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Newsline - June 17, 1998


Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko on 16 June met with leading Russian businessmen to discuss the economic situation and proposals for the government's "anti-crisis program," Russian news agencies and NTV reported. The group included all but one of the 10 "oligarchs" who met with President Boris Yeltsin on 2 June: Unified Energy System chief executive Anatolii Chubais, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev, Interros head and Oneksimbank founder Vladimir Potanin, Alfa group head Mikhail Fridman, SBS- Agro chairman Aleksandr Smolenskii, Rosprom-Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Rossiiskii Kredit bank president Vitalii Malkin, Surgutneftegaz oil company head Vladimir Bogdanov, and LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov. (The 10th "oligarch," Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii, was abroad on 16 June.) CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, who was not present at the 2 June meeting, was reportedly invited to the latest meeting with Kirienko, but it is unclear whether he attended. LB


Kirienko told journalists on 17 June that Chubais is the "most likely candidate" for a new post to be created: special presidential envoy to international financial organizations. Kirienko said the envoy will have a rank equal to that of deputy prime minister, but he suggested that the holder of that office will not be a cabinet member, ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais was the government's long-time main contact with organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF until Yeltsin dismissed him as first deputy prime minister in March. Citing unnamed government sources, Interfax reported on 16 June that Chubais will retain his position as chief executive of Unified Energy System if, as expected, he becomes Russia's official liaison with international financial organizations. LB


Martin Gilman, the IMF's representative in Moscow, confirmed on 16 June that the fund is sending a delegation to Russia for an "extensive dialogue" on possible aid and measures to stabilize the situation on Russian financial markets, Russian news agencies reported. The delegation is due to arrive in Moscow on 22 June. Gilman said Russian officials have not formally requested aid beyond the four-year, $10 billion Extended Fund Facility the IMF has been disbursing to Russia in installments since 1996. However, there have been rumors widely reported in the Russian media that officials have raised the issue of a bailout package on several occasions: during Chubais's visit to Washington in May, during Prime Minister Kirienko's visit to Paris earlier this month, and most recently during Yeltsin's trip to Bonn. LB


Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin, the leader of the Spiritual Heritage movement, favors more compromise between the opposition and the "party of power" in order to combat "criminal financial groups," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 16 June. Although Podberezkin is a member of the Communist Duma faction and is considered an influential adviser to Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, he sometimes disagrees with the party's stands. For example, in his speech to the Spiritual Heritage congress, Podberezkin criticized the Communists' strategy during the recent gubernatorial campaign in Krasnoyarsk Krai. He said they forged an alliance with the incumbent "too late" to prevent the victory of Aleksandr Lebed. In his speech to the Spiritual Heritage congress, Zyuganov rejected Podberezkin's call for more cooperation with the authorities, saying "the party of power itself is becoming more and more criminal," ITAR-TASS reported. LB


During a 16 June meeting in the Kremlin, Yeltsin and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed a power- sharing agreement on behalf of the federal and city authorities, Russian news agencies reported. Neither the Kremlin nor the Moscow government revealed the details of the agreement. Luzhkov and government officials clashed last year over plans to cut federal compensation payments to the city of Moscow, and the mayor threatened to impose new fees on federal facilities in the capital. Compensation payments were eventually added to the 1998 budget, but government officials have said payments may fall below budget targets this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May and 3 June 1998). Yeltsin told journalists on 16 June that he has "excellent relations" with Luzhkov and argued that the power-sharing agreement will help defuse "tension" between Moscow and federal authorities by making clear the obligations of each side. LB


An unnamed senior Russian Defense Ministry official told Interfax on 16 June that "there remain concerns in connection with the U.S. not observing a number of important parts of the START-1 treaty." By way of example, he said the U.S. is testing ballistic missiles on Trident submarines and charged that such tests may be aimed at increasing the number of warheads on submarine- launched ballistic missiles above the level permitted by START-1. Reuters quoted the U.S. embassy in Moscow as saying that "we consider START-1 to be a significant arms control success. In any agreement as complex as this there are bound to be issues and questions of interpretation." LB


Duma Geopolitics Committee Chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia on 16 June said possible military action by NATO in Kosova will rule out ratification of the START-2 arms control treaty by the Russian parliament, Interfax reported. Arguing that NATO has "put its military machine into gear" and is likely to carry out strikes in Kosova, Mitrofanov said "ratification of the START-2 treaty is out of the question." Appearing on NTV later the same day, Mitrofanov admitted that "our attitude in the Duma toward START-2 has always been negative." But he said opposition to the treaty has strengthened "because we are told to ratify it at a time when we can see NATO exercises near Kosova, when [U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright openly says that the U.S. does not want to consult the UN Security Council or anyone else." LB


The Constitutional Court on 16 June ruled that it is the only court with the right to rule on whether federal or regional laws violate the Russian Constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. The court struck down rulings by the Supreme Courts of Komi Republic and the Republic of Karelia that argued certain provisions of republican laws are unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court ruled that other courts are not entitled to draw such conclusions on their own. Instead, they must send an inquiry to the Constitutional Court if they believe that a law violates the constitution. Verdicts of the Constitutional Court are not subject to appeal, the court noted. LB


Emigres who have retained their Russian citizenship are entitled to receive Russian pensions, irrespective of when they left Russia and whether they lived in another country before moving abroad permanently, the Constitutional Court ruled on 15 June. The court struck down passages in a law and a government resolution that deprived Russians of their pensions if they left Russia before 1 July 1993 or lived in another country immediately before emigrating, ITAR-TASS reported. Seven Russian citizens, now living in Israel, Bulgaria, and Germany, filed the court appeal. Two of them had performed military service in Latvia during the Soviet period and emigrated from that country rather than from Russia directly. "Segodnya" predicted on 16 June that emigres will have to "fight" to receive their pensions, despite the court ruling. The Pension Fund already is unable to meet its financial obligations LB


The Constitutional Court on 10 June rejected all but one challenge to the law on citizens' basic electoral rights and their right to participate in a referendum, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 June. Of the provisions disputed by the Federation Council and the legislature of the Republic of Karelia, the court struck down only the law's prohibition of regional referenda on matters over which federal and regional authorities have joint jurisdiction. The court found the following provisions consistent with the constitution: a requirement that electoral districts represent roughly equal numbers of citizens; a prohibition on referenda to end the term of elected bodies early; a clause allowing regions to impose age limits on candidates (if such limits are consistent with federal legislation); and a provision stating that elections are invalid if more votes are cast "against all candidates" than for any one candidate. LB


Funding was high on the agenda during Oleg Mironov's meeting with Yeltsin on 16 June, his first talk with the president since the Duma elected him human rights commissioner last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1998). Mironov noted that the 1998 budget does not contain an article on funding for his office, Russian news agencies reported. He said he has "a pile of 600 complaints [from citizens] on my desk" and estimated that he requires a staff of 200-250 people and a budget of 30 million rubles ($4.8 million) for "normal work" this year. Yeltsin has a presidential commission on human rights, but before Mironov's election, Russia had been without a human rights commissioner for three years. LB


Kursk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi says the recent arrest of two of his deputies is a "provocation, " arguing they are "pawns" in Kursk Prosecutor Nikolai Tkachev's campaign against him, Interfax reported on 16 June. Deputy Governors Yurii Kononchuk and Vladimir Bunchuk were arrested on 11 June, while Rutskoi was visiting Bashkortostan. They are accused of large-scale embezzlement and corruption. For example, Kursk Oblast allegedly purchased grain harvesters using a firm owned by Kononchuk as a middleman, at great cost to the oblast budget. According to Interfax, Kononchuk and Bunchuk have begun a hunger strike. Also while the governor was in Bashkortostan, his brother Mikhail Rutskoi was sacked as deputy head of the Kursk branch of the Interior Ministry. He is now under investigation for swindling and abusing his authority, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 16 June. LB


Semen Ageev, an employee of "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya," was beaten on 16 June as he was distributing the newspaper on a bus in the capital of Kalmykia, ITAR-TASS reported. The newspaper's editor, Larisa Yudina, was killed on 7 June. According to the Yabloko press service, the bus driver hit Ageev several times and said that "all of you should be killed," before throwing him off the bus. Meanwhile, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 17 June that local observers believe Tyurbi Boskomdzhiev, one of the two suspects who has confessed to Yudina's murder, was "set up" and had nothing to do with the crime. Citing unnamed sources, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported that Sergei Vaskin, the other suspect who has confessed to the crime, had a fresh deep scratch on his face when he was arrested--a possible result of a struggle with the journalist. LB


