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Newsline - April 1, 1999


Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced on 31 March that Russia will send one warship from its Black Sea fleet to the Mediterranean on 2 April and that another six more are on stand-by "to ensure Russia's security when the Defense Ministry considers it necessary." In preparation, Russia has applied for permission from Turkish authorities for seven ships to sail through the Bosphorus, ITAR-TASS reported. Sergeev said recently that Russia will not get involved militarily in the Kosova conflict. Russian Television reported that gathering intelligence data in the region of the Yugoslav conflict will be one of the objectives of sending the ship or ships to the Mediterranean. According to the station, all the ships "are now being hastily refueled." "Izvestiya" responded with alarm to initial reports that seven vessels would be deployed, commenting that "threatening gestures" can play a positive role only if they are understood by those all round--the actions of the Russian military leadership "have succeeded in frightening mainly itself." JAC


The same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov charged the U.S. with "making practical plans to separate [Kosova] from Yugoslavia." He also accused NATO of having already spent $3 billion on its military operations against Yugoslavia, money "that would have been more than sufficient to ease the social and economic tension" in Kosova. JAC


Members of the Federation Council voted unanimously on 31 March to support a statement condemning NATO "aggression" against Yugoslavia and recommending that the government provide economic and military assistance to Belgrade. However, the senators stopped short of suggesting that Russia send volunteers as some State Duma deputies had suggested, NTV reported. Kursk Governor and former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi proposed that Russia send 10 to 15 anti-aircraft missile systems, along with some defense specialists, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev expanded on his earlier suggestion that Russia form an anti-NATO bloc by saying that China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others might join. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed called for a joint session of both legislative chambers attended by members of the government to discuss a common approach to the Kosova crisis. JAC


While regional branches of the Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovskii have been active recruiting volunteers, issuing statements, and organizing protests, political parties to the right of the spectrum are also beginning to condemn NATO. According to ITAR-TASS on 31 March, the Gorno-Altai branch of Democratic Choice released a statement criticizing NATO for discrediting the idea of the United Nations. The Nizhnii Novgorod branch of the New Force movement, which is led by former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, issued a statement calling the U.S. "the mastermind and coordinator of this military aggression." It continued that the "U.S. is now trying to gain domination over Europe by means of the alliance's coercive actions." JAC


The Russian armed forces have announced a new conscription campaign starting from 1 April to 30 June, ITAR-TASS reported. The Defense Ministry reported that they hope to draft 168,776 men aged 18 to 27. According to the agency, last spring the draft totaled 190,000. On 31 March, Duma Defense Committee Chairman and member of Our Home Is Russia faction Roman Popkovich told reporters that he is hopeful the defense budget will be increased in 1999 since "deputies have once again realized the need to pay more attention to the armed forces." The same day, the Duma passed a resolution calling on the Security Council to discuss the relevance of Russia's military doctrine in light of the world's "new military and political order," Interfax reported. JAC


Popkovich also said that his committee has recommended that the country's national security concept be amended to make it similar to NATO's. According to Popkovich, such a revision would allow Russia to deliver a first nuclear strike "if the enemy's general-purpose forces exceed Russia's." Popkovich said earlier that Russia "must firmly avoid the formula that holds there will no war in the near future, particularly one using strategic nuclear forces," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 March. Popkovich added that "we must point out that the possibility of war using nuclear weapons exists." JAC


A full IMF mission will arrive in Moscow next week, First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer said on 31 March, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. According to Fischer, "a lot of details" remain to be worked out within the framework agreement and that process could easily take a month or more. Meanwhile, two leading Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dick Armey and Jim Saxton, called on the U.S. to "use its influence to deny any further IMF loans to Russia" until the fund has provided detailed accounting of how the last $4.8 billion installment to Russia was used. The same day, "Vremya MN" noted that fearing criticism from Republicans in the U.S. Congress, the fund is anxious to show that it is maintaining its pressure on Russia. But, the daily commented, leaks by Yevgenii Primakov's cabinet about the size of the loan under consideration and the relaxed atmosphere at recent talks has undermined this goal. JAC


As expected, President Boris Yeltsin has vetoed the controversial law on a "supreme council on the protection of morals in television and radio broadcasts," which the Federation Council and State Duma passed earlier this month, Russian media reported on 31 March. At the time, Kremlin officials had said the law was attempt to impose media censorship, and Yeltsin had issued a statement that the law "contradicts the basics of the Russian constitutional system and some federal laws." JAC


Liberal Democratic Party leader Zhirinovskii is now reportedly planning to run for governor of the Belgorod Oblast in western Russia, Russian Radio reported on 31 March. Earlier, Zhirinovskii had said that he would run for governor of Leningrad Oblast and more recently that he would vie for the top spot in Sverdlovsk Oblast. However, State Duma deputy and member of the Liberal Democratic faction Aleksei Mitrofanov said that the party has decided against participating in the gubernatorial elections in either Leningrad or Sverdlovsk Oblast because, he claimed, there is no guarantee that elections will definitely take place in these regions. The Belgorod elections are scheduled for 30 May. JAC


Citing sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry, "Segodnya" reported on 31 March that Russia is taking "practical steps aimed at the gradual withdrawal of military hardware from the Transdniester region of Moldova." According to these sources, the first batch of military equipment, "missile tugs" (vehicles that tow missiles), left the region on 27 March. The equipment, some of which will be sold commercially, is being withdrawn under the Russian-Moldovan protocol on military property issues signed in Odessa last March, the daily reported. JAC


A Moscow court has postponed the bankruptcy hearing for Inkombank, once Russia's largest bank in terms of individual deposits, until 27 May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 March. The court's decision will give depositors a chance to obtain at least some of their money and the bank leadership an opportunity to carry out its restructuring plan for the bank, the newspaper concluded. Experts estimate that the bank owes $3 billion, including some 5.7 billion rubles ($235 million) to private depositors, the "Moscow Times" reported on 1 April. According to the daily, former bank clients in Ryazan, Omsk, and Tatarstan received their savings after Inkombank collected funds owed by local companies and regional governments. JAC


Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel has announced preparations for next month's Russian Economic Forum, which Prime Minister Primakov has pledged to attend, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 March. Rossel hopes to use the forum to persuade the federal government to adopt a policy of amnestying Russian capital kept abroad. He claims to already have the support of Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko for the idea. In addition, Gerashchenko approved the opening of a branch of the Dresdner Bank in Sverdlovsk to provide a safe haven for local depositors leery of Russian commercial banks. JAC


Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Rozanov flew to Makhachkala on 1 April to take charge of the investigation into the killing the previous evening of Kurban Bulatov, Caucasus Press reported. LF


The leader of the Grozny Baptist Church, who disappeared in Grozny three weeks ago, has been beheaded. Later, his head was publicly displayed at a local market, Compass Direct reported on 31 March, citing sources in Grozny. The next day, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement calling for the unconditional release of two Russian priests kidnapped in Chechnya and Ingushetia on 27 and 28 March, Caucasus Press reported. LF


Alexander Arzoumanian told journalists in Yerevan on 31 March that last year's change of government has dealt a severe blow to Armenia's foreign policy, weakening the country's international standing. He said the administration of President Robert Kocharian has opted for the ideology of the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnak party, HHD), which favors a harder line on Turkey and the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. A close supporter of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, Arzoumanian served as Armenia's first ambassador to the UN in 1992-1996, before being appointed foreign minister in the fall of that year. He resigned in early February 1998, at the time of the standoff between Ter- Petrossian and then Prime Minister Robert Kocharian over the advisability of making concessions in the interest of resolving the Karabakh conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1998). LF


Tehran Radio on 30 March denied that Iran is engaged in "acts of sabotage" in Azerbaijan, terming such allegations an attempt to undermine relations between the two countries. On 29 March, Turan had quoted Azerbaijani National Security Minister Namig Abbasov as saying that Russia and Iran are conducting coordinated intelligence operations in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 1999). LF


Addressing a joint session of both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament on 31 March, Nursultan Nazarbaev described his country's approach to political and economic reform as "a program of stage-by-stage democratization," rejecting as inappropriate Western calls to speed up the transition, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev also rejected calls for "freezing" economic reforms in the light of the after- effects of last year's Russian economic crisis. Those developments, he said, should be the catalyst for further reforms. But at the same time he warned that Kazakhstan will not "cut corners" on the road to the free market. Reviewing implementation of the seven-point democratization program he proclaimed in September 1998, Nazarbaev announced the imminent adoption of new legislation defining the duties and powers of the president, government, and parliament as well as guaranteeing the freedom of the media and a new election law, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 1 April. LF


Nazarbaev said that under the new election law, 10 of the 77 seats in the lower chamber of parliament will be allocated under the proportional system, but he did not specify whether parties contesting these seats would have to poll a minimum percentage of the vote to qualify for parliamentary representation. He said the registration fee for parliamentary candidates will be lowered and the procedure for registration simplified. Nazarbaev added that the Central Electoral Commission will provide "instruction" for political parties in the runup to the parliamentary poll due in October, stressing that the date will not be brought forward. The newly created Orleu political movement, the People's Democratic Party, and Pokolenie Movement have addressed an open letter to the Kazakh parliament and government criticizing current election legislation as undemocratic and calling for its replacement, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 31 March. But Nazarbaev rejected their proposal that regional governors be elected not appointed by the president as a threat to social and economic stability. LF


After a four-month discussion, the parliament on 31 March approved amendments to the 1999 budget, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. Revenues are now set at 247.5 billion tenge ($2.83 billion), down from 283.8 billion tenge, according to Interfax. Planned spending was cut to 338.6 billion tenge. The budget deficit is equal to 3.7 percent of GDP. RFE/RL correspondents in Almay reported that the Workers' Movement staged a picket outside the veterans' pension office to protest the parliament's decision to eliminate privileges for veterans of World War II and the war in Afghanistan. LF


Nine people, including two passengers, were killed on 31 March when police and national security forces sought to free a bus hijacked by four gunmen in Khorezm, Reuters reported on 31 March, citing Uzbek state television. The gunmen were reportedly demanding the release of associates arrested on suspicion of perpetrating the 16 February bombings in Tashkent. Police and national security troops intercepted the bus in Bukhara Raion. Three of the hijackers were killed in the shootout, and the fourth arrested. LF


In their annual review of the Kyrgyz economy, the IMF Executive Directors have urged Kyrgyzstan to adopt a supplementary budget for 1999 to deal with pension arrears and budgetary expenses accumulated last year owing to the impact of the Russian financial crisis, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 1 April. The directors blamed the Russian financial crisis for the decline in Kyrgyzstan's economic growth to 2 percent and for accelerating inflation. At the same time, the directors praised Kyrgyz authorities for their strong, if belated, actions to tighten both fiscal and monetary policies. The directors reminded Kyrgyzstan of the need to guarantee social spending to help alleviate the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society. To assist in this effort, the IMF in early March added $12 million to the country's three-year enhanced structural adjustment loan of about $88 million that was approved last summer. LF


A district court in Bishkek ruled on 31 March that the independent weekly newspaper "Res Publica" must pay 200,000 som (approximately $6,670) in damages for insulting the honor and dignity of Amanbek Karypkulov, president of Kyrgyzstan's National Television and Radio Corporation, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 12 January, the newspaper had published an open letter from20 employees of the corporation to President Askar Akaev, Prime Minister Jumabek Ibraimov, and the speakers of both chambers of the parliament protesting that Karypkulov had repressed media freedom in his capacity as ideological secretary of the Kirghiz SSR Communist Party in the early 1980s and that he continues to do so now. "Res Publica" editor Zamira Sydykova said the newspaper will appeal the verdict. Karypkulov has brought a separate libel suit against the 20 signatories of the open letter. LF


Ukraine's debt to Russia's Gazprom has been reduced by 47.2 million to $1 billion since the beginning of this year, AP reported on 31 March, citing the Naftohaz state-run company. Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko said the previous day that Ukraine will suspend gas deliveries from Turkmenistan this week because the government does not have enough money to pay its gas debt to that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1999). JM


Ukraine has introduced a 1.5 percent customs duty on imported goods to fight the mounting heap of some 25 billion tons of plastic bottles and other packages in the country, Reuters reported on 31 March. "Ukraine is turning into a Central European rubbish bin," Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Vrublevskyy commented. A special state-run company has also been established to collect and re-cycle the used packaging materials of both imported and domestic goods. JM


Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, and former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir were registered on 31 March as candidates in the alternative presidential elections scheduled for May. Paznyak's election staff collected 137,325 signatures in his support, while Chyhir's candidacy was backed by 120,249 signatures. Viktar Hanchar, head of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, handed registration certificates to the candidates' plenipotentiaries. Hanchar said voting will take place from 6 May through 16 May. Paznyak has lived in exile since 1996, while Chyhir was recently arrested (see below and "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1999). JM


Belarusian Television reported on 31 March that Chyhir was arrested on charges of "grand larceny through abusing his official position." According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, Chyhir illegally transferred $1 million to a Canadian firm when he was chairman of Belagroprombank board. The previous day, Belarusian Television had quoted Chyhir as telling RFE/RL recently that he is in favor of the deployment of peacekeeping forces in Belarus. The television moderator went on to comment that Chyhir is proposing "to bomb unfortunate [Belarusian] cities and villages," just as NATO is doing in Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, former Belarusian Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka told RFE/RL that the presidential administration is threatening Interior Ministry investigators with dismissals and arrests if they do not pursue the case against Chyhir. JM


Some 50 people demonstrated outside the Latvian government building on 31 March to urge the cabinet to adopt a neutral stance in the military conflict between NATO and Yugoslavia, LETA and BNS reported. The rally was organized by the Movement for Neutrality, and was attended by Tatyana Zhdanok, a prominent Riga City Council deputy from the left-wing For Human Rights in an Unified Latvia alliance. The same day, Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said on national radio that he is worried that developments in Kosova could, to some extent, prevent NATO from clearly defining its position with regard to enlargement. Moscow's vehement opposition to the strikes could further exacerbate tensions over former Soviet satellites joining the alliance, Reuters quoted him as saying. JC


The Lithuanian government has instructed the Economy Ministry to prepare a new international tender to find a strategic investor for the project linking Lithuania's power grid to that of Poland, ELTA reported on 31 March. The Economy Ministry is empowered to reject all bids submitted and to break off the tender. According to the news agency, the winner of the tender will be the company that offers the fastest implementation of the project. Last year, the U.S.- led consortium Power Bridge won a tender to undertake that project but failed to come up with the necessary resources. Last month, the British Company National Power came up with an alternative proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1999), which the government has approved in principle. JC


Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz said on 31 March that the Polish armed forces have sufficient military supplies to counteract any potential threats in Europe, PAP reported. Onyszkiewicz was responding to an article in the 30 March "Gazeta wyborcza" that cited a confidential Defense Ministry report as saying that military supplies met only 30 percent of the Polish troops' needs. According to that report, ground troops have enough heavy-artillery ammunition to last for only four days of combat and fighter aircraft have sufficient ammunition for only 13 days. The newspaper reported that NATO requires that military reserves of ammunition suffice for 30 days. Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Romuald Szeremietiew has called the confidential report "shocking," AP reported on 31 March. JM


President Vaclav Havel told Czech Radio on 31 March that the war in Kosova represents a challenge for working out a new NATO strategy and for reforming the UN, CTK reported. Admitting that the strikes against Yugoslavia without the Security Council's approval are "legally controversial," Havel said that NATO must decide at its summit in Washington later this month whether it is empowered to intervene "in certain circumstances" without the agreement of the Security Council on territories other than those of its members "when peace and human lives are seriously threatened." Havel said UN regulations must be changed so that a veto in the Security Council will be possible only if two of its permanent members (rather than one, as is currently the case) vote against a decision. MS


Citing British and U.S. sources, German Television's ZDF reported on 31 March that the Czech-made Tamara radar system, which is considered highly efficient, is being used in Yugoslavia against the U.S.'s so-called "invisible" aircraft. The station said the Russians sold the system to Belgrade, having bought it from the Czechs before 1990. In other news, Czech ambassador to NATO Karel Kovanda told CTK the same day that NATO allies are "surprised" by some Czech reactions to the strikes, with the exception of those by President Havel and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, and regret that there is no "explicit [show of] support." NATO officials requesting anonymity told CTK that the government's 24 March statement was "unfortunate." That statement had noted that the decision to launch air strikes against Yugoslavia was taken before the Czech Republic joined NATO. MS


Defense Minister Pavol Kanis on 31 March rejected criticism by the Slovak minority in Vojvodina over the government's granting permission for NATO planes to use Slovak air space. Kanis told journalists that the move cannot be compared to direct participation in military operations. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jan Figel, responding to accusations that Bratislava has betrayed Vojvodina Slovaks loyal to Belgrade, said that those Slovaks "lack information" about Yugoslav problems in general. He added that the Slovak communities there "did not raise their voice when the Serbian army fought against Croats and Slovenians." MS


In an interview with the opposition daily "Slovenska Republika" published on 31 March, Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncos said he was the only member of the cabinet to have opposed the decision on NATO overflights and to have abstained from voting. He added, however, that "unfortunately, this was not enough to reverse the decision." Koncos added that within the Democratic Left Party (SDL) there has been "lively discussion" about the decision and that the party "will have to take a principled stand on the position of its representatives in the government." MS


President Bill Clinton told CBS Television on 31 March that "this air campaign is not a 30-second ad. It's only been going on a few days.... And I'd like to see us keep working on this and not have our attention diverted by other things." He said, however, that he remains opposed to sending in ground troops: "The thing that bothers me about introducing ground troops into a hostile situation--into [Kosova] and into the Balkans--is the prospect of never being able to get them out." He stressed that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is behind the current ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosova: "We are acting at a time when he's going through the country, killing people, according to reports, including moderate politicians. And he has given no indication that he is prepared to stop the aggression." PM


A NATO spokesman said in Brussels on 1 April that "any soldiers that happen under any circumstances to be captured by the Yugoslav armed forces must be treated in a humane way in accordance with international civilized norms of behavior." Earlier that morning, Serbian Television showed pictures of three uniformed young men who it said were U.S. soldiers captured by Serbian forces. One of the men was badly bruised. A U.S. army spokesman in Bonn later confirmed that they were the three soldiers who went "missing" the previous day after they reported being surrounded by a crowd on the Macedonian side of the Macedonian-Serbian frontier. It is still unclear how the men fell into Serbian hands. PM


Serbian forces accompanied by tanks and armored personnel carriers continued to shell the Pagarusha area of the Semetiska valley from Malisheva, Suhareka, and Rahovec on 31 March. A NATO spokesman said in Brussels that "a large number" of Kosovar displaced persons had taken refuge there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 1999). "These unfortunate souls are surrounded by Serbian military and [paramilitary police] units. They have been shelled by Serb artillery and tanks of three brigades." The spokesman added that some fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) are also in the area. PM


A NATO spokesman said in Brussels on 31 March that Serbian authorities are systematically destroying public and financial records of the Kosovars, including property deeds and birth and marriage certificates. "This is a kind of Orwellian scenario of attempting to deprive a people and a culture of the sense of past and the sense of community on which it depends," the spokesman stressed. PM


Kosovar refugees from Prishtina told AP in Blace, Macedonia, on 31 March that Serbian "police burned their homes, herded them into a train and shipped them off to Macedonia." Serbian paramilitaries did not allow the deportees to leave the train en route. PM


Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in Bonn on 31 March that he has "serious evidence" that Serbian authorities have killed or placed in concentration camps thousands of Kosovar males. "We have serious reports that there are concentration camps like there were in Bosnia," Scharping told reporters. He said that NATO is working to confirm the story. The minister added that the Serbian "killing machine" has executed several prominent intellectuals as well as the local interpreters who had worked for OSCE monitors. He stressed that "it's a systematic extermination that recalls in a horrible way what was done in the name of Germany at the beginning of World War II, for example in Poland." UCK leader Hashim Thaci earlier charged that the Serbian authorities have set up several camps and are holding some 100,000 people in Prishtina's main stadium. PM


Louise Arbour, who is the Hague- based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said on 31 March that her investigators are collecting evidence against Milosevic and other top Belgrade officials in conjunction with the current ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosova. She added that Milosevic and his lieutenants could face war crimes charges even if they personally did not take part in the killings, the "Washington Post" reported. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook added that the "lieutenants" include Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, and Generals Radomir Markovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic, Nebojsa Pavkovic, and Sreten Lukic. PM


Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova met with reporters in Prishtina on 31 March in the presence of Serbian officials. He said that he is well and under the "security protection" of the Serbian authorities. Rugova called on NATO to stop the bombing. Isa Zymberi, who is Rugova's spokesman in London, told the BBC the next day that Rugova made the statement under duress and that it should not be taken as reflecting his real views. Rugova had long called for NATO intervention in Kosova. PM


Police units loyal to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic are stationed at night at key intersections in Podgorica as well as along the main roads leading out of the city, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 1 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1999). Unnamed army sources told Reuters the previous day that Milosevic has replaced General Radoslav Martinovic with General Milorad Obradovic as commander of the Second Army, whose responsibilities include Montenegro. Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan told reporters that he had heard the report but could not confirm it. Meanwhile in Rozaje, a spokesman for the UN's World Food Program said thousands of Kosovar refugees there could face starvation within 14 days unless adequate food supplies arrive soon, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. PM


Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic said that the ethnic Muslims of Sandzak, which straddles Serbia and Montenegro, should remain where they are. He argued that they would be helping the process of ethnic cleansing were they to flee to Bosnia or elsewhere, Reuters reported on 30 March. Mustafa Ceric, who heads Bosnia's most important Muslim religious organization, has made a similar appeal, "Oslobodjenje" wrote on 1 April. Some 12,000 Kosovar Albanians and 6,000 Sandzak Muslims have found refuge in Bosnia, the daily continued. PM


Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Bonn on 31 March that his country urgently needs financial assistance to help it cope with the growing wave of 30,000 Kosovar refugees. Schroeder and Scharping promised that assistance will be immediately forthcoming, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Bonn has pledged a total of $14 million in Kosovar refugee aid, while Washington has promised $50 million, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Taipei, Foreign Minister Jason Hu announced that Taiwan will provide Macedonia with additional refugee relief aid to supplement the $2 million it has already pledged. In Skopje, Foreign Minister Aleksandar Dimitrov said he has sent a letter to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana applying for membership in the alliance. "This would be the greatest guarantee of security for Macedonia," dpa quoted him as saying. PM


The UCK has begun to recruit and dragoon male Kosovar refugees arriving in Albania and send them back to Kosova to fight, AP reported on 30 March. UCK rebels have set up checkpoints along roads near the border and are taking men of fighting age out of buses, AP reported. Albanian Television carried a UCK statement ordering all Kosovar men aged 18 to 50 to join up within one month or face forced induction. It also warned that "if the men refuse to join the UCK..., [its] military police will act even outside Kosova." The guerrillas said that they will set up training camps in Kosova for new fighters. FS


The total number of refugees in Albania on 31 March exceeded 100,000, a spokesmen for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in Tirana. The UNHCR officials said more will likely follow. Albanian authorities are sending the refugees to other locations throughout Albania. Foreign Minister Paskal Milo flew to Germany to discuss how best to cope with the influx. Greek officials in Athens promised two daily planeloads of relief aid, and UNICEF prepared a shipment for 1 April. Meanwhile, EU Commissioner for Refugees Emma Bonino and Germany's European Affairs' Minister Guenter Verheugen pledged in Tirana on 31 March to provide an additional $26 million worth of aid. FS


In Brussels, Albania's Ambassador to NATO Artur Kuko accused Yugoslav forces of shelling two border villages on 31 March. He did not disclose the names of the villages or give further details, but he noted that in the past week Yugoslav soldiers have made incursions into his country. FS


Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi told "Albanian Daily News" on 30 March in Tirana that he has instructed a special task force of investigators to start gathering evidence of Serbian atrocities and genocide against ethnic Albanians among the refugees. Rakipi said that Albania will hand the evidence to the Hague-based court. FS


A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on 31 March that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu in a telephone conversation the previous day that Washington has warned Belgrade that the U.S. views "the security of countries bordering Yugoslavia" as being "as important as that of NATO countries themselves." The spokeswoman also said Romania considers Russia's "diplomatic initiative" as "efficient, provided it is directed toward finding a solution to the crisis that reflects the spirit of democratic values and contributes to achieving stability in Europe," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


In a 31 March statement on the Kosova conflict, former President Ion Iliescu said that "regardless of assurances received by Romania," the "escalation of revisionist designs questioning existing borders in East Central Europe cannot but [result in] apprehensions that Romanians might become victims of similar designs." Party of Romanian National Unity Secretary-General Ion Gavra told journalists that the "political-military scenario" under way in Yugoslavia will be "applied elsewhere too" and that the question is not "if, but when," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. At a rally in Cluj organized by nationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar, several speakers warned against the danger created by "the Yugoslav precedent." MS


The Interior Ministry on 31 March said an "unidentified" air-to-air missile of the type used by NATO planes in aerial fights landed some 500 meters from the village of Elvodol, 55 kilometers west of Sofia, Reuters reported. No damage was reported, and the ministry said experts retrieved the missile's body, which was not destroyed by the blast. It also said that "preliminary findings" show the missile was of the same type as the one that self-destructed on 26 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 1999). MS


Ivan Kostov said on 31 March that the Yugoslav embassy in Sofia is orchestrating the protests against the government's policy on the Kosova conflict. He said the Yugoslav diplomats who are "organizing protest rallies against our country's foreign policy" are "just doing their job," but at the same time, he denounced those "naive" Bulgarians who "serve Milosevic's policy and...accept roles in this cheap scenario," AP reported. Kostov said that the "so-called mass-solidarity with Milosevic's everything but spontaneous." MS


The opposition on 31 March moved a no-confidence motion in Kostov's cabinet, accusing it of failing to reform the country's ailing industry, AP reported. The motion is backed by the Socialist Party, Euroleft, and the Alliance for National Salvation. This is the first no-confidence initiative backed by most of the parliamentary opposition, AP reported. MS


by Liz Fuller and Patrick Moore

The liberation of Eastern Europe and the collapse of the USSR not only brought about a radical change in the political and economic systems of the countries concerned: it also led to a change in the image those countries' leaders now choose to present to the world, not least their taste in sport.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the best-documented outdoor occupation of Soviet and East bloc leaders was a variation on hunting whereby wolves, bears, wild boar, or elk would be rounded up and then judiciously released within range of the shotguns of waiting party general secretaries. (Some leaders still engage in this pastime: former Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin incurred censure two years ago for killing a bear and her cub in this fashion.)

None of the present generation of CIS and East European presidents is known for his skill as a huntsman, and some CIS presidents, such as Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliyev and Ukraine's Leonid Kuchma, do not list any favorite sports or pastimes in their respective entries in "The International Who's Who."

In the former Yugoslavia, the most sports-minded leader is undoubtedly Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. His life- long association with sport includes a stint in the 1950s as manager of the Yugoslav Army's Belgrade football club Partizan. Since becoming Croatia's leader, he has taken a close interest in Zagreb's Dynamo club, forcing it to change its name to the less Communist-sounding Croatia, much to the chagrin of the club's loyal fans (who are known as the Bad Blue Boys). Albanian Premier Pascal Milo is a former professional soccer player who still enjoys the occasional game against local journalists.

Tudjman is also a keen tennis player and frequently mixes tennis and politics. He used to play regularly with former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who was known at the time as "the second most influential man in Croatia." Boris Yeltsin, too, played tennis in his heyday, one of his regular partners being Aslan Abashidze, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Adjar Autonomous Republic on Georgia's Black Sea coast. Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev plays tennis, but is it not known whether he has played against Yeltsin, and if so, who won. Nazarbaev also water-skis. Former Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas and former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar were both keen amateur boxers in their youth. (Brazauskas now lists "yachting" as his hobby in "The International Who's Who.")

Other CIS presidents are equally athletic. Alyaksandr Lukashenka is a passionate skateboarder. Armenia's Robert Kocharian works out in the gym once a week, and he and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian are both first-rate basket- ball players. During his visit to Tokyo last month, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was elected honorary president of the Japanese Karate Federation, although it is not known whether he has ever seriously studied that martial discipline.

East of the Caspian Sea, the preferred sport of presidents is the "sport of kings." Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov is a connoisseur of horses and has presented prize examples of the national Akhal-tekke breed to visiting dignitaries, including French President Francois Mitterrand and British Prime Minister John Major. (It is not known what percentage of the ubiquitous statues of Niyazov are equestrian ones.)

But even the Akhal-tekkes have suffered from Soviet central planners' attempts to "improve" the breed by raising the average horse's height in the hope of producing a racehorse that could compete with the British thoroughbred. The impact of similar efforts in Georgia was chronicled in the mid-1970s by Merab Kostava, a comrade-in-arms of the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, himself an accomplished horseman. Kostava noted that in the 18th century each Georgian princely house had its own unique breed of horse, all of which are now extinct.

The tradition of horse-breeding survives among the formerly nomadic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. But in those two countries, too, cross-breeding has diluted the bloodline of traditional breeds. The Kazakh horse, a mixture of indigenous Kazakh, Russian, and Akhal-tekke strains, is short and stocky and is similar to the Mongolian pony, with the same large head but a more elegant version thereof. The prevalent type in Kyrgyzstan, the so-called New Kyrgyz breed, is a cross between indigenous and Russian breeds and is taller than its Kazakh counterpart. The presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Askar Akaev and Nazarbaev, both list horse-riding among their sporting pastimes in "The International Who's Who."

Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev grew up with horses and has been sighted by RFE/RL at the racecourse in Kazan on Sunday afternoons. One of the photos of Shaimiev on his personal Internet page shows him with a spirited grey (see