CHECHENS KILL 20 RUSSIAN OMON TROOPS IN GROZNY AMBUSH
Chechen fighters killed 20 Russian Interior Ministry troops and wounded 29 more in an ambush in Grozny's Staropromyslovskii district on 2 March, Russian officials said the following day. The Russians were trapped in crossfire in a battle that lasted for several hours. Also on 2 March, fighting continued in the Argun gorge between Russian troops and Chechens who had retreated from the town of Shatoi several days earlier and were attempting to cross into the neighboring Vedeno gorge some 25 kilometers to the east. Speaking in Minsk, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said on 2 March that it is "premature" to set a date for the transfer of command of operations in Chechnya from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry, Russian agencies reported. Rushailo had said two days earlier that that transfer could take place "soon" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000). LF
RUSSIAN LEADERS REJECT MASKHADOV'S CALL FOR TALKS
In a telephone interview with Ekho Moskvy on 2 March, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov again proposed negotiations on ending the war in Chechnya, adding that the Russian military "are deceiving their president," Interfax reported. But acting Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists who accompanied him on 2 March to the space research center Zvezdnyi Gorodok near Moscow that Maskhadov must answer questions from Russia's prosecutor-general before any peace talks can begin. In separate comments on 2 March, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii ruled out talks with Maskhadov. Ivanov noted that talks with "other, worthy representatives of the Chechen people" have been under way for "quite some time," according to Interfax. LF
MOSCOW TO ALLOW COUNCIL OF EUROPE MONITORS IN CHECHNYA
Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov told EU officials in Lisbon on 2 March that Russia will permit the presence in Chechnya of two Council of Europe human rights monitors, dpa reported. The following day, Russian Human Rights Commissioner for Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov said in Moscow that the two monitors will be based at an office in the north Chechen village of Znamenskoye, according to AP. He said that no restrictions will be placed on those officials' movements but that they will be required to channel through him all statements to the press and communications with the Council of Europe, Reuters reported. LF
EU TO TRIM RUSSIAN STEEL IMPORTS IN PROTEST OVER CHECHNYA
EU representatives have agreed to a 12 percent reduction in quotas for annual steel imports from Russia, AFP reported on 2 March. The official explanation for the measure is that it is in retaliation for Russia's 15 percent tax on EU iron exports. However, unidentified EU officials told the agency that the import cut is part of a series of measures to punish Russia for its operation in Chechnya. Russian steel producers have already been hit by limits imposed on Russian steel imports in the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1999). JAC
LESSER-KNOWN CANDIDATES MULL WITHDRAWING TO BACK SINGLE HOPEFUL
Presidential candidate and former deputy head of the presidential administration Yevgenii Savostyanov announced on 2 March that he is prepared to withdraw his candidacy in the 26 March presidential elections in favor of one of two fellow candidates, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov or Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. Yavlinskii's press secretary said that so far Yavlinskii has held negotiations about promoting a single "democratic candidate for president" only with Savostyanov and another candidate, Ella Pamfilova, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 March. However, according to state-controlled Russian Television, Titov said he has discussed a coalition to promote a single candidate with Yavlinskii. JAC
CANDIDATE PUTIN CALLS FOR ANOTHER HIKE IN PENSIONS...
Acting President Putin said on 2 March that it is necessary to raise average monthly pensions to 1,000 rubles ($35) by the beginning of 2001, Interfax reported. The minimum pension will be 500 rubles and the maximum 1,500 rubles. Earlier, Putin earlier raised pensions 20 percent as of February 2000. Putin also announced on 2 March that pensions will be raised by another 10 percent in the second half of 2000. JAC
...PROPOSES BETTER CARE FOR ORPHANS...
Putin also called for the formulation of a state policy that would improve the lot of orphans and children being raised by the state. He noted that "it must be taken into account that 90 percent of the children in children's homes have parents. This indicates that our society is ill and that the state does not pay enough attention to problems of families and children," ITAR- TASS reported. JAC
...GRANTS NEW LIFE TO 'MIR'
During his visit to the Zvezdnyi Gorodok space training center outside Moscow on 2 March, Putin said that his government will seek to extend the "Mir" space station's life span, stating that the "usefulness" of the station is obvious but the only "unknown factor" is financing, Interfax reported. Early this year, the cabinet backed a program to keep the space station operational until August 2000, while a foreign company has invested some $20-30 million to fund further missions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2000). Putin also stressed that Russia will honor all its commitments to the International Space Station project. JC
IMF MISSION EXPECTED AFTER ELECTIONS
Aleksei Mozhin, Russia's executive director at the IMF, told reporters on 3 March that the fund will send a new mission to Moscow after the 26 March presidential elections. He added that it is not yet clear whether a new program for cooperation with the fund will be drawn up or if the old one will simply be revised. JAC
CANDIDATE ZYUGANOV COMPLAINS ABOUT FSB
Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Gennadii Zyuganov commented recently on the latest statements of the Federal Security Service (FSB) about possible terrorist attacks and possible attempts on the life of acting President Putin, "Pravda" reported on 3 March. Zyuganov said that "the FSB is not supposed to announce terrorist acts--it is supposed to prevent them." He continued that such an announcement is "either a demonstration of incompetence by the secret services or a moral and psychological preparation of the public for attempts on the acting life of the president and for the next bombings of their apartment buildings." JAC
ENVIRONMENTALISTS REPORT MORE POLICE PRESSURE
A spokesperson for Greenpeace's Moscow office told "The Moscow Times" on 3 March that a local district police station received orders from the Moscow Interdepartmental Anti-Terrorist Commission to seal their offices. However, the orders so far have not been implemented. Meanwhile, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews issued a press release the previous day reporting that prominent scientist and environmental researcher Vladimir Soifer has been officially informed by Russian police that he is forbidden to leave the country and will be arrested if he attempts to do so. Last month, a spokesperson for the Primorskii Krai directorate of the FSB accused Soifer of being in possession of documents that could be of use to NATO in its program for high-precision weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2000). JAC
EU HELPS FINANCE CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION
Under its TACIS program, the EU is allocating some 7 million euros ($6.81 million) to help Russia destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, Interfax and Reuters reported on 2 March. Some 4 million euros will go toward the dismantling of the Kaprolaktam factory in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, while the remainder will be used to help set up a monitoring system at a plant being built near Gorny, Saratov Oblast, for the destruction of chemical weapons. Last fall, Moscow revealed that it has only 10 percent of the estimated $110 million necessary to convert its chemical weapons plants to civilian use (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1999). JC
REGIONAL COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF FOREIGN INVESTORS
Western majority shareholders in the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory celebrated a court ruling on 2 March that favors their taking over control of the 255-year-old factory. The Northwestern Regional Arbitration Court overturned a lower court's decision last fall that the 1993 privatization of the plant was illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1999). Almost one-third of the shares in Lomonosov are owned by the U.S. Russia Investment Fund. Representatives of the factory's former management have announced they will appeal the decision to the federation's Supreme Arbitration Court, "The Moscow Times" reported on 3 March. JC
NEW, CHEAPER STATE-PRODUCED VODKA TO BE CALLED 'PUTINSKAYA'?
Deputy State Property Minister Sergei Molozhavy said on 2 March that legal vodka production accounts for between 65 percent and 70 percent of total output. He added that the traditional level of legal vodka production in industrialized countries is around 75 percent. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that State Duma deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) Gennadii Kulik proposed the previous day establishing a state monopoly on low price vodka, which would sell in stores for 20 rubles (70 cents) for a half-liter. According to the daily, the chairman of the board of Rosalko suggested that the vodka be called "Putinskaya" vodka. Addressing a round- table on the role of the state in the alcoholic drink market, Kulik declared that "vodka helps us to conduct a normal life" and that the price of a bottle of vodka in relation to the average wage is too high. JAC
ARRESTED ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE DECLARES HUNGER STRIKE
Aleksan Harutiunian, who was detained in December and charged with complicity in the 27 October parliament shootings, has begun a hunger strike to protest his continued detention and demand that the investigation of his case be transferred from the military prosecutor to the Prosecutor-General's Office, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 2 March. Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian had rejected an appeal late last month by Harutiunian's lawyer, Ruben Sahakian, to transfer his client's case to the prosecutor-general (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). Sahakian told journalists in Yerevan on 2 March that the investigators have found no evidence to substantiate Jahangirian's hypothesis that the killings were part of a coup attempt. LF
AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA COMMENT ON PIPELINE TALKS
Azerbaijan state oil company President Natik Aliyev told journalists in Baku on 2 March that the most recent round of talks between Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey on the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project yielded agreement on one unspecified point about which Georgia had been adamant, Interfax reported. In Tbilisi the same day, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said that agreement was reached on all issues that concern Georgia as a transit country. But Interfax quoted unnamed Azerbaijani sources as saying Georgia continues to refuse to accept financial responsibility for any "force majeure damage" to the pipeline on Georgian territory. The costs of repairing one of the planned three pumping stations, should it be damaged by a terrorist attack, could reach $150 million, Interfax calculated. U.S. special envoy for Caspian energy issues John Wolf said on 1 March that the talks, which took place in Istanbul, did not cover the question of transit tariffs, according to AP. LF
ONE GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS
Less than one week after submitting some 57,000 signatures to the Georgian Central Electoral Commission, Party of National Ideology chairman Zurab Gagnidze has withdrawn his candidacy, Caucasus Press reported on 2 March. Gagnidze, who earlier accused the commission of favoring the three candidates with the greatest chance of success, called on his supporters to vote for one of those three, incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze. The commission is currently verifying the authenticity of the signatures submitted by the remaining 11 candidates. LF
KAZAKHSTAN SEEKS WORLD BANK FUNDING FOR INSURANCE FOR FOREIGN INVESTORS
Dulat Kuanyshev, the chairman of Kazakhstan's Foreign Investment Agency, told journalists in Almaty on 1 March that his country is seeking $50 million from the World Bank toward providing insurance for foreign investors against the self-interest of bureaucrats and legislative anarchy, by which he presumably meant demands for bribes and frequently changing legislation, AP reported. Several days earlier, Premier Qasymzhomart Toqaev had warned that shifts in government policy constitute a deterrent to potential foreign investment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). Kuanyshev said the government is hoping to attract $1.5-2 billion in direct foreign investment this year, primarily in the mining sector. He estimated that direct investment in 1999 totaled $1.3 billion, mostly in the oil and gas sector, Interfax reported. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS STABILITY IN RUSSIA CRUCIAL FOR CENTRAL ASIA
Visiting the newly created Batken Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan on 2 March, President Askar Akaev stressed that peace and stability in Central Asia are largely contingent on the outcome of the 26 March Russian presidential poll, Interfax reported. Akaev expressed the hope that Russian voters will elect a head of state who enjoys the trust of the Russian people. He advocated a preemptive strike to wipe out "international terrorists" in Tajikistan who took hostages in Batken late last summer. And he warned that any attempt by those "terrorists" to stage a repeat incursion into Kyrgyzstan will be repelled. LF
KYRGYZ PREMIER HOPES PARLIAMENT WILL SUPPORT REFORMS
Amangeldy MurAliyev told Interfax in Bishkek on 29 February that the strong showing by the Communist Party in the 20 February parliamentary elections reflects the population's anger at declining living standards. He expressed the hope that the new parliament will back the government's reform program. MurAliyev said that investment legislation must be amended to encourage both domestic and foreign investment and that the private sector must be strengthened. In particular, he advocated scrapping what he termed "populist" legislation on taxing farmers and peasants and abolishing the five-year moratorium on the sale of land, which was imposed after a 1998 referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1998). LF
TAJIK, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN
During a telephone conversation on 2 March, Imomali Rakhmonov and Vladimir Putin expressed concern at the escalation of fighting in Afghanistan close to the Afghan-Tajik border over the previous few days, Russian agencies reported. The two presidents called for unspecified additional measures to reinforce that border within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, to which both countries are signatories. The Russian border guards deployed along the Tajik-Afghan border are monitoring the situation. LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT WILL NOT ATTEND TURKIC SUMMIT
Saparmurat Niyazov's work schedule will not permit him to attend the meeting of leaders of Turcophone countries in Baku next month, Interfax reported on 2 March, citing the Turkmen Foreign Ministry. In Baku, unnamed Azerbaijani officials expressed displeasure at Niyazov's decision. Relations between the two countries are strained over use of the planned Trans-Caspian gas export pipeline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 March 2000). LF
EUROPE'S 'TROIKA' HOLDS TALKS WITH BELARUSIAN NGOS, PARTIES
The so-called "parliamentary troika"--which consists of representatives of the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament--held talks in Minsk on 2 March with representatives of Belarusian NGOs and opposition parties, Belapan reported. The sides discussed opportunities for a political dialogue in Belarus and for monitoring this fall's parliamentary elections. Belarusian democratic organizations propose that political talks with the authorities focus on the powers of a future parliament and electoral legislation. The troika is expected to meet with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 3 March. JM
UKRAINE, BELARUS SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION ACCORD
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Chumakou, met in Kyiv on 2 March and signed a bilateral cooperation agreement for 2000. Kuzmuk noted that the two countries are facing the same problems in the military sector, in particular, in modernizing their armed forces, recycling obsolete weaponry, and improving military training. Chumakou told journalists that Minsk does not plan to have any Russian troops stationed in Belarus during peace time. Chumakou also noted that Belarus cooperates with NATO under the Partnership for Peace program but not on the scale "it would like to," according to Interfax. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES ACCORD ON NATO TROOPS' STATUS
The Supreme Council on 2 March voted by 228 to 10 to ratify an agreement that defines the status of NATO troops and servicemen from countries participating in the Partnership for Peace program in Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said the agreement will help promote the increased use of Ukraine's Yavoriv training range for PfP maneuvers. The parliament also ratified the Open Skies treaty, which allows its signatories to monitor flights over one another's territory. JM
UKRAINE, POLAND DISCUSS COOPERATION
Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek met with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko in Kyiv on 2 March to discuss boosting bilateral trade and plans to build an oil pipeline from Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa to Gdansk in Poland. Geremek said Poland is interested in the pipeline and will start talks on the issue. He noted that Poland will do everything in its power to delay as long as possible introducing visas for Ukrainians or avoid their introduction altogether. "We hope to convince the EU that we need to have special relations with Ukraine," AP quoted Geremek as saying. Geremek told Yushchenko that Poland is ready to share its experience in debt-restructuring with Ukraine and help Ukraine carry out reforms. Yushchenko said Ukraine wants to see Poland as a "strategic investor on the privatization market." JM
ESTONIA HAS SERIOUS DRUGS PROBLEM, SAYS U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
The U.S. State Department's narcotics control strategic report suggests that the drugs problem has become serious in Estonia, BNS reported on 2 March. The report cited the increasing number of serious crimes committed while under the influence of drugs and the substantial increase in demand for hard drugs. It also noted that Estonia's geographic location makes it attractive for the drug transit trade and large-scale trafficking. However, the report asserts that the U.S. government is not aware of any official corruption related to drugs. This contradicts comments made by Finnish Interior Minister Kari Hakamies that Estonia's EU bid is threatened by such corruption (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 7 February 2000). MH
SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT IN LATVIA
Milan Kucan began a three-day visit to Latvia on 1 March to promote bilateral ties between the two NATO and EU hopefuls. Speaking to Latvian lawmakers on 2 March, Kucan voiced concern at possible delays in EU enlargement: "The delay in enlargement even in respect of the candidate countries that have met all requirements can be interpreted as fear to let strangers into the house that so far has been safely protected by a fence," BNS reported. Kucan told Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga that "we are not competitors" in the effort to join NATO and the EU. Kucan also thanked Vike-Freiberga for Latvia's support for his country. Latvia was the third country to recognize independent Slovenia. MH
LITHUANIAN STATE DEBT CONTINUES TO SOAR
The Lithuanian Finance Ministry reported that Lithuania's state debt totaled 12.27 billion litas ($3.07 billion) as of the end of January, BNS reported on 2 March. The state debt increased by 201 million litas from the end of December, which is 27.6 percent of projected GDP for 2000. More than 10 billion litas of the debt are long-term. Some 20 percent of the total debt is domestic, but Lithuania's foreign debt fell slightly by 102 million litas to 9.613 billion litas. MH
POLISH COALITION PARTNERS INDULGE IN 'ANTAGONISTIC' VOTING
The Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) has accused its coalition partner, the Freedom Union (UW), of voting in the parliament against proposals that had been approved earlier by the government, Polish Television reported on 2 March. In particular, the UW voted against a government bill stipulating that only one retirement pension fund be allowed to operate in any given firm. Last year, the UW often accused AWS deputies of voting against decisions taken by the cabinet. According to UW deputies quoted by Polish Television, the AWS "is making a rumpus" over an unimportant issue in order to distract attention from the fact that it helped leftists vote UW member Pawel Piskorski out of the office of Warsaw mayor earlier this week. JM
POLISH POST-COMMUNISTS INCREASE LEAD IN POLLS
A late February poll conducted by the OBOP polling center found that 42 percent of Poles would vote for the Democratic Left Alliance if parliamentary elections had been held last month, PAP reported. The ruling Solidarity Electoral Action would obtain 17 percent of votes (3 percent less than in early February), while its coalition partner Freedom Union would be supported by 12 percent of voters (3 percent more than at the beginning of that month). JM
KLAUS CRITICIZES 'MASARYK MYTH' IN CZECH REPUBLIC
Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus has criticized the "formal adoration" that many Czech people have for the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. During a speech at a conference marking the 150th anniversary of Masaryk's birth, Klaus said "the distorted Masaryk ideal" is often used to defend a position that underestimates the importance of political parties and supports elitist politics, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 3 March. He also noted that Masaryk did not respect the results of free elections, that he was a socialist who was uncomfortable with the fundamentals of a free market, and that he tended to cultivate unusual ties with journalists who "glorified" his image. Eva Broklova, the director of the Masaryk Institute, described Klaus's statements as "scandalous." VG
KLAUS'S PARTY BEHIND FORMATION OF NEW CZECH DAILY?
"Lidove noviny" reported on 3 March that Civic Democratic Party (ODS) spokesman Lukas Herold is involved in plans to create a new daily newspaper in the Czech Republic. Herold has reportedly held one meeting with prospective employees of the new daily in the ODS's headquarters in Prague. While Herold described his involvement in the establishment of a new daily as a "theoretical" possibility, ODS deputy chairwoman Libuse Benesova denied the ODS is setting up a daily. VG
CZECH PREMIER SAYS COUNTRY WOULD HAVE PAID DEARLY FOR IRAN CONTRACT
Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 2 March said the Czech Republic would have incurred direct losses totaling 5.5 billion crowns ($157 million) if sanctions were imposed on it as a result of the ZVVZ Milevsko company's contract to supply Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, CTK reported. He said the estimate is based on a Foreign Ministry analysis. Meanwhile, deputies from the governing Social Democratic Party blocked a vote on the formation of a parliamentary commission to investigate why the government allowed the Bushehr contract to get as far as it did (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2000). VG
MECIAR SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH SLOVAK NATIONAL PARTY
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar signed a cooperation agreement with the chairwoman of the Slovak National Party (SNS), Anna Malikova, on 2 March, TASR reported. Meciar said later that the two parties will continue to work together in the national parliament and at the municipal level for as long as they remain in opposition. He noted that two HZDS deputies are against the deal, including Olga Keltosova, who described it as "absolutely counter-productive." Jan Slota, the former chairman of the SNS, has also spoke out against the agreement. VG
SLOVAK NATIONAL BANK HEAD AGAINST EARLY ELECTIONS
Marian Jusko has joined Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Miklos in saying early elections would be damaging to the country, "Sme" reported on 3 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2000). He said early elections could increase interest rates on Slovakia's foreign credits. VG
MEDIA SCANDAL CONTINUES IN HUNGARY
A pro-government politician who requested anonymity said on 2 March that Prosecutor-General Gyorgyi Kalman should have made an unequivocal statement by 1 March on his resignation and that now opposition politicians are making a martyr out of Kalman by linking his resignation to the issue of the media boards of trustees. Meanwhile, some 200 people carrying black flags staged a demonstration outside Hungarian Television headquarters to protest the incomplete media boards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February and 1 March 2000). The protest, organized by the group called Citizens for Press Freedom, was attended by former Prime Minister Gyula Horn, and several members of his cabinet. MSZ
FIDESZ CHAIRMAN LASHES OUT AT OPPOSITION, MEDIA
"The Socialist-Free Democrat opposition has done at least as much damage to the country as have flooding, the Kosova crisis, or meningitis," Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party Chairman Laszlo Kover told a gathering in the town of Szolnok on 2 March. "The press has depicted an alarming, almost apocalyptic picture of the state of the country in the past 18 months," he said, adding that "the same press gazed with indulgent tolerance" on the previous cabinet. Kover also said that the left-wing liberal intelligentsia, which shapes public opinion, bears a huge responsibility for causing considerable damage to the country. MSZ
HAGUE COURT GIVES CROATIAN GENERAL 45 YEARS
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 3 March sentenced Croatian General Tihomir Blaskic to 45 years in prison for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war. Most of the atrocities took place in the Lasva Valley between 1992 and 1994, especially in the Muslim village of Ahmici in 1993. Blaskic denied that he ordered the brutal attacks on Muslims and their property or that he was in a position to control the actions of his troops. Blaskic is the highest-ranking individual whom the tribunal has sentenced, and his sentence is the longest that it has handed down. His trial provided evidence of the links between the Croatian army and authorities on the one hand and the Herzegovinian Croat military on the other. PM
CROATIA TURNS DOCUMENTS OVER TO HAGUE
Graham Blewitt, who is a spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said on 2 March that the new Croatian government has turned over an unspecified number of documents dealing with the Croatian army's "Flash and Storm" campaigns in 1995. Blewitt added that the delivery of the documents is a clear sign that Zagreb truly intends to cooperate with the tribunal. The Hague wants to investigate charges that the Croatian army carried out atrocities against ethnic Serbian civilians during the two campaigns against the Krajina forces. The previous Croatian government balked at handing over documents on the grounds that they contained information that might compromise national security. PM
MEDICAL TEAM SAYS TUTA FIT TO TRAVEL TO HAGUE
A spokesman for the Hague-based tribunal said on 2 March that a group of court-appointed doctors have examined Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic in Zagreb and concluded that he is sufficiently fit to travel to the Dutch city "under correct medical conditions," Reuters reported. Tuta's own doctors had previously said that he is not well enough to travel on account of a worsening heart condition. The tribunal indicted him in 1998 for the murder, torture, and persecution of "thousands" of Muslims in 1993. PM
U.S. TO PUBLICIZE REWARDS FOR WAR CRIMINALS
David Scheffer, who is the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, said in Washington on 2 March that the U.S. will soon put up 10,000 wanted posters in Bosnia and Serbia to publicize up to $5 million in rewards for information leading to the capture of indicted war criminals. The posters will depict the three most-wanted war criminals: Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, and Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Scheffer said: "We...believe that the time has come for these individuals to move from the region to The Hague, so their influence will no longer impede the efforts of those citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia who want to advance democracy and the rule of law," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Scheffer declined to say how the U.S. will distribute the posters in Serbia. He added that "it will simply happen." Karadzic is believed to be in eastern Bosnia and Mladic in Serbia. PM
OSCE SAYS MILOSEVIC 'SUBVERTING' BOSNIAN SERB MEDIA
The OSCE's Robert Barry said in a statement in Sarajevo on 2 March that "recent events in Banja Luka indicate that the government in Belgrade is not content with its clearly announced terrorist campaign against Serbia's independent media. It now feels it must move against the independent media in the [Republika Srpska] as well. The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be subject to the whims of another government. I believe they've had enough of meddling politics." He was referring to a recent Bosnian Serb court inquiry at the request of a Serbian court against two journalists from the independent weekly "Reporter." The journalists had published a photo of Milosevic wearing a hat favored by the royalist Serbian Chetniks of World War II. In October 1999, a Serbian court indicted the two for harming the "reputation of Yugoslavia." PM
THACI DENIES LINKS WITH NEW ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS
Hashim Thaci, who is the former leader of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and now head of the Party for Democratic Progress, told Reuters on 2 March that he and the UCK have nothing to do with recent armed incidents in southwestern Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 February 2000). He said: "There is no more UCK. As you know, I was one of the UCK commanders. My impression is that the problem of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac and the appearance of uniformed people has been exaggerated in the media." Thaci added: "We and the international community are observing the situation in order to solve the problems [of Serbia's ethnic Albanian minority] in accordance with the rights of the citizens who are living there to overcome armed confrontations which are dangerous for the region." PM
ALBRIGHT PLAYS DOWN 'MULTIETHNICITY' FOR KOSOVA
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on 2 March that the key principle that must be applied in Kosova is "respect for minority rights," Reuters reported. She added that "the word 'multiethnic' is harder to talk about for [Kosova] because the Serbs are really a minority there, so it is a matter of respect for minority rights." Her statement marks a departure from the practice of most Western leaders to stress that their goal is to restore a "multiethnic society" to the province. Ethnic Albanians make up approximately 90 percent of Kosova's population. Other minorities include Roma, Bosnian Muslims, Turks, Montenegrins, and the Gorani. The latter are a Slavic Muslim people unique to the region whose culture shows heavy Albanian, Macedonian, and Serbian influence. PM
SERBIAN GOVERNMENT TAKES OVER TABLOID
The government said in a statement on 2 March that it has decided to "merge 'Vecernje Novosti' into the Federal Public Institution Borba after being informed that the state is the majority owner" in "Vecernje Novosti." Pero Simic, who is the mass-circulation daily's editor, said in a letter to readers that as late as August 1999, a Belgrade court ruled that the newspaper is 76 percent privately owned. He described as "slavery" the merger into a newspaper with a circulation 25 times lower than his own. Simic recently introduced an editorial policy that is more independent of the government than was previously the case. "Borba" is the mouthpiece of the United Yugoslav Left of Mira Markovic, who is Milosevic's wife. PM
PETRITSCH WARNS BOSNIA ON COUNCIL OF EUROPE MEMBERSHIP
The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 2 March that Bosnia must implement key reforms blocked by nationalists before it is allowed to join the Council of Europe, Reuters reported. He stressed that membership is a "carrot" that the international community should give to Bosnia only in return for its passing a reformed election law, speeding up refugee returns, accelerating privatization, and invigorating joint governmental institutions. PM
HDZ MODERATES LEAVE PARTY
Former Foreign Minister Mate Granic and former Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) Vice President Vesna Skare-Ozbolt said in Zagreb on 2 March that they are leaving the HDZ to form the Croatian Democratic Center (HDC). The two moderate political leaders noted that the HDZ was founded just over a decade ago as a mass movement to end communist rule and achieve independence. They argued that the HDZ has, however, never succeeded in transforming itself into a political party based on clear policies and principles, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Granic and Ozbolt stressed that the HDZ now contains unnamed extreme rightists. Granic was the HDZ's unsuccessful presidential candidate in the 24 January elections. He blamed in-fighting in the HDZ for his defeat. PM
ROMANIA TO INTRODUCE VISAS FOR MOLDOVA
Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman on 1 March said his country will impose visas on Moldovans, Rompres reported on 2 March. He did not say when Romania would introduce the visa restrictions. In other news, former Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea on 2 March described a recent decision by customs officials to impound the printing press of the newspaper "Cotidianul" as an attack on the freedom of the press, AP reported. VG
NATO SUPREME COMMANDER IN EUROPE MEETS ROMANIAN OFFICIALS
General Wesley Clark asked Romanian Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu for information on the country's efforts to reform its military, noting that NATO is ready to assist the country in carrying out those reforms, Rompres reported on 2 March. President Emil Constantinescu told Clark that Romania could play a key role in building East-West ties in the Black Sea region, adding that the sea should not become a "border" in the European integration process. Constantinescu suggested that oil resources from the Caucasus could be transported through Romania's ports on the sea. VG
ROMANIAN SECURITY SERVICES GUARDING ILIESCU
The Romanian security services (SPP) are "tightly" guarding former president and current opposition leader Ion Iliescu after he claimed to have received a threatening anonymous letter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000), Rompres reported on 2 March. The SPP says it has received no indication of any plots against the life of Iliescu. VG
GAZPROM RESUMES SUPPLIES TO MOLDOVA
Russia's natural gas company Gazprom on 3 March resumed gas supplies to Moldova one week after cutting them off, Reuters reported. An official from the company said Moldova has agreed to pay its $11.1 million debt to Gazprom for January and February by 16 March. Moldova has also promised to make semi-monthly payments for future gas deliveries. VG
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT 'REGRETS' BULGARIAN COURT DECISION
Boris Trajkovski on 2 March expressed regret at the recent decision by the Bulgarian Constitutional Court to outlaw the ethnic Macedonian political party OMO-Ilinden-PIRIN (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000), BTA reported. While Trajkovski acknowledged that it is "unusual" for a president to comment on a decision by another country's court, he said he felt compelled to express his opinion on what he described as a "sensitive issue." He added: "I hope that Bulgaria will be more sensitive in solving identical or similar issues." The same day, the Macedonian Foreign Ministry said the court decision appears to have been based on "political arguments" rather than on legal considerations, adding that it was an "unprecedented act." The opposition Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia also criticized the court decision as well as the Macedonian government's "vague policy" toward Bulgaria and the rights of its Macedonian minority. VG
NEW PARTY REGISTERS IN BULGARIA
A new party calling itself the George Ganchev Bloc registered in Bulgaria on 2 March, Bulgarian Radio reported. VG
INTERNATIONAL MONITORS IN MONTENEGRO: PROS AND CONS
By Jolyon Naegele
The idea of deploying several hundred international monitors in Montenegro was raised on the sidelines of an international conference in Podgorica this week. The conference was convened as a dialogue between Montenegrin and Serbian pro-democracy politicians and activists to address constitutional differences.
Montenegro has been Serbia's increasingly unwilling partner in the Yugoslav Federal Republic, founded eight years ago after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Montenegro is now on the road to sovereignty, with an increasingly democratic legislature, new reform laws and its own Western- oriented foreign policy.
But Montenegro is rump Yugoslavia's sole outlet to the sea, and a potential hard currency earner through tourism and maritime trade. Those industries brought in some $320 million a year a decade ago but now are virtually nonexistent.
The head of one of Montenegro's three ruling pro- democracy parties, Social Democrat Zarko Rakcevic, says that as long as Montenegro fails to gain international recognition as a sovereign state, it will be unable to borrow on international financial markets to rebuild its industry.
Rakcevic says he hopes the international community changes its position toward Montenegro and accepts Montenegro's basic right to national self-determination--the right to separate its fate from Serbia, as he puts it. That, he believes, would prevent a repetition of recent tragic experiences in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. And he argues that Montenegro is the best example that Orthodox, Catholics, and Muslims can live together in harmony.
Rakcevic, a Montenegrin parliamentary deputy, says the solution is to take preventive action in the field of security by deploying observers before trouble starts. He said argues that with some 200 international monitors, for example, in the republic, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "will decide completely differently."
Rakcevic says deploying monitors would be a clear sign to Milosevic to cease his destabilization of Montenegro, which has included an economic blockade and the setting up of Yugoslav Television transmitters on Yugoslav military bases. But Rakcevic warns that if the international community waits until after Milosevic puts military and paramilitary pressure on Montenegro, it will be too late.
A senior official with the international community's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, Finnish diplomat Alpo Rusi, told RFE/RL that the international community is coming round to the idea that deploying monitors in Montenegro, possibly under the aegis of the OSCE, would make sense.
Rusi notes that although Yugoslavia is barred from the Stability Pact for now, Montenegro is, in practice, functioning as a member state of the pact. But he says that putting together a monitoring mission for Montenegro is not yet part of the pact's official brief.
The UN deployed observers along Macedonia's border with Kosova and Serbia more than six years ago, and their presence--including that of several hundred U.S. soldiers--is one of the reasons Milosevic never started trouble with Macedonia.
In contrast, however, the EU's deployment in 1991 of a European military monitoring mission in Croatia after the fighting and ethnic cleansing began had little effect, except for providing the West with military intelligence. Serbian forces soon shot down a mission helicopter. and the mission did little if anything to hold back the fighting.
Similarly, the presence of UN peacekeepers from UNPROFOR in Bosnia did not prevent the systematic destruction by Serbian forces of the areas that the UN had designated "safe areas." Nor did it deter Serbian forces from carrying out the massacres of some 7,000 men near one of those so-called "safe areas," Srebrenica, in 1995.
Later, an unarmed OSCE mission in Kosova was slow to deploy, never reached full capacity, and was soon forced to withdraw after Serbian forces made its job impossible and the launching of NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia last Spring inevitable.
Since the Serbian capitulation and withdrawal from Kosova last June, the international community has failed to deploy anywhere near the agreed-upon number of NATO-led peacekeepers and UN civilian police in Kosova. That is true, despite the worsening situation in Mitrovica and along Kosova's eastern border with Serbia.
So it is far from clear whether there will be sufficient willingness to deploy observers in Montenegro. The issue poses many questions: Would the observers be armed? Would they stand firm or flee in the event of the likely Serbian provocation? And what would be the justification for deployment? Do humanitarian aid convoys bound for Kosova really require the security of observers in Montenegro when their main obstacles are Kosova customs agents just over the border. And what would the reaction be of the Yugoslav Second Army based in Montenegro, already in a heightened state of alert and now manning fresh barricades along Montenegro's sole border crossing with Albania.
Based on the international community's record to date, a deployment of monitors in Montenegro is unlikely to be agreed upon until it is too late.
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent currently in Montenegro.