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Newsline - March 15, 1996

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev arrived in Grozny for an unannounced visit late on 13 March, Russian and Western media reported the next day. Grachev made no press statements during the visit in which he met with officials of the Moscow-backed Chechen government of Doku Zavgaev and Russian military commanders. Some unconfirmed reports suggested that Grachev might have met with representatives of separatist Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev before he left on 14 March. Grachev's visit was aimed at gathering information for the scheduled 15 March meeting of the Russian Security Council, which is supposed to approve a plan for settling the Chechen conflict. Meanwhile, Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov appeared on separatist television late on 13 March, refuting claims that he had been seriously wounded (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 March 1996). -- Scott Parrish

Federal aircraft and artillery continued to pound the western Chechen village of Bamut on 14 March, NTV reported. The network ridiculed earlier military claims that the bombardment consisted of "pinpoint" strikes against Chechen positions, citing local residents who described continuous attacks by Russian aircraft. AFP, quoting military sources, said fog was hindering close air support operations, so the bombing was being conducted from high altitude. Russian military spokesmen contend that up to 400 separatist fighters are entrenched in the village. Meanwhile, Izvestiya reported on 14 March that federal forces have repeatedly shelled Dagestani villages along the administrative border with Chechnya over the last 15 months. The paper reported that the shelling had killed six villagers and destroyed several buildings. -- Scott Parrish

President Boris Yeltsin defended the institution of the presidency on 14 March in an interview on Russian TV. Russians are used to having one person and "some sort of vertical power structure, a strong hand, which can not only talk, but act," he argued. Yeltsin rejected the alternative of parliamentary government on the grounds that it fosters division into numerous factions that "cannot solve anything because no one is responsible." He claimed that the parliament would be subordinated to parties and that "there would be no kind of democracy there." Yeltsin's comments were directed against recent attempts by the Communists to eliminate the presidency and restore the soviets which formed a facade of democracy during Communist rule. Yeltsin was also critical of the executive branch, saying that today "there is no oversight, no execution, no discipline, and no order." -- Robert Orttung

Yeltsin also defended the 1991 Belovezhsk accords that created the CIS and denounced Communist efforts to repudiate them as a cynical political ploy. The president attacked a proposed Duma resolution denouncing the agreements, which is scheduled for a vote on 15 March, just before the fifth anniversary of the 17 March 1991 all-Union referendum on the preservation of the USSR. Yeltsin described the Communist-sponsored resolution as "very damaging for Russia." He said the Communists are "very displeased" that he is leading Russia toward integration with Belarus, and said the resolution is nothing but electoral posturing. Yeltsin also announced that in March Russia and Belarus would sign an agreement on "deep integration leading to confederation," adding that similar agreements with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan would be concluded soon. -- Scott Parrish

The Union of Muslims of Russia has vowed to support President Yeltsin's bid for re-election provided he makes every effort to resolve problems of the North Caucasus and especially the Chechen crisis, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 15 March, citing the union's co-chairman, Abdul-Vakhid Niyazov. Last month, union General Secretary Mikhail Bibarsov resigned from the organization in disagreement with the union's support for Yeltsin (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 February 1996). Niyazov also announced the union's intention to unite with the Muslim movement NUR, the only Muslim organization that participated in the December parliamentary elections, Ekspress-Khronika reported. -- Anna Paretskaya

The State Duma has formally called on the country's oblast and krai legislatures to adopt legislation on elections by the end of their terms in office and to hold new elections to these bodies at the same time as the June presidential poll, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. The Duma claims that some regional legislatures violated the constitution and current legislation when they extended their terms in office by another two years. The electoral terms of most regional legislative bodies expires in 1996. A September 1995 presidential decree, however, recommended that regional legislative elections be postponed until December 1997. The same decree postponed elections to the local self-government bodies below regional level until December 1996; however, now President Yeltsin wants to put them off for an even longer period (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 March 1996) -- Anna Paretskaya

The Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) is strongly opposed to holding regional elections at the same time as the June presidential poll, according to TsIK Chairman Nikolai Ryabov. Ryabov, speaking at a 14 March meeting of regional electoral commission heads, added that regional and local elections and referendums could be set for the fall or winter of 1996, Russian media reported. -- Anna Paretskaya

At a 14 March meeting with Jaime Crombet, the deputy chairman of the Cuban parliament, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev declared that "Russian relations with Cuba should reach the level of Cuban-Soviet relations," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Nuclear Energy said the new U.S. legislation would not affect plans to complete the first reactor of the controversial Juragua nuclear power station in Cuba, which the U.S. opposes on safety grounds. Russia and Cuba are still searching for foreign investors to help finance the $800 million project. -- Scott Parrish

A member of the presidential commission that considers pardons for those facing the death penalty has spoken out against the increasing use of capital punishment in Russia, Reuters reported. In a letter to Izvestiya on 15 March, Lev Razgon said that the use of the death penalty declined in 1992-94 but increased sharply in 1995, when 86 people were sentenced to death. He added that this February alone, 30 appeals for pardon were rejected, compared with 19 in all of 1994. Razgon said officials are worried about the country's rising murder rate, prison overcrowding, and obligations entailed by Russian membership of the Council of Europe. The latter require Russia to abolish the death sentence within three years, but Yeltsin said on 12 March that the country should not give in to outside pressure on this issue. -- Penny Morvant

The Primorsk Krai Duma sent a letter to the Russian president and parliament on 14 March threatening to withhold tax and other payments to the federal budget if the government does not pay its debt of 1.8 trillion rubles ($373 million) to the krai by 1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The letter noted that power cuts, the late payment of wages, and failure to pay child benefits means that the local population are living in almost stone-age conditions and that mass protests are becoming commonplace. Rossiiskaya gazeta on 14 March quoted Vladimir Vedernikov, the head of the Primorsk legislature, as saying that the socioeconomic situation in the area is explosive. The paper said that traffic police and the staff of local election commissions are threatening to strike while trade unions committees at a number of enterprises are planning political demonstrations. -- Penny Morvant

Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov told ITAR-TASS on 14 March that the Paris Club of government lenders has agreed to reschedule Russia's debts. Paris Club chairman Christian Noyer met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow on 14 March, and Davydov said the deal should be signed in April. Repayment of the $25.5 billion principal and $7 billion interest will be spread over 25 and 20 years, respectively, with a grace period of seven years. Davydov also said there was "agreement in principle" for Russia to become a member of the Paris Club, on the basis of the $130 billion in debts Russia inherited from the USSR's Third World clients. Russia's accession will probably take place at the June G-7 meeting in Lyon. The Paris Club has rolled over the Russian debts on an annual basis during each of the three previous years. A major rescheduling agreement was reached with the London Club of commercial creditors last November, and a similar deal has long been expected with the Paris Club (see OMRI Daily Digest, 17 November 1995). -- Peter Rutland

The government's Commission on Operational Questions, chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, has prepared a draft decree that tightens control over government nominees on the boards of private companies in which the state holds shares, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. Until now, control has been weak. For example, the state representative on the board of the insurance giant Ingosstrakh voted in favor of a recent new share issue which cut the state holding from 30% to 6%, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 13 March. Soskovets's plan gives the Ministry of Fuel and Energy primary responsibility for appointing and monitoring representatives to energy companies, although the State Property and Anti-Monopoly Committees will also be consulted in matters falling under their jurisdiction. There has been a long-running battle for influence between the energy ministry and the State Property Committee. -- Peter Rutland

A group of Kazakhstani journalists held a press conference at the House of the Union of Journalists on 14 March to call for inter-governmental agreements on the status and accreditation procedure for Russian correspondents in CIS countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. Boris Supruniuk, a correspondent for the Russian weekly Megapolis-Kontinent who was recently released from a Kokshetau prison in northern Kazakhstan after serving a nine-month sentence, complained that the Russian authorities have failed to protect their journalists against persecution. Supruniuk said he has been charged with "inciting inter-ethnic discord" by the local authorities in north Kazakhstan on two occasions and said he was tortured while in prison. The Kazakhstani Supreme Court acquitted him in November 1995. -- Bhavna Dave

The Tajik army retook a section of the road between Dushanbe and Khorog, Reuters and Russian TV reported on 14 March. Tajik opposition forces had held large sections of the highway which is the only major link to Khorog from the west and is near a fork connecting the capital with the northeast. Fighting around the Komsomolabad region, 100 km northeast of Dushanbe, claimed the lives of 25 rebels and 12 government soldiers. In Dushanbe, Russian border guards defused a 30 kg bomb found in a car;the owner of the vehicle was found dead nearby. On the Tajik-Afghan border, opposition forces in Afghanistan fired 10 rockets at the border guards' 12th outpost. No casualties were reported. -- Bruce Pannier

Kyrgyzstan plans to introduce a new passport that excludes any mention of nationality, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 14 March. The new passport will not have the "infamous fifth column" which denoted a person's ethnic origins. Henceforth, all groups in Kyrgyzstan will simply be noted as citizens of Kyrgyzstan. Individuals who want to include their ethnic origins will be permitted to do so. Previously, many people had given false information on their ethnic background to avoid discrimination. Under the new regulations, the number of declared ethnic Kyrgyz and Azeris in the republic is expected to decrease while the number of ethnic Uzbeks and Turks is expected to increase. -- Bruce Pannier

Pakistani Foreign Minister Assef Ahmed Ali concluded his visit to Uzbekistan on 14 March during which he met his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Komilov, to discuss the ongoing regional crises in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. The visit follows closely on the heels of a recent tour of the region by Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who accused Pakistan of supporting the rebel Taliban group in his country. On 15 March, Ali met with Turkmen officials in Ashgabat, where ITAR-TASS noted that in addition to security matters, the two sides discussed economic trade routes that would, ironically, go through Afghanistan. -- Roger Kangas

The parliament chairman of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Karen Baburyan, resigned for health reasons on 12 March, not as reported in OMRI Daily Digest, 14 March 1996.

Andrii Ozadovsky, Ukrainian ambassador to the Czech Republic, has appealed to OMRI as well as Czech officials and publications to refer to the Ukrainian capital as "Kyiv" rather than "Kiev." In an interview with OMRI, the ambassador explained that a special government commission last fall ordered its representatives to appeal to governments and periodicals to switch to the Ukrainian transliteration. He said his government has formally appealed to the UN to use Ukrainian transliterations of place names in official documents and references. The UN has agreed to comply with this request. As of 15 March, OMRI is using "Kyiv" in its publications.

The parliamentary commission on legal policy and judicial reforms on 13 March voted to submit the draft Crimean constitution to the Ukrainian legislature, Radio Ukraine and UNIAN reported. But Crimean Parliament speaker Yevhen Supruniuk said he doubted it would be approved by Ukrainian lawmakers by 31 March. The Crimean legislature has threatened to hold a regional referendum on Crimea's status if Ukrainian legislators fail to approve the Crimean basic law by the end of the month. The speaker blamed the recent standoff on hard-liners in both the Ukrainian and Crimean legislatures. He added, however, that at a 13 March meeting in Kyiv, President Leonid Kuchma had shown "understanding" for Crimean complaints about provisions in the draft Ukrainian constitution limiting Crimean autonomy. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Syarhei Kalyakin, deputy speaker of the parliament and leader of the communist caucus, asked the legislature on 14 March to denounce the Belavezha agreements, which dissolved the USSR and created the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported. He reminded deputies that in the 17 March 1991 referendum, 76.4% of Belarusians voted in favor of preserving the Soviet Union. Kalyakin also said the Communists supported the president's policy to integrate more closely with Russia. -- Ustina Markus

A delegation from Kaliningrad headed by Governor Yurii Matochkin met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk on 14 March, ITAR-TASS and Russian Public Television reported. The two sides signed agreements on trade and transport, and the use of Kaliningrad as a port for Belarusian trade activities was also discussed. Lukashenka said ties between Belarus and Kaliningrad would not lead to confrontations with Lithuania or Poland. -- Ustina Markus

European Commissioner Anna Gradin told Estonian European Affairs Minister Endel Lippmaa in Tallinn on 14 March that it was important for Estonia to settle its border with Russia since it could become the outer limits of the EU, BNS reported. Dissatisfied with the lack of information on the progress of the border talks, the Fatherland Party is to hold a round table discussion on the question today; all political parties, except the Reform Party, are expected to attend. The next round of border talks is scheduled for 28 March. -- Saulius Girnius

Fifty-five of the 100 Saeima deputies on 14 March signed a letter to the Russian government and Duma condemning "Russian imperialism" and "scorched earth" tactics in Chechnya, Reuters reported. The letter, initiated by the rightist For the Fatherland and Freedom party, accuses the Russian army of genocide during the 15-month war in Chechnya and expressed condolences to the Chechen people and the relatives of Russian soldiers killed in the war. -- Saulius Girnius

Algirdas Brazauskas, during his two-day visit to Argentina, met with Argentine President Carlos Menem, Western agencies reported on 14 March. The two leaders signed an agreement on protecting and encouraging investments. Brazauskas noted that Argentina's experience in economic reforms could be useful for Lithuania. He is scheduled to fly to Uruguay the next day for talks with President Julio Maria Sanguinetti and will also visit Brazil and Venezuela. -- Saulius Girnius

Yevgenii Primakov, at the beginning of his two-day official visit to Poland, held separate talks with Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati on 14 March, Polish and international media reported. After meeting with Cimoszewicz, Primakov said the two countries will seek to eliminate trade barriers. Rosati said they also discussed bilateral relations, European security, and the Polish president's visit to Russia next month. Primakov noted that Russia will abandon its plan to build a highway from Kaliningrad to Belarus via Poland's northwestern tip (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 March 1996). In an interview with Polityka, Primakov said Russia will be satisfied if Poland receives a security guarantee from NATO rather than becoming a member. Poland argues that its membership in NATO would not endanger Moscow's security and could work in Russia's favor. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

TMobil, dominated by a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, on 14 March beat out five other international consortia for a license to set up a GSM digital mobile phone network in the Czech Republic, Czech media reported. Economy Minister Karel Dyba said TMobil will sign a joint venture agreement with Czech Radiocommunications next week, paying 5.22 billion crowns ($193 million) for a 49% stake. Since 1991, Eurotel has had a monopoly in the sector, and its analog mobile phone system has an estimated 49,000 customers. Dyba said the new network will offer lower prices and will seek to cover 65% of the country by September this year and have 500,000 customers within 10 years. Germany's DeTeMobil owns 84.55% of TMobil, STET of Italy 12%, and Czech firms the remainder. -- Steve Kettle

Between 100 and 250 skinheads and pensioners on 14 March gathered in Bratislava to mark the 57th anniversary of the founding of Slovakia's Nazi-allied war-time state and to honor its president, Jozef Tiso, Slovak media reported. The rally was organized by the Slovak National Union (SNJ) and the Society of Dr. Jozef Tiso. SNJ chairman Stanislav Panis praised both Tiso and the war-time state and complained that the majority of current parliamentary deputies are former communists. Speakers attacked Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar for earlier statements that the Tiso regime was "fascist," and they called for the Slovak-Hungarian treaty to be rejected. The Slovak Anti-Fascist Union and the Human movement condemned the attempts "to revive fascist ideas." -- Sharon Fisher

Representatives of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Democratic Union on 14 March rejected the cabinet's amendment to the penal code (also known as the law on the protection of the republic), Slovak media reported. KDH deputy Ivan Simko called the amendment "the most fundamental turning point in Slovakia since 1989" and stressed that his party will turn to the Constitutional Court if the bill is passed. The Slovak National Party has said its approval of the Slovak-Hungarian treaty is conditional on the draft law's passage. The opposition also criticized the bill on Slovakia's territorial arrangement. -- Sharon Fisher

An estimated 30,000 people on 14 March attended a rally organized by the Independent Smallholders Party (FKgP) outside Budapest's parliament, international media reported. Populist FKgP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan, pointing to the negative effects of the austerity measures implemented by Gyula Horn's cabinet, demanded its resignation and called for new parliamentary elections. The demonstration was held on the eve of Hungary's state holiday marking the anniversary of the 1848 revolution. With 26 seats in the parliament, the FKgP became the biggest opposition party after the recent split of the Hungarian Democratic Forum. Opinion polls suggest that the party is more popular than Horn's Socialist Party, which holds 209 seats. -- Sharon Fisher

The Bosnia "Train and Equip" Donors Conference began in the Turkish capital on 15 March under U.S. and Turkish sponsorship. It aims to strengthen the Bosnian federal armed forces to offset Serbian military preponderance and achieve the 5:2:2 ratio between Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia as set down in the Dayton agreement, the VOA reported. Some 25 countries were expected to attend, AFP said on 13 March. The Turkish Daily News noted the next day that Iran has not been invited and that Russia declined to attend. The Financial Times reported on 15 March that a major rift has emerged between the EU, led by Paris and London, and the U.S. Brussels' main concern is to restore ties with Serbia, while Washington is interested in strengthening the federal armed forces, in combating Iranian influence in Bosnia, and in pressuring Serbia to end the Kosovo imbroglio. -- Patrick Moore

The top leaders of Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia are slated to meet in Geneva with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher on 18 March, AFP reported on 15 March, citing Christopher's spokesman. There will also be top officials present from the other Contact Group countries, Reuters noted the previous day. The fact that such a gathering is being called illustrates the precarious state of the Dayton peace process, given that the last summit was held in Rome only a few weeks ago and that a regional foreign ministers' meeting is slated for 23 March in Moscow. Meanwhile, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic has left the hospital for a prolonged recuperation at home from heart problems, Oslobodjenje noted the next day. Vice President Ejup Ganic, who has been substituting for the president, will fill in for him at the summit with Presidents Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. -- Patrick Moore

The anti-nationalist Serbian Civic Council (SGV) has appealed to the federal president and prime minister to take measures to reassure Serbs that they have a place in the Bosnian capital. The SGV again asked President Kresimir Zubak to make Sarajevo a federal district, based on the model of Brussels, where all groups would be equal. It also asked Prime Minister Izudin Kapetanovic to give Serbs a six-month grace period to return to their homes. The Council also called for setting up a registry of prewar Serbian property and a commission on the rights of refugees and returnees, Oslobodjenje reported on 14 March. There are some 10,000 Serbs still in the suburbs, and Ilidza-based Mayor Maksim Stanisic is also urging them to stay through his Democratic Initiative of Sarajevo Serbs. -- Patrick Moore

Deputy Chief Prosecutor on the International War Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia Graham Blewitt on 14 March believes that suspected Serbian war criminals Radoslav Kremenovic and Drazen Erdemovic will be turned over to the tribunal. "I do not anticipate any obstacles to both men being transferred [from Serbia] to the Hague in accordance with the prosecutor's request," Reuters quoted him as saying. Kremenovic and Erdemovic have already admitted to taking part in the massacres of Bosnian Muslims after the Bosnian Muslim "safe-haven" of Srebrenica fell to the Serbs in July 1995. -- Stan Markotich

Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, has sent a letter to the foreign ministries (or their equivalents) of the U.S., Russia, Germany, France, Britain, and Italy arguing that since the Dayton peace accord, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has implemented "a one-party dictatorship." Nasa Borba on 15 March quotes Draskovic as saying that there are systematic campaigns of repression against the independent media, growing police repression, and continuing human rights violations. Draskovic also contends that "the great powers have given [Milosevic] a free hand" to intensify domestic repression since the peace accord was signed. -- Stan Markotich

Swiss Foreign Minister and OSCE chairman Flavio Cotti said Belgrade's readmission to the OSCE would be tied to a resolution of the Kosovo conflict, Reuters reported on 14 March. Cotti pointed out that "effective progress" is "unfortunately still far away." He pointed out that the OSCE expects guarantees from Belgrade that Kosovo will be granted "large autonomy" or that "a federal solution" to the problem will be found. -- Fabian Schmidt

Defense lawyers representing 15 people charged with spying for rump Yugoslavia and Croatian Serb rebels have accused the military prosecutors of being partial, Nasa Borba and AFP reported on 14 March. They say the prosecutors have denied them access to necessary legal documents so that they have been unable to prepare their defense on time. Prosecutors say 10 of the accused have pleaded not guilty, three have pleaded guilty, and two have refused to plead anything. Defense lawyers also complained about bringing the prisoners to the court "in chains,", Vjesnik reported on 15 March. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Teodor Melescanu has told ITAR-TASS that Romania wants to sign the bilateral treaty with Russia before the next Russian presidential elections. Radio Bucharest cited Melescanu as saying that the treaty should be signed during the Yeltsin-Iliescu summit and that he would discuss these matters with his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, next month. He added that disagreement persisted over the inclusion in the treaty of a mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Demurin said Moscow was waiting for a sign of "realism" from Bucharest that it was ready to forego its demand that the treaty condemn the pact. -- Michael Shafir

Radio Bucharest announced on 14 March that the Bucharest subway has started running again. Nothing was said about the some 2,000 employees who have refused to sign pledges to return to work. According to a statement by Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu on 13 March, those workers have been dismissed. -- Michael Shafir

Mircea Snegur is demanding Defense Minister Pavel Creanga's resignation, BASA-press and international agencies reported on 14 March. The presidential office released a statement saying Creanga had failed to "take sufficient measures to ensure the integrity of the National Army's assets and efficient use of budget funds." Creanga said the accusations were "groundless" and that the demand for his resignation was illegal and prompted by his refusal to allow political interference in the army. Under Moldovan law, a minister can be dismissed only by the prime minister. Observers note that Premier Andrei Sangheli, a political rival of Snegur, is unlikely to fire Creanga. -- Michael Shafir

The European Court of Human Rights on 14 March agreed to hear charges made by Andrey Lukanov, who was Bulgarian premier for 10 months after the collapse of the communist regime headed by Todor Zhivkov, international media reported. Lukanov, now a deputy of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, alleges that his rights were violated when the authorities illegally detained him in 1992 to determine his possible role in misappropriating state funds while deputy premier in the 1980s. In other news, Bulgarian media on 14 March reported that some 37 sports federations are defending Ivan Slavkov, chairman of both the Bulgarian Olympic Committee and Soccer Association and Zhivkov's son-in-law. In a letter to various politicians, the federations say Slavkov's human rights are being violated. On 11 March, he went on trial for misappropriating state funds and possessing firearms. -- Stan Markotich

Koha Jone Chief Editor Aleksander Frangaj was fined the equivalent of $1,000 for allowing the publication of a "false report" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 March 1996) international agencies reported. Frangaj was sentenced under a disputed media law that makes chief editors and publishers accountable for articles containing false information. The law provides for fines from between $1,000 and $8,000. -- Fabian Schmidt

Kostas Simitis said that talks on economic ties with Skopje are progressing but that the dispute over the name of Macedonia remains unresolved. Simitis was speaking at a meeting with Greek opposition leaders , AFP reported on 14 March. Neo-nationalist leader Antonis Samaras, who opposes any concessions to Macedonia, called for a referendum, but other party leaders supported finding a compromise. Simitis will meet with the head of the Macedonian liaison office in Athens Ljupco Arsovski on 15 March. In another diplomatic effort, Greek Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos has invited his Macedonian counterpart, Ljubomir Frckovski, to Athens to "discuss economic and commercial relations." -- Fabian Schmidt

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said Turkey may withdraw its Aegean army in a move to improve strained relations with Greece, Western media reported on 14 March. His remarks came in the wake of Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos's offer to withdraw its troops from Aegean islands near Turkey if Ankara relocates its 4th Aegean army. -- Lowell Bezanis

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave