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Newsline - May 24, 1999


As predicted, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed decrees on 21 May reappointing Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 1999). In an interview with NTV on 23 May, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin revealed that Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov and Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko would also retain their positions, and he confirmed that First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov and Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik are definitely leaving the cabinet. Two days earlier, Stepashin had offered Kulik's post to Belgorod Governor Yevgenii Savchenko, who turned down the offer, citing the complex situation in his region, Interfax reported. "Segodnya" reported on 22 May that acting Tax Minister Georgii Boos will lose his post, despite having elicited the strong support of Stepashin and Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais. According to the daily, Aleksandr Pochinok, a former State Tax Service head, will likely assume the position. JAC


Also on 21 May, President Yeltsin named Vladimir Rushailo interior minister. Before that appointment, Rushailo was a deputy interior minister. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 May that business magnate Boris Berezovskii and Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev actively supported Rushailo's candidacy. However, Interfax, citing "well-informed Moscow sources," reported the previous day that rumors about Rushailo's close links with Berezovskii are "very far from the truth." Rushailo, a long- serving police officer, headed the Interior Ministry's unit battling organized crime and oversaw the investigation into some of the country's most important cases, such as the kidnapping of top officials in Chechnya and the murder of State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova, Reuters reported. JAC


Nikolai Aksenenko continues to be the subject of controversy. Duma deputies are demanding that Aksenenko respond personally to allegations of corruption in his former capacity as head of the Railways Ministry at a plenary meeting on 4 June, "The Moscow Times" reported on 22 May. According to the newspaper, relatives of ministry officials-- including Aksenenko--reportedly hold key posts in companies that have or had dealings with the ministry. In addition, accusations of siphoning off money intended for ministry coffers are being levied against Transrail, a Swiss-based company set up by the ministry to act as liaison between the ministry and its foreign clients. JAC


Russia's special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin called off talks with Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and UN special envoy Carl Bildt on 22 May, citing time constraints, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Both Papandreou and Bildt had arrived the previous day in Moscow and met later with Foreign Minister Ivanov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. They did not disclose details of those meetings, but Bildt told AP that the Kosova conflict marks "a major failure of the international community." Ivanov told CNN that NATO increased the intensity of its bombing campaign on 20 May, when Chernomyrdin was visiting Belgrade. The foreign minister suggested that NATO is "trying to undermine the negotiations." The previous day, Ivanov told AP that the key remaining differences between Russia and NATO are over the composition of a peace-keeping force and NATO's insistence on the complete withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosova. FS


The Russian Foreign Ministry on 22 May issued a statement charging NATO officials with "cynicism" for asking the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to notify the alliance in advance about the movements of humanitarian convoys within Yugoslavia. The statement said that NATO is trying to "avoid responsibility for its increasingly frequent mistakes in delivering air strikes," AP reported. The statement called for an end to the air campaign. The previous day, the Russian Foreign Ministry had issued a statement saying that NATO planes have frequently dropped unused bombs in the Adriatic before returning to their bases, thereby posing a threat to navigation and fishing there, ITAR-TASS reported. FS


President Yeltsin ordered leading military officials from the Strategic Rocket Forces to draw up a report on how NATO has used satellites to collect military intelligence in Yugoslavia, AP reported. The forces' deputy head, Valerii Grin, said on 22 May that Yeltsin also asked the army to consider improving Russia's space-based intelligence- gathering abilities. Earlier, Yeltsin ordered the Defense Ministry to review Russia's entire military doctrine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). Meanwhile, a State Duma commission issued a memorandum on 21 May saying that "Russia's policy in the Balkans should be reviewed [and should involve] broader and more active economic, political, military, and propaganda measures" as part of a "long-term strategy." It did not elaborate on what measures should be taken. FS


Real disposable income in Russia sank 27.3 percent and real per capita wages fell 39.01 percent in the first four months of 1999, compared with the same period last year, according to the State Statistics Committee, Interfax reported on 21 May. On a month-to-month basis, however, real incomes are slowly edging up, gaining 5.2 percent in April over March and 4.7 percent in March compared with February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1999). Meanwhile, agricultural output slid 4.7 percent in January- April 1999, compared with the same period the previous year, while retail trade dipped 15.01 percent. JAC


The Duma on 21 May approved in the second reading a new election law that would give those who run for the parliament in December 1999 the right to run simultaneously on the list of the election bloc with which they are affiliated and in single-mandate districts, Interfax reported. The vote was 354 in favor, four against, and one abstention. Under the current election law, candidates who occupy the top three places of the party's federal list cannot run in single-mandate districts, according to the agency. JAC


In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 May, Justice Minister Krasheninnikov warned that up to 75,000 public organizations will be dissolved on 1 July if they have not re-registered with the Justice Ministry. According to Krasheninnikov, only 25 percent of Russia's more than 100,000 organizations have so far bothered to re-register. After 1 July, those organizations without valid registration will no longer be able to participate in elections or own property or bank accounts. On 20 May, "The Moscow Times" reported that the city of Moscow's justice department turned down re- registration requests by the Glasnost Foundation, Moscow's Research Center for Human Rights, and the Ecology and Human Rights group. Moscow justice department officials say that Glasnost Foundation made mistakes in preparing its registration documents and needs to only resubmit them. Foundation officials, however, accused the Justice Ministry of wanting to get rid of human rights organizations. JAC


Prime Minister Stepashin on 24 May named Aleksandr Mikhailov chief of the government information department, ITAR-TASS reported. Mikhailov was formerly chief of the Interior Ministry's public relations center. JAC


Members of Vsya Rossiya held their first constituent congress in St. Petersburg on 22 May. According to ITAR-TASS, more than 500 delegates from 82 regions and some 500 guests, including Otechestvo leader Yurii Luzhkov and Golos Rossii chairman Konstantin Titov, attended. Vsya Rossiya leader Mintimer Shaimiev confirmed earlier announcements that his movement will form an alliance with Otechestvo and that the movement's key goal will be to secure at least 15 percent of votes in parliamentary elections. "Izvestiya" reported on 22 May that the leaders of Vsya Rossiya have not yet decided whether they want to ally themselves with Golos Rossii, whose leadership earlier declared interest in such a partnership. According to the newspaper, relations between Golos Rossii and Otechestvo are frosty, and at that movement's constituent congress, some Golos Rossii members declared their opposition to Luzhkov. JAC


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 May that members of the Golos Rossii movement are considering backing the candidacy of former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko in mayoral elections in Moscow. According to the daily, Kirienko's campaign might be bankrolled by members of Moscow's business elite who no longer support Moscow Mayor Luzhkov because "they never received their promised niche in politics." On 24 May, Kirienko told Russian Television that if Moscow mayoral elections were held in December 1999 rather than spring 2000, he would consider running for the post. Kirienko also emphasized that his candidacy will be put forward by his party, Novaya Sila (New Force). He added that Novaya Sila should form a coalition with Pravoe Delo (Right Cause) in order to surpass the 5 percent barrier for parliamentary representation. JAC


At the 20 May CIS defense ministers' meeting in Yerevan, Moscow proposed that the six CIS countries that intend to continue their participation in the CIS Collective Security Treaty should adopt a coalition military strategy, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the next day, without naming its source. The adoption of "Fundamental Tenets of Coalition Strategy of States Participating in the 1992 Collective Security Treaty," which summit participants reportedly support, would entail a closer degree of defense cooperation than has been the case until now. Such cooperation would be comparable to that provided for by the Russia-Belarus Union, the newspaper commented. Also discussed at the meeting was the possibility of creating "coalition groups of resolve the task of joint (collective) defense." LF


Danilbek Tamkaev received multiple gunshot wounds and his brother Adam was killed when gunmen opened fire on their car on the outskirts of Grozny on 23 May, Interfax reported. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. LF


The 14 members of the election commission of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia failed at a 21 May meeting to arrive at a unanimous decision on the validity of the results of the second round of voting on 16 May in the presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian presidential representative in the republic Ivan Golubev therefore decided to send all the relevant documentation to the Central Electoral Commission in Moscow. The chairman of the local electoral commission, Musa Psikhomakhov, said on 22 May that 1,527 complaints of voting irregularities were received. Meanwhile, Vladimir Semenov, who according to the official results polled more than 75 percent of the vote, accused his rival, Stanislav Derev, of failing to abide by an agreement that the two men had reached in Moscow on 18 May with then acting Premier Stepashin. According to that accord, both were to refrain from actions that would exacerbate tensions, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 May. LF


A group of 53 ethnic Adygeis, whose ancestors were forcibly resettled first to Ottoman Turkey and then to Kosova in the late 19th century, arrived in Maikop on 23 May, Russian agencies reported. A contingent of Adygeis evacuated earlier told "Die Presse" on 17 May that they are being subjected to discrimination in their ancestral homeland, that housing built especially for them has been occupied by others, and that they are unable to find work. They also expressed alarm at being unable to make telephone contact with other Adygeis who had remained in Kosova in the village of Donji Stanovci. LF


Stephen Sestanovich, who is special adviser on the Newly Independent States to the U.S. Secretary of State, met with leading Armenian officials in Yerevan on 21 May to discuss the U.S.'s mediation role in the Karabakh conflict, the prospects for Armenia's increased participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, greater military cooperation with the U.S., and the upcoming parliamentary elections, Caucasus Press and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sestanovich also met with Defense Ministry officials to discuss U.S. proposals for control over the transportation of raw materials that could be used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. LF


The following day, Sestanovich held talks in Baku with Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov, and Defense Minister Safar Abiev, Russian and Azerbaijani agencies reported. State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade told Interfax that the issues discussed included the Balkan crisis, the Karabakh conflict, bilateral relations, and the ongoing dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over ownership of several offshore Caspian oilfields. Sestanovich told journalists that the U.S. supports both the mediation efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and further personal contacts between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders in order to resolve the Karabakh conflict. LF


Meeting in Baku on 20-21 May, foreign ministers or their deputies from the nine member states of the Economic Cooperation Organization (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) discussed expanding regional cooperation, in particular the development of a network of export pipelines for oil and gas and the implementation of the 1998 agreement on transit cooperation, ITAR-TASS and AP-Blitz reported. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Zulfugarov, who was elected rotating chairman of the ECO foreign ministers' council, noted that such cooperation would serve to promote political stability. LF


Georgian Interior and Security Ministry officials arrested eight people in Tbilisi during the night of 22 May on suspicion of preparing a series of terrorist acts, including an assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze. Weapons, including machine guns and grenade launchers, were seized. Georgian officials have so far declined to comment on unconfirmed reports that the arrested men were in possession posters of former Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who is wanted in connection with the 1995 attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze confirmed on 24 May that senior Defense Ministry official General Gudjar Kurashvili was among those arrested. In his weekly radio broadcast, Shevardnadze said on 24 May that the organizers of the thwarted assassination attempt are abroad, in the first instance in Moscow, according to Caucasus Press. LF


Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said in Tbilisi on 23 May that it is unlikely that the treaty allowing Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia will ever be ratified in its present form, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that the treaty allows Russia to maintain in Georgia a larger number of troops than is permitted under the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, adding that Tbilisi insists that all signatory states comply with that treaty. Menagharishvili said that it has not yet been decided which Russian bases in Georgia should be closed. But Rezo Adamia, chairman of the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, told journalists in Tbilisi on 21 May that Georgia will demand the closure of the Gudauta and Vaziani bases. He noted that the Russian base in the predominantly Armenian-populated district of Akhaltsikhe provides employment for much of the local population, according to Caucasus Press. LF


Former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani was released from prison on 22 May under an amnesty for 99 prisoners signed by President Shevardnadze the previous day, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. Kitovani was sentenced to an eight-year prison sentence in 1996 for allegedly attempting to launch an insurrection. He went on hunger strike in February to demand a review of his case (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 6, 10 February 1999). Kitovani told journalists after his release that he intends to return to active politics and run in this fall's parliamentary elections. According to Interfax, Kitovani also called for the release of fellow warlord Djaba Ioseliani, who is suffering from bone tuberculosis. Ioseliani is serving an 11-year sentence for terrorism and attempting to assassinate Shevardnadze in 1995. The Georgian Supreme Court recently rejected Ioseliani's appeal for clemency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 1999). LF


Parliamentary deputies of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia voted on 21 May to request observer status for Abkhazia within the Russia-Belarus Union, Caucasus Press reported, citing Abkhaz television. They also addressed an appeal to the Russian government to declare invalid the results of the 16 May presidential runoff in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The Abkhaz are ethnically close to the Cherkess and Abazins, who constitute approximately 10 percent of that republic's total population. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba has called on the Karachaevo-Cherkessia authorities to take measures to preserve stability, while Ingush President Ruslan Aushev has called for legal action against anyone who advocates a violent solution to the standoff. LF


Attending the ECO foreign ministers' meeting in Baku, Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Kazymzhomart Toqaev said his country hopes to increase the amount of crude exported via Azerbaijan and Georgia from 1 million tons to 5 million tons in 1999, and possibly to 10 million tons annually, ITAR-TASS reported. Toqaev said Kazakhstan may acquire its own oil tankers to transport the oil across the Caspian, as the desired construction of an underwater oil pipeline from Aktau to Baku is problematic in the absence of a final agreement among Caspian littoral states on the legal status of the sea. LF


Speaking at a news conference in Bishkek on 21 May, Jypar Jaksheev argued that the January 1999 agreement concluded by the Kyrgyz government and the Kumtor Operating Company on compensation for victims of the May 1998 ecological disaster in Kyrgyzstan's Issyk-Kul region should be revoked, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Four people died and thousands suffered from poisoning after a Kumtor-owned lorry spilled toxic chemicals into a local river. Jeksheev accused the Kyrgyz government and the Canadian company Cameco, which owns Kumtor, of failing to pay the promised compensation. And he hinted that he will take the case to international courts. Under the January 1999 agreement, Cameco was to pay the Kyrgyz government $4.6 million, of which $3 million was earmarked as compensation for the victims of the spill. LF


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Silaev, Finance Minister Marat Sultanov, and acting Chairman of the National Bank Ulan Sarbanov took part in a session of the parliamentary committee on economic and budgetary issues on 21 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The participants expressed concern that the som has lost 40 percent of its value over the past two months, and they blamed the depreciation on currency speculation by commercial banks. The current exchange rate is 42 soms to the $1, compared with 17 soms in July 1998 and 30 soms in early March 1999. LF


Northern regions of Kyrgyzstan began receiving gas from Kazakhstan on 22 May after the Kyrgyz government paid the first installment, worth $25,000, of its $2.2 million back debt to Kazakhstan's Intergaz company, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Intergaz cut off supplies to those regions last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1999). LF


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said he will not change his cabinet until the presidential elections in 2001, Belarusian Television reported on 21 May. Rumors about a possible dismissal of the government have been rife following Lukashenka's frequent criticism of the cabinet's performance, in particular its inability to keep down inflation, which neared 60 percent in the first four months of this year. JM


An explosive device containing some 400 grams of TNT went off in the Simferopol office of Leonid Hrach, leader of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine, on 23 May. There were no casualties. Hrach, who is also Crimean parliamentary speaker, said on local television that the explosion was "an act of political vandalism" by an unnamed "third force" trying to provoke clashes between leftists and Crimean Tatars. Hrach appealed to Tatars who have been picketing the government building in Simferopol since 18 May "not to give grounds [by carrying out that action] to those wishing to undermine the situation in Crimea." Tatar Mejlis Deputy Chairman Remzi Ablayev said Crimean Tatars have nothing to do with the blast, ITAR-TASS reported. JM


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who is seeking re-election in the 31 October polls, appears confident of his victory, assuring foreign investors on 21 May that the situation will remain "predictable" after the elections, Reuters reported. "Ukraine's policy will remain balanced, consecutive, and there will be no throwback," he said. The same day, "Holos Ukrayiny" published Kuchma's 1998 income declaration (the law on presidential elections stipulates that all candidates must submit such information). According to the declaration, Kuchma earned a total of 19,218 hryvni ($4,888 at the current exchange rate) last year. In other news, Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov said Ukraine's foreign debt grew by nearly $1 billion during the last four months to total $12.4 billion. JM


Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 21 May signed the documents on Estonia's accession to the WTO. The parliament must pass 16 legislative acts by 31 October. Estonia's membership in the WTO will become official 30 days after it informs the organization of ratification of all relevant regulations, according to the Foreign Ministry and local dailies. The opposition Rural People's Party opposes ratification owing to provisions on farming agreed upon during negotiations, according to "Aripaev." Latvia became a member of the WTO last year. MH


The New Party on 22 May nominated party leader and popular composer Raimonds Pauls as its candidate for president. While the party had named Pauls as its presidential nominee before last fall's parliamentary election, Pauls had hinted he was reluctant to run in the presidential ballot. The election is scheduled to take place next month. Incumbent President Guntis Ulmanis is barred from running for a third term. MH


The board of directors of the U.S. company Williams International on 20 May gave final approval to the deal to invest in Mazeikiai Oil. A statement issued by the company's Lithuanian subsidiary reads: "The Williams board of directors voiced clear approval of the transaction under the terms and conditions agreed upon with the Lithuanian government in April." Under that agreement, Williams will take a 33 percent share in Mazeikiai Oil, which includes the Mazeikiai Oil Refinery, the Butinge Oil Platform, and connecting pipelines. The parliament is deliberating increasing Williams International's holdings by another 33 percent after an initial seven-year period, ELTA reported. MH


Jaroslaw Kalinowski, chairman of the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), has called on rural residents to unite. According to Kalinowski, the government ignores peasants' interests and is ready to make any concessions in order to join the EU, regardless of the damage inflicted on the economy. Kalinowski said the PSL will soon present its candidate for the 2000 presidential elections. According to a May poll, the PSL has 11 percent support and is the fourth most popular party in the country. The opposition Democratic Left Alliance has 35 percent backing, the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action 21 percent, and the Freedom Union 13 percent. JM


Police on 24 May used clubs to disperse some 400 miners who had been blocking access to the Finance Ministry to demand increased government subsidies to the coal sector, AP reported. Miners want higher government spending on severance payments and on retraining programs foreseen by the current restructuring plan. The government has already paid 1.7 billion zlotys ($435 million) to some 35,000 miners who lost their jobs or received retraining, but another 18,000 must wait until funds from next year's budget are available. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz on 23 May said that the restructuring plan has fallen victim to manipulation by union leaders and mine managers who allowed excessive payments for individual miners in the hope of obtaining more money from the government. JM


Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, have signed a peace initiative on resolving the Kosova conflict, Czech media reported on 24 May. The initiative, which was signed in Beijing, calls for a 48-hour halt to the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia as well as the withdrawal of most, but not all, Yugoslav forces from Kosova. Chinese Deputy Premier Qian Qichen expressed "understanding" for the initiative, CTK reported on 22 May. Meanwhile, Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus told a Greek newspaper that the NATO campaign has failed and that NATO is now simply trying to "save face," "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 22 May. In other news, Czech President Vaclav Havel's doctors said his bronchitis is slowly receding but that he will remain in hospital for the time being. VG


The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has accused Slovak Television (STV) of breaking the electoral law by failing to arrange a debate between the HZDS's candidate for the presidency, former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, and Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, Slovak media reported on 22 May. Originally, the station and representatives of the two politicians had agreed to hold two round-table discussions involving both candidates and two STV moderators. After Schuster refused to confront Meciar in a televised debate, STV decided to have each candidate appear separately in a round-table discussion with journalists. The HZDS claims the decision to change the format of the round-table discussions constitutes "manipulation" aimed at benefiting Schuster. VG


The HZDS has filed a libel suit against the head of the Interior Ministry's investigation department, General Jaroslav Ivor, in connection with his statements implicating Meciar in the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son, CTK reported on 22 May. In an interview with "Mlada fronta Dnes" published on 22 May, Meciar said Slovakia has turned into a police state under the current coalition government. VG


Twenty-four U.S. Marine F-18 air fighters arrived in Hungary on 22 May to take part in the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia The aircraft will be based at the Tarasz military airport, which is also a staging base for 500 U.S. troops of the UN's SFOR in Bosnia- Herzegovina. Meanwhile, the non-parliamentary Workers' Party has asked the Hungarian Constitutional Court to determine whether Budapest's decision to allow NATO to use its airspace and airfields is unconstitutional, according to a 22 May MTI report cited by the BBC. VG


Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Peter Tufo has provided "invaluable assistance" to his government, MTI reported on 21 May. Agriculture Minister Jozsef Torgyan noted that Tufo has done a lot to promote Hungary's economic prosperity. The comments came after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accepted the resignations of two deputy ministers who had lobbied for the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to Hungary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1999). Torgyan, who leads the Independent Smallholders Party, the junior coalition partner, added that it is "inadmissible" that Tufo was "exposed to attacks in Hungary." VG


Representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees persuaded Macedonian authorities at Blace on 24 May to admit 3,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosova who had spent the night in the rain at the border. The UNHCR representatives also convinced the Macedonian authorities to drop plans to send to Albania at night-time at least three busses filled with Kosovars, AP reported. One UNHCR aid worker said that this was the third time recently that he went to the border "in the middle of the night" to convince Macedonian officials not to deport Kosovars. He did not elaborate. He stressed that any deportation would constitute a violation of existing agreements between the UNHCR and Macedonia. At least 15,000 refugees arrived at the Blace border crossing during the weekend of 22-23 May. Observers noted that this was the largest single wave of new arrivals in several weeks. On 24 May, Reuters reported that the UNHCR expects another 7,000 refugees to arrive in the course of the day. PM


Two groups of male Kosovar refugees whom Serbian authorities recently freed from Smrekonica prison arrived in Albania over the weekend. According to UNHCR officials, 523 men arrived in Morina on 22 May and 506 the following day. Aid workers described the men as being the most haggard and emaciated they had seen, adding that many of them were traumatized. Some of the men appeared to be teenagers, Reuters added. The BBC reported on 24 May that many of the men believed they were going to be killed until they saw the Albanian flag over the border crossing. None was wearing Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) uniform. A UNHCR official said in Tirana on 23 May that Serbian forces abducted most of the men in mid-April when the latter were fleeing Mitrovica with their families. It is unclear why the Serbs freed the men. FS


The men reported that Serbian forces had systematically beaten the prisoners' hands, lower abdomen, and knees. They said that each day they spent in captivity, between five and 20 fainted or were seriously injured as a result of the beatings. On the basis of the numbers on their registration cards, the men estimated that the prison held between 2,000 and 3,000 inmates. Some said they were forced to fight with one another using broomsticks, Reuters reported. One man said that the Serbian forces "treated us like animals. They beat us. They cut off some men's ears." He added that the prisoners received no food during the first four days and were given one piece of bread a day thereafter. Some 450 were forced to live in a room measuring some 144 square meters, in which they had space to sit but not to lie down. FS


NATO officials on 21 May again urged the evacuation of the border town of Kukes, saying they "do not want a humanitarian disaster where the Serbs shell one of the refugee camps." The following day, refugees in an Italian-run camp organized their first press conference, stressing they do not want to move from Kukes, Reuters reported. Spokesman Rrahim Imeri told journalists that the dangers for refugees in northern Albania are not higher than they are for the locals. He added that most refugees are traumatized by their ordeal and that they want to stay close to Kosova. Italian camp head Dominico Riccio told Reuters that the conditions in the camp are good. Meanwhile, more than 4,000 refugees from Kosova arrived in Kukes over the weekend. Only 63 had arrived the previous week, a UNHCR spokesman told dpa in Tirana. FS


Provisional Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci sent a letter to Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova on 21 May inviting him to Tirana and asking him to recognize the provisional government. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko suggested setting up a National Security Council composed of all Kosovar leaders who participated in the Rambouillet talks, including Thaci, Rugova, and nationalist writer Rexhep Qosja. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent a letter to Majko on 22 May saying: "I want to welcome and encourage your efforts to bring the [Kosovar] political leadership together, and in particular your concept of a 'National Security Council'," Reuters reported. The following day, Thaci, Majko, and Qosja visited a refugee camp in Mullet near Tirana. FS


Police on 23 May prevented a demonstration in Cacak, where a self-proclaimed Citizens' Parliament recently issued a declaration against Belgrade's policies in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1999). At least 5,000 people--primarily Yugoslav army conscripts and their families--demonstrated in Krusevac on 23 May to demand that the army demobilize draftees and send them home from Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Reservists and civilians staged smaller protests in Aleksandrovac, Raska, and Baljevac over the weekend, Montenegrin Television noted. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands the Yugoslav Third Army, spoke to reservists' families in Raska on 22 May. Two days later, "The Independent" wrote that the Yugoslav army has not yet formulated a clear policy on desertions by reservists. PM


Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 23 May that "it is evident that in the past 15 days the Yugoslav army [stationed in Montenegro]...has placed itself in the service of the Belgrade dictatorship" of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). Djukanovic did not elaborate. He stressed that there will be no peace in the Balkans as long as Milosevic remains in power. And he argued that, in the past, the West should have concentrated on promoting democracy in Serbia rather than on negotiating with Milosevic. In Cetinje on 21 May, some 5,000 people staged Montenegro's first rally against the Yugoslav army since the Kosova conflict began. The next day, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic demanded that the army withdraw from Cetinje, which is the traditional political stronghold of Montenegrins favoring independence from Serbia. PM


President Bill Clinton wrote in the "New York Times" of 23 May that "the problem [in the Balkans] is not simply ethnic hatred or even ethnic conflict.... The intolerable conditions that the region finds itself in today are the result of a decade-long campaign by Slobodan Milosevic to build a greater Serbia by singling out whole peoples for destruction because of their ethnicity and faith.... We cannot respond to such tragedies everywhere, but when ethnic conflict turns into ethnic cleansing where we can make a difference, we must try." Clinton stressed that "Milosevic has failed...[in his] strategy to outlast [NATO] by dividing the alliance.... Instead of disunity in Brussels, there are growing signs of disaffection in Belgrade: Serbian soldiers abandoning their posts, Serbian civilians protesting [Milosevic's] policies." Clinton added that he will continue pursuing NATO's present strategy but does "not rule out other military options." PM


Thaci said in Tirana on 23 May that NATO's attack on the UCK base at Kosare the previous day was the result of a "technical error." He stressed that the Atlantic alliance "must continue, even intensify, the air strikes." Another UCK spokesman told "The Guardian" of 24 May in Kukes that "Kosare was the result of friendly fire. We have to accept losses in war.... We cannot and must not lose faith in our friends." On 22 May, a NATO air strike on a military complex at Istok killed 19 at a prison there, including some UCK fighters. A NATO spokesman in Brussels said that the prison was part of a "legitimate military target" and suggested that Serbian forces had placed the Kosovars there as human shields. PM


Croatian President Franjo Tudjman told the G-8 ambassadors to Croatia in Zagreb on 22 May that Serbian forces should withdraw to the northern part of Kosova, where foreign troops, including units from Russia, should also be stationed. Tudjman added that NATO troops should go to southern Kosova to help refugees return to their homes there. On 24 May, the independent daily "Novi List" charged that Tudjman's proposal amounts to "a Yalta agreement"--or partition--for Kosova. The remarks to the ambassadors constituted Tudjman's first public statement on the current conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Observers note that Tudjman has long favored a partition of Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia. PM


Thousands of Romanian workers on 24 May stopped work in a 24-hour general strike called by the country's four largest trade unions. Taking part in the action were employees from numerous key sectors of the economy, including industry, health, transportation, mining, energy, navigation, agriculture, and the chemicals industry. The unions threatened to stage an unlimited general strike if the government does not meet their demands for improved social welfare and lower taxes by 31 July, AP reported. In other news, the Romanian government on 21 May issued a decree to "prevent corporate insolvencies," dpa cited Rompres as reporting on 21 May. The decree states that all companies in the country must submit within 30 days detailed financial statements about their debt situation to the Industry Ministry, which will "balance" those debts. VG


Romanian President Emil Constantinescu on 21 May awarded the Star of Romania to Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist and Catholic Cardinal Alexandru Todea, AP reported on 21 May. The awards come on the heels of a visit to the country by Pope John Paul II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 1999). VG


Preliminary results of Moldova's non-binding referendum on increasing presidential powers suggest that the 23 May vote will be declared invalid owing to low turnout. Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea said early results indicated that turnout was about 56 percent. In order to be valid, the referendum required at least 60 percent of the electorate to participate. Golea said President Petru Lucinschi will press on with constitutional changes, despite the low turnout. On 23 May, Moldovans also voted in municipal and regional elections across the country. The same day, Oleg Manturov, a mayoral candidate from the Bloc of Communists, Agrarian Democrats, and Socialists, was critically wounded by a gun shot in the village of Kalarashovka, Infotag reported. VG


The European Commission on 21 May recommended that four Soviet- made reactors at the Kozloduy plant in Bulgaria be closed down earlier than planned to reduce the possibility of a serious accident, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. That day, Bulgarian officials met with commission representatives in Sofia to discuss alternative energy sources for the country. The Bulgarian government would like the reactors to run until the end of their operational life: 2006 for two of the reactors and 2010 for the other two. In other news, Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Marin Raikov on 23 May said Yugoslav authorities refused to allow entry to two truckloads of humanitarian assistance destined for the ethnic Bulgarian minority in eastern Serbia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Raikov said the Yugoslav side refused the aid because Bulgaria insisted that its own officials distribute it. VG


by Mel Huang

Estonia's defense establishment has been shaken by reports that the leader of one of its elite units was allegedly involved in an armed robbery attempt that left three people seriously wounded. While declining to accept the resignation of Defense Forces commander Lieutenant-General Johannes Kert, President Lennart Meri spoke for many when he said that this incident has seriously harmed the reputation of both the Defense Forces and Estonia itself.

Many in the Estonian capital appear worried that the incident points to underlying problems in the defense structure: weaknesses in internal military control, in external civilian oversight, and in the pool of military leaders. These revelations are potentially more damaging to Estonia's efforts to promote itself as a candidate for NATO membership than is low defense spending.

On 15 May, local news outlets reported that an armed robbery attempt in Harju County had left three people hospitalized following a shoot-out. Most dismissed this as nothing more than a serious crime. But it rapidly transpired that one of the alleged perpetrators of the crime, Indrek Holm, is the acting head of the military police's Special Operations Group (SOG).

On learning about the incident, Defense Minister Juri Luik ordered that the SOG's activities be halted and a special commission, under the chairmanship of Defense Ministry Permanent Under-Secretary Tarmo Mand, be set up to look into the matter. This commission is to answer three questions: Who is in charge of the SOG? Where did the chain of command break down? And what checks are in place to ensure that those recruited into the SOG are reliable?

Once the investigation was launched, other problems were quickly discovered by both the government and the press. Enn Tarto, a member of the parliament's National Defense Committee, commented that the highest parliamentary bodies had little information about the SOG, its activities, or its members: "Even the State Defense Committee itself does not know who belongs there and [to whom] it is subordinated," he said in an indication of the lack of vigilance on the part of parliamentary oversight.

As these revelations surfaced, Kert submitted his resignation to Meri, but the latter rejected it. The president said that he was pleased that Kert understood "the magnitude of the crime" and argued that the general should be given "another chance." This is the second time Meri has refused to accept Kert's resignation; the first was in 1997 following the death of 14 Estonian soldiers in a training exercise in Kurkse.

An influential columnist for "Eesti Paevaleht," Hannes Rumm, suggested that the reason Meri did not accept Kert's resignation is that the military has a weak leadership pool: "It is the good fortune of Johannes Kert and the misfortune of the Estonian state that the schooling of well-educated lieutenants to become a general takes years." Riigikogu Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Trivimi Velliste concurred, pointing out that "we don't have 20 generals in waiting."

However, Kert may no longer have the standing and support to push through further military reforms, nor to seriously explore the shortcomings the crisis exposed. In short, Estonia finds itself in a vicious circle in which a hike in defense spending may not be a panacea.