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Newsline - February 27, 1995

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives who visited Chechnya earlier in February charged at a news conference in Nazran on 24 February that Russian troops had committed gross abuses in Chechnya and that the civilian population continues to suffer, Russian and Western agencies reported. On 25 February, Chechen Muslim clergy met in Nazran with representatives of the Russian federal authorities to discuss how to end hostilities, ITAR-TASS reported. A spokesman for Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev told Interfax on 26 February that it is still not too late to resolve the Chechen conflict by peaceful means. In its 24-27 February issue, Komsomolskaya pravda printed what it claimed was the transcript of a second telephone conversation between Dudaev and Iskander Hamidov, the leader of the Azeri opposition party Boz Gurd, in which Dudaev vowed to force "Yeltsin and his bandit grouping" to flee and to put Yeltsin, Federation Council speaker Vladimir Shumeiko, Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin, and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev on trial. Meanwhile, fighting in the southeast and southwest suburbs of Grozny and around Argun and Gudermes continued on 24-26 February.-- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Col.-Gen. Dmitry Volkogonov, chairman of the president's commission on prisoners of war and missing in action, announced that 1,146 officers and men of the Russian federal forces had been killed in combat in Chechnya and another 374 were missing in action, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. He said the figures had come directly from the 27 military units fighting in the break-away republic. Nine doctors were among the dead. The official death toll stood at 394 on 12 January and 1,020 on 8 February. Meanwhile, an additional 25 servicemen--most of them from an OMON Interior Ministry special purpose unit--were killed in Grozny on 25 February when an electrical short-circuit caused an anti-mine device to explode prematurely, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The State Duma passed the 1995 budget after the third reading in a vote of 268 to 93, with three abstentions, Russian and Western sources reported on 24 February. The approval cleared the way for continued negotiations with the IMF concerning a $6.3 billion loan which Russia considers an important source of non-inflationary financing, and a critical contributor to taming inflation and stabilizing the economy. The budget foresees expenditures of 248 trillion rubles ($56.36 billion), revenues of 175 trillion rubles ($39.77 billion), and a deficit of 73 trillion ($17 billion) equivalent to 7.7% of GDP. The draft budget still requires a fourth reading, approval by the Federation Council, and a final signing by President Boris Yeltsin before it becomes law. Those requirements are seen as a formality. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais, who is in charge of economic policy, said that the passage of the budget "confirms that the government is sticking to its course of political reform and is capable of reaching a compromise with all factions in the Duma except the communists," AFP reported. The greatest support came from Russia's Choice (61 votes for and one against), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (49-1), the Party of Russian Unity and Concord (20-1), Women of Russia (21-0), and the Agrarian Party (48-1), Interfax reported. Thirty-seven members of the New Regional Policy deputy group, uniting deputies elected in single-mandate constituencies, voted in favor of the budget with six votes "against" and two abstentions. The 18 members of the Yabloko faction who were present voted against the draft budget, while only one member of the Communist Party voted for it and 41 members turned it down. One deputy of the Democratic Party faction voted in favor of the draft while seven members rejected it. Thirty independent deputies supported the draft and seven members rejected it. Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov said the vote was the first time in the three years since the break-up of the Soviet Union that the Duma has passed a budget so early in the year. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

A decree signed by the president to increase benefits to low-income groups will not require additional budget allocations, Yegeny Yasin told Interfax on 24 February. The decree, issued by Yeltsin after he vetoed legislation which more than doubled the minimum wage, provides for a 70% increase in benefits to families with many children, students, and other social groups whose benefits are calculated as a multiple of the minimum wage. Unlike the proposed increase, Yasin said the extra benefits were "selective and designed for those who actually need help" and had been included in the draft budget for 1995. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The existing state structures could ruin the country, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, told a press conference in Kazan 24 February, Interfax reported. He favored ending direct elections for the presidency and setting up a system that would allow representatives of the 89 republics and regions, as well as national, religious, and social groups to choose the president. Zyuganov did not deny that he would seek the presidency, but added that he first wants to build a coalition to include 15-20 politicians of "left-center orientation." He called on Yeltsin to either resign or call early presidential elections. Zyuganov was in Tatarstan to support the local Communist Party's campaign for the 5 March elections to the republic's State Council. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

