PARLIAMENTARIANS SAY RUSSIA SHOULD NOT VETO IRAQ RESOLUTION
Speaking at a roundtable in Moscow on 13 March, Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada (Union of Rightist Forces) said that Russia should abstain if the joint U.S.-U.K.-Spanish draft UN Security Council resolution on Iraq is put to a vote, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The best role for Russia now, in Khakamada's opinion, is to server as a broker between the United States and those countries opposed to a military operation in Iraq. In order to play this role, Russia must adopt a position of neutrality and refrain from using its Security Council veto. Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov, deputy head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's (LDPR) Duma faction, told the roundtable that Russia should not make "too broad a coalition with Western Europe" because the interests of those countries in Iraq differ from Russia's. Moscow, he said, should offer to participate in a military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and "enter into Iraq together with U.S. troops." Leonid Slutskii (LDPR), deputy chairman of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in "Izvestiya" on 12 March that Russia has acted correctly in not allowing the joint Russian-French-German stance on Iraq to assume anti-American overtones. Moscow's position has shown that Russia is not only pursuing its own national interests but is also sticking to its principles. He added that any split between the United States and Europe is not likely to last long, and Russia could have found itself isolated. VY
FORMER AMBASSADOR URGES PURSUIT OF RUSSIA'S INTERESTS...
Writing in "Izvestiya" on 12 March, journalist and former Russian Ambassador to Israel Aleksandr Bovin commented that Russia's Iraq policy should be guided by the maxim of 19th-century French diplomat Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand to the effect that politics is the art of cooperating with the inevitable. If France and China state that they will veto the proposed resolution on Iraq, then Russia should not join them, since the United States would perceive a Russian veto as a slap in the face. The U.S. reaction could have highly unfavorable consequences for Russia's national interests, Bovin writes. If it is impossible to prevent a war or to channel the crisis through "a legitimate, UN framework," then it is unreasonable for Moscow to pose as "the defender of international law." The best course is to defend one's own, albeit narrower, interests, Bovin concludes. VY
...AS DOES POLITICAL ANALYST
Politika foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov, who formerly spoke out strongly against a military operation in Iraq, said in a 13 March interview with strana.ru that the optimal resolution to the Iraq crisis would be if the Security Council did not vote on another Iraq resolution and if the U.S.-led coalition proceeded with a military action against President Hussein. Nikonov argued that the difficulties that the United States would face in such a scenario have been exaggerated. The United States would cope with any problems encountered with the Islamic world, and the countries now opposing military action would join the U.S.-led coalition once a military operation has begun, Nikonov argued. He said that the United States does not need an additional UN resolution and that it is merely acting in its own interests and those of its allies, first of all British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Imposing a veto in the Security Council would be the most destructive option for Russia, Nikonov said. VY
RUSSIAN MUSLIM LEADERS CONDEMN U.S. POLICY ON IRAQ
Telget Tajetdin, the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, told reporters in Moscow on 13 March that the "Muslim community of Russia condemns the actions of the United States and Britain, which are blasphemously attempting to assume the role of supreme rulers of the world's destiny," ITAR-TASS reported. Tajetdin called on Russia's Muslims to pray on 14 March for peace in Iraq and around the world. Also on 13 March, Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, declared that "20 million Russian Muslims are concerned that the United States is not heeding the opinion of the international community." He also noted that Russia's Muslim community "fully supports the position of President Vladimir Putin on the Iraq question," Interfax reported. JAC
URALS REGIONS CALLED CENTER OF ISLAMIC EXTREMISM...
Khazrat Sibgatulla Khadzha, chief mufti for the regional spiritual directorate of Muslims in Sverdlovsk Oblast, told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 13 March that the struggle against Islamic extremism in the middle Urals is not sufficiently active, Novyi region reported. He said that the region is home to three large centers that represent a potential danger to people of all faiths. According to Khadzha, Islamic extremists are active in Yekaterinburg, Pervouralsk, and Krasnoufimsk. Arab emissaries are reportedly distributing Wahhabite literature that contains calls for an armed struggle against the nonbelievers. According to Khadzha, the Wahhabites have organized two youth camps in the region, and similar camps exist in Siberia and the Far East. JAC
...AS WAHHABITE SCHOOL RAIDED
Federal Security Service (FSB) officials and riot police in Yekaterinburg on 13 March arrested the organizers of a Wahhabite school in that city, NTV reported. The organizers are accused of distributing literature that inflames ethnic and religious hatred. However, Danis Davletov, the spiritual leader of the Rakhman Muslim community, which was targeted by the raid, asked: "What is Wahhabism and where is it banned? Is it banned in Russia? Is it a sect that is banned by the Russian Constitution?" According NTV, the "hundreds of extremists books" came from Central Asia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. JAC
PREMIER SAYS NATIONAL LAND CADASTRE ALMOST COMPLETED
Ninety percent of Russian land had been inventoried as of 1 March, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced on 13 March at the opening of a cabinet session, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Kasyanov, the completion of this inventory is "an essential part of land reform." In addition, Kasyanov announced that more than 7 percent of Russian land is now privately owned. This comprises land that was considered privatized in accord with the provisions of the 1993 constitution and additional presidential decrees on farmland privatization before the Land Code came into effect this year (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 21 February 2003). JAC
MINISTRY ISSUES NEW RULES ON DRAFT HEALTH EXEMPTIONS
The Defense Ministry has issued new medical standards for draftees that exempt several new categories of young men, NTV and other Russian media reported on 13 March. Major General Valerii Kulikov, head of the Central Military Medical Commission, announced that young men suffering from alcohol or drug addiction will be exempted, as well as those with psychological problems. Kulikov said that there is no special exemption for homosexuals, but that men who are HIV-positive should not be drafted. Valentina Melnikov, secretary of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, said that her group opposes the forced treatment of drug addicts and alcoholics who fail their military examinations. VY
DUMA, GOVERNMENT MOVE TO EASE HARD-CURRENCY TRANSACTIONS
The Duma on 14 March approved in its first reading a new law on hard-currency controls that was introduced by the government, lenta.ru reported. Under the bill, citizens will be allowed to buy and sell gold and gems without restrictions. It would also allow the unrestricted import of currency into Russia and the unrestricted operation of foreign bank accounts by Russian citizens. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced on 13 March that the government will discontinue the practice of monitoring all transactions by individuals that exceed $10,000, Russian media reported. Under the current rules, banks, real-estate firms, antique dealers, and the like must report all such transactions to the financial authorities. Commenting on the initiatives, Kudrin said the current control measures are "inefficient." VY
BILL THAT GOVERNMENT OPPOSES ACTUALLY MOVES FORWARD...
The State Duma on 12 March approved in its second reading a bill that defines economically depressed regions and the formula for setting the level of federal financial support they receive, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill passed in its first reading more than a year ago (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 October 2001). According to RBK, the bill received 236 votes in favor -- only 10 more than it needed, with one against and no abstentions. The government has opposed the bill from the beginning, in part because the criteria by which a region qualifies as economically depressed are too broad and would require that almost 70 of Russia's 89 regions be granted financial assistance. According to ITAR-TASS, the bill stipulates that a region is economically depressed if output in the basic sectors of the economy has slumped by more than two-thirds during the past 12 years. JAC
...AS LEGISLATURE'S PRE-ELECTION WORK ASSESSED
Several political analysts discussed in the 13 March issue of "Rossiiskaya gazeta" how the Duma will behave in the run-up to the December elections. Merkator Institute head Dmitrii Oreshkin commented that during the year before elections no productive work will occur in the Duma and that this is the same in legislatures all over the world. But, he added, populism will take different forms, including wise measures such as the law on pensions and measures that are clearly unwise such as the law on Russian as the state language. Political analyst Viktor Kuvaldin commented that now the Duma is more interested in socioeconomic issues and has become more careful regarding radical reforms. "But in this populism, there is also a kernel of rationality," he said. "The main problem before the country today is massive poverty, and the legislature should somehow struggle against this." JAC
POSSIBLE PARTNER FOR PRO-KREMLIN PARTY FOUND
The Party of Life will hold on 22 March a party congress at which Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov is expected to become chairman of the party's executive committee, strana.ru reported on 13 March. Aleksei Makarkin of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies told the website that Mironov's entry into the party's leadership ranks is very important from the point of view of possible negotiations on the creation of a pro-presidential election coalition with Unified Russia. According to Makarkin, one possible election scenario is for Unified Russia to lead an election bloc of which the Party of Life is a part. JAC
DARKNESS DESCENDS AGAIN ON KAMCHATKA
Kamchatskenergo, the local power company in Kamchatka Oblast, has turned off the streetlights in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii because of unpaid electricity bills, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. Only thoroughfares of federal importance have lighting, and the city's traffic department has called on motorists to exercise extreme caution. According to the agency, the company is also limiting heating supplies to city residents. The city has been plagued recently by protests by municipal workers who say they are owed back wages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003). JAC
AID WORKER ABDUCTED IN CHECHNYA
Ibragim Zyazikov, who worked for the Czech charity People in Need, was kidnapped in Grozny late last month, CTK reported on 13 March. Zyazikov, who is married to Czech journalist Petra Prochazkova, disappeared after setting off from Grozny to Nazran. His car was found abandoned four days later. It is not known who abducted him or for what reason, or where he is being held. LF
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION TO FORM NEW ELECTORAL BLOC FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS...
Several opposition parties agreed on 13 March to forge a new electoral bloc in preparation for the parliamentary elections set for May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The group, comprising more than a dozen parties and groups united in support of defeated People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, announced plans to offer a single slate of parliamentary candidates led by Demirchian, fellow former presidential candidate Aram Karapetian, and former Prime Ministers Vazgen Manukian of the National Democratic Union and Hanrapetutiun party leader Aram Sarkisian (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). The new bloc's composition is to be revealed by the 16 March deadline for official candidacy nominations for the 75 party-list seats and the 56 single-mandate seats. RG
...BUT CONTINUES TO FIGHT ARMENIAN-PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS
Although the opposition is now concentrating on the parliamentary election, they are still contesting the recent presidential-election results, pledging on 13 March to lodge a formal appeal to the Constitutional Court seeking an annulment of the presidential contest, Mediamax and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. If the court refuses to overturn the results, Demirchian's supporters say they will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. RG
INFLUENTIAL ARMENIAN PARTY ALLIES ITSELF WITH BUSINESS TYCOON
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation, an influential party that strongly supports recently re-elected President Robert Kocharian, announced on 13 March that it has formed a new political alliance with a small party led by tycoon Hrant Vartanian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau revealed. According to Armenian Revolutionary Federation parliamentary faction leader Aghvan Vartanian (no relation to the tycoon), the party will include a number of parliamentary candidates from the smaller party in its electoral list. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation is actively engaged in negotiations with other pro-governmental parties, including Orinats Yerkir and the Republican Party (HHK), as well as with leading businesses close to Kocharian. The alliance with Hrant Vartanian, a tobacco magnate reportedly controlling some 50 percent of the domestic tobacco market, provides the Armenian Revolutionary Federation with an important link to Armenia's business elite, which is united in its strong backing for the president. RG
U.S. AMBASSADOR: WASHINGTON TO BE 'MORE ENERGETIC' ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH CONFLICT
U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson announced on 13 March that Washington will redouble its efforts to help resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, AFP reported. Wilson said the U.S. administration's "priority...will be a more energetic effort by the U.S. and its partners...to prepare the ground for progress when the two countries are ready." He added, "We understand that the situation is not stable and that it is dangerous for both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and to some extent for our own interests." The ambassador also said that U.S. President George W. Bush is personally resolved to accelerate the peace talks following Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's visit to Washington, D.C., late last month. The announcement is seen as a signal that the United States will reengage itself in the mediation effort more actively, but not until after the elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan are over. RG
GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY ANNOUNCES PLAN FOR LOCAL ETHNIC CHECHENS TO HELP POLICE PANKISI
Georgian Interior Ministry Kakheti Regional Chief Zurab Tushuri announced on 13 March that ethnic Chechens living in the Pankisi Gorge -- who are known locally as "Kists" -- will assist Interior Ministry troops in an effort to secure villages in the gorge, the "Georgian Times" reported. The joint patrols are part of a broader campaign to police the volatile Pankisi Gorge, near the Georgian border with Chechnya, which has served as a base for armed groups of Chechen rebels. The Interior Ministry has been under pressure in recent weeks from Russia to complete its earlier attempt to secure the region and forestall any threat of further cross-border attacks. RG
GEORGIAN DELEGATION MEETS WITH NATO OFFICIALS
A delegation of senior Georgian officials led by Foreign Minister Irakli Menagrashvili began two days of meetings with officials of the NATO in Brussels on 13 March, according to the "Georgian Times." The Georgian delegation briefed NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and other officials on the state of Georgian defense reforms currently under way and initiated a discussion of the Georgian desire for a greater official role within the alliance. Georgian officials also complained of the stalled talks over the Russian military's withdrawal from its bases in Georgia. RG
KAZAKHSTAN TOPS CENTRAL ASIA IN NUMBER OF DRUG ADDICTS
Ian Bain, a regional official of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, told journalists in Astana on 13 March that Kazakhstan has the largest number of drug addicts of any state in Central Asia, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to Bain's figures, Kazakhstan has some 140,000 addicts. In January, the Kazakh Justice Ministry's Committee Against Drug Addiction and Trafficking gave a figure of 47,000 registered addicts. Committee Chairman Bolat Baibulov, speaking at the 13 March news conference, attributed the discrepancy in numbers to Kazakhstan's openness, which makes it easier for international organizations to identify addicts. The UN agency is planning seminars on controlling drugs for border and customs officials in Kazakhstan. BB
IMPRISONED KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S DAUGHTER GRANTED POLITICAL ASYLUM IN U.S.
Dinisa Duvanova, daughter of imprisoned independent journalist Sergei Duvanov, has been granted political asylum in the United States, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 12 March. Duvanov's 3 1/2 year prison sentence on a rape charge that his supporters say was politically motivated was confirmed by an appeals court on 12 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). Duvanova is currently studying in the United States. She said in a letter quoted by Interfax that she does not intend to request permanent-resident status. She said she applied for asylum when the political nature of her father's arrest became evident. BB
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT RATIFIES OIL-AND-GAS AGREEMENT
The upper house of Kazakhstan's parliament has ratified a framework agreement on an institutional basis for creating an interstate oil-and-gas transport system, Interfax reported on 13 March. The lower house had already ratified the agreement, which was developed as part of the Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe (INOGATE) program. Twenty-one countries signed the agreement in 1999, of which 10 have ratified it. Signatories agree to cooperate in setting up interstate systems for transporting oil and gas by rehabilitating existing pipelines and building new ones, and to cooperate in operating and servicing the pipelines. The agreement is intended to establish rules and mechanisms to ensure the effective operation of any interstate system in line with international practices and existing oil-and-gas agreements. Kazakhstan's Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Vladimir Shkolnik was quoted as saying that Kazakhstan's task is to join the European pipeline system and supply its oil as cheaply as possible. BB
POLL FINDS KAZAKHSTAN'S URBAN POPULATION AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ
A poll conducted by the Kazakhstan Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists in early March in the country's 10 largest cities found that 83.5 percent of respondents oppose U.S. plans for a war against Iraq, Interfax reported on 13 March. According to the report, based on a 13 March association press release, 13.9 percent of respondents were undecided, and only 2.6 percent approve of a military action against Iraq. Some 50 percent of respondents said the main reason for a possible war against Iraq is oil. Less than 5 percent see it as a stage in the struggle against international terrorism. More than one-third fear that Kazakhstan could be in danger if it allows U.S. planes to use its airfields, thereby making the country a direct participant in the conflict. BB
PROTOCOL SIGNED ON KYRGYZ EXCLAVE
A protocol on the status of the Kyrgyz exclave of Barak was signed on 13 March during a meeting of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz Intergovernmental Commission on Border Delimitation, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The protocol commits the two sides to implement a 2000 agreement to ensure free access to Kyrgyz territory for inhabitants of Barak, a Kyrgyz exclave in Uzbekistan. Uzbek authorities blocked the access road in January 2002, and exasperated villagers demanded and were granted a meeting with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). During that meeting, Tanaev promised that a solution would be found. Kyrgyz state television, reporting on 13 March on the commission's talks this week in Tashkent, reported that discussion is continuing on the opening of a new border checkpoint and the reconstruction of a bridge destroyed by the Uzbeks in January. BB
KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN CAN'T GET INVOLVED IN MAJOR POLITICAL CASE
Kyrgyzstan's Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu has said that he cannot become involved in the case of former Vice President and former Bishkek Mayor Feliks Kulov, who is imprisoned following his conviction on charges of abuse of office and other crimes, as long as the case is still before the courts, akipress.org reported on 13 March. The Kyrgyz opposition asserts that the real reason for Kulov's conviction was because he tried to run against President Askar Akaev in the last presidential election. At the time, it was widely believed that Kulov had some chance of winning because of widespread dissatisfaction with some of Akaev's policies and the desperate state of the Kyrgyz economy. Kulov's political party, Ar-Namys, requested that Bakir-uulu take up the Kulov case, although their appeal for a review of his conviction is still being considered by the country's Constitutional and Supreme courts. The ombudsman appears determined that his office follow standard international practices in its activities. BB
MORE THAN 900 AMNESTIED IN UZBEKISTAN
More than 900 people convicted of religious extremism have been amnestied under a presidential decree issued in December, Interfax reported on 13 March, quoting a source in the Prosecutor-General's Office. The amnesty, which covered 5,000 convicts, required that they acknowledge their guilt and "sincerely repent their crimes." According to the report, 923 of the beneficiaries of the amnesty had belonged to religious groups designated as extremist -- including Hizb ut-Tahrir -- that the Uzbek government claims are trying to overthrow the constitutional order in the country. BB
BELARUSIAN ORGANIZERS OF 'FOR A BETTER LIFE' PROTEST JAILED FOR 15 DAYS
Four organizers of the "People's March for a Better Life" protest that was staged in Minsk on 12 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003) were sentenced on 13 March to 15 days in jail, Belapan reported. The District Court in Minsk found Dzmitry Bandarenka, Andrey Sannikau, and Lyudmila Hraznova, all coordinators for the human rights group Charter-97, and Leanid Malakhau, co-chairman of the Private Ownership association, guilty of organizing and participating in an unsanctioned demonstration under the Belarusian Administrative Offenses Code. "Someone appears to have been angered very much and worry very much, as I has been given the maximum term," said Hraznova. She said authorities are afraid of mass protests and a new force, small business owners, as they realize that such people are able to influence developments in the country. AM
BELARUS URGES END TO TRAVEL BAN ON OFFICIALS
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has demanded that 14 EU governments lift the visa bans they have imposed on senior Belarusian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 21, and 27 November 2002), Belapan quoted a ministry spokesman as saying on 13 March. "We think our EU partners should immediately make this decision," the spokesman added. Deputy Foreign Minister Alyaksandr Sychou on 12 March met with Walter Siegl, director of the Austrian Foreign Ministry's department for political affairs, to induce Austria to lift a ban, the news agency reported. The men discussed the EU strategy toward non-EU countries that was adopted on 11 March. That strategy classifies Belarus and a group of eastern and southeastern countries as a friendly belt of neighbors. The EU says it is interested in stability and prosperity in these countries, but expects them to make progress in establishing common values and economic, political, and institutional reform. AM
UKRAINE PAYS OFF $375 MILLION IN FOREIGN DEBT
Ukraine repaid about 2 billion hryvnyas ($375 million) in foreign debt in March, Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov announced at a meeting with the Council of Entrepreneurs of Ukraine in Kyiv on 13 March, Interfax reported. Azarov called this amount "gigantic in a budget," but added, "We paid without any panic, and without concentrating all of our reserves." Azarov said: " Ukraine's financial position is very strong. We do not need foreign loans and have a balanced budget." Before the 2003 payment, Ukraine was facing $1.53 billion in foreign-debt payments in Eurobonds maturing in March and September, each estimated at $325 million. AM
HUNGER STRIKING UKRAINIAN MINERS HOSPITALIZED
Fourteen miners at the Bendyuzka coal mine who declared a hunger strike on 6 March to demand unpaid wages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003) were hospitalized on 12 March in Chervonohrad, in Lviv Oblast, Interfax reported on 13 March, quoting a hospital director. According to the Ukrainian Independent Trade Union of Miners, 45 miners in the Krepinska coal mine in Luhansk Oblast are continuing their underground strike, and miners at six other mines, four in Lviv Oblast and two in Luhansk Oblast, refuse to work until they receive back wages. AM
ESTONIA'S RES PUBLICA PROPOSES INSTITUTION OF ASSISTANT MINISTERS
Taavi Veskimagi, a parliament member from Res Publica, said the party plans to dismiss up to 38 deputy chancellors in Estonian ministries who are career civil servants and replace them with an undisclosed number of assistant ministers, BNS reported on 13 March. The assistant ministers would be purely political appointees chosen by the prime minister on the recommendation of the respective minister. The proposed institution is intended to increase the political guidance of the ministries. The Reform Party, which is currently holding negotiations with Res Publica on forming a government coalition, took a cautious stance on the proposal. "A reform involving the discharge of 38 senior officials seems to be a very serious step," Reform Party General Secretary Eero Tohver said. "We'd like to hear extremely competent justifications for it." Jaan Poor, a representative of the other likely coalition partner, the People's Union, said the creation of the posts is logical, adding, "We wouldn't take a very negative stance on it." SG
LOCAL COALITION FORMED IN LATVIAN CAPITAL
Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) Chairman Dainis Ivans and National Harmony Party (TSP) Chairman Janis Jurkans on 13 March signed a coalition agreement for work in the Riga City Council, BNS reported. Following his election as LSDSP chairman in November, Ivans expressed dissatisfaction with the party's coalition in Riga with For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) -- in particular with two of the PCTVL's three members, the Equal Rights party and the Socialist Party. He supported forming a coalition with the TSP, a scenario that became possible after the TSP withdrew from the PCTVL last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003). The LSDSP has 17 seats and the TSP six seats on the 60-member City Council. The new coalition is expected to muster majorities through cooperation with the union of small parties Centrs, which holds seven seats, and with two members of the Green Party. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES JOINING EU MILITARY MISSION IN MACEDONIA
Rolandas Paksas asked parliament on 13 March to approve participation in the EU-led international peacekeeping mission in Macedonia, BNS reported. The proposal came in response to the invitation Lithuania received from the European Union on 12 February to take part in the first mission the EU will be taking over from NATO in late March. Defense Ministry Secretary Povilas Malakauskas said if parliamentary approval is granted, Lithuania will probably send a staff officer and a specialist in logistics to Macedonia. The Defense Ministry would provide 34,000 litas ($11,000) to fund the mission from April to October. SG
WARSAW WORRIED BY ROW OVER EU'S ENLARGEMENT BUDGET...
Polish European Affairs Minister Danuta Huebner said on 13 March she is worried by a row over the EU's enlargement budget that threatens to delay next month's planning signing ceremony of the Accession Treaty with 10 candidate countries, Reuters reported. Huebner warned that any delay would hamper government efforts to encourage a "yes" vote in a June referendum on joining the EU. The European Parliament announced the same day that it might postpone the 16 April ceremony, because EU governments failed to consult the assembly sufficiently on the budget for the EU's biggest expansion in its history. "I am stunned and worried. The European Parliament has traditionally been one of the EU institutions that are the most supportive for enlargement," Huebner added. AM
...AS POLISH PEASANT PARTY THREATENS 'NO' VOTE IN EU PLEBISCITE
Peasant Party (PSL) leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski told journalists on 13 March that his party will urge a "no" vote in the EU referendum in June if the government fails to meet costly legislative demands, DPA reported. Kalinowski said his party wants legislative guarantees that domestic funds would be used to boost direct EU subsidies to farmers after entry, the reversal of a presidential veto on a bio-fuels law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003), and a special legislative package on farm policy. "If these laws are not passed, we will not be able to say 'yes' to the EU in the upcoming referendum," Kalinowski said. Kalinowski was removed from the post of deputy prime minister on 1 March, while the PSL was tossed out of the ruling coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). AM
CZECH PREMIER DEFENDS MINISTER'S DISMISSAL...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on 13 March said he requested the dismissal of Industry and Trade Minister Jiri Rusnok (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003) because of persistently poor "political communication" between them, adding that it threatened the activities of the entire government, CTK reported. Rusnok, whose dismissal has not yet been effected by President Vaclav Klaus, said Spidla has targeted him because of Rusnok's support in a January presidential vote for former Premier Milos Zeman and subsequent refusal to back coalition candidate Jan Sokol. Zeman called the dismissal and current conflicts in the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) "madness." President Klaus said he will decide on Spidla's dismissal request after he sees an official request in writing from the premier. MS
...AND PREDICTS HE WILL RETAIN PARTY CHAIRMANSHIP
Premier Spidla told a radio audience on 13 March that he does not rule out a rival candidate challenging him for the post of CSSD chairman at the party's national conference scheduled for the end of the month, CTK reported. However, he said, he believes neither Labor Minister Zdenek Skromach nor Interior Minister Stanislav Gross will run against him. Gross consistently draws high ratings in popularity polls, while Skromach is viewed as staking out the left wing of the CSSD and maintaining close ties with former party Chairman Zeman. Spidla also said that if his party re-election bid fails, he might reconsider continuing as premier. He said he believes the two positions should be held by the same person. MS
CZECH PRESIDENT SEEKS TO EASE TENSIONS WITH AUSTRIA
Vaclav Klaus told the Austrian daily "Neue Kronen Zeitung" of 13 March that he is a friend of Austria and would like to help ease tensions between the two countries, CTK reported. Sworn in as head of state on 7 March, Klaus said he was one of the few European politicians who opposed EU sanctions against Austria when the far-right Freedom Party joined a governing coalition headed by Wolfgang Schuessel in 1999. Klaus said he respects "political and opinion plurality not only at home, but also abroad, including in Austria." Klaus, who last year accused "a Berlin-Vienna-Budapest axis" of revanchism over postwar expulsions from Czechoslovakia, said the issue of the Benes Decrees should be left to historians and "has no place in today's politics." He iterated that he is not a "Euro-skeptic" but a "Euro-realist," adding that he realizes "there is no other way than to join the EU, though I [also] know well that the balance between costs and benefits is not unambiguous." MS
SLOVAK SUPPORT FOR EU ACCESSION FAR HIGHER THAN FOR JOINING NATO
A March poll by MVK shows support for EU membership is far higher among Slovaks than support for joining NATO, TASR and CTK reported. Of those who intend to participate in the 16-17 May plebiscite on EU accession, 75 percent said they will support membership, 11 percent will oppose it, and 14 percent did not respond. While the Slovak government opposes holding a plebiscite on joining NATO, 57 percent favor a referendum on joining the Atlantic alliance, and 35 percent oppose it. Were a plebiscite on joining NATO to be held, 34 percent would vote in favor, 42 percent against, and 24 percent said they are undecided. The organizers of a petition drive launched in January to prompt a NATO-membership referendum claim to have collected 250,000 signatures in support of the plebiscite and express confidence that they will collect the remaining 100,000 signatures that would make it a binding vote. MS
SLOVAK FINANCE MINISTER SUES SMER LEADER FOR SLANDER
Finance Minister Ivan Miklos on 13 March told TASR that he is suing Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico for accusing him of corruption during last week's extraordinary session of parliament to debate corruption in Slovakia. Fico alleged that Miklos has amassed a fortune from bribes received in privatization deals. MS
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION DEMANDS END TO FORCED STERILIZATIONS IN SLOVAKIA
Nine members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission have sent a letter to the Slovak government calling for an end to alleged forced sterilizations of Romany women in that country, CTK reported on 13 March. The news agency reported that U.S. Representative Christopher H. Smith (Republican, New Jersey), who is co-chairman of the commission, handed the letter to Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ivan Korcok in Washington on 11 March. The letter is addressed to Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and recalls that the Charter 77 dissident movement was the first to report on such practices in Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, the signatories charge, it is becoming clear that the practice did not end with communism. The letter also recalls a statement by former Slovak Health Minister Lubomir Javorsky, who said in 1995 that the government will do everything to ensure that more "white" children are born than Romany children. The signatories say they believe the current government did not initiate the practice and will halt it, according to CTK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 January, 14 and 21 February, and 4 March 2003). MS
GROWING HUNGARIAN MAJORITY OPPOSES WAR ON IRAQ
According to a public-opinion poll conducted by the Median polling agency in February, 9 percent of Hungarians would approve of the United States and its allies launching a war against Iraq, down from 15 percent in December and 17 percent in November, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 14 March. A majority would prefer to see Hungary stay out of a war should one break out, and none of the respondents would be prepared to send combat units to Iraq, according to the poll. Since November, the portion of those who would support sending medical or technical units has also dropped from 48 percent to 31 percent. The poll of 1,200 adults was taken between 14 and 18 February. MSZ
HUNGARIAN ARMY SLIMMING DOWN
Hungary's armed forces will be cut from the present 45,000 troops to around 30,000 over the next 10 years, Army Chief of Staff Major General Zoltan Szenes told "Magyar Hirlap" on 13 March. Szenes, who was appointed chief of staff in February, said that in 2003 the armed forces will be equipped with some 80-90 new vehicles and another 1,000 will be needed next year. MSZ
HUNGARIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS APPEAL TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
The Bench of Catholic Bishops on 13 March filed an official complaint to the Hungarian Constitutional Court concerning the new social-services act, Bench Secretary Bishop Andras Veres told reporters in Budapest, according to local media. Veres called it the first occasion that the bench has appealed to the court. Catholics believe the act, which was initially sent back to parliament for reconsideration by President Ferenc Madl (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2002, 7 January and 5 February 2003), is discriminatory toward religious institutions, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 14 March. According to the new 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. MSZ
EXPELLED MIEP MEMBERS LAUNCH NEW HUNGARIAN RADICAL PARTY
Former members of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) who were recently expelled from that organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2003) have united to form a new party under the name Magyar Nemzeti Front (MNF), or Hungarian National Front, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 14 March. Laszlo Bognar, a member of the new party's leadership, said the post of MNF party chairman is provisionally held by Erno Rozgonyi. A national party conference will be convened in July to elect the MNF's leaders, Bognar said, adding that the party's aim is to pursue youthful, radical, right-wing policies. MSZ
SERBIAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES SLEW OF ARRESTS FOLLOWING PRIME MINISTER'S ASSASSINATION
The Serbian government announced on 13 March that police have detained 56 people in connection with the assassination the previous day of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, "Danas" reported. Eight of those apprehended are alleged members of an underworld gang known as the Zemun clan that the government believes was responsible for the killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). The gang's reputed leaders remain at large, however. According to the government, statements made by the detainees have confirmed the Belgrade-based group's involvement in the slaying. Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said former special-police commander Franko Simatovic and former state-security chief Jovica Stanisic are among the detainees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003) UB
SERBIAN GOVERNMENT INTRODUCES ROTATING CHAIRMANSHIP
The government in Belgrade decided on 13 March that cabinet sessions in the wake of the Djindjic assassination will be chaired by the country's five deputy prime ministers -- Covic, Dusan Mihajlovic, Zarko Korac, Jozef Kasa, and Miodrag Isakov -- RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Each will chair sessions for one week at a time within the rotating format. In the meantime, Cedomir Jovanovic, a deputy chairman of Djindjic's Democratic Party, announced that the party leadership will nominate a candidate for prime minister on 17 March, Beta reported. "This is the most responsible way to follow the ideas and to continue the work that was begun by Zoran Djindjic," Jovanovic said. UB
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO POSTPONES ELECTION OF JOINT GOVERNMENT
The election by the joint parliament of a government for the new union of Serbia and Montenegro, originally slated for 13 March, was postponed and will most likely take place on 17 March, acting Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said on 13 March, according to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. However, parliamentary speaker Dragoljub Micunovic announced that Defense Minister-designate Zoran Zivkovic has urged him to hold the elections on 18 March. Zivkovic is a deputy chairman of Djindjic's Democratic Party, and he is among those likely to be nominated to succeed the assassinated prime minister on 17 March. UB
CROATIAN OFFICIAL DISMISSES MEDIA COMMENTS ON U.S.-ADRIATIC CHARTER
Zoran Milanovic, Croatia's coordinator for NATO and its Membership Action Plan, on 12 March dismissed media criticism that the U.S.-Adriatic Charter institutionalizes military cooperation with Albania and Macedonia instead of fostering cooperation with neighboring Slovenia and Hungary, Hina reported. "We believe that [the charter] promotes our interests and recognizes us as a mature country ready to cooperate with countries that share the same goals, independent of the degree of both economic and social development," Milanovic said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2003). UB
EU FOREIGN POLICY COMMISSIONER SAYS UNION TO DISCUSS CROATIAN MEMBERSHIP BID SOON
Speaking after a meeting with Croatian President Stipe Mesic, EU Foreign Policy Commissioner Chris Patten said in Zagreb on 12 March that the EU might launch discussion of Croatia's membership application at a meeting of foreign ministers slated for April, Hina reported. In a separate statement, Patten said he and Carla Del Ponte, who is the international war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, agreed that there are problems regarding Croatia's cooperation with The Hague, according to Hina. But Patten added that those problems are not insurmountable. UB
ALBANIA BACKS PLAN FOR TALKS BETWEEN BELGRADE AND PRISHTINA
The Albanian government declared on 12 March that it supports the initiative of Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), to begin trilateral talks that include the Kosovar and the Serbian governments, the "Southeast European Times" reported. In a press release, the Albanian Foreign Ministry said that "building up direct and constructive relations through dialogue is in the interest of development and stability in the region." However, Steiner's initiative has faced criticism from both the Kosovar and the Serbian sides (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2003). Some observers also note that it is unclear how the death of Serbia's prime minister might affect the relationship between Belgrade and Prishtina. UB
COMPROMISE REACHED OVER LANGUAGE ISSUE IN MACEDONIA
The leaders of Macedonia's governing parties on 13 March reached a compromise over contentious issues regarding the use of Albanian as an official language, "Dnevnik" reported. The deal was reached by Social Democratic Union (SDSM) Chairman Branko Crvenkovski, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Chairman Risto Penov, and Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) Chairman Ali Ahmeti. Under its terms, ethnic Albanian citizens may apply for passports, the cover of which will include Albanian language in addition to the standard Macedonian and English. In return, the ethnic Albanian BDI dropped its demand that ethnic Albanian lawmakers be allowed to use the Albanian language when chairing parliamentary debates and parliamentary committee sessions. They now must use the Macedonian language. The ethnic Macedonian SDSM and LDP parties also convinced the BDI to acknowledge the country's borders, respect the country's flag, and support unconditionally the constitutional name Republika Makenonija (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 21, 24, 26, and 27 June, 15 July 2002, and 30 January and 27 February 2003). UB
U.S. BASE COMMANDER SAYS ROMANIAN AIRPORT USED AS 'BRIDGEHEAD' TO QATAR
Hosting a press conference at the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base near Constanta, U.S. base commander Colonel Steven Dreyer said on 13 March that the base serves as a bridgehead for the transfer of logistical materiel and troops to the U.S. command center (CENCOM) near Doha, Qatar, dpa and Reuters reported. Dreyer said more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers and a command staff of around 100 are currently at the base. The United States has spent more than $3 million to renovate the base and to house and feed its troops stationed there. He said that although the Mihail Kogalniceanu airfield is capable of hosting fighter jets, only transport planes have used it thus far. "We have no plans for fighter jets [to be stationed here]," Reuters quoted Dreyer as saying. Romanian radio reported that Dreyer denied reports in the media that war equipment such as artillery and tanks has been brought to the base. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES IRAQI AMBASSADOR'S ALLEGATIONS
President Ion Iliescu on 13 March said Iraqi Ambassador to Romania Saad Hamid Majid's allegations that Romania's intelligence services attempted to recruit him are not credible, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). Iliescu said the reason a member of the Romanian intelligence services attended the meeting of Majid and Radu Onofrei, director of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East Department, was to provide explanations to the ambassador as to why Romania expelled five Iraqi diplomats on 8 March. In response to a journalist's question on whether more Iraqi citizens will be expelled from Romania, Iliescu said the matter should "not be exaggerated," noting that some 3,000 Iraqi citizens are currently living in Romania and only a few have been expelled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 March 2003). MS
LAST ROMANIAN CITIZENS IN IRAQ LEAVE
The last 83 Romanian citizens who were working in Iraq left on 13 March and arrived in Amman, Jordan, Romanian Radio reported the next day. They thus heeded the Foreign Ministry's recommendation that they leave Iraq as a "precautionary measure." MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES FINAL VERSION OF BILL ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA...
Parliament on 13 March approved the final reading of the bill on Teleradio Moldova, amending the version of the bill it approved on 28 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). In the wake of criticism by the Council of Europe, President Vladimir Voronin did not promulgate the 28 February version and offered suggestions for amending it, BASA-press reported. The new version eliminates the need for the legislature to approve the makeup of the Board of Observers, leaving that entirely up to the different organizations that would appoint the 15 members of the board. Also eliminated from the new version is the previous stipulation obliging Teleradio Moldova to broadcast "official communiques of public interest." This stipulation has been replaced with the obligation that it air official information pertaining to natural calamities or "threats to national security." MS
...AND APPROVES USE OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE FOR PRODUCT LABELING
Parliament on 13 March approved the final reading of a bill on consumer protection that would allow the use of the Russian language for product labeling, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Representatives of the opposition protested the "violation of legislation on the use of the state language," and called the decision "a first step in the direction of turning Russian into an official language." MS
BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES SALE OF BULGARTABAC
Parliament on 13 March approved the government's decision to sell the state tobacco company Bulgartabac to the consortium Tobacco Capital Partners, which is backed by Deutsche Bank, bnn reported. The privatization deal must be finalized with one month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). UB
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT OFFERS U.S. DECOMMISSIONED AIR BASE
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said on 13 March that the government has proposed moving the refueling aircraft currently stationed at Sarafovo air base near the Black Sea port of Burgas to the decommissioned military air base of Ravnets, 30 kilometers west of Sarafovo, bnn reported. "We do not want a possible continuation of the U.S. military presence in Sarafovo to affect the holiday season," Svinarov said. "Ravnets is a very good base and that is why we offered it." Inhabitants of a residential area neighboring the Sarafovo base have sent to parliament and to Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski a 500-signature petition protesting the U.S. military's use of the Sarafovo base. UB
BULGARIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE WARNS OF DETERIORATING HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee has warned that the human rights situation in Bulgaria is deteriorating, mediapool.bg reported on 13 March. Representatives of the organization told the news agency that the Romany minority continues to be subjected to isolation and that the government's efforts to integrate the minority are insufficient. The committee also warned of growing attempts by the government to influence the media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February and 12 March 2003) and said the new law on religious communities is discriminatory and introduces double standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 December 2002, and 4 February 2003). UB
THE NEXT STEP FOR SERBIA
The 12 March assassination of Serbia's prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, dealt a serious blow to all reform efforts in the Balkan states. It also endangers already fragile regional stability.
The crippled government bought itself time in the wake of the tragedy, declaring a state of emergency and thus keeping a lid on events in the short term. But its next task is to do something that the self-styled anarchist-turned-democrat Djindjic could not: build a stable administration and institute the rule of law in Serbia.
Djindjic was born the son of a Yugoslav Army officer in Bosanski Samac, in present-day Bosnia, in 1952. He graduated in 1974 from the Philosophy Faculty of Belgrade University. As a student, he was arrested and sentenced to a one year prison term for attempting to set up an autonomous student organization with fellow student leaders, but was released after serving only two months. He then went to Germany, where he obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Konstanz in 1979. It was during work on his thesis on Marx that he changed his political views. "I came to Germany as a left-wing anarchist, and I returned as a conservative with a certain distance to all these theories," Djindjic said in an interview with Bavarian BR Alpha satellite television in February 2002.
Between 1979 and 1989, when he returned to Yugoslavia, he wrote a book on Hegel, worked at a scientific institute in Vienna, and engaged in the export business. From 1990, Djindjic headed the executive committee of the Democratic Party, which he and other dissident intellectuals and writers had founded one year earlier and whose chairmanship he would assume in 1994. He was elected to the Serbian republican parliament in 1990, and in 1993 he entered the Yugoslav Federal Parliament. Alongside Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and the Civil Alliance of Serbia, Djindjic participated in student protests in the winter of 1996-7. Djindjic became Belgrade's first noncommunist mayor in February 1997, but within just six months he was forced to resign after former allies in the SPO withdrew their support.
Djindjic's international connections and his fluency in English and German made him an ideal partner for Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). When the popular Kostunica challenged Slobodan Milosevic for the Yugoslav presidency as the opposition candidate in September-October 2000, Djindjic managed Kostunica's campaign and curried international support for the coalition. Kostunica won those elections, and the DOS coalition went on to win the Serbian parliamentary elections in December of that year. On 25 January 2001, the Serbian parliament elected Djindjic prime minister.
But the uneasy partnership between Djindjic and Kostunica would not last long; their political approaches were too disparate. Kostunica might best be described as a moderate nationalist (and therefore popular) who insisted that the government strictly abide by the Serbian Constitution and laws; the pragmatic Djindjic was, by his own admission, more of a "problem-solver." Djindjic opponents found that his pragmatism often bordered on opportunism -- for instance when in the mid-1990s he sought to forge a coalition with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to overthrow Milosevic, or when he established contacts with Serbia's secret police to avoid bloodshed during the anti-Milosevic demonstrations in late 2000.
After a month-long power struggle, the partnership fell apart in mid-2001 when Djindjic determined that Milosevic should be handed over to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Djindjic had come to realize that democratic and economic reforms in Serbia were possible only with the support of the United States and the European Union, who were pressing hard for Milosevic's handover. Kostunica, for his part, wanted to see Milosevic sentenced by a Serbian court. Djindjic said in the BR Alpha interview that the people spurned him because he was honest about the price tag of necessary reforms if Serbia's future lay in Europe and its institutions: cooperation with The Hague, financial discipline, market economy, labor discipline. "I tell the people that this is like surgery. But we are military surgeons: We have to operate without anesthesia. The alternative would be to not operate," Djindjic said, adding that Kostunica promised reforms without being prepared to pay for them.
The fact that the country currently has no president is a direct result of the antagonism between Djindjic and Kostunica. If Djindjic could not -- or did not wish to -- present a presidential candidate who was able to defeat the popular Kostunica, he preferred to have no president at all. The nomination of an unattractive candidate was part of Djindjic's plan to render the vote invalid by keeping voter turnout under the required 50 percent.
Serbia doubtlessly lost its most important politician in Djindjic. Analysts largely agree that whoever might seem a suitable successor as prime minister -- whether current Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, acting Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Goran Svilanovic, or Zoran Zivkovic, the deputy chairman of Djindjic's Democratic Party -- that individual will not be afforded a realistic chance to replace Djindjic.
As a temporary solution, the government will be chaired in rotation by its five deputy prime ministers: Covic, Zarko Korac, Dusan Mihajlovic, Jozef Kasa, and Miodrag Isakov. But loyal to Djindjic and his strategies, they have already ruled out cooperation with Kostunica's DSS to form a new government.
The state of emergency that was declared within hours of Djindjic's assassination might help the new government stabilize the situation for the moment. But the government must also accomplish something that Djindjic proved unable to do -- create a stable administration and establish the rule of law within his former pariah country.
EASTERN AFGHAN WARLORD CLASHES WITH U.S., AFGHAN TROOPS...
Forces loyal to renegade tribal leader Pacha Khan Zadran battled with U.S. and Afghan government forces on 12 March along the Khost-Gardayz road in Uza, Paktiya Province, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 13 March. This was the first time U.S. forces have clashed directly with Zadran's troops, according to AIP. Zadran was an ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United States, as well as a signatory to the 2001 Bonn Agreement, but later took up armed opposition against the central government. Since November 2002, Zadran 's forces have been attempting to take control of Gardayz, the capital of Paktiya Province, where he was once governor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November and 19 December 2002). Zadran told AIP that U.S. and Afghan forces came to the area he controls and requested that his forces hand over their weapons and "leave the area." When he refused, according to Zadran, "fighting flared up." Zadran said his forces prevailed in the fighting and that six of his troops were killed when U.S. aircraft bombed the area. Radio Afghanistan on 13 March reported that U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King said a U.S. Special Forces patrol was attacked by 20 men along the Khost-Gardayz road and that several hours of fighting ensued. U.S. forces called for air support and five attackers were killed, according to the report. AT
...AND VOWS TO KEEP CONTROL OF KHOST-GARDAYZ ROAD AND TO KEEP FIGHTING
We will not "allow Afghan forces to use the Khost-Gardayz main road and if U.S. forces want to use this road, they should ask us for permission," Zadran told AIP. He said the present administration in Kabul is "the Northern Alliance government and I don't obey Hamid Karzai." Asked what his reaction would be if U.S. forces launched a major operation again his forces, Zadran said, "I will never hand over my weapons and will continue to fight to the end." The Khost-Gardayz road was blocked by the Zadran tribe from 22 February to 4 March and was reopened following negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February and 3 and 4 March 2003). AT
KABUL PAPER COMMENTS ON THE IMPACT OF IRAQ CRISIS ON AFGHANISTAN
"There is a palpable fear that, if there is war with Iraq, saving Afghanistan will be put to one side," "The Kabul Times" commented on 12 March. "In postconflict situations, would-be promises tend to be forgotten as time goes [by]," the UN Secretary-General's special representative for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi was quoted as saying by the English-language daily. "For Afghans, the second round of the 'war on terror' in Iraq, may just undo the gains of the first," the newspaper commented. "The greatest challenge facing the USA in Afghanistan is convincing the people they are not like the Russians," the newspaper quoted an unidentified Afghan minister as saying in reference to the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. AT
IRAQI CITIZEN REPORTEDLY ARRESTED IN KANDAHAR
An Iraqi national was arrested on 13 March and charged with espionage in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar Province, IRNA reported. Unidentified Afghan security officials cited by the news agency said the Iraqi had been staying at a local inn for the previous 20 days and did not have any legal documents. While Afghan officials have not indicated why the Iraqi was in Afghanistan, the report said, "There is a possibility that this individual is connected to the Al-Qaeda terrorist group." No further details about the case were available. AT
INVESTIGATIVE TEAM TO REVIEW PRISONS IN BADAKHSHAN PROVINCE
A panel of judges from Kabul arrived in Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan Province on 11 March to investigate "judicial affairs and [the] welfare of prisoners" there, Bakhtar news agency reported the next day. The delegation is composed of representatives of the Supreme Court; the Justice, Interior, and Women's Affairs ministries; and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the report added. The survey is part of the Coordination Committee for Afghan Justice-Sector Reform's efforts to review the country's judicial system. The committee began its work with a visit to Konduz Province on 8 March. AT
AFGHAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON FUTURE CONSTITUTION
Transitional Administration head Karzai met with members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) on 13 March and told them that, in fulfilling their "historical responsibility" in drafting the new Afghan constitution, the members of the CDC "should take national interests into account," Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai said the CDC is determining the future shape of the country's political and administrative systems. CDC Chairman Nematullah Shahrani announced on 11 January that the preliminary draft of the new Afghanistan constitution would be ready by March 2003 and would subsequently be presented to the citizens of Afghanistan for consideration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). AT
HERAT INAUGURATES FIRST TENNIS CLUB
Herat city's first public tennis club, which opened on 10 March and will be available free of charge, is due to the efforts of Mahmud Rahimi, a local who provided the funding to construct the facility, Herat News Center reported the same day. Move over John McEnroe, here comes Mahmud Rahimi. AT
TEHRAN, BAGHDAD ANNOUNCE PRISONER EXCHANGE
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi announced on 13 March that Iran on 17 March will release the last 1,241 Iraqi prisoners of war in its custody, and Iraq will release 349 Iranian POWs, ISNA reported. Assefi said the Foreign Ministry will continue to investigate the fate of missing in action. Abd al-Mun'im al-Qadi, head of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry's Legal Department and head of the Iraqi delegation conducting the bilateral talks with Iran, said on 13 March that the two sides signed an agreement the previous day under which Iran will release all the Iraqi POWs and Baghdad will release "Iranian prisoners held in Iraq who stood trial for ordinary offences," Baghdad radio reported. Al-Qadi said that under this agreement Iraq will release 349 prisoners on 17 and 18 March, and Iran will release 941 Iraqi POWs. BS
PARLIAMENTARIAN: AMERICAN ATTACK ON IRAQ WOULD BE SHAMEFUL
Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur said on 12 March at a Tasua ceremony at the Imam Khomeini Mosque that attacking Iraq would bring "shame and dishonor" to Americans, IRNA reported. "In like manner that the Lebanese Islamic forces with their resistance forced the United States and Israel to yield, the Muslim nation of Iraq will bring down the U.S. in shame if it attacks Iraq with the help of its loyal ally, Britain," he said. BS
IRAQ REJECTS BRITISH PROPOSAL, PREPARES FOR 'HOLOCAUST'...
In an interview with Al-Jazeera on 13 March, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri rejected a British proposal demanding that Iraq meet six conditions to avert war and come into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. "They are not subject to discussion," he said. Referring to a British condition that calls for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to publicly state to his people in Arabic that he has concealed weapons of mass destruction but will no longer produce or retain them, Sabri said, "The United Nations deals with states. Britain and the United States, in their attempt to personalize the issue and divert attention from the real objectives of their colonialist, Zionist scheme against Iraq and against the Arabs and Muslims, are trying to focus on [individuals]." Sabri told Al-Jazeera that the current Iraqi policy is two-fold: First, it aims to "exert all strenuous efforts" to assist UN inspectors in their task; and second, it seeks to prepare for war. "No one of the [attacking coalition forces] will survive the holocaust the Iraqi people are preparing for those aggressors," Sabri added. KR
...AND DISCUSSES POSSIBLE WAR
Sabri also told Al-Jazeera on 13 March that "millions" of Iraqi civilians have volunteered to fight against a possible U.S.-led strike on Iraq, in addition to the "thousands" of Arab volunteers whom he says Iraq is now training for war. "We will make the frontiers of Iraq a grave for those aggressors and put their heads in mud. We will chop off the head of anyone who harms Iraq," Sabri said, adding, "They will face something they will never forget." Sabri then threatened U.S. forces, saying in a reference to fighting between British forces and combatants in Iraq in 1920, "We will not enable them to send the coffins [of dead soldiers] to the United States. We will bury them here, just as the British soldiers were buried here after the people of Iraq killed them." KR
U.S. INDICATES IT MIGHT GIVE DIPLOMACY 'A FEW MORE DAYS'
The U.S. administration indicated on 13 March that it is willing to wait a few more days to see whether UN Security Council members can reach an agreement on Iraq, but suggested that time is running out and it might feel forced to lead a coalition without the support of the council, the U.S. State Department's "Washington File" reported on 13 March. "There is a possibility of a [UN Security Council] vote coming to a conclusion tomorrow [14 March], or it could continue into next week.... Nothing has been set in stone," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters at a 13 March daily briefing, according to the State Department's website (http://usinfo.state.gov). Fleischer said the Security Council is examining "different ideas" and "different routes" to a common goal of disarming Iraq. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee on 13 March, "The options remain: Go for a vote and see what members say; or not go for a vote. All the options that you can imagine are before us, and we will be examining them today, tomorrow, and into the weekend." Powell added, according to the "Washington File": "We are still talking to the members of the [UN Security Council] to see what is possible with respect to coalescing around a position that wouldn't draw a veto.... The day of reckoning is fast approaching." KR
IRAQ TO SUBMIT REPORT ON ANTHRAX DESTRUCTION
Iraqi diplomats said on 13 March that they will present a report to the United Nations on 14 March regarding Iraq's destruction of anthrax in 1991, Al-Jazeera reported on 13 March. A second report regarding the nerve agent VX is also expected in the coming days. Iraq has claimed that it lost documentation on the destruction of anthrax and VX, and recently proposed ways in which UN inspectors could verify the quantities of anthrax and VX, which led UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) Executive Chairman Hans Blix to tell the UN Security Council on 14 February that UNMOVIC experts "are not very hopeful that it could prove possible to assess the quantities of material poured into the ground years ago" (see RFE/RL "Iraq Report," 20 February 2003). Iraq handed over to UNMOVIC several documents regarding anthrax and VX during an 8-9 February meeting in Baghdad, but those materials did not include any "new evidence," according to Blix. KR
FRANCE SIGNALS COMPROMISE, BUT STILL WANTS 'MONTHS' FOR INSPECTORS
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told France Inter Radio on 13 March that his country would be willing to compromise in the UN Security Council over the issue of a time frame for inspections in Iraq, but he added that inspectors still need months, not days. Villepin noted that UN Security Council Resolution 1284 "lays down a framework of 120 days. We are prepared to reduce this. We said this solemnly on 7 March, and I repeat it today: We are prepared, in consultation with all our partners, to reduce this period in a bid to find a consensus solution." Regarding the British six-point proposal that emerged this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003), Villepin said, "This is not a British resolution," adding, "The British added a declaration to an existing British-U.S.-Spanish draft, which lays down an ultimatum with a deadline of 17 March. So they were prepared to allow [only] a few days." KR