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Newsline - March 13, 2000


Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin said on 13 March that Federal Security Service (FSB) agents had apprehended Chechen maverick field commander Salman Raduev and transported him to Moscow the previous day. When and where Raduev was captured remains unclear. Raduev had played a major role in the Pervomaiskoe hostage-taking in early 1996 during the first Chechen war but only a minor role in the hostilities that began last fall. LF


Russian military spokesmen confirmed on 13 March that after several days of fierce fighting, field commander Ruslan Gilaev had finally broken through Russian forces surrounding the village of Komsomolskoe and escaped. Russian military spokesmen added that field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab had similarly dodged Russian forces to escape from the villages of Ulus-Kert and Selmentausen, where they had engaged in fierce fighting with federal forces last week. On 10 March, the first deputy commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, had told ITAR-TASS that Basaev and Khattab had been defeated. But according to as yet unconfirmed Russian reports, field commander Khamzat Idigov was killed in Komsomolskoe during the night of 10-11 March, according to Interfax. LF


A spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office on 10 March denied that an additional charge of aiding illegal armed formations in Chechnya had been brought against RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii, AP and Interfax reported. The spokesman said that an investigation related to that charge is continuing. Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin had announced the new charge earlier the same day. LF


Former Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, who is an ethnic Chechen, told Russian Public Television on 12 March that unnamed Chechen clergymen have asked the Russian leadership to name him Chechen leader, according to ITAR-TASS. Khasbulatov said that the present leadership has forfeited the respect of the Chechen people and that "there is no one" for Moscow to negotiate with. In late 1994 Khasbulatov tried unsuccessfully to mediate between then Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev and the opposition Provisional Council, headed by Umar Avturkhanov. LF


Pro- Moscow Chechen State Council chairman Malik Saidullaev told Interfax on 10 March that he believes Chechnya could be ruled directly from Moscow for a period of two to five years, during which a new Chechen leader could be elected by popular vote. Saidullaev has hinted in the past that he aspires to that post, but he also named as worthy candidates Khasbulatov, pro-Moscow militia commander Beslan Gantemirov, and the Djamalkhanov brothers. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 March, acting President Putin had similarly suggested that after the 26 March elections, presidential rule be introduced in Chechnya for a few years. LF


British Prime Minister Tony Blair, visiting St. Petersburg on 11 March, became the first Western leader to meet with Putin since the latter became acting president. In talks that lasted one-and-a-half hours, the two men exchanged views on the conflict in Chechnya: Blair later said he had explained the international community's concerns that Russia's actions be "proportionate" and allegations of human rights abuses be investigated, while Putin noted that Russia respects Western views on Chechnya and suggested that "corrections" in Moscow's policy are possible. He did not, however, specify what those corrections might be. Putin also noted the ongoing difference between Moscow and the West over Kosova, commenting that "the democracy and human rights that we speak of should be extended to that part of the world as well," according to Reuters. Blair, for his part, urged British businesses to invest in Russia, and not just in the oil and gas sector. JC


Together with their wives, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and three Russian deputy premiers, Putin and Blair attended the first night of a new production of Prokofiev's "War and Peace" at St. Petersburg's Mariinskii Theater. Local newspapers reported that their presence at the four- hour performance had pushed up prices in the stalls to some 3,000 rubles ($105). They also commented on the appropriateness of the opera's subject matter, given the topics that dominated the two leaders' talks. "Delovoi Peterburg" remarked that besides sharing experiences of fighting "terrorists" in Chechnya and Northern Ireland, Putin and Blair would be able to "joke about the entry of Russia into NATO"--a reference to Putin's interview with the BBC last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000). According to Reuters, some 100 demonstrators had gathered outside the Kazanskii cathedral earlier in the day to protest Blair's visit. At least one of those protestors was heard shouting "Putin is a dictator!" JC


Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) head Sergei Kirienko told Russian Public Television on 12 March that the New Force and New Generation movements have decided to support the candidacy of acting President Putin in the 26 March elections. Kirienko is also the head of the New Force movement. SPS had earlier decided not to support any candidate. Its members feared that such an endorsement would split the movement, since some members wanted to back Samara Governor Konstantin Titov for the presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2000). JAC


