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Newsline - June 14, 2006

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili traveled on June 13 to St. Petersburg to meet at his own request with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). Saakashvili subsequently described his talks with Putin, which lasted several hours rather than the 30 minutes initially envisaged, as "useful" and "sincere," but admitted that they failed to resolve the problems that bedevil bilateral relations. Those problems include the embargo Russia imposed in March on imports of Georgian wine and mineral water, and Russia's support for the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin reportedly stressed that citizens of Georgian currently working in Russia wire home around $1.5 billion every year, which is more than the Georgian budget receives from any single source. Putin said any settlement of the South Ossetian conflict must take into account the wishes of the local population. He also dismissed as strange Georgia's request for the extradition of former Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze, noting that Georgia asked for Abashidze to be allowed to take refuge in Moscow after his ouster two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 6, 2004). LF

Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev told an economic forum in St. Petersburg on June 13 that Russia will further limit participation by foreign groups in developing oil and gas fields, London's "Financial Times" reported on June 14. He wants foreign firms and companies with 50 percent or more foreign participation not to be allowed to develop fields with more than 70 million tons of oil and 50 billion cubic meters of gas. The ministry had previously suggested that the restrictions would begin at 150 million tons of oil and 1,000 billion cubic meters of gas. Trutnev argued that the move is designed to protect Russian national interests. Speaking at the same forum, President Putin said that "the advantage of our country is natural resources.... The only question is the mechanism of control." For his part, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev promised more state support for Russian companies seeking to make inroads into foreign markets. "Russian companies lose in competition not because of low quality and high costs, but because of the absence of an effective system of support," he added. PM

Gazprom Aleksandr Ananenkov said at the St. Petersburg economic forum on June 13 that fears that his company will not be able to meet its commitments are groundless, "The Moscow Times" reported on June 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2006). He argued that "the only limits on extraction are imposed by the market. If the market increases capacity, we would be able to very quickly increase the volume of gas extraction." Critics charge that Gazprom's older fields are running short of gas and that new fields in remote locations will take much time and money to develop. Claude Mandil, who heads the International Energy Agency, said in London on May 22 that his agency is "afraid that Gazprom will not have, in the coming years, enough gas to supply even their existing customers and existing contracts." PM

Hideo Ogawa, who heads the Japan Pipeline Development Organization, said in Tokyo that his country and Russia expect to start construction of an 850-kilometer gas pipeline in 2008 to transport gas from Sakhalin to Aomori prefecture in northern Japan, "The Wall Street Journal in Europe" reported on June 13. Ogawa's company will work together with Stroitransgaz, which is a pipeline builder and Gazprom subsidiary, as well as with some additional Japanese and foreign firms. Oil has been pumped on Sakhalin since October 2005, but gas supplies have been awaiting developers. Ogawa mentioned the project known as Sakhalin-1 as a source of supply. Exxon Mobil holds a 30 percent stake in it, while a consortium formed by several Japanese companies holds a further 30 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, 2006). An Indian firm has 20 percent, and two Rosneft subsidiaries hold an additional 20 percent between them. Japan Pipeline and Stroitransgaz will provide details of the project at the Russian Petroleum and Gas Congress in Moscow on June 20-22. PM

Rick Wagoner, who is CEO of General Motors, broke ground at Shushary near St. Petersburg on June 13 for a $115 million factory, which will be its first in Russia that is not part of a joint venture, "The Moscow Times" reported on June 14 (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006). The plant is expected to start production of 25,000 Chevrolet Captiva SUVs in 2008 and later will product compact cars as well. Wagoner said that "St. Petersburg is often called the Venice of the North. It may soon be called the Detroit of the North. And believe me, I know Detroit." Also in St. Petersburg on June 13, Nissan CEO Carlos Gohn signed an agreement to build a plant nearby. PM

Several unnamed investors in the Luxembourg-based Arcelor SA steel company have raised new concerns about the extent to which the Russian firm Severstal and its head Aleksei Mordashov, who is close to the Kremlin, will have control over operations if a proposed merger goes ahead to form the world's largest steel company, London's "Financial Times" reported on June 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26 and 30, and June 1, 2006). Three unnamed U.S.-based shareholders also criticized management's new 38-page document on the proposed merger as limiting the possibility of Mittal Steel, which is also seeking to take over Arcelor, to make a counterproposal. PM

The State Duma voted on June 14 in a third and final reading to abolish nine of the current 25 categories of draft deferments, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 29, and 31, 2006). The move was proposed by the Defense Ministry and has been approved by the government in a bid to increase the number of conscripts. The news agency reported that the measure, which awaits President Putin's signature, "cancels draft deferments for medical workers and teachers working in rural areas, defense industry workers, law enforcement officers and members of artistic organizations, young men with one child up to three years old or a pregnant wife, young men taking care of parents of [retirement] age or those with category one disability unless they have official medical confirmation that these parents need permanent care, and students of vocational schools having a complete secondary education." Russia will begin conscripting young men for one-year periods in 2008, when the new restrictions on deferments also come into effect. PM

Magomed Mutsolgov, who heads a human rights group in Ingushetia, submitted a formal request to the republican Prosecutor-General's Office on June 9 to launch a investigation into persistent rumors of a mass grave in the Mozdok Raion of neighboring North Ossetia in which Ingush abducted by security services in recent years are believed to have been buried, reported on June 13, citing Kavkazsky uzel. The rumors were triggered when security services informed the family of Uvays Dolakov, an Ingush detained in Nazran last month, where he was buried (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2006). Mutsolgov estimates that over 150 people have vanished in Ingushetia in recent years after being abducted by security personnel, more than 10 of them since January 2006. LF

Akhmar-hadji Gazikhanov, a former local administration official who was elected six months ago as speaker of the Council of the Republic, the upper chamber of the Chechen parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 13, 2005), has been dismissed from that post for unspecified reasons, reported on June 13. Vakhit Mantsayev was elected at a closed session to replace Gazikhanov. LF

Levon Mkrtchian, who was named last month for the third time as education minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2006), pledged on June 13 to take sweeping measures to reverse a decline in education standards, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At the same time, he acknowledged partial responsibility for that decline, having previously served as education minister in 1998-99 and 2001-03. On June 5, Education Ministry officials confirmed that the length of schooling in state schools will be extended from 11 to 12 years; it was extended from 10 to 11 years in 2001 when the age at which children begin school was lowered from seven to six, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov met in Paris on June 13 under the aegis of the French and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group to resume discussions of approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported on June 14. The talks reportedly focused on those aspects of the draft settlement under discussion on which agreement was not reached during the talks in Bucharest on June 4-5 between the two countries' presidents, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006). LF

The Constitutional Court began on June 12 examining a formal appeal by businessman Valeri Gelashvili against the Georgian Parliament's decision to strip him of his deputy's mandate, Caucasus Press and the daily "Rezonansi" reported. The rationale cited for that decision was that Gelashvili's business interests were incompatible with his status as a parliamentarian. Gelashvili, who represented the opposition Republican party, claims the decision was politically motivated. Gelashvili came under pressure from Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava in late March after a fire destroyed a school building in Tbilisi that Gelashvili hoped to acquire in order to construct a new school building on the same site (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 21 and April 3, 2006). LF

The chairman of Kazakhstan's Journalists Union, Seitkazy Mataev, on June 12 strongly criticized a set of proposed amendments to the country's media law, Khabar TV reported. Mataev denounced the government-drafted amendments as too restrictive of the freedoms of speech and press, and he argued that a session of the lower house of parliament is being hastily convened to rush passage of the legislation without "a serious and detailed analysis and discussion." The Journalists Union has joined with the Congress of Kazakh Journalists to prepare an alternative package of legislative amendments, although the parliament has refused to accept the draft changes for consideration. RG

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva, issued a statement on June 12 expressing her support for nongovernmental organizations and other media groups in their protests over the Kazakh government's proposed amendments to the media law, Khabar TV and "Kazakhstan Today" reported. At a news conference convened at the parliament, Nazarbaeva accused lawmakers of rushing to make changes she argued would result in a tightening of state control over media outlets. As head of the Congress of Journalists, Nazarbaeva publicly supported the efforts of the Journalists Union to pressure parliamentarians to force debate of the alternative draft legislation. RG

National Security Committee Chairman Amangeldy Shabdarbaev announced on June 12 that the Kazakh government is considering a Russian extradition request seeking the return of a suspected Chechen militant, Interfax reported. Shabdarbaev added that the man, Zelimkhan Sampiyev, was arrested in Astana and is believed to be a member of a Chechen rebel group. He also said Sampiyev was "hiding from criminal prosecution in Russia," but stressed that Kazakhstan has never served as a safe haven for "militants or criminals." RG

