Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - June 21, 1999


Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and his U.S. counterpart William Cohen reached an agreement in Helsinki on 18 June on Russia's role within the Kosova peacekeeping force (KFOR). The agreement provides for a unified KFOR command, but gives the Russian government "full political and military control" over its KFOR contingent. There will be a Russian military representative at NATO headquarters in Brussels and a Russian liaison officer at NATO's southern European headquarters in Naples to deal with KFOR questions. The Russian contingent will consist of 3,600 troops. Out of these, 750 will be based at the Prishtina airfield. The remaining 2,850 troops will be deployed in the U.S., German, and French sectors. The overall KFOR commander has full authority to order NATO forces to execute missions refused by Russian commanders. All KFOR troops will have access to the Prishtina airfield. Russia and NATO will create a joint system for air space control. FS


A NATO spokesman in Brussels told RFE/RL on 21 June that NATO has yet to approve the agreement, but added that approval is "just a formality." Elsewhere, Interfax quoted an unnamed senior military official in Moscow as saying on 20 June that Russia will not send more troops to Kosova before the Federation Council endorses the agreement at its next scheduled meeting on 30 June. The official added, however, that the agreement offers Russia a "solid and equal participation" in KFOR. President Boris Yeltsin said on arrival in Cologne for the G-8 summit meeting that he is "satisfied" with the terms of the agreement. FS


Yeltsin agreed during talks with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Cologne on 20 June to consider possible changes in the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, opening the way for the U.S. to install a sophisticated missile-defense system. Clinton, in exchange, agreed to resume negotiations on the START III agreement reducing long-range nuclear arms. The meeting marks a thaw in Russian-U.S. relations after the end of the Kosova crisis. Clinton told Reuters that "the summit gave us a chance to work on what we have in common." The U.S. administration needs changes in the ABM treaty after legislation adopted by the Congress in March commits Washington to put in place a defensive shield against limited missile attacks. The 1972 ABM treaty limits the type of systems Russia and the U.S. can deploy to intercept incoming missiles. FS


State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax on 21 June that the parliament will vote on the 1993 START II agreement upon returning in September from its summer recess. The U.S. has previously insisted that Russia ratify the agreement before resuming negotiations on START III, Reuters reported. It added that START II is designed to bring warheads down to a maximum of 3,500 on each side, while START III could reduce that number to 2,000. The U.S. Senate ratified START II in 1996, but the Russian Duma removed the vote from its agenda in April 1999 after NATO began its air campaign against Yugoslavia. FS


Russia's largest international creditor, Germany, ruled out forgiving Russia's Soviet-era debt on 20 June. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that "we want to negotiate seriously on this issue in the Paris Club and also bilaterally, but we simply can't write it off. That would be more than Germany could bear." On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said that the U.S. was in favor of a partial write-off of these debts. However, U.S. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told reporters that President Clinton indicated only that he would raise the issue of debt forgiveness, "but he was doubtful whether this was possible," according to Reuters. In its final communique, G-8 members called on the Paris Club to "act expeditiously to negotiate a debt rescheduling agreement" once an IMF agreement is "in place." JAC


Earlier, "The Moscow Times" reported that the latest grace period for Russia to repay some of its overdue debt to the London Club would expire on 16 June, but two days later, it cited bankers who said that the real deadline is 23 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that he is optimistic that the London Club will not declare Russia in default on the 23rd, according to Bloomberg. Kasyanov also said that he expects to reach an agreement with the Paris Club by August or September on restructuring Soviet-era debt payments due this year and next. JAC


In their meeting on 20 June, President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed to "revive" the Gore-Stepashin Commission, ITAR-TASS reported. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin will meet with U.S. Vice President Al Gore during a visit to Washington on 6-8 August, according to Interfax. A series of key meetings of the Gore-Primakov Commission in Washington were abruptly canceled when then-Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov turned his plane around upon hearing news of NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia. According to ITAR-TASS, Yeltsin handed Clinton declassified documents recently unearthed from government archives concerning the assassination of President John Kennedy. JAC


Prime Minister Stepashin reacted calmly on 18 June to the State Duma's rejection of a bill imposing a new tax on gasoline stations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999), saying the failed vote was "neither a setback nor a tragedy. The package will be passed." Before the vote, Stepashin had threatened to call a vote of confidence in his government if the Duma didn't pass the key piece of legislation, which was prepared to satisfy agreements with the IMF. Duma chairman Seleznev said the same day that it was unlikely that deputies would be able to approve the legislative package before they adjourns for the summer. However, on 21 June, Seleznev said that he hopes the main bills will be discussed by the end of the week. The Economics Ministry said that a delayed disbursement of IMF monies would alter its forecasts for economic growth and inflation. If the money is delayed then GDP will not grow more than 1 percent in 2000 and inflation may reach 45-50 percent. JAC


In an interview with "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 19 June, Yabloko faction deputy chairman Sergei Ivanenko claimed that the IMF is worried about five laws in the legislative package. According to Ivanenko, fund officials believe these laws should be passed by the legislature rather than imposed by presidential decree--a measure that some sources have suggested the government may be forced to resort to (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1999). One of these laws, the bill imposing a new tax on gasoline stations, was already rejected, and the government will not even try to submit a second one increasing the excise tax on vodka, according to Ivanenko. Ivanenko asserted that if the tax on vodka is too high, it becomes cheaper to engage in illegal production and smuggling. "Regarding the rest of the laws, they may be adopted since they are in essence right," he concluded. JAC


Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest producer of palladium, stopped exporting the metal in mid-April because of the imposition of a 5 percent export duty, Interfax reported. According to the company's deputy general-director, Yurii Kotlyar, the company shipped a "significant" amount of the metal in the week between when the duty was announced and when it was actually imposed. The Russian government on 21 April approved the introduction of a 5 percent export duty on some kinds of ferrous metals and aluminum for a six-month period (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 1999). At the time, Russian metal producers claimed that the new duty could prove fatal to their industry, given that global metal prices are already declining and approaching the cost of their production in Russia. JAC


The Council of Cossack Atamans in Stavropol issued an appeal on 18 June to President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Stepashin asking them to take urgent measures to ensure law and order in the area bordering Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. The Cossacks said that the killing of four policemen on 16 June "has undermined faith in the federal authorities' ability to protect the peaceful citizens in the areas adjacent to Chechnya." At a funeral for the policemen on 20 June, local Cossacks declared that unless federal authorities provide effective guarantees of the Stavropol population's safety, then "the Cossacks will themselves assume the responsibility for the fate of their loved ones" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 March and 4 April 1999). JAC


The New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) returned a painting by Kazimir Malevich, "Suprematist Composition," to his heirs after years of legal negotiations, "Segodnya" reported on 19 June. In addition, the museum provided an undisclosed amount of money as compensation for five other paintings and several drawings in its collection. The paintings were discovered in Germany in 1935 by a MOMA official who managed to smuggle them out of the country. Last month, Inkombank, which had an extensive collection of avant garde paintings, including Malevich's "Black Square," turned its collection over to the Ministry of Culture in exchange for a reduction in its debts to the state. Malevich painted different versions of the "Black Square" and while one of them is at Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery, the work belonging to Inkombank is said to have been hung on Malevich's grave during the painter's funeral in 1935, "The Moscow Times" reported on 27 May. JAC


During talks in Tbilisi on 17 June with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov proposed creating a confederation of former Soviet republics, "Segodnya" reported the following day. Ayatskov said such a body would contribute to economic integration and to strengthening the security of member states. In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 15 June, Ayatskov had argued that the CIS has outlived its usefulness. In Bishkek, the Kyrgyz presidential administration announced on 18 June that Turkey, Ukraine, and Georgia may join the Central Asian Union as associate members, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF


Vazgen Sargsian outlined his cabinet's program to the new Armenian parliament on 18 June, Reuters and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian pledged to continue with liberal reforms while seeking to minimize the economic hardships that they have caused to much of the population. He warned that the government will crack down on corruption and tighten its supervision of investment policy, and might take unspecified "unpopular measures" to counter tax evasion. Sargsian also vowed that Armenia will continue to work closely with international financial organizations. Parliament deputies declined to challenge the program, effectively giving it the green light. On 19 June, Minister for State Revenues Smbat Ayvazian told journalists that current 1999 budget projections, especially as regards revenues, are "unrealistic" and spending cuts may be necessary. LF


A Yerevan-based spokesman for the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh told Reuters on 19 June that Azerbaijani claims that Karabakh Armenian forces had opened fire on Azerbaijani positions on the previous evening with automatic weapons and rocket- propelled grenades were untrue. Also on 19 June, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ara Papyan proposed that OSCE monitors should be deployed permanently along the "Line of Contact" east of the disputed enclave, Interfax reported. Karabakh officials told RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent that the OSCE will conduct an inspection of the Mardakert sector of the line this week. Papyan also said that Armenia opposes NATO involvement in the Karabakh peace process. Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Safar Abiev had advocated such involvement last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1999). LF


The Georgian Foreign Ministry will officially protest the unsanctioned overflight of Georgian air space on 18 June by four Russian military jets, Deputy Defense Minister Grigol Katamadze told journalists in Tbilisi the following day. The aircraft were en route from a Russian base in Rostov to Armenia. Katamadze also denied rumors that the Georgian air force, which currently has at its disposal 10 military aircraft and four helicopters, is to be liquidated. Interfax on 19 June quoted Rezo Adamia, chairman of the parliamentary committee on defense and security, as stating that the U.S. has allocated $18 million towards the cost of building radar and other navigation facilities that will form the nucleus of Georgia's air defense system. LF


Some 100 Georgians having been blocking motor traffic across the Inguri bridge linking Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia since 18 June, Caucasus Press reported. The protesters are demanding the release of four Georgian residents of Abkhazia's southernmost Gali raion arrested in May 1998 by the Abkhaz authorities on suspicion of maintaining contact with Georgian guerrilla organizations operating in Gali. LF


The government of Kazakhstan signed a memorandum of intent on 18 June with British Gas, Italy's Agip, Texaco, and Russia's Lukoil on construction of a 460 kilometer, $440 million pipeline from the Karachaganak field to Atyrau. The pipeline will be connected in 2001 to the Caspian Pipeline Consortium from Tengiz to Novorossiisk, and will enable Kazakhstan to export up to 12 million tons of oil and gas condensate per year. Also on 18 June, the president of Kazakhoil State Company, Nurlan Qapparov, told journalists that media reports that Moscow intended to renege on an agreement signed in late 1998 by Kazakh Premier Nurlan Balghymbaev and then Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov allowing Kazakhstan to export 9 million tons of crude in 1999 via the existing Atyrau-Samara pipeline are incorrect, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. LF


Following the agreement reached on 17 June between Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri on renewed cooperation, the next day Rakhmonov named four opposition candidates to government posts: Mirzokhudja Nizomov as Customs Committee chairman, Khakim Kalandarov as deputy chairman of the Border Guards Committee, Khabib Sanginov as first deputy interior minister, and Khakhnazar Goibnazarov as deputy minister for social protection. A decision is to be reached by 25 June on the UTO's demand that its commander, Mirzo Zioyev, be appointed defense minister. The UTO is also to compile a list of 14 cities and towns in which its nominees will be appointed to head local government bodies, according to Interfax. Arriving in Dushanbe on 18 June, OSCE representative Wilhelm Hoeynck stressed the need for Tajikistan "to conduct the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in compliance with world standards," ITAR-TASS reported. LF


The trial has begun of 20 people accused of participating in the November 1998 uprising in Khujand, north of Dushanbe, led by rebel colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, Russian agencies reported on 18 June. An additional 80 people are also awaiting trial in connection with their alleged role in the mutiny, in which 200 people died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 9 November 1998). LF


Police in Tashkent detained 25 boys aged from 9- 12 for allegedly spreading leaflets propagating fundamentalist Islam and calling for the overthrow of President Islam Karimov, AP and Interfax reported on 18 June. LF


Abdulaziz Komilov met in Moscow on 19 June with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov to discuss bilateral relations and the situation in Kosova and Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. Komilov later told journalists that Ivanov expressed support for the Uzbek initiative to convene an international conference on Afghanistan to which the six countries bordering on Afghanistan and representatives of both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance would be invited (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 June 1999). LF


Paul Siegelbaum, director of the World Bank's department for Ukraine and Belarus, said on 18 June that the bank will re-establish a permanent representative in Belarus after an absence of some 10 months. On 21 June Serhiy Kulyk, a Ukrainian national and career diplomat, will take up the position discontinued by the World Bank last September to protest Belarus's refusal to speed up privatization, remove price controls, and introduce a single exchange rate. "Belarus is a place where it is possible to take many unusual decisions," Kulyk said in Minsk on 18 June. JM


Belarusian poet Uladzimir Nyaklyayeu, chairman of the Union of Belarusian Writers, told journalists in Warsaw on 20 June that he has decided not to return to Belarus, Belapan reported on 21 June. Nyaklyayeu, who came to Warsaw for an international literary seminar, said his friend warned him last week that a "big provocation" is being prepared against him in Belarus. Nyaklyayeu did not rule out that the authorities may fabricate a case against him on charges of financial misdeeds, as they allegedly did to former Premier Mikhail Chyhir. The poet noted, however, that the main reason for his staying abroad is his belief that it is impossible to conduct a dialogue with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Nyaklyayeu added that the presidential retinue is composed of people who are indifferent to the future of the Belarusian language, culture, and literature. JM


The G-8 summit in Cologne on 18 June failed to decide on the granting of $1.2 billion to Ukraine to help completing two nuclear reactors in exchange for the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant next year. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has met with strong opposition from his Greens coalition partners on the funding plan, will travel to Kyiv on 7 July to try to persuade the Ukrainian government to build gas- fueled power plants instead. "Between you and me, my belief is that he has absolutely no chance of persuading President [Leonid] Kuchma," French President Jacques Chirac commented on Schroeder's trip to Kyiv. Chirac and other G-8 leaders supported the idea of funding the two replacement reactors. JM


Latvian President- elect Vaira Vike-Freiberga said upon her election on the evening of 17 June that she intends to continue the work of outgoing President Guntis Ulmanis, whom she thanked for establishing the firm basis of the "presidency of Latvia [in] a democratic and independent country," BNS reported. Vike- Freiberga, who is the first woman to be elected president of a country in Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union, named accession to the EU and NATO as her foreign policy priorities. Vike-Freiberga also related her experience as a refugee to her understanding and emphasis on minority issues, saying that she will begin to learn Russian. Defeated candidate and Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said that Vike- Freiberga will "shine like a bright star" on the international stage. Vike-Freiberga officially takes up the presidency on 8 July. MH


The leader of the Social Democratic Workers' Party (LSDSP), Juris Bojars, told the press on 18 June that an unidentified person offered the party money for votes in the presidential election, BNS reported. Bojars stated that a Russian-speaking top business executive offered 75,000 lats ($127,000) over the telephone if the LSDSP voted for Anatolijs Gorbunovs of Latvia's Way. Latvia's Way denied the allegations. Bojars, who claims to have several witnesses to the phone conversation, said he was prepared to file a report with the prosecutor-general's office. MH


Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek made a one-day trip to Lithuania on 18 June to take part in the joint Lithuanian-Polish government cooperation committee. Prior to the meeting Buzek held talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas. Among the issues discussed was Lithuanian participation in the deployment of forces in Kosova. The committee also decided to hold a one- day meeting in Warsaw on 29 June to address mutual concerns about policies towards minorities in both countries, a topic Buzek said was "still...a cause for some doubts and anxiety," according to ELTA. After the meeting the director of the ethnic affairs department, Remigijus Matuzas, accused the Polish side of presenting an "ultimatum-style document" to Lithuania: "We were told if the Lithuanian side fails to accept the proposals, then there would be no point in holding a sitting at all," BNS reported. MH


Following weeks of negotiations, the government has approved a plan to reduce personal and corporate income taxes, Polish media reported on 19 June. Personal income rates will be reduced from the current 19 percent, 30 percent, and 40 percent to 19 percent, 29 percent, and 36 percent next year and replaced by two rates--18 percent and 28 percent--in 2001. The corporate income tax will be reduced from the current 34 percent to 30 percent in 2000, while subsequent yearly reductions by two percentage points will lower it to 22 percent in 2004. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, the chief promoter of reduced taxes, said the plan is a "victory for the taxpayers," adding that the "struggle for lower taxes is not ending." The tax reduction plan is subject to parliamentary approval. JM


Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 18 June told journalists that the Czech government "rejects replacing one terrorism with another," explaining that he means replacement of "terrorism by Serb military and paramilitary units with that of the Kosovo [Kosova] Liberation Army (UCK) towards the Kosovo Serbs." Zeman said he was "sorry" that instead of speaking of "disarmament," NATO "speaks only about demilitarization" of the UCK. He also said that his cabinet has warned its NATO allies that "one dictator might replace the other" in Serbia, naming Vuk Draskovic, who belongs to what Zeman called the "extreme nationalist" stream, as a possible replacement for Slobodan Milosevic, CTK reported. MS


Zeman also said that the drop in the popularity of his Social Democratic Party (CSSD) was due to the unpopular steps that the cabinet was forced to introduce in order to "lead the country out of the crisis," CTK reported. He said that he believes that at the end of its four-year term, the government he heads will "hand over to its successor a country in a far better state" than it was in when the Socialist government took over. According to a recent poll conducted by STEM, the CSSD's popularity dropped to a record 18 percent, from about 30 percent before the 1998 elections. MS


Local by- election returns conducted in 19 districts and one municipality on 19 June show the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) as the party with the strongest support, having won a total of 47 seats on elected local assemblies. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia was second (29 seats), with the CSSD coming in third place (24 seats). The CSSD was followed by the Christian Democrats (CDU-CSL) with 23 seats and by the Freedom Union (5 seats). MS


The ruling Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) on 20 June ended a two-day congress in Presov that marked two years since the party's formation by its five "parent-parties," CTK reported. The congress approved an 11-point resolution stipulating, among other things, that the five parties will support the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda to the end of its mandate. The resolution also says that assets are to be divided every year between the SDK and the "parent-parties." According to CTK, the congress failed to solve the question of whether the SDK is to function in the future as a single party or as a coalition of the five "parent parties." A conference of the opposition Slovak Nationalist Party, scheduled for 26 June, has been rescheduled for 25 September, CTK reported. Chairman Jan Slota, who recently came under harsh criticism for his behavior during the swearing-in ceremony of President Rudolf Schuster (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 18 June 1999) said pressure from the media was to blame. MS


Dzurinda told journalists in Presov on 20 June that the minorities language bill may be amended during parliamentary debate to satisfy the demands of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), CTK reported. The SMK and other organizations representing minorities criticized the provision allowing use of a mother tongue in contact with officials only in those localities where ethnic minorities make up at least 20 percent of the population. The SMK also wants the provisions of the bill to be extended to culture and education. SMK leader Miklos Duray, in an interview with the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 18 June, said he was disappointed by the behavior of the party's coalition partners and by the fact that public opinion polls show that some 60 percent of Slovaks oppose SMK's participation in the ruling coalition. MS


Youth organizations of the opposition parties and the nationalist Matica Slovenska cultural and educational organization on 18 June began gathering the 350,000 signatures needed for calling a referendum on the government's plan to approve the use of national minority languages and against the privatization of "strategic companies" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1999). CTK reported that the organizers are trying to circumvent a provision in the constitution that forbids referenda on human rights. Instead of referring to the language bill, the proposed question asks "Are you in favor of public administration solely in Slovak, as before 1 June 1999?" MS


More than 100 top politicians and other members of Hungary's elite received interest at 10-15 percent points above the market rate on their Postabank accounts, Hungarian media reported on 19 June. According to a report concluded by the Government Audit Office, many individuals still enjoy privileged, so-called "VIP rates" at the bank. MSZ


Russian border guards at a Moscow airport denied entry to several Hungarian citizens although all of them had the necessary documents required for entry, Lajos Molnar, senior consul at the Hungarian embassy in Moscow, told Hungarian media on 18 June. In other news, Serbian opposition leader Vuk Obradovic, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, and Andras Agoston, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Party in Vojvodina, agreed in Budapest on 18 June that "personal autonomy" and an elected Hungarian national council should form the backbone of an autonomy- system for ethnic Hungarians in the region. MSZ


Hashim Thaci, who is the prime minister of the Kosovar provisional government, and General Sir Michael Jackson, who is KFOR's commander, signed a document on 20 June on the demilitarization of Thaci's Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and its "reintegration into civil society." The UCK commits itself to establish weapons storage sites to be verified by KFOR within seven days. It also promises to gather its forces in specified areas. Outside those areas, the fighters will carry side-arms only. After 30 days KFOR and the UCK will take joint control of those sites, and after 90 days KFOR will take full control. By then, all UCK forces will cease wearing military uniforms and surrender automatic small arms. The UCK, however, said in the document that it "is committed to propose individual current members to participate in the [UN civilian] administration and police forces of [Kosova], enjoying special consideration in view of the expertise they have developed." FS


Pleurat Sejdiu, who is the UCK's London representative, told the BBC on 21 June that the document marks "only the first step" towards the transformation of the UCK into a Kosovar police force and "national guard." Meanwhile, General Jackson told AFP in Prishtina that the document "is not [an agreement.]...It is a unilateral undertaking by the leadership of the UCK." The commander said that this is no "subtle distinction" and stressed that Thaci "offered" the pledges outlined in the document, while Jackson merely "received" them. FS


Some 135,000 refugees returned from Albania and Macedonia to Kosova by 21 June, UNHCR officials told AP in Geneva. The previous day alone the number of people crossing Albania's Morina border into Kosova reached 17,500. An RFE/RL correspondent reported that a refugee camp in Tirana, which was overcrowded three days before, was half-empty that day. He predicted that the number of returning refugees will continue to rise quickly. The refugees have left the camps despite calls from international aid agencies and the UNHCR to wait for an organized return. The refugees have also ignored warnings of minefields and booby traps that have not yet been cleared. NATO and UNHCR officials, however, have responded to the wish of most refugees to go home. The two organizations have accelerated their repatriation plans and said that the organized return could start within two weeks, involving trains, planes, and buses. FS


A spokeswoman for the UN's World Food Program said in Skopje on 20 June that her organization has begun helicopter airlifts of food from Macedonia to northwestern Kosova, where some 120,000 displaced persons and refugees are living, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina on 20 June that Serbian forces completed their withdrawal from Kosova nearly 12 hours ahead of schedule (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1999). Later, NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said in a statement in Brussels that the Atlantic alliance's bombing campaign against Yugoslav targets is officially over. The BBC reported that some Serbian military or paramilitary "stragglers" remain in the province, but that they are expected to be gone shortly. AFP noted in Prizren that Serbian forces took at least several hundred Kosovar prisoners with them when they withdrew. The UCK's Kosovapress news agency wrote from Tirana that an unspecified number of Serbian paramilitaries have crossed from Montenegro back into Kosova. The AFP and Kosovapress reports have not been independently confirmed. PM


A spokesman for the UNHCR said that some 50,000 Serbian civilians have fled Kosova in recent days, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 20 June. In Belgrade, Serbian state media stated that several groups of Serbian refugees--including some 1,000 from Nis and smaller groups from Kragujevac and elsewhere--have returned to Kosova after receiving promises of government assistance. They also received a pledge by Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic that KFOR will guarantee their safety. He urged the refugees to go home "within 48 hours." The private Beta news agency wrote that Serbian authorities will set up two "reception centers" in northern Kosova for the refugees. AP reported that the government wants to keep the Serbs from Kosova out of Serbia proper lest they become a catalyst for anti-Milosevic protests. On 20 June, several hundred Serbs from Kosova demonstrated in Belgrade for government security guarantees for their return home, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


"Hundreds" of Serbs and Roma from Kosova left Belgrade, Kragujevac, and Krusevac for Kosova on 21 June, Reuters reported. The previous day, Serbian Labor, Social Affairs and Welfare Minister Tomislav Milenkovic reiterated Bojic's message that KFOR will protect the Serbs, who should go home quickly. He added that the province "is an integral part of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia can be protected only if the Serbs and Montenegrins remain in their ancestral homes." PM


Unidentified persons set fire to Serbian-owned homes at various locations in Kosova over the weekend, the BBC reported on 21 June. It is not clear why KFOR troops did not intervene in some of those cases in which peacekeepers were present on the scene. Nor is it clear whether the acts of destruction were isolated, local developments, or organized on a larger scale. Near Prizren, UCK fighters arrested 10 ethnic Albanians on suspicion of arson in several Serbian villages. There were also numerous Western media reports of Kosovars looting Serbian properties in various towns and villages in the province. A French peacekeeper told Reuters in Graca that he suspected that the looting there was organized by "you know who." In several towns, looters told reporters that they were taking back what belonged to them. PM


British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC in Cologne on 20 June that the Serbian people as a whole--and not just their leadership-- must share responsibility for the actions that Serbian forces committed in their name in Kosova. "The more that we see what has happened in [Kosova], the more we see that the Serbian people have got a responsibility to make [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic be culpable for these crimes. They cannot walk away from these crimes," Blair concluded. PM


General Wesley Clark, who is NATO's supreme commander, said in Budapest on 21 June that Milosevic is "down but he's not out. He may well legitimate himself for a second or a third time." The general added that Milosevic might seek to provoke new armed conflicts in "Montenegro, Vojvodina, [or] the Republika Srpska." PM


The UN Security Council voted on 18 June to extend the mandates of the NATO-led Bosnian peacekeeping force SFOR and the UN police force for an additional 12 months. In Sarajevo the following day, SFOR commander General Montgomery Meigs said that the peacekeeping contingent will cut back its force of 32,000 this year by what he called "a significant amount." He did not provide any figures. He noted that one of the main reasons for the reduction is that NATO countries have acquired additional expenses for KFOR, Reuters reported. PM


A court in Split sentenced former Colonel Zeljko Maglov of the Croatian army and 11 other persons to terms of between six months and three years on 18 June for their role in the organized smuggling of food and cars. Maglov was charged with abusing his position in the army for illegal gain. It is the first time that a former Croatian officer was charged and convicted for such conduct, AP reported. PM


President Emil Constantinescu on 19 June met with leaders of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and the Democratic Party (PD), after the Chamber of Deputies on 17 June approved a law on land restitution and on the dismemberment of the State Agricultural Farms (IAS) initiated by the PNTCD. The law provides for the restitution of up to 50 hectares of land and up to 30 hectares of forest. The Democrats agree to the restitution of only 10 hectares of forest and oppose the IAS dismemberment. The law was approved with the support of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the Democrats reproach the PNTCD with disloyal behavior. A PNTCD- PD commission has been set up to search for a compromise. MS


The Supreme National Defense Council, meeting on 18 June, approved the country's new "Strategy of Security, Democratic Stability, Economic Development, and Euro-Atlantic Integration." The document will be presented to the parliament for approval by President Constantinescu, who chaired the meeting, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The council also approved an outline on the modernization of the military forces, opting (out of three possible versions submitted by the Defense Ministry) for a total of 112,000 troops and 28,000 civil employees. MS


PDSR leader Ion Iliescu, addressing a gathering of PDSR mayors on 19 June, called on his party to refrain from displaying a "hostile attitude" towards the ethnic Hungarian national minority or to Budapest, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Observers are of the opinion that the PDSR, whose popularity is rising, is trying to mend its image in the West, as also indicated by its support of the PNTCD-promoted land restitution law (see above). Iliescu's deputy, Adrian Nastase, called for early elections. Addressing a meeting of his party's National Council on 19 June, however, Iliescu condemned the decision to declare Milosevic and his regime "undesirable persons" in Romania. The council approved the merger into the party of the non-parliamentary Party of Romanian Unity Alliance, the Drivers' Party and the Party of Social Protection. MS


The parliament on 18 June approved a reduction in the country's military forces from 10,500 to 8,500 soldiers and from 3,200 to 2,400 civilians under contract, the RFE/RL Chisinau bureau reported. The reduction was requested by the government and President Petru Lucinschi and is prompted by budgetary constraints. Vladimir Misin, chairman of the parliament's Commission for State Security and Public Order, told the house that the decision also reflects the Western model of a professional army, which Moldova is striving to introduce. A special commission set up by Lucinschi in March 1997 to examine reform in the armed forces has not yet presented its findings. MS


NATO on 18 June officially requested Sofia to allow the alliance to send troops and equipment through Bulgaria on its way to Kosova, BTA and Reuters reported. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said Sofia will consider the request "within the shortest possible time." Agreement to the request will have to be approved by the parliament. Also on 18 June, Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev denied in the parliament that NATO planes had flown over the Bulgarian nuclear plant at Kozloduy. Ananiev was responding to a question by opposition Socialist Party deputy Ivan Borisov, who claimed that the planes had flown over the plant while he was there and that chief of staff General Mikho Mikhov was aware of the overflights. Ananiev and Mikhov demanded a public apology from Borisov for having insulted them. MS


Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov on 17 June said that a printing company's refusal to print the party's daily "Duma" earlier that day was "politically motivated" and could not be otherwise explained as "repression" by the government, BTA reported. However, the "Duma" editorial office, in a statement released the same day, said that a "financial conflict" with the company was the reason for it not being published. "Duma" also failed to appear on 18 June. MS


By Anthony Wesolowsky

In 1986, the world was taught a chilling lesson about the shortcomings of Soviet-designed nuclear reactors when Unit 4 at Ukraine's Chornobyl power station exploded and spewed radiation across a wide swath of Europe.

The accident prompted fears that the 67 Soviet-designed reactors in operation throughout CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE and the Soviet Union itself were fundamentally flawed and needed to be repaired, if not shut down altogether.

Prompted by the Chornobyl disaster, the G-7 group of major industrialized nations in 1992 recommended that the 25 most dangerous Soviet-designed reactors in operation-- particularly two older reactor types known as the RBMK and the VVER-230--should not operate any longer than absolutely necessary. The seven Western nations also urged safety upgrades at safer Soviet-designed power stations.

Eight years later, however, not one of the suspect Soviet-designed nuclear power stations has been closed. Even an agreement between the G-7 and Kyiv to close the remaining functioning reactors at Chornobyl by next year faces an uncertain future.

Lars Larsson is the director of the EBRD's Nuclear Safety Department. He told our correspondent in Vienna that the world community's first mistake was underestimating how long economic and energy-sector reform would take in the former communist states:

"One of the most important things also [was] the economic development of these countries has been much, much slower than originally anticipated. And with the slowdown of economic development there also goes, unfortunately, the slowdown of nuclear safety. They all go along. For instance, if you have economic problems, and it is not possible to pay salaries to the operators, of course this is a safety concern."

Luke Lederman is a nuclear safety official with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He told RFE/RL that many of the most-pressing improvements have finally been carried out at most of the region's plants.

Lederman and other Western officials stress that some of the biggest changes have come in the so-called "safety culture" at nuclear power plants. In other words, Lederman says operators at nuclear power stations in Eastern and Central Europe and in the former Soviet Union are doing a better, safer, and more careful job.

Lederman said nuclear regulatory agencies have also been given more power and autonomy, making their job of monitoring nuclear safety much more effective. The EBRD's Larsson singled out Armenia as having made some of the greatest strides in the past four years toward improving its nuclear regulatory regime. Armenia's two Soviet-designed VVER-230 reactors at Medzamor were shut down in 1989 after a devastating earthquake prompted fears of a nuclear disaster because of their proximity to a fault line.

In November 1995, Yerevan restarted Unit 2 at the Medzamor plant. Vartan Nersesyan of Armenia's Nuclear Regulatory Authority told RFE/RL that safety upgrades have been made at the plant to protect it against seismic activity. But he said the country has no current plans to restart Unit 1.

"The situation was analyzed, the system was re- evaluated, and improvements were made accordingly."

Like Armenia, Bulgaria is equipped with the controversial VVER-230 Soviet-designed reactor. There are four of them at the country's Kozloduy nuclear power plant, along with two of the more advanced Soviet-designed VVER- 1000's.

Unlike the VVER-1000, the VVER-230 reactor does not have an adequate containment unit. In the event of a nuclear disaster, radiation could leak into the atmosphere. Recently, the EU renewed its pleas for Bulgaria to shut down Kozloduy, considered one of the riskiest nuclear power plants in Eastern Europe.

But Grigory Kastchiev of the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency told our correspondent that there have been more than 1,000 recent safety upgrades at Kozloduy's four VVER-230 reactors at a cost of $100 million. He said the country is planning another $150 million worth of upgrades. He said Sofia has no plans to shut any of the reactors down soon.

"The strategy plan of the Bulgarian State Electric Company is to operate Units 1 and 2 at least until 2005, and Units 3 and 4 until at least 2012. This is really a necessity from the [standpoint of the] energy situation in Bulgaria and the stability of the country."

Bulgarian officials also say the western-based Westinghouse company has won a $200 million contract to upgrade the two VVER-1000 reactors at Kozloduy.

Westinghouse secured similar contracts in 1995 to modernize the two uncompleted nuclear reactors at the controversial Temelin nuclear power station in the Czech Republic.

Officials from the Czech state electricity utility, CEZ, told the Vienna conference that Temelin--which is already facing cost overruns and delays--will incorporate state-of- the-art safety measures. Czech nuclear regulators also announced safety improvements at the country's only working nuclear power station at Dukovany.