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Newsline - August 21, 1997


Addressing the Security Council on 20 August, President Boris Yeltsin complained that political, financial, and organizational measures intended to stabilize the North Caucasus are not being systematically implemented, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 21 August. He admitted that Russia does not have a consistent coordinated policy for the region as a whole but tends to make ad hoc decisions about one republic without making allowance for the situation in neighboring regions. As a result, he said, "sometimes our activities serve only to inflame passions." Yeltsin accused the U.S. of seeking "to penetrate and exert its influence" in the North Caucasus as a "sphere of U.S. vital interest." U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin on 20 August rejected Yeltsin's statement, saying that Washington "does not believe in spheres of influence for the U.S. or any other country," according to an RFE/RL correspondent in the U.S. capital.


Vakha Arsanov told RFE/RL's Grozny corrrespondent on 20 August that he intends to sue NTV president Igor Malashenko for libel. The previous day, Malashenko had said at a news conference in Moscow that Arsanov was "the primary organizer" of a "highly developed kidnapping machine" operating in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 1997). Arasanov said there is no basis for Malashenko's "stupid and idiotic" statements, but some Chechen field commanders have said they believe Arsanov has provided cover for hostage-takers in the past. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov declined to comment on Malashenko's characterization of him as "Chechnya's main jailer," saying it was "beneath his dignity" to do so. He said Malashenko's remarks were part of a "propaganda attack" intended to undermine the agreement that he and Yeltsin reached on 18 August to draft and sign a new treaty on relations between Grozny and Moscow.


Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii on 20 August reacted calmly to Yeltsin's first-ever public expression of disapproval with him. He told journalists that he did not take Yeltsin's remarks as criticism and has no intention of resigning, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, he said he will comply with any decision made by the president. Some Russian observers had predicted Yeltsin would soon sack Berezovskii, particularly after the president told a Security Council meeting that Berezovskii should not use the media to exacerbate the situation in the North Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 1997). However, the presidential press service on 20 August denied that any decree on dismissing Berezovskii is being prepared. Appearing on Ekho Moskvy the same day, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin acknowledged that the council's apparatus will soon be reduced but expressed "resolute support" for Berezovskii and his work in Chechnya.


At the same press conference, Berezovskii charged that First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov are making "a serious strategic error" by not heeding the opinions of the Russian business community, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 20 August. Berezovskii said he had repeatedly tried, to no avail, to persuade Chubais and Nemtsov to listen to the views of entrepreneurs. He also responded to Nemtsov's recent attack on his business activities and influence on Russian Public Television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 1997). Alluding to Nemtsov's half-Jewish ancestry and apparent presidential ambitions, Berezovskii, who is Jewish, said, "Mr. Nemtsov has a purely genetic problem. Boris Yefimovich [Nemtsov] is partly like Boris Abramovich [Berezovskii], but he wants to be Boris Nikolaevich [Yeltsin]." Hinting that Nemtsov may not secure the backing of major financial groups if he runs for president, Berezovskii added, "One does not become president; presidents are born."


"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 20 August argued that Berezovskii is trying to get Nemtsov dismissed and should himself be fired. Noting that Berezovskii maintains good relations with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the paper charged that Security Council Secretary Rybkin has no real power and merely voices Berezovskii's views. The newspaper concluded that "the Security Council deputy secretary has become such an offensive figure that the matter concerns not so much a conflict with the young reformers [Nemtsov and Chubais], but the reputation of the Russian president himself. For there is currently no more glaring example of combining power with business, with financial-industrial groups that are primarily pursuing their own affairs, taking advantage of their position in the upper echelons of the Kremlin." "Komsomolskaya pravda," in which Oneksimbank holds a major stake, has defended Nemtsov and criticized Berezovskii and Chernomyrdin during the recent privatization scandals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July and 1 and 11 August 1997).


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" charged on 21 August that "the fiasco in Chechnya attests to the fierce political crisis within Russia." The newspaper said the "defeat of the Russian authorities" in the latest negotiations shows that the state is too weak to "defend its territorial integrity by military, economic, or diplomatic means," placing the Russian Constitution itself in doubt. While some blame the Security Council for not resolving the conflict, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" cited Berezovskii as saying that others were to blame for the federal government's failure to keep its promises to the Chechen side. In particular, Berezovksii accused the Finance Ministry of not transferring funds to Chechnya and the Fuel and Energy Ministry of impeding the major oil project on Chechen territory. Chubais is also finance minister, while Nemtsov is also fuel and energy minister. Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group is a financial backer of "Nezavisimaya gazeta."


First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais sharply criticized a Fuel and Energy Ministry proposal that federal budget expenditures to the coal industry be increased in 1998 from 5.7-9.7 trillion rubles ($980 million to $1.7 billion), Interfax reported on 20 August. Chairing a meeting of a government commission on socio-economic problems of coal-mining regions, Chubais said power plants are largely to blame for the coal industry's financial crunch. He argued that 90 percent of wage arrears to coal workers are caused by coal consumers' failure to pay, while 90 percent of coal consumers are power plants run by the Fuel and Energy Ministry. Chubais ordered the ministry to resolve this problem and also instructed the Finance Ministry to forgive all fines on old debts from coal producers, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 August.


At the same meeting, Chubais acknowledged that the government currently lacks the funds to meet 1997 budget targets for financing the coal industry in the fourth quarter of the year, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 August. However, he expressed confidence that before the end of the year, Russia will receive the first $200 million tranche of a second loan from the World Bank on restructuring the coal industry. The World Bank's board is not even scheduled to consider whether to extend the second coal loan until 1998, bank officials recently confirmed in interviews with an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington. But Chubais hopes to persuade World Bank President James Wolfensohn to speed up the deliberation process when the two men meet in September. The bank is investigating allegations that funds from its first $500 million coal loan to Russia, extended in 1996, were misappropriated.


Yeltsin on 20 August submitted a resolution to the State Duma on declaring amnesty for some 445,000 convicted criminals as a "humanitarian act." If the parliament approves the resolution, some 35,000 prisoners will be released, 60,000 will have their sentences reduced, and 350,000 criminals serving time outside prison for minor offenses will also be amnestied, according to Reuters. The measure is aimed at reducing prison overcrowding. In his message to State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Yeltsin said the amnesty would not apply to violent criminals or repeat offenders. Only the "least dangerous" prisoners would be eligible, the president said, including elderly convicts, invalids or prisoners with tuberculosis, and pregnant women or women with small children. Amnesty International concluded earlier this year that conditions in some overcrowded Russian prisons are tantamount to torture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 1997).


Duma Speaker Seleznev on 20 August said Yeltsin appears to be "abusing his constitutional right" to veto laws passed by the parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. Seleznev charged that by rejecting more and more laws, the president is obstructing the legislature's work. He blamed legal experts in the presidential administration for poorly coordinating the president's and government's positions, noting that the government had proposed 14 of the laws that were later vetoed by Yeltsin. Seleznev did not mention that in June, Yeltsin vetoed two controversial laws for a second time after both houses of the parliament had overridden his veto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 1997). Responding to recent criticism from Communist Duma deputy Vladimir Semago, Seleznev charged that Semago has "gotten mixed up in intrigues" of the presidential administration, which hopes to replace the Duma speaker and divide the Communist leadership, "Segodnya" reported on 21 August.


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said in Almaty on 20 August that he will not run for the Russian presidency and asked journalists, "Why are you in such a hurry?", RFE/RL's correspondent in the Kazakh capital reported. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2000. Meanwhile, Luzhkov has ordered that scholarships be provided to 50 needy students at Russian-language institutions of higher education in Latvia, Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 August. The move is in keeping with Luzhkov's frequent appeals for protecting Russian interests abroad. He supports reunification with Belarus and has repeatedly claimed that the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol is a Russian city. Many analysts believe Luzhkov hopes to secure the support of the patriotic wing of the Russian electorate for a future presidential bid.


The crew of the "Mir" space station repaired both the Elektron oxygen system and the orientation system on 20 August, Russian media reported. All essential systems aboard the station are now operating normally. The two Russian cosmonauts are scheduled to leave the station at 13:00h CET on 22 August to repair the "spektr" modules and reconnect cables to the modules' solar batteries.


Yurii Nikulin, comedian and circus entertainer, died in Moscow on 21 August at the age of 75. He had been in a critical condition for more than two weeks following unsuccessful heart surgery. After starting his career as a Moscow Circus clown, Nikulin starred in many popular films beginning in the 1960s. He frequently appeared on television both during and after the Soviet period. He had also been director of the Moscow Circus since 1984. During the 1996 presidential campaign, Nikulin appeared in television commercials supporting Yeltsin's re-election.


Robert Kocharyan met with his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and with Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov in Moscow on 20 August , Russian and Armenian agencies reported. This is Kocharyan's first foreign visit since being appointed premier in March 1997. The talks focused on preparations for Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan's planned visit to Moscow on 28-30 August, during which he and Yeltsin are scheduled to sign an updated treaty on friendship and cooperation and create a joint venture for the transportation of Russian gas via Armenia to "third countries" (including, above all, Turkey) "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 August.


Meeting in Sukhumi on 20 August, Abkhaz President Vladislav Arzdinba, Georgian First Deputy Security Minister Avtandil Ioseliani, and CIS peacekeeping force commander Maj.-Gen. Dolya Babenkov agreed on conditions for the release of three Russian members of the CIS peacekeeping force who were taken hostage on 16 August. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 August reported that Abkhazia will hand over the bodies of two Georgian militants killed recently in Abkhazia, provided Tbilisi officially concedes that the men were "separatists." In return, the Georgians who are holding the peacekeepers hostage will release them. Also in Sukhumi on 20 August, Ardzinba met with a Georgian government delegation to discuss restoring economic ties between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. Meanwhile in Tbilisi, the Abkhaz parliament in exile refused to accept the resignation of its chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported on 20 August.


Armenian presidential press spokesman Levon Zurabian said on 19 August that the Azerbaijani parliament's 15 August decision to declare illegal the presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh contradicts OSCE documents on the Karabakh negotiating process, Interfax reported on 20 August. The OSCE had agreed that talks should be conducted by elected representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh. The opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front has condemned the planned vote as an attempt to disrupt the ongoing Karabakh peace process. The U.S. Embassy in Baku has issued a statement that the US does not recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Turan reported.


Semsettin Uzun, governor of Turkey's Igdir Province, which borders on Armenia, says that roads leading to the Alican frontier post have been asphalted in preparation for the opening of a border crossing between the two countries, according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 20 August. Uzun told the newspaper that he recently met with unspecified Armenian officials in Yerevan, adding that "in one month Igdir will be completely ready" for the expansion in bilateral trade expected to follow the opening of a border crossing. Uzun said that indirect trade with Armenia (via Georgia and Iran) is now estimated at $100 million annually and that the figure will rise to $500 million once the border is open. Turkish officials have repeatedly said that opening a frontier crossing is contingent on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory.


Commenting on Uzun's statement, Armenian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told "RFE/RL Newsline" on 20 August that, "We encourage any move from the Turkish government with regard to border opening that is not conditioned by demands linked to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict." Oskanian said the Nagorno-Karabagh peace process has its own logic and dynamics and that Armenia is guided in the negotiations by the aggregate interest of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh and never by one single issue "such as oil or the opening of Turkish borders."


Oskanian also said on 20 August that military cooperation between Israel and Turkey is directed against Syria, and is therefore unacceptable to Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Raslan Allush, Oskanian said that the relationship between Armenia and Syria has a "strong basis." Allush arrived in Yerevan on 18 August to prepare for the opening of the Syrian embassy in Armenia. Allush also met on 20 August with Armenian Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzoumanian, who said the two countries are satisfied with the current status of their bilateral ties. Vartan Oskanian said that Syria's President Hafiz Assad will visit Armenia in the near future if the situation in the region permits, according to ARMENPRESS.


An Azerbaijani government representative signed an agreement in Baku on 20 August with the US consortium RV Investment Services LLS to explore and mine nine gold, silver, and copper deposits. The $500 million contract envisages the extraction of 400 metric tons of gold, 2,500 tons of silver, and 15 million tons of copper ore. The U.S. company will finance exploration, while Azerbaijan will receive 80 percent of the revenues. Three of the gold deposits are located close to the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan's Kelbajar Raion, which is currently controlled by Armenian forces. Armenia is negotiating an agreement with First Dynasty Mines Ltd. on creating a joint venture to exploit the Zod gold deposit on the Armenian side of the frontier, to which Azerbaijan lays claim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1997).


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov paid a one-day visit to Almaty on 20 August and met with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin to discuss cooperation between the Russian and Kazakh capitals, according to RFE/RL correspondents. Both Nazarbayev and Luzhkov said they are skeptical about further integration among CIS states. Nazarbayev reiterated his proposal for a Eurasian union that would create a single economic space without customs barriers. Luzhkov gave his support to that idea, which, he noted, Nazarbayev had first proposed in the Moscow city administration building in 1994. Luzhkov and Kazhegeldin signed several agreements, including on the development of equities and securities markets and on Kazakh deliveries to Moscow of 500,000 tons of wheat.


Both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have begun work on their sections of the TransAsian-European Fiber optics line, which will run from Shanghai to Frankfurt-on-Main, ITAR-TASS and the Russian daily "Delovoi Mir" on 20 August. The telecommunications line will be more than 27,000 kilometers long and run through 20 countries. It will provide access to the World Wide Web and make possible reception of foreign television channels.


President Saparmurat Niyazov on 20 August agreed to allow Turkmen armed forces participate in a NATO Partnership for Peace program, ITAR-TASS reported. Turkmen troops will take part in exercises to prevent the consequences of ecological and natural disasters. Turkmen officers and military doctors will receive training and attend discussions with other countries taking part in the program.


Ivan Pashkevich, deputy head of the Belarusian presidential administration, told journalists in Minsk on 20 August that the Foreign Ministry has asked the government to suspend the accreditation of Russian Public Television (ORT). Pashkevich accused the ORT management of "political provocation" against the Belarus leadership. He also said he was bewildered by the position of the Russian authorities, which have so far failed to give an assessment of the ORT management's actions. According to Pashkevich, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is to meet on 21 August with Russian ambassador to Minsk Valerii Loshchinin at the ambassador's request. A four-man ORT crew was detained near the Lithuanian border on 15 August following the arrest of another ORT crew in late July. The Belarusian KGB recently called in several other journalists for questioning. Pashkevich said that one of them, ORT special correspondent Vladimir Foshenko, would be expelled.


The Lithuanian Interior Ministry on 2O August announced that Lithuanian border guards sent a document to Belarus in late July saying that Russian television journalists may have violated the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, BNS and Interfax reported. It added that the document may have served as a "pretext" for the arrest of the Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist Pavel Sheremet and two of his colleagues. Belarusian border guards had requested such a document following a meeting between Belarusian and Lithuanian border officials at which video footage of an alleged illegal frontier crossing was shown. The Lithuanian authorities, however, were not informed about the alleged border violation. Both the head and the chief of staff of the Vilnius Border Police have been demoted and another official severely reprimanded over the incident. Lithuania had previously denied giving any pretext for the journalists' arrest, according to BNS.


In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson in Kyiv on 20 August, Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko and Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko supported U.S. plans to reform the UN, UNIAN reported. Richardson is on a 10-day trip to the Far East, Central Asia, and Europe to promote the U.S.'s reform proposals for the UN, including expansion of the Security Council to include Japan and Germany and lowering U.S. financial support to the world body. Udovenko said the U.S. and Ukraine have the same positions on the issue. Ukraine's support is significant because Udovenko is slated to be elected president of the 52nd session of the UN General Assembly in September. Later on 20 August, Richardson met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak in Moscow. ITAR-TASS reported that their talks focused on cooperation between Moscow and Washington in reforming the UN.


Lennart Meri met with his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Brazauskas, in Vilnius on 20 August, BNS and ETA reported. Following the meeting, Meri stressed that Estonia is in favor of all Baltic States being included in expansion talks with the EU as soon as possible. He added that the fact that only Estonia has been recommended to start such talks will not "drive a wedge" between the Baltic States. "We are all striving to make it to Europe. The Baltic States never left Europe, it is Europe that left the Baltic States," he commented. Meri is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas and parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis on 21 August. It is his first state visit to Lithuania.


Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on 20 August told reporters he regarded the no-confidence motion submitted against him by the coalition Peasant Party as the "formal end" of the coalition, Polish Radio reported. He said the cabinet was still in office and that he would not dismiss the seven ministers from the Peasant Party until after the no-confidence vote. "It is theoretically possible that the [Peasant Party] deputies will vote against their own motion," he said. The Peasant Party has been the coalition partner of Cimoszewicz's post-communist Democratic Left Alliance for the past four years. It recently submitted a motion asking the parliament to dismiss the prime minister after he blocked advance payments to farmers for the 1997 grain harvest.


Aleksander Kwasniewski told economists in Bratislava on 20 August that the scope of the privatization process in Poland guarantees the irreversibility of the country's switch to a market economy. Some 27 million Polish citizens have taken part in that process. Kwasniewski noted that as the 21 September parliamentary elections approach, some "economic experimenters" in Poland are calling for "a third way." He said Poland's priority was to come closer to meeting EU criteria on unemployment, inflation, and the growth of GDP. Kwasniewski also said that "from the Polish point of view, we can see no reason for Slovakia to remain outside the European integration process."


The chairmen of the lower chambers of the Czech and Polish parliaments on 20 August agreed that their countries, together with Germany, would jointly appeal to the EU for money to repair the extensive damage caused by the recent floods, Czech Television reported. Meeting in Prague, Milos Zeman, chairman of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, and his Polish counterpart, Josef Zych, also proposed talks with German Bundestag chairwoman Rita Suessmuth and Austrian lower house speaker Heinz Fischer on measures to avoid flood damage in the future.


The government on 20 August abolished import deposits, which were introduced in May in an effort to stem the country's skyrocketing trade deficit, CTK reported. The EU demanded that Prague do away with the deposits, which, in the EU's opinion, violated the Czech Republic's association agreement with the union. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told journalists that favorable foreign trade developments prompted by a weaker crown made possible the government's decision. Meanwhile, Harvard Holding's shareholders voted on 20 August to abolish the company. The Harvard Investment Fund, one of the largest funds in the country, was established by Viktor Kozeny in 1991 and transformed into a holding in 1995. Harvard Holding is comprised almost entirely of shares in Daventree, which Kozeny runs from the Bahamas.


An international study on the nuclear power plant in Mochovce, western Slovakia, warns of serious safety problems at the station, Austrian Television reported. The 400-page report was made public in Vienna on 20 August after having been kept secret for two years. It was written by independent experts from the U.S., Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria on the orders of the Austrian chancellor's office. They came to the conclusion that "Mochovce would not even measure up to the latest Russian regulations." It would therefore be "economically practical to scrap its construction and instead build a new, better power station." Austrian environmental groups and the right-wing opposition immediately called on the Austrian government to pressure Slovakia into closing down the Mochovce facility.


A technical fault on 20 August caused the shutdown of one of the four units at the Paks nuclear plant, some 100 kilometers south of Budapest. A spokesman for the plant said the fault was a "technical glitch" only. The unit generates some 20 percent of Hungary's electricity and will probably be off-line for several days. Although the reactor is Soviet-designed, it is not of the same type as the ill-fated Chornobyl plant in Ukraine.


British and Czech SFOR soldiers found huge caches of weapons on 20 August after they occupied police stations previously held by police loyal to Radovan Karadzic and the hard-line Bosnian Serb government in Pale (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 1997). The discovery confirmed the suspicions of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and of NATO that Karadzic's police were about to stage a coup against her. NATO officials added that they had saved Plavsic from a previous coup attempt in June, the "Financial Times" reported on 21 August. Interior Minister Dragan Kijac's troops had planned to take her from the Belgrade airport back to Bosnian Serb territory "for psychiatric treatment," but they chose a border crossing where SFOR was waiting for them.


Peacekeepers helped Plavsic's newly appointed police officials to take over Banja Luka's police stations on 20 August. One pro-Plavsic officer said on local radio that Karadzic's forces nonetheless remain a danger in that town. SFOR officials stated that the peacekeepers are determined to break Kijac's control over the police. A NATO spokesman added that the raids on Kijac's police stations yielded evidence of "criminal activity." Some observers said that SFOR's actions in Banja Luka constitute the international community's strongest show of support for Plavsic against Karadzic to date. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard said that the Bosnian Serb military are resisting attempts by Momcilo Krajisnik, the pro-Karadzic Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency, to assert authority over the army.


Following the SFOR raid, the Pale-based government issued a statement calling Plavsic a traitor and charging that she is working with foreign occupiers against the Serbs. The statement added that the raids in Banja Luka constitute a coup against the Bosnian Serb government. Meanwhile at a rally in Banja Luka, Plavsic called for free media throughout the Republika Srpska, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the northwestern Bosnian town. Representatives of opposition parties demanded that the two top executives in pro-Karadzic TV Pale resign within three days.


Sulejman Ugljanin, a leader of the Sandzak Muslims, said it is likely that his people will boycott the 21 September Serbian elections, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 21 August. Ugljanin said that any hopes that Serbia might become a more democratic country have proven futile. Europe, he argued, must exert pressure on Belgrade to end its dictatorial methods lest some Sandzak youth turn to political violence out of frustration. Sandzak links Kosovo and Bosnia and is divided between Serbia and Montenegro. Muslims make up just more than half of its population and have political links to the Party of Democratic Action of Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic.


Police cordoned off the parliament building on 20 August to prevent a group of some 100 students from reaching Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The students wanted to present him with a banana on his birthday because, student spokesmen said, he has turned Serbia into a banana republic. The protest was a parody of an annual student relay race staged on Josip Broz Tito's birthday during his lifetime. At the end of the race, a student would present Tito with the baton.


Parliamentary Party leader Adem Demaci said that there are no political forces in Serbia who are prepared to treat the Albanians as equals and work for a solution to the Kosovo problem, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported on 21 August. Demaci added that he is interested in a solution that will benefit everybody and will not be to the detriment of the Serbs or Montenegrins. He said that the Albanians would certainly take part in the Serbian elections if a Serbian party offers a platform on Kosovo that the Albanians can accept. All Albanian parties plan to boycott the September ballot.


President Rexhep Mejdani urged the Italian government on 20 August not to carry out its plans to repatriate 10,000 Albanian refugees by the end of August. Mejdani asked the Italians to wait "until there is a more suitable time for all." Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told "Gazeta Shqiptare" that the Albanian government "asks good understanding and maturity from Rome. This is not the time to send back refugees." Some of the refugees had appealed to Tirana to urge Rome to give them visas so they can stay on. The Albanian government wants to restore law and order and create new jobs before having to deal with a large influx of returnees. The Italian authorities, however, may have difficulty finding and deporting some 7,000 refugees whose whereabouts are not known.


The Party of Social Democracy in Romania, the Party of Romanian National Unity, and the Greater Romania Party have called for a special session of both houses of the parliament at the end of August, Romanian media reported. Lawmakers are currently on vacation. The three parties want to debate the government's amended memorandum with the IMF, its decision to liquidate loss-making enterprises, and the ordinances amending the Education Law and allowing bilingual signs in localities where national minorities make up at least 20 percent of the population.


The government on 20 August has placed 10,000 tons of edible oil reserves on the market in an attempt to end a crisis caused by an 80 percent rise in the price of edible oil, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The government said the steep hike was unjustified and due to speculation. It warned retail traders that inspections will be carried out to ensure profits from the sale of edible oil are registered on tax forms because compensation for the needy is to come from budget revenues. Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara said the government intends to temporarily freeze the prices of edible oil and other basic foods.


A delegation of U.S. businessmen headed by Bell Helicopters' chairman of the board met with Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea in Bucharest on 20 August to discuss the possible production of the "Dracula" version of the Cobra helicopter at the IAR-Ghimbav factory, in which Bell Helicopters has a 70 percent stake. The government pulled out of a plan to purchase those helicopters for the Romanian army after the plan was vetoed by the IMF. In other news, the U.S. Shapiro Investment Bank has announced it is interested in purchasing parts of the Ploiesti-based Vega refinery, one of the state-owned enterprises slated for liquidation. The number of those enterprises was recently reduced from 17 to 16 because one enterprise turned out to be profitable. Assuming personal responsibility for the error, Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Sebastian Vladescu resigned on 16 August.


Metropolitan Vladimir, who heads the Moscow-subordinated Moldovan Orthodox Church, says there is a danger of a "war among Orthodox Christians" if the Chisinau Court of Appeal's decision to recognize the Bucharest-subordinated Bessarabian Metropolitan Church is not overturned (see "RFE/RL Newsline", 20 August 1997). Vladimir told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau that if the decision remains in force " the loser will not be the Church alone but also the State." Also on 20 August, Gheorghe Armasu, director of the government office in charge of religious affairs, said the government will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court. Armasu said the Bessarabian Church declares itself to be the successor of a Church that had existed "under foreign occupation," BASA-press reported.


Igor Smirnov, the leader of the breakaway Transdniester region, issued a decree on 20 August setting up a 10-member government commission "on the delimitation of the borders of the Transdniester Republic." The commission is headed by Smirnov's deputy, Aleksandr Karaman, and includes representatives of the breakaway's region five districts that are on the left bank of River Dniester. The commission does not include a representative of the town of Bendery-Tighina, which, though under separatist control, is on the right bank of the river.


by Bruce Pannier

Following five years of civil war, the Tajik government has decided it is time to put its house in order. But its efforts suffered a setback earlier this month when fighting erupted between forces nominally loyal to the government. The reasons for this latest fighting are unclear but, according to the most popular accounts, seem to be related to the central government's efforts to re-establish control over the entire country.

In late June, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri met in Moscow to sign the peace accord officially ending the civil war. The government agreed to share power with the UTO and laid the foundations for the Tajiks in "opposition" to return home. It made provisions to allow the UTO leadership to go back to Tajikistan accompanied by their own armed guards. And it also agreed to give the UTO 30 percent of the ministerial posts. In addition, a reconciliation council was formed to recommend changes to the constitution that would facilitate general elections by the end of 1998.

But during the five-year conflict, Rakhmonov's government made some questionable allies, deeming it politically expedient to accept the services of some individuals who would probably have been in jail in most countries. Days before the first representatives of the UTO were due to arrive in Dushanbe to attend the first session of the Tajik Reconciliation Council, the government was either prompted or took the initiative to dispense with the services of one of its dubious allies -- Yakub Salimov.

Five years ago, Salimov was a commander in one of the paramilitary formations that made up the Popular Front. Armed by the government in 1992 and having doubtless received some promise of reward, those groups had fought on the side of those who eventually came to power and who named Rakhmonov head of state. Salimov was later appointed interior minister; but when his involvement in corruption could no longer be kept a secret, he was sent to Turkey as the new ambassador in late summer 1995. Some 18 months later, in early 1997, he was appointed chairman of the customs committee.

According to the most widely accepted account of the fighting that recently erupted, in early August Salimov ordered the killing of someone who was either a relative or a friend of an Interior Ministry officer. Interior Ministry troops responded by seizing weapons found in Salimov's neighborhood, in north Dushanbe (President Rakhmonov in July had twice warned that there would be a crackdown on criminal gangs and private armies). It is unclear whether the fighting started when the troops were searching Salimov's house or that of a friend of Salimov. Originally, it was reported rival mafia groups were fighting each other, but it transpired that the followers of the customs committee chairman were pitted against Interior Ministry troops. Salimov's group was pushed out of Dushanbe almost as far as to the Uzbek border. Together with his remaining supporters, Salimov fled to the mountains to hide.

Before the battle with Salimov was over, government forces had engaged in a conflict with another former commander of a Popular Front unit. Again, the reasons for the fighting are unclear but are likely related to the government's desire to dispense with individuals reluctant to obey it. Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, the commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade, claims his unit was attacked on 9 August at a mountain pass 20 kilometers south of Dushanbe. The First Brigade is the rapid reaction force of the presidential guard, and its opponent in the battle outside the capital was another unit of the presidential guard led by its commander, Gen. Gafar Mirzoyev. All attempts at mediation failed. By 18 August, Khudaberdiyev's forces were retreating but still saying they would fight to the end. Within the next 24 hours, almost half of the 1,500 rebel troops had surrendered. Khudaberdiyev and some of followers fled to the mountains not far from the Uzbek border.

The Tajik government made many allies of convenience during its five-year struggle against the UTO. But the situation has changed since then and there is no longer a need for allies who want their own sphere of influence within Tajikistan and who ignore the instructions of the central government. Salimov and Khudaberdiyev are the first two to go, but more will doubtless follow.