Unnamed Kazakh security officials confirmed on June 12 that extradition proceedings for a suspected Uzbek extremist have commenced, the "Ekspress-K" newspaper reported on June 13. Nomozboy Hasanov, a reputed member of the leadership of the banned Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir group, was first arrested in the Zhambyl region in March. Kazakh security officials are currently working out the details of the extradition with their Uzbek counterparts. According to Bulat Kaundykov, a security officer in the Zhambyl region, Hasanov was accused of forming a local branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir by several militants convicted in trials in Uzbekistan in 2004 and 2005. But Kuandykov noted that Hasanov had not been involved in any illegal activities and lived in Kazakhstan openly, but without official residency documents. RG

A statement issued in Astana by the Kazakh Foreign Ministry announced on June 12 that railway service between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has been fully restored, Interfax reported. According to the ministry's statement, the resumption of the Almaty-Tashkent railway line was implemented on the direct "instructions from the presidents of the two countries" following an agreement reached during the state visit of Kazakh President Nazarbaev to Uzbekistan in March. Kazakhstan was most interested in restoring rail service in order to provide transportation for the estimated 400,000 ethnic Kazakhs living in northwestern Uzbekistan. RG

The Kyrgyz parliament voted on June 13 to reject a 2003 treaty on relations with neighboring Kazakhstan, AKIpress and the website reported. This is the fifth time that lawmakers have rejected a treaty on relations with neighboring Kazakhstan. Although the treaty was endorsed by the Kazakh parliament, it requires the parliamentary ratification of both states. Kyrgyz deputies explained that the treaty was rejected on the grounds that it failed to include adequate measures covering migration, water resources, and the transit of goods through Kazakhstan. The Kyrgyz parliament also voted down a treaty delineating the country's border with Kazakhstan, recommending instead that the Kyrgyz government start fresh talks on border delineation with Kazakhstan. RG

The Kyrgyz Supreme Court announced its rejection on June 13 of an asylum request filed by an Uzbek refugee who has been in detention in southern Kyrgyzstan since fleeing Uzbekistan in the wake of the Andijon crackdown last year, the news agency reported. The petitioner, Rasuljon Pirmatov, is one of four Uzbeks who have been in detention in Osh since June 2005. The Supreme Court issued a similar ruling in February, rejecting the appeals of the three other Uzbeks. Uzbekistan has officially denounced the asylum appeals and has sought the extradition of the four refugees. Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiyev said he is considering whether to return the men to Uzbekistan or send them to a third country, but only "after all judicial procedures have been completed." RG

Unnamed Tajik officials reported on June 12 that Tajik security forces have arrested two suspected members of the outlawed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the northern region of Soghd, Asia-Plus and Avesta reported. Tajik police sources said that two of the detainees, a Tajik, and an Uzbek national, were charged with illegally crossing the Tajik-Uzbek border in 2005. RG

A regional Tajik court in Soghd sentenced an Uzbek national to 13 years in prison on June 13 after his conviction on charges of spying, Asia-Plus reported. The 55-year-old Uzbek, Abdujalol Qodirov, was reportedly spying for his native Uzbekistan while living in Tajikistan. In a statement following the sentencing, Judge Khotam Nazarov said Qodirov is the third Uzbek citizen to have been convicted of spying in the past 10 days. The same Soghd regional court also imposed a 13-year prison sentence on June 2 for another convicted Uzbek spy, Ibragim Yuldashev. RG

Belaruskaliy, a state-owned potash fertilizer giant in Salihorsk, Minsk Oblast, on June 13 had to stop the operation of all four mines because it has filled its storage facilities to full capacity, Belapan reported, quoting an independent trade union activist. Belaruskaliy deputy director Mikalay Dakuka failed to confirm or deny the report. First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka reported to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka earlier this month that the export of potash fertilizers fell by 25 percent year-on-year in the first four months of 2006. The decrease largely occurred because China, the world's second-largest importer of potash fertilizers, has bought nothing from Belarus this year. The dealer in Belarusian potash, the Belarusian Potash Company, wanted the price to increase from $165 to $205 per ton, whereas China suggested reducing it by $20. JM

A district court in Belarus on June 13 fined Lithuanian amateur pilot Tadas Blazevicius and his sister 4.65 million rubles ($2,200) each for illegally entering Belarus's airspace, Belapan reported. The Lithuanian pilot, who flew a light sports plane with his sister, was forced by a Belarusian jet fighter on June 6 to land at a military airfield in Lida, Hrodna Oblast, after his plane crossed the Belarusian air border. Blazevicius reportedly explained that he had lost his way. Both transgressors are to be deported from Belarus within the next few days. JM

Yuliya Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous political bloc, told a reopened session of the Verkhovna Rada on June 14 that the recently deadlocked talks about the restoration of an Orange Revolution coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006) were used as a "smokescreen" by Our Ukraine, which in Tymoshenko's opinion wants to conclude a coalition deal with the Party of Regions, Ukrainian media reported. Tymoshenko was commenting on a statement by Our Ukraine on June 13, in which the pro-presidential party appealed to all parliamentary forces to sit at a negotiating table. According to Our Ukraine, the coalition talks reached an impasse because the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialist Party "have put their ambitions regarding the key portfolios above the will of the Ukrainian people." "[The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc] will not agree to any coalition cooperation in such a mishmash format, which will include the Party of Regions, Our Ukraine, and some others," Tymoshenko stressed in the parliament on June 14. JM

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said in the Verkhovna Rada on June 14 that his party will give up its aspiration to obtain the post of parliamentary speaker if this move prolongs talks on the creation of a coalition of democratic forces with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. "We are ready to give up this claim, but on condition that the distribution of all [other] posts will be made proportionally, beginning from raion administration heads and ending with ministers," Moroz said. He added that the Socialist Party will not agree to a comeback of the "Kuchmist power system" in which, according to Moroz, a party with public support of 6 percent "fully controlled the country." The coalition talks of the Orange Revolution allies reportedly broke down because Our Ukraine would not agreed to Moroz's wish to obtain the post of speaker. JM

Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertnyy called on deputies in the Verkhovna Rada session hall on June 14 to find a compromise in creating a ruling coalition, Ukrainian media reported. "We should not scare each other but look for a compromise," Bezsmertnyy said, after noting that the legislature has only 10 more days for forming a ruling majority. Bezsmertnyy did not respond to Moroz's proposal to resume talks among the Orange Revolution allies after the latter abandoned his aspiration to become parliament speaker. Meanwhile, Party of Regions parliamentary caucus head Mykola Azarov said in the Verkhovna Rada that his party is ready to negotiate the formation of a ruling majority. "When the country is on the brink of catastrophe, [party] leaders should sit at a negotiating table with everyone who is ready to assume responsibility for the country's future," Azarov added. JM

In a June 13 interview with the newspaper "Koha ditore," outgoing UN Mission in Kosova head Soren Jessen-Petersen said the province will win independence, Reuters reported the same day. "It is clear that Kosovo's dream -- and we all know what the dream of Kosovo is: it is independence -- will become a reality," he said. "I don't think that the region will be normalized until Kosovo's status is resolved. I still believe that stability in the region needs what I call the last piece in the puzzle to become complete -- the solution of the status," he added. Jessen-Petersen announced his resignation on June 12, citing family reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006). The talks on Kosova's final status are due to enter a crucial stage, in July. BW

In the same interview with "Koha ditore," Jessen-Petersen urged Serbia to accept the loss of Kosova and instead look to the future, Reuters reported on June 13. "Now is the time for Serbia to start thinking of moving forward, starting social and economic reforms, so much needed for itself and the region," Jessen-Petersen said. "I know it will seem very difficult [for Serbia] in the short term, but we need to see Kosovo's status solved this year so that the entire region can move forward at last," he added. BW

Kofi Annan on June 13 called on both Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosova to make a greater effort to compromise on the province's future, AP reported the same day. "I echo calls made for both sides to demonstrate flexibility, generosity, and a spirit of compromise in the talks," Annan said in a report to the UN Security Council. On June 11, Martti Ahtisaari, the chief UN envoy in talks on Kosova's final status, said the two sides will be invited to present proposals for the province's future at the end of July. In his report, Annan also criticized Serbs in Kosova for boycotting the province's political institutions. "Remaining outside the institutions will not bring their communities any benefit, and in fact negatively affects their ability to bring meaningful improvements into the lives of their communities," Annan said. BW

Both the United States and Britain officially recognized Montenegro's independence on June 13, international news agencies reported the same day. The moves by Washington and London, which followed recognition from the European Union and Russia, further solidifies the international community's acceptance of Montenegro's status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006). "The honor of being counted among the free and independent states of the world brings with it the challenge of protecting and advancing [the] freedom, rights and prosperity of all the people of Montenegro," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a statement that "the prime minister and I have today written to our Montenegrin counterparts, formally recognizing Montenegro as an independent sovereign state." BW

Moldovan Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatoly Spivachenko said on June 13 that Chisinau has failed to reach an agreement with Moscow to resume fruit and vegetable exports to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "We had numerous meetings in Moscow with representatives of Russian sanitary and quarantine agencies, to whom we presented evidence confirming the quality of our products," Spivachenko said. "Unfortunately, no decision was reached on the result of the talks," he added. Russia suspended imports of Moldovan fruit and vegetables in the spring of 2005, alleging their quality was too low and that there was a too high a concentration of pesticides. Moldova had previously exported approximately 100,000 tons of fruit and vegetables a year to Russia. BW

In recent weeks Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, the speaker of the lower house of the Chechen parliament and a close associate of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, has repeatedly advocated recombining the Russian republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia to form a single federation subject. Abdurakhmanov has advocated the merger on the grounds that the Chechens and Ingush constitute "one people."

Reaction to that proposal in Ingushetia has been overwhelmingly negative, however. Reconstituting the combined republic within the borders that existed prior to its split into separate republics in June 1992 would effectively demolish any chance of the disputed Prigorodny Raion, which is currently part of North Ossetia, being returned to Ingushetia.

Prigorodny Raion, which the Ingush regard as part of their ancestral land, was part of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) until that republic was abolished following the deportation of both Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia in 1944. The Prigorodny district was then designated part of the neighboring North Ossetian ASSR; but when the Checheno-Ingush ASSR was resurrected in 1957 following then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's exoneration of the Chechens, Ingush, and other deported peoples, the border between that republic and North Ossetia was drawn in such a way as to leave Prigorodny district in North Ossetia.

Since the late 1980s, the Ingush have been lobbying, without success, to have that border redrawn. The conflicting claims of the Ossetians and Ingush to the district led to a short but brutal war in October-November 1992. Over 500 people died in the fighting and between 34,000 and 64,000 Ingush who had unofficially returned to Prigorodny district were forced to abandon their reclaimed homes and flee.

Since late 1992, the Ossetian authorities have dragged their feet over implementing successive plans drafted in Moscow to permit the Ingush to return to Prigorodny district. Consequently, as of early this year, only an estimated 12,500 had done so. Meanwhile, the competing claims on that territory have come to dominate relations between the two peoples, each of which continues to lobby Moscow tirelessly to rule in its favor.

Moreover, the perceived unwillingness or inability of the Ingush leadership to secure the formal return of Prigorodny district to Ingushetia has compounded popular resentment and even outright hatred of President Murat Zyazikov, who is widely perceived as corrupt and ineffective.

True, Zyazikov has consistently rejected the idea of restoring a combined Chechen-Ingush republic whenever that idea has been floated, although he has not publicly linked that rejection to the issue of Prigorodny district. But Zyazikov's opposition to the proposed territorial merger may well derive not so much from the desire to preserve Ingushetia's status as a separate republic as from the fear of losing his own job should Ingushetia be merged with Chechnya.

Part of Chechen parliament speaker Abdurakhmanov's stated rationale for recombining Chechnya and Ingushetia, as cited by Interfax on April 24, was that it would contribute to stabilizing the region and would "remove forever hotbeds of tension."

Certainly the energy with which Chechen Prime Minister Kadyrov has set about expediting the reconstruction of Grozny and creating new jobs in recent months, and the albeit grudging popular approval those efforts have met with, is in stark contrast to Zyazikov's failure to kick start the stagnating Ingush economy or provide jobs for the republic's unemployed youth. (Ingushetia receives the largest percentage of its budget -- 89.2 percent -- from Moscow of any of the 89 federation subjects. Chechnya ranks in second place with 80. 6 percent, according to an article published in "Vedomosti" on March 14 and reposted on In addition, Kadyrov has demonstratively positioned himself as guardian of both Chechen tradition and the Chechen variant of Islam.

