PUTIN SAYS IRAN WILL COMPLY WITH IAEA REQUIREMENTS...
In a major Moscow press conference with more than 700 journalists on 20 June, President Vladimir Putin said that he has been assured in recent days by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami that Tehran has no plans to develop nuclear weapons, Russian and Western media reported. Putin said that, according to information available to him, Iran has agreed to sign the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Additional Protocol to expand international inspections of Iran's nuclear program. Putin said that Russia's position on Iran's nuclear program is much closer to that of the United States than many seem to think. Both Washington and Moscow, Putin said, expect all countries to comply with international nonproliferation regimes, especially countries like Iran that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Moscow categorically insists that Iran comply with all IAEA regulations and has noted that the latest IAEA session found no violations on Tehran's part, Putin said. VY
...AS MOSCOW PUTS POSITIVE SPIN ON IAEA STATEMENT
Russian Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Nikolai Shingarev said on 19 June that the major provisions of the IAEA statement coincide with the Russian position, ITAR-TASS reported. "This statement opens the way to closer cooperation between Iran and the IAEA and gives hopes that Iran will sign the Additional Protocol," Shingarev said, adding that the IAEA's position and Iran's desire for greater transparency in its nuclear program open the way for even greater cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in nuclear engineering. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said the IAEA statement will not negatively affect Iran-Russia relations, according to ITAR-TASS. BS
PRESIDENT NIXES IDEA OF PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENT...
At the same press conference, President Putin rejected the idea of creating a parliamentary republic in Russia, Russian media reported. Putin said that, bearing in mind that the Russian Federation is a multiethnic, multiconfessional country, any form of government "other than a presidential republic would be unacceptable and even dangerous." He said that citizens should not be deprived of their right to directly elect the head of state. VY
...AND EXPLAINS HIS VIEWS OF THE OLIGARCHS
At the same press conference, President Putin was asked about a recent National Strategy Council report alleging that there exists an "oligarchs' plot" to create a parliamentary republic in Russia in order to institutionalize the oligarchs' hold on political power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May and 3 June 2003). Putin said that he sees nothing wrong with large companies having an impact on national politics. However, he said that individual representatives of business should not be able to use the political system to advance their own business interests. He said that he has made good on his promise that all oligarchs be equally distant from the center of power. "Some are not there and some are far away," Putin said, quoting poet Aleksandr Pushkin and apparently referring to tycoons Vladimir Gusinskii and Boris Berezovskii, who both left the country under pressure from the Kremlin. "One should not demonize the oligarchs," Putin said, adding that he dislikes the term "oligarch" in general. In Russia the term has come to mean a person who uses access to political power to steal a fortune, Putin said. "I am trying to make sure there can never be such persons anymore," he concluded. VY
DEFENSE MINISTER OUTLINES MILITARY'S STRATEGY ON BASES ABROAD...
Sergei Ivanov on 18 June told journalists in Moscow that Russia will continue its policy of withdrawing from costly military bases far from Russia in favor of boosting its presence at bases located in CIS countries near Russia's borders, gazeta.ru and other Russian media reported. "We have plans to establish new military bases abroad, including an air base at Kant in Kyrgyzstan," Ivanov said. He also mentioned the 201st Motorized Infantry Division, which is deployed in Tajikistan and which should acquire the status of a military base by the end of the year, gazeta.ru reported. He added that the Defense Ministry will increase its presence in space by launching 35 new military reconnaissance satellites this year. Russia currently has about 100 satellites in orbit, many of which are dual military and civilian use. Ivanov's statement seems designed to counter the negative impression of the military resulting from Russia's withdrawal from its bases in Lourdes, Cuba, and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam; the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the Balkans; and the impending evacuation of Russian bases in Georgia, gazeta.ru commented. VY
...AS AUDIT CHAMBER ALLEGES MASSIVE EMBEZZLEMENT IN THE MILITARY
The number of army generals continues to increase even as the amount of military funding decreases due to corruption, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 25, commented. On the eve of the 12 June national holiday, 90 officers were given new general-level ranks, including ground forces commander Colonel General Nikolai Kormiltsev and military-intelligence (GRU) head Army General Valentin Korabelnikov. Meanwhile, Audit Chamber investigator Aleksandr Piskunov announced that the chamber has submitted to the Prosecutor-General's Office documentation on the alleged embezzlement of 2.4 billion rubles ($77.5 million) that was allocated from the federal budget to "enhance the conditions of the armed forces," the weekly reported. The Audit Chamber's evidence reportedly establishes that conditions in military continue to deteriorate and procurements continue to be made at inflated prices. In addition, the Prosecutor-General's Office has opened criminal-fraud cases involving the embezzlement of money obtained for commercial space launches from the Baikonur, Plesetsk, and Svobodnyi cosmodromes, "Argumenty i fakty" reported. VY
SECURITY AGENCIES REPORT FOILING MAJOR TERRORIST ACT IN ST. PETERSBURG
Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Arkadii Murashov has confirmed Western media reports that a group of terrorists based in Chechnya attempted to carry out major terrorist acts in St. Petersburg during the 30 May-1 June summits involving leaders from Russia, the CIS, the European Union, and the United States, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 25, reported. Murashov alleged that a group with links to international terrorism networks sent a column of an unspecified number of trucks loaded with explosives to St. Petersburg, but that the FSB intercepted the trucks near the city and arrested all the people in them. Murashov did not say how many people were arrested, where the arrests took place, the amount of explosives involved, or what buildings in St. Petersburg were targeted. Meanwhile, Moscow city Prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukhov told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 20 June that radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev last year planned four major terrorist acts in Moscow, including seizing the State Duma building. Among them was the 19 October 2002 car-bomb explosion near a McDonald's restaurant in which one man was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002). Avdyukhov said this information was obtained during the investigation of the 23-26 October 2002 hostage-taking incident at a Moscow theater that left more than 120 hostages and 40 Chechen hostage takers dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2002). VY
MORE THAN 40 PARTIES ELIGIBLE FOR DUMA RACE...
At a seminar at the Central Election Commission on 19 June, Justice Ministry official Aleksandr Kudryavtsev said that some 51 political parties have been officially registered -- 41 of which are currently eligible to participate in the 7 December State Duma elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Kudryavtsev added that there are, in addition, 45 more organizing committees that can seek registration before the end of the year. However, he noted that only four of the 51 parties were registered within the last 5 1/2 months, RIA-Novosti reported. He also revealed that the ministry has denied registration to some 30 organizations, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 June. In addition, Tax Ministry official Tatyana Mekhova said that six parties have not presented their latest financial accounts to the ministry, which could prevent them from participating in the elections, according to the daily. The report did not specify to which parties Mekhova was referring. JAC
...AS PARTY BRANCHES CLAIM HARASSMENT FROM LOCAL OFFICIALS...
Speaking at the same seminar, Irina Sinitsina, head of the executive committee of the Party for the Development of Entrepreneurship, said the party's regional branches -- particularly in Tatarstan -- are being tormented by inspections, the number of which is not limited by law, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 June. Vladimir Ponomarenko, chairman of the executive committee of the Party of Pensioners, expressed his dissatisfaction that the organs conducting the checks each demand a different set of documents. Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta," No. 42, reported that alleged irregularities have been discovered in party registration documents in Kirov. For example, the office of the chief federal inspector for Kirov Oblast, Valentin Pugach, reportedly found that only eight of the 102 people listed as members of the local branch of the Democratic Party of Russia actually exist. JAC
...AND EXPERTS DEEM NATIONAL PARTIES OUT OF TOUCH WITH REGIONAL PROBLEMS
In an article in "Vremya-MN" on 19 June, Dmitrii Orlov of the Center for Political Technologies argues that Russia's national political parties do not effectively reflect regional interests in their social and economic programs. This is "not surprising" since the "majority of them remain clubs for the political elite," Orlov writes. The Communist Party program, according to Orlov, has only this suggestion to improve regional economies: "The realization of regional programs for providing employment for the population [includes] the determination of a set of measures for liquidating unemployment." Unified Russia's manifesto declares that "the state was established not for the resolution of technical questions, but for the service of the general good." In the area of regional economic policy, it suggests only that different levels of public power be financed independently. JAC
NEWSPAPER CONDEMNS NEW MEDIA LEGISLATION...
"Vremya-MN" argued on 19 June that the legislation on media coverage of elections passed in its third reading by the State Duma the previous day essentially "removes the media from the election process." According to the daily, the law -- if enacted -- would enable state officials to decide whether a journalist or author of a letter to a publication was attempting to persuade readers to change their political positions on the eve of an election. An article about a record crop "could be taken as campaign advertising for the Agrarian Party." Any mention of delays in pension payments "could be taken for campaign advertising against Unified Russia," while "an advertisement for apple juice could be taken as secretly expressing support for Yabloko." The Federation Council is expected to consider the legislation on 25 June. JAC
...AS LIBERAL LEADER LAMENTS SITUATION AT TVS...
Also on 19 June, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that he considers the current situation at TVS "a continuation of the policy to eliminate independent media outlets in Russia," Ekho Moskvy reported. He added that perhaps the example of TVS "will finally make it clear that the myth about successful management by the oligarchy is nothing but a myth." Earlier in the week, TVS Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev warned shareholders that the station would go off the air after 23 June if it cannot secure funding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003). JAC
...AND MEDIA MINISTRY DEFENDS MEDIA FREEDOM IN THE NORTH
First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii has sent a letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking it to take the appropriate measures to counter the alleged interference of Komi republican authorities in the editorial policies of local mass media outlets, Russian media reported on 19 June. According to Seslavinskii, the Komi Mass Media Committee sent a letter to the editors of local newspapers reminding them that their publications receive government financial support and they are therefore obligated to publish information about the most important economic and social developments in Komi, RosBalt reported. The committee document also outlined which themes are priorities and which are not. In Seslavinskii's opinion, the committee's letter violates the federal law on mass media. JAC
LEGISLATORS MULL REVISING LAW ON RELIGION AND FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Some legislators, representatives of various religions, and state officials have been discussing revising federal legislation governing religion, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 19 June. State Duma Committee for Public and Religious Associations Chairman Viktor Zorkaltsev (Communist) told the daily that either amendments need to be introduced to some 150 laws or, in the best case, a new "code on religion" should be adopted. However, Andrei Sebentsov, deputy chairman of the governmental Commission on Religious Organizations, said that the adoption of such a code would violate the principle of separation of church and state. According to the newspaper, the discussion so far is revolving around a second version of the law on freedom of conscience. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 June reported that an interfactional deputy group has been formed in the State Duma called "In Support of Traditional Spiritual and Moral Values." The newspaper alleged that members of the group represent the various religions in Russia. For example, Communist Deputy Sergei Glazev represents the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church, while People's Deputy Deputy Gadzhi Makhachev represents Muslims, and Unity Deputy Gasan Mirzoev represents the Jews. JAC
ST. PETERSBURG CANDIDATES NOW ALLOWED TO SPEND A LOT ON THE FEW VOTERS NEEDED TO SHOW UP
St. Petersburg legislators adopted on 18 June amendments to local election law lowering the percentage of voters required to validate an election from 50 percent to 20 percent, "Gazeta" reported on 19 June. Deputies also increased the maximum size of a candidate's election fund from 100,000 minimum monthly salaries to 500,000, which is about 50 million rubles ($16 million). JAC
AGRICULTURE SECTOR REELING FROM SERIES OF HITS
An emergency situation in the agriculture sector has been declared in the Republic of Adygeya, RTR reported on 19 June. All crops have suffered because of the recent drought, and some farms are likely to lose half of their harvest. Already bread costs on average one ruble more than usual in the republic, according to the station. The previous day, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev told an audience in Ufa that there are no grounds for the recent rise in bread prices in some regions. These increases, according to Gordeev, have been initiated by retailers, and he promised that the government "will deal with the problem." At a cabinet meeting on 17 June, President Putin expressed his concern about the state of agriculture in southern Russia and asked Gordeev to look into the situation, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 18 June. On 19 June, Radio Rossii reported that swarms of locusts are threatening to destroy crops in Stavropol Krai. JAC
CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD SAYS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS WILL TAKE PLACE IN OCTOBER
Speaking in Moscow on 19 June, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said that presidential elections will be held in Chechnya in October, and parliamentary elections three months later, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 June 2003). Kadyrov said the precise date of the presidential ballot will be stipulated in a decree signed by President Putin. He predicted that there will be "three or four main contenders" for the ballot, which he has already made clear he envisages winning. LF
NEW PRIME MINISTER NAMED IN INGUSHETIA
Ingush President Murad Zyazikov named Timur Akhmetovich Mogushkov on 19 June to head the republic's new government, ITAR-TASS and ingushetia.ru reported. Mogushkov served as deputy premier in the outgoing government that Zyazikov dismissed earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003). LF
ARMENIAN COALITION GOVERNMENT PRESENTS PROGRAM TO PARLIAMENT...
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian formally presented to the new parliament on 19 June the four-year program drafted jointly by his Republican Party of Armenia and its coalition partners, Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Noyan Tapan reported. The program envisages broad poverty-reduction measures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003) and a crackdown on corruption. Markarian solicited deputies' "unwavering support" and assured the opposition that he will take into account their criticisms of the government's performance. The program will be considered approved if the parliament fails to vote no confidence in it by 20 June. Opposition parties, however, control only 26 seats in the 131-member legislature, far fewer than the minimum 44 needed to propose a no-confidence vote. LF
...AS OPPOSITION DEPUTIES BOYCOTT SESSION
Deputies from the opposition Artarutiun bloc and the National Unity Party boycotted the 19 June parliament session, just as they did the opening session of the new parliament on 12 June, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Artarutiun deputy Grigor Harutiunian predicted that the coalition government will find it impossible to implement its program. On 18 June, the opposition newspaper "Haykakan zhamanak," which is sympathetic to former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's Armenian Pan-National Movement, observed that a government that is itself corrupt and lacks the political will to eradicate corruption will find it impossible to do so. LF
ARMENIAN PREMIER SAYS ENERGY PRICES WILL NOT BE RAISED THIS YEAR
Addressing the parliament session on 19 June, Markarian ruled out any increase in energy prices before the end of the year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He warned that prices will probably be raised in 2004, but assured legislators that the increase will not be so steep that that it will "have a serious impact on the socially vulnerable strata of the population." The cost of electricity in Armenia is 25 drams ($0.004) per kilowatt-hour, which is one of the highest rates in the entire CIS. LF
CEASE-FIRE VIOLATION REPORTED ON ARMENIAN-AZERBAIJANI BORDER
Azerbaijani troops opened fire on two stretches of Noemberian-Idzhevan highway during the night of 19 June, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS SENTENCED IN AZERBAIJAN
Eight members of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) were sentenced on 19 June to 15 days' and one to 10 days' imprisonment for their participation in an unsanctioned picket of the Central Election Commission in Baku the previous day, Turan reported on 19 June. Police detained three other ADP members in Baku on 19 June and questioned them for several hours, according to zerkalo.az on 20 June. LF
OSCE DECLINES TO INTERVENE IN GEORGIAN ELECTION CODE DISPUTE
Georgian parliament deputy speaker Giga Tsereteli told journalists on 19 June after a meeting with Ambassador Christian Strouhal, the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), that ODIHR will not intervene in the ongoing dispute between the Georgian authorities and opposition over the optimal composition of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Caucasus Press reported. Strouhal told journalists in Tbilisi two days earlier that it is up to the Georgians themselves to reach consensus on the issue. In a recent poll of 1,500 people, 38.8 percent said they believe only the inclusion on the CEC of representatives of international organizations can guarantee that elections are free and fair, according to Caucasus Press on 20 June. LF
RUSSIAN OFFICER PROTESTS GEORGIAN OVERFLIGHTS OF SOUTH OSSETIA
Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov, who is acting commander of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, criticized the Georgian authorities on 19 June for repeatedly conducting helicopter overflights of the territory of the unrecognized republic without first obtaining permission from the South Ossetian authorities and the Russian peacekeeping force, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003). On 20 June, Caucasus Press quoted Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili as denying that Georgian military helicopters have made any such overflights. LF
GEORGIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS RESUMPTION OF RAIL TRANSPORT
Senior Georgian and Russian railway officials met in Tbilisi on 19 June to discuss the resumption of rail communications between Russia and Armenia via Georgia's unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Railways Deputy Director General Tengiz Donadze predicted that three months would be needed to draft plans for repairing the 175-kilometer stretch of railway that transits Abkhazia, and that the repair work would take an additional six months and cost up to 60 million laris ($28 million). But ITAR-TASS quoted Georgian Railways Director Akaki Chkhaidze as estimating that repairs would take 18 months. Georgia has proposed further talks on 26-27 June. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIAL SAYS REPATRIATION TO ABKHAZIA CONTINGENT ON INTERIM ADMINISTRATION
An interim transitional local government under international supervision must be established in Abkhazia's Gali Raion at the initial stage of the return to their abandoned homes in that district of Georgian displaced persons who fled during the 1992-1993 war, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 20 June. He added that Georgia is prepared to make unspecified concessions if Abkhazia agrees to similarly unspecified status as a part of Georgia subordinate to the government in Tbilisi. Antadze added that "everything depends on whether Russia can persuade the Abkhaz leadership to accept the international community's recommendations concerning the political aspects" of resolving the conflict. But in Sukhum, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told journalists on 19 June that the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons is a purely humanitarian issue and the Tbilisi should not link it to any political demands, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIALS EXCHANGE ACCUSATIONS OVER REPATRIATION, ABDUCTION OF UN OBSERVERS
Speaking on the independent TV station Iberia on 19 June, Emzar Kvitsiani, who is President Eduard Shevardnadze's envoy to the Kodori Gorge, accused the leaders of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government and parliament in exile of seeking to hinder the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia, Interfax reported. Tamaz Nadareishvili, who heads the Abkhaz parliament in exile, in turn accused Kvitsiani of complicity in the 5 June abduction of three UN observers and their interpreter in the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent TV station Rustavi-2 reported on 19 June. Nadareishvili further alleged that contrary to official Georgian denials, the Georgian leadership paid a ransom to secure the release of the four men, as it had done in the case of three earlier such abductions of UN personnel (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 June 2003). Kvitsiani rejected Nadareishvili's allegations as groundless and threatened to sue him for slander. LF
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS LAND CODE
A joint session of both houses of the Kazakh parliament adopted the controversial Land Code on 20 June with changes proposed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to the report, 32 of 39 senators and 54 of 77 Mazhilis (lower house) deputies voted for the code, which has been the cause of a major political controversy in Kazakhstan because of the manner in which it introduces private ownership of agricultural land. The lower house accepted the president's proposed revisions to the original government draft the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003). BB
OBLAST COURT REFUSES TO REVIEW KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S CASE
Lawyers for imprisoned Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov announced on 19 June that the Almaty Oblast Court has refused to review the case against their client, who was sentenced in January to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment for statutory rape, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Duvanov has always insisted on his innocence of the charge and his supporters insist the case against the journalist and human rights activist was politically motivated. The oblast court also refused an appeal by relatives of the purported victim seeking a harsher sentence for Duvanov. A Committee for the Liberation of Sergei Duvanov has been formed, and it has announced that it will continue trying to persuade the court to review the case. BB
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BORDER AGREEMENT WITH TURKMENISTAN
Kazakhstan's Senate ratified an agreement on the demarcation of the country's border with Turkmenistan on 19 June, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The border agreement was signed by the presidents of both countries in July 2001, and the Senate's ratification has been passed on for President Nazarbaev's signature. According to the report, delimitation of the Kazakh-Turkmen border was based on Soviet-era administrative boundaries and mutually agreed-upon maps. The Caspian Sea boundary between the two countries will be set by a separate treaty, as will the point where the borders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan meet. The same session of the Senate also ratified an agreement with Azerbaijan on the delimitation of the boundary between the two countries on the Caspian seabed. BB
DEPOSITORS OF FIVE FAILED KYRGYZ BANKS TO GET BACK ONLY A FRACTION OF THEIR MONEY
Representatives of governmental Agency for Bank Reorganization and Debt Restructuring told journalists on 18 June that depositors of five failed commercial banks cannot expect to get all their money back, Deutsche Welle reported. According to agency official Sanzhar Niyazaliev, the banks so far have returned only about $670,000 of the $3.5 million owed to some 8,000 depositors, many of them pensioners. The International Monetary Fund has offered to help work out ways for those who have lost their savings to get their money back in order to reduce social tensions. The affected depositors have been blocking streets and picketing the president's office, demanding their money and the prosecution of bank officials, none of whom has been held accountable for the bank failures. BB
RUSSIAN STATE DUMA ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON TURKMENISTAN...
The Russian State Duma on 20 June adopted a resolution on the human rights situation of Russian citizens in Turkmenistan, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 411 in favor, far more than the 226 required for passage. The resolution attacks the unilateral actions of the Turkmen authorities to require that holders of Turkmen-Russian dual citizenship who wish to retain their Russian passports leave Turkmenistan by 22 June and calls on the Turkmen leadership to retract the deadline, stop harassing holders of dual citizenship, and drop the requirement that Russian citizens obtain exit visas to leave the country. It also calls upon Turkmenistan to lift restrictions on teaching the Russian language, on rebroadcasting Russian television signals, on importing foreign publications, and on access to foreign media and the Internet. It also calls for removal of restrictions on freedom of movement within Turkmenistan and urges President Vladimir Putin to ensure that the resolution's demands are carried out in full and in a timely manner. BB
...AS ONE DUMA COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS RUSSIANS NOT VISIT TURKMENISTAN...
The Russian Duma's Foreign Relations Committee on 19 June recommended that Russian citizens refrain from visiting Turkmenistan because of the lack of security there, Interfax and a other Russian media reported, quoting committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy). Rogozin spoke to journalists after a closed-door joint session of three State Duma committees -- Foreign Relations, CIS Affairs, and Security -- at which deputies discussed the issue of Russian citizens' rights in Turkmenistan. Rogozin was quoted as saying that this is the first time a CIS state has been put on the list of countries that Russians should not visit for security reasons. BB
...AND TURKMENISTAN THREATENS TO APPEAL TO UN
Reacting to Russian media reports about the revocation of dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship and the concerns of the Russian parliament about the rights of Russian citizens in Turkmenistan, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry on 19 June issued a statement attacking the "ongoing propaganda activities of the Russian media, [which are] intended to disseminate prefabricated false information about the situation in Turkmenistan," RIA-Novosti and turkmenistan.ru reported. Earlier, the Foreign Ministry appealed to the Russian media to report on the situation objectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003). In its 19 June statement, the ministry noted that Turkmen demands that the Russian authorities curb the Russian media remain unanswered. It also attacked Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Rogozin for his remarks about the situation in Turkmenistan on a Russian television program broadcast on 19 June. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry ended its statement by saying that if the Russian media campaign continues, Turkmenistan will appeal to the UN and other international organizations. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE HAS REJECTED 'BILLIONS OF DOLLARS' IN INVESTMENTS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a government seminar on investments that he was chairing on 19 July that he has "lately" rejected investment offers worth roughly "$10 billion," Belarusian Television reported. "There are such investments that will put you in bondage if you accept them," the Belarusian leader said. "In essence, these were offers of credits [and] of the purchase of our enterprises dirt-cheap. These were the billions we had to turn down." Lukashenka also said that in the past 10 years, Belarus has seen $4 billion in foreign investments, including $2.5 billion in loans given under government guarantees. JM
STUDENTS OF ELITE BELARUSIAN SCHOOL PROTEST APPOINTMENT OF PRINCIPAL
Some 200 students of the National Humanities Lyceum and their parents staged an unauthorized demonstration near the presidential office in Minsk on 19 June to protest the recent nomination of a new principal, Belapan reported. Last week, the Ministry of Education appointed Tamara Scherbachevich to replace Uladzimir Kolas, who had headed the state-run school for five years. The National Humanities Lyceum is the only high school in Belarus that provides instruction in all subjects in Belarusian. The nomination was met with opposition from students, parents, and teachers who claim that Scherbachevich does not speak Belarusian and fails to meet the criteria for the top job at the elite school. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO REVISE DRAFT CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS
In an address to the nation on Ukrainian Television on 19 June, President Leonid Kuchma pledged to submit an amended version of his constitutional-reform bill to the Verkhovna Rada the next day (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2003). Kuchma announced that he will withdraw his earlier proposals to introduce a bicameral legislature, reduce the number of deputies, and apply the results of national referendums directly, without seeking approval from any other branch of government. "[These proposals] were the most controversial between the president and his opponents," Kuchma said. "But we do not have the right to involve ourselves in a tug-of-war, so I removed these barriers." He also said he will retain his proposal that the president, parliamentarians, and local deputies be elected for five-year terms in elections held in the same year. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT RE-ELECTS OMBUDSWOMAN...
The Verkhovna Rada on 19 June voted 280 to 10 to re-elect Nina Karpachova as the country's ombudswoman, Interfax reported. Karpachova failed to secure the required majority of 231 votes in a May vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). The same day, the parliament also passed a bill that allows civilians to head the Defense Ministry and assume leading posts in Ukraine's armed forces, and introduces the post of ombudsman for servicemen. JM
...AND CUTS VAT TO 17 PERCENT
Also on 19 July, the Verkhovna Rada reduced the value-added-tax (VAT) rate from the current 20 percent to 17 percent and abolished a number of VAT breaks, UNIAN reported. JM
TURKISH PRESIDENT VISITS UKRAINE
Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer met with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma and Premier Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv on 19 June, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The two sides signed four cooperation accords. Trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $1.4 billion in 2002. JM
U.S. ARMY COMMANDER PRAISES ESTONIA'S DEFENSE PROGRESS
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers told Estonia's armed forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts in Tallinn on 19 June that the development of the country's military has been impressive, BNS reported. He said he is sure that Estonia will be able to make a strong contribution to NATO when it becomes a member of the alliance. Defense Minister Margus Hanson thanked Myers for the assistance the United States has provided to strengthen Estonia's military capabilities and expressed the hope that close bilateral cooperation will continue after Estonia's entry into NATO. Myers was expected to see off an Estonian military unit departing for peacekeeping operations in Iraq, but their flight was postponed for one week. SG
VIKE-FREIBERGA RE-ELECTED AS LATVIA'S PRESIDENT
Vaira Vike-Freiberga was re-elected to a second four-year term as president during an extraordinary parliamentary session on 20 June by a vote of 88-6, LETA reported. Her re-election was expected, as she was the only candidate and had been nominated by the ruling coalition of New Era, For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, Union of Greens and Farmers, and Latvia's First Party, as well as the opposition People's Party. The opposition National Harmony Party also supported her candidacy. Only the leftist Socialist Party and some independent deputies opposed her re-election. Vike-Freiberga, after living in Canada for almost 50 years, was elected president in 1999 with only 53 votes in parliament. She has succeeded in becoming the country's most popular political figure, despite not being affiliated with any political party. Her new term of office will begin on 8 July. SG
EU, LITHUANIA SIGN FINAL PHARE PROGRAM MEMORANDUM WITH EU
Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite and Michael Graham, head of the European Commission's delegation in Lithuania, signed a financial memorandum in Vilnius on 19 June granting Lithuania 52 million euros ($61 million) in aid for 2003 under the Phare program, ELTA reported. This will be the final Phare program for Lithuania, as it is expected to become an EU member next year and receive aid under the EU's Transition Facility program. The funds must be used up by 30 November 2006 and will push the total amount Lithuania has received from the Phare program since 1993 to 550 million euros. The assistance for 2003 is slated for 22 projects in various sectors, especially agriculture. Four projects for the judicial and domestic spheres will receive around 12 million euros, which will finance the implementation of the Schengen Acquis requirements for external-border control, the strengthening of the network of prosecutors' offices, building up the national SIRENE bureau, and combating corruption. Some 8.8 million euros will go to projects for economic and social programs such as the opening of 300 locations for public Internet access and the renovation of a spa in Druskininkai. SG
POLISH CHURCH LEADER SLAMS LACK OF REFERENCE TO GOD IN PROPOSED EU CONSTITUTION
Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, severely criticized the absence of a reference to God in the preamble of the draft European Constitution on 19 June, Polish Television reported. Glemp was delivering a homily to a crowd of 30,000 people who took part in a procession in Warsaw to celebrate the Corpus Christi festival. "God is awkward for earthly rulers, and many prefer to ignore Him and to deny His existence," Glemp said. " I remember when, after the space flight by Yurii Gagarin, [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev assured us that there was no God, since Gagarin had not seen him out there in space. Just as Khrushchev did not see God in the cosmos, [European Convention President Valery] Giscard d'Estaing does not see him in history and forbids the entry of God's name into the constitutional treaty for Europe." JM
GERMANY WELCOMES CZECH GOVERNMENT'S STATEMENT ON EU ACCESSION...
A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said in Berlin on 19 June that a statement issued by the Czech government the previous day regarding EU accession and reconciliation with neighboring states "is a further positive assertion of future-oriented bilateral relations" between the Czech Republic and Germany, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003). The Czech statement said that "neither World War II nor the events and deeds of the period that followed it are acceptable from the perspective of the present," according to CTK. Germany presumably viewed this part of the statement as an allusion to the Benes Decrees and the postwar expulsion of the German minority from Czechoslovakia. In related news, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder stressed in an interview with the daily "Passauer Neue Presse" of 19 June that the Benes Decrees were a response to the Nazi attack on Czechoslovakia. Germany still considers the expulsion of the German minorities from Czechoslovakia and Poland and the confiscation of their assets to be an arbitrary act, but at the same time Berlin believes the past will increasingly make room for a new future within the EU, Schroeder said. MS
...AND AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VIEWS STATEMENT AS 'FIRST POSITIVE STEP'
Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner on 19 June called the Czech government's statement "a first positive step" and one that should be "rejoiced in," CTK reported. Ferrero-Waldner was speaking in Porto Karras, Greece, where EU leaders were gathering ahead of the EU Thessaloniki summit. Ferrero-Waldner declined to speculate about possible further moves by Prague. She said the Czech statement was "very balanced" and, like Schroeder, she added that the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans was a consequence of "the Nazi rule [in Czechoslovakia], in which Austria also participated." In related news, Czech Premier Vladimir Spidla praised Schroeder's statement to the "Passauer Neue Presse," saying it emphasizes "both causes and consequences." The two politicians met in Porto Karras, and Spidla described the discussion as "very friendly." MS
CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER WANTS TO ASSESS POSSIBLE COMPENSATION TO EXPELLED GERMANS
Deputy Premier Petr Mares said on 19 June that he wants the Czech government to task him with assessing possible compensation for members of the German minority still living in the Czech Republic for injustices against them in the past, CTK reported. Mares, who is also chairman of the junior coalition Freedom Union-Democratic Union, said no one knows how many Sudeten Germans still live in the country and therefore no one can effectively estimate compensation levels. He added that compensation for those who were forcibly resettled or used as forced labor after the war is a moral issue. "If the [Czech] government did not agree [to my proposal], it would mean that it does not want to deal at all with this issue," Mares said. Previous hints by Mares at compensation have met with silence from Premier Spidla and other members of the government. MS
CZECH FINANCE MINISTER SAYS GOVERNMENT CANNOT MEET UNION DEMANDS
Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on 19 June that the government does not have the resources to meet the demands of protesting trade unions, CTK reported. Sobotka was reacting to protest demonstrations and a warning strike launched by doctors and other workers earlier the same day targeting government-backed austerity measures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2002). "To give up the plan for consolidating the budget is too high a price to pay for assuaging the unions," he said. In related news, Milan Kubek, head of the Doctors Trade Union-Association of Czech Doctors, said on Czech Radio that his union will launch a general strike if the warning strike brings no results. A similar threat was made by Jaromir Dusek, head of the powerful railway unions. MS
FORMER POLISH DISSIDENTS HONORED IN PRAGUE
Former Polish dissidents Adam Michnik and Jacek Kuron were decorated in Prague on 19 June, CTK reported. The medals were bestowed on them by former President Vaclav Havel when he was still in office. Polish Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrzej Krawczyk received Kuron's medal on the former dissident's behalf. Kuron could not attend the ceremony due to illness. Michnik told CTK that he considers the decoration a great honor and particularly symbolic, since it was one of the last decorations conferred by Havel as president. He also said he has not received any award in Poland, which is one more reason to appreciate the Czech medal. "At the end [of Havel's term], he wanted to decorate the people closest to him. I am glad that he included us among these people," Kuron said in the message delivered by Ambassador Krawczyk. MS
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES TROOPS FOR IRAQ
The Slovak parliament on 19 June approved a government request to dispatch 85 military-engineering troops to Iraq, TASR and CTK reported. The vote was 84 in favor and 15 against. The Slovak soldiers are to serve as part of a multinational division led by Poland. They will leave for Iraq by the end of July or in early August. MS
SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SAYS NORTH KOREA SOUGHT TO SMUGGLE SOPHISTICATED EQUIPMENT
Recently named Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Ladislav Pittner presented a report to parliament on 19 June outlining SIS activities in 2002, TASR and AP reported. In it, Pittner asserts that North Korean agents in Slovakia intended to smuggle sophisticated weapons and support systems from Slovakia last year, according to AP. "The SIS initiated the expulsion of a member of the North Korean intelligence service, who directly organized these activities," the report said, without elaborating on the agent's identity, his cover, or the circumstances of the expulsion. Last week, the Interior Ministry charged former Slovak National Party Chairman Vitazoslav Moric with illegal arms trafficking, saying he attempted to export airport equipment to North Korea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2003). MS
SLOVAK PREMIER OPPOSES REFERENDUM ON EU CONSTITUTION
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on 19 June that he opposes the idea of a referendum on the European Constitution once that document is approved, TASR reported. Dzurinda said the Slovak Constitution "clearly stipulates that a referendum is needed only if we are to join a new state formation." Dzurinda also stressed that the government received public backing for EU membership in the country's May referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Jan Figel, Slovakia's representative to the European Convention at which the constitution has been debated, said he favors submitting that document to a referendum, stressing that "we should not be afraid of the people." MS
HUNGARIAN NATIONAL BANK AGAIN HOISTS INTEREST RATE
The Hungarian National Bank announced a major increase in its base interest rate on 19 June -- 200 basis points, or 2 percentage points, from 7.5 percent to 9.5 percent -- in an effort to drive the national currency back into the desired range of 250 forints to the euro, Hungarian media reported. That key rate was last raised by 100 basis points on 10 June in an effort to bolster the forint. "The forint has become very weak lately, and a long-term weakness can seriously jeopardize our inflation target," central bank Governor Zsigmond Jarai told the MTI news agency. Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo said the greatest danger to the 5 percent inflation target is posed by rising wages; in next year's budget, the government will seek to realign wages in light of growth figures. According to Postabank analyst Orsolya Nyeste, the central bank lost credibility when it devalued the forint on 4 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003), and the recent rate hikes were effected because the bank had to make some kind of move to restore the market's faith, Hungarian radio reported. MSZ
HUNGARIAN RULING PARTY SEES ANTIGOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY...
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said on 19 June that he suspects a connection between recent political developments and "the surveillance report" on the prosecutor-general that emerged this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003), Hungarian television reported. Medgyessy said he suspects concerted attempts to discredit the government began with the complaint lodged by former Prime Minister Viktor Orban at an International Democratic Center (IDS) congress in Lisbon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 13, 17, and 19 June 2003) and continued with the physical assault on Karoly Szasz, chairman of Hungary's Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF). The senior coalition Socialist Party's parliamentary group released a statement saying it is exploring whether political intrigue lies behind recent events and suggested that unspecified groups are working to discredit Hungarian democracy. Opposition FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Zoltan Pokorni responded by calling Medgyessy's commentary an "adventurous and romantic conspiracy theory," "Magyar Nemzet" reported. MSZ
...AS 'MYSTERY DOCUMENT' ON WATCHDOG CHAIRMAN IS MADE PUBLIC
A 20-page document containing allegations against PSZAF Chairman Szasz was made public at a government press conference on 19 June, but the identity of the author or authors remains unknown, "Napi Gazdasag" reported the next day. The document reportedly alleges nine legal violations in PSZAF operations and contracts. Szasz, who required hospitalization after he was brutally attacked by unknown assailants on 16 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 June 2003), has told reporters that the document in question is one in a series of attacks on his position as head of PSZAF. "Napi Gazdasag" quoted Hungarian state radio's website (http://www.radio.hu) as saying the document contains allegations made during a parliamentary hearing on PSZAF operations and therefore was most likely leaked by sources close to the government. MSZ
KOSOVAR SPOKESMAN STRESSES U.S. ROLE IN THE BALKANS
Rexhep Hoti, who is an adviser to Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, told Reuters in Porto Carras on 19 June at the start of the EU summit that U.S. involvement remains essential for peace and security in the Balkans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). "All major issues concerning the western Balkans and its future cannot be solved without the United States as well as the EU," Hoti stressed. "The recent past...has proven this in Bosnia, Kosova, and Macedonia. That's why the United States has to be involved in the future, too. Europe alone cannot solve the problems of the western Balkan countries." PM
EU HOPES FOR SERBIAN-KOSOVAR DIALOGUE
Cristina Gallach, who is a spokeswoman for EU security- and foreign-policy chief Javier Solana, told RFE/RL in Porto Carras on 20 June that the EU hopes that Serbian authorities and Kosovar Albanian officials will take advantage of the EU summit to begin discussions, even if only informally or in preparation for talks at a later time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). She stressed that the two sides must talk and reach agreements about economic and other relations, and that the EU is prepared to help them at every stage of the process. Gallach added that Solana has recently spoken with the leaders of the western Balkan states and is doing all he can to make the summit a "big success" for them. Serbian and Kosovar Albanian politicians alike have ruled out any serious talks at the summit. PM
EU REPRESENTATIVE CAUTIONS BALKAN COUNTRIES AGAINST EXPECTING TOO MUCH
Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Balkan Stability pact, told RFE/RL on 18 June that many people in the western Balkans are too optimistic regarding the time frame for their country's admission to the EU and the material benefits that engagement with the EU will bring (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11,16 and 19 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June and 6 December 2002 and 20 June 2003). Busek stressed that the admission procedure is very painstaking and complex, and cannot be completed in short order against an arbitrarily selected date. He cautioned against "wishful thinking" by anyone regarding Kosova, adding that the EU wants "sustainable solutions" in a regional context. Busek noted that all the countries of the region have much work to do to promote free media, sound infrastructure, and local democracy, and to combat crime and corruption. PM
UN REPRESENTATIVE SAYS SERBS ARE RETURNING TO KOSOVA
Michael Steiner, the outgoing head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told Reuters in Belgrade on 19 June that the recent murder of a Serbian family in Obilic might deter some Serbian refugees from returning to Kosova but that many are coming back to their former homes (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). "I don't think events like [the murders] can really stop the process because people want to return. You have return, you have spontaneous return, you can see it everywhere," Steiner added. He noted that in 2002 more non-Albanians returned to Kosova than left it. To date in 2003, 1,000 Serbs have gone home. About 100,000 Serbs fled Kosova after the defeat of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in 1999. Serbian political leaders in Belgrade and in Kosova stress that the international community has not provided sufficient security for Serbs to feel safe in the province. UNMIK says it is doing its best, that matters are improving, and that perfect security does not exist anywhere in the world (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2003). PM
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO APPLIES FOR PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE
On 19 June, Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic formally submitted Serbia and Montenegro's application to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 27 May and 16 June 2003). In a letter to the British Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, Charles Crawford, Svilanovic stressed that membership will help promote democratic reforms and stability in the region. In Brussels, a NATO spokesman said the alliance accepts the application "with pleasure" and will "take appropriate steps." PM
SERBIAN POLITICAL ROW CONTINUES OVER ALLEGED GOVERNMENT LINKS TO CRIMINALS
Charges and countercharges are intensifying following recent comments by a Belgrade prison guard that Deputy Prime Minister Cedomir Jovanovic, who is a leader of the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Party, repeatedly visited a top figure in the criminal "Zemun clan" in prison two years ago, Serbian media reported on 20 June. Jovanovic has neither confirmed nor denied charges that he visited the imprisoned Dusan Spasojevic "Siptar," whom the government recently linked to two aides of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, a rival of Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). In Belgrade on 19 June, Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac charged Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) with blackening Djindjic's name by publicizing the guard's statements that he had previously seen Djindjic at Spasojevic's home. Justice Minister Vladan Batic called on Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic and chief prosecutor Djordje Ostojic to investigate whether supposedly maximum-security prisoners are indeed able to have frequent visitors without special permission from designated authorities. PM
MACEDONIAN LEADER SAYS FOREIGN MILITARY MISSIONS SHOULD END SOON
Speaking during a visit to the EU Concordia military mission's headquarters in Skopje, parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski said on 19 June that there should be no more foreign military missions in Macedonia after 1 January, MIA news agency reported. "After an entire decade of...military missions, there will not be any need for an international military presence in Macedonia, which will take care of its own security," Popovski said. He suggested that the EU military mission could be replaced by a police mission, but added this should be decided after consultations at the government level (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April, 30 May, and 10 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002 and 17 January 2003). UB
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT VALIDATES TRIMMED-DOWN CABINET
A joint session of Romania's bicameral parliament on 19 June validated in a secret vote the trimmed-down cabinet headed by Premier Adrian Nastase by a vote of 267 in favor to seven against, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The opposition Greater Romania Party (PRM), National Liberal Party (PNL), and Democratic Party walked out of the session, arguing that the procedure was unconstitutional and that the cabinet should have presented a new program and asked for a renewed vote of confidence. Premier Nastase and other representatives of the ruling Social Democratic Party countered that the PNL and the Democrats used the same procedure to reshuffle the cabinet when they were in power in 1996-2000. The new cabinet was later sworn in on 19 June by President Ion Iliescu. MS
ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS HE HEADED BEST PERFORMING CABINET SINCE 1989
In an interview with Mediafax on 19 June, Premier Nastase said the cabinet he headed since 2000 until the restructuring was the best performing government since the 1989 anticommunist uprising. Nastase said the cabinet's recent "reorganization" is not due to poor performance, but to the fact that the composition of the cabinet must reflect the country's changing priorities. The main priority now, he said, is achieving EU membership by 2007, which calls for closer cooperation among ministries. This is easier to achieve with a smaller team, Nastase said. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS CONSULTATIONS ON NEW ELECTORAL LAWS, CONSTITUTION
President Iliescu held consultations on 19 June with the leaders of parliamentary political parties on the envisaged amendments to the current electoral laws and the country's constitution, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. Democratic Party Chairman Train Basescu told Iliescu that his party wants the parliamentary and presidential elections held at the same time, because the "rules of the game must not be changed in the middle of the game." Basescu said the amended constitution could stipulate that the two ballots be separate and that this rule could go into force after the next elections. PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan presented a similar position. PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor claimed the intention to amend the election laws indicates that the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) is considering electoral fraud. Tudor also said the constitution should not be amended before a European Constitution is agreed upon by EU members and candidates. Premier Nastase said the PSD has prepared an alternative proposal for amending the basic document, should the opposition persist in its threat to vote against the amendments it agreed to in the ad hoc commission. This alternative, Nastase said, refers only to those constitutional articles aimed at making European integration possible. MS
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES DEPLOYMENT OF PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
The Romanian parliament unanimously approved on 19 June President Iliescu's request for the deployment of 678 peacekeepers to Iraq as part of the international effort to stabilize that country, Mediafax and AP reported. Romania will send an infantry battalion, military police, demining units, and 20 officers to Iraq. MS
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SERPENT ISLAND BELONGS TO UKRAINE
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said that the Black Sea's contentious Serpent Island belongs to Ukraine, the daily "Ziua" reported on 20 June, citing an interview Geoana recently gave to Amos News. Geoana said that "regardless of historic injustice, the 1946 Paris Peace treaty incorporated the island into the Soviet Union contrary to any norm of international justice, while political reality after 1990 confirmed this fact." He said the dispute with Ukraine is not over which country the island belongs to, but on the delimitation of the Black Sea's continental shelf. Romania regards the island as uninhabited, while Ukraine claims it has "an economic life of its own," Genoa said. Should Ukraine stick to its claim, he added, Romania might take the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, as stipulated in the basic treaty between the two countries in the event they fail to reach agreement on the issue. According to international law, if the court rules that the island is uninhabited, Ukraine cannot lay claim to unilateral economic exploitation of oil reserves within 200 miles from the island. MS
ROMANIAN CENSUS SHOWS SHARP DROP IN POPULATION
Official results of the census conducted in March 2002 show that Romania's population has dropped by more than 1 million people over the last decade, Mediafax reported. On 18 March 2002, the country's total population was 21,680,974, which represents a return to figures recorded in 1977, according to National Statistics Institute Chairman Aurel Camara. Camara said the decline is primarily due to a fall in the birth rate and a rise in emigration, which resulted in a yearly negative average growth of minus 0.5 percent over the last decade. He also said that during the same time period the rural population grew significantly, but did not result in a rise in the number of people employed in the agriculture sector. Rather, Camara said, the growth is due to migration to satellite settlements in the vicinity of large urban areas. Whereas in 1992 there were 1,034 women per 1,000 men, in 2002 there were 1,051 women to every 1,000 men. The average age of women is 38.6, whereas that of men is 36.9, Camara said. Nearly 90 percent (89.5) declared their ethnicity as Romanian, 6.6 said they are ethnic Hungarians, 2.5 percent said they are Romany, and 0.3 percent each German or Ukrainian. However, 91 percent named Romanian as their native language and 6.7 percent said Hungarian is their first language. MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES FIRST READING OF PSI LAW
One day after being warned by International Monetary Fund (IMF) official Marta Castello-Branco that Moldova must pass a law on pre-shipment inspection (PSI) before the fund will resume disbursing loans to the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003), the Moldovan parliament approved the first reading of this legislation, Infotag reported. The bill was supported by the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists and by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic. MS
MOLDOVA, RUSSIA TO EXAMINE CHISINAU GAS DEBT
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev agreed with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov during a visit to St. Petersburg earlier this week to set up a joint team of experts to examine Moldova's debt to Russia for gas deliveries, Infotag reported. The team is expected to submit its conclusions by 27-28 June, when the countries' joint governmental commission is to meet in Moscow. Tarlev said Moldova is ready to gradually pay its debt, provided that debt is restructured. Kasyanov confirmed an earlier agreement to have the debt restructured on terms set by the Paris Club, and said the same mechanism could apply to payments for current deliveries. Moldova owes more than $1 billion to Russia for gas deliveries, including some $700 million owed by Transdniester. MS
JOINT MOLDOVA-U.S. GOVERNMENTAL COMMITTEE HOLDS FIRST MEETING
The first meeting of the Joint Economic Task Force, which is a joint Moldova-U.S. governmental committee, was held in Chisinau on 19 June, Infotag reported. The setting up of the committee was decided during Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's visit to the White House last December. Moldovan committee co-chairman and Deputy Premier Stefan Odagiu said the task force was set up to help establish a dialogue with the participation of the U.S. State Department, the Treasury Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and aims to help Moldova implement reforms to establish a market economy, stimulate economic growth, and attract foreign investment. U.S. committee co-Chairman Tom Adams said Washington wants to see Moldova develop into a democratic country. MS
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES NEW REGULATIONS FOR UNDERCOVER AGENTS
Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov announced on 19 June that the government the same day approved a decree regulating the infiltration of undercover agents of the National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) into the state administration and state-owned companies, mediapool.bg reported. Petkanov underscored that undercover agents will be used only if other means of investigation fail to achieve results. He added that under the decree, undercover agents may not be used to investigate political parties, the president's office, the parliament, the judiciary, as well as those departments in charge of the country's security and defense (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002 and 7 February 2003 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2003). UB
BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER DEMANDS PROTECTION FOR OFFICIALS
In reaction to a recent series of attacks on tax inspectors and customs officers, Finance Minister Milen Velchev on 19 June demanded that the Interior Ministry take action against such incidents and arrest the perpetrators, mediapool.bg reported. Velchev's call came after the head of the customs intelligence service at the Black Sea port of Varna was severely beaten by unknown attackers on 17 June. Velchev suggested that the rising number of attacks on officials is a response to reform efforts in his ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May and 17 June 2003). UB
FOREIGN MINISTER HAILS FORMER KING'S ROLE IN RESCUE OF BULGARIAN JEWS
Speaking at an OSCE-organized conference on the problems posed by anti-Semitism, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said in Vienna on 19 June that if Europe had followed Bulgaria's example, 5 million-6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust could have been saved, mediapool.bg reported. Pasi lauded the positive role King Boris III and the government played in the rescue of Bulgarian Jews during World War II. King Boris III is Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's father. According to Pasi, the ethnic and religious tolerance that Bulgarians have exhibited for centuries is one of the key moral qualities with which the nation enters a united Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 16, 17, and 18 June 2003). UB
LARGE-SCALE EMIGRATION FROM BULGARIA LIKELY TO CONTINUE
According to a report on the situation of Bulgaria's youth presented by Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Tatyana Kostadinova on 19 June, more than 400,000 persons aged 15-50 are prepared to leave Bulgaria, news.bg reported. Statisticians calculate that the country's population has fallen by about 1 million people since 1989 to the current 7.9 million people. The report also suggests that the negative population trend continues not only due to large-scale emigration, but also because of a falling birth rate. UB
TAJIK OPPOSITION RESIGNED TO GOVERNMENT VICTORY IN REFERENDUM
On 22 June, Tajikistan's citizens will go to the polls in a national referendum on a series of constitutional amendments intended to update the country's 1999 constitution. Fifty-six amendments are being proposed, many of which are unexceptional, linguistic, or grammatical changes. But seeded among them are some extremely controversial innovations that could affect Tajik politics and society for decades. Rather than let voters pick and choose, the government is requiring them to approve or reject all 56 amendments in a package by answering the single question: "Do you support making changes and additions to the Constitution of the Republic of Tajikistan?" Political opponents of President Imomali Rakhmonov have already warned that, by hook or by crook, the government will make sure it gets the result it wants.
While voters will shrug over many of the proposed changes (Amendment 1 is to capitalize the words "We, the people of Tajikistan" in the constitution's preamble) three have generated particular concern. (For the text of proposed amendments, see http://www.patriot.com.tr.tc.) A revision of Article 38 would effectively end the current guarantee of free health care ("Everyone has the right to free medical treatment in state health establishments") by adding the rider, "within limits determined by law." In similar fashion, the existing right to free higher and vocational education contained in Article 41 would be abolished. The new version would read, "Everyone, within limits determined by law, may receive free general secondary education, as well as beginning, secondary, and higher professional education in state educational establishments."
The key change, however, would be to Article 65, which now limits a president to serving a single seven-year term in office. Inconspicuously tucked at the bottom of the 37th proposed amendment, it reads simply, "to replace the words 'one term' with the words 'two terms.'" Rakhmonov is currently serving the fourth year of his term under new constitutional provisions passed in 1999. Amending Article 65 would pave the way to extending Rakhmonov's term in office. In fact it would permit the president to run for re-election two more times after his present term expires in 2006, conceivably keeping the 50-year-old incumbent in office until 2020. In the opinion of many observers, this is the whole point of the referendum exercise, with the other amendments merely serving as window dressing to disguise what is essentially a power grab.
Rakhmonov has denied any such intent. "I have been and I am still against being an all-powerful leader. The constitution is not just for Rakhmonov," he said in April, as reported by tajikistantimes.ru. His position has been that the constitution needs amending to better reflect post-civil war circumstances, eurasianet.org noted on 12 June.
But Tajik oppositionists have been outspoken in condemning the referendum as a power grab and a sham. An appeal by the National Movement of Tajikistan (NMT), reported by Asia Plus-Blitz on 12 June, alleged that the sole aim of the referendum is to enable Rakhmonov to remain in office and that "to achieve its goals the government might use all the administrative and financial resources at its disposal and the services of the power-wielding agencies, as well as resorting to a direct falsification of the voting results as happened with the referendum and presidential election of 1998." NMT leader Hokimsho Muhabbatov added that any change to Article 65 must not be permitted to apply to the incumbent, otherwise it would guarantee the total domination of Rakhmonov's People' Democratic Party and the death of multiparty democracy in Tajikistan.
The NMT appeal was sent to the United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the countries guaranteeing the General Agreement on Peace and National Accord of 1997 that ended the Tajik civil war and requested them to intervene to force the cancellation of the referendum. Since the present constitution was established on the basis of that peace accord, the NMT said it regards "all changes and additions proposed to the constitution, especially changes made to Article 65, as a breach of the General Peace Agreement and an attempt to usurp political power in the country."
Four Tajik political parties summed up their views on the referendum at a news conference in Dushanbe on 16 June. Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, leader of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT), called on party members to boycott the vote. He said the president and parliament have ignored the DPT's recommendations about the amendments, and that consequently the party does not want to be held responsible for them. Iskandarov claimed the referendum's outcome is predetermined anyway. The order has already gone out to all regional and municipal heads to return to a vote of 95 percent in favor, he alleged, or else the responsible officials will be sacked, Asia Plus-Blitz reported.
At the same press conference, Social Democratic Party Chairman Rahmatullo Zoirov said he sees no point in boycotting the referendum. He asserted that only 1-2 percent of voters are familiar with the proposed amendments, and only 30-35 percent even know that the referendum is to take place. Moreover, due to the large exodus of Tajik labor migrants -- at least 220,000 according to official statistics, in reality probably many more -- a sizeable proportion of potential voters will not be able to take part in the referendum, Zoirov said.
Meanwhile acting Socialist Party Chairman Mirhuseyn Narziev said his party will participate in the plebiscite, although he personally plans to vote against the amendments because he believes they will undermine social stability and lead to more poverty and ignorance, which in turn could provide fertile ground for extremism and terrorism. Two pro-government parties, the president's own People's Democratic Party and the newly formed Vahdat, told journalists they support the amendments.
Conspicuously absent from the 16 June news conference were representatives of Tajikistan's main opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). The party has opposed the referendum from the beginning, arguing that the 1999 constitution is too new to start modifying it already and that ramming through amendments after only a few months of desultory debate could destabilize Tajik political life. But this stance has led to mounting tensions between Rakhmonov and the IRP, which must watch its step doubly carefully as an opposition party with an Islamic coloring when crackdowns against Islamic groups are being staged across Central Asia with renewed zeal.
The recent arrest of IRP Deputy Chairman Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov on charges of creating an illegal armed group, allegedly responsible for a variety of crimes including murders, highlighted government antagonism toward the IRP. IRP Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri has since softened his party's position, telling a press conference on 9 June that the IRP will not support any statement issued by other antigovernment groups hostile to the referendum on the grounds that such opposition could lead to confrontation and instability, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. At the same time, Nuri tried to maintain the IRP's oppositionist credentials by indicating the party is not exactly in favor of the referendum, either. "The holding of the referendum is not a priority," he said: "The immediate task of the Tajik leadership ought to be poverty reduction."
Meanwhile foreign governments and international organizations remain on the sidelines. Visiting Dushanbe on 9 June, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Lynn Pascoe told Rakhmonov that Washington is "interested in the referendum being held in accordance with international standards and being consistent with the necessary requirements," Tajik TV reported. "As far as the details of the referendum are concerned, I think that it is Tajik society's own business, not the U.S.A.'s, to discuss them," Pascoe said. He added that he stressed the role the OSCE could and should play in helping to ensure that elections and referendums meet international standards.
Unfortunately, neither the UN nor the OSCE is sending observers to monitor the referendum because Tajikistan, either by design or oversight, invited them to do so too late for them to prepare monitoring missions. The OSCE chairman in office's personal envoy for Central Asia, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, did, however, discuss the referendum with Rakhmonov during a visit to Tajikistan in March. But as sources familiar with those discussions have informed RFE/RL, Ahtisaari was not really the best man to drive it home to Rakhmonov that in a modern democratic country it is not acceptable for a president to remain in power for decades. Ahtisaari's predecessor but one, Urho Kekkonen, was president of Finland for 26 years.
IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTRY APPOINTS REPRESENTATIVE TO ARAB LEAGUE
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry has reportedly appointed a new representative to the League of Arab States, London-based "Al-Zaman" reported on 19 June. In a letter sent to the Arab League's general secretariat, the Foreign Ministry named Safa al-Bayati as the Iraqi representative. Al-Bayati replaces former representative Muhsin Khalil. KR
TURKEY REOPENS BORDER CROSSING WITH IRAQ AFTER ONE-DAY CLOSURE
Turkish officials reopened Habur, its main border crossing with northern Iraq, on 19 June following a one-day closure, Reuters reported the same day. Ankara gave no clear reason for the closure, with Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz noting that it was sparked by disruptions on the Iraqi side of the border, IRNA reported. The incident is likely related to recent friction between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which controls the Iraqi side of the border, and Turkish authorities. In early June, the KDP introduced a $100 crossing fee for commercial trucks, citing the "financial crisis" in Iraqi Kurdistan as the reason. Truck drivers refused to pay the fee, and long lines and harsh criticism from the Turkish government and the United Nations ensued. The KDP then lowered the fee to $20, Kurdishmedia.com reported on 10 June. Meanwhile, Istanbul's NTV reported on 18 June that KDP Peshmerga manning the checkpoint refused to allow 40 Iraqi Turkoman businessmen to cross into Turkey because they were not carrying the proper papers, including passports. Turkish Foreign Ministry officials intervened, requesting KDP assistance in facilitating the crossing, but the KDP reportedly still refused, allegedly prompting Turkish officials to close the border crossing in retaliation. Habur is the major crossing for petrol and commercial goods between the two states, with some 700 cars and trucks crossing the border each day. KR
BARZANI CHOSEN TO HEAD UNIFIED KURDISH ADMINISTRATION IN IRAQ
The prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government and a representative of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Nechirvan Idris Barzani, has been chosen to lead the Unified Kurdistan Regional Government, Kurdishmedia.com reported on 17 June. Adnan Mufti, the current deputy prime minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-led regional government based in Al-Sulaymaniyah, will serve as deputy prime minister in the unified government. The report says the KDP will have six ministers in the government, while the PUK will have five. The two Kurdish parties last week agreed to merge their regional administrations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003). KR
NEW INTELLIGENCE SUGGESTS HUSSEIN IS ALIVE...
U.S. government officials have said that new intelligence, culled primarily through intercepted communications between fugitive members of the Saddam Fedayeen and the Iraqi intelligence service, indicates that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is alive, "The New York Times" reported on 20 June. The search for Hussein and his sons Qusay and Uday is being led by Task Force 20, which the daily describes as a "secret military organization" overseen by the CIA and manned by U.S. Army Delta Force personnel and members of the U.S. Navy's counterterrorism unit (SEAL Team Six). According to "The New York Times," two U.S. Defense Department officials said the intercepted communications between Hussein loyalists included credible discussions indicating that Hussein is alive and must be protected. KR
...WHILE THOSE IN CUSTODY REMAIN TIGHT-LIPPED
U.S. officials have said that the most senior Iraqi officials in U.S. custody appear to be highly trained in resisting U.S. interrogation techniques, even coercive ones, "The New York Times" reported on 20 June. The captives have provided little information of value about Hussein, according to the report. U.S. forces this week arrested the fourth-placed suspect on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted members of the deposed Hussein regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003), who officials believe might know the whereabouts of Hussein. New operations are reportedly under way to locate the deposed leader. KR
LITTLE KNOWN ABOUT U.S. TASK FORCE IN IRAQ
"The New York Times" reported on 20 June that little is known about the U.S. military's Task Force 20. What is known has only recently been acknowledged by U.S. officials. Task Force 20 is reportedly the same task force that has led the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The task force reports to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) head General Tommy Franks. CENTCOM spokesman James Wilkinson has refused to comment on the task force or its mission, the daily reported. But other unnamed U.S. officials have said the task force is supported by several intelligence agencies, including the CIA, and is capable of reacting quickly to intelligence collected by electronic eavesdropping equipment and satellites. KR
IAEA ENCOURAGES IRANIAN NUCLEAR TRANSPARENCY
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 19 June declared its unhappiness with the lack of cooperation provided by Tehran to date, Reuters reported. The IAEA board of governors debated an internal report (www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iran/iaea0603.html) for two days before criticizing Tehran's failure to comply with related agreements. "The board shared the concern expressed by [IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei] in his report at the number of Iran's past failures to report material, facilities, and activities as required by its safeguards obligations," the IAEA said. The IAEA board encouraged Iranian transparency and willingness to accept inspections at short notice, in order to allay concerns that Iran is using its nuclear-power program for weapons development. The board also discouraged the introduction of nuclear material at the Natanz enrichment facility. BS
WHITE HOUSE WELCOMES IAEA STATEMENT
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One on 19 June that the IAEA statement is a welcome one, the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov) reported. The IAEA statement reinforces U.S. President George W. Bush's message that the world is against proliferation and wants to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, Fleischer said. "If the Iranians are pursuing peaceful nuclear energy, as they claim they are, then they have every reason to comply with the IAEA's request, particularly the two specific requests to take the environmental sample and to sign the Additional Protocol" of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Fleischer said. Fleischer reiterated President Bush's stance that the international community "will not tolerate Iranian development of nuclear weaponry, which is exactly what the IAEA report is all about." BS
EUROPE SHARES IAEA CONCERNS
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told journalists in Greece on 19 June that Iran is risking international isolation, RFE/RL reported. "Iran wants to improve trade, educational, technological, and scientific links with the whole of the rest of the advanced world," he said. "If they want that then they have to respond, as we do, for example, by accepting fully inspections of their nuclear facilities." He also said "there is increasing impatience inside the European Union about Iran's failure to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency." Greece currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, and Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said on 19 June that "we will take our lead from the IAEA," the "Financial Times" reported on 20 June. "At the same time, we will keep talking to Iran, asking it to accept the additional IAEA protocol," he said. "There is a need for full transparency." BS
MOSCOW PUTS POSITIVE SPIN ON IAEA STATEMENT...
Russian Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Nikolai Shingarev said on 19 June that the major provisions of the IAEA statement coincided with the Russian position, ITAR-TASS reported. "This statement opens the way to closer cooperation between Iran and the IAEA and gives hopes that Iran will sign the Additional Protocol," Shingarev said, adding that the IAEA's position and Iran's desire for greater transparency in its nuclear program open the way for even greater cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in nuclear engineering. Moreover, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said the IAEA statement will not negatively affect Iran-Russia relations, according to ITAR-TASS. BS
...AS PUTIN SAYS IRAN WILL COMPLY WITH IAEA REQUIREMENTS
In a major Moscow press conference with more than 700 journalists on 20 June, President Vladimir Putin said that he has been assured in recent days by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami that Tehran has no plans to develop nuclear weapons, Russian and Western media reported. Putin said that, according to information available to him, Iran has agreed to sign the IAEA's Additional Protocol to expand international inspections of Iran's nuclear program. Putin said that Russia's position on Iran's nuclear program is much closer to that of the United States than many seem to think. Both Washington and Moscow, Putin said, expect all countries to comply with international nonproliferation regimes, especially countries like Iran that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Moscow categorically insists that Iran comply with all IAEA regulations and has noted that the latest IAEA inspections uncovered no violations on Tehran's part, Putin said. VY
IRANIAN VIGILANTE LEADER TO BE TRIED
Tehran Justice Department head Abbasali Alizadeh said on 19 June that Said Asqar, a leader of the Ansar-i Hizbullah hard-line vigilantes who were behind much of the unrest that began on 10 June, as well as his cohorts, will be tried soon, IRNA reported. Alizadeh said he does not know how many of the vigilantes were arrested, nor does he know if their trials will be open or closed. Asqar received a 15-year prison sentence for shooting reformist ideologue Said Hajjarian in March 2000 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 March 2000 and 29 May 2000), but he was out on bail when he participated in the recent unrest. Ansar-i Hizbullah gets backing from Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, makes use of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps resources, and is funded by the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation. But these issues never came up during Asqar's previous trial, and in the trial relating to hard-line violence at Tehran University in July 1999 none of the people believed to back or direct Ansar-i Hizbullah were mentioned. BS
MASHHAD HIZBULLAH IS BIDING ITS TIME
Mohammad Hussein Niazmand, who heads the Ansar-i Hizbullah in Mashhad, said in the 18 June "Toseh" newspaper that three groups are responsible for the recent unrest in Iran. One group is trying to cause disturbances; another group gets involved out of religious concern; and the third group "consists of mercenaries who receive their directives from [foreign] radio stations, the satellite [television networks], and the enemies." Hizbullah will act on the supreme leader's orders and will defend the system, he explained: "Hizbullah will be a punch on the mouth for those idle talkers who tend to strike blows at Islam. At the right time, we will smash the teeth of the United States and its local agents. Our stances are same as those of the leader." Niazmand added, "Be assured that if the leader issues the order, Hizbullah, by means of a surgical operation, will remove all the agents of America, regardless of their post and position, from the body of the regime." He concluded with a brief description of his organization's stance on foreign and domestic issues, saying, "Our people deny any room for America in this country.... Our people support the regime and the leader. Our people are those who participate in the rallies." BS
NATO CONSIDERS LIMITED DEPLOYMENT OF ISAF TROOPS BEYOND KABUL...
NATO is mulling a plan to send peacekeepers into the provinces to support coalition reconstruction teams when it takes command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in August, Reuters reported on 18 June. Four U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams are already operating in parts of Afghanistan; under the proposal that number would increase to 16 and ISAF troops would be deployed to improve security in those areas so rebuilding can progress unimpeded. General Jack Deverell, NATO's commander in chief in North Europe, told reporters the alliance needs to "expand [Chairman Hamid] Karzai's area of influence and use ISAF's capabilities to help him do that." It was unclear whether ISAF's numbers would increase or how many soldiers would be sent to support the teams. The Afghan Transitional Administration, the United Nations, and aid groups have called for ISAF's expansion outside Kabul in order to quell unruly regional commanders and extend the central government's authority, but aid organizations fear the NATO plan will blur the line between military and humanitarian activities and potentially endanger aid workers, who could be mistaken for soldiers. TH
...AS PAKISTAN'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR THREEFOLD INCREASE OF PEACEKEEPERS
After meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said on 18 June that the situation in Afghanistan is "not going as well as we'd expected" and that he would like to see 40,000-50,000 troops stationed there, "The Independent" reported. Such a force could secure up to 15 regional centers, Musharraf said, addressing the "vacuum in the countryside" that, if ignored, "will be filled by forces that are against peace." Nearly 5,000 ISAF soldiers are currently stationed in Kabul to conduct patrols and 11,000 coalition troops are hunting Taliban and Al-Qaeda remnants elsewhere in the country. Musharraf suggested the United States and NATO members could supply the additional troops. British authorities confirmed that Afghanistan was a topic of discussion at Blair's and Musharraf's 17 June meeting but said only that discussions would continue, indicating no agreements were reached. TH
AFGHAN GOVERNMENT SAYS DEFENSE MINISTRY REFORM MUST PRECEDE DISARMAMENT
The Afghan Transitional Administration has announced it will launch a drive in July to disarm tens of thousands of fighters but that Defense Ministry reform must come first, Beirut's "The Daily Star" reported on 19 June. Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said the ministry, which is headed by a group of ethnic Tajiks under the leadership of Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, "has to be seen by the Afghan people as belonging to the entire country," adding that reforms must be undertaken in the next few months. Karzai has come under pressure from the UN to make the ministry more representative of Afghanistan's ethnic mix lest suspicion of it undermine efforts to disarm regional militias. According to VOA, the 1 July campaign will target soldiers who are on the central government's payroll but whose loyalties tend to regional commanders. The UN-supported program, which will offer cash and jobs to fighters who surrender their weapons, is projected to take up to three years. TH
RIGHTS COMMISSION, UN CONCERNED ABOUT AFGHAN JOURNALISTS JAILED FOR BLASPHEMY
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN voiced concern over the 17 June arrest in Afghanistan of two journalists on charges of defaming Islam, AP reported. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva called the country's press laws ambiguous and justification for the detentions "unclear." "Aftab" Editor Mir Husayn Mahdawi and Deputy Editor Ali Riza Payam were reportedly arrested on orders issued by the Attorney General's Office for publishing an article on 11 June titled "Holy Fascism" that criticized Islam (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003). The weekly's offices have been shut down, according to Deputy Information Minister Abdul Hamid Mubarrez. Representatives from the AIHRC and the UN visited Mahdawi and Payam in a Kabul jail and reportedly found them in good condition. TH
MUSEUM DIRECTOR SAYS ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES PLUNDERED IN AFGHANISTAN
Armed looters are excavating Afghanistan's archeological sites and smuggling artifacts to Pakistan, London's "The Guardian" reported on 19 June. According to an unidentified official quoted by the newspaper, the network is a "very professional" one staffed by Pakistanis operating under the protection of regional commanders. Police have reportedly confiscated several Buddha heads dug up from a site in Logar Province, and Kabul Museum Director Omar Khan Masudi said authorities have recovered 400 artifacts from looters, although he estimates many more have been smuggled out of the country. UNESCO is reportedly planning to issue a list of 100 Afghan cultural treasures later this year in an appeal to private collectors and dealers to return them. The UN cultural organization is also shoring up the massive stone alcoves that used to house the two giant Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban, although there are no plans to rebuild the statues themselves, which were estimated to be 1,500 years old. TH