to Baghdad from the Ninawa Governorate on 29 December, and an UNMOVIC team visited the General Customs Authority, which is part of the Finance Ministry, to examine "the method of clearance of imported goods." A 17-member chemical-inspections team met with specialists at the MIO-affiliated Al-Zahrawi Center of the Al-Sad Company in the Karradat Maryam area of Baghdad. SH

...AS IAEA INSPECTORS EXAMINE ELECTRONIC COMPANIES
A five-member IAEA inspection team on 28 December visited the Al-Najah Private Company, located in the Al-Karradah district of Baghdad, the Foreign Ministry announced. The team spent seven hours at the private-sector import company verifying contracts, purchase orders, and other documents. An IAEA team inspected the MIO-affiliated Al-Nasr State Company, located 15 kilometers north of Baghdad, on 29 December. The team met with the general manager and specialists at the electronics company, toured the site, and checked for radiation. The team then visited the Al-Salam Company, which is also part of the MIO and produced electronics. Inspectors met with specialists at the company to inquire about Al-Salam's activities, "made a tour of the research center, verified the seals on the equipment, and inspected a number of workshops," according to the ministry. SH

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT ADMITS VIOLATIONS OF IRAQ EMBARGO
The Republika Srpska's Supreme Defense Council on 26 December approved a report on illegal arms exports by the Orao aircraft factory to Iraq, the "Southeast European Times" reported. The report concedes that UN Security Council resolutions were violated, but it goes on to say that measures have been adopted to continue the investigation and prevent such exports in the future. Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said the report will be handed over to the Bosnian joint Presidency and SFOR on 3 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report, " 25 October, 8 and 29 November, and 19 December 2002). UB

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