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Newsline - February 16, 2006


MOSCOW MAYOR OPPOSES WTO MEMBERSHIP
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said on 15 February that Russia might lose by joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is a central goal of government policy, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2005 and 27 January 2006). He asked rhetorically, "If we join the WTO, who will win?" He suggested that only primary industries would benefit from WTO membership, citing the example of China, which bargained hard to gain the best terms before ascension. Luzhkov argued that Russia could "fall down and never get up" if it joins. PM

RUSSIA OFFERS VIETNAM NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said in Hanoi on 16 February that his country is willing to help Vietnam build its first nuclear power plant, Russian news agencies reported. He did not elaborate, but Vietnam hopes to have such a plant running by 2020. Fradkov also said at a joint news conference with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Kai that Russia is ready to help Vietnam complete a hydroelectric plant in the north of the country. The Son La Dam is expected to begin generating electricity in 2012. Khai said Vietnam wants a "strategic partnership" that serves the interests of both countries. Elsewhere, Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said that Moscow wants the joint venture known as Vietsovpetro to continue operating after 2010, when the current agreement expires. The close Moscow-Hanoi alliance of the Cold War years has long become history, but Vietnam has numerous Soviet-trained professionals in a variety of fields, hopes for help in exploiting offshore oil deposits, and a need for friends to act as a counterweight to China. The former South Vietnam once had a small nuclear facility at Dalat. PM

HAMAS RECEIVES FORMAL INVITATION FROM RUSSIA
Hamas leader Khalil Abu Laila said in Gaza on 16 February that Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal has received an official invitation from the Russian government to come to Moscow for talks, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 14, and 15 February 2006). Hamas officials have already accepted. On 15 February in Vienna, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Hamas must seek peace with Israel if it wants international acceptance, including that of the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the United Nations, United States, European Union, and Russia. "We will work toward Hamas accepting the Quartet's positions. This is not just the Quartet's opinion but also that of the majority of nations, including Arab nations," Lavrov said after meeting with EU officials. He also said that Russia's offer to Iran to enrich uranium for it on Russian territory is valid only if Tehran accepts an indefinite suspension of its enrichment plans inside Iran, mosnews.com reported. PM

PUTIN CREATES 'COUNTERTERRORISM COMMITTEE'
President Vladimir Putin said in Moscow on 16 February that he wants a national counterterrorism committee set up under Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB), to "fine-tune government regulations in fighting terrorism," Interfax reported. Putin also ordered similar bodies established on a regional basis to coordinate activities with local authorities and supervise operations against terrorists. The central staff will have over 300 employees and will be headed by a committee on which the presidential office, the cabinet, the legislative branch, the military, and the security services will be represented. Decisions of the new body will be binding for all agencies whose representatives are included in it. PM

PROSECUTORS INVESTIGATING VOLGOGRAD PAPER...
Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 15 February that it is investigating whether the Volgograd daily "Gorodskiye vesti" is guilty of inciting ethnic hatred by publishing a cartoon showing Jesus Christ, Moses, Buddha, and the Prophet Muhammad watching angry militants on television and telling them, "We did not teach you [to do] this," "The Moscow Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2006). Deputy Mayor Konstantin Kalachyov subsequently denied media reports that acting Mayor Andrei Doronin has closed the paper, regnum.ru and Interfax reported. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party previously lodged a complaint with the prosecutors against the cartoon, saying that the local branch of the party had received "hundreds of calls" from party members allegedly offended by the drawing. Unified Russia reportedly sent the sole copy of its "open letter" protesting the drawing to the prosecutors and did not make a copy available to the media or its own personnel. PM

...BUT POLITICS MIGHT PLAY ROLE
Tatyana Kaminskaya, who is the editor of "Gorodskiye vesti," told "The Moscow Times" of 16 February that the point of the cartoon is that people should not fight each other because of religious differences. Neither the newspaper nor the city administration have received any complaints about the drawing, according to Kaminskaya and Deputy Mayor Konstantin Kalachyov. Kalachyov called Unified Russia's complaint "a political stunt" and noted that nobody complained when Monty Python's 1979 satirical movie on the life of Jesus Christ, "Life of Brian," was broadcast on Russian television. "The Moscow Times" suggested that Unified Russia's protest might be linked to infighting between the local branch of that party and the administration of Mayor Yevgeny Ishchenko, who also belongs to Unified Russia. "Moskovsky komsomolets" quoted Ravil Gainutdin, who heads the Council of Muftis of Russia, as saying that the article and cartoon in "Gorodskiye vesti" were not poorly intentioned, but that journalists should always bear in mind that Islam strictly prohibits any representations of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. PM

VOLOGDA PAPER REPRINTS DANISH CARTOONS...
The Vologda paper "Nash region" published on 15 February the original 12 Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that led to the recent protests across much of the Muslim world, regnum.ru reported. "Nash region" presented the cartoons as part of a discussion in its inside pages involving scholars, rights activists, and religious personalities. The news agency said that "Nash region" is the first media outlet in the Russian Federation to publish the set of caricatures. PM

...PROVOKING MUSLIM ACTIVIST'S WRATH
Kamilzhan Kalandarov, who heads the Russian Islamic organization Al-Khak (Justice) and is a member of the Public Chamber, said in Moscow on 15 February that his rights group will seek the revocation of licenses of media outlets that publish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 10, and 15 February 2006). He added that his group is keeping a record of which publishing houses print such cartoons. PM

MOSCOW MAYOR OPPOSES GAY PRIDE PARADE...
Sergei Tsoi, who is press secretary to Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, said on 16 February that the city government will not allow a gay pride parade "under any circumstances or in any form," Interfax reported. Tsoi added that recent media reports that gay activists are planning such an event for May "have evoked outrage in society, in particular among religious leaders.... The Moscow government is not even going to consider allowing a gay parade." Tsoi added that "any attempts to organize an unsanctioned action will be resolutely quashed." Talgat Tadzhuddin, who is the chief mufti of Russia's Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate, recently called on Muslim and Russian Orthodox believers to "bash" gays if they try to hold a parade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2006). PM

...AS DOES ORTHODOX CHURCH...
Father Mikhail Dudko, who is a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, told Interfax on 16 February that the church objects to any gay parade. "The church views people practicing homosexuality as deeply unhappy if they do not impose their views on others, and it calls on them to repent and abandon their pernicious habits and sin," he said. "But in the event that they propagate homosexuality -- and a parade is propaganda and poeticization of sin and an attempt to present it as appealing -- we simply feel obliged to stand up categorically against such actions," Dudko added. He noted that the church has protested against gay parades in other countries, and he called on "other traditional religions of our country to support us in the attempt to safeguard the people and young people from these unrighteous individuals." PM

...AND RUSSIA'S CHIEF RABBI
Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar told Interfax in Moscow on 16 February that he considers a gay parade an attack on morality. "As a religious leader, I should say first of all that our religion categorically forbids homosexuality. As far as I know, all traditional religions in Russia also treat homosexuality harshly, negatively," he said. "If a person cannot find satisfaction in a way of life that meets the divine design, society should help that person.... But [there is no right] to make propaganda for homosexuality and any other sexual perversions," Lazar added. He stressed that "a parade of homosexuals could insult believers' feelings no less than cartoons in newspapers. I believe not only believers, but also an overwhelming majority of our city's population would construe [such a parade] as an insult." PM

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CONVENES SPECIAL SESSION TO VOTE ON OMBUDSMAN
The three political parties represented in the coalition government decided on 15 February to convene an emergency parliament session on 17 February in the hope of expediting the endorsement of President Robert Kocharian's proposed candidate for the post of human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Last week, Harutiunian failed to garner the required support of three-fifths of all deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 February 2006). Kocharian reportedly summoned pro-government faction leaders on 14 February and conveyed his displeasure at their failure to secure Harutiunian's approval by parliament. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS ONLY NEW WAR CAN RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT
Addressing a roundtable discussion in Baku on 15 February, National Democratic Party (Boz Gurd) Chairman Iskander Hamidov, who served in 1992-1993 as interior minister, argued that continuing negotiations on ways to resolve the Karabakh conflict peacefully will only postpone a solution, echo-az.com reported on 16 February. Hamidov also argued against the deployment of peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone. Progress party Chairman Chingiz Sadykhov told the same roundtable discussion that the mediation effort by the OSCE Minsk Group should be terminated, as the three co-chair countries (France, Russia and the United States) are not objective. Fazil Gazanfaroglu, leader of the Great Creation party, decried the parliament's failure to schedule a formal debate on the conflict or the ongoing settlement talks under the Minsk Group aegis. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER 'DOES NOT PLAN TO QUIT' OPPOSITION PARTY
Aydyn Quliyev, editor in chief of the newspaper "Baky khabar," rejected on 15 February a statement attributed to him the previous day by the news agency day.az, echo-az.com reported on 16 February. Day.az quoted Quliyev as saying that self-exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev (the two men are not related) intends to step down as chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP). Aydyn Quliyev further condemned what he termed attempts by a rival faction within the ADP to oust Rasul Quliyev (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 January 2006). That infighting within the ADP has impelled the members of two of its regional branches to transfer their allegiance to the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, zerkalo.az reported on 16 February, quoting ADP Deputy Chairman Hasret Rustamov. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEMANDS RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS' WITHDRAWAL FROM SOUTH OSSETIA
As anticipated, the Georgian parliament passed unanimously on 15 February by 179 votes a resolution demanding the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Georgian and international media reported. The resolution characterized the performance of that force as "extremely negative" and Russia's policies as "a permanent attempt to annex" that unrecognized republic. It called on the Georgian government to begin immediately measures to secure the peacekeepers' withdrawal and their replacement by an international force, including abjuring the Russian-Georgian agreement signed in Sochi in June 1992 that serves as the legal basis for the peacekeeping mission. The resolution further stressed the need for increased cooperation between the Georgian government and the international community to preclude destabilization in the conflict zone. Unlike the parliament's 11 October resolution setting a deadline of early February for the Russian peacekeeping force to demonstrate its effectiveness and impartiality, the 15 February resolution set no specific deadlines either for the Georgian government or for the Russian force's final pullout. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY FEARS 'DESTABILIZATION,' CALLS FOR RESTRAINT
The Russian Foreign Ministry posted a statement on its website (http://www.mid.ru) later on 15 February condemning the Georgian parliament resolution as undermining efforts to resolve the South Ossetian conflict and as potentially destabilizing the "entire region." It expressed the hope that the Georgian government will act "responsibly and with restraint," and stressed that Moscow will continue to act in compliance with its international obligations and in accordance with its responsibility for preserving security and stability in the conflict zone. It called for addressing all aspects of the conflict at the negotiating table and advocated convening a meeting of the Joint Control Commission to discuss a joint program for resolving the conflict. That body is scheduled to convene in Vienna on 20-21 February. It suggested that the peace plan Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled to the UN General Assembly in 2004 and South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity's peace proposals of December 2005 should serve as a basis for resolving the conflict. Speaking in Vienna, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the June 1992 Sochi agreement can only be amended or annulled with the consent of both sides, regnum.ru reported. LF

ABKHAZ LEADER ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT
Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, delivered his annual address to the nation to parliament on 15 February, apsny.ru reported. Bagapsh reaffirmed his readiness to discuss with Tbilisi all issues relating to bilateral relations, except for Abkhazia's status. He said the unrecognized republic will continue on the path of closer integration with Russia and cooperation with individual federation subjects. Bagapsh again vowed that the Abkhaz constitution will be revised, and the existing legislative base will be strengthened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October and 9 November 2005). He also vowed to reform the administrative system, and argued in favor of "active, literate" participation by the state in economic development, taking as a basis the Concept of Socio-Economic Development adopted last year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 September 2005). LF

TEACHERS IN WESTERN GEORGIA DEMAND EMBEZZLED SALARIES
Teaching staff at 15 schools in the west Georgian town of Poti staged a strike on 16 February to demand their salaries for December, Caucasus Press reported. The Ministry of Finance has disbursed the necessary funds, which have vanished, according to Free Trade Union of Teachers and Scientists Chairwoman Manana Kobakhidze. The Poti teachers staged a similar strike last month and were assured they would receive back salaries in February. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER LAID TO REST...
The opposition party Naghyz Ak Zhol says over 4,000 people attended the funeral of its co-chairman, Altynbek Sarsenbaev, on 15 February, ferghana.ru reported. Sarsenbaev's body was discovered, along with the bodies of his driver and bodyguard, on the outskirts of Almaty on 13 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2006). The funeral was held in the country's commercial capital, Almaty. DK

...AS POLICE SUGGEST LIST MOTIVES...
A source in the Interior Ministry told "Kazakhstan Today" on 14 February that the investigation into Sarsenbaev's death is currently focusing on three possible motives for the murder. The first involves Sarsenbaev's financial and business activities; the second, his family and personal life; and the third, some form of involvement by extremists hoping to destabilize the country. The source said that other avenues of investigation could also emerge. Opposition figures have linked the killing to Sarsenbaev's political activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2006). DK

...AND PRESIDENT'S PARTY CONDEMNS 'DISINFORMATION'
The party of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Otan, called on 15 February for a transparent and thorough investigation of the murder in order to "avoid the harmful spread of rumors." According to "Kazakhstan Today," the party accused Internet and "foreign media" of circulating "insinuations and disinformation [that] foment discord and harm the objective progress of the investigation." It continued: "At times [these accounts] are presented as 'absolute truth.' Such insinuations and disinformation foment discord and harm the objective progress of the investigation." DK

KAZAKH PREMIER SAYS STATE TO ACQUIRE STAKE IN OIL COMPANY
The Kazakh government is finalizing a deal to acquire a 33 percent stake in the Canadian-registered, Chinese-owned oil company PetroKazakhstan, Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov told parliament on 15 February. Akhmetov said that the state is "completing talks" with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to buy the stake and to set up "a joint venture on the basis of the Shymkent oil refinery," AP reported. CNPC acquired PetroKazakhstan for $4.2 billion in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2005). Akhmetov also said in his address to a joint session of parliament that the government plans to bolster its presence in sectors of the economy deemed strategic, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT DENIES 'STANDOFF' WITH PREMIER
In a 15 February interview with the Russian daily "Kommersant," President Kurmanbek Bakiev said that he and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov hold "different views on some issues" but that there is no "standoff" between them. Bakiev again criticized parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2006), which he said has been turned "into a well-prepared show." If parliament chooses the "path of confrontation," Bakiev warned, "I will use my constitutional right to dissolve it." DK

U.S. ASKED TO PAY $200 MILLION FOR KYRGYZ BASE
President Bakiev said in response to a question that Kyrgyzstan has asked the United States to pay $207 million for the lease of the base, up from roughly $2 million now. Kyrgyzstan's demands were based on "international norms," Bakiev said. "We are not such a rich country that we can make our facilities and buildings available for free," he continued. Washington has reacted "with understanding," but "I don't know what their reply will be," Bakiev said. The United States will maintain the base in Kyrgyzstan until Afghanistan is fully stabilized, Bakiev said. Bakiev said that Russia will not be required to pay for its military base in Kyrgyzstan because it exists under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan). DK

RUSSIA PLANS TO DOUBLE BASE STRENGTH IN KYRGYZSTAN
During a visit to the Kant air force base on 15 February, the head of the Russian air force, General Vladimir Mikhailov, said that Russia plans to boost the number of servicemen and the amount of equipment at Kant by 150 percent in 2006, RIA Novosti reported. Mikhailov said he will discuss the issue with Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov on 16 February. The news agency put the current strength of the base at 500 people and 20 aircraft. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION HEAD SUES NEWSPAPER FOR $1 MILLION
Usen Sydykov, the head of Kyrgyz President Bakiev's administration, has filed a libel suit against Mairam Akaev, the wife of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, and the newspapers "Bely parokhod" and "Dlya vas." According to "Bely parokhod," Sydykov charges that an article written by Akaeva and published in December 2005 by "Bely parakhod" and "Dlya vas" defamed him. Sydykov is asking for $1 million in damages. In a comment published on the newspaper's website (http://www.parohod.kg), "Bely parokhod" editors said, "The [Kyrgyz] authorities don't know what to do about the press, primarily the independent press. It's easier for the authorities to derail it." DK

TURKMEN OFFICIAL PUTS GAS EXPORT CAPACITY AT 100 BILLION CUBIC METERS
Oil and Gas Minister Gurbanmurat Ataev said in Ashgabat on 15 February that Turkmenistan's natural-gas export capacity now exceeds 100 billion cubic meters a year, turkmenistan.ru reported. The country's 2005 exports totaled 45.5 billion cubic meters. Ataev's remarks came at the close of a two-day meeting of the steering committee for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline project. The meeting was attended by ministerial-level delegations from the three countries, as well as an observer delegation from India (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2006). Participants formed a working group to deal with technical and legal issues; the next steering committee meeting will take place in Islamabad in April 2006, NewsCentralAsia reported. The heads of the delegations also met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 15 February. DK

UZBEKISTAN SLASHES GAS SUPPLIES TO TAJIKISTAN OVER DEBT
Uzbekistan has cut natural-gas shipments to Tajikistan by 25 percent because state-owned Tajik gas company Tojikgaz is $2 million in arrears, Avesta reported on 14 February. Tojikgaz officials plan to visit Uzbekistan for talks on the issue. The report noted that Tajik consumers' debts for gas shipments total more than $40 million. DK

U.S. EMBASSY DEEPLY CONCERNED BY BELARUSIAN STATE MEDIA CAMPAIGN
The U.S. embassy in Minsk on 14 February expressed deep concern over what it calls false statements and conclusions about the U.S. government in Belarusian state media outlets, Belapan reported quoting the embassy statement. "The most egregious example of this disinformation campaign to date was the 7 February Belarusian Television broadcast of the 'Agent 590' series," which "preposterously asserts that the United States government is financing the efforts of sovereign countries to orchestrate scandals in Belarus, with a goal of discrediting the country in the international community," the statement read. The embassy also cited a report aired by Belarusian Television on 13 February, in which Yauhen Novikau, the anchorman of a program entitled "Human Rights: Look at the World," charged that the U.S. Embassy is planning the "liberation of the Belarusian people from dictatorship." The embassy said: "Novikau's statements are not only offensive and irresponsible; they are potentially incendiary to the viewers of his program, who will surely take away a decidedly inaccurate and skewed view of the true purpose of our diplomatic mission here in Belarus." AM

BELARUSIAN PRO-DEMOCRATIC FORCES ADOPT MILINKEVICH'S ELECTION PROGRAM
The Political Council of the United Democratic Forces adopted on 15 February the election program of Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the united opposition presidential candidate in the country's 19 March vote, Belapan reported. "This program is a clear and specific message to the people of Belarus, which shows what the country will be like if the united pro-democratic forces win," Milinkevich said. The program sets seven priorities: family and health; respect for labor and decent pay; just laws and a responsible government; economic freedom, an open country and an open world; science and progress; and national revival. Milinkevich believes that its implementation could "create half-a-million new jobs and ensure an increase in average monthly pay to 550 euros through new markets, new investments and growth in labor productivity." AM

UKRAINE HOPES TO RECEIVE MARKET-ECONOMY STATUS FROM U.S. IN MARCH
Konstyantyn Tymoshenko, an adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, said on 15 February that the United States will grant Ukraine market-economy status by the end of March, Interfax reported. "According to the information we have, the issue is in its final stage," Tymoshenko said. Ukraine has yet to sign protocols on free market access for goods and services with some countries, including the United States and Australia. Tymoshenko believes that Ukraine will sign the document with the United States before it signs with Australia, which put forward "unacceptable requirements with regards to sugar-related issues." AM

UKRAINE TO RENEGOTIATE TERMS OF BLACK SEA FLEET PRESENCE ACCORDING TO MARKET PRICES
Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko said that Ukraine intends to use market principles in negotiating the terms of the continued presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea, Interfax reported on 15 February. Ukrainian presidential adviser Tymoshenko confirmed that approach the same day, saying that the so-called Yushchenko-Putin commission, the newly formed bilateral group tasked with resolving issues related to the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine, will soon begin an inventory of the facilities and land plots used by the Russian fleet. The reported goal of that inventory is to set an individual rent payment for each facility and plot. According to Tymoshenko, the first meeting of the Yushchenko-Putin commission will be held in Kyiv in March. AM

POLAND EXPRESSES DOUBTS ABOUT UKRAINE'S CREDIBILITY
Polish Deputy Economy Minister Piotr Naimski said on 15 February that Poland wants to participate in extending the Odesa-Brody pipeline to Plock, but that the internal situation in Ukraine will ultimately determine the nature of Poland's involvement, Interfax reported. The extension of the pipeline is meant to help transport Caspian crude oil to Europe and to aid Poland in diversifying its own energy supplies. Naimski said Poland is seeking to determine whether "the internal situation in Ukraine will assure our partners that it is possible to make the kind of investment we want." Nafta Polska, the Polish oil-sector holding company, estimates the project will be economically viable once the pipeline is sending at least 20 million tons of oil to Poland a year and transporting an annual total of 40 million tons overall. AM

SERBIA THREATENS TO NOT RECOGNIZE MONTENEGRIN REFERENDUM
Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said on 15 February that Serbia will only recognize Montenegrin independence if a majority of all registered voters back it in a referendum regardless of turnout, Beta and B92 reported. "If it does not go that way, that act will be illegal and illegitimate, and Serbia will not accept it. That is the stance of the government...and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica," Simic said. Miroslav Lajcak, the EU envoy to Montenegro's independence referendum, said on 14 February that Brussels will suggest that either 55 percent of voters who participate or 41 percent of all registered voters should be sufficient for the referendum to pass (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2006). BW

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS HE WILL RESIGN IF WAR CRIMINALS NOT FOUND
Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Zoran Stankovic said on 15 February that he will resign if the country's remaining war crimes fugitives are not apprehended in a reasonable amount of time, B92 reported. Stankovic also threatened to fire military officials who do not begin to show results in tracking down those wanted for war crimes. "If [military and security officials] say that they have no information about where the Hague fugitives are, I will have to replace some people," he said. "And if the new people do not do anything about it, that will mean that I cannot do what I am supposed to do and I will resign myself." BW

ALLY SAYS HE DOES NOT KNOW FUGITIVE SERBIAN BUSINESSMAN'S WHEREABOUTS
Nebojsa Covic, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), said on 14 February that he does not know the whereabouts of his political ally Bogoljub Karic, B92 reported. Covic, whose party signed a cooperation agreement with Karic's Force of Serbia (PSS) movement last year, said he has not been in contact with the fugitive businessman and politician since the latter fled Serbia. Covic added that he should not be held responsible for somebody else's past. Slobodan Orlic, another SDP member, said he has been in contact with Karic and advised him not to return to the country, B92 reported. Bogoljub Karic, the founder of the Mobtel mobile-phone operator, and three of his brothers, Sreten, Dragomir, and Zoran, were charged with tax evasion on 7 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and February 2006) BW

KOSOVA NAMES NEGOTIATING TEAM
Kosova named its official negotiating team on 14 February for the UN-backed status talks, international news agencies reported. The seven-member team will be led by Lutfi Haziri, the minister of local government administration, and by Jakup Krasniqi, of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosova, AP reported, citing Kosovar presidential adviser Muhamet Hamiti. The first round of talks, scheduled for Vienna on 20-21 February, will focus on issues of decentralization and local autonomy. The minority Serbs are seeking maximum local autonomy in areas where they predominate and want their communities to have special ties to Belgrade. Ethnic Albanians oppose the idea, arguing that it would lead to further ethnic division in the province. BW

EU OFFICIALS URGE BALKAN COOPERATION
On the eve of a visit to Belgrade, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on 15 February that Balkan countries needed to cooperate more closely to become EU members, Beta and B92 reported. "Regional cooperation is not just a step toward the EU but toward full European integration as well," Rehn said. Likewise, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on 15 February that the EU seeks to improve the lives of people in the Balkan region, Beta and B92 reported. "The goal of the EU is to consolidate peace and better the lives of all people in the western Balkans," Barroso said. "We are working in partnership with these countries so that we can help them increase the level of democracy and reform economics. If these countries achieve these goals, this will get them closer to the EU and materially improve the lives of the people of the region," Barroso said. Barroso and Rehn arrive in Belgrade on 16 February where they will meet with Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic. Barroso is also scheduled to address Serbia and Montenegro's parliament. BW

OFFICIAL SAYS MACEDONIA'S EXPERIENCE INSTRUCTIVE FOR KOSOVA
After meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, Democratic Party of Kosova (DPK) leader Hashim Thaci said the province has a lot to learn from Skopje's experience, Makfax reported. "I believe in our cooperation, independent Kosovo and European Macedonia. We find Macedonia's de-politicization model and implementation of the Ohrid agreement quite interesting as far as we are concerned," Thaci said, referring to the 2001 agreement ending the conflict between the security forces of the ethnic Macedonian majority and the insurgents of the ethnic Albanian minority. Buckovski agreed, saying that Macedonia's positive experience in decentralizing power should be of particular interest to Kosova. "Our experience will help resolve the Kosovo issue," Buckovski said, adding that a series of meetings with regional politicians will begin in the near future. BW

MOLDOVAN PROSECUTORS INDICT PASAT ON COUP CHARGES
The Moldovan Prosecutor-General's Office on 15 February formally indicted former Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat on charges of plotting a coup and planning the murder of a top politician, Interfax reported. "An investigation established that Pasat, acting jointly with former Deputy Defense Minister Anatolie Guboglo and other persons [who] cannot yet be named because of the ongoing investigation, took a number of steps aimed at seizing power in the run-up to the 2005 parliamentary elections," the Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement. The charges were originally filed on 7 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2006). In January, Pasat was sentenced to 10 years in prison for abuse of office in connection with the sale of MiG-29 fighter jets to the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2006). BW

IRAQIS QUESTION AL-JA'FARI NOMINATION
Kurdish and Sunni Arab political parties raised concerns about the future shape of the Iraqi government after the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) nominated Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari on 12 February to retain his position in the incoming Iraqi government. His nomination has raised concerns among secular Shi'a as well, who have supported recent calls for the formation of a national unity government.

Al-Ja'fari, who leads the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, defeated Adil Abd al-Mahdi, a member of the Shi'ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), in the internal UIA election by just one vote, 64 to 63.

The closeness of the vote reflects the growing split between the two powerful Shi'ite political parties. SCIRI head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim began distancing himself from al-Ja'fari last year, after the latter came under increased public criticism for the poor performance of his transitional government. Other Shi'ite leaders left the UIA ahead of the 15 December parliamentary elections, complaining the government was undermined by favoritism and a monopolization of power.

The growing split within the UIA prompted al-Ja'fari to court Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr in the weeks leading up to the elections, as a result of which al-Sadr allowed his supporters to run as members of the UIA. The 30 al-Sadr supporters who won seats in the parliament supported al-Ja'fari in the UIA vote. Al-Sadr loyalists in parliament were quick to point out in comments to the media that without them, al-Ja'fari would not have won the nomination.

It remains unclear what, if anything, al-Sadr will gain for his efforts. He has typically shied away from politics, but may be angling for a position for himself or a loyalist in the incoming government. Should that happen, it is likely to provoke greater tensions within the UIA, because of decades-old animosity between al-Sadr supporters and SCIRI. Al-Sadr has spent much of the new year on a regional tour, meeting with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, and Syria in recent weeks.

In reality, al-Sadr has little in common with either SCIRI or Al-Da'wah. Those two parties support federalism for southern Iraq, and are opposed to amending the constitution, while al-Sadr is opposed to federalism and supports changes to the constitution. But both al-Ja'fari's Al-Da'wah and al-Sadr are against any role for former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in the incoming government, while SCIRI has not taken a stance.

Thus, al-Ja'fari's motive in aligning with al-Sadr was twofold: first, to gain support for his retention of power. Second, he may be hoping to use al-Sadr's relations with Sunni Arab groups as a means to establish relations with those groups on his terms, thereby bypassing any need for Allawi -- who spent much of 2005 working to engage Sunni Arabs in the political process.

Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders were quick to express their disappointment over al-Ja'fari's nomination. President Jalal Talabani, who was critical of al-Ja'fari's leadership of the transitional government, had supported calls for Abd al-Mahdi's nomination to the premiership. He issued a strong warning to the Shi'a on 12 February, saying the Kurdistan Coalition would not participate in the new government unless it included a role for Allawi.

Speaking to reporters alongside U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad at a press briefing in Baghdad, Talabani said: "I reiterated to the U.S. ambassador the position of the Kurdistan Coalition, which rejects the exclusion of any parliamentary bloc, particularly [Allawi's] Iraqi National List, from the makeup of the next government. The Kurdistan Coalition will not participate in any government that discriminates or vetoes against Iyad Allawi's bloc," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported.

Kurdish leaders have devoted much of their time since the parliamentary elections to forging a national unity government that would bring Sunni Arabs greater participation in the incoming government.

Given the Sunnis' negative view of al-Ja'fari, much could be lost by his nomination. Sunni leaders said they hoped for a stronger leader, and that al-Ja'fari failed to prove himself in the transitional government. Sunnis also cited the UIA's monopolization of power in the transitional government and the brutality of SCIRI-dominated Interior Ministry forces.

For now, Sunni leaders are taking a wait-and-see attitude, saying much will depend on upcoming negotiations over cabinet positions in the new government, and in particular, who will control the Interior and Defense ministries. Should al-Ja'fari choose "new ministers of no ethnic motivations and no background of corruption, there will be a chance to cooperate with him," washingtonpost.com quoted Sunni leader Salih al-Mutlaq as saying. UIA representative Sami al-Askari (Al-Sadr Bloc) has maintained that the alliance intends to retain control over the Interior Ministry, "Al-Dustur" reported on 14 February.

One option that may help ease tensions between rival political parties comes in the form of a proposal by Kurdistan Regional Government head Mas'ud Barzani for the establishment of a consultative council that would advise the cabinet on issues impeding national unity. The council would comprise leaders from the political blocs that won seats in the parliamentary elections, including Allawi's party, to work toward solutions to issues affecting political progress.

"This entity must incorporate the elements of national unity and these elements -- regardless of the votes they received and as long as we agree among ourselves in determining the elements of the national unity government -- will share in decision making, regardless of the ministries allocated" to those parties, Allawi told Al-Sharqiyah television in an interview broadcast on 10 February.

Some members of the UIA have rejected the proposal outright, while others have yet to comment publicly on it. Al-Sadr supporter Baha al-Araji rejected the proposal on 5 February, claiming it would ignore the results of the parliamentary elections, and leave the UIA without a plurality in parliament. Al-Ja'fari is also unlikely to support such a council.

Meanwhile, in their latest attempt at maintaining a unified front, two Sunni Arab lists, the National Dialogue Front and the Iraqi Accordance Front, joined Allawi's Iraqi National List in establishing the United Front, a pressure group that will work to "contribute to creating a political balance" in negotiations with the more powerful UIA over the shape of the future government. The front, comprised of 80 parliamentarians, has called on other lists to join it.

AFGHAN LEADER ARRIVES IN ISLAMABAD...
President Hamid Karzai arrived for an official visit to the Pakistani capital on 15 February, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Karzai is in Pakistan to discuss his country's continuing unease over what Kabul is describing as Islamabad's reluctance to stop the infiltration of militants into Afghanistan and alleged support provided to some militants by official and unofficial circles in Pakistan. Islamabad, on the other hand, has expressed displeasure over the presence of Indian diplomatic missions and security forces on the Afghan side of the border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2006). Karzai told his Pakistani counterpart President Pervez Musharraf that his country's "relations with India in no way, no way, no way will impact" Kabul-Islamabad ties, the official Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) news agency reported on 15 February. Afghanistan and Pakistan are "joined together like twins" and are "inseparable," Karzai added. Musharraf said that the "history and geography" of Afghanistan and Pakistan "dictate" that the two countries should progress together. AT

...AS AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN VOW JOINT COUNTERTERRORISM EFFORTS
After a two-hour private meeting with Karzai in Islamabad on 15 February, Musharraf said that counterterrorism is "a joint fight by Pakistan and Afghanistan as the evil is afflicting both" states, APP reported. According to Musharraf, his country has deployed 82,000 troops along its border with Afghanistan and 600 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the fight against terrorism. The Pakistani leader noted with satisfaction the growing economic cooperation between his country and Afghanistan. However, both Karzai and Musharraf stressed the need to make cooperation in the field of security more effective in order to defeat terrorism, Pakistan TV 1 reported on 15 February. Despite the political gestures of closeness, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are now at their lowest point since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001. AT

UN SECURITY COUNCIL ENDORSES 'AFGHANISTAN COMPACT'
In a unanimous resolution adopted in New York on 15 February, the UN Security Council endorsed the "Afghanistan Compact" as providing the framework for partnership between Afghanistan and the international community, a UN press release indicated. The compact, launched in London on 31 January, sets out a five-year agenda for creating conditions for sustainable economic growth and development; strengthening state institutions and civil society; combating the remaining terrorist threat and meeting the challenge of counternarcotics; rebuilding the country's capacity and infrastructure; reducing poverty; and meeting basic human needs in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 February 2006). AT

DECAPITATED BODIES OF TWO AFGHAN SOLDIERS DISCOVERED IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Authorities in Farah Province on 14 February discovered the headless bodies of two Afghan National Army officers who have been missing since 13 February, Tolu Television reported on 15 February. Farah Governor Izzatullah Wasefi identified the two as intelligence agents, adding that while it is not clear who might have carried out the killings, "it seems that it was the brutalities of the Taliban," AFP reported on 15 February. AT

EIGHT IRANIANS ARRESTED ON BORDER CROSSING IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan border police arrested eight Iranian nationals in the border town of Islam Qala' in Herat Province on 14 February, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 15 February. The commander of the Herat border police, Mohammad Ayyub Safi, told AIP on 15 February that the eight "were carrying no legal documents" when they were arrested in a house in Islam Qala'. "It is not yet clear" whether the Iranians had come to Afghanistan "for spying or for drug-smuggling purposes," Safi added. Some in Afghanistan have implicated at Iran and Pakistan in the recent sectarian riots in Herat city in which up to five people were killed (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2006). AT

WHITE HOUSE DESCRIBES ACTIVE IRAN POLICY
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during 15 February testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States will reach out to the Iranian people directly, according to a fact sheet from the State Department spokesman's office. The 2006 U.S. budget allocates at least $10 million to support political dissidents, labor leaders, and human rights activists, as well as NGOs that are trying to establish networks in Iran. The White House will seek an additional $75 million to create a round-the-clock Persian-language television service and to improve radio transmission capabilities; and $5 million will go for communication with Iranians through public diplomacy and the development of independent Persian television and radio. The White House will seek an additional $15 million for work with NGOs and democracy-promotion entities, labor unions, and political groups; and $5 million for outreach through student and visitors programs. BS

FRANCE PROTESTS ATTACK ON ITS TEHRAN EMBASSY
The French Foreign Ministry on 13 February summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires to complain about the 10 February attack on the embassy in Tehran, "Le Monde" reported on 15 February. The embassy was firebombed by individuals protesting against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2006). Paris believes the Iranian authorities did not protect the embassy sufficiently, and it reminded the Iranians of their obligations as a host government. BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER VISITS VENEZUELA
Iranian parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro spoke out on 16 February in Caracas against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, IRNA reported. At a 15 February meeting with Maduro, Haddad-Adel said the two countries' "strategic unity" is based on their pursuit of independence and is a reaction to U.S. bullying, IRNA reported. Haddad-Adel invited Maduro to the upcoming Iranian conference on the Palestinian intifada. Venezuela is one of the few countries that voted against reporting Iran to the UN Security Council for its suspicious nuclear activities, and on 14 February Haddad-Adel thanked Caracas for its support, "El Universal" reported. He offered to reciprocate by backing the Venezuelan position on international issues. In Washington on 15 February, Congressman Dan Burton (Rep-Indiana), chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, released a statement referring to Haddad-Adel's Venezuelan visit and expressed concern that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is reaching out to terrorist organizations and terrorism-sponsoring states "like Iran." Such alliances, Burton said, "will be viewed as a serious and direct threat to the national security of the United States as well as to the world." He urged the Latin Americans to reconsider their actions. BS

NIGERIAN MILITIA LEADERS ACCUSED OF SEEKING TRAINING IN IRAN
In early February, Nigerian security forces arrested the leaders of an Islamic militia called Hisbah and alleged that they sought "training as a terrorist group" in Libya and Iran, according to court records described by AFP on 15 February. The government of Kano state, however, rejected the charges. The largest state in Nigeria, Kano has adopted Shari'a Islamic law. Hisbah is described by some observers as an Islamic militia in Kano that is to be used against the Shi'te minority, while others refer to hisbah as a vigilante group. Therefore, it is unlikely that Iran would be a training sit for the militia, although Iran has worked to gain new converts in Nigeria (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2005). BS

NEW PHOTOS SURFACE FROM IRAQI PRISON-ABUSE SCANDAL...
The Australian television channel SBS broadcast on 15 February new photos and videos from the Abu Ghurayb Prison abuse scandal taken in 2003. SBS said it obtained the photos and videos while researching a story on the scandal. The images appear to depict the physical and psychological abuse of detainees by soldiers; one video shows a naked men apparently forced to perform sexual acts in front of soldiers and the camera. The report also showed two women detainees, who an American soldier said were arrested for prostitution and held at Abu Ghurayb for 48 hours. Many of the photos show two of the U.S. soldiers convicted in the prison scandal, Lynndie England and Charles Graner, having sex. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Amrit Singh called for the public release of the photos, telling SBS, "We hope that the release of these photographs will bring about further pressure to hold high-ranking officials accountable for what we now know to have been systematic and widespread abuse occurring throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay." A court ordered the U.S. government to release the photos last year, but the government has appealed the case, saying their release would stir up anti-American sentiment. KR

...AS IRAQI HUMAN RIGHTS MINISTER SAYS PRISON CONDITIONS HAVE IMPROVED
Human Rights Minister Narmin Uthman told Al-Arabiyah television in a 15 February interview that prison conditions at Abu Ghurayb have improved since the abuse photos first surfaced in 2004. "Abu Ghurayb Prison is currently under the supervision of the Human Rights Ministry and our committees did not prove any use of torture except for one case that was discovered approximately one month ago. This torture case was not discovered at Abu Ghurayb Prison," Uthman said. She cautioned, however, that some temporary detention centers remain outside the supervision of the Human Rights, Interior or Justice ministries. "Those who are responsible for using torture should be severely punished," Uthman said. "They should stand trial before an international court, not only before U.S. or U.K. courts." KR

SECRET TAPES OF FORMER IRAQI DICTATOR UNCOVERED...
The U.S. ABC television network on 15 February broadcast excerpts from 12 hours of audiotaped meetings between Saddam Hussein and his former aides in 1995, in which they discuss hiding weapons-of-mass-destruction programs from UN weapons inspectors. Hussein's deceased son-in-law Husayn Kamal is heard in the tapes admitting that the regime had concealed information from UN weapons inspectors. ABC said it obtained the tapes from Bill Tierney, a former member of a United Nations inspection team who translated them for the FBI. Referring to weapons, Kamal told Hussein, "We did not reveal all that we have" to the UN, adding: "Not the type of weapons, not the volume of the materials we imported, not the volume of the production we told them about, not the volume of use. None of this was correct." Kamal also disclosed that missile sites were not disclosed to inspectors. "As for the nuclear, we say we have disclosed everything but no," Kamal said. Referring to unaccouted-for biological growth material, he adds: "OK, the 17 tons is no problem [to justify to inspectors] but thousands of tons here and thousands of tons there. Where did they go? How were they manufactured? And how were they used...." KR

...WHICH REVEAL HUSSEIN WARNED OF TERRORIST ATTACKS ON U.S.
ABC News reported that Saddam Hussein warned during one 1995 meeting his aides that the United States would likely be targeted in a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction. Speaking to his aides, Hussein said: "Terrorism is coming. I told the Americans a long time before 2 August and told the British as well...that in the future there will be terrorism with weapons of mass destruction." Such attacks would be difficult to stop, he said. "In the future, what would prevent a booby-trapped car causing a nuclear explosion in Washington or a germ or a chemical one?" Hussein claimed, however, that the attacks would not be from Iraq. At one point, then Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told Hussein Iraq was being wrongly accused of terrorism. "Sir, the biological is very easy to make. It's so simple that any biologist can make a bottle of germs and drop it into a water tower and kill 100,000. This is not done by a state. No need to accuse a state. An individual can do it." KR

CAR BOMBS RIP THROUGH IRAQI CAPITAL
Three car bombs exploded in different districts of Baghdad on 16 February, killing seven and wounding 16, international media reported. In one explosion, a booby-trapped car targeted an Iraqi police vehicle near the Turkish Embassy in the Al-Azamiyah district; a second booby-trapped car exploded near a passing police patrol in Al-Karrada, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. A third vehicle blew up near a crowded market in the Al-Shu'lah district, Reuters reported. In Kirkuk, gunmen assassinated Iraqi army Captain Hikmat Abd al-Jabbar and his escort as they were traveling to the main army headquarters in the governorate, Al-Sharqiyah reported. KR

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