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Newsline - September 29, 2006

Russia on September 29 stepped up attempts to involve international organizations in its ongoing run-in with Georgia. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on RTR television that Russia insists that the UN Security Council examine the detention of four Russian military officers in Georgia, RBK news agency reported on September 29. According to Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, the four are military intelligence service (GRU) officers who are suspected of carrying out spying activities in Georgia. Merabishvili said a group of five people, led by Anatoly Sinitsyn, organized a terrorist act in the Georgian city of Gori on February 1, 2005, RBK reported. Lavrov said Russia also calls on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO to pay attention to developments in Georgia. Tbilisi announced September 29 that espionage charges have been officially filed against the four, who were arrested on September 27, RIA Novosti reported. Georgia's Interior Ministry has also confirmed the release of a fifth officer, Mayak Radio reported. FF

Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko, who was recalled on September 28 by the Russian Foreign Ministry in protest, was quoted by RIA Novosti on September 29 as saying that the charged officers have only been in Georgia for three months and the espionage allegations are "unfounded." Russia on September 28 also evacuated some embassy staff and all family members over what it said were safety concerns and stopped issuing visas to Georgian citizens (see Georgia section below). FF

Senior officials, including Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Lavrov, have strongly criticized Tbilisi's decision to arrest the officers. "Gangsterism in Georgia has taken on a state scale," Ivanov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying on September 28. Ivanov called the charges "absurd" and demanded the immediate release of the officers. He said Tbilisi's decision was aimed at deflecting attention from Georgia's own internal problems and force Russia to withdraw its peacekeepers. Russia maintains two military bases in Georgia and also has peacekeepers in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgian authorities meanwhile said the men arrested are not protected by diplomatic immunity, and their handover to Russia was ruled out. "These people must be tried in Georgia," Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili was quoted as saying by RBK. FF

Observers have noted that the current row is the most severe yet in a series of political clashes this year between the Russian government and the pro-Western administration of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, the "Financial Times" noted on September 29. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said on RTR that Georgia's decision could not be seen as anything else but "another show of anti-Russian policy." While Russia has pledged to close one of its two military bases in 2007 and the other a year later, more important may be the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Saakashvili last week accused the Kremlin of "gangster occupation" of the two provinces in a speech before the United Nations. "The Moscow Times" on September 29 quoted Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, as saying that with the referendum on Kosova's independence pending, the Georgian leadership realizes it is running out of time to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia under its control. Safranchuk added that Georgia would need to settle all of its territorial disputes before it could enter NATO. Another analyst quoted by "The Moscow Times," Arthur Martirosyan, senior program manager with U.S.-based Mercy Corps' Conflict Management Group, said that "the timing of these events should be understood in light of the NATO commitment in New York and the upcoming NATO summit" in Latvia. FF

Russian Defense Minister Ivanov has alleged that some new members of NATO have supplied Georgia with weapons earlier provided to them by the Soviet Union without the right to reexport them, RIA Novosti reported on September 28. A number of former members of the communist bloc, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, joined NATO in 2004. Ivanov arrived in Portoroz, Slovenia, for an informal meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on September 29. The agenda of the meeting includes the conflict in Lebanon, cooperation in fighting international terrorism, antimissile defense, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear security enforcement. FF

The deputy head of Russia's Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources, Oleg Mitvol, said on September 29 that part of the Sakhalin-2 project's pipeline has been illegally laid through the Zubrovy nature preserve in violation of the original plan, RIA Novosti reported. Mitvol is currently leading a probe into the project on Sakhalin Island after Russian officials accused project operator Sakhalin Energy of failing to fulfill environmental recommendations and the Ministry of Natural Resources on September 25 annulled the 2003 environmental expert review for the $20 billion project led by Royal Dutch Shell. Mitvol said the violation is a criminal offense. He added that "we will study the situation and pass all the materials to prosecutors." FF

Russia on September 29 announced it will restructure $166 million owed to it by Cuba over 10 years until 2016, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement was signed in Havana on September 28 during Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's visit to Cuba. RBK added that Russia has also signed an agreement with Cuba to lend it $355 million to finance the acquisition of Russian equipment, goods, and services. Cuban officials were quoted as saying that they will spend the money on projects in seven areas, in particular the modernization of Cuban energy facilities, including the thermal power plants in Havana and Mariel; the reconstruction of water-supply facilities; the modernization of Cuba's transport system; the reconstruction of its railroads; and the acquisition of navigation equipment. FF

In what appears to be a carefully orchestrated campaign to demonstrate the extent of the support he enjoys among the Chechen population, Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov issued orders September 27 that all portraits of himself be removed from public places, according to the website of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration ( on September 28. Residents of the towns of Argun and Gudermes were reportedly incensed by those orders, and in some cases forcibly prevented them from being carried out. Mass protests took place in both towns on September 28 against the removal of Kadyrov portraits, and also in the Urus-Martan, Shali, Vedeno, and Kurchaloi raions. Young supporters of Kadyrov also staged a protest in Grozny. Kadyrov issued a call for order and calm on September 28, explaining that he considers only two people -- President Putin and his own late father Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov -- worthy of having their portraits publicly displayed. LF

Meeting with journalists in Gudermes on September 27, Kadyrov accused unnamed human rights activists of seeking to exonerate former Chechen resistance leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev and of demonstrating a lack of objectivity in their assessments of and reactions to the situation in Chechnya, according to RIA Novosti as reposted on September 28 by Specifically, Kadyrov alleged that human rights activists failed to respond to the abduction of 11 of his men, whose fate remains unknown. Kadyrov further denied that Magomed Khambiyev, Maskhadov's former defense minister, surrendered two years ago only after dozens of his relatives were taken hostage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9, 10, 11, and 12, 2004 and "Chechnya: Former Separatist Now Views Conflict From Parliament,", September 19, 2006). LF

At the same meeting with journalists on September 27, Kadyrov described Doku Umarov, Chechen president and resistance commander, and Daghestani-based Chechen field commander Khayrulla, as his two remaining blood enemies following the killing of Maskhadov and Basayev, according to RIA Novosti as reposted on September 28 by Kadyrov said the resistance now numbers no more than 50-60 fighters. LF

Two people have been arrested in Kislovodsk on suspicion of involvement in the murder of the town's imam, Abubakir Kurdjiyev, reported on September 27 quoting an unnamed source within the law-enforcement agencies. Kurdjiyev, who was deputy mufti of Stavropol Krai, was found shot in the back in the entrance to his apartment building late on September 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26 and 27, 2006). Ismail-hadji Berdiyev, chairman of the Coordinating Council of Muslims of the North Caucasus, branded Kurdjiyev's killing during the holy month of Ramadan "blasphemy," reported. LF

Alikhan Yaryhev, a judge with the Nazran Raion court, was abducted at gunpoint late on September 27 by masked men who drove him to a remote wooded area where they beat him up and robbed him of $7,000 and 35,000 rubles ($1,307), reported on September 28. Yaryzhev is currently engaged in assessing the legality of repeated demands by Ingushetian police for overtime or hazardous-duty pay. LF

The Armenian opposition succeeded on September 27 in blocking controversial legislation codifying the state's power to confiscate property and turn it over to private developers by citing "state needs," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The opposition succeeded in halting passage of the bill, which was officially presented as legislation to regulate the redevelopment of the center of Yerevan. According to the Armenian Constitution, the state is allowed to seize private property "only in exceptional cases involving overriding public interests, in a manner defined by law, and with a prior commensurate compensation." But in the wake of mass evictions of residents from a historical part of Yerevan, the Constitutional Court effectively declared the process illegal in April, but stopped short of ordering the authorities to return the increasingly expensive land to their former owners. Despite the support of the ruling coalition in parliament, the opposition was able to garner sufficient votes against the bill as a number of deputies failed to attend the parliament session. RG

Armenia hosted on September 27 a special Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) counterterrorism exercise focused on responding to a simulated terrorist attack on the country's sole nuclear power plant, according to Armenian Public Television. The exercise, named Atom Antiterror 2006, included special counterterrorism military forces and police from several CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization members. A second stage of the exercise opened on September 28, with support from units of the Armenian air force and army. In a statement opening the exercise, Armenian President Robert Kocharian noted that the struggle against terrorism should not be limited to the use of military or security measures, but must include "effective preventive political, economic, and diplomatic measures" to eliminate the causes of terrorism. The head of the National Security Service, General Gorik Akopyan, also said that "the struggle against international terrorism is in the center of attention of Armenia's security agencies," which are cooperating "within the framework of national legislation and on the basis of international agreements." RG

In an interview with RFE/RL from New York, Vardan Oskanian said late on September 26 that he was "reassured" after meeting Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mediators and discussing the recent UN discussion of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Oskanian explained that he was forced to cancel a planned meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, in retaliation for the inclusion of the Karabakh issue on the UN General Assembly agenda. But after a "quite productive" meeting with the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Oskanian added that he is "satisfied" with the OSCE mediators' position regarding UN involvement, and said that "we now have a better idea of the situation and will make an appropriate decisions as to what our next steps are." He further offered hope for a "resumption of direct negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan both at the ministerial and presidential levels," but stressed that as Armenia has already accepted the draft peace plan currently under discussion, Azerbaijan must not "renege on its pledges." The two countries' presidents are scheduled to participate in a CIS summit in Belarus next month and officials in both Yerevan and Baku have not ruled out the possibility of their meeting. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Baku, members of visiting delegations from the Council of Europe and the European Commission called on September 28 for greater reform in Azerbaijan's penal system, Turan reported. Noting the current effort to modernize the penal system on the basis of European standards approved in January, Council of Europe Legal Department official Roman Huna expressed satisfaction with the course of reform but urged the government to expand legal reforms and oversight of prisons, improve living conditions for prisoners, and help with the reintegration of prisoners into society. Huna is tasked with carrying out a more thorough assessment of the situation in prisons and other places of detention, and is to submit his findings to the Council of Europe before the conclusion of the reform project in June 2007. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Baku at the closing of an international conference on border security, Azerbaijani Border Guard Service commander Major General Elchin Guliyev stressed on September 28 that "the improvement of Azerbaijani border protection contributes to the improvement of European border protection," Turan reported. Azerbaijan hosted the International "Shiofok" Border Security Conference, a forum established in 2003 that includes more than 50 member states and 20 international organizations. Guliyev added that the main tasks facing the Border Guard Service center on "the prevention of organized crime and terrorism," and reported that since 2001, the service has detained 40 people on suspicion of involvement in international terrorism. He also said that Azerbaijan maintains maritime security in the Caspian Sea, including the monitoring and policing of cargo transportation, and has 11 border vessels and "modern equipment" currently in service in the Caspian. RG

Ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party Executive Secretary Mubariz Qurbanli announced on September 27 in Baku the nomination of incumbent President Ilham Aliyev as the party's candidate for the presidential election set for 2008, the Azerbaijani news agency APA reported. Qurbanli added that "nobody doubts that Ilham Aliyev will win the presidential election again in 2008" but noted that the party "is very serious about election issues and keeps in focus the preparations for the presidential election." RG

Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili reported on September 27 that Georgian security forces have detained four Russian military officers for suspected espionage activities in Georgia, Rustavi-2 and Civil Georgia reported. The Russians are reportedly military intelligence service (GRU) officers and were detained along with more than 10 others in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and the Black Sea port of Batumi. Merabishvili explained that "the main objects of their interest were the defense of Georgia, problems of integration with NATO and future plans, the energy security of Georgia, opposition political parties and NGOs, certain units of the Defense Ministry, personnel as well as arms, military purchases, seaports, railway communications and transport capacity, and the military units deployed in the conflict zones." RG

Following the arrest of the four Russian officers, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on September 28 announcing the recall of its ambassador to Georgia and the initiation of a "partial evacuation" of Russian personnel and their families from Georgia, citing a "growing threat to their security," Civil Georgia and Rustavi-2 reported the same day. The evacuation is to begin on September 29, conducted by aircraft dispatched by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, and follows an advisory by the Foreign Ministry warning Russian citizens against traveling to Georgia. The Russian Embassy in Tbilisi has also reportedly suspended the issuance of visas to all Georgian citizens seeking to travel to Russia. RG

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov criticized the arrests of four Russian officers in Georgia on September 28 and warned that the "actions by Georgian authorities can be characterized as utterly outrageous" and as "an open desire to provoke the Russian Federation," according to Civil Georgia and Rustavi-2. He demanded "the immediate release" of the Russian officers, adding that "Russia's reaction to these events will be adequate and sensible." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 28 that the arrests affirm Georgia's "anti-Russian policy" and urged the UN Security Council to intercede to resolve the situation. The incident continued to escalate on September 28 as Georgian police moved to surround the Tbilisi headquarters of Russian forces in the South Caucasus. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has described Russia's reaction as "hysteria." RG

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Guttierez, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, and Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden in Washington on September 28, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakh Budget and Economic Planning Minister Karim Masimov told reporters that Nazarbaev and Bodman discussed the possible construction of a natural-gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea. Nazarbaev, who will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on September 29, also saw a U.S. congressional delegation on September 28. At the unveiling of a monument to Kazakhstan's independence in Washington, Nazarbaev commented that he hopes his visit "will raise U.S.-Kazakh relations to a new level," ITAR-TASS reported. DK

Kazakhstan's national railroad company will buy 310 locomotives from General Electric in 2008-12 for a total of more than $650 million, AP reported on September 28 citing the U.S.-based company. The contract for the purchase was signed in a ceremony at the Kazakh Embassy in Washington on September 28. Parts for the "environmentally clean" locomotives will be produced at facilities in Erie, Pennsylvania, for final assembly in Kazakhstan. DK

A strike at coal mines owned by Mittal Steel Temirtau widened on September 28, with workers at seven of eight mines owned by the company in the Qaraghanda region failing to show up for work, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The strike began at the Lenin mine after a September 20 accident killed over 30 miners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2006). The miners are demanding higher pay and better working conditions. DK

Kurmanbek Bakiev outlined a strategic vision for Kyrgyzstan's development up through 2015 in an address to the nation on September 28, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev laid out three stages. The first stage, maintaining the work of government and the economy after the fall of President Askar Akaev on March 24, 2005, has been completed, he said. Bakiev described the second stage as "full restoration of strong government authority and the rule of law, introduction of amendments to the constitution, establishment of viable political parties and creation of a civil society, raising a new generation of political elite." He said that the third stage involves raising Kyrgyzstan's global competitiveness. Addressing foreign-policy issues, Bakiev said that Kyrgyzstan's priorities are maintaining good relations with its neighbors and multidirectional ties with such countries as Russia, the member states of the European Union, Japan, and the United States. DK

Four men attacked the technical facilities of the independent Kyrgyz television station Piramida in Bishkek on September 28, reported. The four, three of them wearing masks, broke in while engineers were installing new equipment and set a fire. Piramida producer Turat Bektenov said that the damage totaled $200,000. Piramida Vice President Oleg Vasil told reporters that the attack was perpetrated by political forces "interested in destabilizing the political situation in Kyrgyzstan, rather than in independent Kyrgyz media organizations," Interfax reported. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Aida Bakirova told the news agency that an investigation is being conducted. Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, said that Piramida has already been unable to broadcast for 40 days as a result of "sabotage by state agencies," reported. He said that the attack showed that "certain forces in the country want to crush freedom of speech and gain control over the oldest independent television company." DK

Huseyn Aliev, head of the Tajik national gas company Tojikgaz, was fired by cabinet resolution on September 28 for failing to maintain steady gas supplies to the public, Asia Plus-Blitz and RIA Novosti reported. The move came after an accident on a gas pipeline in Uzbekistan, which exports gas to Tajikistan, led to a suspension of deliveries, Interfax reported. Aliev's replacement, Fathiddin Muhsiddinov, said that Uzbekistan promised to repair the break by September 29. DK

China has approved a pipeline project to ship natural gas from Turkmenistan to China, AP reported on September 27. The 7,000-kilometer pipeline will cost tens of billions of dollars and may bypass Uzbekistan and run through Kazakhstan, according to the report. In April, Turkmenistan and China signed a framework agreement to construct the pipeline, with a target completion date of 2009 and an eventual capacity of 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2006). DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on September 28 that the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) should jointly counteract what he called "information aggression" from "new crusaders," Belapan and Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka was speaking at a meeting with representatives of CIS countries' security and intelligence agencies in Minsk. "A war for people's minds is now under way," Lukashenka said. "The arsenal of the new crusaders includes the distortion of spiritual and moral values, the elimination of nations' historic memory, and the propagation of interethnic and interdenominational discord. This war has the specific strategic goal of changing by force the political and economic systems of states that pursue an independent course of development. That is why collective resistance to this expansion means a real effort to strengthen the security level of our countries and the commonwealth as a whole." JM

President Lukashenka also told representatives of CIS security and intelligence agencies in Minsk on September 28 that he will strengthen Belarus's State Security Committee (KGB), Belapan and Belarusian Television reported. "We in Belarus...intend to strengthen the State Security Committee," Lukashenka said. "We tend to speak about this less [than others] and somehow bashfully. It's a mistake. We speak more about the United States and other states that make enormous efforts to reinforce their intelligence services and bodies. But if they are reinforcing them -- it's clear for what purpose -- why are we afraid to speak about what we should do, about the need to reinforce ourselves?" JM

Syarhey Aleynik, Belarus's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, on September 27 accused UN human rights rapporteur on Belarus Adrian Severin of an attempt to slander Belarus "in the best tradition of notorious Cold War propaganda," Belapan reported. Aleynik was speaking at debates at the UN Human Rights Council after Severin delivered a report on the situation in Belarus in 2005 and the first half of 2006. Severin said that the human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated "to such an extent that the elements usually defining a dictatorship could be seen" in the country. "Civil and political rights were limited, cultural rights were ignored, and economic and other rights were enhanced to reward for obedience," Severin noted. JM

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on September 28 demanded that President Viktor Yushchenko fire five regional governors for what the government sees as their unsatisfactory performance in resolving socioeconomic problems, Ukrainian media reported. The demand concerns the governors of Poltava, Ternopil, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Chernihiv oblasts, who are from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc. "The dismissal of the heads of oblast state administrations cannot be considered by the Cabinet of Ministers, since this [issue] is outside the government's competence," Our Ukraine said in a statement later the same day. "Political motives behind such actions are obvious: The [five] governors are being accused of 'unsatisfactory solutions to problems that hamper social and economic development' while it is generally known that the highest debts arising from overdue wages are in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, but the government remains silent on the leaders of these regions," Our Ukraine added. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, all regional governors are appointed by the president. JM

Prime Minister Yanukovych said at a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers in Kyiv on September 28 that Ukraine will be receiving gas from Russia until 2010 at a price lower than that charged on other neighboring countries, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "The price of gas will be lower than that asked of our neighbors," Yanukovych said. "If it is $130 per 1,000 cubic meters, it will be top class for us," he added. Meanwhile, Gazprom said in a press statement on September 27 that RosUkrEnergo, which monopolizes gas supplies to Ukraine, will deliver gas to Ukraine in the fourth quarters of 2006 at the current price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. The statement appeared after talks held between Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller and Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko in Moscow earlier the same day. The statement says that a contract for gas supplies to Ukraine in 2007-09 will be drafted by the end of this year. JM

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists in Kyiv on September 28 that Moscow's recent charge that Russian is discriminated against in Ukraine constitutes "evident interference" in Ukraine's internal affairs, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Regretfully, we have to highlight that raising the topic [of Russian in Ukraine] is not beneficial to Ukrainian-Russian relations," Tarasyuk added. "Oppressors of the Russian language in Ukraine should understand the necessity to finally realize that bilingual Ukraine is a historic phenomenon, and that is why it is counterproductive to eradicate the Russian language," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on September 27. JM

Mladjan Dinkic, the leader of the liberal G17 Plus party, announced on September 28 that members of his party serving in Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government plan to resign, B92 reported the same day. Dinkic said the resignations, which could result in early elections, will be submitted on September 29 and all G17 Plus ministers will exit the government by October 1. Dinkic said the decision was prompted by the government's failure to catch war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic and resume talks with the European Union on a Stabilization and Association Agreement suspended in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006). Dinkic said he hopes the GI7 Plus resignations will not destabilize the country, and that the move will lead to a resumption of negotiations with the EU. "In the last couple of months, we have worked a lot in cooperation with President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and it is in our interest to maintain that cooperation, and to not be the ones who ruin it," Dinkic said. BW

Boris Tadic said on September 28 that his Democratic Party (DS) is open to the possibility of cooperating with Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) after elections, B92 and Beta reported the same day. Early elections, resulting from the G17 Plus party's withdrawal from Kostunica's cabinet, are likely by the end of December. Tadic said he cannot rule out the possibility of cooperating with the DSS, but would not comment on whether or not he and Kostunica have already reached an agreement. BW

Serbian officials are bracing for a negative report from Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, when she briefs the European Union on Serbia's progress on September 29, B92 and dpa reported on September 28. Del Ponte's report to EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, with whom she is scheduled to meet in Helsinki, is widely considered to be a key factor in deciding whether Brussels resumes premembership talks with Belgrade. Del Ponte is scheduled to visit Belgrade on October 2 for talks with Prime Minister Kostunica. Serbian media quoted Del Ponte's spokesman Anton Nikoforov as saying that she is widely expected to sharply criticize Serbian officials for their failure to apprehend and extradite Mladic, B92 reported. BW

Serbian Defense Minister Zoran Stankovic announced on September 28 that NATO will open a liaison office in Belgrade, UPI reported the same day. The office's main function will be to assist in the transit of the Western alliance's troops. Assistant Defense Minister Snezana Samardzic-Markovic said the liaison office will most likely open in Defense Ministry headquarters by October 31. Stankovic also said that Serbia's admission as an observer to the Southeast European Defense Ministers group is an indication that Belgrade is moving closer to joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program. BW

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on September 27 sentenced Momcilo Krajisnik, the former speaker of Republika Srpska's parliament, to 27 years in prison for crimes against humanity, B92 reported the same day. The ICTY, however, found Krajisnik not guilty of genocide. Prosecutors accused Krajisnik of helping to devise and implement a plan to create an "ethnically clean" Serbian state on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1992-95 war. According to the indictment, this plan led to massive killings and the persecution of non-Serbian civilians. He was arrested by NATO peacekeepers and extradited to The Hague in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2000). BW

Sakib Sokic, Bosnia-Herzegovina's representative to the ICTY, said on September 28 that Krajisnik's sentence was too lenient, B92 reported the same day. Sokic also said that the fact that Krajisnik was acquitted of genocide charges will not adversely affect Bosnia's civil lawsuit for genocide against Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 24, 2006). "The verdict was not strict enough, and I do not think that it will remain after the appeal," Sokic said. "What satisfies me is that this verdict will have no effect on the case which Bosnia-Herzegovina is leading against Serbia-Montenegro for committing genocide." BW

A group of parties and public organizations in Transdniester has called on President Igor Smirnov to ban the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Mission in Moldova from entering the breakaway region, ITAR-TASS reported. Mission head Louis O'Neill has called Transdniester's September 17 independence referendum undemocratic. The United States and the European Union have also refused to recognize the results of the vote, in which 97.2 percent supported independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18 and 19, 2006). "We think that this pronouncement is total misinformation and libel, which humiliates the honor and dignity of the multinational people of the Dniester region," the Coordinating Council of Dniester Regional Parties and Public Organizations wrote in an appeal to Smirnov. BW

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has called for the immediate resumption of talks on settling the Transdniester conflict, ITAR-TASS reported on September 27. According to ITAR-TASS, Voronin said negotiations should be held on the basis of a law passed by Moldova's parliament in 2005, which defines Transdniester as an autonomous region inside Moldova. Transdniester leader Smirnov said he is willing to resume talks, but under different conditions given the results of the September 17 independence referendum. BW

U.S. President George W. Bush hosted a dinner for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at the White House on September 28 that reminded some of peacemaking efforts involving Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Though they dined and held talks with each other, Karzai and Musharraf's body language reflected the ongoing exchange of recriminations between them and their respective governments. The leaders of the two key allies in the global war against terrorism did not even shake hands or speak with each other in their brief public appearance with Bush.

Kabul and Islamabad have never had normal neighborly relations dating back to Pakistan's founding in 1947.

Most Afghan governments until 1996 -- when the Taliban took charge of Kabul -- have explicitly or implicitly regarded Pakistan as an illegitimate state because of Afghanistan's conviction that Pashtun and Baluch tribes living in Pakistan were forcefully incorporated into the new political entity emerging from the breakdown of British rule in the Indian subcontinent.

Pakistani governments, in turn, have traditionally viewed Afghanistan with suspicion, not only because of Afghanistan's interference in Pashtun and Baluch affairs, but also because of Kabul's close ties with Islamabad's archenemy, India.

Afghans, almost universally, if only to varying degrees, believe that the Taliban was and remains a Pakistani design to undermine or control their country. When the Taliban regime was in power there was undeniable evidence of Islamabad's support -- something that remains a point of contention for Kabul.

In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban period, Karzai personally tried to coexist and cooperate with Pakistan. The period of Kabul-Islamabad detente, albeit at the leadership level, was flaggingly brief and marked with the usual charges and countercharges that also involved an alleged mob attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul in July 2003.

The high-level mudslinging between Karzai and Musharraf began in earnest early in 2006 and, with brief interludes, has not abided in frequency or ferocity.

Karzai's main grievance is that Musharraf is, at best, unable and, at worst, unwilling to curtail the activities of the neo-Taliban inside Pakistan and to break up the support network created by that country's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) working through religious establishments along the Afghan border.

Prior to their White House dinner, Karzai and Musharraf met in Kabul in early September in an apparent attempt to ease tensions. Musharraf said he paid a visit to Karzai in Kabul to "iron out any possible misconceptions" about his country's intentions toward Afghanistan. Addressing a large gathering of senior Afghan officials, the Pakistani leader pleaded for them to "stop blaming" Pakistan for all that it happening in Afghanistan, and assured them that neither his government nor the ISI are involved in any interference in Afghan affairs.

The period of good feelings was very short, however, as both sides almost immediately began to pursue their blame game.

Musharraf hit an especially raw nerve in Afghanistan when in a speech to the European Parliament in mid-September he warned of a "national war" by the Pashtuns against foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan, adding that the "center of gravity for terrorism has shifted from Al-Qaeda to the Taliban." He described the development as "more dangerous" because the Taliban has "roots in the people [i.e. Pashtuns]." Countering Afghan claims, Musharraf unambiguously stated that former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is in Afghanistan and has not visited Pakistan since 1995.

In a statement, the Afghan Foreign Ministry referred to Musharraf's remarks as an "insult' to the Pashtuns, adding that Afghanistan and the international community are aware that the Taliban came into existence as part of ISI policies and that they continue to receive logistical and financial support from "specific circles" on the "other side of the Durand Line," the Afghan-Pakistani border, which Kabul does not officially recognize.

During their speeches to the UN General Assembly in New York prior to their White House meeting, the two presidents pointed to the other country as the main terrorism hub.

A statement issued by the White House on September 27 said that the three leaders had "a constructive exchange on the common challenges facing" the three countries. However, the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan did not immediately discuss the meeting in public.

However, Musharraf did say that through "good intelligence" his government knows that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is in Konar Province in northeastern Afghanistan. Referring to a recent UN report, the Pakistani leader told the London daily "The Times" on September 27 that the insurgency in Afghanistan is Afghan-based and operated -- contradicting Karzai's premise that most of the insurgency is Pakistan-based and conducted by foreigners, mainly Pakistanis.

Musharraf's stance took a hit as he embarked on an official visit to the United Kingdom on September 28. A report compiled by the Defense Academy, a think tank within the U.K. Defense Ministry, that was leaked to the press suggested that the ISI has indirectly assisted Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the bombers who attacked transportation systems in Madrid and London. Although London distanced itself from the report's findings and Musharraf vehemently defended the ISI, Karzai and his government could not have asked for a better gift.

It is certain that Kabul will milk the contents of the Defense Academy's report as proof of its claims and thus free itself from most of its responsibilities.

Afghanistan is arguably justified in pointing a finger at Islamabad for not doing enough to stop the insurgents or even for undermining Afghanistan's security. But Afghan officials should be aware that their current policies toward Pakistan -- in particular the apparent resuscitation of the Pashtun and Baluch issues -- are unlikely to deter Islamabad from maintaining options that allow Islamabad to pressure Kabul to stop meddling in Pakistani affairs.

Afghanistan needs international support to quell the ongoing insurgencies, but Kabul must also be proactive in doing its part.

The current state of affairs between Karzai and Musharraf can benefit only those who both leaders claim they are fighting -- namely the terrorists and their allies.

U.S. President George W. Bush hosted a dinner in honor of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at the While House on September 28, international news agencies reported. According to a September 28 White House press release, the three leaders had a "constructive exchange on the common challenges facing" their three countries. Musharraf discussed the controversial peace agreement Pakistan signed with tribes in North Waziristan in early September while Karzai focused on "ongoing efforts to enhance security" and governance (see End Note and "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2006). Karzai and Musharraf -- who have exchanged sharp words in recent days -- did not speak nor shake hands in public. AT

Dismissing recent French intelligence reports indicating that Osama bin Laden has died, President Musharraf said the Al-Qaeda leader is alive and most probably hiding in northeastern Afghanistan, London's "The Times" reported on September 28 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2006). "It's not a hunch," Musharraf told the daily in an interview conducted on September 27 in New York, adding that Afghanistan's Konar Province borders Pakistan's Bajaur district where there are "pockets of Al-Qaeda." "We have set a good intelligence organization" in Bajaur, Musharraf said. He added that former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is also operating in Konar, which suggests "some linkage" between Al-Qaeda and Hekmatyar. Kabul has firmly maintained that bin Laden and the neo-Taliban leaders are hiding in Pakistan. AT

President Musharraf strongly criticized a report commissioned by the U.K. Defense Ministry which has been leaked to the press suggesting that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has indirectly helped Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the bombers who attacked transportation systems in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the BBC reported on September 28. "These aspersions against ISI are by vested interests and by those who don't understand ground realities," Musharraf said in London, adding that he "fully" rejects the report's allegations "absolutely, 200 percent." A U.K. Defense Ministry spokesman said the report by the Defense Academy, a think tank within the ministry, in no way represents the views of the British government, "The Times," reported on September 28. The report, while not endorsed by the British government, supports the allegations leveled against the ISI by the Afghan government. AT

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on September 27 calling on Afghanistan and Pakistan to immediately act to stop the increasing insecurity and human rights abuses taking place along their mutual border. "The people of Afghanistan are teetering on the edge of the abyss again," said Sam Zarifi, Asia research director for HRW. Islamabad "must detain and prosecute Taliban and militants leaders" responsible for human rights abuses "in Afghanistan, and increasingly, in Pakistan," Zarifi added. Turning to Afghanistan, the statement said Afghans have told HRW that they "view warlords, ostensibly allied with the government, as a major source of insecurity." Zarifi concluded that while "Pakistan can clearly do can President Karzai," and suggested that Afghanistan "has to stop blaming all of Afghanistan's problems on Pakistan." AT

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani sounded optimistic at a September 28 press conference in Berlin following two days of meetings on Iran's nuclear program. Both said that talks will continue, RFE/RL reported. "Today, we talked about the procedures of the negotiations. And we have almost come to a conclusion. We do hope to be able to embark on the main negotiations as soon as possible." Solana echoed this theme, noting "important progress" and adding that "some important issues" remain unresolved. The suspension of uranium enrichment, which is one of the international community's demands of Iran, is out of the question, said Supreme National Security Council Deputy Secretary Gholamreza Rahmani-Fazli, state television reported on September 28. Raising this possibility, he said, represents "psychological warfare." BS

The Press Supervisory Board announced on September 28 that the weekly "Omid-i Sahel" of Hormozgan Province has been banned due to the publication of an article that harmed national security, ISNA reported. BS

Ebrahim Kazeminejad, deputy police chief in Kurdistan Province, announced on September 28 that his department has seized 70 pieces of satellite television equipment, the Fars News Agency reported. This includes satellite dishes, low-noise blockers, and receivers. Satellite television is illegal in Iran, and in August the government began confiscating all satellite-related equipment. BS

Seyyed Jalal Fayazi was selected on September 27 as the new managing director of the official Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA reported. Fayazi succeeds Ahmad Khademolmelleh, who resigned the previous day over a dispute with Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Mohammad Hussein Safar-Harandi. Fayazi previously served as editor in chief of the daily "Qods" and was a leading member of the fundamentalist Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society, of which President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is a founder. Fayazi now is associated with the Young Developers (Abadgaran-i Javan), another hard-line political organization created earlier this year. BS

An audio recording posted on the Internet on September 28 purportedly from Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri) called for the development of biological and other nonconventional weapons to be used against U.S. forces, AFP reported the same day. Al-Muhajir called on scientists and explosives experts to travel to Iraq to carry out "nonconventional experiments of biological and dirty warfare" against U.S. bases. He also urged his followers to kidnap foreigners to be used to exchange for the release of Egyptian cleric Umar Abd al-Rahman, who was imprisoned in the United States on charges connected to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. He also offered an amnesty to Sunni tribal leaders who have collaborated with the Iraqi government if they repent and throw their support behind the insurgency. Finally, al-Muhajir acknowledged that more than 4,000 foreign fighters have been killed in Iraq while fighting the Iraqi and multinational forces. SS

Several tribal leaders from the Al-Anbar Governorate met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on September 27 and pledged to work to expel terrorist groups, particularly Al-Qaeda, from the region, Al-Arabiyah television reported on September 28. The leader of the Al-Burishah tribe in Al-Ramadi, Sheikh Sattar al-Buzay'i, told the satellite news channel that each tribe has formed its own force and the governorate currently has a force of 30,000 men to fight terrorism and maintain security. He also noted that Al-Qaeda fighters stole a large sum of money from Al-Rafidayn Bank and have taken over several local government buildings that have been used as a base to kill Iraqi policemen and soldiers. Al-Maliki welcomed the decision of the tribal leaders, saying, "Their decision to confront those who don't want any good for Al-Anbar Governorate evokes the admiration and appreciation of all Iraqis." SS

The Ministry of Displacement and Migration reported on September 28 that a quarter of a million people have fled their homes in the last seven months, mainly due to sectarian violence, international media reported the same day. Ministry spokesman Sattar Nowruz said that 80,000 people have registered with the government as refugees in the last two months alone and 40,000 families have claimed refugee status since sectarian violence erupted after a revered Shi'ite mosque in Samarra was bombed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). The figures were based on the ministry's estimates that an average Iraqi family is composed of six individuals, but Nowruz warned that the number of displaced persons could be much higher as many more people may have fled abroad rather than register with the ministry. SS

The Kurdish regional government threatened to break away from the Iraqi state unless the federal government withdraws its claim to be in charge of developing oil resources in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, "Al Sharq al-Awsat" reported on September 28. Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said that these actions would be antithetical to the Iraqi Constitution and the Kurdish people have chosen to be in a "voluntary union" with Iraq on the basis of this constitution. "If Baghdad ministers refuse to abide by that constitution, the people of Kurdistan reserve the right to reconsider our choice," Barzani said in a statement. Barzani's threat was in reference to an interview with Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani on September 24 in "Al-Sabah" in which he said the contracts signed by the regional government and foreign firms to develop oil fields in the north are subject to review by the Oil Ministry. SS

An audit by the inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, revealed that Iraq lost $16 billion in potential oil-export revenue in a two-year period from January 2004 to March 2006 due in part to insurgent attacks, Reuters reported on September 28. "A number of factors, including attacks, aging and poorly maintained infrastructure, and criminal activity are adversely affecting Iraq's ability to develop a viable energy sector," Bowen said. According to the latest estimates by the U.S. Energy Department, Iraq's oil production averaged 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in August and 1.7 million bpd so far in September, well below the prewar levels of 2.8 million-3 million bpd. Bowen called on the Iraqi government to "take bold action" to protect its oil and electrical facilities. SS