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Newsline - May 31, 1999


President Boris Yeltsin on 28 May signed a decree sacking Mikhail Zadornov as first deputy prime minister. Zadornov, who had been named to that post only three days earlier, said Yeltsin did not support his proposal that he remain finance minister in addition to being first deputy premier. He added that he had also suggested that the finance minister post be given to someone who could continue working on the budget and also oversee the current economic situation. However, that suggestion was also rejected, he noted. Zadornov commented that his resignation will "make negotiations with international financial institutions more difficult." He said he would not recommend that Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov be named finance minister because Kasyanov is currently responsible "for a very important but very narrow sphere: the search for credits, the foreign debt, and negotiations with the Paris and London Clubs," Interfax reported. Government spokesman Aleksandr Mikhailov said Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin is considering at least five candidates to replace Zadornov, including Deputy Finance Minister Viktor Khristenko, NTV reported. PB


Politicians and the media were critical of the Kremlin after Zadornov's resignation, openly questioning Stepashin's ability to choose his own government. "Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 29 May that "the cabinet has collapsed...whether or not Stepashin resigns, he is no longer head of the cabinet." Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said "the whole affair means Stepashin has little say in forming the government and the puppet-masters continue to pull the strings guiding the selection of government ministers." Former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar said "it is impossible to have confidence in democracy in Russia if everyone realizes that the government is not in control of anything" and that it is being "manipulated like a puppet." Former First Deputy Premier Boris Nemtsov said "it is hard for me to give any advice to Stepashin, but if I were him I would have resigned." Yeltsin and Stepashin met in the Kremlin on 31 May to reportedly discuss the formation of the government. Presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin also attended the meeting. PB


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 29 May that "it is no secret" that business magnate Boris Berezovskii, Sibneft head Roman Abramovich, and United Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais control the process of choosing the new government, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Zyuganov said President Yeltsin "is the hostage of these puppeteers" and that the groups competing with one another for control over "Yeltsin's family advisers" cannot decide who will take the most favorable positions in the government. Many observers believe First Deputy Premier Nikolai Aksenenko has close ties to both Berezovskii and his ally Abramovich and that Aksenenko's rapid rise from head of the Railroads Ministry to deputy premier is because of those connections. Nemtsov told an RFE/RL correspondent that the rumor that Aksenenko is "sponsored" by Berezovskii "does not correspond to reality." But he added that Aksenenko has been "on friendly terms with Abramovich for nine years." PB


Aksenenko's bold actions and statements in his first few days of being named first deputy premier have caught the attention of many observers, AP reported on 28 May. The daily "Noviye izvestiya" wrote that Aksenenko is "hogging the blanket" and "acting like he's...convinced of his hereditary right to rule the country." The headline of the 28 May "Moskovsii komsomolets" read "Conductor, Hit the Brakes!"--a reference to his lifelong work in the railroad industry. Aksenenko reportedly overshadowed new Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny's first public appearance on 27 May by outlining plans for the energy sector, while Kalyuzhny simply nodded. He also surprised many by attending a meeting last week in Sochi between Stepashin and Yeltsin. PB


Prime Minister Stepashin named career customs official Mikhail Vanin head of the Customs Service on 28 May, Reuters reported. PB


At a cabinet meeting called by Stepashin on 29 May, the government approved policy plans regarding the Central Bank and relations with international lenders, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministers also addressed plans for meeting World Bank terms in order to secure a third structural readjustment loan for Russia, First Deputy Premier Aksenenko said. First Deputy Finance Minister Khristenko said the entire package of proposals "aimed at getting the loans for the restructuring of the economy" was approved in principle. Aksenenko described the meeting as "good and constructive." Representatives of the State Duma were also reportedly in attendance, including Duma Budget Committee chairman Aleksandr Zhukov. PB


Russia's special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin held nine hours of talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on 28 May, Reuters reported. Before leaving Belgrade, Chernomyrdin said he is "very pleased" with the outcome of the talks, but observers noted that they produced no obvious breakthrough. After the meeting, Tanjug said Milosevic has accepted "the general principles" laid down by the G-8 nations as a basis for bringing peace to Kosova. Tanjug did not elaborate. But in Belgrade on 30 May, Serbian Information Minister Aleksandr Vucic said that Serbia has "never opposed" an international presence in Kosova. He added, however, that Belgrade "cannot accept...the occupation of our territory." After meeting in Moscow with Prime Minister Stepashin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and other top officials, Chernomyrdin stressed that Yugoslavia's "sovereignty and territorial integrity" remain inviolable. FS


