SAKHALIN GOVERNOR MISSING...
An M-8 helicopter carrying Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov went missing on 20 August around 3:40 p.m. local time, Russian media reported. In addition to the governor, many members of the senior leadership of the oblast was on board, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 August. The helicopter reportedly carried 15 passengers and three crewmembers. It went down around the southern end of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that all of the military's resources will be deployed to locate the missing helicopter. However, the search had to be suspended at midnight local time and was resumed at dawn, according to Interfax. According to "Kommersant-Daily," searchers have little hope of finding the passengers alive. According to one searcher, all of the passengers have mobile phones, and one of the governor's assistants had a satellite phone. "If they were alive, they could have gotten a connection," he was quoted as saying. JAC
...AS GOVERNMENT SPARES NO EFFORT IN SEARCH OPERATION...
President Vladimir Putin on 21 August spoke by telephone with Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu and with presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii to inquire about the efforts to locate Governor Farkhutdinov, Russian media reported. More than 60 navy and border-guard-service vessels are participating in the search, which is being commanded by Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Colonel General Gennadii Korotikin. Ministry aircraft and rescue teams are also participating, and special equipment arrived in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii from Moscow on 20 August. Search efforts have been hampered by deteriorating weather conditions. A border-guard-service spokesman said that there is no indication that Farkhutdinov's helicopter "crossed the coastline at any point." A second helicopter that was accompanying Farkhutdinov's arrived safely at its destination, the spokesman said. Pulikovskii on 21 August denied speculation that the incident with Farkhutdinov's helicopter has any connection with Russian military exercises currently being held in the regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003), RTR reported. VY
...AND TELEVISION CHANNEL ASKS TOUGH QUESTIONS
In recent years, a number of politicians and officials -- including some governors -- have died from "unnatural causes," TV-Tsentr commented on 20 August. On 28 April 2002, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed was killed when his helicopter hit a high-voltage electricity mast in fair weather (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). On 18 October 2002, Magadan Oblast Governor Valentin Tsvetkov was shot dead on a Moscow street (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). On 3 June 2000, Duma Deputy and well-known eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fedorov, who also headed the Party of Workers' Self-Rule, died in a helicopter accident in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2002). The station conceded that Russian aircraft are in a poor state of repair, but noted that politicians have access to much safer and more reliable transportation than ordinary citizens and that they employ the best pilots and security personnel and have the best communications equipment, including satellite telephones. If security agencies are not able to prevent so many from dying under such favorable conditions, then what can be said about the safety of ordinary people, the station wondered. VY
CHINA OR JAPAN?
Moscow faces a difficult choice in deciding whether China or Japan is Russia's most important trading partner in the Far East, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 34, wrote. Russia has already promised Beijing that it will construct an oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to China's Datsin, although financing for that project is still being discussed. However, there exists an alternative proposal for a pipeline to the Russian port of Nakhodka, which would be used to export the oil to Japan, and Tokyo has said that it is prepared to invest $20 billion in that project. To help resolve the situation, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will visit Beijing in September, and President Putin will meet with Japanese leaders in October. While Moscow is concerned not to offend China, which is one of the biggest purchasers of Russian industrial goods, it would certainly be a shame to lose the deal that Japan seems to be offering, the weekly concluded. VY
PROSECUTOR SUGGESTS AMNESTY FOR ACCUSED SCIENTIST
Addressing a Vladivostok court during a closed hearing of the case of scientist Aleksandr Shurov, who is accused of divulging state secrets, a state prosecutor urged the court to reduce the charges and to release Shurov under an amnesty, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 August. Shurov, a specialist on underwater acoustics, was arrested in 1999 on the Russia-China border in what was alleged to be an attempt to hand to the Chinese an acoustic module used to detect underwater sounds. The Federal Security Service (FSB) charged Shurov with attempting to reveal state secrets, as the module could be used to detect submarines. Military experts supported this assertion at the trial, but independent experts from the Russian Academy of Sciences rejected it. Those experts testified that all the information Shurov used to construct the device was culled from open sources. Shurov's lawyer, Aleksandr Berkovich, said that Shurov is not seeking to be amnestied because he maintains his innocence and expects a complete acquittal. VY
GOVERNMENT CONCERNED ABOUT TRAFFIC FATALITIES
Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev, who oversees the housing and public-services sectors, said on 21 August during a teleconference with regional administrators on the topic of transportation safety that traffic accidents have become a "national disaster" in Russia on a par with alcoholism and fires, regions.ru reported. In 2002, 33,000 Russians died in traffic accidents, while 20,000 died from alcohol poisoning and 12,000 died in fires. Over the last decade, more than 350,000 people were killed in traffic accidents and more than 2 million were injured. Yakovlev said the government has asked the judiciary to adopt a more severe attitude toward drivers convicted of violating traffic-safety rules. It is also working on a set of measure to encourage safer driving, he said. VY
COMMUNISTS RECAPTURE THEIR LEAD
In a monthly survey conducted by the embattled All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 28 percent of respondents said they would support the Communist Party if State Duma elections were held now, while 23 percent said they would back the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, according to the center's website (http://www.wciom.ru). Last month, Unified Russia had a one-percentage-point advantage over the Communists. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's support jumped from 5 percent to 9 percent, while Yabloko's rating held steady at 6 percent. The Union of Rightist Forces and the Agrarian Party jumped one percentage point to 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The survey of 1,600 respondents was conducted on 15-18 August. JAC
PURGE CONTINUES AT ST. PETERSBURG TELEVISION
More than 20 journalists at Peterburg television in St. Petersburg have been dismissed, REN-TV reported on 19 August. The dismissed journalists charge that the orders to fire them originated in the office of the presidential envoy to Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko, who is a candidate in the city's 21 September gubernatorial election. According to the host of a political program, Daniil Kostyubinskii, "a number of pieces of indirect evidence make this quite clear." The municipally controlled channel was considered close to former St. Petersburg Governor and now Deputy Prime Minister Yakovlev (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 4 July 2003). The dismissed journalists have formed a new public organization called St. Petersburg's Line that will "fight against those who want to force their decisions upon voters with the help of the press" and will bring any violations of freedom of speech to light immediately. JAC
ECONOMY MINISTER LOSES MORE DEPUTY MINISTERS
Two deputy ministers at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry are leaving the ministry, RTR reported on 20 August. Yurii Beletskii will continue to work in the government in an unspecified capacity, while Aleksandr Maslov plans to start a private company. JAC
MORE THAN TWO-THIRDS OF SURVEY RESPONDENTS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO USE COMPUTERS
According to a recent survey conducted by the embattled VTsIOM, some 63 percent of respondents said they do not know how to use a computer or access the Internet, newsru.com reported on 20 August. However, the firm projected that by 2005 the percentage of the population that uses the Internet will rise from the current level of 5 percent-6 percent to around 15 percent. According to the website, the survey is the first in a series on the theme of "the Russian population and the federal program Electronic Russia." Among the goals of that multiyear federal program is to promote the use of Internet technology throughout the government and the school system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2003). JAC
PENCILED IN: FLASH-MOB, TVER, THIS SUNDAY
After several actions by so-called flash-mobs recently in Moscow and St. Petersburg, a momentary crowd will gather in Tver on 24 August, izvestiya.ru reported on 20 August. The flash-mob phenomenon started in Western countries, and such events consist of a group of people who gather at a usually predetermined location, perform some brief action, and then quickly disperse. According to an article in the "Chicago Tribune" on 11 July, "to protect the planned serendipity of each event, participants aren't told exactly what the mob is supposed to do until just before the event happens." However, in Tver the event will be less spontaneous. It is scheduled for 9 p.m. local time at a monument to 19th-century satirical writer Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin. The flash-mobbers intend to hop up and down 17 times -- among other things -- and then disperse to drink beer. RIA-Novosti reported on 15 August that Russia's first flash-mob -- of some 20 people -- took place in Moscow's GUM department store that day. According to the agency, the average age of the participants was 25-30. Store detectives did not try to stop the event, but they did prevent anyone from taking photographs. JAC
REGISTRATION DEADLINE EXPIRES FOR CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT
The deadline for submitting applications to register to contest the 5 October Chechen presidential election expired at 6 p.m. Moscow time on 20 August, Russian media reported. Of the 13 applicants, journalist Ruslan Zakriev and pensioner Zaindi Movlatov were found not to have submitted the required minimum 10,800 signatures in their support and were denied registration. Eleven other candidates have either submitted signatures or paid a deposit of 4.5 million rubles ($150,000) or both. They are Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov; Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev; Grozny University lecturer Avkhat Khanchukaev; poet Nikolai Paizullaev; Grozneftegaz Deputy Director Kutuz Saduev; former Achkhoi-Martan Raion administrator Shamil Buraev; Chechen Deputy Military Commandant Colonel Said-Selim Tsuev; chief inspector for the Southern Russia Federal District Abdulla Bugaev; Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the Russian State Duma; Khusein Dzhabrailov, deputy director of Moscow's Hotel Rossiya; and former Chechen Deputy Premier Khusein Bibilatov. "Gazeta" on 21 August quoted Aslakhanov as saying he has borrowed the deposit money rather than endanger the lives of his supporters, whom Kadyrov's armed thugs have reportedly threatened to kill, by collecting signatures. LF
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S SON IN FIERCE FIGHTING IN SOUTHERN CHECHNYA
A special police unit loyal to administration head Kadyrov's son, Ramzan, together with Russian troops, engaged in fierce fighting, using heavy artillery and military aircraft against a group of Chechen fighters in the village of Avtury in Shali Raion on 20 August, Interfax and chechenpress.com reported. Interfax quoted a Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman as saying that the Chechen force was commanded by Arab mercenary Abu-Walid, and that it was surrounded. Chechenpress.com reported on 21 August that the Chechen fighters broke through the surrounding troops and escaped to the mountains, having killed 25 of Ramazan Kadyrov's men and no less than 15 Russian servicemen. LF
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL REBUKES PARLIAMENT SPEAKER
David Vartanian, who heads the government's Committee on State Property, rejected on 20 August parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian's 18 August call for a halt to the privatization of state-owned medical facilities, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003). Vartanian rejected Baghdasarian's argument that many Armenians are too poor to afford private medicine. He said the privatization of medical facilities is part of the government's strategy to improve the health-care sector. A total of 37 hospitals have been privatized in Armenia to date, with a further 32 slated for sale to private investors. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE DELEGATION ARRIVES IN ARMENIA
A two-person fact-finding team from the Council of Europe arrived in Yerevan on 20 August, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 August 2003). During their four-day visit, they will assess the political situation in the wake of the disputed presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year, and will raise with the Armenian leadership the council's concerns over Armenia's delay in totally abolishing capital punishment and the continued restrictions on the independent television station A1+. LF
AZERBAIJANI ORGANIZATION PROTESTS CONGRESSIONAL STAFFERS' VISIT TO KARABAKH
The Baku-based Organization for the Liberation of Karabakh addressed a request on 20 August to the U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan to clarify the rationale for the visit on 19 August of a group of congressional staffers to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), Turan reported. The statement characterized that visit as showing disregard for the constitution, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan. During their visit to Stepanakert, the nine-person delegation met with Ashot Ghoulian, the unrecognized enclave's foreign minister, who thanked them for the humanitarian aid Washington has provided and outlined the NKR's approach to a negotiated solution to the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported on 20 August. LF
TRIAL OF BAKU OFFICIALS SUSPENDED
The trial on corruption charges of former Baku Deputy Mayor Eldaniz Laidjev and five other municipal officials was suspended indefinitely on 20 August, zerkalo.az reported on 21 August. The six officials are charged with embezzling money paid by the U.S. Embassy in Baku as compensation for residents whose homes were demolished to make way for the expansion of the U.S. Embassy complex (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 12 June 2003). LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO BLOCK RUSSIA'S ACCESSION TO WTO...
Addressing a government session in 20 August, Eduard Shevardnadze noted that Russia will need Tbilisi's support for its bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), and should therefore resolve its problems in bilateral relations with Georgia, Interfax reported. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili listed among those problems Russia's economic ties with the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia and its failure to prevent the smuggling of contraband into Georgia from North Ossetia. LF
...SAYS ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY WAS PREMATURE...
Shevardnadze expressed regret at the 20 August government session that Georgia had abolished the death penalty prematurely under pressure from the Council of Europe, Caucasus Press and the web page of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Shevardnadze lamented that criminals no longer fear retribution, and the crime rate has skyrocketed as a result. On 21 August, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze criticized Shevardnadze's statement as incompatible with the democratic principles of a free country, Caucasus Press reported. LF
...CALLS FOR REFORM OF INTERIOR MINISTRY
Stressing that NATO membership remains one of Georgia's foreign-policy priorities, Shevardnadze said at the 20 August government session that one of the preconditions is the carrying out of structural and functional reforms of the Interior Ministry in line with NATO standards, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. LF
GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SLAMS DELAY IN CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN BASES, CALLS FOR MILITARY INTERVENTION
Russia is delaying compliance with its obligations under an agreement signed at the Istanbul Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in 1999 to close its three military bases in Georgia, Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 20 August, Caucasus Press reported. Menagharishvili further condemned as "a provocation" Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin's call for military intervention in Georgia. In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 19 August, Rogozin argued that such intervention is justified as Georgia is incapable of preventing "terrorists" from using its territory to launch attacks on Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). LF
GEORGIAN STATE SECURITY MINISTER DENIES CHECHEN SUICIDE BOMBERS TRAINED IN GEORGIA...
Valeri Khaburzania dismissed on 20 August as "not serious" a claim made earlier that day by Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the Joint Group of Russian Forces in Chechnya, that Chechen women are preparing for further suicide-bombing missions against Russian targets at a camp located on the territory of "a neighboring state," clearly meaning Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Khaburzania recalled that Russian claims that one of the two female suicide bombers who struck a rock concert in Moscow on 5 July had traveled to Moscow from Georgia have been proven untrue. LF
...AND THAT GEORGIA SELLS MISSILES TO TERRORISTS
On 21 August, Khaburzania similarly rejected as untrue Russian media reports that Georgian intelligence has sold Igla antiaircraft missiles to terrorists, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 17, and 19 June 2003). He said Georgia has no such weapons. LF
ATTACKERS OF RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT IN TBILISI IDENTIFIED
Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili told Interfax on 20 August that "extensive information" has been gathered on the identity of the men who attacked Russian diplomat Aleksandr Valyukh in Tbilisi nine days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003). He added that he is confident the crime will soon be solved. Valyukh is still hospitalized with serious head injuries he received while trying to repel three armed assailants. LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION SUPPORTERS COME TO BLOWS
Some 50 members of the Revival Union who tried to picket the Tbilisi City Hall on 20 August to demand the resignation of Municipal Council Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili were engaged in a fight by members of Saakshvili's National Movement, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. The Revival Union activists accuse Saakashvili of using municipal funds to finance his campaign for the 2 November parliamentary election. On 17 August, National Movement activists armed with clubs attacked a group of some 30 deaf-mutes who attempted to block a highway in western Georgia to prevent Saakashvili from visiting the region, Caucasus Press reported on 18 August. LF
FIRST NGO CONFERENCE HELD IN KAZAKH CAPITAL
A conference of nongovernmental organizations was held in Astana on 20 August to discuss opportunities for cooperation between NGOs and the government, khabar.kz reported, noting that the conference was the first of its kind in the Kazakh capital. Reportedly, there are more than 100 NGOs in Astana alone. Khabar.kz added that similar conferences are being held throughout the country in preparation for Kazakhstan's first Civil Forum in September, which is to address the issue of NGO cooperation with the government on the national level. The founder of Astana's first environmental NGO, Nina Trush, told khabar.kz that many Kazakh NGO projects attract international attention, but are ignored by the Kazakh government. However, a representative of the Farmers' Union said that members of his group are increasingly being invited to advise parliament on draft legislation. BB
IMF UPSET BY KYRGYZ BUDGET DEFICIT
Tapio Saavalainen, head of a delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that is visiting Bishkek, told Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev on 20 August that the IMF is unhappy about Kyrgyzstan's budget deficit, Interfax reported. The current deficit is 1.3 billion soms ($29.2 million), which Saavalainen blamed on the slow implementation of a 20 percent value-added tax on large agricultural producers and a new tax on real estate that was approved by the Kyrgyz parliament earlier this year. He was quoted as saying the deficit means that the revenue base is lower than expected for Kyrgyzstan's much-publicized program to fight poverty and stimulate economic growth. That program has been highly praised by the IMF. Saavalainen also criticized the government's liberal policy on budget expenditures and ineffective tax collection. BB
TURKMEN HELSINKI GROUP FOUNDED IN BULGARIA
A group calling itself the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights held its first meeting in Sofia on 19 August, Interfax, "Kommersant-Daily," and Deutsche Welle reported on 20 August. According to the group's chairman, Kadzhigul Bekmetova, the Bulgaria-based organization has 16 members, nine of whom are ethnic Turkmen. An unspecified number live in Turkmenistan. It is supported by the Bulgarian Helsinki group and the International Helsinki Federation. Bekmetova told "Kommersant-Daily" that the group's objective is to defend human rights in Turkmenistan and to gather and publicize facts about the real situation in the country, starting with the compilation of a list of political prisoners and their relatives who have been mistreated by the authorities. Later, the group hopes to distribute information inside Turkmenistan about international human rights standards. BB
U.S. EMBASSY IN TURKMENISTAN PROTESTS EVICTION OF PUBLIC-AFFAIRS SECTION
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat posted on its website (http://www.usemb-ashgabat.usia.co.at) on 20 August the text of a formal protest to the Turkmen Foreign Ministry concerning a Turkmen government order to the embassy's public-affairs section (formerly, part of the U.S. Information Agency or USIA) to vacate its offices, which are located in a building outside the embassy compound. According to the embassy protest, the Foreign Ministry promised to find a mutually acceptable solution for the public affairs section, so the 18 August removal order represented a violation of that pledge. The embassy argued that the public affairs section is an integral part of the U.S. mission in Turkmenistan and therefore is inviolable under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. It described the notice to vacate as a "serious political provocation" and added that it expects the ministry to withdraw the order. BB
REVISIONS TO TURKMEN CONSTITUTION PUBLISHED...
Turkmen state media publicized on 20 August the changes to the Turkmen Constitution that were adopted at the Halk Maslahaty (People's Assembly) session on 14-16 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003), turkmenistan.ru, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The constitution, adopted in May 1992, has been amended only twice before -- in 1995 and 1999. The changes adopted in 2003 alter the status of the Halk Maslahaty, making it in effect a fourth branch of government and describing it as the highest representative power. It is to remain in permanent session rather than meeting once a year. It will comprise 2,507 members -- the president, the cabinet of ministers, the chairman of the Supreme Court, the prosecutor-general, members of the parliament, governors of oblasts, local administrative heads, and local council chairmen of oblast and raion centers. Not listed are the elected local representatives specified in the 1992 constitution, the only members of the assembly that were elected to serve in that capacity. BB
...AS NOW ONLY ETHNIC TURKMEN CAN BE PRESIDENT, DUAL CITIZENSHIP BANNED
The changes to the Turkmen Constitution that were adopted by the Halk Maslahaty on 15 August also included a specification that only an ethnic Turkmen citizen of Turkmenistan between the ages of 40 and 70 who was born in Turkmenistan and has a command of the Turkmen language can become president. He or she must have lived in Turkmenistan continuously for the 10 years prior to taking office and have worked in state agencies, public organizations, and branches of the national economy and have been nominated by the Halk Maslahaty. The revisions to the constitution also forbid citizens of Turkmenistan from holding the citizenship of any other country, Interfax noted on 20 August. This means that from the Turkmen point of view, holders of dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship are violating the constitution if they retain both passports, although the Russian State Duma has not ratified an agreement signed by President Niyazov and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the revocation of dual citizenship. BB
TURKMEN PRESIDENT PUBLISHES ANOTHER BOOK OF POEMS
A third books of poems written by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov appeared in Turkmenistan's bookshops this week, turkmenistan.ru reported on 19 August, followed by Deutsche Welle on 21 August. Niyazov's earlier collections of poems appeared in 2002. The new volume, entitled "The Five Epochs of the Spirituality of the Turkmen People," reportedly deals with Niyazov's interpretation of Turkmen history, starting with the quasi-mythical ancestor of the Turkmen and ending with the "Epoch of Turkmenbashi" -- in other words, Niyazov himself. According to Deutsche Welle, only 5,000 copies of the book have been printed, 2,500 of which were handed out to participants at the recent Halk Maslahaty session, who reportedly declared that it should be designated a classic of world literature. Niyazov is reported to have rejected this proposal. BB
BELARUSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG GETS OFFICIAL WARNING
The Justice Ministry has issued an official warning to the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHK), saying the BHK uses a stamp and letterhead that carry its name in a different form than that registered with the authorities, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 August. Alyaksandr Kharytonau of the Justice Ministry explained to the BHK that the main reason for the warning was the lack of quotation marks in the organization's name on the stamp and letterheads. As a number of human rights organizations have received similar warnings, "one is forced to conclude that this is a part of an overall repression of the third sector," BHK Executive Director Aleh Hulak told RFE/RL. "This looks like some cleansing before important events. It may be a referendum or some other scenario. It is difficult to say, since our authorities are unpredictable in this regard." The Justice Ministry may instigate court proceedings to ban an organization if it has received two official warnings within a year. JM
KYIV NOTIFIES BERLIN OVER ILLEGAL FLIGHT
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has sent a message to Germany's Embassy in Kyiv saying the three German citizens detained in Dnipropetrovsk earlier this week after their flight over Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003) entered Ukrainian airspace without permission and threatened the safety of other flights, Interfax reported. The message calls on Germany to take measures that will prevent such incidents in the future. The Ukrainian Security Service's regional branch in Dnipropetrovsk has opened a criminal case against the three Germans, who are charged with violating rules that govern international flight. JM
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT FINDS UNIONS' DEMANDS UNREALISTIC
The cabinet decided during its meeting on 19 August to reject proposals made by the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL) in bilateral and tripartite talks with employers' organizations, BNS reported. Social Affairs Minister Marko Pomerants said demands to raise the monthly unemployment benefit from the current 400 kroons ($28.40) to 1,000 kroons are unrealistic, noting that those receiving such assistance will lose any motivation to look for work. He also rejected the EAKL's request to raise the monthly tax-free minimum, currently 1,200 kroons, to correspond with the minimum wage of 2,160 kroons. The government stands by its coalition agreement to raise the tax-free minimum to 1,400 kroons in 2004 and reduce the income tax rate from 26 percent to 24 percent. SG
LATVIA'S LATVENERGO OBTAINS ANOTHER LOAN FROM NORDIC INVESTMENT BANK
Karlis Mikelsons, chairman of the board of the Latvian energy utility Latvenergo, signed a $57 million loan agreement with the Nordic Investment Bank (NIB) on 19 August, BNS reported. The loan, with a maturity of 15 years and a grace period of seven years, will be used to improve the company's efficiency and competitiveness. Latvenergo borrowed $36.5 million from NIB in May 2002, but intends to spend $133 million-$167 million over the next 10 years to increase the reliability of the hydroelectric power plants on the Dauguva River, the electricity distribution system, and one of Latvenergo's combined heat and power plants in Riga. SG
FOUNDING OF LITHUANIAN-BELARUSIAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION DISCUSSED
A Belarus delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Anatol Tsyutsyunou, held talks in Vilnius on 20 August with representatives of the Lithuanian Industrialists Confederation (LPK), ELTA reported. They discussed the need for greater economic cooperation between their countries and establishing a Lithuanian-Belarusian economic association to promote it. It was suggested that a Belarusian goods fair could be held in Vilnius. Lithuania LPK Vice President Mykolas Aleliunas said Lithuanian builders want to participate in construction projects in Belarus and that other large businesses are considering investments there. An area of successful cooperation is the transit of Belarusian goods through the port of Klaipeda, which currently accounts for about a fourth of the port's total turnover. SG
JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER VISITS POLAND
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid a two-day official visit to Warsaw on 19-20 August, where he met with his Polish counterpart, Leszek Miller, President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and parliamentary leaders, Polish media reported. Miller and Koizumi signed a joint declaration that Miller called the basis for a strategic partnership between Poland and Japan. The two stressed the need to increase mutual trade and boost Japanese investments in Poland. The current annual volume of bilateral trade between Poland and Japan is $1.1 billion, while Japan is 21st among foreign investors in Poland, with investments totaling some $600 million. JM
POLISH STEEL WORKERS WANT STATE AID, SOCIAL BENEFITS
Approximately 6,000 workers of the Huta Stalowa Wola steel mill in Stalowa Wola, southeastern Poland, marched through their city on 20 August, demanding financial assistance to their company from the government's Industry Development Agency and social benefits for laid-off colleagues, PAP reported. Some 100 workers subsequently began a sit-in in the district authorities' offices in Stalowa Wola. JM
CZECH EMBASSY IN BAGHDAD TO MOVE TO 'SAFER LOCATION'
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told journalists on 20 August that the Czech Embassy in Baghdad will be moved to a "safer location," CTK reported. Spidla earlier met with Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka to discuss measures required in the wake of the 19 August terrorist attack on the UN headquarters in the Iraqi capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Spidla also said the five Czech diplomats working in Baghdad will be subject to tighter security measures to ensure their safety. Also on 20 August, the coordinator for the Czech Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid (ORHA), Janina Hrebickova, told CTK the situation in Baghdad has "changed for the worse" from all points of view as a result of the attack. She said the most worrying aspect is that terrorism is now aimed against non-military "soft targets." MS
SLOVAK PREMIER MARKS WARSAW PACT INVASION ANNIVERSARY
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said in a statement released on 20 August -- the eve of the 21 August anniversary of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact countries -- that this is an appropriate time for reflecting on the values of democracy and human rights, TASR reported. Dzurinda said contemporary Slovakia is no longer an isolated country and is no longer part of a military alliance that "made decisions about us without us" and "sent tanks into our homeland." Dzurinda said, "Today we can understand the importance of deciding our destiny by ourselves." He is to lay a wreath outside Bratislava's Comenius University in memory of protesters who died there during the invasion. MS
FORMER SLOVAK DISSIDENT DEMANDS INVESTIGATION OF INVASION...
Former anticommunist dissident Jan Budaj, who is now chairman of the extraparliamentary Democratic Union, asked Prosecutor-General Milan Hanzel on 20 August to open an investigation into the circumstances leading to the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968, TASR reported. Budaj said in his request that during the invasion, "crimes were committed" by people who now are citizens of either the Czech Republic or Slovakia. He said the statute of limitations should not apply to crimes committed during the invasion, because it was a breach of international law and therefore can be considered a crime against humanity or a war crime. MS
...AS SLOVAK CONSERVATIVE LEADER FILES SUIT AGAINST COMMUNIST PARTY CHAIRMAN
Peter Tatar, leader of the extraparliamentary Civic Conservative Party (OKS), filed a suit with the Prosecutor-General's Office on 20 August, asking that procedure be initiated against Slovak Communist Party (KSS) Chairman Jozef Sevc for "supporting and propagating a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms." Tatar said that denying the crimes of communism is no less of an offense than denying the crimes of fascism, and that Sevc's recent statement ahead of the anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia is an illustration of such denial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003). MS
SLOVAKIA TO RENEW RESTITUTION OF PLOTS, FORESTS
The Slovak government decided on 20 August that the restitution of land and of forests confiscated by the communist regime is to be renewed, CTK reported. The cabinet approved a draft law allowing for the renewal of restitution demands throughout 2004. The deadline for submitting land restitution demands expired in 1995. Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Katarina Czajlikova told CTK that it "has become clear that, for various reasons, many people failed to submit demands for the restitution to which they were entitled." The draft legislation, which parliament has not yet approved, stipulates that in those cases where restitution of the confiscated plots is no longer possible, those entitled to them will either receive other plots or financial compensation. MS
SLOVAK CABINET APPROVES TAX REFORM
The cabinet approved on 20 August the introduction of a flat 19 percent income and corporate tax as of 1 January 2004, TASR reported. Parliament still must approve the measure. Lawmakers have already approved a single 19 percent value-added tax, replacing the current 14 or 20 percent taxation, depending on the purchase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003). MS
HUNGARIAN PREMIER BOOED DURING NATIONAL DAY SPEECH...
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy was repeatedly booed and whistled at during his speech in Budapest at Heroes' Square on 19 August, one day before Hungary's national day marking the founding of the Hungarian state by King St. Stephen. In his national day address, Medgyessy called Hungary's return to Europe "more than a change of regime and less than the foundation of a state," Hungarian dailies reported. Medgyessy called on the audience to observe the dignity of the day, and he stressed the need for public consensus. MSZ
...AS OTHER POLITICIANS OFFER LITTLE SURPRISES IN THEIR SPEECHES TO MARK THE OCCASION
President Ferenc Madl on 19 August joined opposition politicians in marking the national day, and addressed an audience in Godollo, north of Budapest, where he stressed the need for the harmonization of Hungary's European integration with the country's national interests, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, leader of the major opposition FIDESZ party, told the same gathering in Godollo that labor is the sole resource that Hungary can contribute to the EU. "Unless the skills of people are put to good use, and farmers can live off their own land, the nation will be unable to rise." Istvan Csurka, chairman of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, speaking at his party's rally in Budapest on 20 August, told the gathering that "the global world order is not eternal; it is already rotten inside. As with all evil empires, it will explode from within," "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ
SERBIAN GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES ASSASSINATION REPORT
On 21 August, the Serbian cabinet began discussing the report of a special commission on the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, which has not yet been released to the public, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, 25 July, and 8 August 2003). Serbian media report that the special prosecutor has prepared indictments against 45 individuals in four murder cases, three abductions, various organized-criminal activities, and unspecified other serious crimes. Media reports also say the report will soon be sent to the Belgrade District Court office dealing with the Djindjic case. If the court agrees with the report, it will then issue arrest warrants. At least 27 of the individuals assumed by the press to have been indicted are already in police custody. PM
NATO AMBASSADOR URGES ARREST OF MACEDONIAN ARMED GROUPS
In connection with the recent incidents in neighboring Kosova and the reported appearance of the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) in Macedonia, NATO's Ambassador to Macedonia Nicolaas Biegman said the security situation is more stable than some people believe, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 20 August. He noted that there is a small and insignificant extremist group in the Skopska Crna Gora region that is not supported by the locals. Biegman added that if he were Interior Minister Hari Kostov, he would nonetheless arrest the extremists quickly, because they are the only such group of troublemakers in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 18, and 19 August, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 June 2003). UB
ROMANIAN, CHINESE PRESIDENTS, SIGN JOINT DECLARATION
On 20 August, the first day of his weeklong visit to China, visiting Romanian President Ion Iliescu and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, signed a joint declaration pledging to intensify economic and commercial relations between their countries, Romanian Radio reported. Romania pledged in the joint declaration to continue respecting its "one-China policy" and to refrain from establishing official relations with Taiwan. Iliescu said the Chinese authorities are backing Romania's candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. MS
PSD 'LOCAL BARONS' RESENT DISMISSAL IN ROMANIA
Recently dismissed leaders of local branches of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) -- "local barons," as they are nicknamed in Romania -- resent being marginalized and have begun openly expressing their discontent, according to a 20 August report on the private Antena 1 television channel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2003). While the chairman of the Constanta county PSD, Petre Stanca, refuses to accept the decision of his party's Permanent Bureau, Ioan Rus, the chairman of the PSD in Alba County, announced he is resigning from the post of county prefect, claiming that his being replaced as local party chairman is a breach of PSD statutes. Only the PSD county conferences can make such decisions, Rus said. MS
ANOTHER POLL SHOWS ROMANIA'S PSD LEADING ELECTORAL FIELD
A public opinion poll conducted by IMAS in the first week of August shows that if parliamentary elections were to be held now, the PSD would receive 47 percent of the vote, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The National Liberal Party would garner 19.6 percent of the vote, and the Greater Romania Party 16.3 percent. The Democratic Party would garner 9.4 percent of the vote, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania just 5 percent. The poll found that Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana is the most trusted politician, with 45.2 percent of respondents naming him. He is followed by President Iliescu, 41.8 percent, and Premier Adrian Nastase, 41.7 percent. MS
CNSAS INTERVIEWS FIRST MEMBERS OF FORMER ROMANIAN COMMUNIST SECRET POLICE
The College of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) began on 20 August interviewing the first suspects thought to have acted as "political police" while serving in the Securitate, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. The CNSAS summoned 29 suspects, of whom nine were to be interviewed on 20 August, but only one responded to the invitation. According to the law, the CNSAS must grant the suspects the possibility to defend themselves before making their names public. CNSAS College member Mircea Dinescu said the officer who responded to the interview was a "small fish," and that out of the 29 persons summoned, only three said they will turn up. He said that some of those summoned "simply swore" at the CNSAS staff member who phoned them. The CNSAS College has a list of more than 100 suspects, but the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), which is the custodian of the Securitate files, delivered only 60 of them to the CNSAS. According to current legislation, the SRI may refuse to provide information on former Securitate staff if this would affect "state interests." MS
OSCE MISSION CHIEF WORRIED ABOUT RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL DELAY
William Hill, OSCE mission chief in Moldova, said on 20 August in an interview with RFE/RL that in order to meet the 31 December deadline, the withdrawal of Russian troops and ammunition should be resumed by mid-September at the latest. Hill said the international community will attempt to persuade the Transdniester separatist authorities to agree to a resumption, adding that he "does not rule out" new sanctions on Transdniester if that attempt fails. MS
LITTLE PROGRESS IN MOLDOVAN-TRANSDNIESTER FEDERAL CONSTITUTION NEGOTIATIONS
Negotiations between representatives of Moldova and Transdniester on drafting a federal constitution continue to be stalled, Infotag reported on 20 August. At their meeting in Bendery-Tighina on 19 August, the sides agreed that capital punishment should be constitutionally prohibited, but were unable to agree on any of the other contentious points. The separatists continue to demand that the basic document stipulate the existence of a separate Transdniester citizenship -- which the Moldovan sides oppose -- in addition to the joint federal citizenship. MS
LIECHTENSTEIN COMPANY ACQUIRES STAKE IN TRANSDNIESTER ENTERPRISE
The Liechtenstein-based EI Energy Investment and Management Corporation has purchased a 15.6 percent stake in the Ribnita-based Moldovan Metallurgical Plant (MMZ), which is the largest industrial enterprise in Transdniester, Infotag reported on 20 August. The company paid $2.58 million for that stake. It was the only bidder in the tender launched by the separatist authorities. MS
MIXED REACTIONS IN BULGARIA AFTER FINANCE MINISTER WITHDRAWS RESIGNATION...
Following Finance Minister Milen Velchev's decision on 19 August to withdraw his resignation, members of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) lauded Velchev's move, mediapool.bg reported. Stanimir Ilchev, who heads the NDSV's parliamentary group, said Velchev has the full support of his party. Lawmaker Miroslav Sevlievski said the minister's resignation was mainly due to discussions within the government about Velchev's call for budgetary discipline. Lawmakers of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which is the NDSV's coalition partner, which had opposed Velchev's plans to shut down duty-free shops as a way to curb smuggling, said however that the question is not yet resolved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 20 August 2003). UB
...AS OPPOSITION CALLS IT BLACKMAIL
Commenting on Velchev's resignation withdrawal, the chairwoman of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces, Nadezhda Mihailova, said on 20 August, "The case of Velchev's resignation is the best confirmation of the government's powerlessness," mediapool.bg reported. "Instead of problems being resolved through an internal dialogue, they are resolved through blackmailing the prime minister by one of his key ministers," Mihailova added. Opposition Socialist Party Chairman Sergey Stanishev charged that the real reasons for Velchev's resignation have not been made public, implying that Velchev felt marginalized after the recent government reshuffle, which stripped him of his role as key minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003 and "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). UB
TOURISM FLOURISHES IN BULGARIA
Growing numbers of tourists spend their vacation in Bulgaria, according to figures released by the Economy Ministry on 20 August, novinite.com reported. The number of tourists visiting the country during the first seven months of 2003 rose nearly 14 percent compared to the same period of 2002. July 2003 saw a 22 percent increase in visitors versus July 2002. Most foreigner visitors came from Germany, Greece, Macedonia, Britain, and Russia. UB
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: A HUMANITARIAN IN HARM'S WAY
The bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August, which killed at least 23 people, dramatically demonstrated the vulnerability of humanitarian workers to attack and exposed the fragility of efforts to restore democracy and justice in Iraq months after major combat operations there ceased. The death toll included 14 UN staff members and the UN's top envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who also served as the UN high commissioner for human rights. The bombers were "enemies of the civilized world," U.S. President George W. Bush declared, as throughout the day horrified UN employees watched television reports first of Vieira de Mello trapped in the rubble after the blast, calling on his cellular telephone and receiving water, then dying of his injuries. "Sergio was not only an accomplished diplomat, but a true humanitarian," Kenneth Roth, executive director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement published on the organization's website (http://www.hrw.org). "It is tragic he should end up the victim of the kind of war crime he fought so hard to prevent."
Vieira de Mello, appointed as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative, had temporarily left his post as high commissioner for human rights and assumed a mandate to "assist the Iraqi people and those responsible for the administration of this land to achieve freedom, the possibility of managing their own destiny and determining their own future," "The New York Times" quoted him as saying on 19 August. Nearly a year into his job as high commissioner and only 2 1/2 months in Iraq, at the time of his death Vieira de Mello was working on such issues as the establishment of a justice system to address numerous human rights atrocities.
In July, Vieira de Mello had convened a conference of international scholars and Iraqi experts to discuss what kind of justice system should be established to deal with war crimes, and to prosecute deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, should he be caught. Wary of international courts, U.S. officials have discussed trials in an U.S. military tribunal for Iraqis who commit crimes against Americans. The United States appeared to lean toward an Iraqi-led process for war criminals. Concerned about both the limited effect of "victors' justice" and the incapacity of the Iraqi system, the UN advocated a different approach. In a briefing to the Security Council in July, Vieira de Mello said, "I believe there is much merit in considering the establishment of a mixed Iraqi and international panel of experts to consider in detail the options that would best suit Iraq." Vieira de Mello stayed shy of advocating an international tribunal, but held out for the prospect of international participation.
