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Newsline - October 14, 2004

Sergei Ivanov told an informal session of the NATO-Russia Council in Romania on 14 October that the hostage taking at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, last month was overseen from abroad and that at least five of the terrorists were citizens of unidentified Arab countries, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. He added that the government believes there are 150-200 foreign mercenaries from up to 50 countries fighting in Chechnya, and he repeated the Kremlin's complaints against the United Kingdom and the United States for granting political asylum to senior figures in the government of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. "We must honestly admit that we have not yet been able to achieve a very high level of coordination in the battle against international terrorism," Ivanov said. He also defended Russia's cooperation with Iran's nuclear program, saying there is no way that Tehran can use Russian technology to develop nuclear weapons. RC

Political scientist Aleksei Kiva wrote in "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 14 October that "neoconservatives from both parties who play a decisive role in the formation of the foreign policy of the United States" are providing intellectual justification for Chechen "terrorists" in order to "squeeze Russia out of the strategically important Caucasus" and the oil-rich Caspian Sea region. He also attacked the Russian media for "making heroes" out of Chechen fighters while "creating a negative image of their own country's army, special services, and law enforcement organs." Finally, he accused Russian liberals and intellectuals of accepting money from oligarchs and Western foundations to promote the Chechen cause, a practice that he labeled a "concealed form of corruption." RC

Vladimir Borodin, who has been serving as acting editor in chief of "Izvestiya" since the 6 September resignation of former Editor Raf Shakirov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004), was named the influential daily's editor in chief on 13 October, Russian media reported. Borodin is just 26 years old and began his career in journalism in 1997, "Vremya novostei" reported on 14 October. Borodin said there will be no major staff shakeups but that "several new people will appear in the management," ITAR-TASS reported. He stressed that he would like to promote some of the paper's younger employees. "Newspapers should be made by young people who take a new look at the processes in the country and who take a new look at what the country's main newspaper should be like," the news agency quoted Borodin as saying. He emphasized that there is no crisis at the paper and said he has heard of no plans by ProfMedia, the media-holding arm of oligarch Vladimir Potanin's Interros financial group, to sell "Izvestiya." Shakirov, who resigned following criticism of the paper's coverage of the Beslan hostage crisis, told Ekho Moskvy on 13 October that "Borodin is a man who has very good prospects and he will most certainly cope with his new commitments." RC

The State Duma on 13 October rejected a proposal by Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) that the legislature send a formal request to the Justice Ministry asking it to release the report of the independent auditor that conducted a valuation of Yuganskneftegaz, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Yuganskneftegaz is the main production arm of oil giant Yukos, and the government has announced that it will sell the company to pay Yukos's tax arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2004). The German investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein has submitted a lengthy report on the company to the Justice Ministry, which has refused to make the auditor's findings public. Duma Rules Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev (Unified Russia) told the news agency that Ryzhkov has the right to submit such a formal request as an individual deputy if he chooses. ITAR-TASS reported on 13 October that representatives of Sibneft, TNK-BP, Royal Dutch/Shell, Gazprom, LUKoil, and ConocoPhillips have all said that their companies are not interested in bidding for Yuganskneftegaz. RC

Six young men were arrested in St. Petersburg on 14 October on suspicion of having murdered a 20-year-old Vietnamese student on the night of 13-14 October, Interfax and other Russian media reported. The student was killed near his dormitory, and prosecutors are investigating the possibility that the crime was racially motivated. St. Petersburg Deputy Prosecutor Aleksandr Zhukov told the news agency that investigators are checking to see if the arrested men belong to any extremist groups. RC

A company in Omsk has developed a mortar capable of delivering humanitarian-aid supplies over a distance of several kilometers, TV-Tsentr reported on 13 October. The mortar can be switched from firing live shells to firing canisters of aid within about a minute, and can be used to supply ammunition to surrounded forces. According to the report, the Emergency Situations Ministry is interested in acquiring the mortar, which could be used to supply food and medicine in situations where trucks and helicopters would not be effective. RC

The State Duma adopted in all three readings on 13 October amendments to the law on the federal government that would allow government ministers to join political parties and occupy leadership positions in those organizations, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. For the first reading, the vote was 344 in favor with 69 against and 13 abstentions, according to RosBalt. A ban on ministers using their official positions to promote the interests of their political parties remains. Currently, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev, and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu are members of Unified Russia's general council, noted. However, Zhukov had to suspend his membership of the party after his appointment to the cabinet, "Itogi," No. 41, reported. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has already sent an application for membership to the same party, and the weekly predicted that most cabinet members will join Unified Russia. JAC

National Strategy Council General Director Valerii Khomyakov told a forum on the proposed new Public Chamber held on 13 October that a federal law must be adopted elaborating the functions and method for forming the Public Chamber, whose creation President Vladimir Putin called for in a speech last month, RosBalt reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2004). However, Khomyakov noted that "there is a real danger that the chamber will be the latest bureaucratic structure." Vyacheslav Nikonov of the Politika Foundation suggested that the chamber should be formed under the presidential administration so that it would have a higher status than under the auspices of the State Duma. "Argumenty i fakty," No. 41, reported that although there have been few official statements regarding the new body, work is already under way to create it. According to the weekly, presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev is reportedly being touted for the unpaid post of chairman of the chamber. The weekly expressed hope that the Public Chamber will not meet the same fate as the November 2001 Civic Forum: Some 5,000 activists from nongovernmental organizations descended on Moscow for that event to discuss the goal of constructing a civil society in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 November 2001). "Today no one remembers the forum," the weekly claimed. JAC

