DRAFT 1998 BUDGET SUBMITTED TO DUMA...
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 25 August signed the draft budget for 1998, and the government submitted the 1,600-page long document to the State Duma. The draft provides for 340 billion new rubles ($58.4 billion) in revenues and 472 billion new rubles ($81.2 billion) in expenditures. President Boris Yeltsin hailed the "unusual, but realistic" budget during a meeting with Chernomyrdin, First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, and Presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev. Chubais told journalists that passing and implementing the budget "will guarantee Russia the start of tangible, visible, indubitable growth in 1998," according to Reuters. He also pledged that the 1998 budget will not be cut during the course of the year, Interfax reported. The government has cut 1997 budget spending by 20.5 percent, citing revenue shortfalls.
...EXPECTED TO HAVE TOUGH RIDE
Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax on 25 August that the Duma debate of the budget will be "tough." The same day, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) member Vladimir Gusev, chairman of the Duma's committee on industry, construction, transportation and energy, denounced the draft as a "catastrophe for industry." Duma Labor and Social Policy Committee Chairman Sergei Kalashnikov, also of the LDPR, noted that the draft does not change Russia's overall economic policy and would cut planned spending on industry and construction in half. Chubais acknowledged that some provisions in the draft will meet with opposition in the parliament. By way of example, he said federal aid to the regions has been cut from 15 percent of total budget revenues this year to 13 percent in 1998. Yeltsin argued that if Duma deputies try to amend the budget to increase expenditures, they should specify "at whose expense" the extra spending would be made.
YELTSIN, SHEVARDNADZE ASSESS ABKHAZ PEACE PROCESS
Yeltsin on 25 August praised Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov for breaking the deadlock in talks between Georgia and Abkhazia, Interfax reported. But Yeltsin also warned that Russia will not cede to the U.S. the initiative in mediating a political solution to the conflict, noting that Washington would never agree to send a peacekeeping force to the region. In his weekly radio address on 25 August, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze similarly expressed his appreciation of Primakov's role in bringing Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba to Tbilisi on 14 August for talks. Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania has urged Tamaz Nadareishvili not to resign as chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, saying this would be tantamount to recognizing the legitimacy of the present Abkhaz leadership, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 August.
CONFUSION OVER DISMISSAL OF ROSVOORUZHENIE HEAD
Yeltsin on 25 August said Aleksandr Kotelkin "did not resign voluntarily" as head of the arms export company Rosvooruzhenie, Russian agencies reported. Yeltsin conceded that Kotelkin had improved the work of the company but said that "certain problems" had arisen, which he refused to specify. Yeltsin stressed, however, that Kotelkin had not done "anything bad." Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, whose responsibilities include the arms sector, similarly praised Kotelkin's work in "raising defense cooperation to a higher level." Both Urinson and new Rosvooruzhenie director Yevgenii Ananev said Kotelkin's removal was a routine personnel move, given that "work must be done differently under new conditions."
COMMERCIAL BANKS TO LOSE ROSVOORUZHENIE ACCOUNTS?
Urinson also announced on 25 August that Rosvooruzhenie accounts currently held in commercial banks are to be transferred to the Federal Treasury, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 August. In 1996, some $3.4 billion in proceeds from Rosvooruzhenie contracts passed through accounts in 10 different commercial banks, and funds passing through Rosvooruzhenie accounts are expected to double in 1997. The newspaper said Oneksimbank handles more Rosvooruzhenie funds than any other commercial bank. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais recently ordered that accounts containing customs duties be transferred to the Central Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 18 August 1997). That move is also expected to bite into Oneksimbank's revenues. In addition, Chubais wants the Finance Ministry's hard-currency accounts, currently held in commercial banks, to be transferred to the Central Bank, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 August.
NO GRUDGES BETWEEN YELTSIN, STARODUBTSEV SIX YEARS ON
Speaking by telephone with Yeltsin on 25 August, Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev invited the president to visit Tula but warned him that the coal policy proposed by Chubais threatens to cause severe unemployment in the oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 1997). Yeltsin told Chubais and other top government officials the same day that he shared Starodubtsev's concerns. In August 1991, Starodubtsev was imprisoned after participating in the coup attempt by the State Committee on State Security. He was released under an amnesty declared by the parliament in February 1994 and elected governor of Tula in March 1997. In an interview with "Trud" on 21 August, Starodubtsev said he had participated in the coup to save the Soviet Union's territorial integrity and unity: "The country was on the edge of a schism, and we tried to stop it. Unfortunately, we failed."
BOIKO, "IZVESTIYA" ON VICTIMS OF PRIVATIZATION
State Property Committee Chairman Maksim Boiko told "Izvestiya" on 26 August that he believes the assassination of Mikhail Manevich, deputy governor of St. Petersburg and head of the city's State Property Committee, was masterminded by those who do not want privatization tenders to be fair. Manevich was shot on 18 August by a sniper (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18-20 and 22 August 1997). "Izvestiya" commented that both Manevich and former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh are "victims of privatization," whose fates show "the price paid by reformers in the cabinet for the attempt to change privatization rules." Kokh was replaced by Boiko on 13 August. "Izvestiya," in which Oneksimbank is a major shareholder, did not mention that Yeltsin on 15 August criticized Kokh for showing favoritism to some commercial banks. Oneksimbank won recent privatization auctions for large stakes in Svyazinvest and Norilsk Nickel.
"IZVESTIYA" SAYS BANKERS ARE GOVERNMENT'S MAIN OPPONENTS
In the same interview with Boiko, "Izvestiya" argued that recent rows over privatization sales demonstrate that bankers embittered by the change in privatization rules have replaced Communists as the government's main opponents. Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii -- also an influential businessman -- recently said that First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Boris Nemtsov are making a "serious strategic error" by not heeding the opinions of the business community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 1997). Asked if he feels pressure from the banking community, Boiko told "Izvestiya" that no banker has called him since he took up his new post. Companies linked to Berezovskii and Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii are believed to have been involved in the losing bid for Svyazinvest.
"OBSHCHAYA GAZETA" SLAMS CHUBAIS, ONEKSIMBANK
An unsigned editorial in the latest edition of "Obshchaya gazeta" accused First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais of attempting to replace the "rule by the seven bankers" in Russia with one powerful financial group, Oneksimbank. The newspaper said Chubais has created a "ruling oligarchy" during the 1996 presidential campaign by uniting Russia's most powerful bankers behind the Yeltsin re-election effort and bringing the mass media to heel. The newspaper also claimed that with a view toward improving First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov's prospects in the next presidential election, Chubais is coordinating a campaign to "foist Nemtsov on the ruling elite" by "destroying" the financial base of Oneksimbank's competitors and their capacity to influence the media. Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group recently became an investor in "Obshchaya gazeta." Outlets owned by Media-Most have repeatedly criticized Oneksimbank, Nemtsov and Chubais during the recent privatization scandals.
CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDERS WANT MASKHADOV'S POWERS REDUCED
A group of Chechen field commanders has published a statement in the Chechen newspaper "Put Dzhokhara" demanding that the positions of president and prime minister not be held by one and the same person, Interfax reported on 25 August. They proposed that the Chechen parliament amend the republic's constitution accordingly. Aslan Maskhadov currently holds the offices of both president and premier. The field commanders also demanded the creation of a republican defense ministry and a commission of legal experts to review several unspecified government and presidential decrees. Russian observers have repeatedly suggested that Maskhadov is under pressure from rivals within the leadership, but Maskhadov denies that is the case.
DID LIBYA SEND AID TO CHECHNYA?
A Turkish court is investigating allegations that former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare Party misappropriated $10 million in aid destined for Chechnya, dpa reported on 26 August, citing "Hurriyet." That sum had allegedly been sent to Ankara by Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
MORE MONEY FOR SPACE, MORE PROBLEMS FOR "MIR"
Economics Minister Urinson said on 25 August that Russia has taken "exhaustive measures" to provide its share of funds for the "Alpha" international space station, Russian media reported. Urinson said about 1.1 billion new rubles ($191 million) had been allocated for the space program in 1998. That contradicts a statement by Yeltsin in his 22 August nationwide radio address saying that 3.5 billion new rubles ($600 million) would be spent on space programs in 1998. Urinson also said the "Mir" space station would continue functioning through 1998 and possibly until the year 2000. Aboard the space station, there was a temporary malfunction in one of the oxygen systems late on 25 August, but ITAR-TASS reported the next day that the station's crew had repaired the problem.
NEW SPIRITUAL BOARD FOR RUSSIAN MUSLIMS
A recent conference of Muslims of Siberia and Russia's Far East voted to establish a separate Spiritual Board for Muslims in those regions, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August. The board will have its headquarters in Tobolsk, and Sheik Nafiula Ashirov will be its chairman and mufti of Siberia and the Far East. The conference took place in Tobolsk from 8-10 August and was attended by 500 delegates from Sakha, Primore, Magadan, Sakhalin, Chita, and other Russian regions.
NAGORNO-KARABAKH REJECTS LATEST PEACE PLAN
Arkadii Ghukasyan, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and one of three candidates contesting the1 September presidential elections, said on 22 August that the enclave's leadership has rejected the peace plan submitted in late May by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, Noyan Tapan reported. That plan envisages the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory and from the town of Shusha in the south of the NKR. It also proposes the deployment of international troops along the Lachin corridor, which links the NKR and Armenia, and the downsizing of the Karabakh armed forces. Armenia and Azerbaijan have accepted the proposals "as a basis for peace," according to Ghukasyan. He said that peace negotiations will resume under the aegis of the OSCE after the NKR presidential elections.
CZECH SENATE SPEAKER AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION
Czech Senate Chairman Petr Pithart has congratulated Azerbaijani former President Abulfaz Elchibey and Musavat party chairman Isa Gambar on their election as co-chairmen of the opposition Democratic Congress. The text of Pithart's letters to both men were made available to "RFE/RL Newsline." The Czech leader assured them of his moral support "in your fight against all forms of totalitarianism". He also expressed the hope that the Democratic Congress will soon assume a decisive role in Azerbaijan's political life. The Democratic Congress unites seven right-wing, pro-Western opposition parties. Elchibey and Gambar were elected its co-chairmen in late April. Elchibey announced in June that he plans to return to Baku from Nakhichevan, where he fled four years earlier. Since the beginning of August, he has been subject to intensive surveillance by Interior Ministry troops.
AZERBAIJAN, CHECHNYA DISCUSS EXPORT PIPELINE
Meeting in Baku on 25 August with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov complained that Russia has not yet made available the necessary funds for repairs to the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk oil pipeline, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev expressed concern that the delay in repairing the pipeline could postpone yet again the export of the first so-called "early oil" from the Chirag Caspian field, currently scheduled to begin 1 October. Azerbaijani and Chechen oil company representatives and Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Boris Nemtsov signed in July an agreement on repairing the 153 kilometer Chechen sector of the pipeline. A Chechen official estimated this would take 30-40 days. Russia undertook to provide the funding for the repairs, and Chechnya to protect the pipeline from attack.
TURKMENISTAN, IRAN, RUSSIA TO DEVELOP KYAPAZ?
Turkmenistan plans to exploit the disputed Kyapaz (Serdar in Turkmen) Caspian oil field together with the National Iranian Oil Company and an unnamed Russian company, Reuters reported, citing an unidentified Turkmen government spokesman. Azerbaijan, which claims that the field lies within its national sector of the Caspian, will also be invited to participate, the spokesman said.
GERMAN ECONOMICS MINISTER IN TURKMENISTAN
Gunter Rexrodt met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 25 August and asked him to "end barriers to trade and investment," dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. Among the German delegation accompanying Rexrodt were representatives of 40 German companies looking to invest in Turkmen oil and natural gas. According to dpa, German trade with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan amounted to $1.08 billion in 1996 but only $94 million was with Turkmenistan. President Niyazov is scheduled to arrive in Germany on 27 August for a four-day visit. The German delegation is scheduled to proceed to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
TATAR PRESIDENT IN KAZAKHSTAN
Mintimer Shaimiev concluded a two-day visit to Kazakhstan on 26 August, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. He met with his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin to discuss improving economic relations. Both presidents agreed that the total volume of trade ($60 million) between the Russian region and the Central Asian state was too low. The Tatar delegation expressed interest in participating in the development of Kazakh petroleum fields. Representatives of the two countries discussed Kazakhstan exporting to Tatarstan metals and petroleum and importing grain, rice, and wheat as well as automotive parts from the KamAZ factory. They also considered the possibility of opening a KamAZ assembly plant in Kazakhstan. An agreement was signed to open a permanent Tatar mission in Kazakhstan.
GERMAN BANKS EXTEND CREDIT TO KAZAKHSTAN
The Kazgermunai Society and a consortium of German banks concluded a deal on 25 August extending a $200 million credit to Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported. The money is intended to develop the Akzhabulak oil field in southeastern Kazakhstan, including the construction of a pipeline, a refinery, and housing for workers at the site.
UZBEKISTAN RECALLS STUDENTS FROM TURKEY
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has recalled some 2,000 Uzbek students studying in Turkey, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August. Karimov made the move after learning that under the former government of Necmettin Erbakan, Islamic clerics who belong to fundamentalist sects had tried to recruit those students.
BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST FREED
Vladimir Kostin, a Belarusian member of the Russian Public Television (ORT) crew that was detained by Belarusian authorities on 15 August on charges of illegally crossing the Belarusian-Lithuanian border, has been freed, RFE/RL's Minsk correspondent reported on 25 August. The three Russian members of the crew were released on 22 August under pressure from Moscow. Two other ORT journalists, who were arrested on the same charges in July, remain in detention. Both journalists are Belarusian. Russian President Boris Yeltsin is also demanding their release.
PRIMAKOV ORDERED TO "SETTLE" CONFLICT INVOLVING JOURNALISTS
Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 25 August instructed Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to fly to Minsk in the new few days to "bring to an end the matter involving the [ORT] journalists," Russian news agencies reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told Interfax that Primakov will discuss "the entire scope of Russian-Belarusian relations" during his visit to Minsk. The same day, Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev revealed documents recently given to him in Minsk by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The documents include a letter signed by ORT journalist Anatolii Adamchuk claiming that ORT executives instructed its journalists to cross the Belarusian-Lithuanian border on 15 August in order to provoke a confrontation with the Belarusian authorities. However, appearing on Ekho Moskvy, ORT news director Andrei Vasilev denied that the network had instructed its journalists to cross the Belarusian-Lithuanian border.
RUSSIA CRITICIZES NAVAL EXERCISES IN BLACK SEA
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 25 August criticized the "Sea Breeze 97" naval exercises off the Crimean coast. ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying the exercises are "unjustified and will not help build international trust." Sergeev is leaving for Kyiv on 26 August for talks with Ukrainian officials on Ukrainian-Russian cooperation. Also on 25 August, the anti-NATO group in the Russian State Duma issued a statement describing the exercises as an "action openly hostile to Russia," Interfax reported. It threatened to call for Russia's withdrawal from the Partnership for Peace program. The statement was signed by commission chairman and Duma Deputy Chairman Sergei Baburin. The anti-NATO group consists of 254 deputies in the 450-member Duma.
PROTESTS IN CRIMEA AGAINST EXERCISES
Some 2,000 Crimea residents on 25 August protested against the "Sea Breeze 97" exercises, ITAR-TASS reported. Protesters also denounced Ukraine's warming ties with NATO. Russia opposes the exercises as a threat to its security and has repeatedly declined Ukraine's invitation to take part or send observers. Protesters included Russian nationalists and war veterans who carried red Soviet flags and banners bearing anti-NATO and anti-U.S. slogans. U.S., Turkish, Ukrainian, Georgian, Romanian, and Bulgarian ships are participating in the exercises, which started on 24 August at the Black Sea port in Donuzlav, on Crimea's western coast.
IMF APPROVES STAND-BY LOAN FOR UKRAINE
The IMF on 25 August approved a $542 million stand-by loan to Ukraine. The fund said it would provide some $49 million immediately and release the remainder in installments over the next year, provided Kyiv carries out promised economic reforms. A larger $2.5-3 billion loan was put on hold earlier this year because the IMF considered that Kyiv's economic reforms were not moving fast enough. The one-year stand-by loan will support the government's 1997-1998 economic program, which aims to consolidate the progress already made and to reduce inflation from 40 percent in 1996 to 15 percent in 1997 and 12 percent in 1998. To achieve those objectives, the budget deficit will be limited to 4.6 percent of GDP in 1997 and 4.5 percent in 1998, the IMF said.
FINNISH PREMIER UNDERLINES NORDIC SUPPORT FOR BALTIC INTEGRATION
In his opening address to the Nordic Council security conference in Helsinki, Paavo Lipponen said the council supports the integration of the Baltic States into NATO and the EU, according to BNS and ETA on 25 August. Lipponen stressed that the Baltic States have the right to select their own security priorities. While praising the Russia-NATO Founding Act as a "stabilizing factor," he rebuffed Russian demands to a "right of veto on Baltic and other countries' NATO aspirations." Lipponen also argued that "it is in everybody's common interests that NATO enlargement not become an issue of contention that might put the Baltic Sea countries' unity to the test." Delegates from the Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Russia, Poland, and Germany are taking part in the two-day meeting.
LITHUANIAN OFFICIAL EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER NEO-NAZIS
First Deputy Speaker Andrius Kubilius has sent a letter to the national security department and the Prosecutor-General's Office asking them to determine whether the activities of a local neo-Nazi organization can be considered criminal, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August. Kubilius said the Union for National and Social Unity of Lithuania (UNCUL) has published articles in its own publication that "encourage ethnic strife." He argued that those articles provide evidence that the UNCUL engages in "anti-constitutional activities aimed at igniting hatred toward non-indigenous people living in Lithuania." The UNCUL has some 400 members, most of whom are between 20 and 30 years old.
POLISH PRESIDENT DENIES CONTACT WITH KGB AGENT
Aleksander Kwasniewski on 25 August denied that he met with a Russian intelligence officer three years ago. He threatened to sue the conservative daily "Zycie" over the allegations, while presidential spokesman Antoni Styrczula told a news conference that the allegations are a "pack of lies" and part of a pre-election campaign to discredit the ruling party of former communists, with which Kwasniewski is closely linked. The Russian intelligence officer and businessman named by "Zycie" is Vladimir Alganov, who also figured in allegations that forced former communist Jozef Oleksy to resign as prime minister in January 1996. "Zycie" alleged that Kwasniewski (who became president in late 1995) met with Alganov when the two stayed in the same hotel in the Baltic resort of Cetniewo from 5-15 August 1994. The daily printed hotel bills signed separately by the two men. But according to Styrczula, Kwasniewski left the resort on 3 August and therefore could not have met Alganov.
CZECH PREMIER REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM OF CITIZENSHIP LAW
Vaclav Klaus on 25 August rejected a call from the U.S. Congressional Committee on Security and Cooperation in Europe that the Czech Republic revise its citizenship law, which the committee says has an adverse effect on the Romani minority. The committee had sent a letter addressed to Klaus and signed by the committee's Republican joint chairmen, Senator Alfonso D'Amato and member of the House of Representatives Christopher H. Smith. Klaus told journalists that "the picture painted in this letter is simplistic and inaccurate." He said it would be necessary to explain the situation in the Czech Republic once again, as it was obvious that previous explanations had not been understood. "This letter uses the same old arguments that the government has encountered for four or five years," Klaus said. Later the same day, the premier left for a private visit to the U.S., where he is to deliver several lectures.
U.S. PRESIDENT SUPPORTS SLOVAKIA'S INTEGRATION EFFORTS
In a letter to Slovak President Michal Kovac, U.S. President Bill Clinton says the United States encourages Slovakia's "further international engagement" and "ultimate integration" into trans-Atlantic and European structures, Slovak Radio reported. The letter, which was handed to Kovac on 25 August by the U.S. Ambassador to Bratislava Ralph Johnson, noted that Americans join in congratulating Slovakia on the occasion of its national holiday on 1 September--the Constitution Day. It said that Slovakia has made significant advances in its short history as an independent country and that it has one of the highest economic growth rates in Europe. The letter added that the U.S. hopes Slovakia will continue to strengthen its democratic practices and commitment to the rule of law, ethnic tolerance, and support for human rights.
LUXEMBOURG PREMIER AGAINST PUBLICLY LECTURING SLOVAKIA
Jean-Claude Juncker said in Prague on 25 August that he opposes publicly lecturing Slovakia in connection with its problems related to Western integration, CTK reported. Luxembourg is currently chairing the EU, which has pointed out that Slovakia is experiencing difficulties implementing democracy and human and ethnic minority rights. "But does that mean Slovakia always has to be excluded from the EU?" Juncker asked in a lecture entitled "The European Union after the end of the Intergovernmental Conference." "I am against publicly lecturing Slovakia," he added, clearly alluding to the position of some foreign leaders.
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PUSH FOR REFERENDUM ON LAND OWNERSHIP
Zsolt Arato, the press secretary of the opposition Alliance of Young Democrats, has announced that nearly 100,000 signatures have already been collected in support of a referendum on the law allowing foreign companies registered in Hungary to own land, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 26 August. The opposition is strongly opposed to that law. Under current legislation, 200,000 signatures are necessary in order to hold a referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). But Peter Hack, chairman of the parliamentary Constitutional Commission and a member of the Free Democrats, the junior coalition partner, pointed that the law stipulates that commitments undertaken in international treaties cannot be subject to a plebiscite.
ALBRIGHT URGES MILOSEVIC TO BACK PLAVSIC
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by telephone on 25 August that he should stop being neutral in his public statements on the Bosnian Serb power struggle. She urged him instead to unambiguously support Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic. A State Department spokesman added that U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard will soon make the same points to Milosevic in person in Belgrade. Most observers feel that Milosevic still has enough political influence among the Bosnian Serbs to settle their dispute, even though he has been feuding in public with both Plavsic and Radovan Karadzic since 1993. There are still strong political, economic, and military links between Milosevic and Karadzic's backers, who are led by Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency. But either Bosnian Serb faction could embarrass Milosevic by publicly disclosing information about his role in the war.
PLAVSIC TELLS BOSNIAN SERB ARMY TO STAY OUT OF POLITICS
President Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 25 August that the Bosnian Serb army (VRS) should not take sides in the ongoing power struggle and that its duty is to defend the entire people, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the northwestern Bosnian city. She added that she expects the general staff to acknowledge her constitutional authority as president when she meets with top VRS leaders on 26 August. Plavsic can probably count on the backing of the Banja Luka-based First Krajina Army Corps, but the general staff appears to be politically closer to the hard-liners in Pale than to her.
MORE BOSNIAN SERB POLITICIANS ENDORSE PLAVSIC
Republika Srpska Vice President Dragoljub Mirjanic on 25 August ended his support for Pale and publicly endorsed Plavsic as well as her decision to dissolve the parliament and call early elections. Several members of the parliament, including three deputies of the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), also said they recognize her decision and will not take part in the legislative session that her rivals have called for 26 August, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Banja Luka. The Muslim members of the parliament have already said they will not attend the meeting. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, has threatened to ban international travel for Serbian members of joint institutions unless they stop obstructing legislation on joint citizenship and passports.
BOMB ATTACK ON KOSOVO POLICE STATION
Unidentified persons threw a bomb at and opened fire on a police station near Decani on 25 August. The police returned fire but the attackers escaped. It was the fourth attack on the station in four years, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina. In the village of Zub, near the Albanian border, local Albanians blamed armed gangs from across the frontier for the death of one Kosovar and the wounding of another on 24 August, BETA reported from Pristina. Spokesmen for local people urged the Albanian authorities to bring the gangs under control. Meanwhile in Podgorica, representatives of six Montenegrin opposition parties, including the Democratic Union of Albanians, said they will not participate in the presidential elections slated for 5 October. Spokesmen said that conditions will not ensure a fair vote, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Podgorica.
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ALBANIANS WANT TO SECEDE
Kiro Gligorov told the 25 August issue of the Belgrade weekly "Ekonomska politika" that all the ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia want to secede from that state. He added that, as first step on the road to secession, they want to rewrite the constitution to establish a special status for western Macedonia, where most of Macedonia's Albanians live. He denounced calls by ethnic Albanian leaders for local governments in western Macedonia to use the Albanian flag. Gligorov nonetheless distanced himself from a recent court decision against displaying the Albanian flag from public buildings and disclaimed responsibility for a police crackdown on Albanians in Gostivar and Tetovo following the court ruling. Gligorov also pointed out that Albanian politicians are assured of a role in any Macedonian government, because non-Albanian parties cannot form a working majority without the Albanians.
ALBANIA'S BERISHA WANTS GUARANTEED AIR TIME
Former President Sali Berisha demanded on 25 August that state television devote one-third of its political programming to the views of the opposition parties. When Berisha was president, state television presented mainly the views of his Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the health of former parliamentary speaker and Democratic Party member Pjeter Arbnori is deteriorating as he enters the seventh day of a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1997). He also wants state television to give the opposition one-third of air-time, "Albania" reported on 26 August.
SPLIT IN ALBANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY DEEPENS
The number of Democratic Party members who have signed a petition calling for the resignation of party leader and former President Sali Berisha has risen to 230. Arben Mece, one of the initiators of the drive, said he had received support from other smaller conservative parties, "Dita Informacion" reported on 26 August. One such party, the Movement of Democracy Party, said in a declaration that it will consider uniting with the Democratic Party once Berisha is sacked.
ALBANIAN PROSECUTOR ISSUES WARRANT FOR ZOGU
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 25 August issued an international arrest warrant for claimant to the throne Leka Zogu and his aide Abedin Mulosmani. The move comes in connection with a rally in Tirana on 3 July, at which a shoot-out took place and at which Zogu and others were armed, "Dita Informacion" reported. Meanwhile, the government's deadline for Democratic Party members to return weapons that police gave them in the spring ran out at midnight on 26 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1997). Only about two-thirds of the weapons issued in Tirana have been returned, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Meanwhile in Vlora, both the prison and the Prosecutor's Office have resumed work, "Koha Jone" wrote. And in Tirana, the trial of 11 members of the Vlora-based Zani Caushi gang started on 25 August, "Dita Informacion" reported.
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION FAILS IN BID FOR SPECIAL PARLIAMENTARY SESSION
The Standing Bureaus of Romania's two chambers of the parliament on 25 August separately discussed and rejected an opposition demand for a special parliamentary session to discuss the memorandum signed with the IMF, the closure of 16 loss-making state enterprises, and the amended education and local government laws, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The local government law allows bilingual signs in localities where national minorities make up at least 20 percent of the population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 1997). In related news, the Bucharest Appeals Court rejected an appeal by the Party of Romanian National Unity against amendments to both laws. The court said a political party is not entitled to contest before the court decisions taken by the government.
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
Emil Constantinescu on 25 August dismissed Nicolae Cochinescu at the recommendation of Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Cochinescu, who had been appointed by former President Ion Iliescu in September 1996, opposed a law on the reorganization of the judicial system passed by the parliament in early July. He also said he would resign if the law was approved. The new law came into force on 25 August, and a few days earlier Cochinescu retracted his intention to resign. His mandate would have run out in September 2000. Stoica said that Cochinescu blocked investigations into the December 1989 shooting at anti-communist demonstrators and the miners' rampages in Bucharest in 1990 and 1991. He also accused Cochinescu of appealing court decisions on property restitution and of hindering investigations of the illegal adoption of children by foreigners.
MOLDOVAN HOLY SYNOD WARNS AGAINST RECOGNITION OF BESSARABIAN CHURCH
In a 25 August declaration, the Holy Synod of the Moldovan Orthodox Church warned the government not to register the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church. The previous week, the Chisinau Court of Appeals had ruled that the Church be registered (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 20 and 21 August 1995). The synod reiterated Metropolitan Vladimir's warning against a schism in the Orthodox Church in Moldova. It added that if the Bessarabian Church were recognized, there would be a split between Romanian and non-Romanian Orthodox believers and further splits along national affiliations. The synod also said the dispute should be solved in parleys between the Romanian and the Russian Orthodox Churches, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. On 26 August, some 100 priests demonstrated in Chisinau against the recognition of the Bessarabian Church. A delegation representing them was received by President Petru Lucinschi, Radio Bucharest reported.
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ON FUTURE OF ARMED FORCES
Lucinschi has said that Moldova must have a "small, well-equipped, and mobile army whose tasks are defensive." The president was speaking on 24 August following a visit to several military units, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi said armament that is not needed by the armed forces must be sold, particularly MiG-29 fighters, which are expensive to maintain and unnecessary for the country's defensive strategy. He said they should be replaced by helicopters, which can be used also for non-military purposes.
BULGARIA CUTS MILITARY SPENDING
Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev announced on 25 August that the cabinet has approved amendments to the Defense and Armed Forces Law to cut conscript military service from 18 to 12 months beginning 1 January 1998, Reuters reported. Conscription for university graduates will be reduced from 12 to nine months. The amendments have still to be approved by the parliament. The amended legislation also envisages the gradual transformation of the conscript army into a professional force by 2010.
Catching War Criminals
by Patrick Moore
Scarcely a day seems to pass without some story appearing in the news to suggest that NATO troops in Bosnia may soon try to catch Radovan Karadzic or other prominent war criminals and bring them to justice in The Hague. The latest round of stories began on 10 July, when British SFOR troops went after two prominent Bosnian Serb war criminals in the Prijedor region. One of the two was killed when he resisted arrest, but the other is now in The Hague.
Since that raid, prominent officials -- notably U.S. envoys Richard Holbrooke and Robert Gelbard -- have made frequent statements suggesting that additional war criminals are about to be caught. There have been, moreover, calculated leaks to Western media that NATO commandos are training to go after Karadzic or that a recent SFOR exercise near Pale was actually a "dress rehearsal" for a planned operation to arrest Karadzic.
Some observers have suggested that such statements are simply a bluff designed to intimidate Karadzic and that the Western powers have no more intention of risking casualties now than they had in the 18 months since the signing of the Dayton agreement, during which they avoided contact with armed war criminals. Other observers point out that it would cost NATO credibility throughout the former Yugoslavia and perhaps elsewhere, too, to raise expectations but do nothing.
The issue of bringing indicted war criminals to justice is, in any event, central to the civilian provisions of the Dayton agreement. But whereas NATO has fairly rigorously enforced the military aspects of that treaty, most of the civilian provisions -- including the rights of freedom of movement and of refugees to go home -- remain a dead letter. The treaty further calls for the establishment of joint Bosnian institutions in what is supposed to be one state consisting of the Republika Srpska and the mainly Croatian and Muslim Federation. The civilian provisions also include trials for war criminals.
The reason for bringing such people to justice is the one given by the Allies at the end of World War II, namely that the crimes of guilty individuals must be brought to light and those persons duly tried and sentenced if societies as a whole are to make a new beginning and put the war behind them. In other words, Karadzic, Gen. Ratko Mladic, and several dozen other individuals must go to The Hague lest the Serbs as a people continue to be demonized by many in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere for war crimes.
One reason for the timing of the latest talk about catching war criminals is that the Clinton administration has realized that time is running out on the Dayton agreement: SFOR's mandate is valid for less than one more year. Another reason is that, with the 14 September local elections approaching , the international community is anxious to reduce the political influence of Karadzic and the other key war criminals on all sides.
Accordingly, Holbrooke and other diplomats have put pressure on Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to hand over indicted Croats to The Hague. Top Croatian officials have said that at least one prominent war criminal might be put on a plane to Holland within days, but so far none has gone. It is unclear to what extent Holbrooke and the other diplomats have sought to have possible Muslim war criminals arrested, but Serbs and Croats alike charge that the court has not indicted a sufficient number of Muslims.
But it would be wrong to say that the arrest and trial of Karadzic would solve Bosnia's problems, as some press accounts suggest. It is also unlikely, given his record for lying to foreigners, that the court would ever extract the whole truth from him. The trial of Karadzic would nonetheless be an important step toward clarifying the historical record and establishing justice.