On the minus side, the various official and semi-official Chechen police and security agencies that answer directly to Kadyrov continue to snatch young men off the streets in the same way that the Ingushetian Interior Ministry has done in recent years. That tactic in Ingushetia has fuelled the influx of young Ingush into the ranks of what coalesced in late 1994 as the Chechen resistance, but is now a multinational fighting force that includes representatives of most, if not all, North Caucasus ethnic groups. How many of the recent attacks on both Ingush and Russian security and law enforcement officials in Ingushetia (there have been at least five such attacks in the past month in which 14 people have been killed, including Deputy Interior Minister Djabrail Kostoyev and OMON special forces commander Musa Nalgiyev) were the work of such resistance groups can only be guessed at. But in terms of the frequency of such attacks Ingushetia currently far outranks Chechnya and may soon eclipse Daghestan, which during the first nine months of last year witnessed 28 acts of terrorism and over 90 attacks on police that killed 42 Interior Ministry personnel and injured 92. Twelve civilians also died in those attacks and 41 were injured, according to "Izvestia" on October 6, 2005.

Ingush historian Beslan Kostoyev responded to Abdurakhmanov's trial balloon with a lengthy essay that was posted on June 3 on the website. In that essay, Kostoyev chronicled successive encroachments on the lands the Ingush consider theirs, including designating the town of Vladikavkaz part of North Ossetia in June 1933 and the abolition in January 1934 of the Ingush Autonomous Oblast and its forced incorporation into the newly formed Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Oblast (subsequently upgraded to the status of an ASSR.)

He cited examples of what he construed as a recurring pro-Ossetian bias on the part of Chechen leaders dating back to the 1930s, and he pointed out that the impetus for abolishing the Checheno-Ingush ASSR in 1992 came from those Chechen leaders who had espoused the "insane idea" of creating an independent Chechen state. Further, Kostoyev argued that trying at this juncture to reverse that separation of Chechnya and Ingushetia "would be exceedingly dangerous for the peoples of the North Caucasus and for Russia as a whole." Kostoyev went on to propose that instead, Ingushetia and North Ossetia be combined in a single republic, a move that would not only abolish their respective competing claims for jurisdiction over Prigorodny district but reduce the expense of maintaining two separate republican bureaucracies.

On the other hand, Kostoyev expressed approval for Abdurakhmanov's suggestion that Daghestan too become part of the new mega-North Caucasus region. But while Chechnya (population approximately 1 million) might conceivably manage to subsume Ingushetia, with a population of under 500,000, most of whom are ethnically and linguistically related to the Chechens, Daghestan, with a population of 2.5 million and dozens of unrelated ethnic groups in (sometimes literally) cut-throat competition for resources and jobs, could pose an intractable problem even for the seemingly indefatigable Kadyrov. And, crucially, Kadyrov will not turn 30 -- the minimum age at which he could be elected head of Chechnya and, by extension, of a larger territorial unit -- until October 2006.

Asked in an interview in the current issue of the Russian edition of "Newsweek" to comment on the idea of merging the three republics, Kadyrov said he considers it "possible, if the peoples of Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Daghestan want it, and when Chechnya becomes prosperous...but not yet because Chechnya is still in ruins."

Other Chechen officials, including administration head Alu Alkhanov and Nationalities Ministry official Vakhud Gerikhanov, pointed out that a merger between Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan would have to be put to a referendum in all three republics, according to Interfax on May 6 and on April 25. Daghestan National Assembly speaker Magomedsalam Magomedov predicted on April 26 that the overwhelming majority of voters in Daghestan would reject any such merger. Reports of an official visit last week to Makhachkala by a Chechen parliament delegation did not say whether the proposed merger was discussed.

To date, there has been no official comment from Moscow on Abdurakhmanov's proposal to create a new North Caucasus krai, although on April 25 quoted a member of presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak's staff as saying "we are not considering any such initiatives at this point."

A merger of Ingushetia and Chechnya (with or without Daghestan) would leave North Ossetia free to unite at some future date with Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, whose leader Eduard Kokoity announced in March that the republic will submit a formal request to the Russian Constitutional Court to rule that South Ossetia is part of the Russian Federation.