British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in London on 30 May that NATO forces "need to see [in] detail" what Milosevic is willing to accept, Reuters reported. He stressed that "we need to go beyond acceptance of general principles." Cook added that "the mere fact [Milosevic] has made such an offer does demonstrate that the pressure is telling on him.... We must now make sure we keep up that pressure until we have achieved our objectives." Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari told CNN in London that Belgrade must make its position clearer if it wants to advance the cause of peace. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels that Milosevic is slowly moving away "from the position...of almost total defiance of the international community" but remains far from accepting the key NATO conditions for ending the air campaign "without reservation [and] without negotiation." FS


Speaking to ITAR-TASS on 28 May, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tokyo might respond to President Yeltsin's proposal on settling an outstanding territorial issue before the latter's scheduled state visit to Japan this fall. That proposal, made in November 1998, is an official reply to Japan's suggestion on resolving the ownership dispute over the Kuril Islands, which has blocked the signing of a treaty formally ending World War II hostilities between the two countries. The spokesman was speaking one day before Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura met with Russian Premier Stepashin in Moscow to discuss bilateral ties and preparations for Yeltsin's visit. Stepashin stressed his government will continue the policy of building a long-term partnership with Japan. Following his meeting with Komura on 29 May, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said Yeltsin may meet with Japanese Premier Keizo Obuchi during the G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany, next month. JC


Komura told Ivanov during their meeting that Japan will step up its assistance to Russia in dismantling and scrapping its decommissioned nuclear submarines in the Pacific, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 May, citing sources at the Japanese Embassy in Moscow. The two sides agreed to carry out feasibility studies on a number of projects, including unloading spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned submarines belonging to Russia's Pacific Fleet and constructing a storage site for such fuel at the Zvezda ship-building plant in Russia's Far East. JC


Russian Premier Stepashin met with his Norwegian counterpart, Kjell Magne Bondevik, in Moscow on 28 May to discuss bilateral trade and economic cooperation, Russian agencies reported. The two leaders signed agreements on cooperation in training civil servants and enterprise managers and on the construction of a customs checkpoint on the Russian-Norwegian border. With regard to the Kosova conflict, Stepashin told journalists that Moscow and Oslo agree on the need to resolve the Kosova crisis by "peaceful political means." Bondevik's visit was the first by a Norwegian premier to Russia in quarter of a century, according to AP. The following day, Stepashin met with visiting South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to discuss economic cooperation (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999), ITAR-TASS reported. JC


According to preliminary results, incumbent Governor Yevgenii Savchenko won 53.45 percent of the vote in the 30 May gubernatorial elections in Belgorod Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported the next day, citing a member of the Belgorod Election Committee. Savchenko is an independent who has the backing of some local Agrarians and Communists (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 May 1999). The Communist Party candidate, Mikhail Beskhmelnitsyn, garnered 20 percent backing, while Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii was trailing with 18 percent. Turnout was reported at 70 percent. The news agency on 31 May quoted Zhirinovskii as saying he will challenge the election results "in court" because of numerous "irregularities" in the election campaign. JC


Former Premier and current special envoy to Yugoslavia Chernomyrdin will run for the State Duma this fall in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Yurii Neelov, governor of the region, told journalists on 28 May, according to ITAR-TASS. Neelov pointed out that Chernomyrdin is well acquainted with the gas-rich okrug since his days as head of Gazprom. Last year, Chernomyrdin had said he would not take part in a parliamentary vote because he did not want to work with his old foes in the Duma. JC


The center-right Right Cause coalition named Young Russia chairman Boris Nemtsov, Boris Fedorov, and Irina Khakamada as its top three candidates, in that order, for the State Duma elections in December, Interfax reported. In a congress held in Moscow on 29 May and attended by 435 delegates and 1,100 guests, the movement also named Chubais as the head of the coalition's election campaign committee. Former Premier Sergei Kirienko, head of the New Force movement, is reportedly still being courted by Right Cause but is also considering joining Golos Rossii. Thirteen parties currently are included within the Right Cause coalition. Speaking at the congress, Nemtsov offered support to Premier Stepashin and said Right Cause should back Russian Patriarch Aleksii II in his call for the removal of Lenin's body from Red Square. Yegor Gaidar, head of the Democratic Choice of Russia party, also addressed the congress. PB


Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov said on 28 May that he is prohibited from flying to a conference in Switzerland because his passport has been annulled, Interfax reported. Skuratov said he was turned back at the airport and told that his passport was invalid. He called the incident "a rude violation of all my rights as a citizen--above all my constitutional right to travel freely." The Russian Foreign Ministry said the recently issued passport is invalid because of a "technical mistake" and that he will receive a new one within the next few days. PB


The government on 28 May reported that the official number of unemployed has risen by 2.3 million people since the economic crisis in August 1998, reaching a total of 10.4 million as of April, Interfax reported. In other news, the Central Bank reported that gold and currency reserves grew by $300 million in the week ending 21 May, a 2.85 percent increase (from $11.3 billion to $11.6 billion) over the previous week. However, reserves are still down some 5 percent from the beginning of the year. And Russia's Diamond Depository held its first trading session on 29 May to auction uncut and cut natural diamonds. Trading was reportedly brisk. Another seven or eight auctions are due to be held this year. PB


Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev and Rosvooruzhenie director, Grigorii Rapota, signed a memorandum of intent in Kazan on 28 May, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Rapota said the agreement is intended to help Tatarstan establish "direct links with the world [arms] market." He noted the "powerful potential" of Tatarstan's military-industrial complex. LF


Russian helicopter gunships belonging to the Interior Ministry on 28 May launched an air attack against a small island in the Terek River that spokesmen claimed is the site of a Chechen terrorist camp, Russian agencies reported. The attack was in retaliation for an assault the previous night on a Russian border post between Chechnya and Dagestan, for which Russian spokesmen blamed Chechen militants. Chechen Security Minister Turpal Atgeriev denied in Grozny on 28 May that Chechens were responsible for the border attack, which he blamed on residents of Dagestan. He said the Russia air attacks were intended to provoke a new conflict, into which the Chechen army and population would be drawn. Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told Interfax on 29 May that Chechnya will appeal to the UN to condemn the Russian air attacks. LF


Prime Minister Stepashin said in Moscow on 28 May that "there is no place" in Russia for criminal gangs who "kidnap and kill people," Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. He added that such criminals should be "eliminated." Stepashin was speaking directly after a meeting with two Russian Orthodox clergymen who had been released earlier that day after being held captive by their abductors in Chechnya for more than two months. On 29 May, law enforcement officials from Chechnya and North Ossetia met in Vladikavkaz to draft measures to crack down on kidnappings for ransom, Caucasus Press reported. LF


According to preliminary results released by the Armenian Central Electoral Commission on 31 May, the Miasnutyun (Unity) alliance received 52 percent of the vote in the previous day's parliamentary elections, ITAR- TASS reported. Miasnutyun comprises Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian's Republican Party of Armenia and the People's Party of Armenia, headed by former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian. The Communist Party of Armenia polled 16.33 percent, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-- Dashnaktsutyun (ARFD) 9.25 percent and the Right and Accord bloc 5.4 percent. The National Democratic Union headed by former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukian failed to surmount the 5 percent minimum required for representation under the proportional system. Voter turnout was 55.7 percent. Millionaire businessman Khachatur Sukiasian and Armenian Pan- National Movement chairman Vano Siradeghian won in single- mandate constituencies. LF


Thousands of voters had to appeal to local courts on 30 May in order to cast their votes after finding their names had been left off local voter lists, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Self- Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hayrikian said late on 30 May that the omissions were so extensive that the outcome of the poll should be annulled. Other opposition parties, including the Communist Party, the National Democratic Union, Hayrenik and Azatutyun, similarly condemned the exclusion of numerous residents from the lists, which the ARFD claimed was deliberate. But Central Electoral Commission chairman Artak Sahradian blamed the omissions on "the negligence of some civil servants," according to ITAR-TASS. The Miasnutyun alliance also condemned the irregularities but denied that they were so extensive as to affect the outcome of the poll. LF


More than 1,000 opposition supporters gathered on 28 May, the anniversary of Azerbaijan's 1918 declaration of independence, at a monument to Azerbaijan Democratic Republic leader Mamed Emin Rasulzade, Turan reported. Unlike in previous years, the Azerbaijani authorities did not create any obstacles to the meeting. But in Nakhichevan, local police prevented the local branch of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party from holding a commemorative ceremony. In an address to mark the occasion broadcast by Turkish television, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, who is recuperating from cardiac surgery in Antalya, called for expanded ties between Azerbaijan and the West as a means of expediting the repatriation of Azerbaijanis forced to flee their homes during the Karabakh conflict, Interfax reported. LF


