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Newsline - April 22, 2003


DEPUTY'S SLAYING PROMPTS CALLS FOR TOP OFFICIALS TO RESIGN...
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of slain Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent) in Moscow on 20 April, according to ORT (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev was the highest-level official to attend the ceremony, gazeta.ru reported. On 18 April, Yushenkov's fellow deputies observed a minute of silence in his memory at the opening of a Duma session. Afterward, a number of deputies called for the resignations of several top officials in connection with the killing. Deputy Sergei Ivanenko (Yabloko) commented: "In a civilized country, an agency chief who fails to do his job properly resigns. I have a question: when will this happen?" Seleznev also commented that top law enforcement officials who fail to do their jobs or cannot do their jobs should tender their resignations, according to NTV. JAC

...AS THEORIES FOR SLAYING MULTIPLY...
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov told reporters in Blagoveshchensk on 20 April that investigators have made progress in investigating Yushenkov's 17 April killing. Experts have established the registration number of the pistol found at the scene, even though it had been scratched out, TVS reported. The next day, Interfax quoted Deputy Sergei Glaziev (Communist) and political analyst Valerii Fedorov as hinting that self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii was somehow involved in Yushenkov's murder. On 18 April, commentator Andrei Cherkizov concluded on Ekho Moskvy that there are three groups who might have "needed" Yushenkov dead: some Defense Ministry officials, those who profit from the continuation of the war in Chechnya, and those who want to expedite the process of extraditing Berezovskii from Great Britain. Yushenkov opposed both conflicts in Chechnya and advocated sweeping military reform. Also on 18 April, People's Deputy faction leader Gennadii Raikov told the station that investigators should focus on radical nationalist youth groups to find Yushenkov's killer. JAC

...AND BEREZOVSKII PROFFERS HIS ASSISTANCE
Meanwhile, Berezovskii pledged on 22 April to send documents to the Prosecutor-General's Office, lenta.ru reported on 21 April. According to "The Moscow Times" that day, these documents include a letter signed by Yushenkov to Britain's home secretary requesting political asylum for Nikita Chekulin, who, according to Yushenkov, witnessed the "uncontrolled transfer of explosives, including hexogen" ahead of the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities. Yushenkov had been seeking evidence that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind the explosions, which served to galvanize public opinion in support of military intervention in Chechnya. Chekulin is a former government expert on explosives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002), and, according to Yushenkov's letter, he feared being murdered. JAC

NEW COLLECTIVE-SECURITY PACT TO BE SIGNED AT DUSHANBE SUMMIT
The leaders of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan will formally sign the new Treaty on Collective Security in Dushanbe on 28 April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 April. The alliance will be known as the Organization of the Treaty on Collective Security (ODKB). The paper said the summit will formalize a split in the CIS between countries oriented toward Moscow and countries that now openly follow U.S. interests. While the ODKB countries are united by common military threats, says "Nezavisimaya gazeta," they also have political and economic disagreements, which means some of them will not follow Moscow's lead in foreign and military policies. "The United States, as a richer and more influential partner, remains Russia's chief rival even in the part of the CIS that is usually considered unequivocally 'pro-Russian.'" SS

RUSSIA, INDONESIA CEMENT TIES
President Vladimir Putin and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri on 21 April signed a broad declaration of cooperation covering both political and economic ties, utro.ru reported. The website added that Russia is expected to sell two Su-27 and two Su-30 fighters to Djakarta. Without mentioning the United States or Iraq, the declaration said the two countries "oppose any forms of intervention in the internal affairs of [other] states" and "attempts at undermining their territorial integrity and at internationalization under various pretexts," ITAR-TASS reported. The two leaders also expressed support for the role of the United Nations in resolving international crises and pledged to cooperate with one another on a broad range of issues, including the fight against terrorism. Indonesia hopes for Russian assistance in constructing a space center, according to utro.ru, and an Indonesian cosmonaut might participate in an upcoming Russian space mission. On 22 April, Sukarnoputri was expected to visit the Sukhoi testing ground to inspect the latest developments in Russian military aircraft. Since U.S. sanctions prevent Jakarta from acquiring weapons from Washington, Indonesia is a promising market for the Russian military-industrial complex. SS

TWO RETIRED PILOTS CHARGED WITH SPYING FOR CHINA
The FSB announced in Vladivostok on 19 April that two Russians have been charged with espionage, izvestia.ru reported on 22 April. While the official statement gave no details, the website said the accused were retired military pilots who allegedly illegally sold Chinese agents spare parts and classified information about Russian aircraft. FSB agents actually detained "several people," izvestia.ru reported, but released the others after identifying the two former pilots as the organizers. FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev said the arrests confirm "that the activities of foreign special services have intensified significantly" and added that counterintelligence agents will step up their safeguarding of state secrets. The website says the crackdown in Primorskii Krai, where the latest case occurred, is directed primarily against Chinese espionage. No one can remember any cases of U.S. or Japanese espionage in the region, izvestia.ru reported, while "Chinese agents are caught with enviable regularity." SS

RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN NAVIES TO HOLD ANNUAL EXERCISES
The annual joint exercises of the Russian and Ukrainian navies, called "Waterway of Peace 2003," will begin on 22 April in the Crimea, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 April. During the two days of war games, marines from the two countries will practice landing a peacekeeping contingent and will stage a mock battle on land. The exercises, which have been held since 1997, will include 10 ships, 16 armored personnel carriers, one airplane, one helicopter, and 200 troops. They will be under the command of Vice Admiral Vladimir Masorin, commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. The exercises' chief of staff will be Vice Admiral Viktor Fomin, first deputy commander in chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. SS

MOSCOW SENDS MIDDLE EAST ENVOY BACK TO REGION
Citing the "increased complexity of the situation," the Foreign Ministry dispatched its special representative to the Middle East, Andrei Vdovin, to the region on 22 April, Interfax reported. "We proceed from the fact that in the complex situation that is taking shape in the region, it is important not to relax efforts toward a Middle East settlement," the ministry said in a statement. It added that Vdovin's visit to the region will focus on supporting Palestinian reforms and on a possible resumption of the peace process based on a "road map." Interfax said "observers" suggest the latest trip, which follows shortly after Vdovin's last one, could be linked to infighting within the Palestinian National Authority over the formation of its new cabinet. SS

NEW CUSTOMS CODE MOVES CLOSER TO ENACTMENT
Duma deputies on 18 April voted to approve a new version of the Customs Code in its second reading, Russian media reported. The vote was 396 in favor, with one against and no abstentions, according to Interfax. The bill was passed in its first reading in November 1999 and has been stalled in the Duma since. A chief goal of the new version is to simplify the number of customs procedures and reduce the period for gaining customs approval. According to "Vremya-MN" on 19 April, compromises had to be hammered out between the State Customs Committee (GTK), Duma deputies, and representatives of the business community on around 4,000 amendments. Some members of the business community remain dissatisfied. Severstal Chairman Aleksei Mordashov told "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 April that the GTK will retain much of its power to interpret the law. However, Valerii Draganov, chairman of the Duma's Customs Subcommittee, told "Vremya-MN" that the most important feature of the bill is that it gives citizens the right to appeal to the Supreme Court concerning conflicts with customs officials. According to "The Moscow Times," GTK First Deputy Chairman Leonid Lozbenko said he expects the bill to pass remaining legislative hurdles quickly and be signed by the president in time to come into effect by 1 January. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL HEAD TAPPED TO LEAD ALTERNATIVE PARTY OF POWER...
At the Party of Life's first congress in Moscow on 19 April, delegates voted nearly unanimously to elect Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov as chairman of the party and chairman of the presidium of the party's national council, RosBalt reported. According to ITAR-TASS, Mironov ran unopposed for the positions. According to RTR, the party's goals are to support President Putin and to cooperate with the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Speaking at the conference, Mironov called on other political parties to participate in a special conference on "Honest Elections" to be held in September. Yabloko Deputy Vladimir Lukin, who attended the congress as a guest, commented to REN-TV that Putin faces a difficult choice of which party to join -- Unified Russia or the Party of Life -- since there seems to be little difference between them. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 April, first deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Medvedev attended the congress, conveying Putin's greetings. JAC

...AS PEOPLE'S PARTY GETS EXPERTS' NOD
In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 April, analysts from the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies concluded that Mironov's recent acknowledgement of Unified Russia's unquestioned leadership confirmed the assumption that the Party of Life is not going to present its own party list of candidates for the December State Duma elections. The analysts also concluded that Gennadii Raikov's People's Party currently has the best chance of success in the race among those parties considered close to the Kremlin. Raikov is the head of the People's Deputy group in the Duma. JAC