While serving as the UN's envoy in Iraq responsible for coordinating humanitarian relief and other issues, Vieira de Mello maintained a profile on human rights. "I consider the development of a culture of human rights in Iraq as fundamental to stability and true peace in that country," the UN's news agency, IRIN, quoted him as saying in June as he headed to Iraq. "Respect for human rights is the only solid foundation for durable peace and for development. I shall place particular importance...on the need to insure women's rights and their full participation in the consultative process -- at least the political one."
Sadly, Vieira de Mello's remarks at a press conference before heading out to Iraq were prescient. "Security has not been completely restored, and it is impossible to deal with the rest and to build what we want to build -- democratic institutions and a real culture of human rights and political processes...without security," he said.
A charismatic diplomat in a world where officials often hide from the public, Vieira de Mello was seen as the "go-to guy" for assisting newly-independent states in high-risk neighborhoods through turbulent postwar reconstruction periods. The career of Vieira de Mello, 55, a Brazilian national, illustrates the world's worst hotspots in recent decades. He came to work at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva in 1969. He served in Bangladesh when it won its independence from Pakistan; in Cyprus following the 1974 Turkish invasion; in Cambodia; in Kosova following the NATO bombing to dislodge former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He also headed the UN office in East Timor from 2000-02 to prepare it for independence. UN watchers surmised that Vieira de Mello would eventually become secretary-general.
Some NGOs were critical of the appointment of Vieira de Mello to Iraq because they believed he already had a full plate as high commissioner for human rights, having to cope with challenging issues ranging from the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Liberia and the lack of international response to the ongoing trauma of displacement and killings in Chechnya, where the UN has had to work more quietly. In a public statement issued at the time of his appointment, Amnesty International said the jobs of special envoy and human rights commissioner should not be combined. Bertrand Ramcharan, a seasoned diplomat with 30 years of experience, had already been named acting high commissioner and is currently remaining in the post. Vieira de Mello intended to return to his original position in Geneva within the next two months, colleagues said, as the mission to Iraq was not intended for the long term.
Dubbed a "bureaucratic black belt" by those who worked closely with him, Vieira de Mello was known as an insider talented at navigating the troubled currents of UN politics but quietly pushing to get things done. He had been picked for his current position and past jobs for just that quality, and human rights experts believed he was effective particularly in strengthening the UN's field missions and in tackling such issues as the internally displaced in war zones. Some wished for a more high-profile impact. Human Rights Watch's Roth told the "Los Angeles Times" at the time of his appointment in 2002 that Vieira de Mello would have to "prove he could stand up to governments" and "be a clear and resounding voice on behalf of the victims." In the end, as in so many attacks on humanitarian workers around the world, governments and their actions were not immediately at issue, as Vieira de Mello was most likely victimized by non-state actors who had chosen terrorism as their method.
Some UN observers perceived Vieira de Mello as less outspoken than his predecessor in the human rights job, former Irish President Mary Robinson, who managed to rankle all the permanent five members of the Security Council with her candid criticisms of human rights abuses, particularly in conjunction with the war on terrorism following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. While more discreet, Vieira de Mello and his staff continued to make public criticism on human rights issues, including interventions with the Russian government on the question of forced return of displaced persons from Ingushetia to Chechnya, which Vieira de Mello said in a 14 April BBC interview was being done against their will. He also arranged for Ramcharan to visit all the Central Asian states earlier this year due to mounting concerns about human rights conditions in the region.
While most of the world's attention for Iraq has focused on the killing of soldiers and journalists, humanitarian workers have also been targeted. Like dozens of other humanitarian workers, both locals and foreigners, around the world, they were unarmed and open to attack, especially as they began to encounter information about massive human rights abuses. Increasingly, as civil wars take their greatest toll on civilians, the humanitarian workers and human rights investigators who come to aid the population themselves fall under attack. Before the Baghdad blast, 18 workers were killed so far this year -- in Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The UN is considering a resolution to protect such workers, but NGOs say that unless the United States and other countries make a commitment to provide overall military security, such expressions of support will have no teeth. U.S. leaders have been reluctant to extend security forces, not only because they are not equipped for the job of policing but because they themselves could draw fire. The Baghdad blast will undoubtedly call also into question whether human rights investigations and work in reconstructing civil society can reasonably be performed in what essentially remains a combat zone.
Outright attacks on the UN are not as frequent as those against specific countries such as the United States or Jordan. The latter was a victim of a bomb blast earlier this month at its embassy in Baghdad, where 11 were killed. Experts say those who attacked the UN compound in Baghdad may have associated the UN with the U.S. presence in Iraq, and might also have wanted to specifically target Vieira de Mello. L. Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, said there are indications that the truck bomb crashed deliberately into the compound just beneath Vieira de Mello's third-floor office, "The New York Times" reported on 19 August.
The UN is often disparaged by governments frustrated with the inaction of its bureaucracy. Civilians in areas of armed conflict often complain that the UN is helpless to assist them and is even forced to cooperate with their persecutors to keep a presence on the ground in war zones. It is only at times when humanitarians fall in the line of duty that belated recognition comes for their sacrifices and the small but important victories they are able to achieve under hellish circumstances. Speaking of East Timor, Vieira de Mello once said, "You don't change it into a Garden of Eden in two years" but added, "we have laid solid bases for the country to live in peace."
Catherine Fitzpatrick is the editor of "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies."
PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER ATTEMPTS TO CLEAR UP DIFFERENCES WITH AFGHANISTAN...
Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said on 19 August, prior to a 21 August meeting in Kabul with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, that he has an open agenda but will try to clear up any misunderstandings between his country and Afghanistan, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Kasuri said the minor misunderstandings that exist are akin to those between brothers. He did not elaborate on what those misunderstandings could be. He said the countries' bilateral relations cannot be compared to those of any other states. "If Afghanistan sneezes, Pakistan catches cold," he said. Afghan authorities have blamed Pakistan for supporting neo-Taliban and other elements that oppose the Transitional Administration and for violating Afghan territory (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11, 17, and 24 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 19, and 20 August 2003). AT
...AS AFGHANS REPORTEDLY FIRE ARTILLERY AT PAKISTANI CHECKPOINT
Four artillery shells fired from Afghanistan landed in Pakistan's Mohmand region on 20 August, AP reported the next day. The attack did not result in any damage, and Pakistan did not retaliate, an unidentified official of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province said. Pakistan's military spokesman said he was not aware of any attack from Afghan territory. In July, sporadic fighting in the tribal area of Mohmand led Afghan protestors to storm the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul, and to the worsening of bilateral relations. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border remains porous and the situation there tense despite the formation of a tripartite commission comprising Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. officials to monitor the border and establish a hotline to ensure that no misunderstanding or act carried out by rogue elements on either side can lead to greater conflict (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2003). AT
JALALABAD AIRPORT SURVIVES ROCKET ATTACK UNSCATHED
The airport in Jalalabad, the capital city of Nangarhar Province, was hit by two rockets on the night of 19 August, but no casualties or damage were reported, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 20 August. Nangarhar Province security commander Zalmay said blamed remnants of Al-Qaeda for the attack, Radio Afghanistan reported on 20 August. He said that while the attack did not cause any damage, "it created concerns among the residents of Nangarhar." AT
GERMANY MIGHT LEAD PRT IN KONDUZ
German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 20 August that if the German cabinet adopts the required resolution, a small group of German soldiers could be deployed this fall in Konduz to lead a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), ddp reported. Struck rejected reports that Germany is planning to deploy 300 soldiers in the province, saying the number would be determined after the tasks and size of the PRT was determined. He said Germans participating in the PRT would "not accept any responsibilities for pacifying the region." Struck said opposition among German politicians to such deployments is "not justified" (for more on PRT's, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January and 21 August 2003). AT
JAPANESE FIGHT U.S. PRESSURE TO GIVE UP OIL DEAL WITH IRAN
Japan intends to go through with its $2 billion agreement to exclusively develop Iran's Azadegan oil field, the "Financial Times" reported on 20 August. Japan failed to conclude the agreement by the initial 30 June deadline, fueling speculation that it bowed to U.S. opposition over concerns about Iran's nuclear program. However, a senior Japanese official involved in the negotiations told the daily that "we have not withdrawn from the deal. We basically think the issues of nuclear and oil are separate." Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiro Okuyama, meanwhile, noted that Japan is pressuring Iran to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 and 21 July 2003). Japan seeks to lessen its dependence on Arab oil, but fears it could face sanctions under the 1966 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act if it concludes the contract, according to the daily. However, Japan objects to the fact that its dealings in Iran are being scrutinized by the United States while many European countries are conducting business there, and fears that years of diplomacy, which included $3 billion in loans, could go to waste. JLH
IRAN LAYS GROUNDWORK FOR BALKAN INVESTMENT
Behruz Olfat, head of the marketing division of Iran's Export Promotion Center, on 19 August discussed the progress of an Iranian trade delegation that was dispatched in May to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Turkey, IRNA reported the next day. Olfat said Iran has invited Bosnia and Herzegovina to bring a delegation to Iran to present investment opportunities. Bosnian exports to Iran consist primarily of auto parts, fuel pumps, and heavy equipment. In May, Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina signed an agreement to expand economic cooperation. JLH
IRANIAN CARPET PRODUCTION, EXPORTS UNCHANGED
Sham Abadi, chief of statistical research for Iran's Commerce Ministry, said on 19 August that Iran produced 7.5 million-8.5 million square meters of handmade carpets last year, "Kayhan" daily reported on 20 August. Approximately 6 million square meters, at a value of $517 million, were exported. In spite of weakness in world markets, this year's exports are expected to hold steady. Improvements in raw materials, dyeing, design, weaving, marketing, and management are expected to upgrade and streamline production. In addition, new workshops and looms are being set up under the oversight of the Commerce Ministry. Carpets are a significant component of Iran's non-oil-derived gross national product. JLH
INVESTIGATION INTO BOMBING OF BAGHDAD UN HEADQUARTERS BEGINS...
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in Baghdad said on 20 August that evidence found at the scene of the massive truck-bomb attack on the UN's Baghdad headquarters points to a suicide bombing, the "Financial Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Human remains were discovered in the cabin of the truck used in the 19 August bombing, which killed at least 23 people including the world body's chief envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello (see End Note below). FBI Special Agent Thomas Fuentes told the newspaper that up to 680 kilograms of military-grade munitions were used in the attack. U.S. administrator Paul Bremer told NBC that early suspicions focus on loyalists to deposed President Saddam Hussein or Islamist radicals. Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraq Governing Council and head of the Iraqi National Congress, told reporters on 20 August that diehard Hussein supporters are establishing links with such Islamist extremist groups as Ansar al-Islam, AP reported. Jalal Talabani, also a member of the Governing Council and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told reporters that "fundamentalist Muslim" organizations are the likely culprits, Reuters reported on 21 August. DK
...AS INTERNATIONAL BODIES REVIEW SECURITY
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has pledged that the world body will remain in Iraq amid heightened concerns over security in the country. "Only by carrying on with our mission can we begin to do justice to the memory of our slain colleagues," Annan said on 20 August, according to the UN News Service. At the same time, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced on 20 August that they are suspending, but not ending, their operations in Iraq, Reuters reported. Both organizations were careful to stress that while they are temporarily relocating their staff, they are not pulling out of Iraq permanently, AFP reported on 20 August. DK
U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYS NO NEW TROOPS
Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a news conference in Honduras on 20 August that the United States does not plan to send more troops to Iraq to counter a recent wave of terrorist attacks, AP reported. "At the moment, the conclusion of the responsible military officials is that force levels are where they should be," Rumsfeld said. "We need to provide security where it's possible, but it's not possible to provide it on every street corner and every portion of a country the size of California." Some independent commentators disagreed. Michele Flournoy, a deputy assistant defense secretary under former U.S. President Bill Clinton, told the "Los Angeles Times" on 20 August that the ratio of troops to population in Iraq is lower than in Kosova and Bosnia, and that the United States might eventually need to augment the 146,000 troops currently stationed in Iraq. DK
TWO U.S. CITIZENS KILLED IN SEPARATE INCIDENTS IN IRAQ
U.S. Central Command press releases have confirmed that two U.S. citizens were killed in Iraq in two separate incidents on 20 August. A contracted interpreter was killed in Tikrit in a "small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade attack," and a 3rd Corps Support Command soldier was killed in a similar attack on a supply convoy in Al-Diwaniyah. No names were released. AP initially quoted Major Bryan Luke of the 4th Infantry Division as saying the translator was an Iraqi civilian, but 20 August reports by the American Forces Press Service and AFP identified both of the dead as U.S. citizens. DK