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Newsline - June 3, 1999


Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, speaking during a visit to Tula on 2 June, said he will present his cabinet to the media and the country on 4 June. At that time, he added, he will "speak very specifically about the distribution of power among the members of the cabinet." Stepashin said he intends to personally supervise the work of the finance and so-called "power ministries" as well as relations between Moscow and the regions. The prime minister said increasing tax collection and preventing capital flight will be two key priorities of his government. JB


Prime Minister Stepashin praised State Duma legislators on 3 June for passing in its first reading a bill on restructuring credit organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. Legislators had approved the measure on 2 June. The bill is part of a legislative package that the government says must be passed if Moscow is to continue receiving IMF credits. JB


Commentator Otto Latsis, writing in "Novye Izvestiya" on 2 June, pointed out that "Russia is still teetering on the verge of a financial abyss" and that the country has been living in a state of technical default for months. Latsis said this is precisely why a new agreement with the IMF is so crucial: "Its failure or success will determine whether we will be able to solve the problem of foreign debt for years to come or whether the avalanche of payments will bury us here and now." JB


Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok has said all Russian oil companies have paid their taxes for the months of April and May, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. He added that all oil companies have concluded agreements with the ministry pledging to pay all back taxes by November or December of this year in "real money" (as opposed to through barter deals). JB


Central Bank governor Viktor Gerashchenko has said he intends to encourage Russian banks to undertake further mergers in order to consolidate the sector and ensure that financial institutions become more sound, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. Gerashchenko, addressing the Eighth International Banking Congress in St. Petersburg, said that in the past two years, the number of banks in Russia has shrunk from 2,500 to 1,500, as the government has revoked 1,000 licenses. But he added that almost all of the 18 leading banks in Russia are encountering problems due to lack of capital. Gerashchenko criticized bank managers and legislators for torpedoing a draft law on guaranteeing citizens' bank deposits. He said the banks have refused to pay into a special fund to back the deposits. JB


NTV reported on 2 June that unspecified military aides to Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's special envoy to Yugoslavia, denounced the Kosova peace plan on the grounds that it gives too much say to NATO, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see Part II). According to the television station, the advisers "have voiced their categorical opposition to the agreements" reached in Bonn. They criticized Chernomyrdin for agreeing to NATO's stopping its bombing campaign only after the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova has been verified and to NATO's playing a leading role in the peace-keeping force. Chernomyrdin's adviser Valentin Sergeev "categorically" denied the NTV report, according to Interfax. He added that "I do not know who can benefit from spreading these rumors at such a crucial moment in the negotiations." FS


At his meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Beijing on 2 June, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov delivered a verbal message from Russian President Yeltsin stressing that "the latest world developments testify to the correctness of...promoting our relations of strategic partnership," Russian agencies reported. Ivanov traveled to Beijing mainly to prepare for another informal summit between Yeltsin and Jiang. Following talks with his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, earlier the same day, Ivanov announced that the second "summit without neckties" will take place in late October or early November in Beijing. The first such meeting took place in Moscow last November (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"24 November 1998). Leaving Beijing on 3 June, Ivanov hailed the results of his visit, saying that Russia and China have confirmed "a common approach" to practically all international issues, including Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. JC


At the request of the Duma, the Constitutional Court began examining the basic law to determine under what conditions the Russian president can be stripped of his mandate, especially in case of ill health, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. The Duma asked the court more than a year ago to clarify under which circumstances the president, if incapacitated, can or must relinquish his powers to the prime minister and whether this automatically triggers new elections. JB


A conference on the abolition of the death penalty in Russia opened in Moscow on 3 June, ITAR-TASS reported. Anatolii Pristavkin, head of the presidential Commission for Pardons, says the main purpose of the conference is to inform the public what is being done in drawing up a law on the abolition of the death penalty. Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov, Minister of Justice Pavel Krasheninnikov, and Daniel Tarschys, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, are among those expected to attend the conference. JB


Also on 3 June, President Yeltsin signed a decree commuting the death sentence for all convicts on death row. Yeltsin had been planning to take the action for some time and is pushing the State Duma to abolish the death penalty altogether. Capital punishment remains on the books in Russia, and courts regularly hand down death sentences, although no one has been executed since 1996. The Kremlin says Yeltsin issued the decree after the presidential Commission for Pardons reviewed the cases of more than 700 convicts on death row and recommended that they be given either life sentences or 25- year prison terms. Yeltsin had already commuted more than half of all death sentences in Russia prior to today's announcement. Russia promised to scrap the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996. JB


Noyan Tapan on 2 June quoted presidential press spokesman Vahe Gabrielian as saying that Robert Kocharian does not accept the conclusions contained in a preliminary statement on the 30 May parliamentary elections issued by the National Democratic Institute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 1999). That assessment said that "once again Armenia has failed to meet international standards and commitments." Gabrielian said Kocharian believes that the exclusion of voters' names from voter registers resulted from the abolition of additional registers, as required by the new election law in an attempt to preclude fraud. Meeting on 2 June with representatives of the OSCE Election Observation Mission, Kocharian pledged a "thorough" investigation into the reported irregularities, adding that if local district administrators are found responsible they will be severely punished, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF


Georgia's unpaid membership fees to international organizations amounted to $30 million as of 1 January 1998, Caucasus Press reported on 3 June, citing "Rezonansi." Fees for last year totaled $10 million, plus $2 million for the first quarter of 1999. The state budget allocates only $1 million, which does not cover the combined membership dues for the UN, the Council of Europe, the CIS, UNESCO, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, and the World Trade Organization. The newspaper said the IMF has recommended that the Georgian Foreign Ministry draw up a list of organizations in which the country will terminate its membership, but the ministry is reluctant to do so. LF


Speaking at a news conference in Almaty following a session of the Foreign Investors Council of Kazakhstan on 2 June, Nursultan Nazarbaev said that this year Kazakhstan plans to maintain the 1998 level of $1.2 billion in direct foreign investment and $2.1 billion in domestic investment, Interfax reported. He added that foreign investment is "an important component in establishing democracy." Addressing foreign investors earlier, Nazarbaev had assured leaders of foreign companies engaged in Kazakhstan that he is ready to meet with them personally in an attempt to resolve any difficulties they encounter, especially with bureaucratic hurdles or requests for bribes, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF


Meeting in Tbilisi on 31 May with Georgian State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze, senior Texaco representatives expressed the wish to use the Baku-Supsa export pipeline to transport crude the company extracts in Kazakhstan, Turan reported. The Texaco representatives said they have already discussed that option with the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, which operates the pipeline. The oil would presumably be transported across the Caspian by tanker to Baku. LF


Meeting in Almaty, experts from 16 states have agreed on a draft declaration of principles for a Eurasian security system to be named the Conference on Inter-Action and Confidence- Building in Asia, Interfax reported on 2 June, citing Kazakh government sources. The foreign ministers of the countries in question, which Interfax did not identify, are expected to sign the declaration in September. The idea of a Eurasian security body was first proposed by President Nazarbaev in March 1994. LF


Between 1,500-2,000 people, mostly pensioners, picketed the government building in Bishkek on 2 June to protest deteriorating living conditions and demand that pensions be increased and paid on time, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. It was the second such protest in one week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). A similar demonstration by some 15 people protesting the recent 30 percent rise in bread prices took place in Jalal-Abad the same day. Also on 2 June, the government press service announced that all outstanding wages for May will be paid by 20 June and that some 277 million soms ($6 million) in social benefits arrears for 1998 will be paid after receipt of a new $20 million loan from the Asian Development Bank. LF


Imomali Rakhmonov has issued a statement calling on United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri to meet with him to discuss the opposition's demands, Interfax reported on 2 June. Rakhmonov said the tensions between the government and opposition "pose a real threat" to stability, and he expressed the hope that "reason will prevail and the Commission for National Reconciliation will continue its work." The UTO suspended its participation in the work of that commission last week to protest the government's failure to comply with provisions of the 1997 peace agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). LF


A district court in Minsk on 2 June rejected an appeal by Yuliya Chyhir to have her husband released from jail, Belapan reported. Former Premier Mikhail Chyhir was arrested at the end of March on charges of issuing a dubious bank loan in 1994 when he was a bank director. The court explained its refusal by saying that if released, Mikhail Chyhir might disappear in order to avoid investigation. According to Yuliya Chyhir, her husband's release would ensure that within a few day, everything would "fall into place" as regards his criminal case. She noted that the authorities, however, do not desire such an outcome. JM


The Supreme Council on 1 June adopted a resolution on the country's information policy, UNIAN reported. The resolution stipulates that investigations must be carried out into all complaints about the persecution or harassment of non-state media by the State Tax Administration, the Prosecutor General's Office, or the presidential administration. The document requires that by 1 September the cabinet submit draft laws on freedom of speech and on information-related activities. The parliament also requests that the cabinet "create mechanisms" that will ensure the Supreme Council, as a co-founder of national television and radio companies, has a say equal to that of the government as well as the right to appoint the directors of those bodies. JM


The International Center for Policy Studies on 2 June released a report forecasting a 4 percent decrease in Ukraine's GDP in 1999 and a 1 percent decrease in 2000, InfoBank reported. The center predicts that the hryvnya will devalue by 31 percent this year and 11 percent in 2000. "State policy does not stimulate economic growth," center analyst Hlib Vyshlynskyy commented. Ukraine's main problem next year will be to pay off its foreign debt which may reach $3 billion, he commented, adding that "the best way to pay is rapid privatization for cash." The report estimates that real incomes of Ukrainians will drop by 2.5 percent in 1999 and by 3 percent the following year. JM


The government on 2 June announced it will link the oil shale sector to power generation. As planned, the government will sell off a 49 percent share of the joint venture Narva Power Plants, the company formed by the two large oil shale-firing power plants that generate most of Estonia's electricity. The government is currently negotiating with the U.S. firm NRG over the sale. The cabinet decision also called for the sale of 51 percent of Estonian Oil Shale to Narva Power Plants. The state will thus retain 49 percent of Estonian Oil Shale as well as 51 percent of Narva Power Plants. MH


Mate Granic met with his Estonian counterpart, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Culture Minister Signe Kivi, and top parliamentary officials during his visit to Estonia on 2-3 June. He signed agreements on economic and trade relations as well as on cultural cooperation. After meeting with deputy parliamentary chairman Tunne Kelam, the two sides said that after the possible deployment of peacekeepers in Kosova, economic revival and democratization in the Balkan region is vital. MH


Latvian officials have announced the detention on 25 May of a suspected spy. While giving few details, officials said that the individual attempted to sell secret information to an undercover agent in the city of Daugavpils. The suspect is a Latvian resident, but officials revealed no "country of employment," saying only that he was motivated by both economic gain and political conviction. BNS said its sources revealed that the suspect sold confidential material to Russia ranging from labor studies to air surveillance reports. However, at a news conference, the head of the Security Police, Janis Apelis, said none of the documents contained state secrets. MH


Rolandas Paksas presented his program to the parliament on 2 June. Paksas stated that the program is based on GDP growth forecast at 4 percent this year and 5 percent in 2000, while inflation should remain at 3-5 percent. The program calls for the re-pegging of the litas to a dollar/euro basket later this year or in early 2000. Paksas vowed to combat unemployment by creating a better job market. Other priorities announced include the streamlining of government institutions to cut down on task duplication, reinforcing local governments, and promoting a liberal business environment. And Paksas also said he will abide by the decisions taken concerning the sale of Mazeikiai Oil to the U.S firm Williams International, according to BNS. The parliament is to vote on the program next week. MH


According to a poll conducted by the Center for Studying Public Opinion (CBOS) from 6-12 May, 82 percent of Poles regard Pope John Paul II's visit to his homeland from 5-17 June as a "very important" event. Almost 75 percent intend to follow the pontiff's trip in the media, while more than 25 percent say they will attend a mass in one of the 24 cities the pope plans to visit. Of those polled, 23 percent expect the visit to bring about a moral revival in the country, 18 percent think it will improve human relations, and 17 percent believe it will unite Poles and quell social unrest. According to CBOS, a growing number of Poles are showing a lack of interest in the pope's pilgrimages: the figure stood at 9 percent in 1991, 11 percent in 1997, and 15 percent now. JM


Senator Vaclav Benda, a mathematician and philosopher as well as a former dissident under the communist regime, died on 1 June, parliamentary chairman and leader of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Vaclav Klaus announced the next day. Klaus called Benda, a member of the ODS, "one of the most significant personalities" of both the communist and the post-communist times, CTK reported. Benda, aged 52, had been in hospital for the past month. After 1989, he headed an office investigating the crimes of the former nomenklatura. In April of this year, the Senate refused to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, thereby preventing him from being prosecuted in connection with his allegations that former Vienna Mayor Helmut Zilk collaborated with the Czechoslovak secret police in the 1960s. MS


The parliament on 1 June voted by 98 to 68 with 10 abstentions to send a 40-strong battalion to Albania under NATO command. The Slovak soldiers will assist in road construction, highway maintenance, and preparing landing sites for helicopters, the BBC reported, citing SITA. In other news, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in a letter to the Slovak government she regrets she was unable to visit Bratislava on 10-11 May owing to a busy schedule in connection with the conflict in Kosova. Albright said that as a result of last week's Slovak presidential elections, Slovakia has turned into "a unique case of positive changes" and has taken "another step on the road to democracy and the rule of law," CTK reported. MS


All six parliamentary parties on 2 June agreed that Hungarian armed forces should take part in a Kosova peacekeeping force if a peace agreement is concluded, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told Hungarian media. He said the government earlier was against sending armed troops to Kosova, but he noted that now a new situation has developed, offering a "real opportunity" for concluding a peace agreement in the region. In related news, the parliament assented the same day to the participation of five Hungarians in a possible NATO peacekeeping force in Kosova. MSZ


Istvan Csurka, chairman of the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, presented a map on 2 June showing a part of Vojvodina that, he said, must be annexed to Hungary after the end of the war in Yugoslavia. "The party's goal is to see the Hungarian-inhabited region restored to Hungary, not the entire province," Csurka explained. He said a referendum should precede a one- or two-year annexation process supervised by the UN. Jozsef Kasza, chairman of the Federation of Vojvodina Hungarians, said that Csurka's "irresponsible remarks" put ethnic Hungarians in the province in "an even more difficult situation." Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said Csurka's proposal is "unacceptable to the cabinet and contradicts the country's foreign policy." MSZ


Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin and his EU counterpart, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, arrived in Belgrade on 2 June after finalizing a joint position with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in Bonn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 1999). Ahtisaari said before leaving Bonn that the envoys have made "good progress" in developing a common position. He added, however, that he does not think any documents will be signed during this round of talks in Belgrade. Talbott was also cautious, saying only that the West and Russia have moved closer together. He did not elaborate, Reuters reported. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Cologne that "there is a substantial measure of progress between NATO and Russia. What is not clear yet is whether [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic is prepared to agree to the essential demands." The following day, Milosevic began talks with the two envoys in Belgrade. FS


Confusion remains, however, over the command structure of a proposed peacekeeping force for Kosova, known as KFOR, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 2 June. Before leaving Bonn for Belgrade, Chernomyrdin told journalists that it will be possible to send Russian troops into Kosova under Russian command and NATO troops under a separate NATO command. He also said that the envoys have agreed to form a Russian-Western commission that will monitor the withdrawal of Serbian troops. He did not elaborate. After meeting with Milosevic, Chernomyrdin said Belgrade's "choice is difficult but the choice must be made." FS


NATO spokesman Jamie Shea, speaking in Brussels on 2 June, noted that units of a Kosova peacekeeping force could have "various areas of command," but he insisted there will be no distinct Russian occupation zone, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said any deployment of Russian troops in northern Kosova and NATO in the southern part of the country would constitute a de facto partition of the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Cook stressed that "any settlement must be acceptable to the refugees and not just to NATO. I want to stress that point in case President Milosevic hasn't got it yet." Cook added: "I want him to know that we will not be fooled by tricks or ploys. This is not a time for playing games with the international community." FS


Kosovar shadow state Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service from Bonn on 2 June that his exile government is "absolutely concerned that the international community does not make any concession to Milosevic [and] does not move away even a little bit from the five key [demands] of NATO." Bukoshi stressed that a "partition of Kosova would be absolutely unacceptable [and] fatal not only for the Albanians but also for the policy [and] values of the West." Meanwhile, his rival Hashim Thaci from the provisional government, which is backed by the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said in Brussels that peace and democracy can come to the Balkans only if Milosevic "capitulates," the "Berliner Zeitung" reported on 3 June. FS


Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said in a televised address on 2 June said that the government has "reservations about any [possible] move away from the non-negotiable conditions of NATO." Majko warned the international community not to be taken in by "Milosevic's ploys," adding that "one can talk to Milosevic only at a Nuremberg [trial]." He also said, "We do not consider possible mistakes by NATO in its bombing campaign as a problem. We think that this is the price that we have to pay because the price for peace is war." Majko called on Albania's and Kosova's politicians to unite, stressing that "we share responsibility in these difficult historical moments that our nation is going through.... Albania is ready and willing to face up to its responsibilities because it wants to create a new Balkans [without] religious, ethnic, historical, and cultural hatred." FS


The Serbian Civic League's Vesna Pesic said in Belgrade on 2 June that she hopes the Belgrade talks will bring an end to NATO bombings, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Social Democratic Party's Vuk Obradovic added: "Nobody has the right to play with the fate of our state and people. If the international community guarantees the territorial integrity of Serbia and Yugoslavia, we must accept its conditions. That does not mean capitulating but rather taking a reasonable and rational step. If someone wants to fight the entire world, let him do that, but not at the expense of someone else and under no conditions with the children of someone else." Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said that the views of NATO and Russia have never been closer: "Milosevic has always manipulated the international community and is doing so now.... Every day that the war continues there are new victims. Now we have a historic chance to put an end to this bloody war." PM


Blair said in Cologne on 3 June that NATO must continue its bombing campaign until Milosevic accepts the G-8's "essential demands." He added that diplomacy has been effective in dealing with Milosevic in the past only when it was combined with military force. The "Financial Times" reported from London, however, that NATO governments are anxious to put an end to the conflict. In order to do so, the daily continued, the alliance may be willing to accept a de facto partition of the province. PM


General Wesley Clark, who is NATO's chief commander, said in Skopje on 2 June that the Serbian military has sustained "great losses in the last few days...on the Albanian border," where NATO aircraft bombed Serbian forces that were fighting units of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Clark stressed that the air strikes have cost Milosevic not only men and equipment but also "logistics, command, and control." The general noted that desertions and discontent are on the rise within the Serbian forces. PM


President Bill Clinton told an audience at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on 2 June that the U.S. will contribute 7,000 troops to the proposed 50,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force for Kosova. The president added: "There is a clear choice before [Milosevic]. He can cut his losses now and accept the basic requirements of a just peace, or he can continue to force military failure and economic ruin on his people. In the end the outcome will be the same," he concluded. The president stressed that "some things are worth fighting for," arguing that Milosevic is the "last gasp of aggressive nationalism." On 3 June, Clinton is slated to discuss policy options for Kosova with the joint chiefs of staff. Several leading Pentagon officials want to send in ground troops in order to end the conflict before the harsh Balkan winter sets in, Reuters reported. PM


Albanian Ambassador to NATO Artur Kuko said in Brussels on 3 June that Serbian forces in Kosova recently killed 130 Kosovar males and buried them in another village in order to hide evidence of the atrocity. Kuko said: "Yesterday morning the Serbian army transported with trucks the corpses of 130 men they had massacred in the village of Staradran, a couple of days ago. [The Kosovars] were buried separately in the village of Rakosh," AP reported. PM


Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said in Washington on 2 June that his government will allow the Atlantic alliance to station another 14,000 troops in Macedonia, bringing the total there to 30,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 1999). He made the announcement after meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who promised Macedonia additional economic assistance. It is unclear how much assistance she pledged or what form it will take. PM


Ibrahim Sala, who is a spokesman for the 1,100 Kosovar refugees in a camp near Sarajevo, told the UNHCR's Sadako Ogata in Sarajevo on 2 June that those ethnic Albanians want to leave for a third country, as many refugees in Macedonia and Albania have done. She replied that she will look into the matter but added that refugees in Macedonia and Albania have priority for resettlement. Some 75,000 refugees from Serbia, Kosova, and Sandzak are currently in Bosnia, which is still struggling to overcome the devastation and impoverishment brought on by the 1992-1995 war. PM


Workers in Brasov continued their protest on 3 June as the government convened to discuss an agreement that Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes and trade unions representing the workers had reached the previous day, Romanian Radio reported. Under the agreement, the government will provide a 1 billion lei ($ 6.3 million) credit to the Roman truck factory and reschedule the company's debts to the state budget. The agreement also provides for a 500 million lei credit to Tractorul to enable the tractor plant to pay for deliveries and raw materials, as well as another large credit intended to facilitate exports. The Rulmentul ball-bearing factory is to have its debts to the state budget rescheduled and partly written off. Meanwhile, another labor protest turned violent when workers at the Tepro factory in Iasi threw stones at the prefect's office and broke windows. MS


Bucharest metro workers on 3 June returned to work announcing that they have "suspended" their strike. The decision to return to work had been taken the previous day, just hours ahead of a ruling by the Supreme Court that the strike must be suspended until 31 August and negotiations conducted by the Bucharest metro company and the unions before that date. MS


Romanian Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu on 2 June told the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies that Bucharest has "pragmatic reservations" about an intervention by NATO ground forces in Yugoslavia. He added that Romania has not been asked to deploy troops in such an operation and that any further speculation "lacks substance." The same day, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry announced that NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Wesley Clark's visit to Romania planned for 4 June has been postponed owing to the "unpredictability" of the situation in Yugoslavia. MS


Johannes Linn met with President Petru Lucinschi, Prime Minister Ion Sturza, and parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov in Chisinau on 2 June. Linn told Diacov that the bank is "well aware" of the problem Moldova is facing and "hopes" to be in a position to render help "to overcome the situation." He clarified that World Bank aid depends on "a sustained pace of implementing reforms." Lucinschi said Moldova will "do its utmost" to meet its foreign and internal debt obligations, but he asked for the country's debt to the World Bank to be rescheduled. Linn said international financial organizations are willing to "negotiate" the matter "in view of Moldova's difficult economic situation." MS


Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov told journalists on 2 June that his country and NATO are "not yet conducting negotiations" over an agreement on Bulgarian logistic support for a possible NATO peacekeeping force in Kosova, BTA reported. He was responding to reports in the press claiming that government departments are coordinating such support. Vlaikov acknowledged that some NATO officials are now in Bulgaria to familiarize themselves with the sites that could be used in rendering that support. He also noted that if an agreement with NATO is reached, it will have to be approved by the parliament. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova "categorically" denied reports published in Bulgaria that an agreement being negotiated with NATO provides for the participation of Bulgarian ground forces in NATO ground operations. MS


The Interior Ministry on 2 June said that an unidentified missile hit the village of Govezhda, in northwestern Bulgaria. Reuters said that no injuries or damage were reported. MS


by Christopher Walker

Among the broad range of difficult issues to be resolved in the post-conflict period in Yugoslavia, one that has been largely overlooked is the environmental damage caused as a result of NATO bombing.

During Operation Allied Force, besides hitting military targets, NATO has consistently bombed strategic sites such as oil refineries, fuel storage depots, petrochemical and fertilizer plants, and numerous other industrial complexes. The destruction of these facilities is raising concerns about the impact of the war on the natural environment of Yugoslavia as well as neighboring Balkan countries. The media controlled by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, moreover, have devoted extensive coverage to real or imagined environmental damage in order to help galvanize public opinion against NATO.

Included among the targets blasted during the thousands of sorties flown by NATO planes are the petrochemical facility in Pancevo, the oil refinery in Novi Sad, and the pharmaceutical complex in Galenika. Numerous attacks on petroleum storage sites in Nis, Sombor, and other locations throughout Yugoslavia have been reported.

Five weeks ago, NATO planes struck the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) plants of the HIP Petrochemija facility in Pancevo, 15 kilometers outside Belgrade. PVC, of which VCM is the parent compound, is a plastic resin used in a wide range of industrial and consumer applications. Exposure to certain levels of these materials, which are carcinogens, poses potential health threats to humans. Reports from Yugoslav sources indicate that there have been significant amounts of toxic discharge generated both by the bombing of the plants and as a result of the emptying of storage tanks at the facility by controlled burning.

Yugoslav and international authorities are now starting to determine what environmental damage may be occurring as a result of the bombings. The UN, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the EU are among the groups seeking to examine the situation more closely. For the time being, continuing hostilities are hampering a precise assessment of possible damage, but there are indications that considerable environmental impact may turn out to be an ugly byproduct of this conflict.

In mid-May, a UN working group arrived in Yugoslavia to assess possible environmental harm caused by NATO air strikes. The study is being conducted by the UN Environment Program and the UN Center for Human Settlements. Among other issues, the UN working group will investigate possible water and air contamination. The petrochemical plant in Pancevo was among the first facilities visited by the group.

Early last month in Weimar, Germany, EU environment ministers discussed environmental issues relating to the Kosova conflict. The ministers emphasized the importance of taking measures facilitating a swift assessment and cleaning up of any environmental contamination.

The WWF has warned of environmental damage to the River Danube ecosystem and the Black Sea. The group reported that one oil slick was detected last month in the river, but there are concerns that other toxins have spilled into it as a result of the bombing of the oil refinery in Novi Sad and the chemical and fertilizer plant in Pancevo. The Danube is a source of drinking water for some 10 million people in the region.

With regard to the River Danube, WWF's Danube-Carpathian program director Philip Weller told the author that the "WWF believes the potential damage could be significant and that an immediate assessment of the situation is needed with expanded monitoring of the river in Bulgaria and Romania and to the extent possible in Yugoslavia." He added that "a longer-term assessment and action plan to reduce environmental damage needs to be taken at the conclusion of hostilities."

There are also concerns in Bulgaria about potential effects on the Kozloduy nuclear plant. The facility lies on the southern bank of the River Danube in northern Bulgaria and is roughly 100 kilometers downstream from the Serbian border. Bulgarian officials have noted that oil pollution in the Danube could affect the Kozloduy plant, which uses river water for its cooling procedures. As a precaution, Bulgarian authorities have installed oil booms near the plant.

Should the conflict in Yugoslavia continue for an extended period, further bombing could exacerbate environmental harm already done. At the same time, ongoing hostilities will restrict independent monitoring and delay comprehensive remediation of any environmental damage.

The reconstruction of Serbia's infrastructure and social system, as well as the development of open and accountable public institutions, will undoubtedly take a very long time. Should some of the more dire predictions come true, lingering environmental problems may prove another thorny obstacle to Serbia's renewal. That is one reason why the international community has already begun planning comprehensive post-war reconstruction and development projects for the entire Balkan region. The author is a New York-based analyst specializing in East European affairs (