Heads of Russia's largest defense plants and representatives of the federal and regional governments attended a conference in Moscow last week to devise a strategy for reversing the defense industry's ongoing decline, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Izvestiya" reported on 16 June. The defense industry bosses addressed a statement to Russian President Yeltsin registering their objections to the "endless reform" of the defense sector, in particular the frequent changes of director of the arms export monopoly Rosvooruzhenie. Those changes, they claimed, deter potential arms purchasers from abroad. The conference participants also drafted measures intended to increase Russian arms exports and expand military- technical cooperation with foreign companies. LF


Emomali Rakhmonov met with United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri for three hours on 17 June to discuss opposition representation in the new coalition government, ITAR-TASS reported. They also discussed the recent law banning religious parties, which the opposition argues violates last year's peace agreement. A trilateral conciliation commission established by Rakhmonov to review that law is due to publicize its findings on 17 June. LF


The U.S. petroleum company Mobil and the Anglo-Chinese consortium Kern Energy-Texuna have won Turkmenistan's first international tender for the rights to exploit the country's offshore Caspian oil deposits, Russian agencies reported on 16 June. They must now draft production sharing agreements, which are to be submitted to President Saparmurad Niyazov within three months. Mobil has acquired the rights to the Serdar deposit, which has estimated reserves of 150-200 million metric tons of oil. Ownership of that deposit is claimed by Azerbaijan. Kern Energy-Texuna will develop the smaller Gaplan oil and gas field. Also on 16 June, Niyazov signed an agreement with a U.S. company on cooperation in developing and reconstructing water purification and desalination facilities, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


A local official in the Kyrgyz district of Issyk-Kul told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 16 June that residents of the Barskoon village evacuated following the 20 May spill of sodium cyanide into the Barskoon River have started to return to their homes. Some 5,000 residents from the village were evacuated from 4-9 June. Three people have died from sodium cyanide poisoning, more than 2,500 have been poisoned, and some 800 have been hospitalized. LF


Kyrgyzstan's Deputy Mufti Lugmar Aji told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 16 June that all mosques are to be registered with the country's Muslim Board. He noted that there are currently some 1,500 mosques in Kyrgyzstan, some of which have been built at the initiative of private individuals. LF


Two Almaty pensioners have lost a law suit against the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 17 June. The two pensioners had demanded that the ministry implement a 1992 presidential directive index-linking pensions to inflation. Pensions have remained unchanged for the past four years, at 2,800 tenges ($35) per month. An Almaty city court judge rejected the pensioners' suit but ordered the ministry to implement future presidential decrees promptly. LF


Two aides to former Azerbaijan President Abulfaz Elchibey were arrested in Baku on 14 June and a foreign-made pistol confiscated from one of them, Turan reported. Elchibey's Azerbaijan Popular Front has denounced the arrests as politically motivated. Neither man has yet been charged. LF.


Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze told journalists on 16 June that he is prepared to form an alliance with the United Communist Party of Georgia, headed by Panteleimon Giorgadze, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze also said that he may suspend some laws adopted by the Georgian parliament. LF


Alan Chochiev, former head of the radical South Ossetian Popular Front and from 1992-1994 first deputy chairman of the region's Supreme Council, was released from prison on 16 June, ITAR-TASS reported. Chochiev was sentenced in July 1996 to five years in jail on charges of large-scale embezzlement. A committee created in his defense appealed to the South Ossetian authorities earlier this year for clemency, claiming that the evidence against him was fabricated, according to the 8 April "Nezavisimaya gazeta." LF


Foreign diplomats were sitting tight in their residences at the Drazdy compound on 16 June as a government deadline for vacating the site drew closer, Reuters reported. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said the diplomats must leave Drazdy by 17 June in order that planned repairs can be carried out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1998). The Italian ambassador told Reuters that as long as he is "under an ultimatum," he will continue to live at Drazdy. He added that "all the diplomats are taking the same line." The German ambassador has also said he will not move into the new building proposed by the government, although some of his belongings have already been moved there for "temporary storage." JM


Gazprom's gas supplies to Belarus will remain reduced by 40 percent until 1 July, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 June. Following talks between the Gazprom leadership and Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Valeryy Kokarau, a Gazprom representative told the agency that gas deliveries will resumed in full only after Belarus "takes specific steps to reduce its current gas debt" in the next two weeks. According to a deal reached in the talks, Belarus is to pay some $1 million a day to Gazprom in order to "improve the existing situation." If Belarus fails to do so, Gazprom may reduce its supplies to Belarus even further. JM


Several hundreds students of the Belarusian-language Humanities Lycee--the only high school in Minsk in which all subjects are taught in Belarusian--staged a protest in Minsk on 16 June to oppose the government's plan to merge it with a Russian-language high school, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Parents and students gathered signatures from passers-by also opposed to the planned merger. Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Zamyatalin is widely believed to be the main force behind the merger plan. JM


Paul Siegelbaum, the World Bank's director for Ukraine and Belarus, has said the bank will defer granting loans to Ukraine until the country resumes cooperation with the IMF, the Ukrainian News agency reported. In February, Ukraine requested a $150 million loan to promote entrepreneurship and some $500 million to restructure the financial sector. Earlier, the IMF discontinued financing to Ukraine under a stand-by program owing to the country's lack of progress toward economic reform. Both the World Bank and the IMF are now working with Ukraine on possible new credits. JM


Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves has said that a Canadian daily misinterpreted his remarks in a recent interview, BNS and ETA reported on 16 June. Earlier the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed "incomprehension" over Ilves's alleged comments to the "The Ottawa Citizen," which had quoted him as saying that "Russians are unable to overcome post-colonial stress" and are suffering from the same woes as Britain in the 1950s and France in 1960s, after their colonial empires collapsed. In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said those and other comments were "full of open contempt for Russia." It expressed the hope that Ilves's remarks do not reflect the official position of the Estonian authorities. JC


IMF representative in Estonia Dimitri Demekas told BNS on 16 June that economic data for the first quarter of this year show that the current account deficit remains the principal problem of the Estonian economy. The previous day, the Bank of Estonia announced that the current account deficit from January to March totaled 11 percent of GDP. "This remains a grave problem," Demekas commented. He urged the government and the Bank of Estonia to continue tight fiscal policies, in particular slowing down the growth of credit. JC


The parliamentary group of the opposition Democratic Party Saimnieks has collected enough signatures to call an extraordinary session of the parliament on 22 June to consider amendments to the citizenship law in the third and final reading, BNS reported on 16 June. Prime Minister Guntars Krasts, however, told the news agency that he has not "rushed" to convene an extraordinary session since the parliamentary legal commission stopped accepting proposals for the third reading only the previous day. He also stressed that the issue concerns not only the parliamentary parties but society as a whole. He did not say whether he would attend the 22 June session. JC


The Trade Union of Train Drivers launched an indefinite strike on 17 June. The decision was announced by Jan Zaborowski, head of the trade union, which represents some 14,000 out of Poland's 20,000 train drivers. The previous day, the trade union broke off negotiations with the government after a government spokesman had said the planned strike is illegal and has political goals. The trade union is demanding a 300 zloty ($88) increase rise in the average monthly wage (some $300) and the lowering of the retirement age to 55 (from 65 for men and 60 for women). According to Jan Janik, president of the Polish State Railroads, the strike will not paralyze his company. "We know which train drivers are likely to go on strike, so we have assigned them to [less important] routes," "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted him as saying. Reuters reported on 17 June that the strike has halted some 30 percent of trains in Poland. JM


In his last television interview before the 19-20 June general elections, President Vaclav Havel told Nova TV that the time has come for "a younger generation...that is, one not as tired and worn out as we [are]" to take over leading political positions, Reuters reported. Havel also said he was offended by suggestions that he would choose "the wrong person" as premier after the elections and would therefore not speak about it, "although I am more or less clear on how I shall proceed." The Social Democratic Party (CSSD) has suggested that Havel might ignore their expected ballot victory and appoint as premier someone other than CSSD leader Milos Zeman, whom he allegedly dislikes, CTK reported. MS


Leading members of the Freedom Union and the Christian Democratic Party are unofficially discussing the possible merger of their parties after the elections, "Lidove noviny" reported on 17 June. The daily says former Foreign Minister Jozef Zieleniec is the main force behind the possible merger. His disclosures on the financing of Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) caused the downfall of the ODS government in November 1997. Freedom Union chairman Jan Ruml said that a post-election merger cannot be ruled out, in order to forge "an equivalent counter- balance to Klaus's ODS," but added that for the time being "no official talks" are under way. MS


Vojtech Filip, chairman of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, says his formation will support a minority government formed by the CSSD and the Pensioners for Secure Life Party only if a referendum on accession to NATO is held, "Lidove noviny" reported on 16 June. CSSD chairman Milos Zeman said his party has always wanted a referendum on NATO membership but added that he doubts legislation on the referendum can be passed by the parliament before next March or April, when the process of NATO accession is to end, CTK reported. Zeman said the issue will be "discussed after the elections." MS


President Arpad Goncz on 16 June laid a wreath at the grave of former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who led the 1956 uprising against Soviet rule, Hungarian media reported. Some 5,000 Budapest residents gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of Nagy's execution. Nagy, who was appointed prime minister after the uprising broke out, announced the country's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and proclaimed Hungary's neutrality. In November 1956, he was arrested and sent to Romania, where he was put under house arrest, before being returned to Hungary and executed in 1958. In 1989, Nagy was reburied with honors. Goncz said Nagy's sacrifice should be viewed by Hungarians as a "source of pride." MSZ


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said in a joint declaration with his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, in Moscow on 16 June that Serbian "security forces will cut back their presence outside bases [in Kosova] in accordance with the cessation of terrorist activities." He also pledged to allow the return of refugees and freedom of movement for diplomats and humanitarian organizations. Milosevic added that he is willing to negotiate with Kosovar leaders and agreed not to use repression against civilians. At a press conference following his meeting with Yeltsin, Milosevic denied that his forces are conducting ethnic cleansing or have carried out attacks on civilians. Yeltsin described his talks with the Yugoslav leader, which lasted longer than scheduled, as "not easy." He also told Milosevic that "we do not forget that we are Slavic states and friends." PM


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on 16 June that Milosevic's promises in Moscow constitute "some progress" but "do not meet the primary points that the Contact Group" has repeatedly raised. She stressed that the international community still insists that Milosevic end the violence in Kosova and withdraw his security forces, but, she said, "that has not happened." She commented that "what is going on there is unacceptable," adding that "action needs to be taken." Albright stressed that the international community is united in its views and that NATO will go ahead preparing contingency plans for intervention. She noted that Washington "condemns acts of violence by all sides, including the Kosova Liberation Army." PM


Secretary of Defense William Cohen said in Washington on 16 June that "if there is a continuation of the killing [in Kosova], I think there will be a very strong tendency to reach a consensus [within NATO] quickly, rather than engaging in an endless debate." A Pentagon spokesman said that the issues of terrorist activity and the withdrawal of Serbian forces should not be linked and that Milosevic was trying to create "a loophole" by doing so in the Moscow declaration. A White House spokesman said that "there is no justification for continuation of the brutal campaign of violence by Serbian security forces, and the withdrawal of Serbian security forces is fundamental." He added that Milosevic's promises nonetheless constitute a "step in the right direction." PM


Kosovar spokesmen said in Prishtina on 16 June that Milosevic is "trying to buy time" by making promises in Moscow. They added that his offer of talks is without significance because the Kosovars refuse to meet with Serbian negotiators as long as the repression continues. A spokesman for shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said the following day that "before Milosevic makes easy promises that he is for dialogue..., he has to withdraw special units from Kosova and stop the ethnic cleansing." The spokesman added that the Kosovars are "very interested" in dialogue but added that they believe "that only NATO intervention can create conditions for serious talks between Prishtina and Belgrade." Elsewhere, "The Guardian" reported on 16 June that elite British SAS units have arrived in Macedonia to help guide NATO aircraft to their targets should the Atlantic alliance intervene against Serbia. PM


A spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) told the BBC Television on 17 June that Rugova, who rejects violence, is a "defeatist" and "an obstacle to Kosova's independence." He added that Belgrade must withdraw its troops from Kosova and release political prisoners as a precondition for talks. The spokesman added that the UCK is fighting for a "pluralistic and democratic Kosova." FS


Paskal Milo told a UN conference in Rome on 16 June that Serbia is conducting "genocidal massacres" and pursuing "an institutionalized policy of genocide [and] of state terrorism realized through the military, paramilitary, and police machinery against [Kosovar] Albanians." He added that Kosovars are "becoming the victims of a policy of ethnic cleansing" and stressed that armed resistance by the Albanian population against this policy "can never be identified with so-called terrorism." The Rome conference focused on plans to establish a permanent International Criminal Court to try war crimes. FS


Serbian forces in the border area between Kosova and Albania fired on refugees trying to flee to Albania, killing at least one person, CNN reported on 17 June. A spokesman for the OSCE added that his organization is concerned that many refugees may be trapped inside Kosova because few people arrived in Albania on the morning of 17 June. The previous day, Serbian troops shot and killed an Albanian citizen inside Albanian territory, the Albanian Interior Ministry said in a statement. Refugees crossing into northeastern Albania said that Serbian military helicopters on 15 June opened fire on them with heavy machine guns and grenades. The Kosovars added that one of the helicopters bore the insignia of the Red Cross and attacked a group of refugees in the mountains of Kosova, killing at least two people. Meanwhile in Tirana, spokesmen for the Albanian Air Force said that maneuvers will take place on 19 June at the capital's airport. FS


Daan Everts, who is the OSCE ambassador to Albania, told the Dutch TV station "Nova" that he has received a "cruel report" from refugees that Serbian police have put an unspecified number of Kosovars in concentration camps, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 17 June. He added that the report has not been independently confirmed but stressed that it "rang alarm bells" and that an investigation is urgently needed. Elsewhere, Euronews Television reported on 17 June that Serbian police have started rounding up Kosovar males. The broadcast likened the practice to Serbian policies during the Bosnian conflict. FS


The Republika Srpska parliament on 16 June elected Socialist Petar Djokic speaker and Safet Bico of the Party of Democratic Action his deputy. They replace hard-line Serbian nationalists, whom the parliament removed from office earlier the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 1998). Bico told the Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" that he recognizes it was difficult for many Serbian deputies to vote for a Muslim and thanked them for doing so. He added that his election constitutes "a step forward for democracy and toward European standards of human rights in the Republika Srpska." In Sarajevo, spokesmen for the new moderate Bosnian Croat political party, led by Kresimir Zubak, said that the organization will be called the New Croatian Initiative, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Unidentified persons crossing into Croatia from Serbia east of Osijek killed two members of a regular Croatian police patrol, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on 16 June. In Zagreb, several thousand teachers demonstrated against the government's education policies. The office of the Zagreb Archbishopric said in a statement that the Roman Catholic Church opposes both the strike and the government's decision to end the school year early, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


The parliamentary group of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) on 16 June decided to submit to the parliament on 26 June a draft law that would set up a Hungarian language state university in Transylvania However, also on 16 June, four members of the group presented a bill establishing the university, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. UDMR chairman Bela Marko said the decision two days earlier of the Cluj Babes Bolyai University Senate to oppose the government's decision to set up a faculty for Hungarian language and literature was "an enormous gaffe" that strengthened the demand for a separate university for the Hungarian minority. Marko said the UDMR will leave the coalition if the ruling parties do not respect agreements that were made when the coalition was formed. MS


Meeting in St. Petersburg on 16 June, Moldovan parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov, State Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev, and Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev agreed that a new basic treaty between the two countries must be drafted to replace the 1990 treaty, which has not been ratified by the Duma. Seleznev and Stroev told Diacov that the latter document is "historically outdated" and includes provisions that are now "disputable". The Transdniester separatists say the treaty is invalid because it does not take into consideration the "reality" of their statehood. Diacov proposed that the countries' Foreign Ministries start negotiations on striking "outdated provisions" from the document. Meanwhile, Gazprom has made good its threat to reduce gas deliveries to Moldova by 50 percent following Moldova's failure to pay its debt, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS


by Fabian Schmidt

Besides facing an influx of thousands of Kosovar refugees, Albania is confronted with a security threat from outside that could significantly undermine its stability, deepen internal divisions, and trigger new unrest.

This threat is particularly acute after last year's riots in Albania. As anarchy spread throughout the country, large parts of the population destroyed all manner of government property, soldiers deserted and brought the army to near collapse, and arms depots were looted.

When Albania's new Socialist Party-dominated government took office in summer 1997, it had to rebuild administrative structures, in particular the police force and customs, and launch reforms to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law. One priority was to accelerate economic development, largely by improving ties with Albania's Balkan neighbors.

Part of the new strategy was to seek to develop a dialog with then Serbian, now Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Before a summit of Balkan leaders in Crete last November, Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano announced he would like to discuss with Milosevic the possibility of closer cooperation between the two countries, adding that the Kosova problem should be addressed in a productive "European spirit."

But during the summit, it became clear that Milosevic was ready neither for a rapprochement with Albania nor to make use of Tirana's new approach to try to solve the "Kosova problem" in a peaceful manner. Indeed, subsequent developments suggest that Nano made a political mistake. Even though he was praised by Western countries for his courage, the Crete summit backfired in three ways.

First, the vast majority of the Kosova Albanians saw his efforts at improving ties with Belgrade as treason and as an attempt to sell out Kosova for minor economic interests. Second, this perception was strengthened by the domestic Albanian opposition, which claimed Tirana was betraying national interests. The opposition, led by former President Sali Berisha, also charged that it was unrealistic for the government to think Milosevic could be regarded as a serious negotiating partner. And third, Milosevic took Nano's policy as a sign of Tirana's weakness and opted for confrontation rather than reconciliation.

Less than two months after the Crete summit, Belgrade used force to crack down on student demonstrations in Prishtina, sending a clear sign to Tirana that its policy of reconciliation had failed. This accelerated the spiral of violence that had slowly emerged over the previous eight years. At the same time, the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) stepped up its activities, realizing that the peaceful policy of Kosova shadow state of President Ibrahim Rugova was all but bankrupt and that Tirana had now officially turned its back on Prishtina's demand for independence. Berisha had supported that demand during his presidency from 1992 to 1997.

Belgrade, for its part, used the UCK's increased activities as an excuse to accelerate its policy of confrontation and to start a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Drenica region in February. The following month, the Kosova shadow state held elections, which the Kosova Albanian opposition criticized as undemocratic, giving the UCK another argument against Rugova's political legitimacy. With the growing fragmentation among Kosovars, Milosevic felt confident enough to start his latest campaign of ethnic cleansing. As a result, there are currently about 45,000 displaced persons in Kosova, some 13,000 Kosovar refugees in Albania, and another 9,000 or so in Montenegro.

Tirana now finds itself in a difficult situation. On the one hand, it is sticking to its position of favoring a peaceful solution through dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade. On the other, it is faced with a conflict that has already transformed its northern, mountainous region into a hinterland for foreign guerrillas.

The Albanian government knows full well that its military will be unable to control the country's northern border to prevent the UCK from using Albania as a base. Similarly, it has failed to establish the rule of law in the north. That remote region is notorious for blood feuds, and many observers have compared it to the Wild West in 19th century America. But armed resistance to Serbia is "self- defense against a genocidal war," Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo commented on 16 June.

The government is now seeking to contain the situation in the north by establishing police controls on the roads leading to the region and by clamping down on arms smuggling inside Albania. At the same time, it has built large refugee camps in the inaccessible northern region, rather than bringing the refugees to the lowland plains, which are easier to supply with food and temporary accommodation and from where the refugees could head to destinations of their own choosing.

For the time being, that policy is keeping most refugees outside the cities of central Albania. It also gives many Albanians the impression that Kosova is still far away, although Albanian citizens have been quick to respond to appeals from a pro-Berisha radio station for donations of food and money to help the refugees.

But the policy could nonetheless backfire. Concentrating Kosovars, who are already critical of Tirana's policies toward Milosevic, in the north, whose population tends to be pro-Berisha and anti-Socialist, could lead to a radicalization of northern Albanians. Many of those living in Albania's north have relatives in Kosova, including UCK fighters.