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Newsline - May 29, 1998


The government on 29 May issued a directive on measures to cut federal spending by 41.9 billion rubles ($6.8 billion) this year, Reuters reported. The directive calls for raising 5 billion rubles in tax arrears from 20 large firms next month and revoking a March decision to cut excise duties on oil. President Boris Yeltsin on 29 May issued a decree on measures to boost revenues, Interfax reported. According to presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii, the decree will make it easier to seize property owned by tax debtors. Meanwhile, Yeltsin has sacked State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok and replaced him with State Duma deputy Boris Fedorov, a former finance minister. Also on 29 May, the extraordinary presidential commission on tax and budget discipline is meeting to discuss tax arrears of more than a dozen large firms. LB


The IMF's leadership will recommend that the fund's board of directors agree to disburse the next $670 million tranche of a four-year loan to Russia, Interfax reported on 29 May, citing a press release from the fund's Moscow office. Senior IMF Russian expert John Odling- Smee arrived in Moscow the previous day for talks concerning the tranche. Some Russian media have reported that the government is seeking a special multi-billion- dollar IMF credit to help calm the markets. Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin on 28 May said such a loan would play a great "psychological" role but added that there are "real chances to save the situation without extra help," according to Reuters. The newspaper "Vremya MN" on 29 May quoted Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko as saying that he did not discuss any special credit during his meeting with Odling-Smee. LB


Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii told Interfax that a meeting between Yeltsin and influential businessmen scheduled for 29 May has been postponed until 2 June to allow the president to prepare "concrete proposals." The meeting is to include the founders of six major Russian banks, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev, Unified Energy System Chief Executive Anatolii Chubais, and LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). On 27 May, Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko discussed the situation on Russian markets with four of the businessmen who have been invited to meet with Yeltsin: Oneksimbank founder Vladimir Potanin, Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii, SBS-Agro bank head Aleksandr Smolenskii, and Menatep bank founder Mikhail Khodorkovskii. The same day, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin met with representatives of several leading Russian and foreign investment banks, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 May. LB


Russian share values rose on 28 May by an average of 6 percent, Reuters reported. Yields on government treasury bills fell slightly the same day but remained about 70 percent, according to the "Moscow Times." In an interview published in "Vremya MN" on 29 May, Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Aleksashenko claimed that the bank has "completely turned around" the situation on the currency market and has begun buying back some of the dollars sold in recent days to shore up the ruble. He said Russia's gold and hard- currency reserves now exceed $14.5 billion. LB


The government on 28 May dismissed Yurii Bespalov, chief executive of the state-owned oil company Rosneft, and Aleksandr Putilov, the chairman of the company's board of directors. Interfax and Reuters quoted an unnamed government official as saying the firings are linked to the recent failure of an auction to sell a 75 percent stake in Rosneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 May 1998). The source said Bespalov and Putilov opposed the government's plans to privatize the company, adding that the government will sack leaders of other companies in which the state has a controlling stake if those leaders "do not carry out government decisions." LB


Chubais flew to the U.S. on 28 May to meet with foreign shareholders in the Unified Energy System (EES) company, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin recently signed a law that limits the number of shares in EES that can be held by foreigners, and some government officials have blamed that law for provoking the steep declines on the Russian markets. "Russkii telegraf" on 29 May suggested that during his U.S. visit, Chubais will also hold negotiations on taking out foreign loans to help EES pay its tax debts. LB


The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 28 May expressing "deepest concern" that Pakistan went ahead with nuclear weapons tests despite "persistent appeals by the world community to show restraint," Interfax reported. The statement said that "a real threat is emerging" of the spread of nuclear weapons, and it urged all states that have not yet done so to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. State Duma International Affairs Committee chairman Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) and Geopolitics Committee chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said that "the struggle for nuclear non-proliferation is lost." They predicted that Iran, Israel, and possibly Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and South Korea will redouble their efforts to acquire nuclear potential. LF


Yurii Koptev, director of the Russian Space Agency, said at a cabinet meeting on 28 May that if his country cannot finance its share of the international space station, its status may be downgraded from partner to contractor, Interfax reported. Koptev said Russia is unlikely to meet its part of the construction schedule owing to lack of finances. However, he said other countries participating also have problems meeting their deadlines, adding that the original time frame was "overly optimistic." The first stage of construction is slated to begin in the last quarter of this year but now seems likely to be delayed again by nearly one year. With regard to the fate of the "Mir" space station, Koptev said there are options for closing it down late this year or early next year. The agency is also considering moving the aging station into a higher orbit rather than crashing the 140 ton station into the Pacific Ocean. BP


Meeting in the Ingushetian capital, Nazran, on 28 May, Russian and Chechen officials signed three cooperation agreements, Russian agencies reported. The agreements focus on coordinating anti-crime activities and exchanges of information between Prosecutor- General's Offices and Justice Ministries as well as between the Russian Interior Ministry and the Chechen Shariat Security Ministry. A preliminary protocol on such cooperation was signed in Nazran earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1998.) Russian Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov, who attended the Nazran talks, told journalists that there are no legal grounds to close the criminal case against Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev for his role in the 1996 Budennovsk raid, Interfax reported. But Skuratov added he did not discuss Basaev's case during the 28 May talks. LF


Yeltsin on 28 May told the top executives of Russia's three major television networks that the state has no plans to restrict media freedom but added that "we have the right to ask you to promote state policy," Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin arranged the meeting with Kseniya Ponomareva, director-general of 51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television, Mikhail Shvydkoi, chairman of fully state-owned Russian Television, and Oleg Dobrodeev, director-general of the private network NTV after presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii accused unnamed Russian media of going "beyond reasonable limits" in their coverage of recent protests by coal miners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). ITAR- TASS quoted Shvydkoi as saying the president wants media coverage to help "common sense and national interests triumph." LB


In a nationwide radio address on 29 May, Yeltsin argued that it is important for the media "not to forget to tell their readers, listeners, and viewers" good news about what is going on in Russia. He acknowledged that it is "not possible to keep quiet" about bad news but said journalists often concentrate too much on violence, crime, and catastrophes. He added that "the principle of freedom of the press does not mean premissiveness and open cynicism and does not mean irresponsibility and forgetting about professional ethics." LB


NTV Director-General Oleg Dobrodeev told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 28 May that he defended his network's coverage of the recent miners' protests during Yeltsin's meeting with top television executives. Vladimir Gusinskii, whose Media-Most holding company owns a controlling stake in NTV, also defended the network's broadcasts in an appearance at a Moscow conference organized by the U.S.- based watchdog group Freedom Forum. He argued that Yeltsin's recent decree creating a holding company for state-owned electronic media violates Russian legislation on the mass media. Gusinskii told RFE/RL after the conference that the authorities should do their job, such as collecting taxes and paying state employees, and leave journalists to do theirs. LB


The newspaper "Vremya MN," which was launched on 20 May and currently appears three times a week, is expected to begin daily publication in the coming months. The newspaper's editor-in-chief is Vladimir Gurevich, a longtime economic reporter and deputy editor of the weekly "Moskovskie novosti." There are already more than a dozen daily newspapers in Moscow, but in an interview with "RFE/RL Newsline" on 27 May, Gurevich dismissed as an "illusion" the belief that the market is oversaturated. He argued that there is a niche for a "quality newspaper" that presents a balanced point of view and differentiates between news reports and opinion columns. The Central Bank is not formally involved in "Vremya MN" but is close to several banks, including the Sberbank savings bank, that are providing indirect financial support through the newspaper's partner company, Media Finance. LB


Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin on 28 May charged that Semen Zubakin, the head of the Altai Republic, is "openly using all acceptable and unacceptable measures" supporting the campaign of former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, who is running in a 31 May by-election for a seat in the State Duma. Lapshin is Vavilov's main rival for the seat, which Zubakin gave up when he was elected to the top post in Altai last December. Lapshin has already accused Vavilov of trying to buy votes, an allegation Vavilov denied in an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 May. Meanwhile, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev arrived in Altai Republic on 28 May to support Vavilov, who is an adviser to Vyakhirev. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 May, the popular singer and Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon will fly to Altai on 29 May in order to support Vavilov. The same day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov is scheduled to campaign on behalf of Lapshin. LB


The Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Court on 27 May found the businessman Andrei Klimentev guilty of embezzling some $2 million of a Finance Ministry loan, Russian media reported. Klimentev received a six-year prison sentence, which will include time he has already spent in detention (18 months when his case was first being investigated and tried plus eight weeks since his re-arrest on 2 April). Klimentev won the 29 March mayoral election in Nizhnii, but his victory was annulled by the city's electoral commission, with the approval of federal officials. He will now almost certainly be barred from competing in the repeat mayoral election, to be held later this year, unless the Supreme Court overturns the oblast court's ruling. LB


In a statement issued on 28 May, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on the Abkhaz to comply with the 25 May cease-fire protocol, Interfax reported. The statement condemned President Vladislav Ardzinba's 28 May decision to impose a state of emergency on Gali and parts of two adjoining raions, terming it an attempt to prevent the return to their homes of ethnic Georgians who fled during the fighting. Such restrictions are "blatantly inconsistent with international standards" and with the repatriation agreement signed by Abkhaz, Georgian, Russian, and UN representatives in April 1994, the Russian statement concluded, adding that the repatriation of fugitives is essential to restoring peace in the region. LF


The UN Security Council issued a statement on 28 May registering "grave concern" at the recent hostilities in Abkhazia and the resulting loss of life, Reuters reported. It called on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to secure the support of all sides for deploying additional UN troops to protect the unarmed UN Observer Mission in western Georgia. OSCE Chairman-in-Office Bronislaw Geremek likewise expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Gali Raion, saying it "seriously threatens UN-led efforts to achieve an overall solution of the conflict and poses a danger to the security of other regions of the Caucasus." The Turkish Foreign Ministry affirmed Ankara's support for steps to resolve the Abkhaz conflict "through peaceful means, [preserving] Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity." Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze canceled a planned visit to Turkey on 28 May because of the Abkhaz crisis, Caucasus Press reported. LF


Georgian presidential press spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze said on 28 May that Tbilisi is hoping the UN will agree to launch a peace-enforcing operation in Abkhazia, Interfax reported. Shevardnadze had proposed such a Bosnia-style intervention earlier this year before the recent fighting erupted (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). But Ardzinba signaled he will reject such a proposal, which he told Interfax would "trigger a new blood bath that will spill over the borders of the region." He suggested that if such a peace-enforcing operation is launched it should be directed against Georgia, which he called the aggressor in the conflict. LF


Several Georgian opposition parties and the Coordinating Council of Political Organizations of Abkhazia, which represents ethnic Georgian displaced persons from the region, have all condemned the Georgian leadership's handling of the past week's fighting, specifically its failure to provide military support to the Georgian guerrillas, according to Caucasus Press. Nationalist Party leader Zaza Vashakmadze and Union of Traditionalists of Georgia Chairman Akaki Asatiani both called for Shevardnadze's resignation. Asatiani and Vakhtang Bochorishvili, the chairman of the Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Society, have identified Russia as "the winner in this game." LF


In a radio address to the nation on 28 May to mark the 80th anniversary of the First Armenian Republic, President Robert Kocharian said contemporary Armenia must have a "strong state structure" and "galloping economic growth." "We are obliged to become the best organized state in the region," Kocharian said. "We are simply doomed to have a powerful army, without which the balance of forces in our complicated and unstable region will be disrupted." Also on 28 May, "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" quoted Murad Petrosian, chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament, as advocating that Prime Minister Leonard Petrosian should resign to make way for "new people" who are "clever and creative organizers" such as Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. LF


Officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office said on 27 May that several top managers at the newly privatized ArmenTel telecommunications company have been arrested on charges of taking bribes, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They are to be detained pending an investigation into the company's operations. Former Communications Minister Grigor Poghpatian has already been interrogated by the office in connection with the case, according to Armenian media reports. Greece's OTE acquired 90 percent of ArmenTel's stock in late 1997 in a deal worth some $500 million. The Armenian government retained the remaining 10 percent stake. LF


Returning from China to Israel on 28 May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, according to Interfax and Jerusalem Television Channel 2. Netanyahu met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov to discuss regional issues, particularly the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by Iran. Netanyahu extended an invitation to Karimov to visit Israel, which the Uzbek leader accepted. Interfax reported there are 25,000 Jews currently living in Uzbekistan, down from the 145,000 recorded in the 1989 census, and that 10 new synagogues have been built since Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991. BP


At a ceremony opening the LG Electronics Plant in Almaty, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev praised South Korea for being the biggest direct foreign investor in Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. The plant will manufacture up to 300,000 televisions annually and employ more than 1,000 local workers. Nazarbayev noted that South Korean direct investment now totals $750 million. BP


The Supreme Council on 28 May failed to elect a speaker for the third time (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 May 1998). Only 176 of the 438 registered deputies cast their ballots, falling well short of the two-thirds majority required for a valid vote. In the latest round of voting, Communist leader Petro Symonenko ran against Progressive Socialists leader Nataliya Vitrenko and independent deputy Oleksandr Rzhavskyy in the ballot. The Supreme Council has not released any voting results. As on the two previous occasions, the Popular Democratic Party, the Rukh, the Social Democrats, and the Greens parliamentary groups abstained from voting. They are demanding that a speaker be elected along with two deputy speakers in one ballot. Observers speculate that the parliament may call for a vote to assess the popularity of potential candidates in such an election, ITAR-TASS reported. JM


National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko on 28 May raised the refinancing rate from 45 percent to 51 percent in an attempt to shield the country from turbulence on the Russian financial market, the Ukrainian News agency reported. Commenting to Reuters on Russia's decision the previous day to triple interest rates, Yushchenko expressed the hope that Russia will continue seeking to curb financial uncertainty since Ukraine might otherwise be unable "to stay the course." In a joint statement issued on 28 May, the National Bank and the government said the situation on Ukraine's financial markets "remains difficult, but generally controllable," Ukrainian Television reported. JM


In a statement issued on 29 May, the Foreign Ministry condemned Pakistan's nuclear weapons tests, Reuters reported. The statement said that the nuclear tests conducted recently by India and Pakistan demonstrate that international mechanisms to control nuclear non- proliferation are ineffective and need to be modernized. The ministry called on the UN Security Council to hold a session devoted to nuclear testing. JM


A number of oblast executive committees and the Minsk City administration have decided to free the prices of imported foodstuffs, "Narodnaya volya" reported on 28 May. According to the daily, those decisions contravene earlier presidential and governmental directives, including those prohibiting price hikes on foodstuffs exceeding 2 percent a month and ordering a reduction in imports. "Narodnaya volya" says the move is prompted by the severe food shortage in Belarus. It predicts a 30-percent increase in the prices of foodstuffs. JM


Polish economists say the country's economy is too strong to be affected by Russia's recent financial crisis, "Zycie" reported on 29 May. The daily quoted National Bank Chairwoman Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz as saying that there is not enough Russian capital in Poland to necessitate "changes in our economy" by its withdrawal. At the same time, financial experts do not rule out that Polish investors in Russia may suffer considerable losses if the crisis is protracted. JM


Christopher Smith, co-chairman of the U.S. Congress Helsinki Committee, on 28 May told the Chamber of Representatives that he is "profoundly alarmed at the deterioration of the situation of minorities in the Czech Republic" and that the government in Prague fails to "address this pattern of violence." Smith said local authorities' plans to build walls in Usti nad Labem and Plzen to "separate well-off areas from undesirables" is reminiscent of "terminology used by the Nazis." He added that skinheads continue to attack Roma because they are convinced the government will "not hold them accountable for their acts, " CTK reported. MS


Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar on 28 May met in Moscow with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, ITAR-TASS reported. An official Kremlin statement said the meeting took place in "an exceptionally warm spirit and friendly atmosphere." The two leaders agreed to draw up long-term programs for Russian oil supplies to Slovakia until 2015, to expand cooperation in nuclear power, and to examine the possibility of jointly producing an airplane. Yeltsin said Russia "very much" wants Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia to win the parliamentary elections scheduled for September. He also said Moscow is "pleased" with Slovak security policies and its friendly ties with Russia. Meciar also met with Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who told him Russia appreciates the "confidence and partnership," based on "mutual economic benefit," in the two countries' relations. MS


The International Atomic Energy Agency on 28 May said it sees "no reason" to delay the start up of the controversial nuclear plant at Mochovce. A spokesman for the agency told AFP that the plant is "technically ready to be activated." He acknowledged that the plant's safety norms are not up to Western standards but stressed that these standards are "different" and that the Mochovce plant has the necessary standard equipment for an East European country. The spokesman added that "90 percent of the security precautions have been carried out, but there are still details that will gradually be sorted out." MS


Viktor Orban, the leader of the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP), said in Bonn on 28 May that Hungary is committed to continuing its Euro-Atlantic integration and maintaining good relations with its neighbors. The new cabinet will not seek to renegotiate existing basic treaties with neighboring countries but wants to supplement those accords, he said. He added that the use of the Hungarian language in educational institutions and the restitution of Church property are issues to be negotiated with Romania. At the same time, he noted that the Slovak government is "simply not implementing provisions of the basic treaty with Hungary." Meanwhile, FIDESZ-MPP foreign policy expert Zsolt Nemeth said the new cabinet wants to ensure that neighboring countries and Hungarian minorities beyond the borders benefit from the advantages of Hungary's EU and NATO integration because, he said, the integration process itself draws a dividing line between Hungary and its neighbors. MSZ


Following his meeting with visiting Hungarian Chief of Staff General Ferenc Vegh and Hungarian Ambassador to Bucharest Ferenc Fekete in Bucharest on 28 May, Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasil said he is "satisfied" with Fekete's explanation of statements attributed to Viktor Orban by an Austrian daily (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1998). Vasile said Orban was misquoted due to the fact that his comments had been translated from Hungarian into German and from German into French by AFP. Vegh said he is confident that the change in the Hungarian government will not mean any change in Hungarian-Romanian relations. He and his Romanian counterpart, General Constantin Degeratu, agreed that the Hungarian-Romanian peace-keeping force will start operating in the fall, after the two countries' parliaments approve its creation. MS


Foreign ministers of the 16 countries belonging to the Atlantic alliance agreed in Luxembourg on 28 May to stage major land and air maneuvers in Albania in August and to expand exercises already slated for September in Macedonia. In June, NATO will open a Partnership for Peace office in Tirana and training centers in Macedonia, while warships will call at Durres in July. The ministers asked NATO experts to prepare plans for stationing troops in Albania and Macedonia should the conflict in Kosova escalate. The ministers agreed to recommend that the UN extend the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in Macedonia by six months and increase the force from 800 to "at least 1,050" troops. German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe said that Bonn will provide Macedonia with 50 BRT-70 tanks from the former East German army, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. PM


NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said in Luxembourg on 28 May that the alliance excludes no option for dealing with the Kosova crisis and that everything depends on events in the province. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel commented that his main worry is that the conflict could cause thousands of Kosovars to seek asylum in Germany. He added that Kosova is unlikely to become "another Bosnia" because in the province only one side, namely the Serbs, is heavily armed, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said NATO does not exclude a joint action with Russia in the region. Alliance spokesmen noted that Moscow has offered troops for possible missions in Macedonia and Albania, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said that the UN will have to approve any stationing of foreign troops in the region. PM


Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Nikolic said in Belgrade on 28 May that the government fully approves of the work of the paramilitary special police forces in Kosova and will not reduce their strength. In Kosova, Serbian and Albanian sources reported intense fighting in the Decan region. Both sides reported deaths in various parts of the province, but no independent confirmation is available. The conflict has taken at least 210 lives to date, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 29 May. In Washington, shadow-state Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi said that Kosova is "already in the first phase of a war." And in Jube, Albania, President Rexhep Meidani watched military exercises. He told artillery gunners to keep their equipment in good shape and be prepared to use it. In a statement in Tirana the next day, Meidani praised the NATO package on Kosova as "serious." PM


Yugoslav Prime Minister and former Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic said in Podgorica on 28 May that his Socialist People's Party will not recognize the results of the 31 May parliamentary vote if 34,000 out of 457,000 people listed on the election rolls are allowed to cast their ballots. Bulatovic charged that the 34,000 have no registration number and that poll-watchers from his party will challenge them if they try to vote. The election pits supporters of Bulatovic, who is an ally of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, against backers of reformist Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. PM


British SFOR troops in Banja Luka arrested Milojica Kos, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb concentration camp at Omarska, on 28 May. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted Kos for atrocities committed against Muslim and Croatian civilians at the camp between May and August 1992. Elsewhere, Nordic and Polish peacekeepers found and removed 3 tons of illegal weapons in the Ozren pocket area near Doboj. The peacekeepers confiscated 12 tons of illegal arms in the same area last month. PM


Andrija Hebrang, who is the head of President Franjo Tudjman's medical team as well as a cabinet minister, said that "at this moment, we consider [the president] a cured man," "Vecernji list" reported on 29 May. Hebrang added that neither he nor anyone else is Tudjman's designated successor because, "we do not have a monarchy in which the ruler determines his successor. We have a democratic system in which each party selects its own presidential candidate." Tudjman underwent cancer treatment in the U.S. in 1996 and has since limited his public appearances. Politicians of his governing Croatian Democratic Community have been fighting over the succession for some months. PM


Slovenian President Milan Kucan said in Bonn on 28 May that he believes his country will join the EU by 2003. He stressed that joining the EU and NATO are still top priorities for Ljubljana. Kucan noted that relations between the government and the Roman Catholic Church remain strained. The two sides differ in their interpretations of the constitution's definition of the role of the Church in public life. Kucan said key differences are over the restoration of Church property confiscated by the Communists, religious instruction in the schools, and the possible return of the Church to its pre-communist role as a key player in politics. The president noted that the government insists on the separation of Church and state, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. PM


Prime Ministers Fatos Nano and his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, opened a major industrial exhibition in Tirana on 27 May. More than 200 Italian and Albanian companies are participating in the fair, which aims to promote the southern Adriatic as a commercial bridge to the Balkans. At a meeting with Italian businessmen, Privatization Minister Ylli Bufi said that Albania will lower duties on exports to attract new investors and to encourage production, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. FS


Justice Ministry Spokesman Agim Neza told Reuters on 27 May that Albania is prepared to take back all its citizens serving prison sentences abroad. He added, however, that the process will have to be staggered over an unspecified period owing to a severe shortage of prison space. Albania signed four conventions with the Council of Europe last week to ensure the repatriation of Albanians convicted abroad and the extradition of wanted criminals either to or from Albania. Mobs demolished most prisons during the 1997 unrest. FS


The government on 29 May approved a draft law on the equality of the sexes. Among other things, the law forbids "unwanted, unwelcome acts or scandalous behavior that affects one's personal dignity" and says that women who have not been promoted at work because of gender discrimination are entitled to compensation totaling three months' wages, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The law must still be approved by the parliament. In other news, former Foreign Minister Adrian Nastase said on his return from Strasbourg on 28 May that the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has unanimously recommended that Romania be removed from its special monitoring list. MS


Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 28 May said she is "surprised" by U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke's statement that Bulgaria might decide to "grab off a piece" of Macedonia. In an interview with Reuters on 27 May about his book, "The End of the War," Holbrooke said an "eruption" in Kosova could trigger a wider war and that "the Bulgarians claim that Bulgarians and Macedonians are indistinguishable." Mihailova told the BBC that Bulgaria was the first country to recognize Macedonia under its "constitutional name" of the Republic of Macedonia and has repeatedly shown it is helping solve problems in the region "rather than create them," an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. Foreign Minister spokesman Radko Vlaikov stressed that Bulgaria has no territorial claims on Macedonia. But he added that Sofia does not recognize Macedonian as a separate language but considers it a Bulgarian dialect. MS


by Tim Judah

Until quite recently, Serbian students in the technical department of Prishtina University were still telling anyone who would listen that theirs was a struggle for Kosova, a struggle to the bitter end. Under the terms of Kosova's education agreement signed by the Serbian government and representatives of the province's Albanians the Serbs were due to hand over the building to the Albanians. A poster exhorted the police, whom it was feared would soon move to turf them out, to: "Follow your hearts, not your orders!"

A rally inside the building in mid-May brought together students and local Serbs. And despite the empty rhetoric of "no surrender," one word recurred over and over again: "Krajina," the name of the doomed would-be Serbian state in Croatia, which had been betrayed and swept from the map of history in August 1995. Within 48 hours the students were gone, evicted by the police, but not before they had rampaged through the building, destroying as much as they could.

The students were right about one thing. Their struggle was indeed highly symbolic of the struggle for Kosova. In the first place, they "occupied" the building as its sole tenants, as a result of the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, who rose to power a decade ago on the backs of the Kosova Serbs. And, now just like the Serbs of Krajina, whom Milosevic abandoned to their fate, the Serbs of Kosova have understood that they have been betrayed as well.

Many Serbs have, in fact, reluctantly concluded that Milosevic, now Yugoslav president, has simply decided to abandon the province. In Prishtina, frightened Serbs from outlying districts are moving in to the center to stay with friends and family clustered around the concrete symbols of Serbian power, especially the army and police headquarters.

In the countryside, in areas that have fallen under the control of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), those Serbs who did not flee in time are being chased out and told in no uncertain terms never to return. In a UCK-controlled part of the western Decan area, seven elderly Serbs are presumed dead after "disappearing". In the region as a whole there are now no more than 300 Serbs left living among 55,000 Albanians.

When Krajina fell in August 1995, the Croatian army swept some 200,000 Serbs in front of it. Of those, 16,000 were sent to live in schools and hotels and other collective centers in Kosova. At the time, there was much speculation as to whether this development was the spearhead of a new Serbian colonization drive in Kosova. But in fact, the presence of those Serbs has done more than anything else to shatter Serbian morale in the province.

With their laundry always flapping from their windows, the refugees are a constant reminder to the Kosova Serbs of the fate of a people who trusted in Milosevic. Although some Serbs still kid themselves that "Kosova is different" many now realize that the battle is lost.

Of course, there is some fighting. Some Albanian villages are burning and there are daily killings of Albanians by Serbs and vice versa. But on the Serbian side, these are rearguard actions. The Serbian police could reduce the whole of Kosova to ash and cinder within 24 hours, but what would be the point of that? Serbia's economy is in a truly parlous state, and relations with Montenegro are fraught. Another round of tough sanctions could bring the whole edifice crashing down and a militarily disastrous no-fly zone to boot. In such a case, better to avoid rash actions.

Over the last two years, the emergence of the Serbian Resistance Movement signaled some hope for the future. This group, though committed to retaining Kosova for Serbia, did call for real dialogue with Albanians and saw that Milosevic's policy was heading for disaster. Among its leading lights is Artemije, Orthodox bishop of Prizren and Raska. His right-hand man is the monk Brother Sava.

In the past couple of months the two men have been to Washington, France, and elsewhere to publicize their cause abroad. But now they are in despair. Bishop Artemije said recently: "The chances of a dialogue have been missed. What remains is what the gentlemen in Belgrade have chosen--the loss of Kosova, just like the Krajina, in war." Clearly, he has understood, like many Serbs, that Milosevic simply cannot give up Kosova outright; rather, to secure his own survival, he has to be seen to lose the province in war. In this way, he can blame everyone else for its loss, including the international community.

As for Brother Sava, he is now a virtual prisoner in his own monastery. The UCK roam the area at will. On 7 May, they shot at a van taking shift workers to a now closed nearby power plant, right outside the monastery door. The hills around are crawling with army and police, too; but at the checkpoint leading to the monastery, the police try to stop journalists visiting Sava, perhaps because of his anti- Milosevic stance. He has been reduced to communicating with the world by e-mail and especially in trying to fend off wild--and false--accusations in the Kosova Albanian press that Decan is playing host to Serbian paramilitaries. Tim Judah is a free-lance journalist and the author of the recent book "The Serbs."