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Newsline - December 1, 2005

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 30 November that the six-member Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) might accept new members in the future, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The CSTO currently comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. Speaking after a meeting of CSTO defense ministers, Ivanov said expansion is in the organization's future plans. But the 30 November meeting focused on other matters, including coordinating military training and developing relations with NATO. "We talked about military-technological cooperation...and personnel training, [and] drew up and approved a list of military academies within the CSTO that can train military personnel for all the CSTO members," Ivanov said. "Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to hold the first discussion in the CSTO-NATO format in Brussels next week," he added. BW

Saying that Russia is increasingly concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Lavrov said on 30 November that the CSTO plans to establish a working group on Afghanistan, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "We are troubled by the situation in Central Asia. We are alarmed by the situation in Afghanistan," Lavrov told a meeting of CSTO foreign ministers, Interfax reported. "The territory borders on the organization and there remains the threat of drug trafficking and the use of the territory by extremist organizations," he added. In comments reported by RIA-Novosti, Lavrov added that the CSTO "decided to set up a body, a working group, to monitor developments and ensure opinion exchanges with our Afghan colleagues." On 29 November, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ivanov, who is also secretary of the Security Council, criticized the United States and NATO for causing instability in Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). BW

The nationalist Motherland party on 30 November accused its opponents of circulating a xenophobic letter falsely attributed to its leader Dmitrii Rogozin, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The party said in a statement that the letter, reportedly circulating on the Internet, is "an obvious fake." The letter's "openly xenophobic and provocative passages" aimed to "deceive our numerous supporters and compromise not only our party, but also all leftist and patriotic forces," according to the statement. In a ruling on 26 December, the Moscow City Court banned Motherland from the 4 December elections to the Moscow City Duma over a television advertisement that it said incited ethnic strife. Motherland is appealing the ruling to the Russian Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 November 2005). BW

Motherland said it plans to file an appeal with the Russian Supreme Court on 1 December challenging a lower court's ruling banning the party from the Moscow local elections, RIA-Novosti reported on 30 November. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling before the 4 December Moscow City Duma elections. Also on 30 November, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said the ban on Motherland applies only to the party-list portion of the election, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Individual candidates from Motherland, running in single-mandate constituencies, can still contest the election. BW

Mikhail Fradkov is resisting plans to have a proposed federal agency on the defense industry fall under the control of Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 November. According to "Kommersant-Daily," President Vladimir Putin is preparing to establish such an agency, which would likely be chaired by Ilya Klebanov, currently the presidential representative to the Northwestern Federal District. The new agency, according to "Kommersant daily," would be subordinate to Defense Minister Ivanov, who was recently promoted to deputy prime minister and is viewed as a potential successor to Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 30 November 2005). "So far, there is no need to create a separate agency, the issue of coordination is much more burning now," "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Fradkov as saying. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" characterized the struggle as "a tug-of-war between two political heavyweights, as they try to control the national military-industrial sector." BW

A senior Russian government official warned on 30 November that Russia will fall behind in the world information-technology (IT) sector unless serious reforms are implemented, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "Unless we take concrete practical steps, after 2010 Russia will fall by the wayside in the IT sphere," Oleg Byakhov, head of the Information Technology And Communications Ministry's Information Development Department said during a roundtable. Russia's tax environment, Byakhov said, is "incomparable with the taxation in...countries that are setting the pace in the IT sphere," among which he listed India, China, Israel, and Ireland. He added that the IT sector in Russia is insufficiently concentrated and stressed the need for "techno parks" that bring together business, science, and education, "enabling IT companies to grow rapidly." BW

Perm Krai, the newest constituent territory of the Russian Federation, came into existence on 1 December, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Perm Krai, which will have a population of approximately 3 million, is the result of a merger of the former Perm Oblast and the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September and 11 October 2005). Perm Krai is one of a series of "composite districts" the Kremlin is seeking to create in what it calls an effort to make Russia more governable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2005). Oleg Chirkunov, who was scheduled to be inaugurated as Perm Krai's governor on 1 December, said the new territory's top priority will be to attract investment and diversify production, RIA-Novosti reported. "We are cutting the profit tax from 24 percent to 20 percent to...attract investors to the region," Chirkunov said. BW

Central Election Commission Secretary Tsovinar Khachatrian dismissed on 30 November opposition demands to invalidate the official results of the disputed constitutional referendum as "unlawful," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Khachatrian explained that the terms of the Armenian law on referendums stipulate that there can be no consideration of an appeal since the final results were already officially approved by the commission on 29 November. The statement was in response to an ultimatum by a group of about 20 opposition parties threatening to accelerate protest demonstrations unless the commission overturns the results by 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). According to the official results, more than 65 percent of the country's 2.3 million eligible voters participated in the 27 November referendum, with more than 93 percent voting in favor of the amendments. Council of Europe observers have noted that activists reject it as fraudulent, pointing to the fact that many polling stations across Armenia were unusually deserted on voting day. A monitoring mission from the Council of Europe and local monitors have questioned the credibility of the official high turnout, however. RG

