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Newsline - January 14, 2000


Fatherland-All Russia alliance head Yevgenii Primakov announced on 14 January that he will seek the chairmanship of the new State Duma. Some newspapers and analysts have assumed that such a declaration means he will not run for president in the 26 March elections, but the former prime minister has so far not commented publicly on that issue. On 13 January, the press service of the People's Deputy group said the group, which now has 54 members, will most likely support Lyubov Sliska, Unity's candidate for the post of speaker, according to ITAR-TASS. "The Moscow Times" reported on 14 January that Sliska, who is new to national politics, first learned of her candidacy from a television report. JAC


Addressing an audience in St. Petersburg on 13 January, acting President Vladimir Putin publicly agreed to run for the presidency. Putin declared "I would like to say that I accept the offer [to run] with satisfaction and gratitude and I will take part in this election campaign." Meanwhile, the political council of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) was scheduled to meet on 14 January to choose its candidate for the presidency. Among the contenders are Putin, former Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, and Samara Governor Konstantin Titov. Titov said the council may chose two candidates, while Chubais announced earlier that the SPS will support Putin. On 13 January, the Agency for Political News reported on its website, with reference only to unidentified sources, that a group of international public relations specialists from Young & Rubicam are preparing Krasnoyarsk Krai Aleksandr Lebed's bid for the presidency (see ). JAC


First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 13 January that the ruble's exchange rate "will gradually fall within the forecast made in the 2000 budget" of 32 rubles per U.S. dollar. He added that this transition will occur more slowly than the ruble's rapid fall witnessed recently, which he said was caused by seasonal factors and the expectation that exporters will be required to sell 100 percent of their foreign currency revenues. The ruble has dropped almost 6 percent against the dollar since the beginning of January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000). On 14 January, it gained slightly against the dollar, closing at 28.57 rubles to $1 compared with 28.65 rubles the previous day. JAC


Kasyanov also predicted that negotiations on restructuring Russia's Soviet-era debt will finish no later than March 2000. A date for the next round of talks with London Club creditors has not yet been set, but Kasyanov said earlier that he expects a meeting to be held in January. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that the government will make payments on Russia's foreign loans without resorting to borrowing from the Central Bank because of higher-than- expected tax revenues, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 14 January. Anton Siluanov, the head of the macroeconomic policy department at the Finance Ministry, told Interfax on 11 January that the ministry is expecting to submit at the end of January a draft monetary program for the IMF's approval. He said that an IMF mission is likely to arrive in Moscow in mid-February. However, on 14 January an identified source told ITAR-TASS that a mission is expected within 10 days. JAC


Speaking on 13 January in Shali, the target of a Chechen counteroffensive on 9-11 January, Chief of General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin said Russian forces now control the town of Nozhai Yurt as well as almost all of Sharoi Raion and Itum-Kale Raion, both of which are in southern Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. Kvashnin noted that the southeastern town of Vedeno is blockaded, as is Grozny, adding that preparations are under way to liberate the capital, Reuters reported. LF


Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, who accompanied Kvashnin, told journalists in Shali on 13 January that in order to avoid a repetition of last weekend's Chechen counterattacks, his ministry will coordinate its activities more closely with the Russian military, according to ITAR-TASS. Colonel-General Viktor Kazantsev, the commander of the Russian Group of Forces in the Caucasus, said on 12 January that the Chechen counterattack was partly the result of the failure of Interior Ministry forces to identify and detain Chechen guerrillas. Rushailo hinted on 13 January that an analysis of the Chechen attacks had indicated that the Russian military share the blame. In Moscow, Deputy Interior Minister Colonel-General Petr Latyshev said on 13 January that additional reconnaissance operations and stricter checks of Chechens males will be undertaken in the Russian- controlled districts of Chechnya. LF


Citing NTV, AP reported on 13 January that Russian troops in Argun and Shali were digging deep trenches to prevent further Chechen incursions. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 January that Russian troops throughout Chechnya have been placed on alert. According to RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent Andrei Babitskii on 12 January, the Chechens have switched to hit-and-run raids on Russian-held villages, remaining in any one location only a very short time in order to give the Russian forces the impression that they are encircled. In an implicit contradiction of Kvashnin's remarks (see above), Babitskii said that Russian troops and armor have been withdrawn from Grozny in recent days and redeployed elsewhere in Chechnya. LF


Part of the pro-Russian militia of former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov has also been withdrawn from Grozny and sent to Urus Martan and Achkhoi Martan, to the southwest of the capital, Interfax reported. Gantemirov characterized the situation in the vicinity of those two towns as "difficult" but predicted that "we can establish full control of Grozny in one or two days," ITAR-TASS reported. LF


Medecins Sans Frontieres, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, has accused Moscow of condoning war crimes against civilians in Chechnya, Reuters reported on 13 January. It cited the indiscriminate bombing of Grozny, market places, and convoys of displaced persons. The 12 January letter compared the sufferings of the Chechen population with that of ethnic Albanians in Kosova and appealed to the U.S. to pressure Moscow to "abide by its obligations under humanitarian law" and end hostilities. LF


Ruslan Aushev on 13 January condemned as "illegal and discriminatory" the Russian military's decision to screen all Chechen males aged 10-60 who wish to cross the border from Ingushetia to Chechnya, Interfax reported. He said the ruling is inconsistent with the norms of a democratic and civilized society and with the federal law on combating terrorism. Also on 13 January, the director of the Federal Migration Service, Viktor Kalamanov, said that following last weekend's Chechen counterattacks on the towns of Shali, Argun, and Vedeno, the repatriation of Chechen displaced persons has been suspended, according to Interfax. LF


Moscow Prosecutor-General Sergei Gerasimov resigned on 13 January following pressure from the federal Prosecutor-General's Office, according to Interfax. Inspectors dispatched to review the operations of Gerasimov's office criticized him for Moscow's growing crime rate and for the bombings of apartment buildings last year that claimed more than 200 lives. Gerasimov is considered an ally of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Meanwhile, "Moskovskii komsomolets," a newspaper close to Luzhkov, reported on 13 January that Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who recently resigned as Moscow deputy mayor, had predicted his own resignation in the event that the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance lost the State Duma elections. The newspaper also noted that Yastrzhembskii, who was also deputy head of Fatherland-All Russia's campaign headquarters, was not well loved by Luzhkov's long-time associates in the city government. "Novye izvestiya," which is financed by Boris Berezovskii, concluded that Yastrzhembskii was made a scapegoat for the OVR's poor performance in last month's elections. JAC


Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko's visit to St. Petersburg on 13 January alongside acting President Putin has prompted speculation that she may be the Kremlin's favorite for the post of governor of the northern city. "The St. Petersburg Times" the next day quoted a local parliamentary deputy as suggesting that Putin included Matvienko among his entourage as a "kind of 'presentation' of her candidacy" for the gubernatorial elections. The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly is currently seeking to bring that vote forward to 26 March, the date of the presidential elections, having been thwarted in its bid to hold the ballot last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999). Other Kremlin favorites for the post have been identified in the media as former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, and Unified Energy Systems head Chubais. Putin is a native of St. Petersburg. JC


The presidential administration has proposed setting up a new independent agency to combat corruption, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 January. The new agency, to be called the Federal Service for Investigating and Combating Corruption, would not report directly to the president or the prime minister and would be composed of several key directorates of the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB). Nikolai Leonov, former head of the KGB's analytical department, told the daily that the FSB has become too riddled with corruption to fight it. But Vladimir Voivin, deputy head of the Glasnost Fund, said that the creation of another secret service would be " a step towards the recreation of a totalitarian system," adding that what is needed is more efficiency within existing agencies. "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 13 January that Russia will join the OECD's working group on combating bribery in international business transactions. JAC


Heads of factions in the new State Duma decided on 11 January to reduce the number of committees in the lower house, Among the bodies likely to be cut is the ecology committee, "Trud" reported on 13 January. However, environmental groups have reportedly been bombarding the newly elected deputies with pleas to retain the committee since a number of draft laws relating to the environment need to be reviewed. According to "Vedomosti" on 12 January, the geopolitics committees is also likely to be eliminated, and the privatization committee is likely to be combined with the committee for economic policy. The committee for defense conversion will be merged with the committees for industry and social policy. JAC


Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 13 January that the main focus of Armenia's foreign policy in 1999 were regional issues and Armenia's relations with neighboring states, Armenpress reported. He said bilateral relations with Iran and Georgia are developing successfully but no progress has been registered in relations with Turkey, despite U.S. efforts to bring about a rapprochement, according to AP. Ankara continues to make the establishment of formal diplomatic relations contingent on a solution to the Karabakh conflict and the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory. Oskanian characterized Armenia's partnership with Russia as "strategic" but added that Yerevan is simultaneously seeking to develop its relations with the West and with the GUUAM grouping (comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova). LF


Oskanian also said that the upcoming meeting on the sidelines of the 25 January CIS summit between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, will demonstrate whether it is possible to revive the Karabakh peace process, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Oskanian conceded that the peace process has stalled following the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings. He said the most recent peace proposal by the OSCE Minsk Group remains in force. Oskanian also disclosed that the Minsk Group co-chairmen last year floated the idea of an exchange of territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan as a way of establishing a lasting peace in the region. He did not say what that exchange would have entailed. LF


A regional branch of LAD, which represents Kazakhstan's ethnic Russian population, issued a statement on 11 January in the town of Oskemen in East Kazakhstan Oblast calling for Moscow to send officials to assist in the ongoing investigation into 22 ethnic Russians accused of planning to establish by force an independent Altai Republic on Kazakh territory, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 13 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 November 1999). The statement accused the Russian authorities of "ignoring" the fate of the alleged separatists. LF


Meanwhile, Russian Consul Vladimir Nestoyanov rejected that charge in a 13 January statement, noting that he had met with the accused in jail and that the investigation is being conducted in accordance with international standards. In its 30 November-6 December 1999 issue, "Moskovskie novosti" suggested that the arrests may have been staged by the Kazakh National Security Committee in order to demonstrate its efficiency. The newspaper noted that the arrested men did not have enough weapons and ammunition to commit either the murders or the terrorist acts of which they are accused. LF


A citizen of Kazakhstan was shot and wounded by Uzbek border guards when trying to cross the frontier between Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan last week, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 13 January. He had been given no warning that the guards were prepared to open fire. An ethnic Kazakh from the Bostandyq district of Uzbekistan, which had belonged to Kazakhstan until 1954, was shot dead at the border in December. The Kazakh population of that district is experiencing increasing problems in visiting relatives in Kazakhstan. LF


"XXI vek" published its first issue for 2000 on 12 January, five weeks after suspending publication because no publishing house in Kazakhstan would agree to print it, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on13 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1999). It is unclear where and by whom the most recent issue of the paper was printed. LF


The OSCE on 13 January issued a statement saying that there was no "democratic competition" evident in the 9 January Uzbek presidential poll, in which incumbent Islam Karimov was re-elected with a landslide majority, Interfax reported. The statement said the poll provided "no evidence" that the Uzbek authorities adhere to democratic values. The OSCE offered to assist the Uzbek government in rendering the election system more democratic. LF


The government on 13 January approved a program to increase the productivity of the agricultural sector, Interfax reported. Deputy Premier Alyaksandr Papkou said the situation in the sector is "disastrous" and could lead to "socioeconomic destabilization" in the country. Papkou noted that animal husbandry last year ran at a loss, the agricultural sector's debt reached 140 billion Belarusian rubles ($173 million), and nearly 50 percent of all collective farms suffered losses. Also on 13 January, the cabinet raised the state purchase price of meat by 12 percent and of milk by 24 percent. Papkou argued that it will be necessary to raise those prices again next month, otherwise farms will lack money for spring sowing. JM


The Belarusian president told foreign diplomats in Minsk on 13 December that he hopes for "understanding and a positive assessment" of Belarus's current efforts "to heal its relations" with the U.S., Belarusian Television reported. "We are ready for a dialogue with the U.S. side on a whole range of problems and hope that our partners will choose the same format," Lukashenka added. Lukashenka's conciliatory tone follows what some Belarusian officials see as a slowdown in the Belarusian-Russian rapprochement after Vladimir Putin's takeover at the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000). "Everything that was agreed with [Boris] Yeltsin has been frozen," Belarusian lawmaker Valery Drako told Reuters the same day. Drako added that the session of the Belarus- Russia Parliamentary Assembly scheduled for 14 January has been postponed "indefinitely." JM


By a vote of 153 to 162, the parliament on 13 January returned the 2000 budget draft to the government for revision and ordered it to be returned for a "repeat" second reading in February, Interfax and the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. A resolution not to accept a bill for consideration must be supported by one third of parliamentary deputies (150) to pass. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said the draft budget contradicts a resolution on the budget passed last year calling for an equalization of the central and regional budgets in 2000-2001. Tkachenko said the correlation between the central and regional budgets included in the bill passed in the first reading was 59 percent and 41 percent, respectively, while these figures were 75 percent and 25 percent in the draft submitted for the second reading. JM


On 13 January, 241 deputies from 11 right-wing and centrist caucuses and groups in the 450-seat parliament announced the creation of a pro-government majority, Interfax reported. The deputies pledged to deal with the tasks of implementing socioeconomic reforms in Ukraine and establishing constructive cooperation between the parliament and the executive. At the same time, the majority requested that President Leonid Kuchma guarantee that the current Supreme Council will serve its full constitutional term, which is to end in March 2002. The new parliamentary coalition, led by former President Leonid Kravchuk, immediately began collecting signatures to oust parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and his deputy, Adam Martynyuk, from their posts. JM


A Tallinn City Court on 13 January acquitted Russian nationalists Oleg Morozov and Eduard Shaumyan of charges of disturbing the peace, BNS reported. The two Russian nationalists organized an unsanctioned rally in front of the parliament building in 1997. Prosecutor Aleksandr Tshitserov said he will appeal the ruling. Both individuals have criminal records, and Morozov has been ordered to leave Estonia for repeated violations of immigration laws. MH


The Estonian Police Department announced on 13 January that 51,539 crimes were committed nationwide last year, ETA reported. This is an increase of 5,818 crimes or 12.7 percent over 1998. The largest increase was in the rate of theft, which grew by 14.5 percent to 34,849 cases. However, the number of murders in 1999 dropped by 39 to 157. Meanwhile, the rate of solving crimes committed nationwide stood at 29 percent, compared with 14.7 percent for Tallinn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000). MH


Also on 13 January, the Latvian Police issued a report showing that in 1999, a total of 43,969 crimes were committed, LETA reported. This is an increase of 7,259 cases or 19.9 percent, which police officials attributed to a new criminal code that increased the number of punishable offenses. A total of 18,512 crimes were committed in Riga, up 15.4 percent from 1998. Crimes committed by minors totaled 3,757, three-quarters of which were theft-related. In addition, more than one quarter of juvenile crimes were committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drug-related crimes totaled 520, up 121 from 1998. And police also reported that 112 people died of a drug overdose, of whom 80 were residents of Riga, BNS added. MH


During his visit to Latvia on 12- 13 January, David Andrews met with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Prime Minister Andris Skele, Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, parliamentary speaker Janis Straume, and other officials. Talks focused on bilateral relations and EU integration as well as boosting economic ties. Irish investment in Latvia totals 35 million lats ($59.7 million), but the volume of trade remains low, at 0.7 percent of Latvia's total trade. Andrew and Vike-Freiberga also discussed cooperation in the high-technology sector. MH


Politicians, religious figures, diplomats, and others paid tribute to the 14 people killed during a Soviet military crackdown in Lithuania on 13 January 1991. At a special session of the parliament, speaker Vytautas Landsbergis asked for a minute of silence in honor of the victims. Memorial services were also held in other cities, while several parliamentary members paid homage in the border town of Medininkai, where in July 1991 seven border guards were killed by Soviet forces. At the graves of the victims at Antakalnis Cemetery, Bishop Juozapas Tunaitis recalled "the price of sacrifice and freedom" and also encouraged everyone to "live in peace and brotherly unity." His comments come amid a public row over recent political achievements between Landsbergis and former Premier Gediminas Vagnorius, who were the heads of state and government at the time of the 13 January massacre. Pro-Soviet anti-Lithuanian protestors, including the former Vilnius head of OMON, picketed the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow on 13 January, in an action that the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry responded to with "great astonishment and regret," BNS noted. MH


The National Council of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) convened on 13 January to discuss ways to discipline those AWS legislators who vote against their government. According to the 14 January "Gazeta Wyborcza," the council decided that insubordinate deputies will be prevented from running again on the AWS's ticket and from assuming leading posts in the party. Last month, 74 out of the 187 AWS legislators signed a motion of no confidence against their colleague Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz. They are refusing to withdraw their signatures, despite demands by Premier Jerzy Buzek and AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski. The AWS leadership is afraid that, together with the opposition, the defiant lawmakers will manage to oust Wasacz, sparking a cabinet crisis. JM


Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky, who is chairman of a government commission for compensating victims of the Holocaust, submitted a commission report to the cabinet on 12 January, CTK reported. According to Rychetsky, some 2,500 items currently in Czech state museums were confiscated by the Nazis from Czech Jews. The commission will post on the Internet photographs of the items, which, if identified, will be returned to their rightful owners. Rychetsky added that the commission has asked 115 private museums and galleries to check their collections and has drawn up a list of items that belonged to Jewish communities and foundations. Some of those items, he noted, have already been returned to local Jewish communities or to the Federation of Jewish Communities. MS


A protest action by prisoners that spread to almost one half of Czech prisons earlier this week has ended, a prison service official told CTK on 13 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2000). Prison Service Director Kamila Meclova said in an open letter to inmates that both the service and the Justice Ministry will consider their demands. She added that inmates will be permitted to buy goods from canteens to compensate for the reduction in the number of packages prisoners can receive from home (a move intended to keep drugs out of prisons). Meclova said she will ask for a 10 crown ($ 0.33) increase in the amount spent on food per inmate daily. This will raise the amount to 45 crowns. Police dogs, meanwhile, get food worth 46 crowns a day, CTK commented. MS


The government has postponed until March making a decision on whether to stop the construction of a third and a fourth bloc at the Mochovce nuclear power plant, Deputy Economy Minister Ivan Miklos told journalists on 13 January. Economy Minister Lubomir Harach , however, said that while it is "not very likely" that the cabinet will decide to continue that project, it might "sell the unfinished blocs to a foreign investor." The cost of completing the project is estimated at 51 billion crowns ($1.23 billion), while returns from the initial investment are not expected for 17 years, CTK reported. MS


The Finnish government on 13 January re-imposed visa restrictions on Slovak nationals following the recent increase in the number of Slovak Roma requesting political asylum in that country. The decision is to remain in force for six months, during which period Finland will review its system of granting political asylum, CTK reported. Slovak official sources said earlier that the Finnish system, under which applicants benefit from generous support while their applications are reviewed, encourages Slovak Roma to request asylum in that country. Visa requirements for Slovaks were in force from July to November last year and were abolished when the number of asylum- seekers receded. MS


The Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) will set up an office in February that will seek to uncover privatization deals deemed "harmful to the Hungarian nation," party chairman Istvan Csurka told Hungarian media on 13 January. Csurka added that the "Exploration of Hungary" office will be run by the Hungarian Way Foundation and the Ady Endre Press Foundation. He added that he will be personally responsible for the office's operations. MSZ


Former Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth will return to Hungary in April on leaving his post as vice president of the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 14 January. Opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) parliamentary member Bela Katona will be responsible for preparing Nemeth's public appearances, and a special team has been set up to work on his "domestic image." In recent months, Nemeth has had several meetings with the MSZP leadership about his possible return to Hungarian politics, and his name has been mentioned as a possible MSZP candidate for the Hungarian presidency. MSZ


The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 14 January handed down prison sentences ranging from six to 25 years to five ethnic Croats. The defendants were tried for their role in the 1993 slaying of 103 Muslim villagers in Ahmici in the central Lasva Valley. The 25-year sentence went to police commander Vladimir Santic. The court acquitted a sixth defendant, Dragan Papic, because it could not prove his guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," AP reported. Presiding Judge Antonio Cassese said he regrets that the tribunal has "not tried the major culprits...those who ordered and planned, and those who carried out the very worst of the atrocities." The trial of the six lasted 16 months and involved testimony from 158 witnesses. The Lasva Valley massacres were part of a deliberate and particularly grisly campaign to kill or expel the region's Muslim population. PM


Mate Granic, who is the Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) candidate in the 24 January presidential election, said in Zagreb on 13 January that he has resigned all his party offices. He added that he no longer considers himself bound by the party program. Granic promised to give up his party membership if elected president in order to "be the president of all Croatian citizens." Reuters described the move as a "cheap stunt by Granic to arrest his decline in opinion polls, where he has slipped to third place" behind Drazen Budisa of the opposition two- party coalition and Stipe Mesic of the smaller four-party coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2000). Granic has charged that several prominent HDZ leaders are harming his candidacy by carrying out acrimonious feuds in public (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000). PM


Ivic Pasalic, who leads the Herzegovinian faction of the HDZ, said in Zagreb on 13 January that he has resigned his post in the party presidency to show solidarity with Granic. Pasalic has been one of the major protagonists in the public feuding that has badly weakened Granic and the HDZ. Elsewhere, the HDZ issued an announcement banning all party meetings, "including those called by acting HDZ President Vladimir Seks," until after the election in order to discourage feuding. Seks has been a second major player in the in-fighting. The independent "Jutarnji list" wrote on 14 January that the HDZ has already begun to fall apart. The newspaper says that blame lies with the late President Franjo Tudjman, who had not prepared for his succession. The daily adds that Tudjman failed to do so because he refused to believe his doctors when they told him that his illness was terminal. PM


In Dubrovnik on 13 January, independent presidential candidate Zvonimir Separovic called on the HDZ to support his candidacy "in the interests of party unity," "Jutarnji list" reported. He is a member of the party's central committee and a former justice minister known for his hard-line views. PM


Members of the Law Faculty at the University of Split voted on 13 January to revoke the masters degree of Ante Djapic on the grounds that he plagiarized some two- thirds of his thesis. Djapic heads the right-wing Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights and is its presidential candidate. PM


The Security Council voted on 13 January to extend until 15 July the mandate of UN peacekeepers on Croatia's Prevlaka peninsula (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000). In its resolution, the council welcomed the trend toward "stabilizing and demilitarizing" the territory but called for a resumption of negotiations between Croatia and Yugoslavia. The resolution also noted that both sides continue to violate agreements relating to Prevlaka by keeping special police forces in the area, operating illegal border crossings, and allowing civilians to enter what is supposed to be a no-go zone on the border, AP reported. PM


Several thousand people gathered in central Podgorica on 13 January to mark Serbian Orthodox New Year and express their support for continued unity between Serbia and Montenegro, Reuters reported. Contingents of police and riot police stood by, but there were no serious incidents. Zorica Taic-Rabrenovic, who represented Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, told the crowd that the fate of the Serbs is similar to that of Jesus Christ. "As He was crucified and tormented, so we have been crucified and tormented all these years. They couldn't do anything to Him. And they can't do anything to us." PM


On 13 January, a public prosecutor in Leskovac charged 144 former fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) with "terrorism" during the 1999 conflict in the province. Serbian forces captured the men from Gjakova in May as they tried to cross the border into Albania. In Pozarevac, a judge freed 10 former UCK men from Rahovec because of a lack of evidence that they took part in attacks against Serbian police. The 10 have been in prison for 18 months. Hundreds of Kosovars remain in Serbian jails under uncertain conditions, including student leader Albin Kurti. PM


Hashim Thaci, who is the former leader of the UCK and now a prominent politician, said that UN police recently attempted to enter his home, his office, and the headquarters of his political party, Reuters reported on 13 January. The UN's Bernard Kouchner and KFOR's General Klaus Reinhardt issued a statement saying that "if any incorrect behavior by international security authorities is discovered, appropriate measures will be taken." Thaci told reporters that he does not blame the UN or KFOR for the alleged incidents, but he stressed that "people out of control" among the UN police are harassing him. In what police say are unrelated incidents, officers recently searched the home of Thaci's brother and arrested one of his bodyguards. Reuters noted that some observers suggest that Thaci and his party have charged harassment in order to win sympathy from voters. Other observers say that the UN police may be "infiltrated" by people seeking to discredit Thaci and the former UCK leadership. PM


Visiting EU Commission President Romano Prodi and EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on 13 January that they are impressed and encouraged by the consensus among Romania's political forces to work toward European integration. They stressed that the process will be a long one and its outcome will depend primarily on Romania's progress toward meeting union standards. Verheugen said that the 650 million euro ($669.5 million) set aside for helping Romania's integration process will be disbursed only if the country shows progress, in particularly meeting the dead-line for finalizing its medium-term accession plan. Verheugen received assurances from Foreign Minister Petre Roman that the plan will be finalized by mid-March "or even earlier." MS


Several large oil companies, such as Agip, LUKoil, British Petroleum, Chevron, and Epson as well as the U.S. Eximbank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the World Bank are interested in participating in a Trans-Balkan oil pipeline from the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Bourgas, via Macedonia and Albania, to Western Europe, BTA reported on 13 January. At a meeting one day earlier between Regional Development and Public Works Minister Evgeni Chachev and Ted Ferguson, executive director of AMBO (Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian Oil) Corporation, the two sides decided to carry out a feasibility study, the results of which are to be discussed in March. The $980,000 costs of the study will be party covered by the U.S. government, which is to grant $588,000. MS


By Fabian Schmidt

The polarization that has plagued Albanian politics since the fall of communism has again made for fresh controversies. This time the issue is the composition of the main election commission. The rightist opposition fears it will be shut out of a Socialist-run body. Not so, says the governing coalition.

Albanian opposition politicians and their counterparts from the governing coalition have clashed over the composition of the Central Election Commission (KQZ), "Shekulli" reported on 10 January. This comes about ten months before local elections scheduled for October.

The dispute started when officials from the two main opposition coalitions--the Union for Democracy, and the United Right--criticized the current legislation on 9 January, arguing that the opposition has no guarantees of being able to send its own representatives to the KQZ. The composition of that commission is specified by the constitution, which stipulates that the president and the parliament appoint two KQZ members each. The High Council of Justice--a body elected by an assembly of judges and lawyers from throughout Albania--appoints another three members to the commission.

(The Union for Democracy, which is dominated by the Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha, boycotted a referendum on the constitution in November 1998, but the United Right then called on its voters to vote in favor of the draft.)

With the presidency and the parliamentary majority in the hands of the governing Socialists, Berisha warned that the KQZ will become "a political instrument that will undermine the possibilities of a free vote." He demanded instead that the KQZ be composed equally of representatives of the governing coalition and of the opposition, following the example of a political compromise reached before the 1997 parliamentary elections under OSCE mediation. Then, the governing coalition and the opposition agreed to apply that key for equal representation to all other election commissions down to the level of the polling stations. The chair of each commission was also shared between the government and the opposition.

Berisha argues that with the new constitution, the governing coalition "abandoned the consensus that it reached [in 1997] with the opposition." He added that "without reaching a new consensus, this is an immoral thing to do."

Fatmir Mediu, the chairman of the Republican Party--the largest party within the United Right--pointed out that "the opposition forces have discussed [the possibility] that they may not participate in the elections." He stressed, however, that the "opposition is ready to enter the electoral process...[if the governing coalition agrees to] build a commission that can guarantee a free vote, based on the...consensus that [membership in the] commissions will be shared."

Mediu added that the current legislation is not clear enough. He argued that the constitution only specifies that the president can name two members of the KQZ, but it fails to address the question who has the right to propose the candidates. He stressed that representatives of the smaller parties within the governing coalition have also raised concern over the current legislation. Mediu suggested that parliament should address the issue by either adopting a new law regulating the composition of the electoral commission, or by amending the constitution, or by referendum.

The first of these options is the most likely. Parliamentary Speaker Skender Gjinushi--from the small Social Democratic Party-- rejected a change of the constitution outright. He stressed that the three High Council of Justice representatives within the KQZ are likely to protect the interests of the opposition. Gjinushi argued that the majority of judges in Albania were appointed during the rule of the Democratic Party, because they were "friends of Mr. Sali [Berisha]." He also noted that the governing coalition has agreed to allow the opposition to nominate one of the two KQZ members to be elected by parliament, and that the president will make his choice independently of political party interests.

Gjinushi stressed that "there is no larger consensus than a constitution. We can not build a state by politicizing the constitution.... [The opposition] demands that the constitution be changed every time the balance of political power changes or every time that the political parties choose to. But this constitution has been adopted by popular referendum and consequently all changes to it will require another referendum."

But Gjinushi also offered a possible compromise: "I believe that the demands of Mediu and Berisha will be met within the framework of an electoral law that will be in line with the constitution.... The KQZ must not become a body composed of representatives of political parties but a permanent institution made up of experts....In addition, the electoral law will have to stipulate that a commission of monitors will be attached to the KQZ, which will be composed of party representatives."