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Newsline - December 9, 2005

Police and prosecutors searched the Moscow offices of Neftyanoi Bank on 8 December, Russian news agencies reported the same day. It was the second consecutive day that police in Moscow searched a bank's office. On 7 December, police searched the offices of MDM Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2005). "The story is reminiscent of the search of MDM bank. It has nothing to do with the bank's activities but is related to one of its clients," said Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and a member of the bank's management board. He added that the bank cooperated with police. But "The Moscow Times" quoted an unidentified spokesperson with the Prosecutor-General's Office as saying the search was part of a "criminal probe into illegal banking operations being conducted through this bank, "including the laundering of illegally gained funds." BW

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December that the search was far from routine and could be an attempt by the Kremlin to intimidate political opponents. "The search was done the hard way: the investigators brought with them a Special Police Unit, which closed access to the bank from all sides and blocked bank employees in their offices," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December, citing unidentified sources at the bank. Citing sources at the Prosecutor-General's Office, the newspaper reported that the search was an effort to uncover evidence of money laundering on the part of one of the bank's clients. "Another possible explanation is that the Prosecutor-General's Office is using this demonstration of force to warn bankers not to finance the political opposition activities of ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov," "Kommersant-Daily" commented. BW

Unified Russia is preparing draft legislation that would make it possible for the majority party in the State Duma to propose candidates for prime minister, "Vedomosti" reported on 8 December, citing State Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov. According to the proposed changes, the parliamentary majority would be able to recommend prime-ministerial candidates to the president for consideration in the Duma. It mirrors a provision that allows majority parties in regional legislatures to propose candidates for governor. "This mechanism resembles the French model," Morozov said, according to "Vedomosti." Other members of Unified Russia are drafting amendments allowing the parliamentary majority to propose the entire cabinet. According to "Vedomosti," Morozov submitted the legislation to the Kremlin, rather than to the Duma, in hopes that President Vladimir Putin would formally propose it. BW

Nikolai Filatov, Moscow's chief epidemiologist, said on 8 December that the Russian capital's blood supply has not been infected by an HIV-positive donor in Voronezh, Interfax reported the same day. "We have carried out our investigation and established that no HIV-infected donor blood arrived in Moscow from Voronezh," Filatov said. "I can assure you that there is absolutely no danger to patients in Moscow hospitals due to the latest incident in Voronezh." Meanwhile, a woman who was reportedly infected with HIV-positive blood in a Voronezh maternity ward said on 8 December that she plans to sue the doctors responsible, ITAR-TASS reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2005). BW

Lawyers for Fail Sadretdinov, one of the defendants facing trial for the murder of American journalist Paul Klebnikov, have petitioned the Moscow City Court on 8 December requesting permission to be involved in jury selection, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "We do not trust the objectivity of the court in preparing for the hearing, as at previous hearings the court refused to enter into the record our request for information on the case," said Ruslan Koblyov, one of Sadretdinov's lawyers. The court ruled on 6 December that Sadretdinov and two other defendants, Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhaev, will receive a jury trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2005). Jury selection is scheduled to begin on 29 December. Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, was killed in July 2004. BW

Moscow's Nikulinskii District Court sentenced eight members of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) to between 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 years in prison on 8 December after they were found guilty of seizing a presidential office, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Thirty-one other NBP members, who have already spent nearly a year in pretrial detention, received suspended sentences and were released. Vitalii Varivoda, the defendants' attorney, called the sentences "lenient but unjust," RIA-Novosti reported. The activists were arrested in December 2004 while occupying a room in the presidential-administration building. BW

Foreign Intelligence Service head Sergei Lebedev has claimed that nongovernmental organizations employ spies, the official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 8 December. "We do have this information," Lebedev said. "But don't be surprised, this is nothing extraordinary. Humanitarian missions and NGOs are very attractive for all intelligence services worldwide. Intelligence officers need a cover, a mask and a screen. This is the characteristic of our work." Lebedev said Russia is defending its national interests when it restricts the activities of NGOs. "These organizations have felt free and at ease in Russia, so even the tiniest attempts to streamline their work are now perceived as an encroachment on their rights," Lebedev said. A controversial law restricting the financing and activities of NGOs passed its first reading in the State Duma on 23 November. It has been sharply criticized by Western governments and human-rights groups. A second reading is expected to take place on 16 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 November, and 2, 5, 6, and 7 December 2005). BW

Sergei Lavrov said on 8 December that cooperation between NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) could yield positive results for both sides, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "By pooling their potentials, NATO and CSTO could significantly increase the positive results [of their activities]," Lavrov said at a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels. Lavrov said one such benefit could be in the battle against drug trafficking in Afghanistan. "It is necessary to find a mutual understanding between NATO, which operates within Afghanistan, and organizations that operate outside of its borders," Lavrov said. Likewise, CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha said in Moscow the same day that the organization plans to work closely with NATO, Interfax reported. "We are now planning to implement a political resolution approved by CSTO leaders to begin official relations with NATO," Bordyuzha said. "The aims of both organizations, though of different weight, are close in essence, and those are countering contemporary challenges and security threats: terrorism, drug trafficking, and others." BW

Lavrov also said on 8 December that Russia is opposed to giving the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council new functions such as monitoring human rights, Russian news agencies reported. "We believe it would be counterproductive to revise the practice of cooperation with" the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Lavrov said in Brussels, according to RIA-Novosti. Lavrov added that the council was formed to fight threats to stability in Europe, including terrorism, drug trafficking, weapons proliferation, and natural disasters. "We can only solve these issues together. This is the essence of the partnership and its main value," Lavrov said. BW

Citing anonymous sources in the Security Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 December that Russia will seek to change its relationship with NATO to something akin to affiliate membership. "While facing the threat of drastic weakening positions of Russia in the post-Soviet space, the Kremlin decided to change the quality of the relationship with the alliance," "Kommersant-Daily" wrote. "The Russian Security Council is discussing the possibility of affiliate membership of Russia in NATO. The essence of this idea is to officially establish an alliance relationship with NATO," the newspaper continued. According to the newspaper's Security Council sources, the plan is to seek a relationship with NATO along "the French model" under which "Moscow will participate in all alliance activities" other than military action. "It is still not clear how NATO will react to this Russian initiative," "Kommersant-Daily" wrote. BW

North Korean authorities are investigating why a Russian cargo ship was detained after straying into North Korean territorial waters to avoid a storm, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 and 9 December. "The relevant bodies...are conducting an investigation," an unidentified North Korean diplomat said. Russian diplomats, meanwhile, are working with their North Korean counterparts to resolve the issue. "The Russian Embassy in Pyongyang and the consulate general in Chongjin are taking all the necessary measures to release the ship so it can return to its homeland," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ship moved on 9 December to the large North Korean port of Kimchaek, northeast of Pyongyang, where the investigation will take place with Russian diplomats present, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The cargo ship was detained by North Korean border guards on 5 December after veering into North Korean waters to avoid a heavy storm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2005). BW

First Deputy Prime Minister Dimitrii Medvedev announced in Beijing on 8 December that President Putin will travel to China in late March 2006 to attend the opening ceremony of the Year of Russia in China, RIA-Novosti reported. Medvedev, who chairs Russia's Year of China in Russia organizing committee, added that Putin will also attend the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in China later that year. He made the announcement after meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is also general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Hu told Medvedev that China will deal with the toxic chemical spill on the Songhua River, whose waters flow on to Khabarovsk, with a "highly responsible" attitude, "Renmin Ribao" reported. "We will take all necessary and effective measures and do our utmost to minimize the pollution and reduce the damage to the Russian side," Hu said, adding that "relevant problems will be properly solved with our joint efforts and close cooperation." PM

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Beijing is considering building a "temporary dam" on the Fuyuan waterway to help protect Khabarovsk's water sources from pollution, "Renmin Ribao" reported. He added that "China and Russia are still discussing the details of the temporary dam." The Songhua River flows into the Heilong, which the Fuyuan joins with the Ussuri River to become the Amur near Khabarovsk. The Siberian city draws its water from the lower reaches of the Fuyuan. London's "The Guardian" noted that, "if the plan goes ahead, Beijing will have done more for its neighbors than it did for its own people," who have suffered from their government's delayed and secretive response to the spill. PM

The report circulated by his press service on 7 December that Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov has been elected to head the Chechen branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is erroneous, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Dukvakha Abdrakhmanov told "Kommersant," according to on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2005). Abdrakhmanov explained that the Chechen branch of Unified Russia merely recommended Kadyrov's election to that post. The online daily added that the current deputy head of the Chechen branch of Unified Russia, Chechnya's State Duma Deputy Ruslan Yamadaev, was in line to succeed outgoing head Frants Klintsevich. Klintsevich himself characterized both Kadyrov and pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov as "not bad" candidates, but explained that the party is against electing a senior representative of the executive as head of its Chechen chapter. LF

Opposition party leaders announced at a meeting in Yerevan on 8 December plans for a broad-based antigovernment "civic movement" comprising not only politicians but representatives of civil society, that would spearhead a "serious struggle" aimed at ousting the present Armenian leadership, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. But they declined to specify a time frame for achieving that end. Nor have they agreed on the structure of the new body, which Nor Zhamanakner leader Aram Karapetian proposed should be modeled on the 11-man Karabakh Committee established in early 1988 to coordinate the campaign to have the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast transferred from Azerbaijani to Armenian jurisdiction. LF

Parliament deputies approved on 8 December by a vote of 73 in favor, 12 against, and one abstention, to prolong for a further year the mandate of Armenia's peacekeeping force currently deployed in south-central Iraq as part of a Polish-led international division, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The opposition Artarutiun faction, which voted against the peacekeepers' initial deployment one year ago, was not present in parliament for the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 28 December 2004). The 45 Armenian peacekeepers are almost all doctors, demining experts, or drivers of military vehicles. LF

The Azadlyq opposition bloc decided on 8 December to postpone from 10 to 17 December the protest rally it hoped to stage on Baku's Gelebe Square, and reported on 9 December. The municipal authorities authorized the holding of opposition rallies on 10 December only at the motorcycle racing track on the city outskirts, a venue that the opposition has repeatedly rejected as inaccessible. The Baku authorities also accused the opposition of violating the law during its previous protest rally on 26 November by calling for violence and civil disobedience and by resisting police. Dozens of participants at that protest were injured when police resorted to violence to disperse them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). LF

Isa Qambar was quoted on 9 December by as saying neither the opposition Musavat party which he heads nor the Azadlyq bloc of which Musavat is a member has reached a final decision over whether its candidates should participate in the repeat elections in 10 constituencies where the outcome of the 6 November parliamentary ballot were annulled. Lala Shovket Gadjieva, leader of the National Unity movement, has announced that her movement will not participate in the repeat elections, and that she hopes Azadlyq, too, decides against doing so. Former President Ayaz Mutalibov has told Trend news agency he will not participate in the repeat ballot, reported. LF

Reports of a secret CIA prison on Azerbaijani territory are "an invention," Azerbaijani Justice Minister Fikret Mamedov told journalists in Baku on 8 December, reported. Mamedov added that the investigation launched by the Council of Europe last month following the publication in "The Washington Times" of a report that the CIA transfers maintains a network of secret prisons in Europe and elsewhere where suspected terrorists are detained and questioned has nothing to do with Azerbaijan. LF

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said in Tbilisi on 8 December he will not attend the emergency meeting called for by Russian, North Ossetian, and South Ossetian leaders to discuss the tit-for-tat abductions that took place in the South Ossetian conflict zone earlier this week unless the South Ossetian authorities return the bodies of four Georgians abducted in the conflict zone six months ago, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 June and 7 December 2005). Ambassador Valerii Kenyaikin, who is the Russian co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring developments in the conflict zone, arrived in Tbilisi on 8 December en route for Tskhinvali, where the emergency JCC session was to take place on 9 December. LF

South Ossetian Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzaev claimed on 8 December that Georgian police planted counterfeit U.S. dollar bills on Vyacheslav Gudiev, a South Ossetian police officer arrested in the conflict zone on 5 December, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli told NATO officials last month that the territory of South Ossetia is used to produce counterfeit euros and U.S. dollars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). U.S. experts are working with Georgian police to try to determine where in the conflict zone those counterfeiting operations are taking place, Caucasus Press reported on 8 December. Also on 8 December, a Tbilisi City Court remanded Gudiev in pretrial detention for three months on charges of selling counterfeit currency and illegal possession of weapons, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Georgian Justice Minister Kote Kemularia and his deputy, Givi Mikanadze, separately denied on 8 December that there are one or more secret U.S. detention facilities in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Dmitrii Medoev, who is the permanent representative in Moscow of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, told in a telephone interview on 7 December that in light of what he termed Tbilisi's subservience to the CIA, he is certain that such prisons exist on Georgian territory, and he called on the international community to set about locating them. LF

Ermukhamet Ertysbaev, an adviser to President Nursultan Nazarbaev, told a forum in Almaty on 8 December that Kazakhstan's constitution could be changed to allow the president to serve another term after 2012, Interfax reported. "Let's wait until December 2012, and if [per capita] GDP is $9,000-$10,000, we'll be at the level of Eastern Europe," he said. "Maybe then we'll amend the constitution and the president will run again at 72." Noting that Nazarbaev is a "very ambitious ruler...who wants to go down in world history as a reformer," Ertysbaev stressed that China's Deng Xiaoping "started his great reforms, which transformed China, at the age of 73." Reactions to Ertysbaev's statement varied. Bulat Abilov, a well-known opposition figure and a supporter of presidential candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, commented, "I think that some people in Astana need medical help at this point," reported. Political analyst Dosym Satpaev told, "There have been precedents when they changed the constitution because of President Nazarbaev, but I think that it will all depend on the political situation." DK

Leading supporters of Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the presidential candidate for the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, told a news conference in Almaty on 8 December that they plan to dispute the results of the 4 December presidential election in Kazakhstan's Supreme Court, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. For a Just Kazakhstan representatives told journalists that they want the Supreme Court to request full documentation on the 4 December voting and election results in order to bring to light what they termed "fraud on a grand scale." According to official results, Tuyakbai received less than 7 percent of the vote. DK

Oleg Vassil, deputy director of Kyrgyzstan's Pyramid TV, announced on 8 December that the station's management plans to appeal to President Kurmanbek Bakiev over an apparent takeover attempt, reported. Pyramid chief editor Elina Chernyavskaya said that two "Israeli citizens who at one time worked on the campaign of [President] Bakiev" visited the station and said that they were going to "control the office." Parliamentary deputy Kabai Karabekov said that Maksim Bakiev, the president's brother, is behind the takeover attempt. Karabekov and two other deputies called for a parliamentary commission to investigate the matter. A Pyramid shareholders meeting is scheduled for 9 December, reported. DK

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has held a cabinet meeting to discuss the outcome of Deputy Prime Minister Atamurat Berdiev's recent visit to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005), reported on 8 December. China is prepared to extend Turkmenistan a preferential loan of 650 million yuans ($80.5 million) for communication-sector projects, the report said. Berdiev also reported from his visit that China is interested in participating in the reconstruction of Turkmenistan's Seidi oil refinery and in securing shipments of Turkmen natural gas to China. DK

Mikalay Charhinets, head of the newly created Union of Writers of Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 23 November 2005), told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 8 December that he left his former organization, the Union of Belarusian Writers (SPB) led by Ales Pashkevich, because it has engaged in "antistate activities." According to Charhinets, the SPB does not recognize the red-green flag of Belarus approved by a referendum in 1995 and is against the Russia-Belarus Union. Charhinets also said he felt uncomfortable in the SPB because he was "forced" to speak Belarusian there. "I was brought up in a Russian-speaking environment and I have never considered myself Belarusian," Charhinets said. "The highest honor for me was to represent my country [the Soviet Union]. We, the young boys, wept with joy after we won somewhere abroad and the [Soviet] anthem was being played." The Union of Writers of Belarus is widely seen as a government-sponsored, ideology-driven alternative to the SPB, which is portrayed in state media as a nationalistic organization that is hostile to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's policies. JM

The Chamber of Representatives on 8 December approved in the second reading a bill of amendments to the Criminal Code that would allow the president to discharge offenders who have "voluntarily" indemnified for the damage or loss caused, Belapan reported. The bill, which was submitted by President Lukashenka, would allow the head of state to release from criminal responsibility those accused of committing crimes against state property or state and public interests without causing any harm to human health and life. To be entitled to a presidential pardon edict, a person would have to repent, cooperate with investigators, and indemnify for all losses and damages during a pretrial stage of criminal proceedings. Deputy Mikalay Dubovik noted in the debate that the bill would not apply to people who have committed a petty theft, but rather to people who "have stolen millions from the state." He added the bill runs counter to President Lukashenka's standing order that the government should introduce tighter punishment for corruption. Despite this objection, the lower house voted overwhelmingly to pass the legislation. JM

Russian and Ukrainian experts are now drafting a protocol on Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 8 December, quoting Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov. Plachkov was speaking with EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs in Brussels. According to the draft protocol, the prices for gas supplies and transit tariffs will not change in 2006, but they will be gradually increased in 2007-09. Meanwhile, Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said the same day that the two sides had reached an "absolutely clear understanding as regards volumes of gas cooperation for next year." According to Khristenko, in 2006 Russia will export 112 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe across Ukraine, while Ukraine will buy 51 billion cubic meters of gas, an amount that includes Gazprom-produced gas and Central Asian gas shipped to Ukraine via Russia. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said on 8 December that he does not rule out using the site of the former Chornobyl nuclear plant as a dumping ground for foreign spent nuclear fuel, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. "We should study the political side of this matter. The economic expediency is evident," Yushchenko told reporters after visiting the Chornobyl site. Yushchenko stressed that the so-called "exclusion zone" around Chornobyl will be unfit for "traditional use" for centuries. Yushchenko also said the construction of a new shelter over the Chornobyl reactor destroyed by a blast in 1986 will be completed in 2010. He added that the donor countries promised to supply $1.1 billion for the shelter but have so far donated $790 million. JM

The Ukrainian Health Ministry said in a statement on 9 December that it has detected new cases of suspected bird-flu cases in Crimea, Interfax-Ukraine reported. According to the statement, on the morning of 9 November bird-flu cases were confirmed in nine villages and unexplained mass deaths of poultry were registered in eight more locations. Preliminary tests from a Russian laboratory on 8 December established that the bird-flu outbreak in Crimea was caused by the H5N1 strain of the virus, which is also dangerous to humans and killed nearly 70 people in Asia earlier this year. JM

Spain's High Court on 9 December ordered the extradition to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal of former Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who was Croatia's most wanted indictee, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2005). It is not clear exactly when the general, who is charged with atrocities against Serbian civilians in August 1995, will fly to the Netherlands. He spent the night in a Madrid jail following his arrest at a luxury hotel in Tenerife on the Canary Islands the previous day. Gotovina was traveling on a forged Croatian passport and had reportedly been in the Canary Islands for about one year at the time of his arrest. Police detained him and his bodyguard at dinner and met no resistance. Gotovina identified himself, was not armed, and had about $15,000 on his person when police arrived. The Spanish authorities had been following him since September, when they noticed that two men of Balkan origin were traveling around the Canaries and not staying more than one week in any one luxury hotel. Some reports suggested that Croatia began cooperating with the tribunal in earnest about that time, having been denied access to EU admission talks in the spring. Such reports linked the alleged increased cooperation over Gotovina to the recommendation by Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor, to the EU in October to launch admission talks with Zagreb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 11 October 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 December 2005). PM

Shortly following former General Gotovina's arrest on 8 December, Hague chief prosecutor Del Ponte said in Belgrade that she is "very grateful to Croatia for all the work they have done, and [to] the Spanish authorities who worked with us and with Croatia," international media reported. She added that "since September, we have been working to find Gotovina, and finally we [were able to] achieve that." In Zagreb, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's government said in a statement that the arrest "is an affirmation of Croatian policies.... It showed that those who trusted us [in maintaining that Gotovina was not in Croatia] were right. The rule of law has no alternative, and all those indicted must face justice." Croatian President Stipe Mesic also stressed that Gotovina's arrest in Spain proved that the Croatian authorities were correct in saying that he was not in Croatia. But several hundred nationalist supporters of Gotovina, for whom he is a war hero, clashed with riot police in central Zagreb. Further protests have been called for the weekend in the capital and in several localities in Dalmatia. Several rightist politicians and spokesmen for organizations of veterans from the 1991-95 conflict said that the arrest marked a "sad day" for the veterans, who regard Gotovina's indictment as a condemnation of what is known in Croatia as the War for the Homeland. Sanader has strongly challenged that assertion, saying that the war was noble but individual acts of atrocities must be condemned. PM

In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman said on 8 December that Gotovina's "arrest is obviously a major step forward for Croatia on its road to eventual NATO membership, and it was clearly therefore in the best interests of Croatia, and we see it as a key step towards reconciliation in the region," RFE/RL reported. In Brussels, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said that "the arrest of General Gotovina is very good news and a very important turning point in terms of bringing justice and reconciliation in the western Balkans. I trust this will also help to complete the work of the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and will facilitate reconciliation in the region." Visiting Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told reporters: "Commissioner Rehn and I have agreed that today's arrest of General Gotovina should be interpreted as an incentive for the government in Belgrade to apprehend and turn in the remaining major Hague indictees." PM

Speaking in Belgrade on 8 December after announcing Gotovina's arrest, chief prosecutor Del Ponte criticized Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs for not catching the two most prominent remaining fugitive indictees, namely former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his former General Ratko Mladic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 7 December 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 29 July 2005). "I am very disappointed about the non-arrest of fugitives," she said after meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. "I have no doubt that the government and [its] institutions are doing something to arrest Mladic, but they are certainly not doing enough," she added. For his part, Kostunica pledged to "finish cooperation" with the tribunal but did not elaborate. In Brussels, Serbian President Boris Tadic said: "I congratulate Croatia. [The arrest is] very important. We have to [bring indictees to justice] in all countries of the region." Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said that the arrest means that his country has fallen yet farther behind in relation to other former Yugoslav states in seeking Euro-Atlantic integration. He has frequently warned his countrymen that time is running out to capture Mladic and Karadzic, and that Serbs will pay a high price if they fail to do so. In Sarajevo, the international community's outgoing high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown, said that the "spotlight" is now on the Bosnian Serbs to arrest Karadzic. PM

Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 8 December that the issue of internal administrative decentralization is unrelated to the question of the province's final political status and should not be included in the upcoming status talks, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May and 9 December 2005). Rugova called for resolving the matter within the framework of local government after the talks are concluded. Belgrade and the Serbs of Kosova regard decentralization and other measures to grant Serbs self-rule as a central issue in the status talks. The Albanians fear that decentralization could lead to a de facto partition of the province, which they reject (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003). PM

NATO's North Atlantic Council on 8 December called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, according to the text of the council's communique posted on the alliance's website ( "We note with regret the lack of progress on withdrawal of Russian military forces from the Republic of Moldova and we call upon Russia to resume and complete its withdrawal as soon as possible," it says. Russian Ambassador to Moldova Nikolai Ryabov has said the troops will remain in Transdniester until a final settlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2005). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, ended on 6 December without a formal declaration, primarily due to Russian objections to a statement in the draft calling on it to pull its troops out of the breakaway province (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2005). BW

Among the documents adopted at the 5-6 December annual OSCE Foreign Ministers' meeting in Ljubljana was one ( expressing support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and for Georgian initiatives aimed at resolving peacefully the conflict between the Georgian government and the breakaway unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia. Initial summaries of that document led some Russian dailies to speculate that Moscow has abandoned its decade-long support of the unrecognized republic. But Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin rejected such speculation on 9 December as misplaced.

The Russian dailies "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Novye izvestiya" on 8 December both interpreted the wording of the Ljubljana Declaration on Georgia as an explicit endorsement by Russia -- which could have vetoed the declaration but didn't -- of President Mikheil Saakashvili's most recent plan for resolving the South Ossetian conflict. As recently as 2 December, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kamynin explicitly denied that Moscow has endorsed that revised plan which, he said, contains numerous shortcomings that have been pointed out to the Georgian government. Kamynin added that the revised plan is inferior to the earlier version that Saakashvili presented to the UN General Assembly in late 2004 and which, according to Kamynin, the South Ossetian leadership was inclined to accept. Among the key differences between the original and the revised version is that the former was to be implemented over a three-year period, and the latter by 2007. In addition, the most recent plan envisages "changes" to "optimize" the format of the peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone, according to Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili on 31 October, meaning that Georgia might insist on the withdrawal of the 500-man Russian peacekeeping contingent and its replacement with an international force.

Both Russian publications interpreted the apparent Russian volte-face as a betrayal of the South Ossetian leadership, which Russia has covertly supported since 1992, and as evidence of Moscow's lack of a clear and consistent policy with regard to the South Caucasus. In fact, however, the Ljubljana declaration does not explicitly endorse or call for the immediate implementation of Saakashvili's most recent peace proposal. Instead, it reads: "We welcome the steps taken by the Georgian side to address the peaceful resolution of the conflict and believe that the recent proposals, in particular the Peace Plan built upon the initiatives of the President of Georgia presented at the 59th United Nations General Assembly and supported by the sides, will serve as a basis for the peaceful settlement of the conflict." It also calls for the "full implementation" of earlier agreements intended to defuse tensions in the conflict zone, in the first instance "early and complete demilitarization" (which constitutes the first stage of Saakashvili's most recent three-stage peace plan), and it advocates an early meeting between Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli and South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity. Kokoity, who has repeatedly declined to set a date for any such meeting, travelled to Moscow on 7 December for consultations with the Russian leadership, during which he may be ordered to agree to meet at last with Noghaideli.

The Ljubljana declaration does, however, affirm the "need to increase the effectiveness of existing negotiation mechanisms, including the Joint Control Commission, and to fully implement the decisions agreed upon within its framework." The Joint Control Commission (JCC), established in 1992 under the aegis of the then CSCE (the forerunner of the OSCE), comprises representatives from Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia and North Ossetia. Given that Russia and the two Ossetian polities can override Georgia, the Georgian side wants to expand the JCC's composition to include U.S. and EU representation. This would, on the one hand, strengthen Georgia's position; but, on the other, until such time as the demilitarization process was complete, it would also extend responsibility for security, and possible fatalities, in the conflict zone to the EU and the United States.

"Novye izvestiya" on 8 December quoted Russian analyst Sergei Markov as suggesting that Moscow 's failure to veto the Ljubljana declaration was prompted by the desire to preclude the demise of the JCC and thus preserve some measure of influence over the situation in the conflict zone. Also on 8 December, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the conflict zone, Major General Murat Kulakhmetov, warned that Georgia's policies in the conflict zone risk precipitating "a humanitarian catastrophe," reported. And North Ossetian President Teimuraz Mamsurov wrote to Russisan First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin expressing his concern at the spiralling tensions in the conflict zone (as reflected in tit-for-tat abductions several days earlier), and calling on Russia to convene an emergency session of the JCC to discuss the deteriorating situation. Those apparently coordinated statements belie the Russian media speculation that Moscow has washed its hands of South Ossetia. Kamynin, too, sought to end such speculation by telling journalists in Moscow on 9 December that "nothing has changed" with regard to Moscow's assessment of the successive Georgian peace proposals for South Ossetia.

NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on 8 December formally endorsed an expansion of NATO's peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. The revised operational plan for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) provides strategic guidance for increased NATO support to the Afghan government in extending its authority and influence across the country, according to a NATO statement issued on 8 December. The next stage of this plan will be the expansion of ISAF to southern Afghanistan in 2006. The plan also calls for the establishment of four additional Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). At present, ISAF has about 9,000 troops providing security assistance in half of Afghanistan's territory, with nine PRTs in northern and western Afghanistan. As part of the expansion to southern Afghanistan, NATO will deploy up to an additional 6,000 personnel to Afghanistan. Afghan government sources are reportedly uncertain whether NATO has the military skills and political will to engage in active combat in restive southern Afghanistan. AT

The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body has approved Afghan President Hamid Karzai's appointees for the 34 seats of the Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) in the Afghan National Assembly, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on 8 December. Two-thirds of the members of the Council of Elders were elected from among the previously elected members of the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) and Karzai appointed the remaining one-third of the 102-member upper house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). The National Assembly is set to begin its work on 19 December. AT

Addressing the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit of heads of state in Mecca on 7 December, President Karzai said that unfortunately among the Muslims a small group of people are abusing the religion of Islam for their own gains, Bakhtar News Agency reported on 8 December. However, without confronting terrorism, which in Afghanistan is causing death and destruction, Muslim countries cannot solve this problem, he said. "We should show the true face of Islam, which insists on friendship, peace, and living together, to the world," Karzai told the summit, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 7 December. AT

A mob in Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province, east of Kabul, on 8 December set fire to the house of the alleged killer of Esmatullah Mohabat, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Mohabat, an elected member of the People's Council, was gunned down in Mehtarlam on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2005). At the time, a man identified as Sardar, whose relationship with Mohabat remains unclear, was implicated in his killing. Mohabat was a warlord in Laghman and was captured after clashing with U.S. forces in neighboring Nangarhar Province in 2004. He spent time in U.S. detention before being released a few months prior to the September elections in which he won one of four seats allocated for Laghman. Mohabat participated in the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program. The details of the case are still unclear. President Karzai has appointed a commission to investigated Mohabat's killing, Bakhtar News Agency reported on 8 December. AT

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told the media on the sidelines of a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Mecca on 8 December that Palestinian "men and women are being attacked in their homes" by Israelis who have "no roots" in the land they now occupy, IRNA reported the same day. Where have the Israelis come from, he asked, "where were they born, where did their fathers live? They have no roots in Palestine but have taken over [its] fate...and driven the natives out." He said that "we do not accept the claim" made by "some European countries" that Nazi leader Adolf "Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in incinerators," but "supposing it were true," is that a reason to back the "regime occupying" Jerusalem, he asked. "If they are serious," he added, they should give the "Zionists" land in Germany and Austria, and "let the Zionists set up their state in give them a bit of Europe, and we will support it." He specified, however, that Zionists and Jews differ: "the world's Jews support Palestine," IRNA quoted him as saying. The solution to the conflict, he said, is to hold a referendum for the "native people of Palestine," whatever their religion. VS

President Ahmadinejad said future negotiations with the European Union on Iran's nuclear program will address "supervision on the nondeviation of the peaceful direction" of Iran's program, not Iran's right to "peaceful nuclear technology," IRNA reported on 8 December. He cited Articles 3 and 4 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, and said these give it the right to access peaceful nuclear technology, and "Article 3 says no reason can suspend the rights enjoyed by member nations. We have acted and act in the framework of this treaty." But he said Iran's dossier is not so much a legal as a political problem. He said that "those who have a large number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals, and...used them against defenseless people," and also used "bombs carrying depleted uranium" in Iraq recently, are now accusing Iran of "deviating toward" nuclear bombs, IRNA reported. "You have no right to supervise Iran's peaceful nuclear activities." The aim of Western pressure is to force Iranians to "surrender," and give certain states a "monopoly" on nuclear weapons. "They tell us not to make fuel," but "really is there any guarantee you will [supply] us fuel in time, and at a suitable price?" he asked, referring to Western opposition to Iran producing its own nuclear fuel. VS

A very large crowd of Iranians including state dignitaries attended funeral ceremonies in downtown Tehran on 8 December for victims of the 6 December plane crash (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 December 2005), news agencies reported. Among the crowd were relatives of the victims, schoolchildren -- who were told not to go to school that day because of alarming levels of air pollution in the capital -- and journalists, Radio Farda reported, citing journalist and participant Ibrahim Soleimani. He said colleagues of victims from the state broadcasting body "could not conceal their emotions and many could not even stand up they were so upset." Officials who attended the funeral rally included parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, Culture Minister Mohammad Hussein Saffar-Herandi, state broadcasting chief Ezzatollah Zarghami, and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Golpayegani, the supreme leader's representative, Radio Farda and ISNA reported. VS

Parliamentary speaker Haddad-Adel told the mourning crowd that parliament will "with the cooperation of officials...make the greatest effort" to identify the causes of the crash, "to prevent the repetition of such events," ISNA reported. Culture Minister Saffar-Herandi also suggested the army should investigate the crash to reassure the victims' relatives, even if it was "the result of an entirely sudden incident," ISNA reported. In Qom the same day, Grand Ayatollah Yusef Sanei said it was not enough to express condolences. "Whoever can do something to prevent" such accidents, should do so, ISNA quoted him as saying. Journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin told IRNA on 7 December that the government should form a fact-finding team to determine the causes of the crash and establish if, as members of the public have alleged, the plane that crashed really was unfit to fly, Radio Farda reported the next day. Former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi told a political gathering in Tehran on 8 December that "if we do not tell the facts about the crash to the people, there will be dozens of rumors," ISNA reported. VS

IRAQI KURDISH WEBSITE ALLEGES KDP BEHIND ATTACKS ON RIVAL PARTY... on 8 December accused the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of being behind a series of recent attacks on the Kurdistan Islamic Union. Citing unnamed sources, the website reported that KDP security forces arrested three members of the Kurdistan Islamic Union between 28 November and 2 December after it became known that they were to act as election observers. The website also reported that the imam of the Haji Arab Mosque verbally attacked the union on 2 December, telling his congregation that anyone who failed to vote for the Kurdistan Coalition List in the election would be considered an infidel and an enemy of God. The website contends that students, backed by KDP forces, attacked the union's Dahuk office on 6 December and demanded the union replace the Kurdish flag with the Saudi flag -- an apparent attempt to label the union a betrayer. The union has reportedly received financial assistance from Saudi Arabia for several years. People interviewed by said the situation escalated after KDP forces fired at people, and then police, students, and other demonstrators attacked the building, setting it on fire. KR

The Kurdistan Regional Government has set up an investigative committee to look into reports of election-related violence after this week's melee in Dahuk, Kurdish media reported on 8 December. Regional President Mas'ud Barzani condemned the attack on the Kurdistan Islamic Union's office in Dahuk and attacks against the union in other cities, saying the government will not be lenient with those who violate the law in Kurdistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2005). KR

The militant group Islamic Army in Iraq has reportedly claimed that it has killed hostage Ronald Alan Shultz, a U.S. contractor working in Iraq, international media reported on 9 December. The group announced it was holding Shultz, a contractor for the Ministry of Housing and Construction, on 6 December and demanded the immediate release of all detainees in U.S. and Iraqi prisons and compensation for the families in the Al-Anbar Governorate for damage incurred as a result of military operations there. Shultz's killing has not been independently confirmed; the 9 December statement claimed that a videotape of the killing will soon be released. Meanwhile, the French Foreign Ministry said on 8 December that it has no news on the abduction of French national Bernard Planche, AFP reported the same day. Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and no demands have been made by the abductors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005). KR

The Iraqi Independent Election Commission (IECI) reportedly announced on 8 December that it has pulled its workers out of a London polling center after unnamed Iraqi political parties took control of the center, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 8 December. The IECI said that the unnamed parties appointed their supporters to work at the center in violation of the election law. Meanwhile, IECI member Adil al-Lami told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in an exclusive interview broadcast on 8 December that the commission has blacklisted 130 candidates from participating in the election after it was determined that they had ties to the banned Ba'ath Party. KR

Australian Prime Minister John Howard indicated on 9 December that Australian troops will likely extend their mission in Iraq, international media reported. "It is far more likely...and this will depend a great deal on how things unfold, that we will be there for a longer period," he said. The mission of Australia's current deployment of some 1,300 soldiers expires in May. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced on 8 December that Japan's 600-strong contingent in Iraq will extend its mission there for an additional year, Reuters reported the same day. KR