SERGEEV DENIES BOMBING CHECHNYA
Russian military aircraft launched bombing raids late on 25 August on the villages of Vedeno and Urus Martan, where guerrillas who withdrew from Daghestan were concentrated, Russian agencies reported. It is unclear whether either guerrillas or civilians were injured in the raids, which Chechen government officials confirmed. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman in Makhachkala confirmed on 26 August that Vedeno had been targeted, according to Reuters. But Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told journalists in Astrakhan, where he is attending the joint Comradeship-in-Arms '99 exercise by Russian, Belarusian, Armenian and Kyrgyz troops, that no Russian airstrikes took place, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
...AS SHIRVANI BASAEV INSISTS HE IS NOT DEAD
Shirvani Basaev, whose elder brother Shamil commanded the Chechen-led incursion into Daghestan, told journalists in eastern Chechnya on 25 August that the attack on the Tsumadin and Botlikh Raions of Daghestan was "just training" and that "the real war in Daghestan" is yet to come, Interfax reported. Government officials in Makhachkala similarly predict that the militants will soon launch a wave of terrorist attacks in Daghestan, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 August. Asked to comment on a report circulated by the Daghestan branch of Russia's Federal Security Service that he had died on 16 August of injuries received in a rockslide triggered by the defenders of the village of Gagatli on 14 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 1999), Basaev responded: "I am buried once a week." LF
'KOMMERSANT-DAILY' BACK ON NEWSSTANDS
"Kommersant-Daily" went on sale again on 25 August, two days after it was closed down for allegedly violating fire regulations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 1999). Also on 25 August, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with a group of leading newspaper editors, as well as Kommersant Publishing Director-General Leonid Miloslavskii, who later told Russian Public Television that the dispute over the closure of "Kommersant-Daily" can be considered resolved. Putin was quoted by Interfax as saying that "there must be no media regulation through communal services, and there will not be any." A spokeswoman for the daily declined to tell "The Moscow Times" how the newspaper had managed to appear before the dispute was over, prompting speculation that other publications had come to its assistance. JC
PUTIN SIGNS OFF ON DRAFT BUDGET
Prime Minister Putin on 25 August approved the draft 2000 budget and sent it to the State Duma for consideration, ITAR-TASS reported. But First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said the document sent to the lower house is not a final one and that the government will continue to revise it. PG
FINANCE MINISTER DENIES MONEY LAUNDERING IN NEW YORK BANK
Mikhail Kasyanov said on 25 August that the Russian government was not involved in any way in an alleged money laundering scheme involving the Bank of New York, Russian and Western agencies reported. But other Russian news outlets continued to discuss the case, with many indicating that they believe the allegations are true. PG
IVANOV SAYS RUSSIA AGAINST ANY ABM TREATY CHANGES
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Interfax on 25 August that Moscow continues to oppose any revision in the ABM treaty. He said that Russia considers "the ABM treaty a foundation for strategic stability and that any attempts to revise the treaty jeopardize this stability." Ivanov added that President Boris Yeltsin had discussed this matter during his meeting with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin in Bishkek. PG
STEPASHIN CLARIFIES RELATIONSHIP WITH YABLOKO
Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin told Ekho Moskvy on 25 August that he is cooperating with the Yabloko party in the upcoming elections but has not joined the party itself. He did not rule out close cooperation with Yabloko after the election but indicated that the nature of such ties still has to be worked out. PG
SECOND COMMUNIST BLOC SUBMITS DOCUMENTS
The Communist- Workers for the Soviet Union bloc has submitted documents to the Central Election Commission, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August. Viktor Tyulkin, the leader of the group, commented that "unlike the [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] bloc led by Gennadii Zyuganov, our bloc has been created in order to form a working faction in the State Duma." Its main aim, he said, "is to use parliamentary opportunities to fight against a bourgeois regime." PG
VOICE OF RUSSIA BLOC MAY CANCEL ITS REGISTRATION
Because it hopes to form an alliance with the Union of Rightist Forces, the Voice of Russia bloc may revoke its registration with the Central Election Commission, Aleksei Kara-Murza, a leader of the bloc, told ITAR-TASS on 25 August. The reason is that current law does not allow a registered bloc to unite with another one. PG
SELEZNEV SEEKS MEETING WITH STEPASHIN
State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev seeks to meet with former Prime Minister Stepashin to discuss the latter's decision to run for the parliament from St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August. PG
REGIONAL GROUPS SUPPORT AGRARIAN PARTY'S DECISION TO JOIN FATHERLAND-ALL-RUSSIA BLOC
Sixty-three of 79 regional conferences have voted to back the decision of the Agrarian Party board to join the election bloc now headed by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Interfax reported. The other 16 voted for joining the For Victory national-patriotic bloc now being set up by KPRF leader Zyuganov. PG
CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS MIDDLE CLASS, REGIONS WILL BOOST HIS PARTY
Former Prime Minister and leader of Our Home Is Russia (NDR) Viktor Chernomyrdin told "Obshchaya gazeta" on 25 August that his party will rely on support from the middle class and in the regions to surpass the 5 percent hurdle in the Duma elections. He said that an alliance between the NDR and other rightist groups remains possible. "I have no particular allergy to them," he commented. But he added that some of his fellow party members rule out an alliance with Right Cause leader Anatolii Chubais, Democratic Choice of Russia Yegor Gaidar, or Young Russia head Boris Nemtsov. PG
LIVSHITS SAYS EBRD TO PROVIDE RUSSIA 1 BILLION EUROS ANNUALLY
In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 August, Aleksandr Livshits, Moscow's coordinator for relations with the G-8 countries, said that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is prepared to increase its annual financing to Russia to 1 billion euros ($1.04 billion). "As soon as Russian banks have been selected that can be trusted with the money, the EBRD will launch the program," he said. PG
MOSCOW TO REQUIRE INCOME DECLARATIONS FOR MAJOR PURCHASES
Anna Komardina, the deputy director of the Tax Ministry's personal income tax department, told AP on 25 August that beginning next year, the Russian authorities will require any Russian resident making major purchases, such as of cars and apartments, to declare all sources of their income. PG
RUSSIAN COMPANY ACCUSES U.S. INVESTORS OF EXTORTION
Avisma has filed suit in the U.S. Federal Court accusing its U.S. investors of extortion, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August. The case, which will be heard in New Jersey, is the first of its kind. Avisma said that U.S. investors had forced the Perm ore-processing company to sell its output at dumping prices, costing the firm millions of dollars in income. PG
MOSCOW PLEDGES TO HELP YUGOSLAVIA --ALONE IF NECESSARY
Speaking in Brussels on 25 August, Aleksandr Livshits, Moscow's coordinator for relations with G-8 countries, said the Russian government will provide Belgrade with humanitarian assistance even if it has to do so by itself, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that "Russia's expulsion from the process of decision-making has been recognized as erroneous," adding that "Russia will participate in all forms of restoring the Balkans economy on equal terms." PG
RUSSIA RESOLVED TO DEPLOY PEACEKEEPERS IN RAHOVEC
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksander Avdeev told Interfax on 25 August that the Russian government is resolved to deploy peacekeepers in the Kosovar town of Rahovec. Ethnic Albanians there have blocked the road to the city for four days (see Part II). Avdeev made clear that the protests "will not influence Russia's position on its peacekeepers' mandatory presence in that district." He added that the deployment of the Russian troops "meets the interest of Russia and of the post-conflict settlement" in Kosova. Avdeev stressed: "We are well aware that the Albanians' continuing demonstrations...are not spontaneous and have their organizers who oppose our presence.... This is one of the problems for which we were prepared. As far as we know, the KFOR command is working on this problem." FS
RUSSIANS DETAIN SOUTH KOREAN SHIP
Russian coast guard vessels detained a South Korean trawler for poaching, Interfax reported on 25 August. The action took place as Seoul reportedly is seeking to purchase several Russian submarines and acquire licenses to make others. PG
TOKYO DENIES WILLINGNESS TO SIGN INTERIM PACT NOW
The Japanese embassy in Moscow told Interfax on 25 August that Russian media reports that Japan is prepared to sign a peace treaty with Moscow in the absence of an agreement on the disputed Kuril Islands are inaccurate. The Japanese diplomat said Tokyo is studying the issue and will give its answer when Yeltsin visits Japan. PG
MOSCOW PREDICTS BUMPER CROP --BY 2002
Even as this year's production falls below earlier projections, the Russian Economics Ministry is predicting that Russian grain production will increase to 77 million tons by the year 2002. PG
TV STATION WARNED FOR INCITING RACIAL HATRED
The State Mass Media Committee has issued an official warning to Petersburg Television for violating the federal law on the mass media, which prohibits the incitement of racial violence and hatred, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 24 August. Last month, human rights activists protested when the station conducted polls asking viewers whether they would take part in ethnic purges in the city (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 August 1999). The audience voted by telephone 1,336 to 959 in favor of ethnic cleansing. Petersburg Television Journalist Sergei Chernadev told the newspaper that the station was not seeking to incite racial hatred but "show the city intelligentsia that there is a problem." JC
RETURN OF THE KPSS
The Stavropol Justice Department has registered the Communist Party of Soviet Stavropol, otherwise known by the all-too-familiar abbreviation of the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union--KPSS. The founders of the new group believe the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) is not doing enough to fight for the rights of the workers and the revival of Soviet authority. They also see the KPRF as too "far removed" from the problems of specific regions, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 August. JC
'SHANGHAI FIVE' SIGN SUMMIT DECLARATION...
At their summit in Bishkek on 25 August, the heads of state of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed an 11-point declaration pledging cooperation in fighting terrorism, drugs- and arms-smuggling, illegal migration, national separatism, and religious extremism. They also undertook to "prevent the use of their territories for activities detrimental to the sovereignty, security, and public order" in any of the five countries. At the request of China and Kazakhstan, the draft declaration was amended to state that the signatories undertake not to intervene in the internal affairs of other states under the pretext of protecting human rights. That amendment is presumably intended to give China a free hand in cracking down on its Uighur minority. The heads of state affirmed support for efforts by regional leaders to promote a nuclear-free zone in Central Asia. And they also noted the "positive experience" of reaching a settlement to the civil war in Tajikistan and expressed concern at the current situation in Afghanistan. LF
...DISCUSS SECURITY, ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Discussions between the five leaders focused on regional security problems, expanding trade, and reviewing implementation of earlier agreements signed. Noting that the summit is being held against the backdrop of "a deteriorating international situation," Russian President Boris Yeltsin accused unnamed states of trying "to build a world order suiting their inclusive interests," Interfax reported. Yeltsin stressed Russia's "strategic interest" in security in Asia and called for more intense discussion of regional security issues. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced that a conference to discuss a proposed Asian security system modeled on the OSCE will take place in Kazakhstan on 14 September. The five presidents undertook to task their respective governments with creating joint consulting groups to draft proposals on expanding trade and economic ties, according to Interfax. And they agreed that their next summit will be held in May 2000 in Dushanbe. LF
PRESIDENTS OF RUSSIA, KAZAKHSTAN RESOLVE BAIKONUR PROBLEM
Meeting briefly in Bishkek on 25 August, Yeltsin and Nazarbaev reached agreement on the resumption of cooperation in the launching of Russian rockets from the Baikonur cosmodrome, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting presidential deputy chief of staff Sergei Prikhodko. Astana had shown reluctance to allow a resumption of the launching of proton rockets of the type that exploded shortly after blast-off from Baikonur in early July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 20 August 1999). The two presidents also reviewed economic cooperation, focusing on agriculture and the machine-building and energy sectors. They agreed on the need to embark on Russian-Kazakh joint ventures. (Plans for a Russian-Kazakh joint coal company with the participation of Russia's United Energy Systems are being sabotaged by a local Kazakh official, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 August.) LF
CHINA, KAZAKHSTAN, KYRYZSTAN SIGN BORDER AGREEMENT
On the sidelines of the Bishkek summit, Jiang Zemin, Nazarbaev, and Askar Akaev signed what Akaev termed "a final agreement" on delimiting the frontiers between the three countries where they converge at the Khan-tengri peak, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. China signed a similar agreement in May 1999 with Russia and Kazakhstan. LF
MILITANTS SEIZE 20 KYRGYZ TROOPS...
The groups of armed militants who have infiltrated southern Kyrgyzstan from neighboring Tajikistan on 25 August took hostage 20 Kyrgyz troops sent to locate them, ITAR-TASS reported. The militants are also holding a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry general and four Japanese geologists and are occupying several villages. Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev told journalists in Bishkek on 26 August that Kyrgyz troops are preparing for an operation against the militants, whose strength he estimated at between 400 and 1,000. LF
...AS KYRGYZ, TAJIK, RUSSIAN LEADERS DISCUSSES COUNTER- MEASURES
Kyrgyz President Akaev and his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov agreed on the sidelines of the Bishkek summit on 25 August to close border crossings between their two countries, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kyrgyz officials also discussed the hostage situation with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the head of the Russian Border Guard Service, General Konstantin Totskii. Totskii said that the hostage taking will not affect the withdrawal of the final Russian border guard contingent in Kyrgyzstan. He added that Moscow will almost certainly agree to provide Kyrgyzstan with assistance in resolving the hostage situation if asked to do so, according to Interfax. LF
CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS OPENED AGAINST KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER
A spokesman for the State Tax Police said in Bishkek on 25 August that criminal proceedings have been brought against Aleksandr Kim, chief editor and owner of "Vechernii Bishkek," RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Kim had been summoned to the tax police the previous day but did not go because of ill health, according to other members of the editorial board. Kim had convened a news conference on 24 August to rebut reports by colleagues at the newspaper that he has been arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 1999). Some 20 journalists on the staff of "Vechernii Bishkek" launched a hunger strike on 24 August to protest government harassment. LF
TAJIKISTAN SEEKS SOLUTION TO UZBEK FUGITIVE PROBLEM...
United Tajik Opposition chairman Said Abdullo Nuri told the BBC's Persian Service that Tajikistan should undertake to guarantee the security of fugitives from Uzbekistan who decide voluntarily to return home, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 24 August. Nuri was speaking after visiting the Karategin region of Tajikistan where the majority of those estimated 1,600 Uzbeks are located. But in a clear distinction between genuine fugitives and renegade militants, Nuri added that "not a single armed citizen of Uzbekistan should remain in regions controlled by the UTO." UNHCR mission head Gong Li told journalists in Dushanbe on 24 August that his organization has not yet decided whether the Uzbeks in Karategin qualify for the status of refugees, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF
...EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR SURRENDERING WEAPONS
Tajikistan's Interior Minister Humdin Sharipov told journalists in Dushanbe on 25 August, one day after expiry of the deadline for armed groups not subordinate to the UTO to surrender their arms, that only 150 weapons have been handed in, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. He said the deadline for surrendering weapons has been extended, but added that "within a few days" his men will begin special actions to locate and confiscate illicitly owned arms. LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES ENERGY SECTOR LOANS
The Armenian parliament voted on 25 August to approve two new loans to the energy sector totaling $33 million, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The loans are from the World Bank ($19.5 million) and a Japanese government agency ($13.5 million) and will be used to upgrade the country's power distribution network. First Deputy Energy Minister Karen Galstyan told deputies that the loans will save Armenia $5 million annually in energy lost during transmission, according to AP. LF
AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST CAUTIONED OVER REPORTING ON KARABAKH
Khalid Kazimli, a journalist with the newspaper "Reytinq," was summoned to Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry on 25 August and questioned about an article he recently wrote on the Karabakh peace process, according to a Trade Union of Journalists press release. Kazimli was asked who had provided him with details of discussions within Azerbaijan's Security Council on the possibility of ceding to Armenia part of the territory currently occupied by (Karabakh) Armenian forces. He refused, however, to reveal the name of that source. Security officials warned Kazimli not to write any similar articles in future. LF
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION DEFINES POSITION FOR TALKS WITH REGIME
At a 25 August meeting of opposition parties, the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) proposed two preconditions for the OSCE- mediated talks with the authorities, RFE/RL Belarusian Service reported. First, during the preparations for the talks, it wants the authorities to stop any activities aimed at uniting Belarus and Russia. Second, it wants a deadline set for completing the negotiation process in order to prevent the authorities from carrying on an "endless imitation of the talks." Meanwhile, OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg Wieck has said the negotiation initiative "faces significant difficulties." Wieck was commenting on Minsk's stance that the talks should be conducted on the basis of the political status quo established by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after the 1996 referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 August 1999). JM
UKRAINIAN SPEAKER CALLS FOR CABINET RESIGNATION
Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said on 25 August that the legislature should reconsider the issue of the cabinet's resignation, UNIAN reported. Tkachenko added that in July he voted against dismissing the government because he did not want "to upset the balance between Ukraine's branches of power at harvest time." Now, however, Tkachenko believes that the cabinet "pays absolutely no attention to national economic issues but is wholly engaged in the president's election campaign." Tkachenko criticized Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko for his involvement in the campaign. "Pustovoytenko was appointed prime minister to head the government...and not the [pro-presidential] Zlahoda association," the speaker said. JM
UKRAINE'S GRAIN CROP NEARS LAST YEAR'S LEVEL
As of 25 August, Ukraine harvested 21.1 million tons of grain, compared with 22.5 million tons by the same date last year, the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported, quoting an agricultural official. Premier Pustovoytenko predicted last week that this year's grain yield may exceed 27 million tons, some 500,000 tons more than in 1998. JM
ESTONIAN PRESIDENT URGES FASTER EU EXPANSION
At the conclusion of a visit to Tallinn by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lennart Meri called on the EU to accelerate the process of expansion, Interfax reported on 25 August. "History is how developing faster than politics," he said, adding that "politics is developing faster than European institutions." He noted that Estonia will also "do its best" to join NATO as well, saying that the inclusion of his country into these Western institutions would " encourage the democratic aspirations of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine." PG
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENTARY SESSION CANCELED
The ruling coalition succeeded in denying the opposition a quorum to hold an extraordinary session of the Estonian parliament on 25 August to consider imposing import tariffs on agricultural products, Baltic agencies reported. Fifty-one deputies are needed for such a session, but only 44 deputies--all members of the opposition--were present. The government coalition maintains that its program for helping the agricultural sector is sufficient and that further measures are unnecessary. The session was also scheduled to discuss enabling legislation for Estonia's membership in the World Trade Organization. AB
OSCE OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIANS SHOULD LEARN LATVIAN, BECOME LATVIAN CITIZENS
LETA reported on 25 August that OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel met with several senior Latvian officials during a one-day visit to Riga. After talks with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Van der Stoel said he hopes that more Russian speakers will take advantage of their rights to Latvian citizenship. He also met with Prime Minister Andris Skele, Education Minister Silva Golde, and officials of the Citizenship and Migration Board. Van der Stoel told journalists later that it is in the interests of Russian-speakers in Latvia to learn Latvian, thereby aiding their naturalization and helping them integrate into Latvian society. He also pledged to help secure the $1.3 million needed to fully fund a UN-financed Latvian-language training program. MJZ
LATVIAN GOVERNMENT WILL NOT DELAY PENSIONS
Prime Minister Andris Skele told LETA on 25 August that the government will not allow any delays in the payment of pensions. Skele called on the 600,000 retirees who will not be affected by the recently adopted amendments to the pension law not to support the proposed referendum that seeks to restore payments to working seniors. The pension fund is financed in part through the sale of eurobonds. Skele said that if the proposed "referendum on the pension law succeeds, it is likely that we will have to take out more loans." AB
ADAMKUS RESPONDS TO HISTORICAL COMMISSION
ELTA reported that Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus on 25 August promised to provide access to all necessary documentation for the international commission probing the crimes committed by the Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes in Lithuania. The previous day, the commission's leaders had voiced serious criticism of government ministries that have denied the commission access to such documents. According to commission staff, "the president gave his word to remove the problems that have arisen." AB
POLAND'S RADICAL FARMERS WANT TO OUST CABINET, FORM 'THIRD FORCE'
The radical farmers' union Self-Defense has called on the government to resign and the parliament to disband itself, PAP reported on 25 August. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper threatened that if the government and the parliament fail to do so, a "social protest" against government policy can be expected. Self-Defense has begun to form a Self-Defense Peasant-National Bloc and has asked the opposition Polish Peasant Party to join it. According to Lepper, the block would be a "third force" in the elections. JM
CZECH PRESIDENT DEPLORES SERB EXODUS FROM KOSOVA
Addressing the situation in Kosova, Vaclav Havel told journalists on 25 August that the attacks on Serbs, Roma, and members of nationalities other than the Albanian one is "a tragedy." Havel said that the departure of Serbs from the region is "a disaster," but he emphasized that KFOR peace keeping forces cannot be blamed for it. "Unlike the expulsion of the Albanians, which was part of state policy and organized from the [Yugoslav] center, the exodus of the Serbs is not part of state policy or of the policies of international organizations," Havel said. He added that the Serb exodus could have been prevented by the presence of more KFOR units but "NATO countries lacked the courage" to deploy more troops. MS
CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES BILL ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT
The government on 25 August approved a bill on "self-governing regions," CTK reported. Under the bill, those regions are to be set up as of 1 January 2000. Regional governments will have between 40 and 60 members, depending on the size of the region. The cabinet also approved a timetable for introducing visa requirements for CIS citizens. Starting next month, those requirements are to be introduced gradually. The abolition of visa-free agreements with Romania, Bulgaria, and Cuba is still being examined. MS
SLOVAK OPPOSITION FAILS TO OUST MINISTER
Only 40 out of the 114 deputies present voted in favor of a motion to dismiss Pal Csaky, deputy premier in charge of minority and human rights issues. The motion was submitted by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which blames Csaky for the exodus of Slovak Roma to Finland, saying he neglected the Romany problem because he was preoccupied by Hungarian minority issues. HZDS deputies criticized the participation of the Hungarian Coalition Party in the government coalition, saying that party is attempting to revive a "Greater Hungary," CTK reported on 25 August. MS
HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER DENIES IRREDENTIST GOALS
"Border revisions do not figure in the Hungarian government's agenda in any way," Viktor Orban told Hungarian Radio on 25 August. He said he does not feel it is necessary to distance himself from the irredentist aspirations of the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999), arguing that the party has no political influence in Hungary. He noted that responding to its calls for the annexation of parts of Vojvodina would only trigger polemics that would harm the country. MSZ
BOSNIAN SERBS ABANDON VIENNA CONFERENCE
The Bosnian Serb delegation stopped participating in an OSCE-sponsored military conference in Vienna soon after army chief-of-staff General Momir Talic's arrest there on 25 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1999). Talic later arrived in The Hague. The war crimes tribunal had secretly indicted him for crimes against humanity in conjunction with ethnic cleansing of the Prijedor and Sanski Most areas in 1992. At that time, Talic commanded the First Krajina Corps. NATO forces in Bosnia arrested former Bosnian Serb Deputy Prime Minister Radoslav Brdjanin on similar charges in July. Talic's arrest in Austria is the first of a major war criminal outside the former Yugoslavia. BBC Television reported on 26 August that top NATO peacekeepers, including General Sir Mike Jackson, often met with Talic in Bosnia but "did not feel confident enough to arrest him on his own turf." NATO commanders approved then President Biljana Plavsic's decision to name him chief-of-staff in February 1998, AP noted. PM
DODIK SLAMS TALIC'S ARREST...
Moderate Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Banja Luka on 25 August that the arrest was an "inappropriate action" that "ignored the basic code of diplomatic behavior." Dodik added that "the government is deeply concerned about the safety of any of its citizens.... [It now appears that] anyone can be arrested anywhere, at any time. There is considerable doubt that Bosnia Serb representatives will take part in any future international meetings," AP reported. British Balkan expert Christopher Bennett said, however, that the top Bosnian Serb leaders can do little in the face of indictments from The Hague. Bennett added that the leaders "are all terrified that they are next," Reuters reported. PM
...AS DO OTHER BOSNIAN SERBS
Several prominent Bosnian Serbs representing different parts of the political spectrum expressed outrage on 25 August over Talic's arrest. Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency, said in Banja Luka that the tribunal's use of secret indictments may "pose a serious obstacle to the functioning of the institutions of the Republika Srpska," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that the arrest threatens to jeopardize future cooperation between the Bosnian Serbs and the international community. Plavsic said that the arrest could lead to a "revolt" among Serbs. A spokesman for Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party demanded that Talic be freed immediately. The spokesman added: "The secret indictments exist only at The Hague tribunal and are aimed only at the Serbs." Bosnian Serb Vice President Mirko Sarovic called the arrest "humiliating" and a harbinger of "the preparations against us." He did not elaborate. PM
BOSNIAN SERB MILITARY, NATO TO CONTINUE COOPERATION
Lieutenant-General Michael Willcocks, who is SFOR's deputy commander for operations, held "detailed discussions" with Bosnian Serb Colonel-General Novica Simic, who is Talic's acting deputy, in Banja Luka on 25 August, an SFOR spokesman said the next day. The two top officers agreed to continue cooperation. The spokesman stressed that SFOR and the Bosnian Serb military work together on a "good footing," Reuters reported. He also noted that it was Austrian police, and not SFOR, that arrested Talic. PM
WESTERN PRAISE FOR TALIC'S ARREST
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in a statement in London on 25 August that Talic's arrest proves that "the international community has not forgotten about the war crimes committed in Bosnia as we will not forget the crimes committed in [Kosova] until all those indicted appear at The Hague" tribunal. In Washington, State Department spokesman James Foley added that "the arrest of General Talic underscores the need for new military leadership in the Republika Srpska to go along with the new political leadership there," Reuters reported. It is unclear which "new political leadership" he is referring to. At The Hague, spokesman Paul Risley stressed "that neither the OSCE nor Austria had been informed [in advance] that [Talic] had been charged," AFP reported. Risley added that the practice of indicting war criminals in secret has proven "most effective," the BBC Serbian Service reported. PM
HAGUE COURT FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST CROATIA
Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, who heads the Hague-based tribunal, said in a letter to the UN Security Council on 25 August that the Croatian government refuses "to cooperate with the international tribunal." Specifically, Croatia refuses "to recognize the international tribunal's jurisdiction over alleged criminal activity." The Zagreb authorities have also declined to "surrender and transfer" indicted suspects, she continued. In Zagreb, Croatian Justice Minister Zvonimir Separovic told Croatian television that his government "rejects claims that it does not cooperate with the tribunal." He repeated that the authorities will prove that they do cooperate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1999). PM
CROATIAN OPPOSITION SAYS NO CONSENSUS ON ELECTORAL REFORM
A Social Democratic spokesman told Reuters in Zagreb on 25 August that opposition leaders see "no sense" in holding further talks on electoral reform with the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). He charged that the HDZ has "no intention" of giving up its control over public television, Reuters reported. He added that the opposition and the HDZ have reached no compromise on the law reserving 12 seats in the 128-seat lower house for Bosnian Croats, who generally vote for the HDZ. The international community has repeatedly stressed that Croatia must reform its electoral and media laws and enable more ethnic Serbian refugees to go home if Zagreb wants integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. PM
KOUCHNER RULES OUT 'CANTONIZATION' OF KOSOVA...
UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner told AFP after the third session of the Kosova Transitional Council in Prishtina on 25 August that he does not want a formal partition of Kosova along ethnic lines. Serbian leader Momcilo Trajkovic earlier proposed "cantonization" to protect the Serbian minority there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1999). All ethnic Albanian representatives rejected that proposal. Trajkovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service after the meeting that Kouchner suggested "regrouping" Serbs under international protection: "The discussion focused on the possibility of creating security zones for the Kosovar Serbs including Prishtina, Mitrovica, some areas in the Sharr mountains, and Gjilan." After the meeting, Kouchner explained that "cantonization is not a good word...it reminds us a lot of bad things." He pledged that he and Serbian representatives will present a new plan next week. The Kosova Liberation Army's Hashim Thaci, however, said the ethnic Albanian representatives consider the discussion closed. FS
...BUT PLEDGES TO LAUNCH EXECUTIVE BODIES
Kouchner said in Prishtina on 25 August that the council meeting was "very difficult but constructive." He explained that the discussion focused on the creation of executive and governing bodies. He gave no details, however. Kosovar moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that "we have agreed to create executive bodies of the transitional council. This is most important, and they will begin to work soon." Thaci, however, said that the precise composition of those bodies is not yet clear: "We do not know how they will be composed because the issue is undefined and there is no judicial and legal basis on which to set up these bodies." FS
NEGOTIATIONS OVER RUSSIAN DEPLOYMENT IN RAHOVEC CONTINUE
Ethnic Albanians continued their blockade of Rahovec on 26 August, ahead of another round of negotiations with KFOR (see Part I). Talks the previous day brought no breakthrough, Reuters reported. The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on 26 August that "KFOR is hesitating and has given the Kosovars two weeks to think matters over. The Russians will continue to swelter in their tanks. The Albanians have scored a partial victory with their stubbornness. Not just Moscow but the whole international community has once again been duped in Kosova." FS
HIGH DEATH-TOLL IN MONTENEGRIN REFUGEE BOAT DISASTER
Montenegrin police officials told AP on 25 August that they have found 33 bodies of the victims of a boat accident on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Kosovo Report," 24 August 1999). The boat was carrying more than 100 mostly Roma refugees from Kosova, who were attempting to enter Italy illegally. A ship serving the Tivar-Bari line earlier rescued 69 people. Meanwhile, Montenegrin police arrested several people suspected of organizing the smuggling of Kosovar Roma to Italy, "Pobjeda" reported on 25 August. Survivors said that the smugglers charged about $1,100 for each adult and between $10 and $550 for children, depending on their age. FS
ALBANIAN POLICE FIND LARGE ARMS CACHE NEAR TROPOJA
Albanian special police forces on 24 August discovered an arms cache containing grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, mortars, and other weapons, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. The cache was located in a tunnel near Pac in the Tropoja region. Police in the same region also confiscated two tanker trucks smuggling gasoline into Gjakova as well as several cars stolen in Albania and bound for Kosova. One of them was stolen from the OSCE in the Tropoja region earlier in the year. Earlier this summer, the OSCE closed its local office there after gunmen killed two of its local staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1999). A spokesman of the Public Order Ministry told an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent that he cannot confirm the newspaper report. An OSCE spokeswoman in Tirana, however, said that OSCE officials will visit Tropoja to investigate the report. FS
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES RESTITUTION LAW
The Chamber of Deputies on 25 August voted by 168 to six with one abstention to approve the law on the restitution of real estate to former owners and their heirs, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The three main opposition parties boycotted the vote and Adrian Nastase, first deputy chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, said the law will be changed if his party is returned to power in 2000. Under the law, former owners can claim property within five years of the legislation's going into effect, in order to protect tenants still living in nationalized houses. In cases where property was destroyed or is now being used for a purpose other than its original one, owners will be compensated over 20 years through bonds, shares, or cash. The Senate has still to vote on the bill. MS
ROMANIA RECEIVES WORLD BANK TRANCHE
The World Bank on 25 August disbursed the first $150 million tranche of a $325 million stand-by loan for restructuring the private sector and privatizing state enterprises, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. That loan was approved in March. Prime Minister Radu Vasile said he hopes the second tranche will be soon disbursed. Under the loan agreement, that tranche is conditional on the privatization of 64 state enterprises. MS
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT REJECTS RUSSIAN ACCUSATIONS
The government press service on 25 August rejected as "scandal- mongering" allegations by "Komsomolskaya pravda" that a draft law regulating advertising is reminiscent of Nazi Germany practice. The service says it is not true that the envisaged legislation allows advertising only in "Moldovan," as claimed by the Russian daily. Advertising will be mandatory in the official state language but translations are not prohibited. The press service says that "every country is entitled to...preserve its cultural specificity in line with its own historical development." The "continuous Sovietization of Moldovans in the [post- war] period has done great damage to [Moldovan] national consciousness and distorted the language spoken by the people," Flux reported. MS
UKRAINIAN AIRLINE STARTS COURT PROCEEDING AGAINST MOLDOVA
Aeroalliance, whose AN-26 cargo plane has been impounded in Moldova since 7 April, has filed suit with the Moldovan Economic Court demanding the release of the plane and compensation for losses incurred, Infotag reported on 25 August. The agency, citing Ukrainian media sources, reported that Aeroalliance President Valeriy Marinichenko has said his company is ready to accept responsibility for the fact that the crew of the plane, which made an unscheduled landing in Chisinau, declared the cargo as oil pumps and other equipment en route from Budapest to Burgas, Bulgaria. The plane, however, was carrying 5,000 pistols ordered by Yemen. MS
JAPAN HELPS BULGARIA OVERCOME KOSOVA CRISIS CONSEQUENCES
Japan is donating 500 million yen ($4.46 million) to help Bulgaria overcome the economic consequences of the Kosova crisis, dpa reported on 24 August. The announcement was made after Koki Chuma, chairman of the Japanese parliament's Foreign Policy Committee, met with Bulgarian parliamentary chairman Yordan Sokolov in Sofia. MS
HUNGARY'S MOST CELEBRATED CRIMINAL
by Michael J. Jordan
On the surface, it's a bit baffling. Hungary--a small country proud of its contributions to world culture and science and currently striving to join the club of Western democracies--is holding up as its hero a man accused of 28 bank robberies. Vendors are hawking mugs and T-shirts of Attila Ambrus. Fans have set up a Web site. A U.S. company is considering buying the movie rights to his life story, and a German firm wants Ambrus to promote its new energy drink.
So why the hoopla for a hood? The answer lies buried in the Hungarian psyche. After nearly 500 years in the yoke of foreign powers and 10 years of scandal-tainted capitalism, the public has channeled its loathing of the "state" into support for a criminal who holds up state-owned banks and who recently humiliated police with a daring escape from a high- security jail.
"It's like the mouse laughing at the cat," says Gyorgy Csepeli, a Hungarian social psychologist, who admits to being an Ambrus admirer. "Here there has always been a clash between state institutions and the people, with the state not seen as a part of society but as something distant and dangerous. So people love to see when the state can't control a situation." He adds, "I also have no empathy for the police. Before 1989, I was beaten several times."
Indeed, Hungarians are thrilled to see Ambrus preying on two of society's most despised institutions: the banks and the police. During four decades of communism, the police gained a reputation for ruthlessness in persecuting opponents of the regime. Not only were they feared, but their perceived "stupidity" made them the butt of many Hungarian jokes.
Meanwhile, banks and the bosses who run them are a powerful symbol of the postcommunist transition. While a handful of Hungarians have become very rich, most of the public is not doing as well. The average salary is about $200 per month.
The perception is that Ambrus is giving banks and police their comeuppance. He is often compared with Sandor Rozsa, a Hungarian Robin Hood-like figure of the early 19th century who ambushed the wealthy as they traveled between Budapest and Vienna.
Ambrus's modus operandi has been just as important for his image as have his targets. A former goalie in Hungary's professional hockey league, Ambrus is viewed as a "gentlemanly" criminal: clean-cut, polite, and good-looking. He sometimes arrives at heists dressed in a jacket and tie; sometimes he leaves flowers for the bank teller.
And he has robberies down to a science: The police have a four-minute response time, so he usually gets the job done in two or three minutes. His getaways display similar panache. Ambrus has routinely hailed taxis, but once he swam across the mighty River Danube.
In a telephone poll of Hungarians earlier this month, three-quarters of respondents said they are rooting for Ambrus. "I support [Ambrus] even though by stealing from banks he's also taking from us," says Zoltan Hajos, a street cleaner. "So I'd rather see him go after the rich."
Of course, there are Hungarians with a more sober attitude. "Ambrus is a criminal who should be punished," says Szilard Morzsa, a retired economist. "I think the people who like him are those who watch these idiotic American movies and think this situation is like America."
Ambrus's six-year crime spree appeared to be over in January. As police staked out his home, Ambrus was captured when he came to collect his dog. Hungarians saw this as another sign of his humanity.
Then on July 12, he again grabbed headlines by tying together bed sheets and rappelling from the fourth-floor window of his Budapest jail cell. The escape was caught on videotape, but the guards were short-handed that weekend and failed to respond.
However, what many of Ambrus's fans are unaware of is that Ambrus has also been charged with attempted murder in connection with a March 1998 robbery. With police in hot pursuit, Ambrus reportedly turned and fired a pistol at them several times. Police failed to publicize the alleged incident at the time, however, and the belated charge has some supporters claiming it is an attempt to frame Ambrus.
Jozsef Jonas, a Hungarian crime reporter who had an exclusive jail-house interview with Ambrus before his escape, says police are in a quandary over how to proceed. "If they criticize Ambrus and try to convince the public he's not a good guy, the public may think just the opposite."
The media, for their part, are finally taking a more critical look at Ambrus. Television news has now revealed that he had numerous brushes with the law earlier in life and has failed to provide for his impoverished parents in the countryside. Meanwhile, Ambrus, through his lawyer, Gyorgy Magyar, is parlaying his notoriety into profits. There's the possible movie deal with an unidentified U.S. company and the energy-drink promotion. In addition, his published memoirs will be hitting the book stores shortly.
While doing business with a convicted criminal is not illegal in Hungary, critics question the morality and ethics. "My client has realized he could make more money being on the wrong side of the law, in more ways than one," Mr. Magyar says. "I'm just representing his interests, ensuring that his name and image are not used improperly. Ethics have nothing to do with this." The author is a Budapest-based journalist (firstname.lastname@example.org).