Visiting Tashkent on 27-28 May, Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev met with his Uzbek counterpart, Utkir Sultanov, to discuss deliveries of Uzbek gas to southern Kazakhstan and the border between the two countries, RFE/RL's Kazakh service reported. Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told RFE/RL correspondents several days earlier that the border demarcation issue is one of the most complicated questions in relations between Astana and Tashkent. Minimal progress was made toward resolving those issues. Tashkent rejected Kazakhstan's request to buy Uzbek natural gas for $30 per thousand cubic meters. Balghymbaev also attended a session of the Kazakh-Uzbek inter-governmental commission and met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, according to ITAR- TASS. LF


Orleu party leader Seydakhmet Quttyqadam told journalists in Almaty on 28 May that opposition parties should unite in a single bloc to contend this fall's parliamentary elections, Interfax reported. He said that if they do so, opposition parties could form a majority in the next parliament. Quttyqadam added that Orleu is considering cooperating with other opposition parties to monitor the elections. The following day, Interfax quoted Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev as saying that the poll must be "truly democratic" and that "everyone who wants to" must be permitted to participate. In an apparent reference to articles in the new election law that preclude persons convicted of minor offenses from running as candidates, Nazarbaev said that "adjustments" to that law can be made either by presidential decree or by a ruling on the part of the Central Electoral Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). LF


Ousted Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani met behind closed doors with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev in Bishkek on 28 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. According to presidential press secretary Kanybek Imanaliev, the Afghan delegation came to Kyrgyzstan on their own initiative. ImanAliyev said the current situation in Central Asia and bilateral relations between Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan were discussed. Rabbani thanked Akaev for his offer to host a conference in Bishkek on the peace settlement in Afghanistan. Many Islamic countries, together with France and Germany, have backed that initiative. Akaev expressed support for Rabbani's proposal to open an Afghan diplomatic representation in Bishkek. The Afghan delegation also met the same day with Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev to discuss economic cooperation and with Defense Minister Myrzakan Subanov and Security Minister Misir Ashyrkulov to evaluate the possibility of sending arms to the northern regions of Afghanistan through Kyrgyz territory. LF


At a cabinet session in Bishkek on 28 May, Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev criticized the Finance Ministry and the National Bank for their failure to keep the Kyrgyz som stable, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He asked ministers to work out urgent measures to support the som within the next five days. First Deputy Finance Minister Malabek Toktobolotov told the meeting that inflation in the first quarter of 1999 was more than 15 percent, while industrial output fell by 4 percent. According to Deputy Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade Arzymat Sulaimankulov, trade turnover with Uzbekistan has fallen by 52 percent, with Kazakhstan by 19 percent and with Russia by 15 percent since 1 January. LF


Two opposition fighters belonging to a contingent that has pledged its loyalty to the Tajik government were killed in fighting with supporters of a renegade opposition field commander in Kofarnikhon, east of Dushanbe, on 28 May, Reuters and ITAR- TASS reported. Six civilian passengers in a bus, including three children, were also injured in the incident, having been caught in cross-fire. LF


At least 54 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede in an underground passageway to the Nyamiha metro station in Minsk on 30 May. The tragedy occurred after a crowd of young people had rushed from a nearby beer festival into the passage to avoid heavy rain. "The weather worsened sharply...and the crowd, some of whom were under the influence of alcohol, rushed to find cover," AP quoted Interior Minister Yuryy Sivakou as saying. JM


Vasil Staravoytau, former head of the Rassvet collective farm in Mahilyou Oblast, was sentenced on 29 May to two years hard labor and confiscation of property. It took 11 hours for a judge to read the verdict, which found the 74-year-old Staravoytau guilty of seven counts of embezzlement, attempted smuggling, abuse of power, bribery, and illegal weapons possession. Staravoytau, a World War II veteran, received some of the Soviet Union's highest honors, including three Orders of Lenin and two Hero of Socialist Labor awards. Before his arrest in 1997, Staravoytau became embroiled in a public dispute with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who had also headed a collective farm in the Mahilyou region during the Soviet era. Some independent newspapers have speculated that by indicting Staravoytau, Lukashenka took revenge on his more successful rival in farming. JM


Supreme Council Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko announced on 29 May, after his Agrarian Party formally nominated him as its presidential candidate, that he will run in the 31 October presidential elections. Tkachenko is widely believed to pose the biggest challenge from the left of the political spectrum to incumbent President Leonid Kuchma. The previous day, ITAR- TASS reported that the Ukrainian Central Electoral Commission has so far registered 17 candidates in the 1999 presidential elections. JM


