RUSSIA AFFIRMS IT COULD TARGET AFGHANISTAN...
Unnamed Defense Ministry officials and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told Interfax on 24 May that all necessary planning has already been completed for Russian air strikes on Taliban bases in Afghanistan. RIA quoted Defense and Foreign Ministers Igor Sergeev and Igor Ivanov as saying the same day in Minsk, where they attended the meeting of CIS Collective Security Treaty signatory states, that such strikes could be undertaken "if a threat emerged," Reuters reported. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii had said earlier this week that Moscow might target Taliban bases in retaliation for Taliban logistical support for Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May). An unnamed spokesman for the Taliban Foreign Ministry said on 23 May that Yastrzhembskii's assertion that the Taliban had agreed to provide the Chechens with logistical support and manpower was "totally baseless," Reuters reported from Kabul. LF
... BUT DOING SO COULD ENDANGER TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN
Russian military analyst Pavel Felgengauer pointed out in "Segodnya" on 25 May that Russia does not have long-range conventional missiles capable of hitting Afghan targets and could launch an airstrike against them only from the territory of Tajikistan (where Russia has a military base) or Uzbekistan. ITAR-TASS on 24 May quoted a Taliban spokesman as warning that "if Russia ever dares to attack Afghanistan, this will have fatal consequences both for Moscow and for [those] countries from whose territory such an attack will be made." LF
MOSCOW TO CONTINUE TO CHIP AWAY AT REGIONAL LEADERS' POWER...
Commenting on Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov's announcement on 24 May that he is establishing branches in the newly formed seven federal administrative districts, "Segodnya" declared the next day that the center is out to "establish control over local prosecutors, who are currently far too close to regional leaders" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). The newspaper, which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group, speculates that the Kremlin needs independent prosecutors in order to initiate criminal proceedings against certain regional leaders. Also on 25 May, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that according to its unidentified sources a reorganization of the Interior Ministry is currently being prepared as a complement to Ustinov's moves. Also in the works, the newspaper suggested, is the reestablishment of the main territorial directorate at the presidential administration to monitor the work of the new presidential envoys (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 May 2000). JAC
...AS MORE AUTHORITY FLOWS TO PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES
"Nezavisimaya gazeta," in which Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest, also reported that the envoys are being given free rein in staffing their offices and will have as many assistants as desired. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on 25 May that he will sign a decree this week that will include the seven presidential representatives on Russia's Security Council, Interfax reported. Putin also said that he plans to meet with his representatives once a month. He added that "I intend to work directly, as before, with the heads of the federation subjects and will frequently travel to the regions." JAC
KREMLIN NOT WORRIED ABOUT CONSTITUTION
First deputy head of the presidential staff Dmitrii Medvedev told Interfax on 24 May that the package of bills on restructuring the federal branches of power that President Putin submitted recently to the State Duma "does not call for making any corrections to the Russian Constitution." According to Medvedev, Putin has "repeatedly stressed that the constitution is a thing that should be amended with the greatest of care," and the essence of Putin's initiatives "strengthen the federative structure without changing the constitutional framework." The next day, "Izvestiya," which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, suggested that although the "obedient and controllable" State Duma will pass practically any amendments to existing laws," introducing changes to the constitution will be much more difficult. It predicts that Putin's "reforms aimed at strengthening" the state will inevitably run into a "constitutional deadlock." JAC
TALBOTT UPBEAT ABOUT UPCOMING ARMS TALKS...
Strobe Talbott, speaking in Moscow on 24 May, expressed his belief that Russia can be persuaded to agree to changes in the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile treaty. AP quoted the U.S. deputy secretary of state as saying that a possible compromise could be linked to cuts in the two countries' nuclear arsenals. "Our intention," he added, "is to keep the ABM treaty very much part of the foundation of the international arms control." Talbott was in the Russian capital to discuss next month's summit in Moscow between Presidents Putin and Bill Clinton. JC
...AS MOSCOW EAGER TO KEEP SOME TOPICS OFF AGENDA
Reporting on a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives on 23 May, "Kommersant-Daily" argued the next day that the congressmen's focus on freedom of speech in Russia "creates a rather unfavorable backdrop" for the upcoming meeting between Putin and Clinton. The newspaper, in which Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest, reported that Moscow is trying to ensure that talks between the two leaders do not focus on Chechnya or media freedom. "Segodnya," which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group, observed that participants in the hearings devoted more attention to guessing why President Putin has not provided a clear response to attacks on freedom of speech than to the attacks themselves. Both newspapers reported that despite Moscow's wishes, Clinton and other U.S. officials intend to raise the issue of freedom of speech during the June meetings. JAC
RUSSIA APOLOGIZES FOR INDICTED SERB'S VISIT...
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in Florence on 24 May, following a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, that Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic's visit to Moscow earlier this month was prompted "by an internal, technical hitch between agencies and ministries." He added that unspecified measures are being taken to ensure there are no more such visits. At the same time, Ivanov slammed the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which has indicted Ojdanic for war crimes, as a "politicized" rather than judicial body. Ojdanic's visit to the Russian capital had triggered criticism from the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). JC
...AGREES TO NATO INFO CENTER IN MOSCOW
Following the 24 May NATO-Russia Council meeting, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson told a news conference that Russia has agreed to allow a NATO information center to open in Moscow. He suggested that this decision reflects Moscow's readiness to cooperate more closely with the alliance. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she is "heartened" by the positive approach the new Russia government has taken toward NATO. At the same time, she urged Moscow to resume cooperation with the Partnership for Peace program and to comply with troop limits determined in the amended Conventional Forces in Europe agreement. Those limits have been exceeded as a result of Russia's campaign in Chechnya. JC
CHECHENS ANNOUNCE NEW ATTACK ON GROZNY
Chechen Press on 24 May quoted the Chechen Foreign Ministry as saying that Chechen fighters launched a major offensive against Grozny the previous day, taking control of the city's Staropromyslovskii district. The statement claimed that fierce fighting was continuing and that the Russian forces are "in panic," having sustained "heavy losses." Rusian media have mentioned no such major offensive but quoted the commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, as claiming that more than 20 Chechen militants were killed on 24 May in an artillery attack in the Argun gorge, Reuters reported. LF
PUTIN WANTS TO DEVELOP 'FRIENDLY TIES' WITH BAGHDAD
Reuters on 24 May cited the INA news agency as reporting that Russian President Putin has sent a letter to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein informing him of Russia's desire to develop bilateral relations between the "two friendly countries" and its determination to work to have "unjust sanctions" against Iraq lifted. Russian special envoy Nikolai Kartuzov handed over the letter to Hussein and also discussed with the Iraqi leader boosting bilateral ties. JC
DECISION DELAYED ON MOSCOW TV STATION
The Media Ministry announced on 23 May that it is delaying the tender on a license to operate Channel 3, which is now held by TV-Tsentr, until a Moscow court hears an appeal on the case on 16 June. Last week, a court in Moscow had ruled that the Media Ministry's earlier warnings to TV-Tsentr were illegitimate and that therefore holding the auction for the station's license would be illegal. Under a new media law passed last year, licenses are put up for auction upon expiration only when channels have received two warnings. Media analysts told RFE/RL that the media law is so vaguely written that it gives the Media Ministry considerable leeway in deciding which licenses are to be auctioned. In a tender held on 24 May, Russian Public Television won a five-year extension of its license (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). JAC
WHEAT IMPORTS SOAR
Russia imported 912,600 tons of wheat in the first quarter of 2000, compared with 81,200 tons during the same period the previous year--a more than 1,000 percent increase, Interfax reported on 24 May. According to the State Customs Committee, the bulk of the imports came from CIS countries. Meanwhile, the Economics Ministry, which was recently merged into the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade, revised its GDP growth forecast downward by 0.5 percent to 4.5 percent, in part because agricultural production is now expected to grow by no more than 3 percent this year. The situation in the sector is "unstable," according to the ministry, which noted that "the number of cattle continues to fall, feed reserves are low, and domestic grain prices have reached the same level as world prices." JAC
RUSSIA PROTESTS ASSET FREEZE
The Russian Foreign Ministry has protested to the French Foreign Ministry over the freezing of bank accounts of the Russian Central Bank and other Russian organizations in France following a decision by a Paris court, Interfax reported on 24 May. The Russian Foreign Ministry pointed out that the accounts of the Russian Embassy in France and of its Consulate-General have been frozen and that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, such accounts should enjoy diplomatic immunity. Other Russian entities affected by the French court ruling are reportedly Rosneft, Slavneft, and Vneshekonombank, although Rosneft officials denied their accounts have been affected, Prime-TASS reported. According to AFP, the French court ruling followed a Swedish court decision in favor of the Swiss company Noga, which charges that the Russian government has not paid for goods it delivered some years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000). JAC
WEST GIVES GRANT TO FORMER GERM LAB
Russia's State Research Center for Applied Microbiology, formerly a closed complex devoted to developing germ warfare, is to receive a grant worth $1.6 million from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, AP and "The New York Times" reported on 24 May, following a three- day international conference at the center. Those funds will be used to improve security at the 25-year-old facility and to provide jobs for Russian scientists. Hundreds of strains of deadly germs are stored at the center, which, according to its management, is now engaged in peaceful research such as seeking cures for diseases and combating bioterrorism. JC
OLEG YEFREMOV DIES
In a front-page article, "Segodnya" on 25 May paid tribute to the actor and theater director Oleg Yefremov, who died the previous day, aged 72, following a long illness. "Founder of the legendary Sovremennik theater [in 1956], Yefremov breathed fresh air into the stagnating realm of Soviet theater," the daily commented. Yefremov was lead actor and director of the Moscow Art Academic Theater from 1970 onwards and in 1987 founded the Chekhov Art Theater, which became renowned for its revival of the Stanislavskii method of acting. According to "The Moscow Times" and AP, Yefremov is to be buried at the Novodevichii Cemetery in the Russian capital. JC
ARMENIA MAY JOIN CIS CUSTOMS UNION
Meeting on 24 May in Minsk with his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Armenian President Robert Kocharian said Armenia will "seriously consider" joining the CIS Customs Union if that body "starts functioning without major flaws," Interfax reported. But he added that so far it is a "purely formal" organization. The previous day, Russian President Vladimir Putin had briefed Kocharian in Minsk on that day's Customs Union session, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin and Kocharian also focused on bilateral relations. LF
FORMER AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS CAUCASUS SECURITY PACT NOT FEASIBLE AT PRESENT
Tofik Zulfugarov, who resigned last fall as Azerbaijani foreign minister, believes it would be premature to talk of creating a regional security system in the South Caucasus before all regional conflicts have been resolved, Caucasus Press reported on 24 May. He said one of the "fundamental principles" of such a system is the mutual recognition by all regional states of each others' territorial integrity. But in the future, once that objective is realized, he added, "such a system could become an important factor for preserving peace and stability," provided that all regional states are included in it. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS TWO MINISTERIAL CANDIDATES
A majority of deputies on 24 May declined to endorse the candidates proposed by President Eduard Shevardnadze for the posts of agriculture minister and minister for environmental protection, Caucasus Press reported. Both of the candidates had held those portfolios in the outgoing government. Bakur Gulua, the proposed agriculture minister, served under then Georgian Communist Party First Secretary Shevardnadze in the early 1980s, when he successfully spearheaded agricultural reform. He is currently implicated in an embezzlement scandal. The candidate for minister of environmental protection, Nino Chkhobadze, has been accused of condoning the import for industrial purposes of substances that pose an ecological hazard. LF
ABKHAZ LEADER WANTS TALKS WITH SHEVARDNADZE
Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhum that the current state of negotiations on resolving the Abkhaz conflict is unsatisfactory, Caucasus Press reported. He said it is imperative that he meet with President Shevardnadze to address that problem, even before the two draft documents currently under discussion are finalized. Shevardnadze has consistently said he will agree to meet with Arzdinba only to sign those agreements. Ardzinba also affirmed once more that Abkhazia will not sign a third document, recently drafted by the UN, defining the division of powers between the Abkhaz leadership and the central Georgian government in Tbilisi. Earlier this week, Shevardnadze and Arzdinba met separately with U.S. State Department Special Envoy for conflicts in the Newly Independent States Carey Cavanaugh to discuss the situation in Abkhazia. LF
GEORGIAN 'HAWK' RESIGNS
Tamaz Nadareishvili on 24 May announced his resignation as chairman of the Abkhaz Supreme Council in exile, which is composed of the ethnic Georgian deputies elected to the Abkhaz parliament in 1990 and who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war, Caucasus Press reported. He also quit the "Abkhazeti" parliamentary faction. Nadareishvili had announced the previous day that he intended to step down as de facto leader of the ethnic Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia to protest what he considers the Georgian government's too lenient approach to resolving that conflict. He had resigned as chairman of the parliament in exile following the May 1998 fighting in Abkhazia, but he withdrew that decision under pressure from other members of that body (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 15, 9 June 1998). LF
KAZAKHSTAN DETAINS SUSPECTED MERCENARIES
Kazakhstan's National Security Committee detained 16 Afghan and Pakistani nationals on their arrival at Almaty airport from Karachi on 25 May, ITAR-TASS reported. A spokesman for the committee said that the men, who reportedly carried forged passports and virtually no baggage, are Taliban mudjahedin en route for Chechnya via Georgia. A similar group of 70 Pakistanis was refused entry into Kazakhstan last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1999). LF
UN ENVOY TERMS AFGHANISTAN A THREAT TO TAJIKISTAN
UN Special Envoy for Tajikistan Ivo Petrov said in a statement released in New York on 24 May that there is "constant instability" in Tajikistan and that the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan could torpedo the ongoing Tajik peace process, Reuters reported. He said Tajikistan still needs large amounts of economic aid. Ten days earlier, the UN Security Council had positively assessed the work of its observer mission, which withdrew from Tajikistan following this year's parliamentary elections. That ballot marked the final stage of the peace process. LF
TURKMENISTAN DEPORTS LAST RUSSIAN BAPTIST MISSIONARY
Turkmen security police have located Vitalii Tereshin, the last remaining Russian Baptist missionary in Turkmenistan, and deported him to Russia, Keston News Service reported on 23 May. Tereshin is the sixth Baptist missionary to be forced to leave Turkmenistan, along with his family, since the beginning of this year. LF
SIGNATORIES TO CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY TO BOOST COOPERATION
The presidents of the countries still participating in the 1992 CIS Collective Security Treaty-- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan--agreed in Minsk on 24 May to step up cooperation in response to what they see as the growing threats of international terrorism and extremism. The summit adopted nine documents, but no details have been made known. "A mechanism has been worked out to make this treaty a viable instrument capable of responding to the changing world not only today but also in the future," Belarusian Television quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying. A joint statement said the adopted documents open the "possibility to use force and collective security means." Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov said the parties to the treaty will be able to purchase Russian weapons at prices below market level, according to AP. JM
NO PROGRESS IN BELARUS'S POLITICAL DIALOGUE
The forum for the government-inspired "sociopolitical dialogue" that was planned for 24 May has been rescheduled for early June, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 24 May. The opposition, which is not participating in the "sociopolitical dialogue," is in contact with the authorities through its experts and the OSCE Minsk mission, but no decision on the opening of talks on the upcoming parliamentary elections has been taken. Meanwhile, the Conservative Christian Party, which represents one wing of the split Belarusian Popular Front, says it is terminating its participation in preparations for political talks with the regime. The party noted that the year-long preparation process has brought no result to date, while the regime has strengthened its control over the media and continues to violate human rights in Belarus. JM
CRIMEAN PARLIAMENT DISMISSES GOVERNMENT
The 100-seat Crimean parliament on 24 May voted 68 to 20 to dismiss the peninsula's government, led by Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn, Interfax reported. An adopted resolution says the performance of the Crimean cabinet and its head has been unsatisfactory this year. Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach will now submit Kunitsyn's dismissal for Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's approval. The election of a new Crimean premier is also subject to Kyiv's approval. Both Hrach and Kunitsyn have repeatedly tried to oust each other, forcing Kuchma to mediate on each occasion. JM
CRIMEAN TATARS DEMAND AUTHORITY, LAND
Some 300 Crimean Tatars held a rally in front of the Crimean parliamentary building in Simferopol on 24 May to demand the representation of Crimean Tatars in bodies of power on the peninsula as well as the granting of land to Crimean Tatars in the ongoing process of land privatization, Interfax reported. Protesters held posters appealing for the dissolution of the Crimean Supreme Council and the introduction of direct presidential rule in Crimea. The rally was held at a tent camp that the Tatars had set up earlier this month. The Crimean legislature reportedly pledged to create a commission to examine the issue of Tatar representation in local bodies of power but made this promise conditional on the removal of the tent camp. JM
RUSSIAN FACTION IN ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT SIGNS COOPERATION ACCORD WITH DUMA GROUP...
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, the head of the Fatherland/All Russia faction of the Russian State Duma, signed a cooperation agreement on 24 May with the leader of the United People's Party (EUPP) faction in the Estonian parliament, Viktor Andreev, according to BNS and ETA. Under the agreement, which expands an interparty agreement signed in late 1999, the two factions agree to coordinate activities in international organizations, especially the Council of Europe, dealing with the well-being of Estonia's Russian-speaking population, Andreev said. Andreev added that the factions will also work toward the adoption of a series of bilateral Estonia-Russia agreements, including "the border agreement, an agreement on trade and economic relations..., as well as an agreement on social insurance." MJZ
...ACCUSED OF DISLOYALTY BY ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT COLLEAGUES
Members of Estonia's parliamentary delegations to the OSCE and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly sharply criticized the cooperation agreement between the parliamentary factions of the EUPP and the Fatherland/All Russia party, according to BNS on 24 May. Mart Nutt, a member of the Estonian parliament's OSCE delegation, termed the agreement "unprecedented" and accused the EUPP of "showing [a] lack of loyalty to the Estonian state." The leader of Estonia's PACE delegation, Kristiina Ojuland, said her delegation's primary mission is to defend Estonia's interests. She added that she is "unable to comment on this agreement, which sets protection of the population of another country as one of its goals." MJZ
VIKE-FREIBERGA: LATVIA READY TO JOIN EU BY 2005
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said in an address on 24 May to the French International Relations Institute in Paris that Latvia wants to complete EU accession negotiations by 2003 so that the country can join the EU in 2005, according to dpa and LETA. Vike-Freiberga also met with French President Jacques Chirac, who affirmed his country's support for Baltic EU membership and accepted Vike-Freiberga's invitation to visit Latvia. MJZ
VENTSPILS MAYOR THREATENS TO SUE NEWSPAPER OVER CORRUPTION CHARGES
Aivars Lembergs has said he will sue the influential daily newspaper "Diena" over corruption allegations documented in a recent series of investigative reports, according to LETA on 24 May. "Diena" accused Lembergs and another official of involvement in creating and benefiting from offshore holding firms with ties to large Ventspils businesses. LETA reports that after reviewing documents turned over by "Diena", the Latvian Prosecutor-General's Office decided not to press charges against the two officials on the grounds that although they violated Latvia's criminal code and restrictions on commercial activities by public officials, the statute of limitations for such prosecutions has run out. MJZ
KAUNAS ENERGY RESCUE OPTIONS DISCUSSED
The Economy Ministry and Kaunas City officials are to begin negotiations with the French energy firm Dalkia to rent and operate the city-owned utility Kaunas Energy, ELTA reported on 24 May. The decision was taken after the board of directors of the Swedish firm Vattenfall rejected the city's terms for a 15-year rental and management agreement. The daily "Lietuvos Rytas" reported that the decisive factor in the Swedish firm's decision to withdraw was the Kaunas officials' insistence that heating rates cannot be increased. Kaunas Energy's losses to date total 57 million litas ($14.25 million), while it owes 400 million litas ($100 million) in loans. Banks throughout the Baltic region have refused any further loans to the utility. AB
POLISH COALITION CRISIS CONTINUES
According to Piotr Zak and Jan Maria Rokita of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) parliamentary caucus, the AWS has "concrete proposals" for its coalition partner, the Freedom Union (UW), on how to settle the current coalition crisis, PAP reported on 24 May. The two deputies gave no details. However, no meeting took place between AWS and UW politicians on that day. Leader of the AWS-affiliated Polish Christian-Democratic Party Pawel Laczkowski told PAP that the AWS will probably press for a change of prime minister, as demanded by the UW (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). Laczkowski added that no candidate to succeed Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has yet been found. He neither denied nor confirmed rumors that parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski and Jan Maria Rokita, who is leader of the AWS-affiliated Conservative Peasant Union, are among the candidates to head the cabinet after Buzek. JM
CZECH LOWER HOUSE VOTES TO RETURN JEWISH PROPERTY
The Chamber of Deputies on 24 May approved a government-sponsored law whereby Jewish property confiscated between 29 September 1938 and 8 May 1945 will be returned to its owners or their descendants, Reuters, AP and CTK reported. Under earlier legislation, only properties confiscated by the Communists after 25 February 1948 have been returned to their original owners. The law was supported by 143 deputies, while 18 deputies, all representing the Communist Party, abstained. The law has still to be approved by the Senate. Among the properties exempt from restitution are those that have been turned into national parks or reservations. The law also stipulates that the Prague Jewish Museum will receive 63 paintings held by the National Gallery and that 2,500 other art objects will be returned to their Jewish owners or their descendants. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER PLEDGES TO CONTINUE REFORMS AFTER OECD MEMBERSHIP
In a 24 May letter to President Bill Clinton, Prime Minster Mikulas Dzurinda pledged Slovakia will continue the path of economic reform if it is admitted as a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. has until now refrained from openly supporting Slovakia's membership in the organization. Dzurinda thanked Clinton for supporting Slovakia's efforts to join Euro-Atlantic political and security structures, saying he hopes the U.S. will support the Slovak OECD bid as well. The Slovak premier added that Slovakia is ready to join that organization "in the nearest future," CTK reported. MS
HUNGARY URGES MORE INTENSIVE EU TALKS
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said at the opening of a two-day session of the EU-Hungary Association Parliamentary Committee in Budapest on 24 May that the EU must pursue "more detailed" accession talks with Hungary. He said the negotiations, which began two years ago, have been "an agreeable experience for Hungary" but the EU "cannot make us too optimistic, as we are only past the easiest stages" of the talks. Orban urged for more frequent meetings during France's upcoming EU presidency. "Hungary must get genuine results instead of undergoing an interview process whereby Brussels poses a question and Hungary provides an answer," he concluded. MSZ
HUNGARY WORRIES ABOUT POSSIBLE POLITICAL CHANGES IN ROMANIA
Hungary will change its position in supporting Romania's Euro-Atlantic integration if "post-communist or extremist political forces" come to power following Romania's general elections later this year, Istvan Szent- Ivanyi, chairman of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told journalists in Cluj, Romania, on 24 May. Mediafax agency quoted Szent-Ivanyi as saying Hungary "does not intend to interfere in Romania's internal affairs." He said he only wants to draw the attention of Romanians to "the risks they assume in the event that their country changes its political orientation." MSZ
CROATIA JOINS NATO PROGRAM...
Croatia formally joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council at the meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers in Florence on 24 May. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted that "in a few short months, Croatia has made dramatic progress toward a democratic society, has demonstrated a renewed commitment to the [Bosnian peace] process, and has taken steps to promote stability and security in southeastern Europe," AP reported. PM
...WITH BALKANS ON AGENDA AT NATO MEETING
Albright argued in Florence on 24 May that Serbia has no future as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains its leader. She added that it can count on international assistance only when it establishes a democratic system. Albright criticized Russia for recently hosting Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, who is an indicted war criminal. She stressed that such individuals should be arrested and sent to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov apologized for that visit, attributing it to "an internal, technical hitch" (see Part I). NATO Secretary- General Lord Robertson noted that several countries have withdrawn their contingents from Kosova and that NATO is having difficulty keeping the minimum numbers of troops it needs to carry out its mission in the province, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. PM
WHAT IS GOING ON IN PRESEVO?
A U.S. army spokesman told AP on 25 May that there has recently been sporadic mortar and machine gun fire in the Presevo valley area of southwestern Serbia bordering Kosova. The spokesman was unable to confirm reports by local ethnic Albanians that Serbian forces have launched an offensive against four villages nearby. An Albanian spokesman charged that Milosevic is launching a crackdown in the area to divert attention from his problems with the Serbian opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). An unnamed Serbian government official told the news agency that there were only "regular police activities" in the area. Serbian state-run television reported on 24 May that "Albanian terrorists" fired mortar shells at a police checkpoint near Bujanovac and that the shells came from the direction of the ethnic Albanian village of Dobrosin in the demilitarized zone along the border. The broadcast added that several U.S. Apache helicopters flew over the area before the shelling began. PM
ALBANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS KOSOVA
Rexhep Meidani on 14 May became the first Albanian head of state to visit Kosova. Referring to local elections slated for later this year, Meidani called on voters to support candidates "who are committed to stabilizing the situation in Kosova," Reuters reported. UN chief civilian administrator Bernard Kouchner said that he does not see any threat to regional stability from greater Albanian nationalism and that Meidani shares this view. Serbian propaganda frequently claims that Albanian nationalists in Kosova and Albania seek to form a single state. Observers note, however, that no mainstream Albanian or Kosovar political leader or party calls for a greater Albania as a practical political goal. Cross-border contacts in recent years have enabled Albanians and Kosovars to realize that their more than 80 years of political separation have produced two very different societies and cultures. PM
UNHCR WARNS OF KOSOVA SEX TRADE
The UNHCR said in a report released in Prishtina on 24 May that the large foreign presence in Kosova has led to the growth of a sex industry in which primarily East European women are forced into prostitution. The women come chiefly from Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria and are often lured to Kosova by promises of simple but well-paid jobs in restaurants and entertainment. Once outside the borders of their homelands, the women's new employers abuse them, take their documents, and force them into virtual slavery. This reflects similar patterns seen in human traffic in many parts of Eastern Europe since the fall of communism and the opening of frontiers. PM
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN KINGPIN GOES ON TRIAL
Xhavit Hasani went on trial in Skopje on 24 May on charges of attempted murder and possessing an illegal weapon, AP reported. Macedonian authorities regard him as a criminal, but many ethnic Albanians admire him as a hero of the 1999 conflict in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). PM
MILOSEVIC WANTS STREET PROTESTS IN MONTENEGRO
"Vesti" reported on 25 May that a tape broadcast on the Montena television station confirms allegations by the Montenegrin media that Milosevic recently admonished his supporters in Montenegro to destabilize the government of President Milo Djukanovic by organizing street protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000). PM
BELGRADE MINISTER CALLS DEL PONTE 'WHORE'
Yugoslav Justice Minister Petar Jojic, who belongs to Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party, sent a letter on 24 May to "the whore [Carla] Del Ponte, the self-proclaimed prosecutor of the criminal Hague [war crimes] tribunal." Jojic said that she and her predecessor, Louise Arbour, "symbolize prostitution as you take money from customers and do your best...to keep them satisfied." He argued that the tribunal is "illegal" and serves as an instrument for NATO and the U.S. to "persecute Serbs." AP described the letter as "unprecedented." Jojic wrote Del Ponte to reject her request that he cooperate with the tribunal and extradite indicted persons living in Serbia. PM
DEL PONTE ADMONISHES CROATS
Del Ponte visited Zagreb on 24 May to urge top officials to speed up their cooperation in handing over documents to The Hague regarding Bosnian war crimes. She also expressed concern that recent Croatian press reports on the 1993 Ahmici massacres might tip off suspected war criminals that the tribunal is looking into their cases, Reuters reported. Del Ponte is also known to be unhappy with the idea, suggested by several Croatian officials, that indicted war criminals could be tried in Croatia rather than in Holland. Her hosts included Prime Minister Ivica Racan, Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic, and Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic. PM
TOP CROATIAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCY SCRAPPED?
Racan said in Zagreb on 24 May that the National Security Council has agreed to "transform" the Croatian Intelligence Service (HIS) and place it under professional civilian control. Police occupied HIS offices to prevent the staff from tampering with documents, "Jutarnji list" reported. The new head of HIS will be Damir Loncaric, who is a former police inspector, "Novi List" added. Racan said that the council's decision means, in effect, that the HIS will be "dissolved," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. President Stipe Mesic said, however, that the intelligence organization will be merely "reorganized." HIS was formerly headed by Miroslav Tudjman, the son of the late president. It is widely believed that Miroslav Tudjman misused the HIS for political purposes. How to reform the intelligence services is a major topic of dispute between Mesic and Racan. PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER CONTINUES U.S. VISIT
IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler told Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu in Washington on 24 May that he expects the fund's executive board to approve at the end of this month extending last year's stand-by agreement with Romania and resuming the disbursement of tranches, which was interrupted owing to Romania's lack of progress in implementing reforms. Koehler said Romania now has a "clear economic policy direction" and the government deserves the IMF's support. Isarescu commented that reform will continue, despite 2000 being an election year. Also on 24 May, Isarescu met with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and National Economic Adviser Mike Hammer to discuss Romanian and regional economic recovery, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. MS
ROMANIAN INVESTMENT FUND ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE
The Senate's Budget and Finance Commission is to meet with the leaders of the National Fund for Investment (FNI) on 25 May to discuss the fund's situation, Romanian Radio reported. On 24 May, the fund "temporarily" halted payments after hundreds of investors who wanted to close their accounts were told that the fund cannot comply with that request. Isarescu said in Washington that people who invest in funds that are not state-guaranteed "assume a risk" and that "there are no reasons" to believe the FNI precedent "could spread to other financial institutions." Earlier this month, the private International Bank of Religions had announced it was unable to make payments to account holders and was placed under the supervision of the National Bank. MS
BULGARIA WARNED OVER PIRATE CD IMPORTS
"Bulgaria is not producing pirate products any more, but its market is dominated by these products," Jay Berman, chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, told Reuters on 24 May. Speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Sofia, Berman said that while Bulgaria, a former major producer of pirate CDs, has managed to clamp down on that problem, it now has to tackle the flourishing street trade in illegal imports. Berman said most of the pirate CDs are from Ukraine, now Europe's leader in such merchandise, as well as from Russia and Montenegro. MS
RADICAL RIGHT ON THE MARCH IN CROATIA
By Andrej Krickovic
The Right in Croatia has been on the defensive ever since late President Franjo Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) defeat in the parliamentary and presidential elections early this year. Now a series of right-wing incidents has shocked the country and shown that the radical Right is still a threat that the new authorities must take seriously.
Over the last few weeks, several veterans' organizations have held large anti-government demonstrations. On 10 May, for example, some 5,000 veterans gathered in Split to protest the government's policy of cooperation with the Hague-based International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Veterans believe that the country's center-left government is using the ICTY as a weapon against the Right. They also believe that the government is intentionally minimizing the contribution that the veterans made during the country's war for independence. Veterans and Invalids of the Patriotic War (HVIDRA) President Marinko Liovic has publicly threatened that his veterans will sabotage the upcoming tourist season by blocking roads, border crossings, and airports.
Ethnic tensions are also growing between local Croats and returning refugees in territories once occupied by rebel Serbs. On 6 May, local Croats in the isolated village town of Veljun prevented a group of Croatian Serbs from commemorating a World War II era massacre by fascist Ustasha forces. In a shockingly grotesque display, one local woman (who claimed that her son was killed in the recent war) urinated on a monument on which local Serbs planned to lay wreaths to the victims of the World War II massacre. On 17 May, five noncommissioned officers broke up the monument with their hands. And there have also been reports that local Croats and Serbs have again begun to arm themselves in Kordun, which saw heavy fighting during the 1991-1995 war.
Many observers believe such incidents are being organized by the right wing of the HDZ. Groups like Liovic's HVIDRA have close ties to the former ruling party, and many Croats regard them as the HDZ's satellites. They believe the HDZ wants to use such incidents to create a state of chaos in the country in the hope that this will unleash a political crisis resulting in the fall of the current government and the return of the HDZ to national prominence.
There are indications that these hard-liners are being helped by renegades from the intelligence community who are still loyal to the HDZ's right wing. Last week, police told the independent weekly magazine "Nacional" that they suspect that operatives from military intelligence and leaders of the Split chapter of HVIDRA organized the 3 May riot by soccer fans during a championship game in Split, which left 100 people injured and resulted in the arrest of another 100 fans. The stadium's surveillance tapes reveal that several men brandishing mobile telephones directed the rioting crowds in Split's soccer stadium. Police later identified them as former operatives of military intelligence.
Opinion polls show that most Croats reject the right- wing offensive. According to a recent poll in the daily "Jutarnji list," nearly 90 percent of the country's citizens disapprove of Liovic's inflammatory rhetoric. Most people do not want to see a few zealots like Liovic scare off the tourists and foreign investors whom the ailing economy desperately needs.
Many veterans' groups have also spoken out against Liovic's radical comments. The leader of the Rijeka chapter of HVIDRA has threatened that his veterans will use force to unblock roads and border crossings if Liovic carries through on his threats. Minister of Veterans' Affairs Ivica Pancic (who himself is a veteran and a displaced person from Vukovar) claims that Liovic and other radical veterans' leaders are motivated by their own selfish interests. Some members of HVIDRA have accused Liovic of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization. Pancic believes that Liovic and others like him are trying to stir up controversy and violence in order to detract attention from their own shady financial dealings.
Meanwhile, the government's investigations into the major corruption scandals that occurred under the HDZ regime and the new authorities' willingness to extradite suspected Croat war criminals to the ICTY are making some people nervous. The Right may be able to find support among groups such as influential army generals who fear prosecution by the ICTY, Croatian immigrants from Bosnia who will be forced to return the houses they have occupied to returning Serb refugees, and members of other interest groups (like veterans and war victims) who face the loss of their privileges. It may also attract the support of the most needy and underprivileged citizens, whom it may be able to convince that returning Serb refugees are the main source of their misery.
The threat from the radical Right poses a strong challenge to the government, which until now has cooperated with the ICTY and given its unconditional support to the return of Serbian refugees to Croatia. Indeed, these policies are the main reason why the West has finally allowed Croatia to enter NATO's Partnership for Peace Program, which is undoubtedly the biggest success of the government's first 100 days in office. The author is a free-lance writer based in Zagreb (firstname.lastname@example.org).