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Newsline - June 29, 2006

Speaking at a meeting with Saudi Prince Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz on June 28, President Vladimir Putin instructed unnamed Russian "special services" to take "all measures to find and eliminate the murderers" of one diplomat and three embassy staffers in Iraq by the Mujahedin Shura Council, which is an Iraqi-based group linked to Al-Qaeda, the presidential website reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 27, and 28, 2006). Russia will be grateful for any information about the murderers, Putin added. Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB), was the first senior security official to publicly promise to do all in his power to carry out Putin's order, Russian news agencies reported. "We must work in such a way that no terrorists who commit crimes will evade responsibility. We will work, no matter how much time and energy is required," Patrushev said. The BBC noted that Russia had a considerable intelligence presence in Iraq prior to the launching of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and it questioned whether Moscow would be better advised to find the killers, have them arrested, and bring them to trial rather than carry out executions of its own. PM

On June 28, U.S. and U.K. diplomats blocked a statement submitted by Russia to the UN Security Council regarding the recent killing of one diplomat and three embassy staffers in Iraq because the text blamed coalition forces for the killings, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2006). U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton told the news agency that Russia "will have a statement. It's just a question of when." He said the Russians are revising their proposal. PM

Vladislav Surkov, who is one of several deputy heads of the Kremlin administration, said on June 28 that Russia defeated its own totalitarian system and did not lose the Cold War, RIA Novosti reported. He argued that "we do not believe that we were defeated.... We think that we defeated our own totalitarian regime... We defeated ourselves, for a start." Surkov noted that losers are normally looked upon with either disdain or pity, but that Russia should not be seen in this way. "We do not consider ourselves a defeated nation," he said. "We simply believe that we have chosen our own destiny." noted that many of the Russian media consider Surkov's remarks a defense of Russia's right to lead the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries in the run-up to the St. Petersburg summit in July. Some media said that he was responding in particular to criticism of Russian foreign policy and democracy by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Vilnius on May 4 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). PM

Kremlin aide Surkov said on June 28 that Russia has a record in promoting democracy that it can be proud of, Russian news agencies reported. He argued that "it was Moscow that democratized this gigantic [post-Soviet] space, which is now being revitalized." He objected to U.S. Vice President Cheney's recent words to the effect that Kazakhstan has a better track record in democracy than Russia. Surkov, who also is chairman of Transneftprodukt, suggested that Russia's critics have ulterior motives. He noted that "when our partners interpret energy security as full control over our energy resources, I think we have a right to understand it differently.... People talk to us about democracy, but they're really thinking about our energy resources." Echoing President Putin's views, Surkov demanded that other major powers treat Russia as an equal. He said that "while building an open society, we do not forget that we are a free nation, and we want to be a free nation among other free nations and cooperate with them according to just rules without [people] trying to control us from outside." He suggested that Russian culture is a European culture that is no more idiosyncratic than those of Germany, France, or the United Kingdom. Consequently, he argued, others should accept Russian culture or a "possible emerging national ideology" on its own terms. PM

In his June 28 remarks, Surkov defended the government's policy of appointing prominent Kremlin figures to head state-run companies, Russian news agencies reported. "These people can be replaced [without changing fundamentals]. When the country's leadership changes, and other political forces come to power, they will probably change these people. I do not see any problems with this." Surkov stressed that such a procedure "is normal... These people are here today, gone tomorrow. They serve, they are not owners. So they cannot pose any political threat." PM

U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns wrote in "The Moscow Times" of June 27 that Russia must open up its vast oil and gas sectors to foreign investment if it wants to be seen as a "world-class energy player." He noted that Russia will need billions of dollars to develop its remote oil and gas fields and added that potential investors will require a transparent legal system in which to operate. PM

Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov told the Moscow-based daily "Vedomosti" of June 29 that the state should increase its presence in the mass media, especially television. "I believe today that the state's presence should be reinforced, mainly on television, which definitely needs moral and informational rejuvenation," he argued. Mironov feels that "the state needs media to pursue its information policy. These media should substantiate, explain, and defend the state's position on various issues." Pyotr Kotov stepped down as editor of "Parlamentskaya gazeta" following the publication in that paper of an article on World War II that many deputies in both houses said glorified the role of some pro-Axis forces on Soviet territory. Mironov rallied the upper house to demand that State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov sack Kotov, who subsequently "resigned." PM

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told RIA Novosti on June 29 that the Palestinians should free the Israeli soldier they are holding. Kamynin argued that "the Palestinian leadership, all Palestinian organizations and movements should make every effort to stop terrorist activities and attacks on Israeli cities. Most importantly, the Israeli serviceman should be released at once." Kamynin called Israeli intrusions into Syrian airspace "inadmissible." He added that the situation in the Middle East is "extremely disturbing" and demands urgent action to prevent further destabilization. He said Russia sees the resumption of talks as "the only way out of the situation." Russia is the only G8 country that has invited leaders of the radical Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections in January but is shunned by the West, to its capital for talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 19, and 21, 2006). PM

Former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin gave an extensive interview to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on June 28, exactly four years after his famous open letter to President Putin urging him to accept then Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's proposal to begin peace talks (see End Note and "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26 and 28, 2002). Rybkin argued that the Russian leadership's disinclination to embark on peace talks with the moderate wing of the Chechen armed resistance as exemplified by Maskhadov and Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev has led to a radicalization of the Chechen leadership, culminating in the appointment by Doku Umarov of radical field commander Shamil Basayev as his vice president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2006). Rybkin said Moscow is largely to blame for that radicalization. LF

Pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told Interfax in a telephone interview on June 28 that the accession of the "terrorists" Umarov and Basayev to the posts of Chechen president and vice president respectively is further confirmation that peace talks are not possible. Immediately after Zakayev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in late May that the Russian leadership is considering such talks, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, who is speaker of the lower chamber of the Chechen parliament and a close associate of Kadyrov, told Interfax that the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership has no intention of embarking on a dialogue with any representative of the "nonexistent" Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI), specifically with Zakayev. Abdurakhmanov added that any attempts by any senior Russian official to establish contact with Zakayev will meet with "outrage and protest" from the people of Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30 and 31, 2006). On June 27, newly appointed Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika announced that Moscow will again seek to secure Zakayev's extradition from the United Kingdom, where he was granted political asylum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2006). LF

Basayev in his capacity as chairman of the War Council convened a meeting in Krasnodar Krai in the first half of June with amirs based in Adygeya, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Krasnodar and Stavropol krais, reported on June 27 citing kavkaz-center. On June 29, the Ingushetian Interior Ministry told Interfax that there is no truth to media reports that Basayev and Umarov are currently in Ingushetia, as a police official in Chechnya's western Urus-Martan Raion claimed on June 28. That claim was based on testimony extracted from a local resident who said he provided Umarov and 14 other fighters with food over a period of two weeks, reported on June 29. LF

Visiting Yerevan on June 28, Rashid Nurgaliyev claimed that the media have exaggerated the number of Armenians killed in Russia in recent months, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). Russian human rights groups have counted six such murders so far this year; Nurgaliyev said there were four killings during January-March of which two have been solved. He denied that such crimes are ethnically motivated, as most Armenians believe. LF

The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a formal solution to the Karabakh conflict provided additional details on June 28 of the peace proposal currently under discussion, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Those details, in a statement posted to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, complement comments made last week to RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services by the U.S. Co-Chairman Matthew Bryza. The Armenian Foreign Ministry released a statement on June 26 pointing out that Bryza omitted to mention that the co-chairs have affirmed for the first time that a referendum should take place to determine the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents have agreed to such a referendum. That statement also said that the main remaining point of disagreement between the two sides relates to removing the consequences of the military conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 27 and 28, 2006). The June 28 statement by the co-chairmen said the draft peace agreement foresees a phased withdrawal of Armenian forces from seven occupied Azerbaijani districts, including unspecified "special modalities" for the strategically vital Kelbacar and Lachin districts sandwiched between the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and the Republic of Armenia. This would be followed by demilitarization, the deployment of international peacekeepers, international financial aid for reconstruction, and the resettlement of internally displaced persons. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Tbilisi, where he is on a working visit, on June 28 that Bryza's original remarks failed to mention two components of a settlement that Armenia considers important: maintaining a "corridor" between Armenia and the NKR and bestowing interim status on the NKR until the holding of the referendum to determine its final status, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

At the request of the NKR government, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, who is the representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office for the Karabakh conflict, toured districts contiguous to the NKR where according to Azerbaijani claims, Armenian forces have been conducting a deliberate scorched earth policy in recent weeks, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15 and 19, 2006). NKR Deputy Foreign Minister Masis Mayilian told RFE/RL that Kasprzyk and the OSCE staffers accompanying him found no evidence of the deliberate destruction of settlements by fire. Mayilian earlier said that brushfires are common in the region during the summer months. LF

Mirza Sakit Zahidov, the opposition Azerbaijani journalist detained on June 23 on suspicion of possessing drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2006), was refused permission to consult with his lawyer on June 28, reported on June 29 quoting Turan. LF

Georgian Deputy Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Volski has hailed the recent affirmation by Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, that he is ready to meet at any time with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported on June 28 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2006). But Volski added that Tbilisi expects Abkhazia to take a "constructive" approach to that meeting. And he proposed that the formal agreement on nonresumption of hostilities, which Bagapsh said should be signed during his planned meeting with Saakashvili, should also contain security guarantees for Georgian displaced persons returning to Abkhazia. LF

The NGO Civil Society for Democratic Georgia released a statement on June 28 listing several cases of reprisals against NGOs in recent months, Caucasus Press reported. It claimed that a deliberate campaign has been launched against "dissident" NGOs, and demanded that police investigate the incidents in question. LF

Gabdurafih Temirboev, an Uzbek citizen with UN refugee status, was detained in Almaty on June 24 by individuals who identified themselves as Kazakh police, RFE/RL reported on June 28. Bakhtygul Omonova, Temirboev's wife, told RFE/RL that men, one of them wearing a Kazakh police uniform, detained Temirboev after a late-night document check at their home. Kazakh police have denied detaining Temirboev, but Arman Zhusanbai, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry's Almaty office, told RFE/RL that Temirboev may have been taken by unidentified Uzbek forces. But Yevgeny Zhovtis, the head of Kazakhstan's International Bureau for Human Rights, told RFE/RL that he has received official confirmation that Temirboev is in the detention center of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee. Cesar Dubon, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kazakhstan, told RFE/RL in an e-mail on June 28 that the Kazakh Foreign Ministry has promised to provide details of Temirboev's detention and access to him as soon as possible. Temirboev and his wife and two children have resided in Kazakhstan since 1999. The case recalls an incident in November 2005, when rights groups alleged that Kazakh security forces cooperated with their Uzbek colleagues in the forcible return of Uzbek citizens from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30 and December 5, 2005). DK

Three members of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission on 28 June described their experiences during unrest in the town of Tuzbel in the course of a parliamentary by-election on June 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2006), reported. Jyldyz Joldosheva, Jarkyn Bapanova, and Jenish Akmatov said that women holding Molotov cocktails threatened them upon their arrival in Uzgen on June 24. On June 25, the commission's members witnessed 12 clashes between the supporters of parliamentary candidates Sanjar Kadyraliev and Mamat Orozbaev. The commissioners voiced dissatisfaction with police efforts to maintain order, criticizing law enforcement for allowing supporters of Kadyraliev into the village of Tuzbel. Joldosheva said that "the Aksy events nearly repeated themselves," a reference to the fatal shooting of six demonstrators by police in Aksy in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 18 and 19, 2002). Meanwhile, Chairman Tuigunaly Abdraimov said that the commission will review reports of the unrest that accompanied the June 25 by-election and hold a session next week to discuss the issue. DK

Representatives of the Kyrgyz and Germany governments signed an agreement in Bishkek on June 28 for Germany to provide Kyrgyzstan with a 16 million-euro ($20 million) grant for health-care reforms, reported. Other participants in the project, which will focus on emergency medical care, are the World Bank and U.K. Department for International Development. The German-Kyrgyz agreement on the project was reached during negotiations in Bonn on August 30-31, 2005, that approved 18.3 million euros in aid to Kyrgyzstan. DK

President Imomali Rakhmonov declared himself "optimistic about the prospects for Tajik-U.S. relations" on June 28 at a ceremony to open a new building for the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Interfax reported. "Many joint plans are now being studied by our two countries," RFE/RL's Tajik Service quoted Rakhmonov as saying. "I am confident that in the near future, we will a witness increasing cooperation and joint projects." DK

In a press release on June 27, OSCE Chairman in Office and Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht expressed support for the OSCE Center in Ashgabat in the face of Turkmen allegations that OSCE Human Dimension Officer Benjamin Moreau engaged in illegal activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2006). "I do not understand the Turkmen accusations against Mr. Moreau nor the time that is apparently needed to clear his name fully and unambiguously," de Gucht said. The allegations against Moreau came in the context of a spy scandal that has seen seven individuals, including RFE/RL freelance correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova, detained amid far-reaching espionage allegations but no official charges. DK

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and his Belarusian counterpart, Syarhey Sidorski, met in Moscow on June 28 to discuss some 20 issues in bilateral relations, Russian and Belarusian media reported. Fradkov told journalists after the talks that the price for Russian gas supplies to Belarus in 2007 has not been agreed upon. "The Russian side confirmed its stance on the gas price," Fradkov added. Russia's Gazprom has indicated that it wants Belarus to pay $200 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas in 2007, up from some $47 in 2006. Meanwhile, Dzmitry Kazakou, director of the Belarusian gas transport company Beltranshaz, said the same day that Gazprom's price-hike proposal is "unacceptable," adding that Belarus insists on buying Russian gas at the price effective for Russia's Smolensk Oblast, as stipulated by the 2002 bilateral energy policy agreement. "The process of setting prices in Belarus and Russia should have a similar pace, or else our economies will develop differently and this will be inconsistent with the agreements between Belarus and Russia currently in force," Belapan quoted Kazakou as saying. JM

Deputies from the Party of Regions on June 29 continued to block the rostrum and the electronic voting system in the Ukrainian parliament for a third day, thus preventing the Verkhovna Rada from resuming its session this week, UNIAN reported. The Party of Regions objects to the plan of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party to appoint the prime minister and parliamentary speaker via a single, open ballot. The Party of Regions also wants a larger share of the posts of parliamentary-committee head than the Orange Revolution coalition has agreed to offer to the opposition. BYuT lawmaker Oleksandr Turchynov told journalists on June 29 that the ruling majority will not negotiate with the Party of Regions unless the latter unblocks the Verkhovna Rada hall. Meanwhile, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said the same day that Our Ukraine should withdraw the candidacy of Petro Poroshenko for the post of parliamentary speaker. According to Moroz, the appointment of Yuliya Tymoshenko as prime minister and Poroshenko as parliamentary speaker will revive the inner conflict that led to the split of a former Orange Revolution coalition in September 2005. JM

Serbia's G17 Plus party, a member of the country's ruling coalition, filed a lawsuit on June 28 seeking to ban the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) for inciting ethnic hatred, AFP reported the same day. Officials from the liberal G17 Plus filed the suit with Serbian prosecutors along with a petition signed by more than 70,000 citizens, video footage, and press clippings. The suit stems from an incident earlier this month in which SRS lawmaker Zoran Krasic described then Agriculture Minister Ivana Dulic-Markovic and her family as "Ustasha," in reference to the pro-Nazi puppet regime in Croatia blamed for the killing of thousands of Serbs during World War II. The G17 Plus request to ban the SRS is also supported by eight human rights groups, including the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. BW

Vojislav Kostunica visited Kosova on June 28 under tight security to mark the anniversary of a battle in the breakaway province, Reuters reported the same day. About 1,000 Serbs greeted Kostunica with applause as he arrived in the monastery town of Gracanica, which was commemorating Saint Vitus Day, or Vidovdan. The day marks the 1389 Serbian defeat in the Battle of Kosovo Polje. "There is no better place to repeat what all Serbs should know -- that Kosovo always was and always will be part of Serbia," Kostunica said. "No one is on firmer, truer ground in the talks on Kosovo's final status than Serbia." The crowd responded with chants of "Serbia, Serbia!" Police and NATO armored vehicles secured Kostunica's route, and riot police scuffled with dozens of pro-independence demonstrators who tried to block the prime minister's route at various points. About 120 people were arrested. BW

Also speaking on the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje, Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Amfilohije warned on June 28 that Kosova's independence would turn the Balkans into a "powder keg," AP reported the same day. "An independent Kosovo would turn the Balkans into a long-term powder keg," he said. "The most optimal solution for Kosovo would be for it to remain within Serbia with the greatest possible autonomy and guarantees for the human rights of all of its citizens," Amfilohije added, reflecting the Serbian government's views. Amfilohije added that Kosova's independence would result in the "purge and destruction" of the remaining Kosovar Serb minority and "their Christian heritage." BW

The UN General Assembly on June 28 formally admitted Montenegro as its 192nd member, Reuters reported the same day. The General Assembly approved by acclamation the resolution admitting Montenegro, which was submitted by Austria's UN ambassador, Gerhard Pfanzelter, whose country currently heads the European Union. The UN seat previously assigned to Serbia and Montenegro now belongs to Serbia. The UN Security Council unanimously recommended Montenegro's admission on June 22 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 23, 2006). The last country to join the United Nations was East Timor in September 2002. BW

Adnan Terzic on June 28 called for Bosnia-Herzegovina to conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union before the Office of the High Representative (OHR) closes down in June 2007, Reuters reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26 and 27, 2006). "I believe it is a mistake to support the closing down of the Office of the High Representative without having the SAA signed," Terzic said, adding that he and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn disagree on the issue. "The [OHR] is required in case things go in the opposite direction of the SAA." Rehn said he hopes to conclude an SAA with Bosnia by the end of the year, but this will depend on progress on key reforms like overhauling the country's police force. BW

Andrei Stratan said on June 28 that he hopes Western powers will address the issue of the breakaway Transdniester region at the upcoming summit of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries in St. Petersburg, Interfax reported the same day. The issue is not on the summit's official agenda, but Stratan said that should not prevent if from being discussed. "Moldova's international partners are planning to raise it during the G8 forum," he told a news conference in Chisinau. "It is a bit easier to solve this problem than any other conflicts on former Soviet soil. Everybody should take advantage of it. A great deal has been done recently to find a solution to this problem more rapidly. It would be wrong to miss this chance. Everyone is tired and understands that the problem can and needs to be settled," Stratan said. BW

Chechen Republic Ichkeria President and resistance commander Doku Umarov named Shamil Basayev on June 27 as his vice president and as government chairman, reported. Umarov simultaneously released Basayev from the post of first deputy prime minister to which he was named last year by Umarov's predecessor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev.

Sadulayev was killed in a special operation by Russian forces in Argun, east of Grozny, on June 17. In light of his involvement in three hostage takings and several attacks on government facilities, the Russian authorities have branded Basayev a terrorist and foresworn any negotiations with him.

Basayev, who is 41, began his one-man campaign against Russian rule over Chechnya in 1991 when he participated in the hijacking of a Russian passenger aircraft flying from the southern town of Mineralnye Vody to Turkey and thence to Grozny. Also in 1991, according to Czech journalist Petra Prochazkova, he signed up with the unofficial Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus, and in 1992 led a battalion of volunteers from the North Caucasus who fought on the side of the Abkhaz in the 1992-93 war against Georgia.

When the Russian army marched into Chechnya in December 1994, it was Basayev who organized the defense of Grozny, according to a profile published on September 15, 2004, in "The New York Times." Six months later, in May 1995, some 11 members of his family, including a wife and two children, were killed in a Russian bombing raid. It was apparently in retaliation for their deaths that Basayev and a group of some 130 fighters set out to drive north into the Russian heartland to stage a major reprisal. Halted by traffic police in Budennovsk, Stavropol Krai, he seized a local hospital, taking some 1,000 people hostage. After two attempts by Russian forces to release the hostages failed, Basayev negotiated their release and his own safe conduct back to Chechnya live on Russian television with then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, a feat that made him a hero in the eyes of many Chechens.

In August 1996, Basayev played a key role in the successful attack on Grozny that led to the signing of a cease-fire and the Khasavyurt accord that ended the war. Then, in January 1997, he ran unsuccessfully against former Chechen commander in chief Aslan Maskhadov in a presidential election hailed by both Russia and the international community as free and fair. At that time, Basayev told journalists that he envisaged Chechnya as a moderate Islamic state within the CIS that could serve as an intermediary between Russia and the Muslim world. Maskhadov, who won the election with some 66 percent of the vote to Basayev's 23 percent, offered Basayev a government post that Basayev initially refused. Over the next 12-18 months, Basayev was in and out of the cabinet, occupying the post of prime minister or acting prime minister. But Prochazkova describes him as having been aimless and bored with civilian life.

In late 1998, Basayev, together with two fellow field commanders, sought unsuccessfully to impeach Maskhadov for taking too soft an approach toward relations between Chechnya and Moscow. Then, in early 1999, he aligned with the radical Islamists who sought to establish an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus, and who set about undermining Maskhadov's position to that end. And in early August 1999, Basayev, together with fellow field commander Khattab, launched the ill-fated incursions into neighboring Daghestan that impelled Russian leadership to embark on a new war.

Basayev has played a key role in the resistance since the onset of the second war, despite incurring serious injuries in February 2000 during the retreat from Grozny that necessitated the amputation of one leg. Responding in the fall of 2004 to questions posed to him by the "Toronto Globe and Mail," he made light of his disability, claiming that he can still walk 50 kilometers a night.

In those responses, Basayev professed to have been "shaken" by Moscow's response to the seizure by Basayev's men of some 1,000 hostages in Beslan in September 2004. He claimed he did not anticipate that President Vladimir Putin would sacrifice the lives of children -- especially Ossetian children, given that Ossetia has always been a Russian ally in the North Caucasus. Basayev implied that he anticipated that Moscow would comply with the hostage takers' demand for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. "I thought I was doing the Russians a favor by showing them the way out of a blind alley," Basayev said.

Basayev then warned that as long as Russia continues to violate the Geneva Conventions in Chechnya, his fighters will do likewise. "It is the enemy who sets the limits to our actions, and we are free to resort to the methods and actions that the enemy first employed against us," Basayev argued. "We are ready, and want to wage war according to international law, it is even to our advantage to do so in terms of protecting the civilian population. But unlike President Maskhadov, we do not want to be the only side to espouse those tactics." Basayev has, nonetheless, not perpetrated any further attacks since Beslan, perhaps having come to the conclusion that such actions are counterproductive. And the fact that Basayev's appointment followed Umarov's statement rejecting terrorism against civilians as a tactic suggests that Umarov is confident that Basayev has indeed moderated his approach.

But his previous track record, coupled with his role as purported mastermind of the Moscow theater hostage taking in October 2002, led both the UN and the U.S. government to designate his Riyadus-Salikhin battalion a terrorist organization in 2003. And he subsequently claimed to have contributed to the organization of a car-bomb attack on the pro-Moscow government headquarters in Grozny in December 2003, the bombing that killed pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and seven other people in May 2004, and the multiple attacks in June 2004 on police and security facilities in neighboring Ingushetia.

It could be argued that given both his military experience and his intermittent inclusion in the separatist government since 1997, Basayev is the logical candidate for the second most senior leadership post. (The only other candidate with comparable experience and influence is U.K.-based Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev.) Basayev's appointment as vice president creates an interesting quandary for the Russian leadership, insofar as under the Constitution of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, it is the vice president who succeeds to the presidency in the event of the president's death. If, as Zakayev suggested in an interview in late May with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, the Russian leadership is indeed discussing ways to negotiate an end to the war, then the prospect of "Terrorist No. 1" Basayev acceding to the presidency could lend added weight to the arguments of those who favor a peace deal.

Canadian soldiers carrying out missions in southern Afghanistan say neo-Taliban insurgents are divided over whether to continue attacks on coalition forces, CanWest News Service reported on June 28. "What I'm seeing is very positive here. There has been a split in the local leadership," said Lieutenant Colonel Ian Hope, commander of a Canadian combat unit battling insurgents in Kandahar Province as part of a coalition push in the area. "There are indications that one group does not want to fight any more. There have been yelling matches with words that are not characteristic in the culture. That is tremendous for the people here and has really boosted our morale." The coalition offensive, dubbed Operation Mountain Thrust, is the biggest show of force by Western forces in southern Afghanistan in four years. Canadian, U.S., British, and Dutch troops have flooded the area in search of neo-Taliban insurgents. "The Taliban are literally watching us all the time, but they are unable to mount coordinated attacks," said Major Kirk Gallinger of the Canadian forces. "They are very cognizant that they cannot meet our force with force. We are convinced the days of the Taliban are over. Every now and then, they do something that the media thinks is spectacular. They are a threat and a security issue, but they run from us." MR

Pakistani authorities have vowed to deploy 10,000 additional soldiers along the Afghan border, the Karachi-based "Dawn" newspaper reported on June 27. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri announced the planned deployment following meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Islamabad. According to the newspaper, the added troops will bring the number of Pakistani forces operating along the border with Afghanistan to 90,000. The Afghan government has repeatedly accused Pakistan of doing too little against neo-Taliban fighters using the tribal territories in the border region to stage attacks inside Afghanistan. MR

Two suicide bombers died in an apparent attack on a U.S. convoy in southern Afghanistan on June 28, AFP reported. Local police said the attackers were the only casualties in the incident, which took place in Zabul Province near the city of Qalat. "The suicide attackers detonated seconds ahead of the American convoy's arrival. There were no casualties, but the two bombers were blown to pieces," said provincial police chief Noor Mohammad Paktine. Neo-Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack. Once a rarity, suicide attacks have become a regular feature of the violence in Afghanistan. MR

Three German soldiers were slightly wounded when they came under fire in northern Afghanistan on June 28, AP reported. Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents attacked a two-vehicle patrol just south of Konduz as it moved through the area at night. Military authorities in Berlin said the soldiers returned fire, but it was unclear whether the attackers suffered any casualties. It was the second time in two days that militants have confronted German forces in the area. On June 27, a suicide car bomber tried to blow up another German convoy but missed. The bomber and two civilians were killed in that attack. Eight others were wounded. MR

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Justice Ministry and judiciary officials on June 28 that national officials are expected to strengthen the country against "hegemonic powers" by promoting "responsibility and national solidarity," IRNA reported. Khamenei said popular support serves as security for the government. BS

Mohammad Ebrahim Nikunam, director of the justice administration in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province, has said six people have been executed locally for violating religious laws, "Mardom Salari" reported on June 22. He did not say when the executions took place, nor did he identify the alleged violations of religious law. Nikunam noted local problems and said there are efforts under way to overcome them: "The administration and judicial system of the province are inefficient. There are many system blockages. But despite all these problems, we will use all our power in order to solve them. There is no doubt that, with the attention of the [head] of the Judiciary [Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi] and the eminent leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] to this province, the religious orders will be executed as fast as possible." BS

Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Mohammad Mustafa Najjar said on June 28 in Tehran that Iran is among the top six countries in the production of armor-piercing missiles, IRNA reported. He went on to say that country's defense industries are part of national development plans for the next two decades. BS

Employees of a china and porcelain factory in the northwestern city of Tabriz staged a protest on June 27 against a five-month wage arrears, ILNA reported. During that time, workers told ILNA, they only received a onetime payment of 500,000 rials (roughly $57). The factory's managing director told ILNA he would pay the employees as soon as he can, but there has been a slump in demand for the products. BS

Iraqi security forces have arrested one member of a seven-member team believed responsible for the bombing of the Al-Askari shrines in Samarra on February 22, Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told reporters in Baghdad on June 28, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Tunisian-born Abu Qudamah was recently arrested in the town of Al-Udaym, near Al-Dulu'iyah in Diyala Governorate, al-Rubay'i said, noting that he has been operating inside Iraq since 2003 and has confessed to killing hundreds of Iraqis. Al-Rubay'i said that Abu Qudamah was seriously injured and captured while taking part in an operation against an Iraqi checkpoint. Fifteen foreign fighters were also killed in the operation. KR

National Security Adviser al-Rubay'i appealed for help in locating the head of the terrorist cell to which Abu Qudamah belonged, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on June 28. Samarra-born Haytham Sabah Shakir Mahmud al-Badri led a cell that included four Saudis, two Iraqis, and Abu Qudamah, according to al-Rubay'i. Before 2003, al-Badri was linked to the Hussein regime. He has subsequently been linked to the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army and the Al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq, al-Rubay'i added. Al-Badri currently heads Al-Qaeda in Salah Al-Din Governorate. Al-Rubay'i said al-Badri is responsible for the killing of Al-Arabiyah reporter Atwar Bahjat and her colleagues in Samarra on 22 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22 and 23, 2006). KR

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told state-run Al-Iraqiyah television in a June 28 interview that the government is fully prepared to negotiate with armed groups willing to lay down their weapons. "I am so optimistic. I would like to confirm that many of those involved in acts committed under the banner of resistance...have contacted us directly or have contacted other [members] of the government to express their willingness to join the political process and lay down their arms," he said. "For our part, we welcomed this step." Al-Maliki said those insurgents involved in killings and crimes against Iraqis, foreign workers, journalists, and armed confrontations against both Iraqi and multinational forces "are responsible for creating horror and crimes," adding, "They will not benefit from any amnesty." Al-Maliki said the cabinet meeting on June 28 focused mainly on human rights, including prison conditions. The meeting also addressed international investment and the economy committee's draft investment law. KR

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that Iraq faces many challenges in implementing the national-reconciliation initiative, but it can succeed if there is public cooperation on security, the daily reported on June 28. The initiative "was an expression of what we want for our country, to solve the problems of the past, and to work for a society that is at peace with itself, a government that is at peace with its people, and an Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors," Salih said. Regarding the new government, he noted: "I am not saying that this government is ideal. Everyone acknowledges that it reflects the political reality in the country. There is strength in its diversity and also some problems." He said that militias are formed out of a distrust of government. "The present government can claim it is the government of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, if not all of them," Salih said, adding that there is no longer a need for militias in the country. KR

Interpol will open an office in the northern Iraqi city of Al-Sulaymaniyah, "Aso" reported on June 28, citing Kurdistan regional Deputy Interior Minister Major General Ahmad Musa. The office will work with Interpol to hand over Kurdish criminals who live abroad and foreign criminals taking shelter in Kurdistan, Musa said. The office has been opened in cooperation with the Iraqi Interior Ministry and will operate from the Al-Sulaymaniyah police department, he added. KR