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Newsline - January 30, 2006


RUSSIA ARRESTS TWO AS 'BRITISH SPIES'
Russian State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kovalyov told the news channel NTV on 29 January that "two spies who have been working for the United Kingdom" were arrested recently at an unspecified location and will go on trial in the spring, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 25, and 26 January 2006). "My observations suggest that British intelligence has recently become active [in Russia] to an indecent degree," he added. Kovalyov, who headed the Federal Security Service (FSB) from 1996-98, said that the two arrested individuals "are not keeping silent. They are telling us how and with whom they worked. I hope the British will not find themselves in an awkward situation by again denying [that they conduct] active intelligence work on our territory." In London, a spokesman for U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that his office has asked the Foreign Ministry for more information, mosnews.com reported. "We have not been notified of any arrests. It is not clear...that they are talking about British staff," the spokesman added. President Vladimir Putin said recently that his government will not jeopardize its relations with its foreign partners on account of alleged spying by British diplomats in Russia or their involvement with Russian nongovernmental organizations. PM

NGOS TO FIGHT CLOSURE
Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a frequent RFE/RL contributor who heads the nongovernmental organization Moscow Helsinki Group, said in Moscow on 27 January that her organization will take legal measures to fight any attempt by the authorities to shut it down, "The Moscow Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2006). "There are very well-known and highly qualified lawyers who are prepared to conduct legal proceedings if we decide to go to court," she added. Elsewhere, officials of the Justice Ministry's Federal Registration Service said that their agency successfully shut down about 300 NGOs in 2005 and has a further 400 cases pending. PM

SOLDIER'S FAMILY TO TAKE LEGAL ACTION OVER BRUTAL HAZING CASE...
Natalia Lapteva, a sister of Private Andrei Sychyov, whose legs and genitals were amputated as a result of a brutal New Year's Eve hazing incident in Chelyabinsk, said in Yekaterinburg on 28 January that the family will take legal action against the Defense Ministry as a result of the incident, lenta.ru and gazeta.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 January 2006). Marina Muffert, another sister of Sychyov, told Ekho Moskvy radio that their mother has received threatening phone calls telling her to keep quiet about the hazing. An anti-hazing demonstration took place in Yekaterinburg, which is the home region of the Sychyov family. Meanwhile, 300 protesters gathered on 28 January in front of the Defense Ministry in Moscow in a spontaneous protest called by blogger Marina Litvinovich, a spokeswoman for chess master-turned-politician Garry Kasparov, "The Moscow Times" reported. Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees head Valentina Melnikova said the previous day that "Defense Minister [Sergei Ivanov] should certainly be held responsible. But...as long as the Soviet, Stalinist system is in place, which has no respect for people and their lives, changing ministers won't help anything," international news agencies reported. PM

...AS AUTHORITIES PLEDGE ACTION...
Defense Minister Ivanov fired Major General Viktor Sidorov as head of the Chelyabinsk tank school on 27 January in connection with the hazing of Private Sychyov there and dismissed Sidorov from the armed services, Russian news agencies reported. Chief Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov said in Moscow the next day that 12 soldiers have been charged in connection with the hazing, three of whom are in custody, mosnews.com reported. Among the three is Sergeant Aleksandr Sivyakov, who allegedly beat Sychyov. Mikhail Sokolshchik, a doctor at the National Microsurgery Center, said on 29 January that Sychyov "is a severely traumatized patient who is in emergency care, and after he returns to normal we will propose to him an operation to restore his genitals." The doctor added that "the state will pay for the operation. It will not cost the patient anything." PM

...AND PRESIDENT WEIGHS IN
President Putin told Defense Minister Ivanov at a 30 January cabinet meeting to give "all possible assistance" to the Prosecutor-General's Office in investigating the Chelyabinsk incident, which he called a "tragic event and a crime," Interfax reported. Putin also called on the minister "to submit proposals on legal and organizational matters to improve educational work in the army and navy." Putin added that it "goes without saying" that Private Sychyov will receive all necessary medical help, and he told the ministry to help Sychyov's family "in resolving its housing problems, among others." PM

RUSSIAN POPULATION CONTINUES TO SHRINK
The Federal State Statistics Service announced on 30 January that Russia's population fell by 675,000 to 142.8 million in the first 11 months of 2005, Interfax reported. The birth rate declined in 79 Russian regions and the death rate increased in 60 regions during that time. The population drop during the corresponding period of 2004 was 683,400. PM

POLICE IN DAGHESTAN KILL THREE MILITANTS, DETAIN TWO
Police surrounded and then attacked a private house in Khasavyurt on 30 January, killing three militants, one of whom was identified as Lechi Eskiyev, commander of the northern section of the Chechen resistance front, regnum.ru reported. In a similar operation in Derbent on 29 January, police arrested two militants, one of them reportedly an Azerbaijani citizen, regnum.ru and day.az reported. LF

CHECHEN FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER ADMITTED TO PRESTIGIOUS ACADEMIC BODY
The Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RAEN), founded in 1990, has admitted to its ranks Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, lenta.ru reported on 27 January. RAEN Vice President Aleksandr Lagutkin rejected as irrelevant a journalist's suggestion that Kadyrov is not academically qualified for membership as he reportedly only received three years' elementary education. In 2004 Kadyrov was reported to have received a degree by correspondence from an institute in Daghestan. On 28 January, Kadyrov denied that the explosion two days earlier that cut gas supplies to Grozny and parts of eastern Chechnya was caused by sabotage, Interfax reported. He called for expediting repairs to restore gas supplies by the end of the day. LF

ARMENIAN COALITION PARTNER REAFFIRMS TERRITORIAL CLAIMS ON TURKEY
Giro Manoyan, a leading member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), which is a junior partner in the three-party coalition government, told a roundtable discussion in Yerevan on 27 January that Armenia's present leadership "will not abandon territorial claims" on neighboring Turkey, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Manoyan said that even though Armenia's official position is that such claims do not figure on the foreign-policy agenda at present, they could become part of that agenda "tomorrow." One of Turkey's conditions for normalizing relations with Armenia is that the Armenian leadership formally recognize its present borders and abjure any claim of parts of eastern Anatolia, but Yerevan has not yet complied with that request. Manoyan affirmed that no Armenian government would risk formally abjuring any claim on Turkey, because "the Armenian people would not allow that government to remain in power." LF

LEADER OF NEW ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTY COMMENTS ON KARABAKH PEACE PROSPECTS, RUSSIAN POLICY
Former Yerevan Mayor and National Rebirth Party (AVK) Chairman Albert Bazeyan told a press conference in Yerevan on 27 January that despite optimistic prognoses from the co-chairmen of the OSCE's Minsk Group, he doubts any document resolving the Karabakh conflict will be signed this year, Noyan Tapan reported. Bazeyan warned against making unilateral concessions during the peace process, and said he sees no need to deploy international peacekeepers in the conflict zone as the ceasefire signed in 1994 has held. He attributed the recent doubling in the price of Russian gas supplies to Armenia to a deliberate policy aimed at stoking anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia. Bazeyan quit former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian's Hanrapetutiun party last fall after Sargsian abandoned his traditional pro-Russian stance for a more pro-western orientation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September and 14 November 2005). Bazeyan reaffirmed that the AVK will field candidates in the parliamentary election due in 2007, but declined to specify which election bloc the party might join. He also excluded cooperating with Dashink, the party recently established by former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). Like Babayan, Bazeyan was an active participant in the Karabakh war. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER TO HEAD UNIVERSITY BOARD
Serzh Sarkisian, widely regarded as the most likely candidate to succeed Robert Kocharian when the latter's second presidential term expires in 2008, was elected on 27 January to head the governing board of Yerevan State University (YSU), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The board rejected the candidacy for that post of outgoing YSU rector Radik Martirosian earlier this month. A new rector is to be elected in March. LF

POWER RESTORED TO AZERBAIJANI CAPITAL AFTER MAJOR OUTAGE
Power supplies were restored to most of Baku by late afternoon on 29 January, several hours after the rupture of a high voltage power line from the Mingacevir thermal power station left the capital and outlying districts without electricity, day.az and ITAR-TASS reported quoting Azenergo officials. The causes of the malfunction of the power line are being investigated. LF

AZERBAIJANI COUP SUSPECT RECEIVES GREEN LIGHT FOR MEDICAL EXAMINATION
The request for a medical examination that former Health Minister Ali Insanov submitted on 29 December has been approved, zerkalo.az reported on 28 January. Insanov, who was arrested in October on suspicion of plotting with exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership, has been suffering severe back pains (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2006). Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry has rejected a request by the committee formed to protect the rights of two further coup suspects, former Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev and his brother Rafik Aliyev, to meet with them in the pre-trial detention facility where they are being held, zerkalo.az reported on 28 January. Farhad Aliyev too has suffered repeated health problems during the three months since his arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 December 2005 and 4 and 11 January 2006). LF

EXXON MOBIL PAYS COMPENSATION FOR PULLING OUT OF TWO AZERBAIJANI OIL FIELDS
Exxon Mobil has agreed to pay Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR a total of $50 million in compensation for abandoning exploratory drilling at the Nakhichevan and Zafar-Mashal offshore Caspian oil fields, day.az reported on 26 January. Trial wells drilled in 2001 at Nakhichevan and 2004 at Zafar-Mashal failed to locate oil in commercially viable quantities, after which Exxon Mobil declined to drill second trial wells. Exxon Mobil signed a contract with SOCAR in 1997 to develop the two fields; Exxon Mobil pulled out of the Oguz field three years ago after a test well failed to find oil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002). LF

AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS PROTEST SHOOTING INCIDENT
Residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku convened a meeting on 27 January to protest the fatal shooting two days earlier of a village resident in a standoff with a police patrol, day.az and echo-az.com reported on 27 and 28 January respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2006). The villagers reject the version of the standoff propagated by the police and Prosecutor-General's Office, and insist that the police patrol members were drunk and tried to detain villagers for no valid reason. They also demanded access to two villagers hospitalized after being wounded in the exchange of fire, and the closure of a criminal case against a third; they vowed to stage a further protest on 3 February if those demands are not met. LF

GEORGIA SECURES ALTERNATIVE GAS SUPPLIES FROM IRAN
Under an agreement signed in Tehran on 27 January, Georgia will receive 2 million cubic meters daily of natural gas from Iran via Azerbaijan, "The New York Times" reported on 28 January. Caucasus Press quoted David Ingorokva, president of the Georgian International Gas Corporation, as saying that the price Georgia will pay for that gas will remain confidential; a spokeswoman for the Georgian Fuel and Energy Ministry said the price is "symbolic." Meanwhile, Azerbaijan will continue to supply Georgia with 2-2.5 million cubic meters of gas per day to help make up for the shortfall caused by the damage caused on 22 January to the main gas pipeline from Russia to Georgia, Ingorokva said on 28 January. The "Guardian" on 30 January quoted Russian officials as claiming the previous day that repairs to that pipeline have been completed, but Caucasus Press reported on 30 January that condensate in the pipeline has frozen, necessitating further repair work and delaying the resumption of supplies. The first Iranian gas is scheduled to reach Georgia on 30 January. LF

GEORGIA THREATENS TO CONFISCATE PRIVATIZED ABKHAZ PROPERTY
The Georgian Foreign Ministry has warned foreign businessmen who have acquired businesses or plots of land in the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia that that property will be confiscated unless the new owners formally relinquish it, Caucasus Press reported on 28 January. The ministry claimed that houses are being demolished in villages that had a majority Georgian population prior to the 1992-1993 war, and the land plots are being auctioned off to foreign investors. The opposition Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia accused President Sergei Bagapsh late last month of selling property at "dumping prices" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2006). LF

UPRISING QUELLED AT GEORGIAN PRISON CAMP
A revolt early on 30 January by an unspecified number of the 1,100 inmates of a prison colony in Rustavi was quashed after two hours, Georgian media reported. One police officer and one prisoner sustained injuries. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT SETS NEW TASKS FOR FINANCE MINISTRY
Nursultan Nazarbaev told newly appointed Finance Minister Natalya Korzhova on 28 January that she must make improvements in the ministry's work, Khabar reported. Nazarbaev said that weak leadership in the past had rendered the ministry's work nontransparent and gained it a reputation for corruption. Korzhova said that Nazarbaev set three tasks for her: to conduct an administrative reform; to make an "electronic Finance Ministry" the main part of Kazakhstan's overall e-government project; and to improve discipline and order. Korzhova commented: "We know how to achieve all three goals." At a 23 January meeting with the new cabinet, Nazarbaev criticized the Finance Ministry for failing to impose sufficient fiscal discipline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2006). DK

KYRGYZSTAN, GAZPROM PLAN JOINT VENTURE
At a 27 January meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov and Gazprom head Aleksei Miller signed a memorandum of intent to form a Kyrgyz-Russian joint venture for energy-sector projects in Kyrgyzstan, Russian state television channel Rossiya reported. Miller said that the joint venture, which will explore possible oil and gas deposits in Kyrgyzstan, will involve "hundreds of millions of dollars." Miller said that while Kyrgyzstan does not have large natural resources, it could have "significant [oil and gas] fields in terms of the size of the market." Kulov said that the joint venture will be founded in the first quarter of 2006. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REFUSES TO SACK SECURITY CHIEF...
In an official statement on 27 January, Kurmanbek Bakiev declined to dismiss National Security Service (SNB) head Tashtemir Aitbaev, Kabar reported. Nadyr Momunov, a Bakiev spokesman, told Kabar that while Bakiev does not believe any officials should be "untouchable," "the president said that he has not been provided with evidence on the basis of which he would be able to dismiss the incumbent chief of the SNB." Prime Minister Kulov and Aitbaev have been engaged in an acrimonious public dispute, and Kyrgyzstan's parliament recently passed a resolution calling on Bakiev to dismiss Aitbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 January 2006). Bakiev said that the "verbal duel" between Aitbaev and Kulov "is not a credit to either of them." DK

...AS DEPUTY HEAD OF SECURITY COUNCIL RESIGNS
Vyacheslav Khan, deputy secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, told a news conference in Bishkek on 28 January that he has submitted his resignation, akipress.org reported. Khan told reporters, "I don't want there to be conflict between parliament and the presidential administration because of me. But this doesn't mean that I admit to accusations against me." Khan, whose resignation parliament recently called for (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2006), said that he is a distant relative of Aldoyar Ismankulov, an SNB officer currently under investigation for ties to organized crime, but stressed that he has had no dealings with him. Khan also denied charges by parliament deputy Temir Sariev that he has sought foreign citizenship. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT PULLS OFF GOVERNOR SWAP
President Bakiev has issued decrees appointing acting Jalal-Abad Governor Jusup Jeenbekov acting governor of Talas Province and acting Talas Governor Iskander Aidaraliev as acting governor of Jalal-Abad Province, Kabar reported on 28 January. The report said that Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov met with officials in Jalal-Abad Province, who reacted well to the news. Madumarov was set to visit Talas on 30 January. A recent decree by Bakiev rotating Jeenbekov and Aidaraliev sparked public protests in Jalal-Abad and Talas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 23, and 25 January 2006). DK

HEAD OF TAJIK DEFENSE ACADEMY KILLED...
Major General Hakimshoh Hafizov, head of the Tajik Defense Ministry's military academy, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Dushanbe on 27 January, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. First Deputy Prosecutor-General Abdusame Dodoboev told RFE/RL that a criminal case has been opened and an investigation is under way, but he refused to speculate on possible motives for the crime. DK

...AS REPORT SAYS IMU FIGHTERS STORM PRISON
Gunmen killed the head of a temporary detention facility in Tajikistan's Sughd Province and freed at least one prisoner in an attack on the night of 25 January, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 27 January. Kyrgyzstan's akipress.org quoted unnamed Tajik law-enforcement sources as saying that members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) took part in the attack. Law-enforcement officials in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, told Interfax on 28 January that IMU members were involved in the prison break. They said, "The purpose of the attack was to free a dangerous criminal. It was established that there was a criminal among the attackers who had been involved in murdering eight Tajik policemen in 1997 and had been wanted by the Tajik and Uzbek authorities for committing terrorist acts." The officials said that the armed group consisted of three or four people and that they were last seen driving toward Kyrgyzstan in a car. DK

WORLD BANK DENIES TAJIK DEBT WRITE-OFF REPORTS
The World Bank's office in Tajikistan issued a statement on the institution's website (http://www.worldbank.org) on 26 January denying reports that the World Bank plans to write off Tajikistan's debts. The press release stated that World Bank Senior Vice President Francois Bourguignon's recent comments on the International Monetary Fund's decision to cancel Tajikistan's $99 million debt were misconstrued by news agencies as referring also to Tajikistan's debt to the World Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2006). The "reduction or cancellation of Tajikistan's debt by the bank is not possible under current procedures," the World Bank noted. Tajikistan's debts to the World Bank total more than $300 million, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. DK

FOUR CANDIDATES SUBMIT MORE THAN 100,000 SIGNATURES TO APPLY FOR PRESIDENTIAL RACE IN BELARUS
Belarus's Central Election Commission said on 28 January that four aspirants seeking to register for the 19 March presidential vote submitted more than the required minimum of 100,000 voter signatures, Belapan reported. Thus, incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka reportedly gathered 1.9 million signatures, united opposition forces' contender Alyaksandr Milinkevich some 198,000, Alyaksandr Kazulin some 156,000, and Syarhey Haydukevich some 150,000. The election authorities are now checking the authenticity of collected signatures. The Central Election Commission should make registration decisions no later than 21 February. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS WEST WANTS POSTELECTION RIOTS...
Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in an interview broadcast by Belarusian Television on 27 January that the West has provided money to his opponents for postelection street riots, Belapan reported. "They [the opposition] will contest [their defeat in the presidential election] the way they never did before. Why? Because they've got money [for the purpose]," Lukashenka said. "They have been paid money for street riots. Our 'friends' in the West told the opposition that they would provide money only to fund unrest in the country," he added. Lukashenka reiterated his conviction that opposition leaders will flee the country following the presidential election. "Those who manage this process, who currently oppose the president...have already secured a place for themselves [abroad], maybe in Germany, maybe in America, maybe in Poland following in the footsteps of some famous opposition figures," Lukashenka asserted. JM

...DENIES BEING SUPPORTED BY KREMLIN...
In the same televised interview on 27 January, Lukashenka denied the widespread opinion that he enjoys support from the Kremlin ahead of the 19 March presidential election, Belapan reported. "Saying that the Kremlin supports me is complete nonsense," Lukashenka said. "But it is a fact that President Putin would like Lukashenka to remain Belarus's president, as he frankly tells me about this and it can probably be guessed from his behavior. And why can he not want this? He is not giving me money for this anyway." JM

...AND TELLS BELARUSIANS THEY DON'T NEED 'ANY OTHER' PRESIDENT
Lukashenka also told Belarusian Television on 27 January that his work to fight emergencies and care for ordinary people in the country earns him the right to be their president in the future, Belapan reported. "I'm fighting these disasters to save our people and prove during this election campaign, prove yet another time that you have a normal president and don't need any other president," Lukashenka said. "Even during the severe freeze this year there were fewer breakdowns and less disorder than in previous years when temperatures did not drop as low. What does that speak of? That means that the government is busy solving people's vital problems," he added. JM

UKRAINE EXPELS RUSSIAN CIS EXPERT
Ukrainian border guards deported Russian political scientist Kiryll Frolov, a section head in Russia's Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), from Simferopol in Crimea on 27 January, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. Frolov was detained at a local airport in Simferopol earlier the same day after making remarks that Ukraine has allegedly compiled "black lists" of Russians who are not wanted in that country. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasyl Filipchuk said banning foreign citizens from entering Ukraine is a prerogative of law-enforcement and judicial bodies. "According to Ukrainian legislation, the Foreign Ministry is not empowered to impose entry bans on citizens of other countries, and there are no endorsed black lists of Russian citizens initiated by the Foreign Ministry," Filipchuk added. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Frolov's deportation was "not consistent with the traditional relations of friendship and cooperation between our countries." JM

UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH GROUP TO BACK COMMUNISTS IN ELECTIONS
Orthodox Choice, an organization formed by the Society of Orthodox Brotherhoods of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), will support the Communist Party in the parliamentary elections on 26 March 2006, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 27 January, quoting Society of Orthodox Brotherhoods head Valentyn Lukiyanyk. Lukiyanyk reportedly said the Communist Party's principles are close to Orthodoxy in spirit. Lukiyanyk noted that such political organizations as Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the People's Rukh are "anti-Orthodox." Orthodox Choice head Yuriy Yehorov claimed the Communist Party consistently defends Orthodox values and is "closer to the people." According to Yehorov, Orthodox Choice's cooperation with the Communists is based on their similar sociopolitical agendas: combating illegal enrichment, seeking the unification of Slavic peoples, supporting the use of the Russian language in Ukraine, and opposing Ukraine's potential NATO membership. JM

MLADIC ASSOCIATE ARRESTED IN SERBIA...
Police in Belgrade have arrested Jovo Djogo, a security chief for war-crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, B92 and Hina reported on 28 January. The arrest, part of an effort by Serbian law enforcement to close in on Mladic, took place on 26 January. Djogo, who held the rank of colonel, was in charge of coordination between the Yugoslav People's Army and Bosnia's Republika Srpska. According to B92, the daily newspaper "Blic" reported that a wider group of military officials will soon be implicated in assisting Mladic. A report scheduled to be presented to Serbia's Supreme Defense Council this week allegedly contains the names of the military officers authorized to collect Mladic's pension for him, B92 reported on 28 January, citing "Blic" and "Glas javnosti." BW

...AS DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS HE NEVER SAW THEM TOGETHER...
Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Zoran Stankovic said he has never seen Djogo with Mladic, B92 reported on 28 January. Stankovic added that he was unaware of Djogo's arrest until hearing about it in the media. "I have met Djogo under several different circumstances, but he was never an object of professional interest to me. I met him a couple times while I worked as a forensic expert. I had never seen him in the company of Ratko Mladic," Stankovic said. Djogo's attorney, Djordje Kalanj, meanwhile, has appealed a decision to hold the accused in remand for 30 days, B92 reported on 28 January. "I attended his hearing at the court. Djogo declined to give any statements in this phase of the legal procedure. He will defend himself with silence until further notice," Kalanj said. BW

...AND GERMAN AMBASSADOR SAYS EU COULD CUT OFF NEGOTIATIONS WITH SERBIA IF COOPERATION DOES NOT IMPROVE
Andreas Zoebel, Germany's ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, said on 28 January that the European Union is considering suspending negotiations with Belgrade until it cooperates more fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, B92 and Hina reported the same day. "The Serbian government has slowed down cooperation with the Hague tribunal and we again don't know when Mladic is expected to be in The Hague and again deadlines are not being honored," Zoebel said. He added that it is unacceptable that Mladic is still at large 10 years after the Srebrenica massacre. BW

FOUR ARRESTED IN ATTACK ON CROATIAN DIPLOMATS
Police in Belgrade on 27 January arrested four men allegedly involved in an attack on Croatian diplomats in the Serbian capital, B92 reported the same day. Police identified the suspects as Aleksandar Boskovic, Goran Piljagic, Slobodan Dragutinovic, and Zoran Guberinic. Boskovic and Piljagic were working as security guards in a building near the location of the attack on 25 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2006) while Dragutinovic and Guberinic were keeping them company during their shift. BW

RIGHTS GROUP IN SERBIA SUPPORTS BOSNIA'S GENOCIDE CLAIMS AGAINST BELGRADE
Sonja Biserko, the head of the Helsinki Human Rights Council's Serbian office, said on 27 January that the international community should support a plan by Bosnia-Herzegovina to press genocide charges against Serbia, B92 reported the same day. "This is a necessary condition for Serbia to come to terms with the wars of its recent past, and a condition for the normalization of relations in the region and the legal interpretation of wars which occurred on the territory of the former Yugoslavia," she said. The World Court is scheduled to begin hearings in late February on a lawsuit filed by Bosnia-Herzegovina seeking compensation from Serbia and Montenegro for the 1992-95 war. BW

ALBANIA PASSES ANTICORRUPTION MEASURES
Albania has passed a law making it illegal for the relatives of high officials to hold jobs in the same state sector, Reuters reported on 27 January. The government also announced that it will begin vetting appointments to the customs and tax authorities, where corruption is alleged to be widespread. Prime Minister Sali Berisha told his cabinet that husbands, wives, children, and in-laws of senior bureaucrats will be barred from holding jobs in the same departments, and customs and tax officials will be fired if found to have ties to politicians. "Such nepotism has institutionalized corruption," Berisha said. He added that the law is "a signal that Albania aims to reach the ethical standards of state administration in Western countries." The Albanian Helsinki Committee human rights group, however, criticized the legislation, saying that "despite its good intentions, the decision will infringe the legitimate rights of citizens." BW

MOLDOVA SEEKS LONG-TERM GAS DEAL WITH RUSSIA
Moldova is seeking a long-term deal with Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom on the supply of natural gas to the country, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January, citing Economic and Trade Minister Valeriu Lazar. "It would be best to sign a five-year agreement based on a unified formula of gas charges," Lazar said. Gazprom signed an agreement on 16 January to supply Moldova with natural gas for $110 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first quarter of 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). After the deal expires, the price will depend on Gazprom acquiring a larger stake in Moldova's gas-pipeline system, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 17, and 20 January 2006). BW

IRANIAN NUCLEAR CRISIS TO FEATURE IN TWO EUROPEAN GATHERINGS
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi recently warned European countries that they should not rush to refer his country to the UN Security Council for its nuclear activities. Speaking at a 29 January news conference in Tehran, Assefi said that only continued negotiations can resolve the dispute, and he added that there is no consensus on such a referral, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

At this point, international unity on a referral remains elusive. Iranian officials are working furiously to ensure that this remains the case, with lead nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani visiting Moscow and Peking last week and a Supreme National Security Council team visiting Brussels on 30 January.

The European Union, furthermore, reportedly hopes to give Iran another opportunity to moderate its behavior. The flurry of meetings is likely to influence an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board scheduled for 2-3 February.

Foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), as well as the German foreign minister, were scheduled to meet in London on 30 January to discuss the Iranian nuclear crisis. This gathering should take place on the sidelines of a conference on Afghanistan.

Iran's Al-Alam television quoted British Foreign Office spokesman Barry Marston as saying that the 30 January meeting is aimed at coordinating participants' views -- particularly those of Russia and China. Marston added that although Britain, France, and Germany have called for referring the issue to the Security Council, such a move does not necessarily require the imposition of sanctions. "We have called for this step in order to increase pressure on Iran," Marston said.

Speaking to reporters at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sounded more definitive. He accused Iran of "very clearly" being "noncompliant" under its IAEA obligations. "We are trying to persuade Iran to come back into compliance, and there's some intense diplomacy taking place over this weekend," Straw charged. "We will make judgments in the light of discussions which will occur on [30 January] in London amongst the permanent five Security Council ministers and Germany."

Straw added that "despite very considerable efforts by the Europeans with the backing of other permanent members of the security council, Iran decided before Christmas not to cooperate but to break the seals on the centrifuges and move towards fuel enrichment. And if that remains the position, then the chances of them avoiding a reference to the Security Council are low."

The London meeting is not the only event in Europe at which Iranian nuclear activities are being considered. Iranian news agency IRNA reported that Iranian negotiators, led by Supreme National Security Council official Javad Vaidi, were expected to meet on 30 January with European negotiators led by France.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told reporters in Bahrain on 28 January that Tehran and the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) engaged in "intensive dialogue" during "the past few days," IRNA reported. He accused the Europeans of having acted "hastily" so far.

Quoting anonymous European diplomats, the "Financial Times" website (http://www.ft.com) reported on 27 January that the EU probably will offer Iran a "last chance" by delaying serious Security Council discussion of the issue until March. A decision reportedly will be made at the 30 January London meeting. The same source reported the previous day that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is trying to delay a Security Council referral.

Moscow proposed in December that fuel for Iranian nuclear facilities could be enriched in Russia, with the spent fuel returned to Russia for storage after use in the Islamic Republic. London and Washington have welcomed that proposal.

Foreign Secretary Straw referred to that option in Davos, calling Russia's proposal "constructive [in] that it provides a potential base for a way through for Iran." He added: "Iran will get its nuclear fuel to run its nuclear power stations. It is entitled to have nuclear power stations, but the fuel will come in a way that is safe for the rest of the world. There would not be worries then with other objective guarantees about Iran having nuclear weapons capabilities. That's the fundamental issue before us."

In Washington on 26 January, U.S. President George W. Bush also expressed backing for the Russian proposal, according to the State Department website (http://www.usinfo.gov). Iran's possession of a nuclear program is not the problem, Bush said. "I don't believe nontransparent regimes that threaten the security of the world should be allowed to gain the technologies necessary to make a weapon," he added.

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Larijani visited Moscow on 24 January to discuss the Russian proposal. Larijani subsequently indicated a lack of enthusiasm, according to IRNA, telling reporters at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport that Moscow's idea does not conform fully with Tehran's needs. He said the proposal should be revised in future discussions. The next round of Iran-Russia talks is scheduled for 16 February.

Larijani also addressed the nuclear issue during his trip to Peking. He told reporters at Mehrabad Airport on 27 January that "China's stance is that the Europeans should not hurry matters," adding, according to state television, that "they should allow the case to be investigated with the [IAEA] in a professional matter."

IRNA quoted Foreign Minister Mottaki as saying recently that he hopes the upcoming IAEA board meeting goes in Iran's favor. Despite their optimism and occasional bluster, however, it is clear that Iranian officials are monitoring developments with some concern.

"Iran News" quoted legislator Mohammad Reza Tabesh as saying the government is forming a high-level group to address the nuclear issue, citing "Javan" newspaper. Tabesh reportedly said a number of top regime officials have already met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to discuss this.

Tabesh's statement appears to corroborate an earlier report from an Iranian opposition website. According to peiknet.com, top military and government officials -- including President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and possibly former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami -- met with Khamenei on 23 January to discuss Larijani's trip to Moscow.

In addition to discussing the nuclear issue specifically, they reportedly touched on the decision by Switzerland's UBS bank to cut all ties to customers in Iran.

U.S. SOLDIER FOUND GUILTY OF ABUSING DETAINEE IN AFGHANISTAN
A U.S. soldier has been found guilty of abusing an Afghan detainee and sentenced to four months' detention, AP reported on 28 January. A military tribunal handed down the sentence against James Hayes, who was accused of punching Afghan detainees held at the U.S. military base in Oruzgan Province in July. "He was sentenced to a reduction in rank to private, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances for four months, and confinement for four months," a U.S. military statement said of Hayes. "He is held in custody at Bagram air field pending transfer to Kuwait for detention." New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that at least six detainees in Afghanistan have been killed while in U.S. custody since 2002, with U.S. military documents saying that five of the deaths were murders. MR

AFGHAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO SPEND AID WISELY
Appealing for more foreign aid, Hamid Karzai vowed that the Afghan government will build a civil society, AP reported on 29 January. "We will make sure this help is given for the purposes that you have outlined for the improvement of democracy, human rights, and rule of law," Karzai said during a visit to Copenhagen. Karzai spoke to reporters in Denmark after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. In 2005, Afghanistan had a budget of $4.75 billion, 93 percent of which was given by international donors. Karzai said Afghanistan will continue to need high levels of international assistance for years to come, despite the progress the country has made in recent years. "I cannot stand here and tell you how long we will need it," he said. MR

FOUR SUSPECTED INSURGENTS ARRESTED IN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan authorities have arrested four suspected neo-Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the Afghan Pajhwak news agency reported on 29 January. The four people arrested are suspects in a 28 January bomb attack in the Kandahar area that left two policemen dead. The explosion tore through a U.S.-Afghan convoy moving through the Mushak area of Maywand District. A third Afghan policemen was injured in the incident. Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said the suspects are: Naim Agha, Attaollah, Sher Mohammad, and Esmatollah. Afghan authorities captured the four on 28 January in Maywand District. MR

NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDER ARRESTED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan authorities said they captured a top neo-Taliban commander on 29 January, Xinhua News Agency reported. "This morning at about 9 a.m. in a cleanup operation by Afghan forces, Mullah Janan, a key Taliban commander, was arrested in Kandahar city," Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi told Xinhua. According to the Xinhua report, Afghan authorities detained him in the Loyawala area of Kandahar. He was driving a car full of explosives in apparent preparation for a suicide attack, said Rahmatullah Raofi, a regional commander of the Afghan National Army. MR

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES HAMAS LEADER
Mahmud Ahmadinejad expressed his congratulations on Hamas's success in the Palestinian elections in a 29 January telephone call to Hamas political bureau chief Khalid Mish'al, according to a statement from the Hamas media office as reported by the Palestinian Information Centre website. Speaking at the Iranian legislature's open session on 29 January, parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel hailed the Hamas victory, IRNA reported. Haddad-Adel described this as a vote for democracy and vengeance for the Israeli assassinations of Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abd al-Aziz Rantissi in 2004. Haddad-Adel said the U.S. must choose between backing the Palestinians or the Israelis. Hizballah Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah also telephoned a congratulatory message to Mish'al on 28 January, Al-Manar television reported. Mish'al said in Damascus on 28 January that Hamas will not recognize Israel and he defended "resistance" against Israel, "The New York Times" reported on 29 January. Scholars and experts on Hamas told the newspaper that the organization is extremely unlikely to give up its beliefs and stated positions -- including the call for Israel's destruction and the Islamization of Palestine. BS

GEORGIA TO RECEIVE IRANIAN GAS
President Mikheil Saakashvili said in Tbilisi on 27 January that the Iranian government has agreed to ship natural gas to Georgia, Rustavi-2 television reported. Gas from Iran is needed because a natural-gas pipeline connecting Russia and Georgia was damaged on 22 January. Saakashvili said Iran is selling the gas at a very favorable price. A 27 January report from Caucasus Press said the price is confidential, but it cited reports that the cost will be $120 per 1,000 cubic meters. Meanwhile, Georgian International Gas Corporation chief Davit Ingoroqva said on 27 January that technical details relating to transporting the natural gas across Azerbaijan have to be worked out, Interfax reported. On 28 January he told Georgian Public Television Channel 1 that the agreement with Azerbaijan was just signed and a protocol with the Iranians will be signed the next day. BS

ANOTHER EXPLOSION IN SOUTHWEST IRAN
An explosion was heard on 28 January near the Jahan swimming pool in the Kianpars area of the southwestern city of Ahvaz, ISNA reported. IRNA reported later that the explosion did not cause any casualties or damage. Six people died as the result of two bombings in Ahvaz on 24 January, IRNA added. In a Khuzestan TV talk show on 26 January, a Mr. Farrokhnejad, the deputy governor-general of Khuzestan Province for political and security affairs, attributed the bombings to foreign powers who want to make Iran seem unstable, and he also accused Iranian expatriates in London who, he claimed, stir up ethnic issues on satellite television programs. He said 40 people have been arrested in connection with these and earlier bombings, and their trials will begin in the next two weeks. BS

BALUCHIS RELEASE IRANIAN HOSTAGES
Radio Farda reported on 29 January that eight Iranian border guards who were kidnapped in late December have been released. An armed Sunni group in Iran's southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province calling itself Jundullah (God's Soldiers), and headed by Abdulmalik Rigi, claimed to be holding nine men (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 January 2006). Interior Ministry official Ali Jannati said nobody was released in exchange for the border guards' freedom. In a previous interview with Radio Farda, an individual identifying himself as Abdulmalik Rigi said he wants to exchange his hostages for four of his imprisoned comrades. BS

JAILED TEHRAN BUS DRIVERS ON HUNGER STRIKE
Radio Farda reported on 29 January that members of the Tehran bus drivers' syndicate who were imprisoned the previous day have gone on hunger strike. Not only were the demonstrating drivers arrested, but family members, students, and other participants in the demonstration were detained as well. Gholam-Reza Mirzai, external affairs chief for the syndicate, told Radio Farda that the drivers do not have political objectives. They seek to select their own representatives for contract negotiations and to have the syndicate officially recognized; they seek the right to pursue collective bargaining; and they want their confederates freed. He added that workers hired on short-term contracts should be taken on as full-time employees. Iranian human-rights activist Abdul Karim Lahiji told Radio Farda that the government's actions against the bus drivers are illegal and should be reported to the UN. He also noted that Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has pledged that the authorities would not interfere with such demonstrations. BS

IRAQI HEALTH OFFICIALS REPORT BIRD FLU IN NORTH
Iraqi health officials said on 30 January that a teenage girl who died of flu-like symptoms near the northern city of Al-Sulaymaniyah on 17 January had the H5N1 strain of bird flu (avian influenza), RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2006). RFI reported that one local man is now being treated for suspected bird flu. The Kurdistan Regional Government has issued an appeal to residents in surrounding districts to cooperate with local teams of the Health, Agriculture, and Interior ministries to cull all birds in the area. The regional government will be sending in special teams to collect the birds, RFI reported. Meanwhile, Iraqi Health Minister Abd al-Muttalib Muhammad Ali is meeting with his Kurdish counterpart Muhammad Khoshnaw and Kurdish Agriculture Minister Abd al-Ata to discuss how to proceed. The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier said initial tests found no traces of bird flu in the girl. "We have been told by the Iraqi Health Ministry that the result was positive for H5N1," WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng told Reuters in Geneva on 30 January. WHO said it is now carrying out tests on the girl's uncle, who died on 27 January. KR

AL-DUJAYL TRIAL RESUMES IN IRAQ WITH NEW JUDGE
The Al-Dujayl trial resumed in Iraq on 29 January with new chief Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman at the helm, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Although Abd al-Rahman attempted to exert his authority over the session, the courtroom again broke out in shouting matches and Saddam Hussein's half-brother and co-defendant Barzan al-Tikriti was dragged from the courtroom screaming after he mocked the judicial panel. Abd al-Rahman also evicted Hussein from the courtroom, although Hussein claimed he was leaving of his own volition. When defense attorneys walked out in protest, Abd al-Rahman brought in court-appointed defense lawyers and resumed the trial, hearing testimony from three witnesses. Hussein's chief defense attorney, Khalil al-Dulaymi, told Reuters that lawyers will again call for the trial to be moved outside Iraq, the news agency reported the same day. The trial is slated to resume on 1 February. KR

SIX CHURCHES, VATICAN OFFICE BOMBED IN IRAQ
Insurgents bombed four churches in Baghdad and two in Kirkuk, as well as the Vatican envoy's office in the Iraqi capital on 29 January, killing three and wounding a dozen others, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Three of the Baghdad bombs went off in the Al-Karradah neighborhood, while a fourth church was bombed in the Al-Saydiyah neighborhood. The Vatican office in Al-Sa'dun was also attacked. Kirkuk police chief Major General Torhan Abd al-Rahman told Al-Sharqiyah television that the booby-trapped cars exploded near an Orthodox church in the city center, while another car bomb exploded near the Virgin Mary Church. Abd al-Rahman told Al-Jazeera television that he believed the churches were targeted in response to reports of a Danish newspaper's characterization of the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist. Christians are often associated with the West in predominantly Arab countries. U.S. and Iraqi forces confronted a group of suspected terrorists in central Baghdad on 27 January who had reportedly killed several civilians inside a mosque, mnf-iraq.com reported in a 27 January press release. The statement said that some 30-50 terrorists were operating inside the mosque and had fired rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at Iraqi police; three men were arrested in the operation. KR

IRAQIS PROTEST AGAINST DANISH CARTOONS INSULTING PROPHET MUHAMMAD
Iraqis in Kirkuk staged a rally in the northern city of Kirkuk on 29 January to protest a Danish cartoon that depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, MENA reported. The Danish newspaper "Jyllands-Posten" published a series of 12 cartoons in December depicting the prophet carrying a bomb in his turban. The analogy has been highly criticized across the Arab world and has led to a boycott of Danish goods in several states. Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark in protest. Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr called on religious leaders to issue a fatwa (edict) boycotting Danish goods on 29 January, and called on the Vatican to renounce the cartoons. In Kirkuk, secondary-school and university students -- most of them Shi'ite Turkomans -- demonstrated on 29 January, burning Danish flags outside the governor's office and calling for Danish and foreign forces to withdraw from Iraq. Islam forbids any depiction of the prophet or of Allah. KR

IRAQI GROUP REISSUES THREAT TO KILL PEACE ACTIVISTS
The insurgent group Swords of Righteousness reiterated its pledge to kill four Western hostages unless U.S. and Iraqi officials release all detainees in Iraq, Al-Jazeera television reported on 28 January. The satellite channel broadcast images of the four -- two Canadians, one Briton, and one American -- taken from a new video it obtained. A colleague of the four from the Christian Peacemakers Team, Jerry Levin, appealed on Al-Jazeera for the men's release on 29 January. The Arab League issued an appeal on 28 January for the release of all hostages abducted in Iraq, saying the abductions could not be understood irrespective of the motives or reasons, MENA reported. Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaymi issued an appeal for the release of U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 29 January. Al-Dulaymi called on all Iraqis to protect journalists working there, saying they are on "a great mission and defending the Iraqi people's rights." KR

IRAQI TRIBES ARREST NEARLY 300 INSURGENTS IN AL-ANBAR
Iraqi tribesman working with national security forces have arrested 280 suspected terrorists based in the volatile Al-Anbar Governorate in the past seven days, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 29 January. The arrests came after tribesmen vowed to drive foreign insurgents from the governorate following a string of attacks that targeted civilians (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 January 2006). KR

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