In an official statement released in Washington on 29 November, the U.S. State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs called on the Armenian government to "investigate the reports of Council of Europe observers about serious violations and fraud" in the 27 November constitutional referendum, Mediamax reported. The statement added that although the constitutional amendments have the "potential to strengthen democratic institutions in Armenia," the State Department regrets that the "Armenian government decided not to invite observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights who could have ensured greater confidence in the results of the voting." Noting that there is still an opportunity to improve the electoral process prior to the country's parliamentary and presidential elections set for 2007 and 2008, the State Department closed by promising to closely cooperate "with the Armenian government, political parties, and civil society to implement a package of measures to strengthen democracy aimed at helping Armenia" to ensure "free and fair elections." RG

Former Armenian Foreign Minister and opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian was briefing detained and questioned on 30 November by officers of the National Security Service, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. After detaining Hovannisian at the Yerevan airport as he was preparing to depart for an international conference in Vienna, the security officers searched his belongings and questioned him about his recent activities protesting the recent voting irregularities during the constitutional referendum. After seizing and photocopying some of his personal documents, the security officials eventually released Hovannisian from custody. RG

According to the results of a survey released on 29 November at a Yerevan conference, less than 10 percent of Armenians expressed faith in the government's campaign to combat corruption, Noyan Tapan reported. The survey, conducted by the Armenia branch of the nongovernmental organization Transparency International, found that half of the 1,500 survey respondents indicated that the state's fight against corruption is "inefficient," with another 63 percent stating that corruption in Armenia is increasing. Presenting the survey results, Amalia Kostanyan, the head of Transparency International's Armenian branch, added that although corruption has reportedly declined since last year, bribery has become more widespread, especially among tax and customs officials. Kostanyan further stated that the fight against corruption is impeded by the lack of sufficient political will, an overall tolerance of corruption, and by inefficient law enforcement. RG

The radical Karabakh Liberation Organization staged a series of demonstrations on 30 November outside the Russian, French, and U.S. embassies in Baku, ANS-TV reported. The demonstrations targeted the embassies of the three nations co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group, which the group accused of "exceeding its mandate" to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, "maintaining close relations with Armenia," and "providing assistance to the separatists" in Nagorno Karabakh. Four demonstrators were arrested after clashing with police. RG

The international media-monitoring group Reporters Without Borders issued a statement on 29 November calling on Interior Minister Ramil Usubov to "take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of Azerbaijani and foreign journalists," the Trend News Agency reported. The statement condemned the "violence used by police against at least 12 journalists" during the forcible dispersal of an opposition demonstration in Baku on 26 November, adding that "the fact that the crowd did not disperse voluntarily at the end of the two hours allowed by the authorities for the demonstration should not have led to the use of such violence by the police, and it is unacceptable that journalists should be beaten during opposition demonstrations." The OSCE's Baku office also condemned the violent actions by the police, which reportedly resulted in several hundred injuries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2005). RG

Azerbaijani security forces uncovered a cache of 20 weapons, supplies, and extremist Islamic literature hidden in a northern village, ANS-TV reported on 29 November. The materials were reportedly linked to "Wahhabi" Islamic activists and follow a similar discovery on 11 October in the nearby village of Piral in the Qusar district. That seizure uncovered military uniforms and sleeping bags, detailed maps of Azerbaijan's northern border with Daghestan, and extremist books and pamphlets on jihad. The chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Formations, Rafik Aliev, admitted in August 2005 that an unspecified number of Wahhabi devotees were arrested in Azerbaijan in a series of raids by security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2005). RG

Georgia has engaged over the past year in a massive arms-buying spree, according to on 30 November, quoting data provided by "power" ministries of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia. The weaponry Georgia has acquired allegedly includes 10 Iroquois helicopters donated by the United States; 13 Mi-8 fighter aircraft purchased from Ukraine; seven Su-25 jet fighters purchased from Macedonia and Bulgaria; several MiG-23s bought from Uzbekistan; and an unspecified number of L-159 training aircraft from the Czech Republic, which reportedly also provided 120 tanks and 14 mobile artillery systems. Ukraine reportedly supplied several dozen armored vehicles, and Ukraine, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic provided 7,500 guns plus ammunition. Lithuania will reportedly provide an additional 14,000 Kalashnikov rifles, and has also promised to hand over to Georgia two frigates it received in a barter deal with Russia. The guns are reportedly required to arm the battalions of reservists that Georgia began training last year. Having pledged several years ago to downsize its armed forces in line with NATO requirements, Georgia is now planning to increase its number of combat personnel (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 July 2005). LF

The new Georgian National Military Strategy, posted on the Defense Ministry's website ( on 30 November, characterized the presence of Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in its breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a "threat to its security," RFE/RL reported. The new military strategy, recently adopted by the Georgian parliament, also described the two remaining Russian military bases in the country as a threat. RG

A Georgian Army battalion departed Tbilisi on 30 November to begin an eight-month deployment as part of a peacekeeping mission in Iraq, Imedi TV reported. The 300-strong Kutaisi-based 23rd light infantry battalion, consisting of one support and two combat companies, had just completed a four-month training program run by a team of U.S. Marine Corps instructors. The battalion is to be assigned to guard a U.S. facility in central Iraq. RG

Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Chechelashvili stated on 30 November that two days of talks in Tbilisi with visiting EU officials in Tbilisi have brought Georgia closer to EU standards, Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. The two days of negotiations over Georgia's Action Plan for its future role within the EU Neighborhood Policy was led by Kurt Juul, the European Commission head of unit for the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia. Chechelashvili explained that the Action Plan consists of the "key priorities" of a "further development of democratic principles, human rights protection, peaceful resolution of conflicts" and "economic cooperation between Georgia and the European Union." Georgia joined the European Neighborhood Policy in June 2004, along with Azerbaijan and Armenia. RG

Kazakhstan's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Umarzak Uzbekov, told a news conference in Bishkek on 30 November that heightened security measures will be in place along the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border until at least 8 December, reported. Uzbekov said that Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) introduced the measure, which temporarily prevents foreigners from crossing into Kazakhstan, on 29 November to ensure security for the country's 4 December presidential election. The measure reportedly will not apply to holders of diplomatic passports, residents of border regions, or representatives of international organizations. In another election-related security move, Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov on 30 November ordered the Emergency Situations and Energy ministries to step up surveillance of strategic facilities, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

Ryspek Akmatbaev, the brother of murdered legislator Tynychbek Akmatbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), went on trial on murder charges in Bishkek on 30 November, reported. The trial, in which Akmatbaev and a number of other individuals stand accused of organizing contract killings, had already been postponed several times (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 15 and 10 November 2005). RFE/RL reported on 30 October that one of the killings that Ryspek Akmatbaev is accused of organizing is the 2003 murder of Khavaji Zaurbekov, the brother-in-law of jailed crime boss Aziz Batukaev. Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev recently told a news conference in Bishkek that investigators believe that Batukaev was behind the October murder of Ryspek Akmatbaev's brother, Tynychbek Akmatbaev, Kabar reported on 30 November. DK

Russian and Tajik lawmakers met in Dushanbe on 30 November to discuss the implementation of bilateral accords, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Abdunabi Sattorzoda, Tajikistan's deputy minister of foreign affairs, noted that the Russian State Duma has yet to ratify an accord safeguarding the rights of Tajik migrant workers in Russia. Boris Pastukhov, a member of the Duma and the first deputy chairman of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, assured his Tajik colleagues that Russian lawmakers will ratify the pact once they are done with budget issues that are currently occupying them. Pastukhov downplayed the opposition of some Russian lawmakers to the presence of Tajik migrant workers in Russia, Avesta reported. He expressed confidence that the Duma will ratify the agreement on migrant labor rights and stressed that Tajik workers are important to the strength of the Russian economy. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov told top officials in Turkmenistan's oil and gas industry at a meeting in Ashgabat on 30 November that he plans to review the price terms of natural-gas export deals with Russia, Turkmen Television First Channel reported. Niyazov said that Turkmenistan's 25-year export contract with Russia is "a mere political document" in which "neither prices nor volumes are specified," adding, "The Russians will come here to negotiate with us." The remarks follow a recent announcement that Turkmenistan intends to raise gas export prices for all customers to $60 per 1,000 cubic meters starting on 1 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2005). Russia currently pays $44 per 1,000 cubic meters for Turkmen gas. DK

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged in a 30 November press release on the organization's website ( that Uzbek authorities are holding closed trials of defendants charged in connection with May unrest in Andijon. HRW said that its representatives were denied access to two ongoing trials near Tashkent. "The Uzbek government should allow immediate access to the trials for the defendants' relatives, trial monitors, and local human rights activists," Holly Cartner, HRW Europe and Central Asia director, commented. The press release follows a 29 November report by that three secret trials of Andijon defendants are now under way in Uzbekistan; the news agency cited information gathered by the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan. DK

Minskharsauyzdruk, a state-run company that operates Minsk's network of newspaper kiosks and newsstands, has annulled a 2006 distribution contract that it signed two months before with the private weekly "Salidarnasts," Belapan reported on 30 November, quoting "Salidarnasts" Editor in Chief Alyaksandr Starykevich. Last month, Belposhta, Belarus's state postal service, excluded a dozen of independent periodicals from its subscription catalogue: "Salidarnasts," "Narodnaya volya," "Zhoda," "Rehiyanalnaya hazeta," "Nasha Niva," "Vitebskii kurer," "Brestskii Kurer," "Intex-Press," "Hazeta Slonimskaya," "Borisovskie novosti," "Dlya vas," and "Volnaye Hlybokaye" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005, and "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 21 November 2005). "It is impossible to print an independent newspaper in Belarus, subscription and distribution is also impossible. What kind of press can survive in the country?" Starykevich commented. Minskharsayuzdruk is a subsidiary of Belsayuzdruk, a company operating under the Information Ministry's control. JM

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the 28 November decision by the Minsk district prosecutor's office not to open a criminal investigation into the death of journalist Vasil Hrodnikau in a letter to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka dated 30 November. "Vasil Hrodnikau was found dead in his apartment in the Minsk suburbs on 18 October 2005. Investigators found blood stains on the wallpaper, a broken table, and dried blood on the victim's head. A post mortem examination revealed that death was caused by a blow from a blunt object, "the letter reads. "We fear we will never know the exact circumstances of the death of Vasil Hrodnikou, as was unfortunately the case for two other journalists, Veranika Charkasava and Dmitry Zavadski," the watchdog added. Charkasava was found murdered in her apartment in Minsk on 20 October 2004, while Zavadski went missing at Minsk airport on 7 July 2000. JM

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told journalists in Kyiv on 1 December that Brussels has reached an agreement with Kyiv on granting Ukraine market economy status, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Barroso was speaking shortly after a EU-Ukraine summit, which was also attended by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, EU High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Affairs and Neighborhood Policy Bettina Ferrero-Waldner, and other Ukrainian and EU officials. Ukraine's new status means that the country will now be better protected against charges of illegally dumping goods on the EU market. Any country that takes anti-dumping measures against Ukraine in the future will have to prove its case, whereas hitherto the onus of proof has been on Ukraine. JM

The European Union on 30 November officially initiated its operation to monitor the Ukrainian-Moldovan border, Ukrainian and international media reported. The operation has been set up to combat smuggling, which is believed to be rife, especially along Ukraine's 400-kilometer-long border with Moldova's separatist region of Transdniester. The operation's inauguration ceremony in Odesa was attended by EU High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Affairs and Neighborhood Policy Bettina Ferrero-Waldner, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, and Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan. The operation consists of some 70 border policemen and customs officers from 16 EU countries and 50 local staffers. It has a budget of 8 million euros ($9.4 million) and a two-year mandate, which can be extended. The monitors are authorized to make unannounced inspections at any location on the Ukrainian-Moldovan frontier. However, they will not operate on Transdniestrian territory. JM

Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, who claims to have made secret recording of conversations in former President Leonid Kuchma's office, returned to Kyiv on 30 November after five years in exile, Ukrainian and international media reported. Melnychenko told journalists in Kyiv that he wants to see Kuchma and his allies punished for their alleged involvement in the 2000 murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, which his recordings seem to confirm. "We came back to Ukraine," Melnychenko said. "This is our motherland and we will live here. And we will do everything in order to ensure Kuchma's gang is held responsible for the dangerous and particularly serious crimes committed against each of you. Let them be found responsible in court." Melnychenko, who left Ukraine in 2000 and was given political asylum in the United States, came back with former Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Yelyashkevych, also a political refugee in the United States. On 1 December Melnychenko was reportedly summoned for interrogation next week as a witness in the Gongadze case conducted by the Prosecutor-General's Office. JM

Presiding Judge Kevin Parker of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal announced on 30 November that former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) fighter Haradin Bala is guilty of murder, torture, and cruelty against Serbian and ethnic Albanian civilians at the Lipusnik camp west of Prishtina in 1998 and has been sentenced to 13 years in prison, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The tribunal acquitted for lack of evidence Isak Musliu, who was at the same camp, and Fatmir Limaj, who was a major figure in the UCK and a key ally of commander Hashim Thaci, who is now the head of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 March 2003). News of Limaj's acquittal led to celebrations in Prishtina and across Kosova that lasted throughout the night. President Ibrahim Rugova said the acquittal "proves the just nature of the war of liberation from Serbian occupation, for the freedom and independence of our country." Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi said it shows that "Fatmir and his comrades had only one goal, the liberation of Kosova." PM

Elsewhere in Kosova on 30 November, several local Serb leaders said that the Hague tribunal's verdict showed that the tribunal has a double standard and discriminates against Serbs, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Prominent politician Oliver Ivanovic noted that Limaj was not convicted ostensibly because his responsibility for the acts of his subordinates could not be determined. Ivanovic asked rhetorically whether the tribunal will ever hold any former senior UCK figure to account for the acts of subordinates. PM

Moldovan Economics and Trade Minister Valeriu Lazar said on 30 November that Chisinau will increase what it charges Russia to transport gas across its territory if Gazprom raises its gas prices, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. The Russian state-controlled natural-gas monopoly has said it intends to raise the price of gas delivered to Moldova and Ukraine to European prices by next year. Aleksander Ryazanov, vice president of Gazprom's board of directors, said the increase will be gradual. But Lazar said the price hike, from $80 per 1,000 cubic meters to as much as $150-$160, is not economically justified. BW

The European Union's mission to help monitor and police Moldova's border with Ukraine was formally opened on 30 November, international news agencies reported the same day. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner for external relations, ceremonially opened the mission from its headquarters in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa, Reuters reported. "This helps Ukraine and Moldova to come closer to the European Union," Solana said. The mission will be led by Brigadier General Ferenc Banfi of Hungary and will include border police and customs officials from 16 EU member states, dpa reported. The European Commission has allocated 7 million euros ($8.4 million) for the project, which is scheduled to last two years. Teams of EU border and customs officials will work along the entire Moldova-Ukraine border, including the Transdniester section, with authorization to visit police and customs posts in both countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2005). BW

Most of the Yugoslav successor states will enter 2006 with a long road ahead of them toward their goal of Euro-Atlantic integration. Whether and when they will complete that journey is anything but certain.

In the late 1980s, the following joke made the rounds in former Yugoslavia:Question -- How many countries will there be in Europe in 2010?Answer -- Nine: Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Vojvodina.

Almost 20 years later, that joke has a sharper bite than it did during the twilight months of socialist Yugoslavia. Of course, Slovenia is a member of both the EU and NATO, and hence has attained the principal goals of Euro-Atlantic integration. Croatia's attempt to follow suit is still dogged by its failure to arrest and extradite fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina, but few observers doubt that Zagreb's representatives will sit as full members in both Brussels-based organizations well before the end of the decade. However, even if there is little or no serious discussion of independence for Vojvodina, the rest of the joke seems to have come true with a vengeance.

In fact, the dissolution of former Yugoslavia is still continuing. Despite pressure from the European Union on behalf of maintaining a joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, it seems likely that that polity will become looser still or split up entirely by the end of 2006. The Montenegrin authorities have floated trial balloons about continuing some sort of union of two "independent states," probably in case Podgorica cannot win its long-planned referendum on independence -- but it is not clear whether the voters of Serbia as well as of Montenegro will be prepared to accept yet another experiment in dubious if innovative statecraft.

The root of the problem is that there has never been a consensus among Montenegrins as to whether they are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. In addition, there is a large and vocal Montenegrin population living and working in Serbia with a clear interest in maintaining a joint state. The process of dissolution nonetheless seems to have reached a point where Belgrade and Podgorica have long ceased to work together as an effective political entity -- they have not shared even a common currency for years.

The situation in Kosova is both more complex and more clear-cut. It is more complex in that, unlike regarding Montenegro, Belgrade politicians determinedly maintain Serbia's claim to the place in their public rhetoric. This is because elections are widely expected in 2006, and nationalism centering on the emotional issue of Kosova still wins votes. The rhetoric remains strident even if some of those same leaders are willing to express other views in private. Furthermore, should Serbia eventually lose its remaining formal sovereignty over Kosova, it will still seek to stay involved in the province because of the Serbian minority and cultural monuments there, to say nothing of Kosova's mining industry.

The Kosova situation is paradoxically also more clear-cut than that of Montenegro because it is evident that the ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population and have no doubt that their goal is independence. Some Serbian politicians, such as Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, have tried to discredit the Kosovars' demand for independence based on self-determination and majority rule by spreading the idea that the Kosovars are incapable of running their own affairs. Such politicians argue that an independent Kosova would "destabilize" the Balkans by somehow opening a Pandora's box of region-wide nationalist passions and providing a haven for organized crime, as if rabid nationalists and various mafias were not already alive and well throughout much of the rest of former Yugoslavia, including Serbia.

In any event, it seems likely that some form of final status talks for Kosova will begin in early 2006 under the leadership of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The outcome will probably be independence but with a strong international presence to monitor minority-related issues and provide sufficient security to allay Serbian fears of Albanian pogroms and Albanian fears of a return of Serbian forces. In the eyes of the majority, the important thing is that the independence be seen as real and bring an end to the international rule that is widely regarded as colonial and wasteful.

Concrete possibilities for entering the EU and NATO will be as politically and psychologically important for Kosova as they are throughout the rest of former Yugoslavia (and Albania). In November, Bosnia-Herzegovina became the last country in the region to get the green light from the EU for talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which is the first serious step toward EU membership. None of the countries in the region (except Croatia) has any real prospect of actually joining the Brussels-based bloc at any time in the foreseeable future, and Bosnia's own chief negotiator says his country faces a "transition period" to full membership of about 10 years. But the Bosnian case recently demonstrated what had previously been shown elsewhere, namely that a serious prospect of SAA talks and progress toward full membership is a powerful tool for promoting reforms. In Macedonia, too, the allure of the two Brussels-based organizations has helped keep the internal peace settlement of 2001 more or less on course, despite some occasional politically inspired bumps in the road.

In fact, Euro-Atlantic integration enjoys widespread political support throughout the region, except in some ultranationalist circles, such as in Serbia. This consensus is the result of the general belief that integration means membership in the "rich man's club," a seat at tables where important decisions are made, and plentiful subsidies. It also means the prospect of foreign investment and the visa-free travel throughout Europe that older ex-Yugoslavs remember from the last decades of socialist Yugoslavia. Indeed, for many ordinary people, jobs and travel are the main reasons to look towards Brussels.

But the prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration is not an instant remedy for all problems. The acquiescence of the Bosnian Serbs in military and police reform in 2005 was grudging and incomplete. Despite much pressure from outside and support from among the Muslims in particular, Bosnia is still a long way from parting with its dysfunctional 1995 Dayton agreement constitution in favor of a more streamlined and centralized state. Both the United States and EU nonetheless hope to have constitutional reforms in place in the spring of 2006 so that they will be in effect for the October elections.

It is far from certain, however, that such changes will win approval in Bosnia. This is primarily because the Serbs suspect that any tampering with Dayton will consign them to the status of a minority in a Muslim-dominated state. It might be worth recalling that a common factor in the Croatian, Bosnian, and Kosova conflicts in the 1990s was the refusal of local Serbs to accept that they could live as a minority in a state dominated by another ethnic group, and the cynical manipulation of those fears by the Belgrade leadership under Serbian and later Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Moreover, the foreigners themselves play a role in Bosnia that many think is a big part of the problem. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has virtually unlimited powers and is not subject to any control by elected Bosnian officials. More than once the high representative has found himself in the position of overruling or sacking elected officials -- who happen to be nationalists -- in the name of promoting democratic values.

This paradoxical situation of imposing democracy by fiat has led to a lively debate in recent years about reforming the Dayton system, in the course of which four models emerged. One calls for strengthening the OHR on the grounds that it is the only institution that is capable of breaking the structures that emerged in wartime. The second advocates phasing out the OHR in the name of promoting democracy. The third approach would throw out Dayton and call a new constitutional convention, even if it were dominated by the nationalists. The fourth model is the most radical, in that it calls for declaring the Bosnian state a failure and partitioning it between Serbia and Croatia, with the Muslims left with a rump mini-state or the option of joining one of the neighbors. The recent moves by the United States and EU toward constitutional streamlining in Bosnia were intended as a way out of this impasse but still do not clarify all the questions surrounding the OHR.

Another issue confronting Bosnia and also Serbia on their respective roads to Euro-Atlantic integration is the apparent continuing presence on their territories of major fugitive war crimes indictees. Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is believed to spend his time in the Republika Srpska and adjoining areas of Montenegro, while his former military commander, ex-General Ratko Mladic, is probably in Serbia. Neither man could remain on the loose without an extensive support network, and both probably enjoy some form of protection from people in positions of authority. In the case of Mladic in particular, it is widely believed that Army support has helped ensure his survival. Croatia's General Gotovina, too, has presumably continued to escape justice only with the help of old-boy networks, perhaps ones dating back to his prewar days in the French Foreign Legion.

A further problem bedeviling nearly all the countries of the western Balkans to one extent or another involves structures linking the worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and organized crime. These are probably most evident in Bosnia, where they took root during the 1992-95 war, and in Serbia, where they were part and parcel of Milosevic's rule from the late 1980s until 2000. The assassination of pro-reform Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in March 2003, which has not yet been fully explained, served notice as to how serious the problem of clandestine structures remains, as do other periodic acts of violence against journalists and other public personalities in Serbia and Montenegro.

It remains to be seen how seriously the EU and NATO will ultimately take such matters into consideration in judging the western Balkans' prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration. The two Brussels-based organizations have already accepted as members some other postcommunist states that underwent dubious privatization processes in the 1990s or have questionable links between some individuals in politics, business, and former Soviet security networks. Observers in former Yugoslavia also point out that few countries in North America or Western Europe are themselves immune from serious scandals. In the end, what will ultimately determine the pace of Euro-Atlantic integration in most of former Yugoslavia and Albania is a combination of the willingness of those countries to undertake reforms themselves, and the desire of the EU and NATO not to have a "black hole" develop on the eastern side of the Adriatic that could attract the attention of terrorists and become an even greater hotbed of organized crime and human trafficking. What the time frame for this integrative process will prove to be is anyone's guess.

The chairman of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), Besmellah Besmel, said in Kabul on 30 November that Afghanistan's parliamentary and Provincial Council elections have been formally finalized, the state-run Afghanistan National Television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). Besmel conceded that there were problems during the electoral process, but he added that the Afghan people have accepted the final results nonetheless. While the election process is over, the television report stated that a "large number" of candidates continue to criticize the results of the polls. A number of parliamentary candidates held a meeting at the International Press Center in Kabul on 30 November to express their dissatisfaction with the process. AT

Visiting French Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Henri Bentegeat said in Kabul on 30 November that the threats facing French military personnel in Afghanistan have changed, AFP reported. "Today, there no longer are organized terrorist groups" in large numbers, Bentegeat said, as was the case in 2004. The threat, however, has developed into "individual attacks -- suicide attacks or attacks with mines or homemade bombs," he added. While the presence of foreign elements has been "periodically established" in the Afghan theater, this presence is "not generalized," Bentegeat said. He added that suicide missions "are absolutely not an Afghan practice." While not discounting possible links between terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bentegeat said the situation in Afghanistan is "not at all" similar to that in Iraq. France currently maintains approximately 600 troops in Kabul under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and around 200 Special Forces with the U.S.-led coalition forces. Bentegeat promised to increase the number of French troops serving with ISAF and said his country will continue to train the Afghanistan military, Afghanistan National Television reported. AT

In an attack in the Shamalzai area of Zabul Province on 29 November, suspected neo-Taliban fighters captured 16 Afghan policemen, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 30 November. An official from Zabul told AIP on condition of anonymity that the neo-Taliban captured the officers and set Shamalzai's administrative headquarters ablaze. "The Taliban also took away 80 assorted weapons and three motorcycles," the official added. Qari Mohammad Yusof speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban, told AIP on 30 November that some of the captured policemen have been released, while the remaining captives are being interrogated and their fates will be determined by a Taliban court. Mohammad Yusof did not disclose the number of officers who have been released. AT

Speaking at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow on 30 November, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the organization is particularly "concerned about the situation in Afghanistan," RIA-Novosti reported. The CSTO is troubled by the "ongoing drugs threat" coming from Afghanistan and activities of extremist groups in that country, he said. CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha on 30 November blamed NATO for failing to curtail the production of illegal drugs in Afghanistan, the Military News Agency (AVN) reported. Bordyuzha added that the CSTO and NATO can cooperate in trying to reduce the output of illegal drugs from Afghanistan and combating terrorism. CSTO's member states are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. AT

Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Reza Assefi was in Damascus on 30 November, where he discussed regional politics and bilateral cooperation with Syrian officials including Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara and the deputy speaker of parliament, Nasir Qaddur, IRNA reported the same day. Assefi, who also serves as Foreign Ministry spokesman, was asked after his meeting with al-Shara about reports concerning Iranian-U.S. contacts over Iraq. "Talking to America is not on our agenda," he said. When asked why the United States has asked its ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to contact Iran over Iraqi affairs, he replied, "Ask them" (see "U.S.: Washington Willing To Discuss Iraq With Iran,", 30 November 2005). He signed a consular-cooperation document with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faruq Taha, intended to ease travel for officials, diplomats, and pilgrims; reduce airport formalities; ensure the exchange of information on security and criminal arrests; and foster cooperation over extraditions and against organized crime, among other things. The two sides also discussed unspecified external pressures on Iran and Syria. Assefi told Qaddur that "pressuring Iran and Syria will harm the region's security and peace," IRNA reported. In his meeting with Faruq al-Shara, Assefi warned that "enemy plans are aimed at all regional states," reported. VS

Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Ja'fari showed optimism over Iran's economy during remarks to the press in Tehran on 29 November, also contradicting international sources with his figures, Radio Farda reported on 30 November. Since 2002, Iran has attracted more than $50 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) -- more than 33 times the figure reported by UNCTAD, a UN body -- the broadcaster quoted Danesh-Ja'fari as saying. Radio Farda speculated that the figure seemingly includes sums for oil-sector buyback deals. Danesh-Ja'fari's pledge to pursue privatization and curb state intervention in business also contradicts President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's interventionist views, Radio Farda noted. Danesh-Ja'fari said the government has received 85 percent of its forecast tax revenues for the year that began on 21 March 2005 in the eight months following that date, Mehr news agency reported on 29 November. Inflation ran at 14.1 percent in the same period, he said, adding that this was lower than inflation for the same period the previous year. As the government receives just 4.5 percent of its tax revenues from 14 provinces, he added, it is considering waiving taxes on businesses investing in those provinces to boost investment in "deprived" parts of Iran. VS

The press court in Tehran will be examining unspecified charges against four publications -- including "Kar-va-Kargar," a daily affiliated with labor groups, and "Ravanshenasi-ye Jame'e," a psychology journal -- on 4 December, ISNA reported on 29 November, adding that sessions will be public and with a jury in attendance. Separately, labor activist Burhan Divargar is being prosecuted in Saqqez, western Iran, accused of "acting against state security," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 30 November, quoting defense lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah. He is charged in connection with unrest in Saqqez on May Day -- on a similar charge to the one for which he was previously jailed after participating in an illegal demonstration on May Day in 2004 -- Dadkhah said. In Tehran, Tehran University student and activist Davud Dashtbani has been summoned to court, charged with "insulting the clergy," ISNA reported on 29 November without citing the date of appearance. Tehran University students have recently objected to the appointment of a cleric to head the university (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). VS

Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi said in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, on 30 November that Iraq will expel the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), ISNA reported. The MKO comprises rebels opposed to Iran's government who are taking refuge in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005); they are considered terrorists by Iran, the United States, and the European Union. "You may be sure this group will not stay in Iraq. We shall expel them," he said, vowing the prosecution of some members, presumably for collaborating in acts of violence by Iraq's former regime. Speaking at a meeting with members of the Habilian Society, which reportedly attends to relatives of MKO victims, al-Mahdi said that Iraqis have viewed "this terrorist group as part of Saddam [Hussein's] army." Certain "suspect groups and followers of Saddam" want them to remain in Iraq, he said, and "hope to use them" against Iran. Iraq's ambassador in Iran, Muhammad Majid al-Sheikh, added that relatives of MKO members gathered outside Iraq's embassy at an unspecified date, urging Iraq to act "so their children would return to Iran," ISNA reported. "This group will have no place in Iraq...and the way is open for those who wish to return to Iran," he said. VS

Armed militants attacked a municipality building and a U.S. base in Al-Ramadi with rockets and mortars on 1 December, international media reported. Al-Arabiyah television reported that the gunmen had "full control of the city" and could be seen on the streets and on rooftops. The satellite channel's correspondent in the city reported intensive shelling of the governorate building and the citizenship-affairs building, "which the U.S. forces use as their headquarters," inside the city. The correspondent also claimed that a U.S. base in Al-Ta'mim, west of Al-Ramadi, was attacked. Al-Arabiyah reported that fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda Organization of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers (Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn) distributed leaflets in Al-Ramadi claiming responsibility for the attacks. A second leaflet distributed by the organization reportedly claimed the downing of a U.S. drone. The Al-Arabiyah correspondent said he believes that U.S. forces are holed up in the governorate building and not returning fire. Residents remained inside their homes, the news channel reported. A Reuters correspondent in Al-Ramadi claimed that some 400 insurgents are on the streets of the city, saying the gunmen set up checkpoints at entrances to the city. KR

U.S. forces launched a military operation dubbed Operation Iron Hammer along Iraq's border with Syria on 30 November, the Multinational Force-Iraq website ( reported the same day. The operation is being carried out in the Hay al-Bakr region near Hit and seeks to "clear the region of Al-Qaeda and Iraq-led terrorists and establish a secure environment for the upcoming national elections" slated for 15 December, according to the website. Some 500 Iraqi Army soldiers and 1,500 U.S. Marines and soldiers from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit along with 500 U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Battalion - 114th Field Artillery Regiment are taking part in the operation. "Operation Iron Hammer will clear the area on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, an area not typically patrolled by Iraqi and U.S. forces," the press release stated. KR

A joint U.S.-Iraqi raid carried out as part of Operation Thunder Blitz in southern Baghdad on 29 November resulted in the capture of 33 suspected terrorists, according to a 30 November press release on the Multinational Force-Iraq website. The suspects were rounded up after U.S. and Iraqi forces targeted seven spots along the Tigris River. Meanwhile, Task Force Baghdad soldiers uncovered three significant weapons caches on an island in the Euphrates river southwest of Baghdad on 28 November, the website reported. The caches reportedly contained 11 500-pound (227 kilogram) bombshells, C-4 explosives, welding equipment, mortar rounds, miscellaneous bomb-making material, 57-millimeter rockets, 18 kilos of fertilizer, 12 directional charges, five 155-millimeter mortar rounds, 30 meters of detonation cord, three rocket-propelled grenades, and eight bags of 20-millimeter rounds. KR

Salih al-Mutlaq, head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) following a 30 November press briefing in Jordan that his list includes more than 40 organizations not registered with the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission as well as six registered political parties, RFI reported on 1 December. "The list includes all sects; the list put aside sectarianism and racist preferences and took all Iraqis that [support] the Iraqi identity and defend Iraq" above a specific religious or national identity, al-Mutlaq said. "Therefore it is a list for all Iraqis; a list for any Iraqi who wants a united Iraq." He claimed his list will support a dialogue with the "decent national resistance" aimed at calming the security situation in Iraq. Al-Arabiyah television reported on 1 December that al-Mutlaq claimed the Iraqi resistance will not hold any dialogue with the current Iraqi government. He reportedly also said that armed violence in Iraq will not end until what he described as the leaders of the national project (Sunni Arab nationalists) come to rule in Iraq, the news channel reported. KR

U.S. President George W. Bush announced a National Strategy for Victory in Iraq at a 30 November nationally televised speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Bush declined to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, saying: "As the Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop levels in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists. These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and by the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington." Bush added that the setting of an artificial deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces would "vindicate the terrorist tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder and invite new attacks on America." The strategy was released in a 38-page unclassified document posted on the website. KR