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Newsline - May 26, 2004


PRESIDENT'S ANNUAL ADDRESS LAYS OUT ECONOMIC GOALS
President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address to the Federal Assembly on 26 May, Russian and international media reported. He set a number of goals in his 47-minute speech, including that at least one-third of Russians should have the opportunity to purchase affordable housing by 2010, that average annual incomes grow by 150 percent over the next four years, and that the ruble becomes fully convertible within two years. He noted that GDP has grown by 8 percent over the last four months, saying that his earlier goal of doubling GDP within 10 years is realistic and could even be achieved by 2010. He criticized efforts to reform the health-care system and called on business to help finance education initiatives. Putin said that the expansion of the European Union must "bring us closer together not only geographically, but economically and spiritually as well." He said that Moscow will continue to develop political and economic relations with the CIS countries, the United States, China, India, and Japan. The text of the speech can be seen at http://www.kremlin.ru/text/appears/2004/05/64879.shtml. RC

RUSSIA WANTS TO DELAY NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 25 May that Russia will support the adoption of a new U.S.-sponsored United Nations resolution on Iraq only after the handover of power to an Iraqi civil administration on 30 June, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. Lavrov said that first the composition of the new Iraqi government should be defined; second, the government should be internationally recognized; and third, the international community's mandate in Iraq should be defined. The United States and Britain are pushing for the resolution to be adopted before 30 June. Meanwhile, an unnamed Russian representative at the UN told the BBC Russian Service on 25 May that Russia does not reject the idea of the deployment of international peacekeepers in Iraq with a UN mandate and under U.S. command. VY

EXPERT OUTLINES HIS VIEW OF SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Institute for Globalization Problems and one of the leaders of the Motherland bloc, told the "Open Economy" web portal (http://www.opec.ru) on 25 May that Russia needs the Single Economic Space (SES) to buy out the "most valuable and profitable enterprises [functioning] in the economies of the former Soviet Union." "They should work for us," he said, "because these [post-Soviet] countries, including the Baltic states, have proved their incapability." He added: "It is the European Union that took responsibility for the Baltic states, and we bear responsibility for the rest. But to develop [these] territories we should gain control over them." The presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan pledged in Yalta on 24 May that they will proceed with the implementation of the treaty on the creation of the SES they signed in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004). Delyagin also said he is skeptical about the pace of integration within the SES. "First they signed the agreement, almost a year afterward [they] ratified it, and only then they sit down to discuss what they have signed," he said. VY

IS AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD'S POSITION IN DANGER?
The Duma Budget Committee recommended on 25 May that the lower house of parliament adopt an amendment to the law on the Audit Chamber according to which the right to appoint and dismiss the body's head will be transferred from the Duma to the president, NTV and TV-Tsentr reported. The amendment was proposed by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, and "Kommersant-Daily" speculated on 25 May that it was initiated by Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin. An editorial in "Vremya novostei" the same day opined that Stepashin has irritated the presidential administration and the move signals the imminent end of his career. Speaking to TV-Tsentr, Audit Chamber Research Institute Director Aleksei Podberezkin denied that the transfer of power would be a blow for the legislative branch. "The president will only nominate the chairman and the Duma will confirm him," he said. VY

ADMIRAL SAYS RUSSIAN NAVY WILL BE ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE BY 2009
Former Northern Fleet commander Admiral Gennadii Suchkov has said the Russian Navy is in rapid decline and in the next four or five years it will cease to exist as a combat entity, "Vedomosti" reported on 25 May. Suchkov said that the navy has only three active Typhoon-class nuclear submarines, and of those only one is armed with missiles, albeit obsolete ones. The Typhoon is considered the navy's most powerful vessel. The Russian Navy's only aircraft carrier, the "Admiral Kuznetsov," is not combat ready and is incapable of sailing on open seas, Suchkov said. According to "Vedomosti," navy spokesman Igor Dygailo disagreed with Suchkov's comments, saying that he does not understand why the admiral violated the law by making such statements. Earlier this month, Suchkov received a four-year suspended sentence when a military court found him responsible for the sinking of the "K-159" nuclear submarine in August 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). VY

CAR-THEFT SCANDAL CONTINUES TO REVERBERATE
Lieutenant General Konstantin Romadanovskii, the head of the Interior Ministry's Internal Security Department, announced on 25 May that around 100 people, eight of them high-ranking officers in the traffic police, were involved in a crime ring dealing in stolen cars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004), Russian media reported. Interior Ministry investigators revealed that, in the last year, the ring sold at least 365 luxury cars in Moscow and handled around 6,000 cars. During searches on 25 May, the Interior Ministry confiscated thousands of dollars, weapons, and 22 luxury cars from suspected members of the ring. VY

RUSSIAN AGENTS ON TRIAL IN QATAR COULD FACE LIFE, EARLY RELEASE
Two Russian secret-service agents who are on trial in Qatar on charges of killing former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in February could be given life sentences, "Vremya novostei" reported on 24 May. There is, however, a 99 percent probability that after receiving a severe sentence they will be released and sent home, the newspaper added. Yandarbiev's widow, Malika, told "Vremya novostei" that after attending the court hearings she is convinced that her husband was killed by the Russian secret services. VY

RUSSIAN, GEORGIAN PREMIERS DISCUSS ECONOMIC COOPERATION
During talks in Moscow on 25 May, Mikhail Fradkov and his visiting Georgian counterpart Zurab Zhvania acknowledged that the recent rapprochement between their two countries will facilitate closer economic cooperation and greater Russian investment in Georgia, Russian and Georgian media reported. Fradkov said Russia is ready to increase electricity supplies to Georgia and to participate in joint ventures in the oil, gas, and transport sectors. Zhvania met separately with Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais and with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller, ITAR-TASS reported. Zhvania assured Miller that Tbilisi will repay by the fall of this year 50 percent of its outstanding debt for supplies of Russian natural gas. That debt amounts to $15 million, according to "Kommersant-Daily" of 26 May. LF

COURT REJECTS FORMER YUKOS HEAD'S APPEAL
The Moscow Municipal Court rejected on 25 May an appeal by jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii seeking to overturn a Basmannyi Raion Court ruling ordering him to complete studying the materials of his case by 15 May, Interfax reported. Khodorkovskii's lawyers said the lower-court ruling in effect forced the defense team to study about 2 1/2 volumes of the case materials each day, newsru.com reported on 26 May. They intend to appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004). Khodorkovskii's lawyers met on 26 May with Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe representative Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. Earlier, the Basmannyi Raion Court denied her permission to visit Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev in pretrial detention. RC

GOVERNMENT MOVES TO EASE BUSINESS REGULATION
The government plans to reduce the number of types of business licenses that the state issues from 123 to 70, strana.ru reported on 24 May, citing Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov. He said that current licensing requirements are one of the main limitations to business development in Russia and are hampering the country's international economic competitiveness. If the Duma adopts the legislation being drafted by the government, businesses will no longer need licenses for such activities as showing movies, raising purebred animals, or translating musical works, the website reported. RC

OMBUDSMAN SLAMS JUSTICE MINISTRY OFFICIAL
Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has sharply criticized Vladimir Kraev, first deputy director of the Justice Ministry's Corrections Department, for recent comments alleging that some human rights groups have ties to criminal organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 12 May 2004), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 May. Lukin said that Kraev's comments were an inappropriate response to rights groups' allegations of poor conditions in Russian prisons and that "his job is not to make declarations but to keep his own house in order." Lukin said that he has discussed the matter with Justice Minister Yurii Chaika. RC

SIBERIAN SAILORS END BLOCKADE OF RIVER...
Sailors in Irkutsk Oblast ended their six-day strike on 26 May and stopped blocking traffic on the Lena River, newsru.com reported, citing sailors union official Vladimir Demkin. About 40 vessels that were stranded by the strike are now beginning to move again. According to Demkin, the strikers' main demands -- the resignation of the general directors of two local shipping bases and the instigation of criminal cases against them for withholding wages -- have been met. Interfax cited oblast Deputy Prosecutor Igor Melnikov as confirming that the cases have been filed. Prosecutors have also opened cases against 14 ship captains who participated in blocking the river. RC

...AS SIBERIAN MINERS CONTINUE HUNGER STRIKE
At least 150 coal miners in the Republic of Khakasia are in the 10th day of a hunger strike seeking nearly half a year in wage arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004), "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 26 May. Deputy administration head of the city of Chernogorsk Galina Malinova told the daily that criminal charges have been filed against the mine's former manager and its current manager, but noted that the mine is owned by a Moscow-based company called Yunal, which ultimately must resolve the wage-arrears issue. Earlier this month, the Chernogorsk administration paid the mine 1 million rubles ($33,000) in debts for coal deliveries, but that money has not been distributed to the striking miners. At Duma hearings on the matter on 24 May, Labor and Social Policy Committee Chairman Andrei Isaev (Unified Russia) said that employers are to blame for 95 percent of all wage arrears, ITAR-TASS reported. He called for the creation of a wage-insurance fund and for legislation to allow workers to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against delinquent firms. RC

WILL THE REAL CANDIDATE PLEASE STAND UP?
The Vladivostok Election Commission has registered the first two candidates in the 4 July mayoral election in the city and both are named Viktor Cherepkov, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 May. One is former Mayor and State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov (independent) and the other is a double. In addition, the commission is now considering registration documents from incumbent Mayor Yurii Kopylov and another man of the same name. The registration of doubles is a common electoral "dirty trick" in Russia and is intended to confuse the electorate. RC

AGGRIEVED DEPOSITORS TO GO AFTER FABERGE COLLECTION
A group of former depositors of the First City Bank intends to ask the courts to seize a collection of nine Faberge Easter eggs that was purchased in February by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2004) to compensate them for their losses, Ekho Moskvy reported on 25 May. Representatives of the group explained at a 25 May Moscow press conference that the First City Bank ceased its activity in 2002 and alleged that much of its assets were stolen by former bank Chairman Maksim Listovskii. Listovskii later allegedly invested the money in the Alba-Alyans bank, of which they claim Vekselberg is now a major shareholder. Vekselberg's spokesman on 26 May denied that Vekselberg has any connection with First City Bank and dismissed the depositors' action as "financial extortion," RIA-Novosti reported. The First City Bank depositors claim that the eggs should be used to compensate their $40 million in claimed losses. The Faberge collection is currently on display in the Kremlin. RC

ESSAY CONTEST CALLED XENOPHOBIC
An national essay competition held in Russian schools has provoked charges of racism and xenophobia, REN-TV reported on 24 May. The competition in 60 Russian regions was held under the auspices of the Duma's Culture and Tourism Committee, and the jury was headed by Russian National Patriotic Party leader Aleksandr Sevastyanov. Students were asked to write on the topic of what it means to be an ethnic Russian today and many of the entries repeated common stereotypes that non-Russians control the country's economy and politics. "What is happening now is that people of other ethnic origins come and get control of markets, for instance, and so we end up working for them in our own country," said Andrei Polyakov, the student who won the $2,000 first prize. Sevastyanov added: "Today, 80 percent of ethnic Russians believe that Russia is overflowing with foreigners. This is a view expressed by the people. I share it and many of those who wrote essays share it." Polyakov told REN-TV that he "just wrote down what [adults] have said" to him. RC

FIRST DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER DISMISSED
President Putin dismissed First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Matyukhin on 25 May, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on 26 May. Matyukhin was relieved one month earlier of his post as head of the State Defense Procurements Committee. According to media reports, the Kremlin was dissatisfied with Matyukhin's efforts to reform the defense-procurement system. Matyukhin earlier headed the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI), which was abolished in March 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2003). It is expected that Federal Defense Procurements Agency Director Andrei Belyaninov will be named to replace Matyukhin at the State Defense Procurements Committee. RC

CHECHEN RESISTANCE OFFENSIVE CONTINUES
Nine Russian servicemen were killed in two separate attacks in Chechnya on 25 May, Reuters and dpa reported. Five Interior Ministry troops were killed and six injured in an ambush on the outskirts of Grozny, and four more servicemen died in an exchange of fire with some 40 Chechen militants in Vedeno Raion in southern Chechnya. LF

CHECHEN PROSECUTOR REJECTS DATA ON ABDUCTIONS
Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov complained on 25 May that media, political activists, and unnamed "incompetent people" routinely exaggerate the incidence of abductions and murders in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Specifically, Ustinov claimed that only 51 people have been abducted in Chechnya so far this year, which he said is one-fourth the figure for the corresponding period in 2003. Interfax, however, cited Chechen Interior Ministry data according to which 109 people were kidnapped during the first three months of 2004, of whom 41 are still missing. Dmitrii Grushkin of the Russian human rights group Memorial told Interfax on 21 May that 173 people have been abducted in Chechnya this year, of whom 89 were later released, 13 were found dead, and 71 are still unaccounted for. LF

ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR DEMANDS LONG SENTENCE FOR PROTESTER
A prosecutor in the provincial town of Lusakert, some 20 kilometers north of Yerevan, demanded on 24 May a 2 1/2 year sentence for 24 year old Edgar Arakelian, who hurled a plastic bottle at a policeman during the attack by police in Yerevan early on 13 April on participants in a peaceful demonstration calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Arakelian is charged with assaulting a state official, a crime punishable by up to five years in jail. He admitted to throwing the bottle after the police officer sprayed him with tear gas and hit him in the face. Arakelian also said senior prosecutor Andranik Mirzoyan tried to persuade him to testify that he acted on orders from opposition leaders Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian. Mirzoyan denied any involvement in the case against Arakelian. LF

AZERBAIJAN REJECTS CRITICISM OF HUMAN-RIGHTS RECORD...
Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told Interfax on 25 May that he considers unfair the criticism of Azerbaijan's human-rights record contained in a Freedom House report released the previous day (see http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/nattransit.htm). That report noted a deterioration over the past 12 months in the electoral process; the development of civil society; independence of the media; and the constitutional, legislative, and judicial framework. While admitting that the situation in Azerbaijan cannot be compared to Western democracies, Hasanov claimed that over the past decade Azerbaijan has made progress in ensuring media freedom and freedom of political activity in developing a civil society. LF

...EMPOWERS LOCAL COURTS TO SUSPEND POLITICAL PARTIES
Also on 25 May, Azerbaijan's parliament approved amendments to the Law on Political Parties, zerkalo.az reported the following day. Those amendments empower local courts to suspend the registration of political parties; previously only the Constitutional Court was empowered to do so. LF

PIPELINE WORKER KILLED IN AZERBAIJAN
An Azerbaijani construction worker working on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil export pipeline was killed on 25 May in a welding accident during work on the Gyanja-Yevlakh section of the pipeline, Turan reported. According to British-Petroleum-Azerbaijan, it is the first fatal accident since construction began in April 2003. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR EMBATTLED LOCAL GOVERNOR
Mikheil Saakashvili said during a televised address on 25 May that he has no intention of firing Imereti Governor David Mumladze, Caucasus Press reported. Opposition activists in Kutaisi, the capital of Imereti and Georgia's second-largest city, staged protests on 21 and 24 May at which they accused Mumladze of engaging in illegal business activities and demanded his dismissal. Saakashvili blamed those protests on discredited former regional officials appointed by his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, including Temur Shashiashvili. Shashiashvili ran unsuccessfully against Saakashvili in the 4 January presidential election. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA DENIES ATTACK ON GEORGIAN OFFICIAL
The Information and Press Committee of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia issued a statement on 25 May denying that Ossetian police launched an attack on Georgian district Governor Mikheil Kareli, Caucasus Press reported. Kareli told journalists that South Ossetian police opened fire on his car near the Ergneti market on the outskirts of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. The South Ossetian statement said Kareli's driver ignored a police demand to halt the car. LF

HUMAN-RIGHTS ACTIVISTS ACCUSE GEORGIAN POLICE OF TORTURE
An NGO representing former political prisoners staged a demonstration outside the Interior Ministry in Tbilisi on 25 May to protest the beating and torture by police of detainees, Georgian media reported. Interfax quoted activist Nana Kakabadze as saying that up to 50 detainees have been subjected to torture over the past three months. Unveiling a new concept last month to reform the Interior Ministry, President Saakashvili noted that its methods have improved insofar as people are no longer thrown out of windows or found to have committed suicide during interrogation; at the same time he stressed that police need to clean up their image, according to Caucasus Press on 16 April. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT, NORWAY PREMIER DISCUSS OIL, OSCE CHAIRMANSHIP
Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov in Astana, Kazakhstan on 25 May, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Akhmetov and Bondevik signed a joint declaration on dialogue and cooperation in the oil and gas sphere, Kazinform reported. Akhmetov cited Norway as an example for Kazakhstan to emulate as it changes the structure of its economy. Bondevik attended the opening of an office in Astana for the Norwegian state oil company Statoil, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Bondevik said the office opening: "attests to our great interest in participating in the development of oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea." Interfax-Kazakhstan also quoted Bondevik as saying that Norway will support Kazakhstan in Astana's bid for the OSCE chairmanship in 2009. Bondevik cautioned, however, "Not only does a declaration on human rights have to be signed, but also their observance is needed." DK

KYRGYZ PAPER SAYS CRIME LORD ON THE LAM
A reputed Kyrgyz underworld leader has managed to flee the country under an assumed name even though he may be a suspect in a recent high-profile slaying, "Vechernii Bishkek" reported on 25 May. Numerous reports have listed Ryspek Akmatbaev, an alleged figure in the world of Kyrgyz organized crime, as a possible suspect in the 5 May killing of top anticorruption official Chynybek Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). According to the newspaper, Akmatbaev has managed to leave the country under the name Osmon Rayov and is currently in Russia, where he intends to undergo plastic surgery to change his appearance. The newspaper also reported that the Interior Ministry has detained seven members of Akmatbaev's group. Not everyone agrees that Akmatbaev is the leading suspect in Aliev's murder, however. "Moya stolitsa-novosti" claimed on 14 May that Aliev, who was tasked with fighting official corruption, may have been on the trail of a dishonest high-level politician who decided to have the troublesome crime-fighter eliminated. DK

NGO SAYS TAJIK JOURNALISTS FACE DIFFICULTIES
A report by the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan details 75 violations of journalists' rights in the first four months of 2004, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 25 May. Thirty-six of the violations involved denial of access to information, while 15 involved threats against journalists. The report was presented in the course of a roundtable held in Dushanbe on 25 May and called "Access to Government Information." Rajabi Mirzo, the editor of the opposition newspaper "Ruzi nav," told participants that the difficulties confronting Tajik media are political in nature. Sasvata Burkhanova, deputy editor of the opposition newspaper "Nerui sukhan," noted that officials often view criticism in the press as an infringement on their power, and that legislation must be changed to protect journalists. Participants were asked to forward recommendations to the OSCE; several European ambassadors to the OSCE were in attendance. DK

U.S. CALLS FOR CHANGES TO TAJIK ELECTION LAW
Douglas Davidson, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the OSCE, called on Tajikistan's parliament on 25 May to make changes to the country's election law, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the same day. Speaking at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, Davidson urged changes that "will strengthen Tajikistan's reputation as a country that guarantees political pluralism." The American Embassy in Dushanbe told the news agency that adding such elements as independent electoral commissions and provisions for election observers will bring the country's election law closer to international standards. Davidson also suggested that Tajik lawmakers consult closely with OSCE election experts in efforts to fashion a new election law. DK

CONFUSION SURROUNDS RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM TAJIKISTAN
Russian troops began to withdraw from the Khorugh and Kulob sections of the Tajik-Afghan border on 24 May, Tajik Radio reported the next day. There is widespread confusion over what is actually happening along the border, where Russian troops are scheduled to begin handing over control to Tajik forces later this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004). Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 May that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has called reports of a complete Russian withdrawal from Tajikistan "total nonsense," while Sabza Sarkorov, deputy chairman of the Tajik State Border Committee, more specifically denied that Russian troops are being withdrawn from the border. The source of the current confusion appears to be the lack of a specific schedule for the handover, which has been the subject of difficult negotiations between the two countries. DK

UZBEK GOVERNOR SACKED
An extraordinary session of the Regional Council of People's Deputies removed Andijan Governor Qobiljon Obidov from his post on 25 May, Uzbek Television reported the same day. President Islam Karimov, who attended the session, criticized Obidov, noting, "In recent years, cases of corruption and personal connections have intensified in the region. This injustice has given rise to people's discontent." Saydulla Begaliev, a former minister of agriculture and water resources, was appointed to replace Obidov, uza.uz reported on 25 May. DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT MAKES CABINET APPOINTMENTS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka appointed Ivan Bambiza, former head of the Belarusian State Petrochemical Concern (Belnaftakhim), as a deputy prime minister on 25 May, Belapan reported. "The government needs brainstorming and this man is able to reinforce the leadership of the Council of Ministers with his competence, attitude to duties, self-control, and ability to express a viewpoint," the presidential press service quoted Lukashenka as saying. Bambiza will replace Raman Unuchka, whom Lukashenka appointed a member of the Council of the Republic, Belarus's upper house. Lukashenka also named Leanid Rusak agriculture minister and Hanna Dzeyka tax minister. JM

MINSK HOPES TO AGREE ON GAS SUPPLIES WITH GAZPROM IN JUNE
Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka told journalists on 25 May that the government expects to reach an accord on gas supplies with Russia's Gazprom in the first half of June, Belapan reported. Gazprom stopped gas supplies to Belarus at the beginning of 2004, demanding a higher price for deliveries and favorable terms in the potential purchase of a controlling stake in Belarus's gas-pipeline operator Beltranshaz. Syamashka noted that Russia's Sibur, the company that has been supplying Belarus with gas over the past several months on the basis of short-term contracts, is only formally independent from Gazprom. "This means Gazprom is supplying us with gas again," he said. According to Syamashka, the only unresolved issue between Minsk and Gazprom is the fee for Russian gas transport across Belarus. In January, Belarus unilaterally set this fee at $1.02 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, while Gazprom reportedly wants this charge to be set at $0.46 if Belarus is to continue receiving Russian gas at the current price of $46.68 for 1,000 cubic meters. JM

JUDGE DISCLOSES ANNULLED CONVICTIONS OF UKRAINIAN PREMIER
Oleksandr Kondratyev, head of the Court of Appeals in Donetsk Oblast, on 26 May named the articles of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR under which current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was twice sentenced to prison terms in the past, Interfax and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. In 1967, Yanukovych was sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention center under Article 141 pertaining to theft and robbery. In 1970, Yanukovych was sentenced to two years in prison under Article 102 pertaining to "infliction of bodily injuries of medium seriousness." Kondratyev noted that the court files of Yanukovych's criminal cases have been destroyed in accordance with limits on the preservation of court files. Kondratyev confirmed that both of Yanukovych's convictions were annulled in 1978 as judicial errors. JM

WILL UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION RUN SEPARATELY IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION?
Yuliya Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous opposition bloc, said on Inter Television on 25 May that she will run in the upcoming presidential election on her own if Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz fail to establish an election coalition with her party, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Tymoshenko added that despite her "insistent" attempts to sign such a coalition accord, neither Yushchenko nor Moroz has agreed to do so. Moroz commented that such an accord could be signed if the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine support proposed constitutional amendments intended to reform the country's political system. JM

UKRAINE TO PULL OUT PEACEKEEPERS FROM SIERRA LEONE, REINFORCE IRAQ CONTINGENT
Petro Shulyak, commander of the Land Troops of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told journalists on 25 May that the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent of more than 500 soldiers in Sierra Leone will be withdrawn from that country by the end of this year, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Shulyak recalled that Ukrainian peacekeepers are also serving in Liberia (298 servicemen), Lebanon (185), Kosova (315), and Iraq (1,610). He said the United Nations has so far paid Ukraine $223 million to cover its expenses on peacekeeping operations. Shulyak also announced that following this year's rotation of the Ukrainian contingent in Iraq its numerical strength will increase to 1,722 servicemen, ITAR-TASS reported. JM

A THANKLESS JOB IN KOSOVA...
Following his resignation as head of the UN civilian mission in Kosova (UNMIK) on 25 May, Harri Holkeri suggested in Helsinki that he was the "scapegoat" for the failure of the major powers to deal effectively with Kosova's problems, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April 2004). An unnamed high-ranking UNMIK official told London's "The Guardian" in Prishtina that Holkeri was "incompetent and largely uninterested" in the affairs of Kosova, adding that "he never read his briefs properly, just the bullet points." The official added that "we desperately need a [person like EU External Relations Commissioner] Chris Patten or [former NATO Secretary-General Lord George] Robertson. We cannot go on with people of this caliber." The first UNMIK chief, France's Bernard Kouchner, was seen by many as pro-Albanian, while his successor, Hans Haekkerup of Denmark, impressed many as pro-Serb. Haekkerup's successor, Germany's Michael Steiner, "was disliked by almost everybody for his autocratic style," the London-based daily added. Following Holkeri's resignation, Kosova's president, Ibrahim Rugova, and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi expressed appreciation for his efforts, Prishtina dailies reported. "Bota Sot" suggested that Holkeri had been wrong-footed by Belgrade. PM

...AWAITS A CANDIDATE
Many unnamed "UN insiders" want a Balkan expert rather than a retired politician, to succeed Holkeri, who said at the start of his mission in August 2003 that his "advantage over others is that I have never been to Kosovo," London's "The Guardian" reported on 26 May. The post is expected to go to a European, but it is not clear whom UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will eventually appoint. There has been much speculation in the wake of the 17-18 March unrest that UNMIK itself is due for a major overhaul. Local Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 25 May that the March unrest showed that neither Holkeri nor UNMIK were up to the tasks at hand. Some observers have suggested that UNMIK's "standards before status" program should be transformed into "status with standards" in order to give Kosovars a clear perspective for their future and an incentive to cooperate better with their neighbors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). PM

SERBIA INDICTS 11 MORE IN 1991 MASSACRE CASE
With the support of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Serbia's special war-crimes prosecutor's office announced on 25 May that it has indicted 11 additional people in connection with the 1991 massacre of at least 192 prisoners in Vukovar by Serbian forces, Reuters reported. All 11 are in custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003, and 27 January and 9 March 2004). On 9 March, the first trial of Vukovar indictees began in what is seen as a test of Serbia's ability to deal impartially with charges against Serbs. PM

HAGUE-BASED TRIBUNAL FILES ADDITIONAL CHARGES AGAINST CROATIAN GENERAL
On 25 May, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal announced that it recently charged former Croatian General Mirko Norac with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war during an attack on the Serb-controlled "Medak Pocket" in September 1993, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Norac is serving a 12-year prison sentence in Croatia in connection with crimes committed against ethnic Serb civilians in Gospic in 1991. The tribunal says that his trial for the 11 new charges can take place in Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 March, and 2 September 2003). Florence Hartmann, who is spokeswoman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, said that former Croatian General Rahim Ademi will stand trial with Norac, Reuters reported. Ademi turned himself in to the tribunal in 2001 and has since been released from custody while awaiting trial. PM

MACEDONIAN EXPERTS SEEK TO IDENTIFY MISSING ALBANIAN
Forensic experts opened 14 unmarked graves at the Butel cemetery outside Skopje on 25 May, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The experts took DNA samples from the exhumed bodies before reburial in an effort to determine whether an ethnic Albanian, who has been missing since the 2001 interethnic conflict, was among the dead. During the conflict, 12 ethnic Macedonians, six ethnic Albanians, and one Bulgarian citizen disappeared and are presumed dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2003, and 19 February and 19 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 16 November 2001). UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SEEN AS POSSIBLE FUTURE PSD CHAIRMAN
Prime Minister and ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Chairman Adrian Nastase on 25 May said he "sees" President Ion Iliescu not only as a future member of the party, but as chairman, Romanian media reported. Iliescu's second and final term as president ends this November. On 23 May, PSD Executive Chairman Octav Coaminca said at a press conference that Iliescu will return to the PSD as chairman, and Nastase will take his place as president. Nastase has not yet announced his candidacy. ZsM

ROMANIAN, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS BILATERAL RELATIONS
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on 24 May arrived in Bucharest for talks with President Iliescu that focused on bilateral relations and current events in the Middle East, Mediafax reported. The two leaders stressed the need for peaceful means of resolving conflicts in the region. Iliescu pledged that Romania, as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, would support a new resolution that would increase the UN's presence in Iraq. He also said the creation of a viable Palestinian state is more urgent than ever, but added that Israel should receive international guarantees safeguarding its existence. Iliescu and Mubarak discussed the prospects of developing economic relations, aiming by 2007 for annual bilateral trade of up to $500 million. The two also discussed the possibility of opening a Romanian-Egyptian university in Cairo. Mubarak is scheduled to wrap up his visit on 27 May. ZsM

NGO REPORT NOTES SLIGHT IMPROVEMENT IN ROMANIAN CIVIL SOCIETY...
A Freedom House report titled "Nations In Transit 2004" released on 24 May shows no significant changes in Romanian society, according to a press release from the democracy watchdog. Romania's ratings for electoral process, independent media, corruption, governance, and constitutional, legislative, and judicial framework remained unchanged from last year. The report marks only a slight improvement in the power of civil society, with last year's 2.75 rating improving to 2.5, on a scale of one to seven, with one representing the highest level of democratic development and seven the lowest. The study also notes the formation in 2004 of the Truth and Justice Alliance, which "opens the door for a political shake-up in the 2004 elections." However, the report expresses growing concern over "violence against and restrictions on local journalists investigating corruption and abuses of power at the local level." ZsM

...AND WARNS OF DEMOCRATIC DECLINE IN MOLDOVA
The Freedom House report handed Moldova worse ratings than last year in four out of six categories, while the country's ratings remained the same in the other two categories. Moldova experienced setbacks in the electoral process, independent media, governance, and civil society. The study says public support for the Party of Moldovan Communists, which it said won in "flawed local and regional elections in 2003..., actually slipped during the year, but the opposition remained fragmented and lacking in resources." The report adds that "the persistence of weak governance, widespread corruption, and a fragile system of checks and balances also marked the year." ZsM

ANOTHER OLIGARCH, ANOTHER INVESTIGATION
Question: What event of last July continues to have reverberations in Russian political life? A) The arrest of Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev; B) The ending of the transition period for full implementation of the law on political parties; C) Oligarch and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich's purchase of Britain's Chelsea soccer club for $233 million; or D) All of the above.

The correct answer is D. But if you answered C, then you will not be surprised to learn that avowed economic liberal and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref only last week condemned the purchase of Chelsea by Abramovich, who formerly headed the Russian oil major Sibneft and is the country's second-richest citizen. Gref told reporters on 21 May that "if people have such capital, then their moral obligation is to invest in their own country and to create jobs here," RBK reported.

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin was much quicker to condemn Abramovich's purchase publicly, and this week and last Stepashin and his lead auditor investigating Abramovich's management of Chukotka's finances revealed the findings of their three-month audit. Auditor Sergei Ryabukhin announced on 21 May that the okrug is bankrupt. According to Ryabukhin, the region's debt exceeded 9.3 billion rubles ($320 million) as of 1 January, while revenues amounted to only 3.9 billion rubles in 2003, "Gazeta" reported on 24 May. The audit found that illegal expenditures amounted to 1.09 billion rubles in 2003 and 23.5 million rubles in 2004, ITAR-TASS reported. It also found that the okrug administration illegally raised the salaries of local officials and public-sector employees during 2003, and as a result wages for local bureaucrats exceeded those of their federal counterparts by more than 5.6 million rubles.

Responding to the findings, Stepashin called on Abramovich to step down. "Looking at the results of the audit, I can say that Abramovich has let down the president badly," Stepashin told Interfax on 23 May. In an interview the previous day with "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Stepashin compared Chukotka's financial violations unfavorably with Chechnya's. He said auditors found that Chechnya had misspent almost 800 million rubles, but noted that Chechnya is experiencing war. Chukotka, moreover, has a population of only 52,000. He also noted that Ingushetia had fewer violations of financial discipline than Chukotka even though that republic had to cope with an influx of refugees across its borders. However, by 25 May, in an interview with the same newspaper, Stepashin had tempered his criticism of Abramovich. Stepashin said that he did not understand why this particular investigation has produced such a storm of publicity, especially since the chamber has uncovered far greater violations in Chechnya.

Stepashin had tried and failed to come up with enough evidence to launch a criminal case against Abramovich, "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 22 May. As a result, Stepashin faced a choice -- avoid losing face or risk severely defaming his political opponent, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" commented on 20 May. (Both newspapers are owned by Abramovich's former business partner Boris Berezovskii.) According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," of the more than 1 billion rubles that were illegally spent in 2003, only around 200 million rubles can be held against Abramovich and his subordinates. According to "Gazeta" on 24 May, the okrug's debts started mounting years before Abramovich took office. For example, the region took out a credit worth $190 million in 1994-95.

According to "Izvestiya" on 20 March, an audit conducted by the Audit Chamber in the late 1990s revealed substantial financial improprieties in the operation of a Chukotka Development Fund set up by Abramovich's predecessor in Chukotka, Aleksandr Nazarov. Documents were transferred to the Prosecutor-General's Office but no criminal case ever materialized. Nazarov subsequently went to work for the Audit Chamber, and "Izvestiya" commented it might be time to toughen the law on the appointment of auditors, as it is currently easy to appoint people who have a "dubious credit history."

Asked why Stepashin appeared to be trying to scare Abramovich, Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, told "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 May that Stepashin has "personal grievances" against Abramovich. "He has voiced them on several occasions both with regard to the purchase of the Chelsea soccer team and the fact that Sibneft pays the least amount of taxes of all of Russia's oil companies," Nikonov said. "But this does not mean that storm clouds are gathering over Abramovich. In the regime's view, he is behaving positively. And if Sibneft pays more tax, there will be no complaints." Arkadii Murashev, president of the Association of Mortgage Banks, had an alternative explanation for the animosity between Stepashin and Abramovich: "Perhaps Stepashin is simply an Arsenal fan."

U.S. WARPLANES KILL 20 SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
In a bombing raid on 25 May in a newly discovered camp in Kandahar Province, U.S. forces killed 20 suspected neo-Taliban members, AP reported on 26 May. Kandahar military commander Khan Mohammad said "U.S. forces told us that they had seen the bodies of about 20 dead Taliban," but neither he nor U.S. military officials speculated how many militants were using the camp, which is situated in the Arghistan region in the southern part of the province. According to AP, the clash appeared to be the most deadly encounter between U.S.-led coalition troops and neo-Taliban militants since the beginning of the spring when both sides stepped up their operations. AT

UN ENVOY DISCUSSES DISARMAMENT WITH WARLORDS IN KABUL
UN Secretary-General's special representative for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, held a meeting on 25 May with warlords who command armies independent of the central government to discuss the ongoing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program, Afghanistan Television reported. In a meeting with western Afghan Heart Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, commander of Military Corps No. 7 in the northern Balkh Province; General Ata Mohammad, commander of Military Corps No. 1 in the eastern Nangarhar Province; General Hazrat Ali and commander General Mohammad Daud from the northern Konduz Province; Arnault said reports by the media quoting him as saying that a number of commanders do not want the DDR process to be implemented are baseless. The U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, also attended the meeting. Ata Mohammad had earlier demanded an apology from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for allegedly saying that he is not cooperating with the DDR program (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 and 26 May 2004). AT

U.S. SEEN REFUSING TO INVITE AFGHAN DELEGATION TO NATO SUMMIT IN ISTANBUL
Washington has allegedly refused to allow Afghan and Iraqi leaders to attend the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul, "Istanbul Star," reported on 25 May. According to the paper, representatives from the provisional governments in Afghanistan and Iraq were not invited to the NATO summit in order to avoid a diplomatic "crisis" between Ankara and Washington. The paper did not elaborate on the nature of the crisis. NATO's presence and hardships expanding its presence in Afghanistan are expected to figure on the agenda at the NATO summit. AT

U.S. PRESIDENT INVITES KARZAI TO G-8 SUMMIT
George W. Bush has invited Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai to the G-8 summit scheduled for 8-10 June in the United States, RFE/RL reported on 24 May. According to a White House statement, Karzai along with leaders of Algeria, Bahrain, and Yemen, have been encouraged to attend the summit to discuss Bush's Greater Middle East Initiative for regional reform. On 23 May, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said that President Hosni Mubarak has turned down an invitation to the summit. He said he believes Tunisia and Qatar had done so as well. U.S. officials, however, would not confirm whether invitations have been sent to countries other than five listed by the White House. The G-8 comprises the United States, Russia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. AT

IRAN, RUSSIA TO SIGN REPATRIATION DEAL ON SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL
Iran and Russia are to sign a deal this summer on the return of spent nuclear fuel Russia will provide for the Bushehr nuclear plant in southern Iran, Reuters reported on 25 May. The deal is intended to prevent the extraction of plutonium from spent fuel and its possible use in nuclear warheads. Russian officials have stated in the past that they will not ship fuel to the plant, which Russia is helping build, without an accord on the repatriation of spent fuel. The United States suspects Iran might have a secret nuclear-weapons program, and has pressured Russia to curtail its nuclear cooperation with Iran. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Warsaw on 25 May that Iran has given the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "all the information" on traces of enriched uranium and plans for advanced P2 centrifuges found in Iran, two items IAEA inspectors believe have no place in the peaceful nuclear program Iran says it is pursuing, IRNA reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 March 2004). Iran "has not enriched uranium to high levels and [equipment] parts contaminated with highly-enriched uranium were imported," he said, adding that "the [IAEA] has a duty to conclude this matter." VS

IRAN REJECTS PRESS REPORTS ON NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS
Iran's envoy to the Vienna-based IAEA, Piruz Husseini, on 25 May characterized as "negative propaganda" a Reuters report that Iran has hindered IAEA inspections of its nuclear installations, Mehr News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004). Iran, he said, has repeatedly seen "false reports cited from unnamed diplomats" before previous IAEA meetings. "What certain Western media and unnamed diplomats say is very different from the truth and what is happening on the ground," he told mehrnews.com. "Iranian experts and [IAEA] experts and officials have repeatedly met in Tehran and Vienna, and...they have examined problems and resolved many of them," Husseini said. He added that Tehran expects the IAEA to take Iran's dossier from "its present state and restore it to normality." Meanwhile, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told ISNA on 25 May that the UN's nuclear watchdog is examining the report Iran provided it on 22 May. He said the agency will convey its conclusions to the IAEA's governing board, but might not be able to "resolve all problems" by the board's scheduled 14-18 June meeting. VS

IRAN'S FUTURE PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER ELECTED
Members-elect of Iran's next parliament, which begins work on 27 May, provisionally chose Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel as the next speaker of parliament during an informal meeting in Tehran on 24 May, "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Iran" reported on 25 May. Haddad-Adel, a member of the conservative Developers Coalition who will serve as a Tehran representative, received 122 of 229 votes cast at the meeting. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who will serve as a Kerman representative, was elected first deputy speaker with 161 votes, and Gholamreza Mesbahi was voted in as second deputy speaker with 93 votes, according to "Aftab-i Yazd." Legislators are to formally choose a provisional parliamentary presidium on 30 May, "Iran" reported on 25 May. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 23 May appointed Ezzatollah Zarghami to head the state broadcasting body, replacing Ali Larijani, AP reported the same day. Zarghami, considered a conservative, works with the broadcasting body Voice and Vision, and is a former member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. On 25 May, Khamenei appointed Larijani to the Supreme National Security Council and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which develops cultural policies, IRNA reported. VS

IRAN BOASTS 5 MILLION INTERNET USERS
Communication and Information Technology Minister Ahmad Motamedi said in Gorgan, northern Iran, on 25 May that 5 million Internet users were recorded in Iran year-on-year to March 2004, IRNA reported the same day. Only about 200,000 Internet users were recorded year-on-year to March 2001, according to the news agency. Motamedi added that there are some 15 million land-line telephone connections and 3.5 million mobile-phone numbers in use. Iran had a population of 68.9 million in 2003, according to the BBC, citing UN reports. VS

U.S. FORCES BATTLE AL-SADR MILITIA IN HOLY IRAQI CITY
U.S. forces backed by helicopter gunships battled militiamen from radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army in the holy city of Al-Najaf on 26 May, Reuters reported. Four people were reportedly killed in the fighting, and some 29 were wounded. Hospital officials said casualty figures might rise because ambulances were having a difficult time reaching the Al-Najaf cemetery, where the battle took place. Al-Sadr militiamen have been positioning themselves in the vast cemetery for some 10 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004), and the cemetery is now the main hideout for the militiamen, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Al-Arabiyah television has reportedly obtained a statement from Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's office in Al-Najaf denying recent statements made by the ayatollah's representative in Kuwait, Muhammad Baqir al-Mahri, in which he blamed al-Sadr supporters for targeting the Imam Ali Shrine. The shrine, one of the holiest sites for Shi'a Muslims, was hit by what appeared to be mortar shells on 25 May. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a 25 May Baghdad press briefing that "coalition forces had no involvement in the damage to the Imam Ali Mosque" (see http://www.cpa-iraq.org). KR

TWO CONTRACTORS FOR RUSSIAN COMPANY KILLED IN ATTACK...
Two employees of a Russian energy firm were killed and five wounded in an attack by militants on 26 May, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the men, who were working as contractors for Interenergoservis, were killed when their bus came under attack by unidentified gunmen. Interenergoservis employees have come under repeated attack in Iraq. Eight employees were kidnapped on 12 April and released the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004) and one employee was killed and two were kidnapped in early May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 May 2004). Interfax reported that Interenergoservis announced on 26 May that it will withdraw all of its more than 200 employees working in Iraq. KR

...AS BOMB DETONATES AT POLICE CHECKPOINT
Two Iraqis were killed and six others were wounded in an explosion at a police checkpoint in Baghdad on 26 May, Al-Jazeera reported. Two police officers were among the wounded. Meanwhile, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 26 May that Mahmud Khalid al-Fahdawi, the Awqaf director in the Al-Anbar Governorate, died as the result of a 25 May assassination attempt. KR

FORMER NUCLEAR SCIENTIST RUMORED TO BE NAMED IRAQI PRIME MINISTER
Husayn al-Shahristani, an Iraqi Shi'ite who worked as a nuclear scientist for Saddam Hussein's regime before spending several years in jail for opposing the Iraqi president, will reportedly be named Iraq's first prime minister, nytimes.com and Reuters reported on 26 May. Al-Shahristani fled Iraq after his imprisonment and dedicated himself to working with refugees in a humanitarian capacity. He is reportedly seen as a good "compromise" candidate among Shi'ites, Kurds, and Sunnis who are competing for the position, nytimes.com reported. Al-Shahristani hinted in an e-mail to Reuters that he would hesitatingly accept the appointment, the news agency reported on 26 May. "I personally prefer to serve the people of Iraq in humanitarian fields as I have done since my escape from Abu Ghurayb in 1991," he said. "However, putting the country on route [sic] to democracy and protecting the population from terrorists and violence is the responsibility of Iraqis, and we have to burden that responsibility." Coalition officials in Baghdad told nytimes.com that former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi is favored to serve as Iraqi president, a largely ceremonial position. "We're down to a handful of names for each of the positions, and in some cases, a smaller number than that," one official said. KR

U.S. ARMY REPORT DETAILS WIDESPREAD PRISONER ABUSE IN IRAQ
A report obtained by nytimes.com that was prepared by the Criminal Investigation Command for the U.S. Army and dated 5 May reportedly details widespread abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq dating back to 15 April 2003, the newspaper reported on 26 May. The newspaper claims that the report paints a "broad picture of misconduct" in Iraq, and notes that the Army did not conduct autopsies on many of the 37 prisoners who died in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, and can no longer determine the causes of death. The report notes that at least 12 prisoners died of natural or undetermined causes, and nine of them were housed at Abu Ghurayb prison outside Baghdad. The Army did not perform autopsies on nine of the dead. The report also details a sexual assault case at Abu Ghurayb in which three soldiers took a female detainee to a vacant cell. "While one [soldier] allegedly stood as look-out and one held the detainee's hand, the third soldier allegedly kissed the detainee," the report noted. The soldiers then reportedly threatened to leave her with a naked male detainee. An investigation "failed to either prove or disprove the indecent-assault allegations," according to the report. KR

UKRAINE TO PULL OUT PEACEKEEPERS FROM SIERRA LEONE, REINFORCE IRAQ CONTINGENT
Petro Shulyak, commander of the Land Troops of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told journalists on 25 May that the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent of more than 500 soldiers in Sierra Leone will be withdrawn from that country by the end of this year, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Shulyak recalled that Ukrainian peacekeepers are also serving in Liberia (298 servicemen), Lebanon (185), Kosova (315), and Iraq (1,610). He said the United Nations has so far paid Ukraine $223 million to cover its expenses on peacekeeping operations. Shulyak also announced that following this year's rotation of the Ukrainian contingent in Iraq its numerical strength will increase to 1,722 servicemen, ITAR-TASS reported. JM

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