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Newsline - August 13, 2003


U.S., RUSSIAN, BRITISH AGENTS BREAK MISSILE-SMUGGLING PLOT...
FBI agents, working in tandem with the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Britain's MI-5, on 12 August arrested a British citizen who stands accused of smuggling a Russian-made Igla shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile into the United States, Russian and Western media reported. Agents arrested Hekmat Lakhani, a British citizen of Indian origin who has reportedly worked as an arms dealer in the past, in Newark, New Jersey, and two other people were arrested in connection with the case in New York City the same day. According to newsru.com, the FSB detected Lakhani's activity in St. Petersburg several months ago when he was reportedly shopping on the black market for Igla missiles. Such weapons have been used to shoot down several Russian helicopters in Chechnya in recent months, and one was fired at an Israeli passenger airliner in Kenya in 2002. VY

...IN OPERATION THAT DEMONSTRATES NEW LEVEL OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
Undercover FSB agents alerted MI-5 and the FBI about Lakhani and, in coordination with those services, sold him an inoperable Igla, which Lakhani then shipped to the U.S. port of Baltimore as medical equipment. Lakhani was reportedly arrested as he attempted to sell the missile to undercover FBI agents posing as Islamic extremists. FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko told journalists in Washington that the joint operation is an example of the new level of cooperation among security agencies that opposed one another during the Cold War, newsru.com reported. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS MOZDOK COMMANDERS WILL BE PUNISHED
Sergei Ivanov on 12 August told journalist that Lieutenant Colonel Artur Arakelyan, the commander of the Mozdok military hospital that was struck by a car bomb on 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 11 August 2003), and the commander of the Mozdok garrison should be held responsible for that assault, gazeta.ru and RTR reported. Doctors who worked at the hospital have reportedly appealed to Ivanov to dismiss Arakelyan, who has been detained since the bombing. Ivanov said that Arakelyan, as commander, bears personal responsibility for those in his charge and for the reportedly lax security at the facility. Ivanov said that carelessness, sloppiness, and stupidity will no longer be tolerated in the military, and unit commanders will be held responsible for ensuring security. Chief Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov confirmed that seven people have been arrested in connection with the bombing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003) and said that their names will be revealed soon. VY

FSB GIVES SUMMARY OF SITUATION IN CHECHNYA
In an interview with strana.ru on 12 August, FSB Major General Yurii Rozhin, head of the FSB's Chechnya Territorial Directorate, said that the military and political situation will remain tense at least until the Russian presidential election next spring, as Chechen fighters are expected to intensify their efforts against the government in the run-up to that poll. Rozhin added that the increase in suicide attacks in recent months might be because the Chechen fighters do not have sufficient manpower for raids and other military operations. Rozhin said that the results of a recent amnesty of Chechen fighters have been disappointing and far fewer fighters than expected have laid down their arms. He said his agents have information that officials within the law enforcement organs of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration maintain contacts with Chechen fighters and provide them with documents and information. Rozhin added that the level of activity of the fighters depends on the funding they receive from Islamic extremists abroad. Since the war in Iraq, he added, tensions have emerged between the Chechens and their sponsors as some funds have been redirected to forces opposing the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. VY

FSB RESTRUCTURING COMPLETED
President Vladimir Putin on 12 August signed a decree establishing a new structure for the FSB, which should complete the reorganization of the security services that he began in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 March 2003), Russian media reported. In March, Putin abolished the Federal Agency of Government Information and Communications (FAPSI) and the Federal Border Guard Service, subordinating their functions to the FSB. Under the 12 August decree, the new FSB will comprise the departments of Counterintelligence, Protection of the Constitutional Order, Analysis and Strategic Planning, Military Counterintelligence, and the Border Guard Service. Reflecting Soviet traditions, the agency will form a 19-member collegium that will be its top administrative body. The FSB director will have three first deputies and nine deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). VY

PROSECUTORS SAY THEY HAVE WRAPPED UP PROBE INTO DUMA DEPUTY'S KILLING
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 12 August announced that it has completed its investigation into the 17 April killing of Duma Deputy and Liberal Russia co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003), RTR and gazeta.ru reported. Six men have been arrested in connection with the case, including Mikhail Kodanev, the co-chairman of a Liberal Russia splinter group that supports self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, and his aide, Aleksandr Vinnik. Those two are accused of planning the killing, and four other men have been charged with carrying it out. After the defense and Yushenkov's relatives have had a chance to study the materials, the cases will be handed over to the courts for prosecution. VY

PRESIDENT CHECKS UP ON NATIONAL SPORTS PROGRAM
President Putin met in the Kremlin with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and State Sports Committee Chairman Vyacheslav Fetisov on 12 August to discuss revitalizing the country's sports program, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Kudrin told Putin that the government's draft 2004 budget includes a 37 percent increase in state funding for athletics and that each region of the federation is expected to create 10 new public sports facilities. Fetisov said that his committee is planning to reinstate the Soviet-era mass Olympiad for schoolchildren and that it expects up to 5 million children to participate in the first such event next year. VY

HAS AUGUST LOST ITS TRAGIC REPUTATION?
"Izvestiya" reported on 12 August that the previous day Russia television stations were reporting that President Putin had signed a decree dismissing Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin. According to the daily, Putin had indeed signed a series of decrees, but according to Interfax, they included just some presidential good wishes for some anniversaries and his greetings on the occasion of Construction Workers Day on 10 August. Since no information was given about any other decrees, the rumor mill started to churn and produced the television reports of 11 August about Kasyanov and Voloshin. "Izvestiya" speculated that the source of the rumors might be within the Kremlin or some entity close to it. However, the daily attributed much of the noise about the alleged dismissals to a kind of generalized expectation of "political excesses" simply because such things often happen in August -- most notably the August coup of 1991 and the financial default in 1998. However, the daily noted that in recent years, "August has become an ordinary vacation month, and events develop in September and October." JAC

PARTY OF LIFE EXPLAINS ITS COMPATRIOT-BASED FOREIGN POLICY
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov's Party of Life on 12 August issued its concept for Russia's future foreign policy, lenta.ru reported. According to the document, the party attaches particular importance to international activities. Its basic aim is the participation of Russia "in all spheres of vital activities of the global community" with the aim of defending human life. The party's priorities are improving the living conditions of the Russian-speaking populations of the FSU countries, mobilizing compatriots in the "far abroad" to resolve the living problems of Russians, and stimulating the creation of a "Russian acumen" on the basis of the Russian communities abroad. Meanwhile, sociologist Boris Kagarlitskii commented in a column in "The Moscow Times" on 12 August that the party must be going after either the vodka-drinking vote or the paratrooper vote based on a recent party television commercial in which three "real men" drinking vodka reminisce about their days as paratroopers. JAC

AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS CALL OFF STRIKE FOR NOW
Russia's air-traffic controllers decided on 12 August to call off their nationwide strike scheduled for the next day, Russian media reported. Yurii Farisei, vice president of the Russian Federation of Air-Traffic Controllers Trade Unions, told Interfax that regional trade unions in four out of the seven federal districts have not signed collective labor agreements with their employers. Federation President Sergei Kovalev told RIA-Novosti that the body has agreed not to conduct any protests while the federal State Corporation for the Organization of Air Traffic (GOVD) in the Russian Federation is being reorganized or before the end of negotiations to conclude collective labor agreements. According to "Vremya-MN," the unions were preparing to strike not because of low wages, as was incorrectly reported by several news agencies, but because the leadership of 21 GOVD subsidiary enterprises had refused to extend previously signed labor agreements until the GOVD reorganization is completed. That is expected to be 15 September. JAC

TVS JOURNALISTS HEADING BACK TO FORMER OLIGARCH?
Former TVS journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza and "Kukly" creator Viktor Shenderovich have started to create replicas of their old programs for RTVi, which belongs to former oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii, "Moskovskii novosti," No. 31, reported. RTVi, or International Russian Television, is based outside of Russia and, according to the weekly, satellite television is not well developed within Russia. In an interview with the weekly, however, Shenderovich said that he had received no offers to work for any domestic Russian television channels, either federal or private. He declined to speculate about whether there exists some kind of ban against hiring him. He said that he might now only be seen on RTVi, but in September he will begin hosting a Sunday talk show on RFE/RL. In May 2000, NTV announced that it had agreed with the Kremlin to remove the puppet caricature of President Putin from Shenderovich's "Kukly." An NTV spokesman told dpa at the time that the Kremlin has asked producers to remove the puppet, which had an extremely large nose and wore the red neckerchief of the Soviet-era Young Pioneers organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2000). JAC

ECOJOURNALIST LOSES ANOTHER COURT CASE
The Moscow Muncipal Court on 12 August upheld an earlier decision by Moscow visa and passport authorities to deny a passport for foreign travel to Grigorii Pasko, a former military journalist and environmental activist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2003). Last month, a lower court also upheld that decision. Pasko told Interfax that he will now appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Pasko was convicted of espionage in December 2001 and was released on parole in January 2003. He continues to appeal his espionage conviction as well. Pasko had been invited overseas by Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International. JAC

ENVOY TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR?
According to unidentified sources in Krasnodar Krai, Governor Aleksandr Tkachev might face some tough competition in the gubernatorial election next year because presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev is reportedly considering running, Regnum reported on 12 August, citing "Komsomolskaya Pravda-Kuban." According to the newspaper, escalating tensions with the neighboring Caucasian republics could make Kazantsev, a former military commander in Chechnya, a more attractive choice for voters than an agrarian specialist such as Tkachev. JAC

NGO FORMS TO OPPOSE REGIONAL MERGER
The director of an initiative group to create a new regional public movement called the Union to Save Pskov Krai, Yelena Pokkas, told reporters in Pskov on 12 August that "the merger of Pskov Oblast with other oblasts into one federation subject has no economic basis and does not correspond to the interests of the territory," Regnum reported. She added that "the federal authorities treat the oblast disdainfully, and for its 1,100th anniversary fewer resources were earmarked than the Railways Ministry sent for the repair of an old railway station." According to Pokkas, the new union will hold its first public action on the border of Pskov and Leningrad oblasts on 23 August. JAC

SUSPECT DETAINED FOR MURDER OF POLITICIAN IN DAGHESTAN
Police in Daghestan have detained an unnamed resident of the town of Khasavyurt in connection with the 11 August drive-by shooting in Makhachkala of prominent political leader Nadirshakh Khachilaev, Interfax reported on 12 August quoting an Interior Ministry official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). Meanwhile, Russian commentators cited by Interfax and "The Moscow Times" suggested that Khachilaev might have been killed because of his stated intention to run in the 7 December State Duma elections, for business reasons, or in a blood feud as revenge for the killings perpetrated by his supporters when they briefly seized the State Council building in Makhachkala in May 1998. LF

ANNIVERSARY OF PHYSICIAN'S ABDUCTION OBSERVED IN MOSCOW
Relatives and colleagues of Dutch physician Arjan Erkel, who worked for Doctors Without Borders, staged a protest in Moscow on 12 August to mark the first anniversary of his abduction in Daghestan, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 August 2003). A UN humanitarian aid coordinator in Moscow expressed concern that the investigation into Erkel's abduction has led nowhere and his whereabouts remain unknown. Ali Temirbekov, who is a spokesman for the Daghestan Prosecutor-General's Office, told Interfax on 12 August that the investigation into Erkel's disappearance "is continuing." LF

BROTHER OF ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER PLEADS NOT GUILTY IN MURDER TRIAL
Armen Sargsian, brother of former Prime Minister and opposition Hanrapetutiun Party leader Aram Sargsian, pleaded not guilty on 12 August to the December murder of National Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). Armen Sargsian was arrested in March on suspicion of having paid a distant cousin to assassinate Naghdalian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 19, and 31 March 2003). He has repeatedly protested his innocence, and Hanrapetutiun members claim that his arrest and trial are politically motivated. LF

ARMENIAN COALITION JUNIOR PARTNERS DENY RIFT
Rumors of a rift between the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun and the Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) Party are unfounded, the Yerevan newspaper "Iravunk" on 12 August quoted Orinats Yerkir parliamentarian Mher Shahgeldian as saying, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. Shahgeldian admitted there are "differences of opinion" between the two parties, but denied there are any "disagreements." LF

ONE MORE AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE APPROVED
The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 12 August formally approved the registration as a candidate in the 15 October presidential election of opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. Mamedov is the eighth candidate whose registration has been formally approved. At the same 12 August session, the CEC ruled that Civic Solidarity Party leader Sabir Rustamkhanli and independent candidate Lala Shovket Gadjieva failed to submit the required 45,000 valid signatures in their support. It rejected more than 10,000 signatures presented for Rustamkhanli and almost 7,000 of the 50,605 in support of Gadjieva. CEC members voted against registering Gadjieva, but failed to reject Rustamkhanli's registration by the required two-thirds majority. His registration will be reconsidered at an unspecified future date. Candidates may, however, circumvent the signatures requirement by paying a deposit of 165 million manats ($33,725), which both Rustamkhanli and Gadjieva have done. LF

AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR MINISTRY RULES OUT 'DESTABILIZATION'
In a joint statement released on 12 August, Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General's Office affirmed that they have the situation in Azerbaijan under control, and that any actions that threaten the interests of the state will be resolutely curtailed, zerkalo.az reported on 13 August. On 11 August, opposition leaders vowed to continue organizing protests across the country to demand that President Aliev's son, Ilham, be dismissed from the post of prime minister, to which he was appointed on 4 August, and that his registration as a candidate in the 15 October presidential election be revoked. LF

U.S. PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES AZERBAIJANI PRIME MINISTER
George W. Bush has written to Prime Minister Aliev congratulating him on his 4 August appointment as prime minister of Azerbaijan, Turan and Russian media reported on 12 August. Bush said Washington anticipates cooperating with the Azerbaijani leadership to strengthen democratic institutions in Azerbaijan and regional stability, and in the fight against international terrorism. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT RAISES PENSIONS, MINIMUM WAGE
Under a presidential decree dated 4 August, the minimum pension in Azerbaijan has been raised from 70,000 manats ($14.30) to 100,000 manats, effective 1 August, Turan reported on 12 August. A second decree raises the minimum monthly wage from 27,500 manats to 45,000, effective immediately, with a further increase to 60,000 manats to take effect on 1 January 2004. LF

GEORGIAN ENERGY MINISTER DISMISSED, IN LINE FOR RELATED POST
David Mirtskhulava resigned on 12 August as Energy Minister, but is likely to be named within days to head the National Energy Regulatory Committee, Caucasus Press reported on 13 August. Elizbar Eristavi's term as chairman of that committee expired on 8 August. The committee is under fire for having proposed an increase in electricity tariffs. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES SAID TO HAVE LOST STAKE IN ENERGY DISTRIBUTOR
Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, who is spokesperson for the pro-presidential For a New Georgia bloc, said on 12 August that the opposition National Movement and United Democrats stand to lose financially from the recent sale to a subsidiary of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) of a 75 percent stake in the Telasi energy-distribution network, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). She claimed that the leaders of those two parties, Mikhail Saakashvili and Zurab Zhvania, owned 3 percent of that 75 stake, which was previously held by the U.S. company AES. LF

MOSCOW PROTESTS ATTACK ON RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT IN TBILISI
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 12 August condemning as "a criminal, provocative action" the attack in Tbilisi the previous day on Aleksandr Valyukh, who is a first secretary at the Russian Embassy, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. Valyukh was reportedly attacked by three armed and masked men who opened fire and tried to steal his car. He has been hospitalized with a head injury. Georgian Prosecutor-General Nugzar Gabrichidze has taken personal control of the investigation into the incident. LF

HELICOPTER CHARTERED BY PIPELINE-CONSTRUCTION FIRM CRASH LANDS IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA
A U.S. helicopter transporting personnel to a site in southern Georgia where construction work is under way on the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline made an emergency landing on 12 August in the mountainous Tsalka District, Caucasus Press reported. None of the three crewmembers and five passengers was killed, but at least one passenger reportedly received serious injuries. The Georgian Defense Ministry and U.S. experts will investigate the cause of the crash. LF

MEDICAL PERSONNEL ON STRIKE IN TWO GEORGIAN DISTRICTS
Medical personnel in the Ozurgeti District of western Georgia began an open-ended strike on 1 August to demand the payment of seven months' back wages, Caucasus Press reported. The following day, some 500 medical personnel in Zugdidi gathered outside the office of the regional governor to demand that back wages totaling 1.3 million laris ($616,113) be paid within two days. LF

KAZAKH ACTIVIST SAYS OPPOSITION LEADERS BEING PRESSURED BY AUTHORITIES
The head of the Kazakhstan's International Bureau for Human Rights, Yevgenii Zhovtis, has issued a statement claiming that the Kazakh authorities are putting pressure on imprisoned opposition figures Galymzhan Zhaqiyanov and Sergei Duvanov, possibly to force them to seek pardons, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 12 August. Zhaqiyanov, a former governor of Pavlodar Oblast and co-founder of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement, was jailed upon conviction for abuse of office, while opposition journalist Duvanov was imprisoned on a rape conviction. Both men have refused to ask for pardons, maintaining that they are innocent. Zhovtis said he based his accusation on the recent imposition of restrictions on the two prisoners, including denial of visits, that appear to be intended as political pressure. BB

KAZAKH JOURNALISTS RECEIVE AWARDS FOR SUPPORTING ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY
Sixty Kazakh journalists participated in a competition for the best articles supporting the abolition of the death penalty in Kazakhstan, khabar.kz reported on 12 August. First prize in the competition went to khabar.kz journalist Sergei Ponomarev for a series of articles based on prison visits. The contest was judged by experts from the Justice Ministry, the OSCE, and the international NGO Prison Reform. A recent poll indicated widespread support for the death penalty among the Kazakh population, leading the Kazakh authorities to conclude that much educational work needs to be done (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). A moratorium on application of the death penalty is to begin on 1 January 2004 as the first step toward its eventual abolition. BB

U.S. CENTCOM CHIEF VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
The new chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), General John Abizaid, met with Kyrgyz First Deputy Defense Minister Alik Mamyrkulov and National Security Council Secretary Misir Ashirkulov on 12 August to discuss cooperation in preparing the Kyrgyz armed forces for peacekeeping activities, kabar.kg, Interfax, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. According to Defense Ministry spokesman Mirbek Koilubaev, Abizaid supports a U.S. Defense Department project to set up a training center for sergeants in Kyrgyzstan and thanked the Kyrgyz ministry for its support of the antiterrorism coalition air base at Bishkek's Manas Airport. Abizaid was unable to meet with Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev, who was attending Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) exercises in China. But he said he will return later to meet with Topoev and with President Askar Akaev, with whom he spoke by telephone during his 12 August visit. BB

KYRGYZ OFFICIAL DENIES SCO ANTITERRORISM CENTER TO BE SET UP IN UZBEKISTAN
Deputy Foreign Minister Asanbek Osmonaliev said on 12 August that recent reports in the Uzbek media asserting that the SCO's antiterrorism center will be set up in Tashkent instead of Bishkek are incorrect, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The decision to establish the center in Bishkek was confirmed at the SCO summit in Moscow in late May, according to Kyrgyz officials who attended the summit. Only Uzbek President Islam Karimov mentioned a proposal to set up the center in Tashkent. Osmonaliev insisted that the Bishkek location has been ratified by the SOC member states. The issue of Tashkent was raised recently after some Internet publications asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during his 6 August visit to Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003) that the SOC antiterrorism center should be in Tashkent. BB

TAJIK PRESIDENT ASKS U.S. TO SUPPORT PROPOSED ANTIDRUG COALITION
During his meeting with U.S. CENTCOM chief General Abizaid on 11 August, Imomali Rakhmonov asked that the United States support his initiative to create an international coalition against drug trafficking, Asia Plus-Blitz and centran.ru reported on 12 August. Rakhmonov was quoted as saying that he has sent his proposal to a number of international organizations and individual countries, including the U.S. government. In addition to discussing the threat posed by drug trafficking from Afghanistan, Rakhmonov and Abizaid also exchanged views on the ongoing antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan and on bilateral cooperation in the fight against international terrorism. BB

LAKE SAREZ FOUND TO POSE THREAT
A joint Tajik-Russian expedition to Tajikistan's Lake Sarez in late July found that the lake could flood the valley below the earthen dam that formed the lake in 1911 and the Amu Darya basin beyond if the mountain area where the lake is located is struck by even a moderate earthquake, Asia Plus-Blitz reported in 12 August, quoting Tajik Emergency Situations Ministry official Andrei Pilkevich. The investigators reportedly found that an earthquake of magnitude 5.0 could cause a rockslide that would send a 100- to 150-meter high wave over the dam. The Tajik authorities have begun construction of a road to Lake Sarez, but officials say the work is difficult and expensive because of the difficult terrain. BB

BELARUSIAN EXPERT SAYS CURRENCY UNION WITH RUSSIA HINGES ON POLITICAL BARGAIN
Economist Valery Dashkevich, an independent consultant for the Belarusian National Bank, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 12 August that Russian President Vladimir Putin's call on 11 August for a final decision on a common currency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003) stems from pressure exerted on the Kremlin by Russian oligarchs and businessmen. According to Dashkevich, Russian businessmen are dissatisfied with the lack of progress in Russian-Belarusian integration, and primarily with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's reluctance to sell major Belarusian state-run enterprises to Russians. Dashkevich believes that Lukashenka will bend to Putin's model of the single currency only after Putin guarantees his support for Lukashenka remaining in power for a third term and makes concessions regarding the future constitution of the Russia-Belarus Union. Dashkevich said Lukashenka might delay his decision on the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus until after Russian parliamentary and presidential elections slated for December 2003 and March 2004, respectively. JM

U.S. MILITARY EXONERATES TANK CREW IN DEATH OF UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST IN IRAQ
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a news release on its website (http://www.centcom.mil) on 12 August that the U.S. tank that fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on 8 April -- resulting in the deaths of Ukrainian Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Spanish Telecinco cameraman Jose Couso -- was deemed to have acted appropriately under the circumstances. Kyiv had officially requested that Washington probe circumstances surrounding Protsyuk's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). The tank crew "properly fired upon a suspected enemy hunter/killer team in a proportionate and justifiably measured response," according to CENTCOM, which added, "The action was fully in accordance with the Rules of Engagement." The crew reportedly discovered only after it fired a single, 120-millimeter tank round at the building that the structure was the Palestine Hotel. CENTCOM expressed regret over the deaths of the journalists. "The journalists' death at the Palestine Hotel was a tragedy and the United States has the deepest sympathies for the families of those who were killed," CENTCOM said. JM

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS INDIA
Ukraine and India signed agreements on 12 August on the mutual protection of secret information and on cooperation in tourism, Interfax reported, quoting Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy. The accords followed a meeting between Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko and his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha. Zlenko and Sinha also discussed ways to boost Ukrainian-Indian cooperation in the political, economic, scientific, and humanitarian spheres. JM

FORMER ESTONIAN MINISTERS REJECT PARTY CONGRESS'S CRITICISM OF EU
Eight ministers in the previous Center Party coalition government with the Reform Party and parliament Deputy Chairman Peeter Kreitzberg issued a joint statement on 12 August declaring their intention to continue campaigning for Estonia's membership of the EU, BNS reported. The statement said the Center Party's decision at a recent party congress to oppose the country's EU membership is nonbinding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). The former ministers are: Jaanus Marrandi, Sven Mikser, Harri Ounapuu, Siiri Oviir, Mailis Rand, Ain Seppik, Liina Tonisson, and Toomas Varek. According to the statement, the Center Party's decision contradicts its program and involvement in the previous government under which Estonia's negotiations for EU accession were successfully completed. Newly elected party Deputy Chairman Enn Eesmaa said the decision to oppose EU membership "was not a decision of the Center Party as a whole, but the mood of just one night." SG

LATVIA'S RULING COALITION TO BOOST PROJECTED REVENUES TO MEET DEFICIT TARGET
Leaders of the ruling coalition parties on 12 August agreed to increase projected revenues in the 2004 budget, LETA and BNS reported, boosting the government's chances of meeting self-imposed deficit targets. Members of the Union of Greens and Farmers, Latvia's First Party (LPP), and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK are suggesting that revenue projections be increased by 50 million lats ($88 million). However, Prime Minister Einars Repse, who has ordered across-the-board spending cuts, estimates that revenues will only increase by 10-20 million lats. "We have incompetent ministers," he said. "Work has to be organized so that needs of the population are met within the limits of allowed funding. Lazy clerks only yell for more money but cannot keep their expenses within actual allocations." It was also decided that regular meetings of parliamentary groups will be held every Tuesday, during which budget issues could be discussed. SG

POLISH SPEAKER ACCUSED OF IMPROPERLY LIFTING LAWMAKER'S IMMUNITY
The Self-Defense radical farmers' union has accused Sejm speaker Marek Borowski of committing a crime by signing a resolution on lifting the immunity of lawmaker Andrzej Jagiello (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2003), PAP reported on 12 August. The group has sent its allegation to the prosecutor-general, the agency added. According to Self-Defense, the Sejm on 30 July voted only on approving the opinion of the parliamentary Rules and Deputies' Affairs Committee regarding Jagiello, not on lifting his immunity. Jagiello, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance, is accused of warning local government officials with alleged links to organized crime of a pending police operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003). JM

SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTY DENIES INTENTION TO JOIN OR SUPPORT GOVERNMENT
The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) denied on 12 August that it is considering either joining the coalition headed by Premier Mikulas Dzurinda or supporting a minority cabinet headed by him, TASR reported, citing HZDS Deputy Chairman Jan Kovarcik. Kovarcik called such reports "speculation." The rumors were triggered by statements Dzurinda made last week praising the "normalization" of relations between the four-party, center-left coalition and former Premier Vladimir Meciar's HZDS. The reports of possible opposition backing for a minority government emerged after speculation that the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) might leave the ruling coalition. MS

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED AGAINST SLOVAK NATIONALIST PARTIES
Slovak police announced the launch of a criminal investigation on 12 August into allegations that the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) incited ethnic hatred in television spots aired ahead of the September 2002 parliamentary elections, TASR reported. The Civic Conservative Party (OKS), which did not win any seats in those elections, filed an official complaint at the time. The SNS and the PSNS, which also failed to win representation in the parliament, have since reunited (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2003). Their respective leaders at the time, Anna Malikova and Jan Slota, have already been charged with incitement to hatred against the Hungarian minority during the election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2002). An SNS spokesman called the investigation "an attack on the freedom of speech" aimed at "criminalizing and destroying national parties." Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar meanwhile praised the OKS for having lodged the complaint with police. MS

SLOVAK COMMUNIST LEADER REMINISCES ON 1968 INVASION
With the 20 August anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia approaching, Slovak Communist Party (KSS) Chairman Jozef Sevc expressed regret to "those who suffered" at the time but placed the blame squarely on Czechoslovakia's leaders, TASR reported. He said the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party that was "headed by Alexander Dubcek...failed at a critical time" and "lost its grip on developments in a country where 93 percent of the people desired socialism." Sevc also said subsequent "analysis" of those events demonstrated that "the so-called reform forces" were not "seeking to remove mistakes in socialist construction, but the removal of the socialist system." The Soviet-led intervention was therefore a necessary step, Sevc said, although he conceded that diplomatic means had not been entirely exhausted by the time Warsaw Pact tanks rolled across the border. MS

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS DRAFT ON KOSOVA...
On 12 August, the Serbian cabinet approved a draft document on Kosova and sent it to the parliament for debate and a vote after the summer recess, international and regional media reported. The text stresses that Kosova is an "inseparable" part of Serbia, and it criticizes the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) for failing to improve security, curb organized crime, or restore a multiethnic society. The draft calls for the punishment of ethnic Albanians guilty of war crimes, protection for Serbian historical monuments, a role for Serbian security forces in protecting Serbs and other non-Albanians, and wide autonomy for Kosova as an autonomous province of Serbia, like Vojvodina. The document was approved one day before Harri Holkeri, the newly appointed head of UNMIK, was scheduled to make his first visit to Kosova. The document appears to be an attempt by the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition to shore up support among nationalist voters and divert popular attention from widespread poverty, corruption, and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 13 and 20 June, and 1 and 8 August 2003). PM

...WHICH KOSOVARS REJECT
Nexhat Daci, who is the speaker of Kosova's parliament, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 12 August that the future of Kosova does not depend on Belgrade but rather on the people who live in the province. The Serbian draft is, in fact, likely to be totally unacceptable to the more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority in Kosova, most of which wants nothing to do with Belgrade. All ethnic Albanian political parties demand independence for the province. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS KOSOVA AN 'INTERNAL' MATTER
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 12 August that Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko's recent comments on Kosova constituted a "flagrant interference in the internal affairs" of Serbia, AP reported. Majko said in Tirana on 9 August that he will boycott an upcoming Balkan security conference in Montenegro to protest the draft Serbian Constitution that refers to Kosova as part of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). In recent days, former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who is a rival of the DOS politicians, has spoken out several times on Kosova and warned against "premature" talks between Belgrade and Prishtina, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Meanwhile, the Serbian Orthodox Church published a "Memorandum" reasserting the view that Kosova is the "Jerusalem of the Serbian nation," "Vesti" reported on 9 August. PM

SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER WARNS BOSNIA
Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 12 August that his government insists that Bosnia withdraw its lawsuit in the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging genocide by Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Batic warned that if Bosnia-Herzegovina does not do so, his government will present the ICJ with "voluminous evidence" of genocide against Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict. Belgrade demands that Bosnia and Croatia drop genocide suits against it in return for Serbia's dropping similar charges against eight NATO-member states stemming from the 1999 war to stop the Serbian crackdown in Kosova. In related news, Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim representative on the Bosnian Presidency, called on present and past officials of the Republika Srpska to make public whatever information they have regarding the location of mass graves on Bosnian Serb territory. PM

TROUBLE IN SOUTHERN SERBIA?
The shadowy Albanian National Army (ANA) said in a statement on its website on 12 August that it is responsible for the recent mortar attack on a Serbian army installation near Dobrosin in southern Serbia, which has a large ethnic Albanian population, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Dobrosin figured prominently during the 1999-2001 tensions in the Presevo Valley region. Meanwhile, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic said on 12 August that 15 gunmen opened fire on a Serbian patrol on a road running from southern Serbia to Podujeva in Kosova, AP reported. He called the attack "a very aggressive attack, an escalation." There has been no independent confirmation of the incident. PM

UN LAUNCHES THIRD ARMS ROUNDUP IN KOSOVA
UNMIK announced in Prishtina on 12 August that no questions will be asked of people turning in illegal weapons before 30 September, dpa reported. After that date, anyone found in possession of illegal arms faces up to eight years in prison or a fine of up to $8,450. The UN estimates that there are up to 400,000 illegal weapons in the province, which, like much of the Balkans, is home to an age-old gun culture. PM

TOP JUDGE CALLS FOR JUDICIAL REFORM IN MACEDONIA
Macedonian Supreme Court Justice Agim Miftari told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 12 August that the judiciary must be reorganized in order to become more efficient. Miftari admitted that the cases are often processed slowly due to delaying tactics by the parties involved. He called for the introduction of specialized courts, saying that "it does not make sense for one and the same court to pass down life sentences as well as sentences for minimal offenses." He also demanded that special departments dealing exclusively with cases related to organized crime and corruption be formed within the judiciary. UB

FIRE SPREADS ON CROATIAN ISLAND
A fire on the island of Hvar spread "dramatically" between 12 and 13 August and now covers about 500 hectares, HINA reported. Other parts of the Croatian Adriatic coast have also witnessed fires in recent weeks amid soaring temperatures, occupying hundreds of firemen. Fires along the Montenegrin coast prompted authorities there recently to use military helicopters and ground troops to fight the blazes, apparently with success. "Vesti" reported. In the Mostar region of Herzegovina, a large fire is now under control, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Summer fires -- sometimes involving arson -- are not unusual among the wooded areas of the Adriatic coast. PM

BOSNIAN OFFICIAL SAYS EXPLOSIONS ARE NOT TERRORISM
Sulejman Bajric, who is interior minister of Sarajevo Canton, said on 13 August that five recent explosions in the Bosnian capital were not the work of terrorists, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Bajric said the explosions were apparently designed not to kill anyone. The most recent incident took place on 12 August, when an explosive device destroyed a privately owned bus. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES READY TO CONSIDER ALLIANCE
National Liberal Party (PNL) Deputy Chairman Paul Pacuraru told Mediafax on 12 August that his own party and the Democratic Party are ready to consider forging an alliance ahead of the parliamentary elections slated for late 2004 or early 2005. The recommendation to forge such an alliance was made by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, president of the Romanian Academic Society think tank, when presenting the results of the latest CURS public-opinion poll (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). Pacuraru said negotiations are under way for forging such an alliance. He said the envisaged formula is based on a two-party union with a joint leadership and decision-making body and a joint governing program agreed upon by both parties. On issues on which the two parties fail to reach agreement, each side will be free to vote in parliament as it sees fit, according to Pacuraru. Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Emil Boc told journalists that in the envisaged alliance, each party would retain its identity. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY TELLS HUMANIST PARTY TO MAKE UP ITS MIND
Social Democratic Party (PSD) Secretary-General Dan Matei Agathon said on 12 August that the party wants its junior ally, the Romanian Humanist Party (PUR), to make up its mind by the end of August whether it wants to renew cooperation negotiations. Agathon said several local branches of the PUR have decided to break the cooperation agreement reached by the two formations at the central level. He added that a "switch of doctrinal orientation" to the "right of the PNL" is palatable among PUR members, some of whom envisage an alliance with the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic and joining the European People's Party in the European Parliament. Agathon demanded that PUR Chairman Dan Voiculescu "reply in no uncertain terms" whether the PUR wants to continue its alliance with the PSD. MS

ROMANIAN AUTOWORKERS THREATEN VIOLENCE OVER ARREARS
Eight workers from the state-owned ARO Campulung-Muscel automaker are on hunger strike and unrest among workers has been growing over the last two days over wage arrears and the company's inability to secure raw materials, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. The company's manager has stepped down and leaflets distributed in Campulung-Muscel threatened to "set ablaze" PSD party branches and the "villas, houses, apartments, and luxury cars of all those who have skinned us." The leaflets said the violence will be greater than that of the 1907 peasant uprising. ARO Campulung-Muscel is slated for privatization, and some 1,500 workers are likely to be laid off if no buyer is found. MS

ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO ROMANIA CRITICIZED FOR REQUESTING ROMANIAN CITIZENSHIP
The Israeli Foreign Ministry on 11 August leveled harsh criticism at Ambassador to Romania Sandu Mazor after the daily "Yedioth Aharonoth" reported that Mazor has asked for Romanian citizenship, "Ha'aretz" reported the next day. The Romanian-born Mazor, who ends his three-year mission on 17 August, confirmed to "Yedioth Aharonoth" that he is requesting the return of his Romanian citizenship. He said he plans to remain in Romania to run an Israeli investment firm. In a letter to Mazor, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's legal adviser said the report caused "great consternation" and that the request "raises suspicions about a conflict of interest with your role as ambassador," according to "Ha'aretz." Mazor countered that he is exempt from a requirement that individuals ending their service with the Foreign Ministry wait out a two-year "cooling off" period before working in the countries where they served, as he is not a Foreign Ministry employee. Before being appointed Ambassador to Romania in 2000, Mazor was the chief of the Israeli police's Criminal Investigation Department. MS

MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL SAYS LEAVING CIS IS NOT ON IMMEDIATE AGENDA
European Integration Department Director Andrei Stratan told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service on 13 August that Moldova would consider leaving the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) if and when it is officially accepted as a candidate for EU accession and if the union explicitly demanded such a move. Until that time, Stratan said, Chisinau can see no reason to leave the CIS. The EU has offered Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus special status as "new neighbors," but not membership. Stratan, who is also deputy foreign minister, said the department he heads will present a "Conceptual Framework for Moldova's EU Integration" to Premier Vasile Tarlev by 25 August. That framework will then be forwarded to EU experts, whose remarks are to be considered by the European Integration Department tasked with developing a "European Integration Strategy" that will take into account the experience of all EU candidate countries, Stratan said. MS

TRANSDNIESTER CANCELS FREE-TRADE REGIME WITH UKRAINE
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov has canceled Transdniester's free-trade regime with Ukraine less than one month after if was instituted, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). The new decree came into effect on 12 August, when Smirnov reimposed customs duties on imports of meat, fish, and dairy products from Ukraine, as well as on foodstuffs, alcoholic and soft drinks, soap, and detergents. The Transdniester authorities said the measure was prompted by Ukraine's flooding of local markets with these and other goods. This resulted in a substantial drop in prices, which led local producers to complain they were facing serious losses. MS

BULGARIAN MAYORS PROTEST ECONOMY MINISTER'S PLAN
The mayors of Dobrich, Varna, Nesebar, Samokov, and Smolyan on 12 August rebuffed plans by Economy Minister Lidia Shuleva to grant the country's largest resort complexes of Zlatni pyasitsi (Golden Sands), Slanchev bryag (Sunny Coast), Albena, Borovets, and Pamporovo the status of independent municipalities, "Standart" reported. "The resorts cannot and must not become independent municipalities because they do not have a permanent population," Smolyan Mayor Dancho Kiryakov said, adding that the winter resort of Pamporovo has only some 20 registered inhabitants. In the meantime, Regional Development Minister Valentin Tserovski also warned against rushing to grant independence to resorts before the upcoming local elections slated for late October. Shuleva's plan was to give the resorts municipality status so they can use the tax revenues they would gain to renew their infrastructures and to advertise, mediapool.bg reported on 11 August. UB

ATTITUDES TO SOVIET PAST REFLECT NOSTALGIA, PRAGMATISM


The past year has witnessed the emergence of three distinct trends in approaches both in Russia and some other CIS states to their shared Soviet legacy. One such trend is nostalgia for the relative security of the Josef Stalin era. Second, certain anniversaries of former republican or Soviet leaders are commemorated, while others are ignored. Third, in the ongoing process of state building, both Belarus and Russia are reintroducing Soviet symbols, either together with tsarist ones (in the case of Russia), or in an adapted form (Belarus).

In March 2003, outpourings of nostalgia were seen across Russia on the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death. The Public Opinion Foundation found that 36 percent of Russians viewed Stalin in a positive light, compared to the 29 percent who viewed him negatively. The Russian State Archives, and those of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Federal Protection Service, prepared an exhibition on the Stalin era, including some personal effects and letters from Soviet citizens written on his death.

Vladimir Malynkovitch, a Russophile Russian-speaking liberal based in Kyiv, is alarmed by this high level of nostalgia for Stalin. In his opinion, Russian television now shows more Stalinist films than it did during the Leonid Brezhnev era, when Malynkovitch was briefly arrested as a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and then expelled from the USSR.

Meanwhile, the leaderships of CIS states are selectively commemorating the anniversaries of certain Soviet leaders. In January 2003, Moldovan President and Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin bestowed the Order of the Republic on former Moldovan Communist leader Ivan Bodiul on his 85th birthday. Bodiul was first secretary of the Communist Party of Moldavia from 1961-80. In March, the Russian State Duma voted to commemorate the centenary of the birth of the former chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, Nikolai Kosygin. Kosygin headed that body from 1964-80. And in February, Ukraine celebrated at the official level for the first time the 85th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Shcherbytsky, who headed the Communist Party of Ukraine from 1972-89. Bodiul and Shcherbytsky resolutely opposed Romanian and Ukrainian nationalism, respectively.

The commemoration of Shcherbytsky's anniversary was nonetheless surprising because his period in office is associated with Russification, the wide-scale arrest of Ukrainian dissidents and the Brezhnev "era of stagnation." In addition, Shcherbytsky went ahead with the May Day parade in 1986 just days after the Chornobyl nuclear accident. By contrast, the 95th anniversary of the birth of Petro Shelest, Shcherbytsky's predecessor as Communist Party of Ukraine first secretary, which also fell in February 2003, was ignored. Shelest is often compared favorably to Shcherbytsky because he supported the Ukrainian language and culture and is therefore believed to be closer in spirit to the Ukrainian national communists of the 1920s.

Such contrasts between Shelest and Shcherbytsky are, however, artificial. Writing in the May issue of the Kyiv monthly "Krytyka," leading historian Yuriy Shapoval says it is absurd to claim Shelest was a "liberal" and Shcherbytsky an "orthodox communist." What differentiates them the most, Shapoval believes, is that Shcherbytsky knew how to hold on to power for 17 years with support from Moscow. This is the reason why Ukraine's contemporary centrist elites admire Shcherbytsky so much.

Leonid Kravchuk and the "sovereign communists" within the Communist Party of Ukraine were also seen as "national communists" in 1990-94 both in Ukraine and abroad when Kravchuk was parliamentary speaker and then president. But Ukraine's "sovereign communists" evolved into centrists, and it is those centrists who are today commemorating Shcherbytsky's anniversary, but not Shelest's, even though it would have been more logical for them to take Shelest, who was removed in 1971 after being accused of "national deviationism," as their role model rather than Shcherbytsky. Yet on Shelest's anniversary no newspaper articles or books were published or flowers placed on his grave.

Belarus and Russia, meanwhile, are selectively resurrecting Soviet symbols. In Belarus, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is the quintessential Soviet Belarusian patriot who presides over a regime steeped in Soviet nostalgia. In 2002, Belarus adopted a new anthem that, in fact, is the Soviet Belorussian anthem ("My Belarustsy," composed in 1955) with references to Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin removed. In Russia, President Putin and his party of power are seeking to incorporate both tsarist and Soviet symbols in a new Eurasianist ideology.

Russia under former President Boris Yeltsin had difficulties introducing new national symbols. In April 1997, the Communist Party moved in the Duma an amendment to restore the Soviet flag and anthem. The proposal obtained 239 votes with only 90 against, but fell short of the 300 votes necessary for constitutional amendments. In a January 1998 vote, only a quarter of the Duma deputies backed the new (non-Soviet) flag, coat of arms, and anthem favored by Yeltsin. The majority of deputies voted to preserve the Soviet anthem.

As late as 2000, only 11 percent of Russians knew the lyrics of the Russian national anthem, whereas 79 percent could sing the Soviet one. Putin overcame Yeltsin's inability to resolve which national symbols Russia should adopt by reviving the Soviet-era anthem with new lyrics. In a State Duma vote in December 2000, only nine months after Putin came to power, 378 deputies voted to reinstate the Soviet anthem. Only a small minority of 53 from the SPS and Yabloko factions opposed the move.

In Russia, the tricolor flag and tsarist coat of arms have been restored alongside the revamped Soviet anthem. The Russian military has similarly reinstated Soviet Red Army insignia. Russia's national symbols therefore reflect a fusion of tsarist and Soviet symbols that make up Russia's emerging Eurasianist identity. Recent moves to bolster this new Russian identity appear to be rooted more in pragmatism than nostalgia. Faced with a dwindling poll of manpower to draw on, Moscow has invited all CIS citizens regardless of ethnicity to serve in the Russian armed forces. And the Russian Foreign Ministry is currently preparing a campaign to have Russian declared an official working language throughout the CIS.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

20 KILLED IN ATTACK ON AFGHAN BORDER POST
Twenty people were killed in fighting that broke out early in the morning of 13 August when approximately 100 suspected neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda members attacked Afghan border guards along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in southeastern Khost Province, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. The attackers, allegedly armed with heavy and light weapons, attacked the border post at approximately 2 a.m. local time and fighting continued until midday. Fifteen attackers and five Afghan border guards were reportedly killed in the clashes and one Afghan guard and one attacker were injured. The injured attacker was taken into Afghan custody. According to an unidentified Afghan army officer, it is suspected that five of the deceased attackers and the injured one in custody are Arabs, a potential indication of Al-Qaeda involvement. In addition, the group of fighters is rumored to have been under the command of Said Gai, a former Taliban leader who was allegedly taken into U.S. custody in the Khost town of Miransha earlier this week. If these suspicions prove to be correct, this could be further evidence of Taliban and Al-Qaeda collusion to destabilize Afghanistan. KM

AFGHAN, PAKISTANI, AND U.S. OFFICIALS DISCUSS SECURITY
A tripartite commission on regional security has agreed to set up a hotline between top U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani security officials to improve communication, AP reported on 12 August. The move came in the wake of the 11 August incident in which two Pakistani Army officers reportedly were killed and one was injured when U.S. forces mistakenly fired on them while pursuing suspected militants near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). The meeting at Bagram Air Base, the third of four meetings scheduled this summer to address border security and other issues, brought together Afghan National Security Adviser Zalmay Rasul, Pakistani Major General Ashfaq Kiyani, U.S. Major General John Vines, and diplomats from all three countries. The commission expressed regret over the incident and agreed on the need for better coordination to prevent such loss of live in the future, according to a statement by a U.S. military spokesman. The fourth meeting of the tripartite commission is scheduled for September. IL

TALIBAN THREATEN U.S. SUPPORTERS, AID WORKERS WITH DEATH...
Leaflets threatening death to U.S. supporters and purportedly bearing the signatures of four top Taliban officials are circulating in the town of Spin Boldak and in the nearby Pakistani town of Chaman, AFP reported on 11 August. The leaflets advised U.S. forces to leave the country and warned Afghans who persist in supporting U.S. troops that "Taliban mujahedin will kill them one by one, along with their American masters." The messages were signed by Mulla Akhtar Usman, who is deputy of Taliban supreme commander Mullah Omar; Mullah Bradar; Mulla Abdur Rauf; and Hafiz Adur Rahim. AP reported that on 12 August it received a two-page missive said to be from Mullah Omar in which the reclusive commander called Western aid groups the "greatest enemies of Islam and humanity." Mine-clearing employees and other aid workers have been targeted in recent attacks, prompting the suspension of UN travel in parts of southern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). The agency said the authenticity of the message could not be verified. IL

...AND AFGHAN LEADER RESPONDS IN KIND
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai promised a group of clerics on 12 August that he will not allow the neo-Taliban guerrillas who killed pro-government religious scholars to "escape execution," Reuters reported. In July, militants killed two members of the Ulema Shura, or clerics' council, in Kandahar Province and injured a third following an announcement by the council that the jihad had ended and Muslims should support the Karzai government. Karzai did not say whether authorities had apprehended any suspects in the killings, but he did say police have arrested two young men who were planning to carry out strikes on workers rebuilding a road between Kabul and Kandahar. The two were reportedly trained by groups in Pakistan to disrupt reconstruction projects, Reuters said. IL

TAJIK PRESIDENT, U.S. MILITARY OFFICIAL DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN
During his meeting with U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General John Abizaid on 11 August, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov discussed the threat posed by drug trafficking from Afghanistan and exchanged views on the ongoing antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan and on bilateral cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, Asia Plus-Blitz and centran.ru reported on 12 August. Rakhmonov asked that the United States support his initiative to create an international coalition against drug trafficking, and was quoted as saying that he has sent his proposal to a number of international organizations and individual countries, including the U.S. government. BB

IRANIAN GUARDIANS COUNCIL REJECTS WOMEN'S-RIGHTS LEGISLATION
The Guardians Council on 12 August rejected a bill on Iranian membership of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, state radio reported. Guardians Council spokesman Ebrahim Azizi said the bill violates Islamic law and Iran's constitution. Rejection of the bill appeared likely, particularly after senior clerics led a recent outcry against it (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July and 11 August 2003). The Guardians Council also rejected a bill on Iranian membership of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The legislature had approved the bill on 23 July, IRNA reported. (For more on the convention, see http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_cat39.htm) BS

IRANIAN NEWS AGENCY CHIEF FACES COURT
IRNA reported from Tehran on 12 August that its chief, Abdullah Nasseri, has been called to assist the court concerning coverage of the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in "Iran," the daily newspaper produced by IRNA. Kazemi was arrested on 23 June for taking pictures at Evin prison and died on 11 July of a cerebral hemorrhage. The paper is charged with spreading lies, making false reports, and creating adverse publicity for the Islamic establishment. Its managing director, Abdulrasul Vasal, was interrogated at length by the presiding judge on 11 August and was instructed to provide proof of assertions by its reporter and statements made by some members of the parliament. Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, a government spokesman, said he hopes the investigation will bring this matter to a close and stated that the government will do its best to expose the cause of Kazemi's death and whoever is responsible. JLH

IRANIAN INVESTMENT CONFERENCE OPENS IN TABRIZ
A four-day meeting on investment opportunities in Iran will open in Tabriz on 12 August, "Kayhan" reported the same day. Two hundred and fifty projects will be presented to the 300 foreign and 500 Iranian businessmen attending. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, in an address, assured foreign participants that their investments are welcome and will be protected by enabling legislation. An agreement between Italian interests and Tabriz Steel Industries, valued at $300 million, is about to be concluded. JLH

TEHRAN HOSTS INTERNATIONAL COUNTERNARCOTICS MEETING
Senior counternarcotics officers from Pakistan and Iran met in Tehran on 12 August to discuss ways to confront armed trafficking gangs that operate on both sides of the border, state television reported. Brigadier General Mehdi Aboui, the officer in charge of Iran's police counternarcotics effort, said the traffickers' activities have been disrupted thanks to the cooperation of the Iranian and Pakistani police forces. He added that part of the Iranian government's counternarcotics plan is the reorganization and training of the Afghan police forces and the creation of an Afghan counternarcotics force. Iskandar Ali, deputy head of Pakistan's Anti-Narcotics Force, said the fall of the Taliban did not eliminate the drug trafficking problem, and he complained that Western promises to destroy the trafficking networks remain unfulfilled. BS

MEMBER OF IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL CALLS DISSOLUTION OF ARMED FORCES A 'MISTAKE'
Iraqi Governing Council member Hamid Majid Musa told "Der Spiegel" in an interview published on 11 August that attacks against coalition forces -- and the 7 August attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad -- have occurred as a result of the "consequences of bad mistakes by the Americans." Specifically, Musa claimed that the decision of U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer to dissolve the Iraqi armed forces was "foolish," adding, "As there were more than 1 million members of the army and security services, and an average Iraqi household consists of five people; Bremer deprives over 5 million Iraqis of their living with a single stroke of the pen." According to Musa, some of those disenfranchised Iraqis are attacking coalition forces. KR

KURDISH PESHMERGA ARREST ANSAR AL-ISLAM MILITANTS IN NORTHERN IRAQ
Kurdish peshmerga forces patrolling northern Iraq arrested 50 individuals, including some suspected members of the militant group Ansar Al-Islam, on 12 August, MENA reported the same day. The group reportedly traveled to Iraq from Afghanistan via Iran. The number of suspected Ansar Al-Islam members in the group arrested was not specified. U.S. officials have attributed attacks on coalition forces to remnants of Ansar Al-Islam in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 17 July 2003). Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish press reported last week that the peshmerga are now patrolling Iraq's northern borders in an effort to prevent illegal entry into Iraq. KR

MYSTERIOUS U.S. DEATHS MOUNTING IN IRAQ, KUWAIT
Six U.S. soldiers have died under mysterious incidents in Iraq over the past two weeks, according to press releases posted on the U.S. CENTCOM website (http://www.centcom.mil). A U.S. soldier attached to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment died in his sleep at a base camp in Al-Ramadi on 12 August. On 8 August, CENTCOM reported that a soldier from the 4th Infantry Division died while sleeping at a base camp in the town of Kirkush. Both incidents are reportedly under investigation. Meanwhile, a third U.S. soldier died from apparent heat stress on 9 August while traveling in a convoy north of Al-Diwaniyah, a 10 August CENTCOM press release stated. Three U.S. soldiers died last week in similar incidents. The first suffered a seizure while on duty in Mosul on 7 August, while another died when he fell off a building in Mosul on 6 August. Meanwhile, a third soldier suffered an apparent heart attack while on duty in Kuwait on 5 August. KR

U.S. FORCES CAPTURE FORMER REGIME MEMBERS IN RAID IN IRAQ
U.S. forces claim to have captured a former Iraqi general and a bodyguard of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in a raid in Tikrit on 11 August, Reuters reported on 12 August. Officers from the 4th Infantry Division said the two men, whose names have not been released, were among 14 detainees captured in the raid. KR

U.S. MILITARY EXONERATES TANK CREW IN BAGHDAD HOTEL DEATHS
U.S. CENTCOM said in a news release on 12 August that the U.S. tank that fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on 8 April -- resulting in the deaths of Ukrainian Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Spanish Telecinco cameraman Jose Couso -- was deemed to have acted appropriately under the circumstances. The tank crew "properly fired upon a suspected enemy hunter/killer team in a proportionate and justifiably measured response," according to CENTCOM, which added, "The action was fully in accordance with the Rules of Engagement." The crew reportedly discovered only after it fired a single, 120-millimeter tank round at the building that the structure was the Palestine Hotel. CENTCOM expressed regret over the deaths of the journalists. "The journalists' death at the Palestine Hotel was a tragedy and the United States has the deepest sympathies for the families of those who were killed," CENTCOM said. Kyiv officially requested that Washington probe circumstances surrounding Protsyuk's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). JM

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