PRO-GOVERNOR BLOC WINS IN KUZBASS RACE...
Thirty-four candidates from the electoral bloc I Serve the Kuzbass for 35 seats in Kemerovo Oblast's legislature won in elections held on 20 April, RFE/RL's Kemerovo correspondent reported the next day. The bloc also did well in municipal elections, with 11 of 12 candidates to head cities or towns winning. The voting was peaceful, with the exception of the discovery of a homemade explosive device at one polling station, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 April. No one was injured in that incident. The I Serve the Kuzbass bloc was formed in February on the basis of local branches of Unified Russia and the People's Party and the oblast movement of People Power. The bloc's main goal is "to enable the realization of the course of [Kemerovo Oblast Governor] Aman Tuleev, which is directed at achieving sociopolitical stability and the renewal of the region." Tuleev supported the bloc and approved each candidate. JAC

...AS NORILSK RACE GOES TO SECOND ROUND
Also on 20 April, voters in Norilsk failed to elect a new mayor and a run-off election will be held, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Under election rules, a candidate must gather more than 50 percent of the total vote to win. According to preliminary results, trade union leader Valerii Melnikov had the most votes, with 45.9 percent, compared with 31.5 percent for Norilsk City Council Chairman Sergei Shmakov, RosBalt reported on 21 April. Shmakov is considered to be the candidate favored by Norilsk Nickel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). JAC

OLIGARCH ADDS SENIOR U.S. REPUBLICAN TO STABLE OF ADVISERS
Oleg Deripaska's Russian Aluminum has appointed Richard Thornburgh as its international adviser, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April, citing a company press release. Thornburgh is a former governor of Pennsylvania, a former U.S. attorney general under President George Bush, and UN undersecretary-general in charge of personnel, budget, and finance matters. Thornburgh is of counsel with the Washington office of the law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. JAC

GREF TAKES THREE WEEKS OFF TO RECOVER FROM ILLNESS
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref is taking a vacation from 21 April to 10 May to recover from an unspecified illness, Interfax reported on 21 April, citing Gref's press secretary. First Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Ivan Materov will be acting head of the ministry. The Kremlin on 22 April rejected a report in that day's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Gref intends to resign, strana.ru reported. JAC

CHECHENS CLAIM TO HAVE KILLED 17 POLICE
Chechen fighters claim to have killed 17 Chechen and Russian police in a 15 April attack on a bus outside Grozny, Reuters reported on 20 April. Footage posted on http://www.kavkazcenter.com, which is believed to be controlled by radical ideologue Movladi Udugov, shows a bus exploding. A second explosion minutes later targeted would-be rescuers. LF

AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD CALLS FOR UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACH TO FUNDING CHECHEN RECONSTRUCTION
Sergei Stepashin argued on 18 April during a visit by the Audit Chamber board to Grozny that a "special approach" is needed to raising funds for reconstruction in Chechnya, Reuters and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 and 22 April, respectively. Stepashin suggested that naming a single contractor and a single center for coordinating reconstruction would streamline funding. He also did not exclude the creation of a special economic zone in Chechnya, a possibility that Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov raised last month. Stepashin also told the meeting in Grozny that financial "irregularities" involving a total of 366 million rubles ($12.2 million) have been discovered in Chechnya, but added that the money was not stolen. Addressing the session, Kadyrov said it is necessary to demolish the impression that Chechnya is a financial "black hole" and that funds allocated for reconstruction are routinely stolen. In a commentary published in "Novaya gazeta," No. 26, Boris Kagarlitskii claimed that Kadyrov and his relatives preside over and benefit from the embezzlement of 90 percent of the funds transferred from Moscow to Chechnya. LF

NEW CHECHEN INTERIOR MINISTER APPOINTED
Colonel Ali Alikhanov, the former head of the Grozny transport police, has been named Chechen interior minister, Russian media reported on 18 April. Alikhanov replaces Ruslan Tsakaev, who resigned earlier this month and is expected soon to take up a new, unspecified post in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). Chechen Prime Minister Anatolii Popov and Security Council head Rudnik Dudaev both spoke highly of Alikhanov, whom Chechen administration head Kadyrov named on 4 April as one of several possible candidates to succeed Tsakaev. LF

BUDANOV RETRIAL OPENS
The repeat trial of Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is charged with murdering a young Chechen woman in March 2000, opened in the North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-na-Donu on 21 April, Interfax reported. The Russian Supreme Court in February overturned a ruling of that court last December that Budanov was clinically insane and in need of psychiatric treatment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January and 3 March 2003). The court on 21 April rejected a request by lawyer Abdulla Khamzaev, who represents the slain woman's parents, to disqualify members of the court on the grounds of bias. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY-ELECTION CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF...
Official campaigning for the 25 May parliamentary election began on 21 April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Central Election Commission has registered 1,084 candidates representing 17 parties and four blocs to contest the 75 mandates to be distributed under the proportional system. A further 406 candidates are competing for the remaining 56 single-mandate seats. Some 60 prospective candidates were denied registration, including Armen Sargsian, who is currently in detention under suspicion of involvement in the slaying of Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003), Noyan Tapan reported. Arshak Sadoyan, who represents the opposition National Democratic bloc in the outgoing parliament, was denied registration on the pretext that his property declaration incorrectly stated the dimensions of his Yerevan apartment, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hayk Babukhanian of the Union of Constitutional Rights was also denied registration due to alleged omissions in his property declaration, Noyan Tapan reported on 21 April. LF

...AFTER OPPOSITION LEADER WITHDRAWS
U.S.-born former Armenian Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian announced on 21 April that the Zharangutiun (Heritage) bloc he heads will not take part in the parliamentary elections, as he has little hope the poll will be democratic and does not wish "to take part in a public performance," Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hovannisian was denied registration to contest the February presidential election on the grounds that he had not been a citizen of the Republic of Armenia for the previous 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). LF

ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN REJECTS CRITICISM OF ELECTION RULING...
Gagik Harutiunian told journalists in Yerevan on 18 April that criticism by the pro-presidential media of the court's 16 April statement on the outcome of the February-March presidential election is misplaced, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That statement rejected the appeal by defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian to annul the vote on the grounds of procedural and constitutional violations. But at the same time it acknowledged that official returns from some 40 constituencies across Armenia are "not credible" due to ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities, and recommended holding a "referendum of confidence" in the country's leadership within the next 12 months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). Harutiunian denied that the proposed referendum of confidence implies doubts that the election was legitimate. He explained that such a referendum is one of several initiatives proposed last year by the Council of Europe to resolve a standoff between the authorities and the public, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

...AS LOWER-LEVEL COURT PERSONNEL RESIGN
A group of Constitutional Court staffers resigned on 21 April to protest the court's "judicially illiterate" ruling on the disputed presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 22 April quoting the newspapers "Yerkir" and "Hayots Ashkhar." LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES NEW CRIMINAL CODE
Deputies approved a new Criminal Code on 18 April in all three readings, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The vote in the third reading was 71 in favor with one abstention, according to Noyan Tapan. One week earlier, deputies had rejected the bill, which abolishes capital punishment in peace time but contains a special provision allowing for the death sentence to be handed down to the five men currently on trial for the killing of eight senior officials in the parliament chamber in October 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003). That trial was scheduled to resume on 18 April after a lengthy hiatus caused by the illness of presiding judge Samvel Uzunian, but was again adjourned due to the illness of one of the defendants, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

BRITISH INVESTOR CEDES CONTROL OF ARMENIAN CHEMICAL PLANT
The British-registered Ransat group, which signed a five-year agreement with the Armenian government in 2002 to take over management of the Nairit chemical plant in Yerevan, has handed control of that plant and of a second chemical complex in the northern town of Vanadzor back to the Armenian authorities, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 18 April. Armenian officials have repeatedly accused Ransat of failing to make good on its pledge to invest $25 million in the plant, which has stood idle since last fall after electricity supplies were cut off due to nonpayment of bills. Ransat also reportedly owes the plant's staff several months' wages. Armenian Deputy Industry Minister Ashot Shahnazarian said on 18 April the Armenian government is holding talks with unnamed Russian companies that have expressed interest in acquiring Nairit, Armenia's largest chemical plant. LF

PACE RAPPORTEUR DISCUSSES KARABAKH WITH ARMENIAN OFFICIALS
Terry Davis, the British MP who is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's rapporteur for the Karabakh conflict, held talks in Yerevan on 17 April with Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, and parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian, and on 18 April with President Robert Kocharian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Davis explained to journalists that the Council of Europe does not seek to replace the OSCE as the body responsible for mediating a solution to the Karabakh conflict but is concerned insofar as the conflict involves two Council of Europe members. Davis is to submit a report on the conflict at the end of this year. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT COLLAPSES TWICE, RECOVERS
Heidar Aliev collapsed twice on 21 April while delivering a televised speech at the Palace of the Republic in Baku to mark the 30th anniversary of the Jamshid Nakhichevanskii Military College, international and local media reported. Television viewers saw Aliev clutch at his heart and gasp "something has struck me," before leaving the podium supported by aides, AFP and Reuters reported. Aliev returned to the podium 15 minutes later to tumultuous applause and resumed his address, blaming his indisposition on "the evil eye." But he collapsed again minutes later, striking his head against the podium and apparently losing consciousness. He then returned to the hall a second time to finish his address, and left the building, walking very slowly and looking pale, according to Turan. A medical bulletin attributed his incapacitation to low blood pressure. The independent daily "Azadlyg" reported on 22 April that an unofficial state of emergency has been declared in Baku, and "Hurriyet" reported that physicians have been summoned from Turkey to examine the 79-year-old president, who underwent heart bypass surgery in 1999. Aliev was at work as usual on 22 April. LF

AZERBAIJAN AFFIRMS INTENTION TO JOIN NATO
Meeting in Baku on 18 April with Bruce Jackson, chairman of the nongovernmental U.S. NATO Committee, President Aliev unequivocally stated publicly for the first time that, since signing up in 1994 for NATO's Partnership for Peace program, Azerbaijan has quietly been implementing all the measures necessary to qualify for membership of the Atlantic alliance, zerkalo.az reported. Jackson hinted at a meeting with journalists the previous day that if Baku failed to clarify its intentions with regard to NATO, it could be passed over when the next formal invitations to join NATO are extended, possibly at the organization's 2004 summit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). LF

AZERBAIJAN TO SEND TROOPS TO IRAQ
Azerbaijan is holding consultations on dispatching to Iraq 150 troops to guard Muslim holy sites in the cities of Karbala, Kirkuk, and Mosul, Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev told journalists in Baku on 19 April, Interfax and the "Turkish Daily News" reported. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Embassy in Baku has suspended its activities, Turan reported on 21 April. LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST DETAINED
Rauf Arifoglu, the radical editor of the independent daily "Yeni Musavat," was detained on 21 April at Baku's Bina Airport on his return from Turkey for allegedly trying to smuggle religious literature into the country, Turan reported on 21 April. Arifoglu told the agency the journals in question were published by the Azerbaijani Cultural Center in Ankara and have no bearing on religion. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS OF THREAT OF DICTATORSHIP...
Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 21 April, Nino Burdjanadze compared the alignment of pro-presidential political parties in the For New Georgia election bloc with the forced collectivization campaign of the 1930s, Caucasus Press reported. She further warned that the policies of President Eduard Shevardnadze herald a retreat from democracy to dictatorship. Burdjanadze urged opposition factions to align, arguing that if they fail to do so they will have no chance of winning the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2 November. She said "serious consultations" are under way on creating an opposition election bloc. LF

...AS OPPOSITION PARTIES DISCUSS ELECTION ALIGNMENTS
On 18 April, Burdjanadze's predecessor as parliament speaker, Zurab Zhvania, said he is prepared to cede the leadership of his opposition United Democrats if a broad opposition alignment materializes, Caucasus Press reported. On 19 April, Tbilisi Municipal Council Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili said he will resign from that post to head an opposition election bloc. Other leading members of Saakashvili's National Movement said the movement has embarked on consultations with other opposition parties on creating such an election alignment. LF

EXPLOSION DAMAGES ABKHAZ OPPOSITION HEADQUARTERS
The office in Sukhum of Amtsakhara, the union of veterans of the 1992-93 war with Georgia, was damaged late on 18 April by an explosion that injured several people, Caucasus Press reported. Givi Agrba, who heads the Abkhaz State Security Service, blamed the blast on unnamed persons who, he said, are trying to take advantage of the domestic political tensions in Abkhazia to reimpose the central Georgian government's control over the unrecognized breakaway republic. Amtsakhara, which has some 10,000 registered members, advocates independence for Abkhazia and the closest possible ties with Russia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 18 April 2003). LF

TURKISH MILITARY PLEDGES FURTHER AID FOR GEORGIA
On a one-day visit to Tbilisi on 18 April, Turkish Army Chief of General Staff General Hilmi Ozkok said the Turkish government will increase its military assistance to Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said that during talks with Ozkok the possibility of Turkey launching a training program for the Georgian military comparable to the U.S.-funded "Train and Equip" program was discussed. Bezhuashvili said Ankara will also assist with the creation of an antiterrorism battalion in the Georgian Navy. LF

KAZAKH ACTIVISTS OPPOSE DRAFT LAW ON NONCOMMERCIAL ORGANIZATIONS
A number of Kazakh nongovernmental organizations oppose a draft law on such bodies that is being discussed by the government, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 21 April. Marat Aytmagambetov, head of the Network of Centers for Support of Civil Society, said in Almaty that the definitions of NGOs contained in the draft are vague and could be interpreted arbitrarily by the authorities. The definition of NGO in the draft includes noncommercial groups that are involved in public-service work and could be used to divide NGOs into those that suit the authorities and those that do not. The draft also includes restrictions on foreign noncommercial organizations working in Kazakhstan that could impact domestic groups, all of which are dependent to some extent on foreign grants from private groups and international institutions. Aytmagambetov said he fears foreign NGOs might have to reduce their investment in Kazakhstan's social sector or withdraw from the country. According to the report, he called for a public discussion of the bill. BB

KYRGYZ VILLAGE HAD WARNING OF LANDSLIDE DANGER
Anarkul Aytaliev, head of the Kyrgyz Ecology and Emergency Situations Ministry's department for forecasting and monitoring emergencies and dealing with waste dumps, told a news conference on 21 April that the village of Kara-Taryk was warned by experts of the danger of landslides two days before the 20 April landslip that is believed to have claimed 34 lives, akipress.org reported. Heavy rains in the southern part of the country have increased the possibility of landslides in several areas in the Osh and Djalal-Abad oblasts and in the mountainous Naryn Oblast of central Kyrgyzstan, Aytaliev said. The slide that devastated Kara-Taryk contained about 1.5 million cubic meters of soil, according to Aytaliev, with some 10 million-12 million cubic meters still posing a threat. As of midday on 21 April, rescuers had removed four bodies from the landslide in Kara-Taryk. BB

KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN GAINS RIGHT TO VISIT PRISONS
The lower house of Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 21 April adopted enabling legislation that gives the country's ombudsman the right to visit prisons and other detention facilities, akipress.org reported. This right previously was limited to the president, prime minister, and members of parliament. The new legislation makes changes in the Administrative Procedural Code in accord with the law defining the responsibilities of the ombudsman. The code now sets an administrative fine of 10-30 minimum monthly wages for state officials who unlawfully interfere in the work of the ombudsman when he is checking on possible violations of the constitutional rights and freedoms of Kyrgyz citizens. Officials who prevent the ombudsman from carrying out his duties as set out in the law creating the institution of ombudsman are to be fined 100-200 minimum monthly wages, according to the report. BB

RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS FOR BETTER REGULATION OF TAJIK LABOR MIGRATION
Russian State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Belyakov (Unity), co-chairman of the Tajik-Russian parliamentary commission on cooperation between the lower houses of the countries' parliaments, said on 18 April that the two countries must do more to regulate labor migration, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 April. The commission has been meeting in Dushanbe for the last week to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including security and combating drug trafficking. Belyakov was quoted as saying that an agreement exists under which Tajikistan may send labor migrants to Russia in an organized manner, but he called for the creation in Russia of agencies or centers to protect the rights of Tajik migrants. He suggested that Turkish centers for Turks working in Europe could provide a model. According to the report, Belyakov was very complimentary about Tajik laborers, saying Russian employers appreciate "their liking for hard work, honesty, conscientiousness, and decency," as well as their willingness to do work that Russians shun. He added that Russian employers also appreciate the fact that Tajiks do not drink alcohol. BB

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION CENSURES TURKMENISTAN
The UN High Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on 16 April expressing its concern about limitations and violations of human rights in Turkmenistan and calling on the UN secretary-general to raise the issue of Turkmenistan at the fall session of the UN General Assembly, "Vremya novostei" reported on 18 April. The daily noted that the resolution mentioned a series of recent laws that the commission claims violate basic human rights, starting with the 2001 decree requiring that foreigners pay $50,000 in order to marry Turkmen citizens and ending with the restoration of the exit-visa regime in March 2003. The resolution also notes that the situation sharply deteriorated after the purported assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov in November 2002 and calls for an immediate end to mass repressions, the extrajudicial harassment of opposition figures and their families, the fabrication of evidence against people suspected of involvement in the assassination attempt, and the use of torture by law enforcement officials, and demands that those responsible for violations of human rights be prosecuted. The resolution also censured Turkmenistan for its lack of cooperation with international organizations. "Vremya novostei" noted that the resolution was approved by 23 countries on the commission. Russia, Ukraine, and Armenia -- all of which are involved in gas deals with Turkmenistan -- joined 13 other countries in voting against, while 14 abstained. BB

TURKMEN PRESIDENT SIGNS ANOTHER GAS CONTRACT
President Niyazov concluded a 10-year contract with the head of the Russian energy firm Itera, Igor Makarov, on 21 April to supply 10 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually, Central Asian News reported the following day. However, Turkmenistan lacks 500 billion cubic meters of the gas it needs in order to fulfill its contracts with Russia and Ukraine, the article notes. A proposed 25-year deal to supply Ukraine with Turkmen gas has not yet been signed. In order to provide the amounts required by 2007, the country will have to produce at least 115 billion-120 billion cubic meters annually. At present it produces 60 billion. This means that within four years Turkmenistan will have to double its gas production and, at the same time, greatly expand its pipeline system. BB

UZBEK GOVERNMENT APPROVES PRIVATIZATION PROGRAM
Uzbekistan's cabinet of ministers has approved a denationalization and privatization program for 2003-04, and it was signed by President Islam Karimov on 17 April, centrasia.ru reported on 21 April. The decree divides state firms into four categories. In the first two are firms that are either to be completely privatized or in which government shares are to be sold off. The third group, consisting of stagnating firms, is to be privatized or liquidated. The fourth group consists of strategically important industries in which the government will retain at least a 51 percent share. These are to be reorganized, and the responsibilities of their directors increased. Presumably, the decree was promulgated in response to pressures from international lending agencies calling for the acceleration of the privatization process in Uzbekistan. It might also be intended to create a favorable impression on the international community prior to the upcoming annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Tashkent. BB

MILLIONS OF BELARUSIANS TURN OUT TO TOIL FOR FREE
Some 3.5 million people in Belarus, a country of 10 million, took part in a "subbotnik," a day of unpaid voluntary labor, on 19 April, Belapan reported. The number reportedly included more than 700,000 pupils, students, and retirees. In Minsk, a city of about 1.7 million, more than 568,000 people took part in the subbotnik. The government directed citizens to work for free in order to raise money for construction of a new wing of the National Library (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003). JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S RATING HITS RECORD LOW
The Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies announced that just 26.2 percent of respondents in a March-April poll said they would vote for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, marking a record low by the agency's reckoning, Belapan reported on 21 April. Of the nearly 1,500 Belarusians polled, 23.2 percent said Lukashenka rules the country well enough to be re-elected, while 64.1 percent said his post should be taken over by "someone else" and 12.7 percent were undecided. Only 17.1 percent of respondents declared that they would approve constitutional changes that could allow Lukashenka to run for another term, whereas 47 percent said they would vote against such changes, and 27.5 percent were undecided. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER BECOMES PARTY LEADER
A congress of the Party of Regions in Kyiv on 19 April elected Premier Viktor Yanukovych to succeed Chairman Volodymyr Semynozhenko, Interfax and UNIAN reported. First Deputy Premier Mykola Azarov became head of the party's Political Council. Yanukovych told the congress that the party's immediate task is to help implement political reforms -- in particular, to introduce a bicameral parliament and a system of strictly proportional representation. After the congress, Yanukovych told journalists that the Party of Regions will seek to field a single presidential candidate in cooperation with other centrist parties. Some Ukrainian observers believe that, by accepting the party leadership, Yanukovych has positioned himself as a possible contender in next year's presidential ballot. JM

RUSSIAN-SPEAKING STUDENTS IN ESTONIA CALL FOR GREATER EFFORT TO TEACH ESTONIAN
Russian-speaking students told a meeting of the Federation of Estonian Student Unions (EUL) on 21 April that their poor command of the Estonian language is in great part due to the low level of teaching Estonian in schools, BNS reported. Tartu University student Marianna Drozdova said the level of teaching Estonian at Russian-language high schools is very poor and that "no interest is created in learning Estonian in Russian schools." EUL officials noted that while Russian speakers make up 35 percent of Estonia's population, they account for only 15 percent of students in institutions of higher learning, indicating that Russian-speaking students' access to higher education is insufficient. The EUL promised to present the problems expressed by the Russian-speaking students to the Education and Science Ministry. SG

MAKEUP OF LATVIAN ARMED FORCES MISSION TO KUWAIT APPROVED
The Defense Ministry approved the makeup of the Latvian armed forces' mission to Kuwait, LETA reported on 18 April. The mission will comprise three officers and 36 servicemen, all of whom are volunteers with at least three years of military service. A total of 41 soldiers were selected from the more than 100 who applied, allowing a reserve of five soldiers. Although some women applied for the mission, none were selected. The mission's commander, Major Aivars Cain, and two officers are scheduled to fly to Kuwait in April to conclude a Latvian-U.S. technical-cooperation agreement on the deployment of the Latvian troops, who will serve in U.S. Army-led units starting in May. The mission will serve up to the six months permitted by Latvian regulations. SG

LITHUANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER, POLICE CHIEF SETTLE DISPUTE
Interior Minister Juozas Bernatonis and Police Commissioner-General Vytautas Grigaravicius issued a joint press release on 19 April stating that they settled their differences during a meeting they held that day with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and parliamentary Law Committee Chairman Aloyzas Sakalas, BNS reported. Bernatonis suspended Grigaravicius earlier in the month for allegedly approving the unlawful collection of information regarding high-ranking officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). The reconciliation seems to have been prompted by a decision reportedly made the previous day during a closed lunch of the cabinet that the two officials would be fired if they did not settle their differences before Easter. SG

POLAND FINALIZES PURCHASE OF F-16 FIGHTERS
Poland and the United States signed a $3.5 billion contract on the supply of 48 F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to the Polish Army in 2006-08, Polish media reported. "We can call this the contract of the century," said Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, one of the signatories on behalf of the Polish government. Under the contract, Poland will obtain 48 F16 CD Block 52+ jet fighters in 2006-08. The purchase will be directly financed by a U.S. government loan that Poland should repay in 2011-15. Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko estimates that the cost of servicing the $3.8 billion loan will not exceed $1.2 billion. Lockheed Martin and a number of other U.S. firms (including General Motors and Motorola) have committed themselves to more than $6 billion in direct and indirect offsets in Poland in 2003-13 through 43 offset projects involving the purchase of Polish commodities, direct investments into Polish production, and the transfer of U.S. technology (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 22 April 2002). JM

STALINIST-ERA JUDGE SENTENCED IN POLAND FOR JUDICIAL CRIME
The Warsaw Military Court on 18 April sentenced a former military judge, identified as Tadeusz N., 89, to two years in prison for illegally sentencing a man to prison in 1950, Polish Radio reported. The court found the former judge guilty of improperly sentencing Marian Darasz of Szczecin to six years in prison. The decision marks the first prison sentence handed down by a Polish court in a case involving judicial crimes committed during the Stalin era. Leon Kieres, chairman of the National Remembrance Institute (IPN), said IPN prosecutors are preparing more than 40 indictments in cases of alleged judicial crimes and murders. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT CALLS REFERENDUM ON EU ACCESSION...
President Vaclav Klaus on 18 April signed into law parliamentary-approved legislation that calls for a Czech referendum on EU accession on 13-14 June, CTK reported. At a ceremony held at the government office the same day, Klaus and Premier Vladimir Spidla thanked all those who contributed to the successful Czech bid to join the EU, including former President Vaclav Havel. The Czech Republic is expected to join by May 2004, along with nine other candidate countries. MS

...AS CLASH ESCALATES WITH FOREIGN MINISTER OVER APPROACH TO EU
President Klaus rebuked Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda in an 18 April letter for his "unjustified, incorrect, and misleading" characterization of Klaus's EU policy, dpa reported. In the letter, Klaus invited Svoboda to Prague Castle -- the official presidential seat -- to "explain his defamatory statements in the media," the news agency reported. Svoboda turned down the invitation, according to a spokesman. The latest dispute over policy toward Brussels erupted after Klaus, Spidla, and Svoboda attended the signing ceremony of the EU Treaty of Accession in Athens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). MS

CZECH LOWER HOUSE ELECTS OBSERVERS FOR EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
The Chamber of Deputies on 18 April elected 17 observers to represent the Czech Republic in the European Parliament until the 2004 elections to that body, CTK reported. The Czech upper house elected seven of its own observers to the European Parliament earlier this year. The senior ruling Social Democratic Party will dispatch seven of the combined 24 observers from both houses of parliament, while the main opposition Civic Democratic Party will dispatch eight; the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia will send three representatives, while the junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party and Freedom Union-Democratic Union parties will have three and two, respectively, and the Civic Democratic Alliance -- which is represented only in the Senate -- one. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER DISMISSES PROPOSAL TO RECALL HIS DEPUTY
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told Slovak Radio on 19 April that Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico's effort to oust Deputy Premier Pal Csaky for allegedly insufficient preparations for the 16-17 May EU referendum is baseless, TASR reported. Fico's party is collecting signatures aimed at forcing a special parliamentary session to discuss Csaky's dismissal. Dzurinda said the move reflects Fico's inability to rise above narrow party interests at a time when all Slovaks need to be united. In related news, coalition representatives said on 18 April that it is "premature" to debate a coalition deputy's proposal to link the EU referendum to the fate of the government. Alliance for a New Citizen deputy Lubomir Lintner believes the government should resign if the electorate rejects accession in the referendum, TASR reported, and made the proposal during a televised debate on 17 April. MS

IMPORTANT SERBIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT TURNS HIMSELF IN
Former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) Captain Miroslav Radic turned himself in to Serbian authorities in Belgrade on 21 April, "The New York Times" reported. Radic is one of three prominent former officers whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted in connection with the massacre of up to 300 Croats near Vukovar following the fall of that city in November 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2003). Former General Mile Mrksic, one of the other two indicted men, surrendered in 2002. The other, former Major Veselin Sljivancanin, is still at large. Serbia and Montenegro Defense Minister Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 21 April that he hopes Sljivancanin will soon turn himself in, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic also said he hopes Sljivancanin will follow Radic's example, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. PM

DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS FOR INTEGRATION OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO INTO NATO
Tadic said in Belgrade on 19 April that the army must become an instrument of Serbia and Montenegro's integration into international military and security structures, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003). In related news, the parliament set up an eight-member commission on 18 April to supervise the security forces, marking the first time that those forces have been placed under civilian control. PM

CALLS FOR CLOSER COOPERATION BETWEEN MONTENEGRO AND VOJVODINA
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic led a Montenegrin delegation to Novi Sad on 18 April to discuss cooperation with top officials in Vojvodina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Nenad Canak, who is speaker of Vojvodina's parliament, said Montenegro's experience "on the road to Europe" is of "great significance" for Vojvodina and to Serbia as a whole. PM

LEADING MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE PREDICTS 'UNINTERESTING' CAMPAIGN
Filip Vujanovic, the presidential candidate of the governing coalition ahead of the 11 May election, said in Podgorica on 21 April that he expects the campaign will be "uninteresting" because the opposition Together for Change coalition failed to agree on a joint candidate in time for the recent deadline for filing, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February and 11 March 2003). He officially launched his election campaign in Bijelo Polje. Several leading politicians from the opposition coalition said recently that the failure effectively marks the end of Together for Change on the republican level. The Republican Election Commission has certified the candidacies of Vujanovic and Miodrag Zivkovic of the Liberal Alliance. The commission has yet to rule on the candidacy of independent candidate Dragan Hajdukovic. PM

SERBIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP INDICTED FOR 'DEBAUCHERY'
The District Prosecutor's Office in Vranje indicted Serbian Orthodox Bishop Pahomije on 21 April on charges of "debauchery" following a three-month investigation into charges that he sexually abused six young males, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January and 12 February 2003). Pahomije and his supporters claim the charges are part of an unspecified campaign to defame the church. Lawyers representing the youths said the young men and several witnesses in the case have received threatening telephone calls in recent weeks. PM

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER WRAPS UP OFFICIAL VISIT TO MACEDONIA
Simeon Saxecoburggotski ended his three-day official visit to Macedonia on 21 April, Macedonian and Bulgarian reported. He met with several senior Macedonian officials, including President Boris Trajkovski, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, and leaders of the major opposition parties. The talks focused on bilateral relations, the two countries' efforts to achieve NATO and EU integration, joint infrastructure projects such as the so-called Transport Corridor No. 8 connecting the Adriatic with the Black Sea, as well as on interethnic relations in Macedonia. "Politics is important as an experience and as a tool, but for me the economy comes first. In this respect, I believe that Macedonia and Bulgaria, despite having good relations, have [yet] to boost their economic relations," dpa quoted Saxecoburggotski as saying after his meeting with Crvenkovski (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002). UB

U.S. ASKS ROMANIA TO SEND PEACEKEEPING FORCE TO IRAQ
Defense Ministry State Secretary George Maior said on 18 April in an interview with the private Antena 1 television channel that the United States has asked Romania to participate in a postwar stabilization force in Iraq, AFP reported. Maior said Romania is considering the request and that Bucharest could contribute an engineering corps, military police, and medical teams. Romania has already deployed a 55-strong anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit to the Persian Gulf out of the 278 noncombat troops it has earmarked for deployment to the area. President Ion Iliescu said on 20 April that Romania intends to participate in Iraq's postwar reconstruction and to participate in an international peacekeeping force in that country, Romanian Radio reported. Parleys are under way with coalition members to establish how Romania can contribute to that force, he said. MS

ROMANIAN SOLDIERS UNCOVER LARGE WEAPONS CACHE IN AFGHANISTAN
Romanian soldiers uncovered thousands of rockets and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition on 16-17 April in what is being reported as the largest weapons cache discovered by U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, AFP reported, citing U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King. King said the Romanian troops discovered the cache while participating in Operation Carpathian Lightning near Qalat, capital of Afghanistan's southern Zabul Province. The operation was the third for the Romanian forces, which usually carry out "force protection" for the coalition base in Kandahar. MS

INDONESIAN PRESIDENT IN ROMANIA
Visiting Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri met in Bucharest on 18 April with President Iliescu to discuss bilateral relations and commercial ties in particular, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The two leaders said bilateral commercial ties are far below their potential. They reviewed the global situation, especially in the wake of the Iraq conflict, saying their views are similar on many points. Six agreements were signed by officials of the two countries in the presence of the two presidents, according to Mediafax. The accords deal with cooperation between the two countries' foreign ministries, scientific and technological cooperation, and an agreement on Romania's participation in the construction of a power plant in Indonesia. President Sukarnoputri also met with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, and on 19 April she was received by Chamber of Deputies speaker Valer Dorneanu. MS

ROMANIAN LIBERALS 'SWALLOW' UFD
The Union of Democratic Forces (UFD) was merged into the National Liberal Party (PNL) at a joint congress of the two formations held on 19 April, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Former UFD leaders Adrian Iorgulescu and Varujan Vosganian were co-opted into the PNL Executive Bureau. In a speech delivered at the extraordinary congress, PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan harshly criticized the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), calling it a danger to democracy. Stolojan said the PSD is being turned into a "state party" and is infringing on the prerogatives of the legislature. He also said the PSD is obstructing opposition parties' access to the state electronic media and is encouraging corruption. Public Information Minister Vasile Dancu the same day rejected Stolojan's accusations, calling the PNL a "pocket party" that attempts to use rhetoric to explain its inability to attract more than 10 percent of the electorate. The PNL extraordinary congress ended with an appeal to other opposition parties to set up an alliance against the PSD. MS

PRO-MONARCHY ROMANIAN ORGANIZATIONS SET UP ALLIANCE
In Sibiu on 19 April, eight Romania-based organizations supporting a return to constitutional monarchy and one U.S.-based Romanian organization established the Alliance for Monarchy, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIA LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO OVERPRICED AIDS DRUGS
The government on 19 April launched a corruption probe of the country's Health Ministry after U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest said on 15 April that drugs for fighting AIDS cost 50 percent more in Romania than they do in the United States and alleged corrupt dealings with suppliers, AFP reported. The inquiry follows a report by a government watchdog that found that the Health Ministry effectively barred foreign companies from taking part in a tender for AIDS drugs in 2002. The report said that the ministry "had not taken into consideration an agreement made with the [pharmaceutical] company GlaxoSmithKline, which promised reductions of up to 87 percent in the price of AIDS medicines." The contract was won by four Romanian importers that levied "taxes and commissions worth 55 percent of the value of the drugs," according to the report, as cited by AFP. MS

ROMANIA, EU LAUNCH PROGRAM TO UPGRADE TOWN INFRASTRUCTURES
The Romanian government and the European Commission on 21 April launched a joint 380 million euro ($413.8 million) program to upgrade the infrastructures of some 200 Romanian towns, AFP reported. A European Commission communique released in Bucharest said the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank will invest half of the money to modernize water distribution, sewage, and purification systems and to improve public services used by 6 million people. MS

MOLDOVA TO SEND PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
Moldova will send troops to Iraq to be deployed for "humanitarian purposes," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 21 April, citing a presidential office communique. The troops are to be dispatched to Iraq following a request made by U.S. authorities. The Supreme Council for Security empowered the Defense Ministry to select a team of engineers and medical doctors, who are to participate in demining operations and assist in extending medical assistance to civilians, the communique said. At a December 2002 meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington, President Vladimir Voronin pledged to dispatch engineering troops to Afghanistan, but the troops have not been sent due to a lack of funding. MS

MOLDOVAN PPCD LAUNCHES LOCAL ELECTIONS CAMPAIGN
Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said on 21 April that incumbent Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean is a "false alternative" to Nicolae Zgardan, the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists' candidate for the post, in the ballot scheduled for 25 May, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. Rosca said the only real alternative to Urechean is the PPCD candidate in the local elections -- his deputy Vlad Cubreacov. Rosca spoke at a press conference marking the start of the PPCD local-elections campaign. He said the PPCD hopes to obtain as good a result as possible in the elections in order to demonstrate that voters oppose President Voronin's plan to federalize Moldova. MS

MOLDOVAN CANDIDATE FOR CHISINAU MAYOR RESIGNS FROM LIBERAL PARTY
Mihail Severovan told journalists on 21 April that he has resigned from the Liberal Party and has withdrawn his name from that party's lists for the Chisinau Municipal Council, Flux reported. On 18 April, Severovan, who is a former Development Minister, submitted his own candidacy for the post of Chisinau mayor on lists separate from those of the Liberals. He said the Our Moldova electoral alliance established by the Liberal Party with the Braghis Alliance and the Alliance for Independents, which is backing Urechean for the post of Chisinau mayor, was a "hasty" step that demonstrated that the Liberals "do not have a sufficiently strong political force to run [their] own candidate." On 21 April, the three members of the Our Moldova alliance announced their intention to merge before 20 May, Infotag reported. The same day, the Our Moldova alliance protested against the detention of its candidate for the post of Hincesti mayor, Vasile Colta. Liberal Party Chairman Vyacheslav Untila told journalists that Colta was detained on 18 April in connection with a procedure launched against him in 1999 pertaining to alleged irregularities linked to the construction of a local stadium. Untila called the move a "purely political act," according to Infotag. The chairman of the Braghis Alliance, former Premier Dumitru Braghis, said this is not the only instance in which the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists is employing intimidation and threats against the Our Moldova alliance ahead of the local elections. MS

MOLDOVAN DEPUTY PREMIER SAYS POVERTY IS COUNTRY'S CHIEF PROBLEM
Deputy Premier and Economy Minister Stefan Odagiu said on 18 April that Moldova's main problem continues to be poverty, Infotag reported. Odagiu, who presented the government's final draft of its National Strategy for Combating Poverty, said 26.2 percent of Moldovan citizens live below the poverty level. He said the monthly income of families living below that level is less than 212 lei ($14.39), which is "barely sufficient to avoid starvation." According to Odagiu, every fourth Moldovan "lives in extreme poverty." In rural localities, the number of those living in poverty is 1.6 times greater than in urban areas, he said. MS

BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY STARTS VOLUNTEER SELECTION FOR IRAQ
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov announced on 21 April that he has ordered the selection of 170 volunteers to be deployed to Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. Svinarov added that the number and composition of the troops was proposed by the General Staff. It is to be made up of three infantry platoons with armored troop transporters, one logistics section, and one technical section (with chemical analysis as well as engineering and sapper sub-units). Svinarov said the cabinet will approve the deployment by the end of this week, but added that he does not expect the parliament to do so before the Orthodox Easter holidays this weekend. Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev previously announced that the contingent could be ready by 26 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). UB

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY REPORTS CONNECTIONS AMONG POLITICIANS, JUDICIARY, AND UNDERWORLD...
Following the attempted killing of businessman Ivan Todorov (a.k.a The Doctor) on 18 April, in which his driver died, the Interior Ministry has prepared a report that reportedly reveals connections among politicians, magistrates, and organized-crime structures, mediapool.bg reported. Boyko Borisov, the ministry's chief secretary, told Bulgarian National Radio on 20 April that the report contains photographs of meetings among former and current politicians, magistrates, and members of the underworld. According to Borisov, the attempt on Todorov's life was ordered by the same foreign organized-crime structure from an unspecified country that was responsible for the killings of former Prosecutor Nikolay Kolev and businessman Iliya Pavlov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002 and 6 January and 10 March 2003). UB

...WHICH PROMPTS MIXED REACTIONS
Government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev said on 21 April that such reports are being prepared on a regular basis and that this was nothing special, mediapool.bg reported. He added, however, that this report presented concrete cases for the first time. Several lawmakers of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) demanded that the report be made available to parliament. Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the NDSV's junior coalition partner Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), declined to comment on the report but ruled out that members of his party were mentioned in it. Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev told Darik Radio on 21 April that Borisov informed him in a meeting that the BSP was the only party that the report did not claim has connections with the underworld. UB

RUSSIA AND OIL: THE LIMITS OF A GOOD THING
Economists and Russian politicians are in complete agreement that the country's production and export of crude oil are critical to its economic well-being. That agreement begins to crumble, however, over the question of whether continuing high oil prices are good or bad for the country's economy and its sustained development. There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue, but there is very little consensus on whether the high liquidity being pumped into the economy is discouraging international portfolio investors from entering the Russian market. While it might be years before a conclusive assessment of this issue can be reached, Russia's policymakers would be well advised to reconsider the value oil has for the economy.

With the world economy stalled and the United States, Europe, and Japan facing challenging economic times, Russia appears to be a truly amazing anomaly. Its macroeconomic indicators would be the envy of any leader in the Western industrialized world. Moscow's landscape is being transformed on a daily basis. Construction works are everywhere, and fashionable shops and restaurants seem to be proliferating overnight like mushrooms. The ubiquitous cellular phone, a virtual symbol of the "middle class," can be found as easily as a kiosk that sells vodka.

It is hard to disagree with those who claim that high oil prices are a windfall for Russia's present and possible future economic growth. The economic argument underpinning that hypothesis is that the liquidity created by high hydrocarbon prices and demand only jump-started the economy on the back of the 1998 financial crisis. Present and future growth are and will be sustained by domestic credit, continued and increased foreign borrowing, and -- most importantly -- sustained consumer confidence. The supporters of this position claim that the almost $50 billion Russians have hidden under their mattresses are finally seeing the light of day. It is, again, difficult to argue with this point. Affluent Russians appear to be on a "shop-till-you-drop" buying binge.

A further aspect of this argument is that the political stability under President Vladimir Putin is encouraging the repatriation of Russian wealth held abroad, which is estimated to be as much as $160 billion. Because Russian money is returning, this argument asserts, foreign direct investment will follow, as economic growth has been sustained since 1998 and disposable incomes have increased.

Those who warn against putting so much faith in oil as an engine of economic growth see Russia's present and future differently. They contend that there is no doubt that the economy's growth has been the result of petrodollar liquidity -- in fact, this is their worst worry. Their concern stems from the fact that, if oil prices drop significantly, even over the short term, Russia's recent boom could easily turn into a bust.

This camp points out that Russia's ability to borrow from international capital markets -- $9 billion during the first three months of this year -- is due to ruble stability, which is itself a function of high hydrocarbon liquidity. Consumer confidence, which encourages Russians to withdraw from their "mattress accounts," is a reflection of confidence in the macroeconomy -- an economy driven by the currency inflows from the hydrocarbon sector.

A major concern for this group is how currency inflows have negatively impacted the manufacturing sector due to import substitution and the loss of price competitiveness. An economy that does not produce goods for export, they claim, cannot really be considered healthy or provide an environment for sustained economic growth. They also point out that the benefits this sector of the economy derived from the 1998 ruble devaluation is a spent force. In fact, the ruble is becoming too strong, striking a blow to the manufacturing sector, which has yet to be touched by reform.

Lastly, Russia's political stability is not what it seems. What is described as Putin's go-slow approach to reform is in fact an indication of his relative political weakness. Proponents of this position claim that what is actually occurring is a lull before the next storm, as the Kremlin will have to eventually take on a smaller, though ever more powerful, group of financial-business empires controlling a growing share of the country's gross domestic product. This week's announcement of the Yukos-Sibneft merger would appear to confirm this assumption.

So who is right, and what does it mean for Russia? Is Russia's oil barrel half-full or half-empty? As long as nothing goes seriously wrong, assessing the nature of the Russian economy will remain the prerogative of economists and pundits. However, there is no refuting that many analysts both in Russia and abroad are looking at the Russian economy through the prism of oil. Foreign investors continue to see Russia as an oil-and-gas story, bringing them to the conclusion that, with a few exceptions, the country is not a good place to invest. Russia, like many other oil-exporting countries, has an economy characterized by a propensity for volatile growth and limited investment opportunities.

Peter Lavelle is a Moscow-based analyst and author of the weekly e-newsletter "Untimely Thoughts."

MORE FORMER IRAQI OFFICIALS IN COALITION CUSTODY
The U.S.-trained Free Iraqi Forces of the Iraqi National Congress reportedly have captured Muhammad Hamzah al-Zubaydi, a former member of the Iraq Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (ASBP) and a member of the Revolutionary Command Council under President Saddam Hussein, Abu Dhabi Television reported on 21 April. Al-Zubaydi was found in the area of Al-Hillah in central Iraq, according to ITAR-TASS. He served as Iraqi prime minister and deputy prime minister and was Central Euphrates regional commander from 1998-2000. Al-Zubaydi was relieved of his duties and expelled from the Ba'ath Party in 2001. Al-Zubaydi, a Shi'ite, is allegedly responsible for the brutal suppression of Iraqi Shi'ites during a 1991 uprising. He was 18th on the coalition's list of 55 most-wanted senior officials from the Hussein regime. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) also confirmed in recent days the arrests of Humam Abd al-Khaliq Abd al-Ghafur, the former Iraqi minister of higher education and scientific research (54th on the coalition list), and Jamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Takriti, the son-in-law of the deposed president and the deputy chief of tribal affairs (40th). Former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Hikmat al-Azzawi was arrested in Baghdad on 19 April. Al-Azzawi was 45th on the list. KR

U.S. REFUSES TO RECOGNIZE BAGHDAD 'MAYOR'
The United States has refused to recognize the appointment of former Iraqi exile Muhammad al-Zubaydi as mayor of Baghdad, according to a senior U.S. representative quoted by Reuters. Al-Zubaydi told Abu Dhabi Television on 15 April that he was elected mayor by Iraqi tribal representatives during a Baghdad meeting the same day. When asked whether the decision was coordinated with U.S. troops, al-Zubaydi answered, "There is an understanding and cooperation between us, but they do not have anything to do with today's meeting." Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine, who is serving as postwar administration head retired Major General Jay Garner's central Iraq coordinator, said Washington does not recognize al-Zubaydi's appointment, Reuters reported on 21 April. Al-Zubaydi told Al-Arabiyah Television on 22 April that the United States is aware that he was appointed by his fellow Iraqis, saying, "They saw the elections that took place at the Meridien Palestine Hotel [in Baghdad]." Al-Zubaydi told Al-Jazeera on 21 April that he and his colleagues intend to run the civil administration of Baghdad until citywide elections are held. "We represent the administration of our city, Baghdad. The Iraqi people elected us, the citizens elected us," he said. "We are currently working to administer our city and provide it with services.... We are not a government." Al-Zubaydi told a news conference on 20 April that 22 committees have been set up for the civil administration of the Iraqi capital, Abu Dhabi Television reported the same day. KR

IRAQI POWS HELD IN NORTH RELEASED
Iraqi prisoners of war (POWs) that surrendered to Kurdish "peshmerga" forces at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom were released on 19 April, KurdSat reported the same day. Seven hundred and sixty-nine prisoners were released in three convoys that took them to Mosul, Kirkuk, and Baghdad. They had been held at a camp in Soran, according to KurdSat. Several prisoners were quoted as expressing their gratitude to Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) head Mas'ud Barzani's forces for the humane treatment afforded prisoners during their detention. KR

KURDISH GROUPS CALL FOR JOINT OPPOSITION MEETING
A 20 April meeting in Salah Al-Din of the Higher Joint Leadership of the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) resulted in a call for the Iraqi opposition to meet in Baghdad to prepare for a "national general conference," the KDP daily "Brayati" reported on 21 April. "The joint leadership believes that the Coordination and Follow-Up Committee must think about calling Iraqi national movements which were not present at the London conference [in December 2002] and representatives of internal national forces to hold a general Iraqi conference with the participation of all parties," a statement issued by the Higher Joint Leadership read. PUK head Jalal Talabani told Al-Jazeera on 19 April that a Baghdad conference "will represent all the active forces inside Iraq alongside other opposition forces." KR

KUWAITI NORTHERN REGION STILL CLOSED
Kuwaiti Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Yousif al-Mulla told KUNA on 21 April that Kuwaiti territory along the border with Iraq remains closed. Civilian visits to the area were prohibited under ministerial Resolution 141, which was issued on 4 February and established a closed military zone along the northern border. The resolution bans citizens from entering the area, which was widely used for hunting, grazing, and camping activities. Al-Mulla said those wishing to enter the area still needed authorization from the Defense Ministry. KR

THURAYA TELECOM TO INCREASE SERVICES IN IRAQ
Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company announced plans to increase its services through Iraqi providers, according to a 21 April report on the Dubai Gulf News website (http://www.gulf-news.co-ae). Citing "an urgent need for basic telecom services" in Iraq, Thuraya representatives said the company will set up a network of distributors in Iraq. The company has already signed two agreements with service providers for telecom services inside the country and is planning to set up call centers and pay phones inside Iraq. U.S.-led coalition forces banned the use of Thuraya satellite phones for much of Operation Iraqi Freedom. KR

UNMOVIC CHIEF SAYS U.S. SOUGHT TO DISCREDIT UN INSPECTORS
Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), has accused the United States of trying to discredit the work of UN weapons inspectors in an effort to gain UN support for military action against Iraq, Reuters reported on 22 April. "I think it's been one of the disturbing elements that so much of the intelligence on which the capitals built their case seemed to have been shaky," Reuters quoted Blix as telling the BBC in an interview that aired on 22 April, in an apparent reference to falsified documents presented at the UN that purported illegal uranium sales to Iraq from Niger (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 March 2003). Blix told "Der Spiegel" in an interview published on 19 April that UN inspectors should return to Iraq, as they "enjoy a far higher credibility" than the coalition, adding, "If its experts now really were to find weapons of mass destruction, their authenticity might be doubted." Blix was expected to brief the UN Security Council on the issue on 22 April. KR

U.S. HAS NO PLANS FOR PERMANENT IRAQI STAY
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a 21 April press conference said that any suggestion that the United States is planning a permanent military presence in Iraq is "inaccurate and unfortunate," according to the U.S. State Department's Office of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov). Rumsfeld was responding to a 20 April report in "The New York Times" that asserted that "the U.S. is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region." The report, citing anonymous sources, referred to one base at Baghdad's international airport, another near Al-Nasiriyah in the south, the third at the H-1 airstrip in the western desert, and the fourth at Bashur in the north. BS

COALITION FORCES REPORTEDLY DETAIN SHI'A CLERICS IN IRAQ
U.S. military personnel reportedly detained Shaykh Muhammad al-Fartusi, a representative of the office of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and several companions on 20 April as they headed home from Al-Najaf, Hizballah's Al-Manar television reported on 21 April. An Al-Jazeera television correspondent reported that 4,000-5,000 people on 21 April demonstrated against the detentions near Baghdad's Palestine Hotel. One of the demonstrators told the Al-Jazeera correspondent, "We are trying to...control the security situation, [but] the Americans do not want this. They want chaos and looting to prevail." Another demonstration took place on 22 April. The United States has not confirmed the alleged detentions. BS

THOUSANDS OF SHI'A CONGREGATE IN KARBALA
Shi'a Muslims have been making their way to Karbala to participate in Arba'in, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Iraqi city. Arba'in marks the 40th day after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas in a battle over Islamic leadership in 680 A.D. Many of the pilgrims walk hundreds of kilometers to reach Karbala, and an unidentified young man told RFE/RL why they do so: "Hussein was the first leader against dictatorship, a man who resisted dictatorship. He is noble and the most honest man on the planet after the Prophet Muhammad." Events in Karbala could turn into anti-American demonstrations, as was the case in Baghdad after the 18 April Friday prayers. The sentiments expressed by one of the pilgrims might underline such concerns. He told RFE/RL: "We want an Islamic leader to rule Iraq. We don't welcome Americans. We want neither Saddam [Hussein] nor Americans [to rule us], because they both are infidels." Moreover, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim on 18 April said, "I call on Iraqis to converge in Karbala to oppose any sort of foreign domination," AP reported, citing Iranian state television. BS

TEHRAN-WASHINGTON CHANNEL ALLEGEDLY OPENING...
Iran's representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is making repeated trips from New York to Tehran via Paris as part of mission to open a permanent channel of dialog with the United States, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 21 April, citing anonymous "informed Iranian sources." The American side reportedly is represented by National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad, who is the presidential envoy to Afghanistan and to "Free Iraqis." Khalilzad and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker met secretly with Iranian officials in January to "discuss potential cooperation" in a possible Iraq conflict, "The Washington Post" reported on 18 April. At that meeting, the Americans asked Iran to seal its borders against escaping Iraqi officials and suggested that the United States would target Iraqi bases of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization terrorist group. BS

...AND TEHRAN DENIES IT
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 21 March denied that Zarif and Khalilzad met and he also denied that Tehran and Washington have reached any agreements on Iraq, IRNA reported. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a 21 April interview that Iran is not ready for the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States, "because the United States is not ready for the kind of relations based on mutual respect among countries," AP reported, citing Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television. BS

TEHRAN REITERATES OPPOSITION TO U.S. PLANS FOR IRAQ
Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi said in a 21 April interview that "I believe the government led by Americans in Iraq will not be acceptable [to Iran]," AP reported, citing Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television. Kharrazi also said the U.S.-led presence in Iraq is an occupation because the military operations there commenced without UN approval. Also on 21 April, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Iraqis should have the right to determine their own destiny and denied that Iran intends to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs, IRNA reported. "The government of Iraq should be an Iraqi government and no non-Iraqi government would be acceptable," he said. BS

TEHRAN'S PLANS FOR IRAQ PROGRESS
The International Assembly of the Ahl-al-Bayt (IAAB) (House of the Prophet), a worldwide Shi'a organization based in Iran, issued a statement on 20 April in which it urged Muslim Iraqis to "display their strength and unity in running Iraq's affairs by observing order, solidarity, and obedience to [the] ulama and letting mosques serve as their base," "Entekhab" newspaper reported on 21 April. IAAB Secretary-General Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi al-Asifi used to lead the pro-Iran faction of the Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call) party. Meanwhile, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) jihad bureau chief Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim arrived in Al-Najaf on 21 April, according to IRNA. The SCIRI already has opened three offices in Al-Najaf, IRNA reported on 19 April, and has other offices in Al-Kut, Jisan, Al-Badr, and Al-Nasiriyah. An anonymous source told IRNA that people are so enthusiastic about joining the SCIRI that the organization's representatives have run short of application forms. BS

