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Newsline - May 13, 2004

State Duma deputies voted on 12 May to reapprove Mikhail Fradkov as the country's prime minister. Fradkov and his cabinet were required to step down under the constitution until President Vladimir Putin was inaugurated for his second term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). The vote was 356 in favor with 72 against and eight abstentions. The Communist and Motherland factions voted against Fradkov. Motherland faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy that his faction could not support Fradkov "until he adopts a clear position regarding people who have been in power for a long time, who steered a frenzied, extremely right-wing, liberal course that encroached on the rights of Russia's majority -- and unfortunately the majority of the Russian people are poor." Despite Motherland's opposition, Fradkov managed to obtain four votes more than he did when he was first confirmed as prime minister on 5 March, reported. After the vote, President Putin signed a decree renaming Fradkov as head of the government. JAC

In addition to confirming the prime minister, deputies also approved on 12 May a draft bill amending the Customs Code and other legislation in its first reading, Interfax reported. The bill makes the punishment for violating trade rules more severe. JAC

Sergei Karaganov, the chairman of the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP), said the Russian political elite, with a few exceptions, has failed to follow the rapid changes in the international situation that have occurred since the events of 11 September 2001, Ekho Moskvy reported on 11 May. The border between foreign and domestic policy has eroded in the modern world, as has the notion of national sovereignty, Karaganov said, but most politicians continue to stick to these old-fashioned perceptions, in particular with regard to the situation in Chechnya. On one hand, Chechnya is clearly a Russian internal affair, but on the other hand, it is obviously an international problem. The same can also be said of Iraq, he added. VY

Karaganov also said that a very dangerous situation is emerging in the vast region known as the "Greater Middle East," comprising the territory from Pakistan to Morocco and from Uzbekistan to Saudi Arabia. In all these countries, living standards are deteriorating and the population is growing, and each of them faces destabilization sooner or later. The United States has addressed this problem and taken the right course on modernization of the region, although the methods used, including in Iraq, are not always correct, Karaganov said. VY

Yevgenii Loginov, spokesman for the Russian electrical company Interenergoservis, said on 12 May that only 100 of the 340 civilian contractors it has in Iraq decided to leave the country after 11 May, when one contractor was killed and two taken hostage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004), reported. Loginov said Interenergoservis has decided to continue its work in Iraq. Observers believe that the Russian workers are willing to risk their lives in Iraq because of the lucrative salaries they are receiving there. VY

Acting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia has taken advantage of all possible contacts in Iraq to release the two civilian contractors taken hostage, RIA-Novosti reported on 13 May. The Russian Embassy in Baghdad has received information that the hostages are alive, and is now working with Shi'a and Kurdish religious figures to set them free, NTV reported on 12 May. VY

A Moscow district court rejected on 12 May an appeal by the lawyers of jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii to try to secure the release of their client from pretrial custody, and reported. The court ruled that Khodorkovskii should stay in custody until at least 25 May and continue to read the indictment materials accusing him of several economic crimes, ranging from tax evasion to massive fraud. At the same court session, prosecutor Valerii Lakhtin said that Khodorkovskii should stay in custody in order to be isolated from contacts that could hinder the legal process. VY

Meanwhile, Khodorkovskii told the court from his cell through a closed-circuit-television link that media reports about his fortune and foreign bank accounts are "blackening his reputation," RosBalt reported on 12 May. "I am not a poor man, but have no bank accounts abroad, only in Russia, so my personal money is working only for Russia," he said. A list of Russia's 100 richest businesspeople compiled by "Forbes" magazine in its 13 May issue placed Khodorkovskii first, with assets worth $15.2 billion. Self-exiled businessman Boris Berezovskii holds 47th place on the list, with a fortune of $620 million. VY

Vladimir Khokhlov, the deputy prosecutor of the Baltic Fleet, said in Kaliningrad that two navy officers have been arrested as suspects in the killing of an officer serving on the same ship, reported on 10 May. According to investigators, the detained officers have a history of humiliating and harassing the victim. also reported that both arrested officers are sons of high-ranking officers in the Baltic Fleet. Meanwhile, Counter Admiral Aleksandr Konyshev, whose son is reportedly one of the suspects, has submitted his resignation, reported. VY

Yelena Baturina, the wife of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, has joined the list of Russia's 100 richest businesspeople compiled by "Forbes" magazine, REN-TV reported on 12 May in advance of its publication on 13 May. "Forbes" estimated Baturina's fortune at $1.1 billion. The magazine also noted that no other city in the world besides Moscow has such a large concentration of billionaires. According to "The Moscow Times," "Forbes" found that the wealth of Russia's 36 billionaires equals one-quarter of the country's gross domestic product, or $110 billion. JAC

Meanwhile, "Gazeta" reported on 11 May that Baturina's company, Inteko, has obtained a 100 percent stake in the company Pikalevskii Cement, the largest cement producer in the Northwest Federal District. With its new acquisition, Inteko can meet 15 percent of Russia's cement demand and can enter into the housing-construction market in St. Petersburg. Inteko now ranks second in terms of cement production in Russia. Analysts of the construction market, whom the newspaper did not identify, predicted that Inteko will enter the St. Petersburg housing market within the next six months. JAC

Former cosmonaut and Communist State Duma Deputy Svetlana Savitskaya raised objections on the floor of the Duma on 12 May to the 30 April wedding of Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Deputies rejected Savitiskaya's demand for an investigation. Gref's ceremony took place in the large palace of the Peterhof State Museum, a former residence of the Russian imperial family located just outside of St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2004). Savitskaya said that she has received many letters from voters objecting to the lavish affair. She questioned whether Gref exceeded his authority as a state official by using a museum for his wedding during its working hours and asked how Gref, who has been in the government service for 15 years, could afford to rent a presidential boat to ferry himself and his bride across the Neva from his government wages. Savitskaya claimed that her fellow legislators from Unified Russia told her in private conversations that they support the inquiry but were prevented by party discipline from voting in favor of it. JAC

The Federation Council on 12 May rejected one law and confirmed a series of appointments. Senators approved the appointment of former Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad as an auditor with the Audit Chamber, RosBalt reported. Goreglyad stepped down as first deputy chairman of the upper legislative chamber last January, but remained a representative for Sakhalin Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 27 January 2004). Senators did not approve two other nominees for a second vacancy at the Audit Chamber. Neither Yevgenii Bushman, chairman of the council's Budget Committee, nor Sergei Agaptsov, chairman of the Commission for Cooperation with the Audit Chamber, received the necessary 90 votes for confirmation. Also on 12 May, senators did confirm two candidates for the Russian Supreme Court, Valentina Yemysheva and Galina Gulyaeva, ITAR-TASS reported. Both women served previously in the Moscow City Court. JAC

Federation Council representatives voted on 12 May to reject a draft federal law on the real-estate-taxation experiment in Velikii Novgorod and Tver in 2004, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill called for extending an experimental tax program that began in both cities in 1997 to examine possible consequences of property-tax reform. The government supported the bill, and Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Motorin told senators that the program had increased tax revenues in the two cities without incurring any budget expenditures. However, Motorin also revealed that foreign donors had provided funding for the program through special grants, and this sparked objections from many senators, according to the agency. JAC

In keeping with the spirit of the administrative reform under way in Moscow, the office of the presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District is also being restructured, RosBalt reported on 11 May. Envoy Konstantin Pulikovskii, who once had seven deputy envoys, now has just two deputy envoys and five assistants. Former first deputy presidential envoy Gennadii Apanasenko and deputy envoy Yurii Averyanov are now deputy envoys, while former deputies Aleksandr Gerasimenko, Aleksandr Drosdov, Sergei Karpenko, Yurii Obryadin, and Viktor Tregubov are now assistants. As before, there are 10 federal inspectors for the 10 regions in the Far East Federal District. The total number of personnel in Pulikovskii's apparatus is 75, according to the agency. JAC

Elections for a successor to pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was killed by a bomb explosion in Grozny on 9 May, will be held on 5 September, Russian agencies quoted Vladimir Yakovlev, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, as saying on 12 May in Rostov-na-Donu. Yakovlev added that the ballot will be financed from the central budget. In an interview published on 13 May in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Yakovlev said the choice of a new leader lies with Chechen voters; he denied that the promotion of Kadyrov's son Ramzan to the post of first deputy prime minister means that the Kremlin has already decided that Ramzan should succeed his father. At the same time, Yakovlev argued that it is imperative to support what Kadyrov accomplished and "the person who helped him achieve it." In a separate interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 13 May, Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov declined to confirm that he will contest the ballot for republican leader, saying that "Kadyrov's team" will decide jointly on the most appropriate candidate. LF

Five persons have been detained in connection with the 9 May explosion in a Grozny stadium that killed Kadyrov and five other people, a senior Chechen security official told Interfax on 12 May. He said the suspects' identities remain classified. Five persons detained soon after the explosion on 9 May were subsequently released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2004). LF

The three parties aligned in Armenia's ruling coalition proposed a new four-point agenda on 12 May for "negotiations," scheduled to begin the following day, with the opposition Artarutiun alliance and the opposition National Accord Party, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The points are: reform of the constitution; amendment of the election law to bring it into compliance with European standards; a joint campaign against endemic corruption; and cooperation to ensure compliance with the requirements outlined in recent resolutions adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The opposition wants to include in the agenda a discussion of "ways of overcoming the political crisis in Armenia resulting from the 2003 elections"; the coalition parties want the term "crisis" replaced by "situation." LF

Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov began talks on the evening of 12 May in Strasbourg on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported the following day. Prior to the talks, Oskanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that there is no set agenda, and that he does not know which specific issues the Azerbaijani side will raise. Mammadyarov told AFP on 30 April that he and Oskanian would discuss the possible withdrawal of Armenian forces from seven districts of Azerbaijan in exchange for a resumption of rail traffic between Armenia and Azerbaijan (see "Analysis: Armenian, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Resume Karabakh Talks,", 11 May 2004). But Oskanian told RFE/RL on 12 May that proposal is "absurd" and that "there is no point" in discussing it. Also on 12 May, the NKR Foreign Ministry called on the leadership of both Armenia and Azerbaijan "to reaffirm their adherence to maintaining the ceasefire" agreement signed on 12 May 1994 until such time as a formal peace agreement is reached, according to Mediamax on 12 May as cited by Groong. LF

On the first day of a three-day official visit to the exclave of Nakhichevan, Ilham Aliyev formally opened a new international airport on 12 May, Turan reported. He outlined further plans for upgrading Azerbaijan's transport infrastructure, stressing that whereas in the past such projects were financed primarily by foreign loans and investment, they will be funded in future by the state. Visiting a military unit deployed in Nakhichevan the same day, President Aliyev said that while Baku remains committed to seeking a peaceful solution of the Karabakh conflict, it could resort to "other means" to restore its territorial integrity, Turan reported. Aliyev stressed that Azerbaijan's armed forces are well trained and capable of rising to any challenge. LF

The preliminary hearing in the trial of seven opposition activists charged for their roles in the clashes in October in Baku between police and protesters in the wake of the disputed presidential election resumed on 12 May, Turan and reported. The presiding judge dismissed complaints by lawyers for the seven defendants that they have been assaulted by police on several occasions. Also rejected were demands by the defense lawyers to replace the public prosecutors and to move the trial to a larger courtroom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2004). LF

Giorgi Baramidze traveled on 13 May to the southern district of Tsalka, the scene of clashes on 9 May between Armenians and Georgians, who comprise 80 percent and 10 percent respectively of the local population, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 26 June 2000). Georgian Minister for Regional Policy Zurab Melikishvili told journalists on 12 May that a special government commission will be formed to address socioeconomic problems in Tsalka. Melikishvili denied that the recent clashes were motivated by interethnic enmity. On 13 May, Georgian human rights activist Giorgi Kervalishvili claimed that the Armenian population in Tsalka possesses submachine guns and heavy artillery, and appealed to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to order a special operation to disarm them, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The 19-man Provisional Council named by Georgian President Saakashvili last week to administer the Adjar Autonomous Republic pending elections for a new regional parliament has decided to reduce the number of republican ministries from 18 to five, Caucasus Press reported on 12 May, quoting interim regional governor Levan Varshalomidze. They are the ministries of Finance; Labor, Health Care and Social Affairs; Agriculture and Food; Internal Affairs; and one unnamed other. The Security Ministry will be downgraded to a government department and report directly to the central government in Tbilisi. On 10 May, Caucasus Press reported that the number of ministries in Adjara will be cut to four. LF

The political movement Our Adjara announced on 12 May that it is temporarily suspending its activities as it has accomplished its primary objective of ousting Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze, Georgian media reported. The movement still intends, however, to field candidates in the 20 June elections for a new unicameral 40-member Adjar parliament. LF

Salome Zourabichvili met in Strasbourg on 12 May with Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer but did not discuss some Georgian politicians' demands that the council's permanent representative in Tbilisi, Platon Nikolov, be recalled, Georgian media reported. President Saakashvili criticized both Nikolov and Schwimmer personally last week in connection with the crisis in relations with Adjaran leader Abashidze. Saakashvili said that "overpaid bureaucrats" have no right to criticize the Georgian leadership, which, Saakashvili claimed, pays their salaries. But the Georgian Foreign Ministry divulged on 12 May that Tbilisi owes a total of 1.2 million euros ($1.42 million) in membership fees to the Council of Europe. LF

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), on 12 May to discuss the organization's 18-19 June summit in Astana, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 12 May. Bordyuzha announced that Kazakhstan will chair the session, which will focus on "adapting the CSTO's activities to modern challenges and threats" such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, political extremism, and separatism. Bordyuzha also noted that more needs to be done to improve the organization's rapid-deployment forces. Kazinform quoted him as saying, "We are discussing the need to introduce unified standards and to increase military and technical cooperation within the organization." CSTO member states are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. DK

Representatives of the UN Development Program presented a report on 12 May detailing advances in the fight against poverty in Kazakhstan, Khabar TV reported the same day. The report is called "Poverty in Kazakhstan: Causes and Ways to Overcome It." It notes that the country's growing economy, which created 300,000 new jobs in 2003, is helping to reduce poverty. Even so, 28 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line, and 45 percent are at risk of slipping into poverty, with monthly earnings of just over $70. Vyacheslav Bobkov, who headed the group that authored the study, noted that the country's booming energy sector could potentially have a greater effect on living standards than is currently the case, KazInform reported. According to the study's authors, economic diversification is necessary to increase employment further. DK

President Askar Akaev addressed an international conference on regional economic cooperation and Afghanistan that closed in Bishkek on 12 May, Kyrgyz Television reported the same day. Akaev reaffirmed Kyrgyzstan's interest in seeing Afghan reconstruction succeed and offered to send Kyrgyz specialists to Afghanistan to help. Earlier in the day, Akaev met with Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari to discuss the implementation of Kyrgyz-Iranian trade accords reached in December when a Kyrgyz delegation visited Tehran. Congress participants ended their work by adopting a joint declaration, Kabar news agency reported. They welcomed the international community's recent decision to allocate $8.2 billion for Afghan reconstruction, adding, "We urge the donor countries, international financial institutions, and humanitarian funds to increase their participation in Afghanistan's all-around restoration." DK

Turkmenistan's much-ballyhooed fourth television channel, which will allegedly broadcast in six languages for an international audience, has begun to recruit staff, Turkmen TV reported on 12 May. According to the announcement, state television and radio officials are looking for "people with higher education and good command of foreign languages." Cameramen and television producers are also being sought. DK

Russian acting Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 12 May to discuss military ties between the two countries, Uzbek TV reported the same day. Ivanov praised Uzbekistan for its efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region; Karimov drew a parallel between recent terror attacks in Uzbekistan and the 9 May assassination of Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov. Ivanov noted that increased cooperation is needed to combat the "terrorist plague," Russia's ORT reported. Sergei Smirnov, deputy head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), said the FSB is investigating the possibility that members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, extremist movements that are banned in Uzbekistan, might be hiding in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov also announced that Russia and Uzbekistan will hold joint military exercises in 2005, Interfax-AVN reported. DK

The European Commission on 12 May made public a strategy document on developing closer ties between the EU and its "new neighbors" to the east and south, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. "We want to create a 'ring of friends,'" EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in presenting the document. "We want to create a neighborhood in which we can develop the same level of political and economic stability that we have already achieved in the enlarged European Union." The document envisages "action plans" for the quick development of ties with seven governments -- Ukraine, Moldova, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia -- but leaves out Belarus. "In the present situation there is no way to discuss with Belarus an action plan," Verheugen said. "What we have to do is to support initiatives which would finally lead to political reform and political change in Belarus." Verheugen rejected suggestions that the Polish government does not support the commission's tough stance vis-a-vis Belarus. He said the commission is in constant contact with Warsaw and that "there is no contradiction." JM

Some 200 students of the nonstate Commercial Institute of Management and the College of Economy and Management staged a rally in front of the Education Ministry in Minsk on 12 May to protest against the ministry's recent decision to withdraw licenses from these two schools as well as three other private educational institutions, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Neither students nor lecturers have been informed by the ministry about the reasons for the termination of the licenses. An Education Ministry official told the demonstrators that students of the closed schools will be transferred to other educational institutions so they can take their examinations. The closed schools were founded by Eduard Akhrem, who unsuccessfully tried to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2001 election. "I am 100 percent sure that [the withdrawal of the licenses] was made with the knowledge of Lukashenka," Akhrem told RFE/RL. "He has already settled accounts with all of his opponents but me." JM

Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn on 13 May closed the morning session of the Verkhovna Rada, accusing Communist Party deputies of obstructing the debate, the "Ukrayinska pravda" ( website reported. As was the case the previous day, the Communist Party caucus demanded a vote on their motion to put the issue of the withdrawal of Ukraine's military contingent from Iraq on the agenda. "Are we going to start each morning session with this issue?" Lytvyn asked. The legislature rejected the motion, which received 59 votes of support from the Communist Party, 40 from Our Ukraine, 20 from the Socialist Party, 17 from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and one from the pro-government Regions of Ukraine caucus. After some Communist and Socialist deputies demanded a repeat vote and blocked the rostrum, Lytvyn terminated the debate. JM

Anatoliy Matviyenko, a member of the ad hoc parliamentary commission that investigated the controversial mayoral election in Mukacheve in April (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 April 2004), told the Verkhovna Rada on 12 May that presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk organized and coordinated the falsification of that ballot. The Ukrainian parliament was hearing reports on the results of official investigations of the Mukacheve election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). "The election in Mukacheve became a rehearsal of the [upcoming] presidential election for the regime," Matviyenko said. "Medvedchuk wanted to show to both the president and the prime minister that only he is able to secure their victory in the presidential election." The same day, Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution calling on President Leonid Kuchma to fire some local officials over the Mukacheve controversy but failed to introduce an amendment urging Kuchma to sack Medvedchuk as well. JM

International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) Judge Theodor Meron said on 12 May that he has asked the UN Security Council not to shut down the court before major indictees are tried, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Meron said it would be unacceptable for indictees such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, or former Croatian General Ante Gotovina to think they only have to hide and wait until the tribunal's mandate ends in 2010. UB

Bosnian Defense Minister Nikola Radovanovic met with EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana on 12 May to discuss the planned handover of the NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping mission to an EU-led military mission, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Solana said the European mission will be crucial to peace and stability in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 5 March 2004). That same day, Radovanovic also met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to discuss Bosnia's chances of being invited to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program at the alliance's June summit in Istanbul. The head of the European Commission's delegation in Bosnia, Michael Humphreys, warned on 12 May that difficulties could arise in negotiations over the EU's Stabilization and Association Agreement with Bosnia if that country is not invited to join the Partnership for Peace, according to RFE/RL. UB

The speaker of Vojvodina's parliament, Nenad Canak, has accused political elites in Belgrade of harassing pro-European and democratic parties in that province, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 12 May. Canak said the alleged oppression is the result of a slide toward increasing nationalism in Belgrade. In early March, members of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's coalition slammed an initiative for greater autonomy for Vojvodina as a "direct attack on the integrity of the Serbian state and the interests of the [ethnic Serbian] majority population." The so-called Subotica Initiative was led by Canak, who heads the League of Social Democrats in Vojvodina, and Jozef Kazsa of the League of Vojvodina Hungarians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March and 30 April 2004). UB

Rexhep Haxhimusa, the head of the Kosovar Supreme Court, said after a meeting with Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi that the judiciary in that province lacks qualified judges, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 12 May. Haxhimusa argued that the main reason for the lack of quality personnel in the judiciary is low wages, as better-qualified lawyers seek higher-paying jobs in the private sector rather than in the judiciary. UB

Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) was sworn in as Macedonia's new president on 12 May, taking over following the tragic death in a plane crash in February of Boris Trajkovski, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. In his inaugural address, Crvenkovski said he is aware of the responsibility of his new position. "I do not say that in my new position I will not make mistakes," he said. "But I assure you that I will work sincerely, honestly, and with dedication." Crvenkovski, who was the country's prime minister and SDSM chairman, said he suspended his party membership the previous day, as required by the constitution. "From today, for me, all political parties in Macedonia are equal," Crvenkovski said. The opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) boycotted the ceremony. The VMRO-DPMNE claims the presidential vote was manipulated and demanded a recount (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 12 May 2004). Meanwhile, the SDSM on 12 May backed Interior Minister Hari Kostov to succeed Crvenkovski as prime minister, according to "Utrinski vesnik." UB

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said during his meeting in Brussels with Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 12 May that he is "impressed" with Romanian authorities' recent efforts to speed up accession negotiations, adding that he is "convinced all negotiation chapters will be closed this year," Mediafax reported. Verheugen said 2007 is a realistic target date for Romania's accession to the EU, and that it can be achieved through joint efforts by Romanian and European authorities. Nastase said the success of Romania's EU-accession efforts depends on the Romanian government, and if it fails, it will have only itself to blame. ZsM

Moldova is to receive 5 million euros ($5.9 million) from the EU's program for Technical Assistance to CIS Countries (Tacis) to implement a cross-border cooperation program with Romania, Flux reported on 11 May, quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Eugenia Chistruga. The funds are to be used to develop regions along Moldova's border with Romania, to develop Moldova's education and health system, and for joint Romanian-Moldovan environmental and cultural programs. Chistruga said the funds will be granted for the period 2004-06, and the amount could subsequently rise significantly. ZsM

The everlasting conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh reached a symbolic milestone this week with the 10th anniversary of a Russian-brokered cease-fire agreement that ended nearly three years of fierce fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. A bitter war that killed (according to different estimates) between 20,000 and 35,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others.

Ten years might seem a long enough period to heal the wounds and lay the groundwork for a political agreement that would resolve the most intractable ethnic acrimony in the former Soviet Union once and for all. Indeed, time has soothed nationalist tempers on both sides of the Armenian-Azerbaijani front line. However, the scars left by the conflict are now as deep as they were a decade ago, making a mutually acceptable compromise deal all but impossible. The parties remain far apart on key contentious issues, with Azerbaijan insisting on Nagorno-Karabakh's return under its rule and the Armenians refusing to consider that.

The fact that the truce has largely held (despite periodical deadly skirmishes along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the frontline north and east of Karabakh) without any international peacekeeping is quite remarkable in itself. Few people expected it to last for so long when the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the commander of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's (NKR) army signed the cease-fire agreement in Moscow on 12 May 1994. The agreement took effect on 17 May.

With tens of thousands of heavily armed troops still facing off through the fortified line of contact, the war can theoretically resume at any moment. But that seems unlikely as neither party would benefit from renewed fighting at this juncture. The truce left the Armenians in control of Karabakh and seven districts in Azerbaijan proper that surround the Armenian-populated disputed region. They hardly need any further territorial gains. Azerbaijan, for its part, is still widely seen as lacking the military might to win back the lost territories by force despite regular bellicose statements by its leaders. Most analysts believe that Baku will be unable to embark on a massive military buildup before converting much of its oil reserves into cash. That should take at least several more years.

The nearest the parties came to cutting a deal was in March-April 2001 when Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his then-Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev held a series of peace talks in Paris and on the Florida island of Key West. The talks were sponsored by France, Russia, and the United States, which jointly co-chair the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the international mediating body. According to Armenian and Western sources, the two leaders finalized a framework agreement that would recognize Karabakh as part of Armenia in exchange for an Armenian withdrawal from all but one of the occupied Azerbaijani districts and the opening of a transport corridor between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave.

However, the peace accord was never signed. The Armenians subsequently accused Aliyev of backtracking on his promises, a charge denied by the late Azerbaijani president and his son and successor Ilham. Baku insists that no far-reaching understandings were reached at Key West.

But as the former chief U.S. negotiator on Karabakh, Rudolf Perina, admitted in 2002, the two sides were "incredibly close" to a deal. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said during a recent visit to Yerevan that "President Heidar Aliyev was actually moving forward quite well but I think had great difficulty selling this proposal back home."

Conventional wisdom suggests that Ilham Aliyev, who lacks his father's charisma and iron grasp on power, is even more unlikely to embrace the Key West formula. Kocharian is said to have told a group of prominent members of the Armenian diaspora last week not to expect a breakthrough in the peace process this year.

Azerbaijan stands for the so-called step-by-step settlement that envisages an Armenian withdrawal from the occupied Azerbaijani lands in return for the restoration of economic links between the two states. It would also indefinitely delay agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The idea has been repeatedly rejected as too risky by Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Nonetheless, Azerbaijani officials say they are currently discussing it with their Armenian counterparts. The latter have not explicitly denied the claims.

In a 19 April speech in Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Elizabeth Jones complained that the two sides "have made no effort to prepare their populations for the politically difficult compromises necessary to effect a genuine peace agreement." Yet, what most ordinary Armenians and Azerbaijanis think about each other now has never been properly gauged. Neither country has a democratically elected government or credible opinion polls.

Besides, free expression of Nagorno-Karabakh-related opinions in both Armenia and Azerbaijan is seriously hampered by rigid boundaries of political correctness set by the respective political and intellectual elites. Anyone advocating serious concessions to the opposite side thus risks being branded a traitor. Western-sponsored contacts in recent years between Armenian and Azerbaijani politicians, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations have been largely unproductive because they have targeted the most active segments of the populations that seem least prepared for dialogue.

Paradoxically, the international mediators have themselves helped to quash public debate on the problem with their deeply secretive work style. The Karabakh peace process is arguably the least transparent in the world, with Minsk Group proposals publicized years after being submitted to the feuding governments and rejected by one of them. This might in turn explain the West's leniency toward gross human rights violations and chronic vote rigging in Armenia and Azerbaijan that apparently derives from an assumption that an internationally ostracized regime in either country will be unwilling or unable to compromise on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Yet, the example of Armenia's former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, who was forced to resign in February 1998 for advocating a Minsk Group plan 16 months after his reputedly fraudulent re-election, shows that international legitimacy is no substitute for a popular mandate to make fateful decisions. For all their disregard of public opinion, the authorities in Baku and Yerevan view a compromise solution as a potentially destabilizing factor that could be easily exploited by their domestic opponents. Putting their power at risk for the sake of a Karabakh settlement is therefore hardly something for which they are prepared. This reality leaves scant hope for the removal of the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the South Caucasus in the near future.Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 13 May press release said that mistreatment of prisoners by U.S. military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan is a systemic problem and not limited to a few isolated cases. HRW Afghanistan researcher John Sifton said that Afghans have been telling his organization "for well over a year about mistreatment in U.S. custody." HRW said the United States has still not provided adequate explanations for three detainee deaths that took place in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003. Two of the deaths were determined to be homicides by U.S. military pathologists. "We've basically been stonewalled," Sifton said. "It's been well over a year since the two detainees were killed in Afghanistan [in December 2002], and U.S. officials are still supposedly investigating," he said. "It's time for them to tell the public what happened." According to HRW, U.S. military officials "have repeatedly refused to explain...the circumstances of the third detainee death." The U.S. military has promised to launch an investigation into recent allegations of abuse made by a former Afghan police officer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). AT

The HRW press release also said that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) -- an autonomous institution within the Afghan Transitional Administration -- has received numerous complaints about abuses by U.S. troops in 2003-04. The complaints have been made to the AIHRC's offices in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. military operations regularly take place. According to HRW, the AIHRC has repeatedly raised concerns about possible cases of abuse with U.S. officials, as did local government representatives and officials with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. On May 10, the AIHRC formally requested access to U.S. detention sites in Afghanistan. HRW has also made several formal requests to visit U.S. detention sites in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, none of which has received a response, according to HRW. AT

U.S. forces killed five suspected neo-Taliban members in an ambush on 12 May in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, AP reported on 13 May. According to Khaled Pashtun, a spokesman for the Kandahar provincial government, the militants attacked a U.S. convoy and in the ensuing battle five insurgents were killed and five were taken into custody by U.S. forces. Pashtun said no U.S. casualties were reported. AT

A conference on regional cooperation on Afghanistan ended in Bishkek on 12 May, RFE/RL reported. The conference was attended by representatives of Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as representatives of several international organizations. "Central Asian countries have huge resources, hydroelectricity, coal and ferrous metals, as well as transportation and communication networks," Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev said. "We have great opportunities to participate in joint projects in Afghanistan in many ways." The meeting focused on rebuilding efforts, regional stability, and finding ways of creating economic ties that could help Afghanistan move away from its dependency on the opium trade. AT

Iranian parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi during talks in Amman, Jordan, on 12 May deplored the "widespread killing of the innocent [Iraqis] by the occupiers," and said U.S. forces are resorting to force after failing to create the "stable, free, and democratic Iraq" they promised, IRNA reported. He told a gathering of parliamentarians from six states bordering Iraq that the "use of force, violence, and intimidation will...yield nothing [and] complicate Iraq's conditions." The failure of coalition forces "to deal seriously with terrorist groups has turned Iraq into a haven for terrorist activities targeting the security of [Iraq's] neighbors," he said, without specifying a terrorist group. Meanwhile, Iranian state radio on 12 May accused Western media and U.S. authorities of diverting international attention from cases of abuse of Iraqi prisoners in coalition custody by launching a "propaganda" campaign following the decapitation of a U.S. citizen in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). The killing attributed to Al-Qaeda is part of a pattern of terrorist acts following public outrage at U.S. policies. These acts have provoked a wave of propaganda and, as a result, "world opinion is misguided," according to the radio station. VS

Parliamentary speaker Karrubi on 12 May accused Israel, whose statehood Iran does not recognize, of taking advantage of regional developments to "extend and exacerbate" its "crimes" against Palestinians, IRNA reported. Karrubi said at the conference in Amman that the United States is "using the region to suppress any opposition to [Israel's] expansionist policies." Karrubi's comments were echoed in Algiers by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who said on 12 May that Israel intends to forge ties with Islamic countries "without paying attention to Palestinian rights," ISNA reported. He said in his meeting with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that "America has increased problems with its total support for Israel." The Americans, he said, "are not merely satisfied with Palestine and have revealed their face with their ugly actions in Iraq, which is why [the world] views America and its polices with...suspicion." "American strategy in the region is perfectly clear, and that is Israeli control and supremacy over the region," he said. VS

A delegation from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization met with Russian Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev in Moscow on 12 May to discuss nuclear cooperation and ongoing work on the nuclear plant Russia is helping to construct in Bushehr on Iran's southern coast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004), international news agencies reported. The two sides agreed to speed up construction, IRNA reported. The Iranian news agency quoted Rumyantsev as saying that Russia will not bow to U.S. pressure to cease nuclear cooperation with Iran. The United States has voiced concerns that Iran could use the technology to develop nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said in Moscow on 12 May that Russia is doing all it can to ensure that Iran does not use Russian nuclear technology for military purposes, and will recoup spent fuel from the Bushehr plant to prevent its potential use for the development of nuclear weapons, Reuters reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Algiers on 12 May that Iran "will not forego its legitimate rights" to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, IRNA reported. VS

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi admitted in Tehran on 12 May that Iranian police and security forces have abused detainees in the absence of proper supervision, ISNA reported. "Offences have been committed in police stations and criminal departments, and [during] the transfer of individuals to prisons, and people's rights [have been] violated," ISNA quoted him as telling a gathering of judges. "A person told me the police beat his [or her] son," he said. "Who is responsible for supervising" the police? Shahrudi said weekly meetings he holds with public officials resulted in his issuing a directive, which is now law, to safeguard prisoners' rights (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004). "Where does it say in the law that the police can do anything they want?" he asked. "What happened to the implementation of just laws? All these cases need supervision and legal prosecution," ISNA reported. People should not face police interrogation for every charge, he said. "That is not what the country's security is about." VS

Iraqi militants loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr battled U.S. troops in Al-Najaf in the early morning hours of 13 May, international media reported. Al-Sadr militiamen were seen on the streets of the city after midnight, reported. Reuters reported that militiamen stormed the Al-Najaf police station overnight and held the police chief hostage as they emptied his weapons store, taking dozens of AK-47 rifles and pistols. They also stole three police cars before U.S. forces arrived on the scene. Residents in Al-Najaf told Al-Jazeera that U.S. troops moved further into the holy city. U.S. forces had been hesitant to enter the city because of religious sensitivities. Al-Najaf is one of the most revered cities to Shi'a Muslims. Meanwhile, reported that intermittent gunfire could also be heard in the nearby holy city of Karbala, which was the scene of intense fighting between al-Sadr militiamen and coalition forces on 12 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). Reuters reported on 13 May that al-Sadr militiamen attacked a U.S. tank with rocket-propelled grenades, causing serious damage to the tank. There was no word on casualties. KR

Residents of the holy cities are growing weary (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 May 2004) of the presence of the militias there, according to Arab media reports this week. An official from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Sadr al-Din al-Qabbanji, said on 11 May that al-Sadr's actions amount to treachery under the pretext of resisting occupation, and he called on Iraqis to demonstrate against the cleric in Al-Najaf on 14 May, Al-Jazeera reported. It is unclear whether al-Sadr will accept a peaceful resolution to the standoff with U.S. troops. Al-Sadr made a number of conflicting statements regarding the negotiations on 12 May, first saying he is open to a peaceful resolution, then claiming he wants to die as a martyr. His latest statement demanded that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issue a fatwa ordering his militia to disband. "If the religious authority issues a fatwa on dissolving the army, then I will be in the service of this authority; and if it does not issue such a fatwa, then Al-Mahdi Army will stay and will defend its country and holy places," the statement read. KR

U.S. administration and coalition officials told Reuters on 12 May that the Iraqi interim government due to take power from the U.S.-led coalition on 30 June will comprise 30 core members. A three-member presidential council, a prime minister, and a 26-member cabinet will lead the government. Some current Iraqi ministers (see are expected to be reappointed in the interim government, but more than half could lose their jobs, coalition officials said. One administration official said that UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi continues to meet with Iraqis to discuss the structure of the future interim government. "Brahimi is seeing four or five groups a day, we're meeting other groups, and we anticipate this is going to be finished by the end of the month, although probably not much before that," an official said. KR

South Korea announced on 12 May that it has decided to delay sending more than 3,000 troops to Iraq due to security concerns, reported the same day. The U.S. ally has stalled on its commitment to send troops to Iraq for months. Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told reporters that his country remains committed to sending troops to Iraq, saying South Korea will keep its "promise to the International community [and] Iraqi people." South Korea now says it will send its troops to Iraq in July or August rather than June. The forces, which should make up the third-largest contingent in Iraq, would be stationed in the northern Iraqi cities of Irbil or Al-Sulaymaniyah. Meanwhile, reported on 11 May that the Kurdistan Regional Government has sent a letter welcoming South Korean troops to northern Iraq. KR