While declaring its political positions unchanged, the federal committee of the Democratic Russia (DR) party decided to alter its charter and change its name from a "federal" to a "federative" party, Interfax reported on 26 February. Anatoly Korotich, the executive committee chairman of the DR, said the Justice Ministry had recommended the changes after reviewing party registration documents. Korotich charged that Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev had demanded the changes due to the DR's sharp criticism of government policy in Chechnya. Korotich also said that since Yegor Gaidar had split from the DR to form the Russia's Choice party, only around 20 regional branches had followed him, while more than 50 branches had remained. He estimated that Russia's Choice has approximately 600 party members, while his party has 1000. The DR plans to form a bloc with other democratic parties and movements for the upcoming parliamentary elections. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Federation Council chairman Shumeiko said he opposes combining the federation's 89 constituent members into ten larger regions, Interfax reported on 24 February. Sergei Shakhrai, former minister for nationalities and regional policy and now deputy prime minister, had proposed the system. The plan would group regions that depend on government subsidies with more prosperous areas, which supporters claim would improve the general state of the economy and reduce the desire for separatism. Shumeiko dismissed the idea that combining regions would quickly improve the economy. He said the federation treaty and in particular the principle of equality of all 89 constituent members had provided the foundation for a unified Russian state. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

The Duma passed an amended draft law on AIDS that requires most foreigners visiting Russia for more than three months to provide proof that they are HIV-free, agencies reported on 24 February. The vote was 276 to 0 with 3 abstentions. Diplomats are exempt from the compulsory test. The law, which will go into effect on 1 August if it is signed by President Yeltsin, is a softened variant of a draft first passed by the Duma in November that caused a storm of protest because it mandated HIV tests for all travelers to Russia. The new law is also likely to be criticized on the grounds that it infringes human rights and is medically senseless. According to figures released in May 1994, 105 people in Russia have died of AIDS since 1987 and another 740 have tested positive. Gay rights groups, however, say the true figure for those infected is much higher. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Local and parliamentary elections took place as scheduled in Tajikistan on 26 February, but without the participation of either radical Islamic or moderate opposition parties, Russian and Western agencies reported. A total of 354 candidates contested 181 seats in the new parliament. The moderate opposition Party of People's Unity had announced on 24 February that it would boycott the elections and ignore the results of the Tajik Central Electoral Commission which rejected the candidacies of two party members including its leader Abdumalik Abdullodzhonov, the former prime minister who ran against President Imomali Rakhmonov in last November's presidential election. Local officials estimated voter participation at 84%, Reuters reported. Rakhmonov insisted the elections were "democratic and free," despite minor infringements. International human rights organizations had expressed concern that voting conditions were "seriously flawed" and declined to send observers, although Russia, the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, and several CIS states did so, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

The Uzbek parliament voted to hold a referendum on 26 March on extending until the year 2000 the mandate of President Islam Karimov, Interfax reported on 24 February. Parliament speaker Erkin Khalilov argued this would "ensure harmony in relations between the president, government, and parliament and promote domestic stability." -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

An unexploded nuclear weapon left over from an incomplete Soviet test series is still in its test silo near Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported on 24 February. The story called it "an A-bomb ready for use guarded by 25 interior troops," and said it had been planted for underground testing in the late 1980s. In 1994, the British publication Jane's Intelligence Review reported on a nuclear device that had been buried at the Degelen Mountain area of the Semipalatinsk test site. That device was said to have been installed in 1990 or 1991 as part of a cooperative test program to calibrate U.S. seismic monitoring stations. Degelen Mountain is some 220 kilometers southwest of the city of Semipalatinsk. In September 1993, Interfax reported on "a small yield nuclear installation" that had been planted in "silo 108K" of the test site. At that time, Russia and Kazakhstan were working on an agreement to remove the nuclear device and return it to Russia. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.


The UN International Narcotics Control Board said on 27 February that drug-related crime was on the increase in the Central Asian republics. The report said, "Chronic budgetary deficits, galloping inflation, negative industrial growth, constantly increasing unemployment, ethnic conflicts, and open civil war (in Tajikistan) have contributed to a drastic increase in crime in general and drug-related crime in particular." The countries are important sources of cannabis, opium, and ephedrine for the other CIS states. A lack of proper technical and communications training, among other things, hampers effective law enforcement in the area. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has annulled decrees issued by Crimean President Yurii Meshkov on dissolving the Crimean parliament and local councils and on holding a referendum on a draft Crimean constitution for 9 April, Interfax-Ukraine and AFP reported on 25 February. Kuchma said the decrees contravened the Ukrainian Constitution, which stipulates that only the Ukrainian legislature has the authority to dismiss the Crimean parliament and local councils. Ukrainian law also states that councils, and not executive officials, have the power to schedule local plebiscites. The Crimean president and parliament have been locked in a power struggle since 1994. Crimean legislators stripped Meshkov of most of his powers last September and granted them to a new prime minister. Meanwhile, several explosions have recently been reported in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, believed to have been caused by rival gangs in an effort to intimidate one another. No injuries were reported. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Reuters reported on 24 February that the Ukrainian government is still working out the details of its budget to clinch the $1.3 billion IMF loan. According to Mykola Azarov, the head of the parliament budget commission, Ukraine cannot maintain the 5% budget deficit demanded by the IMF. President Leonid Kuchma has been at odds with the parliament over economic reforms, and the passage of the budget is likely to rest on his ability to persuade deputies to approve it. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Following last week's announcement that Belarus has stopped dismantling military equipment to be destroyed under the CFE Treaty, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the Foreign Ministry have issued somewhat contradictory statements on the reason for the suspension. Lukashenka stressed the disruption of the balance of power in Europe that would be caused by NATO's expansion as the primary motive. But Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastau cited financial problems. The head of the Belarusian Security Council, Viktar Sheiman, stated the country's official position on 26 February. The decision to suspend the disarmament was caused by financial considerations, Sheiman noted. Minsk has been claiming for more than a year that aid donated by the West for disarmament is insufficient. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Adolfas Slezevicius, during an official visit to Moscow on 24 February, held talks with Viktor Chernomyrdin. Slezevicius called the discussions "constructive, businesslike, and benevolent" and said they should give new impetus to bilateral relations, Interfax reported. Agreements were signed on cooperation in customs and on border check-points. The two premiers also discussed the return of Lithuania's embassies in Paris and Rome and of Lithuanian deposits in Russia's Vneshekonombank, but no timetable was established. Chernomyrdin said Russia could not stop Lithuania becoming a member of NATO but hoped it would not join at a rapid pace. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The tone of the meeting between President Lech Walesa and prime minister candidate Jozef Oleksy on 27 February will decide whether Poland gets a new government or faces new parliament elections. On his return from South America on 26 February, Walesa said he intends to express his opinion on all proposed cabinet members, not just the three "presidential" ministries required by the constitution. "The names of a couple of ministers are the result more of horse-trading than their abilities," Walesa explained. The president's objections center on Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grzegorz Kolodko, who he has not yet decided whether to take a post in the cabinet. Oleksy has adopted a flexible approach to the meeting and intends to propose two candidates for each of the contested posts (defense and foreign affairs) or even to offer the president control over one in exchange for the coalition's control over the other. Oleksy indicated that he may still abandon the mission if presidential resistance is strong. "I cannot imagine how [the government] can function if it is in conflict with the president from the very start," he said. Oleksy's withdrawal would make new elections almost inevitable (which, in turn, would give Walesa a pretext to attempt to extend his term of office). At his 26 February press conference, Walesa said he has not decided whether to accept the resignation of legal adviser Lech Falandysz. He noted he would not remove his controversial minister of state, Mieczyslaw Wachowski. "I have no complaints [about him]," Walesa said. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Vaclav Klaus, speaking in Hamburg on 24 February, said Czech-German relations must not be crippled by arguments about the past but built on trust and with a view to the future. Echoing President Vaclav Havel's speech on the same subject in Prague a week earlier, Klaus said every country has its extremists and nationalists who play on people's prejudices and fears. "It seems to me, however, that these forces do not play a significant role on either the Czech or the German side," Klaus added. "I have the feeling that the young generation, which is not burdened by the past, agrees with this point of view." During his two-day visit to Hamburg, Klaus also said that Czech-German relations are good and that the Czech Republic will be a reliable partner both for Germany and for Europe as a whole. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Oscar Luigi Scalfaro began a two-day visit to the Czech Republic on 26 February amid exceptionally tight security. Scalfaro is due to meet with President Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, and parliament speaker Milan Uhde. He is also scheduled to visit Brno. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Meeting in Trencianske Teplice on 25 February, Slovak economic ministers, along with the minister of health and representatives of the National Property Fund, discussed preparations for the second privatization wave. Property with a combined value of 220 billion koruny will be sold, of which real estate worth approximately 50 billion koruny will be sold through the coupon method. Former Minister of Transportation Mikulas Dzurinda, in an interview with Sme on 27 February, noted that the previous government's program had provided for the sale of at least 70 billion koruny worth of property through coupon privatization. He said that current figures mean that the value of property for each coupon holder will fall from about 20,000 to 14,000 koruny. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, during his two-day visit to Slovakia, stressed that countries wanting to join NATO will be judged in accordance with two requirements: military compatibility and political stability. Pravda on 25 February quoted Holbrooke as telling Slovak President Michal Kovac that by mid-1995, a NATO mission will visit Slovakia as well as other signatories to the Partnership for Peace program, although he warned that no decisions will be made this year. At the same time, he noted that the U.S. strongly supports Slovakia's entry into NATO. Holbrooke and Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar discussed security issues and Slovak relations with Hungary, and Meciar noted that there were no "basic differences." But in his meeting with parliament chairman Ivan Gasparovic, Holbrooke said the U.S. is dissatisfied with the confrontational tone on Slovakia's domestic political scene. Gasparovic stressed that the changes in television and radio are aimed at improving programming and broadcasting. Holbrooke also met with representatives of three opposition parties to discuss the stability of the presidential office, the mandates of the Democratic Union deputies, and press freedom. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

In Budapest for a meeting of U.S. ambassadors to eight Central and East European nations on how the region can integrate with Western institutions, Richard Holbrooke, together with Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, told a press conference that Hungary and the U.S. are already partners and are on their way to becoming allies, MTI reported on 24 February. Holbrooke praised Hungary's efforts to conclude basic treaties with Romania and Slovakia and reiterated that NATO will not accept countries involved in conflicts with their neighbors. In talks with Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 25 February, Holbrooke stressed that the basic treaties will promote the stability and security of the region. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

Laszlo Bekesi, at a press conference on 24 February, warned that Hungary's economy was at a crossroads between long-term stagnation and growth, MTI reports. Bekesi, who resigned last month effective 1 March, said that 3% growth and increased exports in 1994 compared with the previous year were accompanied by worsening balances and increasing debts. He said the growth could not be maintained or financed and that urgent measures were needed to stabilize the economy. Bekesi recommended that the new finance minister aim to cut the current $4 billion current account deficit by at least $1.5 billion and reduce the planned 282 billion forint budget deficit to 200 billion forint. Bekesi said many Hungarian Socialist Party politicians, including Prime Minister Gyula Horn, believed there was an easy way out of the economic crisis and had prepared programs aimed at maintaining growth at the expense of further indebtedness. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

Reuters on 25 February reported that Bosnian Serb forces are completing their campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in the Gradiska area of northern Bosnia. Their methods include robbery, beatings, intimidation, and threat of rape or execution. UN representatives said they hold the Bosnian Serb authorities directly responsible: "We are not buying excuses that these are rogue elements or . . . people out of control." Elsewhere, Vjesnik noted continued Serbian helicopter flights over Bosnia and attacks on Croatian units there. The Independent on 26 February said that the U.S. is arming the Muslims through clandestine flights to Tuzla. The BBC's Serbian Service reports on growing tensions between UNPROFOR and Bosnian government forces, whose blockade of UN troops in Gornji Vakuf has entered its third day. Meanwhile, Vjesnik on 27 February notes yet another example of clerics active across battle lines, namely the visit two days earlier by Roman Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic to Serb-held Banja Luka. There have been a number of cross-border visits by Catholic and Serbian Orthodox figures in recent days, often in connection with charity groups and relief work. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Vjesnik on 27 February carries the text of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's speech to the party faithful of his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). The convention marked the fifth anniversary of the HDZ's founding and provided Tudjman with the opportunity to take stock. He stressed that the party's policies have been consistent and correct and that the HDZ remains a party of the center that rejects extremism from either the Right or the Left. He identified upcoming tasks, including the reintegration of Serb-held territories and of the Serb population, but did not explicitly refer to the top issue in Croatia today, namely his decision to cancel UNPROFOR's mandate and the possibility of a new Croatian-Serbian war as a result. Novi list on 25 February nonetheless reported on a meeting of the Defense and National Security Council, which discussed the possibility of keeping on "international observers" once UNPROFOR's stay is formally ended. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba on 25-26 February reported that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and UN special envoy Yasushi Akashi, meeting in Belgrade on 24 February, discussed the humanitarian and military situation in the northwest Bihac pocket of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as conditions in Croatia, from where UN peacekeeping troops may withdraw soon. According to a Reuters report on 24 February, "Akashi's trip was the latest in a week of secretive efforts to persuade help avert fresh fighting." Milosevic also met with representatives of the international Contact Group on 23 February. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Supporters of the self-proclaimed Albanian-language university in Tetovo have continued their protests, Flaka reported on 27 February. Some 1,000 people gathered the previous day to honor Abdylselam Emini, who died in a shooting incident between Albanian students and Macedonian police on 17 February. The meeting was attended by representatives of all ethnic Albanian parties and the Albanian Writers Union of Macedonia. According to Flaka, the Albanians are preparing a "quiet civic revolt." The Senate of the Albanian-language university said it has found ways to continue the university's work. Meanwhile, Macedonian parliament deputies from Tetovo have denounced the university as illegal and unconstitutional. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSDR) leader Sergiu Cunescu on 24 February reiterated that his formation will not sign the revised protocols of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), a decision amounting to that party's withdrawal from the country's main opposition alliance. Radio Bucharest quoted Cunescu as saying he favored the setting up of a new, unofficial grand coalition of opposition forces. He denied rumors of an imminent split in the PSDR but said some members may consider quitting the party following its break with the CDR. The Council of the Representatives of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, the main political organization of Romania's large Hungarian minority, issued a statement in Targu Mures on 26 February saying that some documents adopted recently by the CDR implied that the HDFR and other political parties belonging to the coalition would separate from the coalition. In a related development, Nicolae Manolescu, chairman of the Party of Civic Alliance (another CDR member), on 25 February sent an open letter to Constantinescu accusing him of having provoked "the dismemberment" of the coalition. Constantinescu announced the previous day that the CDR will change its name to the Romanian Democratic Convention and that its future election symbol will be a key in a square instead of a circle. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko on 24 February told journalists in Chisinau that his country was prepared to mediate in the conflict between the Republic of Moldova and the breakaway Dniester republic. He and his Moldovan counterpart, Mihai Popov, hailed the outcome of the visit as marking a new stage in relations between their countries. The two signed a number of agreements aimed at boosting bilateral ties. Udovenko met with both Moldovan and Dniester officials during his two-day official visit to Moldova. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

The Bulgarian parliament on 23 February scrapped a law preventing former communists from holding higher academic posts, Reuters reported the next day. It also called for new elections for the heads of state-run scientific bodies by the end of October. The old law, which was introduced in 1992, prevented former senior communist officials from taking up positions in governing bodies of universities, research institutes, and the Central Examination Board. It was criticized by international human rights organizations and by the Council of Europe. The Bulgarian Socialist Party had declared that one of its first goals was to overturn the 1992 law. It is now feared however, that new purges in education and science are imminent. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Zhelyu Zhelev on 24 February accused the governing Socialists of censoring state television, Demokratsiya and Trud reported the following day. Demokratsiya cited Zhelev as saying Socialist deputy Klara Marinova was responsible for television censorship. Claiming to have been a victim himself, he reported on how some of his statements at a recent press conference had been cut and as a result his original meaning distorted. Zhelev was speaking at a meeting of intellectuals and artists who had gathered to defend a highly controversial film about the forceful Bulgarization of ethnic Turks' names during the 1980s. Marinova accused Zhelev in a letter published by Otechestven Front on 27 February of "losing his nerve" and not supplying any evidence against her. She added that in a state based on the rule of law, "such defamations are reason enough to meet at court." -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

An 18-year-old Albanian was killed when he tried to cross illegally into Greece with another 17 Albanians, Reuters reported on 26 February. According to Greek police, the Albanian drew a knife before he was shot by a policeman. It was the second Albanian-Greek border incident in two weeks. A 24-year-old Albanian was injured on 18 February as he tried to cross the same border. Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias will discuss border issues during a visit to Albania in mid-March. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave