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Newsline - August 8, 2003


MOSCOW URGES IMMEDIATE OPENING OF NORTH KOREA TALKS...
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov on 7 August called for beginning six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear program as soon as possible, Japan's HNK television reported. A transcript of Fedotov's comments on HNK was posted on the Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.mid.ru). "The crisis on the Korean Peninsula is rather dangerous. Now it is necessary to take urgent measures in order to prevent the aggravation of the situation just as a doctor does when he wants to prevent the outbreak of a disease," Fedotov said. Fedotov said Pyongyang has placed no conditions on the proposed talks, although North Korea has expressed a desire to hold a one-on-one meeting with U.S. representatives during the six-way negotiations. Fedotov repeated Moscow's position that security guarantees for North Korea must be provided in exchange for that country's dismantling of its nuclear program. RC

...AND CALLS FOR NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ
Deputy Foreign Minister Fedotov and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns met in Moscow on 7 August and discussed the situation in Iraq, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Fedotov told journalists following the talks that the creation of the Iraq Governing Council was a positive development, and said that the establishment of a legitimate Iraqi government will contribute to stability in the region. Burns told journalists that Washington understands that Russian companies are interested in participating the reconstruction of Iraq. On 7 August, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the UN Security Council should adopt a new resolution on Iraq, on the basis of which a "political settlement" in the country would be established. Fedotov and Burns also discussed the "road map" peace process in the Middle East and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 August. RC

GOVERNMENT PAPER LASHES OUT AT DEFENSE MINISTRY
The Russian government daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 8 August published a long article critical of recent Defense Ministry statements about its military-procurement plans for 2004-10 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). The daily wrote that the Yakhont cruise missile, which Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Aleksei Moskovskii lauded in comments earlier this week, will never be deployed in the Russian military because it is a purely export model. The paper also said Defense Ministry spokespeople have said the new generation T-95 tank will be demonstrated publicly as early as this year and deployed in the immediate future. The daily said, however, that the T-95 has not yet undergone even factory testing and, technically speaking, has not been developed sufficiently to have been formally given the name T-95. "Does the deputy defense minister really think that the country can be defended with an advertising brochure from Rosoboroneksport or with a wooden mock-up of a 'new-generation' tank?" the paper concluded. RC

RUSSIA STILL WANTS TO SEE FORMER KGB GENERAL BEHIND BARS
Russia reserves the right to seek the extradition of former KGB General Oleg Kalugin, who was convicted of treason in June 2002 and who received U.S. citizenship this week, strana.ru reported on 7 August, citing a senior Justice Ministry official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2003). "There is practically no statute of limitations for the crimes the Kalugin committed and if he returns to the country he must serve his time," the official said. An unidentified source in the Prosecutor-General's Office told strana.ru that Russia has the right to ask any foreign state to extradite Kalugin, although he noted that many countries, including the United States, routinely refuse to extradite their own citizens. An informal poll conducted by Ekho Moskvy found that 55 percent of respondents consider Kalugin a traitor, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 August. RC

BANK TO PURCHASE LEFT-ORIENTED DAILY
Promsvyazbank will purchase the daily newspaper "Trud" for an undisclosed sum, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 August. The deal will be finalized in the next few days. "Trud," which in the Soviet era was the official organ of the country's trade unions, is currently officially a noncommercial structure, but it has been controlled by Gazprom-Media since at least 1998, the daily reported. According to "Izvestiya," Gazprom has spent about $30 million on the paper over the years. Promsvyazbank purchased a controlling share of the popular weekly "Argumenty i fakty" in February 2002, "Izvestiya" reported. The paper speculated that the traditional leftist, even pro-communist, orientation of "Trud" will be changed following the purchase and the paper will likely be oriented more toward Gennadii Raikov's People's Party or the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Promzvyazbank reportedly has links to Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, "Izvestiya" wrote. RC

JOINT COSMONAUT-RESCUE EXERCISES TO BE HELD
Russian, U.S., and Canadian rescue workers will hold joint exercises on 8-12 September in the Black Sea to practice rescuing cosmonauts who have conducted an emergency evacuation of the International Space Station (ISS), ITAR-TASS reported on 7 August. The exercises will involve ships and aircraft from the Defense Ministry and 20 rescuers from the United States and Canada, Colonel Valerii Brus was quoted as saying. According to the news agency, this will be the 10th consecutive year that such joint exercises have been held. RC

NATIONALIST LEADER HANDS OUT CASH
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii arrived in Samara on 7 August in a special train, "Vremya-MN" reported on 8 August. Following a speech to a crowd at the station in which he noted that Russia is a poor country and many people cannot afford medicine, Zhirinovskii reportedly descended from the platform and began handing out 500-ruble ($16.50) bills. One local entrepreneur, Igor Vikharev, told the daily that he will frame the bill that Zhirinovskii gave him. Zhirinovskii spent just 90 minutes in Samara. According to the daily, the populist politician plans to hand out 2 million rubles in cash, during a tour that will take him to Vladivostok. RC

MOSCOW POLICE FIGHTING CORRUPTION
More than 200 criminal cases of suspected bribery have been launched in the city of Moscow over the past six months, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 7 August. The largest number of cases involved car-inspection personnel, police officers, and doctors. Not a single corruption case has been opened against professors in upper-level academic establishments, the bureau noted. The number of crimes connected with corruption jumped by 20 percent during the first half of this year compared with last, but police attribute most of this rise to a more responsible effort on their part to investigate such crimes. Andrei Dzyuba, head of the investigative department of the city's internal affairs directorate, told the bureau, "There were many cases of inspections undertaken at markets, where people -- mainly of Caucasian origin -- suggest some financial sum for their debt to police officers, not understanding that this is illegal." JAC

PROPOSED LEGAL MEASURES AGAINST TERRORISM CALLED 'REPRESSIVE'
The Justice Ministry has completed drafts of a series of amendments to criminal legislation that would increase the harshness of punishment for crimes connected with terrorism, and human rights officials familiar with the work have called the initiatives "repressive," "Novye izvestiya" reported on 7 August. One proposed change is to increase the length of time a person suspected of participating in terrorism can be held without being charged to 30 days. Under the current Criminal Procedure Code, a suspect may not be held more than three days. Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva commented, "Russia's legislative base for the struggle with terrorism is already more than sufficient." The newspaper speculates that the amendments will be introduced to the State Duma this fall and will likely pass by a wide margin. JAC

SPS DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN ANTI-YAVLINSKII YABLOKO MOVEMENT
Deputy Duma Speaker and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) senior leader Irina Khakamada told RosBalt on 7 August that the recently launched movement Yabloko Without Yavlinskii is connected with a split in the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko over whom to back in the upcoming gubernatorial race in that city, and that it has no relationship with the SPS or SPS top official and Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais. Earlier, Sergei Mitrokhin, who is deputy head of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma said that the movement Yabloko Without Yavlinskii was a "'black PR' action taken in the interests of the SPS and on the orders of Chubais" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2003). According to the agency, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov also denied any involvement, saying, "If they have evidence, then go to court [rather than] make declarations." JAC

JOB VACANCIES AND JOB SEEKERS MISMATCHED IN THE CAPITAL...
The level of unemployment in Moscow is around 6 percent, but the number of unfilled jobs is around 140,000, "Vremya-MN" reported on 7 August. Currently, the greatest demand is for social-sector workers, such as personnel to staff kindergartens. Almost one-seventh of the openings are for salespeople, sales managers, and PR specialists. Also in high demand are computer specialists such as web designers, systems managers, and programmers. The need for accountants, tax preparers, and auditors is still high but is expected to decline, as will the demand for lawyers and economists, according to Vyacheslav Skolyapov, deputy head of the information service of the city's Labor and Employment Committee. Engineering, however, is a good field to get into. There are now around 2,000 vacancies, and enterprises are finding that older workers are nearing retirement and there is no one to replace them. Another long-term trend, according to the newspaper, is that the deficit of teachers, doctors, and social-sector workers will remain for years to come. JAC

...AS CITY GOVERNMENT DENIES LOCAL CONSTRUCTION FIRMS RELY ON MIGRANT LABORERS
Government Minister Vladimir Zorin, who oversees nationalities policy, told reporters in Moscow on 7 August that Russia ranks third in the world behind the United States and Germany in terms of the inflow of migrants, Interfax reported. He added that if the trend persists, Russia will soon be comparable to the United States. "In general, we are interested in attracting foreign workers. The target of doubling GDP by 2010 cannot be fulfilled without creating new jobs," he said (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 7 August 2003). Last week, Moscow First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that not a single large construction project in the city employs illegal migrant laborers. According to the bureau, however, it is well known that Moscow construction companies are able to earn "superprofits" because they continue to raise the price of rents but rely on the labor of "guest workers," from whom they can withhold pay for months or pay less than promised. However, Resin denied such reports, saying that there is no cheap labor force in Moscow, and the average wage for construction workers is 15,000 rubles ($494) a month regardless of whether the worker is Belarusian, Ukrainian, or Russian. JAC

PROSECUTOR RATCHETS UP PRESSURE ON FAR NORTHERN GOVERNOR?
Investigators for the St. Petersburg Prosecutor's Office conducted a two-hour search of the office of the local representative of Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Interfax reported on 7 August. Earlier in the month, prosecutors confirmed that an arrest warrant for Nenets Governor Vladimir Butov remains outstanding (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 6 August 2003). Deputy head of the okrug Yurii Ermolaev said the reason for the search puzzled him, since during his conversation with the prosecutor's representatives, no one asked him where Butov is. JAC

GLOWINGLY FLOWS THE TECHA?
Russian scientists have started research into the level of radioactive contamination of Siberian rivers with the goal of producing a map of the area's most contaminated reservoirs, ORT reported on 7 August. In particular, scientists want to find out whether radionuclides have leaked into the reservoirs from marshes in the basin of the Techa River in Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug-Yugra as a result of an accident at a chemical plant about 50 years ago. In addition, scientists will look at the consequences of five nuclear blasts that were carried out in the Ugra marshes during the Soviet era. Meanwhile, the Kaluga Oblast town of Obninsk might become the first Russian town to use nuclear fuel rather than natural gas for municipal heating, Interfax reported on 7 August, citing an unnamed official at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. The project, which has not been approved by federal officials, would cost about $14.7 million and is projected to start recouping its costs in five to 10 years. JAC

BASAEV TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR TWO SUICIDE BOMBINGS
In an interview with Shariat news agency posted on kavkazcenter.com on 8 August, radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev claimed responsibility for two suicide-bombings in Mozdok and Grozny on 5 and 21 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 23 June 2003). He said that in the first attack, a female suicide bomber killed 20 military personnel from the Russian military base at Mozdok, while in the second, 25 people died and 39 were injured when a truck bomb damaged a government building in Grozny. Pro-Moscow Chechen officials said only the driver of the vehicle and his presumed accomplice died in that blast. Basaev did not, however, claim to have masterminded either the 5 July suicide bombing at a rock festival in Moscow, or the 1 August truck-bomb assault on a military hospital in Mozdok, in which 50 people were killed. LF

OPPOSITION CANDIDATE SAYS CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN FAVORS ACTING INCUMBENT
Moscow-based Chechen businessman Malik Saidullaev, who has just returned from Grozny where he formally submitted his application to register as a candidate in the 5 October Chechen presidential election scheduled, told journalists in Moscow on 7 August that he might quit the race to protest a systematic campaign in Chechnya to ensure that administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov wins the ballot, Reuters and "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 and 8 August, respectively. Saidullaev said he has reached an agreement with most of the other challengers that they too will pull out of the race unless equal conditions are created for all candidates. Kadyrov on 5 August transferred his powers as acting president to Prime Minister Anatolii Popov for the duration of the campaign. An opinion poll conducted in Chechnya in late June, the results of which were summarized in "Izvestiya" on 22 July, ranked Saidullaev as the most popular potential presidential candidate with 20.1 percent support, followed by former Russian Supreme Soviet Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov (19.2 percent), Chechnya's State Duma Deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov (17.6 percent), and current Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (12.5 percent). More than 60 percent of respondents said they will vote against Kadyrov. LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY HELICOPTER SHOT DOWN IN CHECHNYA
Chechen resistance fighters shot down a Russian military helicopter near the village of Dyshne-Vedeno in southeastern Chechnya the evening of 7 August, killing one of the three crewmembers, Russian media reported. LF

ARMENIAN SERVICEMAN ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH KILLING OF THREE FELLOW CONSCRIPTS
Conscript Armen Hovsepian was arrested and charged on 7 August with the killing the previous day of three servicemen at an army base in Vanadzor, Armenia's chief military prosecutor, Gagik Djahangirian, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 7 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). Djahangirian did not comment on the possible motive for the killings, nor did he say if there are any further suspects. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRIME MINISTER DENIES PRESIDENT TO UNDERGO SURGERY
Ilham Aliev told journalists in Baku on 7 August that his father, President Heidar Aliev, will undergo a medical examination at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio where he arrived the previous day, but is not likely to undergo surgery, Interfax and zerkalo.az reported on 7 and 8 August, respectively. Heidar Aliev, 80, entered the Gulhane military clinic in Ankara, Turkey, on 8 July. Since then, Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly denied Turkish and Azerbaijani opposition media reports that he is terminally ill. Ilham Aliev said his father is still suffering from the aftereffects of breaking seven ribs in a fall in April, and that his recovery was complicated by his insistence on ignoring his doctors' advice and returning to work too soon. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS SEE NO RISK OF INTERNAL POLITICAL UNREST
Prime Minister Aliev also told journalists on 7 August that his appointment on 4 August as prime minister has given the country's population a sense of security, zerkalo.az reported on 8 August. He said he does not believe the opposition can count on mass popular support. Interfax on 7 August quoted Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and Foreign Minister Vilayet Guliev as both discounting the possibility of internal destabilization. Guliev added that opposition pickets of the U.S. and Turkish embassies to protest the failure of either country to denounce Ilham Aliev's appointment as prime minister as unconstitutional will not sour relations with Washington and Ankara, Interfax reported. Guliev also said he sees no point in holding further talks on resolving the Karabakh conflict before the 15 October presidential election, but hopes those talks will resume in late 2003 or early 2004. He did not exclude the possibility of a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in September between himself and his Armenian and Turkish counterparts, Interfax reported. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS REMANDED FOR BRAWL
A Tbilisi District Court remanded three members of the opposition movement Samshoblo for three months pretrial detention on 7 August for their role in a fight on 4 August at the Labor Party's Tbilisi headquarters with members of that party, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2003). Up to one dozen people were injured in that fracas. Samshoblo leader Temur Zhorzholiani condemned the court ruling as unfair, claiming that armed Labor Party members attacked the Samshoblo activists. LF

BORDER OFFICIAL DENIES CHECHEN MILITANTS ENTERED RUSSIA FROM GEORGIA
Georgian Border Troops Chief of Staff Colonel Korneli Salia denied on 7 August Russian military officials' claims that four Chechen fighters who entered Chechnya from Georgian territory were killed in a clash with Russian forces in Kurchaloi Raion, Caucasus Press reported. The Russian officials quoted a fifth Chechen who was reportedly wounded in the clash as saying that he and his companions bribed Georgian border guards to allow them to cross into Russia. Salia denied that there are any Chechen fighters still in the Pankisi Gorge, saying they were expelled during the police operation launched in the late summer of 2002. LF

ABKHAZIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF 'AGGRESSION'
At the regular weekly meeting between representatives of the Georgian and Abkhaz governments, the UN Observer Mission in Georgia and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, the Abkhaz representatives demanded on 7 August that the killing on 4 August of four Abkhaz customs officials be recognized as an act of aggression against their unrecognized republic, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 August 2003). The other participants rejected that demand, but nonetheless agreed to form a quadripartite commission to investigate the shootings. LF

POLICE BEGIN CONFISCATING WEAPONS IN WESTERN GEORGIA
Police in the west Georgian region of Mingrelia said on 8 August they have launched an operation to confiscate illegal weaponry from the population, Caucasus Press reported. Over an unspecified time period, they have collected 68 Russian-manufactured submachine guns, 100 grenades, 12 pistols, and 33 rifles. It is not clear whether the go-ahead for the weapons-confiscation program was given by Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili, who met with local police chiefs while visiting the region several days earlier, according to Caucasus Press on 5 August. Narchemashvili said during that visit he sees no need for a comprehensive anticrime operation in Mingrelia. In late July, Djemal Gamakharia of the opposition XXIst Century parliament faction alleged that police were preparing to launch a "punitive operation" in Mingrelia with the aim of rounding up members of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's personal guard, who took refuge the region's forests following his death in late 1993. Narchemashvili on 31 July denied any such operation is planned. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT SAYS NO EXCUSE FOR POVERTY
During an expanded meeting of the Kazakh government on 7 August at which the country's economic performance in the first half of 2003 was assessed, President Nursultan Nazarbaev asserted that official statistics exaggerate the extent of poverty in Kazakhstan, RIA-Novosti reported. Officially, 9 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. Civil society activists say the figure is far higher. Nazarbaev objected to designating villagers who own two bovines and some chickens as poor merely because they receive no salaries. The president added that anyone who genuinely wants a job can find one. BB

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTRY ATTACKS HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry has issued a statement on the measures the country is taking against trafficking in human beings, including acknowledging the extent of the problem, khabar.kz reported on 7 August. The measures listed include changes to the Criminal Code to strengthen articles covering human trafficking and the appointment of Justice Minister Onalsyn Zhumabekov as the government's national coordinator for the fight against the trade in human beings. The Foreign Ministry said it has appealed to all foreign diplomatic and consular representations in Kazakhstan to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking. Kazakhstan is still reacting to U.S. charges that the country is not doing enough to combat the problem. BB

KAZAKHSTAN, UZBEKISTAN START BORDER DEMARCATION
Having agreed on the delimitation of their common frontier after four years of work, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are starting the procedure of actually marking the border, khabar.kz reported on 7 August. The process of setting up markers on the 1,251-kilometer border is expected to take 18 months. According to khabar.kz, the presidents of the two countries agreed in late 2002 that no barbed wire or fences would be used. According to "Ekspress-K" on 6 August, some questions remain about the placing of markers in villages that straddle the border. BB

KYRGYZ PREMIER SIGNS MEMO ON OSCE POLICE PROJECT...
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev and Turkish diplomat Aydin Idil, head of the OSCE Center in Bishkek, signed a memorandum of understanding in Bishkek on 7 August launching a controversial Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) police-training program, kabar.kg and RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The Kyrgyz authorities had asked for assistance in reforming and modernizing the country's law enforcement agencies after police shot dead five demonstrators in March 2002. Human rights activists are bitterly opposed to the part of the program that involves providing riot gear and training to the Kyrgyz police, saying it will be used against peaceful citizens seeking to assert their rights. BB

...AND LEADING HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST SAYS PROGRAM VIOLATES OSCE MANDATE
Prominent Kyrgyz human rights activist Tolekan Ismailova, head of the nongovernmental organization Civil Society Against Corruption, warned on the eve of the memorandum signing that the OSCE project to fund riot equipment -- including armored buses, water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas -- for Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies violates the organization's mandate, akipress.org reported on 6 August. The previous day a political officer from the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus met with Kyrgyz human rights activists and journalists to try to persuade them of the value of the OSCE police-assistance program. Kyrgyz human rights activists told him that the program would be successful if the riot component were deleted. BB

ONE TURKMEN OPPOSITION LEADER BEATEN IN MOSCOW...
Former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev, head of the United Turkmen Opposition, was severely beaten twice by the same person in Moscow on 6 August, newsru.com and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported the following day, quoting Kuliev and his wife, who informed Ekho Moskvy immediately after the attacks. Kuliev, who opposes the regime of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, has lived in exile in Moscow for several years. Tatyana Kulieva was quoted as noting that Niyazov said three months earlier that Kuliev was getting old and should be sent to the next world. The couple assumed therefore that the Turkmen security services were involved in the attacks, though they were perpetrated by a man who appeared to be of Slavic origin. BB

...AND ANOTHER GIVES FIRST INTERVIEW SINCE RELEASE FROM PRISON
Nurberdi Nurmammedov, co-founder of Agzybirlik, Turkmenistan's first opposition group, gave an interview to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service on 2 August. It was his first public appearance since he was released from prison in January 2001 and ordered by the authorities to have no contact with foreigners. He had been jailed on a charge of assaulting a neighbor, which both he and the neighbor denied. It was widely believed that the real reason for his arrest was his attacks on President Niyazov during interviews with RFE/RL. In his 2 August interview, Nurmammedov said he supports the opposition to Niyazov, and he welcomed the creation of a Turkmen Republican Party outside Turkmenistan. That organization was set up in May 2003 under the aegis of the U.S. Republican Party. He also objected to what he considers Niyazov's encouragement of tribal loyalties. BB

U.S.-BASED NGO IREX CEASES ACTIVITY IN BELARUS
As a result of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's rejection last month of the International Research and Exchanges Board's (IREX) application to renew its registration, the U.S.-based nonprofit organization was forced on 7 August to cease all of its operations in Belarus, Belapan reported. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 7 July notified IREX, which has a representative office in Minsk and has operated in Belarus for six years, that it was denying an accreditation-extension request filed by the office in June. The ministry cited irregularities allegedly revealed by the State Control Committee, among other things, as grounds for that decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2003). IREX considers that decision politically motivated and aimed at restricting access to independent and unbiased information in Belarus. According to IREX lawyer Iryna Auchynnikava, the organization filed a complaint with the Supreme Economic Court against the Foreign Ministry, but the court refused to consider it. The office on 6 August petitioned the court's chairman to reverse that decision, Auchynnikava said. Foreign members of the office's staff are expected to leave Belarus within days. However, Auchynnikava added, IREX will continue its attempts to contest the Foreign Ministry's decision in court. AM

BELARUS SIMPLIFIES VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR 13 COUNTRIES
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry as of one August simplified its procedure for issuing guest and business visas to citizens of 13 countries, Belapan reported on 7 August, quoting Andrey Shuplyak of the ministry's information office. These countries are: Argentina, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Hungary, Japan, Slovakia, the Republic of South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. Citizens of these states will not be required to produce an invitation letter for guest visas to stay in Belarus for up to 30 days for family- or business-related purposes. "We hope that adequate measures in response will be taken [by the above-mentioned states]," Shuplyak said. Official letters of invitation still will be required for the issuance of diplomatic, official, employment, tourist, transit, academic, and permanent-residence visas. AM

MINISTER LAUDS UKRAINIAN PARTICIPATION IN STABILIZING IRAQ
Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk said at a send-off ceremony at Baryspil airport on 7 August that the participation of Ukrainian troops in stabilization efforts in Iraq is in Ukraine's national interests, Interfax reported. Three hundred forty-five Ukrainian troops were airlifted to Kuwait on 7 August, and additional personnel will depart by 10 August. "This action once again demonstrates to the global community that Ukraine is devoted to the UN charter and its international commitments," Marchuk said. "Being a big European state, Ukraine cannot stand outside global processes," he added. The Ukrainian personnel will begin their mission in September in the Polish-led stabilization zone in Iraq. A Ukrainian antinuclear-, antibiological-, and antichemical-warfare unit -- which comprises 448 troops currently staying in Kuwait -- also will be deployed to Iraq. AM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES STUDENT SUBSIDIES ACTS
An extraordinary session of parliament on 7 August passed a bill on student subsidies and loans, BNS reported. According to the bill, which passed by a vote of 52-28, some 9,000 students, or a third of all full-time students, will be entitled to receive 800-kroon ($58) monthly subsidies this year. Amendments proposed by the opposition Moderates and Pro Patria Union that would have granted allowances to students based on need, rather than academic performance, were not approved and it was decided that the number and size of subsidies would depend on the state budget each year. Parliament also approved amendments to the Social Maintenance Act that took away subsistence allowances from many students. The Estonian Student Unions Federation vehemently opposed these amendments, which passed by a vote of 51-34. SG

LATVIA REJECTS CLAIM THAT U.S. CUTTING FUNDS FOR IRAQ MISSION
The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release on 6 August saying a senior Latvian diplomat told the group that "the Bush administration has decided to withhold $2.7 million in promised supplemental funding to support Latvian troops in Iraq." The action allegedly was part of the suspension of military aid to countries that failed to sign bilateral extradition-immunity agreements exempting each others' citizens from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003). However, various officials in the Latvian Defense and Foreign ministries responded, that the HRW's claim is incorrect and that the U.S. will continue to provide assistance to Latvian units in Iraq under an agreement reached earlier, the news agency LETA reported on 7 August. Armed forces press officer Uldis Davidovs said Latvia will not receive $2.75 million in U.S. aid intended for integration into NATO and for bolstering antiterrorism efforts, but that these funds were not related to actions in Iraq. SG

PRIVATIZATION OF LITHUANIAN DISTILLERY STUMBRAS DISPUTED
The largest Baltic alcohol distributor, Latvijas Balzams (LB), filed a request with the Vilnius District Court on 7 August asking for the suspension of the decision made by the State Property Fund (VTF) the previous day allowing Mineraliniai Vandenys (MN) to privatize the Stumbras distillery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003), "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. LB General Director Janis Gulbis also sent a letter to Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas proposing a meeting with government representatives on 9 September in London to discuss the situation before Gulbis appeals for international arbitration. Gulbis rejected VTF claims that his company is unreliable and said LB should have won the privatization tender as it had made the highest bid. Another bidder for Stumbras, Bennet Distributors, said it also plans to ask the court to order a new privatization tender since the VTF only offered MN the opportunity to improve its original bid. SG

POLAND CONTENDS WITH SERIES OF DISMISSALS OVER CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS
Deputy Premier and Infrastructure Minister Marek Pol on 7 August dismissed Poczta Polska (Polish state post office) General Director Leszek Kwiatek, PAP reported. The daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" recently revealed that Kwiatek has been on the board of an insurance company since March 2002. Under Polish anticorruption law, senior officials of state-run enterprises and government are forbidden from pursuing commercial activities. On 6 August, Marek Wagner, the head of the prime minister's office, dismissed two members of the prime minister's staff -- Jerzy Jaskow and Jerzy Godula. Jaskow and Godula were released following a report in the daily "Rzeczpospolita" that revealed both were board members of the National Investment Fund. Last week, revelations of moonlighting within the Interior Ministry resulted in the resignation of ministry official Janusz Ocipka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2003). AM

CZECH PRESIDENT, SENATE FEUDING OVER CONSTITUTIONAL COURT NOMINATIONS
President Vaclav Klaus on 7 August renominated lawyer Ales Pejchal for a seat on the country's Supreme Court, CTK and dpa reported. Pejchal's candidacy was already rejected by the upper house in July. The renomination appears to come in response to the rejection one day earlier of three out of four of Klaus's nominees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). Presidential press department official Petr Hajek said the Senate has thus far approved only those candidates nominated by Klaus who are politicians. The president, Hajek said, wants the upper house to approve candidates whose professional qualifications justify their nomination to the Constitutional Court, adding that Klaus has "confidence" in Pejchal, who was described as a "respected expert in the areas of theory and day-to-day practice, with a proven ability to solve complicated cases," dpa reported. MS

CZECH SENATE APPROVES NATO ENLARGEMENT
Following in the footsteps of the lower house, which approved the measure last month, the Senate ratified on 7 August the Accession Protocol of NATO's seven new invitees, CTK reported. Sixty of 64 senators present voted in favor of the ratification, with U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton in attendance. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and several other speakers emphasized the historic importance of the decision -- made at NATO's November 2002 summit in Prague -- on the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. MS

DEFENSE MINISTER WANTS CZECH TROOPS' STAY IN IRAQ EXTENDED
Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka told journalists on 7 August that he intends to ask parliament to extend the Czech military field hospital's mission in southern Iraq, CTK reported. Kostelka spoke in Al-Basrah, where he met with U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocombe, who heads the defense sector in the coalition's provisional administration of Iraq. Kostelka said the United States is interested in having the field hospital continue its service in Iraq, as well as "any other [military] contribution the Czech Republic could make." The Czech parliament's mandate for the field hospital runs out at the end of this year. Kostelka also discussed with Czech soldiers stationed in Iraq the planned budgetary aspects of the ongoing military reforms. He told them that members of military missions abroad will be "the first to keep their position in the army" and that "their missions raise our country's reputation," Kostelka said. MS

FORMER CZECH PRESIDENT AWARDED CANADIAN DISTINCTION
Former President Vaclav Havel has been added to the Canada Order, that country's highest state distinction, CTK reported on 7 August. Of the 109 people that Canada's governor-general, Adrienne Clarkson, has added to the Order this year, Havel is the only non-Canadian. He was honored because of his promotion of "respect for human rights and international dialogue." MS

SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE SERVICE FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST 'JANE'S INTELLIGENCE'
The Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) has filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office against the British defense publication "Jane's Intelligence Digest," TASR reported on 7 August, citing an official SIS press release. The SIS alleges that a recent article in the publication has "endangered [Slovak] society's interests" by alleging that irregularities in the SIS and Slovak politicians' failures to cope with them are "raising serious doubts about Slovakia's fitness to join NATO and the EU." The digest wrote that the SIS continues to act without democratic accountability and that it is recruiting and employing people with links to the communist-era secret police, foreign countries and those who served the governments of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003). Viliam Sobona of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, who chairs the parliamentary committee overseeing the SIS, said he intends to call a special session of the committee to discuss the situation in the SIS. "The problems [in the SIS] are real, regardless of whether foreign media report on them or not," Sobona told TASR. MS

IMF WORRIED ABOUT GROWING SLOVAK FOREIGN DEBT
In a report on Slovakia's 2003-06 economic outlook, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that it continues to view the country's expected development as positive, but is worried about its growing foreign debt, TASR reported on 7 August. Slovakia is also urged in the report to pay more attention to fiscal policies and to reform public spending in order to offset the impact of tax reforms -- particularly the introduction of flat 19 percent direct taxes as of 1 January 2004. The report said it might have been more prudent to introduce the flat tax in stages in order to avoid destabilizing economic development. MS

HUNGARIAN FINANCIAL SUPERVISORY AUTHORITY DEFENDS HANDLING OF K&H CASE
Responding to recent accusations from government officials that the Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF) failed to uncover irregularities at K&H Equities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003), PSZAF on 7 August released a statement denying that no action was taken against K&H, Hungarian media reported. In a report sent to the Finance Ministry on 28 July, PSZAF reported that it had detected a separate client-registry system operated by broker Attila Kulcsar in 1998, as well as other irregularities at K&H Equities, "Nepszabadsag" reported. When K&H reported in 2000 that a new IT system had been installed at the brokerage, PSZAF concluded that Kulcsar's registry system had been abolished, the statement said. This conclusion, however, turned out to be wrong. The press release also stated that, with the resources at its disposal, PSZAF could only audit only the company's official systems. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ANNOUNCES ADDITIONAL PAYMENT FOR PENSIONS IN NOVEMBER...
The payment of extra, so-called 53rd-week pensions will go ahead in November, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy announced on 6 August in an interview with Hungarian Television (MTV). Medgyessy also confirmed that tax breaks on housing loans will remain in effect for low-income families and for young people, and the overall amount of social subsidies will essentially increase. Regarding the coalition member Free Democrats' insistence on income-tax cuts beginning next year, as approved last year by parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003), Medgyessy reiterated that the Free Democrats are part of the coalition and "must share some of the responsibility of governing." MSZ

...AND IS COUNTERED BY FIDESZ OFFICIAL
"The prime minister has realized after a year that it is hard to govern," opposition FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Zoltan Pokorni said on 7 August in response to Prime Minister Medgyessy's interview on MTV one day earlier. In an interview with MTV, Pokorni said the trade unions have confronted the cabinet, the Free Democrats have considered quitting the coalition, and the economy has been deteriorating dramatically. Pokorni recalled that Medgyessy failed to say that practically all economic indicators have declined. Economic growth will peak at 3.5 percent instead of 4.8 percent, inflation could reach 5.5 percent-5.7 percent, foreign capital has withdrawn from Hungary, and real wages are not rising, Pokorni said. MSZ

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO SACKS 16 OLD-GUARD OFFICERS
Serbia and Montenegro's Supreme Defense Council decided in Meljine near Herceg Novi on 7 August to retire 16 high-ranking military officers, "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 July 2003). Most of the 16 are linked to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, including former Kosova commander General Vladimir Lazarevic, military intelligence chief General Radoslav Skoric, and General Ninoslav Krstic, who commanded security forces in southern Serbia. It is not clear why it has taken so long for the authorities to retire the officers or what effect the changes will have on the officer corps and military as a whole (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May, 25 July, and 8 August 2003). Recent Serbian media reports that Army Chief of Staff General Branko Krga has "asked to retire" have not been confirmed. PM

CONTROVERSIAL AIDE TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER QUITS
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic told a Belgrade press conference on 7 August that his security adviser Zoran Janjusevic has resigned so as not to prejudice the work of the government or the course of an investigation into corruption charges against him, "Vesti" reported. Nemanja Kolesar, who heads the Serbian bank privatization agency and is also under investigation, will leave office if his agency agrees. Former Serbian National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic, who raised the charges against the two men, said that resignations alone are not sufficient and that both men must "bear full responsibility" for what they have done. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER DEFENDS OFFER OF PEACEKEEPERS
Zivkovic told a Belgrade press conference on 7 August that his recent offer to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and UN Liberia mission chief Jacques Klein to provide peacekeepers is aimed at raising his country's political prestige, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 August 2003 and End Note, below). Zivkovic said that Serbian soldiers will serve abroad only under a UN mandate, adding that "an army that until yesterday stood accused of war crimes will now become a guardian of peace in crisis areas across the world." Meanwhile in Washington, Powell confirmed that Zivkovic had offered peacekeepers during his recent visit to the United States, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Powell hailed the move, adding, however, that it is too early to comment on it otherwise. PM

FORMER YUGOSLAV LEADER WON'T TESTIFY IN MURDER CASE
Former President Milosevic refused on 7 August to speak to Serbian investigators sent to The Hague to question him about his possible role in the 2000 disappearance and murder of his rival and former mentor Ivan Stambolic, regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 18, and 25 April 2003). Milosevic said he would answer questions only if the interviews were videotaped and made public, a condition that the Belgrade authorities refused. PM

BAZOOKAS FOUND ON BOSNIAN SERB TERRITORY
Republika Srpska police and SFOR troops unearthed 42 bazookas near Banja Luka on 7 August, dpa reported. The illegal weapons are just a few of the very many widely believed to be hidden across Bosnia. PM

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT TO RETURN ROYAL PROPERTY
Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano asked Minister of State Blendi Klosi on 7 August to supervise the return of property to the former royal family following a government decision to give back a villa in Durres and unspecified other properties to Leka Zogu, the son of the late King Zog, "Southeast European Times" reported. The parliament is debating a more general OSCE-sponsored law on restitution. Critics charge that Nano is seeking the political support of Zogu and his small-but-vocal Legalist movement, which has three deputies in parliament. Earlier this year, the Legalist deputies backed a government proposal on duty-free shops following the cabinet's decision to issue diplomatic passports to members of the Zogu family. PM

ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY CALLS FOR MINISTER'S DISMISSAL
Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Emil Boc on 7 August called on President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase to dismiss European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Boc also said his party will file an official complaint against Puwak to the Court of Accounts. A report published last month in the daily "Adevarul" alleged that Puwak has channeled EU funds, of which she is in charge, to companies headed by her husband and her son. She has denied the allegations. Boc said her dismissal is warranted on "judicial, political, and moral grounds" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 July 2003). MS

MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER AGREE ON DRAFT FEDERAL CONSTITUTION
Citing the official separatist news agency Olivia press, Flux reported on 7 August that the negotiators representing Moldova and Transdniester on the joint commission tasked with drafting a federal constitution have completed their work and sent a draft to their respective leaderships and international mediators (the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine) for examination. Earlier reports indicated that only the first chapter of the draft was completed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). According to the text of the draft federal constitution, excerpts of which were published by Olivia press, the flag of the federal state will differ from the current Moldovan flag [which is nearly identical to Romania's] and the sides have yet to agree on the federal anthem and coat of arms. In addition, "The state languages on the entire territory of the Moldova-Transdniester Federation are Moldovan and Russian." Both languages are to enjoy equal status across the federation's territory. Olivia press also reported that the federation will comprise two equal subjects, each of which will be "sovereign over its own territory." The federation is to have a bicameral parliament composed of a senate and a chamber of representatives. The federation's president is to be directly elected by citizens. MS

MOLDOVA TO GRADUALLY INTRODUCE 'INTEGRATED HISTORY'
The new "integrated history" course will be gradually introduced in Moldovan schools, Romanian Radio reported on 7 August. Fifty schools are to introduce the new course as of 1 September this year, according to this report. Recently appointed Education Minister Valentin Beniuc has headed a team tasked with replacing the currently taught "History of Romanians" with a course of "integrated universal history", which is to focus on the "history of Moldova" and the "history of the Moldovan people." Opponents of the envisaged change in the curriculum say the measure is aimed at eradicating the memory of Moldova's historic and cultural links with Romania. MS

BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER RESIGNS...
Only three weeks after the government reshuffle, Finance Minister Milen Velchev on 6 August informed Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski that he wants to resign from his post, mediapool.bg reported. Velchev cited insufficient support from the governing coalition of National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) for his "conservative fiscal policy" as well as opposition to his plans to limit duty-free shops. He also complained that the Interior Ministry did nothing to find out who leaked information that he had "unregulated contacts" with Ivan Todorov, a controversial businessman allegedly involved in cigarette smuggling. In April, an Interior Ministry report revealed that Velchev had met Todorov on his yacht in Monaco (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). After the resignation of his deputies Gati al-Djebouri in June and Krasimir Katev in early August, Velchev is the third top official to leave the Finance Ministry this summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June and 4 August 2003). UB

...WHILE PRIME MINISTER CONSIDERS RESIGNATION
It is not clear whether Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski will accept Velchev's resignation, as the finance minister was -- along with Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi -- among the best-rated government officials. Following the leaking of the Interior Ministry report in April, the country's top police official, General Boyko Borisov, handed in his resignation, but Saxecoburggotski refused to accept it. In initial reactions, Transport Minister Nikolay Vasilev said he supported Velchev's decision, while Deputy Finance Minister Nahit Ziaya said the resignation indicates a serious crisis in the ministry and in the government as a whole, novinite.com reported. Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said he believes that Saxecoburggotski will accept the resignation, but that the prime minister does not feel that there will be a serious government crisis. UB

FAILED STATES IN THE BALKANS?
All the states of the western Balkans seek integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Whether they will achieve their goal and at what pace appear to remain open questions.

The collapse of communism brought a rush of candidates to join both the EC -- now the EU -- and NATO. The would-be members wanted to belong to the rich men's clubs, sit at the tables where crucial decisions are made, and put an end to the division of Europe, enjoying all the while the security benefits of the most powerful military alliance in history.

The candidates met with differing degrees of success. At the bottom of the scale are the countries of what is now called the western Balkans -- or former Yugoslavia, minus Slovenia and plus Albania.

Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania at least have their respective road maps for NATO membership since the November 2002 NATO summit in Prague, but Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro have yet to qualify even for the Partnership for Peace program. The international community's reluctance to deal with the question of Kosova's status means that the province with over 2 million inhabitants is not even considered for the integration process, although it is host to a sizeable NATO presence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June and 23 July 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002, and 13 and 20 June 2003).

The EU appears even less welcoming. At least some of the western Balkan countries hoped that the June Thessaloniki summit would offer them road maps and target dates for admission, but they failed to get much except a lecture calling on them to try harder (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). The disappointment was evident throughout the region, although Croatia tried to put on a brave face and pledged to meet the 2007 deadline for EU admission that the government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan set for itself.

Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, which is a clearinghouse for aid and development projects, wrote in Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 1 August that the western Balkan countries must be patient if they want to join the Brussels-based bloc. He warned would-be members against setting overly ambitious and arbitrary target dates for EU membership, singling out Croatian and Serbian hopes for joining in 2007 in that regard.

Busek reminded the western Balkan countries that EU membership is not a right, a gift, or a "beauty contest," adding that long negotiations and an extensive restructuring of a country's legal system are at the core of the membership process that the countries themselves chose to begin. The EU has been generous with the western Balkan countries, and the Greek EU Presidency in the first half of 2003 did much to advance their cause for membership, Busek argued.

But few politicians in the region see much reason for expecting rapid integration into the EU -- except for the Racan government, which faces elections in the spring of 2004 at the latest and probably does not want to admit that its optimism was misplaced.

"The Washington Post" wrote on 4 August that Bruce Jackson of the newly founded Project on Transitional Democracies nonetheless strongly warns against losing time on integrating the western Balkans and the rest of ex-communist Europe into Euro-Atlantic structures. He argues that "where this part of Europe finds itself five years from now is where we will be for the next 50 years."

Jackson believes that the outcome is by no means certain and the range of alternatives is great, particularly where countries such as Serbia or Ukraine are concerned. He notes that they could become democracies allied to the United States and members of the EU, or they could emerge as parts of a new Russian empire, or they could develop into authoritarian failed states that are a haven for terrorists, drugs and arms smugglers, and human traffickers.

Questions about Serbia's future have emerged anew in the wake of the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and subsequent indications that links remain strong between the worlds of politics, business, organized crime, and the security forces (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 May 2002, and 28 March, 9 May, 25 July 2003).

On a recent visit to Washington, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic sought to dispel such concerns and present his country as reformist and a potential "strategic partner" of the United States. He offered to help not only in the reconstruction of Iraq, but reportedly also with the services of 1,000 peacekeepers there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 28, and 29 July and 6 August 2003).

But he was coy on the issues of Belgrade's lawsuit against eight NATO member states before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and of arresting former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Zivkovic nonetheless told "The Washington Post" that "Serbia is looking for an ally in the United States, and in return Serbia can offer to be a reliable partner in the Balkans."

But not everyone was convinced by his message. Some observers felt that he deliberately exaggerated the success of his visit when talking to the Serbian media, perhaps to offset his and his voters' disappointment at the results of the Thessaloniki summit.

For her part, "The Washington Times" commentator Helle Dale suggested on 6 August that Zivkovic was insincere, noting that he told a group "over dinner, brandy, and cigars at the Metropolitan Club in Washington...[that] 'there are three things Serbs cannot stand: an independent Kosovo, NATO, and the United States.'" Dale added that Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic criticized Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice for lacking the "courage" to promote Serbia's case in Washington and elsewhere.

For Dale, the problem is a deep one. "The Serbs are at it again. Once again, they are playing their role as the perpetual victims of Europe, complaining about unfair treatment by the international community and whining about the injustice of it all. If the Serbian mentality was supposed to have changed since the ouster and war crimes indictment of former dictator Slobodan Milosevic, this was not evident from the recent visit of Serbian government leaders to Washington.

"Undaunted by the horrors it has perpetrated, Serbia now wants to reclaim its leading role in the Balkans. While it took the Germans more than two decades after World War II to raise their heads enough to start playing a role in Europe, the Serbs are already demanding international recognition and foreign aid....

"The war-torn Balkans is the final piece of the European continent that needs to build peace and economic stability. Eastern and Central Europe are well on their way to joining the EU and NATO. Serbia could be an important part of this project, but until the Serbs experience a change of attitude about their past and their present, they will cut themselves off from their future."

LARGE GROUP OF AFGHAN SOLDIERS REPORTEDLY KILLED
In two separate attacks on 7 August in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, 11 soldiers loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration and a driver working for Mercy Corps were killed, Reuters reported. Afghan authorities have confirmed that six soldiers and the aid agency driver were killed in an attack by forces loyal to the ousted Taliban regime, or the neo-Taliban, in Deshu District of Helmand Province. However, local authorities in Kandahar Province denied the claim by the neo-Taliban forces that they had killed five soldiers near Spin Boldak. According to a farmer in the area of the alleged attack in Kandahar Province, Afghan soldiers were removing dead bodies from a vehicle that was aflame. However, a Kandahar provincial official said that the vehicle had overturned and he could not comment on casualties. Reuters commented that if the Kandahar attack proves to be the work of the neo-Taliban, "the death toll would be the biggest for a single day...in many months." AT

KABUL DAILY WANTS CRIMINALS FROM AFGHANISTAN'S PAST WARS TO BE TRIED
In a commentary on 5 August, the daily "Anis" wrote that armed groups in Afghanistan have committed "barbaric genocide and atrocious murders" since 1978, when a communist government was established in the country. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken no action. The United Nations and international human rights groups have spoken about war crimes in Afghanistan, but no one has been tried. However, since Afghanistan became a member of the ICC, responsible Afghan government bodies are "duty-bound" to cooperate with the ICC to bring those who have committed crimes in Afghanistan to justice. In January, Afghanistan joined the ICC and announced that it will submit a list of criminals for trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003). AT

BELGIUM WILL NOT CHANGE STANCE REGARDING AFGHAN REFUGEES
Belgian Interior Minister Patrick Dewael on 6 August turned down a request by the Center for Equal Opportunities to serve as "mediator" between Afghan asylum seekers and the Belgian government, "De Standaard" reported on 7 August. Dewael said, however, that he might be willing to appoint someone as a "go-between" to clarify the stance of the Belgian government toward the Afghan hunger strikers. "De Standaard" commented that in Dewael's opinion, the term "mediator" wrongfully implies that the Belgian government's standpoint could still be negotiable. According to an 8 August Human Rights Watch statement (see above), some 100 Afghans occupied a church and launched a hunger strike on 25 July after the Belgian government rejected their request for asylum. AT

HRW WARNS WESTERN GOVERNMENTS NOT TO REPATRIATE AFGHANS BEFORE SECURITY IS ESTABLISHED
In a statement released on 8 August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Western governments should ensure that Afghan refugees are not sent home to face violence, extortion, political attacks, and abuse of women and girls, adding that Afghanistan is still too unsafe for many refugees, and many have signed up to return without an accurate picture of conditions in their homeland. Alison Parker, a refugee expert at HRW, said, "Western governments today claim that because the Taliban was defeated, it is safe for many Afghans to return." The reality, however, "is quite different," she said. "Many refugees who have returned from Pakistan and Iran are being attacked, robbed, and sexually assaulted. Persecution is persecution, whether at the hands of the Taliban or at the hands of local warlords now in control." AT

AFGHAN PAPER ACCUSES IRANIAN AUTHORITIES OF ABUSING AFGHAN REFUGEES
According to reports from Herat Province, Afghan refugees who have been deported from Iran in recent months claim that they were forcibly repatriated and were sometimes tortured and abused, "Anis" reported on 7 August. According to the daily, Afghan authorities and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan have confirmed that Iranian authorities have beaten Afghan refugees in the last two months. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, more than 1 million refugees have fled to Iran. AT

TEHRAN DENIES SECRET CONTACTS WITH WASHINGTON
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 7 August that President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has not written a letter to any U.S. official, Fars News Agency reported. Assefi added that Iran has transparent relations with other countries and it does not need to establish secret relations with any country. As regards the United States, he said, "Over many long years, official channels have existed for regulating relations between the two countries and Iran has conveyed its views to the opposite side through these official and legal venues." Assefi was reacting to a 6 August report in the Saudi Arabian "Al-Watan" newspaper that stated that Khatami had written a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in which he called for the continuation of secret and official Iranian-U.S. talks that have reportedly recently taken place in Geneva. BS

AL-QAEDA IS ALLEGED IRANIAN BARGAINING CHIP
Anonymous "sources in the political establishment" of Iran told the British daily "The Guardian" of 8 August that Iran is using the Al-Qaeda personnel it has detained as "a bargaining chip in its war of nerves with the U.S." Tehran will extradite these individuals only in exchange for substantial concessions, according to the sources. An anonymous "source familiar with the senior leadership" said of the United States: "They need us." Political analyst Said Leylaz asserted that some "radical conservatives" in Iran advocate cooperation with Al-Qaeda, with the intention of militarizing the country in order to ensure their own survival. BS

TERRORISTS TO BE TRIED IN IRAN
Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 8 August that the "terrorists" arrested in Iran will be tried in the country's courts, state radio reported. This is presumably a reference to Al-Qaeda personnel Iran has detained. Yunesi also rejected U.S. assertions that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. "The Americans tell lies over the issue of terrorism," he said, "and when they were cooperating with the Taliban, Iran was fighting terrorists." Yunesi did not say when the United States was cooperating with the Taliban, and he did not address Iran's continuing support for Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. BS

ALL HAMEDAN STUDENT PROTESTORS NOW OUT OF JAIL
The 7 August conditional release from jail of three students from Hamedan means that all those who were imprisoned in connection with the June and July unrest are free, IRNA reported. Fahkredin Heydarian, secretary of the Islamic Students Association, said nine students from Bu Ali Sina University and Hamedan Medical University had been arrested, and the last three -- Hamid Rahgozar, Reza Kakavandi, and Morteza Husseinzadeh -- were freed after posting 200 million rials (about $25,000) bail each. BS

FREED STUDENTS IN TEHRAN GIVE NEWS CONFERENCE
Seven of the nine students who were released after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued instructions for leniency toward them gave a press conference on 7 August, ISNA reported. The news agency then identified just six people -- Reza Ameri-Nasab, Amir Hussein Etemadi-Bozorg, Masud Karimi, Abdullah Momeni, Morteza Safai-Naini, and Mehdi Shirzad -- who said they were participating in the press conference voluntarily and would answer "any questions they felt like answering." They said they were critical of the government but did not intend to subvert it, and they added that there is a serious demarcation between them and the opposition outside the establishment. Two other students scheduled for release -- Ali Akbar Akrami-Araqi and Payman Aref -- did not participate in the press conference. BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS CANADIAN JOURNALIST MISTREATED BECAUSE OF GENDER
Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Rakei said at a 7 August "Journalists Day" ceremony that "some people cannot tolerate women journalists," ILNA reported. "The fact that Zahra Kazemi was a woman meant that she was confronted more excessively," Rakei added. Security personnel detained Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist of Iranian origin, on 23 June, and she was dead with a cerebral hemorrhage on 11 July. The investigation into her death is continuing. "As a woman," Rakei said, "what I expect from the government and the [parliament] is that we should try to prevent the repeat of such ugly and inhuman things done to a journalist -- a woman journalist at that." BS

UN SAYS IRAQ NEEDS $5 BILLION TO STAY AFLOAT
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Ramiro Lopez da Silva told reporters in Baghdad that Iraq will seek $5 billion from the donors community at a conference scheduled for October to maintain Iraq's infrastructure and basic services, Reuters reported on 5 August. Iraqi Finance Ministry officials estimate that the total cost of municipal services and institutions will be $20 billion in 2004. Iraq expects revenues to bring in $15 billion and the rest will need to be supplemented by the international community, he said. "If you want a qualitative leap, a quantum leap in living standards and conditions, you would need much more," Lopez da Silva added. Security concerns inside Iraq are likely to weigh heavily on donors' minds at the October conference, he said. "There are areas where we [currently] cannot allow staff to go," he added, including the "Sunni Triangle" west and north of Baghdad, where coalition forces have seen the greatest resistance. According to Reuters, the current cost to the United States for policing Iraq runs around $4 billion per month. KR

UN TO REPLACE 66 MILLION TEXTBOOKS IN IRAQ
A UN Security Council committee has approved a transfer of funds from Iraq's oil-for-food program to print more than 66 million copies of newly edited textbooks for the 2003-04 academic year, the UN News Center reported on 5 August (http://www.un.org/news). The $72 million project seeks to replace textbooks burned or looted during the war. It will delete Ba'athist propaganda, according to the UN. Some 509 titles will be reprinted. The Security Council committee also approved funds for a $104 million project to purchase fertilizer for Iraq's winter wheat and barley crops, and $6.8 million for fungicides to contain smut -- a disease affecting wheat and barley seed. The committee approved all of those projects at the request of the UN Office of the Iraq Program, which oversees Iraq's purchases under the oil-for-food program, which is slated to be phased out by 21 November. KR

KDP HEAD DISCUSSES KURDISH AFFAIRS, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL
The head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Mas'ud Barzani, told Al-Jazeera in an interview broadcast on 4 August that the Iraqi Governing Council "enjoys the trust of the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people." "I do not think it is possible to find a better formula than that of the transitional Governing Council," he said. Asked whether the council will address the security situation in Iraq, Barzani said: "The issue of...maintaining security is still undecided. Consultations and discussions on this issue are taking place" with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Coalition forces are currently responsible for maintaining security in Iraq under UN Security Council Resolution 1483. Barzani also told Al-Jazeera that the council does not believe that the CPA has placed limitations on its functions, because the council and the CPA regularly consult on issues. Barzani added that council members are motivated by the greater public interest, rather than their own personal or sectarian backgrounds. Asked whether the council's membership might be expanded, Barzani said that possibility exists, "but at present I do not see a better formula" than the one currently in place. KR

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