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Newsline - September 21, 2005

In the wake of the EU's circulation of a draft resolution on 20 September requesting that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) refer Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described such initiatives by the EU and the United States "counterproductive," RIA-Novosti and international media reported. Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on 20 September that Russia favors settling the issue within the IAEA. Kamynin also said Russia's position is shared by China and India, and that their stances were coordinated during a meeting between Foreign Minister Lavrov and his Chinese and Indian counterparts Li Zhaoxing and Natwar Singh on the sidelines of the opening of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly last week. "The ministers agreed that the situation with regard to the Iranian nuclear program is not irreversible and that all possibilities exist for settling it within the IAEA," RIA-Novosti quoted Kamynin as saying. "Vremya novostei" on 20 September noted that following his talks with U.S. President George W. Bush on 16 September, President Vladimir Putin said that "there are more efficient ways of resolving the Iranian nuclear problem than referring the issue to the UN." VY

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov demanded in Bishkek on 20 September that Lithuania return Russian Air Force Major Valerii Troyanov and the remains of the fighter jet he was piloting when it crashed in Lithuania en route to Kaliningrad from St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005), Channel One and RTR reported. Ivanov expressed Russia's regret over the incident, which he said occurred due to a "navigation mistake," and he rejected reports that the aircraft's mission was to test Lithuania's air defenses. "We lost an aircraft. Only an idiot can carry on intelligence in such way," he said. "We have no kamikazes among our personnel." Ivanov also said Troyanov should receive immunity from prosecution and the plane's wreckage should be returned because the crash was an accident. In New York, Foreign Minister Lavrov rejected "Lithuanian authorities' suspicion that the aircraft crash was specially staged to reach certain goals," RIA-Novosti reported. Meanwhile, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 20 September that the crash may have resulted from the poor training of Russian pilots, and of Troyanov in particular. According to information obtained by the daily, Troyanov has logged only 30 flight hours this year. VY

The Lithuanian Defense Ministry said on 20 September that Major Troyanov is suspected of violating Lithuanian airspace and that neither he nor the remains of the Su-27 will be returned to Russia until the investigation of the crash is completed, RIA-Novosti and international media reported. Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkalas said in Vilnius that only diplomats, and not pilots, have immunity. He also said that the investigation is considering two scenarios: a navigational mistake, and the intentional violation of Lithuania's airspace. Lithuanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Albinas Januska said on 20 September that "Troyanov will go home" as soon as the investigation is completed, RTR reported. "However," he said, "the idea that Lithuania has no jurisdiction [over something on its territory] and that Russian aircraft can fly everywhere and drop their missiles, while Lithuanians will only collect them, is wrong." The Lithuanian authorities have recovered three of the four air-to-air missiles the Su-27 was carrying when it crashed. On 20 September, Lithuanian authorities allowed Troyanov's wife to stay with him in the Vilnius hotel in which he is being detained, and for him to meet with Russian technical specialists and journalists. Lithuania also said it will ask NATO experts to help decode the jet's "black boxes." VY

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said on 20 September that the decision by Russian oil majors to freeze gasoline prices was the result of a "joint project of business and the government," NTV reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005). The freeze concerns only the country's largest producers and is to be in force until 1 January. Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) said she and other deputies are concerned that the measure is not extensive enough. "We should deal with this problem to avoid a surprise after 1 January. Prices can rise several times over," NTV quoted her as saying. Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin said that the price freeze is not enough because it "stabilizes prices" at too high a level and is related only to retail prices, RTR reported. Defense Minister Ivanov said in Bishkek on 20 September that Russia's domestic oil market is controlled by swindlers, RIA-Novosti reported. "They have a full monopoly," he said. Ivanov also said domestic gasoline prices should be lower than in Europe, seeing as Russia is a major oil producer. VY

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko asked President Putin during their meeting at the Kremlin on 20 September to authorize "tax exemptions for oil producers" while they are exploring new oil fields in the less-accessible regions of Siberia, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin agreed that oil producers should be encouraged to explore new oil deposits, but added that "one should watch that they do not abuse the privilege." VY

A Moscow city court postponed on 20 September a hearing of the appeals filed by former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii and former Menatep head Platon Lebedev until 22 September, Russian news agencies reported. Lawyers Genrikh Pavda, who has been hospitalized, and Yurii Schmidt are expected to be able to attend court proceedings on the new date to defend Khodorkovskii, according to Interfax. State prosecutor Dmitrii Shokhin has accused Khodorkovskii's lawyers of intentionally delaying the appeals process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005). If Khodorkovskii loses his appeal, he will no longer be eligible to run in the 4 December State Duma by-election in a single-mandate district in Moscow. JAC

Also on 20 September, Khodorkovskii's effort to participate in that election ran into problems, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Moscow's University District Election Commission refused to accept documents registering Khodorkovskii as a candidate because the commission said it has not yet received notification from Khodorkovskii himself that he plans to run. Ivan Starikov, head of Khodorkovskii's election headquarters, told the bureau that a notification was signed by Khodorkovskii and witnessed by the head of the detention facility where Khodorkovskii is residing. The head said that he mailed the document on 15 September; however, the commission said it has not received anything. JAC

Asked in a recent poll conducted by ROMIR, some 44 percent of respondents named national television stations as their most trusted source of information, reported on 20 September. National television was the most popular response. The second most popular choice, "I don't trust any of these choices," was selected by 18 percent. Five percent said they trust information they get from the Internet, while only 3 percent said they trust regional television and national newspapers the most. The poll was conducted among 1,600 respondents. Among the respondents living in cities with more than a 1 million people, the Internet's rating rose to 8-9 percent. Those between the ages of 18 and 34 and people with higher education also selected the Internet as a trusted information source more often than other groups. The Internet's rating rose since polls conducted in 2003 and 2004, when an analogous question was asked. In those polls only 2 percent of respondents said they considered the Internet their most trusted source. Since that time, trust in national television has risen, while confidence in central newspapers has fallen. JAC

According to preliminary results of the 18 September mayoral election in Krasnodar, acting Mayor Vladimir Yevlanov received 64.8 percent of the vote compare to 11.68 percent for the second closest competitor, city duma Chairman Aleksandr Kiryushin, "Vremya novostei" reported on 21 September. According to the daily, Yevlanov had a serious advantage over his five competitors, as he was named to the post in 2004 by Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev. Last fall, Tkachev dismissed the elected mayor, Nikolai Priz. In March of this year, a local court found Priz guilty of exceeding his official authority and handed him a three-year suspended sentence. Priz has charged that the criminal cases against him were fabricated because he opposed privatizing certain city enterprises According to the daily, Tkachev has managed to construct his own power vertical in the krai by installing supporters as mayors in all of the krai's major cities, such as Novorossiisk and Sochi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April and 2 September 2004). JAC

President Putin has signed decrees relieving three top regional police officials of their duties, Russian news agencies reported on 20 September. Putin dismissed the head of Yaroslavl Oblast's Interior Ministry, Major General Vyacheslav Petukhov, and the head of the Jewish Autonomous Okrug's Interior Ministry, Major General Aleksandr Tsvilii. In Krasnodar Krai, he replaced Major General Sergei Nino with Colonel Aleksandr Birillo as deputy head of Krasnodar Krai's Interior Ministry. Yaroslavl's Petukhov told Regnum that he chose to retire because he had reached the age of 55. JAC

The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 20 September that Pavel Kukushin will be the new prosecutor for Sverdkovsk Oblast, reported. Kukushin is a former prosecutor for Kirov Oblast and deputy prosecutor for Sverdlovsk. He replaces Aleksandr Shaikov, who tendered his resignation after only six months in the post. "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 July that by the middle of fall nearly all power structures in the middle Urals will change their leadership. It noted that, "by a strange confluence of circumstances in the political elite," Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel is expected to be reappointed to his post at the same time. JAC

About 100 students delivered sacks of trash to the mayoral administration building in Voronezh to protest the inactivity of Mayor Boris Skrynnikov, Regnum and the Agency for National News reported on 20 September. Several barrels inscribed with the words, "It's time to clean up," were placed before the mayor's window. The action lasted for 10 minutes. According to RIA-Novosti, the mayoral administration was evacuated due to the threat of an explosion, because suspicious packages were placed in front of the building's entrance. The administration's information/analysis department told Interfax that the situation could easily have been one organized by "bandits or terrorists who had a bomb!" JAC

Representatives of the ethnic groups deported en masse in 1943-44 on orders from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin have written to President Putin expressing their alarm at Putin's recent proposal to amend the 1991 law on the rehabilitation of those "repressed" peoples, reported on 20 September. Meeting on 2 September with relatives of those killed during the Beslan hostage taking in September 2004, Putin advocated asking the Constitutional Court to rescind Article 6 of the 1991 law. That article advocates abolishing any changes made in the wake of the deportations to the borders between the various North Caucasus republics that were not revised following Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 "secret speech" condemning Stalin's reprisals, which paved the way for the rehabilitation and repatriation of the ethnic groups in question. The Ingush continue to hope for the return to Ingushetia of the predominantly Ingush-populated Prigorodnyi Raion that was incorporated into North Ossetia when the then-Checheno-Ingush ASSR was abolished in 1946. LF

Three police officers were killed and a fourth seriously injured on 20 September in the town of Karabulak when unknown perpetrators opened fire from an ambush on two patrol cars with a grenade launcher and automatic weapons, reported. LF

The Zharangutiun (Heritage) party headed by former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian released a statement on 20 September rejecting as a "collection of half-measures born of unhealthy circumstances" the draft constitutional amendments to be put to a nationwide referendum tentatively scheduled for 20 November, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The statement further branded the current Armenian leadership illegitimate and warned against any attempt to rig the outcome of the referendum to cling to power. It said Zharagutiun will draft, and soon make public, an alternative draft constitution. The statement did not, however, either explicitly call for a boycott of the referendum or urge the electorate to participate but vote against the planned amendments. LF

In his 18 September address to the UN General Assembly, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian implicitly condemned Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's recent repeated pledges to double military spending in 2006. According to the text of his speech as circulated on 20 September by Noyan Tapan, Oskanian made the point that, unlike some neighboring countries that he did not name, Armenia has no reserves of oil or gas. He continued: "But I can tell you that if we did have oil, we would use our oil revenues to double our education budget.... We would use those oil revenues to double our social security budget.... We would use the money to double our environmental-protection effort.... What we would not do is double our military budget. What we would not do is create an imaginary external threat to legitimize our inactions." And in a clear reference to Baku's hints it may launch a new war to win back control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh republic, Oskanian affirmed that, "When it comes to regional conflicts, advocating military solutions is not only unrealistic, but it demonstrates a patent lack of understanding of democracy, human rights, and rule of law." LF

Murtuz Alesqerov told the Azerbaijani parliament on 20 September it is "impermissible" for heads of local councils to interfere in the campaign for the 6 November parliamentary election on behalf of candidates from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, reported on 21 September. Alesqerov said that during his first meeting with voters he categorically forbade any such illegal electioneering. Alesqerov was responding to complaints from parliament deputy Nizami Guliev, who described how police intervened to prevent Hasan Kerimov, a candidate from the opposition Azadlyg bloc, from addressing voters in the Sabail district. LF

Seven people, including a child, were injured on 20 September when Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, came under mortar fire from the neighboring, Georgian-populated villages of Nikozi and Ergneti, Georgian media reported, citing South Ossetian officials. The attack coincided with a ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of the unrecognized republic's unilateral secession from Georgia. Givi Targamadze, chairman of the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, and David Kolbaya, acting commander of the Georgian peacekeeping detachment deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, were both quoted on 21 September by Caucasus Press as saying the Georgian side was not responsible for the shooting. In Ljubljana, Slovenian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Dimitrij Rupel issued a statement on 21 September, posted on the OSCE website (, condemning the firing of heavy weapons into a civilian-populated area as "against all norms of civilized behaviour and decency," and as "a serious violation of the ceasefire agreement" signed last year. In Tbilisi, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava on 21 September blamed the shooting on Georgia's "enemies," and said Tbilisi will make a formal protest to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has lodged a formal protest with its Russian counterpart in connection with the joint affirmation by the presidents of South Ossetia and the Republic of North Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity and Taymuraz Mamsurov, of their shared determination to bring about the unification of the two republics within the Russian Federation, Georgian media reported on 20 and 21 September. Meeting on 18 September in Tskhinvali, the two leaders also signed a bilateral-cooperation agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2005). LF

Zurab Noghaideli told journalists in Tbilisi on 20 September he is satisfied with Konstantin Kemularia's work as justice minister and has no intention of firing him, Caucasus Press reported. The Justice Ministry issued a statement the same day denying reports of Kemularia's resignation. On 16 September, Kemularia branded the members of the ministry's monitoring council that assesses the situation in the country's prisons "amateurs" and "biased," and asked President Mikheil Saakashvili to suspend them. The Monitoring Council retaliated on 19 September by demanding Kemularia's dismissal on the grounds that he is allegedly incapable of eradicating corruption and incompetence within the prison system. LF

As of 20 September, 10 people, including two women, have officially announced their intention to vie for the presidency in Kazakhstan's 4 December election, "Kazakhstan Today" reported, citing information from the Central Election Commission. The most recent presidential hopefuls are Maya Karamaeva, a 43-year-old woman who has nominated herself, and Baltabai Rakhimzhanov, the head of the National Federation of Farmers. Other would-be candidates are: President Nursultan Nazarbaev; Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, head of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan; Ualikhan Kaisarov, a member of the upper house of parliament; Salim Oten, a businessman from Almaty; Amantai-kazhy Asylbek; lawyer Mekemtas Tleulesov; Erasyl Abylkasymov, a deputy in the lower chamber of parliament for the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan; and Meiramkul Kozhagulova, an unemployed woman from Aktobe. The nomination period ends on 3 October. DK

Busurmankul Taabaldiev, head of the defense and security department in the presidential administration, was appointed on 20 September to replace Azimbek Beknazarov as prosecutor-general, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov, whose dismissal on 19 September triggered a political firestorm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005), told a press conference on 20 September that "I had two purposes, to destroy [former Kyrgyz President Askar] Akayev's regime and to fight corruption. Akayev's regime fell, but I lost the fight against corruption," Kabar reported. Beknazarov added that "political reasons" lie behind his dismissal, and he vowed to join the opposition, Kyrgyzinfo reported. Newly appointed acting Prosecutor-General Taabaldiev and Security Council Secretary Miroslav Niyazov insisted that politics had nothing to do with Beknazarov's ouster, Kabar and reported. In Karasuu, where Beknazarov has been accused of bungling the investigation of a recent murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005), 300 demonstrators greeted Beknazarov's removal and accused him of corrupt links to local businessman and parliament deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev, reported. Meanwhile, a crowd numbering, by various estimates, from 700 to 3,000 demonstrated in the Aksy District of Jalalabad Province in support of Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. DK

Upon his arrival in Bishkek on 20 September, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that Russia will provide Kyrgyzstan with several million dollars in military aid, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005). Noting that Russia's 2005 budget contains provisions for aid to a number of countries, Ivanov said that "Russia will give Kyrgyzstan several million dollars in aid, primarily for antiterrorism purposes." Ivanov did not provide an exact figure, but said that the aid will come in the form of helicopters, firearms, and trucks. DK

The trial of 15 men, including three Kyrgyz citizens, accused of organizing unrest in Andijon in May began under heavy security in Tashkent on 20 September with all of the accused entering guilty pleas, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The men are charged under more than 30 articles of the Criminal Code, including murder, terrorism, and attempting to overthrow the constitutional system. Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev read a long indictment that echoed recent briefings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2005) in which the men were said to be members of an alleged extremist group called Akramiya with links to the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (formerly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Prosecutors at the trial also accused BBC correspondent Matluba Azamatova, Institute for War and Peace Reporting correspondent Galima Bukharbaeva, and RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii of advance knowledge of the violence and subsequent coverage detrimental to Uzbekistan's national interest at the behest of unidentified foreign sponsors. Nabiev also charged that the accused, whom he claimed aimed to establish an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia, had ties to Chechen militants, Interfax reported. A report on state-run Uzbek television described the criminal case against the 15 men as proving that "the Andijon events were planned and implemented by foreign destructive forces and directed against Uzbekistan's independent policy and its national interests." More than 100 other defendants are awaiting trial in connection with the violence in Andijon. DK

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International each issued a report on 20 September describing human rights abuses in Uzbekistan during and after the violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, Eurasianet reported. Titled, "Burying The Truth: Uzbekistan Rewrites The Story Of The Andijan Massacre," the Human Rights Watch ( report cited eyewitness testimony to show that the Uzbek government is engaged in a cover-up. The report's executive summary stated that on 13 May, "Uzbek government forces killed hundreds of unarmed protesters as they fled a demonstration in Andijan, in eastern Uzbekistan. To date, the government has taken no steps to investigate or hold accountable those responsible for this atrocity. Instead it is denying all responsibility and persecuting those who seek an independent and transparent investigation." Amnesty International's report -- titled, "In Uzbekistan: Lifting The Siege On The Truth About Andizhan" -- "reveals the lengths to which the government of Uzbekistan has gone to prevent information that contradicts the official version of events from reaching the outside world," the organization stated in a 20 September press release. The reports detail a government-sponsored campaign of intimidation and harassment within Uzbekistan and close with recommendations for Uzbekistan and the international community. (For a complete timeline of Andijon and its aftermath, visit: DK

The United States will pay Uzbekistan nearly $23 million for the use of the Karshi-Khanabad air base in Uzbekistan for the period from January 2003 through March 2005, Reuters reported on 20 September. In late July, Uzbekistan gave the United States six months to vacate the base amid rising tension over U.S. calls for an independent inquiry into allegations that Uzbek government forces massacred civilians in Andijon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). Reuters reported that six senators have written to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking him to place the money in an escrow account until "Uzbekistan shows that it is again willing to work in partnership with the United States." The letter continued: "We support the principle of America paying its bills, but we also support America standing up for itself in the world; for spending taxpayer dollars wisely; for avoiding the misimpression that we overlook massacres; and for avoiding cash transfers to the treasury of a dictator just months after he permanently evicts American soldiers from his country." The letter was signed by Republican Senators Mike DeWine, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and John Sununu, and Democrats Joseph Biden and Patrick Leahy. DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka addressed a convention of the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions (FPB) in Minsk on 20 September and promised that the average monthly wage in Belarus will grow from about $230 currently to $500 in the next five years, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belarusian Television reported. Referring to FPB Chairman Leanid Kozik's pledge that the FPB will also protect human rights in Belarus, Lukashenka advised him against doing so. According to the Belarusian president, unions should focus on workers' rights, while defending human rights is the government's prerogative. "As soon as all of you rush to [defend] human rights, you will definitely become entangled in those human rights that are being trumpeted by our political opposition," Lukashenka said. "Even the people have not asked this political opposition to represent their rights -- they have elected the president. The president has formed appropriate bodies and structures of the government, and they participate in representing human rights and defending them." JM

Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who was dismissed by President Viktor Yushchenko on 8 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2005), said at a news conference in Kyiv on 21 September that she is ready to work once again with Yushchenko and form a new cabinet if he makes peace with her, Channel 5 reported. "In this difficult time, when the political crisis is deepening, I want to declare that I am ready to give him a helping hand," Tymoshenko said. "I want to propose to [Yushchenko] simply to return [to the time we had] a year ago and unite our efforts once again." JM

Parliamentarian Hryhoriy Omelchenko, head of the ad hoc parliamentary commission investigating the kidnapping of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000, reported to the Verkhovna Rada on 20 September that former President Leonid Kuchma jointly with former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko organized the abduction of Gongadze, Ukrainian media reported. Omelchenko added that, according to the commission's findings, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and former Security Service chief Leonid Derkach instigated the kidnapping. Omelchenko criticized Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun's role in the Gongadze investigation and proposed a vote of no confidence in him which, if passed, would result in Piskun's dismissal. "I think that as long as Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun remains in his post, the organizers of this crime...and other participants in it will not be made accountable in court," Omelchenko said. The Verkhovna Rada did not heed Omelchenko's request and decided to terminate the activity of his commission. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 20 September set up an ad hoc commission to investigate the recent allegations that President Yushchenko's election campaign in 2004 was financed by exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2005), Interfax-Ukraine reported. The commission is headed by Communist Party lawmaker Yuriy Solomatin. The parliament also created a temporary commission to investigate the corruption allegations against presidential aides that were voiced earlier this month by former head of the presidential staff Oleksandr Zinchenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005). This commission is headed by independent lawmaker Volodymyr Zaplatynskyy. JM

Anatoliy Matviyenko, prime minister of the Crimean Autonomous Republic, tendered his resignation to President Yushchenko on 20 September, saying that the main reason behind his move was the refusal of his Sobor Party to support the candidacy of Yuriy Yekhanurov for the post of Ukrainian prime minister earlier the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005), Ukrainian media reported. The Crimean Supreme Council on 21 voted overwhelmingly to accept Matviyenko's resignation. JM

Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, is "at the center of a diplomatic row" with the Vatican, the Roman Catholic Church in Croatia, and the Croatian government following her recent charges that fugitive indictee and former General Ante Gotovina is hiding in a Franciscan monastery and that the Vatican refuses to cooperate with her, London's "The Independent" reported on 21 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005). Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in Rome that Del Ponte did not respond to a request by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's foreign minister, for more precise information about Gotovina's alleged whereabouts. Navarro-Valls also suggested that Del Ponte is seeking to use the Vatican as an "enforcement tool," which is not its business. PM

In Zagreb, the Croatian Bishops' Conference rejected Del Ponte's charges in a statement on 20 September, international media reported. The bishops said: "We reject Del Ponte's accusations about the Catholic Church and the Holy See and find them unacceptable. The leadership of the Catholic Church in Croatia has no knowledge or indication as to where Gotovina might be." The bishops added that "it is clear to us that the chief prosecutor is frustrated [at not having caught Gotovina], so her statements could be explained in that sense." Anton Suljic, who is a spokesman for the bishops, stressed that the church "has no information whatsoever or indications concerning the whereabouts of the runaway General Gotovina." Suljic added that "a Franciscan monastery is a broad definition. She always has information, but she can't say where." He added that "the international community, which appointed...[Del Ponte], should explain such statements to both the Catholic Church and Croatia." Prime Minister Ivo Sanader told Croatian Television that "based on all the information we're getting, Gotovina is not in Croatia." The Interior Ministry said that it investigated a report in 2004 that Gotovina was hiding in a church but found the allegation baseless. PM

Del Ponte's spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, told "The Independent" of 21 September that the tribunal is "asking for full cooperation from every segment of society: the church, the military, the politicians. Every segment of society is obliged to respect the law. No one is above the law and we are asking for cooperation from everyone." Croatian and Bosnian media reports have long speculated that Gotovina might seek refuge with the Franciscan friars of western Herzegovina, who have a particular and centuries-old reputation for Croatian nationalism and independence from both the Zagreb-based church hierarchy and the Vatican itself. One Herzegovinian friar, Brother Petar Krasic from the Masna Luka monastery, has been blacklisted by the EU for his alleged links to a support network for Gotovina. But a Franciscan spokesman told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that Gotovina is not hiding in any kind of Roman Catholic monastery. PM

Damir Rovisan, who works in the mailroom of the U.K. Embassy in Zagreb and who has admitted to setting off an explosive device there, told the weekly "Globus" that he accidentally set off a hand grenade he was carrying, Reuters reported on 21 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 September 2005). Rovisan added that he has been carrying the grenade since 2 September because he feared an attack from a criminal gang against whose members he is scheduled to testify. Rovisan said that he was trying to secure the pin with a piece of string when the grenade went off. Police told Reuters that the content of the newspaper interview corresponds to what Rovisan told them. It is not clear why he did not begin a 16-month jail sentence for robbery earlier in September or why the embassy hired someone with a criminal record. Police are continuing to investigate, and the embassy has declined to comment on the case. PM

Officials from the six-member Contact Group -- the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia -- discussed Kosova's progress in New York on 20 September with Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy Kai Eide, and unnamed NATO and UNMIK officials, RFE/RL reported. The Contact Group said in a statement that it supports Eide's work and looks forward to receiving his report soon. The diplomats called on Kosova's elected officials "to increase their efforts to ensure the implementation of standards at all levels and to ensure that commitments undertaken are translated into concrete action. It also urges the Belgrade authorities to do their utmost to facilitate this process." The statement pointed out that "standards implementation is not just about getting to a status process; it must be at the heart of [Kosova's] future. Further progress on standards must therefore be made now and during the future status process once it is launched." Talks on Kosova's final status are widely expected to start before the end of 2005 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 20 May 2005). PM

Carla Del Ponte, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, told London's "The Daily Telegraph" of 20 September that she believes that leading fugitive indictee and former Croatian General Ante Gotovina is hiding in an undisclosed Franciscan monastery in Croatia. She also charged that the Roman Catholic Church is refusing to cooperate on the matter.

The daily noted that she has "been 'extremely disappointed' to encounter a wall of silence from the Vatican. Frustrated by months of secret but fruitless appeals to leading Vatican officials, including a direct appeal to Pope Benedict XVI, Del Ponte has decided to make the matter public." The pope has yet to reply to her written request that he intervene in the matter, she noted. The paper quoted her as saying that she has "information [Gotovina] is hiding in a Franciscan monastery, and so the [Roman] Catholic Church is protecting him. I have taken this up with the Vatican, and the Vatican refuses totally to co-operate with us."

She thinks that the Vatican could "pinpoint in a few days" in which monastery of about 80 in Croatia Gotovina is allegedly hiding if it wanted to do so. The daily added that "Del Ponte traveled to Rome [in July] to share her intelligence with the Vatican's 'foreign minister,' Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. He refused to help, telling her the Vatican was not a state and thus had 'no international obligations' to help the UN to hunt war criminals."

Del Ponte stressed that her hosts "said they have no intelligence, [but] I don't believe that. I think that the Catholic Church has the most advanced intelligence services." She added: "Mgr. Lajolo said to me: 'Let me know in which monastery Gotovina is hiding.' I said, if I knew, I would not be here in Rome." Del Ponte pointed out that she is "doubly disappointed" by the Vatican because she is a Roman Catholic.

She also asked the Holy See for a repudiation of a recent statement by Mile Bogovic, the bishop of Gospic and Senj, denouncing the tribunal as a "political court" seeking to blacken Croatia's past. Bogovic also called Gotovina "a symbol of victory" because of his role in the August 1995 Croatian military campaign known as Storm that ended the Serbian insurgency in the Dalmatian hinterland that threatened Bogovic's diocese.

If Del Ponte does identify the alleged monastery, it will be interesting to see exactly where it is. The Franciscans in western Herzegovina -- outside Croatia's frontiers -- have a particular and centuries-old reputation for Croatian nationalism and independence of both the Zagreb-based church hierarchy and the Vatican itself. Those Franciscans are often local men with a strong identity with their flock and a tradition of self-assurance. If Gotovina is indeed hiding with Franciscans in western Herzegovina or in neighboring areas of Croatia, it might pose a challenge for the Holy See and the Roman Catholic Church in Croatia as well as for the tribunal.

The Croatian Bishops' Conference, for its part, denied Del Ponte's charges in a statement released on 20 September, dpa reported. The bishops said: "We reject Del Ponte's accusations about the Catholic Church and the Holy See and find them unacceptable. The leadership of the Catholic Church in Croatia has no knowledge or indication as to where Gotovina might be." The bishops added that "it is clear to us that the chief prosecutor is frustrated [at not having caught Gotovina], so her statements could be explained in that sense."

Gotovina has been on the run since 2001, when the tribunal charged him with crimes against humanity for alleged atrocities committed against Serbian civilians during Storm. The Croatian authorities have said repeatedly that Gotovina is not in their country. President Stipe Mesic, who made a point after taking office in 2000 of weakening the role of nationalists and militant war veterans groups in political life, argues with certainty that Gotovina is not in Croatia. The media there note that the former general once served in the French Foreign Legion and allegedly has a French passport as well as an international network of contacts as a result. Mesic and other Croatian leaders have therefore suggested that anyone looking for Gotovina might better try Paraguay or some other distant country rather than Croatia.

The United States is offering a reward of over $5 million for Gotovina. Croatia's application to join the EU is currently on hold pending his arrest and extradition. Since all mainstream Croatian political parties regard EU admission as a top priority, the Gotovina case is taken particularly seriously in Zagreb.

Speaking to reporters on 20 September, Hamid Karzai called on the U.S.-led coalition to curb some of its operations, including air strikes and house searches, and to allow the Afghan National Army to take on a bigger security role, AFP reported. "I don't think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore," he said. "When there is a need for it we'll conduct it, but I believe the use of air power is something that may not be very effective now." Karzai also said that the United States and NATO should instead fight terrorism at its roots by targeting those who train and supply militants. CP

The process of counting ballots from the recent parliamentary elections began on 20 September, the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) said in a statement the same day. More than 7,000 people have been sent by the JEMB to participate in the counting, and thousands of election observers and representatives of political parties and candidates will observe the count at the country's 34 provincial counting centers. Counting is expected to conclude by the start of Ramadan in early October, with officials results to be announced at the end of the month. CP

Government officials in Konar Province said on 20 September that police have seized 1,150 bombs and have taken two people into custody, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. According to Konar Governor Asadullah Wafa, three people were trying to cross a river with the explosive devices when police approached them. One of the men escaped, but police captured two others following a gun battle. In neighboring Nangarhar Province, police recovered two missiles intended for the city of Jalalabad, a local press officer told Pajhwak Afghan News. CP

Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, told reporters on 20 September that militants might try to strike in the next few weeks after failing to derail the elections, AFP reported. "We can expect more fighting in the weeks ahead, as the enemy attempts to return Afghanistan to the dark days," he said. But Eikenberry said that coalition troops, along with Afghan and NATO personnel, are taking steps to thwart Taliban and terrorist networks. CP

Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Larijani said in a 20 September press conference broadcast on state television that the United States and occasionally the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are not standing by the articles of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Larijani said the treaty allows for the peaceful use of nuclear technology for power production. He said Iran has not violated any laws in developing its nuclear program, has never sought nuclear weapons, and has been very cooperative with the IAEA. He said Iran is willing to continue negotiations with European countries. He advised against bullying Iran and said North Korea withdrew from the NPT because of the pressure it faced. Larijani stressed that Iran has a right to develop nuclear technology and it refuses to be treated like a second-class country. If Iran is referred to the UN Security Council, Larijani said, it will reconsider its accession to the Additional Protocol of the NPT and will not "harbor any doubt on resuming enrichment." BS

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a 19 September interview with "Time" magazine that Washington believes Iran should have been referred to the UN Security Council "some time ago." The reason to refer Iran to the council is that it engaged in uranium-enrichment activities, which is permitted under the NPT, without disclosing them or allowing their monitoring, which are NPT requirements. Rice indicated that most of the IAEA governing board's members would support a resolution referring Iran to the Security Council. According to "Time," however, China, Russia, and some less-developed countries on the board would like to give Iran more time to comply with its NPT obligations. BS

, U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte said in an exclusive interview with Radio Farda on 20 September that the time to refer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council is overdue. He noted that IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei has said questions about the Iranian program remain, and negotiations between Tehran and the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) have gotten nowhere. Instead of confidence building, he said, Iran has destroyed confidence. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's comments at the UN General Assembly were not only unconstructive and worrisome for the international community (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 September 2005), Schulte said, but they should worry the Iranian people as well. That is because the European proposal made in July was good for Iran, would have given it access to peaceful nuclear technology, and would have helped the Iranian economy. "But Iran's leaders did not accept this proposal," he said (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 2005). BS

In a speech commemorating the anniversary of the birth of the 12th Imam (Muhammad al-Mahdi), Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said salvation will occur if people wait and do not succumb to despair, "Hamshahri" reported on 21 September. He said the United States tries to fool Islamic countries' officials into believing that they are incapable and must surrender to the United States. Khamenei praised President Ahmadinejad's speech at the UN and said the speech pleased Iranians. "This means that the Iranian nation will not surrender to threats, force, and pressure," he said. BS

Iraqi government officials and religious leaders sharply criticized the U.K. military on 20 September for using an armored vehicle to free two undercover special-forces soldiers from police custody in Al-Basrah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005), Reuters reported the same day. "It is a very unfortunate development that the British forces should try to release their forces the way it happened," Haidar al-Ibadi, an adviser to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, said. "They were acting very suspiciously like they were watching something and collecting information in civilian clothes in these tense times," he said of the soldiers from Britain's elite SAS Special Forces. An aide to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, meanwhile, called the British action terrorism. "What the two Britons did was literally international terrorism," al-Sadr aide Ali al-Yassiri told Reuters. "If the British had condemned this, it would have calmed the situation but instead they came and demanded them back, which sets a dangerous precedent." BW

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, has launched an investigation into the incident and insists there is no crisis in relations between London and Baghdad, the BBC reported on 20 September. "In response to recent events in Basra, the Iraqi government wants to clarify that there is no 'crisis' -- as some media have claimed -- between it and the British government," al-Ja'fari's office said in a statement quoted by the BBC. "Both governments are in close contact, and an inquiry will be conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior into the incident. We will await the outcome of that inquiry. In the meantime we urge all sides to remain calm." British Defense Minister John Reid also tried to ease tensions, saying the coalition was still going "in the right direction" in terms of its overall strategy in Iraq and said the incident in Al-Basrah was merely "local." BW

Details of the incident, meanwhile, continue to emerge. After the arrests, a delegation of six British military personnel went to the police station to secure the pair's release, the BBC quoted Reid as saying on 20 September. The Iraqi Interior Ministry had ordered the troops released, but police in Al-Basrah ignored the order and British surveillance showed the soldiers had been moved to another location. Meanwhile, a crowd formed around the police station, hindering the British negotiating team's departure. The British commander, Brigadier John Lorimer, ordered some troops to go to the police station to assist the delegation, and others to free the captives from a house in Al-Basrah where they had been taken, Reid said. Al-Jazeera quoted Ali Dabagh, a member of Iraq's National Assembly, as saying that Shi'ite militiamen from the Imam Al-Mahdi Army wanted the soldiers in order to exchange them for two militia leaders arrested on 18 September. Al-Jazeera also quoted London-based defense analyst Paul Beaver as saying the incident stemmed from a failed attempt by British intelligence to infiltrate insurgent forces. BW

Insurgents have infiltrated Iraq's security services, National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told the BBC on 20 September. "Our Iraqi security forces in general, and these in particular and in many parts of Iraq, I have to admit that they have been penetrated by some of the insurgents, some of the terrorists as well, so I can't deny this," al-Rubay'i told BBC's "Newsnight" program. "We are putting in place a very scrupulous, very meticulous vetting procedure in the process of recruiting a new batch of police and Iraqi Army, which will, if you like, clean our security forces as well as stop any penetration in future from the insurgents and terrorists," he added. "I can't give you a percentage of the extent of the penetration, but I have to admit that the Iraqi security forces are penetrated, to what extent I don't know." BW

Saddam Hussein's legal team has complained that it has not been formally informed about the date of the ousted Iraqi leader's trial or of the specific charges against him, AFP reported on 20 September. "The defense has not been enabled to review any files of the charges...despite the fact that we have made many and repeated requests to this effect," Hussein's trial lawyer, Khalil Dulaymi, said. Hussein and seven other former Iraqi officials are scheduled to go on trial in October over the massacre of 143 people in the Shi'ite village of Dujail. BW

The U.S. military said on 20 September that five U.S. troops have been killed in three separate bomb attacks, international news agencies reported the same day. One soldier was killed in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad on 20 September, and four Marines were killed on 19 September in two attacks near Al-Ramadi, west of the capital. The killings bring the total of U.S. military deaths in Iraq to over 1,900 since the March 2003 invasion. The military announced the deaths shortly after confirming that four Americans, including a diplomatic security official, were killed near Mosul on 19 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005). BW