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Newsline - July 10, 1997


Russian officials continue to express skepticism over NATO's decision to invite the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to join, Russian media reported on 9 July. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said in Moscow that Russia does not wish to lose the "close ties it has had for many years" with the new NATO members. He added that he did not believe expansion would create a "truly stable and secure Europe for the future century." Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, who was in Madrid for the inaugural session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, said the alliance's enlargement was an "errant step which creates more problems than it solves." State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, commenting on the possible admission of Baltic countries in 1999, said such a move would require Russia to review the NATO-Russia Founding Act and possibly break the agreement. A delegation from the Duma, which is opposed to NATO enlargement, is due to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels on 13 July.


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov have sharply criticized the Belarusian authorities for stripping Russian Public Television (ORT) Minsk bureau chief Pavel Sheremet of his accreditation, Russian media reported on 9 July. Chernomyrdin called the decision "outrageous," while Nemtsov said it was a "flagrant violation of the Russian-Belarusian Union Charter." Nemtsov added that the government will defend Russian journalists "wherever they work, be it Belarus, North Korea, or Cuba." The same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tarasov said the sanctions applied to Sheremet have caused "deep regret and serious concern in Moscow," ITAR-TASS reported. Ivan Pashkevich, deputy chief of staff to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, responded that the word "outrageous" should be applied to ORT's "biased" coverage of events in Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 1997).


Colonel-General Anatolii Shkirko announced on 9 July that he is resigning "for health reasons", Russian media reported. Although Shkirko implacably opposed any talks with Chechen opposition representatives in 1996, he said that he advocates settling conflicts, including the one in Chechnya, by peaceful means rather than war. He also noted that he condemns terrorism. Shkirko declined to speculate on who might be appointed as his successor.


Speaking in Moscow, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov on 9 July explained how the government plans to pay all its debts to state employees by 1 January 1998, Russian media reported. Nemtsov said the government owes 25 trillion rubles ($4.3 billion) to state employees, half in wage arrears and half in contributions to so-called non-budgetary funds. (Those include the Obligatory Medical Insurance Fund, the Social Security Fund, and the Employment Fund.) Nemtsov said that 12.5 trillion rubles will come from the federal budget and the rest from regional budgets. Of the money to be raised by the federal government, 5 trillion rubles will result from selling convertible bonds in the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems, 3 trillion rubles from oil-exporting companies, and 1 trillion rubles from privatizing more than 100 military construction enterprises.


Duma Speaker Seleznev argued that wage and pension arrears will again accumulate in the future despite recent government pledges to solve the problem, Interfax reported on 9 July. He argued that the government is likely to freeze spending on other state programs in the coming months in order to pay debts to the armed forces and state employees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1997). But he predicted that irregular tax payments from enterprises would eventually cause government debts to pile up again. Seleznev added that the government should not present the payment of back wages as a "glorious action. This must be normal routine." Seleznev also suggested that additional money be printed to fund "serious investment projects," which, he said, would revive industry and help enterprises pay their workers, ITAR-TASS reported.


Under a new presidential decree, only companies that extract oil will be allowed to export oil via pipelines of the state-owned company Transneft as of 1 October, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 July. Currently, some companies earn huge profits by buying oil from producers and selling it abroad. Under the new decree, oil producers that owe money to the state will have to use part of the proceeds from oil sales abroad to settle their debts. As further incentive, those producers that keep to a schedule for paying their debts and agree to pay all current taxes to the federal budget and contributions to the state's non-budgetary funds on time may receive permission to export more oil.


First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov on 9 July flew to his native Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast to meet with regional journalists, political and business leaders, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported. Nemtsov warned that if Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Ivan Sklyarov loses a runoff gubernatorial election on 13 July to Communist State Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev, the region will effectively be governed from Moscow by "Comrade [Gennadii] Zyuganov," leader of the Communist Party. Nemtsov also argued that if Khodyrev wins, Nizhnii will have a governor who clashes with both the federal authorities and the mayor of the region's largest city--just like Primorskii Krai. Before the first round of the gubernatorial election, in which Sklyarov edged out Khodyrev by 42 percent to 38 percent, Nemtsov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that Sklyarov could win without high federal officials campaigning on his behalf (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1997).


Workers at the Zvezda submarine repair factory and the Progress aviation enterprise in Primorskii Krai have pledged not to end their strike until all wage arrears are paid, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 9 July. The navy owes the Zvezda factory some 300 billion rubles ($52 million), of which 60 billion rubles is due in unpaid wages. A federal government commission to examine the crisis at the defense enterprises has delayed coming to Primore by at least one week. The strikers have called on the Duma to impeach President Boris Yeltsin for treason and have asked the Procurator-General's Office to open a criminal case against him. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 July that the Vladivostok city authorities have declared an emergency health situation on the 10th day of a strike by garbage collectors. Many doctors and teachers are also on strike in Primore.


Several prominent public figures have addressed an open letter to Yeltsin asking him to veto the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 9 July. The controversial law grants more rights to approved, traditional "religious organizations" than to more recently-established "religious groups" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July, 24, and 30 June 1997). The letter's authors, including Duma deputy Valerii Borshchev of the Yabloko faction and Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev, argued that the law is discriminatory and violates Article 14 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law for all religious groups. Also on 9 July, a group of representatives in the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Yeltsin urging him to veto the religion law, which, they said, would "create a chilling atmosphere," Reuters reported.


The Central Bank has issued new recommendations for commercial banks to help fight money laundering, Russian news agencies reported on 9 July. Central Bank Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Turbanov said banks had been asked to inform law enforcement agencies about suspicious financial transactions. Operations by individuals involving sums of more than 1,000 times the minimum wage (about 80 million rubles or $14,000) or deals by legal entities involving more than 10,000 times the minimum wage (800 million rubles or $140,000) could qualify as suspicious, Turbanov suggested.


Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed met with prominent cultural figures in Moscow on 9 July and called on them to help develop a strategy for protecting Russian culture, art, and science, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He promised that he and his Russian People's Republican Party would work to implement such a strategy. Lebed argued that more state funds should be spent on culture and criticized the prevalence of foreign films and advertisements in foreign languages. Also on 9 July, a Moscow district court ordered Lebed to publicly retract his statement that Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov is the "godfather" of Russian organized crime, NTV reported. The court also ordered Lebed to pay Kulikov 5 million rubles ($860) in damages for making that accusation against the interior minister in late 1996.


"Izvestiya" reported on 10 July that the paper's employees are forming a trade union after not being unionized for the last five years. The "Izvestiya" board of directors, on which shareholders LUKoil and Oneksimbank have a majority, recently fired the paper's editor-in-chief and voted to choose his successor through a procedure that will limit the influence of journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1997). Also on 10 July, "Izvestiya" reported on the creation of the MFK-Renaissance Capital bank, a merger of the International Financial Corporation (MFK), an Oneksimbank affiliate, and the investment firm Renaissance Capital. The paper said MFK-Renaissance Capital, whose board of directors will be chaired by Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin, will be a "new star" and a "super-heavyweight" on the Russian capital markets.


Up to 20 fighters were killed on 9 July in a clash between members of Georgia's White Legion guerrilla formation and Abkhaz troops in the Kodori gorge, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. Interfax cited a spokesman for Georgia's Border Defense Department as claiming that the Abkhaz landed in an unmarked helicopter. However, the commander of the CIS peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia said no unidentified aircraft has been sighted in the region. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 July quoted a local Georgian official as saying that Abkhaz militants regularly use helicopters belonging to the Russian peacekeeping contingent (see also "End Note" below).


Addressing the inaugural session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Madrid on 9 July, Heidar Aliyev argued that NATO and the council "should not be indifferent observers to the conflicts in the Caucasus," which he termed a "serious threat to common European security", RFE/RL reported. Aliyev again accused Armenia of adopting "a non-constructive" position toward the ongoing efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group to mediate a settlement of the conflict. He also repeated the erroneous, exaggerated claim that 1 million Azerbaijanis have been driven from their homes and that Armenian forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's total territory. (More accurate estimates are 780,000 displaced persons and 10-15 percent.]


Alexander Arzoumanian told representatives of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council that the new body should serve as a framework for defusing regional tensions, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Madrid. He said that among other things, the council should promote openness and implement a regional disarmament policy, adding that such an approach would contribute to consolidating the existing cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. In separate meetings, Arzoumanian also discussed the Karabakh issue with French President Jacques Chirac and bilateral relations with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.


Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade, told RFE/RL's Tajik service on 9 July that he has contacted President Imomali Rakhmonov to offer the support of his unit in cleaning up crime in and around Dushanbe. Khudaberdiyev, who on several occasions has ignored presidential orders, told Rakhmonov that Dushanbe should be a de-militarized zone. He said there are currently more than 30 armed outlaw bands working in the area of the capital and that their presence threatens the work of the Tajik president and the leader of the United Tajik Opposition, Said Abdullo Nuri. Khudaberdiyev claimed he supports both the president and the peace efforts but added that all parties and movements must be represented in the newly formed Tajik Reconciliation Commission, not just the ruling party and the UTO, if peace is to hold in Tajikistan.


Saparmurat Niyazov on 8 July summoned leading prosecutors and accused them of involvement in criminal activities, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported. Niyazov said both the prosecutors and members of the militia have links to crime, including the drug trade. He added that they would soon be dismissed. Niyazov also noted that from now on, no official at the prosecutor's office will be allowed to serve more than two years in a bid to combat corruption among state officials.


Switzerland and Austria have frozen credit lines to Belarus, a Belarusian Economics Ministry official told Reuters on 9 July. The two countries have followed the example of Germany. "Of unused credits in open credit lines, Germany has frozen $66 million, Austria $470 million and Switzerland $7 million," the official said. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka recently said Belarus does not need foreign credits. The official, who asked not to be named, admitted that foreign credits are wasted in Belarus, as real economic reforms have not been introduced.


Leonid Kuchma on 9 July proposed the creation of a presidential council to make crucial economic decisions, Ukrainian Radio reported. The council may be given powers to approve this year's state budget. Kuchma outlined his proposal in a letter to the parliament. The proposal comes after a six-months delay by the legislature in approving the 1997 budget. Ukraine could lose up to $3 billion in credits from the IMF because of the delays. Kuchma's proposed that the council include representatives of both the presidency and the parliament. He also reiterated his suggestion to delay parliamentary elections by one year in order to give the current legislature more time to approve economic reforms. In Kuchma's view, holding the next parliamentary ballot at about the same time as the presidential elections in 1999 would save the state money. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for March 1998.


Jacques Chirac told his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, in Madrid on 9 July that Ukraine must speed up economic reforms if it wants more international financial aid. Reuters quoted an unnamed French official as saying that Kuchma appealed to Chirac to support Ukraine's drive for IMF loans. Chirac praised Ukraine's recent settling of disputes with Russia and outlined steps Ukraine needed to take to win further Western financial backing, including speeding up privatization and introducing structural reforms.


The presidents of the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland met briefly in Madrid on 9 July, one day after the three Central European countries received invitations to join NATO. Reuters reported that the Baltic leaders clasped hands with their Central European counterparts in a symbolic gesture after the latter had promised to fight for the Baltic cause within the alliance. Estonian President Lennart Meri said the 8 July NATO declaration places the Baltic States on an equal footing with Romania and Slovenia for a second round of expansion, an RFE/RL correspondent in Madrid reported. Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas said he believes his country will be asked to join NATO in the second wave, while his Latvian counterpart, Guntis Ulmanis, said he expects the Baltic States will be invited to join NATO within five to seven years.


Estonian Ambassador to NATO Juri Luik told BNS on 8 July that a U.S.-Baltic charter may be signed in Washington in September when U.S. President Bill Clinton meets with his Baltic counterparts. A meeting of the four presidents in Madrid scheduled for 9 July was canceled. Luik said there was "no point" holding such a meeting before U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright meets with the Baltic foreign ministers in Vilnius later this week. The charter is intended to establish the foundations of cooperation between the U.S. and the Baltic States aimed at helping the latter integrate into Western structures.


The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) told Reuters on 9 July that it has reached an initial agreement with Poland on the return of communal property. It said that if the agreement were implemented, it would not argue against Poland's entry to NATO. "If we are invited to give testimony [to the U.S. Congress], and if [the Polish] government's understanding with us holds as now, we will certainly give a positive report," WJRO Vice President Naphtali Lavie told Reuters. Under the agreement, the WJRO, Polish Jewish communities, and the Polish government will set up a foundation to agree on and manage properties to be restituted. A joint commission will study a list of 6,000 properties identified by the WJRO and decide which claims can be processed.


At least 28 people are reported dead and many more missing in continuing floods in Poland and the Czech Republic. Flooding has spread into the southern Moravian region in the Czech Republic. More than a third of the Czech Republic's territory is now under water. In Poland, some 250 towns and cities have been hit by the floods. At least 35,000 hectares of land, 7,000 kilometers of road, and 45 bridges have been affected. Some 40,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in Poland. Both the Czech and Polish governments have released emergency funds to help the victims. Damage in the Czech Republic is estimated to have reached 50 billion crowns ($1.7 billion). The floods also have also caused considerable damage in Slovakia, although there are no reports of deaths or injuries in the country.


In a statement released to the media on 9 July, Michal Kovac congratulated the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland for having been invited to join NATO, RFE/RL's Bratislava office reported. Kovac said the Slovak government's policy is the main reason why Slovakia has been left out of NATO. Meanwhile, the recently formed coalition of five opposition parties said on 9 July that Madrid "represents a total failure of [Prime Minister Vladimir] Meciar's policy." Bela Bugar, a leader of the coalition of the ethnic Hungarian parties, backed this stance. Two coalition parties--the Slovak National Party and the Union of Slovak Workers--said they were satisfied with the NATO decision because they do not want Slovakia to be a member of the alliance. Meciar, who met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 9 July, stressed again that Slovakia is a victim of NATO's double standards over accepting new members.


Gen. Jozef Tuchyna on 9 July rejected the government's draft amendment to the law on the army, whereby the force would no longer be headed by the chief of staff subordinated to the president but by a defense ministry state secretary appointed by the government. Tuchyna told a press conference in Bratislava that a compromise solution could be to merge the posts of the chief of staff and the planned post of state secretary, who, however, would be appointed by the president. Tuchyna said that no one had offered the post of state secretary to him so far. He predicted that the government's proposed amendment will end up at the Constitutional Court.


Members of Hungary's two governing parties released to the press on 9 July the report of the parliamentary commission that investigated the so-called "Tocsik privatization scandal" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 1997). The opposition had objected that the move would violate the privacy of those mentioned in it, Hungarian media reported. The document blames Imre Szokai, former chairman of the State Privatization and Holding Company (APV), and senior legal counselor Peter Liszkai for abusing their position when hiring the financial consultant Marta Tocsik, despite a board resolution not to make use of her services. Former Privatization Minister Tamas Suchman is also blamed for interfering in the APV's personnel and professional decisions. Commission chairman Tamas Deutch said the coalition's attempts to reject the report's conclusions are an effort to prevent establishing who bears political responsibility.


Leading Hungarian politicians on 9 July expressed diverse views over when a referendum on NATO membership should be held, Hungarian dailies reported. Prime Minister Gyula Horn and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs say the referendum should be conducted in the fall, before the parliamentary elections. Parliamentary chairman Imre Szekeres believes that a national vote should not take place until the terms of accession are known, while Free Democrat faction leader Istvan Szent-Ivanyi proposed the vote take place in the first quarter of 1998, since the accession treaty is to be signed by then. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, arriving in Budapest for a one-day visit, said all three states about to join the alliance should spend more on restructuring their military communications and control systems and less on "building expensive arsenals."


NATO troops killed Simo Drljaca in Prijedor on 10 July, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in London. Drljaca was the Serbian police chief in Prijedor during the Bosnian war and was linked to the "ethnic cleasing" of Croats and Muslims, as well as to concentration camps. In their surprise 10 July operation, British troops arrested Milan Kovacevic, who is wanted for complicity in war crimes. The previous day, U.S. President Bill Clinton and other top NATO officials said in Madrid that they did not want to comment on press reports that NATO intends to capture Radovan Karadzic or other indicted individuals. Clinton added, however, that the U.S. is clear about its support for embattled Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic "and what she's trying to do. We oppose the unconstitutional efforts to restrict her authority. We appreciate the fact that, even though we don't agree on everything, she has stated her adherence to the Dayton Accords and has tried to follow them." Meanwhile in Brussels, the EU announced that it is suspending all non-humanitarian aid to the Republika Srpska as long as Karadzic is free.


Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic met in Belgrade on 9 July with Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency. Plavsic refused to attend, saying to Milosevic in a letter that he should come to her headquarters in Banja Luka if he wanted to meet, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the west Bosnian town. Plavsic also challenged Milosevic's view that the current political fight in the Republika Srpska is a struggle between rival power centers in Banja Luka and Pale. The real issue, she said, is "whether we will become a state based on the rule of law or whether we will continue to be a party-run fiefdom sunk in crime." Meanwhile in Bijeljina, Plavsic's backers staged a rally in her support.


At least two ethnic Albanians were killed and many more wounded following clashes between Macedonian police and hundreds of Albanians in Gostivar on 9 July. Police arrested more than 300 Albanians; several police were injured in the violence. Tensions began when police pulled down Albanian flags flying from the city hall and some Albanians tried to rehoist them. AFP reported that UN peacekeepers left town during the violence. A new Macedonian law allows the Albanian and Turkish minorities opportunities to display their national symbols, but generally not on public buildings. The question of flags is politically sensitive because many Macedonians suspect that the banners are a symbol of irredentism.


In Skopje, the Macedonian government on 9 July announced the devaluation of the denar by 15 percent, in keeping with recommendations made by the IMF. In Belgrade, federal Yugoslav military authorities said that one Yugoslav soldier was wounded in a clash with an armed Albanian gang along the two countries' border. Also in the Serbian capital, Bosnian Roman Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic met with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle. They announced the setting up of an interfaith council in Bosnia that will include Muslims and Jews as well as Catholics and Orthodox. And in Grude in western Herzegovina, thousands attended the funeral of Mate Boban, the Herzegovinian Croat leader who died of a stroke on 7 July. Among those present were Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak and Croatian nationalist politicians Vladimir Seks and Branimir Glavas.


An explosive device went off on the grounds of the Italian medical center in Vlora on 9 July, killing one Italian soldier and wounding three. The dead man was the first fatality among the 7,000 foreign troops participating in Operation Alba since April. It is not clear how the bomb found its way into the Italian complex. Also in Vlora, one man died and two were wounded in an exchange of gunfire between armed gangs. Foreign news agencies reported additional deaths in Elbasan and Shkodra. Current estimates suggest that there are 1 million weapons in private hands across the country following the looting of military and police installations at the start of the year.


Franz Vranitzky, the Organization for Security and Europe's chief envoy to Albania and former Austrian chancellor, said on 9 July that Operation Alba troops should stay on beyond their planned withdrawal deadline of 12 August, Austrian media reported. He argued that "the question of security is essential. One cannot simply withdraw and think that Albania is entirely peaceful." The August withdrawal date "is certainly too early." Vranitzky has argued since late spring that the peacekeepers will be needed well after the elections, which ended on 6 July. Italy, which leads Operation Alba, nonetheless wants to conclude the mission in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1997). Foreign media report that many Albanians say the troops have brought a measure of stability and should remain.


The Socialist Party and its election allies have virtually completed negotiations aimed at allocating cabinet posts in the new government, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 10 July. Members of the Democratic Alliance will head the Interior and Defense Ministries, while a Social Democrat will manage foreign affairs under Socialist Prime Minister-designate Fatos Nano. Foreign diplomats told news agencies that the government could be in place by 17 July. Elsewhere in Tirana, election officials said the Socialist-led coalition has more than a two-thirds majority in the parliament following the second round of elections on 6 July. Unofficial totals give the coalition 107 out of 155 seats, or four more than the 103 needed to change the constitution.


Emil Constantinescu told the inaugural session of NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council on 9 July that Romania has the "irrevocable desire" to participate in deciding Europe's "security architecture" and to join NATO as soon as possible. He said Romania was rediscovering her "historical vocation as a mediator and as a point of convergence" in southeastern Europe. He added that the basic treaties signed with Hungary and Ukraine and the trilateral pacts signed with Ukraine and Moldova should help build a "flexible and lasting structure" capable of preventing or at least localizing potential conflicts. At a later press conference, Constantinescu said he assumes "personal responsibility" for the NATO-bid outcome and thanked in particular French President Jacques Chirac for his support.


The government on 9 July approved an "urgent ordinance" amending the education law, thereby postponing parliamentary debate on the issue and allowing immediate implementation. The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania had threatened to leave the ruling coalition if the law were not enforced by ordinance, since debate in the legislature would have prevented its implementation in time for school year 1997-1998. George Pruteanu, the chairman of the Senate's Education Commission and a member of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, opposed the amended version, along with other members of the ruling coalition parties. The amended law abolishes the provisions whereby high-school final exams and university entrance tests had to be in the Romanian language. It also provides for education in the mother tongue at all levels, including the instruction of history and geography. Under the previous version of the law, both of those subjects had to be taught in Romanian.


Sixteen people died on 9 July at a military airfield in Craiova, southern Romania, when an "experimental bomb" produced in the country exploded while being loaded into a plane. A Defense Ministry statement said the explosion caused a chain reaction and detonated other bombs in the YAR-93 aircraft. Eight of the dead were defense industry workers and the other eight were military engineers. Three other people were injured, one seriously.


Petru Lucinschi has said Chisinau views the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council as contributing to Moldovan security and is ready to "start a dialogue with interested parties." He was addressing the inaugural session of the council in Madrid on 9 July. Lucinschi failed to specify whom he head in mind but added that it was necessary to improve mechanisms geared at "conflict prevention." In an interview with Infotag the same day, Lucinschi said NATO's expansion was the outcome of the "evolutionary changes" that its three new members had undergone. Moldova's possible accession to the alliance was a matter "for the 21st century," he said in response to a question. For the time being "Moldova has proclaimed its neutrality and seeks to implement it in practice." The "mutually exclusive" political views dividing Moldovan society should not be enhanced by additional confrontations, he said.


The Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has recently been asked to include on the assembly's agenda for the fall the issue of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, BASA-press reported on 9 July. Vlad Cubreacov, who represents the opposition Popular Front in the assembly, says he has the endorsement of deputies from 10 European states to debate the issue. The Moldovan government refuses to recognize the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, which is subordinated to the Patriarchate in Bucharest. Meanwhile, the Synod of the Moldovan Orthodox Church (which is recognized by the authorities in Chisinau) on 9 July asked the parliament to pass a law allowing religious instruction in schools.


Yunal Lyutvi, a leader of Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, says the constitution should be amended to recognize the presence of a Turkish minority in the country. He told a press conference in Sofia on 9 July that the present basic law is "inadequate for the changes and challenges faced by Bulgaria," Reuters reported. Also on 9 July, Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov told reporters in Sofia that the invitations issued the previous day to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to join NATO signifies that the alliance's doors are now wide open. He expressed confidence that the country will be invited to join NATO in the future if the reforms continue at the pace of recent months.


Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev on 9 July told a press conference in Sofia that compulsory military service in Bulgaria will be reduced from 18 months to one year beginning 1 January 1998. Ananiev said the Supreme Military Council has approved amendments to the Defense and Armed Forces Law, which will now be discussed by the government and submitted for approval by the parliament, Reuters reported. Ananiev said the envisaged reforms will "set the legal grounds for a professional army." Chief of Staff Miho Mihov recently announced the intention to transform the army into a professional one (see RFE/RL Newsline, 20 June 1997). Army entrants would be cut up by 15,000 every year, saving the state several million leva, Ananiev said. The draft law also envisages a reduction of military service for university graduates from 12 months to nine.


The EU will grant Bulgaria several loans totaling $515 million to support the country's economic reform efforts, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported on 9 July, citing a press release of a visiting EU Commission delegation. The delegation says the main loan will total $280 million and its first installment is expected in the fall. The package also includes a $168 million loan to upgrade the country's aging power plants and improve electricity supply as well as a $40 million Phare program loan for structural and social security reform.


by Liz Fuller

Up to 20 people were killed on 9 July in fighting on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The incident underscores that some Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 hostilities are ready to launch a new offensive to bring the separatist region back under the control of the central government in Tbilisi. It could also negate recent progress in negotiations aimed at achieving a political settlement of the conflict.

Over the past month, high-level Russian officials have engaged in intensive mediation in an effort to expedite the signing of a seven-point "interim protocol," drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, that would formally end the conflict. This concentrated diplomacy came in response to an ultimatum by the Georgian parliament, which intends to demand the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia when the force's mandate expires on 31 July if a decision taken at the March CIS heads of state summit is not implemented. According to that decision, the force is to be redeployed throughout Abkhazia's Gali Raion, located in the southernmost part of the breakaway region. The Abkhaz leadership has opposed such redeployment, arguing that no change can be made to the peacekeepers' mandate without its consent.

From 8 to 19 June, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba discussed the draft protocol at meetings in Moscow with presidential chief of staff Valentin Yumashev, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. (Ardzinba worked under Primakov in the early 1980s when the latter was director of Moscow's Oriental Institute.) Ardzinba also held talks with Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, who met separately with Russian officials. On 16 June, both Russian diplomat Gennadii Ilichev and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze noted "progress" and a "certain rapprochement" between the two sides. Three days later, however, Primakov departed for the Summit of the Eight in Denver and the talks were adjourned.

According to subsequent Russian press reports, expressions of cautious official optimism proved premature. Accounts differ, however, as to what derailed the negotiations. Nezavisimaya gazeta on 20 June quoted Ardzinba as saying that by 13 or 14 June the two sides had virtually reached agreement on the final text of the protocol, which reflected major concessions by the Abkhaz over their republic's future status vis-a-vis Tbilisi. Menagharishvili had flown back to Tbilisi to submit the draft to the Georgian leadership, but legal experts in Tbilisi had insisted on such substantive amendments that the Abkhaz side had refused to continue the talks.

A different explanation, however, was given by Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian parliament commission on security and defense issues and Shevardnadze's personal envoy to Ardzinba, who told Nezavisimaya gazeta of 4 July that the sticking point was not Abkhazia's future status but the timetable for the repatriation of ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 hostilities.

The issue of the displaced persons is highly controversial. Estimates of the number of Georgians who fled from Abkhazia vary widely. Georgian officials routinely give the number as up to 300,000, although at the time of the 1989 Soviet census the total Georgian population of Abkhazia was only 240,000. The Georgian leadership insists that only a few thousand of those Georgians who fled Abkhazia have returned, while the Abkhaz say that some 60,000 of the 80,000 Georgians who lived in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, have already gone back. (A spokesman for the UNHCR told "RFE/RL Newsline" that an estimated 40,000 Georgians have returned permanently.) Abkhaz objections that allowing too many Georgians to return too fast could destabilize the internal situation may mask suspicions that the Georgian leadership wishes to tilt the ethnic balance in its favor. In 1989, Georgians accounted for 45.7 percent of Abkhazia's total population of 538,000. If the Georgian government insists on resettling 300,000 ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia, this would raise the Georgians' total share of the region's population to well over 50 percent, leaving the Abkhaz, who number less than 100,000, a minority.

In early July, Berezovskii spent three days shuttling between Tbilisi and the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, in the hope of breaking the deadlock. Again, Georgian spokesmen claimed that progress was made but declined to divulge any details. Members of Berezovskii's entourage, however, told Kommersant Daily of 4 July that Ardzinba is insisting that Abkhazia and Georgia have equal status within a "federative union." Even if there is no truth to Russian media claims that Ardzinba is under serious pressure from hard-liners, the 9 July fighting is likely to have outraged public opinion and thus made it more difficult for either Ardzinba or Shevardnadze to propose--or accept--any further compromise. In short, a formal settlement of the conflict seems as elusive as ever.