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Newsline - June 19, 1997


The State Duma has voted by 226 to 70 with two abstentions to reject another government-backed package of measures to reduce social benefits, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 June. Among other things, the proposals would have reduced sick pay and limited maternity benefits. Our Home Is Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia supported the government's proposals, while Yabloko and the Communists opposed them. On 17 June, the Duma rejected measures to reduce allowances for children older than three years and cut benefits for state officials, families of veterans, and State Duma staff. A commission of government and parliamentary representatives will now seek a compromise on the social reforms.


Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov addressed the Duma on 19 June and called on deputies to approve the draft tax code in its first reading, ITAR-TASS reported. Shatalov argued that Russia needs "radical," not "cosmetic," changes to its tax system. By reducing the total number of taxes, the new code will help the development of Russian industry and small businesses, he added. Shatalov also said many regional leaders have been consulted while the code was being drafted and that almost all had supported it.


The Duma voted by 246 to 38 with one abstention to ask the Audit Chamber to examine First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's recent trip to Japan and announce its conclusions within one week, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 June. More than 80 people were on the delegation Nemtsov took to Japan. Nemtsov has said that he supports demands for an audit of his trip and has called for audits of foreign trips by parliamentary deputies as well.


Petr Rodionov, deputy director of the board of Gazprom, says the gas monopoly will pay all its debts to the federal budget by 30 June, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 June. He said Gazprom has already reduced its debt to the government, estimated earlier this year at more than 14 trillion rubles ($2.5 billion), to 6.6 trillion rubles. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" claimed on 19 June that "young members of the government" (meaning First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov) are pushing Gazprom along a "path toward self-destruction." The paper claimed that Gazprom is being forced to take out massive loans from foreign banks, which the company is likely have trouble repaying. Gazprom representatives have said the company is owed some $12 billion by delinquent domestic consumers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 1997).


First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov says Yeltsin will soon issue a decree ordering Gazprom to cut its gas charges for industrial consumers by 40%, Russian news agencies reported on 18 June. The Railways Ministry recently decided to reduce freight charges by up to 50% beginning on 1 July, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 June. Nemtsov is leading the government's drive to reform the "natural monopolies" in the energy and transportation sectors. He has repeatedly called on the monopolies to reduce the rates they charge industrial enterprises.


ITAR-TASS reported on 18 June that Yeltsin will not attend the NATO summit in Madrid in July. However, Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii refused to confirm or deny the report, saying Yeltsin will announce his decision soon, according to Interfax. Yeltsin is to depart for Denver, Colorado, on 19 June, where he will attend the summit of G-7 industrialized nations. Russian officials have repeatedly said Russia will participate in the Denver summit as an "equal partner."


The Russian Interior Ministry has released a statement rejecting Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's accusations that Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov is sabotaging the peace process in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"18 June 1997), ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said the charges did not "correspond to reality." Kulikov claimed that some Chechen leaders are opposed to the stricter controls along the Russian-Chechen border imposed by the ministry. He also said that, as a result of those measures, the crime level in adjacent Stavropol Krai has "dramatically dropped," according to Interfax. The Russian Interior Ministry will not open the border to allow "tens of thousands" of Chechen gunmen to cross it, Kulikov added.


Unidentified gunmen have kidnapped Lt.-Col. Andrei Denisov, an officer of the Russian Interior Ministry troops, at a checkpoint on the Russian-Chechen border, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 June. Denisov was seized as he tried to mediate a dispute between his soldiers and the gunmen, following an incident in which gunshots were fired at the car of an ethnic Chechen living in Dagestan. Denisov's whereabouts are still unknown. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov said the kidnappers belong neither to Chechnya's army nor its police force.


Air Force Commander Petr Deinikin says the Air Force will be downsized by about one-third by 2001, with some 30,000 servicemen dismissed annually, Interfax reported on 18 June. The same day, after meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Sochi, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters that the armed forces would use money saved through streamlining to purchase the most up-to-date new equipment. Chernomyrdin will soon convene another meeting of the government commission he chairs on military reform. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais heads a separate commission on financing the armed forces and privatizing some military property. Meanwhile, a Defense Ministry press release published in "Krasnaya zvezda" on 19 June described plans to create a military police force to deal with rising crime rates among Russian servicemen. A law on military police must be adopted before the force can be established.


