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Newsline - March 5, 2003


PUTIN PRAISES TURKEY'S POSITION ON IRAQ...
Speaking at a cabinet session in Moscow on 4 March, President Vladimir Putin said the Turkish parliament's recent decision "to prevent U.S. forces from beginning a military operation against Iraq" was "the most important event of recent days," ORT and RTR reported. He added that the Kremlin was not surprised by the decision and that the deputies were guided by their understanding of the international and the domestic situations, as well as the overall situation in the Islamic world. "It would be difficult to expect a different decision from the Islamic Justice and Development Party, which has a majority in parliament," Putin said. RTR the same day broadcast an upbeat report from its correspondent accredited with U.S. forces in Kuwait. The morale of the troops is very high, they are ready to fight, and they are confident of victory, the correspondent said. VY

...AND FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL FIGHT TO AVERT WAR...
During an appearance at an Internet news conference organized by the BBC in London, Igor Ivanov said that the United States, Great Britain, and Spain should withdraw their joint draft UN Security Council resolution rather than forcing a vote on it in order to avoid splitting the international community, Russian and international news agencies reported. Russia values the unity of the Security Council, Ivanov said, and divisions within it are preventing a political solution to the Iraq crisis and generally complicating the international situation. Asked what Russia would do if a U.S.-led coalition begins military action without UN authorization, Ivanov said, "We will struggle to stop the war." Ivanov, echoing comments by President Putin on 2 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2003), harshly criticized U.S. calls for "regime change" in Iraq. "We do not want the export of revolution [part of the ideology of the Soviet Union] to be replaced by the export of democracy," Ivanov said. Ivanov added, however, that differences over Iraq are not hampering other aspects of U.S.-Russian relations. The Foreign Ministry announced on 4 March that the evacuation of its nationals from Iraq is in full swing and that a special hotline for relevant information has been established, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

...AND UN AMBASSADOR DESPAIRS THAT COMPROMISE CAN BE FOUND
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergei Lavrov told journalists in New York on 4 March that Russia will not support the joint U.S.-U.K.-Spanish draft Security Council resolution, "which would in fact mean a green light to start a war," RFE/RL reported on 5 March. Lavrov said that as long as there is still a chance to resolve the crisis peacefully, the United Nations should not be making "plans for a worst-case scenario." "If those members of the council who introduced the draft resolution insist that in their judgment the last opportunity [to resolve the crisis peacefully] has been lost, frankly, I don't see how we can find a compromise if they stick to this position." Lavrov echoed Foreign Minister Ivanov's comments that maintaining the unity of the Security Council is crucial. RC

RUSSIA, BRITAIN CONTINUE TO IMPROVE RELATIONS
Foreign Minister Ivanov met in London on 4 March with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to discuss bilateral relations and an upcoming state visit to the United Kingdom by President Putin, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov denied that he had spoken to Straw about Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev, whose extradition from Britain Russia is seeking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002). The two men did, however, discuss the improving climate of British investment in Russia in the light of the recent multi-billion-dollar deal announced by British Petroleum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). In Moscow the same day, President Putin met with BP board Chairman John Brown, who briefed the president on the details of the deal. VY

MORE THAN HALF OF ALL RUSSIANS POSITIVE ABOUT STALIN
The number of Russians who believe that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had a primarily negative impact on the country has declined in recent years, according to Yurii Levada, director of the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), ORT reported on 4 March. The country on 5 March marked the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death in 1953. According to a VTsIOM poll of 1,600 adults conducted in 100 towns and cities in 40 regions in late February and early March, 53 percent of respondents approved of Stalin overall, 33 percent disapproved, and 14 percent declined to state a position. Twenty percent of those polled agreed with the statement that Stalin "was a wise leader who led the USSR to power and prosperity," while the same number agreed that only a "tough leader" could rule the country under the circumstances in which Stalin found himself. Only 27 percent agreed that Stalin was "a cruel, inhuman tyrant responsible for the deaths of millions," and a similar percentage agreed that the full truth about him is not yet known. Levada said that he is perplexed by the results of the poll. VY

ELITE ANTITERRORISM OPERATIVES OUTRAGED BY AWARDS TO FSB GENERALS...
An unidentified group of officers from the elite Alfa antiterrorism force that carried out the operation to resolve the 23-26 October hostage drama in Moscow has written to President Putin to protest the secret bestowal of state honors on the top Federal Security Service (FSB) generals who oversaw the operation, "Novaya gazeta" reported on 4 March. The "Novaya gazeta" article was signed by State Duma Deputy Yurii Shchekochikhin (Yabloko), who serves as deputy chairman of the Duma's Security Committee, and presents the text of the letter to Putin. The authors of the letter reveal that shortly after the beginning of the year, Putin awarded five Hero of Russia orders in connection with the hostage taking -- one each went to officers of the Alfa and Vympel groups who actually participated in the storming of the theater, two were given to senior FSB officials, and one to the chemical specialist who released a sleeping gas into the theater. The Alfa officers wrote that First Deputy FSB Director Vladimir Pronichev and the head of the FSB Special Operations Center, General Aleksandr Tikhonov, should have been disciplined for allowing the Chechen fighters to penetrate the center of Moscow and take the more than 800 theatergoers hostage, but instead they were given awards that should rightly have gone to men who risked their lives to save the hostages. As for the chemical specialist, the Alfa officers wrote that he "was both the savior and the killer of many hostages." VY

...AS PAPER NOTES THAT NUMBER OF HEROES OF RUSSIA FROM CHECHEN CONFLICT CLASSIFIED
"Novaya gazeta" reported that only 58 Hero of the Soviet Union awards were given during the entire nine-year Soviet war in Afghanistan, according to the Association of Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia. The association reported that the number of Hero of Russia awards given in connection with the military operation in Chechnya is a state secret, but estimated that 90 percent of those honors are bestowed posthumously. RC

FSB PREVENTS SALE OF RADIOACTIVE ISOTOPE
The FSB's Omsk Territorial Directorate has detained an unidentified 67-year-old pensioner on suspicion of trying to sell 1.33 grams of the radioactive isotope osmium-187 to a Middle Eastern country, presumably Iraq, newsru.com and pravda.ru reported on 3 March. On the black market, osmium -- a rare earth element of the platinum group -- costs from $60,000-$200,000 a gram. Local FSB spokeswoman Natalya Grudtsyna said that following the pensioner's arrest, agents arrested an unidentified 50-year-old alleged accomplice, who was reportedly found to be in possession of 158,000 counterfeit Iraqi dinars. He was reportedly attempting to sell the dinars for $0.45 each. Grudtsyna said the two men are believed to be members of an international criminal organization, and agents are currently seeking other members of the group. Pravda.ru reported that investigators believe the group was trying to sell the osmium through Azerbaijani middlemen to a Middle Eastern country, presumably Iraq. According to Major General Vladimir Yashkin of the General Staff, "there are considerable leaks of radioactive materials" throughout the former Soviet Union, pravda.ru reported. VY

PRO-KREMLIN PARTY TRIES TO ATTRACT SOME STAR POWER
Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin will likely be elected to the Supreme Council of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party at its congress on 29 March, "Vedomosti" reported on 4 March, citing an unidentified source close to the presidential administration. According to the daily, a source close to Khloponin confirmed that the governor will join the party. The presidential administration reportedly hopes the young governor will woo some voters away from the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). Commenting on Khloponin's plans, Duma Deputy Konstantin Remuchkov (SPS) said he believes Khloponin's membership in the party's upper leadership "might be a form of capitalization of the financial support of Norilsk Nickel and its parent company Interros [has given] Unified Russia." Khloponin is a former head of Norilsk Nickel, which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros. Last year, "Vedomosti" named Khloponin "Politician of the Year" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003). JAC

RUSSIAN GROUP TAKES ONE-THIRD OF INDEPENDENT MEDIA
Prof-Media -- the media-holding arm of Potanin's Interros which publishes "Izvestiya," "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Sovietskii sport," and others -- has acquired a 35 percent stake in Independent Media, the company that publishes "The Moscow Times," "Vedomosti," and Russian versions of magazines such as "Cosmopolitan" and "Good Housekeeping," "The Moscow Times" and other Russian media reported on 4 March. The price of the purchase was not reported, but is estimated to be between $10 million and $35 million. The Norwegian media group A-pressen owns stakes in several of Prof-Media's holdings. The move was described as a "strategic partnership," and its first joint project is reported to be the publication of a sports weekly. Citing media analysts, "The Moscow Times" reported that "as long as Prof-Media remains a minority shareholder in Independent Media, the alliance does not pose a direct threat to the editorial integrity" of "Vedomosti" or "The Moscow Times." Independent Media CEO Derk Sauer lauded Prof-Media for not interfering with the editorial policies of its publications, but RFE/RL Moscow correspondent and media analyst Yelena Rykovtseva pointed out, "We all see that 'Izvestiya' and 'Komsomolskaya pravda' sometimes look more pro-state than state-owned media." RC

DEPUTY ENERGY MINISTER EXPRESSES HIS DISSENT ON ELECTRICITY REFORMS...
Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Kudryavyi told reporters on 4 March in Moscow that he believes "the reform of Unified Energy Systems (EES) will turn into an energy catastrophe for Russia," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to Kudryavyi, energy reform could deliver a mighty blow to the regions, 85 percent of which are experiencing electricity deficits. According to RosBalt, Kudryavyi predicted that the package of six bills reforming the electricity sector that was recently passed by the Duma might not be approved in the Federation Council. He noted that only SPS and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) faction voted unanimously in favor of the bills (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 3 March 2003). Kudryavyi, a longtime foe of EES Chairman Anatolii Chubais, also expressed the hope that EES's leadership will change when Chubais's term expires in July 2003. JAC

...AS BILLS EXPECTED TO BE IMPROVED AFTER THEY ARE ADOPTED
"Gazeta" reported on 4 March that none of the participants in a 3 March hearing about the electricity-sector-reform legislation in the Federation Council doubted that the bills would be approved on 12 March. The president hopes to sign the bills before the beginning of April, the daily reported. In addition, according to the daily, hearing participants believe the laws will go through a series of amendments after they come into force, because then "things will be simpler: There will be fewer politicians and less attention from journalists." According to the daily, the Federation Council's Natural Monopolies Committee recently refused to support all six bills. Vyacheslav Novikov, a Federation Council representative for Krasnoyarsk and a member of the committee, explained that two of the bills lack criteria for determining when the government should take the next step in the reforms. JAC

EMBATTLED OFFICIAL'S FINGERPRINTS FOUND ALL OVER FISHING QUOTA SCANDAL...
"Izvestiya" reported on 4 March that it has obtained documents bearing the signature of State Fisheries Commission Yevgenii Nazdratenko that improperly allocate fishing quotas among Far Eastern regions. Nazdratenko, who was suspended from his post on 14 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003), has maintained that he never signed any papers connected with the allocation of fishing quotas to Magadan Oblast. However, "Izvestiya" argued that Nazdratenko now appears to be the chief organizer of the controversial allocation, even though he tried to pin the blame for the matter on his deputies, Leonid Kholod and Yurii Moskaltsov. The daily charged that the "misallocation likely cost the country more than $20 million, as a result of which, Magadan Oblast Governor Valentin Tsvetkov was killed" in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). Prior to his death, Tsvetkov was one of the main initiators of protests by Magadan and Khabarovsk Krai against the fishing-quota allocations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2002). JAC

...AND HE APPEARS TO HAVE ENEMIES IN HIGH PLACES
"Izvestiya" declined to specify how it obtained the documents, reporting only that the papers are from "one of the highest-level officials in the government and that the documents are absolutely legitimate." Last month, another unidentified "high-level federal government official" allegedly leaked information to RIA-Novosti about Nazdratenko's alleged involvement in the allocations, alleging that the former Primorskii Krai governor had a personal financial interest in the matter. At the time of that leak, "Kommersant-Daily" speculated that it was unlikely the news item appeared without the approval of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 23 January 2003). JAC

STUDENTS, PENSIONERS UNITE TO PROTEST HOUSING REFORMS
About 6,000 people gathered in Krasnoyarsk's Revolution Square on 4 March to protest reforms of the public-housing and communal-services sector, regnum.ru reported. According to the agency, the bulk of the participants were pensioners and students, two classes of people who -- as recipients of state subsidies -- would be most affected by the reforms. The meeting was organized by the Communist Party and local trade unions. JAC

COMMUNIST, RAKHIMOV SEE EYE-TO-EYE ON PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY PLANS
Deputy Sergei Glazev (Communist), chairman of the Duma's Economic-Policy and Business Committee, told reporters in Ufa on 3 March that the Communist faction and Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov have "a common position" on maintaining state control over Bashkortostan's petrochemical complex, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported, citing RosBalt. "It would be unpardonable to [put] such a superprofitable [sector] as petrochemicals into private ownership," Glazev said. He argued that maintaining control over the oil sector is in Bashkortostan's interest because it is the only way of guaranteeing that income from the sector flows to republican coffers. Glazev denounced the practice under which more than one-half of Russian oil exports flow through Moscow, so it appears as if Moscow produces more oil than Tyumen Oblast. Glazev added that the Communists demand that income from production in the regions be left in those regions, while tax revenues should be divided equally between the regions and Moscow. JAC

CITY OFFICIAL ALLEGEDLY FIRED FOR SPYING FOR GOVERNOR
Chelyabinsk Deputy Mayor Tatyana Kharisova has resigned, allegedly because she had been working as an "informant" for Chelyabinsk Oblast Deputy Governor Andrei Kosilov, regions.ru reported, citing a 4 March UralInformBuro report that relied on unidentified sources close to the Chelyabinsk city administration. According to the municipal source, Kharisova received a "dividend" each time the oblast administration was informed about a city project. The agency noted that relations between the mayor and the oblast administration have become strained recently. The agency also claimed that Kharisova and Kosilov are former classmates who founded a publishing business together in 1999. JAC

CHECHEN NGOS, POLITICAL PARTIES DENOUNCE PLANNED REFERENDUM
At a 2 March conference held in Ingushetia for security reasons, representatives of several dozen Chechen nongovernmental organizations and political parties denounced the planned 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution and election laws, chechenpress.com reported on 5 March. Delegates unanimously condemned what they termed attempts by Russian forces to coerce the Chechen people to renounce their right to live in a sovereign state. They further predicted that the outcome of the plebiscite will be falsified. Chechen President Maskhadov and the Chechen parliament elected in 1997 have likewise denounced the planned referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). LF

FSB DIRECTOR DENIES CHECHEN LEADER'S DISMISSAL IMMINENT
ITAR-TASS on 4 March quoted FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev as dismissing as "deliberate and obvious disinformation" media reports of the imminent replacement of Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 March suggested that Kadyrov is in disfavor and that many Chechens will reject the proposed new constitution and election laws, fearing that their adoption could facilitate Kadyrov's election as president. LF

RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS REJECT PROPOSED INTERNATIONAL WAR-CRIMES COURT FOR CHECHNYA...
Representatives of both the Duma and the Federation Council have expressed their disapproval of a proposal to establish an international body comparable to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that would be tasked with investigating alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, Interfax reported on 4 March. The proposal originated with Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee member Rudolf Binding, who is also a member of the PACE-Russian State Duma Working Group on Chechnya. Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) termed Binding "a frenzied foe of Russia" and claimed his proposal is based on unverified information. Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad commented that some people have expressed doubt about the objectivity of the Hague tribunal for Yugoslavia. He added that given the existence of the International Criminal Court, he sees no need to establish a special forum to address the situation in Chechnya. LF

...AS CHECHEN FOREIGN MINISTRY EXPRESSES APPROVAL
The Foreign Ministry of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria has issued a statement hailing the PACE proposal to create an international war-crimes court for Chechnya, according to Turan on 5 March. "We are certain that this decision is a serious step that will help to put an end to terror and impunity in Chechnya," the Chechen statement said. LF

VOTING BEGINS IN ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF...
Heavy voter turnout was reported on the morning of 5 March in the second round of the Armenian presidential election, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. As of 2 p.m. local time, 27.25 percent of the 2.3 million registered voters had cast their ballots, according to the website of the Central Election Commission (http://www.elections.am). Casting his ballot in Yerevan, incumbent President Robert Kocharian pledged again that the runoff will be free of the irregularities that marred the 19 February first-round vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 February 2003). He said anyone found responsible for such falsifications will be punished, ITAR-TASS reported. In a statement released in Strasbourg late on 4 March, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer warned the Armenian authorities and opposition alike that "what [Armenia] needs now are free elections, accepted by all sides as fair and legitimate," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Schwimmer also called for the release of all opposition campaign activists arrested over the past 10 days. British Parliamentarian Lord Russell-Johnston, who headed a group of PACE election observers, commented in Yerevan on 5 March that the first-round violations were "a great pity," adding, "I hope that the second round will not be the same." LF

...AS OPPOSITION CANDIDATE ALLEGES RENEWED FALSIFICATION, INTIMIDATION
President Kocharian's rival in the runoff, People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian, claimed on 5 March after visiting a polling station in Yerevan that the authorities have prepared thousands of ballot papers marked in Kocharian's favor, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Two Armenian newspapers printed what they claimed to be photographs of such ballot papers on the front page of their 5 March editions. Demirchian also echoed complaints voiced by his party and the opposition National Democratic Union on 3 and 4 March that scores of opposition activists have been either illegally expelled from, or intimidated into voluntarily leaving, local election commissions across the country. LF

OSCE CONTINUES EFFORTS TO MEDIATE BETWEEN AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION
In the wake of Azerbaijani opposition parties' collective boycott of the 26-27 February Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)-sponsored seminar on draft elections legislation, Peter Burkhard, who heads the OSCE Office in Baku, wrote on 4 March to Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov to propose a dialogue between opposition expert Fuad Agaev and Shahin Aliev, the author of the draft law, zerkalo.az reported the following day. At last week's seminar, Aliev categorically rejected all amendments to the draft law demanded by the opposition, according to zerkalo.az on 28 February. LF

ABKHAZ LEADERS REJECT NEW UN PROPOSAL
During recent talks in Sukhum, the ambassadors in Tbilisi of the five member countries of the Friends of the UN Secretary-General group tasked with mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict -- France, Germany, Great Britain, the United States, and Russia -- have apparently failed to persuade the Abkhaz leadership of the merits of a new proposal drafted by the "friends" last month, Caucasus Press reported on 4 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 February 2003). Astamur Tania, who is an aide to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, objected that the new proposals duplicate the existing UN-sponsored Coordinating Council. Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia told journalists in Sukhum that the "friends" are trying to force Abkhazia to renounce its independence and revert to being an integral part of Georgia. In an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 21 January, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, commented that the Abkhaz negotiating position has hardened since Gagulia replaced Anri Djergenia as Abkhaz premier late last year. LF

IS RUSSIA MAKING CONTINGENCY PLANS TO WITHDRAW PEACEKEEPERS FROM ABKHAZIA?
Lieutenant General Valerii Yevnevich, who is commander of peacekeeping operations for the Russian armed forces, arrived in Tbilisi on 4 March for talks with Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze, Caucasus Press reported. Yevnevich earlier inspected the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in South Ossetia and in the Abkhaz conflict zone. Caucasus Press on 4 March quoted an unnamed local official in western Georgia as saying that contingency plans have been drafted for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force that has been deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone since mid-1994. That official reportedly claimed that the revisions to that force's mandate that Tbilisi is demanding are unacceptable to the Russian side. Interfax on 4 March quoted Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba as saying that Sukhum categorically opposes the peacekeepers' withdrawal, but that if they do leave the conflict zone the Abkhaz armed forces are ready and able to protect Abkhazia's borders. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DENIES ABKHAZ OFFICIAL WILL ATTEND PUTIN-SHEVARDNADZE TALKS
Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze denied on 4 March reports that either Abkhaz Prime Minister Gagulia or President Ardzinba might attend the talks scheduled to take place in Sochi on 6-7 March between Presidents Putin and Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Those talks are to focus on ways to resolve the Abkhaz conflict and on Georgia's objections to the restoration of rail communications between Sochi and Sukhum and the granting of Russian citizenship to any Abkhaz who apply for it. LF

GERMAN INTERIOR MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA
On a one-day visit to Tbilisi on 4 March, Otto Schily met with Georgian Border Service head Lieutenant General Valeri Chkheidze, Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili, and President Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Topics discussed included closer cooperation between the two countries' interior ministries in the fight against international terrorism and a German proposal to reform the Georgian Border Guard Service, making it subordinate to the Interior Ministry. LF

TAJIK ILLEGAL MIGRANTS BEING DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN
Police in Shymkent in southern Kazakhstan on 4 March detained around 120 citizens of Tajikistan who reportedly did not have proper documents, Deutsche Welle reported on 5 March, citing the head of Shymkent's migration police, Baurjan Yeleusizov. The Tajik citizens were found at an address where illegal Tajik migrants were detained in 2002, according to Yeleusizov. Some of the detainees reportedly told officials that middlemen had promised to take them from Kazakhstan to Russia to look for work. They were supposed to board a train in Shymkent. The Tajik illegal migrants who were detained in 2002 were expelled from Kazakhstan, and Deutsche Welle suggested that a similar fate awaits the latest group of detainees. BB

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS MILITARY OPERATION IN IRAQ MUST BE SANCTIONED BY UN
At a joint press conference with visiting Slovak President Rudolf Schuster on 4 March, Askar Akaev said that any military operation against Iraq must be sanctioned by the UN Security Council in order to show that the international community is abiding by international law, Interfax reported. Akaev argued that the ongoing destruction of proscribed Iraqi missiles shows that political and diplomatic means of disarming Iraq still exist. Akaev added that the Bishkek airbase of the international antiterrorism coalition will be used exclusively for operations in Afghanistan in accordance with the UN mandate under which the base was set up. Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan will continue to be provided from the base as well. Schuster was quoted as saying that the military base at Bishkek's Manas International Airport has facilitated NATO's eastward expansion and played an important role in the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan. BB

NEW HUMAN RIGHTS BODY SET UP IN KYRGYZSTAN
A Public Council for Democratic Security has been set up in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz news agency Kabar, Interfax, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 4 March. Addressing the new 29-member council, President Akaev said the group should expand the work that is being done by the ombudsman's office -- safeguarding and further developing Kyrgyzstan's achievements in the area of democratization. The first task of the council is to draft a Democratic Code in cooperation with the Assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan. The new council includes a Supreme Court judge, academics, cultural figures, and parliamentary deputies. The council is co chaired by cardiologist Mirsaid Mirrahimov, an ethnic Uzbek, and Justice Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov. BB

KYRGYZ NGO LEADER LEAVES MILITARY HOSPITAL
Prominent Kyrgyz NGO leader and opposition figure Edil Baysalov on 3 March left the military hospital near Bishkek where he was involuntarily confined for several days, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and NGO sources in Kyrgyzstan reported on 4 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). Baysalov had been exempted from military service in 1994 because of vision problems. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Baysalov underwent a checkup to confirm his eye problems, and there was no political motivation. Baysalov, in a letter distributed by NGOs, disputed the government's version of his detention. He wrote that the authorities used the eye examination as an excuse to prevent him from taking part in a roundtable on human rights abuses on 28 February. BB

KYRGYZSTAN'S BATKEN OBLAST TRIES TO COLLECT DAMAGES FROM UZBEKISTAN
The administration of Batken Oblast has sent a letter to the head of neighboring Ferghana Oblast in Uzbekistan, demanding either a map of the mine fields placed by Uzbek authorities along the common border of the two regions or the removal of the mines and the posting of warning signs, the official Kyrgyz news agency Kabar reported on 4 March. The Uzbek government last month rejected official Kyrgyz requests for such maps (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). In addition, the Batken officials stated that the Uzbek mining of the border has cost their oblast 6 million som (about $121,000) and demanded compensation in this amount. BB

DRUGS RAID IN NORTHERN TAJIKISTAN NETS 104 KILOGRAMS OF HEROIN
Two alleged drug traffickers carrying 104 kilograms of heroin were detained in the Sughd Oblast of northern Tajikistan on 3 March, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 4 March, citing the head of the Tajik Interior Ministry's organized-crime department, Mahmad Mirzoev. Mirzoev said that this was the third group of alleged drug traffickers to be captured in Sughd Oblast this year. All are believed to be part of an organization that has been delivering heroin from Afghanistan to Russia and other countries for a number of years. The first group was captured on 19 February in possession of a record haul of 345 kilograms of heroin, reportedly the largest single consignment of the drug ever seized in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). Mirzoev was quoted as saying he believes the operation against the gang is not yet over. BB

BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST'S SENTENCE COMMUTED
A district court in Asipovichy, Mahileu Oblast, on 4 March commuted the sentence of journalist Mikola Markevich from time in a corrective-labor facility to corrective labor at home, Belapan reported. Markevich, who last year was sentenced to 1 1/2 years of labor for slandering President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has been serving his term in Asipovichy since September. The new verdict means Markevich may return to his home city, Hrodna, where he will have to find a job and transfer 15 percent of his earnings to the state for 12 months. "I'm glad to be able to return home. The court's verdict once again highlighted the absurdity of my previous punishment," Markevich said. Markevich's colleague, Pavel Mazheyka, who was also sentenced for slandering the president, lost his appeal with the Supreme Court last month and remains jailed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). JM

BELARUSIAN NGO BRANDS LOCAL ELECTIONS 'UNDEMOCRATIC'
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHK) on 4 March said the local elections in Belarus two days earlier failed to meet democratic standards, Belapan reported. Members of election commissions were selected on the basis of their loyalty to the government, the BHK said in a statement, adding that very few represented democratic organizations. The statement notes that opposition candidates "were discriminated against, their teams faced barriers while collecting signatures and campaigning, and some opponents of the government were denied registration as candidates or dropped from the race for questionable reasons and had no chance to contest these decisions in court." The BHK argued that the "beggarly" funding of the campaign -- ranging from 12,000 rubles ($6) per candidate for rural soviets to 96,000 rubles per candidate for provincial soviets -- led to violations of campaign regulations by all candidates, but, the statement alleges, only opposition candidates were punished for such infractions. "The elections were not transparent at each stage: observers were not allowed to monitor the formation of election commissions, they were banned from observing the sealing of ballot boxes, they had no real opportunity to monitor the counting of votes, and they were not invited to observe voting with the use of mobile boxes," the BHK added. JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER SLAMS INVESTIGATORS FOR 'INSINCERE' EFFORT...
Speaking in the Verkhovna Rada on 4 March, Our Ukraine head Viktor Yushchenko "thanked" investigators from the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Ukrainian Security Service, and the Interior Ministry for their "insincere work" in uncovering who was behind last month's dissemination of a bogus letter to voters bearing his name and apparent signature (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 February 2003), UNIAN reported. Yushchenko said the mystery could be solved by "any boy from any courtyard." He suggested that presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk's Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) was behind the release of the false message, and he charged that law enforcement bodies in Ukraine have become hostages to the process of "SDPU-o-ization" of the country. Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun assured Yushchenko and the legislature that the investigation is "under his personal control." Mykola Honchar, head of the State Committee for Communications and Computerization, blamed the distribution of some 900,000 copies of the letter through the state postal service, Ukrposhta, on "legal loopholes." JM

...AS OPPOSITION LEADERS CALL FOR ANTIPRESIDENTIAL PROTESTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Speaking from the parliamentary rostrum the same day, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Oleksandr Turchynov, a leader of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, called on "all honest Ukrainians" to take part in antipresidential protests throughout the country on 9 March, UNIAN reported. The Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc are planning to restart the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" campaign intended to force President Leonid Kuchma to resign (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 March 2003). Specifically, the three opposition parties asked the Kyiv city administration earlier this week for permission to hold a 200,000-strong rally in the capital on 9 March. JM

LATVIA APPROVES REFORM PLAN FOR NATO INTEGRATION
The government on 4 March approved a national reform plan for integration into NATO, BNS reported. Presentation of the plan is one of the requirements of the Atlantic alliance's accession talks. Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said that although the reform plan is being treated as a confidential matter, the Foreign Ministry will soon present it to NATO headquarters in Brussels and it will subsequently be posted on the Internet, except for the information-security section, which will remain confidential. The plan has five sections -- politics and economy, defense, resources, information security, and legal aspects. The closing of accession talks is scheduled for 26 March in Brussels when at a ceremony at NATO headquarters the seven invitees will sign protocols of accession that current NATO member states must ratify to complete the admission process. SG

BRAZAUSKAS REAPPOINTED AS LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER
President Rolandas Paksas signed a decree naming Algirdas Brazauskas as prime minister on 4 March, ELTA reported. Several hours earlier parliament approved the nomination by a vote of 82 to 12, with 18 abstentions. Brazauskas was supported by the Social Democrats, the New Union (Social Liberals), the Union of Peasants and New Democracy Parties, and the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Union opposed Brazauskas' nomination and the Conservatives abstained from the vote. Brazauskas has 15 days to present his new cabinet to parliament for approval. It is expected that the cabinet will be the same as that which served prior to the presidential elections, with the possible exception of Health Minister Konstantinas Romualdas Dobrovolskis, whose retention Paksas has publicly opposed. SG

U.S. RECOGNIZES LITHUANIA AS FUNCTIONING MARKET ECONOMY
Ambassador to the United States Vygaudas Usackas announced on 4 March that U.S. Commerce Department Assistant Secretary for Import Administration Faryar Shirzad signed a memorandum on 28 February recognizing Lithuania as a functioning market economy, "Lietuvos zinios" reported. Lithuania learned in the spring of 2002 that the United States did not consider it as having a market economy when the U.S. International Trade Commission launched an antidumping probe. The investigation into the Lithuanian nitrogen-fertilizer producer Achema was later called off when it was determined that the company accounted for less than 3 percent of such imports to the United States. Repeated requests by President Valdas Adamkus, Prime Minister Brazauskas, and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis to change the nonmarket-economy status failed to speed up the Commerce Department's deliberations on the issue that began on 10 September. SG

ESTONIA EXTENDS TERM OF MINE-CLEARANCE MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN
The government on 4 March approved a three-month extension of the term of the Estonian mine-clearance team serving in Afghanistan, BNS reported. The extension, valid until 8 August, was requested by the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, whose previous similar request in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003) was also granted. The first Estonian unit comprising experts and canines was sent to Afghanistan in August 2002 to enhance security around airfields used by U.S. armed forces. The government also approved the mission's budget of 1.45 million kroons ($100,000). SG

POLISH FARMERS BRING PROTESTS TO CAPITAL...
Some 2,500 farmers, led by Self-Defense Chairman Andrzej Lepper and Solidarity activists, marched through Warsaw on 4 March, to protest the government's agricultural policies, Polish media reported. "Here is evil proper -- this gentleman [President Aleksander Kwasniewski] must go," Lepper told farmers in front of the presidential palace. "It is he who ruined the army, the health service, and the country." The march also led past the headquarters of the Polish National Bank and of the government, where Lepper slammed National Bank Governor Leszek Balcerowicz and Premier Leszek Miller for what he called the country's "tragic situation." Roman Wierzbicki, head of the Individual Farmers Solidarity trade union, called on farmers to vote "no" in the referendum on Poland's entry to the European Union. Membership terms negotiated by the government in Copenhagen are unfavorable for the Polish agricultural sector, he argued. JM

...AS NEW AGRICULTURAL MINISTER CALLS FOR TALKS
Newly appointed Agricultural Minister Andrzej Tanski on 4 March appealed to farmers to end their month-long protests and sit down to talks, PAP reported. Protesting farmers in Warsaw ignored his appeal, however. "I and my deputies were ready for talks with farmers, but they weren't interested," said Tanski, an independent who replaced the Peasant Party's Jaroslaw Kalinowski on 3 March. "What they wanted was to demonstrate their strength and show their discontent. But the negotiation offer is still open, and this is what we'll tell all farmers unions." Tanski told journalists that in the coming weeks he will be busy preparing an intervention-purchase scheme for the government's Agricultural Market Agency and planning an information campaign prior to the EU referendum in June. JM

POLISH, UKRAINIAN EMPLOYERS SIGN COOPERATION ACCORD
The Confederation of Polish Employers (KPP) and the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (USPP) concluded an agreement on expanding economic cooperation between the two countries in Warsaw on 4 March, PAP reported. The document was signed by KPP President Andrzej Malinowski and USPP President Anatoliy Kinakh. "According to various sources, Polish-Ukrainian trade turnover in 2002 amounted to $1-1.5 billion," Kinakh told journalists. "We are not satisfied with the present level of economic cooperation between our countries because their potentials are much bigger," he added. Kinakh has said bilateral economic cooperation should cover above all the food and processing industries, the pharmaceutical industry, construction and roads, the steel industry, mining and transport, and banking services. According to the Polish Economic Ministry, Polish investments in Ukraine amounted to $69.3 million at the end of 2001, which constituted just 1.58 percent of foreign direct investment in Ukraine. JM

TWO POLISH PEACEKEEPERS KILLED BY MINE IN MACEDONIA
Two Polish soldiers died in Macedonia on 4 March when a mine exploded under a patrol vehicle, Polish Radio reported on 5 March, quoting Defense Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak (also see Macedonia item below). "The Honker vehicle driven by a Polish patrol that consisted of three soldiers and an interpreter hit a mine. It was probably an antitank mine, because two servicemen were seriously injured and unfortunately died on their way to an American hospital. The interpreter and the third serviceman suffered only light injuries, and their lives are not in danger," Mleczak said. JM

IS CZECH COALITION COUNTING CHICKENS BEFORE THEY HATCH?
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on 4 March after a meeting of the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) parliamentary group in the lower house that he is sure all CSSD deputies will back the three-party cabinet in the confidence vote scheduled for 11 March, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2003). Leaders of CSSD's two junior coalition partners in the center-left government -- Foreign Minister and Christian Democratic Union-People's Party Chairman Cyril Svoboda and Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) parliamentary group leader Karel Kuehnl -- made similar statements. Even US-DEU deputy Hana Marvanova, who provoked a coalition crisis shortly after the government was formed by voting against a tax proposal, said she will back the cabinet. Marvanova said, "it would be extremely unfortunate" if a new government had to be formed just three months ahead of the country's EU referendum and at the same as the cabinet must deal with public-finance reform. The three parties control a combined 101 seats in the 200-seat lower house. However, the entire leadership of the CSSD parliamentary group in the lower house resigned on 4 March in the wake of the disastrous presidential ballot of 28 February. The group's former chairman, Milan Urban, told CTK, "It is very difficult to manage a group of deputies in which some members have been saying one thing and constantly doing the opposite." MS

MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY VOWS TO VOTE AGAINST CZECH GOVERNMENT IN SCHEDULED CONFIDENCE VOTE
The rightist Civic Democratic Party (ODS) will vote against the government in the confidence vote on 11 March, CTK reported on 4 March, citing ODS Deputy Chairman Petr Necas. Necas said the government has "shown no sign of changing its policies that would lead us to revise our position" since its formation in July. The ODS controls 58 seats in the lower house. The other opposition formation represented in the lower house, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), is likely either to walk out on the vote or abstain, according to CTK. The KSCM controls 41 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. MS

FORMER CZECH PREMIER SAYS SENIOR LEADERS SHOULD RESIGN PARTY POSTS
In an interview with the daily "Lidove noviny" on 5 March, former Premier Milos Zeman said that Prime Minister Spidla, Interior Minister and CSSD Deputy Chairman Stanislav Gross, and lower house speaker Lubomir Zaoralek should resign their party-leadership positions at the CSSD conference scheduled for the end of March, CTK reported. Zeman said they are responsible for the current crisis within the party, having contributed more than anybody "to the party's disintegration" by resorting to "behind-the-scene intrigues, rather than honest [political] games." Zeman suffered a crushing defeat as the CSSD candidate in the second attempt to elect a successor to former President Vaclav Havel, after Spidla distanced himself publicly from Zeman's candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 January 2003), and has responded by trying to undermine Spidla's government and his position as CSSD chairman. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY TELLS CITIZENS TO LEAVE IRAQ, KUWAIT, JORDAN
The Foreign Ministry on 4 March advised Czech citizens in Iraq, Kuwait, and Jordan to leave those countries as soon as possible due to growing international tension over the situation in Iraq, CTK reported. The ministry also said Czech citizens should reconsider traveling to other Arab countries or to Israel. Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar said the measures are "standard" in the current situation and other states that dispatched military forces to the region, including the United Kingdom and Spain, have acted similarly. In February, the Czech Republic withdrew most of its staff serving at diplomatic missions in Iraq, Kuwait, Israel, and Palestinian territories. MS

FORMER CZECH SKINHEAD SENTENCED FOR RACIAL MURDER
Vlastimil Pechanec, a former skinhead, was sentenced to 17 years in jail on 4 March for the racially motivated murder of a Romany man in 2001, CTK reported. The Prague High Court thus granted the prosecution's appeal of a lower-court sentence of 13 years behind bars. Pechanec stabbed a 30-year-old Rom to death in a disco in Svitavy, southern Moravia. MS

SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS DEMAND DISMISSAL OF INTELLIGENCE SERVICE DIRECTOR
The coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) demanded at the 4 March cabinet session that Premier Mikulas Dzurinda dismiss Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Vladimir Mitro, TASR reported. The KDH warned that if the premier refuses to sack Mitro, its ministers will submit a proposal for Mitro's dismissal at the next government meeting. KDH Chairman and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky said the demand is related to the appointment by Mitro of former journalist Peter Toth as the new head of the SIS's counterespionage department. Hrusovsky said Toth has been accused of criminal acts, but he declined to specify whether those accusations are linked to a recent anonymous suit filed against KDH Interior Minister Vladimir Palko. According to some media reports, the lawsuit was filed by Toth and is related to bugging allegations by Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 24, 27, 31 January and 3 February 2003). Palko has denied that his ministry tapped Rusko's phone and claims a "third party" was involved. The KDH says Toth's appointment is damaging the reputation of the SIS. MS

FORMER SLOVAK LABOR MINISTER JOINS HZDS DEFECTORS
Olga Keltosova, a labor minister in the former government headed by Vladimir Meciar and a one-time member of parliament representing Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), announced on 4 March that she is resigning from the HZDS and intends to join the breakaway group headed by HZDS ex-Deputy Chairman Vojtech Tkac, TASR reported. Keltosova said she believes the independent parliamentary group set up by Tkac will establish a new political party within one month. She said HZDS Chairman Meciar is not communicating with members of the party's leadership, adding that Meciar refuses to acknowledge the party's domestic and international isolation. In related news, TASR on 4 March cited an opinion poll conducted by the NOC polling institute indicating that the popularity of the HZDS has fallen to its lowest level since the party was established in 1992. HZDS support is 12.4 percent, according to the poll. In the parliamentary elections of 2002, the HZDS won 19.5 percent of the vote. MS

EKEUS DISCUSSES STATUS LAW WITH SLOVAK PREMIER
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus met in Bratislava on 4 March with Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda to discuss minority issues and Slovakia's integration into NATO and the EU, CTK reported. The news agency cited a government communique saying that Dzurinda "informed Rolf Ekeus on Slovakia's position" toward neighboring Hungary's controversial Status Law and updated the high commissioner on amendments to the law the government in Budapest intends to pass. MS

HUNGARIAN COALITION, OPPOSITION SQUABBLE OVER PROBE OF UNAUTHORIZED U.S. OVERFLIGHTS...
Gyorgy Keleti, the Socialist chairman of the parliament's Defense Committee, on 4 March rejected a demand by the opposition FIDESZ party that a special commission be set up to examine recent, unauthorized overflights by U.S. military aircraft, Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). Keleti said the matter can be examined within the framework of debates in the committee he heads, adding that officials from the Defense and Foreign ministries, the border and customs guards, as well as air controllers and civilians may be called to testify. FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Istvan Simicsko released a statement saying the committee does not have the necessary prerogatives for the investigation and that only an ad hoc commission can establish whether such irregularities have occurred in the past. MS

...AS U.S. AMBASSADOR MEETS FIDESZ PARLIAMENTARY GROUP LEADER
FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Janos Ader told journalists after meeting on 4 March with U.S. Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker that his party is committed to combating terrorism and, as an opposition party, it has fulfilled and will continue to fulfill its commitments resulting from the country's alliance with the United States, Hungarian media reported. Ader proposed that decision-making responsibilities should be transferred in certain cases from parliament to the cabinet by amending the constitution, and he said FIDESZ would support such a constitutional amendment if the government proposed it. Brinker said it is essential for everyone in Hungary to be aware of the obligations stemming from membership in NATO. Ader and Brinker did not discuss the unauthorized overflights. When asked by journalists, Brinker declined to say whether such incidents could occur again, saying only that the United States will make every effort to preserve good bilateral relations. In related news, "Nepszabadsag" and "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 5 March that a second group of Iraqi-opposition volunteers arrived at the Taszar air base to undergo training. Simultaneously, the first group left Hungary. Finally, "Magyar Nemzet" and "Magyar Hirlap" reported that the first contingent of a Hungarian military medical team was to leave for Afghanistan the same day. MS

POLISH PRESIDENT IN BUDAPEST
Visiting Polish President Kwasniewski on 4 March met with his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Madl to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation within the Visegrad Four after all members of the group -- which also includes the Czech Republic and Slovakia -- access the EU, Hungarian media reported. Madl said he plans to host a meeting of Visegrad Four presidents in Budapest in the near future. Kwasniewski said both Poland and Hungary support trans-Atlantic cooperation, adding that it is natural for France and Germany to represent different standpoints within this cooperation on some issues. MS

TENSION CONTINUES OVER HUNGARIAN TELEVISION BOARD
The Hungarian Democratic Forum will decide before next week whom to recommend for the two remaining posts on the board of trustees of public broadcaster Hungarian Television (MTV), "Vilaggazdasag" and "Nepszabadsag" reported on 5 March. Meanwhile, FIDESZ requested that the Democratic Forum, its ally in the opposition, recall its nominees and restart interparty consultations. The board must be composed of eight members, with the coalition and the opposition allowed to nominate an equal number of board members. The opposition parties must now reach an agreement between themselves on who will represent them on the board. FIDESZ sought three representatives, while the Democratic Forum nominated two of its own. When parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili asked the Democratic Forum to nominate the other two opposition posts, FIDESZ walked out of the nomination proceedings in protest without nominating any delegates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2003). MS

WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL DEMANDS MORE TIME FOR MILOSEVIC CASE
Prosecutors in the trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic requested on 3 March that the UN war crimes tribunal give them additional time to present their case, the "Southeast European Times" reported. The tribunal has held 162 sessions since the hearings began in February 2002. Prosecutors are now asking for 200 additional days to present their case because new witnesses have agreed to testify and because Milosevic's cross-examination of witnesses has taken longer than planned. Prosecutors were originally to complete their case by 16 May, but they have already been given an extra 30 days because of Milosevic's illness-related absence from the courtroom, when he had to undergo medical treatment. UB

UNMIK REBUFFS SERBIAN COORDINATOR FOR KOSOVA
A spokesman for the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) on 4 March dismissed Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic's request to put additional issues on the agenda of upcoming trilateral talks between UNMIK, the Serbian government, and Kosova province institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Covic had demanded that working groups be set up to discuss issues such as refugee returns, freedom of movement, and decentralization of power prior to the trilateral talks. In related news, Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi asked the province's parliament on 4 March to discuss the proposed trilateral talks, RFE/RL reported. UB

KOSOVAR GOVERNMENT SACKS MINISTER
Prime Minister Rexhepi on 4 March dismissed Numan Balic of the ethnic Bosnian coalition Vatan from his position as health minister, Tanjug reported. Rexhepi accused Balic of irresponsibility, impropriety, and provoking conflicts within the government. Balic denied the charges and said he hopes President Ibrahim Rugova and parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci will annul his dismissal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB

CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON OFFICIAL VISIT TO BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
Foreign Minister Tonino Picula arrived for a two-day official visit to Sarajevo on 4 March, where he met with Paddy Ashdown, who is the international community's high representative, and with senior domestic politicians, Hina reported. After his talks with Ashdown, Picula said the two men discussed Croatia's contribution to the peace process in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the impact of Croatia's recent application for EU membership. Ashdown, for his part, lauded the Croatian government's "exceptionally constructive" approach to issues in Bosnia, according to Hina. UB

FORMER MACEDONIAN MINISTER ARRESTED IN CROATIA
The Macedonian Interior Ministry confirmed on 4 March that former Economy Minister Besnik Fetai of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) was arrested in Croatia the previous day, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. Skopje authorities had issued an international arrest warrant for Fetai in connection with irregularities during the privatization of the Nova Makedonija publishing house (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002). UB

TWO POLISH SOLDIERS DIE IN MACEDONIAN LANDMINE BLAST
Two members of the Polish contingent of the NATO mission Allied Harmony were killed in a mine explosion near Kumanovo in northern Macedonia on 4 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Three other people, an interpreter and two locals who were helping in a mine-clearing action, were wounded. Polish Radio reported on 5 March that the other injuries were to the interpreter and one other serviceman (see Polish item above). UB

SLOVENIA EXTRADITES HAGUE INDICTEE
Slovenian authorities extradited Kosovar Albanian legislator Fatmir Limaj to The Hague on 4 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Slovenian police had detained Limaj, who is indicted for war crimes, on 18 February in the resort town of Kranjska Gora. Ethnic Albanian politicians have subsequently protested the arrest and demanded that Limaj be released (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 27, and 28 February 2003). UB

ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PLEDGES TO CURB ORGANIZED CRIME
Prime Minister Ilir Meta met with representatives of the U.S. Justice Department in Tirana on 4 March to discuss cooperation in the fight against organized crime, ATA reported. After the meeting, Meta said his government is "engaged in the fight against organized crime, illegal trafficking, security of borders, as well as in cooperation in this direction with the countries of the region." He added that regional solutions to pressing problems should be sought. U.S. Ambassador to Albania James Jeffrey, who also attended the meeting, expressed the U.S. government's commitment to supporting the Albanian government's efforts to curb organized crime. The news agency also quoted a report released by the U.S. Embassy in Tirana the same day, according to which Albania remains a major hub for international drug trafficking, while the government's efforts to tackle the problem have shown meager results due to endemic corruption within the police forces. UB

ROMANIA, ITALY SEE EYE-TO-EYE ON IRAQ CRISIS
Visiting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana told journalists after their talks in Bucharest on 4 March that their countries' position on the Iraqi crisis is "identical," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Geoana said that "peace must be given a last chance" through the UN weapons inspections in Iraq, but "it is equally clear that these inspections cannot endlessly continue and the Baghdad regime will have to display a far more cooperative posture or face the consequences." Frattini said Romania and Italy agree that the UN must play a "credible role" in the crisis, but the hope for peace must be accompanied by "a full and immediate disarmament" of Iraq. Referring to the recent declarations by NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General James Jones that the United States is examining the possibility of moving bases from Western to East-Central Europe, Geoana said such a move would be "a natural evolution" reflecting the changing international environment that NATO is facing. He added that should this decision be made, it would be in line with his country's perception of the role Romania and Bulgaria could play as future NATO members, considering their geostrategic positions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2003). MS

EU DOES NOT SHARE U.S. ASSESSMENT OF ROMANIA'S PROGRESS TOWARD A 'MARKET ECONOMY'
Jean-Cristophe Filori, the European Commission's spokesperson on enlargement issues, said on 4 March in Brussels that the commission believes it is "too early" to say whether Romania can be considered a "functional market economy," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. On 27 February, visiting U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said in Bucharest the United States might grant that status to Romania by 10 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). Filori said the commission has its own criteria, adding, "Whether Romania can be considered a functioning market economy is a matter for the regular progress report which we will publish at the end of the year, as we do with regard to the candidate countries. It is a bit early at this time to say whether we share this point of view." Filori also said the European Commission does not believe the U.S. authorities intend to grant that status to Romania in acknowledgement of the position Bucharest has taken on the Iraq crisis, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION TO RECOMMEND REVOCATION OF CNSAS
The ad hoc parliamentary commission that examined the ongoing conflict within the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) is recommending that the CNSAS's conflict-ridden 11-member college be revoked, Romanian newspapers reported on 5 March. According to the dailies "Ziua" and "Evenimentul zilei," the move would eliminate from the college its dissenting majority, which was appointed by the previous parliament, and allow the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the extremist Greater Romania Party to appoint new college members in order to reflect the parliamentary composition of the legislature elected in 2000. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY ASPIRES TO BECOME LONE REPRESENTATIVE OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY
Bogdan Niculescu-Duvaz, who recently defected from the Democratic Party and joined the ruling PSD, said on 4 March he believes the PSD will soon become the only party representing social-democratic ideology in Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Niculescu-Duvaz coordinates within the PSD a "group of social-democratic unification." Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Viorel Pana said in response that the PSD group headed by Niculescu-Duvaz is reminiscent of a "cadres department" of the defunct Romanian Communist Party and is encouraging "political betrayal and immorality" by luring into its ranks politicians elected on the lists of the Democrats. MS

TRANSYLVANIAN CATHOLICS REFUSE TO HOST FORUM CALLED BY TOEKES
Alba-Iulia Roman-Catholic Archbishop Gyorgy Jakubini has refused to allow a forum called by Reformed Bishop Laszlo Toekes to be held in the St. Michael Roman Catholic church in Cluj, on the grounds that "politics has no place in the church," the daily "Curentul" reported on 5 March. Toekes, who was recently dispossessed of his title of honorary chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), intends to call the forum the "Initiative Committee for the Election of the Hungarian Community's Self-Government," which would, in practice, lay the foundations of a new party representing the Hungarian minority in Romania. Romanian Radio on 5 March quoted UDMR Chairman Bela Marko as saying in an interview with the Hungarian MTI news agency that "it is sad that Transylvania is now witnessing Hungarian-Hungarian conflicts." He added, "Neither the [Hungarian minority's] churches nor the [Hungarian] Transylvanian intellectuals have any reason to allow the community to become disunited," particularly after many of their demands were met. MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES RUSSIAN POSITION ON JOINT U.S.-EU DECLARATION
Moldovan Deputy Foreign Minister Ion Stavila on 4 March criticized the Russian position toward the joint U.S.-EU declaration under which some members of Tiraspol's leadership are banned from traveling to the United States and the European Union, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February and 3 and 4 March 2003). Referring to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko's 1 March statement in which he called the ban "inopportune," Stavila said: "Our point of view is different. We welcome the joint declaration and consider it opportune. In our opinion, it will have a beneficial influence on the process of solving the Transdniester conflict and the implementation of the OSCE's [November 1999 and December 2002] Istanbul and Porto summit decisions." MS

COUNCIL OF EUROPE EXPERTS CRITICIZE BILL ON REINTRODUCING SOVIET-TYPE 'RAIONS'
A delegation of the Council of Europe's Congress of Regional and Local Authorities on 4 March harshly criticized the bill approved by the Moldovan parliament in first reading that provides for the reintroduction of a Soviet-style local-administration system, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The European Council experts said Moldova has nothing to gain by reintroducing the administrative division of the country into raions. They said they will meet with members of the Communist majority in parliament to discuss improving the legislation ahead of its second reading. MS

LIBERAL UNION ANNOUNCED IN MOLDOVA
The Moldovan Liberal Party and the Social Liberal Party on 4 March said they intend to set up a political alliance called the Liberal Union, Infotag reported. The two formations said the union will be established over several stages, whose final aim is the merging of the two parties shortly after the local elections scheduled for May. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL AMENDMENTS TO PRIVATIZATION ACT...
The controversial amendments to the Privatization Act will go into effect on 7 March as a result of President Georgi Parvanov's approval on 4 March of its publication, mediapool.bg reported. Parvanov's previous veto of the amendments was overridden by the parliamentary majority on 27 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 24, and 28 February 2003). The amendments will restrict judicial control over privatization deals, a measure the government considers important for national security. The amendments were initiated by the government in response to the recent failure of two important privatizations. The sale of both the state-owned Bulgartabac tobacco company and of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) were halted by courts. It is expected that the first deal to be finalized under the new rules will be the sale of Bulgartabac (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2002). UB

...AS OPPOSITION GOES TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
Lawmakers of the opposition Coalition for Bulgaria, which is dominated by the Socialist Party (BSP), filed a complaint against the amended Privatization Act before the Constitutional Court on 4 March, mediapool.bg reported. The lawmakers claim that the amendments are unconstitutional and that the vote that overrode the presidential veto was invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). The conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces announced on 4 March that it will also challenge the amendments before the Constitutional Court as soon as they go into effect on 7 March, mediapool.bg reported. UB

BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CRITICIZES PRESIDENT OVER IRAQ
In response to journalists' questions regarding President Georgi Parvanov's warning not to rush into a decision on Iraq, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said on 4 March that "a common position is always preferable," BTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003). Svinarov added, however, that the president was nominated and supported by a political force, the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), that does not represent the parliamentary majority. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi declined to comment on Parvanov's warning, but said, "At the moment, there are no reasons to change our position, which was formulated most clearly by the 7 February parliamentary decision," mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003). UB

IRAN'S POST-REFORM ERA
Iran's democratic impulse is by no means dead, but the public appears to be tired of the ceaseless factional quarreling of recent years and disappointed by the inability of politicians to effect the democratic reforms and economic improvements they had promised. The reform era of Iranian politics that was ushered in by President Mohammad Khatami's surprise landslide in 1997, followed by the sweeping victories of his reformist followers in local-council elections in 1999 and parliamentary elections in 2000, and Khatami's own re-election in 2001, now appears to be over. That was shown by the low voter turnout for nationwide local-council elections on 28 February.

The conservative clerics and politicians who hold the reins of power can breathe more easily now they see the pressures for greater democracy have abated. But they have little reason to gloat, as did the hard-line Tehran daily "Kayhan," whose front-page headline on 1 March proclaimed a "Resounding Victory for the Fundamentalists." In no way were the elections a mandate for them and their repressive policies. Rather, it would appear that most voters simply stayed away from the polls, seeing little point in voting for reformist politicians who have been so ineffective against the conservative backbone of the regime.

So ended the hopes of those reformists who not long ago said the elections would amount to a nationwide referendum that would show overwhelming public support for the reform movement. They figured that since the conservative Guardians Council did not have the same right to vet local-council candidates as it had for parliamentary and presidential ones, the public would have a large choice of more liberal candidates and would turn out in great numbers to vote for them. And the conservatives themselves appeared to share that view, last month downplaying the elections in newspaper editorials and even declaring that "pious" Muslims would find little reason to vote in the election.

The conservative parties consequently did not present their usual lists of candidate endorsements, while the reformists, apparently expecting the conservatives to boycott the contests in order to avoid what would surely be a humiliating defeat for them, made little effort to market their own candidates. Some, including a major student group, did not bother to participate formally. And perhaps out of overconfidence, the broad coalition of reformist factions disintegrated in counterproductive rivalries.

But lackluster campaigning only partially accounts for the reformists' apparent defeat at the polls. Their own postelection finger-pointing suggests they had it coming to them. Since electing Khatami president in1997, Iranians had made clear their desire for change, but to a certain extent this was more a reflection of their aversion to the conservative faction than solid confidence in the reformists themselves. And their experience of the reformists' disappointing administrative performances in recent years gave them little reason to support them again. The reformist daily "Aftab-e Yazd" asked why the public should allow indecisive, disorganized administrators to "work as they please and waste months and years of a ministry's life under the banner of reforms."

Nowhere had the reformists' job performance been worse than in the critically important Tehran municipal council. Intending to make it a showcase of what the reform movement could achieve, pro-Khatami politicians gained control of it in the 1999 local-council elections, the first since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Several high-profile reformists were elected then in a wave of overwhelming pro-democracy enthusiasm. But the most prominent member, a Khatami adviser, barely survived an assassination attempt the next year, and a second was tried and imprisoned, leaving directionless council members to squander their opportunity by bickering among themselves and quarrelling with the mayor they had elected. Conservative opponents, with apparent justification, charged the council with graft and corruption. Following repeated scandals over selective sales of construction permits to developers, a government supervisory body dissolved the Tehran municipal council in January 2003 and sacked the mayor soon thereafter.

With that experience, only 12 percent of the Tehran electorate showed up to vote. Sensing public frustration with politicians, candidates from both the conservative and reformist sides emphasized their technocratic skills and tried to steer clear of larger political issues. In the occasional newspaper ads that did appear last month, candidates from both sides tried to project images of technological seriousness by appearing clean-shaven. The winners, though, to the extent they could be identified factionally, were by and large conservative.

In Iran's towns and villages, public participation in the polls was much greater, averaging some 58 percent. That probably reflects the continuing enthusiasm in the provinces for deciding on issues that used to be dictated from Tehran, such as water and sewage, and road repairs. And the farther away from Tehran, the less apparent was the conservative-reformist divide that marks politics at the national level. Most candidates in the provinces had no clear factional affiliation. But despite the comparative success of the provincial elections, the 220,000 candidates nationwide were about one-third fewer than those who ran in the local-council elections of four years ago.

It is too soon to say that Iran's democratic trend has reached a dead end, but it is clear that the public is disillusioned with the factional politics that have paralyzed the country in recent years. Until new leaders or issues come along that inject new life into the Iranian political scene, the public will remain indifferent to a political system that has had so little success in solving the problems of their daily lives. It remains to be seen whether a post-Saddam Hussein experiment in democracy following a U.S.-led attack on Iraq this spring would serve as a new impetus for democratic change in Iran or whether, as some reformists fear, it would only spur the conservatives to crack down further on what remains of Iranian democracy.

GOVERNOR CHANGE IN AFGHANISTAN'S FARYAB PROVINCE
President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on 3 March appointing Enayatullah Enayat as the new governor of Faryab Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 3 March. The report did not elaborate on the reasons for the new appointment, but the move could be related to recent clashes in January and February in Faryab between forces loyal to the Junbish-e Islami party and the Jamiat-e Islami party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January and 24 February 2003). Enayat is replacing Mohammad Saleh Zari, who is reportedly allied with Jamiat-e Islami. AT

AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTRY JUSTIFIES NEW MILITARY-RANKING SYSTEM
Major General Lotfullah Khan Pezhanwal, head of personnel at the Defense Ministry, in a 2 March interview with Afghanistan Television shed light on the reasoning for a new governmental decree for an "adjustment" of military ranks. Pezhanwal said that during the Soviet occupation and the Afghan civil war "ranks were devalued" and that "people who did not deserve to have any military ranks...[were] honored with military ranks." Pezhanwal said in newly formed battalions, colonels have "been given the operational post of lieutenant." He said the Defense Ministry "will not impose these ranks -- it will depend on the will of the officers." Those officers who "are not willing to work with a lower operational rank...will be absorbed in other departments of the Defense Ministry," Pezhanwal said. "We are not forcing the officials to quit their ranks." TG

REPATRIATION OF AFGHAN REFUGEES IN PAKISTAN POSTPONED
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has put off the repatriation of Afghan refugees living outside camps in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan's "Dawn" newspaper reported on 4 March. A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Peshawar told "Dawn" that a very small number of refugees living in urban areas have expressed a desire to return to their country under the voluntary repatriation program, thus their planned repatriation has been delayed until the end of March. TG

ESTONIA EXTENDS TERM OF MINE-CLEARANCE MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN
The Estonian government on 4 March approved a three-month extension of the term of the Estonian mine-clearance team serving in Afghanistan, BNS reported. The extension, valid until 8 August, was requested by the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, whose previous similar request in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003) was also granted. The first Estonian unit comprising expert humans and canines was sent to Afghanistan in August 2002 to enhance security around airfields used by U.S. armed forces. The government also approved the mission's budget of 1.45 million kroons ($100,000). SG

AFGHAN CURRENCY GAINS STRENGTH
Central bank deputy head Abdol Qadir Fitrat said on 3 March that the new Afghan currency has stabilized this week against foreign currencies and the market has become more stable, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. He said the recent drop in the afghani's value might have been due to the more than 26,000 Afghan pilgrims who were sent to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj by the Afghan government, each of them carrying about $1,500-$2,000. "That is a large amount of money, exceeding $40 million-$50 million. This might have affected the market. Apart from this...the Afghan market, unfortunately, is occupied by a number of currency dealers. And these currency dealers collude in setting an exchange rate that is advantageous to them," he said. "Unfortunately, this factor might also have had its impact on the Afghan currency." TG

LEBANESE TRIAL OF AL-QAEDA SUSPECTS BEGINS
Beirut's Military Tribunal on 3 March began the trial of three Lebanese and a Saudi Arabian national on charges of belonging to Al-Qaeda and forming a terrorist organization in Lebanon, Beirut's "The Daily Star" reported on 5 March. Lebanese defendants Muhammad Sultan, Khalid Minawi, and Abdallah Muhtadi, and Saudi defendant Ihab Danah denied the charges. Sultan admitted only to fund-raising for Afghan refugees in Iran. BS

TEHRAN GETS NEW NORWEGIAN AMBASSADOR
Norway's new Ambassador to Iran Ole Kristian Holthe on 4 November presented his credentials to Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, IRNA reported. Holthe, who previously served as ambassador to Morocco, succeeds Svein Aass. Kharrazi visited Oslo in late January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 February 2003); "In light of the recent trip by Kharrazi to Norway, Tehran and Oslo will forge closer bilateral ties," Holthe was quoted as saying. Norwegian firms are active in the Iranian oil-and-gas sector, and when Norwegian Fisheries Minister Svein Ludvigsen came to Iran in early January he mentioned the possibility of Norwegian private-sector investment in Iranian fisheries industries. BS

IRANIAN ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS SESSIONS TO BE OPEN
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the first deputy of the Assembly of Experts, on 3 March said that most sessions of the Assembly of Experts will be open to reporters, IRNA reported. The only exception to this will be the representatives' pre-debate speeches. Although the 86 members of the Assembly of Experts are popularly elected, until now all their sessions have been closed to the public and little news about the assembly's biannual meetings is available. This has led to complaints from political commentators when they learn that the assembly, which is empowered to supervise and to dismiss the supreme leader, is holding discussions on national-security affairs and on foreign policy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 June 2002). BS

LOSING COUNCIL CANDIDATE WARNS OF POSSIBLE VIOLENCE IN IRAN
Mustafa Tajzadeh, a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO), said in Tehran on 3 March during a discussion about the low turnout for the municipal-council elections that if people continue to stay away from the polls violence could supplant elections, IRNA reported. Approximately 28 percent of the national electorate voted, and only 12 percent of eligible voters in Tehran went to the polls ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 March 2003 and "End Note"). Tajzadeh described the low turnout as a challenge to all the parties. Tajzadeh expressed hope that people's frustration with the reform process will be alleviated soon. BS

ELECTIONS LEAD TO STRUGGLE FOR TEHRAN DAILY
The pro-presidential Interior Ministry is trying to take control of "Hamshahri," the daily newspaper run by the Tehran municipality, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily reported on 4 March. ""Hamshahri" is the country's widest-circulation newspaper, and this may reflect an effort to avoid the newspaper's becoming a mouthpiece for the conservatives who won the majority of the Tehran municipal-council seats. BS

QUESTIONS OVER NEW TEHRAN MAYOR
Right-wing newspapers already have begun propagandizing in favor of candidates to be chosen by the Tehran municipal council as the city's new mayor, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 4 March. The conservative daily warned that politicizing the process could result in the disbanding of the new council, which is exactly what happened with the last Tehran municipal council (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January 2003 and "End Note"), and it called for selecting somebody with no political affiliations. It is not just the hardliners who are maneuvering. Members of the Islamic Iran Developers Party (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami), who have a majority of the Tehran council seats, have begun discussing their preferred candidates, "Toseh" reported on 3 March, and they have not ruled out the choice of a relative unknown as mayor. There also are reports of discussions between the Developers and the technocratic Executives of Construction Party, "Toseh" reported, but some Developers members reject making a deal with the Executives. BS

IRAQI SHIA CONFERENCE BEGINS IN TEHRAN
Abu Bilal al-Adib, leader of the Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call) political bureau, said on 1 March that a conference on the "Future of Iraqi Shia" will begin on 5 or 6 March, IRNA reported. The conference originally was scheduled for 24 February, according to an 18 February IRNA report, but it was delayed in anticipation of the recent Iraqi opposition conference that was held in Salah Al-Din. Some 60 percent of the Iraqi population practices Shia Islam, and the Tehran-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is seen as the main Shia representative in the opposition. SCIRI, Da'wah, and the Islamic Action Organization have organized the Tehran conference. Da'wah has split into several factions in the last few years, and in 2002 the faction of which al-Adib is a member created an alternative to the SCIRI called the Union of Iraqi Islamic Forces. BS

KUWAITI DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS SHIELD FORCES TO STAY IN COUNTRY
Kuwaiti Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Shaykh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah said on 4 March that there are no plans for Peninsula Shield deterrent forces to enter Iraq in the event of war, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported on 4 March. The minister told reporters that Peninsula Shield forces would not take part in any peacekeeping operations on Iraqi territory, but when asked about the possibility of Peninsula Shield forces entering Iraqi territory as "Arab peacekeeping forces," he responded, "That's something different,... [but] the idea isn't on the table." The Peninsula Shield forces were created in 1986 by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a joint defense force. A 4 March deployment of 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia brought the number of Peninsula Shield forces stationed in Kuwait to 8,000, "The New York Times" reported the same day. DK

JORDAN PREPARES FOR REFUGEE INFLUX
A 4 March report in "The Jordan Times" detailed Jordan's preparations for a possible deluge of refugees fleeing war in Iraq. Citing unnamed officials, the report said two camps are planned for Jordan's eastern border, along with a 100-bed mobile hospital. The Jordan Red Crescent and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would run the camps. An International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies official told the newspaper that the facilities' initial capacity of 5,000 people would later be expanded to 40,000 "in Jordan, Syria, or Iraq." A February UNHCR report predicted that a war could send as many as 600,000 refugees into Jordan, Turkey, and Iran for six months. DK

TASK FORCE CONSIDERS POSTWAR UN ROLE
"The Times" of London reported on 5 March that it has obtained a copy of a secret UN plan for an assistance mission in postwar Iraq, in an indication that the world body is planning for war even as it works for peace. According to the newspaper, a six-member, pre-planning group at the UN presented Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette with the 60-page document on 28 February. It envisages a UN assistance mission, tentatively dubbed Unami, that would begin working with a U.S. occupation force within three months of a war's end to assist Iraq's transition to self-government. An excerpt from the plan cited in "The Times" states, "The preferred option for the UN is a UN assistance mission that would provide political facilitation, consensus-building, national reconciliation and the promotion of democratic governance and the rule of law." The plan sets a return to Iraqi self-determination as a goal: "Full Iraqi ownership is the desired end-state whereby a heavy UN involvement is unnecessary. The people of Iraq, rather than the international community, should determine national government structures, a legal framework and governance arrangements." DK

INVESTIGATION CLEARS U.S. FORCES COMMANDER OF ALL BUT ONE CHARGE
A Defense Department investigation of U.S. Army General Tommy Franks ended on 4 March, clearing the head of U.S. Central Command and likely leader of any possible attack on Iraq of all charges but one, AP reported the following day. The probe found that the general's wife was with her husband at a classified briefing for which she did not have sufficient clearance, an anonymous source told AP. The investigation exonerated him, however, of allegations that he extended improper perks to his wife. The report will go next to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who told a 4 February Department of Defense news briefing, "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" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). DK

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