RUSSIA RETHINKING MILITARY DOWNSIZING...
Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced on 7 April that his ministry intends to revise its plans for reducing the size of Russia's armed forces. He told reporters that the current size of the army with 1.2 million soldiers could not be lowered and that combat units would be reinforced with auxiliary formations. Sergeev linked the revision to NATO's new strategic concept, adding that "the steps which NATO has taken against Yugoslavia increase our anxiety." "Kommersant- Daily" reported the same day that Duma legislators have rediscovered their commitment to military spending and that the military is already spending more money, roughly $2 million extra since NATO bombing began on 24 March, on a variety of texts and the de-mothballing of one S-300 anti- aircraft missile system. According to the daily, "a fundamental review of the law on the budget is proposed in favor of the military-industrial complex." JAC
...AND VERIFYING YUGOSLAV MILITARY INTELLIGENCE REPORTS?
"Segodnya" argued on the same day that one source of anxiety for the General Staff may be the lack of reliable information about manpower and equipment in the conflict zone. It notes that the "General Staff remains confident about Yugoslav air defense systems," but they are not offering any evidence of the system's good performance, which suggests that they themselves are having difficulty obtaining such proof. Therefore, the mission of the intelligence-gathering warship recently dispatched to the Adriatic is not only to track NATO "but also to verify the reliability of the information that Belgrade is sharing with Moscow." JAC
YELTSIN REJECTS PROPOSAL TO SUPPLY ARMS TO YUGOSLAVS
The State Duma adopted a resolution on 7 April that President Boris Yeltsin and the government consider supplying Yugoslavia with weapons, military hardware, and relevant spare parts. The measure was supported by 279 deputies, with 34 against and four abstentions. That day, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin responded to the action by reporting that Yeltsin believes that the conflict in Yugoslavia offers no military solution and that arms shipments would mean "a slow introduction of Russia into the war" and an "inevitable escalation of the conflict with unpredictable consequences." Addressing the success of the efforts of the president and government to convene a "Group of 8" meeting on the Kosova crisis, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that "what matters is that Western capitals have not yet said a definite 'no,' although they have not said a firm 'yes' either." JAC
DUMA SAYS NO TO POLITICAL PEACE TREATY...
The State Duma rejected the political stability accord on 7 April with only 137 deputies voting in favor; 226 votes were needed for it to pass. Under the document, which a working group-- composed of various members of Russia's branches of goverment--spent many weeks drafting, President Yeltsin would have agreed not to dismiss the government and the Duma. And in turn, the president and the Duma would not raise the issue of confidence in the government without a prior consultation with each other. In one recent version of the document, the president would agree that a government of the parliamentary majority would be formed after elections, but the Kremlin deleted this from the draft it signed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). JAC
...YES TO LAW ON PORNOGRAPHY
The same day the Duma adopted legislation "on state protection of the morality and health of the population and on the enhancement of control over trade in products of a sexual nature." The bill was supported by 234 lawmakers and opposed by 121 with one abstention. Under the legislation, trade in "sexual" products must be conducted with a license and such products must be sold only in "specially designated locations." Television and radio broadcasts of erotic programs will be restricted to between 1-4 am. The "Moscow Times" reported that during an earlier debate on the same bill in October 1997, two deputies lapsed into a dispute over the merits of domestic versus foreign-produced condoms. JAC
SKURATOV'S FATE TO BE KNOWN ON 21 APRIL?
In his address to the Duma on 7 April, Yurii Skuratov, who is currently suspended from the post of prosecutor-general pending the outcome of a criminal investigation, refused to offer eager legislators details about criminal investigations into the activities of some top Kremlin officials. He also refused to confirm or deny whether he was the man in a videotape televised earlier romping with two young women. He did attack the Kremlin, saying that "never before have corrupt officials cast such a brazen challenge to the law." He also said that he will stay in his job if lawmakers support him. Federation Council Committee for Constitutional Legislation head Sergei Sobyanin told reporters that the upper body might hold an extraordinary session on 21 April to discuss Skuratov's resignation--after the body has been provided with exhaustive information on the issue. JAC
PRIMAKOV REJECTS HOSPITALIZATION
Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov was expected to stay at home on 8 April to recover from radiculitis, ITAR-TASS reported that day. According to the agency, doctors recommended hospitalization, but Primakov categorically refused. AFP had reported earlier that Primakov's back ailment was sciatica. JAC
BEREZOVSKII PLEDGES TO RETURN TO RUSSIA NEXT WEEK
Influential business tycoon Boris Berezovskii told reporters in Paris on 7 April that he will return to Moscow next week to explain his "situation" to prosecutors. However, his lawyer, Genrii Reznik, told Interfax that Berezovskii "must not return under any circumstances," since the Prosecutor-General office "does not even feign an observance of the law." Meanwhile, SBS Agro bank head Aleksandr Smolenskii will remain in Austria, where he is a citizen, and continue his treatment for the flu, according to his press spokesman, Eduard Krasnyanskii, the "Moscow Times" reported on 8 April. Krasnyanskii called the prosecution of Smolenskii "bizarre" and an attempt to dredge up issues that were long ago resolved. The same day, Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik said that Smolenskii's legal difficulties would not affect SBS-Agro, which will continue receiving financial assistance from the Central Bank in order to revive it, Interfax reported. JAC
STAVROPOL CLOSES BORDER WITH CHECHNYA
Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov ordered on 7 April the closure of the administrative border between his territory and Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. All movements of peoples and goods along the 113-kilometer strip of land have been banned. Chernogorov justified his decision by citing the murder on 6 April of four policemen in the Kursk raion of the krai allegedly by a Chechen crime gang. Because of rising crime, Kursk policemen had been offering--for a fee- -to escort cargo through their district (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 April 1999). In addition, Kursk raion head Sergei Logvinov announced that transit between towns in the raion would be banned between the hours of 8 pm and 6 am, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 April. JAC
SIBERIAN REGIONS WRANGLE OVER CREATION OF SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE
The East Siberian Railroad and the governments of the Buryatia Republic and Chita Oblast are attempting to establish a special economic zone along the Baikal-Amur Railway in order to boost the railway's revenues and the economies of the regions it traverses, "EWI's Russian Regional Report" reported on 8 April. They believe that attracting industry along the railway line is key to making it self-supporting. They will likely encounter some resistance in the legislative assembly of Irkutsk Oblast, which will debate a bill establishing such a zone on 27 April. The government of Irkutsk opposes the bill because it would lose tax payments it receives from the exploitation of valuable mineral deposits in the zone, such as the Kovyktin gas field and Sukhoi gold deposit. According to the report, Irkutsk Deputy Governor Yurii Berezutskii believes that Irkutsk should prepare its own version of the law. JAC
NEW TEACHERS STRIKE IN THE FAR EAST
A teachers strike in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii in the Kamchatka Oblast continued for a third day, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 7 April. Teachers at 16 schools and kindergartens are protesting an almost six-month backlog of unpaid wages. JAC
YELTSIN EXPANDS SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBERSHIP
President Yeltsin ordered on 7 April that a special decree be prepared adding Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev and State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev to the Security Council, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC.
CANADA TO HELP PRIVATIZE ARMENIAN TRANSPORT SECTOR
Armenian Transport Minister Yervand Zakharian told journalists in Yerevan on 7 April after meeting with his visiting Canadian counterpart, David Collonate, that Ottawa will provide technical assistance in privatizing and restructuring the country's transportation sector, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Zakharian said the Canadian government will help Armenia privatize state-owned Armenian Airlines and that a "tentative agreement" has been reached whereby Armenian Airlines will lease several middle-range commercial jets from Canada to replace its aging Soviet aircraft. LF
OSCE CHAIRMAN POSTPONES TRIP TO TRANSCAUCASUS
OSCE chairman Knut Vollebaek has postponed his trip to the Transcaucasus that was due to begin on 13 April, Turan reported on 7 April, citing unnamed diplomatic sources in Baku. Instead, Frank Lambach, who is Germany's representative to the OSCE Minsk Group, will travel to Armenia and Azerbaijan on 5-7 May. An OSCE spokesman told RFE/RL on 8 April that the primary reason for Vollebaek's decision was the situation in Kosova, and that he may visit Armenia and Azerbaijan in August. LF
AZERBAIJANI OIL CONSORTIUM CUTS BACK ON PRODUCTION
Azerbaijan International Operating has halved production from the Chirag Caspian field, from 100,000 barrels per day to 50,000 bpd, as a result of the closure of the Baku- Novorossiisk oil export pipeline, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported on 7 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). ITAR-TASS quoted Ilham Aliev, vice president of the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR, as saying that more crude would be transported through the western Baku-Supsa pipeline. But oil experts point out that the capacity of that pipeline is only 40,000 bpd. LF
ABKHAZIA CHALLENGES TBILISI OVER DETAINED FISHERMEN...
Abkhaz Security Minister Astamur Tarba said on 7 April that the Abkhaz leadership has begun negotiations with Tbilisi on exchanging the 10-man crew of a Georgian fishing vessel detained in Abkhaz territorial waters on 3 April for four Abkhaz civilians held prisoner in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. But Georgian intelligence service press spokesman Archil Chkhartishvili said those negotiations are likely to be complicated by the fact that the four Abkhaz are being held by Georgian guerrillas who do not take orders from the central government. LF
...AND ACCUSES GOVERNMENT-IN-EXILE OF 'TERRORIST' ATTACK
Also on 7 April, Tarba told Caucasus Press that he has evidence that the Security Ministry of the so-called Abkhaz government-in-exile, representing ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war, was responsible for a 2 April landmine explosion in Abkhazia's Gali raion. Four people were seriously injured in that explosion, which Tarba said had been intended to kill Konstantin Ozgan, who heads the Abkhaz commission that is overseeing the unilateral repatriation to Gali of ethnic Georgian displaced persons. Ozgan had traveled to Gali that day to meet with Georgian repatriates. Abkhaz Security Minister- in-exile Vitalii Mikhelidze denied the accusation. LF
IS ADJAR LEADER IN DANGER OF BEING KILLED?
A leading security official from Georgia's Black Sea republic of Adjaria is currently in Tbilisi investigating the claims by Georgian Interior Ministry employee Omar Kedelashvili that he was ordered by Georgian intelligence to assassinate Adjar parliament chairman Aslan Abashidze, "Rezonansi" reported on 7 April. Georgian security officials have denied Kedelashvili's allegations. A spokesman for Abashidze, who for the past seven years has ruled independently of the central Georgian government in Tbilisi, told Interfax on 7 April that Georgia's expression of support for the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia are "a departure from...balanced foreign policy" and run counter to Georgia's declared policy of strategic partnership with Russia. LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S TENGE STABILIZES
The exchange rate for Kazakhstan's currency against the dollar rose by over 17 percent on 7 April and a further 4.7 percent on 8 April, Interfax reported. As of 8 April, the tenge was trading at 112.79 to the dollar, compared with an average of 118 to $1 the previous day and 138.5 to the dollar on 5 April. National Bank chairman Karim Masimov told journalists on 7 April that the exchange rate should be set at 115-120 tenge to the dollar. President Nursultan Nazarbaev told journalists in Astana on 7 April that the decision by the government and National Bank to allow the tenge to float was a normal reaction to "a crisis environment," and should not be regarded as "a disaster." He predicted that inflation will remain low and that the tenge will not fluctuate widely (see also "End Note" below). LF
KYRGYZ OFFICIALS DOWNPLAY IMPACT OF TENGE DEVALUATION
Acting Prime Minister Boris Silaev said on state television on 7 April that the government of Kyrgyzstan is taking measures to stabilize the som, which he said will not fall further in value, Interfax reported. Silaev said the initial decline in the som's exchange rate to the dollar was a natural reaction to the devaluation of Kazakh's tenge. He added that the government will discuss whether amendments to the 1999 budget, or the adoption of an austerity program, are necessary. Acting National Bank chairman Ulan Sarbanov said the official som/dollar exchange rate was 36.5:1 on 7 April, and that the Bank will make every effort to stabilize it at 36-38.5 soms to the dollar. LF
TAJIKISTAN, RUSSIA SIGN PROTOCOL ON DEFENSE COOPERATION
On 7 April, the final day of his three-day visit to Dushanbe, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and his Tajik counterpart, Sherali Khairulloev, signed a protocol on military cooperation for 1999, AP-Blitz reported. Sergeev later told journalists that the agreement formally allowing Moscow to maintain a military base in Tajikistan will be signed during President Imomali Rakhmonov's visit to Moscow later this month, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 1999). LF
LUKASHENKA LASHES OUT AT WEST FOR 'SLANDERING' HIS RULE...
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka delivered a more than two-hour televised address to the National Assembly on 7 April in the presence of several invited Western diplomats. Lukashenka blamed Western envoys for misinforming their countries about the actual situation in Belarus and for "slandering" his rule. He accused the West of financing the opposition's alternative presidential elections, saying that the opposition is buying "not only Xerox copiers and paper for their leaflets, but weapons as well. Leave the Belarusian people in peace! Stop this pressure!...For your movements in neighboring Poland and Lithuania you will get what you deserve--we are not in Yugoslavia," he told the diplomats, departing from his written speech. JM
...IMF FOR NOT GIVING CREDITS...
Lukashenka told his legislature that Belarus is the only country in the post- Soviet area that the IMF has not given "a single dollar [or even] a single cent" in credits because of political motives. According to him, international financial organizations do not want to cooperate with Belarus because they do not like the fact that it has not become a "sanitary cordon between Russia and the West. We will survive without external assistance. Yes, we are poor but not on our knees. Our force is in unity, cohesion, in ideological values of ordinary people, not of businessmen," the Belarusian president said. JM
...RUSSIA FOR UNWILLINGNESS TO UNITE...
Lukashenka accused Russia of being unwilling to seek a serious unification with Belarus. He said Minsk has already prepared a "cardinal draft treaty" on the creation of a unified Belarusian-Russian state, while Russia is proposing to sign only a "protocol of intent." He said "Enough of just striving. If we are going to create a single state, let's do it. If not, we should say flatly that we are not going to do it." He added that the Belarusian-Russian union is opposed not only by global forces that are "afraid of Slavic unity," but also by some circles in Russia, which he did not identify. JM
...AND BLAMES CABINET FOR ECONOMIC WOES
Reporting on Belarus's economic achievements in 1998, Lukashenka said that "several key macroeconomic parameters" significantly worsened, particularly in the second half of the year. "The change of the situation on foreign markets, primarily in Russia, had a negative impact," he commented. Lukashenka slammed the cabinet for failing to regulate production between state-run enterprises and to control pricing. He said the main economic task in 1999 is to increase industrial output by 4-5 percent. He pledged that requirements with regard to political and business leaders will be even tougher than before and threatened imprisonment for those disobeying his orders. JM
KUCHMA URGES MILOSEVIC TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM KOSOVA
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has welcomed the cease- fire call by Belgrade and urged Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw Serbian army and police units from Kosova and allow the return of Albanian refugees. "I have reasons to believe that this step would fully terminate all military actions and would bring the warring sides back to the negotiating table," Kuchma said in a statement released on 7 April. The Foreign Ministry said the same day Ukraine has dispatched a convoy of trucks with humanitarian aid-- including tents, blankets, soap, and medicines--to displaced Albanians in Macedonia. JM
UKRAINE CLAIMS TO LOSE $330,000 EVERY DAY DUE TO NATO STRIKES
Andriy Veselovskyy, an official in the Foreign Ministry, said on 6 April that Ukraine is losing $330,000 every day owing to the disrupted navigation on the Danube River after NATO bombed bridges in Novi Sad. According to Veselovskyy, those guilty of disrupting the navigation should compensate the countries incurring heavy losses because they can't use the Danube. Ukraine has called for an urgent meeting of the signatories of the Danube convention in Budapest to discuss the issue. JM
ESTONIA CONCLUDES WTO ENTRY TALKS...
Estonia on 7 April wrapped up negotiations on its accession to the World Trade Organization, ETA reported, citing the Foreign Ministry press service. By 31 October, the Estonian parliament must adopt or amend 21 legislative acts in order to bring the country's legislation in line with WTO norms. The parliament must also ratify all agreements with the organization. Tallinn began accession talks with the WTO in 1995. Latvia was the first of the Baltic states to become a member of the organization. JC
...REGISTERS NEW RECORD FOREIGN INVESTMENT
Citing data released by the Bank of Estonia, "Diena" reported on 8 April that direct foreign investment in Estonia last year reached a record high of 7.94 billion kroons (some $548 million). This represents a more than twofold increase over 1997, when direct foreign investment totaled some 3.69 billion kroons. According to the daily, 49 percent of the total foreign investment last year was in the banking sector (with Swedish investors playing a major role) and 20 percent in industry. JC
LATVIA'S NEW PARTY WANTS MAJORITY GOVERNMENT
The junior coalition member New Party is to hand a letter to Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans requesting a meeting to discuss the formation of a "stable majority government," "Diena" reported on 8 April. The party is also urging that the "expediency" of two government posts--deputy premier for EU integration and "special task minister" for cooperation with international financial institutions, both of which are held by members of the coalition Fatherland and Freedom party--be examined. The ruling coalition has 46 seats in the 100-member parliament. Earlier this year, Kristopans concluded a cooperation agreement with the Social Democrats, which have 14 seats. The Fatherland and Freedom party, however, is opposed to the Social Democrats becoming a coalition partner. JC
LITHUANIA LIFTS CONTROVERSIAL REGULATION ON ESTONIAN, LATVIAN IMPORTS
The Lithuanian government has announced that beginning 15 April it will lift the regulation stipulating minimum prices for imports of agricultural goods from Estonia and Latvia, Baltic agencies reported on 7 April. The government took that decision following a meeting of the joint committee overseeing the implementation of the Baltic Free Trade Agreement. Both Estonia and Latvia had strongly criticized the introduction of the minimum prices. JC
POLISH WEAPON PLANT WORKERS DEMAND STATE ORDERS, BACK WAGES
Some 200 workers of the Lucznik weapons factory in Radom picketed the Treasury and Economy Ministries in Warsaw on 7 April, throwing firecrackers and demanding payment of February and March wages and more state orders for their products. In particular, Lucznik's 4,000-strong crew wants the government to order 15,000 rifles that can meet NATO military standards. "If our troops had to participate in a military intervention, it would turn out that they do not have weapons meeting the alliance's standards. We can produce such weapons," Lucznik's Solidarity trade union head told the 8 April "Rzeczpospolita." On 6 April, some 1,000 Lucznik workers blocked two main roads in Radom with the same demands. JM
CZECH AMBASSADOR TO NATO WORRIED ABOUT RUGOVA
Karel Kovanda told CTK in Brussels on 7 April that the fate of Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova aroused "considerable anxiety" in NATO because his stay under "the protection" of Yugoslav police was "suspicious," as he "represents the wise side of the Kosova Albanians" and "whether he wants it or not, he is [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's hostage." Milosevic's unilateral cease-fire declaration and the agreement allegedly signed with Rugova will not prevent NATO from continuing its strikes against Yugoslav targets, Kovanda said. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on the same day that his country could accept between 2,000-5,000 Kosovar refugees. MS
MECIAR'S PARTY CALLS FOR RECONSIDERATION OF NATO OVERFLIGHT PERMISSION...
The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) wants the cabinet of Premier Mikulas Dzurinda to reconsider its decision to allow NATO planes to overfly Slovakia, HZDS spokesman Marian Kardos said in a statement given to CTK on 7 April. The HZDS says the permission violates the country's constitution and "fails to respect the opinion of most Slovaks." On the same day, the parliament started debates on lifting the parliamentary immunity of HZDS deputy and former Slovak Counter- Intelligence Service chief Ivan Lexa, who is suspected of involvement in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 and several other violations of the law. HZDS members demonstrated outside the parliament in what CTK, quoting one of them, said was a demonstration "both for Lexa and against the planes." MS
...WHILE MINISTERS DISAGREE WITH DECISION
Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncos abstained once again during a government vote on 5 April to grant NATO "unlimited access" to Slovak air space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 7 April 1999). Ministers representing parties other than Koncos' Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) also abstained, CTK reported on 7 April. From among SDL ministers, only Defense Minister Pavol Kanis voted in favor of granting NATO such permission. MS
HUNGARY'S PREMIER ON MAGYAR MINORITY IN VOJVODINA
As a neighbor of Yugoslavia, Hungary cannot set quotas on refugees, Premier Viktor Orban told visiting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on 7 April. Orban noted that the Vojvodina Hungarians, "the only ethnic minority in Serbia that did not have serious conflicts with authorities," were "safeguarded" by Hungary's NATO membership, Hungarian media reported. But Jozsef Kasza, a leader of Vojvodina Hungarians, is cited by AFP on 8 April as saying that Orban's supportive statements of NATO air strikes are "irresponsible and incomprehensible." Kasza said "Hungary should fulfill its NATO obligations...without sacrificing the Vojvodina Hungarians." In response to the recent violation of Hungarian air space by two Yugoslav planes, the parliament's Defense Committee on 7 April approved a Defense Ministry request to immediately procure weapons worth 2 billion forints ($8.7 million) to improve Hungary's defense system. MSZ/MS
UNHCR: 10,000 REFUGEES 'DISAPPEAR'
Macedonian authorities dispersed at least 35,000 Kosovar refugees from the Blace border-area refugee camp to other parts of Macedonia on 7 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 1999). "The operation, unannounced and executed...under the cover of darkness, was chaotic, even brutal," the "International Herald Tribune" wrote. The expulsion took place in such haste that many refugees left their meager personal possessions behind. A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that "some 10,000 refugees are still unaccounted for" as of the morning of 8 April, Reuters reported. The UNHCR is looking into accounts that some refugees were forced onto buses that took them to Albania, Greece, or Turkey. A Macedonian Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that there is any mystery surrounding the refugees. "Maybe half of them are deployed in different places inside Macedonia...and around 7,000-8,000 persons...were transported by buses to Albania because the Albanian government announced that they are willing to accept these refugees," he added. PM
MACEDONIA EXPELS SOME REFUGEES TO ALBANIA
Over 10,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees from Macedonia arrived in the Korca area of southeastern Albania on 7 April. An OSCE spokesman in Tirana told Reuters that local people accommodated half of them immediately and that 38 required hospital treatment on arrival. The authorities housed others in a sports stadium. ATSH quoted refugees from Blace as saying that Macedonian police forced them to board buses and maltreated them with batons, and that many children were forcefully separated from their parents. Albania now accommodates some 300,000 refugees. Meanwhile in Luxembourg, EU interior ministers agreed to concentrate efforts at refugee relief on Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. The ministers opposed relocating refugees out of the region, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote. FS
YUGOSLAVIA CLOSES BORDER TO ALBANIA
Yugoslav authorities closed the border crossing from Kosova into Albania at Morina near Kukes on 7 April, thereby halting the flow of refugees. Albanian border guards told Reuters that only 26 people crossed through that day, saying that Serbian soldiers had ordered them from their homes only a few hours before. Several Roma said they traveled more than 21 miles and saw only Serbian police and soldiers every 100 yards along the main road. One of them stressed that "we didn't see anything else: no people and no cars." An OSCE spokesman in Tirana said that Serbian soldiers have been telling Kosova refugees it was safe for them to go home because of a unilateral cease-fire declared by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for Orthodox Easter. FS
SERBIAN FORCES PREPARE DEFENSES
Yugoslav soldiers planted land mines and dug defensive positions along the Albanian border on 7 April, AP reported. The news agency added that this means the Serbian forces are preparing combat and trying to create a depopulated buffer zone. Serbian forces also mined border crossings with Macedonia and dispersed waiting displaced persons back into the devastated interior of Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. FS
SOLANA SEES 'SIGN OF WEAKNESS' IN BELGRADE
Following another night of air strikes against Serbian targets, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana told a French radio station on 8 April that "we must interpret some [unspecified] Serbian movements as a sign of weakness in the regime...Milosevic, in time, is going to disappear from the political scene in a very clear way," Solana concluded. PM
DJUKANOVIC: 'PEACE IS NEAR'
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told the Italian daily "Corriere della Sera" of 8 April: "I'm optimistic -- peace is near, you can already detect it, it's even a certainty. It could even be a question of 10 days...It's important that someone in Belgrade has already started thinking about peace. Every peace proposal must be taken with political and diplomatic wisdom. It mustn't be suffocated: it will bear some fruit," Djukanovic said. The day before, he told a French television station that Milosevic has been trying to overthrow him ever since he was elected in 1997. He called on NATO to stop bombing but stressed that Milosevic should himself help end the bombing by accepting NATO demands, AFP reported. In Podgorica, a spokeswoman for the Information Ministry noted that Yugoslav troops have recently harassed or detained several Western journalists in Montenegro. She described the situation as "very, very difficult" and urged foreign journalists to travel only with a Montenegrin police escort. PM
CANADA URGES CONSIDERATION OF GROUND TROOPS
Defense Minister Art Eggleston called on the Atlantic alliance on 7 April to "look at options" other than sending ground troops into Kosova only with Serbian consent and to protect civilians. This is the first time that a key official of a NATO-member country has publicly suggested that the alliance consider sending in ground troops. Sweden's Carl Bildt, who became the international community's chief civilian administrator in Bosnia in 1996, told the BBC that NATO will have to send ground troops to the troubled province sooner or later. In Washington, AP quoted former President Gerald Ford, who does not often comment on Balkan affairs, as saying that NATO will have to send in ground forces if it intends to win. PM
FRENCH JOURNALISTS REPORT FROM KOSOVA
Four radio and print journalists from France arrived in Kosova on 7 April under the protection of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). The four noted that NATO air strikes have severely hampered the "Serbs in getting from one point to another." The poorly armed UCK helps NATO identify Serbian military targets via satellite telephone, AP quoted the journalists as saying. They added that the UCK lacks equipment but not recruits, especially from Peja. Members of the UCK told the French that the guerrillas do not need foreign ground troops but only weapons. The Serbian authorities expelled all foreign journalists from Kosova at the start of the ethnic cleansing campaign in March. PM
'DEAD' JOURNALIST GIVES INTERVIEW
Baton Haxhiu, who is the editor-in-chief of the banned Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" and whom NATO reported dead in March, recently arrived in Macedonia. He had spent some days hiding in Prishtina and then joined the columns of refugees fleeing southward. He told Reuters in London on 8 April that the Serbian forces systematically destroyed Albanian-owned properties and businesses in Prishtina. En route to Macedonia, "Serbian police and paramilitaries would come to the queue of cars at night and rob people and take the attractive girls and women off with them. It was a terrible scene." Haxhiu added that he does not know how the report of his death emerged, but suggested that police may have stopped looking for him when they thought he was dead. The whereabouts of many prominent Kosovars remain unknown, including Adem Demaci and Veton Surroi. PM
ANNAN BLASTS SERBIAN 'GENOCIDE'
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on 7 April that "of all gross violations, genocide knows no parallel in human history. Though we have no independent observers on the ground, the signs are that it may be happening, once more...The vicious and systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing conducted by the Serbian authorities in [Kosova] appears to have one aim: to expel or kill as many ethnic Albanians as possible, thereby denying a people their most basic rights to life, liberty, and security." The secretary general stressed that "if we allow the United Nations to become the refuge of the 'ethnic cleanser' or the mass murderer, we will betray the very ideals that inspired the founding of the United Nations." PM
CHIRAC: 'JUSTICE MUST PREVAIL'
French President Jacques Chirac said in Paris on 7 April that "justice must prevail" in Serbia and "savagery must not have the last word," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote. He warned that "criminals will have to answer for their deeds." Chirac referred to "Milosevic" and not "President Milosevic" in his remarks. Meanwhile in Washington, the State Department published a list of nine Yugoslav army commanders who could find themselves liable for prosecution for war crimes because they failed to prevent their subordinates from committing atrocities, a State Department spokesman said. PM
ROMANIAN 'DIALOGUE' ON CRISIS APPROVES OPPOSITION PROPOSAL
Participants attending a "dialogue" on the country's political crisis chaired by President Emil Constantinescu on 7 April accepted a proposal of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania to set up a Standing Consultative Council of experts to work out Romania's medium and long-term range strategy of development, and on the need to avoid defaulting on the country's external debt, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. It was also agreed to set up a so-called "Reflection Group" to "clarify the status of private property" and its restitution. Apart from parliamentary political parties from the coalition and the opposition, participants included representatives of business, trade unions, and civic organizations. Constantinescu said the consensus reached was "historic," but the trade union representatives said preparations for industrial action planned for later this month will continue, since their demands have not been met and "talking is no solution to problems." MS
ROMANIA 'CAUTIOUS' ON BELGRADE'S UNILATERAL CEASE FIRE DECLARATION
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Simona Miculescu said on 7 April that Bucharest was "cautious" over Belgrade's unilateral cease-fire declaration, considering the "extensive depletion of the Albanian population in Kosova and the political context in which the declaration is being made," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Romanian media (as well as the media in Bulgaria) report that the blocking of the Danube River due to NATO's destruction of two bridges in Novi Sad is causing extensive losses to shipping companies. Navrom company Director Iordache Panaite told AFP that the blockage has already cost his company $10 million and that some 3,500 employees might soon be dismissed. Other shipping companies estimate their monthly damages at between $100,000-600,000, Mediafax reported. MS
TRANSDNIESTRIAN SUMMIT CANCELED
Moldovan presidential spokesman Anatol Golea announced on 7 April that the summit on the Transdniester conflict planned for the next day in Kyiv has been canceled due to the illness of Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Golea said he believed the meeting will nonetheless be held soon, "maybe even in April." In other news, Prime Minister Ion Sturza told journalists on 7 April that his cabinet "needs a stability period" at least until the end of 1999 and proposed organizing a round table with the participation of President Petru Lucinschi, political parties and the trade unions to work out a program for overcoming the country's economic crisis. Sturza said Moldova's GDP in 1999 may drop by 25 percent due to the loss of its traditional export markets, in particular from the CIS and Romania. MS
UKRAINE, ROMANIA, CUT ENERGY DELIVERIES TO MOLDOVA
Ukraine and Romania have suspended the supply of electricity to Moldova because of Chisinau's mounting debt. The move places the country on the verge of what Anatol Saracuta, chief of the Moldovan state energy company, called an "energy disaster." Chisinau owes Romania about $9 million and Ukraine some $24 million, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
The parliament on 7 April rejected by a 139-87 vote a no- confidence motion submitted by the Socialist Party (BSP) and supported by two other opposition groups, Reuters reported. The BSP accused the cabinet of Premier Ivan Kostov of failing to implement promises made when it took power two years ago to work out a modern policy and implement structural reforms in industry. Kostov admitted that there has been a delay in the pace of the reform but attributed it to last year's global financial crisis. MS
SOFIA DEMANDS HALT OF YUGOSLAV MOBILIZATION OF ETHNIC BULGARIANS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 7 April said that Yugoslavia was conducting "wholesale mobilization" among the 50,000 ethnic Bulgarians from eastern Serbia, including leaders of the minority, BTA reported. Vlaikov said this was "an unfriendly act" and that "the use of members of one minority against other minorities benefits nobody." He also said that what is needed in Yugoslavia is a "lasting, not an interim solution," adding that "certain conditions should have been met before the [unilateral] cease-fire" was declared by Belgrade. Vlaikov echoed the conditions set forth by NATO before the cease-fire should have been called and air strikes can halt. MS
Mostly Silence On Impact Of Kazakh Currency Float
By Robert Lyle
The international financial community is keeping a discreet silence on Kazakhstan's attempt to float the foreign exchange rate of its currency, the tenge, and the impact this is having on the country's neighbors.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) resident representative in Almaty, Paul Ross, praised the move earlier this week saying it would "restore the competitive position" of Kazakhstan globally and help promote growth.
He said it should have a positive impact on Kazakhstan's trade balance by heading off protectionist pressures which have emerged in the last few months. It should also help reduce the high interest rates in the country, he said.
Additionally, said Ross, the move will reduce the vulnerability of the economy to future external shocks like the Russian financial crisis.
On 7 April the World Bank's resident representative, Kadry Tanzhu Yurukoglu, added his institution's endorsement, calling the currency float "a step in the right direction" which will both improve Kazakhstan's competitiveness and its macroeconomic stability.
But beyond those comments, the IMF, the World Bank, and even commercial financial analysts have had nothing more to say about the early effects of the move and its impact on neighboring countries, especially Kyrgyzstan.
Kazakhstan Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev said the move was necessary because since the start of the Russian financial crisis, Kazakhstan's foreign trade has decreased by $1.3 billion due to dramatically reduced exports. Kazakhstan's exports were far too expensive, especially in countries like Russia, because the tenge was being traded at such a high rate.
But the country's trade union federation said that while Kazakhstan's export competitiveness may improve, it believes workers will be hurt. The federation predicts a radical drop in consumer purchasing power because it believes the floating tenge will hurt, not help, trade.
While there were reports of some hoarding of goods by consumers who quickly cleaned out retail stores in anticipation of higher import prices, the country's bankers late on 7 April said there had been no run on deposits at the Narodnyi (National) Bank and that the supply of hard currency and the demand for it were about equal.
That would indicate, said National Bank Chairman Kadyrzhan Damitov, that the rate of around 118 tenge to the dollar is a relatively adequate reflection of the market.
Kyrgyzstan, which saw its currency, the som, drop in reaction to the moves in Kazakhstan, waited anxiously as the som began to recover on 7 April. Still, observers in Bishkek were noting that privately-owned exchange officers were not trading after the previous day's 14 percent drop in the som's exchange rate.
Government officials have been meeting with banks and other domestic financial organizations to look for ways to invigorate the development of small and medium-sized businesses as a way to broaden and strengthen the country's basic economy.
That is precisely why the IMF, the World Bank, and others have refused to comment any more beyond endorsing the concept. It is a policy that the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve (Central Bank), Alan Greenspan, and senior American treasury officials have followed religiously -- never comment on exchange rates. No matter what the comment is, they all say privately, it can have dramatically unexpected consequences.
So the IMF, the World Bank, and others will continue their discreet silence for the foreseeable future, allowing their pointed inattention (they hope) to help take the focus off the exchange rate and return it to building more solid, market-oriented economies.
An IMF team will be flying to Kazakhstan at the end of this month to begin Almaty's annual review and to help decide what further lending the fund may need to provide. Kazakhstan is finishing up a three-year extended facility loan and is expected to draw the final $218 million shortly. The annual review will be the time when the fund can tell Almaty and the rest of the world just how it believes the currency float has been handled. Robert Lyle is an RFE/RL senior correspondent based in Washington.