Accessibility links

Newsline - September 26, 2006


RUSSIA THREATENS BP, SHELL
The Prosecutor-General's Office issued a warning on September 25 to Britain's BP that it might lose its license to develop the Kovykta gas field in Irkutsk Oblast with the Russian firm TNK because of alleged environmental concerns, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20 and 25, 2006). This appears to be one of several recent attempts by the Russian authorities to call into question an existing production-sharing agreement (PSA) with a Western company, ostensibly because of ecological issues. Some observers have suggested, however, that the Kremlin wants to renegotiate the terms of the deal in favor of a Russian state-run monopoly like Gazprom or Rosneft. The authorities are also continuing to put pressure on Royal Dutch Shell over the Sakhalin-2 gas PSA, London's "The Independent" reported on September 26. They are, however, now threatening it with a fine in the hundreds of millions of dollars rather than an outright loss of its license. PM

JOURNALISTS' NGO SAYS AWARD TO PUTIN 'UNWORTHY OF FRANCE'
The French-based international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on September 25 that President Jacques Chirac's recent presentation to President Vladimir Putin of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor -- the highest award France can give to a foreign head of state -- is unworthy of France (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2006). The statement argued that "the dismantling of civil liberties in Russia, the gagging of the press, and the state terror and news blackout policies being implemented in Chechnya were not mentioned in any official statement issued during [Putin's recent] visit. The French government's decision to award Putin the Legion of Honor is a shocking endorsement of his policies." The NGO added that "elevating a press-freedom predator to the rank of Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor is an insult to all those in Russia who fight for press freedom, the freedom to be informed, and the survival of effective democracy in their country." Reporters Without Borders also noted the extent to which the state and state-run corporations have taken over virtually all of the most important electronic media and much of the print media as well, greatly limiting the amount of independent news and information available to the public (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8 and 29, and September 5 and 22, 2006). Some critics have also spoken of an increasing "Putinization" of the Russian media, meaning a tendency to put the authorities in a favorable light and focus attention away from controversial domestic political issues and onto foreign affairs, sport, entertainment, or business. PM

IRAN SAYS IT MIGHT COMPLETE NUCLEAR PLANT WITHOUT RUSSIAN HELP
Iranian Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh said en route to Moscow on September 25 that his country is able to complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant without Russian assistance "if Russia proves unable," the daily "Kommersant" and ITAR-TASS reported. The plant is slated to be finished later in 2006 and come on line in November 2007. Iranian officials have repeatedly accused the Russians of dragging their heels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12 and 16, and September 19, 2006). Aqazadeh is in Moscow on a working visit to meet with Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom). Kiriyenko has recently spoken in highly positive terms about Bushehr, but "Kommersant" noted that " Aqazadeh brought him unpleasant tidings from Tehran." On September 26, Igor Ivanov, who heads Russia's Security Council, reassured Aqazadeh that Russia will meet its obligations, Interfax reported. In related news, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Los Angeles on September 25 that his country opposes "any ultimatums" in dealing with Iran or the Middle East, news.ru reported. PM

IMAM FATALLY SHOT
Two unidentified assailants fatally shot a Muslim prayer leader in Kiselovodsk in southern Stavropol Krai on the edge of the North Caucasus on September 25, Interfax reported. The Council of Muftis in Moscow issued a statement on September 26 saying that the killing of the imam in his apartment building was but the latest in a series of xenophobic attacks directed against Muslims and called for punishment of the killers. There has been no independent confirmation of the imam's identity or the possible motivation of the killers. PM

SUSPECT GETS FOUR YEARS IN HAZING CASE
On September 26, the Chelyabinsk Military Court sentenced Sergeant Aleksandr Sivyakov to four years in prison for his alleged role in the brutal hazing of Private Andrei Sychyov at the Chelyabinsk tank school on New Years Eve, Interfax and news.ru reported. Sivyakov was found guilty of "abuse of power leading to grave consequences." Critics have called for the resignation of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in connection with the Sychyov case and numerous other hazing incidents, some of which were fatal. Ivanov has suggested that his critics are seeking to undermine the military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 3, and March 20 and 22, 2006). PM

NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS ARRESTED AT PROTEST
Police arrested about 40 demonstrators belonging to the National Bolshevik Party on September 25 after they forced their way into the Finance Ministry to protest government policies, news agencies reported. Some commentators see the movement and its offshoots as evidence of growing xenophobia, while other observers say that the Kremlin is manipulating some of them. The National Bolsheviks and their offshoots present a curious mixture of communist and fascist ideas and trappings, reminiscent in some ways of the left-wing currents in Nazism and fascism in the 1920s and 1930s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2006). PM

CHECHEN PREMIER TARGETS FORMER SUBORDINATE
Meeting on September 22 with members of the Gorets (Mountaineer) formation that is subordinate to the Federal Security Service, Raman Kadyrov rejected as without foundation rumors of an ongoing standoff between Gorets and detachments loyal to himself, chechnya.gov.ru and kommersant.ru reported on September 22 and 25, respectively. Kadyrov recalled that some members of Gorets refused to comply with orders in February of this year to disband the unit and deploy its personnel to other armed formations, and he disclosed that the Chechen prosecutor's office has summoned former Gorets commander Movladi Baysarov for questioning in connection with the abduction of five people in Grozny in January 2004. The Chechen resistance website chechenpress.org noted on September 25 that Baysarov has aligned himself with Kadyrov's nominal superior and rival, pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov, and that he is suspected of involvement in the killing in 1998 of four British and New Zealand telecommunications engineers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 9 and 22, 1998 and April 19, 1999). LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ACCUSES MINISTER OF 'CRIMINAL' TIES
Several Armenian opposition leaders issued a collective statement on September 25 strongly criticizing Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian and accusing him of representing "criminal elements," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. One of the statement's signatories, Garnik Markarian, the leader of the small opposition Fatherland and Honor party, accused Abrahamian of expanding his various business interests through "illegal means" and characterized him as an obvious example of "criminal elements" in Armenian politics. He added that Abrahamian owns more than 60 businesses, including almost every winery in his native Artashat district, south of Yerevan. The statement was also backed by the Intellectual Forum, an opposition-linked organization uniting prominent intellectuals critical of the government, but then led to a response from another group of renowned intellectuals supportive of the leadership. In that joint statement, the pro-government intellectuals condemned the opposition's accusations as an "attempt to undermine our statehood" masterminded by unspecified "foreign agents." Although the statement follows an earlier meeting of a dozen opposition leaders in which they attempted to launch a new broad-based "anticriminal movement" to confront the authorities, this was the first time they implicated specific members of the government in illicit activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2006). RG

ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL PRESIDES OVER NEW NGO COALITION
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian presided over the formation on September 23 of a new alliance of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and about over 30 "compatriots' unions," according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Hovsepian was elected honorary chairman of the group, which also includes his own influential Nig-Aparan organization. The nominal leader of the new umbrella organization, parliamentarian Vahram Baghdasarian, announced on September 24 that the new "congregation" will remain "apolitical" and will have no direct ties to any specific political party. Baghdasarian is a leading member of the recently formed Association for Armenia party, which is widely believed to be sponsored by Hovsepian as a vehicle to promote his candidacy in the 2008 presidential election. RG

PRESIDENTIAL AIDE DISMISSES CRITICISM OF AZERBAIJANI DEMOCRATIC REFORMS
Presidential-administration official Ali Hasanov dismissed on September 26 recent criticism of democratic reforms in Azerbaijan and argued that "democracy is developing in Azerbaijan" and "the process of building a state based on law and order is gaining strength," Turan reported. Commenting on recent opposition criticism of election commissions, Hasanov stated that the "current election commissions could conduct democratic, free, and fair elections," and rejected opposition demands for the composition of the election commissions to be based on a parity basis. Hasanov further explained that for both the opposition and civil society in Azerbaijan, "the legal basis" and "genuine conditions for activities" have been ensured, with "freedoms of speech and the press." RG

AZERBAIJANI POLICE DISPERSE STUDENT DEMONSTRATION
Azerbaijani police dispersed on September 25 several hundred student protesters attempting to stage an authorized demonstration in Baku, according to Turan. The students, from the Independent Azerbaijan University, were attempting to hold a picket outside of the main Education Ministry building to protest the ministry's decision to revoke the license for their university, which was recently forced to close. A large force of police officers, assisted by several plainclothes security officials, violently dispersed the protest. Vugar Suleymanov, the chairman of the Committee to Protect Students' Rights, vowed that the students will continue their protests until "their right to an education is restored." RG

MILITANT AZERBAIJANI GROUP CALLS FOR WAR TO RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT
The Azerbaijani Karabakh Liberation Organization released on September 25 its new "national manifesto," calling on the Azerbaijani government "to quit peace talks" over Nagorno-Karabakh and stating that Armenian-held "territories must be liberated by means of war," ANS-TV reported. Speaking at a press conference in Baku, the group's leader, Akif Nagi, explained that "Azerbaijan must liberate its territories from occupation in a military way" and argued that the group opposes "some nongovernmental organizations" in Azerbaijan that are "implementing projects to build broad, friendly, and fraternal relations with the Armenians." Nagi further denounced them for "even setting up camps in Armenia in order for Azerbaijani and Armenian young people to make friends." RG

OPPOSITION LEADERS ACCUSE GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES OF INTIMIDATION...
Speaking at a press conference in Batumi, Georgian opposition New Conservatives (aka New Rightists) party leader Davit Gamkrelidze said on September 25 that police charged local party leader Tengiz Kakhidze with involvement in a "made-up crime," Caucasus Press reported. Gamkrelidze criticized the local police for "putting pressure" and intimidating local party activists and warned the police "to be more cautious," adding that he will inform U.S. Ambassador John Tefft of all such attempts to harass members of his party. An unidentified official from the opposition Republican Party also accused the Georgian authorities on September 25 of intimidating voters, citing the case of Giorgi Otiashvili, who was arrested for "assaulting" activists of the ruling National Movement after he refused to accept their campaign material, according to Caucasus Press. Republican Party spokeswoman Tina Khidasheli added in a statement released in Tbilisi that "the authorities persecute people who refuse to take their propagandist leaflets." RG

...AS U.S. AMBASSADOR WARNS OF IMPLICATION OF ELECTIONS
In a televised interview, U.S. Ambassador Tefft said on September 25 that Georgia's approaching local elections "will certainly influence relations between Georgia and NATO," Imedi television reported. He added that the U.S. Embassy in Georgia is "actively following the local election process" and noted that "special groups from the embassy and several NGOs are monitoring the election campaign." The United States is also financing the training of political parties and holding seminars throughout the country to support "free and fair elections" as the October 5 local elections approach. RG

KAZAKH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW TRANSPORTATION MINISTER
President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a decree on September 25 appointing Serik Akhmetov minister of transportation, Kazinform reported. A former deputy governor of Astana, Akhmetov was chairman of the board of the Atameken National Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers of Kazakhstan since 2005. The ministerial post opened up when former Transportation Minister Askar Mamin was appointed mayor of Astana, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

KAZAKH PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTIES COMPLETE MERGER
Bakhytzhan Zhumagulov, acting chairman of the pro-presidential Otan party, told a news conference in Astana on September 25 that Otan and Asar, a pro-presidential party headed by presidential daughter Darigha Nazarbaeva, have officially merged, Kazinform reported. "In all, the merged Otan party has a membership of 700,000, which makes it the country's largest political party," Zhumagulov noted. DK

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY TO TAKE UP SEAT IN PARLIAMENT
Alikhan Baimenov, leader of the opposition party Ak Zhol, told a news conference in Almaty on September 25 that the party has decided to fill the seat it won in the December 2004 parliamentary elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Ak Zhol had refused to fill the seat to protest election violations. Baimenov said that a party conference on September 24 decided that "it is necessary to use the party's mandate for the remaining three years," Kazinform reported. Baimenov did not say who will occupy the seat for his party. DK

KYRGYZ PROSECUTORS WANT DEATH PENALTY FOR INCURSION DEFENDANTS
Kyrgyz prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for four of six defendants in connection with a May 12 cross-border incursion that left at least 10 people dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006), ferghana.ru reported on September 25. Prosecutors are asking for 20-year prison terms for the two remaining defendants. The next court hearing on the case is scheduled for October 3. DK

TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY TO SKIP PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
A conference of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) in Dushanbe on September 25 decided not to participate in the country's November 6 presidential election, Avesta and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The party gave a number of reasons for its decision, including flaws in Tajik election law, skepticism about the Central Election Commission, and the current global climate of suspicion toward Islamic parties. Despite its refusal to advance a candidate, however, the IRP will participate on local election commissions and be present at polling stations, Avesta reported. DK

CHINESE-TAJIK COUNTERTERRORISM EXERCISE ENDS
The Cooperation-2006 Chinese-Tajik military exercises ended in Tajikistan's Kulob Province on September 24, ferghana.ru reported the next day. The exercise involved 150 Chinese servicemen and a number of Tajik companies. DK

SOUTH KOREA TO IMPORT UZBEK URANIUM
South Korean Prime Minister Han Myoong-sook and Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev signed an agreement in Tashkent on September 25 for South Korea to buy uranium ore concentrate directly from Uzbekistan, the official Uzbek news agency UzA reported. South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted officials traveling with Han as saying the deal envisages that South Korea directly imports from Uzbekistan 300 tons of uranium per year between 2010 and 2014. Yonhap reported that the deal constitutes a precedent, since South Korea currently buys Uzbek uranium indirectly from U.S. companies. The deal is one of several agreed during a meeting between Han and Mirziyoev in Tashkent. Han also met with President Islam Karimov and parliament speaker Erkin Khalilov. UzA says trade between the two countries increased by nearly 40 percent last year, to $565 million. DK

BELARUSIAN SCHOOLCHILDREN PROTEST BAN ON POLISH TEACHERS
Students of grades eight through 11 of a Polish-language school in Vaukavysk, Hrodna Oblast, staged a walkout last week in protest against a government ban on the use of exchange teachers from Poland, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on September 25. "We want to continue studying in Poland after grade 11, but now we don't have our former Polish-language teacher. Now we are instructed in the Polish language by a Belarusian teacher but it's not what the teacher from Poland was giving us," a schoolgirl told RFE/RL's Belarus Service. Volha Karotkaya, a local education official, told RFE/RL that the Polish-language school in Vaukavysk has no need to invite teachers from Poland since Belarusian universities now prepare equally qualified specialists in the Polish language. Karotkaya also said the school has no license to invite foreign teachers, as is required by a presidential decree enforced in June. There are nearly 300,000 ethnic Poles living in Hrodna Oblast, who make up 25 percent of the oblast's population. JM

EU TO EXTEND VISA BAN ON BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS
The European Union intends to extend an entry ban on officials from Belarus to include individuals linked to the jailing of former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, Reuters reported on September 25, quoting an EU diplomat on conditions of anonymity. In April, the EU barred entry to 31 officials, including President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in protest against his landslide reelection, which it denounced as rigged. The United States introduced similar measures. The new ban will reportedly apply to judges Alyaksey Rybakou and Leanid Yasinovich as well as prosecutors Syarhey Bortnik and Andrey Mizhun. Kazulin was sentenced in July to 5 1/2 years in prison on charges of hooliganism and incitement to disorder in the wake of the flawed presidential election on March 19. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER WANTS TO DRAFT PRESIDENTIAL DECREES
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said on September 25 that the Cabinet of Ministers should be directly involved in the drafting of presidential decrees, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "[The drafting process should include] the minister who will execute the decree and, of course, the prime minister. There is no politics here," Yanukovych noted. Last week the Cabinet of Ministers refused to implement seven presidential decrees, arguing that they were published without the countersignatures of Yanukovych and ministers responsible for their implementation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22, 2006). Yanukovych said his refusal to countersign the decrees will help regulate relations between the Cabinet of Ministers and the president. JM

POLL SAYS YANUKOVYCH IS MOST TRUSTED POLITICIAN IN UKRAINE
According to a poll conducted in mid-September by the Ukrainian Institute for Social Studies and the Social Monitoring Center, Prime Minister Yanukovych is the most trusted politician in Ukraine, with 50 percent of respondents expressing trust in him and 43 percent distrusting him, Interfax-Ukraine reported. President Viktor Yushchenko is trusted by 37 percent of Ukrainians and distrusted by 55 percent, while opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko by 37 percent and 57 percent, respectively. "Today, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych shows himself as a strong personality. The people tend to trust in a strong personality after [experiencing] a weak president," Olha Balakireva, the head of the Ukrainian Institute for Social Studies, commented on the findings. JM

KYRGYZSTAN SAID TO BLOCK UKRAINE'S WAY TO WTO
Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on September 25 that Kyrgyzstan is refusing to sign a protocol with Ukraine on mutual access to commodity and service markets, which would pave the way for Ukraine's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), UNIAN reported. According to Azarov, Kyrgyzstan put forward "unsubstantiated demands to return nonstate debts" as a condition for signing such a protocol with Ukraine. He did not elaborate. JM

ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADER IN MACEDONIA SAYS PROGRESS FROM OHRID AT RISK
The leader of Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian party said on September 25 that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's decision to exclude it from the government threatens the progress made since the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, Reuters reported the same day. Ali Ahmeti, leader of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), said Gruevski's move had harmed public trust. "For the past four years we have worked to increase trust among communities," Ahmeti told Reuters in an interview. "After what Mr. Gruevski did, I'm afraid the direction we have taken is in danger. Again there will be a lack of trust between communities, especially the Albanian ethnic community," he added. Gruevski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) won the most seats in Macedonia's July 5 general elections. The BDI won the most votes among Macedonia's 500,000 ethnic Albanians, but Gruevski decided instead to form a government with the BDI's archrival, the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH). The decision sparked protests and roadblocks by BDI supporters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4 and 16, 2006). BW

BOSNIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS THREE BOSNIAN CITIZENS ON LIST OF AL-QAEDA SUPPORTERS
A senior security official in Bosnia-Herzegovina has said that at least three Tunisians with Bosnian citizenship are on a UN list of known Al-Qaeda collaborators, AKI reported on September 25. "It's difficult to say where they are at the moment, but we can say with great certainty that they are not in Bosnia and don't use Bosnian passports," Dragan Lukac, assistant director of the Bosnian state security agency, said in an interview with the daily "Nezavisne novine" published the same day. The three were granted passports after fighting in the 1992-92 war. Lukac named the three Tunisians as Mahrez ben Mahmud ben Sashi al Amandani, Shafik ben Mohamed al Ajadi, and Halil ben Ahmed ben Mohamed Jaraja. He added that their last known addresses were in Sarajevo, but they have since disappeared. BW

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN CALLS FOR UN ENVOY TO STEP DOWN
A Serbian government spokesman on September 25 called on UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari to step down due to bias in favor of Kosova's ethnic Albanians, B92 reported the same day. "It is doubtful whether Ahtisaari will adhere to his mandate and organize serious talks on the province's future, or if he will simply side with Albanian separatists," Srdjan Djuric, head of the Serbian government's media department, said. "It would be fair of him to step down, rather than side with the separatists in front of the whole world," he added. Ahtisaari sparked fierce criticism from Serbia when he said the legacy of the Milosevic era is relevant in determining Kosova's future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 29, 30 and September 1, 2006). Last week, he angered Serbian officials by saying that Kosova's independence would not set a precedent for other breakaway regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2006). BW

SERBIAN NUCLEAR WASTE TO GO TO RUSSIA
Serbian Minister for Science and the Environment Aleksandar Popovic said on September 25 that Belgrade has reached an agreement to relocate nuclear waste to Russia, UPI reported the same day. Popovic said 2.5 tons of nuclear fuel waste from the Vinca Institute near Belgrade will be moved by three Russian companies over the next year. The waste will be completely relocated to Russia by the end of 2008. Negotiations on the waste transfer began in 2001 and were concluded last week on the sidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference in Vienna. Under the agreement, Serbia will be granted $12.7 million from international donations to cover part of the waste's transportation costs. In 2003, the United States, Russia, and the IAEA agreed the waste should be returned to the country of the fuel's origin. BW

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY MAY NEED TO IMPOSE KOSOVA SOLUTION
Speaking on September 24, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Serbia's opposition to Kosova's independence was unrealistic and suggested the international community may have to impose a solution, AP reported the same day. "I believe Belgrade continues to take an unrealistic stand on Kosova's status but that lack of realism should not hamper the final solution," Berisha said. "Albania considers the resolution of Kosova's status, and this country's independence, as vital for Balkans peace and stability, in accordance with the full guarantee of freedom and rights of Kosova minorities and citizens." He added that although a consensus agreement is preferable, an imposed solution may in the end be the only option. "In the Balkans' 150-year history, all deals have been imposed. Let this [on Kosova] be the last and the others be achieved with consensus and good understanding in a democratic Balkans, integrated into Europe," he added. BW

KOSOVA MOVES TOWARD A SOLUTION
UN envoy for Kosova Martti Ahtisaari won the support of the major powers on September 20 to resolve the Kosova status question by the end of 2006, after it became obvious that attempts to reach a mediated settlement were getting nowhere. The solution will essentially be an imposed one, with none of the parties directly affected having a veto.

Ahtisaari's move is the latest in a series of diplomatic events that began to take shape in the summer of 2005 in response to the ethnically motivated unrest in Kosova in the spring of 2004. In mid-2005, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at the recommendation of Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, recognized that failure to resolve the question of Kosova's status would most likely lead to even more violence. The two men realized that the time had come to end the province's political limbo and proceed toward a settlement. This position was strongly supported by Washington, in particular. Following the latest developments at the UN, Ahtisaari is now expected to have his proposal ready by late October or some time in November.

In view of the demand by the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority for independence, which they have expressed through all their political parties, the most likely outcome appears to be independence, albeit with strong international guarantees for the Serbs and other ethnic minorities. Serbia has long been put on notice by the international community that it will not be allowed to veto any settlement.

Ahtisaari, moreover, has followed the lead of Denmark's Soren Jessen-Petersen, who recently left Kosova as head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), in criticizing the Belgrade politicians for barring Kosova's Serbian minority from taking part in the province's elected institutions, and hence from a assuming a direct role in determining their own future. At the UN on September 20, the six-member Contact Group dealing with Kosova -- the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia -- also slammed what it called Belgrade's "obstruction." The six noted that they "reaffirmed their commitment that all possible efforts be made to achieve a negotiated settlement in the course of 2006." Off the record, some Western diplomats said that they fear a "meltdown" in Kosova by the spring of 2007 unless the status question is resolved by the end of 2006.

The Belgrade politicians, who have expected to face early elections for well over a year, have been speaking in increasingly desperate tones about Kosova and its role in the Balkan political balance. Those leaders are reluctant to say or do anything that voters might interpret as showing "weakness" regarding Kosova. They thus waste time and energy over Kosova, which some of them privately admit is "lost" anyway, that could be put to use in dealing with Serbia's real problems, which are crime, poverty, corruption, and a democracy deficit. Some observers go one step further and suggest that the politicians deliberately talk tough and draw voters' attention to the Kosova issue in order to divert their gaze away from the those same politicians' poor track record in improving the daily lot of ordinary Serbs.

In any event, it is clear that there will be no more serious proposals from Belgrade before Serbia goes to the polls than President Boris Tadic's vague calls for a "creative solution" in dealing with Kosova. It was probably this realization that was instrumental in Ahtisaari's decision to go to the UN for authorization to act.

For their parts, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic -- both of whom fare poorly in Serbian public opinion polls -- have stressed in public statements that Russia will use its Security Council veto to block any settlement that Moscow finds unacceptable.

Russia's role and its definition of what is acceptable are, however, unclear. Under the tsars and the communists alike, its foreign policy in the Balkans was always dictated by its own interests rooted in realpolitik, not by any abstract loyalties to any peoples or states in the region. For a century and a half, it alternated its support as it wished between rivals Serbia and Bulgaria -- both of which are Slavic and Orthodox -- in regard to Macedonia and ultimately in regard to their respective claims to be the dominant power in the region.

Recent statements by President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and other Russian officials suggest that Moscow's main concern with Kosova today is as leverage to pursue Russian interests in what are known as the "frozen conflicts" in the former Soviet Union. The men in the Kremlin argue that if Kosova can become independent, then why cannot Transdniester, for example?

This view leaves out one very important fact, namely that under the 1974 Yugoslav and Serbian constitutions, Kosova had rights almost equivalent to those of the six federal Yugoslav republics, all of which are now independent. The same cannot be said of Transdniester.

What is clear, however, is that Moscow will use the Kosova issue as a bargaining chip for promoting its own interests. These lie very close to its own borders, Russia's growing business interests in Serbia notwithstanding. Despite Kostunica's fulsome praise for the support of Russia and Putin over Kosova, this reality is probably not lost on him or his colleagues in Belgrade.

WOLESI JIRGA SPEAKER ACCUSES PAKISTAN OF INTERFERENCE, AFGHAN GOVERNMENT OF FAILURES
The speaker of the lower house of the Afghan National Assembly, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, has accused Pakistan of trying to destabilize his country, the Parisian daily "Le Monde" reported on September 23. Islamabad's "strategy toward Afghanistan has not changed," Qanuni was quoted as saying during a recent visit to France, listing the presence of foreign forces and the U.S.-India rapprochement as factors behind Pakistan's desire to "destabilize Afghanistan." Echoing charges repeatedly leveled by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Qanuni said Kabul has "considerable evidence" to support its allegations. Turning to the Karzai administration, Qanuni told "Le Monde" that the "distance between the government and the population has widened" in Afghanistan because the government has failed to honor the expectations it fostered through its "many pledges." Qanuni, who served in Karzai's transitional administrations -- first as interior minister and subsequently education minister -- accused the government of failing in its counterterrorism, counternarcotics, and anticorruption campaigns. AT

WOMEN'S AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT HEAD GUNNED DOWN IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
The head of Kandahar Province's women's affairs department, Safia Ahmad Jan, was killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on her vehicle as she was being driven to her office on September 25, Kandahar Television reported. The report notes that Ahmad Jan was an advocate of women's rights who has headed the department since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on September 25 that "Islamic Emirate mujahedin" killed Ahmad Jan because "under the pretext of women's rights, [she] was spying for the U.S. against the mujahedin." The website is increasingly using the term "mujahedin" to identify neo-Taliban guerrillas. AT

DISTRICT CHIEF GUNNED DOWN IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN...
Unidentified gunmen killed Adam Khan, chief of the newly established Allahabad district in Paktika Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on September 25. Paktika Governor Akram Khpalwak said Adam Khan was killed after a brief gun battle and the assailant took two cars and two motorcycles from his property. Khpalwak added that nine suspects have been arrested in the case. The "Islamic Emirate" website on September 25 claimed responsibility for having killed Adam Khan in his home. AT

...AND BORDER COMMANDER KILLED BY NEO-TALIBAN
Shamal Khan, who headed training efforts for the border police in Khost Province, northeast of Paktika, was killed when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on September 25. The blast also killed Shamal Khan's driver and injured seven police officers. Speaking with AIP on September 25, Mohammad Hanif said the "Taliban today blew up" a police vehicle using a remote-controlled mine, killing three police officers, including the border police commander. AT

IRANIAN NUCLEAR BOSS IN MOSCOW
Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, arrived in Moscow on September 25 and met with Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko, Radio Farda and Fars News Agency reported. The two did not answer reporters' questions afterward, but beforehand they said they would discuss bilateral ties, international diplomacy relating to the Iranian nuclear program, and the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The Bushehr facility's commissioning is scheduled for September 2007. During the trip to Moscow, Aqazadeh said Iranian personnel can complete building the plant if the Russians cannot do so. He noted that the design has undergone many changes over the years. Originally designed by Siemens in the 1970s, the plant was modified by Russians after they took over from Germans, who refused to continue work. Aqazadeh said Iran has no other choice but to turn to the Russians, ISNA reported. Aqazadeh stressed Iran's need for nuclear power, saying that high oil prices make nuclear power the only economical choice. He added that the Energy Ministry has conducted studies on power generation and these will be made public in a month. BS

IRANIAN STUDENT ACTIVIST ARRESTED, CAMPUS PUBLICATIONS SEIZED
An activist at Amir Kabir University, Ehsan Mansuri, was summoned to court on September 25 for publishing alleged falsehoods in the student publication "Sahar," ISNA reported. Mansuri was managing director of "Shar" when the offending article appeared in May. Also on September 25, "Vazhe-yi No," a student publication at Amir Kabir University, was closed and all copies were confiscated, ILNA reported. The campus security department said it did not know whether "Vazhe-yi No" has a permit. Two other campus publications, "Dochar" and "Fardapileh," have been closed down in the past few days, ILNA reported. BS

REPORT CLAIMS IRANIAN WEBSITE WITH PRESIDENTIAL CONNECTION BEING FILTERED
The Aref News website reportedly is being filtered, Aftab reported on September 25. Aref News is connected with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's Islamic Revolution Devotees Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami), but it has become increasingly critical of him over the last few months. It has published reports linking his associates, including adviser Mujtaba Hashemi-Samareh, with oil contracts and other suspicious financial deals. Earlier in the month, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance provided publications with a list of news agencies they could use as sources, Radio Farda reported. Use of "suspicious" sources -- defined as those that criticize the Ahmadinejad administration or downplay the country's accomplishments in the last year -- was forbidden. BS

IRANIAN WELFARE MINISTER SACKED
Abdolreza Mesri, the parliamentary representative from Kermanshah, was introduced by President Ahmadinejad on September 25 as the new welfare and social-security minister, IRNA reported. Pending a vote of confidence from the legislature, Mesri will succeed Parviz Kazemi. An anonymous ministry official told ILNA that Kazemi was replaced because he allowed subordinates to simultaneously hold leadership positions in businesses. The source claimed Kazemi hired incompetents and that the ministry did not report on its activities satisfactorily. BS

ANFAL TRIAL IN CHAOS AS FORMER IRAQI LEADER EJECTED AGAIN
The September 26 session of the Anfal trial erupted into chaos as former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was ejected from the courtroom for the third consecutive session, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2006). Judge Muhammad al-Uraybi opened the session by warning Hussein to contain his outbursts in the courtroom. The judge also allowed Hussein to read a written statement, Reuters reported. The contents of the statement were not disclosed and microphones were turned off so reporters could not hear. An argument later erupted between Hussein and al-Uraybi following the testimony of two Kurdish witnesses during which al-Uraybi ordered Hussein out of the courtroom. Hussein's six co-defendants attempted to follow him out of the courtroom, but the judge ordered all but one, former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim, to be put back in their seats, Reuters reported. KR

IRAQ'S PARLIAMENT APPROVES COMMITTEE TO REVISIT CONSTITUTION
The Council of Representatives voted unanimously on September 25 to reexamine the constitution, international media reported the same day. One hundred twenty-nine out of 275 parliamentarians attended the session, agreeing to appoint committee members at the September 26 session, Al-Arabiyah television reported. KR

KURDISH PARLIAMENTARIANS WITHDRAW IN PROTEST OF SUNNI DEPUTY'S COMMENTS
Kurdish parliamentarians withdrew from the September 25 session after a Sunni Arab parliamentarian accused Kurds of trying to influence the demographic composition of the Ninawah Governorate, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Usama al-Nujayfi, a member of the Iraqi National List, accused the Kurds of trying to populate villages within the governorate in an effort to integrate certain areas into the Kurdish autonomous region. Al-Nujayfi also accused the Kurds of trying to change the demographics of Mosul, the governorate's capital, contending that the city has always been an "Arab" city and should stay that way. KR

IRAQI DEPUTY PREMIER WARNS OF COUP PLOT
Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zawba'i has warned that the government received intelligence that army officers are plotting a coup, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on September 25. Al-Zawba'i's comments came during a trip to Germany, and he declined to give any details for security reasons, Baghdad's "Al-Mada" reported the same day. KR

KUWAITI MINISTER CALLS FOR GREATER BORDER SECURITY
Kuwaiti First Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Jabir al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah issued a warning on September 25 against violations of the northern border with Iraq, KUNA reported the same day. He vowed to take action against anyone trying to violate Kuwait's borders after nearly a dozen border violations from Iraq in recent months. He called on Iraq to take additional steps to secure its side of the border. Meanwhile, Jordan has installed infrared devices along its border with Iraq in an effort to curb drug trafficking, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on September 25. There has reportedly been a marked increase in the trafficking of hashish grown in Iraq and transported to Jordan and Saudi Arabia in recent months. Iraq also serves as a transit for drugs coming from Afghanistan, according to one Jordanian official. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told U.S. National Public Radio on September 25 that Syria, Iran, and Turkey are interfering in Iraq's internal affairs. Should the interference continue, Talabani said, Iraq will take steps to respond in kind by supporting opposition groups in neighboring states. KR

U.K. MILITARY CLAIMS TO KILL AL-QAEDA FUGITIVE IN IRAQ
The British military has said it killed Al-Qaeda fugitive Umar al-Faruq in a predawn raid on September 25, international media reported the same day. Al-Faruq escaped from an Afghan prison in 2005. U.K. military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge described al-Faruq, an Indonesian national, as a terrorist of "considerable significance." He was killed in fighting with British troops attempting to storm the house in which he was hiding. Al-Faruq's wife told reporters in Indonesia that she does not believe reports that her husband is dead. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG