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Newsline - March 4, 2004


UNIFIED RUSSIA SEEKING KEY POSTS IN NEW CABINET...
State Duma Deputy Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (Unified Russia) said on 3 March that his party expects to have a large number of representatives in the new cabinet, strana.ru reported. Volodin added that the party also expects to occupy many deputy ministerial posts. He mentioned Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska, Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin, Duma Deputy Speaker Georgii Boos, Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov, and Duma Property Committee Chairman Viktor Pleskachevskii as likely candidates for cabinet posts. In all, Unified Russia has submitted 10 names to Prime Minister-designate Mikhail Fradkov, gazeta.ru reported. Sliska told RIA-Novosti on 3 March that she has informed President Putin that she does not want a government position. Fradkov on 2 March stated that he expects to name Duma Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Zhukov (Unified Russia) as first deputy prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2004). RC

...AS SPECULATION CONTINUES ABOUT WHICH MINISTERS WILL KEEP THEIR JOBS
Acting Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin is likely to remain in the cabinet and will oversee all the economy-related ministries, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 March, citing unnamed "informed sources." Acting Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref is also likely to remain in the government, as is acting Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin. The daily reported that President Putin met with Gref following his nomination of Prime Minister-designate Fradkov and asked him to stay in the cabinet. Acting Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko will also stay in government, with overall responsibility for the energy sector, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" predicted. RC

UNIFIED RUSSIA OFFICIAL GIVES DETAILS OF CONSULTATIONS WITH PUTIN
Deputy Duma Speaker Morozov (Unified Russia) told Ekho Moskvy on 1 March about the 25 February consultations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2004) between party leaders and President Putin about replacing former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who was dismissed on 24 February. At that meeting, Putin explained what he qualities he was looking for in a new prime minister, mentioning "professionalism, administrative experience, and human decency," Morozov said. "He went back to this factor [human decency] several times," Morozov said. He said the meeting then went on to consider Fradkov's suitability, adding that no other potential candidates were discussed. "[Putin] then went on to what is, in my view, a very important idea that sums up why Fradkov. He said new people have to come into government and new people into the Russian political elite. People without the baggage of corporate ties. I can't say this is an accurate quotation, but I'm giving you the exact gist of what the president said," Morozov said. RC

DEFENSE MINISTER IN FRANCE FOR RUSSIAN-FRENCH SECURITY COUNCIL SESSION
Sergei Ivanov arrived in Paris on 3 March for three days of meetings, including a 5 March session of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council and talks with French Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie, Russian and international media reported. "During the [council] session, we're planning to discuss a wide range of issues regarding the development of Russian-French military and military-technical cooperation, as well as regional problems that evoke mutual concern," Ivanov said, according to ITAR-TASS on 4 March. Ivanov added that Russia has no plans to create military units -- similar to the French Foreign Legion -- that would be fully manned by citizens of other CIS states. He also confirmed earlier reports that an unspecified number of S-300 antiaircraft complexes will be transferred to Belarus this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2004). However, he downplayed the move, saying that they are "units that have been discarded from service but which can still be operated," ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. RC

IVANOV SAYS RUSSIA READY TO CONTRIBUTE TO EUROPEAN REACTION FORCE...
Russia is prepared to contribute one or two battalions of airborne forces to a joint European rapid-reaction force, acting Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists in Paris, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 March. According to the daily, Ivanov also plans to propose holding European rapid-reaction force exercises in Russia and other CIS countries. RC

...AND RULES OUT SENDING RUSSIAN FORCES TO IRAQ
Moscow will not send troops to Iraq under any circumstances, acting Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists in Paris on 3 March, ITAR-TASS reported. "Citizens of all countries get killed there these days. Of all countries except Russia. Russian soldiers will never go to Iraq," Ivanov said, adding that he believes the danger of a civil war in Iraq is real. Ivanov also said that Russia is not concerned by NATO's impending eastward expansion, Interfax Military News Agency reported on 4 March. "We will have to make our own decisions in light of the nature of the threats we face. We can withdraw from unilateral obligations dealing with confidence-building measures, including the downsizing of our troops in the northwestern area since there are no legal documents confirming these obligations," Ivanov said. RC

GLAZEV FACES ANOTHER BATTLE OVER MOTHERLAND...
Motherland State Duma faction first deputy head Sergei Baburin, a former political ally of presidential candidate Sergei Glazev, told reporters on 3 March that he wants Glazev to resign as faction leader, RosBalt and other Russian media reported. According to gazeta.ru, Baburin said that the reason for his demand was Glazev's "inability to lead the faction and organize its normal work." He said the last straw was Glazev's failure to include any members of his People's Will party in a Duma delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). JAC

...AND AGAIN BLAMES KREMLIN PRESSURE
Presidential candidate Glazev told reporters that it was due to "blackmail, bribery, and threats" that 23 members of the 38-member faction signed a statement expressing their desire to remove him as leader of the Motherland faction, ITAR-TASS reported. Glazev charged that "puppet masters" from the presidential administration, "who are trying to interfere with [his] participation in the presidential campaign" orchestrated the coup against him, RosBalt reported. According to gazeta.ru, Glazev specifically mentioned deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov and Surkov's assistant, Aleksandr Kosopkin, as among those who are orchestrating the campaign against him. Gazeta.ru said there are two explanations circulating for Motherland faction deputy head Baburin's move. Either he was offered a post as Duma deputy speaker or Motherland faction head, or the Kremlin threatened to strip him of his post as rector of the State Trade and Economics University. Baburin told reporters that he met with Surkov two weeks ago, and they discussed People's Will's endorsement of Glazev in the presidential race. Baburin admitted that he was not able to convince Surkov that this was a good move. JAC

ANALYST SEES HEIGHTENED ROLE FOR PUTIN, NEW OLIGARCHS
Mikhail Delyagin, former economic adviser to former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 3 March that the new Russian government now being formed will be a "display-case organization, and the president -- not his administration, as was the case earlier -- will in fact rule the country directly," RosBalt reported. "Commercial oligarchs will be replaced by oligarchs of the siloviki, who will receive the exclusive right to use Russian legislation for their own interests," Delyagin predicted. "The commercial oligarchs will lose this right." JAC

TAX AUTHORITIES PRESENT SIBNEFT WITH HUGE BILL FOR BACK TAXES
The Tax Ministry has presented oil giant Sibneft, which is controlled by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, with a bill for $700 million in taxes owed from 2000-01, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian media reported on 4 March. Earlier media reports had said the bill was for $1 billion. According to industry analysts interviewed by strana.ru, Sibneft has been "even more aggressive" in using offshore companies to "optimize its taxes" than embattled oil giant Yukos was. Many major Yukos shareholders and executives, including former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, have been charged with fraud and tax evasion in recent months. According to Institute for Financial Research expert Aleksei Kuchaev, the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) "optimized" its taxes to the tune of $250 million in 2001 and $227 million in 2002 using similar methods, meaning that it could be the next target of the Tax Ministry. However, Kuchaev told strana.ru, TNK is now part owned by British Petroleum, meaning that any scandal involving the company would have international implications. RC

RUSSIA'S TOP COP ADMITS COUNTRY HAS SKINHEAD PROBLEM
For the first time, a senior federal-level official has admitted the existence of "right-wing, extremist, fascist youth groups" in Russia, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 March. According to the daily, acting Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev told a meeting of top law enforcement officials on 2 March that Russia "is threatened by extreme manifestations of extremism in the youth sphere." According to the daily, federal officials have not previously acknowledged the existence of the fascist youth movement, devotees of "white power" or skinheads. Incidents that appeared to be racially motivated are normally attributed to soccer fans or hooligans. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 March commented that in the recent past, high-level officials have openly stated that there are no skinheads in Moscow or anywhere else. Nurgaliev called on his ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) to weaken the groups by "neutralizing" their leaders. JAC

POLICE CONDUCT SWEEP OF MOSCOW MOSQUES
Nafigulla Ashirov, co-chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis, told Ekho Moskvy on 3 March that Moscow police have been conducting passport checks of worshipers at two mosques in Moscow since 27 February. Since that time, about 80 people have been taken away from one of these mosques, Ashirov said. He complained that the checks and detentions occurred on the main Muslim holy day of the week, Friday, and that the police officers have behaved "rudely and unprofessionally." He concluded that such activities are discrediting law enforcement organs in the eyes of the Muslim community. Deputy Interior Minister Sergei Shchadrin told the station that he has no information about such checks, although the police have the right to conduct such operations. Grani.ru quoted an unnamed representative from the organized-crime department of the Moscow police as saying that the detentions were made in the context of the antiterrorism effort Operation Whirlwind. JAC

NORTHERN GOVERNOR'S CHIEF RIVAL WITHDRAWS TWO WEEKS BEFORE BALLOT
State Duma Deputy Vladimir Krupchak (Unified Russia) announced on 2 March that he has withdrawn from the 14 March gubernatorial election in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russian media reported. Krupchak told a news conference on 3 March that he withdrew because Arkhangelsk is facing a "very grave economic crisis, and it is virtually impossible to solve the problem at the local level," ORT reported. Krupchak, a local businessman, was elected to the Duma for the first time in December from a single-mandate district as an independent candidate. Local analysts told Regnum that Krupchak's withdrawal should significantly increase the chances of incumbent Governor Anatolii Yefremov being re-elected. In a poll conducted at the end of January, local pollster Foris found that 27 percent of respondents favored Yefremov, compared with 15 percent for Krupchak, RosBalt reported on 5 February. At that time, the pollster predicted that Krupchak would continue to gain at Yefremov's expense. JAC

LOCAL ELECTION COMMISSION DECIDES TO LURE VOTERS TO THE POLLS
The Chelyabinsk Oblast Election Commission has decided to give each person who votes in the 14 March presidential election a T-shirt that says "I voted for president," regions.ru reported on 3 March, citing uralpolit.ru. The commission denied that the T-shirt will convey any kind of double meaning -- the Russian text means either "I voted for president" or "I voted for the president" -- and does not necessarily mean that the wearer voted for President Putin. The mayoral administration of Chelyabinsk also plans to boost voter turnout by holding a "Night After The Election" dance party in two of the city's largest dance halls. Admission will be free. JAC

CHECHEN LEADER SAYS PRIME MINISTER WILL BE REPLACED
Ending weeks of speculation, pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov confirmed on 3 March that Prime Minister Anatolii Popov will not return to Grozny, and a new prime minister will be named "soon," Russian media reported. Popov, who was appointed Chechen prime minister 13 months ago, is on extended medical leave after suffering severe food poisoning last fall. He told journalists in Moscow on 3 March that he might run for governor of Volgograd Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September 2003 and 29 January 2004). Kadyrov did not say whom he would appoint to succeed Popov, but "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 March quoted Kadyrov's press secretary, Abdulbek Vakhaev, as saying the new prime minister will be Sergei Abramov, a former Chechen finance minister who currently heads the Russian Audit Chamber's inspectorate for Chechnya. LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER'S DEATH CONFIRMED
The General Staff of the Chechen resistance forces commanded by President Aslan Maskhadov has released a statement confirming the death of field commander Ruslan Gelaev, according to chechenpress.com on 3 March. Russian border-protection officials and FSB officials claimed on 1 March that Gelaev was killed in an exchange of fire with border guards in Daghestan on 28 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004). The two border guards who killed him, who themselves died in the incident, have been posthumously awarded, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT URGES BANKS TO EXPAND CREDIT TO PRIVATE SECTOR
President Robert Kocharian urged Armenia's top commercial banks at a meeting on 3 March to provide more credits at more favorable terms to privately owned businesses, especially those outside Yerevan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He reasoned that an increase in credits is essential for maintaining high economic growth. Armenia has posted double-digit economic growth for each of the past three years. Armenian commercial banks generally issue such loans for a maximum of three years at interest rates of 18-20 percent. LF

MOTIVE FOR ARMENIAN OFFICER'S BUDAPEST MURDER SAID TO BE REVENGE
A member of Hungary's Armenian community told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 3 March that Azerbaijani Army Lieutenant Ramil Safarov has admitted to Hungarian police that he murdered an Armenian fellow participant at a NATO-sponsored English-language course in Budapest as revenge for the killing by Armenian forces in February 1993 of Azerbaijanis in Safarov's native village. Safarov is charged with killing Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian while he slept on 19 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 February 2004). On 3 March, Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Ramiz Melikov told Turan that "we do not welcome the incident in Budapest." Melikov added that if Safarov felt insulted or threatened by Markarian, he should have lodged a written complaint with the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry and informed the organizers of the Budapest course, rather than act in violation of military regulations. LF

AZERBAIJAN BOWS TO IMF PRESSURE OVER DOMESTIC OIL PRICES
John Wakeman-Linn, deputy head of the IMF's Near East and Central Asia Department, told journalists in Baku on 3 March that the Azerbaijani government has agreed to the fund's demand that domestic oil and gasoline prices be brought in line with world prices, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The Azerbaijani government is to provide the fund within two weeks detailed information on the timetable and mechanism for doing so. Failure to comply with that deadline could jeopardize the disbursement, due in May, of the next tranche, worth some $18 million, of a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Loan, according to zerkalo.az on 4 March. That online paper noted that domestic gas and electricity prices will not be raised. Wakeman-Linn headed an IMF team that arrived in Baku on 18 February. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONIST ASKS OSCE TO REFUSE TO MONITOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
Meeting in Tbilisi on 4 March with Ambassador Michael Wygant of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, opposition Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili proposed that the OSCE should refuse to monitor the 28 March parliamentary ballot, which he said the Labor Party might boycott, Caucasus Press reported. Natelashvili argued that "if the government has five, six, seven, eight representatives on the Central Election Commission, there will be no sense in international monitoring," as the authorities will be in a position to rig the outcome of the ballot. If, however, the OSCE threatens not to monitor the poll, then "[President Mikheil] Saakashvili's government will get scared" and will ensure that the ballot is free and democratic. Natelashvili further proposed to Wygant the establishment of a new European court that would deal exclusively with appeals against apparently undemocratic election practices, Caucasus Press reported. LF

SECURITY OFFICIALS MUTINY IN WESTERN GEORGIA
Seven officers from the Mingrelia-Svaneti division of the State Security Ministry were arrested on 3 March and transferred to a Tbilisi detention center after resigning en masse to protest the appointment of a new division head, Temur Gabunia, Georgian media reported. Gabunia and the renegades exchanged accusations of unprofessionalism and incompetence, and the seven officers nailed shut the door to Gabunia's office, although it was unclear from the report whether anyone was in the office at the time. Deputy State Security Minister Givi Ugulava claimed that the seven men were engaged in smuggling drugs and weapons and feared that a new superior would detect and try to halt such abuses. President Saakashvili on 3 March lauded the role played in apprehending the seven men by Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER SAYS PROGRESS REACHED IN MOSCOW TALKS ON ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT
During talks in Moscow on 2 March, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Gogi Khaindrava and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin reached agreement that the return of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion and the resumption of rail traffic from the Russian Federation via Abkhazia to Tbilisi and Yerevan should begin simultaneously, Caucasus Press reported on 4 March. The two processes were agreed upon one year ago during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his then-Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze, but the Georgian and Abkhaz governments have been unable to agree which process should begin first, or whether one should be completed before the start of the second. LF

ADJAR LEADER ACCUSES TBILISI OF ASPIRING TO 'TOTAL CONTROL'
Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze told journalists in Moscow on 3 March that the central Georgian government has no right to forbid him to engage in economic or cultural contacts with Russia, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. He said that only military ties are not permitted. Abashidze accused both the present and previous Georgian authorities of seeking to impose "total control" over the country's regions, a policy which, Abashidze continued, diverges from European democratic standards. LF

GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT INVITES FOREIGN JOURNALISTS TO PANKISI
Speaking in Moscow on 3 March, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Khaindrava invited foreign journalists to travel to Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to determine for themselves whether Russian claims that Chechen fighters use the gorge as a base are true, Caucasus Press reported. In related news, Khizri Aldamov, who heads the Chechen community in Georgia, denied on 3 March that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is currently in Georgia, as claimed by "Moskovskii komsomolets" in its edition of the previous day, Caucasus Press reported. LF

CIS RELIGIOUS LEADERS FORM COUNCIL TO FIGHT TERROR, EXTREMISM
Spiritual leaders from across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) moved on 3 March to create an Interfaith Council, Interfax reported. The event took place at the Second Interfaith Peacekeeping Forum in Moscow. The new council is intended to help spiritual leaders coordinate and concentrate their efforts to combat such challenges as extremism and terrorism, akipress.org reported on 3 March. The council's presidium will comprise 22 representatives -- nine of them Christian, eight Muslim, four Jewish, and one Buddhist -- including Mufti of Kazakhstan Absattar Derbisaliev, Mufti of Kyrgyzstan Murataly Jumanov, Mufti of Tajikistan Amonulloh Nematzoda, and Mufti of Uzbekistan Abdurashid Bakhromov. Noting that Kazakhstan faces a "complicated and diverse" religious situation, "Kazakhstan Today" commented on 3 March, "one hopes that [the Interfaith Council] does not remain mere ink on paper, but rather will exert a real influence on events." DK

HIZB UT-TAHRIR ACTIVIST SENTENCED IN KAZAKHSTAN
A Kazakh court sentenced 23-year-old Nurzhan Zhakipov to three years' imprisonment on 2 March for inciting religious hatred and participating in the activities of an unlawful organization, Kazinform reported on 3 March. A native of Shymkent, Zhakipov was arrested with Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets in his possession, and he did not deny that he is a member of the Islamist organization. Curiously, Zhakipov's father, Tanibergan Zhakipov, reported his son to Kazakhstan's National Security Committee after he became aware of the younger Zhakipov's involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, only to be told that membership of the organization does not violate Kazakh law. The younger Zhakipov was arrested shortly thereafter, however, and his father later charged that his son has been made a "scapegoat." While Hizb ut-Tahrir itself is not an illegal organization, it lacks registration in Kazakhstan, making any activities it engages in unlawful. Though Kazakh courts have tried a handful of Hizb ut-Tahrir activists, observers said that the Zhakipov case stood out because the defendant had a higher education and was from an urban family. DK

DRUG REPORT CITES GROWING TRAFFIC THROUGH TAJIKISTAN...
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent UN body, released its annual report on the illegal drug trade on 3 March, noting a significant increase in heroin trafficking through Tajikistan, the BBC reported. The report can be seen on the INCB website (http://www.incb.org/e/ind_ar.htm). According to the report, guards on the Tajik-Afghan border seized almost 6 tons of heroin in 2003, 1,000 times more than in 1996. The UN is working to stem the drug flow from Afghanistan with a program called Operation Topaz, in which Tajikistan is a participant. DK

...AND CRITICIZES TURKMENISTAN'S LACK OF COOPERATION
The INCB report singled out Turkmenistan, the only country neighboring Afghanistan that does not participate in Operation Topaz, for its failure to cooperate with the international community's efforts to curb narcotics trafficking in the region, the UN news agency IRIN reported on 3 March. INCB board member Nuzhet Kandemir told IRIN that the INCB sent delegations to Turkmenistan in 2003 and 2004, but the Turkmen authorities were less than helpful and denied requests for appointments with senior officials. The INCB "urges the government of Turkmenistan to join Operation Topaz without delay in order to ensure that traffickers will not use the country to smuggle acetic anhydride to Afghanistan." Acetic anhydride is a crucial component in the manufacture of heroin. The chemical has been found in Turkmenistan, the BBC reported on 3 March. "Turkmenistan must not become the weak link in the chain of international drug control efforts," the INCB concluded. DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR COOPERATION ON TERROR FIGHT
Uzbek President Islam Karimov opened the Tashkent Antiterrorism Center on 3 March, taking the opportunity to call on the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to share information in the fight against terrorism, Uzbek Television reported. "We have a common goal," Karimov said. "In order to achieve this goal, there should not be any hesitation or secrets from one another." The members of the SCO are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TIGHTENS GRIP ON ECONOMY WITH 'GOLDEN SHARE' DECREE
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a decree on 2 February expanding the application of a government policy allowing for "golden shares" in joint-stock enterprises, Belapan reported. The presidential press service commented that golden shares allow the government a say in the decision-making at any company formerly owned by the state regardless of its current ownership any time the government deems that the company is facing an "unfavorable socioeconomic situation." The golden share is currently applicable to any company in which the government maintains a stake. The decree, which is to go into effect in three months, stipulates that the golden-share rule is applicable to any company formed as a result of the transformation or privatization of state-owned enterprises. "The government will have powers to deprive shareholders of the right to dispose of their property. This erodes the very idea of privatization," independent economic expert Syarhey Balykin commented on the decree. JM

UKRAINIAN FM BROADCASTER TAKEN OFF THE AIR
Ukrainian authorities raided the offices of Radio Kontynent on 3 March, confiscating the FM broadcaster's transmission equipment, sealing the office, and briefly detaining three people, RFE/RL and Ukrainian news agencies reported. The seizure was carried out on the basis of an order issued to local law enforcement officials by the Ukrainian State Center for Radio Frequencies (Ukrchastotnahlyad). Ukrchastotnahlyad deputy head Pavlo Slobodyanyuk told Interfax that Radio Kontynent has no license to broadcast on the 100.9 MHz frequency over which it has retransmitted programs by Voice of America, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and two hours of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service programming since 27 February. "We at RFE/RL are angry and outraged by this blatant act in suppressing factual news and information from a variety of high-quality journalists," RFE/RL President Thomas Dine said of the authorities' move. "In fact, after what happened today to Radio Kontynent, one can reasonably ask, 'Who's next?'" JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO APPROVE TERMS OF WORLD BANK LOAN
The Verkhovna Rada on 3 March fell 24 votes short of endorsing an agreement on a World Bank loan to assist the issuance of deeds to land and the development of a land registry in Ukraine, Interfax reported. The agreement envisages that the World Bank lend $195 million to Ukraine until 2012. JM

ESTONIAN ENERGY UNHAPPY WITH CANCELLATION OF LITHUANIAN POWER-GRID PRIVATIZATION
Eesti Energia head Sandor Liive on 3 March described as groundless the Lithuanian government's decision to cancel the tender for the privatization of the company that operates the eastern section of Lithuania's national power grid, BNS reported. The sale of a 71.35 percent stake in Rytu Skirstomieji Tinklai (RST) was announced last summer, and although several international companies expressed interest in the company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003), Eesti Energia remained the only bidder as of December, although its bid was never opened. According to unofficial sources cited by BNS, Eesti Energia offered around 520 million litas ($185 million), which is more than the minimum selling price of 422 million litas. Liive said his company is planning to seek reimbursement for expenses incurred in the bidding process. Lithuanian Economy Minister Petras Cesna cited the state ownership of Eesti Energia and its existing debt of about 1 billion kroons ($350 million) as factors in not considering its bid and canceling the tender. Marko Mihkelson, the chairman of the Estonian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the tender's cancellation undermines Baltic economic cooperation. SG

PARTIAL RESOLUTION OF LATVIA'S TELECOMMUNICATIONS DISPUTE
The Latvian government and Telia-Sonera, the co-owners of the country's fixed-line national telephone company Lattelekom, on 3 March decided to withdraw claims against each other in a Stockholm arbitration court, BNS reported. Telia-Sonera, which was formed in 2002 through the merger of the Swedish Telia and Finnish Sonera companies, was seeking 80 million lats ($148 million) in damages that Sonera had initially demanded in 2000 when Latvia reduced Lattelekom's fixed-line monopoly by 10 years to 2003 instead of 2013. Latvia was seeking compensation of 600 million lats for Telia-Sonera's failure to fulfill a contract to digitize the country's telecommunications system. Telia-Sonera agreed to pay Latvia 1 million lats for litigation expenses and the two sides agreed not to make any more financial claims against each other. They also decided to set up a joint working group to consider long-term ownership options of Lattelekom and the mobile telephone company, Latvijas Mobilais Telefons, of which Telia-Sonera owns 49 percent and the Latvian state 23 percent. If the working group reaches an agreement this year, Telia-Sonera will pay Latvia another 9 million lats in compensation. SG

LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER PREDICTS OUSTER OF PRESIDENT
Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party Chairman Algirdas Brazauskas on 3 March told a party seminar in Vilnius devoted to preparations for the fall parliamentary elections that he does not foresee any conclusion to President Rolandas Paksas's impeachment process other than his ouster, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. He said the Social Democrats should not expect success in the parliamentary elections if Paksas survives the impeachment process and remains president. Brazauskas expressed the hope that the hearings will be wrapped up as quickly as possible, saying the people have already tired of it. He said the state's interests supercede those of the party, adding that if Paksas remains president Lithuania will likely face further international diplomatic isolation. Although Brazauskas has generally tried to project a neutral posture regarding the presidential scandal, his prediction of the party's failure in the fall elections if Paksas is not removed from office could be construed as indirect pressure on the 53 Social Democratic Party parliamentarians. A minimum of 85 deputies in the 137-member parliament is required to impeach Paksas. SG

POLISH UNION BOSS RESIGNS TO SEEK RULING PARTY'S LEADERSHIP POST
Maciej Manicki resigned as head of the National Trade Union Alliance (OPZZ) on 3 March, saying he plans to seek the chairmanship of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), PAP reported. Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller announced last month that he will quit as SLD leader at a party convention on 6 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004). SLD Deputy Chairman Andrzej Celinski suggested Manicki might be the only candidate to replace Miller as SLD head, according to Polish Radio. JM

CZECH PREMIER CALLS MIDEAST ROLE 'HONOR FOR CZECH DIPLOMACY'
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said in Dublin on 3 March that a UN request that his country help resolve an Israeli-Lebanese border dispute represents an "honor for Czech diplomacy," CTK reported. Spidla did not say when the request was made, but suggested the Czechs "might succeed where others failed." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy in Lebanon, Steffan de Mistura, has reportedly asked Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda to mediate in the dispute concerning the "Green Line" separating those two Mideast states. Svoboda has twice visited Arab countries this year and visited Israel last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2004). MS

NEW CZECH EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER PREPARES TO CHANGE PERSPECTIVE
Pavel Telicka, who last month replaced the newly installed Milos Kuzvart as the Czech representative on the European Commission, said on 3 March that he will have to re-orient himself from a defender of Czech interests to a promoter of EU interests, CTK reported. Telicka added that there is common ground between his former post as ambassador to the EU and his new job. While an ambassador to the EU observes the emergent joint interests of the EU in order to avoid isolation, he said, a commissioner defends European interests as he watches out of the corner of his eye those countries affected by EU policies. Meanwhile, the Czech government on 3 March appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout as Telicka's replacement as Czech ambassador to the EU, CTK reported. MS

CENTRIST CZECH DEPUTY LEAVES PARTY BUT NOT PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
Chamber of Deputies lawmaker Tomas Vrbik announced on 3 March that he will leave the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) but will remain a member of that party's parliamentary group, CTK reported. The ruling government's one-vote majority thus will not be affected by Vrbik's move. He is a vocal critic of the US-DEU's participation in the current coalition and partnership with the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD). Vrbik replaced Hana Marvanova after the former US-DEU Chairwoman resigned her parliamentary post last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). MS

SLOVAK CABINET EARMARKS IRAQI AID
Slovak cabinet ministers agreed on 3 March to allot 11.7 million crowns ($353,122) for projects involving aid to Iraq, CTK reported. The projects include financing the training in Slovakia of Iraqi military de-mining experts and of Iraqi health workers, as well as aiding purchases of a vaccine against hepatitis A. The Economic Ministry plans to open a trade center in Baghdad to promote Slovak interests in the region via the Slovak Agency for Investment and Development. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT ASKS BELGIUM TO RECONSIDER DECISION ON LABOR RESTRICTIONS
President Rudolf Schuster asked visiting Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on 3 March to reconsider his country's decision to impose a two-year "transition period" on the free movement of labor from the 10 acceding EU countries, TASR reported. Verhofstadt did not rule out the possibility of the restriction being shortened, pointing to the case of Spain after it joined the EU. Verhofstadt told journalists that citizens from the new EU states may still work in Belgium if they obtain a special permit, and he emphasized that the number of Slovaks working in his country has risen sharply in the last two years, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARY TO RETALIATE OVER EU LABOR RESTRICTIONS
Government spokesman Zoltan Gal told journalists following a cabinet meeting on 3 March that the government "will use the principle of reciprocity" and impose labor restrictions on citizens from current EU member states that have chosen to limit Hungarian access to their labor markets after EU enlargement on 1 May, AFP reported. "This means we will impose exactly the same restrictions on current EU states in the next seven years following [our] accession as those countries impose on Hungarian citizens," Gal said. He also said Hungarian leaders will continue to seek the easing or lifting of restrictions already announced through bilateral talks with the leaders of the current EU members. The Hungarian government has repeatedly charged that such restrictions infringe on the EU's basic principle of free movement of labor. MS

HUNGARIAN POLICE, BORDER GUARDS TO TRAIN IRAQI COUNTERPARTS
The Hungarian cabinet decided at its meeting on 3 March to send up to six police officers and six border guards to train Iraqi police in Jordan later this month, Hungarian radio reported. The training will take place in two stages, government spokesman Gal told reporters, adding that the first stage will cost approximately 67 million forints ($320,000) and be covered from the Hungarian Interior Ministry's budget. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DEFENDS REFUSAL TO ALLOW JOURNALIST INTO ROMANIA
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said in Budapest on 3 March that anyone who invites the use of force as a means to achieve autonomy for Transylvania's ethnic Hungarians is playing with fire, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Kovacs was alluding to Romanian authorities' refusal to allow "Magyar Nemzet" journalist Zsolt Bayer to enter Romanian territory on 28 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 March 2004). Kovacs said Bayer's previous activities in Romania amounted to incitement and that while the Hungarian government favors autonomy for Transylvania's ethnic Hungarians, the use of force must be ruled out. According to the daily "Nepszabadsag," Bayer has not been declared persona non grata in Romania, and the interdiction to enter the country is valid for three months. "Nepszabadsag" commented that the Romanian authorities appear to be using the Bayer case to send a warning to politicians and other public personalities in Hungary who have mentioned the possible use of force in speeches delivered in Transylvania. Such statements include one reportedly made recently by FIDESZ National Council Chairman Laszlo Kover (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). MS

UN REJECTS SERBIAN LEADER'S PLAN TO PARTITION KOSOVA...
A press spokesman for the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) said in Prishtina on 3 March that a recent proposal by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to divide the province into ethnically based cantons is unacceptable, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. The spokesman pointed out that only the UN Security Council, and not the Belgrade government, will determine the final status of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 13 and 20 February 2004). The Serbian parliament confirmed Kostunica and his cabinet in office the same day. PM

...AS DO KOSOVARS
A Kosova government spokeswoman said in Prishtina on 3 March that Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica's proposal to partition Kosova along ethnic lines is "not surprising" in view of the nationalistic public statements he made during the 1999 Kosova conflict, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. She stressed that Kosova's government is doing all it can to promote the integration of ethnic minorities, adding that the results are "not insignificant." In related news, Azem Vllasi, who was a communist-era political leader in Kosova and is now an independent analyst, said that Kostunica's plan for Kosova reflects his intention to redraw borders throughout the region along ethnic lines, including Bosnia's frontiers. Vllasi noted that Kostunica did not propose the cantonization of Serbia's own multiethnic regions, including Vojvodina, Sandzak, and the Presevo Valley area. PM

SERBIAN PARTIES SLAM VOJVODINA AUTONOMY DECLARATION
Representatives of Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), the coalition of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and the New Serbia party, and some smaller groupings agreed in Belgrade on 2 March that the recent Subotica Initiative by some Vojvodina-based parties aimed at securing greater autonomy for the province is an attempt to "internationalize" the Vojvodina question, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2004). The Belgrade-based parties called the Subotica Initiative a "direct attack on the integrity of the Serbian state and the interests of the [ethnic Serbian] majority population." PM

U.S. 'CONCERNED' ABOUT THE NEW SERBIAN GOVERNMENT'S POLICY ON THE WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper said in Sarajevo on 3 March that the United States is "concerned" that Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica's government might reverse its predecessor's commitment to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported. It "looks like the government is in the process of making a U-turn [on cooperation], and this is not helpful," Prosper added. Referring to the possibility that Washington might cut off aid to Belgrade on 31 March unless Serbia demonstrates that it is cooperating with the tribunal, Prosper argued that "the level of cooperation at this moment is not satisfactory. We have a month to go, and we recognize there is a lot more work to be done in order for [the Serbian authorities] to meet their responsibilities" to the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February and 2 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January and 20 February 2004). PM

NATO TROOPS ARREST FORMER BOSNIAN SERB DEFENSE MINISTER
Speaking in Sarajevo on 3 March, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Prosper called on Bosnian authorities to arrest former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is one of the most wanted indicted war criminals, and other indictees if Bosnia wants support for economic development and Euro-Atlantic integration, dpa reported. Late that same day, SFOR troops arrested former Bosnian Serb General Bogdan Subotic in Banja Luka, Reuters reported. During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Subotic served as Bosnian Serb defense minister and Karadzic's military advisor. The arrest of Subotic is the third detention in recent weeks of people whom NATO suspects of helping Karadzic evade capture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). PM

BOSNIA LAGGING BEHIND ON REFORMS FOR THE EU
The Bosnian authorities have not fulfilled a single one of the 16 preconditions they must meet by mid-2004 in order to start talks with Brussels on a EU Stabilization and Association Agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Sarajevo on 3 March. PM

MACEDONIA PREPARES FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Macedonia's governing parties, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), are planning to amend the law on presidential elections, "Dnevnik" reported on 4 March. The election campaign will be reportedly reduced from 30 to 20 days, while the deadline for collecting signatures necessary for the nomination of independent candidates will be 10 instead of 15 days. Legal experts are of the opinion that parts of the current law, which was last amended in 1999, are unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court has not yet officially declared President Boris Trajkovski's mandate over because it is still waiting for the Bosnian authorities to provide documents confirming Trajkovski's death in the 26 February 2004 plane crash, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 February 2004). Presidential elections must be held within 40 days after the Constitutional Court declares a president's term over. UB

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS GOVERNMENT REORGANIZATION MIGHT CHANGE LINEUP...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 3 March that the pending government restructuring might not be limited to second-tier positions, Mediafax reported. Nastase's comments came in the wake of the Constitutional Court's 3 March ruling against the National Liberal Party-Democratic Party alliance, which contested the constitutionality of the bill allowing the government structure to be modified. President Ion Iliescu immediately promulgated the bill. Nastase said the cabinet's lineup has not been determined, but that Victor Ponta, chief of the governmental control office, will be minister in charge of the implementation of the acquis communautaire. MS

...AND REPLACES JUSTICE MINISTER
Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu was replaced on 4 March with Cristian Diaconescu, who had been serving as foreign ministry state secretary, Mediafax reported. Stanoiu is to become counselor to President Iliescu, according to government sources cited by the news agency. Mediafax also said that the decision to replace Stanoiu was made at a 3 March meeting between Iliescu and Nastase. The opposition National Liberal Party and Democratic Party had earlier said that Stanoiu must either resign or be dismissed. On 2 March, Judge Dan Lupascu, who heads the Bucharest Appeals Court and is chairman of the Superior Council of Magistracy, told journalists that Stanoiu is personally responsible for the "chaos" in the justice system and that the ministry "does not want judges to be genuinely independent." In its recent draft report, the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee criticized Romania for its lack of a politically independent judiciary system. MS

U.S. OFFICIAL PUZZLED BY CRITICISM OF BECHTEL CONTRACT
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance William Lash in Bucharest on 3 March expressed his bewilderment over the numerous criticisms concerning the Romanian government's contract with the U.S. company Bechtel to build a 450-kilometer highway between Brasov and Oradea, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004). Speaking after a meeting with Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, Lash said it is common practice to grant contracts for large projects to a single company if it is a reputable company. The EU has criticized the granting of the $2.5 billion contract without an open tender. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu and the president of U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman's mission-systems sector, Donald Winter, were expected to sign on 4 March a cooperation agreement on the production of defense equipment, Mediafax reported. Defense Ministry State Secretary George Maior described the company as one of the most significant producers of defense-infrastructure equipment, and added that although the agreement does not stipulate legal or financial obligations for either side, it launches a highly important strategic partnership at a time when the Romanian military is undergoing reform. MS

NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY DELEGATION MEETS WITH MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY GROUPS LEADERS
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation currently visiting Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2004) met on 3 March with leaders of the parliamentary groups of Moldovan parties, Infotag reported. Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) group leader Victor Stepaniuc told the delegation headed by Niki Bettendorf that it would be premature for his country to seek NATO membership at this stage. Stepaniuc said Moldova should "remain a neutral state" for a long period, added that "we are a peaceful country needing international support from everybody -- the UN, the EU, and the Council of Europe." Our Moldova alliance co-Chairman Dumitru Braghis told the visitors that without integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, it will be difficult for Moldova to achieve its official strategic goal of European integration. Popular Party Christian Democratic Deputy Chairman Stefan Secareanu said NATO's enlargement influences the situation in Moldova and the country's integration into the Atlantic alliance is vital to its capability of safeguarding its national security and territorial integrity. MS

TRANSDNIESTER CRITICIZES EU'S EXTENSION OF LEADERSHIP TRAVEL BAN
Viktor Balala, who holds the Justice portfolio in the separatist Transdniester cabinet, told journalists on 3 March that the EU's recent decision to extend the travel ban imposed on the region's leadership was prompted by "the Western states' desire to punish the Tiraspol administration for its support of Russia's interests," Infotag reported. Balala said the authorities in Tiraspol are still ready to cooperate with the OSCE, the EU, and the United States if approached by them with the intention of reaching a genuine compromise in the Transdniester conflict. However, he added, "our primary vectors have become clear -- Moldova goes West and Transdniester goes East." MS

BULGARIAN, RUSSIAN LEADERS WELCOME CLOSER TIES
Speaking on a national holiday marking the treaty that freed Bulgarians from Ottoman rule in 1878, President Georgi Parvanov said in Sofia on 3 March that Bulgaria and Russia are entering a new era in mutual relations, bnn reported. "These are relations of goodwill, equal footing, mutual trust, and pragmatism," Parvanov said, adding that such ties do not represent a departure from Bulgaria's drive for European and trans-Atlantic integration. In a telegram, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he is convinced that bilateral relations will improve "in the mutual interest of our states and people, in the interest of peace, security, and stability in the Balkans and on the whole European continent." The previous conservative government headed by Ivan Kostov (1997-2001) all but cut off Bulgarian-Russian relations. The Treaty of San Stefano ended the last of the Russo-Turkish wars and effectively freed Bulgaria from 500 years of Ottoman rule. The treaty created a Greater Bulgaria that also included territories in what is now Macedonia and northern Greece. The Great Powers reversed the Treaty of San Stefano at the Berlin Congress later that year, thus reducing Bulgaria to a small principality in what is now northern Bulgaria and an autonomous province in southern Bulgaria that remained under Ottoman rule. UB

ANOTHER CONSERVATIVE COALITION CONSIDERED IN BULGARIA
Sofia Mayor and Union of Liberal Democrats (SSD) Chairman Stefan Sofiyanski met on 3 March with Krasimir Karakachanov, who heads the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) to discuss a possible coalition for parliamentary elections in 2005, "Sega" reported. "We expect to participate in the country's next government, and I believe that we will be strong together," Sofiyanski said. Alluding to a recent split within the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004), Sofiyanski added that the two parties could be "stabilizing factors" within the conservative camp. UB

BOSNIA: 'YANKEE GO HOME'
A recent commentary by Germany's external broadcaster shed light on what some in the EU understand by their partnerships with the United States and the Balkan countries.

Deutsche Welle's (DW) German Service broadcast a commentary on 29 February by its director, Verica Spasovska, who is a former director of DW's Bosnian Service. She argued that the United States should not maintain a military presence in Bosnia once the EU takes over there from SFOR at the end of the year, as the EU very much wants to do.

Her commentary was pegged to the recent visit to Bosnia of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, during which he made clear what Berlin and Brussels plan for that country, which seeks EU membership.

DW is state-funded but has editorial independence from the German government, and Spasovska's commentary is apparently her own. But the broadcast is nonetheless interesting because it reflects views that many in the German government and policy community hold, even if they do not necessarily state them to the media.

The key passage of the broadcast begins by noting that EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana has made it clear that he intends that the new EU mission in Bosnia will replace SFOR "completely."

The commentary continues by pointing out that "this is an unmistakable signal, not only for organized crime and Bosnian extremists that NATO's departure will not provide them with new opportunities. It is also a clear message to the United States that the EU is not willing to accept parallel structures. This is because the increasingly unilateralist United States insists on retaining the privilege of hunting Islamic terrorists and war criminals in Bosnia even after there is a change in command" from NATO to the EU.

The commentary continues by railing against the "parallel structures" that a continued U.S. presence allegedly would entail. The broadcast concludes that "it is high time that the EU maintained order in the European house by itself."

This is heady stuff. First, the editorial places the Americans on the level of organized criminals and nationalist extremists as all needing a stiff lesson from Brussels. The commentary thereby seems to overlook the fact that the reason that the Americans are in the Balkans -- and in Europe in general -- in the first place is because the Europeans repeatedly failed to manage their own affairs effectively.

And with almost breathtaking arrogance, the editorial argues that it would be an unwarranted "privilege" for the country that took the lead to end the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession to dare to want to remain in Bosnia to pursue terrorists and war criminals.

Second, the commentary includes a tacit admission of what many critics of the Franco-German plans for a distinct EU military project -- with exclusive security missions and an exclusive force -- have suspected all along, namely that the EU military enterprise is intended as a rival to the trans-Atlantic alliance and not a "complement" to or "pillar" of it.

The EU military project thus appears as a first and essential step to the ultimate goal of ousting the U.S. presence not only from Bosnia but from all of Europe, with an end goal that can only be guessed at. It also seems to contain at least a bit of adolescent petulance.

Third, the editorial implies that it is for Brussels to decide what is best for the peoples of the Balkans and not their own elected officials. For example, Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian Presidency, has sought a continuing American military presence in Bosnia through bilateral agreements between Washington and Sarajevo as being in his country's national interest.

Indeed, many Muslims and ethnic Albanians across the Balkans trust the United States, but not the EU, as being willing and able to provide their security. Many in Washington also have doubts both about the EU's ability to manage the security situation in Bosnia and about the EU's ultimate goal in building up a military bloc without the participation of the United States.

It seems that there are voices within Germany that confirm such suspicions.

RELATIONS REPORTEDLY IMPROVING BETWEEN KABUL AND ROGUE AFGHAN COMMANDER
Abdul Wali Zadran, a son of rogue military commander Pacha Khan Zadran, has been appointed to head the Wazi Zadran District administration in the eastern Afghan province of Paktiya, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 2 March. Ghamay Khan Mohammadyar, a spokesman for the elder Zadran, told AIP that Paktiya Governor Asadullah Wafa and a number of U.S. officials placed the tribal turban on Abdul Wali Zadran's head as a symbol of his new authority as the chief of Wazi Zadran District, a newly established district. Mohammadyar was quoted as saying that while differences remain between Kabul and the elder Zadran, the establishment of the new administrative district "means that negotiations between Haji Pacha Khan Zadran and the government are in progress." Zadran was a signatory of the 2001 Bonn agreement and an ally of both Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and the United States before he went into armed opposition the following year. Zadran recently pledged full cooperation with the Afghan Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). AT

PAKISTAN SAYS NO U.S. FORCES ARE OPERATING ON ITS SIDE OF BORDER WITH AFGHANISTAN
Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan on 3 March denied recent reports that U.S. troops are engaged in military operations against terrorist and militant forces inside Pakistan, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" reported the next day. Khan said Islamabad's "focus has been to coordinate these special operations" but that "reports of U.S. troops inside Pakistan are mere speculation." If fact, Khan reportedly added, Pakistan has asked the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to "increase the number of troops on the Afghan side of the [Pakistani-Afghan] border." (The ISAF mandate extends only to Kabul and Konduz in northern Afghanistan.) The commander of international-coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno, said in February that his forces have improved their cooperation with Pakistan as part of a change of tactics designed to better confront militants (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 February 2004). Some Western media have speculated that Islamabad has agreed to allow U.S. Special Forces to operate near the Afghan border. AT

RESIDENTS OF EASTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE CRITICIZE CENSUS PROCESS
Residents of Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province have complained that census procedures in their province have been flawed, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 March. The census has been completed in seven of the province's districts so far, but residents say officials have failed to count occupants of many houses and, in some cases, have excluded entire villages from the process. Elders from the Rodat District have pointed out that their district's population was 93,000 people in the last census taken in the country (1975-76), but the current census has placed that number at 52,000. Others have complained that census takers have focused their efforts on registering ethnic Tajiks in districts in which there are no members of that minority group. Some residents of neighboring Konar Province have complained that while most residents of their province communicate in Pashto, some teams of census officials sent to the province do not speak that language. Census taking in Afghanistan is a controversial issue, as many of the major ethnic groups have often reported inflated numbers for their groups in an effort to justify their positions within the country's power structures. Holding the elections scheduled for June might prove difficult in the absence of credible census figures. AT

UN BODY CITES GROWING DRUG TRAFFIC THROUGH TAJIKISTAN...
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent UN body noted a significant increase in heroin trafficking through Tajikistan in an annual report on the illegal drug trade published on 3 March, the BBC reported. Guards on the Tajik-Afghan border seized almost 6 tons of heroin in 2003, 1,000 times the amount confiscated in 1996, the report claimed. The UN is working to stem the drug flow out of Afghanistan through a program called Operation Topaz, in which Tajikistan is a participant. DK

...AND CRITICIZES TURKMENISTAN FOR LACK OF COOPERATION
The INCB report issued on 3 March singled out Turkmenistan, the only country neighboring Afghanistan that is not participating in Operation Topaz, for its failure to cooperate with the international community's efforts to curb narcotics trafficking in the region, the UN news agency IRIN reported on 3 March. INCB board member Nuzhet Kandemir told IRIN that the INCB sent delegations to Turkmenistan in 2003 and 2004, but that Turkmen authorities were less than helpful and denied requests for appointments with senior officials. The INCB "urges the government of Turkmenistan to join Operation Topaz without delay in order to ensure that traffickers will not use the country to smuggle acetic anhydride to Afghanistan." Acetic anhydride is a key component in the manufacture of heroin. The chemical has been found in Turkmenistan, the BBC reported on 3 March. "Turkmenistan must not become the weak link in the chain of international drug control efforts," the INCB concluded. DK

IRAN HALTS PILGRIMS GOING TO IRAQ
Iran has stopped Shi'ite pilgrims from crossing into Iraq following the 2 March bombings at Shi'ite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala, AFP reported on 3 March, citing the Iranian Interior Ministry. IRNA also reported the closure until further notice of two crossings, Shalamcheh and Mehran, on the Iran-Iraq frontier. "As Shalamcheh is an international frontier, Iraqi forces will take very firm measures against those arrested who have entered [Iraq] illegally," IRNA quoted Mohammad Ali Shirali, the governor of the Khurramshahr frontier district, as saying. A U.S. official in Iraq said "a small number" of the thousands of Iranian pilgrims who entered Iraq for the Ashura festival "were possibly connected to terrorist organizations," AFP reported on 3 March. The Iranian Foreign Ministry appears to believe otherwise: "We found out about this through the media, and of course we must discuss the details with Iraqi officials," IRNA quoted an unnamed Iranian diplomat as saying on 3 March. The Iranian victims, the source said, provide "further proof that [Iran] is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism." VS

IRANIAN LEADER SUGGESTS U.S. 'BEARS SHARE OF RESPONSIBILITY' FOR IRAQ BLASTS
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement on 3 March that "whichever terrorist group" perpetrated the Karbala and Baghdad bombings the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004), "the occupiers of Iraq bear a share of the heavy responsibility," Mehr news agency reported. "If the occupiers can prove that they did not have a hand in planning this plot, they can never deny the responsibility deriving from their negligence in maintaining the country's general security." Khamenei urged Iraqis "not to fall into the trap of sectarian quarrels." Meanwhile, influential former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani described the "extremist" bombers as "the product of world arrogance," a term that is often used in Iran to describe the United States, and said occupying forces are the "ultimate culprits." A statement by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps said the attacks show that U.S. forces have failed to deliver the "security, peace, and democracy promised by White House leaders," the state broadcasting website (http://www.iribnews.com) reported on 3 March. VS

CORRECTION:
The 3 March 2004 "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "Iranian Vice President Blames Iraq Bombings On Al-Qaeda, Pakistan" should have quoted Iranian Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi blaming Al-Qaeda for the 2 March bombings in Iraq and Pakistan. Abtahi did not in any way suggest there was involvement by Pakistan or Pakistani officials in any of those bombings.

IRANIAN PRESIDENT, TAJIK SECURITY MINISTER MEET
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with Tajikistan's security minister, Khairuddin Abdulrakhmonov, in Tehran to discuss bilateral cooperation, regional security, drug trafficking, and a proposed road link between Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, IRNA reported on 3 March. "Iran and Tajikistan have suffered the greatest harm from drug trafficking and want a strengthened central government in Afghanistan to resolve this problem," IRNA quoted Khatami as saying. VS

TEHRAN TANK ORDERS HARD TO FILL
Tehran has placed a $600 million order with Moscow for the delivery of 200 T-80U main battle tanks and 300 BMP-3 tracked infantry combat vehicles, gazeta.ru reported on 27 February. BMP-3s are built by the Russian company Kurganmashzavod, gazeta.ru reported, and fulfilling the order for the tanks will not be a problem. However, the T-80 is no longer produced in Russia. Nizhnii Tagil's Uralvagonzavod is the only active tank-building enterprise in Russia, according to gazeta.ru, and Tehran does not want the T-90S model it builds. Uralvagonzavod therefore would have to obtain the T-80 design from the original manufacturer, the Omsk-based Transmash. Tehran might be able to acquire the tanks from Ukraine, because according to the Army Technology website (http://www.army-technology.com/projects/t80/index.html), the T-80UD and T-84 are built in Kharkiv. BS

CPA HEAD ISSUES STATEMENT ON ASHURA BOMBINGS...
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer has issued a statement condemning the 2 March bombings in Karbala and Baghdad during the Shi'ite religious holiday of Ashura (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004). The statement, posted on the CPA website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org), reaffirms the coalition's commitment to bringing security and democracy to Iraq. "We know that [terrorists] did this as part of an effort to provoke sectarian violence among Muslims," Bremer said. "We know they chose this day so that they could kill as many innocents as possible." He said "the terrorists want sectarian violence because they believe that is the only way they can stop Iraq's march toward the democracy that the terrorists fear." Bremer also cited a letter purportedly written by Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi in which he apparently appeals to Al-Qaeda for support, saying that once Iraq is democratic there will be no pretext for terrorist attacks there (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 February 2004). KR

...AND SAYS COALITION WORKING TO SECURE IRAQ'S BORDERS
Bremer later told a 3 March press conference broadcast on CNN that the coalition is working to prevent terrorists from infiltrating Iraq's borders. "There are 8,000 border police on duty today and more are on the way," he said. "We are adding hundreds of vehicles and doubling border-police staffing in selected areas. The United States has committed $60 million to support border security." KR

SUNNI AND SHI'ITE CLERICS MARCH IN SOLIDARITY IN BAGHDAD
Sunni and Shi'ite religious leaders marched together in Baghdad on 3 March in a show of solidarity, AP reported on 4 March. "We and our Sunni countrymen are, and have been and always will be, brothers," said Amr al-Husayn, an aid to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Shi'ite Governing Council member Ibrahim al-Ja'fari characterized the 2 March bombings as "a crime directed not only against Shi'ites, or Islam, but against humanity." "Anyone who kills a Sunni is against the spirit of Shi'ism. And anyone who kills a Shi'ite is against the spirit of Sunnism," he added. Meanwhile, Shi'ite Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i dismissed talk of a possible civil war in Iraq, AP reported. "We are nowhere near civil war," he said. "It will never happen in this country." Several religious leaders and Governing Council members have made statements in recent weeks stressing the need for solidarity among religious sects and warning Iraqis to avoid sectarian strife. KR

U.S. COMMANDER SAYS INTELLIGENCE INDICATED ATTACKS WOULD TAKE PLACE
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander John Abizaid told the U.S. House of Representative's Armed Services Committee on 3 March that the United States had intelligence prior to the 2 March bombings in Karbala and Baghdad that indicated attacks would take place, international media reported. Abizaid said coalition raids the night before the bombings against operatives of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi likely prevented more carnage, AFP reported. "We have clear intelligence that ties al-Zarqawi to this attack," he said. "We also have intelligence that shows there are some linkages between al-Zarqawi and former regime elements, particularly the Iraqi intelligence services." The CENTCOM commander also told the House Armed Services Committee that intelligence indicated that terrorists planned on targeting prominent Shi'a personalities. Abizaid reminded committee members that security in Karbala has been left to Iraqi police and civil-defense personnel "since the early days of the U.S. occupation" because of religious sensitivities. He added that there is some indication that terrorists distributed leaflets in Baghdad following the attacks claiming that U.S. forces had fired mortars on worshippers. KR

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL HOLDS PRESS CONFERENCE ON BOMBINGS
Members of the Iraqi Governing Council held a press conference on 3 March to discuss the previous day's attacks in Karbala and Baghdad, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Governing Council President for the month of March Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum told reporters that the attacks "violated all Islamic taboos by killing scores of innocent people and encroaching upon Islamic rites." Council member al-Rubay'i said of the Baghdad bombings: "Actually, we have a real problem, which I hope you will convey. There are hands, legs, and heads and we do not know to whom they belong. There are piles, and I mean piles...and we do not [know] to whom they belong. The lesson we derive is the following -- what happened is not like the bombing of the UN compound and personnel, the Red Cross hospital, or the killing of the martyr [Governing Council member] Aqilah al-Hashimi. It was not an ordinary political assassination. What happened was a qualitative change and a qualitative turning point in the nature of the conflict against terrorism." He added that the events of 2 March have "only made the Iraqi people more united, steadfast, and cohesive." KR

RUSSIA RULES OUT SENDING FORCES TO IRAQ
Moscow will not send troops to Iraq under any circumstances, acting Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists in Paris on 3 March, ITAR-TASS reported. "Citizens of all countries get killed there these days. Of all countries except Russia. Russian soldiers will never go to Iraq," Ivanov said, adding that he believes the danger of a civil war in Iraq is real. Ivanov also said that Russia is not concerned by NATO's impending eastward expansion, Interfax Military News Agency reported on 4 March. "We will have to make our own decisions in light of the nature of the threats we face. We can withdraw from unilateral obligations dealing with confidence-building measures, including the downsizing of our troops in the northwestern area since there are no legal documents confirming these obligations," Ivanov said. RC

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