Accessibility links

Newsline - June 1, 2004


RUSSIA JOINS PROLIFERATION SECURITY INITIATIVE...
The Foreign Ministry on 31 May announced that Russia will join the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a program intended to step up measures to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. "We proceed from the assumption that activities within the framework of this initiative should not and will not create obstacles to lawful economic, scientific, and technical cooperation between states," the ministry's statement read. Russia has become the 15th PSI founder country, and more than 60 countries have expressed a willingness to support the program. RC

...BUT WILL NOT MAKE DEADLINE FOR DESTROYING CHEMICAL-WEAPONS STOCKS
Federal Industry Agency Deputy Director Viktor Kholstov, who heads the Federal Chemical Weapons Storage and Disposal Department, told the Duma's Defense Committee on 31 May that Russia has ruled out any possibility of meeting its deadlines for disposing of Soviet-era chemical-weapons stocks, Interfax reported. Moscow has pledged to destroy 8,000 tons of toxic substances by 2007, but has only destroyed 680 tons so far because of a lack of funding from the United States. Originally, Russia was supposed to dispose of 40,000 tons by 2007, but that deadline was postponed by five years because of funding delays. Duma Deputy Nikolai Bezborodov, who is a member of the State Chemical Disarmament Commission, told the news agency that "the program has received no more than one-half of the necessary funding over the last five years." RC

RUSSIA LAUDS PROGRESS IN TALKS ON NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ...
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov told reporters in New York on 1 June that progress is being made in consultations on a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq and that the new document will "herald the beginning of a principally new stage in the Iraqi settlement," Russian media reported. He also expressed support for an international conference on Iraq, saying that it could even be held before the scheduled 30 June handover of sovereignty in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. The same news agency reported on 31 May that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Iraq by telephone, including the draft Security Council resolution. At a joint news conference in Moscow with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on 28 May, President Vladimir Putin declined to comment on Iraq, merely noting that "Recently, [U.S. President] George Bush has been taking vigorous steps toward finding a way out of the current situation," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 May. RC

...AS COMPANIES CONTINUE TO PULL OUT OF THE COUNTRY
All 59 remaining Russian specialists working in Iraq for Interenergoservis will leave the country this week, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May, citing company personnel director Andrei Balukov. Balukov said that the Iraqi provisional government had asked the company to continue working in order to forestall "an energy disaster," but the company will nonetheless proceed with its planned pullout. The same day, Aviyalinii-400, the only Russian commercial air carrier currently serving Iraq, announced that it has suspended its flights because of the security situation in the country, the news agency reported. The company's two flights scheduled for the first half of June have been canceled. RC

RUSSIAN AVIATION PRODUCERS ANTICIPATE MAJOR SALES
Algeria has agreed to purchase at least 50 MiG-29 fighters at a cost of $1.5 billion-$1.7 billion, "Izvestiya" reported on 1 June. Algeria already has 193 Soviet-made jet fighters and, according to the daily, intends to replace them all, meaning that the Algeria contract could be "epochal" for the Russian arms industry. MiG General Director Valerii Toryanin told the newspaper that MiG is currently working on 140 contracts with 28 different countries. Neither MiG nor the Algerian government would comment on the reported fighter deal. "Vedomosti" reported on 31 May that MiG is in the final stages of negotiating a $150 million contract to provide 12 Ka-52 military attack helicopters to Yemen. Toryanin told the daily that the contract will be concluded "in the immediate future." Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis Deputy Director Konstantin Makienko told the daily that the contract will be the first export deal involving the Ka-52. The Russian military has not yet purchased any of the helicopters, continuing instead to procure the Ka-50, Makienko said. Ilyushin Finans General Director Aleksandr Rubtsov told Interfax on 1 June that talks are under way to provide an unspecified number of Il-96 commercial airliners to India. RC

RUSSIAN MILITARY TRANSPORT REMAINS DEPENDENT ON U.S. NAVIGATION TECHNOLOGY
Russia's military-transport aircraft use U.S.-made global-positioning-system (GPS) technology for satellite navigation, "Vremya novostei" reported on 1 June, citing Lieutenant General Viktor Denisov, commander of the 61st Air Army. Denisov further told the daily that the aircraft of his unit are not equipped with any Russian-made navigation technology. He confirmed that it is possible that the United States could "turn off" its GPS system and leave Russian aircraft without satellite-navigation capabilities. RC

COURT RULING FORMALLY ENDS YUKOS-SIBNEFT MERGER DEAL
The Moscow Arbitration Court on 31 May upheld a lower-court decision that voided a Yukos rights issue that was part of the company's bid to acquire a majority stake in Sibneft, Prime-TASS and other Russian media reported. The court ordered the Federal Financial Markets Service to void the July 2003 share issue, effectively ending Yukos's attempt to acquire Sibneft. The rights issue was part of a share swap that marked the first phase of the proposed merger of the two companies, but Sibneft backed out of the deal in November, about one month after the arrest of then Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii on tax-evasion charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April, 25 October, and 1 December 2003). RC

SECURITY ORGANS INVESTIGATING FOREIGNERS WORKING FOR OIL MAJORS
The Federal Security Service (FSB) is carrying out an inspection of the TNK-BP oil company, "Vedomosti" and other Russian media reported on 31 May. The company was formed last year with the merger of the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) and the Russia arm of BP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2003). According to the daily, the FSB is investigating the foreign managers at the company, since data regarding the extent and location of the country's oil reserves is officially classified as a state secret. About 100 foreigners work for the company in Russia, including company President Robert Dudley, and most Russian oil companies employ foreign managers. Yukos CEO Semen Kukes is a U.S. citizen. TNK-BP Managing Director Viktor Vekelsberg said the company intends to lobby the Duma to change the law in order to enable foreigners to work in the sector. RC

SECURITY COUNCIL BEEFS UP DIPLOMATIC CREDENTIALS
President Putin signed decrees on 28 May appointing Valentin Sobolev, Yurii Zubakov, and Nikolai Spasskii deputy secretaries of the Security Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 May. Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov will have four deputies, while his predecessor Vladimir Rushailo had eight. FSB Lieutenant General Sobolev, who was appointed when Putin was Security Council secretary, was the only deputy under Rushailo to be retained. One of the former deputy secretaries who were not retained is Yevgenii Nazdratenko, the former head of the State Fisheries Committee and former Primorskii Krai governor. Zubakov was most recently ambassador to Moldova, while Spasskii was most recently ambassador to Italy. The newspaper commented that the appointment of deputies with diplomatic experience suggests that the role of the Security Council as a parallel center for the formation of foreign policy will only strengthen in the near future. Ivanov was foreign minister from 1999 to March 2004. JAC

NORTHERN FLEET GETS NEW COMMANDER
Vice Admiral Mikhail Abramov was named commander of the Northern Fleet on 29 May, replacing Admiral Gennadii Suchkov, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian media reported on 31 May. Suchkov was convicted on 18 May of negligence in connection with the August 2003 sinking of the "K-159" nuclear submarine (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 2 September 2003 and 19 May 2004). He was removed from his post as fleet commander on 11 September in the wake of the accident, which left nine seamen dead. Abramov has served in the Pacific and Baltic fleets, and during the first Gulf War in 1992, he commanded the Russian squadron in the Persian Gulf. RC

CONTROVERSIAL BILL ON HOLDING PUBLIC DEMONSTRATIONS PASSES ANOTHER HURDLE...
The State Duma approved a bill on meetings, rallies, and street demonstrations in its second reading on 28 May, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 310 in favor with 120 against and no abstentions, "Vremya novostei" reported on 31 May. The bulk of the votes in favor came from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction. The bill's adoption in its first reading on 31 March triggered a storm of protest, and President Putin became involved in revising the legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004). According to the newspaper, political opposition groups in the Duma still chose not to support the bill despite the "disappearance of some of the more odious norms" from the bill. Sergei Reshulskii, deputy head of the Communist Party faction, said the bill changed from "an openly draconian one to a simply poor one." He continued, "If any trade unions supported it, then they should know that now they, who are already being pressured and monitored, will be obliged to report on every one of their events in written form." State Duma Deputy and trade union leader Oleg Shein (Motherland) said that "many principles remain in the law that would allow public organizations to be manipulated." JAC

...AS BILL CRIMINALIZING GAY SEX IS REJECTED
A bill sponsored by the People's Deputy faction of the previous Duma that would make homosexual sex acts between men a criminal offense was rejected in its first reading on 28 May, RIA-Novosti reported. The vote was 58 in favor with 34 against and one abstention. One of the authors of the bill, Gennadii Raikov, who is now a member of Unified Russia, called on his fellow legislators to support the bill and "to stop all public displays of this phenomenon in the streets, clubs, and everywhere." "Izvestiya" on 29 May described the bill as a "scandalous PR project" left over from December's State Duma elections. JAC

MORE DISSENSION AMONG COMMUNIST PARTY LEADERSHIP
Six members of the Communist Party's Central Committee called on Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov to step aside voluntarily following a closed meeting on 31 May, gazeta.ru reported. The statement blamed Zyuganov for the party's poor showing in the parliamentary and presidential elections and for hindering the creation of an election bloc, Patriots of Russia. Zyuganov was also accused of establishing links with oligarchs and oligarchic structures, such as Boris Berezovskii, Yukos executives Aleksei Kondaurov and Sergei Muravlenko, TNK, and Bank Neftyanoi that allegedly discredit the party, according to Regnum. Earlier in the month, the presidium of the Communist Party decided to expel Gennadii Semigin, State Duma deputy and chairman of the People's Patriotic Union's Coordinating Council, for "sowing dissension in the party's ranks and undermining the party's reputation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). Semigin spearheaded the creation of the new Patriots of Russia movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). JAC

VLADIVOSTOK CANDIDATES SEE DOUBLE
The Vladivostok election commission has registered nine candidates for the 4 July mayoral race, ITAR-TASS and Regnum reported on 31 May. Among the leading contenders are current Mayor Yurii Kopylov, former mayor and independent State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov, and krai legislator and businessman Vladimir Nikolaev. In addition to the "real" Cherepkov and Kopylov, there are also another Viktor Cherepkov and another Yurii Kopylov registered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). Cherepkov's team blames Mayor Kopylov's campaign consultants for the registration of a second Viktor Cherepkov, while Kopylov's team blames Cherepkov's staff for the second Kopylov, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 May. Cherepkov's staff estimates that their candidate lost 2 percent of the vote in the 2001 mayoral race because of voters' confusion over a second Cherepkov, Igor Cherepkov, who was registered on that ballot, the daily reported. JAC

WIFE OF FORMER DEPUTY FINANCE MINISTER PURCHASES DIAMONDS FOR $60 MILLION
The wife of Federation Council representative for Penza Oblast Andrei Vavilov, Marina Tsaregradskaya, has purchased two unique diamonds of 55 and 59.5 carats for $60 million, RBK reported on 28 May. The stones, which had previously been on display in museums in New York and Rome, appeared on the market a year ago. The news agency reported that, according to its unnamed sources, some $70 million in taxes should be paid on the purchase of the diamonds. Vavilov served as first deputy finance minister from 1992 to 1997. In January 2003, the FBI briefly detained and questioned Vavilov after forcing his private plane to land at an airport in northern California. Vavilov and his wife were in on their way to Aspen, Colorado, for a vacation when they were forced to land at the request of federal prosecutors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). Vavilov has been named in numerous corruption investigations stemming from his time in office under former President Boris Yeltsin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2002). JAC

SENATOR LINKS CORRUPTION WITH DYNAMISM, UPWARD MOBILITY
Federation Council representative for Leningrad Oblast and former Deputy Economy Minister Sergei Vasilev said on 31 May at a book launch in St. Petersburg, "There are a number of societies that are less corrupt than Russia, but at the same time they are less dynamic," RosBalt reported. Vasilev was presenting his book "Actual Problems in the Transformation of the Social Field." According to Vasilev, some countries in Southern Europe have less corruption and a kind of "us first" capitalism. However, "in Russia there are markets for everything and it is possible to buy anything that one needs." As a result, Russia has "opportunities for vertical social mobility," Vasilev said. JAC

CIS KURDS HAIL END OF CEASE-FIRE
Kamis Djabrailov, chairman of the International Union of Kurdish Public Organizations that represents the Kurdish minorities in Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and other CIS states, told Interfax on 31 May that his organization approves the announcement three days earlier by the People's Congress of Kurdistan (the former Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK) that it will end on 1 June its five-year cease-fire in hostilities with the Turkish armed forces. The People's Congress of Kurdistan statement argued that the cease-fire no longer has any political or military meaning in light of "the destructive activities of the Turkish state over the past three months," Reuters reported on 28 May. Djabrailov said he agrees with that rationale. At the same time, he said members of his organization still hope for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey. LF

SLAIN CHECHEN LEADER'S SON FOUND DEAD
Zelimkhan Kadyrov, the 29-year-old elder son of the late pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, was found dead on 31 May at his home in Tsentoroi, Russian and Chechen agencies reported. A Chechen government official said the cause of death was cardiac arrest. Zelimkhan Kadyrov suffered serious injuries in an automobile accident in October, from which he had not fully recovered, according to newsru.com; he was also rumored to have been addicted to drugs. On 29 May, a Russian military spokesman told ITAR-TASS that a Chechen construction worker from Urus-Martan has been detained on suspicion on involvement in planting the bomb that exploded on 9 May at Grozny's Dynamo stadium, killing Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and five other people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004). LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT CONVENES COUNCIL OF WAR
Aslan Maskhadov convened a meeting of senior field commanders on 29 May in Vedeno Raion, chechenpress.com reported on 31 May. Maskhadov reportedly noted with satisfaction that resistance fighters continue to target Russian forces across Chechnya. Participants discussed the implications of the 9 May assassination of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Kadyrov and agreed on unspecified measures in connection with the Russian authorities' decision to schedule elections for a successor on 29 August. LF

NETWORK PULLS INTERVIEW WITH SLAIN CHECHEN'S WIDOW...
NTV on 30 May removed an interview with Malika Yandarbieva, widow of slain former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, from its "Namedni" program, Russian news media reported on 31 May. The interview, which was shown in the version of the program broadcast to the Far East, contained allegations that Russian secret services were involved in the 13 February assassination of Yandarbiev in Qatar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 February 2004). According to Ekho Moskvy on 31 May, the order to remove the interview came from acting NTV General Director Aleksandr Gerasimov on a request from unspecified Russian security agencies. "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 May published a copy of Gerasimov's order to remove the interview that was provided by "Namedni" host Leonid Parfenov. Parfenov told Ekho Moskvy on 31 May that he had already postponed airing the interview by one week after unspecified people convinced him that he should wait until after the defendants in the ongoing trial over the case in Qatar concluded their statements in court. Yandarbieva repeated her accusations in an interview with Ekho Moskvy and in comments published in "Kommersant-Daily." RC

...PROMPTING CHARGES OF CENSORSHIP
Union of Journalists General-Secretary Igor Yakovenko on 31 May described the incident as "a manifestation of censorship," and "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev said it was an "unprecedented" scandal and criticized Parfenov for obeying Gerasimov's order. Center for Political Technologies Deputy Director Boris Makarenko told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 May that "the danger comes not from Yandarbiev's widow, but from those who forbade NTV from airing the story." RC

INGUSH SECURITY SERVICE BATTLES CHECHEN RESISTANCE FIGHTERS
Detachments from the Ingush branch of Russia's FSB and from the republic's Interior Ministry killed three Chechen resistance fighters in a four-hour gun battle in the village of Barsuki near Nazran on 30 May, ITAR-TASS and the independent ingushetiya.ru website reported the following day. Three security officials were wounded in the shootout. LF

OSCE CALLS FOR RELEASE OF ARMENIAN DETAINEES
Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, who heads the OSCE Office in Yerevan, condemned on 28 May the Armenian authorities' insistence that 12 people arrested for taking part in demonstrations calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian remain in pretrial detention, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said that the OSCE insists "on a detailed investigation into all those cases in order to rule out biased and politically motivated" treatment. Pryakhin also said that the OSCE played a key role in securing last week's release of two members of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party detained after the police violently dispersed demonstrators in Yerevan on 13 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2004). On 31 May, a Yerevan district court handed down fines of 1,000 and 1,500 drams ($2 and $3) to two young men apprehended the previous day while posting posters calling for the release of Edgar Arakelian, sentenced last week to 18 months' imprisonment for throwing a plastic bottle at a police officer during the 13 April clash, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 May 2004). LF

PROSECUTION QUERIES AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS' REJECTION OF LEGAL REPRESENTATION
The pretrial hearing in the case of seven Azerbaijani oppositionists charged in connection with the clashes in Baku on 15-16 October between police and opposition supporters in the wake of the disputed presidential ballot entered its 13th day on 31 May. The seven defendants were not present in the courtroom, having announced on 24 May their collective intention not to participate any longer in what they termed a "farce" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2004). Judge Mansur Ibaev said the collective statement by the seven waiving their right to defense lawyers has no legal force and that they should submit individual statements to that effect. Prosecutor Nazir Bayramov said the defendants did not explain why they eschew legal representation, according to zerkalo.az on 1 June. He argued that the court "cannot be 100 percent certain" that the seven men did so voluntarily. LF

GEORGIAN POLICE TARGET SMUGGLERS ON AZERBAIJANI BORDER
Some 200 Georgian Interior Ministry troops and financial police launched an operation on 29-30 May near the border with Azerbaijan as a result of which an unspecified number of Azerbaijani citizens of Georgia were arrested and a large consignment of drugs, weapons, and smuggled goods was confiscated, Caucasus Press reported. Four Georgians were wounded when a local resident opened fire, resisting arrest. Senior Georgian officials told a press conference in Tbilisi on 31 May that the Azerbaijani populated villages of Ponichala and Karachala have long been a no-entry area for Georgian police. They said border controls have now been intensified at the Tsiteli khidi (Red Bridge) border crossing to Azerbaijan. LF

GEORGIA SENDS TROOPS TO SOUTH OSSETIA, THEN WITHDRAWS THEM...
Georgia deployed some 300 Interior Ministry and OMON troops to the Georgian-populated village of Tkviavi in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia on 31 May, Georgian and Russian media reported. The deployment was undertaken in response to an alleged threat by Major General Svatoslav Nabdzorov, the commander of the Russian contingent of the three-nation peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, that his men would demolish Georgian police posts recently set up to counter smuggling from Russia via South Ossetia to Georgia. Nabdzorov denied on 31 May having made any such threat, and added that only the Joint Control Commission on which Russia, Georgia, and South Ossetia are represented is empowered to rule on whether the Georgian police posts should remain. Nabdzorov further condemned the Georgian deployment as "a dangerous provocation," Interfax reported. LF

...AS SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES RESPONSE IF FORCE USED
South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoyty warned that the republic's armed forces would respond "with the appropriate measures" to any Georgian military incursion. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement warning that the Georgian deployment casts doubt on recent pledges by Georgian politicians not to resort to force in either South Ossetia or Abkhazia, Interfax reported. The Georgian troops were withdrawn later on 31 May following talks bewteen Nabdzorov, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili, and State Security Minister Zurab Adeishvili. LF

GEORGIAN LEADERS SOLICIT RUSSIAN INVESTMENT
Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref went to Tbilisi on 28 May accompanied by some 100 Russian businessmen to participate in a two-day Georgian-Russian business forum, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili assured participants that security considerations should not deter potential investors, while Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania named the energy sector, highway construction, agriculture, and the modernizing of Soviet-era industry as potential areas for investment. Speaker Nino Burdjanadze said the Georgian Parliament will enact legislation on the protection of foreign investment, and will simplify the tax code and remove other bureaucratic obstacles to investment. Gref and his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Rekhviashvili, signed an accord under which Georgia pledged to support Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, Caucasus Press reported. LF

PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION SLAMS GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN DEBT DEAL
The opposition New Right Wing demanded on 31 May that Prime Minister Zhvania appear before parliament this week to explain the rationale for a pledge he reportedly gave to Russian officials during his recent visit to Moscow, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 May 2004). According to faction leader David Gamkrelidze, Zhvania promised that Tbilisi will waive its demand for repayment of $50 million it is owed by Russia's Vneshekonombank in return for Russian backing for its efforts to restructure its $155 million debt to the Paris Club. LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NEW PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION LAW
The parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia adopted on 28 May in the third and final reading a new law on the election of the president, Caucasus Press reported citing Apsnipress. That law stipulates that only ethnic Abkhaz citizens of the republic who have lived on its territory for five years prior to the ballot and who speak Abkhaz fluently are eligible to contest the ballot. In addition, candidates must be between 35-65 years of age. Those restrictions are intended to exclude at least one prominent member of the Abkhaz diaspora whose candidacy the central Georgian government in Tbilisi might have favored. The residency requirement in particular caused heated debates, and led deputies to reject the bill in the first reading, Caucasus Press reported on 20 April. LF

CACO EXPANDS TO INCLUDE RUSSIA, AIMS FOR COMMON MARKET
Member states in the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO) decided at a 28 May summit in Astana, to expand to include Russia and to set up a single Central Asian market, news agencies reported the same day. Kazakhstan's Khabar TV quoted Igor Ivanov, head of the Russian Security Council, as saying on 28 May, "Cooperation between Russia and the member states of CACO meets our common interests.... We will participate fully in the organization's activities." At a news conference after the summit, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev thanked Uzbek President Islam Karimov for the proposal to create a common market. KazInform quoted Nazarbaev as saying, "This was an important proposal, and we accepted it. The governments have been asked to develop a blueprint for the common market." Current CACO members are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. DK

INTERPARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY APPROVES ACTION PLAN
The Interparliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) approved an action program on 28 May to implement the organization's 2003-06 priorities, Kazakhstan's Khabar TV reported the same day. The decision came at a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan. Legislators elected Nurtai Abykaev, the speaker of Kazakhstan's upper house of parliament, to chair the Interparliamentary Assembly. Abykaev told Khabar TV that the action program "provides for a raft of measures aimed at forming a single legal policy for the EAEC and adopting laws on priority areas." Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia's State Duma, told a 28 May news conference that the EAEC will be able to create a single economic space within 10 years, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The EAEC consists of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. DK

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY THREATENS ELECTION BOYCOTT
Kazakhstan's opposition Ak Zhol Party threatened on 31 May to boycott fall parliamentary elections to protest violations in the formation of local electoral commissions, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Party co-Chairman Alikhan Baymenov told a 31 May news conference that the executive branch has put pressure on local government organs to ensure that pro-government parties control local electoral commissions. According to Baymenov, "The authorities are simply picking certain people and are including them [in commissions] in order to fill the lists up to seven members so that Ak Zhol, the Communist Party, and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan come eighth, ninth, or 10th." Under Kazakh law, electoral commissions have seven members. DK

RUSSIAN ENVOY SAYS 'TOO EARLY' FOR TAJIK BORDER HANDOVER
Maksim Peshkov, Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan, told ITAR-TASS on 31 May that "it is still too early to talk about the terms of conditions" of transferring control over the Tajik-Afghan border from Russia to Tajikistan. Talks on the impending handover, which is supposed to be completed by May 2005, are currently under way. "Our attitude to this process will in many respects depend on how tightly the Tajik side will protect the border with Afghanistan," Peshkov commented. Peshkov is not alone in his concerns. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told a 28 May news conference in Dushanbe that the withdrawal of Russian border guards from Tajikistan will create "definite problems," ITAR-TASS reported. The issue will be the subject of talks at a 4 June meeting between Tajik President Rakhmonov and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Igor Ivanov, head of the Russian Security Council, commented on 31 May, "We are confident that the presidents' meeting will produce maximum results," RIA-Novosti reported the same day. DK

FORMER TURKMEN MINISTER A WANTED MAN
Turkmen authorities are seeking Kakajan Ovezov, former minister of the country's food industry, "Gazeta" reported on 31 May. Posters bearing a large photograph of Ovezov, his date of birth, and the announcement "Wanted" have been displayed in public places in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat. A court sentenced Ovezov to 10 years' imprisonment in 2002 for accepting a $100,000 bribe; President Saparmurat Niyazov commuted the sentence to forced labor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2002). DK

UZBEK JOURNALIST WINS FREEDOM AWARD
The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) announced in a 31 May press release that it has awarded its 2004 Golden Pen of Freedom to Uzbek journalist Ruslan Sharipov. Human rights activist Elena Urlaeva accepted the award for Sharipov, who is currently under house arrest in Uzbekistan. In a message to the award ceremony in Istanbul, Sharipov said, "I always serve the truth and I want freedom of speech to be celebrated around the world." Sharipov was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in August for "engaging in homosexual acts"; independent observers have called the sentence, which was later changed to house arrest, a politically motivated attempt to silence a persistent critic of Uzbek government policies. Spokesman Larry Kilman told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 31 May that WAN made numerous written appeals to Uzbek authorities to allow Sharipov to travel to Istanbul to accept the award, but to no avail. Previous recipients of the award include Argentina's Jacobo Timmerman (1980) and Russia's Sergei Grigoriants (1989). DK

OUTSIDE EXPERTS RULE OUT TORTURE IN UZBEK PRISONER DEATH
An independent panel of international experts told a 31 May news conference in Tashkent that a prisoner who died in police custody on 19 May committed suicide by hanging himself, AP reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2004). Earlier reports, including a 21 May press release by Human Rights Watch, had suggested that Andrei Shelkovenko perished under torture. The furor led Uzbek authorities to take the unusual step of allowing international experts to attend Shelkovenko's autopsy. Dr. Michael Pollanen, a forensic pathologist from Canada and visiting medical examiner at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Washington, D.C., and James M. Gannon, deputy chief of the Investigations Bureau at the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, took part in the investigation. The BBC quoted their report, which concluded that Shelkovenko hanged himself, as saying, "Our observations show no evidence that Mr. Shelkovenko was maltreated, abused, or tortured." Mjusa Sever, project director of U.S.-based Freedom House's Uzbekistan Office, told AP that she hopes the participation of international experts will set a precedent for future investigations. DK

TENTATIVE DATE SET FOR BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Lidziya Yarmoshyna, chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, on 28 May to discuss preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections, Belarusian media reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka agreed that the date of the elections to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives be preliminarily set for 17 October. Lukashenka also instructed the Central Election Commission to draft a presidential decree that would enable political parties to have advisers on the commission. The move is reportedly intended to increase transparency of the election process. Belarus's upper house, the 66-seat Council of the Republic, is appointed by regional assemblies of deputies and Lukashenka himself, who has the right to name eight of its members. JM

BELARUSIAN COURT UPHOLDS LIBEL RULING AGAINST PRIVATE NEWSPAPER
The Supreme Court upheld on 31 May a lower court's ruling ordering the private newspaper "Narodnaya volya" to pay 50 million rubles ($23,000) in damages for libeling Yahor Rybakou, former chief of the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003), Belapan reported. The court also reduced the compensation to be paid to Rybakou by "Narodnaya volya" staff writer Maryna Koktysh and former television host Eleanora Yazerskaya to 1 million rubles each. Rybakou originally sued "Narodnaya volya" over an article written by Koktysh in which Yazerskaya was quoted as claiming that Rybakou contributed to Belarusian Television's "ruin" and cited rumors that he was to blame for the deaths of some of his employees. Rybakou was arrested earlier this year on charges of abuse of office, theft, and corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004). JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL WILL NOT CHALLENGE CONTROVERSIAL MAYORAL ELECTION...
Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Holomsha said in the Verkhovna Rada on 1 June that the Prosecutor-General's Office cannot file a formal protest against the contentious mayoral election in Mukacheve on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 April 2004), the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Mukacheve is in the Transcarpathian Oblast. Holomsha argued that such a move is beyond the office's competencies. In response to Holomsha's statement, the Our Ukraine opposition bloc demanded the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev, accusing him of "cynical inactivity" in the investigation of the Mukacheve case. According to Our Ukraine, the election in Mukacheve was manipulated and falsified on a large scale. JM

...AS DECLARED WINNER RESIGNS
Ernest Nuser resigned as mayor of the town of Mukacheve on 29 May, Ukrainian media reported. "It has come to the point that, apart from [being subject to] slander and invectives, my family and I are under a permanent threat of physical liquidation," Interfax quoted Nuser as saying. Nuser was declared winner of the contentious mayoral election in Mukacheve on 18 April. "I have a different impression [as regards Nuser's resignation]," Hanne Severinsen, rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Ukraine, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 31 May. "During a meeting with him [last week], it seemed to me that he is ready [to resign] because his town has become notorious in all of Europe owing to the election rigging." JM

LOCAL OFFICIAL WINS PARLIAMENTARY BY-ELECTION IN ODESA
Anton Kisse, deputy governor of Odesa Oblast, won the by-election to the Verkhovna Rada in constituency No. 136 in Odesa on 30 May, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Kisse obtained some 10,500 votes out of nearly 35,000 cast during the ballot. Turnout did not exceed 22 percent, reportedly because of heavy rain on the voting day. Mykhaylo Brodskyy, a candidate supported by the Our Ukraine opposition bloc, was third with some 4,800 votes. The by-election was held because Serhiy Kyvalov, who was elected in 2002, gave up his mandate after being elected head of the Central Election Commission earlier this year. JM

UKRAINE TO GO IT ALONE IN WTO BID
Ukrainian presidential spokesman Vasyl Baziv told journalists on 28 May that Ukraine does not intend to coordinate the process of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) with the three other signatories of the accord on the creation of the Single Economic Space (SES), Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. "It is our position that every country has already gone its way and should now follow its own path," Baziv said. "The main thing is not to enter the WTO together or separately, but to enter it as soon as possible." JM

BOSNIAN SERBS PLEDGE TO ARREST WAR CRIMES INDICTEES...
Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic told Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, in Banja Luka on 31 May that the Bosnian Serbs have "entered a serious phase of tracking and detaining war crimes suspects," Reuters reported. "I know there is distrust about whether our intentions are genuine, but in less than a month we [will] convince the international community [that we mean business]," he added. He did not elaborate, but Del Ponte said that she hopes that former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic will be in The Hague by the end of 2004. "Now I'm expecting results. Cooperation with the [Republika Srpska] the past year was so difficult, so difficult that we even identified [it] as a safe haven for fugitives," she noted. PM

...AS NATO GIVES A LAST WARNING BEFORE ITS SUMMIT
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Sarajevo on 28 May that it is unlikely that Bosnia will be invited to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program at the Atlantic alliance's June Istanbul summit, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). "Without something fundamental happening in the forthcoming five weeks [leading up to the summit] on the issue of persons indicted for war crimes...the chances for [membership in] Partnership for Peace for Bosnia-Herzegovina at the summit are extremely slim and very close to zero," he noted. De Hoop Scheffer stressed that the only possible order of business is "war criminals first, and Partnership for Peace later." Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim representative on the Bosnian Presidency and its current chair, said that the only serious obstacle to Bosnia's membership in Partnership for Peace is the lack of war crimes arrests in the Republika Srpska. PM

UN CALLS ON SERBIA TO SPEED UP RETURN OF BONES TO KOSOVA
Jose-Pablo Baraybar, who heads the UN Office of Missing Persons and Forensics (OMPF), told Reuters on 30 May in Rahovec that the Serbian authorities must "expedite the process" of returning to Kosova for identification the bones of victims of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's security forces, which have been exhumed at several sites in Serbia since his fall from power in October 2000. Baraybar called the continuing delays "shameful." But in Belgrade, Gvozden Gagic, who deals with issues relating to missing persons for the government, rejected the charges, claiming that "this is a complex procedure. There is no room" for guesswork. Interethnic reconciliation in Kosova following the 1998-99 conflict is obstructed in part by the lack of clarity about the fate of some 3,400 missing persons, 600 of whom are Serbs or members of other minority nationalities. The Serbian authorities have returned to Kosova about 250 sets of bones out of a total of 800 exhumed or found in Serbia. PM

INVESTIGATION CONTINUES INTO MONTENEGRIN JOURNALIST'S MURDER
Montenegrin police found a car containing an automatic weapon in Podgorica on 29 May, both of which are believed to have played a role in the recent drive-by killing of opposition journalist Dusko Jovanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. German forensics experts subsequently arrived to help with the investigation. Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic, journalists' professional associations, and opposition leaders have condemned the killing and called for the murderers to be brought to justice. The police have offered a $1.2 million reward for information leading to cracking the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2004). PM

CROATIA AND MONTENEGRO SMOOTH OVER DIFFERENCES
Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul told Montenegrin Prime Minister Djukanovic in Podgorica on 31 May that Croatia considers the main problems stemming from Montenegro's role in the 1991-95 conflict between Zagreb and Belgrade to be cleared up, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Djukanovic stressed the importance of direct talks between Croatia and Montenegro to deal with issues involving transportation, communication, security, culture, and the role of ethnic minorities. PM

SERBIAN DEFENDANTS FAIL TO ATTEND MAJOR WAR CRIMES TRIAL IN CROATIA
On 31 May, the Vukovar County Court postponed the opening of the trial of 10 Serbian defendants when the men failed to show up, the BBC reported. They are part of a group of 35 mainly Serbian paramilitaries indicted in Croatia in 1996 for their alleged roles in the killings, torture, and robbery of an unspecified number of Croatian and other non-Serbian inhabitants of the village of Miklusevci after it fell to Serbian forces in October 1991. Ten of the 35 have since died. The remaining 15 are at large but are being tried in their absence. It is not clear why the 10 men supposedly in custody did not show up, or when the trial, which is important because of the relatively large number of defendants, will take place. An additional six men are on trial in Serbia on similar charges, and three former army officers are on trial in The Hague for their alleged roles in the killing of about 200 Croatian civilians and prisoners following the fall of Vukovar in November 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003). PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE LIKELY TO AFFECT GOVERNMENT
Tomislav Nikolic, who is the candidate of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in the 13 June Serbian presidential elections, said in Cacak on 31 May that if elected, he will call parliamentary elections "immediately," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Dragan Marsicanin, who is the candidate of the governing coalition, said in Belgrade that his defeat will lead to political instability. Miroljub Labus, who heads the reformist G-17 Plus political party, repeated his party's promise to leave the government if Nikolic wins. The Serbian presidency is largely a symbolic post, but the election is widely viewed as an important gauge of political sentiments among the electorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). PM

MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER-DESIGNATE PRESENTS HIS CABINET AND PROGRAM
Prime Minister-designate Hari Kostov, a 43-year-old former banker and interior minister, presented his cabinet on 31 May to the parliament for approval, MIA reported. Kostov succeeds Branko Crvenkovski as premier, following Crvenkovski's election as president in April. The only new face in the cabinet is Kostov's successor as interior minister, Siljan Avramovski, who comes from the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence (UBK). Outlining his government's program, Kostov pledged to fully implement the 2001 Ohrid peace accord and improve interethnic relations. He also will give priority to the reform of the judiciary, the fight against organized crime and corruption, and to economic reforms. "The sequence of the priorities does not reflect their ranking by importance, but on the contrary, they should be considered as interconnected goals and activities, the realization of which will lead to the strategic goal of Macedonia's EU and NATO memberships," Kostov said. UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TROOPS WILL NOT WITHDRAW FROM IRAQ
Ion Iliescu said on 28 May that Romania does not plan to withdraw its troops from Iraq after the intended transfer of sovereignty from coalition forces to Iraqis on 30 June, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said that a withdrawal of coalition forces after the transfer of power could generate "chaos and anarchy" in Iraq. MS

FINAL TOLL RISES IN ROMANIAN TRUCK EXPLOSION
The Interior Ministry said in a statement released on 28 May that the final toll of the 24 May fertilizer truck blast in the village of Mihailesti, near Buzau, is 18 killed and 13 injured, Mediafax reported. The country's prosecutor-general, Ilie Botos, has personally taken charge of the investigation. Eight firemen, the truck driver, and nine other people on the scene -- including two TV journalists -- perished in the blast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004). MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES 'MOLDOVAN LANGUAGE' ISSUE
Ion Iliescu dismissed language denomination in relations between Romania and Moldova as "a marginal, insignificant issue" after talks with his Moldovan counterpart, President Vladimir Voronin, on the sidelines of the Central European heads of state summit at the Romanian seaside resort of Mamaia on 28 May, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said Moldovans can call their language "whatever way they wish," as this will not change the basic fact that the language spoken there is Romanian. Voronin said that there is no need for translators when he speaks with Iliescu, although he himself speaks "Moldovan" and Iliescu speaks "Romanian." Iliescu invited Voronin to participate in the ceremonies marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Moldovan Prince Stephen the Great at the Putna Monastery on 2 July. Both countries claim the prince as one of their prominent forefathers. MS

MOLDOVAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SIGNS AGREEMENT IN ROMANIA
Visiting Moldovan Information and Security Service Director Ion Ursu and Gheorghe Fulga, director of the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service, signed a cooperation agreement between their institutions in Bucharest on 31 May, Flux reported. Ursu also met with Romanian Intelligence Service Director Radu Timofte, discussing threats to regional security and the need to intensify the fight against international terrorism and the trafficking of weapons, people, and drugs. Ursu was also received by President Iliescu and Deputy Prime Minister Ioan Talpes. MS

SOFIA SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ABOUT IRAQ
As the United States and Britain prepare a new UN Security Council resolution on the future of Iraq, one of their smaller coalition partners, Bulgaria, is sending mixed signals as to whether or not it will withdraw its troops after the planned 30 June transfer of power in Iraq.

The confusion arose after Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said in Plovdiv on 26 May that Bulgarian troops will not remain in Iraq after 30 June "at any price." Svinarov said, "I personally cannot support U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's words that we will remain there independent of whether the local government wants us nor not."

Bulgarian media quoted Svinarov as saying that the Bulgarian government is fully committed to abiding by any future decision of the UN Security Council, and construed that statement as an indication that Bulgaria's position had shifted closer to that of France and Germany. According to French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier , the U.S.-led coalition and the new Iraqi government should share the power for some months, Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on 25 May. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said on 24 May that the Iraqi government should be granted the right to control the security forces. Svinarov reportedly added that, "Of course, we are hoping for a better form of international legitimizing [for the mandate of foreign troops in Iraq]." In that respect, Svinarov said, the international coalition proved to be not stable enough.

Svinarov's spokeswoman, Rumyana Strugarova, told "Monitor," however, that the minister was "misinterpreted." According to Strugarova, Svinarov was alluding to the conditions and the technical procedures that the international forces will face after the 30 June transfer of power in Iraq. The questions are, she said, whether the new Iraqi government will invite the coalition to remain in Iraq and what the character of the new military mission there will be. But Strugarova also added that the Bulgarian parliament, not the government, will make the final decision whether to keep troops in Iraq or withdraw them. In her opinion, the mandate given to the Bulgarian troops will change on 1 July regardless of what happens on the ground.

The Bulgarian government, for its part, has not changed its position on Iraq, Strugarova continued, playing down Svinarov's pronouncement: "Minister Svinarov is not the government spokesman, it was his personal opinion, but this is a question of the national position, and this will be defined according to the constitution -- by the Council of Ministers, and then by the parliament."

In the meantime, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski refused to comment on Svinarov's statement. Asked whether Bulgaria will withdraw its troops from Iraq after 30 June, Saxecoburggotski said: "A lot of decisions by the UN are imminent, so let us wait. Our contingent is not the only one, there are international rules and agreements, so we should not look at it [as if the issue was] isolated." Saxecoburggotski added that he does not expect the new Iraqi government to treat the Bulgarian troops as foreign aggressors.

Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, for his part, noted that little can be said before the UN Security Council has adopted the new resolution on Iraq. Pasi underscored that the Bulgarian government strongly supports the proposal that more international and regional organizations be engaged in the reconstruction of Iraq, specifically the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, as well as other countries in the Persian Gulf region. Pasi said the Arab and Islamic countries could contribute a great deal to the reconstruction of Iraq, as this task requires more than the efforts of the U.S. or Europe or of both the U.S. and Europe together.

The Bulgarian troops' commander in chief, President Georgi Parvanov, apparently slightly revised his previous position that the troops must stay in Iraq. Parvanov said on Bulgarian National Radio on 28 May that efforts to democratize and stabilize Iraq also require a change in the character of the peacekeeping forces, according to mediapool.bg. This means that Muslim countries should also send troops to Iraq, Parvanov said. He did not specify whether these troops should be part of the current, U.S.-led coalition forces, or part of a UN-led peacekeeping operation. Thus, it seems that there is a consensus among Bulgaria's leaders that the joint U.S.-British UN Security Council resolution will resolve the question of whether Bulgarian troops will stay in Iraq or not and, if they stay, under whose command they will be put.

Some observers, however, such as former Defense Minister Dimitar Ludzhev, believe that the Bulgarian government is simply waiting for an opportunity to pull out of Iraq. In an interview with the vsekiden.com news agency, Ludzhev said: "The Bulgarian government expects that the transfer of power on 30 June will provide the opportunity to withdraw the Bulgarian contingent and to remove this unpleasant engagement." Ludzhev added that in his opinion, those responsible for the Bulgarian military participation in Iraq failed in the first stage of the engagement. In Ludzhev's view, not only was the contingent ill-prepared for its duties, but the army also failed to select the most qualified servicemen for that mission. These failures, Ludzhev said, ultimately led to the problems the Bulgarian contingent encountered in the city of Karbala in December, when five Bulgarian peacekeepers were killed in suicide bomb attacks and during April clashes with insurgents, in which another Bulgarian soldier died.

Ludzhev said if NATO or the U.S. ask Bulgaria to remain engaged in Iraq it will certainly do so. But asked whether preparations are under way for a possible troop withdrawal, Ludzhev replied in the affirmative.

FOUR U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
An explosion destroyed a U.S. military vehicle in Zabul Province on 29 May, killing four U.S. servicemen attached to the Special Forces, Radio Afghanistan reported on 30 May. A U.S. Defense Department press release on 31 May identified three U.S. casualties and said that their vehicle hit a land mine in Kandahar Province. However, Lieutenant Colonel Michele DeWerth, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said that four servicemen were killed some 30 kilometers east of Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul, "The New York Times," reported on 31 May. Zabul has been the center of resurgent neo-Taliban activity and the focus of efforts by the U.S.-led coalition to halt the expected "spring offensive" by the militants. In anticipation of an increase in activities of neo-Taliban and to safeguard Afghanistan's general elections scheduled for September, the United States recently increased the number of its troops in the country from 11,000 to 20,000. AT

NEO-TALIBAN KILL FOUR AFGHAN SOLDIERS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
In an attack by suspected neo-Taliban militants, four soldiers loyal to the Afghan government were killed and 20 others, including a senior commander, were injured in Musa Qala' District of Helmand Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 30 May. General Dad Mohammad, head of the National Security Command of Helmand, said that forces under his command "carried out a widespread operation in the area [after the attack] and the area is still cordoned off." He said that the neo-Taliban fighters escaped and "some of them had hidden in people's houses." Dad Mohammad said that at least one neo-Taliban militant was killed in the attack and four were captured. According to Dad Mohammad, the captured neo-Taliban confessed that at least 15 of their fighters had come from neighboring Pakistan, AIP reported. AT

SECURITY COMMANDER OF EASTERN AFGHAN CITY ASSASSINATED
Haji Ajab Shah, the security commander of Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar Province, was killed on 1 June, AIP reported. Ajab Shah's deputy, Abdul Rahman, said that an explosive device was apparently placed under the commander's chair. No further information was provided about the incident. AT

NINE SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Kandahar provincial government spokesman Khaled Pashtun said that nine suspected neo-Taliban militia were killed and five others captured during fighting in neighboring Zabul Province on 31 May, AIP reported on 1 June. Pashtun said that the fighting occurred in the Shenkay area of Zabul and aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition took part in the action. Zabul Province Governor Khial Mohammad Hosyani recently said that while the government is in control of Zabul, the mountainous areas of the province "cannot be guarded easily despite the massive presence of government forces" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 May 2004). AT

THREE PEOPLE KILLED IN CLASHES BETWEEN RIVAL OFFICIALS IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
Three people were killed in armed clashes on 30 May in Ghor Province, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. The clashes occurred between Haji Gol, head of Shahrak District, and Mullah Mostafa, a local commander. According to the report, the two men have had "previous differences." AT

BULGARIA TO SEND MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
Bulgarian Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev announced on 31 May that an additional, 200-strong company will be deployed to Afghanistan, mediapool.bg reported. General Kolev added that it will take five to six months and additional funds to set up that contingent. Currently, a 50-strong Bulgarian platoon is stationed in Afghanistan. During a recent visit to Sofia, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer asked Bulgaria to step up its military presence in Afghanistan. UB

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CLARIFIES PRESIDENT'S NUCLEAR STATEMENTS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 30 May in Tehran that President Mohammad Khatami's comments that Iran will react to a negative report on its nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "does not mean [Iran's] departure from the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2004). But, he said, "the [IAEA] must not create an environment that will force...officials to view cooperation with the agency with scepticism." He said that if the IAEA governing board, which is to discuss Iran's program at a 14-18 June meeting, "does not show laziness, there is no reason why our dossier should not to be closed." Assefi added that European states "and those with technology must cooperate with us...[as] we cannot forego nuclear technology." EU states have reportedly promised to ease restrictions on Iran's access to nuclear technology if it cooperates with the IAEA. On 29 May, IAEA inspectors arrived in Iran to check unspecified installations, farsnews.com reported on 30 May. VS

GUARDIANS COUNCIL APPROVES DIVISION OF IRANIAN PROVINCE
The Guardians Council, which must approve all bills as conforming with the constitution and religious laws before they can become law, has approved a bill that splits the Khorasan Province, bordering Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, into three provinces (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004), "Khorasan" reported on 31 May. Parliament approved the bill on 18 April, but the council sent the bill back for amendments on 11 May, because the split "created a financial burden for the government," "Khorasan" reported. Parliament then amended the bill on 18 May. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Mehdi Karrubi, the former speaker of parliament, as an adviser and as a member of the Expediency Council, a top arbitration body, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 May. VS

IRANIAN MINISTER CRITICIZES WESTERN WAR ON DRUGS, TERRORISM
Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari said on 31 May in Tehran that some 5,000 tons of opium were produced in Afghanistan in the year up until March 2004 and "such an immense volume...was certainly for export," ISNA reported the same day. He said drugs are produced in spite of Western forces being in Afghanistan. "That shows [Western countries] are not thinking of fighting drugs and we cannot...wait for them," he told a visiting Kuwaiti Interior Ministry official, Ahmad Abd al-Latif al-Rajib. Furthermore, Western countries "oppose terrorism that threatens their interests and support it when it serves their interests," ISNA quoted him as saying. "Westerners...tolerate and cooperate" with the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an Iranian rebel group hostile to the Tehran government, "but oppose Al-Qaeda, which they themselves created," he said. "We think they both constitute terrorism," he added. Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Ashraf Borujderi said in Tehran on 31 May that drugs are now sold in Iran on the Internet "and this method...cannot be controlled," ILNA reported the same day. Ecstasy has replaced opium among young people, she said. VS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY RULES OUT COOPERATING IN IRAQ
Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said in Tehran on 30 May that "there is no question of our cooperating with America" in Iraq, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 May. Iran, he said, expects an Iraqi "government with full sovereignty, so the occupiers leave as swiftly as possible." He urged the United Nations to ratify a "resolution without ambiguities" on Iraq. "The important point with the resolution is that firstly it must reflect the wishes of [Iraqis], secondly consider the opinion of Iraq's neighbors," and also of "influential" Security Council members, France, China, and Russia, "Aftab-i Yazd" quoted him as saying. The UN Security Council discussed in camera on 26 May a draft resolution on Iraq, the UN News Service reported the same day. VS

AL-YAWIR APPOINTED AS IRAQ'S INTERIM PRESIDENT...
Sheikh Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir was named on 1 June to serve as Iraq's interim president, international media reported. Al-Yawir will serve in the interim Iraqi government that will take power on 30 June. "We, the Iraqis, look forward to being granted full sovereignty through a Security Council resolution to enable us to rebuild a free, independent, democratic and federal unified homeland," Reuters quoted al-Yawir as telling a news conference alongside UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi, who was entrusted with the nomination process. Al-Yawir, 46, is a Sunni tribal leader from Mosul who returned to Iraq in June 2003 after spending 15 years in Saudi Arabia, according to dpa. He has served as president of the Governing Council since his predecessor, Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad, was killed in a car-bomb attack in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004). Al-Yawir was reportedly chosen by the Governing Council for the position on 31 May. However, the decision was not announced because of reservations expressed by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the United Nations, which reportedly favored former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi (a Sunni Muslim), according to Al-Arabiyah television. MES

...AFTER PACHACHI REPORTEDLY TURNS POSITION DOWN
Pachachi said during a 1 June news conference in Baghdad that United Nations special adviser Brahimi called him and "offered me this post" and "begged me to accept it," but that after thinking it over he "decided to apologize and not to accept this post," Al-Jazeera reported. The same day, Al-Arabiyah television cited Pachachi's office as saying he rejected the post "because of the media campaign against him." Brahimi said in a 1 June press release that "Pachachi, who enjoys wide respect and support in Iraq, was offered the presidential position with the support of Sheikh Ghazi, but declined for personal reasons." Ibrahim Jaffari of the Islamic Shi'ite Da'wah party and Roj Nuri Shawis of the Kurdistan Democratic Party were named interim vice presidents, AFP reported. MES

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL DISSOLVES...
The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) decided on 1 June to dissolve and will hand over its duties to interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's government, international news agencies reported. Council member Younadam Kana said that 20 of the council's members were in favor of dissolving the body and two were opposed; the Governing Council was expected to remain in office until the 30 June handover of power, AP reported. According to Kana, the two dissenting council members opposed the decision on the grounds that the interim constitution requires that the council remain in power until the handover. The U.S.-backed Allawi, a 58-year-old Shi'ite Muslim, was nominated prime minister-designate by the Governing Council on 28 May. "After 35 years of tyrannical regime...we are starting now our march toward sovereignty and democracy," Allawi said at the 1 June press conference with al-Yawir and Brahimi. MES

...AS INTERIM GOVERNMENT TAKES SHAPE
Alawi announced the members of his cabinet on 1 June, international media reported. He said Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, will remain foreign minister and Shi'ite politician Adil Abd al-Mahdi will serve as finance minister, Reuters reported. Hazim al-Sha'lan was named defense minister and Falah al-Naqib interior minister. Other key appointments, according to Al-Jazeera, include: Malik Duhan al-Hassan, justice minister; Alladin Abd al-Sahib al-Alwan, health minister; Sawsan al-Sharifi, agriculture minister; Thamir al-Ghadban, oil minister; Muhammad Ali al-Hakim, communications minister; Umar al-Damluji, housing minister; Mufid al-Jaza'iri, culture minister; and Mushkat Mu'min, environment minister. MES

SUNNI POLITICIAN GUNNED DOWN IN IRAQ
Four gunmen opened fire on the vehicle of Iraqi Islamic Party deputy head Qahdan Kazim al-Rubay'i as he was driving home late on 30 May, killing al-Rubay'i in the latest attack seemingly targeting Iraqi parties and individuals participating in the Iraqi Governing Council, Al-Arabiyah television and international agencies reported the next day. Al-Rubay'i was responsible for media relations for the party, which is one of the largest Sunni Muslim parties in Iraq and is represented on the Governing Council, Reuters reported. The attack occurred in Mahmudiyah, about 30 kilometers south of Baghdad. Locals reportedly captured one suspect and turned him over to the Iraqi Islamic Party's headquarters, according to Reuters, while three others suspects escaped. Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of May Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad was killed in a 17 May car bombing in Baghdad, while council member Salamah al-Khafaji survived an assassination attempt on 27 May in which her son and several bodyguards were killed (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2004). AH

U.S. PATROLS SUSPENDED IN AL-NAJAF, AL-KUFAH
A representative for Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad al-Barak said on 31 May that U.S. forces have agreed to suspend patrols in the cities of Al-Najaf and Al-Kufah for 48 hours to allow militiamen loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to withdraw, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. The announcement came after a meeting among Coalition Provisional Authority representatives, Shi'a political leaders, and Al-Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zarfi. There was no immediate confirmation from either the Coalition Provisional Authority or representatives of al-Sadr. Fighting was reportedly continuing between U.S. and insurgent forces through the day on 31 May, further straining the cease-fire declared last week. AH

BOMBERS STRIKE, KILLING AT LEAST 11 IN IRAQ
A car bomb exploded on 1 June near an entrance to the "green zone" in which the U.S.-led administration in Iraq is housed, ripping through the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan near Iraq's Foreign Ministry and causing extensive injuries and damage, international news agencies reported. Early reports suggested at least some fatalities, with an Iraqi policeman quoted by Reuters saying he saw at least 25 casualties at the scene. The party headquarters was hosting an anniversary celebration and was full of people at the time of the blast, the same agency reported. Elsewhere, at least 11 Iraqis were killed and 22 others injured, including two U.S. soldiers, when a suicide bomber detonated his car at the entrance to a U.S. military base near the oil-refining town of Baiji on 1 June, Reuters reported. Baiji is about 180 kilometers north of Baghdad. AH

CAR BOMB KILLS FOUR, WOUNDS DOZENS IN IRAQI CAPITAL
A car bomb detonated near the U.S.-led coalition's headquarters in Baghdad on 31 May, killing four and wounding 25 others, AP reported. Four U.S. soldiers reportedly died in other attacks during the weekend, the agency added, including two in the Shi'a holy city of Al-Kufah. The target was unclear, but AP reported that the 72-year-old sister of former Iraqi Presidents Abdel-Salam Aref and Abdel-Rahman Aref was killed in the blast. Shi'a leaders have urged U.S. forces to end their "aggressive patrolling" and stay clear of holy sites in Al-Najaf and Al-Kufah, AP reported, in exchange for having militiamen from outside of those cities return to their homes and local militiamen remaining off the streets. Clashes intensified in recent days, however, amid what U.S. officials called an absence of signs that al-Sadr forces were complying with the agreement. AH

U.S. MILITARY HINTS AL-FALLUJAH BRIGADE COULD PROVE START OF NEW IRAQI ARMY
The so-called Al-Fallujah Brigade, which has been given the task by coalition forces of maintaining peace in that flashpoint city, could form the core of a new Iraqi army after the U.S.-led occupation forces transfer sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government on 30 June, Reuters quoted U.S. military officials as saying on 30 May. The brigade emerged under an agreement to end clashes between U.S. and insurgent forces, and comprises roughly 2,000 men, many of them Ba'athists who served in ousted President Saddam Hussein's army, the agency added. Asked whether the force might form "a nucleus for an army or...be integrated into the [U.S.-backed Iraqi Civil Defense Force]," U.S. Marine Colonel John Toolan said, "Those are questions that have to be answered by the Iraqi government. There has been some discussion along those lines with high leadership...about where they go." The brigade is commanded by Muhammad Latif, a former general and intelligence officer who eventually opposed Hussein. AH

U.S., GERMAN LEADERS DISCUSS UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ
U.S. President George W. Bush urged German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to back a U.S.-U.K. proposed resolution on Iraq in a telephone conversation on 31 May, Reuters reported the next day, quoting a German government spokesman. The spokesman called it "a substantial and constructive conversation," but provided no details. Four permanent members of the UN Security Council who wield veto power -- China, France, Germany, and Russia -- have called for changes in the proposed resolution, which would address the international community's approach to Iraq and the handover of authority to Iraqis following the 30 June deadline. AH

AUSTRALIAN LEADER VOWS TO STAY COURSE IN IRAQ
Prime Minister John Howard said on 1 June that the recent prison-abuse scandal in Iraq is "a setback, a real negative," but he pledged to maintain his stance on Iraq, Reuters reported. Howard conceded that the publicity was damaging for his conservative government ahead of this year's elections. AH

RUSSIA LAUDS PROGRESS IN TALKS ON NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ...
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov told reporters in New York on 1 June that progress is being made in consultations on a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq and that the new document will "herald the beginning of a principally new stage in the Iraqi settlement," Russian media reported. He also expressed support for an international conference on Iraq, saying that it could even be held before the scheduled 30 June handover of sovereignty in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. The same news agency reported on 31 May that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Iraq by telephone, including the draft Security Council resolution. At a joint news conference in Moscow with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on 28 May, President Vladimir Putin declined to comment on Iraq, merely noting that "Recently, [U.S. President] George Bush has been taking vigorous steps toward finding a way out of the current situation," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 May. RC

...AS RUSSIAN COMPANIES PULL OUT OF THE COUNTRY
All 59 remaining Russian specialists working in Iraq for Interenergoservis will leave the country this week, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May, citing company personnel director Andrei Balukov. Balukov said that the Iraqi provisional government had asked the company to continue working in order to forestall "an energy disaster," but the company will nonetheless proceed with its planned pullout. The same day, Avialinii-400, the only Russian commercial air carrier currently serving Iraq, announced that it has suspended its flights because of the security situation in the country, the news agency reported. The company's two flights scheduled for the first half of June have been canceled. RC

XS
SM
MD
LG