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Newsline - April 16, 2003


RUSSIA, EU TO NEGOTIATE VISA-FREE TRAVEL...
Speaking to journalists on 15 April following a meeting of the European Union-Russia Cooperation Council in Luxembourg, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the two sides have agreed to create a working group to discuss establishing visa-free travel between the EU and Russia by 2007, Russian media reported. According to proposals currently under consideration, the introduction of the visa-free regime will be accomplished gradually, initially including only short-term travel by citizens using diplomatic passports. During this phase, Russia will cooperate actively with EU border agencies in order to combat organized crime and illegal migration, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovlev said, according to newsru.com on 15 April. VY

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER URGES OVERCOMING IRAQ DIVISIONS
Speaking to journalists in Thessaloniki, Greece, on 16 April, Foreign Minister Ivanov urged the international community to focus on finding a positive postwar settlement in Iraq and not on the differences of opinion between "those who were pro-war and those who were antiwar," RTR reported. Ivanov said that humanitarian problems in Iraq must be solved quickly and that in order to do so, the legitimacy of the United Nations is required. VY

RADICAL WRITER CLEARED ON TERRORISM CHARGES...
A Saratov Oblast court sentenced National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov on 15 April to four years' imprisonment, Russian media reported. He was found guilty of organizing the purchase of six Kalashnikov assault rifles by members of his party, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, the court cleared him of charges of plotting terrorist acts, attempting to form an illegal armed unit, and public calls for a forcible seizure of power. The prosecutor had asked that Limonov be sentenced to 14 years. Party newspaper founder Sergei Aksenov was sentenced to 3 1/2 years, and the remaining four party members on trial were sentenced to less than three years each, according to polit.ru. Limonov and Aksenov were arrested on 7 April 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). The 13 months of pretrial detention will be counted toward their sentences, and Limonov, who continues to maintain his innocence, will be eligible to apply for parole in 19 months, "The Moscow Times" reported on 16 April. The prosecution intends to appeal the court's verdict. JAC

...AS COURT SLAMS INVESTIGATORS, PROSECUTORS
The Saratov court also issued an unusually sharp "special decision" concerning procedural violations by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Prosecutor-General's Office during the preparation of the case against Limonov and his co-defendants, RBK reported on 15 April. The court ruled that FSB investigators made numerous errors and violations of the law in producing evidence, witness testimonies, and expert analyses. It issued similar criticism of the Prosecutor-General's Office. The court particularly condemned the fact that the arrest of Limonov and the others was screened on television during the investigation, a move that "could create an unfavorable public opinion." The court said it will send its criticism to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev and Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER REPORTS ON PLANS FOR VOLUNTEER ARMY
Addressing the leaders of the centrist Duma factions on 15 April, Sergei Ivanov said that most Russian combat and rapid-deployment units will be switched over to a volunteer basis from 2004-07, ORT and other Russian media reported. All in all, this will comprise about 15 percent of the armed forces, including ground forces, airborne units, marines, and air force units, Ivanov said. The rest of the military will continue to serve on a conscription basis, although the term of mandatory service will be reduced from two years to one. Ivanov also said that his ministry requires additional funding in order to make the switch to contract service quickly, since it is unrealistic to think that qualified young people will volunteer to serve for the national average wage of 2,000 rubles ($66) a month. He asked deputies for an increase of 135 billion rubles. Deputy Gennadii Raikov, who heads the People's Deputy faction, said that introducing volunteer service will require eight to 10 major legislative changes, which could be adopted as early as June. VY

NEW EXHIBITION DOCUMENTS STALIN'S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE SERVICE
The Central Armed Forces Museum has opened a new exhibition devoted to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet military counterintelligence service Smersh (an acronym from the Russian phrase "Death to spies"), ITAR-TASS reported on 16 April. Smersh was created by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in April 1943. The exhibition includes personal belongings of Stalin and Smersh chief Viktor Abakumov, as well as Smersh documents from the archives of the FSB, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU), and other Soviet and Russian secret services. During World War II, Smersh was directly subordinate to Stalin in his capacities as defense minister and supreme commander in chief. Smersh became notorious for the role it played in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe that were occupied by the Red Army after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved about 25,000 Hungarian Jews from Hitler's death camps, is among Smersh's innumerable victims. VY

INTERIOR MINISTRY LANDS SOME LITTLE FISH IN CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION
The Interior Ministry has opened several criminal cases against regional officials, Aleksandr Ovchinnikov, head of the ministry's organized-crime department, told journalists in Moscow on 15 April, according to RBK. Ovchinnikov revealed that two deputy administrators and the head of the city development department in Vladimir have been charged with accepting bribes and abuse of office. In addition, two raion administrators in Buryatia and two committee heads in Astrakhan Oblast are also under investigation for alleged corruption. On 9 April, the Prosecutor-General's Office filed charges of abuse of office and bribe taking against two former high-ranking officials in the Krasnoyarsk Krai administration, former Deputy Governor Valerii Suladze and former gubernatorial aide Yakov Akiev, RIA-Novosti reported. Both men served under the late Governor Aleksandr Lebed. JAC

ANOTHER GOVERNOR REPORTED HEADED FOR THIRD TERM
Belgorod Governor Yevgenii Savchenko is likely to be re-elected in 25 May gubernatorial elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 April, citing local political experts. According to the daily, a basket of typical consumer goods is cheaper in this region than anywhere else in the country, and voters are likely to want to continue this trend. The affordable prices have been achieved through agreements with local businessmen and large enterprises. The daily also predicted that in subsequent elections this year for the heads of Sverdlovsk and Leningrad oblasts and the republic of Karachai-Cherkessia, incumbents also have good chances of being re-elected. It is, therefore "very possible that within a year we will see all the same faces in the political arena -- not only at the federal, but also at the regional level," the daily concluded. "New political heavyweights will not appear." JAC

SKINHEADS SCARING FOREIGNERS IN MOSCOW
Foreign citizens who have lived in Moscow for at least two years are most afraid of skinheads, police officers, and automobile drivers, lenta.ru reported on 15 April, citing a recent survey titled "Security in Moscow through the Eyes of Foreigners," conducted by the ROMIR polling agency. Citizens of Western countries believe that the situation in Moscow is worse than those in other large cities of the world, while residents of countries and regions with tense political situations or national conflicts rate Moscow's security higher. Groups of skinheads or young hooligans -- rather than thieves or muggers -- represent the greatest threat to their security, according to a majority of respondents. In a similar study conducted by ROMIR last year, only one respondent was cited as complaining about skinheads on the metro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). JAC

RUSSIAN TRAVEL BAN TO CHINA ALREADY AFFECTING LOCAL TOUR FIRMS
Tourist companies in Russia's Far East are on the verge of bankruptcy because of a steep decline in travel to China and Asia following the outbreak of acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), TVS reported on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). On 10 April, the Health Ministry issued a ban on enterprises and state organizations sending employees on trips or tours to specific parts of China. On 15 April, officials in Primorskii Krai followed up with their own ban on business and tourist travel to six southern provinces in China, as well as to Hong Kong, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, residents of Primorskii Krai made more than 400,000 tourist trips to China last year. JAC

URALS LEGISLATOR COMPLAINS THAT HIS MOBILE PHONE HAS BECOME A PARTY LINE
Oblast legislator and Cheyaboblgaz General Director Ildar Usmanov said he has evidence the police have been listening in on his mobile-telephone calls under orders from senior oblast-administration officials, regions.ru reported on 15 April, citing Uralinform. Usmanov has sent a request to the head of the oblast's interior department asking that an investigation be conducted. Usmanov is a member of the political opposition to Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin, according to the website. JAC

OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO CRITICIZE GEORGIAN-U.S. AGREEMENT
Implementation of the Georgian-U.S. agreement on military cooperation could pose a threat to Russia's military security in the Caucasus, former Russian Air Force Commander Anatolii Kornukov told ITAR-TASS on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 14 April 2003). Kornukov suggested that under that agreement Tbilisi might make its airfields available to the United States, which, he continued, would adversely affect the security situation on Russia's southern borders. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Shota Dogonadze told Interfax on 13 April that Georgia will not allow foreign military bases on its territory. On 14 April, Interfax quoted Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Andrei Kokoshin (Fatherland-All Russia) as saying on 11 April that the Georgian-U.S. agreement "creates an uneven playing field for Russia" by granting privileges to U.S. servicemen in Georgia that do not also extend to Russian military personnel. Kokoshin said unnamed Russian experts believe the Georgian move will hinder joint antiterrorism efforts in the region. On 15 April, Duma Geopolitics Committee Chairman Aleksandr Shabanov told journalists in Moscow that the Georgian-U.S. agreement "seriously upsets the balance of forces in the region and poses a threat to international security." LF

CHECHEN OFFICIALS REJECT REPORTS OF MASS MURDERS
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and Russian presidential human rights envoy for Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov said on 14 and 15 April, respectively, that a report published by "Le Monde" asserting that more than 100 civilians were executed each month in Chechnya last year and that some 3,000 bodies have been found in mass graves is "a lie" and "a canard," Russian media reported. "Le Monde" based those claims on what it said was a confidential 30-page report compiled by Kadyrov's administration, but Kadyrov denied on 14 April that any such report exists. Sultygov predicted on 15 April that after the presidential elections in Chechnya -- for which no date has yet been set -- the new president will establish a special commission to investigate crimes committed both by Russian troops and by Chechen fighters. LF

DEMONSTRATORS AGAIN DEMAND ANNULMENT OF ARMENIAN ELECTION
Several thousand supporters of defeated Armenian presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian staged a further demonstration in Yerevan on 15 April to demand that the Constitutional Court annul the outcome of the February-March presidential election in which, according to official returns, incumbent Robert Kocharian defeated Demirchian in a runoff, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Constitutional Court is to rule on 16 April on an appeal by Demirchian that it invalidate the elections in the light of alleged procedural and constitutional violations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AGAIN SLAMS OSCE MINSK GROUP
Meeting in Baku on 15 April with visiting Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Rapporteur Terry Davis, Heidar Aliev again criticized what he termed the ineffectiveness of efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July and 30 September 2002). Aliev specifically criticized the Minsk Group's decision to suspend its mediation activity beginning early this year until after the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidential elections. LF

THIRD REGIONAL ADMINISTRATOR REPLACED IN AZERBAIJAN
President Aliev dismissed Yashar Rzaev on 15 April as administrator of the Lenkoran District, which borders on Iran, and appointed Zeynal Nagdaliev to succeed him, Turan reported. Nagdaliev was a deputy chairman of the Party of Democratic Property Owners in the mid-1990s, after which he served as executive director of the Congress of Azerbaijanis of Russia. In the 1980s, he was a department head in the Central Committee of the Azerbaijani Komsomol. Nagdaliev is the third former leading Komsomol official promoted by Aliev this month to head a regional or city administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 10 April 2003). LF

AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA SIGN BORDER COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Azerbaijani Border Guard Deputy Commander Major General Inayat Khalilov and his Russian counterpart Colonel General Nikolai Reznichenko signed an agreement in Baku on 15 April on measures to promote coordination between their respective services and to simplify the procedure for checking passenger identification and cargo at the two countries' shared border, ITAR-TASS and Caspian News Agency reported. The two men reached a tentative agreement under which comprehensive checks of Azerbaijani cargoes entering Russia will be abolished. LF

GEORGIAN STUDENTS DEMAND PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
Several hundred students held a demonstration in Tbilisi on 14 April to demand that President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, and Tbilisi Mayor Vano Zodelava resign, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. They argued that Shevardnadze is incapable of extracting Georgia from its crisis and ensuring the country's democratic development. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT BOYCOTT AGAIN PRECLUDES DEBATE ON FREE ECONOMIC ZONES
President Shevardnadze scheduled an emergency parliament session on 16 April at the request of members of the opposition Revival faction who are seeking a debate on the controversial bill on free economic zones, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003) But the debate could not begin for lack of a quorum. The head of the IMF mission in Georgia, Jonathan Dunn, told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 April that the fund opposes the creation of free economic zones in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze likewise argued on 14 April that such zones could fuel "separatist tendencies," a clear allusion to the autarkic policies of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze. LF

GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS AGAIN POSTPONED
The Abkhaz-Georgian talks initially scheduled for 8 April and postponed until 15 April have again been postponed, Caucasus Press reported on 14 April. That agency quoted Kodori Governor Emzar Kviitsiani, who first proposed the talks, as saying the reason for the delay was the 7 April escape of nine prisoners from a high-security jail in Sukhum, but the initial postponement was announced before that escape took place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 April 2003). The Abkhaz Defense Ministry issued a statement on 14 April saying its representatives will not participate in any further talks with Georgian officials under the aegis of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council as long as Georgian troops remain in the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. LF

LACK OF FUNDING CONTINUES TO PLAGUE GEORGIAN MILITARY
Georgian armed forces Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant General Djoni Pirtskhalaishvili told the parliament Defense and Security Committee on 14 April that he believes it is essential that Georgia conduct a military parade on 26 May to mark Independence Day, Caucasus Press reported. Primarily due to the costs involved, no such parade has been held since 1997. But Pirtskhalaishvili added that the Defense Ministry has not yet received the 2.9 million laris ($1.37 million) needed to cover the costs of this year's parade. Committee Chairman Irakli Batiashvili noted that during the first three months of 2003, the Defense Ministry received only 75 percent of the funds earmarked in the annual budget. Describing the situation as "catastrophic," Batiashvili warned that "starving soldiers have mutinied more than once" and could do so again. Also on 14 April, Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze told the National Security Council that his ministry lacks funds to destroy quantities of ordnance abandoned in Georgia by the Russian military, Caucasus Press reported. He cited an incident two days earlier in which displaced persons narrowly escaped being killed when trying to dismantle a stolen missile to extract palladium. LF

KAZAKHSTAN AGAIN APPLIES FOR COUNCIL OF EUROPE OBSERVER STATUS
Kazakhstan has again applied for observer status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), opposition politician Amirzhan Qosanov told a news conference in Almaty on 15 April, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Qosanov was a member of a delegation of government officials, parliamentary deputies, and opposition leaders that visited the European Parliament recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003). He said that the Council of Europe has acknowledged Kazakhstan's application and instructed Kazakhstan to submit its constitution for examination by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the Venice Commission). Qosanov described this as a significant step toward constitutional reform in Kazakhstan and said the Kazakh opposition is encouraged that the country's authorities did not refuse to comply, indicating that they are willing to meet PACE requirements. PACE is also demanding that Kazakhstan report on its progress implementing the provisions of a resolution adopted by the European Parliament in February that urged Kazakhstan to clean up its human rights record. BB

KAZAKH, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN OMSK
The Kazakh and Russian heads of state met in Omsk on 15 April during a forum of border regions of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation, khabar.kz and the Kazakh broadcast media reported the same day. The focus of the forum, which was attended by the governors of eight Kazakh and 11 Russian border oblasts, was on increasing cooperation among the regions, including simplifying the border and customs regimes. It was noted that cross-border trade declined by 11 percent last year. The Russian side attributes the reduction to a Kazakh import-substitution program, while the Kazakhs blame Russian customs obstacles. Water use and mercury contamination in the Irtysh River were also discussed. Presidents Nursultan Nazarbaev and Vladimir Putin held a private meeting to discuss increasing the interaction between their countries' economies and the prospects for joint projects in the fuel, energy, and mining sectors. Putin was cited as suggesting that the two countries jointly protect Kazakhstan's borders, including its border with China. After the forum, bilateral agreements on highway transportation and health care were signed. BB/VY

PARTY RE-REGISTRATION ENDS IN KAZAKHSTAN
The deadline for the re-registration of political parties has expired in Kazakhstan, with seven parties having been accepted by the Justice Ministry, Interfax-Kazakhstan and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 15 April. There were 19 parties in Kazakhstan in January 2003 before the re-registration law came into effect. Deputy Justice Minister Yogan Merkel told a press briefing in Astana that four parties were refused registration because they violated the Civil Code and the laws on political parties and public associations. Merkel said that in some cases people too young to vote were listed as party members. The law on political parties adopted last year requires that parties must prove they have at least 50,000 members in order to register. The parties that were re-registered are the Aq Zhol (Bright Path) Democratic Party, the Otan (Fatherland) Republican Party, the Civic Party, the Agrarian Party, the Communist Party, the Party of Patriots, and the Aul (Village) Social Democratic Party. The Democratic Party of Kazakhstan's Women Yel Dana (Wise Country), the Alash National Party, the Compatriots (formerly, the Russian) Party, and the Dauirleu (Progress) Party were refused. Six opposition parties that were previously registered did not apply for re-registration, according to Merkel. These were the People's Congress, the Socialist Party, the Justice Party, the Republican People's Party, the Azamat (Citizen) Party, and the Qazaq Eli (Kazakh Nation) National Union. Some of them have been part of the Kazakh political scene for many years. Under current legislation, they can no longer legally function as parties. BB

KYRGYZ POLICE STOP SALE OF MATERIALS FOR NUCLEAR INDUSTRY
Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies have prevented the sale of 35 kilograms of ytterbium oxide, a strategic material used in the nuclear industry, akipress.org and Interfax reported on 15 April. The substance was allegedly being offered for sale by two people who had obtained it from the former uranium complex where they used to work, according to the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry. One of them had reportedly kept the material in his home in a Bishkek suburb since 1984. Akipress.org noted that this was the second such incident this year. In January, 460 kilograms of europium oxide, another substance used in the nuclear industry, were stolen. The thieves have not been caught. BB

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT GRANTS OSH SPECIAL STATUS
The Legislative Assembly (lower house) of the Kyrgyz parliament adopted a law on 15 April granting the southern city of Osh the legal status of a center of particular historical, cultural, scientific, administrative, and political significance, akipress.org reported. The Kyrgyz Constitution already grants Osh -- commonly known as the Southern Capital -- equal status with Bishkek, but the new law gives the city the right to retain 40 percent of its revenues, instead of the nine to 20 percent it could keep previously. A senior city official told akipress.org the new law will provide the legal basis for Osh to develop its infrastructure and improve living conditions for its 500,000 residents. He noted that 40 percent of the city's inhabitants lack access to clean drinking water, and half are not connected to the sewage system. BB

ALLEGED HIZB UT-TAHRIR MEMBER ARRESTED IN NORTHERN TAJIKISTAN
Police in Khujand, the administrative center of northern Tajikistan's Sughd Oblast, have arrested 25-year-old Mubina Ashurova for allegedly participating in the activities of the banned Muslim extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 15 April. During a search of Ashurova's home, Khujand police reportedly found 24 books and 11 leaflets calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia, a primary objective of the Central Asian branches of the worldwide movement. Asia Plus-Blitz quoted the Sughd Oblast branch of the Interior Ministry as saying that Ashurova is the third inhabitant of the oblast to be detained this month under suspicion of participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir activities. BB

FOREIGN-TRAINED TEACHERS BEING FIRED IN TURKMENISTAN
Teachers in Turkmenistan who earned their degrees from foreign institutions of higher or specialized secondary education after 1993 are being fired from schools throughout the country, centrasia.ru reported on 16 April. The fired teachers are reported to be traveling to Ashgabat to find out why they were dismissed, because the officials who fired them could not produce any published orders justifying the move. Presumably, the dismissals stem from oral remarks by President Saparmurat Niyazov that were reported by the Russian human rights group Memorial on 6 April. Those teachers who are not affected by the unpublished instruction must pass an examination on Niyazov's "Rukhnama," a rambling account of the president's views on Turkmen history and traditions, in order to retain their jobs. BB

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UZBEKISTAN
Leonid Kuchma paid a one-day working visit to Tashkent on 10-11 April, Russian media reported. It was his fourth visit to the Uzbek capital. Kuchma met with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the possibilities for cooperation in rebuilding that country's infrastructure, cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and drug trafficking, unspecified aspects of bilateral relations, and the proposed CIS free-trade zone. LF

BELARUSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY UNWILLING TO CRACK DOWN ON PIRACY
Uladzimir Navumau told Belapan on 15 April that his ministry has no plans to crack down on CD, audio, or video piracy in the foreseeable future for fear of causing public discontent. "If we took our forces from other directions and sent them to fight piracy, the prices of [audio, video, and software] products would rise two- or threefold. Would society thank us for that? That may cause certain discontent," he said. Navumau said his ministry intends to follow Russia's example in fighting piracy. "For a year or two we will be offering pirated-CD dealers to abandon their business, and then [we will] start taking tougher measures," he said. "Our efforts will be proportionate to society's awareness of the problem." Navumau left the same day for a two-day conference on narcotics control in Vienna. He is the first senior Belarusian official to visit a European Union country since the EU canceled its visa ban on eight Belarusian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003). JM

BELARUSIAN COLLECTIVE FARM DISSOLVED
The local government in the Barysau Raion of Minsk Oblast has decided to disband a collective farm called Chyrvonapartyzanski (Red Partisan), Belapan reported on 15 April. Syarhey Charnukha, head of the raion's agriculture department, said calculations show that the potential costs of reviving the ailing farm would exceed any returns that could be obtained in the long run. The farm has no livestock, its equipment has been either completely worn out or transferred to other farms, and its fixed assets have largely been stolen. Charnukha added that there is no chance of renting the land to private farmers, as is done in some other areas, because there are no local farmers with the necessary capital or capacity to ensure a high standard of farming. A portion of the farm's 2,000 hectares of land will thus go to a neighboring farm, with another portion destined for forestry and the remainder distributed among villagers. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT MAKES CASE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES...
President Leonid Kuchma delivered his annual address to the Verkhovna Rada on 15 April, in which he reiterated his argument for political change. In his speech, which was broadcast live on Ukrainian radio, Kuchma stressed the need to transform Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential republic, as proposed in a draft bill he submitted to the parliament last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). In particular, the president said parliament should be given the constitutional power to form a coalition government, while the president needs the power to dissolve parliament, parliamentary seats should be allocated on a proportional basis, and nationwide referendums should be legally binding under a constitutional provision. Touching on his proposal to introduce a bicameral legislature, Kuchma said he does not rule out such a step being taken only after the implementation of administrative territorial reform in 2006-10. Regarding his other political-reform proposals, Kuchma stressed that they should be introduced before the end of 2004 to allow for "a formula in which the new president stands for a new political system." JM

...PROPOSES 'ROUNDTABLE' ON POLITICAL REFORM...
Kuchma told lawmakers on 15 April that, except for certain assessments on the conscience of the authors, he was "pleasantly surprised by the generally constructive" memorandum on political reform signed the previous day by the leaders of Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 April 2003), according to the Ukrainian radio broadcast. He suggested that a roundtable on political reform be held to include representatives of parliamentary caucuses, the government, and the president. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko commented later the same day that Kuchma's proposal of the roundtable might "give a start to the process of harmonizing different visions" of political reform and provide a chance to form an appropriate working group, Interfax reported. JM

...CALLS FOR 'STRUCTURAL-INNOVATIVE ECONOMIC RENEWAL'...
Also in his 15 April address to the Verkhovna Rada, Kuchma reminded lawmakers that Ukraine saw stable and high economic growth in 2000-02 of nearly 7 percent per year, on average. "In essence, this is the highest growth in Europe. The first three months of this year have confirmed that those processes are well grounded," he said. However, Kuchma warned against paying "too little attention to the current shortcomings," adding, "Economic growth over the past three years has been based on extensive development and has been achieved through the use of industrial capacities that were built mainly in previous years." The Ukrainian president therefore called for "a major adjustment of economic policy" that, in his opinion, should focus on "the use of a mechanism for a structural-innovative economic renewal." JM

...AND RECAPS FOREIGN-POLICY PRORITIES
Kuchma told the Verkhovna Rada on 15 April that, in the area of foreign policy, "Ukraine will be going ahead with its entry into the EU to the extent that Europe will be entering Ukraine." "European standards of political culture, social and labor relations, the very way of living and thinking" must first become "part and parcel" of everyday life for Ukrainians, he added. Kuchma expressed hope that Ukraine might enter the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2004. He noted that his chairmanship of the Commonwealth of Independent States is an opportunity to increase Ukrainian influence in creating a free-trade zone in the post-Soviet area. Kuchma stressed that Ukraine should develop a "constructing dialogue" with the United States aimed at "consolidating the principles of strategic partnership and removing barriers to bilateral cooperation." Touching on the Iraq conflict, Kuchma said Ukraine could not remain indifferent. He added that sending a Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait was "a sign of our civilized nature and our commitment to universal values, although it was a difficult choice for each of us." JM

ESTONIA'S REGIONAL AFFAIRS MINISTER CALLS FOR NEW ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM
Newly appointed Interior Minister for Regional Affairs Jaan Ounapuu has said that Estonia has approached administrative reform the wrong way, BNS reported on 15 April. He expressed regret that the primary emphasis was placed on changes in territorial divisions and the merging of local administrations rather than first "finding out what lies at the heart of self-governments' problems, reviewing their functions, and paying attention to their income base." Ounapuu said counties should be relieved of all functions of self-government. The role of county governors would then focus on overseeing the state's interests in regions or, in other words, "County governments would become the work apparatus of the interior minister in charge of regional affairs," he said. SG

BALTIC PARLIAMENT SPEAKERS DISCUSS COOPERATION
Parliament speakers Ene Ergma (Estonia), Ingrida Udre (Latvia), and Arturas Paulauskas (Lithuania) met in Jurmala, Latvia, on 15 April to discuss the course of regional cooperation after those countries become members of the EU and NATO, BNS reported. They affirmed that the special relations among their states should be maintained. The speakers also said parliament deputies and political parties should play an important role in informing the public about specific questions related to EU accession. Paulauskas said Euroskeptics must be given an opportunity to present their views, as voters should be presented with a variety of opinions prior to the referendums on EU membership. He also raised the issue of Kaliningrad transit, expressing regret that Russia has not yet signed the readmission treaty with Lithuania that is necessary to facilitate travel for Russian citizens traveling between Russia and its Kaliningrad exclave after 1 July. SG

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN-POLICY COUNCIL DISCUSSES KALININGRAD TRANSIT
The Foreign Policy Coordination Council's first meeting, which was held under the leadership of President Rolandas Paksas on 15 April, adopted a resolution backing the transit regulations via Lithuania adopted by the EU the previous day, and urged Russia to fulfill its obligations, ELTA reported. The council also includes the prime minister, foreign and defense ministers, the parliament chairman, the heads of parliament's European and National Security committees, the head of the State Security Department, and the presidential advisers for foreign and national security issues. The EU General Affairs Council adopted the regulations for travel by Russian citizens via Lithuania to and from Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast after 1 July. The regulations stipulate that train tickets for the Russia-Kaliningrad route can only be purchased after ticket sellers receive a positive response from Lithuanian consulate officials to an e-mail request made at least 24 hours prior to the planned departure. Three Lithuanian officers will be stationed on the trains running between Russia and Kaliningrad to issue these documents. The council also said Russia should sign the readmission treaty with Lithuania and ratify the border treaty with Lithuania signed in 1997. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT APPOINTS COMMISSIONER FOR IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION
The Polish cabinet on 15 April appointed Minister of Economy and Labor Jerzy Hausner to be commissioner in charge of Poland's participation in the reconstruction of Iraq, PAP reported. Deputy Economy and Labor Minister Jacek Piechota told journalists that Hausner's priority task will be to render political assistance to Polish firms in Iraq. Piechota added that some 380 Polish firms have so far signaled their interest in related work. According to Piechota, Polish companies might primarily expect to participate in work subcontracted out by U.S. companies. JM

POLISH FARM LEADERS DIFFER OVER EU MEMBERSHIP
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski signed a sweeping agricultural bill into law on 15 April, saying he wants to send a clear signal to Polish farmers before signing the EU Treaty of Accession in Athens on 16 April, PAP reported. The new law limits land sales to farms under 300 hectares and requires that farmland-owners be qualified farmers, thus allaying fears among Polish farmers that Western Europeans will snap up vast areas of relatively inexpensive Polish farmland after accession in 2004. Peasant Party leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski, a former deputy prime minister and minister of agriculture, said after Kwasniewski signed the bill that he can now endorse Poland's EU membership. Meanwhile, Andrzej Lepper, leader of the staunchly anti-EU Self-Defense farmers union, told journalists the same day that his organizations will distribute 10 million information leaflets about the EU. Lepper pledged that Self-Defense will make every effort to prevent Poland from joining the EU but stressed that the leaflets will "only contain [the] truth about the EU" and the slogan: "The choice is yours." JM

POLAND SIGNS $1.2 BILLION DEAL FOR FINNISH ARMORED VEHICLES
Poland's Defense Ministry on 15 April signed a contract with the Finnish company Patria Vehicles Oy on the purchase of 690 AMV armored personnel carriers for $1.2 billion, PAP reported. The vehicles will be delivered over the next 10 years. The Finnish company won a tender for the delivery in cooperation with the Mechanical Military Works of Siemianowice Slaskie in southern Poland. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES DISPATCH OF FIELD HOSPITAL TO IRAQ
Both houses of the Czech parliament on 15 April approved the dispatch of a field hospital to Iraq, CTK reported. The vote in the lower house was 133 in favor and 41 against -- with all deputies representing the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) opposing the move. The upper house approved the government-sponsored resolution in a 65-0 vote with four abstentions, three of which were KSCM senators. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla announced earlier on 15 April that, in light of the urgency of the matter, the vote would take place that day rather than on 17 April, as planned. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said the hospital will be set up in Al-Basrah. Tvrdik also said the first Czech doctors might leave as early as 18 April. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC DISCUSSES LEASE OF BRITISH FIGHTER JETS
The daily "Pravo" reported on 15 April that officials from the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom have discussed the possible lease or purchase on installment of 14 used Tornado F-3 fighters, dpa and CTK reported. The daily suggested that a special intergovernmental agreement could be signed allowing the Czech side to close the deal without a tender or budget approval from parliament. A decision to purchase 24 Swedish-British made Gripen fighters was canceled last year due to a lack of funds. Deputy Defense Minister Jan Vana confirmed to CTK that negotiations are under way, but he said the discussions are still at the preliminary stage. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS EU ACCESSION IS NO 'MARRIAGE OF LOVE'
President Vaclav Klaus said on 15 April in an interview with the German weekly "Die Zeit" that it would "simply be impossible for the Czech Republic, a country in the center of Europe, not to join the EU," CTK reported. Klaus said there is no alternative to EU accession, adding, "[If you ask] whether this [EU accession] is my dream, that really is not the case. This is a marriage of convenience, but not of love." Klaus is expected to sign the Treaty of Accession on behalf of the Czech Republic on 16 April, along with Prime Minister Spidla, having said the occasion is too important not to make use of this presidential prerogative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003). MS

CZECH SENATE CONDEMNS PERSECUTION OF CUBAN DISSIDENTS
Senators on 15 April approved a resolution condemning the recent arrests of representatives of the democratic opposition and journalists in Cuba, CTK reported. Three KSCM senators left the chamber before the vote, which came out 58 in favor with one abstention in the 81-member Senate. More than 70 Cuban dissidents were recently sentenced to jail terms of between 18 and 25 years in prison. The Czech Foreign Ministry expressed "serious concern" over the new wave of persecution and called on Cuban authorities to honor their international commitments to respect human rights. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel and 20 other signatories of Charter 77, a communist-era human-rights appeal, recently signed a petition protesting the Cuban crackdown. President Klaus expressed his concern on 11 April. MS

GREAT BRITAIN DEPORTS MORE CZECHS
British authorities returned 89 asylum seekers whose requests were rejected to the Czech Republic on 15 April, CTK reported. This is the 10th such transport since deportations began in September, according to the news agency. Most of the deported asylum seekers are members of the Romany minority. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT SIGNS NATO-ACCESSION DOCUMENT...
Rudolf Schuster signed his country's NATO-accession protocols on 15 April, making Slovakia the first of seven recent invitees to have completed the entry process, TASR and international news agencies reported. The protocols were ratified by the Slovak parliament last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). Schuster said Slovakia has thus taken a "historic step" that "ends the transformation period which [was marked by] both the unpleasant experience of international isolation [under the cabinets headed by Vladimir Meciar]...but also the satisfaction of our ability to end this isolation and gain international respect," according to Reuters. The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky, and Defense Minister Ivan Simko. MS

...BUT WILL CALL REFERENDUM ON ACCESSION IF CONDITIONS ARE MET
Schuster said after signing the accession protocols on 15 April that if the drive for a plebiscite on NATO accession meets the conditions stipulated by the law, he will call a referendum despite having signed the document, TASR and CTK reported. He added that he nonetheless doubts that the organizers of the referendum drive will gather the 350,000 signatures that would force the president to call the referendum. Some 190,000 signatures have been collected so far. Schuster added that the organizers of the drive should consider that more than four-fifths of parliamentary deputies approved the protocols' ratification. MS

SLOVAKIA PREPARING MILITARY ENGINEERS FOR POSSIBLE IRAQ MISSION
Defense Minister Simko said on 15 April that he has ordered Slovak military engineers to prepare for a possible departure to Iraq, CTK reported. The possible deployment has not yet been debated in the cabinet and might require parliamentary approval -- depending on the mission's character. "I want us to be ready...and have therefore given orders for the preparation and selection of an engineering unit we could offer as assistance in the renewal of normal life in Iraq," Simko said. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES EU-ACCESSION TREATY
Lawmakers on 15 April overwhelmingly authorized the Hungarian government to sign the EU Treaty of Accession in Athens on 16 April, Hungarian media reported. Opposition FIDESZ deputy Istvan Simicsko, the only one of 366 deputes to have voted against the move, explained that he wanted to represent those 62 percent of Hungarians who either voted against EU membership or did not participate in the 12 April accession referendum, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs were expected to sign the treaty on behalf of Hungary on 16 April. MSZ

GERMAN, SWEDISH, HUNGARIAN LEADERS ISSUE JOINT LETTER ON EU EXPANSION
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, and Hungarian Prime Minister Medgyessy issued a joint letter to mark the expected signing on 16 April of the EU Treaty of Accession in Athens, "Nepszabadsag" reported the same day. The letter welcomes the political and economic alliance of 25 European countries as a new, historical dimension of their common future. Schroeder initiated the letter last week, and Hungarian and Swedish supplements were added to the original draft. According to an official announcement, the main consideration in choosing those three participants was to involve Germany as a founding member of the EU, Sweden as a country that joined the EU in the last wave of enlargement, and Hungary as one of the 10 candidate states whose representatives were expected to sign the treaty on 16 April. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT REMEMBERS HOLOCAUST VICTIMS
Parliamentary deputies honored the Hungarian victims of the Holocaust on 15 April, one day ahead of a national holiday to remember the Holocaust, Hungarian dailies reported. Parliament speaker Katalin Szili recalled that 60 percent of Hungary's Jewish population fell victim to the Holocaust, adding that those victims were a loss to the whole nation. Noting that the Holocaust was preceded by the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, Szili said it must not be forgotten that Hungarian Jews were persecuted with the collaboration of domestic authorities, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Nationwide commemorations to remember the hundreds of thousands of Jewish victims of Nazi and Arrow Cross massacres in World War II have been held on 16 April since 2000. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CULTURE MINISTER PROTESTS CONTROVERSIAL SZALASI EXHIBITION
Culture Minister Gabor Gorgey and political State Secretary Laszlo Kocsi on 15 April condemned the "Soldiers of [Miklos] Horthy -- Arrow Cross People of [Ferenc] Szalasi" exhibition that is on display at Koszeg's Jurisics Chateau Museum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003), "Nepszabadsag" reported. A statement noted that "the ministry cannot legally close the exhibition, as it does not maintain the county-run institution, but the leaders of the ministry feel it is their moral duty to protest the content of the exhibition." Experts asked by the ministry to evaluate the exhibition reportedly agreed that it portrays Arrow Cross leader and fascist Szalasi as a hero while remaining silent about the Holocaust. Peter Marko, president of the Vas local council, received Gorgey's letter and has taken measures to have the exhibition supplemented with additional information, the daily said. MSZ

MACEDONIAN ARMY UNIT TO LEAVE FOR KUWAIT
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Santa Argirova confirmed on 15 April that Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva has signed an agreement with Kuwaiti authorities regarding the stay of Macedonian troops on Kuwaiti territory, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. Macedonia is to deploy a medical team and a peacekeeping unit to Kuwait as soon as the Macedonian parliament approves the agreement regulating their legal status. Deputy Defense Minister Rizvan Sulejmani stressed that the mission's job will be peacekeeping and not peace-enforcement. It is not clear whether the mission will remain in Kuwait or go on to Iraq. UB

FORMER BOSNIAN MUSLIM COMMANDER PLEADS INNOCENT TO WAR CRIMES CHARGES
Former General Naser Oric told the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 15 April that he is "not guilty" of charges that he killed and mistreated Serbs in the Srebrenica area in 1992-93, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). In related news, Amor Masovic, who heads Bosnia's State Commission on Missing Persons, said in Sarajevo on 16 April that a recent fire in a forest between Srebrenica and Tuzla exposed the previously unknown grave of 15 Muslims, dpa reported. He said the remains are most likely those of individuals from Srebrenica killed by Serbian forces after the town fell in July 1995. PM

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF CIVILIAN CONTROL OVER MILITARY
Dragan Kalinic, head of a delegation from the Bosnian Serb parliament to Slovenia, said in Ljubljana on 15 April that the Republika Srpska's secret and security services must be completely subordinated to civilian and legislative control, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003). The delegation met with Slovenian parliamentarians who supervise that country's intelligence services. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO EXTENDS CIVILIAN CONTROL OVER MILITARY
The Supreme Defense Council of Serbia and Montenegro agreed in Meljine near Herceg Novi on 15 April to set up a state security service under the direct supervision of the Defense Ministry, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. President Svetozar Marovic, who chairs the council, said the decision is a further step toward extending democratic and civilian control over the military and police. PM

SERBIA CHALLENGES WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL IN VUKOVAR CASE
Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 15 April that Yugoslav Army commanders had no authority in Ovcara near Vukovar, where a massacre of Croats took place after the fall of Vukovar at the end of 1991, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Mihajlovic argued that former army officer Veselin Sljivancanin, whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted in the case, bears no legal responsibility for what happened in Ovcara. Mihajlovic said the responsibility lies with unnamed individuals from local Serbian militias whom police arrested recently. The minister called on Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic, whom the tribunal has also indicted, to "report to the Serbian authorities," who will help them with their defense. PM

WAS FORMER SERBIAN LEADER BEHIND ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION ON OPPOSITION LEADER?
Police officials told reporters at a weekly press briefing in Belgrade on 15 April that former General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who is in police custody, said that former President Slobodan Milosevic ordered him to send a military helicopter to Montenegro in 2000 to evacuate a group of people who attempted to kill Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Draskovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June and 3 July 2000). The Belgrade weekly "Vreme" recently suggested that police arrested Pavkovic because of his alleged role in the Draskovic case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). PM

ALLEGED SERBIAN ASSASSIN ARRESTED IN AUSTRIA
Police in Vienna said on 16 April that they have arrested an unnamed alleged Serbian mafia boss wanted in Serbia as the assassin of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan," who was slain on 15 January 2001, dpa reported. PM

ROMANIA DISPATCHES ENVOY TO IRAQ
Romania's special envoy for Iraq Radu Onofrei left for the Persian Gulf on 15 April to meet with retired U.S. General Jay Garner, head of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Mediafax reported. Onofrei and Garner are expected to discuss Romania's role in Iraq's reconstruction and in rendering humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi population. Onofrei, who heads the Middle East Department in Romania's Foreign Affairs Ministry, will remain in the region in order to supervise the reopening of the Romanian Embassy in Baghdad once the new Iraqi administrative authority is in place. Also on 15 April, visiting U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu (Democrat, Louisiana) and Larry Craig (Republican, Idaho) said in Bucharest that Romania must play an important role in Iraq's reconstruction, having been one of the first states to have backed the U.S.-led coalition in Operation Iraqi Freedom. MS

U.S. SENATORS URGE ROMANIA TO EASE ADOPTION RULES
Senators Craig and Landrieu, who are co-chairpersons of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, on 15 April also urged Romania to ease its adoption rules for foreigners and shorten the ban imposed on international adoptions, Reuters reported. They said the envisaged 18-month compulsory residency period for prospective foreign parents who wish to adopt Romanian children is too long and would deter attempts by would-be foreign parents to adopt Romanian children, thus working against the children's own best interests. Romania is to scrap in June 2003 the adoption ban imposed two years ago. The ban was imposed after the EU said the adoption process was rife with corruption -- with Romanian officials and nongovernmental organizations selling adoption rights to the highest bidder. Some 3,500 foreign couples, most of them from the United States, were angered when the ban caught them in the middle of the adoption process. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY SAYS IT DOES NOT BACK REVOCATION OF CNSAS COLLEGE
Social Democratic Party (PSD) Deputy Chairman Florin Georgescu said on 15 April that the PSD is not backing the revocation of the College of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS), Mediafax reported. The revocation was approved by the bicameral parliament's judicial commissions at the recommendation of an ad hoc commission headed by PSD Senator Ion Predescu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 26 March 2003). Georgescu said the PSD wants a special parliamentary commission to examine the possibility of making amendments to the law on the access to the communist secret-police files and wants to consult with other parliamentary formations to improve the legislation currently in force. Former Senator Constantin Ticu-Dumitrescu, who initiated the legislation, has been tapped by the PSD to head a restructured college of the CNSAS, but he has conditioned his acceptance of the position on a change to the law and particularly on the transfer of the custody of the archives from the Romanian Intelligence Service to the CNSAS itself (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 13, and 19 March 2003). MS

DEMOCRATIC PARTY TO WITHDRAW SUPPORT FROM DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The Steering College of the Democratic Party on 15 April voted to "withdraw support" from party Deputy Chairman Viorel Pana and to expel from the party Elena Mocanu, former chairwoman of the Democratic Party's Constanta branch, Mediafax reported. Pana and Mocanu opposed a decision by the Democratic Party's leadership to merge its Constanta branch with the local branch of the Humanist Party. Pana, who is also a Senate deputy chairman, said the decision is "futile," as he intends to resign from both of his functions. "I do not need the backing of a party that does not trust me," he said. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES U.S. AMBASSADOR TO OSCE
President Vladimir Voronin received U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Stephen Minikes in Chisinau on 14 April, Infotag and Flux reported. Minikes said Washington is ready to render assistance to accelerate the negotiation process between Chisinau and Tiraspol and added that the U.S., EU, and OSCE positions are identical insofar as the settlement of the Transdniester conflict is concerned. Voronin expressed gratitude for the joint position taken by the United States and the EU in deciding in February to impose a travel ban on the Transdniester leadership. Minikes traveled to Tiraspol on 15 April, where he was supposed to inspect the evacuation of the Russian arsenal. However, the operation was postponed for reasons that are unclear, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION REMAINS DIVIDED OVER IRAQ
Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) spokesman Angel Naydenov said after a meeting of the party's executive bureau on 15 April that there are no convincing arguments for the parliament to revise its plans for the deployment of an anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit in order to allow that unit to be sent directly to Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. The announcement came in the wake of Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev's statement that the original plans to deploy an NBC unit to the Persian Gulf region have become obsolete and should be changed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003). A spokesman for the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), Nikolay Mladenov, said the same day that his party would most likely support a new parliamentary decision to allow the deployment of the NBC unit to Iraq. He added that his party has set up a working group to assess possible Bulgarian participation in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. UB

WORLD BANK RELEASES LOAN FOR BULGARIA
After a meeting with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, Ad Melkert, the World Bank's new executive director for Bulgaria, said in Sofia on 15 April that the bank will issue the first tranche of a $150 million Programmatic Adjustment Loan 1 (PAL 1) before the end of this month, BTA reported. Melkert reassured the government that the World Bank will continue to support Bulgaria in its efforts to eradicate social inequality and poverty, but also said the reform of the judiciary must continue. Elsewhere, the Bulgarian National Bank announced that at the end of February, the country's foreign debt stood at $10.9 billion, or almost 62 percent of GDP, mediapool.bg reported. This is a decrease of about $68 million since the end of 2002. UB

AVERAGE BULGARIAN LIVES ON $65 PER MONTH
According to the latest statistical data provided by the National Statistics Institute (NSI), the average income in Bulgaria is about $65, mediapool.bg reported on 15 April. Of this sum, Bulgarians spend on average about $22.4 (or 34 percent of their income) on food, $12 (18.5 percent) on water and electricity, $3.6 (6 percent) on health care, and $3.5 (5 percent) on communication services. UB

IS THE TALIBAN REGROUPING IN AN EFFORT TO DESTABILIZE AFGHANISTAN?
While blaming the Taliban for a spate of recent attacks, Afghan authorities express doubt that the group will ever again be able to exert a significant influence on the situation in the country.

Sayeed Ishroq Husseini, the head of the Department of Political and Religious Affairs at the Afghan Interior Ministry, said this week he believes the Taliban still receives financial support from various sources to carry out violent acts, such as attacks on pro-U.S. elements in the country, firing rockets and missiles on airports and government buildings, burning schools, and destroying bridges. "The Taliban is not an organized and powerful group with a strong leadership any more and is not capable of having an impact on the situation of the region," he said. "But since the Taliban had run the country once, its leaders have connections with drug traffickers and international terror networks that now finance the group. Besides, some forces outside the country who have an interest in the destabilization of Afghanistan provide money for the Taliban."

Afghan authorities have said remnants of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network have lately been coordinating their activities with other hard-line forces, including supporters of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The authorities believe these groups found safe haven in areas near the Pakistani border and their activities have been orchestrated from Pakistan. Last week, an unknown group, which calls itself Saif ul-Muslimin, claimed responsibility for a missile attack on the Jalalabad airport. In faxed messages sent to the Pakistani city of Peshawar, the group promised to carry out more attacks against foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Sayeed Fazl-Akbar, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Transitional Administration, downplayed the role of the Taliban, saying the group has neither the power nor the ability for large-scale attacks. "We haven't seen a single organized attack from the Taliban. There are small groups, which have no more than 15 to 20 members. Afghan forces and the international coalition troops are destroying those groups. They can only carry out terrorist acts here and there [with no real plan]."

However, it is not only the Taliban and other radical groups who are hampering the peace process in Afghanistan. The Afghan Transitional Administration, whose authority hardly extends beyond the capital, has to deal with a number of powerful warlords and regional governments.

Basir Solangi, the head of security forces in the capital, acknowledges that local warlords were behind some of the incidents, including an attack in the northern Faryab Province. Thirteen people, including two civilians, were killed during clashes between local warlords in Faryab earlier this month.

Abdul-Rashid Dostum, the deputy defense minister and an influential warlord in the northern town of Mazar-e Sharif, and Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat, are among the most powerful figures that the central government has had difficulty getting under control.

It is believed that Ismail Khan has earned millions of dollars in customs revenues, but only a small portion of the funds has been transferred to the central government. However, Din Mohammad Jurat, the head of the Public Security Department at the Interior Ministry, insists that the central government does not have any major disagreements with local governors. "Recently, the government sent a special mission to all provinces, and we didn't come across a restive provincial governor, who wasn't loyal to the [transitional] government," he said. "The mission visited all provinces and areas from Faryab to Khairkhona, from Islom-Qala and Turghundi to Wardak and Maidon. Apart from an insignificant dispute in Khost Province, every governor and local commander proclaimed their loyalty to the central government."

Jurat even denies that the interim authority has disagreements with Ismail Khan over custom revenues. "Ismail Khan himself welcomed the mission and took them to Islomqala and Turghundi. He handed over all his documents and reports about the customs and border issues to the mission. We checked them all. The mission set up a weeklong training session for his border guards and custom officers. [It was the same] with Dostum, another influential commander in the northern part of the country."

Many Afghan officials share the same opinion that Afghan government forces are not capable of protecting the peace process and providing security in Afghanistan. They say that the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and other international coalition forces should remain in Afghanistan until the Afghan National Army and Afghan security forces gain enough experience in protecting their country.

"The Afghan security forces are developing and they will provide a basis of security within Kabul and within Afghanistan," said Mark Whitty, a spokesman for the ISAF in Kabul. "But as you can imagine, after 23 years of conflict and after the recent civil war, that will take some time."

As far as the Taliban and other radical groups are concerned, Afghan officials say the hard-liners have no chance of regaining power because they have no support among the Afghan population.

Farangis Najibullah is an RFE/RL correspondent.

IRAQI OPPOSITION VOWS TO WORK WITH COALITION...
Iraqi opposition groups concluded a one-day meeting outside the southern Iraqi town of Al-Nasiriyah on 15 April having agreed to work together with coalition forces to restore order and meet the basic needs of the Iraqi people, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. However, participants failed to reach a consensus on the structure of an interim authority in Iraq, MENA reported on 15 April. A statement issued at the conclusion of the talks calls for a democratic, federal Iraq that is not based on "communal identity" and that respects the rule of law. Participants also called for the dissolution of the Ba'ath Party structure and stressed the need for an open dialogue among Iraqis. The statement says participants addressed the role of religion in state and society, but it does not elaborate. The participants are scheduled to meet again in 10 days. KR

...AS IRAQIS PROTEST IN AL-NASIRIYAH AND MOSUL
Several thousand Iraqis gathered in Al-Nasiriyah on 15 April to protest the U.S.-led talks, chanting slogans such as "No to America. No to Saddam," Reuters reported. AFP reported that 20,000 Iraqi Shi'ites participated in the protest. Iraq's largest Shi'ite group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), boycotted the meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003). Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, gunfire broke out between U.S. forces and unidentified Iraqis on the streets of Mosul, where the newly appointed governor, Mash'an al-Jaburi, was giving a speech that was reportedly viewed by some as excessively pro-U.S., AFP reported on 16 April. Twelve people were killed and 60 wounded in the gun battle. An unidentified U.S. military spokesman said U.S. troops returned gunfire toward a building rooftop and insisted that troops did not fire into the crowd. KR

NEW IRAQI GROUP PLEDGES TO FIGHT COALITION AND ITS LOCAL ALLIES
The Islamic Arab Grouping for Liberation -- Iraq Command announced its existence in a statement that was printed in the 15 April issue of London's "Al-Quds al-Arabi." The creation of the new secret organization, according to the Arabic newspaper, reflects the first effort to organize a resistance against "the U.S.-British occupation" of Iraq. The statement appears to be an appeal to Arab, rather than Iraqi, nationalism, and it contains references to the Kurdish hero Salahadin, the Shia Imam Ali, and the Sunni Khalid Bin al-Walid. "We will fight the invaders, the agents of Zionism among the agent [sic] and treacherous Kurdish leaderships, and the mercenaries of [U.S. President George W.] Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair.... We are fighting so that all Arabs will wake from their slumber and humiliation." The statement concludes, "We are carrying the honor of arms and the banner of victory for liberating Iraq and Palestine, with the help of God." BS

IRAQI CLERIC SAID TO CALL FOR SECULAR STATE
An unidentified Iraqi cleric called for the establishment of a secular state in Iraq during the Al-Nasiriyah meeting, Al-Jazeera reported on 15 April. "I demand the establishment of a secular system of government that completely separates state and religion in order to protect religion," the cleric said. "True secularism does not fight religion but does not speak in the name of religion either. Religious institutions will be similar to the civil society institutions whose right to thought and expression will be guaranteed." The cleric said Iraqis will not accept a despot speaking in the name of Islam -- an apparent reference to deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who often evoked religious rhetoric in his speeches. "Stop hijacking the holy Qur'an," he said. "Islam was hijacked 14 centuries ago. That is enough." KR

SHI'A CLERICS SEND ARMED GROUPS INTO BAGHDAD'S STREETS
Shi'a clerics from the holy city of Al-Najaf have ordered armed groups of Iraqi Shi'a citizens to assist in restoring order in Baghdad, "The Guardian" reported on 15 April. The Hawza, a Shi'ite seminary in Al-Najaf, issued instructions to mosques throughout Iraq on 13 April ordering clerics and local leaders to establish neighborhood committees. Baghdad-based clerics appeared to welcome the directive. "With the direction of the clerics of Al-Najaf, we want to return this looted stuff to the people...and, God willing, we will manage to establish security in this neighborhood," Shaykh Sa'd al-Safar, senior imam at Baghdad's Buratha mosque, told the daily. Al-Safar added that hospitals, water plants, and electricity substations have been secured, adding, "The next stage is that we want to have central control from Al-Najaf over what's happening in the streets." KR

U.S. ASKS DENMARK TO RUN STABILIZATION FORCE
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced on 15 April that Denmark will run the headquarters of an international stabilization force in postwar Iraq, dpa reported the same day. The force is being established to ensure security during an interim phase in which coalition forces will transfer power to new Iraqi authorities. "The Americans noted the positive results of Danish-led peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans and other places," Rasmussen said. Denmark lent its support to coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. KR

ADVISER TO INTERIM ADMINISTRATION HEAD SKETCHES OUT TWO-YEAR PLAN FOR IRAQ
Salem Chalabi, an adviser to Iraqi interim administration head and retired U.S. General Jay Garner, told "Die Welt" in an interview published on 15 April that the Iraqi National Congress (INC) will operate as a political party in Iraq once the interim phase is under way. Chalabi said he envisages three phases to rebuild the Iraqi political system. "At the beginning, there will be a constitutional assembly of all relevant forces, the outcome of which the people will decide in a referendum. And finally, there will be free elections. All this will presumably take about two years," Chalabi said. Asked about the appointments of regional "governors" in Iraq, Chalabi told "Die Welt," "We want to form regional councils, which, similar to the interim authority in Baghdad, will consist of credible Iraqis." Chalabi is a London-based lawyer specialized in constitutional law. He is also the nephew of INC head Ahmad Chalabi. KR

IS FORMER IRAQI MUKHABARAT CHIEF IN SYRIA?
The former head of Iraq's Mukhabarat intelligence service is believed to be in Syria, according to an unidentified U.S. official cited by Reuters on 15 April. Faruq Hijazi was the Mukhabarat's director of external operations in the mid-1990s. During his tenure, the intelligence service attempted to assassinate then-U.S. President George Bush during an official visit to Kuwait. More recently, Hijazi served as the Iraqi ambassador to Ankara and Tunis. Hijazi is also suspected of having links to Osama bin Laden (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 January 1999 and 7 December 2001). KR

WEAPONS INSPECTIONS MIGHT RESUME IN IRAQ
Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), will brief the UN Security Council next week regarding the possible resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, Reuters reported on 15 April. Under existing Security Council resolutions, the inspectors are required to certify that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction before the Security Council may lift sanctions against Iraq. "The process seems very clear.... It seems to me logically that we'll have to get the inspectors back in," one council diplomat told Reuters. The United States has not said whether it will support the return of inspectors to Iraq. According to the Security Council's website (http://www.un.org/), Blix is expected to address the council on 22 April. KR

UNESCO TO SEND TEAM TO ASSESS ANTIQUITIES LOOTING IN IRAQ
The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced that it will send a team of experts to Iraq in an effort to determine the extent of damage to Iraqi historical treasures caused by widespread looting, AP reported on 15 April. Iraq's National Museum, a smaller museum in Mosul, and Baghdad's Islamic Library, which held one of the oldest surviving copies of the Qur'an, were among the sites pillaged. UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura has called on coalition forces to guard Iraq's archaeological sites and cultural institutions, and has requested that customs officials working Iraq's borders help prevent the transport of antiquities into neighboring countries. He also called on police and art dealers to assist in the recovery effort. KR

DA'WAH CALLS ON FOREIGN ARMIES TO LEAVE IRAQ
Abu Bilal al-Adib, the Tehran-based political bureau chief of the Shi'a Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call) organization, said in an 11 April interview with Hizballah's Al-Manar television that "our people definitely will not cooperate" with "the occupation armies" if they remain in Iraq. Al-Adib said that as long as these armies stay in Iraq the Iraqi people cannot agree with the country's government, and "it is impossible for us to join a government steered by a group of U.S. generals." He said Iraqis can establish their own government through the cooperation of the opposition forces, and the United Nations could supervise this process. BS

GRAND AYATOLLAH IN IRAQ BLAMES FOREIGNERS FOR UNREST
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Al-Najaf has declined to meet with anybody until the return of normality, the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 15 April, citing his son, Hojatoleslam val Moslemin Seyyed Mohammad Reza Sistani. Ayatollah al-Sistani called on people to stay calm, to stop the violence and looting, and to "put an end to ethnic and sectarian differences." He also said, according to his son, "We consider forces that are allies of foreigners to be responsible for riots in various parts of Iraq, especially Al-Najaf." Hizballah's Al-Manar television on 15 April reported that al-Sistani's statement "again held the U.S. and British forces responsible for the ongoing chaos in various parts of Iraq and in Najaf city in particular." BS

SCIRI LEADER ARRIVES IN IRAQ
The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) jihad bureau, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, on 16 April arrived in al-Kut, a predominantly Shi'a city in southeastern Iraq's Wasit Province, "to the cheers of local residents," IRNA reported. SCIRI spokesman Muhsin al-Hakim said SCIRI leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim will come to Iraq very soon. BS

IRANIAN SATELLITE-RECEIVER BAN COULD BE BYPASSED
Behbahan parliamentary representative Valiollah Shojapurian, who serves in the legislature's Cultural Committee, warned on 16 April that Iraq will be producing radio and television programs under U.S. supervision and, "With strengthened transmitters, Iraqi TV programs could be received in Iran with ordinary aerials," ISNA reported. "Our country's space will be open to various waves," Shojapurian said. "Iranians will be directly influenced by the ensuing cultural atmosphere." Iranian law forbids private ownership of satellite-receiving equipment, and the parliament has not had any success in its efforts to amendment this law. In a possible reference to this law, Shojapurian said, "The limitations imposed by Iranian officials so far will not be effective any longer and the people will be influenced by the cultural atmosphere of the neighboring countries." "We should allow different tastes to exist and emerge in the society," he recommended. BS

NEW IRANIAN AMBASSADOR FOR AFGHANISTAN
Mohammad Zaeri Amirani has been selected as Iran's ambassador-designate to Afghanistan, IRNA reported on 16 April. Amirani served previously as the consul-general in Karachi. He replaces Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, who has been in Kabul since November 2001. Taherian has a long professional relationship with Afghanistan. He served as ambassador to Afghanistan once before, when he helped channel Iranian aid to Shi'a mujahedin groups, and he also served in Tajikistan, where some mujahedin groups were based. In the late 1990s Taherian handled the Afghanistan account from Tehran. Taherian was the ambassador to Sarajevo from 1994-98, when Tehran was channeling arms to Muslim groups in the Balkans. BS

PASHTUNS FLEEING HARASSMENT, PERSECUTION IN AFGHANISTAN
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) -- mainly ethnic Pashtuns -- continue to flee northern Afghanistan for shelter in the south, according to a statement by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on 16 April. Pashtuns are facing "harassment and insecurity" from other ethnic groups in the northern provinces of Faryab, Jowzjan, and Badghis, as some people blame the Pashtuns as a whole for the crimes committed by the Taliban regime. Commanders, in many cases, are seizing land from people, especially from Pashtuns, according to UNHCR spokesperson Maki Sinohara. "Objectively, even if the situation might be OK for the people to come back, having the experience of being harassed out of their homes or the experience of fleeing from them, does take some time for the people themselves to be convinced and confident enough to go back," Shinohara said. She warned that unless security is established in Afghanistan, refugee and IDP crises and insecurity will continue. According to the UNHCR, there are approximately 350,000 IDPs now in Kandahar and Hilmand provinces, about 15 percent of whom are Pashtuns from the north. KM

100 KILLED, 500 INJURED BY LAND MINES EVERY MONTH IN AFGHANISTAN
The head of the Department of Anti-Personnel Mines in Afghanistan, Mohammad Shahab Hakimi, said on 15 April that 7,500 demining personnel -- primarily Afghans -- are working in Afghanistan to clear mines, which he said kill 100 and injure another 500 people every month in the country, Iranian state radio reported. This, according to AP the same day, is approximately half the amount of casualties that was occurring previously, and is a result of the intense demining campaign that has been supported by international funders. Hakimi also said that approximately 850 square meters of land was mined in 1,585 villages, and experts contend that there are upward of 10 million mines in the country -- most of them laid by Soviet troops. The International Red Cross has estimated that 200,000 Afghans have been killed or maimed by mines in the last 20 years. KM

DOSTUM COMMANDER KILLED IN AMBUSH
Commander Shahi, a military commander loyal to Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum, was killed in an ambush on 15 April in northern Afghanistan, Reuters reported. He was traveling to Mazar-e Sharif when his vehicle was ambushed in the Char Bolak area, about 29 kilometers west of the city, according to Dostum's deputy General Majid Roozi. Two bodyguards were also killed. While there was no immediate indication of who perpetrated the attack, it came on the heels of deadly fighting and a subsequent 11 April cease-fire between Dostum's Junbish-e Islami forces and the Jamiyat-e Islami forces loyal to General Ata Mohammad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 11, and 15 April 2003). Reuters reported that the cease-fire is officially recognized but tensions remain between the two factions, and there is a possibility of renewed clashes. KM

TALIBAN STEPS UP OPPOSITION ACTIVITIES
Taliban devotees reportedly distributed leaflets on 15 April calling on Afghans to oppose the United States and Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's government, according to an article by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), cited by Reuters on 16 April. The unattributed pamphlets, written in Pashtu, were distributed among Afghan refugees living in camps in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, according to AIP. One of the leaflets reportedly stated, "Once again the world's big devil, the United States, and its Jewish imperialist [allies] have attacked Afghanistan." It called on Afghans to fight the "infidels and their puppets." This comes at a time when many are concerned about the increased activities of former Taliban and Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan, and worries that some within the Pakistani government are supporting them. KM

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