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Newsline - July 28, 2003


GOVERNMENT TRIES TO CALM INTERNATIONAL CONCERNS ABOUT INVESTING IN RUSSIA...
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin during a working visit to Slovenia on 26 July stressed Russia's "steadily improving" investment climate in an apparent effort to calm investment jitters resulting from the recent official investigations into oil giant Yukos, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 July. Kudrin cited Finance Ministry statistics indicating that the influx of capital into Russia in the first half of this year amounted to $2.6 billion, while $2 billion left the country. According to government predictions, capital inflow will exceed outflow by $2 billion this year and by $4 billion in 2004. Kudrin noted that Russia lost $25 billion in 2000, $16 billion in 2001, and $11.1 billion last year. "Vremya novostei" commented, however, that Kudrin's optimistic prognoses were all based on an examination of macroeconomic trends over the last half-decade and do not take into account changes in investor sentiment brought on by the Yukos affair, which the daily said, "has today become an indicator of the process of reform in Russia for the entire world." RC

...AS ANALYST SEES YUKOS SCANDAL AS 'DISASTROUS'...
In an interview with gazeta.ru on 28 July, Institute of Strategic Forecasting President Aleksandr Konovalov said the investigations into Yukos are "disastrous for business, for the authorities, and for the entire country." Konovalov noted that President Vladimir Putin has spent considerable effort over the last three years creating a political "equilibrium" in the country and that those efforts have now been "undermined by people from his inner circle." He said that all talk of "boring elections" or "elections according to an inertial scenario" has ended. Konovalov noted that Yukos has lost $19 billion in capitalization since the scandal began, meaning that government tax revenues and regional budgets will suffer. "Imagine that this winter is cold and instead of 15 freezing regions, we have 50," Konovalov said. "In this case, the authority of the government and confidence in the president will decline sharply just as the presidential election approaches." Konovalov also expressed skepticism about the independence of the judiciary, saying, "It is one of our weakest institutions." "As far as the prosecutors are concerned, they have become nothing but a tool in the hands of the presidential administration," he concluded. RC

...AND SCRUTINY OF YUKOS ACTIONS IN THE URALS INTENSIFIES
Deputy Prosecutor-General for the Urals Federal District Yurii Zolotov told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 25 July that his office has "serious questions to ask of large companies active in the Urals, not for the sake of a witch-hunt but to ensure law and order in the country," Interfax reported. Zolotov was responding to a question about an investigation into tax breaks granted to various Yukos-controlled companies by the town of Lesnoi in Sverdlovsk Oblast. According to Interfax, the investigation was sparked by complaints from State Duma Deputy Nikolai Daikhes (Communist), who is reportedly indignant about tax-related offenses and the alleged collusion of law enforcement agencies in these crimes. Earlier in July, the leader of an NGO in Chelyabinsk held a press conference to denounce a special deal that a company controlled by Yukos allegedly arranged with Chelyabinsk Oblast officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). JAC

NAVY DAY THROWS SPOTLIGHT ON COUNTRY'S FLEETS...
Russia on 27 July celebrated Navy Day with ceremonies at port cities around the country, Russian media reported. President Putin congratulated the navy on the occasion, saying that the fleet "boosts Russia's defensive potential and increases its authority as a great naval power," RTR reported on 27 July. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov inspected the Leningrad Military District and the Northern Fleet, which was celebrating its 70th anniversary the same day, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 July. Ivanov praised the fleet for its increased activity, noting that 80 percent of the country's sea-based nuclear deterrent is concentrated in the Northern Fleet. He said that fleet ships completed 816 military exercises in the first half of this year. Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 28 July, emphasized that Russia remains a global power. "If anyone threatens Russia's sovereignty, then Russia will strike -- including through its naval forces -- at any point on the globe," Kuroedov said. "Everyone must understand this. We will also provide assistance to our citizens wherever they might need it." In another long interview with the Defense Ministry daily "Krasnaya zvezda" on 28 July, Kuroedov outlined the navy's plans for new-generation submarines and frigates and for a new corvette-class antisubmarine vessel. In both interviews, Kuroedov emphasized the navy's role protecting Russia's economic interests and natural resources. RC

...AS VANDALS DESECRATE GRAVES OF 'KURSK' SEAMEN
Unidentified vandals in Voronezh just days before the 27 July Navy Day holiday damaged the tombstones of five local seamen who died in August 2000 when the "Kursk" nuclear submarine sank during a training exercise in the Barents Sea, gazeta.ru reported on 25 July. In all, 16 tombstones in the cemetery's Alley of Glory were damaged. The damage was discovered by the mother of one of the "Kursk" seamen, who arrived at the cemetery to clean the graves for the upcoming holiday. Federal Security Service (FSB) agents were called to investigate but left the matter to the police after determining that the evidence indicates the vandalism was carried out by "local satanists." The cemetery has been the scene of similar acts of vandalism many times in the last four years, although no one has been prosecuted in connection with any of those incidents, the website reported. RC

MOSCOW CONTINUES TO EMPHASIZE DEBT RELIEF AS CRUCIAL DEVELOPMENT TOOL
Russia over the last five years has written off a total of $35 billion in debt owed by developing countries, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin announced on 26 July during his visit to Slovenia, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian media reported on 28 July. Combining debt relief with other forms of assistance, Russia is the world's leader in providing aid to developing countries, Kudrin said, noting in addition that Russia is playing a leading role among G-8 countries in developing initiatives to combat global poverty. RC

ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTRY SHIFTS POSITION ON SOLID-WASTE STORAGE FACILITY
Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev announced on 26 July that Russia will build a storage facility for solid radioactive waste on the Kola Peninsula, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Rumyantsev said the decision was made after research indicated that "the warming of the climate on [the island of] Novaya Zemlya over the next 150-200 years casts doubt on the state of the permafrost there," regions.ru reported. The $70 million plan to build the storage facility on Novaya Zemlya was approved by the Atomic Energy Ministry in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2002). According to regions.ru on 26 July, that plan had also been endorsed by the governments of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, and Norway. However, Rumyantsev expressed skepticism about the plan last summer, citing concerns about the permafrost and about the cost of building the necessary infrastructure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). Rumyantsev said on 26 July that local researchers on the Kola Peninsula have studied more than 30 potential sites for the facility over the last six years and that only three are still currently under consideration. RC

CONTROVERSIAL PARATROOP COMMANDER TO RETIRE, CONSIDERING ENTERING POLITICS
Airborne Forces commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak said in a 28 July interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he will retire when he turns 60 in September. The decision came following a meeting with Defense Minister Ivanov about six weeks ago, Shpak said. Shpak said he planned to run for the State Duma from a single-mandate district in Pskov but Unified Russia has nominated another Airborne Forces general who is reportedly close to Interior Minister and party head Boris Gryzlov to run in that district. He added that he might join the party list of "a left-centrist party" or that he might be willing to accept a position in government. Shpak has reportedly long had strained relations with Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003). RC

NEW BORDER-GUARD SERVICE GETS STAFFED UP
President Putin made a series of appointments on 26 July to staff the new border-guard service, which, according to a decree issued in March, is now a unit of the FSB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 July. When that decree was issued, Putin appointed former border-guard commander Army General Konstantin Totskii to be Russia's liaison to NATO and named Totskii's former deputy, Colonel General and FSB Deputy Director Vladimir Pronichev, to head the new border-guard service within the FSB. On 26 July, Putin named six new deputy chairmen of the new border-guard service: Colonel General Mansur Valiev, former head of the Far Eastern Federal District border-guard service; Lieutenant General Vladimir Rozhkov; Lieutenant General Aleksandr Manilov; Major General Aleksandr Mizon; Major General Nikolai Rybalkin; and Major General Viktor Trufanov, who formerly served in the central apparatus of the FSB. At the same time, Putin named Lieutenant General Gennadii Loginov to head the Northwest Federal District border-guard service. Loginov previously served in the central staff of the Federal Border Guard Service in Moscow. RC

RAILCARS LOADED WITH EXPLOSIVES BREAK LOOSE
Residents of the village of Elban near Komsomolsk-na-Amure in Khabarovsk Krai on 24 July discovered five derailed railcars loaded with tons of explosives, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported on 28 July. The railcars, which reportedly broke loose from the Voskhod munitions plant while unattended, contained 26 tons of antitank mines and 160 tons of explosives. Police evacuated nearby residents and put the explosives under guard, although authorities said there is no danger of an explosion. An investigation into the incident is under way. RC

POLITICAL PARTIES COMPLAIN ABOUT ONE ANOTHER...
Oleg Savchenko, head of the Volgograd branch of the Unified Russia party, told TV-Tsentr on 24 July that there have been "open clashes" between activists of his pro-Kremlin party and members of the Communist Party. According to Savchenko, the Communist Party has a stranglehold over the regional budget and legislature. In Bryansk Oblast, which is also considered part of the so-called Red Belt, members of Unified Russia have reportedly lost their jobs after joining the party, the station reported. However, in Tatarstan, it is members of Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov's Party of Life who claim that they have faced discrimination because of their party affiliation, RosBalt reported. In April, Rafgat Altynbaev was dismissed as one of Tatarstan's representatives to the Federation Council, reportedly because of his support for the Party of Life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). Also on 24 July, the Tatarstan-New Century party, which represents the republic's top political leadership, announced that it will support Unified Russia in the 7 December State Duma elections, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. JAC

...AS ANALYST PREDICTS UPCOMING DUMA ELECTION WILL MARK END OF YELTSIN-ERA LIBERALISM
Speaking at a conference on the mass media and elections in Ufa on 25 July, analyst Dmitrii Olshanskii concluded that the 7 December State Duma elections will mark the end of the liberal epoch of former President Boris Yeltsin, RosBalt reported. According to Olshanskii, liberal values have not taken root in Russia, and the majority of "rightist" parties such as the Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko came of age in the Yeltsin era and remain active only out of inertia, not because of a surge in their political potential. JAC

KALININGRAD OFFICIALS REJECT PROPOSAL FOR SPECIAL STATUS...
The expert council of the Kaliningrad Oblast administration, which met on 25 July, does not support a recent suggestion by Dmitrii Rogozin, presidential envoy on Kaliningrad issues and State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, to transform the oblast into separate federal district, RosBalt reported. According to the agency, the council unanimously believes that introducing any kind of radical change in the existing legal order would lead to a situation with competing authorities that would be impossible to administer. Members also noted that a suggestion to turn the oblast into an offshore zone is ill timed, since it would lead to a massive inflow of enterprises from Russia's shadow economy. Council members would like to move in the opposite direction by improving existing tax and customs regimes, bringing accounting procedures into line with global standards, and liberalizing banking regulations. JAC

...AS REGION REPORTEDLY BESET BY WAVE OF ANTI-SEMITISM...
A number of senior officials in Kaliningrad Oblast -- including Governor Vladimir Yegorov, oblast legislature speaker Vladimir Nikitin, and oblast legislator Solomon Ginsburg -- have received threatening, anti-Semitic letters, newsru.com reported on 25 July. Ginsburg said he received an ultimatum: either "voluntarily resign before September or the Slavic Military Brotherhood will physically eliminate persons of Jewish nationality and their accomplices." Ginsburg commented that there has been a new wave of anti-Semitism in the region starting in the spring of 2001. JAC

...AND ANTI-SEMITIC POSTER IS FOUND NEAR MOSCOW
An anti-Semitic sign was found near the Moscow Ring Road on 25 July, "Vremya-MN" reported on 28 July, citing police sources. Following a telephone complaint, police found the sign attached to a tree. A bomb-sniffing dog was brought in, but no explosives were found. Last summer, one person was killed and several badly injured when several booby-trapped anti-Semitic signs appeared in cities from Kaliningrad Oblast to Kemerovo Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 May and 8 and 10 July 2002). Early on the morning of 28 July, unknown assailants threw two hand grenades into a school in the village of Bira in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, RTR and other Russian media reported. No one was injured in the incident. Police and FSB agents investigating the attack believe that the grenades came from a former military storage facility located 3 kilometers from Bira. RC

LOCAL LAWMAKER INVOLVED IN DANGEROUS GUNPLAY?
Sakha (Yakutia) republican parliament Deputy Vladimir Fedorov reportedly wounded three people on 19 July with a firearm, but law enforcement officials have refused to provide any information about the incident to journalists, federalpost.ru reported on 25 July. A criminal investigation into charges of "hooliganism" has been opened by the local prosecutor, but no one has been charged. One of those injured was also a legislator and is in the hospital with a head injury, a broken nose, and two broken ribs, according to regions.ru. According to the agency, the incident took place along a river and involved two military couriers who might have been intoxicated. Otherwise, unofficial accounts of what took place differ widely. JAC

VOLGA REGION RICH IN RUBLE MILLIONAIRES
Some 160 residents of Samara Oblast earned more than 1 million rubles ($33,300) last year, "Novaya gazeta," No. 53, reported, citing data from local tax officials. This means that there is one millionaire for every 20,000 residents. The largest proportion of them -- about 59 percent -- live in the oblast capital Samara. The weekly commented that "knowing the Russian citizen's propensity for concealing income from tax officials, one can only imagine what the real number of millionaires must be." The weekly drew two conclusions from the data. First, Samara is one of the richest regions in Russia, and second, the gap in incomes between rich and poor in the region has become "catastrophic." JAC

NEWS FLASH: MOSCOW MAYOR MAY BE LOSING HIS HAIR
"Rossiiskye vesti," No. 27, reported that members of the press corps assigned to cover Yurii Luzhkov must observe a number of rules established by the mayoral administration's press service. Journalists are forbidden to photograph Luzhkov from behind or to photograph his bald "spot" -- an expanse that extends from his eyebrows almost all the way to the back of his neck -- or use flashes in front of him. They also are not allowed to ask any unauthorized questions. To enforce these rules, the press service relies on the 15 members of the Federal Protection Service who are assigned to protect Luzhkov. JAC

SUICIDE BOMBER FAILS TO KILL CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD'S SON
A young woman blew herself up on 27 July at the base in the village of Tsotan-Yurt southeast of Grozny of a security unit commanded by Ramzan Kadyrov, a son of Chechen administration head Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, Reuters and Russian media reported. A Chechen administration spokesman said the woman detonated the explosive device after guards intercepted her as she tried to approach Ramzan Kadyrov. One female passerby was hospitalized with injuries received as a result of the explosion. The previous day, one of Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's bodyguards was injured in an attack on a Chechen Security Service motorcade, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

RUSSIAN ARMY OFFICER SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF CHECHEN WOMAN
The North Caucasus Military District Court in Rostov-na-Donu handed down a 10-year prison sentence on 25 July to Colonel Yurii Budanov after convicting him of the March 2000 murder of an 18-year-old Chechen woman, Russian media reported. Prosecutors had demanded a 12-year sentence, while Budanov's lawyer argued that he should be acquitted. In an earlier trial on the same charges, Budanov was acquitted on the grounds that he was temporarily insane at the time of the killing. The Russian Supreme Court overturned that verdict in February and ordered a retrial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January and 3 March 2003). Chechen Nationalities Minister Taus Dzhabrailov said the verdict shows that the human rights situation in Chechnya is improving, while Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's deputy to the State Duma, and Chechen Mufti Akhmed Shamaev both argued it is too lenient, Interfax reported. In Moscow, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Ekho Moskvy on 25 July that the verdict does credit to the Russian legal system and will not negatively affect the reputation of the Russian Army. LF

WORK CONTINUING ON CHECHEN-RUSSIAN POWER-SHARING TREATY
In the 25 July interview with Ekho Moskvy, presidential aide Yastrzhembskii said the text of the Russian-Chechen power-sharing treaty has not yet been finalized, and that the version submitted by Chechen administration head Kadyrov will be considered alongside alternative proposals, Interfax reported. Kadyrov has demanded that Chechnya be allowed to keep all the revenues from the extraction of oil on its territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). Yastrzhembskii also questioned the accuracy of presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov's allegation that some human rights NGOs in Chechnya might have links to international terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 July 2003). He ruled out any future political role in Chechnya for incumbent President Aslan Maskhadov, including his participation in the 5 October presidential election. Yastrzhembskii noted that Maskhadov has been charged with serious crimes, including terrorism, and added that if he appears publicly anywhere in Chechnya he will be arrested. LF

MORE CANDIDATES PLAN TO RUN FOR CHECHEN PRESIDENCY
Hussein Dzhabrailov, deputy director of Moscow's Rossiya Hotel, told ITAR-TASS on 25 July he will "soon" officially inform the Chechen Central Election Commission of his intention to contest the 5 October presidential ballot. He argued that the standoff between Chechnya and the federal center should be resolved exclusively by political means, through the consolidation of Chechen society. Four other prospective candidates have announced their own presidential bids: Said-Khamzat Gairbekov, retired officer Zaindi Mavlatov, Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev, and Grozny university professor Avkhad Khachukaev. Presidential aide Yastrzhembskii said on 25 July the Kremlin "does not and cannot" support any specific candidate in the ballot. Unified Russia party Chairman and Interior Minister Gryzlov said the previous day that his party will support administration head Kadyrov's presidential bid, according to Interfax, but stopped short of saying the party will nominate Kadyrov. Speaking in Moscow on 25 July, President Maskhadov's representative in the Russian Federation, Salambek Maigov, said Maskhadov's leadership will not nominate a presidential candidate, Interfax reported. Maigov said new elections should not be held until after a peace has been negotiated and the situation in Chechnya has returned to normal. LF

DAGHESTAN'S NEW CONSTITUTION TAKES EFFECT
The new constitution adopted by Daghestan's Constitutional Assembly on 10 July took effect on 26 July, Interfax reported. Under the new constitution, the existing collective presidency is replaced by a universally elected president, and the number of parliament deputies is reduced from 121 to 72 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 July 2003). LF

OSCE OFFICIAL DECRIES MUZZLING OF INDEPENDENT ARMENIAN TV STATIONS
In a letter addressed to Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Ambassador Daan Everts, who is the personal representative of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman in Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, expressed concern at the rejection by Armenia's National Commission on Television and Radio of tender applications by the independent television stations A1+ and Noyan Tapan for broadcast frequencies, according to a statement posted on the OSCE website (http://www.osce.org/news/show_news.php?id=3449). "The fact that both companies have been unable to broadcast for well over a year raises concern about the pluralistic nature of the broadcast media in Armenia," Everts said. Freimut Duve, who is the OSCE's high representative for the media, issued a similar criticism of the tender outcome last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). LF

ARMENIAN COMMISSION CALLS FOR CRACKDOWN ON FOREIGN RELIGIOUS GROUP
The presidential commission on human rights called on 24 July for tough measures against what its members termed "subversive cults," including amending the Criminal Code to provide for more stringent penalties, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Members' concern was primarily triggered by the expanding activities in Armenia of the Unification Church of Korean preacher Sun Myung Moon. The sect is not registered with the Armenian authorities, and commission members pointed out that the Council of Europe has designated it a threat to freedom. The commission's members were swift to stress that they do not advocate comparable restrictions on the activities in Armenia of Jehovah's Witnesses. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS DENY ARMENIANS FROM KRASNODAR SETTLING IN KARABAKH
Presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, speaking on 27 July to Space TV and the Azerbaijan News Service, respectively, both rejected as untrue Armenian media reports that Armenians from Russia's Krasnodar Krai are settling in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, according to Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). Guliev said the Krasnodar Armenians are ignoring invitations to resettle in Karabakh because living conditions in the unrecognized enclave are "unbearable." LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS TEMPORARILY DETAINED
Police in Baku detained the editors of several leading newspapers, news agencies, and journalism organizations on 26 July in what Press Club Chairman Aflatun Amashev termed "an act of psychological terrorism," and then released them 90 minutes later, Turan and Interfax reported. Police cited no reason for the detentions, in which the journalists' cars were flagged down and they were reportedly brutally manhandled. Meeting later the same day, the Editors' Council decided to request a formal meeting with Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov to discuss the incident. Also on 26 July, Garalov told journalists the detained journalists have only themselves to blame, Turan reported on 28 July. He said he supports a demand by the Justice Ministry that journalists refrain from printing what he termed "defamatory" articles about President Heidar Aliev at the behest of unnamed pro-Armenian international organizations in an attempt to demonstrate that the media in Azerbaijan are subjected to pressure. LF

IRANIAN DIPLOMATS DETAINED IN AZERBAIJAN ON SUSPICION OF ESPIONAGE
Five Iranian diplomats were detained at Baku's Bina Airport on 22 July on suspicion of espionage, the Russian-language daily "Ekho" reported on 26 July, citing IRNA. On 23 July, Azerbaijan's National Security Minister Namik Abbasov met with Iranian Ambassador Akhad Gazai to discuss the incident. The five Iranians are reportedly still in Azerbaijan. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONISTS END HUNGER STRIKE
At a session of the National Security Council held on 25 July following talks earlier that day between parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze and President Eduard Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2003), it was decided that Shevardnadze would issue a decree the following day on unfreezing the payment of several years' pension arrears totaling 89 million laris ($42.2 million) in two districts of western Georgia, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Five members of the opposition National Movement who began a hunger strike on 16 July to protest the Justice Ministry's reversal of a local-court decision that the pensions should be paid ended their hunger strike on 27 July. In his regular Monday radio broadcast, Shevardnadze on 28 July blamed the pension arrears on government corruption and the impact of the financial crises in Russia in 1998 and Turkey in 2001, Caucasus Press reported. On 23 July, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that the pensions will not be paid in cash, but that under an agreement reached between the Georgian government and the IMF, pensioners will be able to choose between government bonds or having their back pensions offset against the compulsory land tax. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DEFENDS LONG-TERM AGREEMENT WITH GAZPROM
Fuel and Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava denied on 26 July a U.S. official's statement the previous day that Tbilisi did not inform the U.S. government before signing a 25-year cooperation agreement with the Russian gas exporter Gazprom, Caucasus Press reported. On 25 July, Stephen Mann, who is special adviser to the U.S. president for Caspian energy issues, told the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 that he found out about the agreement from Gazprom's website (http://www.gazprom.ru). Mann had earlier expressed concern that closer cooperation between Georgia and Gazprom might negatively affect plans for exporting gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 June 2003). Mirtskhulava said the agreement is a framework one that does not include any specific commitments. He said Gazprom will supply Georgia with gas, renovate the country's pipeline network, and use that network to export gas to Armenia, but that Georgia will not cede control of its pipelines. On 25 July, the opposition New Rightists, United Democrats, and Union of Traditionalists denounced the agreement as a threat to Georgia's economic independence from Russia, Rustavi-2 reported. LF

ALLEGED FORGERS OF TOP-LEVEL SECURITY PASSES DETAINED IN GEORGIA
Georgia's State Security Ministry has detained a group of people who were allegedly engaged in producing forged identify passes enabling access to the State Chancellery and other state agencies and conveying the right to carry personal weapons, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. The alleged counterfeiters, who reportedly had connections with the Union of Cossacks of Russia, reportedly forged the signatures of senior officials. LF

FERRY TRAFFIC RESUMES BETWEEN ABKHAZIA, RUSSIA
For the first time in 10 years, a passenger ferry raised anchor on 26 July en route from the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum, to the Russian port of Sochi, Interfax reported. The ferry is operating under the flag of an unnamed South American country, and Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba told journalists it will bring Russian tourists to Abkhazia. The Georgian newspaper "Tribuna" on 28 July quoted Georgian State Border Department Chairman Valeri Chkheidze as warning that if the Georgian Coast Guard encounters such vessels, it will impound them. Khadjimba also told journalists on 26 July that talks are under way with the Georgian government on the return of a cargo of some 25,000 passports that was being transported by a Turkish merchant ship to Sukhum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). LF

HIZB UT-TAHRIR MEMBERS REPORTED SENTENCED IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN
Four members of the banned Muslim extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir have been convicted of distributing movement leaflets and other literature, according to the Kyrgyz Human Rights Society on 28 July. The four are reported to be residents of the village of Kyzyljar in Djalal-Abad Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan. Two of the accused received sentences of four years' imprisonment, and the other two were sentenced to three years. However, one of latter was released on probation after promising to have nothing further to do with the movement. According to the Human Rights Society, the four had no lawyers and were subjected to torture by law enforcement officials. According to a law enforcement official, as of early July eight people had been arrested in Bishkek alone so far this year for distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). As of late June, 25 people in Kyrgyzstan as a whole were known by name to the World Organization Against Torture as having been arrested and sentenced for membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. BB

OSCE MINORITIES OFFICIAL INVESTIGATES ETHNIC RELATIONS IN TAJIKISTAN
During a visit to Tajikistan on 22-24 July, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus met with senior government officials including President Imomali Rakhmonov, Tajik parliament upper house Chairman Makhmadsaid Ubaidulloev, and Education Minister Safarali Radzhabov, as well as with representatives of the country's national minorities and nongovernmental organizations, to assess the state of interethnic relations in the country, Asia Plus-Blitz and centran.ru reported on 25 July. In accord with his office's mandate, Ekeus focused particularly on the availability of education for minorities, the use of minority languages, and the opportunities for non-Tajiks to participate in the country's political life. According to Asia Plus-Blitz, Rakhmonov sought to convince Ekeus that Tajikistan has made great progress in integrating ethnic minorities. Ekeus was quoted as saying he is pleased with Tajikistan's willingness to implement further reforms to ensure interethnic harmony. The reports indicated that the Tajik side is particularly interested in OSCE support for open and secure borders. BB

TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY LEADER VISITS BADAKHSHAN
Said Abdullo Nuri, head of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), visited the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast for the first time since the end of the Tajik civil war in 1997, the Varorud news agency reported on 27 July. Nuri was quoted as telling a press conference in the Badakhshani administrative center Khorog that his visit was intended to help strengthen national unity. He was quoted as saying the IRP is the third-largest party in Gorno-Badakhshan, after the Popular Democratic Party of President Rakhmonov and the Communist Party. Therefore, it is one of the most important political forces in the Pamir region, he said. Nuri told the Khorog journalists that the inhabitants of the Pamir have a special responsibility for Tajikistan's security because their oblast's long border with Afghanistan facilitates drugs and arms trafficking. He urged the region's inhabitants to help the border service stop the smuggling. BB

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS TAJIKISTAN STILL WANTS RUSSIAN BASE
Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev told journalists on 24 July that Tajikistan is still interested in having the Russian Federation set up a military base in the country, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 25 July. Khairulloev was speaking after a visit by a delegation from the Russian Defense Ministry led by Russian Ground Forces Chief of Staff Colonel General Aleksandr Morozov, which arrived in Dushanbe on 21 July to discuss the Russian plan to reorganize the 201st Motorized Infantry Division into a regular army base. The division has been stationed in Tajikistan since before the collapse of the USSR. Khairulloev said the Tajik and Russian defense ministries are negotiating conditions for the base that would be acceptable to both sides. Plans for the transformation appeared to be well under way when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tajikistan in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003), but little seems to have been resolved in the meantime, leading some Russian and Tajik media to speculate on the future of the Russian base. A persistent story, denied by all concerned, asserts that the United States has offered Tajikistan $1 billion if Dushanbe rejects the Russian base. BB

UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS APPEAL TO RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ON DISSIDENT'S CASE
A group of Uzbek human rights activists has appealed to Russian President Putin to intervene in the case of Bakhrom Khamroev, a leader of the banned Uzbek democratic movement Birlik, who was arrested in Moscow on 20 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003), centrasia.ru reported on 27 July. The letter asserts that Khamroev's arrest creates the impression that the Russian authorities are taking orders from the Uzbek security forces, which are trying to stop the publication and distribution in Uzbekistan of the opposition journal "Harakat." Khamroev's wife told Uzbek human rights activists that she, her husband, and his brother were questioned recently by police about Khamroev's alleged connections with extremist groups and about his involvement with "Harakat." The letter points out that Khamroev, a Russian citizen, was forced to emigrate from Uzbekistan because of the repression of dissidents in the early 1990s, and now he appears to be facing the same thing in Russia. BB

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF STATE SOVEREIGNTY
The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) issued a statement on 27 July to mark the 13th anniversary of the adoption of Belarus's Declaration of State Sovereignty, Belapan reported. "The adoption in 1990 of the Declaration of the Sovereignty of the BSSR [Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic] started the trying and complicated process of Belarus's withdrawal from the Soviet empire and return to the ideals of the BNR [the short-lived Belarusian Democratic Republic proclaimed on 25 March 1918]," BNF said in a statement signed by its chairman, Vintsuk Vyachorka. "The Declaration of Belarus's State Sovereignty is a continuation of the steps made by our predecessors on 25 March 1918," the chairman of the 12th Supreme Soviet in 1991-94, Stanislau Shushkevich, said. Mechyslau Hryb, who succeeded Shushkevich as the 12th Supreme Soviet's speaker, called the adoption of the declaration a quiet revolution of sorts. "The state independence of our country is the result of our people's struggle for freedom, the goal of millions of people who died for independence," he said. State authorities and pro-government organizations mark Independence Day on 3 July, the day Minsk was liberated from German invaders. AM

UKRAINIAN CONSUL URGES CZECH CRACKDOWN ON ILLEGAL EMPLOYMENT
Ukrainian consul Igor Krushnin said in Prague on 25 July that Czech laws do not allow for the strict enforcement of measures to counter illegal migration, CTK reported. He said one of the biggest problems is that the Czech state does not sufficiently punish firms that hire illegal Ukrainian labor. Zdenek Kral of the Czech Interior Ministry agreed that fines for employers are too low. "The punishments for them are insufficient to prevent the hiring of an illegal immigrant from being advantageous," Kral said. The Czech Republic and Ukraine signed a treaty last month that allows for the transfer of social-security payments for Ukrainians who are legally employed. "It is therefore much more advantageous to work legally," Krushnin said. "That is another way of fighting the illegal labor market." AM

U.S. ENERGY OFFICIAL DISCUSSES OPPORTUNITIES IN LATVIA
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Kyle McSlarrow, co-chairman of the U.S.-Russian energy task force, began a three-day visit to Latvia on 24 July following his visits to the Russian port cities of St. Petersburg, Murmansk, and Primorsk, BNS reported. Following his meeting in Ventspils on 25 July with Mayor Aivars Lembergs and leaders of the joint-stock company "Ventspils nafta" (Ventspils Oil), McSlarrow said several U.S. companies are interested in cooperating with the company, but he declined to name them. Talks with Prime Minister Einars Repse focused on the situation in the Latvian power sector, especially the transit of Russian oil. McSlarrow also met with Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers and Economy Minister Juris Lujans and visited President Vaira Vike-Freiberga at her residence in Jurmala. Their discussions dealt with Latvian-U.S. cooperation in the economic sphere and the energy sector, with Vike-Freiberga urging greater U.S. investment. SG

SEVEN LITHUANIAN DIPLOMATS RESIGN AFTER LOSING ACCESS TO CLASSIFIED INFORMATION
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis told a press conference in Vilnius on 25 July that seven diplomats who were working in Russia and Belarus submitted their resignations the previous day after the State Security Department recommended that their access to classified information be rescinded, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Valionis said only that the issue pertains to "information about a state secret," but the media reported that the seven had been requesting bribes to speed up the granting of visas to Russia and Belarus. Loss of access to classified information, in effect, meant being fired, as such access is a requirement for the positions the seven officials held. Gediminas Siaudvytis, who was soon to become Lithuanian ambassador to Turkey, was the highest-ranking of the seven. SG

POLISH PROSECUTORS SEEK ARREST OF LEGISLATORS
Prosecutors on 25 July formally requested permission from Sejm speaker Marek Borowski to issue an arrest warrant against Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) deputy Andrzej Jagiello, who is suspected of tipping off local officials and crime bosses in Starachowice about their pending detention by police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003), PAP reported. Justice Minister and Prosecutor-General Grzegorz Kurczuk are also seeking the arrest of the SLD chairman in Swiety Krzyz, Henryk Dlugosz, who is suspected of involvement in the case. Dlugosz has maintained his innocence and publicly offered to surrender his immunity in order to clear his name. The prosecution the same day filed for the arrest of Self-Defense deputy Renata Beger and League of Polish Families (LPR) deputy Jozef Skowyra. Beger is accused of forging 1,400 signatures to help her reach parliament. AM

MOST POLISH COMPANIES UNPREPARED FOR IRAQI PROJECTS, COORDINATION OFFICIAL SAYS
The head of the International Coordinating Committee in Iraq, Marek Belka, said on 26 July that most Polish companies are unprepared for or uninterested in making the necessary investment to participate in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, Polish Radio reported. "We must be aware that this is an enormous operation, one in which it is necessary to invest. And only a few Polish enterprises can invest," Belka said. He said refinery Nafta Polska is among the enterprises seeking a presence on the Iraqi market. Nafta Polska has had contact with U.S.-based Kellogg Brown & Root -- a unit of Halliburton -- and is seeking to establish lasting mutual ties in an effort to secure subcontracting work in Iraq, Belka said. AM

CZECH PREMIER RESPONDS TO ASSAULT BY OPPOSITION...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 25 July that he believes his center-left, three-party coalition will serve out its term until the elections due in 2006. Spidla is under mounting pressure since a lawmaker defected from his Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) parliamentary group, eliminating the government's one-seat majority in the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 25 July 2003). The senior opposition Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) chairman, Senator Miroslav Topolanek, told a television audience on 27 July that his party will move a vote of no-confidence motion against Spidla's cabinet in September, CTK reported. MS

...AND BY INTRAPARTY OPPONENTS
A Prague branch of CSSD called on 26 July for an extraordinary party conference that would likely be aimed at ousting Spidla, CTK reported, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." In an e-mail to all CSSD members, the branch wrote that the "party has lost the internal dynamics that have been laboriously constructed since the mid-1990s, and is experiencing a protracted crisis that is the deepest the party has faced since its renewal in 1989." The CSSD members said their call is "an attempt to halt the current crisis and return to the election program that helped the CSSD win the last two elections." Spidla countered on 27 July that "this is not the right situation for a conference," CTK reported. Meanwhile, Spidla said on 27 July that lawyer Vladimir Papez has withdrawn his candidacy for the post of justice minister, CTK reported. Spidla had announced Papez's designation to the post on 21 July, but said that Papez subsequently wrote him to say that his appointment might "complicate the government's and the premier's situation." Papez's driving license was revoked after an accident in which he was found to be driving under the influence of alcohol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). Spidla said he will fill the justice minister's post until a suitable candidate is found, which is likely to be within several weeks. MS

FORMER CZECH SOCIALIST PARTY LEADER DEAD
Jiri Horak, who headed the CSSD for two years after the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, died in Florida on 25 July at the age of 79, CTK reported. Although the CSSD under Horak's leadership gained parliamentary representation in 1992, its political influence was minor until Horak's successor, Milos Zeman, took over in 1993. MS

SLOVAKIA REOPENS EMBASSY IN IRAQ
The Slovak Embassy in Iraq was reopened on 25 July after a five-month closure that began ahead of U.S.-led Operation Iraqi Freedom, TASR reported, citing a Foreign Ministry communique. The embassy will initially be manned by two diplomats whose chief mission, according to the ministry, will be to ensure Slovakia's participation in Iraq's economic and political reconstruction. The embassy was evacuated on 14 February and was plundered following the collapse of the regime in Baghdad, so the Slovak diplomatic team will temporarily operate from Slovakia's diplomatic residence in Baghdad, which was not damaged. MS

SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER PRESENTS PLAN FOR ELECTORAL REFORM
Interior Minister Vladimir Palko presented his plan on 25 July for reforming Slovakia's electoral system, TASR and CTK reported. Palko's scheme would maintain the current system of proportional representation but divide the country into four electoral districts, and it would introduce multiple "preferential votes." Absentee ballots could also be cast via e-mail, and polling stations would be open for one day instead of the current two. Parties and electoral alliances would be required to post a 500,000-crown ($13,700) deposit per constituency, which they would forfeit if they failed to reach 2 percent. The draft bill should be discussed by the government in late August or early September. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: GOVERNMENT INCAPABLE OF COPING WITH ECONOMIC CRISIS
FIDESZ Chairman and former Premier Viktor Orban said on 25 July that the current Hungarian government is incapable of coping with the problems posed by the country's economic situation, which he described as near collapse, Romanian Mediafax news agency reported. Orban said that when it signed the EU-accession agreement, Hungary believed it would be able to draw substantial funds from the organization. Those expectations were not met, he added. Orban said he believes Hungary will end up paying more into the EU budget than it receives, and he urged his Transylvanian audience to "build up its own small little world" separate from that of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). He accused the UDMR of obstructing freedom of expression, citing Bishop Laszlo Toekes's dismissal from the UDMR honorary chairmanship earlier this year for allegedly being too outspoken. He also criticized the Hungarian government's negotiations with Romania on the Status Law, particularly for agreeing to remove the Hungarian national symbol St. Stephen's Crown from identification cards for ethnic Hungarians living abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). MS

HUNGARIAN FREE DEMOCRATS TO RUN ON SEPARATE LISTS FOR EU PARLIAMENT
Chairman Gabor Kuncze said his Free Democrat party will run for seats in the European Parliament in 2004 on lists separate from those of its Socialist Party colleagues in government, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 26 July. The Socialists have reportedly offered to run on joint lists, as the Free Democrats are currently polling roughly 2 percent, making it unlikely that they can pass the 5 percent threshold for seats. Many Free Democrats are reportedly hoping that Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky, who heads the Free Democrats' lists and whose popularity is high, will pull the party into the European Parliament. MS

HUNGARIAN PLANS FOR RESERVE ARMY FLOUNDER
The Defense Ministry's plans to set up a voluntary reserve force appears to have met with failure, as only 94 people have signed up thus far, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 28 July. The ministry had expected 1,500 to sign up when recruitment for the force started in November. The plan calls for a well-trained reservist force, to be called on in case of national emergencies or major NATO exercises. The reservists were supposed to undergo 25 days of training in the first year, then serve 15 days per year. They were to be paid salaries similar to full-time professional soldiers for the duration of their enrollment in the force. "Nepszabadsag" said the poor enrollment might lie in the fact that the plan makes no provision for lost income during the training. While employees are legally bound to release reservists for duty, they are not obliged to pay them during time off and may fire them if they feel that the recruit takes too much time off for soldiering. MS

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER UPBEAT ON RELATIONS WITH U.S.
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Washington that relations between his country and the United States "are the best they've been in 50 years," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and "Vesti" reported on 26-27 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June and 25 July 2003). He stressed that the most important recent change in bilateral relations is that Washington now regards Belgrade as an "ally and partner" and has dropped what he called the previous U.S. policy of "sticks and carrots." Zivkovic added that good relations with the United States do not mean that joining the EU "is not a priority" for his country. Referring to the Washington meetings between members of his delegation and representatives of several U.S. companies, Zivkovic mentioned a "strategic partnership" developing between Serbia's JAT Yugoslav Airlines and Boeing. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO FACES 'DILEMMA' WITH EU
Branko Lukovac, who is Serbia and Montenegro's minister of foreign economic relations, said in Podgorica on 26 July that he regards the prediction made recently by some of his unspecified countrymen that Serbia and Montenegro will join the EU by 2010 as too optimistic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). He stressed that admission to the EU depends on much more than the "ambition and goodwill" of the candidate country in question. In the coming months, Serbia and Montenegro will find itself confronted with the dilemma of whether to yield to EU pressure to strengthen the institutions of the joint state or to persuade the international community to be "flexible" regarding those joint institutions, Lukovac added (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 February 2003). Recent public-opinion polls suggest that a clear majority in Serbia and a smaller one in Montenegro oppose continuing the joint state, which was agreed under heavy EU pressure in 2002. PM

SERBIAN POLICE ARREST ASSASSINATION SUSPECT
The Serbian Interior Ministry confirmed on 27 July that police arrested Nikola Bajic the previous day in conjunction with the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, and 25 July 2003). It is unclear where and under what circumstances the arrest took place. Bajic, whom a Belgrade court sentenced in April in absentia to three years in jail for extortion, was one of the 10 remaining important suspects in the Djindjic case. PM

MACEDONIA AND SERBIA SIGN SECURITY PACT
Macedonian Interior Minister Hari Kostov and his Serbian counterpart Dusan Mihajlovic signed an agreement in Ohrid on 25 July to promote cooperation in cracking down on organized crime, illegal border crossings, and trafficking in human beings, drugs, and weapons, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian and Macedonian politicians sometimes use the term "combating organized crime" as a euphemism for cracking down on ethnic Albanians, much as some Western politicians use the term "law and order" as a buzzword for oppressing minorities. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT SAYS UNEMPLOYMENT AND POVERTY ARE BIGGEST PROBLEMS
President Boris Trajkovski told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 27 July that the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement is proceeding well and there is no danger of the country being partitioned along ethnic lines, as some opposition politicians recently advocated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 25 April 2003). Trajkovski agreed with Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, who recently told RFE/RL that unemployment and poverty pose immense problems (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 July 2003). "I want to believe in [Crvenkovski's] optimistic declaration that 2004 will see an economic upswing," Trajkovski said, adding that this would also improve the security situation and the country's chances for NATO and EU membership. UB

FORMER FINNISH PRIME MINISTER NAMED TO KOSOVA POST...
On 25 July, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan named former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri to succeed Germany's Michael Steiner as head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). Holkeri, who has no Balkan experience, served as Finland's prime minister from 1987-91 and was involved in the Northern Ireland peace process from 1995-98. In 2000-01, he served as president of the UN General Assembly, where he reportedly developed a good working relationship with Annan. Holkeri has also served on the governing boards of the Bank of Finland and Finnair. PM

...AND RECEIVES A WARM WELCOME FROM KOSOVA'S PRESIDENT
Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 26 July that he is confident that Holkeri will help advance the process of resolving the final status of Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). Rugova added that he believes Holkeri will help promote economic development and cooperation between UNMIK and Kosova's elected officials. In separate remarks, Rugova noted that a clear majority of Kosova's population voted for independence in a 1991 referendum. He called recent comments by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and other unnamed Serbian officials on the status of Kosova "unacceptable [and] an attempt to destabilize Kosova and the region as a whole." PM

HAVE FORENSIC EXPERTS FOUND BOSNIA'S LARGEST MASS GRAVE?
Bosnian forensics experts began exhuming human remains from a mass grave in the Crni Vrh area near Zvornik on 28 July, dpa reported. The Bosnian Commission on Missing Persons believes that the grave contains the remains of some 300 people, including local non-Serbs killed by Serbian forces in 1992-93 as well as Muslim male victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Forensics experts said they believe that the bodies originally were buried at other locations but later reburied at Crni Vrh in an attempt to hide evidence of war crimes. Some 5,000 of up to 8,000 Srebrenica victims remain unaccounted for. PM

MUSLIMS SEEK TO CHANGE BOSNIAN SERB LAWS
On 26 July, Bosnian Muslim deputies in the parliament of the Republika Srpska formally proposed changing legislation on state symbols and local government, arguing that current laws "are against the vital interests of the [Muslims]...and discriminate against [all] non-Serbs," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Muslim proposal won the backing of ethnic Croatian legislators but was strongly criticized by the ethnic Serbian political parties. Starting with then-President Biljana Plavsic in 1995, successive Bosnian Serb leaders have stressed that they support the Dayton peace agreements as legitimizing the "statehood" of the Republika Srpska. PM

BOSNIA CALLS ON CROATIA TO HELP SERBIAN RETURNEES
Mirsad Kebo, who is Bosnia's minister for human rights and refugee affairs, told the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" of 26 July that Croatia must live up to its obligation to return the property of ethnic Serbs who fled Croatia to Bosnia during the 1991-95 conflict but now wish to go home. Kebo added that he recently told Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic and other Croatian officials that the Bosnian authorities know of about 24,000 Serbs who want to return to Croatia, while Zagreb puts the number at about 2,600. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TRIGGERS NEW SCANDAL OVER HOLOCAUST...
In an interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" on 25 July, President Ion Iliescu said the Holocaust "was not unique to the Jewish people in Europe," an RFE/RL correspondent in Israel reported. Iliescu said that in Romania "others, who were labeled communists...were similarly treated," adding that his own father, who was a communist, was sent to the Targu-Jiu concentration camp and died at the age of 44 just one year after his release. Iliescu also said Poles suffered just as Jews did during the Holocaust. Iliescu, speaking in English, said he opposes the restitution of properties confiscated by the fascists and communists from Jews because the "wretched Romanian citizens from today" should not "pay for what happened in history without being guilty of anything." Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid called Iliescu's comments "insensitive" and the Foreign Ministry handed Romanian Ambassador to Israel Mariana Stoica an official protest and instructed Israeli Ambassador to Romania Sandu Mazor to protest in Bucharest. The Israeli English-language daily "The Jerusalem Post" on 26 July called for the repudiation of "Iliescu's anti-Semitism" and the recall of the Israeli ambassador, comparing Iliescu with Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider. MS

...AND CHANGES FOCUS OF FOREIGN MINISTER'S U.S. VISIT
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who began a visit to the United States on 26 July, met the next day with leaders of U.S. Jewish organizations, Romanian Radio reported. In an obvious effort to prevent further damage to his country's image, Geoana told leaders of B'nai Brith and the American Jewish Committee that one should make a distinction between occasional passing tensions caused by misunderstandings and Romania's core stance in dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust and the country's relations with Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. In addition, Iliescu on 27 July issued a statement saying he is "surprised and saddened" by the "misinterpretations" of his declarations, which he said were cited "out of context." Israeli-Romanian relations were cooled last month following Romanian comments pertaining to the Holocaust (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 16, 17, and 18 June 2003). MS

INTERNATIONAL PEACEKEEPING BRIGADE MOVES HEADQUARTERS TO CONSTANTA
The international peacekeeping force Seebrig on 25 July inaugurated its new headquarters in the Black Sea port of Constanta, having moved the headquarters from Plodviv, Bulgaria, AP and Romanian Radio reported. The force comprises troops from Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey. Slovenia, Croatia, and the United States have observer status. President Iliescu addressed the opening ceremony. In parallel, a meeting of defense ministers from Seebrig member countries was held in Constanta. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS HIS COUNTRY WILL NOT BECOME GRAVE DIGGER OF THE CIS...
In a message addressed to Moldovan diplomats serving abroad, President Vladimir Voronin warned against the "danger posed by foreign and local [Moldovan] politicians who deliberately exaggerate the military aspect of the Transdniester settlement," Flux reported on 26 July, citing a presidential communique. Voronin was apparently cryptically expressing his rejection of an initiative attributed to OSCE Chairman in Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer regarding the possible participation of EU forces in a Transdniester peacekeeping force under OSCE supervision. Voronin wrote that "it is not a peaceful parting of the country that we need, but its reintegration, regardless of how much effort reintegration will cost." He also said: "European integration remains the main vector of Moldovan foreign policy, but this does not mean that Moldova is or intends to become the grave digger of the CIS. We do not face here a matter of opting [between Europe and the CIS] but one of correct policy. Those who try to present it as an option between them are either incompetent politicians or politicians whose time has passed." MS

...AND URGES EFFORTS FOR ACHIEVING NATIONAL REUNIFICATION
Speaking before the newly established Civic Forum for the Settlement of the Transdniester Conflict, Voronin said on 25 July that reintegration is a strategic goal not only of the government, but also of Moldovan society as a whole, Infotag reported. "The only way we can achieve that is by getting rid of the heavy burden of [mutual] mistrust, nationalism, and xenophobia, by rising above personal ambitions and facing today's realities," Voronin said. "Otherwise, the Transdniester problem will for long remain associated with violence, oppression, self-isolation, and the Cold War." Meanwhile, state media on 25 July carried the text of a presidential initiative dispatched for debate to the parliament, BASA-press reported. Presenting to the Civic Forum the text of this National Policy Concept, Voronin said that "reintegration categorically excludes any form of revenge or return to old grievances." The initiative's text, published in the daily "Moldova suverana," stipulates that integration must be entrenched in the "consolidation of the united people based on Moldova's multicultural and multilingual diversity and the harmonization of the general interest with the interests of all ethnic and linguistic communities in the country." The document claims that Moldova's statehood has been historically continuous and based on "Moldovan" and Russian bilingualism. It also says the "Moldovan language" must be the country's state language, while Russian must be a "language of interethnic communication" used "in all spheres of state and society." MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON GAGAUZ-YERI...
Parliament on 25 July approved an amendment to the constitution that officially recognizes the autonomous status of the Gagauz-Yeri region, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The amendment was supported by 76 Party of Moldovan Communists and independent deputies. Nine deputies representing the Popular Party Christian Democratic voted against. Braghis Alliance deputies are boycotting the parliamentary debates. The amendment was approved after the removal of a stipulation that would have granted Gagauz-Yeri the right of secession in the event Moldova loses its independent status. The approved amendment grants the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly the same rights as those enjoyed by the Moldovan parliament, government, and president. MS

...WHILE COURT SENTENCES FORMER GAGAUZ-YERI OFFICIAL TO JAIL TERM
The Moldovan Court of Appeals on 25 July sentenced former Gagauz-Yeri Protocol Department head Ivan Burgudji to three years in prison, Infotag reported. Burgudji was also banned from running for public office for five years after serving his sentence. He was found guilty of abuse of power relating to his obstruction of the February 2002 referendum in Gagauz-Yeri and subversive activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April and 3 July 2002). His lawyer said Burguji will appeal to the Supreme Court. MS

INCIDENT AT MOLDOVAN-UKRAINIAN BORDER REPORTED
The Moldovan Supreme Security Council on 25 July denied a report in the Ukrainian media according to which Moldovan forces have forcefully occupied the Dnedstrovsk power station, which is located on a dam spanning the Dniester River, which runs along parts of the countries' border, Infotag and Flux reported. According to the Ukrainian reports cited by Flux, Moldovan border guards last week occupied parts of the station on the basis that they are situated on Moldovan territory, as the border runs along the middle of the river. The Ukrainian reports also said Ukrainian workers at the power station are being escorted to work by Moldovan border guards. Moldovan Supreme Security Council Secretary Valerii Gorbulea was quoted by Infotag as saying the move is "in strict accordance with the Moldovan-Ukrainian treaty of delimitation and demarcation of the border." He said only those parts of the power station that are on Moldovan territory were taken under the border guards' control, and not the station as a whole. "Our men did not set foot on the dam itself," Gorbulea said. RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 27 July that a special Moldovan-Ukrainian commission would meet in Chisinau on 28 July to examine the details of the incident. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT URGED TO ACT QUICKLY ON ELECTION-LAW AMENDMENTS
Ekaterina Mihailova, deputy chairwoman of the conservative opposition party Union of Democratic Forces' (SDS), on 27 July urged President Georgi Parvanov to act quickly if he intends to veto recently passed amendments to the law on local elections, mediapool.bg reported. Mihailova warned that any delay in the lawmaking procedure could jeopardize the local elections slated for October. On 25 July, the leaders of the smaller partners in the governing coalition called on Parvanov to veto the amendments. In an open letter, Tosho Peykov of the National Renewal Movement "Oborishte" and Vesela Draganova of the Party of Bulgarian Women argued that forming the Central Election Commission could be difficult because of the complicated and vague seat-distribution system set out in the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June and 24 July 2003). UB

FITCH RATINGS SEES MIXED SIGNALS IN BULGARIA
Fitch Ratings announced on 24 July that agency forecasts long-term positive economic development in Bulgaria, but noted the negative effects of failed privatizations. The ratings agency improved Bulgaria's long-term foreign-currency rating from BB to BB+ and its local currency rating from BB+ to BBB-, while its short-term rating remains B. Edward Parker, director in Fitch's Sovereign Group, said in a press release that "the upgrade and positive outlook reflect Bulgaria's strong macroeconomic policy and performance, underpinned by its currency-board arrangement and EU-accession ambitions, which are expected to continue delivering rapid declines in its public and external debt ratios." Fitch expects Bulgaria's GDP to increase by 4.7 percent in 2003. Parker lauded the strict budgetary controls Bulgaria has implemented, but added that the failed privatizations of Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) and the Bulgartabac tobacco monopoly disappointed foreign investors. UB

FIRST BULGARIAN TROOPS LEAVE FOR GULF AMID TIGHTENED SECURITY
A 30-member vanguard of Bulgaria's contingent of the international stabilization force in Iraq departed for the Persian Gulf on 26 July, novinite.com reported. Police imposed tight security measures at Krumovo airport near Plovdiv, where three transport aircraft took off for Kuwait, where the troops will be stationed until they are deployed in Iraq in September. The rest of the 500-strong contingent will join the vanguard in early August. UB

PARSING THE KYRGYZ CONSTITUTION'S 'NEW EDITION'
In the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on 19 July, President Askar Akaev took part in a government-sponsored roundtable referred to as the Partnership Forum (its full title was "Kyrgyz Statehood in the Third Millennium: New Mechanisms for Partnership Between the State Authorities and Civil Society") that brought together government officials, representatives of pro-governmental and opposition political parties, NGOs, and the media. In a wide-ranging discussion described by Kabar news agency as "a distillation of all the views about the development of social and political cooperation between constructive forces in the Kyrgyz Republic," one statement stood out: a promise by Akaev, repeating earlier assurances, that he will not seek re-election when his current term expires in 2005.

Fifteen strongly oppositionist and centrist parties were invited to the roundtable, including Ar-Namys, Ata-Meken, and Moya Strana, Deutsche Welle reported. They held an informal meeting on 16 July to coordinate strategies for the roundtable. According to Ar-Namys official Emil Aliev, they agreed to press for local and parliamentary elections to be held on the basis of party lists, to urge the government to grant the opposition equal access to the state media, and to lobby for genuine freedom of the media and of assembly. At the roundtable, however, Akaev's opponents were relatively muted, according to the official news agency Kabar, which reported that the event was notable for its constructive orientation. Similarly, the head of the department for defense and security in the Kyrgyz presidential administration, Bolot Dzhanuzakov, summing up the roundtable in a press conference, told journalists that dialogue during the event was positive, akipress.org reported on 23 July. He also noted that what he called the "demonstration-and-picket syndrome" has subsided since the roundtable, which in his view has helped to stabilize the country.

Critics complained that oppositionists missed an opportunity to use the forum to express their demands to the authorities. In part this was because several political parties -- including the Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan, the Asaba Party, and others -- boycotted the roundtable, for which they were criticized by the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Communist Party head Klara Azhibekova said parliamentarian Absamat Masaliev, head of the Party of Communists, should have spoken up about alleged government deception in the formation of the Constitutional Council, the body created to consider amendments to the constitution that were approved in a referendum in February. Deutsche Welle added that three oppositionists who were not actually invited to the roundtable turned up anyway -- parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov, Erkindik Party chief Topchubek Turgunaliev, and Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov -- sat in the audience but were but were not allowed to speak.

In his opening speech, reported by Kyrgyz Radio on 19 July, Akaev stated that he would not run again for the post of president. "I have answered this twice before. And I answered unequivocally that the new version of the constitution does not provide a new mandate for me," the president said. "The elections in 2005 will be held in strict compliance with the new version of the constitution and the principles of democracy." Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, said that Akaev's promise to step down, as well as his confirmations of the dates of parliamentary and presidential elections, provided a basis for stability in the country, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported.

But others continue to wonder how "unequivocal" Akaev's commitment to relinquish power really is. Aliev, of the Ar-Namys Party, commented after the roundtable that the president's pledge was just another political deception intended for the international community, Deutsche Welle reported on 21 July. In fact Akaev, who would be the first Central Asian leader to step down voluntarily, has never shut the door on himself with the unambiguous clarity of Lyndon Johnson's famous utterance from 1968: "I will not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president." And, on 21 July, the Russian newspaper "Kommersant" reported that worried political analysts in Kyrgyzstan were drawing attention to Akaev's phrase "in strict compliance with the new version of the constitution." Instead of referring to constitutional amendments approved by the February 2003 referendum, Dzhanukov and presidential press secretaries also exclusively talk about a new version or edition ("redaktsiya") of the constitution. The shift in government officialese has significant implications, the newspaper pointed out. If the regime can establish that the referendum ushered in a fundamentally new version of the constitution, it is a small step to argue that Akaev can run again against a fresh political backdrop. (The courts accepted a similar argument when they ruled that Akaev's 1991 election victory "didn't count" because Kyrgyzstan adopted its first postcommunist constitution in 1993. Consequently his "first term" effectively dated from his election win in 1995.)

On the other hand, the recent adoption of a law in Kyrgyzstan granting lifelong privileges to former presidents, including immunity from prosecution, has raised speculation that Akaev really is preparing an exit strategy and that the country will experience a peaceful transfer of power, probably to a hand-picked successor. But who? "Kommersant" made the case for Akaev's wife, Maryam. It said there was no doubt she would stand as a candidate this autumn in one of the electoral districts in Issyk-Kul Oblast, where her election "is already regarded as a fait accompli." The newspaper then traced Maryam's putative elevation to parliamentary speaker of the parliament and thence to the presidency -- in fact a kind of regency, holding power for 10-12 years until the Akaevs' son, Aidar, currently in his late 20s, attaines the maturity and gravitas to take over the family seat.

AFGHAN POLICEMEN KILLED IN HELMAND PROVINCE
Haji Mohammad Wali, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand Province, said on 28 July that six Afghan policemen were killed in Grishk District on 27 July when their vehicle came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades, Reuters reported. Wali blamed the attack on forces loyal to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, or neo-Taliban. Helmand Province was a stronghold of the ousted Taliban regime. AT

ZABUL PROVINCE APPEALS FOR HELP IN FACE OF THREATS
Zabul Province Deputy Governor Mulla Mohammad Omar (not to be confused with the Taliban leader of the same name) has appealed to coalition forces for help in dealing with neo-Taliban forces in the province, the BBC reported on 28 July. Mohammad Omar said the forces at his disposal cannot effectively combat neo-Taliban forces that are, in the BBC's words, "roaming freely in several districts of his province." The neo-Taliban forces have named their own governor and other administrative officers in the province, according to the BBC. AT

POSTER SERVES DEATH NOTICE TO AFGHAN 'COLLABORATORS'
Posters threatening Afghan "informers" with death appeared on 27 July in the southern Afghan city of Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, Reuters reported. The posters, printed in Pashtu and signed in the name of the "Taliban mujahedin," specifically identified 25 individuals who will "be killed at the appropriate moment" for their roles in the "massacre of Taliban mujahedin" -- apparently a reference to the reported killing of more than 20 neo-Taliban fighters by coalition forces near Spin Boldak on 19 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 July 2003). The poster claims the targeted individuals "have been cooperating with the American forces and their agents [a reference of the Afghan Transitional Administration] despite Taliban warnings." Mulla Abdul Samad, an officer of the neo-Taliban forces, said the individuals listed "have been given privileges and facilities by the [Afghan] government for spying on the Taliban activities." AT

U.S. ADMINISTRATION REPORTEDLY TO PROPOSE TRIPLING AID TO AFGHANISTAN
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush will soon propose a $1 billion aid package for Afghanistan, which would be more than triple the $300 million per year Afghanistan currently receives from the United States, "The Washington Post" reported on 27 July, citing unidentified sources in the administration. The officials said the new aid package is designed to fund short-term projects that can be completed by October 2004, the date set for general elections in Afghanistan. They added that the aid package was also designed to counter criticism that the United States has shifted its focus from Afghanistan to Iraq. U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith said the new aid package is a result of "a comprehensive, strategic update on Afghanistan" with the aim of completing the U.S. mission in Afghanistan "sooner rather than later." AT

AFGHAN ADMINISTRATION SETS UP ELECTION COMMISSION
Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has decreed the formation of a joint Afghan-United Nations commission to coordinate and supervise the general elections scheduled for October 2004, Radio Afghanistan reported on 26 July. The Joint Electoral Coordination Office comprises of 10 members, five of whom will be members of the Afghan Interim Election Commission, which includes the head of the electoral section of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The remaining five members will be recommended by the UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, to the Joint Electoral Coordination Office (for an analysis of the Afghan elections, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 June 2003). AT

ARRESTS MADE IN CASE OF CANADIAN JOURNALIST KILLED IN IRAN
Tehran's Public and Revolutionary Court announced on 26 July that five individuals who were involved in the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi have been arrested and jailed, ISNA reported. The news agency did not identify these individuals. The arrests came just one day after an anonymous Prosecutor's Office official was cited by AP as saying that Judge Javad Ismaili is heading the new probe into the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 25 July 2003). Ismaili reportedly began his preliminary investigation with a visit to Evin Prison, where Kazemi was held following her arrest. BS

IRANIAN SUPREME COURT JUDGE SKEPTICAL ABOUT INVESTIGATION RESULTS...
Discussing the death of Zahra Kazemi, Supreme Court Judge Mohammad Sadeq Al-i Ishaq said in a 26 July interview with ISNA that it is unacceptable that 25 years after the Islamic revolution certain events still occur that require the creation of a special committee to uncover the truth, and even then there is the fear that there might not be any results. The judge said it should be easy to identify the people involved in the case, because it is clear where Kazemi was held. He said the people responsible for Kazemi's death must be punished. In a reference to the 1998 murders of dissidents by Intelligence and Security Ministry personnel, he added, "It is hoped that this file will not have the same fate as some other files, such as that of the serial murders." BS

...AND IS CRITICAL OF JUDICIAL OFFICIALS
Supreme Court Judge Al-i Ishaq also was critical of judiciary personnel, telling ISNA on 26 July that "I would like to point out that in the judiciary there are a number of high-ranking judicial officials who have no experience in legal matters." "Although they are at a high level of learning, that by itself is not sufficient," he added. "A person who has not performed any legal tasks and has no judicial experience will not be able to be a successful manager in the judicial system." BS

TEHRAN LOOKS INTO CASE OF IRANIAN SHOT IN CANADA
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 25 July that his ministry has launched an investigation into the case of Keyvan Tabesh and Amir Aqai, two Iranian men shot by a plainclothes police officer in a Vancouver suburb after Tabesh reportedly attacked the officer with a machete, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2003). Tabesh was killed in the incident and Aqai was wounded. Kharrazi said the Foreign Ministry feels, in IRNA's words, "duty-bound to safeguard and protect rights of Iranian nationals all over the world." The Foreign Ministry summoned the Canadian charge d'affaires on 26 July, according to IRNA. BS

IRANIAN REFORMIST FACTIONS PREPARE FOR 2004 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur said that 100 reformist legislators met before the summer break and they will meet again in the coming week, according to a report in the 26 July issue of "Jomhuri-yi Islami." He said the objective is not to create a new party but to bring about accord among everyone and to eliminate tensions. "The topics to be discussed at this meeting will be appropriate ways to reduce the country's political tensions, [facilitate] interaction, and establish a dialogue among moderate currents in both of the factions," Bushehr representative Rahman Khalili said. Khalili added that this new grouping wants to get away from the extremists who are currently active politically. Rasht representative Elias Hazrati provided some details when he said, "A new spectrum will be created in the 2nd Khordad Front in coalition with the Solidarity Party and the Association of Militant Clergy, which will operate actively in the [2004] elections." BS

SPECIAL BASIJ UNITS TO BE ESTABLISHED IN TEHRAN AREA
Tehran Basij Resistance Force commander Brigadier General Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam said special Basij units will be established in Tehran by 21 March 2004 to support the Ashura Battalions, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported. In addition to being a reserve force for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Basij units participate in the suppression of civil unrest. Two such units already exist, Ahmadi-Moqaddam said, and one is to be deployed in the Meqdad area and the other will be deployed in Rey. One will have air-transport duties while the other will support the IRGC navy in maritime and scuba operations. The training they are undergoing includes parachuting, scuba diving, self-defense, physical fitness, and mountaineering. BS

WEEKEND ATTACKS LEAVE FIVE U.S. SOLDIERS DEAD IN IRAQ
Five U.S. troops were killed and 10 troops or other individuals were injured in separate attacks on 26 and 27 July, according to press releases posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). Three soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division guarding the Ba'qubah Children's Hospital were killed and four injured in a grenade attack on 26 July. Later the same day, one soldier was killed and two others were wounded in Baghdad when their convoy was attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. The soldiers were members of an engineer unit attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, CENTCOM reported. That attack also left three Iraqis injured. On 27 July, one soldier was killed and another wounded when their patrol was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade near the village of Al-Haswah, in the Babil Governorate. U.S. officials last week said they expected attacks on U.S. troops to continue, or even temporarily increase, following the deaths on 22 July of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the sons of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in a gun battle with U.S. troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). KR

U.S. REPORTEDLY CAPTURES FORMER IRAQI PRESIDENT'S BODYGUARDS
Reportedly acting on a tip, U.S. soldiers captured between five and 10 people believed to be bodyguards for deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in a 25 July raid in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 July. U.S. officials expressed optimism after the capture, noting that other detainees have disclosed during interrogation that the former president's bodyguards have played a major role in coordinating attacks against U.S. forces in Tikrit, the daily reported. "We continue to tighten the noose," Major General Ray Odierno, commander of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, told reporters in Tikrit. Officials said it is likely that the men in custody have information about the movements of senior members of the deposed regime, including Hussein. Local residents told U.S. forces that they missed capturing Hussein's new security chief in the raid by 24 hours, AP reported on 27 July. Officials declined to divulge the identity of the man, who reportedly replaced Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, who was arrested by coalition forces on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003). KR

U.S. SOLDIERS CHARGED WITH ABUSING POWS IN IRAQ
The U.S. military has charged four U.S. military-police officers with abusing Iraqi prisoners of war (POW) at Camp Bucca, the largest U.S.-run POW camp in Iraq, AP reported on 26 July. The soldiers are accused of punching, kicking, and breaking the bones of prisoners at the camp. According to AP, they are the first U.S. soldiers to be charged with abusing POWs in Iraq. The soldiers, including two women, reportedly deny the charges, saying they acted in self-defense after Iraqi prisoners attacked them. "A few of my [military-police officers] were assaulted by the enemy prisoners, and we had to use force to regain control, all justifiable," Staff Sergeant Scott McKenzie reportedly e-mailed his relatives five days after the 12 May incident. The four soldiers have been separated and assigned restricted duties at a base in Kuwait, AP reported. According to AP, all four face up to five charges each of assault and mistreating prisoners. Two have also been charged with making false statements to investigators and obstruction of justice. At lease three other soldiers from the 320th Military Police Battalion are also being investigated. KR

BAGHDAD POLICE CHIEF INJURED IN SHOOTOUT
Baghdad's chief of police, Brigadier General Ahmad Kazim, and five of his men were injured in a shootout in Baghdad on 26 July, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. The shootout erupted during a raid to arrest individuals suspected of abducting citizens in the Al-Shu'lah neighborhood in the capital. According to Al-Jazeera, Iraqi newspapers have recorded numerous threats against Kazim by former regime members. KR

HUSSEIN COUSIN ASKS PERMISSION TO BURY UDAY, QUSAY...
A cousin of ousted President Hussein has asked U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer to release the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein for burial, Al-Arabiyah Television reported on 26 July. The two died during a shootout with U.S. forces on 22 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). The cousin, Izz al-Din Hasan al-Majid, told the satellite channel that his decision to make the request is based on a personal conviction, saying, "It is a purely humanitarian issue. They are now dead people who no longer pose a threat to anyone." He said he intended to bury the men at the Hussein family cemetery in Tikrit. Asked if he fears that Iraqis would unearth the men's graves, he said, "The Iraqis are Muslims, and I do not think they would do such a thing, because it is in violation of Islamic law." No other Hussein family members have reportedly come forward to claim the bodies. However, Al-Jazeera reported on 26 July that tribal chief Mahmud al-Nada from the Al-Bunasir Tribe was seeking U.S. permission to bury the bodies. KR

...EVEN AFTER SUFFERING AT THE HANDS OF REGIME
Members of the Hussein regime were reportedly behind the death of al-Majid's brother in 1991. He fled in 1995 with his cousins, Hussein sons-in-law Husayn and Saddam Kamil al-Majid, to Jordan. The brothers and their families returned to Iraq in early 1996 after Hussein promised them amnesty, only to be gunned down by the regime along with several members of their extended family, including al-Majid's wife and four children. Al-Majid, who declined to return with the brothers, now lives in London. He told Al-Arabiyah that he has survived many attempts on his life over the course of his exile. In early June, he unsuccessfully attempted to gain asylum status for Saddam Hussein's daughters, Raghad and Rana, the wives of Husayn and Saddam Kamil al-Majid (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 June 2003). KR

COALITION SETS UP AERIAL-GUNNERY RANGE IN IRAQ
Coalition forces have established an aerial-gunnery range near Tikrit for the training of coalition helicopter pilots, according to a 26 July press release posted on the CENTCOM website. The range was opened on 21 July and will reportedly be closed on 17 August. The press release urges the local population to avoid the area, adding, "Concrete blocks on the trails leading to the range will have warnings written in Arabic stating that the area is off limits." KR

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