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Newsline - July 22, 2004


PUTIN STEPS UP IMPLEMENTATION OF PENSION HIKE
President Vladimir Putin on 20 July ordered Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov to draft a decree under which pensions will be adjusted to inflation as of 1 August, two months earlier than planned, Russian media reported. "Budget revenues from January through August make it possible to revise upward the insured element of the pension and raise the [monthly] base pension to 660 rubles [$22.70] as of 1 August," ITAR-TASS quoted Zurabov as saying. Most pensioners will receive an additional 130 rubles per month as a result of the measure. Apn.ru commented on 20 July that Putin stepped up the implementation of the pension-indexation plan to offset widespread fears over the government's plans to replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 29 June 2004). Putin took the action now, according to the website, to prevent a wave of protests when summer vacations end. VY

POLITICIAN, EXPERT COMMENT ON REFORM OF POWER MINISTRIES
Duma Speaker and former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov told journalists in Moscow on 21 July that the reforms of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Interior Ministry, and other security bodies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 19, 20, and 21 July 2004) should be designed to increase their accountability and to create a "law enforcement system that will be trusted by citizens," RIA-Novosti reported. He added that the measure is timely and that the Duma will support it by adopting appropriate legislation. National Strategy Institute Vice President Viktor Militarev said that the reasoning behind the reforms is the "protection of Putin's rear during his second presidential term," the institute's website, apn.ru, reported on 21 July. If one accepts the common belief that real economic and political reforms are in store for Putin's second term, then this measure looks more than timely, Militarev said. VY

MAJOR YUKOS SHAREHOLDER ASKS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE FOR PROTECTION
Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin has written to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov asking for protection from a group, which he alleged is led by a man named Rybin and includes law enforcement officials, that is threatening and attempting to blackmail him, newsru.com and RosBalt reported on 21 July. Nevzlin wrote that he does not know Rybin personally. Newsru.com speculated that the Rybin mentioned in Nevzlin's letter is Yevgenii Rybin, the head of the Austrian-based oil company East Petroleum Handelsgas. The website reported that Rybin has previously claimed that in 1997 he agreed to a contract with Tomskneft on the supply of oil to his firm, but that after Tomskneft was purchased by Yukos it failed to honor the contract. Rybin claimed that after his company brought financial claims against Yukos, the oil major organized attempts on his life under the direction of now-jailed Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 31 July 2003 and 13 February and 26 May 2004) that resulted in the deaths of two of Rybin's bodyguards. In his letter to Ustinov, however, Nevzlin stressed that both international and Russian courts found no involvement by Yukos in any attempts on Rybin's life and they rejected all of Rybin's financial claims against the company. VY

SENATOR SEARCHED IN LONDON
Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov was stopped and searched by police in London on 21 July near the residence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The police were carrying out routine checks of passers-by as part of the United Kingdom's antiterrorism efforts and were not daunted by Margelov's diplomatic passport or his Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe accreditation. The police reportedly checked the documents that Margelov was carrying and his cellular phone before releasing him. Margelov, the son of the deputy chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service, told journalists that he did not want the incident to grow into an international scandal and said he had already received apologies from the speakers of both houses of the British parliament and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. RC/VY

NEW, MORE SECURE BANK NOTES ENTER CIRCULATION
New 10, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 ruble banknotes featuring enhanced anticounterfeiting measures began entering circulation on 21 July, RTR reported. The new bills superficially look similar to the old ones but which include security features such as color-shifting ink, magnetic security threads, and microperforations. This is the second time that Russian currency has been updated since it was redesigned in 1997. The old bills will be gradually withdrawn from circulation in a process that will last 12-18 months. Russian mint officials told RTR that the new currency is better protected against forgery than the euro or the U.S. dollar. RC

GOVERNMENT PROPOSES STATE CONTROLS OVER FUNDING OF NGOS
The government has submitted draft legislation to the State Duma that would regulate the process by which Russian and foreign donors may finance the activities of nongovernmental organizations, "The Moscow Times" reported on 22 July. Under the bill, foreign donors would be required to register each grant made with a special government commission. Russian donors would have to secure inclusion on a special government list of certified donors or else their grants would be subject to a 24 percent tax. Duma deputies told the daily that the Budget and Tax Committee will consider the legislation on 23 July and that it will be presented to the Duma next month. During his annual address to the Federal Assembly in May, President Putin accused NGOs of working for the interests of their funders, saying that as a result "acute problems existing in the country and faced by its citizens go unnoticed." "Foundations affiliated with major Russian corporations that have fallen out of favor with the Kremlin will have no chance of getting on the list," Yurii Dzhibladze, head of the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, told the newspaper. RC

PUTIN NAMES NEW STATE COUNCIL PRESIDIUM
President Putin on 21 July issued a degree naming the new composition of the presidium of the State Council, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 22 July. The new presidium comprises Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, Lipetsk Oblast Governor Oleg Korolev, Republic of Khakasia President Aleksei Lebed, Sakhalin Oblast Governor Ivan Malakhov, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko, Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin, and Orenburg Oblast Governor Aleksei Chernyshev. The first session of the new presidium is scheduled for 23 July in Gelendzhik, and will be devoted to development issues of Russian resort towns. RC

SUPREME COURT RULES PILOTS RESPONSIBLE FOR 2002 CRASH THAT KILLED LEBED
The Supreme Court on 21 July upheld the January convictions by the Krasnoyarsk Krai Court of two pilots charged with violating air-safety regulations in connection with the April 2002 helicopter crash that took the life of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed and seven other people, ITAR-TASS and other media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2004). The Krasnoyarsk Krai Court sentenced pilot Takhir Akhmerov to four years in prison, while Aleksei Kurilovich was given a three-year suspended sentence and two years' probation. Both pilots maintained their innocence during the trial. RC

NATURAL-GAS GIANT DENIES THAT IT WANTS TO PURCHASE 'IZVESTIYA'
Gazprom and Gazprom-Media on 21 July categorically denied media reports that Gazprom-Media is in talks to buy a majority stake in the influential daily "Izvestiya," RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004). Gazprom also denied speculation that the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly intends to purchase Yuganskneftegaz, the main production arm of embattled oil giant Yukos. The Justice Ministry announced on 20 July that the subsidiary will be auctioned off to pay off some of Yukos's tax arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004). RC

LOCAL PRIVATIZATION OFFICIAL CONVICTED OF TAKING BRIBE
Ruslan Sungurov, head of the department for the privatization of federal property for the Southern Federal District, was convicted in Rostov-na-Donu on 21 July of bribe taking and sentenced to seven years in prison, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian media reported. Sungurov was arrested on 29 January with an envelope containing $6,000 in cash in his pocket that had been given to him by Novocherkassk resident Yelena Rokotovskaya as a bribe for assistance in privatizing an automobile service station, the daily reported. Sungurov maintained his innocence at the trial, saying that Rokotovskaya put the envelope in his pocket without his knowledge. Prosecutors at the trial played an audiotape of the conversation during which Rokotovskaya handed over the money, on which Sungurov was heard to say: "What pretty women come here! And they bring money too!" RC

TV-TSENTR ELECTS NEW BOARD OF DIRECTORS
TV-Tsentr, which is controlled by the Moscow city government, on 19 July elected a new board of directors, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 20 July. Valentin Lazutkin, adviser to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, was named chairman of the board and TV-Tsentr President Oleg Poptsov was named deputy chairman. Other board members include Chekhov Moscow Arts Theater Artistic Director Oleg Tabakov and Sergei Tsoi, Luzhkov's press secretary. RC

RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS FOR CRACKDOWN ON ABDUCTIONS IN CHECHNYA
Speaking on 21 July at a meeting in Khankala of Chechen law enforcement and security personnel, Rashid Nurgaliev called for more effective mechanisms to prevent the abductions for ransom and to locate and release kidnapping victims, Russian media reported. Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov agreed that the security services have a responsibility to secure the release of persons who are abducted, Interfax reported. Lyudmila Alekseeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, said in Moscow on 7 July that such disappearances constitute a major problem in Chechnya, Interfax reported. She cited data compiled by the human rights center Memorial indicating that 194 Chechen citizens have been abducted since the beginning of 2004, of whom 97 were released, 15 were found dead, and 82 remained missing. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 July that the special-purpose regiment being formed in Chechnya under the aegis of the republic's Interior Ministry is intended to replace the "presidential guard" commanded by and loyal to First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. LF

NEW CHECHEN ENVOY TO MOSCOW APPOINTED
Acting pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Sergei Abramov signed a decree on 21 July naming Deputy Prime Minister Ziyad Sabsabi Chechnya's permanent representative under the Russian president, Russian media reported. Sabsabi -- who was born in Syria, studied at Leningrad State University and acquired Russian citizenship 11 years ago -- was named last fall by then-Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov to head his staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2003). Sabsabi replaces in Moscow Adlan Magomadov, who will return to Grozny to work as part of the team of republican Interior Minister Alkhanov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 July quoted Sabsabi as saying that one of his top priorities in his new position will be to mobilize the Chechen diaspora elsewhere in Russia to contribute to reconstruction in Chechnya. LF

TWO INGUSHETIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICERS ARRESTED
Two police officers have been detained in Ingushetia on suspicion of collaborating with the young militants who staged coordinated raids last month on Interior Ministry facilities across the republic, www.ingushetiya.ru reported on 21 July. A search of the apartment in Karabulak of one of the two men yielded two Kalashnikovs, a pistol, several grenades, and other weaponry. LF

CONSTRUCTION OF IRAN-ARMENIA GAS PIPELINE BEGINS
Iran has begun building its 100-kilometer section of the planned 140-kilometer pipeline intended to export Iranian natural gas to Armenia, and construction should be completed by the spring of 2005, Armenian Ambassador to Tehran Geghan Gharibjanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 20 July. The project has been under discussion for years, but the formal agreement to proceed was signed only in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). On 21 July, senior Gazprom official Aleksandr Ryazanov discussed with Armenian President Robert Kocharian the possibility of the Russian natural-gas monopoly's participation in the financing and building of the project, ITAR-TASS reported. Gazprom has already undertaken a feasibility study of the Armenian section that estimated the cost of construction at $120 million. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SAYS NO ALTERNATIVE TO OSCE MINSK GROUP
Speaking in Khachmas on 21 July during a tour of Azerbaijan's northern districts, Ilham Aliyev said the only available mechanism for resolving the Karabakh conflict is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, ITAR-TASS reported. In an implicit rebuttal of arguments adduced by some opposition parties that the Minsk Group is either ineffective or biased, and that Azerbaijan should therefore dispense with its mediation, Aliyev said the ongoing peace talks have not reached a dead end and should be continued. At the same time he stressed, as he has done consistently in recent months, that any settlement of the conflict must guarantee Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity. LF

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES KARABAKH, OIL IN WASHINGTON
On 22 July, the online daily zerkalo.az quoted Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov as telling U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on 20 July that Azerbaijani public opinion would be unlikely to accept any formal Karabakh peace agreement before the displaced persons forced to flee their homes during the hostilities have been enabled to return. That formulation implies that Baku continues to hold out for a step-by-step solution to the conflict in which the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory and the repatriation of displaced persons would constitute the first step. Mammadyarov also informed Powell that construction of the Azerbaijani and Georgian sections of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is almost complete, and that the Azerbaijani government has created a special commission on pipeline security. But the Georgian newspaper "24 saati" on 22 July quoted Georgian Minister for Environmental Protection Tamara Lebanidze as saying that construction of the Georgian section of the pipeline was suspended the previous day because it poses an unacceptable hazard to the eco-system of the Borzhomi Valley. Mammadyarov also met on 20 July with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to discuss the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil and natural gas, including possible gas exports to Greece, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). LF

GEORGIA, SOUTH OSSETIA AGAIN ABJURE USE OF FORCE
During what one participant described as a "tense" eight-hour meeting in Tskhinvali on 21 July of a permanent working group established under the aegis of the Joint Control Commission that monitors developments in the South Ossetia conflict zone, the Georgian and South Ossetian government representatives again affirmed their commitment to a peaceful solution of the conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. But the Georgians continue to refuse to dismantle additional checkpoints their peacekeepers have established in the conflict zone. And South Ossetian officials told Caucasus Press and Interfax on 21 July that Georgia has deployed an additional 80 police in the conflict zone. Interfax also quoted Georgian Deputy State Security Minister Gigi Ugulava as saying on 21 July that Georgia will send additional armored vehicles to the conflict zone because Moscow has "disrupted the balance" by giving the South Ossetian armed forces an additional 40 armored personnel carriers. Russian officials said on 20 July those vehicles are intended to replace damaged or nonfunctioning ones that are being withdrawn to Russia for repair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004). LF

RUSSIA SLAMS OSCE BIAS OVER SOUTH OSSETIA
The Russian Foreign Ministry deplored on 21 July what it termed the failure of the OSCE to assess the rising tensions in South Ossetia and take appropriate measures to defuse them, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. It further accused the OSCE, as it has done already, of "bias" in reporting only the Georgian version of events. Speaking in New York on 21 July, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the UN is carefully monitoring the situation in South Ossetia, RFE/RL reported. He added that he hopes the "constructive" relationship between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will enable the two men to find a way to "prevent the situation from exploding." LF

GEORGIAN PREMIER CONDEMNS PROTESTERS' 'IMMORAL' BEHAVIOR
Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania tasked the State Security Ministry on 21 July with determining who organized the ongoing pickets of the Economy Ministry to protest Minister Kakha Bendukidze's plans for the privatization of several hundred state-owned enterprises and buildings, Caucasus Press reported. Zhvania further condemned as "outrageous and immoral" the behavior of two protesters who spat at Bendukidze and uttered insulting remarks while blocking his car the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004). The protesters, supporters of deceased former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, resumed their picket on 21 July, demanding the release of two protesters detained by police the previous day, rustavi2.com reported. On 22 July, the daily "Akhali taoba" cited political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze as predicting that popular sympathy and support for the Zviadists' antiprivatization protests may transform that political group into a significant political force. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR BALANCED ELECTION COVERAGE...
President Nursultan Nazarbaev used a 21 July meeting with the heads of major media outlets to call for balanced, yet public-minded coverage of the 19 September parliamentary elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Noting that "press freedom must be subordinate to public interests," the president said that the media should report on both positive and negative developments, with positive information preceding criticism. He asked the media to avoid becoming in involved in any "black PR," or political dirty tricks. Nazarbaev also hailed the advent of social and political stability in Kazakhstan, saying that it "allows us to hold transparent elections without any problems." He also pledged that the country will introduce an electronic voting system "no matter who cries and how much." DK

...AS MICROSOFT KAZAKHSTAN PROMISES SECURE ELECTRONIC VOTING
Aidar Dauletov, the general director of Microsoft Kazakhstan, assured voters on 21 July that it will be impossible to use the country's electronic voting system to falsify election results, Khabar television reported. The system, which is slated for its first use in upcoming parliamentary elections, has sparked heated discussions. The report quoted Dauletov as saying, "Like anything new, this system and its effectiveness are questioned by a certain section of society." Dauletov explained that the Microsoft-designed system will use separate channels provided by national telecom Kazakhtelecom to bypass the Internet and avoid any risk of infiltration by hackers. DK

KAZAKH PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS
Kazakhstan's pro-presidential Asar party selected its candidates for the 19 September parliamentary elections at an extraordinary party congress on 21 July, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Darigha Nazarbaeva, the head of the party and President Nazarbaev's daughter, said that the congress nominated a slate of 13 candidates and 40 candidates for single-mandate constituencies, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaeva will top the slate. "Kazakhstan Today" quoted her as saying that the party has become "a real force in the country" and a "party that people trust." Noting that "Asar intends to justify the people's trust through concrete deeds," Nazarbaeva proposed tripling the share of social programs in the budget from 5 percent to 15 percent. She also confirmed that Asar will support President Nazarbaev in 2006 presidential elections, comparing him to Peter the Great, George Washington, Charles de Gaulle, and Deng Xiaoping. DK

KYRGYZ GOLD CONCERN ELECTS NEW CHIEF
State-owned gold producer Kyrgyzaltyn elected Deputy Prime Minister Ular Mateev its president at a 21 July shareholders meeting, Kyrgyzinfo reported. Shareholders also elected Erik Arsaliev first deputy president, Anara Otogonova deputy president, and Vladimir Kudryashov deputy president. According to Kyrgyzaltyn adviser Asek Balabekov, Mateev will give up his post as deputy prime minister, akipress.org reported. DK

TAJIK MINISTER DECRIES UNPAID GAS BILLS
Energy Minister Jurabek Nurmahmadov blasted state gas company Tojikgaz for lax bill-collection efforts at a 21 July meeting on the company's first-half 2004 performance, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The news agency quoted the minister as saying, "Tojikgaz's accounts receivable increased by nearly $4.4 million in the first quarter even though gas consumption rose by $2.7 million." Nurmahmadov said that the company needs to install more gas meters and try harder to collect money from customers. He warned that managers will be subject to administrative measures unless performance improves. The minister also tasked management with preparing a plan by 20 August for the demonopolization of Tajik gas utilities. DK

TAJIK OFFICIAL SEES 'INERTIA' IN TRAVEL ADVISORY
Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov said on 21 July that a 19 July travel announcement issued by the U.S. State Department reflects "inertia" and "does not reflect the current reality" in Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The announcement reminds U.S. citizens that "the potential for terrorist actions against Americans in Tajikistan remains." It also urges U.S. citizens to contact the U.S. Embassy before traveling outside of Dushanbe. A source at the embassy told Asia Plus that the State Department routinely issues such precautions every six months. DK

TAJIK PARTY ALLEGES STATE INTERFERENCE
Tajikistan's Socialist Party has issued a statement accusing the government of interfering in the party's internal affairs, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 July. The appeal states that two former party members, who are now government officials, held an unauthorized party congress on 20 June together with other former party members in an attempt to discredit the Socialist Party. The appeal says that the party will hold its "real" congress on 14 August and threatens that it will withdraw from the Public Council unless the government takes action against the officials. For his part, Abduhalim Ghafforov, one of the officials involved in the 20 June congress, told Avesta on 20 July that the planned 14 August congress will represent a violation of the party's charter. Ghafforov also accused Socialist Party head Mirhuseyn Narziev of spreading rumors that he (Ghafforov) had been expelled from the party. DK

EBRD SETS CONDITIONS FOR EXPANDING COOPERATION WITH TURKMENISTAN...
In a strategy paper released on 15 July and summarized by Reuters and Interfax on 21 July, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) expressed "serious concern" at Turkmenistan's "lack of progress in transition towards multiparty democracy, pluralistic society, and a market-based economy." In a letter to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, EBRD President Jean Lemierre warned that that an expansion of the bank's current limited cooperation with Turkmenistan is contingent on political and economic reform, abolishing media censorship, and improving the country's poor human rights record. At present, the EBRD funds only a program in Turkmenistan that promotes the private sector by providing loans to small and medium-sized businesses. Reuters on 21 July quoted an unnamed Turkmen government official as rejecting the EBRD statement as "an ultimatum" and hinting that it will be rejected. LF

...AND SUPPORTS UZBEK SMALL BUSINESSES
The EBRD announced in a 21 July press release that it is extending an additional $3 million loan to Uzbekistan's Hamkor Bank, bringing total EBRD exposure to Hamkor Bank to $5 million. The money will go to support "privately owned micro and small enterprises." As part of the program, 120 loan officers are working to disburse micro-loans in 10 Uzbek cities. The $20 million program was launched by the EBRD and Japan in 2001. DK

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MARKS LUKASHENKA'S DECADE IN POWER
Around 4,000 Belarusians gathered on 21 July at a demonstration in Minsk to mark the 10th anniversary of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rise to power, Belapan reported. The police arrested some 30 protesters, mostly from the youth organization Zubr, while they marched to Bangalor Square, the permitted venue for the protest. The demonstration speakers, including opposition lawmakers from the Respublika caucus -- Valery Fralou, Syarhey Skrabets, and Uladzimir Parfyanovich -- human rights defender Ludmila Hraznova, and Iryna Krasouskaya, the wife of missing businessman Anatol Krasouski, appealed to the gathering to prevent Lukashenka from running for a third term and demanded the parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 October be free and fair. AM

JAILED BELARUSIAN ACTIVIST'S WIFE APPEALS TO LUKASHENKA
Maryna Levaneuskaya, wife of the jailed vendors' strike committee leader Valery Levaneuski, has petitioned Belarusian President Lukashenka to release her husband, Belapan reported on 21 July. Levaneuski was jailed in May and accused of libeling Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). Levaneuskaya, who met with her husband on 20 July, appealed to Lukashenka's "sense of responsibility and compassion," referring to the nightmarish detention conditions. According to Levaneuskaya, her husband shares a cell with a man who makes noise all night long, spits at him, knocks on the walls, and provokes him in other ways. "They are doing what they can to make me testify against myself and my family, break me and destroy me morally and physically," Levaneuskaya quoted her husband as saying. AM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER COLLECTS 1 MILLION SIGNATURES
Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is also a candidate in the 31 October presidential election, has collected 1 million signatures in support of his candidacy, Interfax reported on 21 July, quoting the press service of Yanukovych's election staff. According to Ukrainian law, each presidential candidate registered by the Central Election Commission must submit at least 500,000 signatures of support by 20 September. AM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT TO AID FAMILIES OF MINERS KILLED IN BLAST
Ukrainian Labor and Social Policy Minister Mykhaylo Papiev said on 21 July that families of the miners killed in the 19 July methane explosion in the Rodynske coal mine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004) will receive aid ranging from 83,000 ($15,630) to 221,000 hryvnyas, depending on the miner's job seniority, Interfax reported. Papiev also said that the government will pay the families the equivalent of the miner's wage monthly and will allocate 2,700 hryvnyas for each miner's funeral. The government will begin payments after experts determine the cause of the explosion. AM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF COOPERATION WITH U.S.
Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Washington on 21 July that partnership with the United States is in Serbia's "vital interest," adding that Belgrade must cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal if it wants good relations with all Western democracies, VOA's Serbian Service reported. Tadic argued that his recent election to the presidency shows that there is a "political consensus [in Serbia] to locate [indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic] and other fugitives from justice. If [Mladic] is in Serbia, we will capture him." Tadic also stressed that it is in Serbia's "national interest" to cooperate militarily with the United States because that country is the world's leading military power and an essential partner in reforming Belgrade's military, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. He noted that unnamed U.S. military professionals respected the skills of their Serbian adversaries in the 1999 Kosova conflict and are willing to help modernize Belgrade's military. Independence for Kosova is "unacceptable for me as president of Serbia," Tadic argued, adding that he will do whatever he can to promote Serbian-Albanian dialogue because the status of the province can be resolved only through dialogue, VOA's Serbian Service reported. Tadic said he wants to improve relations with Russia, but that EU membership is his country's priority, ITAR-TASS reported. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS TO DROP LAWSUIT AGAINST NATO
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade on 21 July that the government should drop its lawsuit against NATO dating back to 1999 during the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Reuters reported. "It is impossible to build relations of alliance and friendship on the basis of a lawsuit," he told reporters after talks with his Dutch counterpart Ben Bot. The Netherlands belongs to NATO and holds the rotating EU Presidency. The lawsuit and Belgrade's failure to cooperate fully with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal are two reasons why Serbia and Montenegro was not admitted to NATO's Partnership for Peace program at the Atlantic alliance's June Istanbul summit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). Draskovic, who is a strong proponent of his country's Euro-Atlantic integration, also called on neighboring Bosnia and Croatia to drop their Milosevic-era lawsuits against his country. PM

THREATS REPORTED AGAINST SERBIAN MINISTER OVER WAR CRIMES ISSUES
Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic, who also chairs the National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, has allegedly received "a number of anonymous threats" recently in conjunction with his possible role in the future extradition of any war crimes indictees to The Hague, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004). The letters were allegedly sent to Ljajic and to his party's headquarters in Novi Pazar, warning him that he will "end up like [Serbian Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic," who was assassinated on 12 March 2003. In related news, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic denied frequent but unconfirmed reports that indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic is hiding at an unspecified army facility. Speaking in Sarajevo, Davinic said that Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, should communicate "discreetly and directly" with the Belgrade authorities and not make statements to the media regarding Mladic's alleged whereabouts. PM

SERBIAN COURT REPORTEDLY ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR INDICTED FUGITIVE
The Serbian government's special Belgrade-based war crimes court has issued an arrest warrant for former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic, who has been indicted by the Hague-based tribunal, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported on 22 July without mentioning its source for the story. Hadzic, who recently evaded arrest under circumstances that have not been fully explained, is still in Serbia and Montenegro, the daily added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). The Belgrade court has not confirmed or denied the report in "Danas." PM

MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES FORM PRE-ELECTION COALITION
The opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the National Democratic Party (PDK) have agreed to form a pre-election coalition for the upcoming local elections, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 22 July. Kenan Aliu, a spokesman for the PPD, said the main aim of the new coalition is to defeat the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI). Aliu said his party has stopped cooperating with the BDI because that party did not meet the PPD's expectations, adding that a broad ethnic Albanian opposition front is necessary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2003 and 16 March 2004). UB

ROMANIA OFFERS SITES FOR U.S. MILITARY BASES
Visiting Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase told journalists after talks with President George W. Bush in Washington on 21 July that he offered "a five-star location" for military bases on Romanian territory, an RFE/RL correspondent and dpa reported. Nastase said he expects a decision on the offer soon. Bush did not comment directly on Nastase's offer, but he praised Romania's support for the war on terror and its backing of Washington's policy in Iraq. Nastase described those policies as "wise," particularly in focusing on Iraq's economic reconstruction. Nastase also said Romania intends to make its political and economic system more transparent, and urged U.S. businessmen to invest in his country. On 20 July, Nastase said in New York that it would be "counterproductive" for the U.S.-led coalition partners in Iraq to withdraw from that war-torn country, because this would harm the political process under way there, according to dpa. Also on 20 July, Nastase met at the Pentagon with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with whom he discussed military cooperation. MS

DUTCH PREMIER SAYS DATE FOR END OF ACCESSION TALKS IS UP TO ROMANIA
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said on 21 July that it is too early to say whether Romania will be able to complete accession talks with the EU before the end of 2004, Mediafax and Reuters reported. Balkenende was in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to present the priorities of the current Dutch EU Presidency. In response to a journalist's question on Romanian and Bulgarian accession to the EU in 2007, Balkenende said it is those two countries' "responsibility to implement the [accession] criteria and to work on them." MS

ROMANIA'S SZEKLERS WANT RECOGNITION AS MINORITY
Stefan Molnar, chairman of the recently-formed Union of Szeklers in Romania (USC), told journalists on 21 July that his organization wants the authorities to recognize the Szeklers as an ethnic minority separate from the Hungarian minority, Mediafax and the daily "Romania libera" reported. Molnar said the demand is based on a long historic tradition according to which the Szeklers in Transylvania are an ethnic group in their own right. The USC was set up after Romanian authorities refused to register the Hungarian Liberal Union to compete in the June local elections. Observers point out that the communist regime made several attempts to separate the Szeklers from the Hungarians in official censuses, but those attempts always failed. They say it is ironic that the growing rift in the ranks of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) should lead to a separation that Romanian nationalists have sought but always failed to bring about. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO TIRASPOL...
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin told a meeting of the Supreme Security Council on 21 July that "if by 1 August the Transdniester administration does not eliminate all obstacles to the [normal] functioning of Moldovan schools that teach with Latin script and does not re-establish the free movement of people and goods on the eastern region of the Moldovan Republic, if the situation within the Security Zone [partitioning the two sides] is not by that date [also] normalized, then the Moldovan Republic will stop issuing export certificates to all Transdniestrian enterprises....and will suspend all customs procedures on behalf of economic entities from that region," BASA-Press reported. Observers note that Tiraspol exports require Moldovan permits and that stopping customs procedures would make imports by Tiraspol difficult. Voronin said Moldova has so far striven to encourage "the creation of a climate of ethnic tolerance that aimed at making possible the setting up of a multiethnic state in line with European standards," while Tiraspol responded by "torpedoing every initiative by Chisinau and by the international mediators, and has moved on to violence and open confrontation as of late." MS

...WHILE MOLDOVA 'TEMPORARILY WITHDRAWS' FROM NEGOTIATIONS...
Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova told Infotag on 21 July that Moldova is "temporarily withdrawing" until 1 August from the five-party negotiations with Tiraspol under the mediation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine. Sova said the decision was prompted by the situation created by the separatists when they announced that schools teaching in Moldovan (Romanian) in the Latin script would be closed down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 19, 20, and 21 July 2004). "We were hoping to have this problem discussed at the next round of talks in Tiraspol on 21 July, but, to our surprise, the discussion of this extremely important issue was placed at the end of the agenda and classified under 'miscellaneous.' Under the circumstances, I had no choice but to announce our decision to suspend participation in the talks until 1 August," Sova said. "Unless all our demands, as voiced by President Voronin, are fully met, Moldova will exercise its right to seek amending the current five-party negotiation format." MS

...AS SMIRNOV SAYS SCHOOL CONFLICT MUST BE RESOLVED WITHIN TRANSDNIESTRIAN CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov told Russian special envoy on Transdniestrian issues Valerii Nesterushkin in Tiraspol on 21 July that the recent dispute over the use of Latin script in Moldovan schools can only be resolved within the framework of Transdniestrian constitutional provisions, Infotag reported. Nesterushkin said after the meeting that discussions were "not easy" but that Smirnov "was very sincere and precise in expressing his views." Nesterushkin stressed that Smirnov considers the negotiations with Chisinau still under way. "The sides will try to do their best to find a mutually acceptable solution on many issues," he said. MS

WHO IS MOSCOW'S MAIN ADVERSARY IN CHECHNYA?


Two years ago, in the summer of 2002, former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin embarked upon an attempt to mediate between the Russian leadership and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in the hope of ending a long-running conflict that Rybkin argued could inflict serious long-term damage on the fabric of Russian society. That mediation effort was, however, effectively demolished by the hostage-taking by Chechen militants at a Moscow theater in late October 2002 that ended with the death of almost all the hostage-takers and many of their victims.

Since late 2002, Russian officials have consistently ruled out any talks with Chechen "bandits and terrorists." In addition, they have routinely blamed all major terrorist attacks, whether aimed at Russian federal forces or members of the pro-Russian Chechen administration or both, on fighters loyal to Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev, thereby implying that the two men coordinate and plan joint military operations. Basaev, however, absolved Maskhadov from any role in the Moscow theater hostage-taking, after which he quit as chairman of the State Defense Committee.

Moreover, Maskhadov has repeatedly underscored his rejection of Basaev's tactics, stressing that he considers it unacceptable either to target civilians or to extend military operations from the territory of Chechnya to other regions of the Russian Federation. Asked by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in May 2003 whether the persons responsible for recent suicide bombings in Chechnya operated under his command, Maskhadov responded "the people under my control are Chechen mujahedin resisting Russian federal forces. I have never given orders to blow up buildings or to kill innocent people." Also in May 2003, Maskhadov ordered all field commanders subordinate to him to abide strictly by the Geneva Conventions and to avoid using weapons against Chechen citizens unless their own lives are in danger.

Basaev, by contrast, claimed responsibility for a suicide truck-bombing in December 2002 that virtually demolished the government building in Grozny, killing over 70 people. And Ingush who spoke to the young militants who staged the 21-22 June raids on Interior Ministry targets across Ingushetia said that some of those young men identified Basaev as having masterminded those attacks, according to ingushetiya.ru on 22 June.

Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov, widely regarded as the Kremlin's chosen candidate in the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, nonetheless blamed both Basaev and Maskhadov for the Ingush raids. Maskhadov's announcement in an interview to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in mid-June of an imminent switch of tactics from "acts of sabotage" to "big attacks" was inevitably construed as a veiled reference to the Ingush raids. But "Novye izvestiya" on 23 June quoted Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev as having told Ekho Moskvy the previous day that Maskhadov played no part in the Ingush operation.

Russian journalists have since pointed out that the Ingush raid only serves to underscore that Basaev and Maskhadov are now acting independently of each other. And even more important, as Anna Politkovskaya noted in "Novaya gazeta" on 24 June, it is Basaev, the more radical of the two, who is attracting a new younger generation of militants to fight under him. In a classic case of life imitating fiction, those young men are the real-life counterparts of the young Ingush murids (neophyte Muslim warriors "devoted to God and their spiritual masters") portrayed a decade ago by John Le Carre in "Our Game," and who considered themselves "the moral heart of the Ingush cause and of the military and political opposition to Russia."

The Federal Security Service (FSB) too appears to have reached the conclusion that it is Basaev who at this juncture poses the more serious threat to Russian interests. "Rodnaya gazeta" on 9 July reported that the FSB has construed Basaev's statement screened on 2 July by Al-Jazeera as heralding either a major terrorist operation by his men in southern Russia, possibly targeting the nuclear power plant near Rostov-na-Donu, or an attempt to seize the Russian State Duma or the Prosecutor-General's Office in Moscow. (The Duma spring session formally ended on 10 July, but special sessions are scheduled for 31 July and 3 August.)

Meanwhile "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 July reported that leaflets were distributed last weekend at Grozny's central market warning residents to leave the city immediately as "active hostilities" are imminent. And the chechenpress.com website is predicting that the Chechen resistance will succeed in retaking Grozny on 6 August.

The fact that Basaev has proven himself more ruthless than Maskhadov (in terms of his disregard for civilian casualties and his willingness to inflict major damage on enemy targets outside Chechnya) is only likely to fuel the arguments of those Russian officials who, for whatever reasons, choose to insist that there is no point in opening peace talks with Maskhadov. But their refusal to do so may mean that in three or five years time when Basaev's murids have inflicted major damage, there is no longer anyone left to negotiate with.

COALITION FORCES KILL 10 GUERRILLAS IN AFGHANISTAN
Ten suspected neo-Taliban fighters died in fighting with U.S.-led coalition forces near Kandahar on 21 July, AP reported. "Approximately 40 enemy forces engaged the coalition soldiers, who were conducting operations in the area," U.S. Major Rick Peat said in a written statement. "Approximately 10 enemy forces were killed in action, and five were wounded and captured." Peat said five militants and five government soldiers were also wounded in the clash, which took place near Deh Rawood, outside Kandahar. Deh Rawood Mayor Amir Jan said three of the dead were brothers of a close associate of Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who is thought to be hiding in the tribal lands straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Police in the area recently announced the capture of Mullah Amanullah, a brother-in-law of the Taliban leader, after stopping his car near Deh Rawood. It remained unclear whether Amanullah, who uses a single name like many Afghans, has had any recent contact with Omar. MR

NATO FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN RECEIVE FIRST AIRCRAFT
In an effort to improve Afghan security ahead of October's presidential election, Portugal sent the first of six military aircraft that have been offered to assist NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan, AFP reported 21 July. The C-130 transport plane arrived in Kabul on 21 July, according to Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Another aircraft from Belgium is expected to arrive in August. The multinational peacekeeping force -- which operates primarily in Kabul under a UN mandate -- is expected to rise from roughly 7,000 troops to 9,000 troops by October. A multinational force of roughly 20,000 troops under the leadership of the United States continues to hunt neo-Taliban insurgents and suspected Al-Qaeda operatives in the south and east of Afghanistan. Security throughout the country has deteriorated in recent weeks, with insurgents seemingly bent on attempting to disrupt the balloting by staging guerrilla attacks. MR

GUERRILLAS KILL TWO AFGHAN CIVILIANS
Suspected neo-Taliban fighters killed two civilians whom they accused of cooperating with U.S.-led coalition forces in southeastern Afghanistan, AFP reported 21 July. The two were killed on 18 July in the Sar Hawza district of the restive Paktia Province, according to a local official. "Suspected Taliban killed two civilians who were blamed for working for the Americans," area military commander Zakim Shah said. Neo-Taliban forces have threatened to kill Afghans they find cooperating with coalition reconstruction efforts. Aid workers, construction crews, election officials, and others have come under attack, with incidents increasing lately during the run-up to a nationwide presidential election scheduled for 9 October. Neo-Taliban forces have vowed to derail the presidential election and the subsequent nationwide parliamentary elections, which have been postponed until the spring in part due to security concerns. An offensive launched recently against militants by the U.S.-led coalition force meant is intended to put such insurgents on the defensive. MR

ALLEGED ROGUE SOLDIER CLAIMS PENTAGON APPROVAL FOR AFGHAN ACTIONS...
A U.S. national charged with illegally conducting private counterterrorism activities in Afghanistan told reporters at the opening of his trial in Kabul on 21 July that he and two other U.S. citizens were acting with support from the office of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, AFP reported 21 July. Former U.S. soldier Jonathan Idema has denied accusations that he detained and tortured Afghan citizens while posing as a soldier. Idema claims he was pursuing terrorists in Afghanistan with at least tacit approval from "the highest level" at the Pentagon, AP reported. "The American authorities absolutely condoned what we did, they absolutely supported what we did. We have extensive evidence of that," Idema, who is being tried along with fellow Americans Brent Bennett and Edward Caraballo, was quoted by news agencies as saying. None of the defendants testified at the 21 July proceedings. MR/AH

...AS U.S. OFFICIALS CONCEDE HANDOVER FROM VIGILANTE GROUP
The Pentagon and U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have denied any links with Idema's group, although on 22 July the U.S. military conceded that it took custody of a possible terrorist suspect after a handover from Idema at Bagram Air Base in early May, AP reported. "That doesn't mean at the time that we knew Mr. Idema's full track record or other things he was doing out there," U.S. Major Jon Siepmann said. "This was a person who turned in a person who we believed was on our list of terrorists and we accepted him." The individual was held for a month before it was determined that he was not the suspect Idema suggested he was, Siepmann said. He added that officials are investigating the circumstances of the handover. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 21 July said, "I'd like to make clear, the United States did not and does not employ or sponsor these men. Our embassy's made that very clear in Afghanistan, as well." Peacekeeping troops have said Idema briefly tricked them into helping him secure his so-called private jail by wearing a military uniform and saying he was a Special Forces soldier. Judge Abdul Baset Bahktiari granted a delay of up to 20 days in the courtroom proceedings so the three Americans and four Afghans accused of helping them could prepare their defense. MR/AH

REFORMERS URGE IRANIAN PRESIDENT TO DENOUNCE PRESS CLOSURES
The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution, a reformist group, has asked Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami to denounce as unconstitutional the continuing closures of Iranian newspapers by the conservative-led judiciary, ISNA reported on 21 July. The judiciary recently closed two reformist papers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004) in addition to dozens that were already banned. Muhsin Armin, of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution's central committee, told ISNA that his group wishes "the president to issue a warning [that the constitution is being violated] and do his duty in defending the political and press freedoms stated in the constitution." The president may warn state bodies if they violate the constitution, but it is unclear if his admonitions are legally binding. Separately, a spokesman for Iran's Association in Defense of Press Freedoms, Mashallah Shamsulvaizin, told Radio Farda on 21 July that the judiciary trying to encourage Iranian journalists to emigrate or change jobs by making their work difficult. His group issued a statement on 19 June denouncing a "policy of genocide" by the judiciary against independent journalism in Iran. Some journalists plan to protest against the latest closures on 26 July, at the press guild offices in Tehran, Radio Farda reported. VS

IRANIAN REFORMIST GROUP BEGINS THREE-DAY CONGRESS
The Islamic Iran Participation Front, a reformist party that formed the largest bloc in the last, reformist-dominated parliament, began a three-day congress on 21 July, agencies reported the same day. The party's secretary-general, Mohammad Reza Khatami, admitted in a speech that democratic reforms initiated since President Khatami's 1997 election have suffered setbacks, and he predicted that liberties will be curtailed in the next few years but vowed to continue the party's reformist work within Iran's political framework, Radio Farda reported. He dismissed another revolution in Iran as "neither possible nor useful," stressing that "anarchy and riots are a deadly poison to...society," Radio Farda reported. Khatami said his party will neither become an opposition group that seeks merely to turn "the governing system upside down" nor emulate "conservative reformists" who "believe they must pursue the game behind the scenes...even at the cost of losing public confidence," Mehr news agency reported. Separately, several reformists have approached Mir Hussein Musavi, a prime minister in the 1980s, to be the reformist candidate in the 2005 presidential elections, Radio Farda reported on 21 July. Musavi has yet to respond publicly. VS

IRANIAN ENVOY SAYS ISRAEL SEEKS KURDISH STATE IN IRAQ
Iran's ambassador in Turkey, Firuz Dolatabadi, said on 21 July that Israel's "definite aim is to form a Kurdish state in northern Iraq," IRNA reported the same day, citing an interview with Turkey's NTV. The claim follows a warning about Israel's "separatist" activities in Iraq by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 20 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004). Dolatabadi said Israel has pursued this plan for 20 years, with help from U.S. and British intelligence services, and "their agents are buying property and training Kurds in northern Iraq." The "Kurds receiving Israeli training" are mostly from among "Kurds scattered around northern Iraq," not the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or the Kurdish Democratic Party, Iraq's principal Kurdish groups, "because those groups know that these measures serve [Israeli and U.S.] interests...and do not benefit [Kurds]," IRNA quoted him as saying. Those groups have refused to cooperate with the Israelis, Dolatabadi stated. He also said Iran will pursue its security cooperation with Turkey and block entry into Iran by members of Kongra-Gel, the former Kurdistan Workers Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004). VS

CAIRO CONFERENCE ISSUES FINAL COMMUNIQUE ON IRAQ...
A conference of the foreign ministers from Iraq's neighboring countries concluded a one-day meeting on 21 July, issuing a final communique that welcomed the transfer of power from the coalition to the Iraqi interim government, MENA reported the same day. The communique recognized "the right of the Iraqi people to freely determine their future and exercise full control over their natural and financial resources." It also expressed support for the interim government in the political and security arenas. The communique also condemned "all terrorist acts against civilians, governmental, humanitarian, and religious institutions, as well as international organizations and diplomatic missions operating in Iraq." KR

...AND PAVES WAY FOR NEIGHBORS TO SEND TROOPS
Regarding the presence of multinational forces in Iraq, the communique noted that those forces be subject to the "approval of the interim government of Iraq and will act in accordance with international law, including the obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Conventions." The document also noted that the mandate of multinational forces "be terminated in accordance with paragraphs (4) and (12) of UN Security Council Resolution 1546, or before in case the Iraqi government should so request." The appearance of such clauses in the communique might indicate that the Iraqi government will indeed ask neighboring states to commit troops to serve under the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq. Iraqi leaders have previously said that they would oppose the presence of troops from neighboring states on Iraqi soil, but media reports in recent weeks indicate that the interim government may be changing its position on the matter. KR

U.S. MARINES KILL 25 MILITANTS IN AL-RAMADI
U.S. Marines clashed with militants in the Iraqi city of Al-Ramadi on 21 July, killing 25 militants, Reuters reported on 22 July. Seventeen of the militants were wounded in the fighting and another 25 were captured, a U.S. military statement said. Thirteen U.S. Marines and one soldier were wounded in the fighting, but none sustained life-threatening injuries. The incident occurred when militants detonated a roadside bomb near a Marine convoy. Militants then opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles. The military statement said that the fighting spread, with some 100 militants taking part in the clashes. Al-Ramadi has been the site of frequent anticoalition hostility since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Al-Arabiyah reported on 21 July that militants downed a U.S. helicopter in the city, citing Iraqi police as saying that three individuals onboard the helicopter were killed. The news channel also reported that three Iraqi brothers were killed in an explosion of a booby-trapped car near a hospital in the city on 21 July. KR

GROUP KIDNAPS TRUCK DRIVERS IN IRAQ
A group identifying itself as Jama'at Al-Rayat Al-Sud (The Black Flags Group) sent a videotaped message to Al-Arabiyah television on 21 July claiming to have captured six foreign truck drivers working for a Kuwaiti company in Iraq. The hostages include three Indians, two Kenyans, and an Egyptian national. CNN later reported that there are seven hostages, with an additional Kenyan being held. The group has demanded that the company withdraw from Iraq, and demanded that the hostages' countries declare that they will withdraw their employees and soldiers from Iraq within 72 hours starting at 1600 GMT on 21 July. The speaker in the videotape warns Kuwait that every Kuwaiti company that cooperates with the Americans "will be treated like the Americans." The Egyptian hostage was allowed to speak in the video. He identified himself as Muhammad Ali Sanad and begged his employer to ensure his release. None of the countries of which the hostages are citizens have sent troops to Iraq. KR

MKO ACCUSES IRAN OF INTERFERING IN IRAQI AFFAIRS
The Iranian opposition group Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) has accused the Iranian regime of interfering in Iraqi affairs, according to a statement published by the group in Baghdad's "Al-Manar" on 20 July. The statement claims that regime agents paid $70,000 to Iraqis in Al-Muqdadiyah, located some 120 kilometers east of Baghdad "to bribe the supporters of [the MKO] in order to change their stance and to cut off their relations" with the MKO. The statement claims that the MKO has the support of more than 300,000 Iraqis from various sects, ethnic groups, and social classes. "The honest Iraqi people...insist on the importance of maintaining the political presence of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization in Iraq because it forms the most important barrier against the penetration of extremism into Iraq," the statement contended. KR

KURDISH LEADER MEETS WITH U.K. REPRESENTATIVES IN SALAH AL-DIN
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) head Mas'ud Barzani met with a U.K. delegation that included U.K. Ambassador to Iraq Edward Chaplin and the British consul general in Kirkuk, Noel Guckian, in Salah Al-Din on 21 July, Kurdistan Satellite television reported on the same day. The British delegation expressed a desire to establish stronger relations with the Kurds and stressed the need for stronger political, economic, cultural, and educational relations. They reportedly reiterated the U.K. government's commitment to the Transitional Administrative Law that granted special recognition to the Kurds. Barzani asked the delegation to work to support the democratic and political process in order to build a democratic and federal Iraq. KR

CORRECTION:
In an item titled "Iraq Requests Return Of IAEA Inspectors," "RFE/RL Newsline" cited a MENA report on 21 July that said Iraq had asked International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to return to Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction. The IAEA has said that the inspectors will return to Iraq to take an inventory of the country's nuclear material, and will not be searching for signs of nuclear-weapons programs there, according to its website (http://www.iaea.org). KR

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