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Newsline - September 5, 1995


Vol. 1, No. 172, 5 September 1995
Russian President Boris Yeltsin approved Nizhnii Novgorod's intention to hold elections for its governor, Radio Rossii reported on 1 September. Novgorod, Vladimir, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tambov, and Saratov oblasts have also officially requested permission to hold similar elections as has the Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin will soon approve elections in two or three of these, according to Presidential Chief-of-Staff Sergei Filatov. Meanwhile, in a 1 September Kremlin meeting with the newly-elected Governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast, Eduard Rossel, Yeltsin agreed to consider a treaty defining the relationship between the federal government and the oblast. Rossel defeated Yeltsin's preferred candidate in his campaign. -- Robert Orttung

One of Yabloko's founders, Yurii Boldyrev, dropped out of the party on 2 September because he believes that Grigorii Yavlinskii's leadership has become autocratic and sacrificed liberal principles, Ekho Moskvy and Reuters reported. He did not appear at the party's congress on 2-3 September in Moscow. Although Boldyrev was one of the party's founding members, contributing the "B" to its name, his withdrawal does not have immediate consequences since he was not planning to run for the Duma. The party's top three candidates will be Yavlinskii, Chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs Vladimir Lukin, and Deputy Chairwoman of the Duma Committee on Labor and Social Security Tatyana Yarygina. Seven other parties held their congresses over the weekend. -- Robert Orttung

The second congress of Our Home Is Russia set on its tone for the election campaign on 2 September, choosing supporters of strong Russian statehood for its party list. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will top the list, followed by film director Nikita Mikhalkov ("Burnt by the Sun"), and General Lev Rokhlin, commander of the troops that stormed Grozny, Russian media reported on 3 September. Mikhalkov had previously been associated with former vice president Aleksandr Rutskoi and his Derzhava movement. Other prominent figures on the list include former Democratic Party of Russia chairman Nikolai Travkin and Vladimir Bashmachnikov, leader of the liberal farmers' union AKKOR. In his address to the congress, Chernomyrdin was optimistic that his bloc will overcome early campaign setbacks and divisions among supporters of economic reform. On 20 August, the bloc's candidate was defeated in Sverdlovsk gubernatorial elections, and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai deserted the bloc last week. -- Laura Belin

The Procurator-General's Office has closed its criminal investigation of the events on 3-4 October 1993 in which more than 150 people died. It declared that both executive authorities and supporters of the Supreme Soviet were to blame for the armed clashes and bloodshed, Russian Public Television reported on 4 September. Prominent parliamentary supporters, including Ruslan Khasbulatov and Aleksandr Rutskoi, were released from prison in February 1994 when the Duma granted amnesty to all sides in the conflict. One NTV reporter commented that by not charging a single person in the case, procurators had followed one of Russia's "most frightening traditions: bury the dead, but don't name the murderers." -- Laura Belin

The recent highly-publicized meeting of the Security Council to discuss the Chechen conflict has as yet delivered few concrete results. The disarmament process continues to move very slowly, with federal military sources telling Interfax on 2 September that only 1,100 weapons had been surrendered by Chechen fighters.
Some fighters are keeping their weapons because they are being allowed to join new self-defense units, AFP reported.
On 2 September, Chechen military commander Aslan Maskhadov said that an agreement had been reached on the terms of a long-delayed prisoner exchange, but Russian Public Television reported on 4 September that the exchange had still not taken place. Meanwhile, on the night of 3-4 September, federal troops in Chechnya came under attack 19 times, with mortars used to shell federal positions for the first time in weeks, according to ITAR-TASS. -- Scott Parrish

Talks on 2 and 3 September between German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Yeltsin failed to produce agreement between Russia and the Western members of the international Contact Group on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, Western and Russian agencies reported. Kohl told journalists that "our opinions on the air raids did not coincide," in reference to NATO airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs, which Russia has condemned. Kohl did add, however, that he and Yeltsin agreed that the Yugoslav conflict could only be solved at the negotiating table, not by military means.
On other issues, Kohl promised German financial aid for the destruction of Russian chemical weapons, and Yeltsin reiterated Russian opposition to the eastward enlargement of NATO. -- Scott Parrish

Fifteen people were killed in an explosion on 4 September at the Pervomaisk mine in the Kuzbass coal field
in western Siberia. Izvestiya on 5 September said it was the ninth serious accident in the Kuzbass this year. According to Kemerovo Governor Mikhail Kislyuk, the death rate in the area's mines has tripled since 1989. On average, every million tons of coal mined now costs two lives. Meanwhile, Russian Public Television said that 27 miners are on a hunger strike in the southern Russian mining area of Rostov to protest wage arrears totaling at least 27 billion rubles ($6 million). -- Penny Morvant

Two prisoners suffocated and four others collapsed in an overcrowded remand prison in Perm in the Urals on 2 September. ITAR-TASS quoted the prison warden as saying the remand wing housed twice as many suspects as it was built to hold. In July, 11 inmates died of heat exhaustion in a remand cell in Novokuznetsk. Rossiiskaya gazeta on 24 August said that more than 270,000 suspected criminals are held on remand in Russia. -- Penny Morvant

In a move to reduce the federal budget deficit, President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on 1 September authorizing banks and private investors to manage state shares in certain enterprises in exchange for major loans, Russian and Western agencies reported the same day. The measure allows the state to retain ownership of the shares, but they will be transferred to the banks and investors if the state defaults on the loans. The decree said the rights to manage the shares would be allocated by tender, open to the banks and Russian and foreign investors. The amount of the loans and the conditions and guarantees attached to them will be determined by the successful bidders. The tenders will be issued from 1 October. -- Thomas Sigel

Russia slashed tariffs on key exports on 1 September, but moved to boost state coffer revenues by hiking natural gas excise taxes of the state gas giant, Gazprom, by 10% and eliminating a tax break on the company's hard currency earnings, Russian and Western agencies reported the same day. President Yeltsin signed a decree to lower export tariffs by an average of 30% on goods from metals to machinery. The new rates, which have not been made public, took effect immediately. At the same time, the government decided to raise the excise taxes on Gazprom's natural gas from 25% to 35%. Gazprom already channels billions of dollars into the Russian economy. According to Segodnya, First Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the Economy and Finance, Anatolii Chubais, said the extra revenue from Gazprom would bring in an additional 3.5 trillion rubles ($780 million) by the end of the year. -- Thomas Sigel

Russia's industrial output fell by 7% in the first half of 1995, compared with the same period in 1994, and gross national product (GNP) fell by 4%, Russian agencies reported on 2 September. Citing official statistics, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said that recent figures were more encouraging, and pointed to a 2% increase in June's industrial production, compared with May, and a rise of 3% in GNP. He said the rate of decline was slowing compared with 1994. For all of 1994, industrial production fell by 21%, after a decline of 16% in 1993, while GNP dropped by 15% in 1994, compared with 12% in 1993. Soskovets said that June's figures gave rise to optimism that recovery was on the way. He pointed to a rise in production during the first six months of 1995 in the steel, chemical, petrochemical, machine and paper industries, but noted a 35-40% decline in light industrial production. Meanwhile, the government released August's monthly inflation rate--4.6%--the lowest level in one year. -- Thomas Sigel

Russian President Yeltsin has ordered the government to reduce export duties on defense industry products, Interfax reported on 1 September. First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets announced this to Khabarovsk authorities during his working visit to Russia's Far East. He said this would mean that the aircraft factory in Komsomolsk would not be required to pay any duty on its Su-27 jet exports to China. -- Doug Clarke


Vol. 1, No. 172, 5 September 1995


Talks began near Moscow on 4 September between representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian and Western media reported. The talks, which are being held under the auspices of the OSCE, are aimed at consolidating the ceasefire which has held in the region since May 1994. Azerbaijan is refusing to recognize the independent status of Nagorno-Karabakh until Armenia returns the Azerbaijani territory which was seized during earlier fighting, including the land corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. Upcoming talks over the construction of pipelines to export oil from the Caspian Sea, scheduled for 9 October, may encourage the two sides to reach a settlement. -- Peter Rutland

Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze and his deputy Temur Khachishvili were sacked on 2 September for failing to prevent the 29 August bomb attack on Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze, AFP reported on 3 September. Khachishvili, a supporter of Shevardnadze opponent Dzhaba Ioseliani, was arrested on 2 September along with two leading members of the Mkhedrioni, a paramilitary group. They were accused of involvement in an April attack on a Shevardnadze aide. On 3 September, police conducted raids on regional headquarters of the Mkhedrioni, which backs Ioseliani, seizing their buildings and confiscating weapons. On 3 September Deputy Minister Avtandil Ioseliani was appointed interim security minister, while Shevardnadze told the parliament he will take direct, personal control over three elite security units. The parliament officially approved Shevardnadze's actions. On 4 September, Shevardnadze concluded a one-day visit to Uzbekistan. -- Peter Rutland

The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan has banned the Communist Party, preventing it from registering for the 12 November elections, a Western news agency reported 4 September. Fazil Mamedov, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, accused the Communist Party of threatening Azerbaijan's independence by calling for the restoration of the Soviet Union. Party leader Ramiz Akhmedov said the party will appeal to President Heidar Aliyev to lift the ban. On 2 September Interfax reported that two major opposition parties, the Popular Front of Azerbaijan and the Social Democratic Party, will be allowed to run in the elections despite earlier being denied registration (See OMRI Daily Digest 4 August 1995). -- Peter Rutland

The Kurgan-Tyube area in Tajikistan's south was once again the scene of fighting between the first and eleventh brigades, according to western sources. Both groups were members of the Popular Front which backed the Communists return to power in late 1992. Conflict broke out following the assassination of Izatullo Kuganov, commander of the eleventh brigade, in early June. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov had announced that both brigades would be moved to positions on the Tajik-Afghan border, but this didn't occur. The eleventh brigade came under attack on 1 September. Usmon Marchayev, a commander in the eleventh brigade, said 300 men, six tanks and several armored personnel carriers participated in the assault on his unit. -- Bruce Pannier

Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev rejected a statement by the U.S. embassy in Almaty that criticizes the new Kazakh constitution as undemocratic, Interfax reported on 2 September. Tokaev said that the people of Kazakhstan have democratically adopted the new constitution, favoring a strong presidential system, and expressed faith that his country's ties with the U.S. will only become closer. A leader of the Russian opposition in Kazakhstan told Reuters on 1 September that voter turnout in the 186 voting stations in Almaty was between 14 and 28%. The Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of Kazakhstan claimed that in the 622 polling stations monitored by the opposition, the actual turnout was only 34%. Yuri Kim, the chairman of the electoral commission, claimed that 90 percent of the electorate voted in the referendum. He denied the "biased" claims of the opposition, who he said had observed only 622 of the 10,253 polling stations. -- Bhavna Dave


Vol. 1, No. 172, 5 September 1995
Michal Kovac Jr. was forcibly taken from Slovakia on 31 August and abandoned in his Mercedes limousine outside a police station in the Austrian border town of Hainburg, Slovak and international media reported. Kovac, aged 34, was reportedly dragged from his car in Bratislava, hooded, handcuffed, beaten, given electric shocks, and forced to drink half a liter of whiskey at gunpoint by about eight unidentified men. Austrian police, who were informed of Kovac's presence by an unknown caller speaking German with a Slovak accent, arrested Kovac and took him to a hospital for treatment from injuries. The pro-government Slovak daily Slovenska Republika reported in March that a Munich prosecutor had issued an international warrant for Kovac's arrest last November for his involvement in illegal business dealings between the Slovak firm Technopol and German companies. Kovac denied any involvement but remained on Interpol's "wanted" list. Chief prosecutor Manfred Wick in Munich asked Austria to extradite Kovac to face fraud charges. -- Sharon Fisher

Michal Kovac Sr. expressed shock at his son's abduction and insisted that he is innocent. Presidential spokesman Vladimir Stefko and opposition representatives suggested the kidnapping was an attempt to discredit the president, who has been involved in a long-term power struggle with Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Kovac Sr. met with his Austrian counterpart, Thomas Klestil, in Vienna on 1 September to discuss the situation. He later asked Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk to send a note to Austria requesting the return of Kovac Jr., but Schenk said he would first have to consult with Meciar. Slovak government spokesman Tomas Hasala on 4 September denied any official involvement in Kovac Jr.'s abduction. -- Sharon Fisher