Several days after receiving acting President Putin's backing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2000), Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko announced that she will run in the 14 May gubernatorial ballot in St. Petersburg. Matvienko made that announcement to journalists in the northern city, where on 11 March she attended the first night of the Mariinskii theater's new production of "War and Peace," alongside Putin and British Premier Blair. Earlier the same day, she had scheduled meetings with local leaders of the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, both of which have yet to reveal whom they will support in that election. JC


In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 10 March, "Versiya" editor Rustam Arifdzhanov asserted that the recent plane crash in Moscow that killed Sovershenno Sekretno head Artem Borovik and Gruppa Alyans head Zia Bazhaev was not an accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2000). "Versiya" is published by Sovershenno Sekretno. Arifdzhanov said he has information that an important Russian politician ordered Borovik's murder late last summer, but the "hit" did not take place for some reason. "Novye izvestiya" reported the same day that during his career, Bazhaev had made enemies at Gazprom, LUKoil, and the Interros Group. Meanwhile a spokeswoman for the Moscow Transport Prosecutor's Office told "The Moscow Times" on 11 March that investigators have found no evidence of a bomb and believe the crash was caused by human error. JAC


Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told TV-Tsentr on 12 March that he believes Putin's recent comments on NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000) may have negative consequences for Russia, Interfax reported. Even "hypothetical" statements about the possibility of Russia's joining the alliance "will lead to NATO's unrestricted eastward expansion," according to Yavlinskii. The same day, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev commented that while harboring a negative view of the "hypothetical possibility" of Russia's NATO membership, he favors cooperation with all organizations. "We are unable to prohibit NATO enlargement. Still, being reasonable people, we must learn to cooperate with any organization on this planet," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. JC


In an interview with "Segodnya" on 10 March, State Duma deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) General Aleksandr Piskunov suggested that Russia needs to pay more attention to economic considerations when planning future military reforms. He noted that defense and security spending in the 2000 budget amounts to 5.3 percent of GDP, while "the entire socio-economic sphere gets only 3.7 percent of GDP." He added that "with arms spending like that, our country does not have any future." Piskunov argued that it is important to take into account national economic capacities when planning military reform: "Determining the nature of potential threats and wars is not all there is to it--we also have to determine what we can afford." He concluded "if we begin arming ourselves regardless of the cost, our own army will destroy us--economically." JAC


State Duma deputies on 10 March established a commission for combating corruption, which is headed by former Prime Minister and newly elected deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Stepashin. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 11 March, Stepashin apparently gave up his plans to try to have the commission's status upgraded to that of a committee with the right to propose legislation. Instead, Stepashin's 14-member commission will have to work on draft laws in cooperation with Duma committees. The same day, the Duma also established a commission on ethics, to be headed by Galina Strelcheno (Unity). According to "Novye Izvestiya" on 11 March, the new body will among other things consider the cases of those deputies who abuse power, cause a public disturbance, or make indecent statements. The daily points out that the commission does not appear to have any powers of enforcement should a deputy refuse to obey one of its recommendations. JAC


Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters on 13 March the total amount of unpaid wages in regions totaled 4.4 billion rubles ($154 million) as of 1 March. That backlog had totaled 7.3 billion rubles at the beginning of November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). According to Khristenko, the number of regions where state sector workers have not been paid for more than three months has dropped recently from nine to five. These regions included the Altai Republic, Chita and Kemerovo Oblasts, and the Evenk and Koryak Autonomous Okrugs. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev is running in the 26 March presidential elections. Khristenko also reported that next week acting President Putin will participate in a special telephone conference with regional leaders to discuss unpaid wages. JAC


The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed its concern about the plans of the Tax Ministry to issue individual taxpayer numbers, because such numbers might include three sixes, the number symbolizing the Anti-Christ. Vsevolod Chaplin, chairman of the Church's department for external Church relations, told "Segodnya" on 10 March that the Church is not questioning the need to pay taxes but is only expressing its doubts about the practice of conferring numbers and barcodes on taxpayers. According to the "The Moscow Times" on 11 March, the Church issued a statement saying that "many Christians, who consider the name given to them in baptism holy, believe it unworthy to ask the government for some new 'name' in the form of a number." The daily also reported that the Church was critical of priests who have denied communion to those parishioners who have applied for the numbers. JAC


