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Newsline - January 28, 2003


KREMLIN SAYS NO NEW IRAQ RESOLUTION NEEDED
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said in Moscow on 27 January following a briefing of the UN Security Council in New York by UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei that "no new resolution on Iraq is required," Russian news agencies reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told journalists that no violations of existing resolutions have been uncovered in the course of more than 400 inspections. VY

RUSSIA TAKES THE INITIATIVE AT PACE
Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov has been elected a vice chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), ORT and other Russian news agencies reported on 27 January. As such, Margelov will make decisions on the assembly's agenda and budget and will chair some of its sessions. Margelov immediately used his new post to call for a PACE discussion of Iraq to be presided over by Russia, RIA-Novosti reported. Past Russian PACE vice chairmen rarely participated in assembly sessions because they did not speak English, as Margelov does. VY

RUSSIA SELLS TRUCKS TO IRAQ...
A shipment of 70 heavy trucks from automaker KamAZ has arrived in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. The trucks are the first consignment of goods under a contract to supply 3,000 heavy vehicles to Baghdad this year. Under a different contract, KamAZ shipped 2,000 similar trucks to Iraq in 2002. Professor Yevgenii Leshin of the Academy of Military Sciences told ITAR-TASS that selling the trucks to Iraq is not a violation of UN Security Council resolutions or other international obligations. The vehicles do not change the balance of forces in the region and cannot be used as platforms for missiles or other modern weaponry, Leshin said. VY

...AND FIGHTERS TO CHINA
The state-owned weapons dealer Rosoboroneksport has announced the signing of a contract with China under which Russia will sell 24 Su-30 multi-role fighters for about $1 billion, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The Su-30 is produced at an aviation plant in the Siberian city of Komsomolsk-na-Amure. Between 1999-2002, Russia signed contracts with China to sell a total of 120 Su-30s for $5.4 billion. VY

BORDER CHIEF SAYS CHECHEN FIGHTERS REMAIN IN GEORGIA
Federal Border Guard Director Colonel General Konstantin Totskii told journalists in Moscow on 27 January that Chechen fighters who until last summer were based in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge have indeed left the gorge, but only to move to villages at higher altitudes closer to the Georgian-Russian border, Russian news agencies reported. Totskii predicted that once mountain passes are clear of snow, those Chechens will try to return to Russia. Totskii said that, "as far as we know," Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev and President Aslan Maskhadov are both currently in Chechnya. Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania stated on 30 December that almost all the Chechen fighters left Pankisi the previous summer prior to a security operation by Georgian forces and only a handful remain, Caucasus Press reported. LF

NO RETURN TO STALINGRAD
Presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii has said that there are no plans to return the historical name Stalingrad to the southern city of Volgograd in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, the end of which is being marked on 2 February, Kultura television reported on 27 January. The city, which was called Tsaritsyn during the tsarist era, was called Stalingrad from 1925-61. Yastrzhembskii said that the anniversary of the battle, which is widely seen as the turning point of World War II, will not be used as a justification for renaming the city. He said he believes local residents do not favor restoring the old name. Commenting on recent proposals to restore the statue of Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii to the spot in downtown Moscow where it stood prior to 1991, Yastrzhembskii said, "It was stupid to tear the monument down, but would be even more stupid to put it back." VY

PRO-PUTIN YOUTH GROUP SETS SIGHTS ON CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
The pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together announced on 27 January that it is launching "an action of protest" in St. Petersburg against the local branch of the Church of Scientology, polit.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Walking Together's St. Petersburg chapter has appealed to St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev to close down the sect's local office. Walking Together "opposes all totalitarian sects, but we have picked the Scientologists because they are especially big," said Bronislava Cherkashina, a spokeswoman for Walking Together's St. Petersburg branch. Last year, Walking Together launched high-profile campaigns against several avant-garde writers, accusing them of distributing pornography. VY

NEW LAND LAW TO FIND SOME REGIONS UNPREPARED
Even as the new law on the buying and selling of arable land comes into effect, most regions do not have land registers or land-quality surveys, ORT reported on 27 January. Without them, it will be difficult for regional officials to assess and value land accurately. ORT also reported that in 40 regions, local land laws took effect before the federal law, and therefore there are no expectations of local real-estate booms. Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev told the station that one consequence of the law coming into effect will be the imposition of tougher penalties for the improper use of arable land. According to Federation Council Agricultural Policy Committee Chairman Ivan Starikov, not one region has yet adopted the corresponding local legislative acts, and therefore the law will start to work only in part, "Vremya-MN" reported on 28 January. JAC

NIZHNII MAYOR GETS NOT-SO-SWEET MESSAGE...
The protests against communal-housing and utilities reforms took an unusual form in Nizhnii Novgorod on 27 January when three members of the local branch of Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party threw a cake in the face of Mayor Vadim Bulavinov during a city administration session, RosBalt reported. The party members yelled, "No to housing and utilities reform!" and "No to genocide against the Russian people!" The alleged cake-thrower has been detained by the police. At the beginning of the year, the city duma decided to make the transition to the federal standard of requiring residents to pay 90 percent of the cost of housing and communal services from the local standard of 62 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). JAC

...AS VORONEZH GOVERNOR FACES RENT HIKE
Earlier this month, Voronezh Mayor Aleksandr Kovalev signed a decree establishing the federal 90 percent standard for the payment for communal services for some 2,000 of the city's most affluent residents, politcom.ru reported on 27 January. The vast majority of locals will continue paying the old rate of 64 percent. Among those facing a rent hike under the decree is Voronezh Oblast Governor Vladimir Kulakov, Kovalev's political rival, as well as all other oblast administration officials. JAC

TAIMYR GOVERNOR NIXES NOTION OF EXPANDED KRASNOYARSK KRAI...
In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 January, newly elected Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Budargin said he "doesn't see any necessity" for merging Taimyr with neighboring Krasnoyarsk Krai. Budargin said he raised the issue during meetings with voters during the election campaign and concluded that "we are a national okrug, and therein lies our spirit." Budargin also commented, "Europe has joined [together] rich and poor, and there are problems." Before he was killed in a helicopter accident, former Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed initiated a process of merging the administration of the krai with those of its autonomous okrugs, Taimyr and Evenk. JAC

...AS LOCAL COURT DISBANDS ELECTION COMMISSION
A krai-level court in Krasnoyarsk ruled on 27 January in favor of the Central Election Commission (TsIK) in its effort to disband the krai election commission, which had earlier tried to void the results of the krai's 22 September gubernatorial election, ITAR-TASS reported. Judge Sergei Atashov said the decision to disband the commission was "proportionate to the gross violations of the law it committed." Responding to the verdict, krai election commission Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Bugrei remained defiant and promised to appeal the decision within 10 days. JAC

CONSULTANTS EXPECTING WINDFALL
The Central Election Commission on 31 January will consider whether to distribute single-mandate districts for the December State Duma elections using the previous divisions or according to a new method, "Vremya novostei" reported on 27 January. Oleg Kayukov, a member of the commission representing Yabloko, is expected to present a new method, but the commission is expected to opt for the old method. Under the old method, if a region's population has grown since 1999, then it will receive additional mandates proportionate to the increase. Each region will have at least one single-mandate district. Meanwhile, in an interview with "Profil," on 20 January, Dmitrii Orlov, deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, estimated that the cost of running a campaign in a single-mandate district can vary from $300,000 to $1.5 million. Orlov adds that the political-consulting industry could see gross revenues of about $150 million-$200 million during this parliamentary campaign. JAC

MESKHETIANS FACING NEW HARDSHIPS IN KRASNODAR
In an interview with polit.ru on 27 January, Tamara Karasteleva, director of the Novorossiisk Committee on Human Rights, said she believes police in Krasnodar Krai have launched a show of force against the local community of ethnic Meskhetians. The Meskhetians are constantly reporting new complaints with the registration process. For example, in the city of Krymsk, the passports of five Meskhetians were seized. According to Karasteleva, almost none of the Meskhetians living in the krai are registered, and many have been victims of extortion by local police. JAC

PRIME MINISTER MAKES CHANGES AT PROPERTY RELATIONS MINISTRY
Mikhail Kasyanov has dismissed two deputy property relations ministers, Vladimir Mamigonov and Shalva Breis, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 and 28 January. Mamigonov has been transferred to unspecified other work in the government, and Breis reportedly asked to be released. Breis is a former deputy governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai under Aleksandr Lebed. Mamigonov is a former deputy governor of Samara Oblast. JAC

OFFICIAL SAYS NO GROUNDS EXIST TO POSTPONE CHECHEN REFERENDUM
Responding to comments made last week by PACE rapporteur for Chechnya Lord Frank Judd, TsIK Deputy Chairwoman Olga Zastrozhnaya said on 27 January there are no grounds for postponing the planned 23 March referendum on a draft Chechen constitution, Interfax reported. She added that "only the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic can announce the referendum and declare its results valid or invalid: it is an internal affair of our country, not [a matter for] the international community." Judd has said he does not consider it appropriate to hold the referendum while hostilities in Chechnya continue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). In Grozny, a telephone hotline has been established so that constitutional experts can provide information to citizens concerning the planned referendum and the draft constitution, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. But "Kommersant-Daily" pointed out on 28 January that there are only 250 telephones in the whole of Grozny, all of them in the offices of senior government officials. Only six of 19 raion administrations have telephones, and there are none at all in rural areas, the paper added. Meanwhile, Achkhoi-Martan district administration head Shamil Buraev has proposed forming vigilante squads and establishing additional checkpoints on major roads to forestall anticipated efforts by Chechen fighters to disrupt preparations for the referendum, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. LF

NEW MOVE TOWARD CONSENSUS IN CHECHNYA
Local officials in Urus-Martan, together with the heads of local branches of political and public organizations and religious officials, signed a treaty on civic accord on 25 January, Russian news agencies reported. Urus-Martan was regarded for years as a stronghold of militant Wahhabism. Officials and political figures from other towns are expected to add their signatures to the document. The signatories reject the use of the threat of violence as a means of achieving political goals. The treaty lays out the basic principles for a political settlement of the Chechen conflict in which all public and political forces would be involved, ITAR-TASS on 27 January quoted Russian presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov as saying. Chechen deputy administration head Tauz Djabrailov similarly said the treaty marks the beginning of a "real internal political dialogue" that will enable "healthy forces to consolidate for the sake of stabilization." LF

WEBSITE DENIES REPORTS OF ULTIMATUM TO CHECHEN PRESIDENT
Russian media reports that Chechen refugees in Baku who are members of the Yalkhoy clan issued an ultimatum to Chechen President Maskhadov to resign or risk being killed as part of a blood feud are Russian disinformation, according to chechenpress.com on 26 January. The website explained that no Chechen clan would ever violate the rules of "military democracy" by issuing such a demand. LF

GROZNY BOMBING SUSPECT DETAINED
Interior Ministry forces apprehended a 31-year-old Chechen in Grozny last week on suspicion of helping to organize the 27 December car-bomb attack on the Chechen government headquarters in Grozny, Interfax reported on 27 January. Some 80 people died in that attack. The suspect was identified as Bagudin Olsunokaev, allegedly the leader of a group of Grozny-based gangs. LF

MOSCOW PROSECUTOR DENIES MORE CHECHENS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH THEATER HOSTAGE TAKING
Three Chechens detained in Penza on suspicion of involvement in the October hostage taking by Chechen radicals at a Moscow theater have already been released, a spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor's office told Interfax on 27 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). She added there is no evidence to connect the three with the hostage taking. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF CAMPAIGN VIOLATIONS
Political scientist Aram Karapetian, the youngest of the 11 presidential candidates, on 27 January accused incumbent Robert Kocharian of violating the Elections Code by using government buildings and other property for his campaign, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Karapetian claimed in a statement that many of Kocharian's district campaign offices are located in local government offices. He also accused the authorities of mobilizing the police and "criminal elements" to create "an atmosphere of fear and terror" and said Kocharian supporters have attempted to buy votes in Yerevan and Giumri. LF

ARMENIAN AMBASSADOR DEPLORES GOVERNMENT'S PASSIVITY OVER IRAQ
In a 27 January interview with Noyan Tapan, David Hovhannisian, who is a former professor of Arabic and Armenia's ambassador to Baghdad, deplored what he termed the Foreign Ministry's failure to assess the possible impact on Armenia of a war in Iraq. He pointed out that there is an Armenian community in Baghdad and also that if Iraq is divided and an independent Kurdish state emerges, "this will entirely change the geopolitical situation in the region." He criticized what he termed the government's failure to address the Iraq issue in the media or to participate in the ongoing international debate on possible courses of action. Hovhannisian predicted that in the event of a war in Iraq, Turkey will demand political and moral compensation from the United States for material damage sustained. If Turkey becomes stronger as a result, Hovhannisian reasoned, this will be reflected in the level of its support for Azerbaijan. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION POLITICIAN BLAMES AUTHORITIES FOR BREAKDOWN OF TALKS ON ELECTION LAW
Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar told journalists in Baku on 27 January that the Azerbaijani authorities are to blame for the collapse of talks scheduled for 24 January on the new draft election code, Turan reported. He denied that the Opposition Coordinating Center (MKM) plans to boycott a further roundtable discussion of the draft bill organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in Baku. Gambar said the MKM wants to participate in such discussions but only on the condition that the opposition and the Azerbaijani authorities are equally represented (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 and 27 January 2003). LF

GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA TRADE FRESH ACCUSATIONS
Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba told journalists in Sukhum on 27 January that the Abkhaz leadership cannot rule out the possibility that Georgia might co-opt "international terrorists" to launch a new attempt at infiltrating the Kodori Gorge once snows there melt in April or May, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. He claimed that some 1,000 armed men including members of the Georgian special forces, are encamped in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the gorge. Also on 27 January, Abkhaz Defense Minister Raul Khadjimba discussed the Kodori situation with Major General Kazi Ashfaq Ahmed, who is the UN's chief military observer in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Ashfaq proposed convening a session of the working group for military issues of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Committee to discuss the Kodori situation. Meanwhile in Tbilisi, Georgian Intelligence Service head Lieutenant General Avtandil Ioseliani said Abkhazia could serve as a base from which international terrorists could infiltrate Russia or Europe, Interfax reported. Ioseliani claimed that the Chechens who hijacked a Turkish ferry in the Black Sea in January 1996 are living legally in Abkhazia. LF

DID GEORGIA CLOSE ITS AIRSPACE TO RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT?
Caucasus Press on 27 January quoted an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry official as saying that Georgia refused to grant permission for a Russian military aircraft to enter its airspace earlier that day on a flight to deliver mail and equipment to the Russian military base at Batumi. Georgian Civil Aviation Authority officials quoted by Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS denied that any application was received that day for permission for such a flight. LF

JUSTICE MINISTRY ADMITS GAS USED IN GEORGIAN PRISON UNREST
A Georgian Justice Ministry official admitted on 27 January that an unnamed gas was used to pacify inmates of a Tbilisi remand prison who clashed with Interior Ministry troops on 25 January, Caucasus Press reported. Earlier on 27 January, the ministry issued an official denial that any such gas was used (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). The chairman of an NGO to protect the interests of political prisoners claimed that 100 prisoners have been hospitalized, rather than some 35 as prison authorities claim. Also on 27 January, the Justice Ministry increased the penalties for negligence on the part of prison staff, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, OIL CONSORTIUM REACH AGREEMENT ON TENGIZ EXPANSION
The Kazakh government and the Tengizchevroil joint venture reached agreement last week on funding for the next stage of exploitation of the Tengiz oil field, according to Interfax on 25 January and "The New York Times" on 27 January. The expansion was put on hold last November after the Kazakh government objected to Tengizchevroil's plans to finance the next phase from revenues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 21, and 22 November and 9 December 2002). The Kazakh government argued that this would deprive it of taxes. Under the compromise agreement, the consortium will pay $810 million to the Kazakh government, of which $600 million is taxes to be paid in installments from 2003-05. In addition, the consortium will take out a loan to finance the Kazakh government's share of the cost of pushing ahead with development. LF

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT POSTPONES HEARING ON SINO-KYRGYZ BORDER AGREEMENT
Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court on 27 January postponed for one week hearing an appeal, originally scheduled for that day, by opposition parliament deputies against the border agreement signed in August 1999 under which Kyrgyzstan ceded territory to China, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The Constitutional Court refused to consider an earlier appeal against the treaty immediately after its ratification in May 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 21, 23, and 29 May 2002). Eleven deputies submitted a new appeal to the court last month. LF

KYRGYZ DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER ADVOCATES LEGALIZING SHADOW ECONOMY
Djoomart Otorbaev admitted at a press conference in Bishkek that the shadow economy in Kyrgyzstan is flourishing, in contrast to the state sector, according to Kabar, as cited on 28 January by centrasia.ru. He said the volume of the shadow economy significantly exceeds the 40-percent mark. In order to combat the gray economy, Otorbaev proposed cracking down on smuggling and abolishing immediately the 20 percent VAT on medications. LF

TURKMEN OFFICIALS PLEDGE LOYALTY TO PRESIDENT
The Turkmen press published on 27 January a pledge of loyalty to President Saparmuraat Niyazov by four senior officials who three days earlier received awards from Niyazov for their services in apprehending and imprisoning the persons convicted in connection with the putative 25 November attempt on Niyazov's life, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). Also on 27 January, "Novaya gazeta" published an interview with former Turkmen Deputy Premier Khudaiberdy Orazov, who now heads the Vatan opposition movement, Interfax reported. Orazov said he does not believe any attempt to kill Niyazov ever took place and pointed to numerous "inconsistencies" in the official Turkmen reports of what allegedly happened on 25 November. LF

EU CRITICIZES UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
In a statement issued in Brussels on 27 January following a session of the EU-Uzbekistan Cooperation Council, the EU expressed concern over the use of torture and the death penalty in Uzbekistan, Reuters reported. The statement advocated greater attention to improving legislation, ensuring respect for the rule of law, combating drug trafficking and money laundering, and preventing illegal migration. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov admitted that the country's human rights record is not perfect but argued more time is needed to stamp out human rights abuses. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DEMANDS RETURN TO STATE MONOPOLY IN FOREIGN TRADE
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 27 January told his government that intermediaries, mostly private ones, prevent the government from making profits from import and export transactions involving a broad range of goods, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Such goods include vegetable oil, sugar, tobacco products, vehicles, oil products, fertilizers, and coal, according to the news agency. Lukashenka urged the Trade Ministry to enact "transparent" foreign-trade regulations and monitor imports of sugar and other "critical" goods. Lukashenka also ordered that the state-run Minsk Tractor Plant sell tractors to Russia only through a state-dealership network as of April. "My conceptual approach [to foreign trade] is that only the state [should run it]," Belarusian Television quoted the president as saying. JM

BELARUSIAN SCHOOLGIRL RETURNS TO LESSONS IN NATIVE LANGUAGE
Maryya Karalkova, a fifth-grader from the town of Horki, has returned to class after boycotting lessons in the new school year to protest her school's inability to ensure instruction in the Belarusian language (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2002), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 27 December. Maryya's parents told RFE/RL that they agreed to a compromise solution whereby their daughter takes some courses in Russian together with her peers but is instructed individually in Belarusian in math, history, and geography. The parents did not allow Maryya to attend music lessons in which students were taught only Russian songs. JM

PRESIDENTS LAUNCH 'YEAR OF RUSSIA IN UKRAINE'
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on 27 January in Kyiv inaugurated the Year of Russia in Ukraine, a yearlong festival of Russian culture in Ukraine that is intended to strengthen ties between the two countries, Ukrainian and Russian media reported. "I am sure [the festival] will strengthen our old and strong friendship, which will continue for centuries," Putin said, according to AP. "Today we can say with full confidence that strategic partnership with Russia is not a tribute to geopolitical realities or the long joint past. The development of partnership between our countries is demanded by life itself, by globalization and integration processes in the modern world," ITAR-TASS quoted Kuchma as saying. The same day, the culture ministers of both countries signed a plan of cooperation between their ministries for 2003-07. JM

ESTONIAN COALITION PARTIES TO SEEK EXTENSION OF LOCAL POLITICAL MANDATES
The Center and Reform parties' joint coalition council expressed support on 27 January for convening an extraordinary parliamentary session, most likely on 25 February, to debate a constitutional amendment to extend the terms of local councils from three to four years, BNS reported. The council would like the amendment to be passed by the current parliament before the upcoming parliamentary elections on 2 March. Reform Party Secretary-General Eero Tohver suggested that -- since opposition parties have signaled support for the extension -- those political groups will not oppose calling such a session after the last scheduled regular session of the current parliament on 13 February. Constitutional amendments require approval by the parliament on three occasions, with a period of at least one month between the second and third votes. The local term extensions were proposed in October and passed in a second reading on 22 January. SG

PROBE FINDS THAT LATVIAN TAX CHIEF ACTED IMPROPERLY
The State Civil Service Administration on 27 January recommended the dismissal of Andrejs Sonciks, the director-general of the State Revenue Service, LETA reported. The recommendation was based on the findings of a probe begun after the cabinet suspended Sonciks for allegedly failing to recover debts owed by Dinaz Nafta oil company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2002). Investigators concluded that Sonciks had information about the tax debts of Dinaz Nafta but nevertheless allowed the customs department to provide the company with guarantees for the import of oil products. The dismissal must still be approved by the government. SG

LITHUANIAN, FINNISH ENVIRONMENT MINISTERS SEEK BALTIC SAFEGUARDS
After talks with his Lithuanian counterpart Arunas Kundrotas in Vilnius on 27 January, Jouni Backman said the two discussed issues that included plans to designate the Baltic Sea an area of high vulnerability, ELTA reported. Backman noted that such designations are generally assigned to specific areas, but he added that the Baltic Sea should be considered an exception since it is a closed sea in which a huge amount of dangerous chemical substances sank during World War II and into which hazardous materials are still being discharged. Both ministers expressed support for banning single-hulled oil tankers in the sea, but noted that the success of such a proposal depends on securing Russian compliance. Backman said he does not support plans for Lithuania to build another reactor in place of the existing nuclear-power plant at Ignalina, which will be closed by 2009. SG

POLISH PREMIER QUESTIONS WORDING OF EU ACCESSION ACCORD
The European Commission on 27 January ruled out any possibility of introducing changes to final agreements on agriculture reached between Poland and the European Union in Copenhagen in December (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 December 2002), PAP reported. The commission was reacting to letters to EU leaders from Premier Leszek Miller who expressed his concern over the difference between what the Polish leader believes was agreed in Copenhagen and what the EU is now seeking to include in the accession treaty. The Polish side maintains that it negotiated a simplified system of subsidies based on farm size irrespective of the type of production. "Now [EU] experts are trying to persuade us into introducing a twofold system [of direct farm subsidies]: a simplified one and a standard one," PAP quoted Miller as saying. EU diplomats reportedly declared that the EU will prepare a reply to Miller's letters after a meeting of its ambassadors in Brussels later this week. JM

POLISH TAXI DRIVERS PROTEST PLANNED INTRODUCTION OF CASH REGISTERS
More than 1,000 taxi drivers blocked traffic in Warsaw and other Polish cities on 27 January to protest a government plan to require them to mount special cash registers in their cabs to combat undeclared fares, Polish media reported. The government announced that it wants taxi drivers, in addition to standard meters, to install portable cash registers by March that tally fares and print out receipts just like shop registers. Drivers say there is no broad precedent for such registers in the EU and argue that the estimated cost of such registers -- about $500 -- is excessive. JM

CZECH REINFORCEMENTS DEPART FOR KUWAIT
The first plane transporting reinforcements for the Czech antichemical-, antibacteriological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit in Kuwait left from Prague's Ruzyne Airport on 27 January, CTK and dpa reported. U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton saw off the 15-member crew. A Czech military spokesman cited by dpa said the plane was the first of six U.S. aircraft scheduled to ferry about 130 soldiers and 40 vehicles that will reinforce the 250-strong unit stationed in Kuwait. The Czech Republic has agreed to a U.S. request for Czech participation in the event of military intervention against Iraq. The relevant parliamentary resolution stipulates that Czech soldiers may be deployed in such a conflict only if the UN Security Council allows for a military operation against Iraq in a special resolution or if Iraq uses weapons of mass destruction. MS

CZECHS ON ALERT AFTER WARNINGS OF COMMANDO THREAT
Czech authorities are on alert after receiving reports of a possible intention by Afghan terrorist commandos to infiltrate the country, CTK and AFP reported on 27 January. Czech Police President Jiri Kolar said the Central Emergency Committee, which last convened in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks against the United States, has been activated and is examining information received from Czech security services. "These reports are more serious than warnings previously received," Frantisek Bublan, director of the Office for Foreign Relations and Information in the military intelligence service, was quoted as saying by the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 27 January. The German daily "Bild Zeitung" reported on 25 January that Afghan commandos close to fundamentalist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are seeking to infiltrate several European countries, including Britain, the Czech Republic, France, and Germany. MS

CZECH AUTHORITIES CONFIRM DETENTION OF SUSPECTED IRA BOMBER
Czech and British sources on 27 January confirmed that a suspect in two Irish Republican Army attacks on British bases in Northern Ireland and Germany is in Czech custody and undergoing the extradition process, CTK and a Scottish daily reported the same day. A spokeswoman for the Czech Prison Service confirmed that 38-year-old Michael Dickson was taken into extradition custody on 7 December, the news agency added. His detention was first reported by the Scottish "Daily Record" of 27 January. The newspaper wrote that Dickson was detained on a cigarette-smuggling charge shortly before the end of the year. MS

CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS SAY DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS COULD BE SOLUTION...
Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman and Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said on 27 January his party is willing to give a third try to electing a new head of state, CTK reported, but he added that direct presidential elections should be introduced in the event of failure. Svoboda said the direct election of a president would have to wait until the fall to allow time for amending the constitution. MS

...AS SENIOR COALITION PARTNER LAYS CLAIM TO PRESIDENTIAL POWERS
Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to convince its junior coalition partners to agree on a joint candidate, politicians from the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) said on 27 January that if a successor to President Vaclav Havel is not elected in the next set of balloting, presidential powers will be divided between Premier Vladimir Spidla and lower-house speaker Lubomir Zaoralek, CTK reported. Social Democratic sources said those leaders would not hesitate to make use of presidential prerogatives, including the appointment of Constitutional Court judges. In related news, Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek said on 27 January the party will not support either Ombudsman Otakar Motejl (independent) or Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky (CSSD) for the presidential post. Their names have been mentioned as possible candidates on whom the ruling coalition could agree. MS

SLOVAK POLICE DETAIN SUSPECTS IN JEWISH CEMETERY'S DESECRATION
Police on 27 January detained five skinheads suspected of desecrating a Jewish cemetery in Banovce nad Bebravou earlier this month, CTK reported. The five, aged 15-16, allegedly overturned and damaged 34 gravestones. They were charged with disturbing the peace, damaging property, and promoting an extremist movement. They could face jail terms of up to five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SLAMS OPPOSITION PARTY OVER EU STANCE
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs on 27 January told Hungarian television that the opposition FIDESZ party wants to benefit from a low turnout in the April referendum on EU accession by launching a subsequent political attack on the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 27 January 2003). Kovacs accused FIDESZ of hypocrisy for urging voters to vote for accession while emphasizing that some will be worse off in the EU. Meanwhile, two civic groups opposed to EU accession have posted on their joint website 13 reasons why Hungary should not join the EU and plan to launch an anti-EU street campaign in February, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The Blue Ribbon Society and the Movement for a Free Hungary warn that food prices in the EU are three times Hungarian levels, the EU will be able to send immigrants with their "foreign culture" to Hungary, and the EU wants a system of big, landed property to predominate in Hungary. The statement quotes a comment made by former Prime Minister and ex-FIDESZ leader Viktor Orban: "There is life outside the EU, too." MSZ

WAR OF WORDS CONTINUES BETWEEN EU COMMISSIONER, FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER
Verbal sparring between the FIDESZ party and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003) continued on 27 January when Verheugen's spokesman, Jean-Christophe Filori, said "in the past four years, we had ample time to get accustomed to the extremely vivid style of Mr. Orban," Budapest dailies reported the next day. Filori said Verheugen will not change the European Commission's position that the Status Law must be implemented in cooperation with neighboring states and in line with recommendations made by the Venice Commission and the Council of Europe. FIDESZ deputy Zsolt Nemeth countered that "some Brussels officials appear to be introducing a style unusual in international diplomacy." MSZ

RIFT WIDENS BETWEEN BUDAPEST MAYOR AND RULING COALITION
Tamas Deutsch, head of the opposition FIDESZ-Christian Democrat group on the Budapest City Council, has said Free Democrat Mayor Gabor Demszky is telling the truth when he claims the city is receiving less state funding from the Socialist/Free Democrat-led government than it received from the state government last year, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 28 January. Deutsch said the current governing parties want to silence Demszky, who has openly clashed with the cabinet over funding. Erzsebet Nemeth, Socialist leader on the City Council, and Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze have both publicly disagreed with Demszky recently. For his part, Andras Bohm, head of the Free Democrat group on the council, cautioned Demszky "to be patient," saying Budapest's leaders should accept the burdens devolving to them during the current budget crunch with "tolerance and discipline." MSZ

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONSTITUTIONAL CHARTER WITH MONTENEGRO...
Members of the Serbian parliament voted 166 to 47 on 27 January to approve the Constitutional Charter governing relations between that republic and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The deputies also voted 130 to 83 to approve a second measure dealing with the implementation of the charter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March, 20, 23, and 27 December 2002 and 17 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic successfully appealed to legislators supporting the governing coalition to vote for the new "imperfect state," "Vesti" reported. Deputies belonging to the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the Party of Serbian Unity (SSJ), and the New Serbia group opposed both measures. Legislators from the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) voted for the first measure but against the second. Deputies belonging to the Christian Democratic Party (DHSS) voted against the first bill but in favor of the second. Legislators from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) did not attend the vote. PM

...AS MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT PREPARES TO CONSIDER THE MEASURE
The Montenegrin parliament was scheduled to meet on 28 January to consider the Constitutional Charter and the bill on its implementation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Both major coalitions are split over the issue. In the governing coalition, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) supports both measures, while its two smaller partners oppose them. In the opposition coalition, the leading Socialist People's Party (SNP) backs both measures, while its two smaller partners plan to vote for the charter but not the second bill. The Liberal Alliance is boycotting all sessions of the parliament. Once the Montenegrin legislature approves the two bills, the Yugoslav parliament will discuss and vote on them. BBC reported that the process could be completed "in a matter of days." PM

FORMER SERBIAN PRESIDENT PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY' IN THE HAGUE
In his first public appearance before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said on 27 January that he is not guilty of war crimes committed in Kosova in 1999, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14, and 21 January 2003). The prosecution has charged that he participated in "a deliberate and widespread or systematic campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo Albanian civilians living in Kosovo in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" during former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown there. Milutinovic's defense is based on the claim that he had no real power to influence matters in Kosova. PM

MONTENEGRO FREES TOP OFFICIAL IN HUMAN-TRAFFICKING CASE
The High Court in Podgorica on 27 January ordered the release of Deputy State Prosecutor Zoran Piperovic and three other men whom a lower court in Bijelo Polje had ordered detained, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). The men, who were alleged to have held and sold women as prostitutes, had appealed the lower court's ruling. The lower court meanwhile freed an additional six men for lack of evidence. The key witness in the case, a Moldovan woman, left Montenegro on 26 January. The case caused a scandal for the governing coalition and is widely believed to have contributed to the low voter turnout in the recent unsuccessful presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). PM

EU POISED TO TAKE OVER MACEDONIAN PEACEKEEPING MISSION...
Meeting in Brussels on 27 January, EU foreign ministers formally agreed to begin preparations to take over NATO's Allied Harmony mission in Macedonia and set up a new EU project in agreement with the Atlantic alliance, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 16 December 2002 and 15 and 16 January 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February, 8 March, 3 May, 16 August, and 15 November 2002 and 17 January 2003). The 350-member mission to protect international monitors and advise Macedonian security forces will be the EU's first military endeavor. One unnamed Brussels diplomat said: "A long period of thought and planning is about to be swept out of the way by the operational birth of the ESDP [European Security and Defense Policy]. We're not disheartened that...it is a relatively small operation. We don't regard it as second best. The standards and procedures we lay down now will stand us in good stead for larger operations in the future." PM

...IN CLOSE COOPERATION WITH NATO
The EU peacekeeping mission in Macedonia will have use of NATO's planning and unspecified other facilities, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and Reuters reported on 27 January. It will be headed by German Admiral Rainer Feist, who is also NATO's deputy supreme allied commander in Europe. The mission will be based at the alliance's military headquarters (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium. It is not clear when the EU's project will begin, but the mandate of NATO's Allied Harmony expires in June. Some EU officials have suggested that the NATO mission could end and the EU's project begin as early as March. PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT THREATENS TO SACK OFFICIALS
The government decided on 28 January to dismiss all officials who have not declared their assets by 31 January, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The decision came in response to information from the state Anticorruption Commission, according to which only 10 percent of the approximately 1,500 officials obliged to declare their assets have done so. Those affected include judges, prosecutors, directors of state-owned companies, and others. Anticorruption legislation specifies fines ranging from about $360 to $900 for failing to declare assets, but the government has now decided to sack transgressors as well as fine them (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 January 2003). UB

EUROPEAN COMMISSION ENDORSES CROATIA'S MEMBERSHIP BID
Meeting in Brussels on 27 January, the European Commission told Croatia that the commission supports Croatia's bid to join the EU within five years, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November and 6 December 2002 and 17 January 2003). Commission President Romano Prodi stressed, however, that it is up to Croatia to carry out all the necessary reforms in due time. "We are aware of our obligations and the tough road that lies ahead of us before we [will be] ready to join the union," Prime Minister Ivica Racan replied. PM

BOSNIAN FEDERATION GETS NEW EXECUTIVE OFFICIALS
The House of Representatives voted in Sarajevo on 27 January to elect Niko Lozancic of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) president of the mainly Croat and Muslim federation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. His deputies are the Muslim Sahbaz Dzikanovic of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH) and the Serb Desnica Radivojevic, who heads the Srebrenica Town Council and is a candidate of the mainly Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA). The approval of the three was held up by opposition from Serbian nationalist deputies. PM

ROMANIA, IRAN SIGN GAS MEMORANDUM
Visiting Romanian Industry and Resources Minister Dan Ioan Popescu and Iran's Oil and Gas Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh signed a memorandum in Teheran on 27 January under which they agreed to study ways to export Iranian gas to Romania, AFP reported. The two countries are to set up a joint committee to study the means of exporting Iranian gas to Romania, including various pipeline routes. Zangheneh said the accord will "eventually permit the export of Iranian gas to other European countries." MS

ROMANIAN PSD OFFICIAL CRITICIZES TARGU-MURES INCIDENT
Ruling Social Democratic Party General Secretary Cozmin Gusa on 27 January said the incident in Targu-Mures in which local Greater Romania Party (PRM) leaders vandalized the offices of the Mures County Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003) is proof that the PRM has been forced to resort to demonstrative gestures because the main theme of its political discourse, "ultranationalism," is losing its appeal among voters, Romanian Radio reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT, OSCE MISSION CHIEF DISCUSS TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT
President Vladimir Voronin on 27 January received the new chief of the OSCE's mission in Moldova, William Hill, Flux reported. They discussed the negotiation process regarding the Transdniester and ways to overcome the current impasse. MS

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER HOPES FOR PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO IRAQ STANDOFF
Speaking about Bulgaria's future NATO membership before the Sofia Atlantic Club on 27 January, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski expressed his concerns about the Iraq crisis, mediapool.bg reported. "It is likely that the conflict will not be resolved in a peaceful way, which could lead to unforeseeable consequences for the Middle East," he said. "However, we hope the international community and the NATO member states succeed in finding a way to overcome the crisis in the name of peace and the fight against terrorism." Saxecoburggotski said Bulgaria could use its relations with the Arab world to contribute to a peaceful solution to the crisis. However, he added that Bulgaria's invitation to join NATO means that Bulgaria would be obligated to meet the alliance's requests in the event of a military operation. Saxecoburggotski said Bulgaria's role would probably be to provide logistical support and overflight rights, as was the case in previous military actions in the region. UB

DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTERS SACKED IN BULGARIA
Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski on 27 January dismissed Deputy Defense Ministers Georgi Pasko of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and Mehmed Cafer of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), mediapool.bg reported. Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said Paskov and Cafer were politically accountable for the export of dual-use goods to Syria by the state-owned ordnance factory TEREM (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 18 November and 5, 6, and 12 December 2002; and "End Note," "RFE/RL Crime and Corruption Watch," 9 January 2003). UB

WHY ARE UKRAINE AND MOLDOVA UNABLE TO RESOLVE THEIR BORDER DISPUTE?
On 29 January, the first demarcation point on the Moldovan-Ukrainian is expected to be installed in Chernivtsi Oblast (formerly North Bukovina). The demarcation of the entire Moldovan-Ukrainian border is expected to take another two years to complete. In June 1996, delimitation of the 1,200-kilometer border was based on the administrative border established by the USSR on 4 November 1940. This resolved 70-80 percent of the delimitation. The remaining 20-30 percent took until 1999 to complete.

Why, then, the long delay in the border's demarcation? The border dispute between Moldova-Ukraine has always involved more than the issue of territory. The Moldovan village of Palanca is located exactly on the country's border with Ukraine. The Odesa-Reni highway runs through the village. When Moldova ceded a 7.7-kilometer section of the highway to Ukraine, the village of Palanca was effectively split in two. In exchange, Ukraine initially transferred to Moldova 100 square kilometers of land, to be followed by another 1,000 square kilometers near the mouth of the Danube River. This has allowed Moldova to begin building an oil terminal for the import of Azerbaijani oil, thereby reducing its dependency on Russia for energy and earning transit fees for the re-export of oil to other countries.

The agreement on the transfer of territory was signed in August 1999 after delimitation was completed. But Ukraine refused to withdraw its border troops from the Giurgiulesti region -- the area seceded to Moldova to give it access to the Black Sea -- because "an agreement on state borders has not yet been ratified." This, in turn, halted the construction of the oil terminal.

The ruling Communist Party of Moldova (PCM) has always supported the territory exchange. Opposition to it came from the Popular Party Christian Democratic and other the center-right parties. Those parties pointed to the constitution, which envisages making changes in the country's territorial integrity only through a referendum. In September, the Constitutional Court ruled in response to their objections that the transfer of land was constitutional. A Foreign Ministry official pointed out that the highway was not ceded but "transmitted into ownership" and that this "does not harm the sovereignty of Moldova."

An additional factor that complicates the border dispute is the Transdniester region. Since coming to power in 2001, the PCM has been a staunch advocate of Moldova's territorial integrity, hoping that its close relations with Russia would lead Moscow to apply pressure on the Transdniester separatists to reach an agreement with Chisinau. But while Russia first overtly and then covertly backed the Transdniester separatists, it has been unable to force them to sit down at the negotiating table.

Although Russia has shifted its support to the Moldovans since the election of the PCM, Ukraine still backs the Transdniester separatists. Earlier this month, Ukraine's special commissioner to the talks, Yevhen Levytsky, tabled a proposal that the Transdniester be granted de facto independence "as a republic in its current manifestations and characteristics" until a final settlement is reached. The proposal envisaged that the Moldovans would desist from interfering in the Transdniester while providing it with the new customs seals to undertake external trade. Ukraine is also seeking to open a consulate in the Transdniester.

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has become exasperated at the Transdniester stance and especially that of its intransigent president, Igor Smirnov. Moldova proposed installing joint Moldovan-Ukrainian customs checkpoints on its -- and Transdniester's -- border with Ukraine.

The OSCE has backed that proposal. Joint checkpoints would, according to an OSCE delegation that visited the border in December, make it possible "to improve import- and export-control procedures from the Dniester region." But this was precisely the issue that neither the Ukrainian or Transdniester sides wanted to resolve, and hence they both rejected joint checkpoints.

In 1996, the Moldovans issued eight customs seals for the Transdniester. By 2001, this number had been augmented by an additional 348 forged customs seals. In September 2001, Moldova changed its customs seals and thereby deprived the Transdniester of the possibility of "legal" involvement in international trade. The Ukrainian side has insisted that the new seals be given to the Transdniester. The Moldovans have also demanded that countries refuse to issue visas to residents of Transdniestr, many of whom have Russian citizenship.

Voronin has accused Ukrainian officials of involvement in illegal smuggling rackets operating out of the Transdniester and through the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Illichevsk. In both of these ports, the Transdniester has individuals capable of fabricating documents facilitating such trade. Ukraine remains the only CIS state that has not recognized the new Moldovan customs seals.

One measure of the extent of Transdniester officials' involvement in the smuggling trade is the fact that Smirnov's son heads the Transdniester State Customs Committee. The scale of the trade Ukraine is facilitating for the Transdniester is evident in the 12,000 freight rail cars allowed to cross since the new customs seals were introduced. Late last year, a tape recording made by former presidential security officer Mykola Melnychenko of a conversation between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Odesa Mayor Ruslan Bodelan was released publicly. The tape substantiated allegations by Voronin and others of Ukraine's long-standing involvement in Transdniester smuggling rackets.

These smuggling rackets allegedly involve weapons, narcotics, metals, oil, gas, cigarettes, and other commodities. As Voronin complained: "We in Moldova have understood that Smirnov is a bandit. It is not clear who he is for Ukraine." The Transdniester was the most industrialized region of Moldova, with many factories involved in military production. Since 1992, the region has been forced to create closed production cycles for many of these weapons, such as small arms, mortars, GRAD multiple-missile and grenade launchers.

The Transdniester's involvement in the export of such weapons -- some of which could fall into terrorists' hands -- was one reason why the issue was on the agenda during Voronin's December visit to the United States, where he met with President George W. Bush. U.S. awareness of Ukraine's involvement in the smuggling rackets might, in turn, contribute to worsening the already poor relations between Kyiv and Washington.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

FEMALE MEMBER OF NATIONAL ASSEMBLY COMMISSION RESIGNS
Soraya Popal, one of two female members of the 19-member commission tasked with forming the national Loya Jirga (National Assembly) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2003), told Radio Free Afghanistan on January 27 that she has resigned from the commission because the process for forming the National Assembly is unconstitutional. Popal, who is a member of the Academy of Sciences, said that after she attended 10 commission meetings she realized that Article 43 of the 1964 Afghan Constitution -- which according to the Bonn Agreement of 2001 is to serve as Afghan law during the transitional period -- stipulates that members of parliament are to be elected by secret ballot. However, in the current process members are being "handpicked" by the commission, she said. Popal added that according to Article 44 of the 1964 Afghan Constitution, members of parliament are to be chosen for four-year terms, while 93 members of the planned National Assembly have already been selected for one-year terms. AT

AFGHAN LEGAL SYSTEM TO RECEIVE HELP
The Afghan Judicial Reform Commission and the UN Development Program (UNDP) on 26 January signed a two-year, $30 million project to revamp Afghanistan's judicial system, UN News Service reported on 27 January. According to Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the initial phase of the project will involve reconstructing and equipping courthouses across Afghanistan, training judges and other court officials, and increasing the capacity to administrate justice. "Particular attention will be given to ensure gender equity and a firmer role for women through the judicial system," Almeida e Silva said. The agreement follows a conference on Afghan judicial reform that was held in Rome in December. Italy is tasked with helping the Transitional Administration in its efforts to reform the country's judicial system. AT

COALITION FORCES ENGAGE IN MAJOR BATTLE IN KANDAHAR
U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan rebels clashed on 27 January near Spin Boldak in Kandahar Province, CNN reported on 28 January. Eighteen rebels were reportedly killed, while no coalition casualties were reported. According to U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King, intelligence reports indicate that the rebels "are most closely aligned with [Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's] Hizb-e Islami." He added that the United States has received "reports over the last several months that [Hekmatyar has] been attempting to consolidate with remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taliban...so they would all go under the heading of enemy forces -- anti-coalition forces," Reuters reported on 28 January. According to the BBC, the fighters involved in the battle are under the command of a former Taliban commander named Hafez Abdul Rahim. The fighting near Spin Boldak was the largest coalition operation in the past nine months and involved U.S. and allied aircraft, including B1 bombers that dropped 19 900-kilogram bombs, CNN reported (for an analysis of recent attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). AT

TWO UN WORKERS AMONG THOSE KILLED IN NANGARHAR
Two Afghans working for the UN were killed in the 26 January attack on a UNHCR convoy in Nangarhar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003), UNHCR reported on 28 January. Initial reports of the incident indicated that no UN employees were hurt in the shootout. AT

FORMER MUJAHEDIN LEADERS DISCUSS DRAFTING OF NEW AFGHAN CONSTITUTION...
Former Afghan Presidents Burhanuddin Rabbani and Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, National Islamic Front of Afghanistan leader Sayyed Ahmad Gailani, Islamic Movement of Afghanistan leader Mohammad Asef Muhseni, and former Education Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai attended a meeting in Kabul on 27 January with members of the Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC) to discuss the new Afghan constitution, Afghan state television reported. CDC Vice President and Chairman Nematullah Shahrani said the new constitution will be "the guardian of social justice and will reflect the will of the people," the television station reported. Afghan media have been critical of the lack of public debate during the process of drafting the constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). AT

...AND IRAN OFFERS HELP
CDC Vice President and Chairman Shahrani met on 26 January with Iran's Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, who expressed his country's readiness to assist Afghanistan in drafting its new constitution, the "Iran Daily" reported on 27 January. Taherian said CDC members have a "heavy burden vis-a-vis the current developments" in Afghanistan and that they should take into account the realities of Afghan society when drafting the new constitution. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on 12 January that the new Afghan constitution must take Afghanistan's religious and national identities into account while considering Afghans' understanding of democracy in relation to their culture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). AT

AFGHANS IN IRAN TO BE REPATRIATED BY 2004
Ahmad Husseini, the Iranian Interior Ministry official responsible for refugees, said on 27 January that 500,000 out of the 2.4 million Afghan refugees in Iran have left and the rest of them will return to Afghanistan in the next two years, Iranian state radio's Zahedan-based Pashtu service reported. After what Husseini referred to as the "voluntary repatriation" of the Afghans living in Iran, the only Afghans remaining in Iran would be the ones to whom the Interior Ministry grants temporary residency permits. Husseini added that Afghans in Iran who are working without work permits will be detained and deported. BS

IRANIAN DISSIDENT CLERIC'S HOUSE ARREST REPORTEDLY TO END
An anonymous Interior Ministry official said on 27 January that the Supreme National Security Council has decided to end the house arrest of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi on 28 January, IRNA reported. The Qom and Isfahan governors have received instructions on how to deal with any resulting disturbances, according to the official. Montazeri's son, Ahmad, said on 27 January that he knows nothing of this matter, ISNA reported. Ahmad Montazeri added that his father's health situation has improved in the last one or two days, and that a doctor visited him on 24 January. Islamic Human Rights Committee Secretary Mohammad Hussein Ziaifar said there is no question that Montazeri's release is necessary from a human rights perspective, the "Etemad" daily reported on 26 January. Ziaifar added that even people who oppose Montazeri concur that the current situation threatens his health, because his medical problems relate to the psychological trauma of confinement. BS

'START THE MORNING WITH HAMSHAHRI'
With this headline, the "Hamshahri" daily newspaper resumed publication on 28 January. Tehran Justice Department deputy head Ali-Asghar Tashakori on 27 January announced the lifting of the temporary ban on "Hamshahri," which is published by the Tehran municipality, Iranian state television and IRNA reported. The daily was suspended on 22 January after Labor House Secretary Alireza Mahjoub complained that the newspaper refused to print his clarification regarding an article published by the newspaper (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January 2003). Tashakori said Mahjoub's reply would have been published in the 23 January issue of "Hamshahri," but the ban precluded its publication, according to the 28 January "Hamshahri." The suspension was lifted because Mahjoub and Labor House member Mohammad Hamzei withdrew their complaints on the condition that their reply to the article would be published in at least two high-circulation dailies, including the official "Iran" newspaper. The reply appeared there on 27 January. BS

CONSERVATIVES MIGHT NOT BACK MUNICIPAL-COUNCIL CANDIDATES
Seyyed Mohsen Yahyavi, the deputy secretary-general of the conservative Islamic Association of Engineers, said in the 26 January issue of "Hambastegi" that neither his organization nor the conservative Followers of the Line of The Imam and The Leader intend to present a list of the candidates they will back in the late-February municipal-council elections. This is because they fear that the reaction to such lists might discourage qualified people from running for office and could encourage unqualified people to run. Yahyavi left himself some leeway, however, when he said, "A situation might come about in which we might support experts whose eligibility has been proved, but it cannot be said with certitude at the moment who we will support." BS

REFORMIST CANDIDATES LIST FORTHCOMING?
Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 26 January that the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front is discussing which candidates it will back in the upcoming municipal-council elections, ISNA reported. Several reformist groups -- the Islamic Iran Participation Party, the Solidarity Party, the Executives of Construction Party, and even the nationalist religious forces -- have already named the candidates they back in Tehran, "Entekhab" reported on 20 January. They cannot decide whom to back jointly and all 18 members of the 2nd of Khordad Front will present separate lists, according to "Entekhab." BS

IRAN, IRAQ EXCHANGE MARTYRS' REMAINS
The remains of 47 Iranians and 131 Iraqis were exchanged at the Mehran-Zurbatiyah border crossing on 27 January, the "Tehran Times" reported on 28 January. Eight of those Iranians died in Iraqi prison camps, five of the Iraqis died in Iranian prison camps, and the rest were killed in action during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, according to Brigadier General Mir-Feisal Baqerzadeh, who is in charge of the Joint Staff Command's Missing in Action Committee. Baqerzadeh said 27 January that Iran and Iraq are serious about resolving issues relating to prisoners of war and the missing in action, IRNA reported. He said the two sides met at the Khosravi-Manzarieh border point last week to discuss the issue and will meet again on 29 January. Baqerzadeh said Iranians are searching for their comrades' remains in five areas of Iraq, and the Iraqi side has proposed undertaking similar searches in Iran. Baqerzadeh said the two sides have exchanged the remains of some 12,000 people since the war ended in 1988. BS

TEHRAN'S POLICY ON IRAQ IS CRITICIZED
Khoi parliamentary representative Ali Taqizadeh in a 26 January speech to the legislature criticized the performance of the Foreign Ministry in dealing with Iraq, the "Tehran Times" reported on 27 January. He said that trying to make friends with certain countries is illogical and Iranian diplomacy should not create new enemies for the country. Taqizadeh said that inviting Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to Iran is not beneficial, but he did not mention the meeting in Baghdad of Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hussein Sadeqi with Sabri (on the possible visit by Sabri, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2003, and on the meeting in Baghdad, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January 2003). Meanwhile, "Entekhab" Managing Director Taha Hashemi said Iran should not hold talks with Sabri, but it should negotiate with the United States and Iraq, the "Iran Daily" reported on 27 January. Hashemi said Iran should not take sides, adding, "Today siding with [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] does not mean supporting the Iraqi nation, but implies supporting Saddam himself." BS

IRAN HAS 'CLOSED-DOOR POLICY' ON IRAQI REFUGEES
Iranian Interior Ministry official Husseini said on 26 January that Iran has a "closed-door policy toward Iraqi refugees," Iranian state television reported. Husseini added that Iran has not allocated any funds toward helping Iraqis who would be displaced by a conflict in their country. "The Iraqi government and the UN are responsible for the allocation of funds for housing Iraqi refugees," he added. "Iran can only assist in the transit of goods and sending international assistance to Iraq." Husseini also said that up to 200,000 Iraqi refugees could be accommodated in the 19 camps that would be established within 10 kilometers of the Iran-Iraq border in the event of a war, IRNA reported. Husseini predicted that up to 800,000 Iraqis could head to Iran if there is a war in their country. BS

INSPECTORS LIST GRIEVANCES IN REPORT ON IRAQ...
UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix told the UN Security Council in New York on 27 January that while Iraq has provided weapons inspectors with logistical assistance and access to sites, it has refused to guarantee the safety of U-2 surveillance planes and has accused inspectors of espionage due to the nature of their questioning. Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei briefed the Security Council under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which called for a briefing 60 days after the resumption of inspections. In his statement posted on the UN's website (http://www.un.org/news), Blix also complained about Iraqi protestors outside UN offices and inspection sites and called on Iraq to provide better evidence to weapons inspectors through documentation, expressing concern at the recent discovery of a box containing 3,000 pages of documents related to the laser-enrichment of uranium during a search of an Iraqi scientist's home. He added that Iraq needs to be more forthcoming with the names and whereabouts of scientists, and implied that Iraq is not doing enough to encourage scientists to be interviewed without the presence of Iraqi officials. KR

...WITH BLIX DETAILING STATUS OF INSPECTIONS...
UNMOVIC head Blix told the Security Council that Iraq's 7 December declaration regarding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) does not "contain any new evidence." Regarding chemical weapons, Blix said Iraq has not provided evidence that it destroyed stocks of VX after 1991, as it has claimed. He added that the UN has evidence to the contrary, and it believes that Iraq might even have weaponized VX. He also said the recent discovery of "a number of" 122-millimeter warheads in a bunker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003) raised concerns, as the bunker is relatively new and those types of warhead should no longer exist in Iraq. Blix said inspectors have also found precursors to mustard gas. As for biological weapons, he said there are indications that Iraq produced more than it has declared. Blix also implied that Iraq deliberately failed to declare 650 kilograms of bacterial-growth media in its 7 December declaration. Regarding missiles, Blix said that the Al-Sumud 2 and the Al-Fatah missiles have both shown in tests to exceed the permitted range of 150 kilometers, but added the matter is still under investigation. He said the Al-Sumud has been modified despite a 1994 UNSCOM directive against modification. Blix also noted that Iraq has refurbished its missile-production infrastructure. Finally, he claimed Iraq has illegally imported chemicals for rocket propellants. Blix's entire statement can be viewed at http://www.un.org/news. KR

...AS EL-BARADEI SAYS MORE TIME NEEDED FOR NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS
IAEA Director-General el-Baradei told the UN Security Council that his agency's inspectors have found no evidence that Iraq has restarted its nuclear program, but he added that inspectors need "a few months" to provide "credible assurance" that Iraq has no such program. El-Baradei said in his briefing posted on the IAEA's website (http://www.iaea.org) that the agency's inspectors have conducted 139 inspections at 106 locations so far, and inspectors are "well into the 'investigative' phase" in determining nuclear developments in Iraq since UNSCOM inspectors left in 1998. He added that Iraq's 7 December declaration to the Security Council did not provide new information regarding outstanding issues. El-Baradei told the Security Council that inspectors are monitoring rivers, canals, and lakes for radioisotopes, and have collected a "broad variety" of environmental samples and surface swipes. El-Baradei noted that inspectors have been to all sites where construction has occurred since 1998, and they have not detected any nuclear activities. He noted the refusal of Iraqi scientists to be interviewed privately by IAEA inspectors. Regarding aluminum tubes, he said they are "consistent with the purpose stated by Iraq." He also noted that the whereabouts of some HMX explosives need to be determined, and that inspectors are also checking reports that Iraq attempted to import uranium after 1991. El-Baradei called on states to assist inspectors with any relevant intelligence regarding Iraq. El-Baradei's entire statement can be viewed at http://www.iaea.org. KR

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE COMMENTS ON BRIEFING
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said at a 27 January press conference following the inspectors' briefing that Iraq continues to defy the UN with "empty claims, empty declarations, and empty gestures," the U.S. State Department announced on its website (http://www.state.gov). Asked whether the U.S. will allow inspectors to continue their work, Powell said President George W. Bush will consult with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Washington this week, as well as with other world leaders. However, he added: "Inspections only work in the presence of...active cooperation and a willingness on the part of the other side to participate in the disarmament.... And when all these consultations are finished, we will let it be known what our next steps are going to be." The press conference can be viewed in its entirety at (http://www.state.gov). KR

EU ADOPTS COMMON POSITION ON IRAQ
European Union foreign ministers adopted a common position on Iraq in Brussels on 27 January, international media reported. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told a press conference that "we have a unified position [on Iraq] and I think this is an important message, an important achievement," IRNA reported. The declaration adopted by the ministers demands "effective and complete disarmament" and "full and active cooperation" from Iraq, the German daily "Berliner Zeitung" reported on 28 January. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the declaration was a "very good decision by the European Union," the daily reported. KR

IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO UN REACTS...
Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Muhammad Al-Duri spoke with reporters at UN headquarters following the briefing by Blix and el-Baradei, Al-Jazeera television reported on 27 January. Al-Duri insisted that the inspections have "proven that Iraq is clear of weapons of mass destruction" and that "all the intelligence information and satellite pictures provided later by the United States and Britain were baseless." Al-Duri added: "In view of this, the only way out for the United States and Britain was to resort to the so-called remaining disarmament issues and claim that not resolving these issues is a material breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Everybody knows that any legal or logical reading of Resolution 1441 contradicts that." KR

...AND DENIES IRAQ HAS WMD
The Iraqi ambassador went on to say that former U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration declared after Operation Desert Fox in 1998 that the United States had destroyed all WMD sites, and that U.S. intelligence reports since then have stated that Iraq "did not restore its weapons capabilities." "We, therefore, should be very careful before determining who is actually in material breach of Security Council resolutions and has caused the suffering and death of nearly 2 million of the Iraqi population under a big lie called weapons of mass destruction," Al-Duri said. KR

FRANCE WARNS U.S. TO WORK WITHIN THE UN...
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told France-2 TV on 27 January that the international community must "work together in the most suitable framework -- the United Nations Security Council," Reuters reported on 28 January. "If the Americans decided to go further in a unilateral way, [French President Jacques] Chirac has already said it -- we would not be able to associate ourselves with such a move," de Villepin added. According to the Reuters report, Chirac said on 27 January that he advocates giving UN inspectors in Iraq more time. KR

...AS BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY SAYS IRAQ IS IN 'MATERIAL BREACH'...
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw commented on the UNMOVIC/IAEA briefing to the UN Security Council that "as of today, according to the reports we have received, Iraq is now in further material breach [of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441]. So it is profoundly serious for Iraq," Reuters quoted Straw as telling BBC radio on 28 January. KR

...AND KREMLIN SAYS NO NEW IRAQ RESOLUTION NEEDED
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said in Moscow on 27 January following the inspectors' briefing to the UN Security Council that "no new resolution on Iraq is required," Russian news agencies reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told journalists that no violations of existing resolutions have been uncovered in the course of more than 400 inspections. VY

RUSSIA SELLS TRUCKS TO IRAQ
A shipment of 70 heavy trucks from Russian automaker KamAZ has arrived in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. The trucks are the first consignment of goods under a contract to supply 3,000 heavy vehicles to Baghdad this year. Under a different contract, KamAZ shipped 2,000 similar trucks to Iraq in 2002. Professor Yevgenii Leshin of the Academy of Military Sciences told ITAR-TASS that selling the trucks to Iraq is not a violation of UN Security Council resolutions or other international obligations. The vehicles do not change the balance of forces in the region and cannot be used as platforms for missiles or other modern weaponry, Leshin said. VY

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