RUSSIA RESPONDS SHARPLY TO U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICISM
The Media Ministry on 1 April denounced an annual report by the U.S. State Department that criticizes Russia for its human rights record and, particularly, for violations of press freedom, newsru.com and RIA-Novosti reported on 2 April. "The Media Ministry sarcastically receives efforts by the U.S. foreign-policy agency to present Russia as a country without a free press," the ministry's press release said. "The statements of American officials claiming that there are limitations of the rights and freedom of [Russian] citizens to access information have a particular piquantness against the background of the ongoing military operation of American forces in Iraq. Concerning the behavior of U.S. spokespeople in explaining the military conflict, we have all been witnesses to the biased distribution of information and to violations of the rights of journalists leading to the delusion of the American people." VY
YELTSIN SAYS KURILE SOLUTION WILL TAKE 'GENERATIONS'
Former President Boris Yeltsin said in Tokyo on 1 April following a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that Russia and Japan will only reach a solution to the problem of the disputed Kurile Islands "within the next couple of generations," ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said that he also discussed with Koizumi a projected oil pipeline from Siberia to Russia's Pacific coast and a natural-gas pipeline from Sakhalin Island to Japan. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the creation of a new Japanese parliamentary group that is advocating the speedy return of the islands to Japanese control. Moscow considers the group "unfriendly and counterproductive," ITAR-TASS reported. VY
PUTIN ADMINISTRATION TO PROPOSE PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM?
The presidential administration has drafted a proposed law on the formation of the government under which the right to form the cabinet would be handed over to the party or coalition that holds a majority of the mandates in the State Duma, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 1 April. Under the proposal, the prime minister would name a cabinet from a list of candidates compiled by the Duma's majority party. Such a system has been supported in the past by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and by a number of influential politicians close to the Kremlin, the daily noted. If it becomes law, it would be the realization of the goals of the pre-revolutionary Constitutional Democrats who advocated a government accountable to the legislature, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" commented. VY
MILITARY PAPER OUTLINES U.S. MISCALCULATIONS IN IRAQ...
U.S. military planners mistakenly believed that the Iraqi armed forces had not developed since the end of the 1991 Gulf War and that they would be completely unable to withstand the high-technology weaponry of the U.S.-led coalition, "Krasnaya zvezda," the organ of the Defense Ministry, wrote on 1 April. The United States also wrongly expected that the Iraqi population would greet coalition forces joyously as liberators from the dictatorial regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. However, the daily continued, the Iraqi leadership has thoroughly studied the tactics used by the U.S. armed forces in military operations around the world since 1991 and adopted the best-possible defensive strategy: attempting to prolong the war and widen the conflict by avoiding direct frontal clashes with coalition forces. Instead, the Iraqi military has adopted partisan-warfare tactics and is striving to shift the field of combat from the desert to the country's urban areas. In preparation for the conflict, "Krasnaya zvezda" wrote, Iraqi commanders sent special detachments to cities around the country to prepare local residents for street fighting. Knowing that Baghdad would be the main coalition target, the Iraqi leadership divided the country into five regional commands, reducing their dependence on a central command and diffusing the authority to organize defenses. VY
...AND BLAMES POOR INTELLIGENCE
The paper commented that United States made these misjudgments because U.S. intelligence services had extremely limited assets in Iraq, and their sources among defectors and the Iraqi opposition were not reliable. The daily noted that the United Kingdom has excellent intelligence resources in the region, and speculated that either the British failed to bring this information to the attention of U.S. planners or the U.S. military disregarded it. VY
OLIGARCHS MEET IN LONDON
The heads of 200 of Russia's largest corporations and financial groups -- including Yukos, Gazprom, Alfa-Group, Unified Energy Systems (EES), and LUKoil -- arrived in London for the 2-4 April Russian Economic Forum, Russian media reported on 1 April, citing event Director Mikhail Kolyshev. About 1,000 businesspeople and investors from around the world are also expected to participate in the forum, which will discuss proposed energy projects such as a natural-gas pipeline to Europe via the Baltic seabed, an oil pipeline from Western Siberia to Murmansk, and an oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to either China or Japan. Other major topics at the forum will be corporate reform in Russia and improving the transparency of Russian business. VY
RUSSIA TO HOLD NAVAL EXERCISES IN INDIAN OCEAN
The Russian General Staff announced on 1 April that the navy will hold military exercises in the Indian Ocean next month, Interfax reported. On 8-10 April, two naval groups of the Pacific and Black Sea fleets will depart for the region. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov repeated in a 31 March interview posted on the website of "Komsomolskaya pravda" denials that the exercises are connected to the U.S.-led military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Hussein. The purpose of the exercise is to improve coordination between the Russian Navy and those of Russia's allies, especially India, Ivanov said. VY
STATE FISHERIES COMMITTEE SLATED FOR THE CHOPPING BLOCK...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov chaired a session of the Civil-Service Reform Committee on 1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Kasyanov, the government is considering instituting a contract-basis system for civil servants. First Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Mikhail Dmitriev told reporters the same day that his ministry is proposing cutting the number of federal ministries from 23 to 15-17, Prime-TASS reported. The proposal is part of a broader administrative-reform scheme that was submitted to the government on 28 March. According to the agency, unofficial sources said three of the state agencies slated for elimination are the State Fisheries Committee, the Russian Patents and Trademarks Agency, and the Federal Weather and Environmental Monitoring Service. In addition, the Transport Ministry would be merged with the Railways Ministry. On 27 March, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Dmitriev as saying the overlapping of functions at the Natural Resources Ministry, Agriculture Ministry, and State Fisheries Committee might be the first target of reform. JAC
...AS ADMINISTRATIVE-REFORM TARGETS KEEP SHIFTING
On 26 March, "Vedomosti" quoted an unnamed senior official who said that if the administrative reform is postponed until after the December parliamentary and the presidential election in March, then the recent analysis of duplicative functions in the government will become irrelevant, because new laws will be passed that would likely lead to new overlaps of responsibilities among various ministries and federal agencies. JAC
MOSCOW MAYOR BLOCKS ASCENSION OF DUMA LEADER TO UPPER ECHELONS OF PARTY OF POWER
Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) will not assume a leadership post in the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, as some media sources had reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003), "Vremya novostei" reported on 1 April. According to the daily, which cited "well informed" but unidentified sources, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov spoke categorically against offering Rogozin a visible position in the party. According to the daily, although Rogozin was once a member of Luzhkov's Fatherland party, he and the mayor are not on good terms. In August 1999, Rogozin was expelled from Fatherland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 1999). According to "Vremya novostei," Rogozin has abandoned his plans to join Unified Russia and seek a spot on its party list for the December Duma election. He will reportedly instead seek a Duma seat from a single-mandate district. JAC
SPS LOSES A FACTION MEMBER
Duma Deputy Khasan Mirzoev announced on 1 April that he is leaving the faction of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The official reason for his departure is Mirzoev's disagreement with the party leadership's position on a series of recent presidential bills. According to the daily, Mirzoev voted in favor of a bill on local-government reform that the faction otherwise voted solidly against. Mirzoev has also reportedly been informed that he will not be included on the party's list for the December elections. Mirzoev said he will not join any other faction and will remain an independent legislator. JAC
ENVIRONMENTALISTS WIN LEGAL VICTORY IN FAR NORTH
A recent court ruling in Karelia might establish a legal precedent that would allow thousands of residents to receive financial compensation for damage to their health caused by the Nadvoitskii Aluminum Factory, RosBalt reported on 1 April. On 28 March, a local court awarded 50,000 rubles ($1,600) to a plaintiff, Dmitrii Kuzin, who alleged that his health has suffered from factory pollution in the surrounding environment. Both sides plan to appeal the decision to the republican Supreme Court. The factory does not agree that it is responsible for the harm, while Kuzin feels the compensation awarded is inadequate, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Andrei Kozlovich, the director of the Ariston environmental foundation, told RosBalt that about 5,000 local residents suffer from the same illness as Kuzin, which causes a softening of bone tissue. However, Kozlovich said his foundation does not plan to launch a series of lawsuits because this could lead to the plant's bankruptcy, and a large part of the local population works there. However, environmentalists hope to convince the plant to agree to provide phased-in financial compensation to residents who are ill. JAC
GOVERNOR THREATENS YEKATERINBURG MAYOR WITH DISMISSAL
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel issued on 1 April his second warning to Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii regarding the latter's alleged failure to implement a 2000 local-court decision requiring the indexation of wages for state-sector workers, Novyi Region reported on 1 April. According to the agency, Rossel issued the warning in line with a federal law that allows governors to dismiss municipal heads if they fail repeatedly to comply with federal laws or ignore a court's judgment. The first warning was issued on 30 April 2002. Aleksandr Shemelev, a lawyer with the Moscow-based Political Jurisprudence, told the agency that no mayor in Russia has yet been dismissed under the law, but attempts have been made in Krasnoyarsk Krai and Vladivostok. JAC
SUCCESSOR PUBLICATION TO 'NOVYE IZVESTIYA' TO APPEAR IN MAY
Many of the staff of the now-defunct newspaper "Novye izvestiya" will work at a new daily called "Rezonans" that will appear in May, "Gazeta" reported on 31 March. The last issue of "Novye izvestiya" appeared at the end of February, and the new publication will have a new editor in chief, Valerii Yakov, and a new sponsor, the Alyans group, which is headed by Musa Bazhaev. Yakov was deputy editor of "Novye izvestiya." Former Editor in Chief Igor Golembiovskii will become the head of a new publishing group called Mediapressa, which is owned by Yakov Soskin. Valerii Yakov told "Gazeta" the affair has ended with each party getting what it wanted and that the journalists have only fond memories of former "Novye izvestiya" owner Boris Berezovskii. JAC
TO LIVE AND DIE IN PERM
A resident of Perm Oblast has appealed to the regional human rights center for help proving he is alive, newsru.com reported on 1 April, citing Interfax. The 54-year-old man, a former prison inmate, was legally declared dead in 1994, when the woman he once lived with identified a corpse as being him. The center's lawyers have advised their client that the only way to reestablish his legal animation is through a court hearing. Earlier, a pensioner in Novosibirsk also turned to the courts to prove her existence after a death certificate with her name on it was signed by mistake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). JAC
COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL HAILS PLANNED CHECHEN AMNESTY
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer told Interfax on 1 April that the planned amnesty for Chechen fighters could expedite a political solution to the Chechen conflict by encouraging fighters to return to civilian life. He proposed that the amnesty be extended to as many people as possible, both Chechens and Russian servicemen, with the exception of those from both sides who have committed crimes against humanity. Schwimmer also spoke in favor of negotiations between Russian representatives and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported. He said such talks could likewise contribute to resolving the conflict. LF
ARE BOSNIAN 'MERCENARIES' FIGHTING IN CHECHNYA?
Speaking at a Moscow briefing for military attaches on 1 April, Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy) said Moscow has "reliable information" that "mercenaries" from Bosnia are now fighting against federal forces in Chechnya, Interfax reported. He did not say how many people are allegedly involved. Experts note that the unemployment rate in Bosnia is over 30 percent, and that many of the unemployed are young men with no marketable skills, but that Bosnian Muslims are more likely to fight as volunteers for the Chechen cause on religious grounds than as mercenaries. LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHELVES DEBATE ON MEDIA BILL
At the request of the Armenian government, the parliamentary leadership on 31 March postponed until 15 April a scheduled debate on a controversial media bill, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Noyan Tapan reported. No reason was given for the postponement. Meanwhile, some journalists congregated outside the parliament building on 31 March to protest the bill, criticizing it as "undemocratic" and accusing the Armenian leadership of seeking to restrict freedom of speech. The bill requires media outlets to disclose their sources of funding and empowers courts to demand that journalists reveal their sources of information. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE REPEATS CRITICISM OF ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
In a statement adopted on 31 March, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe repeated its criticism of ballot-box stuffing and other violations during the February-March presidential elections, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported from Strasbourg. The statement expressed the hope that the Armenian authorities will implement recommendations by international monitors intended to preclude a repeat of such violations during the 25 May parliamentary elections and thereby enable Armenia to "retain its democratic credentials." LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION STAGES PARLIAMENT WALKOUT OVER DISPUTED ELECTION BILL
Opposition deputies left the parliament chamber on 1 April to protest speaker Murtuz Alesqerov's attempts to prevent them from speaking in the article-by-article debate on draft election legislation in its second reading, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. Alesqerov first proposed cutting the amount of time each deputy could speak from 10 to five minutes. Then, citing time pressure, he attempted to deny opposition deputies the opportunity to speak on the article of the law that outlines the composition of election commissions. The over-representation of the current leadership on election commissions is the aspect of the new legislation to which the opposition has raised the greatest number of objections. The opposition threatened a long-term boycott of parliamentary proceedings, to which Siyavush Novruzov, one of the leading members of the majority Yeni Azerbaycan Party, responded, "If they don't want to come back, let them rot in hell," according to zerkalo.az on 2 April. But opposition and majority deputies agreed later on 1 April that the opposition will have the opportunity to outline its objections to the draft, and opposition deputies showed up for the morning parliament session on 2 April, Turan reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS SENTENCED
Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes passed sentence on 1 April on 15 people in connection with the June 2002 clashes between police and residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku, Interfax and Turan reported. Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Alikram Aliev was sentenced to nine years in a strict-regime prison, Djabrail Alizade to eight years, Khikmet Veliev and Etibar Zakiev to seven years, and Mirza-aga Movlanov and Ilgar Abdullaev to five years' imprisonment, zerkalo.az reported. Nine other men were given suspended sentences. Islamic Party Deputy Chairman Hiadji-aga Nuriev criticized the sentences as unfair, as did Azerbaijani human rights activists, Turan reported. Nuriev said the villagers will appeal the sentences first with the Supreme Court and then if necessary with the European Court for Human Rights. LF
FIVE SUPPORTERS OF AZERBAIJANI EX-PRESIDENT SENTENCED
Baku's Nasimi Raion Court on 1 April passed sentence on five supporters of ousted President Ayaz Mutalibov on charges of failing to inform the authorities of a crime in preparation, according to Turan on 1 April and zerkalo.az on 2 April. Two men received prison sentences of 18 months, while the remaining three were fined. The five were convicted largely on the basis of written testimony by one man, Teylor Ibragimov, who mentioned only one of them by name. Ibragimov alleged that Mutalibov's supporters were planning to stage demonstrations in Baku in the fall of 2001 and to overthrow the present Azerbaijani leadership in order to restore Mutalibov to power. Ibragimov also claimed he was shown weapons stored on the outskirts of Baku, Turan reported on 26 March. On the basis of testimony by Ibragimov, Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes sentenced five Mutalibov supporters last year to jail terms ranging from six to 10 years on similar charges of planning a coup d'etat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 August and 6 September 2002). LF
ABKHAZIA CALLS FOR UN TO SUPERVISE IMPLEMENTATION OF SOCHI AGREEMENTS