Gagik Jahangirian, who is heading the investigation into the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings, told a press conference in Yerevan on 10 March that the five gunmen led by Nairi Hunanian were acting on the orders of unnamed powerful patrons and will be charged with "conspiracy to seize power" in addition to murder and hostage-taking, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Jahangirian added that Hunanian had anticipated that his associates would rally to his support after the murders and that President Robert Kocharian would be coerced to appoint Hunanian premier in place of murdered Vazgen Sargsian. Jahangirian also disclosed that in December 1998 Armenia's National Security Ministry had considered recruiting Hunanian as a foreign intelligence operative. LF


Addressing a congress on his National Democratic Union (AZhM) in Yerevan on 10 March, Vazgen Manukian called on President Kocharian and his opponents led by Prime Minister Aram Sargsian to bury their differences or step down in order to avoid leading the country to ruin, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukian, who served in 1992-1993 as Armenian defense minister, also implicitly criticized the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war for seeking to portray themselves and former Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian as solely responsible for Armenia's military victory over Azerbaijan. LF


In a telephone conversation on 9 March, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev accepted the offer by his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, to allow Azerbaijan to export 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually via the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, Turan reported. A formal agreement to that effect will be signed during the Turkic summit in Baku in April. The pipeline project had seemed to be in jeopardy in recent weeks as Azerbaijan had insisted on 50 percent share of the pipeline's planned 30 billion cubic meter throughput capacity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February and 6 March 2000). Eduard Smith, president of the U.S. company PSG, which will operate the pipeline, had told Interfax earlier on 9 March that he intended to propose to Niyazov later this month that Azerbaijan's transit share be increased to 8 billion cubic meters. LF


The Central Electoral Commission on 9 March formally registered seven of the 12 candidates who had submitted signatures in their support in the hope of contesting the 9 April presidential poll, Caucasus Press reported. The seven are incumbent president Eduard Shevardnadze; Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze; former Georgian Communist Party first secretary Djumber Patiashvili; Progressive Party chairman Vazha Zhghenti; Mdzleveli movement leader Avtandil Djoglidze; Georgian Corporation of Lawyers chairman Kartlos Gharibashvili; and former Batumi mayor Tengiz Asanidze. The Central Electoral Commission rejected Davit the Builder Party chairman Roin Liparteliani's application last week, saying that not all of the 50,000 minimum signatures he had submitted were valid. Liparteliani said on 9 March he will appeal that ruling, according to Caucasus Press. LF


Parliamentary deputies on 10 March approved the 2000 budget in the second and third readings by a vote of 132 to 22, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Revenues are set at 874.4 million lari ($443 million) and expenditures at 1.264 billion lari. World Bank and other loans are expected to cover the resulting deficit. A total of 100 million lari has been earmarked for paying back pensions and wages and 174 million lari for foreign-debt repayment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 February 2000). LF


Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko met in Astana on 10-11 March with his Kazakh counterpart, Qasymzhomart Toqaev, and President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Russian agencies reported. Their talks focused on increasing the amount of crude oil Kazakhstan ships to Ukraine for refining, the prospects for exporting Kazakhstan's oil to international markets via Ukraine, and Kazakhstan's desire to privatize the Kherson oil refinery, in which Kazakhstan has a majority stake. On 11 March, representatives of the two countries' governments signed a protocol on cooperation in the nuclear fuel industry. LF


Run-off elections were held in Kyrgyzstan on 12 March for 33 seats in the upper house of the new parliament and 35 in the lower, even though the Central Electoral Commission had failed to issue a list of candidates who qualified to contest those seats, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 11 March, the Supreme Court had upheld five rulings by lower courts on the outcome of first- round voting, raising the number of deputies elected from single-mandate constituencies to a total of 16. The court also barred El (Bei Bechara) party chairman Daniyar Usenov from participating in the second round because of alleged irregularities in his income declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000). Voters in Usenov's Bishkek constituency criticized the court ruling as "shameless" and undemocratic, but Prime Minister Amangeldy MurAliyev told journalists he considers the poll was democratic, according to Reuters. Voter turnout was estimated at 61.87 percent. LF


Runoff polls also took place on 12 March in Tajikistan in 12 constituencies where no candidate won an overall majority in the 27 February first round of voting for the lower house of the new parliament, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). Turnout was reported at between 70-80 percent. A second round of voting has been scheduled in two of the 36 single-mandate constituencies where the first-round poll was declared invalid. LF


At an emergency session on 9 March, the cabinet decided to reduce electricity supplies to domestic consumers outside Dushanbe to three hours a day until early April, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. That measure is necessitated by the lower-than-average level of water in the Nurek reservoir, which supplies Tajikistan's main hydro-electric power station. Prime Minister Akil Akilov ordered the managers of the country's main aluminum smelter to arrange to receive alternative power supplies from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. LF


Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed Syarhey Posakhau presidential aide for "maintaining ties with the public and organizing work with parties, trade unions, and all public associations," Belarusian Television reported on 10 March. Until now, Posakhau was Belarus's representative in the CIS. He said the main task in his new capacity will be to help organize a "public and political dialogue" in the country. Meanwhile, the Belarusian opposition is against Lukashenka's proposal to hold a broad public dialogue and is demanding instead political negotiations on electoral legislation and parliamentary elections. The opposition is to hold a Freedom March-2 in Minsk on 15 March in support of such negotiations. JM


Eighty miners were killed in a blast at the Barakova coal mine in Krasnodon, Luhansk Oblast, on 11 March. Another died the next day in the hospital, while seven others remain hospitalized. A preliminary investigation suggested the accident was a methane explosion caused by a violation of safety regulations, Interfax reported. Mykhaylo Volynets, chairman of the Independent Miners' Union, commented that the cause might have been a coal dust explosion ignited by welding equipment. President Leonid Kuchma has declared 13 and 14 March days of national mourning, while the government has sent 10 million hryvni ($1.8 million) to help the victims' families. Ukraine has the world's worst coal industry death rate. Last year, 274 miners died in mine accidents, while in 1998 the death toll was 360. JM


Leonid Kuchma told the 10 March Kyiv-based "Fakty" newspaper that he favors holding the 16 April constitutional referendum, even though the parliament has formed a pro-government majority. "If the referendum is canceled..., there'll be a threat of the majority falling apart," Kuchma said. He added that he supports a bicameral legislature because an upper chamber composed of regional leaders would block "populist resolutions" adopted by the lower chamber. The same day, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry accused the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of "partiality" with regard to the upcoming referendum in Ukraine. The ministries were responding to a PACE monitoring committee's draft resolution that questions the legality of a referendum organized on the basis of a popular initiative. JM


In the same interview with "Fakty," Kuchma denied rumors that Kyiv will transfer some profit-making Ukrainian companies to Russia as repayment of Ukraine's gas debt. Those rumors emerged following Russian Deputy Premier Mikhail Kasyanov's visit to Kyiv earlier this month, when he is said to have pressed for such a deal. "I think that it is simply inappropriate and rude to raise the issue of gas debts in such a manner...particularly since Russia itself only a few days ago managed to restructure its debts to the West," Kuchma noted. Kuchma said he agreed with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and current acting President Vladimir Putin on a "mechanism" for repayment of Ukraine's gas debt. Kuchma added that he has ordered the government to work out a debt repayment schedule but gave no other details. JM


Some 120 delegates from throughout Ukraine took part in the constituent congress of the Ukrainian Communist Youth Union in Kyiv on 11 March, Interfax reported. The congress was held among rumors that the new organization is expected to prompt a split in Ukraine's communist youth movement, which is controlled by the Communist Party. Oleksandr Starynets, an organizer of the new communist youth organization and first secretary of the old one, Komsomol, told the congress that Komsomol has been turned into "a youth detachment of the Communist Party, devoid of autonomy and forced to play obediently according to the rules of older communist comrades." A day earlier, Starynets told journalists that the new organization will back Ukraine's statehood. He did not rule out that it might propose the creation of a "new type" of the Communist Party. JM


Estonia celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Congress of Estonia, which gathered for the first time on 11-12 March 1990. The congress was a body representing Estonian citizens and elected by Estonian citizens. Led by current deputy parliamentary speaker Tunne Kelam, it worked toward the restoration of Estonia's independence on the basis of the legal continuity of the Estonian state. The congress later merged with the Supreme Council, resulting in the restoration of the Riigikogu, the national parliament. MH


Lithuania on 11 March celebrated the 10th anniversary of the passage of the legislative act that restored Lithuania's independence. In a speech marking the occasion, President Valdas Adamkus thanked those activists who made possible the break from Soviet hegemony. He commented "we have made mistakes by hurrying too much sometimes and by doing nothing when haste was a necessity" but added that "there is no doubt that we are marching forward [now]," ELTA reported. Adamkus also predicted that by the time it celebrates the 20th anniversary of the restoration of independence, Lithuania will be a member of both NATO and the EU. Parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, who occupied that post 10 years ago, said "the historical tradition of Russia has remained unchanged," pointing to the desire of some Russian politicians to build a "new Soviet Union." MH


Four presidents from neighboring countries--Germany's Johannes Rau, Hungary's Arpad Goencz, Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus, and Slovakia's Rudolf Schuster--were in Poland on 12 March to attend celebrations marking the 1,000th anniversary of Poland's statehood. Czech President Vaclav Havel and Ukraine's Leonid Kuchma were both unable to attend, the former for health reasons, while the latter canceled his visit owing to the tragic mining accident. The summit commemorated German Emperor Otto III's visit to Gniezno 1,000 years ago during which he in effect recognized Polish ruler Boleslaw I Chrobry (the Brave) as king of the country. "We appeal to the nations of oppose all manifestations of hatred, xenophobia, racism, aggressive nationalism, and extremism," the presidents said in a joint declaration read by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski to Gniezno residents. JM


Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski on 10 March rejected as "absurd" Iraq's accusation that Poland supplied its Baghdad embassy with electronic equipment without approval. Dobrowolski was responding to an Iraqi Foreign Ministry statement earlier last week that the embassy brought equipment into Iraq in November 1999 and gave no explanation when asked by the protocol section of the Iraqi ministry. JM


The Lustration Court ruled on 10 March that 46-year-old Wieslaw Kielbowicz, a parliamentary deputy from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), is a "lustration liar" because he did not admit his collaboration with Communist-era secret services. Kielbowicz is the first politician from the AWS who has received such a verdict. The verdict is subject to appeal. JM


Milos Zeman has confirmed weeks-long speculation that four cabinet ministers will be replaced, Czech media reported on 10 March. Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich, Regional Development Minister Jaromir Cisar, Transport Minister Antonin Peltram, and Minister Without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta will all be replaced over the next few weeks. Zeman refused to say, however, who will take over their posts. Zeman criticized the performances of Cisar, Basta, and Peltram, and, in the case of Grulich, he said the Interior Ministry requires a new "accent." While Zeman has insisted the changes were his own idea, they have been widely interpreted as a response to demands made by the opposition Civic Democratic Party. VG


The Czech Chamber of Deputies voted on 10 March to dismiss the Czech Television Council, Czech media reported. For various reasons, the nine-member supervisory board of the country's public broadcasting station has come under fire from politicians and professional organizations in recent months. One of the most controversial issues was the station management's decision to air re-runs of the communist-era television series "Thirty Cases of Major Zeman." VG


Vaclav Havel's spokesman Ladislav Spacek said on 12 March that the president is "surprised and concerned" over the differing evaluations of two police squads that were made by Prime Minister Milos Zeman and outgoing Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich, CTK reported. Zeman on 11 March said the performance of the two squads, one of which fights organized crime and the other corruption, has been "far from brilliant." He added that both must be subject to radical change. Last week, Grulich said the two squads had performed well. Spacek commented that the president, who believes both squads have been performing their duties well, is convinced that "forces in this country" are determined to "destabilize" them. VG


Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, met in the Hungarian town of Bekescsaba on 11 March, Slovak media reported. Dzurinda said his government would like the ethnic Hungarian minority in Slovakia to feel at home in Slovakia, just as he would like the ethnic Slovaks to have a similar feeling in Hungary, TASR reported. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky rejected what he described as "dramatic" criticism of Slovakia's treatment of minorities by various human rights organizations in Brussels last week, TASR reported on 9 March. While the spokesman acknowledged that minority rights in Slovakia "have not met all of the expectations of any minority," he said the government has made significant progress in this area. VG


Some 20,000 metric tons of mud contaminated with lead, copper, and zinc began oozing into Hungary's Tisza River on 11 March after heavy rain broke the dam of a former ore mine in Romania. A Romanian Environment Ministry official said it could take up to a month to repair the dam. Hungarian authorities have ordered the highest state of alert on the entire stretch of the Upper Tisza, between Tiszabecs and Tokaj. Government Commissioner Janos Gonczy said the effects of the heavy metals contamination could be even more lasting than the recent cyanide spill. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that if no other way can be found, international pressure should be brought to bear on Romania to sign treaties on environmental protection. MSZ


State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Prishtina on 12 March that Washington is "deeply disappointed by the failure of leaders of all aspects of [Kosova] Albanian use their leadership" and prevent violence against ethnic minorities, Reuters reported. He stressed that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's government is seeking to provoke unrest in Kosova and neighboring southwestern Serbia. Rubin added, however, that the U.S. is opposed to what he called new "provocations" in the region by either side. The spokesman is on a three-day mission to Kosova with U.S. Balkan envoy Chris Hill to "solve some of the problems that are emerging," Rubin noted. He stressed that "this is not a happy-talk trip." Rubin developed good working relations with the former Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) Hashim Thaci and other Kosovar leaders during the 1999 conflict, AP reported. PM


KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt said in Prishtina on 10 March that NATO's mission is "within the boundaries" of Kosova and does not include southwestern Serbia. He warned against any attempt to use Kosova as a base for spreading violence into Serbia's Presevo Valley, AP reported. NATO will soon step up security along the frontier between Serbia and Kosova to prevent any flow of weapons or guerrillas across the border, his spokesman added. PM


Speaking at the same 10 March press conference as Reinhardt, Thaci warned that Milosevic is manipulating tensions in southwestern Serbia in order to destabilize Kosova. The former guerrilla commander stressed that Milosevic wants "to put at risk everything that has been achieved so far in Kosova. This won't happen," AP reported. He added that the former UCK is "not going to fall into Belgrade's trap." At the same time, however, he pointed out that "ethnic cleansing is taking place" in southwestern Serbia. He did not condemn the ethnic Albanian guerrillas operating in that region. PM


William Nash will soon take charge of the UN's civilian administration in Mitrovica, "The New York Times" reported on 12 March. He is expected to give priority to establishing better security for all persons, regardless of their ethnicity. The former commander of peacekeeping forces in Bosnia will be the sixth UN administrator in the troubled town since June 1999. PM


Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Chanliau, who is a spokesman for French peacekeepers in Mitrovica, said on 11 March that KFOR has recently returned 93 ethnic Albanians to their former homes in mainly Serbian northern Mitrovica, AP reported. He stressed that "this is not a negligible amount, and it is the beginning of something bigger." The UNHCR's Paula Ghedini warned, however, that the situation in Mitrovica is too unstable to enable the refugees to go home in safety. PM


President Boris Trajkovski said in Skopje on 11 March that his country is not prepared to take in a large number of ethnic Albanian refugees in the event of a conflict in southwestern Serbia. He called for preparations for establishing a land corridor from southwestern Serbia through Macedonia and on to the border crossing at Blace into Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Police used force to enter the facilities of the independent radio and television station in Pozega on 12 March. They removed pieces of equipment essential for broadcasting. Officials of the Telecommunications Ministry said that the station has not paid its licensing fees. Branko Nikolic, who is the station's chief editor, showed reporters receipts confirming that the bills were paid. He stressed that "we won't let [the authorities] get away with this," AP reported. Opposition spokesman Vladan Batic said that the shutdown is part of a campaign by the Milosevic regime to silence independent media in the run-up to local and national elections widely expected by the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 March 2000). PM


Miodrag Vukovic, who is an adviser to President Milo Djukanovic, said in Podgorica on 12 March that the Yugoslav army is increasingly behaving as a law unto itself in the mountainous republic. Vukovic added that the army answers only to Belgrade and to unnamed pro- Milosevic Montenegrin politicians. This is just one more aspect of the ongoing "struggle between Montenegrin democracy and the Belgrade dictatorship," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Sandzak Muslim leader Sulejman Ugljanin said in Belgrade on 12 March that both Belgrade and Podgorica are seeking to destabilize the Sandzak, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He cautioned local Muslims against supporting one side or the other so long as either of them "fails to clarify the [political] status" of the Sandzak Muslims. PM


The trial of former Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic for genocide opened at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 13 March. He commanded the Drina Corps, which was directly responsible for the 1995 massacre of some 7,000 mainly Muslim males at Srebrenica. This is the first trial at The Hague of an ethnic Serb who was directly involved in the planning and execution of genocide. His two superiors--General Ratko Mladic and former civilian leader Radovan Karadzic--were indicted for that crime in connection with the fall of the eastern Bosnian town. PM


Parliamentary speaker Zlatko Tomcic told reporters in Zagreb on 10 March that the government will draft a precise plan within three weeks to outline how it plans to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Two members of the city council for the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) joined opposition deputies in bringing down the HDZ-run government of the Croatian capital on 10 March. New elections must take place within 60 days. HDZ hard-line leader Vladimir Seks subsequently blamed Zlatko Canjuga for the breakdown in party discipline and dismissed him as party vice president and as head of the party's Zagreb branch. The two men traded bitter accusations, "Jutarnji list" and "Vjesnik" reported on 13 March. The HDZ has recently been paralyzed by in-fighting, defections, and revelations of scandals. PM


Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana on 12 March that he will use his upcoming meeting with Austria's Benita Ferrero-Waldner to clarify the new Austrian government's stand on Slovenia's admission to the EU, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2000). PM


Tirana's District Prosecutor Thoma Jani said on 11 March that he expects at least several arrests following the recent discovery that police at Tirana's Rinas airport have been allowing up to 40 persons to fly out of the country daily with forged documents, AP reported. Observers note that security arrangements at Rinas are lax and that staff sometimes openly demand bribes from passengers. PM


The Bucharest Municipal Tribunal on 10 March ruled against registering former Prime Minister Radu Vasile's Romanian Popular Party as the Party of Romanian Right (PDR). To circumvent the legal requirement that political formations must gather the signatures of 10,000 supporters, Vasile and Party of Romanian Right leader Cornel Brahas had merged their respective groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2000). That merger was contested by a rival group in the extreme-right PDR, and the tribunal ruled in that group's favor. The ruling can be appealed within five days. MS


Emil Constantinescu has called on the governing coalition to "quickly" put an end to a recent bout of "sterile" political infighting, Romanian media reported on 10 March. He said Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu should call a meeting of the coalition leaders to resolve the crisis surrounding the resignation of Defense Minister Victor Babiuc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2000). The same day, the Democratic Party (PD) nominated Sorin Frunzaverde to replace Babiuc, Rompres reported. However, government spokesman Ionut Popescu noted that Babiuc's resignation will not come into effect until all the coalition parties sign a new cooperation accord. PD officials walked out of the 9 March meeting at which the accord was approved. VG


Romania will open membership negotiations with the EU on five chapters--research, education, foreign and common security policy, and small and medium-sized companies -- according to a 9 March Foreign Ministry statement cited by Rompres. An aide to Prime Minister Isarescu said the Romanian leader will meet with political and business leaders on 13 March to discuss the strategy demanded by the EU for integration talks, Reuters reported. The country is to present a medium-term strategy to the EU by 15 March. VG


The Moldovan legislature on 10 March approved the 2000 budget in the first reading, Infotag reported. The IMF has called on the parliament to pass that document by 31 March as a precondition for receiving more credits. The budget predicts 2 percent GDP growth in Moldova this year and calls for a budget deficit equal to 2.4 percent of GDP. In other news, the Romanian Foreign Ministry's secretary of state, Razvan Ungureanu, said on 11 March that Bucharest is prepared to help Russia with the withdrawal of its troops from the breakaway Transdniester region of Moldova, BASA-Press reported. VG


Bulgarian politicians responded cautiously on 10 March to the Macedonian parliament's recent criticism of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court's decision to ban the ethnic Macedonian OMO-Ilinden-PIRIN party. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said that in law-abiding states, the executive and legislative branches of power do not comment on decisions by the Constitutional Court, let alone such courts in other states, Bulgarian Radio reported. He also noted, however, that the criticism is of "domestic importance" for Macedonia and that Bulgaria will continue to pursue friendly relations with its neighbor. Representatives of four parliamentary parties in Bulgaria said the same day that the legislature in Sofia should not officially respond to the Macedonian legislature's statement. However, individual representatives expressed their rejection of the criticism. Meanwhile, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the Bulgarian Embassy in Skopje on 10 March to protest the ban on the OMO-Ilinden-PIRIN party, AP reported. VG


By Nick Megoran

Strong protests by Kazakhstan's foreign minister over Uzbekistan's border incursion in late January drew attention to the boundary dispute between the two largest states in Central Asia. Little attention was paid, however, to an incident that occurred at the same time as part of a longer-running, more complicated, and potentially more disruptive border conflict in the region--namely, that between Uzbekistan and its smaller neighbor Kyrgyzstan.

That conflict centers on Uzbekistan's unilateral demarcation of its border and its alleged seizure of large areas of Kyrgyz agricultural land lent to Uzbekistan for temporary usage during the Soviet period but never returned. It was intensified by bombings in February 1999 in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, that were blamed on Islamic militants and later the same year by the invasion of the Kyrgyz region of Batken by an armed group opposed to Uzbek President Islam Karimov. In response, Uzbekistan sealed its border and last fall began constructing a barbed wire fence around long sections of its Ferghana Valley border with Kyrgyzstan.

The same week as the Kazakh-Uzbek conflict occurred, a 2-meter section of this fence on the road between the southern Kyrgyz regional capital of Osh and the small provincial town of Aravon was cut through and cleared away. By the time Uzbek officials discovered what had happened and had brought engineers to repair the damage, it was evident from tire marks in the mud that a number of vehicles had already crossed the border.

But neither terrorists nor Kyrgyz protesters were responsible for this incident. Rather, it was local Uzbekistani citizens who cut through the border to transport goods to sell in Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan's almost complete closure of the border to vehicles since last summer has led to shortages of certain goods and rising prices in Kyrgyzstan. Smuggling has mushroomed and is largely carried out by Uzbek citizens for Kyrgyz citizens who place orders for particular goods. Differences in prices mean that dangerous acts such as breaking through a border can be profitable.

In addition, transport links have been seriously impeded in the Ferghana Valley by the border closure. The routes from Osh to almost all other towns in the south of Kyrgyzstan pass at least once through newly established or recently strengthened Uzbek checkpoints. Buses can be taken only to the border, where they stop and turn back, leaving passengers to walk through customs and take another bus to the next checkpoint. Journey times to some outlying mountainous regions have increased threefold, and costs have been pushed up not only by the need for more buses but also by bribes to be paid at checkpoints. Such costs hit hard in an area of rural poverty.

Another group to be particularly affected by the border closures is the sizeable Uzbek minority of southern Kyrgyzstan, where tension between it and the Kyrgyz majority as well as the Soviet authorities' poor handling of the situation flared into bitter inter- communal violence in 1990, leaving 170 people dead. Although there has been no repeat of that incident, some mutual suspicion still exists, and last year's border disputes with Uzbekistan added to the tensions. Most of Kyrgyzstan's Uzbeks have extensive networks of family and friends across the border, and many had looked to Uzbek President Islam Karimov as a guarantor of their position. However, the border closures and recent tightening of the visa regime have largely destroyed that sense of security and left them with the feeling of not being entirely welcome in either state. Furthermore, anti-Uzbek rhetoric in Kyrgyzstan's press about the dispute has done little to help the image of the Kyrgyz Uzbeks, who are often suspected of being more loyal to Tashkent than to Bishkek.

But it is not only communities immediately along the border that have felt the effects of its reinforcement. In the Kyrgyz parliament in 1999, the "border issue" became a key element in political battles between the government and the nationalist opposition in a year leading up to parliamentary and presidential elections. The response of the Kyrgyz government last year was markedly different from that of its Kazakh neighbors this January. It avoided almost all mention of the dispute, emphasizing instead President Akaev's 'Silk Road diplomacy' of regional co-operation, which, it said, would solve all border problems in the long term by re-opening the ancient trade routes to Europe and China. The opposition dismissed these as empty words, and pointed to the government's perceived failure to prevent Uzbekistan from advancing border posts into Kyrgyz territory as indicative of the presidential administration's weakness.

Uzbekistan's efforts in 1999 and 2000 to secure its previously porous boundaries have shown how hard it is to introduce the concept of well delineated nation-states into the Ferghana Valley. In this area, any neat division of territory on the basis of ethnic mix or economic activity is almost impossible, and the complicated history of integrated use of border land makes it hard to determine ownership. However, neither these theoretical considerations nor the practical difficulties being experienced by ordinary inhabitants of the Valley have discouraged the Uzbek state from demarcating and militarizing its border as quickly as possible in order to stave off possible attacks. The isolated actions of local inhabitants cutting through sections of the border are unlikely to alter that commitment. The author is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge.