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Newsline

Newsline - January 17, 2000



FEDERAL FORCES LAUNCH NEW OFFENSIVE

Russian forces began a new offensive in Grozny on 16 January. The previous day, Lieutenant-General Gennadii Troshev told residents of the Chechen village of Benoi that the federal forces' primary goal is to free Grozny and the approaches to the southern mountains, including the Argun valley. Chechen Defense Minister Magomed Khambiev said on 16 January that beginning immediately, the Chechens will switch from battlefront warfare to guerrilla tactics, Interfax reported. He said that rather than entering and occupying villages, his men have been ordered to attack individual Russian units and armored columns throughout Chechnya and to conduct "large-scale operations" to the rear of Russian forces. LF

PUTIN SAYS CHECHEN CAMPAIGN PROCEEDING TO PLAN...

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin told ORT on 15 January that the Chechen campaign is going smoothly and that Russian plans have not been changed, Reuters reported. But while expressing confidence in a final Russian victory, Putin acknowledged that this will be contingent on greater support for the Russian troops from the civilian population, according to Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 17 January. Putin said the surrender of Grozny will mark the end of the first stage in the Russian campaign, and the second phase will entail completing operations in the southern mountains. While characterizing Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov as "a puppet," Putin reaffirmed his readiness for peace talks on the conditions laid down earlier. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo similarly said on 15 January that "on the whole" the Russian offensive is "going according to plan," ITAR-TASS reported. Rushailo conceded, however, that the recent Chechen attacks on Argun, Shali, and Gudermes constituted a setback and have forced the Russian troops "to take tougher measures." LF

...WHILE KULIKOV SAYS LOSSES ARE BEING UNDERSTATED

Former Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kulikov, however, told NTV on 16 January that the Russian troops are bogged down in Chechnya, AP reported. He added that the military is "lying" about the extent of Russian casualties and called for halting the advance in Grozny to prevent further heavy losses. LF

TALIBAN RECOGNIZES CHECHEN INDEPENDENCE

Meeting on 16 January in Kandahar with a six-man Chechen delegation headed by former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar formally recognized the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, Reuters reported, quoting Taliban Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil Muttawakil. A second Taliban spokesman said that Mullah Omar had told the Chechens that the Taliban can offer only minimal help against the ongoing Russian offensive in Chechnya. The Taliban government is itself recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. LF

BORDER CONTROLS RELAXED

Border controls between Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia were relaxed on 14 January in accordance with an announcement earlier that day by Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, Interfax reported. Following last weekend's Chechen counterattacks, federal forces had barred any Chechen males between the ages of 10 and 60 from crossing the border in either direction. LF

RUSSIAN REPRESENTATION MOVES TO GUDERMES

The Russian government representation in Chechnya, which is headed by Deputy Premier Nikolai Koshman, began transferring its headquarters on 16 January from Mozdok in North Ossetia to the Chechen town of Gudermes, ITAR-TASS reported. Koshman said that Gudermes may temporarily be designated the capital of Chechnya in place of Grozny. He told RTR television on 16 January that "judging by the dynamic we see today," Russian troops will take control of Grozny by early February, Reuters reported. AP quoted Chechen commander Isa Munaev as saying that the Chechens will defend Grozny "at least until the end of April." LF

ECONOMY TO BECOME PUTIN'S ACHILLES HEEL?

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 January that there are no surplus monies remaining in the Pension Fund to cover acting President Vladimir Putin's earlier promise to raise pensions by 20 percent as of February and to eliminate wage arrears to state workers. Therefore, the daily concludes that the extra 5 billion rubles to cover the pension hike and 7.5 billion rubles to wipe out the backlog of unpaid wages will have to be borrowed from the Central Bank, which will have to print it. However, "Segodnya" on the same day suggested that Putin might "get money for pensioners" by taking it from exporters. However, the prospect of a requirement by exporters to sell 100 percent of their hard currency has already caused the ruble to slide and if the currency's weakness continues then this "will mean bidding adieu to votes" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999). That daily also noted that oil prices are expected to tumble, and that therefore Putin's presidential prospects are not as straightforward as they seem. JAC

STOCK MARKET REMAINS BUOYANT

Russia's stock market continued climbing on 14 January to reach 202.91 on the benchmark RTS- Interfax index, a 3.11 increase over the previous day. That index rose almost 4 percent on 12 January to close at 189.20. Traders report that Western clients have been actively buying Russian stocks. Andrei Galperin, executive director of Prospekt brokerage, told "The Moscow Times" on 15 January that "the market will continue to grow until the presidential elections, but after that it is hard to say. It all depends on who wins, how debt negotiations go with the London and Paris Clubs and what kind of international [credit] rating Russia is assigned." JAC

PUTIN DENIES DEAL WITH PRIMAKOV

In an interview with Russian Public Television on 15 January, acting President Putin denied that he had reached a secret agreement with former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov to support Primakov's candidacy for the post of Duma speaker if Primakov agreed to refrain from seeking the presidency, as a number of newspapers had alleged the previous day. Putin did acknowledge that "he is not indifferent to the future State Duma." He also denied earlier reports that a new intelligence agency will be created to combat corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1999). JAC

...AND COMMENTS ON PRIME MINISTER POSITION

When asked whether First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is experiencing a probation period for the premiership, Putin said that Kasyanov "is not the worst candidate" for the post. Putin added that since the Duma must approve the person for the position, "it should be a compromise figure, someone who will be acceptable to many people but capable of carrying out the difficult and complex tasks which the government faces." Kasyanov told Russian Television on 16 January that the Russian economy will need three to four more years to recover to its 1997 level while the ruble will remain weak for the next five to seven years. He added that any economic growth experienced this year will likely be minimal. JAC

NEW DUMA GROUP FORMED...

Newly re-elected State Duma deputy Oleg Morozov announced on 14 January the formation of a new group for the Duma called Russian Regions -- the Union of Independent Deputies. Forty deputies have already formally joined the group and seven more have expressed their readiness to join, according to Morozov. Morozov, who was head of Fatherland-All Russia's (OVR) Coordinating Council, said that six deputies from OVR had joined the group. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 January, the new group is trying to secure the leadership of ten Duma committees, including the budget committee. According to "Kommersant-Daily," there will be 24 committees, six factions and three deputy groups in the Duma. JAC

...AS BATTLE OVER POSTS CONTINUES

According to "Izvestiya," factions are poised for a major battle for the leadership of the security committee, whose head has access to classified information. The Communists want to name Viktor Ilyukhin, who was re-elected from a single-mandate district and chaired the committee during the last Duma, while Yabloko would like former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. OVR is nominating Nikolai Kovalev, and Unity wants Aleksandr Gurov, a former Interior Ministry official. JAC

THE RACE FOR SIGNATURES BEGINS

The Central Election Commission registered on 14 January two initiative groups who nominated Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev as candidates in presidential elections scheduled for 26 March. Also registered were the authorized representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Conservative Party of Russia who nominated their respective leaders, Vladimir Zhirinovskii and Lev Ubozhko. These groups must collect and submit 500,000 signatures supporting their candidates by 13 February, Interfax reported. JAC

CANDIDATE YAVLINSKII CONFIRMS OPPOSITION TO CHECHNYA CAMPAIGN

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, who is running for Russia's presidency, said on 15 January that the principles he supports are "open and free economics, human rights, an effective, modern armed forces and an end to the war in Chechnya." He added that Yabloko supports "stopping widescale hostilities and instead launching special operations and political negotiations." Some analysts believed that Yavlinskii's position on the conflict was responsible for the party's poorer-than-expected performance in 19 December State Duma elections. JAC

INGUSHETIA TO HOLD NEW ELECTIONS?

Shareholders in the Slavneft oil company elected Mikhail Gutseriev, a newly re- elected deputy to the State Duma from the single mandate district in Ingushetia, president on 14 December. According to Interfax, an election commission in Ingushetia has stated that Gutseriev must resign his Duma seat if he wants to accept the Slavneft position. If he resigns his post, then new elections will have to be held. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 January, Gutseriev said that he left the Liberal Democratic Party three months ago so that he could be nominated for the post at Slavneft. According to the daily, Gutseriev has a doctorate in "economic science" from the Russian State University of Oil and Gas named after Gubkin but he has no work experience in that sector. JAC

MORE REGIONS ADJUST LOCAL ELECTION SCHEDULES

Following moves by legislators in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug and Kirov Oblast to hold gubernatorial elections simultaneous with national presidential elections, legislators in Saratov Oblast and Yamalo-Nenets and the Jewish Autonomous okrugs have also approved shifting their election dates. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 January that the rescheduling should strengthen the chances of incumbent Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov because it gives his potential opponents less chance to prepare for elections that should have been held in September. Legislators in Tyumen Oblast resisted moving up elections for governor of that region from January 2001 to March 2000 as did deputies in St. Petersburg's legislature. This marks the second failure for incumbent St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev to move elections forward (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 October 1999). JAC




ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT UNVEILS NEW DRAFT BUDGET

Armenian Finance Minister Levon Barkhudarian outlined the main parameters of the revised budget to journalists on 15 January, prior to its submission to parliament, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The volume and spending proportions are virtually identical to those for 1999, with expenditures planned at 254 billion drams ($490 million) and revenues at 202 billion drams. The ensuing 4.3 percent deficit is lower than that for 1999. About one-third of the scarce public funds are earmarked for the social sector, and 20 percent for defense and law enforcement. The government expects the Armenian economy to expand by 6 percent under a projected 5 percent consumer price inflation this year. Barkhudarian said the GDP growth last year equaled 4 percent and inflation was just 2 percent. LF

ARMENIAN COMMUNIST PARTY ELECTS NEW FIRST SECRETARY

Vladimir Darpinian, who is 68 and served as Armenian SSR Interior Minister in the 1970s, was unanimously elected first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party on 15 January, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Darpinian replaces Sergei Badalian, who died unexpectedly in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). He pledged not to make any changes in the party's domestic and foreign policies. The Communist Party is the third largest faction in the Armenian parliament. LF

AZERBAIJAN CREATES COMMISSION TO COORDINATE GAS PIPELINE NEGOTIATIONS

President Heidar Aliyev on 14 January issued a decree establishing a state commission to conduct negotiations on drafting an intergovernmental agreement between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, and Turkey on construction of the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The commission will also conclude an agreement with the sponsors of the project. An Azerbaijani delegation will travel to Ashgabat on 18 January for talks on what percentage of the pipeline's annual capacity of 16 billion cubic meters will be reserved for Azerbaijani gas from the offshore Shah Deniz deposit. LF

TURKISH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CAUCASUS STABILITY PACT...

Visiting Tbilisi on 14-15 January, Suleyman Demirel called for a Caucasus Peace and Stability Pact analogous to that concluded last year for the Balkans, Turan and Reuters reported. Demirel proposed that the pact be jointly drafted by all three South Caucasus states and signed by their presidents and those of the world's leading countries. He argued that stability in the Caucasus benefits not only that region, but also Turkey and Central Asia, and is thus in Europe's interest as well. Demirel warned that Georgia and Azerbaijan should not be drawn into the Chechen conflict. He expressly excluded Chechnya from the stability pact, according to Reuters. LF

...DISCUSSES BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE PROJECT

Demirel also discussed with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze construction of the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil. Since the signing in Istanbul in November of four framework agreements on that pipeline, Tbilisi had demanded amendments to absolve it of financial responsibility for damage caused to the Georgian section of the pipeline by force-majeur accidents. Georgia had also demanded financial compensation for the owners of land which the pipeline will transit, European-standard ecological safeguards, and 2-3 percent of the crude oil exported through the pipeline. Demirel told journalists on 15 January that Ankara had agreed to all those demands, Reuters reported. Giorgi Chanturia, head of the Georgian International Operating Company that will operate the Georgian section of the pipeline, said that Georgia is prepared to use 50 percent of the transit fees it receives to finance the security of the pipeline, according to Turan. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION SEEKS TO AMEND ELECTION LAW

The five opposition parties aligned in the Union for Georgian Revival bloc decided late on 16 January to submit an alternative election law to the Georgian parliament committee for constitutional and juridical issues, Caucasus Press reported. At the same time, the bloc will begin collecting the 50,000 signatures needed to demand a referendum on their proposed amended version of the law. If their demands to amend the law are rejected, the bloc may boycott the 9 April presidential election, for which they have not yet formally proposed a candidate. LF

MORE OFFICIALS CHARGED IN KAZAKHSTAN MIG SALES CASE

Criminal charges have been brought against Asker Gabdulin, former director of the Metallist defense plant in Kazakhstan which sold obsolete MiG fighter aircraft to Agroplast of the Czech Republic for resale to North Korea, and against two Czech Agroplast officials, Interfax reported on 14 January. Whether they will be brought to trial is, however, uncertain. Gabdulin's whereabouts are unknown, and the Czech Republic has not yet responded to a Kazakh request to extradite the two Agroplast officials. LF

DOMESTIC SECURITY SITUATION DETERIORATING IN KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan's National Security Committee chairman, Major General Alnur Musaev, told journalists in Astana on 14 January that the conflict potential on Kazakhstan's southern borders and in the Caucasus is negatively affecting the security situation in the country, Interfax reported. He said that in 1999 34 foreign nationals were expelled from Kazakhstan for espionage. LF

FOREIGN OIL COMPANIES CRITICIZE KAZAKH EXPORT RESTRICTIONS

The Kazakhstan Petroleum Association, which represents foreign oil companies engaged in Kazakhstan, is concerned by the Kazakh government's decision to limit the amount of crude that may be exported this year to 22 million metric tons, Interfax reported on 14 January. The rationale for the restriction is to ensure that Kazakhstan's three refineries work at full capacity. The Association's chairman, Edward Verona, told journalists in Almaty on 14 January that annual production is estimated at 30 million metric tons, and that the association's members have no interest in selling the surplus 8 million tons of oil to the Kazakh government at less than world market prices. He welcomed the government's readiness for talks on the issue and expressed the hope that a compromise agreement will be reached. LF

UZBEKISTAN AGAIN REDUCES GAS SUPPLIES TO KYRGYZSTAN

Uzbekistan on 15 January again reduced gas supplies to neighboring Kyrgyzstan to a minimum in retaliation for Bishkek's failure to pay its outstanding $400,000 debt for earlier supplies, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Most private homes in Bishkek and other areas of northern Kyrgyzstan were without gas or heating as most of Kyrgyzstan's thermal plants are gas fired. LF




FORMER BELARUSIAN MINISTER SENTENCED TO FOUR YEARS FOR $130 BRIBE

Belarus's Supreme Court on 14 January sentenced former Agricultural Minister Vasil Lyavonau to four years in prison and the confiscation of his property after being found guilty of accepting bribes totaling some $130. Lyavonau professed his innocence and said the trial and charges against him were politically motivated. Lyavonau was arrested in 1997 on charges of abuse of office, corruption, and illegal possession of weapons. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka suggested during the investigation that Lyavonau may even be involved in murder and organizing an attempt on the president's life. "I did not expect another verdict, but I'm nonetheless shocked. They made him a petty swindler! This is laughable and not serious," Lyavonau's daughter told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. JM

HALF OF BELARUSIANS 'HARDLY MAKE BOTH ENDS MEET'

According to a poll held among 1,200 Belarusians by the Ministry of Economy in December, 49 percent of respondents said they "hardly make both ends meet." Of those polled, 59 percent said their material situation worsened over the past six months, 31 percent saw no change, and 8 percent said it improved. Thirty-three percent expect a further deterioration of their material situation, 29 percent foresee stabilization, and 12 percent believe their situation will improve in the next six months. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SETS DATE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM

Leonid Kuchma announced on national television on 15 January that he had signed a decree to hold a nationwide referendum on 16 April that could introduce major constitutional changes to Ukraine. The referendum will consist of six questions. One will be a confidence vote in the parliament. Ukrainians will also be asked to give the president the right to disband the parliament if it fails to form a majority within a month or adopt a budget in three months; to abolish lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution; to reduce the 450-seat parliament to 300 seats and split it into two houses; and to provide for the possibility to adopt the constitution via a referendum. Interfax reported that initiative groups in Ukraine have collected more than 4 million signatures in support of the constitutional referendum. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO CUT SPENDING, BOOST TAX COLLECTION

Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on 14 January that his government is going to introduce a "completely new budget process" in order to cut spending and widen tax collection in Ukraine, Reuters and AP reported. Yushchenko also said the government will add no new net foreign debt. He also pledged to do away with the practice of borrowing money from the central bank, which is essentially another way of printing money. Meanwhile, the World Bank's director for Ukraine and Belarus, Luca Barbone, praised Yushchenko's government as the best since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991. "The only problem for Ukraine is that it lost its masterful central banker," Barbone added. Kuchma has asked the parliament to accept Volodymyr Stelmakh--Yushchenko's deputy at the central bank--as the bank's new head. JM

BALTIC COUNTRIES FILE PROTEST AGAINST CZECH BORDER REGIME

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all filed protests with the Czech Foreign Ministry over alleged violations of the visa- free regimes between the countries. Estonia's charge d'affaires in Prague, Riho Laanemae, told "Eesti Paevaleht" on 14 January that the instances of Estonian citizens being asked to provide extra documentation at the border is a "violation of the Czech-Estonian visa-free travel agreement." However, an official with the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry told BNS that Czech officials reassured Vilnius that there was no violation, suggesting border guards took the new regulations "too straightforwardly." New regulations force the nationals of many countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Australia, and others, to provide proof of accommodations sufficient funds. RFE/RL reported that the interpretation of a new law on foreigners is difficult and varied, adding that the "legislation appears rooted in Communist-era laws." MH

EDUCATED ESTONIANS AVOIDING MILITARY SERVICE

A report by the Defense Ministry issued on 14 January suggests that educated Estonians are avoiding military service. The report shows that nearly half of the enlisted men have not completed secondary school, and that about 10 percent have not even completed nine years of education, BNS reported. Only one enlisted individual had a university degree. During his Independence Day speech last year, Defense Forces Commander Lieut.-General Johannes Kert warned of an impending leadership crisis in the military if the best-educated Estonians continue to shun national defense. MH

ESTONIAN CITIZENSHIP/MIGRATION HEAD SACKED

Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus on 14 January sacked the head of the Citizenship and Migration Department, Andres Kollist. Loodus said that the reason for the sacking was due to inadequate work by Kollist and the inability to make the Department friendlier and more efficient, citing as examples the large bureaucracy and long lines, local media reported. Loodus also criticized the current process of applying to the department for permits, calling it "humiliating." MH

POLAND'S UPPER HOUSE AMENDS 2000 BUDGET...

The Senat on 15 January voted by 53 to 27 to amend the 2000 budget bill, while leaving total spending unchanged (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999). Aiming to improve public security, the senators earmarked 50 million zlotys ($12 million) for additional wages and bonuses for underpaid police officers. They also raised by 5 million zlotys the government funds for promoting EU membership, to 17 million zlotys. Other amendments raise spending on Warsaw's subway and schools in rural areas. JM

...BANS ALL PORNOGRAPHY

The Senate also voted the same day by 40 to 39 with seven abstentions to introduce the total ban on pornography. The measure, if approved by the lower house and signed by the president, will criminalize all types of pornography, eliminating a distinction between prohibited hardcore and legal softcore pornography that was approved earlier (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 December 1999). JM

POLISH BUS DRIVERS WIN STRIKE OVER MANAGER

Bus drivers in Gorzow Wielkopolski on 16 January ended a 13-day strike after agreeing with the provincial authorities on a new manager of their company. Some 500 drivers launched a sit-in strike to press for the return of their former director who was viewed by them as a guarantor of better pay and job security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2000). Under the deal, the authorities agreed to dismiss the newly appointed company head and appoint a new one, although not the former director whose term expired at the end of 1999. JM

MAIN CZECH PARTIES AGREE ON CONTINUING 'OPPOSITION AGREEMENT'--OR DO THEY?

Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus on 14 January agreed to extend the so-called "opposition agreement" under which the ODS tolerates the minority Social Democratic Party (CSSD) government headed by Zeman, CTK and Reuters reported. The existing "opposition agreement" is to be supplemented by five addenda, covering the process of approving the state budget, changes in the electoral system, a "non-partisan" joint approach to promoting EU accession, conditions for the continued ODS tolerance of the CSSD cabinet, and improving parliamentary collaboration between the two parties. Work on the five additional documents is to start immediately and if completed "at least in part," the ODS will support the CSSD- drafted budget, on which debate begins this week. Klaus said the negotiations "were not completed" and there were "many ODS conditions for a final deal." MS

NEW POLITICAL PARTIES ESTABLISHED IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Some of the signatories of the "Thanks, Now Leave" appeal--but not the six former students who initiated it--decided on 14 January to set up a new political party, whose name is yet to be agreed on, CTK reported. The party is to promote "civic politics" and a "change of political style to the benefit of the citizens." Its leaders are to be elected for a maximum two terms in office and leave politics at the end of their term. Meanwhile, on 15 January, a "provisional committee" approved the manifesto and the statutes of the European Democratic Party (EDS). The EDS is led by Pavel Maixner, a former deputy of the far-right Republican Party. It says it is a center-right formation with a "clear pro-European orientation" and that it has "nothing in common" with Miroslav Sladek's Republicans.

CZECH INVESTIGATION CONFIRMS LUSTRATION FAKE

Police investigator Martin Hadek on 14 January confirmed that the lustration certificate clearing National Property Fund (FNM) chief Jan Stiess of collaboration with the communist secret services has been faked, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2000). Hadek ruled out Stiess' claim that the document, which he submitted upon his nomination as FNM chief last fall, was given to him by the Interior Ministry. MS

SLOVAK PARTY CALLS FOR 'TRANSPARENCY' IN RULING PARTY

The Central Council of the Social Democratic Party (SDSS), a member in the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) ruling party, said on 15 January that failure to solve problems in the SDK is threatening the stability of the government, CTK reported. SDSS Chairman Jaroslav Volf said that the SDK, which is torn by conflicts between Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's supporters and his opponents, must "introduce transparency" and all its members must be ready to make "reasonable compromises." Volf rejected the option of early elections as a way out of the SDK internal conflicts. MS

FIDESZ ASKS ADER NOT TO RUN FOR PARTY CHAIRMANSHIP

The steering board of the Federation of Young Democrats -- Hungarian Civic Party's (FIDESZ) parliamentary group on 14 January asked parliament speaker Janos Ader not to accept a nomination for the post of party chairman, Hungarian media reported. Spokesman Zsolt Horvath said the group believes that an "outstanding speaker is a guarantee of effective parliamentary work, and we consider Ader to be such." Ader said he considers the request "honorable and worth considering." MSZ

HUNGARIAN EXTREMISTS COMMEMORATES WARTIME PREMIER

Budapest's St. Stephen's Basilica was almost filled to capacity during a mass on 16 January organized by the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) in memory of wartime Prime Minister Laszlo Bardossy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000). Piarist priest Istvan Havas said Bardossy "had to make tough decisions in which he was guided by keeping the unity of the nation in mind." Bardossy declared war on the allied powers and was executed for war crimes in 1946. Under his government a package of anti-Jewish laws were passed which banned mixed marriages and even physical intimacy between Jews and non-Jews. MSZ




ARKAN KILLED IN BELGRADE

An unknown gunman or gunmen killed Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" and two men accompanying him at Belgrade's Intercontinental Hotel on 15 January. The killer or killers vanished, and police have yet to report any leads. Observers note that the indicted war criminal had many enemies in the gangster underworld who would have liked to see him eliminated. Speculation also centers on the possibility that his killing may have been politically motivated because he "knew too much" about Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his involvement in war crimes and the underworld (see "End Note" below). On 16 January, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Panama City that she would have preferred that Arkan "stand trial in The Hague for his crimes." In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook expressed similar views, as did Mirza Hajric--an aide to Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic--in Sarajevo. Hajric added that the regime probably wanted Arkan out of the way. In Belgrade, opposition leader Vuk Draskovic took a similar position. PM

SERBIAN PRIVATE TELEVISION TRANSMITTER SABOTAGED

On 16 January, unknown persons damaged a transmitter on Mt. Kosmaj belonging to Studio B Television, which is the voice of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). The intruders also took equipment valued at more than $50,000, Reuters reported. As a result of the damage, the station's signal cannot be received outside Belgrade. A spokesman for the SPO said that the damage to the transmitter was an act of "state terrorism" by the regime. Observers note that the Milosevic regime has always placed great weight on its control of the airwaves. PM

MONTENEGRO TO SEND MILOSEVIC TO HAGUE?

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told private Belgrade Radio B2-92 on 15 January that he does not rule out the possibility that Montenegro would extradite Milosevic to The Hague were the indicted war criminal to arrive in Montenegro. Djukanovic said that his government will do everything it can to cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM

U.S. TELLS BELGRADE TO LEAVE MONTENEGRO ALONE

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe said in Tirana on 14 January that it would be a "serious mistake" for Belgrade to interfere in Montenegro's internal affairs. He stressed, however, that "we are confident that with good sense from all sides, a crisis could be avoided," Reuters reported. Slocombe also warned Belgrade against trying to reintroduce its forces into Kosova. Serbian forces left the province in June under an agreement with NATO. Top Belgrade civilian and military officials regularly call for their return "to protect Serbian lives and property." PM

U.S. COMMANDER APOLOGIZES TO KOSOVAR FAMILY

Brigadier General Ricardo Sanchez, who commands U.S. forces serving with KFOR, sent a message of condolence on 17 January to the family of an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian girl. She had reportedly been raped and killed by a U.S. serviceman the week. Staff Sergeant. Frank J. Ronghi has been charged in the case and is under arrest. Sanchez stressed in his message that "the Department of the Army will spare no effort in bringing this matter to justice," AP reported from Vitina. PM

MESIC TAKES LEAD IN CROATIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLLS

Two new public opinion polls indicate that Stipe Mesic, who represents a coalition of four small opposition parties, has acquired a lead ranging between four and eight percentage points over Drazen Budisa, who is the candidate of the larger two-party opposition coalition. Budisa in turn is ahead of the Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) Mate Granic by at least five percentage points. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported the one poll on 15 January, while "Vecernji list" ran the second one two days later. The Zagreb daily quoted Mesic as saying that he is confident of victory and that the poll results vindicate him for his support over the years for the rule of law and for European democratic standards. Reuters on 14 January quoted him as saying that by electing him president, voters will complete the ouster of the HDZ but also prevent the large coalition from monopolizing the top offices. PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT NAMES NEW PRIVATIZATION CHIEF

Rexhep Meidani approved Prime Minister Ilir Meta's nomination of Mustafa Muci as minister of privatization on 15 January, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2000). In other news, police arrested two of their colleagues near Ballsh, south of Tirana, on 14 January for cutting power lines. The men apparently committed the act of sabotage to increase local discontent with the Socialist-led government, dpa reported. PM

ROMANIA'S RULING PARTY TO STRENGTHEN CHAIRMAN'S PREROGATIVES...

The prerogatives of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) chairman are to be widened, according to new party statutes that are to be submitted for approval to the party's Permanent Delegation at the end of this month, Mediafax reported on 14 January. According to the new statutes, the PNTCD chairman will automatically become the party's candidate for the post of premier. If he declines the position, the chairman, octogenarian Ion Diaconescu, will designate the person to fill that position, as well as the ministers representing the party in the cabinet, after consultations with the PNTCD's leading bodies. The new statutes are said to reflect the "lessons derived from the Radu Vasile episode." MS

...WHICH MAY SOON BE NEEDED TO DISCIPLINE DISSENTERS...

Also on 14 January, PNTCD vice-chairman Sorin Lepsa, a Vasile supporter, said the former premier's exclusion from the party was an infringement of its statutes and that the party has "strayed away from its Christian Democratic doctrine" and has "dramatically" lost support since Vasile's exclusion. Lepsa said that unless the Permanent Delegation will "clarify the situation and return the party to its path," the PNTCD will be "condemned." MS

... AND TO COPE WITH RENEWED PRESSURE FROM POLITICAL ALLY

In an interview with Mediafax on 14 January, National Liberal Party (PNL) First Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica said the PNL will resume negotiations at the end of the month with the PNTCD on participating on separate lists in local elections due later this year and on signing a new protocol of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), of which both parties are the main components. Stoica said the CDR may continue to function as an alliance for the parliamentary elections--also due in 2000-- and that if the PNTCD will reject his party's proposals "we shall behave just as they do, that is to say we shall also refuse to negotiate." MS

CONFLICTS EMERGE IN THE RANKS OF ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY AS WELL

Democratic Party spokesman Dumitru Moinescu on 14 January said Deputy Chairman Traian Basescu "should explain" to Chairman Petre Roman what he meant in a recent interview with the daily "Adevarul" in which he said that as foreign minister, Roman has "less time for party affairs" and that this was good for the party. Basescu said in reaction that Moinescu "acts like a typical apparatchik, ready to always deny what he believes does not serve the party." He said that Roman "is well over the period when he was ready to hear only positive things about the party" and added that "if the Democrats are now supported by only 4.3 percent of the electorate, this is also due to people like Moinescu, who prove that second-rank party officials are incapable of substituting for the first rank." MS

U.S. TO FINANCE RUSSIAN ARSENAL WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTER?

U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Rudolf Perina told journalists on 14 January that his country is ready to contribute $30 million to finance the evacuation of the Russian arsenal from Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Perina spoke after a meeting on 13 January with separatist leader Igor Smirnov. He also said that the U.S. supports the idea of having an OSCE group of experts evaluate the arsenal's volume and the state of the weaponry. Perina said he had offered Smirnov to extend the aid of U.S. coal deliveries to Transdniester. Smirnov said in reaction that there is no reason for "foreign missions" to deal with the arsenal which now "belongs to the Transdniester people" and that its evaluation "is the competence of the Russian Federation" which maintains an "operative group" in the region. MS

MOLDOVA WALKS THE TIGHTROPE ON CHECHNYA

"Moldova will continue accepting Chechen refugees and render possible assistance in solving humanitarian problems. At the same time, its leadership condemns terrorism and secessionism, and does not intend to grant refugee status to persons suspected of terrorism," a press release of the presidential office cited by ITAR-TASS said on 16 January. Earlier, Valerii Klinenko, leader of the Moldovan Congress of Russian Communities, warned that refugees from Chechnya could reinforce local criminal groups and that Moldova "might be dragged into political adventure if it gives sanctuary to the Chechens." MS

EU PLEDGES HELP, SAYS BULGARIA MUST CONTINUE REFORMS

The EU will "do its best to support the country's preparations for accession" and Bulgaria will receive funds totaling 1.8 billion euro ($1.84 billion) till 2006 for this purpose, European Commission President Romano Prodi told Bulgaria's parliamentarians on 14 January. Addressing the legislature, Prodi also said Bulgaria will need to "make further efforts in reforming its economy." He praised the government's decision to close down the Kozloduy nuclear plant, describing the agreement between Sofia and Brussels as "painful, but necessary," BTA and AP reported. MS

BULGARIA REFORMS ARMY GENERAL STAFF

As of 1 March, the structure of Bulgaria's' General Staff will be reformed. The staff will have six, instead of nine directorates, and two, instead of three deputy chiefs. It will have a total staff of 372, Bulgarian radio, cited by the BBC, reported on 14 January. MS




Running With Wolves


By Patrick Moore

The murder of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" is but the latest event to draw attention to the murky side of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia. The killing raises more questions that it does answers.

