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Watch List: December 9, 1999

9 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 46

RUSSIAN RIGHTS LEADER WARNS OF DICTATORSHIP. Russia faces a collapse of its fledgling civil society and the reimposition of a police state if those responsible for the second Chechen war gain full control, said Sergei Grigoriants, head of the Glasnost Foundation in Moscow and cochairman of the Russian Nongovernmental Organizations' Coalition for an International Criminal Court. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on 7 December, Grigoriants said that "the war party" is led by a triumvirate: oligarch Boris Berezovsky who owns a large part of the mass media, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who has the support of the security apparatus, and General Anatolii Kvashnin who heads the forces fighting Chechnya. The most recent addition to this group is Sergei Shoigu, who has a cabinet-level position in charge of "Emergency Situations" such as the Chechen refugee exodus to Ingushetia and who has, Grigoriants noted, "his own army," most of them former KGB officers. A dissident who was repeatedly sentenced to jail in Soviet times and an organizer of a tribunal on war crimes committed in the 1994-96 war in Chechnya, Grigoriants said that the real reason behind the second war in Chechnya was for this group to achieve absolute power in Russia. He predicted that the current press censorship on the war will tighten into severe restrictions of press freedoms and that the present "pseudo-patriotic fever" will lead to the suppression of groups concerned with human rights and the environment. Slowly but certainly, he warned, the war party "will establish their kind of order and permit no protest or interference."

RUSSIAN USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS REPORTED IN CHECHNYA. On 6 December Russian artillery units used ammunition filled with a yet unidentified chemical against the Oktiabrskij and Avturchanovskij wards of Grozny, according to Algirdas Endriukaitis, a former dissident and ex-member of the Lithuanian parliament now heading an organization called the International Group of Parliamentarians on the Problem of Chechnya. Within hours 31 people died and more than 200 were injured, reports Endriukaitis on the basis of information he received from his contacts in Grozny.

RUSSIANS ISSUE GROZNY ULTIMATUM. Civilians trapped in Grozny face death and starvation as Russian forces surrounding the city have stepped up their bombardments, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated on 6 December. HRW called for a bombing halt to allow residents--many of them elderly, poor, infirm, and wounded--the opportunity to leave the city. On 7 December, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that the European Union could provide no more aid "if Russia does not respect basic humanitarian norms." On 8 December, "Russia's leadership, faced with a barrage of Western criticism, appears to have eased a military deadline for residents of Chechnya's capital to flee to allow for an assault to crush Islamic fighters defending the city," Reuters reported. The news agency referred to Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo's statement on NTV television that the checkpoint for refugees will operate beyond 11 December, the deadline set in leaflets dropped by warplanes on 7 December. The leaflets specified "a safety corridor" for refugees. "Those who remain will be viewed as terrorists and bandits," the leaflet said. "They will be destroyed by artillery and aircraft. There will be no more talks." According to an estimate by Russia's migration service cited by Reuters on 6 December, up to 30,000 people may flee Grozny in the next five days. Reuters also quoted Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov saying that between 50,000 and 80,000 civilians were left in the city. He said Chechen fighters were gathering to make a stand.

BELARUSIANS NOT EAGER FOR UNION WITH RUSSIA. If a referendum had been conducted in Belarus last month, fewer than half of the adult population would have voted for union with the Russian Federation. Only 47 percent of the 1,500 respondents would have voted yes and 34 percent no, according to a poll by the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 1 December. Some 16 percent said they would not participate in such a vote which is de facto President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's pet project. Opposition to a new union proved much stronger when the question was indirect: "Do you want Belarus to be an independent, sovereign country?" In that case, 63 percent of the respondents answered affirmatively, with only 10 percent saying no. Other questions in the poll touched upon threats to Belarus in case of unification: 63 percent said they are afraid of the expansion of terrorism into Belarus, and 52 percent said they fear that Belarusians will have to fight in Russian "hot spots" like Chechnya.

KAZAKHSTAN TO BUILD IRON CURTAIN IN CYBERSPACE. Beginning on 1 January 2000, the Kazakh government will exercise full control over all communications between the country's residents and the outside world by tracking Internet sites, e-mails, and faxes. On 3 December, Channel 31 of Kazakh television reported that on 25 November the government had quietly issued a regulation on establishing a "Billing Telecommunication Tariff Center." According to the news service Golden Eagle, the regulation calls for a new national company which will control all incoming and outgoing information and is authorized to intercept information it finds unwelcome. Independent Media Association President Rozlana Taukina told the service that the move means "that an iron curtain will be set again, reducing the flow of information, and toughening censorship."

UZBEK ELECTIONS NOT FREE OR FAIR, OSCE CHARGES. A report by observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that the Uzbekistan government failed to live up to its commitment to hold free and fair parliamentary elections on 5 January. Madeleine Wilkens of OSCE said that the organization is canceling its plan to send observers to the country's presidential election in January. The Uzbek Central Election Commission called the criticism groundless and claimed that OSCE has "no real facts to confirm" its charge of government interference. But Uzbek Ambassador to the U.S. Sodiq Safaev acknowledges that President Islam Karimov's priority is to combat religious extremism and asserts that the government "needs time" to establish "full democracy."

KYRGYZ INDEPENDENT MAY NOT BE PERMITTED TO RUN FOR ELECTIONS. Felix Kulov, Kyrgyzstan's former interior minister, told an RFE/RL briefing in Washington that he will try to run for parliament as an independent because the government has barred the Dignity Party (Ar-Namys) he heads. Kulov said he does not believe that the elections, scheduled for 20 February, will be fair, and he is not sure that he will be able to comply with complicated procedures to register his candidacy. He said that the authorities have refused permission for his party to field candidates, because it has not existed for the 12 months that the law there requires. Despite this and despite what he said was massive corruption in the government, Kulov asserted that the Kyrgyz people are ready for democracy.

MURDERS AND KIDNAPPINGS CONTINUE IN KOSOVA. On 6 December British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned the Kosovar Albanian leadership that it must halt violence against Serbs remaining in the province. Cook cited the just released KFOR report which listed 279 persons killed in the nearly five months of its rule--145 ethnic Albanians and 135 Serbs. (The ethnic origins of the remainder were not disclosed.) KFOR reported 137 persons kidnapped--77 Albanians and 43 Serbs. The Serb National Council in Kosovo disagreed, claiming 350 Serbs killed and 450 kidnapped. "Protection of the Serbs, Roma, and other minority groups is raised as the acute question by international diplomacy," wrote from Pristina Fehim Rexhepi for the independent news service AIM. But, the reporter argued, UNMIK and KFOR have full power in Kosova, and while some Kosovar Albanians are responsible for the murders and the kidnapping, it is unfair to shift all the blame on the Albanian community as the province still has no courts and no laws, and nothing is being done to create them.

HUMAN RIGHTS GAINS ON NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY IN 1999. National sovereignty is now a less serious obstacle in curbing human rights crimes than in previous years, Human Rights Watch concluded in its annual global survey. One example HRW used was Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's loss of Kosova in the wake of "gross human rights crimes." Expressing regret over the need for military force, HRW Director Kenneth Roth praised the decision "to overrule the claims of tyrants and war criminals to be protected by the cloak of national sovereignty." But in his remarks scheduled for delivery on 9 December, he cautioned that the use of military force to redress crimes against humanity is "also a sign of failure to respond to the early warning signs of gross human rights abuse." He warned that governments using force in the name of human rights "should be subjected to close scrutiny" and that "human rights should not be used as a pretext for other ventures."

AWARDS TO HONOR HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS. On 9 December, the New York-based International League for Human Rights will celebrate Defenders' Day and honor activists who "courageously defended the rights of others, facing persecution themselves." The day is the first anniversary of the Defenders' Declaration, passed by the UN General Assembly. Of the seven individuals the League will honor includes Annagi Gadzhiev, president of the Association of Lawyers of Azerbaijan; Oleg Volchek who heads the Public Legal Assistance Association in Belarusia; Yuri Schmidt of Russia, attorney for environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, on trial again this month for blowing the whistle on nuclear hazards; Yevgeny Zhovtis, director of the Human Rights and Legality Bureau in Almaty, Kazakhstan, whose office was burned by arsonists in November; and the organization Human Rights in China, founded by Chinese scientists and scholars in 1989. A Nigerian attorney and a Belfast solicitor killed in a car bomb blast are also on the list of honorees.

BRIEFS: KAZAKHSTAN. A group of intellectuals have signed an open letter asking President Nursultan Nazarbaev to protect the freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution and use his influence so the newspaper "21 Vek" can resume publication. The letter says that all the publishing houses have refused to print "21 Vek." KOSOVA. "Exposing a deep rift within Serbia's Orthodox Christian Church," Kosova's Serb Bishop Artemije criticized the head of the church, Patriarch Pavle, AP reported on 6 December. Bishop Artemije, a steadfast critic of President Slobodan Milosevic, accused the patriarch of "turning his back on the people." SERBIA. Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Center has demanded information from the Ministry of Interior on the arrest of its Kosova representative, attorney Teki Bokshi, on 3 December. He was on his way to Belgrade after visiting clients in the Sremska Mitrovica Detention Center.

** UPDATE ON BELARUSIA'S FOUR MISSING PERSONS ** Two hundred and forty-three days have passed since the disappearance of former Central Bank President Tamara Vinnikova, 214 days since the disapperance of former Interior Minister Yuriy Zakharanka, and 82 days since the disappearance of Viktar Ganchar, deputy chairman of the de jure Belarusian parliament called the Supreme Soviet, and his businessman friend Anatol Krasovskiy. Prior to their disappearances, all four had been under 24-hour-a-day police surveillance. Since their disappearances, the police have failed to produce any clues about the whereabouts of the four.


By Charles Fenyvesi

The man most likely to succeed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is his deputy prime minister, Vojislav Seselj, the autocratic leader of the right-wing nationalist Serbian Radical Party which is a key component in the government coalition, according to Laszlo Jozsa, a member of the Yugoslav federal parliament and a leader of the principal ethnic-Hungarian party, the Vojvodina Alliance of Hungarians. Jozsa told "RFE/RL Watchlist" that though he and his party are now coordinating political action with Milosevic's democratic opposition, he fears that persistent internal disputes and "the thoughtful intellectual bend" of some of its leaders disqualify it as a force that could act in "the swift and decisive manner" required to oust Milosevic.

A far more likely scenario, Jozsa argued, is for Seselj's disciplined and well-armed supporters to stage a putsch, or perhaps to take advantage of a putsch mounted by someone else and then have Seselj step in as deputy prime minister and form a government of national salvation. "Seselj has a lot of sympathizers in the army's general staff and in the officer corps," Jozsa said. "He has great suggestive power, a firm and articulate answer to every question, and a sharp mind. His memory is prodigious. Despite the fact that his popularity has declined since the last parliamentary election, mostly because he failed to deliver on his promises, such as larger pensions and apartments for army officers, he has dedicated followers who worship him. His is still the second largest party after Milosevic's socialists, and he has set up powerful networks throughout Serbia, and even in Montenegro and Bosnia."

Jozsa puts little hope in the new elections that the opposition has been calling for. "Rumor has it that Milosevic might agree to parliamentary elections in February or March," he said. "But large-scale cheating could produce a narrow Milosevic victory or a vote almost evenly divided between Milosevic and the opposition. Milosevic has lots of opportunities to falsify the results, and he will not hesitate to take advantage of the tight bureaucratic control he has over the country."

He fears that instead of getting rid of Milosevic, which is the opposition's number one objective, Yugoslavia is moving closer and closer to an outright dictatorship. "People are drawing up lists of people with whom they want settle scores," Jozsa says. "We may be facing more radicalization and still more bloodshed."

A representative from the Vojvodina town of Subotica, Jozsa is dissatisfied with his allies in the democratic opposition for turning down ethnic Hungarian demands for restoring Vojvodina's autonomous status canceled by Milosevic. He is also troubled by the objections to the ethnic Hungarian plan, launched this past summer, of creating a district in northern Vojvodina where the Hungarian majority could control its political and budgetary affairs. He finds even stronger resistance to the third point of the Hungarian plan, which would allow Hungarians in Vojvodina to determine the curriculum in Hungarian-language schools and the agenda of publicly supported cultural activities. "At the moment, we ethnic Hungarians have no say in the organization and the programming of publicly supported Hungarian-language news media," he said.

"Those opposed to us fear that what we are after is secession," Jozsa said. "But the truth is that we want to integrate, hopefully within the European-Atlantic framework, and not to secede. Sadly, in the post-Kosovo state of mind, even democratic leaders do not want to be seen acting friendly to a minority. It is now fashionable to hate everyone."