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Newsline - July 23, 1998


Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 22 July announced that the government plans to help Russian oil companies, but only after the parliament has approved a package of measures to boost budget revenues and cut spending, Russian news agencies reported. He was responding to an appeal signed by several oil companies warning that government policies could lead to economic disaster and social unrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1998). The statement was issued a few days after President Boris Yeltsin vetoed a law that would have cut excise duties on oil from 55 rubles ($8.8) per ton to 25 rubles per ton. ITAR- TASS quoted an unidentified high-ranking government official as saying the excise rate may be reduced to 40 rubles, but not lower, given Russia's current budgetary constraints. Oil companies say they need help to compensate for slumping oil prices on world markets. LB


Within hours after the release of the statement, purportedly signed by Gazprom and several oil companies, the Gazprom press service blasted the "unauthorized use" of the company's name. A spokesman for Sidanko told ITAR-TASS that that company's head also did not sign the appeal. (Oneksimbank, which generally supports the government, owns a controlling stake in Sidanko.) Semen Kukes, president of the Tyumen Oil Company, told Russian news agencies his company and others including Gazprom signed a different version of the appeal to Yeltsin and the government. He said that version did not include "accusations against international financial organizations or Russian government agencies." Kukes also said the Tyumen Oil Company does not believe that pressure from abroad forced the president to veto the law on excise duties for oil. LB


"Vremya-MN" on 23 July published side by side the oil companies' statement and an alleged early draft of the document. The first draft asks Yeltsin to withdraw his veto of the law reducing excise duties for oil and warns that government policies will increase the tax burden, but it does not blame international financial organizations. Of the companies associated with the statement, only LUKoil and Yukos confirmed on 22 July that they signed the version released to the press, "Vremya-MN" reported. But "Kommersant- Daily" said Yukos, along with Sibneft, refused to confirm that they support the publicized version of the appeal. That newspaper claimed LUKoil released the statement too early, before confirming that other companies were ready for a "confrontation." An official from an unidentified oil company told "Kommersant-Daily" that the appeal was conceived as a "serious lobbying action" but turned out to be a "farce." LB


Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev told journalists on 22 July that the IMF did not demand that Russia triple Pension Fund contributions by individuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1998). He said that a memorandum signed recently by Russian and IMF officials demanded only that the Pension Fund's budget be balanced, Russian news agencies reported. He said the government's steps are aimed at reducing the fund's deficit from the current 16 billion rubles ($2.6 billion) to 5 billion rubles by the end of the year. Interfax quoted unnamed government sources as saying the government must report to the IMF by 15 September on steps taken to balance the Pension Fund's budget. The sources said the IMF may delay the next tranche of its $11.2 billion stabilization loan to Russia if the government's policies do not bring "tangible results." LB


Citing unidentified government sources, Interfax reported on 22 July that State Duma Economic Policy Committee Chairman Yurii Maslyukov has been appointed trade and industry minister. Maslyukov, a former head of the state planning agency Gosplan during the Soviet period, is considered among the more moderate members of the Communist faction in the Duma. He supported the confirmation of Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko in April, and his name was widely mentioned for a possible cabinet post at that time. Maslyukov refused to confirm his appointment on 22 July, and the following morning, the presidium of the Communist Party's Central Committee issued a statement saying Maslyukov's participation in the government is "impossible," ITAR- TASS reported. An unnamed Communist source told the news agency that Maslyukov has pledged to abide by party discipline, despite his belief that not allowing him to join the government is a "mistake." LB


Several Russian newspapers have recently reported that Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko may join the government. Kirienko announced on 18 July that the cabinet may bring in experienced people from the regions. In an interview published in "Vremya-MN" on 20 July, Nazdratenko said he has held talks on a possible cabinet post. But he added that he does not want to serve in the "gendarmes," suggesting he has only been offered jobs related to military or security issues. Nazdratenko recently proposed that the government temporarily halt internal debt servicing in order to pay wage arrears. He told "Vremya-MN" that Russian banks that hold government treasury bills would "understand" the need for such a policy. "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 22 July that Nazdratenko's popularity in Primore has been waning, and he faces uncertain prospects in a gubernatorial election next year. LB


Aslan Maskhadov received minor injuries when a radio-controlled bomb exploded in central Grozny on 23 July as his armor- plated Chevrolet was driving past, RFE/RL's Grozny correspondent reported. One of Maskhadov's bodyguards died in the attack, and two others were injured. Speaking at a press conference after receiving hospital treatment, Maskhadov said the attack on him was intended to discredit the state of emergency currently in force in Chechnya. He vowed that he will not change his political course. Chechen security officials declined to speculate on who perpetrated the attack. LF


Said Amirov escaped unharmed when unidentified attackers launched a grenade attack on his office in the Dagestani capital on 22 July, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. It was the fifth attempt to kill Amirov, who is confined to a wheelchair after being seriously injured in a previous attack. LF


Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov began a five-day visit to China on 22 July by meeting briefly with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to discuss bilateral trade, ITAR-TASS reported. Zhu called Primakov " a great friend of the Chinese people." Primakov later held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, and discussed, among other things, the situation in South Asia following the nuclear tests conducted recently by India and Pakistan. Later, at an informal meeting, the two leaders discussed the Kosova crisis, the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Primakov said the main issue discussed by him and Tang was the informal meeting of Chinese President Jiang Zemin with Yeltsin in Moscow, scheduled for 4 September. BP


"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 July that Russia is in the final stages of a concluding a contract to sell India the aircraft carrier "Admiral Gorshkov." The selling price is reported at $2 billion. The ship, which was completed in 1978, is designed to carry 16 Yak-38 aircraft as well as 19 Ka-27 and three Ka-25 helicopters. According to the daily, India is likely to have British Harrier VTOL planes aboard. BP


The Defense Ministry on 22 July accused Duma Security Committee Chairman and Communist faction member Viktor Ilyukhin of seeking to destabilize the country, news agencies reported. The previous day, Ilyukhin called on servicemen "not to fulfill orders, not to disarm, and not to leave military settlements if those demobilized are not provided with housing and compensations." The Defense Ministry Statement accuses Ilyukhin of "encouraging anarchy and subverting the battle-readiness of the armed forces." Ilyukhin became leader of the Movement to Support the Army earlier this month, following the murder of its founder, former Duma Defense Chairman Lev Rokhlin. In an interview published in the 23 July "Sovetskaya Rossiya," Ilyukhin claimed that Tamara Rokhlina, who was charged with killing her husband, has changed her testimony and is now claiming that the murder was carried out by three men in masks who threatened her not to tell anyone. BT


Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, a senior aide to Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov, says there is no connection between Rokhlin's murder on 3 July and three burned corpses found in the woods about 1 kilometer from the dacha where he was killed. Some Russian media have speculated that the corpses were hitmen who were killed after murdering the Duma deputy. But Zvyaginstev said forensic tests showed that the three men died two weeks before Rokhlin's murder, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 July. He added that two men have already been arrested for killing the men found in the woods and have confessed to the crime. Some Russian media have argued that bodies in wooded areas near several dachas could not have gone undetected for weeks. LB


Commenting on the recent confession of four people to the murder last year of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Manevich, Vladimir Yakovlev said he believes that the "real assassins of Manevich have long been dead," Russian news agencies reported on 22 July. One person was arrested in Uzbekistan on 11 July, and the other three a few days later in Kyrgyzstan. Citing the fact that the four have been charged with multiple contract killings, Yakovlev said the suspects will confess to anything, because "they do not care" if they are tried for one murder or more. Yakovlev added that the authorities must find the "customer" who ordered Manevich killed. At the time of the murder, some observers believed Manevich was murdered in connection with his position as head of the city Property Committee, while others thought the killing was politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 16 September 1997). BT


