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Newsline - March 26, 2003


FOREIGN MINISTER BACKS ARAB LEAGUE CALL FOR END TO IRAQ WAR...
Addressing the Federation Council on 26 March, Igor Ivanov said that, at a special session of the UN Security Council to be convened at the initiative of the Arab League later that day, Russia will back the league's call for an immediate halt to the military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, RTR reported. Ivanov also said that the conflict in Iraq has already grown from a regional one to one of international significance. In addition, Ivanov repeated the Kremlin's dismissal of U.S. allegations that Russian companies transferred military equipment to Iraq in violation of UN-imposed sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 March 2003). "The United States has presented no evidence of this," Ivanov said. He added somewhat sarcastically that "we should expect that very soon the United States will 'find' some weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." Finally, he said he supports a Federation Council proposal to create a "national consensus" committee on Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2003), where legislators, government officials, diplomats, and businesspeople will work out a coordinated Russian approach to postwar Iraq. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov has said that such a committee would consider Russian policy not just for Iraq but for the entire Middle East. "For us, Iraqi oil and Iraqi debts are not the most important things; political stability in the region is," Margelov said, according to nns.ru on 26 March. VY

...AND MAKES THE CASE FOR COLLECTIVE SECURITY...
Writing in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 25 March, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that the end of the Cold War eliminated the threat of global nuclear war, but the new century has brought new threats to international security that are more daunting than the old ones. These threats are international terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international financial crises, ecological catastrophes, and epidemics. He added that the processes of globalization threaten to turn any regional crisis into a threat to global security because they have increased global interconnectedness and wealth imbalances. Ivanov argued that such challenges can only be met through the collective and persistent efforts of the international community, and he pointed to the global coalition against terrorism as an example. The strategy of combating terrorism should combine military, economic, social, and political measures, Ivanov argued, and it should be centralized under the coordination of the United Nations. He added that the conflict in Iraq has put the unity of the international antiterrorism coalition to the test and has forced the international community to consider what the future system of global security will look like. VY

...AS ANALYST WARNS OF GROWING THREAT OF WAR
Andrei Kokoshin -- the newly appointed chairman of the Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs, a former secretary of the Security Council, a former deputy defense minister, and director of the International Security Institute --said on 25 March that he is worried by the significant growth of the threat of military conflict in many regions of the world and by the beginnings of new regional arms races, TV-Tsentr reported on 25 March. Kokoshin said he is worried by the growing number of countries attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, particularly North Korea, which he said either already has such weapons or could develop them in a matter of months. He said that this development would almost certainly push Japan to join the nuclear club. Few have commented on the fact that Tokyo has already altered its legislation to allow it to develop such weapons, and it possesses the technological know-how to do so within weeks. India and Pakistan are also a source of concern, Kokoshin said. He said that the leaders of these countries treat these weapons much more cavalierly than the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. If present trends continue, Russia will find itself surrounded by a host of nuclear countries, including Japan, North Korea, China, India, and Pakistan, Kokoshin noted. VY

PROSECUTOR AGAIN WARNS CULTURE MINISTER AGAINST RETURNING TROPHY ART
Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi was summoned to the office of Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov on 25 March and formally warned that he will be prosecuted if he attempts to return the so-called Baldin collection of World War II-era trophy art to Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 March 2003), RTR reported. Earlier, prosecutors sent a written warning informing Shvydkoi that they consider the proposed transfer of the 364 artworks to be a violation of Russian legislation. Asked what will happen if the Culture Ministry proceeds with the handover, which is scheduled for 29 March, an unidentified spokesman for the prosecutor's office was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 March as saying: "It will never happen. The pictures will stay in Russia." The Prosecutor-General's Office has argued that the Culture Ministry has violated the law by failing officially to assess the value of the collection before authorizing its transfer to Germany, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 25 March. VY

NO CRIMINAL CASE TO BE FILED IN ST. PETERSBURG HAZING CASE
The Leningrad Military District Military Prosecutor's Office has decided not to open a criminal inquiry into allegations of hazing by the parents of two cadets at the prestigious Nakhimov Naval Academy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003), RosBalt reported on 24 March. The office ruled that, following a preliminary investigation at the insistence of the local branch of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, investigators found "conflicting relations" among academy cadets, but "not enough [evidence] to initiate a criminal case." VY

LARGE ANTIWAR RALLY HELD IN MUSLIM REPUBLIC...
A large demonstration against the U.S.-led military action against Iraq was held in the center of Cherkessk, the capital of Karachaevo-Cherkessia on 25 March, Russian media reported. Interfax-South reported that the rally was attended by about 5,000 students carrying slogans such as "Hands off Iraq," "Shame on the American aggressors," "Bush is a hick," and "We are for peace." ITAR-TASS reported that the demonstration was three times as large, citing organizer Aleksandr Belanov, chairman of the republican commission for youth affairs. Belanov said rallies were held in several cities and villages in the republic and were not only permitted by local authorities but had the "moral support of republican head Vladimir Semenov." JAC

...AS PROTESTS TAKE ON NEW FORMS
An antiwar demonstration was held in Vladivostok on 25 March, Radio Rossii reported. About 50 people burned U.S. and British flags and asked passers-by to kick a dummy representing a U.S. soldier. The protest was organized by the People's Deputy club and was also supported by State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov's Freedom and People Power party, regions.ru reported, citing Primorskii Television and Radio. The protestors also reportedly burned an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush. According to TVS, a group of veterans in Vladivostok has prepared a complaint against Bush to be filed with the World Court in The Hague. TVS also reported the same day that some legislators in St. Petersburg have called on the government to rescind the invitations to the city's upcoming 300th anniversary that were extended to Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko commented that since the invitations were issued by President Putin, it is up to him to decide whether to take them back. JAC

BEREZOVSKII TO FACE EXTRADITION HEARING
Deputy Prosecutor-General Kolesnikov told ORT and RTR on 25 March that tycoon Boris Berezovskii and former LogoVAZ Deputy General Director Yulii Dubov were briefly detained in London and then released after posting a 100,000 pound ($157,000) bond. Kolesnikov said British police were responding to a Russian government request submitted earlier this month asking for the extradition of the two men. Both men will face an extradition hearing on 2 April. The government is accusing Berezovskii and Dubov of fraud and money laundering in a case involving the 1994-95 sale of 2,000 automobiles that never reached the customers. In an interview with TV-Tsentr on 25 March, Berezovskii initially denied that he had been arrested, but later admitted that he is not allowed to leave Great Britain and that his passport has been withheld. He alleged that prosecutors are persecuting him for political reasons because of his widely publicized allegations that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was involved in the 1999 terrorist apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities. VY

NUMBER TWO OFFICIAL AT FISHING COMMITTEE DETAINED
Yurii Moskaltsov, first deputy chairman of the State Fisheries Committee, has been detained on charges of abuse of office and misappropriation of state assets, Interfax reported on 25 March. Deputy Prosecutor-General Kolesnikov said that a decision on whether to file charges against Moskaltsov will be made later. He added that Moskaltsov is the third suspect detained in the ongoing investigation of corruption in the fishing industry and the October murder of Magadan Oblast Governor Valentin Tsvetkov. Viktoriya Tikhacheva, a former adviser to Tsvetkov, and Aleksandr Rogatnykh, director of the Magadan Research Institute for Oceanography and Fishing, were arrested earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003). JAC

LOCAL NEWSPAPERS GAINING PROMINENCE IN INFORMATION MARKETPLACE?
According to data from the Media Ministry, national newspapers comprised 14.7 percent of the new media outlets launched in recent years, compared to a more than 80 percent share for regional, interregional, and municipal newspapers, RosBalt reported on 25 March. Deputy Media Minister Vladimir Grigorev said this data "allows us to say the local press is becoming an inspiring and serious information force." According to the ministry, just 10 years ago, the central press dominated the information field. The central newspapers with the largest circulation currently are "Moskovskii komsomolets," "Argumenty i fakty," "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Sport-ekspress," "Trud," "Rossiiskaya gazeta," "Izvestiya," and "Gudok." JAC

ENVOY WANTS FAR EASTERN MAYORS FIRED
Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii was expected to discuss with President Putin on 26 March the desirability of seeking the resignation of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii Mayor Yurii Golenishchev, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that day. Golenishchev has been blamed by many for the energy crisis affecting that city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). In addition, Pulikovskii has suggested at a recent press conference that Blagoveshchensk Mayor Aleksandr Kolyadin should "resign in order to preserve his honor." According to the daily, Pulikovskii is dissatisfied with the 500 million ruble ($16 million) debt the city has accumulated with local energy suppliers and compared the situation in Amur Oblast to the one that existed in Primorskii Krai in 2000. On 25 March, Amurenergo cut off electricity supplies to the city. According to the daily, United Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, who met with Pulikovskii in the Blagoveshchensk the previous week, said the reasons for the energy crisis are disorder and theft. JAC

FORMER ALFA FORCE COMMANDER DIES
Major General Viktor Karpukhin, former commander of the Alfa antiterrorism force, died of a heart attack on 24 March while traveling by train from Minsk to Moscow, Russian media reported. Karpukhin commanded Alfa from 1978-91. In 1979, he was awarded the order of Hero of the Soviet Union for his role in the bloody storming of the Kabul palace of Afghan President Hafizullah Amin, during which Amin was killed. That storming signaled the beginning of the decade-long Soviet engagement in Afghanistan. During the August 1991 coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Karpukhin refused to obey an order to move against the anticoup forces headed by RSFSR President Boris Yeltsin. Nonetheless, he was removed from his post later that year. VY

MOSCOW OFFICIALS TRIM BACK TRIBUTE TO BULGAKOV
Residents of the Patriarshchie Prudy Raion in Moscow have been informed that there has been a change in plans regarding the construction of a monument to novelist Mikhail Bulgakov in their neighborhood, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 25 March. Sculptor Aleksandr Rukovishnikov had been commissioned to create a monument to Bulgakov and the characters of his classic early 20th-century novel "The Master and Margarita" to be constructed in the district. Now, according to a decision by a city planning committee, the monument will feature only Bulgakov. Local residents expressed displeasure with the original plan, claiming that it would destroy the historical character of the raion. According to Interfax, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov commented that the city authorities committed "an unforgivable mistake" by failing to discuss the project with local residents. He added that someone was spreading rumors that an underground parking lot would be built under the pond at the heart of the raion, an idea that he dismissed as "absolute nonsense." JAC

ONE MISSING HELICOPTER FOUND IN CHECHNYA
The wreckage of one of the two Russian military helicopters reported missing in Chechnya on 20 March has been sighted in a mountain gorge in southern Chechnya, Russian media reported on 25 March, quoting a Russian Air Force spokesman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2003). The search for the second helicopter is continuing. LF

BUDANOV DEMANDS JURY TRIAL
Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is facing a second trial on charges of murdering a teenage Chechen woman in March 2000, has demanded a jury trial, Interfax reported on 25 March. A lawyer for the woman's family told Interfax, however, that he cannot recall a Russian military court ever condoning a jury trial. The Russian Supreme Court in February overturned a December ruling by the North Caucasus Military Court that Budanov was insane at the time of the killing and should undergo compulsory psychiatric treatment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January and 3 March 2003). A psychiatrist at the facility near Rostov-na-Donu where Budanov is currently detained told Interfax on 21 March that no competent specialist could question the diagnosis that Budanov is mentally ill. He added that Budanov is "suicidal" and that a new trial would only make his condition worse. LF

OFFICIALS SAY CHECHEN PRESIDENT NOT ELIGIBLE FOR AMNESTY
There are no "insurmountable political or legal obstacles" to the proposed amnesty for those Chechen fighters who have committed only minor crimes, Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko told Interfax on 25 March. He recalled that the Duma declared an amnesty for Chechen fighters in late 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"16 May 2000). But Russian military spokesman Colonel Ilya Shabalkin told Interfax the same day that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is not eligible for an amnesty because of his alleged role in organizing a "criminal group." Chechen Prime Minister Anatolii Popov argued on 25 March that Maskhadov should surrender, because the 23 March referendum outcome demonstrates that he has forfeited the right to claim to represent the Chechen people, Interfax reported. But Oleg Orlov of the human rights group Memorial argued that the referendum has not stripped Maskhadov of his legitimacy, Interfax reported. LF

WOMEN PROTEST ONGOING ARRESTS IN ARMENIA
More than 1,000 women supporting defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian braved pouring rain on 25 March to stage a march to the Prosecutor-General's Office in Yerevan to protest ongoing arrests of opposition activists and sympathizers, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A member of Demirchian's campaign staff told RFE/RL that 103 people have been fined or jailed since 17 March for participating in earlier protest marches. Others are still unaccounted for, she said. Also on 25 March, an official at the Council of Europe's Yerevan office rejected an Armenian Justice Ministry official's argument that Armenia is not under any obligation to abolish a clause in its Soviet-era Criminal Code providing for the arrest and sentencing to short prison terms of persons suspected of violating public order, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003). LF

ARMENIA CONCERNED BY TURKISH INCURSION INTO IRAQ
Speaking on Armenia Public Television late on 24 March, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed concern that the Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq might aggravate the Iraq crisis and destabilize "the entire region," according to Mediamax on 25 March, as cited by Groong. There is an Armenian-populated village in northern Iraq with some 1,000 inhabitants, Oskanian said. LF

ARMENIA AGAIN DENIES U.S. HAS REQUESTED USE OF AIR BASE
There is no truth to media reports that the United States is negotiating with Armenia to lease a military airfield, Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seiran Shahsuvarian told Arminfo on 25 March, according to Groong. He added that Washington has not made any written or oral requests for the use of the Shirak airfield in northern Armenia. The daily "Haykakan zhamanak" reported on 25 March that the United States has written to the Defense Ministry requesting the use of the Shirak facility. Oskanian last week denied a 15 March report in the same newspaper that the United States had asked to lease a military airfield at either Stepanavan, Djermuk, or Kapan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003). LF

ARMENIANS SAID FLEEING IRAQ
Several hundred families from Iraq's 15,000-20,000-strong Armenian minority have fled that country, most of them to Lebanon or Syria, former Ambassador David Hovhannisian told a seminar in Yerevan on the possible regional impact of the Iraq war, according to Arminfo on 25 March, as cited by Groong. Hovhannisian also said 40 Armenian families from Iraq arrived in Armenia before the outbreak of hostilities. LF

IS U.S. ASSESSING GEORGIA'S MILITARY AIRFIELDS?
Georgia and the United States are discussing the possibility of U.S. forces using Georgian military facilities to launch attacks on Iraq, Reuters reported on 25 March, quoting a spokeswoman for the Georgian Defense Ministry. She did not elaborate, but Reuters quoted Georgian military experts as saying that three airfields are being considered -- Vaziani, a second one near Tbilisi, and Kopitnari in western Georgia. ITAR-TASS on 25 March quoted Imereti Governor Temur Shashiashvili as saying that U.S. experts have visited Kopitnari twice in recent days. But he added that the United States still has not made any formal request for the use of Georgian military facilities. ITAR-TASS, however, on 25 March quoted the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi as saying that the U.S. experts visited Kopitnari in connection with a training program for Georgian Air Force helicopter pilots. Interfax on 25 March quoted an unidentified Russian military official as saying that the Vaziani base requires modernization and is therefore unsuitable for U.S. purposes. The official recalled that before Russian troops withdrew from Vaziani in the summer of 2001, aircraft could land there only during daylight hours because the navigational equipment was obsolete. LF

ABKHAZIA DENIES MINING BORDER WITH GEORGIA
Abkhaz Defense Minister Raul Khadjimba on 25 March rejected as untrue a Caucasus Press report quoting a Georgian State Security Ministry official as claiming that Abkhazia has laid mines in the 12-kilometer security zone on either side of the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian official alleged that the Abkhaz are laying mines in the zone patrolled by CIS peacekeeping forces because they fear an incursion by Georgian guerrillas and U.S.-trained commandos. LF

ABKHAZ PREMIER REJECTS CALLS FOR GOVERNMENT TO RESIGN
Speaking at a cabinet session on 24 March, Gennadii Gagulia said opposition calls for his government's resignation are misplaced, Caucasus Press reported. He noted that during its first 100 days in office his government has drafted a comprehensive plan for improving the socioeconomic situation in the unrecognized republic. Gagulia also said that the railroad linking Russia via Georgia with Armenia will be repaired by Russian and Abkhaz specialists, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian engineers will not work on the section of the railway that runs through Abkhazia, Gagulia said. LF

MUSLIM RADICALS IN KYRGYZSTAN REPORTED TO INTENSIFY ACTIVITY
There has been a sharp upsurge in the activity of Islamic extremists in southern Kyrgyzstan since the beginning of the Iraq war, akipress.org reported on 26 March, quoting the independent newspaper "Moya stolitsa." The most notable incident took place on 21 March, the Norouz spring holiday, when an anonymous caller phoned the Djalal-Abad police department and demanded that President Askar Akaev publicly condemn the war in Iraq, threatening that if he did not the Kyrgyz-Turkish Boys' Lyceum in Djalal-Abad would be blown up. Police have been unable to identify the caller, but law enforcement and security officers raided the homes of suspected members of the banned Muslim extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in all three southern oblasts of the country, arresting seven people and seizing more than 100 pieces of extremist literature. BB

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES CONTROVERSIAL PROPERTY TAX
The government-proposed introduction of a real-estate tax in Kyrgyzstan was debated in parliament on 25 March, akipress.org reported. Most of the deputies who expressed an opinion said that if a real-estate tax is introduced, other taxes should be abolished -- mandatory contributions to the National Disaster Fund and the highway tax were mentioned specifically -- or reduced. The importance of the discussion was underscored by the participation of Deputy Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev and Finance Minister Bolot Abildaev. Deputy Alisher Sabirov pointed out that unless another tax is abolished, the new tax will effectively mean the double taxation of real estate. Deputy Marat Sultanov said the proposed tax is too high and should be reduced from 1.5 percent of the property value to 0.3 percent. The new tax is to be administrated locally and is expected to improve financial conditions for local administrations. The debate on the proposal is scheduled to continue. BB

GOVERNMENT CONCERNED ABOUT POSSIBLE EFFECT OF IRAQ WAR ON TAJIKISTAN'S SECURITY
Suhrob Sharipov, deputy head of the Tajik presidential administration's information department, said on 25 March that the war in Iraq could endanger Tajikistan's security, because military action against a Muslim country is likely to stir up Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. These groups could, in turn, affect the political, economic, and social situation inside Tajikistan. The war could also arouse pan-Islamic sympathies among the population, upsetting the balance of religion and secularism that has been achieved since the civil war. Increases in the world price of oil would have a negative effect on the socioeconomic situation in Tajikistan, Sharipov predicted. But he added that the war in Iraq was unlikely to reduce U.S. investment in Tajikistan unless the war is prolonged and funds intended for Central Asia are diverted to the military. On Tajikistan's cautious approach to events in Iraq, Sharipov said that it is in the country's interest to maintain good relations both with the United States and with those countries -- such as Russia -- that oppose a military solution to the Iraq crisis. BB

DEATH SENTENCES COMMUTED IN TAJIKISTAN
The death sentences handed down in February to 11 convicted members of a rebel group in Tajikistan have been commuted, centrasia.ru reported on 26 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2003). The 11 men were members of the armed band led by former opposition field commander Rahmon "Hitler" Sanginov, who refused to accept the 1997 peace accords that ended the Tajik civil war and turned to crime. The group was largely destroyed in a military operation near Dushanbe in the summer of 2001. Eighty-four surviving members were put on trial before the Tajik Supreme Court, and those who did not receive death sentences on charges including murder, robbery, and kidnapping were sentenced to from 1 1/2 to 25 years' imprisonment. The report notes that this is not the first time that members of armed rebel groups have had their death sentences commuted. BB

NONGOVERNMENTAL JOURNALISTS' ORGANIZATION REGISTERED IN UZBEKISTAN
The Uzbek authorities have registered an independent association of journalists in Bukhara Oblast, centrasia.ru reported on 26 March. This is the first time a grassroots journalists' NGO has been able register in Uzbekistan. The Bukhara group, called Zhurnalist (the same word is used in both Uzbek and Russian), includes print and broadcast journalists. Zhurnalist Chairman Asatillo Kudratov told centrasia.ru that the mission of the group is to defend and consolidate the rights of journalists. Kudratov was quoted as saying that some 100 media workers in Bukhara Oblast have indicated interest in joining the organization, and international donors have already promised funding. Two newly formed independent journalists' groups in Tashkent have been unable to register so far because, according to the report, they did not wait to be registered before starting to function, thereby arousing the ire of the authorities. Since the official abolition of censorship in 2002, journalists in Uzbekistan -- while expressing doubts that censorship will completely disappear -- have started trying to fulfill the role of "watchdogs of democracy," with, as the centrasia.ru report says, limited success so far. BB

DECREE ON AGRICULTURAL REFORM ISSUED IN UZBEKISTAN
President Islam Karimov on 24 March signed a decree on expanding agricultural reform in Uzbekistan, uzreport.com reported the following day. The decree is intended to "implement proper market-based management structures in agriculture, [and to] broaden the independence and secure the legal protection of agricultural producers." The existing system of leasing land and contracting with producers is to be expanded. As of 2004, all collective farms and other agricultural units are to be transferred to the leasing system. The policy of state-determined procurement targets for grain and cotton will remain, but the types of crops to be grown will be determined on the basis of contracts with procurement organizations. Units of agricultural producers are supposed to manage their own resources, and government distribution of resources is to be abolished. The decree is officially described as ending the command system in the agricultural sector, but a number of Soviet-style features will be retained, including state procurement and an emphasis on collective rather than individual farming. BB

BELARUSIAN POLICE THWART ANOTHER OPPOSITION RALLY
Police forces dispersed a rally organized by the Belarusian opposition in downtown Minsk on 25 March to mark the 85th anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, Belapan reported. Police reportedly arrested 15 people during the action, including Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka. Another opposition rally to celebrate the same anniversary was thwarted by police on 23 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003). The Belarusian opposition celebrates anniversaries of the proclamation of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, a short-lived non-Bolshevik state declared on 25 March 1918, as a landmark event on Belarusians' path toward a democratic state, independent from Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). Such celebrations have been repeatedly resisted by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT REINFORCES 'IDEOLOGICAL' CADRES
President Lukashenka on 25 March appointed Aleh Pralyaskouski as deputy head of the presidential administration, Belapan reported, citing the presidential press office. Prior to his appointment, Pralyaskouski served for a short time as general director of the state-run BelTA news agency. The Belarusian president also approved the nominations of Pyotr Kukharchyk as rector of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University and Yauhen Matusevich as director of the presidential Research Institute of Public Administration Theory and Practice. Lukashenka said the appointments were aimed at stepping up "ideological work" in the state. JM

UKRAINIAN NBC BATTALION STARTS MOVING TO KUWAIT
Two Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft on 25 March began to airlift soldiers and equipment of the Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait, Interfax reported. Within the next few days, two planes with troops and equipment on board are expected to fly to Kuwait every 24 hours, and the Il-76 planes could be replaced by more powerful Ruslan and Mriya aircraft. Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko told journalists the same day that four servicemen of the battalion have refused to go to Kuwait, "owing to different reasons." The Verkhovna Rada approved sending the NBC unit to Kuwait last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2003). JM

FORMER UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER ARRESTED IN GRAIN PROBE
Police have arrested former Deputy Prime Minister for Agriculture Leonid Kozachenko on charges of tax evasion and abuse of office, Reuters reported on 25 March, quoting Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Polina Bashkina. Bashkina said Kozachenko's detention stemmed from an investigation launched earlier this month at the order of President Leonid Kuchma, who is concerned by a deficit of grain and a rise in bread prices in Ukraine. Prosecutors last week said the actual grain crop in Ukraine in 2002 was "significantly lower" than the previously announced 38.8 million tons. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT INTRODUCES NEW CABINET JOB
President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree introducing the post of cabinet minister for relations with the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 25 March. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES PLAN TO SEND UP TO 55 TROOPS TO POSTWAR IRAQ
The cabinet approved and sent to parliament on 25 March a bill to send up to 55 peacekeeping troops to Iraq after military operations there are completed, BNS reported. Government spokesman Daniel Vaarik said he believes parliament will approve the bill. It provides for a six-month term for the mission, but the Defense Ministry proposed approving participation for one year, as experience has shown that peacekeeping missions take longer than six months. The expenses for the mission are to be paid from the supplementary budget. SG

LATVIA COMMEMORATES 'VICTIMS OF COMMUNIST GENOCIDE DAY'
In Riga on 25 March, Prime Minister Einars Repse, parliament speaker Ingrida Udre, National Armed Forces Commander Admiral Gaidis Zeibots, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, and other political leaders led a procession of hundreds from the Museum of Occupation to the Freedom Monument, LETA reported. They were commemorating "Victims of Communist Genocide Day," an unofficial holiday marking the beginning of the second mass deportation to Siberia. More than 42,000 people, including 10,000 children, were taken away by train in the 1949 deportation. Illness prevented President Vaira Vike-Freiberga from participating in the ceremonies, but her adviser, Antonijs Zunda, read her prepared speech. The president declared that the tragedy Latvia suffered from the totalitarian communist regime should be explained to other countries to help prevent its recurrence. She said it is tragic that no apologies have been made by those who are morally responsible for these crimes. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON MILITARY PARTICIPATION IN PERSIAN GULF
By a vote of 59 to 13, with two abstentions, parliament passed a resolution on 25 March authorizing the sending of up to 10 logistic specialists and six military doctors to facilitate the U.S.-led operations in the Persian Gulf, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius said the personnel are ready to leave immediately, but added, "We will do this only when we are invited. This will most likely occur this week or next week." He said they would most probably first work in Kuwait or on American ships in the gulf, but could later be transferred to Iraq. The resolution states that the servicemen are to serve in "a humanitarian mission" and are not to take part in any military actions. The estimated expenses of 600,000 litas ($186,000) for the six-month mission will be paid out of the Defense Ministry's budget. SG

POLISH BROADCASTING AUTHORITY HEAD RESIGNS
Juliusz Braun, head of the National Radio and Television Council (KRRiT), resigned his post on 25 March but said he will keep his place on that nine-member body, PAP reported. Braun said his vision of Poland's public life and media runs counter to that of KRRiT Secretary Wlodzimierz Czarzasty and "some important politicians" from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance who, he claimed, are seeking to limit the freedom of media in the country. Earlier this month, Braun told the parliamentary commission investigating the Rywingate scandal that the work on amending a media law last year involved some "shady dealings" on the part of some KRRiT members. President Kwasniewski immediately called on Braun and the entire KRRiT to step down (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2003). "It is a step in [the] right direction," presidential minister Dariusz Szymczycha said of Braun's decision. JM

POLAND GETS READY TO ISSUE VISAS FOR EASTERN NEIGHBORS
Deputy Foreign Minister Slawomir Dabrowa told the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee on 25 March that 12 consular offices and 290 new employees are concluding preparations for issuing visas for citizens of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine as of 1 July, PAP reported. The government estimates that the Polish consulates in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia will issue some 1 million visas annually. Russia suggested earlier this month that the introduction of a new visa regime between Poland and Russia should be postponed until the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). JM

CZECHS REFUTE REPORT THAT FAULTY GAS MASKS WERE SENT TO KUWAIT
The Czech Republic on 25 March denied a report in the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" that faulty gas masks were sent to Kuwait, CTK and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003). Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said Kuwait canceled the contract because the equipment sent was not the model it had ordered. Tvrdik said the masks were in perfect condition but were not the state-of-the art military model that Kuwait wanted, but an older, revamped civilian one made in 1988-89. As a result, Kuwait canceled the entire order. Tvrdik said this was a heavy blow to Czech hopes of winning business in Kuwait and elsewhere by capitalizing on the Czech NBC unit's presence in Kuwait. The reporter who wrote the story apologized at a news conference for having misunderstood a Defense Ministry statement on the matter. MS

NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES DISPATCH OF CZECH FIELD HOSPITAL
The National Security Council on 25 March approved the dispatch of a Czech field hospital to take part in peacekeeping operations in Iraq after the cessation of military hostilities in that country, CTK reported, citing Defense Minister Tvrdik, CTK reported. Tvrdik said such peacekeeping operations would require a mandate from the UN, but that the Czech Republic could send the field hospital as early as 1 April, once that mandate is approved. CTK said the costs of the dispatch and operation of the hospital would have to be covered by other countries, since the Czech Republic lacks the necessary funds. The measure must receive parliamentary approval if the mission is to last longer than 60 days. MS

CZECH ARMY RELEASES LIST OF STB COLLABORATORS
The Czech Army has made public a list of people who collaborated with the communist-era military counterintelligence service, which was part of the secret police (StB), CTK reported on 26 March, citing the daily "Hospodarske noviny." A spokesman for the ministry said the list of 15,000 names is not complete and that more names will be made public. The list is available on the ministry's website at http://www.army.cz. Among others, the list includes Jan Valo (code-named 'Richard'), who was commander of the Czech NBC unit in the early 1990s and is now chairman of the Czech War Veterans' Association. Valo denied having ever signed any document on cooperation with the StB. Defense Minister Tvrdik said he has no time to go through the list while the crisis in Iraq in ongoing. "Besides," he added, "Valo has been out of the army for 10 years." MS

ORGANIZATION OF EXPELLED GERMANS OPENS OFFICE IN PRAGUE
An organization representing Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia under the 1946 Benes Decrees opened an office in Prague on 25 March, CTK and AP reported. Sudeten Germans Landsmannschaft Chairman Bernd Posselt, who is also a member of the European Parliament, said the office will not function as a "propaganda center," but will rather help develop a dialogue between the expelled Germans and Czech society. "We want to find contacts and start projects that will lead to reconciliation between the two nations," AP quoted him as saying. Posselt added, however, that he believes the Czech Republic must abolish the decrees before it can join the EU. Politicians from both the ruling coalition and from the opposition were quoted by CTK as criticizing the opening of the office. MS

CZECH RULING PARTY SAID TO HAVE ACCEPTED SPONSORSHIP FROM HIGHWAY INVESTOR
The ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) reportedly accepted a 5 million-crown ($167,706) sponsorship gift in 2002 from a company with links to the main investor in the construction of a highway running from Lipnik nad Becvou via Ostrava to the Polish border, CTK reported on 25 March, citing the daily "Hospodarske noviny." The daily wrote that the B.H. Centrum company, which provided the sponsorship gift, is connected through its management to the consortium Housing & Construction, which was awarded by the previous government a contract to build the highway without a tender being issued for the project. CSSD Deputy Chairman Karel Kobes, who is in charge of the party's finances, denied any relation between the gift and the state order received by the consortium. Transportation and Communications Minister Milan Simonovsky said on 20 March that Housing & Construction's contract should be annulled. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER, FOREIGN MINISTER EXPECT SMOOTH RATIFICATION OF NATO ACCESSION TREATY
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on 25 March he expects the treaty on Slovakia's accession to NATO to be approved by his cabinet on 27 March, after which the treaty is to be sent to parliament for approval, CTK reported. Dzurinda spoke ahead of the 26 March ceremony in Brussels in which the foreign ministers of the seven NATO invitees are to sign the NATO-accession protocol. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said he is confident the parliaments of the 19 current NATO members will quickly ratify Slovakia's accession to the organization. Dzurinda said that after becoming a NATO member, "there will never again be talks about us without us," adding that "Munich and Yalta will become for us only dark chapters of the past." Along with the signing of the protocol on EU accession expected for mid-April, Dzurinda said, the signing of the protocol on joining NATO is "the most important signature of the year." MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT VETOES HEALTH-CARE REFORM BILL
President Rudolf Schuster on 25 March vetoed a bill approved by the parliament earlier this month on the reform of the health-care system, CTK and TASR reported. The bill stipulated that Slovaks have to partly cover costs of hospitalization and doctors' visits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). Schuster said through his spokesman Jan Fuele that due to the country's difficult economic situation, he is returning the bill to the parliament, asking it to enlarge the categories of those who would be exempt from payment. Parliament could still override Schuster's veto. MS

SLOVAKIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF ANTICOMMUNIST RELIGIOUS PROTEST
Slovakia on 25 March marked 15 years since the anticommunist religious protest demonstration staged in 1988 by several thousand demonstrators, TASR and CTK reported. The demonstrators, who demanded that religious and human rights be respected, were brutally dispersed by the communist secret police after gathering in Bratislava's Hviezdoslavovo Square, carrying candles. Parliament Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky on 25 March met with 130 people who were detained as a result of the demonstration. MS

U.S., U.K. AMBASSADORS BRIEF HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS OVER TASZAR-TRAINED IRAQIS...
U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Nancy Goodman Brinker on 25 March told parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee that the first contingent of Iraqis trained at the Taszar military air base has joined U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf and the second group will travel to the region this weekend, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Brinker said the Iraqis will help reorganize public-administration and repair infrastructure, and will also carry out humanitarian missions and act as interpreters and liaison officers. She said the United States awaits specific proposals on how Hungary can contribute to tasks that will follow the war. For his part, British Ambassador to Hungary Nigel Thorpe said Great Britain is pleased that the Hungarian government is taking a courageous and principled stand on the issue. MSZ

...AS PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE QUESTIONS ROLE OF BASE
Secret Services State Secretary Andras Toth on 25 March denied reports that Iraqis working with U.S. commando units stayed at the Taszar air base, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Addressing parliament's National Security Committee, Toth also denied that the air base will be turned into a camp for prisoners of war or refugees in the future. He admitted, however, that "erroneous wording" was used when it was announced that the base would be used only to train interpreters. Committee Chairman Laszlo Kover (FIDESZ) said the opposition asked Toth questions regarding the issue, but did not receive straight answers. "I have the impression that the cabinet members speak this way because they themselves do not know the whole truth," the daily quoted Toth as saying. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER INVITES PREDECESSORS TO EU TREATY-SIGNING CEREMONY
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 25 March invited his predecessors Peter Boross, Gyula Horn, and Viktor Orban to attend the EU Accession Treaty signing ceremony in Athens on 16 April, Hungarian television reported. Medgyessy wrote in the invitation letters that Hungary's accession to the EU is the common achievement of "a strong and united republic rather than that of the left or right wing," and is the result of 10 years of work. He stressed that credit should primarily go to the citizens of Hungary. Medgyessy noted that the 1990-93 government of the late Jozsef Antall, and later the Boross cabinet (1993-94), initiated the process by submitting intentions to join the EU; that the Horn cabinet (1994-98) established a regular and institutionalized link between the Hungarian government and European institutions; and the Orban administration (1998-2002) carried out the bulk of the legal-harmonization tasks. Horn accepted the invitation, while Boross said he will readily attend if the other former premiers do so. For his part, Orban said he will reply to the invitation by letter this week, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

SERBIAN POLICE ARREST ALLEGED ASSASSIN...
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic announced on 25 March that police arrested Zvezdan Jovanovic -- the deputy head of the elite police Special Operations Unit (JSO), or Red Berets -- in Belgrade the previous day on the suspicion that he recently assassinated Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). Police also arrested JSO head Dusan Maricic "Gumar," who was sacked from his post, as well as JSO member Sasa Pejakovic "Pele." Zivkovic added that police found what they are certain is the murder weapon -- a Heckler and Koch G3 -- hidden in the Novi Beograd district of the capital. PM

...WHILE THE GOVERNMENT DISSOLVES AN ELITE POLICE UNIT...
Following the latest revelations, the government decided on 25 March to dissolve the JSO, which former President Slobodan Milosevic and his aide Jovica Stanisic founded as Milosevic's Praetorian Guard in 1991, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported. The JSO's first leader was Franko Simatovic "Frenki" of Yugoslav counterintelligence, who had close ties to Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2003). Stanisic and Simatovic were arrested shortly after Djindjic's assassination. Also in conjunction with the investigation of the Djindjic case, Belgrade district prosecutor Rade Terzic resigned his post, the second prosecutor to do so, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2003). PM

...AND MANY QUESTIONS REMAIN UNANSWERED
Most Serbs appear pleased with the police handling of the Djindjic case, the BBC reported from Belgrade on 26 March. But more members of the judicial branch have been sacked or have resigned over corruption allegations than have police, the correspondent added. The ongoing state of emergency, moreover, has served to muzzle any discussion in the media of the extent of corruption and mafia penetration of public life. Observers also note that Milorad Ulemek-Lukovic "Legija," a former commander of the JSO, remains at large, as does reputed mafia chief Dusan Spasojevic. Finally, the hundreds of arrests in conjunction with the Djindjic case have not led to solving any other high-profile Serbian political murders, such as that of former President Ivan Stambolic. PM

VOJVODINA CROATS WANT INFORMATION ABOUT MISSING PROFESSOR
Bela Tonkovic, who heads the Association of Vojvodina Croats, said in Novi Sad on 25 March that he has asked the relevant authorities for information in conjunction with disappearance of Professor Predrag Polic on 15 March, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Tonkovic noted that Polic had received a threatening letter from unspecified "Serbian nationalists" warning him that he will "end up like...Djindjic." Tonkovic called on all Croats to remain calm. Polic heads the Chemistry Department at Belgrade University. PM

FORMER BOSNIAN AMBASSADOR ARRESTED IN NEW YORK
Police in New York arrested Muhamed Sacirbegovic on 25 March on the basis of a Bosnian government arrest warrant charging him with embezzling or misusing up to $2.5 million during his tenure as Bosnian ambassador to the UN, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Sacirbegovic held the UN post during the 1992-95 conflict, served as Bosnian foreign minister from 1996-98, and then returned briefly to his UN job, which he left when the corruption charges came to light. He is the son of a long-time friend and colleague of former President Alija Izetbegovic and grew up in the United States, where he was educated and played football for Tulane University under the name of Mo Sacirbey. He holds a Masters of Business Administration degree from Columbia University. Many remember Sacirbegovic for his articulate defense of Bosnia's cause before the UN and in the media during the conflict. Revelations of his alleged corruption came as a shock to many in Bosnia and abroad. Police are holding him in New York without bail pending the arrival of a formal extradition request from Sarajevo. He faces a minimum of three years in prison if convicted, Reuters reported. Sacirbegovic has previously denied the charges, arguing that he used the money only on official business during chaotic times. PM

UN SAYS NO ENVIRONMENTAL THREAT IN BOSNIA FROM DEPLETED URANIUM
Officials of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in Sarajevo on 25 March that investigations have shown that uranium from weapons used in the 1992-95 conflict contaminated two sites in Hadzici and one in Han Pijesak, but that "there is no risk to the environment," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 12 January 2001). PM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL WANTS CROATIA TO INDICT FORMER GENERAL
The Croatian government confirmed on 25 March that it has received a demand from The Hague-based war crimes tribunal to indict former General Janko Bobetko, whom the tribunal's doctors previously ruled medically unfit to stand trial, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). The tribunal said it will suspend its own indictment of the 84-year-old Bobetko if Zagreb indicts him. Bobetko has been hospitalized for several months and refuses to accept an indictment or stand trial. PM

MACEDONIA PREPARES TO RECEIVE EU MILITARY MISSION
The commander of the future EU military mission, General Pierre Maral, held consultations in Skopje on 24 and 25 March with President Boris Trajkovski and the government led by Branko Crvenkovski to discuss details of the EU's military mission, Macedonian media reported. After meeting with the government, Maral said on 25 March that he is confident that the mission, which will be called Concordia, will continue the successful work of NATO's Allied Harmony. The parliament is expected to ratify an agreement regulating the legal basis for the mission on 26 March. The new agreement largely resembles the previous one with NATO. The handover ceremony will take place in Skopje on 31 March (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002 and 17 January 2003). UB

MACEDONIAN AND ALBANIAN TROOPS IN JOINT EXERCISE
Some 41 Albanian troops joined an unspecified number of their Macedonian counterparts at the Macedonian Krivolak army base on 26 March for a joint exercise under the auspices of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS SUPPORT OF IRAQ WAR NOT UNCONDITIONAL
President Ion Iliescu on 26 March told journalists that Romania's support for the coalition participating in the war in Iraq should not be taken for granted, and that Romania cannot be indifferent toward the way the war is being waged, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said that "no one likes the choice of arms, least of all Romania," adding that this is why Bucharest has from the start backed what he called the joint position of the EU. He said that in line with this position, Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity must be preserved and interfaith divisions in Iraq must not be allowed to generate new conflict situations or "feed all sorts of fundamentalist positions." He also said Iraq must undergo a process of political, economic, and social reconstruction. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN LONDON
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 26 March met in London with his British counterpart Jack Straw to discuss the war in Iraq, Romania's quest to join the EU by 2007, as well as bilateral relations, Mediafax reported. Straw reiterated his country's backing of Romania's efforts to join the EU and said Prime Minister Tony Blair has personally pledged to help Romania achieve EU membership at the earliest possible date. Geoana said Romania expects to receive British aid to facilitate its fight against corruption and toward institutional transparency. Straw thanked Bucharest for backing the effort to bring about the disarmament of Iraq, and said Romania should play a role "not only in Iraq's physical reconstruction, but also in its moral and political reconstruction," due to Romania's own long experience with a totalitarian regime. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSIONS RECOMMEND APPROVAL OF CNSAS REVOCATION
The Judicial Commissions of the parliament's two chambers on 26 March recommended to the plenum to follow the recommendations of the parliamentary ad hoc commission, which earlier this month said the College of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives should be disbanded, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2003). Those members on the two commissions representing the National Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania left in protest before the vote. MS

ROMANIAN WORKERS PROTEST PLANNED LAYOFFS
Some 2,000 Romanian workers from the Siderurgica steelmaker protested in Hunedoara on 26 March against planned layoffs, Mediafax reported. For the second consecutive day, thousands of workers protested in Brasov on 25 March, blocking for several hours the highway to Bucharest, roads in town, and the entrance to the main railway station, an RFE/RL correspondent and AP reported. Labor and Social Solidarity Minister Marian Sarbu arrived in Brasov at the head of a governmental commission. He said the cabinet is offering workers 20-24 months' wages as severance pay, and that negotiations with labor unions -- which are demanding 36 months' severance pay -- will continue. MS

ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES DETAIN SUSPECT IN 2002 GRENADE ASSAULT ON HIGH SCHOOL
A former member of the Romanian peacekeeping forces in Angola was detained on 26 March under the suspicion of having thrown a grenade into the courtyard of a Bucharest high school last year, Romanian Radio reported. Several pupils were injured in the incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002). According to the radio report, the suspect admitted to having thrown the grenade, as well as having recently placed one that did not explode at the entrance of Bucharest's central Cismigiu Park. The Romanian Intelligence Service traced him after he used his mobile telephone to make threats that additional grenades would explode unless he was paid $10 million. Police uncovered several grenades that the suspect buried in a Bucharest cemetery, as well as arms and ammunition stolen from a Bucharest military unit in August 2002. MS

MOLDOVA 'CONCERNED' ABOUT IRAQ WAR
The Moldovan Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on 25 March that it is "concerned" about and "deplored" the loss of life resulting from the war in Iraq, Flux reported. The statement also said Moldova is worried about "the risks of an ecological catastrophe" resulting from the burning oil wells in Iraq. MS

EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT ADDRESSES MOLDOVAN CONCERNS
European Commission President Romano Prodi on 25 March told Moldova's new chief of mission at the EU, Mihai Popov, that the EU policy of outlining its future relations with EU neighbors should not be understood as the delineation of the organization's final and definitive borders, Flux reported. Prodi said the policy should rather be interpreted as the EU's readiness to "widen and consolidate relations" with those countries. He said Moldova will thus be considered a "privileged neighbor." Prodi added that the timing of accession of new members to the union continues to depend on the efforts of each candidate, and above all on their economic performance and political democratization. He also said the EU is ready to actively participate in resolving the Transdniester conflict, side-by-side with the OSCE and the other two mediators -- Russia and Ukraine. MS

MOLDOVAN PRIVATE RADIO STATION BACK ON AIR
The private Voice of Bessarabia radio station resumed broadcasts on 26 March, Infotag reported. Valeriu Saharneanu, one of the owners of the station, who is also chairman of the Union of Moldovan Journalists, said at a press conference the same day that the 10 December 2002 decision by the Coordination Board for Electronic Media to suspend the Voice of Bessarabia broadcasts on the grounds that it had failed to obtain a "technical license" was a measure that was "too severe" and "undeserved." He said the station is independent, as it does not belong to any political party. Board Chairman Ion Mihailo said nothing prevents the station from resuming regular broadcasts now that it has fulfilled the conditions for receiving a broadcasting permit. MS

BULGARIA DOES NOT EXPECT ITS STAND ON IRAQ TO IMPEDE NATO ACCESSION
Prior to his departure to Brussels, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said on 25 March that he does not expect Bulgaria's support for the U.S.-led coalition to impede the ratification of the NATO accession protocol by European members of the alliance, BTA reported. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told Pasi the same day in Brussels that Bulgaria should step up its consultations with the EU on key foreign-policy issues. "It would be good if the EU applicant countries give a strong signal that they are ready to participate in a more intense dialogue on the key issues of the European foreign policy," bnn quoted Verheugen as saying. Pasi, for his part, demanded that the EU candidate countries be given greater influence on the EU's foreign policy. Pasi was expected to sign the NATO accession protocol on 26 March. UB

MIXED SIGNALS OVER EFFECTS OF IRAQ WAR ON BULGARIAN ECONOMY
Experts are divided over the effects of the Iraq war on the Bulgarian economy. State Agency for Foreign Investments Chairman Pavel Ezekiev told "Standart" on 26 March that he expects the war to have an overall positive effect on U.S. investments in the country. Ezekiev warned, however, that a prolonged war might increase domestic inflation. Jerald Schiff, a division chief who represents the Bulgarian team at International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters, said on 25 March that the economy will suffer losses because the economies of the country's main trade partners could slow down due to the war, bnn reported, citing Deutsche Welle. "Bulgaria has a very open economy in which the imports and the exports make up for a very large percentage of the overall product," Schiff said, adding that rising oil prices might contribute to the negative effects of the Iraq war on the Bulgarian economy. UB

BOMB EXPLODES AT SOFIA DISTRICT COURT
A bomb went off in the Sofia District Prosecutor's Office on 25 March, BTA reported. Nobody was injured. Margarita Popova, who heads the office, ascribed the incident to the "chaos in the state created by the underworld" as well as to the poor performance of the legislative. UB

IRAN TURNS ITS BACK ON ANSAR AL-ISLAM
Coalition forces hit positions of the Kurdish Islamist Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq with missiles on 21-22 March, AP reported, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said on 22 March that it fired rockets at Ansar positions. Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) spokesman Haj Balal Suleiman said on 24 March that PUK and IMK forces are preparing to attack Ansar positions, IRNA reported. And IMK representative Bahauddin Barzanji said on 25 March that coalition aircraft are continuing to bomb Ansar positions, IRNA reported.

Tehran has had, at different times, a close relationship with all these warring Kurdish organizations (PUK, IMK, and Ansar al-Islam), but it does not seem to be facing any sort of moral dilemma in choosing which ones to support now. Iranian actions at this time seem connected with a desire to avoid having a permanent or an excessively large U.S. presence in northern Iraq, and to avoid any sort of Kurdish autonomy movement making progress.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on 24 March that Ansar al-Islam is an extremist group and Iran has no links with it, IRNA reported. He dismissed a television report that Iran has assisted the Ansar as a "baseless and utter lie." According to a report in the 24 March issue of the PUK newspaper "Al-Ittihad," the bombings that began on 21-22 March have killed or wounded many Ansar militants, and the remaining ones have fled into the mountains. This might well be because, as "The Washington Post" reported on 25 March, the Iranian authorities have turned back wounded Ansar personnel seeking medical attention. Furthermore, IRNA reported on 25 March that Ansar personnel would not be allowed to use the field hospitals Iran has established close to the border.

The first sign of a retreat from Iran's previous support for Ansar al-Islam was its September deportation of Ansar leader Mullah Krekar to the Netherlands, where he was arrested (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 September 2002). Yet the PUK continued to complain about Iranian support for Ansar even after that event, "The New York Times" reported on 14 January. Although Tehran appeared to be washing its hands of one Islamist Kurdish group, it bolstered its contacts with the IMK and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) led by Ali Bapir. In January 2003, Colonel Masjidi, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Ramadan headquarters, met with IMK and KIG leaders in northern Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003).

This explains the role of Iranian intelligence personnel, as reported by "The New York Times" on 25 March, who are trying to dissuade the KIG from joining forces with the Ansar.

Tehran's support for the mutually antagonistic Kurdish groups probably stemmed from its desire to prevent any one of them becoming too powerful and from its fear of a stable and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, which could serve as an example for Iran's own Kurdish population of approximately 4.7 million. The arrival in northern Iraq on 23 March of several hundred U.S. special-operations personnel and attack helicopters might be an incentive for Tehran to steer clear of events there. According to IRNA on 25 March, armed U.S. soldiers wearing PUK clothing have been seen in Halabja. Moreover, it seems reasonable to speculate that Washington has sought to reassure Tehran through back channels that it supports Iraq's territorial integrity and that it does not have intentions toward Iranian territory.

It seems just as reasonable to speculate that Tehran has received similar reassurances from Ankara. If anything, Tehran probably welcomes the Turkish military's recent incursion into northern Iraq as a means of preventing the Kurds from becoming overly independent. Moreover, the Turkish presence there is clearly discomfiting for Washington, and according to Ankara's TRT 2 Television on 24 March, special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is having difficulty persuading the Turks to withdraw their forces. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on 25 March that it is up to Turkey to decide on dispatching its troops into Iraq "for humanitarian reasons or to prevent giving a chance to terrorism," according to Reuters.

What is probably more pleasing to Tehran is the Turkish refusal to permit a second front against Baghdad opening in northern Iraq. Washington intended to launch an attack with 62,000 troops from Turkish soil into Iraq, according to Reuters, but all Washington got was overflight rights. The absence of the second front allows Iraqi forces to concentrate on fighting south of Baghdad.

WAS THERE AN UPRISING IN IRAQ'S SECOND CITY...
Conflicting media reports on 25-26 March suggested that residents of the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah might have launched an uprising against Iraqi forces inside Iraq's second city. Reports of an uprising first emerged when a British ITN news reporter "embedded" with British troops reported that Iraqi forces appeared to be firing mortars on the civilian population, CNN reported on 25 March. Speaking to reporters on 26 March, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the BBC, "We know that there have been attempts by regime militia to attack those people, their own people, to attack them with mortars, machinegun fire, rifles, and so on." Hoon claimed residents were "rising up" against Baghdad before the incident, according to Reuters. The BBC, citing only coalition military sources, reported on 25 March that coalition forces in turn targeted locations that appeared to be firing on the residents. KR

...OR NOT?
A British military spokesman at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar told reporters on 26 March that the situation in the predominantly Shia city of Al-Basrah remains unclear, Reuters reported. "We've had a number of different reports suggesting there has been some civil disturbance, but we are waiting for a clearer picture to emerge before we can be certain of what is actually going on there," Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt said. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi television correspondents inside Al-Basrah on 26 March said the situation inside the city is calm. "The streets of Al-Basrah are very calm and there are no indications of violence or riots. There are no signs of the reported uprising," Reuters quoted Al-Jazeera correspondent Muhammad al-Abdullah as saying. Meanwhile, Akram al-Hakim from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) told Al-Jazeera on 26 March that SCIRI's London office has confirmation of a "limited popular move" in Al-Basrah, but he said it "remained limited and did not extend to other areas in the governorate." Al-Hakim added, "The situation in general is on the brink of explosion, but there are several security and suppressive measures by the authority preventing any action by the people." KR

COALITION FORCES TARGET IRAQ TELEVISION
Coalition air strikes targeted the studios of Iraq Television on 25-26 March, knocking it off the air until broadcasting could be restored using backup technology, Al-Jazeera television reported on 26 March. The Pentagon reportedly confirmed the bombing, according to Al-Jazeera, which also reported that transmissions were resumed shortly after the bombing with the aid of mobile transmitters mounted on vehicles. The Al-Jazeera correspondent in Baghdad was unable to confirm the bombing on 26 March, telling an anchorwoman at the Qatar-based studio, "Not a single Iraqi official has confirmed the report that the television station was destroyed. Television transmission was cut, but no one at the time knew if this was scheduled or not, since Iraq Television does not transmit round the clock." He confirmed, however, that transmissions had resumed. The correspondent said reporters are taken to view "select sites" that thus far have been limited to "civilian" sites bombed by coalition forces. KR

SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER PRESENTS IRAQ PEACE PROPOSAL...
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Sa'ud has submitted a peace proposal to the United States in an effort to end the conflict in Iraq, "Arab News" reported on 26 March. Addressing the Iraq issue in a 25 March press conference, Prince Sa'ud al-Faysal dispelled arguments that the U.S.-led Operation Iraqi Freedom might be tied to the issue of access to oil, saying, "There is no need for a war to get oil, since the U.S. is the biggest consumer of oil and the Arab region is the biggest producer." Regarding the "colonialist" argument, he said, "The U.S. is not an imperialist power. During the last [1991] Gulf War, it deployed 300,000 troops in the region, which left the area as soon as its job was done." Details of the plan have not been released, but the foreign minister told reporters he believes the proposal is under examination by the United States and Iraq and is awaiting a response, adding, "I don't want to say we were rebuffed because we were not rebuffed, but nor were we given authorization that they're going with it," independent.co.uk reported on 26 March. KR

...AFTER U.S. OFFICIALS SAY THEY ARE UNAWARE OF PLAN
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters on 25 March, "We are not aware of any peace proposal from Saudi Arabia. There has been no particular approach or proposal made to us by Saudi Arabia at this stage," "Arab News" reported. KR

TURKISH CHIEF OF STAFF GIVES ASSURANCES ON IRAQ
Turkish Chief of Staff General Hilmi Ozkok issued a statement on 26 March that confirmed that "elements" of Turkish forces are present in northern Iraq but said Turkey has no intention of deploying additional forces into Iraq, CNN Turk reported. "We do not intend to fight or to invade. We are not there permanently. We will not engage in clashes in the region other than in order to defend ourselves," Ozkok said. "The suspicious attitudes of certain institutions, international organizations, and certain allied countries affect us." Regarding the suspension of ongoing talks between U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Turkish officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003), a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Huseyin Dirioz, told reporters on 25 March: "Negotiations with U.S. [military officials] did not break off. The sides will continue holding negotiations in coming days," "Anatolia" reported the same day. KR

ARMENIA CONCERNED BY REPORTS OF TURKISH INCURSION INTO IRAQ
Speaking on Armenia Public Television late on 24 March, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed concern that the reported Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq might aggravate the Iraq crisis and destabilize "the entire region," according to Mediamax on 25 March, as cited by Groong. There is an Armenian-populated village in northern Iraq with some 1,000 inhabitants, Oskanian said. LF

U.S. PRESIDENT TELLS CONGRESS OF 'URGENT' NEED FOR APPROVAL OF IRAQ-WAR FUNDS
President George W. Bush on 25 March implored the U.S. Congress to grant quick approval to his request for roughly $75 billion to wage war in Iraq and further antiterrorism efforts, international news agencies reported. "The need is urgent," Bush said, according to Reuters, noting that funding for the current military campaign in Iraq could otherwise run out in May. Bush has asked legislators to approve the emergency funding request by 11 April, the news agency added. Amid repeated warnings from U.S. and U.K. officials that the war is far from over, Bush said, "We cannot know the duration of this war, yet, we know its outcome. We will prevail." The measure includes $63 billion to fund the military campaign, plus more money for homeland security, Iraqi reconstruction, and aid to allies in the war effort, Reuters reported. Some $8.5 billion in loans and credit guarantees are earmarked for Turkey, which has granted overflight rights but refused to allow troop deployments on its soil while sparking fears its troops are poised to move en masse into Kurd-controlled northern Iraq. The 1991 Gulf War cost an estimated $61 billion, equivalent to $80 billion in current spending, Reuters reported. AH

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: IRAN-BACKED PRESENCE IN IRAQ 'UNHELPFUL'
Donald Rumsfeld during a 25 March Pentagon briefing called the presence of Iran-backed forces in Iraq "unhelpful," according to the U.S. State Department's website (http://.usinfo.state.gov). Asked about the possible presence of Iranian forces in Iraq or Iranian activities there that could affect allied operations, Rumsfeld responded: "We do see Iran-sponsored forces -- Iraqis, but sponsored and armed and housed previously by Iran -- in [Iraq] in small numbers." He presumably was referring to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's military wing, the Badr Corps, which has established itself in northern Iraq. BS

ANTIWAR RALLY TAKES PLACE IN TEHRAN
Hundreds of relatives of those killed or wounded in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War demonstrated in front of the UN office in Tehran on 26 March, according to IRNA. Demonstrators denounced the United States and United Kingdom and voiced their support for the Iraqi people. They also criticized the United Nations for its silence on the conflict in Iraq, and they carried placards demanding the resignation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. BS

IRANIANS ENCOURAGED TO PARTICIPATE IN OFFICIAL ANTIWAR RALLIES
The Qom Theological Lecturers Association issued a statement on 26 March in which the group, which counts grand ayatollahs and senior clerics among its members, urges Iranians to participate in official antiwar rallies on 28 March, ISNA reported. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in a 25 March statement condemned what it described as a U.S. effort to dominate the region and also urged the Iranian public to participate in the upcoming rallies, IRNA reported. The IRGC statement warned of the damage that could be caused by the occupation of Iraq, and it urged Iranians and the global community to provide humanitarian aid. The Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics issued a statement on 25 March in which it also encouraged participation in the 28 March antiwar rallies, ISNA reported. The statement described an "oil war" that would "throw the region and the world into a quagmire of insecurity." The ministry called on the international community to seek peace by isolating the aggressors and endeavoring the end the war. BS

IRANIAN POLITICAL FIGURE WARNS OF 'ENCIRCLEMENT'
Former Deputy Interior Minister Mustafa Tajzadeh, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Party and of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, said in the 25 March issue of "Entekhab" that -- with the United States trying to gain control of the region -- state institutions should not behave so as to diminish public hope or give the United States an excuse to intervene. Tajzadeh said state institutions should win public support before it is too late. "If America achieves her goals in Iraq, Iran will be completely encircled by America, and that will pose a serious threat to our independence and territorial integrity," Tajzadeh said. "Therefore, we must seriously invest in the most powerful pillar of our national strength, namely public opinion and the extensive popular support for the system." BS

TEHRAN CONCERNED ABOUT SHIA SHRINES IN IRAQ
The Qom Theological Lecturers Association on 26 March issued a statement in which it expresses concern about the "holy shrines and sacred places" in war-torn Iraq, ISNA reported. The clerics warn the United States and United Kingdom that Islamic nations will not remain silent in the face of "possible disrespect for sacred holy shrines." Many Iranian clerics underwent theological training in the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, and these two cities continue to be important sites for Shia Muslims, with thousands of Iranian pilgrims visiting them every year. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi commented on the possibility that Najaf and Karbala might be attacked during Operation Iraqi Freedom in a 23 March interview on Iranian state television. Kharrazi said the United States and United Kingdom are aware of the religious significance of these cities, but "so far" neither the cities nor the holy places have been harmed despite fighting on the outskirts of the cities. "The feelings of Muslims, especially Shia, will be provoked should anything like that happen," he said. Allied forces are finding it difficult to avoid Karbala, however, because it is on the allied line of advance toward Baghdad and because the Medina Division of Iraqi Republican Guards reportedly is there. BS

ANTIWAR PROTESTERS IN AFGHANISTAN IGNORE BAN
Around 500 university students in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan, marched on 25 March to protest the war in Iraq, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Security forces prevented the students, who were reportedly chanting anti-American slogans, from continuing after they had marched just a short distance, AIP added. Afghanistan Television on 25 March confirmed reports of the student demonstration, adding that it "ended peacefully." Afghan security officials banned further rallies after the antiwar protest in Laghman Province on 23 March, AIP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). AT

FOREIGN MINISTER BACKS ARAB LEAGUE CALL FOR END TO IRAQ WAR...
Addressing the Federation Council on 26 March, Igor Ivanov said that, at a special session of the UN Security Council to be convened at the initiative of the Arab League later that day, Russia will back the league's call for an immediate halt to the military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, RTR reported. Ivanov also said that the conflict in Iraq has already grown from a regional one to one of international significance. In addition, Ivanov repeated the Kremlin's dismissal of U.S. allegations that Russian companies transferred military equipment to Iraq in violation of UN-imposed sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 March 2003). "The United States has presented no evidence of this," Ivanov said. He added somewhat sarcastically that "we should expect that very soon the United States will 'find' some weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." Finally, he said he supports a Federation Council proposal to create a "national consensus" committee on Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2003), where legislators, government officials, diplomats, and businesspeople will work out a coordinated Russian approach to postwar Iraq. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov has said that such a committee would consider Russian policy not just for Iraq but for the entire Middle East. "For us, Iraqi oil and Iraqi debts are not the most important things; political stability in the region is," Margelov said, according to nns.ru on 26 March. VY

...AND MAKES THE CASE FOR COLLECTIVE SECURITY
Writing in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 25 March, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that the end of the Cold War eliminated the threat of global nuclear war, but the new century has brought new threats to international security that are more daunting than the old ones. These threats are international terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international financial crises, ecological catastrophes, and epidemics. He added that the processes of globalization threaten to turn any regional crisis into a threat to global security because they have increased global interconnectedness and wealth imbalances. Ivanov argued that such challenges can only be met through the collective and persistent efforts of the international community, and he pointed to the global coalition against terrorism as an example. The strategy of combating terrorism should combine military, economic, social, and political measures, Ivanov argued, and it should be centralized under the coordination of the United Nations. He added that the conflict in Iraq has put the unity of the international antiterrorism coalition to the test and has forced the international community to consider what the future system of global security will look like. VY

LARGE ANTIWAR RALLY HELD IN MUSLIM REPUBLIC...
A large demonstration against the U.S.-led military action against Iraq was held in the center of Cherkessk, the capital of Karachaevo-Cherkessia on 25 March, Russian media reported. Interfax-South reported that the rally was attended by about 5,000 students carrying slogans such as "Hands off Iraq," "Shame on the American aggressors," "Bush is a hick," and "We are for peace." ITAR-TASS reported that the demonstration was three times as large, citing organizer Aleksandr Belanov, chairman of the republican commission for youth affairs. Belanov said rallies were held in several cities and villages in the republic and were not only permitted by local authorities but had the "moral support of republican head Vladimir Semenov." JAC

...AS PROTESTS TAKE ON NEW FORMS
An antiwar demonstration was held in Vladivostok on 25 March, Radio Rossii reported. About 50 people burned U.S. and British flags and asked passers-by to kick a dummy representing a U.S. soldier. The protest was organized by the People's Deputy club and was also supported by State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov's Freedom and People Power party, regions.ru reported, citing Primorskii Television and Radio. The protestors also reportedly burned an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush. According to TVS, a group of veterans in Vladivostok has prepared a complaint against Bush to be filed with the World Court in The Hague. TVS also reported the same day that some legislators in St. Petersburg have called on the government to rescind the invitations to the city's upcoming 300th anniversary that were extended to Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko commented that since the invitations were issued by President Putin, it is up to him to decide whether to take them back. JAC

ARMENIANS SAID TO BE FLEEING IRAQ
Several hundred families from Iraq's 15,000-20,000-strong Armenian minority have fled that country, most of them to Lebanon or Syria, former Ambassador David Hovhannisian told a seminar in Yerevan on the possible regional impact of the Iraq war, according to Arminfo on 25 March, as cited by Groong. Hovhannisian also said 40 Armenian families from Iraq arrived in Armenia before the outbreak of hostilities. LF

GOVERNMENT CONCERNED ABOUT POSSIBLE EFFECT OF IRAQ WAR ON TAJIKISTAN'S SECURITY
Suhrob Sharipov, deputy head of the Tajik presidential administration's information department, said on 25 March that the war in Iraq could endanger Tajikistan's security, because military action against a Muslim country is likely to stir up Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. These groups could, in turn, affect the political, economic, and social situation inside Tajikistan. The war could also arouse pan-Islamic sympathies among the population, upsetting the balance of religion and secularism that has been achieved since the civil war. Increases in the world price of oil would have a negative effect on the socioeconomic situation in Tajikistan, Sharipov predicted. But he added that the war in Iraq was unlikely to reduce U.S. investment in Tajikistan unless the war is prolonged and funds intended for Central Asia are diverted to the military. On Tajikistan's cautious approach to events in Iraq, Sharipov said that it is in the country's interest to maintain good relations both with the United States and with those countries -- such as Russia -- that oppose a military solution to the Iraq crisis. BB

UKRAINIAN NBC BATTALION STARTS MOVING TO KUWAIT
Two Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft on 25 March began to airlift soldiers and equipment of the Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait, Interfax reported. Within the next few days, two planes with troops and equipment on board are expected to fly to Kuwait every 24 hours, and the Il-76 planes could be replaced by more powerful Ruslan and Mriya aircraft. Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko told journalists the same day that four servicemen of the battalion have refused to go to Kuwait, "owing to different reasons." The Verkhovna Rada approved sending the NBC unit to Kuwait last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2003). JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES PLAN TO SEND UP TO 55 TROOPS TO POSTWAR IRAQ
The cabinet approved and sent to parliament on 25 March a bill to send up to 55 peacekeeping troops to Iraq after military operations there are completed, BNS reported. Government spokesman Daniel Vaarik said he believes parliament will approve the bill. It provides for a six-month term for the mission, but the Defense Ministry proposed approving participation for one year, as experience has shown that peacekeeping missions take longer than six months. The expenses for the mission are to be paid from the supplementary budget. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON MILITARY PARTICIPATION IN PERSIAN GULF
By a vote of 59 to 13, with two abstentions, parliament passed a resolution on 25 March authorizing the sending of up to 10 logistic specialists and six military doctors to facilitate the U.S.-led operations in the Persian Gulf, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius said the personnel are ready to leave immediately, but added, "We will do this only when we are invited. This will most likely occur this week or next week." He said they would most probably first work in Kuwait or on American ships in the gulf, but could later be transferred to Iraq. The resolution states that the servicemen are to serve in "a humanitarian mission" and are not to take part in any military actions. The estimated expenses of 600,000 litas ($186,000) for the six-month mission will be paid out of the Defense Ministry's budget. SG

CZECHS REFUTE REPORT THAT FAULTY GAS MASKS WERE SENT TO KUWAIT
The Czech Republic on 25 March denied a report in the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" that faulty gas masks were sent to Kuwait, CTK and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003). Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said Kuwait canceled the contract because the equipment sent was not the model it had ordered. Tvrdik said the masks were in perfect condition but were not the state-of-the art military model that Kuwait wanted, but an older, revamped civilian one made in 1988-89. As a result, Kuwait canceled the entire order. Tvrdik said this was a heavy blow to Czech hopes of winning business in Kuwait and elsewhere by capitalizing on the Czech NBC unit's presence in Kuwait. The reporter who wrote the story apologized at a news conference for having misunderstood a Defense Ministry statement on the matter. MS

NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES DISPATCH OF CZECH FIELD HOSPITAL
The National Security Council on 25 March approved the dispatch of a Czech field hospital to take part in peacekeeping operations in Iraq after the cessation of military hostilities in that country, CTK reported, citing Defense Minister Tvrdik, CTK reported. Tvrdik said such peacekeeping operations would require a mandate from the UN, but that the Czech Republic could send the field hospital as early as 1 April, once that mandate is approved. CTK said the costs of the dispatch and operation of the hospital would have to be covered by other countries, since the Czech Republic lacks the necessary funds. The measure must receive parliamentary approval if the mission is to last longer than 60 days. MS

U.S., U.K. AMBASSADORS BRIEF HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS OVER TASZAR-TRAINED IRAQIS...
U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Nancy Goodman Brinker on 25 March told parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee that the first contingent of Iraqis trained at the Taszar military air base has joined U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf and the second group will travel to the region this weekend, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Brinker said the Iraqis will help reorganize public-administration and repair infrastructure, and will also carry out humanitarian missions and act as interpreters and liaison officers. She said the United States awaits specific proposals on how Hungary can contribute to tasks that will follow the war. For his part, British Ambassador to Hungary Nigel Thorpe said Great Britain is pleased that the Hungarian government is taking a courageous and principled stand on the issue. MSZ

...AS PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE QUESTIONS ROLE OF BASE
Secret Services State Secretary Andras Toth on 25 March denied reports that Iraqis working with U.S. commando units stayed at the Taszar air base, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Addressing parliament's National Security Committee, Toth also denied that the air base will be turned into a camp for prisoners of war or refugees in the future. He admitted, however, that "erroneous wording" was used when it was announced that the base would be used only to train interpreters. Committee Chairman Laszlo Kover (FIDESZ) said the opposition asked Toth questions regarding the issue, but did not receive straight answers. "I have the impression that the cabinet members speak this way because they themselves do not know the whole truth," the daily quoted Toth as saying. MSZ

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS SUPPORT OF IRAQ WAR NOT UNCONDITIONAL
President Ion Iliescu on 26 March told journalists that Romania's support for the coalition participating in the war in Iraq should not be taken for granted, and that Romania cannot be indifferent toward the way the war is being waged, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said that "no one likes the choice of arms, least of all Romania," adding that this is why Bucharest has from the start backed what he called the joint position of the EU. He said that in line with this position, Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity must be preserved and interfaith divisions in Iraq must not be allowed to generate new conflict situations or "feed all sorts of fundamentalist positions." He also said Iraq must undergo a process of political, economic, and social reconstruction. MS

MOLDOVA 'CONCERNED' ABOUT IRAQ WAR
The Moldovan Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on 25 March that it is "concerned" about and "deplored" the loss of life resulting from the war in Iraq, Flux reported. The statement also said Moldova is worried about "the risks of an ecological catastrophe" resulting from the burning oil wells in Iraq. MS

BULGARIA DOES NOT EXPECT ITS STAND ON IRAQ TO IMPEDE NATO ACCESSION
Prior to his departure to Brussels, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said on 25 March that he does not expect Bulgaria's support for the U.S.-led coalition to impede the ratification of the NATO accession protocol by European members of the alliance, BTA reported. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told Pasi the same day in Brussels that Bulgaria should step up its consultations with the EU on key foreign-policy issues. "It would be good if the EU applicant countries give a strong signal that they are ready to participate in a more intense dialogue on the key issues of the European foreign policy," bnn quoted Verheugen as saying. Pasi, for his part, demanded that the EU candidate countries be given greater influence on the EU's foreign policy. Pasi was expected to sign the NATO accession protocol on 26 March. UB

IRANIAN ARMS SHIPMENT SEIZED IN ITALY
The Finance Police in La Spezia, a port town in the Liguria region of northwestern Italy, recently seized a shipment of materiel from Iran that allegedly was destined for Senegal, Rome's RAI Radio Uno network reported on 22 March. The police found three containers holding 42 tons of artillery ammunition. The documentation, which described the shipment as "mechanical components," was false and the police are trying to determine the real destination of the ammunition. The investigation into the provenance and intended recipient of the military goods began immediately, Turin's "La Stampa" reported on 22 March, but investigators stressed that triangular trade is the norm in the trafficking of military goods. BS

AFGHAN POLITICIAN ACCUSES IRAN OF INTERFERENCE IN AFGHAN AFFAIRS
Abdul Hosayn Hashemi, leader of the Peace Council of the People of Afghanistan, has said that comments made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's on 2 March in which he said he expects Afghanistan to fulfill its commitments to supply Iran with water from the Hilmand River (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 March 2003), constitute interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs, the Kabul publication "Mashal-e Demokrasi" reported on 23 March. Hashemi said the "Iranian theologians [Iran's regime] should realize the fact that the Helmand River is the property of Afghans only," and that Iran has built canals on its side of the river in violation of international agreements. Rights to the water of the Helmand River, which originates in Afghanistan and flows into Iran's arid southeast, were a point of contention between Kabul and Tehran for years until an agreement was reached in 1973 establishing how much Helmand River water should reach Iran. Soon after the agreement, however, the Afghan monarchy was toppled in a coup in which the water-rights agreement was one of the antimonarchical rallying issues. The issue of Helmand River water rights, if not solved quickly, could lead to tension between Afghanistan and Iran. AT

AFGHAN JOURNALISTS' GROUP PROTESTS BEATING OF RFE/RL REPORTER
Foreign correspondents on 25 March left western Afghanistan's Herat Province for one week to protest the 19 March beating and arrest of Ahmad Behzad, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 25 March 2003). The report added that Herat security chief Nasim Alawi "warned Behzad to leave Herat City." The Commission for the Establishment of Liberal Journalists of Afghanistan protested the beating of Behzad, and asked the authorities of the Afghan Transitional Administration to "take measures to restore respect for the journalists" and to establish a committee to investigate the incident, Radio Afghanistan reported. AT

AFGHAN SHIA LEADER WANTS JA'FARI SCHOOL REPRESENTED IN FUTURE AFGHAN CONSTITUTION
Ayatollah Mohammad Asef Mohseni, leader of the predominantly Shia Harakat-e Islami-yi Afghanistan, said on 25 March that in a meeting with members of the Constitutional Drafting Commission he proposed that, along with the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence, the Shia Ja'fari school of jurisprudence be included in the new constitution as an official sect, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 24 March. Mohseni said he proposed two additional formulas if his proposal is not accepted: mentioning "Islam and the Islamic sects," or just mentioning Islam without any mention of sects to ensure that Afghan Shia have their jurisprudence recognized and are allowed to "perform their religious duties according to it." The 1964 Afghan Constitution, which is to be the basis of the future constitution, states: "Islam is the sacred religion of Afghanistan. Religious rites performed by the state shall be according to the provisions of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence." This stipulation leaves Afghan Shia without proper representation. Conservative Sunni religious scholars have historically rejected including the Ja'fari school in the constitution (for more on the future Afghan constitution, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). AT

AFGHAN GUANTANAMO INMATES TELL THEIR STORIES
Some of the 18 Afghans freed from the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on 21 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 25 March 2003) have spoken about their experiences in prison and some complained that they were innocent of any wrongdoings, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 March. A prisoner named Serajoddin said U.S. soldiers treated him well, but that he was "sold" by General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The "Americans wanted to capture terrorists and Dostum just wanted money, so he sold me," he said. Another prisoner, Abbasin, said that he believes that "things should remain secret" for the time being, "The New York Times," reported on 26 March. Many of the prisoners avoided criticizing the United States and were visibly nervous about their future in Afghanistan, the New York daily added. AT

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