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Newsline - April 7, 2003


U.S., RUSSIA HOLD NEW TALKS ON IRAQ
U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice arrived in Moscow on 6 April for talks about the current situation in Iraq and bilateral relations, Western and Russian media reported. Rice is expected to meet with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo. She is also expected to meet with presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, TV-Tsentr added on 5 April. U.S. President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin conferred by telephone about Iraq on 5 April, RTR reported. In Washington on 4 April, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Bush administration and the U.S. Senate do not support a draft law adopted that day by the U.S. House of Representatives that would bar Russian, French, German, and Syrian companies from participating in postwar reconstruction in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. VY

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR'S MOTORCADE CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE...
A Russian motorcade consisting of eight vehicles and carrying 23 diplomats and journalists, including Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Titarenko, came under fire on 6 April about 20 kilometers outside of Baghdad, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The convoy was caught in crossfire between coalition forces and Iraqi troops as it was attempting to evacuate the Russian citizens to Syria. RTR correspondent Aleksandr Minakov, who was riding in the motorcade, reported that three diplomats were wounded, one of them seriously. Minakov said the motorcade came under U.S. fire as it pulled alongside Iraqi defensive positions. He admitted that there were two Iraqi cars in the convoy and said that U.S. fire seemed to be directed at them. At U.S. Central Command in Qatar, U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told journalists that he has been informed of the incident and an investigation is under way, Western media reported. VY

...AS U.S. EXPRESSES REGRET FOR INCIDENT
In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow and Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Abbas Khalaf and asked them "in the most forceful way" to take all necessary measure to ensure the security of Russian citizens and diplomats in Iraq, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 April. U.S. Secretary of State Powell on 6 April telephoned Foreign Minister Ivanov and expressed U.S. regret regarding the incident, ORT and RIA-Novosti reported. Powell said the United States will do everything possible to evacuate the Russian diplomats safely from Iraq to Syria. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko announced that Ambassador Titarenko and other diplomats will proceed to Syria, after which they will be evacuated to Russia by an Emergency Situations Ministry aircraft. Yakovenko added that the Russian Embassy in Baghdad remains open and there are 12 diplomats working there. VY

PRESIDENT URGES DUMA TO RATIFY MOSCOW TREATY...
Speaking to journalists during a visit to the command center of the Russian Space Force in Moscow on 5 April, President Putin said that Russia's differences with Washington over Iraq are not a favorable background for the ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which was signed in Moscow last May, RIA-Novosti reported. Nonetheless, Putin urged the legislature to ratify the treaty because it conforms to Russia's security interests. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that ratifying the treaty will enable Russia to modernize its strategic nuclear forces "in the cheapest and most efficient way." VY

...AND REVIEWS SPACE FORCES
During the same tour of the command center of the Russian Space Force, President Putin was briefed by Colonel General Anatolii Perminov, commander of that force, lenta.ru reported on 5 April. Perminov said the number of Russian satellites with unlimited service lives had been increased by 50 percent in the last two years and that the number that have not yet outlived their guaranteed service life has more than doubled. Moscow is now testing a new generation of communications and navigation satellites, and the next generation of surveillance satellites is in development, Perminov said. He added that the "crisis-like occurrences that were previously caused by a lack of funding have been stopped." SS

FORMER PRIME MINISTER PREDICTS UN WILL PLAY A ROLE IN POSTWAR IRAQ...
Former Prime Minister and former Foreign Intelligence Service head Yevgenii Primakov said in an interview with NTV on 6 April that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will be defeated because "the military power of the United States and that of Iraq are incomparable." However, after deposing Hussein, the United States will face political problems in Iraq because there are no reliable figures in the Iraqi opposition and because the country's Shiite population, contrary to expectations, has not welcomed the coalition forces, Primakov said. This means that the United States will have to turn to the United Nations to resolve the Iraq problem. He cited the precedent of the NATO military operation in Yugoslavia, after which the United States asked the UN to play the leading role in that country. Primakov denied as nonsense that during his mysterious visit to Baghdad in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003) he spoke to Hussein about evacuating Iraq's intelligence and secret-service archives to Russia. "I went to ask him whether he was ready to comply fully with the UN resolutions," Primakov said. VY

...PRAISES PUTIN FOR HIS POST-11 SEPTEMBER POLICIES...
In the same interview, Primakov said that Russians should refrain "at any price" from "jumping into anti-Americanism" because good relations with the United States are "a must" for Russia. The United States is playing the crucial role in combating international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which are key concerns for Russia's national security, Primakov said. He argued that President Putin's decisions to move closer to the United States following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks there and to assist in the campaign in Afghanistan have helped Russia address its own security issues, including the conflict in Chechnya. He said the United States will not want to "punish" Russia for its position on Iraq. Washington values its relations with Russia and understands that without Moscow's consent for U.S. forces in Central Asia and the Kremlin's support for the so-called Northern Alliance, the operation in Afghanistan would not have been able to proceed as quickly or easily. VY

...AND EXPLAINS WHY RUSSIA MUST AVOID ANTI-U.S. STANCE
Primakov listed two reasons why Russia should avoid anti-Americanism during his NTV interview. First, he noted that the United States has not yet made a final choice between those who advocate U.S. unilateralism and those who oppose it. Prominent public figures and the mass media in the United States continue to oppose unilateralism, Primakov said. Second, the end of the Cold War left Russia without allies or its own bloc, meaning that it is weak and vulnerable. If Russia adopts a hard-line anti-U.S. position, it will push that part of Europe that is striving for a multipolar world to rush "back into America's embrace," Primakov said. VY

FORMER AIR FORCE COMMANDER SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD PREPARE FOR WAR
Former Russian Air Force commander General Petr Deinekin said the main lesson for Russia from the current conflict in Iraq is that it should "enhance preparedness for war," TV-Tsentr reported on 5 April. It is important to improve coordination among all branches of the military, giving priority to the country's air forces, Deinekin said. He added that more high technology is being used in the Iraq war than ever before, noting that 80 percent of the weapons being used are high precision, compared to just 10 percent in the 1991 Gulf War and 40 percent during the 1998 campaign in Yugoslavia. He downplayed reports of errant coalition cruise missiles. "It is normal, bearing in mind the huge number of the missiles being used," Deinekin said. VY

RUSSIAN ANALYST SAYS WAR IN IRAQ IS ALREADY WON
Colonel General Leonid Zolotov, who recently stepped down as head of the General Staff's elite Frunze Military Academy, said on 6 April that Iraqi President Hussein has already lost the war against the U.S.-led anti-Iraqi coalition, RTR reported. Hussein's forces are trapped in cities, and coalition forces have already surrounded Baghdad, Zolotov said. He said that it will not be necessary for coalition forces to storm Baghdad and that it will be sufficient merely to besiege it and "turn it into a camp of armed prisoners of war." Zolotov further expresses skepticism about the ability and the desire of the Iraqi people to wage a partisan war against coalition forces once Hussein is deposed. "America has very rich experience winning over the hearts of populations in occupied territories, if not by force, then by dollars," Zolotov said. After the end of World War II and the two U.S. atomic-bomb attacks on Japan, relations between the United States and Japan were much worse than current U.S. relations with Iraq are, but the Japanese did not unleash a partisan campaign against the United States. Instead, the Japanese adopted a constitution based on the U.S. model and a democratic system. Any partisan operation launched in Iraq would not be sufficient to force the United States to leave the country, TV-Tsentr commented on 5 April. VY

NUCLEAR PLANTS TO BOOST PRODUCTION THIS YEAR
Russia's nuclear-power plants will increase their output by 6 billion kilowatts this year, Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Andrei Malyshev told ITAR-TASS on 6 April. Malyshev, on an inspection tour of the Kola nuclear-power plant near Murmansk, said the production increase will be driven chiefly by upgrading reactors and prolonging their service lives rather than building new ones. Malyshev added that this approach has been borne out by the modernization of the Kola and Voronezh power plants and by similar work at nuclear plants in the West. The 6 billion kilowatt increase would fall short of an estimated 8 billion kilowatt rise to 144 billion kilowatt last year, as well as a forecast of an annual increase of "up to 9 billion kilowatts" forecast in the ministry's "Byulleten po atomnoi energii" (Bulletin of Atomic Energy) last December. Still, Russia's nuclear-energy output has been on the upswing and currently accounts for about 15 percent of total electricity production. SS

INFLATION RATE SLOWS IN MARCH
Consumer prices rose in Russia by an average of 1.1 percent in March, marking a further slowdown in the inflation rate, strana.ru reported on 5 April. Prices have increased by 5.1 percent since 1 January, according to the State Statistics Committee. The biggest price hikes in March were for cabbage (11.6 percent), beets (8.2 percent), and some other food items. Charges for municipal services rose by an average of 2.4 percent, which was less than the previous month. Commuter-train fares rose by an average of 5 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. SS

SARATOV OBLAST TOWN TO NAME DRAFT DODGERS IN PRESS
Military conscription officers in the Saratov Oblast town of Balakovo plan to flush out draft dodgers by publicizing their names in the local press, "Vremya-MN" reported on 5 April. The Defense Ministry has ordered 20 percent more conscripts for the spring call-up than it did last fall, but 80 percent of Balakovo's 4,500 draft-age youths have either educational or family deferments. Many of the rest of the pool have been ruled unfit for service, so the local draft board is focusing on the town's 150 evaders, who make up more than half of the town's spring call-up quota. Officials will warn the delinquents first, but if they fail to report for duty within a week their names and addresses will appear in all of the town's publications. "If the 'psychic attack' doesn't work," said "Vremya-MN," "the boys will be fined 500 rubles [$15] under the new Administrative Code for failing to appear." The regional Committee of Soldiers' Mothers has objected to the plan, recalling that similar lists published in Balakovo a few years ago included the names of young men who had deferments, had not yet turned 18, or had already completed their military service. SS

OIL-COMPANY OFFICIAL SLAIN IN MOSCOW
The public-relations director of a major Siberian oil-pipeline company was shot dead while driving in Moscow on 6 April, utro.ru reported. As Dmitrii Ogulchanskii, 35, waited for a light to change around 8 p.m., a man emerged from another car and shot him three times. Ogulchanskii died at a nearby hospital. The victim was in charge of public relations for Sibnefteprovod and formerly served as a lawmaker in the legislature of Siberia's Khanty-Mansii Okrug. Detectives speculated that the slaying was linked to Ogulchanskii's activities in one of those jobs. SS

MUSLIMS IN NORTH CAUCASUS, CHECHNYA REJECT CALL FOR JIHAD AGAINST U.S....
Magomed Albogachiev, who is chairman of the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus, told Interfax on 4 April that even though "many Russian Muslims are bitter over what the Americans are doing to the long-suffering people of Iraq," he nonetheless considers the call by Telget Tajetdin, head of the Muslim Spiritual Board of Russia, for a jihad against the United States "absolutely wrong." Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who is a former mufti of Chechnya, likewise rejected Tajetdin's call for a holy war against the United States as "ridiculous," Interfax reported on 4 April. LF

...AS SUPPORT IN DAGHESTAN FOR IRAQ CONTINUES TO GROW
Some 23,000 people in the northern raion of Khasavyurt attended a rally on 4 April to call for an end to the U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq, Interfax reported. The mayor and entire city council in Derbent were among thousands of people who attended a similar rally in that town the same day, according to the website of "Daghestanskaya pravda" on 5 April. They appealed to President Putin to take immediate measures to end the fighting in Iraq. Also on 5 April, the independent Russian television station TVS reported that Daghestan's Muslim leaders had declared a holy war against the United States one week earlier. They offer daily prayers to Allah to grant victory to Iraqi President Hussein and have called for a boycott of U.S. manufactured and consumer goods. The station's commentator added that that ban apparently does not extend to U.S. automobiles, which can often be seen parked outside the Djuma Mosque in Makhachkala. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONDEMNS GROZNY BUS BOMBING
Council of Europe and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) officials on 4 April condemned the bomb attack that killed eight passengers, mostly female construction workers, on a Grozny bus the previous day, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2003). They expressed condolences to the families of the victims. Also on 4 April, chechenpress.com quoted a representative of the Chechen State Defense Committee, which is the supreme military council, as denying that fighters loyal to President Aslan Maskhadov were responsible for the blast. That representative claimed that Russian special services frequently resort to such atrocities with the aim of alienating the Chechen population from the resistance forces. LF

CHECHEN INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS, OMON HEAD DIES
Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Tsakaev tendered his resignation on 4 April in connection with his imminent transfer to an unspecified post in Moscow, Russian media reported. Tsakaev had served in that position for less than four months, and was apparently not Chechen administration head Kadyrov's preferred candidate for that post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 4 April, Kadyrov listed four possible candidates to succeed Tsakaev, including Deputy Prime Minister Movsar Khamidov. Also on 4 April, Chechen OMON (special police) chief Musa Gadzhimagomedov died in a Moscow hospital of injuries received in an automobile accident in Chechnya on 10 March, "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 April. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF TRYING TO SABOTAGE RALLY
Speakers at an unauthorized 4 April rally in Yerevan in support of defeated opposition presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian were forced to use hand-held microphones after traffic police intercepted a lorry transporting amplifiers and other equipment, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Albert Bazeyan of the opposition Hanrapetutiun Party accused the authorities of trying to sabotage ongoing opposition protests, which, he pledged, will continue until President-elect Robert Kocharian is forced to resign. The opposition has scheduled its next protest demonstration to coincide with Kocharian's inauguration on 9 April. LF

DEMIRCHIAN LAWYERS ADDRESS ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
In lengthy speeches to the Constitutional Court on 5 April, two lawyers for Demirchian argued their case that the February-March presidential elections were marred by constitutional, legal, and procedural violations and that the outcome should therefore be invalidated, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Parliament deputy Viktor Dallakian accused electoral commissions of violating nine articles of the constitution and 36 provisions of the election law during the run-up and conduct of the elections, and the state-controlled media of resorting to what he termed "informational terror" against Demirchian and his supporters. He said those violations "significantly affected" the election results. A second lawyer for Demirchian, Ashot Sargsian, emphasized alleged widespread violations during the voting and vote count. LF

ARMENIAN NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT SHUTS DOWN
The Medzamor nuclear-power station experienced an automatic emergency shut-down on 4 April due to major voltage fluctuations on a power line to Iran, Interfax and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The plant was due to shut down for refueling on 15 April and will not be restarted before that date. Despite a fall in the amount of natural gas imported from Russia to fuel conventional power stations, Armenia is unlikely to have to resort to electricity rationing, Energy Ministry officials said. LF

STAFF FACES REDUNDANCY FOLLOWING ARMENIAN AIRLINES
Some 1,400 employees of Armenian Airlines, including many of the company's 320 pilots, are likely to lose their jobs if, as anticipated, the company is declared bankrupt on 15 April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 April. The Armenian government has sold Armenian Airlines' flight rights to the private carrier Armavia, which is 70 per cent owned by Russia's Siberian Airlines, for $15 million. Armavia has pledged to pay within six months a total of $1.5 million in back wages owed by Armenian Airlines to its staff, Noyan Tapan reported on 1 April. Armenian Airlines' total debts are estimated at $25 million. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS EXILED CHAIRMAN'S RETURN
Thousands of people attended a rally in Baku on 5 April convened by the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), Turan reported. Participants demanded that the party's chairman, former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, be allowed to return from Azerbaijan from the United States, where he has lived since the fall of 1996 when he left the country following a major disagreement with President Heidar Aliev. Demonstrators also demanded that the Azerbaijani authorities stop harassing Guliev's relatives, and that Aliev resign because, they claimed, he is no longer able to discharge his duties. DPA General-Secretary Sardar Djalaloglu told zerkalo.az on 12 March that attendance at the party's previous rally on 9 March was only 10,000, rather than the 25,000 the party's leaders had hoped for (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2003). LF

LUKOIL INCREASES STAKE IN AZERBAIJANI OIL PROJECT
The presidents of LUKoil and Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, Vagit Alekperov and Natik Aliev, signed an agreement in Baku on 4 April under which LUKoil will acquire from SOCAR a further 20 percent stake in the consortium created in 1997 to explore and develop the offshore D-222 (Yalama) Caspian block, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Initially LUKoil had a 60 percent stake and SOCAR a 40 percent stake in that project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May and 7 November 1997). LF

GEORGIA SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS...
The Georgian Foreign Ministry has invited international organizations, including the OSCE and the Council of Europe, to send observers to monitor parliamentary elections that have been tentatively scheduled for 2 November, Caucasus Press reported on 4 April. President Eduard Shevardnadze's representative to parliament Mariam Tsatsanashvili told a government session on 2 April that the Interior Ministry will complete the process of verifying and updating voter lists by 1 June, Caucasus Press reported. The New Rightists, meanwhile, have independently compiled lists of voters in 48 raions in a bid to preclude voter fraud, Caucasus Press reported on 4 April. LF

...AS NEW PRO-PRESIDENTIAL BLOC EMERGES
The leaders of a new pro-presidential election bloc, to be called "For a New Georgia," held their first meeting in Tbilisi on 6 April, Russian media reported. The bloc comprises the former majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), which Shevardnadze founded in 1993 as his personal power base; the Socialist Party headed by parliament deputy speaker Vakhtang Rcheulishvili; and the newly- created Silk Road Party headed by Georgian Railways director and long-time Shevardnadze associate Akaki Chkhaidze. The SMK and the Socialist Party announced their intention last month to align in an election bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. AMBASSADOR
President Shevardnadze met on 4 April with U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles to discuss the war in Iraq and the agreement on bilateral military cooperation recently ratified by the Georgian parliament, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). On 5 April, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning war crimes and human rights violations committed by the regime of Iraqi President Hussein, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ABKHAZ ASK TO POSTPONE KODORI TALKS
The Abkhaz leadership has requested that talks between Abkhaz military officials and Emzar Kvitsiani, President Shevardnadze's governor in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge, be postponed until 15 April, Caucasus Press reported on 4 April. Kvitsiani originally proposed holding the talks, which are to be mediated by UN Chief Military Observer Major General Kazi Ashfaq Ahmed, in Sukhum on 7 April. LF

INHABITANTS OF KAZAKH VILLAGE TRANSFERRED TO UZBEKISTAN STAGE PROTEST, PROMISE MORE
Citizens of Kazakhstan still living in a village that was transferred last fall to Uzbekistan blocked a highway on 4 April and promised further acts of civil disobedience unless their demands are met, centrasia.ru reported on 7 April, citing Deutsche Welle. The village, Turkestanets, was part of an exchange of territory arranged by the Kazakh-Uzbek Delimitation Commission in autumn 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 September 2002). At the time of the transfer, the 117 Turkestanets families who were citizens of Kazakhstan were promised housing in the South Kazakhstan Oblast if they chose to move. Ninety-six families took up the offer before the oblast authorities ran out of money. According to the report, the Kazakh citizens remaining in Turkestanets say they are being harassed by Uzbek authorities. Those who succeeded in moving complain they are being harassed by the former owners of the houses they were given, because the former owners were not paid. A week before the demonstration on the highway, the Kazakh citizens of Turkestanets took their grievances to the South Kazakhstan Oblast authorities in Shymkent. Dissatisfied with the authorities' response, they promised to return on 8 April and stage a hunger strike until they can move to Kazakhstan. BB

APPEAL FOR MERCENARIES ATTRACTS KYRGYZ UNEMPLOYED
Rumors that volunteers willing to fight in Iraq will be paid good money are making the rounds among unemployed people in Bishkek, "Vechernii Bishkek" reported on 4 April. The phenomenon began in southern Kyrgyzstan, where reportedly more than 1,300 people have volunteered with the stipulation that they be paid well. The article said that someone had phoned the newspaper's editorial office asking for the Internet address of a site recruiting for Iraq. Another caller claimed to have heard that $1,000 is being paid for each American killed. The article compared the situation to 1999 when many unemployed were eager to go to Kosova, regardless of whom they would be shooting at, so long as they were paid. BB

SOUTH KYRGYZSTAN PICKETERS SUPPORT OF HIZB UT-TAHRIR
More than 20 people picketed in front of the police station in the southern Kyrgyz town of Karasuu on 4 April in support of members of the banned Muslim extremist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, akipress.org reported on 7 April. The picketers, most of whom were middle-aged or elderly women, were demanding the release of relatives who have been detained for allegedly distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets or having some connection with the party. The raion police chief refused to comment on the picket, but a lower-level officer said the Hizb ut-Tahrir members have been arrested on suspicion of stirring up religious enmity. A representative of the Osh Oblast Internal Affairs Department was quoted as saying some 900 adherents of the party in the region are on police lists for "prophylactic" work. According to a report distributed by the Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee on 7 April, 13 alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members were arrested in Osh Oblast on 4 April for allegedly distributing literature calling on Muslims to oppose the war in Iraq. Hizb ut-Tahrir is the subject of ongoing discussion in Kyrgyzstan, with law enforcement officials insisting the group is dangerous and human rights activists and the Kyrgyz Ombudsman arguing that it is not because its ideology calling for the creation of an Islamic state eschews violence. BB

MUSLIM RELIGIOUS LEADERS OF TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN OPPOSE JIHAD AGAINST U.S.
Amonullo Negmatzoda, chairman of Tajikistan's Council of Ulemas and spiritual leader of Tajik Muslims, told ITAR-TASS that a jihad against the United States is not the way to solve the problem of Iraq, according to centrasia.ru on 7 April. Negmatzoda reportedly added that jihad almost never brings positive results, but "increases bloodshed and causes unnecessary suffering for ordinary people." He was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying that Muslims should pray for a swift end to the war in Iraq and a political resolution to the conflict. On 4 April, the head of the Uzbek Muslim Board, Abdurashidkori Bakhromov, similarly condemned as "irresponsible" and likely to aggravate an already unstable situation the call by Telget Tajetdin, head of Russia's Central Spiritual Directorate of Russian Muslims, for a holy war against the United States, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2003). Bakhromov added that such appeals confuse Muslims and benefit "destructive extremist groups." BB/LF

LOCAL ELECTIONS HELD IN TURKMENISTAN
Elections for local executive-branch officials and local representatives to the Halk Maslahaty (People's Assembly), which, according to the Turkmen Constitution, is the highest representative organ of power in the country) took place on 6 April, RIA-Novosti reported. The Central Election Commission was quoted as reporting that no violations of election rules were reported. The commission registered 144 candidates for the 65 "people's representative" seats in the assembly. In the run-up to the election, state-run media boasted that every seat would be contested. The election of local-government officials is part of President Saparmurat Niyazov's plan to introduce democratic elections at all levels in Turkmenistan, starting at the local level and culminating in a presidential election in 2010. BB

EXEMPTION FROM MILITARY SERVICE IN UZBEKISTAN REPORTEDLY COSTS $140
Draftees in Uzbekistan can legally buy their way out of immediate military service if they pay the equivalent of about $140 into a special Defense Ministry account, uzland.uz reported on 5 April. These conscripts reportedly will be put into a "mobilization reserve" that will be called up for active service only in case of an emergency or military attack. The report indicated that Uzbekistan is introducing alternative national service for conscripts who are members of officially registered religious organizations that forbid bearing arms. Such alternative service would last 24 months instead of the normal 12 months required for military service. BB

COURT HANDS DOWN SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR SLANDER OF BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT
A district court in Minsk on 4 April gave Aksana Novikava a two-year, suspended prison sentence for slandering President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "I could not have been acquitted in a country where the president appoints judges," the 29-year-old woman said after the ruling. Novikava was detained in October near the presidential-administration building while distributing leaflets depicting Lukashenka and listing articles of the Criminal Code that she believes the Belarusian president has violated. Novikava vowed to appeal the verdict but added that she does not expect to succeed. JM

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE TOUGHENS LAW ON DEMONSTRATIONS
The Chamber of Representatives on 4 April voted 73 to five to pass changes aimed at bringing a law on mass demonstrations into line with restrictive presidential decrees enacted in 1999 and 2001, Belapan reported. One amendment allows the authorities to close down a party or a nongovernmental organization for failing to ensure law and order during demonstrations that cause large-scale damage, including the disruption of traffic, death, injury, or significant financial damage. Justice Minister Viktar Halavanau told lawmakers that restrictive clauses will not apply to indoor and religious events nor to meetings of National Assembly members and the president with voters. The Chamber of Representatives rejected an alternative bill proposed by lawmaker Valery Fralou. The alternative bill would not have required organizers to obtain a permit from authorities for a demonstration, but rather required them simply to notify authorities of a planned event. JM

UKRAINIAN NBC BATTALION DEPLOYED IN KUWAIT
The airlifting of a Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait has been completed, UNIAN reported on 7 April. A total of 448 troops and 125 pieces of military equipment were transferred to Kuwait, the news agency reported. JM

CANADA CONCERNED ABOUT UKRAINE'S AGRICULTURE SECTOR
Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine Andrew Robinson said in Kyiv on 3 April that his country is concerned about the situation in Ukraine's agriculture sector, including on the grain market, and by the arrest of former Deputy Premier for agricultural reform Leonid Kozachenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 April 2003), Interfax reported on 4 April. The ambassador said Ukrainian agricultural reforms make it an engine of economic growth in the country, adding that small and medium-sized agro-businesses have been boosted by a free market absent of heavy state intervention. "I know that former Deputy Premier Kozachenko was one of the main defenders of the reform policy in agriculture," Robinson said. Meanwhile, Kozachenko's lawyer, Ihor Usenko, told journalists on 7 April that the Prosecutor-General's Office recently charged Kozachenko with accepting a bribe in 2000, in addition to earlier charges of tax evasion and abuse of office. JM

ESTONIA CONSIDERS GREATER STATE FINANCING OF POLITICAL PARTIES
Res Publica Deputy Chairman Ken-Marti Vaher has said that a provision of the coalition agreement with the Reform Party and the People's Union calls for ending the financing of political parties by businesses, BNS reported on 4 April, citing the daily "Postimees." The state currently provides annual support of 198,000 kroons ($13,400) to parties for each deputy they have in parliament. Since donations by individuals to parties -- which would still be permitted -- are not expected to be very great, parties are seeking greater state support in the event that the ban on donations from businesses is approved. Urmas Reinsalu, the head of the Res Publica policy-making council, said on 5 April that state support to parties should be based not only on seats in parliament but also in local councils, as this would allow assistance to small parties enjoying popular support in specific areas. Although the coalition agreement did not mention any exact figures for future state grants to parties, it is expected to be tripled to 60 million kroons per year. SG

CROATIAN PRESIDENT VISITS LATVIA
President Stipe Mesic began a three-day visit to Latvia on 4 April, LETA reported. He was accompanied by Neven Mimica, Croatia's minister for European integration, and Tourism Minister Pave Zupan Ruskovic. In talks with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Mesic said Croatia could learn from Latvia's experience in economic development, setting up democratic institutions, and implementing social policy. Vike-Freiberga said Croatia could teach Latvia how to develop a good tourism strategy. The presidents agreed that their countries have common goals of membership of the EU and NATO, and expressed the hope that the war in Iraq will be over soon. Mesic also met with Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, parliament Deputy Chairman Eriks Jekabsons, and Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers. The Croatian president on 5 April visited the port of Liepaja, where he discussed with Liepaja Mayor Uldis Sesks the Liepaja Special Economic Zone and its adaptation to EU requirements. The next day, Mesic visited the Sigulda area and the Castle Museum in Turaida before proceeding to Estonia. SG

EU BACKS LITHUANIA'S SUGGESTIONS FOR KALININGRAD TRANSIT RULES
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis announced on 4 April that he has received a letter from Jonathan Faull, the director-general for Justice and Home Affairs of the European Commission, about the 2 April meeting of the EU Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER), BNS reported. The meeting discussed the comments on the regulations for the so-called facilitated transit documents for travel to the Kaliningrad Oblast that were proposed during the trilateral consultations in Brussels among Lithuania, the European Commission, and Russia. COREPER rejected the Russian proposals to allow Russian booking offices to sell train tickets after accessing Lithuanian databases over the Internet. It backed the Lithuanian proposal to allow the sale of tickets only after the data of prospective buyers has been approved by Lithuanian consular control within a 24-hour period. Lithuanian and Russian negotiators in Moscow on 4 April also agreed on the final wording of the draft intergovernmental agreement on readmission, whose signing Lithuania considers necessary to facilitate travel to Kaliningrad after 1 July. SG

POLAND WANTS TO PARTICIPATE IN RECONSTRUCTION OF IRAQ
The Polish government will form a special team to aid Polish companies participating in any postwar reconstruction of Iraq, PAP reported on 4 April, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Boguslaw Majewski. Majewski said the new team will be supervised by the economy minister. He also said the team will coordinate the work of Polish firms in postwar Iraq, adding that one of its main tasks will be to seek out firms that have worked there before. JM

POLISH RIGHT-WING PARTY LAUNCHES ANTI-EU CAMPAIGN
The League of Polish Families (LPR) on 4 April launched a nationwide anti-EU campaign ahead of June's EU-accession referendum, PAP reported. The campaign started off in the northwestern Zachodnie Pomorze Province with speeches and lectures by LPR officials on the disadvantages of EU membership for Poland. LPR leader Roman Giertych said the campaign will last until the referendum, moving from region to region on a weekly basis. Giertych predicted that Poland's EU accession will usher in trouble, including in connection with land ownership in the country's western and northern areas, which belonged to Germany before 1939 and where Giertych said prewar landowners will be able to file for reclaiming their estates. JM

CZECH POLICE ARREST SLOVAK MOB BOSS...
Law enforcement agents swept into a gas station in eastern Prague on 5 April to arrest Mikulas Cernak, who is sought by Slovakia in connection with an outstanding prison sentence and is believed by Czech officials to have links with "Russian-speaking" criminal groups, CTK reported. The operation followed several days of coordinated efforts between Czech and Slovak authorities following an arrest request by Slovak Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic delivered to his Czech counterpart on 31 March. Cernak did not resist arrest, the news agency said. CTK reported that a Czech police spokeswoman said Cernak was found to be "operating" in the Czech Republic and in contact with organized crime. Cernak, 36, has served about half of an 8 1/2-year sentence for racketeering and other convictions stemming from his ownership of a private security agency in central Slovakia, but was released on "good behavior" in November for reasons that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January and 25 March 2003). The Slovak Supreme Court ruled in March that Cernak was released unduly early. AH

...WHO WILL FIGHT TO AVOID EXTRADITION
The Prague judge who heard Cernak's case on 5 April said the Slovak national claimed he is the victim of political maneuvering and will seek to avoid extradition, CTK reported. A Prague high court is expected to hear his arguments against being sent to Slovakia, CTK reported. He is currently in extradition custody at Pankrac Prison in Prague, the judge said. AH

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES CHANGES IN STANCE ON IRAQ WAR
Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth on 6 April denied foreign media reports that Hungary's position on the war in Iraq has shifted, "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. Toth was countering reports in Russia's "Izvestiya" on 3 April, and in the Romanian "Adevarul" on 5 April, in which those newspapers effectively claimed that Hungary has left the U.S.-led coalition, citing the fact that training of Iraqi opposition members ended prematurely at the Taszar military air base. Toth said that while the ministry normally does not respond to such comments in the press, he felt it necessary to point out that Hungary could not have quit the anti-Saddam coalition, since it never joined it. Hungary has expressed its support for the U.S.-led coalition and allowed the United States to train Iraqi personnel at the air base, but does not have any military role in the conflict, Toth concluded. MSZ

HUNGARY'S SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY, JEWISH LOBBY ELECT NEW LEADERS
One-time interim Hungarian President Matyas Szuros was elected chairman of the extra-parliamentary "historical" Social Democratic Party at the party's convention on 6 April, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Szuros held the post of secretary of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party and, during the 1989-90 transition to democracy as speaker of parliament, became interim president of the Hungarian Republic. In other news, the daily reported that the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ) on 6 April elected its vice president, Andras Heisler, to take over as president. Heisler defeated incumbent Peter Tordai by a single vote. MSZ

SERBIAN POLICE ISSUE WARRANTS FOR FORMER LEADER'S FAMILY...
Police officials said in Belgrade on 4 April that they have issued an arrest warrant for Mirjana Markovic, the wife of former President Slobodan Milosevic, in connection with the killing in 2000 of former President Ivan Stambolic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 April 2003). Police have also issued an international warrant through Interpol for Marko Milosevic, the couple's son, who was indicted in Serbia in 2000 on an assault charge. Both mother and son are believed to be in Moscow, where some Russian journalists have reported seeing them in the presence of Borislav Milosevic, the brother of Slobodan. PM

...AND ARREST FIVE MORE SUSPECTS IN CRACKDOWN
As part of the ongoing investigation of the activities of the criminal "Zemun clan," Serbian police officials said in Belgrade on 4 April that they have arrested former Croatian Serb leader Borisav Mikelic and Milorad Bracanovic, who is a former deputy head of the Serbian police, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). Both men are reportedly close to Milorad Lukovic "Legija," who is the former leader of the elite Red Berets and the prime suspect in organizing the recent murder of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Bracanovic is also a suspect in the October 1999 attempted assassination of Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Draskovic. In addition, police announced on 4 April the arrest of three lawyers for the "Zemun clan" who police said used unspecified "illegal means" to keep some of their clients out of jail. The three are Slobodan Milivojevic, Nikola Djogunovic, and Miodrag Gligorijevic. PM

WILL THE SERBIAN CRACKDOWN AFFECT THE ARMY?
Boris Tadic, defense minister of Serbia and Montenegro, said in Belgrade on 4 April that the recent arrest of former General Nebojsa Pavkovic was a necessary step to ensure that individuals, and not the military as an institution, be held accountable for those individuals' links to organized crime, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). Tadic said the next day in Podgorica that there will be an investigation to see who, if anyone, in the military has shielded former General Ratko Mladic from arrest. PM

UN TO STICK TO DEVOLUTION SCHEDULE IN KOSOVA
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Belgrade on 4 April that UNMIK will stick to the Security Council's schedule for transferring some of UNMIK's powers to elected officials in Kosova by the end of 2003, despite an appeal for a delay from Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2003). Steiner nonetheless assured Zivkovic that UNMIK will not transfer to the Kosovars functions that remain the UN's prerogative, such as foreign, defense, and security affairs, as well as foreign economic relations and justice. PM

KOSOVAR LEADER PROTESTS BELGRADE'S ADMISSION TO THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi wrote to the Council of Europe on 4 April that he fears that the recent admission of Serbia and Montenegro to that body will only serve to "encourage Belgrade's destructive policy toward Kosova," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003). Rexhepi added that Belgrade's admission to the council in no way affects Kosova or its legal status. PM

IRAQI ACTIVIST TELLS KOSOVARS: UN ADMINISTRATION IS NOT FOR US
Bakhtiar Amin, who heads the Paris-based International Alliance for Justice that brings together 275 NGOs from 120 countries, told Kosovars in Prishtina on 4 April that a Kosova-style UN administration is not desirable for his country, AP reported. Amin, who is originally from Kirkuk, argued, "We are bitter as Iraqi people about the position of the UN [and] the position of [its] regional organizations because of their [past] indifference...to our suffering." He added: "I don't want...to see my country ruled by the UN,... which for me is a bureaucratic, inefficient organization.... Iraqis are capable of ruling themselves." Steiner also recently ruled out UNMIK as a model for postwar Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2003). PM

MACEDONIA OFFICIALLY BECOMES WTO MEMBER
In a press release on 4 April, the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that Macedonia officially became its 146th member the same day. Negotiations between the WTO and that country started in 1994; on 15 October 2002, the WTO's General Council approved the accession package; and on 5 March, the government informed the organization that the parliament ratified the accession protocols. The protocols came into force 30 days later, on 4 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2002). UB

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST WAR CRIMES FUGITIVE
Police announced in Zagreb on 6 April that they have arrested war crimes suspect and former Bosnian Croat military leader Ivica Rajic, Croatian media reported. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted him in 1995 in conjunction with the killing of 16 Muslim civilians in Stupni Do in central Bosnia in 1993, but Rajic has evaded capture until now. His lawyers said they will fight attempts to extradite Rajic to The Hague. PM

ROMANIAN, TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS RELATIONS, WAR IN IRAQ
In Ankara on 4 April, visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul discussed bilateral relations, Romanian media reported. After meeting with Gul and Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Geoana said they discussed the two countries' involvement in the reconstruction of postwar Iraq. He added that Romania could grant humanitarian aid in the event of a large refugee influx from Northern Iraq. The two parties agreed that Romanian President Ion Iliescu will visit to Ankara in a few months. Geoana announced that Romania will impose compulsory visa regulations on Turkish citizens beginning next year. ZsM

NATO CANDIDATE STATES TO COOPERATE IN COMBATING TERRORISM
Meeting in the Romanian city of Snagov on 5 April, representatives of the seven countries invited to join NATO decided to pool their resources in combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Mediafax reported. The prime ministers of Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia, along with Slovenia's foreign minister also discussed measures to mutually support each other in the NATO-accession process. They also decided to support the future accession to NATO of Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia. ZsM

ROMANIAN TROOPS JOIN COALITION FORCES IN PERSIAN GULF
Twenty Romanian soldiers and their military equipment on 4 and 5 April left for the Persian Gulf to join coalition forces involved in the war in Iraq, Mediafax reported. The soldiers are part of the Nuclear and Bacteriological-Chemical Defense Company based in the northern Romanian city of Bistrita. A total of 55 Romanian soldiers are to participate in decontamination and detection missions in the Persian Gulf area. Fifteen Romanian soldiers left for the Persian Gulf last month and are stationed at a coalition base in Doha, Qatar. ZsM

ROMANIAN MAYORS PROTEST GOVERNMENT MALFEASANCE
Mayors of seven large Romanian cities on 4 April issued a statement protesting abuses by government representatives, Mediafax reported. The members of the Association of Mayors of Large Cities are protesting, among other issues, the allocation of funds to local budgets on the basis of political criteria, and using the distribution of these funds as "a blackmailing method" to attract mayors from other parties to transfer their allegiance to the ruling Social Democratic Party. Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu said the declaration was intended to protest against the government's suffocation of local administrations. The declaration is to be presented this week to the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Public Administration Minister Octav Cozminca on 5 April dismissed all charges and said the association is not representative. ZsM

NEW ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR TO MOLDOVA PRESENTS CREDENTIALS
Newly appointed Romanian Ambassador to Moldova Filip Teodorescu on 4 April presented his credentials to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, Flux reported. Teodorescu delivered a message from Romanian President Iliescu that expressed Romania's interest in boosting bilateral relations. Voronin reaffirmed Chisinau's willingness to further develop good-neighborly relations, stressing the need to strengthen economic cooperation. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PROTOCOL ON ADOPTING FEDERATIVE CONSTITUTION
The Moldovan parliament on 4 April approved a protocol that provides for the elaboration of the constitution of a federative Moldova, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. The protocol was previously approved by representatives of the Moldovan government, the Transdniester authorities, the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. A joint commission of the Moldovan parliament and the Tiraspol Supreme Soviet is to elaborate a new constitution that is to be approved by both Moldovan and Transdniester citizens by 1 February 2004. Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca criticized the protocol and threatened to organize large-scale protests. ZsM

BULGARIA'S SOCIALIST OPPOSITION REFRAINS FROM NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE OVER IRAQ
Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Deputy Chairman Rumen Ovcharov said in Burgas on 6 April that his party will not move a no-confidence vote in the government over its stance on the Iraq crisis, mediapool.bg reported. Ovcharov said solving the country's manifold long-term economic problems is more important than the current Iraq crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). Elsewhere, the BSP leadership handed over to the Prime Minister's Office the first results of a protest petition against the war on Iraq. The party and its youth organization announced that they have collected more than 200,000 signatures and 600,000 protest ballots. UB

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS COURTS MUST SET UP OWN SECURITY SERVICE
In response to Supreme Administrative Court head Ivan Grigorov's demand to step up security measures for courthouses in Bulgaria, Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov said on 4 April that his ministry is not responsible for the security of the courthouses but will temporarily guard the buildings, mediapool.bg reported. Petkanov added that the judiciary could hire private security firms to guard the courthouses, but for the long term the judiciary must form its own guard service. Grigorov's demand came in response to the recent bomb blast at the Sofia District Prosecutor's Office and repeated bomb threats against judicial offices elsewhere in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 March, 4 April 2003). UB

MACEDONIAN MINORITY ORGANIZATIONS IN BULGARIA UNITE
Organizations of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Bulgaria met in the eastern Macedonian village of Novo Selo on 5 April at the invitation of the World Macedonian Congress (SMK), the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Representatives of the United Macedonian Organization Ilinden (OMO Ilinden), the United Macedonian Organization Ilinden-Party for Economic Development and Integration of the Population in Bulgaria (OMO Ilinden-PIRIN), the Secret Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (TMRO), the Independent Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-nezavisna), and other organizations signed a protocol to form an umbrella organization. The Community of Macedonians is to represent the minority, which has some 5,000 members, according to the 2002 census. UB

U.S. ARMY RANGERS LEAD THE WAY IN IRAQ
The U.S. Defense Department's 4 April announcement that three members of the U.S. Army's 75th Infantry (Ranger) Regiment (Airborne) -- Staff Sergeant Nino D. Livaudais, Specialist Ryan P. Long, and Captain Russell B. Rippetoe -- died the previous day of "severe injuries" underlines the important role played by special-operations forces (SOF) in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Moreover, Army Rangers, U.S. Navy SEALs, and U.S. Air Force combat-control teams on 1 April rescued Private First Class Jessica D. Lynch from Iraqi forces that had captured her on 23 March.

The work of regular ground units tend to attract the most media attention, particularly when "embedded" journalists bring news of their exploits to our television screens. During a 4 April press briefing, however, Defense Department officials pointed out that the war in Iraq is supported by the largest special-operations force since the Vietnam War, according to the American Forces Press Service.

Joint Staff vice chief of operations Major General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded the Ranger Regiment in the early-1990s, described the extent of special operations activities during the 4 April briefing. "They are more extensive in this campaign than any I have seen," he said. "Probably as a percentage of effort, they are unprecedented for a war that also has a conventional part to it."

Hundreds of special-operations personnel were active in Iraq before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and the number has risen since then. SOF personnel in northern Iraq are working with Kurdish troops and are identifying Iraqi regime targets for destruction by coalition air assets. In western Iraq, SOF personnel are responsible for a very effective area-denial mission, according to McChrystal. They have attacked targets such as airfields, weapons-of-mass-destruction sites, and command-and-control facilities, he added. And in southern Iraq, SOF troops are working with Shia elements in the cities and also with conventional coalition forces.

Not all special operations troops are active on the ground. Psychological operations units have been broadcasting to Iraq and leafleting the country for months. Air Force AC-130 gunships have been in use in support of ground operations.

CENTCOM Deputy Director of Operations Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, who is a Ranger School graduate, described more special-operations activities during a 3 April media briefing at Camp As Sayliyah near Doha, Qatar. Brooks said special-operations forces seized the Hadithah Dam in order to prevent its destruction. Special-operations personnel raided Saddam Hussein's Tharthar Palace, which is 90 kilometers from Baghdad, on the night of 2-3 April. SOF troops also are preventing regime movement along the road that links Tikrit and Baghdad.

Brooks summed up special-operations capabilities most effectively during the 4 April briefing, when he said, "Our special-operations forces are able to conduct operations throughout all of Iraq." This ability to operate wherever they choose and in potentially the most hostile environments is a hallmark of the Ranger.

The modern Rangers were created in June 1942 and placed under the command of Major William Darby. During World War II they saw action in North Africa, spearheaded the invasion of Sicily, and stormed the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc in France on D-Day. Ranger units were activated in the Pacific theater in September 1944 and fought in the Philippines. Hampton Sides' book "Ghost Soldiers" (2001) recounts the Rangers' rescue of allied prisoners of war from the Japanese. The 5307 Composite Regiment, known as Merrill's Marauders, was a Ranger-type unit that was active in Burma.

Disbanded after the war, Ranger units were revived during the Korean War. They saw a new life in Vietnam; in 1969 all Long Range Patrol units were reassigned to the 75th Infantry and redesignated as Rangers. Many of these units were disbanded at war's end.

In January 1974, the 75th Infantry was reactivated. Since then, its men have seen action in Iran, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The courage they displayed in these places is being seen again during Operation Iraqi Freedom, for which the Rangers deserve gratitude.

The particular breed of man who serves in the special operations forces, however, does not do it for recognition. He is a volunteer who must complete incredibly arduous training, and he is driven by special values. The Ranger Creed encapsulates some of those values: "...as a Ranger my country expects me to move farther, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.... Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word."

Bill Samii served in the U.S. Army.

'CHEMICAL ALI' KILLED BY COALITION BOMBING IN IRAQ?
Iraqi General Ali Hassan al-Majid, cousin of President Saddam Hussein and director-general of the National Secretariat of the Revolutionary Command Council, has reportedly been found dead following a coalition bombing of his home in Al-Basrah on 5 April, AP reported on 7 April. Al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" because of his leading role in the regime's poison-gas attack on Kurds in 1988, was tasked with defending the regime in southern Iraq against coalition forces of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Coalition British commander Air Marshal Brian Burridge told reporters during a 7 April briefing on British activities that identification is under way to determine if al-Majid is among those killed in the bombing. He stated, however, that "open sources" in Al-Basrah have identified al-Majid as among the dead. KR

IRAQI MINISTER WARNS OF RUMORS, TACTICS
Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf read a statement by an "official source" to the press on 5 April warning Iraqis to keep their "eyes and minds" open so that they might distinguish between rumors and "reality." The statement appeared to target Iraqi forces in particular, claiming that coalition forces "try to disseminate rumors through which [they think they] can confuse our rank and file." The statement warns Iraqi fighters to take precautions until they can verify news reports and information received. The statement also criticizes fighters for using light weapons to take one or two shots at a time instead of confronting coalition forces. "This practice must stop," the statement read, adding, "Those who fire these arms are irresponsible. If they want to test their weapons, let them test these weapons against the enemy, now that the enemy is in the suburbs of Baghdad." KR

IRAQ CLAIMS IT DROVE COALITION FROM AIRPORT...
Al-Sahhaf told a Baghdad press briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera television on 6 April that the regime's fighters repelled coalition forces and forced them to retreat from Saddam International Airport (renamed Baghdad International Airport on 4 April by coalition forces, according to U.S. officials). Al-Sahhaf called video footage of coalition troops at the airport "propaganda," saying that it was propagated by the U.S. Army. He also claimed that Iraqi forces left the corridor to the airport open to coalition troops in order to "exhaust" them. "When we pound them they retreat.... And when we stop pounding them, they push some of their units toward Saddam International Airport," he insisted. KR

...AND ASSERTS IRAQ WILL ACHIEVE VICTORY
Al-Sahhaf told reporters at the 6 April press briefing that coalition forces will not be able to crush the Ba'ath Party system set up by Hussein, saying, "After the destruction of the U.S.-British aggression and invasion, there would only be Iraq under leader President Saddam Hussein, with its cultural and political heritage, deep-rooted national political system, and all its institutions." Asked about coalition bombings over Baghdad, al-Sahhaf acknowledged that Baghdad is under fire from coalition forces, but added, "I don't know if you can distinguish our missiles and artillery from theirs." He reiterated earlier claims that coalition forces are killing Iraqi civilians or taking them as prisoners of war. Asked about the remains of 50 U.S. soldiers that al-Sahhaf claimed Iraqi forces killed on 5-6 April, he replied, "I don't know." KR

PUK SAYS IRAQI DESERTIONS CONTINUE
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) claimed in a press statement that Iraqi forces continue to desert their posts in large numbers, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 5 April. The statement reported widespread desertions among high-ranking officers and soldiers, particularly from the Commandos Battalion of the 34th Division, which the PUK claimed has only 25 Iraqi soldiers left following the desertion of the assistant battalion commander and six other officers; other soldiers reportedly followed suit. There was no confirmation of that information. Meanwhile, KurdSat reported on 5 April that four Iraqi officers, nine noncommissioned officers, and 129 soldiers have surrendered to Kurdish forces in Irbil since 27 March. A source at the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government reportedly told KurdSat that Iraqi forces that have surrendered are given a medical examination, as well as food and clothing, before they are transferred to prisoner-of-war (POW) camps. The source also asserted that Iraqis feel safe in Iraqi Kurdistan from execution squads allegedly set up by the Iraqi regime to kill deserters. KR

ARE COALITION FORCES PREPARED TO STAY IN BAGHDAD?
Coalition forces have entered central Baghdad, securing one presidential palace and entering another, international media reported on 7 April. "We have seized the main presidential palace in downtown Baghdad.... There are two palaces down there and we are in both of them," U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Bayer told Reuters. At U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Doha, Qatar, Captain Frank Thorp told reporters, "The goal of this [incursion] is not to take ground. This is an armored raid through the city.... We're expecting to see continuing fighting with Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard as military movements continue," Reuters reported. "We should stay calm. There's a lot of tough battles ahead." Meanwhile, coalition forces sustained casualties on 7 April when Iraqi forces attacked a U.S. communications center on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, international media reported. Other reports indicated that Iraqi forces are blocking many of the bridges over the Tigris River and defending key ministries with rocket-propelled grenades. KR

IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER CONTINUES TO DENY MAJOR INCURSION
Al-Jazeera broadcast a 7 April press conference in which al-Sahhaf continued to downplay the coalition incursion, telling reporters that coalition forces "have pushed a small number of their armored vehicles and tanks [into Baghdad, but] we besieged them and...we will get rid of them soon." Asked about reports that coalition forces have seized control over strategic sites in the city, al-Sahhaf said: "They are not controlling [even] themselves.... Do not believe them." He added that Baghdad is a heavily armed city and promised reporters he will take them on a tour of the city "as soon as possible." KR

SENIOR REGIME OFFICIALS THREATENING MEMBERS WITH DEATH
London's "The Sunday Telegraph" on 6 April reported that coalition intelligence indicates senior members of the Hussein regime have threatened people with death in an attempt to prevent the regime from collapsing. U.S. intelligence reports reportedly cite members of Hussein's family threatening to shoot anyone prepared to surrender to coalition forces. "We have been totally taken aback by the ineptness of the regime. I think people have now given up, but there is nobody in authority to authorize the surrender," "The Sunday Telegraph" quoted a U.K. cabinet minister as saying. KR

IRAQI PRESIDENT ISSUES STATEMENTS
Al-Sahhaf read a statement purportedly from Saddam Hussein on Al-Jazeera television on 5 April in which the Iraqi president claimed that coalition forces have weakened their capabilities "on the other axes" in their attempts to secure Baghdad. "This is why your duty now is to exhaust it, deepen its wounds, and deprive it of the gains it obtained on the ground in your area," the statement read. A second statement by Hussein that signaled the general disarray of Iraqi forces was read on Iraq Television on 6 April. "When any fighter is unable to join his unit for any reason, he should join any unit that is similar to that in his formation and be deployed within this unit until further notice," Hussein told Iraqi forces. Iraq Television also reported that Hussein held a meeting that was attended by his two sons, Uday and Qusay, as well as by Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Defense Minister Staff General Sultan Hashim Ahmad, among others. Iraq Television also reported on 6 April that Hussein awarded several medals and 50 million dinars to the families of two female suicide bombers who blew themselves up northwest of Baghdad on 4 April, killing three U.S. soldiers. KR

CENTCOM CHARGES IRAQI REGIME PUTTING CIVILIANS IN DANGER
A statement by U.S. CENTCOM on 6 April charged that the Iraqi regime has been placing civilians in danger by using mosques and hospitals as bases to conduct military operations. CENTCOM referred to specific sites being occupied by Iraqi forces, including the "Mother of All Battles Mosque" located in northwest Baghdad and the "Saddam Hospital," also in Baghdad. CENTCOM noted that these sites remain on the coalition's "no-strike list." "As the Iraqi regime continues to jeopardize Iraq's treasures, the coalition will continue its efforts to protect innocent Iraqi civilians and sensitive sites from harm," the statement read. KR

INDIA EQUATES PAKISTAN WITH IRAQ
Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha has described Pakistan as a "fit case" for a future U.S. military attack similar to that against Iraq, "Dawn," reported on 7 April. The Karachi daily cited Sinha as saying that Pakistan has weapons of mass destruction, has sheltered terrorists, and lacks democracy, and an attack on it would thus be justified. The United States has warned India not to draw any parallels between the situation in Iraq and the dispute between New Delhi and Islamabad over Kashmir, the New Delhi daily "Hindustan Times" reported on 5 April. According to the Indian paper, Sinha was suggesting that New Delhi would be justified if it were to take military action against Pakistan, and was not suggesting that the United States do so. AT

IRANIAN CLERICS CALL ON UN TO END WAR
The Association of Qom Seminary Lecturers and Researchers on 5 April called for an immediate end to the war in Iraq in order to protect its population and the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, IRNA reported. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the clerical organization asked what has been done to enforce UN resolutions in the face of the superpowers' resistance since the organization's creation. The letter said that nothing has been done about Israeli actions against the Palestinian people, and the superpowers were silent when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacked Iran and used chemical weapons in Halabja, so the UN's inaction results in questions about its status. "It is not [too] late yet.... [The UN] should take the necessary measures before the number of civilian casualties...further rise and historical, as well as cultural and scientific monuments of religious centers of hundreds of world Muslims, are destroyed," the letter added. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES U.S. PLANS FOR IRAQ
Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 5 April met with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio to discuss regional developments, IRNA reported, and during their meeting he repeated some of the criticisms of the United States that he uttered on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 April 2003). Khatami said the U.S. military presence in the region in the name of bringing democracy is hypocritical. "Democracy is not a gift to come from overseas. It should be fostered within the core of the nations," Khatami said. "Unfortunately, the presence and interference of foreign forces in the region in the past several centuries has driven the process of democracy to a dead end." Khatami said the Iraqi people do not see the coalition as a savior, and the war in Iraq will spawn "extremism and violence." In what IRNA said is a reference to the U.S. plan to have retired military officer General Jay Garner administer Iraq, Khatami said that the "Iraqi government should represent the Iraqi people emanating from the will of every Iraqi individual so only the Iraqi people have the right to decide their own fate." BS

CHARNEL HOUSE FOUND NEAR BASRA...
British forces on 5 April found approximately 200 boxes containing human remains in a warehouse near Zubayr, which is about 10 miles southwest of Basra, and British military spokesman Major Mike Edwards said, "Who they belonged to or how they got there is under investigation," AP reported. The British soldiers also discovered a catalog of photographs of dead people; the faces were burned, mutilated, or grotesquely wounded, and apparently some were shot in the head, according to a reporter for Britain's Press Association news agency. A wall near the warehouse was dotted with bullet holes, mostly at head height, and there were tiny concrete cells nearby, according to Reuters. BS

...AND BAGHDAD, TEHRAN CLAIM BODIES
An anonymous "official Iraqi source in Basra" claimed that the remains in the warehouse are of Iraqi soldiers killed in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, Al-Jazeera television reported. The source added that Iran had recently returned the bodies, and the current conflict prevented the Iraqi authorities from getting the remains to the next of kin. Iran's Brigadier General Mir Feisal Baqerzadeh, who heads his country's Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Committee, said that about half of the bodies are of Iranians soldiers whose remains were unearthed near Shalamcheh, Zubayr, and Faw, Tehran television reported on 5 April. "We have asked the Red Cross to take delivery of these corpses from the invading forces and to return them to the Islamic Republic of Iran as soon as possible," he added. Although a ceasefire brought the two countries' war to an end 15 years ago, the search for MIAs continues and they still hold POWs. The most recent prisoner exchange took place on 17-18 March (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 March 2003 and 24 March 2003). BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES POSTWAR IRAQ IN ANKARA
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited Ankara on 6 April to discuss war-related developments with his counterpart, Abdullah Gul. After meeting with Gul he told reporters that both countries oppose the division of Iraq or the creation of a separate state in its north, dpa reported. Kharrazi seemed to issue a threat about what would happen if Iraq's neighbors were not considered in its reconstruction, saying, "There will be no stability in Iraq without the support of its neighbors." According to a Reuters report, furthermore, Gul said he will travel to Syria in a week to discuss common concerns relating to northern Iraq, and Kharrazi added that Iran supports a meeting of all three countries. BS

SCIRI LEADER: IRAQIS SEE U.S. AS OCCUPIER
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim explained why southern Iraqi Shia have not risen against the Ba'athist regime in an interview that appeared in the 3-9 April issue of Egypt's "Al-Ahram Weekly Online." "Iraqis perceive the United States as an occupying rather than a liberating force," al-Hakim said. Al-Hakim added that he has received messages from Iraqis who claim that coalition forces have been instructed to quell any civilian protests or uprisings, and he added that coalition troops are killing innocent civilians. For these reasons, he said, he has instructed Iraqis not to get involved in the fighting or to side with either the coalition or with the regime. Turning to the postwar situation, al-Hakim said, "We have said from the beginning that we reject any American bid for a post-Saddam order because it will simply be an occupation force." Al-Hakim's nephew, Muhsin al-Hakim, said on 6 April that his uncle would return to Iraq soon to support the Iraqi nation and to teach in Najaf, IRNA reported. Al-Hakim did not set a date for the return trip. BS

'FRIENDLY FIRE' INCIDENT IN NORTHERN IRAQ
U.S. warplanes on 6 April accidentally bombed a joint convoy of U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish fighters about 50 kilometers southeast of Mosul in northern Iraq, RFE/RL reported. Radio Free Iraq correspondent Sami Shoresh was nearby and reported just minutes later that "the attack by U.S. planes...resulted in the death of several Kurdish fighters, including commanders, here in the heights of Jilga Jlao. Right now, there is confusion and further fighting plans [are] disrupted. People are busy moving the dead and wounded." The incident is estimated to have caused at least 12 deaths and 45 other casualties. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official Hoshyar Zebari said that Wajeeh Barzani, a brother of KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani, was traveling in the convoy and is in critical condition. U.S. Central Command said an investigation is under way. BS

IRAN REOPENS KHORRAMSHAHR PORT
Iran's Khorramshahr port, located on the Arvand River (Shatt al-Arab) that forms part of Iran's border with Iraq, resumed operations on 5 April after a 17-day suspension of services since the outset of war in Iraq, IRNA reported. During the suspension of operations, traders from Abadan and Khorramshahr exported their goods via the ports of Bushehr and Bandar Abbas. SF

SOME U.K. EMBASSY STAFF LEAVE IRAN
Some British Embassy staff and their family members have left Iran in recent days, Reuters reported on 5 April. Antiwar protesters smashed several embassy windows with stones on 28 March, and three days later a truck laden with extra gasoline smashed into the main gatepost of the embassy compound and caught fire. The embassy has also received a number of bomb threats, a British diplomat told Reuters. Iranian officials have insisted the truck crash and fire, in which the driver died, was an accident. But local authorities have placed concrete barriers around the compound to make vehicular access to the embassy more difficult. In a letter to the British community in Iran, British Ambassador Richard Dalton authorized the departure of nonessential staff or dependants but said the embassy will remain open. Britain's Foreign Office has not advised British nationals against traveling to Iran or told its citizens living there to leave. SF

SOME MKO MEMBERS RETURNING TO IRAN
Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi on April 5 said that some 100 members of the Iraq-based Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) have returned to Iran in recent months, IRNA reported. He said that if the MKO members do not have "private complaints" outstanding against them, they can have a "normal life" in Iran. He urged other MKO members to give themselves up and "live in tranquility" in Iran, but denied that Iran had made a deal with the MKO. Referring to the MKO's revelations about Iranian facilities in Natanz that could bolster Iran's program to develop nuclear weapons, Yunesi added that "the MKO terrorist group has been making false allegations about Iran's use of nuclear energy for generating electricity, fortunately with unsuccessful results." He said that "due to some considerations" Iran does not intend to go into Iraq to clash with MKO members reportedly stationed close to the Iranian border. SF

AGHAJARI ON HOME LEAVE
Hashem Aghajari, the outspoken university professor whose calls for a modernized Islam and a government without clerical rule earned him a death sentence last August for allegedly blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad, was released from prison on 6 April for temporary home leave after posting a 1.2 billion-rial ($150,000) bond, IRNA reported. His death sentence sparked several days of student-led riots last fall. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered that the verdict be reviewed, and Aghajari is expected to stand trial again at the same court in the western Iranian city of Hamedan that issued the death verdict. His release is possibly one of a series of recent gestures -- including the release from house arrest of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri and the release from prison of prominent reformist Abdullah Nuri -- that are meant to defuse factional tensions. SF

KARZAI ALLY KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN
Haji Gilani and his unnamed nephew were shot dead on 5 April in the Deh Rawud district of Oruzgan Province, the BBC reported. Gilani was a friend and close ally of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and assisted him he entered Afghanistan to fight the Taliban after the 11 September 2001 attacks against the Untied States. Oruzgan Province Governor Jan Mohammad Mohammadi told AP that while no arrests have been made in the case, he suspects that Taliban forces are behind the killing, the BBC reported. Mohammadi told AFP that when Karzai entered Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, Gilani "was the only one who really helped" him and that Gilani was Karzai's "personal friend," the BBC reported. The killing of Gilani follows a series of incidents blamed on supporters of the Taliban in Oruzgan and neighboring Kandahar Province. An aid worker, two U.S. troops, and several Afghan militia troops fighting with the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan have been killed in separate incidents (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 April 2003). AT

AFGHAN OFFICIAL BLAMES ESCALATION OF VIOLENCE ON WAR IN IRAQ
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, discussing the killing of Gilani, said the increased activity by supporters of the ousted Taliban regime might be a result of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the BBC reported on 5 April. According to AP on 7 April, "At a time when the United States is promising a reconstructed democratic Iraq, many Afghans are remembering hearing similar promises not long ago." Ahmad Wali Karzai, brother of the Afghan leader and his personal representative in Karzai's native Kandahar Province, said the international community promised the Afghans "a new life of hope and change" following the collapse of the Taliban regime, but that that promise has not been fulfilled and "everyone [the Taliban] is back in business," AP reported. Ahmad Wali Karzai said he is "seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem." AT

AFGHAN BASE HIT BY BOMB BLAST
Sayyed Rahman, deputy commander of the 14th Army garrison in Jalalabad, and four soldiers were wounded on 5 April when a bomb exploded inside their base, AP reported. Civilians who live near the military base said they saw smoke coming out of the garrison following the blast, which shattered windows in nearby homes. No one has claimed responsibility for the bomb blast. However, members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are suspected of carrying out the attack, AP added. AT

TWO AFGHAN SOLDIERS KILLED IN SPIN BOLDAK
Two Afghan soldiers were killed and four others sustained injuries on 4 April in three separate bomb blasts in the Kandahar Province border town of Spin Boldak, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 6 April. An unidentified Afghan official accused Taliban leader Hafiz Abdul Rahim of being responsible for the bomb blasts, which rocked a commissioner's office, an office of the Frontier Affairs Ministry office, and a shop that sold audio and videotapes, "Dawn" reported. The two slain soldiers were guards at the commissioner's office. AT

AFGHANISTAN PARTNERS WITH OSCE
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreed on 4 April to formally establish links with Afghanistan under the Partner for Cooperation scheme to assist the country in meeting the OSCE's "standards on democracy and security," OSCE reported. Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Abdullah on 18 February indicated his country's intention to adhere to "the principles, values, and goals" of the OSCE, the reported added. According to the OSCE's statement, Afghanistan has "mutual security interests" with bordering Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- all of which are members of the OSCE (for more on Afghanistan's partnership with the OSCE, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 April 2003). AT

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