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Newsline - March 29, 1995

As Russian forces continue to pound areas around the towns of Shali and Germenchuk using planes, tanks, helicopters, and artillery bombardment, an OSCE diplomat has raised fears that the situation is deteriorating at an alarming pace. Istvan Gyarmati told reporters in Moscow, "It seems the danger of the war spreading to the neighboring republics is much greater than at the time of my last visit one and half months ago," according to AFP. Gyarmati warned that, as Chechen fighters retreated towards the borders of Ingushetia and Dagestan, the chances increased that the fighting would spill over into those areas as well. Another problem voiced by Gyarmati was threat that the number of refugees in the region would increase. Estimates indicate there are more than 200,000 refugees in Ingushetia alone. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees claims that 1,000 refugees a day are pouring into Dagestan, up from 500 last week. Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesman, told Reuters in a 28 March report that, in addition,"local authorities think 30,000 [refugees] are leaving or have already left and are within a triangle," referring to the zone between Argun, Shali, and Gudermes. He added, "We're afraid of cholera this spring" because of poor sanitation in the crowded refugee camps. The OSCE plans to establish a permanent mission in Grozny as early as mid-April. Gyarmati warned the, as yet, unnamed head of the mission, "As an encouragement, I would like to tell my would-be colleague that these six months will probably be the most interesting experience of his life--if he survives," reported AFP. -- Bruce Pannier, OMRI, Inc.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Nationalities Nikolai Yegorov said federal authorities could not have used force against Chechnya three years ago, Interfax and Russian television reported 28 March. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the Russian republics and regions began declaring sovereignty, he said. At that time, the use of force against the Chechen leadership could have caused an explosion throughout the Northern Caucasus as well as in other parts of the country. According to Yegorov, Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudaev understood the state of affairs at the time, but did not take into account that the situation in Russia would eventually change, and one republic could not continue to test the strength of the entire country. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

In its first official press conference as a registered Duma faction, the Stability group called the use of force in Chechnya justified in order to defend the Russian Constitution and the country's territorial integrity, Ekho Moskvy reported on 25 March. The group's political coordinator Alexei Alexandrov told journalists that the period of "emotional democracy" in Russia was finished, and that Stability would fight for "organized and pragmatic democracy, with a strong state system," NTV reported. Stability, which calls itself a "centrist" group, was created in February to provide a base of support for Yeltsin in the Duma. Alexei Levushkin, a co-chairman of the group, did not rule out the creation of an all-Russian Stability movement to participate in the December 1995 elections. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Before departing for his trip to the Middle East, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev again waved the ultra-nationalist card to dissuade NATO expansion, Interfax reported on 28 March. Kozyrev cited the recent budget deal as a significant step forward for Russian reforms but cautioned that the West should not "undercut" the progress made so far by being too hasty with NATO expansion ideas, especially in light of the upcoming election campaign. He thinks such action will "provide the ultra-nationalist forces with arguments, though artificial, for encouraging xenophobia." He pleaded with Western leaders to "act more carefully so as not to hinder the efforts of Russia's president and government, rather than simply proclaiming their sympathy with our reforms." Nevertheless, most opinion polls suggest that despite the rightist bombast, the Russian electorate is much more preoccupied with domestic and economic issues than foreign policy. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

A group of 30 Russian State Duma deputies signed an appeal against what they called the "genocide" of the Kurdish people in Southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan by Turkish forces, Interfax reported on 25 March. According to them, the problem of the Kurdish people should be resolved using political means at a round-table conference "where the Kurdish side should be recognized as an equitable participant in the talks." They recommended that the Russian Foreign Ministry call on the UN Security Council to consider the "numerous violations of international commitments by Turkey." -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

A new Russian space booster based on the SS-25 intercontinental ballistic missile apparently failed to place three satellites in orbit following a 28 March launch. ITAR-TASS had first reported the successful launch of a "Start" booster rocket from the Plesetsk launch site in northwestern Russia but several hours later said that no contact could be established with the three satellites sent aloft. The Russians have been touting the "Start" as a flexible and reliable launch system that can place small loads into geostationary orbit from virtually any spot on the globe. Interfax indicated that the payload included an Israeli satellite and a joint Russian-Mexican effort, raising the possibility that Russia will have to pay compensation to its foreign partners. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Presidential aide Alexander Livshitz said defense orders in 1995 will be placed "exclusively on the basis of the budget," Interfax reported on 28 March. He said the government is determined not to repeat last year's difficulties caused by military orders being placed before a source for funding had been found. Livshitz indicated that defense enterprises could be helped if President Yeltsin's 1994 decree on reducing unfunded war reserve stocks in factories would be "made to work." In the past, factories had to set aside capacities and personnel in order to be prepared to meet their secret military wartime orders but were not compensated for those efforts. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian Agriculture and Food Ministry plans to complete the conversion of the country's collective and state-run agroindustrial enterprises into joint-stock companies in the third quarter of 1995, Interfax reported on 28 March. Only 1,302 out of 2,327 agricultural businesses to be privatized have reached that goal. The ministry said the privatization process has moved slowly and indicated that not one agroindustrial enterprise in the Arkhangelsk, Ulyanovsk, Kurgan and Kemerovo oblasts, and the republic of Kalmykia has been denationalized. The Novosibirsk, Tomsk, and Irkutsk oblasts have privatized up to 13% of enterprises in the sector. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The Association of Russian Farmers and Agricultural Cooperatives has signed an agreement with the government on mutual obligations that gives farmers the right to a share of state subsidies proportional to the amount of land they cultivate, association president Vladimir Bash-machnikov told Interfax on 28 March. He said up until now farmers in the non-state sector had received only 2%-5% of the money spent on agriculture although they worked 10% of the land. Now, however, the government has committed itself to allocating 10% of loans, subsidies, and other funds directly to the farmers. In exchange, the farmers' association, which unites about 70% of Russia's private farmers, will organize the delivery of agricultural produce to federal and regional food funds in volumes set jointly by the association and the Federal Food Corporation. According to Bashmachnikov, pricing policy is now being discussed. Last year, Russia's 300,000 non-state farmers harvested 5.7% of the total yield of grain, 5.7% of sugar beets, and 14% of sunflower seeds. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The State Committee for Machine-Building has failed to attract private investors, Interfax reported on 28 March. The committee blamed high inflation, disadvantageous tax laws, and a lack of coherent business plans in the machine-building enterprises themselves for the poor results. The machine-building sector has suffered a severe fall in output since the onset of market reforms. In the early part of last year, production declined by almost 50% in comparison with the same period in 1993. The situation subsequently improved slightly, but output is still falling. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

If the Russian government does not provide financial assistance to the Primorsky Krai, its residents will hold a territorial strike and block the Trans-Siberian Railroad and seaports, Chairman of the Primorsky Duma Igor Lebedinets announced on 28 March in Vladivostok, Interfax reported. The Duma has sent a letter to the federal authorities demanding immediate action. The Russian armed forces owe Primorsky defense enterprises 200 billion rubles, while the government has never provided the 144 billion rubles allocated for the upkeep of municipal housing. Under present circumstances, the territory has a deficit of more than 400 billion rubles. The deputies demanded that a meeting take place of the Russian government in the krai by 1 May. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The deputies of Kyrgyzstan's new parliament held their first session on 28 March. One of their first accomplishments was to elect Mukar Cholponbayev as chairman of the Legislative Assembly, the lower house. Cholponbayev, 50, who was previously Kyrgyzstan's justice minister, told journalists that the main objectives would be to pass bills on facilitating economic expansion and improving law and order, according to Interfax. About 25 draft laws are ready for review, including electoral reforms, a new tax code, a package of economic reforms, and rules on foreign investment, Reuters reported. Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev is scheduled to address a joint session of parliament on 29 March, and a debate on the agenda is also expected to begin. Although the assembly has begun work, not all of the seats in the legislature are filled. Several electoral areas did not register the minimum required turnout of 50%, leaving six seats vacant in the Legislative Assembly and 10 in the People's Assembly, the so-called part-time upper house. Runoff elections are scheduled for 29 April, Interfax reported. -- Bruce Pannier, OMRI, Inc.

The Uzbek Electoral Commission announced that 99.6% of eligible voters, or 11.25 million people, cast ballots in the 26 March referendum extending President Islam Karimov's rule until the year 2000, Reuters reported on 28 March. In a televised speech the day after the referendum, Karimov said he was "amazed" at the unanimous support for his policies, Interfax reported on 29 March. He pledged to work for stability and peace in Uzbekistan and said all branches of power should "function in the same vein." -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.


Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Borys Tarasyuk said his government has formally asked Russia to halt the activities of its consular workers in Crimea, AFP reported on 28 March. The workers had been handling requests for Russian citizenship instead of providing other services for Russian citizens in the region. Tarasyuk said this violated his country's law and Russia had not notified Ukraine about the mission's activities in Simferopol. The head of the mission, Aleksis Molochkov, would not say how many Russian passports had been handed out and there was no immediate response from the Russian Foreign Ministry to Kiev's request. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Leonid Kuchma and Serhii Tsekov met in Kiev on 27 March to try to resolve the constitutional standoff over Crimea's status, Interfax-Ukraine reported the next day. Kuchma told reporters after the meeting he was ready to cooperate with the Crimean parliament if it respected Ukrainian law. He said he had refrained from calling for the dissolution of the Crimean legislature during the recent crisis because there was no guarantee that new elections would bring a "better" parliament to power. Tsekov told reporters he was pleased with the results of the meeting and expected progress within weeks on resolving the standoff. Tensions have been high between Ukraine and Crimea since the Ukrainian parliament annulled what it views as Crimea's separatist constitution and abolished its Presidency on 17 March. Crimean deputies retaliated on 22 March by dismissing Crimean Prime Minister Anatolii Franchuk, whom they consider close to Kiev. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Algirdas Brazauskas signed several agreements on partnership and cooperation with his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, in Kiev on 28 March, Ukrainian Radio reported. The two presidents spoke positively about increasing cooperation between their countries. Kuchma said his only regret over the visit was that the parliament was not meeting and so he could not ask his Lithuanian guest to attend a session to explain the difference between legislative rule and executive rule. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Alyaksandr Luka-shenka, after touring Belarusian regions affected by the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, visited the Ukrainian nuclear power station, Ukrainian Radio reported on 28 March. He was accompanied by Ukrainian Defense Minister Valerii Shmarov. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that the nuclear facility is primarily a political problem and that Ukraine was prepared to close the plant, provided that all problems related to its closure were resolved at the same time. Lukashenka extended an official invitation to Kuchma to visit Belarus. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Willem Middlekoop, the IMF representative to Belarus, said that the fund has postponed considering a $250 million stand-by loan to Belarus because of the country's failure to adhere to its economic stabilization program, Interfax reported on 28 March. The program was approved by the IMF in February. Inflation has been running at 33.7%, not 10%, as foreseen by the program. None of the 371 enterprises slated for privatization by the end of March has been privatized. And inefficient and insolvent enterprises have not been declared bankrupt by the government. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Reform Minister Liia Hanni told a news conference on 28 March that the majority of state-owned companies have been sold into private hands, BNS reported. The Privatization Agency sold 339 companies for 1.4 billion kroons ($112 million) in 1994, but as most contracts provided for payment by installments, privatization income amounted to only 431 million kroons. Among the major companies still to be privatized are Estonian Energy, Estonian Shipping Company, Estonian Railways, Estonian Air, and Estonian Oil Shale. After hearing Hanni's report, the government said that more attention should be paid to environmental protection during the privatization of companies. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry on 28 March handed a note to the Latvian embassy in Vilnius protesting Latvia's decision to send a train with about 100 Kurdish, Palestinian, and Afghan refugees to Lithuania, Reuters reported. The refugees were sent back to Latvia on 24 March, and both Russia and Lithuania have refused to accept them. Laurens Jolles, a UNHCR spokesman in Moscow, said the agency planned to send two people on 29 March to investigate the situation. "We want to find out who they are, if we know them, if Russia will admit, or re-admit them, what's happened to them and what the conditions are like," Jolles said. Officials believe that organized crime is behind the expanding business of smuggling people from Asia through the CIS and the Baltic States to Scandinavia. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Polish Peasant Party (PSL) has proposed that the Sejm revise its July 1994 resolution on the concordat with the Vatican to eliminate the requirement that a vote on ratification be postponed until the new constitution is completed. The party argues that consideration of the concordat cannot be held up because of a document that does not yet exist. The motion will be considered during the Sejm session beginning on 29 March, as will the report by the special commission that ruled the concordat does not violate the current constitution. The parliament is almost evenly split on the issue. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Union of Labor will vote against, while most Freedom Union deputies and other opposition parties will back the motion. There has been press speculation that SLD leaders would be relieved to see the concordat approved (to avoid further conflict with the Catholic hierarchy), provided they themselves do not have to provide the necessary votes. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Privatization Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek on 28 March announced that the government will submit a draft law on restitution to the Sejm in May, Rzeczpospolita reported. Of the many drafts considered and rejected since 1989, the current proposal would place the smallest burden on the budget. Only property confiscated between 1944 and 1962 in violation of the law at the time would be covered. Compensation would be paid out in "privatization coupons" valid for the purchase of shares in privatized firms. No restitution in kind would be possible, though former owners would have first refusal if former assets were put up for sale. The larger the property, the smaller the proportion of its value the state would restore. Former owners have so far lodged 500,000 claims for property worth 20 billion zloty ($14 billion), or a quarter of the annual budget. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Lidove noviny reported on 29 March that 105 Czech intellectuals have signed a statement urging the Czech government to start talks with representatives of Sudeten Germans. They said no question considered important by either side should be omitted from such talks. Former Czech Prime Minister Petr Pithart and a number of former dissidents are among the signatories. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by stressing its position that the Czech government will discuss Czech-German relations and Sudeten German questions only with the German government. President Vaclav Havel, in a partial reversal of previous statements apologizing for the postwar expulsion of some 3 million Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia, said on 15 March that the Czech Republic and Germany must stop making apologies to each other for past deeds. Some leading German politicians refuse to consider the Sudeten German question closed and have suggested that the Czech government start a dialogue with former Czechoslovak citizens of German origin. -- Jiri Pehe, OMRI, Inc.

