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Newsline - March 31, 2003


PUTIN SAYS IRAQ CRISIS MOST SERIOUS CONFLICT SINCE END OF COLD WAR
Speaking at a gathering of Duma-faction heads in the Kremlin on 28 March, President Vladimir Putin said the crisis in Iraq has developed into the most serious global conflict since the end of the Cold War and that it has shaken the foundations of global stability and international law, the presidential website (http://www.president.kremlin.ru) reported. The crisis has already developed beyond being merely a local conflict and has taken on a protracted and intractable nature, Putin added. He said that although Russia has economic interests in the conflict, its political position is not determined by those interests or by potential economic benefits. He repeated Moscow's insistence that military operations be halted immediately and the responsibility for seeking a solution to the crisis returned to the UN Security Council. He emphasized that Russia is ready for "constructive cooperation with all parties involved in the conflict, including, of course, the United States." He stressed that relations between Russia and the United States have reached a level that would permit a "frank dialogue" on Iraq. VY

DUMA OFFICIAL WARNS AGAINST UNDERESTIMATING RUSSIA...
Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) said on 29 March that, due to an intelligence failure, the U.S. administration seriously underestimated the ability and willingness of the Iraqi armed forces to resist the U.S.-led coalition, TV-Tsentr reported. "The United States thought its troops would be welcomed by flowers, but instead [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein can celebrate everyday with champagne. He divided NATO, [and] the European Union, and split the United Nations Security Council," Rogozin said. He said that Washington might make an even bigger error of judgment concerning Russia and its intentions. Noting that Washington has accused Moscow of providing military equipment to Iraq, Rogozin quipped that soon the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush will be saying that Moscow is providing the sand for Iraqi sandstorms. He added that the United States is mistaken if it thinks that Russia is not willing to stand up to Washington. "We are reacting to the Iraq campaign as we promised to react. We are a large and powerful country, which no one can isolate [economically], and we should behave in an appropriate way," Rogozin said. He blamed Russian politicians for sending the United States the wrong signals in recent years, creating the impression in Washington that Russia is weak and "an international beggar" instead of making it clear "what mood dominates here." VY

...AND SAYS MOSCOW WILL STAND UP FOR ITS INTERESTS
In the same TV-Tsentr interview, Rogozin said that President Putin has clearly expressed his position on the Iraq crisis. He said that most Russians agree with Putin, which is why there have been no large demonstrations in Russia as there have been in the United States and Europe, "where people disagree with their governments." Discussing the Russian political elite, Rogozin said that most of it believes that there would be no serious consequences of a major falling out with the United States, while a minority believes the Russian economy could not weather such a split. "I take a third position," Rogozin said. "I think our interests coincide with those of the United States, as they did [regarding] the antiterrorism coalition, and it is important [for Russia] to have such a powerful and militarily strong ally. However, if our interests diverge from the real, as opposed to the declared, U.S. course, we should openly say so." VY

RUSSIAN POLITICIANS PONDER IRAQI CAMPAIGN
The Iraqi war will be prolonged and will last at least several months, including the initial military phase followed by a partisan-warfare period of pacification, Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Chairman Sergei Karaganov said on ORT on 30 March. Russia should use this time to review its positions on many international issues, since some of them might change as a result of the conflict, Karaganov urged. One possible consequence of the Iraq war might be progress in the Arab-Israeli conflict, as the United States will likely give more support to the idea of creating an independent Palestinian state in order to counterbalance the effect of the Iraq war in the Arab world, Karaganov said. On the same ORT program, Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) said, "This war is not Russia's war, and Russia must distance itself from it, including from the issue of the postwar political order in Iraq." It is in Russia's interests, however, if the war "is long and problematic for those who unleashed it." Lukin said this might beget another "Vietnam syndrome" in the United States and "prevent it from launching further wars." VY

UNIFIED RUSSIA STRESSES GOALS RATHER THAN IDEOLOGY...
The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party held its second party congress in Moscow on 29 March, Russian media reported. Addressing the more than 500 delegates assembled, Interior Minister and party High Council Chairman Boris Gryzlov quoted from the party's new manifesto, which contains Unified Russia's main ideological tenets and its platform for the upcoming national elections. In an interview with "Gazeta" on 28 March, Oleg Morozov, a member of the party's General Council and Russian Regions leader in the State Duma, explained that the manifesto is less specific than a party program, but it explains the differences between Unified Russia and other parties. The party has goals rather than an ideology expressing a traditional dogma, according to Morozov, and these goals are low taxation and waging a real battle against poverty. "The poor person is dangerous to the rich, because if grinding poverty is dominant in the country, then the poor will rise up against the rich sooner or later," Morozov said. JAC

...AND ATTEMPTS TO DISTINGUISH ITSELF FROM THE GOVERNMENT
In his address, Interior Minister Gryzlov listed the party's three most important tasks as constructing an efficient party structure, attracting new members, and continuing its constructive legislative activities, ITAR-TASS reported. Gryzlov also criticized the current government's economic policies. Gryzlov slammed the idea of raising domestic energy prices to global levels, saying that "this is like demanding bananas cost the same in Brazil as they do in Finland," according to Reuters. He also said the party will push for a cabinet of party members, and he lamented the undue influence of oligarchs in the country's political system. JAC

INTRA-ELITE STRUGGLE ALLEGED...
An analysis of the congress that appeared on the pro-Kremlin website strana.ru on 29 March characterized the harsh criticism of the government as the most unexpected event of the entire proceeding. It reported that other comments by party leaders suggested there are "two mutually antagonistic moods within the federal government." It concluded that the rumblings of change within the country's upper ranks might be heard. "One part of the elite, comprised of younger and more ambitious 'new people' along with the old governors, who were pushed aside by the last State Duma elections to the fringe of the political process, are thirsting for a revanche over the other group within the establishment, which received maximum material gains during the rule of former President Boris Yeltsin and the continuation of this course by Vladimir Putin." However, the degree of readiness to undertake such an intra-elite "revolution" varies among the party's leaders. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who declared that the government should be subordinated to the Duma, wants the government changed immediately, while Gryzlov is "less radical." JAC

...AS PARTY ADDS MORE CABINET MEMBERS, GOVERNORS TO LEADERSHIP RANKS
Also on 29 March, Unified Russia delegates voted to approve seven new members for the party's High Council, six of whom are governors. The new members are Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev, Orel Governor Yegor Stroev, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev, Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev, Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub, and Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, RIA-Novosti reported. In his "Gazeta" interview, Morozov said that State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rogozin will be elected to the party's General Council, but initial news reports from the congress did not mention Rogozin as one of the new members. Former Norilsk Nickel head Khloponin said that while he will participate in the High Council so that he will have a means for expressing the interests of the regions in relation to the federal center, he will not join the party, RosBalt reported. RosBalt reported that two new members to the party's General Council were elected on 29 March by secret ballot: Valerii Bogomolov, who oversees the administration of cadres and state service at the Federation Council's apparatus, and Yurii Volkov, a former senator from the Komi Republic and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Volkov was dismissed from both positions. JAC

LUZHKOV'S LAWYERS LOSE ONE, BUT MAYBE NOT LUZHKOV
The Supreme Court upheld on 28 March a lower-court ruling invalidating the part of the Moscow City Charter that allows election of a vice mayor, Interfax reported. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov's lawyers tried to persuade the court that federal law does not prohibit the election of a second top official in Russian territories. Earlier, analyst Yevgenii Razin, writing on politcom.ru, concluded that the lower court's decision dealt a significant blow to Luzhkov, since the current system "gives Luzhkov a wonderful opportunity to prepare his successor for the 2007 elections" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). However, "Vremya-MN" reported on 29 March that some observers doubt that Luzhkov stands to lose very much, since it is easy to change an appointed vice mayor but to dismiss one who has been elected is considerably more difficult. It also reported that there are rumors in Moscow that the lower court's original opinion had been secretly approved by the mayor in advance. JAC

ANOTHER OIL EXECUTIVE TAPPED FOR UPPER CHAMBER
Legislators in Mordovia confirmed a new representative for the executive-branch head of Mordovia in the Federation Council, Nikolai Bychkov, on 27 March, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Bychkov is a former president of Yukos-RM. Bychkov replaces Leonid Nevzlin, who is also a former vice president of Yukos and former president of the Russian Jewish Congress. According to the daily, Mordovia head Nikolai Merkushkin explained the shift by saying that Nevzlin had moved to a new job and that the republic highly valued his work. Nevzlin himself explained that he will now head the charitable fund Open Russia, established by Yukos. Nevzlin served about 15 months in the upper legislative chamber (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). JAC

FARMERS BURN CROPS IN PROTEST...
Some 300 farmers gathered on one of the main streets in Kurgan on 28 March to protest federal government agriculture policy, REN-TV reported. According to the station, the farmers were burning wheat and threatening to come to Moscow and burn their wheat in Red Square. The farmers complain they have no working capital, and they are demanding that the government write off all debts for agricultural enterprises, reduce energy rates, and limit agricultural imports. In February, the managers of three Kurgan agricultural enterprises refused to start their sowing campaigns because of the lack of capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003), and their ranks have subsequently swelled tenfold. JAC

...AND DELAY SOWING FOR NEXT HARVEST
On 27 March, agrarians in Krasnodar Krai sent an appeal to President Putin saying that unless their current problems are resolved, the future development of the agricultural sector in the krai and in Russia as a whole is impossible, regions.ru reported. Agriculture Minister Gordeev said the same day that the late arrival of spring this year necessitates that farmers finish sowing swiftly, Prime-TASS reported. So far, the amount of spring grain planted is about 10 percent of last year's level by this date. JAC

ALTAI REPUBLIC SAYS NO THANKS TO MERGER PROPOSAL
Legislators in Altai Krai approved on 27 March an appeal by an initiative group composed of top krai officials favoring the unification of the krai with the Altai Republic, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. However, the press service of the republican administration issued a statement saying that republican residents responded to news of the krai legislators' actions with indignation, regions.ru reported. The republican administration believes that such initiatives could be taken as aggressive interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign republic. According to the daily, republican officials do not wish to return to a position of subordination to the krai. Prior to July 1991, the republic was an autonomous oblast within the krai. JAC

DUMA DEPUTY FROM DAGHESTAN SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Hadzhi Makhachev (People's Deputy) who represents Daghestan in the State Duma, was wounded in the arm when an unidentified assailant opened fire on him in Makhachkala on 28 March, Russian media reported. Police say the weapon used was an army sniper's rifle. Makhachev, who once headed a now disbanded organization that represented the Avars (the largest ethnic group in Daghestan), told journalists he cannot fathom why anyone should want to kill him. But People's Deputy Duma faction head Gennadii Raikin said in Moscow he believes the attack was connected with Makhachev's activities as a member of that faction and of the People's Party of Russia, Interfax reported. LF

CHECHEN LEADER RULES OUT AMNESTY FOR MASKHADOV, BASAEV
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told a press conference in Moscow on 28 March that he does not think the proposed amnesty for Chechen fighters who have committed only minor offenses should extend to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev, ITAR-TASS reported. But he argued that the amnesty should be extended to Chechens serving prison terms of less than five years. Kadyrov said he thinks Maskhadov should announce that he is stepping down as president and should beg forgiveness from the Chechen people for having precipitated the war that began in 1999. Also on 29 March, former Justice Minister and Duma Legislative Affairs Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces) told Interfax that two bills on an amnesty for Chechen fighters and the conditions for applying it have already been drafted. LF

CHECHEN BUSINESSMAN ANNOUNCES PLANS TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT
Moscow-based businessman and Chechen State Council Chairman Malik Saidullaev told journalists in Moscow on 28 March that he will run for the Chechen presidency, as he believes he has "a moral obligation" to do so, Interfax reported. The date for that ballot has not yet been set. Kadyrov said on 28 March it could be held concurrently with either the elections to the State Duma in December or the Russian presidential election in March 2004. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S REPRESENTATIVE SLAMS WAR IN IRAQ
In a 28 March statement posted on chechenpress.com, President Maskhadov's representative Salambek Maigov said the Chechen leadership is convinced that the Iraq crisis, like that in Chechnya, should be resolved exclusively by peaceful means. He expressed Chechens' solidarity with the antiwar protesters in Europe and the United States, and called on the international community to condemn what he termed the double standards adopted by Russia in continuing to wage war in Chechnya while opposing U.S. military intervention in Iraq. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION HOLDS NEW PROTEST RALLY
Defeated presidential candidate and People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian told some 4,000 supporters at a demonstration in Yerevan on 28 March that he will continue to campaign for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, whose re-election to a second term the opposition believes is invalid due to widespread falsification of the vote, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun Party leader Aram Sargsian told the demonstrators the evidence of those falsifications is so overwhelming that the Constitutional Court will be hard-pressed to reject it. On 24 March, the court rejected a similar appeal by Artashes Geghamian, who placed third in the 19 February first round with 17.7 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003). LF

ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN DENIES ORDERING JOURNALIST'S KILLING
Lawyers for Aram Sargsian's younger brother Armen, who was arrested two weeks ago on suspicion of having ordered the 28 December killing of Armenian Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003), told journalists on 28 March that Armen Sargsian has not confessed to the killing, and that the authorities do not have enough evidence to keep him in custody. On 27 March, Armenian Public Television broadcast footage, which Aram Sargsian claimed the following day was edited, in which Armen Sargsian admitted having given $75,000 to one of his distant cousins, Hovhannes Harutiunian, who is also accused of Naghdalian's killing. Armen Sargsian did not explain during the broadcast footage what the money was intended for, but his lawyers said on 29 March that Harutiunian was blackmailing Sargsian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MAKES CHANGES TO PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
President Kocharian has abolished two of the key proposed amendments to the country's constitution that, if approved, would have transferred some of his sweeping powers to parliament, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 28 March. The president will now retain the power to nominate and dismiss the prime minister and the cabinet. Parliamentary debate on the amendments, which the opposition dismissed as largely cosmetic, was suspended a year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March and 4 April 2002). Kocharian hopes they will be approved in time to be submitted to a national referendum to be held concurrently with the 25 May parliamentary election. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S TOP CLERIC CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE CEASE-FIRE IN IRAQ
Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade called on 28 March for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Iraq, arguing that "it is not too late" to resolve the crisis peacefully within the framework of the UN, Turan reported. Pashazade also echoed the concern voiced last week by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev that ongoing hostilities could result in damage to sacred Islamic monuments in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003). Pashazade made an official visit to Baghdad in December 2002. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SAYS ATTEMPTS TO RESOLVE INTERNATIONAL DISPUTES BY FORCE ARE 'INADMISSIBLE'
In a 29 March address to mark the "Day of Azerbaijani Genocide" on 31 March, Heidar Aliev affirmed that "attempts to resolve disputes between states militarily are inadmissible," Turan reported. Aliev claimed that actions of repression and what Azerbaijan claims constitute acts of genocide committed by Armenians against Azerbaijanis over several centuries are part of a "strategic plan," and accused Armenia of continuing to ignore international law. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION BODY SELECTS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
At a session in Baku on 29 March, representatives of the nine opposition parties aligned in the Democratic Congress nominated Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar as their joint candidate for the presidential elections due in mid-October 2003, Turan reported. Gambar, who served as parliament speaker during under the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front government in 1992-93, was one of five leading opposition figures who boycotted the 1998 presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1998). LF

PARENTS OF CASHIERED AZERBAIJANI CADETS STAGE HUNGER STRIKE
The parents of nine cadets expelled from Baku's Higher Military College after a mass protest walkout last September have embarked on a three-day protest hunger strike, Turan reported on 28 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 September and 10 October 2002). The young men were reduced to the ranks and sent to serve on the front line, initially for a period of three months. That period was extended first to six and then to 18 months. LF

OUTSTANDING GEORGIAN LITERARY CRITIC HONORED
On 29 March, the 75th anniversary of the birth of Akaki Bakradze was commemorated throughout Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. President Eduard Shevardnadze established a special committee headed by Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze to organize the celebrations. A literary scholar and political thinker who unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 1991 and 1995 and who died in 1999, Bakradze was pilloried in 1983, when Shevardnadze was first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, for a work he authored on mythology. Three years ago, Shevardnadze rejected an appeal by members of the Georgian intelligentsia that Bakradze be reburied in the Pantheon on Mtatsminda. LF

KAZAKH GOVERNMENT APPROVES CASPIAN DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
KazMunayGaz President Uzakbai Karabalin announced on 29 March that a program to develop Caspian Sea oilfields has been approved by the government, Interfax reported. The program, devised jointly by KazMunayGaz and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, covers the period until 2015. During the initial phase from 2003-05, oil exploration will be accelerated, infrastructure will be developed, and contracts negotiated. From 2006-10, the program envisages the rapid development of the offshore fields, with oil production stabilized from 2011-15. The report noted that a foreign consortium -- AGIP KCO, which is headed by ENI and includes ExxonMobil, Inpex, Shell, Phillips, and TotalFinaElf -- is now completing exploration of the Kashagan field, one of the largest in the Caspian. Consortium member British Gas has announced that it intends to sell its share in the projects to two Chinese companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2003). AGIP KCO intends to start industrial development of the field in 2005. Interfax pointed out that AGIP KCO's timetable for the development of Kashagan coincides with the Kazakh government plan for development of all the country's offshore Caspian oilfields. Kazakhstan plans to be producing 150 million tons of oil a year by 2015. BB

KYRGYZSTAN SEEKS OUTSIDE HELP IN SOLVING BUS FIRE CASE
Pressured by Chinese officials to resolve quickly the case of a bus fire in which 21 people, most of them Chinese citizens, died, Kyrgyzstan has requested help from Chinese and Central Asian law enforcement agencies, akipress.org reported on 28 March. An official from the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office said that the Kyrgyz authorities do not see a political motive for the crime. The dead passengers, at least some of whom were reported to have been shot, were earlier identified as Uighur traders from Xinjiang who were possibly returning home with large sums of cash. Akipress.org noted that due to the bus-fire case, an agreement on military cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and China was not signed as planned on 28 March. A commission set up in Kyrgyzstan to investigate the crime has noted that highway travel in parts of the country is dangerous because of criminal gangs that prey on passing vehicles. BB

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST LOSES CASE AGAINST PREMIER
Kyrgyz human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov lost his libel case against Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, the opposition publication "Moya stolitsa-novosti" reported on 25 March. Akunov charged that Tanaev had damaged his reputation when the prime minister told a press conference, "Where Akunov appears, there is massive unrest and bloodshed." The judge of the Pervomai Raion Court in Bishkek threw out Akunov's suit. When Tanaev failed to appear in court to hear the judgment, Akunov walked out in protest. Government officials in Kyrgyzstan frequently file libel cases against opposition publications and journalists and usually win large sums. This practice is one of the most common means of harassment of the independent media in Kyrgyzstan. "Moya stolitsa-novosti" pointed out that Tanaev recently won a libel suit against its editorial office, which faces a fine of 500,000 soms ($10,761). BB

KYRGYZ LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY APPROVES TAX ON REAL PROPERTY
The Legislative Assembly of Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 28 March to approve the introduction of a tax on real estate, akipress.org reported. The tax, which was the subject of several days' debate in parliament, was proposed by the government as a way of financing local government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). It will be levied in all urban areas, suburbs, and resorts, with the receipts going directly to local administrations. The amount of the tax seems to have been revised downward from the government's proposed 1.5 percent of the value of the property. As approved, legal entities will pay 0.95 percent of the value of the property, while the tax on residential structures will be 0.35 percent of the value. International organizations that own property will also have to pay the tax. If the other house of the Kyrgyz parliament approves the tax, it will go into effect after being signed by the president. BB

TAJIK PARTY ANNOUNCES REFERENDUM BOYCOTT
Asliddin Sohibnazarov, former deputy prime minister and now deputy leader of the Tajik Democratic Party, has announced that his party will boycott a referendum on amendments to the country's constitution that is scheduled to take place in June, the "Tajikistan Times" reported on 30 March. Sohibnazarov, a well-known Dushanbe politician who heads his party's branch in the capital, was quoted as saying there is no legal basis for amending the constitution, and in his view the main purpose for proposing the amendments is to give incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov a chance for a second term in office. Sohibnazarov reportedly believes that the referendum might badly damage the national reconciliation policy that has been in place since the end of the 1992-97 civil war. His views on the possible divisive effects of the proposed amendments are similar to those of the Islamic Renaissance Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February and 28 March 2003). BB

TURKMEN GAS TO USE UZBEK PIPELINE
KazTransGaz has concluded an agreement with a subsidiary of Gazprom to transport Turkmen gas through Kazakhstan to the Urals using the Bukhara-Ural pipeline, centrasia.ru reported on 30 March. The agreement envisages the transport of 4 billion cubic meters of gas through the pipeline in 2003. Most Turkmen gas is currently transported via the Central Asia-Moscow pipeline. The report noted that KazTransGaz has signed an agreement with a Russian company to ship 50 billion cubic meters of gas from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan via Kazakhstan -- 7.5 billion cubic meters in 2003 -- using in part the Bukhara-Ural pipeline. BB

RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER CLOSED IN UZBEKISTAN
One of the few remaining Russian-language publications in Uzbekistan, the newspaper "Vremya i my," has gone bankrupt, centrasia.ru reported on 31 March. It was one of only four newspapers in Uzbekistan that had taken the opportunity provided by the 2002 abolition of censorship to publish articles about major problems in the country. Employees of the paper were reported to have asserted that the publication could not meet production costs because the government would not allow it to be distributed in oblasts where its articles had criticized the administration. The National Press Center of Uzbekistan was reported as saying that "Vremya i my" was the fourth most popular publication in Uzbekistan. BB

CANADA RATIFIES NATO-ACCESSION PROTOCOLS
Canada has ratified the NATO Protocols of Accession for Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, AFP reported on 28 March, citing Canadian Premier Jean Chretien (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 March 2003). Chretien said he is pleased that his country is the first to do so among the current 19 NATO members. The seven countries received invitations to join NATO at the alliance's November 2002 Prague summit, and the Protocols of Accession were signed last week in Brussels. MS

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO GET RID OF DISSIDENT ACADEMICS...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a seminar on state ideology held for government officials on 27 March that he would like state-run universities to get rid of professors and lecturers who oppose government policies or are "wavering" in their opinions regarding the government's course, Belapan reported on 28 March. "If you do not accept the ideas declared by the government and the president, do not apply to a state university for a job," Lukashenka said. He pledged to "drastically" modify "ideological work" at educational institutions in Belarus this year. "Before the end of the year, the state of ideological work in colleges, both state and private, should be changed drastically, or else we are going to lose our youth. I could say the same about vocational schools and general-education schools, especially those in Minsk," the president noted. JM

...AND TRADE-UNION LEADERS
At the same seminar, the Belarusian president gave Industry Minister Anatol Kharlap two months to "settle issues" pertaining to Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, leader of the Trade Union of Automobile and Agricultural-Implement Workers, and Henadz Fyadynich, chairman of the Union of Electronic Industry Workers, who are known as prominent opponents of the government's socioeconomic course, Belapan reported. "They [Bukhvostau and Fyadynich] are going a different way than the government. Then why should we indulge them, let them involve workers' collectives in their personal political ventures?" Lukashenka said. "Such things have been happening for more than one year. I give you [Kharlap] another two months. If you are ready to report earlier, then come and report," he added. Asked how Kharlap can possibly carry out Lukashenka's order, Bukhvostau said the minister has just one option -- to tell factory managers to pressure grassroots trade unions to demand the replacement of the criticized leaders. JM

UKRAINE, MONGOLIA TO BOOST COOPERATION
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Mongolian counterpart Natsagiyn Bagabandi pledged in Ulaanbaatar on 30 March to step up bilateral cooperation in the political, economic, military, and humanitarian spheres, Interfax and UNIAN reported. The two sides signed six cooperation accords. JM

OUR UKRAINE TO BECOME POLITICAL PARTY?
Our Ukraine held a forum of democratic forces in Kyiv on 29 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003), Interfax and UNIAN reported. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko proposed that the bloc be transformed this fall into a broader social and political organization that would lay foundations "for a new, powerful, European-fashioned political party," Interfax reported. Yushchenko also told the forum that there are no "strategic differences" between Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, adding that the two organizations could unite their efforts during the upcoming presidential-election campaign. JM

ESTONIAN POLICE ARREST VIOLENT PROTESTORS IN FRONT OF U.S. EMBASSY
Police detained 83 persons, aged 14-44, during a violent protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn on 30 March, BNS reported the next day. Approximately 100 mainly Russian-speaking demonstrators from Tallinn, Maardu, and the northeast East-Viru County gathered at Tallinn's Town Hall Square and marched to the U.S. Embassy. Some 200 people joined them en route. Some protestors turned violent, throwing tomatoes and eggs at the embassy building, hurling smoke bombs onto the street, breaking car windows, and piercing the tires of a U.S. embassy automobile. Neither the city nor the police had received a request to stage the demonstration, and the police said they do not know who organized it. The Estonian Security Police are investigating the protest, as it involved an attack against a foreign embassy in which material damage was incurred. SG

LATVIAN NATIONALIST PARTY FAVORS EU MEMBERSHIP
The "Hello, Europe!" conference organized by For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) adopted a statement in Riga on 29 March supporting Latvia's membership of the European Union, LETA reported. "By saying 'no' to the EU, we would remain in the anteroom before the East and the West and lose support from the world's developed countries for our economic growth and security," the statement read. Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis told the conference that EU membership is vital to Latvia's security and protection against terrorism. TB/LNNK Chairman Janis Straume said Latvia would not lose its national identity by joining the EU. The party agreed that its key role after the country's EU entry would be to maintain national self-confidence and to protect national interests. SG

LITHUANIAN CENTER UNION APPROVES MERGER WITH TWO OTHER PARTIES
In Kaunas on 29 March, the congress of the Lithuanian Center Union approved the party's merger with the Liberal Union and Modern Christian Democratic Union by a vote of 265 to 25, with 11 abstentions, "Kauno diena" reported on 31 March. Unlike at the Liberal Union's congress a week earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003) in which no opposition to the merger was expressed, former Center Union Chairman Romualdas Ozolas has declared that up to 500 of the party's 3,000 members are not in favor of merging with the Liberals and will reestablish a center party in the event of such a merger. Center Union Chairman Kestutis Glaveckas, however, said that there are, at most, 50 such party members and that they would eventually return to the party. The congress also elected Vytautas Cepas as party deputy chairman to replace Varena Mayor Vidas Mikalauskas, who resigned voluntarily. The three parties will hold a merger congress on 31 May. SG

POLES PROTEST WAR IN IRAQ
Some 3,000 people protested in Warsaw on 29 March against the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq, PAP reported. The protesters, carrying effigies representing U.S. President George W. Bush and two dogs, marched throughout the center of Warsaw to the U.S, Embassy, shouting slogans such as "[Premier Leszek] Miller, [President Aleksander] Kwasniewski are two of Bush's dogs"; "Miller, Kwasniewski are terrorists"; "World for people -- not for Bush"; and "No to the Iraq war." Police intervened when demonstrators began pelting the U.S. Embassy with eggs. "[Poland's participation in the military campaign] is not only about the support for the Americans in this conflict. It is about meeting our obligations as an ally, and ensuring the security of our country in the long term," Premier Miller told journalists the same day. "Together with other members of the coalition, we are taking part in executing the UN Security Council resolution to disarm Iraq. This is our duty and we have made such a decision accordingly." JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT FAILS TO OVERTURN VETO ON BIOFUELS BILL
The Sejm on 28 March failed to lift the presidential veto to the biofuels bill under which petrol sold in Poland would contain at least 4.5 percent bio-ethanol as of 1 July, PAP reported. The president vetoed the bill in January, citing technical and legislative defects (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 January 2003). JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS RE-ELECT SPIDLA AS PARTY CHAIRMAN
The national conference of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) re-elected Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla to a new, two-year term as CSSD chairman in a secret vote on 29 March, CTK reported. Spidla defeated his only rival for the post, recently dismissed Industry Minister Jiri Rusnok, winning 299 votes against Rusnok's 147. Spidla told journalists after the vote that he plans no further changes in the cabinet. Delegates also re-elected Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, who ran unopposed, as CSSD first deputy chairman. Marie Souckova and Zdenek Skromach were re-elected deputy chairpersons. Two new faces also joined the CSSD leadership: Martin Starec, who is reportedly close to Gross, became deputy chairman in charge of management. Olomouc Mayor Martin Tesarik defeated Chamber of Deputies speaker Lubomir Zaoralek for the fifth deputy chairman's spot. MS

CSSD NATIONAL CONFERENCE SAYS ATTACK ON IRAQ VIOLATES INTERNATIONAL LAW
The ruling CSSD's national conference on 30 March approved a resolution saying the attack launched by the United States and its allies on Iraq was not unavoidable and violates international law, CTK reported. The resolution says the CSSD "never doubted that the regime of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein is inhuman and bears responsibility for [the destruction of] a huge number of lives." But the resolution adds that a solution does not necessarily rest in "whatever means" chosen to oust Hussein, CTK reported. "The conference is convinced that the legitimate goal of the international community to disarm the regime of Saddam Hussein could have been achieved by peaceful means, had not the warring parties chosen to ignore the UN," the statement reads, adding that the CSSD demands that future developments in Iraq "be returned to the control of the UN." Premier and CSSD Chairman Spidla and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, commenting on the resolution on 30 March, said it changes nothing in the position adopted toward the conflict by the cabinet, CTK reported. Spidla said he abstained when the resolution was approved. Its draft was submitted by former Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who is currently presiding over the UN General Assembly. MS

CZECH INTERIOR MINISTRY REFUSES TO REGISTER SUDETEN GERMAN GROUP'S OFFICE
The Interior Ministry on 28 March denied registration to a Sudeten German Landsmannschaft representative office that recently announced its opening in Prague, CTK reported. Interior Minister Gross accused the group of seeking to circumvent Czech law by attempting to register the office through a private firm, instead of registering as the representative office of a foreign international association. EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen told journalists in Prague on 29 March that he does not wish to comment on the reported opening of the Landsmannschaft office, saying the matter is a "bilateral one" between the Czech Republic and certain German citizens. MS

SLOVAK LEADER ASSESSES RELATIONS WITH NEIGHBORING STATES
Addressing a foreign-policy forum in Bratislava on 28 March, Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said he wants the United States to know that it can always rely on Slovakia as a reliable partner in Europe, TASR reported. Dzurinda said that after its likely accession to the EU in 2004, Slovakia will strive to strengthen European unity while at the same time contributing to the stability of trans-Atlantic relations. "We want a unified Europe that is a partner of the United States. We do not want a Europe that is the political rival of the United States, just as the United States itself cannot afford to renounce being Europe's ally," Dzurinda said. He also said Slovakia will continue to strive for good relations with its neighbors and develop cooperation within the Visegrad Four, which also includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. The premier said Slovak relations with the Czech Republic are "above-standard," with Poland they are "excellent," and with Austria they are "problem-free." Relations with Hungary, he added, are "good" but burdened by Hungary's controversial Status Law. Dzurinda described relations with Ukraine, Slovakia's eastern neighbor, as having "great potential." MS

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS RE-ELECT LEADERSHIP
Members of the senior ruling Socialist Party on 29 March re-elected party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs and Deputy Chairwoman Katalin Szili to their respective posts, Hungarian media reported. Parliamentarian Istvan Hiller, political state secretary at the Education Ministry, and former parliamentary group leader Imre Szekeres, who is political state secretary at the Prime Minister's Office, were elected vice chairmen at the two-day party conference. In his opening speech, Kovacs stressed the need for cooperation between the party and the government, adding that a united, renewed, and modernized Socialist Party will be capable of winning the elections again in 2006. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy issued a message to rival factions within the party -- broadly representing younger social liberals, on the one hand, and conservatives on the other -- saying, "If we want success, what we need is to see unity, harmony, and cooperation prevail within the party, between the leaders of the Socialist Party and the government," "Nepszabadsag" reported on 31 March. Former Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn said in his speech that while the parliamentary group is functioning well and the national council is doing its work, the same cannot be said of the current national leadership. He lashed out at the cabinet, saying the government is functioning only satisfactorily, the daily reported. MSZ

THOUSANDS IN BUDAPEST PROTEST WAR
Some 5,000 demonstrators protested in Budapest on 29 March against the war on Iraq in a demonstration organized by the Civilians for Peace movement, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. The crowd proceeded from downtown Budapest to the parliament building, marching past the British and the U.S. embassies. Their antiwar petitions were not accepted by the embassies but were received by parliament and by the Prime Minister's Office. The demonstrators whistled as they marched past the British Embassy, while they chanted "Down with Bush!" outside the U.S. Embassy. MSZ

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ORDERS ARMY HIRING FREEZE
Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz has ordered a freeze on the hiring of new Defense Ministry and military-leadership staff from 1 April. Two hundred of 1,000 ministry and general-staff posts will be phased out this summer, "Nepszabadsag" reported. While the number of armed forces personnel has been reduced by 75 percent since the fall of the communist regime, the number of leadership posts in the top-heavy military has remained largely unchanged. The daily reported that too many officers are on duty in the capital, while the armed forces are currently understaffed in terms of regular troops. Ministry spokesman Peter Matyuc confirmed the report of an employment freeze, but would not comment on dismissals. MSZ

SERBIAN POLICE FIND BODY OF FORMER PRESIDENT...
Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 28 March that security forces have found the body of former President Ivan Stambolic in a lime-pit grave in the Fruska Gora area north of Belgrade, international and regional media reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). Mihajlovic said four members of the now-disbanded Red Berets elite police unit killed Stambolic with two gunshots shortly after abducting him in August 2000 while he was jogging in a Belgrade park. The four alleged killers are now under arrest. It is unclear exactly how the Interior Ministry cracked the Stambolic case in the course of investigating the recent killing of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The Stambolic case was probably the best known of several high-profile killings dating from the rule of former President Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in October 2000. Milosevic reportedly feared that former mentor Stambolic might run against him in the 2000 Serbian presidential vote. In related news, police have arrested alleged prominent "Zemun clan" member Miladin Suvajdzic "Djura Mutavi" in conjunction with the Djindjic murder, "Vesti" reported on 31 March. PM

...AND NOW SEEK THE WIFE OF ANOTHER FORMER PRESIDENT...
Among individuals with whom the Interior Ministry wants to speak in connection with the Stambolic affair are Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic, international and regional media reported from Belgrade on 29 and 31 March. Police said they have "credible suspicions" that Markovic was involved with the killing, adding that they will issue an international arrest warrant for her if she does not voluntarily appear for questioning. Milosevic is on trial for war crimes in The Hague, but his wife has not been seen in Serbia for several weeks. Stambolic's son, Veljko, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 28 March that he holds Milosevic and Markovic responsible for his father's death. PM

...WHO IS ALLEGEDLY IN RUSSIA
The Milosevic couple's daughter, Marija, told the Montenegrin daily "Publika" recently that Markovic left Serbia on 23 February to visit her son Marko in Russia, international and regional media reported on 29 and 31 March. Marija noted that Markovic is also taking up unspecified teaching duties at Moscow's Lomonosov University, dpa reported. Marija added that her mother was "surprised" at the possibility of the police issuing an international arrest warrant, saying, "Let them issue it." Marija stressed that her mother did not flee Serbia, but did not say when Markovic plans to return. "Vesti" of 31 March quoted Borislav Milosevic, who is Slobodan's brother and his former ambassador to Russia, as saying in Moscow that he has no knowledge of Markovic's whereabouts. Persistent but unconfirmed Belgrade media reports suggest that Markovic left Serbia soon after Djindjic was shot on 12 March. Djindjic was instrumental in extraditing Milosevic to The Hague in 2001. PM

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER PERSONALLY BLAMED FOR ARMS SALES TO IRAQ
The international Peace Implementation Council for Bosnia, which is the top body charged with overseeing the 1995 Dayton peace agreements, said in a report that Mirko Sarovic, who is the Serbian member of the joint Bosnian Presidency, was "politically responsible" for illegal arms sales to Iraq by the Orao company that reportedly ended in 2002, Reuters reported from Sarajevo on 30 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report, " 25 October and 8 and 29 November 2002). The study -- known as "Tiger" -- added, "Sarovic bears significant responsibility for [Republika Srpska] defense-industry violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions against Iraq." Sarovic has denied any links to the arms sales, which took place when he was president and commander in chief of the Republika Srpska. High Representative Paddy Ashdown is expected to announce measures in response to the report on 2 April. It is not clear whether Ashdown will sack Sarovic, as some unconfirmed media reports have suggested. PM

BOSNIAN SERBS REPORTEDLY CAUGHT SPYING ON NATO
An unnamed "senior Western diplomat" told Reuters in Sarajevo on 28 March that a recent raid by SFOR peacekeepers on Bosnian Serb military intelligence sites in Banja Luka turned up evidence of considerable "anti-Dayton activity," or spying. The illegal espionage was reportedly directed at NATO and unnamed officials of Bosnia, Croatia, and the international community. Bosnian Serb intelligence gatherers allegedly sought to obtain compromising information about leading international and Bosnian officials as well as to tap the telephones of witnesses due to appear before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, among other things, dpa reported. Reuters quoted Ashdown as saying the case represents the most serious violation of the Dayton agreement since it was signed at the end of 1995. PM

FIRST SREBRENICA VICTIMS REBURIED
The reburial of 600 identified Muslim victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre took place at Potocari near Srebrenica on 31 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Among the 8,000 people present were survivors of the massacre, families of the victims, Ashdown, and Sulejman Tihic -- who is the Muslim representative on the joint Bosnian Presidency -- along with Mustafa Ceric -- who heads Bosnia's Islamic Community -- and many other government and religious officials. Additional victims will be reburied at the site in the future as they are identified (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). PM

EU BEGINS MACEDONIAN MILITARY MISSION
The EU formally launched Operation Concordia on 31 March, replacing NATO's Allied Harmony as the Western peacekeeping mission in what is now a largely calm Macedonia, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 March 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002 and 17 January 2003). The 300-strong Concordia is widely seen as a test for the EU's shaky European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) and a trial run for an expected EU mission that will eventually replace SFOR in Bosnia. Concordia's operational commander is German Admiral Rainer Feist, and its force commander is French General Pierre Maral, the "Financial Times" reported. The Skopje-based mission will have access to NATO assets and planning despite some recent U.S. skepticism about lending support to the EU's military arm. The EU hopes to have a 60,000-strong rapid reaction force ready for possible action by midyear. The "Frankfurter Rundschau" on 31 March described Concordia as "the beginning of a journey, at the end of which Europe could stand as a power of worldwide importance." PM

ROMANY REFUGEES FROM KOSOVA REFUSE TO LEAVE CAMP IN MACEDONIA
More than 1,000 Romany refugees from Kosova who have lived in a UNHCR camp outside Skopje since the 1999 Kosova crisis refuse to leave the camp, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 31 March. The UNHCR set a deadline of 31 March for the refugees to go and promised them financial aid in seeking private accommodations in Macedonia. The refugees want either to stay in the camp or to return to Kosova. They accuse the UNHCR of being unable to guarantee their safe return home. Meanwhile, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Mirjana Kontevska acknowledged that "no concrete steps have been taken either for the refugees' return to Kosova or for their integration." Currently, some 2,700 refugees from Kosova are living in Macedonia. UB

RUSSIAN PREMIER ENDS ROMANIAN VISIT
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov ended his two-day visit to Romania on 28 March by inviting President Ion Iliescu to visit Russia this year, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu told journalists after meeting Kasyanov that the long-postponed basic treaty between the two countries will be signed during the future visit, for which no date has yet been announced. Iliescu also said he hopes Romania's large trade imbalance with Russia will be corrected. Romania has a $1.2 billion deficit in its trade with Russia, mainly owing to energy imports, according to Romanian Radio. Kasyanov told a forum of Romanian businessmen that Russia might extend a loan to Romania for the construction of energy facilities. Premier Adrian Nastase told the forum that "Russian investments in Romania are just as welcome as other foreign investments." The private Antena 1 television channel reported on 28 March that one of the members of the Russian delegation was robbed in Bucharest by two men dressed as policemen who "checked" his identity and "returned" his wallet -- albeit some $500 lighter. MS

ROMANIAN SUSPECT IN INVESTMENT-FUND COLLAPSE ADMITS TO CHARGES
Ioana Maria Vlas, who last week willingly returned to Romania from Israel to face numerous charges in connection with the collapsed National Investment Fund (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003) confessed to most of the charges against her during her first investigation by the Prosecutor-General's Office, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 28 March. According to a Romanian Radio report that cited Vlas's lawyer, Vlas claims the main culprit and the mastermind behind the collapse was businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vantu. The lawyer added that Vlas decided to return to Romania in order to reveal the truth and to prevent innocent people from being charged in connection with the fund's collapse. Prosecutor-General Tanase Joita said that by willingly returning, Vlas might benefit from "attenuating circumstances," but still faces a 25-year prison sentence. Premier Nastase said it is highly important for Vlas to reveal everything she knows about the fund's collapse. MS

END OF PSD-PUR ALLIANCE LOOMS ON ROMANIAN HORIZON
The Standing Bureau of the Humanist Party (PUR) decided on 30 March at a meeting in Brasov that the PUR will run on independent lists in the parliamentary elections of late 2004 or early 2005, Mediafax reported. In the 2000 elections, the PUR ran on joint lists with the Social Democratic Party -- then called the Party of Social Democracy in Romania. The PUR also decided that its parliamentarians will not participate in the no-confidence vote in the government submitted by three opposition parties last week. The vote was to take place on 31 March. MS

ROMANIAN LABOR UNREST SPREADS DESPITE ATTEMPTS TO REACH AGREEMENTS
About a dozen workers from the Calan steelmaker went on hunger strike on 28 March to protest layoffs planned by the government, Romanian Radio reported on 30 March. Some hunger strikers interrupted their fast after doctors determined their sugar levels had fallen. Meanwhile, a delegation headed by Labor and Social Affairs Minister Marian Sarbu reached an agreement on 29 March with trade-union leaders at the Hunedoara-based Siderurgica steelmaker, Mediafax reported. The agreement stipulates that in addition to the yet-to-be-negotiated severance pay, workers will receive 0.5 percent of their monthly wage for every year they were employed by the company. In Brasov, workers on 28 March continued street demonstrations for a fifth consecutive day. Meanwhile, the Brasov County councilors have accepted a government proposal to help the council set up industrial parks to attract businesses that could absorb some of the work force that are to be laid off by several loss-making companies in the area, Romanian Radio reported. MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMISTS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ
Some 100 demonstrators participated on 30 March in a war-protest meeting organized by two extremist extraparliamentary formations -- the New Right and the Party of Romanian Life, Mediafax reported. The demonstrators called for U.S. troops stationed in Romania to leave the country and shouted antiwar slogans. MS

NON-PCM MEMBER TO BE COMMUNIST CANDIDATE FOR CHISINAU MAYOR?
The ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) has decided to nominate Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Vasile Zgardan as its candidate for Chisinau mayor, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported, citing Moldovan media reports of 29 March. The reports have yet to be officially confirmed. Zgardan is not a member of the ruling PCM. He became a deputy transportation minister representing former President Mircea Snegur's Party of Rebirth and Reconciliation in 1988 and was appointed transportation minister by President Vladimir Voronin in December 2002. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT PROMULGATES LAW ON SPENT NUCLEAR-FUEL TRANSIT
President Voronin on 28 March promulgated the law to allow spent nuclear fuel from the Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear-power plant to transit Moldova, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). The approval came just hours after parliament passed the bill. A committee representing opponents of the measure announced the same day that it will challenge the law before the Constitutional Court. More than 75 percent of respondents to a public-opinion poll conducted on behalf of Moldovan environmentalists oppose such transports. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS 'CRIMINAL STRUCTURES' HAVE PENETRATED POWER CIRCLES
President Voronin told a forum of Moldovan judges on 28 March that "criminal structures" engaged in smuggling and illegal arms trafficking have penetrated Moldovan "power structures" and are even directed by members of the latter, Flux reported. Voronin said these structures work hand-in-hand with their Transdniester counterparts. According to Voronin, only the approval of the planned referendum on the country's reunification will enable the successful obliteration of such trade, which he said is directly encouraged by the Transdniester authorities. Voronin also warned that some Moldovan judges are often personally "involved in illegal activities" and hand down lenient sentences or acquit criminals. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS DECISION ON NATO, IRAQ
Parliament adopted by a vote of 165 to 36, with 10 abstentions, a declaration on 28 March to accept the Protocols of Accession signed by NATO member states on 26 March, bnn reported. The declaration also supports the government's decision to support the U.S.-led coalition to disarm the Iraqi regime. It was backed by the governing coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) as well as by the conservative opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS). Lawmakers of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) voted against the declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). UB

COURT RULES BULGARIAN POSITION ON REACTOR CLOSURE INVALID
The final instance of the Supreme Administrative Court's two bodies of judges on 28 March confirmed an earlier ruling by the same court that the government ignored a parliamentary decision on the closure of blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, mediapool.bg reported. The court argued that the government acted in contradiction to the national energy strategy adopted by parliament when it signed an agreement with the EU closing the energy chapter of the union's acquis communautaire. According to the parliamentary decision, the blocks in question should be closed only after the country joins the EU, which is expected to happen in 2007, and only if the energy situation allows the closure. The agreement with the EU, however, stipulates that blocks No. 3 and No. 4 should be taken off the grid by 2006. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said there is no need to reopen the energy chapter, but opposition BSP lawmaker Rumen Petkov underscored the need for new negotiations, BTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 January 2003). UB

OFFICIAL RAISES IRE OF BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT
A speech made in the village of Kornitsa on 29 March by Redzhep Molla Ahmed, the deputy administrator of Pazardzhik Oblast, has raised the ire of the government. According to Darik Radio, Molla Ahmed demanded that Turkish be introduced as the official language in the Rhodope Mountains and that Christians be expelled from the area. State Administration Minister Dimitar Kalchev has announced that the government will consider Molla Ahmed's dismissal. On 30 March, Molla Ahmed officially apologized for his speech, saying he was emotionally moved. The DPS member made the comments while speaking on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of protests against the communist assimilation policies toward the country's Muslims, euphemistically dubbed the "Revival Process." UB

THE ORGANIZED CRIME/SECURITY FORCES NEXUS IN YUGOSLAVIA AND UKRAINE
The 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was blamed by the International Crisis Group on an "interlocking nexus" of organized crime, war criminals, and police and army officers hiding behind "nationalist-patriotic" slogans and organizations." Similar accusations were made by 14 Serbian civic groups and other Serbian commentators.

But the link between organized crime, the executive, and domestic-security forces that still exists in Serbia is not unique to that country -- it is also characteristic of Bosnia and to a lesser degree of Croatia, and in the 1990s became the norm in Ukraine and Russia.

Although military budgets were starved throughout the 1990s, the domestic security forces in Yugoslavia, Ukraine, and Russia grew in size. In Yugoslavia, former President Slobodan Milosevic distrusted the armed forces and relied upon the Interior Ministry and the security service as his personal Praetorian Guard.

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) is the successor to the republican KGB but, unlike in Russia, it was never divided into separate internal and external branches. The Directorate for State Defense -- successor to the republican KGB's 9th Directorate, which guards top officials and is analogous to the U.S. Secret Service -- was separated from the SBU, but was reabsorbed in 1996.

Mykola Melnychenko, who illicitly bugged President Leonid Kuchma's office in 1999-2000, worked in this directorate as a counterintelligence officer.

In Yugoslavia under Milosevic, and also in Ukraine and Russia, the main bodies to have gained from the transfer of financial resources from the military are their interior ministries. The interior ministries in Russia and Ukraine inherited the internal troops and OMON troops that were created in the Gorbachev era. The OMON retain their name in Russia, and have the worst human rights record of any Russian security-force unit in Chechnya. In Ukraine, the Soviet-era OMON became the Berkut (Golden Eagles) and have been used to attack opposition demonstrators.

Political surveillance and state-orchestrated violence in these countries is usually the work of specialist units of the interior ministry. The assassination of Djindjic is widely believed to be the work of Milorad Ulemek-Lukovic "Legija," a former commander of the Serbian Interior Ministry's elite police Special Operations Unit (JSO), or Red Berets, which covertly supported paramilitary operations and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Croatia in the1990s. Lukovic switched allegiances to the opposition in the fall of 2000 and helped arrest Milosevic for the international war crimes tribunal. In gratitude, the authorities under Djindjic reportedly turned a blind eye to Lukovic's connections to organized crime.

In Ukraine, the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in the fall of 2000 has thrown the spotlight on the activities of special police units in Ukraine's Interior Ministry. Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun and other senior officials in the Prosecutor-General's Office have recently claimed that one of the best leads they are pursuing in Gongadze's murder is the involvement of the Interior Ministry's Falcons (Orly), special-forces troops attached to the Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (UBOZ) within the ministry. Information about the Falcons first appeared on the Melnychenko tape released in November 2000 that sparked the Kuchmagate crisis. This evidence has since been backed up by leaked letters from anonymous Interior Ministry officers.

As with the JSO and paramilitary groups in Yugoslavia under Milosevic, and similar units in Croatia and Bosnia, the special purpose Falcons units were involved in organized crime. Since the fall of 2002, some senior and lower-ranking members of the UBOZ's Falcons have been arrested and charged with jointly organizing "death squads" together with organized-crime figures.

In addition to shedding light on Gongadze's death, the leaked Interior Ministry letters have provided information that corroborates and complements a 1999 video interview with ministry officers leaked to then-presidential candidate Yevhen Marchuk, who admitted that they organized the "car accident" that led to the death of Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil in March 1999. A KamAZ truck hit the car in which Chornovil was traveling, killing him and the driver. Chornovil's son Taras, and Hennadiy Udovenko, who is Chornovil's successor as head of Rukh, both accuse the authorities of being behind the "accident." Although Rukh was already dividing into two feuding groups just prior to Chornovil's death, his demise rendered the split irreversible and thus removed a potential threat to Kuchma in the presidential elections later that year.

A similar episode took place in Yugoslavia in October 1999. A car in which Vuk Draskovic -- the head of Serbia's largest opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement -- was traveling was also hit by a large truck. Draskovic survived, but his three bodyguards died, one of whom was Draskovic's brother-in-law. After cooperating with Milosevic in government, Draskovic had begun making overtures to join the opposition Alliance for Change.

The truck drivers in both Chornovil's and Draskovic's "car accidents" were never prosecuted. Djindjic had, however, allowed a sensitive trial to begin of policemen involved in the Draskovic crash. Djindjic himself was the target of a similar "accident" last month when a large truck, driven by a man allegedly working for Legija attempted to hit his car in what was widely believed to be an assassination attempt.

The nexus between organized crime and internal security forces might be cleaned up in Serbia following Djindjic's assassination. A former assistant chief of a JSO unit was arrested on 25 March on suspicion of participating in Djindjic's assassination. But, in CIS states, such as Ukraine, this prospect still seems far off. The latest leaked Interior Ministry letter in Ukraine claims that the front-runner in next year's presidential elections, Viktor Yushchenko, is being trailed by the very same Falcons that Prosecutor-General Piskun is investigating for their possible role in Gongadze's murder.

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

KURDISH, U.S. TROOPS OCCUPY ANSAR AL-ISLAM POSITIONS IN NORTHERN IRAQ
A U.S. and Kurdish assault on 28 March drove Ansar al-Islam elements from their positions in northeastern Iraq, "The New York Times" reported on 29 March. Between 30 and 50 Ansar personnel were killed and two were captured by a force of some 10,000 Kurds and 100 U.S. special-forces troops (Task Force Viking) supported by artillery, cruise missiles, bombers, and ground-attack aircraft. KurdSat television reported on 29 March that more than 60 Ansar al-Islam members were killed in the assault. Task Force Viking spokesman Major Tim Nye said there were no U.S. casualties, according to "The New York Times." Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) spokesman Muhammad Khosnaw said a mine killed two Kurdish fighters and 20 others were wounded in the fighting. Veteran Kurdish fighter Kosrat Rasul Ali said Iran is cooperating by preventing Ansar al-Islam members from crossing the border, whereas another Kurdish officer said, "I am sure they all escaped over the border into Iran." Tehran declared the previous week that it closed the border to Ansar al-Islam elements. BS

KURDS MOVE INTO POSITIONS ABANDONED BY IRAQI FORCES...
Kurdish troops are reported to have moved south on 29-30 March into several areas in northeast Iraq previously held by Iraqi troops, who have retreated toward Altun Kopri, Reuters reported on 30 March. Iraqi troops first withdrew from the Bani Maqan hills above the Kurd-controlled town of Chamchamal on 27 March, and later to the edge of Kirkuk, which is about 35 kilometers to the west. Between 10 and 15 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to Kurdish fighters near the town of Kalak, north of Kirkuk, on 31 March, CNN reported. U.S. fighter planes have been conducting increasingly heavy bombing raids in and around Kalak, Chamchamal, and on the Iraqi front line toward Kirkuk. Kurdish fighters were visited in their new front positions on 31 March by PUK leader Jalal Talabani, BBC World reported. Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf denied on 29 March that Iraqi forces withdrew from their positions and moved toward Kirkuk, the Saudi-owned London daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" website (http://www.aawsat.com) reported the same day. PB

...BUT PUK MILITARY LEADER SAYS NO PLANS TO ATTACK KIRKUK
Umar Fattah, the leader of PUK forces near Kirkuk, said his group does not have any plans to attack that oil-rich city, adding that his forces will defend the areas under their control, the "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" website reported on 29 March. Fattah said his forces are also deployed outside Chamchamal and in Taqtaq and that reinforcements are on the way. He added that PUK forces are prepared to repel any Iraqi counterattack. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Kurdish PUK command told people they may return to their homes in areas retaken from "Ansar al-Islam and the hirelings of Iraqi intelligence," the PUK newspaper "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 29 March. The report said villages in the Biyarah region and in the areas of Khurmal and Ahmadawa had been "entirely cleansed" of Ansar al-Islam elements (see item above). The report referred to Ansar al-Islam as "an appendage" of Al-Qaeda. PB

BRITISH RETRACT REPORT OF IRAQI GENERAL'S CAPTURE IN BASRA
A British military spokesman on 31 March backed away from official statements the previous day indicating that coalition forces captured an Iraqi general in Basra, Reuters reported. The prisoner of war "was misidentified as a general. He was just another officer," the news agency quoted the spokesman as saying. British armed forces spokesman Group Captain Al Lockwood had said on 30 March during a briefing in Qatar that an Iraqi general was captured in Basra, according to AP. "We'll be asking him quite politely if he's willing to assist us to continue our operations against the paramilitary forces in Basra," Lockwood said. Lieutenant General Walid Hamid Tawfiq, identified as the Iraqi field commander for Basra, appeared on Al-Jazeera television on 30 March to refute that claim, saying, "What they [coalition forces] say is false. It is I, the general, and here I am standing before you. I ask you please not to delay me, because I want to go back to my units to continue the fighting." BS

RUMSFELD WARNS BADR CORPS AGAINST INTERFERING IN IRAQ...
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a 28 March Pentagon briefing that hundreds of combatants from the Badr Corps, which is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) military wing, are operating in Iraq and more are waiting in Iran, according to the U.S. State Department's website (http://usinfo.state.gov). So far, the Badr Corps has not engaged in hostile acts, Rumsfeld said, but "the entrance into Iraq by military forces, intelligence personnel, or proxies not under the direct operational control of [U.S. Central Command commander] General [Tommy] Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces." Rumsfeld added, according to RFE/RL, "The Badr Corps is trained, equipped, and directed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard [IRGC] and we will hold the Iranian government responsible for their actions and will view Badr Corps activity inside Iraq as unhelpful. Armed Badr Corps members found in Iraq will have to be treated as combatants." During a 25 March Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld called the presence of Iran-backed forces in Iraq "unhelpful" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). BS

...AND TEHRAN AND SCIRI REJECT HIS ALLEGATIONS
"Rumsfeld is making propaganda to cover up for his lack of success in this war," Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told Reuters on 29 March. "We won't go into this meaningless war, neither for nor against either side," he said. "The Badr [Corps'] decisions have nothing to do with Iran. They are independent, like any other Iraqi opposition group." SCIRI official Muhsin al-Hakim on 29 March denied the Badr Corps and IRGC have a relationship, IRNA reported. Al-Hakim said the Badr Corps consists of Iraqi youth, adding, "All staff, weapons, and entire training facilities of the Badr Corps are provided inside Iraq, and there is no link between them and the Iranian IRGC." Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 30 March described Rumsfeld's remarks as baseless and added, "The Badr Corps has no connections with Iran," IRNA reported. Kharrazi said the Badr Corps makes its decisions independently. BS

SYRIA DISMISSES ACCUSATIONS OF INTERFERENCE IN IRAQ
Rumsfeld charged during the 28 March Pentagon briefing that military supplies are being sent to Iraq from Syria and said the coalition would like for this to stop, according to the State Department website. "We have information that shipments of military supplies are crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles," Rumsfeld said, adding that deliveries of such equipment threaten the lives of allied personnel. Rumsfeld warned that the United States views this as a hostile act and it "will hold the government of Syria accountable for such shipments." Syrian Information Minister Adnan Umran rejected in a 29 March statement Rumsfeld's accusation and said it stemmed from the difficulties coalition forces are encountering in Iraq and from criticism of the Defense Department, Syrian state radio reported. Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf rejected Rumsfeld's accusation during a 29 March press conference, adding, "They are part of the blackmail operation by the international community and an attempt to attack other countries," Al-Jazeera reported. BS

IRAQI SUICIDE BOMBER SAID TO BE 'JUST THE FIRST'
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Major General Victor Renuart told reporters on 29 March that a suicide bomber killed four 3rd Infantry Division soldiers manning a road checkpoint in Najaf, according to the American Forces Press Service. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan during a 29 March press conference identified the killer as a noncommissioned officer named Ali Ja'far Musa Hammadi al-Nu'mani and claimed that he "killed five Americans and destroyed a number of tanks and vehicles," Al-Jazeera reported. A spokesman for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein claimed on 30 March that the suicide bomber killed "11 villains from the United States and wound[ed] a large number of others. He also destroyed two armored personnel carriers and damaged two tanks," Al-Jazeera reported. In recognition of his actions, the Iraqi president has awarded al-Nu'mani two medals posthumously -- the Rafidayn medal of the first order and the Umm al-Ma'arik (Mother of Battles) medal of the first order. A Ba'ath Party official in Basra, meanwhile, has warned that there will be more suicide bombers. "We all look forward to detonating ourselves with an explosives belt or in attacks on the positions of the Americans, the Zionists, and the English," Abd al-Muhsin Sa'dun said, according to Al-Jazeera on 29 March. BS

TEHRAN OFFERS AMNESTY TO ARMED IRANIAN OPPOSITION
Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security spokesman Ahmad Rahimi told Dubai's Al-Arabiya television in a 28 March interview that members of the Iraq-based, Iranian opposition militia known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) may come back to Iran if they voice regret for their "crimes" against the Islamic Republic, Reuters reported. The MKO, which is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations, has been based in Iraq since the 1980s. "The Islamic Republic of Iran, out of pity, gave them this new chance," Rahimi said. "We guarantee their life and will not arrest them, although there are some people who committed special crimes inside and outside Iran. If they voice regret for what they did and do not repeat these mistakes, then we will help them solve the problem and lead a respectable life in their country," he added. The next day, 29 March, U.S. and British aircraft bombed two MKO bases south of Sulaymaniah, Socialist-Democratic Party of Iraqi Kurdistan Secretary-General Muhammad Haj Mahmud said, according to IRNA. U.S. forces destroyed two MKO bases on 24 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). BS

IRANIAN AYATOLLAH CONDEMNS WAR ON IRAQ
"If the undemocratic nature of Saddam's regime is a crime, then who do you know among the American and British allies in the Middle East whose government is 100 percent democratic, and its people free?" Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri asked in a 30 March statement, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported. Montazeri said the United States and United Kingdom are seeking to protect Israel and gain greater control of Middle East oil. He also said the United States and United Kingdom have the greatest number of weapons of mass destruction. BS

TWO U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN...
Two U.S. military personnel were killed and a third sustained injuries on 29 March when their four-vehicle reconnaissance patrol was ambushed in Gereshk in Helmand Province, "The Boston Globe" reported on 31 March. Three Afghan soldiers operating with the U.S. forces were also injured. According to Helmand Province's chief of security, Dad Mohammad Khan, the patrol was attacked by men riding motorcycles. U.S. officials have not confirmed that report. Colonel Roger King, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said intelligence reports had indicated that enemy forces were in the region of Gereshk, and that the attack is evidence that those reports were "probably correct," AP reported on 30 March. No group has assumed responsibility for the attack, but the area is a stronghold of remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the report added. The incident marks the first time since December that U.S. soldiers were killed in action in Afghanistan. AT

...AS U.S. AND AFGHAN TROOPS ARE ATTACKED IN KANDAHAR, NANGARHAR PROVINCES
U.S. Special Forces troops assisting a larger group of Afghan militia came under attack on 29 March in Khakrez, Kandahar Province, "The Boston Globe" reported. The attack was not far from where Ricardo Munguia, a water and habitat engineer working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed on 27 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). Also on 29 March, a number of rockets hit an air base used by U.S. and Afghan forces near Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar Province, AP reported. No injuries were reported in either of the 29 March attacks. "The Boston Globe" commented that these attacks, along with the fatal attack in Gereshk (see above) and the suicide bombing in Iraq the same day that killed four U.S. soldiers, "are a stark reminder" that U.S. forces in Afghanistan are as "as much targets as those in Iraq." AT

ISAF COMES UNDER ATTACK IN KABUL
One of two 122-milimeter rockets fired on the International Security and Assistance Force's (ISAF) compound in Kabul on 30 March struck the headquarters, resulting in minor damage and no injuries, the ISAF announced the next day. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The ISAF's headquarters are situated across the street from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and it is not clear if the intended target was the ISAF or the embassy. German military and intelligence sources have expressed concern that the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq could lead to attacks on the ISAF, which is currently is under the joint command of Germany and the Netherlands (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 March 2003). AT

SENIOR TALIBAN COMMANDER WARNS OF MORE ATTACKS AS WAR CONTINUES IN IRAQ
In the first interview by a member of the Taliban leadership since the regime collapsed in December 2001, commander Mulla Dadullah said on 28 March that the Taliban is united under the leadership of Mulla Mohammad Omar and will step up attacks on foreigners in Afghanistan, the BBC reported. Dadullah claimed he is still in Afghanistan and took credit for some of the recent attacks against the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition. He also said radical Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has joined the ranks of the Taliban. Dadullah also said in the interview that he does not know Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. Helmand Province deputy police chief Haji Mohammad Ayyub said Dadullah and his men are responsible for the killing of ICRC worker Munguia (see above), "The New York Times" reported on 31 March. Ayyub said the increase of the Taliban's activities is a new phenomenon that he attributed to Iraq. "Lots of people are against the war in Iraq, and they are getting training in Pakistan and coming from there to launch attacks. It's serious and dangerous," he said. AT

SIX KILLED IN HELMAND PROVINCE MINE BLAST
Six people were killed on 30 March when their vehicle triggered an antitank mine in the Nasiraj Desert in Helmand Province, the Pakistan-based "Daily Times" reported on 31 March. The province's security chief, Dad Mohammad, said it is believed that the mine was not placed there recently, and could have been a Soviet mine laid during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, AFP reported. AT

UN EXTENDS THE ASSISTANCE MISSION'S MANDATE IN AFGHANISTAN
The UN Security Council on 28 March unanimously adopted Resolution 1471, thereby extending to 28 March 2004 the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the UN announced. The Security Council also endorsed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal to establish an electoral unit within UNAMA to assist Afghanistan in planning its upcoming elections. AT

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