The Prosecutor-General's Office has closed the criminal case against Petr Karpov, deputy head of the Federal Bankruptcy Service, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 22 July. Prosecutors did not clear Karpov of charges that he took a 5 million ruble ($870) bribe from an enterprise in Saratov in 1994. Instead, his crime was reclassified as "abuse of office" instead of bribery, allowing his case to fall under a wide-ranging amnesty declared in December 1997. Many observers argued that the case against Karpov was fabricated to prevent him from disclosing information about how companies hide their profits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 30 May 1997). Karpov has repeatedly denied the bribery charges, but in a telephone interview with RFE/RL on 22 July, he said he does not plan further attempts to urge law enforcement authorities to confirm his innocence. LB


The Supreme Court on 21 July overturned a ruling by the Supreme Court of the Republican of Bashkortostan, which had upheld the legality of rescheduling the republican presidential election for 14 June. The high court asked the Bashkortostan court to consider the case again. Incumbent Murtaza Rakhimov easily won the race, but critics subsequently filed suit, charging that the election date was illegally moved up, "Vremya-MN" reported on 22 July. Had the vote been held in December, when Rakhimov's term was due to expire, the incumbent would have been ineligible to run for re- election. Acting on an inquiry from the Bashkortostan legislature, the republican Constitutional Court recently approved the rescheduling of the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 1998). But "Vremya-MN" said either the Bashkortostan or federal Supreme Court could still annul the election. LB


Aleksei Simonov, the head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, and more than a dozen prominent human rights activists have urged prominent chess players and national chess federations to boycott the upcoming World Chess Olympic Games in Elista, Kalmykia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 22 July. Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov also heads the world chess federation FIDE. In an open letter, the human rights activists repeat allegations widely publicized in the Russian media, saying the "Chess City," where the games will take place, was built with money misappropriated from federal funds to Kalmykia and child allowances meant for the republic's residents. The appeal also notes that last month, the body of Larisa Yudina, the editor of "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya," was found in a pond next to the "Chess City." Yudina's newspaper was the only publication in Kalmykia that regularly criticized and investigated Ilyumzhinov's administration. LB


Nine members of the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in Abkhazia under CIS auspices were seriously injured on 22 July when their armored personnel carrier hit a land mine, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi. Speaking to journalists on 22 July, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said that Tbilisi will ask neither for the peacekeepers' mandate to be extended when it expires on 31 July nor for their immediate withdrawal. Menagharishvili said that at the upcoming UN-mediated talks in Geneva on resolving on the Abkhaz conflict, he will demand that the May fighting in Gali Raion be condemned as genocide against the Georgian civilian population. He will also demand that the Abkhaz side be censored for its alleged failure to comply with the 25 May protocol on a cease-fire and the repatriation of displaced persons forced to flee during the Gali fighting. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 22 July, Robert Kocharian noted positive economic trends during the first six months of 1998 but conceded that these will lead to an improvement in living standards only in two or three years, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian predicted that political stability and popular trust will enable him to achieve a major improvement in the country's political and economic situation over that period. He added that Armenia's position on negotiating a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict has become clearer and "more constructive" since his election as president in March, but he denied that it is tougher than that of Azerbaijan. And he said that the sole remaining obstacle to Armenia's admission to full membership in the Council of Europe is the fact that the death penalty has not yet been abolished. LF


The results of a recent opinion poll conducted in Tbilisi and summarized by Caucasus Press on 22 July suggest that if presidential elections were held in Georgia tomorrow, incumbent Eduard Shevardnadze would not receive the required 50 percent plus one vote to secure reelection in the first round. Of those questioned, 41.4 percent named Shevardnadze as the most popular political figure in the country, while 9 percent opted for parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and 8.5 percent for opposition National Democratic Party of Georgia leader Irina Sarishvili-Chantura. (The last two are both under 35 and therefore too young to run for president.) Support for Shevardnadze is lower in rural areas than in the capital. Union of Traditionalists chairman and potential presidential candidate Akaki Asatiani has reaffirmed his intention to collect signatures to demand Shevardnadze's resignation. LF


Valerii Kvaratskhelia has been summoned to the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office after publishing an interview with former Georgian National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Georgian capital reported on 22 July. Kvaratskhelia will be questioned about the venue of his meeting with Giorgadze, who fled Georgia in 1995. Russian officials have consistently denied that he is residing in Russia. Giorgadze is wanted for questioning in connection with the failed car bomb attack on then Georgian parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze on 25 August 1995 as well as for the killings of a prominent opposition politician and a close associate of Shevardnadze. In the recent interview, Giorgadze again denies any involvement in those crimes. He also accuses Shevardnadze of imposing a dictatorship. LF


The Tajik government has set up a special commission charged with investigating the murders of four UN employees, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. The commission must report their findings to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov within 10 days. Rakhmonov has also ordered additional protection for workers of foreign organizations in Tajikistan. BP


A tanker truck belonging to the Kumtor Mining Company spilled some 70 liters of nitric acid along the road from Tokmak (outside Bishkek) to Issyk Kul, on 22 July, ITAR-TASS reported. A statement from Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Emergencies claims there is no environmental damage. A truck belonging to the same company spilled 1.7 tons of sodium cyanide into the Barskoon River, near Issyk Kul, in late May. BP


Kazakh National Security Committee agents on 22 July met with armed resistance from police in the Jetysu District of Almaty when they attempted to arrest a policeman caught in the act of taking a bribe, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The agents were conducting an undercover operation, but the policeman's colleagues came his aid and shooting ensued. There are no reports of casualties. This was the second clash between Kazakh law enforcement agencies since President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared war on corruption earlier this month. BP


The Ukrainian delegation to the working group that is preparing proposals for a fundamental reform of CIS structures has advocated drastically reducing areas of cooperation between CIS member states, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 July. It proposes excluding from such cooperation political, military, border protection, military-technical, humanitarian, legal, exchange of information, ecology, and collective security issues. Instead, the Ukrainian representation wants to transform the CIS into a mechanism for economic cooperation, provided that its structures do not duplicate those of other European and international bodies and hinder the integration of CIS member countries into those bodies. Fundamental disagreements have also arisen between the various CIS member states over the best approach to reforming and redefining the duties of the CIS Inter-State Economic Committee and the Executive Secretariat. LF


Russia's Primorskii Krai has formed a team to coordinate cooperation between the region and Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 July. The Russian region plans to supply Belarus with fish and other sea products as well as products from its defense plants. In return, Belarus is ready to supply agricultural machinery, tractors and trucks, textiles, and footwear. Primorskii Krai and Belarus are also considering introducing weekly flights between Vladivostok and Minsk. JM


At a 22 July session of the Ukrainian-U.S. Cooperation Commission chaired by Ukrainian President Kuchma and Al Gore, the U.S. vice president said that economic reforms are most critical to Ukraine now and that the U.S. will assist Kyiv in implementing them, ITAR-TASS reported. Kuchma called on Gore to support a Ukrainian project to transport Caspian Sea oil to the West. He also appealed for more cooperation in aircraft, space, and missile technologies, AP reported. With regard to Kyiv's appeal for financial assistance, Kuchma said that "Ukraine's financial crisis is no less complex and [no less] threatening than [that] in Russia." Ukraine is negotiating a $2.5 billion loan from the IMF and hopes for U.S. support. Gore promised that the U.S. will seek to help Kyiv receive that loan, but he added that "bold reform is critical for Ukraine's ability to reach a successful conclusion in its negotiations with the IMF." JM


Kuchma and Gore also discussed the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. Ukraine has pledged to shut down Chornobyl's only working reactor by 2000 in return for $1.2 billion to compensate for lost energy. At a joint news conference with Kuchma on 22 July, Gore said the U.S. "will be able to help [Ukraine] replace that power." Kuchma confirmed that Ukraine has decided to close the plant but remained non-committal about the date. During their talks, Kuchma and Gore agreed to set up a joint commission to study the effects of radiation at Chornobyl. On 23 July, Gore will visit the nuclear plant site and the nearby town of Prypyat, all of whose residents were evacuated following the April 1986 accident. JM


The Belarusian State Press Committee has warned the Belarusian-language biweekly "Nasha Niva" not to use the old-style Belarusian spelling, which was banned by the Soviet authorities in 1933. The newspaper, launched in Vilnius in 1991 by editor Syarhey Dubavets, uses that spelling, which, Dubavets says, is less Russified than the spelling rules introduced under Josef Stalin's orders. "The 1933 language reform had a repressive rather than literary character," Dubavets told Reuters on 22 July. The press committee maintains that "Nasha Niva" is disobeying Belarusian law by not adopting the "common literary language." The Higher Economic Court, which banned the opposition newspaper "Svaboda" last year, is to consider the committee's complaint against "Nasha Niva" on 12 August. JM


The Belarusbank will issue credits to its depositors to buy clothes and stationery for their children attending primary and secondary schools, Belarusian Television reported on 21 July. Such credits will not exceed 50 minimum wages (some $300) and will be granted for nine months at a 35 percent annual interest. The credit will be given "chiefly on a noncash basis" by taking into account the parents' "solvency." JM


Lithuania has received strong praise from the Executive Directors of the IMF for its implementation of economic reforms and the robust growth of its economy, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 23 July. The IMF noted that Lithuania's economy grew by nearly 6 percent in 1997 and was approaching 7 percent in the first quarter of this year. Industrial production rose by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, while inflation fell to 6 percent for the 12 months ending 30 June. Moreover, Lithuania's budget deficit was reduced to 1.8 percent of GDP in 1997. One problem singled out by the IMF was the need to reform the Lithuanian Social Security Agency. The fund urged improvements in the tax system to secure pension revenues and the speedy raising of the retirement age, which, it said, would strengthen the agency's medium- term financial sustainability. JC


Poland will spend more than 8 billion zlotys ($2.3 billion) by 2003 to upgrade its armed forces to NATO standards, Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz told Reuters on 22 July. The sum will be used to buy communication equipment and integrate air control and air defense systems with NATO. Poland's 15-year military modernization program calls for down-sizing the Polish army and upgrading its equipment and training level. Poland's military personnel will be cut from 240,000 to 180,000 in five years. Poland will keep its current armory of 1,720 tanks, 1,422 armored personnel carriers, and 1,581 artillery pieces but will reduce its fleet of 350 aging Soviet- made aircraft. JM


Bronislaw Geremek told a joint meeting of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and National Defense Commissions on 22 July that Poland would take part in NATO intervention in Kosova if the UN agreed to such an action. PAP reports that Geremek's stance was shared by both commissions. Asked about the form of Poland's participation in possible intervention, Geremek said the main thing is to express solidarity with NATO and that "this is a political decision." JM


President Vaclav Havel on 22 July appointed the 19-member minority government headed by Milos Zeman, CTK reported. All but one of the cabinet members are Social Democratic Party (CSSD) members. The exception is Justice Minister Otakar Motejl, who is an independent. Also on 22 July, Havel appointed Eliska Wagnerova as Supreme Court chairwoman. Wagnerova replaces Motejl, who will continue to chair the Supreme Court till the end of July. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky will head the Justice Ministry until that date. In other news, Vaclav Klaus, the leader of the main opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and new chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, said on 21 July that the ODS and the CSSD will examine ways of changing the present proportional election system to a majority one. Klaus said this did not mean that early elections are necessarily contemplated. MS


The death toll of the 20-21 July floods in northeastern Slovakia has risen to 34, with 40 people still missing, Reuters reported on 22 July, quoting Interior Minister Gustav Krajci. About half of the victims, most of whom were Roma, are children. In other news, Reuters reported on 22 July that a poll conducted by the private MARKANT institute in the first half of July shows the four opposition parties are likely to win a combined total of 62 percent of the vote in the 25-26 September elections. The poll puts the main opposition party, the Slovak Democratic Coalition (23.4 percent), ahead of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (22.8 percent). MS


Janos Vargha, chief adviser to the Hungarian government on environmental protection, told Reuters on 22 July that the September 1997 verdict of the International Court of Justice in The Hague does not oblige Hungary to continue construction work at the controversial Gabcikovo- Nagymaros dam. He said "the most important element of the court's verdict is that nothing must be further built, and what has already been built can only be operated if we observe environmental protection demands." Vargha was a founding member of the Danube Circle environmental group and a leader of the 1989 demonstrations that helped topple the communist regime. He was also involved in protests against the previous government's negotiations with Slovakia following the international court's ruling. MS


Serbian forces consolidated their control over central Rahovec on 22 July as fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) retreated northward. Euronews Television said on 23 July that Rahovec is almost deserted except for Serbian troops. A police official told reporters the previous day that "security was established in the town from Tuesday night." In Prishtina, spokesmen for shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova called on international humanitarian organizations to persuade the Serbian authorities to open a corridor to Rahovec so that the Kosovars can evacuate their wounded. PM


Rugova said in Prishtina on 22 July that the Serbian forces recently carried out "massacres" on civilians in Rahovec, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Spokesmen for the Kosovar Committee for the Defense of Human Rights charged that "eyewitnesses talk of huge massacres conducted by the army, the police, and paramilitary units.... The situation in Rahovec is catastrophic." Two eyewitnesses said that, when they emerged from several days of hiding, they saw 10 tractors removing bodies, AP wrote. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" also reported Kosovar claims of massacres and of public executions but noted that the charges have not been independently confirmed. PM


Serbian soldiers on 22 July fired on the house of the village elder of Dobrun, which is located in the Has Mountains, on the Albanian side of the border. The attack was carried out with heavy machine guns and lasted for about an hour, "Koha Jone" reported. Meanwhile near Padesh, on the Yugoslav side of the frontier, Serbian forces fired several mortar shells into Albanian territory. No one was injured. The same day, the Serbian authorities declined to attend a meeting of the bilateral border commission that the Albanian authorities had requested after Serbian forces recently fired shells into Albanian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 20 July 1998). Serbian officials argued that the proposed meeting place along the border is not safe, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. In Kukes, Albanian border police said that Serbian forces have begun laying anti-personnel mines along the border to prevent refugees from entering Albania. FS


Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic said on 22 July in Belgrade that the authorities have extended the border security zone from a few hundred yards to 3 miles. Bulatovic added that "Albania must be moved farther away" from Kosova because, he charged, the Albanian authorities have not prevented the UCK from infiltrating fighters and guns into Yugoslavia. He added: "I am sorry for the state of Albania. They have so many economic, political and social problems that you cannot take anything they say seriously. It sounds pretty funny when [the Albanian authorities] say they do not know anything about 1,000 armed men crossing their territory and about the existence of terrorist training camps, yet they managed to calculate exactly that three shells [recently] fell on their territory," Reuters reported. PM


German diplomat Hans-Jorg Eiff said in Belgrade on 22 July that major humanitarian problems could arise if the fighting does not end soon. Eiff had just returned from leading a 12-member OSCE delegation on a seven-day trip through Kosova. He added that he foresees "a great risk of major problems of the humanitarian kind and that the crisis might really escalate in winter." Eiff stressed that the two sides "are obviously no longer capable of finding the solution alone... [and that] the focus of attention of international efforts must be to alleviate the misery of the people" of all ethnic groups. PM


Leaders of the Union for Democracy coalition, whose principal member is the Democratic Party, announced on 22 July in Tirana that local government leaders belonging to their parties will communicate with the Socialist-led central government only in writing. Democratic leader Sali Berisha said that no party official will attend any more meetings with appointees of the Tirana-based government, including regional prefects. The Democrats govern 48 out of Albania's 64 municipalities. Berisha said that "this is a government of enemies and has to be treated accordingly." He added that those Democratic officials who do not accept the decision should leave the party, "Shekulli" reported. FS


NATO peacekeepers arrested the brothers Predrag and Nenad Banovic in Prijedor on 22 July, a spokeswoman for SFOR said in Sarajevo the next day. She declined to identify the nationality of the soldiers, BBC Television noted. The two men were flown immediately to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where they are wanted for grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, torture or inhumane treatment, unlawful confinement, and other crimes at the Keraterm concentration camp near Prijedor, where they were guards during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. PM


Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, announced in Sarajevo on 22 July that the law on privatization prepared by his office has taken effect. The move came shortly after the joint parliament rejected the draft. Bosnian Serb legislators boycotted the vote, saying that privatization is a prerogative of each of the two entities and not of joint institutions. Elsewhere, city authorities have processed only 600 out of 7,000 requests by former residents of Sarajevo to return to their old homes, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic in Washington on 22 July that his country could be admitted to NATO's Partnership for Peace program by the end of 1998 if it carries out a series of measures aimed at promoting democratization in a multi-ethnic society. These include allowing the return of refugees, ensuring the freedom of electronic and other media, promoting the rule of law and a civil society, and guaranteeing free elections, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the U.S. capital. She also insisted that Zagreb meet its obligations under the Dayton agreement. PM


White House spokesman Michael McCurry on 22 July said the U.S. "judges very optimistically" Romania's "potential" for NATO membership but added that "we have not reached the stage where we can move towards granting membership at this point," an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. McCurry said that during recent meetings with President Emil Constantinescu, U.S. officials said that Washington is prepared to do "everything we can" to "help prepare Romania for membership" and that the door "is open" to Romania's eventual membership. MS


George Danielescu, who was finance minister and represented the national Liberal Party (PNL) in Theodor Stolojan's cabinet in 1991-1992, has been indicted for fraud and embezzlement, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 21 July. The Prosecutor-General's Office said Danielescu used money from an investment fund that he managed in order to promote his own interests or the interests of companies in which he had a stake. The SAFI investment fund was closed down in March 1996 and investors suffered large losses. Meanwhile, PNL deputy chairman Valeriu Stoica on 22 July said after a meeting of the party's Steering Bureau that the PNL opposes incumbent Finance Minister Daniel Daianu's intention to raise taxes in August and his plans to raise property taxes next year. Stoica said the bureau has not discussed Daianu's threat to resign "since we do not discuss intentions." MS


Ion Sturdza on 21 July said Moldova will pay its share of the country's debt to Gazprom by means of government bonds and shares in a joint venture to be set up with the Russian gas company, ITAR-TASS reported. The debt for the past five years exceeds $600 million, of which Chisinau owes $209 million and Tiraspol the remainder. Sturdza said the bonds, which have a nominal value of $80-90 million, will carry a 7.5 percent interest rate. In 1995, Moldova paid off part of its debt to Gazprom by transferring 50 percent of its shares in the Gaztranzit joint venture (which transports Russian gas to the Balkans) and through bonds worth $140 with a 7.5 percent interest rate. Sturdza was speaking on his return from Moscow, where he held talks with the Gazprom management. MS


Ion Lesan, who is currently ambassador to Belarus, will be appointed chief Moldovan negotiator in the parleys under way with Tiraspol over a settlement of the conflict between Moldova and the Transdniester, Infotag reported on 22 July. The appointment was agreed to by the separatists during the meeting between President Petru Lucinschi and Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov earlier this week. Anatol Taranu, who formerly headed the Moldovan delegation at the negotiations, unsuccessfully ran for a parliamentary seat in the March elections. MS


by Patrick Moore

International media frequently portrayed then Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's wars in Croatia from 1991- 1995 and in Bosnia from 1992-1995 as the "inevitable result of ancient ethnic hatreds" and as a continuation of World War II. Experts on Balkan affairs subsequently debunked both of those ideas, showing that Serbs, Croats, and Muslims have lived together in relative harmony throughout the centuries and frequently intermarried. They also noted that the battle lines in World War II were not neatly drawn and that members of the three ethnic groups fought on all sides at various times and places during the conflict.

Kosova, however, is a different matter, although international media rarely report on its long history of inter-ethnic conflict. While the three Slavic peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina are of the same ethnic stock and share a common language, the Serbs and ethnic Albanians of Kosova are of different origins and literally--as well as figuratively--do not speak the same language. Historically, the two communities have tended to live apart rather than intermix, as is often the case in Bosnia.

Atrocities and counter-atrocities were committed by Serbs and Albanians alike during the Balkan Wars of 1912- 1913 as well as World Wars I and II. Tensions ran high between the two groups even in peacetime, during the short life of the Yugoslav kingdom from 1918-1941, when the Serbs sought to tighten control over the Albanian population. In Marshal Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia, the Serbs held sway in Kosova until 1966; after that, the Albanians enjoyed a wide measure of home rule until Milosevic put an end to it in 1990.

The legacy of mutual atrocities has reemerged in the course of the current conflict. In June, Western dailies reported that the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) had ended its policy of attacking only Serbian officials and Kosovars whom it regarded as collaborators and had begun targeting villages of innocent Serbian civilians as well. The Serbs of Kosova are a frightened minority, many of whom believe Milosevic has already sold them out, much as he did the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia in 1995. By attacking Serbian peasant villages, the UCK lost its claim to be a purely defensive organization.

In recent weeks, the "New York Times" and some other Western dailies have written that the Serbian forces in Kosova have introduced a policy of reprisal killings and abductions in response to UCK violence against Serbian paramilitary police. That development has accompanied the introduction of ethnic-cleansing techniques that Milosevic's forces honed in Croatia and Bosnia.

Three other developments also give ground for concern that the Kosovar conflict has possibly entered a new stage-- one that might herald the spread of the war to Macedonia and Albania.

First, the UCK has shown new self-confidence by launching an attack on the Serbian-held but mainly ethnic Albanian town of Rahovec (Orahovac in Serbo-Croatian) from 17-19 July. This is the first time that the UCK has departed from hit-and-run guerrilla tactics in mainly rural areas and has taken on the more heavily-armed Serbs in a conventional battle for a town. A UCK spokesman said bluntly that Rahovec was the "beginning of a war that will end in Prishtina."

Second, three powerful explosions took place in three different places in Macedonia in the early hours of 21 July. The blasts shook the capital Skopje as well as Kumanovo and Tabanovce, near the Yugoslav border. No one immediately claimed responsibility, but journalists were quick to suggest that the UCK were behind the attacks. Although UCK spokesmen have denied that they want to extend the conflict to Macedonia, many observers have long feared that militant UCK supporters among Macedonia's Albanian minority could turn to violence. Relations are tense between the Macedonians and the local Albanians, who make up some 25 percent of the population and who live primarily in western Macedonia. Third, the war of words between Belgrade and Tirana has heated up since early July. The Serbian authorities continue to say that the Albanian authorities allow the UCK to train and arm "terrorists" on Albanian territory. Recently, they have begun to claim that as many as 300 uniformed Albanian soldiers have entered Kosova to fight on the side of the UCK.

Tirana denied the charge, just as Belgrade rebuffed a claim made by Albania and confirmed by representatives of the OSCE that Serbian forces shelled Albanian territory on 18 July. But Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano went one step further on 21 July, when he openly called for international air strikes on Serbia in order to halt "Milosevic's war machine." Albania has not recovered from the anarchy that erupted in spring 1997 and its army is in no state of readiness to defend its borders against the more numerous as well as better-equipped and -trained Serbs. Nano's blunt public statement may reflect a real fear that his country will soon face an attack that it will be unable to fight off alone.