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Newsline - April 13, 2006


RUSSIAN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST 'EXAGGERATING' IRANIAN NUCLEAR ISSUE...
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on April 12 that the media should not "exaggerate" the importance of claims by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that Iran has successfully enriched uranium, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11 and 12, 2006). Lavrov argued that "Iran has never declared it seeks to possess nuclear weapons. On the contrary, Iran has declared repeatedly at the highest level that it has no such plans and that it intends to develop nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes." Referring to recent media reports that Washington is considering a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, Lavrov said that "if such plans do exist...they cannot resolve the problem but may, on the contrary, create another extremely dangerous explosive hotbed in the Middle East, a region which has enough such hotbeds already." The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stressed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is "the one and only authoritative international body with sufficient expertise and power to verify state compliance with commitments under the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty," the Moscow daily "Vremya novostei" reported on April 12. Lavrov has urged Tehran to cooperate fully with that body. The paper commented that his "call does not seem to have been heeded." PM

...AS EXPERTS CALL IRAN'S CLAIMS 'FAIRY TALES'
Academician and nuclear expert Yevgeny Velikhov, who heads the Kurchatov Institute, said in Moscow on April 12 that the Iranian media have exaggerated the level of sophistication of their country's nuclear technology, which he called low-level, the website mosnews.com reported. Velikhov described some of the Iranian claims as "fairy tales" that reveal the "full incompetence" of the authors. Moscow-based researcher Vladimir Yevseyev said on April 12 that President Ahmadinejad's statement is "largely a bluff...to apply pressure on the West and ensure a better negotiating position," RIA Novosti reported. For his part, Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that same day that "Tehran has made us understand the firmness of its position and its readiness to continue nuclear [research], which will complicate further talks." PM

IS RUSSIA 'ON STRIKE' IN WTO TALKS?
Maksim Medvedkov, who is Russia's chief trade negotiator, told an April 12 meeting of experts in the offices of "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that Russia has "slowed down the negotiating process" for its admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the newspaper reported the following day. The daily called Medvedkov's statement "sensational," adding that the new Russian position amounts to a "strike" in response to "purely political demands" allegedly made by unnamed members of the U.S. Congress that are unrelated to the WTO or trade but involve Iran, Georgia, and Russian democracy. Medvedkov stressed nonetheless that "this does not mean that the [negotiating] process will be interrupted. The process will go on as long as is necessary to find solutions that satisfy us. Technically, there is still a possibility of completing negotiations by the end of the year, but we will not [make undue concessions] in order to speed things along. We have already made concessions and already bought a ticket for the train to the WTO." State Duma member Aleksei Likhachev, who is also a participant in the WTO talks, said at the same meeting that he welcomes the slowdown as it will give unspecified "sensitive" Russian industries more time to prepare for WTO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11 and 12, 2006). PM

BULAVA MISSILE TESTS TO RESUME IN JUNE
Moscow Heat Engineering Research Institute Director and General Designer Yury Solomonov told Interfax on April 13 that the Bulava-M sea-based ballistic missile will undergo its third series of trials in June and July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 21, 2005, and April 6, 2006). These tests and all subsequent ones for a minimum of a total of 10 tests will involve firing missiles from underwater. He called the previous two trials in 2005 a success, and added that everything is proceeding as planned. A Bulava missile can carry up to 10 independently targeted nuclear warheads and has a range of up to 8,000 kilometers. The Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk is constructing the modern submarines "Yury Dolgoruky" and "Aleksandr Nevsky," each of which will be armed with 12 Bulava missiles and which are both about half finished. Construction work on the similar submarine "Vladimir Monomakh" began in March. A Bulava was successfully launched in December 2005 from the "Dmitry Donskoi," one of the older Typhoon class of submarines. PM

OSSETIAN DJAMAAT CLAIMS SUCCESSFUL HEIST
The Ossetian Islamic militant group, or djamaat, that formally warned two weeks ago of its plans to attack Russian military targets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006) claimed in an April 13 statement posted on chechenpress.org to have robbed an armored Russian bank vehicle the previous day of the ruble equivalent of $135,000, which it said will be used to fund the activites of the Chechen resistance. One Ossetian policeman was shot during the raid and the driver of the armored vehicle was seriously wounded. Meanwhile regnum.ru reported on April 12 that two "criminals" attacked a car in Vladikavkaz in which two women clerks were transporting 3.7 million rubles ($133,627) in wages for the staff of a children's hospital. The robbers shot dead an Ossetian policeman and wounded the car's driver before making off with the cash. LF

PRESIDENT ADDRESSES KABARDINO-BALKARIA PARLIAMENT
In his annual address to parliament, Arsen Kanokov noted that the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic registered higher-than-average economic growth in 2005, but at the same time he acknowledged that the republic remains dependent on subsidies from the federal center and that 25 percent of the able-bodied population is unemployed. He pledged to reduce within the next five years the percentage of budget expenditure financed by Moscow from 68 percent to 50 percent; to promote private ownership of land; to make republic and local government spending "transparent;" and to raise living standards to the national average, according to RIA Novosti. Kanokov attributed the fighting in Nalchik in October 2005 between young Muslims and police to the lack of a clear policy on religion and to the Interior Ministry's attempt to compensate for its failure to take timely measures against "extremism" by indiscriminately using violence against practicing Muslims. Caucasustimes.com on March 20 hailed Kanokov's dismissal of Interior Minister Khachim Shogenov, widely believed to have been behind the police crackdown on believers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2006). LF

NATO OFFICIAL ASSESSES AZERBAIJAN'S COMPLIANCE WITH IPAP...
During a three-day visit to Baku on April 10-13, Robert Simmons, the NATO secretary-general's special representative for the South Caucasus, met with President Ilham Aliyev, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev, and with Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov, who heads the Azerbaijan-NATO working group, Azerbaijani media reported. Simmons told journalists on April 11 that Azerbaijan has implemented the majority of the measures outlined in its four-part Individual Partnership Action Plan adopted last year, but that the plan now requires revision. He further stressed NATO's ongoing concern over unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus, including that over Nagorno-Karabakh, and advocated a peaceful solution to that conflict. Simmons did not exclude the deployment of NATO troops as part of a peacekeeping force in the event of a formal agreement ending the Karabakh conflict, but noted that such a deployment would require "detailed discussion," echo-az.com reported on April 12. LF

...AS PACE ASSESSES CONDITIONS WITHIN AZERBAIJANI ARMED FORCES
Bulgarian rapporteur Aleksandr Arbadjiev has presented at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that opened on April 10 a report on human rights violations in the armed forces of Council of Europe member states, day.az reported on April 12. He advocated introducing the position of military ombudsman to investigate servicemen's complaints. Arbadjiev claimed that up to 5,000 Azerbaijani armed forces personnel have died of malnutrition; he did not say over what time period. Former naval Captain Janmirza Mirzoyev -- who was found guilty in 2001 on charges of being an accessory to murder after he sought to expose corruption within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry -- told day.az he cannot confirm the accuracy of that figure, which he said seems excessive. Members of Azerbaijan's PACE delegation likewise questioned the accuracy of Arbadjiev's data. Mirzoyev uncovered a scam in the late 1990s in which the ministry falsified documentation pertaining to the purchase of food supplies from the Trade Ministry, skimming off the difference between the actual and the alleged price. Mirzoyev also claimed that an unspecified number of servicemen had died of starvation, but that in some of those cases the cause of death was given as frostbite (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 26, 1999). LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES HE IS IN LINE FOR PREMIERSHIP
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced on April 12 in China, where he is on a six-day state visit, that he has tasked Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili with promoting the export of Georgian wine to "new foreign markets" to compensate for the import ban imposed by Russia last month, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," April 11, 2006). That announcement was greeted with derision by some opposition politicians, one of whom asked rhetorically whether Okruashvili will force Europeans at gunpoint to consume Georgian wine. Some observers in Tbilisi construed Saakashvili's pronouncement as heralding Okruashvili's appointment as prime minister in place of incumbent Zurab Noghaideli. But Okruashvili told Caucasus Press later on April 12 by telephone from Brussels that such speculation is unfounded. When appointing Okruashvili defense minister in late 2004, Saakashvili said he would remain in that post until Georgia restores control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 16, 2004). Noghaideli for his part declined on April 12 to comment on rumors of his imminent dismissal, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL ADMITS TO ESPIONAGE
Former presidential administration official Simon Kiladze, who was arrested two weeks ago and charged with spying for an unspecified foreign power, has admitted his guilt and asked President Saakashvili to pardon him, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). The Georgian Interior Ministry made public a tape recording in which Kiladze said that he passed information to a foreign country in return for "financial remuneration," Interfax reported. Kiladze initially protested his innocence and refused to testify; he was hospitalized late on March 29 after suffering a heart attack. LF

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER HOLDS CHINA MEETINGS
Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in Beijing on April 12 to discuss bilateral relations, Xinhua reported. "China, with Kazakhstan, is ready to strive for more concrete achievements in bilateral relations," Li commented. Toqaev also met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and State Councilor Tang Jixuan. DK

KYRGYZ RIGHTS ACTIVIST HOSPITALIZED AFTER ATTACK...
Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, was hospitalized in serious condition on April 12 after suffering a head injury in an attack outside the coalition's headquarters in Bishkek, akipress.org reported. Surgeon Alymkadyr Beishenaliev said doctors were still unsure what caused the wound to the back of Baisalov's head. Initial reports suggested Baisalov was either shot or hit in the head with a rock. Baisalov was able to speak with parliamentary deputy Melis Eshimkanov and Bishkek police chief Omurbek Suvanaliev, telling them that a young Kyrgyz man in a leather coat attacked him. Baisalov said that he heard a loud sound, adding that he did not know whether it came from a gunshot or a blow with a blunt object. DK

...AS PRIME MINISTER CHARGES 'POLITICAL' MOTIVATION
Political leaders expressed outrage over the April 12 attack on Baisalov, calling it politically motivated, news agencies reported. Prime Minister Feliks Kulov visited Baisalov in the hospital, telling reporters that the attack was political in nature and intended to intimidate, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "This is the criminal world's answer to society's demands to restore order in Kyrgyzstan," 24.kg quoted parliamentary deputy Kabai Karabekov as saying. Days earlier, Baisalov led a march against purported attempts by criminal elements to infiltrate the power structure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2006). Baisalov also earlier called on the authorities to block an election bid by Ryspek Akmatbaev, who is under investigation for murder and is widely reported to have ties to organized crime. Akmatbaev was nonetheless elected to parliament in an April 9 by-election, but the Central Election Commission has suspended his mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2006). DK

TRIAL OF SIX ALLEGED IMU MEMBERS BEGINS IN TAJIKISTAN
Abdughaffor Qalandarov, prosecutor for Sughd Province, told a news conference on April 12 that six suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have gone on trial on terrorism and other charges, Interfax reported. Kalandarov said that the defendants, who include a Russian citizen, face 15 to 18 years in prison if found guilty. DK

SUPREME COURT DENIES TAJIKISTAN HAS POLITICAL PRISONERS
Hizbulloh Khojaev, head of Tajikistan's Supreme Court, has told a news conference in Dushanbe that there are no political prisoners in Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on April 12. Opposition Social Democratic Party leader Rahmatullo Zoirov recently charged that there are more than 1,000 political prisoners in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2006). Khojaev said that the persons Zoirov cited as examples of political prisoners, such as Democratic Party head Muhammadruzi Iskandarov, were in fact convicted and imprisoned on criminal charges. DK

TAJIKISTAN BANS FOREIGN ADOPTIONS
Tajikistan's Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower chamber of parliament) voted on April 12 for legislation banning adoptions of Tajik children by foreign parents, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Deputies noted that while the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does not rule out the adoption of children by citizens of another country, it merely offers a recommendation on the issue. DK

TURKMENISTAN, IRAN SIGN GAS AGREEMENT
Iran and Turkmenistan have signed a natural-gas agreement on Iran's purchases of gas from Turkmenistan in 2006 and 2007, turkmenistan.ru reported on April 12. Iran will pay $65 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, effective February 1, 2006, for 2006 shipments, which are set to total 8 billion cubic meters, Reuters reported. Iran will purchase 14 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2007. DK

RIGHTS GROUP WELCOMES RELEASE OF TURKMEN PRISONER
Amnesty International issued a press release on April 11 welcoming the release of Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev from forcible confinement in a psychiatric hospital in Turkmenistan. Durdykuliev was confined on February 13, 2004, after he asked for authorization to hold a demonstration protesting the policies of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Michael O'Reilly, Amnesty International USA casework director, commented on the release, saying, "The forcible psychiatric confinement of Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev was a chilling reverberation from the Soviet era, when many dissidents were locked away in psychiatric hospitals in an effort to silence them. We hope that Mr. Durdykuliev's reported release signals repudiation by Turkmen authorities of this odious practice." Amnesty International noted that 54 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter on April 4 to Turkmen President Niyazov calling for Durdykuliev's release. DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT REPLACES ECONOMY MINISTER
President Islam Karimov has issued decrees removing Vyacheslav Golyshev from the posts of deputy prime minister, economy minister, and head of the economic- and foreign-economic-relations section and appointing him state advisor on socioeconomic policy issues, "Khalq Sozi" reported on April 12. Botir Hojaev has been appointed economy minister to replace Golyshev. DK

BELARUSIAN POLICE ARREST PARTICIPANTS IN ATTEMPTED FLASH-MOB DEMONSTRATION
Plainclothes riot police on April 12 arrested 12 young people who gathered in downtown Minsk for a spontaneous flash-mob demonstration devoted to Cosmonauts Day, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The gathering had been announced via the Internet, and police officers were already waiting for participants at their gathering place, with "all the police leadership of Minsk" in attendance, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The participants were arrested in the act of blowing up small balloons, onto which they intended to put portraits of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. JM

BELARUSIAN PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE TO BE RELEASED ON PAROLE
A district court in Minsk on April 12 decided to release opposition activist Mikhail Marynich on parole, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Marynich was sentenced in December 2004 to five years in prison in a bizarre case in which he was found guilty of stealing computers from the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, although the embassy had not reported any such theft. Amnesty International in 2005 declared Marynich a prisoner of conscience. Marynich served as Belarus's minister of foreign economic relations (1994-98) and afterward became Belarusian ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. In 2001, Marynich resigned his ambassadorial post to challenge Lukashenka in that year's presidential election. In February 2005, Marynich had his prison sentence reduced to 3 1/2 years in appreciation of his "past services to the state" and "failing health." In August 2005, his term was reduced by another year under an amnesty law. JM

BELARUS TO SPEND $1.5 BILLION ON CHORNOBYL AFTERMATH DURING NEXT FIVE YEARS
Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski said in the Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house, on April 12 that the government is planning to spend 3.3 trillion rubles ($1.5 billion) in 2006-2010 for its Chornobyl relief program, Belapan reported. Sidorski noted that the main objective of the program is to achieve the "real economic revival and sustainable development" of the contaminated areas. Sixty-three percent of the planned funds are to go toward allowances for Chornobyl victims. Sidorski said that 11,242 persons disabled by the disaster and some 115,000 veterans of Chornobyl cleanup operations are entitled to these allowances. JM

SWITZERLAND JOINS EU VISA BAN ON BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS
Switzerland on April 12 imposed a travel ban on Belarusian President Lukashenka and 30 other Belarusian officials two days after the European Union made the same move (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10 and 11, 2006), world media reported. Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, is responding to what it considers to have been rigged presidential elections in Belarus last month and Minsk's failure to respect basic freedoms. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REMAINS NONCOMMITTAL ABOUT FUTURE PREMIER...
During a news conference in Kyiv on April 12, President Viktor Yushchenko sidestepped questions on whether he wants Yuliya Tymoshenko, whom he sacked from the post of prime minister in September, to head a new cabinet, Reuters reported. Even though three weeks have passed since the parliamentary elections, Yushchenko said he cannot indicate his preference regarding the premiership until he sees the program of the future governing coalition. "Dozens of issues must be discussed and agreements concluded so that voters are not disappointed. Once this is done, I will be ready to tell you which candidate I support," Yushchenko said. Tymoshenko, Our Ukraine People's Union leader Roman Bezsmertnyy, and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz are expected to sign a protocol on April 13 declaring their intention to form a coalition of democratic forces in the newly elected Verkhovna Rada to form a new government. JM

...AND SEES NO NEED FOR REVIEW OF GAS DEAL WITH RUSSIA
President Yushchenko also told journalists in Kyiv on April 12 that he sees no need to review the recent gas-supply deal with Russia, Reuters reported. The deal has been the source of considerable controversy since it was signed in January. "In the framework of a difficult negotiation process, which often seemed complicated to Ukraine, we have achieved what is most important for securing our strategic national interests," Yushchenko said. "We have a price of $95 [per 1,000 cubic meters] for Russian gas at the Ukrainian border. This is the cheapest price in countries bordering Russia." Yuliya Tymoshenko has announced that if she regains the post of prime minister, she will immediately annul the gas deal. Under the 4 January gas accord -- between Ukraine's gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny, Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom, and a Swiss-based intermediary -- Ukraine is to obtain 34 billion cubic meters of gas in 2006 from Russia for $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. Critics of the gas deal say it is valid for only the first six months of the year and the price will be revised upward after that. JM

SERBIAN POLICE DETAIN NINE IN CORRUPTION PROBE
Serbian police have detained nine people, including two judges, as part of an investigation into government corruption and organized crime, AFP and dpa reported on April 12, citing local media. Those being held include Serbian Commercial Court chief Judge Goran Kljajevic and state Postal Savings Bank President Jelica Zivkovic. Another judge, an Interior Ministry official, and three lawyers were also detained. Law enforcement officials would only confirm that several people were arrested, but provided no further details, dpa reported. "For now, I cannot reveal any more details about this case, as the investigation is classified," prosecutor's office spokesman Toma Zoric said. Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic said in a statement that the detentions represent "the strongest blow to organized economic crime and corruption in Serbia" since the fall of former President Slobodan Milosevic. BW

UN ENVOY CALLS ON EU TO OFFER INCENTIVES TO BALKAN COUNTRIES...
UN envoy to Kosova's final-status talks Martti Ahtisaari said on April 12 that the European Union should hold out the prospect of membership to Balkan countries as part of an effort to resolve the province's status, Reuters and dpa reported the same day. "Perhaps the most important support I can receive from the EU is that member states keep the European perspective in sight, not only for Kosovo, but also for Serbia and the rest of the western Balkans," Ahtisaari said at a joint news conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn in Brussels. "That is an important incentive," Ahtisaari added. Talks on Kosova's future appeared to hit an impasse on April 3 due to Belgrade's insistence on an autonomous Serbian entity within the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2006). Ahtisaari, however, insisted that the talks are producing results. "I don't accept that there hasn't been overall progress in the talks," he said. BW

...SAYS SERIOUS DISCUSSIONS ABOUT KOSOVA'S STATUS WON'T BEGIN UNTIL JUNE AT EARLIEST...
Ahtisaari also said on April 12 that serious discussions about Kosova's final status will not take place until June at the earliest, AFP reported. Ahtisaari described the negotiations going on now as "technical" discussions about decentralization, the number of municipalities, protection of Orthodox religious sites, human rights, and debt. "We have to go through this exercise before we can actually start seriously discussing the status issues," he said at the same press conference in Brussels. "We will go through this agenda first and then we will come to the moment when final-status issues will be discussed...not parallel, but after these talks have been carried through," he added. "These talks will continue, I would think, in May perhaps through June." Belgrade and Prishtina have had three sessions of direct talks about Kosova's future with the next round scheduled to begin on May 4. BW

...AS EUROPEAN COMMISSION CHIEF CALLS FOR BOTH SIDES TO COMPROMISE
Speaking at the same press conference in Brussels on April 12, European Commission President Barroso called on Belgrade and Prishtina to show more flexibility in the talks, AFP and Reuters reported. "It's time now for all parties involved to make serious compromises, to be ready to face reality, to move forward," he said. "The future of Kosovo and indeed all the countries of the Balkans is in Europe." Barroso said the EU seeks "a democratic, stable, truly multiethnic Kosovo," but insisted that independence is not a foregone conclusion. "We are not anticipating the outcome of those talks." BW

ICTY TRANSFERS WAR CRIMES CASE TO BOSNIAN COURT
The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) decided on April 12 to transfer the case of Bosnian Croat military policeman Pasko Ljubicic to a war crimes court in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Reuters reported the same day. Ljubicic is charged with crimes against humanity and violating the rules and customs of war for his alleged role in atrocities against Muslims in central Bosnia in 1993. The ICTY is in the process of transferring low- and mid-level cases to national courts as part of an effort to finish its work by 2010. The War Crimes Chamber of Bosnia's State Court, which opened last year, handed down its first verdict this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2006). BW

AMBASSADOR SAYS RUSSIA WILL 'NEVER GIVE UP' INTERESTS IN TRANSDNIESTER
Russian Ambassador to Moldova Nikolai Ryabov said on April 12 that Moscow "will never give up its interests" in the breakaway Transdniester region, "where it has been present for more than a century," Interfax reported the same day. Ryabov said in Transdniester's capital Tiraspol that Russians "rest in the cemeteries there. A huge part of our history belongs to this region." Ryabov also said that Moscow plans to push for an end to new customs regulations on the Transdniester section of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. Moldova and Ukraine implemented the new rules in March as part of an effort to combat smuggling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 7, and 8, 2006). "We will certainly be able to find a way out of the crisis through joint efforts. Moscow will push for the end of the economic blockade of [Transdniester]," he said. "Russia will not allow anybody to dictate terms in the [Transdniester] settlement process. Moscow will demand that those standing behind this economic blockade abandon their policies." BW

ADYGEYA PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION ASSAIL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY
Despite the joint statement in early March by the leaders of Adygeya and Krasnodar Krai, Khazret Sovmen and Aleksandr Tkachev, that the controversial plan to subsume the former federation subject into the surrounding larger one is no longer on the agenda, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak is reportedly still pushing for that territorial merger. In separate statements on April 10 and 11, Sovmen and two public organizations representing Adygeya's small Adyg/Cherkess minority condemned Kozak's "pernicious" role in lobbying to strip Adygeya of its status as a separate republic.

At a joint meeting of their respective executive councils on April 10, the Cherkess Council and Adyghe Khase adopted a statement expressing support for Sovmen and for his policies "aimed at peaceful constructive development," caucasustimes.com reported. That statement reaffirmed the Adygs' collective rejection of proposals to revise the republic's borders, and warned that doing so could have catastrophic consequences not only for the North Caucasus but for the entire Russian Federation. It is high time, the statement continued, to disabuse Kozak of his idee fixe and to make clear to him that the Cherkess people are not prepared to sacrifice their "national home" in return for dubious promises of a future economic upswing that may never materialize.

They further announced that a congress of the Cherkess people has been scheduled for May 21. During an earlier working meeting in late February, Adyg and Cherkess communities from across the North Caucasus warned that in the event that Moscow continues to push the abolition of Adygeya's status as a separate republic, they would propose unifying within the Russian Federation the historic territories of Adygeya, Kabarda, Cherkessia, and Shapsughia to create a far larger Adyg (Cherkess) Republic.

Adygeya's Sovmen for his part was quoted by the Russian daily "Kommersant" in an interview published on April 11 as similarly claiming that following his appointment in October 2004, Kozak began "saber-rattling" in favor of the merger of Adygeya with Krasnodar Krai. Sovmen said he does not believe the idea of the merger originated with Tkachev. Sovmen further accused unnamed officials from the Southern Federal District of undercutting the authority of Adygeya's government. He recalled that those bureaucrats responded to complaints from the Adygeya republican prosecutor's office about corruption within the Interior Ministry by publicly presenting certificates of merit to the Interior Ministry officials in question.

Sovmen also clarified the circumstances of his offer during a parliament session on April 4 to resign. He explained that it was a direct consequence of his ongoing conflict with Kozak over the territorial merger and not, as some Russian media reported, a reaction to some parliament deputies' failure to rise to their feet as a mark of respect when he entered the parliament chamber. He said the parliament "respects the president." But that may be an overstatement: "Novye izvestia" on April 5 quoted political analyst Oksana Goncharenko as pointing out that the new Adygeya parliament elected on March 12 is divided almost equally between (mainly Cherkess) supporters of Sovmen who reject the proposed territorial merger and Slavs who oppose him and would support that merger. Most of the pro-Sovmen faction represent the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, while the Slavs belong to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Unified Industrial Party of Russia, and the Agrarian Party.

In an April 7 interview with "Kavkazsky uzel," pro-Sovmen parliament deputy Rashid Mugu similarly said that the president told him on April 4 shortly after declaring his readiness to step down that the reason was the pressure he was under from Kozak to agree to the territorial merger. Mugu further made the point that such pressure is undercutting support within the parliament for Sovmen's insistence on parity between the Cherkess and Slavs in electing parliamentary committees.

Sovmen reportedly met late on April 11 with Sergei Sobyanin, head of President Vladimir Putin's administration, in a bid to secure the Kremlin's support for preserving the territorial status quo, but the outcome of that meeting has not been made public. Sovmen's presidential term expires early next year, and the Kremlin may have decided to delay the territorial merger until after the appointment of a new president. The most likely candidate to succeed Sovmen, according to kavkazmemo.ru on April 5, is Tkachev's Adyg deputy, Murat Akhedzhak.

U.S. MILITARY TO PROBE DATA SALES IN AFGHANISTAN
A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Mike Cody, said on April 11 that the U.S. military will review reports that sensitive computer data from the U.S. military facility in Bagram, north of Kabul, is being offered for sale outside the base, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on April 12. Stressing that U.S. commanders at Bagram "take operational security seriously," Cody added that the reports are being "reviewed" and more information will be provided "as it becomes available." The "Los Angeles Times" reported on April 10 that several computer drives containing documents marked "secret" were available for purchase in the bazaar outside the base. One document from October 2004 reportedly suggested that two top neo-Taliban leaders were in Pakistan, while a January 2005 document identified the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta as staging areas for terrorists bound for Afghanistan. A chart from January 2005 reportedly listed five Afghans -- including former Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, current chief of staff of Afghanistan's military high command General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and the counternarcotics chief in the Afghan Interior Ministry, General Mohammad Daud -- as "Tier-One Warlords." AT

ANOTHER AFGHAN SCHOOL ATTACKED EAST OF KABUL
One of two rockets that landed in the provincial capital of Laghman Province overnight on 12 April struck a school but caused no casualties, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Asroddin Hotak, chief of Laghman education department, said the school, in the city of Mehtarlam, suffered some damage. Jahan Shah, head of provincial intelligence department, blamed neo-Taliban fighters for the attack. An attack on a school in Konar Province, north of Laghman, killed six children and injured two dozen students and teachers on April 11 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2006). AT

THREE PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DEATH IN AFGHAN KIDNAPPING CASE
A court in Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan on April 12 condemned Abdul Shukur, Mohammad Ishaq, and Baryalai to death for kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old child identified as Sher Mohammad, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The sentencing judge, Abdul Basit Bakhtiari, said that while "the main perpetrator of the incident" is 15-year-old Qodratollah, "the court is sentencing him to 15 years in prison because he is under the age of 18." Sher Mohammad was kidnapped in March and his body found a day later. According to AIP, the police in Kandahar immediately arrested the murderers and the prosecution wrapped up its case very quickly "instead of taking months and years." The specific charges are unclear, and it is unknown whether the accused had access to a defense attorney. Reporting on criminal cases is rare in Afghanistan, where the justice system remains largely unsupervised. AT

THREE BRITISH SOLDIERS INJURED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Three soldiers from the United Kingdom were injured, two seriously, in an explosion in Helmand Province on April 10, the BBC reported on April 11. The U.K. military vehicle was participating in a search operation by coalition forces when the explosion occurred. AT

IRAN'S NUCLEAR CLAIM ELICITS U.S. CALL FOR SECURITY COUNCIL 'ACTION,' UN CALL FOR DIPLOMACY
Reacting to the Iranian announcement that it has successfully enriched uranium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April, 2006), U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington that the development will harm Iran, Radio Farda reported. "Now, this latest announcement yesterday by the Iranian regime is just a step that is going to further isolate Iran," Rice said. "It demonstrates that Iran is not adhering to the international community's requirements." Rice went on to hint that UN sanctions could result, saying, "We are consulting now, and when the [UN] Security Council reconvenes, I think it will be time for action." In The Hague, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a continuing emphasis on diplomacy, Radio Farda reported. "I appeal to everyone to work more actively in search of a diplomatic solution and to cool down the rhetoric and not to escalate," Annan said. He expressed the hope that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei, who is visiting Iran, will be able to persuade Tehran to resume negotiations with the international community. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS ENRICHMENT LIMITS
Mohammad Javad Saidi, deputy chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on April 12 that Iran does not intend to enrich uranium beyond the level announced by state officials the previous day, state television reported. "We are currently able to carry out 3.5 to 5.0 percent enrichment, and because our main purpose in producing nuclear fuel is to provide fuel for our power plants we have no intention to go beyond this level of enrichment because we are committed to the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and the Additional Protocol," Saidi said. Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Council, said during an April 12 visit to Damascus that Iran has used 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium, Iranian state radio reported. He went on to say that many more centrifuges are necessary if production is to be on an industrial scale and to make enough fuel for a nuclear power station. "We are moving in this direction," Hashemi-Rafsanjani said. "Our steps are very firm, calculated, scientific, and independent. And in no point of this technology [do] we depend on foreign assistance -- be it the supply of raw material or in the field of technical requirement." BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATORS CITE SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS
Just two days before the Support for the Palestinian Intifada conference gets under way in Tehran, 195 members of the Iranian legislature issued a statement of support on April 12 for the "Palestinian Resistance Movement," IRNA reported. The statement called on all Palestinians to participate in a general referendum and added, "The courageous Islamic resistance of the noble Palestinian people is a clear legal response to the occupation and tyrannical, racist and expansionist policies of the Zionist regime." The legislators also congratulated Hamas on its success in January elections in Palestine. The same day, Ali Akbar Velayati, the former foreign minister who now serves as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's foreign-affairs adviser, urged Islamic countries to fulfill their promises to fund a Hamas-led Palestinian authority, IRNA reported. The United States and European Union have cut funding for the Palestinian government because Hamas has refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. "The dignitaries taking part in the conference are expected to encourage their own governments to extend more assistance to the Palestinian government," he said. Velayati criticized the Organization of the Islamic Conference for its inaction on this issue. BS

IRANIAN BALUCHI GROUP CLAIMS TO KILL HOSTAGE
Al-Arabiyah television broadcast on April 12 a videotape in which the ethnic Baluchi group known as Jundullah claimed to have killed Ahmad Zahed Sheikhi, an officer in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. Sheikhi's identity card was shown, and Jundullah leader Abdulmalik Rigi spoke on the tape. Jundullah has claimed responsibility for the March 16 attack on a motorcade traveling between the cities of Zahedan and Zabol in which more than 20 people were killed and another seven were injured (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 March 2006). The group released a videotape in which it said it is holding several hostages. BS

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER DENIES DIRECT KNOWLEDGE OF ILLEGAL IRAQI PAYOFFS
John Howard told an Australian inquiry on April 13 that he knew Saddam Hussein broke sanctions through oil-for-food deals, but said he had no knowledge that any Australian companies were involved, international media reported. Howard also told the inquiry that he did not see 21 diplomatic cables warning the Australian government about possible kickbacks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2006). The inquiry is investigating the activity of Australian wheat exporter AWB in paying some $220 million in kickbacks to the Hussein regime, in violation of the UN oil-for-food program. KR

ARAB FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET, PLAY DOWN IRAQI ABSENCE...
Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo on April 12 for a scheduled meeting on Iraq without the presence of Iraq's foreign minister after Baghdad boycotted the meeting, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2006). In a statement issued after the meeting, the ministers "expressed deep regret at the absence of Iraq," since the "summit was called to help the Iraqi people and determine how to offer Arab support for the ongoing political process." Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa told reporters at a press briefing after the session, "We would have wished Iraq to be present and I believe they will be at the next meeting," thepeninsulaqatar.com reported on April 13. Musa added that the Arab League intends to dispatch a mission to Baghdad by late April, MENA reported on April 12. KR

...AS ARAB LEAGUE CHIEF VOWS TO RESCUE IRAQ FROM VIOLENCE
Arab League Secretary-General Musa told reporters at the April 12 press briefing that although the occupation of Iraq has been legitimized through a UN Security Council mandate, multinational forces have failed to maintain security and halt the bloodshed there, MENA reported the same day. Therefore, he maintained, it is now the responsibility of the Arab world to achieve peace in Iraq. As yet, there has been no official Iraqi response to Musa's statement, but Iraqi officials in the past have rejected the idea of regional intervention in Iraq. Meanwhile, a source in Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's office told Al-Arabiyah television that al-Sistani sent a written letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the latter's recent statements questioning the loyalty of Iraqi Shi'a to their country, the satellite news channel reported on April 12. The letter was reportedly delivered to the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut. KR

SHI'ITE MOSQUE BOMBED IN NORTHERN IRAQ
Twenty-five people were killed and 70 wounded when a car bomb exploded outside a Shi'ite mosque in the town of Huwaydir, just north of Ba'qubah, on April 12, international media reported the same day. Hospital officials say they expect casualty figures to rise, Reuters reported. Elsewhere, gunmen killed three policemen in one attack in Mosul and a fourth in a separate attack on April 12, the news agency reported. Meanwhile, one policeman and three civilians were killed when a roadside bomb struck a police vehicle in central Baghdad, Reuters reported. Four people were wounded in the attack. KR

IRAQ'S UN AMBASSADOR SAYS HE WILL BE NEXT AMBASSADOR TO U.S.
Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Samir al-Sumaydi'i has reportedly announced that he will be Iraq's first ambassador to the United States in 15 years, according to Reuters on April 12. Al-Sumaydi'i presented his credentials to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on April 11, and he told the news agency in an e-mail that he expects to meet U.S. President George W. Bush "in the coming days." Al-Sumaydi'i has served as UN ambassador since 2004. KR

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