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Newsline - February 9, 1998


A Russian Il-86 plane carrying some 50 State Duma deputies and humanitarian aid to Baghdad is sitting on a runway in Yerevan, Armenia. The Russian Foreign Ministry informed the UN of the special flight on 5 February, but a report from the UN Sanctions Committee later that day said "some questions had arisen." Duma leaders voted to postpone the flight's departure by one day, until 9 February, but leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky reached an agreement with Armenian officials whereby the plane could land in Yerevan on 8 February. In the absence of any official word from the UN, both Azerbaijan and Iran have denied the flight passage through their airspace. BP


Zhirinovsky said delays in granting permission for the flight to continue to Baghdad are "humiliating and outrageous." He threatened to demand the Russian government's resignation if the plane is not allowed to reach Baghdad. He also commented that if the plane does not leave the Armenian capital, "it will mean America has declared a third world war." The deputies aboard the plane have declared a hunger strike until the aircraft is permitted to continue its journey. In Moscow, First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said permission could come in "a day or a week." Deputies from the Yabloko, Russia is Our Home, and Russian Regions factions all opposed sending their members to Iraq. BP


Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, speaking on Russian Television on 8 February, repeated Moscow's position that a strike by the U.S. and the UK against Iraq would serve no good purpose. He noted that, unlike in 1991, "almost all the Arab countries oppose force." Primakov said he is in favor of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's visiting Iraq. He also advocated that the UN special commission investigating suspect sites in Iraq "close at least the nuclear file" to show Baghdad that there is "light at the end of the tunnel." Commenting on Russia's relations with the U.S., Primakov said just because Russia opposes the use of force against Iraq, "it doesn't mean we are against the United States." He added that we agree that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq must be eliminated...[but] we will not allow anyone to speak to us in a commanding tone." BP


The Economics Ministry has revised its forecast for 1998 economic growth from 2 percent of GDP to 1.2 percent, "Russkii telegraf" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 February. First Deputy Economics Minister Ivan Materov said the ministry changed its estimate in light of the turmoil on Russian financial markets and the recent increase in the Central Bank's refinancing rate to 42 percent. The draft 1998 budget assumes a growth rate of 2 percent. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says the government "must aim for growth higher than the original forecast" of 2 percent. In an interview published in the weekly "Interfax-AiF" on 9 February, the premier argued that last year, the government created "strong preconditions for economic growth." Yeltsin has demanded that the government provide for 2-4 percent GDP growth in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 22 January 1998). LB


The Duma on 6 February approved a law outlining the procedure through which constitutional amendments may be adopted, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Segodnya" reported. Amendments must be approved by two-thirds of State Duma deputies, three-quarters of Federation Council deputies, and legislatures in two-thirds of the Russian regions. An earlier version of the law, which was rejected by the Federation Council last December, included a provision on "silent assent," whereby regional legislatures would be considered to have approved proposed constitutional amendments if they did not vote on them within six months. The version approved on 6 February requires regional legislatures to submit written confirmation that they have approved proposed amendments. This revision will make it much more difficult to change the constitution, since regional legislatures may block amendments simply by refusing to vote on them. LB


Also on 6 February, the Duma failed to approve an amendment to the federal constitutional law on the Constitutional Court that would have made it more difficult for the court to refuse to consider certain appeals, "Segodnya" reported on 7 February. Yabloko deputy Yelena Mizulina had supported that amendment, which gained only 228 votes, well short of the 300 votes needed to approve changes to constitutional laws. Mizulina cited the court's refusal in July 1995 to consider a parliamentary appeal against a November 1994 presidential decree that authorized the deployment of Russian troops in Chechnya. By the time the case reached the court, Yeltsin had rescinded the decree, and the majority of judges ruled that it was beyond the court's jurisdiction to consider the decree's legality (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 1 and 2 August 1995). LB


The Popular Power faction is divided between supporters of its two most prominent members, faction leader Nikolai Ryzhkov and Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin. When the Duma considered the budget in the third reading on 5 February, 19 Popular Power deputies defied Ryzhkov's instruction and voted against the document. Following the budget vote, Popular Power deputies called a meeting at which 16 voted to replace Ryzhkov with Baburin, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 6 February. Baburin's supporters accuse Ryzhkov of cooperating with the authorities--an accusation that Baburin has repeatedly leveled at Communist leaders. However, even if Baburin and his allies quit the 41-member faction, the Communist Party is expected to delegate enough deputies to keep Popular Power above the minimum requirement of 35 members. Baburin was recently replaced as Duma deputy speaker in charge of CIS-related issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). LB


Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has urged Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin to resign because his presence is hindering the adoption of important laws on military reform and the status of military personnel. In an interview published in the 5 February edition of "Vechernyaya Moskva," Seleznev said that since Rokhlin founded an opposition movement last year, it has become more difficult to get "laws that the army needs" approved. He noted that when the Kremlin is dissatisfied with a Duma committee's chairman, the presidential administration's legal department easily finds reasons to have Yeltsin return laws to the parliament. Communist leaders supported Rokhlin when he began to sharply criticize the authorities last year, but they recently agreed to let the pro-government faction Our Home Is Russia (NDR) replace Rokhlin as Defense Committee chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 January 1998). LB


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 2 February signed a government directive on procedures for registering foreign religious associations with the Russian Justice Ministry and its branches in the regions, Interfax reported on 6 February. The directive follows from the religion law adopted last September, which Russian officials have promised not to implement in a discriminatory manner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 6 February 1998). Within the next six months, offices representing foreign religious groups must be registered as religious organizations or face closure. According to the directive, foreign religious associations that do not have the status of a religious organization are prohibited from engaging in religious activities. Registration certificates will be valid for three years but may be revoked if the authorities determine that a foreign religious organization is violating Russian legislation. LB


A Moscow city court on 6 February rejected Valentin Kovalev's lawsuit against the weekly tabloid "Sovershenno sekretno," Russian news agencies reported. Kovalev was replaced as justice minister soon after an expose appeared in "Sovershenno sekretno" last June. The newspaper published photographs from a videotape allegedly showing Kovalev with nude women in the sauna of a club reportedly frequented by organized crime figures. Kovalev charged that the photographs were fabricated and harmed his reputation, but the court considered both them and the videotape to be authentic. Kovalev's attorney said he plans to appeal the ruling to the Moscow City Court. LB


Angered by the slow pace of negotiations with Russia and under pressure from radicals at home, Aslan Maskhadov told a television audience on 6 February that he plans to recall Chechen representatives from Moscow and ban Chechen travel to Russia. He also threatened to revise a Chechen-Russian accord on oil transit because Moscow has not lived up to its promises to help rebuild Chechnya. The same day, his government announced that it is responding to a Russian build-up along the Chechen-Dagestani border with one of its own. PG


But on 7 February, Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov told Ekho Moskvy radio that Maskhadov has not given such orders. The same day, Maskhadov told Interfax that he is still open to talks. He indicated that all problems between Chechnya and Russia could be solved, if only Moscow would recognize Chechen independence. Maskhadov's position, however, satisfied few people. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin denounced it as provocative, according to ITAR-TASS. Former Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, for his part, criticized Maskhadov for failing to press Moscow still harder. PG


Five Polish aid workers taken hostage in Chechnya several weeks ago have been rescued, Reuters reported on 9 February. The aid workers were captured while delivering humanitarian aid in mid-December. A ransom of $3 million had been sought by the captors. Chechnya's National Security Service said two people have been arrested in connection with the abductions and will face the "harshest" punishment. PB


More than 50,000 residents of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia have signed a petition to Yeltsin demanding that a presidential election be held in the republic, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 5 February. The petition drive was organized by managers of the local firm Merkurii, whose former head is considered a strong contender if presidential elections are held (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1998). It has attracted significant support, considering that republic's population is estimated at 436,000. The current leader of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Vladimir Khubiev, has been the top official in the area for 18 years. In all other regions of the Russian Federation, leaders have been forced to face elections, but in 1995 Yeltsin issued a decree allowing elections in Karachaevo- Cherkessia to be postponed until 1999. LB


Armenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan said on 7 February that he hopes for a resumption of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. But Kocharyan added it would be "correct" for the three Minsk Group co- chairmen to express their support for parallel direct talks between the Karabakh and Azerbaijani leaderships, which Baku has consistently rejected. Kocharyan's comments came during a meeting with RFE/RL President Thomas Dine. The Armenian Foreign Ministry also released a statement restating Yerevan's support for the Minsk process and suggesting recent reports that fighting might resume are incorrect. LF


Kocharyan also said that the West had considered former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan's policy of "concessions and exaggerated compromise" to be the best way of resolving the conflict but that this had proved not to be the case. He said Armenia's "softer" approach had deterred Azerbaijan from embarking on direct talks with the Karabakh leadership and caused the Karabakh leadership to lose trust in Armenia. He added that confidence-building measures are vital to resolving the conflict, including the deployment at the front line of observers who would clarify all violations of the existing cease-fire. LF


The Armenian Justice Ministry on 9 February re-legalized the Dashnak Party (HHD), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That party was banned by Ter-Petrossyan in December 1994 on the basis of charges that it had maintained a clandestine terrorist arm. But subsequent trials failed to find a link. Dashnak leaders maintained that the ban was politically motivated and designed to limit opposition to Ter- Petrossyan. In a related move, the Armenian Supreme Court released Hrant Markarian, a prominent HHD member and Karabakh war veteran, after the court reduced his five-year sentence. PG


National Democratic Party (NDU) chairman and presidential candidate Vazgen Manukian told RFE/RL Newsline in Yerevan on 9 February that President Ter- Petrossyan's resignation creates a chance to expedite democratization in Armenia by ensuring the 16 March elections are perceived both by Armenians and the international community as wholly free, fair, and democratic. Both Manukian and Vigen Sargsian, editor of the NDU newspaper "Ayzhm," called for the deployment of the maximum number of international election observers to ensure such a ballot. Manukian said he opposes parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutyunian's proposal to amend the existing electoral law as the electoral campaign is so short. Manukian also categorically rejected Ter- Petrossyan's assertion that his resignation marks a victory for the "party of war." He said he believes neither Armenia, Azerbaijan, nor Nagorno-Karabakh has an interest in the resumption of hostilities. LF


Kocharyan said on 7 February that his government would like to have "large numbers" of international monitors attend the 16 March presidential elections to ensure their fairness and transparency, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Meanwhile, acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL on 7 February that there will be unspecified changes in Armenia's Karabakh policy following the presidential elections. Oskanian said that Karabakh will be one of the key issues in the presidential election campaign. LF


Leaders of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), who support former President Ter-Petrossyan, have said the party should find a way of participating in the upcoming presidential race, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 7 February. The HHSh's two deputy chairmen, Andranik Hovakimian and Ararat Zurabian, said the party should either declare their own candidate or endorse one of the other candidates. Their statements contradict the position of HHSh Chairman Vano Siradeghian, who said the previous day that he will quit if the party decides to participate in the vote. The two men said the HHSh's official line on the elections will be defined at a 16 February extraordinary congress. But Zurabian said he backs the candidacy of Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. Sarkisian's refusal to stand by Ter-Petrossyan's softer position on the dispute with Azerbaijan played a key role in the latter's resignation. PG


Defense Minister Sarkisian told the "Respublika" newspaper on 7 February that he will not run for president in the 16 March elections. Acting President Kocharyan has said it is "unlikely" he will compete in the elections. But Armenia's small Communist Party has announced that the party's first secretary, Sergei Badalyan, will run. Soviet-era dissident Paruir Hairikyan has also indicated that he will compete. Given this mix of candidates, the front-runner is NDU leader Manukian, who lost to Ter-Petrossyan in 1996. Manukian has said he will seek to promote democracy and to limit the powers of the presidency. PG


The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry told the Turan news agency on 7 February that an Azerbaijani soldier had been wounded in an attack the previous day by Armenian forces near Nagorno-Karabakh. It provided no details. Neither Armenian nor Karabakh sources have confirmed that report. PG


The Tajik government has promised to deliver humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and to allow international organizations to use its airports for such deliveries, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February. Earthquakes last week in northern Afghanistan left more than 4,000 people dead and many more homeless. BP


Some 500 women and children gathered outside the Kentau administration building on 6 February to demand payment of back wages, pensions, children's allowances, and sick leave compensation. TAR-TASS reported on 7 February. The protesters stood outside the building all night, and several pregnant women were taken to the hospital after fainting. Meanwhile, AFP reported on 6 February that 70 people taking part in a hunger strike in Janatas--also over unpaid wages--have been hospitalized. One of the strikers died last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1998). BP


Vladimir Matskevich, the head of the Belarusian KGB, said in an interview with "Sovetskaya Belarussiya" that Poland is "feverishly recruiting Belarusians" and that spying on Minsk has become Warsaw's "state policy," AFP reported on 6 February. The comments came after Belarus recalled its ambassador to Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 1998). Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, speaking on the same day near the Polish border, in Brest, said Western countries are using Poland "to put pressure on Belarus and its policies." Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, who sent a letter to Minsk in an effort to ease tensions, said Warsaw "does not want to isolate Belarus, but is worried by the country's tendency to isolate itself." PB


The Ukrainian Media Club has accused the government of a "campaign of repression" against the press, AFP reported on 6 February. The media union--which is made up of local and foreign independent journalists-- issued a statement claiming that President Leonid Kuchma and the government are behind organized harassment of the press. "Pravda Ukrainy," the largest opposition daily, was recently shut down because of a registration technicality. Also on 6 February, television journalist Sergei Mikheyev was beaten in Kherson by three men. Mikheyev, who had been investigating mafia activities, is in stable condition. Four journalists have been beaten in Ukraine so far this year. PB


The largest opposition daily "Pravda Ukrainy" is suing President Kuchma for damages incurred since it has been shut down owing to a registration technicality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). The newspaper is seeking 5 million hryvna ($2.6 million) in damages from President Kuchma because he failed to veto the Information Ministry order to shut it down. "Pravda Ukrainy" argues that the order was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, another opposition paper, "Vseukrainskiye Vedomosty," is facing closure after losing a libel case and being handed a 3.5 million hryvna ($1.8 million) penalty by the court. PB


Valery Pustovoitenko and his Belarusian counterpart, Serhei Ling, expressed satisfaction at the end of their two-days of meetings in Minsk, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 February. The two men signed several bilateral agreements, including one that will eliminate customs tariffs between the two countries. Ling said agreement was reached on all topics discussed, while Pustovoitenko said the two sides considered the inclusion of Belarus in a Ukrainian-Russian economic cooperation program. Pustovoitenko also met with Belarusian President Lukashenka. PB


Inflation in Estonian was up 3 percent in January, the largest monthly increase since February 1996, ETA reported on 6 February. According to the National Statistical Office, the prices of goods increased by 1 percent and services by 5.1 percent largely owing to a hike in water rates and public transportation fares. Compared with January 1997, the prices of goods and services were up 14.2 percent. Analysts were quick to argue that last month's increase will not send a trend and that annual inflation is likely to total some 10 percent. JC


The Latvian parliament has amended the labor law to allow for the dismissal of employees who do not have sufficient command of the Latvian language, BNS reported on 6 February. The State Language Inspectorate can now demand the termination of a work contract if the employee speaks poor Latvian. If the employer refuses to obey that order, the inspectorate can take the case to court. One of the authors of the amendment, which was submitted by the Fatherland and Freedom party and Latvia's Way, said it is aimed at averting a situation where state officials have a poor command of the state language. But Antons Seiksts, the head of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, noted that the amendment could allow for violations of human rights. He pledged that the committee will closely follow its implementation. JC


Responding to Czech protests over the appointment of a Sudeten German representative to the coordination council of the Czech-German Discussion Forum, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said on 7 February that the "main thing now is to look toward the future and create that future together" rather than "concern ourselves only with the past." The previous day, Stanislav Gross, the chairman of the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) parliamentary faction in the Chamber of Deputies, said his party will not send its representative to the forum's coordinating council as long as Franz Neubauer is a member. He said that "if someone who supports autonomy for the former Sudetenland" is sitting on the council, the discussions may become "counterproductive" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 1998). MS


Jiri Skalicky, the chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), told the daily "Mlada Fronta Dnes" on 6 February that his party will give to charity the nearly 6 million crowns ($176,000) that the party received in 1995 from three donors through a fictitious company set up in the Virgin Islands. Skalicky refused to reveal the name of the donors but said they are "respectable firms that are in no way linked to privatization." Skalicky was privatization minister until the ministry was disbanded in early 1996. At a press conference the same day, he said the ODA has promised the donors anonymity and will keep that promise, CTK reported.


For the second time, the parliament has failed to elect a new president to replace Michal Kovac, whose mandate ends on 2 March. The candidate of the Slovak Democratic Coalition, Stefan Markus, received 37 votes, and the Party of the Democratic Left candidate, Juraj Hrasko, received 24 in the 6 February vote. Parliamentary chairman Ivan Gasparovic said another ballot will be held "within 30 days." Rounds of voting can continue until a candidate achieves a three-fifths majority (90 votes). If a new president has not been elected when Kovac's term expires, some of his constitutional prerogatives will be passed temporarily to Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. MS


Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Milan Tokar told ITAR- TASS on 7 February that "Slovakia will consistently oppose" the use of force against Iraq and will "urge the international community to reject the use of force as a means for solving crises." MS


In a 7 February speech to the Socialist Party's Left-Wing Assembly, party chairman and Prime Minister Gyula Horn said it is not easy to govern in coalition with the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) as they have a "different mentality" and lack experience in governing the country. Horn said the Socialists must focus on winning the May general elections rather than on problems within the coalition. Horn's attack came after the SZDSZ and opposition parties criticized the Socialists' plans to solve the dam dispute with Slovakia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 1998). MSZ


Some 200 representatives of Romani organizations in Hungary decided on 7 February to form a national Romani alliance, Hungarian media reported. The chairmen of three major Romani organizations--the Romani Parliament, the Phralipe, and the Romani Civil Rights Movement--called on Roma to join forces against the National Gypsy Self-Government (OCKO) and the "anti- democratic, feudalization program" of the governing Socialist Party. The three groups said they would challenge the constitutionality of the draft electoral law, under which the OCKO would be the only organization to nominate Romani representatives to the parliament. MSZ


Kosovo shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Pristina that the international community should put pressure on Serbia to stop violent incidents between Albanians and Serbs and to launch a dialogue with the Albanians. Rugova warned that "if a conflict erupts in Kosovo, it will surely spread across the wider Balkan area." Rugova also called for Serbia and the international community to recognize Kosovar independence. Rugova and his policy of non-violence have increasingly lost political ground in Kosovo in recent months to the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which favors direct action against Serbia. Rugova has failed to attract sufficient international support to attain his minimal goal of political autonomy. The U.S. and EU have ruled out Kosovar independence as an option. PM


German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said in Tirana on 6 February that Kosovo should enjoy "extended autonomy" within Serbia but not become independent. "We'll not tolerate that [the Albanian] 90 percent of the population is maltreated and oppressed by the [Serbian] 10 percent." Kinkel also stressed that the current instability in Kosovo has prompted many Kosovars to seek refuge in Germany. "There are 400,000 [mainly Kosovar] Albanians in Germany, 140,000 of whom have asked for asylum. Another 500 to 2,000 arrive every month... This is a problem that should be addressed," he commented. Kinkel also said that Kosovo was the most important issue on the agenda during his talks with top Albanian officials in Tirana. On 8 February, Belgrade's official news agency Tanjug accused Kinkel of meddling in Balkan affairs with the aim of expanding German influence in the region. PM


Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano told an Athens daily that Kosovo is an internal affair of Yugoslavia and that Albania expects that the situation in Kosovo will improve as Yugoslavia becomes more democratic and more integrated into European institutions, BETA news agency reported on 8 February. Nano added that his government is following "Belgrade's retrograde policies in Kosovo with great concern" and is disturbed by the Yugoslav authorities' reluctance to enter into a dialogue with the Kosovars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 1998). PM


Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and a leader of the Pale-based faction loyal to Radovan Karadzic, issued a statement in Pale on 7 February in which he pledged to work with the government of Prime Minister of Milorad Dodik. Krajisnik said that he continues to regard Dodik's election last month as flawed but noted he will work with Dodik and President Biljana Plavsic "in the interests of the Republika Srpska." PM


Jacques Klein, a deputy of the international community's Carlos Westendorp, said in Sarajevo on 7 February that the rail system presents "the worst case of all the public utilities [in Bosnia]. Almost no train is running..., [which] means waste on a large scale, because no train means no investment, no investment means no jobs." Klein spoke after Republika Srpska Transport Minister Marko Pavic and his federal counterpart Rasim Gacanovic signed an agreement on restoring rail links between the two halves of the country. The German Volkswagen company has made restoration of rail traffic a condition for reopening its key Vogosca factory in the Sarajevo suburbs. PM


Hanns Schumacher, another deputy of Westendorp, told Croatian and Muslim political leaders in Mostar on 7 February that they must agree on the appointment of officials in the city's six districts by the end of the month or he will make the choices for them. Local elections took place last September, but the Muslims and Croats have not been able to agree fully on a division of offices between them. PM


Some 16 Serbs convicted by Croatian courts of war crimes ended a six-day hunger strike in a Split prison on 8 February after Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic promised to speed up a review of their appeals. The Serbs were arrested by Croatian forces during and after the 1995 Croatian offensive and subsequently given sentences ranging between five and 15 years for murdering and mistreating Croatian civilians and policemen and for mining the Peruca dam in 1991. PM


Maksim Korac, the Yugoslav government's chief representative on issues regarding persons reported missing during the 1991-1995 war, said on 7 February in Belgrade that his mission to Zagreb the previous week was "a failure." Korac charged that the Croatian authorities were not forthcoming on providing information on 3,143 missing Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1998). PM


Sandzak Muslim political leader Rasim Ljajic said in Novi Pazar on 7 February that his coalition of Muslim parties supports the new government of Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic and is confident that the government will carry out necessary political and electoral reforms. The historical region of Sandzak is divided between Serbia and Montenegro. Muslims make up just over one half of its population, but their political leaders charge that the nationalist leadership of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his Montenegrin allies led by former President Momir Bulatovic discriminate against the Muslims. Albanian and Muslim votes helped Montenegrin President Djukanovic defeat Bulatovic last October. PM


Police near Salonika on 6 February arrested two Greek brothers transporting $3,500 worth of weapons from the Albanian border, where they bought the weapons from smugglers, to sell in Greece. The haul included over 64 Kalashnikov rifles, 45 assault rifles, 19 automatic weapons, and an unspecified number of grenades and anti-tank rockets. The Albanian authorities' efforts to persuade citizens to surrender weapons stolen from military bases and police stations during the anarchy last spring have met with only limited success, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 6 February. The authorities in neighboring Greece, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia have frequently discovered arms smuggled from Albania and have demanded that the government in Tirana take measures to stop the trade. PM


Victor Ciorbea on 6 February told journalists in Bucharest that this year's budget envisages annual inflation at 37 percent (compared with 151 percent in 1997) and a deficit equivalent to 3.6 percent of GDP (4.5 percent in 1997). Forty percent of the budget will be used for the social costs of the reform, which is to be stepped up. The final version of the budget will be submitted to the parliament after discussions with the IMF chief representative for Romania Poul Thompsen who begins a two-week visit to Romania on 9 February. Democratic leader Petre Roman on 7 February said Ciorbea has not presented a program negotiated with his party but rather a "list of intentions," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


Constantin Dudu Ionescu of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) is new minister of national defense. Also representing the PNTCD in the government are Ioan Avram Muresean, who is in charge of relations with the parliament, and Romica Tomescu, who has been appointed environment minister. The new ministers from the National Liberal Party are Anton Ionescu (transportation) and Mihai Sorin Stanescu (secretary of state with ministerial rank at the Defense Ministry). The Romanian Alliance Party, which is a member of the Democratic Convention of Romania, is represented by Horia Ene as minister of research and technology. The parliament has yet to approve the appointments. MS


High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel told Radio Bucharest on 6 February, after meetings with Senate Chairman Petre Roman, Education Minister Andrei Marga, and Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania leader Bela Marko, that European legislation on national minorities "neither prohibits nor compels" setting up universities offering instruction in national minority languages but "leaves an open door" to it. Marko said he received assurances from the commissioner that "at no point" during his visit did he recommend "restrictive measures" on teaching in national minorities languages. Marga said he supports separate sections for minorities within existing universities but not separate universities. Roman adopted a similar position, stressing that members of national minorities must master the country's "official language." MS


Nearly two- thirds (63 percent) of Moldovans believe that the demise of the USSR was detrimental for Moldova, according to an opinion poll conducted by the independent institute Opinia. Of those questioned,18.8 percent were of the opinion that the demise of the Soviet Union did "more good than harm." Moreover, 50.1 percent were opposed to a multi-party system, 32.7 percent were against democracy, 29.6 percent were opposed to private property, and, 25.7 percent were not in favor of freedom of emigration. But 59.7 favored freedom of speech and a free press, while 65.7 percent want closer ties with Western countries, Infotag reported on 6 February. MS


by Jan de Weydenthal

Germany, Denmark, and Poland are planning to establish a joint military force to guard the western approach to the Baltic Sea. Those plans have been criticized by Russia.

The force is to be called the Multinational Corps North-East and is to consist of three divisions, each from one country. Totaling some 25,000 troops under a rotating command, the force will be headquartered in the northern Polish city of Szczecin. It will also be NATO's first-ever permanent military mission in East Central Europe. Last year, the alliance invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join its ranks.

Andrzej Karkoszka, a former deputy minister of defense in the previous Polish government who was responsible for military and strategic planning, told RFE/RL on 4 February that the plans to establish the corps reflect the prevailing emphasis in NATO on creating multinational ties among separate members of the alliance.

Those trends have been evident since the establishment in 1993 of the Eurocorps, which, though separate from NATO, brought together German and French rapid-reaction military units. Similarly, there is a German- Dutch NATO division based in western Germany as well as a German-Danish NATO unit also stationed in Germany.

This pattern of transnational military cooperation is now being applied to Eastern European newcomers to NATO. Karkoszka said the experiment is currently limited to Poland, but there is a "theoretical" possibility that Czech military units will eventually be brought into the corps.

The plans to establish the Multinational Corps North- East have met with criticism from Russia. Visiting Germany last month, Russian Minister of Defense Igor Sergeev was reported to have complained that the move amounted to NATO's "advancing toward the Russian border with weapons in its hands." Sergeev said there is no need to create such multinational military units in East Central Europe.

Sergeev reportedly dismissed arguments by German officials that the corps will be purely defensive in nature and will not be equipped with nuclear weapons. Those officals had also pointed out that its operations will be relatively limited and that it will serve to promote regional stability through international integration and cooperation.

That view has reflected Russia's long-time policy toward NATO. While ready to develop bilateral cooperative links with the alliance, Moscow has been consistently critical of NATO's decision to expand in the East. Its stance has not changed, although Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic will almost certainly enter the alliance next year. Earlier this week, Canada and Denmark formally ratified the accord of those countries' accession to NATO.

Russia has increasingly criticized specific integrative efforts by NATO member states aimed at facilitating the membership of CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan countries (particularly extending military multinational groups and joint command centers to include those countries). That approach appears to reflect a hope that persistent criticism of any such efforts may eventually affect their implementation and that NATO enlargement in the East will be reduced to mere political rather than full military integration.

There is no indication, however, that Russia's criticism will affect the decision to set up the North-East corps. Rather, each of the three prospective partners appears to regard the new military force as a major step toward enhancing regional stability. The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent.