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Newsline - June 13, 2007

General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, said in Moscow on June 12 that American civilian and military officials "experienced awe and shock" when President Vladimir Putin made his recent offer on the joint use of a missile radar base in Qabala (Gabala), Azerbaijan, in connection with the proposed U.S. missile defense system, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 11, and 12, 2007). He added that "soon [U.S. officials] will recover, and we will hear the official reaction." Baluyevsky argued that "Putin's proposal nullifies all the plans that the United States had in Poland and the Czech Republic." He said that Moscow hopes to begin consultations with Washington in July on the joint use of Qabala. The United States has, however, given no indication that it would allow any decision on the Qabala facility to alter its plans for Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush are expected to pursue the issue during two days of talks starting July 1 in Kennebunkport, Maine. On June 13, the online analytical publication "Stratfor Commentary" noted that "Putin threw a classic Cold War curveball" by making his Qabala proposal. The publication noted that "having totally opposed the creation of a U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Poland and the Czech Republic, Putin suddenly shifted his position, saying he might go along with a BMD system under certain conditions. The system, he said, would be acceptable if the United States used a Russian radar system placed in Azerbaijan and based its interceptor missiles anywhere else, such as on ships or in Turkey or Iraq -- anywhere but in Poland." "Stratford Commentary" argued that "by rejecting the proposal, Washington would look hostile and uncompromising. Accepting it would mean basing the missiles near the Iranian border, possibly too close to intercept long-range missiles fired from there. Using Russian radar -- which currently is insufficient for U.S. needs -- would make the entire system dependent on Russian cooperation." The article concluded that "pulling the system from Poland would be a signal to Central Europe that military agreements with the United States are subject to negotiation with the Russians. That, of course, is exactly the signal Putin wants sent." PM

President Putin led a lavish televised Kremlin reception on June 12 to mark the Day of Russia, commemorating the adoption by the First Congress of People's Deputies on June 12, 1990, of the Declaration on Russia's National Sovereignty. Prior to 1998, the June 12 holiday was known as Independence Day, according to RIA Novosti. Five of the 12 awards Putin presented were for military-related work, in addition to which he announced a special award for the developers of the Iskandr-M cruise-missile system. The developers were not named because their identities are a state secret. Putin stressed that "labor in the name of strengthening the country's defense capability has always been greatly respected." Putin also presented several awards in the cultural and scientific fields, as well as a State Award for lifetime humanitarian achievement to Nobel Prize-winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which was accepted by his wife Natalya. Putin said that "millions of people around the world associate" Solzhenitsyn's name and work "with the very fate of Russia itself." In a prerecorded video message played at the ceremony, the ailing 88-year-old Solzhenitsyn said Russia's "bitter experience" in the 20th century "will warn and divert us from ruinous failures" in the future. He restated his previous warnings of "a possible repeat of unstable social conditions" like those that preceded the February 1917 revolution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27, 2007). Putin later visited the home of Solzhenitsyn, who greeted the president in a wheelchair. PM

Authorities in Murmansk spread dung around the Palace of Culture on June 12, ostensibly to fertilize the land, Reuters reported. That move also served to break up an anti-Putin protest near the building, leaving only 150 people willing to brave the stench and continue demonstrating. An opposition spokeswoman said that police previously told local activists not to attend and prevented 10 sympathizers from flying from Moscow by denying them tickets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2007). PM

U.S. and Russian officials agreed on an unspecified method of transferring $25 million in North Korean funds from Macao's Banco Delta Asia, where they are frozen, to an unnamed Russian commercial bank via U.S. and Russian "central banks," the international broadcasts of Japan's NHK radio reported on June 13. The Japanese broadcaster quoted South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon as saying that he expects the standoff over the funds to be resolved shortly. North Korea refuses to take promised steps in dismantling its nuclear program until it regains control over the funds, which were in effect frozen in 2005 in an effort to make Pyongyang suspend its nuclear program. Banks in several countries have reportedly been reluctant to offer to help transfer the funds, lest they become subject to unspecified future U.S. sanctions themselves. RIA Novosti reported on June 13 that Russia recently agreed to help with the transfer after receiving U.S. assurances that its banks will not be penalized for doing so. PM

Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the Federation Council and a leader of the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party, said on June 13 that he sees little chance of passage for a bill introduced by his party in the State Duma to give all parties equal access to state-run television, reported. Mironov said that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is in firm control of both television and the Duma, and has no reason to allow deputies and senators from other parties equal access to viewers. PM

On the eve of the CIS summit in St. Petersburg on June 10, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka reportedly informed President Putin and Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev that he would veto any move by them to nominate former Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov as the new executive secretary of the CIS, according to the daily "Kommersant" on June 13. Lukashenka reportedly did not explain his objections to Veshnyakov occupying that post, and no alternative candidate was proposed. "Kommersant" on June 5 identified Veshnyakov, whom Putin failed in March to reappoint for a third term as TsIK chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 14, 2007), as a possible successor to former Security Council head Vladimir Rushailo, whose term as CIS executive secretary expires on June 14. The next CIS summit will take place in Dushanbe on October 5-6. LF

Some 500 North Ossetian policemen surrounded early on June 13 the settlement in Maysky that is home to some 500 Ingush displaced persons forced to flee their homes elsewhere in the disputed Prigorodny Raion during the conflict in October-November 1992, the website reported. The trailers in which the displaced Ingush have lived for the past 15 years are being transported to a new settlement nearby named Novy. President Putin issued orders last year that all trailers were to be moved from Maysky to Novy by December 31, 2006, but the displaced persons have repeatedly protested those plans on the grounds that Novy has neither paved roads, nor mains water or gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and 25, 2006). Meanwhile, the Federation Council is scheduled to discuss the plight of the displaced persons on June 13 following talks between Ingush displaced persons' representatives and Senators Aleksandr Torshin and Vasily Likhachev, who represents Ingushetia in the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2007). LF

U.S.-born former Armenian Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian and six other members of his Zharangutiun (Heritage) party who won election to the new parliament in the May 12 ballot formally collected their parliament mandates from the Central Election Commission on June 12, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and the Zharangutiun press office reported. They failed to attend the opening session of the new parliament on June 7 because the Constitutional Court had not at that juncture ruled on appeals by four opposition parties challenging the official election results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11 and 12, 2007). Hovannisian told RFE/RL on June 12 his faction will promote "not only democratic, national and liberal values, but also respect for the law and constitution." He said at some point in the next five to 10 years a "new generation of leaders" will decide whether or not Armenia should formally apply for NATO membership, but meanwhile Armenia "must become a sovereign state, a state that respects itself, not a banana republic." LF

Azerbaijani parliamentarian Ganira Pashayeva rejected on June 12 claims made in Tbilisi the previous day that Georgian Education Minister Aleksandre Lomaya was prevented while visiting Georgian-populated areas of Azerbaijan on June 8 from meeting with Georgian schoolchildren, and reported on June 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2007). She pointed out that the summer vacation has already begun, and claimed that the stated purpose of Lomaya's visit was not to meet with students but to bring computers and textbooks for local schools. Pashayeva dismissed a demand by Georgia's opposition Labor Party to send a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe mission to monitor conditions in Georgian-populated districts of Azerbaijan, arguing that conditions there are sometimes better than in some neighboring Azerbaijani-populated villages, which unlike Georgian settlements do not have mains gas supplies. LF

Peter Semneby, who is the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus, traveled on June 11 together with the German ambassador to Tbilisi and other European Commission representatives to Sukhum(i), where they met with senior Abkhaz officials, including de facto President Sergei Bagapsh, Vice President Raul Khadjimba, and Security Council secretary Stanislav Lakoba, reported. Semneby outlined to Bagapsh unspecified EU proposals intended to build mutual trust between the conflict sides and expedite a settlement of the conflict, and he stressed the importance of resuming direct talks between the Abkhaz and Georgian leaderships. Bagapsh, however, explained, as he did three days earlier to western diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007), that Abkhazia will return to the negotiating table only when Georgia releases detained Abkhaz official David Sigua and withdraws both its Interior Ministry troops and the so-called Abkhaz government in exile from the Kodori Gorge, which straddles the territory of Abkhazia and Georgia proper. He further asked if it is appropriate for the EU to promote confidence-building measures involving a state "which blatantly violates written agreements" and is "preparing for war." Lakoba went further, accusing Georgia of pursuing a policy of "state-sponsored terrorism" against Abkhazia. Semneby for his part was quoted as saying that he thinks the Abkhaz leadership has "inflated hopes" that the anticipated imminent recognition of Kosova as an independent state could set a precedent for Abkhazia. LF

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva, confirmed on June 12 that she has formally divorced her husband, Rakhat Aliev, who is currently being held in Austria on charges of money laundering, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Aliev said that he was "unhappy" with the news, adding that he learned of the divorce on June 11 only after receiving a faxed copy of the divorce papers, which he said contained his forged signature. A former Kazakh ambassador to Austria, Aliev now faces extradition to Kazakhstan, where he is wanted on charges of abduction and assault against two senior officials of a bank he controls, Nurbank, allegedly to force them to sell their interests in a building in Almaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4 and 6, 2007). RG

In a cabinet meeting in Astana, the head of Kazakhstan's Kazkosmos national aerospace agency, Talgat Musabaev, presented on June 12 a formal report on the aerospace program, ITAR-TASS reported. Musabaev announced that his agency is considering the launch of new commercial tours to the Baikonur Space Center. The Baikonur Center is regarded as one of the world's leading space facilities and is leased by the Russian state space agency, Roskosmos. He also unveiled plans to "set up a space-reconnaissance and flight-control system" that will be adapted for military use, including the positioning of "high-precision weapons systems," according to Interfax. That plan will bolster the CIS "collective missile-attack warning system, which is integrated into the space-monitoring system of state borders and others." He added that the space agency has cancelled plans to set up the Ishim aerospace rocket system after a recent study by the National Security Committee concluded that it is not economically viable. RG

Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor-general has opened a criminal case against four people in connection with the incident in Aksy in March 2002 in which police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, killing six people, reported on June 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 18, 19 and 20, 2002). The four suspects include former Jalalabad Governor Sultan Urmanaev and Amanbek Karypkulov, who in 2002 headed the presidential administration. Urmanaev, who is now an independent opposition deputy in parliament, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on June 12 that he is ready to face trial in connection with the Aksy shootings. Successive investigations into the killings, both before and after the March 2005 ouster of President Askar Akaev, have failed to establish who gave the order to deploy armed police against peaceful demonstrators. LF

Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek following the return of a Kyrgyz parliamentary delegation from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz parliament speaker Marat Sultanov announced on June 12 that he is in favor of creating a union with Russia and Kazakhstan, but noted that such a union should be neither a confederation nor a federal state, AKIpress reported. Citing the European Union as a model, Sultanov explained that his proposal would entail the same state and economic structures now in place, but with a new "consultative group" empowered to harmonize laws to overcome "big differences in legislation" and other "structural differences." He added that as a "small country," Kyrgyzstan must "strive toward integration and cooperation," and called for new "projects and mechanisms for creating a union that will be beneficial" to each country. RG

In a meeting at the Turkmen State University, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov announced on June 12 the immediate restoration of the Turkmen Academy of Sciences, Turkmen television reported. The Academy of Sciences, which was closed down by late President Saparmurat Niyazov, is to be financed by a new state fund that Berdymukhammedov is to establish "for the support of science and technology" and to promote the "contribution to medical sciences." RG

Adrian Severin, the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on Belarus, on June 12 noted a steady deterioration in the human rights situation in Belarus in 2006, Belapan reported. Presenting his report in Geneva, Severin stressed that all his recommendations have been ignored by the Belarusian government, which he said has flatly refused to cooperate with him for three consecutive years. "The present report demonstrates that Belarus does not respect its obligations under the international human rights instruments to which it has adhered," Severin said. Severin recommended that the UN Human Rights Council ask the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to immediately establish a group of legal experts "to investigate whether senior officials of the government of Belarus are responsible for the disappearances and murders of several politicians and journalists, and make concrete proposals for their prosecution, in order to bring to an end the impunity enjoyed by those involved in such crimes." Severin also recommended that the UN secretary-general launch an investigation into "the apparent involvement of senior [Belarusian] government officials in international organized crime and illegal arms sales." Syarhey Aleynik, Belarus's permanent representative to the United Nations and other international organizations based in Geneva, called on the UN Human Rights Council to abolish the mandate of the special rapporteur on Belarus. According to Aleynik, Severin's report is a "product of an incompetent and politically prejudiced expert who is directly interested in creating a negative image of our country." JM

Viktor Yushchenko on June 12 called on parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz and ruling-coalition deputies in the Verkhovna Rada to stop performing their duties, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko stressed that, according to his deal with Moroz and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on May 27, the withdrawal of more than 150 opposition lawmakers from parliament earlier this month has made the Verkhovna Rada illegitimate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 2007). "I guess that at present parliament reminds many of the anecdote about demobilized soldiers who got so drunk that they missed their station," Yushchenko said at a news conference in Kyiv. "We agreed that parliament would end its work. Colleagues, end this work! Give peace to the country!" Yushchenko said. JM

Parliament speaker Moroz told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on June 12 that the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada has no legal grounds to dissolve itself, since it still has more than 300 deputies, the minimum needed for it to legitimately function. According to Moroz, just 79 opposition lawmakers filed formally correct resignation statements, meaning that Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc still need to supply at least 72 resignations in order to terminate the current legislature. Moroz also asserted that Yushchenko's June 5 decree calling for new elections on September 30 is unlawful. In Moroz's opinion, Yushchenko has the right to issue such a decree no sooner than 60 days before the election date, that is, on August 1. "I can say straightforwardly: The coalition and the government work within the framework of the law, while the president and the opposition work outside this framework," Moroz added. JM

Milan Martic, the leader of the Croatian Serbs' bloody bid for secession in the early 1990s, was on June 12 sentenced to 35 years in jail, Croatian and international media reported the same day. After a 13-month trial and five months of deliberations, three judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Martic guilty on 16 of the 19 charges leveled against him, including the murder, torture, deportation, and persecution of non-Serbs in Croatia, as well as wanton destruction. He was cleared on one count -- extermination -- while two others were deemed to be covered by other charges. Martic gave himself up to the ICTY in 2002, but the court placed minimal value on his decision to surrender as by that stage he had already been an indicted war criminal for seven years. A onetime factory worker and local police chief, Martic swiftly became a prominent figure in the large Serbian community in southern Croatia after the collapse of communism. He served as interior minister, defense minister, and president of the self-declared Republic of Serbian Krajina (Srpska Krajina). According to testimony given by a rival Croatian Serb leader, Milan Babic, Martic was instrumental in arming local Serbs and triggering the conflict with the Croatian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 2007). The judges concluded that Martic was deeply involved in the project of a "Greater Serbia" ascribed to the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. Martic is on record as saying, when be became president of Srpska Krajina in 1993, that "'I would like to be president for just five days and then hand the position over to Milosevic." It was clear that Martic "endorsed the goal of creating a unified Serb state," AP quoted a judge as saying. The war in Croatia resulted in the deaths of about 15,000 people, and, ultimately, the flight of several hundred thousand Serbs. The charges against Martic related to the deaths of hundreds of non-Serbian civilians, most of them women, old people, and captives. He was also found guilty of a brief but deadly shelling of Zagreb in May 1995, an attack that he acknowledged he ordered. The sentence was welcomed by one of the Serbian community's current leaders, Milorad Pupovac, who said the ruling was a "relief" and stated that Martic epitomized a policy of war, persecution, murder, and destruction, according to Croatian Radio on June 12. AG

Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Bosnian autonomous region of Republika Srpska, on June 12 urged Serbia to grant Bosnian Serbs the right to vote in elections to the Belgrade parliament, the Bosnian edition of the Croatian daily "Vecernji list" reported. Dodik said the right to vote would be "of crucial importance both nationally and politically." This is not the first time that Dodik has floated the idea, but it was not acted on when, in September 2006, the Republika Srpska and Serbia signed a "special ties agreement" aimed at fostering greater economic and institutional cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2006). Further talks between the Republika Srpska and Serbia are due shortly, but the timing of Dodik's statement may also have been influenced by a debate in Croatia about the current right of Bosnian Croats to vote in Croatia's elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2007). When he presented the idea, Dodik specifically pointed to the Croatian example. Croats permanently resident outside Croatia were barred from voting in 2001, but that right, which they enjoyed through the 1990s, was restored by Croatia's Constitutional Court on June 5. AG

In a decision that could trigger a government crisis and affect a large chunk of Montenegro's economy, the Montenegrin parliament on June 12 voted to halt the sale of a state-owned coal mine and power plant, local media reported the same day. The opposition was joined in its bid to prevent the sale by a junior partner in the governing coalition, the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska, who holds a 40 percent stake in the slated buyer, had appeared set to add to his substantial holdings in Montenegro, which include a bauxite mine and the country's largest aluminum producer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). The Pljevlja power plant generates one-third of Montenegro's electricity. Milo Djukanovic, who last year ended a long period as president and prime minister but remains the head of the largest governing party, had argued in favor of the sale, saying a private owner would be more efficient and dismissing fears that Deripaska might gain excessive political influence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). AG

Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic stated on June 11 that Serbian police have discovered a large cache of weapons and explosives in southern Serbia, local media reported on June 11-12. Jocic said that information gleaned after the capture of three suspected Islamist terrorists last week led police to a stash of 10,000 weapons and over 15 kilograms of explosives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2007). That was the latest in a series of related police operations since March, which have resulted in the arrest of a dozen alleged terrorists and the death of one (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2007). Serbian reports suggest that the weapons came from Kosova. AG

The U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, spent June 10-11 in Athens in talks in which the future of Kosova featured prominently, Athens News Agency reported on June 12. No details were given about the course of Burns' talks, which involved the prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, and the opposition leader. Burns only reiterated that the United States is "anxious to have a resolution that would lead the way to independence" for Kosova. Greece has called for a solution acceptable to Belgrade as well as to Prishtina, with Greece's ambassador to Serbia telling the Serbian daily "Blic" on June 4 that "an imposed solution will not help the region's stability." An adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Aleksandar Simic, said in an interview with the Serbian newspaper "Vecernje novosti" on June 7 that Greece fears independence for Kosova could fuel secessionist claims. He added that Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain share those fears. Greece has testy relations with Albania and Macedonia, roughly one-third of whose population is ethnic Albanian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6 and 16, and May 18, 2007). AG

During his visit to Athens, U.S. Undersecretary of State Burns said that "it's too early to try to force the question" about the name of Macedonia, "because there have been no invitations extended by NATO," Athens News Agency reported on June 11. Macedonia hopes to be invited to join NATO in April 2008, and recently expressed its willingness to join the alliance under the temporary name by which it has been known internationally since 1991, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2007). Burns' soft-pedal approach was paralleled in an interview given by the U.S. ambassador to Athens, Charles Ries, to the daily "Kathimerini" on June 11, in which he said Washington understands "Greek sensitivity" about Macedonia's name. The United States supports Macedonia's claim to be recognized by its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, or any agreement that the UN might eventually broker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18 and 23, 2007). Exchanges in the dispute have become sharper this year. Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski on June 5 dismissed as groundless a statement by Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis that "if Macedonia wants to approach the EU, it should abandon irredentist activities and pretensions and request a mutual solution to the name problem." Greece has for decades feared that Macedonia harbors territorial ambitions on its provinces of Macedonia and Thrace. AG

An ethnic Albanian, Abdurrahman Memeti, will assume the post of minister for local government following the resignation on June 12 of Zoran Konjanovski, the news agency MIA reported the same day. Konjanovski said his decision was made "in the interest of government policy as a whole, to secure a wider consensus in the realization of the country's priorities." A cabinet reshuffle was required following the decision taken by the party to which Memeti belongs, the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), to end a boycott of parliament and enter government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 2007). Macedonia's government has been beset by problems since elections in July 2006, prompting alarm in Brussels about the pace of reform and, in Skopje, resulting in a prolonged political deadlock and a rejected vote of no confidence in the government on June 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). AG

Edi Rama, the leader of Albania's opposition Socialist Party, said on June 11 that five opposition parties intend to boycott the first round of presidential elections, local media reported on June 11-12. The president is elected by parliament and requires a two-thirds majority, which is impossible to achieve without the support of the five parties. The election can run to five rounds. Rama said the opposition believes the ruling coalition wants to impose Bamir Topi, the chief of the coalition's leading parliamentary party, the Democrats, rather than search for a consensus candidate. The election, the first round of which is scheduled for June 20, has already proven contentious and there has been little enthusiasm about the expressed willingness of President Alfred Moisiu to stand as a consensus candidate, as he did in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9 and April 11, 2007). Albania has already had one highly divisive set of elections this year, for mayoralties and local councils. The Socialists won that election with just over 50 percent of the total (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). AG


Gunmen riding on motorcycles opened fire on a group of girls outside a school in central Afghanistan on June 12, killing two and wounding six, Reuters reported. The attack occurred at the end of the school day in Logar Province, south of Kabul. The attackers fled after the incident. Education Minister Hanif Atmar called the attack "cowardly" and labeled the attackers "enemies of the country," a term typically used by the Afghan government to describe Taliban guerrillas and members of Al-Qaeda. The Taliban has been blamed for burning schools and killing several teachers in recent years, and authorities fear further attacks on girls schools, according to Atmar. Women and girls have been allowed to attend school since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, but approximately 200,000 school-aged children cannot go to school in southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban influence remains strong, according to Reuters. JC

Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan said June 12 that they have agreed to join forces to prevent cross-border drug trafficking, AFP reported that day. In a joint statement issued after a meeting in Vienna hosted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, ministers of public security and counternarcotics from the three countries said they will act to reduce the threats posed by opium production in Afghanistan. The three countries also agreed to take steps to improve border management, including more physical barriers, increased law enforcement capacity, improved communication, greater intelligence sharing, and the launch of joint counternarcotics operations, the statement said. The three sides urged destination countries in the narcotics trade to seek to curb the demand, and called on countries where the precursor chemicals of heroin are produced to tighten their controls. Afghanistan's opium is the source of 90 percent of the world's heroin production. JC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on June 12 that Afghan civilians are paying the price as violence between coalition forces and Taliban militants spreads across Afghanistan, AFP reported. The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is worse today than it was a year ago, according to Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the ICRC's director of operations, and the mounting number of civilian casualties from military operations is a growing concern. Kraehenbuehl said some air strikes by coalition forces are carried out without "necessary precautions" to protect civilians, including the strikes in western Afghanistan in May that killed dozens of civilians and left over 2,000 people homeless. On June 11, a NATO soldier shot at a civilian vehicle that failed to stop at a checkpoint, killing three passengers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2007). JC

Casualty rates among Afghan police are rising due to poor training and a lack of equipment as the armed insurgency intensifies in Afghanistan, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on June 12. According to Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary, over 210 police officers have been killed and 330 wounded in Afghanistan in the last three months. Sixteen police officers were killed by Taliban fighters in an incident in May in Zabul Province, government officials said. Many police officers have only old Kalashnikov rifles to defend themselves against the Taliban's rocket-propelled grenades and other sophisticated missiles, said Abdul Sattar, a police officer in Helmand Province. Afghan police receive an average salary of $70 a month. The majority of police have had just one to two weeks of training, leading to a lack of professional knowledge that has been blamed for the high casualty rate, IRIN reported. JC

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki on June 11 rejected media speculation that Iran and the United States are waging a proxy war in Iraq, the daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported. Speaking at a joint press conference after meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih in Tehran, Mottaki said Iraq should not be the "setting for the settlement of any account," and that Iran's problems with the United States have nothing to do with Iraq. Mottaki said that if Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Iraqi officials want U.S.-Iran talks on Iraq to continue after an initial round held on May 28, "Iran will consider the matter with a positive perspective," the daily reported. Mottaki said Iranian officials have reviewed Iran's most recent talks with U.S. diplomats in Baghdad, and believe that coalition forces must abandon certain failed policies and initiatives in order to deal effectively with Iraq's security problems. Mottaki said Iran and Iraq agreed during Salih's visit to cooperate on increasing the number of Iranian pilgrims visiting Iraq, to restore Tehran-Baghdad flights, and to revive the CBC, an office regulating and dealing with shipping affairs in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, based on a 1975 accord on borders between Iran and Iraq. VS

Foreign Minister Mottaki said in Tehran on June 12 that Iran will make the United States "regret" its "ugly and illegal" move to detain five Iranians at an Iranian consular building in Irbil, northern Iraq, in January. He was speaking at a joint press conference with Alpha Omar Kenare, a visiting official of the African Union and a former president of Mali, ISNA reported. Mottaki said Iran has repeatedly informed Iraq of its duties over the captured Iranians, including during Deputy Prime Minister Salih's June 11-12 visit to Tehran. He said Iran intends to send a letter to the UN secretary-general in the coming days, reminding him of the UN Security Council's "negligence, inaction, and evident and indefensible discrimination" in failing to address the matter. "We warn American statesmen" that they must release the Iranians "as quickly as possible," he said. He reiterated his assertion that Iran will consider resuming talks on Iraq if "the Americans are determined to change their policies to resolve the problem of which they are a part." VS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in Tehran on June 12 that diplomacy and negotiations are not designed as "a media show," and that Iran must consider what it has gained from its first round of talks on Iraq with U.S. diplomats, ISNA reported. "After examining this, we can take the next steps. The second round of talks depends on the correct conclusion we might draw from the first round," he said. He stated that Iran's position is that it remains committed to bringing security to Iraq and will negotiate for that purpose if necessary, but he added that new "initiatives" are needed and repeating "old talk" will resolve nothing, ISNA reported. VS

Iran has delivered a letter to Saudi officials, intended for King Abdullah, conveying Iran's dissatisfaction with reported abuse or "rogue conduct" by some Saudi security officials toward Iranian pilgrims traveling to Mecca, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told the Fars news agency in Tehran on June 11. Hosseini said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Mohammad Reza Baqeri delivered the message to Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal at a meeting at the Saudi Embassy in Rabat, Morocco. Baqeri received assurances that Saudi authorities are concerned about the treatment of Iranian pilgrims, Fars reported, without giving a date for the meeting. Hosseini referred to an "imminent" visit to Tehran by Saud al-Faisal. VS

Eight students of Tehran's Amir Kabir University, currently detained over the publication in April of allegedly impious student journals, are now reportedly "subject to the most intense pressures and mental and physical tortures" at a Tehran prison, Radio Farda reported on June 12, citing a student newsletter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2007). The original publications caused scuffles at the university, but students involved with the journals said the controversial issues were forgeries and that the editors had nothing to do with them. Radio Farda, citing the newsletter of the Amir Kabir University Islamic Students' Association, reported that authorities have been pressuring the detained students to confess to having published the sacrilegious journals or pamphlets. Mehdi Arabshahi, a member of the umbrella student grouping Office to Consolidate Unity, has told Radio Farda there is "very great concern" over the detainees, and especially for Abbas Hakimzadeh, who has a deformation of the spine and has had surgery. He said those who arrested Hakimzadeh are "directly responsible" for his well-being, Radio Farda reported on June 12. VS

Insurgents attacked the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra on June 13, destroying the mosque's minarets, international media reported. The mosque and the adjacent shrine complex were badly damaged in an insurgent attack in February 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). That attack set off bitter sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'a that is still ongoing. According to initial media reports, an Iraqi security force arrived at the site on June 12 to assume control of security for the complex. A quarrel took place with those at the site, resulting in gunfire, after which the Iraqi security force took control of the complex. After the June 13 attack, Iraqi Army and police units converged on the area. Salih al-Haydari, head of the Shi'ite endowment in Iraq, called the attack "a criminal act which seeks to create sectarian strife." Interior Ministry spokesman Abd al-Karim Khalaf said the government is investigating the incident. The shrine houses the remains of the 10th and 11th Shi'ite imams, Imam Ali and his son, Imam Hasan al-Askari. Shi'a believe the revered 12th imam, al-Mahdi, went into hiding at the site and will emerge on the day of judgment. KR

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to remain calm in the wake of the attack, AP reported on June 13. Al-Sadr called for three days of mourning, and in an attempt to further his new nonsectarian agenda, he called on Sunnis and Shi'ites to unite against those who promote sectarian violence (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," May 24, 2007). AP reported that the cleric's statement implied that no Sunni Arab could be responsible for the bombing. Meanwhile, al-Sadr aide Abd al-Mahdi al-Mutiri told Reuters: "Our reaction is the opposite of what the occupation wants. We are calling on our people to show restraint [and] unity, and to reject sectarian strife. We are also urging them to exercise calm." KR

Mahmud al-Mashhadani told reporters at a June 12 press conference in Baghdad that he will take the Iraqi government to court to win back his post as parliamentary speaker, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Al-Mashhdani said that he was unfairly removed from his position, adding that the Council of Representatives did not give him a chance to explain an incident in which he is accused of ordering a physical attack on another parliamentarian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2007). "The Council of Representatives should have heard my side of the story and should have waited for the findings of the investigation into the incident that I ordered," al-Mashhadani said. He further contended that his security guards were doing their job when they attempted to search fellow parliamentarian Fariyad Muhammad on June 10. He added that the guards were on alert after a threat was issued against him. Neither he nor his guards recognized Muhammad as a parliamentarian, al-Mashhadani claimed. KR

A Kurdish regional parliament committee has rejected proposals to delay implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which calls for normalization measures in the disputed city of Kirkuk, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website reported on June 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). The Article 140 Follow-Up Committee stressed that all of the clauses in the article should be implemented "on time." The committee also rejected proposals that call for naming Kirkuk an independent region and delaying the referendum on the governorate's status. Voters in Kirkuk are slated to vote in December on whether or not to join the Kurdistan region. KR

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq said in a video posted to the Internet on June 12 that it has captured 14 Iraqi Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry forces. The group threatened to kill the men, to whom it referred as "sheep," if the "Bush-aligned government" fails to meet its demands within 72 hours. The demands include releasing Sunni women detained in Interior Ministry prisons and handing over those responsible for the rape of a Sunni woman, Sabrin al-Janabi, while she was detained by Interior Ministry officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20, 2007). The insurgent group demanded that security forces that took part in "the killing and displacing" of Sunnis in Tal Afar earlier this year also be handed over. The Islamic State of Iraq issued similar demands when it captured nine Iraqi security personnel last month. It later followed through on its threat and killed the nine hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11, 2007). KR

Tayyip Recep Erdogan said that Turkey should finish fighting Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based inside the country before it targets militants holed up in northern Iraq, Reuters reported on June 12. "Has the fight with the 5,000 terrorists finished domestically, [so] that we should now be talking about Iraq?" Erdogan said in comments to reporters. He said a final decision will be reached in consultation with the Turkish military. Turkey has an estimated 50,000 troops on the border with Iraq in preparation for a possible incursion. Iraq's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan claims that Turkey has shelled several Iraqi villages in recent days in its attempt to target the PKK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). KR