An opium farmer has been killed in a clash between armed farmers and counternarcotics police in Badakhshan Province, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on June 13. Badakhshan Governor Monshi Abdul Majid told Tolu that counternarcotics authorities sent from the capital "failed to observe local traditions, which unfortunately led to the clash." No one has been arrested in the case, Abdul Majid added. Poppy eradication has been temporarily halted in the Jorm district, where the incident occurred. AT

Residents of Kandahar Province have asked the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) to send troops to their province to bring security and change the perception of Afghans regarding Arabs, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on June 13. The proposal was made during a meeting of the Kandahar Provincial Council in which an official from U.A.E., Sheikh Hamad al-Shamisi, participated. The meeting was also attended by Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khaled and other senior provincial officials. The tribal elders reportedly asked that the U.A.E. resume work on the Omar Mosque, which they began constructing during the Taliban regime. Ne'amatullah Khan, the deputy head of the Provincial Council, told Al-Shamisi that since many Afghans believe that most Arab states were cooperating with Al-Qaeda, by sending troops to Kandahar the U.A.E. will not only help improve the security situation but also help change popular attitudes. The U.A.E. was one of just three countries that officially recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were the other two. AT

Prior to his planned departure to participate as a guest in the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that Afghanistan and China are "very good neighbors" and he hopes for stronger trade relations between them, Xinhua reported on June 13. Karzai said relations with China hold "immense importance" for his country, adding to Xinhua that while China ranks third -- after Japan and Pakistan -- in exports to Afghanistan, Chinese imports from Afghanistan amounted to a meager $900,000 in 2005-06. Karzai said he hopes that his country can export more to China. "Afghanistan belongs to the region where the SCO also lies. Afghanistan has no other ways, and can't be outside the region," Karzai said. The SCO was transformed from the Shanghai Five in 2001, ostensibly to respond to the threat posed by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Members are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, which joined in 2001. The group has accepted India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan as observers, and Afghanistan as a guest country. AT

A lieutenant in the Pakistan Army has been arrested in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province after he crossed the border to purchase a vehicle, the Islamabad-based daily "The Nation" reported on June 13. The officer, identified as Asif, has been detained by Afghan authorities for interrogation. He allegedly crossed into Afghanistan "a few days ago" with friends to purchase a vehicle at Wash on the Afghan side of the border, where new vehicles are on sale. According to the report, Pakistan arrested five Afghan nationals in May, including a sitting member of parliament, who still remain in custody. The five were not identified in the report. The report did not draw any direct connection between the two cases. AT

AFP reported on June 13 that it has secured a copy of the proposal formulated by the 5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) group in an effort to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, whose details have otherwise not been made public. AFP reports that the proposal calls on Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment until the peaceful nature of its nuclear program can be proven. The proposal was submitted to Iranian officials in Tehran on June 6 by European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana. BS

Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, writes in the June 13 issue of "Yale Global Online" that "the American intelligence community may be seriously underestimating Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb." Allison claims inaccurate assessments of Iraq's alleged weapons capabilities have led to excessive caution regarding Iran, and he describes as worrisome the unanimity of the intelligence community that Iran is unlikely to have a nuclear weapon until the next decade. Before the Iraq war, he says, the community was fairly united in its belief about Iraqi weapons efforts. Allison says he questions the assumption that an Iranian freeze of overt nuclear activities would solve the problems, and he asks whether success in the open activities is necessarily connected with success in the clandestine ones. Allison also asks if Iranian scientists have passed an intellectual "point of no return." Allison raises the possibilities that Iran has purchased highly enriched uranium internationally and is already building bombs or that it has purchased nuclear warheads internationally and is placing them on its Shihab-3 missiles. BS

Major General Hussein Firuzabadi, chief of the joint staff of Iran's armed forces, met on June 13 in Tehran with the visiting Syrian Defense Minister General Hassan Turkmani, IRNA reported. Firuzabadi said Iran is ready to cooperate with Syria, particularly in the area of defense industries. He also praised Syrian resistance to Israel. The Syrian delegation arrived in Iran the previous day and will stay for four days. Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar met with Turkmani on June 12, Syrian Arab Television and IRNA reported. According to Syrian television, the two sides discussed bilateral cooperation, and they described their defense and military links as a model for the region and a contributor to peace and stability. Regional topics of discussion included Iraq, its government, and its territorial integrity, as well as Palestine. Turkmani said the Syrian and Iranian armed forces must be prepared to confront the unnamed "joint enemy," and he expressed support for Iran's nuclear ambitions. Mohammad-Najjar, according to IRNA, emphasized Iranian support for Syria and said: "Syria's security is considered as part of the security and national interests of Iran. We find ourselves bound to defend it." General Karim Qavami, head of Iran's regular air force, met with Turkmani in Damascus on June 7, SANA reported. BS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad met on June 11 in Tehran with visiting Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmud al-Zahhar, Tehran television and IRNA reported. Al-Zahhar, who is a senior member of Hamas, was advised by his host, "You [Palestinians] should intensify your resistance as it is the key to winning the battle against bullying and spurious powers," IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad went on to say that the Hamas-led government should also concentrate on developing Palestine and exposing the misdeeds of the "Zionist regime," both agencies reported. Ahmadinejad said the Islamic community should support the Palestinian government, and he emphasized Iran's support for that government as it tries to "liberate the holy Qods [Jerusalem]." Ahmadinejad criticized Western support for Israel, IRNA reported. Al-Zahhar expressed gratitude for continuing Iranian support. Tehran pledged to assist the Hamas-led government financially after the United States, EU, and Israel said they would withhold support pending Hamas' renunciation of violence and its recognition of Israel's right to exist. BS

Referring to a women's rights demonstration in Tehran that was suppressed violently the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006), a security official said on June 12 that the organizers of the event did not have a permit and it was therefore illegal, IRNA reported. Ali Jahanbakhsh, director-general for political and police affairs of the Tehran Governor-General's Office, said that any group that wants to hold a rally or other demonstration must first obtain a permit from the Tehran Governor-General's Office. Radio Farda reported on June 12 that security forces attacked the demonstrators before the rally got under way. Noted Iranian human rights activist and lawyer Mehrangiz Kar said at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on June 12 that the authorities were aware of plans for the demonstration before it took place, and the organizers received court summonses. BS

The Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, DTV), a politically active student organization, has denounced suppression of the women's rights event on June 12 (see above), Radio Farda reported on June 13. The DTV called for the immediate release of the arrested participants, particularly its own members. They include: Bahareh Hedayat, Shahla Entessari, Masumeh Loghmani, and Atefeh Yusefi. DTV spokesman Reza Delbari told Radio Farda that all the detainees were sent to Evin prison. BS

U.S. President George W. Bush arrived in Baghdad on a surprise visit on June 13 and met with Iraqi Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki and some members of his cabinet, international media reported the same day. Bush commended al-Maliki, telling him, "if given the right help, I'm convinced you'll succeed." Bush also praised the cabinet as being representative of "the entire Iraqi people" and said, "I appreciate you recognizing that the future of your country is in your hands," AP reported. Al-Maliki described his meeting with Bush as a "milestone for good relations," and said that Iraq is "determined to succeed and defeat terrorism...with the support and partnership of the United States." Al-Maliki added, "God willing, all the suffering will be over and all the soldiers will return to their countries," AFP reported. This is Bush's second trip to Iraq; the first was in November 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 8, 2003). BAW

In a letter dated June 9 and circulated in the United Nations on June 13, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that Iraq wants multinational forces to stay in Iraq, Reuters reported on June 13. "While great achievements have been gained by the people of Iraq in the realm of political development, the continuation of the mandate of the multinational force in Iraq remains necessary and essential for our security," Zebari's letter read. The Security Council adopted a resolution in November 2005 extending the U.S.-led coalition force's mandate through the end of 2006, but called for a review by June 15. The resolution states that the Security Council will terminate the mandate at the request of Iraq's government, Reuters reported on June 13. BAW

In a statement posted on the Internet on June 13, Al-Qaeda's new leader in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, vows to avenge the death of his predecessor, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, Reuters reported the same day. "The day of vengeance is near and your strong towers in the Green Zone will not protect you," the statement said, referring to the heavily protected zone from which the Iraqi government and U.S. officials operate. News of al-Muhajir's appointment was announced in a June 12 Internet statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006), several days after al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike on June 7. "Do not rejoice that you killed [al-Zarqawi]; he has left behind lions that...trained under him.... Coming battles will reveal the falseness of your power and the cowardliness of your soldiers," al-Muhajir said. BAW

Chief Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman said that June 13 was the last day for the team defending deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants against charges of crimes against humanity to call witnesses, the news website Voices of Iraq reported the same day. The court heard testimony by one of Hussein's half-brothers, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, and a former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan. The presiding judge did not allow another of Hussein's half-brothers, Barzan al-Tikriti, into the courtroom. Barzan al-Tikriti, a co-defendant, was thrown out of court on June 12 following a confrontation with the judge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2006). The next session will be held on June 19. "After listening to deliberations and testimony, the court is adjourned to have the prosecutor's statement and the defense team's statement," AFP quoted Judge Abd al-Rahman saying on June 13. He also set July 10 as the date on which the defense will make a final statement, and said a verdict may be reached in July, AFP reported. BAW