YELTSIN DUMPS GUSTOV, PROMOTES STEPASHIN...
Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on 27 April dismissing First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov and promoting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to that office. Stepashin will be responsible for overseeing elections and conducting regional policy, while continuing to head the Interior Ministry. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said that Yeltsin believes the "segment of the cabinet supervising the regions must be reinforced." Russian Television noted that "inasmuch as the most problematic regions in Russia are Chechnya and the North Caucasus as a whole, it is logical that Stepashin has been appointed to this position, since he has been intensely involved with Chechen problems for years." Gustov is the first top member of Yevgenii Primakov's cabinet to be dismissed. A former governor of Leningrad Oblast, Gustov told Interfax that he will now run in elections, but declined to specify where. JAC
...AS MEANS OF TIGHTENING CONTROL OVER REGIONS?
The same day that Yeltsin dismissed Gustov, he also met with the informal leaders of two regional blocs, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev of Vsya Rossiya and Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov of Golos Rossii. Titov told reporters after the meeting that Yeltsin approves of the "platform of liberalism" of Golos Rossii and is "impressed with the composition of the bloc." The previous day, deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev said that the merger of Vsya Rossiya and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Otechestvo would be a "step in a constructive direction." The leader of the Idel-Yort (Volga Is Our Home) faction in Tatarstan's legislative assembly, Fandas Safiullin, told RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 27 April that once Vsya Rossiya and Otechestvo have achieved their main goal of keeping Communists out of the State Duma, they will likely go their separate ways. Safiullin pointed out that Luzhkov supports liquidating the national republics, while President Shaimiev is a federalist who favors retaining the republics' sovereignty. JAC
NEW MILITARY DOCTRINE TO BE READY IN THREE MONTHS
Talking to journalists on 27 April, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev expanded on his recent comments about the revision of Russia's military doctrine. Sergeev said Moscow is particularly concerned about two provisions of NATO's new strategic concept that enable the alliance to use force outside NATO's zone of responsibility and without the UN's consent. He added that the possibility of Baltic States' joining NATO "poses a serious threat to Russia" and "we will never be able to agree." If the Baltic States join NATO, Russia will have to take additional steps to minimize its security risks, he said. In an interview published in "Krasnaya Zvezda" the same day, Ivanov said that Russia's new military doctrine will be finished in three months and submitted to President Yeltsin for approval. Before NATO began air strikes against Yugoslavia, Ivanov predicted that a plan merging the armed forces strategic nuclear forces would be ready by May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 1999). JAC
CHERNOMYRDIN, TALBOTT PLEDGE TO CONTINUE PEACE EFFORTS
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, after meeting with Russian special envoy for Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin on 27 April, told Reuters that "there is no question that Russia and the U.S. are working together on [solving the Kosova] problem." He stressed that "it is important that our urgent work continues, and it will continue." Talbot reaffirmed the U.S. position that Serbian forces have to withdraw from Kosova and that a peace- keeping force must include a NATO chain of command. FS
KOSOVA TALKS FOCUS ON PEACE-FORCE "LABELING"
Unnamed British Foreign Office officials told "The Guardian" of 28 April that current diplomatic efforts focus on "labeling" a possible de facto NATO-led peace-keeping force as a UN entity. They added that a UN resolution authorizing such a force would not have to mention NATO explicitly. The daily also quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying that Chernomyrdin acknowledged during his talk with Talbott that there is "no serious prospect of diplomatic movement" from Belgrade. They added that they are encouraged by Chernomyrdin, who, they said, is negotiating seriously on details. And they noted that "there was not much time spent on condemning the NATO air offensive" during the Chernomyrdin-Talbott meeting. In Berlin, Talbott briefed German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on 27 April and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan the following day. FS
WEST, UN INTENSIFY DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS IN MOSCOW
German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping began talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergeev, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow on 28 April. He did not disclose details of the talks but said that Chernomyrdin will continue the discussions with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Bonn the following day, Reuters reported. Also on 28 April, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou arrived for separate talks with Russian leaders. Annan and Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy are scheduled to hold talks with Chernomyrdin, Ivanov, and other Russian leaders in Moscow on 29 April. Meanwhile, in a move underlining solidarity with Belgrade, Yeltsin sent a telegram to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on the occasion of Yugoslav National Day, 27 April, saying that Russians "feel deeply for the fraternal people of Yugoslavia," Reuters reported. FS
RUSSIAN, BELARUSIAN LEADERS DISCUSS UNION, TOUCH ON YUGOSLAV ISSUE
President Yeltsin and President of Belarus Alyaksandr Lukashenka met on 28 April to discuss a host of issues related to the Union of Belarus and Russia. Prior to the meeting, President Yeltsin said that the two leaders would "touch on the issue of Yugoslavia but we will just be exchanging opinions." He added that they will not be taking any steps forward on the issue of that country joining the union. At the meeting, Lukashenka and Yeltsin signed 11 agreements, most of them related to the union, Interfax reported. The documents cover issues such as establishing a single customs zone. The two leaders also discussed a joint defense concept that envisions the two sides using the same types of weapons and equipment in a future joint force, according to the agency. An agreement on security will be drafted and signed "at the next stage," ITAR-TASS quoted Yeltsin as saying. JAC
RUSSIAN, IRAQI OIL MINISTERS MEET
Amir Rashid held talks in Moscow on 27 April with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Generalov, Foreign Minister Ivanov, and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak. The two sides agreed that Russia will purchase 40 percent of the $5.2 billion worth of oil that Iraq plans to sell under the next stage of the UN oil-for-food program. Ivanov informed Rashid of Russian proposals to the UN Security Council to end economic sanctions against that country and introduce a new system of international monitoring, according to AP, citing a Foreign Ministry statement. Also discussed was possible Russian participation in exploration at Iraq's huge West Qurna field once UN sanctions are lifted. Also on 27 April, a delegation of State Duma deputies headed by Liberal Democratic Party chairman Vladimir Zhirinovsky flew to Baghdad to deliver aid and celebrate Saddam Hussein's 62nd birthday on 28 April. LF
NATURAL GAS PRODUCTION EDGES UP
Gazprom's production of natural gas increased 4 percent in 1998 to 553.7 billion cubic meters, compared with 533.7 billion cubic meters the previous year, Interfax reported on 27 April. Three Gazprom subsidiaries boosted their annual output: Nadymgazprom, Yamburggasdobychi, and Astrakhangazprom. As of 1 January 1999, Russian consumers owed Gazprom 109.3 billion rubles ($4.5 billion), while other CIS countries owed the company 32.6 billion rubles. A top Gazprom official told "Izvestiya" on 27 April that the company plans to cut its gas supply to more than 3,000 debtor firms in the near future. JAC
PASKO WRAPS UP TESTIMONY
Military journalist Grigorii Pasko has finished giving testimony in his trial for espionage and treason, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 27 April. Pasko is accused of handing over to Japanese media information on the environmentally hazardous practices of the Pacific Fleet. Pasko revealed that he had complained many times to the Pacific Fleet commander about being harassed by the fleet's security officers. One of Pasko's lawyers contends that his client was framed by those officers because he refused to collaborate with them. On 23 April, Pasko told the court that only one classified document was in his apartment at the time of his arrest and that he has no idea how prosecutors got hold of nine others that they claim were in his possession. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that one of the prosecution's main witnesses, journalist Yurii Ralin, announced he will soon make a statement explaining why he was forced to lie during his tesimony. JAC
TWO MAYORS' RACES DECIDED
Nikolai Bulakin, mayor of Abakan in the Republic of Khakassia, was re-elected for a second four-year term on 25 April. In addition, more than two-thirds of the members of the city's new legislative assembly, are Bulakin's supporters, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 April. Also on 25 April, Yurii Link, director of Noyabrsk's electricity network, was elected mayor of Noyabrsk in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Interfax- Eurasia reported on 27 April. Some newspapers alleged that Link's campaign was supported by business tycoon Boris Berezovskii. JAC
SWEDISH PREMIER CONCLUDES VISIT
Goran Persson completed a two-day visit to Russia on 27 April by visiting Samara. The previous day, Persson met with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Deputy Prime Minister Bulgak, and First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev. Persson stressed that Stockholm continues to see Russia's economic potential as huge, ITAR-TASS reported. Swedish investment in Russia totaled $412.9 million in 1998, and Swedish companies plan to invest an additional $250 million in various paper and wood- pulp projects by the end of 2000, according to the Russian Trade Ministry, Interfax reported. After their meeting, Primakov said Russia is satisfied with the level of cooperation with Sweden, both at bilateral and international levels. The two officials signed an agreement on cooperation in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energy resources. JAC
'MIR' BENEFACTOR WANTS FREE RIDE
British businessman Peter Llewelyn told AP on 28 April that although he intends to travel on the space station "Mir," he will not be paying for the privilege (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1999). He said that the trip will be part of a fundraising effort for a children's' hospital outside Moscow and that people will sponsor him with so much money per mile. According to the agency, Pittsburgh police described Llewelyn as a well- dressed, smooth-talking con artist. Two years ago in the U.S., Llewelyn was accused of swindling $38,000 from a business partner. The charges were later dropped. JAC
NEW ARMENIAN CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION CHAIRMAN NAMED
At its first session on 27 April, the new Central Electoral Commission voted to elect as its chairman Artak Sahradian, who is a senior Social Security Ministry official, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF
"RFE/RL Newsline" on 27 April incorrectly reported that five political parties and blocs are represented on the Central Electoral Commission. The correct figure is 10, five representing the factions in the present parliament and the remaining five by those parties and blocs that collected the largest number of signatures in their support.
ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET
Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliyev met for two hours at the U.S. State Department on 26 April to discuss the Karabakh conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Kocharian subsequently said that the meeting was "among the most useful in the recent period," as it gave the two presidents a better understanding of each other's motives. He said agreement was reached on further talks, which he suggested should be held on the frontier between the two countries. But Kocharian also owned that even such high level contacts are unlikely to produce immediately a formula for resolving the conflict. In an exclusive interview with Turan, reprinted in the Armenian press on 28 April, Kocharian ruled out any further concessions by Armenia but denied that his country wishes to delay a solution to the conflict. Aliev, for his part, again expressed his rejection of the most recent Minsk Group draft peace proposal, which he said contravenes international law. LF
AZERBAIJAN SIGNS NEW OIL CONTRACTS
President Aliyev signed production-sharing agreements with three U.S. oil companies in Washington on 27 April, Reuters and the "Financial Times" reported. Exxon acquired a 30 percent stake in the Zafar and Mashal offshore fields, while Mobil acquired the rights to the Savalan, Dalga, Lerik-Deniz, and Janub offshore deposits. Those contracts are valued at $5 billion and $4.5 billion, respectively, and the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR has a 50 percent stake in each. Texas- based Moncrief Oil signed a $500 million exploration and production-sharing contract for a 410 square mile region of the lower Kura River. LF
GEORGIA BECOMES FULL MEMBER OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE
President Eduard Shevardnadze attended an official ceremony in Strasbourg on 27 April to mark Georgia's formal acceptance as a full member of the Council of Europe, in which Armenia and Azerbaijan still have only special guest status. Addressing the parliament in Tbilisi the same day, speaker Zurab Zhvania said that in admitting Georgia to full membership, the Council of Europe acknowledges the country's compliance with democratic standards, according to Caucasus Press. Meanwhile, six members of the "Free Georgia--Future Generation" movement began a hunger strike in Tbilisi on 26 April to demand the release of 134 people imprisoned since 1992 whom they consider political prisoners. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTIES CRITICIZE DRAFT LEGISLATION ON ELECTIONS...
At a news conference in Almaty on 27 April, representatives of the recently registered Birlesu political movement criticized as "undemocratic" the draft law on amendments to the presidential decree on the conduct of elections, RFE/RL's Kazakh service reported. The Birlesu members objected that the amendments do not make provision for the popular election of regional governors, who are to be appointed by regional councils. They also noted that the fee to register as a parliamentary candidate is so high that very few people can afford it. LF
Also on 27 April, Orleu Movement chairman Seydakhmet Quttyqadam and Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan Deputy Chairman Amirzhan Qosanov told a news conference in Almaty that they consider the draft media law currently being considered by the parliament to be "very far from democratic," RFE/RL correspondents reported from the former capital. They claimed that the new legislation "would increase state control over all periodicals, television channels, and radio stations." LF
POPULAR KYRGYZ MAYOR FORCED TO RESIGN...
Bishkek Mayor Feliks Kulov told a press conference on 27 April that he wrote three days earlier to President Askar Akaev submitting his resignation, which the latter accepted on 26 April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. In his letter to the president, Kulov said Akaev condones actions "that do not correspond to democracy and the rule of law." Specifically, he charged that rumors have been spread that he is preparing to undertake unconstitutional action in order to oust Akaev and that he is one of the most corrupt persons in the country. Also on 27 April, presidential press secretary Kanybek ImanAliyev told journalists that Kulov is not a competent economic manager and that he intends to devote himself in the future to "pure politics." Observers say that the personable and popular 51-year-old Kulov, who as Interior Minister defied the perpetrators of the August 1991 Moscow putsch, could pose a serious challenge to Akaev in the 2000 presidential elections. Kulov refused to say on 27 April whether he will run in that poll. LF
...AS SECURITY MINISTRY IMPLICATED IN ILLICIT SURVEILLANCE
Kyrgyz National Security Minister Misir Ashirkulov told journalists in Bishkek on 27 April that an unspecified number of members of his ministry's Kalkhan anti- terrorist squad, which Kulov created when he was minister of security, have been arrested following the discovery of surveillance equipment in an apartment belonging to the ministry, Interfax reported. The commander of the Kalkhan squad has also been arrested. LF
EU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER SLOWDOWN IN TAJIK PEACE PROCESS
German Ambassador Matthias Mayer told journalists in Dushanbe on 27 April that the EU, which his country currently chairs, is concerned about "problems" in the Tajik peace process, Interfax reported. Mayer said that the peace process could be speeded up by success in the referendum and parliamentary elections due this year. He also expressed regret at President Imomali Rakhmonov's rejection of proposed constitutional amendments drafted by the Committee for National Reconciliation, which includes both government and opposition representatives. Meyer said the EU considers those amendments "a realistic step toward implementation of the peace agreement." In a 23 April statement, the United Tajik Opposition deplored Rakhmonov's rejection of the amendments and appealed to the international community for support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1999). LF
IMF SAYS UKRAINIAN ECONOMY FRAGILE
In an annual report released on 27 April, the IMF executive directors said Ukraine's economy remains fragile and may be further threatened by continued friction between the parliament and the government, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The IMF praises Ukraine for "good progress" in restructuring and privatizing a number of state enterprises, but it also noted delayed reforms in the agricultural and energy sectors. The report cautioned the Ukrainian government that it may face strong pressure to settle wage and pension arrears before the presidential elections in October. And it urged government to clear as many of those arrears as possible before the election campaign starts. JM
UKRAINIAN NATIONAL BANK CUTS DISCOUNT RATE TO 50 PERCENT
Ukraine's central bank has lowered its discount rate from 57 percent to 50 percent beginning 28 April, AP reported on 27 April. National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko explained the decrease by arguing that the country has achieved "stability in all segments of the currency market." Meanwhile, Ukraine's hard-currency reserves have dropped to $896 million, down from $1.05 billion at the beginning of this year. Yushchenko commented that the resumption of IMF aid will allow Ukraine to increase those reserves. The government hopes the IMF will soon release another $150 million installment of its loan to Ukraine. JM
LUKASHENKA DISSATISFIED WITH CABINET'S PERFORMANCE
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a cabinet meeting on 27 April that he is dissatisfied with the government's economic performance, but he declined to take any personnel decisions, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka noted that from January to March, the government was able to meet only one of its 12 socioeconomic targets for this year--namely, an increase in industrial production. According to reports given by ministers, economic development in Belarus is hindered, above all, by the nonpayment of Belarusian exports to Russia, an increasing number of barter deals, the instability of the Belarusian ruble, and sinking agricultural production. JM
FURTHER CUTS NEEDED AT ESTONIAN MINISTRIES
The Finance Ministry noted on 27 April that the country's ministries have suggested cuts in their budgets totaling some 579 million kroons ($39 million), well short of the 861 million kroons reduction projected by negative supplementary budget, ETA reported. According to the agency, the main offenders are the Culture, Education, and Environment Ministries, which have proposed cuts of only one-fifth of the required amount. The Economics and Agriculture Ministries have been asked to make the biggest cuts in their budgets-- 9.6 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively. Also on 27 April, the government debated the draft supplementary budget, which foresees total cuts of 1.03 billion kroons and economic growth of some 2 percent. JC
ESTONIAN CENTRAL BANK POSTS $37 MILLION PROFIT
The Estonian Central Bank made a profit of 542 million kroons ($36.9 million) last year, up 90 million kroons on the 1997 level, ETA reported on 27 April. Of that sum, 406 million kroons will be transferred to the reserve fund. The equity capital of the central bank was boosted by 395 million kroons last year to 2.27 billion kroons. JC
PLAN AGREED ON FOR RIGAS KOMERCBANK'S REHABILITATION
Agreement has been reached on a rehabilitation plan for the Rigas Komercbanka, which was declared insolvent last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1999), LETA reported on 27 April. Under that plan, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the largest shareholder in the Rigas Komercbanka, would invest $9 million (part of which would be a loan), the Latvian government 1 million lats ($1.69 million), and the Bank of Latvia 15.5 million lats. The plan will be submitted for approval to the Bank of Latvia later this week. JC
ADAMKUS'S POPULARITY RATING REACHES 'RECORD HIGH'
According to a poll conducted by the Baltijos Tyrimai/Gallup firm in mid-April, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus's popularity rating has risen to a "record high" of 88 percent, up 3 percent on the previous month, ELTA reported on 27 April. Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius did not make even the list of the 20 most popular politicians in the country, receiving only 17 percent backing, down 5 percent on March. The poll also showed that 50 percent are in favor of Vagnorius's government resigning, while 29 percent opposed such a scenario and 21 percent were undecided. Over the past few months, Adamkus and Vagnorius have been engaged in a dispute that peaked last week when the president expressed no confidence in the premier on nationwide television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1999). JC
POLAND'S HEALTH SERVICE FACES MASSIVE LAYOFFS
The Polish cabinet on 27 April approved a program of social protection and welfare benefits to employees slated to be laid off under the current health service reform, "Gazeta wyborcza" reported on 28 April. According to Health Ministry estimates, 50,000 employees may be laid off this year and 16,000 in 2000. The government has earmarked 180 million zlotys ($45 million) for low-interest loans to be granted this year to 2,000 doctors and 1,000 nurses who will lose jobs under the reform. JM
POLAND'S LEFTIST UMBRELLA GROUP REGISTERED AS PARTY
The Warsaw District Court has registered the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), PAP reported on 27 April. The SLD, hitherto a left-wing electoral coalition of 32 organizations, decided to transform itself into a political party earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1999). "This is a great day in the history of the Polish left wing," PAP quoted SLD parliamentary deputy Andrzej Urbanczyk as saying after the group was registered. JM
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER DOESN'T SEE HAVEL COMMENTS AS CRITICAL
Jan Kavan denied on 27 April that there is any "disunity" between him and Czech President Vaclav Havel over the Czech military's participation in possible ground troops for Kosova, CTK reported. Havel said the previous day that he was embarrassed when Kavan declared that Czech troops would not take part in any ground invasion of Yugoslavia before NATO had even made plans for such an action or asked member countries to contribute to such a force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1999). Kavan said he "never met with any criticism" from NATO officials for his comments. Most parties in the parliament agreed with Havel, with leading officials from the Civic Democratic Party, the Freedom Union, and the Christian Democrats saying they backed the president. Members of the Social Democratic Party, to which Kavan belongs, and the Communists rejected Havel's criticism. PB
WILL SLOVAKIA JOIN FIRST WAVE?
EU officials said at the closing session of a summit in Luxembourg on 27 April that Slovakia could be invited for accession talks at the Helsinki summit in December, TASR reported. Hans van den Broek, the EU commissioner for foreign relations, said the "situation is very encouraging, we welcome the political spring in Slovakia, which is also felt in deeds." He said he believes that an October report from the European Commission will allow Slovakia to begin accession talks. He said the EU would still like to see the legislature adopt a law on the use of national minorities languages. In other news, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan confirmed that he is being considered by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as one of two special UN emissaries to Kosova. The other candidates under consideration are former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky and ex-Swedish Premier and Bosnian High Representative Carl Bildt. PB
EU OFFICIAL LAUDS HUNGARY AS BEST CANDIDATE
Nikolaus van der Pas, the head of the European Commission's working group for EU expansion, said in Budapest on 27 April that Hungary is the front-runner for EU membership, MTI reported, citing the daily "Vilaggazdasag." Van der Pas said Hungary is ahead of the other top candidates in meeting the criteria needed to join the EU. He said the Hungarian government's goal of joining the union by 2002 is ambitious and a lot of work still needs to be done to achieve that. PB
NATO TO BASE PLANES IN HUNGARY
Defense Minister Janos Szabo said on 27 April that NATO will deploy 20 tanker planes in Hungary and will likely base attack planes there as well, Reuters reported. Szabo said the first tankers, which refuel warplanes in mid-air, have arrived. And he noted that he expects Brussels to request that a total of 50-70 planes be stationed in Hungary. The only NATO country that borders Yugoslavia, Hungary is concerned about the treatment of the some 300,000 ethnic Hungarians in Yugoslavia should Budapest's role in the bombing campaign become too involved. Jozsef Kasza, the mayor of the Vojvodina city of Subotica, said the Hungarian government is "playing with the fate" of ethnic Hungarians in Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Viktor Orban responded that Budapest is "not playing with anything," noting that he is in constant contact with ethnic Hungarian leaders in Vojvodina, Hungarian Radio reported. PB
THOUSANDS OF KOSOVARS FLEE TO MACEDONIA
International aid workers on Macedonia's northern frontier said on 27 April that 3,000 Kosovars arrived at Blace and 2,000 at Lojane that day, bringing the total for the past four days to 13,000. The aid workers added that all camps and tents are full and that new arrivals have to sleep in the open. One refugee described the wave of new arrivals as "huge," adding that "many more are coming," AP reported. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are some 136,000 Kosovar refugees in Macedonia, of whom 79,000 are staying in private homes. The Macedonian government believes that some 183,000 Kosovars have taken refuge in Macedonia. In Luxembourg, Foreign Minister Aleksendar Dimitrov said that up to 150,000 Kosovars are en route to Macedonia. PM
TROUBLE IMMINENT IN CAMPS?
A spokesman for the UNHCR noted in Skopje on 27 April that cases of measles, hepatitis, and dysentery have appeared among the refugees. He added that "this is a sign of things to come." The next day, another UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva that some of the people in the camps are "on the verge of rioting. It's very, very tense and it has to be defused very, very quickly. If we get another trainload or two and a few busloads again today, it's really going to be a horrific situation there in terms of overcrowding," he concluded. PM
ETHNIC ALBANIANS LEAVE SERBIA, MONTENEGRO
"Large groups" of ethnic Albanians have begun to arrive in Macedonia from Presevo, which is in Serbia proper, the "Financial Times" reported on 28 April. This is the first time that numbers of ethnic Albanians from Serbia outside Kosova have fled their homes. In northern Albania, Roman Catholic aid workers said that ethnic Albanian refugees have begun arriving from Montenegro. Refugees told the aid workers that they are fleeing ethnic cleansing in that mountainous republic, Vatican Radio reported. The broadcast did not provide details about the refugees or where they came from. PM
GLIGOROV: REFUGEES WILL NOT GO HOME SOON
Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said in Skopje on 27 April that "it would be another act of violence to push for the speedy return of refugees" to Kosova. He noted that the homes of many of them have been destroyed and that the Kosovars "see that life is better" in Macedonia than in Kosova or Albania. Gligorov pointed out that "ethnic Albanians are an active part of our society" and government. PM
GLIGOROV TO GAIN NEW POWERS?
The Macedonian president also said in Skopje on 27 April that he wants the National Security Council and the legislature to declare a "state of imminent military threat." Observers noted that such a measure would increase the Social Democratic president's powers vis-a-vis the center-right government. They added that Gligorov lacks a majority either in the council or in the parliament and hence is unlikely to obtain the declaration he wants. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski maintains that there is no need to declare any sort of state of emergency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 1999). PM
SCHARPING: ATROCITIES PRE-DATE AIR STRIKES
German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in Bonn on 27 April that photographs taken by an international monitor in Rogova some four months ago, on 29 January, show 15 corpses in a yard. They appear to be civilians, one of whom was beheaded, Scharping added. He noted that uniformed Serbian police stood in one corner of the yard holding automatic weapons, AP reported. Scharping concluded: "this makes clear the degree of brutality that was used when all this began and which is continuing." The German Defense Ministry in a recent report noted that Serbian forces launched their program of ethnic cleansing in January under the name of "Operation Horseshoe" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 1999). PM
NEW EVIDENCE OF SYSTEMATIC RAPE BY SERBIAN FORCES
"For the first time since the conflict [in Kosova] began, credible evidence emerged yesterday of a case of systematic rape committed by Serb troops, after the victims crossed into Albania and began giving their accounts," "The Guardian" reported on 28 April. Many of the more than 300 women "were hysterical and in shock." A UNICEF spokeswoman said that "by all accounts, they went through three nights and three days of hell" recently when Serbian troops "turned their village [near Suhareka] into a rape camp." She added: "I haven't come across anything like this" before. The women also reported that the Serbs "marched off 11 old men," whom the fellow villagers did not see again alive. PM
ARBOUR: NO DEAL FOR WAR CRIMINALS
Louise Arbour, who is the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in London on 28 April that she is "very adamant" that any peace deal for Kosova must not include an amnesty for those responsible for atrocities. She stressed that "we will always explore personal criminal liability at the very highest possible level that the evidence will sustain." PM
REFUGEES REPORT MASSACRES
More than 2,000 refugees entered Albania at the Morina border crossing on 27 April, most of whom were children and women from villages near Gjakova. It was the largest influx into Morina in more than a week, Reuters reported. Some of the new arrivals said they saw villages being burned behind them as they fled. Refugees added that Serbian troops took military-age men out of the column of refugees at a village referred to as "Mej." One refugee told Reuters that she saw between 100 and 200 bodies by the side of the road near that village. Several others also reported seeing bodies by the road during their journey. The reports could not be independently confirmed, but observers noted that almost all Kosovar refugees tell very similar stories. UNHCR spokesman Ray Wilkinson noted that "there seems to be some degree of consistency" in the refugees' reports. FS
NATO PLANES ATTACK TARGETS NEAR ALBANIAN BORDER
Four F-15 fighter jets and at least two A-10 "Warthog" anti-tank planes attacked targets near the Albanian border and around Prizren on 27 April, AP reported. It was the first deployment of NATO planes in the immediate vicinity of the Albanian-Kosovar border. FS
ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR HELP TO UCK
Rexhep Meidani told AP in Paris on 27 April that the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) "is in Kosova to defend human lives." He stressed that "these young people, who average 22 years of age, are sacrificing their lives to save others." Meidani called on the international community to support the UCK and suggested that NATO could support it with modern communications equipment. He repeated calls for the establishment of an international protectorate in Kosova. French President Jacques Chirac said that the French government has "great esteem for Albania, which with extraordinary generosity opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians...chased like beasts by the Serbs." Meidani earlier told "Le Parisien" that Albania will not set limits on the number of refugees it takes in, but he called for more international aid to help it to avoid such action. FS
EU SUPPORT FOR 'FRONT-LINE STATES'
The foreign ministers of Albania, Macedonia, and Romania discussed their respective countries' financial needs with their counterparts from Austria, Germany, and Finland, as well as with other top EU officials, in Luxembourg, "The Guardian" reported on 28 April. The EU representatives promised their guests aid to help offset their costs for taking care of refugees. Brussels will also seek to help compensate Yugoslavia's neighbors for their trade losses stemming from the conflict. German Deputy Foreign Minister Guenther Verheugen noted that the crisis in Kosova "has made Southeastern Europe strategically the most important region in Europe." EU officials will provide detailed information on their aid plans in Bonn on 27 May, when Germany will host a meeting on its proposed "stability pact" for the region. Observers suggested that any pledges of assistance are likely to fall well short of the needs of what NATO calls "the front-line states." PM
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY PLANS BALKAN RECONSTRUCTION STRATEGY
Representatives of seven international agencies and 33 countries met in Washington on 27 April to discuss ways of meeting the immediate financial needs of and developing long-term reconstruction plans for Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, and Romania. The heads of the World Bank and IMF chaired the session, AP reported. Participants concluded that the international community is likely to underestimate the needs of the countries most affected by the conflict and that the international community should constantly review those estimates. In Athens, several government ministers appealed to Greek businessmen to take an active part in postwar regional reconstruction efforts. PM
GRANIC: CROATIA TO JOIN PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE
Foreign Minister Mate Granic told "Jutarnji list" of 27 April that NATO will accept Croatia into its Partnership for Peace Program as soon as Croatia changes its electoral law. Granic added that this should be possible in about six weeks. He added that the crisis in Kosova has raised Croatia's importance in the eyes of NATO officials, who have become more sympathetic to its request for membership than they were before the crisis began. Granic noted that Western leaders at the recent NATO summit expressed support for the democratization of Serbia, but he added that they have no clear idea on how to bring it about. Granic added that the Atlantic alliance will establish a "long-term protectorate" in Kosova and promote stability in the region as a whole. PM
ROMANIA TO CLOSE DOWN UNPROFITABLE MINES
The Ministry of Industry and Trade said on 27 April that it plans to close 61 loss-making coal mines this year, Rompres reported. Funds from the 1999 budget will be used to shut down 32 mines, while the government will use money provided by the World Bank to close another 29, a ministry official told the daily "Adevarul." A major cost incurred by closures will be the environmental cleanup and ecological rehabilitation of the mining areas, the official said. Some 180 unprofitable mines have been closed by the government in the last two years. In other news, AP reports that hundreds of Romanians are driving their fully tanked cars to the Yugoslav town of Vrsac and re-selling the gas for four times the price paid in Romania. PB
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN IN BUCHAREST
Dumitru Diacov said on 27 April that Moldova and Romania enjoy good bilateral relations but must increase economic cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. Diacov, who was heading a delegation of Moldovan deputies, said after talks with Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, Romania's Foreign Ministry state secretary, that "no special problems" exist between the two countries. The two sides also discussed the situations in the breakaway Transdniester and Kosova regions. PB
EU FOREIGN MINISTERS PRAISE BUCHAREST, SOFIA
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg praised Romania and Bulgaria for their "positive responses" to the crisis in Kosova, dpa reported on 27 April. In a statement, the EU officials recognized the "specific needs and burdens" of the two countries and the "challenges and difficulties which the governments and citizens of Romania and Bulgaria are facing." The statement said the EU foreign ministers favor "further steps" that would bring Sofia and Bucharest into line with EU policies on the Balkans. And it appealed to private foreign investors to continue with investment plans in the two countries. PB
BULGARIA MOVES AIR DEFENSE TO NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
The Defense Ministry said on 27 April that it is relocating anti-aircraft missiles deployed in the eastern part of the country to the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, AP reported, citing BTA. The power plant is situated just 110 kilometers from the Yugoslav border and would be inside the zone to which the government has offered NATO access. There are four 440-megawatt reactors at Kozloduy, which have no safety encasement, and two 1,000 megawatt units, both of which are covered by an encasement. Officials say the encasements could withstand the force of a jet crashing into them, but they admit that the reactors without such protection are vulnerable. Deputy Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov said last month that Bulgaria's air defense could prevent any air attack against it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1999). PB
VOTE ON NATO AIR SPACE REQUEST IN BULGARIA POSTPONED
The Bulgarian parliament has postponed until next week a vote on the government's proposal to grant NATO use of a restricted air corridor over Bulgaria, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported on 28 April. The vote was originally scheduled for early this week. No reason for the postponement has been given to date. PB
WORLD BANK PREDICTS ROUGH YEAR AHEAD FOR MOST EAST EUROPEAN STATES
by Robert Lyle
The World Bank's top official dealing with Russia and the other transition states in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE paints a sobering, even daunting, picture of what many in the region will face over the next year or so.
Johannes Linn, the bank's vice president for Europe and Central Asia, says the region faces a protracted crisis of economic, social, and, most recently, security problems, especially over the next 12 months.
Speaking to reporters in Washington on 25 April, before the start of this week's annual meetings of the bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Linn said Russia and Ukraine especially face serious economic difficulties
"We continue to expect a decline in output and an uncertain political outlook due to elections that are coming up this year and next year," he said. "The social situation in these countries is fragile since incomes are continuing to decline and social support systems are continuing to weaken. Poverty is on the rise, in Russia, for example, in our estimate, almost 20 percent of the population is in extreme poverty. And we of course also see a situation where structural and social reforms are incomplete and proceeding only very slowly and with limited political support."
Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic are the good news, he said, noting that these countries remain relatively stable and unaffected by the ongoing Russian financial crisis because of early reforms and strong policies.
But for most former Soviet countries, the impact of that crisis has been severe and will be felt for a long time to come, according to Linn. The global economy won't make the real difference among these nations, he says, it depends on their own policies and their proximity to Russia.
Asked about the lessons learned from the Asian and Russian financial crises, Linn said there were many, including the basics of strong domestic reforms. But one lesson that was part of Russia's collapse last summer was its strong defense of currency exchange rates. A major part of the IMF's last loan drawing for Russia was eaten up in the Central Bank's attempt to defend the exchange rate of the ruble. Linn says it is clear now this can lead to severe crises: "Ukraine is a good example where in fact a rather sensible management of getting away entirely from a fixed exchange rate in fact prevented the kind of meltdown we see in Russia.
"The weakness of banking systems and supervision, linking this of course also with the exposure of short term debts, in appropriate foreign exchange positions--again Russia being a good example--are another important lesson that we are drawing for much more work and attention has to be given."
Another significant lesson, according to Linn, is the danger of a weak social safety net. Very weak social protection systems are unable to deal with the fallout of severe economic crisis, he argued, noting that the case of Russia was particularly bad.
"We had difficulty in engaging the Russians through 1996 in an active dialogue on social reforms," he noted, "and still have difficulty in Ukraine today. Earlier attention to social system reforms of social systems and then more significant action also would have helped in crisis response."
Linn pointed out that Russia has still not dealt adequately with its social safety net and the deepening crisis only makes clearer that Russia cannot afford further postponement of reform. He said that in a recent study of the social system in Russia, the bank predicted that the worst of the crisis is still ahead in the coming 12 months. Next winter will be the hardest time, said Linn, far worse than this year.
The bank projects that real personal incomes in Russia will fall an average of 13 percent through 1999, with the extreme poverty rate rising to more than 18 percent of the population, while social expenditures by the government will fall by 15 percent.
More broadly for the region, Linn said the major lesson from the crisis has been the necessity of a political consensus on reforms. He compares the examples of Bulgaria and Romania:
"Bulgaria has now in fact recovered from a severe financial crisis only two years ago because in fact it has pursued a consistent and comprehensive reform and stabilization process based on a reasonably clear and sustainable political consensus between the president, the government, parliament, and wide segments in the population. Romania, by contrast, has had considerable difficulties that one can trace back to the lack of political consensus and difficulty of forming a clear political underpinning for reform and stabilization.
"Now we're hopeful that in looking forward, Romania can find a more consensus-oriented reform process, and indeed Romania is one of the pilot countries for the comprehensive development framework where we will focus very much with the leadership and under the leadership of the president, on trying to build this broader consensus." The author is a Washington-based, senior RFE/RL correspondent.