Slovakia has received an offer from the Czech firm Skoda Praha to finish two reactors at its nuclear plant at Mochovce, Sme reports on 29 March. The EBRD was to have decided on 27 March whether to grant a loan to Slovakia to allow a Slovak-French joint venture to complete the project, but Slovak Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik asked the EBRD to delay its decision until April. Kozlik said the request was based on the European Parliament's 15 March resolution stating that funding to finish the plant should be delayed until various safety measures have been addressed, but he added that the Economy and Finance Ministries have not yet completed their analysis for the project's financing. The Czech offer undercuts that of Electricite de France by one-third, but it remains unclear whether Western safety standards would be guaranteed. Russia has also expressed interest in helping to complete the plant. It offered to put up $150 million in February. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The Slovak cabinet on 28 March removed Zdenko Kovac from his post as chairman of the Anti-Monopoly Office, replacing him with Pavol Frano. It also approved proposals for several draft laws to be discussed at the next parliament session on 5 April. Bills on Slovak Television (STV) and Slovak Radio (SRo) would provide for members of the boards overseeing these bodies, who are currently unpaid, to receive compensation from the STV and SRo budgets. The government also approved the budget of the Employment Fund. In preparation for Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's scheduled visit to Ukraine from 4-5 April, an intergovernment agreement was passed on international transport. A memorandum on the liberalization of Slovak-Bulgarian trade was approved. And for the third consecutive week, the cabinet refused to take part in a press conference, sending instead its new 23-year-old spokesman, Tomas Hasala, who studied in the U.S. and worked as a journalist for several French dailies, Pravda reported on 29 March. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

International media on 28 March reported that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, addressing the congress of his Party of Democratic Action, reaffirmed "the two minimal conditions" necessary for him to agree to peace talks: Serbia's recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serbs' acceptance of the Contact Group's peace plan. Meanwhile, Nasa Borba on 29 March writes that the Contact Group has decided there will be no more "solo trips" by its individual members to Belgrade. American and Russian diplomats in particular have repeatedly tried to woo Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in recent weeks. The diplomats in Brussels agreed on the basic form of their next offer to Milosevic, namely that he recognize his neighbors, accept current peace plans, and allow effective monitoring of his border with the Bosnian Serbs before sanctions are suspended. He has repeatedly refused to budge until the sanctions are completely lifted, however. Moscow may in any event be preparing to offer him another "solo initiative" more to his liking, the independent Belgrade daily reports. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Both the Bosnian government and Serbian rebels continue to claim success in the current fighting amid heavy snowfall in central and northeastern Bosnia. Both also seem equally determined to prevent UN observers and the media from independently checking out those claims. The stakes are high: Nasa Borba on 29 March notes that 90% of Serbian communications travel via the transmitter on Mt. Vlasic near Travnik and via another one at Stolice, in the Majevica hills near Tuzla, to the northeast. The paper adds that controlling these television relay stations is more important than taking cities and that government control of them would open up vast reaches of the republic to Sarajevo television broadcasts. It also quotes UN observers as saying the government wants to test the combat readiness of the Serbs. Vecernji list on 28 March suggests that the Bosnian government has not lost sight of its ultimate strategic goals in the northeast, namely liberating the Semberija region and cutting the vital Posavina land corridor linking Serbia with its conquests in Bosnia and Croatia. Finally in Sarajevo, the UN-sponsored airlift on 29 March marks its 1,000th day. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Serbian nationalists in Kosovo celebrated the sixth anniversary of the current Serbian Constitution on 28 March. Following protests in Kosovo in which 22 Albanians were killed by Serbian police in 1989, the Serbian legislature passed amendments to the republic's constitution effectively abrogating the autonomy of the Serbian regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina. The Albanian language-service of Deutsche Welle noted the same day that Albanian-language education was banned in elementary schools in recognition of the Serbian holiday. Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic sent a greetings message to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic saying that "the stability of Serbia guarantees the freedom of all Serbs," Nasa Borba reported on 29 March. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Pope John Paul II on 28 March received Romanian President Ion Iliescu, who is currently paying an official visit to Italy and the Vatican. They discussed bilateral relations as well as the return of Greek-Catholic Church properties confiscated by the Communists in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Most of those properties eventually ended up in the hands of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Iliescu, in an interview with Radio Bucharest after the meeting, said he was confident that dialogue between the two Churches would result in a solution to the issue. He praised the Vatican's stance as "constructive." This was Iliescu's third meeting with the Pope, following audiences in 1991 and 1992. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Russian deputies who monitored the 26 March elections and referendum in Moldova's breakaway Dniester region say they are convinced that the Russian 14th Army must remain there. Interfax quoted members of the Russian delegation as saying the best solution would be to give the area the status of a Russian military base. The deputies, who are in the Dniester region on an unofficial visit, belong to the Liberal Democratic and Socialist Parties as well as to the Communist and Agrarian factions. Moldova's Foreign Ministry protested the deputies presence in the Dniester Republic, saying it encroached on Moldova's sovereignty and violated international law. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Radio Bucharest, citing Moldpres, reported on 28 March that students and teachers in Chisinau agreed to suspend their protests until negotiations with the government are concluded. According to the same source, the Education Ministry in Chisinau has decided to revise plans to replace the study of the Romanian language and Romanian history with Moldovan language and history courses. The decision was taken after a new round of talks between a government commission and representatives of the students, who have been on strike for almost two weeks. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Russia will repay its $100 million debt to Bulgaria by providing equipment, spare parts, and repair services for its air force as well as industrial equipment, Duma reported on 29 March. An agreement on mutual obligations was signed the previous day in Moscow by Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade Kiril Tsochev and Russian Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov. Tsochev also held talks with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who reaffirmed his intention to visit Bulgaria in mid-May. Tsochev said that 15 accords to promote trade and cooperation in the transportation and construction fields have already been drafted for the visit. He stressed that Bulgaria wants closer military technological cooperation with Russia. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

A joint meeting of the Bulgarian Business Bloc's executive council and parliament faction failed to resolve political frictions, Demokratsiya reported on 29 March. The meeting was aimed at preventing the 12-member faction from splitting. BBB deputies have recently threatened to leave the party if BBB leader Georges Ganchev does not change party policies and his own leadership style. Orlin Draganov, a member of the BBB faction, accused Ganchev of pursuing "a leftist policy despite the [party's] rightist platform." A declaration stating that the faction "remains united and will fulfill its election program" was signed by just eight of the party's deputies. If more than two deputies leave the group, it will lose its status of parliament faction. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Rear Admiral Hristo Kontrov, acting commander of the Bulgarian Navy, warned that Bulgaria would have only three medium-sized and six small warships by 2000 unless urgent measures were taken, BTA reported on 24 March. Kontrov said the navy needed 11 billion leva for repairs, maintenance, and a recommended ship-building program. Of the four ex-Soviet Romeo-class submarines once in the navy, two have been sold, one is used only for exercises, and the fourth needs new batteries. Kontrov also complained that the navy was severely undermanned. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Namik Dokle, deputy leader of the Socialist Party, has been accused by the Democratic Party newspaper Rilindja Demokratike of embezzling some $400,000, the Albanian-language service of Deutsche Welle reported on 28 March. Dokle, who has denied the charges, allegedly received that sum in 1991 from communist-era President Ramiz Alia to buy a printing machine in Canada for the Socialist Party newspaper Zeri i Popullit. At the time, Dokle was chief editor of the newspaper. He claims the machine was bought but says he does not know of its whereabouts. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave