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Newsline - February 7, 2000


Following fierce fighting on 4-5 February in Grozny's Aldy, Chernorechie, and Zavod districts, and after Russian air bombardment of villages to the west of the Chechen capital, acting Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on 6 February that Russian troops had finally taken control of the final (Zavod) district of Grozny. He added that the Russian flag has been hoisted over one of the city's administrative buildings, and he said the operation to "liberate" the city is officially over. LF


First Deputy Chief of Army General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov told journalists in Moscow on 4 February that plans are currently being drawn up to withdraw a "sizeable" number of Russian troops from Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. (Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii had said on 27 January said that the total number of Russian troops in Chechnya is less than 100,000, Russian Television reported.) Manilov estimated that no more than 1,000, Chechen forces remain in Grozny and that 6,000-7,000 Chechen fighters are regrouping to the south of the capital. He said Chechen losses during the battle for Grozny totaled some 1,500. Manilov expressed confidence that the Chechens will not succeed in breaking through Russian lines to the north, but he added that "we are reinforcing our positions" in the southeastern districts of Chechnya bordering on Daghestan's Botlikh and Tsumadin Raions. LF


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 4 February expressed concern at what she termed unconfirmed reports that RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii had been exchanged the previous day for Russian servicemen held prisoner by the Chechens. She said that such a swap, if it had indeed taken place, was "unacceptable," an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. In Moscow, however, First Deputy Chief of Army General Staff Manilov said Babitskii's release was not a swap and that Babitskii "could go wherever he wanted," Reuters reported. Manilov called for an investigation into the circumstances of Babitskii's release, according to Interfax. But Babitskii's wife, Lyudmila, told Reuters that video footage of her husband screened by Russian television on 4 February raised more questions than it provided answers. She said her husband looked "vacant" and "clearly depressed," adding that she could not understand why he had not contacted his family. LF


Speaking in Peshawar on 5 February, former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev called on Pakistan and other Islamic countries to recognize Chechnya as an independent state, AP reported. Yandarbiev said that not one Muslim country has offered assistance to Chechnya, although talks have begun with Saudi Arabia on that very issue, according to ITAR-TASS. On 4 February, the Russian Foreign Ministry asked Islamabad to explain how Yandarbiev had entered Pakistan and to confirm or deny Pakistani media reports that he had held secret meetings with the country's leaders. The Pakistani Embassy in Moscow on 5 February denied those reports, adding that Yandarbiev had been briefly detained and questioned in Islamabad on 1 February but released after saying he intended to leave the country. LF


In an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 4 February, Russian businessman Boris Berezovskii said that "it would be a great mistake to think that the Chechen crisis can be settled only by force." Berezovskii argued that since "Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov cannot cope with the situation" in Chechnya, Moscow should therefore embark on peace talks with those "influential groups" that can do so, including field commanders Shamil Basaev and Ruslan Gilaev as well as spokesman Movladi Udugov. Berezovskii said that there is no need for acting Russian President Putin to become involved in the negotiating process but that the State Duma (in which Berezovskii is a deputy) should play a key role. LF


Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Yastrzhembskii on 4 February said that Moscow will not agree to negotiations with "international terrorists" in general and with Basaev in particular, Interfax reported. "There is, and can be, no room for a new Khasavyurts," he added, in a reference to the 1996 peace agreement signed between then Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and then Chechen chief of staff Maskhadov. Yastrzhembskii agreed that a political settlement of the crisis is needed, but he said such a settlement will be possible only after Chechen military bases are wiped out, "militants" neutralized, and "international terrorists," above all, Basaev, are arrested. Reuters Television on 6 February showed footage shot on 31 January of Basaev undergoing the amputation of one foot after running into a minefield while retreating from Grozny to the town of Alkhan-Kala (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"1 February 2000). LF


Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government representative in Chechnya, told journalists in Moscow on 4 February that it is necessary to restore gas and electricity supplies to all Russian- controlled districts of Chechnya and to ensure that communications, schools, and hospitals are functioning normally, Russian agencies reported. Only when this is achieved, Koshman continued, should a decision be taken on whether to rebuild Grozny. He added that at present, however, "there is no money" for undertaking that task. Koshman said that it would not be "dreadful" if Gudermes, the second- largest town in Chechnya, were temporarily designated the republic's capital. Koshman had argued last November that there was "no need" to rebuild Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 1999). Koshman also denied rumors of tensions between himself and former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantamirov and pro-Moscow Chechen State Council chairman Malik Saidullaev, according to Interfax. LF


U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, speaking to journalists on 6 February, said tests show that the oil aboard the Russian tanker seized in the Gulf last week was being smuggled from Iraq. The U.S. Navy-led Multinational Interception Force had intercepted the vessel in the Persian Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 2000). Cohen noted that an Iraqi naval officer was also aboard the ship, which, he suggested, made the situation "pretty clear." Reuters on 7 February reported that the tanker has entered Omani waters and is expected to dock at one of that country's ports later the same day. JC


Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said its investigations show that the tanker has not breached the UN sanctions against Iraq. In a statement issued on 5 February, the ministry commented that "according to our information, which has been verified several times, the tanker was carrying Iranian heavy fuel oil that was loaded in Iranian waters." And the RIA news agency quoted an unidentified ranking military official as saying Russia will send a reconnaissance ship to monitor what he described as the "buildup of NATO craft in the Gulf." Iraq, for its part, likewise dismissed reports that the Russian vessel was carrying Iraqi oil. "Al-Thawra," the mouthpiece of the ruling Baath party, wrote in its 4 February issue that the U.S. was "spreading lies" about the tanker's cargo, according to Reuters. JC


The Russian government has agreed to stop making plutonium out of fuel from its civilian nuclear reactors, "The New York Times" reported on 7 February. Instead, it will send unreprocessed spent fuel for storage at a new storage site whose construction the U.S. will finance. According to the daily, the U.S. will provide some $45 million to build this additional new facility and to better secure spent fuel already stored at an existing facility. An additional $30 million might be made available for joint research as well as the development and design of a permanent "geological" repository for storing used fuel. That money, however, would be contingent upon an end to Russian nuclear sales to Iran. Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told the newspaper that Russia has honored its agreements to not sell sensitive materials to Iran but is willing to discuss "more commitments for greater transparency." JAC


A report issued by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies urges the U.S. government to purchase $1 billion of highly enriched uranium from Russia, AP reported on 6 February. According to the report, such a purchase is necessary to safeguard Russia's stockpiles of nuclear material because they are haphazardly protected and vulnerable to theft. One of the authors of the report, Matt Bunn, an expert on nuclear proliferation at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said that the money the U.S. already sets aside for safeguarding Russia's nuclear materials is "woefully insufficient" and that "for the cost of one B-2 bomber [about $2 billion] we might get all the excess bomb uranium in Russia blended to a form that could never again be used in weapons." JAC


The Security Council on 4 February approved a new national military doctrine intended to replace the one adopted in 1993. According to acting President Putin, the doctrine takes into account "changes in NATO strategy" and the threat posed by Islamic militants. Senior Security Council member Viktor Yesin said that the document is defensive in nature and stresses that Russia would be unable to repel a NATO attack without nuclear weapons. For his part, Colonel General Manilov, first deputy chief of the General Staff, told NTV that the new doctrine does not preclude Russia's developing partnerships with the West. The idea of such partnerships is a "thread through the entire content of the military doctrine," he noted. The text of the doctrine is not expected to be published until Putin formally signs the document within the next two months. JC


Receiving French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine in the Kremlin on 4 February, acting President Putin announced that the two countries intend to develop a "strategic partnership." Vedrine's Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, was quoted by Interfax as acknowledging that bilateral relations have been "somewhat in decline" of late, and he noted that both Putin and French President Jacques Chirac understand the need to improve those ties. With regard to Chechnya, the visiting French diplomat was reported to have strongly criticized the Russian offensive. JC


At a news conference in Moscow the following day, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov took a "wait-and-see" attitude toward the inclusion of Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party in the new Austrian government. "We will make judgments on the basis of concrete steps and actions taken by [Vienna]," he said. "At the same time, we have great trust in Austrian democracy and in [Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang] Schuessel [of the conservative People's Party]." Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry had issued a statement saying it hopes that Austria "will not take any steps fraught with danger for stability on the continent," according to Reuters. JC


A hijacked Afghan plane left Moscow on 7 February after the hijackers releasing 10 of their hostages and had the plane serviced at Sheremetevo airport, Reuters reported. The hijackers, who demanded to be allowed to fly toward Western Europe, had previously forced the plane to stop in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. JAC


In a statement issued by its Moscow office on 5 February, the IMF said Russia will need to make "further progress in implementing structural reforms" before the fund's executive board considers the next disbursement of its $4.5 billion loan program, Reuters reported. The fund also recommended that the government rely more on commercial bank and non- Central Bank resources to cover its domestic financing requirements. And it advised that large energy monopolies such as Gazprom continue to be urged to conduct more transactions in cash. First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was more upbeat, telling Interfax the same day that the IMF mission is impressed by positive developments in Russia's macroeconomic situation and that the government can maintain the country's current economic situation without IMF money in the first quarter. On 7 February, Kasyanov announced that the Finance Ministry will borrow from the Central Bank to cover its budget deficit in March. JAC


Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko have been removed as members of the Security Council, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 February. Khristenko was earlier removed from the government's Presidium while Aksenenko retained his post on that body (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000). Both men had been first deputy prime ministers until last month when Putin demoted them and promoted Finance Minister Kasyanov to first deputy prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2000). Kasyanov has retained his post on the Security Council, according to "Izvestiya." JAC


Russia's GDP totaled 379.8 billion rubles ($13.2 billion) in January 2000, a 49.5 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the Economics Ministry, PRIME-TASS reported on 4 February. However, January's GDP fell by 22.5 percent compared with December 1999. Interfax suggested on 2 February that GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 1999 will have to be 7.8 percent higher than the same period last year if the State Statistics Committee's forecast of GDP growth of 3.2 percent in 1999 as a whole is to prove correct. Some domestic and foreign analysts have suggested the 3.2 percent figure is too high. For example, PlanEcon's Ben Slay is projecting fourth-quarter GDP growth at 2.5 percent and the total year figure at 1.8 percent. JAC


Interior Ministry officials are threatening to declare an official manhunt for "Moskovskii komsomolets" reporter Aleksandr Khinshtein if he continues to fail to show up for an interrogation as part of the ministry's case against him, "The Moscow Times" reported on 5 February. According to the daily, ministry officials want to question Khinshtein and have him undergo psychiatric testing. The ministry has maintained that Khinshtein hid a record of psychiatric disorders to "illegally" obtain a driver's license. Last week, a former State Customs Committee official was arrested on charges of abuse of power for having given Khinshtein an ID card as a police captain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1999). Khinshtein maintains that the case was manufactured by the ministry to punish him for his exposes of the activities of Boris Berezovskii and other figures. JAC


Meanwhile, the Office of the Prosecutor-General has charged five paratroopers and a security guard in the 1994 killing of Dmitrii Kholodov, a reporter for "Moskovskii komsomolets." Kholodov had been investigating military corruption at the time of his death. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 February, the motive in the killing was career advancement. The suspects were allegedly trying to impress their superiors, who were facing scrutiny for suspected corruption. JAC


Addressing delegates to Our Home Is Russia's (NDR) eighth congress on 5 February, NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin said that the NDR will remain an independent political force and will back acting President Putin in presidential elections on 26 March, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that "NDR will change both its leadership and situation in the regions and will consider what its few deputies in the State Duma should do." In an interview with "Segodnya," NDR former faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov admitted that the NDR is "in a really strange position" in the Unity faction. He noted that he has not had a single conversation with Unity Duma faction leader Boris Gryzhlov since joining Unity. According to the newspaper "Utro," Chernomyrdin also acknowledged that NDR's entry into Unity has so far failed to yield any results. According to Ryzhkov, four deputies who were elected in single-mandate districts as NDR members have joined Unity's faction, while another four have joined the People's Deputy group. JAC


During talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, on the sidelines of the world economic summit in Davos last month, Robert Kocharian suggested two "new ideas" for resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 February, quoting presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian. Gabrielian did not say what those ideas were, but he did comment that despite "some positive movement," the Davos talks did not yield "major progress" on resolving the conflict. On 3 February, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a note saying that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's decision to demand entry visas from foreigners was a violation of Azerbaijan's sovereignty, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Baku warned that foreigners whose passports contain such a visa will be barred entry to Azerbaijan. LF


Kocharian on 4 February met with the leaders of Armenia's political parties to brief them on his recent visits abroad and to discuss economic issues, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The domestic political situation was not discussed. "Orinats yerkir" leader Sergo Yeritsian said the meeting "marked the beginning of a political dialogue" between the president and other political forces. National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian, who last month suggested that Kocharian was not in control of the political situation and should therefore resign, told journalists after the 4 February meeting that he had subsequently held a separate meeting with Kocharian, but he gave no details. LF


Stepan Demirchian, younger son of murdered Armenian parliamentary speaker Karen, pledged last week to continue the People's Party of Armenia's (HHK) cooperation with the Republican Party, its partner in the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Last month, Stepan Demirchian was elected acting chairman of the HHK, which his father had founded in 1998. Demirchian told RFE/RL on 3 February that "serious and competent people" continue to join the HHK. Touring towns in central Armenia the following day, he told supporters that the HHK will not do anything to split Miasnutiun. The HHK is perceived as the junior member of that bloc. Demirchian also said the HHK does not support calls by some opposition parties for new presidential elections. LF


Visiting Baku on 3-4 February, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo held talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ramil Usubov, and with President Aliev, Turan and Russian agencies reported. Rushailo and Usubov signed agreements on preventing terrorism and on deepening cooperation in preventing the smuggling of arms and narcotics across their shared border. Usubov thanked Moscow for extraditing more than 500 wanted criminal to Azerbaijan over the past three years. Aliyev termed Rushailo's visit "politically important" and a step forward in the development of bilateral relations, according to Interfax. He characterized the Russian and Azerbaijani positions on the prevention of terrorism and separatism as similar, noting that those phenomena pose a threat to all democratic states. LF


Two days after senior Abkhaz and Georgian government officials signed an agreement in Sukhum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000), Georgia handed over the bodies of three Abkhaz customs officials shot dead last month, Caucasus Press reported. In exchange, the Abkhaz authorities released three Georgian hostages. A group of Georgians continues to block the Georgian side of the bridge over the Inguri River, which forms the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, to demand the release of five Georgians held by the Abkhaz, Caucasus Press reported on 7 February. Tbilisi says those five are all civilians, while the Abkhaz authorities claim that some of them have been convicted for war crimes committed during the 1992-1993 fighting, according to AP. The Georgian authorities, for their part, continue to hold two Abkhaz. LF


Visiting Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Economy Minister Lubomir Harach held talks with the Georgian leadership in Tbilisi on 4 February. Kukan and Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili signed a protocol on cooperation between their respective ministries. Meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, the Slovak ministers discussed the possibility of Slovak participation in the construction of a thermal power station in western Georgia. Shevardnadze described the overall situation in the Caucasus as "problematic" given the numerous unsolved conflicts. He expressed the hope that it will prove possible to conclude a Caucasus stability pact analogous to that forged last year for the Balkans, TASR reported. LF


Foreign Minister Menagharishvili told journalists on 4 February that Georgia risks losing its voting right at the UN unless it pays at least part of the $6 million it owes in membership dues, Caucasus Press reported. He expressed confidence that the Finance Ministry will release the necessary funds to pay at least part of that sum. Armenia, by contrast, has no outstanding debts to the UN and has already paid its $410,000 membership dues for 2000, Groong reported on 2 February, citing Snark. LF


A Kazakh military court on 4 February acquitted acting Chief of Army General Staff Bakhytzhan Ertaev of abuse of office in connection with last year's illegal sale to North Korea of some 40 obsolete MiG fighter aircraft, Russian agencies reported. Ertaev had told the court last month that in giving the go-ahead for that sale, he was merely obeying orders from his superiors, including Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev, whom he demanded be summoned as a witness (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 January 2000). Ertaev, who was hospitalized last month after suffering a heart attack in the court room, may sue the National Security Committee for damages, according to Interfax. His co-defendant, businessman Aleksandr Petrenko, was found guilty of participating in the sale but was immediately amnestied, according to dpa on 4 February. LF


A Bishkek district court ruled on 5 February that the congress convened in early January by the Party of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (PDMK) to select the party's candidates for the 20 February parliamentary elections was illegal, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The court maintained that only 57 delegates attended that gathering, while 59 are required for a quorum, and therefore ruled that the party cannot participate in the poll. But PDMK chairman Jypar Jeksheev told RFE/RL that of a total of 83 delegates selected, 71 did attend the congress. Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev condemned the court ruling as politically motivated. As a result of the ruling, the number of political parties that will contend the poll has dropped to nine. Moreover, former Bishkek Mayor and Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov, who topped the list of PDMK candidates to contest the mandates to be distributed under the proportional system, is now precluded from running. LF


Tajik Security Ministry experts told ITAR-TASS on 4 February that the explosion in a Dushanbe city bus the previous day was not caused by a bomb or a faulty gas cylinder but by a foreign- made anti-personnel mine. Seven people died in that explosion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). LF


Relations between Ankara and Ashgabat have cooled after a Turkish singer accompanying a Turkish delegation to the Turkmen capital rejected the amorous advances of President Saparmurat Niyazov, according to the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of 4-5 February. The lady has reportedly been asked by the Turkish authorities not to divulge details of the episode to the Turkish press. LF


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott held talks with Supreme Soviet speaker Syamyon Sharetski, former speaker Stanislau Shushkevich, and deputy Lyudmila Hraznova in Washington on 3 February. "They discussed the Russian- Belarusian union and its possible implications for the future of Belarus. [Talbott] reaffirmed U.S. support for democracy, which the independent Belarusian nation chose in 1991," the U.S. State Department commented. Talbott expressed his concern over the Belarusian authorities' intention to implement the recently passed electoral code, which is widely regarded as not meeting international standards. On 5 February, the Supreme Soviet appealed to the government to begin a "real negotiation process" and allow access to the state media for the opposition. JM


Another round of talks between the left minority and the center-right majority in the Ukrainian parliament has failed to produce any results, Interfax reported on 4 February. According to Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, the majority rejected all proposals by the minority on how to resolve the crisis. Symonenko said a "general meeting of deputies" is planned in the parliament on 7 February. Meanwhile, nine Progressive Socialists and one Communist continue to keep vigil in the parliamentary building to protest what they call a "criminal revolution" or a "coup d'etat" in the country. On 4 February, the parliamentary minority had requested that Prosecutor-General Mikhail Potebenko provide a "legal assessment" of the majority's "anti-constitutional seizure" of the speaker's office the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). JM


Leonid Kuchma has signed into law two bills that the parliamentary majority passed on 1 February, Interfax reported on 4 February. The first bill renumbers independent Ukraine's legislatures, making the current Supreme Council the third one rather than the 14th. The second bill abolishes the 7 November state holiday marking the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Deputy speaker Stepan Havrysh commented to the agency earlier last week that Kuchma's signing of those bills would testify to their "legality." JM


Ukraine's Finance Ministry and ING Barings has announced the terms for restructuring the repayment of Ukraine's international bonds, Interfax reported on 4 February. In particular, Kiev is seeking to exchange bonds worth 500 million euros ($491 million) that are due in March 2000, $73.7 million worth of bonds due in October 2000, 1.5 billion German marks ($775 million) worth of bonds due in February 2001, and $1 billion in so-called "Gazprom" bonds. Under the offer, holders of Ukrainian bonds will be offered new international bonds that will mature in seven years. The new bonds will be denominated in euros and in dollars and will pay quarterly interest rates of 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively. JM


The controversy over the fate of Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) director Janis Naglis reflects tensions within the ruling coalition. Naglis, who is a ranking member of Latvia's Way, has asked to remain in his post beyond the end of his term, which expires in mid March. Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs, a member of For Fatherland and Freedom, has said repeatedly he will not renew Naglis's contract. However, BNS reported that Naglis's contract is in fact open- ended, which contravenes LPA and government regulations. The contract was signed by former Economics Minister Ainars Slesers of the New Party, which is now in opposition. Both Latvia's Way and the People's Party of Premier Andris Skele have announced they will enter into cooperation talks with the New Party. For Fatherland and Freedom has suggested that the two other parties are ready to break the current ruling coalition. MH


Lithuania's unemployment rate soared to 10.8 percent in January, ELTA reported. This follows December's jobless rate of 10 percent, which was a record for Lithuania since independence was restored and represents an increase of some 40 percent over the same period last year. The highest regional unemployment rate remains in the northern Akmene region (20.5 percent), the southern Salcininkai region (20.3 percent), and the Polish- border Lazdijai region (19.4 percent). Urban areas Siauliai (16.2 percent) and Panevezys (15 percent) have jobless rates that are among the highest in the country. MH


Jerzy Buzek on 5 February said the trials of people suspected of lying in their lustration statements should be open, given the large number of "leaks" to the media from the Lustration Court, PAP reported. Lustration Court spokeswoman Barbara Trebska commented that trials that involve files from the military intelligence service should be held in secret, while "it would be more advantageous" if the trials involving files from the State Protection Office and the Interior Ministry were open. Meanwhile, Labor Union leader Marek Pol said the same day that the lustration process in Poland is being used to settle political accounts. "The system where one person single-handedly decides which [Communist secret police] file goes to the court and which does not makes a farce of the lustration process," PAP quoted Pol as saying. JM


Finance Minister Pavel Mertlikold journalists on 4 February that Jan Stiess has resigned as chief of the National Property Fund, CTK reported. Stiess had come under pressure last month following media reports that he falsified a lustration certificate saying that he did not collaborate with the communist secret police. The Interior Ministry confirmed the document had been forged, but Stiess claimed he was not aware of the forgery. MS


The Central Assembly of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), a member of the opposition four-party coalition, has approved running on joint lists with its allies in the 2002 parliamentary elections, CTK reported on 5 February. According to some opinion polls taken last month, the four-party coalition-- which also includes the Freedom Union, the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), and the Democratic Union--would emerge as the largest formation in the parliament. On 4 February, Freedom Union Deputy Chairman Vladimir Mlynar and KDU-CSL Chairman Jan Kasal both said that Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus will not succeed in his attempts to bring about a split in the alliance. They were responding to Klaus's statement that the ODS is closer to the union than to the KDU-CSL and that the four-party coalition is a "false alliance." MS


Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told journalists on 4 February that he disagrees with the contents of the letter sent by ODA chairman and parliamentary chairman Klaus to Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 4 February 2000). Kavan said EU members are "fully entitled to comment on what is going on in another country that is a member of the community," CTK reported. Freedom Union Deputy Chairman Mlynar said Klaus's position demonstrates he has not adopted "the values and principles of the EU," while Social Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Petr Lachnit commented that Klaus's letter to Schuessel demonstrates that the ODS chairman continues to perceive EU integration as a "necessary evil." ODA Deputy Chairman Michael Zantovsky on 5 February said Klaus's letter was "disastrous" and that the Chamber of Deputies should "perhaps ban its leader from speaking on foreign affairs, as he always produces disasters" when he does so. MS


The Slovak Foreign Ministry on 4 February said Bratislava "understands and shares the apprehension" of the EU toward the new coalition in Austria. "However, we are convinced that the Austrian Republic's [democratic] institutions are firm and stable enough" to guarantee that the country abides by "the principles of democracy, [respect for] human rights and the rule of law," CTK reported. Earlier, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said Slovakia is "worried" about developments in Austria, but he added that he does not believe "Slovakia must join the EU's measures against Austria" at the moment. MS


Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 5 February told journalists in Madrid that he has sent a telegram congratulating Austrian Chancellor Schuessel on his appointment to that position, Hungarian media reported. Orban said that freezing relations with Austria was "completely unacceptable" from the point of view of Hungarian interests, and he expressed apprehension that the EU's preoccupation with events in Austria may result in delaying Hungary's accession to the organization. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 4 February said Hungary has "exchanged information" but "not specifically coordinated positions" with other members of the Visegrad group on developments in Austria. Far-right Justice and Life Party leader Istvan Csurka said in the parliament on 4 February that Hungary "must not join an organization that restricts national sovereignty." MS


In a telephone poll commissioned by the daily "Magyar Hirlap," some 47 percent of respondents said they consider the Freedom Party's joining the Austrian coalition to be a "dangerous" development. But in reply to another question, 46 percent said the EU "has no right" to exert pressure on member states. Thirty-nine percent said they are "indifferent" to the fact that Haider's party is now in government, and 3 percent said they are "pleased." Fifty-nine percent said Hungary must not join sanctions against Austria, while 68 percent said they would consider it "dangerous" if extreme right parties were to be co-opted in a coalition in Hungary. MS


Voters began casting their ballots at 7:00 a.m. local time on 7 February in the second round of the Croatian presidential elections. Stipe Mesic of the smaller four-party governing coalition is pitted against Drazen Budisa of the larger two-party coalition. The latest public opinion polls give Mesic a slight edge over Budisa, but most observers agree that the results are too close to predict. Unofficial results are expected at midnight. The inauguration is slated for 18 February. The election campaign centered primarily on the candidates' styles and personalities because there are hardly any differences between them on political issues of substance. Budisa stressed his honesty and integrity. Mesic presented himself as a counterbalance to the two-party coalition that dominates the government and as a man close to ordinary people. He was not friendly toward the Herzegovinians, an approach that may win him some votes in Croatia proper but is likely to cause the Herzegovinians to vote en masse for Budisa. PM


"Jutarnji list" reported on 7 February about an imminent split in the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which governed from 1990 until its overwhelming defeat in the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 16 November 1999). A moderate wing led by former Foreign Minister Mate Granic and Vesna Skare-Ozbolt plans to form the Croatian Christian Democratic Party. Other prominent HDZ politicians likely to join the new party are Nikica Valentic, Vlatko Pavletic, Pavao Miljavac, and Ivan Jarnjak, the daily added. Observers note that if the split takes place, the HDZ would be left primarily in the hands of two hard-line factions. One of those factions is led by Vladimir Seks, while the other is headed by Ivic Pasalic and consists primarily of Herzegovinians. PM


Violence involving ethnic Albanians and Serbs, as well as Albanians and French and Italian peacekeepers, continued on 4 and 5 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). AP reported on 6 February that some 10 people died in the violence and that dozens were injured, including 16 French peacekeepers. Some 2,000 Albanians and an unspecified number of Serbs staged rival protests on 6 February, but no clashes were reported. Bernard Kouchner, who is the UN's chief civilian administrator in the province, broke off a fund- raising trip to Japan to return to Mitrovica. He suggested that "extremists" are seeking to "blow up the progress we've made." He vowed: "They will not succeed. We will not give up." PM


Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, wants the Atlantic alliance to form a special unit to arrest indicted war criminals, "Vesti" reported on 7 February. She told the Copenhagen daily "Politiken" that one reason why more war criminals have not been brought to justice is that NATO has not made catching them a priority. Del Ponte added that alliance officials in Brussels reacted "positively" to her suggestion. PM


Retired General Stevan Mirkovic, who is a former chief of the Yugoslav Army General Staff, said that "a military coup is the only way out of the current crisis between Serbia and Montenegro," "Vesti" reported on 6 February. He added that it is "possible" that Yugoslavia will face a civil war unless the military takes action "as it did in Pakistan." Mirkovic declined to say precisely who he thinks might lead a coup. The former general was one of the founders of the small League of Communists- Movement for Yugoslavia, which is widely regarded as a collection of political dinosaurs. It is headed by Mira Markovic, the wife of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM


Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic said in Belgrade on 5 February that the U.S. and other Western countries are waging a "media campaign" against the Serbian authorities. He charged that virtually all independent media in Serbo-Croatian and in Albanian are "funded and controlled" by Washington, "Danas" reported. Vucic added that the Hungarian Embassy in Belgrade is the Western powers' main direct contact with the independent media. PM


The leaders of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) have agreed to a demand by the National Liberal Party (PNL), their main partner in the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), that the two parties run on separate lists in this summer's local elections, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 4 February. The two formations will run on joint lists in the fall parliamentary elections. A new protocol for the CDR is to be signed by 15 February. The PNLCD and the PNL said they will both back incumbent President Emil Constantinescu in the upcoming presidential elections. MS


A 6 February extraordinary congress of the Romanian National Party (PNR) has elected former Romanian Intelligence Service chief Virgil Magureanu as the party's new chairman and decided that the position of deputy chairman will "for the time being remain vacant." Magureanu, who was a driving force behind the PNR, took over the post of acting chairman after former chairman Viorel Catarama was forced to "withdraw" last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999). The PNR said it represents a "Third Way" in Romanian politics between the left and right. It will run alone in the local elections and seek to forge alliances with other formations for the parliamentary elections. MS


Ion Ieseanu, chief of the Consular Directorate at the Moldovan Foreign Ministry, told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau on 5 February that his country may soon initiate an agreement with Romania whereby Moldovan nationals would be granted dual citizenship. Thousands of Moldovans have besieged the Romanian embassy in Chisinau recently inquiring about how to acquire Romanian citizenship, following the beginning of negotiations between Bucharest and Brussels on Romania's accession to the EU. Moldovans fear that Romania may introduce visa requirements for Moldovan nationals in the near future. They also believe that Romanian citizens will soon be allowed to travel freely within the "Schengen space." Romanian Ambassador to Chisinau Victor Barsan emphasized that Foreign Minister Petre Roman has recently said Romania has no intention of imposing such requirements and that Moldovans will continue to be allowed to cross the border by presenting their ID cards only. MS


Romanian Senate Foreign Affairs Commission Chairman Gheorgi Prisacaru told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau on 5 February that under Romanian legislation, it is easier to grant citizenship to Moldovan nationals than to nationals of other countries. Prisacaru said granting citizenship may depend on two factors: EU demands and "Moldova's distancing from Russia." MS


Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov on 4 February said Sofia is "concerned" that the new Austrian government "may hamper the EU's enlargement policy and thus [harm] Bulgaria's national interests," BTA reported. Stoyanov said the EU's enlargement is "vital" for Bulgaria, and he noted that his country subscribes to the EU's "philosophy and system of values," which he added are "based on the principles of tolerance and European solidarity." Bulgaria therefore can only support the stance taken by the EU toward the new Austrian government, whose policies must be "followed closely," Stoyanov said. MS


By Fabian Schmidt

A 31 January session of the Kosovar shadow state parliament has caused a great deal of controversy. On that day, a deadline was due to pass for all parallel state structures in Kosova to cease to exist. But rather than disbanding, the parliament vowed to meet again within 10 days.

The shadow-state was created by moderate Kosovars in 1989 after Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic abolished the province's autonomy. In particular, it succeeded in setting up comprehensive health and education systems. Funds came primarily from "taxes" paid by Kosovars working abroad. The Kosovar shadow-state, an excellent example of self-help and passive resistance, has been called "the world's most successful NGO."

During the Serbian crackdown in 1998 and the full-blown conflict the following year, however, moderates who until then had advocated non-violence attributed primary political importance among Kosovars to those prepared to take up arms and defend the ethnic Albanians from Serbian forces. After those forces left in June 1999, the UN set up a civilian administration in the province and called on the various self-proclaimed government structures among Serbs and Albanians alike to dissolve themselves and join new bodies sponsored by the UN's UNMIK.

Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and his main rival, former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci, committed themselves in a 15 December 1999 agreement with UNMIK to disband their respective rival underground governments by the end of January 2000. In exchange, representatives of their respective political parties--the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) and the Party of Democratic Progress of Kosova (PPDK)--as well as representatives of other parties were to receive positions as heads of administrative departments. These departments will be equivalent to ministries and will form part of the Interim Administrative Council, overseen by the UNMIK administration. They were created after weeks of difficult negotiations.

But at the 31 January session, the shadow-state parliament not only failed to disband itself and its government. It also decided that its mandate and that of Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi will expire only when new elections are held. The smaller parties in the legislature-- including the Liberal Party of Kosova and the Christian Democrats--had rejected any dissolution of the legislature, arguing that the parliament gained full legitimacy through underground elections in 1992 and 1998. Rugova's LDK, which is the largest party within the shadow-state parliament and has a majority of seats there, apparently shied away from overruling its smaller long-standing political allies.

UNMIK spokesman Jock Covey responded by announcing that UNMIK has given the shadow-state another 10 days to disband, noting that this delay is preventing the council from beginning its work. The delay, moreover, has triggered harsh reactions from several Kosovar observers.

Journalist Baton Haxhiu, for example, wrote in a commentary in the leading Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" on 2 February that "everybody was skeptical when the [15 December 1999] agreement was signed between UNMIK and the [ethnic] Albanian political parties. Everybody believed that the newly created structures would fail.... Often [international officials] asked: 'Who would possibly go against the views of international community, against the future of Kosova, against the institutional life of Kosova...? Now it is the parliament of Kosova that has done so."

Haxhiu added that the shadow-state failed to protect its citizens and quickly collapsed during the 1999 war: "The question remains: are these [legislators] the same people who have been silent for ten years..., who have lied to their own people, pretending that [the people] have a parliament, that they have a president, that they have a government, that they have free elections and state institutions?"

The journalist stressed, moreover, that all other parallel Kosovar structures had respected the commitment to disband: "The UCK has agreed to be transformed into the Kosova Protection Corps, and [Thaci's] Provisional Government of Kosova ceased to exist on [31 January, as it said it would do] in a press statement.... However, the president and the prime minister of the [shadow-state] Republic of Kosova continue to exist. Their armed structures continue to exist. These imitations of the UCK, which never took part in the war, can continue their activities, while those that fought [that is, the UCK] have surrendered their arms.

"UNMIK has pedantically criticized the parallel structures that were created after the [February 1999] Rambouillet negotiations [namely Thaci's government]. It has searched every suspicious house and every person it suspected of potentially seeking to destabilize Kosova. And it acted well. But falling silent and tolerating what happened on [31 January] will not promote the stabilization of Kosova.... Where is UNMIK now?"

Meanwhile, Rugova said in Prishtina on 2 February that the shadow-state has indeed been dissolved. It is unclear, however, whether he can claim to speak for the parliament. In any event, much of the press reacted with skepticism to his claims.