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Newsline - August 11, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin met with Akhsarbek Galazov and Ruslan Aushev, the North Ossetian and Ingush leaders, in Moscow on 8 August and outlined new proposals for stabilizing the situation in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion. He also warned the two leaders to "stop your undeclared war," saying that otherwise he would withdraw his support in the upcoming presidential elections in both republics. Yeltsin again rejected Aushev's call for the imposition of presidential rule on Prigorodnyi Raion and declined to send any additional Russian Interior Ministry troops there. He proposed a moratorium of 15-20 years on territorial claims and promised to maintain federal funding for Prigorodnyi Raion at 200 billion rubles ($34.5 million) for 1997-1998 to rebuild housing for Ingush refugees. The proposals, which Galazov termed "wise and far-sighted," are to be formalized in an agreement that all three presidents are scheduled to sign later this month, according to Interfax (see also "End Note" below).


Speaking to reporters on 8 August, Yeltsin indicated that the money supply will increase in 1998 as new bank notes are issued while old bank notes remain in circulation, Russian media reported. However, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said the same day that an increase in the number of bank notes in circulation at the beginning of 1998 will not increase the overall money supply, Interfax reported. Central Bank official Denis Kiselev also contradicted Yeltsin, saying new bank notes will be issued only as old notes are withdrawn from circulation. Yeltsin has promised that the planned ruble redenomination will not hurt ordinary Russians and has said it represents the government's triumph over inflation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997).


Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko says issuing new ruble bank notes and reintroducing coins for kopecks and the smallest ruble denominations will save the state money in the long run. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau broadcast on 10 August, Aleksashenko said the average bank note remains in circulation for only two to two-and-a-half years. Although in the short term it is more expensive to mint coins than to print bills, he noted that coins typically stay in circulation for 30 years, while bank notes must continually be reprinted as they wear out. Aleksashenko also said that in preparation for the currency reform, during the last year only new ruble bank notes (with three zeroes removed) have been printed.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 8 August described the planned redenomination of the ruble as "hasty, premature, poorly thought-out, and poorly calculated," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He added that there has not been a single reform implemented by Yeltsin "that has not made the people's wallets thinner." Zyuganov claimed that by announcing plans to issue new coins and bank notes, the government hoped to draw the attention of ordinary citizens away from other "destructive transformations," such as the sale of state property. Zyuganov also predicted that the currency change will prompt Russians to put more of their savings into U.S. dollars. He charged that First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais is trying to boost the dollar's value.


Also on 8 August, Zyuganov described the opposition's attempts to break through what he called an "information blockade" imposed by media outlets that are sympathetic to the president and government. At a press conference to mark the first anniversary of the creation of the Communist-led movement Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), Zyuganov said the opposition has some 300 newspapers and other publications as well as three radio stations, Russian media reported. In addition, the NPSR has set up a Patriotic Information Agency and plans to broadcast its own television programs on various regional networks, Zyuganov said. Earlier this year, the government promised that the state-run Russian Television network would broadcast a program about the activities of the parliament, which the opposition has long demanded. However, such a program has not yet appeared.


Officials from the State Property Committee, the Russian Federal Property Fund, and the Procurator-General's Office have concluded that no laws were broken in the recent sale of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 August, citing an unnamed government source. That source said First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais will soon present the conclusions of the audit to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The premier called for the Norilsk auction to be postponed but was later persuaded to let it go ahead on 5 August. He then ordered government officials to examine how the sale had been conducted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5-8 August 1997).


Rival companies may still contest the Norilsk auction in an arbitration court, claiming the terms of the sale were unfair, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 August. In addition, the Procurator-General's Office may sue to annul the sale if it determines that the auction violated Russian state interests. Critics have noted that Oneksimbank had managed the 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel since November 1995. Moreover, the bank is linked both to the company that organized the auction (MFK-Moscow Partners) and to the company that submitted the winning bid (Svift). "Kommersant-Daily" claimed that Oneksimbank also has links to the little-known consortium that submitted the losing bid for the Norilsk stake. However, the newspaper said Russian law appears to be on Oneksimbank's side. Affiliates of share managers or sale organizers are not prohibited from taking part in privatization auctions.


"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 9 August argued that, in the recent sale of stakes in Svyazinvest and Norilsk Nickel, First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Boris Nemtsov had "for the first time in Russia's recent history rebuffed attempts by groups of influential lobbyists to continue playing the game according to their own 'shadowy' rules." In contrast, the paper argued, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin had "become a hostage of financial groups." "Komsomolskaya pravda" claimed that Chernomyrdin advocated postponing the Norilsk auction not because of a recommendation from the Procurator-General's Office but under the influence of Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, founder of the powerful LogoVAZ empire. Chernomyrdin changed his mind about postponing the Norilsk sale following discussions with Chubais, State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh, and Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin on 5 August. Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Komsomolskaya pravda."


Baltoneksimbank, a St. Petersburg-based affiliate of Oneksimbank, has extended credits to four of the city's five daily newspapers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 August. The total value of the loans granted to "Vechernii Peterburg," "Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti," "Nevskoe vremya," and "Chas pik" is 1 billion rubles ($172,000). It is not known when the newspapers must repay the loans or what they offered as collateral. According to "Nevskoe vremya" editor-in-chief Alla Manilova, the papers negotiated with four different banks and chose to borrow from Baltoneksimbank because it offered the credits on the best terms. "Kommersant-Daily" argued that the deal will allow Baltoneksimbank to significantly increase its influence over leading St. Petersburg publications.


Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev has proposed that the government and regional leaders form a joint commission on policies toward state property and the energy sector, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 August. In a message to the government, Stroev suggested that such a commission could include Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, and representatives from various Federation Council committees. Noting that currently the federal authorities control the distribution of profits from privatized property, Stroev told journalists that regional leaders should be involved as well. By way of example, he said that the governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai should have participated in decisions surrounding the privatization of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel. Stroev added that regional authorities should have some say over the distribution of timber, gas, and other natural resources located on the territory of their regions.


Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov says that if the government acquires a controlling packet of shares in the automobile manufacturer AvtoVAZ, some of the shares should be transferred to the Samara authorities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 August. The AvtoVAZ board of directors on 2 August agreed to a 10-year schedule for paying off the company's 2.855 trillion rubles ($492 million) in tax debts to the federal budget. If the company fails to meet this schedule, the federal government will take over 51 percent of the company's shares. AvtoVAZ is based in the city of Togliatti and owes debts to the Samara Oblast budget as well as to the federal government. Titov believes those factors should be taken into account if the government acquires a controlling stake in AvtoVAZ. He has vowed to raise the issue with State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh.


Following a report by Health Minister Tatyana Dmitrieva, the government on 7 August approved a concept for restructuring the public health care system by 2005, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. A final program is to be adopted in the coming weeks. Dmitrieva told journalists that basic medical services will still be provided free of charge and will be financed through mandatory medical insurance. Some other medical services -- such as cosmetic surgery, physiotherapy, and massage therapy -- will become fee-based. However, Dmitrieva promised that the poor will still be able to receive such services free of charge if a doctor prescribes them. According to Interfax, the new program will force hospitals and clinics currently closed to the public to join the national system. Dmitrieva said more than 20 federal agencies have special medical facilities that are funded by the federal budget but closed to the public.


The Supreme Court has ordered the Primorskii Krai authorities to restore accreditation to Denis Demkin, the Far East correspondent for "Kommersant-Daily," the paper reported on 7 August. Demkin's accreditation was revoked in April. Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko's press secretary charged that Demkin had spread false information in violation of the federal law on the mass media. The Primorskii Krai Court turned down an appeal from "Kommersant-Daily," saying the law on the mass media does not specify on what grounds a journalist's accreditation may be revoked. However, the Supreme Court ruled that regional or local authorities cannot establish their own rules for enforcing the federal law on the mass media. The court also found that under Article 55 of the constitution, rights and freedoms may be limited in extenuating circumstances only by federal law, not by governors or regional administrations.


Fighting erupted in northern Dushanbe on 9 August between Interior Ministry forces headed by Col. Sukhrob Kasymov and some 200 supporters of Yakub Salimov, former interior minister and current customs committee chairman. Salimov withdrew westward from Dushanbe to Gissar after several dozen of his men were killed, according to AFP. Also on 9 August, maverick military commander Makhmud Khudoiberdiev, who since January 1996 has twice launched unsuccessful attempts to overthrow Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, threatened to advance on Dushanbe from his base near Kurgan-Tyube to the south unless Kasymov left the capital, according to Reuters. Presidential guard commander Gafar Mirzoev told AFP on 10 August that Khudoiberdiev's forces were advancing on the capital in order to oust Rakhmonov. Khudoiberdiev issued a denial, claiming his forces were attacked by the presidential guard. He also pledged his loyalty to the president.


Addressing a session of the Tajik Security Council on 10 August, Rakhmonov blamed the renewed violence on "destructive forces" intent on undermining the peace agreement signed between the Tajik government and opposition in late June. The council issued a statement claiming that the fighting was initiated by "the economic and drugs mafia and the criminal world." It also called on the warring parties to surrender their arms within three days, according to Reuters. Sporadic clashes between Kasymov's and Salimov's forces continued west of Dushanbe throughout the night of 10-11 August. ITAR-TASS on 11 August reported that the situation in Dushanbe is calm, public transport is running, and some shops are open. It is unclear whether fighting is continuing in the Fakhrabad mountain pass, some 40 kilometers south of Dushanbe, where Khudoiberdiev's forces clashed with the presidential guard on 10 August, according to dpa.


The Russian and Armenian Foreign Ministries have exchanged notes affirming that Armenia will maintain the present weapons allocations stipulated by the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 August, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Armen Gasparyan. Armenia had ceded part of its arms allocations in tanks, personnel carriers, and artillery to the Russian troops stationed on its territory. The Foreign Ministry opposed that move, arguing it could damage Armenia' s national security vis-a-vis Azerbaijan. Gasparyan did not specify whether the exchange of notes meant Russia would reduce the amount of arms at its bases in Armenia to enable Yerevan to increase its holdings.


Djaba Ioseliani, leader of the banned Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation, has declared a hunger strike to demand his release from detention and a meeting with UN and Council of Europe representatives, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 August, citing the Georgian press. Ioseliani was instrumental in forcing the 1992 ouster of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and in bringing back former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze to his native Georgia. Ioseliani was arrested in November 1995, and has been charged with high treason, murder, banditry, and terrorism, including the unsuccessful car bomb attack on Shevardnadze in August 1995. Ioseliani's trial is scheduled to begin in September. Meanwhile, the Georgian presidential press service on 8 August said the Interior Ministry has evidence that another terrorist act against Shevardnadze is being prepared in an unnamed foreign country, ITAR-TASS reported.


Following an interruption of nearly three years, a train left Tbilisi bound for Moscow at midnight on 7 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The Tbilisi-Moscow service will run once a week and will be protected by armed guards, "Rezonansi" reported on 7 August.


A small explosion was reported near the U.S. embassy in Baku on 8 August, Interfax reported. No one was injured, nor was the building damaged. Turan the next day cited a district police official as saying the explosion occurred when teenagers set fire to an old TV set. Earlier the same day, President Heidar Aliyev returned from a state visit to the U.S., which Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov characterized as a "breakthrough" in bilateral relations. He added that relations between Washington and Baku have reached the stage of a "strategic partnership," ITAR-TASS reported on 9 August.


Aliyev told journalists on 8 August that he is not concerned about the withdrawal of Russian oil companies from the July agreement on joint exploitation and development of the Kyapaz oil field, Interfax and Turan reported. The Russian government had announced three days earlier that Rosneft and LUKoil would withdraw from the deal after the Turkmen Foreign Ministry protested that Kyapaz lies in Turkmenistan's sector of the Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7-8 July and 6 August, 1997). Aliyev said the agreement signed was one of intent and therefore cannot be annulled. A senior official of the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR told AFP on 8 August that Azerbaijan's claims to Kyapaz are indisputable. Prime minister Artur Rasizade said in an interview with Turan the same day that Azerbaijan has not yet been officially informed of the Russian withdrawal. He proposed that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan jointly develop Kyapaz.


The Minsk district court on 8 August ruled that Valentin Astashinsky, a member of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), was guilty of organizing an unsanctioned march on 27 July, the anniversary of Belarus's sovereignty. Astashinky was fined 150 minimum monthly wages (22.5 million Belarusian rubles or $833). Astashinsky says he will file an appeal with the Minsk City Court and the Prosecutor's Office. He told Belapan that on 8 August, police arrived at the BPF office to demand that deputy chairman Yury Belenky, who also signed the application for the 27 July demonstration, immediately report to the local police.


Authorities in Brest have denied an application by the Tsvetotron factory's Free Trade Union to picket the Regional Executive Committee on 14 August. The union's main demands are to liquidate wage arrears and dismiss the factory's director. The authorities said, however, that since the factory administration has already started paying off wage arrears and is drawing up a program to pull the factory out of its crisis within six months, the workers have no reason to stage a protest.


Leonid Kuchma on 8 August signed a decree appointing Anatoly Holubchenko first deputy prime minister, according to the presidential press service. Holubchenko, a metallurgical engineer, was industry minister from 1992 to 1995. He represents the Constitutional Center in the parliament. In other news, Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tyhypko and tax officials have agreed that the law on value-added tax will go into effect on 1 October. The law's implementation has been postponed twice since 1 July at the government's request.


The Baltic States reacted angrily to the recent freezing of Russian bank accounts of a number of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian banks, BNS and Interfax reported. The St. Petersburg tax police on 31 July blocked the accounts, claiming the banks had violated Russian legislation by not informing the necessary authorities when accounts were opened for Russian firms. The tax police demanded the banks pay a 20 percent sales tax on sums transferred abroad. Some Baltic bank accounts in Moscow were also reported to have been affected. The banks dismissed the demands as "absurd" and "totally groundless," according to ETA. By 8 August, some bank accounts had been unfrozen following a ruling by a Russian arbitration court. The banks have said they intend to sue the tax police for damages.


The Defense Ministry has sent a letter to the president, prime minister, and finance minister complaining that the 1997 and 1998 budgets are insufficient to maintain current standards in the armed forces and National Guard, BNS reported. Speaking at a press conference on 8 August, Defense Minister Talavs Jundzis said insufficient funding will prevent the Latvian military from participating in international exercises in 1998. He added that "we may be ready to join NATO politically but not financially." The armed forces have been allotted 0.51 percent of GNP this year and 0.46 percent next year.


A district environmental official in Vsetin said there is a danger of landslides throughout eastern Moravia following the recent catastrophic floods. The daily "Mlada Fronta Dnes" on 11 August reported that several rivers have changed course and some hills have moved as a result of the floods. In Poland, PAP reported on 10 August that the former fortress at Malbork, in northern Poland, may collapse as a result of high ground water. Government Commissioner for Children's Affairs Miroslawa Katna as said the floods may traumatize children who witnessed their homes being inundated, their pets drown, their toys float away, and the extremely brutal behavior of adults. She says "the destruction of all values before their very eyes cannot but affect their psyche," PAP reported.


Senator Gerhard Bartodziej, who represents Poland's German minority, has issued a statement saying he was a "conscious and secret collaborator of the state security organs." He told dpa on 10 August he does not feel morally guilty, adding that he had been the victim of blackmail by the communist secret police. Bartodziej, who is chairman of the Central Council of German Societies in Poland, says his activities were aimed neither against the Church nor against the opposition. He says it will be up to voters in the electoral district of Opole to decide in the 21 September elections whether to keep him in office. A recent law requires prospective and current public officials to declare whether they had collaborated with the secret police prior to the collapse of communist rule.


Three people were hospitalized, one in serious condition, following a shoot-out between Ukrainian and Tajik members of what was described as a "Russian-speaking mafia" at a highway rest stop near Prague on 9 August, Czech media reported. Police found 37 spent cartridges at the scene of the shooting, which was just 100 meters from homes inhabited by Russian speakers. The incident came one week after a shoot-out in broad daylight on Prague's Wenceslas Square involving Chechens. Three gunmen had to be hospitalized following that incident.


Deputy Interior Minister Martin Fendrych said on Czech TV on 10 August that the country's visa policy should be tightened toward citizens of certain states -- including Russia -- from where it is alleged that organized crime in the Czech Republic originates. He says the Czech Republic cannot enter the EU unless it harmonizes its visa policy with that of the union. Currently, Russians do not need visas to enter the Czech Republic. Fendrych said foreigners constitute one-quarter of all those engaged in organized crime in the country. A new bill on residence permits for foreigners requires prospective residents to supply a police record from their home country.


Forty ethnic Slovak families in Ukraine, mainly from areas affected by the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, are to emigrate to Slovakia this year, TASR reported from Kosice on 10 August. All the families were selected by the Slovak Interior Ministry's immigration office. Most have members who are university educated. The first 19 families are due to arrive shortly and will be settled in 3-4 room apartments in Kosice that they purchased with a 20-year interest-free loan guaranteed by the immigration office. The other families are due to arrive in the fall. In other news, more than 4,000 Romas participated in the fifth annual Romany Roman Catholic pilgrimage on 10. August in Gaboltov in eastern Slovakia, TASR reported.


In an interview with Hungarian Radio on 10 August, Gyula Horn said his country's top priority is how to come closer to meeting EU standards. He noted that Hungary's per capita GDP is only 37 percent of the EU average, while income levels are three times lower than the EU average. According to the premier, the European Commission's recent report on Hungary is accurate, with the exception on the chapter on corruption, which, he said, is not a Central European but a global phenomenon.


Victor Babiuc has canceled a visit to Hungary scheduled for 11 and 12 August, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The Romanian Defense Ministry gave no explanation for Babiuc's decision. Sources quoted by the Budapest daily said he had been unhappy about the program planned for him in Budapest, since he would have been unable to meet with many politicians owing to the summer holidays. According to Romanian sources, Babiuc was to sign an agreement with his Hungarian counterpart, Gyoergy Keleti, on military cooperation.


Deputy Defense Minister Ndre Legisi said in Tirana on 10 August that more than 100 people were arrested the previous week as part of the new government's crackdown on the gangs that continue to terrorize much of the country. Some 46 people were killed that week in the ongoing violence, down from 61 the week before. Some 1,500 criminals escaped from prisons during the anarchy in February and March and are still on the run, news agencies reported. Spokesmen for the government and opposition alike have recently called for the enforcement of the death penalty, which Albania suspended in 1996 at the request of the Council of Europe.


In Berat on 9 August, unidentified persons stole 18 icons that Orthodox Church officials had sent to a warehouse next to a police station for safe-keeping. Two of the icons date from the sixth century, while most of the others are from the18th century. In Tirana on 10 August, officials of the State Prosecutor's Office and the Justice Ministry said that Leka Zogu, the claimant to the throne, and his aide Abedin Mulosmani face arrest if they return to Albania. They are wanted for "organizing an armed rally" that took place in the capital on 3 July. Leka was armed during the rally, which he and his supporters called to protest what they said was fraud in counting the votes in the 29 June referendum on reestablishing the monarchy.


Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), told BK TV in Belgrade on 10 August that his party will participate in the Serbian parliamentary and presidential elections slated for 21 September. He said the SPO must take part so that the voters have a choice. Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Party and several smaller opposition groups have said they will not participate. Opposition leader Vesna Pesic said in Belgrade on 10 August that she will not run because the elections will be neither free nor fair owing to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's control over the media and the recent increase in the number of electoral districts, which favors Milosevic's party.


U.S. envoys Richard Holbrooke and Robert Gelbard ended their latest mission to the Balkans in Belgrade on 9 August. Following talks with Milosevic and with Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, Holbrooke said that Krajisnik "offered a unilateral undertaking that the agreement reached on 18 July last year [for indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic to stay out of politics] will be respected... This [is] a unilateral offer from Krajisnik...and we will watch carefully if it will be implemented. We gave nothing in return." Holbrooke said Washington's policy remains that Karadzic must be tried at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The envoy added that, on frequent occasions, Karadzic has "dramatically violated...every term of the agreement," which, he added, Krajisnik and Milosevic acknowledged.