Polish Peasant Party (PSL) leader and former Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak barely won his party's nomination for president on 2 September. Running unopposed in the first round, Pawlak received the support of only 81 delegates; 141 were opposed to his nomination. Party support was strongest for Sejm speaker Jozef Zych, whom PSL members consider more popular and "electable" than the taciturn Pawlak. But Zych repeatedly refused to vie for the nomination, and observers said he was waiting for Pawlak to withdraw. In the second round of balloting, Pawlak received just one vote more than the minimum required to defeat Senate speaker Adam Struzik, Rzeczpospolita reported. -- Louisa Vinton

Lech Kaczynski, former head of the Supreme Chamber of Control, announced his candidacy for president on 4 September, Rzeczpospolita reported. Kaczynski, who is supported by the right-wing Center Alliance, said he decided to run after more than 50,000 signatures were gathered to support his campaign. The announcement dashes any remaining hope that the main right-wing parties will unite to support a single presidential candidate. Stan Tyminski also formally launched his campaign on 4 September with the election slogan "Poland for Poles." Tyminski promised to put a halt to the "genocidal" Balcerowicz plan and, as was the case in the last presidential elections five years ago, he threatened to open his "black briefcase" to reveal compromising information about other candidates. The two declarations bring the total number of candidates to 28, according to a count published in Rzeczpospolita. -- Louisa Vinton

According to provisional figures released by the Czech Statistical Office, GDP rose 3.2% in the second quarter of 1995 compared with the same period last year, Czech media reported on 5 September. The figure represents a slight slowing down from the first quarter of this year, when the rise in GDP was 3.9%. But the overall 3.6% rise in real terms for the first six months of 1995 was in line with official expectations. In nominal terms, GDP totaled 579.3 billion koruny ($22.28 billion) in the first half of this year. Officials said increases were registered in industry and construction, while the service sector stagnated during the second quarter. -- Steve Kettle

The "Rom Som" festival ended on 3 September with a gala performance at the Budapest Congress Center at which a letter of support from Premier Gyula Horn was read out in both Romani and Hungarian. International media reported that few Roma attended the festival's main events--performances of Carmen by a Spanish flamenco troupe, Romeo and Juliet in Romani, and concerts by famous Jazz artists--citing high ticket prices. However, local Roma filled the halls of other, less publicized performances. Antonia Haga, Romani SZDSZ representative to parliament, said proceeds will go toward Romani education and that it is hoped the annual festival will be funded by the EU. While "Rom Som" has been billed as the first-ever "World Gypsy Festival," similar events have been held in Poland, Macedonia, and elsewhere. -- Alaina Lemon

Malcolm Rifkind was in Kiev on 3 and 4 September on the first leg of a three-country visit, international agencies reported. He met with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz, and Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko. Rifkind discussed the situation in Bosnia and NATO's role there, the closure of Chornobyl, and Ukraine's integration into international organizations. He said Britain was ready to uphold Ukraine's eventual membership in the Council of Europe and that it supported enhanced economic cooperation with all European institutions. -- Ustina Markus

Izvestiya on 5 September reported that a number of Belarusian newspapers have published Presidential Decree No. 336 of 21 August, which did indeed suspend deputies' immunity, thereby allowing for the arrest of deputy Syarhei Antonchyk (see OMRI Daily Digest, 1 September 1995). The decree also suspended the activities of the Independent Trade Unions, the Minsk Metro Trade Union, and the Railroad and Transport Facilities Workers' Union and called upon the Prosecutor's Office to start proceedings aimed at abolishing those organizations. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists that he will only work with the new parliament, Belarusian radio reported on 4 September. The old, outgoing parliament is due to convene this week and will continue its work until a new legislature is in place. -- Ustina Markus

Tiit Vahi returned to Tallinn on 3 September after a two-week trip to the U.S. that included three working days in Washington. Vahi on 30 August discussed the fight against drug trafficking with FBI director Louis Freeh. The next day he held talks with IMF Deputy Director Stanley Fischer and World Bank Managing Director Richard Frank, both of whom expressed approval of Estonia's economic policy. Vahi on 1 September met with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and top officials from the Defense Department, BNS reported. -- Saulius Girnius

Aldis Lieljuksis, head of the Interior Ministry's Police Department, told a news conference on 4 September that the hunger strike by Asian migrants at the Olaine internment camp was over, Reuters reported. The strike began on 30 August. After some of the strikers started a fire at the camp, the police moved in and detained twenty of them. Many of the 128 migrants at the camp were on the so-called "Train of Despair" that Russia and Lithuania refused to admit in April. Latvia does not have the legal framework to deport the migrants, and no Western country is prepared to accept them. -- Saulius Girnius


Vol. 1, No. 172, 5 September 1995
The Atlantic alliance interrupted its air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs on 1 September to see if the Serbs would then comply with key demands. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 4 September said the points included an end to attacks on Sarajevo and other "safe areas," the withdrawal of heavy weapons beyond the 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the Bosnian capital, and complete freedom of movement for UN and NGO personnel, including access to the Sarajevo airport. The Serbs had until 11:00 p.m. local time on 4 September to comply. International media on 5 September noted that messages from the Bosnian Serb military and civilian leaderships included unacceptable conditions. General Ratko Mladic also sent a fax indicating that he could not order a withdrawal since that would be a political decision requiring a popular referendum and a vote by the Pale legislature, the BBC reported. -- Patrick Moore

A UN spokesman on 5 September said that the Serbs moved only 20-25 heavy weapons out of the exclusion zone. Special envoy Yasushi Akashi noted that this was "limited movement" only and hence not likely to be acceptable, Reuters reported. The BBC added that the Serbs have 200-300 such guns in the area. AFP quoted Akashi as saying that "we need evidence of substantial movement--if not completion--of the withdrawal of all heavy weapons from the exclusion zone." British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind told the BBC from Moscow that the Serbs had presented written acceptance of the demands and that "there will be no further need to contemplate air strikes." Reuters reported from Zagreb, however, that NATO had indeed resumed bombing. NATO and UN officials had been concerned that the Serbs would try various ruses to buy time. The International Herald Tribune said that a UN spokesman had warned Mladic that "if he doesn't play ball, he's going to get hit very, very hard." -- Patrick Moore

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 4 September noted that Bosnian Serb forces continued to attack in northern and western Bosnia. They seemed interested in widening their supply corridor from Serbia and shelled Gradacac, which was held by government and Croatian defenders even during the Muslim-Croatian war of 1993. There were also reports of shelling and sniper fire from Serbian positions in Sarajevo. Slobodna Dalmacija on 5 September noted that 400 shells fell on Lukavac near Tuzla. International media said the previous day that the Serbs had released the five EU monitors who were first reported dead and then held up in Visegrad by Bosnian Serb forces. -- Patrick Moore

International media on 5 September said that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic feels the current U.S. peace plan has too many "gray areas" to be acceptable. He specifically ruled out any confederation between the Bosnian Serbs and rump Yugoslavia in any future settlement, although he reaffirmed certain rights for the Serbs. He had been speaking in Ankara with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who came from talks in Bonn, Belgrade, Athens, and Skopje. The details of the U.S. plan have yet to be made public, but it is based on the Contact Group project of July 1994 and likewise involves the effective partition of the republic. Holbrooke was nonetheless optimistic about the chances for peace. Top Contact Group political officials will meet in Geneva with Zagreb's, Sarajevo's, and Belgrade's foreign ministers on 8 September. -- Patrick Moore

The Serbian police raided more than 60 houses following a shoot-out on 30 August, Kosova Daily Report said on 4 September. According to initial reports, two Serbian policemen were killed and four wounded in an explosion following a shoot-out at a police station near the village of Irzniq. Later sources, however, spoke of two injured and no casualties. Police began raiding houses and arresting people immediately after the shoot-out. Elsewhere, a court in Gnjilan sentenced nine ethnic Albanians to between six months and four years in prison for allegedly planning to forcibly secede from the rump Yugoslavia, BETA reported on 31 August. -- Fabian Schmidt

OSCE High Commissioner for Ethnic Minorities Max van der Stoel, concluding the official part of his visit to Romania on 1 September, recommended that the new Romanian education law be reformulated to enable technical colleges to teach in the Hungarian language. Radio Bucharest reported the same day that the commissioner also recommended the inclusion of Hungarian-language instruction in social sciences and economics at the country's universities. Van der Stoel said the law currently allows for broad interpretation of its provisions and that its implementation should be reviewed (presumably by international organizations) at "regular intervals" to ensure international standards are being applied. -- Michael Shafir

International agencies on 2 September estimated that some 10,000 ethnic Hungarian participated in a rally in the Transylvanian town of Targu Secuiesc protesting the education law. The meeting was organized by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). UDMR chairman Bela Marko said the Hungarian minority rejects the "forced assimilation" stipulated by the new law. Pan Laszlofi, chairman of the Association of Hungarian Educators in Romania, said his organization was preparing to found an autonomous Hungarian university. The UDMR announced the setting up of the Foundation for the Defense of the Hungarian Language. It also said 10 ethnic Hungarian youths would be cycling to Strasbourg to protest there and en route against the new education law. -- Michael Shafir

International agencies on 2-4 September reported that the Tiraspol authorities organized meetings marking the fifth anniversary of the republic's break with Moldova. Igor Smirnov, president of the region, said the final aim of the parleys with Chisinau was to secure recognition of the republic's independence and consolidate statehood and the army. Reuters reported that helicopters trailing the Transdniestrian flag flew over Tiraspol as several thousand troops marched through the streets "recalling scenes not witnessed in Moscow since the collapse of communism." BASA-press said the military parade featured missile launchers, combat helicopters, and armored vehicles. The festivities were also attended by an unofficial delegation of three Russian State Duma radical nationalist deputies, headed by Sergei Baburin, who said the present Transdniestrian republic "is the future of Russia," Infotag and BASA-press reported. -- Michael Shafir

The second extraordinary congress of the main governing party, the Agrarian Democratic Party of Moldova (PDAM) , was held in Chisinau on 2 September, BASA-press and Infotag reported. Chairman Dumitru Motpan accused the 11 deputies who left the party to join President Mircea Snegur's Party of Revival and Conciliation of taking part in an "action planned in advance [and] synchronized with the initiative to change the name of the state language" and to increase the president's constitutional powers. He said the PDAM rejects the proposal to set up a presidential regime with a bicameral parliament, accusing Snegur of wishing to dissolve the present one-chamber legislature. -- Michael Shafir

Zef Brozi has rejected accusations that he worked for the communist-era secret service, saying he was never asked to do so. He has asked the Prosecutor's Office to open investigations into journalists for the ruling Democratic Party's newspaper Rilindja Demokratike, which first published the accusations against him. Brozi also claims his office and private telephone have been tapped. In other news, Brozi said Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano's appeal to be released from prison will be reviewed in September. The review was delayed after the court said it needed more time to study the accusations against Nano, who was found guilty of the misappropriation of Italian aid funds, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 2 September. -- Fabian Schmidt

Greece and Macedonia agreed to hold direct talks aimed at improving bilateral relations, international agencies reported on 4 September. Dimitris Karaitidis, adviser to the Greek prime minister, said Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias and his Macedonian counterpart, Stevo Crvenkovski, will meet in New York next week for UN-brokered talks. The agreement was confirmed by the U.S. State Department. The announcement came a few hours after talks between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. U.S. President Bill Clinton called the step a "courageous and visionary decision" and a "major step toward peace and stability in the region." -- Stefan Krause

Talks between Karolos Papoulias and his Albanian counterpart, Alfred Serreqi, failed to produce any results, Reuters reported on 1 September. According to Greek officials, Serreqi left the meeting after 15 minutes, angered by Greek demands to open schools for Albania's ethnic Greek minority. He also failed to attend a scheduled news conference. Greece has demanded three independent Greek schools in southern Albania in return for granting legal seasonal employment to some of the 300,000 or so Albanians illegally living and working in Greece. The agreement was to be signed during Serreqi's visit, but the Greek side wanted "signs of goodwill" from the Albanian foreign minister. -- Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Jan Cleave