Meanwhile, "Gazeta" reported on 13 October that Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov predicted the previous day that the responsibilities of the office of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts might diminish by 2009, when the last popularly elected governor would leave office under the reforms recently proposed by the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2004). The daily reported that personnel within the offices of the presidential envoys were irked by Veshnyakov's statement. One official speaking on condition of anonymity reportedly told the daily: "This time Veshnyakov guessed [wrong]. At the presidium of the State Council in Saratov, [Putin] promised not only to preserve the office of the presidential envoys but to give them more responsibilities." Putin created the office of the envoys in May 2000, when he set up the seven federal districts. JAC

An international arbitration court in London has ruled that the Kaliningrad Oblast administration must pay the Cyprus-based company Duke Investment some $20 million, one-tenth of the oblast's annual budget, NTV reported on 13 October. According to the station, payment of the sum would bankrupt the region. Six years ago, the previous oblast administration under then Governor Leonid Gorbenko borrowed money from Germany's Dresdner Bank to purchase equipment for a local poultry factory; the German bank later sold the loan to the Cypriot company. Gorbenko is now facing criminal charges of abuse of office. Duke Investment has already seized the oblast's representative office in Lithuania, the only real estate outside of Russia that belongs to the oblast. JAC

A Chelyabinsk Oblast court has sentenced Miass Mayor Vladimir Grigoriadi to eight years in prison for accepting bribes, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Izvestiya" reported on 13 October. A local businessman told authorities that Grigoriadi extorted 155,000 rubles ($5,324) from him, and police found 2.5 million rubles during a search of Grigoriadi's home. The court also ordered Grigoriadi to pay a 1 million-ruble fine. According to "Kommersant-Daily," observers in the oblast see the trial against Grigoriadi as the beginning of an anticorruption campaign, the next step of which could be proceedings against Vice Governor Viktor Timashov. Timashov is suspected of corruption and has already spent several months on compulsory leave. JAC

State Duma Deputy Oleg Shein (Motherland) and lawyer Stanislav Markelov told a news conference in Moscow on 13 October that new public protests are highly likely in Kalmykia, reported. According to Markelov and Shein, additional police forces had to be called in from four other regions to quell the last public demonstration, at which 96 people were injured and one person was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 September 2004). also reported that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is using the "Chechen factor" in the struggle against Kalmykia's authorities. According to FSB documents, the number of Chechens in the republic has grown from 8,000 to 30,000 over the last 10 years. The bulk of these migrants have been refugees, but some of them have reportedly been separatist fighters. On the same day, Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov told reporters in Moscow that there is no crisis in Kalmykia and the recent protest rallies were "ordered and orchestrated." He alleged that protesters were paid 300 rubles ($10) each and vodka was served for free at the rally. JAC

Khizri Shikhsaidov resigned on 12 October as Daghestan's prime minister after eight years in that post, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 October. On 13 October, the State Council dimissed the entire cabinet. Federation Council member Ramazan Abdulatipov told the paper that he is certain that Shikhsaidov, his former fellow student, resigned of his own volition. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted unnamed observers in Makhachkala as predicting that Shikhsaidov will soon be named to head the Audit Chamber. Atay Aliev has been named acting prime minister. Aliev, like Shikhsaidov, is a Kumyk. The Kumyks are the third largest of the 14 ethnic groups represented in the State Council. LF

Visiting Yerevan on 13 October, Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin pledged that the Russian government will do everything in its power to persuade neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan to agree to the restoration of rail traffic between the Russian Federation and the South Caucasus, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Levitin criticized the Georgian leadership for its reluctance to allow rail traffic from Russia to transit the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia en route to Armenia. He said obstacles to the transportation of goods to and from Armenia negatively impact both the Armenian economy and Russian exports to and economic cooperation with that country. Restrictions on the passage of vehicles between Russia and Georgia imposed in the wake of September's Beslan hostage crisis have compounded Armenia's economic isolation. LF

Samvel Aleksanian, editor of the independent weekly newspaper "Syuniats yerkir," told RFE/RL's Armenian Service by telephone from the southern town of Syunik on 13 October that three members of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia physically assaulted him earlier that day and ransacked his office. Aleksanian said the attackers then warned him that his office and car would be firebombed unless he quit writing further articles criticizing government policy. Last month "Syuniats yerkir" questioned the rationale for closing two local secondary schools as part of a nationwide program to reduce the number of teaching staff. Police in Syunik told RFE/RL that they have launched an investigation into the attack on Aleksanian. LF

Presiding judge Mansur Ibaev refused on 13 October to allow the seven oppositionists on trial for their alleged role in violent clashes in Baku between police and opposition supporters in the wake of the disputed October 2003 presidential ballot to make a final statement in their defense, according to on 14 October. Ibaev claimed the seven accused have no right to make such statements after their respective defense lawyers declined on 12 October to make a final speech for the defense on the grounds that they were "being subjected to physical and psychological pressure." People's Party Chairman Panakh Huseinov argued that the defendants have the right to a final address. Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Secretary-General Serdar Djalaloglu explained that "we want to try to prove to the public that we are not guilty of anything." The prosecution has called for prison terms of between four and seven years for all seven men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2004). LF

Azerbaijani border guards refused on 13 October to permit Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, imam of the unregistered Djuma Mosque in Baku, to board a plane for Warsaw, where he hoped to attend to meeting convened by the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Turan and reported on 13 and 14 October, respectively. It was the third time within two months that Ibrahimoglu has been prevented from leaving Azerbaijan. He told that the authorities offered no explanation for their refusal to allow him to travel abroad. LF

Former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba took issue on 13 October with the 12 October announcement by the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia that his rival, Chernomorenergo head Sergei Bagapsh, polled 50.08 percent of the vote (not 50.8 percent as erroneously reported in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 12 and 13 October) in the 3 October presidential ballot, Caucasus Press reported. Khadjimba claimed the CEC miscalculated and that Bagapsh received only 49.9 percent of the vote. According to CEC returns, Bagapsh received 43,366 votes of a total of 76,645 votes cast, compared with 30,815 for Khadjimba. Bagapsh for his part dismissed Khadjimba's allegations as "utter nonsense," according to ITAR-TASS. Bagapsh said that "all the figures have been counted and recounted," and that the CEC has meticulously tabulated them. On 14 October, Bagapsh was quoted by "Izvestiya" as saying that three days earlier the Abkhaz parliament voted to amend the law on the presidential election to allow for a repeat vote in individual constituencies. Khadjimba has appealed to the Supreme Court as unconstitutional the CEC's 6 October ruling that repeat voting should be held in Gali on 17 October. LF

Khadjimba told a rally of his supporters in the Abkhaz capital Sukhum on 13 October that he is prepared to withdraw his presidential candidacy provided that Bagapsh does likewise, ITAR-TASS reported. Bagapsh responded, however, that he will not withdraw as he sees no reason to do so, Caucasus Press reported. "I believe that the majority of people voted for us," he was quoted as saying. Bagapsh predicted that between 20,000 and 30,000 people would attend a rally in his support in Sukhum on 14 October. LF

Otar Lakrba, editor in chief of Abkhaz State Radio and Television, Abkhaz State Television First Deputy Director General Yurii Kutarba, and some 20 other journalists resigned on 13 October to protest what they termed intolerable political pressure exerted on them by supporters of both Khadjimba and Bagapsh, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Also on 13 October, acting Abkhaz Prime Minister Nodar Khashba dismissed Ruslan Khashig as general director of State Television and Radio and appointed Guram Amkuab to replace him, Caucasus Press reported, citing Apsnipress. LF

One parliamentary deputy from the pro-government National Movement-Democrats bloc and two from the pro-government Majoritarians announced on 13 October their decisions to quit the majority, Caucasus Press reported. They told journalists they decided to do so after the parliament decided against creating a special commission to clarify the circumstances of the death on 31 December 1993 of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze expressed regret at the three deputies' decision, which she termed "senseless," Caucasus Press reported on 13 October. LF

Former Imereti Governor David Mumladze has been named a deputy interior minister, Caucasus Press reported on 13 October. Mumladze replaces Gia Getsadze, who succeeded him in Imereti. Mumladze told journalists on 29 September that his main achievement as governor was reducing the crime rate. Residents of Imereti have staged repeated demonstrations since May of this year denouncing Mumladze for allegedly turning a blind eye to corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May and 23 September 2004). LF

Colonel Mikheil Kebadze, deputy commander of the Georgian peacekeepers deployed in the South Ossetia conflict zone, was arrested late on 12 October at his home, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Deputy State Security Minister Batu Kutelia told Caucasus Press on 13 October that protests by Kebadze's family that it was police who planted the huge quantities of weapons reportedly found during a search of Kebadze's home are untrue. He hinted that Kebadze might be charged with both illegal possession and illegal sales of arms. Some 100 relatives and friends of Kebadze participated in a rally on 13 October to protest his arrest. Meanwhile, OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Pasi issued a statement on 13 October ( deploring a shooting incident in the conflict zone on 12 October that led to the death of two South Ossetian peacekeepers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2004). LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Robert Wilson, chairman of the board of gas conglomerate BG Group, in Astana on 13 October, Khabar reported. BG Group owns a 32.5 percent stake in the Karachaganak oil and gas project in western Kazakhstan. "I would describe the meeting with the president as exceptionally constructive and friendly," Wilson said. "Of course, you always have to discuss and resolve certain issues. But for many years now BG Group has had very constructive and friendly relations with the government of Kazakhstan." Kazakh TV reported that the meeting focused on BG Group's further involvement in investment projects in Kazakhstan. DK

Nartai Dutbaev, chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, has confirmed that a Kazakh citizen was one of the suicide bombers who took part in attacks in Tashkent on 30 July, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 13 October. In an interview published on 13 October, Dutbaev told Kazakhstan's "Liter" newspaper, "Askhan Shuyusupov, a Kazakh citizen and a resident of Taraz [in southern Kazakhstan], was directly involved in the terrorist attack in Tashkent. This is a proven fact. Unfortunately, our Uzbek colleagues told us about this too late." Dutbaev said that Kazakh specialists identified Shuyusupov's badly mangled corpse on the basis of fingerprints. DK

Stephen Young, U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, told a news conference in Bishkek on 13 October that Kyrgyzstan can set an example for Central Asia with October 2005 presidential elections, reported. "It is Kyrgyzstan of all the Central Asian states that has the unique chance to become a leader in the process of transferring power in a peaceful and democratic way," Young said. Expressing the hope that 2005 elections will be a "landmark in the history of Kyrgyzstan," Young stressed his belief that President Askar Akaev will honor his pledge not to seek another term in office. Turning to other issues, Young said the United States will fund a program to collect voters' fingerprints in order to prevent electoral fraud, ITAR-TASS reported. He also noted that the United States does not plan to increase personnel at the U.S. air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, Interfax-AVN reported. DK

Rahmatullo Valiev, chairman of Tajikistan's Democratic Party, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 13 October that recent measures against the country's independent press have left voters in the dark about February 2005 parliamentary elections. "Tajik citizens today know virtually nothing about the upcoming elections because available media, which are state broadcast and print media, are silent," Valiev said. DK

Uzbek Defense Ministry spokesman Komil Jabborov told the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) on 13 October that Uzbekistan has temporarily halted mine-clearing efforts along the Kyrgyz border because of equipment shortages and bad weather. Noting that barriers and barbed wire are in short supply, Jabborov said, "In addition to mine clearing, we also need to equip these regions with protective measures to guard the border." Recent snowfalls have also hampered work. "We are dealing with these issues in an entirely independent fashion. The international community has not reacted with any offer of help," Jabborov added. Uzbekistan mined its borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 1999 to prevent terrorist incursion. Mine-clearing operations had begun over the summer of 2004, earlier reports indicated. DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a meeting with Russian regional journalists in Minsk on 13 October that Russia is not ready to introduce a common currency with Belarus, as stipulated by the 1999 Belarusian-Russian treaty on the formation of a union state, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Lukashenka also said the recent strengthening of the Belarusian ruble is one of the reasons for the Belarusian government's wary attitude to the possible adoption of the Russian ruble as the common currency. The 1999 treaty obliged Belarus to switch to the Russian ruble in 2005 and both countries to adopt an unspecified common currency in 2007. These target dates were subsequently delayed by a year. JM

President Lukashenka warned Russian journalists on 13 October that "the Americans are transferring their most advanced antiaircraft systems to Poland," Belapan reported. "Why are they doing that?" Lukashenka wondered. "Perhaps they have some interest in Belarusian or Russian territory?" Lukashenka promised to keep protecting Russia from possible external enemies even if that country fails to help Belarus build its defense. "It would be immoral for us not to protect Russia," he said. "We cannot...let tanks through Belarus, so that they proceed toward Moscow unhindered." JM

President Lukashenka also told Russian journalists on 13 October that he has reversed the recent decision to ban monitors from the Czech Republic and Greece from entering the country for the 17 October legislative elections in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2004), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "I have been shown a list of people who came from the Czech Republic and Greece to monitor our parliamentary elections," Lukashenka said. "It turned out that these countries are sending normal people. We need to be more gentlemanly." Lukashenka also commented on why the Czech Republic denied a visa to him in 2002 and Greece did not let Belarusian Sports Minister Yury Sivakou enter the country for the Summer Olympics in 2004. "The Czech Republic and Greece did not do that of their own will," Belapan quoted Lukashenka as saying. "They have long been unable to decide anything. People in Brussels and Washington decide for them." JM

RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 13 October that the administration of Belarusian universities is trying to bully students into taking part in early voting for the 17 October legislative election and presidential referendum. "Today at 1 p.m. the dean of the engineering and construction faculty [at Polatsk State University] dismissed students from their classes and ordered them to go [to the polling station] and vote," Union of Belarusian Students Chairwoman Volha Kuzmich told RFE/RL on 13 October. Kuzmich said students are told that they will have "problems with education" if they fail to vote. "When I asked my dean why I have to go and vote early, he answered: 'Because I'm requesting this from you. Otherwise, our relations may be spoiled,'" a student from Vitsebsk State University told RFE/RL. A group of Belarusian-philology students at Vitsebsk State University have sent an open letter to Dean Viktar Nestsyarovich, protesting the official pressure on them to participate in early voting. JM

Lawmaker Oleksandr Moroz and Stepan Havrysh have submitted a draft bill to the Verkhovna Rada proposing that constitutional-reform bill No. 4180 be adopted in its entirety, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 13 October. Bill No. 4180, which was approved in the first reading by the Verkhovna Rada in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2004), proposes transferring a significant part of presidential powers to the parliament and prime minister. The Constitutional Court ruled on 14 October that bill No. 4180 does not contradict the Ukrainian Constitution. To become law, the constitutional-reform bill must be approved by a two-thirds majority (at least 300 votes) in the second reading. "Two leading presidential candidates, Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, as well as their teams are counting on victory in the [31 October presidential] elections," Ukrainian political scientist Volodymyr Polokhalo commented. "It means that it will be difficult to find 300 votes in support of this reform." JM

Our Ukraine leader and presidential candidate Yushchenko on 13 October held campaign meetings with voters in the cities of Illichivsk and Odesa, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Yushchenko returned from the Rudolfinerhaus hospital in Vienna on 10 October, following a second round of treatment for a mysterious illness his election staff claims resulted from deliberate poisoning. Yushchenko said at the meetings that he is subject to a 10 hours of rehabilitation a day. Yushchenko also said he does not trust Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasilyev, whose office is investigating Yushchenko's alleged poisoning, and announced that he will pass the documentation of his treatment to investigators only upon completion of all tests made at Rudolfinerhaus. According to the website, Yushchenko spoke clearly and without difficulties but his face was visibly swollen. JM

The coalition of parties and organizations backing the presidential bid of Prime Minister Yanukovych has issued a statement saying that the opposition is planning to gather half a million supporters of Yushchenko near the Central Election Commission headquarters on the night of 31 October in order to launch a "chestnut revolution" in the event Yuschenko loses the 31 October presidential ballot, Interfax reported. "We address the Ukrainian president with a request to take all possible measures to prevent the implementation of 'chestnut-revolution scenarios' and to ensure law and order during the election process," the statement reads, in an apparent reference to Georgia's Rose Revolution. JM

Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 13 October that unnamed state officials organized a demonstration there earlier in the day of several hundred Serbian refugees from Kosova against Serbian participation in the 23 October parliamentary elections in that province, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, 8, and 12 October 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 8 October 2004). Tadic called such behavior by officials "absolutely unacceptable." The president has called on Kosova's Serbian minority to participate in the ballot, but Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has advised a boycott. Tensions between the president and prime minister have become more public since the recent Serbian local elections, in which Tadic's Democratic Party and the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) emerged as the clear winners. PM

Some 129 out of 250 deputies in the Serbian parliament voted on 13 October to declare membership in the EU and NATO's Partnership for Peace program a "strategic goal" of Serbian policy, dpa reported. Legislators belonging to the SRS and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) boycotted the ballot (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 2 July 2004). PM

The UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) issued a statement on 13 October in Prishtina criticizing the recent decision by Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije to withdraw from a project aimed at reconstructing 34 Serbian Orthodox religious buildings damaged or destroyed during the interethnic violence on 17-18 March, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 26 March, and 2 April 2004). The UN statement said that "the bishop's cancellation of his earlier agreement [to participate] and withdrawal of his representative from the process has suspended ongoing preparations for reconstruction." The statement added that "the bishop's decision...runs counter to the overall goal to build a multiethnic Kosovo with full respect and security for all communities and religious sites." The news agency suggested that Artemije's latest move reflects the tensions between the UN and those Serbs, including the church, who support a boycott of the 23 October parliamentary elections. The EU, UN, United States, and Kosova's elected government have called on everyone entitled to vote to do so. PM

Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov said on 13 October that the Iraqi authorities have not provided their Macedonian counterparts with new information about the fate of three Macedonian contractors who were kidnapped near Baghdad on 23 August, the private Kanal 5 TV reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2004). Kostov said he also asked U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who visited Skopje on 11 October, to help find out what happened to the Macedonians. The three abducted men were members of a 40-strong team of construction workers recruited in the northwestern Macedonian city of Kumanovo by the U.S. company Soufan Engineering, dpa reported. In the meantime, most of the workers have returned due to continuing attacks on foreigners in Iraq. Macedonian Interior Minister Siljan Avramovski said on 12 September that his ministry is considering sending an unnamed official to Iraq to monitor the investigations of the Iraqi authorities, according to "Utrinski vesnik." The daily also reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Fuad Hasanovic is likely to travel to Baghdad next week. UB

Speaking at the school for noncommissioned officers at Jastrebarsko near Zagreb on 12 October, Croatian President Stipe Mesic again ruled out any role for the Croatian military in Iraq, stressing that the operations there are not led by the UN, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2004). He also ruled out concluding a bilateral agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC). "We believe that we must be equal, and if Croatia has to extradite its citizens [to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague], then it should not protect some other [country's] citizens from the same responsibility," Mesic said. Critics of his position note that U.S. military assistance was crucial in Croatia's defeat of Serbian forces in 1995 and that Croatia still needs U.S. backing to join NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). The EU, which Croatia hopes to join in 2007, has warned Zagreb against signing any bilateral agreement with Washington regarding the handover of each other's citizens to the ICC. PM

Officials of Sarajevo's Bosnian Regional Museum told Reuters on 13 October that the museum will close to the public on 15 October because of a lack of funds to pay salaries and provide heating. Acting Director Aisa Softic said that funds from the Muslim-Croat federation covered only half of the museum's $561,000 annual budget, and its 63 employees have not been paid since July. The Republika Srpska has not provided any funding for the museum. Softic said that the museum will remain closed until the funding issue is resolved, adding that the most valuable objects from the exhibitions have already been put into storage. The museum was founded in 1888 under Austro-Hungarian rule and survived both world wars and the 1992-95 Serbian siege of Sarajevo. A section of the museum prominently displaying the 14th century Jewish holy book known as the Haggadah was restored with help from abroad after the siege, but most of the exhibits and infrastructure remain as they have for decades. In addition to displays on Bosnian history and culture inside the building, the museum has a large courtyard containing plants from around Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as examples of large medieval tombstones from Stolac and neighboring regions. PM

On 13 October, officials of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal opened a sealed indictment against Miroslav Bralo, a Bosnian Croat wanted for rape and torture allegedly committed in 1993, Reuters reported. The sealed indictment was first prepared in 1995, but when Bralo turned himself in to Dutch peacekeepers in Bosnia in 1997, they said they were unaware of any indictment and sent him home. He is currently at large. Meanwhile, Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor for the tribunal, said in Luxembourg at a EU foreign ministers' meeting on 11 October that the tribunal faces huge problems in securing the cooperation of potential witnesses for the trials of unnamed former ethnic Albanian guerrilla leaders in Kosova, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. PM

The New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 14 October that local courts in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro suffer from an ethnic bias that makes them unsuitable for trying war crimes cases, dpa reported from Zagreb. Richard Dicker, director of the NGO's International Justice Program said that the specialized war crimes courts set up in all three countries are "a good thing, but there will still be hundreds of cases in Croatia and Bosnia that will need to be tried by ordinary local courts," which, he feels, are in sore need of improvement. Dicker argued that "in local courts, we see bias against ethnic minorities, intimidation of witnesses, and police stonewalling investigations." The statement calls on governments in the three countries to improve the quality of trials there by implementing witness-protection mechanisms, cooperating at the state level, training judges and prosecutors, and providing support and protection for those officials. PM

Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said on 13 October in Poiana-Brasov that Romanian troops might help provide security for the January elections in Iraq by participating in a UN force protecting UN staff, Mediafax reported. Pascu made the comments on the sidelines of an informal two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Romanian mountain resort. He said Romania is already participating with troops in five different conflict operation points. Pascu was cited by Mediafax as saying that Iraqi military instructors might be trained in Romania. The Poiana-Brasov meeting was opened on 13 October by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who said the forum will focus on the alliance's military transformation, operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, NATO assistance in training Iraqi security forces, and the organization's response to terrorism. MS

The U.S. Embassy in Romania said in a statement released on 13 October that its "long-standing position...has been to oppose extremist political forces that promote ethnic division or might endanger Romanian democracy." The statement followed a protest by the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) in which it accused a U.S. diplomat in Bucharest of attempting to undermine the recent electoral alliance set up by the PRM with the National Democratic Bloc -- a political party set up by the National Syndicate Bloc (BNS) in September. The PRM slated 15 "eligible" seats on its lists for BNS members. The embassy, the statement said, had "made known its disappointment to the leadership of the BNS following the decision of that trade union bloc to go into alliance with an extremist party." It had "informed the BNS that we would have to terminate relations with it as a result." Furthermore, "we subsequently shared our concerns" with the leadership of the trade union Fratia, "knowing of that organization's plans to form a confederation with the BNS." On 12 October, Fratia and the BNS postponed a planned merger between the two unions, but not for political reasons, Mediafax reported. The agency said the merger's cancellation was due to the criticism expressed by the U.S. Embassy. MS

National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) member Mircea Dinescu on 12 October withdrew his resignation from that body, Mediafax reported the next day. Dinescu said in an interview published by the daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 14 October that he has changed his mind "in order to avoid giving satisfaction to the scoundrels who saw in [the resignation] a victory for Vadim." Dinescu and CNSAS member Andrei Plesu resigned from the CNSAS on 7 October in protest against the perceived attempt to conceal PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor's past collaboration with the communist secret police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2004). Dinescu said his resignation has not been submitted to parliament in writing and it therefore had no legal validity. According to Mediafax, Dinescu said Plesu was standing by his resignation. MS

Separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 12 October said in Tiraspol that the province's reunification with Moldova is "out of the question," Infotag reported the next day. Addressing an international conference on Transdniestrian statehood, Smirnov said Moldova is exerting political and economic pressure on Transdniester and is "insulting" its people. He said the referendum the authorities plan for the region's independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2004) "should be carried out in the presence of international observers" to avoid any doubts arising about "the legitimacy of our state." Its results, Smirnov said, should have the power of law "not only for us, but also for the international community, primarily the United States, the EU, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE]." MS

Following a meeting held in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 11-12 October, the three mediators in the Transdniester conflict (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) called for the immediate resumption of negotiations, Flux reported on 13 October. They said in a joint statement that the final settlement should be based on Moldova's territorial integrity and the granting of a special status to Transdniester. The statement says the mediators are concerned about the "perpetuation of the pause" in negotiations and called on the sides to refrain from unilateral acts that might lead to the further deterioration of the situation. They also emphasized their own positive role in finding solutions for concrete problems, such as "that of the [Moldovan] schools" that were closed in Transdniester. MS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a government conference on 6 October that the authorities should not only win the presidential referendum on 17 October but also should fill all 110 seats in the Chamber of Representatives in the first round of the legislative elections that will be held the same day. "We should show who is the master of the house," Lukashenka said. "We should leave no stone unturned [in crushing] the domestic and external opposition.... One should be able to stay in power and defend it. This is Grandpa Lenin's saying, not mine. We have enough power and techniques to win these elections and referendum overwhelmingly."

Winning the referendum for Lukashenka means obtaining the right to run for the presidency in 2006 and thus, as his opponents assert, paving the way for his indefinite rule in Belarus. Filling all the seats in the Chamber of Representatives in the first round actually means packing the lower house with submissive and toothless deputies by way of administrative support and/or vote "adjustments." The opposition, which was pushed out of "systemic politics" in Belarus by Lukashenka in 1996, seems to have no chance to win even a single seat in the Chamber of Representatives. An opposition rally in Minsk on 10 October, which was organized to call on the electorate to refrain from early voting, gathered only an estimated 300 people, that is, almost exclusively opposition leaders, opposition parliamentary candidates, and some activists of their election staffs. Ordinary voters remained totally uninterested.

Belarusian opposition activists read Lukashenka's call on the government to win the 17 October elections and presidential referendum by a landslide as a veiled order to falsify the polls. Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka said the government is rumored to be planning to make 60 percent of the voters cast their ballots before polling day. The early voting, which began on 12 October, is widely deemed to be the best opportunity for the authorities to fix the ballot. "Our people account for less than 1 percent of election-commission members," United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka added. "These can hardly be called election commissions, they are rather 'falsification' commissions." According to Lyabedzka, election commissions have been ordered to ensure an 80 percent turnout and a 75 percent vote in favor of the referendum proposal to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency.

Apart from instructing the government to work toward completing the parliamentary election in the first round, Lukashenka also decided on the balance of sexes in the future Belarusian legislature. In his annual address to the National Assembly in April, Lukashenka determined and validated the quota for women in the deputy corps. "Women should constitute no less than 30-40 percent [of the deputy corps]," he said. "Woman always emit kindness. So the remaining guys will work well.... I will request that the local authorities support all these processes and that the men who find themselves in the same constituency with women give up.... I'll be glad if women constitute 40 percent of our future parliament."

Some "guys" who did not work "well" in the outgoing Chamber of Representatives were simply denied registration as candidates for the 17 October election. In particular, such elimination was applied to deputies Uladzimir Parfyanovich and Syarhey Skrabets, who jointly with deputy Valery Fralou went on a 19-day hunger strike in June, demanding liberalizing changes to the country's Election Code. Uladzimir Hancharyk, a challenger to Lukashenka in the 2001 presidential election, was also rejected.

In general, registration was a tortuous process for many more candidates. Out of the 692 people seeking registration, district election commissions registered 359. The most common official reasons for denying registration were incorrectly filled-out income and property declarations by candidates or irregularities in the signature lists of citizens supporting candidates. The Central Election Commission subsequently sustained 40 out of the 164 complaints from people who were rejected by district election commissions. But in some cases the commission was adamant, supporting registration denials according to a graphologist's conclusion that there were falsified signatures on candidates' support lists. Some rejected candidates later submitted written statements from their voters swearing that their signatures on support lists are authentic, but to no avail. Graphology seems to be a promising vocation in Belarus under Lukashenka.

Conducting the election campaign has proven tricky for opposition candidates as well. For example, police on 1 October searched without a warrant the campaign office of two opposition parliamentary candidates in Minsk, Valyantsina Palevikova and Alyaksandr Dabravolski, and confiscated all 15,000 election campaign leaflets printed legally by United Civic Party deputy head Dabravolski with money provided by the Central Election Commission. Palevikova was luckier, because the police seized only some of her leaflets. RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported many cases of detention by police of opposition candidates and their supporters campaigning in the streets, just with the sole purpose of intimidation.

Under Belarus's election legislation, all candidates are entitled to air five-minute, free-of-charge campaign programs on state-run television and radio channels. The opposition hoped that it would be able to use this opportunity to call on voters to say "no" to Lukashenka in the referendum. However, state censors either blocked such prerecorded election broadcasts from being aired at all or cut passages referring to the referendum from them. Some opposition candidates who criticized the government in their campaign broadcasts were subsequently removed from the ballot on charges of defaming state officials.

In short, there is no chance for the Belarusian opposition to score any significant success in the 17 October polls or efficiently monitor the vote counting. The Belarusian authorities do not allow election monitors to be present in the rooms where the ballots are counted after the closure of polling stations. There is also an official veil of secrecy over the lists of eligible voters in the country as a whole and in every single constituency in particular.

What the opposition is proposing to voters in order to prevent the potential rigging of the vote in the presidential referendum is to ruin the referendum ballot by tearing it in two, put one part in the ballot box and take the other -- with the signatures of a relevant polling-station commission -- outside the polling station and subsequently pass it to opposition candidates for a "parallel vote count." Not a bad idea in theory, but it was voiced only this past week, so there is slim chance that it may be communicated to all voters who do not want Lukashenka to rule the country beyond 2006.

During an informal meeting of NATO members in Romania on 12 October, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns called on the alliance to consider eventually taking command of an integrated U.S./NATO force in Afghanistan, AFP reported on 13 October (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 October 2004). Burns told reporters on the eve of the 13-14 October talks that NATO defense ministers would likely request that their military leaders study the feasibility of the proposal by the next NATO meeting, which is to be held in France in February 2005. "It could be 2005, it could be 2006, it depends on how things go," Burns said on 12 October. "It really depends on what the military leaders will tell us -- how would you do this, how difficult would it be, on what basis would it be." U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld first suggested the idea of NATO assuming military command in Afghanistan at a NATO meeting in December 2003. KM

NATO allies France and Germany immediately rejected the idea of merging the international and U.S. military missions in Afghanistan under one command, AP reported on 13 October. German Defense Minister Peter Struck said that NATO's responsibility in Afghanistan is to assist in stabilizing the country, not in fighting international terrorism as U.S. forces are tasked with doing. "Therefore, we are against a merger of the two mandates," Struck said. "There may be some interest in synergy between the two operations, but a merger of the forces makes no sense," French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said. "It would be counterproductive to have the two missions under a united command." Following the first day of talks on 13 October, Ambassador Burns said that "most countries that spoke today, including our country, said the goal should be one NATO mission," and not separate peacekeeping and combat ones, AP reported. KM

Vote counting for Afghanistan's presidential election began on 14 October in some of the eight counting centers across the country, international media reported. However, Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) head Faruq Wardak said on 14 October that the vote count had yet to begin in Kabul. The tallying of votes for the 9 October election had been delayed pending the investigation of allegations of voter fraud and multiple voting (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 and 13 October 2004), and observers and officials feared that rival candidates to the expected frontrunner, current Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, would continue to reject the vote and declare the results illegal. The JEMB on 13 October extended to the evening of 14 October a deadline for presidential candidates to file official complaints. While three candidates -- Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, Mohammad Mohaqeq, and Gholam Faruq Nejrabi -- originally filed such objections, they withdrew their protests on 13 October so the process could proceed with legitimacy, Reuters and AFP reported. KM

A 13 October editorial featured in the independent Afghan daily "Arman-e Melli" noted that "when opposition candidates voiced complaints about fraud and cheating during the elections, there were heated arguments about whether the Joint Electoral Management Body actions were right." The editorial criticized the JEMB's quick willingness to sit down with opposition candidates to negotiate their protests and concerns about fairness in the 9 October Afghan presidential elections. The fact that they are negotiating with the various candidates "shows that the issues [of fraud] that came under criticism were not small or superficial," the commentary read. "Nor are they minor issues to be laughed off by saying that the marker pens were mixed up." However, the newspaper added, "the focus of the issue is to get opposition candidates to agree to legitimize the results of the elections." Summing up its criticism of this move by the JEMB, the newspaper laments, "This will once again prove that deals and compromises will remain for many years in Afghanistan." KM

Former Behshahr parliamentary representative Ali-Asqar Rahmani-Khalili, who is a member of the central council of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez, MRM), said on 13 October that his organization will hold a special meeting on 17 October to decide on a candidate for the upcoming presidential election, Fars News Agency reported. Reformist political organizations were hoping that former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi would agree to run, but a 12 October statement from the MRM said that he refused to be a candidate, Fars News Agency reported. He reportedly announced this in a meeting with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, MRM Secretary-General Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeiniha. Rahmani-Khalili described Musavi's decision as understandable given the country's political climate. The system's future is at stake, he said, and "we should choose a person who understands regional and international challenges and he should try to remove the obstacles in our way." The candidate should have the right character for dealing with regional tensions and challenges, Rahmani-Khalili said. BS

"The ground has been prepared for [Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar] Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy," Rahmani-Khalili said on 13 October, according to Fars News Agency. Speaking the same day to a meeting of political leaders who were calling for him to run, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said there is plenty of time before candidates register for the May 2005 presidential election, IRNA reported. The secretaries-general of the Islamic Labor Party, Labor House, Islamic Civilization Party, and other organizations were at the meeting. Hashemi-Rafsanjani went on to say that he favors the participation of "young and highly skilled manpower." In an 8 October meeting with clerics in Qom, Hashemi-Rafsanjani reiterated his stance that he will be a candidate only if it is necessary, ISNA reported. "I have said repeatedly before that if no one else is prepared to run for the presidency, I will be prepared to enter the arena again to manage the country in sensitive circumstances. However at present, I am waiting for another suitable person to do the job," he said. "I am still waiting for a suitable person to run for presidency." BS

In the face of news reports that Washington and Europe are considering ways to persuade Iran to forsake uranium enrichment, several Iranian officials have said the country is unstoppable. A member of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, the conservative Hamid Reza Hajibabai, said on 13 October that "ordering Iran to stop accessing nuclear technology is a dream of America and the European Union that will never come true and there is no one in the Islamic Republic of Iran who would want or could stop [Iran's] access to nuclear technology," Fars News Agency reported. European "pledges and promises" are pointless, he said, adding that Iranians will not forget Europe's failure to fulfill earlier pledges. He said Iran will insist on control of the complete nuclear fuel cycle. Foreign Ministry adviser Javad Mansuri said on 13 October that the European Union's proposal that Iran completely suspend the uranium enrichment is illegal and unfair, Mehr News Agency reported. Mansuri said the EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency have not fulfilled their pledges to Iran, and there is no guarantee that the EU will fulfill future pledges. BS

Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, the chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said on 12 October during a visit to the Bushehr nuclear facility that "I think the progress of the project is slow and there has been a major delay in the project," state television reported. He ascribed this to the Russian contractors' lack of familiarity with the facility's Western design, repeated changes to the plan, and the need to replace German equipment with Russian equipment. Aqazadeh said the project will be inaugurated in the year beginning on 21 March 2005. BS

Terrorists penetrated the U.S.-fortified Green Zone in Iraq that houses the U.S. and U.K. embassies as well as several interim government offices on 14 October, detonating two bombs, Reuters reported. Eight people were killed in the blasts, and an unknown number wounded. According to CNN, the first bomb went off at an outdoor marketplace frequented by foreigners working within the U.S.-controlled area. The second bomb was reportedly detonated at a cafe, CNN reported. AP cited U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton as saying that "hand-carried explosives" were used in the explosions. Asked about casualties, Hutton said: "It doesn't appear any military was involved." He did not identify the nationalities of the dead and wounded. According to AP, about 10,000 Iraqis live within the Green Zone. Last week, officials warned that an improvised explosive device was found and defused within the zone. KR

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi issued a demand on 13 October that residents of Al-Fallujah hand over fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and his fighters or face a massive incursion into the city by U.S. and Iraqi forces, Al-Sharqiyah reported. Allawi told the interim National Assembly that he has encouraged a negotiating team from Al-Fallujah to exercise further pressure on gunmen in the city to turn themselves in, adding that it is ultimately the government's duty to restore calm to the restive city. "In fact, we are going to conduct military operations in Al-Fallujah if they do not hand over Al-Zarqawi and his followers in Al-Fallujah," Allawi said. "We will not show leniency with regard to protecting the Iraqi people. Hence, it should be clear to all of us that there are forces who really intend to harm Iraq." KR

A member of the Al-Fallujah negotiating team, Hatim Karim Mudib, told Al-Jazeera in a 13 October interview that al-Zarqawi is not in Al-Fallujah, adding that he doubts that al-Zarqawi even exists. "Al-Zarqawi has become an example like that of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for which the United States has come to Iraq. We hear about this name, which actually does not exist," Mudib said. He contended that the issue of al-Zarqawi was never addressed in negotiations with the interim government, saying: "We have discussed very delicate issues and [the government] said that they need to hold consultations among themselves in order to respond to Al-Fallujah citizens' demands." Mudib added that the government broke off negotiations with city representatives, and not vice versa. He also scolded the interim government for threatening the city on the eve of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. KR

The Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad terrorist group affiliated with al-Zarqawi posted a videotape on the Internet on 13 October depicting the beheading of two purported Iraqi intelligence officers captured in Iraq. The men, who identified themselves as Fadil Ibrahim Shammal and Faras Amil, both spoke of their work for Iraqi intelligence. They said they were involved in missions to penetrate Al-Jazeera television offices, with Amil saying he planted eavesdropping devices in Al-Jazeera's offices, which he claimed was a mission coordinated by the CIA. After both confessions, the men are decapitated on video. A member of Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad read the same statement at each beheading that said it was shameful for the hostages to think that they belonged to the Islamic nation when they did not. "We must stay on our course to eliminate these obstacles to restore our religion's glory," the statement said. KR

Investigators began unearthing a mass grave near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on 13 October, international media reported. The grave contains as many as 300 bodies, AP cited Greg Kehoe of the Iraqi Special Tribunal as saying. Kehoe said that his team had removed 120 bodies thus far from the grave. The bodies are believed to be Kurds killed during the 1987-88 Anfal campaign carried out by the Hussein regime, KurdSat reported on 13 October. The satellite news channel cited Kehoe as saying that the investigating team made that determination based on the clothing and belongings found in the grave. The victims were buried in nine trenches. KurdSat also cited archeologist Michael Soti as saying that the grave may contain as many as 2,000 to 3,000 bodies. Kehoe told AP that it appeared that the victims had been bulldozed into the graves. "Unlike bodies that you've seen in many mass graves -- they look like cordwood -- all lined up," he said. "That didn't happen here. These bodies were just pushed in." KR

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a letter to the Security Council on 13 October detailing the financing for the independent investigation into fraud and corruption allegations connected to the oil-for-food program in Iraq, the UN News Center reported the same day ( The investigation will be funded with $30 million taken from an escrow account that holds revenue from the now defunct program. The money will reportedly finance the investigation through the end of 2005. Former U.S. Federal Reserve banking chief Paul Volcker will head the investigation. Former oil-for-food chief Benon Sevan has been accused of participating in the fraud. AP reported on 13 October that the New York attorney general is investigating Sevan, who has denied any wrongdoing. KR

A Jordanian national held captive in Iraq was released and returned to Jordan on 14 October, international media reported. The hostage, Hisham Talib al-Azzah, was released after his family paid his captors $50,000 in ransom. The captors' initially demanded $500,000. AFP reported that the hostage's family raised the ransom through donations from relatives and friends after al-Azzah's employer said it could not pay the ransom. Many contributors gave as little as 10 dinars ($14). Al-Azzah spent 12 days in captivity. KR