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Newsline - August 5, 2005


COURT IN BASHKORTOSTAN SENTENCES ISLAMIC RADICALS
Bashkortostan's Supreme Court sentenced nine members of the banned Islamst group Hizb ut-Tahrir on 4 August to between four and six years in prison on terrorism-related charges, RTR and other media reported. The case marks the first successful prosecutions in Russia under the prohibition effected in 2003. All nine were found guilty of "creating a criminal entity and organizing terrorist acts," RTR reported. The defendants, all of whom were arrested by the republican directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2004, have proclaimed their innocence. Defense lawyer Fairuz Sharipov claimed the prosecution failed to prove any involvement in terrorism, and he vowed to appeal the convictions, RTR reported. VY

SENIOR LAWMAKER URGES ENERGY PRICING BASED ON PURCHASER'S FOREIGN POLICIES
Andrei Kokoshin (Unified Russia), who chairs the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, told a news conference in Moscow on 4 August that Russia should set export prices for hydrocarbons to CIS countries based on their governments' foreign policies, Kazinform reported. States that "cooperate with Russia, such as South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transdniester, or Kazakhstan" should enjoy "privileged pricing" on energy imports from Russia, he said. Kokoshin said some Duma deputies are currently drafting legislation to "facilitate the self-proclaimed states' joining Russia." VY

RESCUE OPERATION UNDER WAY FOR MINI-SUB WITH SEVEN SAILORS ABOARD
A rescue operation was under way on 5 August to retrieve a 13-meter submarine with seven crewmen aboard that got stuck on the floor of the Pacific Ocean while taking part in rescue exercises off the Kamchatka Peninsula the previous day, Russian and international media reported. A Russian Navy spokesman said the craft is in 190 meters of water at the bottom of the Berezovaya Bay, about 70 kilometers from the regional capital of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, RFE/RL reported. "Unfortunately the real situation now is that there is enough air only for 24 hours," Igor Dygalo, head of the Russian Navy's press service, said on 5 August, according to RFE/RL. "The rescue operation will continue around the clock, without any breaks or interruptions." The Russian Navy reportedly requested Japanese assistance. The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Harry Pocket, announced the same day that the U.S. Navy is ready to assist in the rescue effort. AH/VY

IS KREMLIN PREPARING EMISSARY FOR CULTURE MINISTRY?
The Kremlin is reportedly poised to sack Culture Minister Aleksandr Sokolov and the head of the Federal Agency for Cinematography, Mikhail Shvydkoi, to put a halt to their lingering dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005), grani.ru reported on 4 August. Sokolov suggested that officials at Shvydkoi's agency were stealing, prompting Shvydkoi to launch a defamation suit. Grani.ru reported that the presidential administration is likely to name Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who is currently a special envoy to the EU but also is a former Kremlin spokesman, to run the Culture Ministry. VY

FORMER TALK SHOW HOST CLAIMS CANCELLATION WAS POLITICAL
Savik Shuster, who moderated the popular NTV show "Freedom of Speech," has charged that his program was discontinued for political reasons, "Novaya gazeta" reported on 4 August. "I was told that my program undermines the foundations of the state," said Shuster, who has since moved to Kyiv. He added that he will resume the show's format on Ukrainian ICTV, which can be seen in Russia. Shuster said he accepted the offer to work in Ukraine after the Orange Revolution because the new government in Kyiv began to create the foundations of a European legal system and institute free speech and an independent judiciary. VY

INFLUENTIAL DAILY TO CHANGE HANDS
Konstantin Remchukov, an adviser to Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, confirmed on 4 August news reports that he intends to acquire all outstanding shares in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" from former oligarch Boris Berezovskii, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported. The shares will be held in Remchukov's wife's name, since his official position prevents him from having a media holding. Remchukov, 50, is a former State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) and also chaired the Higher Scientific Consultative Council for Oleg Deripaska's Base Element. Berezovskii has owned the daily since 1995. JAC

BIRD FLU SPREADS WITHIN ONE SIBERIAN REGION, AS MORE LOCALITIES TAKE PREVENTIVE MEASURES
Tomsk Oblast got a clean bill of health from the Federal Service for Veterinary and Plant Control on 4 August, when lab results showed no signs of avian flu, Interfax reported. However, bird flu has been discovered in another raion, Uglovskii of Altai Krai, Radio Rossii reported. In an interview with RTR on 4 August, chief medical officer Gennadii Onishchenko stressed that no humans in Russia have been infected with the flu. He also criticized regions, such as Kemerovo Oblast, which have introduced bans on poultry imports from other regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2005). Meanwhile, additional regions, such as Arkhangelsk, Samara, Murmansk oblasts and Adygei and Marii El republics have introduced preventive measures, such as making local poultry plants operate under a "closed regime," Regnum reported. JAC

OMBUDSMAN TAKES UP DACHA CASE
Bailiffs allegedly illegally demolished private dachas in the village of Pyatnitsa on the outskirts of Moscow on 4 August. According to Ekho Moskvy, some of the dacha owners had hired private security guards and attempted to resist what the bailiffs described as their efforts to enforce a court ruling that held that the structures were illegal and had to be torn down. The dacha owners, however, maintain that the bailiffs on this and two previous occasions have failed to present any court papers. According to the station, after having met resistance, about 50 bailiffs stormed the area and starting beating people. Valerii Bakunin, assistant to human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, told the station that what was happening in Pyatnitsa was "state fascism." "Houses are being destroyed, children are being thrown out, and elderly people are being driven to heart attacks," he said. "This will be remembered in Russian history as a punitive raid [of the state] against its own citizens." Lukin sent a letter inquiring about the incident to the Moscow Oblast prosecutor and the director of the Federal Bailiffs Service for Moscow Oblast, RosBalt reported. According to that agency, the demolition order was issued by a city court in October 2003. JAC

ANOTHER RUSSIAN CHILD ALLEGEDLY KILLED BY ADOPTED U.S. PARENTS
A U.S. couple living in state of Maryland has been accused of starving their adopted 8-year old son Dennis to death, "The Baltimore Sun" reported on 4 August. The couple, Samuel and Donna Merryman, adopted Dennis along with his older brother and two older sisters from an orphanage in Perm in 2000. Olivia Merryman, Denis's adopted grandmother, called the charges "totally false" and said that all four of the adopted children had health problems. Dennis had cystic fibrosis and digestive problems. All four siblings had lead poisoning and were "developmentally slow," Olivia Merryman said. Dennis is the third child adopted by U.S. parents to have died allegedly at the hands of new parents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July and 28 May). In July, a U.S. citizen, Peggy Sue Hilt, was arrested and charged with the murder of a 2-year-old girl she had adopted in Russia. In May, a court sentenced a Chicago woman, Irma Pavlis, to 12 years in prison for the involuntary manslaughter of her adopted son from Russia. JAC

PRESIDENT PUTIN GETTING UNDER OMSK RESIDENTS' SKIN
Ren TV reported on 3 August that residents in Omsk are having the image of President Vladimir Putin tattooed on their skin. Tatoo artist Tatyana Zharova has collected more than 100 photos of the president for epidermal renderings. Zharova has carved out a niche in the tattoo market, and more and more clients are coming to her for the president's portrait. Business manager Sergei Dolgatovich has a temporary henna tattoo of Putin on his shoulder while he considers whether to make a permanent commitment to the president. According to Ren TV's correspondent, customers find the Putin tattoo particularly lifelike, because his facial expression changes with the body's movements. JAC

PUTIN'S DAUGHTERS FOLLOW IN HIS FOOTSTEPS
President Putin's daughters Maria, 20, and Yekaterina, 18, have enrolled at their father's alma mater, St. Petersburg University, NTV reported, quoting unnamed sources. Maria reportedly plans to study biology and Yekaterina Japanese philology, the station added. VY

CHECHNYA DECLARES WAR ON 'WAHHABISM'
Meeting on 4 August in Tsentoroi, the home village of Chechen First Deputy Prime MInister Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Muslim clergy unanimously proclaimed a ghazavat (holy war) on terrorism and "Wahhabism," meaning radical Islam, Russian media reported. Chechnya's chief mufti, Sultan Mirzaev, argued that Wahhabism is harmful to Islam and to humanity, and that the Koran obliges Muslims to fight such an "evil." Kadyrov, who attended the meeting, said Wahhabis have killed 16 imams in Chechnya over the past five years, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

INGUSHETIA CONSIDERS BAN ON GAMBLING
Representatives of the clergy and the general public have appealed to Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov and the republic's parliament to impose a ban on gaming salons and gambling, Interfax reported on 4 August. A member of the presidential press service said the request is based on the "negative influence" of gambling on young people. Also on 4 August, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Kadyrov extended until 25 August his deadline for the closure of all such establishments in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2005). LF

CHECHNYA BRACES FOR POSSIBLE TERRORIST ATTACK
Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov announced on 4 August that all police have been placed on increased alert until 10 August in light of what he termed "provocative rumors that disquiet the population, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the following day. He said the police are taking measures to prevent possible terrorist attacks. In late May, radical field commander Shamil Basaev threatened Russia with a "summer of fire." Nine years ago, the Chechen resistance launched a major attack on Grozny on 6 August that culminated in the fall of the city and the signing several weeks later of the Khasavyurt accords that effectively ended the first Chechen war. LF

AZERBAIJANI YOUTH MOVEMENT LEADER ARRESTED, CHARGED WITH PLANNING COUP...
The Prosecutor General's Office announced on 4 August the arrest the previous day of Ruslan Bashirli, leader of the opposition youth movement Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), Azerbaijani agencies reported. Bashirli has been charged with plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership at the instigation of Armenian intelligence operatives with whom Bashirli allegedly met in Tbilisi on 28-29 July. Bashirli allegedly accepted $2,000 from one of the Armenians who promised to provide him within days with a further $20,000. A second Yeni Fikir member, Osman Alimuradov, who accompanied Bashirli to Tbilisi, rejected pressure to co-opt him and subsequently denounced Bashirli to the Azerbaijani authorities, Turan and day.az reported. Bashirli is said to have told the Armenians that he has received explicit instructions from the U.S. National Democracy Institute to prepare for a "revolution" in Azerbaijan. LF

...WHILE AZERBAIJANI YOUTH LEADER'S DEPUTIES SHED LIGHT ON TBILISI INCIDENT
Two deputy chairmen of Yeni Fikir, Said Nuriev and Fikret Faramazoglu, gave a different account of Bashirli's encounter in Tbilisi at a news conference in Baku on 5 August, day.az reported. Nuriev said Bashirli was offered the $2,000 by representatives of Georgian and Armenian "democratic forces." They said he was drunk at the time and hypothesized that his drink might have been spiked. They said that Bashirli returned the money the following day. Legal expert Tofig Guliev told the same 5 August news conference that none of Bashirli's actions were unlawful and that there was no talk of seizing power in Azerbaijan. Bashirli's current whereabouts are unknown. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DECRIES CHARGES AGAINST YOUTH ACTIVIST...
Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), told Turan on 4 August that the charges of plotting a coup brought against Bashirli are slanderous and "a routine attempt to discredit" Yeni Fikir. Kerimli explained that there is no connection between Yeni Fikir and the AHCP, and that the activities of the former are directed exclusively toward ensuring that the 6 November parliamentary ballot is free and fair. Kerimli also said that Bashirli's visit to Georgia was sponsored by an unnamed NGO and there was nothing clandestine about it. The AHCP released a statement late on 4 August demanding Bashirli's immediate release and appealing to the international community to intervene on his behalf, day.az reported. LF

...AS ARMENIAN INTELLIGENCE DENIES SEEKING TO RECRUIT HIM
Armenia's National Security Service issued a statement on 5 August dismissing as "ridiculous" allegations by the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office that it recruited Bashirli to spearhead a revolution in Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The statement questioned the professional qualifications of recently appointed Azerbaijani National Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov and compared the accusations against Bashirli to the trumped-up charges of espionage brought against potential rivals by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s. LF

AZERBAIJANI COURT REJECTS OPPOSITIONIST'S APPEAL
Azerbaijan's Appeals Court rejected on 4 August an appeal by National Democratic Party (aka Boz Gurd) leader Iskander Hamidov to annul the guilty verdict handed down against him in September 1995 on charges of embezzlement, abuse of his official position, and causing grievous bodily harm, zerkalo.az and day.az reported on 5 August. Hamidov was subsequently designated a political prisoner by the Council of Europe, retried, and sentenced in July 2003 to 11 years' imprisonment on the same charges. He was pardoned and released in late 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003 and 5 January 2004). The court's refusal to rescind his sentence means Hamidov is not eligible to participate in the 6 November parliamentary elections. LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS DISCUSS SECURITY ISSUES
Georgian and Abkhaz government representatives met in Tbilisi on 5 August under the aegis of Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini and with the participation of representatives of the five states (France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the United States) that are members of the so-called Friends of the Secretary General for Georgia group, Caucasus Press reported. The meeting was the fourth in a series of discussions on security issues in the Abkhaz conflict zone that began in Geneva four years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). The Georgian representation was headed by Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava and the Abkhaz by Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba. As on several earlier occasions, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to the non-resumption of hostilities. They also discussed a new document -- drafted by Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile Chairman Irakli Alasania and augmented by Abkhaz suggestions -- aimed at formalizing "at a high level" their shared commitment to resolving the conflict peacefully and to ensuring "the safe and dignified return" to their homes of refugees and displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war. Khaindrava told journalists after the talks that a further round of discussions will take place in September, Caucasus Press reported. He did not exclude a meeting between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia. Shamba for his part assessed the talks positively, telling journalists that the negotiating process has begun to develop positively after a protracted lull, regnum.ru reported. LF

GEORGIAN PREMIER DENIES ATTACK ON SOUTH OSSETIA IMMINENT...
Speaking to journalists on 4 August during a tour of eastern Georgia, Zurab Noghaideli rejected as "absurd" the claim made the previous day in Vladikavkaz by Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, that Tbilisi is mobilizing its armed forces in preparation for a new offensive against South Ossetia on 15 September, Caucasus Press reported. Noghaideli recalled that the Georgian leadership recently unveiled a peace initiative for South Ossetia and is waiting for the unrecognized republic's leadership to respond. He said he has asked Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Khaindrava to expedite a meeting with Kokoity in Tskhinvali. LF

...AS RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN WARNS OF REPERCUSSIONS
Andrei Kokoshin, who is chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, told journalists in Moscow on 4 August that Russia will respond resolutely to any attempt by Georgia to bring South Ossetia back under its control by force, Interax reported. Kokoshin noted that most Ossetian inhabitants of the unrecognized republic have acquired Russian citizenship and that Russia has the right to intervene to protect its citizens "by all means available." Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze branded Kokoshin's remarks "provocative," Caucasus Press reported on 4 August. She too denied that Tbilisi is planning any military action against South Ossetia. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO JOIN BAKU-TBILISI-CEYHAN PIPELINE IN OCTOBER
Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik announced in Aktau on 4 August that Kazakhstan will join the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline project in October, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Shkolnik said the eventual connection between Aktau in Kazakhstan and Baku in Azerbaijan will initially function as an independent link carrying 7.5 million tons of oil a year. The hook-up to the BTC will also involve the construction of a new storage and transport terminal in Kuryk, a port 76 kilometers outside Aktau. The entire project will be timed to coincide with the beginning of production at Kazakhstan's Kashagan oil field. Production at Kashagan is expected to begin in 2008, according to ExxonMobil's Kashagan development plan. DK

KAZAKH SECURITY SERVICES BUST CRIME GROUP
Kozy-Korpesh Karbuzov, deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), told a news conference in Astana on 4 August that the KNB has broken up an organized crime ring involving official wrongdoing and millions of dollars in illicit profits, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Karbuzov said the group, which included law-enforcement officials, imposed illegal duties on trade along the Kazakh-Chinese border. "The volume of financial turnover involved substantial sums totaling millions of dollars," Karbuzov said. He added that 14 criminal cases have been opened and charges filed against 15 members of the group. Karbuzov noted that some of the defendants have already been convicted, Khabar reported. DK

KYRGYZSTAN WAITING FOR A COUNTRY TO ACCEPT UZBEK DETAINEES
Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 4 August that Kyrgyzstan is willing to hand over 15 Uzbek citizens currently detained in Osh to any country that is willing to grant them refugee status and accept them. But they could face deportation to Uzbekistan if no one accepts them. "Today, not one state is willing to take them," Beknarazov said. "Under such circumstances, I have no other option but to deport them to Uzbekistan." He said that representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) have left Bishkek for Europe, where they will have 10 days to find a country willing to accept the 15. The 15 Uzbek citizens fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 12-13 May along with more than 400 of their compatriots, who were recently airlifted to Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). Kyrgyz authorities later detained the 15 on the basis of materials provided by Uzbek officials, who charge that the men are criminals. Zafar Khakimov, head of the Migration Department in the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 4 August that four of the 15 have asylum-seeker status, while four were refused such status because they were allegedly serving sentences in Uzbekistan for drug-related offenses. International organizations and Western governments have strongly urged against the Uzbek citizens' return to Uzbekistan, arguing that they could face government reprisals at home. DK

ROAD TO KYRGYZ MINE UNBLOCKED
Protesters who had blocked a key road to the Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan since 27 July unblocked the road on 4 August after acting First Deputy Prime Minister Medetbek Kerimkulov promised them a fair hearing in the course of a month, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The demonstrators protested in order to obtain compensation for a cyanide spill at the gold mine in 1998; Kerimkulov called their demands "basically justified," akipress.org reported. A government commission and working groups have been formed to examine the issue. Andy Lewis, the president of Kumtor Operating Company, told a meeting of the government commission that he is ready to conduct talks with local residents on their demands, including a request that the company hire more local workers, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The Kumtor mine is owned by Canada's Centerra Gold. DK

UZBEKISTAN CONVICTS, AMNESTIES EMPLOYEES OF U.S. MEDIA ORGANIZATION
An Uzbek court on 4 August found two local employees of U.S.-based media organization Internews guilty of illegally producing video and print materials but imposed no penalties under a recent amnesty, Interfax reported. In a press release on the organization's website (http://www.internews.org) the same day, Internews said the trial judge charged that Internews had "started meddling in the politics of Uzbekistan." The press release quoted Joshua Machleder, regional director of Internews Networks in Central Asia, as saying, "Internews regards the very weak evidence used by the prosecution to substantiate its allegations as a clear indication that this was a politically motivated case with a predetermined outcome." Nevertheless, he promised an appeal. The judge also ruled that a writ asking for the organization's closure would not be considered, since it was a civil charge and the current case involved criminal charges. But Internews country director Catherine Eldridge told reporters, "We expect the Uzbek government to close down the Uzbek offices of Internews eventually," Interfax reported. "We have not been working since last year, as the authorities have frozen [the Uzbek office's] bank account," Eldridge explained. DK

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL BLAMES LEADERSHIP OF UNION OF BELARUSIAN POLES FOR CRISIS
Stanislaw Buko, chairman of the Committee for Religious and National Affairs under the Belarusian Council of Ministers, told journalists at a 4 August news conference that the current crisis within the Union of Belarusian Poles (UBP) was caused by differences among the organization's leaders, Belapan reported. According to Buko, government agencies have no dispute with the UBP, however: "A conflict between the supporters of UBP Chairman Tadeusz Kruczkowski and a contender for the post of [UBP] leader, Anzhelika Borys, became evident during the sixth convention held in Hrodna" in March. Borys was elected and refused to attend a repeat convention after complaints were filed by the losers, Buko said. RK

BELARUSIAN DISTRICT PROSECUTOR WARNS BORYS
Hrodna District Prosecutor Pyotr Wrublewski has issued a written warning to Anzhelika Borys, the activist who has led the UBP over the past few months without being recognized by the Belarusian government, Belapan reported on 5 August. In his letter, Wrublewski accuses Borys of organizing an unauthorized gathering near the House of Poles in Shchuchyn on 3 July and another in front of the UBP headquarters in Hrodna on 1 August. Borys has been warned that she may face criminal charges if she stages a further unauthorized gathering. RK

KYIV CONCERNED ABOUT MINSK'S REACTION TO EU STATEMENT
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern about what it called the "harsh reaction" of the Belarusian government to a statement issued by the European Union in connection with the controversy over the UBP. The Belarusian government condemned the EU statement as revealing "a one-sided and politicized approach." In a statement released on 4 August, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Office stressed that Kyiv "devotes particular attention to the issue of securing a proper level of democracy, basic human rights and liberties, including the rights of ethnic minorities, in European and CIS countries and regards as unacceptable pressure and interference on the part of the government of any country into the legal activities of public, nongovernmental organizations and media outlets," Belapan and Interfax-Ukraine reported. RK

CROATIAN LEADER REJECTS SERBIAN CHARGES
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb on 4 August that recent remarks by his Serbian counterpart Vojislav Kostunica marking the 10th anniversary of the Croatian Army's Operation Storm are harmful for the future development of bilateral relations, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2005). Sanader stressed that the operation, which ended the Serbian rebellion in central Croatia and the Dalmatian hinterland, was a "magnificent victory over the aggressive [forces] led by [Serbian President] Slobodan Milosevic...[and was aimed at] defending [Croatia's] internationally recognized borders and putting an end to the reign of terror of an unlawful group of criminal terrorists." Kostunica referred to Operation Storm as "the biggest case of ethnic cleansing since World War II," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian President Boris Tadic called it "an organized crime." Some Croatian media commentaries suggested that the Serbian leaders were seeking to counter the negative effects of the recent attention international media paid to Serbian war crimes on the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in July (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 and 15 July 2005). PM

A NEW STAGE IN THE SERBIAN-MACEDONIAN DISPUTE?
Serbian Minister for Capital Investments Velimir Ilic said in a television interview on 4 August that he has no intention of returning to Macedonia's MAT airways the Boeing aircraft that was rented from Serbia's JAT airlines and recently detained at Belgrade airport, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that MAT has 30 days to pay its debts to JAT. If it fails to do so, Ilic said that he will recall a second JAT plane that MAT has rented. In Skopje, MAT officials said that Serbia has no right under the terms of the lease agreement to confiscate the aircraft and that they expect it to be returned. The officials added that MAT's $4.2 million debt is not a current one but dates from 2001, when Macedonia was torn by an internal armed conflict and JAT raised its rental fees by 40 percent. MAT officials said that the $4.2 million will be dealt with as part of a broader settlement involving Serbia's $25 million debt to Macedonia that dates from 1992-96, when Macedonia gave overflight rights to foreign aircraft heading to or from Serbia. Ilic has linked the confiscation of the planes to an ongoing controversy involving the jailing of a Serbian Orthodox bishop in Macedonia, which has attracted the attention of politicians and clerics in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 August 2005). PM

MILOSEVIC'S WIFE REPORTEDLY GOES TO THE HAGUE
Mira Markovic, who is the wife of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, arrived in The Hague from Moscow recently to be close to her husband, whom she has not seen for several years, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Belgrade daily "Danas" reported recently that Markovic's trip became possible after Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) put pressure on the government to lift its international arrest warrant against her. The government lacks a parliamentary majority of its own and depends on votes from the SPS to stay in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2005). PM

U.S. READY TO ASSIST IN DEMILITARIZATION OF MOLDOVA
The United States is ready to provide assistance needed for a project to reduce and control small arms and ammunition from the separatist Transdniester region, Robert G. Loftis, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Plesca, according to the BASA news agency on 4 August. Loftis said that the U.S. appreciates Moldova's efforts to settle the Transdniester conflict and assured Plesca that the United States will continue assisting Moldova in this cause. RK

THE POLITICS OF CHURCHES AND HELICOPTERS IN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
The Army of Serbia and Montenegro recently provided helicopters to help construct an Orthodox church in Montenegro. The ensuing controversy shows once again how politically explosive ostensibly religious issues can still be in parts of former Yugoslavia.

Representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) consecrated a small prefabricated metal church on Mount Rumija near Bar on 31 July, one day before the deadline that the Montenegrin Environment Ministry had given the SPC to remove the structure. An unspecified number of helicopters (some accounts say it was only one) of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro brought the church to the mountain on 21 July without the permission of the pro-independence Montenegrin authorities.

After the church was dedicated, a spokesman for the pro-Belgrade Serbian People's Party (SNS) called for the reconstruction of a former SPC chapel on Mount Lovcen in place of the mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic Njegos, the Montenegrin national hero and writer.

Several pro-independence Montenegrin political leaders said the SPC is misusing religion for political ends by erecting the church on Mount Rumija, a mountain that has importance for Montenegro's Orthodox and Islamic communities alike. Montenegrin Albanian political leader Mehmet Bardhi said in Podgorica that the dedication of the church on Mount Rumija is "the biggest provocation against the Albanians in the past 50 years," adding that the move "is preparing the ground for further ones" that he did not specify.

Most Montenegrins belong to the SPC, regardless of their political beliefs. But there is also a small Montenegrin Orthodox Church that is closely allied to the much larger pro-independence movement. Many supporters of independence regard the SPC as an ally or instrument of the Belgrade authorities, who seek to shore up pro-Serbian elements in the Montenegrin population in anticipation of a referendum on independence in 2006. Underlying the problem is the fact that there has never been a solid consensus among Montenegrins as to whether they are a special branch of the Serbian nation or a separate and distinct people.

On 2 August, Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic and speaker of the parliament Ranko Krivokapic announced in Podgorica that they will seek to determine who in the Army of Serbia and Montenegro is responsible for the use of the helicopter or helicopters to build the church.

It is unclear what the military's position is. On 2 August, Chief of the General Staff General Dragan Paskas said on Serbian television that high-ranking clerics of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Podgorica asked the army for the helicopters to transport the small building. Paskas argued that the army's agreement did not constitute an "abuse of its authority [because] the army in this case was [simply] helping, like [it has] in many previous situations."

Elsewhere, however, Deputy Defense Minister Vukasin Maras said those responsible for using the helicopters will have to answer for it. Some observers told RFE/RL that they are sure that Maras will get to the bottom of the matter, while others were skeptical and suggested that he is simply playing politics.

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic took a slightly different tack. He said that there is no justification for the fact that he and his fellow Montenegrin, Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic, both learned about the use of the helicopters only from the media even though both men belong to the Supreme Defense Council. Maras, he added, also learned of the matter from the media.

It is unclear whether the authorities will seek to remove the church or whether some mutually face-saving deal will be worked out. The SPC has meanwhile sought to legalize the status of the structure. Several observers noted in the media that Montenegro has many buildings, including mosques, that were built without permits, and that efforts to legalize such structures now should be encouraged. For his part, Montenegro's Environment Minister Boro Vucinic said that he is happy that the SPC and its Metropolitan Amfilohije have, as he put it, "finally decided to respect the legal system and the laws of Montenegro" and register the new building.

Whatever might come of the Mount Rumija dispute, it seems certain to have political repercussions. Tensions between pro-independence and pro-Belgrade forces have been on the rise for some time in anticipation of the 2006 referendum. The Montenegrin government, moreover, has long been concerned about the roles of the army and the SPC in internal politics. And the present imbroglio over the church on Mount Rumija comes at a time when relations between Serbia and Macedonia also are strained over issues regarding the SPC and its rival, the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

Some observers say that the two controversies are part of a broader attempt by the SPC to assert its role in public life throughout the region. Others commentators, such as one for Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service, pointed out that Djukanovic himself has not been above misusing religion for political purposes and was happy to enlist the support of Amfilohije and the SPC in the 1997 Montenegrin presidential election campaign. Djukanovic was then running against Momir Bulatovic, an ally of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whose relations with the SPC were poor.

In any event, the latest controversy over Mount Rumija shows how politically explosive ostensibly religious issues can still be in some parts of former Yugoslavia. This is true even at the start of the 21st century, when the governments of the region are officially committed to seeking Euro-Atlantic integration and a pluralistic society.

U.S. TO TRANSFER CUSTODY OF AFGHAN DETAINEES TO KABUL
The United States and Afghanistan have agreed to eventually transfer all Afghan citizens currently in the custody of the U.S.-led coalition to Afghan control, news agencies reported on 4 August. Before the transfer takes place, arrangements will be made to ensure that Afghan officials can provide custody of the detainees, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said on 4 August. It is expected that around 100 Afghans currently being held in the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and some 350 Afghans in detention at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, will be involved in the transfer. The Afghan government will accept responsibility for the detainees and will work to ensure they do not pose a threat to Afghanistan, the coalition, or the international community, it said in a press release issued by the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Afghan presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi said in Kabul on 4 August that the transfer plan is part of the U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership understanding signed by Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush in May, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. AT

ITALY TAKES COMMAND OF ISAF...
In a ceremony in Kabul on 4 August, Italy assumed command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO press statement indicated (http://www.afnorth.nato.int/ISAF/). The new ISAF commander is Italian Lieutenant General Mauro Del Vecchio, whose tour of duty is to last until May 2006. The most important task before the Italian-led ISAF is the September parliamentary and provincial council elections and the expansion of the force to southern Afghanistan, expected to begin in 2006. Italy took over command of ISAF from Turkey. AT

...AS AFGHAN LEADER HAILS FORCE'S ROLE WHILE ITALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ACKNOWLEDGES PROBLEMS
Addressing the change-of-command ceremony of ISAF on 4 August, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the role played by NATO crucial in maintaining peace in his country, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. On behalf of the "Afghan nation," Karzai thanked all of the 36 countries contributing troops to ISAF, adding that his country "will remember" the devotion of ISAF troops who are preparing the way for Afghan children to go to school in peaceful conditions. Del Vecchio described warlords as a great threat to Afghan security and said that that ISAF will help the Afghan government in purging them. Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini added that problems remain in Afghanistan such as "pockets of resistance" in certain parts of the country and drug trafficking, the official Italian station TV RAI reported on 4 August. Since its formation in 2002, ISAF has tried to not get involved in the narcotics problem in Afghanistan. Fini's statement may signal a change in the overall policy of NATO regarding the drug issue. AT

PAKISTAN TO REMOVE AFGHAN REFUGEES FROM CAPITAL AREA, CLOSE CAMPS IN TRIBAL AREAS
An unnamed Pakistani government official said on 3 August that Islamabad has decided to move Afghan refugees living in and around the Pakistani capital through voluntary repatriation or by relocating their camps to other areas of Pakistan, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 4 August. Additionally, the UN said Pakistan will close all Afghan refugee camps in tribal areas by 31 August. The UN said those closings will mean some 105,000 refugees being sent back to Afghanistan. The decision to move the Afghans in and around the capital was made during a meeting headed by Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao and it was made for security reasons, the source told "Dawn." Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has formed a committee headed by Sherpao to shift the Afghans out of an area that covers Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The committee is also to conduct a survey of Afghan-owned businesses and matrimonial relations between Afghan refugees and Pakistani nationals. AT/PB

U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
One U.S. soldier was killed and another injured when a vehicle the U.S. soldiers were traveling in hit a roadside explosive device in the Orgun District of Paktika Province on 4 August, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. An Afghan solider was wounded in the blast. AT

INVESTIGATION INTO IRANIAN JUDGE'S MURDER CONTINUES
One day after the burial of Deputy Prosecutor-General Masud Moqaddas, who was shot dead in Tehran on 2 August, Judge Said Mortazavi discussed the assassination, state television reported on 4 August. Mortazavi said a group identifying itself as the Armed Youth of Cherikha-yi Fadai (Guerrilla Fedayeen) has taken credit on its website. "However, I think that this is a false claim or at least we have not reached the conclusion that this group was responsible," he said, adding that the investigation is continuing. The Armed Youth of Cherikha-yi Fadai is a heretofore unknown organization. BS

IRANIAN POLICE CLASH WITH KURDISH MILITANTS
Iranian security forces posted near the city of Haji-Omran, Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province, clashed with militants from the Kurdistan Independent Life Party on 4 August, state television reported. The Middle East News Agency reported on 4 August that Iranian missiles have landed in Iraq during these clashes. BS

'CALM OF THE GRAVE' IN SOME KURDISH AREAS OF IRAN
Kurdistan Province journalist Masud Kurdpur told Radio Farda on 4 August that following several weeks of unrest the "calm of the grave" has descended over the predominantly Kurdish cities of northwestern Iran after a government crackdown. Kurdpur noted that several regional publications -- including "Ashti" and "Atoo" -- have been closed and their directors -- Burhan Lahuni and Delir Azadikha -- arrested. Lahuni said his publication, which is published in Kurdish and Persian, was temporarily closed by the provincial court on 4 August, IRNA reported. Only 45 issues of the daily have been published so far. Kurdpur also told Radio Farda that after the unrest the towns have a noticeable security presence, and he noted the arrest of Kurdish activists, including Roya Tolui. Humanrightsfirst.org said Tolui was arrested on 2 August. It demanded her release, as well as the release of other Kurdish activists. Tolui is described as a vocal critic of the Iran government's stand on minority and gender issues. BS

HUNGER-STRIKER REFUSES MEDICAL TREATMENT
Hospitalized journalist Akbar Ganji, whose hunger strike began in early June, is refusing medical treatment, Milad Hospital spokesman Sirus Tabesh told IRNA on 4 August. Tabesh described Ganji's situation as "dangerous" and getting worse. BS

LEBANESE HIZBALLAH NEEDS NEW IRAN LINKS
Continuing his visit to Iran, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah met on 3 August with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, IRNA reported. On the same day, Lebanon's "Al-Diyar" daily (http://www.journaladdiyar.com) reported that Nasrallah's visit to Tehran is especially important now because the organization has lost some of its support from Damascus. The article noted that Hizballah must coordinate its activities with the new Iranian leadership, and it said some Hizballah leaders are very happy with the outcome of the Iranian presidential election. Hizballah's leaders, "Al-Diyar" reported, "will find the new Iranian leadership to be more flexible and more forthcoming in supporting the party's strategy," and it will take "a hard-line stance when it comes to the subject of Hizballah since it considers this party a vital political and security arm for the Islamic regime in Iran." BS

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER UNVEILS 12-POINT SECURITY PLAN...
Ibrahim al-Ja'fari unveiled a new 12-point security plan for Iraq on 4 August, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. The plan calls for improving intelligence coordination of the four intelligence-gathering centers through the Intelligence Coordination Center; building upon previous military operations to root out terrorists -- such as Operation Lightning; raising public awareness through a media campaign against terrorism; raising the capability of security forces through financial support from the finance and planning ministries; fostering dialogue with those groups outside the government; and formally recruiting citizens in cities to provide another layer of protection against attacks. Al-Ja'fari said he is optimistic about the progress of security forces, adding that there are over 90,000 troops in the army and more than 170,000 Interior Ministry personnel. He added that his administration is working on improving infrastructure security in order to prevent more attacks on the water and electricity sectors. KR

...AND SAYS WITHDRAWAL OF U.S. FORCES WILL BE ON IRAQI SCHEDULE
Responding to a question from RFI, Prime Minister al-Ja'fari said that U.S. and coalition forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities according to an Iraqi schedule, RFI reported on 4 August. "They [multinational forces] have their schedules, but we want an Iraqi schedule. Regrettably some media channels drop this part. When we reach a certain level of security...we will demand the withdrawal of the multinational forces from these areas. We are now preparing the groundwork for such a thing and we will announce it at the appropriate time," al-Ja'fari said. He added that the governorates that enjoy a "good level of security" will be considered the models for the withdrawal of multinational forces from other areas. KR

JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS TREATMENT OF DETAINEES BEING EXAMINED
RFI asked Interior Minister Bayan Jabr at the 4 August briefing about allegations that the ministry violated the human rights of detainees. Jabr said: "We have activated the General Inspector's Office...and he has started to visit prisons and study the cases of prisoners." Jabr added that the situation has improved since the ministry met with Higher Judicial Council head Midhat al-Mahmud and Justice Minister Abd al-Husayn Shandal, adding; "Now the police have only one role -- namely...arresting the suspect and transferring him to the prisons that are run by the Justice Ministry." KR

CONSTITUTIONAL CONFERENCE DELAYED
A conference slated for 5 August bringing together political leaders both inside and outside the government to discuss issues related to the draft constitution has been delayed because of an emergency meeting of the Kurdistan Parliament, AFP reported on 5 April. The meeting, said independent Iraqi parliamentarian Mahmud Uthman, was to allow the Kurds to discuss the constitution. Barzani ordered all Kurdish representatives in the Iraqi National Assembly to meet in Kurdistan on 1 August to discuss the constitution. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Talabani told reporters: "The meeting of leaders was delayed from today to Sunday in order to allow for a greater number of participants to attend as a large number of people had not received invitations." KR

FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER FORMS POLITICAL GROUPING
Former Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan has announced the formation of a new political alliance, the Union of Democratic Forces, "Al-Hayat" reported on 1 August. The alliance is comprised of 15 "liberal" political parties -- Shi'ites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Turkomans, Sabeans, and Yazidis -- that "believe in the concept of democracy," said al-Sha'lan, who served in the interim Iraqi government. Al-Sha'lan told reporters in Amman that his former alliance with interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir's Iraqiyun party was a disappointment, adding, "It was an absolutely unsatisfactory experience." The former minister added that his new grouping will seek to join former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's political party, Iraqis List, to contest December's parliamentary elections. Al-Sha'lan also revealed information about fugitive terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi to reporters, saying that al-Zarqawi was almost captured in Al-Fallujah earlier this year but U.S. forces were slow to respond. He added that al-Zarqawi possesses chemical weapons and travels around Iraq in various disguises, including dressed as a woman, in a wheelchair, or in Arab or Kurdish clothing. KR

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