FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NO NEED TO PROBE OIL-FOR-FOOD PROGRAM...
Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Berlin on 1 April that there should not be too much emphasis on investigating the oil-for-food program that the UN put in place during the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 26 March 2004). "To dig into the past would be the wrong thing to do -- be it the refusal to lift sanctions despite the lack of evidence of Iraq's violating the ban on the productions of weapons of mass destruction or the activity of [former head of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to disarm Iraq] Richard Butler," Lavrov said. While acknowledging that it is necessary to combat corruption, Lavrov said that "to dig into all this is to introduce artificial irritants into the UN Security Council's activities at a point when consensus is needed for stabilizing the situation in Iraq." RC
...AS RUSSIAN OIL COMPANIES RENEW EFFORTS TO DEVELOP IRAQI OIL FIELDS
Soyuzneftegaz will submit to the Iraqi Oil Ministry a project to develop the Rafidayn oil field, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 April, citing company President Yurii Shafranik. The company won a tender to develop the field, which holds reserves estimated at 100 million tons, from the Hussein government in December 2002. Litsako, an affiliate of LUKoil, on 1 April began supplying gasoline and diesel fuel to several northern Iraqi provinces under a contract signed with the U.S. company Refinery Associates of Texas. Under the contract, Litsako will provide 180,000 tons of gasoline and 130,000 tons of diesel fuel per quarter. LUKoil has applied to develop the Western Qurna-2 oil field. LUKoil's $5 billion winning tender to develop the field under the former Iraqi government was annulled in December 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). "We believe our chances are high," LUKoil Overseas President Andrei Kuzyaev said, according to ITAR-TASS. LUKoil last month signed an agreement to provide training and material assistance to the Iraqi oil sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004). RC
U.S. LIFTS SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIAN FIRMS
The U.S. government on 1 April lifted sanctions against several Russian companies accused of illegally providing weapons-related technological assistance to Iran during the 1990s, the BBC and lenta.ru reported on 2 April. Among the companies affected were Grafit, the Energotekhnika Research and Construction Institute, Evropalas-2000, and the Volskii Mechanics Plant. Sanctions against the companies were imposed in 1998 and 1999. Sanctions remain in place against several other Russian enterprises, including KBP Tula (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2004). RC
RUSSIA PUZZLED BY U.S. CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE'S RESOLUTION
Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) expressed bewilderment on 1 April at a 31 March U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee resolution calling on U.S. President George W. Bush to make efforts to suspend Russia's participation in the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The U.S. resolution -- which was authored by Representatives Thomas Lantos (Democrat, California) and Christopher Cox (Republican, California), and Senators Joseph Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut) and John McCain (Republican, Arizona) -- states that Russia should be excluded from the G-8 because it is not observing the principles of democracy. Koshachev said the U.S. resolution stems from a misunderstanding of the nature and function of the G-8. Speaking in Berlin, Foreign Minister Lavrov said on 1 April that the U.S. resolution is not serious and attributed it to election-year politics in the United States, ITAR-TASS reported. RC
ANOTHER MINISTER PROMISES TO SLASH EMPLOYEE ROSTER...
In a televised meeting with President Vladimir Putin on 1 April, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika reported that the apparatus of his ministry will be reduced by more than two-thirds, ORT reported. Of the current 1,700 ministry employees, 506 will be retained. The number of subunits within the ministry will be reduced from 26 to nine, and the number of deputy ministers will shrink from nice to two, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 April. The newspaper predicted, however, that once the structure of the ministry and the three new services subordinated to it becomes clear later this month, the total number of bureaucrats will not differ significantly from the number currently working in the ministry's central apparatus. In a similar televised meeting with Putin last month, Transportation and Communications Minister Igor Levitin promised that his new ministry, which was created by combining the Communications, Transportation, and Railways ministries, will cut its staff by 1,700 people from its current level of 2,300 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2004). JAC
...AS KOZAK PROMISES TO CUT MORE THAN 200 DEPUTY MINISTERS
Also on 1 April, government chief of staff Dmitrii Kozak announced that in nine of the 14 federal ministries the number of deputy ministers will be reduced from 250 to 18, while the number of departments will shrink from 250 to 100, according to RosBalt. Each department's director will be allowed to have two deputies. However, in the federal services and agencies there will be 46 directors, and some of them will be able to have more than two deputies, since the total number of deputies will be 123. JAC
ARKHANGELSK BLAST NOW CONSIDERED SABOTAGE
Investigators probing the 16 March natural-gas explosion in a residential building in Arkhangelsk that left 58 dead now officially believe the explosion was most likely caused intentionally, lenta.ru and "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 April, citing Arkhangelsk Oblast prosecutor Aleksandr Apanasenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 19 March 2004). Apanasenko confirmed that similar investigations are being conducted into evidence found at two nearby residential buildings that indicates someone attempted to cause explosions there as well. No evidence of any explosives has been found at any of the sites, and investigators consider it a case of sabotage. Investigators have not yet completely ruled out the theory that the leak was caused because someone stole components of the gas feeder pipe to sell for scrap metal. Apanasenko said that a significant role in the tragedy was played by the fact that access to the buildings' gas mains was not closed. The Prosecutor-General's Office has ordered a security check of the natural-gas systems of all buildings in the Northwest Federal District, lenta.ru reported. RC
CONVICTED RINGLEADER OF YUSHENKOV MURDER ATTEMPTS SUICIDE
Former Liberal Russia party splinter group leader Mikhail Kodanev, who on 30 March was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for organizing the April 2003 murder of liberal Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, attempted suicide on 1 April and has been moved to a psychiatric ward, Interfax and lenta.ru reported on 2 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004). According to "Gazeta" on 2 April, Kodanev attempted to kill himself by eating "several cans of condensed milk." According to lenta.ru, Kodanev will remain under psychiatric observation for at least two weeks. RC
DUMA LIKELY TO BACKPEDAL ON BILL LIMITING PUBLIC DEMONSTRATIONS...
State Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Unified Russia) has introduced an amendment to a draft bill placing limitations on the holding of public demonstrations, which passed in its first reading on 31 March, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004). Krasheninnikov, a member of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) party, said he has introduced an amendment that would remove the ban on rallies near government offices, and under which rally organizers would only need to notify authorities of their plans rather than get official permission to hold an event. According to the agency, Krasheninnikov expressed the hope that his fellow faction members would support his initiative. JAC
...AS OTHER OFFICIALS ALSO VOICE SECOND THOUGHTS
Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko told "Vremya novostei" on 2 April that the list of places where demonstrations cannot be held that is contained in the bill -- near government building and diplomatic posts and on major roads -- will be revised before the bill's second reading. While he said that it is necessary to prevent demonstrations from blocking traffic or keeping state agencies from functioning, Sidorenko added that "the extension of the ban to all government buildings is superfluous." The same day, Federation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin criticized the version of the bill that was passed on 31 March, suggesting that such limitations will only provoke opposition forces, RIA-Novosti reported. Federation Council Defense and Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ozerov commented, "In a time of peace, there is no need to deprive the people the rights given to them by the constitution." JAC/RC
REPUTED MASTERMIND BEHIND SUTYAGIN CASE GETS A PROMOTION...
The Kaluga Oblast legislature confirmed on 1 April the former head of Federal Security Service (FSB) administration in the oblast, General Valerii Loginov, as oblast deputy governor, gazeta.ru reported. The website quoted unidentified legislators as noting that the espionage case against accused scholar Igor Sutyagin was launched during Loginov's tenure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004). In December 2001, a Kaluga court sent the case against Sutyagin back for further investigation, ruling that there were substantial violations of legal procedure. Loginov told oblast legislators that he did not personally sign the order for Sutyagin's arrest, but oblast legislator Tatyana Kotlyar charged that Loginov initiated the case. Hearings in the new trial against Sutyagin are expected to be completed on 5 April, one of Sutyagin's lawyers, Boris Kuznetsov, said on 1 April, according to Interfax. JAC
...AS NEW SENATORS SELECTED
Also on 1 April, Kaluga legislators confirmed a new representative in the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 April. Aleksei Aleksandrov will replace Viktor Kolesnikov, who was elected to the State Duma in December, as the oblast legislature's representative in the upper legislative chamber. Aleksandrov is a former three-term State Duma deputy. Last fall, he worked on the campaign to elect St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko, according to the daily. The oblast legislature also confirmed on 1 April former Kaluga Oblast Governor Valerii Sudarenkov for a second term as the oblast's executive-branch representative in the Federation Council. JAC
TWO URALS REGIONS PONDER MERGER...
Kurgan Oblast's election commission registered on 31 March an initiative group that is seeking to conduct a referendum on joining the oblast with neighboring Sverdlovsk Oblast, regions.ru reported on 1 April, citing Novyi region. The group must gather 20,000 signatures -- 2 percent of the oblast's population -- over the next two months. According to the website, the decision to register the initiative group was made immediately after a meeting in Moscow between President Putin and Kurgan Oblast Governor Oleg Bogomolov. If all goes according to the regulations, a referendum could be held as early as March. JAC
...POSSIBLY FOR ECONOMIC REASONS
According to another report on regions.ru, the main theme of Putin's conversation with Bogomolov was the poor socioeconomic situation in Kurgan Oblast. An unidentified source within the oblast's delegation to Moscow said that the president commented that Kurgan appears to be the least prosperous in the Russian Federation. Legislators in the Ust-Ordinskii Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug on 1 April endorsed a proposal to hold a referendum on merging the okrug with Irkutsk Oblast, RTR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2004). Earlier in the month, Putin signed a law that will enable Perm Oblast to unite with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2004) . One of the chief justifications for that merger is that it will raise the standard of living in Komi-Permyak. JAC
RUSSIAN SCHOOLS EQUIPPED WITH ONE COMPUTER PER 60 STUDENTS
Schools in Kazan -- where there is one computer for every 27 students -- are among the best equipped in Russia in terms of computers, Volgainform reported on 1 April, citing the republic's Education Ministry. In addition, practically every school in Kazan has Internet access, according to the report. In Russia as a whole, the figure is one computer per 60 students. JAC
PUTIN MAKES MORE APPOINTMENTS
President Putin on 1 April appointed Dmitrii Kalimulin to head the presidential speech-writing office, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. Simon Kordonskii was named senior speechwriter, replacing Andrei Vavra. Olga Anchishkina, Natalya Krivova, Larisa Mishustina, and Yaroslav Shabanov were also named presidential speechwriters. Overseeing the entire office is Dzhakhan Pollyeva, a former deputy administration head who was recently named a presidential assistant. JAC
ANOTHER MASKHADOV INSIDER SURRENDERS
Shaa Turlaev, chief bodyguard of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, on 2 April surrendered to Russian forces in the village of Gansol-Chu, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. According to RIA-Novosti, Turlaev voluntarily decided to return to a peaceful life following the recent surrenders of other Maskhadov insiders, including Magomed Khambiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004) and Boris Aidamirov. ITAR-TASS, however, reported that Turlaev was injured during a special operation to capture him and has been hospitalized following the amputation of his left leg. RC
ARMENIAN MINISTER CITES PROGRESS ON PIPELINE PLAN WITH IRAN
Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian announced on 1 April that Armenia and Iran are preparing to formally sign a contract for the construction of a natural-gas pipeline linking the two countries by the end of April, Interfax reported. According to the minister, an Iranian delegation is to arrive in Armenia in the coming weeks to finalize the details of a bilateral agreement on the price and volume of gas supplies. Although the $100 million gas pipeline has been planned for nearly 12 years, construction is to begin next year and projected to be completed by 2007. The pipeline plan aims at constructing a new section linking existing gas pipelines, with some reconstruction and modernization of several key segments of Armenia's gas-transportation network. Although the pipeline will ease Armenia's dependence on Russian gas supplies by providing gas from diversified suppliers such as Turkmenistan and Iran, Russian officials have officially approved of the plan, adding that the Russian energy giant Gazprom may acquire operational control of the Armenian portion of the pipeline. RG
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BRIEFS EU AMBASSADORS ON DOMESTIC TENSION
Armenian President Robert Kocharian met with ambassadors from several EU countries on 1 April and briefed them on continuing domestic tension in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The president asserted that stability was his top priority and dismissed concerns over his government's recent threat to arrest opposition leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004). There have been signs of a mounting confrontation between the state and the opposition in recent days, and officials of the Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 1 April that a criminal case will be pursued against opposition Artarutiun (Justice) bloc leaders for "publicly insulting representatives of government" and threatening to "change constitutional order of the Republic of Armenia." Within the three-party ruling coalition, the move against the opposition was endorsed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, but officials of the Republican Party warned that the use of arrests against the opposition was unwarranted and Orinats Yerkir party spokesmen also indicated that the party would not support such a move. RG
ARMENIAN LEADERS WELCOME LEBANESE PREMIER WITH HOPES FOR GREATER TRADE
Senior Armenian officials welcomed a Lebanese government delegation led by Prime Minister Rafic Hariri on 1 April, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo. The Lebanese delegation, which includes several ministers and four ethnic Armenian parliamentarians, is on a two-day visit seeking to bolster bilateral trade and investment. Meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, the Lebanese prime minister called for the creation of a new mechanism to promote investment by the significant Armenian minority community in Lebanon. Although there are more than 50 Armenian-Lebanese joint ventures officially registered in Armenia, the overall volume of trade and investment remains marginal. The Lebanese prime minister also appealed for Armenian support for the Lebanese application for membership in the World Trade Organization. RG
AZERBAIJANI, GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTERS MEET IN BAKU
Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov welcomed his Georgian counterpart Georgi Baramidze to Baku on 1 April, Baku Today and ITAR-TASS reported. The ministers reviewed a series of measures aimed at bolstering bilateral cooperation in border security and to counter proliferation and smuggling. Specific attention was also devoted to enhancing security along the Azerbaijani-Georgian border. Baramidze called for a resumption of regular contacts and cooperation between Georgian, Azerbaijani, Armenian, and Russian interior ministries and noted the danger posed by an increase in narcotics and arms smuggling by criminal groups operating throughout the region. Baramidze is also to hold meetings with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Defense Minister Safar Abiev during his stay in Baku. RG
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO COMBAT 'ILLEGAL ARMED GROUPS'
Declaring that three "illegal armed groups" are operating in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili vowed to bring such "private armies" to justice, Civil Georgia and ITAR-TASS reported. The president, speaking at a military ceremony at the Vaziani military base near Tbilisi, warned that paramilitary groups "who take up arms to harm the interests of the Georgian state and defy the central authorities are traitors and will be brought to justice." Saakashvili also reiterated his demand that paramilitary groups in Adjaria lay down their arms, and expressed concern than Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze has yet to implement an agreement reached last month for the demobilization and disarming of these paramilitary groups. RG
GEORGIAN AND RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS NOTE PROGRESS IN MOSCOW TALKS
In talks that began on 31 March in Moscow, Georgian Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili and his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov agreed on 1 April to draft a new agreement on military cooperation, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov offered to transfer a portion of "unused" Russian military facilities to Georgia as negotiations on their complete withdrawal proceed and pledged that the Russian military presence in the country "would not interfere in the internal affairs of Georgia." The Moscow negotiations seek to stem the serious erosion of relations between the two countries over the past several years and attempt to forge a formal agreement on a number of outstanding issues, including the Russian pledge to withdraw its military from two remaining bases in Georgia. In an attempt to ease the talks, Russia offered to provide military training at no cost for an unspecified number of Georgian officers at Russian military academies. RG
KAZAKHSTAN WILLING TO TAKE PART IN AFGHAN REBUILDING
Qayrat Abuseyitov, Kazakhstan's first deputy foreign minister, announced on 1 April that Kazakhstan is prepared to take part in programs and projects to rebuild Afghanistan's economy, "Kazakhstan Today" reported the same day. The remarks came at a conference of international donors in Berlin. While stressing that a stable economy is the key to a stable Afghanistan, Abuseyitov pointed to the production and transport of drugs as the country's biggest problem. RIA-Novosti quoted Abuseyitov as saying, "With its geographic location and developed infrastructure, Kazakhstan could supply Afghanistan with grain, industrial goods, and building materials." Abuseyitov also met with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. DK
KAZAKH PRESIDENT NAMES NEW SPOKESMAN, RENAMES POSTS
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev named a new presidential spokesman and tinkered with the structure of the presidential administration on 31 March, "Kazakhstan Today" reported the next day. Mukhtar Qul-Mukhammed was appointed spokesman; he replaces Zhanay Omarov. Other changes appeared to be primarily cosmetic. The new structure renames several posts, introduces presidential representatives in Almaty and Baikonur, and creates a Foreign Policy Center within the president's administration. DK
TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY REQUESTS PROTEST PERMIT
Tajikistan's unregistered opposition Taraqqiyot (Progress) Party has filed a request to stage a protest in front of the opera house in Dushanbe, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 1 April. The protest, which the party hopes will draw up to 5,000 participants, is intended to draw attention to Taraqqiyot's struggle to obtain official registration. Rustam Fayziev, the party's deputy chairman, told the news agency that the party has unsuccessfully filed similar requests in the past; according to Fayziev, the current application remedies some technical flaws in earlier applications. The party vows to continue pressing its case even if the authorities block the demonstration this time. Taraqqiyot has been trying to register since December, thus far without success. DK
TURKMENISTAN, AZERBAIJAN DIFFER OVER GAS DEBT
Azerbaijani Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov told journalists on 31 March that Azerbaijan recognizes an $18 million debt to Turkmenistan for gas, but not Ashgabat's figure of $56 million, the Azerbaijani news agency Trend reported the same day. Interfax quoted Alekperov as saying that previous International Monetary Fund-brokered talks to resolve the issue had ended "without result." When asked about the possibility of third-party mediation, Alekperov allowed that this might alleviate matters. Turkmenistan recently engaged Russia's National Reserve Bank to negotiate some $500 million it believes it is owed by Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004). A representative of Turkmenistan's Economy and Finance Ministry told turkmenistan.ru on 1 April that Turkmenistan has all of the necessary documentation to prove that Azerbaijan owes $56 million for gas purchased in the 1990s. DK
UZBEK AUTHORITIES BLAME TERROR ON AL-QAEDA, 'WAHHABIS'...
Ilya Pyagay, the deputy antiterrorism chief at Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry, announced on 1 April that a branch of Al-Qaeda is behind a recent outbreak of violence in Uzbekistan, the BBC reported the same day. According to Pyagay, "These are Wahhabis who belong to one of the branches of the international Al-Qaeda terror group." Earlier statements by Uzbek officials, including President Islam Karimov, had suggested that militants affiliated with the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir were responsible for the attacks. Meanwhile, Uzbek Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov announced on 1 April that a government commission to investigate the terror attacks will have preliminary results "in three or four days," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Qodirov told reporters that "the investigation does not rule out either the involvement...of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization or a tie with international terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda." DK
...AS SUICIDE BOMBER'S DAUGHTER PERISHES
A woman blew herself up in a village outside of Bukhara on 1 April, severely injuring herself and killing her own daughter, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Twenty-four-year-old Faroqat Damadova was seriously injured in an explosion at 4:30 p.m., Kazinform reported; her 10-year-old daughter was killed. According to Uzbek law enforcement sources, Damadova was injured in the course of an unsuccessful suicide attempt, lenta.ru reported. The woman was apparently the widow of a man who perished on 28 March in an explosion in the same village. That blast claimed 10 lives. Uzbek authorities have said that the fatal accident occurred while a group of terrorists was attempting to manufacture their own explosive devices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 March 2004). DK
BELARUSIAN NGO FACES CLOSURE BECAUSE OF TYPO
The Belarusian Justice Ministry is seeking to ban the nongovernmental organization Novaya Gruppa, which conducts educational activities focused on legal, environmental, and self-governmental issues, Belapan and the Charter-97 website (http://www.charter97.org) reported on 1 April. The Belarusian Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the ministry's suit against Novaya Gruppa next week. The charter, which the ministry registered six years ago, identifies the organization as "Novaya Gruppa," whereas its registration certificate printed by the ministry bears the name "Novaya gruppa." The ministry reportedly considers the discrepancy sufficient reason to liquidate the group. The ministry has also found irregularities in the NGO's legal address. JM
UKRAINE'S PROPORTIONAL-ELECTION BILL SUBMITTED FOR PRESIDENTIAL APPROVAL
Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn has forwarded last week's bill on a fully proportional parliamentary-election system in Ukraine to President Leonid Kuchma for approval, Interfax reported on 1 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004). Simultaneously, Lytvyn sent a list of sections of the bill that the legislature's legal staff believes contravene the country's constitution. The adoption of a proportional system is a sine qua non for the Communist Party and the Socialist Party to support constitutional reforms that are being promoted by the presidential administration and the pro-government parliamentary majority. JM
EU TRADE COMMISSIONER VISITS BALTIC STATES
Pascal Lamy concluded a two-day tour of the Baltic capitals with a visit to Tallinn on 1 April, BNS reported. Lamy told a news conference the same day that talks on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Russia are proceeding well, with about 90 percent of issues settled. Lamy said he expects Russia's double duties on imports from Estonia to be eliminated as of 1 May, when the country joins the EU. On 31 March, Lamy told Lithuanian officials and businessmen in Vilnius that the EU does not plan to impose new taxes on individuals or introduce uniform rates for basic taxes in EU countries. He also dashed hopes in the business community of retaining lower import duties on some raw materials from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Lamy also met with Latvian Prime Minister Indulis Emsis, Economy Minister Juris Lujans, and other officials in Riga. Lamy downplayed Latvia's current-account deficit of 9.2 percent of GDP in 2003, saying that "such macro economic indicators are not surprising for a country that is carrying out as extensive a modernization as Latvia." SG
AZERBAIJANI PRIME MINISTER VISITS LITHUANIA
Artur Rasizade began a three-day official visit to Vilnius on 1 April with a meeting with President Rolandas Paksas, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. Their talks focused on mutual relations and Baltic-Caucasus relations. "Taking into account the growth of the economic potential of our countries [and] the opening of new opportunities when Lithuania becomes a member of the EU, our countries have an economic-cooperation potential that we hope will be spurred on by this visit," Paksas said. Paksas said Lithuania would welcome the accreditation of an Azerbaijani diplomat to Vilnius. SG
OFFICIALS SAY TERRORIST THREAT TO POLAND IS 'REAL'
Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Jerzy Oleksy said on 1 April that the danger of a terrorist attack on Poland is "clear," PAP reported. The previous day, Polish Intelligence Service chief Zbigniew Siemiatkowski briefed lawmakers from the Sejm's Commission for Special Services on an Internet report discovered by Norwegian military officers in December that appears to target Poland for terrorist attack. According to the 1 April "Gazeta Wyborcza," the report analyzes Spanish policies and appeals to supporters of Al-Qaeda to attack Spain in order to pressure the Spanish government to pull out of Iraq. Much of the report reportedly touches on Poland and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and reportedly includes a wish that the earth "swallow up" Kwasniewski before the end of his term in 2005. "I believe that the threat to Poland, whether within the country or abroad, is real," Siemiatkowski told "Gazeta Wyborcza" of 1 April. The daily also carried opposition Law and Justice lawmaker Zbigniew Wassermann's comment that, "It seems this is no longer an issue of whether an attack [on Poland] will take place, but when." JM
BAVARIAN LEADER CONDEMNS CZECH PREMIER'S PROVOCATIVE REMARKS
Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber objected stridently on 1 April to statements by Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla two days earlier in which he conditioned Sudeten property claims on "seat[ing] the 28 of my relatives whom you murdered during World War II at this table," CTK reported. "This is a dark chapter in our history, and we must recognize it. But to apply collective guilt to Sudeten Germans is non-historical and unacceptable," Stoiber said, according to CTK. "Sudeten Germans themselves experienced in millions of cases suffering and death as a result of [postwar] expulsion and the loss of their homeland. Only mutual recognition of the suffering of people, no matter whether as a result of war or expulsion and not mutual counting of victims, can lead us forward." Stoiber added that Spidla's statement does not contribute to rapprochement in Europe. Spidla's remarks were reportedly made after he was asked by a diplomat at the EU Embassy in Helsinki about Czech willingness to return property to the families of millions of ethnic Germans expelled under the postwar Benes Decrees; they were published in the Czech daily "Pravo" on 31 March. AH
SLOVAK PROSECUTORS DROP BLACKMAIL PROBE OF ECONOMY MINISTER
Investigators have concluded that no crime occurred in their probe into allegations that Slovak Economy Minister and Alliance for a New Citizen Chairman Pavol Rusko tried to blackmail the head of the Slovenske Elektrarne power company, CTK reported on 1 April, citing the Slovak Interior Ministry. But the same sources said an investigation into whether Rusko sought to blackmail entrepreneur Frantisek Mojzis is continuing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July and 25 August 2003). Rusko has described the allegations as baseless and politically motivated. AH
FORMER PREMIER USES EU PLATFORM TO ASSAIL HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT
Opposition FIDESZ Chairman Viktor Orban told reporters in Brussels on 1 April after a meeting with European Commission President Romano Prodi that the current Socialist-led Hungarian government has "wasted 1 1/2 to two years" of preparation time ahead of the country's May EU-accession date, Hungarian radio reported. "Magyar Hirlap" then quoted a Reuters interview with Orban on 2 March in which the former Hungarian prime minister suggests that the results of June's European parliamentary elections in Hungary might force the current government to resign. Socialist Erzsebet Nemeth told the Index news portal (http://www.index.hu) that it is outrageous that Orban "denounced" his country in Brussels one month before Hungary's EU accession. MSZ
HAGUE TRIBUNAL INDICTS FORMER HERZEGOVINIAN CROAT LEADERS
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted at least four prominent leaders of the former Herzegovinian Croat para-state known as Herceg-Bosna, regional and international media reported on 31 March. The four are tobacco dealer Slobodan Praljak, Croatian military officer Milivoj Petkovic, former Herceg-Bosna Prime Minister Jadranko Prlic, and former Defense Minister Bruno Stojic. In Zagreb, Deputy Justice Minister Jaksa Muljacic said the tribunal sent the indictments to the Croatian government, adding that the four men have agreed to turn themselves in soon. On 1 April, former Herceg-Bosna Interior Minister Valentin Coric said he was also indicted and will surrender voluntarily. The trial of the five men is expected to shed light on Zagreb's role in the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, especially on the 1993-94 war between Muslims and Croats. The roles of former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, Defense Minister Gojko Susak, and Herceg-Bosna leader Mate Boban, all of whom are dead, will also come under scrutiny. PM
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SAYS BOSNIAN SERBS COULD HAVE PREVENTED INCIDENT
Demonstrations took place in Pale and several other places in the Republika Srpska on 1 April to protest SFOR's use of an explosive near a Serbian Orthodox church in an unsuccessful attempt to catch indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, which left a priest and his son badly injured, Reuters reported. "The international community showed that nothing is sacred and untouchable for them," said Bosnian Serb parliament speaker Dragan Kalinic of Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). The Bosnian Serb government demanded that SFOR investigate its troops' conduct during the incident. Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic called the peacekeepers' behavior unacceptable, Hina reported. Serbian Orthodox bishops from Bosnia described the raid as a "terrorist attack." Speaking in Sarajevo, High Representative Paddy Ashdown said Bosnian Serb authorities could have prevented the incident by arresting Karadzic themselves. In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli made a similar point, adding that Karadzic himself bears some responsibility because he refuses to turn himself in, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). PM
SERBIAN NGOS QUESTION CONSTITUTIONALITY OF PAYING WAR CRIMES INDICTEES
Serbia's Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights called on the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of a recently enacted law providing financial assistance to indicted war criminals and their families, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004, "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December and 20 February 2004, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 5 and 12 February 2004). Several other NGOs also said in statements that they consider the new law unconstitutional, including the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Women in Black, the Humanitarian Law Center, the Center for Antiwar Action, Panonija, the Center for Regionalism, and others. PM
STABILIZATION AND ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT BETWEEN EU AND MACEDONIA TAKES EFFECT
The Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and Macedonia came into effect on 1 April, MIA reported. On this occasion, parliamentary speaker and acting President Ljupco Jordanovski said Macedonia expects that this means a new partnership to work for a united Europe and not a continuation of old policies under a new name. In its 2004 annual report on the Stabilization and Association Process, the European Commission stated that Macedonia has been successful in maintaining a stable macroeconomic framework, but also urged reform efforts in the areas of good governance, the rule of law and the judiciary, and in the fight against corruption and organized crime, a 30 March press release of the European Commission said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 April 2001 and 24 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004). UB
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA WATCHDOG SAYS SITUATION IN ROMANIA IS 'WORRYING'
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) General Secretary Robert Menard said at a 31 March news conference marking the end of an RSF delegation's weeklong visit to Romania that the media situation in the country is "worrying," Mediafax reported. Menard cited verbal and physical aggression against journalists as the most serious problem. He said RSF expects investigations into recent cases of violence against journalists to be completed soon, stressing that he wants "facts" from the authorities, not mere declarations. Political and economic pressure on media outlets was also singled out as a problem for private media outlets, and political pressure in the state-owned media. A government statement released after Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's meeting with the RSF delegation denied any interference in state television. The statement also firmly denounced violence against journalists and asked authorities to conclude urgently investigations into such cases. ZsM
TOP BULGARIAN PROSECUTORS ISSUE WARNINGS...
Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev and his deputy, Hristo Manchev, told a press conference on 1 April that the Prosecutor-General's Office will officially charge a number of senior government officials with corruption, mediapool.bg reported. Filchev and Manchev said their office has started investigating a number of enterprises jointly owned by the Sports Ministry and private companies. Filchev said unnamed high-ranking officials will be charged for "covertly privatizing" state-owned sports facilities. Bulgarian media widely agree that Filchev meant Sports Minister Vasil Ivanov, who said he does not fear any investigation into those cases, "Sega" reported. UB
...AND CRITICIZE IDEA FOR FINANCIAL POLICE
Commenting on government plans to form a new National Service for Fiscal Investigations overseen by the Finance Ministry, Deputy Prosecutor-General Manchev said on 1 March that this could lead to the paradoxical situation that Finance Ministry officials have to investigate themselves, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2004). Manchev said Finance Ministry officials either turn a blind eye to or are actively involved in cases of tax evasion. In other news, the Supreme Judicial Council on 31 March began reviewing a Justice Ministry proposal to replace more than 800 leading officials in the country's courts, prosecutors' offices, and investigation services, bnn reported. The reshuffle is part of the country's effort to reform the judiciary. UB
THE FALLOUT OF TERROR IN UZBEKISTAN
Reports of gunfire and possible explosions in Uzbekistan continued on 1 April, while the motives for the series of attacks and bombings that began on 28 March and left as many as 40 people dead remain unclear.
According to an Uzbek Foreign Ministry statement this week, the week's events began when highway police discovered explosives in a vehicle in Tashkent on 28 March. In a village in Bukhara Oblast that evening, an explosion killed 10 people and destroyed a house in which explosives were allegedly being prepared for use in future attacks. The next day, violence erupted in Tashkent, where a series of bombings and armed attacks on police initiated a wave of terror.
Tashkent schools have been closed until 5 April, and local media reported on 31 March that hundreds of Tashkent residents were heading for the countryside to wait out the violence. Independent journalist Elmira Hasanova of the Free Speech Committee noted in an article published on the committee's website (http://www.freeuz.org) that, as usual, the government's strict control of the Uzbek media resulted in the inhabitants of Tashkent learning of the events from Russian television and foreign radio stations.
Uzbek authorities took maximum advantage of the events to make a case for harsh repression aimed at anyone they chose to designate an Islamic extremist, evoking a sense of deja vu as observers were reminded of the fallout of a series of bombings in Tashkent in February 1999.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 11 former religious prisoners were detained soon after the 29 March explosions, and the organization warned that the Uzbek government appears to be using the attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara as a pretext for rounding up peaceful Muslim dissidents. While few arrests have been reported officially, independent observers claim that there have been hundreds throughout the country.
All too often those arrested on charges of religious extremism have been pious, socially conservative Muslim believers. The international human rights community's warnings to Uzbek President Islam Karimov that official persecution of peaceful Muslims would likely steer some people toward extremism have apparently gone unheeded.
Official reports of the events of the last three days of March specifically cite the role played by adherents of the international Islamist extremist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Uzbekistan and most other Central Asian states. This likely indicates that this group will be a target of further repression. As one journalist in Tashkent noted, thousands of people have already been jailed in Uzbekistan on charges of being Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters.
Karimov might seek to use the attacks in Tashkent as a justification to push for international designation of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization. Uzbek human rights activists have told foreign journalists in Tashkent that they fear the violence will serve as a pretext for an intensified campaign against all critics of the Uzbek government, themselves included. According to one Russian media report, Uzbek special-forces officers said they have been instructed to deal particularly harshly with potential militants.
Most agree that the primary target of the attacks in Tashkent was the law enforcement establishment, in particular the police, with whom citizens are in daily contact. The police in Uzbekistan are widely perceived as corrupt and largely uncontrolled and are widely believed to be guilty of physically abusing, and sometimes killing, detainees.
It should be noted that the explosions and armed attacks being attributed to terrorists have occurred at a time when international pressure on Uzbekistan concerning its human rights shortcomings -- particularly its failure to put an end to the physical abuse of detainees and convicts -- has been intensifying. Attacks on law enforcement bodies in Uzbekistan could serve to distract international attention from the charges made against them by local and international human rights activists.
Not long after reports of the 29 March explosions in Tashkent and Bukhara appeared in the international media, both the U.S. State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry sharply condemned the terrorist actions in Uzbekistan, describing them as part of the international terrorism against which all civilized countries are struggling. Some Russian political observers have seen the attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara as the next move for international Islamic terrorism after the 11 March atrocity in Madrid.
But the question of who stands to benefit from terrorist incidents in Tashkent remains to be asked. Should the official Uzbek assessment that the events of 28-31 March were perpetrated by adherents of Hizb ut-Tahrir with foreign assistance be taken at face value?
Already on 31 March, the new, independent, and unregistered Free Peasants Party posted on the Internet a warning that if one seeks explanations for why some people turn to terrorism, the desperation caused by the economic stagnation that Karimov seems unable or unwilling to counter should be considered.
At the very least, Karimov should not be allowed to use this wave of terrorist attacks to avoid responding to international censure of his poor human rights record.
AFGHAN LEADER HAILS NEW FINANCIAL PLEDGES...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said on 1 April that the donations pledged for his country at the Berlin donors conference on 31 March-1 April represent a great success, the BBC reported. Afghanistan received new pledges of $8.2 billion over a three-year period. While the Berlin conference is arguably a victory for Karzai's administration in the short term, donors did not meet Kabul's target of $27.5 billion in grants over the next seven years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004). AT
...BUT DRAWS ATTENTION TO AFGHANISTAN'S PROBLEMS
Chairman Karzai told the Berlin conference on 1 April that Afghanistan must tackle three main problems in order to effect peace, the BBC reported. "Drugs and 'warlordism' and terrorism are three multipliers of each other; they reinforce each other" and must be addressed together, Karzai said. Karzai discussed the continued influence of warlords on 31 March, saying, "Private militia forces are not only a challenge to security and stability in Afghanistan, but they are also a cause of drug cultivation in the country," according to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan. "They also can become a challenge to the future stability and peace, not only" in Afghanistan "but, by extension, in the region." AT
DETAILS RELEASED OF DISARMAMENT PLAN FOR AFGHAN MILITIA
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad disclosed a plan on 31 March for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of Afghanistan's militia forces by June 2005, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The statement describes a scheme whose first phase includes the demobilization by the end of June of 11 divisions, 13 brigades, 10 regiments, and two battalions of the militia -- or 40,000 of an estimated 100,000 militia fighters. In the second phase, an additional 20,000 militia troops should be demobilized by September, and units that will have been reduced during the first phase should be decommissioned entirely. In the third phase, the remaining 40,000 militia troops should be completely demobilized by June 2005. The statement does not provide details of which militia troops should be wound down within those respective stages. AT
AFGHANISTAN, NEIGHBORS SIGN ANTIDRUG AGREEMENT
Afghanistan and its six immediate neighbors -- China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- signed an agreement on the sidelines of the Berlin donors conference on 1 April to combat drug trafficking across their borders, ddp reported. The agreement, dubbed the "Berlin Statement," commits Afghanistan and its neighbors to closer cooperation in law enforcement and intelligence, along with stricter border controls and greater consultation in antidrug strategies. Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who signed the agreement for Afghanistan, said his country hopes the measures included in the Berlin Statement are "followed by steps on the ground," the BBC reported on 1 April. The same countries signed an agreement known as the Kabul Declaration on 22 December 2002 that included components to combat drug trafficking, but the estimated flow of opium from Afghanistan increased in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 January 2003 and 12 February 2004). AT
IRAN DISMISSES EUROPEAN CONCERN ABOUT NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES
Iranian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Piruz Husseini on 1 April rejected European expressions of concern about his country's nuclear intentions and maintained that Iran is committed to cooperating with Europe, Reuters reported. A 31 March statement from the governments of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom had discouraged Iran from its announced intention of producing uranium hexafluoride, metal uranium, and uranium oxide at an Isfahan facility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March and 1 April 2004). Husseini said, "It's a totally separate issue from our commitment to the suspension of uranium enrichment," adding that Tehran would talk with the EU's "Big Three" about their criticism in the coming days. Parliamentarian-elect Ahmad Tavakoli from Tehran was more outspoken in his 1 April reaction to the Europeans' criticism, dpa reported. Tavakoli said the Europeans' statements show that they, as well as the United States, want to deprive Iran of the right to peaceful nuclear pursuits. He added that the activities at Isfahan are purely for research and the IAEA is aware of them. BS
WHITE HOUSE SUSPECTS IRANIAN NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES 'DISPERSED'
An anonymous U.S. official said the administration of President George W. Bush suspects that Iran has "dispersed" its uranium-enrichment program to small and hard-to-detect sites, the "Financial Times" reported on 2 April. These facilities are distinct from the large one at Natanz and are run by the military, the Bush administration reportedly believes. BS
TEHRAN COMMENTS ON AL-FALLUJAH KILLINGS
A commentary on Iranian state radio on 2 April about the recent killing of U.S. civilians (see below) in the Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah has leveled new accusations against the United States. Tehran radio said that the U.S. promise to remain in Iraq regardless is a reaction motivated by the current presidential campaign. The Iranian commentary went on to accuse the U.S. State Department of employing "fresh propaganda" in order to "legitimize America's military presence in Iraq." BS
IRAN, IRAQ TO BUILD RAILWAY LINKS
The unnamed "managing director of Iraq's railway authority" announced on 1 April that Iran and Iraq have agreed to the construction of two railway networks, Iranian state radio reported. The first railway will link Baghdad and Tehran via Qasr-i Shirin and Kermanshah, and the second railway will link Al-Basrah and Khorramshahr via Shalamcheh. Feasibility studies will start as soon as possible, state radio reported. A similar report citing an official source at the Iraqi State Railway Company appeared in the "Al-Mashriq" newspaper on 31 March. Iraqi Transport Minister Bahnam Zayya Bulis said during a 21 September meeting with Iranian charge d'affaires Ali Reza Haqiqian that Iraq wants to cooperate with Iran in creating a railway network, IRNA reported. BS
AHMAD YASSIN BRIGADES CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR KILLING U.S. CONTRACTORS IN IRAQ
A group calling itself the Martyred Ahmad Yassin Brigades claimed responsibility on 1 April for the killing of four U.S. contractors in the city of Al-Fallujah on 31 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004). The group is named after Hamas founder Shaykh Ahmad Yassin, who was assassinated by Israel on 22 March. The London-based "Quds Press" reported on 29 March that the Iraqi resistance in Al-Fallujah distributed leaflets in recent days claiming responsibility for 25-26 March attacks on U.S. troops in the city. Forces belonging to the Al-Fallujah resistance include the Martyred Ahmad Yassin Brigades, the Asad Allah al-Galib Ali bin Abi Talib Brigades, and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the newspaper reported. The statement by the Martyred Ahmad Yassin Brigades claiming responsibility for the 31 March attack stated: "This is a gift from the people of Al-Fallujah to the people of Palestine and the family of [Yassin] who was assassinated by the criminal Zionists," AFP reported. "We advise the U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq and we advise the families of the American soldiers and the contractors not to come to Iraq." KR
KOREA TO SEND TROOPS TO NORTHERN IRAQ
South Korean officials said on 2 April that the country will dispatch 3,600 troops to one of two cities in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, Yonhap news agency reported. Negotiations with the United States on the Korean deployment determined that the troops would be sent to either Irbil or Al-Sulaymaniyah, according to Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Nam Tay-yon. The final deployment site will be determined after Korea conducts an "on-the-spot check," of the two cities, Nam said. An unidentified Defense Ministry official told Yonhap that South Korea will send a fact-finding team to Iraq next week. The official added that the troop deployment, originally set for late April, will be delayed until mid-June. South Korean troops were originally slated to deploy troops to the volatile northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which has experienced tension and fighting amongst its Kurdish, Arab, and Turkoman population in recent months. However, it canceled those plans on 19 March, citing U.S. pressure to participate in "offensive operations" that Seoul saw as contrary to its mission of peaceful reconstruction. KR
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL CONCLUDES TALKS ON ESTABLISHING INTELLIGENCE SERVICE
Iraqi press reported on 1 April that the Iraqi Governing Council has concluded talks aimed at establishing a new Iraqi intelligence service. Adil Abd al-Mahdi, an aide to Governing Council member Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, said the intelligence service will be staffed by Iraqis and focus on pursuing Iraqi resistance elements and exposing their plans, the Iraqi Islamic Party's Dar Al-Salam Radio reported on 1 April. Abd al-Mahdi said the service will report terrorist activities to the Iraqi judiciary and Interior Ministry. Baghdad's "Al-Sabah" reported on 29 March that the draft convention of the national intelligence system has been completed and stipulates that in addition to their responsibility of combating terrorism, Iraqi intelligence organs will assume responsibility for collecting information on spying, drug production and trafficking, weapons of mass destruction, organized crime, and crime affecting national defense and security. KR
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL REPORTEDLY FORMED
A National Security Council has been formed to coordinate national-security policy among various Iraqi agencies, Dar Al-Salam Radio reported on 1 April. An unidentified official said Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer will head the agency until the 30 June transfer of power, when the newly appointed Iraqi prime minister will take over the Security Council. The Security Council will reportedly be composed of the ministers of defense, interior, foreign affairs, justice, and finance; a senior military adviser; and a national-security adviser. Bremer said on 24 March that he would announce the formation of a Defense Ministry and National Security Council within a week, but has yet to do so (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 March 2004). Meanwhile, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 1 April that the 13 Shi'ite members of the Governing Council have nominated current Trade Minister Ali Abd al-Amir Allawi to assume the defense portfolio. Several other Iraqi personalities have been nominated by the Governing Council to head the Defense Ministry. KR