Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - January 10, 2006

Gennadii Onishchenko, who heads the State Health Inspectorate, told Ekho Moskvy radio on 9 January that authorities are considering closing parts of Russia's southern border to prevent the advance of avian flu from Turkey, "in line with World Health Organization requirements," if bird flu continues to spread there, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006). Two medical inspection posts have been opened on the border between Daghestan and Azerbaijan and two more on the Russian frontier with Georgia to monitor the health of people arriving from Turkey, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. On 10 January, Sergei Dankvert, who heads Russia's Veterinary Monitoring Service, told ITAR-TASS that "if Turkey needs help, we'll be ready to consider the possibility of sending our veterinary experts to that country for the elimination of the dangerous illness." Russian experts are already assisting colleagues in Ukraine in dealing with bird flu. PM

President Vladimir Putin told government ministers in Moscow on 10 January that he wants to toughen measures aimed at preventing the spread of bird flu, RIA-Novosti reported. "The instructions envisage tougher control over food markets -- which, however, must not affect consumers -- tighter border controls, and other preventive measures." He said that an appropriate amount of chemical agents and protective clothing should be prepared in case they are needed. Onishchenko of the State Health Inspectorate told the same meeting that the 4,400 Russian hajj pilgrims will constitute a "special risk group" if they return home from Saudi Arabia along a route that includes regions of eastern Turkey. PM

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters in Moscow on 9 January that he does not know the outcome of the latest Russian-Iranian talks on his government's offer to enrich Iranian nuclear fuel, but believes that "Russia has made a very reasonable proposal in order [for Iran] not to violate international law and not to cause anxiety in the world community," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006). He stressed that "the Iranian nuclear problem does exist and needs to be dealt with by political and diplomatic means...within the framework of the [International Atomic Energy Agency]." When asked if the Iranian nuclear program could lead to a war between that country and the West, he replied that it is his "great hope that things won't go that far." Elsewhere, the chairman of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, told Ekho Moskvy radio that "Russia remains one of Iran's few partners in the international arena. Our relations make it possible to discuss the most delicate of issues in an atmosphere of confidence and in a constructive way." PM

Following Iran's announcement that it has resumed research work on nuclear fuel after removing seals from a nuclear plant, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on 10 January that Russia is worried by the situation, RIA-Novosti reported. "We are concerned by Iran's recent announcement of its intention to resume uranium enrichment in the near future in spite of the moratorium drawn up between Iran and European countries," he said at a meeting of ministers with President Putin. PM

Kamil Iskhakov, who is President Putin's envoy to the Far East, said in Vladivostok on 10 January that officials in Khabarovsk need to identify new supplies of water in the aftermath of the recent toxic spill that reached Khabarovsk and other Russian communities following an industrial accident in China, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2005). He argued that "nobody can be certain that [such a] situation will not be repeated." PM

Prosecutors in Nefteyugansk in the Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug announced on 10 January that they have launched an investigation into the death of Mayor Igor Gribanov, who was found dead in his office on 7 January, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Report," 27 September 2005). A previous mayor of Nefteyugansk, Vladimir Petukhov, was murdered in 1998. Aleksei Pichugin, a former security official with the Yukos oil major, was convicted of organizing Petukhov's death by contract killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 11 July 2005). Nefteyugansk was considered the unofficial capital of the Yukos empire in its heyday. PM/VY

Radical Chechen field commander and First Deputy Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) Shamil Basaev admitted in a 9 January interview with the website Kavkaz-Tsentr that was reposted on that the 13 October raid by Islamic militants on police and security targets in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, was a failure insofar as the participants failed in their objective of inflicting serious damage on that republic's pro-Moscow leadership. But he argued that the operation, the planning of which he claimed last year to have been involved in, was still a "great victory strategically" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2005). Basaev further disclosed that he "failed to reach agreement" with the majority of the KBR's Muslim militants when he visited that republic two years ago, but that they nonetheless approached him in the spring of 2005. He said he left Nalchik on 15 October, visited lower-level field commanders in Ossetia, Ingushetia, and Chechnya, and was in Grozny at the time of the 27 November elections for a new pro-Moscow legislature. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has proclaimed a multimillion-ruble reward for the capture of Basaev, whom it holds responsible for numerous acts of terrorism, including the Beslan hostage-taking of September 2004. LF

In the same interview, Basaev said that the expansion of hostilities from Chechnya to other North Caucasus republics is the result of a conscious decision taken in 2002 by the War Council, the ChRI's supreme military decision-making body, and will continue until or unless Russia ends the war. If Russia chooses not to do so, Basaev continued, his men plan "to cross the Volga in the summer of 2006." Basaev further argued once again in favor of naming a single imam for the entire Caucasus, adding that Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev, named in March 2005 to succeed slain Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, de facto fulfills that role. LF

The Armenian government imposed a total ban on poultry imports on 9 January, as well as mandatory sanitary controls at border crossings and the checking of all pieces of baggage brought by persons arriving in Armenia from Turkey by air, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Those measures are intended to preclude the spread of bird flu to Armenia from eastern Turkey, where at least three people have died from the H5N1 strain of the disease. Grigor Baghian, head of the Armenian Agriculture Ministry's State Veterinary Inspectorate and a member of the interministerial task force established last November to coordinate preventive measures against avian flu, stressed on 9 January that "no cases of bird flu have been registered in Armenia to date," but he admitted that "the situation in neighboring countries has put us in a high-risk zone." LF

Communist Party of Armenia (HKK) head Ruben Tovmasian denied on 8 January leading Azerbaijani Communist Rauf Gurbanov's claim that the HKK considers the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic part of Azerbaijan, according to ArmenPress on 8 January as cited by Groong. Tovmasian said his party believes that any settlement of the Karabakh conflict must be based on "the people's right to self-determination," and that the issue of Karabakh's status must be resolved before other aspects of the conflict are addressed. He denied ever having met Gurbanov. LF

Two of the five Azerbaijani youth activists who began a hunger strike on 28 December to protest the expulsion of two of their number from Baku State Universityand the Azerbaijan State Pedagogical Institute have abandoned their fast due to their deteriorating health, reported on 10 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2006). But the other hunger strikers are continuing their protest, and they rejected the advice of two medical teams who visited them separately on 9 January to consent to hospitalization. Azerbaijani ombudsman Elvira Suleymanova visited the young men on 6 January, as did U.S., British, German, and Norwegian diplomatic representatives and a staffer from the OSCE's Baku office, reported on 7 January. Three prominent opposition party leaders unsuccessfully appealed to the young men on 6 January to end their protest fast. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry released a formal statement on 9 January deploring a string of robberies perpetrated over the past two weeks in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali district, which it blamed on "Abkhaz bandit groups," Caucasus Press reported. The statement likewise deplored the kidnapping for ransom on 7 January of a Georgian, Malkhaz Okudjava, from the village of Tagiloni. Local official Zaira Ekhvia was abducted from another Gali village during the night of 9-10 January, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian Foreign Ministry argued that such criminal acts demonstrate the inability or unwillingness of the Abkhaz leadership to protect local Georgians, and it appealed to the UN, the OSCE and countries directly engaged in the search for a solution to the Abkhaz conflict to intervene. A member of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia last year implicitly questioned the veracity of some Georgian allegations of Abkhaz reprisals against ethnic Georgian residents of Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8 and 21 November 2005). LF

Boris Chochiev, the chief negotiator of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia in talks on resolving its decade-old conflict with Georgia, has written to the head of the OSCE Mission in Georgia, Ambassador Roy Reeve, and to the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Major General Murat Kulakhmetov, accusing Georgia of violating existing agreements by prematurely rotating its detachment of peacekeepers there, Caucasus Press reported. Chochiev pointed out that such rotations are permitted once in six months, but Georgia has rotated its force five times since January 2005, most recently on 10 November 2005, and plans a further rotation on 10 January. Interfax on 10 January similarly quoted a senior officer with the Russian peacekeeping contingent as saying that Georgia's planned 10 January rotation violates existing agreements. LF

Nursultan Nazarbaev approved a new sweeping amnesty on 9 January for roughly 14,000 prisoners, Interfax reported. A significant proportion of the country's old, young, and female convicts will be eligible for early release under the terms of the amnesty. The amnesty was adopted on 28 December by the lower house of the Kazakh parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2006). RG

President Nazarbaev also signed on 9 January several amendments to Kazakh legislation needed to conform to World Trade Organization (WTO) standards, Khabar TV reported. The amendments include changes to the country's laws on subsidies and for compensatory and antidumping measures. The legal changes are part of an attempt to bolster Kazakhstan's bid for WTO membership. RG

An official ceremony on 9 January led by Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Nikolai Pospelov unveiled a new marine facility in western Kazakhstan, according to "Kazakhstan Today." The military facility, located in the Karakiya district about 20 kilometers from the port of Aqtau, provides new living quarters and training areas for a detachment of Kazakh marines. Having already cost an estimated 4 billion tenges (about $30 million), the facility is to be further expanded with the additional construction of another eight storage depots. A small Kazakh naval force of cruisers stationed in the Caspian Sea will also be assigned to the new facility. RG

The Kyrgyz national sports hero Raatbek Sanatbaev was killed early on 9 January outside his home in Bishkek, AP reported. Police spokeswoman Aida Bakirova reported that the 36-year-old Sanatbaev, a two-time Asian Games wrestling champion, was shot twice in the head by two unknown assailants and died en route to hospital, AFP reported. President Kurmanbek Bakiev decried the killing as "a great loss to national sport." Sanatbaev was a leading candidate to succeed Bayaman Erkinbaev as president of Kyrgyzstan's National Olympic Committee. Erkinbaev, a parliamentarian, was himself shot dead in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2005). RG

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov criticized three officials on 9 January for "negligence" in dealing with a fire the previous day at a Dushanbe orphanage, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The officials include Labor and Social Affairs Minister Zokir Vazirov, Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs Kheirinessa Mavlanova, and the head of the president's office for social affairs, Bobokhon Mahmadov. Criminal proceedings have also been initiated against one of the directors of the orphanage, Ilhom Ashurov, for allegedly failing to alert firefighters until an hour after the blaze began. According to several witnesses, firefighters arrived on the scene only after all the surviving children had been evacuated, according to Asia-Plus. The fire killed 13 children and left another hospitalized with serious burns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006). RG

An Iranian delegation led by Commerce Minister Masud Mir-Kazemi met in Tashkent on 9 January with Uzbek Foreign Economic Relations, Investment, and Trade Minister Alisher Shayhov, reported. The Iranian delegation is in Uzbekistan to attend the seventh session of the Uzbek-Iranian trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation commission. The Iranian officials discussed opportunities for greater investment and bilateral cooperation in the transport, aviation, and agriculture sectors. In a separate meeting with Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev, the Iranian delegation also called on Uzbekistan to ease visa restrictions, eliminate trade barriers, and increase the number of Uzbek Airlines flights to Iran. RG

Mechyslau Hryb, the head of Alyaksandr Kazulin's presidential nomination group, has sent letters to the Central Election Commission and the Prosecutor-General's Office alleging obstruction of the collection of ballot-access signatures, Belapan reported on 9 January. The group says its members were not admitted to a student dormitory of Yanka Kupala State University in Hrodna, while officials in Slutsk, Minsk Oblast, refused to register the gathered voter signatures. The group also alleges that some of its members were pressured to quit the signature collection for Kazulin, and that unauthorized individuals in Vitsebsk and Minsk collected signatures for the incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at workplaces during work hours, which is forbidden by the Electoral Code. Meanwhile, another independent candidate, Alyaksandr Voytovich, announced his decision on 9 January to pull out of the presidential race. Voytovich said in a statement that he "does not want to aid efforts to create an illusion among voters that Lukashenka's bid to run for a third presidential term is legal, and that the election is held in accordance with the country's constitution and Electoral Code." Seven aspirants, including Lukashenka, continue to gather voter signatures; they must have at least 100,000 each in order to be placed on the ballot for the 19 March presidential vote. JM

The parliamentary caucus of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc on 10 January called on lawmakers to denounce last week's deal on gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006, and to dismiss Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and Naftohaz Ukrayiny chief Oleksandr Ivchenko, who negotiated the accord with Russia's Gazprom and the Swiss-based company RusUkrEnergo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006), Ukrainian news agencies reported. A relevant draft resolution prepared by the bloc proposes that Ukraine and Russia return to previous gas supply agreements. Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists that the 4 January gas deal runs counter to Ukrainian legislation and will "hit" individual gas consumers in Ukraine. Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Plachkov, and Ivchenko are expected to report on the gas deal to the parliament later in the day. JM

Oleh Rusetskyy, agriculture minister of the Crimean Autonomous Republic, said that health authorities have been monitoring mass bird deaths at three poultry farms in the village of Primorskyy since December, but that it was only on 9 January that they received confirmation it was an outbreak of bird flu, UNIAN and Interfax reported on 10 January. Rusetskyy added that emergency workers have already culled nearly 100,000 of the more than 171,000 birds on the farms. Meanwhile, Ukrainian First Deputy Health Minister Serhiy Berezhnov said in the Verkhovna Rada on 10 January that there is "a possibility of mass [bird-flu] infection among humans" in the country. "The situation today is under control but it is rather threatening," Berezhnov added. President Viktor Yushchenko introduced a state of emergency in some areas of the Crimean Peninsula for nearly four weeks in December in connection with an outbreak of bird flu there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 29 December 2005). JM

Ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia have drafted a proposal for political autonomy and plan to seek participation in United Nations-sanctioned final-status negotiations for Kosova, B92 reported on 9 January. Representatives of three southern Serbian municipalities -- Bujanovac, Presevo, and Medvedja -- have scheduled a meeting for 14 January to finalize the proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2005). B92 quoted an unidentified ethnic Albanian official as saying the proposal contains "a demand for political autonomy for the Albanians of the Presevo Valley, within the framework of Serbia." The ethnic Albanian officials are also asking to be included in Kosova's final-status talks as part of the negotiating team from Prishtina. BW

Serbia and Montenegro's Human and Minority Rights Minister Rasim Ljajic said on 9 January that the proposals by ethnic Albanian officials in southern Serbia are not surprising and are unlikely to garner support from international officials, ForNet and B92 reported the same day. Ljajic added that international officials, including U.S. Ambassador Michael Polt, German Ambassador Andreas Cobel, and former Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe mission chief in Serbia and Montenegro Mauricio Massari, are all against including ethnic Albanian leaders from southern Serbia in the Kosova status talks. Ljajic's views were echoed by Serbian politicians in Kosova. "I do not see anyone from the international community showing interest in this, and the people of Presevo, Bujanovac, and Medvedja are being used as a form of political pressure being put on Belgrade," Dusan Prorokovic, chairman of the Serbian parliament's Committee for Kosovo and Metohija, said. "It is impossible to draw parallels between the circumstances of the Albanians in the Presevo Valley and Serbs in Kosovo," Prorokovic said. He said that the Albanians living in these three Serbian municipalities enjoy more rights and privileges than Serbs in Kosovo. BW

A group of Kosovar Roma who have been living in lead-contaminated camps since their homes were destroyed by ethnic Albanian mobs six years ago rejected an offer on 9 January to be temporarily housed in a former French military barracks, Reuters reported the same day. "We have had enough moving from camp to camp," said Elizabeta Bajrami, a Romany official, said. "The UN says we will be there just for six months, but we don't believe that," she added. Approximately 800 Roma -- whose homes were destroyed in revenge attacks on perceived collaborators with Serbian rule -- are living in three makeshift camps made up of cardboard huts draped in plastic sheeting. The camps are located near a waste dump from the Trepca lead mine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). According to tests conducted by the World Health Organization, the level of lead in the blood of the children living in the camp is "at a critical level." Likewise, the Red Cross has warned of an emerging "medical tragedy." BW

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on 9 January that he wants and expects results from Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina in bringing war-crimes fugitives Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to justice by the end of the year, Reuters reported the same day. "I sincerely hope 2006 is the year that Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina meet the criteria for [NATO's Partnership for Peace program]. It is long overdue," de Hoop Scheffer said. "They know what the conditions are." Reuters quoted an unidentified NATO official as saying that de Hoop Scheffer was referring to progress in bringing Karadzic and Mladic before the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Grand Mufti Reiss-ul-ulema Mustafa Ceric on 9 January called for Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe to take steps to bridge the gap between them, AKI reported the same day, citing a report in the Bosnian daily "Dnevni avaz." Ceric called on European Muslims to abandon their parochial perception of Islam and turn toward universal values. After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and the Madrid and London train bombings, Ceric said, "European Muslims live under the heavy burden of collective responsibility for 'Islamic terrorism,' which has persistently been propagated by some politicians and media." European Muslims, he said, do not believe in collective, but only individual responsibility and it is their task to fight for the truth and against "Islamophobia." Addressing the citizens of the European Union, Ceric said Muslims "want to be a part of European life and progress, as well as the social, political, cultural, and moral development of European societies" and that "Europe must open toward" them. Ceric also called for the creation of an organization or association of Muslims in Europe to defend its members' rights and interests, Hina reported. BW

Police in Zagreb raided the offices of the Croatian Disabled War Veterans Association (HVIDRA) on 9 January, detaining three people, Hina reported the same day. Police took into custody HVIDRA Zagreb branch head Ivan Pandza, association member Ante Jurendic, and journalist Domagoj Margetic. The purpose of the raid was to prevent Margetic from playing a recording of President Stjepan Mesic's testimony at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in a case against Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic. A Zagreb court told police to take measures to prevent the publication of the recorded testimony of protected witnesses testifying at the tribunal. HVIDRA attorney Kresimir Krsnik said on 10 January that the police raid was illegal and has filed a lawsuit, Hina reported. "They used force against a disabled person who lost his leg in the Homeland Defense War," Krsnik said, referring to Croatia's 1991-95 war of independence. BW

Five Albanian villagers who were arrested, jailed, and accused of growing cannabis two weeks ago were set free on 9 January after a court ruled the plant was actually industrial hemp, Reuters reported the same day. The crop in question was actually grown with the help of a British charity and was slated to be exported to the United States for use in the textile industry. "I never imagined I would be pictured in the newspapers as the head of an international drug ring. It's one of those things that makes you cry and laugh at the same time," Martin Pellumbi of the Shkrel area farmers' association said. Interior Minister Sokol Olldashi, who said on television two weeks ago that authorities had seized a ton of cannabis, had no comment on the court ruling. The incident marked the second time in five years that Albanian police mistook industrial hemp for cannabis and arrested the growers. BW

The Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders on 4 January released its annual global survey of press freedom, in which it reported that 63 journalists were killed in 2005 and some 1,300 were physically attacked. The same day, RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Mohammad Tahir spoke with Anabel Arki, head of the organization's post-Soviet section, about press-freedom issues in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

RFE/RL: During 2005, some 63 journalists were killed and 1,000 were attacked. What was the most dangerous zone for journalists in 2005?

Anabel Arki: The most dangerous zone in the world for journalists that year was probably without any doubt Iraq, because of the war. Many, many journalists were killed there.

RFE/RL: Were there any incidents reported from Turkmenistan?

Arki: We know that this year a Russian journalist from the state press agency RIA-Novosti -- his name is Viktor Panov -- and he has been accused of spying by the Turkmen authorities. He has been thrown out of the country by the authorities and he went back to Russia. It was in March 2005. There were several cases, but this is the only one that we investigated. There is very little information about what is happening in Turkmenistan because the country is quite closed. The regime of President [Saparmurat] Niyazov is very strong for the independent press and human rights defenders. The regime of the president controls entirely the country. All the media are controlled by the state and it is quite impossible for foreign journalists to get into Turkmenistan. They cannot get any visas. Their requests are rejected by the authorities and we have some journalists who told us they think there is a kind of blacklist for foreign journalists.

RFE/RL: In your previous reports Turkmenistan is always shown as one of the most repressive countries in the world. But what was the rank of this country in terms of media censorship for 2005?

Arki: For that year, there were no cases of censorship in Turkmenistan, as far as we were concerned. We know that Russian radio, Radio Mayak, had troubles last year. They had troubles broadcasting their programs in Turkmenistan because they have a station in Turkmenistan. They had technical problems to broadcast and the information director of the station said the Turkmen authorities wanted to sanction Radio Mayak. Radio Mayak was investigating discrimination against the Russian minority in the country, which is a problem there. So, they have been cut off from broadcasting -- it was in July last year.

RFE/RL: There is no indication that the situation regarding press freedom in Turkmenistan will get better in the coming year?

Arki: No, we don't think the situation will be better this year. Unfortunately the situation is very, very controlled. Everything is controlled by the president, who has been elected for life.

RFE/RL: In your report it shows that press freedom in Uzbekistan is also deteriorating. What was the situation in that country in 2005?

Arki: The situation in Uzbekistan is a little bit better than in Turkmenistan, but since the Andijon uprising in May 2005, the situation has been getting worse and worse for journalists working there and for freedom of the press and of expression in general. It was impossible for journalists to cover the events in Andijon. People got killed after those events, as you know, and the authorities officially recognize only 186 murdered people and actually it seems that it is probably from 500 to 1,000 people killed. So, the authorities are very afraid about a [possible] revolution in Uzbekistan and particularly an Islamist one. And that is why they try to control the media. The situation is getting worse and worse for journalists. During the year, after those terrible events, the British channel BBC got closed by the authorities. The Internews office also was closed in Uzbekistan in September of this year. And not so long ago, the Radio Free Europe [Radio Liberty] local bureau lost its accreditation to work officially in the country. So, the will of the current president, Islam Karimov, to control the media is quite obvious. They don't want any voice from outside to tell the truth or to criticize the authorities.

In a message commemorating the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca dated 9 January and read by neo-Taliban spokesman Mohammad Yusof, Mullah Mohammad Omar called on Muslims to continue their jihad against the United States, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. "Given that the greatest enemy of Islam, the U.S., has taken hostage all the material and spiritual wealth of the Islamic world today, armed jihad has become the duty of every Muslim," Omar's message stated. Labeling Muslim leaders allied with the United States "traitors," Omar urged Muslim countries to react to them or face "victory for the foes of Islam." According to the ousted leader of the Taliban regime, the United States has been forced by the resistance in Iraq to "search for an escape route" and the same fate "very soon" will become reality for the United States in Afghanistan. Omar also promised a stepping up of attacks by neo-Taliban militia in 2006 with "stronger" tactics. Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 8 January invited Omar to peace talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006), which another neo-Taliban spokesman identified as Dr. Hanif rejected on 9 January in a telephone conversation with Pajhwak Afghan News. AT

Two schools were torched in Kandahar Province and one school was burned in neighboring Helmand Province on 8 January, Xinhua News Agency reported on 9 January. No casualties have been reported in the incidents. Around 12 armed men set fire to classrooms and books in Zeray primary school in Kandahar, provincial deputy director Hayatullah Rafiqi told AFP on 9 January. Rafiqi blamed the "enemies of Afghanistan, enemies of progress and education" in the country -- a term often used by Afghan government officials when describing the neo-Taliban. Qabial primary school was burned in Kandahar city by unidentified assailants who locked three janitors inside the building. Locals saved the janitors from the flames. Unidentified "miscreants" set fire to school books and furniture in a school in the Maligir area of Greshk district in Helmand Province, district police chief Amanullah told Pajhwak Afghan News on 9 January. In late December, the neo-Taliban distributed leaflets in Helmand warning residents not to send their children to school. AT

Qazi Joma Khan and Mawlawi Nur Ahmad, members of the Hizb-e Islami party led by fugitive former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, have accepted the government's reconciliation offer, official Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 January. The two commanders, operating in Nuristan Province, switched to the government side following mediation efforts by local tribal leaders. They have brought along with them "dozens" of their men, the report added. AT

Pakistan has lodged a protest with the U.S.-led military coalition operating in neighboring Afghanistan over cross-border gunfire in which eight Pakistani villagers were killed, AFP reported on 9 January. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told reporters in Islamabad on 9 January that the incident, which took place in the village of Saidagi in the semi-autonomous North Waziristan tribal region, is under investigation. "The American troops did not enter our territory but we did receive fire from across [the] border," causing the eight deaths, Aslam told reporters. Islamabad has lodged what Aslam described as a "strong protest" to the coalition forces in Afghanistan. "We have protested to coalition forces because they are responsible for security on the other side, but who actually initiated it, we are investigating that and they are also investigating," she added. According to Aslam, the United States has denied firing into Pakistan from Afghanistan. AT

Government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said on 9 January that "in accordance with earlier statements, nuclear research will begin today," despite warnings of consequences by EU officials, ISNA and other news agencies reported the same day. Elham said this "research is not subject to a legal ban. Our suspension was voluntary," and the resumption was announced to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which will have inspectors present, ISNA quoted him as saying. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said the same day that both he and the international community are "running out of patience," with Iran's reluctance to open all of its contested program to UN verification, Reuters reported. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin that the resumption of research will have "consequences," and will be discussed between Britain, France, and Germany, which have led negotiations with Iran over its program. Resumption would be "the wrong step in the wrong direction, and...a cause of very serious concern," Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik told Reuters on 9 January. Austria currently holds the rotating EU presidency. VS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a crowd in Qom on 9 January that Iran "will not forego its evident right to use peaceful nuclear science, obtained with the efforts of [Iran's] talented youth," ISNA reported the same day. He said Iran "welcomes the presence of European and non-European countries" in its nuclear activities, but "nobody can overlook this right of the nation." To those "who speak today of sanctions," he said, "they have imposed sanctions on Iran at every opportunity...and now certain European countries are refusing to take delivery of certain goods they have bought." But sanctions have only led to Iranian self-reliance, he said, so "these sanctions have no effect," ISNA reported. The same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Washington that "the next step" for Iran "would be a referral to the [UN] Security Council," and there is a "clear majority" in the international community favoring referral, if "Iran does not live up to its obligations and commitments," AFP reported. VS

Both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani denounced on 9 January the West's alleged hostility to Islam and claims to defend human rights, Fars news agency reported the same day. Khamenei warned in a statement addressed to pilgrims in Mecca that in this period of "postmodern colonialism," the "leaders of arrogance" are again resorting to "new tricks" to win control of Islamic lands. "Today, the Great Satan, which is itself a monument of mischief and mercilessness...has raised the flag of...human rights, and is inviting Middle Eastern states to democracy." That democracy, Khamenei added, means "docile and obedient" governments winning power by "seemingly popular elections," to implement "the sinister aims of arrogance," which include suppressing "a rising tide of Islamism." The claim "to support civil rights by the devils that have...encouraged the crimes of that bloodthirsty terrorist [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon" constitute "a piece of deceit to be cursed." In Tehran, Rafsanjani warned that "the enemy is encouraged about eliminating the revolution, seeing [Iran's] internal conditions," Fars reported. "The enemy is determined" to prevent Iran from using "science it has taught itself." Iran's "powerful military forces would never make military use of its nuclear science, but we have...the preliminaries for a scientific leap," he said. VS

A military Falcon plane crashed near Orumieh in northwestern Iran on 9 January, killing 11 passengers, reportedly all members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) land and air forces, news agencies reported. IRGC commander Yahya Rahim Safavi told a same-day press conference that the 11 victims included IRGC ground-forces commander Ahmad Kazemi, IRGC ground-forces intelligence chief Hanif Shahmoradi, 27th Corps commander Said Mohtadi-Jafari, head of operations Said Suleimani, planning chief Safdar Reshadi, and artillery chief Gholamreza Yazdani, Fars reported. The plane's landing gear failed, and then both its engines, Fars quoted Rahim Safavi as saying. Officials have cited different reasons for the crash, including bad weather and insufficient fuel, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported, observing that there seemed to be no consensus on the exact cause. Rahim Safavi said that the IRGC air force, to which the plane belonged, has so far "very strictly abided by all technical points and standards," and he qualified the crash as almost unprecedented since 1988, Fars reported. VS

An armed Sunni group in Iran's southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province calling itself Jundullah (God's Soldiers), which has been holding a group of Iranian policemen hostage since late December, has threatened to start killing them on 12 January if Iran's government does not release detained members of the group, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 9 January, citing a member who claimed to be the group's leader, Abdulmalik Rigi. He may be the same as Abdulmalik Baluchi, similarly involved in a kidnapping and murder incident last July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2005). The date of the kidnapping is not clear; Radio Farda said it happened "about 12 days ago." Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television broadcast a video from the group on 31 December saying it had kidnapped nine policemen, AFP reported on 1 January. AFP also cited reports on 1 January in the "Keyhan" and "Jomhuri-yi Islami" dailies confirming "attacks" and the kidnapping of 10 policemen from a border post, for which no dates were given. Abdulmalik Rigi told Radio Farda that seven hostages are now being held in "the mountains of Baluchistan" in Iran. He also claimed his group was involved in a recent shooting incident against a presidential motorcade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2005). VS

Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist working for "The Christian Science Monitor," was abducted in Baghdad on 7 January, according to the U.S. newspaper's website on 10 January ( Carroll was driving through the Al-Adil neighborhood with her interpreter when armed gunmen stopped their vehicle and pulled the driver from the car. The gunmen then drove off with Carroll and her interpreter inside; the interpreter was later found dead. The kidnapping occurred within 300 meters of Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaymi's Baghdad office, where Carroll was due to interview the politician. Al-Dulaymi was not in his office for the scheduled meeting and Carroll left the office 25 minutes later. Gunmen stopped their vehicle as they were leaving. The driver told the newspaper that the entire attack took 15 seconds. "It was very highly organized. It was a setup, a perfect ambush," said the driver, whose name has been withheld to protect his identity. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. KR

Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, who resigned on 2 January after the government put him on administrative leave in December, has returned to his post, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 9 January (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 6 January 2006). Iraq continues to face severe fuel shortages due to insurgent attacks and rising costs. Meanwhile, "Al-Zaman" on 7 January quoted high-level ministry sources as saying that the Oil Ministry is under the control of "mafia-like gangs" that have permeated all levels of production and distribution. The sources claimed that the ministry is no longer capable of managing Iraq's oil and refining installations. The daily reported that the price of gasoline has jumped from 20 dinars ($0.01) per liter to 1,000 dinars ($0.80) per liter in recent weeks. KR

The Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission announced on 9 January that the results of an investigation into complaints related to the 15 December parliamentary elections will be delayed, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. The results were due to be released on 9 January. The commission said that the international team sent to Baghdad to review the alleged irregularities has not completed its investigation. The commission said it intends to release the results in the investigation on 14 January. KR

An audiotape attributed to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and posted to the Syrian Islamic Forum website ( on 9 January warns Iraqis not to be deceived by the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which the speaker contends has sold out its Islamic morals for a seat in parliament. The audiotape also attacks the U.S. administration, and says the United States was stunned when "the lions of monotheism stood up to the mightiest armies on earth, armed first with their belief in God, and second with light weapons." Calling the Islamic Party "hypocrites," the speaker says the party "agreed to be the life buoy that saved the United States" from its quagmire in Iraq. The speaker adds that Islam is being slain at the hands of the Islamic Party. "A religion is being sold and a jihad stopped in exchange for a seat in a parliament that does not prevent harm or fight infidels." The speaker calls on the Islamic Party to abandon its current path before it corrupts Sunni Muslims in Iraq. Addressing party followers, he says, "We care for you...[and] pity your situation." KR

Abd al-Majid al-Samarra'i, London representative of the Iraqi Islamic Party, told Al-Jazeera television in a 9 January interview that the party will not respond to the audiotape until the authenticity of the tape has been verified. "We have opted for the path of political resistance and consider that this path can realize national and legitimate interests for our people and homeland. Others have opted for another path and everyone has his own opinion," he added. Asked if the party will reject al-Zarqawi's call to abandon its participation in the government, al-Samarra'i said the party will maintain its position. "What matters to us is that we abide by national and Islamic principles, and that we represent those who chose us and agreed with our opinion. We actually represent millions of Iraqi people," he said. KR