Deinekin also confirmed on 18 June that Russia has no plans to buy some 45 strategic bombers stationed in Ukraine, Interfax reported. He said Russia had "begged" Ukraine years ago to agree to transfer the Tu-160 and Tu-95 MS aircraft, noting that the two sides had not been able to agree on terms. Now the bombers are in "extremely poor condition," Deinikin added, making their purchase undesirable. Deinekin also said Russia is developing a new long-range bomber, to be introduced sometime after 2005.


"Rossiiskie vesti," the official newspaper of the presidential administration, argued on 19 June that the Russian armed forces are in effect under civilian control. The paper said that rather than making a "decorative change from an officers' uniform on the defense minister to a civilian's jacket," Russia had created "civilian structures vested with broad powers" to supervise the military. In May, Yeltsin created commissions on military reform headed by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 May 1997). Furthermore, the paper noted, the authority of Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin, also a civilian, has recently increased. Former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, whom Yeltsin fired in May, retired from the army in December 1996 after turning 60. However, many observers argued that as a career officer, Rodionov could not truly be considered a civilian defense minister.


Russia will loan Belarus 500 billion rubles ($86 million) this year under an agreement signed on 18 June in St. Petersburg by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov and Mikhail Myasnikovich, head of the Belarusian presidential administration, Russian news agencies reported. Serov told journalists that the loan will be used mainly for projects to manufacture cars and agricultural equipment in Belarus. He added that if the credits were used efficiently, Russia might loan another 500 billion rubles to Belarus later this year.


The Supreme Court has rejected Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov's lawsuit against Yeltsin and ordered the former presidential bodyguard to pay 8 million rubles ($1400) in court costs, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 June. Yeltsin fired Korzhakov as head of the Presidential Security Service in June 1996 but issued a decree ordering that he be stripped of his military rank only in October, after Korzhakov gave interviews to the British newspaper "The Guardian" and the German magazine "Der Spiegel" (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 23 and 29 October 1996). Among other things, Korzhakov said then-presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko were keeping the president in an "information blockade." Officials accused Korzhakov of slandering the president's family and disclosing confidential information he had acquired as Yeltsin's bodyguard. Korzhakov then filed suit, claiming he had been slandered and fired without cause.


During a telephone conversation with Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Yeltsin promised to transfer to Saratov funds to acquire 500 new grain-harvesting combines, Ayatskov told ITAR-TASS on 19 June. Ayatskov did not specify how much the new combines would cost. The top legislative and executive leaders in Russia's regions are also members of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. The presidential administration has courted the support of the Council as a counterweight to the State Duma, in which opposition groups have a majority. In addition, Yeltsin has recently had a series of telephone conversations with mayors of large Russian cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 1997).


Thousands of mourners lined Moscow's Arbat street on 18 June to pay their last respects to the poet, novelist, and songwriter Bulat Okudzhava. Okudzhava described the Arbat as his "religion" and his "fatherland" in one of his most famous songs. Poets Bella Akhmadulina, Andrei Voznesenskii, and Yevgenii Yevtushenko, as well as prose writers such as Vasilii Aksenov and Vladimir Voinovich attended a memorial ceremony in a local theater. First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Nemtsov, along with Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, also laid flowers by Okudzhava's coffin. Okudzhava, who died recently in France (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997), is to be buried on 19 June in Moscow's Vagankovskoe cemetery, not far from the grave of poet and songwriter Vladimir Vysotskii. On 18 June, former Soviet dissident writer Lev Kopelev died in Cologne. He had lived in Germany since 1980.


The parliament of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has announced early presidential elections will be held in September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 18 June. The disputed region's presidency has been vacant since March 1997, when Robert Kocharyan left that post to become Armenian prime minister. The November 1996 presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh -- the first to be held there -- were condemned by the international community.


Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev has suggested that he and Russian leaders will resolve all "problems" related to the transit of early Azerbaijani oil when they meet in Moscow on 3 July. Aliev, however, added that there is no need to sign a new agreement on the pipeline from Azerbaijan to Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiisk because Moscow did not implement the previous one, signed in 1996. The 153-km sector of the pipeline runs through Chechnya. Aliyev argued that "we cannot transport our oil along that route, given the current relations between Russia and Chechnya," according to Interfax. Russian and Chechen leaders recently signed a memorandum paving the way for the export of Azerbaijani oil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997). But despite Moscow's opposition, Grozny insists that a similar three-party agreement be signed by Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Russia.


Irina Sarishvili, the leader of the National Democratic Party, has accused the State Security Ministry of tapping telephone conversations of Nodar Grigalashvili, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper "Sakartvelo," Interfax reported on 18 June. Sarishvili submitted to a Georgian parliamentary committee what she called transcripts of the editor's telephone conversations, signed by State Security Minister Shota Kviraya. Grigalashvili confirmed that the "transcripts" were authentic. Earlier, Sarishvili had accused Kviraya of collaborating with the Russian security services.


One soldier from the Defense Ministry was killed on 18 June near the Fakhrabad Pass, 30 kilometers south of Dushanbe, according to RFE/RL's Tajik service and Interfax. Forces of the Tajik Army's First Brigade, commanded by Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, are reported to have abducted two Tajik army officers and taken them to the First Brigade's headquarters in Kurgan-Teppe. However, Kasym Boboyev, the deputy governor of Khatlon Oblast, said soldiers manning checkpoints have voluntarily gone over to Khudaberdiyev's side. He also denied that a coup has taken place in the Yavon area or in Kurgan-Teppe. The Tajik government has reportedly sent officials to negotiate with Khudaberdiyev but has still not issued a statement on the situation in the country.


The government has announced it will readjust budget indicators for June and allow the exchange rate of the tenge to drop from 73 to 77.4 to the dollar, Interfax Kazakstan reported. Deputy Finance Minister Zhanat Yertlesova said on 18 June that this decision was based on a revised forecast that puts inflation at 17.5% by year's end. Yertlesova added that the payment of pension arrears is not expected to fuel inflation in the second half of the year.


Gohar Ayub Khan arrived in Almaty on 18 June on the first leg of a tour of four Central Asian states, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Khan met with his Kazak counterpart, Kazimjomart Tokayev, to discuss bilateral economic and political relations. Afghanistan was also high on the agenda of their talks. Tokayev said his country favors a coalition government in Afghanistan. Khan is scheduled to travel to Kyrgyzstan on 19 June. He will also visit Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.


Chi Haotian received support on a number of issues during his 16-18 June visit to Bishkek, according to RFE/RL correspondents and AFP. Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov said his country supports the Chinese position on reunification with Taiwan . A spokesman for the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry noted that Kyrgyzstan's "positions against separatism and religious extremism are identical" to China's. Kazakstan had given Chi similar assurances during his visit there before arriving in Kyrgyzstan. Uyghur exile groups in Kazakstan have responded by saying they can no longer count on Almaty and Bishkek for "support in the fight for the independence of Xinjiang." On 16 June, it was announced that Bishkek's Lenin Avenue will be renamed after Deng Xiao Peng.


Alyaksandr Lukashenka and representatives of the parliament dissolved last fall began talks in Minsk on 18 June on amending the constitution. Matthew Russell, an EU mediator in the talks, told journalists in Minsk that the aim of the talks is to amend the basic law to meet democratic standards. Russell said he and two colleagues arrived in Belarus at Lukashenka's invitation to organize the project and mediate the talks. The EU has accused Lukashenka of giving himself dictatorial powers by amending the constitution following a controversial referendum held in November 1996. European governments refused to acknowledge the referendum. They suspended Belarus's special guest status in the European Council after Lukashenka used his new powers to dissolve the lawfully elected parliament and replace it with a legislature that supports him.


Miners on 18 June protested in Kyiv for the second consecutive day but said they will consider a government offer to begin partial payments on back wages next month. The miners blocked the street outside the government building in Kyiv, until Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko addressed them. Lazarenko said that beginning 1 July, the state will pay out $210 million over six months to cover back wages. The miners had wanted the money paid within three months. The government reportedly owes farmers some $800 million in unpaid wages. Viktor Derzhak, chairman of the Union of Coal Industry workers, told journalists the miners will decide whether to continue their protest after the government proposes a resolution on the issue of back wages.


Turkish Energy Minister Recai Kutan and Anatoly Minchenko, Ukrainian state minister for industry and energy, signed a deal on 18 June to build an oil pipeline from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea through Turkey. The joint venture was signed in Ankara. Kutan told journalists the pipeline will initially carry 40 million tons of crude per year to Ukraine, whose oil demands are increasing. The Turkish state pipeline company Botas will oversee the project. It is unclear when construction of the project will begin.


Security and Defense Council Chief, Volodymyr Horbulin, was quoted by Interfax on 18 June as saying Ukraine has not ruled out discarding its pledge of neutrality and joining a military alliance in the future. He added that the partnership pact Ukraine struck with Russia in May does not prevent it from entering any military alliance it chooses. Horbulin also said the Ukrainian government will go ahead with the production of tactical missiles, despite U.S. objections. He said he has sent a letter to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott explaining the decision.


The organization representing relatives of the victims of the "Estonia" car ferry disaster has dropped some complaints against the German builder of the vessel, according to "Handelsblatt" on 18 June. Meyer Werft recently released a report claiming that bad maintenance on the part of the ferry's Swedish owner caused the locks of the bow door to fail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997). The relatives' organization says that, based on the findings of the report, it will make no accusations against the shipyard about undersized hinges or locks of the bow door. It says, however, that questions remain whether there were construction weaknesses in the bow visor and ramp. The Swedish-Finnish-Estonian commission investigating the incident is due to issue its final report later this year. The "Estonia" sank in high seas off the southwest coast of Finland en route from Stockholm to Tallinn in September 1994. More than 850 people died in the sinking.


Andris Skele appeared on nationwide TV on the evening of 17 June to express his "great concern about the political situation in Latvia," according to Interfax the next day. Recent reports have suggested that many government ministers have violated the anti-corruption law by holding positions outside the executive. Culture Minister Rihards Piks resigned earlier this week over the affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1997). Skele said the scandal pointed to the emergence of a "new and privileged group of people" who do not find it necessary to observe the law. Moreover, it revealed "the ultimate alienation of the political elite from society," he said.


President Aleksander Kwasniewski has announced parliamentary elections will be held on 21 September. Kwasniewski said in a televised address on 18 June that he called the elections to put the country's affairs in order and strengthen its democracy. By law, the elections have to be held within a month before the end of the parliament's current term, which falls on 14 October. Kwasniewski also said top government officials will have to disclose any links they had with Poland's former secret police under the lustration law, which he signed earlier that day. Also on 18 June, the parliament approved setting up a Lithuanian-Polish Assembly, composed of 20 deputies from each country. Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, who had proposed setting up the assembly, was present during the vote.


The State Tribunal on 18 June convicted two ranking officials in the last communist government for failing to prevent duty-free imports of cheap vodka into the country. The tribunal found former Minister for Foreign Economic Cooperation Dominik Jastrzebski and former head of the Customs Office Jerzy Cwiek guilty of making wrong decisions during 1988-1989 that cost the state treasury millions of dollars in lost duty. The tribunal ruled that the two be barred from holding managerial positions in state companies and deprived of the right to run for public office for five years. Three other officials were acquitted.


Vaclav Havel on 18 June called on the country's government to take steps to regain the public's confidence. Following meetings with leaders of the four main political parties, the president said Vaclav Klaus's government must present the country with long-term policy proposals, adding that otherwise the public will not understand the sacrifices required by the austerity measures adopted to deal with the nation's economic troubles. Klaus's center-right government, which narrowly won a confidence motion recently, has been rocked by a recent decline in the value of the national currency and a growing balance of payments deficit. According to a recent opinion poll, the public's trust in the government has plummeted to 22%.


At the end of a three-day session in Bratislava, the joint EU-Slovak parliamentary committee issued a statement on 18 June saying that Slovakia must implement specific changes in domestic policy by the end of November. EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek recently gave a similar deadline to Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. The joint committee consists of deputies of the European Parliament and of the Slovak legislature. The committee recommended that Slovakia resume political dialog between the ruling coalition and the opposition, ensure opposition participation in special control committees to oversee intelligence activities, and prepare legislation on the use of national minority languages. If these criteria are met, the committee said, Slovakia will be able to join other countries in opening talks on EU membership.


Visiting German Economy Minister Guenter Rexrodt told a news conference in Budapest on 18 June that Bonn strongly supports Hungary's bid for EU membership, Hungarian media reported. In a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn, Rexrodt said "Hungary will inevitably be at the top of the list" for EU membership. Thanks to the country's consistent economic policy since 1994, Hungary can serve as a model of economic transformation for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, he added. Meanwhile, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said Hungary hopes to conclude accession talks with the union by the year 2000 and that member countries would ratify Hungary's membership in the EU by 2002. He said EU officials consider Hungary's timetable "ambitious but not unrealistic."


The presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has urged that elections go ahead, as scheduled, on 29 June, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Meanwhile, 5 million cardboard ballot boxes arrived in Albania under the protection of international forces. The printing of ballot papers is slated to begin soon in Italy. Candidates lists from most of the 115 electoral districts are now complete. One list comes from the rebel stronghold of Vlora and was published only on 18 June, which is six days later than scheduled. Rebel leader Myrteza Caushi, better known as Zani, will run as an independent candidate against another rebel leader, Albert Shyti, who is a candidate of the Social Democrats, "Indipendent" reported on 19 June. In Lezha, "Koha Jone" editor-in-chief and independent candidate Nikolle Lesi now has the endorsement of the Socialists and a large number of smaller parties, Lesi told an RFE/RL correspondent.


A group of armed men stopped a Socialist Party convoy on the way to the north-central town of Rreshen on 18 June and did not allow Party leader Fatos Nano to hold a rally there. The Socialists finally held a meeting but without Nano, who later charged President Sali Berisha and his "discredited clan" with having organized the incident, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Meanwhile in Tirana, the Osservatorio di Pavia, an Italian institution specializing in TV monitoring, published its analysis of last week's Albanian TV broadcasts. The report says that public TV adheres strictly to the rules outlined in the election law and provides air time for all parties, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. A multi-party round table met until late in the night to discuss possible last-minute changes in the election law. "Gazeta Shqiptare" says that no details are available.


Croatian Radio reported on 19 June that the final tally for the 15 June presidential vote gives President Franjo Tudjman 61.41% The Social Democrats' Zdravko Tomac follows with 21.03% and the opposition coalition candidate Vlado Gotovac of the Liberals with 17.56%. Some 57.68% of voters in Croatia turned out, as did 23.49% of those living abroad. Also in Zagreb, the governing Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) and the Liberals reached a cooperation agreement on 18 June, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the capital. The HDZ-dominated city council subsequently elected the Liberals' Dorica Nikolic as deputy mayor. Gotovac and others in the Liberal leadership opposed to cooperation with the HDZ blasted the deal. Liberal Deputy Chairman Zlatko Kramaric said the party will probably formally split soon over the issue of links to the HDZ.


Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 18 June that the Bosnian Serbs must not place any obstacles in the way of an upcoming international donors' conference. Earlier, Bosnian Serb representatives had balked at forming joint delegations with the Croats and Muslims in contravention of the international community's rules. She said such stubbornness would be "a luxury the Serbs cannot afford," since they have gotten very little international redevelopment aid to date. She met with the international community's new high representative, Carlos Westendorp. The former Spanish foreign minister, for his part, said that in his new capacity, he will place emphasis on bringing indicted war criminals to justice. Meanwhile in Brcko, the re-registration of voters has begun following the discovery of massive fraud on the part of the Bosnian Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 1997).


The U.S. administration on 18 June proposed to Congress that future ties between Washington and Belgrade be contingent on federal Yugoslavia's holding free and fair elections, ensuring media freedom, cooperating with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, and granting broad autonomy to Kosovo, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the U.S. capital. The document calls for the U.S. and the OSCE to bring pressure on Serbia to meet the conditions. Meanwhile, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade that Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic wants "to find out at first hand" what the recent EU summit in Amsterdam means for Yugoslavia. The EU called on Belgrade to respect the 1996 report on democracy in Serbia by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales and to grant autonomy to Kosovo.


Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic addressed the parliament in Podgorica on 18 June, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. He slammed what he called "insinuations" about his wealth, which many Montenegrins believe came from sanctions-busting during the Croatian and Bosnian wars. President Momir Bulatovic is slated to address the legislature on 19 June in response to opposition demands that he and Djukanovic explain the development of the feud between them, which threatens to split the governing Democratic Socialist Party.


In New York, representatives of Macedonia, Greece, and the UN met on 18 June to launch new efforts to find a permanent name for Macedonia. Greece has so far insisted that it be called "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," or FYROM, because Athens says that the name "Macedonia" alone implies territorial claims on the Greek province of the same name. Skopje says the Greek claims are baseless. Meanwhile, EU spokesmen in the Hague expressed alarm at reports that 20 of the Kosovars recently convicted of terrorism had been tortured in Serbian custody. The Dutch government, which holds the EU presidency, blasted what it called Serbia's "non-respect for the rule of law."


Victor Ciorbea says he and U.S. Vice President Al Gore agreed on 18 June to set up a "special strategic partnership" between their countries. Ciorbea, who met with Gore at the start of a three-day visit to the U.S, told an RFE/RL correspondent that the partnership is to "start immediately" but its details will be worked out at meetings between the presidents of the two states later this year. Ciorbea said he received explanations from Gore on the U.S. decision to limit admittance to NATO in the first wave to three countries. He said Gore reiterated the intention to have a second wave "from which Romania will not be absent if it pursues the road on which it has started." Ciorbea said Romania is still hoping to be admitted in the first wave. French European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici told Senate Chairman Petre Roman in Paris on 18 June that Romania should be admitted to NATO immediately, AFP reported.


The striking miners in the Jiu valley on 18 June appealed to Emil Constantinescu to mediate in their conflict with the authorities. The miners say they did not demand a 45% increase in wages but a retroactive 30% indexation, as implemented at other state-owned enterprises in March. They say they are ready to negotiate on the remaining 15%. Also on 18 June, representatives of miners from other parts of the country came to Petrosani to show solidarity with the strikers. Extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, whom the miners have invited to go to the valley, told an RFE/RL correspondent that he was "honored" by the invitation and was ready to go there with a PRM task force "including five generals and ten parliamentarians."


In a 18 June declaration, the reformist wing of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) says the party must work out a program combining "social-democratic with social-liberal" principles. The group headed by Teodor Melescanu calls on the party to "clearly dissociate itself" from those involved in "notorious acts of corruption" and to expel them. One of the group's leaders, Viorel Salagean, told an RFE/RL correspondent that the PDSR may split if the group's demands are rejected. But PDSR chairman Ion Iliescu says there is no danger of a split, adding that those who may envisage it are politically "suicidal." The former Romanian president also rejected the call for a more center-oriented program. The PDSR is to hold its annual congress 20-21 June.


An accord on cooperation between Moldovan and Russian border troops was initialed on 18 June at the end of a two-day visit to Chisinau by the commander of Russian border troops, Gen. Andrei Nikolaev. The documents must now be endorsed by Presidents Petru Lucinschi and Boris Yeltsin, BASA-Press reported. The accord provides for cooperation in information exchange, the search for suspected criminals, and mutual technical assistance. Nikolaev told a press conference that although the two countries have no common border, they must cooperate in fighting illegal migration, smuggling, and particularly arms and drug trafficking. During his visit, he met with President Lucinschi, Premier Ion Ciubuc, Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat, and Security Minister Tudor Botnaru.


Nadezhda Mihailova says she is optimistic about Bulgaria's prospects of eventual membership in NATO. She told reporters in Washington on 18 June that her optimism is based on what she has heard recently from U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Mihailova said Bulgaria's record of stability and its key position in the Balkans make it a "solid choice" for future NATO membership. In other news, Dimitar Ganchev, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry's European Integration Department, told Reuters on 18 June that the Amsterdam European Union summit of this week was "an encouraging sign" for Bulgaria, since it gives the country "more time to prepare to meet admission conditions."


by Julie Moffett

Armenia is making slow but consistent progress along the information superhighway, owing largely to the enthusiastic efforts of Armenian scientists, researchers, and computer experts as well as the technical and financial assistance of foreign organizations. It established a permanent Internet link in March 1994 and has had non-permanent, dial-up Internet access since 1992. However, the country faces several daunting tasks in improving its Internet connectivity, primarily because the telecommunications infrastructure in the country is so poor.

There are currently no digital lines (designed to quickly exchange data), and all of the telephone lines are analog (designed to support voice). Moreover, many of the telephone lines currently in use are substandard and antiquated . There is also an insufficient number of telephone lines for residential use and inadequate connections to rural locations. The situation is so dire that according to Armen Gyulkhasyan, deputy director of the Yerevan Physics Institute and an Internet expert, it is "almost impossible to call next door" in Armenia.

Recognizing the importance of improving the telecommunication infrastructure in the country, the Armenian government is taking steps to make substantial changes. It has formed a new telecommunications company called Armentel, which is a joint venture between the Ministry of Communications of Armenia and Transworld Corporation of the U.S. The company is installing a modern fiber optic cable and modern phone switches in Yerevan. According to Gregor Saghyan, technical director of Arminco -- a commercial Internet service provider in Armenia -- Armentel will operate as a monopoly, owning all of the long distance lines into and out of Armenia. The new system is expected to be fully operational by September 1997.

In addition to government efforts, Armenian scientists and computer experts are also taking an active role in improving Internet connectivity in the country. For example, Gyulkhasyan was instrumental role in staging a NATO advanced networking conference in Yerevan in May. The conference, titled "Internet Development in Armenia and Region: Means, Aims, and Prospects," covered Internet technology, information services, network management, Internet in education, and Internet security. According to Gyulkhasyan, the purpose of the conference was to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and to exchange experience between qualified network mangers from different environments and backgrounds. Attendees included representatives from Armenia, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.S.

Also playing a major role in promoting Internet use in Armenia is the Armenian Internet Users' Group (AmIUG), a public organization that unites major Internet users around the country. With the assistance of two Internet experts -- Igor Mkrtoumian, the director of computer services at the American University of Armenia, and Edgar Der-Danieliantz, who is responsible for installing and running Armenia's first permanent Internet link -- AmIUG established the Armenian Network Information Center (AmNIC), the country's official network information center. AmNIC collects and stores all information on domain names, Internet addresses, name servers, contact persons, and network providers in Armenia in its database.

Mkrtoumian and Der-Danieliantz have also been quite active in contributing to a greater international understanding of Internet capabilities and needs in Armenia. In an article titled "Internet in Armenia, 1996" (published in the AmIUG Bulletin, a local electronic publication of the Armenian Internet Users' Group), Mkrtoumian and Der-Danieliantz outlined the current technical capabilities and shortcomings of the Internet in Armenia. They also provided useful information on the cost of using the Internet and electronic mail in Armenia and listed Armenian Internet domain names and World Wide Web servers.

Among foreign organizations providing financial assistance to Armenia to improve Internet connectivity is the Eurasia Foundation. The Foundation is a U.S.-based, privately-managed grantmaking organization that began its activities in Armenia in 1995. Since then, it has made several important Internet-related grants.

Some of the more notable grants includes a $23,400 award to an Armenian business called the Gandzasar Center in part to support a web version of a bi-monthly informational bulletin on Armenian computer hardware and software companies. A $12,800 grant to the Information-Analytical Center will support the development of a regularly updated web site that will contain information on wholesale and retail prices of foodstuffs, fuel, real estate, construction materials, hotel and tourism, taxes and custom tariffs in Armenia. And the Armenian Internet Users' Group has received $19,500 in support of a linkage and sustainability program involving the creation of a home page on the Internet to provide specifics on Eurasia Foundation awards and invite organizations worldwide to establish contacts and pursue Internet-related collaboration with Armenia.

However, there are still several major obstacles in the way of improved Internet connectivity in Armenia:. These include poor telecommunications infrastructure; expensive telephone lines; the high cost of computer equipment relative to an average worker's salary; political unrest in some regions of the country, which impedes infrastructure reform and intimidates potential sponsors and donors, and a heavy dependence on international funding, making long-range planning difficult.