RUSSIAN MINISTER 'WORRIED' ABOUT U.S. POLICY TOWARD IRAN
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a February 26 cabinet meeting that unspecified "predictions of [U.S. military] strikes against Iran have become more frequent, and that is worrying," news agencies reported. He added that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney "in particular said in his recent remarks that this option was not ruled out." Accordingly, Russia will "follow the line [set down by President Vladimir Putin] in...appeals to the Iranian leadership and...contacts with the leaders of [the United States, Britain, France, China, and Germany], and we will do all we can to achieve a negotiated solution," Lavrov added. The BBC reported on February 27 that at a time when Russia has sought to portray as aggressive U. S. plans to deploy a missile-defense system in Europe, and has announced major military expansion programs of its own (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9, 10, 11, 21, 22, and 23, 2007), Russian officials and media have increasingly suggested recently that the United States is preparing an attack on Iran, despite repeated denials by Washington. The newspaper "RCB Daily" of February 27 quoted Vladimir Yevseyev, an expert with the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), as predicting that U.S. President George W. Bush will "go for broke" and launch a military strike on Iran before the end of his current term of office in January 2008. The daily "Kommersant" wrote on February 27 that recent Iranian claims of a missile launch might be a "space canard," because Russian surveillance systems have detected no such activity. The paper suggested that Tehran wanted to stage a publicity stunt on the eve of the current six-power talks on Iran in London. PM
IS 'FIFTH-GENERATION' MISSILE-DEFENSE SYSTEM IN THE OFFING?
First Deputy Prime Minster Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow on February 27 that Russia needs to develop a "project of the fifth generation that will include not only air-defense systems, but also anti-ballistic-missile and space-defense systems," Interfax reported. He told a meeting of military and industrial leaders that "this is a serious, expensive, and unique project from the point of view of technology and innovation. This is a project that envisages comprehensive work and should be completed within the terms set in the state arms programs for the years leading up to 2015" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9 and 27, 2007). PM
WRITER WARNS THAT SOCIAL PICTURE RESEMBLES 1917
Nobel Prize laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn believes that Russia is rightly reasserting its legitimate role in international relations, but that growing social inequalities at home are a cause for alarm, his wife Natalya told a Moscow press conference on February 26, Russian and international media reported. She spoke on behalf of her husband, who is 88, to announce that he will express his views in a new introduction to his previously published essay on the February 1917 revolution, which will appear in full in the state-run daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on February 28. She stressed that her husband is "basically provincial and really feels the misery of those living outside the capital. The authorities do not see it, or choose not to." She said he believes that the wide social disparities that obtained in 1905 are still present today and "is deeply worried by this gap. It's necessary to pay attention to that. If the government fails to do so, consequences would be grave." PM
GAY RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SUE MOSCOW MAYOR
Nikolai Alekseyev and Nikolai Bayev filed a libel suit on February 26 against Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who said on January 29 that gay-pride marches are "satanic," Reuters reported. Alekseyev noted in London that "the only aim of [Luzhkov's] comments was to smear us as [protest] organizers and to smear the very idea of the event. If you look up the word 'satanic' in any Russian dictionary, you'll see that in all its meanings it has a strictly negative tone." Some Russian gay activists are currently in London, where Luzhkov is due to meet soon with other mayors, including the openly gay mayors of Paris and Berlin. Alekseyev and other organizers of the May 2006 gay-pride parade in Moscow, which went ahead despite an official ban by the city authorities, plan to demonstrate on May 27, 2007, and have applied for a permit. They are also seeking justice from the European Court of Human Rights and have filed a suit against the city authorities for $26,000 in damages stemming from the 2006 protest. In the first public remarks ever by a Russian leader on gay-related issues, President Putin said on February 1 of the Moscow controversy that his own view of sexual minorities is shaped by his knowledge of the extent of the demographic crisis in the country. Putin added, however, that he "will continue to respect human freedom in all its forms." He also noted that he does not interfere with the prerogatives of local officials to deal with local issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 30 and 31, and February 1, 2007). PM
MOSCOW AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATE BOOK ON HOW TO SUE OFFICIALS
Tatyana Kasatkina, executive director of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Memorial, said in Moscow on February 26 that "city prosecutors are investigating [Memorial's] publication of a how-to guide for suing the government" in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the dailies "Kommersant" and "The Moscow Times" reported on February 27. She added that Moscow's Tverskaya Interdistrict Prosecutor's Office recently asked the NGO for financial and other documents related to the publication of the book in January 2006 in a print-run of 5,000 copies. Kasatkina said that the authorities have not responded to her query asking about their interest in the book. She added that "we still can't understand what this is all about. There may be some subjective factors involved." Over the past year, the authorities have cracked down on foreign NGOs and Russian organizations that receive foreign funding. Kasatkina said the book was funded by the EU and written by Philip Leach, a leading expert on human rights at London Metropolitan University, in collaboration with Russian lawyers. More Russian citizens file cases in Strasbourg than do citizens of any other country belonging to the Council of Europe. President Putin has called many of the resulting court rulings politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, and June 2 and 27, 2006, and "Council of Europe: Moscow Confronted With More Cases From Caucasus," rferl.org, January 23, 2007). PM
REGIONAL INVESTMENT PLANS COULD PROVE DYSFUNCTIONAL
Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote in "The Moscow Times" of February 27 that a recent economic forum in Krasnoyarsk estimated that up to $450 billion will be invested in Russia's economy by the year 2020. He noted, however, that the projected pattern of investments reveals huge imbalances that do not bode well for Russia's long-term overall economic development. For example, half of the projected investments involve oil or gas projects, with another one-fifth earmarked for transportation and one-sixth for electrical generation. Two-thirds of the projects will be centered east of the Urals, where only about 25 percent of the population lives. Over half of the expected funds will be invested in only six out of 88 regions, while 25 regions will not receive any investments at all. Petrov adds that virtually all the projects will be aimed at starting new rather than modernizing existing facilities, and that the food, light-industry, heavy-machinery, and high-tech sectors will be neglected. He suggests that many of the investment projects are unrealistic because they do not take proper account of economic or demographic realities, and that others make over-optimistic assumptions regarding resources, infrastructure, and personnel. Petrov concludes that "investment projects on this scale are almost physically impossible simply to drop on the rest of the economy. Before this growth can begin, investment is needed in the basic foundations of the economy. If the state is unable to orchestrate the process correctly, then the enormous sums ready to be invested -- both state and private -- could end up playing a negative role. Instead of rapid growth, we will end up with increased economic dysfunction." PM
CASE SAID TO BUILD AGAINST MAYOR IN FAR EAST
Police in Vladivostok searched municipal offices on February 26 for evidence against Mayor Vladimir Nikolayev, who has been implicated in a land-sale scandal involving his possible abuse of office, fcinfo.ru and RIA Novosti reported. Unnamed regional court officials said on February 27 that Primorsky Krai prosecutors have identified at least 11 cases in which land was sold for less than its market value. The court is expected to decide soon whether to dismiss Nikolayev from office. He maintains that he is being framed for political purposes. PM
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILL ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP
Deputies approved on February 26 in the second and final reading by a vote of 66 in favor and five against with one abstention a bill amending various existing laws to introduce dual citizenship, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That move paves the way for millions of ethnic Armenians from the worldwide diaspora to acquire Armenian citizenship and vote in elections. They may not, however, run as candidates in either parliamentary or presidential elections. Members of the majority Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) parliament faction who last week argued that diaspora Armenians should be permitted to vote only if they lived in Armenia for at least one of the five years leading up to the ballot ultimately dropped that and other objections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 23, 2007), but HHK faction head Galust Sahakian denied that they were pressured to do so by President Robert Kocharian. The five parliament deputies from the United Labor Party, the junior partner in the three-party coalition, voted against the bill on the grounds that it makes diaspora Armenians eligible for ministerial posts. LF
ARMENIAN NATIONAL TV PLEDGES OBJECTIVE ELECTION COVERAGE
Aleksan Harutiunian, who was recently reappointed for a second term as chairman of the board of Armenian Public Television and Radio, told journalists in Yerevan on February 26 that in the run-up to the May 12 parliamentary elections his journalists and commentators will allocate equal airtime to "the main political forces, both in opposition and government," and will ensure "equal, neutral and positive treatment" of the various parties and blocs participating in the ballot, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Harutiunian rejected opposition allegations that the greatly increased tariffs for election-campaign airtime were dictated by the presidential administration in an attempt to limit opposition access to the media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12 and 14, 2007). He likewise dismissed protests that a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court that the first channel of Public Television is not obliged to broadcast specific parliament sessions is itself unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20, 2007). LF
ARMENIA CONCERNED OVER PLANNED POLISH WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ
Meeting on February 26 in Yerevan with his visiting Polish counterpart Anna Fotyga, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed concern at the impact of Poland's planned withdrawal by the end of this year of its peacekeepers from Iraq on the Armenian contingent serving as part of the Polish-led multinational division deployed in Shi'ite-populated areas south of Baghdad, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Armenian parliament voted on December 6, 2006, to extend for a further year the mandate of the 46 Armenian noncombat troops in Iraq. Oskanian declined to say on February 26 whether they would remain in Iraq in the event of a Polish withdrawal. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO BRUSSELS
On the first day of a three-day official visit to Brussels, Mikheil Saakashvili met on February 26 with EU Foreign and Security Policy Commissioner Javier Solana, RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent reported. Saakashvili said Georgian officials will no longer publicly stress hopes that the country could join the EU, but that they will continue to seek such "tangible benefits" as an easing of visa requirements and a free-trade regime. He also reiterated hopes that Georgia will progress by the end of this year from its current Intensified Dialogue with NATO to a Membership Action Plan, the last stage before an official invitation is extended to join the alliance. Solana for his part stressed that he is happy with the EU's "deep and close relationship" with Georgia, and he reaffirmed his support for Georgia's territorial integrity. LF
RUSSIAN EMBASSY TAKES GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN TO TASK
The Russian Embassy in Tbilisi issued a statement on February 26 dismissing as "gross fabrications" allegations by Georgian parliamentarian Givi Targamadze that Russian Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko has discussed with opposition parties ways to thwart Georgia's hoped-for accession to NATO, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Targamadze told a press conference last week that the Labor Party and Union of Traditionalists are acting in accordance with a plan crafted by Moscow in arguing that Georgia should not join NATO but remain neutral. LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS INVESTIGATION INTO AIRPORT DAMAGE
Opposition deputies demanded on February 27 that Economy Minister Giorgi Arveladze brief them on the problems that have plagued the construction of a new terminal at Tbilisi airport, Caucasus Press reported. The Turkish company that won the $62 million tender for reconstruction of the airport completed the terminal two months late, and it was formally opened on January 25, rather than November 23. On February 18, rain began leaking through the roof, and an entire section of the roof blew off on February 24 shortly after President Saakashvili took off for Brussels. Much of the original roofing blew off in high winds in November and had to be replaced, according to the "Georgian Times" on November 16. LF
KAZAKH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DECREES EQUALITY OF KAZAKH, RUSSIAN LANGUAGES
Kazakhstan's Constitutional Court ruled on February 23 that the Kazakh and Russian languages can be used "equally, identically, and independent of any circumstances in state organizations and organs of local self-government," "Kazakhstan Today" reported on February 26. At the same time, the court noted that "equality in the employment of the state language -- Kazakh -- and the officially used Russian language in state organizations and organs of local self-government does not signify that the latter is given the status of a second state language." Igor Rogov, chairman of the Constitutional Court, noted, however, that the constitution does not establish "equality" between the two languages outside state bodies, stressing that the basic law gives "each person the right to choose a language of communication at his discretion." Rogov, an ethnic Russian, noted that the state should encourage the use and development of the Kazakh language. DK
RUSSIA CONSIDERS KYRGYZ DEBT WRITE-OFF FOR ASSETS
Russia is willing to consider a debt-for-asset swap that would result in the write-off of Kyrgyzstan's $286 million debt to Russia, ferghana.ru reported on February 26, citing the Kyrgyz government. Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov and Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin discussed the issue in Moscow on February 22. Kudrin said Russia will examine the possibility of acquiring shares in the Dastan oil company, the joint construction of the Kambar-Ata I and II hydroelectric power stations, as well as joint mining projects. Kudrin also proposed a $1 billion loan project to develop Kyrgyz-Russian joint ventures, with the ventures serving as collateral. DK
TAJIKISTAN REFUTES REPORTS ON INDIAN MILITARY BASE
Faridun Mahmadaliyev, a spokesman for Tajikistan's Defense Ministry, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on February 26 that a report in the newspaper "Indian Express" about the completion of India's first military base in Tajikistan is incorrect. Mahmadaliyev said that while India has spent approximately $19 million to rebuild the Aini airfield, there is no agreement on military cooperation between the two countries. Maruf Hasanov, the head of the Tajik Defense Ministry's international cooperation section, told Asia Plus-Blitz on February 26: "All we have today is an agreement on assistance in the reconstruction of the Aini military airfield that was signed in 2002. But this document does not envisage the use of the airfield by Indian military forces." DK
REPORT SAYS EDUCATION REFORM UNDER WAY IN TURKMENISTAN
The new Turkmen government under President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is taking the first practical steps toward education reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2007), ferghana.ru reported on February 26. Turkmen and Russian authorities are holding talks to discuss the implementation of a 2002 cultural cooperation agreement that would boost the teaching of the Russian language in Turkmen schools, where Russian language instruction was reduced to a minimum under President Saparmurat Niyazov. The report also notes that there are plans to double teachers' salaries by January 2008, and that the installation of computers in rural schools has already begun. Moreover, with Turkmenistan slated to restore a 10th year to grade-school education in the fall of 2007, there are plans to provide classes for graduates who only received nine years of grade-school education. DK
FORUM IN UZBEKISTAN DISCUSSES SCO ENERGY COOPERATION
A roundtable forum on the formation of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) "energy club" opened in Tashkent on February 26, Interfax reported. Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and the organizer of the roundtable, said, "The significance of post-Soviet nations is growing on the world energy market." She said that the proposed club would provide a forum for discussing and implementing joint energy and transit projects. A report on the independent Uzmetronom.com noted that a similar roundtable took place in December 2005 but resulted in little progress toward the creation of an SCO "energy club." SCO members are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. DK
INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED TO FREE BELARUSIAN POLITICAL PRISONER
Iryna Kazulina, the wife of former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, and Syarhey Skrabets, Kazulin's former prison mate, have called on students and professors all over the world to join a campaign for the release of Kazulin, who was rector of Belarusian State University (BDU) between 1996 and 2003, Belapan reported on February 26. Kazulin was sentenced last year to five years in a correctional facility for his involvement in the 2006 presidential election campaign and the protests that followed. "BHU Rector Kazulin, who has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, has been held in inhuman prison conditions for more than 300 days," the appeal says. "We urge [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka to immediately release Alyaksandr Kazulin, a fighter for freedom and justice who staged 53 days' hunger strike in the regime's prison, protesting human rights violations in our country, abductions and murders of people, the suppression of newspapers, and beatings of women, journalists, and youths during peaceful demonstrations." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT HAILS OPPOSITION UNITY
Viktor Yushchenko has welcomed the unity deal signed by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26, 2007), the presidential press service reported on February 26. "I approve of the unification of the opposition forces in the Verkhovna Rada as an important prerequisite to oppose the systematic and outright violation of the Constitution of Ukraine and legislation in force that can be seen in the country's parliament," Yushchenko said in a letter to both opposition blocs. "I share your concern over the serious threats to Ukrainian political life, which pose a real danger to the constitutional system of Ukraine, its security and stability, human rights, and freedoms," Yushchenko added. JM
SERBIAN POLITICIANS RELIEVED AT WORLD COURT VERDICT...
The February 26 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) clearing Serbia of responsibility for genocide during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was greeted with relief in Serbia and prompted conciliatory reactions from politicians there. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on February 26 that "the issue of all war crimes and their perpetrators must be fully investigated and must be most rigorously punished in a judicial manner," the Serbian news agency FoNet reported the same day. Kostunica said that only such action would lead all countries and peoples of former Yugoslavia to the necessary reconciliation. "Serbia is undertaking and will undertake all possible measures to fulfill its international obligations towards the Hague tribunal," he added in a reference to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which deals with individual responsibility for war crimes. "It is in the interest of Serbia to complete this cooperation as soon as possible." The ICJ also ruled that Serbia breached the Genocide Convention by failing to prevent the events at Srebrenica and to punish those responsible for it, and called on Serbia to comply with its obligations under the convention by handing over General Ratko Mladic, wanted by the ICTY on genocide charges. Serbian President Boris Tadic used an address to the country to also call for full cooperation with the ICTY. "Should Serbia fall short of complying with the court's ruling, it will suffer serious political and economic consequences," he said, according to B92. The European Union has made the arrest and extradition of Mladic a precondition for the resumption of association talks, which were suspended over the issue. Tadic also called on parliament to adopt a declaration condemning the crimes committed at Srebrenica, the BBC reported on February 26. The head of the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Sonja Biserko, told Bosnian state television the same day that she was "surprised" by the ruling and that the court should have waited for more evidence to become available. "There was no evidence because Serbia did not cooperate with the Hague tribunal and because it did not open its archives," she said. TV
...AS BOSNIAN SERBS WARY OF VERDICT'S IMPLICATIONS...
In Bosnia-Herzegovina's Republika Srpska, meanwhile, the focus was on mitigating potential fallout from the lawsuit, which cleared Serbia of responsibility but confirmed earlier findings that genocide was committed in Srebrenica after it was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces under Mladic. Since it was initiated by Bosnia's government in 1993, which was dominated by Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has repeatedly described the lawsuit as "illegal and illegitimate," regardless of its outcome. Dodik rejected the court's genocide finding after it was announced, describing Srebrenica as a "horrific crime" instead and calling for individuals to be held accountable. "All institutions have to apologize to those who have lost their lives, to the victims, and their families. I expect a similar apology to be made to us because many have died and suffered consequences of the war on our side as well," Dodik said on February 26, the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA reported. Republika Srpska President Milan Jelic said the same day that "the verdict defined the character of the war as an unfortunate conflict," SRNA reported. Politicians from Serbia and the Republika Srpska have long held that the 1992-95 war was a civil war in which all sides committed atrocities, despite evidence that Serbian forces were responsible for the bulk of crimes. The speaker of the Republika Srpska National Assembly, Igor Radojicic, rejected suggestions that the spotlight is now on the Bosnian Serbs. He told reporters in Banja Luka, "an important message in today's ruling to the Republika Srpska's citizens...is that the Republika Srpska's survival and its further development are no longer under a question mark," SRNA reported on February 26. The Serbian representative on Bosnia's three-member Presidency and current chairman, Nebojsa Radmanovic, told Bosnian state television after the ruling that he regretted so much time was spent on the lawsuit. "It would have been better to spend this time building trust. We have the power to do so, but some individuals obstruct this process," he said. TV
...WHILE BOSNIAN MUSLIMS AND CROATS DISAPPOINTED
The ICJ's ruling was a blow to those Bosnian Muslim and Croat politicians who had hoped for a clear condemnation of Serbia for its role in the Bosnian war. The Muslim representative on Bosnia-Herzegovina's tripartite Presidency, Haris Silajdzic, told Bosnian state television on February 26 that he "regretted" that Serbia was cleared of direct responsibility for the genocide. He stressed, however, that Serbia was still found to be in breach of the Genocide Convention due to its failure to prevent genocide at Srebrenica or punish those responsible for it. "We have to insist on the fact that Serbia and Montenegro accept the political, moral, legal, and material responsibility for violating the Convention on Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Silajdzic said. The Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, told Bosnian television, "privately speaking, I'm disappointed." Komsic said that he does not know whether the ruling was based on a lack of evidence or on a wrong assessment by the court. "I would like to repeat that we have to respect this decision of the court, but I know what I will teach my child," he added. Zlatko Lagumdzija, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, told private Hayat television on February 26 that the ruling was "shameful" and "rewards the killers, in a way." He added, "Unfortunately, the Hague court has not lived up to its name today." TV
OSCE HIT BY BLAST IN KOSOVA
Seven vehicles belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were lightly damaged in a blast in the western Kosovar town of Pecs on February 26, local and international media reported the same day. OSCE spokesman Sven Lindholm said there was no indication that the OSCE was the target of the attack, AP reported, and an anonymous police officer quoted by AP suggested the attack may have been related to a recent explosion that targeted a businessman. Initial police reports suggesting the blast may have been caused by a hand grenade were underscored by Lindholm's statement that an unexploded grenade was found in a nearby street. A week earlier, UN vehicles were attacked in the Kosovar capital and a week before that two Kosovar Albanians were killed in clashes with police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, 13, 15, and 20, 2007). This is also a highly sensitive time politically, in the midst of final consultations on a UN plan for the future of the Serbian province. In Kosova, which is currently administered by the UN, the OSCE is working to improve the rule of law, human rights, democracy, and the province's institutions. AG
SERBIAN PREMIER'S PARTY 'NOT SERIOUSLY COMMITTED' TO FORMING GOVERNMENT
Attention in Serbia has in recent days turned increasingly to the role of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica amid clear signs that the process of forming a new government has stalled, according to local media. On February 23, Bozidar Djelic, a Democratic Party (DS) candidate for the post of prime minister, said that Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) has prevented talks beginning. "We do not feel that they are seriously committed to dealing with this priority and meeting the expectations of the public, which gave a strong mandate to the democratic bloc to form a government as soon as possible," he told Beta and other news agencies. The elections, which were held on January 21, were won by the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), but the expectation was that less conservative parties, headed by the DS, would enter a coalition. For its part, the SRS believes new elections are closer than a new government, its deputy leader, Tomislav Nikolic, told Avala television on February 23. Djelic said the DSS's reasons include the current talks on the future of the contested province of Kosova. The delays have prompted a string of critical newspaper commentaries, with "Glas javnosti" accusing the Serbian elite on February 22 of "burying [its] head in the sand," and "Politika" on February 23 calling Kostunica "a prime minister without portfolio" and writing that "what normal people seem to view as grounds for the government to be formed as soon as possible, to Kostunica seems like a reason not to hurry anywhere." The Kosovar Albanian newspaper "Koha ditore" noted on February 24 that EU officials are split between those who believe Kosova's status should be settled as soon as possible, and those who believe a solution should be delayed until a new, hopefully pro-reform government is formed in Belgrade. AG
MACEDONIA CLEANS UP ITS BORDERS
Macedonia's law enforcement agencies have arrested at least 39 customs and police officers in what local media describe as the largest-ever crackdown on corruption among the country's border officials. The officers, most of whom are serving police officials, were arrested on February 23 at four border crossings with Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia, news agencies reported the same day. Ljupco Todorovski, the director of Macedonia's National Public Security Bureau, said on February 24 that the crackdown is continuing, but there have been no reports of further arrests. Initial reports suggested as many as 46 officers were detained. They are accused of taking bribes and abusing their authority. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on January 30 highlighted policing as one of the two key areas where Brussels is anxious to see progress in Macedonia. The other was the judiciary. In recent weeks, Brussels has repeatedly expressed concern at a perceived slowdown in reform in Macedonia and refused to commit to a date for the opening of membership talks with Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1, 9, 15, and 20, 2007). AG
JUDGMENT AT THE HAGUE: FIGHTING OLD WARS
On February 26, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague cleared Serbia of genocide charges in connection with Belgrade's support to the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The ICJ confirmed, however, an earlier ruling by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), also in The Hague, that events following the fall of Srebrenica to Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic did in fact constitute genocide, and it found Serbia in breach of international law for failing to prevent the killings or punish those responsible. The lawsuit was brought by the Bosnian government in 1993 against rump Yugoslavia and was among the court's most complex and contentious cases in its 60 years of existence.
A genocide verdict would have required proof that the government of then-Yugoslavia (whose legal successor is Serbia) intended to "destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such," as outlined in the 1948 Genocide Convention. It was clear from the very beginning that such intent would be extremely difficult to prove, not least because Serbia has not been forthcoming in granting access to government documents that might shed light on the complex ties it maintained with the Bosnian Serbs.
The ruling therefore reflects the state of knowledge as of today, a little over 11 years after the war ended. It is unlikely to be the last word even though no appeal is possible: history will continue to be amended every time new evidence comes to light. This concerns above all the court's finding that neither the Bosnian Serb republic nor its army "could be regarded as mere instruments through which [then-Yugoslavia] was acting," and that "the acts of genocide at Srebrenica cannot be attributed to the Respondent as having been committed by its organs or by persons or entities wholly dependent upon it, and thus do not on this basis entail the Respondent's international responsibility."
Since it is open to revision, the verdict will not bring closure to the dispute between competing historical interpretations of the war in Bosnia. Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina's Republika Srpska will continue to maintain that it was a bloody civil war in which all sides committed atrocities, while Muslims and Croats will continue to see it as a war of aggression waged by Serbia on a newly independent member of the United Nations. But taken in their totality, the facts established by the ICTY and now the ICJ suggest a picture with considerably more shades of gray than either side would like to admit.
The UN's highest court has found that Serbia did not commit genocide in Bosnia, did not conspire to commit it, and was not complicit in it -- but it also found that genocide did indeed take place in Srebrenica. The UN's war crimes tribunal, meanwhile, has convicted, in final instance, two Bosnian Serb officers for their role in the genocide. If Serbia is not responsible for a genocide that has nonetheless been found to have taken place, who is? Was Srebrenica, as the French daily "Le Figaro" headlined on the day of the verdict, a "genocide without perpetrator?"
This may well be how the Bosnian Serbs would like the world to see Srebrenica. But Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, a master strategist, recognized early on the inexorable logic of any judgment that would find genocide had occurred in Bosnia: it would shine a spotlight on the Bosnian Serbs. To preempt such a result, he declared the lawsuit "illegal and illegitimate" regardless of its outcome. The speaker of the Bosnian Serb National Assembly, Igor Radojicic, told reporters after the ruling, "an important message in today's ruling...is that the Republika Srpska's survival and its further development are no longer under a question mark."
The reactions of Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders conveyed a great sense of relief that the issue is now, once again, one of individual responsibility for war crimes (to be adjudicated by the ICTY) rather than of state responsibility. Prime Minister Dodik told the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA that Srebrenica was "a horrific crime" and that "all institutions have to apologize to those who have lost their lives, to the victims and their families." He was quick to add, however, that he expected "a similar apology to be made to us because many have died and suffered consequences of the war on our side as well." This is the line the Serbian side has been hawking for well over a decade: all sides committed atrocities in this war, and let's now move on.
A similar determination to instrumentalize the ruling was evident in the reactions of some Bosnian Muslim politicians, above all the Muslim representative on the country's three-member presidency, Haris Silajdzic. Just minutes after the ruling, he pointed out on Bosnian state television that Serbia was indeed found guilty of breaching the Genocide Convention by failing to prevent and punish genocide. "We have to change the setup and the constitution [of Bosnia] that were created as a direct result of that genocide," he said in a none-too-subtle allusion to the Republika Srpska, whose abolition he has been demanding for many years.
The ruling does, perhaps, contain the seeds for reconciliation. It may make it more difficult for the ethnic Serbs of former Yugoslavia to pretend that the world in general and international justice in particular are the eternal enemies of the Serbian people and that all sides are equally guilty, and deserve equal compensation. It may also make it more difficult for the Bosnian Muslims to pretend that they were the only victims of a war of aggression waged by Belgrade, forcing them to recognize that internal forces were also pulling Bosnia-Herzegovina apart. But the promise will remain unfulfilled as long as Bosnia's politicians seize on judgments from The Hague as tools in their parochial squabbles rather than viewing them as little signposts that could show the way towards an understanding of history that could be shared by all citizens of this unfortunate country.(T.K. Vogel is a writer on Balkan affairs and author of a forthcoming study on ethnic cleansing.)
U.K. PLEDGES MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN, CHIDES NATO ALLIES
Defense Secretary Des Browne announced on February 26 that the United Kingdom will send an additional 1,400 troops to Afghanistan and noted the refusal of many NATO allies to do the same, Reuters reported the same day. More than 33,000 NATO troops are currently in Afghanistan, but the United States and Britain have pressed allied states to send even more. In his address to the British House of Commons the same day, Browne said that "it is increasingly clear that at present, when it comes to the most demanding tasks in the more challenging parts of Afghanistan, only we and a small number of key allies are prepared to step forward." Britain recently announced its withdrawal of 1,600 troops from Iraq, reducing its presence there to 5,500 troops -- approximately the same number of British soldiers currently in Afghanistan. 2006 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted by a U.S.-led effort in 2001. CJ
WORLD BANK TO GRANT AFGHANISTAN $25 MILLION FOR INFRASTRUCTURE
The World Bank on February 24 approved a $25 million grant for infrastructure improvements in Afghanistan, Pajhwok Afghan News reported the same day. The grant should contribute to the development of electricity, water, and telecommunications facilities as well as encourage private-sector involvement. A press release from the World Bank says the additional funding will be administered over the next four years. Mariam Sherman, the World Bank's acting manager for Afghanistan, said "Afghanistan needs to develop a dynamic private sector to provide jobs and drive growth." This assistance is intended to aid a transition from informal entrepreneurial activity to more formal, contract-based, private-sector work. CJ
BIRD FLU PROJECT INITIATED IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Veterinary teams has recently begun vaccinating chickens against H5N1 bird flu in the eastern city of Jalalabad and in Kunar Province, AFP reported on February 26. The vaccine is being administered to approximately 4,000 chickens a day in response to recently confirmed cases of bird infection. On February 24, UPI reported that the Afghan Health Ministry confirmed the presence of the virus in eastern Nangarhar Province. It is feared that the virus, which has killed 167 people worldwide since 2003, could eventually spread from birds to people, as many Afghan families are in close contact with the birds. CJ
CANADA PLEDGES AID FOR AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on February 26 announced a $172 million aid package for Afghan reconstruction, AP reported. Harper was earlier criticized by opposition groups for focusing too narrowly on fighting the Taliban insurgents at the expense of reconstruction efforts. The new funding, which comes on top of $860 million already promised, will support work in five different areas: governance and development, counternarcotics, policing, mine removal, and road construction. "We're now in a position because of the success of the security [in Afghanistan] to make additional commitments on reconstruction and development," Harper said. "These are hard-won gains by the military." CJ
IRANIAN SECURITY CHIEF SUGGESTS WASHINGTON PROPOSE TALKS
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in Pretoria on February 26 that "if the Americans are inclined to talk to Iran, as they claim, they must present a formal request," which Iran can "consider with a positive perspective," IRNA reported. He said Iran may favorably consider a request for talks "through formal channels," if "it is clear this will become a constructive and rational negotiation." Larijani was responding to remarks made earlier the same day in Washington by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States would negotiate if "Iran will suspend its uranium-enrichment and reprocessing activities." Larijani said "we do not give credibility to these types of positions made through media channels." He rejected the U.S. precondition for talks, and said this would be like determining the result of talks before they start. Larijani urged Western states not to try and "trick" Iran with apparent incentives, as he suggested they had done with past packages. Larijani added: "There may be certain maneuvers in our region or statements may be made, but our official position is that Iran's role in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon is constructive." VS
IRANIAN GOVERNMENT SEES NO LOOMING CRISIS
Government spokesman and Justice Minister Gholam Hussein Elham said in Tehran on February 26 that Iran is in "ordinary and good conditions" and is not a threat to other states, ISNA reported. He said recent reported remarks attributed to Deputy Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mohammadi that Iran is ready for war -- in the wake of pressure put on it because of its nuclear program -- were "certainly" misquoted, and "we are not...a country that accepts threats or poses a threat to others," ISNA reported. He said Iran has "clearly" pursued its atomic program under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and would reject any proposal by Western states that includes the cessation of nuclear fuel-making activities. He said the nuclear standoff could be resolved through the IAEA, and he urged the agency not to allow "some to use its legal position for their own interests." He said Iran wants "peace and quiet" for the Mideast "based on justice...and this...is not possible without standing up to forceful powers, including" Israel. VS
IRANIAN FUGITIVE GIVEN PRISON SENTENCE
Shahram Jazayeri-Arab, a fugitive charged with a range of large-scale theft and corruption offenses, has been sentenced in absentia to 14 years in prison, IRNA reported on February 26, citing Elias Mahmudi, the head of the judiciary unit dealing with financial cases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2007). Mahmudi said Jazayeri was also ordered to repay the state some $61.42 million in "illegitimate wealth" and pay a fine of $122.861 million. IRNA stated that Jazayeri fled his guards on February 20 during a transfer to specialists who were to identify or value some of his belongings. Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi told Fars news agency in Tehran on February 25 that Jazayeri is thought to have assets worth about "60 billion tumans" or a little over $60 million, after unspecified debts are considered. He did not name the country to whitch authorities suspect Jazayeri may have fled, and said Jazayeri had previously planned for his family's flight to an unspecified "neighboring country." IRNA stated on February 26 that some judiciary authorities believe Jazayeri is hiding inside Iran. VS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT URGES FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a Tehran seminar on February 26 that "enemies" have sought in vain to strike at Iran's political system by political and "cultural" means, and are now trying to undermine its economy and foment corruption, ISNA reported. Corruption, he said, is where "the devil is centered" and fighting corruption constitutes a "revolutionary struggle." He said corruption undermines the country's economic development and that corruption would hinder Iran's progress even if the state budget were "100 times" greater than it is. He blamed excessive red tape as a cause of corruption, but also "the presence of people who know no limits in extending their hands into the" public purse and believe "they own the country." He said corruption will lead Iranians to engage in speculative activities instead of making productive investments, and prompt the corrupt to make "unhealthy efforts" to win political power and to protect themselves. He rejected charges that an anticorruption drive might scare investors and said it would allow for "investment and...development based on justice and healthy work." VS
BIRD FLU REPORTED IN CASPIAN PROVINCE OF IRAN
Ezzatollah Yusefian, the representative from Amol in the northern Mazandaran Province, spoke on February 24 of reported bird flu outbreaks near Amol and said local tests have confirmed the presence of the H5N1 virus, which can be deadly to humans, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian agencies. Yusefian told Fars news agency that suspected bird flu has been reported in "villages around Amol and the towns of Babolsar, Fereidunkenar, and Mahmud Abad" in Mazandaran. The area, which is on the Caspian coast, is also a tourist destination. Mazandaran Governor Abutaleb Shafeqat has told the Mehr agency that there have been correct reports "over the past two weeks" of bird flu in "certain villages of Amol and Babol, and in some poultry units across the province," Radio Farda reported on February 24, without dating his comments. It cited Mehr as reporting the imposition of quarantine conditions in "some" districts in Mazandaran and the killing of all poultry within a 10-kilometer radius of infected sites. Radio Farda also quoted the province's chief veterinary officer as telling IRNA that more than 500,000 birds have been killed "in the past two months" and the sale of live birds is forbidden in provincial markets. VS
IRAQI CABINET ENDORSES DRAFT OIL AND GAS LAW
Iraq's cabinet has endorsed a draft oil and gas law for the management of oil resources and the equitable distribution of oil revenues, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced on February 26, Al-Iraqiyah television reported. Al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad that with the endorsement of the draft law, the government "lays the foundation stone for building the state." The draft law "will ensure that all segments of the Iraqi people will benefit from this [natural-resource] wealth," he said, and predicted that the law will boost national unity and social cohesion. The law, which needs to be ratified by parliament, calls for Baghdad to distribute oil revenues to the governorates or regions based on population, and grants regional oil companies or governments the ability to draw up contracts with foreign companies for the exploration and development of new oil fields. In addition, regions will be allowed to enter into production-sharing agreements with foreign firms. A federal oil and gas council will be established to oversee such agreements, holding veto power over the regional governments. KR
SPOKESMAN SAYS U.S. MILITARY IN TALKS WITH MILITIA LEADERS
Major General William Caldwell, the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, told London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on February 26 that the military is engaged in talks with militia leaders, including leaders of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army. "With the Iraqi government's blessing, the multinational forces have been holding talks with the militias, including the Al-Mahdi Army. However, the Al-Mahdi Army is divided, and for example, we might talk to a group in Baghdad, but another group in Basrah would act in a completely different manner," he said. "The political part of the Baghdad security plan makes it incumbent upon us to talk with all the parties." Caldwell said the military has no intention of entering into talks with Al-Qaeda or Shi'ite extremists leading death squads. He said the Baghdad security plan is still in the early stages, and will not be complete until May, when all the additional forces arrive in the capital. He added that the deployment of 50,000 troops to Baghdad will be complete in two weeks' time. Since the security plan was launched, killings have dropped 46 percent, but car bombings have increased, Caldwell said. KR
U.S. OFFICIAL DISCUSSES PLANS TO SUPPORT IRAQI INDUSTRY...
Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Business Transformation Paul Brinkley told reporters at a February 26 press briefing in Baghdad that he expects several state-owned enterprises idle since 2003 to resume production in the coming months. Brinkley heads an advisory group that works closely with Iraqi ministers and private-sector companies on revitalizing infrastructure. He said that several dozen international business executives are in Iraq this week to meet with Iraqi and U.S. officials to gauge economic opportunities in the country. Brinkley said his team is helping facilitate the reopening of factories in the Sunni-populated Al-Anbar and Diyala governorates, as well as in Baghdad. He also said his team is coordinating with commanders overseeing the Baghdad security plan, adding that as security is restored, industry will be revitalized. Many of the factories require minimal investment to restart, he said. In some cases, maintenance and spare parts are needed, while others require power generators. KR
...AND REVITALIZE STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISES
Defense Deputy Undersecretary Brinkley told reporters at the February 26 briefing that planners see the revitalization of the larger state-owned enterprises as a priority. He said an estimated 300,000-350,000 Iraqis were employed by state-owned enterprises before the war, and most of them today collect a social welfare stipend from the state, which only provides for their most basic needs. Moreover, commanding generals have "a strong sense that restoring employment and economic vitality in some of these areas where these factories were located would help undermine insurgent activity," Brinkley added. "We view these large enterprises as part of the engine that made the economy work." Brinkley added that large state-owned industries are interdependent on smaller public and private sectors. "As we restore these [large] industrial operations, that will create immediate uplift to other parts of the economy," he noted. KR