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Newsline - February 5, 2003


PUTIN, BUSH CONFER ON IRAQ...
President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush on 4 February discussed the Iraq crisis by telephone, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Bush reportedly called Putin to express Washington's opinion that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein continues to resist international efforts to disarm it. Putin repeated Moscow's position that UN weapons inspections should continue, and the reports of inspectors should serve as the basis for further action, which must be initiated and approved by the UN Security Council. Bush reportedly previewed for Putin U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's 5 February presentation to the United Nations, in which he is expected to argue the U.S. position and demand further action against Baghdad, TVS reported on 4 February. The station commented that Moscow will not resist the seemingly inevitable U.S. military action against Iraq, but is continuing its efforts to delay it. VY

...AS ECONOMIC ADVISER SAYS WAR IN IRAQ WOULD HARM RUSSIA
President Putin's economic adviser Andrei Illarionov told journalists in Moscow on 5 February that a war in Iraq would have unfavorable consequences for the Russian economy, RIA-Novosti reported. If Iraq's oil infrastructure were damaged, already high global energy prices would rise further, and Russia and the rest of the world would experience "sticker shock." Illarionov said that a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis would be much better for Russia, particularly one that led to the gradual opening of the Iraqi oil market over a period of 12-18 months. Under such a scenario, Russia would experience short-term problems as energy prices declined, but over the long term would move toward diversifying its economy and overcoming its "addiction to oil," Illarionov said. VY

RUSSIA CREATES ITS OWN LIST OF TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS
The Federal Security Service (FSB) on 4 February handed over to the Prosecutor-General's Office a list of 15 Russian and international organizations that have been officially deemed "terrorist organizations" by the Russian government, RIA-Novosti reported. Most of the organizations on the list are based in the Middle East and at least seven of them are also on a similar list compiled by the U.S. State Department, including Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Russia's list, however, does not include some U.S.-listed Palestinian organizations. The FSB list does include two Chechen extremist organizations -- the Supreme Military Majlisul Shura of United Mojaheds of the Caucasus, which is headed by Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, and the Congress of Peoples of Daghestan and Ichkeria, whose co-leaders are Basaev and his ideologue Movladi Udugov. VY

RUSSIA, PAKISTAN SEEK CLOSER TIES
President Putin met in the Kremlin on 5 February with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Putin noted that relations between the two countries have developed rapidly since Pakistan joined the international antiterrorism coalition following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. During his three-day visit to Moscow, Musharraf will work to boost economic ties with Russia and to strengthen military cooperation, even though Russia is the main military supplier to India, strana.ru commented on 5 February. Moscow is also interested in closer military ties with Pakistan, whose main military suppliers at present are China and Ukraine. Pakistan's trade volume with Russia in 2002 was about $98 million, compared with $1 billion in trade with Ukraine. VY

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST DEMANDS INVESTIGATION INTO DEATHS OF MOSCOW THEATER HOSTAGES...
Lev Ponomarev, director of the NGO For Human Rights, has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to open an investigation into the security services' use of a sleeping gas during the 23-26 October hostage taking at a Moscow theater, "Vremya novostei" reported on 4 February. About 120 hostages died during the incident, almost all of them from the effects of the sleeping gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). The authorities have denied that the deaths were avoidable, blaming them on the fact that the hostages had been weakened by their more than 50 hours' captivity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2002). "We believe that responsibility for the deaths lies with the Moscow government, which failed to provide [the hostages] with qualified medical assistance, and with those in the security services and higher up who ordered the use of [the gas]," Ponomarev told the newspaper. He added that the names of those responsible should be established and made public in order to avoid similar tragedies in the future. VY

...AS LIBERAL DEPUTY FINDS HE CAN'T FIGHT PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
A Moscow court ruled on 4 February against a lawsuit filed by State Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev (SPS), who sought to declare some of Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov's actions unlawful, Interfax reported. Kovalev accused Ustinov of evading a formal State Duma request to produce documentation regarding the prosecutor's inspection of the FSB's purported antiterrorism exercise in Ryazan on 22 September 1999. On that day, it was initially reported that powerful explosives had been found in a residential building. Later, however, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev claimed the "explosives" were really sacks of sugar that had been placed in the building as part of an FSB drill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 September 1999). Since then, some human rights activists and others have speculated that the FSB intended to blow up the building in order to generate public support for a new military campaign in Chechnya. According to grani.ru, Kovalev said he will appeal the court's decision. Kovalev has also filed a lawsuit against Patrushev, the website reported, and the first hearing in that case is expected to be held on 19 February. JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY CREATES ANTIEXTREMISM UNIT
The Interior Ministry's Main Organized Crime Directorate has formed a subunit to monitor extremist youth organizations, including skinheads and sports-fan groups, Russian news agencies reported on 5 February, citing a press conference by the directorate's head Valerii Komarov. The new unit is headed by Aleksandr Grichanin, Ekho Moskvy reported. Komarov told reporters that police have registered an increase in violent crimes -- particularly in crimes targeting foreigners -- committed by such groups over the last year. Komarov estimated that there are 15,000-20,000 skinheads in Russia, including about 5,000 in the Moscow area and 3,000 in St. Petersburg, where there are also an estimated 40-50 "aggressively oriented" sports groups, newsru.com reported. He said that extremist groups committed 140,000 crimes in 2002; 71 criminal cases were filed; 31 of them were brought to trial; and 16 people were convicted, nns.ru reported. Komarov also alleged that there are forces in Russia that "try to gain political capital" by attracting young people to join informal extremist groups and that these efforts are often supported by mass media outlets. The new Interior Ministry subunit will focus on preventing extremist crimes, Komarov said. VY

PUBLIC DISAPPOINTED IN PARTY OF POWER?
The leadership of Unified Russia is "seriously worried" about polling results last month that showed that the party with the support of only 14 percent of respondents compared with 27 percent in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 February. Leonid Sedov -- a sociologist with the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), which conducted the poll -- ascribed much of the ratings decline to changing the names within the party leadership. In December, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev were listed as the party's leaders, but in January, the name of Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who is not as popular as Shoigu or Luzhkov, was listed alone. Gryzlov was named head of the party's High Council in late November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). However, the daily argued, "Obviously, this was not the only factor." According to the newspaper, many experts believe Unified Russia's rating fell because of a cutback in the party's national advertising campaign. Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center concludes that perhaps the rating fell because of the party's failure to live up to promises made in its advertising. "Unified Russia declared that it controlled the governors and the government." But when the freezing population looked for solutions to the recent heating crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, and 13 January 2003), it found that the "influence of Unified Russia was close to zero," Ryabov argued. JAC

REGIONAL BUDGETS WIND UP IN DEFICIT...
Last year the consolidated budget of the 89 subjects of the federation showed a deficit, as almost two-thirds of the regions could not make ends meet, "Vedomosti" reported on 4 February. According to data from the Finance Ministry on 3 February, the deficit totaled 44.12 billion rubles ($1.4 billion), or 0.4 percent of GDP. Aleksandr Andryakov, an analyst with the Economic Experts Group, told the daily that because of tax reforms, regional tax revenues fell by 0.2 percent of GDP, while the wages of state-sector workers have risen by 70 percent since the end of 2001. According to Andryakov, the number of "unprofitable" regions rose from 42 in 2001 to 63 last year. JAC

...AS SPENDING PRIORITIES SHIFTED IN DECEMBER
Dmitrii Belousov, a leading expert at the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis, told the daily that the ministry's data should not be considered final, and that with additional calculations the deficit could shrink. According to Belousov, a kind of "end-of-the-year" effect occurs because regional leaders in December finally disburse money for pet construction projects. The daily notes that according to Finance Ministry data, some 30 billion rubles ($909 million) were expended under the construction category in December compared with 100 billion rubles for the year as a whole. JAC

HEADS OF GAZPROM, MEDIA MINISTRY MEET TO DISCUSS NTV
Media Minister Mikhail Lesin met on 3 February with Gazprom head Aleksei Miller to discuss the personnel situation at NTV, Russian news agencies reported. After the meeting, Lesin told journalists that Miller will meet with NTV's leading journalists on either 7 or 10 February. On 30 January, NTV's Executive Board unanimously passed a no-confidence resolution in the station's new director, Nikolai Senkevich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). On 31 January, Gazprom-Media head Aleksandr Dybal met with NTV Editor-in-Chief Tatyana Mitkova and other leading journalists to discuss the issue. JAC

WRITER/ACTIVIST COMPARES HIMSELF TO 19TH-CENTURY RADICAL...
A Saratov court has dropped some of the charges against National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov, including the allegation that he called for the overthrow of the country's constitutional order, Ekho Moskvy reported on 4 February. Limonov was convicted of other charges, including organizing an armed formation and illegal weapons possession, on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003) and is currently awaiting sentencing. In an interview with a Saratov television station the same day, Limonov said that he is being prosecuted in the same way as the 19th-century writer Nikolai Chernyshevskii, regions.ru reported on 4 February. Limonov explained that Chernyshevskii, who was born in Saratov, was arrested in July 1862 in connection with an antigovernment proclamation that he didn't actually sign. "After Soviet power, after 70 years of the dictatorship of the proletariat, we see that our valiant special services have turned to the methods of 140 years ago and the time of Chernyshevskii," Limonov said. Chernyshevskii wrote his most famous book, "What Is To Be Done?," while in prison, and it had an enormous impact on Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. Limonov has written seven books since his arrest in April 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002). JAC

...AS CELLMATES COMPARE HIM TO 'ENERGIZER BUNNY'
When asked why his fellow prisoners at Moscow's Lefortovo Prison gave him the nickname "the Energizer," Limonov in the same interview responded that he is fairly energetic. While at Lefortovo, he was constantly walking or running, and he never slept during the day. He also occupied himself by reading Lenin's works and letters. JAC

INSULIN IN ULYANOVSK: BAD QUALITY AND NOT ENOUGH OF IT
Diabetics in Ulyanovsk will appeal to President Putin for help in securing a readily available supply of insulin, "Simbirskii kurer," No. 18, reported. Long queues have reportedly formed at the region's pharmacies and clinics for the medicine, and to receive free insulin, area diabetics must wait for months at a time. Deputy Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Valerii Kurochek told the newspaper that everything is in order and that supplies of enough "Bryntsalov" insulin have been purchased. "Bryntsalov" insulin is manufactured by a firm owned by State Duma deputy and pharmaceutical tycoon Vladimir Bryntsalov. However, a Health Ministry endocrinologist said the "quality of the 'Bryntsalov' insulin leaves a lot to be desired." Another issue is that many patients cannot afford to purchase their own insulin supplies. Each bottle costs 253 rubles ($8), and generally a diabetic requires at least four bottles a month, according to the paper. Pensions for those with medical disabilities are typically around 800 rubles a month. JAC

CHECHEN HUMAN RIGHTS ENVOY CONDEMNS MASKHADOV STATEMENT
Abdul-Khakim Sultygov told journalists in Moscow on 4 February that President Aslan Maskhadov's televised address to the Chechen people on 2 February was illegal, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). Also on 4 February, a senior Russian officer argued that Maskhadov's videotaped address, in which he denounced the planned 23 March referendum on a new draft constitution, testifies to the Chechen resistance's realization that the adoption of the constitution and new elections will lead to "their inevitable political demise," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

OSCE GROUP TO VISIT CHECHNYA
Following talks in Moscow on 4 February with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Netherlands Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chairman-in-office, said that the OSCE will send a "special mission" to Chechnya to determine whether conditions on the ground are conducive to holding the planned referendum, Reuters reported. He also said that the OSCE and Russia will continue discussions, which he predicted will not be easy, on a long-term OSCE presence in Chechnya. Moscow has refused to extend the mandate of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, which expired on 31 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 24 January 2003). LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER STABBED
Parliament deputy Hayk Babukhanian, a leading member of the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM), was assaulted and stabbed in the back on 4 February while campaigning in the town of Artashat on behalf of presidential candidate Aram Karapetian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Babukhanian's driver sustained head injuries in the attack. Babukhanian was hospitalized in Yerevan, and his life is reportedly not in danger. A local SIM activist told RFE/RL that Babukhanian was attacked after he fired a shot into the air in an attempt to scare off a group of some 30-40 men who had confronted the campaigners and demanded they leave town. The men were reportedly under the influence of drugs and alcohol. SIM Chairman Hrant Khachatrian alleged that the attackers were acting on orders from Minister of Local Government Hovik Abrahamian, a native of Artashat who is a key player in incumbent President Robert Kocharian's election campaign. Kocharian condemned the assault on Babukhanian in a statement issued later on 4 February, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT STILL PARALYZED
The opening of the Armenian parliament spring session was again postponed on 4 February because of the lack of a quorum, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). Parliament Chairman Armen Khachatrian commented that the absence of numerous deputies is "normal," as political parties are involved with the upcoming presidential election. He added that parliament will return to its normal legislative activity after the 19 February ballot. LF

ARMENIA, RUSSIA CONTINUE TALKS ON FUEL DEBTS
President Kocharian met on 4 February with visiting Russian Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov to discuss bilateral economic issues, including approaches to repaying Armenia's outstanding $32 million debt to Russia for nuclear fuel, Russian news agencies reported. Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said last week that the Armenian government has not yet reached a decision on Moscow's offer to take over financial and management operations of the Medzamor nuclear-power plant in payment of the debt. Klebanov told journalists there have been "small positive signs" that Georgia might soften its opposition to the proposed resumption of rail traffic from Russia via Abkhazia to Armenia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE AGAIN RAID PROTEST VILLAGE
Masked uniformed police launched an assault early on 5 February on some 100 protesters encamped on the main square of the village of Nardaran near Baku, Turan reported. Villagers claimed police opened fire without warning and began beating the protesters, injuring eight of them and detaining 15. They also claimed an unidentified gas was used during the assault. A statement issued by the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office said the operation was undertaken to apprehend persons charged with staging mass unrest and with using force against representatives of the authorities. The statement said the protesters refused to give themselves up to the police and opened fire. Police clashed with Naradan residents in June 2002, killing one and injuring 34 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 5 June 2002). Eighteen people are currently on trial for their alleged involvement in those clashes. LF

OSCE EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER LAWSUITS AGAINST AZERBAIJANI PRESS
Speaking in Vienna on 4 February, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve expressed his alarm over the use of defamation suits against independent newspapers in Azerbaijan, according to an OSCE press release issued the same day. Duve noted that 13 lawsuits have been brought in recent months against the newspaper "Yeni Musavat," which must pay three fines totaling 100,000 euros ($109,197). Also on 4 February, Baku's Sabayil Raion court ruled that "Yeni Musavat" must publish a refutation of articles it published in October and November 2002 falsely claiming that Czech businessmen Viktor Kozeny was suing two former State Property Committee officials in a U.S. court, Turan reported. But the court rejected a demand by one of the two officials to close the paper for three years. LF

GEORGIAN 'FORCE' MINISTERS ACCUSED OF PREPARING 'VELVET COUP'
Caucasus Press on 5 February quoted Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili as saying he will not deign to respond to what he termed Tbilisi City Council Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili's "absurd" allegations that the interior and national security ministers have discussed the possibility of staging a "velvet" coup to oust President Eduard Shevardnadze before the parliamentary elections due this fall. Saakashvili made those allegations in a 4 February interview with the independent television station Rustavi-2. Narchemashvili commented that he believes they were intended to discredit him and his colleagues. LF

ONE MAN DETAINED FOR ATTACK ON GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTY
One man has been detained on suspicion of participating in the 3 February attack on the Tbilisi headquarters of the moderate opposition New Rightists party, Caucasus Press reported on 4 February. Also on 4 February, the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi issued a statement condemning the violence and urging the Georgian authorities to identify the perpetrators and bring them to trial. The Georgian National Security Council was expected to discuss the incident at its session on 5 February. LF

PRESIDENT PREDICTS GEORGIA COULD JOIN NATO WITHIN THREE YEARS
President Shevardnadze has announced that although he predicted following the NATO Prague summit that Georgia could join the Atlantic alliance in three years, his "friends in the West" subsequently informed him that Georgia could join NATO even sooner, Caucasus Press reported on 4 February. Speaking at RFE/RL in Prague on 21 November, Shevardnadze said he realized that it would take "more than one or two years" for Georgia to reach the standards required of NATO armies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002). Also on 4 February, Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze complained that the 79 million laris ($37.6 million) allocated to his ministry in the 2003 budget is inadequate, Caucasus Press reported. That sum is more than double the 36 million laris the ministry received last year. Tevzadze said that virtually the entire 79 million laris will be used to finance Georgia's contribution to the U.S. sponsored "Train and Equip" program and that there will be no cash left to pay 14 months' wage arrears to officers and servicemen. LF

EU PEACEKEEPERS FOR GEORGIA A NON-STARTER?
ITAR-TASS on 4 February quoted an EU official as saying Georgia has not addressed any request to the EU to provide troops from its embryonic Rapid Reaction Force to replace the CIS peacekeepers currently deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone. Interfax similarly quoted Georgian presidential adviser Levan Aleksidze as saying the use of the EU force in Abkhazia is out of the question. Aleksidze also expressed doubt that the EU would intervene in the Abkhaz conflict, given that Georgia is not an EU member. Shevardnadze mentioned the possibility of an EU force for Abkhazia at a press conference in Tbilisi on 3 February. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT BEGINS OFFICIAL VISIT TO ITALY
Nursultan Nazarbaev arrived in Rome on 3 February and met the following day with his Italian counterpart Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and with ENI Managing Director Vittorio Mincato, khabar.kz and eurasia.org.ru reported. Ciampi noted Kazakhstan's role in promoting stability in Central Asia and Afghanistan, according to Russian news agencies. Mincato, whose company is engaged in oil and gas extraction in Kazakhstan, praised the level of cooperation between ENI and the Kazakh government. LF

KYRGYZ COURT SENTENCES ALLEGED ISLAMIC MILITANT
Following a two-day trial, a court in Batken Oblast handed down a 25-year prison sentence on 4 February to 41-year-old Sherali Akbotoev on charges related to his alleged membership of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Russian news agencies reported. Akbotoev was found guilty of terrorism, hostage taking, and membership of an illegal armed group. Akbotoev testified that in August 1999 he helped mediate the release of hostages taken by a group of IMU militants who then forced him to join them, but that he voluntarily gave himself up to the Kyrgyz Embassy in Tehran after the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, with whom the IMU had aligned. Akbotoev's activities between late 1999 and late 2001 remain unclear. Interfax quoted him as saying that he never took part in combat actions, but only served as press secretary to IMU leader Djuma Namangani. LF

KYRGYZSTAN'S SECURITY INCREASED
The military threat to Kyrgyzstan's security has been significantly reduced in 2002, thanks primarily to the country's active cooperation with fellow members of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev told a press conference in Bishkek on 4 February, akipress.org reported. Topoev noted that Kyrgyzstan currently hosts the headquarters of the CIS Rapid Reaction Force, CIS and SCO antiterrorism centers, and a military base used by the international antiterrorism coalition. Topoev said a decision will be made in April on deploying Russian military aircraft at the Kant air base as part of the CIS Rapid Reaction Force, Interfax reported. LF

TURKMENISTAN BROADENS DEFINITION OF TREASON
The Turkmen press has printed a resolution of the country's parliament that enumerates actions regarded as treason, ITAR-TASS and turkmenistan.ru reported on 4 and 5 February, respectively. They include preparing or undertaking for political actions that pose a threat to the lives and health of the population, attempts to inflict economic or political damage on the country, attempts to undermine the population's faith in the domestic and foreign policies of the president, and attempts on the life and health of the president or to seize power by force and change the constitutional system or urging others to do so. Failure to inform the authorities of plans by others to undertake such actions is likewise qualified as treason. Such actions are punishable by life imprisonment. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO RAISE IRAQI SPIRITS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 4 February received the credentials of new Iraqi Ambassador Salman Zeidan and assured him that the determination manifested by Iraq in defending its independence will be rewarded, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka recalled that Minsk supported Baghdad in its struggle "to stabilize the situation" even when Iraq "was fighting in fact alone for its sovereignty," the agency added. The same day, the Palestinian National Administration opened an embassy in Minsk, and Lukashenka accepted credentials from Palestinian Ambassador Muntaser Fuada Abu Zeid. JM

BELARUSIAN TV CHIDES U.S. AMBASSADOR FOR MEETING WITH OPPOSITION CANDIDATES
"The U.S. ambassador to Belarus [Michael Kozak] has begun an election campaign," Belarusian Television's main newscast, "Panarama," reported on 4 February. The commentary pertained to Kozak's trip to Homel on 27-29 January, when the U.S. diplomat transferred a $190,000 donation by the U.S. armed forces toward the reconstruction of a local hospital and reportedly met with candidates running in the 2 March local elections from the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, the United Civic Party, and the United Social Democratic Party. "This is probably the first case of the participation of a diplomat in elections in a foreign country," Belarusian Television added. The network chided Kozak for bias in favor of the opposition and for failing to meet with "other candidates" in Homel. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SLAMS U.S. DRIVE TOWARD WAR WITH IRAQ
The Verkhovna Rada on 4 February passed a resolution condemning apparent U.S. plans to launch an attack against Iraq, UNIAN reported. The resolution was supported by 243 of the 427 deputies registered in the session hall. The same day, President Leonid Kuchma said Ukraine will respect any decision by the UN Security Council on Iraq. "We share the concern that Iraq might have chemical, bacteriological, or nuclear weapons," Kuchma noted. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA REGISTER INTERNATIONAL GAS-TRANSPORT CONSORTIUM
Ukraine's Naftohaz and Russia's Gazprom have registered an international consortium to manage the transport of natural gas across Ukraine, UNIAN reported on 4 February, quoting Naftohaz head Yuriy Boyko. The consortium is being set up on a parity basis under last year's agreement between the Ukrainian and Russian governments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2002). The same day, President Kuchma said other countries, including Italy and France, might be invited to participate in the consortium. Kuchma said trilateral Ukrainian-Russian-German talks on the consortium, originally scheduled for this week, have been postponed until July, "not at Ukraine's initiative." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECRIES POOR RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON...
President Kuchma told a news conference on 4 February that he regrets the lack of improved relations between Ukraine and the United States since the beginning of the year, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "On my word, I do not know what else we need to do to change the mind of the United States," Reuters quoted Kuchma as saying. The Ukrainian president reiterated that Ukraine has proven its innocence to U.S. and British experts probing allegations that Kyiv sold Kolchuga radar systems to Iraq despite UN sanctions. The Bush administration in its 2004 budget request cut aid allocations to Ukraine to $94 million from $155 million planned for 2003. JM

...URGES PARLIAMENT TO AMEND ANTI-MONEY-LAUNDERING LEGISLATION...
At the same 4 February news conference, President Kuchma called on lawmakers to amend a number of economic laws this week in order to make the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) "more loyal to Ukraine," UNIAN reported. A dozen countries have so far heeded a FATF recommendation to introduce sanctions against Ukraine over the country's lax effort to combat money laundering. "We were warned about the introduction of sanctions two years ago, and [only] we are to blame for delaying the adoption of appropriate laws and making a political problem out of an economic one," Kuchma said. JM

...AND PLEDGES TO SUBMIT CONSTITUTIONAL-REFORM BILL
Also on 4 February, President Kuchma pledged to submit a draft bill to parliament this month on amending the constitution and reforming the political system in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. "There is no sense in waiting until the Constitutional Commission starts to work," Kuchma said, referring to the body he created following his announcement in August of systemic political reform in Ukraine. "It is necessary to transfer the discussion [of political reform] to the parliamentary hall and move on," he added. Kuchma also expressed his conviction that the current cabinet of Premier Viktor Yanukovych will survive until the presidential election in 2004. JM

NATO GENERAL PRAISES ESTONIAN STAFF REFORM
After talks with defense forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts, Chief of Staff Colonel Alar Laneman, and other top military personnel on 4 February, the commander of NATO's Joint Headquarters Northeast praised defense reforms undertaken by the Estonian armed forces, BNS reported. Lieutenant General Jan Scharling said the adoption of the joint-staff principle was another step toward NATO membership. Scharling also visited the Baltic Defense College in Tartu the same day and was scheduled to tour the Amari air base and airspace-monitoring center near Paldiski before departing on 5 February. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT FIRES TOP TAX MAN
The cabinet voted unanimously to dismiss State Revenue Service Director General Andrejs Sonciks without debate on 4 February, LETA reported. Ministers had temporarily dismissed Sonciks in November, citing his office's failure to recover tax debts owed by the Dinaz Nafta oil company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2002). The State Civil Service Administration conducted a probe and also recommended his firing. Sonciks, who was appointed to the post in August 1996, said the case against him was investigated in a one-sided manner and pledged to appeal his dismissal through the courts. He said he was late providing investigators with his explanations because he was ill and is still undergoing treatment for "progressive stenocardia," or chest pains. SG

DISCLOSURES SUGGEST LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SPENT EQUALLY
Official disclosures on campaign spending presented to the Chief Election Commission on 4 February contradict claims that Rolandas Paksas's presidential victory over Valdas Adamkus was fueled by much higher spending, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. According to those reports, Paksas collected 3.29 million litas ($960,000) and spent all but 120 litas ($35), while Adamkus collected just 1.86 million litas and spent 3.07 million litas. The 1.2 million-litas debt is to be covered by the Valdas Adamkus Foundation. Paksas's main campaign backer was the Avia Baltika helicopter-repair company, which donated 1.2 million litas. The Adamkus campaign received almost 850,000 litas from ethnic Lithuanians living in the United States. Paksas aired many more television commercials than his rival, pushing his media expenditures (television, radio, and press) some 700,000 litas higher than those of Adamkus. SG

POLAND ACCEPTS EU OFFER OF MIXED FARM SUBSIDIES
The Polish government on 4 February accepted the EU's proposal of a hybrid system of direct farm subsidies, PAP reported, quoting Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller. Under the EU-proposed system, in the first year of EU membership all Polish farmers would get 25 percent of the full EU subsidy based on farm size. Higher production-based grants would only be given to farmers whose products are subsidized within the EU. Following the EU summit in Copenhagen in December, Miller told Polish farmers that all of them will receive 55, 60, and 65 percent of the full EU subsidy over the first three years of EU membership, respectively, based on farm size (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 February 2003). Miller admitted that after the Copenhagen summit he assumed that all farm subsidies will be paid out under one system and did not realize that payments above the 25 percent level are subject to other laws. Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski backed the mixed subsidy system. "I can say with full responsibility that what we have secured for ourselves in Copenhagen and later during the year is good and will give Polish agriculture a chance for growth," Kalinowski said. JM

POLISH FARMERS CONTINUE PROTESTS
Some 3,000 farmers, mostly in Wielkopolska Province, staged a second day of road blockades on 4 February, halting traffic at some 30 locations, PAP reported. Police used force at some locations to restore order. Farmers complain that government agricultural policy makes farming unprofitable. They also are pressing for higher purchase prices of pork and higher subsidies to milk, calling for lawmakers to overturn a presidential veto on a biofuels bill, and demanding "honest" information about the EU. JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS FLOAT SURPRISING PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...
Social Democratic Party (CSSD) deputies in the lower house on 4 February overwhelmingly chose Deputy Premier and Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky to be the party's candidate in the legislature's third attempt to elect a president, CTK reported. Rychetsky was selected ahead of two academicians and potential candidates, Charles University Rector Ivan Wilhelm and Vice Rector Pavel Klener. Wilhelm had already announced he will not run because he will not accept Communist backing, while Klener said the next day that he has withdrawn from the contest, according to CTK. The possibility of a Rychetsky candidacy first emerged at a weekend meeting of the CSSD leadership. Rychetsky said he will agree to run only if his candidacy is backed by the two junior coalition partners, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU). Two attempts to elect former President Vaclav Havel's successor ended in stalemates on 15 and 24 January. MS

...BUT ENCOUNTER OBJECTIONS OF COALITION PARTNERS
After Rychetsky's selection by CSSD colleagues, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said he will immediately meet with the leaderships of the two coalition partners and stressed that his own position remains that the coalition must field a joint candidate, CTK reported. US-DEU Chairman Petr Mares instantly deemed Rychetsky unacceptable to his party and said the choice shows there is no realistic alternative to direct presidential elections. KDU-CSL Chairman and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda expressed surprise at CSSD's choice and said that party is unable to nominate a candidate capable of rallying the support of all 81 CSSD deputies and senators. The opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) -- whose honorary chairman, former Premier Vaclav Klaus, has remained its presidential candidate throughout -- on 4 February proposed that direct presidential elections be held in June, alongside the planned referendum on EU accession, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT TO DELAY DEBATE ON TROOP DEPLOYMENT IN KUWAIT?
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Deputy Chairman Rudolf Ziak told journalists on 4 February that his party wants to postpone the parliamentary debate scheduled for the following day on Slovak troop deployments to Kuwait, TASR reported. According to a decision taken by the government on 29 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003), 75 members of the Slovak antichemical-, antibacteriological-, and antinuclear-warfare unit are to be deployed there ahead of a possible military action against Iraq. They are to join a Czech unit already stationed in that country. Ziak said the opposition HZDS wants the debate postponed until the UN Security Council takes a stand on possible military action against Iraq. If the Slovak parliament's vote is not postponed, Ziak said, his party wants the deployment of Slovak troops to be conditional on a Security Council resolution allowing for military intervention. The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), a member of the center-right coalition, says it is opposed to the deployment "under current circumstances." Without KDH or HZDS support, the legislature might well reject the government's decision. MS

FORMER SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE CHIEF'S LAWYERS CLAIM THEIR PHONES ARE TAPPED
Lawyers representing former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Ivan Lexa claimed on 4 February that their telephone conversations are being monitored by the Interior Ministry, TASR reported. One of the lawyers, former HZDS parliamentary deputy Jan Cuper, said Lexa's lawyers are being harassed because they are defending "a prisoner of conscience of [Premier Mikulas] Dzurinda's regime." The lawyers said they are ready to provide evidence regarding their allegations to the parliamentary committee overseeing SIS activities. Lexa is facing charges of fraud, sabotage, trafficking in illegal weapons, and abuse of office. He was extradited from South Africa in July, two years after fleeing the country. Charges of masterminding the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son were dropped after the Supreme Court ruled that an amnesty granted in 1998 by former Premier Vladimir Meciar to Lexa and others believed to have been involved in the abduction was constitutional. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER DEFENDS IRAQ MOVES
Addressing lawmakers on 4 February at parliament's first spring session, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said Hungary's growing international stature is reflected by the fact that the country was asked to sign a letter supporting U.S. President George W. Bush over Iraqi disarmament last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 January and 3 February 2003), Hungarian media reported. Opposition FIDESZ deputy Zsolt Nemeth responded that signing the "gang of eight" letter was "a servile and irresponsible act" by Medgyessy, since it has divided the European Union. Nemeth asked whether it was wise to "unleash the wrath of France and Germany on us." Opposition Democratic Forum deputy Karoly Herenyi said signing the letter was a hasty move. FIDESZ also released a statement saying, "There is every indication that Peter Medgyessy and his government are on the side of war," "Nepszabadsag" reported on 5 February. The statement says the current "clumsy governmental tone" is being dictated by Socialist campaign adviser Ron Werber, whom it labels a "well-known professional hate-mongering craftsman." MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO OF SOCIAL AMENDMENTS
Legislators on 4 February passed a social-legislation package that was sent back to the house for reconsideration by President Ferenc Madl in December, Budapest dailies reported. Madl and the opposition voiced constitutional concerns, saying the amendments would negatively affect church institutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002 and 7 January 2003). According to the amended law, churches will be paid state subsidies based on whether taxpayers choose to offer 1 percent of their income-tax obligations rather than on census data. The opposition FIDESZ and Democratic Forum also argue that it is unacceptable for churches to be required to conclude contracts with local governments in order to gain access to budgetary funds for providing social services. MSZ

STATE OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO IS BORN...
Both houses of the Yugoslav parliament on 4 February approved the Constitutional Charter of the new state of Serbia and Montenegro and a second document that outlines how that state will be set up within 30 days, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The new polity came into being immediately after the legislative vote, replacing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which then-President Slobodan Milosevic established on 27 April 1992. The former Yugoslavia ceased to exist in late June 1991, when Milosevic's policies prompted Slovenia and Croatia to declare independence. Bosnia and Macedonia later followed suit. Milosevic kept the name Yugoslavia to capitalize on the former state's legitimacy and to reinforce his claim to its assets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March, 20, 23, and 27 December 2002; 17, 28, and 30 January and 4 February 2003; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). PM

...AND THE 'REAL WORK' BEGINS
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels on 4 February that the "real work" now lies ahead of the Serbs and Montenegrins, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 December 2002 and 17 January 2003). In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said: "The government, which will be formed very soon, will unblock the process of our European integration, which in the course of the past few months has [encountered] a number of difficulties. The main reason was that international organizations did not know who their [negotiating] partner was. The IMF [International Monetary Fund], the World Bank, and the EU wondered whether we were going to succeed in forming a union, or whether [the prolonged political wrangling] was a process leading to a crisis." He added that the new state might have a greater chance of succeeding than did the three former states that used the name Yugoslavia, because Serbia and Montenegro is more limited in its "ideals and...goals." Most observers, however, have argued that the new state might not survive the three years minimum until each republic is allowed to hold a referendum on independence. PM

SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH DELEGATION VISITS THE VATICAN
Metropolitan Amfilohije and a delegation of Serbian Orthodox Church leaders began a visit to the Vatican on 4 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. They are scheduled to meet with Pope John Paul II on 6 February. On 23 January, the Belgrade weekly "NIN" published a special supplement on the role of the Holy See in the 1999 Kosova crisis. PM

ARREST WARRANT ISSUED FOR SON OF FORMER SERBIAN LEADER
A court in Pozarevac has filed charges against and issued arrest warrants for Marko Milosevic, the son of the former president, and his associate, Vladislav Asanin, in conjunction with the abduction and mistreatment of opposition supporter Zoran Milovanovic in March 2000, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. At that time, young Milosevic is alleged to have threatened to cut Milovanovic "into pieces" with a chain saw unless he divulged the names of local members of the Otpor (Resistance) opposition organization and their sources of financial support. Marko Milosevic disappeared from public view soon after his father's ouster in October 2000 and is believed to be living somewhere in the former Soviet Union. PM

BODIES OF KOSOVARS CONTINUE TO BE FOUND IN SERBIA
Gvozden Gagic, who heads the department of missing persons in the government's Coordination Center for Kosova, said in Kursumlija that more than 900 bodies of Kosovar Albanians were found at three locations in central Serbia in 2002, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 3 February. Most of these presumed victims of Milosevic's policies in Kosova in 1998-99 have not been identified. A further 11 bodies were found in January. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER CONTINUES HIS KOSOVA CAMPAIGN
Djindjic has sent letters to U.S. President George W. Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to urge an early resolution of Kosova's status, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 4 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). In Prishtina, the Presidency of the Kosovar parliament confirmed that some ethnic Albanian deputies have proposed a measure calling for independence, but added that the measure will not be taken up without consultations with all parliamentary political parties and Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK). The deputies put forward the measure in response to a passage in the preamble of the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro that refers to Kosova as part of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November and 9 and 12 December 2002). PM

GERMAN ADMIRAL OUTLINES EU MISSION IN MACEDONIA
German Admiral Rainer Feist, who is NATO's deputy supreme allied commander in Europe and slated to head the upcoming EU military mission in landlocked Macedonia, told Deutsche Welle on 4 February that the EU mission will be largely indistinguishable from its NATO predecessor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). This applies to goals, personnel, and military infrastructure and logistics, he added. The main difference will be that the EU, not NATO, will have political responsibility for the mission. This will prepare the EU to take on similar missions elsewhere in the future and enable NATO to concentrate its efforts in Macedonia on preparing that country for membership in the Atlantic alliance, Feist noted (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). PM

IMF REMAINS SKEPTICAL OF MACEDONIAN BUDGET
Representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) remain skeptical about the government's ability to reduce the budgetary deficit, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 5 February. According to the daily, the government was able to cut the $150 million deficit by almost 50 percent by reducing public expenditures. However, the IMF doubts that the reduction was achieved through long-term measures and might therefore necessitate unpopular tax increases. The large budgetary deficit is mainly due to the previous government's free-spending policies as well as to enormous expenditures for income support and unemployment benefits (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 December 2002). UB

REGIONAL PRESIDENTS TO MEET IN ALBANIA
President Alfred Moisiu of Albanian will soon play host to his Croatian and Macedonian counterparts, Stipe Mesic and Boris Trajkovski, to discuss their joint efforts at achieving NATO membership, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 5 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). PM

CROATIA AND U.S. SIGN MILITARY-COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Croatian Defense Minister Zeljka Antunovic and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Mira Ricardel signed an agreement in Zagreb on 5 February aimed at preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and promoting military cooperation, dpa reported. Antunovic noted that the agreement "enables Croatia to participate in the international fight against terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and gives the United States another partner in that field." PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TELLS PSD LEADERS TO CHOOSE BETWEEN POLITICS AND BUSINESS...
President Ion Iliescu on 4 February told a meeting of the ruling Social Democratic Party's (PSD) leadership and parliamentarians that those of them who are engaged in business must stay away from politics and vice versa, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said businessmen may be members of a political party, but should not have official functions or represent it. The president also said legislation that would make it obligatory for politicians to declare their assets should be approved without delay. MS

...AS PREMIER SAYS LEGISLATION PENDING ON PROHIBITING POLITICIANS FROM SERVING ON COMPANY BOARDS
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 4 February that the government will "assume responsibility" later this month for a package of anticorruption legislation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Among the stipulations in the envisaged draft laws is one prohibiting parliamentarians from serving on the executive boards of private or state-owned companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). "Assuming governmental responsibility" is a constitutional provision that makes it possible for the cabinet to pass legislation without debating it in parliament, if a no-confidence motion is not submitted within 72 hours after such responsibility has been assumed. MS

EU NEGOTIATOR SAYS ROMANIA ON ROAD TO MARKET ECONOMY
Vasile Puscas, Romania's chief negotiator with the EU, said on 4 February that Romania is striving to fulfill all EU criteria for a "functioning market economy," Mediafax reported. Romania was the only EU candidate that did not receive market-economy status in a European Commission report last year. Puscas said that to achieve this objective, Romania must finalize the process of privatizing state-owned companies, liberalize prices and commerce, pass legislation on property rights, and attract a higher volume of foreign investment. MS

NATIONALIST ROMANIAN MAYOR TO BE DISMISSED?
Cluj Deputy Prefect Dan Canta on 4 February officially demanded that Gheorghe Funar, the extreme-nationalist mayor of Cluj, be dismissed, Mediafax reported. Canta said Funar has approved paying mayoralty employees "shame-compensation bonuses." Canta said a mayor who considers work financed from the public budget as "shameful" has no other alternative than to resign. MS

ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE CHIEF SEES 'NATIONAL STATE' IN DANGER
Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) Director Radu Timofte has told SRI staff that Romania's "existence as a national state" is in danger of being undermined, Mediafax reported on 4 February. Timofte also said an evaluation report by the SRI has concluded that the banking system and the population's savings are threatened by pressure stemming from the "underground economy." He warned that discontent among the population as a result of the undermining of the country's "security assets" could encourage the rise of extremist movements. MS

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL SAYS MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT SHOULD ACCEPT REFERENDUMS...
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer said on 4 February that the Moldovan authorities should agree both to the referendum on changing the electoral system proposed by the Braghis Alliance and to the Popular Party Christian Democratic's (PPCD) initiative on a referendum on joining NATO and the EU, Infotag reported. Schwimmer made the statement last week, after meeting members of the Moldovan delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). He also recommended that the Permanent Roundtable set up last year on PACE's recommendations should be restructured and include only five or six political parties and some nongovernmental organizations. The roundtable was conceived as a forum for dialogue between the government and the authorities. MS

...BUT MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST OFFICIAL NIXES THEM
Victor Stepaniuc, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists' parliamentary group, said on 4 February that many of the proposals Schwimmer made are unacceptable, Flux reported. Stepaniuc said the Permanent Roundtable was set up to include all existing political parties, parliamentary as well as nonparliamentary. He said there are 36 registered parties in Moldova and neither PPCD leader Iurie Rosca nor Braghis Alliance Chairman Dumitru Braghis has the right to decide who should take part in the forum and who should not. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION LEADER LEAVES FOR UNITED STATES
PPCD Chairman Rosca left on 4 February for a visit to the United States at the invitation of the World Romanian Council, an organization representing ethnic Romanians in that country. Sources from the PPCD leadership told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau that Rosca is to meet with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to present the opposition's positions on developments in Moldova. President Vladimir Voronin paid an official visit to Washington in December. MS

CHISINAU MAYOR SAYS SECURITY SERVICES TRAIL HIS STEPS
Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean claimed at a meeting of the Municipal Council on 4 February that the Moldovan Security and Information Service is trailing him and that he intends to appeal to international public opinion, Flux reported. "I am being shadowed wherever I go, even when I meet friends. They want to know what I eat and what I drink," Urechean said. MS

U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALLY ASKS BULGARIA FOR MILITARY SUPPORT IN IRAQI STANDOFF
Government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev announced on 4 February that Bulgaria has received an official request by the United States for logistical support in the event of a military operation against Iraq, BTA report. The U.S. government asked Bulgaria to grant overflight and transit rights as well as to allow the presence of U.S. and coalition troops on Bulgarian territory. It has also asked the Bulgarian Army to deploy an antinuclear-, antibiological-, and antichemical-warfare unit to the crisis area, but not directly to Iraq. Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski has informed the largest opposition parties' leaders -- Sergey Stanishev of the Socialist Party (BSP), and Nadezhda Mihailova of the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) -- of the U.S. request, "Sega" reported. It is expected that the government will ask parliament in the coming days to decide on the request. UB

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES ON PRESENCE OF ALLIED TROOPS ON BULGARIAN TERRITORY
The Constitutional Court ruled on 4 February that, according to the constitution, troops from countries with which Bulgaria has signed military or political agreements are not considered foreign troops, mediapool.bg reported. The court ruled that the government can allow such troops to enter and cross the country without requesting parliament's permission. The government also has the right to deploy Bulgarian troops abroad to participate in allied military operations. However, this requires parliament to pass a law defining the country's rights and obligations deriving from any international military or political agreement. President Georgi Parvanov had asked the court to determine whether the constitution must be amended for the country to join NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). UB

There is no End Note today.


AFGHAN TROOPS CLASH WITH SUSPECTED TALIBAN, HIZB-E ISLAMI TROOPS NORTH OF KANDAHAR...
Provincial corps commander General Khan Mohammad said on 5 February that fighting broke out north of Kandahar on 4 February between government forces and "Taliban and Hizb-e Islami forces," Reuters reported. "Three people have died on our side, and two were wounded," Khan Mohammad said, adding that "five of the enemy were killed, and that toll could rise." The fighting was continuing as of 5 February. On 27 January, Hizb-e Islami troops battled with coalition forces in the Adi Ghar Mountains in the most intense fighting in Afghanistan in nine months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). Military officials have expressed concern that radical leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has allied his Hizb-e Islami with Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in an effort to carry out his proclaimed intention of ousting foreign troops from Afghanistan. MES

...AS COALITION FORCES CONTINUE TO SCOUR MOUNTAIN HIDEOUTS
Coalition forces following up on last week's fighting in the Adi Ghar Mountains on 4 February used F-16 jet fighters to bomb a cave complex there that is believed to be a hideout for Hizb-e Islami forces, international media reported. U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King said four caves were destroyed by coalition bombs on 4 February and that 46 caves have been inspected and 15 destroyed since last week's battle. "Those caves that show evidence of improvements by humans or occupation are destroyed," King said. MES

UN CHILDREN'S FUND RAIDED IN AFGHANISTAN
Armed men broke into the central Kabul offices of the UN Children's Fund late on 3 February and stole "a certain amount of money," AFP quoted UNICEF spokesperson Edward Carwardine as saying on 4 February. An employee at the office told the French news agency that the robbers assaulted some staff members, but Carwardine said that "nobody was injured because the office was closed at the time," according to AP. The area was sealed off by Afghan police and the incident is being investigated by UN security personnel. MES

AFGHAN NGO SAYS REFUGEE RETURNS HAVE DIVERTED ESSENTIAL FUNDING
The nongovernmental group Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) has charged that efforts in 2002 to speed the return of some 2 million Afghan refugees by international aid organizations, foreign donors, and the Afghan government "were hasty and misguided," AFP reported on 4 February. Citing a report obtained the same day, the news agency quoted AREU as saying such returnees have channeled funds that are otherwise needed for development of the country. The group urges donor states to "help slow down repatriation rates by increasing support for refugee programs in...Pakistan and Iran in 2003 and by increasing support of [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] protection work in these countries," AFP reported. Neighboring countries have sought to "legitimize" the Transitional Administration of President Hamid Karzai by encouraging refugees of decades of war and strict Taliban rule to return. The AREU is an organization funded by the European Commission and is directed by two British development experts, according to AFP. AH

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER OFFERS SUPPORT TO AFGHAN PRESIDENT
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 4 February assured President Karzai of Britain's commitment to assisting the Transitional Administration, Reuters reported on 4 February. "Mr. Blair gave assurances that Britain will continue to provide assistance and support in reconstruction and security," Afghan presidential spokesman Sayyed Fazel Akbar said. Other leaders -- including U.S. President George W. Bush and Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami -- have made similar statements in the past week, because "they want to give reassurances that Afghanistan will not be forgotten" in light of the recent focus on Iraq, Akbar said. MES

AFGHAN FARMERS DETAINED FOR PROTESTING OPIUM ERADICATION
Dozens of farmers in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province have been detained for protesting the government's program to end opium-poppy cultivation, Mashhad radio reported on 4 February. According to Iranian state radio, the farmers claim they will resist counternarcotics forces if they do not receive compensation for any destroyed crops. BS

IRANIAN CLERIC HOSPITALIZED
Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi was hospitalized on 5 February because of heart problems, his son, Said Montazeri, told Reuters. "Suddenly he had a pain in his heart, and we immediately took him to hospital. The doctors have decided to keep him in hospital for three days," Said Montazeri said. The ayatollah is in the intensive-care ward of Qom's Kamkar Hospital, according to AP. BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER HEADS TO LONDON
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi will arrive in London on 5 February to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chairman Donald Anderson, according to IRNA. He will also address the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA). Kharrazi made a similar trip three years ago (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2000). Human Rights Watch said in a 4 February letter to Straw that the British government should push Iran to make "measurable improvements" in transforming promises of political reform into reality. The HRW letter cited increases in the arbitrary detention of students and targeting of government critics, and it described the judiciary's role in targeting reformists. The letter added, "Religious critics of the ruling clerical elite continue to be targeted for persecution, and their freedom of expression is limited." BS

FIVE IMPRISONED IRANIAN JEWS GET FURLOUGHS
Five Iranian Jews who were convicted of espionage in 2000 were released on furloughs about 10 days ago, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 5 February. The five were the last of the 10 Jews convicted in the case, which involved 13 defendants, to be held in prison, and their release coincides with the Ten Days of Dawn (the commemoration of the Islamic revolution). It is not known yet if the furloughs will be made permanent. Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative in the Iranian parliament, claimed the releases are due to his personal intervention, while Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee in Los Angeles, said the releases are meant to burnish Iran's human rights record in the run-up to meetings with the British government and the EU this week. Motamed said the releases would have come months earlier if Dayanim had not criticized the Iranian judiciary in an interview with the Voice of America. Dayanim dismissed Motamed as a "propaganda tool" of the Iranian government. BS

IRAN EXTRADITES ALLEGED TURKISH ASSASSIN
Officials from Turkey's national security organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, or MIT) on 1 February announced that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) has extradited Islamic Great East Raiders Front (IBDA-C) member Yasar Polat, Istanbul's "Radikal" daily reported on 2 February. Polat allegedly planned the IBDA-C's January 1993 assassination of Jak Kamhi, and he eventually fled to Iran. MIT and MOIS officials met to discuss the matter, and then the MIT provided the MOIS with Polat's Iranian address and photographs of him in Iran. The MOIS handed him over at the Turkey-Iran border. Turkey has previously accused Iran of backing IBDA-C, and the MIT has documented alleged IBDA-C assassinations of Iranian oppositionists in Turkey and accused it in the October 1999 assassination of Turkish intellectual Ahmet Kisali (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999 and 24 January 2000). BS

SHIA LEADER DESCRIBES RIFT WITH IRAN
Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah has said that his leadership position in the Shia community is causing discomfort in Iran, "Al-Hayah" reported on 25 January. Fadlallah said that Hizballah sees spiritual leadership in Iran and in the person of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He complained that he has been the target of character assassination, and also charged with hostility to the Shia faith and the line of the Prophet Muhammad. BS

KHAMENEI: IRANIAN BROADCASTERS MUST COUNTER ENEMY PROPAGANDA
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 4 February met with officials from the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and told them the IRIB must counter the propaganda of Western countries that were harmed by Iran's Islamic revolution, IRNA, "Iran Daily," and "Tehran Times" reported the next day. Khamenei said the Islamic revolution ended the Iranian regimes' dependence on foreign powers and provided the people with political freedom, and this is another reason why Iran is a target of foreign powers. The IRIB should expose the enemy's plots and revive hope about the future, he said. Khamenei added that historically all youth have the same qualities -- dynamism, energy, idealism, and a thirst for justice -- and the third post-revolutionary generation in Iran is no different. He called on the IRIB to improve the quality of its radio and television programming. BS

IRAN BRACES FOR FOOD SHORTAGES
The Agriculture Jihad Ministry recently reported to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami that the price of strategic food items -- including sugar, wheat, and rice -- is rising, unchecked population growth is leading to rising food consumption, and demand could soon surpass supply, "Iran Daily" reported on 5 February. Moreover, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts that the Middle East will become a major food importer within the next 10 years. The Agriculture Jihad Ministry called on Khatami to implement its 10-year plan for attaining self-sufficiency in food production. Khatami, in turn, ordered the High Institute for Education, Management, and Planning Research to develop a strategy for inducing a "leap in agricultural production." BS

ARMED FORCES SUSPICIOUS OF U.S. INTENTIONS
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Major-General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a 3 February meeting of his officers at the Imam Ali Hall in Tehran that the IRGC knows who the enemy is and is ready to confront any threats, ISNA reported. Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, who is the Supreme Leader's representative to the IRGC, then told the audience, "You can be certain that thanks to God, America and its lackeys will not be able to do a damn thing." The previous day, Iranian Navy commander Admiral Abbas Mohtaj told an audience at Qom's Chahar Mardan Mosque, "America's main and principle objective in the region is to control energy so that it is able to lead the world economy, save Israel from its critical situation, and control Islam and Islamic movements," ISNA reported. Mohtaj said that Iran could inflict heavy blows on the United States should it attack. Air force chief Brigadier General Reza Pardis said on 2 February, "The aim of America, which has come to the region under the pretext of fighting terrorism, is to control energy resources and dominate the world," IRNA reported. BS

IRAQI PRESIDENT SAYS HIS COUNTRY NOT INTERESTED IN WAR...
President Saddam Hussein told former British Labour Party minister Tony Benn in Baghdad on 2 February that his country is not interested in a war with the United States and denied links with the Al-Qaeda terrorist group. "If we had a relationship with Al-Qaeda and we believed in that relationship, we would not be ashamed to admit it," Hussein said during the interview broadcast on Al-Jazeera television on 4 February. "Therefore, I would like to tell you directly and also through you to anyone who is interested in knowing, that we have no relationship with Al-Qaeda," Hussein told Benn. "Iraq has no interest in war...if [the UN Security Council's] purpose is to make sure that Iraq is free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, then they can do that. These weapons are not aspirin pills that one can hide in his pockets," he said. "These are weapons of mass destruction.... We say it again today that Iraq is free of such weapons." Hussein asked rhetorically whether the Security Council is looking for a pretext to reach a "conclusion that makes them wage a war against Iraq." KR

...AND SURMISES THAT U.S. WANTS TO 'CONTROL THE WORLD'
"It seems that the officials in the United States are motivated by aggression," President Hussein told Benn on 2 February, arguing that the United States has expressed sympathy for Israel at the expense of the rights and security of Palestinians. "The consecutive U.S. administrations were led down a path of hostility against the people of this region," he said. Hussein added during the interview broadcast by Al-Jazeera television on 4 February that unidentified "influential" figures have led the U.S. administration to believe that "if you want to control the world, then you have to control oil, and one of the most important requirements for controlling oil is to destroy Iraq." Hussein concluded, "It seems to me that one of the main causes of this hostility demonstrated by the current U.S. administration is to control the world, and...to control oil in the Middle East." He then suggested that the world owes Iraq a debt of gratitude for making these purported U.S. intentions known, and added that, if there is a war, Iraqis "will defend their country, their dignity, their sovereignty, and their security." KR

KUWAIT EXTENDS CLOSED MILITARY ZONE
The Kuwaiti Defense Ministry has declared all northern territories of the state a closed military zone according to an order by Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Shaykh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA announced on 4 February. The order becomes effective on 15 February and is essentially an extension of the October 2002 decree to close the northwestern region of Kuwait as a precaution to ensure the safety of joint Kuwaiti-U.S. forces holding military drills in the area. Colonel Yousef Abd al-Razzak al-Mulla, the director of moral guidance and public relations of Kuwait's Army, said at a news conference on 4 February that the zone now "stretches eastward along Kuwait Bay to Ras Al-Sabbiya on the coast. The military zone also extends in an easterly direction across territorial sea waters to southern Failaka, and extends toward the northeast to the maritime border across Abdullah Bay to the northern borders of Kuwait." He added that special permits will be available for those needing to enter the area. KR

UNMOVIC CHIEF SAYS TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR IRAQ
Hans Blix, executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told reporters at the United Nations on 4 February that time is running out for Iraq to meet the requirements of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1441, RFE/RL reported. Blix said, "[U.S. Ambassador to the UN John] Negroponte says that the diplomatic window is closing. Well, I am listening to that and I hear others who would like to give more time and I have said I would welcome more time, fine." However, Blix added: "Let's not joke, we all know that the situation is very serious. I don't think the decision is final, I don't think that the end is there, that the date has been set for armed action.... But I think that we are moving closer and closer to it, and therefore it seemed to me that the Iraqi leadership must be well aware of that." The UNMOVIC chief added that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's scheduled 5 February presentation to the UNSC will likely be based on satellite imagery, intercepts of telephone conversations, and "knowledge about Iraqi procurements" deemed illegal under UN sanctions. KR

FRENCH PRESIDENT TO DECIDE 'WHEN THE TIME COMES'
French President Jacques Chirac told reporters on 4 February that France will come to a decision regarding Iraq "when the time comes and given the circumstances," AFP reported. His comments came following a summit meeting with British Prime Minister Blair in the northern French resort of Le Touquet. Calling war the "worst of solutions," Chirac added, "We think there is still a lot to be done on the issue of disarmament through peaceful means." Chirac noted that the positions between Britain and France regarding Iraq are not that different. KR

U.S., RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS CONFER ON IRAQ
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Bush on 4 February discussed the Iraq crisis by telephone, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Bush reportedly called Putin to express Washington's opinion that the regime of Iraqi President Hussein continues to resist international efforts to disarm it. Putin repeated Moscow's position that UN weapons inspections should continue, and the reports of inspectors should serve as the basis for further action, which must be initiated and approved by the UN Security Council. Bush reportedly previewed for Putin U.S. Secretary of State Powell's 5 February presentation to the United Nations, in which he is expected to argue the U.S. position and demand further action against Baghdad, TVS reported on 4 February. The station commented that Moscow will not resist the seemingly inevitable U.S. military action against Iraq, but is continuing its efforts to delay it. VY

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY GIVES COMMANDER FRANKS VOTE OF CONFIDENCE...
Donald Rumsfeld on 4 February weighed in to express strong support for the officer set to command U.S. troops in a possible war with Iraq despite an ongoing probe into alleged improprieties, Reuters and other international news agencies reported the same day. The vote of confidence followed a report in "The Washington Post" the same day stating that U.S. Army General Tommy Franks is the subject of a Pentagon investigation and that investigators "tentatively have concluded that the Central Command chief likely violated some restrictions involving his wife," citing unnamed defense sources. The alleged improprieties reportedly concern perks like assigning a bodyguard and an assistant for his wife, Cathy, and "The Washington Post" reported that Franks might have allowed her to be present during classified briefings. Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz is weighing the allegations, and Rumsfeld might have to decide on actions in light of those findings. AH

...SAYS COMMAND ROLE NOT THREATENED
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on 4 February called Franks a "man of the highest integrity," Reuters reported. Franks led U.S. forces in Afghanistan and currently is working closely with Rumsfeld on a plan for a possible military attack on Iraq. "There isn't a chance in the world that [the investigation] will have any possible interference with his role as the combatant commander in the Central Command," Rumsfeld said on 4 February, according to "The Washington Post." Rumsfeld said Franks informed him of the probe, and media quoted the commander as saying he is cooperating with investigators. AH

CORRECTION:
The 4 February "RFE/RL Newsline" item entitled "British Prime Minister Still Favors UN Route" should have read that Prime Minister Tony Blair said the U.K. should not exhibit weakness on the issue of Iraq.

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