Holbrooke also said in Belgrade on 9 August that implementation of the Dayton agreement is running approximately one year behind schedule. He noted that two key problems are the absence of freedom of movement and the fact that key war criminals are still free. On 10 August in Pale, U.S. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the new commander of SFOR, told Krajisnik that Washington insists that police and other paramilitary forces in Bosnia be placed under NATO control. All three nationalist groups have such forces but the Serbian paramilitaries provide personal security for Karadzic and other indicted war criminals. Many observers consider neutralizing those private armies as a first step toward catching the indicted individuals and sending them to The Hague.


The EU presidency on 9 August called on member states to end their six-day boycott of Bosnian diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1997). Germany and Italy said they would comply, while France had restored diplomatic ties on 8 August. The presidency's decision follows an agreement between the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats on 7 August to divide ambassadorships among themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997). Meanwhile in Sarajevo, Britain's Princess Diana on 10 August ended a three-day visit to Bosnia to promote aid for land-mine victims.


U.S. Gen. Jacques Klein said in Osijek on 9 August that he is proud of his achievements during his 20-month mission as the UN's chief administrator in eastern Slavonia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from that Slavonian town. Klein said his mission "made history." He now becomes deputy to Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia. Many observers regard Klein's work in Slavonia as one of the international community's few success stories in the former Yugoslavia. In Novi Pazar, Muslim leaders said in a declaration they are satisfied with the talks that one of their representatives held with Holbrooke and Gelbard in Belgrade the previous day. The statement said Holbrooke pledged to speak to Milosevic about discrimination against Sandzak's Muslims, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Novi Pazar.


Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, in an interview with Romanian Television on 8 August, said the government is determined to abide by its decision to liquidate 17 loss-making enterprises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997). Ciorbea said some parts of the enterprises slated for liquidation may be saved through privatization if suitable offers are made, but he added that there is no chance for any of the loss-making giants to survive. He said dismissed workers can begin collecting compensation payments as of 11 August. In a press release on 8 August, the Ministry of Interior warned against the repetition of violent protests, saying it has instructed its forces to intervene if necessary.


Four policemen were injured on 8 August in clashes with demonstrators in Ploiesti. Twelve demonstrators were fined. Rail traffic has resumed following police intervention at Valea Calugareasca (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997). In Bacau, protesters temporarily held hostage the deputy prefect and State Property Fund representatives. Protest actions have been reported in Braila and Cluj, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The opposition Party of Socialist Democracy in Romania on 8 August accused the cabinet of having negotiated with the IMF "on its knees." Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said his formation wants Romania to cut off all links with the IMF and the World Bank. He said their "stingy loans" would be more than offset by the "billions of dollars" Romania is losing by following their policies.


One person died and dozens of households were damaged as a result of heavy rains in Romania's Salaj, Giurgiu, and Olt Counties on 10 August, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Several days earlier, rains and floods caused heavy damage to houses and roads in Bacau and Hunedoara Counties. Environment Minister Ion Olteanu estimated on 8 August that the damage caused by the recent floods will total $150 million. He said 20 people died and some 25,000 homes, 625 kilometers of roads, 334 bridges, and 43 dams were either damaged or destroyed. In neighboring Moldova, torrential rains on 7-8 August destroyed several kilometers of roads and two bridges. Many homes in the districts of Soldanesti, Calarasi, and Camenca were damaged, Infotag reported.


The opposition Socialist Party, the Alliance for National Salvation, and the Bulgarian Business Bloc on 8 August appealed to the Constitutional Court against the recently adopted law on opening communist-era secret police files (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1997). The 52 signatories to the appeal said the law places the government above the legislative and judicial branches because the commission that is to examine the files of high-ranking officials is headed by the interior minister, BTA reported. The signatories say that if the files of the country's president were to indicate that he collaborated with the former communist security services, both national security -- which he oversees -- and the normal functioning of the state would be jeopardized.


by Liz Fuller

Until recently, the 1994-96 war in Chechnya and the uneasy peace that followed have eclipsed the unresolved conflict between Chechnya's western neighbor, Ingushetia, and the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. The leaders of the two republics, Ruslan Aushev and Akhsarbek Galazov, met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on 8 August in an attempt to forestall new violence in North Ossetia's disputed Prigodonyi Raion.

The conflict there, like so many on the territory of the former Soviet Union, is the consequence of Stalin's nationality policy. When the North Ossetian and Ingush autonomous oblasts were created in 1924, Prigorodnyi Raion formed the westernmost district of Ingushetia. In 1936, Moscow merged Ingushetia with Chechnya to form the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Republic. This formation was abolished following the 1944 mass deportation of both the Chechens and the Ingush to Central Asia under suspicion of collaborating with Nazi Germany. At the same time, Prigorodnyi Raion was incorporated into North Ossetia. Following Secretary-General Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 "secret speech" to the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a green light was given for the repatriation of the exiled peoples and for the reformation of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic, albeit within different borders. Prigorodnyi Raion, however, remained part of North Ossetia.

The return of the deported Ingush to Prigorodnyi Raion inevitably created tensions between the Ossetians and the repatriates, many of whose homes had been occupied by settlers from elsewhere in the North Caucasus. The Ingush claim that they were routinely subjected to discrimination on ethnic grounds. But with the exception of fighting in the North Ossetian capital in late1981, tensions did not escalate into violence.

In the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost created the illusion that the Soviet leadership was prepared to redress the most egregious injustices inflicted by Stalin on the non-Russian peoples. Beginning in 1991, the Ingush staged repeated demonstrations to demand that Checheno-Ingushetia again be divided into its two constituent parts and Prigorodnyi Raion returned to Ingushetia. (In March 1991, Boris Yeltsin, then chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet, endorsed the first of those Ingush demands.) The Ossetian population, for their part, rallied to protest the proposal to hand over the raion to Ingushetia. In April 1991, the RSFSR Supreme Soviet adopted a law on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples that implicitly promised territorial reparations, thereby fueling Ingush hopes. But the Ossetians succeeded in pressuring Moscow to impose a five-year moratorium on implementing the legislation. Checheno-Ingushetia was finally divided into two republics in July 1992.

Several months later, in October 1992, the accumulated tensions erupted into fighting in Prigorodnyi Raion between Ingush informal militias and North Ossetian security forces backed by Russian Interior Ministry and army troops. In six days of violence, up to 700 people were killed, hundreds of hostages taken by both sides, and thousands of homes (mostly belonging to Ingush families) destroyed. Almost the entire Ingush population of the district (estimates range from 34,000 to 64,000 people) were forced to flee.

The Russian leadership responded by imposing a state of emergency in Prigorodnyi Raion and adjacent areas of both North Ossetia and Ingushetia, which remained in force until February1995. But direct rule by Moscow has failed to contribute significantly to defusing tensions and creating conditions for the return of the Ingush. Most Ingush fugitives are living in temporary accommodation in Ingushetia. Only an estimated 2,000 have returned to Prigorodnyi Raion.

Since early July, interethnic clashes in Prigorodnyi Raion have risen dramatically, prompting Aushev to appeal to President Boris Yeltsin to impose presidential rule there. Galazov, however, rejected that proposal as potentially counterproductive, arguing instead for increased funding to rebuild destroyed homes and create new jobs for both Ossetians and returning Ingush. Yeltsin rejected presidential rule as unconstitutional and "contrary to the direction in which Russian federalism should develop."

Meeting with the two republican presidents on 8 August, Yeltsin proposed tension-defusing measures similar to those agreed on last year in Chechnya. Those measures include a moratorium of 15-20 years on territorial claims and the creation of Ossetian-Ingush militia patrols to maintain the peace. Moscow will allocate 200 billion rubles ($34.5 million) annually for the next two years toward reconstruction in Prigorodnyi Raion. Galazov expressed satisfaction with those measures, but Aushev warned the moratorium is tantamount to "burying one's head in the sand."

Nor do Yeltsin's proposals address two factors that Russian observers identify as contributing to the recent upsurge in violence. First, presidential elections are scheduled for April 1998 in North Ossetia and Ingushetia, which means both the incumbents and their prospective rivals risk alienating potential voters if they appear too conciliatory. Second, the Russian government in early July abolished the special economic status granted to Ingushetia in June 1994, whereby the republic is exempt from federal taxes. That move threatens to undermine the republic's economy and thus create new tensions.