RUSSIA RULES OUT FURTHER TALKS WITH DUDAEV LEADERSHIP.
launched a new offensive against the last pockets of Chechen resistance in the
northeast and south of Grozny as well as in Argun and Gudermes, Western
agencies reported on 21 February. They succeeded in gaining control of the last
road leading into Grozny. Meanwhile, three separate proposals by the Chechen
leadership to Russian military headquarters in Mozdok to cease hostilities
remained unanswered, ITAR-TASS reported. A Russian military spokesman denied
Chechen presidential spokesman Movladi Udugov's statement of 20 February that
Chechen and Russian commanders had agreed not to resume hostilities, Interfax
reported. In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said no talks would
be held with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's representatives, ITAR-TASS
reported. A Chechen delegation headed to Nazran for a further round of
Ingush-mediated talks with the Russian federal military command was intercepted
at the Chechen-Ingush border by Russian Interior Ministry troops and refused
permission to enter Ingushetia. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.
AROUND 8,000 TROOPS WOUNDED IN CHECHNYA.
Around 8,000 soldiers and
officers have been wounded in Chechnya, according to Col.-Gen. Yevgeny
Vysotsky, head of the Defense Ministry's Personnel Department, Interfax
reported on 21 February. He said those servicemen would be offered new jobs
"corresponding to their physical ability." Vysotsky said most of them might end
up in administrative jobs. The individual's requests would be considered and
they would be sent to units near their homes. He also indicated that many
wounded enlisted personnel would be promoted to warrant officer. -- Doug
Clarke, OMRI, Inc.
KOVALEV: 24,000 DEAD IN CHECHNYA.
Russian Human Rights Commissioner
Sergei Kovalev estimates that some 24,000 people in Grozny and the surrounding
area died between 25 November 1994 and 25 January 1995, the Czech daily
Lidove noviny reported. Kovalev said most of those were unarmed
civilians, including 3,700 children under the age of 15. He said a special
method was used to arrive at the estimates and the numbers could be off by up
to 20%. An estimated 400,000 people have been displaced by the war in Chechnya.
Kovalev attacked the UN commission for human rights for adopting an attitude of
"indifferent cynicism" towards the war. He said he is preparing for another
trip to the republic. -- Victor Gomez, OMRI, Inc.
SOSKOVETS APPOINTED TO RESTORE CHECHEN ECONOMY.
First Deputy Prime
Minister Oleg Soskovets has been appointed head of the state commission for
restoring the economy in Chechnya, Interfax reported on 20 February. In line
with a Russian government resolution, signed by Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin, the commission includes leaders of all federal ministries and
departments, including the Federal Counterintelligence Service and the Federal
Border Service. Soskovets said the commission will "take decisive measures to
restore Chechnya's economy." Among the first steps to restore normal life, he
said, is to resume paying wages to the republic's inhabitants. In addition,
Soskovets announced that a number of enterprises in Chechnya will be privatized
by auction and the money obtained will be used to help the republic's economy
recover. Soskovets noted that Chechnya's oil complex will remain state-owned
for some time. He also mentioned that the company Lukoil is showing interest in
the restoration of oil-producing and refining installations in Chechnya. --
Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.
LISTEV INTERVIEWS YAVLINSKY.
Grigory Yavlinsky, the most popular
politician in Russia according to recent polls, appeared on the 21 February
edition of Ostankino TV's "Rush Hour." The interview, conducted by the
station's director, Vladislav Listev, appeared to be an ice-breaking event,
given that both major Russian TV channels have so far been reluctant to cover
Yavlinsky's campaign for the presidency. Yavlinsky, an economist who heads the
liberal Yabloko faction in the State Duma, reasserted his doubts on whether the
forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections would be fair. He also
reaffirmed his party's unwillingness to form a coalition with former acting
Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, unless he "recognizes the fatal political errors"
of the past few years. Speaking in an unusually frank manner by Russian
standards, Yavlinsky revealed that his father was Russian and his mother is
Jewish. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.
AFGHAN WAR VETERANS: LEBED FOR PRESIDENT.
The congress of Afghan war
veterans almost unanimously nominated Gen. Aleksandr Lebed as its candidate for
the next presidential election, Ostankino TV's "Vremya" reported on 21
February. Lebed, the controversial commander of the 14th Russian Army stationed
in the self-proclaimed Dniestr republic of Moldova, served in Afghanistan
during the Russian invasion of that country in the 1980s. The congress was
attended by many important Russian politicians, such as Deputy Foreign Minister
Boris Pastukhov, who also served in Afghanistan, and former Soviet Deputy
Defense Minister Valentin Varennikov. Despite the conservative mood that
prevailed at the congress, the veterans adopted a resolution condemning the
Russian Army's intervention in Chechnya, Ostankino reported. -- Julia
Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF RUSSIA TO CONTEST ELECTION ON ITS OWN.
Democratic Party of Russia will draw up its own list to contest the
parliamentary elections, according to Yevgeny Malkin, the party's political
council chairman, Interfax reported on 21 February. The party will launch its
election campaign and adopt a new program at a conference to be held in May,
the fifth anniversary of its founding. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.
OFFICIALS SAY REACTORS ARE CAPABLE OF PRODUCING PLUTONIUM.
Yablokov, chairman of the Security Council commission for ecological security,
said the nuclear plant in Bushehr, Iran, that is to be rebuilt with Russian
help, will be capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, ITAR-TASS reported
on 21 February. His remarks contradict assurances given last week by a Nuclear
Power Ministry spokesman that the reactor could not produce weapons-grade
material. Another Russian official, Yury Vishnevsky, head of the government's
nuclear oversight committee, said Iran could use the reactors to generate
electricity and pay a third country to produce plutonium with the spent fuel
rods. The U.S. is urging Russia to cancel the Bushehr project to prevent Iran
from becoming a nuclear power. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.
GRACHEV: MILITARY BUDGET TOO LOW.
The Russian military is not satisfied
with the budget submitted to the State Duma for consideration, Defense Minister
Grachev said at a Minsk news conference on 21 February. He claimed it amounted
to only one-third of the military's needs. Grachev added that the military was
not a creation of its military leaders but "a powerful state institution meant
for the provision of Russian security. The country will have order only when
everyone starts working for that institution and quits saying it consumes the
whole budget and Russia is weak," ITAR-TASS reported. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI,
CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS NO TO MILITARY DRAFT PROPOSAL.
The government does not
plan to consider a Defense Ministry proposal to draft students into the
military and to extend the term of military service, Prime Minister
Chernomyrdin said, addressing a meeting of the Women of Russia faction in the
State Duma on 21 February. The previous day, the ministry said the armed forces
faced "a catastrophe" unless such measures were taken, Interfax reported. The
military plans to sharply reduce the number of educational institutions with
military faculties which entitle students to receive deferments. Their number
would drop from 256 to 80. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.
COMMITTEE PROPOSES ANOTHER 20 TRILLION RUBLES FOR TOP-PRIORITY BRANCHES OF
The State Duma budget committee will propose that the Russian
parliament allocate another 20 trillion rubles for top-priority branches of the
economy on 22 February, Interfax reported on 21 February. According to the
Financial Information Agency, the committee expects to obtain the money by
cutting about 14 trillion rubles (4,357 rubles/$1) in miscellaneous
expenditures and half a trillion rubles in maintenance of the state apparatus.
In addition, a special 1.5% tax could generate 5.3 trillion rubles. Committee
chairman Mikhail Zadornov told a news conference that the additional funds
would be used to finance investment programs (3.356 trillion rubles), offset
last year's agricultural debt (1 trillion rubles), repay a debt to the defense
ministry for purchases of arms and equipment in 1994 (2 trillion rubles), and
subsidize the coal mining industry (1 trillion rubles). It is proposed to use
part of the money to finance culture (150 billion rubles), health care (250
billion rubles), and support elite universities (300 billion rubles). -- Thomas
Sigel, OMRI, Inc.
IMPACT OF KOMI PIPELINE LEAKS.
An environmental group in Komi said that
between August 1994 and January 1995 the republic's Usinsk region was
contaminated by 400,000 tons of oil-containing liquid, Russian and Western
agencies reported on 21 February. Last year, an estimated 60,000-100,000 tons
of oil leaked from defective pipelines in the republic, polluting the Pechora
River basin which flows into the Arctic Ocean. There were two more accidents in
January, but those caused less damage. The World Bank has offered the Komineft
corporation a $100 million loan to replace the Vozei-Usinsk pipeline and
finance the clean-up operation. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.
CIS COUNTRIES RUNNING ANNUAL TRADE DEFICIT WITH RUSSIA.
countries have run up a 15-trillion-ruble debt with Russia as of 1 January
1995, Deputy Minister for CIS Cooperation Vladimir Pokrovsky said on 20
February, Interfax reported. Gennady Galakhov, the head of the Russian
Government Department for Relations with the CIS Countries, said Russia
exported 31 trillion rubles worth of goods to CIS countries but imported only
28 trillion rubles in 1994. The trade and debt picture are determined largely
by the export of oil to Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Pokrovsky also said
the process of putting together the executive bodies of the CIS economic
committee was moving slowly because several CIS countries have yet to appoint a
representative. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.
No report today.
YELTSIN AND LUKASHENKA SIGN ACCORDS.
Russian President Yeltsin and his
Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed three treaties in Minsk on
21 February, international agencies reported. The first was a broad accord on
friendship and cooperation valid for ten years and then renewable upon mutual
assent. The two men also signed an agreement on customs regulations and an
agreement on the joint protection of borders. Despite the fanfare attached to
the agreements, preliminary analysis indicates they do not represent any real
steps toward integration. Earlier agreements, such as the one on monetary union
signed in 1994, have not been implemented. The latest accord has been opposed
by the Belarusian nationalist opposition and watered down so that the country
receives few of the benefits it hoped for, reducing it to a letter of intent
for future cooperation. So far Russia has not lifted customs restrictions on
Belarusian imports and has continued to heavily tax oil shipped to Belarus. As
for any military coalition, Russian Defense Minister Grachev said it is too
early to speak of Russian-Belarusian coalition forces, but that two
early-warning systems on Belarusian territory will be under Russian
jurisdiction. On the issue of joint defense, the agreement only calls for
consultations in the event that one of the two countries is attacked.
Previously, Belarusian politicians have resisted any alliance that would
require their forces to serve outside the country. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI,
UKRAINE HESITATES OVER IMF DEMANDS.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma
has hesitated over signing an agreement with the IMF which would release $1.3
billion in standby credits, Western agencies reported on 22 February. Ukraine
needs the credits to finance a balance of payments deficit estimated to be $5-6
billion for 1995, but Kuchma appears reluctant to agree to two IMF demands. One
is that Ukraine's budget deficit be limited to 5% of GDP. This would mean
cutting subsidies to unprofitable state industries and the agricultural sector.
Such a move is strongly opposed by the industrial lobby and Ukraine's
leftist-dominated parliament. The other condition is the liberalization of
foreign trade. Ukraine's foreign trade ministry has been unwilling to
relinquish control over trade and exporters must register every deal with the
ministry and have an "indicative price" ascribed to it by the state. -- Ustina
Markus, OMRI, Inc.
LEFTIST GROUPS TO PICKET UKRAINIAN STATE TELEVISION AND RADIO.
of left-wing parties and organizations are planning to picket outside Ukrainian
Television and Radio's broadcasting facilities in Kiev on 22 February to
protest what they call an anti-communist bias in its programming,
Interfax-Ukraine and Radio Ukraine reported on 21 February. Organizers of the
protest have accused the state broadcasting company of violating their civil
rights by denying them fair and equal access to the airwaves, especially the
right to respond to what they say is the prevalent nationalist and even fascist
propaganda in its programs. Leftist forces have complained that there were too
few programs in Russian and that many broadcasts tended to distort historical
events and ignored the positive aspects and achievements of the Soviet era. --
Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.
BALAKLAVA MAY BE BASE FOR UKRAINE'S NAVY.
The Commander of the Ukrainian
Navy, Vice Admiral Volodymyr Bezkorovainy, has said that Balaklava Bay near
Sevastopol is being considered as a potential base for Ukraine's navy, Interfax
reported on 21 February. According to Bezkorovainy, the bays of Sevastopolskaya
and Yuzhnaya in the city of Sevastopol will be leased to the Russian navy while
Ukraine may base its vessels in the bays of Kazachya, Streletskaya and
Karatinnaya within city limits. Russian naval commanders had earlier opposed
sharing Sevastopol as a naval base with Ukraine's navy, while Ukrainian
commanders were hostile towards leasing bays in Sevastopol for the Russian
share of the Black Sea Fleet. The latest statement indicates that both sides
have compromised over the issue. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.
POLISH FINANCE MINISTER BLASTS CENTRAL BANK.
Deputy Prime Minister and
Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko criticized the decision by the National Bank
of Poland to raise interest rates on 21 February, Radio Warsaw reported.
Kolodko said the move was counterproductive, as it would merely heighten
inflationary expectations. He also condemned the rate rise as a "political
decision" and charged that the central bank had become a fourth "presidential
ministry." President Lech Walesa nominated National Bank President Hanna
Gronkiewicz-Waltz for the banking post; she had supported Walesa in his
presidential election campaign. Responding to Kolodko's comments,
Gronkiewicz-Waltz said that "whenever someone lacks economic or substantive
arguments, politics is always to blame." Prime minister candidate Jozef Oleksy
had more temperate criticism of the bank, arguing that the government should
have been consulted. He called the bank's autonomy disturbing. Meanwhile,
coalition talks on the new cabinet bogged down amid new personnel conflicts,
and Oleksy admitted that he had no idea when they would likely conclude. A day
earlier Oleksy had estimated his chances of forming a government at 60%. --
Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.
UNION AGREEMENT SIGNED IN SLOVAKIA.
Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir
Meciar, Confederation of Slovak Trade Unions President Alojz Englis, and
Association of Employers President Michal Lach signed a three-party General
Agreement for 1995 on 21 February, Praca reported. The agreement was
originally to be signed on 15 February; however, controversy between the
cabinet and trade unions over wage regulations led the unions to delay signing
the agreement. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.
SLOVAK CABINET CREATES MEDIA COUNCIL, NEW MINISTRY.
The Slovak cabinet
named at its 21 February session the members of the government's new council
for mass media, which will be an advisory organ without decision-making powers.
Deputy Premier Katarina Tothova will serve as council chairwoman, and Minister
of Culture Ivan Hudec will be deputy chairman. Aside from the two government
members, the 20-member council includes three parliamentary deputies from the
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia; the directors of Slovak TV, Radio and the
state news agency TASR; and four members of the Association of Slovak
Journalists (formerly known as the Club for a True Picture of Slovakia). Only
one member of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists is represented, Sme
reports. Still, Tothova said the members represent "a wide spectrum of
experts." The cabinet also approved the creation of a new Ministry of
Construction and Public Works, which was pushed forward by the Association of
Slovak Workers. Jan Mraz of the ASW was appointed minister in December. The
Ministry of Transportation, Communications, and Public Works will be changed to
the Ministry of Transportation, Post, and Telecommunications, Narodna
obroda reports. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.
KLAUS LESS POPULAR.
The results of an opinion poll conducted by the
Center for Empirical Studies (STEM) published in Czech media on 21 February
indicate that the popularity of President Vaclav Havel has grown in recent
weeks, while the popularity of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has dropped. About
75% of the poll's respondents said they trusted Havel, 7% more than in October
1994; only 54% said they trusted Klaus, 10% less than in October. According to
STEM researchers, the president has support among members of all political
parties, whereas support for Klaus has diminished among those who are not
members of his Civic Democratic Party. The drop in the premier's popularity is
thought to be have been caused by growing tension within the ruling coalition.
-- Jiri Pehe, OMRI, Inc.
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT'S STATE OF NATION SPEECH.
In his hour-long annual
address to the parliament on 21 February, Lithuanian President Algirdas
Brazauskas noted that Lithuania's Gross Domestic Product increased in 1994, the
first time that had occurred in five years, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service
reported. He added that inflation was less than 5% of what it was in 1992, and
said that trade with the West was greater than with the CIS, although Russia
remained Lithuania's main trading partner. Brazauskas said exports must be
increased to diminish the existing foreign trade deficit. Implementation of
laws and resolutions was the weakest part of the government, he noted. Speaking
on foreign policy strategy, he said that the primary focus will be greater
integration into European political, economic, and defense systems. -- Saulius
Girnius, OMRI, Inc.
ESTONIA PASSES LANGUAGE LAW.
By a 35-1 vote (with two abstentions) the
Estonian parliament on 21 February passed a new language law, based on similar
legislation in 1934, BNS reported. The law will go into effect on 1 April,
replacing a 1989 law that State Law Commission Chairman Mart Nutt described as
"a law of the Estonian SSR that was not fit for an independent country." The
law defines Estonian as the official language and requires its use by the
Estonian armed forces. In areas where an ethnic minority comprise the majority
of the residents, its language can be used as an internal administration
language in local government bodies. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.
MACEDONIA ACCUSES ALBANIA OF INTERFERENCE.
Macedonian Prime Minister
Branko Crvenkovski accused Albania of interfering in its internal affairs,
Western agencies reported on 21 February. Crvenkovski said at a news conference
that by supporting the self-proclaimed Albanian-language University in Tetovo,
the Albanian government "encourages illegal acts, even if only verbally."
Albania sharply criticized the conduct of the Macedonian government after
police cracked down on the university on 17 February. One ethnic Albanian died
in a subsequent riot. Meanwhile Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Arjan Starova
said that the Albanian government will "reconsider the political course towards
Skopje," Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 22 February. Relations between
both countries had improved in the past three years, but mutual confidence
suffers from the Albanian minority conflict in Macedonia. -- Fabian Schmidt,
TUDJMAN FIRM ON EXPELLING UNPROFOR.
The Los Angeles Times reports
on 22 February on the Croatian visit of EU external affairs commissioner Hans
van den Broek, which is one of a series of high-level contacts underway or soon
to take place between Zagreb and Brussels or Strasbourg. Commenting on
President Franjo Tudjman's decision to end UNPROFOR's mandate when it expires
on 31 March, van den Broek said that "it was quite clear that his decision was
irreversible." A UN spokesman added that there is "a real danger of an
immediate return to war" as a result of both sides trying to take strategic
positions once UNPROFOR abandons them. This view was echoed by Dobroslav
Paraga, the leader of the right-wing Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights.
Nasa Borba quotes him as saying that "the departure of UNPROFOR from the
occupied territories would just be the lead-in to a big war with the Krajina
Serbs, who would be backed by Karadzic's Bosnian Serbs, and then the [rump]
Yugoslav army." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.
CROATIA, SLOVENIA, AND BOSNIA MAKE JOINT PROTEST.
The ambassadors to the
UN from Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina jointly protested to the
world body against Serbia-Montenegro's claim to be the legitimate successor to
Tito's Yugoslavia, Hina reported on 21 February. Belgrade made the demand in
order to automatically acquire seats in international organizations and
valuable properties around the world. Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Sarajevo point out
that federal Yugoslavia has long ceased to exist and that all successor states
must be treated equally. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.
AKASHI'S LATEST "GLIMMER OF HOPE."
Back in Krajina, UN negotiator
Yasushi Akashi held talks with rebel Serb leaders on 21 February to try and
persuade them to stop holding hostage 10 relief trucks headed for Bihac. He
told Reuters that he saw "a glimmer of hope" and that "there is a willingness
to commence fruitful dialogue and that's the first time they have made an
indication of that kind." A UN refugee spokesman saw things a bit differently,
saying that "the bottom line is both the Abdic forces and the Krajina Serbs are
using food as a weapon of war, trying to deny food to the people of Bihac."
Meanwhile, the Serbs still have the trucks. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.
On 22 February Politika reports on the apparent
growing cooperation between three of Serbia's main opposition parties--the
Democratic Party (led by Zoran Djindjic), the Democratic Party of Serbia (led
by Vojislav Kostunica), and the controversial Serbian Radical Party (led by the
accused war criminal Vojislav Seselj), which now includes "an opposition
agreement on the defense of the independent media." In other news, on 22
February The New York Times reports that the UN Security Council appears
to have "reached an agreement that could allow a steady flow of Russian natural
gas into both the capital of Bosnia and to Yugoslavia, which includes Serbia
and Montenegro." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.
HDFR TO LEAVE THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION OF ROMANIA?
executive president of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, told an
RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest on 21 February that the HDFR will quit the
Democratic Convention of Romania if the alliance does not give up its
commitment to the "national character" of the Romanian state. The Constitution
defines Romania as a "unitary and national state" and the HDFR says the
definition ignores the existence of national minorities. On 17 February the DCR
leadership demanded the HDFR explicitly state its respect for the constitution,
including the provision on the state's national character. Tackacs accused the
DCR of long ignoring and failing to support the Hungarian minority's demands,
and said this neglect had its roots in Romanian history. The HDFR refused to
sign the modified protocol of the DCR on 17 February and, if it does not do so
within 30 days, will be considered by the DCR as having left the alliance.
Three other parties, the Party of Civic Alliance, the Liberal Party '93, and
the Romanian Social Democratic Party, refused to sign the protocol. The PCA and
the RSDP wanted the convention restructured, to distinguish between parties and
civic movements. The Liberal Party '93 objects to having joint electoral lists
in the forthcoming local and general elections. The RSDP decided on 18 February
to leave the alliance and protested against what it called "the dictatorship"
of the National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic over other members. --
Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.
VACAROIU ENDS MOLDOVAN VISIT.
Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu
ended a two-day visit to Moldova on 21 February, Radio Bucharest reported.
Moldovan Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli signed agreements
covering taxation, tourism, and rail transport, as well as several other
accords on 21 February. After a joint press conference with Sangheli, Vacaroiu
was received by the president of the Moldovan parliament, Petru Lucinschi and
met with representatives of parliamentary parties. Vacaroiu reiterated that the
two countries must do away with the lack of trust that had impaired their
relationship and turn bilateral relations into "something special." Romanian
Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu said at a press conference in Chisinau that
the two countries are about to begin high level talks on a basic treaty. He
said drafts had been exchanged in the past but no discussions have yet taken
place. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.
ROMANIA WANTS TO BUILD FRENCH MISSILES.
A Romanian official was quoted
by Reuters on 21 February as saying his company was in the advanced stages of
negotiations for an agreement to build French air-to-air missiles in Romania.
Col. Costica Laptes, head of Grupal Industrial al Armetei RA (GIA), said
Romania planned to adapt Matra's Magic 2 missile for its fleet of MiG-23
fighters. Initially, Romania would import 20% of its requirements and produce
the remaining 80%. Laptes said that GIA was also negotiating with Euromissile
to produce an "advanced" missile based on the French firm's Mila 2T anti-tank
missile. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.
GREEK DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS BULGARIA.
Gerasimos Arsenis arrived in
Sofia on 21 February on an official visit, Demokratsiya reported on 22
February. The Greek Defense Minister held talks with his counterpart Dimitar
Pavlov, Chief of General Staff Gen. Tsvetan Totomirov, President Zhelyu Zhelev,
Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, and Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski. Arsenis
denied speculations aired in the Greek press that the formation of an
"Belgrade-Sofia-Athens axis" is being prepared, saying that this is an outdated
understanding and that Greece and Bulgaria will cooperate for stability in the
Balkans. Duma cited Arsenis as saying that a "gray zone" of security
would be created in the region if the Balkan countries are not admitted into
NATO together with the Visegrad states. During talks between the defense
ministers, an agreement on joint military maneuvers was reached. The Greek navy
will take part in maneuvers in Bulgarian territorial waters, while Bulgarian
troops will participate in maneuvers in Greece in May, to be held in the
framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. No official documents were
signed, but Bulgaria proposed a meeting of the Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, and
Turkish defense ministers. Arsenis, however, expressed the opinion that the
preconditions for such a meeting do not yet exist. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI,
GREEK-ALBANIAN BORDER INCIDENT.
After the shooting of an Albanian trying
to enter Greece illegally, Athens and Tirana put blame for the incident on each
other, Reuters reported on 21 February. The incident took place on 18 February
near the village of Vidohova. An Albanian Interior Ministry spokesman said the
group of Albanians was still "ten meters inside Albania when the Greek opened
fire without warning and then followed them 57 meters inside our territory,"
whereas Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos claimed that they were
already on Greek territory. He said a Greek army border patrol opened fire when
the Albanians refused to stop and called the incident "common." Venizelos said
that the injured Albanian was taken to a Greek hospital and will either be
returned to Albania or seek a legal visa and remain in Greece if he wishes.
Venizelos also told the press that Greece and Albania will try to reach an
agreement over the status of Albanians living and working illegally in Greece.
The question will be discussed during a scheduled visit by Greek Foreign
Minister Karolos Papoulias to Tirana in March. More than 100,000 Albanians are
estimated to live in Greece, while Athens has expelled another 50,000 after the
conviction of five ethnic Greeks on charges of espionage and illegal arms
possession in 1994. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.
[As of 12:00 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Pete Baumgartner