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Newsline - August 10, 1999


Acting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters on 9 August, following Russian President Boris Yeltsin's televised endorsement of him, that he will seek the presidency in the 2000 elections. When asked later by NTV why he declared his intentions so early, Putin said "I think that those who do not state directly what they want are really not yet ready to do this--or they are people who say one thing and do another--and they do not deserve to be trusted." Putin added that former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin was dismissed because Russian President Boris Yeltsin "wanted to change the political configuration inside the country in connection with forthcoming State Duma elections." "Izvestiya" noted on 10 August that Putin's chances of being elected will be "colored by Stepashin's unnecessary dismissal" and the fact that Putin is little known (even prime ministers' ratings rise slowly). Reuters described Putin's manner during his first television interview as premier as "completely sombre--even chilling." JAC


State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told ITAR-TASS on 9 August that the lower chamber might hold an extraordinary session on 13 August to consider the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Seleznev, a Communist, said he personally will support Putin and that "the main thing" is that elections to the State Duma take place on 19 December. Both Aleksei Mitrofanov, Duma Geopolitics Committee chairman and member of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Aleksandr Shokhin, former Our Home Is Russia faction leader, predicted that Putin has a good chance of being confirmed. Shokhin told "Trud" on 10 August that Putin will be confirmed because "the opposition wants to emphasize, particularly on the eve of elections, that [Putin] is the personification of Yeltsin's regime." Colonel Sergei Glotov, deputy head of the People's Power faction, said that Putin's candidacy will be approved without any complications if he presents a clear-cut economic program, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC


Acting First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko announced on 9 August that the Russian government will debate the 2000 budget on 19 August, as planned, despite the cabinet's dismissal, Interfax reported. The Economics Ministry announced the same day that the government's dismissal will not alter the value indicators projected for next year's budget, such as the ruble/dollar exchange rate, which will remain at 32 rubles per dollar. Interfax reported that economists have found that a 3 percent devaluation of the ruble following a cabinet dismissal "has become normal." The agency noted that the ruble fell by 2.8 percent when Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's government fell. However, few analysts are predicting a major slump in the ruble because they believe the new prime minister will follow economic policies very similar to those of his predecessor, "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 August. JAC


Despite acting Prime Minister Putin's assurances the previous day that he is not going to change posts in the government's "financial bloc," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 August that Stepashin pushed very hard for Khristenko's promotion and therefore his departure is possible. The daily alleges that according to "unofficial information" both Khristenko and Mikhail Zadornov, presidential envoy to international institutions, will leave the cabinet. On the other hand, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is considered very safe in his position, having just been praised effusively by President Yeltsin for his handling of negotiations with the Paris Club. JAC


Acting Premier Putin said on 10 August that he will keep Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo in his new cabinet. The previous day, government sources told Interfax that Igor Sechin, former deputy head of the Security Council staff, is now the acting chief of Putin's secretariat. Sechin replaces Vladimir Engelsberg. While he was still prime minister, Stepashin criticized the practice of unjustified cadre reshuffles and pledged to curb all attempts to replace the heads of ministries and departments for the sole purpose of "having one's own men inside ministries and benefiting from this." JAC


The deputy head of Yabloko's Duma faction, Sergei Ivanenko, called the "personnel reshuffle unreasonable" under the current circumstances, since Stepashin's government "did not make any serious mistakes." Fellow Yabloko member and Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Vladimir Lukin concluded "this tells me that the authorities have no accountability at all." Independent Trade Union head Mikhail Shmakov condemned the president's decision, noting that another government change will further delay talks on a general agreement with trade unions for 2000-2001. Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais reportedly considers Yeltsin's dismissal of Stepashin a "very risky move," a source close to Chubais told Interfax on 9 August. Fellow Right Cause member Boris Nemtsov told "Komsomolskaya pravda" the next day that "everybody in the White House feels they hold their positions only provisionally, which is the perfect atmosphere for corruption." JAC


Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev said that Stepashin's dismissal was not entirely unexpected, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 10 August. According to Shaimiev, who is also the informal leader of All Russia, President Yeltsin has not made Putin's job any easier by declaring him his successor. Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, who is seeking re-election in a ballot scheduled for the end of the month, said he is confident that he will be able to develop a constructive dialogue with Putin. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, who was formerly allied with a Communist Party-led coalition, commented that powers in the center "are not capable of doing anything constructive." JAC


Interfax reported on 9 August that President Yeltsin offered former Prime Minister Stepashin the post of Security Council secretary, which Putin has now vacated. But according to "sources close to Stepashin," the former prime minister will not accept the position. The next day, Georgii Boos, head of the campaign staff for the alliance between Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland and All Russia, said that the new coalition is prepared to offer Stepashin a spot on its election list if he wants to run for a Duma seat. He added that leadership of the group by Stepashin "is not even being discussed." JAC


"Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 10 August that the situation in Dagestan may have been a factor in Stepashin's dismissal. The daily claims that according to its sources in the Interior Ministry, President Yeltsin believed that the government had "fumbled in this respect." According to the newspaper, sources in the Defense and Interior Ministries are perplexed by the president's decision to dismiss the government "as a new war in the Caucasus is brewing." However, it notes that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is "jubilant because its boss has been promoted." The new FSB chief, Patrushev, reportedly enjoys a close friendship with Putin that was first established when the two men worked together for the KGB in Leningrad during the 1980s, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day. According to the daily, Patrushev had already practically assumed the leadership of the FSB when Putin became secretary of the Security Council. JAC


U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin, commenting on the dismissal of Stepashin and Putin's appointment as premier-designate, stressed on 9 August that U.S. policy focuses on "Russian reform and the policies of the government, not the personalities." He noted that Washington has "some experience" and a "constructive relationship" with Putin. Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the EU does not expect ties with Moscow to change following Stepashin's sacking. He added that it is important that Russia continue joint projects with the union. An IMF spokesman said nothing has changed in the fund's relationship with Russia, while a Japanese government spokesman said Tokyo will continue to expand relations with Moscow. Meanwhile, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said Beijing hopes for political stability in Russia, but he declined to comment further on the latest developments in the Russian capital. JC


Interfax on 9 August quoted the Russia Foreign Ministry as saying the dismissal of the Stepashin government "will in no way impact on Russia's main foreign policy strategy." Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who was vacationing at the Black Sea resort of Sochi at the time of Stepashin's sacking, retained his post during the previous government reshuffle in May. Also on 9 August, unnamed "diplomatic sources" in Moscow told Interfax that the timetable for talks at expert level with the U.S. on the START-III Treaty and possible changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty remains unchanged. Those parleys are due to take place from 17-19 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 1999). JC


Acting Prosecutor-General Yurii Chaika on 9 August re-submitted his resignation from that post, this time requesting early retirement, ITAR-TASS reported. The Federation Council had scheduled hearings on Chaika's resignation in October, according to "Kommersant- Daily" the next day. By asking to retire, Chaika, aged 48, now avoids having to wait until October, and Vladimir Ustinov, head of the Prosecutor-General's directorate in the North Caucasus, can now assume the post immediately. Under Chaika, the office for investigating important cases continued to probe allegations of corruption involving two members of Yeltsin's inner circle, media tycoon Boris Berezovskii and Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 July. JAC


Senior Russian diplomat and Rambouillet negotiator Andrei Zagorskii told the "Frankfurter Rundschau" of 7 August that "Moscow has long been sick and tired of Milosevic and would be extremely happy if the Milosevic regime were to fall." He added, however, that "in the [Kosova] conflict Moscow saw the old world order, in which Russia had a say, falling apart." He argued that important for Moscow was not Milosevic but the "change in the world order." Zagorskii said that Russia's main aim is stopping NATO from acting as "the decision-making body in European affairs" at the expense of the OSCE and UN. He stressed that "Russian doing all in its power to strengthen the UN Security Council's position." He acknowledged, however, that "unofficial bodies" such as the Balkans Contact Group are necessary and that the G-8 is an acceptable substitute. FS


Zagorskii told the "Frankfurter Rundschau" that the Russian State Duma postponed the ratification of the Start II disarmament agreement over the Kosova crisis but added that "the disarmament process is by no means dead." He acknowledged that "Russia choice. We have to disarm because our missiles are old and no longer safe." He added that he does not believe there will be a union of Russia and Belarus, noting that the CIS "has always been a dead entity." FS


Acting Russian Prime Minister Putin chaired a 9 August session of the Russian Security Council that adopted measures to stabilize the situation in Dagestan and throughout the North Caucasus. No details of those measures have been released. Earlier on 9 August, Putin had ordered the Dagestani authorities to proceed with the implementation of measures agreed on at a meeting in Makhachkala the previous day with then Prime Minister Stepashin. Those measures included the formation of volunteer brigades of 50-100 men, who are being issued with hunting rifles, and the registration of illicitly acquired weapons, including machine-guns and grenade-launchers. Following a meeting with President Yeltsin on 10 August, Putin predicted that order will be restored in Dagestan within two weeks, after which more time will be needed to "stabilize" the authorities there. He added that Moscow's actions in Dagestan are in response to a request by that republic's leadership. LF


An unnamed Dagestani Interior Ministry official told Interfax on 9 August that the federal army and Interior Ministry forces sent to Botlikh Raion at the weekend are regrouping and carrying out reconnaissance missions and have not yet launched "large-scale" attacks on the Islamic militants who have occupied several villages there. ITAR-TASS quoted another anonymous source in Makhachkala on 10 August as saying that no fighting was reported overnight. On 9 August, however, ITAR-TASS reported that Russian troops had launched missile and artillery strikes against the militants. Putin, too, said on 10 August that "combat operations are going on in Dagestan," adding however that the field commanders had split their men up into small groups. Caucasus Press reported on 10 August that some of the militants have begun to retreat from Botlikh to Chechnya. LF


ITAR-TASS reported that the helicopter carrying Russian Army Chief of Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin was shelled both when it landed and then took off from an airfield in Botlikh on the morning of 9 August. Two helicopters on the ground were destroyed and two more seriously damaged. Interfax reported later that day that both the Russian Defense Ministry and the Dagestani Interior Ministry declined to confirm that Kvashnin's helicopter had come under fire, although Dagestani officials confirmed that two helicopters were damaged by mortar fire at the airfield in question. Kvashnin is coordinating the operation to neutralize the Islamic militants in Botlikh. LF


On a one-day visit to Yerevan on 9 August, Kamal Kharrazi met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and with his Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, to discuss bilateral political and economic relations and regional problems, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kharrazi told journalists after the talks that he and Oskanian agree that expanding bilateral relations may serve to promote stability in the South Caucasus. He reaffirmed Tehran's readiness to facilitate a dialogue between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships on resolving the Karabakh conflict. Acknowledging that offer to promote dialogue, Oskanian said that the OSCE (of which Iran is not a member) will remain the main mediator the conflict. According to Oskanian, the two sides also discussed ways of underwriting construction of the planned $120 million gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia. LF


President Kocharian and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian met separately in Yerevan on 9 August with a visiting group of five U.S. Congressmen, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The talks reportedly focused on U.S.-Armenian relations and regional issues, including the Karabakh conflict. Kocharian noted that over the past 18 months (that is, since he became acting president in February 1998) Armenia's foreign policy has become more dynamic but that activity seeks to mitigate rather than to exploit conflicts of interest in the South Caucasus. Both Kocharian and Sargsian expressed optimism that the former's meeting last month in Geneva with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev could herald a breakthrough in the deadlocked Karabakh peace process. Kocharian left Yerevan later on 9 August for a 10-day vacation at an undisclosed location, Noyan Tapan reported. LF


The Movement for Electoral Reforms and Democratic Elections (MERDE) has presented to the presidential apparatus a list of proposed amendments to the law on municipal elections, Turan reported on 9 August. Those proposals include increasing the number of persons to be elected to local government bodies at all levels, electing 50 percent of those officials under the proportional and 50 percent under the majoritarian system, and banning the presence of police officials within 100 meters of polling stations. MERDE has also created a three-strong committee to negotiate on those proposals with the presidential administration. The elections are scheduled for 12 December. LF


Georgian Border Guards said on 9 August that a Russian SU-25 aircraft dropped several bombs on the village of Zemo Omalo in eastern Georgia injuring three people. The village is close to Georgia's border with Chechnya and Dagestan. A spokesman for the Russian Air Force General Staff denied those reports, adding that Russian fighters are not conducting operations in Dagestan's airspace and thus could not inadvertently overfly Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze telephoned acting Russian Premier Vladimir Putin to complain about the incident. Putin expressed regret and promised to investigate the incident. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has likewise requested clarification from President Yeltsin of the bombing. In June, Moscow rejected Georgian claims that its fighters had violated Georgian airspace (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 28 June 1999). LF


Spokesmen for the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik presidential staff expressed confidence on 9 August that Sergei Stepashin's dismissal and the appointment of Vladimir Putin as acting Russian premier will not negatively affect their countries' relations with Russia, according to Interfax. A Kazakh official said it is too early for an official statement, but he expressed the personal opinion that there will be no changes in Russia's policy towards Kazakhstan. Unnamed Kyrgyz officials said they are confident Russia's next government will promote bilateral economic and political relations. Tajik presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov termed Stepashin's firing "a purely internal Russian affair," adding that Tajikistan's leadership is confident that the dismissal will in no way affect the "alliance and strategic partnership" developing between Russia and Tajikistan. LF


Following a meeting of Kazakhstan's Security Council on 9 August, Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree dismissing that body's chairman Nurtai Abykaev, Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev, and an unspecified number of lower-level defense and security officials for their handling of the sale of six decommissioned MiG-21 fighter aircraft, Interfax and AP reported. Azerbaijani authorities impounded the fighters when the Russian transport aircraft exporting them to the Czech Republic landed in Baku. The fighters were subsequently returned to Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March and 21 April 1999). Nazarbaev subsequently named Chief of General Staff Bakhytzhan Yertaev acting defense minister and promoted Security Council Deputy Chairman Alnur Musaev to head the council. LF


Some 1,000 homeless young people gathered along the administrative border between Bishkek and Chu Oblast on 9 August to demand permission from the city authorities to build their own homes on waste ground on the city outskirts, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Bishkek Deputy Mayor Abdraim Kulbaev told RFE/RL following a similar demonstration by some 500 squatters on 6-7 August in the south of Bishkek that the protesters' demands are illegal. Meeting with homeless young people in June, President Askar Akaev promised to form a government commission to consider their demand to create a new parliamentary constituency whose deputy would represent their interests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1999). LF


On 6 August, some 21 guerrillas who had entered southern Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan in late July took hostage four Kyrgyz officials sent to negotiate with them, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Bolot Dzhanuzakov, who heads the defense department within the Kyrgyz presidential administration, told journalists on 9 August that the guerillas, who are armed with submachine-guns and grenade-launchers, are demanding safe passage to Uzbekistan. Kyrgyz Security Ministry official Talant Razzakov told RFE/RL on 6 August that the guerrillas are part of the religious extremist forces of Jumabai Namangani, an ethnic Uzbek field commander based in Tajikistan who opposes Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov. LF


Citing unnamed sources within the Belarusian president's administration, Interfax reported on 9 July that Alyaksandr Lukashenka "regrets" the dismissal of Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin's cabinet. A statement issued by the presidential press service the same day said that Lukashenka highly appraised Stepashin's performance, noting that he continued the course determined by his predecessor, Yevgenii Primakov, and contributed to the stabilization of the political and economic situation in Russia. Lukashenka also expressed his concern about "undercurrents" of Russia's developments, adding that some forces "are sowing discord in brotherly Russia." JM


Syamyon Sharetski, chairman of the disbanded Supreme Soviet, told "Lietuvos Rytas" that he would be immediately imprisoned if he returned to Belarus from Lithuania, BNS reported on 9 August. Sharetski arrived in Vilnius last month out of fear he would be persecuted in Belarus. The Lithuanian authorities have provided Sharetski with an escort of three guards and a car. JM


Ukraine's National Bank on 9 August lowered the official hryvnya exchange rate from 4.5 to 4.68 per $1, AP reported. This move puts the hryvnya outside the previously established exchange limits of 3.4 to 4.6 to $1, which were to have remained valid until the end of the year. JM


Following a Supreme Court ruling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 1999), the Central Electoral Commission on 9 August registered Vasyl Onopenko, leader of the Social Democratic Party, as the 10th candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. The same day, the Supreme Court ordered the commission to register Mykola Haber, leader of the Patriotic Party, as another presidential hopeful. The commission had formerly rejected Haber's registration bid by declaring invalid some 452,000 signatures out of the 1.17 million he had submitted. Meanwhile, Onopenko has called for the dismissal of Central Electoral Commission head Mykhaylo Ryabets, whom he accuses of giving in to "external pressures" during the presidential election campaign. JM


Eduard Shaumyan, a leader of the Russian Citizens League in Estonia, began a hunger strike on 9 August. BNS reported that Shaumyan's protest is aimed against both the Estonian authorities and the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, outside of which he is staging his protest action. Shaumyan accuses the embassy of being passive in defending Russian citizens and is protesting against the Estonian authorities for the detention of Oleg Morozov, who himself is on a hunger strike. Morozov is being detained for 20 days for violating immigration laws. The Russian Embassy in Tallinn and the Russian Foreign Ministry both urged Morozov to follow Estonian law by applying for a residence permit, something Morozov has refused to do. Several Russian parliamentary deputies in Estonia have nonetheless filed complaints with the Council of Europe. MH


The EU is continuing its campaign for the early closure of Lithuania's controversial Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant by offering "exceptional" financial support. A ranking official from the European Commission, Francois Lamoureux, told the daily "Respublika" that the EU will grant 100 million euros ($107.5 million) annually to Lithuania once a timetable for Ignalina's shutdown is established, BNS reported on 9 August. The government is due to announce the country's long-term energy strategy, which is certain to discuss the fate of Ignalina. However, Economics Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis warned that "no rash conclusion" should be made, since Ignalina generates more than 80 percent of Lithuania's electricity. MH


Michal Janiszewski, a parliamentary deputy from the right- wing Confederation for an Independent Poland-Fatherland, is asking the Lustration Court to launch lustration procedures against three major activists of the Democratic Left Alliance: chairman of the alliance Leszek Miller, former Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, and former Justice Minister Jerzy Jaskiernia, Polish Radio reported on 9 August. According to Janiszewski, Miller cooperated with Soviet secret services, while Cimoszewicz and Jaskiernia had ties with Poland's communist-era secret services. JM


The Polish Justice Ministry has asked the U.K. to extradite Helena Wolinska, a former military prosecutor in Stalinist- era Poland who is now a British citizen. Wolinska is accused of signing illegal arrest warrants that allowed communist authorities to jail and execute General August Fieldorf, a hero of the Polish resistance movement against the Nazi occupation. "I am happy that the extradition warrant was finally sent to Britain, justice was done. But I don't believe Britain will extradite this prosecutor," Fieldorf's daughter told Reuters. If convicted, the 80-year-old Wolinska could face 10 years in prison. JM


Jan Kavan told the Frekvence 1 radio station on 9 August that the Czech Republic will insist on being told during the first half of 2000 the date of its entry into the EU so that it can make preparations for the referendum on membership in the union, CTK reported. Kavan said that if the country joins the union in 2004 instead of 2003, as currently envisaged, this will not be a "tragedy," since it would be "better prepared" by then. On 6 August, EU ambassador to Prague Ramiro Cibrian praised the recent efforts of the Czech parliament and government to speed up the passage of legislation in harmony with that of the EU. But he added that "unfortunately" those laws "come too late" to have an effect on the EU's upcoming progress report, due in October. MS


Gabriel Palacka on 9 August told journalists he has "offered his resignation" to Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, Reuters and CTK reported. Palacka, who is a close ally of Dzurinda, explained his move by pointing to the "unfounded criticism" of his ministry and the need to strengthen the cabinet's position. The Transportation Ministry and Palacka personally have been criticized for alleged irregularities in appointments to the ministry and in privatization tenders supervised by that body. Dzurinda told journalists that it is "premature" to speak of a replacement for Palacka, while President Rudolf Schuster said he sees "no reason" to accept Palacka's resignation, noting that before deciding whether to do so he will meet with Dzurinda, parliamentary chairman Jozef Migas, and Palacka. MS


Dzurinda sharply criticized the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and its chairman, Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky, for having demanded Palacka's resignation and thereby causing "government instability." He said that Carnogursky's recent appeal for coalition unity was "insincere" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 1999). He added that the KDH's advocacy of a return to party independence within the coalition alliance that formed the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) before last year's elections was "out of the question" and that he has no intention of heading a SDK that is disunited. At the same time, Dzurinda denied he intends to transform the SDK into a "party of his own," as the KDH has alleged. MS


In response to Dzurinda's criticism of him, Carnogursky said the premier must "concentrate on solving problems in a matter-of-fact manner, instead of adding to and deepening the existing conflicts in the government coalition." He said that Dzurinda's declaration displays "a lack of responsibility toward the country's interests". The KDH, Carnogursky added, will not follow that example and will continue supporting the ruling coalition. The KDH leader said he is "surprised" that the attacks on his party came from former KDH members such as Dzurinda and Palacka. And he repeated his proposal that the SDK again become a five-party coalition with a unified parliamentary group in the legislature. MS


The Bratislava Prosecutor-General's Office on 9 August said it has suspended legal proceedings against businessman Vladimir Poor and three other persons suspected of fraud in the privatization of the Nafta Gbely company, CTK reported. The office said it will continue investigations into the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 1 July 1999). MS


The leadership of the opposition Socialist Party on 9 August announced it will refer the case of deputy Laszlo Paszternak to the party's Ethics Committee, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Paszternak met the same day with the leadership to explain the details of his purchase of a plot of land in a holiday complex belonging to the Vasas steel workers' trade union, of which he is chairman. The plot was later transferred to his children, who built a hotel on it. On 6 August, leaders of the Socialist Party affiliated National Federation of Trade Unions (MSZOSZ) demanded that both Paszternak and MSZOSZ chairman Laszlo Sandor resign as deputies, both of whom they accused of "unethical business dealings," Hungarian Television reported. Sandor's name was included in the so- called "Postbank VIP list" of politicians who received preferential loans from that bank. MS


Representatives of the ethnic Serbian and Albanian communities of Mitrovica, meeting on 9 August under the mediation of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR, failed to agree on ensuring freedom of movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 1999). Ethnic Albanian Mayor Bajram Rexhepi told Reuters after the meeting: "Our plan was to return the population in 15 days [but the] Serbs said the deadline should be September 2000." A Serbian representative, however, said that "there is a good will in both sides. I don't know if we are going to sign an agreement, but both sides had some concrete suggestions." FS


Ethnic Albanians injured a French soldier in clashes on 9 August in Mitrovica. The clashes occurred as French troops kept the city's main bridge closed and installed a roadblock with barbed wire and armored vehicles, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. The bridge links the ethnic Albanian-dominated south of the city with the Serbian-dominated northern part. In an effort to relieve tensions, Mary-Pat Silveira, who is the UN's deputy chief representative for north Kosova, addressed hundreds of protesters. She tried in vain to explain to the crowd that the international community is trying to solve the problem through negotiations. Later that day, local Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) commander Rahman Rama asked the people to end their protests. FS


UCK leader Hashim Thaci told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 9 August that "according to all international agreements, the territory of Kosova is [undivided]...but the partition of Mitrovica is nonetheless a reality today. We cannot accept such a reality. The [ethnic] Albanians have every right to try to cross the bridge..., to go back to their houses, and to reunite with their families." Thaci charged the French KFOR forces with behaving in an "undemocratic and arrogant" manner by blocking the city's bridge. He also alleged that there are still Serbian police and paramilitary forces in northern Mitrovica in violation of the June peace agreement. In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin defended the French position. He argued that "at present, there would be a serious risk of large- scale violence if the Albanians were allowed to cross the bridge." FS


Thaci on 9 August criticized UNMIK's plan to apply laws that were in force in Kosova on 24 March 1999, when NATO began its bombing campaign. He said that such laws prevailed under a decade of repressive direct rule and added that "you cannot establish a democratic society with undemocratic laws." Thaci also criticized KFOR for briefly detaining UCK Chief of the General Staff Agim Ceku and the UCK-backed provisional government's Minister of Public Order Rexhep Selimi last week for carrying guns illegally or without the required documentation. Meanwhile, Ceku met with KFOR commander General Sir Mike Jackson in Prishtina to discuss the ongoing demilitarization of the UCK. FS


Leading opponents of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic met with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle at his Belgrade residence on 9 August to discuss their plans for peaceful democratic change. Differences remain between several leaders on some key points, most notably over the nature of a transitional government, Belgrade's "Danas" reported. Those present included the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic and the Democratic Party's Zoran Djindjic. It was the first known face-to-face meeting of the two powerful rivals since early 1997. Mladjan Dinkic of the G-17 group of independent economists said that the Orthodox Church has "blessed" his group's Stability Pact for a peaceful transition to a democratically elected government, the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported. The leaders agreed to take part at a Belgrade rally that the G-17 has called for 19 August. The Church leadership is expected to decide on its position on the rally on 10 August. The Holy Synod has previously called on Milosevic to resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 1999). PM


Vladan Batic of the Alliance for Change said that the 9 August meeting at the Patriarch's residence demonstrated the opposition's "symbolic unity," "Vesti" reported. Batic stressed that this display of unity showed a "new and brighter face of Serbia" to both domestic and foreign publics. Both Draskovic and Djindjic said that the Church has a key role in promoting political change. PM


Serbian Radical Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj warned the Church not to give its blessing to "those seeking to take power by force." He charged that those unnamed individuals want to involve the Church in their efforts aimed at launching a civil war, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 9 August. The state-run Tanjug news agency said that the opposition leaders are in effect calling on the Church to "violate the constitution," which calls for the separation of Church and state. PM


Former General Momcilo Perisic has formed a Movement for Democratic Serbia, "Vesti" reported on 10 August (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 August 1999). Its guiding principles are democratic change and the ouster of Milosevic. Perisic is expected to issue a more detailed program in the course of the week. He stressed that his movement is not a political party and is open to members of other political groups. Its founding membership stands at 50. On 9 August, Perisic held separate meetings with Patriarch Pavle and with representatives of the Otpor (Resistance) students' movement. He did not take part in the meeting of opposition leaders with the Patriarch. PM


The Serbian opposition held rallies in Ruma, Mionica, and Valjevo on 9 August. In Mionica, Cacak Mayor Velimir Ilic urged his listeners to oust the "political riffraff who are running Serbia and to replace those [leaders] who hate their own people," "Vesti" reported. He chided unnamed politicians who, he said, try in vain to steer a middle course between Milosevic and his opponents. Observers note that this is probably a reference to Draskovic, who wants a transitional government that includes Milosevic's supporters as well as his opponents. PM


The Telecommunications Ministry informed local television and radio stations on 9 August that they will lose their licenses if they do not pay their back taxes within seven days, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Observers note that many local stations are controlled by the opposition. PM


Sulejman Ugljanin's Muslim National Council has approved a Memorandum on Autonomy for the Sandzak region, which straddles the border between Serbia and Montenegro. The plan calls for six districts in Serbia and five in Montenegro to form the autonomous region that will be part of the Yugoslav federation, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 10 August. Rasim Ljajic, who is Ugljanin's political rival, criticized the plan, "Vesti" reported. Ljajic charged that Ugljanin has, in effect, "stabbed [Montenegrin President Milo] Djukanovic in the back" by announcing the program before Belgrade and Podgorica have discussed Djukanovic's plan for redefining relations between the two republics (see "End Note" below). Ljajic said that his rival's program is in keeping with Milosevic's position that Yugoslavia must remain a united country. PM


Milosevic discussed unspecified political issues with Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen in Belgrade on 9 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Earlier, the international community's Carlos Westendorp had removed Poplasen from office for non- compliance with several provisions of the Dayton peace agreement. Poplasen refuses to accept Westendorp's decision. PM


The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 9 August that Stanimir Vukicevic has replaced Nebojsa Vujovic as Belgrade's chief diplomat at the UN. Vujovic left his post for "reasons of health," the statement added. He was the Foreign Ministry's chief spokesman abroad during the recent NATO air campaign against Serbia. PM


Parliamentary speaker Savo Klimovski announced in Skopje on 9 August that the first round of the upcoming presidential elections will take place on 31 October and the second round on 14 November. The election campaign will start on 1 October. Klimovski said: "I expect that the...elections will take place in a fair and democratic atmosphere." None of the major parties has yet announced its candidate to replace Kiro Gligorov, who has been president since 1991 and who is barred by the constitution from running for office for a third time. FS


Pandeli Majko told a 9 August meeting of mayors from throughout the country that "we have to understand once and for all that we are all sitting in the same boat and have the same route in front of us. This is true regardless of the coloring of the government and regardless of the name of the captain." Majko urged the mayors, most of whom belong to the Democratic Party, to overcome differences with his Socialist- led central government, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. Majko stressed that misunderstandings between the central government and local government officials have led to a lack of coordination and that many mayors have not made use of funds offered by the central government or international donors as a result. He also thanked the mayors for their efforts to cope with the refugee crisis during the Kosova conflict. FS


Hundreds of items belonging to Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, who were executed in December 1989, are being auctioned off in Bucharest, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The auction began on 9 August and will continue until end of the week. The authorities launched the auction on the eve of the solar eclipse, hoping that the influx of tourists (the eclipse can be best watched in Romania) will help raise at least $300,000. Among the items sold on the first day of the auction were a black Buick limousine presented by U.S. President Richard Nixon to Nicolae Ceausescu, which fetched $15,000, and a wooden chess set which chess champion Anatolii Karpov gave as a present to the Romanian president shortly before to latter's execution. Reuters said that the bid for the latter item, which went for $2,368, was rumored to have been made on behalf of the Russian Embassy. MS


Michael Zen Ruffinen, secretary-general of the International Soccer Federation (FIFA), has written to the Romanian Soccer Federation (FRF) demanding that a probe be launched into the alleged anti-Semitic activities of FRF deputy chairman Dumitru Dragomir, Mediafax and AP reported on 9 August. Dragomir, a communist-era police officer, is the owner of the weekly "Atac la persoana," which frequently publishes anti-Semitic articles. One of the weekly's journalists is on trial for having published several articles of an overtly anti-Semitic nature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 September 1998). MS


A 10-day military exercise involving military police from North Carolina and a motorized rifle Moldovan brigade began on 9 August in Bulboaca, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The exercise, called Blue-Shield 99, is focusing on peace-keeping operations. MS


Angel Katsarov, chief of military intelligence, has said that reports about stolen military data from the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington are "nonsense," BTA reported on 8 August, citing the daily "Trud." The Bulgarian press recently began reporting on the alleged theft last month of a computer from the office of the military attache in Washington, General Stoyan Tsonkov. Tsonkov refused to make any comment to "Trud." The opposition daily "Duma" on 8 August wrote that during the Cold War, "this act of carelessness would have been punished with death or a prison sentence.... Times have changed now and General Tsonkov may even be promoted." MS


by Patrick Moore

The Montenegrin authorities have laid down tough terms for continuing a joint state with Serbia. The regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is unlikely to accept those terms, but democrats in Serbia might find them attractive.

On 5 August, the Montenegrin government approved a detailed plan that would abolish the Yugoslav federation and recast Podgorica-Belgrade relations as a loose association (zajednica) of two equal and sovereign "member states." The Montenegrin parliament is slated to approve the measure soon.

It is unclear whether the government intends the proposal as a basis for negotiations with Belgrade or as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Top Montenegrin officials said recently that they will hold a referendum on independence if the Serbian authorities do not respond to the proposal by late September.

The plan calls for establishing an "Association of Montenegro and Serbia" with a unicameral legislature. Montenegro and Serbia would have equal representation, while legislators would be subordinate to the parliament of their own member state.

The positions of president and prime minister would rotate between Montenegrin and Serbian officials. The president would be from one member state and the prime minister from the other, while both would belong to the governing political party or coalition in their own state. "Bureaucratic" administrative structures would be small. There would be a maximum of six ministries with small staffs. Each republic would, in effect, have its own foreign policy and army, which would be loosely coordinated with those of the other.

The two sides would have to agree to joint foreign and economic policy goals aimed at integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Each republic would have economic independence and the right to introduce its own currency. Any joint currency would be freely convertible and would be backed by a currency board and protected by strict legal safeguards. Each republic has a veto on joint decisions, including the election of the joint president and a declaration of war.

There would be a constitutional court to rule on the validity of legislation passed by the association's legislature. Montenegro and Serbia would have equal representation on the bench.

The text, in fact, reads more like a dull legal document than a declaration of political principles. Podgorica's intent was to make very sure that its rights and privileges are carefully protected and that it would no longer be Serbia's junior partner.

Nor would this be a new Yugoslav federation to which constituent "republics" would be subordinated. Power clearly would rest with the two member states. The joint state would exist solely to further the specific interests of each member and not as an end in itself. It would not be called Yugoslavia.

The basic political principles are that the association would be based on democratic values, the rule of law, and human rights. Economic policy would rest on the pillars of a market economy, free trade, and a convertible currency. There are several references to developing ties with the EU and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. There are no references, however, to the proposed union of Serbia, Russia, and Belarus, which the Belgrade hard-liners have so warmly embraced.

The Belgrade regime is, in any event, unlikely to accept the Montenegrin proposal, which would greatly limit the powers that Milosevic enjoys within the current federal structure. On 8 August, Ratko Krsmanovic, who is a top official of the pro-Milosevic United Yugoslav Left, called the plan "an attempt to destroy our country and to provoke conflicts. It would create a situation for foreign intervention." The Radicals' Vojislav Seselj has blasted it as "illegal secession."

It could be argued that any Serbian politician would have difficulty endorsing a plan that gives Montenegro's approximately 600,000 inhabitants political weight equal to that of the roughly 7 million people living in Serbia (excluding Kosova). But initial reactions suggest that many members of the democratic Serbian opposition--such as the Democrats' Zoran Djindjic and Vladan Batic of the Alliance for Change--have responded positively to the Montenegrin proposal, seeing it as a step toward the democratization of Serbia.

If the Milosevic regime remains silent on the Montenegrin proposal or rejects it outright, Montenegro is likely to declare independence. But if Serbia in the coming months acquires a democratic leadership that is willing to accept Podgorica's principles, the outcome could be a democratic state with a sound and growing economy. In such a case, might not the association become attractive to some of its neighbors, such as Macedonia or Bosnia--or even Albania or Kosova?