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Newsline - July 21, 2006


RUSSIA SAYS ISRAEL HAS GONE 'FAR BEYOND' ANTITERRORIST MEASURES
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on July 20 that "the unprecedented scale of victims and destruction [in Lebanon] bear witness to the fact that the actions that were announced to [free captured Israeli soldiers] have gone far beyond the bounds of an antiterrorist operation," mid.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 18, 19, and 20, 2006). On July 16, President Vladimir Putin told reporters at Strelna that Russia has information from official Lebanese and other Arab sources that Israel is pursuing unspecified goals beyond securing the soldiers' release, but did not elaborate. On July 20, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov, who is a senior envoy to the Middle East, discussed the crisis with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, RIA Novosti reported. They said in a joint statement that "the first step to ease tensions on the Lebanese-Israeli border must be a cease-fire, and then to address the causes of the crisis." In Beirut, the Russian Embassy announced on July 21 that Saltanov will meet with Lebanese leaders later in the day. In Moscow, the Federation Council agreed on July 20 on the participation of Russian troops in an international peacekeeping force in the region if such a force comes into being, news.ru reported. PM

RUSSIA TO EVACUATE 260 MORE PEOPLE FROM LEBANON
A spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry told Interfax in Moscow on July 21 that about 260 Russian citizens living in Lebanon and an unspecified number of citizens of Ukraine and Kazakhstan will soon be evacuated via Latakia, Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2006). An additional 150 Russian and CIS citizens will be flown out of Cyprus, to which they have already fled from Lebanon. Yury Brazhnikov, who heads the ministry's international operations department, said on July 20 that the ongoing evacuation was "unique" and had been launched in record time. He added that the ministry is considering starting a humanitarian operation in Lebanon "that may follow the operation to evacuate Russian citizens." PM

IS RUSSIA WORKING WITH GERMANY TO FREE ISRAELI SOLDIERS?
Israeli Ambassador to Russia Arkady Mil-Man said in Moscow on July 20 that he hopes "that Russia and other countries will apply every effort to [obtain the] release of our soldiers as soon as possible," mosnews.com reported. Answering a question from an Israeli reporter at Strelna on July 16, President Putin said that "we have made efforts through every channel available to us to help release your soldiers -- I want to say, every channel -- and I have every reason to believe that our actions were not in vain. Due to certain circumstances, I will refrain from disclosing any details at this point" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). Presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said on July 17 that Russia will use its influence in the region at Israel's request to obtain the men's release. "We have engaged all the possibilities that we considered acceptable [and] have informed Israel about them," he said. On July 21, Germany's "Berliner Zeitung" reported that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have agreed to joint efforts by their respective intelligence services to try to secure the release of one Israeli soldier taken captive on the border with Gaza and two more subsequently abducted by Hizballah. PM

TOP ELECTION OFFICIAL WANTS DIRECT VOTE FOR SENATORS
Aleksandr Veshnyakov, who heads the Central Election Commission, said in Veliky Novgorod on July 20 that the current electoral system needs improvement on several fronts, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and July 13, 2006). He stressed that "direct elections to the Federation Council would be a sensible idea," which is a point that council speaker Sergei Mironov made on June 26. On July 12, Veshnyakov attracted attention by saying that regional governors should be elected and not appointed. He has also criticized proposed legislation that expands "pretexts for [the authorities] to disqualify candidates they find inconvenient," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on July 18. He said that such laws would lead to Soviet-style "elections without choices." "The Moscow Times" suggested on July 17 that in an effort to keep his job, Veshnyakov has become increasingly outspoken lately against legislation favored by the Unified Russia party. PM

KRASNOYARSK PROPOSES REVIVING CENTRAL PLANNING
Aleksandr Khloponin, who is governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, said in Moscow on July 20 at a meeting with President Putin that a strategic planning council should be set up to coordinate the regions' strategic development programs, the Moscow daily "Kommersant" reported on July 21. The members of the proposed body would be representatives of federal and regional authorities, as well as of big business. The daily suggested that the idea is at least partially a throwback to Soviet-style planning. The paper added that the proposal is also tantamount to a "declaration of war" on the existing Regional Development Ministry, which currently deals with such issues. PM

INGUSHETIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN APPEALS TO PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
Karim-Sultan Kokurkhayev appealed on July 20 to presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak, Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, and Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on behalf of 12 Ingush who declared a hunger strike on July 5 to demand the right for their families to return to the villages in North Ossetia's Prigorodny Raion from which they fled during the fighting on October-November 1992, ingushetiya.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 17, and 18, 2006). Kokurkhayev deplored the North Ossetian authorities' indifference to the plight of the Ingush families, who for 14 years have been living in trailers in the temporary settlement of Maysky, close to the border between Ingushetia and Prigorodny Raion. LF

CHECHEN PREMIER CALLS ON MILITANTS TO SURRENDER
Pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov appealed on July 20 to Chechen resistance fighters to lay down their arms and surrender, warning that the current amnesty offer may be their "last chance" to do so, according to the website of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration (http://www.chechnya.gov.ru). He argued that successive resistance leaders plunged Chechnya into poverty and chaos, that the population is weary of war, and that no one can ignore the "positive changes" under way. On 21 July, the resistance website chechenpress.org reported that former field commander Mayrbek Eshiyev and nine of his relatives (including two women) disappeared without a trace in late February after being summoned to Kadyrov's headquarters in Gudermes. Eshiyev had earlier surrendered and received guarantees of immunity from Kadyrov, who subsequently appointed him security chief in Vedeno Raion in southern Chechnya. The Chechen website suggested that there may be a link between Eshiyev's disappearance and the decision in early February by several dozen fighters who surrendered with him to return to fighting with the resistance. LF

TWO SUSPECTED MILITANTS APPREHENDED IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA
Interior Ministry personnel from Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia have detained two residents of the village of Yanikoy on the western outskirts of Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, Russian media reported on July 20. The two men are suspected of membership in the Chegem jamaat, and of having provided financial and other assistance to illegal armed groups. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER COMMENTS ON ALIGNMENT WITH PRIME MINISTER'S PARTY
Serzh Sarkisian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on July 20 that President Kocharian raised no objections to his recent decision to join the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. The HHK is expected to create the post of chairman of the party's governing council at a special congress on July 22 and to elect Sarkisian to that post. Sarkisian, who like Kocharian was born in the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, also told RFE/RL he endorses the basic principles for resolving the Karabakh conflict unveiled last month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 30, 2006). Sarkisian again said he will decide whether to participate in the 2008 presidential election, in which Kocharian is barred by the terms of the constitution from seeking reelection for a third term, only after the parliamentary elections to be held next summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). LF

NEW ARMENIAN PARTY DENIES REPORTS OF MERGER
Leading members of the Association for Armenia (MHH), which is believed to be financed by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian, denied on July 20 that the MHH will merge with Prime Minister Markarian's HHK, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Several MHH members who belong to the People's Deputy parliament faction have, like Defense Minister Sarkisian, recently formally joined the HHK. LF

SPOKESMAN RULES OUT MEETING BETWEEN ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS
Armenian President Kocharian has no plans to meet on the sidelines of the informal CIS summit in Moscow on July 21-22 with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, Kocharian's spokesman Victor Soghomonian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on July 20. The two presidents met outside Paris in February and in Bucharest last month but apparently failed to overcome key differences in their respective approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 19, 2006). On July 21, Kocharian's press service announced that he has succumbed to an "acute viral disease of the respiratory tract" and will consequently not be able to attend the Moscow summit, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

OSCE ENVOY ASSESSES FIRE DAMAGE IN OCCUPIED AZERBAIJANI DISTRICTS
Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk , who is the special representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office for the Karabakh conflict, has submitted to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry a seven-page assessment of the damage caused by brush fires to occupied Azerbaijani territory bordering on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, echo-az.com reported on July 21, quoting Foreign Ministry official Tahir Tagizade. The contents of the report have not been made public. Meanwhile Azerbaijan's Ecology and Natural Resources Minister Guseyngulu Bagirov told journalists in Baku on July 20 that Armenia is implementing a deliberate "scorched earth" policy, and he rejected Armenian claims that the fires are not the product of deliberate arson. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has argued that Armenia is to blame whether the fires were spontaneous or deliberate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2006). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DECIDES AGAINST ATTENDING MOSCOW SUMMIT
President Mikheil Saakashvili will not, after all, travel to Moscow on July 21 to attend the informal CIS summit, presidential-administration head Giorgi Arveladze told journalists on July 21. Arveladze did not cite any reason for that decision. Saakashvili said on July 18 he hoped to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the summit to discuss tensions in bilateral relations and the Georgia parliament's recent demand for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetian conflict zones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19, 2006). On July 20, Saakashvili told the independent television channel Rustavi-2 that he was optimistic about the chances of finding a common language with Putin. Saakashvili also repeated on July 20 that Georgia does not want a confrontation with Russia, and that it plans to resolve the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia peacefully over the next two-three years, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RULES OUT PACT ON NONRESUMPTION OF HOSTILITIES
Speaking on Rustavi-2 on July 20, Irakli Okruashvili said Georgia will not sign any bilateral pact on the nonresumption of hostilities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as long as human rights are violated in those two conflict zones and Georgian displaced persons are unable to return to Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. He also argued that Georgia should abjure all agreements it has signed with the two breakaway republics in recent months. At the same time, Okruashvili affirmed that Georgia is not planning to launch a new offensive against South Ossetia. He said Georgia is currently engaged in a "propaganda war" with Russia that he predicted Russia will lose, and he stressed that the presence of the Russian peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is illegal as the servicemen in question do not have valid Georgian visas. LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY TAKES ISSUE WITH RUSSIAN STATEMENTS
The Georgian Foreign Ministry has released a statement branding as "unacceptable and irresponsible" pronouncements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in response to the Georgian parliament's July 18 call for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. Lavrov affirmed Russia's readiness to defend the population of the two disputed regions, most of whom have Russian passports, while Ivanov said that Russian servicemen currently staging maneuvers in the North Caucasus will "render assistance" to the peacekeeping forces in the event of a deterioration in the situation. The Georgian Foreign Ministry construed the Russian ministers' statements as veiled threats to resort to military force and thus as violating Article 4 of the UN Charter that bans such threats. LF

EU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN TENSIONS
Finland, which currently holds the EU Presidency, issued a statement on July 20 expressing "deep concern" over the standoff between Georgia and Russia, Caucasus Press reported on July 21. The statement noted the need to enhance the effectiveness of the peacekeeping operations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but also called on all parties involved to "make full use of the existing negotiating mechanisms." LF

NORTH, SOUTH OSSETIA APPEAL TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
The parliaments of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia and of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which is a Russian Federation subject, issued a joint appeal on July 20 to Russia and to the international community to take measures to thwart what they term Georgia's "aggressive intentions" with regard to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, regnum.ru reported. The statement said that Georgian parliament's demand for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from those two republics testifies to Tbilisi's plans to "annex" those territories, plans that it said risk destabilizing the entire North Caucasus. It positively evaluated the peacekeepers' accomplishments and argued that in order to preclude a resumption of the conflicts and a "humanitarian catastrophe," they should remain in place until political solutions are reached to both conflicts. LF

KAZAKH OIL COMPANY COMPLETES PURCHASE OF JOINT VENTURE STAKE
State oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz has completed its purchase of a 50 percent stake in the KazGerMunai joint venture for $1 billion, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on July 20, citing a KazMunaiGaz spokesperson. KazMunaiGaz signed the deal to buy the stake from three foreign oil companies on July 11 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2006). DK

KYRGYZ OFFICIAL POINTS TO LINK BETWEEN CLERICS AND TERROR GROUPS
Osmonaly Guronov, head of the Interior Ministry's department for combating extremism and illegal migration, said in Bishkek on July 20 that representatives of "traditional Islam" in Kyrgyzstan are acting as "dark agents of terrorist organizations," akipress.org reported. Guronov said, "There have been multiple arrests of mosque workers not only with literature of an extremist nature, but also with explosives and firearms." Guronov said that his department has recorded 73 incidents of the distribution of extremist literature in the first half of 2006 (as opposed to 22 in the first half of 2005) and arrested 78 individuals. The first half of 2006 has also witnessed 20 cases of illegal possession of firearms, explosives, and ammunition. Guronov also said that a number of groups have been extradited for illegal Islamic missionary activity. DK

KYRGYZ OFFICIALS CONFIRM ARREST OF DAUGHTER OF 'AKRAMIYA' LEADER
A police spokesman in Osh confirmed to akipress.org on July 20 that Gulmira Maqsudova, the daughter of Akram Yuldoshev, was arrested in Osh on July 18 on forgery charges. Akram Yuldoshev, who has been imprisoned in Uzbekistan since 1999, is the purported leader of Akramiya, a group the Uzbek authorities have alleged was behind unrest in Andijon in May 2005. Kyrgyz police said the 21-year-old Maqsudova prepared and used a false Kyrgyz passport. Fergana.ru reported on July 20 that Maqsudova is one of nine people who have been arrested in Osh in connection with Akramiya and the Andijon events. Initial reports spoke of the arrest of five men and Maqsudova (identified as Robiya Yuldosheva; see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2006). The nine face charges of forgery, organizing a criminal group, and preparing acts of terror, according to Fergana.ru. DK

UZBEKISTAN HALTS GAS SHIPMENTS TO TAJIKISTAN OVER DEBT
Uzbekistan has cut off gas shipments to Tajikistan over arrears of $7.64 million, fergana.ru reported on July 20. A spokesman for the state-owned Uzbek gas transport company Uztransgaz said, "Uztransgaz has supplied Tajikistan with 347 million cubic meters of natural gas worth $19.88 million in 2006 and received only $11.46 million." In a reciprocal move, Tajikistan, which claims it owes only $3 million, blocked shipments of Uzbek gas through Tajikistan to eastern Uzbekistan, AP reported. DK

UZBEK POLICE ARREST ALLEGED TAJIK SPY
Uzbek security forces have arrested a Tajik citizen on suspicion of espionage, Press-uz.info reported on July 20, citing an official in Uzbekistan's National Security Service (SNB). Furqat Tuighunov has reportedly admitted to undergoing training with Tajikistan's National Security Ministry to carry out sabotage operations in Uzbekistan and "liquidate" specific individuals there, the SNB charges. The report said that Rustam Mahmudov, whom it identified as a high-ranking counterintelligence official in Tajikistan's National Security Ministry, personally instructed Tuighonov on the missions he was to carry out. The two countries have recently traded spying allegations, with Tajikistan convicting three Uzbek citizens of espionage on behalf of Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2006) and Uzbekistan arresting a Tajik citizen on similar grounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2006). DK

BELARUSIAN GAS OPERATOR SIGNS PROTOCOL WITH GAZPROM
Belarusian gas-pipeline operator Beltranshaz and the Russian gas giant Gazprom on July 20 signed a protocol of intent to cooperate on the appraisal of Beltranshaz's assets, Belapan reported the same day. The protocol was inked by Beltranshaz General Director Dzmitry Kazakou and Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov. The protocol is expected to be approved by the Belarusian government "within one or two weeks," said Andrey Zhukau, an aide in the Belarusian Energy Ministry, and "the Dutch Bank ABN AMRO will then get down to the appraisal [of Beltranshaz]." Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka announced earlier this month that the Belarusian government is ready to sell a controlling stake in Beltranshaz to Gazprom before the end of this year. In return, Belarus will insist that Gazprom honor its promise to sell Belarus gas at a price equal to the domestic rate in Russia's Smolensk Oblast. Gazprom has threatened to raise the price Belarus pays for gas from $46.68 to $200 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2007. AM

PARTY OF REGIONS HEAD BELIEVES UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO POOL EFFORTS
Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych said on July 20 after meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko that he believes the president wants to consolidate the efforts of Ukraine's political forces, Interfax reported the same day. "I saw in the president's eyes a big desire to consolidate efforts and that was enough for me," Yanukovych told reporters. However, Yanukovych was apparently unable to determine whether Yushchenko will submit his candidacy for prime minister to parliament. Yanukovych did claim that Yushchenko is not considering dissolving parliament, and that the president is not considering any other candidates for the premiership. "The talks concerned the stabilization of the political situation, the stabilization of the parliament's proceedings, and the creation of the effective system of power," Yanukovych said. AM

TYMOSHENKO BLOC ACCUSES COALITION OF PAYING OFF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS...
Yuliya Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous bloc in the Verkhovna Rada, said on July 20 that the anti-crisis coalition intends to expand its support to the 300-vote constitutional majority by paying off lawmakers, Interfax reported. Tymoshenko suggested that lawmakers have been offered millions of dollars to join the coalition comprising the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. The coalition needs a constitutional majority in order to complete a reform that would transfer presidential powers to the prime minister, Tymoshenko said, adding that the coalition also plans to form its "own" Constitutional Court. "I'm convinced that the president will not surrender the country to Yanukovych and criminal groups," Tymoshenko said. AM

...AND INTENDS TO GIVE UP ITS SEATS IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SOON
Yuliya Tymoshenko announced on July 20 that her bloc will make public on July 24 a document detailing its intention of giving up its seats in parliament, which could force the parliament's dissolution, Interfax reported the same day. The Ukrainian Constitution states that the 450-seat parliament is legally invalid if it cannot assemble at least two-thirds of active seats. Tymoshenko, whose bloc has 129 votes, admitted that "we will not manage without Our Ukraine [80 lawmakers] to announce early elections," but "we are ready to announce our stance." Tymoshenko said that her bloc will appeal to Our Ukraine to join forces and sign the document announcing the withdrawl. AM

TERRORISM TRIAL BEGINS IN BOSNIA
The trial of three men accused of plotting terrorist attacks against targets in Europe began in Bosnia-Herzegovina on July 20, international news agencies reported the same day. According to the indictment, Mirsad Bektasevic, a Swedish citizen of Balkan origin, and Turkish citizen Abdulkadir Cesur planned an attack aimed at pressuring an unidentified European government to withdraw its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Bajro Ikanovic, a Bosnian citizen, is charged with helping them buy 20 kilograms of explosives for a "suicide belt", according to the indictment. The three were arrested in October 2005 and indicted in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 21, 25, and November 7, 2005 and April 19 and May 25, 2006). BW

OVER 300 BOSNIAN WAR VICTIMS FROM PRIJEDOR BURIED
Memorial and burial services were held on July 20 in the town of Prijedor for 305 victims massacred by Serbian troops during Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1992-95 war, dpa reported the same day. The victims, who were identified by DNA analysis, included 298 Muslims, three Croats, and four Roma exhumed from mass graves in the towns of Kevljani and Jakarina Kosa in the Prijedor area. More than 3,300 non-Serbian citizens of the Prijedor area, mostly Bosnian Muslims, were reported missing after the war. The bodies of 2,300 victims have been exhumed from the area so far, and 1,449 have been identified. BW

BOSNIA SEEKS PROBE OF DONATED BLOOD
A parliamentary committee in Bosnia-Herzegovina has asked the Health Ministry to investigate the possibility that blood donated during the country's 1992-95 war was infected with hepatitis, dpa reported on July 20, citing a report the same day in the daily "Dnevni avaz." Hamzalija Beslagic, chairman of the Health Committee in the parliament of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation, said the investigation should focus on whether some of the blood donated to hospitals in Bosnia from Western countries during the war was infected with hepatitis C. According to Amila Alikadic-Husovic, a medical doctor who initiated the investigation, a large number of people wounded during the war and given transfusions as part of their medical treatment were diagnosed later with hepatitis C. BW

STUDY SAYS KOSOVA'S ECONOMY WILL SUFFER WHEN UN DOWNSIZES
According to a study released on July 20, plans to downsize the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) will have an adverse effect on the breakaway province's economy, AFP reported the same day. According to the report, prepared by the UNMIK's European Union component, the UN mission has spent some 2.6 billion euros ($3.25 billion) on personnel, goods, and services since it began administering Kosova in 1999. "Of this amount, between 75 and 120 million euros have been injected into Kosovo's economy annually," the report said. It added that "such expenditure has created about 2,600 jobs in Kosovo, in addition to the 3,250 local jobs" within the UNMIK. "People must be prepared for the impact on Kosovo's growth and employment, among other issues," Andreas Wittkowsky, an EU official with the UNMIK, said. "We hope that this detailed economic analysis helps government, donors and stakeholders in tailoring their actions and managing expectations in the event of UNMIK's downsizing and status resolution," he added. BW

IMF TELLS MOLDOVA TO PREPARE FOR HARD TIMES
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on July 20 warned Moldova to prepare for difficult economic times, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Thomas Richardson, head of the IMF mission in Chisinau, said a Russian ban on Moldovan wine imports and plans by Moscow to raise gas prices will cause a serious shock to the country's economy. Richardson added that international financial donors will need to step up their assistance to Moldova. He said the IMF is preparing to change some of its conditions for aid to Moldova and the EU is considering additional financial assistance. Russia banned the import of Moldovan and Georgian wines in late March, citing health and safety concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). BW

TURKEY THREATENS MILITARY INCURSION INTO IRAQ
Turkey has said it was taking steps this week to prepare for a cross-border incursion into northern Iraq to hunt down Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters holed up in the Qandil Mountain range. The announcement came following a series of PKK attacks on Turkish troops in recent days that left more than a dozen soldiers dead.

The Turkish General Staff was asked to plan and prepare for a possible cross-border operation following antiterrorism board and ministerial council meetings earlier this week. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed on July 19 that preparations are under way, telling reporters in Ankara: "Authorized institutions and security forces are proceeding with their work. Whatever step needs to be taken will be taken according to the study."

Turkey has tried on several occasions in recent months to pressure the U.S. and Iraqi governments to take action against the PKK. The latest attempt appears to be based on an assumption that the U.S. position regarding cross-border operations has changed.

A "strategic vision" document signed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Washington on July 5 stressed the United States' continued commitment to eradicating the PKK, which it considers a terrorist organization.

"We will work very actively with Turkey and also with the new Iraqi government to deal with this problem because, as I have said before and as I said when I was in Turkey, no one wants the PKK to be able to operate, to carry out terrorist attacks against Turkey anywhere, but most especially from northern Iraq," Rice told reporters after their meeting. However, it appears Rice meant diplomatically, not militarily.

The United States maintains that any Turkish military operation could destabilize Iraqi Kurdistan. U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Ross Wilson told Turkey's NTV television on July 17 that the United States would oppose any unilateral action on Turkey's part.

Wilson denied that the U.S. position reflected a double standard because of its support for Israel's attack on Hizballah positions in southern Lebanon, saying that Israel's circumstances are different. "Turkey has an ally in Iraq. Israel does not have such an opportunity. Besides, [the] PKK is not only in the north of Iraq, it is in Europe and in Turkey. Entering the north of Iraq will not resolve the problem," Anatolia quoted Wilson as telling the news channel. The ambassador's remarks were widely criticized in the Turkish press.

The U.S. Embassy clarified Wilson's remarks in a July 19 statement posted to its website, saying the ambassador's remarks were misinterpreted in the Turkish media. "Of course, Turkey, like every country, has a right and an obligation to defend itself and its people. For over 50 years, we have stood together as members of an alliance dedicated to collective defense and security.... Working together with the United States and the government of Iraq can be an essential part of advancing Turkish security.

"We look forward to continued close cooperation with Turkey and with the government of Prime Minister Erdogan as our countries address together the threat posed by the PKK and the other security challenges we face," the statement read.

Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ali Tuygan summoned the U.S. and Iraqi ambassadors to a July 17 meeting in Ankara and told them to take action against the PKK or else Turkey would.

Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said the parties involved must understand Turkey's resolve in destroying the PKK, which it considers a terrorist group, and that Turkey "will take the appropriate steps decisively and with firmness" to carry out that goal. "We expect support, sincerity, and cooperation from all governments which acknowledged that [the] PKK is a terrorist organization," he noted, referring to the United States and Iraq, Anatolia news agency reported on July 17.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Gul has been trying to drum up European support for a Turkish incursion. He raised the issue with U.K. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett in London on July 18. Gul told reporters following the meeting that he called for international support against the PKK.

Gul later contended in an interview with the "Financial Times" published on July 20 that the PKK has armed itself with remote-controlled explosives and weapons obtained in Iraq, including from the Iraqi army. "We cannot tolerate this. Definitely we will use all our rights under international law," he said.

Regarding past statements by Iraqi officials that any Turkish military operation would potentially destabilize Iraqi Kurdistan, Gul said: "Of course, we understand the Iraqi government's position, but if they are not able to control their land, they should not hesitate to cooperate with us. If they cannot stop it, we will have to take action."

Gul also told the "Financial Times" that hesitation over letting Turkey join the EU, coupled with U.S. policies in the Middle East, are triggering an anti-Western backlash in Turkey.

Iraqi officials have said little publicly about the threatened incursion. Given the problems faced by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's administration in Baghdad, the timing could not be worse. Security continues to deteriorate, and reports this week by the UN and Iraqi Migration and Displacement Ministry indicate that some 6,000 nationals have been killed in the past two months, and an equal number wounded, while some 32,000 have been displaced in the past three weeks. The ministry estimates that 162,000 Iraqis have been internally displaced over the past five months.

The escalation in regional tensions brought on by the Israeli attacks on Hizballah in Lebanon have further occupied Baghdad, as it considers the ramifications of a broader regional conflict should Israel take action against Hizballah sponsors Iran and Syria.

Kurdish leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued a strong warning to Turkey on July 13, saying that previous agreements signed between Saddam Hussein and the Turkish government regarding permission for Turkey to carry out cross-border operations are no longer valid.

Referring to Turkey and Iran, which have been carrying out operations against Kurdish fighters along the Iraqi border for several weeks, Talabani said: "The central government in [Baghdad has] conveyed its uneasiness on the issue to the two countries via their embassies. The government has warned the two countries." U.S. officials have also cautioned against any Turkish-Iranian incursion into Iraq, according to Turkish media reports.

Meanwhile, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told reporters on July 19 that the PKK is an internal Turkish issue and the Kurdistan government has not given safe-haven to the PKK. For Barzani, any instability in his region's relations with Turkey would cost both sides economically. And this may be the only area where Turkey has leverage. If it succeeds in convincing Iraq's Kurdish leaders that the region will suffer financially, there may be some Kurdish movement on the issue.

AFGHAN PROBE BLAMES CIVILIAN DEATHS ON COALITION
A government probe announced findings on July 20 that U.S.-led coalition forces were responsible for the deaths of 10 civilians in a raid aimed at neo-Taliban insurgents last week, AFP reported. The coalition attack in question took place on July 10 in Oruzgan Province, wounding 27 people in addition to those killed. All but two of the wounded were women and children. An estimated 50 neo-Taliban fighters also died in the raid. "There was a raid on that house," Afghan presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi said in detailing the investigation. "That house was destroyed and three other houses were destroyed." Rahimi said coalition forces staged an attack in the area after receiving intelligence that showed eight neo-Taliban leaders were meeting at a local man's home. Later, local witnesses said the coalition's bombings killed many civilians, which prompted a government investigation. MR

PAKISTAN FREES 32 SUSPECTS ON AFGHAN BORDER
Pakistani authorities released 32 tribesmen from the northwestern town of Miran Shah after holding some of them for up to five years on suspicion of being involved with neo-Taliban forces operating in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, AP reported on July 20. Locals residents held a welcoming ceremony for the released detainees. The release was part of a Pakistani government effort to ease tensions in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which the government of Afghanistan says is the home base of insurgents operating in Afghanistan. MR

U.S. OFFERS COMPENSATION FOR AFGHAN VICTIMS OF CRASH INCIDENT
The U.S. military on July 20 promised compensation payments for victims of a recent car crash in Kabul, AP reported. On May 29, a U.S. cargo truck was at the center of an accident that sparked massive anti-U.S. protests in the Afghan capital. A U.S. military statement said $112,000 would go to victims of the crash, which prompted 24 damage claims. The cargo truck's brakes apparently failed when moving through Kabul's streets, sending it ramming into cars at an intersection where at least one person died. "We are guests of the Afghan government and their people, and we take responsibility when our actions cause harm to Afghans," a U.S. military spokesman said. "This accident gained much public attention because of the violence that later ensued, so it's very important we are open and frank on this matter to retain the trust of the Afghan people." MR

ROCKETS STRIKE COALITION BASE IN AFGHANISTAN
Suspected neo-Taliban militants fired rockets into a U.S.-led coalition base in southern Afghanistan, AP reported on July 20. A U.S. military statement said one soldier was wounded in the attack on Kandahar Airfield on July 19. Also, a coalition helicopter came under fire from a rocket-propelled grenade in Kandahar's Panjwayi district late on July 19. No casualties were reported in that attack. MR

IRAN SETS DEADLINE FOR RESPONDING TO NUCLEAR PROPOSAL
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani set out Iran's stance on the nuclear issue in a statement read out on state television on July 20. According to the statement, Iran plans to use nuclear power to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity over the next 20 years and, in order to do this, it must produce its own nuclear fuel. The statement added that Iran has always cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency and abided by its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commitments. Iran is being subjected to discriminatory practices that aim to deprive most members of the international community of nuclear power, and the statement cited the Nonaligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Developing-8 (D8; Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey) as supporters of this view. The international proposal submitted to Iran in early June requires a great deal of attention and study, according to the statement, and Iran will announce its views on August 22. BS

ANTI-ISRAEL RALLIES IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN
The Khuzestan Province representative to the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Abbas Kabi, said on July 20 that the Zionists are trying to wipe out Muslims, provincial television reported. The least people can do, therefore, is participate in the anti-Israel rally in Ahvaz on July 22, he continued. He added, "If the Zionists consider the myth of the Holocaust as acts of [inhuman] crime, they themselves are now committing bigger [inhuman] crimes in Lebanon and Palestine." Khuzestan provincial TV reported earlier in the day that the rallies will begin at the Madieh Prayer House and conclude at the imam Khomeini Seminary. Another rally took place in Khuzestan on July 19. One demonstrator said, "Israel is another word for America," according to provincial television, while another said, "America and Britain naturally support Israel." BS

IRAN CALLS FOR NEW ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NEWS CHANNEL
Ali Darabi, the deputy director for parliamentary and provincial affairs at Iranian state radio and television, announced in Arak on July 20 that the Islamic Republic is going to start an English-language television news channel, Mehr News Agency reported. He explained that Western media are boycotting the real news on events in Lebanon and Palestine. He said state radio and television broadcasts on 96 channels in 30 languages. Darabi said the United States, which he referred to as "the arrogance," has hegemonic objectives: "By bringing to power and toppling its lackeys, the arrogance attempts to hatch utmost plots against Islam and the revolution, the example of which is the coming to power of the Taliban, Al-Zarqawi, and now Al-Muhajir in Iraq, which has doubled the number of Shi'a martyrs in Iraq." BS

DAYTIME CURFEW EXTENDED IN IRAQI CAPITAL...
The Iraqi government has announced that its Friday daytime curfew will be extended in an effort to thwart the violent bomb attacks that have claimed dozens of lives in recent days, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on July 21. A four-hour Friday curfew has been in place for several weeks; the new ban will extend the curfew for an additional four hours, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. An overnight curfew in the capital begins at 9 p.m. and runs until 6 a.m. KR

...AS U.S. MILITARY NOTES SOME PROGRESS IN ENFORCING BAGHDAD SECURITY PLAN
U.S. Major General William Caldwell told reporters at a July 20 press briefing in Baghdad that Iraqi and U.S. security forces are seeing some progress towards improving security in the capital five weeks into Operation Together Forward. Caldwell said that Iraqi security forces are carrying out the majority of patrols in Baghdad, and joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols have become much less frequent. He added that there are currently around 600 checkpoints set up across the city. Forty-eight battalions of coalition and Iraqi security forces are operating in Baghdad with a total of 51,000 troops, some 7,200 of which are coalition forces. Caldwell noted a slight reduction in the level of violence in all but two districts of Baghdad over the past 30 days. He also gave Iraqi security force casualties from June 13 to July 19: 31 national police, 24 local police, and 27 soldiers were killed; while 114 national police, 103 local police, and 227 soldiers were wounded. Asked to comment on the rise in violence in Baghdad, he said Baghdad is viewed as a "must win" for terrorists. Consequently, there has been an increase in the flow of terrorists and weapons into the city. KR

U.S. MILITARY SAYS 'DOZENS' OF BASES TRANSFERRED TO IRAQIS
The U.S. military said in a July 20 press release that it has transferred dozens of forward operating bases to Iraqi control in recent months. Since the start of 2005, 30 out of 110 bases have been transferred or closed, the press release noted. It added that control over the former Saddam Hussein presidential compound in Mosul was handed over on July 20. "The Mosul site, built over 2.2 square kilometers and completed in 1994...includes several palaces and residences, three lakes, and man-made waterfalls," the statement said. The Interior Ministry intends to use the base as a headquarters for Iraqi police in the region. KR

SHI'ITE LEADER CRITICIZES U.S. FOR IMPEDING SECURITY IN IRAQ
Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Organization, told London-based "Al-Hayat" that the United States is impeding Iraq's ability to confront terror, the daily reported on July 21. Al-Amiri said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has placed too much emphasis on a potential political solution and "is impeding the security forces' operations to confront the Saddamists." Al-Amiri also criticized the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front, saying it has interfered in planned strikes against Sunni insurgents in "hot areas." He also accused the front of presenting two faces to the media. "When we meet Accordance Front leaders, they express great willingness to fight the terrorists," he said. "But we discover that these leaders go to the media and say the opposite of what was agreed upon, to the point where their statements constitute support for the terrorist elements." KR

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