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Newsline - June 25, 2004

President Vladimir Putin said on 24 June that Russia will reinforce combat-troop numbers in the North Caucasus, and reported the same day. "We will increase efforts in the North Caucasus to the necessary level and will increase our combat elements [there]," Putin said, according to and RTR. He called the situation in Ingushetia "stable" and said it "will remain so." Referring to his brief visit to Ingushetia following the deadly raids in the republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 2004), Putin suggested that "what I saw there was different from what was reported" by security-agency chiefs in Moscow. VY

Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov (Unified Russia) charged that the "epaulets should be stripped from those military leaders who allowed the rebel raids on the republic" of Ingushetia on 21-22 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 2004), "Krasnaya zvezda" reported on 24 June. Morozov speculated that the deadly operation was aimed at forcing Moscow to impose direct presidential rule in neighboring Chechnya and thus torpedo plans for a presidential election in the republic. Issa Kostoev, a member of the Federation Council from Ingushetia, expressed outrage at the "negligence and carelessness of the military." He also said he could not rule out further instability in Ingushetia because of the large number of displaced persons from neighboring Chechnya. VY

The State Duma on 25 June approved in its third reading a bill that would amend the Criminal Code to stiffen penalties for terrorism, and Interfax reported. Four hundred thirty-one deputies voted for the measure, with none opposed and three abstentions. Under the new measure, the penalties for terrorism will range from eight years' to life imprisonment. "The recent events in Ingushetia, the brazen sortie on a day that is sacred to all Russians [i.e., the anniversary of the June 1941 Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union], once again demonstrates that it is necessary to combat terrorism as mercilessly as possible," Duma Deputy Speaker and co-author of the bill Vladimir Pekhtin (Unified Russia) was quoted by as saying. "Half measures and weakness in combating terrorism are impermissible." RC

A Yukos annual shareholders meeting on 24 June approved the appointment of former Russian Central Bank Chairman and Duma Deputy Viktor Gerashchenko (Motherland) as board chairman as part of an overhaul of the company's board, Russian and international media reported. Russian-born U.S. national Semen Kukes stepped down the same day from both his CEO and chairman's posts. The 11-member board now includes eight Westerners and three Russian nationals. U.S. oilman Steven Theede, Yukos's chief operating officer and a former ConocoPhilips executive, took over as CEO. Edgar Ortiz, who has served as president and CEO of Halliburton Energy Services Group, was also named to the Yukos board. VY

Gerashchenko said after his appointment on 25 June that he believes Yukos has a bright future but conceded that he has no specific "plan" for resolving the oil giant's problems, which include government allegations that it illegally avoided some $3.4 billion in taxes, RIA-Novosti reported. He stressed the company's powerful assets, its operating efficiency, and its major role on the oil market and predicted the company's continued survival despite its recent setbacks. The well-connected Gerashchenko, who currently heads the Duma's Property Committee, came to prominence as director of the Soviet Union's Moscow National Bank in London in 1967. He also worked in Singapore, Lebanon, and Germany. He was Soviet state bank Gosbank's last director and headed the Russian Central Bank from 1992-94 and again in 1998-2002. Many observers believe Gerashchenko's presence will help stabilize the company. VY

Two Russian Army MiG 29s intercepted a Cessna light aircraft that entered Russian airspace from Mongolia and forced it to land near Chita on 24 June, Russian news agencies reported. The craft reportedly had no markings and did not respond to radio communications. Investigators quoted by ITAR-TASS said the plane was piloted by a Slovenian national who was attempting to fly around the world. VY

Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov told Duma deputies on 24 June that citizens will have the right to choose either in-kind social benefits or cash payments under the government's controversial reform plan, ITAR-TASS reported. If the plan is adopted, citizens will be offered cash substitutes for any in-kind benefits that they renounce, such as free public transportation or free sanatorium visits. Zurabov added that the government will neither review nor revise the list of people currently eligible to receive benefits because of their service during World War II. RC

The Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 24 June publicized its final report on the financing of the spring presidential-election campaign, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 25 June. According to the report, former SPS co-leader Irina Khakamada had the largest campaign fund, totaling more than 96 million rubles ($3.2 million). Sixty-one private individuals contributed a total of 84 million rubles to her war chest. President Putin had the fourth-largest campaign fund (following Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and former Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin), totaling just 43.1 million. Only one private individual contributed to Putin's campaign, offering just 100 rubles. The results indicate that Khakamada's campaign cost 27.83 rubles per vote, while Putin's cost just 0.39 rubles per vote. RC

The Interior Ministry has proposed that DNA samples be taken from all Russian newborns in order to help police identify bodies and solve crimes, Interfax reported on 24 June, citing Interior Ministry official Andrei Kukhtinov. Kukhtinov said that if such a program were in place, it would aid police in identifying the 65,000 bodies that have been found so far this year. He said that 119,000 people were reported missing in Russia last year. "Our goal is to ensure that not a single person vanishes without a trace or escapes justice," Kukhtinov said. RC

A court in Barnaul on 24 June handed down a 1 1/2-year suspended sentence to an unidentified local student who was convicted of sending a threatening e-mail message to the CIA in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2004), ITAR-TASS reported. According to the report, the student's university is considering whether to expel him. Meanwhile, a court in Yekaterinburg has handed down a one-year suspended sentence to a local student who was convicted of sending 15,000 obscene SMS messages in the first-ever case involving mobile-phone spamming, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 June. The unidentified student was also sentence to pay a 3,000-ruble ($100) fine. The student reportedly hacked into the computer system of a local cellular-services provider and used a program of his own design to send the spam. RC

A nationalist extremist group called Russian Republic has claimed responsibility for the 19 June killing in St. Petersburg of noted racism and xenophobia expert Nikolai Girenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2004), "Izvestiya" reported on 25 June. The head of the group, Vladimir Popov, told the St. Petersburg-based Agency for Investigative Journalism that a "Russian Republic tribunal" on 12 June sentenced Girenko to death for his work combating religious, ethnic, and sexual-orientation-based intolerance. "We consider Girenko an inveterate and irreconcilable enemy of the Russian people and sentence him to be shot," the Russian Republic's "verdict" read. "Izvestiya" reported that Popov founded Russian Republic in Moscow in December, calling a founding congress that was attended by 25 people from 12 Russian cities. Police are investigating the report. RC

The Federation Council on 23 June passed a controversial bill on conducting referendums, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 June. The bill, which was adopted by the Duma on 11 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2004), passed only on its second try in the upper house as TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov attended the session. A number of council members objected to the haste with which the bill has passed through the legislature; the presidential administration submitted the measure on 19 May. The initial vote, however, was 133 in favor, with five opposed and four abstentions. Since the bill needed a three-quarters majority -- 136 votes -- to pass, council Chairman Mironov called on all members to appear in the hall. The second tally produced the needed 136 votes. Veshnyakov reportedly criticized the council because so few of the 170 members attended the session. RC

The Justice Ministry has refused to register the new political organization of Duma Deputy and former presidential candidate Sergei Glazev (Motherland), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 June, citing Glazev. Glazev called the refusal to register his For a Worthy Life movement "a political order by Vladimir Putin." A Justice Ministry spokesman told the daily that the movement's documents were not in order. He told the newspaper that the movement can resubmit its documents if it wishes. RC

An assailant on a motorcycle reportedly ambushed former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Lieutenant General Yan Sergunin and his Chechen wife as they left a restaurant in downtown Moscow in the early morning hours of 25 June, leaving Sergunin dead and his wife wounded, RTR, NTV, and other Russian media reported the same day. Authorities are searching for the escaped killer, whom they believe to be a "paid killer," according to NTV. Investigators are following a possible "Chechen trail" because witnesses reported seeing two "Caucasian-looking" men surveilling Sergunin in the days prior to the killing, Interfax reported on 25 June. Sergunin also served as head of staff under the pro-Moscow Chechen acting President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov in 2000-02, who was killed in an apparently targeted explosion in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004). VY

Federal Security Service (FSB) Colonel Kamil Etinbekov was shot and killed by unknown assailants near his home in the Daghestani capital Makhachkala on 24 June, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Etinbekov was the territorial head of counterintelligence for the FSB and led investigations into terrorist activities for more than a year, NTV reported. Etinbekov previously participated in secret FSB missions in Chechnya, the station added. VY

Major General Alu Alkhanov informed Chechnya's Central Election Commission on 24 June of his intention to register as a candidate in the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow leader Kadyrov, Russian news agencies reported. He is the 14th person to signal his intention to contest the election. To register formally, Alkhanov must collect 6,000 signatures in his support. Alkhanov said that if elected, he will continue Kadyrov's policies of reviving the Chechen economy, improving socioeconomic conditions, providing housing, and eradicating terrorism, Interfax reported. Alkhanov said the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia is "quiet" following the 21-22 June raids in Ingushetia, and he confirmed that the militants who perpetrated those attacks were led by an Ingush, Magomed Evloev. LF

Some one dozen Armenian NGOs and prominent public figures addressed an open letter on 24 June to members of the judiciary, appealing to them not to allow themselves to be turned into "an instrument of repression," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The appeal warned that Armenia risks "failing to become a free country." Since the opposition launched its campaign three months ago to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, courts have sentenced some 100 people to short periods of administrative detention for their actual or imputed participation in antigovernment protests. Several opposition activists have been sentenced to longer prison terms on what appear to be fabricated charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 May and 24 June 2004). LF

In a statement released on 24 June, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the elections to local government bodies to be held on 8 August in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic constitute a violation of both Azerbaijani and international law, Turan reported. The statement commented that "democracy cannot be built on occupation and ethnic cleansing." Azerbaijan's parliament adopted a similar statement two days earlier condemning the planned ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). LF

Chairman Akif Nagi and four other members of the Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT) who were detained by police on 22 June for protesting the presence of two Armenian military officers at a NATO conference in Baku were sentenced on 24 June to two months' imprisonment on charges of hooliganism, violating public order, and resisting police, Turan reported. Some QAT members forced their way into the hotel where the conference was taking place, causing material damage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). QAT Deputy Chairman Firudin Mamedov was detained by police late on 24 June, Turan reported the following day. LF

Georgian Minister for Labor, Health, and Social Welfare Lado Chipashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 25 June that President Mikheil Saakashvili has recovered from a viral infection and has returned to work, Caucasus Press reported. On 24 June, Interfax and Caucasus Press quoted unnamed Georgian newspapers as claiming that Saakashvili, who had not appeared in public since 20 June, had been poisoned and was seriously ill. Saakashvili's press spokesman Vano Noniashvili told Caucasus Press late on 24 June that Saakashvili will depart on 26 June for the NATO summit in Istanbul. LF

During talks in Moscow on 23-24 June, Russian and Georgian delegations focused on the conditions on which Russia will continue to maintain its two military bases in Georgia and the time frame for their closure, Russian and Georgian news agencies reported. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Savolskii said the Georgian proposal to establish a joint antiterrorism center was discussed, but that the creation of such a center would not in any way expedite the closure of the bases. LF

Following talks in Tskhinvali on 24 June between Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin and Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, it was announced that a session of the Joint Control Commission will take place on 30 June-1 July in Moscow, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Sessions of the commission scheduled first for 15-16 June and then for 21-22 June were postponed after the South Ossetians refused to participate. The commission comprises representatives from Russia, Georgia, and North and South Ossetia, and monitors the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone. LF

Meeting in emergency session on 24 June, the Georgian parliament approved the candidacy of First Deputy Finance Minister Zurab Soselia as new Audit Chamber chairman, Caucasus Press reported. Soselia was proposed for that position in early June by parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze despite strong support for parliament deputy David Tkeshelashvili (National Movement), a close associate of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. LF

The World Bank on 24 June approved three new credits for Georgia totaling $47.6 million, according to a World Bank press release. The credits are intended to promote sustainable economic growth and the fight against corruption, and fund repayment of wage and pension arrears. They comprise a $24 million Reform Support Credit, $3.6 million to fund improvements to the energy generation and distribution systems, and $20 million to finance highway construction and repairs. LF

Robert Barry, head of the OSCE's ODIHR Election Observer Mission, announced on 24 June in Astana that the OSCE will send observers to monitor Kazakhstan's 19 September elections to the Majilis, or lower house of parliament, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The remarks came in the course of a meeting with Majilis speaker Zharmakhan Tuyakbai. According to Barry, the OSCE will send 20-30 long-term observers to monitor the entire election process and then 200-300 observers to watch polling places on election day. The news agency reported that up to 8.5 million of Kazakhstan's 15 million people are expected to take part in the voting. DK

The opposition Ar-Namys party has accused Kyrgyz authorities of stepping up their harassment of Ar-Namys activists in the gradual lead-up to 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections, reported. A statement by the party's Political Council charges that local party organizer Darman Jorobekov was arrested without cause and beaten on 22 June. Citing other instances of harassment, the party appealed officially to the Prosecutor-General's Office and Interior Ministry to halt the "groundless arrests, beatings, and persecution of our members and their relatives." DK

The Religious Board of Kyrgyzstan's Muslims unveiled its website to journalists in Bishkek on 24 June, reported. A spokesman said the Russian-language site (, which was set up with the help of the U.S. State Department's Internet Access and Training Program, will provide information on the board's activities and make available materials on Islamic values. DK

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev met in Bishkek on 24 June with Nikolai Ryzhkov, a member of Russia's Federation Council and president of the Russian Union of Manufacturers, reported. President Akaev said that close ties with Russian manufacturers will help to boost the Kyrgyz economy, Kyrgyzinfo reported. "We will develop ties between our countries' manufacturers," quoted Ryzhkov as saying. A delegation from the office of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov was also in Bishkek on 24 June to open Days of Moscow festival taking place from 24-27 June, reported. A delegation spokesman said that it intends to work toward measures to increase exports of Moscow-produced goods to Kyrgyzstan and to ease the transit of Chinese-produced goods via Kyrgyzstan to Russia. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov dismissed the commander of Turkmenistan's ground forces with a 24 June decree, Turkmen TV reported. The text of the decree, which was published by, states that Mashat Orazgeldiyev's removal resulted from "the commission of an act that undermines the dignity of an officer in the Turkmen Armed Forces and serious professional shortcomings." The decree went on to strip Orazgeldiyev of his rank and salary and discharge him from the armed forces. DK

A group of Russian citizens in Turkmenistan has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged violations of their rights, reported on 23 June. The appeal notes that Russian citizens who obtained their education outside of Turkmenistan now find it virtually impossible to practice their chosen professions. They also charge that many Russian citizens in Turkmenistan have lost their apartments on the grounds that they are "foreigners." The appeal calls on President Putin to intervene to protect the rights of Russian citizens in Turkmenistan. DK

Uzbek mahallas, or neighborhood committees, need to prevent women from joining extremist groups, Uzbek TV said on 24 June. The report made specific reference to the violence that struck Uzbekistan in early March, commenting that the events might not have occurred if neighborhood committees had been more active. Some of the suicide bombers who took part in the violence were women, numerous reports have confirmed. "It is the entire society, first of all the mahallas, the public, the people living in neighborhoods, and women who should put [women] back on the right path," Uzbek TV quoted one unidentified woman as saying. The mahalla is a traditional institution of Uzbek society. Critics have charged that the Uzbek government is attempting to subordinate mahallas to the state in order to use them as an instrument of social control. DK

The Minsk Economic Court has granted the Belarusian Helsinki Committee's appeal against outstanding taxes and penalties imposed by the Minsk district tax authorities, Belapan reported on 24 June. The prominent nongovernmental organization had been ordered to pay 155 million rubles ($73,000) in taxes on grants received under the European Union's Tacis program. The Helsinki Committee argued that funding it receives from the Tacis program is exempt from taxes according to an agreement made by Belarus and the EU in the 1990s. The court ruled in favor of this argument, voided the taxes, and ordered the Tax Ministry to pay 190,000 rubles in compensation to the committee for legal expenses. AM

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said on 24 June that the 23 June parliamentary vote on a constitutional-reform bill shows that Our Ukraine is opposed to political change in Ukraine, Interfax reported. Kuchma said that Our Ukraine's decision not to participate in the voting on bill No. 4180 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2004) did not participate exemplifies that the opposition party is "on the other side of the barricade." "Are they comfortable with such a confrontation of power in the country?" Kuchma asked. He also stressed that the main goal of the proposed constitutional reform is the creation of an effective state power. "The reforms are necessary for the whole country," Kuchma said. AM

The Social Democratic Party-united's (SDP-o) Political Council has endorsed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's candidacy in the presidential election slated for 31 October, Interfax reported on 24 June, quoting the party press service. Yanukovych is running as a joint candidate of pro-governmental forces. "Public consent for us is the most important criterion of the success of reforms," Political Council members wrote in a statement outlining their rationale for supporting Yanukovych. The party also urged all political forces in the Verkhovna Rada to support the proposed amendments to the constitution that were approved by parliament on 23 June and are backed by Yanukovych. The SDP-o party intends to hold its congress on 4 July. AM

London's "Financial Times" reported on 25 June that the "ambiguous" relationship between the EU and the Atlantic alliance -- with their partially overlapping memberships and capabilities -- is under some strain because of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the runup to NATO's 28-29 June Istanbul summit. Many EU diplomats are anxious to take control of Bosnian peacekeeping from NATO at the end of the year to show that the EU can manage Europe's security affairs, expressing resentment that NATO and Washington seek to continue their presence in Bosnia. The U.S. and some of its NATO partners, however, want the alliance to maintain a role in Bosnia to catch indicted war criminals, combat terrorism, and help promote reforms in the Bosnian military. The U.S. plans to maintain its base in Tuzla as evidence of Washington's continuing presence in the region. Some NATO diplomats suspect that "it is Europe that wants to undercut NATO since some of the [EU's] members believe Europe will over time drift away from the trans-Atlantic alliance and form its own defense policies," the daily noted. Many Bosnian Muslim and Kosovar Albanian leaders consider a continuing U.S. military presence crucial for regional security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 5 March 2004). PM

It appears all but certain that Bosnia-Herzegovina will not be invited to join the Partnership for Peace program at the Atlantic alliance's 28-29 June Istanbul summit, largely because Bosnian Serb authorities have not captured any indicted war criminals, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and regional media reported on 24 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). High Representative Paddy Ashdown might impose sanctions on the Republika Srpska as a result, possibly sacking "at least 10" top officials, "Dnevni avaz" noted. In any event, some participants in a RFE/RL roundtable noted that the countries of the region must do more for their own security. Some speakers pointed out that the March unrest in Kosova showed that even a NATO presence is no guarantee against violence. PM

Serbia and Montenegro's defense minister, Prvoslav Davinic, and his Albanian counterpart, Pandeli Majko, made clear in Tirana on 23 June that the era of tensions between their two countries is over, adding that cooperation now tops their agenda, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Both men stressed that the Balkan countries must seek to solve their own problems and not wait for solutions to come from outside. Majko noted that Prishtina's participation is essential for solving regional problems and called on Belgrade not to set up any military installations on its borders with Kosova. PM

The OSCE released in Belgrade on 23 June its latest two-year study on human trafficking in Serbia, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. The survey is based on research in 17 cities and towns, suggesting that at least 960 women were victims in about 750 cases of human trafficking. Most of the women were citizens of Moldova, Romania, or Ukraine between 18 and 30 years of age, but 96 women were from Serbia, including 15 Roma. In addition, the survey identified 94 children and 100 men who were victims of human trafficking, stressing that these statistics probably represent only the tip of the iceberg. PM

The Albanian authorities arrested "several dozen" suspects and apparently broke up an international criminal ring smuggling opium from Afghanistan, which was processed into heroin in Turkey and then sent via the Balkans to Italy, dpa reported from Tirana on 25 June. The Italian authorities also made an unspecified number of arrests. PM

Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop asked the parliament on 24 June to replace Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, Reuters reported. Both men belong to the center-left Liberal Democrats, but many in the party have charged Rupel with siding with the conservative opposition in the runup to general elections expected later in the year (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April 2004). Rop proposed Slovenian Ambassador to Germany Ivo Vajgl to replace Rupel, who served as foreign minister from 1991-93, returning to the post in 2000. PM

Ending a one-day visit to Amsterdam, Adrian Nastase on 24 June said his visit was to prepare for a continuation of EU accession talks after the Netherlands takes over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July, Mediafax reported. He added that economic relations with the Netherlands are excellent, with annual bilateral trade topping 1.5 billion euro (some $1.8 billion). Furthermore, the Netherlands is one of the few countries with which Romania has a positive trade balance. Nastase said closing EU accession negotiations this year is only a technical question. Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Karien van Gennip said closing negotiations depends only on Romanian authorities. "The key for [EU] accession is in Bucharest, in your own hands, and not in Brussels," he added. ZsM

Speaking in the northeastern Romanian city of Suceava, ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Executive Chairman Octav Cozminca said on 24 June that the recent local elections were a "cold shower" for his party, and he hopes they will eliminate arrogancy within the party, Mediafax reported. He added that the poor results are due in part to mistakes by the local administration and in the government, and that a government reshuffle is possible. Cozminca also said he expects local leaders responsible for the PSD's failure to resign; if not, he will resign himself. This is the first time a high-ranking PSD leader has assumed responsibility for the party's failure in the elections. Speaking in Amsterdam the same day, Prime Minister Nastase, who is also PSD chairman, admitted the party's results were worse than expected and said changes will be made in order to secure the party's success in November's parliamentary elections. ZsM

Democratic Party (PD) Chairman Traian Basescu said in Bucharest on 24 June that the recent local elections -- in which the PD obtained over 15 percent of the vote -- changed the party's status from a small to a middle-sized party, Romanian media reported. He said the party's success is mainly due to its overall electoral campaign and the efforts of local branches. Basescu added that these results create "favorable prospects" for November's parliamentary elections. ZsM

Tiraspol representatives failed to attend a new round of negotiations on the Transdniester issue that were held in Chisinau on 24 June, Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova announced, Flux reported. This is the second round of negotiations missed by Tiraspol officials. Speaking at a press conference in Chisinau the same day, William Hill, the head of the OSCE delegation in Moldova, said Moldovan representatives officially endorsed a new set of proposals elaborated by the OSCE on demilitarizing Moldova and the Transdniester. He added that should Tiraspol also endorse the document, negotiating parties could draft a political document that could serve as the basis for resolving the conflict. Hill also said the proposal to demilitarize the country has nothing to do with the Russian troop withdrawal from Transdniester. ZsM

The international community will mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse on 26 June. Global opium cultivation is down, but increased cultivation in Afghanistan and higher opium yields led to a 5 percent increase in illicit global opium production between 2002 and 2003. Indeed, Afghanistan leads the world in opium production, and Iran leads the world in seizures of opiates, according to the "World Drug Report 2004" released on 25 June ( Therefore, the fate of the world heroin market depends on events in Southwest Asia.

Since the collapse of the Taliban, the situation in Afghanistan has improved in almost every aspect except in the area of stemming opium-poppy cultivation. Initially the Taliban used the income from opium to finance its regime and production rose steadily from 1996, peaking in 1999 to an estimated 4,600 tons. By 2000, Afghanistan was responsible for 70 percent of the global production of illegal opium. But in July of that year, having been hounded by the international community, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a decree banning opium cultivation in the country but not its trade (likely a gesture to gain international recognition for the Taliban regime). According to the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP), opium production in Afghanistan was reduced greatly following the ban from 3,300 tons in 2000 to just 185 tons the following year.

Following the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the creation of the Afghan Interim Administration, Chairman Hamid Karzai in January 2000 banned both the cultivation and trade of opium poppies in the country. However, with the central authority's influence being limited to Kabul and a few main cities and the international military forces concentrating on the war on terrorism, drug dealers and their supporters found a good opportunity to exploit the situation.

According to UN estimates, Afghan farmers produced 3,400 tons of opium in 2002 compared to 185 tons the preceding year -- an alarming increase. The numbers have continued to worsen. In 2003, a year in which three-quarters of the global opium supply originated in Afghanistan, production increased by another 6 percent to 3,600 tons. It is projected that cultivation will increase yet again in 2004. The UN's most recent report asserts that the potential farmgate value of global opium production in 2003 is about $1.2 billion; more than 85 percent of this output was made in Afghanistan. It is estimated that 7 percent of the Afghan population -- 1.7 million people -- is directly involved in opium production. More than two-thirds of the farmers told the UN that they intend to increase poppy cultivation.

Also worrisome is the fact that opium cultivation has been introduced to regions of Afghanistan that traditionally have not grown the crop and increasing number of Afghans are becoming addicted to heroin -- a fact that has translated into an increase in HIV infections in the country through the sharing of needles. The officially AIDS-free Afghanistan recently announced the first case of death from the disease.

UNODCCP Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned recently that the international community faces critical decisions, adding that if counternarcotics commitments to Afghanistan are not translated into lower levels of opium production, there is a "risk of [the] opium economy undermining all that has been achieved in creating a democratic modern Afghanistan." Costa also warned the International Conference on Counternarcotics, held in Kabul from 8-10 February, that "fighting drug trafficking equals fighting terrorism."

Costa then asked for the resources to increase the number of operations against drug laboratories and that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) also be involved in combating drugs in Afghanistan. However, NATO has so far been reluctant to commit itself to tackling this issue. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently stated that counternarcotics operations were not the main responsibility of the NATO-led international force. In November 2003, outgoing NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said the alliance was "going to Afghanistan because" it did not want Afghanistan to come to Europe, "whether it be in terms of terrorism or drugs." It seems that once NATO actually went to Afghanistan, Robertson's message was lost in the political shuffle, giving the drug dealers and various warlords in Afghanistan the upper hand.

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, last week announced that U.S. troops will more aggressively curb opium poppy cultivation in the country, but conceded they will not actively destroy the crops, saying the "primary focus continues to be counterterrorist operations."

International forces and local authorities have an immense challenge ahead of them in Afghanistan: to stop the cultivation of opium poppies and the trafficking of drugs, and to destroy the laboratories that process the opium into heroin.

Indeed, the level of international involvement in dealing with Afghan narcotics is a major Iranian grievance. Iran does not, furthermore, believe that its counternarcotics activities get sufficient attention or credit from the West, the ultimate destination of most opiates originating in Afghanistan. In a 1 June meeting with a visiting Kuwaiti official, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said Iran cannot afford to wait for Western help, IRNA reported. He complained about the extent of opium cultivation in Afghanistan despite the presence of military personnel from Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Iran leads the international community in intercepting the opium, morphine, and heroin that originate in Afghanistan, according to the UN ( Tehran reports that approximately 2 million people in the country abuse drugs. Poor relations with the Taliban regime meant that Iran made little headway in persuading its neighbor to curtail opium production. It therefore relied mainly on interdiction efforts.

Relations with Kabul now are friendly and Tehran is involved with the promotion of crop-substitution plans. Iranian Deputy Agriculture Jihad Minister Gholamreza Sahrain visited the Afghan capital on 12 June to discuss these activities, IRNA reported. In a meeting with Agriculture and Livestock Minister Seyyed Hussein Anwari, the Iranian official noted that so far Tehran has provided $10 million in aid for opium eradication.

Iran is also working closely with other states that neighbor Afghanistan in an effort to create a "security belt" that will stop the narcotics shipments. In late May and early June, Ali Hashemi, head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), visited Uzbekistan. He met with his Uzbek counterpart, Kamal Dustemov, on 1 June and they discussed the necessity of regional states closing ranks in the drug-control campaign, IRNA reported. The two officials expressed the belief that peace and stability in Afghanistan would be matched with reduced narcotics production. In the following days, Hashemi met with Interior Minister Zokirjon Almatov and Public Health Minister Feruz Nazirov.

In the latter meeting, Hashemi noted that there are 350 centers in Iran that treat drug addicts. Treatment and demand-reduction are receiving more and more attention in Iran. Citing a figure of 214 billion rials (about $27 million), Hashemi said in Tehran on 26 May that more than 36 percent of the country's drug-control budget is allocated for prevention programs, IRNA reported. This money will go to education for young people, cultural centers, mosques, and other nongovernmental organizations. A total of 600 billion rials (about $76 million), he said, will be used for prevention and interdiction.

Hashemi's earlier comments about the success rate in treating drug addicts were not very encouraging. He said at a 12 May meeting of the drug-control planning department in Rasht that 10-15 percent of the addicts are treated successfully. He added that 200,000 people in Iran are addicted to heroin and 64,000 are infected with AIDS.

Unless the Iranian government can provide the professional and social opportunities that will discourage people from abusing drugs, the addiction and HIV infection figures will probably worsen. And until opium cultivation in Afghanistan is eliminated, Iran will continue to be a consumer of these products.

On 24 June a battalion of the Afghan National Army (ANA) arrived from the western Afghan province of Herat to Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor, immediately east of Herat, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Ghor Governor Mohammad Ebrahim Malikzadah told AIP that one hundred ANA soldiers have taken position in Chaghcharan while "fighters of Commander Abdul Salam are also present in the town." However, he said reports that "Chaghcharan has been captured by the soldiers of the national army are not true." ANA forces are in Chaghcharan at "our invitation and there is no problem at all," Malikzadah added. Mohammad Musa Yunos, a spokesman for Ahmad Khan, a local commander in Ghor, whose forces were ousted by Abdul Salam earlier in June, welcomed the arrival of ANA soldiers, adding, "they are the soldiers of the state and we are the employees of the state." Troubles in Chaghcharan began on 17 June when Abdul Salam's forces ousted Ahmad Khan's forces and Malikzadah from the city. Malikzadah later joined ranks with Abdul Salam and returned to Chaghcharan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 June 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). ANA General Aminullah Patiani put the number of troops sent to Ghor at 600, AFP reported on 24 June. AT

The minister adviser for tribal affairs, Taj Mohammad Wardak, who was in Chaghcharan to try to solve the current problems there, said on 24 June that after three days of talks no compromise has been reached between warlords Abdul Salam and Ahmad Khan, Radio Afghanistan reported. However, both sides of the conflict view the recent clashes as a misunderstanding and a mistake, Wardak added. The two warlords were members of the same militia force, but began feuding over the allocation of positions in the local government, the BBC reported on 24 June. Ahmad Khan has thus far refused to disarm unless Abdul Salam follows suit and Governor Malikzadah is removed from office. AT

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 25 June press release that "NATO should immediately expand its forces in Afghanistan to provide security for elections scheduled there this fall." HRW said that with three months to go before what would be Afghanistan's first-ever democratic election, scheduled for September-October, the country remains plagued by insecurity and political repression and urgently needs more NATO support to allow for the registration of voters and the protection of vulnerable political actors and voting sites. "If the elections don't take place because of insecurity, or if they are conducted but are not free and fair, the blame will rest squarely on the heads of the U.S. and its NATO allies," said Sam Zarifi, deputy director for the Asian Division of Human Rights Watch. "Contrary to what was promised to the Afghan people, NATO's foot-dragging has contributed to a worsening security situation and major shortcomings with reconstruction," Zarifi added (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004). AT

The Joint Electoral Management Body has granted Hizb-e Melli (National Party) and Hizb-e Sa'adat-e Mardom-e Afghanistan (Afghan People's Welfare Party) certificates to monitor the process of elections in Afghanistan, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 24 June. The two additional parties bring the number of Afghan political parties that have been granted monitoring certificates to eight. Thus far the Afghan Justice Ministry has registered 21 political parties, which allows them to conduct political activities. Abdul Rashid Aryan, a former member of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan and Minister of Information and Culture during the communist rule in Afghanistan, leads the National Party. Mohammad Zubayr Piroz leads the Afghan People's Welfare Party. AT

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said in 24 June testimony before a U.S. Congress subcommittee that Iran has announced that it will resume building equipment that can be used for a nuclear-weapons program, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" reported on 25 June. Bolton said that Tehran announced in a letter to the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom that it will resume making equipment for nuclear centrifuges. An unnamed British government spokesman told "The New York Times" that "They've sent letters saying we haven't lived up to our commitments to normalize relations." This is presumably in reference to an agreement signed in October 2003 when European officials visited Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003, and Bolton told the subcommittee that Washington believes "Iran is still pursuing a strategic decision to have a nuclear weapons capability." In Tehran, meanwhile, President Mohammad Khatami told a gathering of martyrs' families and others that Iran does not seek a nuclear-weapons capability, state radio reported. "These claims are used as pressure to deprive us of acquiring nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," he said. BS

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar said in a 24 June speech to the legislature that Iran has a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Iranian state radio reported. Iran is ready to cooperate with Europe and the International Atomic Energy Agency and sign the additional protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if they recognize this right, he said, "otherwise we will not sign it." Iran's right to develop and use nuclear energy cannot be denied, former Foreign Minister Ardeshir Zahedi (1967-1971) writes in the 25 June "Wall Street Journal Europe." As in the past, he writes, Iran needs other sources of energy so it can export its oil. Zahedi also writes that just like the previous regime, this one wants a "surge capacity" that will let it develop a military nuclear capacity in a short period. The problem is a "revolutionary regime, claiming a messianic mission on behalf of Islam, arming itself with nuclear weapons." BS

A tanker truck carrying almost 5,000 gallons of gasoline crashed into buses parked near a police station outside the city of Zahedan on 24 June, international news agencies reported. Initial reports state that more than 70 people were killed and another 84 were injured. An official at Zahedan's medical university told ISNA on 25 June that about 15 ambulances were dispatched to the scene, as were emergency crews. He said many of the victims were brought in with burns on 90 percent of their bodies, and they have been taken to Bu Ali Zahedan, Nabi Akram, and other local hospitals. BS

A statement attributed to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi that was posted on the Arabic-language web blog on 24 June claimed responsibility for attacks that took place the same day in several Iraqi cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2004). Western media estimates that more than 100 people were killed and more than 300 were injured in the attacks. The coordinated attacks were launched with "guidance from God," according to the purported statement from al-Zarqawi, who reportedly heads the Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad group in Iraq. "The operations included strikes against the polytheist collaborators the police force, spies, and an Iraqi military [unit] that was alongside their brothers, the Americans." The statement added: "Your brothers in the Martyrs' Brigade [Ed., possibly a reference to the Fedayeen Saddam] carried out many blessed operations today, including five operations in Mosul..., two operations in Ba'qubah, and one operation in Al-Ramadi." "The occupation forces and the polytheists were noticeably horror stricken and fumbled around," according to the statement. KR

Meanwhile, a statement written in the name of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party and posted to the website on 24 June also claimed participation in the 24 June attacks. "The courageous Ba'ath freedom fighters and the heroic mujahedin of the resistance and liberation attacked selected U.S.-occupation-forces targets, and dens and herds of the security and police of the collaborating agent government." The group dubbed the action "Operation Iraqi Flag 'God is Great Banner,'" to stress the group's demand that the official Iraqi flag of the Hussein regime remain unchanged. "The security and police herds of the collaborating government have now seen the credibility of the threats of the Ba'ath Party and the armed Iraqi resistance, and are left with the [single option] of revolting against the occupation and their appointed government, and taking the righteous side by lining up with the people of the armed resistance," the statement said. "Whoever [claims to believe] that there is a political process in Iraq today...know[s] that they are wrong. In Iraq there is a national armed resistance, and a popular liberation war that confronts [the coalition] in combat anywhere and everywhere." KR

Iraqi Brigadier General Zibar al-Zawba'i, the spokesman for the Al-Fallujah Brigades, told Al-Arabiyah television on 24 June that the violence in the city started when nonresidents of Al-Fallujah attacked a U.S. convoy outside the city. U.S. forces responded to the attack, and a battle ensued, edging closer to the city. A number of women and children were killed, according to al-Zawba'i, after U.S. forces shelled their neighborhood, prompting other residents to take up arms against the U.S. troops. A truce was later called, and U.S. forces withdrew from the city, leaving the Al-Fallujah Brigades, the Iraqi police, and Civil Defense Corps in charge of the city. Mahmud Ibrahim al-Juraysi, the Al-Fallujah district officer, told Al-Jazeera television on 24 June that terrorist cells are not operating in the city. "In my capacity as head of an administrative unit in Al-Fallujah and as a son of Al-Fallujah who tours the city in the morning and the evening, I have not seen terrorist cells," he said. "Besides, I have not seen people who have come from outside the borders." KR

The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (CPA) on 24 June transferred responsibility over the last 11 ministries under its control to the Iraqi interim government, Al-Arabiyah television reported. "As of today, all the ministries are linked directly to me," Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said during a ceremony marking the handover. "I will work with all of them with confident steps and unyielding resolve to build Iraq and maintain its security and sovereignty." Allawi added that Iraqis face a long road ahead "as we work to accomplish our missions of achieving security, peace, and prosperity for our Iraqi people -- to dust off the painful past, remove the aftermath of the despotic rein, and march together, shoulder to shoulder, to achieve the glory that our people deserve." KR