On 15 January, an unknown gunman or gunmen shot Arkan through the left eye at Belgrade's Intercontinental Hotel. Doctors pronounced him dead on arrival at the hospital. A second underworld figure accompanying Arkan was also killed, and a bodyguard later succumbed to his wounds.

Two days later, the police had announced no lead on the killers. The independent daily "Danas" suggested that the person or persons involved had fled in a waiting car, which drove onto the highway linking Belgrade and Zagreb. The paper also noted that the killing was thoroughly professional.

Arkan embodied a dark area of Serbian public life where politics, crime, intelligence and police work, paramilitary groups, business, sport, and entertainment come together. The son of a Serbian military officer, he was born in Slovenia on 17 April 1952. His life involved a history of criminal activity together with work for Belgrade's undercover services; in short, a double life. In communist times, for example, he combined bank robbery in Sweden with activities against Croatian emigres there.

His years in the West earned him a place on Interpol's wanted list, but it is for his activities of the past ten years--that is, during the Milosevic era--that he is best known. He led a paramilitary formation called the Tigers in the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia, and played a role in organizing the paramilitary "police" of the Serbian Interior Ministry in Kosova as well. Arkan and his men were known for brutality even by the standards of the Serbian paramilitaries, and were instrumental in the ethnic cleansing of eastern Bosnia in early 1992. In 1997, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted him for crimes against humanity.

But Arkan had other interests as well. Wartime Serbia and its sanctions provided abundant opportunities for smuggling and other illicit business activities, at which Arkan excelled. As the cosmopolitan and intellectual class that had long given Belgrade a distinctive image emigrated or struggled to make ends meet, the city increasingly acquired the imprint of the new mafia class.

Arkan was but one of the more famous of these men. He also owned the Obilic soccer club and was married to the flamboyant pop star Cvetlana Velickovic "Ceca." Her genre is known as "turbo folk" and is particularly associated with the popular culture of Milosevic's wars in the early 1990s. She was his third wife and bore him the last two of his nine children.

A man of pronounced Serbian nationalist views, he headed the small pro-Milosevic Party of Serbian Unity. Arkan claimed to have no ties to Milosevic, who in turn kept his distance in public from the man whom many regarded as his lieutenant and chief executioner. U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke noted in his memoirs that Milosevic dismissed any question of Arkan's activities as a "peanut issue." But Holbrooke also recalled that Milosevic was nonetheless "annoyed" over the American's criticism of Arkan in a way that Milosevic was not bothered by remarks about Radovan Karadzic or General Ratko Mladic.*

This leads to the question of who might have been behind the murder, and whether that someone could just be Milosevic. A number of factors point in this direction, although the truth may never be known. First, Arkan knew quite a lot about the Serbian leader's activities over many long years. After learning of Arkan's murder, Mirza Hajric--who is an aide to Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic--said in Sarajevo that "someone was making sure that one of the key people who knew too much should not live too long," AP reported. In line with this possibility, one may recall unconfirmed press reports last year that Arkan was allegedly trying to plea-bargain with the war crimes tribunal.

Second, Arkan's was not the first mysterious murder of a person from this particularly complex corner of the Belgrade underworld. Since 1992, there have been 10 unsolved murders of very prominent Serbs--some, but not all, with criminal connections--who knew a lot about Milosevic and his activities. "The Guardian" pointed out on 17 January that some of these individuals--such as Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic "Frenki"--are still reported to be living in Belgrade and may now be rather concerned about their futures.

And third, the regime's reaction to the latest spectacular murder has been rather curious. Hours went by without any commentary. When the regime media did report the story, they played it down. Since then, official Belgrade seems at a loss for words. But perhaps it may soon launch a new conspiracy theory of its own, in which the alleged killers come from the ranks of Milosevic's enemies and have foreign connections.

In any event, whether or not one accepts the theory that the regime was behind the killing of Arkan, it is clear that the Milosevic era has led to a growth of gangland killings and a culture of guns and violence in the Serbian capital. One theory making the rounds in Belgrade is that Arkan had clashed with Marko Milosevic, the president's "businessman" son, over turf in the gasoline trade. Other theories focus on other aspects of Arkan's business dealings, including a desire for revenge by families of his deceased enemies. In short, it is clear that Arkan knew no shortage of people who had possible reason to do him in.

What is also certain is that he will never testify in The Hague, and the truth about many of his activities will go with him to the grave. Jacques Klein, who is the UN's chief representative in Bosnia, called Arkan a "coward and a psychopath." Klein added that "the sad part of all this is that he was not actually brought to justice, that he was not brought to The Hague." * Richard Holbrooke, "To End A War," ( New York: Random House, 1998), p. 190.


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