Emil Constantinescu on 28 May visited Chernivtsi, capital of the Bukovyna region, which is home to some 460,000 ethnic Romanians. Thousands of people waving Romanian flags came out to greet Constantinescu, the first Romanian head of state to visit the area in 60 years. "Relations between Romania and Ukraine, as well as those between our ethnic groups can be an example for the world," Reuters quoted Constantinescu as saying. Constantinescu and Kuchma inaugurated a Romanian consulate in Chernivtsi. Later this year, Ukraine plans to open a multicultural university in Chernivtsi, which will offer tuition also in Romanian. JM


Meetings of the parliamentary Baltic Assembly and inter-governmental Baltic Council of Ministers took place in Vilnius from 28-30 May. The assembly passed five resolutions: on the restoration of pre-occupation embassy buildings in France and Italy, cooperation in the energy sector, further promotion of the Via Baltica transport link, the protection of cultural monuments, and the assembly's 1999 budget, totaling $33,000, according to BNS. Lithuania also turned the chairmanship of the parliamentary body over to Latvia. The Baltic Council of Ministers also discussed further regional cooperation at several levels. MH


The People's Party on 30 May voted to merge with the Moderates, according to "Postimees." During the March general elections, the two parties ran on one list under the name of the Moderates. The center-left Moderates had approved the merger last week. However, some members of the right-wing People's Party have announced they will split away, arguing that the merger has changed the political direction of the party. One rebel member said that most of the departed members will likely join up with the rightist Pro Patria Union--also a member of the three-party ruling coalition. People's Party chairman Toomas Hendrik Ilves commented that in every merger, it is "inevitable" that some will be dissatisfied. MH


The Latvian parliament's decision to implement a 70 percent tariff on imported pork and pork products (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999) has drawn heavy criticism from Estonian and Lithuanian officials. On 28 May, the Estonian government lodged an official protest, as did the Lithuanian government. Lithuanian government officials also called for the convening of the committee on the Baltic Free Trade Agreement, saying retaliatory action may be taken, according to BNS. Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said the tariffs do not violate the Baltic Free Trade agreement nor Latvia's obligations as a World Trade Organization member: "If we are wrong and the WTO proves it, we will repay both Lithuanian and Estonian exporters," BNS quoted him as saying. MH


Crude oil deliveries from Russia to Lithuania's Mazeikiai Oil Refinery resumed on 27 May, according to ELTA. However, officials from the refinery are not sure when production will restart. The official said that the crude reserves must be filled first and there must first be some guarantee from Russia that supplies will continue. A lack of crude from Russia forced the oil refinery to shut down on last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). MH


Polish farmers on 29 May ended their road blockades and signed an agreement with the government on minimum prices paid by the state for grain. The government agreed to buy wheat for 510 zlotys ($128) per 1 ton in August, 520 zlotys in September, and 560 zlotys in October. The minimum prices for 1 ton of rye were set at 360 zlotys, 375 zlotys, and 390 zlotys, respectively. "Subsidizing grain production is a provisional measure for approximately two years. It does not make the farmers partners on the market but [only] opponents on the street," the 31 May "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted an agricultural expert as saying. Radical farmers' leader Andrzej Lepper said he is not satisfied with the deal, and he chastised "95 percent" of farmers for not participating in road blockades (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). JM


A 29 May conference of the centrist Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL) elected Jan Kasal, until now party deputy chairman, as KDU-CSL leader, CTK reported. He replaces Josef Lux, who quit politics last year after falling ill with leukemia. Kasal was backed by 181 delegates, while his rival for the position, Cyril Svoboda, obtained 121 votes and was later elected KDU- CSL first deputy chairman. After his election, Kasal said he would like to meet with the leaders of other parties but did not expect such talks to result "in the creation of a new coalition." He was indirectly responding to Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus's address to the KDU-CSL conference, in which Klaus said the Christian Democrats must adopt "a clear position" on cooperation between the two parties. MS


Czech President Vaclav Havel on 28 May left the Prague military hospital. Doctors consider that he has "overcome the worst" of a new bout of bronchitis. Presidential spokesman Martin Krafl said Havel, who was hospitalized on 20 May, is likely to resume his official duties on 7 June. MS


Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster has defeated former Premier Vladimir Meciar in the 29 May presidential run-off. Official results released the next day showed Schuster, the candidate of the ruling four-party coalition, received 57.2 percent of the vote, compared with Meciar's 42.8 percent. Turnout was 75.45 percent. Schuster told journalists he intends to work for "the reconciliation of all Slovaks," adding that he does not "want to be the servant of the [ruling] coalition, just because I belonged to it," TASR and CTK reported. He also said his first official visit as president will be to the Czech Republic. Meciar sent Schuster a telegram expressing confidence that the new president will carry out his duties "to the benefit of Slovakia and all its citizens." On 29 May, he had said he will not withdraw from politics if defeated. MS


Two dozen U.S. Marine F-18 jet fighters that were deployed in Hungary last week flew their first missions over Yugoslavia on 28 May, dpa reported, citing a Marine Corps spokesman at the Taszar airbase in southern Hungary. Also on 28 May, the cabinet approved the deployment of 18 A-10 planes at Taszar. Defense Ministry spokesman Lajos Erdelyi told MTI that three A-10s, which are designed to attack tanks and other armor, are already at the base, while the remainder are due to arrive over the next days. MTI reported that there are currently 16 KC-135 Stratotanker mid-air refueling planes stationed at Budapest airport and 24 F-18 fighters at Taszar, in addition to the three A-10s. MS


Hashim Thaci, leader of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and prime minister of the UCK-backed provisional government, told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 31 May that NATO should intensify its air strikes. He added that NATO's bombing campaign has prevented Serbian forces from carrying out even worse massacres and abuses than has been the case. He noted that morale among Serbian troops in the province is low. Thaci argued that only military pressure will prompt Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to make concessions. He said that he is pleased with the level of cooperation between the UCK and provisional government, on the one hand, and NATO, on the other. Thaci stressed that he is willing to compromise with Ibrahim Rugova of the moderate Democratic League of Kosova in order to promote Kosovar unity. He added, however, that the Kosovars are already united on most key issues and that the differences between the UCK and Rugova have been "overestimated in Western capitals." PM


Thaci also told the 31 May "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that his troops are carrying out an offensive in southwestern Kosova near the Albanian border. He added that the UCK has become much more professional since General Agim Ceku took over its command recently. Ceku is a former Yugoslav army officer who later became a general in the Croatian army. Ceku told RFE/RL on 30 May that NATO air strikes have reduced the ability of Serbian forces to "carry out their war against civilians" in Kosova. Ceku noted that the morale of Serbian forces is low and that reservists have recently deserted their units in large numbers. PM


German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac issued a statement in Paris on 29 May saying that the foreign ministers of the G-8 countries should meet again and review recent diplomatic developments in Belgrade. Tanjug reported over the weekend that Milosevic has accepted "the general principles" laid down by the G-8 nations as a basis for bringing peace to Kosova (see Part I). The statement added that "France and Germany consider it necessary to examine whether the content of [Milosevic's] declaration can lead to a political solution on the basis of our principles." NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said during a visit to Rome that he favors the proposed meeting. Chirac told Reuters in Paris the following day that Milosevic "does not have any [room for maneuver]." FS


Slovenian President Milan Kucan told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 30 May that NATO policies in the Balkans are aimed at restoring "normal life" in Kosova and at establishing respect for "human rights as a fundamental principle of the new world order." He added that he does not believe that NATO will end its air strikes until it achieves its objectives. Kucan said he is opposed to the idea of partitioning Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). He noted that Ljubljana is willing to host a major international conference on the future of the Balkans. PM


General Wesley Clark, who is NATO's chief commander in Europe, told "Le Figaro" of 31 May that "the Serbian forces have been reduced [by NATO bombings] to a state where they must remain hidden by day. They only take up positions at night or in bad weather," he added. Clark argued that desertions and discontent are on the rise and that some units have revolted against their commanders. He concluded that the bombing "has transformed the Serbian forces, which previously were well equipped, efficient, and formidable, into a mosaic of individuals less capable of carrying out [the army's] cruel mission.... The [Yugoslav] army is in decline and knows it is losing" (see also Part I). PM


Mary Robinson, who is the UN's chief official for human rights issues, said in a report on 31 May that the Yugoslav government should "withdraw immediately and unconditionally all the army and [police] units from [Kosova], as well as federal police and paramilitary forces who are responsible for gross violations of human rights in the region." She added that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's recent indictment of Milosevic was a "major step" toward ending "impunity" in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). Robinson noted that "a number of [ethnic Albanian] refugees interviewed by [her] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights witnessed or confirmed accounts of summary executions, while others reported having seen mass graves." She also criticized NATO's use of cluster bombs in its air strikes against Serbian targets and its destruction of civilian sites, including schools and hospitals. PM


An unnamed official of the Atlantic alliance told Reuters in Brussels on 31 May that "you can only fine-tune a bombing campaign so far. At point of impact, even the smartest bomb is unable to distinguish between soldiers and civilians. The Serbs have moved many of their military assets into built-up areas where they are co- located with civilians.... We are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties. Regrettably, they are inevitable as we increase the tempo of the air campaign." He made his remarks hours after Serbian media reported that 11 people died when NATO aircraft attacked a sanatorium in Surdulica. The previous day, nine people were killed when NATO bombed a bridge in Varvarin. Shortly after that attack, a NATO spokesman in Brussels said the bridge was "a major line of communication and a legitimate military target." PM


A military court in Belgrade sentenced Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace, who are Australian employees of CARE, to 12 and four years in prison, respectively, for "collecting and passing on secret information," Reuters reported on 30 May. Their Yugoslav colleague Branko Jelen received a six-year jail term. The next day, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Parliament: "We would like the government of President Milosevic, and President Milosevic himself, to treat these two aid workers with at least the humanity that the aid workers have been treating the people of Yugoslavia with." Downer also called Yugoslav Ambassador to Australia Dragan Dragojlovic to Parliament House to lodge a protest against the jailings. Dragojlovic told reporters that he hopes the men can be released but stressed that they must first be proven innocent in court. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that he will work quietly through diplomatic channels to obtain the men's release. PM


Spokesmen for the UNHCR and several other aid agencies said in Skopje on 29 May that only about 1,200 Kosovars arrived in Macedonia the previous day, Reuters reported. The UNHCR's Ron Redmond added that the aid workers "are very concerned because we know that thousands, probably tens of thousands, [of Kosovars] want to come out. Their physical condition is deteriorating by the day. They are not getting any food, they are not getting any medical attention" in Kosova. Another aid worker noted: "It's ironic, but we hope to see more refugees come across because at least that way we know that they are safe and we can help them." PM


An unspecified number of Yugoslav soldiers entered Bosnia near Rudo on the border with Serbia, took six NATO peacekeepers with them back into Serbia, and detained the SFOR men for about eight hours before releasing them, AP reported from Sarajevo on 28 May. A NATO spokesman said that some of the men had been mistreated. He added that "the Yugoslav violation of Bosnian sovereignty is a breach of the Dayton Peace Agreement." PM


An additional 400 Kosovar men released by Serbian forces from the prison in Smrekonica arrived in Kukes on 29 and 30 May, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). About 2,000 men have been freed from detention there over the past eight days. All of them told similar stories of torture and showed signs of malnutrition. FS


In maneuvers on 28 May, Albanian soldiers fired hundreds of artillery shells and rockets at targets near Morina, in Albania, close to the Kosovar border. The exercises involved tanks, howitzers, and 1,200 ground troops. Unnamed Western military sources told AP that NATO tried unsuccessfully to stop the exercise, fearing a Serbian military response in an area packed with almost 100,000 refugees. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels, however, that Albania "has the right to take any steps which it deems necessary to defend itself." On 30 May, Serbian forces fired several mortar rounds into Albania near Morina. Serbian snipers took up positions in the hills overlooking the border crossing. Over the weekend, Yugoslav army troops and UCK forces fought for control over three small villages near Tropoja, in Kosova. FS


An unnamed high ranking Greek police official told Reuters on 30 May that Greek authorities will "greatly intensify...the checks on refugees...throughout the country" after an illegal Albanian immigrant hijacked a bus and took nine hostages in Thessaloniki on 28 May. The 25 year-old armed ex-convict then forced the driver to take the bus across the border into Albania. The incident ended on 29 May when Albanian special police ambushed the vehicle in central Albania, killing the hijacker and a Greek hostage. Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis described the storming of the bus as "very foolish behavior on the part of the Albanian police which showed indifference about human lives." FS


The National Council of the Romanian National Party (PNR) on 29 May approved the party's merger with the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD). PLD chairman Nicolae Cerveni will become PNR deputy chairman as of 31 May, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. According to "Adevarul" on 31 May, Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) leader Ion Iliescu and Victor Roman Constantinescu, one of the leaders of the Party of Romanian Unity Alliance (PAUR), signed a protocol in Cluj on 29 May that envisages the merger of the PAUR (a splinter party of the Party of Romanian National Unity) and the PDSR. The former leader of the PAUR is Gheorghe Funar, who went on to join the Greater Romania Party. MS


The National Council of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) announced on 28 May that the CDR will back incumbent President Emil Constantinescu in the 2000 presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The council postponed taking a decision on the National Liberal Party's demand that CDR political formations be allowed to run separately in local elections. CDR chairman Ion Diaconescu said his National Peasant Party Christian Democratic believes that the issue cannot be resolved before the parliament decides whether to change the system of parliamentary and local elections and amend the law on political parties. The liberals are also demanding that the CDR chairmanship be rotated and that they be given a veto- right on decisions binding for the CDR. MS


"Out of 36 Romanian banks, 29 are economically viable," according to a 28 May statement released by Romania's National Bank after a three-day meeting of its board. The statement says the banks encountering difficulties as a result of bad loans are Agricultural Bank, Albina Bank, Bancorex, Bankcoop, Columna, Credit Bank, and Dacia Felix. On 25 May, the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal declared Albina Bank bankrupt. The state fund guaranteeing deposits said on 28 May that each depositor with the bank may withdraw up to 35.3 million lei (some $2,260) from that bank. Last week, thousands gathered outside Bankcoop branches, fearing its collapse. MS


The leu has dropped against the U.S. dollar again, Infotag and Flux reported on 28 May. The National Bank on 26 May fixed the exchange rate at 11.28 lei, while that figure fell to 11.40 on 28 May. Some exchange offices charged as much as 12.86 per $. Flux also reported that on 28 May the price of bread increased by 21 percent on average, mainly owing to the hike in the price of flour. MS


Trade and Tourism Minister Valentin Vasiliev told the parliament on 28 May that the direct losses caused to Bulgaria's economy as a result of the military operations in neighboring Yugoslavia so far amount to 115 billion leva (some $62 million). Lost profits as a result of the war total some 10 billion leva, he added, according to BTA, as cited by the BBC. He added that all losses are the result of canceled foreign trade deals. MS


by Paul Goble

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government has announced that foreign priests will no longer be allowed to come to Belarus now that the Minsk authorities have allowed the Roman Catholic Church there to open a seminary.

But Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, the archbishop of Minsk, told the Keston News Service recently that this decision, the latest example of Lukashenka's efforts to restrict religious activities, will make it extremely difficult for his Church to recover anytime soon from the depredations of Soviet times during which more than 90 percent of parish churches were destroyed or confiscated.

Swiatek, 84, is amply qualified to speak on this subject. Despite being accused of murder, sentenced to death, and spending a decade in Soviet camps, the cardinal remained true to his faith and in 1991 became the first Catholic bishop in Belarus in almost half a century.

Much of the Church's rebirth so far springs from the 130 Polish priests who arrived after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cardinal Swiatek said. Without additional pastoral assistance from abroad, he suggested, the Church faces a difficult future, especially since the new seminary can prepare only 25 candidates for the priesthood annually.

Lukashenka's actions against what he and some others see as "foreign" faiths mirror Russian religious legislation in its form, content, and consequences.

Speaking on 21 May to a panel that advises Russian President Boris Yeltsin on human rights issues, State Duma member Valerii Borshchev said that the 1997 Russian law on freedom of conscience and religious associations violates the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Moscow is a signatory.

Borshchev said that the creation of a special privileged position for what that legislation calls "traditional" religions at the expense of all others violates fundamental principles of human rights. And he warned against what he said is the increasingly widespread view that Russian Orthodox Christianity should serve as the ideology of the post-communist Russian State.

Other speakers at the gathering, including Gleb Yakunin, a Russian Orthodox priest and former prisoner of conscience, echoed Borshchev's arguments. But despite their criticism, a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate defended the legislation.

Vsevolod Chaplin, himself an Orthodox priest, argued that the law does not in fact discriminate against any faith. He suggested that all the problems others were pointing to arise from the misapplication of the law by arbitrary local and regional officials.

Chaplin's statement reflects the official line of both the Patriarchate and the Russian government. But it may not convince anyone, especially in the light of both the Belarusian actions and a recent statement by the senior Russian Justice Ministry officials responsible for registering religious congregations in the Russian Federation itself.

Speaking to a representative of the Keston News Service recently, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev argued that registration is proceeding "normally" and that there is "still plenty of time" for all groups to register. He noted that the Russian Orthodox Church has managed to register almost 8,000 of its parishes.

Other Churches may not be so fortunate, however. If they fail to meet the 31 December deadline, Kudryavtsev said, they "wouldn't be immediately liquidated" but would face liquidation "by legal processes." Human rights activists think that local officials may move more precipitously, especially since Kudryavtsev has said that "we don't need unpleasant publicity connected with such cases."

These attacks on religious activity, however, do not appear likely to rein in the efforts of the faithful in either country to continue their work. Nataliya Bronitskaya, a representative of the Union of Evangelical Churches in Russia, recently said that she and her co-religionists "have established our right to faith through suffering. Everyone knows this. Just let them try to question our rights again."

And Belarusian Cardinal Swiatek replied to Lukashenka with the confidence that comes from a longer-term view: "The Church in Belarus," he said, "is led by the Holy Spirit. I am only His implement."