RICE SAYS U.S., RUSSIA NOT COMPETING IN FORMER SOVIET UNION...
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Ekho Moskvy on 20 April that the United States does not consider it necessary to "export democracy." Rice said that the United States did not foment revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, or Kyrgyzstan, but merely supported people "in their right to express their opinions." She said she does not believe that the peoples of those countries want to see a reduced role for Russia in the region of the former USSR. Rice added that the United States "respects" the development choice that Russia has made, but added: "We understand that Russia is finding its own way.... All that we are saying is that for U.S.-Russian relationships to really deepen and for Russia to gain its full potential, there needs to be democratic development. There should not be so much concentration of power just in the presidency. There needs to be an independent media.... We think that our relations will improve if Russia is able to exploit fully its potential, if democracy is strengthened." She denied that the United States is seeking to expand its influence in the former Soviet Union, but said that both Russia and the United States must develop economic ties in the region. "It is a game in which there are no losers," Rice said. She said the United States is monitoring the Yukos case in order to evaluate the state of rule of law in Russia. RC
...BUT IS CONCERNED BY 'VERY WORRYING' TRENDS IN RUSSIA
U.S. Secretary of State Rice told journalists aboard her plane as she flew to Moscow on 19 April that "the centralization of state power in the presidency at the expense of countervailing institutions like the Duma or an independent judiciary is clearly very worrying," according to a State Department press release. She added that "the absence of an independent media on the electronic side is clearly very worrying." Rice noted that she understands how difficult it can be to reach a correct balance between political freedom and efficient government in a "huge and complicated" country like Russia. She warned, however, that the Russian Federation should not "mimic the Soviet state." Talking about Russian participation in the group of the world's most-developed countries, the G-8, Rice said she does not see any reason "to see Russia isolated" and that "threatening to exclude the Russians from various organizations" doesn't make sense. Rice's arrival in Moscow on 19 April was marred by a bomb threat at her hotel, Western news agencies reported. The threat proved to be false and no changes have been made to her schedule. She is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin on 20 April. VY
PRO-KREMLIN GROUP PROTESTS 'COLORED REVOLUTIONS'
Several hundred people demonstrated on 19 April near the U.S. Consulate in Yekaterinburg to protest against U.S. policies in former Soviet states, Interfax-Ural reported. The demonstration was organized by the "trade-union of the middle class, PROFI," which was recently created by Duma Deputy Anton Bakov (independent). Participants in the rally told Interfax-Ural that the United States is the main source of instability in the CIS and said it incites and supports "colored revolutions." The U.S. consulate responded that "every man has the right to his own opinion," Interfax-Ural reported. Meanwhile, Bakov said in an interview to Uralpolit.ru on 18 April that PROFI was created as an counterweight to Yabloko, which, he said, "has betrayed the middle class and is busy with ecological blackmail." VY
UNIFIED RUSSIA DEPUTIES CALL FOR DEVELOPMENT OF RIGHTIST PLATFORM...
A group of four Unified Russia Duma deputies who describe themselves as "liberals" held a press conference on 19 April at which they criticized the party for its lack of ideas and said it could split into two factions, Russian media reported. Deputy Andrei Makarov, who appeared at the press conference, told RTR on 19 April that the party has not generated strategies for judicial reform or improving the investment climate. He also said it is not doing enough to defend freedom of the press. Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak, Tver Oblast Governor and Dmitrii Zelenin also participated in the press conference. "Unified Russia should define its position on the strategic issues for Russia," Zelenin said. "The party must develop a coherent ideology and program and clearly explain its values to society. The party's debates must be public." RC
...AS OBSERVERS ARE SKEPTICAL OF THEIR INTENTIONS
Political analyst Stanislav Belkovskii told Ekho Moskvy on 19 April that the purported split within Unified Russia is a Kremlin-inspired ruse. "The Kremlin fears a revolution and is creating a number of mock regiments like the Nashi youth movement, mock trade unions, and mock opposition parties," Belkovskii said. He added that even if Unified Russia splits, both factions will remain "absolutely dependent" on the Kremlin. Our Choice leader Irina Khakamada told Ekho Moskvy on 19 April that the announcement might be an attempt to create a controlled rightist party, or it might signal a real ideological split within President Putin's team. RC
DUMA AUTHORIZES AMNESTY FOR WWII VETERANS...
The State Duma on 20 April unanimously adopted an amnesty for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, Interfax and other Russian media reported. The amnesty will be extended to about 200 convicts who are veterans of the war or who were incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps or ghettos. Duma Deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov (Unified Russia), one of the authors of the amnesty bill, emphasized that the bill will only affect people "with a direct connection to World War II." The amnesty also extends to war correspondents, veterans of various anti-Nazi partisan movements, and survivors of the blockade of Leningrad. Unlike most other legislation, the amnesty comes into force without having to be approved by the Federation Council or signed by the president. RC
...AND CONDEMNS THOSE WHO WOULD DOWNPLAY THE SOVIET CONTRIBUTION TO VICTORY...
The Duma on 20 April also adopted a resolution congratulating veterans on the anniversary and condemning "certain countries" for allegedly downplaying the wartime contributions of the Soviet Union, RIA-Novosti reported. "On land that is washed with the blood of Soviet warriors, with the consent of the authorities of these countries, are marching so-called veterans of SS units; in their honor monuments are being erected; around them the image of freedom fighters is being created," the resolution states. It concludes that rewriting the history of the war is "amoral, cynical, and unacceptable for civilized countries." ITAR-TASS reported on 19 April that Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the resolution is directed primarily toward the Baltic states. RC
...AS DEPUTY CRITICIZES BALTIC STATES, U.S. CONGRESSMEN OVER WWII AFTERMATH
Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that as the anniversary of the ending of World War II approaches "the flow of Russophobic statements about the results of World War II is rising, especially those from the Baltic States," RIA-Novosti reported on 18 April. He noted that "Russia has expressed its opinion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which paved the way for the occupation of the Baltic states, 16 years ago." Margelov added that the postwar settlement for Europe "was defined by Yalta agreements, which were mainly based on American, not Soviet documents." Margelov also said that Russia has "no need to try to justify anything for provincial historians from Riga." He said, however, that he is troubled by some U.S. congressmen who drafted a resolution calling on Russia to recognize the "illegal occupation" of the Baltic States. He said it is strange that U.S. politicians would do such a thing, because "the United States was our ally in the anti-Hitler coalition and Americans, in contrast to people in the Baltics, did not fight in the ranks of the [Nazi] SS troops." VY
COURT TO RULE ON STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR TAX CRIMES
The Federal Tax Service has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the current three-year statute of limitations on tax-related crimes, "Vedomosti" reported on 20 April. The court is expected to rule on the case on 26 May. Despite the three-year statute of limitations, tax authorities have filed cases against Yukos and other companies dating back to 2000, after courts ruled that the statute of limitations does not apply to those intentionally trying to evade taxes. However, in March a court ruled in the Yukos case that the company would not be liable for fines for periods predating the statute of limitations, but would only have to pay tax arrears for that period. Analysts cited by the daily expect that the court will overturn the statute of limitations because the definition of those intentionally trying to evade taxes is too vague to be legally useful. RC
GRU HELPS CREATE NEW PRO-PUTIN YOUTH MOVEMENT
A group of young activists in St. Petersburg announced the creation of a youth organization operating under the Eurasian Movement, which is led by Aleksandr Dugin, RosBalt reported on 18 April. The new organization will be called the Eurasian Youth Union, or "oprichniki," in honor of the military detachments under the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. The oprichniki were notorious for cruelly suppressing any opposition to the tsar. One of the founders of the new union, Valerii Korovin, said he and his friends were aided by Russian military intelligence (GRU) in creating the organization. He said GRU officers told him about the concept of a "network war," which was allegedly unleashed by the West against Russia. Such a war involves the creation of a network or informal organization that does not have a center but rather a horizontal structure of united youth groups and individuals. Korovin said Russia should have its own organization to confront the "network invasion," RosBalt reported. VY
SIBERIAN GOVERNOR CONFIRMED FOR THIRD TERM
The Kemerovo Oblast legislature on 20 April unanimously confirmed the nomination of Governor Aman Tuleev for another term and he was sworn in shortly after the vote, Interfax reported. Tuleev, who was elected governor in 1997 and 2001 with more than 90 percent of the vote, is beginning his third term. He told journalists that his goal over the next five years is to improve living standards. "The quality of life is determined by a decent salary, adequate housing, and a good environment," Tuleev said on 20 April, according to ITAR-TASS. RC
MOSCOW UNHAPPY WITH TOKYO POSITION ON KURILES
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said on 19 April that Russia has not seen any steps from Japan toward resolving the dispute over the Kurile Islands and the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. Losyukov said: "We hear only talk, but see no proposals on paper. At the moment our positions are quite different, as Russia has proposed the 1956 variant, i.e., to transfer two of the islands, Shikotan and Habomai, to Japan after signing a peace treaty." He said this is a compromise from Russia as previously Moscow did not even recognize a territorial dispute over the Kuriles. But he said there has been no progress from Tokyo, as they demand "all four islands or nothing." "In this situation it is hopeless to believe in a breakthrough on the territorial problem," Losyukov concluded. VY
PUTIN WANTS TO CREATE NATIONAL HOUSING COUNCIL
Speaking at a meeting of the State Council on 19 April, President Putin said a project to help create affordable housing is a national priority and will help establish a middle class, Russian news agencies reported. He said such a project should be financed from the surplus in the Russian budget. Putin noted that special attention should be paid to the development of mortgage loans. In the last year Russia has given only 40,000 such loans, which is 10 times less than the potential market demand, rbk.ru reported. Putin stressed that the government needs the active participation of the business community and the Russian people in order to expand affordable housing opportunities for people. VY
INSTITUTES AND UNIVERSITIES CONCERNED ABOUT INCREASING PLAGIARISM
The administration of the Higher School of Economics has adopted a new code of conduct under which students can be expelled for plagiarizing material, especially texts taken from the Internet, or for having other people take their exams for them, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 April. The daily reported that many school administrators consider the copying of information from the Internet to be the most serious problem facing Russian higher education today. A Moscow State University official told the daily about one student who paid $100 for an essay. When the professor failed her, she asked for a written statement, saying that the person who sold her the essay promised to give her money back if she was caught. Higher School of Economics rector Yaroslav Kuzminov told the daily that his school is merely adopting international standards. "Our professors return from teaching in the West and they no longer share the typical 'Russian understanding' regarding copying," he said. "Most Western codes of conduct include a section on plagiarism." RC
ADYGEYA GOVERNMENT DEMANDS DISMISSAL OF FEDERAL INSPECTOR
Meeting in Maikop on 18 April, the government of the Republic of Adygeya drafted a letter to Dmitrii Kozak, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal district, demanding that he fire the chief federal inspector for Krasnodar Krai and Adygeya, Anatolii Odeychuk, for disparaging comments he made in an interview published on 15 April in "Izvestiya-yug" about the republic and its president, Khazret Sovmen, www.kavkazweb.net reported on 19 April. The ministers accused Odeychuk of "crude falsification of the facts, lies, and slander," and demanded his dismissal on the grounds that they consider it impossible to continue working with him. Two organizations representing Adygeya's minority Cherkess population, Adyghe Khase and the Cherkess Congress, have also written to Kozak to protest Odeychuk's remarks. LF
ARMENIAN EXPORTERS ALARMED BY RISE IN VALUE OF DRAM
Several Armenian businessmen expressed their concern on 19 April at the ongoing rise in the value of the Armenian dram vis-a-vis both the U.S. dollar and the euro, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Sergo Karapetian, CEO of a company based in the southern town of Artashat that exports food products, said that if the trend continues, "I think that we will suffer big losses." The dram has gained 10 percent in value against the dollar since January, strengthening from 450 to $1 to 430/$1 in the last week. Armenian officials attribute the ongoing strengthening of the dram to the weakness of the U.S. dollar and say they will not intervene to prevent a further rise in the exchange rate. President Robert Kocharian told university students last week that "all complaints should be addressed to the U.S. government." LF
DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES ARMENIA UNDER PRESSURE TO MAKE KARABAKH CONCESSIONS
Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on 19 April said he is not aware of any pressure on Armenia from the international community to soften its negotiating position on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said if such pressure is exerted it will be equally applied to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Sarkisian repeated his argument last month that both sides must be prepared to make "painful" concessions and said there are no grounds to anticipate an imminent breakthrough in the peace process. He declined to confirm widespread speculation that he intends to run for president when incumbent President Kocharian's second term expires in 2008, saying it is too early to make any such decision. LF
AZERBAIJANI JUSTICE MINISTRY OFFICIAL: MURDER ALLEGATIONS A FABRICATION
Unnamed Justice Ministry officials told Turan and day.az on 19 April that there is little truth to allegations contained in a letter attributed to an anonymous prison official sent earlier this week to selected Azerbaijani human rights activists and journalists. The anonymous author said convicted murderer Dayanat Kerimov killed opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov last month; he claimed that senior Azerbaijani officials tasked Kerimov with several political assassinations and that Kerimov was repeatedly transferred from the Gobustan high-security prison to the Bailov pretrial isolation facility in Baku to perpetrate those killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2005). The Justice Ministry officials confirmed that Kerimov has been brought from Gobustan to Bailov more than once to give evidence in other trials but added that those transfers did not coincide with the high-profile killings of Rovshan Aliev or Fatulla Guseinov. But while Turan's sources said Kerimov was in Bailov in February-March 2005, day.az quoted Justice Ministry official Nazim Alekperov as saying that Kerimov was in Gobustan on 2 March, the night when Elmar Huseinov was shot dead. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE RAPPORTEURS URGE AMENDMENTS TO AZERBAIJAN'S ELECTION LAW
Andreas Gross and Andres Herkel met in Baku on 19 April with members of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, zerkalo.az and echo-az.com reported on 20 April. The two European parliamentarians urged Baku to amend existing election legislation as soon as possible in order to ensure that the authorities do not control election commissions. Azerbaijani parliament deputy Ali Guseinov countered that when the draft election law was first discussed it was planned to appoint only "professionals" to local election commissions but, due to unspecified financial shortfalls, those commissions consist largely of people who are not familiar with the requirements of the election law. Gross and Herkel also expressed concern at the delay in launching the planned new public broadcaster. They met later on 19 April with human rights activists who provided them with an updated list of 133 political prisoners. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ANTICIPATES DECISION ON CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN BASES THIS YEAR
Mikheil Saakashvili told law students at Tbilisi State University on 19 April that " this year, for the first time in 200 years, we can resolve the issue of pulling the Russian troops out of Georgia and Georgia's de-occupation once and for all," Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. Speaking in Moscow the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that although the bilateral talks in Tbilisi last week failed to yield an agreement on the time frame for the closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia, he hopes it might prove possible to do so during further talks in Moscow later this month, ITAR-TASS reported. On 18 April, Interfax quoted an unnamed senior Russian military official as saying that Russia requires at least three years to withdraw its troops from Georgia. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT EVACUATED FOLLOWING BOMB THREAT
The Georgian parliament building was evacuated on 19 April following an anonymous bomb threat made from a public telephone, but a four-hour search failed to reveal any explosive device, Caucasus Press reported. Speaker Nino Burdjanadze slammed the bomb threat as intended to tarnish Georgia's reputation on the eve of U.S. President George W. Bush's planned visit in early May. LF
GEORGIA, SOUTH OSSETIA AGREE TO SPEED UP DEMILITARIZATION
During talks on 19 April in Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava and South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev drafted a list of measures intended to expedite implementation of the demilitarization agreement signed in Sochi in November, Caucasus Press reported. Implementation has been delayed by winter weather conditions. But South Ossetia's Press and Information Department issued a statement the same day expressing concern that Georgia has begun fortifying its checkpoints along the internal border with South Ossetia and rejecting Tbilisi's rationale that those measures are part of the overall security precautions for the upcoming U.S. presidential visit, Caucasus Press reported. Khaindrava said on 19 April that Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli will travel to South Ossetia on 21 April and might meet with the unrecognized republic's president, Eduard Kokoity. LF
EXPERT SAYS 90,000 HIV CASES IN CENTRAL ASIA
Lev Khodakevich, regional director of the Capacity project, announced at the official opening of the project in Almaty on 19 April that specialists believe that Central Asia is home to 90,000 HIV-positive cases, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Khodakevich said that the spread of the disease is worrisome, with officially registered HIV cases in the region rising from 500 in 2000 to 12,000 in 2004. The bulk of the afflicted are intravenous drug users, Khodakevich said. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Capacity is a $13 million, five-year project that aims to coordinate efforts to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in Central Asia. DK
KAZAKH PRESIDENT URGES MUSLIMS TO FIGHT EXTREMISM
Nursultan Nazarbaev met with members of the Religious Administration, including Chief Mufti Absattar kazhi Derbisali, on 19 April, Kazinform reported. In his remarks, the president stressed that Muslim clergy should combat extremism by teaching that the country's stability and prosperity depend on tolerance for others, Khabar reported. For his part, Derbisali announced that 1,700 mosques are now functioning in Kazakhstan, although he noted that translations of the Koran and other religious texts into Kazakh are needed. DK
COMMISSION TO ASSESS OUSTED KYRGYZ PRESIDENT'S PROPERTY...
Kyrgyz acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev has signed a decree creating a commission to investigate assets allegedly belonging to former President Askar Akaev, members of his family, and their associates, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 19 April. Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov will chair the commission, which will include representatives of law enforcement, NGOs, and the media. The commission will examine a number of assets to determine whether or not they belong to the ousted president and his associates, and whether or not they were acquired legally. The decree forbids transactions involving properties on the list while the commission is investigating. Media reports did not specify which properties are believed to belong to the ex-president and his family. The commission will report back to the government on its work in one month. DK
...AS REPORT SAYS CRIMINAL CASE OPENED AGAINST SON-IN-LAW
Citing an anonymous law-enforcement source, Kabar news agency reported on 19 April that Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service has opened a criminal case against Adil Toigonbaev, the husband of Bermet Akaeva, daughter of former President Akaev. The report noted that while unconfirmed reports indicate that Toigonbaev's reputedly far-reaching business interests in Kyrgyzstan are currently under investigation, the precise nature of the criminal case against him is not known. DK
ACTING KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER ADDRESSES STUDENTS
Roza Otunbaeva addressed students and faculty at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University in Bishkek on 19 April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Otunbaeva's wide-ranging remarks covered a variety of issues. Stressing that "we want to break the old system," Otunbaeva said that so-called "moneybags" -- a reference to deputies alleged to have bought their way into parliament -- should have no place in the legislature, akipress.org. She said that the current parliament emerged as a result of "dirty" elections, but stressed that "we have to live with this parliament and consider its decisions legitimate in the current socio-political situation," Interfax reported. Otunbaeva also urged the transformation of state television into a public body like Britain's BBC, emphasized the role of NGOs in keeping the government from making mistakes, expressed support for appointing non-Kyrgyz minorities to government positions, and said that Russian investment in Kyrgyzstan is welcome, akipress.org reported. DK
KYRGYZ CIVIL-SOCIETY GROUPS URGE CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
A number of NGOs issued an appeal on 19 April to hold a constitutional council in early May in the run-up to 10 July presidential elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Supporters of the initiative plan to present their proposal to parliament Speaker Omurbek Tekebaev on 20 April. Constitutional Court Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova had suggested introducing reforms to the constitution before presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2005), but the country's current leadership opposes the idea, preferring to begin the reform process after the election. DK
OSCE HEAD MEETS WITH TAJIK PRESIDENT
OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 19 April, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Rupel told journalists after the meeting that their talks focused on such issues as demining, drug trafficking, human rights, and recent events in Kyrgyzstan. On human rights, Rupel commented, "We are not in the business of teaching Tajikistan or its president discipline in the area of human rights. We are rather interested in working together and exchanging information." On Kyrgyzstan, Rupel said that the OSCE is cooperating with other countries in the region to further stabilization. Rupel also met with representatives of Tajikistan's opposition and NGOs, Avesta reported. "While talking to me, leaders of NGOs stressed the lack of democracy in the country," Rupel said. "The opposition also described the situation as extreme." DK
TAJIK JUSTICE MINISTRY SUSPENDS INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS
Deputy Justice Minister Azizmat Imomov told a news conference in Dushanbe on 19 April that the independent newspapers "Ruzi Nav" and "Nerui Sukhan" have been suspended for violating the country's legislation, Avesta reported. He said that the Prosecutor-General's Office has investigated the newspapers and "may present the justification for the decision based on its determination of the extent of violations." Both newspapers have had numerous run-ins with Tajik authorities. DK
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE CRITICIZES BELARUSIAN ADMINISTRATION
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice renewed her criticism of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's Belarusian government before departing for a visit to Russia, Belapan reported on 20 April. "Nobody benefits from the last dictatorship in Europe, which is the Lukashenka government in Belarus," Rice reportedly said. "Belarus has been held back by the nature of that regime. It is not possible to integrate into anything." Speaking about the Belarusian-Russian relationship, Rice said that "a reformed, democratic, prosperous Belarus will probably benefit Russia more than anyone else because of the potential trade relations and economic relations, not to mention the kinship between the peoples." Rice is expected to meet with Belarusian opposition politicians on 21 April in Vilnius, where she is scheduled to arrive for NATO meetings. RK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF 'DIRECT THREAT' IN SPEECH TO NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
Belarusian politicians predicted that pro-democracy forces could come under increased pressure from the authorities after President Lukashenka vowed to take "harsh and adequate" steps to thwart any attempts to destabilize the country, Belapan reported on 20 April. Addressing the National Assembly on 19 April, Lukashenka said the government is "flatly opposed to a scenario of a democratic change of political elites unwanted by the West." "'Color revolutions' are in fact no revolutions but open brigandage under the disguise of democracy," Lukashenka said. Alyaksey Karol, a leader of the country's social-democratic movement, told Belapan: "In general, there's nothing new in the president's address. He has repeatedly said that he does not want the Ukrainian or Georgian events to recur in Belarus. The president's statement contains a direct threat to the pro-democracy movement. Political parties, independent media outlets, and civil society are likely to come under stronger pressure." Prominent opposition figure Andrey Klimaw said that "it is not up to the president to decide whether or not we will have a revolution," adding, "It [the revolution] has already gotten under way." RK
CRIMEAN PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS TO TAKE ADVISORY POST IN KYIV
The parliament of the Crimean Autonomous Republic accepted the resignation on 20 April of republican Prime Minister Serhiy Kunitsyn, Interfax reported on 20 April. Kunitsyn was appointed as an adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko the same day. Republican lawmakers on 20 April elected Anatoliy Martvienko as the new Crimean prime minister, Interfax reported. Martvienko is a political supporter of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. RK
OIL EXECUTIVES SEEK GOVERNMENT SUPPORT IN UKRAINE
The CEOs of petroleum companies in Ukraine urged the Ukrainian government to participate in a dialogue to overcome what they describe as a fuel crisis on the domestic market, Interfax reported on 19 April. During a news conference in Kyiv, oil executives complained that the government has refused to hold talks with them. The oil executives said a 54 percent rise in the price of crude oil, a 30 percent increase in the excise tax, and increased tariffs for rail transport have contributed to higher fuel prices. The oil lobby has urged the government to control price rises through reduced corporate tax rates. Ukraine imports 80 percent of its oil. RK
CROATIAN POLICE CHIEF SACKED FOR FAILING TO CATCH FUGITIVE INDICTEE
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader fired Dragutin Cestar on 19 April as head of the criminal police because of "oversights" in the hunt for fugitive war crimes indictee and retired General Ante Gotovina, dpa reported. Sanader said that he expects "full discipline in the Interior Ministry. This is only the first dismissal, and there will be more to follow." Failure to arrest Gotovina is holding up Croatia's plans to join the EU by 2007, which is the government's top foreign-policy priority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). The authorities maintain that he is not in Croatia and has probably fled by using a French or other foreign passport dating from his earlier years in the French Foreign Legion. PM
FORMER TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT WEIGHS IN ON KOSOVA...
Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, who was also the architect of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia-Herzegovina, wrote in "The Washington Post" of 20 April that the United States should continue to take the lead in moving Kosova toward independence in the interests of promoting Balkan stability. He called the international community's standards-before-status doctrine "a delaying policy [and]...a phrase that disguised bureaucratic inaction inside diplomatic mumbo-jumbo." He warned that "American pressure [is] always the necessary ingredient in dealing with the sluggish, process-driven European Union." Holbrooke said he finds it "hard to see any ultimate outcome for Kosovo other than independence, perhaps on a staged basis over the next several years. But such an outcome requires strong guarantees for the endangered Serb minority that remains" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). To that end, he wants "some sort of continued international security presence. In addition, the deeply divided Kosovar Albanians, whose last prime minister is now facing war crimes charges in The Hague, must achieve a much higher level of political maturity." PM
...WITH A MESSAGE FOR SERBIA
Former Ambassador Holbrooke wrote in "The Washington Post" of 20 April that Serbia should not to hold on to a province it has already lost, saying that "the Serbs will have to choose between trying to join the European Union and trying to regain Kosovo. If they seek their lost province, they will end up with neither. But, if it can opt for the future over the past, Serbia would have a bright future as an EU member." He also said he believes that time is of the essence, arguing that "given that instability in the Balkans -- and Kosovo is highly unstable now -- has historically spread into other parts of Europe, and that the region lies in the heart of the growing NATO sphere, this is the sort of problem that must be addressed before it grows again into a major crisis." PM
ALBANIAN ENVIRONMENTALISTS PROTEST PIPELINE
About 50 environmentalists set up beach chairs and umbrellas in central Tirana on 19 April to protest plans for a trans-Balkan oil pipeline with a terminal at Vlora on the Albanian Adriatic coast, Reuters reported. They argue that the project planned by the Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian Oil Company (AMBO) will ruin hopes for developing the tourist trade on the Adriatic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2005). The environmentalists said they have no objections to the pipeline provided that it continues to Italy and does not end in Vlora. The terminal is slated to be built on disused and polluted industrial land away from the tourist beaches. Albanian hopes for major earnings from tourism remain unfulfilled, largely due to poor infrastructure. PM
DISARMAMENT IN AFGHANISTAN -- WHICH MILITIAS AND WHAT WEAPONS?
With the Afghan parliamentary elections set for this fall, many observers are focusing on the successes and shortcomings of the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program. Few would dispute that in the absence of a comprehensive disbanding of Afghan militia forces the elections are likely to be disrupted by voter intimidation and even violence.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the UN Development Program are supporting Afghanistan's New Beginnings Program (ANBP), which is aimed at coordinating DDR efforts in the country.
After initial setbacks, the DDR program began its pilot project in the northern Konduz Province in October 2003. By mid-April, nearly 48,000 members of the Afghan Military Forces (AMF) -- the catch-all label for various Afghan militia units -- had been disarmed, according to the ANBP. More than 43,000 have been demobilized, and more than 42,000 have reportedly been reintegrated into society. Most of the former militiamen have been absorbed into the agricultural and small-business sectors, are undergoing vocational training, or are awaiting job placements.
The ANBP officially recognized some 45,000-50,000 AMF members -- that is, individuals earmarked for the DDR process, suggesting that the program should be nearing completion. The ANBP also reports that nearly 9,000 heavy weapons have been collected.
This is all good news for a country that since 1978 has been a storehouse for weaponry brought in by Soviet invaders, provided to Afghans to counter the Soviets, or offered by other countries in the region to client militias during Afghanistan's brutal civil war in the 1990s.
However, there are two issues that could delay, hinder, or even derail Afghanistan's slow progress toward bolstering the rule of law unless they are addressed by the ANBP or another disarmament program.
The first is connected with the myriad unofficial militias or armed bands with shifting loyalties that the ANBP has not slated for disarmament. Conservative estimates put the figure at 850 such groups, with more than 65,000 members.
Militias outside the DDR program are controlled by warlords, drug lords, or even Kabul-appointed governors. While the Afghan government seems prepared to compromise with many warlords -- or await a more opportune time to either crush them or absorb them into the central government -- the parliamentary elections are scheduled for September. Such militias will likely still exist -- unofficial, but armed and potentially dangerous.
The second major issue of concern is connected with the ANBP's focus on collecting heavy weapons. While the current DDR program lists a number of small arms and light weapons in the inventory of armaments it has collected, there arguably has been no genuine effort to deal with small arms.
In post-Taliban Afghanistan, with a multitude of foreign troops armed with the most modern weaponry as well as total command of Afghan airspace, heavy weapons are not the weapon of choice for local or regional militias. Since early 2002, only once have warlords used main battle tanks against each other. Even antigovernment forces such as the neo-Taliban do not rely on heavy weaponry. The power of warlords, regional commanders, and others in control of armed groups outside the government is determined by the number of fighting men and the availability of small arms.
Discussing the issue of arms and the parliamentary elections in a recent editorial, the pro-government Kabul daily "Anis" wrote that Afghans "cannot set up a healthy parliament reflecting people's expectations and aspirations unless armed men are disarmed prior to the polls." Expressing doubts about the Afghan government's claims regarding progress in the DDR program, "Anis" added that many Afghans believe that "disarming men and certain military units, which are also shown on television, are more cosmetic than practical...[and that] local commanders still own huge arsenals of weapons in their regions" for use when needed.
For Afghanistan to truly emerge from under the rule of the gun, a genuine DDR program needs to tackle the issue of small arms. While there is not enough time before the elections to collect the hundreds of thousands of unregistered small arms, a practical step would be to declare them illegal. This would at least serve to de-legitimize those who carry such weapons. Also, by extension, those who command such armed bands may be legally barred from participating in the elections.
Unless a drastic step is taken to make weapons -- especially small arms -- less accessible and illegal before the elections, those controlling the guns are likely to gain seats in the parliament and thus legitimize their tactics -- and perhaps their regional influence.
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP CALLS FOR CONTINUED MONITORING IN AFGHANISTAN
In a statement released on 20 April, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the UN Commission for Human Rights to keep Afghanistan on its agenda and increase the number of human rights monitors in that country. "There is still a human rights crisis in Afghanistan," Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW said, adding that warlords "and armed factions still dominate many parts" of Afghanistan and "routinely abuse human rights, especially the rights of women and girls." The statement added that there "are indications" that the United States opposes continued UN monitoring in Afghanistan by UN human rights experts. Adams added that Washington "should be helping" UN monitors to "do more in Afghanistan, not less." AT
AFGHAN FORCES REPORT KILLING 17 NEO-TALIBAN MEMBERS...
A spokesman for the southern Zabul Province's governor identified as Alikhail claimed that 17 neo-Taliban militiamen have been killed and 16 others arrested in the Daichopan district, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 19 April. According to AIP, Alikhail said a prominent neo-Taliban commander named Mullah Abdul Rahman was killed along with Chechens, Arabs, and Pakistanis. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifollah Hakimi told AIP that just four militia members were killed in Daichopan in addition to four civilians. Hakimi claimed that 500 neo-Taliban militias are continuing a siege of Afghan and U.S. forces, a claim that could not be confirmed independently. AT
...AS MILITIA CLAIMS CAPTURE OF EIGHT AFGHAN POLICEMEN...
Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi told AIP on 19 April that militiamen have captured eight Afghan policemen in an attack on a security checkpoint in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan. "The policemen are still alive, and the [neo-Taliban] leadership will decide about their fate" The neo-Taliban fighters destroyed three vehicles in the attack, and seized a vehicle and weapons, Hakimi claimed. AT
...AND FOUR GOVERNMENT WORKERS
Abdul Qayyum, head of Arghandab District in Zabul, told AIP on 18 April that neo-Taliban fighters have abducted four government employees. The abductees include the district head of property affairs and three other workers who were taken from their homes. There "is no report about their life or death," Abdul Qayyum said. AT
NEO-TALIBAN RADIO RESUMES TRANSMISSIONS
According to neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi, the militia's radio station has resumed broadcasting, AIP reported on 18 April. "After a six-month break, Radio Shari'ah Zhagh [Voice of Shari'a] broadcast for one hour this morning," Hakimi said. The radio plans an hour of broadcasting in the evening and will air "the message of Amir al-Mo'menin Mullah [Mohammad] Omar," the former leader of the Taliban regime, Hakimi claimed. "Foreign radios claim independence and freedom, but they are not actually free," Hakimi said. "Therefore, we established this radio station, through which we could report to people on the realities and facts in all the cities and villages of the country and introduce them to the goals and objectives of the Islamic Movement of Taliban." The radio station is broadcasting from an undisclosed area inside Afghanistan, Hakimi said. Hakimi claimed the broadcasts can be heard in four southern Afghan provinces. Nader Nawadi, security assistant for the World Food Program, confirmed to news agencies that Taliban broadcasts are back on the air. AT
IRAN, EUROPEAN NEGOTIATORS MEET IN GENEVA...
Negotiators from Iran and from Great Britain, France, and Germany met in Geneva on 19 April to discuss technical aspects of Iran's nuclear program, IRNA reported the same day. The meeting of working groups is a part of ongoing efforts to clarify the nature of Iran's nuclear program. Senior diplomats are expected to meet on 29 April to assess the talks so far, AFP reported on 19 April. Cyrus Naseri, an Iranian diplomat, told AFP that Iran is waiting for Europe to respond to an Iranian proposal to engage in the limited enrichment of uranium. Some governments, including the United States, want Iran to cease all activities related to fuel production. Iran has informally proposed being allowed to assemble, install, and test 3,000 centrifuges at a site in Natanz, near Tehran, AFP reported on 19 April, quoting an unnamed diplomat close to the talks. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Gary Samore, 2,000 centrifuges could enrich enough uranium for a nuclear bomb in one year, AFP added. VS
...WHILE OFFICIAL SAYS IRAN IS DETERMINED TO MAKE NUCLEAR FUEL
Hussein Musavian, a member of the Supreme National Security Council, said in Moscow on 19 April that Iran will use its "legitimate and evident" rights within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it says include the production of nuclear fuel, but cooperate to reassure the world that it would not make nuclear bombs, IRNA reported the same day. The problem, Musavian said, "is not [uranium] enrichment, [which is] the...right of every" member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He said the United States and Israel, which suspect Iran's program includes efforts aimed at bomb making, have partially succeeded in provoking international suspicion of Iran's program. "If the concern is over nuclear weapons, Iran is cooperating with the international community," Musavian said. "We...embrace confidence building with the international community." Iran, he added, believes "the time has come to normalize [its] nuclear dossier, and there is no reason for delay." Musavian is in Moscow to prepare for a visit to Iran "soon" by Russian President Vladimir Putin, IRNA reported. He said officials have been discussing building a joint communications satellite and Iran's purchase of an unspecified number of Russian Tu-204 civilian transport planes, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 April. VS
IRAN'S HIV-POSITIVE COUNT SURPASSES 10,000
The Iranian Health Ministry estimates that 10,265 Iranians were infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, at the end of the year to 20 March 2005, news agencies reported on 18 April. A ministry report says about 9,700 of those infected are men, "Sharq" reported on 19 April. Three hundred and sixty of those infected have developed full-blown AIDS, or "entered the terminal phase of the illness," AFP and "Sharq" cited the ministry as stating. Slightly fewer than 6,000 contracted the virus by injecting drugs, it added, and fewer than 700 through sexual intercourse, "Sharq" added. But Amir Reza Moradi, an AIDS activist working with UNICEF in Tehran, told Radio Farda on 19 April that the calculations were inaccurate and mainly based on the prison population that includes a greater proportion of male drug addicts. He said the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the actual number of HIV-positive individuals in Iran at 40,000-50,000. Social restrictions and reticence are preventing many women from going to clinics for blood tests, he added. VS
OFFICIALS DENY IRANIAN INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQI HOSTAGE INCIDENT
Iranian officials have rejected Iraqi charges of Iranian involvement in a hostage-taking incident on 15 April in Madain in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 April 2005), news agencies reported on 18 April. Outgoing Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib and an influential Sunni cleric, Sheikh Rafi al-Ani, have reportedly accused Iranian intelligence agents and "their Shi'a politician agents" of provoking such events, AFP reported on 18 April. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi condemned the "suspect" incident and said the charges are "ridiculous," iranmania.com reported. Asefi said the incident was the work of "those opposed to stability" in Iraq, and intended to maintain "the continuing presence of foreign forces," iribnews.ir reported on 18 April. Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Ali Yunesi said on 18 April that Naqib is "spending his last days in office and thinks as he did in the past. The claims are false." VS
SALAFIST GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEATH OF SENIOR IRAQI DEFENSE OFFICIAL
An Iraqi Salafist militant group has claimed responsibility for the assassination of a senior Defense Ministry official, international news agencies reported on 20 April. Major General Adnan Midhish Kharagoli, an adviser to Iraq's defense minister, was killed when 10 gunmen burst into his Baghdad home on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2005). Some reports say Kharagoli's nephew also died in the attack, while others identified the second victim as his son. "One of our squadrons assassinated the Defense Ministry adviser in the apostate government, Major General Adnan," Reuters quoted a statement from the Abu Bakr al-Seddiq al-Salafiya Brigades as saying. "This was in revenge for the women and children's blood that flowed in Al-Fallujah while the infidels stood by mocking them," the statement, posted on Internet on 20 April, continued. The group had previously claimed responsibility for kidnapping Teresa Borcz, an Iraqi-Polish hostage who was released from captivity in November. BW
IRAQI LAWMAKER ACCUSES U.S. SOLDIER OF ABUSE...
A member of Iraq's transitional parliament has accused a U.S. soldier of physically abusing him at a checkpoint leading into the heavily fortified Green Zone, international news agencies reported on 19 April. Fattah al-Shaykh, a member of a small party sympathetic to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said U.S. troops approached his car as he was driving to a session of parliament. He said a soldier kicked his car, pulled him from the vehicle, grabbed him by the throat, handcuffed him, and pushed him to the ground as other troops looked on. "I don't speak English, and so I said to the Iraqi translator with them, 'Tell them that I am a member of parliament,' and he replied, 'To hell with you, we are Americans,'" al-Shaykh told parliament. BW
...WHILE PARLIAMENT DEMANDS APOLOGY
Lawmakers from the transitional National Assembly adjourned to protest al-Shaykh's treatment and demanded an official apology from the U.S. government on 19 April, international news agencies reported the same day. "Is this the democracy we have been hoping for? Is this the sovereignty that we talk to the masses about?" said Falah Shnaishal, a member of the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament. The U.S. military said its initial investigation showed that al-Shaykh got into an altercation with a coalition translator at the checkpoint. U.S. soldiers tried to separate them and "briefly held on to the legislator," while preventing another member of al-Shaykh's party from getting out of his vehicle, AP reported, citing a U.S. military statement. "We have the highest respect for all members of the Transitional National Assembly. Their safety and security is critically important," U.S. Brigadier General Karl R. Horst said in the statement. "We regret this incident occurred and are conducting a thorough investigation." The U.S. Embassy has also said it is investigating the incident. BW
SECURITY COUNCIL PRAISES IRAQ OVER SEARCH FOR GULF WAR VICTIMS
The UN Security Council praised Iraq's new government for cooperating in the search for hundreds of people missing since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, international news agencies reported on 19 April. In a statement read by Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, the Security Council lauded Iraq's recent decision to publish the names and photographs of people whose remains have not been found. Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, sent the council a letter on 9 March indicating that his government wants to help in the search. BW
BOMB ATTACKS CONTINUE IN BAGHDAD
Two Iraqi civilians were killed and eight wounded in separate car bomb attacks on 20 April, international news agencies reported the same day. Two Iraqis were killed and five wounded in an attack on a U.S. military convoy in the Amariyah district of western Baghdad. Three Iraqis civilians were wounded by a car bomb targeting a police convoy in southwest Baghdad's Doura district. On 19 April, a bomb killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded four while they were on patrol near the road leading to Baghdad's airport. In a separate attack, a suicide bomber blew up a car outside a former palace of ousted President Saddam Hussein that is now used by the Iraqi army, killing six people and wounding 40, most of them soldiers or would-be recruits. BW