EU, WORLD BANK DEMAND IRANIAN ACTION ON MONEY LAUNDERING
The European Union and the World Bank have warned they will place an embargo on Iran's international bank transactions if Tehran fails to fight money laundering effectively, according to Tehran's English-language "Iran Daily" on 21 April. World Bank officials urged the Iranian government to stop delaying ratification of a bill to check money laundering. The bill is currently under study in the Iranian parliament, which has found it contradictory to the Iranian Constitution, making passage unlikely any time soon. SF

IRAN'S ECONOMY STILL AT A STANDSTILL...
Government officials in Tehran are publicly pointing to Iran's continuing economic stagnation, IRNA reported on 22 April. IRNA cited an official of the Commerce Ministry's Trade Research Institute as saying that the value of Iran's non-oil exports is now less than it was in 1994. He blamed Iran's unified hard-currency rate and 15 percent annual inflation rate for higher production costs. IRNA also reported that Deputy Minister of Economy and Finance Mehdi Karbasian, blaming monopolies and unspecified hurdles to the promotion of exports, said at a recent seminar in Tehran that "the leap in non-oil exports envisioned in the Third Five-Year Development Plan (March 2000-March 2005) has not happened." SF

...AND AN OIL-PRICE FALL IS ON THE HORIZON
Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh on 19 April predicted a sharp fall in international oil prices as a consequence of the U.S. presence in Iraq, IRNA reported. He blamed "Iraqi military ruler Jay Garner's policy on the supply of 7 million barrels of oil" for decreases in prices that could mean that prices will not excel $25 per barrel this year. He said the Iranian government has adopted unspecified "necessary mechanisms" to cope with the situation. SF

SUPREME LEADER PRAISES INSPECTORS
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on 21 April said that the government, parliament, and judiciary should welcome the state inspectorate (National Control and Inspection Organization) as "a blessing and helpful," IRNA reported. Reflecting his oft-stated desire to combat the Islamic Republic's image of official corruption, Khamenei said all official institutions should be inspected by the agency. Khamenei assured Iranians that "the entire system fights infiltration of corruption into the administration," IRNA reported. But lest any officials become unduly worried, Khamenei said the inspection agency will never "cast doubt on the performance of any institution." SF

HEALTH OFFICIALS DENY REPORTS OF SARS DEATH IN IRAN
Health officials in Tehran on 20 April denied Iranian press reports that a 50-year-old man had recently died of SARS at a Tehran hospital, IRNA reported. The Health Ministry's deputy head of the Center for Disease Management, Dr. Mohsen Zahraie, said "no case of such disease has been reported in the country so far." SF

AFGHAN LEADER VISITS ISLAMABAD AMID TENSIONS...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai began a state visit to Pakistan on 22 April that is expected ease tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan resulting from a border clash that took place on 16 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003), "Dawn" reported on 22 April. Karzai postponed a visit to Pakistan last month due to the war in Iraq. Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said on 21 April that Karzai's visit will provide an opportunity "to clear up misconceptions and help remove irritants between the two countries," the Karachi daily reported. The two sides will discuss economic cooperation, the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the movement of Taliban members across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and review the proposal to set up a joint commission to settle the border dispute between the two countries. The current border between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- known as the "Durand Line" after Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British signatory of the 1893 agreement that demarcated the border between Afghanistan and British India -- has never been officially recognized by Afghanistan, and has been at the core of disagreements between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the creation of Pakistan in 1947 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January 2003). AT

...THAT COULD BE LINKED TO ELEMENTS WITHIN PAKISTAN'S INTELLIGENCE SERVICE
Pakistani journalist and Afghanistan expert Ahmed Rashid commented in "Eurasia Insight" on 21 April that Karzai might confront Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with charges that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) continues to support the Taliban militia and could be responsible for the border shootout between Afghan and Pakistani forces in the Pashtun tribal belt. According to Rashid, U.S. special envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan Khalilzad (see above), who visited Kabul on 10 April and said the United States will not turn its "face from Afghanistan," afterward met with ISI officials and urged them "to contain the Taliban and come to an agreement" with Karzai to ensure stability in Afghanistan. On 12 February, two ranking members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said elements within the ISI are helping the Taliban destabilize the Afghan Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003). The Taliban's emergence in the Afghan political scene in the mid-1990s was partly the brainchild of the ISI, which was seeking a government in Kabul that would be subservient to Islamabad and would secure Afghanistan as a transit route between Pakistan and Central Asia and resolve the border disputes between Kabul and Islamabad. AT

REGIONAL COMMANDERS AGREE TO SUPPORT FORMATION OF AFGHAN NATIONAL ARMY...
After a two-day meeting in Kabul that ended on 21 April, the heads of armed groups in Afghanistan agreed to support the formation of a national military force to replace the multitude of militia forces and factional warriors in the country, Radio Afghanistan reported. In the first national military meeting since the collapse of the Taliban government in December 2001, the regional commanders pledged that they will work "closely" with the Defense Ministry and will take direction from the central government in Kabul, the BBC reported on 22 April. The BBC questioned the Afghan warlords' pledge, asking, "Will the rhetoric become reality?" Curbing the power of the warlords, or regional leaders -- as they are referred in official Afghan reports -- is the Afghan Transitional Administration's main hurdle as it begins to extend its rule and maintain security throughout the country. The pledge made in Kabul could be used as a tool by the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition to confront those commanders who break it. AT

...AS RIVAL NORTHERN WARLORDS MEET
The 20-21 April meeting was attended by both Deputy Defense Minister General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Army Corps No. 7 commander General Ata Mohammad. The fact that the two rival military commanders were meeting in Kabul is an illustration of national unity, according to a Balkh Television report prior to the meeting. Forces loyal to Jamiyat-e Islami under the command of Ata Mohammad most recently clashed with Dostum's Junbish-e Islami forces in Faryab Province on 8 April. The fighting stopped after a cease-fire was agreed on 11 April through the mediation of the United Nations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 11, and 15 April 2003). AT

KABUL DAILY CALLS FOR END OF WARLORDISM
In a 20 April commentary about the need for the Afghan Transitional Administration to curb the power of the warlords, the "Kabul Times" wrote that "every Tom, Dick, and Harry" gradually gained wealth and power through association to one of the mujahedin parties, "shed more blood" to rise to "stardom," and carved up their own fiefdoms in Afghanistan. Concentrating on northern Afghanistan, the Kabul daily added that many commanders there have violated human rights and have usurped the lands of helpless people to increase their power. The "Kabul Times" concluded that if the warlords were only killing each other it would be not so terrible; however, civilians are "the only casualties" of their feuds. AT

AFGHAN LEADER MEETS WITH U.S. HEALTH SECRETARY
Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai met on 21 April with visiting U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who promised that the United States will help modernize Afghanistan's hospitals and clinics and provide training and education to doctors and health-services workers, Radio Afghanistan reported. Thompson also pledged financial support to combat diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. Thompson and Afghan health officials opened the improved and refurbished Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital in Kabul on 21 April as part of the U.S. administration's commitment to assist the people of Afghanistan, especially in the area of maternal and child health, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has said Afghanistan "ranks as the fourth-worst country in the world" in terms of mortality rates for children under the age of five, and Karzai has emphasized the dire need to improve Afghanistan's health sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2003). AT

OPIUM CULTIVATION CONTINUES IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Baghlan Province Deputy Governor Gholam Sakhi said that opium-poppy cultivation continues to take place in the province's districts of Qaysar, Tala wa Barfak, Dahana-ye Ghuri and Doshi, Kabul weekly "Sirat" reported on 19 April. Gholam Sakhi criticized the Afghan Transitional Administration for not disarming the "irresponsible gunmen" who support the poppy cultivation, according to the report. Baghlan Province Agriculture Department head Abdul Ghani Ehsas agreed with the deputy governor, adding that the situation is as bad in neighboring Konduz and Samangan provinces, "Sirat" reported. Despite a ban by Karzai on opium-poppy cultivation, Afghanistan produced 3,400 tons of opium in 2002 compared to 185 tons produced in 2001, according to a 3 February report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003). AT

ROMANIAN SOLDIERS UNCOVER LARGE WEAPONS CACHE IN AFGHANISTAN
Romanian soldiers uncovered thousands of rockets and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition on 16-17 April in what is being reported as the largest weapons cache discovered by U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, AFP reported, citing U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King. King said the Romanian troops discovered the cache while participating in Operation Carpathian Lightning near Qalat, capital of Afghanistan's southern Zabul Province. The operation was the third for the Romanian forces, which usually carry out "force protection" for the coalition base in Kandahar. MS

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