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Newsline

Newsline - June 11, 1997



DUMA SPRING SESSION EXTENDED

The State Duma council has avoided a confrontation with the executive branch by voting to extend the Duma's spring session by four days, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 10 June. The Duma will now hold its last plenary meeting before the summer recess on 24 June. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the extra sessions will allow deputies to consider major economic legislation backed by the government before the holiday. In particular, the Duma will consider the proposed cuts to the 1997 budget, the draft Tax Code and Budget Code, and a package of laws to reform Russia's social benefits system. Various government officials hinted recently that President Boris Yeltsin might dissolve the Duma if deputies failed to consider vital legislation before the recess.

CHUBAIS PROMISES GOVERNMENT WILL COLLECT ADDITIONAL REVENUES

Addressing the Federation Council on 10 June, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said the government plans to bring in 34 trillion rubles ($5.9 billion) in additional revenues this year, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He said 11 trillion rubles would be collected by the end of June, noting that debtor companies, including the gas monopoly Gazprom and the car manufacturer Avtovaz, have already paid 4 trillion rubles. Despite the additional projected revenues, Chubais argued that the government's proposed sequester of 108 trillion rubles in 1997 budget spending was necessary. He also warned against printing extra money to fill the budget gap, saying such a move would cause a sharp increase in inflation that would most hurt pensioners and the poor.

FEDERATION COUNCIL SENDS LAWS ON TROPHY ART, GOVERNMENT BACK TO YELTSIN

The Federation Council has voted by 121 to nine with four abstentions to return the trophy art law to President Yeltsin for signing, Interfax reported on 10 June. The law would prohibit transfers to foreign countries of cultural valuables taken to Russia during World War II. Deputies also voted by 128 to three with three abstentions to return to Yeltsin the law on the government, which would force the entire cabinet to step down if the prime minister resigned or was fired. After the State Duma and Federation Council overrode his vetoes of both laws, Yeltsin returned the legislation to the parliament again, claiming that they had been passed using unconstitutional voting procedures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 1997). But in a message sent to the president, Council deputies argued that only the Constitutional Court can determine whether parliamentary voting procedures violate the constitution.

FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCEDURE...

The Federation Council rejected by 108 to 15 with four abstentions a law outlining the procedure for adopting constitutional amendments, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 June. Constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds of State Duma deputies, three-quarters of Federation Council deputies, and legislatures in two-thirds of Russia's 89 regions. The upper house's Committee on Constitutional Legislation had objected to a provision in the law whereby a regional legislature would be considered to have approved a proposed constitutional amendment if it did not vote on the amendment within six months. Opposition Duma deputies have long advocated changing the constitution to reduce presidential power and grant the legislature more oversight over the government.

...APPROVES WITNESS PROTECTION LAW

The Federation Council has approved a law on protecting crime victims, eyewitnesses, or persons testifying in criminal cases, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 June. The law would allow individuals to apply for various forms of protection, including the right to carry firearms. The state might also provide bodyguards or pay to move protected individuals to another part of the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 1997).

YELTSIN SIGNS RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN UNION TREATY

Yeltsin signed into law the Union Treaty between Russia and Belarus and an accompanying charter on 10 June, the same day the accords were ratified in the upper houses of both countries' parliaments, Interfax reported. The agreements, signed by Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in Moscow on 23 May, call for closer economic, political, and military ties between Russia and Belarus. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who also chairs the joint Russian-Belarusian Parliamentary Assembly, told ITAR-TASS on 10 June that direct elections to the joint parliamentary body could be held as soon as next year. The Russian and Belarusian parliaments currently choose delegates to the joint assembly.

NEMTSOV WINDS UP VISIT TO JAPAN

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov concluded his visit to Japan on 11 June, according to Russian media. Nemtsov once again proposed a deal whereby Japanese fishermen would have special privileges in the waters around the Kuril Islands, but Tokyo gave no clear response. Japan has consistently turned down such offers, claiming acceptance would be tantamount to acknowledging Russian ownership of the disputed islands. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is reportedly planning to visit Japan this year, but no date has been announced. A Russian destroyer is to visit Tokyo's port from 27-30 June. It will be first Russian warship to dock at a Japanese port in more than 100 years.

CHECHEN PRESIDENT ISSUES ULTIMATUM ON HOSTAGES

Aslan Maskhadov said on Chechen TV on 10 June that he has met with the Chechen field commander responsible for the abduction last month of three journalists for NTV and has demanded that he release them within three days, according to Interfax. The previous day, Maskhadov had accused unnamed field commanders of resorting to kidnappings, provoking religious tension, and "setting the parliament against the president" in the hope of profiting from "uncertainty and chaos." "Segodnya" in its 10 June issue suggested that the unexplained delay in signing the Russian-Chechen agreement on oil transit, which was recently reported to be imminent, is because the Chechens are proposing a "hostages-for-oil" deal. Also on 10 June, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais told journalists that under the 1997 federal budget Chechnya will receive more than $90 million toward reconstruction, AFP reported.

INGUSH PRESIDENT PROPOSES LEGALIZING VENDETTAS

Ruslan Aushev has proposed legalizing blood feuds, Russian Public Television reported on 10 June. The Ingush president noted that such vendettas are a "fact of life" in the Caucasus.

PRIMORE ADMINISTRATION DEPARTMENT SEARCHED, DOCUMENTS CONFISCATED

A department of the Primorskii Krai administration was searched for three hours on 10 June on orders from Viktor Kondratov, the presidential representative in the krai, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. Yeltsin recently granted Kondratov extraordinary powers. Krai officials loyal to Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko denounced the search as illegal, but Kondratov told journalists that Russia's Criminal Procedural Code allows law enforcement officials to carry out "preliminary examinations" to determine whether to open a criminal case. Kondratov said documents and computer files confiscated from the department point toward attempts to discredit Nazdratenko's political opponents, in particular Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov. Also on 10 June, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov and Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Yevgenii Savostyanov told reporters in Moscow that Yeltsin is considering firing Nazdratenko and holding early gubernatorial elections in Primore, Russian news agencies reported.

SVERDLOVSK GOVERNOR EXPLAINS SUPPORT FOR NAZDRATENKO

Eduard Rossel says that the federal authorities are trying to set a dangerous precedent in Primorskii Krai, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 10 June. He said the issue at stake in the current political crisis is not Nazdratenko's personal fate but "whether federalism will exist in Russia." Rossel also denounced the president's decision to put an official from the security services in charge of supervising an elected governor. Kondratov heads the Primore branch of the Federal Security Service. Nazdratenko won a December 1995 gubernatorial election with more than 60% of the vote.

OPPOSITION DUMA DEPUTIES SAY DUMA MAY NOT RATIFY TREATY WITH UKRAINE

Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Georgii Tikhonov predicted at a round-table discussion in Moscow that the Duma will not ratify the comprehensive Russian-Ukrainian treaty signed by Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 31 May, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 June. Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin also predicted that the treaty would meet with opposition in the Duma because it left many issues open to interpretation. Both Baburin and Tikhonov belong to the left-leaning Popular Power faction, and Baburin is also leader of the nationalist Russian All-National Union. Tikhonov has previously argued that in renouncing territorial claims against Ukraine, Moscow is paving the way for Kyiv's entry into NATO.

LUZHKOV ON LENIN BURIAL, SEVASTOPOL, TROPHY ART

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says the body of Vladimir Lenin should be removed from the mausoleum on Red Square and buried "in a Christian way," Russian news agencies reported on 10 June. He offered to organize a funeral "with all the appropriate honors." Luzhkov also said he has not changed his mind over Sevastopol, the base of the Black Sea Fleet. The Moscow mayor has repeatedly said Sevastopol is a Russian city. Russia renounced all claims to Sevastopol or any other part of Crimea when a wide-ranging treaty with Ukraine was signed recently. With regard to the trophy art law, Luzhkov said Russia lost too many cultural valuables of its own during the war to return valuables to other countries without any compensation.

SUICIDE RATE IN ARMED FORCES MORE THAN DOUBLED

Lt.-Gen. Vladimir Kulakov, who heads the administration of the General Staff, announced yesterday that there were 36 suicides for every 100,000 soldiers in the Russian armed forces last year, Interfax reported. He added that in 1991, the suicide rate among USSR soldiers was 15 per 100,000. Two-thirds of the suicides were committed by inductees during their first six months of service, according to Kulakov.

POLISH PRIME MINISTER ON EXTRADITION OF STANKEVICH

Wlodzmierz Cimoszewicz told a cabinet meeting yesterday that Warsaw will abide by its laws in considering a Russian request to extradite Sergei Stankevich, RFE/RL's Warsaw bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. Cimoszewicz noted Poland has no extradition treaty with Moscow and therefore is not obliged to send Stankevich back to Russia. On 9 June, Issa Kostoev, chief of the International Law Department of the Russian Prosecutor-General's office, said there are no legal grounds for Warsaw's delay in extraditing Stankevich, Interfax reported. Stankevich is charged with accepting a $10,000 bribe in 1992 during preparations for a Moscow arts festival. At the time, he was first deputy chairman of the Moscow City Council as well as an adviser to President Yeltsin.




RUSSIAN LEADERS PRESSURE ARDZINBA...

Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, and Presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in Moscow on 9 June, Interfax reported. The Russian leaders made it clear they want Georgia and Abkhazia to sign an agreement ending hostilities and "defining the main directions and aims" of talks on Abkhazia's future political status within Georgia to take place under the aegis of Russia and the UN . They also stressed Russia's continued readiness to mediate such a settlement. Russian CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev, who was not present at the talks, told Interfax on 10 June he favors Ardzinba's proposal for a peace treaty between Abkhazia and Georgia modeled on the one signed by Chechnya and Russia (see also "End Note" below).

...WHILE GEORGIA SEEKS ALTERNATIVE MEDIATORS

Revaz Adamia, the chairman of the Georgian parliament's defense commission, said that Georgia will consider signing such a treaty only after the repatriation of Georgian refugees who fled Abkhazia and the holding of new elections there. Adamia accused Russia of resuming arms supplies to Abkhazia, Interfax reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili called for an international conference on Abkhazia with the participation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia, the U.S., France, and Germany, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 June. Yurii Soslambekov, the chairman of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus, told Interfax on 10 June that he advocates extending the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. He added that if they are withdrawn, the confederation is prepared to send as many volunteers as necessary to replace them.

ARMENIAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DEBATES DRAFT LAWS ON MILITARY SERVICE

The Armenian parliament on 10 June began debating two alternative draft laws on military service, according to Interfax and Noyan Tapan. The first bill makes military service mandatory for all men aged 18-27 and abolishes deferment for students, while the second preserves the provision for student deferment. Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian argued in favor of the first bill, saying that the army "needs intellect" and is suffering a manpower shortage because between 3,000 - 4,000 draft-age men are studying. He warned that Armenia is involved in a "permanently slumbering war" and that hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh will resume as soon as Azerbaijan "becomes equal [to] or stronger" than Armenia. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev recently called for the abolition of concessions enabling students to avoid military service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 1997).

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH HAIRIKYAN

Levon Ter-Petrossyan on 10 June met with Union for Self-Determination chairman Paruir Hairikyan, whom he has termed his "ideal" of a political leader, Armenian agencies reported. The talks focused on Hairikyan's recent statement calling for pre-term elections and for an international diplomatic campaign "to achieve international condemnation of the 1915 genocide." Hairikyan quoted the president as saying that preparations for new elections will take time but that a new electoral law has already been drafted. Haik Babukhanyan--the deputy chairman of the Union of Constitutional Right, which is aligned with the Union for Self-Determination in the seven-party opposition National Alliance--said Hairikyan's meeting with the president was "counterproductive." The National Alliance launched a one-week protest on 6 June to demand new elections at all levels and a new constitution.

BLOODY INCIDENT ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER

An armed group of between 80 and 100 people attempted to force their way across the Pyanj River from Afghanistan into Tajikistan on 10 June, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian border guard forces used artillery and air strikes to repel them. Some 30 of the group members were killed. Afghan border guards reportedly aided the Russian border guards. It is reported that the border violators were not part of the United Tajik Opposition.

TAJIK PRESIDENT SAYS CRIME IS BIGGEST PROBLEM

Imomali Rakhmonov has sent a letter to all heads of administrations from the state to village levels complaining that rising crime is the most serious threat to the security and economic stability of the country, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 June. Rakhmonov called Tajikistan's anti-crime measures "ineffective," and noted that one in 10 crimes is committed with a gun. Rakhmonov also criticized the need for some members of government to have what he called "illegally formed military units for personal protection."

KAZAK, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS SIGN ACCORDS

Nursultan Nazarbayev met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, in Almaty on 10 June, according to RFE/RL correspondents. Their talks focused on the transportation of oil across the Caspian Sea and Kazakstan's participation in a 1996 agreement signed by Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan. Aliyev and Nazarbayev signed a memorandum on cooperation in transporting oil to international markets. They discussed the proposed underwater pipeline in the Caspian Sea, but it remains unclear how that project will be funded. Nazarbayev said he did not mind whether the oil was shipped through the Russian port of Novorossisk or the Turkish terminal of Ceyhan after it crossed the Caspian. He said he wanted more participation from Russian oil companies in general. Intergovernmental agreements on trade, education, and various legal issues were also signed.




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES RUSSIAN OPPONENTS OF UNION

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 10 June said unidentified Russian government officials have "watered down" accords on integration between Russia and Belarus and were trying to "torpedo" the two countries' union treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier the same day, the upper houses of the Russian and Belarusian parliaments voted to ratify the treaty. That document and the accompanying charter were previously approved by the lower chambers of both countries. Addressing the upper house of the Belarusian parliament, Lukashenka said he may take up the matter with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin when he meets with him "in the nearest future" and with Russian President Boris Yeltsin afterward. But a Russian government spokesman and the presidential press service in Moscow denied knowledge of any such meetings. Lukashenka also told reporters that Russia and Belarus will exchange the ratified treaties on 11 June. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov is to attend the special ceremony in Minsk.

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH CHINESE DEFENSE MINISTER

Leonid Kuchma told Chi Haotian during talks on 10 June in Kyiv that Ukraine wants closer ties with China, Interfax reported. Kuchma noted that bilateral military and technical cooperation is successful, and he predicted significant economic, political, and military cooperation between Kyiv and Beijing. Chi told journalists Beijing is ready to develop military ties with Ukraine and welcomes the recently signed Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty, saying such agreements "make a major contribution to regional and international stability." Ukraine is the world's 14th largest arms exporter. Kyiv would like to sell more weapons abroad and offer repair and upgrading services to countries that possess weaponry made in the former Soviet Union. Last year, China wanted to buy SS-18 long-range missile technology from Russia and Ukraine, but the U.S. urged Moscow and Kyiv not to sell the equipment.

BALTIC, NORDIC DEFENSE CHIEFS WRAP UP MEETING IN ESTONIA

In a joint communique issued at the end of their two-day meeting on the Estonian island of Saaremaa, the Baltic and Nordic defense chiefs urged NATO to give a clear sign next month in Madrid that its doors will remain open after the first wave of expansion, BNS and ETA reported on 10 June. The statement stressed that all the Nordic states support NATO membership for the Baltics. But Norwegian Defense Minister Jorgen Kosmo told BNS the same day that the Baltic countries will not be among the first NATO members because their defense capabilities and military infrastructures are underdeveloped. In addition, the joint statement said that the BALTBAT Baltic peace battalion will allow its troops to go on independent missions under a UN mandate starting in 1998. The battalion is composed of 300 soldiers from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

ESTONIA TO RECONSIDER DEPORTATION OF RUSSIAN OFFICER

Minister for Ethnic Affairs Andra Veidemann has said Tallinn is reconsidering the deportation of a Russian reserve officer who did not have a residency permit, ETA reported on 10 June. Yevgenii Zobnin was expelled on 5 June and forced to leave behind his Estonian wife and child. Some 10,000 discharged Russian soldiers were allowed to stay on in Estonia after Russian troops were withdrawn from the country in 1994. But under the law on aliens, residence permits may not be granted to active or reserve military personnel. Zobnin's residency application was turned down by a government commission in 1995. Moscow has not responded to the case.

SECOND VICTIM OF WWII MONUMENT BOMBING IN RIGA

Citing confidential information from a preliminary police investigation, Latvian dailies reported on 10 June that a second body has been found in the rubble from the 6 June bombing of the controversial World War II monument in Riga, according to BNS and Interfax. Earlier reports said only one person died in the blast. Neither of the two victims have been identified. However, scraps of documents also found at the site refer to the Latvian paramilitary organization Aizsargi, which was officially registered in 1994 and derives its name from an organization that existed in Latvia before 1940. Investigators say the bomb, estimated to contain between 10 kg and 20 kg of TNT, exploded in the hands of one of the victims. They suspect that a third person may have been involved in the attack.

POPE ENDS POLISH VISIT

Wrapping up his visit to Poland, Pope John Paul II presided over an open-air mass on 10 June at the airport of Krosno, in the southeast of the country, Reuters reported. The mass was attended by some 500,000 people The pope canonized the 15th-century Franciscan monk Jan of Dukla, who in 1474 helped his people repel a Tatar attack on Lvov, now part of Ukraine. In his sermon, the Pope praised both the saint for his patriotism and modern-day Church leaders who had opposed communism. He urged Poles to cling to their centuries-old religious beliefs in the face of mounting secularism. The Polish Catholic Church said more than 6 million people attended masses and other functions with the pontiff during his visit.

CZECH GOVERNMENT WINS CONFIDENCE VOTE

The coalition government of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus on 10 June won a parliamentary confidence vote by the narrowest possible margin of 101-99 votes. The government survived owing to deputy Josef Wagner, who earlier this year was expelled from the opposition Social Democrats after he voted in favor of the government's budget proposal. Wagner conditioned his support on the government's promise not to privatize large banks without the parliament's consent. Shortly before the vote, Klaus agreed to Wagner's demand. The prime minister said his government will seek to build a broader social and political consensus for its policies and will attempt to improve communication with the public.

SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTIES REJECT TALKS WITH MECIAR

Slovakia's nine major opposition parties have rejected Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's call for round-table talks on the future of Slovakia, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. The talks were scheduled to take place on 11 June in the capital. Leaders of eight of the opposition parties said they would take part only if Interior Minister Gustav Krajci were dismissed. They accuse Krajci of violating the constitution by question on direct election of the president from last month's referendum. Democratic Left Party chairman Jozef Migas said he would not participate because the subject of the discussion was not known. Meciar invited opposition leaders to the round-table talks in a speech at a political rally last week in which he singled out individual opposition leaders and President Michal Kovac for sharp criticism and insults (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1997).

HUNGARY HOSTS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ORGANIZED CRIME

High-ranking police officers from Europe, the U.S., South Africa, Israel, Interpol, and Europol attended a three-day conference in Budapest from 8 to 10 June, Hungarian media reported. Delegates focused on the spread of organized crime from the former Soviet Union through Europe. "Hungary has become a European crossroads for organized crime, and the international police response to combat the upsurge has been inadequate," according to Laszlo Tonhauser, head of the Hungarian police's organized crime unit. Hungarian Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze noted that an "East-West movement from the CIS has caused many problems." The Russian delegation canceled its participation in the conference at short notice.




ALBANIAN ELECTION UPDATE

President Sali Berisha toured northern Albania on 10 June, while Socialist leader Fatos Nano attended rallies in the south, "Dita Informacion" reported. Both men drew crowds numbering in the thousands, "Rilindja Demokratike" and "Zeri i Popullit" noted. Meanwhile, Brian Pridham, the election coordinator from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has resigned in Tirana and been replaced by former coordinator Tony Welch. The OSCE said Pridham left for personal reasons, but diplomatic sources told an RFE/RL correspondent in the Albanian capital that the ongoing instability in that country contributed to his decision. Meanwhile, the OSCE is continuing to prepare for the elections to go ahead on time. In Rome, the countries sponsoring Operation Alba agreed that their troops will leave Albania once a new government is in place following the 29 June elections.

SMALL ALBANIAN PARTIES TRY TO FORCE DEAL ON ELECTION LAW

Following the failure the previous day of round-table talks involving 10 political parties, the Republican Party held another closed-door meeting with most of the parties on 10 June. The Democratic Party, however, did not attend the talks. The parties involved called for new round of negotiations attended by President Berisha, "Dita Informacion" reported. The small political formations argue that their chances to get into the parliament have decreased following last week's Constitutional Court ruling that struck down the election law's provision on proportional representation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1997). It remains unclear whether the president will decree new legislation himself or reconvene the parliament to pass a new electoral law. Many observers believe that the smaller parties must get into the parliament if the current polarization between Democrats and Socialists is to end.

DEADLINE FOR REGISTRATION OF ALBANIAN CANDIDATES EXTENDED

Authorities in Tirana have extended the deadline for candidates to register for the parliamentary elections until 12 June, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Albanian capital. The move came following the lustration committee's failure to issue its report on candidates in line with the original 9 June deadline. The delay considerably reduces the period for printing and delivering ballot papers. Meanwhile, the Socialists, the Social Democrats, and the Democratic Alliance held secret talks in Tirana on 10 June to discuss the nomination of joint candidates in some districts, "Indipendent" reported. That move would increase the two small parties' chances of gaining entry to the parliament by winning directly elected seats.

BALKAN MEETING ENDS IN SALONICA

Top Foreign Ministry officials from Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, and Albania ended a two-day meeting in the Greek port of Salonica on 10 June. Observers from Bosnia, Croatia, and Russia also attended. The diplomats issued a declaration on promoting regional stability, minority rights, and improved living standards. The document also referred to "the important role of NATO for peace and stability in Europe" and called for the free flow of information and for establishing independent media. Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Albert Rakipi, however, warned that problems facing the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and western Macedonia could fuel regional instability. Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos, for his part, praised the "change of climate" in relations between Athens and Skopje.

GREECE, RUSSIA CALL FOR MAJOR BALKAN SUMMIT

Pangalos and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasevskii said in Salonica on 10 June that leaders of regional countries, the EU, Russia, China, and the U.S. should meet next year to discuss Balkan stability. They also called for numerous preparatory meetings involving ministers for foreign and economic affairs. Observers believe the main purpose of the Greek-Russian initiative is to signal that the two countries want to exert an influence over Balkan affairs. Some have noted that Russia is now trying to institutionalize its role in a region where it has always tried to maintain great-power status. Bulgarian and Romanian diplomats, however, told reporters that they are wary of a special Balkan role for Moscow.

CROATIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE IN DOUBT?

Croatian opposition coalition candidate Vlado Gotovac said in Zagreb on 10 June that he will have to decide whether to stay in the presidential race, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. Gotovac says he is disappointed by the authorities' refusal of his request to postpone the 15 June vote. Gotovac asked for the delay because he is still recovering from injuries following an attack by a uniformed army captain last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1997). Social Democrat Zdravko Tomac, the other opposition candidate, said he will also reconsider whether to stay in the race. In Pula, the authorities said that the captain faces charges of assault that could lead to up to eight years in prison.

U.S. BACKS $13 MILLION LOAN FOR CROATIA

The State Department announced in Washington on 10 June that the U.S. will support a loan by the International Finance Corporation to modernize a Swiss-owned cement factory in Koromacno, near Pula. Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said that Washington's decision is a "positive signal" to Zagreb and comes because President Franjo Tudjman recently reopened the Brcko bridge to Bosnia, ordered the arrest of several Croats who had attacked local Serbs, and made a speech in eastern Slavonia that Washington considers conciliatory toward the Serbs. The spokesman credited recent pressure by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for Croatia's new cooperative attitude. Burns warned, however, that the U.S. will block future loans to Croatia if Tudjman goes back on his promises.

GROWING NUMBER OF REFUGEES DYING OF HUNGER IN YUGOSLAVIA?

Representatives of an organization representing the 700,000 mainly ethnic Serb refugees in federal Yugoslavia say the refugees' social and economic situation is bad and growing worse, "Nasa Borba" reported on 10 June. Problems include death by starvation among the elderly and infirm. The activists note that both the government and the opposition alike ignore the refugees and that "the most hated person" among those who fled Croatia and Bosnia is Bratislava Morina, Serbia's chief official in charge of refugees. Observers say that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic fanned the flames of nationalism among ethnic Serbs throughout the former Yugoslavia starting almost 10 years ago but turned his back on the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia when it suited his purposes to do so. He provoked the wars in Croatia and Bosnia on the grounds that the Serbs there "wanted to remain in Yugoslavia," but he denies most of the refugees Yugoslav citizenship.

MAJOR PROGRESS FOR ROMANIA'S NATO MEMBERSHIP BID

Wilifred Martens, head of the European People's Party faction in the European Assembly, said after a meeting of Christian Democratic leaders in Strasbourg on 10 June that all participants supported Romania's admission in the first wave of NATO expansion. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl also attended the meeting, as did Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea. Germany has been considered one of the countries opposed to Romania's inclusion in the first wave. Also on 10 June, Senate Chairman Petre Roman met with Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, senators, and members of the House of Representatives during his ongoing U.S. tour aimed at promoting Romania's NATO membership.

ROMANIAN JEWISH FEDERATION PROTESTS WJOR STATEMENT

Nicolae Cajal, the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FCER), has criticized a statement by Naphtali Lavy, the deputy chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJOR). Lavy said recently that the organization is opposed to admitting Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania to NATO because those countries are deliberately protracting the restitution of Jewish property. In an interview with Reuters on 10 June, Lavy said the WJOR would not seek to block the entry to NATO of the three countries but would promote that of Hungary, "which has complied with all the restitution promises." Cajal said the FCER was "surprised" by Lavy's statement, because the WJOR deputy chairman had visited Romania in April and reached "excellent agreements" with the authorities, which have since taken steps for their implementation. He said the FCER has not been consulted and that it deplores the statement's "blackmailing-like" tone, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.

COMMANDER OF ROMANIAN FINANCIAL GUARD DISMISSED

Gica Danila has been dismissed as commander of the Financial Guard, Romanian Television reported on 10 June. Minister of Finance Mircea Ciumara said his dismissal is part of a drive to reorganize the ministry but added that the Financial Guard's performance was not satisfactory. He said the vacancy will be filled by competition.

MOLDOVAN PRIVATIZATION MINISTER RESIGNS

Ceslav Ciobanu on 10 June submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Some two weeks previously, the parliament voted no-confidence in Ciobanu for his role in the privatization of a sanatorium sold to a private university in which his wife has a 16% share (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 1996). President Petru Lucinschi has appointed Iurie Badir, a member of the Moldovan Accounting Chamber, as Ciobanu's successor.

BULGARIAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER DISMISSED

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 10 June dismissed Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Penchev without offering an explanation for the move. Penchev had been in charge of financial issues at the ministry. He was replaced by an employee of the Finance Ministry, Yordan Yordanov. An RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported this is the second time in two days that a leader in the defense establishment has been dismissed. On 9 June, the cabinet asked President Petar Stoyanov to dismiss army Chief of Staff Gen. Tsvetan Totomirov and replace him with air force commander Gen. Miho Mihov. Stoyanov approved the proposal.

ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION CHAIRMAN SUPPORTS BULGARIA'S NATO CANDIDACY

Alfred Cahen, the secretary-general of the Atlantic Treaty Organization (ATA), told reporters after meeting with President Stoyanov that he supports Bulgaria's early admission to NATO. Founded in 1954, ATA is comprised of non-governmental organizations in the NATO states and aims at informing the public about the alliance. Its 43rd assembly will take place in Sofia in October, Reuters reported.




Seeking Solutions to the Abkhaz Conflict


by Liz Fuller

Vladislav Ardzinba, president of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, is currently in Moscow for talks with Russian leaders aimed at breaking the deadlock in negotiations on Abkhazia's political status within Georgia. Ardzinba has rejected the Georgian leadership's offer of autonomy for Abkhazia within a unified Georgian state and insists that Abkhazia be granted equal status (from 1931 to 1992, it was an autonomous republic within Georgia). Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, for his part, is opposed to Ardzinba's proposal that Georgia and Abkhazia sign a peace treaty modeled on Russian-Chechen agreement signed in May.

The need to arrive at a compromise solution has assumed greater urgency since 30 May, when the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution laying down the conditions for renewing the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. That mandate expires on 31 July. The Georgian parliament resolution makes its renewal contingent on implementing the decision of the March summit of the CIS heads of state to deploy the peacekeeping force throughout Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion in order to expedite the repatriation of some 200,000 ethnic Georgians who fled the 1992-1993 fighting. The Abkhaz leadership has objected that the mandate of the peacekeeping forces cannot be amended without its permission. And Ardzinba warned on 8 June that withdrawal of the peacekeeping force could lead to the resumption of hostilities.

That pessimism and sense of urgency were shared by many of the 40 participants in a one-day conference on Georgian-Abkhaz relations organized in Tbilisi on 6 June by the British NGO VERTIC, which for several years has engaged in conflict mediation and confidence-building in Georgia. Participants included Georgian politicians from across the political spectrum, spokesmen for Georgian refugees, representatives of the UN and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, and foreign diplomats. The Russian ambassador to Georgia was invited but declined to attend.

"We are balancing on the brink of war" is how Zurab Erkvania, chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Abkhaz government in exile, described the present situation. UN and OSCE representatives argued that the recent escalation of guerrilla warfare in Gali constituted an unannounced resumption of hostilities.

Georgian Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Vakhtang Kolbaia said the Georgian leadership is ready to start negotiations with the Abkhaz leadership at all levels and in any form. Kolbaia reiterated Georgia's offer to give Abkhazia the broadest possible autonomy within a unified Georgian state. He hinted that Georgia might accept the gradual repatriation of ethnic Georgian refugees from Abkhazia now living in appalling conditions in Tbilisi and other Georgian towns. Kolbaia also offered an amnesty to all those who were involved in the hostilities and reiterated Shevardnadze's recent call for an international conference, involving Russia and Western powers and taking place under the auspices of the UN, to discuss a resolution of the conflict. Kolbaia said Georgia does not exclude the possibility that Russia will host and initiate such a conference. Other participants expressed approval for greater Western involvement in the search for a solution to the conflict.

Representatives of Abkhazia's erstwhile Georgian community took a more hard-line position, blaming Russia for Georgia's disintegration. Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, said Georgian leaders have been told in Moscow that if they want to resolve the Abkhaz problem, they must help to reconstruct the Soviet Union. Georgian radical parliamentary deputy Boris Kakubava similarly blamed Moscow for the current situation and called for the immediate withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force. He said there was no place for Russia in the Caucasus.

By contrast, Georgian academics showed greater flexibility and willingness to consider compromise solutions. Prominent intellectual Zaal Kikodze called for the economic blockade on Abkhazia to be lifted, while Freedom party spokesman Archil Morchiladze urged negotiations to take place between what he called "two equal parties." Academic Ghia Nodia said Georgia should stop looking abroad for solutions to its problems and should engage in an active dialogue with the Abkhaz leadership. (Dennis Sammut, who heads VERTIC's Georgia program and chaired the 6 June seminar, provided RFE/RL with a detailed summary of the proceedings. VERTIC plans to hold a meeting of Abkhaz politicians in Sukhumi in early July.)


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