Sergei Shamba, who is the foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, has called for the UN to coordinate implementation of the agreements reached in Sochi last month by Russian President Vladimir Putin, his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze, and Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia, Caucasus Press reported on 2 April (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 March 2003). Those agreements include the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons who fled during the 1992-93 war; resumption of rail traffic from Sochi to Tbilisi via Abkhazia, and the renovation of the Inguri Hydroelectric Station. On 1 April, Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for Abkhazia, met in Sukhum with Gagulia, Shamba, and Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba to discuss how to implement the Sochi agreements, Caucasus Press reported. LF
RUSSIAN, NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS SOUTH OSSETIA
Aleksandr Dzasokhov, president of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, has met in Moscow with Russian President Putin to discuss the situation in Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 2 April. The two presidents focused specifically on economic incentives for Tbilisi and the breakaway republic's leadership to reach agreement, and the possibility of encouraging conditions for Russian businessmen seeking investment opportunities in South Ossetia. LF
KAZAKHSTAN LIBERALIZES VISA RULES
New regulations went into effect on 1 April for some categories of foreigners visiting Kazakhstan for tourism or business, khabar.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Invitations extended to such persons by nongovernmental organizations may now be submitted directly to the Foreign Ministry's consular section. Previously, the permission of the migration police of the relevant oblast was required before a visa request could be submitted. For foreigners entering the country on private business, the Interior Ministry's permission is still required. The new rules apply to citizens of 45 countries, including the United States, Canada, Israel and most of Europe. No other Middle Eastern states are on the list. It has also become easier for persons who emigrated from Kazakhstan to obtain visas to visit their birthplaces and the graves of relatives. They need merely submit a personal request and proof they were born in Kazakhstan, emigrated from there, or that close relatives are buried there. BB
HIZB UT-TAHRIR SEEKS TO STRENGTHEN POSITION IN NORTHERN KYRGYZSTAN
Quoting Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service, the pro-government daily "Vechernii Bishkek" has reported that leaflets produced by the banned Muslim extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir were recently distributed in the major towns of Issyk-Kul Oblast in northern Kyrgyzstan, according to centrasia.ru on 2 April. More than 100 leaflets were handed in to the security service in Cholpon-Ata, the major resort on Lake Issyk-Kul, alone. Five young people were reportedly detained on suspicion of having been involved in distribution of the leaflets, but were released when nothing was found during searches of their homes. Despite the efforts of the authorities, Hizb ut-Tahrir has apparently gained many adherents, and its literature appears regularly in southern Kyrgyzstan, traditionally the most pious part of the country. In August 2002, the National Security Service said Hizb ut-Tahrir had extended its activities to northern Kyrgyzstan, launching a recruitment drive in Chu, Issyk-Kul, and Naryn oblasts. BB/LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT PARDONS ENVIRONMENTALIST...
Saparmurat Niyazov on 2 April issued a decree pardoning Farid Tukhbatullin, turkmenistan.ru reported. Tukhbatullin, co-chairman of the Dashoguz Ecological Club, Turkmenistan's oldest environmental NGO, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in early March on charges that he failed to inform Turkmen authorities that a plot to assassinate Niyazov was discussed at a conference he attended in Moscow shortly before an attack on the president in November. Tukhbatullin denied having heard any such discussion. His sentence was considered a slap in the face for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Turkmenistan is a member, because it occurred two days after OSCE Chairman in Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer received Niyazov's promise that Tuhbatullin would be released "soon" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 March 2003). The sentencing of Tukhbatullin was sharply criticized by international human rights organizations, with many of which he had cooperated, and was questioned by the U.S. State Department. This week the UN High Commission on Human Rights is looking at Turkmenistan's human rights record. BB
...AND SEES JOBS FOR CONSCRIPTS AS ALTERNATIVE SERVICE
President Niyazov, visiting the new building of the Defense Ministry on 1 April, called for expansion of the practice of assigning some conscripts to work at civilian-sector jobs, turkmenistan.ru reported the following day. Niyazov introduced the practice in 2002 to teach draftees, especially those from rural areas, civilian professions. The president was quoted by ITAR-TASS on 1 April as saying that 20,000 of the 80,000 young men drafted annually will be assigned to civilian jobs. These would be reserved for those who could not carry weapons due to their health or beliefs. Conscripts assigned to jobs would receive one week of military training per month. According to Defense Minister Redjepbai Arazov, 5,600 conscripts were sent to jobs in industry, transport, and health last year. The type of alternative service that Niyazov described would mark a reversal of the official Turkmen attitude to conscientious objectors. In recent years, many Jehovah's Witnesses and some Baptists have been jailed for refusing to bear arms. International human rights organizations have repeatedly appealed to Niyazov to introduce alternative service for conscientious objectors. BB
PRESIDENT: UZBEKS SPEND TOO MUCH ON CELEBRATIONS
Islam Karimov has appealed to the government and public and religious organizations to launch a campaign against excessive expenditures on weddings, wakes, and celebrations of births and circumcisions, "Moskovskie novosti," No. 12, reported. He had criticized such expenditures last December as discrediting national traditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002). According to the report, Mufti of Uzbekistan Abdurashid kori Bakhromov has issued a fatwa on the topic, condemning the practice of turning family events into lavish celebrations and calling on the faithful to spend more on orphanages, homes for the elderly, education, and charity. A campaign against excessive expenditures on family events launched in Uzbekistan in the late Soviet era had little lasting effect because of the tradition that as many people as possible be invited to such celebrations, and the greater the expenditure, the greater the prestige. The article notes that in appealing for the well-to-do to spend more money on social projects and less on showing off in the community, Uzbekistan's secular government is promoting Muslim virtues. BB
UZBEK TEACHERS LOSE BENEFIT
As of 1 April, teachers in Uzbekistan lost a 50 percent communal-services subsidy that had helped to make up for their low salaries, Deutsche Welle reported. The report said that panicked teachers are buying up copies of local newspapers that carried the presidential decree. Instead of the benefit, teachers are to receive a monthly payment equal to 45 percent of the minimum wage, on which they must pay income tax. Teachers in Tashkent were quoted as saying the payment will not compensate for the lost benefit. According to the Labor Ministry, the current minimum wage is the equivalent of about $4. The average wage for a teacher is the equivalent of $15. BB
WASHINGTON SAYS BELARUS'S 'POOR' RIGHTS RECORD GOT WORSE
The U.S. State Department in its annual human-rights report of 31 March said the Belarusian regime's record "remained poor and worsened in several areas" in 2002, according to the State Department website (http://www.state.gov). "The authorities effectively continued to deny citizens the right to change their government," the assessment asserts, adding that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka dominated all branches of power. The report says authorities undertook no serious efforts to account for the disappearances of opposition figures or to discount credible reports regarding the regime's role in those disappearances. The report also points to police abuse and the occasional torture of prisoners, severe hazing in the military, infringements on privacy rights, newspaper closures and other attacks on the independent media, beatings of demonstrators, and restrictions on religious freedom introduced through a new law on religious organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 4 November 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN LEGISLATURE WANTS EXPLANATION OF FORMER DEPUTY PREMIER'S ARREST
The Verkhovna Rada on 2 April requested that the prosecutor-general inform lawmakers concerning the recent arrest of former Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Kozachenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003), UNIAN reported. Three agrarian groups -- the Ukrainian Agrarian Confederation, the Association of Farmers and Private Landowners, and the Ukrainian Grain Association -- have asked parliament to look into the case against Kozachenko, who was responsible for agricultural reforms, and hold a debate on the situation on the Ukrainian grain market. According to the appeal, the abuse-of-office and tax-evasion charges against Kozachenko were brought by incompetent people who, the document adds, might have been inspired either by "politicians who are ready to surrender state interests for pursuing their strictly personal interests," or by "foreign-influenced centers that are not interested in Ukraine's being a flourishing grain producer." JM
KYIV LIFTS BAN ON POULTRY IMPORTS FROM U.S.
Ukraine has lifted a ban on U.S. poultry imports just three months after it came into effect, Interfax reported on 1 April, quoting State Veterinary-Medicine Department chief Petro Verbytskyy. The import ban entered into force on 1 January. Under an agreement reached in Washington last week, U.S. exporters must provide new certificates attesting that the poultry was treated with neither growth stimulants nor agents to ward off infection. According to ITAR-TASS, the poultry ban proved an obstacle to a U.S.-Ukrainian protocol on mutual access to commodities and services markets, which, in its turn, is a prerequisite for Ukraine's entry admission to the World Trade Organization. JM
UKRAINIAN AGENCY APOLOGIZES FOR APRIL FOOL'S DAY JOKE
Ukraine's Forum news agency has apologized to the Defense Ministry and the media for an April Fool's Day report in which it said the Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion in Kuwait had sided with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 April. Passions reportedly flared after Ukrainian websites quickly quoted the Forum revelation about the NBC unit. The Defense Ministry said the same day that the NBC battalion in Kuwait will include 450 servicemen, not 532, as initially planned. Meanwhile, Communist Party lawmakers Petro Symonenko and Heorhiy Kryuchkov has submitted a draft bill to the Verkhovna Rada calling for the annulment of the parliamentary decision of 20 March to deploy the NBC battalion to Kuwait (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2003). JM
FRANCE ASSURES ESTONIA THAT NATO-ACCESSION PROTOCOL WILL SOON BE APPROVED
Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland met in Paris on 1 April with Hubert Haenel, the chairman of the French Senate's European Union Committee, BNS reported. He assured her that the French Senate and National Assembly will ratify Estonia's NATO-accession protocol soon, but did not mention a specific date as it is still circulating in the parliament's committees. Ojuland also held an unscheduled meeting with her French counterpart Dominique de Villepin in which they discussed the Iraq war. The ministers agreed that the UN should participate in the postwar administration of Iraq. Ojuland also expressed opposition to the creation in the EU of a strong presidential post, which France is favoring. The French government that day also endorsed a draft Estonian-French agreement that would abolish the requirement that Estonian citizens obtain visas if they intend to spend more than three months studying at French institutions of higher education. SG
RULING PARTIES AGREE ON LATVIA'S REPRESENTATION IN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
The four parties in the ruling coalition reached agreement on 1 April on how the country's nine observer seats in the European Parliament will be divided up, LETA reported. The New Era and People's Party will each select two deputies, while the other five parties -- For Human Rights in a United Latvia, National Harmony Party, For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, Union of Greens and Farmers, and Latvia's First Party -- will each select one deputy. The selected parliamentary deputies will be expected to attend the sessions of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg from May 2003 through June 2004. The work of the observers is financed by the European Parliament. New Era proposed deputies Aldis Kuskis and Liene Liepina as its observers. SG
IMF TO CONTINUE COOPERATION WITH LITHUANIA
John Odling-Smee, the director of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) European II Department, told President Rolandas Paksas in Vilnius on 1 April that the IMF will continue to carry out annual reviews of Lithuanian economic reports despite the expiration of the final IMF-Lithuanian economic-policy memorandum, ELTA reported. The IMF will also consult Lithuania on financial, budgetary, and political issues. In earlier talks that day with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, Odling-Smee praised Lithuania's economic growth, falling unemployment rate, macroeconomic policy, and reduced fiscal deficit, but warned of hardships in the health- and social-care sectors and the education system. SG
POLISH HEALTH MINISTER RESIGNS IN PROTEST
Health Minister Marek Balicki quit his post on 1 April to protest the appointment by Premier Leszek Miller of Aleksander Nauman as head of the National Health Fund, an institution responsible for managing some 30 billion zlotys ($7.3 billion) in health insurance premiums spent annually on Poland's health service, PAP reported. Balicki sacked Nauman from the post of deputy health minister in mid-March. "[Nauman's appointment] is good for neither the government, the Democratic Left Alliance, nor for the recovery of the [health-care] system; it does not serve patients' interests," Balicki said. Miller on 1 April also asked the president to approve Deputy Health Minister Ewa Kralkowska as the new health minister. JM
POLAND'S SELF-DEFENSE TO WITHDRAW FROM LOCAL COALITIONS WITH RULING PARTY
Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper on 1 April said his organization has decided to withdraw from all local coalitions with the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) as of 19 April, PAP reported. Lepper reasoned that the SLD has been implementing a program different from that presented before last year's local elections. He added that Self-Defense does not want to be identified with the SLD, with which it is in coalition in five provincial assemblies and in a number of districts and communes. JM
CZECH CABINET APPROVES FIELD HOSPITAL FOR IRAQ
The center-left government on 1 April unanimously approved a plan to send a Czech military field hospital to Iraq in response to the UN's warning of an imminent humanitarian disaster there, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported the next day. The six-month deployment includes about 300 people, roughly half of them trained medical personnel, the daily added. The field-hospital staff will complement the continuing presence of nearly 400 members of a combined Czech and Slovak NBC unit already in Kuwait, where the field hospital will be based until it is needed elsewhere. Czech politicians disagree over whether the UN resolution adopted last week provides sufficient mandate for the military hospital, with critics claiming the deployment translates into de facto participation in the U.S.-led war effort. The decision is subject to parliamentary approval. AH
CZECH MILITARY GAFFE SAID TO ENDANGER AGENTS' LIVES
The Defense Ministry might have threatened the lives of current military counterintelligence agents by mistakenly posting their names on the ministry's website (http://www.army.cz), the Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 2 April. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has conceded the name of one agent was among those listed as communist-era agents as part of a major purge of the intelligence service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003), but the daily cited anonymous sources who said at least one other current agent appears on the register. Tvrdik said he is prepared to punish those responsible and compensate those who were compromised, the daily reported. Tvrdik has announced deep-running reforms within the military community, which he recently criticized for having too little regard for civilian oversight. AH
CZECH PREMIER FENDS OFF ACCUSATIONS HE COLLECTED DIRT ON POTENTIAL PARTY RIVAL...
Vladimir Spidla on 1 April vehemently rejected media reports that he received potentially damning information from the civilian intelligence service that helped him fight off a possible challenge at a recent Social Democratic Party (CSSD) conference, CTK reported. The Czech service of the BBC cited anonymous sources on 31 March who believed that Spidla obtained compromising information on Interior Minister and CSSD Deputy Chairman Stanislav Gross from the Czech Security Information Service (BIS), helping him preempt a would-be challenge from Gross for the party chairmanship in late March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). The BIS also rejected such speculation on 1 April, according to CTK. "I am saying openly and absolutely clearly that I do not have such information at my disposal. I would have never crossed my mandate, which I, as premier, have in contacts with any secret service. I act absolutely in accordance with the law," Spidla said, according to CTK. He said the reports are part of a smear campaign, "regardless of who has prepared it." AH
...BUT INTELLIGENCE SCANDAL PICKS UP STEAM ANYWAY
"Mlada fronta Dnes" of 2 April also quoted Gross and Defense Minister Tvrdik saying they have received unspecified "warnings" that the BIS is collecting information on them. The paper said it was tipped off that the two harbored such fears by "intelligence services and [sources] close to both ministers." Gross merely confirmed that he has "received such warnings." But Tvrdik said he has believed for "a long time...that some people from the military intelligence environment are collecting discrediting materials." He added that he was cautioned that those same people have "turned to the BIS and are accumulating news on me with great initiative," according to the daily. "The BIS works in line with the law and does not violate the law," a BIS spokesman said in response to the reports. AH
HUNGARIAN SUPPORT FOR EU ACCESSION ON THE RISE
A Gallup Institute poll from early March indicated that 64 percent of Hungary's population supports EU accession, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 2 April. The figure represents an increase of 5 percentage points from February. Some 58 percent of respondents vowed to turn up to vote in the country's accession referendum on 12 April, and around 78 percent of decided voters said they support accession. Sixteen percent -- the same number as in February -- said they will vote against EU membership. The number of Hungarians who believe that EU membership is "a good thing" is four times larger than those who consider it a "bad thing," "Magyar Nemzet" reported. MSZ
EU COMMISSIONER TALKS ACCESSION WITH HUNGARIAN LEADERS
European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen on 1 April wound up a two-day visit to Hungary with separate consultations with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Hungarian television reported. Medgyessy thanked Verheugen for his cooperation in the course of accession talks and for helping to bring about successful accession-treaty negotiations. Verheugen expressed his understanding for new member countries' desire to take part in the work of the EU without discrimination. In his meeting with Verheugen, de facto opposition FIDESZ leader Orban requested that a visa exemption with Romania be retained after Hungarian accession and that a flexible solution be found for Serbia, to allow for continued relations with ethnic Hungarians in those countries. MSZ
HUNGARY PLEDGES 1 BILLION FORINTS FOR ROMANY EDUCATION GRANTS
The Hungarian government has earmarked more than 1 billion forints ($4.3 million) for grants designed to help Romany students pursue their educations, the state secretary for Romany affairs in the Prime Minister's Office, Laszlo Teleki, told reporters on 1 April. Teleki made the announcement after a meeting of the Romany Affairs Council. Teleki said the funds will be sufficient to cover continued studies for 18,200 Romany students, "Nepszabadsag" reported. In other news, in a 31 March report on human-rights practices, the U.S. State Department says the Hungarian government respected human rights in 2002 but noted some police excesses, including incidents of policemen beating and harassing Roma, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 2 March. The report also says some local officials have attempted to evict Roma from their homes and resettle them in other towns. MSZ
POLICE DETAIN FORMER HEAD OF YUGOSLAV GENERAL STAFF
Unnamed police sources said in Belgrade on 1 April that a former chief of the Yugoslav Army General Staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, "was detained by the police...as part of an investigation into [Serbian Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic's assassination," dpa reported. Pavkovic commanded Serbian forces in Kosova in 1999 as a loyalist of former President Slobodan Milosevic but switched his allegiance to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in late 2000. Kostunica then sacked Pavkovic in June, which led to public revelations about a bugging scandal that came to be called the Pavkovic affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June and 16 July 2002). PM
MOSCOW UNIVERSITY DENIES ANY LINK TO FORMER SERBIAN LEADER'S WIFE
Officials at Lomonosov University said that Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, is not and has never been on the staff of that institution, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported from Moscow on 1 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). Officials of the Sociology Department added that Markovic visited the faculty "five years ago," but only as a guest, not as a teacher. Markovic's daughter, Marija Milosevic, recently said that her mother is teaching in Moscow. PM
MUTUAL RECRIMINATIONS AMONG SERBIAN POLITICIANS
Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade that the Djindjic assassination was the result of a complex conspiracy aimed at a putsch, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 1 April. Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) replied in a statement that Batic is seeking to spread fear and divide society in the same way Milosevic often did. The DSS added that crime in Serbia would not be as bad as it is if Batic had done a better job as minister. PM
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE TO VISIT SERBIA
Colin Powell is expected to pay a short visit to Belgrade on 2 April to show support for the democratic authorities there in the wake of Djindjic's assassination and encourage cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He is scheduled to meet with President Svetozar Marovic of Serbia and Montenegro, Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic. Powell will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Serbia since NATO's bombing campaign in 1999. In Washington, the State Department said in a statement that "the secretary's visit will be an opportunity to underscore our strong commitments to Serbia and Montenegro's fight against the nexus of organized crime, war criminals, and political extremism; its efforts to overcome obstacles to integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions; and the region's long-term stability and economic growth," Reuters reported. PM
SFOR CONFIRMS BOSNIAN SERB SPYING
An SFOR spokesman told Reuters in Sarajevo on 1 April that a raid on Bosnian Serb offices in the Banja Luka parliament building on 7 March turned up evidence that the 410th military intelligence unit had long been spying on SFOR, the Office of the High Representative, and other international and Bosnian individuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). The spokesman added that there is clear evidence of support at the highest levels in the Republika Srpska for obstructing various provisions of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. It is not clear what action the international community will take in response. The spokesman declined to comment on local media reports that Bosnian Serb intelligence worked closely with its counterparts in Belgrade. PM
BOSNIAN SERB LEADER QUITS JOINT PRESIDENCY
RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Banja Luka on 2 April that Mirko Sarovic resigned the same day as the Serbian member of the joint Bosnian Presidency. Dragan Kalinic, who is speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament, announced Sarovic's resignation in the legislature. Sarovic's move came after days of speculation in the media that High Representative Paddy Ashdown was preparing to sack Sarovic over his alleged role in illegal arms sales to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 April 2003). Milorad Dodik, a former Bosnian Serb prime minister, said on 1 April that the Republika Srpska will get off lightly if the ouster of Sarovic is the only price it must pay for the illegal sales. Dodik added that the Republika Srpska should follow Belgrade's example and uproot criminal structures that permeate its public life. PM
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE CALLS ON EU TO DISCIPLINE GREECE OVER NAME DISPUTE
Ljubomir Frckovski, an adviser to President Boris Trajkovski and a former foreign minister, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 1 April that the EU should not allow Greece to damage Brussels' diplomacy. Frckovski apparently was alluding to the absence of Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou from the recent ceremonial transfer of the Western military mission in Macedonia from NATO to EU forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). Greece, which holds the rotating EU Presidency, does not recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name but insists that the UN, the EU, and NATO use the term "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," or FYROM. Macedonian media also noted that EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana did not mention Macedonia once in his address at the ceremony (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2002). UB
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES TAXES
Effective 1 April, the Finance Ministry introduced a unified value-added tax (VAT) of 18 percent, which represents a 1 percentage-point tax cut for most products -- but also a 13 percent increase for certain food and medical items as well as for water, heating, and public transport, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. The ministry expects an increase in 2003 revenues of about $43.6 million as a result of the move. Consumers fear that producers and retailers will use the opportunity to raise prices on a variety of goods (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 December 2002). UB
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES CRITICIZES ROMANIA
The U.S. State Department's report on human rights practices in 2002, which was released on 31 March, says that while Romania's "judiciary is to be independent of other government branches," in practice "the executive branch exercises influence over the judiciary." It adds that "widespread corruption remained a problem." The government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens," but "there were problems in some areas," according to the report, specifically noting that the use of excessive force by police "resulted in three deaths" in 2002. Furthermore, it says police officers "continued to beat detainees and reportedly harassed and used excessive force against Roma." The government "at times restricted freedom of speech and of the press," according to the report, and "societal harassment of religious minorities, violence and discrimination against women," and the "restitution of property confiscated during the communist regime" remained problems. Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu on 1 April refused to comment on the report, although she said she is prepared to discuss "specific cases," Mediafax reported. ZsM
ROMANIAN, MOLDOVAN OFFICIALS MEET IN EFFORT TO IMPROVE BILATERAL RELATIONS
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 1 April paid a one-day visit to Chisinau aimed at boosting bilateral relations, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. Geoana met with President Vladimir Voronin, Premier Vasile Tarlev, and Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau. The foreign ministers did not sign a bilateral cooperation agreement that was scheduled for approval. Geoana said Romania is "ready to sign the protocol at any time," but it must be based on "the idea of a partnership for Europe." Geoana said Romanian President Ion Iliescu could visit Chisinau in the second half of this year to sign a basic treaty previously approved by the two countries. He added that Romania does not intend to impose visa regulations on Moldovan citizens before Romania joins the EU. Dudau thanked Geoana for Romania's support of Moldovan interests in international organizations, and he said the visit marks the revival of the two countries' political dialogue. ZsM
OPPOSITION TO MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN THE GOVERNMENT
The opposition Socialist Party (BSP) announced on 1 April that it will move a vote of no confidence in the government, mediapool.bg reported. BSP Deputy Chairman Rumen Ovcharov said his party has yet to decide whether the no-confidence vote will be based on the failed Bulgartabac privatization or on the growing public discontent with the government's policy regarding Iraq. Ovcharov expressed doubt about the validity of the ruling coalition's 31 March decision to cancel the Bulgartabac privatization. Under the amended Privatization Act, such a decision must be made by parliament, he said. The conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) called on Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev to take responsibility for the failed privatization deal and to resign. Vasilev dismissed the demand and announced that he expects the state Privatization Agency to soon announce a new tender for the state tobacco monopoly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 14 March and 1 April 2003). UB
BULGARIAN PARTIES REACH COMPROMISE OVER JUDICIAL REFORM
The political parties represented in parliament have reached a compromise over constitutional amendments aimed at reforming the judiciary, mediapool.bg reported. Konstantin Penchev, a lawmaker from the governing National Movement Simeon II, announced on 1 April that the parties have agreed to only draft amendments that can be approved by the current parliament (the so-called Normal National Assembly). These changes regard the immunity, the mandate, and the irrevocability of magistrates. Penchev added that there are indications that the Constitutional Court will rule that other important changes, which would affect the division of state institutions such as the status of the prosecutors' offices and investigation services within the legal system, can only be made by a constituent Grand National Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002 and 8 January 2003). UB
IRAQI OPPOSITION URGES BULGARIA TO EXPEL DIPLOMATS
At a meeting on 1 April, Bulgarian-based members of the Iraqi opposition urged Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi to expel Iraqi diplomats and persons connected to the Iraqi secret services in Bulgaria, BTA reported. Pasi said his ministry is closely monitoring the diplomats' activities and if any reason for their expulsion is determined, action will be taken in compliance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 28 March 2003). UB
A TRICKLE OF REFUGEES AS RELIEF GROUPS BRACE FOR A FLOOD
Since the U.S.-led military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein began on 19 March, relief organizations have been bracing themselves for an influx of refugees to neighboring countries, as the UN has estimated that as many as 1.45 million people are likely to flee the war. So far, however, the UN says its agencies have seen "no substantial movements" across Iraq's borders into Turkey and Iran, CNN and other Western media reported, although there is considerable movement inside the country, and the situation could change rapidly.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said more than 22,000 Iraqis have moved to the Iranian border, and Iranian authorities have evidently not yet agreed to open the border. Some 100 third-country nationals are on the Iraqi side of the Iraq-Iran crossing at Khosravi in Kermanshah Province and still do not have permission from Iraqi authorities to leave Iraq. The UN is preparing refugee sites in western Iran and receiving supplies from Russia, reliefweb.int reported on 24 March, citing official statements.
Despite reports, Iraqis have not yet approached the frontier with Turkey, although the UNHCR is stockpiling tents, bedding, plastic sheeting, lanterns, and jerry cans, expecting that they will come. As they did in Afghanistan, where the UN pleaded for months to get Uzbekistan to open up the Friendship Bridge to refugees crossing from Afghanistan, the UNHCR is urging Iraq's neighbors to open their borders to absorb the flow. Thousands of people are said to have already crossed borders into Syria and Jordan, but not all are refugees. Rather, they are moving to their homes in these countries or elsewhere in the region such as Egypt.
UNICEF, the UN children's fund, issued an urgent call for fixing the water-treatment plants destroyed in bombing in Al-Basrah. They say disease threatens especially children as tens of thousands of people try to get water from the river, which is also where sewage is dumped.
From the onset of war, the expectation was that Iraqis would move in large numbers. So far, the flood has failed to materialize. "Neither the ferocious bombardment of Baghdad nor fierce fighting in southern Iraq has yet frightened Iraqis into fleeing their homes," "The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 25 March, although officials are braced for an influx, based especially on the 1991 Gulf War experience in which 2 million fled, half of them to Jordan. Most Iraqis are believed to have food stockpiles of only six weeks, UN officials say.
The capture of the port of Umm Qasr by U.S. Marines will provide international aid agencies a gateway into Iraq from the Persian Gulf, and the World Food Program (WFP) has gathered 32,000 tons of food in neighboring countries, but that would be enough for only 2 million people for a month, "The Christian Science Monitor" reported, citing a WFP official.
The British and U.S. military are planning for a "worst-case scenario" of 2 million civilians being displaced by the war, CNN reported. Refugee experts in the United States agree with the UNHCR's contingency planning figure of 600,000 refugees leaving the country, but say as many as 3 million could be displaced internally, given that so many were already forced from their homes long before the war.
Groups such as Doctors Without Borders, which has a team of six on the ground in Baghdad with a convoy headed their way, refrain from speculating about the numbers but just attempt to care for those who turn to them. Coalition military authorities have already loaded 200,000 food packs onto U.S. vehicles in Kuwait and 30,000 onto British trucks, CNN reported, but military and nonmilitary groups are expected to disagree about the extent to which the military should be involved in humanitarian work.
The divided UN Security Council was also haggling over restarting the UN oil-for-food program, Reuters reported on 25 March. Russia, France, China, and Syria, opponents of the war, were reluctant to have the UN coordinate efforts with U.S. and British troops and thus legitimize the military action. Although Russia does not usually speak out about refugee crises around the world, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who has already called the war "illegal" and is dismayed that it began at all, lectured the United States on the need to keep focused on the potential humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
Officials responsible for refugees have continued to cite the figure given by the Iraqi government -- which has been partially independently verified by relief workers -- that 60 percent of the country's 25 million people will have to be cared for by outsiders if they are to survive. This makes an assumption that the centralized food distribution run by the oppressive government of Iraq will simply be taken over by some outside force, but it is not yet clear if it can be run more efficiently, or less punitively and selectively.
The current needs assessments seem to make no allowances for a certain amount of informal and entrepreneurial activity or outright war profiteering that could take place by Iraqis and foreigners themselves, especially if the borders to neighboring countries are opened and people begin to flow in and out. A "New Yorker" reporter who remained in Baghdad as the coalition's bombs began to fall and published his dispatch in the latest issue, said Iraqis were appearing at crossroads in Baghdad selling jerry cans and food from the WFP. Before the cruise missiles began landing, a 10-hour ride out of Baghdad to Amman was $200. The price leaped to $500 by noon of the day after U.S. President George W. Bush's ultimatum to President Hussein. After the bombs began falling, the price skyrocketed to $1,300.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick is the editor of "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies."
U.S. RANGERS RESCUE PRISONER OF WAR IN IRAQ
"Coalition forces have conducted a successful rescue mission of a U.S. Army prisoner of war held captive in Iraq," Central Command (CENTCOM) Deputy Operations Chief Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said early on 1 April at the CENTCOM briefing center in Qatar, RFE/RL reported. "The soldier has been returned to a coalition-controlled area," Brooks said. A Defense Department press release identified her as Private First Class Jessica D. Lynch, of Palestine, West Virginia, who is assigned to the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, Fort Bliss, Texas (http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Apr2003/b04012003_bt187-03.html). Iraqi forces captured Lynch on 23 March. U.S. Army Rangers conducted the rescue operation, assisted by U.S. Navy SEALs and U.S. Marines. BS
IRAQI PRESIDENT RALLIES AL-NASIRIYAH FORCES, WARNS AGAINST INSUBORDINATION
A statement attributed to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and read on Iraq Television on 1 April urged "comrades, the jihad and resistance command" of Al-Nasiriyah to "fight the enemy and be tough with them." Hussein praised the "valiant 11th Division" fighters in that city, adding, "Those who fall in this aggression are considered martyrs." Hussein also advised his fighters in the area to press Iraqi officials in Al-Nasiriyah to remain loyal to the regime, signaling that his regime might be facing difficulties in maintaining control. "Remind those officials who do not act as their command post dictates of their duties. If they do not respond, any of their subordinates has the right and duty to assume the higher post himself, whether as a result of a decision or even without a decision," Hussein said. He also claimed that Iraq has used only one-third of its army to fight coalition forces since the start of hostilities on 20 March. The Center for Defense Information (CDI) reported in June that the Iraqi Army numbers around 425,000 men, including the 70,000-strong Republican Guard and the 30,000 strong Special Republican Guard. In addition, Iraq has some 650,000 reservists (http://www.cdi.org/). KR
IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER BRIEFS REPORTERS...
Al-Jazeera television carried a live broadcast of Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf's 1 April briefing in Baghdad. Al-Sahhaf reviewed coalition strikes on Iraqi targets, listing casualties in each governorate, and charged that coalition forces have targeted civilian quarters in Baghdad, Babil, Al-Qadisiyah, Salah Al-Din, and Al-Anbar. Telecommunication buildings and telephone exchanges, as well as radio and television transmitters, were also targeted. Al-Sahhaf spoke of Iraqi "successes" in Al-Ba'aj (near Mosul) against British forces and declared: "We have decided to keep [coalition forces] constantly on the move. We have decided that they must not have any rest." Asked why Iraqi troops are carrying gas masks, al-Sahhaf contested the implication that Iraqi troops' standard gear equates to those troops possessing proscribed weapons agents, remarking, "One main reason for the mask is to anticipate what these rascals [presumably coalition forces] might do. Masks are part of the standard equipment supplied to our soldiers." KR
...AND CLAIMS COALITION HOLDING CIVILIANS, NOT IRAQI POWS
When al-Sahhaf was asked at the 1 April briefing when the Iraqi regime might allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit coalition prisoners of war (POWs), he countered that the coalition is obliged to provide the Iraqi regime with the names of Iraqi civilians being held. "They kidnap civilians from villages and on the roads and [those who are] not killed are kidnapped simply to say that they have Iraqi POWs," he said. "These are civilians, and the Red Cross and all other organizations must protect them." Al-Sahhaf said, however, that Iraq will abide by the Geneva Convention in its treatment of coalition prisoners. The information minister was also asked about Iraqi sites visited by UN inspectors that were later bombed by coalition forces. He responded that he has no information regarding UN inspectors, adding, "But, I do not rule out that some individuals must have permeated the [UN and International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection teams in order to serve the aims of the U.S. and British." KR
CENTCOM BRIEFING FOCUSES ON COALITION BROADCASTS TO IRAQI PEOPLE
A U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) briefing on 1 April in Doha, Qatar, focused on the delivery of coalition information to the Iraqi people through television and radio broadcasts. General Vincent Brooks, deputy director of operations at CENTCOM, told reporters that the United States has been conducting radio broadcasts into Iraq 24 hours a day since around 17 February over five different frequencies. The United States is also operating one television station. British forces, he noted, have recently launched radio broadcasts in southern Iraq. "Recent captures of enemy prisoners of war say that the broadcasts are readily accessible and they are also very popular," Brooks added. In addition to the radio and television broadcasts, CENTCOM is continuing with its leaflet campaign, adjusting messages to the Iraqi people as warranted, Brooks said. Asked why the broadcasts have not led to high-ranking military defections, Brooks replied, "The regime is still present in many areas, and it is the regime and the brutality of the regime that keeps many people from taking the steps that they would like to take." He added, "This is a very high-risk proposition for military leaders who would decide they're not going to fight for the regime, or civilians that would rise up against the regime." KR
IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT CALLS SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER 'A PETTY AGENT'
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan on 1 April criticized Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Sa'ud following a report by Al-Jazeera that the foreign minister called on President Hussein to step down during a yet-to-be-aired interview with ABC Television. Ramadan called Sa'ud al-Faysal a "petty agent" and ridiculed him for taking a stand against the Iraqi regime. He also criticized Saudi Arabia and other Arab states allied with the United States for allowing U.S. troops to be based on their territory. KR
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MEETS WITH TURKISH OFFICIALS...
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Ankara on 1 April for talks aimed at fostering Turkish support for the ongoing conflict in neighboring Iraq, Anatolia news agency reported the same day. Powell told reporters en route that the United States will seek additional Turkish support, adding, "The support we will request will not be similar to the one we requested about a month ago," referring to a U.S. request rejected by the Turkish National Assembly for the use of Turkish territory as a staging ground for a U.S.-led northern front in Iraq. The National Assembly effectively scuttled a U.S. offer of around $6 billion in grants and another $20 billion in U.S. government-backed loans when it rejected the U.S. request in March (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 February and 7 and 14 March 2003). KR
...AND SAYS SUPPORT COULD STILL LEAD TO U.S. AID
Powell also told reporters en route to Ankara, "I believe that if [the United States] receives full support in the coming days, this will contribute to having the Congress accept the $1 billion in aid to Turkey," "Ankara Anatolia" reported on 1 April. Powell also told reporters during his flight that the United States is "looking for a spirit of accommodation and rapid turnaround of requests.... These are requests having to do with just sustaining the operation in northern Iraq and should not be difficult for the Turks to accommodate," Reuters reported on 2 April. The $1 billion grant to Turkey, which is exchangeable for up to $8.5 billion in loan guarantees, according to Reuters, is part of a $75 billion war-aid bill proposed by President George W. Bush and currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress. KR
THREAT OF 'ARAB AFGHANS' REVIVED
"Arab Afghans," the volunteers who flocked from North Africa and the Arab world to Afghanistan in the 1980s to participate in the anti-Soviet jihad, are heading to Iraq to fight against American and British forces, former Pakistani army chief General Aslam Beg said on 1 April, according to Kyodo news agency. Beg claimed that "busloads of mujahedin" have left Pakistan for Iraq in response to a fatwa from leaders of religious groups. Meanwhile, Maulana Mohammad Zaman, a religious leader of the Shakot tribal region bordering Afghanistan, told a crowd of some 500 people that the government should arrange for 10,000 local volunteers to participate in "jihad against U.S. forces in Iraq," AFP reported on 1 April. The Pakistani government reportedly has refused to fulfill this request. The Jamiat Ahl-Sunnat party said it will organize a convoy of protestors to travel from Rawalpindi to Karachi, and 3,000 people participated in a rally in Peshawar organized by the Awami National Party (ANP). BS
'VOLUNTEERS' HEADING FOR IRAQ
Khaled Jaafar Shoueish, Iraq's deputy ambassador to Lebanon, said on 1 April that dozens of Arabs, including women, are registering daily at the Iraqi Embassy in Hazmieh as volunteers to fight in Iraq, "The Daily Star" reported on 2 April. "We take their names and contact numbers, and we call them when a group of the right size is ready," Shoueish said. Thirty-six volunteers -- Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, and a Sudanese -- on 31 March boarded a bus in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Lebanon, and headed off for Iraq, "The Daily Star" reported on 1 April. Some of them reportedly said they want to engage in homicide bombings against coalition personnel. Iraqi Ambassador to Egypt Muhsin Khalil urged the Egyptian people to organize "convoys of volunteers," Cairo's "Al-Wafd" newspaper reported on 1 April. About 2,500 Somali teenagers have registered at mosques and other locations in Mogadishu to indicate their willingness to fight alongside Iraqi forces, Mogadishu's "Ayaamaha" newspaper reported on 1 April. Most of the volunteers who go to Iraq to combat coalition forces are arriving in Mosul and Kirkuk in the northern part of the country via routes that are relatively free of U.S. air activity, Tel Aviv's "Ha'aretz" newspaper reported on 1 April. BS
IRAN'S GUARDIANS COUNCIL REJECTS KHATAMI'S ELECTION LAW
The Guardians Council in the evening of 1 April rejected an amendment to the election law on the grounds that it violates the constitution and Islamic law, IRNA reported on 2 April (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 September 2002). The bill to reform the election law was introduced on 1 September 2002 with the objective of eliminating or at least reducing the Guardians Council's power of "approbatory supervision" (nizarat-i estisvabi) through which the council rejects candidates for elected office. The legislation had widespread support among reformist parliamentarians, according to IRNA, and the rejected bill has been sent back to them for revision. If the Guardians Council and parliament cannot reach a compromise, the bill will go to the Expediency Council. BS
PENTAGON TO BLACKLIST COMPANIES INVESTING IN IRAN'S ENERGY SECTOR...
The Pentagon is drawing up a blacklist of non-U.S. companies investing in Iran's energy sector, the "Financial Times" reported on 28 March, citing "private-sector sources close to the U.S. Defense Department." Companies on the list would be barred from U.S.-awarded contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq. The blacklisted companies would be those deemed to be in violation of the United States' 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), which bars non-U.S. companies from investing more than $20 million per year in Iran's energy sector. So far, the ILSA has not been enforced on any company. The Pentagon has declined to comment on the blacklist, which could include companies from "coalition of the willing" countries, such as Britain's Shell and Italy's Eni. SF
...WHILE BRITAIN RELAXES SCRUTINY OF EXPORTS
Britain has ended mandatory ministerial scrutiny of applications for export of strategically controlled goods to Iran, the "Financial Times" reported on 26 March. Officials in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defense, and the Foreign Office will review the applications without need to submit them to the ministers of their departments. A Foreign Office spokesman claimed that the new procedure was just a "streamlining" change and that there would be no letup in scrutiny, particularly in cases relating to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But critics, the "Financial Times" pointed out, charge that the move would enable ministers to avoid criticism if an application is approved that later causes "embarrassment." SF
U.S. CONCERNED ABOUT ESCALATION OF ATTACKS IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker said on 1 April that the United States has "been following with concern the recent security incidents directed at U.S. forces, nongovernmental organizations, and other foreign nationals in Afghanistan," AFP reported. "These attacks have complicated the international community's ability to carry out assistance activities in some parts of Afghanistan," he said. As regards concerns expressed by Afghan, Russian, and UN officials that the U.S.-led war in Iraq could lead to a reduction in the allocation of needed resources and in attention paid to Afghan reconstruction efforts, Reeker said the United States "is a long-term partner in Afghanistan's reconstruction" and will remain so, irrespective of U.S. "responsibilities elsewhere." In the past week, two U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush in Helmand Province; an engineer working for the International Committee for the Red Cross was killed in neighboring Oruzgan Province; and rockets were fired at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul and at U.S. bases in southeastern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 31 March 2003). AT
ISAF AND AFGHAN OFFICIALS SEE NO LINK BETWEEN ATTACKS IN AFGHANISTAN AND WAR IN IRAQ...
Mark Whitty, a spokesman for the ISAF, told RFE/RL on 1 April that no one has claimed responsibility for the 30 March rocket attack on the ISAF's headquarters in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). Another spokesman for the ISAF, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Loebbering of Germany, said the international forces "do not expect any general deterioration" of the security situation in Kabul as a result of the war in Iraq. However, he added that the ISAF has "been prepared for such attacks and we even expected them." Sayyed Fazl Akbar, a spokesman for the Afghan Transitional Administration, echoed Loebbering's views, saying that elements who are opposed to peace and security in Afghanistan "have always wanted to destabilize the country, and their aims have nothing to do with the Iraqi case." Akbar said Afghanistan does not expect the United States to decrease its engagement with Afghanistan, adding to do so would mean that "attacks like the one on 11 September  might be repeated." AT
...AND ISAF LAYS THE BLAME ON HEKMATYAR
Referring to the recent escalation of attacks against the ISAF, Loebbering said on 31 March that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda "are no longer capable of acting in a military sense" of forming battalions and conducting maneuvers, "The Boston Globe" reported on 1 April. However, he said that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the radical leader of Hizb-e Islami, "obviously has the money, influence, political will, and power to reorganize" remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda under his own leadership. Loebbering said intelligence reports have indicated that Hekmatyar's supporters have regrouped into 15 to 35 mobile camps, each consisting of 10 to 30 men, along the Afghan-Pakistani border. In an interview with Pakistan's "The Friday Times," Hekmatyar denied forming an alliance with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, but has welcomed them to join in the "struggle," according to the Boston daily. Hekmatyar, who received the lion's share of U.S. aid during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, was also the Pakistani military's favorite Afghan Mujahedin leader. However, he left Afghanistan in 1996 due to his differences with the Taliban, and lived in exile in Iran until he was expelled in 2002. He is believed to be living in Pakistan. AT
TALIBAN LEADER ISSUES FATWA AGAINST U.S. TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN
Mulla Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement, has issued a fatwa (Islamic legal opinion) against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In the fatwa, published in on 1 April in the London-based Arabic "Al-Hayat," Mulla Omar notes that the United States toppled Afghanistan's Taliban regime because it was sheltering Osama bin Laden. However, regarding the current military campaign, he asks, "What crime did Iraq commit?" Mulla Omar says it is the "duty" of Muslims in Afghanistan to wage jihad against U.S. forces. Copies of the fatwa have reportedly been distributed in eastern and southern Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Senior Taliban commander Mulla Dadullah said on 28 March that Taliban forces have regrouped under the command of Mulla Omar and will increase their activities against the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). Hekmatyar issued a similar fatwa in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002), and another was issued by an unknown group calling itself Tanzim al-Fatah Afghanistan (Afghanistan Victory Organization) in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). AT
INDIA, RUSSIA TO HELP AFGHANISTAN OBTAIN AN ALTERNATIVE ROUTE TO THE SEA
Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal has said that India and Russia are planning to construct a highway in Afghanistan with the aim of providing the landlocked country with access to the sea via Iran, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 1 April. Afghanistan is currently dependant on Pakistan and its ports for access to the sea. This dependency was used by Pakistan for political leverage during the tension between Kabul and Islamabad in the 1950s through the 1970s, and Islamabad recently announced that it will not allow the shipment of Indian goods to Afghanistan via Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2003). AT